June 17, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Justin Rose wins U.S. Open: Justin Rose capped off a spectacular Sunday of golf winning the U.S. Open (+1) for his first major championship. He became the first British golfer to win the title since 1970 when Tony Jacklin did it. Just as big of a story was Phil Mickelson finishing as the bridesmaid yet again, as he finished in a tie for second at +3 with Jason Day. Mickelson’s eighth 2nd place finish ties him with Sam Snead, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson for the third most runner-ups in majors history. Jack Nicklaus leads the way in that category with 19.

Alex Ovechkin was the winner of this year's Hart Trophy over the weekend.

San Antonio Spurs take 3-2 series lead over Miami Heat: The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat by way of their Game 5 win on Sunday night. That puts the Spurs in position to win a fifth ring for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan … but it won’t be easy. San Antonio still needs to win one out of two games in Miami and the Heat just don’t lose very much at home. And with an NBA title on the line, you can bet the fans won’t be easy on the road team.

Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins tied 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece with two exciting contests thus far. Andrew Shaw scored a goal in the third overtime of the Game 1 thriller to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win. The Bruins won Game 2 in overtime behind Daniel Paille’s third goal. Even if you’re not a good hockey fan, two overtime games already should make you want to watch the rest of the series.

Chad Ochocinco Johnson heads to jail: Chad Johnson caught a break in his no-contest plea to battery charges against his then-wife when a court was ready to give him a community service/counseling deal to avoid jail time. But when Johnson smacked the butt of his attorney at excitement over the deal … well, let’s just say the judge wasn’t impressed. Judge Kathleen McHugh told Johnson it wasn’t a joke and promptly rejected his plea deal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Seriously, though – what was Johnson thinking? I can understand being happy at the prospect of not heading to the clink, but he clearly should have showed a bit more restraint until he got out of the court.

Alex Ovechkin wins Hart Trophy: The Washington CapitalsAlex Ovechkin took home his third Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP over the weekend. The winger is only the eighth player in league history to win that many. Other players such as John Tavares and Sidney Crosby were also deserving, but Ovechin led the league with 32 goals and did so in a season where he moved to wing.

Tim Tebow signed by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a bit of a splash last week when they announced the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t question that coaching guru Bill Belichick can find a way to utilize him in some way. What is surprising is that New England would bring him in with what should be a minimal impact. Unlike in New York, Tebow isn’t being brought in to challenge starter Tom Brady. So unless Brady goes down with an injury, Tebow’s impact at the position would be small. The talk is already about making Tebow a receiver or part of offensive packages as a skill player, but will he really be such an offensive difference-maker that it will make it worth all of the added attention and scrutiny of the team? Not likely.

Jason Kidd hired as Nets’ head coach: Last week I mentioned the possibility of the recently retired Jason Kidd becoming the Brooklyn Nets new coach. The Nets, who hadn’t previously had Kidd in mind, were convinced after his agent reached out to them and Kidd was hired last week. My opinion hasn’t really changed on this – a team with expectations so high shouldn’t be hiring a rookie head coach. He was a great player, but other greats such as Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Wes Unseld didn’t exactly make a successful transition from player to coach.

Dwight Howard and Chris Paul teammates?: ESPN reported last week that free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul may be exploring options to end up on the same team together. This move, of course, isn’t unprecedented with several players doing this in the past, including the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Howard and Paul are rumored to desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, but that would require a few things to happen. The team doesn’t have the cap space to sign Howard, so they’d need to do a sign and trade for him. And chances are that Blake Griffin would need to be included in such a deal.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney says football will soon end: Speaking at a football academy, Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney declared that the game of football will end in 10-20 years because it is too dangerous. Barney’s not the only one to voice such an opinion with all of the talk of concussions lately, but I’m not sure the game ends anytime soon. After all – a sport like boxing where athletes take repeated shots to the head still exists. And when you consider that football is the most popular sport in the country, the guess here is that football continues to implement more safety measures rather than shut down entirely.

April 10, 2013

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Alexander Ovechkin Is Back To Being A Star

By: Matt Bowen

The Washington Capitals were expected to win a handful of Stanley Cups not too long ago. Led by Alexander Ovechkin, the team was winning and had a plethora of young talent. A fortuitous future was in store for the franchise.

Ovechkin is currently tied for the league lead in goals (26).

The organization signed Ovechkin to an 8-year, $124 million deal in 2008, which was the largest in NHL history at the time. As we all know, money neither buys happiness nor championships.

Now, some five years later the franchise is Cupless and until recently, the fan base was scratching their collective head. The once solid core of talent that filled the Caps roster was either traded away or plagued by injury. Their star seemed to nearly disappear in recent years. Until recently, it was as if Ovechkin forgot how to score.

He took the NHL by storm as a rookie in 2005-06. He netted 52 goals and finished with 106 points and took home the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year honors. Remember, that season was also the debut of Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was dubbed “The Next One”, drawing comparison to “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky. Ovechkin quickly won fans over as the “other” great player of his class.

He followed up his rookie campaign with 46, 65, 56, and 50 goals in his first five seasons. That’s 269 goals in five years. Holy cow!

Then, a surprising regression occurred. He scored 32 goals in 2010-11 and 38 in 2011-12. While most teams would be happy with that output from their top player, “Ovi” was put on a higher pedestal. He only produced 65 total points last season, and thoughts begin to swirl that something was wrong with the star.

Even with all the previous success that Ovi has had, the Capitals have yet to make an impact in the playoffs. They have not reached the Stanley Cup Finals with Ovechkin as their leader. With the dip on the scoring sheet in 2011-12, many pundits began to wonder if he was the answer in Washington. They wondered if he was a “winner.”

The organization stood by their man and lately, he’s making them look good. The team is currently leading the Southeast Division and is currently third in the Eastern Conference.  Yes, their division is rather weak, but someone has to be king of the mountain and right now, it’s the Capitals.

Most importantly, “Ovi” is back to being a star. He can score in bunches and he’s doing just that this season. His 26 goals are currently tied for tops in the league with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ovechkin looks like he’s having fun again. It’s like he remembers that he can dominate. That he’s Alexander Ovechkin and others aren’t on the same level that he is. He hasn’t gone back-to-back games without a point in nearly a month. He’s lethal on the power play—his 14 goals with the extra man are five better than the next man, John Taveras of the New York Islanders. The Capitals capitalize on the power play around 25 percent of the time, which is tops in the NHL. He’s scored 16 goals since March 17th.

The Capitals were considered an afterthought in early February, now they are the most dangerous team in the league. Hockey enthusiast will remember that the Los Angeles Kings were in a similar situation last season before they squeaked their way into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. All they did was win the Stanley Cup.

Don’t be shocked when the Capitals catch fire and go all the way this season. “Ovi” will be the first one to hoist the Cup as he silences the critics.

Quoting the man himself, “It’s good to be Ovi.”

April 1, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Final Four set: The NCAA Tournament will conclude next week and the Final Four has been set. Like many years, the top seeds have disappointed for the most part. Included in the Final Four are No. 4 seeds Syracuse and Michigan, and No. 9 upstart Wichita StateLouisville was the lone No. 1 seed to get into the elite club. My bracket is completely busted at this point, but since I had the Cardinals to win it all, I can still finish respectably. And after two weeks of NCAA Tournament action, I’ve got to say Louisville is looking like the nation’s best team.

Kobe Bryant is now 4th on the all-time scoring list.

Opening Day is here: With Spring Training over, Major League Baseball officially got its season underway on Sunday night with a game featuring the Texas Rangers and new AL West team, the Houston Astros. As always, there are plenty of questions heading into this season. Will Stephen Strasburg continue his dominance after surgery? Can the Yankees overcome all of their injuries? Will the Angels’ additions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the past two years pay off? If you forced me to make an early season World Series pick, I’ll go with the Nationals vs. Angels, but don’t take that too seriously.

Dallas Cowboys all in with Tony Romo: The Dallas Cowboys have shown plenty of confidence in starting quarterback Tony Romo over the years. After another disappointing season, Romo was rewarded with a six-year $108 million extension. The deal could take Romo, who turns 33 this month, to the end of his NFL career. The $55 million guaranteed money he will get even topped the deal Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco recently got with the Baltimore Ravens. Many Cowboys fans likely aren’t all that thrilled with the new deal for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten them to a Super Bowl since he’s been with the team. But finding a franchise quarterback isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and the Cowboys think they’ve got their man in Romo.

Kobe Bryant passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list: Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant passed legend Wilt Chamberlain this past weekend for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he tallied point number 31,421. Statistics aren’t valued in basketball as much as they are in baseball, but Kobe’s achievement is still a big deal. Next up for the Mamba is none other than Michael Jordan, whose 32,292 points are third on the list. Bryant should easily pass up Jordan next season, but getting into the top two could be quite a feat. Karl Malone is second at 36,928 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list at 38,387. Bryant will likely need to play at least four more seasons to have a shot at catching Malone, so Jordan could be the last person he passes on the list. But if there’s anything Kobe has proven over the years, it’s that he shouldn’t be doubted.

Good news and bad news for Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced some highs and lows last week. The team traded for star winger Jarome Iginla earlier in the week in a move that may put the team over the top to win the Stanley Cup. But on Saturday, Pittsburgh lost captain Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw after he was hit in the mouth with a puck during a game. Crosby underwent surgery on Sunday and is now out indefinitely. The Penguins are still in pretty good shape, but losing Crosby to injury yet again has to be frustrating for the team. Crosby is regarded by many as the league’s top player but has dealt with setback after setback in the league.

Miami Heat winning streak ends: The Miami Heat’s long winning streak ended with a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, 101-97. Even though the Heat’s streak was snapped at 27 games, Miami still put together one of the most impressive stretches the league has ever seen. Plus, while the loss meant they fell short of the Los Angeles Lakers historic 33-game streak back in 1971-72, the Heat’s real target is another NBA title. The goal here is to keep everyone healthy for a long playoff run.

February 29, 2012

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Giving Credit to Evgeni Malkin

By: Matt Bowen

Heading into the 2011-12 NHL season, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a few looming questions. Mainly, what was the future of their franchise with injuries to stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

Even with Sidney Crosby injured, Evgeni Malkin is having an amazing season.

Within a three week span in January 2011, Crosby fell to a concussion and Malkin suffered a devastating knee injury. For a team that’s expected to perennially contend for the Stanley Cup, having their future Hall of Famers in doubt was worrisome.

While it’s unfortunate that Sidney Crosby is still sidelined with lingering effects of a concussion, Malkin has dominated this season. One would never guess that he shredded his knee not too long ago because he’s playing at such a high level. At this time, Malkin is leading the NHL with 78 points and has the Penguins looking like the Cup contender they’re supposed to be.

Because of Malkin, the Penguins are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. He has scored five points in a game a remarkable five times this season. Five times! In the modern day NHL, that is simply astounding.

Malkin’s 37 goals are second-best in the NHL behind Steven Stamkos at the moment.  His eight game-winning goals are just another reason why Malkin will be named NHL MVP at the end of the season.

The scary thing about Malkin is that he’s only 25 years old. He’s in his sixth NHL season and hasn’t even hit his prime yet. He has 195 career goals, 301 assists and 496 points. These numbers are undeniably great.

With an injury-free and solid finish to the season, Malkin will eclipse the 50 goal mark for the first time, which is the pinnacle in the NHL. Watching Malkin bloom into a legitimate superstar is pure fun. He’s proven that he can step out of the shadows of Crosby and shine on his own.

Keep your eye on Malkin down the stretch. There’s no slowing him down.

July 5, 2011

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Jaromir Jagr’s Road Ends In Philadelphia

By: Anson Whaley

When former NHL star Jaromir Jagr announced he was open to returning to the league, it was one of the few hockey stories that could cause a stir during the summer. Usually during this time, sports fans are discussing the MLB All-Star game, the NBA Draft, and NFL training camps (or, more importantly, Fantasy Football drafts). But this year, with two ongoing lockouts, the NHL found its way into the spotlight.

The Jagr tale is a curious one to be sure, having so many twists and turns that a compass would be needed to accurately follow it. It didn’t always look that way, though. Jagr appeared headed back to Pittsburgh near the end of the process without much controversy. He played the majority of his career with the Penguins, still has a home in the area, and had talked to owner Mario Lemieux (who he credits for his successful NHL career) about a possible return. But leave it to the enigmatic star to cause some drama and we should have all known it would never be quite so simple.

It all started with rumors that three teams were involved for Jagr’s services – the Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, and a mystery team. Various reports, including one from the reputable Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, spoke of a possible contract being in place even before Jagr’s flight landed in the U.S. as he traveled from Russia. But from there, it got murky – he didn’t arrive on time and his agent reportedly didn’t even know where he was for a brief time. The deal with Pittsburgh that seemed to be in place dissolved. From there, more teams got involved in the bidding, the Penguins and Red Wings both pulled their initial offers, and Jagr was off to the Philadelphia Flyers for a one-year deal worth more than $3M.

So what kind of impact can the former All-Star have on next year’s Flyers team? It’s safe to say that anyone expecting the Jagr of the 1990s will be disappointed.

While still a serviceable wing (and one that could have greatly helped a team such as the Penguins who are desperate for pieces to play alongside centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), Jagr’s game has predictably seen a steady decline. In his last three years in the NHL, his scoring plummeted from 54 goals to 30, then to 25. While 25 goals is still worthy of first-line minutes, the quick decline he had from those three years from 2005 – 2008 needs to be noted. And despite playing in the KHL, a Russian hockey league that isn’t on the same level as the NHL, his scoring further declined over the past two seasons. Jagr’s 2010-11 total of 19 goals with KHL club Avangard Omsk was the first time in his career that he dipped below 20 since joining the NHL as a rookie in 1990.

Now at the age of 39, Jagr will be hard pressed to score much more than 20 goals next season. Joining the Penguins would have meant playing alongside Crosby or Malkin and the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk could have been ideal fits as well. Either team would have offered innumerable scoring opportunities and a 25-goal season might have been within his reach – not to mention a legitimate chance to play for a Stanley Cup. But Jagr is joining a Flyers team which has cleared house this offseason, dumping nearly 80 goals in production by dismissing centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and forward Ville Leino. What does it all mean? With fewer scorers, Jagr should have more chances with the puck, but in losing its top two centers, he will be left trying to score on his own creativity. And at 39, that will be a bit tough to do.

Mix in the fact that Philadelphia is a big-time hockey town and one of the major media centers of the U.S., and Jagr will be feeling an enormous pressure to score.

When you add it all up, I’m not sure it spells disaster. But there were certainly better fits for Jagr than Philadelphia