June 10, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NBA Finals tied up 1-1: After a close loss at home on Thursday, the Miami Heat rebounded for a 103-84 blowout win in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Heat still find themselves without home court advantage, but now have a fighting chance to win the series. Another loss would have put the team in an 0-2 hole facing three straight games in San Antonio under the 2-3-2 Finals format. And against the experienced Spurs, that may have been too big a deficit to overcome.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals series at 1-1 with their Game 2 win on Sunday.

French Open concludes: Tennis’ French Open wrapped up with a couple of the game’s biggest stars finishing on top. For the men, Rafael Nadal won a record eighth French Open title, defeating David Ferrer this weekend. Nadal won easily in straight sets and his eighth title at the French is the most of any man at any Grand Slam tournament. On the women’s side, Serena Williams won her 2nd French title, also in straight sets, over the defending champ Maria Sharapova. For Williams, it was her 16th major championship.

Major League Baseball/Biogenesis scandal: Major League Baseball is reportedly trying to suspend a group of 20 players linked to the Biogenesis/PED scandal. The alleged list includes some big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon. If the suspensions happen, some teams could find themselves in a bind. Players like Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta are parts of teams (the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, respectively) in playoff races. Because of that, it will be interesting to see what types of moves that clubs make in advance of any potential suspensions.

Coach Jason Kidd?: The recently retired Jason Kidd doesn’t want to spend a season without basketball. ESPN reports that the former point guard is interested in coaching – specifically, he wants the Brooklyn Nets’ job. A few years ago, that may not have been a half bad idea. But the Nets have a lot invested in this team and if I’m GM Billy King, there’s no way I’m taking a call from a player with no coaching experience in college or the pros.

The ‘Average’ Lebron: Dennis Rodman made headlines again when he said LeBron James would be an average player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comments were made when comparing James and Michael Jordan. James may not be as great as Jordan, but average? It’s hard to envision the 6’8” freak of nature as just an average player in any era. Rodman made a good point in that the game may not be as physical as it once was, but James does so much more other than score. He’s a tremendous rebounder and passer and there’s no question he would still be a star in that era … or any other, for that matter.

Marc-Andre Fleury to return as Pens’ starter: The Pittsburgh Penguins, Stanley Cup favorites after, were unceremoniously swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. In the process, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, was replaced by backup Tomas Vokoun who played well in the series. But head coach Dan Bylsma said afterwards that Fleury is a franchise goalie and will return as the team’s No. 1 starter – and that’s probably the right move. Fleury is only 28 years old and helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances only a few years ago. And with two years and $10 million left on his current contract, the Pens have little choice but to at least give him another shot if they are against trading him away.

Tommy Rees chosen as Notre Dame starting QB: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently lost his starting quarterback Everett Golson to an academic-related suspension. As expected, Kelly announced that he will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter in 2013, per mlive.com. That’s no surprise as he’s the most experienced player of the other options, Andrew Hendrix and newcomer Malik Zaire. The Irish are fortunate to have Rees as few teams have two quarterbacks with as much experience as he and Golson. Instead of turning to an inexperienced backup, Notre Dame has Rees, who started nearly every game in 2011 and has played in 33 career games.

Brett Favre takes blame in parting with Packers: Quarterback Brett Favre accepted some of the blame for his ugly divorce from the Green Bay Packers in a recent radio show interview. That’s good news for the two since Favre will always be recognized as a Packer even though he also played briefly with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. The Packers will want his participation in team-related events for the rest of his life, and it’d be much better if the two sides can reconcile and get along since Favre has been such a big part of the organization.

April 11, 2011

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Who Will Bring Home the 2010-11 Hart Trophy?

By: Anson Whaley

The NHL 2010-11 regular season is winding down, and it’s time to take a look at some of the leading candidates to take home the league’s Most Valuable Player award – the Hart Trophy.

Last year’s honoree, Henrik Sedin, is a candidate to become a repeat winner. With a second consecutive trophy, Sedin would join an exclusive club consisting of only 11 players including greats such as Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe. Sure, he doesn’t score much (Sedin has a modest 19 goals this year and has never scored 30 during any season in his career), but he sets up other scoring plays as few others can and has more than 150 assists over the past two years.

Sedin’s stiffest challenge for the award could ironically come from twin brother and Vancouver Canucks teammate, Daniel Sedin. Despite a spectacular 2009-10 season in which he tallied 85 points in only 63 games, Daniel didn’t figure into the Hart Trophy voting. A foot injury that cost him several weeks of playing time last season wiped out any chance he had of gathering any votes for the award in 2010. But fully healthy this year, Daniel has put up the best numbers of his career. He led the league in scoring and set career highs in goals and assists. The Sedin brothers may be competing with each other, though, since they’re on the same team and could end up splitting some votes as voters try to decide just who is Vancouver’s MVP.

Another pair of teammates are also right there for a chance at the Hart. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightningare another duo putting up a lot of points this season. St. Louis has been the model of consistency over his career, scoring at least 25 goals over the past eight seasons. As one of the top three scorers in the league, he’s sure to get at least some consideration for the trophy. Unfortunately for him, teammate Steven Stamkos is having quite a year himself, scoring 40 goals and also putting up nearly 100 points. St. Louis and Stamkos may have a similar problem as the Sedins in that they may cost each other some votes.

While the Canucks and Lightning made the playoffs comfortably, another candidate comes from a team that had to fight its way in, clinching a spot late in the season. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks should garner quite a bit of consideration for leading his team to the playoffs. The Ducks finished near the bottom of the conference, but an argument could be made that they’re not a postseason team without the 50-goal scorer. He’s always been a reliable goal scorer, but this season went from good to great, finishing with close to 100 points. That could be the difference in him winning the award for the first time in his career.

One player a bit under the radar for the first time in a while is the CapitalsAlex Ovechkin.  Ovechkin may be the league’s most talented player, and, even though his point totals are the lowest of his career, he still led Washington to the top of the Eastern Conference. That alone should be enough to keep him in contention for some votes.

And even though the award typically goes to an offensive talent, goalies and defensemen do occasionally win the trophy. A few goalies to keep an eye on are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Thomas is the better goalie statistically, leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. The Bruins also won the Division title and he was obviously a big reason for that. Luongo, however, plays for the NHL’s top team, the only team to win 50 games. His nearly 40 wins led the league this season. And a dark horse candidate to steal a few votes may be the PenguinsMarc Andre Fleury. The Pens have played much of the season without their two best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Fleury’s goaltending is the sole reason they are still standing. Pittsburgh has not only finished as a playoff team, but they were near the top of the entire conference. Take away a team’s two best players, and many teams would not win as much as the Penguins have this season.

March 7, 2011

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Crosby and Malkin Injuries

By: Anson Whaley

Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pens Championship Hopes Dim

Looking at the overall stats, it’s hard to see why the Penguins can’t make another Stanley Cup run this season. As of Sunday, the Pens ranked tenth in total offense (2.8 goals per game), sixth in total defense (giving up 2.4 goals per game), and first in penalty kill defense (86.7%). More impressively, they sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and their 84 points are only two behind the first place Philadelphia Flyers.

But don’t let that fool you – the Penguins have virtually no chance to win the championship this season. That’s because the team is missing not only their two best players, but two of the best in all of hockey.

The Penguins were flying high after an 8-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5th. Little did they know that the win would be a costly one. At the time, Sidney Crosby was looking more and more like the league’s Most Valuable Player. Through only 41 games, he had scored 32 goals and had a total of 66 points – better than a point and a half per game. But Crosby sustained a concussion in that contest and has been out with the injury ever since. The early projections were that he would likely miss about a week, but more than two months later, Crosby is still missing in action, and there is a possibility that he could be lost for the rest of the season.

The news only got worse for Pittsburgh when Evgeni Malkin suffered a season-ending knee injury a month later in a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Malkin wasn’t having a great year, but the Penguins could have really used him with Crosby out. And when healthy, he can be one of the league’s best scorers – Malkin averaged nearly 40 goals per season over the first three years of his career, and, though playing only 67 games, he scored 28 goals last season.

Things have certainly taken a turn for the worse without both players. Pittsburgh has won only four of the 14 games since Malkin went down, and they’ve not yet won one in regulation; all of those victories came in overtime or shootouts.

With the possibility that both Crosby and Malkin will be out for the season, the Penguins made some moves before the trade deadline to try to improve the team. General Manager Ray Shero first traded with the Dallas Stars, sending 2004 second-round draft pick Alex Goligoski for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Goligoski was a promising young defenseman, but Neal (who should soon be a 30-goal scorer) will give the Pens some much-needed scoring on the wing.

Shero wasn’t done, though. He then traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for a familiar face in winger Alexei Kovalev. No one would argue that Kovalev has seen better days, and at 38, he’s obviously on the downside of his career. But he scored 44 goals the past two seasons, and he’s on pace to score more than 20 this year. Because of his age, he won’t be a part of the Penguins’ long-term plans. But Pittsburgh got exactly what it needed for the playoff run – an experienced player capable of scoring some goals.

Still, while Neal and Kovalev could help, they can’t make up for the production lost by the injuries to Crosby and Malkin. With Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh has a goaltender that’s won a Stanley Cup, but the offensive deficiencies are probably too great to overcome.

So while I expect Pittsburgh to reach the playoffs and even win a round or two, Stanley Cup expectations are going to have to be put on hold until next season.