Should The Toronto Maple Leafs Get In On The Jeff Carter Talks?

December 31, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… There are plenty of rumors surfacing in NHL circles that the Philadelphia Flyers are looking to make a major move. Most of these rumors seem to start and stop with struggling centre Jeff Carter.

It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have long coveted Carter and his scoring prowess; question is, with Carter marred in one of the worst scoring slumps of his career, would Leafs general manager Brian Burke still be willing to explore the possibility of adding the 24 year old to the fold?

Carter scored 29 goals in 2007-08, 46 goals in 2008-09 and is on pace to score between 25 and 30 goals this season. Thirty goal scorers do not grow on trees, so Carter still has some legitimate value on the trade market, regardless of his struggles this season.

Recent reports suggest the Flyers have approached the Atlanta Thrashers about the possibility of landing Ilya Kovalchuk. Needless to say, it will take a lot more than just Carter to bring Kovalchuk to Philly, but the Flyers are more than capable of putting together a package of roster players, prospects and draft picks for Kovalchuk, adding some validity to the rumors.

To be fair, the Thrashers are in good shape this season. Free agent acquisitions Maxim Afinogenov has registered 31 points in 35 games, including 12 goals and former Maple Leaf Nik Antropov has 31 points in 35 games, including nine goals.

Averaging 3.20 goals per game, Kovalchuk, Antropov and Afinogenov are the main reasons the Thrashers are ranked third overall in NHL scoring. Clearly, subtracting Kovalchuk from the Thrashers would be a difficult decision, but with rumors that Kovalchuk is looking for a ten year deal in the neighborhood of $11 million per season, he may have out priced himself for the financially struggling Thrashers.

If the Thrashers were to entertain moving Kovalchuk I suspect they would be looking for a first line forward with scoring abilities, a characteristic that, in the right situation, Carter could bring to the Thrashers. That said, there is no guarantee that Carter would mesh with Afinogenov or Antropov (who has played plenty of wing in the past), which is a huge risk for the Thrashers, who are on the cusp of their first playoff since 2006-07.

In the end, one has to believe that the Thrashers will do everything in their power to keep Kovalchuk in Atlanta, and ultimately you have to think they will find a way to keep him. With that in mind, perhaps it’s time that Burke picked up the phone to inquire about landing Carter from the Flyers?

The Leafs gave up two first round draft pick’s (2010 and 2011) to the Boston Bruins in order to acquire Phil Kessel, so any trade involving Carter would likely involve a number of roster players and perhaps a prospect.

The Flyers have inquired about Tomas Kaberle in the past, but the Czech defenseman has thus far balked at the idea of playing in Philadelphia, refusing to waive his no-trade clause, which has put the kibosh on any previous trade speculation.

If Kaberle was willing to waive his no-trade clause, I suspect a deal could be worked out. Having said that, Burke has stated on countless occasions that he likes the skill set Kaberle brings to the Leafs and, considering Kaberle’s low cap hit ($4.250 million in 2009-10 and 2010-11), Burke feels Kaberle is underpaid and thus brings great value to the Blue and White.

If Kaberle once again refused to move to the Flyers, there are other players the Leafs could consider moving. Defenseman Luke Schenn has had a tough sophomore season, but nobody doubts his overall skill set and upside. Once thought to be the next captain of the Leafs, could Burke now entertain moving Schenn in a package to acquire Carter?

Matt Stajan (11 goals, 28 points through 36 games) is a decent playmaker and penalty killer and may be a decent addition for the Flyers. At $3 million per season through 2011-12 Niklas Hagman (15 goals, 25 points through 36 games), has played well in stretches this season and may very well be attractive to the Flyers.

Would a package of Schenn, Stajan and Hagman get a deal done? Probably not, but it does offer a good starting point for these two teams and, in my mind, is not far off what the Flyers would be looking for.

Clearly, Carter has tremendous trade value, so you have to suspect that numerous NHL teams would be willing to make an offer on him.

If Burke could sell Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on the idea that adding three players to the roster for the price of one could turn around the fortunes of his team, we may have the makings of a deal. That said, it’s still a long shot and, in all likelihood, unless the Leafs can find a way to get Kaberle to move his no-trade, all bets are probably off.

In the end, something has to give for the Flyers. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of rumors where the Leafs and Flyers are concerned, Carter to the Leafs is just one of them.

Until next time,

Peace!

Colin Doyle Named Toronto Rock Captain

December 30, 2009

by Laura Bridgman… The Toronto Rock Lacrosse Club has announced Colin Doyle as captain for the 2010 season.

“I’m taking this very seriously,” said Doyle. “Since I’m re-joining a team that has accumulated so many good leaders it is an absolute honour that the coaching staff chose me to lead all they want to accomplish this season.

“This is a big deal for me; before I left Toronto three years ago this was something I had always hoped would happen.”

For the past two seasons Doyle captained the San Jose Stealth, now the Washington Stealth based out of Everett, Washington.

“He is one of the best leaders we have been involved with,” said Terry Sanderson, general manager of the Toronto Rock of Doyle. “He just carries an air of confidence about himself and how he handles his teammates.”

Doyle will be the third person to ever wear the Rock ‘C’ in the franchise’s 12 year history.

“This team has only ever had two captains in Jim Veltman and Chris Driscoll, which makes the honour that much more special,” said Doyle. “They led their way, but I’m inheriting a different team and I will be a different leader.”

“With Colin it isn’t always about what he says,” said Toronto Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “He lets his actions speak in the dressing room as well as his words.”

With a roster so full of veteran talent the Rock has named four assistant captains for 2010 with Phil Sanderson and Sandy Chapman will get the ‘A’ at home in Toronto, while Blaine Manning and Pat McCready will have the assistant duties on the road.

“These four guys lead by example,” said Cordingley. “They are character guys who are great in the dressing room. They are guys that will do anything for the team to succeed and the biggest thing for me is that for each of them the team comes first.”

Manning, P. Sanderson, and Chapman have all left their mark in Toronto in years past, and though he’s only in his first season with the Rock, veteran defender Pat McCready is ready to step up with his new team.

“Looking around the dressing room anyone could have taken one of those A’s,” said McCready of the accolade. “It’s a really great honour but to be given it doesn’t really change anything about the way I’ll play; I just go out there, work hard and am a representative of the team as a whole.”

“The four are experienced team players and great supportive teammates,” adds Sanderson. “We had a couple guys tell us that they didn’t need a letter, but they’ve shown over the years of playing in this League they have all the capabilities that warrant one. They have earned the respect of the coaching staff and people need to know how highly their teammates and coaches think of them.”

Doyle and the rest of the Toronto Rock open the 2010 NLL season on Saturday, January 9 in Boston as they take on the Blazers and begin their home schedule of eight games on Friday, January 15 at the Air Canada Centre in the second half of a home-and-home series with Boston.

The 10 Most Surprising NHL Players of 2009

December 30, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… Every season we see a number of players that were virtual unknowns turn into household names. For some, the accent to star status is nothing more than a blip in their otherwise very average hockey careers, but for others, a great season serves as the beginning of their super-star status and, in most cases, a change in their teams fortunes.

Let’s take a look at 10 players that have come out from under the radar to be recognized as having what it takes to be a future NHL star.

Jonathan Quick, Goaltender, Los Angeles Kings

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In 2008-09, Jonathan Quick put together 21 very quiet wins with the Los Angeles Kings. Through 34 games in 2009-10, Quick has a record of 20-11 and, by all accounts, looks poised to put together a 40-win season, which many NHL fans would have thought unimaginable for Quick.

To be fair, the emergence of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and the veteran presence of Ryan Smyth have contributed largely to the Kings’ good fortunes, but, for many NHL teams, success starts and stops in net, and, on more nights than not, the puck stops when Quick occupies the net for the Kings.

Tomas Plekanec, Centre, Montreal Canadiens

There were plenty of headlines in Montreal newspapers this summer, specifically the offseason additions of Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez. At the time of the signings, many Montreal Canadien fans were hoping either Cammalleri, Gionta, or Gomez would emerge as the team’s offensive leader.

To the surprise of everyone in Montreal, Tomas Plekanec, a player who has shown glimpses of greatness in the past, has roared onto the NHL’s top scoring list, as he currently sits with seven goals and 36 assists, which is good enough for 43 points and makes Plekanec the sixth highest point producer in the NHL thus far.

Plekanec’s 36 assists ranks him second overall in that department and ahead of a number of NHL stars such as: Martin St. Louis (34), Brad Richards (32), Ryan Getzlaf (31), Niklas Backstrom (28), and Sidney Crosby, who uncharacteristically has just 24 assists thus far.

Patrick Marleau, Centre, San Jose Sharks

Let’s face it, Marleau is already a star in the NHL. That said, given the San Jose Sharks offseason acquisition of Dany Heatley and the move to take the Captaincy away for Marleau, there was a lot of concern that Marleau’s game would tail off.

To his credit, Marleau has established himself as one of the NHL’s most feared scoring threats, and, with 23 goals in 37 games, he sits third overall in that department. Given his strong play, Marleau has gone from also-ran to legitimate candidate for Canada’s Olympic roster, something almost nobody thought possible at the beginning of the season.

Steven Stamkos, Centre, Tampa Bay Lightning

Blessed with so many tools, it was just a matter of time before Stamkos established himself as one of the League’s best forwards. Through 37 games, Stamkos has registered 21 goals and 35 points, which ranks him seventh and 26th, respectively.

Stamkos, who played much of last season behind Tampa Bay Lightning legend Vincent LeCavalier, has supplanted Lecavalier as Tampa Bay’s number one centre, a feat he accomplished in this, just his second NHL season. Stamkos is a star…

Drew Doughty, Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings

The key to many NHL teams’ success can be traced to how well their defensemen can move the puck. For the Los Angeles Kings, Drew Doughty is a key reason the Kings are where they are in the standings.

Known as an offensive defensemen, Doughty has proven this season that he can play in any scenario, as he clearly has the ability to emerge as one the NHL’s best overall defensemen and quite possibly a Norris Trophy candidate as early as this season.

Duncan Keith, Defenseman, Chicago Blackhawks

Through 36 games, Keith has posted six goals and 31 points. His point totals rank Keith second on a team that is full of offensive juggernauts such as Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews, which is impressive to say the least.

The offensive totals only begin to tell the whole story about Keith. His ability to dominate in all areas of the game is quickly becoming known in NHL circles, and, not unlike Doughty in Los Angeles, Keith should emerge as a Norris Trophy candidate for many years to come.

Antti Niemi, Goaltender, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago has a problem every NHL team would love to have: two goaltenders that are both capable of being a number one goalie. I suspect if it wasn’t for Cristobal Huet’s bloated salary, we would be seeing a lot more of Chicago’s “other goalie”, Antti Niemi, in between the pipes, but for now, Niemi will have to bide his time before he can emerge as Chicago’s number one.

Niemi already has some very impressive stats and, by all accounts, may be Chicago’s best goaltender. Through nine starts, Niemi has an exemplary record of 8-1-1 with four shutouts. His 1.59 Goals Against Average is incredible, and his .937 Save Percentage is off the hook.

Clearly, Niemi has arrived and before too long might just give the likes of Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, and Marc-Andre Fleury a run for their money where the Vezina Trophy is concerned.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Defenseman, Montreal Canadiens

I am sure to get a lot of flak for picking Marc-Andre Bergeron as one of the most surprising players in 2009-10, but until you look at the whole story, only then can you truly understand the strides that Bergeron has made.

Known as an offensive defenseman with very average defensive abilities, Bergeron did not receive a contract offer this summer. When Montreal Canadiens franchise defenseman Andrei Markovov went down for an extended period of time with injuries, the Canadiens needed to find a replacement fast. Enter Bergeron.

To be fair, you don’t replace a player of Markov’s ilk. That said, with 20 points in 32 games, Bergeron leads all Canadiens defensemen in points, goals, and power play goals, and, with four game winning goals, he has established himself as a very valuable player for this team.

Bergeron is ranked 16th overall in point production amongst all NHL defensemen, which is not bad for a guy who nobody wanted this summer and is making next to nothing for his services.

Dustin Penner, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers

At 6’4” and 245 pounds, Justin Penner was always thought to have all the physical attributes to be a star player in the NHL. In his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks (2006-07), Penner posted 29 goals and added 16 assists for 45 points. By all accounts it looked as if Penner had arrived.

It’s one thing to score in the NHL and quite another to be a complete player. In 2007-08, Penner joined the Edmonton Oilers; while his point totals improved by two, his plus/minus rating went from a minus two to a minus 12, which is something that concerned the Oilers.

The following season (2008-09), Penner’s point totals plummeted to a paltry 17 goals and 37 points. Sure, his plus/minus totals spiked to a career high plus 7, but his overall game left the Oilers and many others in NHL circles wondering if Penner had what it took to bring a complete game.

The 2009-10 season was thought to be a make or break season for Penner, and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. Through 37 games, Penner has lit the lamp a total of 19 times and added 19 assists, bringing his point totals to 38.

With a plus 11 rating, Penner has shown he can play a complete game, and by all accounts he has gone from a ghost to a major threat who can crack team Canada’s Olympic lineup.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Golatender, Phoenix Coyotes

It would have been easy to talk about the Buffalo Sabres goaltending sensation Ryan Miller or maybe even the Colorado Avalanche’s Craig Anderson, but to me, the biggest splash in the goaltending community has come from Ilya Brzgalov.

With so much offseason turmoil surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov has shut out the negativity and “brought it” on a nightly basis. Through 31 games, Bryzgalov has a record of 21-10-2 with a sparkling 2.02 GAA and a mind-boggling .926 save percentage.

Add to those totals the fact that Bryzgalov has posted five shut-outs, and you have yourself a legitimate NHL super-star goaltender.

Remember, many NHL pundits had the Phoenix Coyotes finishing 30th amongst 30 NHL teams, which further underlines just how great Bryzgalov has been this season.

Toronto Raptors on Track for a 47-Win Season

December 29, 2009

by Stephen Brotherston… If you believe that Bryan Colangelo has been trying to recreate the 2006-07 version of the Toronto Raptors, then you will have noticed just how closely the 2009-10 Raptors have resembled that earlier version.

In 2006, Bryan Colangelo started the season with only six returning players and in 2009, he did it again.  And with only four returning players destined to see much time in their team’s rotation, both of these reconstructed Raptors teams went through a very rough learning curve.

Players who didn’t know how to play together and coaches who didn’t know who to put on the floor conspired to produced a less than encouraging seven win, 13 loss start to the season each time.

But in 2006, the Raptors went 40-22 to finish out the season tying the Raptors record for wins in a season.  Those 2006 Raptors “gelled” as a team and closed out the season winning 2/3rds of their games.

In reality, “gelling” in 2006 really meant Sam Mitchell figured out that playing Garbajosa at small forward turned a collection of players into a team.  Sure there were other factors, but to “gel” requires coaches to figure things out at least as much as players “getting to know one another.”

This season the new small forward that the Raptors have tied their fortunes to is Hedo Turkoglu.  And like Jorge Garbajosa, Turkoglu does not rely on his superior athleticism at either end of the floor but rather on sound positional play and basketball IQ.

Where Garbajosa is considered to be the more effective defender (although it was almost impossible to figure out how he managed to do it), Turkoglu is a vastly superior offensive player.  And most people would consider Hedo a significant upgrade talent-wise from Garbajosa.

And anyone who has watched Turkoglu over the past few seasons or can even just remember how he played against LeBron, Pierce, and Bryant in last year’s playoffs, will realize Turkoglu can be as good as anybody against the elite wings in the NBA (and no, he isn’t winning any defensive awards).

Just check out the Orlando Magic’s top 10 plays from last season on  NBA video (2008-09, Magic videos).

Of course the measure of how well Turkoglu is “gelling” with his Raptors teammates may be counted in his assist totals more than anything on the defensive end.  And in the last five games, Turkoglu has been averaging 7 assists per game.

This season the Raptors have relied on rookie Head Coach Jay Triano whereas in 2006, the Raptors had the more experienced Sam Mitchell.

And Triano has shown his inexperience.  Sticking with lineups that weren’t working and having to be “saved” by his GM and a players meeting after a five-game losing slide and the embarrassment in Atlanta.

This year’s Raptors should be considered as more talented than the 2006 version and may have actually won games despite some questionable coaching moves earlier this season (reverse also likely to be true).

But Jay Triano has the respect of some of the NBA’s top executives and Bryan Colangelo’s patience with his coach is likely to be rewarded (it would be nice if Triano could figure things out a little faster though).

However, finishing any season winning 65 percent of your games over even a modest stretch is no easy task and likely to be greeted with a measure of disbelief. And some people will look at the Raptors 15-17 record and not be convinced this team can do it.

But this season, the Raptors have gone 8-4 since that 7-13 start and are precisely on track to repeat that remarkable performance.

And with 10 teams in the East at under .500,  the non-elite teams in the East are weak this year.  The  Raptors are currently in sixth place in the East with that 15-17 record.

Plus the 16-12 fiveth place Miami Heat have faced a soft opening schedule with 18 home games and just 10 road dates.  Maybe the Raptors season split with the Magic is reflective of just how close these two teams really are?

There should be little doubt that Raptors opportunity for a strong finish to the 2009-10 season is there for the taking.  And another 47 win season is still within grasp.

Like in 2006-07, Bryan Colangelo is likely to be looking at trades, different players will step up or not, and injury risk is out there!

It will not be a boring 2010 in Raptorland.

Toronto Toros Comical Logo!

December 28, 2009

Toronto Toros Logo - A beefed up blue and red bull holding a hockey stick
by  Avry Lewis-McDougall…

Remember the 2004-05 NHL Lockout? If you’re a hockey fan of course you do. And during that lockout many of us turned to watching the AHL, more junior hockey or leagues in Europe.

One group though, tried to bring back the WHA in 2005 and had Bobby Hull as the commissioner, naturally this league never got off the ground but it did leave some pretty comical logos.

The new WHA, brought back the Toronto Toros but this bull looks like he’s had wayyyyyy too much HGH. It also appears, that this bull is pounding his hand into a puck that looks more like a flat drum while gritting his teeth which probably means he hurt his hand when his hand (yes it’s a hand and no longer a hoof, HGH can do that to animals watch the episode of Family Guy where Stewie got a pig from an alternate universe that was so ‘roided up he had fists instead of hoofs).

I don’t know what would have been wrong with bringing back the old Toros logo with the jumping bull, because an angry animal that looks like he took a few shots in a sensitive area from Roger Clemens’ former trainer Brian McName looks pretty lame. At least the Toros didn’t use a maple leaf anywhere in the logo.

That’s all I got, my name is Avry Lewis-McDougall and I’m out! Check out my online sports show Avry’s Sports Show on www.blogtalkradio.com/avry every Tuesday night at 7PM mountain time (new episodes to come January 5th 2010)

(logo courtesy of Chris Creamer’s sportslogos.net)

Strikeforce’s Dan “Hollywood Hendo” Henderson Says Dana White Has Issues

December 28, 2009

by Stoker MacIntosh… “I think the fans have come to know what he is like. He is very emotional and says things emotionally that he doesn’t need to say.”

“He is respected for what he has done for the sport, but at the same time, in many ways he is holding the sport back. Mainly by ‘bullying’ the smaller shows—which could bring new fans—and potentially ‘burying’ them.”

“It’s also funny, and makes me chuckle, when I hear someone say ‘no hard feelings, nothing personal,’ and then they ban my clothing line, and totally erase me from their Web site—as if I had never existed!”

— Dan Henderson

“Hendo” was speaking to Yahoo.com’s Steve Cofield regarding the—highly controversial, and somewhat questionable—contract negotiatons of Ultimate Fighting Championship’s president Dana White.

I’ve given my opinion on this drama so many times in past articles that I felt it would be redundant to print it one more time.

After all, who would you rather hear it from, me, or from the man himself?

Here is the full interview:

Raptors Report Week Nine: Toronto Is the Hottest Team in the East

December 28, 2009

by Sachin Arora… The Raptors had a short week this week playing only two games, both against the Pistons, in a home and home series. The Dinos swept em away, extending their winning streak to a season high 4 games, and are looking better than ever.

The Raptors are finally starting to come together and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the streak keeps going. This team is hot, finally playing some defense, showing some urgency and is actually winning.

Week 9 Record: 2-0

Performance on a scale of 1-10: 8.5

Positives: Defense, offense, and toughness. The Raptors are finally looking like they want to win, and even with injuries to Reggie Evans and Jose Calderon, the team is playing well. Sonny Weems has emerged as a solid role player and Hedo Turkoglu is starting to show some grit.

Negatives: Rebounding is the main one. Bosh and Bargnani have to show some toughness inside and show some presence. This isn’t really a negative, but the winning streak hasn’t exactly been against contenders, and at least they are taking advantage of the schedule.

Overall, when you go undefeated you know you have had a pretty good week. I’m going to keep this report short because of the two game week, and hopefully the Raptors can keep bringing out their game.

GO RAPS!

Next Report: Sunday, January 3rd

Ten Minutes With Chuck Swirsky

December 28, 2009

By English Paul…
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I recently got the opportunity to interview current Chicago Bulls and former Toronto Raptors play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky.  Here’s what he had to say:

Q.  What inspired you to get into sports broadcasting?

A.  Well, I wasn’t a very good athlete so I had limited options in terms of wanting to play.  When I was a little boy I became intrigued by turning on the radio and hearing a voice describing what was going on with baseball, football, soccer, and basketball games.  Suddenly, at the age of five, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that was to be a broadcaster.

Q.  You’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years and yet you still seem as passionate as ever.  What’s your secret?

A.  It’s down to the enjoyment and the enthusiasm of being around the game, the sport itself, and the players, and the atmosphere. You’re right, I’ve never lost that passion.  The day I do I’ll probably decide to go into another line of work, but I don’t foresee that as I enjoy waking up in the morning and being blessed to be in a position to call NBA games with some of the greatest athletes in the world.

Q.  What’s it like to be back in the Windy City after ten years away?

A.  It’s a wonderful, world class city—by far the best sports city in America. The passion that fans have in Chicago for all sports is unprecedented. It’s great being back.

Q.  If you think back over your years of calling Chicago games, what are your best memories from on the court?

A.  The first time I was in Chicago after 15 years, before I moved to call the University of Michigan games, and then the Toronto Raptors’.  I was the public address announcer for the Bulls, originally But the Bulls before Michael Jordan arrived when they struggled on the floor and struggled to sell tickets.

Then all of a sudden Michael Jordan gets drafted and you know the rest of the story there!  He is the greatest player that ever put on a pair of basketball shoes.  Just being around that environment, day after day, was incredible.

Q.  Speaking of Michael Jordan, his induction speech caused a lot of controversy.  What are your thoughts on that speech?

A.  I understood what people were saying, but that was his moment. He elected to do it and I can’t speak for him.  Every player, coach, and contributor who goes into the Hall of Fame; that’s his moment and so for me to second guess, criticise, or ascertain why he did it, or the direction he went, would probably be foolish on my part.

Q.  During your time in Toronto calling Raptors’ games, you became a Canadian citizen.  This obviously shows how much you love the place, but what do you miss most about the city?

A.  The mosaic atmosphere and the multi-cultural dimension of the city.  The people are great.  It’s an unbelievable place—we spent ten years there and loved it.  As you say, I became a Canadian citizen and I thought I’d spend the rest of my life there, but things come up that you don’t foresee and we moved on.

The Raptors’ organisation is first class, but we’re in Chicago now and making the most of it.  The Bulls are very similar to the Raptors from the standpoint of great ownership.  The men and women who work behind the scenes are all top-class so I’m very thrilled to have been involved with two organisations that do it the right way.

Q.  You were back in Toronto recently to call a game and the organisation took the opportunity to honour you.  What was going through your mind?

A.  It was very humbling.  The organisation was extremely supportive while I was there and I can’t begin to thank them for their kindness and their appreciation of what I tried to do on a daily basis.  I was moved.

While in a sense I’m very excited about the future and thrilled about the past, I live in the moment and for that moment in Toronto, it was certainly one of my highlights.

Q.  I recently read in your blog that you miss the fact there’s no basketball anymore in Seattle or Vancouver.  Looking at the Seattle situation in particular, and the circumstances surrounding their departure to Oklahoma, what are your thoughts on how it happened?

A.  Well, I’m disturbed, to be honest with you, because I think the Vancouver situation was poorly handled by ownership and I wish the league had been a little more patient.  I understand that it’s a business, but I think Vancouver is an outstanding city.

I know the dollars are different between the United States and Canada, and it fluctuates from time to time, but it’s unfortunate Vancouver’s no longer in the league.

The same with Seattle. That whole thing was a mess.  I realise you can’t just get $600-$700 million and ask for a loan from the state or the city.  I don’t know exactly what happened or how much was willing to be given up by the owner for a new arena in the Pacific Northwest for the Sonics, but to not have Vancouver and Seattle in the league is, I think, a travesty.

Q.  The Chicago Bulls came over to England during the summer to play a preseason game against the Utah Jazz.  How did you find the experience?

A.  We had a tremendous time in London.  The people were outstanding.  The co-operation we received, the group, everything was first class and the people in England are the best.  I wish them nothing but good health and success.

I hope to get back there very soon.  I love London and I want to go beyond the city core and experience other parts of England that I’ve never been to before, so hopefully I’ll get to do that soon.

Q.  Our time’s nearly up so just one last question.  You’re well known for your catch phrase, “Bring out the salami and cheese.”  What was the inspiration behind it?

A.  That’s the one that ended ball games when the Raptors won.  About five or six years ago now, I got a handwritten letter from a guy who watches the Raptors games with his wife.

He said, “You know, Chuck, I get so excited, I can’t move away from the TV set.  I’m starving and I want to go in the refrigerator to make a sandwich, but I can’t because I don’t want to miss a play.  So when you think the Raptors have won a game and it’s sealed, can you just let me know so I can go on my merry way and make a sandwich.  Oh, by the way, I like salami and cheese.”

So the next game, the Raptors are up by 8-10 points with 30 seconds to go.  I feel pretty confident they’re going to win the game so I say, “Get out the salami and cheese mama, because this game is over!’  The fans kind of bought into it and one thing led to the next.

Q.  Chuck, thanks for your time.

A.  My pleasure.

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: Head-to-Head in Abu Dhabi

December 27, 2009

by JA Allen… Starting Dec. 31, 2009 the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal renews itself, shedding the remnants of the old year, and readying for a new year and a new decade.

Abu Dhabi—who else rejoices at the prospect of seeing real tennis being played again?

This is the start of the road leading up to the Australian Open where unexpected results steal headlines and make the tournament “Down Under” one of the most anticipated tennis extravaganzas of the year!

Granted the six male tennis players (Federer, Nadal, Nikolay Davydenko, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, Robin Soderling and Stanislav Wawrinka) engage in an “exhibition” in Abu Dhabi; still, though, it is live tennis and the players are still trying to win the tournament.

It will be refreshing to read about real tennis instead of lists upon lists discussing the past and its reported relevance upon future tennis events.

The tournament itself is relatively new, dreamed up by the corporate world to promote tennis in the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates this event, along with tournaments in Dubai, Qatar and Doha, receive worldwide attention and coverage as well as exposure for the Middle East culture.

It provides a tune-up for the regular tennis season which follows quickly as 2010 gets underway

Four of the six players will take the court on Dec. 31 with the tournament ending on Jan. 2, 2010. The top two seeded players, Federer and Nadal, receive a first round bye.

Last year the inaugural Capitala World Tennis Championship was held on Jan. 1-3 with Andy Murray winning the championship by defeating James Blake, Federer, and fellow finalist Nadal. Nadal overcame Davydenko, who defeated Andy Roddick to make it into the second round.

Murray’s performance in 2009 at Abu Dhabi and then next at the Qatar Exxon-Mobil Open where he won the title—led to intense speculation that the Scot was the likely candidate to win the 2009 Australian Open. Murray unfortunately ran into the red hot Fernando Verdasco and was taken out in the third round in Melbourne.

This year the tournament will commence with Soderling facing Swiss No. 2 Wawrinka for the honor of meeting Federer in the second round. In the other match Tsonga will meet Davydenko to determine which one of them will face Nadal the next day.

Last year’s winner Murray will not be on hand to defend his crown. He will be representing Great Britain in the Hopman Cup teamed with up-and-coming Brit Laura Robson.

It will be a very interesting peek at the usual suspects. Will Davydenko continue the blistering pace he exhibited at the ATP World Tour Finals in London by winning this event and stunning the tennis world once again?

Or, will the promise of Tsonga finally materialize in 2010? Tsonga has been on everyone’s “soon to be anointed” list for so long, he may soon grow stale.

Will Soderling amass another amazing upset by taking out Federer, who he has never defeated, in the second round. That assumes, of course, that he can overcome newlywed Wawrinka.

Wawrinka may not have found his “happily married” legs as of yet. His wife is expected to deliver their first child at approximately the same time as the championship match. It is hard to believe that he can concentrate long enough to take out Soderling.

Both Nadal and Federer have much to prove, but especially the Spaniard who spent much of 2009 injured. His depleted rankings (losing his hold on No. 1), and his diminished physique suffered at the end of the season.

Nadal did, however, seem to find rejuvenation on the home soil—clay—while playing for world champion Spain in the Davis Cup Finals.

For Nadal, everything must be looking up after 2009.

For Federer, the year is another layer of icing on his cake. The man from Switzerland retains his competitive spirit and his desire to win the big tournaments. After all, there are records left to be conquered.

The Swiss Maestro is waiting and the first goal on his carefully filled plate is to win this exhibition in Abu Dhabi. It represents a chance that eluded him last year.

After Abu Dhabi both Federer and Nadal head off to the Qatar Exxon-Mobil Open in Doha to fine-tune their games just before the Australian Open. Finally….

Brock Lesnar’s Career May Be Over: Frank Mir Recent Video

December 26, 2009

by Stoker MacIntosh… Many “ill-informed” detractors of former two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion cage fighter Frank Mir have accused him of cockiness and of displaying an overabundance of arrogance and ego.

Yet in the following video, which I have posted here, you will hear a very humble Mir, in eloquent fashion, relate his true feelings regarding his potential future rubber match with his arch-nemesis, the now critically sidelined Brock Lesnar.

Mir is a fighter who has personally overcome one of the worst adversities life could throw at him: a debilitating automobile accident in 2004 which robbed him of his UFC title and could have also taken his career, or even his life, if he had let it.

However, Mir instead of rolling over, has slowly worked his way back, and not until recently has he been able to perform at his personal best.

Also most notably, Mir remains the only fighter to have defeated Lesnar, although unfortunately a humiliating rematch loss to the behemoth followed.

Now, Mir it seems, has made it his life’s mission to obtain a “rubber match,” in the coming year, which could once again award him the UFC title belt.

A belt that was once his, and one also that he has never lost in a championship match.

Mir has proven in his latest wins over Minotauro Nogueira, Lesnar, and his recent early knockout of Cheick Kongo that he has indeed rallied back from the pits of hell and back into UFC heavyweight title contention.

And also that he undoubtedly can, and will, continue to thrill fans with his devastating knockouts and bone-wrenching submissions.

However, in order for Mir to achieve his personal goal, the current UFC champion Lesnar—who has been diagnosed with a severe lower intestinal disease—has to regain his health, strength, and most importantly, his great size.

That, my friends, is the question at hand, and one which only time can answer.

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