The No. 20: Before Smoke and Sliced Bread

September 17, 2008

by Hollis Warren…

The heralded 18-year old Joey Logano finally got to make his Sprint Cup debut on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and while the 32nd place finish doesn’t pale in comparison to the second garnered by Rusty Wallace in his first start back in 1980, I am sure the lessons he learned will go a long way in helping his drive to become an elite driver at the top level of the sport.

As a young man barely old enough to be in college, don’t expect miracles overnight, but before long, this kid will be a regular visitor to victory lane.

As we all know by now, Logano will replace Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota beginning in 2009, and at least temporarily rehashes memories of Smoke bursting on the scene in that car nearly a decade ago.  Obviously, considering the talent of Stewart and Logano, the No. 20 has been used by two of the sport’s greatest young stars in their rise to fame.  Unfortunately, that could have been three.

In the few years prior to Stewart’s rookie campaign in 1999, the No. 20 was seldomly  used on the Cup tour.  Outside of a few races run by Harry Ranier’s team in 1997, the last owner to utilize the number was Dick Moroso, father of Rob Moroso.

The 17-year old Rob, a resident of Connecticut like young Joey, burst onto the scene during the 1986 Busch Series campaign, and by the 1989 season, was able to narrowly defeat Tommy Ellis, Tommy Houston, and L.D. Ottinger for the series crown with his father there every step of the way.

Dad and son decided to make the jump the Winston Cup in time for the 1990 season, and like any rookie in the pre-driver development program era, it was a struggle.  Moroso’s No. 20 Crown Petroleum Oldsmobile failed to finish many races due to mechanical failures and crashes, with the highlight being a ninth place run at the Pepsi 400.

It all came to an abrupt end after a 21st place run at North Wilkesboro on September 30, with just four races remaining in Rob Moroso’s inaugural Cup campaign.  After consuming too many adult beverages, Moroso got behind the wheel, and as it does all too often, ended tragically.

Making the story worse, he collided with a car in the other lane, killing that vehicle’s female driver.

Two families left to pick up the pieces (an aside: Dick Moroso would continue to field a part-time team for a few seasons after his son’s passing, before dying in 1998 of brain cancer).  A sport left without a potential star.  All because of the perils associated with alcohol consumption.  It’s unfortunate someone was not there that night to take the keys from Rob Moroso before he made an inexcusable, stupid mistake, ending his life just two days after his 22nd birthday.  Two lives could have been saved.

Now Moroso is no saint.  I have no pity for anyone who drives intoxicated.  But I often find myself reflecting on past events (especially in the world of sports) and wondering, “what if?”

The fact that we are two weeks shy of what would have been Moroso’s 40th birthday, a couple of days after a race at what would have been his hometown track, and just witnessed the first potential star to come out of New England since Moroso made his Sprint Cup debut compelled me to write this entry, even though I had just started my kindergarten year when Moroso was killed and have no recollection of his career.

Moroso was posthumously awarded the rookie of the year award in New York that December, but since, has largely been forgotten.  That can largely be contributed to the arrival of Jeff Gordon in the Busch Series the following year, and as everyone tried to block Moroso’s self-inflicted passing from memory, Gordon quickly proved he had what it took to be a great stock car driver.

1993 rolls around, Gordon is tapped to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in Winston Cup, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Today, Gordon is viewed as the father of the driver development era, as he showed the NASCAR world that a youthful, inexperienced driver could hop behind the wheel of great equipment and almost immediately succeed.

No longer would a young driver have to toil in second-rate equipment hoping to get noticed by a big money owner by the time they hit 30.

Moroso, on the other hand, was the beginning of the end to that “old school” era.  He was driving for his father’s team, which did not have the resources as the Rick Hendricks and Junior Johnsons of the world at the time.  All Moroso was trying to do was perform well enough to get noticed, and secure a top ride after a couple or three years in the series.

But we never found out if he was capable of doing so or not, unfortunately.  Talk to many people, and they will tell you Rob Moroso was destined to be the next big thing in the Cup series.   Some will even say he could have been better than Gordon himself.

Here we are nearly two decades later with no answers to those questions, and a heralded young man from Connecticut barely old enough to shave is trying to make a name for himself in the top echelon of stock car racing the world has to offer.  The cycle of history repeating itself continues.

This time, let’s hope and pray Joey Logano fulfills his immense promise behind the wheel of the number 20 car.  And I have no doubt that he will.   When he does, I know I will think of Rob Moroso and what could have been.  It’s my nature as one of those people who wonders “what if?”

In the Pocket

September 17, 2008 Daniel Reiter… ♪Don’t call it a comeback I’ve been here for years…♪

So LL Cool J wasn’t playing in week two of the NFL but there were eight games played that involved 4th quarter comebacks to ensure victory.  Some games were certainly better than others, but which was the best?

The Buffalo Bills have so far this season reaffirmed themselves as one of the best teams in the AFC no question.  This past weekend they took down the Jacksonville Jaguars who last season were one of the best in the NFC and still a solid football team despite their 0-2 record.  The game was close throughout and the Bills comeback was complete when receiver James Hardy caught an amazing 7 yard pass from QB Trent Edwards in the end zone to tie it and then take the lead with the point after 17-16 with 4:10 left to play.  The Bills sealed it with 0:29 to go with a field goal making it a 20-16 final.  Trent Edwards was the clear standout in this game throwing 20-25 for 239 yards and 1 TD to win it.  The Bills proved they didn’t need the trickery they used in week one to win games, all they needed was faith in Edwards and to ensure that J.P. Losman kept the water jugs full.

So the main reason that the Minnesota Vikings allowed the Indianapolis Colts to comeback and win on Sunday 18-15 was their inability to convert on 3rd down.  The Vikings may want to go back to the drawing board on this one as they were a pathetic 2-13 on getting the needed yards when it was 3rd down.  Even if they hit 4 or 5 more of those they could have at least guaranteed one more field goal which would have forced a tie when Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri booted the game winning field goal with 3 seconds left.  It was a great game if you enjoyed watching teams kick field goals as there were 5 straight Viking field goals to start the game until the Colts finally scored a TD at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The score seems to reflect a defensive game, but Peyton Manning still managed to pass for 311 yards, while the Vikings almost rushed for 200 yards.

Entering the second half on Sunday the Chicago Bears were up on the Carolina Panthers 10-3 and then scored at 9:23 of the 3rd to go up 17-3.  For most teams in the NFL a lead like this would stand up until the end of the game and even if they played poorly they would most likely get a field goal or two to put it out of reach of a surging opposing offense.  Unless you are the Chicago Bears of course and insist on playing Kyle Orton instead of Rex Grossman like you should be.  Orton was a miserable 19-32 for 149 yards and played even worse than his stats illustrate.  The Panthers scored a TD and a field goal in the 3rd to make it 17-13 and with 3:52 remaining in the 4th, after marching 55 yards in just under 3 minutes, RB Jonathan Stewart rushed the 1 remaining yard into the end zone for his second TD of the game.

The rivalry between Philadelphia and Dallas is well known throughout the league and more so by the fans in each town.  Before the coin hit the ground allowing Philly to return the opening kickoff this game was for sure going to be a good one.  Both teams shone in their week one games, and regardless of their opponents showed just how powerful they will be this season.  The Monday-nighter didn’t disappoint as there was 1 kickoff returned for a TD, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries (one resulting in a touchdown), 4 sacks, 5 field goals, 7 lead changes, 9 touchdowns, 78 total points, 571 total passing yards, 717 total net yards, but only one winner…barely…the Dallas Cowboys.  Oh and one ridiculous play that saw rookie Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson do his best Leon Lett impersonation with a premature end zone celebration losing the touchdown.  Little did it matter aside from pride as running back Brian Westbrook rushed the one yard into the end zone on the following play.  Westbrook came very close to breaking Al Bundy’s record of four touchdowns in one game by scoring 3 and coming close to a fourth in a hook and ladder that ended with Westbrook getting pushed out of bounds after a second lateral to end their scoring threat and basically the game.

The Dallas vs. Philadelphia game was clearly the best comeback of the weekend.  Why you ask?  Exciting comebacks are high scoring games, with many lead changes, incredible stats and more than one hero.  If you are happy enough to see the old storied last second field goal heroic winning kick in perfect sunny no wind conditions comeback then check your pulse.  If you want another chance to see a great game incase you missed the Dallas vs. Philadelphia game on Monday then make sure you see their rematch in week 16.

Quick note to the Chicago Bears: If you had listened to just about everyone at the beginning of the season you would probably have beaten a Panthers team that had the same record as you last season and will probably finish below .500 this season.  Oh you don’t remember what people were saying…Rex Grossman at starting QB ring any bells?

Mats Sundin Haters Keep on Hating

September 17, 2008

by Navin Vaswani…

The cause celebre of the media and bloggers these days is to question the leadership of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. Funny, I thought we had buried this topic years ago.

I guess not. New Leafs head coach Ron Wilson didn’t mention Sundin by name, but it was clear he had Mats in mind, among others, when he said the Leafs have lacked leadership over the last three years.
Bloggers like Down Goes Brown (quel surprise!) and TorontoSportsMedia’s Weblog have picked up on the issue of Sundin’s apparent lack of leadership.
Of course, Sundin’s tenure in Toronto is now only defined by the last three shitty years, and everything else has been thrown out the window. That’s how it works here in Toronto.
When things were going well and the team was making the playoffs, Sundin’s leadership was never in question. He proved his worth and he always had the unequivocal support of his teammates.
But, post-lockout, the Leafs have been a mess. And it’s Mats’ fault. Because he ain’t no leader.
Oh, so that’s why the Leafs have missed the playoffs the last three years? It was Mats. He was just enjoying himself and letting the dressing room become a “country club.” It had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, post-lockout, have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league, at or near the bottom in goals against average, save percentage, and penalty killing. Gotcha.
Let’s take a look at some sobering statistics from the last three years, starting with last season and moving backwards, with the teams NHL ranking in parenthesis. All stats are courtesy of ESPN, the worldwide leader in motherfuckin’ sports.
GAA: 3.12 (27th)
Save Percentage: 89.3 (29th)
PK Percentage: 78.2 (29th)
GAA: 3.20 (25th)
Save Percentage: 88.8 (27th)
PK Percentage: 78.5 (27th)
GAA: 3.21 (20th)
Save Percentage: 89.5 (18th)
PK Percentage: 80 (23rd)
Those numbers should keep you up at night. I’m a huge Vesa Toskala fan, but it’s pretty fucked up to see a higher save percentage in ‘05-06 when Ed Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin split the goaltending duties. In retrospect, Raycrap’s 87.6 save percentage is largely to blame. Seriously, Colorado, good luck with that.
I’ll be the first to admit that Toskala’s 90.4 save percentage last season was good, but by no means great. He’s got to be better. But so does the team in front of him. On way too many nights, he had no help and was left out to dry. But that was Sundin’s fault, of course.
Looking at those numbers from the last three years, it’s clear that the Leafs’ struggles began and ended in the dressing room—and because Sundin wore the “C” on his shoulder, the onus falls on him.
The team’s struggles had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, under Paul Maurice, couldn’t keep the puck out of their net, had no idea how to kill a goddam penalty, and received AHL-calibre goaltending from their starting goalies in ”05-06 and ‘06-07, and beer league-calibre goaltending from their backup in ‘07-08.
It wasn’t enough that Mats was producing at better than a point-per-game rate post-lockout—8 points in 70 games in ‘05-06, 76 points in 75 games in ‘06-07, and 78 points in 74 games last season. I guess he should have been out there killing every penalty, and should have been on the ice for the entire third period, when the Leafs loved to blow their leads.
You know that plus-17 rating he sported last year? Yeah, that one. Fuck it. Just toss it out the window. Or ignore it. You pick.
I guess, in retrospect, at some point over the last three years the coaching staff should have just handed Mats the pads and put him between the pipes. Maybe that would have been enough for people in this city to finally put the bloody leadership questions to rest.
The statistics above tell you all you need to know about your Toronto Maple Leafs. Fuck leadership. Fuck questioning Mats Sundin. Enough already. Until this team learns how to play some defence, learns how to kill penalties, or stops taking them altogether, and begins to support their goaltender, they will not make the playoffs.
When the team is able to play with confidence in its own end, and is not afraid to take a penalty in a hockey game, leadership—regardless of who is wearing the “C,” even if it is, aghast, a Swedish fellow—will take care of its goddamn self.
Check out Navins blog

Upon Further Review - NFL WEEK 2

September 17, 2008 Mike De Marco…

What can you say about the games we witnessed this past weekend? I don’t think the NFL Network will have any trouble selecting their replay games this week with a myriad of thrillers that took place. Denver’s miracle win against San Diego produced chills that have not been felt since John Elway retired. San Francisco gave their fans a taste of the good old days with a come from behind overtime win in Seattle. Dallas was able to hold off the Eagles to keep pace with the Giants. All in all it was an absolutely fascinating weekend for football.

We are witnessing a change of the guard of sorts with some new younger teams making name for them selves in the AFC. The Buffalo Bills inspired by great defensive play just happen to be tied atop the East with New England at 2-0. Trent Edwards has managed two good games, and has actually made some clutch plays. Buffalo looks like they are ready to make some noise this year. In Denver the Broncos look like an enigma on offense with the emergence of Jay Cutler and a young offensive line that looks like it has the chance to develop into one of the games better units. They have big holes on defense that must be cured before considering this team a contender. In Arizona the Cards have been very impressive in starting the season 2-0. I don’t care who their opponents were, they have shown grit, and moxie and finally look like they are starting to figure it out.


Growing up I was blessed to have witness maybe the best quarterback era in NFL history with the likes of Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Phill Simms, Warren Moon and then stars like Troy Aikman and Brett Favre. It was an era in which I doubt will ever be surpassed with so many good quarterbacks playing in the league at once. The last few seasons we have seen Peyton Manning and Tom Brady battle it out as the leagues best signal callers, and then a crop of very good; but not premiere quarterbacks. After watching the first couple of weeks this season I am very confident we will be seeing some new gunslingers ready to take over as the leagues top quarterbacks. Cutler and Phillip Rivers combined for over 700 yards passing and seven touchdown passes in their clash Sunday, and it looks like these two stallions will have great battles for years tom come. Tony Romo started is climb a couple season ago, and Aaron Rodgers has made a believer out of me with two excellent games so far. Throw these guys in with Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger, and the NFL looks like it has loads of talent at the QB spot. Good enough to match the golden era? Probably not, but the best since that’s for sure.


He has won only one playoff game since Elway retired and has faced a ton of criticism over the years, but Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan surely has let the league know he’s back. Finally loaded with offensive talent he hasn’t seen since his days as the offensive coordinator with the 49ers, Shanahan has opened up his playbook more than he ever has in Denver; including the Elway led Super Bowl teams. Denver surely doesn’t possess a back like Terrell Davis so there isn’t the balance they had back then, but what Shanahan does have to play with is a set of pass catchers that give him mismatches all over the field. Brandon Marshall, is an absolute stud, and Brandon Royal, who might end up being the steal of the draft has defenses thinking about who to double. Throw a Brandon Stokley in the slot and you have options all over the field. Did I forget to mention tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham? Shanahan has taken full advantage of the talent he has and combined with Cutler, the Broncos have one of the scariest offenses in football and we haven’t even mentioned their always vaunted running game. The Mastermind has expanded his playbook to points never seen in Denver even with Elway. This team will be slinging it all over the field, and I will guarantee you one thing: Cutler will smash Denver season single records of attempts, completions, yards, and touchdown passes. THIS YEAR! Marshall? He will smash records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns. THIS YEAR! Shanahan has something to say, and he finally has something to say it with.

This and That

Speaking of Denver, their next opponent is New Orleans who gave up over 450 yards of offence to a putrid Redskins team. Imagine what Cutler and co. will do to that secondary.

I am all for the resurgence of Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia but as good as he looks at times I am overly concerned of all the mental errors he makes when the game is on the line. Will he ever play a perfect game?

Just a quick thought: The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time in 17 years. That is not a typo, but a fact. I’m glad for them.

Maybe Matt Cassell isn’t too bad after all. He is and never will be Tom Brady, but he just might have this team hanging around all season.

I am trying to figure out just who the worst team in football is, but it really isn’t an easy distinction to figure out. Kansas City looks downright dreadful, but Miami is still horrid, the Rams look like the Rams we all remember from the 90’s, and the Lions look like they could get beat by USC.  The race is on to see which team gets win number one first.

3 Stars

Ed Hochuli: Well he certainly doesn’t play, but the veteran referee may have had the biggest hand in any victory this week with his botched call.

The Cleveland Wind: Derek Anderson and the Browns offence couldn’t get anything going through the air Sunday night, as strong winds constantly took his throws of course.

Buffalo Bills Training Staff: It was well over 100 degrees on the field in Jacksonville but it was the Bills who still had legs in the fourth quarter, not the Jaguars who are used to playing in such conditions. Someone on that sideline knew what he was doing.


Darren McFadden RB Oakland: 21 carries for 164 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for your second NFL game.


New England: Does Cassell have another gear or is this it?
New York Jets: Will their loss to the Pats ruin the confidence they had built?
Buffalo: Can we finally say that Trent Edwards is the undisputed starter?
Miami: Are they making the right choice by handing the team over to Chad Henne?

Indianapolis:  Can the Colts win with such a brutal run defense?
Jacksonville: Has the pressure of being a contender gotten to them?
Tennessee: Do they decide to keep Collins as the starter for the rest of the year?
Houston: How much effect will Ike have on their season?

Pittsburgh: Will they be able to sustain their momentum with no competition in the division?
Cleveland: Are those calls for Brady Quinn I hear?
Baltimore: Does their unscheduled bye take away from Joe Flacco’s development?
Cincinnati: When will management decide it’s time to blow this thing up?

Denver: We know they can score, but can they stop anyone on defense?
San Diego: Can they recover from two heartbreaking losses?
Oakland: Is JaMarcus Russell better than 55 yards passing?
Kansas City: Is this the last of Larry Johnson in Kansas City?

Dallas: Can the real defense please stand up?
Philadelphia: Good game, bad game: Will the trend ever end?
NY Giants: Can they play like that against divisional opponents?
Washington: Can Jason Campbell reproduce that game??

Green Bay: How many more weeks before all the Favre talk stops?
Minnesota: When will they realize they need someone to catch balls?
Chicago: Does a defensive lapse crush this team’s confidence?
Detroit: I know a guy who can play defense…can I give him your number?

New Orleans: Will they find someone to replace Marques Colston?
Tampa Bay: Is this the start of a quarterback controversy?
Carolina: Are they lucky, or are they good?
Atlanta: Will Matt Ryan rebound?

Arizona: Can they continue to play all around football?
San Francisco: Is J.T O’Sullivan the next Kurt Warner?
Seattle: Can someone….anyone help protect Hasselbeck?
St. Louis: If they continue to play this poorly do they have to go back to those ugly blue and yellow uni’s?

Sport: Beyond Boundaries

September 17, 2008

by Long John Silver…

Sport is a Unifying medium. It’s one of the best unifying medium that has ever existed throughout history.

For those fleeting seconds, either in the exaltation of victory or in the exasperating pain of defeat, sport brings people together. It is one of the very few channels in the world that transcends nationality, culture, race, sex, politics, and religion.

Not many channels have the same power that sport often holds…sport and music hence are unique

I have watched so many soccer and cricket games with some of my best mates from all over the world, for those fleeting seconds—when Wayne Rooney hit the back of the net (Man U and England), for those ephemeral moments when Sachin Tendulkar plays his vintage straight-drive off Brett Lee, for those transient droplets of time when Michael Schumacher takes the checkered flag—for all those fleeting moments, we have celebrated together.

Not in any one of our minds, did we ever care where we are from? What do we believe? Who do we pray to (or do we even pray to anyone at all)? McCain or Obama? Or…do we like men or women?

When it is about individual sport, inclinations start with nationality—but they are neither constrained nor limited to nationality. Expecting such a theme only radiates a distinct lack of global cultural understanding, bigotry even, if one needs to use that word.

I’ll justify both those viewpoints below.

To start with—being inclined towards an athlete or team can sometimes (but not all the time) originate from the fact that you are from the same geographic location.  It’s the norm (as mentioned above).

It is fair to expect an Indian to like Tendulkar or the Indian Cricket Team, same with Swiss and Federer, Scots and Murray, Spaniards and Nadal…and Brits and Hamilton. But inclinations only start with nationality, it is not a necessity, but it’s the norm.

We live in a world where it is becoming more and more of a global village. An email sent from Dunedin (NZ), reaches New York in less than a minute, which was quite unfathomable two decades ago.

Try to find out the answer to the following three questions for me: How many non-Swiss fans does Federer have globally? How many non-Spanish fans does Rafa Nadal has globally? The SUPER-Fish Phelps was so popular among the Chinese that they framed their own phrase in Chinese for him.

You know why, a Federer, Hewitt, Tendulkar, Nadal, Phelps or Alonso has so many fans around the world who are not from their individual countries? It is because of the power that sport possess to inspire people.

It is because you can relate to that athlete at some small level, when I mean relate—I mean you can see why he is similar to you. Similarity does not necessarily mean you need to hit a tennis ball around too, or you need to travel like a submarine under water.

I am discussing similarity at a psychological level. I personally adore Lleyton Hewitt, you know why? The bloke is 5’10, 140 odd pounds…and he reached the pinnacle of tennis by sheer force of will, tenacity and determination.

Economists called it the ‘Lagrange’ multiplier—in simple words, MAP theory (Maximisation of Available Potential).  With what he was naturally endowed upon him (weight, height and physical framework), Lleyton Hewitt maximized every ounce of resource he had at his disposal to reach World No. 1 status.

It’s inspirational, proves to you that you don’t always need to be the smartest kid in class to top the class. There are many other admissible ways to do it—and Lleyton just proved in the biggest of stages as to what is required. I can connect with that, at a nano-scale. I am no Albert Einstein (as in UM we say, Ol’ man Albert), but to be extremely successful in what you pursue with passion, you don’t need to be, there are many pathways to achieve the same objective.

I derive tremendous inspiration from Lleyton Hewitt. Absolutely the same with Rodge, I could not care any shred less if he was Swiss, he makes me want to watch the game, love the game, adore the game.

So does it really matter to me or any one of us, whether Lleyton Hewitt is Aussie (and a brash one at that) or Federer is Swiss?

On to the second part of my argument.

Why does it radiate a lack of global cultural understanding? Because when the soccer world cup is on, you cannot discount 1/3rd of the global population (China and India). How many of you have been to Madras, Mumbai or Shanghai—when the soccer world cup or even better…the European Championships (not even an Asian connection) is on?

If one sets crystallized geographical boundaries for inclinations, two billion people on Planet Earth should be indifferent during the entire tournament. It is almost like we were asking them, you are not English, why bother celebrating when Gerrard scores his vintage midfield screamer against Portugal?  You aren’t Brazilian, why even root for and enjoy every movement of the salsa mystique that Ronaldinho brings to the field?

It’s an insult at best…you can’t ask them why they root for, whom they foot for, because of the fact that they are not from the same geographical location of the team. Neither is it rational to expect indifference from them, for the same nationalistic drivel.

People can support anyone they want, it is not a favor you render to them, it’s their Prerogative! They neither need condescension nor your permission. Once again, it’s their unquestionable prerogative.

Sport transcends almost everything…it goes ‘Beyond Boundaries’. It is inspirational!

BT’s 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Detroit Red Wings

September 17, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Preface: Today is the day we finish up the Central Division.

Now normally I’d work my way over to the Atlantic Division, as to alternate between Western and Eastern Conference teams, but because Alan Bass is taking care of the Atlantic Division this week, we’ll save them for a bit later.

I guess it’s time to give the champions their due.

I don’t want to talk about the Detroit Red Wings anymore; I’ve probably mentioned them in some way, shape, or form in Nashville’s, St Louis’, Chicago’s, and Columbus’ preview, they’re the defending champs, and they’re ridiculously stacked, and dominant during the regular season. Enough of this.

Roster Additions: Marian Hossa, RW (Free Agent), Ty Conklin, G (Free Agent)

Roster Subtractions:
Dominik Hasek, G(Retired)

How did 2007-08 go?
54-21-7, President’s Trophy, Western Conference Champions, Stanley Cup Champions

2008-09 Goal:
Repeat as Stanley Cup Champions

Let’s break ‘er down…

In the NHL, repetition is discouraged through attempted parity.

The Detroit Red Wings have chosen to spit directly into the face of that theory. Who needs parity anyways? It’s much more fun to win all the time.

So naturally the Detroit Red Wings have the best opportunity to repeat since…the Detroit Red Wings did in in the late 90’s.

Defensive Responsibility, Offensive Ability, and Plugging Holes…

The almost unnatural thing about the Detroit Red Wings is that they almost encourage the players to seek other employment, just so they can flex their organizational depth.

It seems that no matter who leaves, the Wings will either fill in that spot with younger options from within the organization, or they grab a low-budget free agent who seems to over-perform.

When Steve Yzerman left, the expectations to lead Detroit into the future fell to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Both Henrik and Pavel have aptly grown into their leadership roles for this team, ensuring that their will always be a stable presence at the head of the ship alongside Head Coach Mike Babcock.

The one strategy that the Red Wings have preached since the Scotty Bowman coaching regime, is defensive responsibility from their forwards. Not only are Henrik and Pavel two of the premier defensive forwards in the league, but their teammates also pattern their own style of play after the scruffy Swede and the clean-shave Russian—executing the team concept of defense perfectly.

That’s not to say that the Red Wings don’t have offensive firepower—it’s quite the contrary, but the Red Wings may be one of the most perfectly balanced teams in recent memory.

Aside from the 97 and 92-point seasons of Datsyuk and Zetterberg respectively, the Red Wings also feature the emerging Johan Franzen and Valterri Filppula, while the signing of Marian Hossa (one year removed from a 100-point season) will only strengthen this team’s offensive prowess.

Wingin’ It While Wheelin’ Around the Blue Line…

The bread and butter of the Detroit Red Wings though, is their blue line, anchored by one of the All-Time greats.

The defense remains under the leadership of Nik Lidstrom—a man with four Stanley Cup Rings, six Norris trophies, and a Conn Smythe to boot—and he certainly doesn’t seem like he’s about to slow down any time soon if last season and the Stanley Cup playoffs were any indication.

Following up Nik on the blue line will be second-year Red Wing, Brian Rafalski, who has won himself a very quiet three Stanley Cups, and has also put up some solid numbers on defense and offense (back to back 50 point seasons, two seasons with a +/- over +20) and Brad Stuart—a guy who went from the bottom (Los Angeles) to being a league champion with Detroit—who can be a very good, consistent defenseman in the right environment.

Meanwhile Nik Kronwall will look to build upon a stellar year last season (including 15 assists and a plus 16 during the playoffs), while Andreas Lilja will look to recapture the magic from his 2004-05 season—his best in the NHL to date.

With the recent signing of Kyle Quincey to a two-year contract, the Red Wings are also insured in the event of injury, while Quincey can also push Lilja and Kronwall for a little bit of rotation on the back end.

Blue in the Baby-Face?

The only problem this team might face is in net. There’s no doubt that Chris Osgood was outstanding during the regular season (27-9-4, .914 save-percentage, 2.09 goals-against-average) and even better during the playoffs (14-4, .930 save-percentage, 1.44 goals-against-average), but he’s also 35.

Granted Dominik Hasek was 43 last year and he won 27 games, but whenever a goalie starts getting up there in years, you have to wonder how long they can last.

I’m also wondering about Ty Conklin. In a lot of ways, Ty was the down-and-out, claw-your-way-back-in story of the NHL this season, as (following a playoff-gaffe in the finals with the Oilers a few years ago) Conklin had bounced from club to club in the NHL and AHL, but was able to turn it around and post a near-identical season to that of starter Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins in Fleury’s absence.

If either (or both) Osgood or Conklin run into trouble however, expect 24 year-old Jimmy Howard to start seeing more than the four games he’s seen each of the past two years in Detroit. After a respectable AHL career, Howard’s well-deserved shot is just around the corner (Especially with Conklin on a one-year deal).

So what does it all mean?

Red Wings fans have nothing to worry about. The same team that won the championship is returning from last season, but they’ve also added a dynamic forward in Marian Hossa. Besides, if the Wings run into trouble, it’s not like they don’t have the ability to heal what ails them.

I don’t think anyone doubts however, that this team will challenge for the top spot in the league once again. The Central still isn’t quite strong enough to deal directly with the Red Wings at full force, so expect the Wings to have a strong season, and don’t look for this team to fold come playoff time.

First in the Central Division

And now, with The View from the Community Leader Pressbox with Henry Dyck:

The Wings’ success is built from the blue line out. With the addition of Hossa and the continued development of Franzen and Filpulla, the Wings will have more depth up front than last year.

Well that’s it for the Central division folks. Hope you enjoyed it. See you soon with the Pacific Division.

College Football Fans Need a Dose of Reality

September 17, 2008

by Justin Goar…

The great thing about the Internet is that it allows anyone with differing opinions to get together and voice them to the world. The bad thing about the Internet is that it allows anyone with differing opinions to get together and voice them to the world.

To think that a single fan, most under the guise of anonymity, can express his or her most heartfelt sentiments about their beloved team and post their loving thoughts for the entire world to see just gives you that “Rudy sacked the quarterback in his only play even though that didn’t happen in real life” kind of feeling.

Thought-provoking, point-counterpoint football discussion makes me proud to be an American. But sometimes there are thoughtless drive-by posts that seem to just be cheap shots for the sake of being negative. I think the kids today are calling these net characters “trolls.”

But there’s a big difference between trolls and those actual fans that are just a bit quick to hit the panic button. There seems to be a wave of negativity sweeping the message boards this week. I noticed it with my LSU Tigers.

The catastrophe syndrome. Chicken littles. Call it what you want, it’s out there, man.

What I have for you today is unedited (save for language and some grammar and spelling) statements made from actual fans regarding their own team. All posts are in italics.

We start off with LSU:

“With bad QB play and DB play to go along with USC and Oklahoma blowing their teams out, I feel just down today.”

Pretty harmless, right? Not much venom to it and it only seems a little strange because the poster is mentioning a game in which their team won 41-3.

But then we have…

“If we go 6-6, do we still get invited to a bowl game? I hope so.”

Whoa?! 6-6? The defending national champions? I think most sane fans expect a drop-off, but I think this is a little too panicky.

What about…

“Can’t wait till next week when we get our a***s handed to us, you guys are just pure HOMERS!”

And there we are. The lines have been drawn. You’re either way too negative or you’re a homer.

Well, put me down as someone who thinks there is a rational middle ground. I’m someone who thinks that a fan can point out the bad parts of a game or season and still be optimistic that those things will change.

Nevertheless, those supposed “homers” on this particular LSU message board coined a term for those Tiger fans whose perpetual perception of reality is glass half empty.

“Nega-tigers.” Cute, huh?

“Homers” tend to be labeled as such because of the ardent defense of their team and coaches no matter what’s going on around it. While “nega-tigers” are quick to push the panic button, homers don’t have a panic button. It’s the lack of middle ground that has these two groups at odds.

So now we have one side attacking the players and perceived lack of talent at a position, and the other side attacking those attackers and dismissing their opinions as invalid because of their negativity. But what if the criticism is valid?

College football is a passionate sport fueled by passionate fans. Some of these things are said in the heat of the moment. Is it possible to be able to criticize my team without being called a “nega-tiger”? We’ll come back to this in a second.

But first, with doomsday on the horizon and an ever-important meeting with Auburn on the road this week, you must think the purple and gold Tigers have the market cornered on negativity.

Think again.

Enter Auburn fans. I found this next post on an Auburn message board in a thread about whether to boo or not to boo their own team this weekend against LSU…

“If the offense tanks again I think we’ll be past the time for booing. It’ll be time for the rotten tomatoes.”

Then some of the discussion turned to the QB play and the new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. I mention Franklin because he gets paid, unlike college kids.

“Maybe if we didn’t have Brandon Cox Jr. as our only QB we wouldn’t go three and out.”

Different post, this time about the OC:

“More excuses. You need a script in order to tell you that inside the five-yard line, to line up in the jumbo package and punch the ball in for a TD??? Maybe we should start calling him Teflon Tony…”

Welcome to Auburn, Mr. Franklin—don’t unpack.

The good thing is for the most part this is the fringe. It’s like the guy 10 rows behind me in Tiger Stadium who apparently didn’t need to pass a football IQ test to obtain season tickets and whose football knowledge is inversely proportionate to the volume in which he verbally displays it.

LSU fans are well aware that a national championship may not be in reach this year. Auburn fans need to understand that implementing a new offensive system with a new quarterback is a work in progress. Most fans get this.

One thing’s for sure: I wouldn’t want to see the message boards of the losing set of nega-tigers this weekend.

Football doomsayers don’t just reside in Auburn and Baton Rouge.

“Hate to say it but we are horrible. Worst Michigan team I have ever seen in 30 years of being a fan. Are we better than ANY Big Ten team? I will suffer faithfully with our team and hope for better days, but am fully expecting a 10th or 11th finish in the Big Ten.”

And from our friends in Tempe:

“…But when you can’t even get a first down on offense at home ’cause you’re afraid to open up your playbook! Give me a break! We need to delete National Rankings and BCS from our vocabulary for a couple years! And it’s somewhat ironic that our seasoned, experienced coaching staff would let this happen to them. Seriously, what’s wrong with our OC? I don’t know the guy’s history like some others on this board, but who’s calling the predictable three and four-yard running plays up the middle when we need seven or eight? This is the worst I’ve felt since the USC game last year.”

I think the biggest problem on message boards is anonymity. Everything you read from me here has my name on it. The line should be drawn on the way we criticize.

Anonymity gives us this cloak of invisibility to attack without knowing who it’s coming from. So those attacks can be either vicious or without merit. It’s the main factor as to why message board banter and information is so easily dismissed sometimes.

Let’s come back to whether or not it’s possible to criticize a team without being branded a negative fan.

If I were to blast the LSU quarterbacks for staring down receivers (which is a popular knock right now), it matters how I say it and how I back it up. It also helps to have a little football perspective and not be so reactionary.

When that thought crosses my mind, a rational thought response would be:

“Well, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Mauck, and Rohan Davey all did similar things in their early starts.”

That would be an even keel approach.

A “nega-tiger” talks in absolutes and might say something like:

“Well that’s it, we’re ****ed for the season. If they look bad now, I’m sure they’ll look the same as the season progresses. Mark my words, this is the downfall of LSU football as we know it!!!”

On top of this, you have trolls who cheap shot and run. Negative fans care about their team, but their defense mechanism is to attack now to later avoid the pain of their self-fulfilling prophecy. Trolls just look to spew venom and are probably much happier when their team’s hopes are in the toilet. Misery begets misery.

Now, most message boards have moderators who try to toe the line between allowing frustrated fans to vent and removing inappropriate content that doesn’t contribute to the spirit of the site.

On that note, we head to Columbus for some examples of posts that will get you banned from a certain Buckeye fan site:

“The boys must have been chugging a big case of Choka Cola again. I can’t take this [censored] anymore.”

I want to add that I do not condone calling out any college player so I’m going to delete the player’s name:

“Why are we keeping up this charade? He just isn’t good. Zero poise. Zero talent. Zero smart.

“He’s an embarrassment to this team.”

And a final parting shot from Buckeye country…

“It’s time for (player name deleted) and Tressel to go.”

Now I’m not saying you can’t point out your team’s weak points. One must keep in mind that we are talking about college kids who are not professional athletes.

And despite warnings from just about everyone involved with their team, many players visit the message boards, and some players must find it hard not to take to heart what is said by some guy typing in his underwear while eating Fig Newtons by the sleeve.

I try to temper my opinions with a dash of reality, but deep down I’m just a guy who wants what’s best for his team. If I see a problem, I’m going to say something about it, but hopefully not in a disrespectful way, and try to find the positives and ways the team can improve in the meantime.

I wouldn’t consider myself a homer or a “nega-tiger.” I’m a pessimist at heart. I believe the coin will come up tails a half second after I call heads. But deep down, I still believe in the purity of the flip.

That comes from being a Saints fan since age six.

When it comes down to it, the Internet is a lot like life. There are a lot of stupid people and a lot of angry people in this world. And sometimes there are stupid angry people. A good fan knows to avoid this group as much as possible.

Lastly, don’t take every statement from every person seriously, whether they’re a troll, a homer, or a “nega-tiger.”

Raptors Are Toronto’s Best Shot At Championship Glory

September 17, 2008

by James Borbath… It is time to face the facts Toronto. Your only legit shot at success is the Toronto Raptors. They are the only franchise that is heading in the right direction. Look around and you to see that it is very true. The Leafs are a joke and are still searching for a new general manager that is Bryan Colangelo like. That must mean Bryan has done a good job if you are looking for his hockey equal. J.P Ricciardi is on his way to getting fired or should be. The Blue Jays have been the classic middle of the pack team doomed to failure. If you want to include the Toronto Argos in the mix they are also a disorganized mess. The QB that was the CFL M.V.P turned into a pumpkin when he put on the double blue. The Raptors have bottomed out and made the changes that were needed to climb out of the whole they had created. They went out and spent the cash to get a high profile and intelligent basketball mind to guide the Raptors. They have had Sam Mitchell as the longest serving coach in this city as well. Sam has his critics but he has managed to win the Coach of the year in his league. When was the last time the Leafs, Blue Jays or even Argos be able to say that? You have a superstar player that is focused on winning and having success in Toronto. Chris Bosh with no Mats Sundin to be found is the clear #1 athlete in Toronto. All of the hockey people can scream and shout all you want the fact is that it is true. Another fact is that it shouldn’t have taken so long. Sundin won nothing in his time with the Leafs. The team he lead were massive under performers. While Bosh has lead the Raptors back to the playoffs. I know this is a concept that has become just a memory for Leaf fans. But that is where the Raptors will be again this season for a 3rd year in a row.

The Raptors have yet to make it out of round one but are now looking to extend their playoff run beyond early May into Late May at least. When you talk playoffs the Toronto Blue Jays can only look back on flashback Fridays to remember what that experience feels like. Toronto Raptors are able to make news and make major moves and take risks with the ultimate goal to be to win a championship. When was the last time you can recall any Toronto Sports Franchise making a solid trade that build towards that goal beyond the Raptors. You only need to look around Major League Baseball to see a number of guys that the Jays gave away or traded away that have went on to have success elsewhere. Toronto Maple Leafs have not made a good trade since the Pat Quinn Era, have they?

Yes I am a basketball guy and as such you can say that I am totally bias. That is cool with me I would even agree with that. But it has been clear to me for a long time that the Toronto Raptors our the only hope for Toronto to have a champion in the future. You can go in to Leaf Nation denial if you choose to do so. But the hard reality is Toronto’s really hope at success is the Toronto Raptors. They are doing the most to attempt to reach that level of being a championship contender. Jermaine O’Neal is a big time name that they brought in to help in that regard. It is a risky move for sure. However the Raptors are willing to take that risk and do what all fans want out of the team they support…TRY TO WIN.

Can anyone convince me that any other team is trying as hard as the Raptors to make it to that Championship level? I highly doubt it. That is why I am a proud fan/journalist of the Toronto Raptors. I can go to sleep at night with the knowledge and belief that the people running and playing for my team are trying hard to win a championship. Can you Leaf Fans, Jays Fans and Argo Fans feel the same way. I don’t envy you trying to have to believe that your team cares as much about winning as you do. So if you have never been a basketball fan or a Raptor fan maybe the time as come that you consider it. We already have a lot of folks on are bandwagon but there is always room for a few more.

There’s more James here at his Dino Nation Blog

Ritter’s Weekly Rant

September 17, 2008

by Mark Ritter… Not sure who is more “Genius” don Matthew’s or me? The decision to sit Kerry Joseph is absolutely the right one, hate to say “I told you so”, but didn’t I write a few weeks ago that the Joseph era was going to end “ugly”? Still can’t quite understand how a quarterback goes from CFL MVP to complete dud; but the reality is Matthew’s has nothing to lose by letting Joseph stew on the bench until he get’s it together, there’s nobody to blame but yourself Mr. Joseph, wake up or punch out, I think the key ingredient missing from your game (besides accuracy) is effort. I wonder how badly the Argos regret moving Michael Bishop now, ahh well, I digress.

Luke Schenn has been getting a lot of attention at rookie camp; I just hope the Leafs realize that more harm than good might be done if he makes the team this season. If the Leafs are deep anywhere it’s on Defense, with players eligible for free agency after 7 seasons why waste a year with disaster looming in 2008. Hopefully the Leafs brain trust let’s Schenn develop a bit more before feeding him to the wolves, starting him on the blue line makes little sense.

If you didn’t catch the Monday Night matchup between the Eagles and the Cowboys you missed out large. I can’t remember a more exciting, well played game in years. Many thought Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb might have been finished given his poor performances the past two seasons, if he keeps putting up numbers like he did Monday night he might just sneak the eagles into the playoffs. As for Tony Romo, he was awesome; wouldn’t you love to be him for a day?

The Denver Broncos are 2-0 to start the season, is anyone else impressed by the play of Quarterback jay Cutler? Many in Denver have been touting this guy to be the next savior; it would seem as if Cutler has arrived, good on him, he deserves it. You gotta respect anyone who can step in and immediately make some of the Denver faithful forget about number seven. Look up the stats, Cutler has been more impressive than Elway was in his first two seasons; hopefully Cutler manages to bring home a couple of Super Bowls, “anything less would be uncivilized”!

Those of you out there that wonder if J.P. Riccardi is going to offer Cito Gaston a new contract just haven’t been paying attention. With Cito at the helm the Jays are one of the best teams in baseball, without him they are, well, crap! If J.P. doesn’t ink Cito to at least a three year contract he should be hung by his toes and left to bleed out. Book it, Cito will be back, it’s about Frigg’ in time someone gave him a chance.

Brett Farve’s first game at home for the Jet’s was pretty uneventful, the NFL needs Farve, here’s hoping he get’s it together in week three, there’s just something magical about Farve that football needs.

Until next week,