Archive for October, 2010

Why Major League Baseball’s Playoff System is Flawed, And How to Fix It

October 28, 2010

I can’t upload this as of now.. here’s the full article from a different source..

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/504109-why-major-league-baseballs-playoff-system-is-flawed-and-how-it-can-be-improved

Check Back Later Today For Uploaded article on this blog.

-@ChiBdm

Beware NHL: The Blackhawks Are About To Unleash Fury

October 26, 2010

The Chicago Blackhawks Will Unleash Fury Soon |  http://t.co/fnX1zZD

I will post this here, too.

From the Raleigh IceCaps to the Chicago Blackhawks: A Journey Into NHL Fandom

October 16, 2010

Just two years ago, I would have thought you were nuts if you suggested that I would be writing a hockey blog.  It just wouldn’t have made any sense.  After all, I was raised from childhood in the Raleigh, North Carolina area.  This was before the Carolina Hurricanes were even a sparkle in the NHL‘s eye.  Needless to say, the local populace didn’t care much for this winter sport. There was much more focus on college basketball, NASCAR and whatever Michael Jordan did, being as he was a native son.

There was one glimmer of hope for the aspiring fan, though.  That hope was the East Coast Hockey League franchise nicknamed the IceCaps.  Already it’s difficult to find anyone that even remembers the team.  But for me, it was the only game in town.

It wasn’t the only live sport for everyone. The Durham Bulls were the minor league affiliate for the Atlanta Braves at the time, and they had a great stadium that was featured in the Kevin Costner movie, “Bull Durham.” The Carolina Mudcats were another option, playing their games in the country town of Zebulon, NC.  It was a nice experience going out to the ballpark.  But it never held the same thrill that a live IceCaps game would provide. There was simply no substitute for the excitement it provided.  So, at that very young age, I became a hockey fan.

Attending IceCaps games became my favorite activity.  And much the same way a six-year-old asks to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s to celebrate something special, my answer was always, “Let’s go see the IceCaps.”

There were some great times.  It didn’t matter that I was still trying to figure out what the hell “Icing” meant even after a dozen games, and that my wishes for a fight to break out were not always obliged.  It didn’t really even matter if we won the game.  It was all about the experience—that, and getting to stay up past my bedtime.

As time wore on, I became distracted.  We received the Carolina Panthers expansion team in the mid-90’s.  The Charlotte Hornets were becoming a quality team worth watching.  And my absolute favorite team at the time, The Baltimore Orioles were on a role with winning seasons.  School was also becoming more of a priority. Suddenly I did not have time for hockey anymore.  The stakes just weren’t as high.  We are talking about a very low level team on the NHL minor league scale.  It just didn’t capture my interest the same way.

I moved to the Chicago area (Naperville specifically) during the summer of 1997.  From the second I was able to receive a signal, I was already listening to local sports radio. We had WGN in North Carolina, so the baseball transition wasn’t a tough one (Sorry Northsiders, I chose the Sox.)  And the Chicago Bulls team might as well have been the “Planet Earth Bulls”, as their games were televised across the globe.  So once again, not a tough transition to become a fan.

The one team that did not catch my interest was the Blackhawks. I knew of them, being a pretty dedicated Sportscenter fan at the time.  There just did not seem to be a decent reason to root them on, especially considering I had no regional allegiance. There was no press coverage and games were scarcely on television. As much as I remembered loving the sport, there just wasn’t anything to latch onto.  After living here for quite a while, I realized that I only knew one person, out of everyone in my social circle that was a fan.

It’s funny to think about now, but we actually made fun of him for talking about the likes of Alexi Zhamnov and Toomu Ruutu.  Tough to care about a team in a city with such an undetectable level of enthusiasm that it bordered on disdain. Even at the games, the half empty United Center completely took the wind out of the building.  So hockey was never really a consideration.

Now let’s take a leap to the 2008-2009 Blackhawks season.  As I mentioned earlier, I was a pretty committed sports fan.  I lived and died with my teams performances. Recently, there had been an undercurrent of excitement about the Hawks’ new ownership and their two new stars—Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  My interest was certainly piqued.  I wanted to love hockey again, and this looked like a golden opportunity.

After all, I was still in search of a championship from one of my teams.  I don’t count the UNC Tarheels’ titles because college is a notch below the pros. And I was only in town for the tail end of the Bulls dynasty.  I actually refused to support them until they finished their second threepeat, because it would not be right to jump on the bandwagon. There are rules, folks.  So a new team with a chance to do something special was something I would not turn down.  Not only that, it was a chance to watch the compelling sport of hockey again.

It all started with the Calgary Flames series.  Playoff wins were hard to come by in this city at the time.  That was about to change.  Our young guns dispatched the Flames with relative ease.  No one was convinced yet.  The next series against the Vancouver Canucks was one that would represent the beginning of a changing of the guard in the NHL.  It was a six-game blood bath, highlighted by Patrick Kane’s hat trick comeback win against Roberto Luongo.  These guys meant business.  This was a team with serious goals, and the talent to realize them.

Of course we were dispatched by our evil rivals, the Detroit Red Wings in five games that next series. The disappointment did not last long, however. There was a feeling around town that next year was going to be our time to shine. The bitter pill of losing to Detroit was not quite as tough to swallow knowing that our future was very bright. This would not be our last chance at glory.

I believe we all remember what happened last season.  The Hawks roared out of the starting gates, and I became a virtual hockey junkie.  I spent my days reading blogs and watching replays of the games.  Wikipedia was always by my side as I wanted to learn everything I could about the sport.  And what an incredible season it turned out to be.

The Olympics were absolutely enthralling and the Stanley Cup playoffs even moreso. And when Patrick Kane finally snuck that last shot behind the net in Philadelphia, it became apparent that what we were all experiencing would never be forgotten.  Finally one of my teams was on top.  I had waited 20 years.

But my transition into hockey had one more twist remaining.

I attended both the Blackhawks parade and the fan convention at the Hilton during this past summer.  And it was at that fan convention that I noticed an engraving error on the Prince of Wales Trophy.  What seemed pretty innocuous at the time turned into 15 minutes of fame. I posted photos of the error on Twitter—The Washington Capitals were wrongly inscribed instead of the conference championFlyers.

Someone eventually picked up the story, and it appeared on a Capitals fansite.  Shortly thereafter, I happened upon an article about the trophy mistake. The only problem was that the article by CSN Philadelphia accused me of trying to start a hoax.  My snapshots were discounted as being “photoshopped.” Even more unbelievable was that a spokesman for the NHL Hall of Fame actually came out and said they were fakes.

I will include links for more details, but basically I wrote a blog on the subject trying to convince the doubters, and the story was eventually rectified by Yahoo! Sports NHL blogger Greg Wyshynski.  But suddenly, people knew my name.  And they knew it in the context of the sport of hockey.  I had done nothing really noteworthy. Nonetheless, it became big news (mostly because it was the offseason). I was interviewed by the Toronto Star, NBC Philadelphia and Puck Daddy himself, Greg Wyshynski.  What a strange turn of events.  But now, in a small way, I feel linked to the sport forever.

Maybe hockey was sending me a signal.  After all, I used all my new undeserved Twitter followers as an audience in my current attempt to begin sports writing.  And who knows, this could turn into something big.  Yes, even bigger than noticing a dumb error on a funny-looking trophy.  I can’t predict the future.

And here we are now.  I’m barely done wiping my eyes from the banner ceremony (Don’t tell ANYONE), and the new season is upon us. We look primed and ready for another run at the Cup.  If all goes well, we could have ourselves a dynasty.  And during this run, I will continue with my blogging.  It seems that everything is going swimmingly in the world of the Chicago Blackhawks. Not just for now, but for the foreseeable future as well. I really hope that’s the case.

But let’s not forget the first time I fell in love with the sport.  There was once a team in Raleigh that made up for their lack of talent with sheer youthful tenacity.  When they drew penalties, they would go on the “Wendy’s Power Play.”  And during zamboni intermissions, Cappy the Bear would shoot t-shirts out of a cannon.

Who doesn’t love all that?

The Raleigh IceCaps packed up and left town as soon as the new Carolina Hurricanes franchise had been announced.  I was already gone at the time—on to greener pastures.

Hopefully the Blackhawks are too.  I’ll definitely be along for the ride.

 

*Links to the Prince of Wales “Hoax” Story provided below.

CSNPhiladelphia Article (Hoax Accusation):  http://www.csnphilly.com/08/09/10/Debunking-the-Prince-of-Wales-Trophy-Hoa/landing_flyerandice.html?blockID=286541&feedID=6572

Puck Daddy Article (Vindication!):  http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/No-hoax-Capitals-mistakenly-engraved-on-Prince-?urn=nhl-261871

 

Kobe Bryant: Is the Los Angeles Lakers Star the NBA’s Knight in Shining Armor

October 15, 2010

It may have taken his whole career to get to this point.  But, the Los Angeles Lakers‘ superstar Kobe Bryant is now in a position to become the new hero of the NBA.  With the formidable three-headed dragon growling in Miami, he could be the only one in the league that can slay the monster.  And outside South Beach, that is something that most NBA fans (and league officials) would love to see.

The new “Superfriends” in Miami represent more than a team that is overly stocked with talent.  It threatens the whole fabric of the NBA. Competitive balance used to be something that the league could brag about.  Take a look at the San Antonio Spurs and their 4 championships.  That’s right, they played in San Antonio, a small market if there ever was one.  That never seemed to be an issue.  But in one fell swoop, the tables were turned on the whole sport. Goodbye small market success stories. If all the stars are going to join forces, it definitely won’t be in markets that won’t maximize their efforts.  You will never hear the words uttered “I’m going to take my talents to Bourbon Street.”

I believe its safe to say that most league officials would prefer their athletes to allow their fans to buy into the fact that the games are not just highly competitive because of talent on display. But also because the players don’t particularly like each other.  This has probably never been true, but its been a tradition that was worth keeping. Of course this is not the case anymore in the NBA’s new “Bromance” era.

Is it really a good idea for all of the NBA superstars to cheer each other on via Twitter to a point that’s bordering on flirting?

How would you feel if you knew that after a future Miami Heat and Orlando Magic playoff game, that Dwight Howard and Lebron James were going out for ice cream?

Its not a good precedent.  Its unnatural, and it has set in motion more potential “teamups” that will exclude anyone that doesn’t live in the absolute biggest markets in the country.  New Orleans should start saying goodbye to Chris Paul now.  The Nuggets seem to have already come to terms with life after Carmelo Anthony.  Both seem to be steering their ships toward a New York Knicks Superteam with Amare Stoudemire.  Despite the team being unsuccessful and embarrassing at times, with suspect management, just by virtue of being in the Big Apple, they are going to win the lottery. That’s a hell of a way to reward hard work and competence.

How do you think that feels to a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are building a winner through patience and craftiness?

If you are a Heat fan or a Knicks fan, don’t bother answering.  So far its been the same response. “Thats tough, sorry.” But I believe that there is something more egregious that may happen as a result.  The very idea of winning a championship will be downgraded.

After all, if all the superstars are on one team, then is it really much of an achievement if they win it all?

Should teams have to rely on injuries to have a chance to compete?

That makes the other general managers and owners in the league begin to reconsider what success in the NBA means to them. If its impossible to compete in small markets no matter how intelligently you build your team, than suddenly you have a Major League Baseball situation, where many teams just linger on mediocrity to make a little money. Its not a good situation for fans outside of Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

But there is hope.  There is someone out there that can turn this experiment into a failure, therefore changing the course of the NBA.  His name is Kobe Bryant.  It seems that only the Lakers have what it takes to make this whole debacle go away.

Can’t you just envision Kobe wearing a chip the size of a microwave on his shoulder saying “Oh…  So now you need my help.”

Never one to endear himself to the media, the “Black Mamba” has enjoyed nearly unprecedented success in the league.  He owns 5 titles, and has played on a total of 7 teams that went to the finals.  As of right now, his Lakers are attempting to replicate the Chicago Bulls teams of the ’90’s and complete 2 three-peats.  Many people have just taken their success for granted, just like those Jordan-era teams.  This is no longer the case.

To get things straight, Kobe has never really been a “bad boy” of the NBA.  He was more of a conflicted personality.  He came into the league in his late teens, and spent most of his early days back in the hotel room while his teammates partied.  He wasn’t like most of the other players, anyway.  He had traveled across Europe already as a boy, where he was exposed to much more than the average NBA rookie.  He spoke Italian in addition to English from those years overseas.  He was a bit inward as well, which was in contrast to most everyone else he played alongside.  He was playing with mainly inner city young men who had just escaped poverty, and were enjoying their first opportunity at being rich. The “international” Bryant did not fit that description.  He never seemed to be that impressed with his fame or money.  He had a quiet focus, and was an absolute perfectionist, leaving little time for distractions.

He began to slowly alienate more and more people as time wore on.  First it was his Coach Phil Jackson and teammate Shaquille O’Neal.  After going to 4 finals in 5 years (winning 3), he suddenly became the goat when the team split up.  He was accused of being selfish by O’Neal, and being too difficult to coach by Phil Jackson.  And after all that success, everything was lost when Shaq moved on the Miami Heat.  Putting this situation under the microscope, however, reveals layers that the average observer was not exposed to at the time.  Shaquille O’Neal constantly came into camp out of shape and would never put in enough work on the free throw line to shore up his biggest weakness.  He also had a huge ego.  And Phil Jackson obviously was not too exasperated with Bryant, since he has now won two more titles with him since the breakup.

There are two things that we now know about Kobe Bryant.  The first being that he doesn’t accept anything less than 100 percent from anyone on the court (including Shaq.)  And most importantly, he can be counted on to give his all during every game.  I can assure you that there was more going on behind the scenes in those days.

His biggest character flaw was brought right into the spotlight, when he was accused of rape while having surgery in Colorado.  As time passed, it became evident that he wasn’t guilty of rape, but wasn’t guilty of being a faithful husband either.  So suddenly he was the new poster child for infidelity, which believe it or not, is absolutely widespread in all sports leagues.  He apologized publicly and took his penance quietly, and was able to regain more of his reputation than it initially appeared that he would.

Before his last two titles, Kobe had been accused of simply being Shaq’s wingman, which bred some resentment.  I think that can finally be put to rest.  He now has 2 NBA championships with him firmly in the drivers seat as team MVP.

He has also been verbally beaten in the media for his demands to Lakers management to trade him if they weren’t going to contend.  Looks like someone lit a fire, because from that point on, they began to win titles again. So it looks like in hindsight, these demands may have something to do with his current success. It didn’t take a superstar team-up to do it either.  His team relied on him, another all-star (Paul Gasol) and some talented role players.  Pretty much the same makeup as most other championship teams.  He didn’t require the whole “Justice League”, it was simply a hall of fame player playing on a well managed team.  He earned it.

I think most of the hatred directed toward Kobe has to do with the fact that he is a winner.  He beat your team.  It doesn’t matter what team I am referring to, he has beat them convincingly more than once.  His teams win, and when they do, your team doesn’t.  He’s the villain by virtue of his skill.  I would argue that he is the most fundamentally sound player in the NBA, and that his real talent lies in that fact.  If you ever watch a highlight video of Bryant, he will rarely do anything that couldn’t be featured in a basketball instructional video.  Even his off-balanced shots have a technique to them that is unmatched. He has an intensity akin to Michael Jordan – less talent but the same intensity.  His competitiveness is off the charts.  And also, you won’t find him on Twitter having “pillow talk” with his opponent the next night.  He plays the game the right way, on and off the court.

And I thought Villains play dirty?

So this brings us to the current story of the season.  Kobe is looking more and more like David to the Goliath that is the Miami Heat.  On his shoulders now rest the hope for most of the league, including David Stern.  And there really is no other story this year.  We will remember this season as either the season that the Heat dominated and won (causing an exodus of superstars to “superteams”), or the season that the Heat failed.  Like Jack Bauer in 24, its down to one person.  Kobe, you have a chance to go down as a hero, the NBA’s new “Knight in Shining Armor.” Looks like everyone gets a second act.

Who is the MVP of Chicago: The Bulls Derrick Rose or The Blackhawks Jonathan Toews

October 7, 2010

The Chicago Blackhawks season is just beginning, with the Bulls set to start very soon as well.  As both of our fall/winter teams begin their quests anew for a championship, two personalities stand out as leaders for their respective teams. For the Blackhawks, that would be their young superstar center, Jonathan Toews.  The Bulls counter with their equally youthful and similarly talented point guard Derrick Rose.  Both will be the talk of the town for quite a while, so I thought I would compare their qualities side by side, and eventually settle on who to crown the most valuable player in town.  This is not an easy task, nor a scientific one.  But I promise you that I will have an answer to the question by the end of this article.

I realize that for those glancing at the first paragraph, Toews would be the instinctual choice.  After all, that big shiny thing that he has been shown hoisting above his head is not a drinking glass from a local bars’ “Mug Club” promotion.  That’s Lord Stanley’s cup. We haven’t had possession of it for an unthinkable 49 years before this season, and it would be completely foolish to suggest that he did not have a giant role in bringing it back to the Windy City.

After all, this is the man that at age 22 has already achieved a mythical status in the mind of every Chicago sports fan.  Championships in this town are very hard to come by, despite our major market.  Not only that, but our “Captain Serious”  was also the points leader in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (29), and also the recipient of the legendary trophy of individual achievement, the Conn Smythe.  Not too shabby for a player who was in Rockford not too long ago.

But this was not the only cause for celebration for the young captain.  Earlier in the year, he was a member of the gold medal winning Canadian National Hockey squad that brought back the gold to the nation that invented the sport.  This was a pressure packed series of games due to recent past failures by the Canadians, and the threat of losing on their home turf in Vancouver.  But just as he did in the playoffs, he elevated his game to a superstar level, and was a major component in bringing back honor to the hockey motherland.  He was even named best forward in the olympics, despite originally being relegated to the fourth line in early team play.  So whether it be Chicago or the entire country of Canada, Toews was the player, above all others, to ensure that there would be dancing in the street when all was said and done.

But Derrick Rose is also a proven winner.  In just his first year of NCAA Basketball, the young man from the South Side of Chicago took his University of Memphis team all the way to the National Championship game.  Not only that, but he was literally a shot away from taking home the crown.  The next year, the draft lottery became the real lottery for the incredibly fortunate Chicago Bulls.  Owning a miniscule 1.7% chance of recieving the first pick, they were awarded the steal of the decade.

Derrick Rose was almost immediately cast into the leadership position.  Kirk Hinrich was an able point guard at the time and a fan favorite.  That said, Rose quickly surpassed him with a combination of his raw skill and athleticism.  His numbers improved steadily all the way up to the end of the season.  For his accomplishments, he was awarded something that Toews can’t even lay claim to (though he almost did), the Rookie of the Year.

In the playoffs against the Celtics, Rose elevated his game once more, specifically in game one, where he tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points (36) in an NBA rookie playoff debut, while also leading his team to victory.  The underdog Bulls went on to play one of the most exciting 7 game series in the history of the playoffs, before finally bowing out.

The 2010 offseason was a chance to watch Rose contribute to his biggest achievement to date. He was crucial in helping Team USA to a World Championship to erase the disappointment of their lackluster performance in  the previous tournament.  He had plenty of competition for the starting spot initially.  Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and bitter playoff rival, Rajan Rondo were  both in the mix.  But he quickly made short work of any notion that he would be an international bench warmer.  He was the starter in every game during the tournament.  All in a day’s work, apparently.  Couple this with his first all-star game berth earlier in the preceding season, and suddenly this becomes a close battle for city MVP.

Lets look into the intangibles of leadership.  There is a noticeable difference in style when watching the two on their respective turfs.  Toews is the vocal leader on the Blackhawks whether its his shift or not.  I think anyone who has seen what the locals call “Toews Face” is instantly convinced of his almost psychotic will to win.  On the other hand, Derrick Rose is still learning to become that complete floor general. He was not born to be a leader.  Up until now, he had let his skills do the talking.  His mother must have taught him to share when he was a kid, because the only thing he isn’t shy about is dishing the rock.  In general, that is a coveted quality.  But when you take into account his dynamic skill set, sharing isn’t always suggested.  Coaches are trying to instill in him a new level of assertiveness, which he seems to be responding to gradually.  Any casual observer of D-Rose will notice a marked increase in confidence since his rookie year.  That’s a goodpositive sign that he is growing more comfortable in his floor general role.  Also worth mentioning on the topic of leadership is the SAT scandal that was linked to Rose.  Although it was in the past, and during his teens, it does still reflect poorly on a true leader.  Hopefully these youthful indiscretions are just that.

We all know that defense wins championships.  That is certainly the case in both the NBA and NHL.  And in both leagues it takes patience and effort and practice to become an elite defender.  This is a category that is owned by Mr. Toews.  His effort may be unmatched by any player in both leagues.  His defense is just as solid as his offense.  He is a physical player that uses his body like an anvil in speeding around the rink.  He will stop at nothing in order to take that puck and send it right back at the opposing team’s net.  Rose on the other hand is barely above the level of defensive liability.  Too many times he has seemed lost on defensive shifts.  He is oftentimes prone to taking risks that will leave a man wide open.  Learnng defense in the NBA is a complicated process, and he wouldn’t be the only young player to need a little more time to comprehend it.  The problem is not a lack of effort, it’s that he is generally trying to do too much at one time.  On the bright side, he is gifted with incredible physical skills, and most experts believe its just a matter of time before he is able to use them effectively on defense as well.  But thats in the future.  So a clear win for Toews on this count.

Now lets take the overall achievements of the two put together.  Obviously, the Stanley Cup is the trump card here.  Both Toews and Rose brought home gold for their country in the same year.  Both are superstars in their respective leagues.  As mentioned above, Rose does own a Rookie of the Year trophy that Toews was not quite able to obtain-though he was close enough to make this a tie in my mind as well.  So in this category, Toews comes out the winner by virtue of winning a championship.  It looks good for number 19 right now as we are heading into the home stretch.

If this article was a semester of school, than this paragraph would equal the importance of the final exam.  Quite simply, who is the most talented of the two in comparison to the rest of their respective leagues.  As good as Jonathan Toews is, he may not even be the best player on his team.  Marian Hossa, who was injured for more than a third of the season is a similar player to the captain.  He sports a  similar skill set with the same underrated intangible values.  Both had an average of .89 points per game in 2010.  During the season, he amassed a relatively low point total (for a star player) with 68 points in 76 games.  Some might even argue that team points leader, Patrick Kane might be superior.  Kane is a much more one dimensional offensive player at least for now.  Of course, anyone who has watched the Blackhawks know that Toews’ qualities go well beyond actually putting the puck in the net.  He is incredibly multi-faceted, and has superior value in almost every category not accounted for on the stat sheet (defense, faceoffs, penalty kills, power plays, hits, hustle etc.) If this was baseball, we would call him a five-tool player.

Derrick Rose, on the other hand, is indisputably the biggest talent on his team by a large margin.  There is no one anywhere on the Bulls bench that can match his game.  Joakim Noah is a really good player with a bright future, but not anywhere near the potential that D-Rose possesses.  Also in Rose’s favor is that the NBA is a game that disproportionately relies on five starting players.  Sure the bench in the NBA is important, but there aren’t many teams that would want their 9th man on the floor for any significant minutes.  And the disparity between the starters crucial minutes and the bench only increases during the playoffs.  Hockey on the other hand, depends on the quality of at least 3 lines of 9 forwards total and 2 lines of defensemen equaling 4 total.  That is 13 players that need to be in top form.  Don’t forget that there is still another three players at forward and another 2 at defense that still recieve a minimal amount of playing time each game, too.

This would suggest that basketball superstars are more singularly important to their respective teams than their hockey counterparts.  It would also not be a stretch to say that without Rose, the Bulls would be a lot worse off than the Blackhawks without Toews.  In fact, during a six-game stint last year, the Hawks went 6-0 while their captain dealt with a concussion.  Alternately, its hard to put a number on how many games the Bulls lost last year when Rose wasn’t playing, because of multiple injuries.  There was one point, however, that the team went a whopping 0-10 without their leader.  Once again, many other players were injured as well.  But I think this evidence is pretty conclusive, nonetheless.  So this appears to be the only category that Rose wins, and by a comfortable margin.

So is this enough to put the Bulls point guard over the top?

This turned out to be quite a difficult decision.  I did not come to my decision until just about the point you are reading, while writing this article.  Just as any opinion, there will be many disagreement and differing opinions.  I’m sure they all hold some shred of validity as well.

But when it comes to  the Most Valuable Player in the city of Chicago, I nominate Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.  The leadership he has shown has completely opened my eyes to what that quality can accomplish.  Never have I seen someone will his team to victory with such force. Even when the Hawks lost in the 2009 playoffs, they upset a favored Vancouver Canucks team (not to mention an even-odds Calgary Flames squad) before succumbing to the powerful Detroit Red Wings.  We all know what happened the year after that.  His individual achievements were unmatched as well, winning the Conn Smythe trophy and was named “Best Forward” at the Olympics.  Both tournaments were full of the biggest superstars in the game, and both times he was the one who shone brighter than everyone (except Ryan Miller in Vancouver.)  Think about this for just a moment.  Its historic for more than intangible reasons.

Derrick Rose may very well win an NBA championship in the near future.  He is also one of the league’s brightest stars. But in this case, he is playing second fiddle to the new MVP of Chicago sports.  Hopefully as the years progress, this article will be rewritten annually with new criteria, new trophies, new titles and new memories.   Now if Jay Cutler could just find his way into this conversation.

Updated 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview

October 5, 2010
Much has been of all of the players lost to salary cap woes this off-season.  It seems as if more fans in Chicago pay attention to how many players we lost, rather than who we lost.  And most egregious is the assertion that we ” shouldn’t have gotten rid of all those players.”  Yeah, good thinking, except for the fact that we would be fielding a team that is illegal and 10 million dollars over the salary cap.  There was no other choice, and Scotty Bowman handled this off-season masterfully in minimizing the damage.  I think as a big-market that has just re-entered the hockey world, we fans have a lot to learn.
First of all, we have to look at what repeat champions have within them.  The oldest cliche in sports is that repeating is the hardest thing to do.  Not in most sports.  But in the salary cap hockey world, this is a very hard truth.  Unlike other teams, however, we have been able to shed the appropriate amount of salary, while also keeping our core intact, and providing spots to new players who are highly motivated.
Marty Turco, if he matches or exceeds Niemi’s season last year should be paraded around as a hero.  Who else in sports took such a drastic paycut in order to win?
Joe Mauer is definitely one.  But really, he is the only significant example that comes to mind. Its safe to say, that Turco is not playing for financial stability, folks.  He is playing for one thing, and one thing only. Winning the Stanley Cup.  And common sense tells me that if he had equal numbers to Niemi last year with a bad Dallas defense, then with a spectacular Blackhawks defense, he should look like an iron wall. The Goalie position should really not be an issue in the upcoming year, unless he is injured.  Even though Corey Crawford finally looked good in his final preseason game, he is far less reliable.
With the signings of Boynton (resigning) and Pisani, there is a combination of experience within the back-end of the team, and also ramped up competition amongst the youngsters to gain a roster spot (and at a bargain rate).  We all know that the number one reason that repeating is difficult (besides the salary cap) is that players get a little complacent with nothing left to prove.  Trust me, at least one third of this team has something to prove.  Especially when it means being on the butcher block if they do not end up making their presence known.  This will help to alleviate some of the championship hangover. After all, we are even younger than we were at the start of last year.  So you can bank on this team keeping a high level of motivation, considering all the fresh faces in the lineup.
Also, do you really think the target will be on our back as much as a team that is sporting basically the same lineup as last year?
Can we really expect the Vancouver Canucks or San Jose Sharks to really despise us as much without the likes of Dustin Byfuglien or Antti Niemi?
Probably not. But that is neither here nor there, and may not be much of a factor.
And lastly, we should be able to count on at the very least, a slight improvement in the injury department in the regular season.  Hossa was our highest scorer on a per game basis last year.  If you recall, he was forced to watch from the sidelines for a good third of the season, and ultimately waited even longer to fully recover.  Expect a scary season from him, especially if his superhuman pre-season was anything to base the real season on.
Dave Bolland was clearly hurting last year after undergoing back surgery in the preseason.  He will be back and hopefully better than ever.  Troy Brouwer was admittedly suffering mental anguish due to his fathers ill health that almost took his life in the end.  That will not be the case this year.  His father has recovered, and it was apparent during the playoffs last year, how big a factor it had been.   Expect a better season this year.
And remember that Brian Campbell was lost for a significant portion of the season due to Alexander Ovechkin’s cheap hit.  He wasn’t even fully healthy during the playoffs, but was still a consistent force. Well, this year he will not be available until the second month of the season due to a leg injury.  It’s good that he will be able to allow it to heal fully during the first few games, instead of rushing back at a level less than 100%,  He will be completely healthy and rested and ready to improve upon last year if he is patient during his injury break.
This might be the clincher right here.  I think we Remember Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews.  They are young.  VERY young.  There is no way on Earth that they have peaked.  Its a very scary thought.  They are a year older and arguably more than a year wiser, because of Stanley Cup experience.  Both of them could have monster years that may make last year’s production seem feeble.  Even if there’s a slight improvement, it could still put them over the top, considering they won the cup last year with an even smaller resume.
And then there’s Keith and Seabrook.  Both relative youngsters with possible if not likely upsides.  They already were arguably the best defensive pairing in hockey.  And the continuing development of Niklas Hjalmarsson is going to be crucial as well.  He is well on his way to being a great defender in the league.  And he will need to be this year.
I would expect it to take a little time for the club to gel during the early season.  But I also wouldn’t expect it to take as long as you think.  The fantastic core is completely intact.  Barring rashes of injuries, or Patrick Kane’s blood alcohol level remaining at three times the legal limit, we should have a more than competitive team. The Vegas odds-makers have already favored the team to repeat, and I am leaning that way too.  I can envision a few different scenarios with this team, and not many have them regressing.  So, once again, keep an eye on those “Kids” in Chicago.  They could be special again this year.

2010 Jay Cutler Special Edition Football Card

October 4, 2010

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Luol Deng – A Link to the Past

October 1, 2010

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Sometimes in sports, we lose sight of the fact that the only measure of success is not winning a championship.  There are around 30 teams in every league and one championship for each year.  The vast majority of teams and players will never achieve that ultimate goal.  In the NBA, in particular, there is a tendency for repeat winners, as well.  For every Larry Selke trophy that Kobe Bryant takes home, another 600 players have only what-ifs to ponder.

Are they all failures?

Should more modest levels of success be forgotten because there’s no hardware on the mantle to remind us?

Of course not.  Sometimes in the cutthroat business of professional sports, players, teams, and even eras get swept under the rug, never to be appreciated fully.  This is all leading up to a thought I had the other day.

The Ben Gordon-Kirk Hinrich Bulls are over.  And only recently, at least in my case, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect. Those were some fun times.

The preceding Bulls teams were so bad and nondescript, that they threatened to change the entire legacy of the franchise.  That is clearly saying something, considering that the Michael Jordan-led teams had not too long before won an incredible 6 championships. Oh yes, we definitely had some suffering to endure in the aftermath.

But then, not a moment too soon, our spirits were lifted by a blue collar, hardworking group that had a seemingly unlimited upside.  Suddenly, it seemed as if we could possibly become a team of destiny once again.

Kirk Hinrich seemed to only be scratching the surface of what experts thought he could become.  A smart, vocal and scrappy player that played stingy defense and threw his body into the game.  Ben Gordon, the undersized guard, with oversized shooting skills and a flair for the dramatic.  I think we all remember those games where he just could not be stopped.  Though we also remember those games where someone should have yanked him off the court and told him it just wasn’t happening.  How about Andres Nocioni, the Argentinian sharpshooter with an assortment of skills unique to most players in the league and an undying passion for falling all over the place.  This was the team that led the Bulls out of the darkness.

In hindsight, it wasnt the most talented team in the league.  But, if I recall correctly, we were all stretching our imagination to consider them that way.

If Hinrich continued to improve, the whole team would take a giant step forward.  Nocioni would obviously grow by leaps and bounds considering the relatively short amount of time he had spent in the States.  Ben Gordon would improve his defense, and make even more clutch shots.  Add a Joe Smith here, maybe a Brad Miller there, and we had a team that might be able to compete.  And this is not even taking into account our true emerging star, Luol Deng.  This guy could play defense, hit the jumper, and would do all the little things as well as big things in order to take this team into the stratosphere someday.  Always a year or two away, mind you, but always on the horizon.

Just one more piece, right?

Oh theres Ben Wallace, we’re all set.  Sounds kind of silly now, doesnt it?

Maybe even ludicrous.

And now, all thats left from those days is Deng and his huge hangover of a contract.  Thats all we have to remind us of all that potential we used to convince ourselves we owned.  Don’t get me wrong, there was a decent measure of success.  Each year we would fight admirably to secure a playoff spot somewhere near the bottom of the conference seeding.  I dont think anyone can forget about the dominating performance against the defending champion Heat.  We took all four games of that series.  We also put up a hell of a fight against a much better Detroit Pistons team in that next round.  Alas, it was not to be.  Years passed, reality set in, and players moved their separate ways in a slow procession.

And then one day, Derrick Rose burst on the scene amongst a barrage of hype.  He was quickly followed that next year by a hidden gem in Joakim Noah.  At this point the entire team had undergone a facelift.  New talent, new attitude, new players, yet the same high expectation we once had for the group before.  And now Luol Deng is the last memento of those days.  Sometimes when I go through the roster in my mind, I forget that he is even on the team.  Its not a knock on him, or his above average skills, its just the reality that he does not embody the spirit of this new younger team anymore.  He is a holdover from the past.  No longer are we waiting for that breakout season we once assumed would occur.  He is just a supporting piece to this team led by the current young guns.

But I think we should look back fondly on the Pre-Rose years.  They were a pretty good team, emerging from a horrific one.  There were highs and lows.  We all remember those embarrassing flareups in the media over Gordon coming off the bench.  And Ben Wallace with his Headband-Gate distraction.  But that really didnt define the times.  They were simply a competitive basketball team.  We could always see them making a trade that would suddenly skyrocket them to the top of the league. It was just a matter of time. There always seemed to be a level of potential that could be realized if they just had another year.  But most importantly, at the time they were better than most of the other teams in the league.

What more could you ask for?

I guess the combination of Fall weather and lack of sports has contributed to a level of seasonal nostalgia.  Hopefully, that group has paved the way for a level of success in this current squad that will dwarf them in comparison.  And maybe this group will be able to show off that success with rings on their fingers.  But whatever the case, thanks Kirk, Ben, Noc, Deng, Scott Skiles and all the other players who came and went during that period.  You guys werent great, but you were pretty good.  And there is nothing wrong with that.


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