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Archive for the ‘hockey’ Category

Random Thoughts for the start of June

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 1, 2011

It’s June 1, and hopefully a new month means more success for the Rockies.  They were an MLB worst 8-20 in May, including a 2-10 stretch to end the month.

– On Monday the Rockies managed to lose 7-1 despite collecting 14 hits against the Dodgers.  That’s tough to do.  The optimistic side of me says at least they got 14 hits.  The pessimistic side points out the 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

– The bottom line: more offensive consistency is needed.  On Saturday the Rockies shelled Jaime Garcia for 12 runs (he had a 1.93 ERA coming in).  They scored a combined nine runs in the four contests prior to that.

– To add insult to injury, Felipe Paulino is pitching lights out for Kansas City since the Rockies gave him away for cash.  Paulino was 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in 18 appearances for the Rockies this season.  He gave up at least one run in five of his last seven appearances with the club, capped off with a 14th inning home run by Prince Fielder in a loss at Milwaukee.  In two appearances with the Royals, Paulino has tossed nine scoreless innings in two appearances.  Kansas City is so happy with him they’ve placed him in the rotation. Not sure if Paulino wasn’t happy in Colorado or if something is afoot, but it has to be frustrating for the Rockies.

– The good news tonight for the Rockies?  A complete game shutout from Ubaldo Jimenez tonight in LA.  Jimenez gave up just four hits and struck out seven against the Dodgers.   His ERA is now under 5.00 for the first time this season (which says a lot about how much he’s been struggling), and he has now been close to his old self in three of his last four starts.  He is throwing harder and I thought for the first time tonight looked like the pitcher we saw during the first half of last season.  If this is a trend and not an aberration, it will a major key for a Rockies turnaround.

– The other good news for the Rockies is we’re only a third of the way through the season.  They still have time to turn it around, but they have to start hitting and they also need better production from the bullpen.

– Thank you ESPN for showing Giants-Cardinals tonight instead of your usual east coast fare.  Then again, perhaps a major penalty should be issued for showing the Mets on Sunday night baseball this weekend.

– I never thought I wouldn’t want to watch Sportscenter but it is rapidly getting to that point during the NBA Finals.  Way too many Miami Heat  press conferences I don’t care about, and today there was very little mention of hockey ahead of game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I know most sports fans prefer the NBA to the NHL, but I think the coverage of the two leagues should be equal.  Certainly not lopsided the way ESPN does it, where the ratio is 30 minutes of NBA to three for the NHL (probably not exaggerating).

– Speaking of the hockey, game one was absolutely fantastic.  Great goaltender battle between Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas.  Both goalies played huge roles in helping their teams kill penalties.  The only disappointing thing is that it didn’t go into overtime, because that would have been unbelievable with the 0-0 score and the play of the two goalies.  .  Still, Raffi Torres’ goal with 18 seconds remaining has to be one of the all-time clutch goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.

– This has to be a tough pill to swallow for Boston, which shut down the league’s top rated power play and got great play against Vancouver’s offensive stars, and they still saw the game stolen from under them in the closing seconds.  It will be very interesting to see how the Bruins respond in game two being that they are still on the road.

– If I’m of the Ohio State Buckeyes, I’m not sure if I would be more embarrassed to hear about the cars for Terrelle Pryor, the loads of benefits being given to other players, or the cover up orchestrated not only by Jim Tressel but also by the rest of the athletic department.  The 5-game suspensions for the players at the start of the season seemed like a real joke at the time given that they were still allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl last year.  Given what we know now, those actions seem downright laughable.

– It is not exactly a secret that this kind of thing goes on at numerous college campuses around the country.  It’s generally a question of who gets caught.  It begs  questions that are way too numerous to list here, but chief among them: how much is a head coach responsible for knowing and enforcing.  I think while it is not practical for a coach to know where every player is at every moment of the day, Tressel had a huge staff at OSU plus a whole department responsible for compliance.  I think if Tressel wanted to put a stop to that culture at Ohio State he could have.  He just chose to look the other way.

– and of course, no one is happier about Ohio State’s fall than Michigan fans.  Party in Ann Arbor!

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Random Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 10, 2011

Obviously I’ve been a delinquent when it comes to posting new content lately.  Here goes with an attempt to catch up quickly:

– I really think the NFL and the players union don’t realize the bomb that they are sitting on.  The NFL is unquestionably the best sports league in America by a country mile, yet the owners and players are dangerously close to killing the golden goose.  In an economy where people can’t afford to pay season tickets, the two sides are fighting over a $9 billion pie.  Not exactly a good way to engender goodwill with the fans.

– The NHL has still not recovered from its lockout that erased the 2004-05 season.  It took Major League Baseball three years to erase the damage done by the 1994 players strike, and at that it was only the McGwire-Sosa home run chase that did that.  The NFL and the players are assuming that the fans will come back as soon as a deal is struck, even if games or an entire season are lost.  That may be, but there is no law that says the NFL must remain uber-popular.  If the two sides aren’t careful they may see themselves looking up at some of the other professional sports leagues.

– It is doubly disappointing that the Broncos finally seem to be headed in a very positive direction under John Elway and John Fox, but it may be long time before we see any of these efforts on the field.  Ultimately my money is on football being played in September, but if this thing gets dragged through the courts that is no guarantee and it will get really ugly to boot.

– Congratulations are in order for the Northern Colorado Bears on the first ever NCAA tournament appearance.  Two years ago this team won four games.  That’s a turnaround that’s certainly worthy of a mention.

– It’s awesome to see that there is some good college basketball being played in this state.  The CU Buffs are showing that they might be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament thanks to the play of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.  This team should easily be in the top half of the new Pac-12 next season, especially if Burks returns for another season.

– Of course I will always watch as much college basketball as I can in March, but my hopes aren’t as high for my alma matter.  Missouri has enough talent to be a contender, but for whatever reason they haven’t been able to get it together and have fallen from top 10 team to a club that is very likely to get bounced out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.  At least they’re going to get in, so I shouldn’t complain too much.  Plus this team only has one senior so next year could be very bright.

– While I will always watch college over the NBA, I have found myself to be more interested in the Nuggets now than at any other time this season.  I have found this team to be very refreshing after they chucked out the player who shall not be named.  There is actual effort on defense and much more team play.  The Nuggets are 6-2 since the trade, and might have enough in them to win a playoff series.  The Knicks have lost twice to the Cavaliers.  Just saying.

– As for the Avalanche, it’s hard to find anything positive to say.  The team has won once in the past month.  They traded their best goalie, Craig Anderson, who is now playing much better in Ottawa than he did here.  They also inexplicably traded young star Chris Stewart to St. Louis.  They have been clobbered twice by Edmonton, the worst team in the league, during the past two weeks.  I am one who doesn’t think the NHL doesn’t get enough coverage, but with the Avs there isn’t much to say except the negative right now.

– I am very excited about the Rockies’ prospects this season, provided they can avoid the slow starts that have plagued them in recent seasons.  If they can come out of the gates fast I think winning the NL West is very doable thanks to a solid rotation (yes it is possible in Colorado), and in my opinion the best lineup top to bottom in the division.  Of course nationally no one will give them any credit and ESPN won’t show any of their games.  If Carlos Gonzalez played in New York he would be front and center nationally.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he could be a legitimate triple crown threat one of these years.

Coming next week: My NCAA tournament picks.  Use with peril when it comes to your office pool.

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The NHL Drops The Ball Again

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 28, 2009

I love hockey.  I think in most years the Stanley Cup Playoffs are infinitely more exciting than the NBA version.  This year is an exception with the Nuggets making it to the Western Conference Finals (I’m looking forward to being at the Pepsi Center tomorrow night for game six against the Lakers and enjoyed being there for game three), but if the Nuggets don’t win their series against the Lakers, hockey will take over the TV in the Fischer household during finals time.  The Stanley Cup Finals rematch between Detroit and Pittsburgh should be thrilling theatre, and needless to say should be an intense, fierce, competitve series.  Thing is, the NHL keeps shooting itself in the foot, making the games difficult for the average fan to see.

Check out the schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals:

Game 1: Saturday at Detroit 8 p.m. EST on NBC

Game 2: Sunday at Detroit time TBA on NBC

Game 3: Tuesday at Pittsburgh 8p.m. EST on Versus

Game 4: Thursday, June 4 at Pittsburgh 8 p.m. EST on Versus

Games 5-7 TBA

Now, looking at this, it’s no wonder the NHL is widely considered a second tier professional league.  It should come as no shock that ESPN and other national outlets don’t give more than five seconds thought to the NHL.  I have several issues with this schedule:

– First, look at the date of game four.  This is going directly opposite, wait for it, GAME ONE OF THE NBA FINALS.   DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB!!!!!!   It won’t matter one bit that the Wings-Penguins series will likely be 2-1 one way or the other heading into a very pivotal game four.  It won’t matter if it’s the most exciting game of the NHL season.  It won’t matter if it’s a four overtime classic.  ESPN and other networks will go gaga over the start of the NBA Finals, with no fewer than 100 analysts on site, and the NHL coverage that night will pale in comparison.  (We were going to show you the hockey highlights with Barry Melrose, but wait!  Sasha Vujacic is at the podium for the next 15 minutes!) Meanwhile, the day before and after will have neither hockey nor basketball.  It makes no sense for the NHL to try to go head to head with the NBA in a battle they’re guaranteed to lose.   Gary Bettman should be fired for this scheduling snafu alone.

– Further, the aforementioned game four (and game three) isn’t even on network television, hell it is on VERSUS, a channel a lot of people still don’t know even exists!  I have Comcast and can find it in the very convenient location of channel 73, not exactly a prime slot for the championship of a major sports league.  I have stayed in numerous hotels where the channel lineup stops before 73, and I still hear lots of tales of fans unable to even locate the channel.  All seven games of the finals should be on NBC, period, end of story.  Perhaps NBC is to blame for some of this as well.  Maybe they’re not willing to show all seven games I don’t know.  If that’s the case than perhaps the NHL ought to be shopping for a new network partner.  After all, NBC embarrassed the league big time during the ’07 playoffs when they cut out of an Eastern Conference Finals game (Buffalo-Ottawa) before overtime to show Preakness coverage.  NBC also ignored the NHL altogether during the second weekend in May to show golf.  Still, it is inexcusable for a league that fancies itself as a major player to have two of its best games all season relegated to a channel that is way in the wild blue yonder on the television landscape.  Stanley Cup Finals games should not be relegated to Versus under any circumstances.  Gary Bettman no doubt made a colossal error after the 2005 lockout when he took the cash from then-OLN instead of the offer from ESPN to show games.

– I have serious issues also with games 1 and 2 being on back-to-back nights.  While I think the NHL did right to move the start of the series up from the scheduled start of late next week to avoid a week long layoff, playing games on back-to-back nights is just a horrible idea.  Players will be incredibly fatigued, and it will have a potential to denigrate the overall product that the league is trying to sell.  It is also interesting to note that no time is yet set for game two.  Knowing NBC, it wouldn’t shock me if they were trying to persuade the league to have game two in the late afternoon instead of in prime time.  That would just be the capper, subjecting the league to a day game after a night game.  No risk for injury there!  It is incredibly embarrassing for the league that NBC would rather show “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” on Monday night than game two of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I’m not making this up, that is what is listed on Monday night on NBC.  If this is the reason the Red Wings and Penguins are being subjected to back-to-back games in the Stanley Cup Finals, shame on NBC and shame on the NHL for allowing it to happen. 

I think the NHL should receive equal treatment to the NBA in terms of the media coverage, but I’m well aware that I’m in a significant minority on that.  I think a lot of this is on the NHL for not marketing itself very well and not giving casual fans much of an opportunity to see their product.  Every time I think there is a ray of hope for the NHL, they take two steps back with something dumb like the setup of this year’s finals schedule.  I’m not sure what the solution is for the league, but coming soon I’ll have a post with some ideas of steps the NHL can take to get back in the mainstream again.

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Hockey anyone?

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 23, 2008

How many of you out there know that the Stanley Cup Finals begin tomorrow?  Is anyone out there aware that this could be as exciting a series to decide hockey’s champion in quite some time?  There is no question that hockey has been an afterthought on the sports landscape for quite some time, particularly since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.  It is hard for the game to get exposure when the national telecasts are relegated to Versus instead of being on ESPN, especially when many fans still have a hard time finding Versus on their cable system, or in some cases still haven’t heard of the channel.  ESPN is much more interested in pumping the NBA on Sportscenter, making a big show of the NBA playoffs while giving the NHL a tiny fraction of time, even with the Finals being on the horizon.  In some ways I can’t blame them, of course they’re going to promote games that they broadcast.  That being said, the lack of coverage given to the NHL is downright alarming sometimes.  I have a hard time finding just a simple highlight many times during the regular season.  The networks say this is because hockey ratings are low, but I say it’s a two way street.  Ratings are going to be low if people are not familiar with the product.  Blame of course falls on the league marketing department as well, but it can’t help the NHL that it’s listed below NASCAR and golf on ESPN.com.  As a fan of the game, I want to see it given the treatment of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in terms of national coverage.  It is my hope that this Stanley Cup Finals matching the Red Wings and the Penguins, a matchup with considerably more sex appeal than the previous three combined (Ducks-Senators, Hurricanes-Oilers and Lightning-Flames before the lockout), will be a kick start of sorts for the league.  I believe this matchup is quite a bit more entertaining than the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Celtics, and will be compelling enough that the casual sports fan will want to at the very least take a look.  If nothing else I have two words that makes this series a must see: Sidney Crosby.

In short, Crosby is by far the best player in the league.  He’s already in his third season with the Penguins despite being just 20 years old, and has already scored 99 regular season goals in his young career.  He is arguably the best player the game has seen since Wayne Gretzky.  I got the chance to seem him in person in November when the Penguins made an early season visit to the Pepsi Center to play the Avalanche, and needless to say he lived up to the hype, scoring two goals, both in spectacular fashion.  If the NHL were smart, they would be promoting his presence in the Finals everywhere because if they can get people to watch this series which is guaranteed to be exciting, the league just might be able to actually take some positive momentum into next season.  The fact that he and the Penguins are going against the best team in the league in Detroit makes the series even more compelling.  The Red Wings have plowed their way through the playoffs, and as one of the league’s Original Six franchises carry a lot of cachet to the series themselves.  This is not a ho hummer matchup folks, this will be a series that will be exciting because of the players on the ice, but also because it matches two of the more popular franchises in the league, two teams with a lot of tradition who have large fan followings compared to other teams. 

For the record, most experts are picking Detroit in a runaway.  I am picking the Penguins in seven, not because I just want to go against the grain, but because I think people are taking the Penguins for granted.  Sure, they’re young, but no one so far has had an answer for not only Crosby, but also for Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.  The Red Wings have dominated this postseason no question about it, and have all kinds of firepower themselves with Henrik Zetterberg leading the way.  I do believe that they would have had a tougher second round matchup against Colorado had the Avalanche not had half their team (literally) sidelined with various injuries and ailments (Full disclosure: I am an Avs fan, and while I don’t think they necessarily would have won the series, it would have been minimum six games had the Avs been healthy).  The player that really tore up the Avs, Johan Franzen, is out for the first two games against Pittsburgh and maybe more with an injury, so the Wings will be down one of their top playoff scorers.  Granted, the Wings rolled through the Dallas Stars without him, but the Stars don’t have near the offensive prowess the Penguins do.  The Penguins have rolled through their competition too and so far their so called playoff inexperience has not been a problem.  I see no reason why it would suddenly affect them in the Finals. 

Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch this series.  It might just make you (and the networks) realize that hockey belongs with the major sports.  Anyone who knows me knows I watch and follow the NFL, NBA, and MLB very regularly, and I love each of those leagues.  I just don’t feel that any of them are infinitely more exciting than the NHL to the point where hockey should be considered second tier.  To me, the NBA and NHL should be equal in coverage based on the time of year each league plays.  Particularly if the NBA Finals is Spurs-Pistons and the boring brand of basketball that comes with those team’s styles, it shouldn’t be a mystery to any sports fan why Wings-Penguins would be more exciting.  If the Penguins can win this series, perhaps Sidney Crosby can lead the NHL renaissance. 

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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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UGH!

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 28, 2008

This has been as bad a sports weekend for the teams that I follow as I can remember.  This does not take into account the Broncos draft, which I am actually fairly pleased with (more on that later – but it might have to be in a future post).  The events in the Denver sports landscape this weekend might not really stand out on an individual basis (think the Broncos’ loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs in January ’97 – none of these single events, or even as a group, come close to comparing to THAT debacle).  That being said, it cannot be argued that anything went even remotely right this weekend for the Rockies, the Nuggets or the Avalanche. 

The Rockies have not had a great April.  Of course, they had an awful April last season and made the World Series, so it’s way too early to hit the panic button.  However, this team has now lost 7 of 8 after getting swept by the Dodgers in LA this weekend.  On Friday night starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t even make it out of the third inning in a game where the Rockies’ offense had given him four runs of support in that time frame.  The Rockies eventually lost the game in 13 innings after many failed opportunities offensively (including Matt Holliday hitting into an inning ending double play with two runners in scoring position in the 9th).  On Saturday Mark Redman got lit up for TEN runs in the first inning!  Imagine walking into a bowling alley, thinking to yourself that it’s a  nice bonus that TVs everywhere you look are showing the game while you’re going to bowl, then seeing a Dodger grand slam sail into the night sky the first time you look at the screen.  That’s a glimpse of my Saturday night.  The second time I looked at the screen I saw it was still the bottom of the 1st and the Dodgers had already put up a 10 spot.  Needless to say I wanted to throw up.  Then there was today’s game.   Jeff Francis pitched extremely well, surrendering just two runs in seven innings while striking out six, and the Rockies had chances to win.  Thing is, the offense never capitalized.  In a 2-2 game, Troy Tulowitzki continued his struggles (batting a whopping .157 – OUCH) by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 8th, and then the Rockies left runners at 2nd at 3rd in the 10th.  Enter Manny Corpas, who was given a contract extension in the offseason after doing a great job in the closer role last year.  He has lost it this season after blowing four saves already.  Corpas actually pitched a scoreless ninth today after giving up two singles, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for Clint Hurdle to leave him in there for the 10th.  This proved to be a bad idea: a four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a walk to Mark Sweeney (who has exactly 0 RBIs and is batting a horrid .063 this season), then runners at 2nd and 3rd after a sac bunt.  After Hurdle elected to intentionally walk the red hot hitting Russell Martin to load the bases, Corpas could have redeemed himself with a double play groundout.  Nope, he gave up a sharp single to James Loney, and the Rockies got swept.  Now, a 10-15 record is certainly no reason to hit the panic button especially after last year, but right now they can’t even see the taillights of the division leading Diamondbacks.  It’s no coincidence Arizona made a big offseason splash in adding elite starter Dan Haren, while the Rockies made no big moves to the roster.  Granted, the Rockies did spend some money to keep their own players, including Tulowitzki (who will rebound).  Still, it seems like maybe they stood and watched while other teams around them got better.  To be fair, they’ve been on the road much more often than they’ve been at Coors Field, and that 22 inning marathon in San Diego can’t have helped.  Maybe a friendlier May schedule will be the catalyst for a turnaround.

As for the Nuggets, I feel bad saying this but I really don’t care to watch Monday night.  There were times this season where this team had really re-awakened by NBA interest.  They have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, and a 50 win season is an impressive accomplishment.  As tough and competitive as the Western Conference is, I really thought it didn’t matter where anyone was seeded because all eight teams were good.  It is clear though that this team will never win when it counts unless major changes are made.  The Nuggets have given three lackluster performances against the Lakers in this playoff series.  Check that, lackluster may be a kind way to describe game three at the Pepsi Center.  There is no reason for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson to go 10 for 38 from the floor in a playoff game, many of the shots from point blank range.  The players’ body language says this series has been long over, right from the technical fouls  Iverson took in game one due to frustration.  From what I have seen, there are only three players who have consistently played hard in this series: Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith.  It is not a coincidence that Nuggets have held up best when these guys have been on the floor, even if that’s not saying much.  Anthony has given absolutely no effort whatsoever on the defensive end, and while Iverson has shown up offensively for the most part, his defense hasn’t been much better than Anthony’s.  There is a reason why Anthony’s draft class mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have both reached the NBA Finals while Anthony has never made it out of the first round.  They are leaders, and he is not, pure and simple.  Anthony has never understood that being a complete player means giving full effort in all areas, including the defensive end.  I’m wondering if it’s time to chuck out Anthony, let Iverson finish his career with a true contender, and try to put the team’s resources into building a true winner.  For the Nuggets to have the kind of payroll invested that they do, they need more results than an annual first round exit.  The Nuggets are missing a true veteran leader who can bring the talent together, a guy who does not constantly need the ball in his hands to succeed, someone who can lead by example.  It is clear that the Anthony-Iverson experiment isn’t working.  Both guys continually need the ball, and while they both get their points, their presence together has not led to the same results as other top duos in the league.  Or better yet, think of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio in San Antonio.  The Spurs have stockpiled championships because these stars can all play together and each understands his role.  Maybe it’s time for the Nuggets to blow up the roster with the exception of Kleiza, Najera and Smith and start over.  They have way too much money tied up in Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby to settle for these kind of results.  Maybe George Karl isn’t blameless either, but I’m never one to think a new coach will solve anything, especially in the NBA, where the players run the show anyway.  I remember when the Nuggets were 11-71 and a complete embarrassment, so I do appreciate a 50 win season and a playoff appearance.  I also expect some semblance of progress, and this will be the fifth consecutive first round playoff exit, with the Nuggets never winning more than one game in any series.  I know there’s another game left, but it’s clear the chance of the Nuggets winning this series is zero percent.  Let’s just say if I was a season ticket holder, there would be zero percent chance of me renewing my seats for next season unless major changes are made this offseason.

Now, surely Avalanche-Red Wings should be fun right?  For years this was the premiere rivalry in sports.  Not just the NHL, but in sports.  Every playoff series these teams squared off in during the late 90s and early 2000s was extremely intense.  The rivalry had everything: bloody fights, close games, great players on both sides, nasty trash talk and a true hatred among the fans.  In recent years as the Avalanche have faded into relative mediocrity and the NHL has faded into complete obscurity, the rivalry has died.  Despite the fact the Avalanche don’t stack up well with the Wings as a six seed this year, I still couldn’t contain my excitement for this rivalry to be renewed with another playoff meeting.  Surely an intense Avs-Wings series could at least be some small help in getting the NHL back on the mainstream sports landscape right?  How could you not get excited about Sakic, Forsberg and several of the old names squaring off against their nemesis?  Well, that too is short lived.  Forsberg has missed the first two games of the series with an apparent groin injury, and the Avs have been outscored 9-4 in losing the first two games of the series.  Jose Theodore has proved he is no Patrick Roy, having been angrily yanked from the first two games after giving up four goals in each one (all in a total of less than four periods of playing time in the two games).  The Avs look hopelessly outmanned, and while I was not at all familiar with the Wings’ Johan Franzen, I now despise him as much as I despised Darren McCarty in the old days after Franzen has lit the Avs up for five goals in the first two games.  Maybe a return to the Pepsi Center Tuesday will help the Avs, after all this is still a seven game series and the Avs have a chance to even things with a couple of wins at home.  It’s not quite like the Nuggets where the chance is zero percent.  Still, goaltending is what wins playoff series, and Theodore is shaky at best right now.  As great as he was in the first round against Minnesota (and he basically won the series for them) he has been awful in round two.  Will Peter Budaj be in net for game three?  The fact that this is even a question does not bode well for the Avalanche.  One thing in hockey though is that a playoff series can turn on a dime.  It actually happened for the Avs against Detroit in the 1999 second round.  Detroit blasted the Avs in the first two games at old McNichols Sports Arena, only to see Colorado win four straight, including three at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  The Avalanche can only hope that history will repeat itself this week, and that they don’t end up following the Nuggets by getting unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs. 

At least the Broncos had what appears to be a good draft.  That discussion will be saved for another time, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to lump that with a depressing weekend of bad sports all the way around.  That is, unless the rest of the weekend is an omen and these guys all prove to be busts in three years.  Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. 

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An exciting sports time

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 9, 2008

Big game Thursday night for the Nuggets, as they play on the road at the Golden State Warriors.  The Nuggets find themselves in what amounts to a play-in game for the playoffs, tied with Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, with four games to play for each team.  After Thursday’s head to head meeting, the Nuggets are at Utah and finish with Houston and Memphis at home, certainly not an easy schedule.  The Warriors host the Clippers and Seattle and have a road game at Phoenix.  Connecting the dots leads to the clear conclusion the Nuggets are pretty much toast if they won’t win at Oracle Arena on Thursday.  The Nuggets find themselves in this position because they blew two games they should have won over the weekend to Sacramento and Seattle.    I still maintain they can do some damage if they do manage to get in the playoffs, but they are going to have to shore up their defense, and they can’t take any more nights off.  Ownership has invested too much in this team to see them crumble this way.  Thursday’s game could even go a long way toward determining the future of coach George Karl as well as some members of the team.  There is simply too much talent for them to miss the playoffs, but it’s looking like that could end up happening. 

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For those of you who claim not to be fans of hockey, I recommend you start watching tonight.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the best experiences in sports.  In hockey, more so than any other sport, there is a tremendous difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  Not to say that the regular season isn’t important, because it is, but the playoffs take on a whole new intensity.  Guys have to practically be on their death bed not to play.  Players are willing to sacrifice everything for their teammates.  I certainly realize that it’s hard to find the channel that carries the games, and it’s hard to find coverage with ESPN shoving highlights way behind the NBA and whatever else they carry on their network.  Just do yourself a favor and watch a game involving Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.  I for one am very excited to see my Avalanche back in the playoffs after a year absence, which could be a good thing as the Nuggets may miss the NBA playoffs.  Seriously though, take a look in at some of the NHL playoff action this year, for it is as exciting as any other time in sports.  I’d like to see any sports fan who actually gives the Stanley Cup Playoffs a chance and still tries to pretend they don’t enjoy watching hockey.  Anyone who would claim that is simply not a fan of sports, period. 

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I am definitely excited for the start of baseball season, especially after the amazing run the Rockies made to reach the World Series last season.  I do find everyone’s expectations for the team amusing however.  Just because they made the World Series last year doesn’t mean they’ll get there every year, or even be assured to be in the mix.  There are a lot of other good teams out there that improved themselves this offseason, including the other contenders in the NL West (Arizona adding Dan Haren, the Dodgers adding Andruw Jones).  That being said, the Rockies do have a lot of talent and should field another competitive team.  It was certainly encouraging to see them invest some payroll to keep guys like Tulowitzki and Corpas this past offseason.  I just hope that when Matt Holliday becomes a free agent in 2009, that the Rockies will make sure they keep him.  Unfortunately with MLB’s economic structure, the odds are Holliday will cash in big with the Yankees or some other big market team.  Here’s hoping that the Rockies will stay committed to keeping this team together and can figure out a way to keep Holliday for the long haul.  He’s already delivered a pair of clutch home runs in this opening homestand alone, and appears to be on track for another great year.  Regardless whether the Rockies make another run at the playoffs or not, this will (hopefully) be a fun team to watch for a number of years, and that makes it much more fun to follow baseball season during the summer.

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Random Thoughts for March

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 4, 2008

So the calendar has turned into March.  Never mind that it’s hard to fathom that we’re already two months into 2008.  This means one thing and one thing only: this is the best time of year for college basketball.  It is this time of year that reminds me why the college game is considerably better and more entertaining than the pro version.  I’m well aware that I recently wrote that I’m paying more attention to the NBA these days.  That still holds true, especially this season when the Nuggets may end up holding the distinction of the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  However, there is one thing the college game has that the NBA will never have, and that’s the passion involved in each game.  Have you ever once seen NBA fans charge the court to celebrate a big win?  No.  Do NBA fans arrive at a game three hours early to secure the best seats? No.  Do NBA games have raucous student sections that turn even the most mundane of matchups into an electric atmosphere? No.  

As much as I despise Kansas basketball, and the hatred is evident if you get to know me for five seconds, I had to give a tip of the cap while watching their game against Texas Tech last night.  It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and as usual the place was packed.  That atmosphere is what makes college basketball so great.  Students at KU camp out for days to make sure they get seats for the next game, and regardless of the score (last night KU walloped Tech by 58 points) no one leaves the game early, ever.  I’ve been to NBA games where the score is tied with three minutes left and people are heading for the exits to beat traffic.  Seriously, how absurd is this?  People don’t leave movies early, so why do they leave games early, even when it’s competitive at the end?  That’s a rant for another time, but the point is you don’t see that kind of casual fan behavior at a college game.  Every college game has an electric atmosphere, virtually anywhere in the country, that is simply not duplicated at the professional level.  Even in a year where my Mizzou Tigers are just hovering over .500 at 15-14, I still pay much closer attention to the college season and in particular the Big 12 this time of year than I do any other sport.  The NCAA tournament is a unique event on the sports calendar partly due to its unpredictability, but it’s the passion of each game that makes the event special.  For me, the final few weeks of the regular season and the week of conference tournaments also provide the same intensity and excitement.  No matter who your team is, no matter how poor a season they’ve had, there’s always that minuscule chance they could win their conference tournament and make the big party.  That small chance alone makes the next few weeks of games worth watching.

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Have you seen some of these deals being shelled out in the early period of free agency in the NFL?  I know it’s always a time where teams want to show their fans that they’re doing something to try and improve the team, but some of these deals are insane.  How many of you out there have heard of Tommy Kelly?  He’s a defensive tackle who last year had 30 tackles and one sack for the Raiders, and didn’t play a down after suffering a season ending injury in week 8 against Tennessee.  The Raiders shelled out $50.5 million over five years to re-sign him.  That’s an awful lot of money to shell out for one sack.  Reports had some NFL GM’s saying, “Who is Tommy Kelly?”  How about Justin Smith, defensive end formerly of the Bengals, getting $45 million over six years to sign with San Francisco?  Smith had a whopping two sacks last year, and while talented, doesn’t seem like he’d be considered the so called missing piece to justify that kind of signing.  The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly thought that two interceptions was worth $6 million a year, as that’s what they’re paying former Charger cornerback Drayton Florence.  Seems as though the New England Patriots still have confidence in their more low key formula.  They elected not to re-sign WR Donte Stallworth (who went to Cleveland), CB Asante Samuel (who got a 6 year $57 million contract from Philadelphia, although he at least intercepted six passes last year) and CB Randall Gay (who signed with New Orleans).  These can be added to the list of big name players they have jettisoned in the past (David Givens, Deion Branch, Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe among them), and it’s a philosophy that seems to work for them.  As successful as they’ve been, maybe the answer isn’t to spend every dime you have on free agents every winter.  Then again, maybe the Patriots are just good at bargain hunting.  Their 3 year $27 million re-signing of star receiver Randy Moss seems like the biggest bargain of the winter. 

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Tonight Peter Forsberg returns to the Colorado Avalanche.  I really hope that this isn’t just a public relations move to bring him back.  If he is even 80 percent of the player he was before he left the club, then the Avalanche are about get a huge boost.  Right now they are on the cusp of playoff contention, but if he can contribute, then they might just make a run.  Last year felt weird without the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but if they make it back this year with Forsberg and Adam Foote having just returned to the team, it will be just like old times. 

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