Goalie contracts a bad case of the overpaids

January 29, 2012

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.

All too famililar for a guy guaranteed 5.66 million in 2019.

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. 

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Who really won the NBA lockout?

January 15, 2012

Would Harrison Barnes have been one-and-done?

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.


NBA ‘Arms Race’ Still Hot

January 8, 2012

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


The Music of Monday Night Football

December 20, 2011

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.


Miami investigated by SEC/ MLB free agent predictions.

December 5, 2011

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


re: Presentation

November 27, 2011

Ten Bonus Points to Dorrell Wright

The Birdman is served his thanksgiving turkey.

Apparently Dorrell Wright is a Christian.  A real, practicing Christian.  At least practicing in the sense that he mentions God when explaining his motivation for saving a Thanksgiving celebration for his community’s elderly and less fortunate.  Also practicing in the sense that he’s got to get ready for the season awwwwwwwwyyyyyeaaahhh!  Wright’s contract paid him 3.8 million last season, but it was his first year of a new, relatively lucrative contract.  While locked-out, fiscally imprudent players scrambled to cover their expenses without their expected paychecks, Wright not only stepped up, but showed up, stayed, and said all of the right things.  He diplomatically implied regrets from those on the other side of the lockout, suggesting that others wanted to step up.  But they didn’t.

'They question my birth certificate too, buddy.'

Perhaps Dorrell Wright should represent Albert Pujols.  Apparently, being a good Christian is part of the fraud that has made the career of Dan Lozano, Pujols current agent, whom he left top agent Scott Boras for.  In the deal made by Lozano when big Albert jumped to him, Pujols become the 30th highest paid player in the game, despite being an all-star in all 4 of his seasons and having been the 2nd runner-up for the NL MVP.  During the contract’s duration he would be MVP 3 times; as the 30th, 34th and 26th highest paid player for each of those years. Boras would have gotten more, and would probably get more this time around too. Dorrell Wright may not; but at least Albert would have a Christian in his corner.


Amateur Collegiate Division 1 Football and Other Imaginary Things

November 10, 2011

As far as any reasonable person can tell, from a couch far away, Joe Paterno was never a great man.  Was he a great football coach?  Maybe.  As a person though, Joe Paterno is no Pinball Clemons, who is no Mahatma Ghandi.  Some of the players on his football team graduated from college.  He gave back.  Paterno’s status as a football coach is now forever tied to his inability to keep a member of his staff from sexual assaulting minors, including at least one on team property.

It doesn’t matter though, because football doesn’t matter.  We invest it with meaning for fun.  The swarm of failed human beings who flipped vehicles and chanted themselves hoarse in support of someone who covered for a child rapist would do well to remember that, but this should not be expected.  Those who lack even the basic empathetic skills necessary to grasp Paterno’s moral failing have given no indication that they are capable of that kind of abstract thought.

‘Disinterest’ is the term which describes the perspective with which one says to oneself ‘If I were not a Penn State student, and my self-worth were not completely dependent on the record of the school football team, I would want the criminal reported and apprehended.’    While the previous statement may be considered flippant by some, any claim that it misrepresents the morons who flipped the news truck is a claim that begs a question: Why do they care so much?

The meaning which sport has is granted to the sport by the fan.  In other words, the record of a given team only matters to you because you want it to matter to you.  If a football fan wants to imbue a team with meaning as ‘their’ team, why would they select a fake amateur one?  Because the stadium is technically part of the campus, and the uniforms bear the school crest?  Sure, why not?

Well, if the reason why not is ‘because they shield child molesters from the law,’ then any warm-and-fuzzies one gets when a pro or semi-pro athlete pretending to be a student at the same school reels one in the endzone have been trumped.  Sadly, commentary on this matter has consistently sought out dark corners, as interested parties and their legion dupes try desperately to avoid confronting the ugly truth of NCAA football.

It is not amateur.  It is not collegiate.  It is not noble, and it is not honest.  It is a beer ad.  It is poor people receiving brain damage, a choice they make when minors; often illiterate ones.    Perhaps this post takes on a bitter tone, but that is not because I hate football.  It is almost the opposite.  The NBA is gone, and deserves no attention when it returns, and for those of us looking for something to invest with meaning, College football could be that sports outlet.  Could be, but is not.

Oh yeah; and don’t apply to Penn State.