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Stanley Cup Final Preview

June 3, 2015

After nearly 9 months of snipes, dangles, saves, dives and fights the offseason has arrived for all but two teams in the NHL, in one corner the poised and talented Chicago Blackhawks stand brimming with the confidence of a team that’s been here before. In the challengers corner stands the Tampa Bay Lightning filled with youthful exuberance and a swagger that suggests they know how good they are. and intended on leaving with some hardware. Neither team is much of a surprise with plenty of people picking one or the other for the final. Let’s take a look at each team:

Chicago Blackhawks

virtually every sports league is now set up to discourage the likelihood of your team becoming a dynasty. But with a chance to win a third championship in five years it looks like Chicago fans can start using the D word if the Hawks win this series. One thing that makes the Hawks so intimidating is that their big stars actually show up in big moments rather than their role players. Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane have been there for all of Chicago’s success and were often leading the charge. At just 27 and 26 years old respectively and a chance for their third cup this dynamic duo has a chance to be what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be. Chicago also has depth and a solid top pairing on the blueline featuring Duncan Keith who has a solid chance of hoisting the Conn Smythe award if his team can win. The weakness for this team is its third defensive pairing and the goaltender. It’s unusual to make it to the finals with a question mark in goal, especially when that question mark is someone who won a cup just two seasons ago. However Crawford was benched in the first round series and though he has definitely calmed down he still appears shaky in net, often checking behind him on routine saves. The third pairing can be sheltered and given low minutes, but Tampa has the depth that could make them pay.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are trying to flip the script on a familiar narrative. Young team gets good, makes a deep playoff run but loses, then learns how to make the next step. The Penguins did it when they lost to the Red Wings and even Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers did it when they lost to the Islanders way back when. However all they have to do to know not every team does this is look across the ice at a team that didn’t waste any time winning. The Lightning are deep in the sense that even though Ryan Callahan and some of the fourth line are struggling to score, they’re still play effectively defensively. If  Tyler Johnson puts up similar numbers in this series as he did against the Rangers he may walk away with the Conn Smythe win or lose. Steven Stamkos scored four goals in his last four games and having one of the best pure shooters in the league heating up right now is bound to give Chicago fans some doubts. On defense Victor Hedman is making a name for himself as he’s on the verge of becoming a dominant force in this league. Another underrated defender is his partner Anton Stralman. Once they’re done checking under the bed for Nikita Kucherov ask a Rangers fan if they’d like Stralman back for Dan Boyle. Then duck.  The weak link for the Lightning is their goalie. Much like Crawford, Bishop checks behind him far too often on routine saves and his big size gives the impression that he’s not skilled, as much as large. Also strange is that Bishop shutout the Rangers at Madison Square Garden twice in the same series, but then was shelled at home. A series in which both goalies aren’t leading their teams is unusual this late in the season, so the goal horn operators better be warmed up.

The Pick: There is some sense that the Lightning got off easy against the Rangers since it now appears half of New York’s roster had been dealing with some type of injury. But that’s assuming Tampa isn’t dealing with injuries of their own. With Stamkos heating up to assist the triplets line, I think the increased scoring will give the Hawks fits. Joel Quenville might be the best coach in the league right now, but John Cooper is no slouch himself. I picked the Lightning to start the post season and I’m sticking with them now. I think their balanced and relentless offense can get through the Blackhawks top line. Lightning in 6.


Another Year of Headaches for the NFL

May 19, 2015

The 2014 NFL season was one the league would surely like to forget. While the feats on the field were impressive as ever, off the field issues helped cloud any bright spots the on field product yielded. Domestic violence cases perpetrated by some of the leagues biggest stars became front page stories while tone-deaf and inconsistent punishment from the league helped keep the stories in the news cycle. Once the calendar turned to January it appeared that finally the games could be the story. The post season proved to be one for the ages with every week featuring at least one game that came down the last possession and capped off by possibly the greatest Super Bowl of all time.

Ironically, a game won by the Patriots won by 38 points would end up being the thorn in the league’s side. Hours after the Patriots routed the Colts reports began to surface in an Indianapolis newspaper that Colts players believed the Patriots were using balls that were deflated to below the allowable amount. What followed in the two weeks between that game and the Super Bowl was the patriots having answer numerous questions about the speed at which air could escape the balls and the NFL deciding to investigate the report. Then the Patriots went out earned an impressive victory over the Seahawks in a well played and back and forth game. Mentions of “Deflategate” as it has been called receded out of the newspapers and it appeared once again that the NFL was going to be able to keep the focus on the field thanks to the playoffs. Then all the air came out.

Two weeks ago investigator Ted Wells released his report that found it “more probable than not” that quarterback Tom Brady had knowledge of two Patriots employees deflating footballs. Damning texts were released from the employees and persuasive, if somewhat circumstantial, evidence has led most of the public to agree with the reports conclusion. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded by suspending Tom Brady for four games, fining him one million dollars, and docking the Patriots a fourth and first round pick in the next two upcoming NFL drafts.

Two things need to kept in mind here for perspective. One: There is no conceivable way Tom Brady did not know what was going here. After saying he would accept the punishment Patriots owner Robert Kraft had the Patriots create a website and release a 20,000 word report to fight back at the league. So far their leading theory is that the Patriots employees who called himself “the Deflator” was doing so because he was fat and was in the process of loosing weight and “deflating” himself. The fact that Kraft paid a lawyer to actually came up with that defense is alarmingly silly. Brady definitely knew what was going on judging from the other texts in which the employees implicitly talk about releasing air form the balls because Brady complained about the size.That brings us to the second point of perspective: The air wasn’t a huge factor in the game. Some fans are trying to question Tom Brady’s numbers now and whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. That is asinine. The difference between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez is more than a couple PSI in a football. In 1962 the NFL suspended Paul Hornung of the Packers one season for gambling on football. Hornung is still in the Hall of Fame. There is logical reason to hold deflated footballs in a game the Patriots won by 38 against Brady and his legacy.

Unfortunately logic isn’t a strong point of people in this league. The NFL looks illogical because they fined Brady double the amount of games they initially suspended Ray Rice for knocking out his fiance on camera and dragging her out of an elevator. The NFL acquired years of text and email records along with pages of scientific data on the rate at which air escapes from a football in cold weather, yet they want the public to believe there was no way for them to have seen the video of Rice in the elevator before TMZ released it. Sure thing Roger. Unfortunately this has led to Patriots fans using this to try to exonerate their favorite sixth round pick. This is also illogical. Nobody in their right mind will argue what Brady did is worse than what Rice did (or Hardy, or Smith, or Roethlisberger, or Brent, or….). But just because the league erred once doesn’t mean they are now bound to never punish again. In fact, Goodell deserves at least a bit of credit for going after the league’s best team and most marquee player as many assumed any wrong doing would be swept under the rug. Intentionally skirting the rules, however minor, is still cheating. Cheating in a professional game is obviously a major problem since the entire foundation of sports is that they are built on a fair and level playing field. The Patriots are not a team that’s going to get any favors thanks to their previous rulebook stretching, 2007’s Spygate. But New England’s gripes about a severe punishment are definitely fair and grounded. Two draft picks and a quarter of a season suspended is harsh. Reports at current time are that Kraft and Goodell are secretly meeting to try to reach an agreement without going through the appeals process. The NFL denies the report. Whether or not the report is true doesn’t matter. Enough damage has been done that a reasonable guess can be made that the 2015 NFL season will be overshadowed by off the field controversy just as much as the last one was. For fans who just want to watch football and relax on autumn Sundays that has to be a deflating feeling.

And Then There were Four: NHL Confernece Finals Picks

May 16, 2015

EDITORS NOTE: This was originally written Friday night before the start of both series but due to some technical difficulties could not be posted until right now

The completion of the Stanley Cup playoff’s second round was a tale of two conferences. Out west the Blackhawks made quick work of the Wild in a sweep and Anaheim ended the Flames bid to be a Cinderella team with another dominant series. In the East things were slightly more exciting. The Lightning jumped out to a three games to none series lead over the Canadiens before dropping two straight. Just when it looked like the Habs might complete the comeback the Bolts quickly shut the door with a dominating game six win. Meanwhile the Rangers, the team Vegas favors to win the whole thing, fell behind the Capitals three games to one in their series. In fact, the Rangers were about a minute and a half away from seeing their season end on Madison Square Garden ice before Chris Kreider scored to send the game to overtime where the Rangers eventually won. After hanging on in a game six shootout that saw the Capitals score three goals in the final fifteen minutes to make the game interesting it was back to the Garden for game seven. In a nerve-wracking and well-played defensive masterpiece the game headed to overtime once again where Derek Stepan was the hero for the Blueshirts and propelled them into the conference finals for the third time in four seasons. With the matchups now set and the games to begin this weekend now is the time to make some bold predictions.

Western Conference Final: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Anaheim Ducks (Ducks lead series 1-0)

Neither one of these teams is going to be allowed to use fatigue as an excuse for poor play since the Ducks have had a week off and the Hawks have had ten days. Once the rust is gone for these teams this could prove to be quite a series. Chicago has been arguably the best team in the league over the past five seasons winning two cups and making deep playoff pushes the other years. The core of Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharpe has had another good spring as they look in sync again which should worry opponents. Having depth pieces like Marian Hossa and Brad Richards is also a nice luxury to have. On the downside they lost veteran defenseman Michael Rozsival thanks to a gruesome ankle injury that puts doubt in if he’ll play again before next December. After a shaky first round starting goaltender Corey Crawford had a solid series last round but if he struggles again all bets are off. Anaheim isn’t a push over team either despite their lack of star power. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler may not have the star pedigree of Chicago’s big three but they can contribute enough to win a series and don’t mind running you over in the process. While it is easy to knock the Ducks for having a relatively easy route to the conference finals you can’t knock them for having over 100 points in the regular season and challenging for the President’s trophy. However the Ducks only posted a plus seven goal differential this year which is more indicative of a bubble team than a league leader. This Ducks team isn’t a bunch of kids just learning the ropes, it is a savvy veteran team with a great head coach. The problem is the Blackhawks savvy veterans are more talented and their head coach more decorated. I’m picking Chicago in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Rangers (Rangers lead series 1-0)

The Lightning are a young team that has been on the cusp of breaking through for years. They’ve had no trouble scoring goals in recent years but this past off-season they worked diligently in plugging holes and shoring up a roster and it is paying major dividends. While superstar Steven Stamkos has been relatively quiet thus far, the team’s depth guys have stepped up big time. If you’re a fan of storylines this is your series. In Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, and Ryan Callahan the Lightning now have three former Rangers who were part of the success of last years successful New York team. Before he was traded to for Ryan Callahan Martin St. Louis was a fan favorite in Tampa and part of a Stanley Cup Champion. He’s had a major disappointment of a postseason so far, even seeing his ice time reduced in the third period of the Ranger’s game seven win in favor of youngster J.T. Miller. Perhaps a playoff round against his former team with a trip to the finals on the line will rejuvenate his legs? The Lightning won all three games against the Rangers this season by a convincing margin which makes it tempting to pick them in a quick series win. However, the Rangers just became the first team to ever comeback from three to one series deficient two season in a row. Montreal had been a house of horrors for the Rangers last year but they got the job done last year when it counted in the conference finals. While that should have no bearing on this series it does tell you that you can’t count them out. Henrik Lundquist is playing probably the best hockey of his career right now and is completely dialed in. The loss of winger Mats Zuccarello will hurt their productivity but the emergence of youngsters Kevin Hayes and Miller has helped mitigate that effect.  Since I picked the Lightning to win the Cup at the start of the playoffs and the fact that the Rangers have only beaten Pittsburgh and Washington by the slimmest of margins I’m sticking with the Lightning to win this series. I think their depth combined with the fact that Ryan Callahan appears to not be missing any time after having an appendectomy on Monday leaves the team with no major injuries is going to be hard to overcome. Lightning in 6.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two Predictions

May 1, 2015

The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs began last night with two series getting underway and continues tonight with the other two starting tonight. The first round saw some exciting games but no tremendous upsets as the only real underdog to advance was the Calgary Flames when they vanquished Vancouver. And while this is slightly late there’s no time like right now to jump back into this blog with some predictions. Let’s get started.

Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers ( Washington leads series 1-0)

Well round two certainly wasted no time getting exciting! This is the fifth time these two division rivals have met in the postseason in the past seven years, leading some fans to wonder if this was still a matchup worth getting excited for? Then Joel Ward scored with one second left on the clock to steal game one.

For starters, yes you can probably say that should have been a penalty on Backstrom for hitting Boyle in the head from behind, a hit the NHL has tried to eliminate from the game. However, every coach in every sport constantly instills in their players the mantra of playing until the whistle sounds. The Rangers all stopped and looked at the refs and the Caps kept going, game over. The fact is the Rangers were thoroughly out played and out coached in the game and were lucky to be tied going into those final ten seconds. Players were continually making drop passes all night that weren’t being picked up and committing ghastly turnovers. If there is a silver lining to last night it’s that the Rangers had many chances and it took a very good performance by golatender Braden Holtby to stop all but one shot. The Rangers also can take solace in that they were the league’s best team this year and have arguably the best goalie in the world on their side in Henrik Lundqvist. However, there are holes in this team. I don’t know if there is an injury or something the Rangers are keeping quiet about but Martin St. Louis has not looked good for long stretches of this season. Dan Boyle was brought in fix the Rangers power play that has struggled mightily. Instead the power play continues to underwhelm and Boyle has looked like a 38 year old player near the end of his career, which he is. Throw in a rumored concussion to Mats Zuccarello that has him likely out for the rest of the playoffs and it’s not hard to see how this matchup can be tough. Across the ice the Capitals have comeback with a vengeance from last year’s disappointing team that missed the playoffs. This team has solid goaltending, big hitters, and a defensive unit that’s no slouch. They appear to have finally found the balance of offense and defense that has been missing for about the last decade. speaking of offense, while he had a quiet first round, Alex Ovechkin had an absolute snipe for Washington’s first goal and had an overall amazing game. While I don’t won’t to be suckered in by one game, I think this Caps team may be the one that finally succeeds in the playoffs. Caps in 7.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens

I called Lundqvist arguably the best goalie in the world and here is the argument: Canadiens goaltender and Hart Trophy finalist Carey Price. Price is up against one of the best and well-balanced offenses in the league including superstar Steven Stamkos. Price won a gold medal in last year’s Olympics and carried the Candiens to the conference finals before an injury ended his year, so he does have plenty of experience on big stages. Additionally while Price may win the MVP this year, the team in front of him isn’t terrible at all. The Habs roll four well-balanced lines that are all capable of chipping in offensively. They also ice on of the best blueliners in the game in P.K. Subban. Across the ice is the Tampa Bay Lightning who were my pick to win the Cup this year (full disclosure: I also picked the Blues to make it so…). The lightning also roll four competent lines they can chip in goals and play gritty hockey. While Stamkos had a disappointing first round the rest of the team was able to pick him up enough to advance, including the criminally underrated Brian Boyle. Goaltender Ben Bishop is not in the same class as Carey Price and nobody is asking him to be. He was having a great season for the Bolts last year before an injury caused him to miss the playoffs. If Bishop can be just solid in net and Stamkos is able to ge t going the Lightning can absolutely get through this round. I’m taking Tampa in 6.

Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks

It’s not secret that having a great goaltender is almost a given if you want to win the Cup and that should be scary to Chicago. The Blackhawks are one of my favorite teams to watch because of the way they play offense when both Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane are clicking. Owning the best jerseys in the league and one of the loudest buildings doesn’t hurt either. However, much like the Blues is the first round, goaltending could be a real Achilles heel for them. Regular starter Corey Crawford had a rough first round and had to be pulled in favor of backup of Scott Darling. Darling was solid for three games until he let in three soft goals in game 6 before Crawford came back on in relief and ended up winning the game and series. All indications suggest that Crawford, who has won a cup for the Hawks before, is getting the game one start. But if the Wild can light him up all bets are off. Minnesota spent the year languishing around toward the bottom of the standings before landing Devan Dubnyk in a January trade. He almost single-handedly turned their season around as he started the Wild’s remaining games and lead them on a furious charge up the standings and into the post season. He took down the Blues in round one and if he can frustrate the Hawks in this series it’ll be just another chapter in his storybook season. The Wild spent big two seasons ago for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Now is their chance to reward the organization with some playoff success. Wild in 7

Calgary Flames vs Anaheim Ducks ( Ducks lead serious 1-0)

The Calgary Flames should not be in the playoffs. The advanced stats have them as the worst of the playoffs. They don’t have a superstar player and came into this season expected to begin a rebuilding process of bottoming out and getting a high draft pick. Instead made the playoffs and dispatched of a favored Vancouver team in the first round. The Flames style of hockey is one that calls for unselfish and tough play. The displayed this by refusing to be intimidated by the physical play of the Canucks. Unfortunately for the Little Engine That Could the Ducks don’t mind being physical either and are coming off a 107 point regular season. The Ducks backed this up by going into a hostile and emotionally charged Winnipeg Jets arena and sweeping them. Corey Perry, to the annoyance of pretty much anyone not a Ducks fan, is having a tremendous postseason. I think Cinderella’s ball might be over here. Ducks in 5

The keith Yandle Trade Singnals the Rangers are in Win Now Mode

March 5, 2015

The New York Rangers made the biggest splash of the NHL trade deadline when they acquired Keith Yandle from the Phoenix Coyotes last Sunday. The Rangers have been looking for an offensively gifted defensemen for sometime as well as someone who help run their powerplay. Yandle is an exceptional skater who can make quick crisp passes and is a major improvement over the more defensive oriented Dan Girardi. Yandle is just one of two defensemen who has put up 40 or more points in six of the last seven seasons with the exception being when he had 30 points in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. The veteran defensemen did not come cheap as Arizona picked up a second round draft pick in the 2015 draft, a 2016 first round pick, Anthony Duclair, and John Moore. In addition to Yandle the Rangers also received a fourth round draft pick in 2015, and Chris Summers who will provide some AHL depth. Arizona also agreed to pay 50% of Yandle’s salary for the next two years. Anthony Duclair is a steep price to give up as he showed promising skill during his call up with the Rangers this season when chipped in seven points in 18 games. John Moore has had a lackluster season points wise but has tremendous skating ability and is young enough that he could develop into a good player still.

For Arizona they shed some salary and gained back young and cheap talent that could benefit them for years to come and they should feel happy at that. For the Rangers, they gained what could be the missing piece in their puzzle as they look to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Rangers also obtained Sharks fourth liner James Sheppard to help stabilize their fourth line. A big part of the Rangers success last year was having the ability to roll out four cohesive and effective lines. By taking Tanner Glass off the ice in favor of Sheppard they can now do so again. While the cost of these moves can come back to bite them tomorrow as the Rangers are pushing close to the salary cap it does signals that the management believes that this group can deliver them the Stanley Cup.

What is Eric Up to Now

February 13, 2015

If you’re reading this now you’re probably wondering why after almost two full years why I suddenly started writing here again? Well I stopped writing here because of an exiting new blog I had with a friend. Between school and writing for that blog I didn’t have enough time to keep writing for two sites. However in the time that has gone by I have graduated from college and that blog is no longer a reality. I took some time off and got a job in my hometown to make some money and figure out what I want to do from here. After spending some time Ive found that my passion and dream is still writing about sports. I look forward to writing here while I try to make this a reality writing for other outlets. Check back often as I’ll update the site as quick as I can.

Henrik Lundqvist Out For A Month

February 6, 2015

The New York Ranger and their fans were are heading to DEFCON One Friday afternoon since the New York Post is reporting that the Blueshirts star net minder is going to be on the shelf for at least a month. The injury is believed to be related to a shot that hit Lundqust under his helmet and squarely in the neck. The goaltender was down on the ice and being attended to by trainers for several minutes before getting up and staying in the game. Lundqvist played again two nights later and appeared to have no lasting effects. However on Wednesday it was announced that backup Cam Talbot would be starting that night’s game as Lundqvist was experiencing headaches. While Lundqvist was originally listed as day-to-day, on Friday head coach Alain Vingeault confirmed that Lundqvist would not be making the weekend trip to Nashville. He stopped short of saying Lundqvist would be out a month but said he didn’t believe it was concussion related. The Rangers said more updates were to come when more tests had been run.

Assuming Lundvist is out for a month, that means he’s in line to miss about 10-14 games. Currently the Rangers sit in third place in the Metropolitan division but are only holding on to a playoff spot by three points. A month with no Lundqvist could be deadly to their playoff hopes. Besides Rick Nash, the Rangers have struggled with consist secondary scoring and the coaching staff continues the bizarre choice of benching talented youngster JT Miller for brawler Tanner Glass. The ripple effect of losing the backbone of the team will be felt all through the lineup. The forwards are going to be pressing more to score, the defencemen  will be more conservative to compensate for not having Lundqvist there to bail them out. The two silver linings in the situation are that Cam Talbot is a very capable backup who can be good enough to keep the Rangers in contention. The item working in the Rangers favor is that they only play two games in their division during this month meaning it’ll be slightly easier for them to tread water until Lundqvist can return. Another facet to keep an eye on is that with 20-year-old MacKenzie Skapski now the backup goalie, the Rangers are going to be in the market for a cheap veteran to provide some insurance on the back end.