Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions, Revisited

Sooooooo, the Anaheim Ducks are in the Cup. I know, many of you are probably not enthused (funny how I'm talking like anyone actually reads this). I will, however, point out that I PREDICTED that the Ducks would be there. Yes, I know, the Ducks were the odds-on favorite to make the Stanley Cup Finals from the Western Conference, but still, I did predict it, as well as the team they would defeat in the Western Finals.

As for the Eastern Conference- my bad. I totally missed the mark on the
Ottawa Senators due to the fact that they have choked every year since I can remember, so i figured "what makes this year any different?" And as far as the Buffalo Sabres are concerned, well, my condolences to anyone in the city of Buffalo who lost a family member to suicide or something like it the night of Game 5. I honestly thought they had it in them to win the Cup this year until I saw the way played against my New York Rangers in the Eastern Semifinals. Now, the Rangers were not a highly-regarded team going into the playoffs. Many even downplayed their sweep of Atlanta in the first round, and virtually wrote them off against the Sabres. The Rangers ended up playing a very good series though, winning two games, coupled with the fact that Buffalo got some extremely lucky breaks, and the last four games were all decided by just one goal. New York could have easily won that series, and it just would've sent the citizens of Buffalo spiraling into depression about 10-12 days earlier.

Now, what have we learned from the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far?

1. I didn't do half bad picking the outcome of these playoffs at their onset. When posting my original predictions in April, I ended up picking the results of 10 of the 14 series correctly. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

2. You still can't trust the Sabres. (See above)

3. The Ducks are one of the best franchises in the NHL over the last five years, as odd as that may sound. Keep in mind, this team has made the Western Conference Finals for the past two seasons and three of the past four seasons (five years, as we are obviously eliminating the strike year), and the Cup in now two of the past four seasons. They have a bright future, with solid talent and a lack of a goofy logo and nickname (the Ducks winning the Cup is nowhere near as devestating as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, hockey traditionalists!).

4. The
Detroit Red Wings continue to disappoint, as a regular season power only, similar to the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs of old, save the three titles since 1997, but not even a berth in the Cup since 2003.

5. The
San Jose Sharks are still an enormous disappointment year in and year out, so they own the title of "Biggest Western Conference Choke Artists", but who now owns the title in the East, since the Senators now have a Stanley Cup berth under their belts? The Flyers cannot take that honor since they are in rebuilding mode. The Sabres have only recently returned to prominence, so they don't have consistent years of futility to back this title up. For lack of a better choice, the honor now goes to the New Jersey Devils. Yes, they are a team who has won a Cup in the past five seasons, but remember, that was a seven game contest against the, then-Mighty, Ducks, and the MVP was awarded to J.S. Guigere that year. The Devils have since shown futitly rivaling the Red Wings, even with the best goaltender in the league. They may lose Scott Gomez and Brian Raflaski this offseason though, which could end their current string of regular season success.

6. The Anaheim Ducks WILL WIN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. They showed a lot of heart and grit against the Red Wings, especially in Game 4 without
Chris Pronger. Ottawa just isn't ready to handle a superior team like the Ducks who have played consistently well all season, and have played the tougher competition of the Western Conference all season as well. Expect a good series, but not necessarily a long one. The MVP will probably go to either Jean-Sebastian Guigere or Pronger.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Anaheim Ducks over Ottawa Senators (4-1)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Spurs' True Colors

San Antonio Spurs, congratulations. You pulled me out of hibernation and forced me to comment on the NBA Playoffs, when I it is near the bottom of my priority list. Or at least it was, until Game 4 of the Suns-Spurs series.

Now I have always hated the San Antonio Spurs. Maybe it's because they are my
Dallas Mavericks rivals. But even in the 90s, when I was still a Knicks fan, I hated them. It was probably how they refused to conform to the NBA image as a flashy league that played little defense. It could've been the fact that Tim Duncan was the quietest superstar on earth. It could've been their dominance over the Knicks (who were my team at the time) in the Finals in the lockout season. Regardless though, I felt that there was a reason to hate them. I felt they were arrogant, I just had nothing to back it up. Now I do.

During Game 4 against the Suns, the Spurs did a very un-Spurs-like thing- they collapsed with a lead in the fourth quarter. It is rarely seen in today's NBA, similar to the
Chicago Bulls of old, and the Lakers teams of the early part of this century. Once you're down, that's pretty much it. But the Spurs did collapse on this particular night. The Phoenix Suns, on the back of Steve Nash, the real MVP of this season, charged at the Spurs head-on, gained the advantage, and were just waiting for the last 18 seconds to tick off of the game clock. That's when the series changed. When the Spurs gained the upper hand. When they were virtually crowned NBA Champs for the 4th time in the past 8 years. It made me sick.

Robert Horry, to quote every other column on this subject "hockey checked" Nash into the scorers table, basically knocking him underneath it. The game was already out of reach for the Spurs, so it was completely unnecessary. But Horry still did it, because as a member of the Spurs, he thought he could get away with it. Or did he?

The Spurs were having trouble containing both Nash and the Suns other NBA First-Teamer,
Amare Stoudemire. Horry was scoring a little more than four points per game, and was not a pivotal player in this series, outside of one instance of last second heroics. With the way the Spurs have been playing this series (see Bruce Bowen going unpenalized for his actions against various Suns in the previous games), I wouldn't put it past the snide Gregg Popovich, and his team, to have planned this. Proof? It won't hold much weight in the eyes of many fans but look closely at the replay of the events after Horry's hard foul. The Spurs stayed put. Nobody moved off of that bench. There was little facial expression. The Spurs players did not look concerned about the brawl that was about to occur on the court. Why? Because they knew it was going to happen. The San Antonio Spurs, formerly the quietest, dirtiest team in basketball finally showed the world their true colors that night. They are cheaters. They knew the reaction they would receive from Suns players. They knew that Stoudemire, among others would rise to Steve Nash's aid. They knew Horry would get suspended. But they also knew that his actions would potentially draw other suspensions. They might have even hoped that Nash was injured on the cheap shot, but he's too much of a warrior for that. Still, in the end, the Spurs cheated. They cheated the fans, the Suns, and their league. The league did not have to let them get away with it, but they did, because they are the Spurs.

David Stern should be ashamed of himself for falling into the Spurs trap. Two players were suspended for being good teammates. Two players- Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire- were suspended for a critical Game 5 in a series that may very well decide who wins the NBA Finals two rounds from now. I know that there are rules, but this one was unncessary to begin with, and even more unnecessary to enforce in this situation. The NBA has messed up. If the Spurs do go on to win this series, and the NBA Finals with their play, they may lose a fan, in me. Is that what they want? To lose fans because they let cheaters win? I doubt it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Post-NFL Draft Thoughts and Predictions

Looking back at my post from yesterday, I forgot to mention the fact that I also participate in the most-pointless of all "big days" in sports. My list of the "big days" would include the Super Bowl, NCAA Men's Basketball Final, BCS National Championship Game, Selection Sunday, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup or NBA Playoffs, World Cup Soccer Finals (only every four years, sadly), opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games, and actually somewhere in the middle of those already named, the NFL Draft.

Yes, the NFL Draft. I've watched it since I was seven years old. For some reason the sight of college players holding up a jersey of their respective new team with the number one on it has seemed like an excuse to do nothing on one Saturday every April for the past 12 years. I know, and yes, I agree, it would explain quite a bit.

The 2007 draft was no different than years past, as I sat in my room, and watched for hours on end as the "drama" unfolded. I feel like my team, the
New York Giants, had an okay draft. Many experts are handing us grades of "C" on our "draft report cards". I'd say C+, but of course, I'm kind of biased. Still, it wasn't that story that had me talking to anyone who would listen that day. It was the same thing everyone else was chatting it up about, the fact that Brady Quinn dropped as far as he did. Now, I'm not a Brady Quinn fan. I HATE Notre Dame in general, to be completely honest. Not so much their basketball team, which earned some angst this past year because of what they did to my Syracuse Orange, but the football team. Those gold helmets just tick me off everytime I see them. Still, on this day, I felt sorry for him. My Dad and I both felt sorry for him, and my Dad and I were two of his biggest critics for the past four years. To be honest, I still don't think he was as good as advertised. I think he has a great personality, but I just think he, and his football program, are overrated, as evidenced by their collective performances in big games. To close on the Quinn matter, I think he'll be a good quarterback in this league because of the fact that he's playing for his hometown team. Put him in the space between the legacies of Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb when it's all said and done. Not that I can give you an estimate of where that is exactly, but yeah, that sounds like a good place.

As for the rest of the draft, teams seemed to address their needs, and teams without needs (Philadelphia, in particular) drafted in an area where they really DIDN'T need (a team with QBs McNabb,
A,J. Feely, and Kelly Holcomb, who have all started in the NFL, draft Kevin Kolb from Houston, a "product of the system" school if I've ever seen one). Even with teams meeting needs, the collective need of making the NFC better was NOT met. To be honest, I can't even name four teams from the conference that could CONTEND for a Super Bowl title, nevermind win one. That being said, my annual (I always do this, but this is the first time it has been in blog form) Post-NFL Draft predictions are as follows:

American Football Conference
1. New England Patriots
2. New York Jets
3. Miami Dolphins
4. Buffalo Bills
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Cincinnati Bengals
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cleveland Browns
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Houston Texans
1. San Diego Chargers
2. Denver Broncos
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Oakland Raiders

National Football Conference
1. Philadelphia Ealges
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. New York Giants
4. Washington Redskins
1. Chicago Bears
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Minnesota Vikings
4. Detroit Lions
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals

AFC Seeds: New England, San Diego, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville
NFC Seeds: Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta

AFC Championship: New England over San Diego
NFC Championship: New Orleans over Philadelphia

SUPER BOWL XLII: New England Patriots over New Orleans Saints

I wish I didn't have to write that, but well, after the offseason the Pats have had, I really can't find any argument as to why they won't win their fourth title in seven years. I can't believe I just said that. I hate the New England Patriots.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

It's Playoff Season

Do you smell that? Are your eyes watering? Is it hard to breathe? Many would suggest I'm referring to Spring, and the allergies that usually come with it, but no. I'm referring to Playoff Season.

What is Playoff Season? For those who don't know: the day the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. That feeling that there are only 16 teams out there that can win the championship. You would think that hockey would be enough, but no, the NBA also joins the party to make for what is almost always an enjoyable month and a half to two months for me. It also comes at an opportune time for me as well. I am an avid college basketball fan, being a student at Syracuse University. Okay, so maybe avid is putting it lightly. Rabid may be a better description of my allegiance to the
Syracuse Orange men's basketball team- But back to business. Following the NCAA Tournament (the greatest playoff in sports, by the way), any real sports fan needs to find an immediate outlet for their passion and energy. For some, they simply shift gears to baseball. I can do this for a few days, but why focus on a bunch of April games that aren't that important in the big scheme of 162 games? That's why I turn to Playoff Season.

Just for some background information on my sports allegiances when it comes to the NBA and NHL before we continue, so I don't have to continually explain anything later:

As far as the NBA goes, I am a
Dallas Mavericks fan. I've been one since 1999. I used to be a Knicks fan. Some may consider me a traitor for leaving my team just like that, but I digress. I still want the Knicks to be successful, I just want the Mavericks to be MORE successful. Some other noteworthy facts about me: I absolutely HATE the Rockets, Timberwolves, Lakers, Pacers, and Spurs. Don't ask me why, because honestly, they all have their own stories, none of which would probably matter to those reading this.

The NHL is a little less-complicated. I'm a
New York Rangers fan since I was born, and though I don't remember the 1994 Championship, I still take pride in it. If the Rangers aren't around in the playoffs, I will support the Nashville Predators or Colorado Avalance, just because I need a team to at least follow so I can keep myself involved in the playoffs. NBA teams I hate include the Hurricanes (for leaving Hartford), Coyotes (for leaving Winnipeg), the Flyers (for being the Flyers), and Devils (because what real Rangers fan couldn't?).

If you've gotten to this point in the article, you're probably asking the point of all this. The answer: last night. Last night, my Mavericks played in game 5 of a series against the Warriors that they should have won already, but instead were down 3 games to 1 going into it. My Rangers were also in action, taking the ice against the Buffalo Sabres. I also had a public relations paper to do. Playoff Season puts that paper aside.

After the Rangers won in thrilling fashion last night, knotting their series up at 2 games apiece, it was up to my Mavs to save their season, and preserve my sanity for the night. Now I know it was a little late, but before game 3 of the Rangers series, I began to grow a playoff beard. I'm incredibly superstitious about sports, ask any of my friends about the "Kerry Collins jersey", "Sox hat". or the now-infamous "Rally Monkey", and they'll be able to tell you what events I "claim" to be associated with them. But so far, the playoff beard worked quite well for my Rangers, as they have won 2 straight games since I began to grow it out, so it's staying for the remainder of their playoff lives. But back to the Mavs.

After a masterful first portion of the second quarter, the wheels began to fall off. We were up by 21 points, and the lead had hit single digits. I didn't think it could get any worse. Oh, but it did. With a little less than two minutes left, I saw the Mavericks losing to the Golden State Warriors, 112-103. I couldn't believe my eyes. What happened? That's when Dirk Nowitzki finally stopped whining and realized he should start playing like an MVP. That's when they baffled myself and everyone else watching with a 15-0 to close out the game. It was amazing, it was astounding, and it was probably one of the best playoff games I've seen in awhile. For some reason, several of the Blazers-Lakers games from the Western Conference finals a bunch of years back stick out with the distinction "great". I'm sure there were some in between then and now, but for some reason, I can't think of any. It wasn't just the fact that the Mavericks made an amazing comeback, it was the fact that they saved their season, and maybe Dirk saved his MVP trophy. Stephen Jackson getting thrown out? Baron Davis fouling out? Just added to the drama of the situation.

It's games like that that justify me staying awake until nearly 1 o'clock. It's games like that that cause me to go into near-fits every couple of seconds. It's games like that that leave me writing a paper until 4 o'clock that same morning. It's all worth it though. All for playoff season.