Buckle Up: One Bold Prediction for each NHL Team

Buckle Up: One Bold Prediction for each NHL Team

PSA: Every spice rating in here is done by my wonderful editor Geoff. It is done to add some flavour to the article, and give another’s opinion!

 

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks Top Line Gets Eavened Up

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Patrick Eaves was red hot last year. The short-tenured Duck recorded 32 goals in 79 games last year between Dallas and Anaheim and should continue this production on the Ducks’ top line. Eaves managed 11 goals in just 20 games with the Ducks last season, and will continue to benefit from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry’s presence and skills. Eaves’ ability to clean up play around the net will help him sustain this production. Moreover, Eaves’ accomplishments in Anaheim came with Perry having a down year as well. Should Perry return to form this year, Anaheim’s top line could reach unseen heights. Eaves’ 32 goals were no fluke, and he will hit at least 30 this season.

Prediction: Eaves stays red-hot and scores 30+ goals

Spice: AYY PAPI

 

Arizona Coyotes: Max Domi Finds a New Gear

Through 2 NHL seasons Max Domi has averaged 0.64 points per game. This year he will shatter that mark and hit 65 points. Arizona has improved their forward group this year, adding Derek Stepan, Clayton Keller, and Dylan Strome to their opening night roster. This gives Domi more talent to work with and takes away attention from opposing top lines. Furthermore, he will find more free space, and will excel under the Coyotes’ new head coach, Rick Tocchet. When in space, Domi is lethal, as he is almost always in motion even when off the puck, making himself available for a goal scoring opportunity. Tocchet will encourage Domi to move freely and with more speed this season than his predecessor, Dave Tippett.

Prediction: Domi hits 65 points with skill surrounding him

Spice: DIOS MIO

 

Boston Bruins: Big Bear Goes Home Wounded

The Boston Bruins are incredibly top heavy. They only had 7 players register 30 or more points last season, and were carried by a lethal top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. After that, and outside of David Krejci and Ryan Spooner, their forward group is lacking. If any of their top line goes down or struggles, it could prove fatal. Furthermore, Zedno Chara’s ability to be a top pairing defenseman is no longer a certainty. Having been exposed in the playoffs, Chara’s minutes will likely be reduced this year, meaning one of Boston’s young defensemen will need to step up. With Torey Krug already dealing with injury issues, the wheels could fall off sooner rather than later if another big gun goes down for Boston.

Prediction: Setback year for Boston, who will miss the playoffs

Spice: the spiciest of Antarctic peppers

 

 

Buffalo Sabres: Eichel Earns Elite Status

Jack Eichel’s talent has never been in question. However, the American stud has flown under the radar in Buffalo, and was held back by injury issues last season. During his 2016-17 campaign, Eichel recorded 57 points in 61 games despite his injuries. This season, he will be a point per game producer. He will eclipse 80 points and become the leader of the Sabres. Eichel’s quick acceleration and elite accuracy will create chances not only for himself, but his teammates. Further proof of Eichel’s skill and ability to control the play is shown through Buffalo’s league-leading powerplay, which excelled at 24.5% last season. The 20 year old will be a menace for opposing teams and coaches, and will become recognized as one of the most dynamic players in the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: Eichel puts up 80+ points, gains much more credibility

Spice: colder than a February Thursday in Flin Flon

 

Calgary Flames: Magic Mike Arrives in Cowtown

Mike Smith is now a Calgary Flame, and finally has a well-designed team in front of him. Having been the victim of constant redeveloping teams in Arizona, Smith now joins a young Flames team that has experienced success. Despite having a revolving door in goal last season Calgary was 14th in GA, and will improve on this mark with Smith in net. Furthermore, the additions of Michael Stone and Travis Hamonic will help solidify their blue line and provide added protection for Smith. With a capable team up front, do not be surprised to see Smith and the Flames make a run in the playoffs. It was not too long ago that Smith and the Coyotes landed themselves in the Western Conference Finals. Smith may be older now, but his lateral movement and quick glove hand are still more than capable.

Prediction: Mike Smith takes the Flames on a playoff run

Spice: PEPE, IS THAT YOU???

 

Carolina Hurricanes: Skinner’s Theory Comes to Fruition

Jeff Skinner is shockingly only 25 years old and coming off of his best NHL season. The former Calder winner recorded 37 goals and 63 points last season to lead the Canes in scoring. This year, he will improve even more. Last year, Skinner spent 50% of his time on the ice with Lee Stempniak. This year, Skinner should get time with skilled players like Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen, and Victor Rask. Regardless of who he plays with, though, Skinner will create opportunities for his teammates by drawing defenders to him. Skinner could easily crack 70 points this season, and he will continue to lead the Hurricanes offensively. He might also bring the Hurricanes their first playoff appearance since 2008-09.

Prediction: Skinner notches 70+ points

Spice: TOO SKINNY

 

Chicago Blackhawks: The Hidden Rink in Slovakia Exists

Following their early playoff exit last season, many analysts pegged the Blackhawks to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08. However, reports of the Blackhawks’ death have been greatly exaggerated. The Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and have brought in young talent this year to solidify their forward lines. The defense will not be as solid as usual, but Joel Quenneville mix and match accordingly to ensure the Blackhawks’ success. Marian Hossa should continue to thrive as well. The Blackhawks are still waiting on the NHL’s decision on Hossa’s LTIR status, after it was reported this off-season that Hossa was allergic to material in his equipment. When the Blackhawks surprise even themselves this year and find a resolution to their cap woes, Hossa will return to the lineup and bring his wealth of experience and skill in time for the playoffs.

Prediction: Hossa will return mid-season and Blackhawks will find their way into the playoffs

Spice: Marian Hossa’s career is over. This is not a rating, it is a PSA

 

Colorado Avalanche: A Diamond In The Rough

The Colorado Avalanche will be tanking for picks, but they will have one bright spot this year. Sven Andrighetto could not find much ice-time in Montreal, however, when he arrived in the Mile High City last year he instantly impressed. Andrighetto put up 16 points in 19 games. While the sample size is small, with less pressure on him and a fresh start look for Andrighetto to produce this year at a Top-six pace for the Avs. Andrighetto has a quick release and can finish a good amount of chances, in his aforementioned 19 games Andrighetto shot at a 13.5% clip, which is quite above average. Look for the Swiss youngster to be a surprise for the Avalanche and put up 50 points this year.

Prediction: 20+ goals and 50 points for the young lad from Switzerland

Spice: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_burn_centres_in_Canada

 

Columbus Blue Jackets: Panarin Gets His Own Spinoff

After two seasons alongside Patrick Kane in Chicago, Artemi Panarin now joins the Columbus Blue Jackets, aiming to establish himself as one of the league’s elite. Panarin, now in the prime of his career, has recorded 151 points in 162 games, and now joins an up-and-coming Columbus team searching for a superstar forward. Panarin will be the fix. The Russian is one of the smoothest stickhandlers in the NHL, has an incredibly quick release, and has elite level vision to create opportunities for his teammates. It will be interesting to see Panarin getting more touches and puck possession, as he will truly dictate the pace for the Jackets’ offense. He is currently lined up with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson, and their line could be one of the scariest in the NHL by season’s end.

Prediction: Panarin will be over a point per game this season

Spice: I bet you still think Roman Reigns is an underdog

 

Dallas Stars: Free Agency Winners or Regular Season Disappointment

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The Dallas Stars once again went out and made a bevy of off-season moves. However, this does not mean they are a contender, and it does not mean this team is making the playoffs. While Marc Methot was a huge upgrade on the blueline, they still lost Jordie Benn, and, outside of their centres, they still lack depth at forward. Benn-Seguin-Radulov will be fabulous to watch, and there is a reason to be excited, but the Stars are not going anywhere if those three do not carry this team. Not to mention, the Stars will be relying heavily on Ben Bishop, a player that has been dealing with injury issues for the past four seasons. Bishop had his worst year as a starter last year, yet the Stars rewarded him with a large contract. Pessimism could be getting the best of me, but I do not see how the Stars make significant progress with their current roster.

Prediction: This roster will score, but they will not make the playoffs

Spice: The Stars may look cold, but this prediction is HOTTTTTT

 

Detroit Red Wings: Short-Term Loss for Long Legged Gain

The Detroit Red Wings will be a bad team this year. Still, Anthony Mantha is going to begin reaching his potential. Mantha had a respectable rookie season in 2016-17, scoring 17 goals and 36 points. With a year of experience under his belt, and a more youthful line combination with Dylan Larkin and Martin Frk, Mantha’s skill and size will shine. The 220 pounder has extremely tidy mitts and a release that will fool goalies. There will be no sophomore slump for the big man, as he will likely lead the way for the Wings in goal scoring.

Prediction: Mantha scores at least 30 goals, and gives Wings fans hope for the future

Spice: MY GOD….

Edmonton Oilers: McDavid Officially Becomes “The Best”

Many people will say until Connor McDavid wins a Stanley Cup he is inferior to Sidney Crosby. These same people will have an incredibly tough time arguing McDavid is not more talented, the 20-year old is fresh off of recording 100 points and now gets Ryan Strome to work with. Many people forget Strome scored 50 points, three seasons ago, and I will argue that he will shatter that mark this year. Strome will be the beneficiary of McDavid’s career year, as the young captain will put up the biggest point total since Evgeni Malkin recorded 113 points during the 2008-09 season. McDavid is arguably the best skater in the league, and he continuously uses

Prediction: McDavid hits 115 points, and will be considered the greatest player on the planet

Spice: I bet you thought Hillary would sweep the Electoral College

 

Florida Panthers: Russian Fever Makes The Panthers Playoff Bound

The Florida Panthers are going to make the playoffs. The antidote to their scoring woes will come with the off-season addition of Evgeny Dadonov. This underrated roster move gives Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexsander Barkov a skilled teammate on the right wing. The 28-year old recorded 66 points in 53 games for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL last year, and, much like Artemi Panarin a few years ago, Dadonov will adjust to the NHL-style quickly. Dadonov sees the game with a high degree of creativity. He uses his speed to create separation between defenders, and makes his money breaking down the wings or setting up shop at the hash marks/faceoff circle. Dadonov’s speed and creativity will revamp Florida’s offense and help fix the Panthers’ mediocre powerplay.

Prediction: Dadonov scores 70 points and helps guide Florida back to post-season hockey

Spice: BY GOD, THAT MAN HAS A FAMILY

 

Los Angeles Kings: Lombardi’s Mess Remains Janitor-Less

The Los Angeles Kings will miss the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009. Dean Lombardi may have assembled two Stanley Cup winning rosters, but he now leaves the Kings with a mediocre roster. Firing Darryl Sutter will set the Kings back more than it will move them forward, and the once systematic Kings will break down much more this year. The Kings have lost their strengths. Their depth forwards and defensemen look bad, and the playoffs will be a huge ask from this group. If they want any success, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick will need to have their best seasons ever. With Kopitar trending downwards, and Drew Doughty sounding unsure about his future in L.A., the Kings could be competing for draft picks instead of Cups.

Prediction: The Kings miss the playoffs

SPICE: NO MAS, SENOR. NO MAS

 

Minnesota Wild: El Nino Is Unleashed On the NHL

Coming off his best professional season, Nino Niederreiter is about to turn into an elite power forward. The 25-year old tallied 25 goals, 100+ hits, and 57 points last year, and he is poised to score 30 or more this season. From in tight, Niederreiter is one of the best finishers in the league. He continuously scores from below the hash marks by using his long stick, large body frame, and quick release. The Swiss superstar is due for an uptick in ice time as he will be lined up alongside Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal. With more talent around Niederreiter and Minnesota’s new found depth, line matching will be difficult for opponents and Niederreiter will capitalize.

Prediction: Neiderreiter notches 30+ and plateaus at 70 points

Spice: GO GOPHERS

 

Montreal Canadiens: The Price is Too High

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Jonathan Drouin does not solve the problems the Canadiens have. Drouin will have a great season, and his line mates will do well. However, there is no way the Habs can score at a playoff rate with their roster. They offloaded three of their top five defensemen, and have a weaker defensive unit now. They also lost Radulov, which will hurt their goal scoring. Their off-season moves were fine, and the Drouin trade was excellent. He will bring speed, creativity, and explosiveness to their top line, and will help Max Pacioretty produce. However, the rest were questionable. Karl Alzner had one of the worst Corsi ratings on the Washington Capitals last year at 47.3%. Their bottom six is underwhelming, and will not get much better unless Charles Hudon has a fabulous rookie season. The reality here is that Carey Price will have to carry this team, even more so than in past seasons. The Habs may be able to squeak into the playoffs, but this team took a step or two backwards this off-season.

Prediction: Habs miss the playoffs and fall flat

Spice: Riot-worthy

Nashville Predators: Smashville Bashes in the Central Division

The Predators have an incredibly deep defensive core, and Pekka Rinne showed he can still be an elite goaltender in the NHL. The losses of James Neal and Mike Fisher hurt, but Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have room for improvement. The additions of Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino add more grit to this forward group, and will make Nashville an even tougher and more physical team to play against. Believe it or not, their defense may even be better this year if PK Subban returns to his Montreal form. Subban was great defensively last year, but lacked the same offensive bite he had previously displayed. This season, Subban will become the quarterback of the Predators’ powerplay. Subban at the top of the faceoff circle is an extremely deadly asset who will consistently put the puck on net.

Prediction: Preds Win the Central Division & Subban hits 25+ powerplay points

Spice: YAWN

 

New Jersey Devils: #13 is #1 In His Class

Nico Hischier played four pre-season games, scoring in all four and tallying seven points. Hischier also went 19 for 40 in the faceoff circle, which, for a rookie, is exceptional. It typically takes young centres a few years to get near 50%. It may only have been pre-season, but Hishcier’s abilities are shown through those four games. He has incredible acceleration and can be a puck hound in the neutral zone, in turn creating offensive chances for himself and teammates. Look for the #1 overall draft pick to be the top rookie of the 2017-18 season, and for him to eventually gain much more ice-time with Taylor Hall. Hischier will help break the trap narrative of the old Devils by providing a new youthful energy, which comes with much more freedom.

Prediction: Hischier wins the Calder with 60+ points

Spice: SOMEONE’S BEEN EATING THEIR VITAMINS, BROTHER

 

New York Islanders: Johnny T’s New Dance Partner

John Tavares has been searching for a dynamic linemate to play alongside him. Anders Lee’s numbers are a great representation of how good Tavares is, as he has helped Lee’s game drastically. This year sees Tavares get probably his most attractive line mate in quite some time. Jordan Eberle joining the Islanders is huge for Tavares, who is reunited with his former World Junior pal and now has a skillful winger with him on the ice. It could help him regain the point per game form he showed in 2014-15. Tavares leans heavily on his strength to create offense for himself and teammates as he draws multiple defenders at a time. An incredibly strong puck handler with terrific vision, Tavares is a human highlight reel most nights.

Prediction: Tavares eclipses 85 points and keeps the Isles in the Wild Card race

Spice: THIS IS BORING *clap clap clap-clap-clap*

 

New York Rangers: The King Falls

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings

Henrik Lundqvist’s decline began to show last season, as he struggled at times to provide consistent goaltending to a Rangers team that had finally started scoring. Lundqvist had his worst season ever statistically, and his workload may be even heavier this year without Antti Raanta to back him up. The Rangers lost Raanta in the off-season and now have Ondrej Pavelec, who last season could not even secure a back-up job in Winnipeg. The Rangers offense was Top 5 in the league last year in scoring, but will likely see a drop off with the loss of Derek Stepan. Their former #1 centre was also one of their few players with a Corsi of 50% or higher. Stepan’s role will now be shared by Mika Zibanejad and 18 year-old rookie Filip Chytil. Zibanejad is best in transition, where he, unlike most centres, hangs higher and uses his speed to be sprung on breakaways. Should defenses match lines against him, Zibanejad could have a tougher time achieving this. All in all, if this team wants to go anywhere Lundqvist will need to be much better than last year.

Prediction: Lundqvist struggles, Rangers squeak into post-season get bounced 1st round

Spice: MCMAHON-SIZED GRAPEFRUITS

 

Ottawa Senators: The Overachievers Continue to Surprise

The Ottawa Senators were Eastern Conference Finalists last year; yet, entering this year they are being picked to miss the playoffs. Furthermore, instead of talking about the team’s on-ice success, the discussion surrounds their arena, ticket sales, and ownership. This is all happening whilst Ottawa continues to ice one of their best teams in the past 10 years. Erik Karlsson is the best defenseman in the world. The team’s regular season could actually be even smoother this year if they get more offense out of playoff performer Bobby Ryan. After the worst regular season of his career, Ryan was the Senators’ best forward in the playoffs last season. Ryan’s playoff success came from his effort levels, which were showed in 1 on 1 puck battles that he consistently won in the playoffs. Winning these battles led to opportunities for himself and teammates. Look for an uptick in offense from Ryan to stabilize the Sens top-6, as they will find themselves once again in the playoffs.

Prediction: Sens make the playoffs and Ryan puts up 55+ points

Spice: LOLTARPS

 

Philadelphia Flyers: The Team Follows Their Captain

The Philadelphia Flyers should find themselves in a battle for a wild card spot this season. This young team has an exciting offense led by Claude Giroux. Giroux had his worst season since 2009-10 in 2016-17, but should recover this year. Expect to see a much different Giroux this year. Over 50% of Giroux’s minutes last year were with Michael Raffl as a winger. This year, he is much more likely to spend time with Jakub Voracek. His other winger will be the key, though, and if he gets more ice-time with Wayne Simmonds his numbers will skyrocket. Of Giroux’s 58 points last year, over 70% included either Voracek or Simmonds. His success hinges on playing with the best players around him, and he will likely benefit from increased ice time with them this year. If Philly can get Giroux going, their powerplay will roll as well, as the team’s powerplay possesses control and poise, which creates many net-front chances that could make their powerplay Top 5 in the league.

Prediction: Giroux hits 70+ points, Flyers PP is Top 5, stay competitive in wild card race

Spice: I EXPECTED A PHILLY LINE BRAWL, NOT A TALLAHASSEE TEA PARTY

 

Pittsburgh Penguins: Three peat?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have an incredibly rare opportunity this season: they could become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. The core of this group remains the same, and they did not lose much else this off-season. Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen leaving their bottom-six hurt, though, and  Jim Rutherford and company will likely address this issue near the trade deadline by adding a centre to solidify their bottom-six. Expect Jake Guentzel to reintroduce himself, and have a terrific regular-season playing alongside Sidney Crosby. Guentzel netted 13 goals in 25 games last year during the Pens’ Stanley Cup run, many coming from Crosby’s vision and quick stick. Furthermore, Matt Murray continues to prove he is one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL, and will finally be the #1 goalie. This Pens team is stacked from top to bottom, and if they are healthy they are certainly the team to beat.

Prediction: Guentzel goes to town netting 35+ goals and the Penguins win the Cup once more

Spice: “Are you saying ‘boo’, or ‘Boo-urns’?”  “BOOOOOOO”

 

San Jose Sharks: In Need of a Reboot

The San Jose Sharks got bounced in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers last year in a disappointing finish. The Sharks were fresh off of a Stanley Cup Final trip in 2016, yet came nowhere near the final last season. This was largely due to a lack of scoring: in 2015-16, the Sharks averaged 2.89 GPG (Goals Per Game); last season, 2.67 GPG. While they had an excellent defensive unit and structure, their lack of goal scoring hurt them. Much of this scoring needs to come from the Joes. Pavelski and Thornton are the offensive leaders of the team. This year, Kevin Lebanc is their line mate. While he may not be the most prolific name, Labanc enters his second NHL season in a great spot with the opportunity to benefit from two of the best in the game. Thornton has turned ordinary players into extraordinary ones before, most notably Jonathan Cheechoo. Pavelski’s goal scoring ability will ease the toll on Labanc, who will be able to find his captain at the top faceoff circle or in front of the net to clean up goals.

Prediction: Both Joes hit 70 points, Labanc gets to 50, Sharks are much more competitive

Spice: I THOUGHT I COULD LABANC ON THESE PREDICTIONS BEING SPICY, DAMMIT

 

St. Louis Blues: The Blues at a Dive Bar

The St. Louis Blues have been bit by the injury bug and the NHL season has barely started. Jay Bouwmeester, Patrik Berglund, and Alex Steen are all expected to miss time at the start of the season, some even for months. On top of that, Robby Fabbri is done for the year after reinjuring his left knee. That is 290 manned games lost, along with 51 goals. Furthermore, the Blues lost Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, and Jori Lehtera, which will significantly hurt them throughout the lineup. Brayden Schenn was a great addition, and St. Louis will give the 26 year-old a true opportunity to take another step forward. Schenn’s physical play helps him create turnovers and generate energy for his team, which translates to scoring chances and momentum swings. The Blues could make the playoffs, but they will need a lot of things to go right and to be lucky. In an extremely hectic and competitive Central division, they will struggle to keep their heads above water. The Blues seem to be a little too blackened for a long and prosperous season.

Prediction: Blues miss out on the playoffs in crowded Central division

Spice: IF THIS WERE A PITBULL SONG, IT’D BE “FIREBALL”

 

Tampa Bay Lightning: An Unlikely Hero

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Peter Budaj has been on a journey. After seemingly hitting rock-bottom in St. John’s, Budaj was given the opportunity to join the LA Kings’ AHL affiliate the Ontario Reign. Budaj dominated in 2015-16 and was promoted to the Kings’ roster for the 2016-17 season when Jonathan Quick got injured. Despite the Kings struggles last year, Budaj played very well, posting a 2.12 GAA (Goals Against Average) and .917 save percentage. Budaj moves well and when he is on, he can carry a team through a game. After being dealt to the Lightning at the trade deadline, Budaj was rewarded with the back-up job and a contract in Tampa Bay. This year, he will go one step further and steal the starting job away from Andrei Vasilevskiy.  A far-fetched theory, yes, but Budaj has earned a serious look with his track record, and Vasilevskiy could be on a shorter leash than expected with a Tampa team that is in “win now mode”. Look for Peter Budaj to give Vasy a serious run for the #1 goalie job, and maybe even have its full control by December.

Prediction: Vasilevskiy struggles, Budaj takes starting job and runs with it.

Spice: BAH GAWD, THAT’S….THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!!!

 

Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs Are #ActuallyGood

As a Senators fan, it absolutely pains me to say this, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have a bright future, and the hockey world will get a good look at that future this year. Aided by one of the most exciting offenses in the NHL, the Leafs will be a contender in the Atlantic division. So much so that they are actually my pick to win the division. Despite their average defensive corps, the Leafs will be able to simply beat their opponents in a track meet on the majority of nights. Led by Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ offense plays fast and has countless weapons with an incredibly deep lineup. The addition of Patrick Marleau brings more scoring touch and veteran presence. However, I do not see this drastically impacting the Leafs playoff hopes. While the Leafs will score at will during the regular season, come playoffs when the games are grinded out further their young lineup will struggle to remain as strong and physical as their opponents. The regular season will give a great glimpse to the future, but this Leafs team are a couple years away from being true contenders.

Prediction: The Maple Leafs win the division, but come up short in the playoffs

Spice: WHAT IS THIS, WRESTLEMANIA 33? WHAT AN ULTIMATE THRILLRIDE

 

Vancouver Canucks: Delusional & Distraught

Being a Vancouver Canucks fan must be difficult. This team has not been good enough to compete in years, yet refuses to commit to a rebuild. Keeping Henrik and Daniel Sedin around as mentors for younger players is great, and providing them with Loui Eriksson is fine. But, going out in the off-season and bringing in Tomas Vanek, Sam Gagner, and Alex Burmistrov is pretty baffling. The Canucks will not make the playoffs this year, but they also blew their chances of likely getting a top 5 draft choice with these moves. Vanek and Gagner aren’t prospects, or even young anymore, so bringing them in when you are not competing is counter-intuitive. Gagner has killer hands and really re-developed his scoring touch last year. Yet, while he brings excitement, this is a rebuild, not a time to bring in veterans. Vancouver’s average age is 27.254 years old, far too old for a rebuilding team, and their ineptitude in managerial decisions will cost them as this rebuild will go on for far too long.

Prediction: Canucks try to compete fail, but do not secure a top 5 draft pick

Spice: THIS IS HOGAN TNA LEVELS OF BORING, GIVE ME SOME SPICE

 

Vegas Golden Knights: Flower Power Takes Vegas by Storm

Marc-Andre Fleury’s goodbye to Pittsburgh included a Stanley Cup, though hedid not play a single minute in the Final. However, they likely would not have gotten there without the former first overall pick, who steadied the ship when Matt Murray went down. A lovable and recognizable name, The Flower will become the face of this franchise. Attaching a player to a brand is how you build your fan-base, and many people around the league will tune into Vegas Golden Knights games to support Fleury. Will this team be good this year? Absolutely not. But, Marc-Andre Fleury will steal games for them time and time again. Fleury has gotten his swagger and confidence back, which has seen his skill rise through the roof again. After some tumultuous times in Pittsburgh, where he lost his starting job to a younger goalie, Fleury will find stability in Vegas, and will be their face of the franchise so long as he is a Golden Knight.

Prediction: Fleury finds his game and becomes the face of Vegas hockey

Spice: THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE, AND THEY SPELL DISASTER FOR THIS PREDICTION

 

Washington Capitals: The GR8 One

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Alex Ovechkin’s had his worst season as a pro last year. He did not look like the same player that has scored 60+ goals: he was out of shape, bruised, and battered. This year, he returned to Washington earlier than ever before, eager to begin training camp, and showed off his new physique. Ovi is ready to explode. One of the greatest goal scorers of all-time, Ovechkin is 32, but not ready to slow down. Full of pride and furious over the NHL’s decision not to go to the Olympics, expect a focused Ovechkin to take his anger out on opponent’s goaltenders and defenses. With a world-class release, a booming shot, and unmatched goal scoring prowess, Ovechkin will have no trouble filling the net. Alex will hit 50 goals this year and will have his best season as a leader. It has never happened, and every year the hockey world believes the dream is dead, but if anyone is going to beat Pittsburgh, look for it to be Washington. Washington’s case may be repetitive, but even a broken clock is right once a day.

Prediction: Ovechkin reaches 50 goals once again, Capitals give Pittsburgh a run for their money

Spice: THAT’S A LIE. THAT’S A GOD DAMNED LIE

 

Winnipeg Jets: Used Good Do Not Pay Dividends

Steve Mason was chased out of Philadelphia this past off-season. Once a Calder winner, Mason’s abilities as a starter have been in question for the past few years. Oddly enough, he was given the starting job in Winnipeg, and the longer he spends as the #1 in Winnipeg, the further the Jets will bury themselves in the standings. Connor Hellebuyck was given a fair chance last year, and had a decent showing. Hellebuyck is accredited with having NHL skill and reflexes, but his inconsistencies have been his shortcoming thus far. This past summer, he began working with Adam Francilia. Francilia, a sports performance coach, has helped the likes of Andrew Ladd, Devan Dubnyk, James Reimer, and many more. They focused on posture and setup this off-season, as well as creating a better diet for Hellebuyck. In spite of all this, along with being younger than Mason and having nearly equal numbers, Hellebuyck was pushed to the back-up role in a peculiar move. Winnipeg is trying to win too quickly by pushing Mason into the starting role. It did not work in Philly the past two years, and he will continue to be a hazard in Winnipeg.

Prediction: Mason flounders, Jets continue to spin tires until they let Hellebuyck develop into their starter. No playoffs this year.

Spice: Winnipeg has an NHL team?

 

 

Thank you all so much for reading! It truly means the world to me, and now having much more time at my disposal I can promise this will once again become a weekly activity! So please every week feel free to read and give me feedback, this is how I can always continue to improve! I enjoy so much writing and I enjoy it even more when I get feedback and know people are reading my works. So thank you again for reading, it is my absolute pleasure to share my work with you.

Thanks also to my editor Geoff, who commits time to making sure my work is at its best quality. If you have any recommendations or would like to continue the conversation hit me up on Facebook or on Twitter or Instagram @sassysaslove!

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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!

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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!

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 (Apr. 27-May. 3)

Five Things: Major League Baseball’s Top Five Headlines in April

  1. The Nats’ Hot Bats

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No team in the MLB is hitting better than the Washington Nationals. Led by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, the Nationals boast a team average of .289, a significant lead over the next-closest team, the Houston Astros, at .276. Their bats are accompanied by an ability to drive the ball. The Nationals have hit 43 home runs this season, trailing only, the New York Yankees at 44 and the Milwaukee Brewers at 47. This consistent hitting, combined with their power, has seen them score the most runs in the league to date. Their power was on display on Sunday, when they beat the New York Mets 23-5. Washington’s formula is sustainable, as they are able to both to go out of the park and play excellent small ball. They lead the Majors in doubles, sit second in walks and have the best on-base percentage in the MLB at .366. The Nationals appear to be running away with the NL East despite having some of the worst pitching in the league, and, with a fairly loaded rotation it is fair to assume the best of their pitching is yet to come. Could this finally be the year that the Nationals break through and make the World Series?

  1. Not Your Everyday Korean League Player

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Despite leaving the MLB at the end of the 2013 season, Eric Thames was determined to find a way back to high-level professional baseball. Having been buried in Triple-A baseball for a year, Thames was willing to try anything to get his career back on track. While playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, Thames was scouted by the NC Dinos of the Korean League and signed to a one-year deal for $800,000 USD. From there he would go onto be a two-time all-star, be the first player in Korean League history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, and win the 2015 MVP. His success caught the eyes of the Milwaukee Brewers, who signed Thames to a three-year, $16 million contract in late-November. Thames has made an immediate impact, recording 11 home runs (tied for 2nd in the Majors), 20 RBIs, a .326 batting average and a .761 slugging percentage (4th in the Majors). Catching many experts by surprise, Thames has proven that anyone can make it. Using his powerful bat and the momentum of a second chance Thames has captured baseball’s attention and imagination. However, the ride seems a little simpler to Thames. When asked why he chose Milwaukee to be his choice of destination Thames summed it up simply, “they have great beer”. The man who loves a good beer, is just having fun playing baseball. With Thames back in his native United States of America, I doubt the MLB will let him leave home anytime soon again.

  1. Blue Jays Lost in the Wind

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The Toronto Blue Jays had an ugly April. Despite entering the season with high expectations, the Jays struggled out of the gate. The team went 8-17 on the month, leaving many fans and news stations calling for accountability. However, the Blue Jays have ramped it up of late. The Jays have shown a pulse in their last eleven games, going 5-6 and winning three in a row at one point. They now find themselves trailing the Chicago White Sox by six and a half games for the final wild card spot. Consequently, the Jays will need to have good months from here on out, Management has not been safe from outside criticism. Manager John Gibbons voiced his opinion on the Fan 590 on Monday, calling in as “John from the Bronx” to criticize host Mike Wilner, after he had questioned Gibbons’ decision to start Luke Maile over veteran Russell Martin. Gibbons spoke highly of Marco Estrada and Maile, and had some fun with Wilner, who seemed unaware of the caller’s identity at the beginning of the call. As the Jays have struggled, some players have answered the call for help. Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar carried the load offensively for the Jays, with Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson both sidelined from ailments. The Jays will need more from the likes of Jose Bautista, Devon Travis, and Steve Pearce if they wish to push for a playoff position. With the bats starting to show more life, and a steady starting rotation, the Jays can get back on track with relative ease.

  1. 34: The New 25

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34-year old Ervin Santana was the best pitcher in baseball during April, going 5-0 and sporting an earned runs average of 0.66. In 41 innings, Santana has allowed just three earned runs and, 16 hits, which leaves him with an equally impressive walks and hits per inning pitched (W.H.I.P.) of 0.71. The right-hander is having arguably his best season since 2008, and has carried the Minnesota Twins to second place in the Central division. Those batting against Santana are hitting .120, as the Dominican relies on his fastball for just over 50% of his pitches. Santana can effectively use his slider and his changeup to strikeout batters, though, and can mix in a two-seam fastball when needed. Santana’s turnaround is a nice story, having been suspended for 80 games back in 2015, for drug use. While it will be near-impossible to keep up this torrid pace, do not be surprised if Santana finds himself in the AL Cy Young race well into September. Maybe he could even help the Twins get back to the post-season for the first time since 2010.

  1. The Judge of New York’s Supreme Court

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Given his 6’7’’, 282-pound frame, and unique last name, one would expect Aaron Judge to be a WWE Superstar, rather a professional baseball player. Instead, he finds himself dominating for the New York Yankees, leading the MLB with 13 home runs and having tallied 27 RBIs on top of that. The behemoth has even consistently got on base for the New York Yankees, as he is batting .330 with a .433 on-base percentage to compliment his impressive batting average. Judge is only a rookie, too, having only played 27 games last season for the Yankees. Judge is just the third Yankee since 1913 to hit at least 12 home runs in the first 25 games of a season, joining the likes of Babe Ruth (1921) and Alex Rodriguez (2007). Elite company for the 25-year old, who has helped bring the Yankees back into contention for the AL East’s crown this season. Judge clearly practices just as hard as he plays, as he sent a rocket off the scoreboard, which then went down to terrace and destroyed a television. My sources tell me that the television is on its way to Cooperstown. The jury is in, and Judge is slamming everyone with home runs.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I have been adjusting to being back home in Ottawa and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! 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. 30-Apr.5)

Stubborn and Naïve: The Growing Rift Created between the NHL and its Players & Fans

Photography by Kristian Bogner Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

On February 28th, 2010, I found myself alone at home. My father was on the outskirts of Ottawa, helping run his motorsport club’s ice race, and my mother was at work at the hospital. I was alone watching the Canada/U.S. Gold Medal hockey game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The game was a back and forth battle, pitting two bitter rivals against each other in a hostile environment. Late in the third period, the U.S. tied the game with 25 seconds left on a goal by Zach Parise. Watching Canada’s lead slip away was devastating, as the game moved on to an overtime period. The overtime had a feverish pace about it: chances were abundant on both sides and the crowd gasped and roared, depending on who had the puck. About seven minutes in, Sidney Crosby carried the puck through the neutral zone, only to lose it upon entering the American end. Jarome Iginla picked it up for Canada and fed Crosby, who, from an improbable angle scored, the most iconic goal of the 21st century. Canada stood up and cheered, as their sons had won Gold on home soil.

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There are children in Canada, and around the world, who over the next decade, will not get to experience this feeling as their NHL heroes will not likely be headed to the Olympics. On Monday, the NHL officially announced that they were not sending their players to the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision is especially controversial considering the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had made accommodations for insurance and transportation issues the NHL had. The NHL and its owners, though, fear of injuries, like that of John Tavares at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which cost the New York Islanders’ captain the rest of his season.

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This is a selfish move by the NHL. The league, and its owners are now going to have a problem with rogue players, irritated fans, and the loss of international growth. The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) released a statement shortly after the league released their decision, saying that they were “extraordinarily disappointed” and that they “adamantly disagree with the NHL’s short-sighted decision.” The NHLPA echoed the potential growth for the game and the NHL’s opportunity to showcase their talent in Asia, an untapped market. With the following two winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea and Beijing, China, it serves as an excellent opportunity for hockey to grow internationally. Yet, the NHL’s stubbornness and inability to cooperate hinders such an opportunity. Some NHL players plan to go, regardless of what the league mandates. One of the biggest stars in hockey, Alexander Ovechkin, has stuck to his guns and maintained his positon that he would play in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This puts the NHL in a tough spot: should they suspend Ovechkin? If so, for how long? The debate and decision has become a media circus, and it will likely get even bigger when someone, like Ovechkin, receives undeserved backlash.

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The fans will not side with the owners and the NHL. They will always back the players who entertain them. In refusing to play in PyeongChang, the league is failing to gain access to a new group of fans in Asia. Recently, the Kontinental Hockey League expanded into China, and the Kunlun Red Star began playing in Beijing. With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, only six years away, China wants hockey to grow, and the KHL offered them a great platform to do so. What they did not expect was the absence of the NHL. The league has failed to realize that China is the biggest untapped market in the world. Their opportunity begs comparison to the NBA, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Throughout the 2000s, the NBA had grown its market in China with Yao Ming’s success; but, then after the Beijing Games, China found an honourary son in Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba is a legend in China, and the crowds went crazy for him when the NBA toured through China in the pre-season of 2013. This all stemmed from his appearance at the 2008 Olympics, where he and the entire American team put on a show.

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Kobe was not the only reason the NBA and basketball has become so popular in China, though. The NBA put offices in Shanghai and Beijing and, held grassroots tours throughout the country. For their attempts, the league received rave reviews. Forbes reporter Robert Tuchman compared the NBA’s success in exporting their product to China to the “same prestigious echelon” as that of Apple and Disney. The numbers match this lofty claim: in 2012, it was reported NBA China’s revenue was at $150 million USD. That number approached $200 million USD in 2014, and it continues to grow.

Why, then, would the NHL skip the Olympics? It is difficult to be global, and they do not have a Yao Ming, but the NHL has the Winter Olympics. They have back to back Winter Olympics in Asian countries, and will have all of the world’s attention. Yet, they hide their product and restrict it. The exposure and potential revenue outweighs the few consequences that would come from letting the players go to the Winter Olympics.

Gary Bettman thinks he has discovered the solution to ownership’s concerns. He believes that the IOC should switch hockey to the Summer Olympics. This solution is insulting. Hockey is not meant for the summer, and that’s the belief of the Great One. In 2008, Wayne Gretzky stated kids should have an “off-season”, a three-four month window where they play other sports. This lesson comes from Walter Gretzky, who would not let Wayne touch ice in the summer, and instead had him play baseball, lacrosse and other sports. Putting hockey in the Summer Olympics raises the same problem as the World Cup: injuries because players are not in peak shape, taking away their vacation, and a poor setting. Hockey is not played on the beach; it is played in the snow. Putting Olympic hockey in the summer would be a terrible decision, and would satisfy no one other than the NHL.

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The game’s best came out and vocalized their opinion on the NHL’s decision on Monday. Erik Karlsson called the NHL’s decision “crap”, adding that “whoever made that decision has no idea what they are doing.”  The NHL’s decision to not participate is unique, as the NHL is the only league in the world that is not allowing their players to go. The KHL, SHL, AHL and many more have made it clear they will still be sending their players to the Olympics. These leagues, especially the KHL will have a huge opportunity for growth, as they have already made headway into China with Kunlun Red Star, and will likely look to grow into countries like South Korea and Japan. This is a missed opportunity for the NHL. China’s president Xi Jinping made a commitment to get 300 million people “on the ice”. With the 2022 Winter Olympics around the corner, this would be an opportune time to grow the sport. Yet, the NHL continues to restrict their global audience and have squandered this opportunity.

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The 2010 Winter Olympics averaged 24.4 million viewers in prime-time, and the 2014 Winter Olympics saw peak viewership during the Canada/U.S. hockey semi-final. NBC reported that 61.8 million unique viewers tuned into the 2014 Winter Olympics. There would be a similar audience for NBC in 2018 and 2022, perhaps even bigger. For once, there would be a large audience in Asia. The potential exposure is astronomical, but, once again, it seems like it will not be a reality. This is truly a shame, and once again is a one-sided decision. The fans, players, IIHF and the IOC want the NHL players to be in PyeongChang and Beijing. The only opposition is the NHL and its owners. This opposition will likely rip away the potential of another moment like Crosby’s 2010 game-winner, and there will be children who will never get to share the joy I felt back in February of 2010.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • Brad Marchand was allegedly considered a changed player by much of the hockey community. I am not buying that at all. Marchand’s statistics and offensive abilities have improved significantly, but he is still an ass, for lack of a better word. Marchand has attempted slew foots and dangerous plays on unsuspecting opponents this season and in the past. In an important game for the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening, he chose to spear Jake Dotchin of the Tampa Bay Lightning for no particular reason. Dotchin was okay, but Marchand got a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and is scheduled to have a hearing with NHL officials. This means Marchand could miss one of two or both of the Bruins’ remaining regular season games, which will impact their matchup in the post-season dramatically.
  • The New York Islanders have tied together an impressive second half of the season to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. However, those hopes received a crushing blow last Friday when Islanders’ captain John Tavares went down awkwardly and immediately was favouring his leg. It sucks to see players get injured, especially the stars of the game. One can only hope this is not one of the last memories Islanders fans will have of Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract next season and the pressure mounts on management to sign him or trade him. The Brooklyn era of the Islanders will be defined by Tavares and management’s decision.

Stars of the Week

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  • The Ottawa Senators looked to have crisis on their hands until two surprises happened. On Monday evening at 5pm, unannounced, Erik Karlsson showed up at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to tell the Senators he would play. Karlsson’s appearance grabbed the Senators a crucial point and he looked fabulous while being on one good leg. On Tuesday Karlsson played once again, but the Senators got another late acquisition, which was Clarke MacArthur. After 538 days MacArthur finally played in an NHL game again, and it was incredible. On his first shift Mac looked comfortable and in control, laying a hit on Red Wings’ Danny Dekeyser and getting into the corners right away. He finished with 9:44 of ice time, and helped the Senators get two massive points with a 2-0 win. After the game he received the third star, a standing ovation and had an emotional interview. As a Sens fan and personally a huge fan of Mac it was a tear-jerker to see him get emotional last night, the Sens are happy to have him back.
  • The Washington Capitals are hitting their stride at the right time, as the league leading Caps are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Leading the way has been Nicklas Backstrom who has 21 points in 17 games since March 1st. Backstrom has a team-high 85 points, and has shown he is more than just Alexander Ovechkin’s sidekick. Backstrom leads the NHL with 35 powerplay points and is a huge reason why the Capitals have a top tier powerplay and offense. Backstrom will need to carry this success into the playoffs, if he and the Capitals wish to finally get over the second round hump.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors

  • The Toronto Raptors have won eight of their last ten and have looked pretty consistent in doing so. The Raptors have finally passed the Washington Wizards, but will need to continue to tally wins if they look to keep third place in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors can continue to get secondary scoring down the stretch they should be able to put a nice playoff run together. Especially with the return of all-star guard Kyle Lowry on Wednesday night.
  • Head Coach Dwane Casey will be tasked with finding minutes for young guard Delon Wright as Kyle Lowry comes back. Wright has filled in excellently by coming off the bench and providing anywhere from 15-25 minutes a night for the Raptors. He has served as a floor general who also excels defensively. It would be an oversight for Casey not to use Wright in the playoffs when defense and having a deep bench can be so crucial. With Lowry likely to not have his legs right away, having Wright in the lineup will be key for the Raptors’ post-season success.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Warriors (64-14)
  • That is twelve wins in a row for the Golden State Warriors and their foot is still on the gas. The Warriors have an easy schedule for their four remaining regular season games and will most likely get the Portland Trail Blazers or Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Regardless of who it is, they will likely serve as a victim to the Warriors who look scary good. Remember, the Warriors still do not have Kevin Durant back, if Durant’s teammates are playing this well when he comes back then the sky is the limit for the Warriors.
  1. Spurs (60-17)
  • The San Antonio Spurs have bounced back and rattled off three straight wins. All of these wins came against Western Conference playoff teams, and one saw them beat their likely first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies. This series would be a grind for the Spurs, as Memphis similarly to San Antonio plays hard defense, but it would certainly get them accustom to the playoff atmosphere. Regardless the Spurs will take on all comers, and will be tough to beat with Kawhi Leonard leading the way and Gregg Popovich running operations on the bench.
  1. Celtics (50-27)
  • The Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in a potential conference decider. Both teams sit atop the Eastern Conference at 50-27, and with the playoffs looming this will be their final matchup before a potential Eastern Conference Finals meeting. The Celtics expect Avery Bradley to play on Wednesday despite his illness, and have said Jae Crowder will be a game-time decision after the MRI on his elbow came back negative. The Celtics understand the importance of home court advantage and will look to lock that up until the NBA Finals, with a win on Wednesday.
  1. Cavaliers (50-27)
  • Cleveland has won their last three games, because of their scoring attack. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith have all scored 10 points or more in all three of these games. This balanced scoring attack helps spread the floor, and lead the Cavaliers, further enabling LeBron to setup his teammates and dominate defenders. The Cavaliers are going to beat teams by making it a track meet, so getting their offense cooking before the playoffs has been crucial, and could carry them to a win over the Celtics on Wednesday.
  1. Rockets (52-25)
  • The Houston Rockets did not have a good week, but with Ryan Anderson coming back they will get some much needed help. Anderson missed over a week with a sprained ankle, and his contributions are needed that much more after Sam Dekker suffered a broken hand. Dekker’s injury will only see him miss three-four weeks of action, which can be considered a blessing for the Rockets who feared he would miss much more time. This team still does have MVP candidate James Harden to carry them, until they are fully healthy, so they should be okay in a first round matchup, minus Dekker and having a less than 100% Ryan Anderson.

 

NCAA Bracket Results

I said I would give shoutouts to everyone who beat my official bracket, so with that in mind….

Shoutout to the following people or accounts (if I couldn’t figure out who you were!):

Special shoutout to: Chase Casey on being the official winner of the JSST Bracket!

Now here is everyone else who made me cry at night!

  • Matthew Saunders
  • Justin Young
  • Hannah Kocsis
  • Brayden Cavanagh
  • Janson Bautista
  • Fraser Curry
  • Kameron Beatty
  • Tristan DM
  • Kyle Poole
  • Ethan Brown
  • Shawn Corcoran
  • Espn82844012 (Erkcity)
  • Ryan Bili
  • Steve Rozanec
  • Espn64182605
  • Kelsey Swindall
  • Lucas Vani
  • Parker Wilson

Thank you to everyone who participated and congratulations to everyone who beat me! It was a pleasure and I hope you will re-enter next March!

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Blue Jays vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Cavaliers vs Celtics 8:00pm ET, Thunder vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Capitals 8:00pm ET
  • Thursday: Senators vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Lightning vs Leafs 7:30pm ET, Celtics vs Hawks 8:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Ducks 10:00pm ET, Oilers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Yankees vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Lightning vs Habs 7:30pm ET, Heat vs Raptors 7:30pm ET
  • Saturday: Senators vs Rangers 12:30pm ET, Red Sox vs Tigers 1:10pm ET, Capitals vs Bruins 3:00pm ET, Blue Jays vs Rays 6:10pm ET, Penguins vs Leafs 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Flames vs Sharks 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Blue Jays vs Rays 1:10pm ET, Senators vs Islanders 5:00pm ET, (Last game at the Joe) Devils vs Red Wings 5:00pm ET, Penguins vs Rangers 7:00pm ET
  • Monday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, Dodgers vs Cubs 8:05pm ET, Jazz vs Warriors 10:30pm ET, Rockets vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Tuesday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, (Jays’ Home Opener) Brewers vs Blue Jays 7:07pm ET, D-Backs vs Giants 10:15pm 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

NHL: NOV 03 Blues at Stars

  • 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.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 8-14)

March Madness: The Spring Phenomenon that makes North America Bleed Basketball

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You can know absolutely nothing about basketball, but this spring you will have a chance at winning nearly $20,000 right here. In five to ten minutes, someone who has never heard of over half of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament can suddenly be invested in this crazy event by creating a bracket. The heart of the tournament is not in perennial powerhouses thrashing opponents, though. Every year at least one or more teams become household names and are thrown into the spotlight by playing the role of Cinderella. These underdogs, complete an unprecedented upset and the audience becomes captivated. A team like Florida Gulf Coast who made March Madness in their second of year of eligibility, as a 15 seed got the label of “Dunk City” and got the 2013 ESPY Award for Upset of the Year. This tournament grabs the attention of even the most casual sports viewer, as the viewer goes on a roller-coaster ride accompanied by Cinderella.

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In 1985 March Madness changed forever by expanding from 53 to 64 teams. A marketing gamble by the NCAA, it would soon prove to be genius. But, it was almost short lived. It was in 1989 that the tournament’s new format proved its capabilities. The Princeton Tigers, a 16 seed came in to their first round matchup against the #1 seeded Georgetown Hoyas. By 1989, no #1 seed had lost their first round game, and only one had won by less than five points. The mismatched first round games were proving to be guaranteed blowouts, and the domination sparked discussion. The NCAA had begun discussing reducing the tournament size to 32, and the Power Six conferences, where most of the big schools played during the season, had even begun to discuss creating their own tournament to increase profits. Back to Princeton vs Georgetown. The Hoyas, led by Alonzo Mourning, were the clear favourites. However, Princeton Head Coach Pete Carril gave his Tigers a near perfect game-plan. The Tigers slowed down the game by milking the shot clock, playing hard defense and forcing their opponent to hit free throws. At halftime Princeton was ahead by eight points, and all of a sudden a game that was believed to be a cakewalk became a spectacle.

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Sports fans love to see David beat Goliath. This was just that. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, David was leading at the half significantly. At halftime, when ESPN cut to their studios, analyst Dick Vitale was left speechless by the game. The Hoyas realized that their game-plan was not working, and began feeding the ball to Alonzo Mourning. With 15 seconds left, Princeton had the ball, down 50-49. Bobby Scrabis had a chance to hit the game-winning shot with seven seconds left, but his shot was blocked by Mourning, and the ball bounced out of play. Princeton had the ball was one second left, and one last chance to pull off a Cinderella story. They inbounded the ball, and the shot was once again blocked, Princeton cried for a foul, but it was to no avail. Princeton may have lost, but they gained the moral victory. March Madness was saved during that game. A 20+ point underdog had nearly knocked off one of the best teams in college basketball. The impact was immense and can still be heard today.

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A 16 seed has still not beaten a 1 seed to this day. Number one seeds are a combined 128-0 all-time against the sixteenth seeds, but Cinderella stories live on in the 1989 Princeton team’s image. In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth University entered March Madness in the First Four, meaning they needed to play an extra play-in to even earn their seeding in March Madness. VCU beat the University of Southern California in the First Four, then went onto upset Georgetown and Purdue in their first week of March Madness. With none of these games being close, VCU carried their momentum into a nail-bitter with Florida State, whom they beat by one point through a dramatic defensive stand in overtime. On top of the world, VCU would go on to beat the number one seeded Kansas Jayhawks. While they would fall to the Butler Bulldogs in the Semi-Finals, their presence was felt. All five of VCU’s wins in March Madness that year came against Power Six schools, and using this momentum, VCU moved conferences from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10. The Atlantic 10 just happens to be second highest ranked conference in the NCAA, excluding the Power Six. Troy Daniels a reserve player with a short career, was the only player from that VCU team to make an NBA roster. The underdog had become household names in the span of the month.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-2nd Round-Dayton vs Ohio State

The nobodies are not just good for the spirit of the sport, but these nobodies are best for business. In 2014 Brigham Young University statisticians did a study to formulate a model, which would predict the highest viewership for potential March Madness Final Four teams. The Dayton Flyers, a Mid-Major from the Atlantic 10 conference, were first. 2014’s Cinderella had captivated the nation and were projected to rake in 22.2 million viewers had they made the Finals. One statistician explained the theory as follows: “The Cinderella teams, with all the national media attention they get, become a national star. It’s not that these schools have an established national fan base, it iss that the NCAA tournament celebrates the Cinderella more so than other sports.” The model suggests that, on average, a Final Four match-up with a smaller market team or Cinderella would garner 35% more viewers than a game featuring two powerhouses. These Cinderella stories captivate the casual fan, who made a bracket for fun and does not have a team to root for. This fan tunes into one game, sees the emotion and energy of the underdog, and quickly becomes attached to them. March Madness makes dreams come true and turns casual fans into sports consumers, who become invested in the storyline and become engulfed in emotions of March.

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Come March 16th, the sports networks will suddenly cut back on their professional sports coverage, and converge on this annual tournament. March Madness is not just a sporting event, it is a March tradition. Its widespread impact and viewership across North America has sponsors jump on the bandwagon to gain exposure and publicity. The Werner ladder, which players and coaches climb to cut down the net after the winning the National Championship is “The Official Ladder of the NCAA.” The tournament is North American consumerism and sport at its finest, it can be simply described as organized pandemonium. March Madness makes us scream and rejoice at the sight of a Cinderella’s triumph, or crumble and cry when a shocking defeat takes out the underdog. This tournament is built for the underdog, where anything can happen and, nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. Maybe one day a 16 seed will finally beat a 1 seed. Regardless of when or if that day comes, March Madness will always make us dream and believe. Welcome back March Madness, I missed you dearly. To new fans, welcome to the greatest annual sporting spectacle on the planet.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • Without Kyle Lowry the Raptors’ ball movement is merely a shadow of what it used to be. During the month of March the Raptors are averaging 16.1 assists per game, which happens to be their worst assist average of the season. 16.1 looks even worse when you look at November and December when the Raptors were clicking, as they were averaging over 20 assists per game through that two-month stretch. Toronto needs to focus on team basketball, if they want to challenge the Boston Celtics for first place in the Atlantic division, or even maintain their current position in the standings.
  • Norman Powell has been a bright spot for the Raptors in March. With DeMarre Carroll in and out of the lineup, Powell has had opportunities to start, and has shined. In March Powell is shooting nearly ten shots a game, at 49.3%, which is good for nearly 15 points a night. Powell also excels defensively, and provides some ball movement for the Raptors, who are in dire of need it. The sophomore is showing flashes of brilliance, and could be close to breaking out into a consistent NBA starter. Raptor fans have a reason to be excited about Norman Powell.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (52-14)
  • The Game of the Year thus far turned out to be a joke, as all of the superstars in Saturday’s matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors were held off the court. In such fashion, the Spurs thrashed the Warriors, and the Spurs are now 11-1 in their last 12 games. In over half of these wins, the Spurs have been resting a starter as well, so it is quite evident how deep this Spurs bench goes. San Antonio is prepped and ready for a deep playoff run.
  1. Warriors (53-14)
  • The Warriors nearly lost their fourth game in a row on Tuesday evening at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, but were able to come back and win. While the win is a good sign for the Warriors, they have little to smile about. Golden State is 5-5 in their last 10, which is their worst stretch in recent memory, and Andre Igoudala has voiced his frustrations with Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr. After the Warriors’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Igoudala referred to Kerr as “master” and had to be informed by the media that he would be benched for the Warriors matchup against the Spurs. Igoudala was not impressed with the decision, and obviously has some tension with his coach.
  1. Celtics (42-25)
  • Game recognizes game. The Boston Celtics have beaten both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in March. This feat is impressive and cannot be ignored, as both games were no fluke. The Celtics are putting their full arsenal to use and with a healthy Avery Bradley they can beat anybody. Health will be key to the Celtics long-term success. Isaiah Thomas carries the team, but having a healthy Al Horford and Avery Bradley will be necessary if the Celtics want to grind it out in the playoffs.
  1. Cavaliers (44-22)
  • Andrew Bogut is a sad man. He played one minute on March 6th before suffering a season-ending injury. Bogut’s fractured tibia opened the door for the Cavs to invite Larry Sanders to join them. Sanders has accepted the invitation, and many are keen to see what the freak athlete can still do. Sanders is the case of a young man whose mind took over his game. Sanders dealt with depression and anxiety issues and had walked away from basketball. It is really nice to see Sanders back, and I am rooting for him to succeed. The Cavaliers will need to play better, if they would like to succeed come playoff time, as their 4-6 record in their last 10 games is less than impressive.
  1. Jazz (42-25)
  • The Utah Jazz are a team many sleep on. The Jazz play at an incredibly slow pace, but compliment this slow pace with an intense defensive structure led by their star Gordon Hayward. Hayward averages 22 points per game, with over 5 rebounds and over 3 assists per game. He helps anywhere and everywhere for the Jazz and has made this young team dangerous. The Jazz bring youthful energy to their game with only two players over 30 (Boris Diaw and George Hill). Look for the Jazz to potentially come close to pulling off an upset against the NBA’s elite in the post-season, as this young team is eager to get their names thrown into the spotlight.

NHL News

The Penalty Box

NHL: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils

  • The New Jersey Devils are either trying to tank or Taylor Hall is required to finish at the bottom of the standings. Either way the Devils have lost their last 10 games and have been shutout in three of these games. They have the second worst offense in the NHL, they take the least shots per game, and they are still playing the trap. It has been nearly 14 years since the Devils last Stanley Cup, yet they are insistent on playing an archaic and boring style of hockey. The Devils are so bad right now that a snowstorm even beat them on Tuesday night, as their match-up against the Winnipeg Jets was postponed due to the storm.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers were once challenging for a wild card positon in the East, but since February 1st they boast a mediocre record of 6-9-2. Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux is on pace for his worst season, since 2009-10 and has only recorded two even-strength points since February 1st. Giroux, who would usually help lead the charge towards a potential playoff spot has been underwhelming, and the Flyers have followed suit.

Stars of the Week

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  • Many people do not like him, but Patrick Kane is an incredible hockey player. Kane has 27 points in his last 17 games, 16 being goals, and he has thrown himself back into the Art Ross chase. Over the same 17 game stretch the Blackhawks are 14-3-0, and that can largely be attributed to Kane’s play. Kane has the most even-strength points on the year at 57, and as usual has the Chicago Blackhawks among Cup favourites.
  • The Calgary Flames have turned their season around in spectacular fashion. A dramatic shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday evening saw the Flames match their franchise record for consecutive wins with their 10th in a row. The Flames have gone all the way from being on the outside of the playoff picture to second place in the Pacific division, with a strong chance of home-ice advantage in the first round. Brian Elliott has finally become consistent, boasting a .943 save percentage and 1.74 goals against average during this 10 game win-streak.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Grizzlies vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Bruins vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Thursday: March Madness 12:15pm ET (ALL DAY), Thunder vs Raptors 7:00pm ET, Jazz vs Cavaliers 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Sens 7:30pm ET, Maple Leafs vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Flames vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: March Madness 12:15pm ET (ALL DAY), Bulls vs Wizards 7:00pm ET, Raptors vs Pistons 7:30pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness TBD (ALL DAY), Canadiens vs Senators 7:00pm ET, Rangers vs Wild 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Cavaliers vs Clippers 8:30pm ET, Jazz vs Bulls 9:00pm ET, Spurs vs Grizzlies 9:00pm ET, Ducks vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: March Madness TBD (ALL DAY), Senators vs Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Kings vs Flames 9:30pm ET
  • Monday: Bruins vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Wizards vs Celtics 7:30pm ET, Warriors vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Kings vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Knick vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Tuesday: Bulls vs Raptors 7:00pm ET, Flames vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Senators vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Sharks vs Wild 8:30pm 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.