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The Weekly Six-Pack, Aug. 2

In Baseball, Football, Hockey on August 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm
Today’s post starts off with a couple of different things. First, we are welcoming a new member to the site as a contributer in my good friend Kevin Pomazal. He’s a  die-hard Flyers, Packers and Cubs fan, which could be enough for everyone to hate him off the bat (he won’t care if you do anyway). The two of us are going to attempt to post some of our discussions regarding whatever the hell we come up with. So it could be anything from hockey to music, which is perfect and hopefully entertaining to you.
Yes I know, his initials don’t fit in to the title of the website. Our other site contributer isn’t able to post anything due to his job. Totally understandable. A paying gig is more important than a blog that’s supposed to be recreational. But fear not Dylan, just like Nearl Crews said, “Your legacy is in tact.”
And for the one person reading this that’s a Frisky Dingo fan, you’re welcome for that reference.
Second, I have to give a big shout out to my buddy Kyle Schassburger for his new gig as studio host for IMG sports, covering Kent State football and Michigan hockey. Bro, you stuck with the broadcasting gig and you’ve earned this. You’ve come a long way from the kid that co-hosted a sports talk show with me in college as a freshman. Now if ya make it big and can get tickets to a big event, don’t be afraid to hook a brother up.
All right, the sappy stuff is out of the way. Let’s do this.
Atlantic Division Announces its Supremacy
Last week, I covered the acquisition of Rick Nash by the Rangers, giving them the high-scoring forward the team needs to add more offense for a team that struggled in the playoffs scoring. With the addition, it gives the division three teams that are the three best teams in the East and each could be playing for the Stanley Cup this coming year in Pittsburgh, the Rangers and Philadelphia. Oh yeah, they also boast a Devils team fresh off a trip to the Cup Finals and an Islanders team that should be much better this year than last. Granted, I’ve been saying this about the Isles for the last few years, and they’ve sucked.  So take that for what it’s worth.
But the top three teams should be competing for the Cup this next year, although each have a weakness. The Flyers still have Ilya Bryzgalov in net and the uncertainty of Chris Pronger’s future to worry about. Pittsburgh lacks depth on the wing and in young forwards. The Rangers have to worry about whether or not they can score enough with Marian Gaborik out with shoulder surgery.
Despite the slight weaknesses, each team is going to be just fine in the regular season. The Flyers and Penguins can light up the scoreboard with what might be the three best centers in the world today (Crosby, Malkin and Giroux), and the Rangers are a defensive juggernaut that are always in games because of their back end.
So take no offense with the weaknesses listed people. One of your teams should represent the East come next June in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Patrick Kane, Professional Lightning Rod for Bad Behavior
Yes, I know this is dated. It’s a slow time for sports news, so I’m pulling for stuff. To say Patrick Kane’s offseasons have been loaded with controversy in the last few years is a bit of an understatement. I don’t need to go over what he’s done in the past, but this year’s incident at a party in Madison, Wisconsin seemed to be a little different as far as a level of offense. As opposed to the Buffalo cab incident, one that he was way out of line for, I was actually amused by this news as opposed to the past.
Keep in mind, Kane is 23 years old. I would like to say that I was straight-laced when I was that age, but that would be a lie. Add in the fact that he just came off a tough season and another early playoff exit where he didn’t live up to his talent level. I understand if something like that happens, someone of that stature is expected to be pissed and hard at work to get ready for the next season.
At the same time, a chance to cut loose should be earned by someone that’s busting their chops for 11 months of the year in an extremely demanding sport. Sure, he may have acted like a total bag (based on the articles I’ve read) and fell victim to some pictures that leaked on social media sights. It’s 2012, that kind of thing happens to everyone. But I’m not going to get as wrapped up in this as others have. Nor do I think you should.
NHL Dress Code Needs to Change Again
Now you KNOW it’s a slow time when I’m busting out the old debate of home colors vs. home whites as far as jerseys go. To make it even worse, this came to me as I was playing NHL 12. My original idea for this came when I scored against Dallas, who was wearing their black jerseys, by scoring on the goalie that was screened by his own defenseman. How obviously, it’s difficult to see through a human. I get that. But it got me thinking how much tougher it might be for a goalie if he’s trying to pick up a puck and someone’s loose jersey gets in the way for a team wearing black.
Nine teams in the league have a black sweater, and the only two I’m all right with seeing that are the Kings and the Suc- I mean Ducks. Dallas’ bother me the most because I liked their old green sweaters, and their current home selection is just boring. Had to be the last design the Reebok guys put together and they must have been on their 15th pot of coffee when doing so. Get rid of them or at least make them a little more vibrant. Watching a Dallas/LA game in Dallas must be like watching it on a TV that required you to get up to change the channel. Make it stop.
On the flip side, I’m all for bringing back the home white jerseys. It gives the home fans a chance to see different colors each night and to be honest, it just feels right. Seeing the Leafs, Red Wings, Blackhawks etc. in their barn wearing their classic white sweaters is a beautiful thing. And I’ve missed it ever since the change started back in 2003. I can only hope this changes down the line.
Cubs Trade Deadline Finally Brings in New Blood
So the trade deadline is gone and the Cubs did what I expected in unloading some of their current roster players to contenders. We all knew it was coming, but I can’t help but feel a little let down. Yes, they got some nice pieces that could make an impact in the bullpen down the road. But having Ryan Dempster block a trade to the Braves for one of their top prospects was a bummer. But I’m a firm believer in what Theo Epstien is doing with this team. Yes, the team is going to be bad for the rest of this year and probably the next few. But it’s not like it wasn’t expected and for anyone that was heartbroken and upset about the deals for Dempster, Geovany Soto, Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm, keep in mind what the ultimate goal is. A great breakdown of the players the Cubs got in return was posted by my good friend Chad Ruter and can be found here. It’s worth a read from one of the smartest sports fans I’ve ever come in contact with.
ESPN and Pop Radio Might as well be One in the Same
I can’t take it anymore. I used to be able to sit down and enjoy the hour I would spend each night getting caught up on the day’s news by watching SportsCenter. But watching it now makes me want to shove knitting needles in my eyes. I understand that the job for television execs is to get more viewers to their brand to make more money. But listen, ESPN, devoting 45 minutes of a telecast to the New York Jets camp and Tim Tebow coverage is insanity. And if it’s not about that, then it’s all about Peyton Manning and the Broncos or Michael Phelps and Ryan Locthe. Sure, the occasional baseball coverage will get mixed in, but once the NBA season ended, all the focus shifted to the NFL. Which, keep in mind, is something that doesn’t start for almost two more months. It’s like turning on the radio and knowing what you’re going to hear each and every day. The New York Jets might as well be sports current version of “Call Me Maybe.”
The point is, feel free to mix in something else. The product may just be more interesting to someone that’s wants to know about how their team is doing in the baseball playoff race. Or if you want to stick with the NFL, how about focusing on some of the other 30 teams and how their training camps are going?
Now I’m done. I’ll jump off my soapbox, but keep it close by just in case.
Umpire in Florida Loses his Mind
If any of you have ever been an umpire at any level of baseball or softball, you know that it’s a thankless job and players, coaches and fans will take any chance to let you know how bad of a job you’re doing. It develops character and thick skin for most people that put on the mask. But what happened in Daytona last night during a Daytona Cubs has officially blown my mind when it comes to an umpire that needs to quit taking himself so seriously.
In case you missed it, the full information on the incident is here. The umpire tossed the Cubs’ music guy for playing “Three Blind Mice” after a blown call. How an umpire can toss someone in the crowd, let alone the press box, is beyond me. Especially if there’s no profanity involved.
My point is that this guy needs to take a step back and realize that it’s all in good fun. Any umpire that makes the game about himself so that we know his name is in the job for the wrong reason.
That’s all for this week’s session. Hopefully something interesting in the hockey world happens between now and next week so I’m not talking about the jersey situation again.
Until then.

The Start of the Weekly Six-Pack

In Baseball, Hockey on July 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I took a look at the recent posts, and since the last one was back before the opening round of the playoff, what better time than now to start what I hope will be a weekly installment. In honor of an old college tradition in Thirsty Thursdays, here’s the debut of the Weekly Six-Pack (see what I did there?). One thing I will try to do is avoid the hot-button topics that ESPN and your local sports talk radio shows beat to death. In this particular column, there will be no mentions of Penn State, Jeremy Lin, Tiger Woods, Tim Tebow or Dwight Howard from this point forward. You want 172 different opinions on those topics? Watch ESPN. They won’t disappoint.

Chances are this one will pertain mostly to hockey (since that’s my deal), but occasionally I’ll mix in a little something else.

Now that our little disclaimer is out of the way, time to brush the cobwebs off this bad boy! All I need is my broom to get this going and… wait…what the hell is that? SPIDER!

OK, he’s dead and my heart skipped a beat. Also, sorry I screamed. Knee-jerk reaction and it won’t happen again. Let’s go in.

The Inaugural Weekly Six-Pack, Jul. 19.

When I was much younger, the off-season for all of my favorite sports was hardly interesting. In football, there was much less hype about the draft and I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to free agency in any sport. Now that I’m older, things have changed, my goodness have things changed.

This off-season in the NHL has been the craziest that I can remember in recent memory. Maybe since the free agent frenzy of 2002 (Teemu Selanne, Curtis Joseph, Tony Amonte, etc.) has one been this entertaining. And since I haven’t posted for a while, I may be playing a little catch-up.

Shea Weber inks massive offer sheet from the Flyers
Lucky for me this one came out last night, and I about spit water all over my computer when I saw what Paul Holmgren did. Paulie saw a chance to upgrade his defense that was torched by the Devils in the playoffs without losing a roster player, and I love it. For the Flyers, it’s not only a move to get better, but there’s also the thought of preparing for life after Chris Pronger. Throw in the possibility of Weber joining the team and they get much younger as well. And with the team’s biggest rival employing the two best players in the game, Weber could make life very hard for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Paul Holmgren, I tip my hat to you given how little GMs break out the offer sheet today. Ed Snider should buy you a bigger wheelbarrow to haul around the massive stones you possess after this move.

As for Nashville, you have my sympathy. After losing Ryan Suter (more on him later), this is the last thing the team wanted to have happen. David Poile is one of the league’s best GMs, and in my opinion, he has no choice but to match the 14-year, $100 million contract. The ESPN article by Scott Burnside lays it all out as far as the option of not matching the offer sheet:

“The equation, then, is relatively simple for the Predators: match the deal and remain relevant, or take the four first-round draft picks that would come as compensation for not matching the offer sheet and give up any hope of being a contender, of attracting top talent, of being anything other than a team treading water and wondering when the lights will go out for good.”

I had that thought in mind before it was written, and it’s dead on. If the Preds don’t match, you can start the countdown as to when the franchise shuts down or moves. The team just started to become relevant in that city as a team ready to contend for a Cup, and this is as crushing as it gets. Yes, the team has some good young defenseman coming up in the system. That shouldn’t matter. Send the right message to the team and fans that you want to remain relevant and in the hunt for a Cup and MATCH THE OFFER.

Finally, this is going to cause a stir at the current CBA negotiations because the owners are saying what they want to change and doing the exact opposite with these massive, front-loaded contracts. You want player salaries to be reduced? Stop handing out these lucrative deals. The league can’t handle the loss of another season, and although this hypocrisy is happening, I can’t help but think things will be solved between the two sides.

San Jose remains relatively quiet during the break
Come on, you didn’t think we would get through this without me playing the role of homer for a short amount of time. After a depressing exit in the playoffs, I didn’t think GM Doug Wilson would stand pat with the structure of the team. Brad Stuart was brought back, and that’s the extent of the team’s activity thus far. I know the team needs more scoring, but all that’s available to them at this point is the option adding Shane Doan, who I don’t see playing anywhere but Phoenix, or trading for Rick Nash. As awesome as that would be, I don’t see Wilson giving up what Columbus wants for the big wing unless GM Scott Howson gets desperate to trade Nash and accept less than what he’s asking for. What the Sharks need to focus on is improving their penalty kill and getting the right guys to fill out the third and fourth lines. Adding Stuart improves the defense, but I don’t see much more happening for the men in teal. Unless Doan decides to join the Sharks, which is something I wouldn’t hate.

Speaking of Rick Nash…
We all know that he’s not going to be in Columbus next year. He can’t stay at this point because the bridge has been burned between himself and management. The biggest issue facing the trade is the amount that Howson wants in return. Asking for guys like Logan Couture of the Sharks, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin of the Bruins, and other team’s top young players is insane. Yes, it should be expected to get those kinds of players for someone like Nash, but you have to think that won’t happen. In the end, Nash is either going to be a New York Ranger (they have a boat-load of prospects to surrender), or Howson is going to give up Nash for 30 cents on the dollar. Oh Columbus, you never stop making me laugh.

Ready to get Wild in Minnesota
Yes I know, it’s a terrible pun. But a hockey market that deserves to be noticed finally is with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in the fold. Offense has been a weak spot for the Wild since Marian Gaborik left, and adding Parise makes this team dangerous from the beginning. Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley should see an upswing in their production playing with Parise, and Devin Setoguchi should return to the 25-goal region on the second line. Not only if the production at the top going to be better, but the young Minnesota talent coming up won’t have the pressure on them to produce immediately. So Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and perhaps Johan Larsson (all are former top-60 picks) will all have a chance to get a feel for the NHL while the stars handle the heavy lifting.

Suter comes in to be not only the team’s top shut-down defender, but a mentor for one of the league’s youngest defenses. Suter will do wonders for the development of Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, and the team’s top picks in 2011 and 2012 in Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. Life for goaltender Niklas Backstrom is about to become a lot easier as well with the addition of Suter, and all of a sudden, the Wild are a team to be dealt with every night.

Add in the fact that it’s a homecoming for Parise and somewhat of one for Suter (a Madison, Wisc. native), and optimism in St. Paul is as high as it has ever been.

Just what the State of Hockey needed.

The Blackhawks have taken summer vacation very seriously
By that, I mean they’ve barely been heard from. Outside of adding Sheldon Brookbank and striking out on adding Parise and dealing with Patrick Kane going frat boy again, there has been very little noise from the Windy City. For a team that was outplayed by a Phoenix team in the playoffs, I wouldn’t feel good if I were a Hawks fan at this point. Hope you guys like the thought of another first round exit!

Royals struggling to make noise in rebuild
On to baseball to close this out, and it’s a troubling topic for me to discuss. Then again, anything I talk about baseball related is usually depressing given the state of the Cubs and Royals. But while the Cubs are in full-fledged rebuild mode, I at least had hope for the Royals to be competitive in the less-than-stellar AL Central. Needless to say, it has been a train wreck thus far, and the Royals’ pitching staff has led the charge straight to bottom of the standings. I was OK with the team getting Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera in the off-season, and it has turned into one of the worst trades for the team in recent memory. When Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar are counted on to lead a pitching staff, trouble won’t be far behind.

You hear so much about how much talent the team has in the farm system, but it appears to be another two years before that talent is ready to contend. And for a fan base that’s growing impatient with the progression, it’s an all too familiar sound.

That’s the first Weekly Six-Pack. Hope you enjoyed it and feel free to leave some feedback.

My Divorce Letter to the Game of Baseball

In Baseball on May 22, 2011 at 12:32 am

Before I get started on this rant, I have to send out congratulations to my colleague and friend for scoring his first Big Bro Job at WGEM as weekend sports anchor and sports reporter. You’re gonna crush it, dude.

Now, on to the hate. This will sound a little absurd at times, but stick with me…

My Dearest,

I’m done fighting it. I’ve been in denial with my relationship with you for quite some time now, but after sitting through nearly four hours of a game that isn’t over yet, I’ve realized that you, Baseball are no longer my sport of choice. For at the last four years (at the maximum), I have maintained that you were my favorite sport. You were my love growing up, my occupation every summer whether it be umpiring games, playing games, or throwing the ball around in the back yard once my playing days were done.

However, while you have managed to do little to nothing to improve the quality of the game on the field, basketball, football and hockey have improved greatly and you have essentially been put on the back burner by football as the nation’s favorite game. And based on what has taken place in the NBA in the past 12 months, you are in trouble of losing your spot to the NBA as well. Growing up, I never would have thought this would happen with me. I enjoyed basketball and football, but I had too many memories and great experiences you and I thought that you and I would be linked together forever. You were a big part of my interaction with friends and family and that was something I will always cherish.

That relationship hasn’t fallen apart quite as fast as Tiger Woods’ marriage, but watching you in action this season, I have found myself less and less interested. Part of that had to do with the fact that the NHL regular season was coming down the stretch and the NHL and NBA playoffs have gotten started and have been outstanding to date. But trying to go from one of those sports to seeing you is getting harder to do from a television standpoint. Look, I understand that watching a game in person as opposed to on TV is comparing apples to oranges (and I’m a huge fan of oranges). But many of your teams don’t do their due diligence to their fans to make them want to spend their cash to come see a game. I didn’t realize how much of a problem this has been until I noticed that there were a ton of empty seats at last weekend’s Cubs-Cardinals series. .

However, I also feel that I have fallen in to the crisis that most of the people in this great country. I want my action and I want it now dammit! I feel that’s why I’ve grown more and more attached to Hockey over the last five years. This is why you have caught me a few times late at night watching a meaningless Edmonton-Calgary regular season hockey game. Now, just because you’re a slow-paced game, you still rank higher on my board than soccer or NASCAR ever will. However, I do have a few reasons why I think that my relationship with you, Baseball, has fallen apart over the years. These are in no particular order.

1. Your games can be hard to watch. This isn’t  a problem if I’m watching you at the yard, but I’m fresh out of grad school and have no immediate job. Throw in the fact that the closest park is three hours away and tickets aren’t exactly cheap, and that means no P.D.A. between you and me. However, when your friends in Boston and New York normally take over four hours to play a game, that moves at the pace you move at, it’s become a concern. Occasionally, someone like Mark Buehrle or Roy Halladay makes sure that doesn’t happen, but anything over three hours on TV makes it hard for me to focus. However, with playoff hoops and pucks, I’m always pleased with what I see, and I can’t wait to see more in the next game.

2. Your lack of star power is a concern. You don’t have the alpha-dogs that basketball (Rose, Wade, LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, Durant, Howard) and hockey (Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Sedins, Perry, Chara, Lidstrom, Thomas, Miller) have accumulated over the years. Yes, Albert Pujols is your best feature, but after that, I can’t think of a transcendent player in the game today that you have to see every time they come to town. Someone that is worth the price of admission no matter what. Football has their share of alpha dogs that have been around (Manning, Polamalu, etc.) and new stars always coming in to the league but they don’t need to worry about it since it’s what all Americans are watching nowadays. Outside of a pitcher like Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay (who only play every fifth day), there aren’t as many players that command that type of attention, thus hurting the quality of the game.

3. Your smaller, uglier friends don’t stand a chance. Each year, your best looking friends in Boston, New York and LA are always in the hunt to be the best in the game. Even former ugly ducklings in Minnesota and Texas have had some plastic surgery and have moved in the direction of your hotter, bitchier friends. Thus, your uglier friends throughout the league never have a chance to shine because of the attention that your hot friends get. The worst thing, you won’t tell those friends that they need to lay off the gas and that they’re hurting your competitive balance. Luxury tax? They don’t care about that. Anything to vanquish the competition. Almost as bad as your hot friends are, the ugly ones don’t do their part to take that luxury tax cash and use it on players. I understand that you’re a business, but your ugly friends in KC and Pittsburgh don’t give their fans a reason to come out because they’re constantly bad. You need to do something about spreading out the competition amongst ALL of your friends. Until you crack down like your counterparts in the NBA, NFL and NHL have over the years, you will never be right. And until your wretched father Alan croaks, that’s not likely to happen.

(Note: Please don’t misunderstand that last sentence, I don’t wish that on Bud Selig. I do think baseball won’t get fixed until he’s no longer commissioner. Now that we’ve cleared that up, we move on.)

4. You have a steroid problem. As much as I would love to think that you should be a pure game, the truth is that you are far from it. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Your fans love offense, and it would make you so much easier to watch. Ask my new love’s father, Gary Bettman, how opening up scoring worked for fun in his sport. Your athletes know the risks that are associated with steroids. They’re adults, and they can make their own decisions. If I’m going to fork out some serious cash for the chance to come see you, I want to see someone with an over-sized head hit a ball 500 feet. That’s entertaining to me. If you aren’t doing everything your can to win, you’re not trying hard enough. I love that you’re looking out for your players and saving them from themselves and the pressure to keep their jobs. But they know the risks and know they might lose years off the back of their life if they take them. That’s on them more than it’s on you.

5. You’re occasionally played when you shouldn’t be. This is only a problem at the start and end of your season. No team should be forced to play baseball in the snow or freezing rain. It doesn’t give the players a chance to play at their best because of the weather conditions and your fans don’t want to come out and see you. No one wins that way, especially when the best teams gets put up against each other in what has now become October and in to November.

6. My favorite assets aren’t your best assets. I like to be able to look at my buddies and say to them, “Don’t you wish that was yours?” Well in the case of my two favorite teams, the Cubs and Royals, there aren’t many people who I can brag to. I live in baseball hell. I won’t quit paying attention to them, I’m not one of those fans. But between the Cubs spending tons of money and not producing on the field (or in the last 103 years), and the Royals not spending any money and being perennially bad (though they look like they’re on their way to improving), it makes it hard for me to be interested year-round. However, with my other interests in the other leagues, I’m actually better off (all three teams made the playoffs this past year, two currently in the conference finals).

So in conclusion, Baseball, you need to work on some things before we can completely mend our differences. The memories I have with you can’t be taken away, but our relationship may have reached the end of the line. I will be in touch with you, but you can’t have half of my stuff. Hockey will understand if you win my heart back.

Ryan Thomas