Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The New Jersey Devils Season Opener: What to Expect

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will take the ice in Albany, New York in their pre-season opener against their biggest rival, the New York Rangers. After a disappointing season, the Devils will look to rebound in a big way this season. Here's a look at the Devil's major events since the end of the 2009-2010 season:
- On September 4th 2010, the Devils and 26 year old Free Agent Ilya Kovalchuk agreed to one of the most lucrative contracts in NHL History - a 15 year deal $100 million. The original deal announced on July 1st of that year was a 17 year deal worth $102 million, was rejected by the NHL because it violated the current CBA.
-Longtime Devil, John MacLean is announced Head Coach after two-time Devils coach Jacques Lemaire announces his retirement.
- In November, Zach Parise, in the final year of his contract, injures his knee and is ruled out for several months.
- After a 9-22-2 start, the Devils fire John MacLean as Jacques Lemaire comes out of retirment to resume coaching.
- In April, Jacques Lemaire announced that he will not coach the following season.
- The Devils would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and would not finish at .500 for the first time since 1990 despite and astonishing 26-7-3 run. In addition, for the first time in his career, after an injury plagued season, Martin Brodeur does not finish with a .500 record. They also would finish last in goals scored (by over 2o).
- With the fourth round pick in the 2011 draft, the Devils would choose 18 year old Swedish defenseman, Adam Larrsson.
- With Lemaire's retirment, the Devils announce that former Flordia Panther's coach Peter DeBoer will be the coach.
-The Devils and Zach Parise avoid arbitration and agree to a 1 Year deal.
After a tumultous year, the Devils will look to regain their consistency. This first pre-season game will be a statement game for this club. Here are a few things to look out for:
1) Who will play on the first line?
21 year old Nick Palmeri performed extremely well on the first line last year with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. But, Zach Parise is healthy again and Zajac out, there are several different combinations that DeBoer could employ?
2)How many goals will the Devils score?
Yes, this is the pre-season, but for a team who's offense was misreable last season, it is extremely important to see how its offense can rebound. A shut-out is the worst case scenario for the Devils going into tonight's game.
3) Goalie Play
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, versus Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers, is the matchup to watch in this game. Martin Brodeur, coming off an injury plagued season had what some may consider to be, his worst career season last year. But, that is just skimming the surface. Many would base that on the misreable devils season and the fact that he lost more games than he won. But, out of goalies who started more than thrity games, Marty (and even Johan Hedburg, his backup) were ranked 11th and 8th respectively in goals against average (the average number of goals given up per 60 minutes played). Now his save percentage was below his career average of .913, but it was still above .900. He has always been good in keeping a high save percentage but he never was elite, just very,very good. His career has been built off of his goals against average. One could even argue that Marty would have been above .500 if his skaters scored more goals because he only had a 2.45 goals against average.
Henrik Lundqvist is coming off of another fine year, where he put up very solid numbers in every statistical category. He has always been very consistent during the regular season but has not been able to guide his team to a Stanley Cup. He posts a 15-20 playoff record. Both goalies will not play anywhere close to a full game, but it will be intersting to see who puts up the better stats.
4) The play of Adam Larrsson
The Devils' fourth round pick of this year's draft is being compared to Nicholas Lindstrom and other elite defenseman. He has expressed that he wants to start the year on the New Jersey Devils but has also said that he understands if the Devils place him in the minors to start. But, the rookie has impressed many in and out of the Devils organization during camp. The first test will come tonight.
After the game, I will break down both the Devils and Rangers play in their first game of the 2011-2012 season. Both teams are looking to improve after disappointing seasons last year. As always, it should be a fun game to watch tonight between these two fierce division rivals.

Is the Big East Done?

For the past few years, the Big East has boasted the deepest basketball conference in the country; however, with the departure of major components, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, will the Big East crumble? UConn and Rutgers are expected to get offered spots in other conference, but for now are still a part of the Big East. TCU is still expected to join the Big East next year, which still is in doubt considering the MWC is looking at a possible merger with Conference-USA. Talks of the Big 12 merging with the remaining schools of the Big East have emerged, but is probably the last thing the Big East wants.

With all that being said, the Big East could still survive by itself. It will be nearly impossible to replace the impact that Syracuse and Pittsburgh had on the conference, but they'll have to try. Rumors have it that Navy was very close to joining the Big East prior to the exit of Syracuse and Pitt, which would be a decent start to rebuilding the conference.

The biggest power remaining in the Big East is Connecticut. They are the best football team in the conference and are coming off of a National Championship in basketball. Keeping UConn is vital in order to maintain an elite status among the "super-conferences". UConn would prefer to go to the ACC, because of their connection with Syracuse; however, Big East commissioner, John Marinatto, has announced that the current members have confirmed that they would like to stay with the Big East. If this is true, the Big East will be able to keep UConn happy. A Big 12 merger will NOT include UConn, and there is no need of a merger if the Huskies and Scarlet Knights are still there.

As a student at Villanova, it is upsetting to see that two of our top rivals will be gone in 2014, but I do see this as a possible benefit for Villanova in terms of overall success as an athletic program. Yes, the Big East is now second to the ACC in terms of basketball, but the Big East has always been a basketball conference first. Recruits will still come to the conference and there still will be elite teams in the Big East. Most importantly to Villanova, the Big East may now be more open to accepting the Wildcats into their football conference in hopes of keeping Villanova as a basketball partner. Losing Villanova would probably mean the departure of Georgetown also, which makes it very important for the Big East to keep Villanova. The best way to do that? Add Villanova as a football member.

So for now, the Big East looks safe. I think that the Big East can still flourish without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, though it will go through a rebuilding phase once they leave in two years. Even with this new "hope" I have about the future of the Big East, it could all crumble in a second. Stay tuned, as it is very likely things could get crazy in the next few months.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sorting Out the AL Playoff Race

The National League is all but set in terms of playoff teams, barring a "New York Mets type" collapse by the Brewers, Braves, or Diamondbacks. The Phillies have clinched and are just 5 wins from the century mark. This team has dominated all season long and is definitely the favorite going into October.

With the NL all sorted out, the AL is getting quite interesting. There isn't a team within even two games of the four playoff teams, but the Red Sox are playing like crap. They've won just 2 of their last 10 and now face a tough 4 game-series against the Rays this weekend. The Red Sox are getting a little bit of help from the Orioles this week, as the O's have beaten the Rays the past two nights. If the Red Sox take 2 of 3 from the Rays, the Rays are gone, but the Angels are still in the picture. Currently the Red Sox are 4 games ahead of the Rays and 4.5 over the Angels. The Halos play those O's this weekend and are in dire need of a big winning streak. They are just 3 games back from the Rangers, but Texas is playing well and will be tough to catch. Anything can happen though, considering the Rangers and Angels will close out the season with a huge 3 game series.

The Rays play 7 games against the Yankees for the rest of the season and it will be interesting to see if the Yankees will rest their players after they clinch berth in the playoffs. The Yankees might find it beneficial that the Red Sox are out of the playoffs too, so they could just lay over versus the Rays and hope they catch them.  So it is vital for the Red Sox to start playing well and, more importantly, winning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What We Learned from Week 1

It was a very interesting weekend of football to say the least. The most anticipated opening week of NFL football in recent memory gave us an idea of how each of our teams will look this season. Here is a touchdown's worth of things we learned from the first weekend.

1. Most teams were not nearly ready for the regular season.

You saw this in many of the games this weekend, whether it was horrible defense, dropped balls, or bad protection by the offensive line. The Eagles, under Andy Reid, have always been a very prepared team. And when they are having a mess of issues on opening day while winning by 18 points, how prepared do you think the rest of the league could have been?

2. With Eric Berry done for the season, the Kansas City Chiefs are done for the season.

When you get shellacked 41-7 on opening weekend, there is something seriously wrong. In Kansas City’s case, they were shellacked 41-7 on opening weekend… by the BUFFALO BILLS. It just so happens that the Chiefs lost their Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry on the third defensive play of the first quarter on Sunday, and the rest was history. One thing I do know is that if Kansas City can’t stop Buffalo, there’s no way in hell they are going to be able to handle the Chargers’ loaded offensive attack twice this year as well as visits to New England and the Jets. Mark my words for the 2011 Chiefs. Stick a fork in them.

3. The most offensive week in NFL history.

-9 teams scored 30+ points on Sunday.

-8 QBs had 300+ yards.

-7 teams had 400+ offensive yardage.

-89 touchdowns were scored.

-Cam Newton set a rookie record for passing yards with 422

-Tom Brady and Wes Welker tied the record for longest touchdown pass (99 yds)

-Sebastian Janikowski tied the record for longest field goal (63 yds)

-Randall Cobb of the Packers tied the record for longest kickoff return (108 yds)

-Chad Henne and Tom Brady combined to set a single game passing record (933 yds)

-Tom Brady set a Monday Night Football record and Patriots record with 517 passing yards.

-Another record broken-- Week 1 of 2011 was the most watched single week in NFL history.

-And one final record- Peyton Manning missed his first NFL start, ending his streak at 208 games or 13 years.

4. The front-runners still have a long way to go.

Philadelphia won a tough one in St. Louis this week with early defensive troubles and horrible offensive line troubles throughout the game. If it weren’t for Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson getting hurt, it may have been a totally different game.

Green Bay allowed 34 points in a win, New England allowed 24 points and almost 500 yards in a win on South Beach, Atlanta got smoked by the Bears, and Pittsburgh didn’t even show up against Baltimore. So much for preseason rankings…

5. With Peyton Manning done for 2-3 months, the Texans win the South.

I think this statement was on the tips of almost everyone’s tongues leading up to Sunday. After Sunday, it is a foregone conclusion. A 34-7 Houston win without Arian Foster just shows how much of a difference Peyton Manning makes in that Colts machine… or lack thereof. It’s going to be a looooong season in Indy.

6. 2010 division winners- losers on opening weekend.

NFC East- Philadelphia Eagles W, 31-13—problems on the D and O-lines.

NFC North- Chicago Bears W, 30-12 – Nicely done with a shaky O-line.

NFC South- Atlanta Falcons L, 12-30—Embarrased in Soldier Field.

NFC West- Seattle Seahawks L, 17-33 – Not much of a division winner.

AFC East- New England Patriots W, 38-24—Horrible defense. 500 yards allowed.

AFC North- Pittsburgh Steelers L, 7-35—Need I say anything?

AFC South- Indianapolis Colts L, 7-34 – They are helpless without Peyton.

AFC West- Kansas City Chiefs L, 7-41 – Absolutely pathetic.

So 5 of last year’s division winners got steamrolled on Sunday, and the other three didn’t have it very easy. The power is shifting yet again in the NFL.

7. The Point After- The running game wins games.

Here were the top five passers in Week 1: Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Chad Henne, Tony Romo. Here were the top five rushers in Week 1: Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Cedric Benson, Ben Tate, Fred Jackson.

So what?

Out of the top 5 passers this week, 1 man came away with a W—Tom Brady

Out of the top 5 rushers this week, ALL FIVE men came away with a W

They say Defense wins championships. Well, running the ball wins games.

That concludes a very eventful Week 1 in the NFL. I can’t wait for Week 2!

n Philadelphia @ Atlanta, Sunday Night Football

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hardest Play in Baseball?

Ciao from Rome everybody. This will be one of the few times that I post during the next 4 months because I will be away from American sports. Nobody likes a guy who talks sports out of his ass, and I wouldn't feel comfortable discussing serious hot button issues such as the Great Verlander for MVP Debate of 2011*. But I do love writing for this blog, or writing in general, and sometimes you hear something, or see something, or even taste something that inspires you. Inspiration is a funny thing in that way, it hits you like a ton of bricks and you can't seem to shake the idea that has come to you.

*I don't think that Verlander should be the MVP. Cy Young undoubtedly, but I have trouble thinking somebody is the most valuable player in a league when they only affect their team once every 5 days or so.

So there I was, awake at 10:30 AM, watching a game recap of the Giants shutout loss to the Dodgers that had ended only a few hours prior. I don't know why I still care about a Giants team that has the worst 2nd half offense in almost 40 years. I guess thats the point of being a fan though. Loving and caring about a team through the good(last years world series championship) and the bad (2004-2009). So I cued up the recap, and right before the recap there was an advertisement as there usually is with these types of things. In the advertisement the TV in the background asks "What is the hardest play in baseball?" A mom wanders into the scene, nonchalantly states "The unassisted triple play" and goes about her business.

Boom, a ton of bricks. Really? The unassisted triple play? I've been rabidly caring about baseball since I was about 8 years old. I know all about the history, and the uniqueness, and the scarcity of it. There have been 15 unassisted triple plays in the history of baseball. The Cleveland Indians, for all of their years with no championship have seen 3 of them. The Chicago Cubs have seen more unassisted triple plays then championships in 100 years (1). The fact that this play happens less then "not very often" is not lost on me. But is it the hardest play? I dont think so.

There are many difficult things in baseball. It's a difficult sport to be good at. If you fail 7 out of 10 times you are one of the best players in the game. So therefore hitting by itself is pretty difficult. Theres the no-hitter and the perfect game. Very difficult by any standard, but there is so much riding on everybody else being good as well. If you strike out 26 batters and on the last batter of the game and the ball goes through your shortstops legs, the perfect game is lost. So much is riding on everybody doing everything they need to do perfectly for 27 outs in a row that it is one of the hardest things to do. For me, it's too team dependent of a feat, so its out.

I guess the one thing that I'm thinking of is the cycle. Its what I've been building up to all along. A personal feat that requires everything to go right. The cycle is similar to the Unassisted triple play in that sense, but I think it's in a different class. Major League Baseball has seen the cycle 276 times. A couple of players have done it twice, and less then that have done it three times. Either way, its happened a lot more (relatively) then the UATP. Heres what I think separates the cycle from the UATP: Speed and Power. Both feats you need luck, but the requirements for the Triple Play end abruptly at "luck". For the cycle, you need Speed and Power.

Home runs, singles and doubles are fairly easy to come by for a talented Major League player. That's not to minimize the difficulty of hitting them, but they happen way more often then triples. Triples are the key to the cycle, and hitting one when its your last leg of the cycle is like finding a Park Place sticker in McDonalds monopoly game when you already have Boardwalk*. Triples themselves rarely happen, and hitting a triple when you've already hit a single, double and homerun is incredibly unlikely.

*McDonalds gives out thousands of Boardwalk tokens every year, but only a few Park Places. That's how they keep you coming back for more, those sneaky bastards.

So that's my opinion on this matter. The unassisted triple play is the rarest of all plays, but probably not the hardest. The cycle requires things other then luck. And the perfect game is incredibly team dependent. What are your thoughts on the hardest feats in baseball?