A new song for the Jays 2012 season.
The first all-star game since 2006 to feature neither Crosby nor Ovechkin might have been the coming out party of John Tavares, as an NHL star. After following the path of many great players, being selected first overall by the Islanders after a storied Junior career, and finishing second in rookie scoring his first year like Crosby, Tavares seemed destined for team-lifting greatness. Unfortunately for Tavares and the NHL, the Islanders cannot be lifted. There is no John Tavares era. Instead on Long Island it is the era of Rick DiPietro’s contract.
Those NHL fans chuckling at the Isles misfortunes may want to check their own team’s roster, as somehow the disastrous error seems the beginning of an idiotic trend in big-league hockey, one which threatens the near-future of several otherwise competitive teams. There are 5 goalies who currently have NHL contracts for over 6 million dollars per year, and three more who are effectively also making over 6 because they have years under contract in which they will obviously not be playing, although they are on the books for less than 6 per year. DiPietro is one of those latter three, and while he has had the most disappointing career of all these highly paid goalies, his contract does not have the most money left on it; not by a long shot.
If the Flyers continue to be forced towards using Bobrovsky as their regular starting netminder, then Ilya Bryzgalov will become the most expensive backup goalie in hockey history, and he is owed 5.66 million each year for eight more seasons after this one. Bryzgalov may bounce back; many players have had a tough initial half-season for a new team and facing more pressure. If he doesn’t bounce back quite dramatically, however, Philly will have to go with Bobrovsky, as he has not only been much better, but the younger Russian was also better last year than Bryzgalov has been this year, by almost as wide a margin, and this is supposed to be a contending year in Philadelphia. Players like Jagr may not be easy to keep around if they suffer a first round playoff exit.
While his season resembles his disappointing ’08-’09 campaign, he’s facing 3 and a half less shots per game, which seems fairly representative of the situation in front of him. Bryzgalov turns 32 during the offseason. If he doesn’t turn it around, he will not be tradeable, and the Flyers will immediately become also-rans in the Eastern Conference for the indefinite future. The problem is that even if Bobrovsky solves the goaltending situation for them, they won’t have the necessary cap room to keep him and pay the rest of the team. New rules, such as the salary floor will bleed such would-be contenders of their depth, and vets like Jagr, seeing the writing on the wall, will take their services to teams with the flexibility to adapt and win.
Cam Ward’s contract burdens his team in a different way, because Ward’s performance has not been the problem. The problem is that the rest of the team is a disaster, but they can’t do much about it because as one of the Hurricanes’ only valuable assets, Ward’s contract makes him almost as undesirable as Bryzgalov. The same situation could be evolving in Vancouver as well, but with the added complication of the Sedin twins twin contracts. A sort of mix of the two seems to be unfolding in Minnesota, where Harding could easily be given the starting gig at this point, but the situation there is less dire for Backstrom’s contract having only one more season after this one, and because Backstrom is still good.
There has been a clear split in the philosophy of NHL teams when it comes to goaltending in the past several seasons. As the financial regulations have been tightened, teams are splitting into either ‘cap-circumvention’ or ‘spend it on D and role the dice’ camps. Those who doubt the effectiveness of the latter approach should address their concerns to Chris Osgood’s Stanley Cup rings.
As the final fourteen seconds ticked down in Donald L. Tucker Collessium in Talahasee Florida, on Saturday afternoon, UNC star Harrison Barnes walked with most of his team to the locker room. He may have thought ‘I could be losing in the NBA right now.’ He’s right, of course; he could be losing in the NBA. If he had declared for the draft and left North Carolina after last season, Barnes would likely have been a top three picks, perhaps going 2nd to the Timberwolves, who need a player like Barnes more than another power forward, which is who they got in Derrick Williams. If that had happened, the Seminoles would still have beaten the Tar Heels. We wouldn’t all have been as amazed though. It would have been our loss.
As it turned out, Barnes and a slew of other NBA prospects returned to college for another season rather than enter the draft, get picked in the lottery, and risk what turned into a messy ‘labour’ dispute which ate one fifth of the season. That gave us the best hoops moment of the weekend, pros included. It gave us Barnes and his Heels being topped by 1 by #1 Kentucky, who’s Sophomore Terrence Jones went 14 and 7. In a normal NBA offseason, he too is likely drafted, and currently toiling for a big league lottery team. He was there though, contributing to a classic. A week later Jones had four points and six turnovers in another thriller; this time a one point loss at Indiana.
The NCAA hoops fan is the clear winner of the NBA lockout. This early list of contenders for Player of the Year includes only two players who would likely have gone in the lottery, and therefore would just as likely have gone professional before this season, if it were a normal one. However,that’s assuming that Jeremy Lamb was always coming back. Jared Sullinger is first on the list, and his intentions always seemed to be to return to Ohio State, but players have often reversed enthusiastic public positions to become lottery picks; especially number one, which Sullinger could have been.
In the top ten picks of last year’s NBA draft, there were a combined 12 years of NCAA experience, and 1/3 of them belonged to #10 pick Jimmer Freddette. This year projections have the top ten leaving with about 18 years of experience. That 50% increase is likely to hold, or even increase slightly when the season is complete and draft intentions are declared. In short, a handful of top players remained in the NCAA for a year longer than they normally would have. Will this extra year at the college level help those players develop? Perhaps. Already this fortunate fallout of the NBA lockout has contributed to an entertaining year, which promises to finish with a tournament which will be exciting as it always is. This year though, it will have a little more star power.
When the big two or three got together in South Beach, speculation ran rampant that other stars would follow suit. That speculation has been justified by subsequent player movement, and stoked by Dwight Howard, and it continues to be the favorite topic of the CBA-weary NBA world. Amare and ‘Melo may be just Baron Davis away from competing with the Heat and Bulls for the best in the East. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have made the Clippers relevant.
Dwight Howard will not go to the Nets. Would you ally yourself with the guy taking on Russia’s ex-KGB President? D12 may not know his European history, but he or Dan Fegan, his agent, will know a Trotsky when they see him. Plus, the Nets are bad. He will go though, because like several other teams who were (or thought themselves) contenders a couple of years ago, the Magic are done. The off-season Rondo rumours indicate that Boston knows what we all thought during last year’s playoff; they are done. The Spurs are one injury away from being non-contenders, and Phoenix is a non-contending team with no clear future direction.
Add to those the teams who never were contenders, but need to rebuild (or perhaps more accurately; ‘build’), like Sixers, Raptors, and Rockets, and the few veterans on the leagues’ worst teams, and you have an idea of the potential for player movement between now and the March 15 trade deadline for this abbreviated season. While it has been noted here before that the Heat may have a shorter window than first appeared, the one that comes even before that is the real long term threat. Kevin Durant and his backpack are locked up until 2016, and with Westbrook still maturing, they have all the advantages of having developed together for the same team. The Thunder could be buyers as soon as this year, and they will likely still be one of the teams the rest are gunning for in four more years. Below are sportsvssports suggestions for and guesses at plausible in-season player movement.
Dwight Howard – Lakers for Bynum. C’mon! Just do it!
Steve Nash – Blazers, with Shannon Brown, for a first, Ray Felton and Wes Mathews.
Rajon Rondo – Houston, for Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry
Andrea Bargnani – Hawks for Joe Johnson.
Antwan Jamison – Thunder for Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward (both teams under cap)
Chris Kaman – 76ers for Spencer Hawes
Hank Williams Jr. performed the MNF theme song, adapted from one of his own, for 23 years. He is not sportsvssports favorite country singer, and while Williams had become a relatively polarizing figure over the years, the enduring popularity of MNF tempered any desire their might have been to make change. It took a scandal to cause a change, and ESPN went with no song, rather than something new, or either of the two older musical introductions.
Since ESPN took over MNF from ABC, the focus on celebrities, particularly from the pop music pantheon, has taken on more focus. The best example of this focus is this list published by ESPN, of all of the music which is to be featured on the show. The list has some expected ‘artists’ and songs, and also Skrillex. Of course, Skrillex did not actually replace Hank Williams Jr. as the performer of the opening song, but the question of how a broadcast gets from Williams to Skrillex is perplexing, because of MNF’s consistent reliance on the tried and true middle of the cultural road. The video below illustrates the kind of reaction many an NFL fan has, will, or would have to Skrillex. Fortunately for some, it is merely background music, like many of MNF’s choices of cuts. Perhaps Nickelback is a beam in the bridge that connects Williams and Skrillex, or Panic at the Disco, or Korn.
Skrillex is huge, and the appearance of Justice and Slipknot certainly suggests that more than pop charts are mined for use on NFL broadcast. Never the less, the trend of familiar, non-threatening country and rock is clearly bucked. The Rolling Stones are the primary musical association MNF, if not the entire NFL, wants people to have. For someone like Skrillex, who can probably tell you who called out ‘No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones!’ even a few seconds of background play represents a stark departure from the context his music is usually heard in.
If you can picture Skrillex, please spend the next few seconds imagining him trying to block Terrell Suggs. You’re welcome. Of course playing football is not necessary to enjoy watching it, and if you enjoyed the previous thought experiment, you may enjoy trying it with Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler, who along with Joe Perry appeared as guests in a version of Williams’ song early this season. The point is not that they’re more natural choices because they’re more athletic, the point is that football fans who are not interested in music can grant that the Stones and Aerosmith are cool. That this is not true makes no difference. Whether Skrillex is cool is debated amongst hipsters, many of whom may even like the Stones and Aerosmith, but those latter are ‘classic,’ not ‘cool’ in a contemporary sense. MNF music tends towards classic. Maybe that’s changing. Maybe next week we’ll hear Colin Stetson. One can only hope.
Fight Night, UFC 140 Round-up Style:
1. Featherweight bout: Canada Mark Hominick vs. South Korea Chan Sung Jung [Jung defeated Hominick via KO (punches) at 0:07 of round 1].
Mark Hominick is best remembered for his performance at UFC 129 in April of 2011, the first ever UFC night in Toronto. People remember him for the heart he showed, and that enormous welt on his head that the other guy gave him. Unfortunately, this fight is best described by Canadian Mark Hominick’s words after the fight, “I’m sorry.” Chan Sung Jung, known as “The Korean Zombie,” knocked Hominick out in seven seconds. That ties the record for the fastest fight in UFC history. In an effort to pay respects to Canadian customs, “The Korean Zombie” also apologized.
2. Welterweight bout: Canada Claude Patrick vs. United States Brian Ebersole [Ebersole defeated Patrick via split decision (29–28, 28–29, 29–28)].
Ebersole employed heavy doses of “dirty boxing.” This is easily the least exciting tactic I’ve seen. Hey, I’m just going to lean up against you and sneak in punches here and there, but mainly I’m not going to let you do anything. Usually fighters use it to get something, but Ebersole was just cool with the leaning and the minimal action. This bout was littered with failure, making it difficult to judge. Ebersole repeatedly failed to take down Patrick. Patrick’s countless attempts at choking Ebersole were to no avail. The Canadian Claude Patrick lost the split decision.
3. Light Heavyweight bout: United States Tito Ortiz vs. Brazil Antônio Rogério Nogueira [Nogueira defeated Ortiz via TKO (strikes to the body) at 3:15 of round 1].
A dude sitting near us was unnecessarily loud when cheering for Tito Ortiz. Everyone at the bar had to listen to him explain to his girlfriend why Ortiz is so fantastic. Apparently, it was Ortiz’ upper body. Antônio Rogério Nogueira has a twin brother whose fight would follow. Nogueira knocked Ortiz down and stayed on top of him for a good minute, where he pounded on the ribs (upper body) of Ortiz. Likely after a few broken ribs, the ref stopped the fight. Dude was much quieter after that.
4. Heavyweight bout: United States Frank Mir vs. Brazil Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira [Mir defeated Nogueira via submission (kimura) at 3:38 of round 1].
The other twin, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, fought Frank Mir next. It is startling how similar his name is to his twin brother’s. It is safe to say that their parents probably dressed them the same for a prolonged period of time. This fight was spectacular. Nogueira had control of the fight, knocking Mir off balance and taking him to the ground. Mir took the punches and manoeuvred out of several different holds, to somehow emerge from all the grappling with Nogueira’s arm in a compromising position. Mir proceeded to snap Nogueira’s arm, ending the fight. The UFC broadcast couldn’t help but show the arm break, over and over again. People stopped looking at the monitors that circled the bar.
5. Light Heavyweight Championship bout: United States Jon Jones (c) vs. Brazil Lyoto Machida [Jones defeated Machida via technical submission (guillotine choke) at 4:26 of round 2].
Jones enjoyed a 10-½ inch reach advantage over Machida. Everything Machida did was described as “karate-like.” Machida had been studying Karate since he was 3. Machida’s quickness allowed him to get close to Jones, land blows, and still duck any counterpunches. Jones kept his composure. In the second round, Jones forced Machida to the ground and pinned him down long enough to land an elbow in Machida’s forehead. The gash on Machida’s head was so big that they paused the fight to let the doctor’s examine the injury.
When the fight resumed, Jones knocked Machida down while simultaneously taking a blow himself. That was the difference in the fight. When Jones landed his punches, it would hurt Machida. But Machida wasn’t hurting Jones. With Machida still wobbly, Jones punched and kicked Machida to the wall of the cage. Jones sneaked into a chokehold and it took the ref a long time to realize Machida was no longer resisting. The ref told Jones to let go and Machida’s body parts fell on top of each other with gravity holding them together.
–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/
You think for a moment that the South East Conference must finally be investigating ‘the U,’ but wait a minute; the Hurricaines don’t play in the SEC! No; it’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, and this MLB franchise investigation doesn’t involve Bernie Madoff. It involves the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County issuing over $480 million in bonds to build a stadium for a team which would not show them its financial documents. Oh yeah; they signed Jose Reyes and Heath Bell! That’s actually the punchline, in that area taxpayers get the two players in a trade — for municipal service and job cuts.
That’s right, the city and county are broke. The Marlins, however, are not broke and never have been. They blew up their last World Series winning team immediately, citing the certainty that it would happen anyway, given their poverty. That poverty, it turns out, was a savvy hoax. The team playing in a football stadium with a consistent and predictably terrible win-loss record was making money, and hiding it in Fastowian ways. It should be mentioned around this time that current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria once sold a Major League Baseball team to Major League Baseball, which is kind of like somehow convincing Ford Motor Company to buy your old lemon. Between that and the sweetheart deal that Washington gave the ‘spos to become the Nat’s, people might start to realize that Bud not only knew, but has abetted the whole ‘tell ‘em your poor and you might have to skip town’ scheme from the get-go.
As always, the Devil is in the details. What? You though the almost half a billion was the devil? Sadly, it is not. Jeff Passan actually gives a very good treatment to this scandal, with good links (including to one of the sources above). Anwyay, as you can see from his article, that 480 million is actually estimated to be close to two and a half billion dollars, once the interest is paid and the thing is finally amortized. Of course, in the meantime, the city and county duke it out over which of them (obviously not Loria and the Marlins) will pay the property tax on the parking garages attached to the stadium.
The people’s view of this is pretty clear, with the mayor at the time of the deal being recalled and summarily booted. The article linked to in the last sentence also refers to the Reagan era tax-code changes that in part enabled so many of these kinds of shenanigans, but the people, like Mike Stanton in the outfield, have yet to catch that one.
There is a final element to this joke, and that is in those financial records leaked to Deadspin. While Paul Beeston once said ‘Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me’ (Passan), the Marlins actually showed their profit. In other words, if they’d ever seen the books, the former mayor and all his peers in incompetence would have seen it, in black and white. Not red. Just black and white. And anyway, what was Loria going to do? Move the team? To where? Montreal?
With Berkman and three closers (Papelbon, Nathan, and Bell) getting things started, here are the sportsvssports 2011 MLB off-season predictions:
Albert Pujols – St. Louis (Lozano flops again)
Prince Fielder – Chicago Cubs
CJ Wilson – New York Mets
Roy Oswalt – Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish – Hokkaido
Jose Reyes – Florida (Done pending physical)
Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia
Mark Buerhle – Washington
Aramis Ramirez – Los Angeles Angels