Baseball playoff preview article

September 30, 2008

by Michael Seff… You know that ridiculous new slogan, “There’s only one October?” Yeah, I hated those commercials too. Actually, just slightly less this year now that unfunny so-called comic Dane Cook, the pride of Boston Massachusetts, isn’t doing them anymore. I suppose whatever you do, don’t get caught muttering that phrase around Queens, where the Mets are once again licking their wounds from a disastrous late-season meltdown.

So as for the nine teams (yes, that’s right, the Central still hasn’t been decided) in the hunt for the grand prize this fall, here is a breakdown of the three Division Series matchups that have been set thus far:

American League

Boston (95-67) at Los Angeles Angels (100-62) – The two deepest and most experienced teams in baseball square off for the third time in five Octobers, with the Red Sox sweeping the past two series en route to World Series titles. The Angels are much better equipped to handle the Red Sox this year, having upgraded their offense with Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter. Hitting was problematic in last year’s playoff series for them, to say the least. They scored a measly four runs in three games. Even though Los Angeles has the home field edge, the mental aspect could be too great to overcome. They know Boston’s top three starters may simply be too dominant for their own strong bullpen to be a significant factor. As little sense as it makes, Boston has seemed to live a charmed life even when some of their top guns are down this year. Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew are all ailing, but that won’t be a determining factor one way or another. Prediction: As much as it pains me to say it, Boston in 4.

National League

Milwaukee (90-72) at Philadelphia (92-70) – Two cities starving for baseball success finally got their wish this year. The Phillies, albeit division champs last year, maintained that level of success in 2008, while the Brewers ended a 26-year playoff drought with a wild card berth. The Brewers have major health concerns and major bullpen concerns heading into this series. Ben Sheets is no lock to start, and C.C. Sabathia continues to be pressed into action on short rest. Both of these teams can really hit, but the Brewers have had problems all year holding leads. The Phillies have had no such problem, as Brad Lidge, their closer, did not blow a save all year. That will prove to be the difference maker. Prediction: Phillies in 4.

Los Angeles (84-78) at Chicago (97-64) – Manny-mania will not be the headline in this series. Instead, it will be on the Cubs and their quest to end 100 years of championship futility. They have the edge over the Dodgers in virtually every possible category, even with the brilliance of Ramirez in the Dodgers’ second-half push. The starting pitching matchups are mismatches, and even 100 Billy goats couldn’t curse the Cubs enough to lose this series. Prediction: Cubs in 3.

The rest of the way:

(Assuming the Rays handle their ALDS opponent)

ALCS: Red Sox over Rays

NLCS: Cubs over Phillies

WS: Cubs over Red Sox (the curse is really over?)

Tony Romo Is Overrated

September 30, 2008

by Andrew…

Tony Romo is the most overrated player in the NFL. This guy is J.T. O’Sullivan behind an awesome offensive line with playmakers falling out of his bandolier. It is maddening to hear analysts give the cursory 10-second acknowledgement to the earthmovers and proceed to spend 20 minutes drooling over Romo, his dimples, and the set of breasts he’s dating this month.

Incidentally, the only thing more overrated than Romo’s football career is apparently his romantic one. I mean, a soul mate? This is a guy who has rightly acknowledged that he’s just out to have as much fun as possible because he’ll soon be forgotten. Poor Jessica Simpson. Hope she hears another divorce attorney along with those wedding bells.

Now, back to football. Can someone please tell me why everyone is so blind?

Really, it’s not even that we’re blind, it’s that we see and ignore. Every close observer of the game knows—knows—that a competitive team absolutely requires a competent offensive line.

A great QB can make up for an average line, but not a below-average one. Steve Young and Joe Montana did this to an extent, but those lines had their strengths.

Even more significantly, a great offensive line can turn an average QB into a great one. That is exactly what is happening in Dallas. Romo has a good arm, maybe even a very good one. But it is not great. He can throw deep and accurately, but I have not seen him make any Brett Favre or John Elway throws—throws where you wonder if that ball was really propelled by a human arm.

I’ve seen JaMarcus Russell do it. I saw Jay Cutler make one. I believe Eli Manning has such a throw on his resume; it was pretty significant, as I recall. But I haven’t seen any of those throws from Terrific Tony.

Romo is not exceptionally elusive; he does not have flawless decision-making skills, and he turns the ball over. Good lord, some of his turnovers are just hideous (like the fumble in the end zone a couple weeks ago).

He throws Brett Favre-like interceptions and gets away with it in the same way, despite lacking even Favre’s most humble credential.

So he can throw deep and accurately. So what? He is a professional quarterback given ample time and a plethora of options. That’s what a pro should do.

People believe Romo possesses something special because he is succeeding where those before him failed. But take a closer look. What does that really mean? It means he’s better than an over-the-hill Drew Bledsoe and an under-the-hill Vinny Testaverde. And maybe not even that.

After all, those guys did not have Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, or an offensive line with this much experience and cohesion.

Perhaps the most crippling flaw in Romo’s game is his most glaring, which makes his exceptional reputation all the more confounding. He has yet to perform when something important—really important—is on the line.

And I’m not talking bright lights and big audiences. I’m talking survival. I’m talking championships. I’m talking fumbling snaps on field goals in the playoffs. I’m talking letting an underdog march into your stadium and take the NFC Championship from you.

So what is Tony Romo, objectively? He is a good QB that can steer a uniquely talented offense through games they should win and then wilt when resistance increases. Sure, he puts up obscene numbers and dates gorgeous women. Put most QBs in the NFL behind that Dallas offense, and I bet the results are the same.

That is the thing about a great offense. If a QB knows he has time to throw and talent waiting to receive the ball, it’s easy to be confident. Once a player has confidence, his natural ability and talent shines through. And let’s face it; most QBs in the NFL have the necessary talent.

That is why I’d take Jake Delhomme, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady over Romo.

Shoot, I might even take David Garrard, Jay Cutler, and JaMarcus Russell over Romo, because those guys have more natural talent and have done impressive things in offenses that look junior varsity next to Dallas.

At the very least, I’d have someone else holding for me on my field goals.

Twins vs. CWS

September 30, 2008

by Brady Rynyk… After getting a poor jump out the of the gate at the beginning of the season, the Minnesota Twins have played with a sense of rejuvenation since Canadian Justin Morneau walked away as this years Homerun Derby champion (a recent AL MVP and still relative unknown who had his name nationally butchered by MLB officials after receiving the award). After climbing within a half a game of the division leading Chicago White Sox just a few days after All-Star weekend, the team would drop into a bit of a slump at months end after losing 5 games in a row. Although the team would battle back by the dawn of August, they had slipped into state of virtual obscurity and were not thought of a post season contenders - as deluded visions of a Cubs-White Sox World Series circulated across the nation. After all, The Twins had pretty much let their two most notable players in Johan Santana and Tori Hunter basically both walk away for nothing, right?

After beefing up their batting roster at the trade by acquiring the always dangerous Ken Griffey, and calling up Josh Fields from Triple A (along with the addition of pitcher Jon Link), The White Sox made statement that they were for real and were going to make a serious push for the postseason – as per usual, the Twins sat and watched and in typical Minnesota fashion did not sign any big name players and worked the relative inexpensive talent they had. But just before August 20th, it was a whole new ball game in the Central, as the twins had just come off another four game winning streak to tie the boys from the south side of Chicago for the lead in the division. Despite never taking sole possession of the division lead, Ron Gardenhire’s club has been hot on the heels of the White Sox for the last month. While the Twins seem to be peaking at just the right time of year, Guillen’s club seems to be faded into the night.

Only time will tell, but it would seem the zephyrus breeze from phantom punches the CWS have been feeling from the Twins in the second half of the season might finally connect in the form of a knockout strike, blowing the Sox out of the playoffs with a forceful gust not expected even on the windy streets of south Chicago.

The Twins now look like that unknown classmate from high school who returns to a reunion in a helicopter after making millions and jumping into nation notoriety, while the White Sox are lagging behind like the once who completely gone down hill and is just sad to look at – what happened!

Top 10 NBA Shooting Guards of All Time

September 30, 2008

by Marcel Mansour…

10. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe

Monroe was one of the best scorers of all time. Over his career, he averaged 18.8 points, four assists, and three rebounds along with one steal, a very good 46.4 percent from the field, and 81 percent from the free throw line.

He was selected to four All Star teams and won the 1967-1968 Rookie of the Year Award. He also helped the New York Knicks win the championship in the 1972-1973 season. He was selected to the All NBA team once, with it being a first team selection, and he recorded six seasons of averaging at least 20 points per game.

9. Joe Dumars

Dumars is one of the best guards of all time on both ends of the floor. He was one of the best defensive guards of all time, as he was selected to the All NBA defense teams five times, with four of them being first team selections. Offensively, he averaged 16.1 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.2 rebounds along with a good 46 percent from the field, 38.2 percent, from the three-point line, and 84.3 percent from the free throw line.

He was also selected to six All Star games and he was one of the more clutch players of his era as he helped lead the Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons to back-to-back championships in the late 80s. Finally, he also won the Finals MVP in the 1989 Finals series against the Lakers.

8. Sam Jones

Jones was the starting shooting guard for the legendary Celtics teams in the 1960s. He won 10 championships in his career, which is second all time only to Bill Russell. He averaged 17.7 points, five rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting a solid 45.6 percent from the field and a good 80 percent from the free throw line.

He was selected to the All Star game five times and he was selected to the All NBA team three times, with of all of them being second team selections.

In his 12-year career, he averaged over 20 points per game for four consecutive seasons from the 1964-1965 season through the 1967-1968 season.

7. Pete “Pistol” Maravich

Pistol Pete was one of the most exciting and entertaining NBA players of all time, but had a short career, playing just 10 seasons. However, he averaged a fantastic 24.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds along with 1.4 steals and a solid 44.1 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw line.

He was also one of the greatest NCAA players of all time, as he still holds the record for points per game, having averaged a tremendous 44.2 points per game in three seasons with LSU. In the NBA, he was selected to five All Star games and he was selected to four All NBA team selections, with two of them being first team selections.

6. Clyde “The Glide” Drexler

Drexler was one of the most all around guards of all time. He averaged 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists along with two steals and 0.7 blocks. He also shot a solid 47.2 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free throw line. Additionally, he was an above average defensive player.

He was selected to 10 All Star teams in his career and five All NBA teams, with one of them being a first team selection and two of them being second team selections.

He also helped lead the Houston Rockets to their second championship in the 1994-1995 season—the only championship of his career.

5. Allen Iverson “The Answer”

AI is one of the toughest players in all of sports. Even though he is only 6′ and weighs 160 pounds, there have only been a few players more dominant in the history of the league. He is third all time in points per game with 27.7 points per game. He also averaged 6.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game.

He has been selected to nine All Star teams in his 12-year career so far and he has made the All NBA team seven times, with three of the selections being first team picks.

He is the shortest player ever to win an MVP Award, which he won in the 2000-2001 season.

4. George “Iceman” Gervin

Gervin is one of the greatest pure scorers of all time. He averaged 26.2 points per game in his career in the NBA along with five rebounds and three assists. He also averaged 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting a tremendous 51 percent from the field and 84 percent from the free throw line.

He won four scoring titles in his career and twice averaged over 30 points per game. He was also selected to the All Star team nine times and the All NBA team seven times, with five of the selections being on the first team.

3. Jerry West “Mr. Clutch”

West is by all accounts the greatest basketball person of all time. He was one of the greatest players of all time, a solid coach, and arguably the greatest General Manager in all of sports.

In his legendary 14-year career, he averaged an amazing 27 points, 6.7 assists, and six rebounds along with a great 47.4 percent and 81.4 percent from the free throw line. He also averaged 2.6 steals and 0.7 blocks and his defensive stats were only recorded in his last season.

He was selected to an amazing 13 All Star teams and to the All NBA 12 times, with all of them except for one being as a first team selection. He was also one of the best defensive guards ever as he was selected to the All NBA defense five times, with four of them being first team selections. (All NBA defensive teams started in the last five seasons of his career.)

However, he only won one championship even though he made the NBA Finals over 10 times, with nine of the losses to the legendary Boston Celtics team and one to the 1970 Knicks team.

He is also the only player of all time to win a Finals MVP award on a losing team. He accomplished this in the 1969 Finals against the Celtics, when he averaged over 40 points in the seven-game series.

He is a true basketball legend.

2. Kobe Bryant

For Kobe to already be ahead of Mr. West at such a young age (30) tells you how great he really is. So far in his 12-year career, Kobe has career averages of 25 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks. He also shoots a solid 45.3 percent from the field, 34 percent from the three-point line, and 84 percent from the free throw line.

He has made the All Star team 10 times, with one of the seasons being cut off because of the lockout. He has also made the All NBA team nine times, with six of them being first team selections. He is one of the greatest defensive guards of all time as he has made the All NBA defensive team seven times, with five of the selections being first team selections.

He has also won an MVP Award, two All Star game MVPs, and two scoring titles. Despite his young age, he is already 24th all time in total points.

Finally, he helped lead the Lakers to three straight championships in the early 2000s and made himself one of the best playoff performers of all time.

Kobe still has several great years in him and could move to No. 1 on this list someday.

1. Michael Jordan

Jordan is one of the three greatest players of all time (behind both Magic and Kareem). In his 15-year career, he averaged 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists along with 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. He also shot a tremendous 49.7 percent from the field and 84 percent from the free throw line.

He was selected to the All Star team 13 times, winning three All Star game MVPs. He was also one of the greatest defensive players of the all time as he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1987-1988. He was selected to the All NBA defensive team nine times, with all of them being first team selections, and to the All NBA team 10 times, with nine of them being first team selections.

He led the Bulls to two different sets of threepeats in the 1990s and he won six Finals MVP Awards. He is also second all time in MVP Awards with five, behind only Kareem, who has six.

Justin’s Weekly Brain Seepage: Week Six

September 30, 2008

by Justin Goar…

“I’m not drunk—I’m just tired from being up all day drinking…”

The good news for LSU fans is simple: The Tigers remain in the Top Five after beating an inferior opponent in a workmanlike manner.

The bad news: The Tigers didn’t look great doing it.

Keep in mind that the Bulldogs of Mississippi State were never really a threat in the game, and a late MSU touchdown made the score closer than the actual game was. But a sluggish Tiger team only beat State by 10 points in a series where LSU usually beats the Bulldogs by five scores.

Some untimely turnovers didn’t hurt LSU in the win-loss column in this game but might later in the season.

The Tigers will take on Florida at 8 pm EST on Oct. 11 on CBS. Last year’s game was epic and was probably lost in the shuffle of the Tigers playing in so many exciting games last season. No game last year was tougher than Florida for LSU, and I’d be willing to say vice versa.

Cheer up, you guys act like this was a motherf%$#ing funeral…

Anyone afraid of Bama yet?

Maybe “afraid” is too strong of a word.

I’m afraid of prison. I’m afraid of zipping my fly and not being totally “out of the way.” I’m afraid of maybe one day having a teenage daughter.

But I’m not afraid of Alabama.

How about “concerned”? Is that a better word?

Yeah, maybe that’s it. I’m mildly concerned, like I am about that mole on my head that I really need to get checked out or about that chili I had for lunch that “is not sitting well.”

What about “respect but fear”? You know, like with electricity or 25-foot-long snakes.

As an LSU fan, I have to respect the performance of Nick Saban’s crew as they absolutely rolled over Georgia in Athens.

And the first thing I thought was, “Uh-oh, what does Bama’s schedule look like the rest of the year?”

Meaning I know right now that LSU has two potential losses against Georgia and Florida, plus two potential letdown games against South Carolina and Ole Miss. And that’s before we talk about the meeting between Alabama and LSU in Baton Rouge.

That’s five games where the outcome is up in the air for LSU. What about Alabama? Given the way they are playing now, how many games do they have like that?

If LSU is one, you would think maybe Kentucky could be a potential letdown game along with Ole Miss. But is Bama going to drop a game to Mississippi State this year? Tennessee? Probably not.

The Iron Bowl is beginning to look even better for the Tide. How many potential losses is that? Two?

Alabama made a major stride toward winning the SEC West in September by winning a game they were expected to drop in the preseason. It looks like this team will go as far as John Parker Wilson will take them.

How tough is their remaining road? It doesn’t look so tough all of a sudden.

Heck, let’s say LSU beats Alabama in November but drops the Florida, Georgia, and either South Carolina or Ole Miss games. For those of you that say LSU would never lose to South Carolina or Ole Miss, might I refer you to last season.

Will Alabama lose more than two SEC games this year?

And I don’t even want to think about some beyondo world scenario where Vanderbilt gets in from the East and Bama cakewalks to an SEC title and maybe a National Title shot.

So listen up—Bama’s for real. They cannot be stopped, and LSU fans must consider the possibility that even if they beat Bama, the Tide could still be rolling to Atlanta in December.

The 2008 season is over for all intents and purposes. Roll Tide Roll!

I mean there is no way, I mean NO WAY that Alabama loses this weekend to Kentucky. That’s impossible. That’s just not gonna happen.

Or am I just writing all this in hopes to jinx the Tide? Hmmmmm…would I do that?

Ridiculously hard as pie…

In honor of USC coach Pete Carroll, who said after the Oregon State game that the Pac-10 is “ridiculously hard.” Here’s a top 10 list of other things I find “ridiculously hard”:

10) Dunking on a six-foot goal using a trampoline.

9) Playing hide and go seek with my dog.

8) Finding a Clemson fan willing to pack Tommy Bowden’s bags.

7) Saving money on my car insurance by switching to Geico.

6) Counting all the Pac-10 teams in the Top 25.

5) Following the directions on the side of a “Pop Tarts” box.

4) A-B-C, which in fact is also just as ridiculously hard as 1-2-3.

3) Playing dodge ball with first graders. Blind first graders.

2) A Sunday morning.

1) Finding a guy willing to go on a date with Erin Andrews.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alabama’s opponent in the 2008 BCS Championship Game: the USC Trojans. Think I’m kidding? I’m kind of hard to read today, eh?

Uh, actually don’t answer that.

Therapeutic ravings I should probably keep to myself…

* OK, can we stop all the “blackout” talk in Athens? You actually have to show up to play in those black jerseys you wear. It’s foolish to think some gimmick can win a football game. But since you like them so much, feel free to wear them in Baton Rouge on the 25th. We wear white at home. But only because we play better when we wear white…and also when we play at night.

* Kentucky, if y’all want a shot to upset Alabama, try getting an early lead. Saban loves to play with a lead, and this year it shows. Want to guess the number of times Bama has been behind this season? I’ll give you a hint: It’s the same number of times you’ve gone out on a date with Erin Andrews.

* All you peeps who thought this year would be a more “normal” year than last season, I humbly submit to you the events of this past weekend. 2008 is just 2007’s late blooming cousin. If I were you, I’d make sure to keep your hands and feet inside the ride while it is in motion.

BT’s 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: New Jersey Devils

September 30, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Preface: So after finishing up the New York Islanders, I didn’t have to go to far for the New Jersey Devils. In fact, if it wasn’t for Ottawa, the entire Atlantic division would be together in the alphabet.

You’re the odd one out, Ottawa. Either join the Atlantic division or get a new letter.

We all know the story about the New Jersey Devils—defense first with a few offensive stars, and one of the best goalies of all-time standing between the pipes.

They’ve also qualified for the playoffs in every season since 1989-90 except once, one of the greatest examples of consistency.

As the St Louis Blues proved, at some point consistency fades—but it’s just a matter of when.

So we have to ask ourselves, is this the year the New Jersey Devils miss the playoffs?

I’d hate to say no, but they’ve got a pretty big challenge ahead of them.

Roster Additions: Bobby Holik-F (F.A.), Brian Rolston-F (F.A.), Scott Clemmmensen-G (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Karel Rachunek-D (Europe), Sergei Brylin-F (F.A), Grant Marshall-D (F.A.), Richard Matvichuk-D (F.A.), Aaron Asham-F (F.A.)

How did 2007-08 go?
46-29-7, 99 points, fourth in conference, second in Atlantic division, lost in first round of 2008 playoffs (Eastern Conference).

2008-09 Goal:
Second in division (try to overtake Pittsburgh for first), reach second round of playoffs.

Let’s break’er down…

A few years ago, the New Jersey Devils were the most boring, yet most consistent team in the NHL.

You can almost single-handedly blame the Devils and the Minnesota Wild, with their defense-first style, for some of the rule changes the NHL made to open up the game.

Once they tried to open up the game though, we basically found that Martin Brodeur can adapt to any situation—and well.

Eliminate offsides entirely and Brodeur would probably average about a 2.25 goals-against average.

Essentially, he IS the Hall of Fame when it comes to goalies now, and every other team that had the opportunity to take him in 1990 is kicking themselves.

Now introducing the Martin Brodeur trophy. Its goal? Award it to Brodeur every year and let someone else win a Vezina.

We’re going to start this segment with a “duh” moment. If Martin Brodeur gets injured, the Devils are screwed.

Not just set back, not just facing a little adversity, but flatout screwed. If sexual visualization wasn’t so prominent in today’s society, I’d say they’d be boned…but that’s dirty.

If Brodeur were to get hurt, you can choose either Scott Clemmensen and his 28 total NHL games, or Kevin Weekes, who looked less-than-stellar in his nine games with a 2.97 GAA and an .894 save percentage.

The best thing about Martin Brodeur, though, is that he plays in 77 games a season.

First things first: Martin Brodeur has NOT seen action in just nine games the past two seasons. There are players on the Leafs (more than a handful) that have fewer games of NHL experience than he’s missed.

Brodeur also has four Vezina trophies to his credit, but he also has four William M. Jennings trophies as well. An interesting stat is that those awards only crossover twice—the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Brodeur’s other two Jennings trophies came in 1996-97 (with Mike Dunham) and 1997-98 (when he was the lone recipient), while his two lone Vezinas came in 2006-07 and 2007-08—that’s two different kinds of domination.

On top of that, Brodeur has had two seasons with GAAs under 2.00, two seasons with GAAs under 2.10, and back-to-back seasons of GAAs under 2.20 (2.17 in 2006-07 and 2.18 in 2007-08).

And he’s inches away from the all-time shutout mark.

But aside from all of that, Brodeur is still 36, and had a very rough go of it—Sean Avery or not—in the playoffs last year against the Rangers (1-4, 3.19 GAA, and a .891 save percentage).

Although the Devils will be in trouble if they have to rely solely on Weekes and Clemmensen, they’re going to have to cut down Marty’s workload if they expect him to carry them through the playoffs once again.

Who forgot to tell Ken Daneyko it’s homecoming season?

I don’t know why, but for some reason New Jersey decided to bring back Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik.

The Brian Rolston signing, although it caught me off guard, I can live with. The fact is, Rolston still has some life left in his legs, and he can still kill penalties and unleash his shot when he wants. He’ll also be a great role model for a young guy like Zach Parise.

Throughout his best years in New Jersey, Holik was a solid two-way performer, who was able to contribute in a big way to two Stanley Cup runs, posting 50-60 points per year.

As people began to “take notice” of Bobby Holik and think he was “underrated”, he soon got “his due” from the Rangers in the 2002 offseason, becoming one of the overpaid, underperforming New York Rangers of the mid 2000’s.

Now though, the Devils look to be overpaying for a 37-year-old, 30-point producer who has looked like one of the weaker links in Atlanta the past few seasons—a great way to spend $2.5 million.

Bobby Holik, inadvertently or not—I mean, who WOULDN’T sign that contract put forth by the Rangers), helped in causing the lockout. I agree in saying that Holik got a terrible rap for the contract he was offered, but it’s also one of the most referenced contracts when  talking about “overpaying” for a player.

Even now, I think that the Devils are overpaying a bit for a center who’s tumbled a bit in recent years, but still offers a feisty presence and who could revitalize his two-way game.

One of the players that’s overlooked in today’s NHL—especially in competition with Crosby and Malkin in the Atlantic—is Zach Parise. Now, you wouldn’t expect an offensive dynamo to emerge from New Jersey, but that’s exactly what Parise is: He’s had back-to-back 30 goal campaigns, and two straight 60-point seasons; He’s smart, he skates like the devil (it’s a pun—get it?), and will be a great captain for this team one day. It’s too bad this kid doesn’t get more attention.

A few of the names he’s being overshadowed by in Jersey are long-time Devils Patrick Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner. Elias has proven to be an excellent point-producer throughout his career, but is dogged by consistency issues, and a little bad luck. He’ll go from a 30-goal, 80-point season and stay completely healthy one year, to a 20-goal, 55-point performance, and struggle through some health issues.

Although his playmaking ability and his vision would be better utilized in a more offense-first system, one has to respect Elias for his commitment: Although Chicago and the Rangers both offered him a competitive contract, he still made the choice to stick with New Jersey, showing dedication to a program that has proven to be successful.

Langenbrunner has also put in some solid time with the Devils. Although Jamie is also prone to the cycle of one season up, one season down, he is a speedy guy with some versatility, and has been around long enough and seen enough success to be a quality leader.

Although he is small, Brian Gionta will still continue to help the Devils this season. Despite exploding for 48 goals two years ago, Gionta has shown that he can play a good two-way game, as well as being a constant 20-goal threat—especially when playing with a quality centre who can get him the puck.  If he’s able to find his 2006-07 form once again, thank Travis Zajac.

John Madden and Danius Zubrus will also become vital parts of this New Jersey team. When Zubrus is surrounded by quality players (like in Buffalo) he’s able to produce. Madden, meanwhile, should provide a fundamentally sound penalty-killing tandem with Jay Pandolfo for the Devils.

The lower forward spots will be filled by Mike Rupp, Rod Pelley, Fedor Fedorov (although if he suddenly becomes motivated, his skills could carry him higher in the lineup), David Clarkson, and Barry Tallackson.

There are also a few young players that the Devils could showcase this season.

After spending some time in the Russian leagues, Vladimir Zharkov could provide a bit of scoring depth for the Devils. Granted, his stats from the past few seasons aren’t overly impressive, but he also played games in a men’s league at the age of 16. He’s only 20 now—but with a little maturation, he could surprise a bit in the years to come.

Matt Halischuk may be destined for the AHL this season, but he may be another young Devil who can impress down the road. Halischuk has the ability to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, but more importantly is that he could become a solid play-making center for the Devils as well, while Brad Snetsinger could also be a top OHL-Alum to watch for as well.

Oduya think you’re better than me eh? Well let me Salvador my reputation…

If you’re familiar with Canadian politics, then you know who Paul Martin is—but that knowledge makes you useless in this case.

The other Paul Martin—the defenseman for the New Jersey Devils—has steadily stepped up as different parts of those excellent Jersey units left over time. Scott Stevens left, and Martin’s role increased. Scott Niedermayer left, and Martin’s role increased. Brian Rafalski left (rather quietly) last season, and Martin upped his performance with the added responsibility.

What followed was a career-best plus-20 rating—it’s scary that this wasn’t the best on the team—and a solid five-goal, 32-point season. Although his offensive production may level off in the 30-point range, Martin is steadily becoming a solid defender in the NHL.

While Martin continues to improve his all-around game, Colin White will continue to use his big body to clear out space for Martin Brodeur, while offering very rare offensive spurts. It’ll be interesting however to see if a midseason eye injury has any lingering effects on White this year. Although he did come back last season, eyes are a tricky thing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re a bit finicky going forward.

In his second season, Johnny Oduya was a very pleasant surprise for the Devils. He nearly doubled his offensive production from the previous season (from 11 points to 26), and posted a startling plus-27. Although Oduya has shown strong offensive talent in the past, don’t expect him to get too far past the 30-point plateau, although it’s practical to believe that Oduya’s defensive prowess will steadily improve in New Jersey.

Acquired in a trade late last season with St Louis, Bryce Salvador is also back, fresh off of a four-year extension. Although his career hasn’t been anything to write home about so far, Salvador had a strong showing with St Louis (11 points, plus-12 in 56 games) and a fairly strong post season by his standards.

He may not seem like much more than an alternate option, but it’s also quite conceivable that New Jersey’s style could cover up some flaws in Salvador’s game, as well as those of Mike Mottau, Sheldon Brookbank, and Jay Leach if they see significant ice time in the NHL.

Matt Corrente is a fairly young defenseman coming out of the OHL who saw some success, but only played 21 games in his final OHL season. Despite that—and an minus-38 rating in his rookie season—Corrente posted some steady point numbers, and started to turn into a very reliable source of defense.

Andy Greene, Mark Fraser, and Taylor Eckford may also be three young defenders to see some time within the NHL ranks in the event of injury or under-performance.

So what’s it all mean?

The Atlantic Division is a hard division to decipher.

The Devils have the best goalie in Martin Brodeur, but the Penguins have the most firepower, while both the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are difficult teams to place.

In light of last season’s second place finish, I feel it unjust to rank the Devils so low, but also consider this—it’s possible for all of the Flyers, Rangers, Penguins, and Devils to make the playoffs.

The Southeast is fairly weak, with Carolina and Washington being the two real challengers. The Northeast is also a tough egg to crack, as there’ll be no easy games in that division.

Then you factor in Pittsburgh’s injuries on defense to Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar, and the career of Philadelphia’s Derian Hatcher being in jeopardy, and things are complicated further.

If I say the Devils need to score more to be more of an impact, then I get ripped because they only allowed 197 goals last season. But that’s last season.

To be competitive for top spot in the Atlantic, though, I think they do need to score more, and I’m not sure that depth is there. I’m also not sure how much “better” the Rangers, Flyers, Devils and Pens are than each other because only seven points separated first in the division from fourth, while second and fourth were separated by just four.

Basically it means they’re close. I don’t like close. Close is hard.

As of now? I see the Devils fourth—but with teams that evenly matched, they’ll be locked in a battle for third with Philadelphia, and could easily hop as high as second.

Fourth in Atlantic


September 30, 2008

by Mark Ritter… Carlo Colaiacovo scored two goals the other night against the Buffalo Sabres; he was also a Minus 4! Not good when your Coach is the type of guy that preaches defense first and tight coverage. I still think Carlo might be on the chopping block when it comes to Coach Ron Wilson selecting Defensemen; a Minus 4 in the pre-season will definitely get Colaiacovo noticed for all the wrong reasons.

Seems the Toronto Blue Jays have finally done something right; Cito Gaston will be back for two more years. Still, signing Cito to a two year contract is hardly a great endorsement. Gaston won the Jays organization two World Series, he’s “money” with the media and he took a club that was floundering this season and turned it into a top five club; what more do you want from your manager?

Through two pre-season games the Toronto Maple Leafs have proven one thing, they will definitely hit more often. Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg are going to “bring the noise” all season long. I was impressed with the effort from Justin Pogge, but I still think he’s got a ways to go yet before he’s NHL ready. The Leafs brought in career underachiever Corey Hirsh to tutor Pogge, hope Hirsh is a better coach than he was a Goalie, Hirsh can defiantly show Pogge how to be an overrated phenom, outside of that I am not sure he’s such a great fit.

There have been an abundance of third jerseys released in the NHL the past few weeks, the best of the bunch? Believe it or not it’s the St. Louis Blues third jersey. Check it out online, as Don Cherry says, “It’s a beauty”.

The Toronto Raptors revealed their third jersey this week, other than the miniature Maple Leaf on the back of the uniform it doesn’t look very different from what they were already wearing; which begs the question, why bother? Can you say cash grab? God bless the Raptors for trying to add a little piece of Canada to their uniforms, but didn’t they just switch everything up a few years back? Oh, and I am sure all the American players will love playing with a Maple Leaf on their backs, as most of them are not very patriotic, right?

In all likelihood Blue Jays starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has pitched his last game in Toronto uniform, hands up all of you that really care? Nobody can argue that Burnett put up great numbers this season, but he’s still a bit of a mental case. The issue facing the Jays is that the crop of free agent pitchers out there is, well, brutal. Let’s face it, the Jays are not going to go after C.C. Sabathia, they will probably look for a guy to fill the void for a season or two. Who are the likely candidates? Oliver Perez of the New York Mets fits the bill, at 10-7 he’s not going to be mistaken for Roy Halladay, but he’s fairly reliable, think “Todd Stottlemyre”. Another candidate is Ben Sheets of the Milwaukee Brewers. Sheets sits at 13-8 this season, has the ability to be a 15 game winner, but has struggled with his consistency. Like I said, the pickings are pretty slim, so don’t get your hopes up too high.

A better option for the Jays is to try to bring in some guys who can hit the crud out of the ball. Jason Giambi is available, as is Mark Teixeira, but unlikely signings as their respective teams will likely pony up lots of “Dead Presidents” to keep them in their respective uniforms. One guy I’d love to see in a Jay’s uniform is Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox; he’s a free agent and would replace Greg Zaun nicely. Make no mistake about it, Rod Barajas deserves another shot with the Jays, but Varitek would be quite the pick up.

This just in from the KHL; “we are coming to take all of your players away from your beloved NHL”, Response? “Yeah right Buddy”. The KHL will have enough trouble competing with the Swedish Elite League and the Finnish leagues. To suggest for one minute that the KHL is any kind of threat to the NHL is pure ignorance.

The NHL is looking at expansion to Europe sometime in the next decade; do you really think that’s a good idea when many of the NHL’s franchises are teetering on losing money? I can’t see this happening, the logistics just don’t work and the economies are just too different. Besides, why ruin a good thing? The “Great One” Wayne Gretzky recently came out and stated that he was offered boat to head overseas and play; his response? “No thanks, the best hockey in the world is right here in the NHL”. (Or something to that effect). Let the Europeans continue to come to the NHL, why the Heck would anyone want to go there to play when the best league is right under our noses?

Until next week,