Upon Further Review - NFL WEEK 1

September 9, 2008

http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/jax/ManuwaiJax.jpg by Mike De Marco… WEEKLY RECAP

Well it was definitely an interesting first week in the NFL, one in which I can safely say that all the pre-season hype and previews that we were overloaded with can flushed down the toilet. All of the predicted AFC Super Bowl representatives had horrible weekends. New England wins, but loses Tom Brady for the season. Indianapolis was absolutely overmatched in the trenches by Chicago possibly setting up a blueprint for teams to follow when playing the Colts. Jacksonville looked bored and uninterested against Tennessee. San Diego? The team that was supposed to give the Pats their biggest run left much to be desired in a last second loss to Carolina. The Steelers looked great, but played their old brand of power football…what happened to the spread offense we were promised? Now that doesn’t mean that Indy, Jacksonville, or even the Patriots can’t have success this season, but boy were some weaknesses exposed this weekend. In the NFC Dallas looked as about as strong as any team in the league blowing out Cleveland and face a tough test next Monday night when they host the Eagles, who also looked outstanding after throttling the Rams. Minnesota? They have huge questions at the quarterback spot which just might be their downfall. How about Aaron Rodgers? Well he put all the doubters to sleep with a very good performance Monday night. Seattle? This team has holes all over on offense. New Orleans played well against a very gritty Bucs team. Of course all of this means nothing as there are still 16 weeks left in the regular season, but it does give you some things to keep an eye on.

AFC WIDE OPEN

So with Brady out for the season, Peyton Manning’s Colts looking vulnerable to power football, the Chargers crapping the bed, and Jacksonville losing two starting offensive lineman (one for the season, another for two months) just who is the favorite in the AFC? Well the Steelers were impressive, and Denver was absolutely dominant in Oakland, and we now must include the New York Jets the conversation. It does make for some exciting thoughts. The AFC is there for the taking, but again….it was only week 1.

JUST MY OPINION

There is much speculation that the league and the owners are thinking about chopping down the pre-season to just two games in favor of an 18-game regular schedule. At first it sounds like a great idea, but taking a deeper look gives me reason to believe that it might not be a good idea after all. During the pre-season, starters play maybe a combined six quarters in the four games. Is this enough game action to get these guys into game shape? With all the injuries we witnessed week one, it makes me wonder if some players were not stretched out enough. Brady didn’t play a snap in the pre-season and he goes out and suffers a season ending injury. The Seahawks lost WR Nate Burleson for the year; Jacksonville lost two starters on their offensive line in Vince Manuwai, and Maurice Williams. Quarterbacks Vince Young, Brodie Croyle, and Jeff Garcia will miss time with injuries. There are many more. My point is simple: If a lack of playing in the pre-season caused all these injuries, what would happen during a two game exhibition season? You couldn’t expect anyone to play a full game right off the hop, and two games are not enough to stretch things out. A shorter pre-season endangers the players’ safety. This will be interesting to watch.

PASSING LEAGUE?

With all the talk that the NFL was becoming a passing league; I bring you this little thought: of the 16 games in the opening week, the team with more rushing attempts compiled a 15-1 record. Is that not evidence that running the football still wins? Of the 15 teams that led in rushing attempts, 14 of them also led in yardage. Eight teams had more than 30 rushes in a game and five teams had more than 35 rush attempts led by Baltimore’s 46. Couple this with all the injuries at quarterback, and it might be safe to assume that the running game becomes top priority in the league again.

WHO KNEW?

I have to admit I was amazed at the poise of rookie quarterbacks this week. Both Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan turned in winning performances on Sunday. Ryan looked much more impressive hitting on several big throws including a 62-yard touchdown on his first professional drive. Atlanta will still be horrible this season, but at least the future looks bright with Ryan, and Michael Turner running the football.

The Detroit Lions are just downright laughable. I had a friend ask me if I was smoking crack when I predicted only three wins for the Lions this season. My reply was “who’s on crack now”? I mean; how bad was that defense? Trust me when I say that the Falcons were not that great, but the Lions were just downright awful. Even playing in a cover-2 which is supposed to eliminate the deep ball, the Lions were still getting torched, and that run defense made ME want to suit up and play. WOW!

Matt Forte. The Bears running back was very surprising in his first career start vs. the Colts, so good, that the fantasy waiver wires were burning late Sunday night. Maybe with a very good ground game, Chicago just might have enough on offense to compliment their outstanding D, and special teams to compete. But the kid looks like a keeper.

Well as I predicted in my season preview the Carolina Panthers were back to playing John Fox football. Solid 1-2 punch in the running game with DeAngelo Williams, and Johnathan Stewart, and physical defense were enough to keep punching the Chargers in the mouth until they scored a last second knockout of AFC favorite San Diego. With Steve Smith coming back, the Panthers look to be very dangerous.

The Buffalo Bills looked very good in overmatching a surprisingly weak Seattle team. I needed both hands to count the times that Bills defenders were in the backfield before Matt Hasselbeck even knew the ball had been snapped. With good defense and outstanding special teams, maybe the Bills can make some noise in the suddenly weakened AFC East.

THIS AND THAT

Brett Favre still has it. The legend made two plays on Sunday that only Favre can make, and both resulted in touchdowns for the Jets.

Mike Shanahan blew the dust off his old playbook and opened it for the world to see Monday night. The Broncos rolled Oakland and racked up 41 points without their best playmaker in Brandon Marshall. If Jay Cutler and co. can play like that this season, that offense will be down right dirty scary!

The Arizona Cardinals actually won a game on the ground. Instead of a high flying aerial display we have come to expect from the Cards we watch as they pound the ball 39 times down the 49ers throat. Very un-Cardinal like.

Donovan McNabb still can be an elite player in this league. McNabb absolutely torched the Rams secondary and looked like he was having fun doing it.

3 STARS OF THE WEEK

QB Donovan McNabb – looked deadly in dissecting a horrid Rams secondary to the tune of 361 yards and 3 touchdowns.

RB Michael Turner –  not bad for his first start in Atlanta, 220 yards rushing and a couple scores. He automatically keeps defenses playing honest here on in.

Bills special teams: A 63-yard touchdown return on a punt from Roscoe Parrish, and a 19-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal buy punter Brian Moorman were big plays in Buffalo’s win over Seattle.

ROOKIE OF THE WEEK

WR Eddie Royal. This kid made Pro-Bowl corner DeAngelo Hall look like the rookie with constant double moves, and veteran savvy. Royal hauled in nine balls for 164 yards and a touchdown. It would have been two scores for the rook, but one was called back on a illegal formation call. Who committed the foul? It was Royal himself. Hey…nobody’s perfect.

Rice Lake Wallleye

September 9, 2008

By Ivo & Annie Zulian… For many experienced anglers, Rice Lake is well known as the best lake in southern Ontario for catching Walleye spring, summer and fall. Rice Lake is an Eutrophic Lake, which means it is very fertile and supports a large population of Walleye, and other sportfish. The key to finding Walleye in Rice Lake is understanding light penetration.

Light penetration is the NUMBER ONE FACTOR determining the location of Walleye. It will cause them to move out of an area that has optimum temperature and where baitfish are plentiful. To catch Walleye consistently you must react to the light conditions and water clarity that affect light penetration.

In May, post-spawn Walleye must begin to feed heavily.  Predator and baitfish alike are attracted to shallow water at this time of year because it holds the water temperature they prefer. In an Eutrophic lake the water is clear at this time of year resulting in light penetration, but because the sun1s rays are angled in the spring the light penetration is not intense. Abundant weed growth also helps to keep the Walleye and baitfish in shallow water, and active all day long.

During the hot summer months many people expect to find Walleye in deep water, but this is not the case in an Eutrophic Lake. Heavy algae bloom, and dying weeds will cause low oxygen levels in the deeper water, and the Walleye will stay in the shallows. They are comfortable there because the algae bloom has minimized light penetration.  Walleye are feeding heavily because their metabolism is dictated by the higher water temperature. The main problem in an Eutrophic lake is that baitfish are so plentiful in summer a Walleye does not have to constantly roam for food. Indeed, a few minutes may be all it takes for a fish to complete its feeding for the day.

Many anglers think that because the water is so shallow in an Eutrophic lake that the Walleye will only be feeding at night, however this could be a mistake. Walleye are sight feeders. To see its prey in a lake with heavy algae bloom a Walleye must feed during the day. Even low light conditions may not provide enough light. You may have to fish during the sun’s brightest light, and often your most successful fishing will be at midday. Walleye will key on areas that have green weed growth providing oxygenation. If there is no green weed, check creek or current areas that allow the water to mix, increasing the oxygen levels and moderating the water temperature.

In autumn an Eutrophic lake goes through a quick turnover that affects the fish very little. Walleye can be found roaming the shallows in search of food, due to dwindling baitfish numbers. When the shallows become cooler than the depths, the fish will locate on a drop-off or even in a shallow depression if no definite break exists. On warm, sunny days these breakline fish will again venture  onto shallow flats to feed. Keep in mind that with the cooler temperatures there will no longer be heavy algae bloom and the water will be clear, as in the spring.

Your tackle selection for fishing shallow water Walleye will be predominantly a medium to heavy action spinning outfit, with light, 6 to 10 lb. test monofilament line. We also like to keep a medium to heavy action bait casting outfit available when fishing Rice Lake’s dense weed growth, rigged with 14 lb. test monofilament.

Number one on the list of lures in all conditions are jigs. Plain jigs rigged with assorted plastics or hair jigs in the 1/8th to 1/2 ounce sizes will be useful in almost all situations. Remember that a shallow water fish that is feeding moves quickly as a reaction to a possible meal, so moving the bait quickly is best both in clear water in low light conditions, or all day long in murky water. As light increases you will have to slow the bait down because the Walleye becomes unlikely to chase a bait down and are holding tight to cover. Keeping a bait in front of them longer becomes important. Use larger jigs in the spring to mimic the size of the baitfish available to the Walleye.  Colours of preference include reds, yellows, and greens.

Crankbaits are very effective, and as a general rule, the murkier the water the brighter and noisier the crankbait should be. Walleye in lakes with heavy algae bloom are relying on their lateral line sense to bring them to the bait so a crankbait with a lot of vibration and a rattle is indicated.  Spinnerbaits can also work well in murky water.  Try slow rolling one that has large blades for plenty of vibration. Fish your lures more slowly in murky water so that the Walleye have no trouble finding it. If the water is clear use natural colours and you may eliminate the rattle.

Large, slow falling bass jigs, can be deadly for shallow water Walleye in dense weed, or in very murky water. Yes, I1m talking about a jig n1pig, or a large Texas rigged worm.  Make sure you include a rattle in all cases so the Walleye can locate the bait more easily. This is a technique we use to fish bass on weed flats, but it is also effective for Walleye and the fish caught on these baits are usually large. This is the technique the baitcasting rod is best suited to.

Proper boat control is essential for fishing Walleye in shallow water. Too much of a disturbance from a boat can make Walleye wary. Methods include drifting, which is quiet and doesn1t require long casts. If conditions are very windy a drift sock is beneficial in slowing down your speed so you may fish effectively. An electric trolling motor is the most effective method of boat control. However, in very dense weed in shallow water, or indeed, in very shallow water without weed, the electric may cause some noise and spook fish. Back trolling and forward trolling are both methods used often for fishing Walleye. These methods are difficult to use in dense weed and are more suited to locating Walleye that may be scattered on the outside of deeper weedlines at night or during low light conditions.

Learn to use the light to your advantage when fishing for Walleye. I’m sure you will find, as we have, that Rice Lake is the best Walleye lake in Ontario.

Swiss Walleye Fillets

1 1/2 pounds walleye fillets
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. dill
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 swiss cheese, finely grated

Sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine parsley, dill, garlic powder and melted butter. Add milk, egg and a little salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix bread crumbs and cheese. Dip fillets in egg mixture then roll to coat in crumb mixture. Place fillets on a well greased baking pan. Drizzle with butter mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serves four. Enjoy!

Chicago Has Entered a Bizarro Universe

September 9, 2008

by Steuart Martens… If Seinfeld has taught me anything, it is that a totally normal world can suddenly turn bizarro. Just as Jerry’s world was spun around, so too has Chicago’s.

In analyzing Chicago sports, it is clear that something strange is going on. My conclusion is that Chicago is currently Bizarro Chicago.

Let me break it down for you.

Bizarro Cedric Benson is Matt Forte

Last season, Cedric Benson STUNK. In fact, his entire time in Chicago was horrible. After being drafted No. 4 overall in the NFL draft, Benson sat out for 36 days of camp. To sum up Benson’s playing, the world “bust” comes to mind.

Benson has had so many DUIs (both on land and water), that he now must drive a Blo-and-Go. He must breath into his car to prove his isn’t’ drunk before the car will start.

On the other hand, Matt Forte had an outstanding NFL debut for the Bears. He rushed 23 times for 123 yards and 1 TD. Forte is smart enough to keep his name out of the police blotter and is generally liked in the locker room.

Forte has been a great change of pace for the Bears backfield.

Bizarro Rex Grossman is Kyle Orton

Last season, Grossman opened the season with games of one, two, and three interceptions. The Bears started 1-2 and did not look good. This year, Orton played an average game against the Colts.

He was 13-21 with 150 yards, zero TDs and zero INTs. What people need to know is that a Bears QB playing average is unheard of. Usually, the roll of the Bears’ QB is to ruin seasons.

Hopefully Orton will continue to be average this year and allow the Bears to win.

Bizarro 2007 Chicago bears D is the 2008 bears D

Chicago’s D finished 2007 ranked 28th in the league. They were injured and ineffective. Last night, the Bears brought back memories of the “Monsters of the Midway.” Holding the Colts to 13 points and under 300 yards of total offense is impressive.

Best of all, Chicago scored on D (thanks to Lance Briggs). If Chicago hopes to make the Super Bowl, the D is going to have to continue in Bizarro world and score every week.


Bizarro MLB best Cubs are Cubs in September

The only bad part of bizarro Chicago is that the Cubs stink. Through August, the Cubs were the best team in baseball. Both their pitching and hitting were outstanding.

Then they entered Bizarro world and the wheels fell off. The Cubs dropped the last two games in August and have won ONCE in September. Cubs fans across the city are freaking out.

Who knows what is up next for Bizarro Chicago. One thing is for sure, though: Tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a girl with man hands.

US Open: Fabulous 5-IVE For Federer

September 9, 2008

by Long John Silver… True Story! I really liked this wonderfully elegant girl once (lets call her Matilda), mustered enough courage to ask her out in the first place…even went out on a couple of dates with her. We got to know each other pretty well and with each passing day, I began to like her more and more. Quite unfortunately she had to leave the shores for a while and when she came back after three months, we thought we would pick it up from where we left. Met again and had dinner a couple of times more…got along well, eventually she got very busy to get together again (or that’s at least the reason I heard), more unreturned emails and calls and it finally faded away.

Such a shame for it’s these ‘What IF’ stories that are most painful, because you never stop wondering about them. I still think about her everyday. I got to know her pretty well, but never actually got to the core of it, never really found out what made her TICK. It fizzled, it sizzled, it bristled…but it never caught on fire…that’s kind of how Andy Murray’s evening turned out yesterday. He fiddled with the keys but never actually managed to open the floodgates.

As predicted and quite expected, Rodge came prancing out off the blocks to take the first set 6-2 before Murray realized what hit him. Murray managed to come back from a break down in the second set to even things up…but caught an unlucky break (botched line call that would have given him the break to go ahead) that might have turned the match around.

He played well in patches just enough for us to see what he is made of, but never actually strung it together. He did everything what I really did not want him to do (hah, easier said from me, for it’s not me who is wielding a tennis racket in Ashe against Federer).

With that caveat out of the way, I was hoping he would find his feet a little quicker, and not allow Rodge to take a 2-0 set lead. Once you provide that cushion to Rodge, nine times out of ten you are in between a dead end tunnel and a freight train approaching you at full throttle. In more direct language, ‘You are Dead Meat’.

To use the term (deliberately) again, as predicted and expected, Rodge had a dream of a serving day and was smokin’ his forehand to all corners of Ashe. Once he was two sets up, took a 5-0 lead—Murray salvaged pride with 5-2.

At championship point down at the end of a long rally, as Murray’s forehand found the net, Federer would descend on Ashe, relieved. With consummate satisfaction, I have now watched all his five open wins…and 12/13 slam victories. It is quite a spectacle to savor for that very isolated moment is—SURREAL. You tend to feel like, a part of yourself won the open .

I think this was a case of Murray never quite finding his feet for long enough, combined with how Federer elevates his game in slam finals (so well he should—he has been in more than a dozen of ‘em). The NY crowd, quite deservingly gave a standing ovation and applause for Murray, we all recognize that he pioneers the next generation of the game. This was a stupendous effort from my favorite ‘Flexing Scotsman’. Good on You Mate!

Murray’s sense of dry, understated humor was on exhibit, when at the presser he was asked how he felt to have won a million dollars, he would say ‘What… is it like equal to 10 pounds now?’. He would later confess, at the net he told Rodge, ‘Yeah … with three slam finals and winning the open … believe all of them, you did have a terrible year’. How can you not like a bloke with a sense of humor? Congrats Andy!

As far as Federer is concerned …

Quite understandably he was genuinely happy and incredibly relieved to have won the fifth time in New York. He now stands unique in the fact that he is the only person to have won in London and New York, five times each.

It was beautiful to watch his on court interview and presser, where he told when he walked the city, the cab drivers would holler, ‘Roger … you are still the one’ and the support he got right from outset at the ‘champions’ ceremony’ on the opening day, up until last evening. He was clearly moved that New York has adopted him.

He also went on to tell how annoying it was that new people surfaced everyday and called him, to say that he needs physical and psychological help to get out of his slump. I guess right through this year I have consistently written that there is nothing wrong with Federer, every athlete’s career ebbs and flows.

In some ways he is correct, he has created a monster and he cannot live up to this standard forever. As much as I want to evade any form of negative energy in this article (or any of my articles as a matter of fact), I’ll say the following, and will swiftly move on.

It is indeed quite annoying, the doomsayers’, naysayers’, irresponsible tabloid journalists, prima-donnas’ and all the ones with a penchant for being overtly melodramatic saying - Rodge will retire once he wins in NY, what is wrong with him, he needs a new racket, he needs to train more, he has lost it, he needs new socks, he needs to get a new puppy, new shaving kit … and the list goes on and on

Federer does not play anymore to prove you or me wrong. He plays for himself and for the sheer fact that he enjoys and relishes hitting a tennis ball around. Life indeed is that simple. He is too proud an athlete and a performer to relinquish when he is not winning.

So, yeah, before you start writing another obituary that starts with the title ‘Roger’ … and start pretending as if you know better …. Think again. With a shade of more brusqueness …’Leave Rodge ALONE’. The game of tennis needs him; he is too valuable to the tennis world for you to mess with him.

As he clocks ‘The Lucky 13’ (that was my original headline – ESPN beat me to it), what an oxymoron is the phrase ‘Lucky 13’ … is 13 lucky in any other place other than Lucifer’s kingdom?

He is one away from Sampras. I have no doubts that he will equalize Sampras with time (any takers – Melbourne 2009?), he eventually will. I don’t want to get into the Sampras debate at this juncture, but from a personal standpoint at this point am indifferent towards his ranking, and the number of slams he will end up with past Sampras …

However, a little piece of my mind always desires for just a solitary Roland Garros title, Federer’s more than mine though, of that am very sure of.

Rodge am sure is feelin a bit of that famed ‘New York’ Spirit today eve …

Good on You Mate – a part of me won The Open in New York today too …

I’ll wrap things up with a parting shots post in the next couple of days – Cheers

BT’s 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Florida Panthers

September 9, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Preface: The Southeast division is a strange division: I mean, where else do you only get one representative in the playoffs because your division isn’t good enough to send two?

Well the more we look at it this year, the Southeast may once again return to the days of sending two representatives, as a dose of healthy competition is just what the doctor ordered.

Right in the thick of the competition though, will be the Florida Panthers.

Last year, I thought that the Florida Panthers would actually hop over both Washington and Carolina and take the division title, or at least eek their way into eighth.

Well, I was wrong, but what the Panthers showed last year, is that they’re finally on the right track, and the team may be one of the most-battle ready in the Southeast division.

Yup, the Florida Panthers.

Turns out all those years of high draft picks and just waiting it out does work.

Quick! Call Toronto! The myths of the rebuilding process are true! Young players ARE good!


Roster Additions: Cory Stillman-F (F.A.), Rory Fitzpatrick-D (F.A), Keith Ballard-D (Trade), Nick Boynton-D (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Branislav Mezei-D (Europe), Steve Montador-D (F.A), Jassen Cullimore-D (F.A), Oli Jokinen-F (Trade)

How did 2007/08 go? 38-35-9, 85 points, 11th in conference, 3rd in Southeast

2008/09 Goal:
2nd in Southeast, top ten in conference, as high as 7th


Let’s break’er down…

The Florida Panthers always go about their business fairly quietly in the offseason, that is, unless they’re trying to trade Roberto Luongo.

Granted there aren’t many outside of Florida who are that concerned with what the Panthers do—unless they’re trying to trade Roberto Luongo—but that just means a few more people are surprised when they have a quality offseason.

That’s right: Trade a star and don’t get caught up in the hype of an over-valued free agent class, and that’s a fairly successful offseason.

This kitten’s got claws!

For a long time, the Florida Panthers featured something that didn’t look like a rose or smell like a rose, but it was still called a rose.

Now, they’ve started growing (and acquiring) some thorns, and they’ve finally got a pretty prickly defense!

Leading off the block, you’ve got Jay Bouwmeester who may be the most important cog in this machine. He’s big, he can play against the better forwards in the league, and he can score.
Last year, although there was a decline in his overall point totals, Bouwmeester was finding the net more frequently, totaling a career-high 15 goals. Bouwmeester also played his fifth (82 games) full season in his career, and went even further in cementing himself as one of the top tier blueliners of this generation.

The only problem for Florida, is that they’re having Jay commit long term, as after a ton of discussion on an extension, Bouwmeester ended up signing a one-year deal, as if to say “show me this team may actually go somewhere this season, and then maybe I’ll consider staying”.

If this is the season that could make or break whether Bouwmeester stays in Florida, then Jacques Martin and the Panthers certainly pulled out all the stops on the back-end.

Gone is the injury-riddled Mike Van Ryn, and in his place is Bryan McCabe. Although McCabe’s steps have slowed the past few seasons, and his defensive game had a well-documented deterioration, McCabe still has a place at the NHL level, and that place could be either alongside Bouwmeester with his booming slap shot, or leading the second PP unit into battle. A low-key season in a lesser-known market could be just the ticket to getting the 33-year old’s career back on track.

The Panthers also went out and traded Captain Oli Jokinen to Phoenix for Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. Although last year Ballard only posted 21 points, he took the time to use the effort he took from his offensive game, and concentrate it in his own end, resulting in a career-high +7. If Ballard becomes a 20-25 point defenseman with a propensity for +10’s, rather than a 30-point, -30 d-man, then he’ll quickly find himself at home in Florida. And if he can get his offense back to the 30-point range without losing the D? All the better.

Boynton meanwhile, will give the Panthers a huge presence that their defense has sorely needed for a few years. Boynton may not really shine in the offensive zone, but he more than makes up for that with his work-horse ways, and his ability to play a physical game against opposing forwards.

The last two defensemen, rounding out a Florida defense that has a solid top six for the first time in a while, are Karlis Skrastins and Bryan Allen. You may remember Skrastins as the former-NHL Iron Man amongst defensemen, but Karlis is the kind of guy you need on your team—a gritty, hard-nosed, shot-blocking fiend who wants nothing more than to do the little things to help his team win the game. Bryan Allen is simply going to continue to offer the Florida Panthers a solid defensive game, and a point or two every so often, and sound leadership.

It may surprise you, but this team has a pretty solid defense (along with Rory Fitzpatrick, Cory Murphy, and Noah Welch for depth).

Vacating Vokoun’s post for Vacation purposes…

If Florida wants to go anywhere this season, Vokoun better not be vacating his post, at least not anytime soon. The former-Predator was fairly solid last season, posting a 30-29-8 season—his third time ever-reaching 30 wins. The crafty lefty also posted a solid .919 save percentage and a 2.68 goals against average, as Florida threatened to claw their way back into the post-season race for a while down the stretch.

At 32, Vokoun should have a few good seasons ahead of him, but in case something goes amiss, former Blackhawk Craig Anderson will be preparing to step in between the pipes as he continues his ascension back to the ranks of NHL keepers.

Last season Anderson was very impressive in limited action (8-6, 2.25 GAA, .935 save percentage), and could find himself flourishing if anything were to happen to Tomas Vokoun.

Weiss so glum chum?

The Florida Panthers are finally starting to see the fruits of their early and often labors come to fruition.

For the past two seasons, Stephen Weiss has been a tremendous offensive presence for the up and coming Panthers, netting back-to-back forty point seasons and a plus-14 season last year. The more ice time that Stephen Weiss gets (and if he can stay healthy this season), Weiss could be due for a big-time coming out party—maybe 55-60 points and 25 goals.

Both Anthony Stewart and Gregory Campbell are young, but versatile and big and strong, and two guys that aren’t afraid to mix it up in the corners and down the sides, with a bit of scoring touch.

The brunt of the offense up front though, will be coming from Nathan Horton. The fourth year power-forward has posted back-to-back 62 point seasons, while he’s got one 30 goal season (2006/07) and two near-misses (2005/06, 2007/08) in the past three seasons. Although he won’t have Oli Jokinen to help open up some holes up front this season, the departure of Jokinen will also ensure that the brunt of the offensive load will rest on Horton’s shoulders—a pressure that will certainly determine how the 23-year old performs.

Bringing in a veteran presence will be Cory Stillman, and the returning Richard Zednik. Last season, before his horrific neck injury, Richard Zednik was having one of his most productive seasons in recent memory. After an off year in 2006/07 in which he only scored 18 points in 32 games, Zednik had 15 goals and 26 points, before having his season ended by an errant skate blade. Now how Zednik comes back still has yet to be seen, but if he can provide 15 goals for the duration of the season, then it’ll be a welcome addition to the offense.

Stillman meanwhile, brings a decorated resume that includes two Stanley Cup rings—back-to-back championships with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. After splitting last season between the ‘Canes and the Ottawa Senators, Stillman comes to Florida in hopes of helping lead the Cats back to the playoffs, and maybe providing 60 points and a good, hard shot to the mix.

Meanwhile, the Panthers also have some solid talent in Rostislav Olesz—a strong, playmaking winger from Czechoslovakia, David Booth—a scoring, physical presence who surprised a lot of people with his 20-goal performance last season, and Shawn Matthias—a young guy with size who can lead the play and score some goals.

Filling out the lines with a bit of depth will be Kamil Kreps, Stefan Meyer, Tanner Glass, and Ville Peltonen—all of which have a little scoring potential, and the chance to be contributing third and fourth liners, while David Brine, Drew Larman, Rob Globke, and Michal Repik could battle for spots in training camp.

So what’s it all mean?

The Florida Panthers look great on defense (and will probably be vastly underrated this year), and if Tomas Vokoun can stay healthy, then they’ll have a solid option in net.

The biggest problem for this team though, is that they still have a bunch forwards who will be trying to find their stride at the NHL level, as well as their hands.

The pieces are starting to come together, but they may need a few more years.

Finish: 3rd in Southeast

Thinking Outside The Box To Predict A Sprint Cup Champion

September 9, 2008

by Hollis Warren As the chase commences at New Hampshire on Sunday, everyone wants to know as to who is going to take home the Sprint Cup Trophy and all the money, fame, and glory that accompanies it when the series visits Homestead in nine weeks?

Based on what we’ve seen in the first 26 events, the three favorites are obviously the numbers 18, 99, and 48. Each driver has got something to prove.

Kyle Busch is trying to show all the haters that his eight wins thus far in 2008 are no fluke and maybe earn a few more fans. There is not a more polarizing figure in NASCAR today (which is a great thing), and I’m sure taking home a championship will tip the balance a little bit more to the Rowdy supporters.

Carl Edwards wins races with relative ease, but outside of a third place points finish in 2005, has yet to be a serious championship contender in his brief stint in the Sprint Cup ranks.

Jimmie Johnson is attempting to do something only Cale Yarborough has accomplished by winning back-to-back-to-back titles, and simultaneously cementing himself as one of the all-time greats at the tender age of 33.

Now I know I am supposed to be impartial, but let’s just say I don’t want to see Cheating Chad Knaus, Rick the (you fill in the obscenity) Hendrick, Jimmie, and his incredibly hot wife celebrating another championship.

I’d love to see Cousin Carl or Shrub take home a championship just because both have proven themselves worthy of a title this season, and while along with JJ they have dominated the regular season, this is a whole new ballgame.

Everyone is essentially back to zero points, and regardless of what you did from February to Labor Day, it doesn’t mean a whole lot entering New Hampshire.

Obviously, the 18, 99, and 48 have established themselves as the favorites, but just as we saw with the New York Giants in the NFL playoffs this past January, often an underdog will rise to the occasion and shock the world. And that is what I predict will happen during this 10-race run to Homestead the third weekend in November.

Of the four champions under the Chase format, Jimmie Johnson entered the final 10 races second in 2006 and fourth a year ago (before wins are added to the equation), Tony Stewart first in 2005, and Kurt Busch seventh in 2004.

Obviously, the odds seem to be stacked against guys like Kenseth, Bowyer, or Harvick taking home the crown, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of the feat. The four, three-car “super” teams represented in the Chase (RCR, Hendrick, Roush, and JGR) are fairly equal on paper.

Busch, Johnson, and Edwards may have stood out to this point of the season, but over a short 10-race sprint, one bad day can change everything and open this championship battle up.

Luck means everything now, and it is critical for each team and driver to avoid that catastrophic DNF or time behind the wall.

Judging by the occasional recklessness of Busch and Edwards, I wouldn’t put it past either to get themselves into trouble over the final ten weeks. With Johnson, it will probably take someone else’s stupidity, Talladega, or a mechanical failure to put him behind the eight-ball.

Anyways, enough blabbering. Here is how I am predicting the top 12 to look at the checkered flag of the Ford 400, with my surprise championship pick at the bottom.

12. Kevin Harvick (#29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy)
Harvick is not particularly known for prowess on the mile-and-half tracks that make up exactly half of the Chase, and like was the case in 2007, will likely spell a finish in the bottom half of the top 12.  However, the 29-team should at least provide strong runs at Dover, Martinsville, Talladega, and Phoenix, and with a few breaks along the way, may put Kevin in a position to contend for the title.

11. Jeff Gordon (#24 DuPont Chevy)
In 2008, the 24-team has been like a box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get. Some weeks, it looks as if Letarte spent the week golfing instead of preparing a setup. Other weeks, we see the same team that contended for Gordon’s fifth title a year ago. The intermediates will make or break, most likely break, this team’s season.

10. Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Toyota)
Hamlin brought up the caboose in the Chase a season ago, and unlike his teammates, does not seem to have that killer instinct to be a serious title contender. Last year, he was doomed by bad luck and poor runs at the intermediate tracks, and while he should do great at the flat tracks, there are only three of those in the Chase. Look for Denny and the 11 team to once again float around 8th-12th place.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevy)
This prediction will probably draw the boos from Junior Nation, but after a strong start to the season, Earnhardt has not been overly impressive as of late, although he did have a strong run at Richmond yesterday. Plus, I do not know if I would trust Tony Eury Jr. to be making championship critical decisions down the stretch after some of the boneheaded moves he has made this season, seemingly costing his driver.

8. Jeff Burton (#31 AT&T Chevy)
Just to tick off NASCAR and Sprint, I’d love to see Jeff Burton take home the championship. Not to mention the guy is a class act and heck of a driver. But let’s face the facts: after this team was so consistent in the first half of the season, not only finishing races but finishing them in or near the top 10, they have come back to Earth in recent weeks. It will be hard to shake the funk the 31 team has been in for some time now, but if anyone is capable, it is Burton.

7. Clint Bowyer (#07 Jack Daniel’s/DirecTV Chevy)
The 2007 Chase was Bowyer’s coming out party.  After barely making it in, he won at New Hampshire and finished the season in 3rd.  Can he do it again?  It will be difficult, seeing how the 07 bunch has been nothing short of average the past three or four months, but they do have the confidence built as a result of last season’s strong run to carry them to another solid conclusion to the schedule.

6. Matt Kenseth (#17 DeWalt Tools Ford)
This campaign by Kenseth reminds me of his 2005 season, where a poor start almost cost the team a shot at a Chase berth. In a season that has been more about Matt getting acclimated to new crew chief Chip Bolin than anything else, it’s hard to peg this team as a Chase frontrunner.  Certainly they are one of the series’ best teams, but this has been a down year by their standards. But don’t be surprised, in true Matt Kenseth fashion, if the 17 sneaks up a few people.

5. Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy)
Like in any other sport, the champion has a big bullseye on his back. Now people aren’t going to be running over the 48 car each Sunday, but they will race him a little bit harder knowing to be the champion, you first must beat him. Judging by the two consecutive wins, Johnson and Knaus are ready to become the first three-time defending champions since ‘78.  But will lady luck be on their side once again this fall?

4. Greg Biffle (#16 3M Ford)
Every year for the past three years, I have predicted big things for Biffle and company, and only this year have they lived up to those expectations. If you drive for Roush-Fenway, you have to run well at the mile and a half tracks, and Biffle certainly is in the top 5 or 10 every time the series visits one of these facilities. That alone should allow Greg to be a contender, but can they avoid the bad luck that plagued them for much of the season?

3. Carl Edwards (#99 Office Depot Ford)
Edwards, like Biffle, has to be licking his chops with five intermediate tracks, plus Dover, over the final 10 events. What determines his final position will be his performances at Loudon, Martinsville, and Talladega, tracks which have tripped up the 99 team in the past. Carl has solid leadership from Bob Osborne on the pit box, and he certainly won’t cost the team a shot at a championship. This team bears close watching.

2. Kyle Busch (#18 M&M/Mars Toyota)
There are two schools of thought here: either you want to see Busch give a figurative middle finger to all of his detractors, or you want to see him finish the Chase in 12th spot with his tail between his legs. Kyle has had a breakout season, but to many people, it will be all for naught if he doesn’t take home the crown. He could break under the enormous pressure, but the kid is just too good. At worse, he finishes third or fourth.

1. Tony Stewart (#20 Home Depot Toyota)
Now I know what everyone is saying: Tony’s leaving at the end of the year, and may not be particularly motivated to run this car. But he has experienced a glorious decade with Greg Zippadelli and company at JGR, and wants to finish on a strong note. After being at the danger zone of 12th place mid-season, this team has come around, and I look for Stewart to win title number three and finally crack victory lane.

Top 20 Transfers of the Summer

September 9, 2008

by Thomas Leemon… The transfer period is over, for now. This summer saw some of the most shocking transfers yet; and some that were just a steal. Here’s the top twenty transfers that made headlines this summer.

All fees are rounded off.

20. Andriy Shevchenko

From Chelsea back to AC Milan

undisclosed fee

After two disappointing seasons at Chelsea, Shevchenko is going back to his true love, AC Milan. This is a gamble for Milan, they’ve been without a great striker since, well, Andriy Shevchenko. Hopefully, he’ll find his scoring form and prove that he still has it in him. If he doesn’t, I know a few teams that would love him in MLS.

19. Júlio Baptista

From Real Madrid to AS Roma

9 million Euro ($12.7 million)

At some point, Baptista has got to find a club that will keep him. In the past three seasons, he’s been to three different clubs in three different countries. Now 26, Baptista hasn’t been able to find his form that saw him become a star in Sevilla four seasons ago. He had a decent beginning in Madrid, but was replaced by more capable players. If he gets a start in Roma and is able to keep his starting position, he could become a star once again.

18. Seydou Keita

From Sevilla to Barcelona

15 million Euro ($21.1 million)

At the time of his arrival he was the best signing Barcelona had made this season, particularly in light of the way their soft underbelly was exposed on the road last year. With him partnering Yaya Touré in the middle, it will ensure that the likes of Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi don’t get bullied, and also get the full license to thrill.

17. Ezequiel Garay

From Racing Santander to Real Madrid

12.5 million Euro ($16.9 million)

Barcelona was so close into capturing the young Argentine defender, but they hesitated too long and Real Madrid ended up getting him. Madrid’s hoping that he’ll end up like another Sergio Ramos or better. He’s going to have to wait to show Madrid what he can do though. The club has loaned him back to Racing for the season.

16. Deco

From Barcelona to Chelsea

10 million Euro ($14 million)

Deco, who’s past 31, looks like he’s past his prime. However, upon closer inspection, that’s far from the truth. Sure, he won’t score many goals like Lampard. But he’s everything Lampard isn’t - creative, a winner, and performer. With Essien, Joe Cole, and Ballack as his teammates, Chelsea’s midfield looks anything but aweful.

15. Mancini

From AS Roma to Inter Milan

1.7 million Euro ($2.4 million)

Jose Mourinho is looking to get some fresh blood into Internazionale. Looks like he made a good call by bringing in Mancini from Roma. The aggressive winger will be given a license to thrill just like Robben did at Chelsea. However, if he wants to impress the “Special One,” he’ll have to get his consistency problem into check - or else.

14. David Bentley

From Blackburn to Tottenham

44.8 million Euro ($63.3 million)

The Bentley transfer was a win situation for everyone involved. Tottenham got a young, talented winger to add to their young, ambitious squad; Blackburn got rid of a player unhappy at the club; and Bently got his wish to play for someone else. If Bently’s anything Jesus Navas, he’ll be a success; or at least he has the potential to be, especially since he’ll be playing along side Giovani Dos Santos and Luka Modric.

13. Robbie Keane

From Tottenham to Liverpool

25.3 million Euro ($40.6 million)

I think Keane is a great player, but I think that Liverpool paid a few too many euro for this guy. Sure, he’ll score 20-some goals and will complement Fernando Torres’ 25-30-some goals nicely; but that’s all he’ll do. Then again, maybe paying a few extra euro was okay. Many are saying that this Keane-Torres link will help Liverpool win it all. I don’t know about that. At any rate, Keane finally gets to play for his boyhood dream club, so I guess that’s all that matters.

12.

From CSK Moscow to Manchester City

26.9 million Euro ($38 million)

Even before Manchester City brought in Robinho, change was in the air at the club. Jô was the club’s first signing of the summer. The Brazillian has already made an impression at the club and will be looking to make a bigger impression. Before Robinho joined the club, Jô was the club’s biggest buy in its history. Look out Manchester United, there’s a rumbling in the force, and its name is Manchester City.

11. Vincent Kompany

From Hamburg SV to Manchester City

undiclosed fee

City was active this summer. After they had brought in Jô, they brought in Belgian defender, Vincent Kompany. Just two days after being signed by the club, he made his debut againt West Ham United and was named Man of the Match. Things look very promising for Kompany and City.

10. Dani Alves

From Sevilla to Barcelona

30 million Euro ($42.4 million)

Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United – these are just some of the clubs that have queued up for him over the last 18 months or so. However, it is Barcelona who land him after some difficult negotiations with Sevilla. He’s perhaps a bit overpriced at 30 million euro, but then again, he is the best attacking full-back this world has seen since Roberto Carlos.

9. Ricardo Quaresma

From FC Porto to Inter Milan

30.6 million Euro ($43.3 million)

Occasionally compared to his compatriot, Cristiano Ronaldo, Quaresma has skills. One of the longer and more boring transfer sagas of the summer, it seems as though Ricardo Quaresma has finally made his move from Porto to Inter. A class act at domestic level for years, the Portuguese international still has much to prove in Europe, particularly in light of the fact that his time with Barcelona was deemed a failure. Nonetheless he brings with him considerable talent and pedigree. His price tag - 30.6 million euro - is on the high side, but he is nonetheless a fine acquisition for José Mourinho’s side. Remember - he’s still only 24.

8. Aliaksandr Hleb

From Arsenal to Barcelona

14.7 million Euro ($20.8 million)

A very shrewd buy, and what could very well turn out to be a stroke of genius from Barcelona. With Lionel Messi expected to run the show, what they needed was not a Ronaldinho, but a tireless, no-nosense attacking midfielder to offer support from the other flank - without hogging possession or the limelight. And they got him on the cheap too. A true critics’ player in that while fans rave about others, he runs away with the technical plaudits.

7. Roman Pavlyuchenko

From Spartak Moscow to Tottenham

17.4 million Euro ($24.6 million)

I originally had Flamini (from Arsenal to Milan) at #7. That was before the Roman saga was over (yes, I’ve been working on this for some time). But since this saga is over, Roman gets the spot. Pavlyuchenko had a terrific career at Spartak and is hoping to make an impression with the Hotspurs. Tottenham is quickly filling up with young talents - one has to wonder if all these young players if it’ll do any good this season.

6. Samir Nasri

From Marseille to Arsenal

14.9 million Euro ($21 million)

This is one player that I had a fantasy of seeing at Manchester United. He did make it to the Premier League this summer, unfortunately he went to Arsenal. The highly rated French international is the latest to join the clan of young Gunners. Many view him as a replacement for Aliaksandr Hleb, while others go a step further and call him the next Zidane. He has had some problems with injuries, but let’s hope those were exceptions as opposed to the rule.

5. Luka Modrić

From Dinamo Zagreb to Tottenham

20.8 million Euro ($29.4 million)

The hottest young Croatian was snapped up by Spurs despite the interest of clubs such as Barcelona and Chelsea, and what a signing it has already turned out to be. Looks set to become the jewel in Juande Ramos’ midfield next season. He makes it to the top five of my list.

4. Robinho

From Real Madrid to Manchester City

40.5 million Euro ($57.2 million)

The young Brazillian was hoping to make it big at Chelsea, instead, he’s becoming big at Manchester City. Robinho has unquestionable talent, yet he also has controversy. When ADUG paid the record fee for him on the final day of the transfer season, they were making a statement: “We can buy the best.” There are big questions with Robinho in Manchester. Probably biggest of all, can Mark Hughs and the Blues tame this loose cannon? If not, who knows what will happen.

3. Rafael van der Vaart

From Hamburg SV to Real Madrid

9 million Euro ($12.7 million)

I have no idea how Madrid managed to get a hold of van der Vaart at this kind of price. A guy like this, whose one of the best playmakers today deserves a better price, say 20 million euro. This is probably the best steal of the summer and just the guy who can replace Robinho. He’ll most likely be one of the players people will be talking about this time next year.

2. Dimitar Berbatov

From Tottenham to Manchester United

38 million Euro ($53.7 million)

This had to be one of pointless sagas of the summer. Berbatov was clearly going to United, what took so long for him to get there, I have no idea. A proven scoring machine, he has everything Fergie was looking for - a good striking foot, quickness, and smarts. However, with a countless number of goal machines at United, does Fergie have room for him?

1. Ronaldinho

From Barcelona to AC Milan

21 million Euro ($29.7 million)

After a season of unhappiness at the Camp Nou, Ronaldinho got his wish and moved away. After some heavy heat from Manchester City, he moved into AC Milan. We’ve already seen that Ronaldinho is happy at the club. With Kaka’ and Ronaldinho there, Milan is hoping to reemerge as champions. While this transfer is clearly a gamble, I trust that Ronaldinho will find his former skill and excel in Milan. If not, there’s always Manchester City or Chelsea for him.

That’s it folks, my top twenty transfers of the summer. Throw in a few gambles, a few steals, and a few boring sagas, and you got yourself another exciting summer. Who do you think was the top transfer of the summer? Think about it, and let me know.

Weekly Wrant

September 9, 2008

by Mark Ritter… For those of you who put five large on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl, oops! With Tom Brady out the Patriots have about as much of a chance of winning the Super Bowl as a one legged horse mounting a Mare! In the immortal words of Italian New Yorkers everywhere- Fo-git-about it! Who will the Pats turn to now, Jake “The Snake” Plummer or maybe it’s time for Jeff Hostetler to come out of retirement? The season looks grim Patriot fans.

From the world of “Pathetic”, did anyone see Chicago Blackhawk’s Defenseman Brian Campbell throw the opening pitch the other night? I’ve seen better throws from four year old Girls! In fact, comparing Campbell’s throwing skills to a four year old Girl is an insult to four year old Girls; Stick to hockey Campbell, your pitching days are over!

The LPGA has decided that to relax their stance on mandating all Golfers to speak English, like we didn’t see that one coming. Ahh well, just like a Woman to change her mind. The reality is nobody takes Woman’s Golf seriously anyways, most Guys watch the sport in hopes of catching a glimpse of a few “Hotties”, and they could care less how good she is at getting the balls in the hole, then again?

After a decent effort versus the Hamilton Tiger Cats I was dreading having to write a retraction of my comments about Toronto Argonauts quarterback Kerry Joseph; then along came the game against Montreal, never mind…

Legendary UFC fighter Chuck Liddell went down hard Saturday night ending what most would call one of the most dominating careers in MMA history. The Liddell knockout proves once again that anything can happen on any given night in the UFC. On behalf of all the “Ice Man” fans out there, thanks for the memories Chuck. P.S., DUCK!!!

For all the Bills fans lining up for Super Bowl tickets, save your money it’s only week one and judging by the unemployment rate in Buffalo you can’t afford tickets anyways. You can count on three things in life, death, taxes and the Bills never winning the Super Bowl.

If you haven’t already drafted him in your Fantasy Hockey Pool you ought to consider Miroslav Satan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Satan should get a decent look on the first line, with Sidney Crosby feeding him pucks all season long 30-35 goals and 70 points is a real possibility. Need another sleeper? I’ll give you two; Jose Theodore will win 35 games this year for the Washington Capitals, Dany Heatley will score 50 and, since we are talking Hockey, the Tampa Bay Lightening will win their Division.

With the Blue Jays heating up in August and September you got to wonder why Riccardi and Co. haven’t petitioned to outlaw all games from April through July? The Blue Jays, for the most part, are nothing but a tease. Maybe they should rename the team the “Blue Balls?” All I know is the Jays better find some room for Travis Snider; he’s a straight up Ball Player, something agonizingly missing from the Jays lineup.

Early over/under on Toronto Maple Leaf wins in 2009 sits at 27. Let’s just hope that’s few enough to edge out the lowly Los Angeles kings, there are more holes in the Kings roster than a slab of Swiss cheese.

Until Next Week,

Peace!