Tagged with "Rangers"
Deep Thoughts 11-1-2011
Category: Daily Blog 2.0
Tags: MLB World Series Texas Rangers St. Louis Cardinals Tony LaRussa Texas high school football.

 

Hello and welcome to a Tuesday of deep thoughts. I am switching days this week to help out Black Bandit. Of course, since I love Halloween, I have no problem with this at all. It is Halloween evening and I am rather disappointed. We hung a few decorations and left the lights on and only had two kids came by trick or treating. The bowl of candy won't go to waste (perhaps my waist) but it saddens me that the kids in my neighborhood did not work the neighborhood. I know that some of you don't care for Halloween and all I can say is that you would if you grew up where I did. Now, of course grabbing candy with my boys was fun, but there is more to this day than just candy. When I got too old to go door to door, we had parties. I mean rally cool parties that were really fun. One Halloween had a hay ride. Dressed as a pirate or something, I remember the cool of the night and the smell of hay now, but at the time, I was seriously focused on my girl friend. When you are a 7th grader, there are very few opportunities to be with your girl. The Halloween hay ride was about figuring out exactly what a French kiss was. We spent much time perfecting our kisses. I had a coach that used to call us guppies. He obviously remembered what young love was like...good guy that Coach Beckett.

In high school, everyone wore costumes to school, including most of the teachers. It was almost a holiday from work for the day. But, there was always a party. Really good parties...parties that as a parent I could not approve. Damn was that fun.

College was the same, but we really did not need an excuse to have a party. In fact, I don't really remember Halloween in college. I am not sure if that is good or bad.

As an adult, I first saw some of the cool special effects props that are used in television. One Halloween, I wore my regular work clothes, but I had what looked like a wooden stake sticking out of my neck. I did not use too much blood, so it was very subtle. Many did not notice until I turned my head. I loved that scream of surprise. One year I had a compound fracture. The props were inexpensive and really cool.  Here are a few pictures from old Halloweens:

 

 

My buddy Steve is very talented. He can make anything...he made the Lobster and Turtle costumes. He turned me into the Wolf Man in about 30 minutes.

 

 

Here is Steve more recently. His creativity has not waned. I guess aliens like beer? Who knew...

 

 

This was years ago on 6th St. Wild place that was. I was supposed to be Dizzy Gillespie, but could not figure out the cheeks. So, I became Louie Armstrong. Playing when the Saints go marching with some guy I did not know.

 

Blake as a Tiger. Many Halloweens ago...

 

 

My wife Julie as FrankenJulie.

 

 

 

 

 

I predicted the Rangers in 6 and I was almost right. I think that the Rangers have the best team, but the best team does not always win. The Cardinals got hot and competed like crazy. I think that most will agree that this was an exciting and memorable World Series. I was interested to read that Michael Young said learning to play 1B was the hardest infield spot he has played. It would not surprise me to see the Rangers go after Prince Fielder. Would that be a crazy lineup? With CJ Wilson a free agent, I wonder if the Rangers will be able to sign him? He certainly did not help himself with the way he pitched in the post season. The Cardinals will be hard pressed not to give Albert a big check. I just cannot see him in another uniform.

It will indeed be strange next year to see the Cardinals managed by someone other than Tony LaRussa. If you are going to go, you might as well go out on top. Even though Tony LaRussa is not popular with everyone in baseball, but you cannot deny the guy was a very good manager. He refined the way to use a pitching staff, changing pitchers a record 75 times this post season. Congrats on a great career Tony. I am sure that we will see him in the HOF in a few years... In fact, he could go in with Cox and Torre, right? Top three postseason managers are Torre, LaRussa and Bobby Cox. Of the three, which do you think is the best? I guess Torre would have to be 1? Tough call...I liked Cox the best, but with only one WS win, he would have to be third in this group. A better question is would the Rangers have won if LaRussa was in their dugout?

 

 

 

 

This is the week that will determine who emerges from the SEC as the odds on favorite to win the National Championship. This should be a great game. I have not watched much of Alabama this year, but from what I have seen of LSU, their defense is stout. I know that the Crimson Tide will also bring an excellent defense, so should we expect a low scoring affair? With lucky Les Miles you never know what to expect. If I was in Vegas, I would not bet on this game, but I sure as hell would watch it.

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, Dallas crushed St. Louis and the Saints won by 55. So in the craziness that is this year's NFL, of course St. Louis beats New Orleans this week and Dallas get trashed on Sunday night by the Eagles. Baltimore has to come from behind to beat Arizona? In reality, Arizona missed a very easy field goal to lose that game. Of course San Diego closed out the week by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. All San Diego had to do was run a play, take a bit more time off the clock and then kick a game winning field goal. Inexplicably, Rivers botched the center snap and KC kicks the game winning field goal in OT. Amazing...I have been picking games this year without a point spread and 8 correct is about as good as I can guess. Which teams are the best? Green Bay? New England? Pittsburgh? Although the Packers are undefeated, it won't be long before someone beats them.

So, Denver how do you like your Tebow now? John Fox and John Elway tried to tell the fans in Denver that Tim Tebow was not ready to play QB in the NFL; the Lions proved it. Realistically, Tebow is fine to come in and beat a bad team like Miami, but when defenses have a week to get ready to play a one dimensional player like Tebow, it is not pretty. I think that Tim Tebow is a very good football player. He has great heart and is a great competitor, but if he wants to be a successful QB in this league, he must be more accurate. Perhaps now, the kid can go to work to make a few changes. The sad thing is that Denver may not have a better option in town. It will be a long season for Brono fans, and if Tebow plays the rest of the season, I am not sure if he will ever recover.

 

 

 

Last Friday night was the big game for Westwood and Leander. Both were undefeated in district play and the winner would have have the inside track to win district. Leander is a strong team that is annually contends in the playoffs. The Lions play power football. They run the ball and play good defense. Blake watched this game from the sideline. Last week, I was called to his school as he suddenly became very sick. Projectile vomiting and slurred speech spelled concussion to me. The strange thing is that after his game on Thursday night, he was fine. He complained about his jaw being sore, but managed to eat after the game. He got up and went to school the next day without issue; until the afternoon. I had planned to take him to have his jaw Xrayed after school, but the vomiting changed that. The trainer and school nurse were scared to death. Blake tried to talk, but it was difficult to understand him. My wife and I rushed him to the hospital. They got him in immediately and began the routine. After taking blood and doing cat scans, the doctor said that there was nothing abnormal. I found out later that when these symptoms do not occur immediately that they worry about a brain bleed. After I gave Blake a powerade and a water, he began to feel a bit better. We took him home and watched him, but he had no further issues. The next morning, Blake was back to normal. Speech was fine, no headaches...nothing.

I don't know about you, but each concussion I have ever been around was always immediately evident. The school required a Dr. to sign a release in order to allow Blake back to practice. I took Blake to our family Dr. and he was puzzled. He later told my wife that he did not think it was a concussion. I found a pediatric practice that specializes in concussions. The Dr. ran Blake through a battery of questions, then physical tests. If you think sobriety tests are tough, you should see these tests. He passed the tests, but then had to take what is called an impact test. It is a tough written test that Blake said made his head hurt. Needless to say, he was not cleared to play on Friday and frankly I was fine with that. Concussions are difficult to figure. As I have learned, the symptoms can happen days after the event. Blake's coach did not know this. He was skeptical that this was a concussion, as he had never seen the symptoms so long after a game. You can tough out a sprained ankle or a tweaked knee, but the brain is not something to screw with. Blake retook the impact test today and feels good about being cleared tomorrow.

It was strange watching the game of the year with Blake on the sideline. I know that it really bugged him, but that is life. My guess about the game was correct. This was the best team that Westwood had faced. Leander drove the length of the field only to throw an interception in the end zone. They finally scored, then we scored. At halftime, the game was tied 7 to 7.

Westwood was driving in the middle of the third quarter. After a nice run, Westwood's running back went down, and the ball came out. The play happened right in front of me...knee down, then the defender stripped the ball. The refs saw it differently. Leander managed to drive deep into Westwood territory. Westwood's D held on third down tackling the QB for a loss. It was now 4 and 4 from the 8. I figured Leander would kick a field goal...wrong. Leander called a time out and decided to go for it. After the time out, Leander got set quickly. They ran a tackle eligible play that looked like another QB power run, but was not. The LB's predictably rolled with the flow, but the QB suddenly stopped and lobbed the ball into the end zone to a wide open receiver. Turns out that they have been saving the play all year. 14 to 7 and time is now running down. Westwood gets the ball back with 5 minutes left. After a few first downs, Ben Johnson completes a long pass to the Leander 4 yard line. First and goal at the 4 with 2 minutes left. Westwood gained two yards on first down. Lost two on 2nd down. Gained two on third down. With 16 seconds left, Westwood coaches call a time out. Last play, Ben rolls out to the right and lofts a pass to the corner of the end zone. Sadly, the ball finds nothing but the ground. Game over. It has been a great year. In the long run, this loss may be just what was needed to recharge the fires for the playoffs. Next week is the last home game against Round Rock. Last year was a 44 to 0 spanking. The Dragons are better this year, but I think Westwood wins by 2 TDs.

 

 

 

A beautiful night for football.

 

 

 

Blake keeps a close eye on the measurement.

 

 

The first loss of the year...damn that hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

That is all I have for this week, but I will leave you with a bit of Jack Handey:

 

 

Love is not something that you can put chains on and throw into a lake. That's called Houdini. Love is liking someone a lot.

 

The other day I got out my can opener and was opening a can of worms when I thought, what the hell am I doing?

 


Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a few deep thoughts of your own...

Obligatory Game 6 Blog
Category: MLB
Tags: World Series St. Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers Toronto Blue Jays Florida Marlins Anaheim Angels Pittsburgh Pirates Minnesota Twins

All the people watching the game probably missed this, but I did post a college football blog about reorganizing the conferences here if you didn’t catch it.  By the way, I sort of rushed this (not used to writing something overnight on a week day), so excuse any errors.  I'm editing bit by bit.  I just couldn't not write a blog about this.

About 4 weeks ago, I wrote about the last day of the season and mentioned what great baseball viewing it was. I still think that was the best day based on the fact that two series were tied and three of the four games went down to the wire, with a rain delay in Baltimore perfectly timed, combined with a late finish in Tampa. But I’m having trouble coming up with a World Series game better than the one last night. I am old enough to remember 1991 Twins-Braves, 1993 Blue Jays-Phillies, 1997 Marlins-Indians, etc., and obviously there were some great Game 6/Game 7 hits in those series, but the three instances of the Cardinals coming back to tie before the game-ending home run has to put this over the top for a single game. Now, if I had to choose between being there last night and being there for Don Larsen’s perfect game, I would have chosen the perfect game, but I wasn’t around back then and even something that historic has a sort of predictable flow to it. At first, it was simply an early-game lack of offense, then after a handful of innings, with each out it became a bigger and bigger deal. This was a complete rollercoaster though, and it looked like completely different Cardinals teams (except for Lance Berkman anyway).

I love the weird facts and statistics that come up in baseball so you can have a long list of the first team to do x, the first player to do y, etc., even after 106 World Series. So that’s what I’ll start with.

The Cardinals are the first team to score in the 8th, 9th, and 10th in a World Series game (then they added the 11th). They are the first team to come back from down 2 runs twice in 9th or later.

The last team to win a road Game 7 was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates. At least the Pirates did some things before I was born, because other than almost beating the Braves in the early ’90s, they haven’t done much since.

8 teams since then have won seventh games at home, 7 of them were down 3 game to 2 before winning the last two.

Two teams during that time period had won Game 6’s on the road, the 2003 Marlins and 1992 Blue Jays. The other exception (the winner at home who didn’t trail 3-2) was also the Marlins, the 1997 edition, which lost to the Indians in Game 6 at home before winning Game 7.

Continue to main blog for more about individual players, the Rangers, and general managing decisions

Deep Thoughts 10-26-2011
Category: FEATURED
Tags: Texas Rangers St. Louis Cardinals and Texas high school football

 

 

Hello again and welcome to another Wednesday of deep thoughts. It is hard to believe that October is almost over and that Halloween is almost here. I love Halloween; I always have. Since I was a little kid and realized that much of what I saw on TV was make up, I was intrigued. Austin has a great tradition of Halloween parties on 6th Street that is a bucket list event. What fantastic costumes...I don't party with the crazies anymore, but I still go to work with some type of bone sticking out of my arm or a stake poking out of my neck. My favorite holiday...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 



 

 

 

The Fall Classic. I don't know about you, but I have enjoyed the hell out of this World Series. I am a Ranger fan, but I loved seeing Albert Pujols go off. This will forever cement Pujols in baseball lore. If you watched Albert go crazy, you witnessed what is being called the Albert Pujols game. 5 for 6 with 3 HR's is simply historic. The Rangers battled back to even the series with a terrific pitching performance from Derek Holland. Game five will be known as the miscommunication game. A very untimely hit and run allowed the Rangers to walk Pujols (again). What surprised me the most is that LaRussa allows any of his players to put a play on without his blessing. LaRussa has done such a masterful job of orchestrating each game, it was a shock that even Pujols has the latitude to call a hit and run. Even if Craig had been safe, the Rangers would surely have used the open base to park Pujols. This was a mistake.

Do you find it interesting that in an age of amazing communication that baseball still works with a basic phone system to communicate to the bullpen? Twice LaRussa called the pen to get Motte up and twice he got a different pitcher. Is this the best baseball can do? Perhaps Motte would have faired no better against Napoli, but it is a shame we will never know. I will say, that the Cards had plenty of opportunity to score runs. I think they left 14 runners stranded, but still the miscommunication is what will be remembered for this Cardinal loss.

 

 

How could I have forgotten this? Of course this is perfect...Cool Hand LaRussa.

 

 

 

 

Maybe Tony should text the bullpen? Or perhaps baseball can spend a few bucks to update all of the stadium bullpen phones?

 

I really enjoyed Derek Holland's outstanding game 4 performance, but did anyone else find his Harry Carry impression a bit out of place? Maybe if the Rangers had been comfortably ahead, but in the middle of a tense game this interview seemed completely inappropriate to me. Holland is a young player, I wonder if Nolan may have a few words for him? They can provide a head set for an interview, but not for the manager to communicate to his bullpen coach?

One last thought...what has happened to C.J. Wilson? The ace of the Ranger's staff has not pitched well in this series. He has been unable to locate his fastball and was lucky to escape without allowing more than 2 runs. I asked my son what he thought and he said he looks tired. Could it be that the long season has simply caught up with Wilson? He logged many innings during the regular season, so perhaps this could be the case. I know one thing, Wilson has probably cost himself a few bucks with his post season performances. Wilson is a free agent after the season and he has not looked good on the biggest stage.

 

 



 

 

A few thoughts about college football. What an amazing finish to the Wisconsin / Michigan State game. Damn that was exciting. Does anyone know the way to Morgantown? It looks like the Big 12 is adding West Virginia to replace Missouri. I am amazed that Tech went on the road to beat OU. I would have bet the farm that would not have happened.

 

 


 

A few more regarding the NFL...what a surprising year. Baltimore looks unbeatable against the Jets and then completely laid an egg this week against Jacksonville? Dallas finally had an easy game. St. Louis is terrible without Bradford. Can anyone beat Green Bay? The way this year has gone, St. Louis could beat the Packers...well, maybe not.

 

 


 

 

 

It was homecoming last week for the Westwood Warriors.

 

Guess who the homecoming king was? As corny as this seems, Ben Johnson was the king and his girlfriend was the queen.

 

 

Westwood came out against Georgetown very flat. After leaving the field down 10 to 3 at halftime, Westwood stormed back in the second half to take over the game. Westwood scored 35 points before allowing Georgetown to score a late TD. Final score; Westwood 38 Georgetown 16. Ben Johnson was again his amazing self. He rushed for 225 yards and four TD's. I asked him after the game if he was driving the bus back to school. This week Westwood faces a tough Leander Lions team. The winner is a virtual lock for the district championship. The game against Georgetown featured the referees. They decided that they were more important than the game. I have included a few samples of the terrible calls...for and against Westwood. The block in the back is simply ridiculous. Here are a few videos...

 

 

 

 

 

 

A touch is now considered a block? Horrible...

 

 

No receiver to throw to, in the end zone between the tackles...this is a safety, ref!

 

 

Ben being Ben...

 

 

 

This is part of the Westwood Homecoming parade. This is a very cool tradition. There are floats of all kind and they throw candy to the neighborhood kids. Check out about 1:32...I wrote a note on the driver's window.

 

 

For Qwazier...

 

 


 

 

Finally, I had to share something that just makes Austin...Austin. On my way home, I saw a guy in the median playing his drums. I ran home to get my camera and I missed him playing, but got him breaking down his set. I thought it was cool...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is all I have for this week, but I will leave you with a bit of Jack Handey:

 

If you go flying back through time and you see somebody else flying forward into the future, it's probably best to avoid eye contact.
 

 

I wish I had a dollar for every time I spent a dollar, because then, Yahoo!, I'd have all my money back.
 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a few deep thoughts of your own...

 

 

 

Five Minute Frags - MLB Not Tuned In
Category: FEATURED
Tags: MLB World Series St Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers

 

If a World Series was played in the Midwest and no one tuned in to watch it, does it create a winner?

The 2011 World Series has produced two exciting ballgames to start the series off, with both the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals gutting out one-run wins, splitting the first two games before heading to Texas on Saturday. But despite the stellar play by both teams, the audience just isn’t there for this showdown.  The ratings for Game 1 were at 4.2, down from 4.7 last season, or in laymen’s terms, 14.2 million tuned in to watch compared to 15 million a season ago.

Some blame it on the fact that there are no marquee teams playing for the title, but that’s a moot point when you consider the Cardinals have one of the most fervent fan bases in the league, making their 18th appearance in the Fall Classic, and having won the second-most with 10 victories. On the other side of the field, the Texas Rangers can no longer be considered upstarts, becoming the first AL team since the 2001 Yankees to make back-to-back World Series appearances. The going consensus is that people clamber for the Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies because they bring a strong fan following and they bring the “Villain Effect”.

That’s not the true problem.

The larger issue at hand is that Major League Baseball doesn’t do enough to promote all of their teams. They could learn a thing or two from the NFL, which better showcases the entire league through their nationally televised games. Major League Baseball has a ton of national exposure via nearly nightly contests on ESPN and showcased match-ups on Fox (Saturday) and ESPN (Sunday) every week of the season.

The problem there is that they utilize those games to constantly show the same three or four teams that cater toward the network rather than expanding the popularity of the league as a whole. I love my Red Sox, but I can understand the growing resentment of smaller markets feeling like they are being force fed down their throats. Teams like the Rangers, Tigers, Brewers, and Cardinals, despite their plethora of talent, can’t help but remain “small markets” when they aren’t allowed to expand outside of their television borders. Talented players like Nelson Cruz, CJ Wilson, Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and others play in relative obscurity because they aren’t household names aren’t huge fantasy baseball producers.

Of course, the solution is simple, but doesn’t make much dollars and cents sense in the short terms, either for MLB or for its nationally contracted networks. But the game won’t grow from three focal points alone. You have to plant the seed across the country and nourish it over time. You’ve done a great job in terms of evening out the playing field in terms of competition, now you just need to show the world.

I can give you 14.2 million reasons why the current model just isn’t working.

 

Eastern Conference Preview
Category: Daily Blog 2.0
Tags: Sabres Bruins Senators Leafs Canadiens Islanders Devils Rangers Flyers Penguins Capitals Panthers Hurricanes LIghtning

Eastern Conference

 

Final Standings:

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. Buffalo Sabres
  4. Boston Bruins
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
  6. New York Rangers
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning
  8. Carolina Hurricanes
  9. Montreal Canadiens
  10. New Jersey Devils
  11. Toronto Maple Leafs
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Winnipeg Jets
  14. New York Islanders
  15. Ottawa Senators 

Atlantic Division:

  

1.     Pittsburgh Penguins

One question that has been beat into our heads and has remained unanswered this offseason is how long will Crosby be out?  Pens fans shouldn’t really be that concerned in looking for an answer to that question.  The Pens played the last 41 games of the season without Crosby, and still managed a 4thplace finish in the conference.  It would be smart to allow Crosby to take his time and make sure that when he returns to the game, he will be 100%.  Ray Shero made a smart move in the off season, bringing in C Steve Sullivan.  Sullivan should be good for about 45 points on the season.  As well, if Malkin can come back healthy, the Penguins are going to be one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference.  Backup goalie Brent Johnson will not be a liability when he has the chance to give Fleury a rest.  The Pens also stacked up a couple of key players on their back end, adding Martin and Michalek.  Pittsburgh could be frightfully good on their back end this season.  However, one question that may haunt the Penguins this year is depth.  In the event of a couple key injuries, do the Pens have enough scoring to carry them through?  That is where the late season trade for James Neal comes in.  6 points in 20 games isn’t going to cut it, especially after scoring 39 in 59 games for Dallas.  Neal is a good young player, and he will be the player to watch for the Pens this season.

2.     Philadelphia Flyers

Ever since the departure of Hextall, the Flyers haven’t had a solid number one goaltender.  The net has been a constant carousel of goalies, each trying to earn the job full time.  Names such as Cechmanek, Snow, Vanbiesbrouk, Boucher, Emery, Hackett, Froese, Soderstrom…I could go on forever.  However, this year, as well as every other year, the Flyers believe that they have found their guy.  Bryzgalov will be a consistent performer for the Flyers this season, but we will see how he can deal with the legendary Flyer fan animosity if he starts a string of bad games.  We’ll see how he deals with getting his first trailer hitch thrown at him.  Fans in Philly are a little more “passionate” than the average fan in Phoenix.  Philly had to move some important stock in order to land Bryzgalov, and that involved moving key players such as Carter and Richards.  That is going to be a lot of points that will need to be spread out amongst the rest of the team.  Players such as Giroux, Van Riemsdyk and Simmonds are going to be leaned on heavily this season.  However, the addition of Jagr will help them out, but one shouldn’t expect record setting numbers from Jagr.  Voracek will be a helpful addition as well, and even though the Flyers lost 2 of their top 4 scorers, they won’t feel the pinch.  Their back end is as solid as ever, with grey bushes Pronger and Timonen leading the show; that is, if Pronger can remain healthy.  The Flyers have one of the better D-Cores in the Eastern Conference this season, and with no major changes, more will be expected.  Were the GAA last year indicative of average goaltending or because of inconsistency on the back end?  This year will tell us.

3.     New York Rangers

The Rangers are well on their way of developing their younger players and moving forward.  The addition of Brad Richards will help the Rangers see that they are not blowing as many third period leads this season.  More responsibility is being placed on the Rangers younger players, and forwards such as Dubinsky and Callahan are going to asked to shoulder the majority of the workload this season.  Gaborik is always consistent, but that is only when he is healthy.  Gaborik missed 20 games last season, but this season he will need to be much better.  Support from Stepan and Boyle will help the Rangers take the next step, but they are still a fairly young team.  On their back end, players such as Staal, Girardi and McDonagh will be playing together for a few more years yet, and they will continue to improve as the season develops.  If only Del Zotto can shake off a forgettable sophomore year, he will emerge and help round out one of the best top 4’s in the East.  How are the Rangers going to be in the nets this year?  One word…Lundqvist.  Quite simply, one of the best in the game and he can carry this team through many games this season, just like he has in the past.  With Biron as a backup, he is capable of playing huge minutes in relief of Hank, but honestly, can anyone see him taking a stretch of games off?  Henrik played over 4000 minutes last season, and was just shy of the numbers that would qualify a Vezina nomination.  The player to watch this season on the Rangers will be newcomer Mats Zuccarello.  Zuccarello will be seeing more ice time this season, and lets see what kind of numbers he can put up in a full NHL season.  Bottom line for the Rangers is this…getting knocked out by the Caps in the playoffs could be the best thing to happen to this young team.

4.     New Jersey Devils

Entering this season, there are 2 major questions that need to be answered; can the Devils rebound from a simply horrific start to the 2010-2011 season, and is it time for the Devils to start thinking about life without Brodeur?  There were lots of factors that could be blamed for the Devils poor start.  How much of the blame can be placed on the injuries to Parise and Brodeur?  How much can be placed on the teams lack of response to head coach John MacLean?  And finally, if Kovalchuk stumbles out of the gate once again, will the same pattern be repeated?  However, in light of all of these occurrences, the Devils still turned it around and were in playoff contention in mid March.  What the Devils accomplished in the second half was pretty remarkable, and that deserves some accolades.  However, one fact remains true; the Devils have only won 1 playoff round in the last 5 seasons.  Unlike Brodeur, Kovalchuk is going to be around for much longer.  Why Jersey would allow a player such as Parise to go to arbitration is beyond me.  Parise is one of their premier players and Lamoriello needs to ensure that he is around long term.  Hopefully the arbitration process didn’t shake Parise’s faith in the organization too dramatically.  Unlike the division rival Rangers, the Devils are an aging group and time is running out on this group to win it all together.  The Devils will need to score more than 174 goals this season, which was the lowest goal scored total in the league last season.  Elias can still be counted on to be a regular contributor, but players such as Zubrus and Zajac will have to do better than their 44 and 30 point seasons respectively.  A healthy Parise will add to the goals scored total, but at the same time, they will need to improve on a 14.4% power play goals as well, which garnered them 28thplace in the league last season.  Aside from a solid top 2 d-men in Tallinder and Volchenkov, there isn’t much depth on their back end as they need.  Sure they only allowed 209 goals last season, but this may be the opportunity that Adam Larsson needs to crack the lineup and be a full time Devil

5.     New York Islanders

Believe it or not, things are starting to shape up on the Island.  The Islanders will be better this season, and GM Snow has slowly and quietly been putting together a solid core of young players.  Sure, drafting a player of Tavares’ talent makes it much easier to build a team, but Snow has done a fairly remarkable job.  For the Isles, the tough part of the rebuild may be completed.  Now, it is time to build on last year and show steady gains year to year.  Players such as Grabner, Moulson and Tavares may be three of the most talented young players on one team.  There, I said it.  Throw in players such as Parenteau, Nielson, Bailey and Comeau, and the future is starting to look bright on the Island.  The Isles have also quietly built up their farm system, and have drafted some prospects that could make the Islanders forwards an elite group within 5 or 6 years.  If Snow can keep this current group of forwards together, they may be reminiscent of another group of young forwards that remained together in the 80’s until Bruce McNall got involved.  And no, I am not alluding that any member of the Islanders is close to being of 99 status.  It is just a reference to an extremely talented young group.  One thing that has plagued the Isles year after year is the health of DiPietro.  However, when DiPietro does get injured (and he will), it will be up to Al Montoya to carry the bulk of the workload.  Once upon a time, there were two amazing US Born Goalie Prospects named Montoya and Dipietro.  Montoya worked hard every day and even did his evil step-brothers chores, but no matter how hard he worked, he always remained in the shadows of his charismatic and fragile step-brother.  Sounds like a fairy tale, but the whole concept of an oft-injured DiPietro is a nightmare for the majority of the Isles fans.  One thing that the fans can count on though, is that Montoya will be a more than suitable replacement for DiPietro.  Throw in the possibility of Nabakov being in the mix, and an injury to DiPietro may be the best thing to happen for the Islanders goalies.  On the back end, they were hit with numerous injuries that allowed quite a few depth players to see some ice.  For such a young team, dealing with the news that they would miss Streit for last season, was quite the blow.  If Streit can return at 100%, there is still a hodgepodge of d men back there.  Players such as Hamonic, Eaton and Mottau are going to be counted on to provide some much needed stability and security.  The Islanders are moving forward ever so slightly, but they have a number of shining stars in their future.

 

Northeast Division:

  1. Buffalo Sabres

With a new ownership that has loosened off the purse strings, the Sabres have to be considered a legitimate threat this season.  The Sabres were the hottest team going into the playoffs this past spring, winning 16 of its final 24 games to enter the playoffs with the number 7 seed.  The Sabres were always a piece or two short of completing the puzzle, and after trading for Regehr and signing Ehrhoff long term, the Sabres have one of the strongest blue lines in the Conference.  Tyler Myers is going to be counted on to improve on last years numbers, and he will have lots of opportunity to see the ice this season.  Finally, the Sabres have an ownership that is willing to go out and spend money on players.  Last season, Stafford and Ennis made strides in becoming pivotal pieces in the future of the Sabres.  In 2010-11, only three teams in the Eastern Conference scored more goals than the Sabres, and let’s remember that they did that even while missing Derek Roy for the majority of the season.  With a healthy core group of forwards, the Sabres have a balanced and legitimate attack with skaters such as Hecht, Pominville, Boyes, Vanek and others.  In nets, Ryan Miller is capable of stealing multiple games this season.  Remember, Miller is only one season removed from a Vezina winning campaign.  Jhonas Enroth will get a chance to start some games, but not very many.  With Miller starting in 65 games last year, Enroth still found time to win 9 games for Buffalo.  With Lindy Ruff at the helm again this year, this Sabres team is going to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season.  Count on Ruff to ensure that the Sabres do not underachieve.

2.     Boston Bruins

One can only watch in amazement when Thomas is working between the pipes.  Thomas has been oft-criticized for being an unorthodox goalie by numerous analysts, but he has done what many of them couldn’t; win a Stanley Cup and multiple Vezinas.  The Bruins managed to maintain their core group of young players, and aside from Recchi retiring and Ryder renting a U-Haul bound for Texas, the Bruins are still the same team.  With Savard regrettably on the shelf for the duration of this season, it puts a hole in the Bruins that can easily be filled.  Last season, Krejci and Bergeron filled in admirably in his absence, and Krejci will be leaned upon lots this year.  Seguin will continue to develop, and playing on this Bruins team will help him immensely.  Just remember, that head coach Claude Julien will continue to expose Seguin to different situations slowly.  There will be some questions about Horton after his concussion in the post season, but if he can come back healthy, he will be relied on to provide some additional scoring to help plug the hole left by Recchi.  Big things are going to be expected from the little sparkplug that is Brad Marchand.  Marchand was pivotal in the Bruins championship run last spring, and he will be expected to pick up where he left off.  On their back end, any d-core that is led by Chara is going to be strong and steady.  Other d-men such as McQuaid, Boychuk, Ference, Corvo and Seidenberg will round out a very strong back end.  For being the best goalie in the world right now, Thomas reminds me of someone you’d bump into in line for a beer.  Thomas posted record numbers last season, and he isn’t showing any intention of slowing down.  Rask will get the opportunity to play in plenty of games this season, and head coach Claude Julien has already stated that the Bruins are entering the season with 2 number 1 goalies.  Adam McQuaid finished a remarkable +30 last season, and with an increase in ice time possible, he will improve on last seasons numbers.

3.     Montreal Canadiens

The Habs definitely have some speed to burn up front, but it’ll take more than speed to make this a contending team.  One would have a hard time stomaching the high priced contracts handed out to the likes of Gionta, Gomez, and Cammalleri.  The Habs did not get their moneys worth from their highest paid players. The addition of Erik Cole will help with secondary scoring, but the majority of the Habs wins this season are going to come from low scoring games.  Last season, Montreal finished with 44 wins, but they only scored 216 goals.  Players such as Gomez need to score more, simply put.  Young players such as Lars Eller is ready to be the offensive contributor that Gauthier thought he was trading for when Halak was moved.  On the back end, the Habs felt the pinch when Gorges and Markov both went down with injuries.  Subban was able to step up and fill in when needed, and now that the Habs have seen what he may be capable of; the expectations will be considerably higher this year.  Montréal’s d-core should be fairly solid this year, with Weber and Yemelin chomping at the bit for more ice time.  If Montreal can make it through this season relatively injury free, they may be in the position to move some assets to help their scoring, or lack of as it will be.  In the nets, Price will be a workhorse once again.  After starting in 70 games last season, he set career numbers in GAA and SV%.  Peter Budaj will continue to be the reliable backup that he has been throughout his career, but realistically he shouldn’t be expecting to get a lot of work.

4.     Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is developing and acquiring some talented young players.  Grabovski is coming off career highs in every important category, but will he improve again this year?  There has been a fair bit of pressure placed on youngsters Bozak and Kadri to develop and produce right away, but the emergence of MacArthur and Kulemin provided the Leafs the chance to ease off on Kadri and Bozak.  The Leafs hope that Connolly will be the center that Kessel needs, but as always, his health is an issue.  On defense, Phaneuf will be the workhorse on the blue line, with Schenn and Aulie slowly emerging as a legitimate threats.  The bottom line is that the d-core needs to be better and improve on their 251 goals allowed last season.  The acquisitions of Liles and Franson will help them on their back end, but their goals against would have been much worse if it wasn’t for the emergence of James Reimer.  Reimer is going into this season as the number one goalie for the Leafs.  After starting in 35 games last season, Reimer is going to shoulder the workload this year.  However, if he starts to slip, the Leafs will not have much of a choice but to turn to Gustavsson, who has been hampered by a heart condition the last couple of seasons.  If Gustavsson is unable to go or performs subpar, the Leafs are going to have to go to the well that is the Marlies for a call up.

5.     Ottawa Senators

As an outsider looking in, I watch in amazement and wonder how Bryan Murray has been able to keep his job.  Numerous quality coaches have been sent down the river in years past, and the next man in the breach is Paul MacLean.  MacLean will have a fairly young team to work with this year, with players such as Fisher, Kelly, Ruutu, Kovalev and Elliot gone.  After using 6 goalies (Brodeur, McElhinney, Leclaire, Elliot, Lehner, and Anderson) during the 2010-11 season, the Sens are hoping that they finally have their man in Craig Anderson.  As well, the only players that can tell people that they had a good year and keep a straight face were Karlsson and Spezza.  The Sens have a fairly young team this season, and Paul MacLean is hopefully the right man for the job.  Alfredsson needs to come back at 100% after his injury, and prove his worth to the Sens this year.  A young team will need his veteran presence in the locker room.  Young players such as Bobby Butler and Nick Foligno need to improve on last seasons numbers, and they are going to have plenty of opportunity to do just that.  Last year, the Senators allowed 250 goals against.  That is simply horrific, and the Senators only had 2 of the d-men that they used all season finish on the right side of the +/- category.  Defensemen such as Phillips (-35) and Kuba (-26) simply need to be better.  This is going to be a long season for the Sens, but if certain players continue to develop and improve on seasons past, many Senator players will reach career highs. 

 

Southeast Division

1.     Washington Capitals

Life is good in Washington.  They have a great team, a supportive and rabid fan base, and a couple of the most exciting players in the game today.  Regardless of regular season achievements, until the Capitals do something, they are on the same page as the Sharks; playoff pretenders.  Washington has drafted extremely well over the years, and they are going to continue to reap the benefits for quite a few years.  Players such as John Carlson (yes, I’m still upset over his amazing goal in the WJHC), Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perrault are going to continue to develop at the NHL level.  McPhee made a couple of moves in the off season, bringing in Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer.  The Capitals will recover from a low scoring 224 goal (by their standards) season and will continue to improve defensively.  Players such as Backstrom and Semin (especially after he was criticized in the press for his unambitious play) need to increase their offensive production.  With Green missing significant time last season, Carlson emerged as a player capable of handling the minutes.  Washington further bolstered their blue line by adding Wideman and signing Hamrlik to a d-core that already had Green, Poti, Alzner, Erskine and Schultz.  With the off season moves that the Caps made in their nets, Vokoun will handle the workload nicely and should be expected to play between 50 and 60 games this year.  If Vokoun begins to struggle, Neuvirth has shown that he is more than capable of stepping in.

2.     Tampa Bay Lightning

By making it into the third round of the playoffs last season, the Lightning grew in leaps and bounds.  Key younger players such as Stamkos and Purcell had an extra long drink at the post season fountain.  Let’s remember that this was the team that came back against the Crosby-less Penguins and then sweep the Capitals last season.  Guy Boucher had his team motivated and ready for success last season and new GM Steve Yzerman put some key elements in place.  Any team that can put players of the caliber of Lecavalier, St Louis and Stamkos together has to be considered a serious threat.  Throw in some secondary scoring support from Moore, Downie, Purcell and Thompson, and the Lightning can be extremely offensive.  If Gilroy can become the type of player that Yzerman thought he was when he went after him as a free agent and if Hedman continues to develop, the Lightning can have a very strong defensive team as well.  Throw in Brewer, Kubina, Ohlund and Clark, it would appear that the Lightning are very deep in their own end.  Roloson enters the season as the number one goalie, but if he starts to show his age, look for Garon to start to take the majority of the starts away.  The Lightning have many of the pieces in place to compete in the playoffs.

3.     Carolina Hurricanes

Eric Staal is arguably one of the best centers in the league, and he is barely 27 years old.  After missing out on the post season in their last game of the season, the Hurricanes should be expected to make the cut this year.  One thing that may have hurt the Hurricanes last year was depth.  Carolina simply lacked secondary scoring that was effective enough to guarantee a post season berth.  Staal and Skinner are a very competent combination, and Skinner has developed faster than many thought he was going to.  Players such as Boychuk, Jokinen, Larose, Ponikarovsky and Sutter are going to have to pick up the slack and provide some much needed secondary scoring this season.  As well, the current group of forwards on the Hurricanes needs to be more active in their own end, and they need to be more efficient back checkers.  The d-core will be anchored by Gleason and Pitkanen, and the additions of Allen and Kaberle will help out dramatically.  Going into this season, Cam Ward will continue to eat up starts for the Canes, and Brian Boucher will be relegated to opening the gate for the majority of this season.  Boucher can expect to get about 10 starts this season, barring any injury to Ward. 

4.     Florida Panthers

Heading into this season with a new head coach in Kevin Dineen, the learning curve is going to be quick in Florida this season.  During the regular season, GM Dale Tallon was active (as usual) and was ready to make moves to improve his club.  Tallon moved the majority of the veteran talent out of town, and quickly stocked up on draft picks and young prospects.  As a result, Dineen is taking over a younger team, and essentially, a chunk of clay for him to mold.  Last season, Florida’s leading goal scorer only had 23, and the team leader for points was 49, you would think that there is a lot of room for improvement.  Players such as Santorelli and Bradley will be leaned upon to produce, and the addition of Bergenheim should help.  On the back end, it doesn’t look much better for Florida.  Kulikov, Campbell, Weaver and Jovonovski (yup…he’s still playing) on their back end, there is a lot of opportunity for Gudbranson and Ellerby to eat up some minutes.  In the nets this season, Jose Theodore may emerge as the number one tender going into this season.  His leash may be a little shorter this season, and if he starts to struggle, Kevin Dineen may give Markstrom an extra long look.  Markstrom will be the Panthers tender of the future, but they need to be careful that they don’t burn him out early in his career.

5.     Winnipeg Jets

A new home is not enough to improve the Atlanta Thrashers.  Sure, the players will get to experience a circus like atmosphere with their games, which may be a new feeling for many of them that have been in Atlanta long term.  Even though the Jets are a fairly young team, they are still a very talented team.  Offensively, the team has Ladd, Kane, Antropov, Little, and Wheeler.  Forwards such as Burmistrov, Cormier and Glass are going to be expected to contribute more offensively, while players such as Byfuglien and Enstrom will add to their offensive totals.  On the back end, Byfuglien and Enstrom will be anchoring the d-core with Bogosian and Oduya providing additional support.  However, last season the Thrashers finished 29thin the NHL with 269 goals against.  That number is going to have to decrease dramatically before the Jets can be considered a legitimate threat for the playoffs.  The Thrashers were also 20thin the league for goals scored, another stat that is going to have to improve before they can be taken seriously as a playoff threat.  In the nets, the combination of Pavelec and Mason will provide to be an adequate goaltending tandem, but their numbers will have to be better.

As always, these types of prognostications always come with opinions of varying degree.  Let me have it if I am right the fuck out to lunch.  

And now, your hockey fight of the week.  A great fight between Brian McGratton and Cam Janssen.  Two great competitors.

Thanks for stopping by.

Hotchnuts

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