by TJ Zwarych…
While watching ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption yesterday, I found out that Shaquille O’Neal is planning on retiring in exactly 734 days. Meaning two more seasons. We all know Shaq is one of the most dominant players ever to play the game, but can he really make it two more years?
Shaq’s played on 4 different teams winning championships on two of those teams and has been a truly dominant player always. But he is getting old. Shaq is 36 right now and is hurt almost constantly. Shaq played only 61 games last year, 40 the year before and 59 the year before that. But Shaq has never really been the guy to stay healthy a full season.
Although having had the worst season scoring wise of his career last season, there is some upside for Shaq. While he was with Phoenix, he averaged more rebounds per game (10.6) then he has since 2003-2004 back when he was with LA. Maybe Shaq can still get it done.
If Shaq really does play two more seasons, he might be able to get a championship with a new team that he is looking for, saying that is why he still wants to play. With him, the Suns will be a major contender in the West but they have to do it fast with Shaq and Steve Nash aging.
Personally, I think Shaq will be able to get it done if he stays but will not be his self of old. He will be a good big body in the middle who is slightly above average at the center position.
by Long John Silver…
That’s Rodge trying to window shop for the lovely ladies of Manhattan, from the top of the Empire State Building (quite logically, Mirka was not there for the trip).
This is the after party hangover post, except I haven’t had a drink yet, spent the entire week and most part of the chilly night in my lovely lab.
The other day we discussed about the front end action of Rodge winning the open. Today just wanted to take a moment to discuss what I call, ‘Beyond the Obvious’. This is not just about him winning the open, but about the events that happened in the background that culminated in the event, of him winning.
What’s the first thing that fleets through your mind when you think: Roger Federer? … Grace? Elegance? Purist? Connoisseur? Waltz? … all acceptable answers, each one very relevant and appropriate in its own way. The tale he scripted in New York however, did not use the above mentioned traits as cornerstones to carve out his victory, at least not the extent to which he normally employs them to achieve his objective.
Here is why?
Now answer this one for me? What’s the first thing that fleets through your mind when you think a Lleyton Hewitt or Jimmy Connors? Grit? Tenacity? Doggedness? Me against the world? A Game Driven by Rage? … once again all relevant answers, quite fitting too.
If one counts the number of times Connors or Hewitt won a match that they actually had no business even staying beyond the third set, the that count would be significantly high. I can personally recount the sheer number of times when Hewitt won, not because he was the better player that day, but simply because he was the better competitor on court that day.
The ravenous lust to win, the craving to get down and dirty, the ability to get into the trenches – all in an effort to win. As they more commonly phrase it – ‘I am A Blue Collar Guy’
But here is the thing; Rodge does not employ the Blue Collar attitude (he is more of the White Collar mould) to win, because he does not need to, more often than not. On the other hand, Hewitt or Connors needs to resonate such an attitude through the court to win. Their games are predicated on such an attitude, as much as it is on their return of serve or that bread and butter cross court double-fisted backhand.
That is precisely the reason why I will remember this championship more fondly, than the other twelve. It is because it was a championship that Rodge won, when he had to deploy his Blue Collar more than his White Collar game.
Yes – we did still have all the cornerstones that make up his White Collar game: the overhead lob smash from 5-feet behind the baseline for a winner against the De-Joker, the (my most favorite) BUNT forehands against De-Joker … but they were few and far in between.
Alves first round was not the easiest (3, 5 and 4), Andreev (6-3 in the fifth) in round three was a struggle, Muller that was expected to be an easy quarters was actually a drag (6, 4 and 6), and the De-Joker in the semis wasn’t especially easy either. The finals’ was straight sets, and that was pretty straightforward after the second set.
You get my point; this tournament was certainly unique for Federer in the fact that it was no OZ 2007, Wimbledon 2007 or … even the Open 2007. Those were three instances where Rodge ‘Walked on Water’ his way to the championship each time. Played AND performed with elegance, grace and consummate ease.
In here, I saw him miss certain regulation forehands he that would have Dismissed (capital D used on purpose) with absolute disdain previously.
The straight set victory (4, 0 and 2) against ROD in the OZ semis 2007 is now etched in the annals of tennis history, for more reasons than one. I still believe it’s the best match I have seen Rodge play from a sheer shot-making perspective.
This Open was not akin to the above instances, he’s had to get into the trenches, his ‘A+’, ‘A’ … sometimes even his ‘B’ game was missing, especially against Andreev. That’s when he’s had to pull a Hewitt or Connors on court. The ‘Go to Work’, Blue Collar Attitude.
To actually know what I am discussing here, those of you who watched last evening’s game, watch any of these clips to decide whether his game reached the rarefied elevations that he deploys here (or) here. Ten seconds after 02.50 minutes is my favorite shot (in the first clip).
There were patches of that White Collar ‘Walk on Water’ play, but not as much we are used to from him in the previous slams. I am not getting too micro-critical, fair enough it was still good enough to beat the field, to clock his 13th slam … but the pathway he followed to achieve the same destination was different.
That is precisely why this fifth New York crown will be unique to me, it does not matter which collar game he deployed for he won eventually. But as they say – a litmus test, so to say a genuine indicator of a true champion is his ability to find a way to win … even when he isn’t at his absolute best.
Rodge didn’t ‘Walk on Water’ to his fifth title in New York … quite ironically that is precisely why it made the victory a smidgen more special.
by Hollis Warren…
GAME OF THE WEEK: Eagles at Cowboys (Monday night)
Arguably, Dallas and Philadelphia were the two most impressive teams in Week One, although, as Pacman Jones made reference to, the Eagles were playing the Rams. This week, they go head-to-head in a game that will establish early-season momentum in the division race for one and disappoint the other.
The Cowboys have a little bit of swagger going into this game, which, as a fan, bothers me. T.O. made remarks about his pal McNabb today, Jones said the above comment, and bimbo Jessica Simpson was quoted as saying, “We are going to kick the Eagles’ butts,” (note to Romo: Drop this loser, NOW).
Don’t give the Eagles any extra incentive. Let your play on the field do the talking. Come out and stake a claim as to who is at the head of the class in the NFC East.
The keys to this game will be the Eagles’ ability to generate a pass rush against a very good offensive line, and the Cowboys’ consistent pass defense. Jim Johnson brought the house on Romo last December, and it allowed them to hold Dallas to six points.
Don’t give him all the time in the world to throw the ball. You could have timed how long he had in the pocket before anybody got to him in Cleveland with a sundial, and he ripped that secondary to shreds as a result.
Dallas held up pretty well in the secondary against the Browns, but that was partly due to the fact that Cleveland’s receivers couldn’t catch a cold. McNabb is short on receivers at the current time, so he will probably look to Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith a lot in the intermediate passing game.
The linebackers and defensive backs need to be ready for these threats if the Cowboys want to win on Monday night. It would be a huge help if Terrence Newman could return after missing last week’s game with a groin injury.
Other top games
Colts at Vikings
Based on my observations, the Indy defense did not show that killer instinct of 2007 against Chicago. The unit looked more like the one that struggled during the 2006 regular season, and as a result, Kyle Orton and a bunch of unknown running backs led the Bears to victory.
This week, it won’t get any easier while facing Adrian Peterson, who had over 100 yards against a very good Green Bay defense on Monday. I expect Peyton Manning to come out and play better in his second game back, and he will have to, seeing how establishing a consistent running attack against that defensive front won’t be easy.
Steelers at Browns (Sunday night)
People are already anointing the Steelers as the favorites in the AFC, given all that happened last week, combined with a dominating performance against Houston. Not so fast my friends. It’s one game and one game only.
They could easily go into Cleveland on Sunday night and lay an egg. Not to say this team isn’t a contender, because they are. Just don’t make assumptions like that in September.
The Browns, meanwhile, need to come out and prove that last week’s drubbing at the hands of Dallas was an aberration. They could start by generating a pass rush and not dropping easy catches.
Patriots at Jets
With Tom Brady’s season-ending knee injury, this game doesn’t seem quite as important as it did just a few days ago. But really, this is still a crucial early-season matchup in the AFC East.
While the Brady vs. Favre element is not there anymore, we still have Mangini vs. Belichick and a Patriots team trying to prove they can win with Matt Cassel under center. Not to mention, this division race is probably going to be a lot closer without Brady playing.
Look for the Patriots to run the ball more this week, although Belichick can’t ignore big-play threats Randy Moss and Wes Welker. I think Cassel has the tools to be an adequate replacement and will cause anyone who wrote this team off for 2008 regret it in a matter of weeks.
Chargers at Broncos
San Diego faithful are probably a little bit nervous about Sunday’s trip to Mile High. Denver was dominant against the Raiders on Monday, although I don’t know if we can contribute that to the fact they were playing Oakland or are truly that good.
San Diego, meanwhile, lost in the last second to Carolina at home, and then Shawne Merriman elected to end his season and undergo reconstructive knee surgery. Luckily for the Chargers, Oakland and Kansas City won’t be a threat in the West this year, but they cannot afford to fall two games behind the Broncos this early in the season.
They beat them by a combined margin of 64-6 one year ago, but Jay Cutler, the running game, and defense were all sharp in Oakland. And that was without Brandon Marshall, who returns from a one-game suspension.
And the rest of this week’s entertainment
Titans at Bengals
Ex-AFC Central rivals clash in Cincinnati, as Kerry Collins temporarily takes over for Vince Young.
Bills at Jaguars
Buffalo has to be considered a player in the AFC East now, and they could put themselves on the map with an upset here.
Raiders at Chiefs
One of the NFL’s great rivalries, but it’s hard to get excited with the level of talent assembled on both sides.
Packers at Lions
The question here is if Lions fans will break out the paper bags as headgear in Week Two.
Falcons at Buccaneers
Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and company will probably find it a little bit tougher to move the ball on Tampa’s defense.
Giants at Rams
It could be another long week for the Rams’ offensive unit against an attacking defense.
Bears at Panthers
Carolina is without Steve Smith again, but that wasn’t a problem against the highly-regarded Chargers.
Saints at Redskins
Jim Zorn and company look to get on track after a less than impressive performance in the opener.
49ers at Seahawks
The Seahawks should rebound from last week’s drubbing in Buffalo.
Dolphins at Cardinals
Arizona will be looking for their first 2-0 start in 17 years.
Ravens at Texans (Monday night)
This game has been moved to Monday night. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone down on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
by Bryan Thiel…
Preface: Starting off the Central division, we’ll be looking at the St Louis Blues—a strange team, to say the least.
Not strange in the way that they’ve accomplished their rebuilding process, or where it’s headed, or even the fact that they hit a wall a few years ago and started to struggle.
It was just weird to see it all happen to them.
Needless to say, I can’t wait until they’re competitive again—there’s just something about a competitive Blues-Red Wings rivalry.
The past few seasons, St Louis has struggled. But in sports, there’s always a bright side to struggling—high draft picks.
Over the past two seasons, the St Louis Blues have benefited from those draft picks, and from the opportunity to let their youth mature.
Throughout that process, they’ve been able to build something that no one else in the conference can really sport—two young defensemen capable of being All Stars. We’ll get to them in a minute, though.
Roster Additions: Yan Statsny-F (F.A.), Mike Weaver-D (F.A.), Matt Foy-F (F.A.), Brad Winchester-F (Free Agent), Andy Wozniewski-D (F.A.), Chris Mason-G (Trade) (F.A.),
Roster Subtractions: Martin Rucinsky-F (F.A.), Mike Johnson-F (F.A.), Micki Dupont-D (F.A.), Petr Cajanek-F (F.A.), Jamal Mayers-F (Trade)
How did 2007-08 go? 33-36-13, 79 points, 14th in conference, fifth in division
2008-09 Goal: Finish in the top twelve of the conference
Let’s Break’er down…
It’s amazing when you think back to the days of dominance for the St. Louis Blues.
They had produced a stoud defense, featuring Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, while Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight were the basis of a strong, reliable, and productive scoring attack, along with Pavel Demitra.
And can you remember the days when Roman Turek was actually an NHL goalie? Yup, that was in St Louis.
After that, the Blues went a fair ways downhill. Now they’re looking up, but it could still take them a couple of years to get there.
Get out of the (C)Eller(s) and put on your Berglunds…
In the future, the St. Louis Blues will be a force to be reckoned with, as their top lines will be home to the likes of Lars Ellers and Patrik Berglund. Both are quality scoring forwards that the Blues hope to build around. However, the speed at which they acclimatize to the North American style of hockey will be determine how fast they ascend to the NHL, and how effective they can be early on in their careers.
Also bringing a look into St Louis’ future this season will be T.J. Oshie. There’s no doubt that Oshie will be the Blues’ big-time energy forward with the propensity to put up some good offensive totals, but the Blues have to ensure that Oshie remains immersed in the hockey environment.
All three of those players—and a few other stars-in-the-making—are surely going to help the Blues down the road. This year, Berglund and Oshie could be a Kane-Toews combination. But don’t expect the the rest of the forwards to contribute to improving upon the third-worst scoring attack of last season (205 goals).
Keith Tkachuk is old and getting older (well…that IS how it goes), and he may not even be worth a quality package of picks or prospects anymore if the Blues look to deal him at the deadline. The three forwards that the Blues added over the summer—Foy, Winchester, and Statsny—are anything but dynamos, no matter how much ice they see.
Joining the ranks of the aging and ineffective will be Paul Kariya. Although Kariya rings in at 33, he’ll have to prove he still has the legs and hands to keep up with this young roster. Nevertheless, he seems a lock to play the entire season, posting three consecutive 82-game seasons so far.
The two biggest hopes for the Blues are Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes this season.
Early on last season, McDonald—who played a pivotal role in the Anaheim Ducks’ Stanley Cup Championship run—struggled to say the least. However, following a deal which saw Doug Weight go the other way, McDonald started to find his scoring touch again, raising his point-per-game average to 0.73 with the Blues—a mark much closer to his 2006-07 mark of 0.95 than his early-season 0.48 with the Ducks—leading to hopes that McDonald can be the number-one guy in St Louis.
After spending time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the San Jose Sharks, and the Boston Bruins, Brad Boyes proved he can stick at the NHL level, posting his first ever 40-goal season, while remaining almost unbeknownst to anyone outside of St. Louis.
Blues brass will be closely watching the development of David Perron, David Backes, and Lee Stempniak this season as well. Both Backes and Perron had impressive seasons for youngsters as both hovered next to the 30-point plateau. Stempniak will look to continue his jump up the St. Louis roster, as 40 points for both him and Backes is realistic, while Perron could impress with 35-40 points, while anything more would certainly be a sign of good things in his development.
The Re-Rise of the Dynamic Duo
It’s been a few years, but Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger are gone.
In their place, though? Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Johnson.
Although the Blues will give him the chance, the idea of Pietrangelo making the Blues’ roster out of training camp really depends on who you ask. The Blues’ top pick from this past draft has drawn comparisons to Chris Pronger from people within the organization—and if he impresses in camp, it could spell doom for a veteran on a one year contract. (All eyes are on you, Jeff Woywitka).
His future partner—2006 first-overall pick Erik Johnson—will once again have all eyes on him though. Following a 33-point campaign, it’s expected Johnson could produce even better numbers, while he gains the experience he needs to fix the flaws in his game.
This is weird. We’ve only named two defensemen so far, and already the defense seems scary.
What adds to the fear is the implementation of captain Eric Brewer, former Calder-winner Barret Jackman, and grizzled veteran Jay McKee.
The big sticking point for Brewer last season was his production. After scoring 46 goals in six NHL seasons, in 2007-08 Brewer was held to just one goal—a big disappointment for the man acquired in the Chris Pronger trade.
If Brewer can bring back those goal totals from past seasons, though, he’ll be able to establish more of a two-way presence—making the defensive-minded McKee and the gritty Jackman each more dangerous in their own rights.
A St. Louis legacy or a story of Masonry?
As for who this defense will play in front of? Well…at least they’ve got options.
With the acquisition of Chris Mason, St. Louis has done two things. First of all, they’ve provided some competition for Manny Legace for the starters role that he’s earned the past few seasons with St. Louis. Second, they’ve insured themselves in the event that Legace reaggravates the knee that has bothered him the past two seasons.
Although he’s 35 years old, Legace has utilized the knowledge he gained throughout a long time spent with some quality starters in Detroit to the best of his ability. In his two years starting for the Blues, Legace has single-handedly made them competitive, garnering 23 and 25 wins in 2006-07 and 2007-08, respectively.
One might look at those totals as a far cry from his final season in Detroit when he won 37 games—but St Louis isn’t Detroit. Or at least they aren’t right now. Not by a long shot.
But in trading for Mason, the Blues allowed the former Devil to reacquire the right to compete for a starting gig in the NHL—something the Nashville Predators had no need for with the emergence of Dan Ellis.
Before we get to deep into Mason, though, his time may be over before it begins. In all of the hoopla surrounding the promising young forwards and defensemen in St. Louis, the young man from the Czech Republic—star goalie Marek Schwarz—has been patiently biding his time in the AHL, awaiting his turn to take a chance at stopping pucks at the NHL level.
Then, you have to look at the fact that both goalies are in the last years of their respective deals. In other words, if Mason starts to struggle again this season, and/or Legace gets hurt, Schwartz could get his chance.
And if he flourishes, don’t be surprised if ether (or both) of these guys are dumped at the deadline to a team in need of depth between the pipes.
Sometimes you get some of the most interesting position battles in some of the most unlikely places.
So what does it all mean?
Let’s face it—any team forced to play Detroit, especially during their rebuilding years, is in big trouble. Columbus, Nashville, and Chicago had to suffer through it, but the Blues are a little less familiar with these “problems,” as they weren’t bottom-feeders when the rest were.
Despite that, they’ve been forced into the cellar to watch as the Wings run amok of the league, while they began to rebuild through the draft after a near four-decade span of playoff fruition.
Although none of the players on the current roster can realistically play a meaningful part in each year of a streak that long, the Blues are looking to the future, where they could restart their streak despite heavy competition from every division rival.
This upcoming season, though? Well it’ll be another tough year, unless the rookies and young guys come up huge—which isn’t always out of the question.
Today, they don’t have the offensive dominance to compete, but tomorrow they most likely will. Today, their goalies’ health are concerns, but tomorrow the biggest task may be finding a plausible backup for Marek Schwarz. Today, the defense is good, but still growing. Tomorrow, the defense will be one of the most prominent puck-control units in the league.
Why so Blue? This year may be tough, but the sun’ll come out tomorrow.
Prediciton: Fifth in Central
by Greg Caggiano…
According to Steve Zipay, one of the many beat writers that cover the New York Rangers, the elusive Mats Sundin has been given a deadline by Glen Sather, to decide if he will be signing with the team or not.
As of right now, he has until Tuesday, September 16, to make up his mind on whether he definitely wants to play for the New York Rangers or not. If he chooses to sign, the Rangers will either have to make a move in order to free up space or hope that the new collective bargaining agreement will be ratified on September 15, the rumored date for this to happen.
If then, the CBA is ratified, the Rangers would be allowed to give Sundin a minimal amount that would count against the cap while beefing up his salary with bonuses that don’t count against the cap, exactly like what they have done with Shanahan these last two seasons.
But, if Sundin chooses not to sign with the Rangers, the team will then sign plan-B option Brendan Shanahan, who’s contract negotiations have been on hold all off season long due to Sundin’s inability to make a decision. “Shanny” has openly stated that he has no desire to play any where but in New York, and if “Mighty” Mats decides to move on, he will get his wish and ultimately finish his career as a Ranger.
Personally, if they could sign Sundin for an amount so low that they would only have to trade smaller players like Petr Prucha, then I would welcome him here with open arms because it shows that he isn’t playing for the money, but that he truly wants to play in New York. But, if his signing means trading someone with the likes of Michal Rozsival or Scott Gomez, then I would not want this signing to take place.
As for Shanahan, I believe the tank is empty, especially since the head on collision with Mike Knuble two seasons ago. But he still feels he has a lot to contribute to this team and his presence in the locker room is always welcome. He understands the role he will have, and that he will have less ice time, and if he’s fine with that, then I’m fine with him returning to the Rangers.
article and photos by Eunice Ching…
When it comes to windsurfing, many think that Toronto may not be a world class city to do it in. And it’s not, at least not in the summer. But before you ditch all plans of trying it out because you won’t be windsurfing in say, Hurricane Katrina, realize that slow and easy maybe the way to start.
Over the past weekend over sixty participants took part in the 26th annual Toronto Windsurfing Club Mammoth Marathon. This 17 km race goes around the Toronto Islands and takes anywhere from two to four hours to complete. Many enthusiastic windsurfers ranging from teenagers to seniors endured the rainy weather to participate in this race and face their worst enemy of all, the lack of wind. With the stormy sky and rain making way for beautiful and sunny weather, many racers had to resort to pumping their way back to shore. The winners were Paul Mathews and Igor Renkas who raced on a tandem board. Guess they realized that four arms were better than two!
There was also a shorter race for the younger folks and beginners, some of whom I recognized in my short stint as a windsurfer. Many familiar faces claimed they became hooked after a few lessons and were even good enough to race. Besides the satisfaction of completing the feats of one long ass race, there were other incentives such as the possibility of winning a ‘Starboard Carve 94 Windsurfer Board’ and over $4000 in prizes donated by Boardsports, Silent Sports and Tropical North.
Windsurfing is a very family friendly sport and Toronto seems to have a great community of windsurfers. Women and children are encouraged to take up the sport due to their light weight and nimbleness. If your wife has been nagging about the lack of family time being spent, rig her up a sail and get your family in the water. It is a win-win situation because you can take your family out windsurfing and still enjoy time by yourself in the water! So if you’re interested in windsurfing, sign up for lessons next summer at the (lessons are inexpensive, only $80 for four lessons) and hopefully by the fall and winter, when the real weather comes along you’ll be out there ripping it with the pros!