A Fan of the Game

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NHL 2008-2009 Predicted Final Division Standings

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Atlantic Division

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Southeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Central Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northwest Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Pacific Division
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October 9, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.

Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.

Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.

Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.

The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.

We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.

Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.

Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.

Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.

The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.

The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.

With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dissecting the Blue Jays

This Blue Jays team as of late has shown the MLB what it can really do once it gets rolling. It was necessary for GM J.P. Ricciardi to fire then manager John Gibbons. He had shown the Jays’ potential but could never really activate the potential when need be. So it was time for a change. Former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston replaced him and had a goal of a .500 record before the All-Star break. Toronto came close but did not achieve the .500 mark, but the message had been sent. The Blue Jays could come back into the AL Wild Card Race.

The Blue Jays lead the MLB in ERA with 3.55 and complete games (13). Ace Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett have been carrying the work load combining to pitch 437.1 innings and a combined 412 strikeouts. Unfortunately, their records have not really shown that with Halladay being 18-11 and Burnett 18-10. Still, the long innings these two pitch have helped to craft a very young bullpen still getting the hang of things. The only big name in the ‘pen is B.J. Ryan and has converted 30/34 save opportunities with 57 K – a solid season coming off Tommy John surgery. So, if you have pitching, you should be able to win games, right?

Well, let’s look at fielding, which was a problem for the Jays last year. After bringing in a slew of NL players in the offseason, the Jays are 6th in fielding percentage at .986. The defense is good, the pitching is fantastic. And the have a great offense already don’t they? With Rios and Wells? Not exactly…

Here is the struggle for Toronto: Offense. You can’t win games if you can’t get runs. Halladay doesn’t get you 5 runs for throwing a complete game, so the offense has needed to step up. Unfortunately, it has a little too late. Toronto is batting .265 on the season, good for 14th in the majors. A big problem has been missing ad that is a big bat in the lineup. Without Frank Thomas to protect young Rios and Wells, there have only been 117 homers hit out by Jays players: 25th in MLB.

Let’s focus a little bit more specifically on the offense. Believe it or not, there is not one Blue Jay that has 20 HR. The closest is Alex Rios with 17. Pitiful. Unacceptable in this day and age of the long ball. GM Ricciardi MUST address this in the offseason. If it means giving up a young pitcher or two, do it. You have got to manufacture runs. Keep in mind though, the Blue Jays have been bitte by the injury bug a lot this year, which they have the last two years. Only 3 players have played over 106 games (Overbay, Rios, Scutaro). Rios has been the money man for the Jays though, leaving me wondering if the Rios for Lincecum deal would have went through in the offseason if the Jays could do anything offensively. Rios has hit the most home runs, hits, doubles, and stolen bases. He can’t do everything though. He has got to have help. OF Vernon Wells just has never been the same since that huge deal a couple years ago.

There has been hope though! The last 30 days, the Jays are 4th in batting average, 4th in hits and the top 10 for most hitting categories in the MLB. They can do it. As much as I hate saying wait until next year, Jays fans, we are going to have to. Ricciardi will lose the big Burnett salary and hopefully can bring in some serious hitters, while keeping the main core of pitching together (Halladay, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch). Perhaps maybe bringing in a good arm or two for the bullpen. Maybe the slogan next year will be “Not the Rays, it’s the Jays!” Boston continues to get old, and the Yankees are a complete mess. It could very well be the Rays and Jays becoming the new Boston and New York. Now, wouldn’t that be something?

-Ray

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment