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

Something Smells: The NBA Playoffs Are Not Special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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

Stars of the Week

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

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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

 

What to watch this week?

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

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

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 1-7)

#TheSystem: A Signal of Change in Ottawa

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If you have not heard about The System, then you clearly have not been following the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators. For the first time in many years, the Sens are icing a team that is more than just average. This team continues to find ways to win. After their win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night, the Senators moved to 23-8-6 in games decided by one goal or games that were one goal before the empty net goal(s). This Senators team does not buckle under pressure, something that will be key come playoff time. Ottawa is now six points clear of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and, barring a tremendous collapse, will make the playoffs. They will also likely do so with home-ice advantage in the first round and even possibly the second round. If they want that second round home-ice advantage though, they will need to leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens.

Starting on March 18th, the Sens and Habs will play each other on three times in eight days. In all likelihood, the division will be won in this mini-series. With the Senators chasing, they will most likely need to take two out of three, if not all three, to surpass the Canadiens. This may seem difficult, but Ottawa has won both meetings this year with Montreal and has not had a losing season against Montreal since 2011-12. If the Senators were to surpass the Canadiens and take first place in the Atlantic Division they would play the top-seeded wild card team, likely to be the New York Rangers. A playoff series with the Rangers would be less than ideal, but it is something the Senators would not be opposed to. The Sens elevate their game against the league’s best teams: with a 17-9-4 record against teams in a current playoff position. This includes a 7-1-2 run in their last 10 against these same teams (playoff teams as of March 6th). The Senators are able to compete with the league’s best on a nightly basis.

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This team’s success has been driven by team captain Erik Karlsson who is having an incredible season. Karlsson is excelling offensively once again, leading the Senators in points. He is also on pace to be the first defenseman to lead his team in points for four consecutive seasons since Denis Potvin did from 1973-74 to 1976-77. But, Karlsson’s defensive game is where he has made most his greatest improvements this season. While Karlsson has been criticized in the past for his defensive ability, the tape shows a significant improve this season.

Exhibit #1: https://twitter.com/ChartingHockey/status/838929365941514240

Exhibit #2: https://twitter.com/travisyost/status/838204452213436416

Exhibit #3: https://twitter.com/CallumFraser18/status/836017966898638849

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Karlsson has become fabulous in his own end and especially using his speed to backcheck and pressure opponents. Karlsson never quits on a play and this relentless effort has translated down throughout the lineup this year. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a shutdown center and, can play against anyone in the league. Statistics prove Pageau’s dominance against the league’s best. In nine games against Pageau, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty, John Tavares and Sidney Crosby have combined for one point.  Pageau’s shifted focus to the defensive zone shows up on the other team’s scoresheet, as the stars of opponents have consistently put up zeroes against Pageau.

Example: http://www.csnmidatlantic.com/washington-capitals/alex-ovechkin-wrestles-jean-gabriel-pageau-ice-his-head.

Senators Head Coach Guy Boucher has called Pageau the “Ultimate Soldier”, and mentioned that he should be in the Selke Trophy conversation. Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler are all frequently in the Selke Trophy discussion. Including Pageau shows that he is on his way to becoming an elite shutdown center.

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Both Karlsson and Pageau have benefited greatly from Guy Boucher’s system, but they are not the only two that have improved. Goaltender Craig Anderson returned to the crease less than a month ago, after a leave of absence to be with his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment. Since his return, Anderson has been among the best goalies in the league. Over his past nine starts Andy is 7-2-0 with a goals against average of 1.78 and a save percentage of .944. Despite missing over two months of game action, Anderson did not miss a beat returning to the Senators lineup. Anderson has been a beneficiary of The System, and his numbers show how an improved defensive structure can make a goalie great. The Ottawa Senators are third in the league in blocked shots, an underrated statistic, which allows goaltenders to have a security blanket.

One of these men who make up the security blanket is Dion Phaneuf, who is having his best season since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Phaneuf has done a great job for the Ottawa Senators since his trade last year. While his contract is horrible, the Senators are interested in winning now and have cap space, and bringing in an experienced top four defenseman like Phaneuf makes sense. Phaneuf has nine goals, 28 points, well over 100 blocked shots and hits, and is contributing over 23 minutes a night for Ottawa. Phaneuf has his quirks; bad penalties, his contract, and at times mediocre skating. But, he gets the job done, and can even make a highlight reel or two.

Exhibit A: https://twitter.com/ChartingHockey/status/831687739724685314

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Yes, that was Dion Phaneuf. He can still skate when he wants to, and his offensive contribution is on pace to be the best offensive season by a Senators defenseman not named Karlsson since the 2011-12 season. Phaneuf’s ability to help out offensively, while being a thorn in opponent’s sides and providing relief for his goalies has helped him fit well into The System. Phaneuf’s trade has seen him transition into the Senators lineup very well.

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Trades sometimes affect a team and more specifically the player. This player coming in tapers off for a period of time, as they attempt to adjust to the new play style. This has not been the case for the Senators this year. Tommy Wingels has fit in nicely on the fourth line for the Senators, and quickly adjusted, but two recent acquisitions have adjusted just as well if not better. On February 27th, Sens fans collectively face-palmed as they saw Alex Burrows being traded to the Senators for prospect Jonathan Dahlen. I will be the first to say it was an overreaction on my part and on the fan-base’s. With little-to-no draft picks to trade, Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion overpaid for Alex Burrows. But, the team got the guy they wanted. Since acquiring Burrows, Ottawa is 3-0-0, and Burrows has four points in three games. Yes, Dahlen’s numbers are comparable to that of Filip Forsberg at 19 years old. I am sure he will be a good player one day. But, Ottawa saw him as a project. Wanting to win in the now, they saw Burrows as the better option. You do not have to agree with it, you do not have to like it, but it is the reality and Burrows has been great so far. Burrows is an experienced veteran who has been to a Cup Final, as has Wingels. The Senators other deadline acquisition Viktor Stalberg has won a Cup with the Blackhawks. The trend emerging from Ottawa is experience and a winning culture, they have positioned themselves and The System for playoff success.

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Here is the situation. Erik Karlsson is on a terrific contract right now, earning six and a half million dollars a year, which is ludicrous value for arguably the best defenseman in the league. After this year, Karlsson will be under contract for two more years with the Senators before having to find a new deal, which ultimately could be with another club. Ottawa is determined to prove to Karlsson who is in his prime that they are committed to winning. They want to bring him back and make him into a career Senator, but in all likelihood they will need successful campaigns to do so. Flopping in and out of the playoffs, not spending to the cap and having poor attendance does not promote a winning culture. Eugene Melnyk has opened up his wallet to bring in new players and, attendance has begun to rise. Now, it is time to see what this team is made of. Are they legit? Could they actually win their division? Can they go toe-to-toe with the likes of Pittsburgh and Washington? If any of the above are ever going to go the Senators way, it will be through The System. The System is the best chance of ensuring Erik Karlsson remaining as an Ottawa Senator for his career, and The System is why for the first time since 2007, I believe in the Ottawa Senators to win any night. Go Sens Go, trust The System.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in tough spot. With 17 games remaining the Leafs are one point out of the playoffs, have not beaten a team in a playoff position in nearly a month, and are now in the thick of a tight race with the New York Islanders. The long season has taken a toll on the young Leafs, particularly Morgan Rielly, who, since February 1st, is a -18 in 17 games. Rielly has a bright future, but he is struggling to hold up as a top pair defenseman over the length of an entire season early in his career. His partner Nikita Zaitsev has been doing his best to cover up Rielly’s mistakes. But, the two will need to be able to lean on each other, if they would like to recover from this slump and get the Leafs to the playoffs.
  • Joshua Ho-Sang made his NHL debut this past week and no one seemed to care about his talent and potential. All anyone has talked about concerning Ho-Sang was his jersey number. Ho-Sang, who plays for the New York Islanders, wears No. 66, the number of Mario Lemieux. Many people believe Ho-Sang should not be wearing the number, as it is a sign of disrespect. I think this argument is ridiculous: 66 is not retired league-wide, he is not on the Penguins, and what does it really change? Ho-Sang gave his opinion on the matter stating that “if anything it is the ultimate respect”. Clearly, he is not wearing 66 to make a statement. How about we drop it, and judge the guy by the way he plays?

Stars of the Week

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  • How about Jack Eichel? The forgotten one is tearing it up in Buffalo, since February 1st nobody has more points than Eichel (24). Over this 18 game stretch the young star has made highlight reels almost every night, including an excellent showing against the Philadelphia Flyers last night. The Sabres may be outside of the playoff picture, but Sabres’ fans have a reason to smile as their young star is having a season to remember with 45 points in 46 games.
  • Erik Karlsson is not going to win a Norris this season, but he has found that extra gear since the All-Star break. Since returning from the All-Star break the Senators’ captain has 19 points in 17 games. With shorter shifts and less ice-time this year Karlsson has found a way to keep his top gear speed active almost continuously. If you have not watched a Senators’ game recently, I seriously suggest tuning in just to watch Karlsson play. The Swede is truly a treat to watch.

 

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

2016-2017 Toronto Raptors Media Day

  • The Toronto Raptors got a much needed extended break after their 101-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, and will return to action this Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Raptors will need to take advantage of their lighter schedule in March if they hope to challenge for first place in the Atlantic Division, as they trail the Boston Celtics by two and a half games. With that being said, the teams they will be playing for the most part are scrapping for playoff spots, so they cannot take their foot off the gas. But, there is no denying that it is much preferred to not be playing elite talent for the most part.
  • The most frustrating part of the Raptors is their inability to activate Jonas Valanciunas. With Kyle Lowry out of the lineup, and DeMar DeRozan needing someone else to help carry the load why not give JV more touches? It is baffling, as to why Head Coach Dwane Casey refuses to give Valanciunas the ball. For example, despite shooting 4-4 in the opening quarter and being on pace for a first half double-double, the Raptors took JV out of the game and limited him to 21 minutes for the game. Why not feed a hot hand?! People cannot say this is a one off thing either, because this consistently happens! For example, if it were not for Valanciunas’ first round performance last year, there is no way the Raptors would have beaten the Pacers. When will Casey swallow his pride and admit JV is ready to take that next step? It has to happen sooner rather than later, if the Raptors plan to challenge the NBA’s best.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (49-13)
  • Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA. No discussion, he can check anyone and he can pour the points in when asked to. Leonard is having a career year, and the Spurs who were supposedly “too old” or “not good enough”, look real dangerous. Gregg Popovich has brought his prized possession along slow and steady, but Leonard is finally ready to explode. With Pau Gasol back and healthy, watch out for this Spurs team, because right now I believe they may be the toughest team to beat in the league, with Leonard leading the charge.
  1. Warriors (52-11)
  • The Warriors had been consecutively No. 1 in Josh Saslove’s Sports Talk’s power rankings for over two months, but that streak has finally come to an end. The Warriors lost back-back regular season games for the first time in nearly two years this past week, and without Kevin Durant they do not look unbeatable. Since the All-Star break Steph Curry has shot 32.9% from beyond the arc, which for Curry is terrible. Klay Thompson has not been playing well since the All-Star break either shooting 36.9% from the field and under 30% from three point range. If the Warriors cannot recover, they better pray Kevin Durant rushes back, because this team is not what they were cracked up to be right now.
  1. Cavaliers (42-20)
  • Cleveland has been okay lately. They are coming off back-back losses to the red-hot Miami Heat, albeit one of the losses was without LeBron James, but no time to panic. The Cavs are still fine at the top of the Eastern Conference and James is still in cruise mode. When Kevin Love is back on the floor it will be a lot easier to tell if the Cavaliers can challenge the Spurs or Warriors. If Love plays like the microwave he was for the Cavs offense early in the season, then they will be in good shape.
  1. Rockets (44-20)
  • Houston handled the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers this past week, and were just two points short of taking down the San Antonio Spurs. All in all, it was a damn good week for Clutch City. After taking his foot off the gas for a few games, James Harden is back to his MVP-like ways, as in his last three games he is averaging 32.7 points, 10.7 assists and has shot an absurd 57.1% from the three point line. Do not expect Harden to slow down, and with some luck and a few unsung heroes this Rockets team may be able to steal a series over the Warriors or Spurs.
  1. Celtics (40-24)
  • Boston beat the Cavaliers a week ago, but in the same week they also lost to the Suns, so it had its ups and downs. On Wednesday night the Celtics have a huge opportunity in front of them, going into Golden State for a date with the Warriors. Isaiah Thomas has spoken highly of himself, claiming to be “the best player in the world” back in January. He will have a chance to back this statement up going against last year’s MVP Steph Curry. While I am sure Thomas enjoys referring to himself as such, a win is likely more important to him on Wednesday night, and that win would certainly help the Celtics in their pursuit of the Cavs.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Jazz vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Jets 8:00pm ET, Celtics vs Warriors 10:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Wild vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Flyers vs Maple Leafs 7:30pm ET, Spurs vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Clippers vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Ducks vs Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Capitals vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Ducks vs Blues 8:00pm ET, Raptors vs Hawks 8:00pm ET, Rockets vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Oilers 9:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Predators vs Sharks 4:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Capitals vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: Wild vs Blackhawks 12:30pm ET, Bulls vs Celtics 3:30pm ET, Canadiens vs Oilers 7:00pm ET, Cavaliers vs Rockets 9:00pm ET, Capitals vs Ducks 9:30pm ET
  • Monday: Hawks vs Spurs 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Kings 10:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Wild vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Lightning vs Senators 7:30pm ET, Blackhawks vs Montreal 7:30pm 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.