Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Week without Sport

Two weeks ago as I battled another bout of scurvy (as Steve would put it), I found myself in the middle of nowhere. Specifically, in a cabin on the Coon Trail, in the Quaker side of Allegany State Park. Other than the scrawling’s carved and sharpie’d into the walls with wisdom like “Zena was here” or “Boner ‘09” there was almost no sign of human life. Bears, snakes, turtles, woodchucks, chipmunks, birds and moths the size of birds (true story) were plentiful, WiFi and 3G were not. Any tie to the outside world was totally lost. No phone calls, no texts, no Facebook, and *gasp* no Twitter.

Most importantly, at least as far as my second ‘job’ is concerned, no sports. I mean none. I was told by friends who came camping later in the week about Boston’s victory and the subsequent meltdown by the city of Vancouver. I could only wonder if the NFL players and owners had shaken hands in agreement. I was FORCED to ignore the regular season of baseball, rather than choosing to like normal. And I have to admit, it was pretty great.

Diminishing returns is a law that dictates that at some point, the amount you get out of something decreases even as the amount of time you dedicate to it increases. A piano student gains more from the beginning of a lesson than they would two hours later. An athlete will hone their skills much more at the onset of a long practice than they will towards the end. Hell, even after playing video games for a while, I start to get less kills in Team Fortress 2 and Quake Live or get worse Guitar Hero scores. Basically, it’s a more eloquent way of explaining getting ‘burnt out’.

Sports fandom is not exempt from this. There are only so many times I care to talk about, read about or ask questions about the legalese surrounding the NFL lockout. It gets harder and harder to talk about the grey area regarding illegal hitting in the NHL. And even harder to try to make any sense of the suspensions handed down for such hits. There is only so much energy you can spend hating people you don’t know personally. King James I’m looking at you and your talents.

Before you call me a bad sports fan, believe me, I’m not. I live and die with my teams, and am passionate about tradition and the games themselves. But its @DonLikesSports, not @DonWillNeverGetSickOfSportsAndNeedsToHearReadArgueWriteAboutThem247. I don’t think Twitter would let me have a name that long anyway.

And besides, what did I really miss? Sadly, nothing happened on the NFL front. And though I’ve heard it described as ‘great’ (including by our favorite host Steve, @diversity23), the Stanley Cup was far from it. Most games weren’t close. The games that were close were somewhat boring. The games Boston dominated were marred by poor goaltending by Luongo. And I’m still not sure if Kesler or the Sedin boys know the Cup Finals have come and gone. I would go so far as to say the only game that even sniffed greatness was Vancouver’s 3-2OT win in game 2, and would go even further and say 6 of the 8 first round series were far more entertaining. This was far from Pittsburgh v. Detroit or even Philly v. Chicago of recent years. I will admit I hate missing the handshakes, but TV always seems to get that wrong anyway.

What I got was a much needed shutdown and restart for my sports-filled life. I took a break from my increasingly cynical outlook on one of my favorite escapes in life.

Now I’m back and in the middle of it and sports and I are enjoying a rejuvenated romance. Word is increasingly positive out of the NFL universe. The night before the NHL draft, a few world-shaking (at least on an NHL scale) trades happened (more below). And July 1st is right around the corner. It’s hard to be more excited about sports than I feel right now, and there are very few games (aside from MLB, which I’ll come around to in October) even being played.

So my suggestion to you the reader is, when your team has you down, or you can’t take any more negative stories about athletes’ off-the-field lives, or you’re sick of hearing about organizations struggling to make ends meet while you pump another $80 worth of gas into your car, take a break. Find a forest, or a beach, or a cave without WiFi, 3G or cable TV and just escape. You’ll feel better for it, you’ll come back wide-eyed and loving sports even more, and you’ll find it’s easier than you’d think.

…as long as it isn’t fantasy football season.

The live-blog that (thankfully) never happened...

I sat down on Friday evening before the start of the NHL draft and wrestled in my mind over the idea of doing a live NHL draft. Sure, most people (myself included) do not have the familiarity with these kids that they do with the NCAA football players drafted every year. But on the other hand, one of the biggest shakeups in the history of the NHL happened the night before, and rumors were FLYING that it could be a wild draft. I wanted to be ready if my team or ANY team made a huge splash and moved up to get a kid they thought 'couldn't miss'.

Then a strange thing happened. Nothing. I watched as the first, second, third, forth picks were made, exactly as Mel Kiper would've drawn them up. Nothing of the huge variety that was swirling around the internets and blogospheres. I mean, Minnesota and San Jose made a significant move a few hours later involving now ex-Shark Setoguchi and former Wild'er (?) Brent Burns but nothing approaching the deals that went down the night before.

Basically I just wanted to take a second to both pat myself on the back for not wasting my time, AND express that I TOTALLY would've written a blog had one been merited.

...and the trades that did

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Two players the Flyers drafted in the first round of one the best NHL draft classes ever (2003). Carter is a big power forward who you can pencil in for at least 30 goals a year. Richards is one of the best two-way forwards in the league and respected enough amongst the players and coaches in Philly to be the team captain. The two players drafted on the same day now share the distinction of being traded on the same day.

The Sabres lost two of their best players, Chris Drury and Danny Briere (ironically, a big reason the Flyers felt comfortable trading the other two centers) on the same day before, but got nothing, and more importantly, got worse. The Flyers trade two of their best players, in their prime and didn't worse, and probably got better. Here's a quick recap:

Flyers trade:
Jeff Carter (To CBJ)
Mike Richards (To LA)

Flyers Recieve:
Jakub Voracek (From CBJ)
2011 1st and 3rd (From CBJ, Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins)
Wayne Simmonds (From LA)
Brayden Schenn (From LA)
2012 2nd (From LA)

Rule of thumb in trades is, the team that gets the best player wins. The Flyers gave away the two players in their prime with the best resumes. I HATE the Flyers, but I love these moves for them.

The Blue Jackets and Philly deal is one that seems to help both teams. Philly sheds a little salary, which allows them to sign a real number one goaltender, something they've been missing since Hextall. They turn that into picks and a former first rounder (Voracek) who has underachieved in Columbus where, I looked it up, they do still play hockey. Columbus finally gets a talented player in Carter to play with superstar Rick Nash, who people only get to see at All-Star games. I'll call that trade a draw.

The Kings deal is FAR more puzzling. I had a lot of respect for the leadership and style of play of Mike Richards before this year's playoffs. But, as much as Flyers fans defended him during the first round series with the Sabres, he was exposed. He was exposed as a selfish player that clearly could not lead by example. One who let the Sabres role players get under his skin. One who took bad penalties and visibly sulked and hounded refs before AND after games. Rather than picking the team up and saying things like "let's forget about that one boys" or "who cares, as long as we win" he played with a cloud of immaturity surrounding him. The trade is evidence that the Flyers decision makers agreed.

It also doesn't hurt that they got a kid who dominated the World Juniors in Brayden Schenn and will probably be the odds on favorite to win the Calder in 2012. Not to mention they get a nice 3rd liner in Simmonds that should help the Flyers return to the style that is their reputation. Most fans won't like to admit it, but the Sabres were the tougher team, and they were BEAT DOWN physically by the Bruins. The draft pick further sweetens the pot.

This move is really puzzling from the Kings point of view, but I guess it means they are going for it now. They gave up a bright future, so they'd better be right.

More than anything, I think these moves show the value of true number one centers in the NHL. Philly took two of them and got back potential riches in return. The Sabres are still looking for theirs and at times, struggle to consistently get production out of talented wingers like Vanek, Stafford, Pommenville. God I hate the Flyers.

The Sabres

The Sabres also made a move to get a little more experience and a little "thicker" (their words) on D. The move, in addition to making them better, and adding a guy who will hopefully get Myers to play more consistently physical, is a very telling sign. This is a move that Darcy would not have been able to make under previous ownership. Not because of Robyn Regehr, but because of Al Kotalik. Now, Al enjoyed many very productive years in the goat uniform, but seems to have lost any scoring touch. And also, I believe Darcy Regier when he says he expects Al to compete for a job. The way this move is different from Darcy in the past, is Kotalik represents a $3M player who will not likely live up to that number. The difference now is Darcy can afford to buy him out or better yet, bury him in the minors if his slapper and shootout value remain MIA.

Butler was a nice player, who will probably have a long future in the league and might even develop into a 3 or 4 d-man. But the Sabres have a log jam of guys fighting for the 5,6,7 D spot and losing one doesn't hurt. Gragnani, Sekera, and Weber are all comperable (and probably better one way or another). Brayden McNabb is looking very promising and the Sabres have a lot of depth at the D position.

So in short, I love the move and it makes me very optimistic for July 1st and beyond. Let's Go Buff-a-lo!

Take us out Lukin and Maggie!

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