A League Of Its Own: Irving for Thomas

A League Of Its Own: Irving for Thomas

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Kyrie Irving will play his first game of the 2017-18 NBA season in Quicken Loans Arena on October 17th. Irving won’t enter as a Cavalier, though. People called Celtics fans crazy when trade rumours hinted that Irving could be traded for Isaiah Thomas. Yet, on Tuesday evening, an impossible deal became a reality. Danny Ainge’s overhaul is complete: Kyrie Irving is the final piece of the puzzle. But, will Kyrie be enough to push the Celtics over Cleveland?

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Isaiah Thomas’ injury in the 2017 NBA Playoffs brought Boston’s championship hopes to a halt, as the team managed only one victory against the Eastern champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics and Cavaliers will likely meet in the same place this year. But, the series will now focus on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. This is the dream scenario. The greatest basketball player in the world versus his former sidekick, who was accredited with winning him a title in 2016. LeBron who got back in the gym immediately after losing the NBA Finals vs Kyrie who mocked LeBron with Steph Curry after the video was posted. The series will pit the greatest player in the world against an old teammate. The rivalry will be good; however, Irving will need to elevate his play to make it great.

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Kyrie Irving is an extremely talented player, who has shown an ability to step up in important moments. However, Irving has never been “the guy”. Having lived in LeBron’s shadow for the majority of his NBA successes, Irving has played a supporting role alongside one of the all-time greats. Now, Irving has been given the starring role on the Celtics, and must run with it. These improvements must come in his play-making ability. Irving did not control the ball while in Cleveland, despite being point guard. Ball-handling duties lay with Lebron James, and Kyrie benefited from his elite play-making. It will be a different story in Boston, as Irving will be running the show. For the Celtics to excel, Irving must thrive as the star of the team.

Now what has LeBron been left with in Cleveland?

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The full package for Irving saw Cleveland receive Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets 2018 1st round pick. Thomas is a downgrade from Irving in the long-term; though, Thomas had a spectacular season last year, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland knows exactly what it will get from Crowder, a gritty defender who will come off the bench and play tough minutes. Zizic and the Nets pick give the Cavaliers flexibility. If the season goes poorly, they can hold onto these assets and start stacking prospects and picks. Although, the more likely avenue is for the Cavaliers to shop Zizic and the Nets pick, and get another piece. That begs the question: who will this piece be?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans

The exiled, loud mouthed, and talented Demarcus Cousins. Why not? One of the best big men in the NBA, and a considerable upgrade over Tristan Thompson. Cousins is likely on his way out of New Orleans by the end of the season anyways, as he has an expiring contract. This way, the Pelicans can stockpile an extremely valuable pick with the Nets pick, and potentially even land a prospect in Zizic. Another weapon that LeBron can spread the floor with would bring the Cavaliers that much closer to the Golden State Warriors, and maybe help them create an inside presence that the Warriors could not handle. Obviously, this is the best case scenario for the Cavs, and would not happen overnight. This is a trade that would likely happen mid-season if the Pelicans’ experiment with Cousins and Davis continues to fail. It would be a gamble. With this likely being LeBron’s last season in Cleveland, the Cavaliers may sell the proverbial farm for one final run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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The first of its kind, the Irving-Thomas trade has the chance to be historic for both sides. A win-win trade, where both teams could be better in the short-term. Boston will be better off long-term, if Irving takes the next step. Although, the onus now falls on the aforementioned Irving. He got his wish, he is the finally “the guy”. The Duke product needs to seize this opportunity and never look back. Kyrie has a chance to step out of LeBron’s shadow, the spotlight is on him.

Head on over to my Twitter (@sassysaslove) or my Facebook to continue the discussion!

Please also vote on this week’s Twitter Polls:

Thanks to everyone who read this article, it feels great to be back writing after the summer off, and I will be trying to pump out even more content this year! As always, thank you to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing process, and I will hope to see you again next week for more of JSST!

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Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (May. 4-10)

Something Smells: The NBA Playoffs Are Not Special

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It would be an understatement to say that I like sports: if I’m not watching a game on TV, I’m likely checking scores in other games or following breaking stories on the Internet. This spring, though, I have found myself watching little of the NBA playoffs. While I stay up to date on Twitter watching highlights and clips, I cannot bear to sit through an entire game. The game has become dominated by two super-teams, and the first three rounds serve only as formalities in reaching their inevitable faceoff. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are both 8-0 through the first two rounds and their average margin of victory is 13.06 points. It is rare that their opponent is competitive. While Cleveland and Golden State’s runs are impressive, they represent the worst of sports.

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A third-straight Cavaliers/Warriors Finals is the product of the larger issue in the NBA playoffs: a lack of parity. The problem lies with the lack of competitiveness in the playoffs now. Only one lower seed has been able to beat a higher seed in the NBA playoffs thus far, when the Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games. The series was unquestionably the best of the NBA playoffs in the first round. The largest margin of victory in any game was eight points, and every game was tight. Though, the victor of that series had little to celebrate: Utah would go on to play the Warriors in the second round, and be bumped to the curb in four games and forgotten.

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Where is the parity? The NBA has a flawed model allowing teams to spend into the luxury tax. The luxury tax is in place to attempt to increase parity by taxing teams who spend over the salary cap. This cap is a “soft cap”, allowing teams to go over it by paying a penalty. The absence of a “hard cap”, however, has resulted in unprecedented disparity. Teams are able to assemble rosters of superstars that can only be beaten by one team – coincidentally, another super-team. The Golden State Warriors have benefited from Stephen Curry’s inexpensive contract, but have spent well past the salary cap in acquiring the likes of Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers, with Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, have also employed this strategy.

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The era of Cleveland/Golden State finals match-ups has shown the need for a hard salary cap to ensure parity in the league. A hard cap would keep super-teams from assembling and make the early rounds of the playoffs competitive. Consider the National Hockey League for proof of a successful hard cap. While the NHL had endured decades of super-teams, the 2005-06 season brought a hard cap, and with it, newfound parity.

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The hard constant dogfight to stay at the top. NHL teams are constantly forced to re-organize, bring in short-term players, and be loose with their players in order to create their best product. Consider the Chicago Blackhawks. Their general manager, Stan Bowman, has been remodeling the team since their Stanley Cup in 2010. The Hawks have had to trade the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, and Nick Leddy to stay within the salary cap. These trades have seen elite players improving their new teams, furthering parity throughout the league. But, these moves have also kept the Blackhawks competitive for nearly a decade.

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Conversely, consider the Golden State Warriors. They have traded away worse players for upgrades. This summer the Warriors managed to acquire Zaza Pachulia for Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and then traded Festus Ezeli. It does not seem to make sense to trade away all these role players, but of course they used this freed up money to acquire Kevin Durant. Instead of having to downgrade, the Warriors in their third year at the top of the NBA got a serious upgrade easily. The Hawks finally won a title after 49 years and instantly had to trim the fat. If the NBA wants to have competitive playoffs with consistent parity, there needs to be a shift in how money is spent on players, by spreading the talent of the league.

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The NBA is a wealthier enterprise than the NHL, and with their latest TV deal of $24 billion it is very difficult to argue that owners are not making money. With this mind, there is lots of money in place that could make the league much more competitive. With a proper salary cap in place, it is reasonable to believe that the NBA playoffs could truly be unpredictable. When was the last time the NBA had a Cinderella win the NBA Championship? 1995 is the answer. The Houston Rockets came in as a sixth-seed, having only won 47 games in the regular season. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets were able to upset three 60-win teams, and then take down the Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA Finals. This was an incredible run, and can be best defined as unpredictable, something like this would never happen in the NBA today.

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The consistent results, and predictable outcomes are getting old. Charles Barkley from the NBA on TNT, provided a quality soundbite this past Monday, when he said he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than the NBA playoffs. Barkley went onto talk of how the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets match-up hardly mattered, as whoever would win that would simply be served to the Golden State Warriors on a platter. The Spurs and Rockets could play seven games against one another, and could have the best series of the playoffs. Yet, like the Utah Jazz in the second round, it will all be squandered by a super-team from Golden State.

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It is difficult to argue that super-teams are good for basketball, even from a financial standpoint. Super teams could bring a massive drop in the NBA’s viewership. This past season national viewership dipped by a modest 6%. However, the NBA took a big hit in local ratings. As of the first week of February, NBA regional sport networks reported they were down 15% in viewership. The ratings were not just dropping in small markets either, with Cleveland seeing a 28% drop-off in viewership compared to 2015-16 and seeing a 35% drop-off in viewership. Chicago and Cleveland are considered two of the NBA’s hottest markets, yet even they are seeing a large drop.

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It is time for change in the NBA. The Canadian markets are on fire right now, as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ local viewership rose by 27%, and Edmonton Oiler broadcasts were up an astounding 40%. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada block at 7pm EST saw a 9% increase in viewership, while the 10pm EST block saw a 6% increase. The NBA lacks this growth, because they are bound to have the same narrative of Cavaliers and Warriors for three years in a row. While their ratings will not likely take a hit in the Finals, they will experience pain on the way there. No one will want to see the 28 other teams. All they will want to see is the two super teams play each other. Make every game matter again NBA.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! I believe that with my schedule this summer I will subtract the tidbits for the summer, as I simply do not have the time to complete them and be satisfied with them. I will continue to attempt to punch out an article each week, however, and hope you stay along for the ride! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 22-29)

No Edwin No Problem: The Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Will Carry The Loadmaxresdefault

Many Blue Jays fans felt this off-season went poorly for the team, outside of salvaging Jose Bautista’s contract. I am not one of them. This roster is one that, when healthy, could be World Series caliber. I believe that, this off-season, the Jays got much better as a whole. They addressed many issues and were able to solve many internal problems by giving opportunities to younger players. Some fans are blind to what the Jays began to display last year, and that is a rotation that, has the potential to be among the MLB’s best.

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The five-man rotation that John Gibbons has designed for the Blue Jays this year is the best rotation they have had since 2008. While there is no established ace at this point, they have five pitchers who are proven winners. Marco Estrada is the Blue Jays Opening Day starter, and is coming off an excellent season. Estrada had the third best opponent batting average in the MLB amongst starters last year at .203. There were two other Jays in the Top 20 of this statistic, JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez, who combined for a win-loss record of 35-6 last season in 62 starts. The remaining two starters are Marcus Storman and Francisco Liriano. Neither had their best season last year, but both have the capability of adding 12+ wins apiece to a deadly Jays pitching staff. This Jays rotation is deep, and will give Toronto a chance to win every ballgame. Pitching is what carries teams in today’s MLB: four of the past five World Series champions were Top 10 in team earned run average (ERA). Of the past five years, last year was the only time the Blue Jays were amongst the Top 10. With four of last year’s five starters returning and the addition of Liriano, the Jays can expect to see even better pitching this season from their starters.

While Toronto’s starters were great last year, a struggling bullpen plagued the team all season. The Blue Jays team ERA last season was 3.78 with opponents hitting .242; the bullpen’s ERA was 4.11, and opponents’ batting average was .254. The Texas Rangers were the only other playoff team with a bullpen ERA over 4.00 last season, and they were swept by Toronto in the divisional round. Moreover, the Jays bullpen was the least active in the MLB last year, pitching only 464 innings. The mediocre bullpen held the Jays back last year substantially, and put an extra amount of pressure on their starters. The Jays 2017 bullpen, however, is slated to eliminate this weakness.

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The Blue Jays have a mixture of youth and veteran talent to carry their bullpen this season. Jason Grilli became a staple in the Jays pen when he arrived from Atlanta, posting a 3.64 ERA in 46 games last season. Much of the team’s off-season shopping was done to bring new faces to the bullpen. Joe Smith, Mike Bolsinger, and J.P. Howell were all added to bolster the relief staff. Smith is coming off a World Series win with the Chicago Cubs, and posted a 3.46 ERA during 2016. Howell had an okay 2016, but has made over 60 appearances in each of his last four seasons and is a workhorse. Bolsinger is entering his first season in the bullpen, and is somewhat of gamble. However, the 29-year old earned the trust of Jays manager John Gibbons and will start 2017 in the majors. The three other key members to the Jays’ bullpen success will be Ryan Tepera, Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna. Tepera has never played a full season in Toronto, but has been impressive in 52 career appearances, posting a 3.16 ERA over that span. If this trend continues, he could become a valuable right-hander for the Jays. Biagini was the surprise of 2016 for Toronto, as the rookie logged 60 games, second most among Jays’ pitchers, and posted a 3.06 ERA. If Biagini can build on this fabulous rookie season, he could become the Jays’ star setup man. If so, Biagini would be setting up star closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna is a dominating closer who logged 74 innings, a 2.68 ERA, and a team-best 0.93 walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) last season. Osuna and Biagini will not have to carry as heavy of a load this season, as the Jays have finally provided their bullpen with an excellent staff to grind out tight ballgames.

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Tight ballgames are not what Jays fans are used to. They are used to the team outslugging their opponents en route to victory. But, this has changed. Fans were left upset and felt betrayed when management and Edwin Encarnacion could not come to terms on a new contract. Encarnacion is now in Cleveland, which has left a sour taste in Jays’ fans mouths. The Jays acted quickly to get an insurance policy for Encarnacion, and that came in 33-year old  Kendrys Morales. Morales is not going to be Encarnacion, but, he has potential to hit .270, 30HRs and 90 RBIs. While this may still be a downgrade, the Jays finally have depth elsewhere in the lineup, and can rotate players in and out accordingly.

Melvin Upton Jr. struggled to find his stride in Toronto last season, so manager John Gibbons has decided to make Upton earn his spot and will have the speedy outfielder come off the bench. Upton’s ability to drive the ball and provide speed on the base path can have him pinch hit or even pinch run in key situations, which brings much needed versatility to the Jays. Next off the bench comes the underrated Steve Pearce who will play all around the diamond for the Jays. Pearce played every base defensively last year, and played both left and right field, showing his defensive versatility. He also brings a .288 batting average to the plate. Pearce will be Toronto’s contact hitter coming off the bench.

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The Jays bench was usually home to Josh Thole when Dickey was pitching. But, with Dickey gone so is Thole, so Jarrod Saltalamacchia jumped at the opportunity to play behind Russell Martin. Saltalamacchia, while primarily a catcher, can also play first base. Defensively his abilities are sound, while offensively he drives the ball, though he struggles to find contact. If Saltalamacchia can settle his bat down and hit .220 he will be more than serviceable for the Jays. Finally, the Jays are backed up defensively by Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, who can play anywhere in the infield. Barney is the better hitter of the two, as he hits for contact consistently above .250. Other young names in the Jays system to keep an eye on are: Dalton Pompey, Richard Urena, Harold Ramirez and Anthony Alford, who could all potentially see some time in Toronto this season.

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While it would be nice to see those young names on the roster, let us hope it does not come to that. The Toronto Blue Jays are a good baseball team, no question, and their stars are young and in the prime of their careers. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are beginning to build for an arms race, meaning that now is the time to win. The Jays can win, but they need to be healthy. Devon Travis is vital to the Toronto’s success, the past two seasons he has posted Top-10 second baseman numbers when healthy. But, Travis has missed a lot of time over these past two years, and the Jays struggled to replace him in the interim. Furthermore, Jose Bautista was in and out of the lineup last year, and both Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki had injury woes. The team cannot win if it does not stay healthy. Toronto’s key to success will be their health. They have all the tools to make a World Series. The team’s pitching has not been this good since 2008, and the bats, while not as star studded as years past, remain strong and have newfound depth. The clock is ticking, and it is nearly high-noon in Toronto. If this team can stay healthy, they will be in the World Series.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Minnesota Wild have gone from Stanley Cup contenders to Stanley Cup pretenders. In their last 10 games the Wild are 1-7-2, and, despite consistently leading the Chicago Blackhawks throughout the season, the Wild will find themselves as the #2 seed in the Central Division. The Wild’s lack of success comes in large part to Devan Dubnyk’s recent play. At one point this season he seemed like the frontrunner for the Vezina, but in March, Duby’s numbers tell a different story: 3-8-2, a .889 save percentage and a 2.94 goals against average. Dubnyk will need to improve on those numbers if the Wild want to have any success in the playoffs.
  • How often do the Colorado Avalanche score a goal? Not very often. It is so rare that their Twitter account grew impatient on Wednesday night. This tweet was hilarious, as has been the Avalanche’s season. The Avalanche somehow actually manage less than two goals per game, which makes it easy to understand why they are dead last by a country mile. Do not worry, though, Avalanche fans. You have a friend in the Arizona Coyotes, who share your feeling of mediocrity.

Stars of the Week

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  • The Carolina Hurricanes have surprisingly made a late-season charge. The Canes have earned at least a point in 12 straight games, thanks in large part to the goaltending duo of Eddie Lack and Cam Ward. Over this twelve game span, the tandem has a combined 2.5 goals against per game. They have been complimented by a red-hot Jeff Skinner who has 11 goals in this 12 game span. Skinner is having a career year with 31 goals and 55 points, and will need to continue to deal damage if the Canes want to make up the four-point gap between themselves and the Boston Bruins.
  • The Anaheim Ducks have won seven of their last eight games. In six of these eight games, the Ducks have allowed two goals or less. This speaks volumes to their defensive structure and goaltending. Surprisingly, the goaltending success recently has not come from John Gibson, but instead from Jonathan Bernier. After being dealt from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Ducks in the off-season for a conditional pick, Bernier has been solid with a record of 19-7-3, a .919 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. Gibson may be struggling, but Head Coach Randy Carlyle has to be satisfied with having a goaltending competition, if it is resulting in wins.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors won three out of a possible four games this week, winning comfortably in all three. Norman Powell and Cory Joseph have both been getting more touches offensively and putting in their fair share of baskets. This backcourt scoring has helped take some pressure off of DeMar DeRozan, who continues to torch opponents from the mid-range and inside with 27.2 points per game on the season
  • The Raptors now trail the Washington Wizards by a single game, and have even closed the gap on first place in the Eastern Conference, as they now trail the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers by three games. While it is appearing less likely the Raptors could overtake the Cavs or Celtics, there is still a strong possibility they could catch the Wizards for third. With an easier schedule the rest of the way, other than an April 12th meeting with the Cavs, the Raptors could feasibly run the table or take six of their last seven games.

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Warriors (61-14)
  • Full credit to the Golden State Warriors. They battled back from being down double digits against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and surprised a lot of people, myself included. The Warriors have now won their last nine and with their win over the Spurs, have almost certainly locked up first place in the Western Conference. Steph Curry has elevated his game over this stretch scoring at least 20 in all but one of those nine wins. If Kevin Durant can be back in time for the playoffs, watch out, because the Warriors seem to be clicking once again.
  1. Spurs (57-17)
  • Gregg Popovich had a reason to smile, but also a reason to scold his team this week. The Spurs continued their winning ways, stringing five wins together, including a 103-74 thumping delivered to the Cavs; but they blew a big lead versus the Warriors. After getting off to a hot start, the Spurs struggled to find their touch and shot 41% from the field. The season series is at 2-1 in favour of the Spurs, but this one has to sting for the Spurs as there were stars resting during this affair.
  1. Celtics (48-27)
  • The Celtics are tied for first in the Eastern Conference, and their fans are pretty excited about it. However, it is important to note that this team has not reached their peak just yet. There is still lots of work to be done by the Celtics and they were humbled by the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in a 103-100 loss. The Celtics still have a good shot at holding onto first, despite having played more games than the Cavs, as the two meet on April 5th. If the Celtics win this game, they may just be able to lock up first place.
  1. Rockets (51-23)
  • The Houston Rockets have scored 100 points or more in every single game they have played since November 21st. That is ludicrous, and speaks volumes to how good James Harden has been as the Rockets’ catalyst offensively. The team goes as Harden goes, and the bearded one is averaging 29.3PPG, 8RPG, and 11.4APG. Those numbers are MVP-like, and have made it a two horse race between him and Russell Westbrook. However, Harden is likely not concerned with that, as his primary concern will be the playoffs, which are just around the corner.
  1. Cavaliers (47-26)
  • The Cavaliers are still tied for first in the Eastern Conference, which is great, but they have been nothing of the sort lately. Cleveland got whacked by the Wizards and then the Spurs this week, with LeBron James in the lineup for both games. The Cavs do not appear high and mighty, and LeBron will have to likely carry this team if they want any shot at taking down the Warriors or Spurs. At this rate, it may be fairly difficult for them to get past the Celtics, which does not bode well for Cleveland.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Thursday: Cavaliers vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Leafs vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Sharks vs Oilers 9:00pm ET
  • Friday: Penguins vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Spurs vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Sharks vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Rockets vs Warriors 10:30pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness 6:09pm ET, Canadiens vs Lightning 7:00pm ET, Ducks vs Oilers 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Bruins vs Blackhawks 12:30pm ET, Jazz vs Spurs 3:30pm ET, Capitals vs Blue Jackets 6:00pm ET, Wizards vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Ducks vs Flames 9:30pm ET
  • Monday: National Championship Basketball TBD, Senators vs Red Wings 7:00pm ET, Leafs vs Sabres 7:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Lightning vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, Raptors vs Pacers 7:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Flames vs Ducks 10:00pm ET, Rangers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 15-21)

The Man Who Can Stickhandle Between Raindrops: The Underrated Marian Hossa

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As a young hockey fan, I did not understand trades. When Marian Hossa was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, I presumed that meant I could not like Hossa anymore. He was not on the Ottawa Senators, which meant he was the enemy! Around the age of 14, I realized how amazing Hossa was, and how stupid I was for pretending he did not exist. Watching him tear through the playoff with the Chicago Blackhawks was truly a gift. I watched those Blackhawk games with my father, who is not much of a hockey buff, but he always enjoys watching the Senators and the playoffs. After Hossa made a fabulous play, stickhandling around just about everyone on the ice, my dad said one of my favourite lines ever. “Josh, ya know what they used to say about Hossa on the Sens broadcast? They said he could stickhandle between raindrops.” My dad is not one to remember sports history, but there is a reason that stuck with him. It was an apt description for a magnificent hockey player.

Marian Hossa has played 1300 games in the NHL and recorded 1128 points. But, these solid statistics still do not do him justice. Hossa deserves an immense amount of praise for his ability to be effective without the puck. The Slovakian superstar has received votes for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) in 12 of his 18 seasons, and in 6 of those was in the Top 15 in voting. Selke Trophy winners are typically rough and tough competitors, and you would not think of a smooth-skating European being good defensively. But, Hossa uses his lower-body strength and his terrific stick to create turnovers and transition into an offensive breakout. It is a unique talent to do the things Hossa can do with his stick in such tight spaces, and in one motion. Hossa is one of the smoothest operators there is, and is able to be smooth even when in the dirty areas. Hossa’s ability to be continuously active without the puck in the defensive zone, neutral zone and even offensive zone while fore-checking makes him invaluable.

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Hossa’s contributions without the puck are exceptional, but it is important to understand that he was not just an average two-way forward; he was, and is, among the league’s best. Hossa may not be the top guy anymore, or an all-star, but he is undoubtedly one of the best 35+ year old players in this league. When Hossa joined the Blackhawks in 2009, he was 30. Since joining the team, his numbers have been startling. Since the 2009-10 season, Hossa has 409 points in 525 games and is a +133. There are only five players with a higher plus/minus than that (Crosby, Toews, Marchand, Bergeron and Chara). Hossa’s penalty killing ability is otherworldly as well, as he has the third most shorthanded points in the league (24) since 2009-10. His crafty stick work translates to offensive opportunities, and he plays a true 200 foot game. Hossa’s stick has led him to becoming an astoundingly good playmaker, as he can find his teammates without hesitation.

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Hossa is also an underrated goal scorer, and earlier this season reached the 500 goal plateau. Hossa has been a consistent threat throughout his career, having scored 20 goals in 15 of his 18 seasons; for context, there are only 25 other men in league history who have recorded 15 or more seasons of 20+ goals. Hossa’s gift as a goal scorer comes from his wonderful hands, quick release, and most importantly, his patience. Hossa, when given space, will make a goaltender look like a confused gymnast, and stretch them all over the net. He will conclude by using his quick release to deposit the puck in the gaping net.

As a fan, it is important to have fun watching these players. Ryan Getzlaf may be an elite centre, but his style of play can be boring to watch. Hossa is fun to watch, and he does it all. He can hit, use his acceleration to create a scoring opportunity, or stickhandle through a platoon of players. Hossa covers all bases.

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But, this begs the question: how great is Hossa? He has 1000 points, 500 goals, and three Stanley Cup rings. After losing in 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Hossa signed a 12-year $62.3 million contract with the Blackhawks. Hossa took heat for the contract, which led to an apparent investigation, as the contract was front-loaded and the NHL doubted Hossa’s likeliness to play until 42. Amid controversy, Hossa produced 51 points in 57 games during the 2009-10 season, then chipped in with 15 points in 22 games during the playoffs to, bring Chicago its first Cup in 49 years.

Had Hossa not signed with Chicago, he might have been one of the greatest ever to not win the Cup. But, he saw potential in the Blackhawks, and by joining a dynasty he solidified himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Hossa has never been “the guy,” but he is one of the greatest sidekicks of all-time. Hossa has lined up alongside the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews. Hossa is more than just a secondary contributor, though. He is one of the league’s best winners. Since the 2000-01 season, no one has played in more playoff games than Marian Hossa, and the margin is significant. Hossa has played in 191 playoff games since 2000-01; the closest to him is Pavel Datsyuk at 157. More importantly, Hossa has the most points since 2000-01 with 147. In his career, Hossa has played 201 playoff games, good for 19th all-time. At this pace, and given Hossa’s longevity, he has a good chance to pass Chris Chelios (266 games) for the most all-time.

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As an Ottawa Senators fan it still hurts me that management decided to trade Hossa for Dany Heatley in 2005. Hossa’s proven playoff performance begs the question: did losing Hossa cost the Senators the Stanley Cup? Ottawa should never have given up Hossa. The Atlanta Thrashers were in a tight spot when Heatley asked for a trade after the car accident that killed, Dan Snyder. Other trades could have been pursued to keep Hossa in Ottawa. The Blackhawks ended up with one of the best players of his era, and he has rewarded fans with magnificent play on a nightly basis. No fan, in Ottawa, Chicago, or any other city in the NHL, will ever forget watching the man who could stickhandle through raindrops.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Boston Bruins have hit a rut. After going 12-3-0 under interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, the B’s have now lost three in a row and have the Toronto Maple Leafs hot on their tails. If the Leafs overtake the Bruins, Boston will fall to the second wild-card spot and have a date with the Metropolitan Division’s winner in the playoffs. That is, assuming the Bruins can hold off the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, who have games in hand on the Bruins. Brad Marchand has led the way all year for the Bruins, and he will need to be play his absolute best if he wants to assure the Bruins post-season hockey.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed 15 goals in their last three games, and the heavy workload has taken its toll on young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy is a talented individual, but he has never logged more than 32 games in an NHL season (post-season included). He has already appeared in 42 games this year for the Lightning, and fatigue has caught up to him. His teammates have not given him their best effort in the last three games, as they came out flat against Toronto, were beaten by a better team against Washington, and lost a must-win against Arizona. The Toronto game was winnable, but the Arizona loss is inexcusable. Tampa Bay is now four points back of the playoffs, and their playoff hopes looks grim.

Stars of the Week

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  • In an odd turn of events, the St. Louis Blues have made a serious playoff push despite trading Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues now find themselves third in the Central Division, and have won eight of their last nine games. Much of this turnaround can be credited to tighter defensive play, and serious improvements from Jake Allen. Allen has had seven starts over this nine game stretch, winning six of the seven and sporting, a 1.29 goals against average and a .956 save percentage. He has been lights out. Vladimir Tarasenko has done his part offensively, as he has six goals and eight points over the nine game stretch. It appears as though St. Louis will see post-season hockey, but their success from there on out will dependent on how well Jake Allen plays.
  • Huge praise goes to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season the Blue Jackets had 34 wins and 76 points. This year, with 11 games remaining, they have 100 points, have clinched a playoff position and may win the Metropolitan Division. Head Coach John Tortorella should win the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) for their incredible turnaround. Sergei Bobrovsky has been phenomenal after dropping weight this summer. Bobrovsky has a league-best 39 wins, and has a .931 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average. Expect Bobrovsky to be the front-runner for the Vezina.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors had a rallying cry on Tuesday. The Raps were getting pummeled by the Chicago Bulls, and the Bulls looked to be on route to their twelfth consecutive victory over the Raptors. Then, chaos erupted. Raptors’ power forward Serge Ibaka gave Bulls’ centre Robin Lopez a shot in the back, and a scuffle ensued, with Lopez and Ibaka throwing punches. Players, officials and coaches came to break up the fight, which saw ejections for both Ibaka and Lopez. Trailing 88-72, the Raptors went on a tear led by DeMar DeRozan and erased the 16 point deficit to force overtime, where they would win 122-120. The Raptors had been cursed against the Bulls since 2014, but on Tuesday evening they broke the curse. The team should rally around this victory, and use it as an example of perseverance for the remainder of the season.
  • The Raptors now trail the Washington Wizards by half a game, and still have the Boston Celtics in their sights trailing by three games. Over the next two weeks the Raptors will have an easier schedule, playing some of the NBA’s lesser talented clubs. If they want to catch-up and pass both of the aforementioned teams, they will need to go on a run. With a three-game winning streak right now, the Raptors have a good chance to go a run, and the post-season approaches it is vital they play their best basketball.

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (54-16)
  • San Antonio may be second in the Western Conference, but they have both wins over the Golden State Warriors, and they will likely stay in first until the Warriors beat them. This could come sooner rather than later, as the two teams are slated for a showdown on March 29th. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans, the superstars will play. Controversy aside, the Spurs had two close losses this week, but as usual they bounced right back with two wins and will look to build momentum towards next week’s rematch against the Warriors.
  1. Warriors (57-14)
  • The Warriors’ bad form has been pushed aside, as they overtook the Spurs for first place in the Western Conference and are on a five-game win streak. The turnaround can largely be attributed to their fourth quarter comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers, which kicked off this win streak. Since that game, Steph Curry has not had to play a single fourth quarter minute, as the game was out of reach after the third. The Warriors will need to uphold this high standard of play if they want to beat the Spurs in a week, and you can bet they have that date circled on their calendars.
  1. Cavaliers (46-23)
  • Another big game on national television, and another trio of stars were given the night off. A common theme in the NBA, accompanied by another common theme: that the Cleveland Cavaliers cannot win a game without LeBron James. Without the big three, the Cavs were thrashed on Saturday by the Los Angeles Clippers. They, still managed to win their games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, though, so it was a standard week for Cleveland.
  1. Celtics (45-26)
  • The Boston Celtics continue to chip away at Cleveland’s lead in the East, and now trail by only two games. They had an impressive win against the Wizards on Monday, which saw the Celtics’ depth shine, with five players reaching double digit point totals. This depth will be vital down the stretch, as Isaiah Thomas cannot carry this Celtics team every night without suffering fatigue. The Celtics will look to close the gap on the Cavaliers before their April 5th showdown, which could play a huge factor in deciding the top seed for the Eastern Conference.
  1. Raptors (42-29)
  • There is some East bias here, but the Raptors have won four of their last five, all without Kyle Lowry, and look ready to hit that next level. This is not just a Raptors team that is winning without Lowry, but it is one that looks strong. That makes Lowry’s return that much more exciting. Could this Raptors team really top last year’s run? Time will tell. But, continuing to win without Lowry would give them the swagger and confidence to believe they could.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Maple Leafs vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Rangers 8:00pm ET, Oilers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Thursday: March Madness 7:09pm ET, Lightning vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Penguins vs Senators 7:30pm ET, Raptors vs Heat 7:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Spurs 8:30pm ET
  • Friday: Islanders vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, March Madness 7:09pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness TBD, Jazz vs Clippers 3:30pm ET, Senators vs Canadiens 7:00pm ET, Flames vs Blues 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Wizards vs Cavaliers 7:30pm ET, Sharks vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: March Madness TBD, Thunder vs Rockets 3:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
  • Monday: Blackhawks vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Cavaliers vs Spurs 8:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Panthers vs Maple Leafs 7:30pm ET, Capitals vs Wild 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Kings vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Rangers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.