Saturday, January 22, 2005Quiz
A--Thoroughly examine all the evidence before you, even if it supports an opposing viewpoint, for use in developing an informed argument for your case; acknowledge the GM is a few months removed from turning a team bound for nowhere into the franchise's first pennant winner in nine years; and establish your blog as an oasis of thought in a desert of reactionary yahooism.
B--Cherry-pick your evidence, inflating the negatives of the players acquired while hiding the weaknesses of those departed - and doing vice-versa for their positives; interpret the GM's choice in literature in the worst possible light; ignore the last season's 93 wins because they support the idea the GM may know what he's doing, even if you haven't been able to think along with him; declare with absolute certainty an opinion about a fact, hoping readers conflate the two (LA's budget is not $100MM "nor will it ever be again"); plant your flag of argument atop a hill of snark; and make your blog undistinguishable from 90 percent of what else is out there - i.e., crap.
A Tip of the Cap..
The league's stance is simple -- they need a salary cup. The player's stance is simple -- they don't want one.
My stance is a little more complicated -- The cap isn't the issue, the crap is.
Let's be honest, fans could care less about salary caps, revenue sharing, collective bargaining, etc. They want cheaper tickets and more bang for the buck. Fact is NHL tickets are extremely high for the quality of play out there. Teams are choosing to build with brawn over skill, the days of the pure goal-scorer have passed. Who wants to pay $250 for his family of four to watch a 2-1 snoozefest with 37 total shots? No one I know.
The odd thing about this lockout is that the players have no actual leverage. Fan reaction to the season gone by has been lukewarm at best. ESPN's TV programs have shown a surge as there are many more viewers who enjoy watching poker and college basketball. And don't think the Worldwide Sports Leader isn't using this as leverage for a reduced TV schedule if and when the league returns. So the players aren't marketable on or off TV and the league isn't drawing in enough money to justify Bobby Holik's horrible salary.
Now, the bright side is that the NHL can still be successful with new leadership, new rules and a totally new marketing approach. So let's start fixing.
Bye-Bye Bettman: Gary Bettman was great for the sport, now he's killing the sport. My suggestion for NHL Commissioner would be Wayne Gretzky and apparently I'm not alone. If the NHL is going to rebuild, what's a better way to start than to bring in the most popular and most decorated hockey player of all time? Gretzky, however, will have to give up his obligations with Team Canada and sell his ownership stake in the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gretzky will quickly propose major rules to open up the game -- Restricted goalie pads, wider nets, wider ice, eliminate the red line...Basically he'll go fully international with the exception of automatic icing, one of the few (only?) rules that the NHL has an advantage over the international game.
Gretzky will also eliminating fighting altogether because he's going to market the NHL as a family product. Hockey "purists" will hate this rule but the casual fan hates the sport as is and they buy the majority of tickets. This will also change the way NHL players are being developed because the farms will have to emphasize skill over brawn.
So the ice is open is the play will be much faster so the goal scorers will come back out to play. Gretzky knows that the best way to draw mainstream attention is for a player to challenge a scoring mark or scoring record. If Jarome Iginla has 48 goals by the All-Star break, the league can sell the TVs on his chances of breaking Gretzky's record of 92. Records are a great (and legitimate) marketing tool that every league isn't afraid to shill (see Peyton Manning).
Eliminate the Tie: Today's fan wants wins and losses and in typical NHL fashion, they added onto the standing rather than eliminated. So Gretzky will abandon the tie in favor of the shootout. Again hockey "purists" will scoff but the fans will quickly learn to love the shootout and it will be an exciting way to end each game.
Get out of the ESPN TV Deal: For now, because when the league returns the network will reduce the schedule even more and the new rules will need more exposure. Instead the league should try to extend its deal with NBC to include CNBC and MSNBC....
On Saturdays CNBC shows nothing but paid programming all day, a perfect spot for a Saturday doubleheader. A dream schedule would be a midweek night game on MSNBC, Saturday doubleheader on CNBC and NBC shows games on Sunday. And when the playoffs come, the NHL will have three networks for playoff games, the same as they do now with ESPN.
And ESPN doesn't need the NHL, the network seems extremely happy with extending the poker brand and college basketball. The higher-rated programs also bring in more ad dollars.
Use an NFL-Style Playoff format: 12 teams, six in each conference. Top 4 seeds get a bye and the first round is best of five. The NHL playoffs are grueling and downright sloppy as they get deeper.
The quality of play really suffers in the conference and Stanley Cup finals as injuries have taken their toll. I want to reward the best teams in the regular season with first round byes and make the lower seeded teams work through more adversity to reach the finals.
Too often teams have sludged through the season, especially if a 6 seed will allow them to draw a weaker division champion. Now sludging through the regular season will put a team at a 3-5 game disadvantage against a well-rested opponent.
Hockey isn't dead, but it's on life support and in order to revive the spot many parts have to be replaced. Fans want more offense and more action, I think hockey has the potential to scrap the current product and finally give fans what they want.
Thursday, January 20, 2005Bracketology 201
Do you agree?
I understand it's just January but out of sheer boredom ESPN has decided to name the final four and then simulate it. Now I have no clue who actually runs these games (does anyone) but I have my own copy of College Hoops 2K5 and one of these days, I'll simulate it myself.
As for my final four...I like Wake Forest and Kansas....Illinois gets upset by Louisville in the Elite Eight (showing some love to the mid majors) and North Carolina loses in OT to Syracuse in the other regional final (Errr...Southeast or Charlotte or Beaumont, Texas....whatever they want to call the regions this year).
Discuss amongst yourselves and tolerate Blair's attempt to convince us that Marquette will be in the mix.
Here's the Statline
All Hail the King!
Dr. Z Gets an 'A'
While there are no perfect duos (or trios) in Z's eye, the team of Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots is consistently among the upper echelon, while ESPN's team of jackals (Ron Patrick, Paul McGuire and Joe Theismann) finally reached rock bottom.
A couple of gems:
(On the Curt Menefee, Tim Green team): Tim, I know you were an English major at Syracuse and a very bright student, but maybe you ought to read a little Isaac Bashevis Singer. Some of us take it very seriously when we hear a schneid refered to as, ugh, a snide.
(On the Al Michaels, John Madden MNF team): Consequently, somehow Madden and Michaels have been steered toward getting off the game action quickly and turning to events of the day or problems of the league, or farm prices in Argentina, or something. I cannot believe that on their own they would show such a lack of interest in the action on the field when the spread reaches 10 points or so, no matter how early in the contest.
(On the ESPN team of drones): They used to provide a teeny weeny bit of information. Now they provide none. And they contradict themselves,
often from one series to the next. I don't think they're really fully aware of what they're saying.
Enjoy the brilliance.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005Offseason Adjustments: Indianapolis
-- Continue to draft defense: They've made some good moves -- Dwight Freeney, Mike Doss, Bob Sanders -- solid first-day defensive picks. With 70% of the salary cap invested in offense they must continue to build the defense through the draft and reasonable free agents.
-- Convince a defensive veteran to come aboard: The Colts are CLOSE to the Super Bowl and they do have the best offense in the league along with a great defensive mind as a head coach. Now he needs to sell the chance to win a ring to some of the free agents out there. For starters I'd try to sign an underachieving Chris Hovan to a one-year deal, he's still got the attitude, he just needs the motivation. Then I'm looking for a veteran cornerback, Terrell Buckley will be available. I'm going to fill holes with veterans who are hungry to win a title and sell them on a one-year plan. If they can sign a defensive free agent to a longer-term deal, I would expect a run at defensive back Dwight Smith. He's got the ability to play man coverage when the Colts are forced out of their Cover 2 scheme.
-- Find an "outdoors" runner: Edgerrin James' statsheet on Sunday was 14 carries and 39 yards. On a sloppy field with the Patriots missing their best lineman, James should've been a lot better. He's probably going to walk because Indy can't afford and that's ok. I would suggest signing Anthony Thomas to a two-year deal. He's nowhere near the talent of James, but he's a tough back and the Colts will need that toughness in January. If the Colts get home-field advantage throughout next year, they could still use a strong back to eat clock in the tight games.
The good news is the Colts finished 13-3, the bad news is that they finished 13-3 and have nothing to show for it. They are still a few steps ahead of Jacksonville and Houston in the AFC South, but that will change in the next couple of years. Right now is Indy's best chance to win a Super Bowl, they have to pull out all the stops next season to do it.
Offseason Adjustments: Minnesota
-- Draft at least two defensive lineman: Much like the Chicago Bears did last season when they drafted Tommie Harris and "Tank" Johnson, the Vikings defensive line needs a major overhaul. It seemed like Donovan McNabb had enough time to make a pot roast on several plays last week. The Minnesota defense has been rebuilding for about 12 years, but it's impossible to see any real results without a strong front four. As for their most recent drafts, Kenechi Udeze has some potential while Kevin Williams appears to be a servicable tackle, but not the star they need. Chris Hovan will walk and no one seems to care, nor should they.
-- The Running Ratio: No one expects Randy Moss to go anywhere in the off season and I fully expect him to have a career year in 2005 to push up his free agent value. However, the Vikings have three good running backs and the biggest decision the team has to make is to choose who will be their feature back between Michael Bennent and Onterrio Smith. Moe Williams is an excellent receiver and his job appears to be safe. Bennett is the speedier back, but Smith provides durability and flexibility with his receiving skills. Bennett is injury prone, but Smith is on the NFL drug watch list. Whoever the Vikings choose, it's pertinent that they improve on their 18th-ranked rushing attack.
-- Sign at least one tough veteran: This team needs leadership desparately, they need a Willie McGinest type, a Jon Runyan type, someone that can keep this group focused down the stretch. If Rodney Harrison is available in the offseason, grab him. Do they need a safety? Maybe. Maybe not. But they need the leadership in the locker room. The late-season collapses are less about talent and more about the lack of character.
Offensively the Vikings are more than sufficient, Daunte Culpepper is starting to turn his game up to the next level, the running backs have great potential, the receivers have done an excellent job. The good news is they don't have so much money tied into long-term contracts on offense that they can invest a good amount of cash into the defensive unit. My first suggestion would be to invest in a major free agent (John Abraham?) and draft another potential difference maker in the first round. Then post-draft add a few character guys. The NFC North is the weakest division of the weak NFC, so the Vikes can run away with this division and enjoy some of the next postseason in the comfort of their dome.
Offseason Adjustments: N.Y. Jets
However, they aren't playing this week and they won't be playing anymore this season. So it's time to make some suggestions for offseason improvement.
-- Fire Paul Hackett: Possibly one of the worst NFL assistants in the league survived last season thanks to quarterback Chad Pennington. When pressed to defend him after Saturday, Pennington failed to. "That is a decision that coach Edwards has to make, and as a player, I am going to support the decision that coach Edwards makes." Now who they would hire to replace him is the subject of much discussion, but the decision to fire him will come down soon.
-- Deal Curtis, Keep Jordan: This is the toughest decision to make, especially when you are giving up the current rushing champion. From a personal standpoint, the Jets want Martin to go into the Hall of Fame as one of them. From a team standpoint, they can't get the most out of their other offensive weapons without a change. Jordan is younger, faster and gives them a gamebreaking threat. Martin remains an excellent back for a ball-controlled offense, the type of offense the Jets would want to replace with a new offensive coordinator.
-- Trade up, draft shutdown corner: They've got the lineman, they've got the linebackers. Now they need a franchise cornerback. Given their success with University of Miami graduates, I would suggest trying to trade up and draft Antrel Rolle. Could Martin be used in a trade to swap first-round picks. It's very possible. With the return of Donnie Henderson to the staff and Derrick Strait to the field, the Jets could be looking at a top five defensive unit next season with or without John Abraham.
One thing the Jets won't do is panic. At least I don't expect them too. They've made the playoffs three of the last four years. They've finally won a road playoff game and should have won another. The organization has some major free-agent decisions to make (Abraham, Kareem McKenzie), but they are in a spot to have long-term success if they continue to make the right moves.
Sunday, January 16, 2005Offseason Adjustments: St. Louis
I'll start with St. Louis since I have no personal stake in them.
The 47-17 beatdown the Rams suffered shouldn't have come as a big surprise. The Rams are as good as their .500 record. In a normal NFC year they wouldn't have been a factor, much less a Divisional finalist. So it's obvious the Rams can get better in several places.
-- Depth and Toughness: It wouldn't kill the Rams to draft nothing but offensive and defensive lineman in April. They are extremely thin at both positions and they lack toughness. Guys like Tyoka Jackson and Ryan Pickett, who are strong backup linemae, are playing about 15-20 plays too many. Damione Lewis never really panned out at defensive tackle and Grant Wistrom took the big money in Seattle so the opportunity to rebuild a line is there. I would draft one of USC's tackles in the first round (Shaun Cody or Mike Patterson), either will be a nice piece in the center to build around. The Rams can add offensive lineman like Michael Munoz (Tennessee) or Wesley Britt (Alabama) on the first day.
-- New defensive coordinator: I understand it was Larry Marmie's first year with the organization but he stunk with the Cardinals too. There's no excuse for giving up 320+ yards rushing. This is the National Football League, not the Big XII. Marmie's defenses are soft, confusing and the players in the system aren't worked hard enough. There are a few good, young prospects out there like DeWayne Walker and Eric Mangini that could step in and do as good a job as Lovie Smith did.
-- Dump the Marshall Plan: It's time for Marshall Faulk to move on and give way to Stephen Jackson. I don't think there's a trade market for Faulk like the Jets might find for Curtis Martin, but there's no doubt that Jackson is ready and he's got the burst of speed that Faulk no longer possesses.
Obviously St. Louis will always be crippled as long as Martz is the coach. He'll get stubborn, he'll always have terrible clock management skills and he'll always want to be the center of attention. However, the Rams have made a Super Bowl in spite of him before, they have the talent on offense to do it again.