Posts Tagged ‘NHL’

Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and a Generation of Fans and Athletes Raised on Perfection

May 22, 2011

Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s with their near impeccable run of titles may have been more influential than originally thought.  In fact, that influence may just be peaking.

Let’s revisit the squad that changed expectations for everyone.

How predictable it all became.  The Jordan Years, and the man’s uncanny ability to succeed.  He was mentally strong, extremely self-motivated, while he possessed outstanding athletic abilities. It all translated into glory.  He could do nothing but win.  Beating the odds became automatic. And each new challenge he encountered would read like a chapter in a bedtime story – ending happily ever after.

Other teams – Other players – they all had their disqualifying flaws.  Patrick Ewing was labeled a loser from his Georgetown years – ironically losing the NCAA Title to Jordan on a game-winning shot during his freshman year.  The Mighty Hoyas.  Taken down by a Freshman.  His heavily favored teams never did win that title he desperately needed. We all know what happens to the teams that should win, and don’t.  Labels can very easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Karl Malone and John Stockton represented boring basketball.  At least in an X’s and O’s sense.  They may have mastered the pick and roll, along with a million other life-affirming team traits. In their league, however, superstar heroics are what brings home the hardware. And the fundamentally-sound Jazz were not worthy of providing those moments.

How dare these pretenders try and take the trophy from its rightful throne.  If they were “Winners,” then why hadn’t they won  Must be destiny.  Even Scottie Pippen was aware that “the Mailman didn’t deliver on Sunday.” And he didn’t.

Real stars would never miss free throws in a close game, right?

It was just that simple.

That brings us to his Airness.  Michael Jordan.  The man, the myth, the legend.  The action figure with the million dollar smile.  The Phenom who could transcend the basketball court, wall street, pop culture, and even other dimensions – at least in Space Jam.

He was a winner.  And if someone was a winner, they never lost.

At least when it came to him.

That’s how it was for a generation raised on the NBA in the 90’s.

We were drinking the spiked Gatorade.

This won’t be the first time that MJ’s legacy will be mentioned in terms of its lasting effects on the league.  It’s pretty obvious that it will take many, many years until he is remembered more as a Bill Russell type.  A hero from the past, who’s achievements are no longer comparable due to the gradual evolution of the league.

I would venture to guess that Bill Russell’s ELEVEN championships are held in less esteem to the past few generations than the six championships of those ‘90’s era Bulls.

We only remember what we are actually around to see.

Championships from eras long gone can never be remembered in their proper context.  There is always the question of whether the competition was as consistent.  Or whether in the early years, the big men simply dominated because no one else was as tall.

No one would argue that it was due to an unfair break in genetics that made MJ unstoppable.  He was 6’6’. Blessed with talent, but not physically overwhelming.

What a disservice it then becomes, that Jordan’s teams were virtually PERFECT in its quest for multiple titles. Not only to the other contenders in the sport of basketball, but for every popular athlete in any sport .

There suddenly emerged a set of Jordan rules. Or at least subconscious guidelines that we created to judge the cream of the crop in the athletic world. They were never carved into stone. But I guarantee we have all used them as a barometer for judging the legacies of athletes.

1. Champions never lose to underdogs.  If that does occur, they risk losing way more than that season’s title rings.  In every series that the Bulls were deemed Goliath to some other team’s David, the giant prevailed.  Every single one.  No longshots.  No Odds-beaters.  Only trampled foes.

2.  Great Players must always take the last shots. Jordan not only hit more game-winning shots than almost anyone in history, but in doing so, probably missed more game-winning shots in history as well.  But that is inconsequential.  If the greatest champion of all-time (at least to some) made it a habit of taking nearly every clutch shot, then every one else afterwards had to follow suit.  That is, if they wanted to continue to possess their Alpha-dog street cred.

I Wanna be like Mike.

3.  One Championship will never be enough.  In order to be truly great, 2-peats, 3-peats, double 3-peats were the key to notoriety. I think we all remember Lebron’s halfway kidding introductory speech to the Miami fans, where he counted all the way up to 7 championships as his stated goal.  It’s no accident that he stopped at one more than Jordan. But once again, he was more than likely joking.  Seven championships seems like a tall order at this point in his career. He may someday regret even mentioning that in jest.

Take a look at Jordan’s body of work.  It reads like a movie script that would be too syrupy to be released.

Remember how little Michael was left off of the high school basketball team?

And remember how he used that negative event to inspire himself to practice harder, and used all of his willpower to show that coach that he had made a terrible mistake?

Yes exactly..

Who writes this swill?

No one.  This really happened.  These inspirational anecdotes would define his career.

He accomplished EVERYTHING.

It was virtually athletic perfection.

But many, many things had to come together for this triumph of a career.

He had to be drafted by a good organization willing to put the parts around him to succeed.  Maybe the Bulls didnt have to be spectacular in that regard, but he would not have been set up properly on the majority of the other teams in the league.

This executive support was on full display when he began his quest for a second 3-peat. Significant contributors such as Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, and of course, Dennis Rodman, all were brought together to help win.  It was a success.  They played their roles seamlessly.

And let’s not forgot that the team was headed up by one of the most highly regarded coaches ever to man the sidelines in Phil Jackson.  Some would argue that his titles were somehow diminished because of his all-star personnel. But it would be foolish to dismiss his accomplishments completely.  You don’t win as many championships as he has, all by happenstance.

No way.

By that logic, Kobe and Shaq should have ensured that Del Harris was wearing championship rings on his fingers and toes.

But there was more to be merry about.  The Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen out of Central Arkansas.  That worked out just fine.  A top 50 player of all time, and closer to 1 than 50. A solid gold find that was certainly not an inevitability.

What if that never happened?

For the most part, Jordan did not suffer with constant injuries.  He did lose virtually an entire season early on. Afterwards he was able to avoid similar mishaps almost entirely. In professional sports, remaining healthy can not be taken for granted.  Ask Bill Walton, Greg Oden, Shaquille O’neal, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, and plenty of others.

Even the mighty Tiger Woods may have to bow down to the reality of advanced wear and tear. It will most likely cost him his historic shot at breaking Niklaus’s Majors record. It’s a shame. It truly does take a stroke of luck just to be healthy over the course of a career.

I’m certainly not saying that Michael was just the recipient of good fortune.  He made his own luck.  I have never seen an athlete dominate the game the way he did.  Almost on command.  It was a sight to see.

However, its not realistic to expect that sort of dominance again in the modern era.  Even if MJ was drafted tommorrow, too many question marks would have to become explanation points for him to go on a similar run.

It took a lot of outside factors all coming together beautifully.

Maybe in a parallel universe he only wins 4 titles.

Maybe he loses a couple of them as well.

Maybe he slips in Kerry Wood’s hot tub.

Just ask Kobe, who has been a part of more finals than Michael.

You can’t win them all.

But you shouldn’t have to, either.  Not if your attending them in economy-sized Sam’s club numbers like Jordan and Bryant.

After that team finally broke apart, it slowly became obvious that no athlete of any skill set in any sport could be held to such ridiculous standards.

Let’s take the grid-iron for instance.

League mascot and golden-boy, Tom Brady, not too long ago, took a team riding the momentum of an undefeated season all the way up to the Superbowl.

But then promptly lost.

Thats right.  After 3 NFL titles, his team was perfect throughout the regular season and all the way up to the big game. And the only thing standing between the Patriots and perfection was a win against a team they had already beaten that year.  A team that was one of the lowlier underdogs of the decade in the form of the New York Giants. He was set up to be Jordan-esque.  Right there for the taking with a another strong performance.

But guess what?

They lost.

Didn’t you wonder what the deeper meaning of a mind-boggling loss like this would carry?

Perhaps there is no answer.

It didn’t signal the end of the Patriots being dominant.  It didn’t mean that Brady was no longer a superstar quarterback or that he wasn’t clutch. Gisele didn’t decide to leave him for Tony Romo.

It also didn’t mean that Bill Belichek won’t be remembered as a historically great coach. Of course he will.  That’s at least one more Superbowl appearance to put on the resume.

The Giants just won the game.

The Pats most likely would have won big if there was a rematch.

But there won’t be.

Stuff happens.

Except to his Airness it seemed.

He always came out on top. His record-breaking 72-10 team sure didn’t wilt when it came down to crunch time.

The Jordan years created this false sense of destiny in the world of sports to a generation that grew up with the certainty of the Un-Forgetta-Bulls.

Wayne Gretzky’s presence was felt as well.  The first part of his career was spent, much like Mike’s, gaining individual accolades, while his team grew stronger and more successful.  Enough time passed, and the Edmonton finally brought home the cup. And it wouldn’t be the first time.  Once he became the champ, he was crowned 3 more times.

But looking closely, even the great one suffered a bout of disappointing failure.  And in the midst of a colossal string of success.

The Oilers weren’t quite able to win 5 in row. They had to settle for merely a double two-peat. Edmonton was shown the exit by a hungry Calgary Flames team right in the middle of all that success.

Jordan would not have stood for that?

Right?

See where I’m going.  Gretzky is on Jordan’s level.  Maybe pound-per-pound in his sport, even better.  He certainly demolished the record books faster and by larger margins then Jordan did in comparison with his peers.

But he lost.

And it didn’t mean a thing.

The Cup was returned to its previous owners the next year.

But I will also admit that when I first heard of this failure at the apex of Gretzky’s powers, I was a bit disappointed.

Jordan never lost in his prime.

Nope.

But he could have.

Great athletes lose all the time.

90% of his success was due to his incredible will to win, and inspirational athleticism.  But 10% was from factors beyond his control.

But he did have me going for awhile. I grew up thinking that every great athlete should experience similar levels of unobstructed success.  They should all make sensational plays in every pressure situation year after year in order to beat the “unworthy” stars from the other teams.  The Ewings’ or the Barkleys’ who, in my estimation, must not have wanted it enough, or tried as hard, or were as heroic or clutch.  That had to be the source  of their failure.  At least it was sold to the public that way.

Michael Jordan’s reign made a generation of fans buy into sport as fairy tale. Something reliable and expected. Not scripted, but without much doubt involved in regards to the outcome.

It created that little voice in the back of the head before a Superbowl that says, “Ok, I know the teams look relatively equal, but Peyton Manning will definitely play above his means today, because he is a superstar.”

Mythology doesn’t grind out wins though. Or recover on-side kicks.

And when Drew Brees led his team to victory over the shell-shocked Colts, I can at least speak for myself in once again feeling puzzled over where this event fits.

The best quarterback in the league, one of those guys that even your mother could pick out of a lineup due to his global stardom, had lost.  And not even in a particularly memorable way. It’s not as if he fell on his own sword.

It’s too confusing.

What do you make of a player who is arguably the best in the league, who has won a superbowl and also lost one.

In reality, those types of conundrums have always existed in sports.  It’s life, and it never has been black and white. But those Bulls teams made it feel like it could have been.

That’s the Jordan effect.  It took a combination of factors, hinging upon his otherworldly talents, to finish his NBA Novella. Don’t expect that sort of certainty ever again.

The stars may not have been aligned.  But they were pretty close in the night sky when Michael Jordan arrived on the planet.

And even now, in a league made up of players who mostly remember those days from highlight reels, those sorts of off-the-chart expectations have not completely subsided.

And at least for some, there may be a dark side to living in the shadows of the impossible.

Lebron James took maybe the worst supporting cast of players to ever play for a title into the finals against San Antonio early in his career.  Go back and look at the roster.  It’s much worse than you think.  Not only that, but he absolutely willed his team to that perch by scoring damn near every single clutch point in defeating the heavily favored Detroit Pistons to advance.

Most people have already forgotten about that.  The Spurs were a monster. The Cavs didn’t win.

Instead of remembering that season fondly, it has been cast aside as a season that “Lebron failed.” He didn’t ask to be the next Jordan, and no one should expect it.  He’s still a young man.  These years should be the exciting prime years. He could be leading the downtrodden city of Cleveland to the promised land.

What a story that would be, right?

No chance anymore.  People apparently told him one too many times that if he didn’t want to be a failure, he would have to start piling up rings.

Look how easy it was for Jordan.

Can’t Lebron even get one?

People forget the difficulty of a championship.  It’s a grueling journey.  A journey that, for most, will end before reaching the hollowed grounds of victory.

And as we all know, nothing is ever guaranteed.

Too many times those Bulls teams made us forget that.

Now in the eyes of the average NBA fan, Lebron has signed a deal with the devil. His team is now ridiculously loaded with superstar talent. Many lesser players could win with the help of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, least of all, King James.

It all seemed a bit desperate and over-the-top. But it did shed light into the dynamics of the pressure that was being exerted on him to win.  He would rather take on the role of a hated villain, then to gamble with the uncertainty of possibly never winning a title.

He will be booed at every visitor’s arena until his last dunk as a player. And at times, it seems that he is becoming, understandly, a bit unhinged – with angry, mildly threatening tweets early on, somewhat emotional press conferences and out-of-character overcelebrating on the court just recently.

Its not psychotic behavior.  But its not consistent with his mannerisms in the past. This was once the NBA’s version of the “Say Hey Kid” before the Decision loomed on the horizon.  A care-free fun-loving basketball prodigy with an infectious smile. It’s easy to tell that all the negativity has taken its toll.

It’s only natural.

And can you really say that the otherworldly “Jordan” superstar expectations thrust upon him since middle school did not play at least some role in his dramatic decision?

And now the next annointed MJ-like player, Derrick Rose is taking a speedboat full of young and talented Bulls up the river toward the Island of oppressive expectations that is the Miami Heat’s season. The newly annointed savior may be on his way to put the old one out of his misery, for at least this year.

Looks like Lebron James may be playing the role of Colonel Kurtz.

Or maybe he wins the big one, finally.

Maybe he will find himself in the unbelievable position of winning a title, but still being generally maligned.

“Jordan didn’t have to team up with Magic for his titles.”

And give Derrick Rose a few unfulfilling seasons, and see if he starts feeling the strain.

Maybe he will flee to his own island of misfit superstars to cope.

Of course its only Basketball.  But the ante has been ratched up for the time being.  It may be our entertainment, but its also one man from Akron’s entire legacy on the line.

But that’s what happens when you win six championships.  And furthermore, when you do it with nary a misstep along the way.

Its certainly not for everyone. Though the bar isn’t being lowered anytime soon.

We will continue to watch and see how the pressure manifests itself on the younger generations.

For More Ramblings, Follow me on Twitter (@ChiBdm)

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Goodbye NHL: Fallout From ESPN’s Love Affair With the NFL

November 1, 2010

While the NFL‘s popularity continues to skyrocket, there is a growing resentment towards the media for its over the top and obsessive coverage of the league.  On the surface, it might just seem like petty jealousy from those who are loyal to other sports.  Not in this case.

At some point during the last few years, aided mostly by the cable network ESPN,  it became necessary to over-analyze every single detail of the NFL.  The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” has developed an obsession with the league that has become significantly detrimental to the reporting of other non-gridiron events.

Let’s be realistic here.  ESPN is a behemoth.  It is the driving force of the success (or lack thereof) in every pro sports league on the continent.  There really is no other game in town.  Certainly there are other sports news outlets, but none with even a tenth of the influence.  And this is why I put most of the blame in their lap.  By continually overexposing the NFL, It has caused a giant rift in many of its viewers.

Don’t get me wrong, ESPN is a top-notch corporation. It’s probably the most significant trailblazer in the history of sportscasting.  What’s most commendable is that even after all these years it still provides cutting-edge and progressive material to its viewers.

I certainly have been impressed to see them take on such squeamish issues as racism and homophobia as it pertains to the athletic world.  Most corporations would have laid back and played it safe.

Why deal with controversy if it’s not necessary?

That’s why I have a lot of respect for their business model. That’s why I am troubled by the recent change of priorities and the ultimate downgrade it has caused in the quality of their content.

The NFL is riding a giant tidal wave of popularity due to a few different factors.  These factors include mismanagement by the heads of other leagues—like Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL.

This is not to say that the NFL does not have its share of problems, most notably a looming lockout after this year.  Its just that the league officials have gained a reputation for dealing with issues quickly and forcefully with minimal inconvenience to their fans.

Another key factor for the league’s success is its commitment to parity.  The league has been brilliant in keeping the playing field level for every team.  Every single fan can wake up on opening day with some sort of hope for success in the current year or at least in the near future.

That certainly is not the case in other leagues, where teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Kansas City Royals are doomed to repeat losing seasons year after hopeless year.

But those are all just peripheral reasons.  Football’s real strength is in the game itself.  It’s a terrific sport.  Its exciting, its violent, its complex, its sprinkled with unpredictability.  In all honesty, it may even be my favorite sport.  But let’s remember that its not the NFL that I am taking issue with, but ESPN’s overly-exhaustive coverage

Any viewer of “Mike and Mike in the morning” will tell you that this year has seen the duo remove or skim over almost anything that does not deal with the NFL.  Even in the aftermath of LeBron James’ iconic “decision,” NFL training camp news was still leading on many mornings.  It’s not just Mike and Mike that have excessively embraced the game.  It’s every show.  It’s the whole network.

It’s a real shame to see, because I’m an admirer of Golic and Greenberg. Their show might just be the most insightful sports-themed program on television or radio.  I only wish they didn’t have to spend 80 percent of their time on the subject of the NFL now. Even as the World Series is currently underway, it’s still dwarfed by discussions of the details of Brett Favre‘s sexting fetish.

It’s an enormous waste of talent.  I could go down the list of the network’s other shows, and the results would be the same.  Too much NFL discussion (even when there’s no real news), and a lack of time given to the lead stories in other sports.

Does anyone still care about the NHL?

ESPN certainly doesn’t.  All the extra pigskin talk these days has virtually eliminated the sport of hockey from any sort of acknowledgement.  Their coverage is completely bare-bones and doesn’t really go much further than a recap of the game and a box score. (I do realize that there is a late-night NHL show that is hardly ever on).

This is a sore subject to many.  Growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, I remember being able to loosely follow the league via Sportscenter and occasional panel discussions.  Now it has been virtually shut out from any exposure.  Ask any current fan of the NHL for their feelings on the network’s hockey coverage.  But when you do, be ready for a passionate diatribe on how ESPN has abandoned them.

That sounds a bit childish, but there is actually a lot of validity to it.  The era of round the clock football coverage coincided almost exactly with the beginning of reduced hockey coverage.  I guess something had to go.

Of all the sports, the NHL has suffered the most as a result of the extended NFL coverage. I still remember watching the morning shows the day after the Chicago Blackhawks had just captured the Stanley Cup in a thrilling OT clincher.  It was their first cup in 49 years, and their turnaround made for an inspiring story.

But it was only briefly mentioned a few times in each program.  And during those times, it was easy to tell that no one had spent any time doing basic background research.

I realize that after the hockey strike, the sport lost much of its popularity.  I also realize that ESPN doesn’t have a contract to televise their games either.  Of course there would be a marginal drop-off in exposure.  But thus far, it has virtually removed any traces of the sport.

It’s a shame, too, considering how exciting and evenly matched the NHL has become lately.  Couple that with a deep pool of potentially marketable stars (Crosby, Ovechkin, Kane, etc.) and it suddenly looks like the network could be making a mistake. Just a small amount of coverage would go a long way.

But if ESPN feels differently and allows the NFL to take any more exposure from pro hockey, then its a very real possibility that the next time you go out to eat, Barry Melrose may be waiting on your table.

Could I be overstating my point just a little?

After all, it just makes business sense to feature popular sports more prominently.  That is correct to a degree.  But consider the unique news cycle of the league.  Sunday and Monday (and occasional Thursdays) are the only game days.  Of course its acceptable to devote an inordinate amount of time discussing previews,  giving recaps, and showing highlights before and after game days.

As long as there are football stories that appeal to more than just bookies and fantasy players, they should be reported, no matter what day they break.  In general, around Wednesday of each game week, the whole sport devolves into injury updates, quarterback controversies and fluffy feel-good biographical articles.  Here’s where to trim the fat a bit.

Unfortunately, every single tiny angle of every single questionable NFL story seems to be covered ad nauseum for hours upon hours at a time.  Its the slog of an entire week of fantasy sports features, injury reports, gambling lines and updates on Brett Favre’s bowel movements that have created this nails-on-the-chalkboard situation.

I know it’s only anecdotal, but I have spoken to plenty of other knowledgeable sports fans who also are distressed by this annoying trend.  It’s really no secret.

In fact, on more than a few occasions I have seen personalities on the network comment derisively on the endless Brett Favre retirement hoopla.  This year’s retirement version 3.0 coverage was so endless and boring that I’m  shocked that no one in Minnesota slipped into a coma.  Weren’t there more interesting stories to tell.

Can’t someone just  keep tabs on that in the background while expanded airtime coverage is given to other stories in other sports with actual developments occurring?

Does everyone remember the “Breaking News” report that featured a live video feed of Brett Favre’s plane landing at the Minneapolis airport?

Then came the O.J. Simpson treatment.  A news helicopter was dispatched to video tape his ride home. Not a proud moment for ESPN in my eyes.

I know many people will simply read this and say to themselves, “It’s just ESPN catering to the sport that can make the most money for them.” Of course ESPN is not stupid.  Far from it, in fact.  They have certainly heard the criticism.  But there is no official response. Whatever business model they are aspiring to appears to rely heavily on the National Football League.  I hope they make room for other topics as well.

One final point.  I mentioned earlier that ESPN basically is the only game in town when it comes to national sports reporting.  That is a pretty fair statement.  Of course there are other outlets.  However, they are minuscule in comparison.

In the past, ESPN has wielded its power to actually change the course of the sports world. Many years ago (1995), the network hyped up the X-Games, which had been invented and sponsored internally, and it became a success.  Now it’s a staple in the sports world. All because ESPN hyped it relentlessly and demanded that we watch it.

So not only can the network report on the news, it has such a massive influence that it can actually play a part in the creation of the news stories.  Basically, we will watch whatever ESPN puts on.  Time to share the spotlight with those less fortunate sports.

My challenge to ESPN is to include more coverage of the NHL, NBA, MLB, and anything else of moderate interest while reducing the amount of time slated for football.  Its getting a little out of control.  Im sure there is a happy medium somewhere.  Time to find it.

 

For Chicago and national sports musings, follow me on Twitter: @ChiBdm (http://www.twitter.com/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.

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.

Holy Tweet (The Prince of Wales Trophy “Hoax” Hoax)

September 30, 2010

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(Republished after some grammar errors corrected)

Its been a very strange few days.  As somewhat of a wannabe English major and one-time journalistic hopeful, its hard to believe the situation that I have been put in.  For those of you that don’t know, which is probably most everyone, I took a few photos of a misprint that I found on the Prince of Wales Trophy at the Blackhawks Annual Convention.  Upon noticing the Typo, which had the Washington Capitals as the Eastern Conference Champions rather than the Flyers, I was perplexed.  I looked around for a friendly looking face and asked for confirmation that, in fact, I was correct in what I saw.  I literally thought that I must have been a bit looney.  But A nice family shared my confusion, and it was confirmed.

Only minutes later, as I waited in line for a Duncan Keith Autograph, I tweeted every local celebrity in the sports world, as most were attending the event.  I told them all in one way or another to go check out the trophy, which was readily available to all.  This gave them all a day and half to go and have a look at the evidence themselves.  Im sure that they recieve alot of tweets everyday, and for the most part are unable to respond or act upon them immediately.  I did feel that SOMEONE, ANYONE, would go take some photos like myself.  I even tweeted some people in the Philadelphia media, at that point just hoping they would look into it.  (All this can be confirmed by reading my tweets from July 31st, or day two of the Blackhawks Convention)

I kept up my effort even after the event was over.  To my surprise, the RocktheRed.com website picked up the story (http://rockthered.net/2010-articles/july/the-prince-of-wales-trophy-engraving-error.html), which I thought would lead to something more.  What it lead to was, at first, a Yahoo Sports Blog which questioned the integrity of the photos (http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/The-great-Prince-of-Wales-Trophy-engraving-error?urn=nhl-261274).  One thing this culture loves is cynicism, and its hilarious how many random opinions thought that “of course they were photoshopped.”  These are the same type of people who like to act like they know there is more going on behind the scenes than anyone knows, in any scenario.  Even such a mundane scenario as the one in question.  Its better to act as if you are aware of a conspiracy rather than to get embarrassed if one indeed is being perpetrated unknowingly.  I. E.   Its what the cool kids act like.

Anyway, a very ignorant article was written by CSNPhilly(http://www.csnphilly.com/08/09/10/Debunking-the-Prince-of-Wales-Trophy-Hoa/landing_flyerandice.html?blockID=286541&feedID=6572), which used a “photoshop expert” who wasn’t named, and analysis not proven.  It took the word of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who couldnt just take a current photo to end all of the speculation right there and then.  It went on to say decisively that it wasn’t real and the photos were somehow altered. Despite the fact, that I reported it right away, took shots from many angles, and then immediately uploaded them from my phone, they had to be altered, right?  Not to mention that I don’t own a computer, and rely on my droid for all my internet connections.  ( I had to go to my parents house 30 miles away to finally reach a computer and write this.)  And after all these omissions, the most glaring error had to have been the fact that I tried to reach the reporter in question by twitter, email, and the comments section of the article.  No response, at all.  None.  I am the source of the whole story in question, does it not make sense to speak to the person who took the photos, AS A JOURNALIST.  Pretty bush league if you ask me, especially considering that my character was in question as a direct result.  Her twitter is @sbaicker, if you’d like to question her, even as she failed to do so to me.

It’s a very strange position for me to be in, considering that I was the one who was growing frustrated at all the hearsay and rumors in response to the Antti Niemi situation.  I was the one who went out of my way to compliment a few of the folks who had not jumped the gun via twitter, and reported a false rumor.  How the tables have turned on me.

I also want to make this clear that the original article, written by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! sports, was not defamatory in any way.  It was an open question that he was searching for the answers to.  I also was very impressed that he called me and did an impromptu interview to gather information like a true journalist.  He also did not jump to a conclusion and call it false, without enough information to do so.  I am hoping he will break the story when there is proof, and he deserves most of the credit, no matter who ultimately breaks it definitively.

Heres a few things to take a look at while forming your opinion.  I have a photoshop expert @tfgot that spent time analyzing the photos down to the code (http://regex.info/exif.cgi?dummy=on&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gonrad.com%2F201008%2Foriginal.jpg).  His opinion is that they are not doctored in any way (“@TFGot @ChiBDM EXIF photo data suggests your images are real.”).  I thank him very much, and I urge people to check out his twitter page to see his detailed and very complete analysis.  This is a total stranger, who in fact was a little miffed that I was unable to understand the computer jargon at first.  Clearly someone who has nothing to gain no matter what he reports, and also no reason to want them to be real.  Another thing is that recently, someone in the comment section of the Yahoo! article came forward and shared that he had seen the same error at the convention.  I’m sure if I can get this more exposure, then more people will come out and confirm it.  But the easiest way to do this would be to have the Hockey Hall of Fame just take a current photo, or at least to explain that there is a reason that the Washington Capitals would be included.  If this could take place, then I could continue on and keep my integrity intact.  Let’s be honest, this would be a pretty difficult prank to pull off, and without any particular reason.  No, I don’t hate Chris Pronger enough to pull this stunt.  In fact, I admire Philly.  They had us at our final wits, and it seemed as if they were on the verge of taking over the series.  Quite an accomplishment for a 7th seed.  I will always have great respect for them.

I realize that ultimately this is a small matter.  I assume its human error.  This is absolutely no conspiracy.  It was an interesting, funny story before it took this turn toward the absurd.  The most important thing for me is to prove to a certain population that have heard my name attached to a media perversion, that I am not guilty of whats been accused.  Please don’t let my name be under attack.  It means more to me than you think.  Thank you so much for listening.

-Brendan Millhouser

www.twitter.com/chibdm Please leave comments on my Twitter account, so I can respond to them


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