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2013 MLB Preview from Someone Who Doesn’t Care

In MLB on April 8, 2013 at 6:22 am

By Chris Carosi

I’m not a baseball fan. I enjoy the game, and I respect the game, but I do not follow it. Case it point: it took me about thirty seconds to start following the Giants since moving to San Francisco from Pittsburgh.

It is a bit easier when your hometown team is the Pirates. Here’s a bit of a strange myth that only baseball can keep going: the Pirates haven’t been to the playoffs since they traded Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants in 1992.

I’m doing this because this venue allows it. Let’s do this.

Bonds was thin and a League MVP more than once when he played for the Buccos. That’s the last thing that happened for them.

American League  East

The only division in baseball I can actually list the teams. Why? Yankees and Red Sox are burned into my medulla via ESPN. I’m going to go ahead and say that the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry will be key for this division. Also, the Rays get shafted with travel expenses by the League every goddamn year and that’s what they get for existing in Florida.

Because I pay attention to uniforms more than baseball, I realize the team name is just “Rays” and not “Devil Rays” anymore. That sucks. I mean, it’s just a ray of light? It’s intangible. Is it a particle or a wave? What does the color blue have to do with it? You can’t ride it like an underwater horse. The team is dead to me.

Who will win the division? Baltimore Orioles

What? Why them? Because no one has ever seen an oriole win anything

Dark horse: Toronto because Canadians are overrated as a people by rule

Was this a big deal? I don’t know who this is.

American League Central

Allow me to educate YOU about the American league Central from a casual baseball fan: “There’s a team in Kansas City?”

The Royals might be the most irrelevant sports franchise in the big 4. What was the last thing they did well? Be near some really good brisket? I think largely the Major Leagues are home to the most evil franchises in the U.S. The ones that keep their payroll purposefully low so the owners make a huge profit. Read also: Pirates, Pittsburgh.

But this division has the darker, cooler Chicago franchise. If I was a Chicagoan, I would never be caught dead rooting for a team that has a baby animal as their mascot like the Cubs. Just silly. Rooting for an article of clothing is much better.

Who will win the division? Detroit Tigers

What? Why them? Because they have descended back to earth

Dark horse: Minnesota Twins because Prince is from the Twin Cities.

Prince. Huge Twins fan.

American League West

Ah, the AL West, home to Jeff Gibby’s A’s and now the Astros, who moved over from the NL. See I knew that shit. They also have snazzy new unis that are very awesome. The Rangers won the pennant two years in a row recently but lost the World Series both times. I really enjoy that. Besides my surrogate relationship to the A’s via my current residence, this division sucks… I think.

Who will win the division? Oakland!

What? Why them? Elephant logo on their jerseys

Dark horse: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Located in Orange County South of Los Angeles

“Look at those angels… in the outfield…!”

National League East

Lots of heavy hitters in this division that is only slightly less annoying than the AL East. Philly sports I just loathe with abandon due to their strange entitlement and this. The Braves are a respectable but unlucky franchise and the Miami Marlins are just useless. That’s all.

Who will win the division? The Mets 

What? Why them? Because they are the Clippers of Major League Baseball

Dark horse: Seattle Mariners because seriously who would see that coming?

Okay, Mets, let’s talk about this. A baseball that somehow grew a body? That is some psychedelic shit right there.

National League Central

Home to my hometown Bucs, this division is dominated by the Cardinals year-in and year-out it seems. While the Cards remain the most successful franchise no one can remember, the rest of the division deals completely in raising expectations and disappointing leagues of unnecessarily loyal people. The Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and especially the Cubbies haven’t done a damn thing since Pete Rose had this haircut more often in public.

Who will win the division? Pittsburgh Pirates

What? Why Them? It has to happen at some point

Dark horse: The Pirates also. Just let it happen.

Look! The Pirates have a pierogies race. That is so Polish and awesome.

National League West

Home of my favorite team, the Giants. They are the defending champs and they are extremely strange when compared to other teams. From a media perspective, they are the best team to not have any kind of backing by the media. They’ve won the World Series twice in the last three years with no credit.

Buster Posey is a beast. That’s about it. Elsewhere the Dodgers succeed and fail by the phases of the moon and Jonathan’s Diamondbacks I have no clue at all. This division is always competitive. See that sounded pretty informed.

Who will win the division? Not the Giants so… Colorado?

What? Why Them? Working on it… Well, they do wear purple and that counts for something.

Dark horse: Arizona. There’s a lot of support from this blog for them I think.

world series trophy brian wilson

This guy exists.

So there you have it. There should be some time of fund built just in case I am actually right. I’ll see you at the games!

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The Penguins Are Trolling the NHL

In Media, NHL on March 29, 2013 at 6:15 am

by Chris Carosi

Last night I was at the bar, enjoying myself, trying not to be awkward, talking about Doctor Who or something when I looked up at the television above the bar and saw that the Penguins had traded for Calgary forward Jarome Iginla. I convened with my one friend in the Bay Area that loves hockey and he said, being more informed than I, “I just read Boston got him.”

After a few hasty iPhone searches, we saw the truth. No, the Penguins swept him, seemingly at the last possible second.

I went home and checked it out. The entire Internet was trolled by the Penguins. Everyone including reputable sources like TSN (that’s Canadian ESPN) were saying the Boston Bruins had landed Iginla. This was going until an enormous sigh swept over the Internet, like a long breeze sweeping the Cheetos crumbs from underneath the servers around the globe: “Oh shit. Sorry everyone. Iginla is going to Pittsburgh.”

TSN’s venerable Bob McKenzie apologizing to the Internet

What’s even stranger (or awesome depending on your POV) is that the reason why Iginla came to Pittsburgh is that he chose to. He has a no trade clause which means he can waive it to play for a contending team. That’s why he didn’t go to Boston. He didn’t want to. And the Pens only gave up two mediocre prospects and a first-round pick for him.

Add to that the Penguins addition of the other big name grizzled veteran on the market (Brenden Morrow from Dallas) and the best big defenseman on the board (Douglas Murray from San jose) and you have an ungodly stacked roster of dudes that want to win a cup. The current NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby is playing spectacularly and the team is in the midst of a 13-game winning streak (longer than the Blackhawks 11-game winning streak this season–their 25-game streak was a points streak, not wins). And, oh yeah, the reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin hasn’t played since March 9th. The Pens haven’t lost in March yet.

Douglas Murray: Swedish Troll.

The Pens have trolled the entire league before the league can blink an eye. They have usurped control of the Eastern conference with skill, front office suave, and haven’t even spent any money or traded anybody.

Iginla has a huge cap hit so he will be gone after the offseason probably. This is what a team who wants a Cup looks like. They are determined to put fixes in place to win now. The trolls can have class.

NHL Mid-Season Report

In NHL on March 11, 2013 at 8:54 am

by Chris Carosi

With a shortened season due to the lockout, the NHL has already arrived at its mid-season. The good news is that this quickened season has meant fantastic hockey and close races (especially in the Northeast, but we’ll get to that later) because every game really matters. It also means a very, very interesting trade deadline date looming in April, which might provide some teams with the added juice to get to the Cup.

Calgary forward Jarome Iginla is just one of many high-profile players in demand at the deadline this year.

Fewer games means that each point is more important and the teams vying for those last few spots are battling like never before. Seriously it’s great. Makes the NBA look like a kitten fight. Let’s take a look at the each of the six divisions, who will win and who is the dark horse in the Stanley Cup playoff race.

Atlantic Division

Current leader: Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-0, 36 points)

Who will win the division: Pittsburgh

The dark horse: New York Islanders

Even though Pittsburgh has been solid for years now, they’ve only won the Atlantic once since Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005. They are heavy favorites because they are just a beast on offense with no sign of stopping. They look to lead the league in goals for the second straight year. In fact, in their last 5 games, they’ve allowed 18 goals. They are 5-0 in those games. But if they want to get back to the Finals, the defense has to be solved. Age and a significant failure to keep opponents out of the crease has led to too many goals allowed. Their goaltenders haven’t been able to save games in that span either.

The Islanders have the young talent and speed to score a lot of goals too. Their weakness has also been on defense, where they allow well over 3 and a quarter goals per game. They have plenty of young leadership with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo among others, so they’ll end up leaning on those skaters to keep scoring. The shortened season favors them to climb the standings over the old and injured New Jersey Devils and the nose-diving Flyers. They play better on the road, which is typical of a young squad, and would help them in the playoffs. Now if they can just get rid of that atrocious alternate black jersey. Side note: they’re playing in Brooklyn starting next year. Hova!

“Nice work, boys. Oh no, look at us in the jumbo-tron. Jesus.”

Northeast Division

Current leader: Montreal Canadiens (17-5-4, 38 points)

Who will win the division: Boston Bruins

The dark horse: Toronto Maple Leafs

The Northeast is very, very competitive this year, which came as a surprise. They could easily qualify four out of the five teams into the playoffs if things stay as they are right now and right now things are cray-cray. With the exception of Buffalo, who are just awful before and after firing longtime Coach Lindy Ruff, the rest of the Northeast continues to play exciting hockey.

“I know I look like an inflated Rutger Hauer. Doesn’t win hockey games.”

Bruins/Canadiens battling it out for the division title is good for the game, but I think the Bruins’ superior defense and experience will give them the edge by the end of the year. They’re just a little better than the Habs, and that’s saying a lot. Michel Therrien has turned the Habs into a balanced, tough, and tenacious group overnight, and they will certainly make life miserable for whomever they face in the playoffs. Boston has only lost 3 games in regulation so far this year, and they are as solid as they’ve ever been.

Toronto are the new kids on the block, and after so many years of re-building, seem to be clicking as a group. They have a great group of fast forwards with the likes of Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Nazem Kadri. Goaltending has been okay, and will have to be better to advance in the playoffs. If they can steal some games on the road in the first round, they might get lucky and draw a team with a weak defense like Pittsburgh in the second round. You never know.

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and his strange combo of mean face + dweeb hair.

Southeast Division

Current leader: Carolina Hurricanes (14-9-1, 29 points)

Who will win the division: Carolina Hurricanes

The dark horse: Winnipeg Jets

The Southeast is as flimsy as its ever been in this abbreviated year, with the strong possibility of only qualifying one team into the playoffs, their division winner. Carolina is not a very good team, especially when compared to their peers in the Eastern Conference, but their history is based on either raising or lowering expectations in an extreme way, and then performing in a manner opposite those expectations. This year, they brought in Alex Semin and Jordan Staal to bolster their offense and power play unit, which dwindles at the bottom of the league. The Canes are leaning on their goaltender, Cam Ward, more than ever.

Winnipeg has put together a nice little spurt these last few weeks, winning 8 of their last 11 games. The Jets have had great production from their top forwards like Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and especially Evander Kane, who has emerged as a quality scorer. Besides that, there isn’t much to look at. But the Jets have the advantage in their last year in this weak division. If they can beat up on teams like Tampa Bay, Washington, and Florida, they could steal their way up the standings and get a playoff spot.

In keeping with our theme: I present Evander Kane’s hair. It stands for, “Young Money Cash Money Billionaires”. Not joking.

Central Division

Current leader: Chicago Blackhawks (21-2-3, 45 points)

Who will win the division: Chicago

The dark horse: St. Louis Blues

This year is all about Chicago’s ridiculous run of 25 games without losing in regulation. That’s an insane accomplishment, and even rarer when you think about how much more defensive the game has become since the old days. While the Blackhawks have the number one seed locked up yesterday, the rest of the division is kind of the same story as its been for a while. The Red Wings are solid as ever and the Blues, in spite of themselves, are an explosive team on paper.

Why does Patrick Kane look like this when he skates? He is drunk all the time.

The Blues need to get their shit together. Their defense has been very poor this year. This is especially frustrating given their awesome one-two punch of goaltending in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Both have been injured and/or awful. The good news is that they have a lot of variety at forward with eleven players in double-digit points. Injuries have not been kind to the Blues either with key man games missed in goal and forward, including rookie Vladimir Tarasenko. The future is always bright in St. Louis. They need to make believers out of themselves.

Northwest Division

Current leader: Minnesota Wild (13-9-2, 28 points)

Who will win the division: Vancouver Canucks

The dark horse: Colorado Avalanche

A very strange lackluster year so far for teams in the Northwest, as Vancouver has proven to be mortal and everyone else either too crappy or just too wet behind the ears. Although experience down the stretch will give the Canucks the edge, a team like Minnesota, all bound up with energy from their new leadership in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, as well as rabid fans can get them what they very well deserve: their first playoff round win since 2003. The pressure is on.

There’s an outside chance that a team like Colorado could sneak in as they get healthier but yeah, I don’t know. The Northwest is a wasteland of hope and Roberto Luongo. It’s hard to imagine any other team but Vancouver doing anything extraordinary in the playoffs, but there’s a lot of hockey left. Colorado (the snappers of the Blackhawks aforementioned streak) has some jump very recently. We’ll see if they flake out.

There is no reason for why I dislike Roberto Luongo. It’s just fun I guess.

Pacific Division

Current leader: Anaheim Ducks (18-3-3, 39 points)

Who will win the division: Anaheim

The dark horse: San Jose Sharks

The other great team in the Western Conference are the Ducks, who have been destroying teams all year long. They have the league’s best power play unit (popping at over 25%), one of the most prolific scoring offenses, and a quality young goaltender in Viktor Fasth. They are vulnerable killing penalties, where they are at the bottom of the league, but these Ducks know how to win in their division and are really the sexy pick to advance far into the playoffs given the hype now surrounding Chicago.

Thing you know but always forget: Teemu Selanne is 42 and faster than you will ever be.

Don’t know much about the Sharks, which is weird because I live in the Bay Area and actually saw them skate at the HP Pavillion once. Anyway, here’s a picture of the Cow Palace where they used to play in the 90’s. Here’s to another awesome battle to the end!

Dude. Best hockey venue of all time.

The Man in the Red Jersey

In NFL on March 8, 2013 at 7:17 am

By Chris Carosi

It’s a lot easier to decide what is “good” for an NFL franchise as a whole. One can access the skill and value of players objectively from a reasonable point-of-view and make educated choices based on that. For example, “Joe Flacco is overpaid.” That’s just one.

“Haha, yeah I was thinking about tattooing on my rear end, ‘My solid gold toilet is being made by Dwarves, bitch.'”

For a player, it’s a little fuzzy. Who is to say a player will succeed or fail in a certain system? How can one really with 100% certainty say a guy belongs in a particular franchise based on the past? How much of a player’s success is based on their individual merit and how much is based on the coaching staff or surrounding players? Can you drag and drop players with similar skill into a system and have it work?

This is why a GM makes more money than you and I. Professional football is a game of 22 role players on the field essentially, so filling the roster gaps with the best available skill fit for the coaching system and for the right value is difficult stuff. Add to this the nature of the game itself, which constantly shifting and evolving.

49ers GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh discuss the market value of Dockers.

There are examples of the good, the bad, and the weird with quarterbacks. Some players can walk into any team and simply pull the team with them like a magnetic force (Peyton Manning). Some have success with the right formula, fizzle out, get a big contract and then disappear (Daunte Culpepper, Jake Delhomme). Some have success, get a big contract with another team, fail miserably, get a second chance with the right system and supporting cast, and have success again (Kurt Warner). Some just practice really well and get passed around like a crumby bicycle and never get their head above mediocre (Kyle Orton).

Kurt Warner probably was huge in coaching Eli Manning though. Oh yeah, he’s touching his butt in this picture also.

And some are Alex Smith. The jury is out, has been out, on this guy for a long time now. It’s clear that the entrance of Jim Harbaugh and staff found whatever it was about his game that could be developed to a high level, and simply coached it exceedingly well to fruition. Alex Smith was on his way to these past playoffs, no doubt. He had a 70% completion rate before suffering his concussion last season, with a quarterback rating of 104.1. He was on pace for his best season ever before going down.

The entrance of Colin Kaepernick was a little bit of  a surprise. To me, it spoke more about the excellent coaching in San Francisco than Kaepernick’s skill.  To take a quarterback of a different skill-set and building the offense around that. Basically, it seemed like Kaepernick was just a better athlete and so they just plugged him in and went with it. Of course, it didn’t seem to work in Super Bowl XLVII, but that’s another article. We’ll see what he can do with a full off-season and mini-camp as starter.

“Coach, even if you get out-coached by your brother and have a tantrum on the sideline over a holding call tonight, you should know that we are definitely cooler than the Ravens.”

What does work, what has worked, for Alex Smith is the confidence of those around him. The patience he’s dealt with in his career is very rare in the NFL. It’s interesting that the 49ers stuck with him as long as they did, and that he managed to achieve success so far along the line, after four or five years of mediocre play. And while they did experiment with some other dudes like Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Shaun Hill, and J.T. O’Sullivan–Smith just stuck around and stuck around and eventually got kind of good.

Alex Smith will keep the red jersey on as he moves east to the centre of BBQ guzzling known as Kansas City, where quarterbacks have gone to slaughter as steady as a slaughter can ever be. Which is appropriate given the awesome brisket served all across KC. It’s clear that this is the only thing I know about Kansas City. The Chiefs haven’t had a steady and solid quarterback since Len Dawson. The MVP of Super Bowl IV. They drafted and traded Rich Gannon. And Joe Montana played there for two years past his prime. Remember that?

My first memory of the Steelers in the playoffs is Smokin’ Joe picking them apart past his prime.

Since Montana, who retired in 1995, the title of Chiefs quarterback has been filled by such excellence as:

Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, and Matt Cassel among others. And yes, all of those guys look exactly the same.

To be fair, the Trent Green era was pretty competitive. They had Dick Vermeil coaching and they had that one playoff game against the Colts where no team punted, but who will remember Trent Green? He was a good backup for the Rams. Just like Cassel was a good backup for the Patriots, and Grbac was a good backup for San Francisco. The players one remembers are further back, in the Schottenheimer era: Derrick Thomas, Christian Okoye, and… damn I’m blanking

So technically speaking, Smith breaks the mold. The Chiefs aren’t trying to groom a good backup into a starter (finally). They are trying out a guy-that-was-a-decent-starter-who-lost-his-job-to-a-younger-more-skilled-dude-due-to-injury. So we actually can say that things are looking up for Kansas City. And maybe Smith will have chemistry with Dwayne Bowe. And maybe the passing game will help the running game, and all of a sudden we have a competitive team again.

Speaking of contracts, Bowe is now the third-highest receiver in the league. He could have a great year if the Chiefs offense comes around. Or it could be terrible.

And if there’s a time for the Chiefs to make a move, they do it now. They’re only two seasons removed from a division title, and the AFC West is very vulnerable. Manning’s Broncos are very good, but he won’t last forever. The Chargers are terrible and the Raiders seem stuck in cement. The NFL rarely works out to what it looks like on paper. If Alex Smith is as good a leader as it might have seemed in San Francisco, we’ll be swimming in hot wings in KC!

Timeout: What Is Going On with Collegiate Uniforms?

In College on March 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm

By Chris Carosi

Even though analysis and opinions about trades and such mularkey are a big part of my egghead sports fantasia, I also have an absolute obsession with sports uniforms. They are so very important for a team’s image, either in a marketable kind of sense and also in a subliminal intimidation sense. Sites like these, which satisfy dual cravings for endless hockey jerseys and endless things to click on give a great insight on the history of sports clothing.

The colors red and black when put together yield speed and strength in my opinion. The Chicago Bulls or say the Atlanta Falcons just have that factor to me. Even “non-masculine” themes have picked up speed due to an established tradition: say, the Minnesota Vikings use of purple. Color schemes can and do have meaning. Whether it’s the official colors of the city itself like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Mets or colors reflecting the culture of the city like the Boston Celtics, uniforms are just as important as the team itself. Design too is a big deal and in a lot of ways can spell out a new look or attitude. Take for example the Denver Broncos who happen to be 0-4 in Super Bowls wearing the old orange jerseys and 2-0 with their new design, debuted in 1997.

So, that being said of professional sport, I recently I came upon this and… what the deuce do you call this?!

[image]

Agh! My eyes threw up into my brain!

This is real. All too real. There’s been a trend in collegiate sports in recent times for sportswear companies like Nike, Reebok, and  Adidas (pictured above) to experiment with uniform design. The onslaught is most noticeable in college football, where teams like the University of Oregon Ducks have (literally) a different uniform design for each and every game and spectacularly unfair mirrored helmets with duck wings on them. It can work if it makes sense. Take Rutgers’ cool “scuffed” chrome helmets: makes sense if your team is called the Scarlet Knights. That is inspired design.

Reflecting the sun’s rays into your opponent’s eye is what Oregon football is all about, not national championships.

Innovation is good. And while Oregon simply takes advantage of Phil Knight’s ridiculously gracious alumni donations (and seemingly vacant rules regarding uniform standards), other teams have blown the doors off the whole argument with designs and things that make your eye stomach lurch.

The pro game is a different beast. The NFL is infamous for crazy-strict uniform protocol, levying fines in the five-figure range for low socks.  The Golden State Warriors recent short sleeve jerseys that look like 60’s warm-ups but are not might be a starting trend. Might. Let’s take a look at 3 trends of the fabulous in college sport.

Matte-Finished Helmets

Word. It has an old school gridiron-ness to it that everybody likes. It is becoming really rampant in NCAA football. Everybody is doing it. And isn’t that weird that the trend is either no reflective surfaces OR completely mirrored surfaces? I’ll take matte finish because it’s not cheating.

Multiple Helmet and Uniform Combinations

Okay. Have to draw a line here. This is when it becomes a distraction. Above are the University of Marlyand’s uni combos, which far exceed the amount necessary. There’s an all-white Stormtrooper look? For really hot days or when you really want to show dirt? And a yellow-on-yellow with a black helmet? Dude on the far right looks like a banana popcicle with an olive on top.

This distresses me because it’s an illusion of identity. It might be exciting for casual fans or for Under Armor, who no doubt sells more jerseys this way (isn’t that why alternate uniforms were invented in the first place?). Actually, this makes perfect sense. Sportswear companies can’t sell player-specific jerseys, so they opt for this in a seedy attempt to make more money and to make me upset. I vote for a strict home and away with perhaps an alternate. It’s important to signal to the universe and yourself that your team has conviction. Every team with any kind of tradition of excellence has a traditional look.

Multiple Team Designs Otherwise Known As Fascism

Above are the new Nike “Hyper Elite Platinum” jerseys, made to create a black hole of sameness that sucks all the possibly interesting things that could make a school’s basketball program singular into a far region outside of space of time. Designed at the “intersection of performance and sustainability” with a name featuring at least three too many adjectives, these one-tone monstrosities seek to take away anything that could be cool about wearing a team color and absorbing it all with indifferent gray. What’s worse is the shortened name-mark like “Cuse” or “Zona” on the player’s chests defeats the purpose of nicknames by putting it directly on official team uniforms. That’s a no-no.

The Zubaz shorts shown above are the other side of the same coin. While the uniforms all have a common design, the idea is to accentuate the colors of the team. This has respectable ambition but just… I mean look at it again!

See? It doesn’t improve. Once your eye actually goes up, you realize that the Notre Dame player is donning the “key lime pie” color they’ve apparently had since Pope John Paul II.

These trends are the sign of sportswear companies pushing their power further and further. They seek to define a school’s image, or at least (working with the sports program) to keep recruits interested in their “brand” which (subjectively) gets more enrollment for the school. On paper this is shrewd but it is obviously distracting from the game. The players will play no matter what they wear, and I’m sure more than half of them could care less what they wear as long as they have the opportunity to compete. But still. Most people don’t play the game.

It’s as if sportswear companies are just going for it, trying whatever creeps out of their brain, coming up with reasons to create designs based solely on “performance and sustainability” rather than say, “colors that go together” or “non-ironic attempts at solid design”. This trend develops no doubt with the advent of HD-quality television, which show in crystal clear definition every last contour and detail of elaborate design.

What frightens me is even classic teams with a literally cinematic look like Notre Dame football aren’t safe from this. The two-tone helmet design this year was so gross it hurt my teeth.

There’s no big elaborate conclusion to this. If there’s a way to make money, universities will do it because they are evil. I mean, isn’t 75% of the college experience pretending you have a personality? That mentality has trickled back up to the top. In cutting down on arts education, we have created a monster.

Alex Ovechkin as the Scapegoat of Hype

In NHL on February 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

By Chris Carosi

NHL players just aren’t the same type of athlete found in other North American sports. There’s less personality, less “good” sound bites. Hell, if a player is mopey or even remotely upset after a game, the opponent team’s media automatically rips them for being “soft” or “emotional.” This is old school. At it’s best, the lack of personality or controversial sound bites after a game makes the game that much more refreshing to me, because the players just play and that’s it. It’s kind of nice.

The NHL is pretty conservative as a rule, and so is the approach of these athletes in terms of their own personality. The vast majority of these guys really do buy into team sports in a real way. It’s no surprise that ESPN has no interest in the NHL (and vice-versa): there’s no media heat coming off of it besides wins and loses.  There is little controversy, and very few, or any, players commit crimes. The NHL is the Fugazi of sports. Case in point: Alex Ovehckin’s passionate after-goal celebrations are seen as controversial by the powers that be. Yeah.

“One game at a time. Play as a team. Play our game. Blah bu-blah blah.”

For the sake of this article, you can think of Russian players in the NHL like a ballet version of the game, weaving between players and holding the puck trying to score on elaborate and beautiful individual efforts. Players like Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Datsyuk are dazzling in their ability to control the puck and move fluidly by sheer will into the attacking zone, dangling the puck between defenders and breaking the ankles of goaltenders. Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are wingers, and rely almost entirely on their strength and ability to shoot in the offensive zone while Malkin and Datsyuk, as centermen, combine offensive and defensive skills in both zones, scoring as much as they set up plays.

So, given the nature of the “Crosby vs. Ovehckin” dynamic, why was Ovechkin chosen at all? Crosby, as a centerman, plays an entirely different position with different responsibilities and different wrinkles to his game (and more pressure as a leader). Ovechkin, shoved into the role as leader and “rival”, is all muscle and speed with no real defensive game.  His defensive game is basically delivering crushing body-checks.

It’s fair to say that Crosby was bred since he was a fetus to be a leader and superstar, as weird as that sounds. It’s true. Ovechkin, with his abilities on paper (skate, shoot, hit, repeat), seems like an unlikely foil. He’s a winger: much easier to defend especially with all the hype.

Despite this article, this picture is awesome.

The comparison makes about as much sense  as Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And by that I mean it only makes sense in Reagan-era terms: big, powerful, tank meets modestly sized hometown pride and hometown pride wins. Seriously, wasn’t Drago in a different weight class than Rocky? Cocaine is a hell of a drug. This is my point: it’s not that Ovechkin is worse or better than Crosby, it’s that they are in different weight classes, different stratospheres, of the game.

And unlike Crosby, surrounded year after year with quality supporting players and goaltending, Ovechkin has a clueless front office to deal with. The Capitals, who have never passed beyond the second-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Ovechkin era, have been managed like a twelve-year-old playing NHL ’96. Instead of pushing talent toward the middle of the ice and stacking up defensively, they’ve created an offense with a one-note winger as its lead, with mediocre to decent players backing him up. And no consistency in goal. Ovechkin’s massive contract might put pressure on the front office to make hard decisions, and I won’t go as far as saying that he didn’t deserve it way back when. It’s something to think about.

“Let’s have a fair fight, gentlemen…um, given the seventy-five pound disadvantage.”

Washington’s attempts to bring the team back to basics with the hiring of defense-first Dale Hunter last year found Ovechkin feeling frustrated (despite still putting up 30+ goals) and the team floundering again: losing in the second-round of the playoffs to the Rangers. This year, new coach Adam Oates (himself once a very solid centermen) has a seemingly tissue paper squad, and an even more lost Ovechkin sharing a line with new linemates instead of setup man Nicklas Backstrom. So now, as the Caps wane into the background considerably, the media turns on Ovechkin, the unlucky leader of a damaged brand.

Caps owner Ted Leonsis. Just for Men equals hockey.

Ovechkin was never meant to lead. That was never his game. He plays hard and his talent in the offensive zone is truly one-of-a-kind. His shot is lethal and impossibly hard, like John Elway’s arm with the added torque of a composite propeller. His speed and power between areas on the ice (especially considering his size) is unmatched. His ability to use retreating defenders as screens while entering the zone is a brilliant innovation and shows his natural and superhuman ability to pick his shot. His game is not puck management or rallying cries. He’s not a noted passer or point man. He doesn’t have the patience or vision to set up an elaborate play.

The media’s recent turn on him is leftover from a forced attempt to make the NHL relevant again. For a designated leader in a non-leader role, Ovechkin is taking a lot of blows for the incompetence demonstrated by his franchise and the league. The media’s disassembling of his superstar status will only help him in the long run. As expectations lower, perhaps the Caps can begin to surround him with complementary talent and move forward.

I Left My Teeth in El Segundo

In NHL on February 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

By Chris Carosi

For being a traditionally cold weather (ahem, designed by Canadians) sport, ice hockey has actually been a tradition in California for a number of years now. Well before “Gretzky  Fever” in the late eighties/early nineties, the California Golden Seals were established in the hockey hungry breadbasket of Oakland, CA and the defending Cup champion Kings near the icy fjords of the mighty Los Angeles River.

In 1967, the NHL expanded to twelve franchises, doubling its number of the “Original Six” with some teams that are today just as synonymous with the imagery and mythology of the game: the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota (now Dallas) Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and the Seals. Those Seals later became the Cleveland Barons, and then eventually merged with Minnesota in the 70’s.

Visual proof that the 1970’s were better.

What those Seals could not do (fill seats, win games, or find confident ownership), the rest of the expanding hockey world could. The expansion of 1967–and the subsequent 1979 merger with the World Hockey Association (WHA), which brought in four more teams–created a steady gravitational pull of attention to the increasingly fast and fabulous professional game. Wayne Gretzky at the beginning of the 80’s and Mario Lemieux at the end bookended a fast, goal-a-minute era that seems ridiculous when compared to today’s game: the lack of padding on the goalies make the nets seem enormous and the players seem untouched as they gallop down the ice in a far less-obstructed manner.

“What is French for, ‘I do not look like an actual Penguin?'”

The NHL’s Pacific Division debuted in 1993, when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim joined the Kings and Shark as the third California franchise. Outside of the ubiquitous Red Wings and the young, fast, and dominating Chicago Blackhawks, this division has really done well, winning four cups since the division was founded and three President’s Trophies. Here’s a cheers to the great unsung sports division: the NHL Pacific Division!

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings’ snatching of Wayne Gretzky in the summer of 1988 was a dramatic shift for the NHL’s center of gravity. For a league more subservient to its history and forefathers than most North American sports and a strange conservatism that still in the year 2013 isn’t comfortable with displays of charisma, this was a shift of epic proportions. The Kings’ subsequent Campbell Conference Championship and loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 season was the first foray of West Coast championship hockey.

After losing that Cup Final his rookie season, Luc Robitaille went on to become the highest-scoring left winger in league history and still holds most of the Kings’ scoring records. And after slowly and smartly building up their franchise with pristine young leadership with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, the Kings positively destroyed the competition last year in a march to claim their first Stanley Cup.

Barry Melrose’s mullet coached the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1993.

San Jose Sharks

The NHL returned to the Bay Area when the San Jose Sharks broke ground at the Cow Palace (still a cowboy and rodeo venue in San Francisco) in 1990. The Sharks have been one of the great unsung stable franchises in pro sports, being heavily supported by a devoted (albeit very suburban) fan base for over two decades and attracting great players such as Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley to skate in the lovely and clean HP Pavillion. However, not unlike the McNabb-era Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL, the Sharks seem to play great hockey in the regular season and then stumble tragically in the playoffs. This year, they are off to a great start. Perhaps this shortened season will keep them focused enough to succeed in this year’s playoffs.

Sidebar: They serve brisket sandwiches at the Cow Palace at minor league hockey games. Not joking.

Anaheim Ducks

A franchise with the peculiar designation of being founded as a result of a Emilio Estevez vehicle, the Ducks have surprisingly remained one of the most successful franchises in the modern game, thanks to a (yes) devoted Orange County fanbase and an often brilliant balance of great draft picks (Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan) and ageless, talented veteran leadership (Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne). Debuting as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993, the Ducks wasted no time, making the playoffs in their third season, building a team around winger Paul Kariya, taking the hall-of-famer-packed roster of the New Jersey Devils to seven games in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, and then winning the thing outright in a dismantling of the Ottawa Senators in 2007. While the Ducks have been steady recently, they haven’t exactly been dominant. There main forward lines are getting older (like, ancient) but have been competitive this year with new coach Bruce Boudreau.

Jean-Sebastian Giguere had the strange honor of winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP) after losing game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2003.

Phoenix Coyotes

While not technically a West Coast team per se, the Coyotes are very much a part of the West Coast hockey conversation, although their main storyline is unfortunately their “will they or won’t they” game of relocation. The NHL has owned the Coyotes since 2009, and without a proper buyer, could very well be moved to Quebec City or some other ice chest in the fur-trapping wilderness of the Provinces. They began as the relocated Winnipeg Jets in the great franchise relocations of 1996, when two Canadian franchises moved west of the Rockies (the other being the Quebec City franchise, the Nordiques–confused yet?). It’s a damn good story that the Coyotes still have played scrappy, competitive hockey the last few seasons, led by unsung leader Shane Doan and skating against the Kings last year in their first Western Conference Final. Veteran leadership and scrappy-ness aside, these Coyotes (not unlike the actual animal they are named for) are a wondering spirit in the desert, and would likely excel better if laid in a nice firm base where they can be free.

A hockey player wearing a cowboy hat in full pads. Never thought of that, did you?

Dallas Stars

Though not a West Coast team, the Stars have been a great propagator of an expanded NHL in new markets since their founding all the way back in 1967 as the Minnesota Stars and move to Dallas in 1993. The Stars were the second franchise to ever win a Cup in a non-traditional American market (the first being the Colorado Avalanche). And being a frequent and beleaguered opponent to the teams mentioned above, this team is very much a part of the West Coast hockey conversation. They are re-branding their logos and uniforms next year, so look for that to be a resurgence for them.

The hockey world’s version of the Zapruder Film.

NFL & Brain Trauma: Head Against the Wall

In NFL on January 23, 2013 at 7:14 am

By Chris Carosi

Junior Seau had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. It most often occurs in boxers and it wasn’t until about seven years ago (!) it began to be seriously considered to be suffered by NFL players. This report contradicts the original autopsy conducted last year, which saw no physical signs of damage.

As reported on this very site, the kind of depression and other disorders arising in men after retirement from CTE is quite frightening. Suicide and other strange symptoms like personality changes and paranoia (those associated with schizophrenia) have occurred in numerous cases. There are many tragic examples to choose from without too much Google skills.

Junior Seau passed away in May of last year.

The Seau family worked with the National Institutes of Health in Washington state to deliver a comprehensive examination on Junior’s brain. The study confirmed evidence of proteins (known as “tau”) which tangle neurological strands and “scarring” consistent with repeated head trauma. All of this, no doubt, a direct result of a long career in the NFL.

It’s clear that the NFL is in support of treating those with CTE. Obviously. But their recent decisions like throwing out lawsuits filed by hundreds of former players for proper neurological healthcare (players in retirement) is quite gruff. The NFL claims that the CBA reached as recently as last off-season has these healthcare issues covered, but other reports that seem to show that the NFL tries to cover up the link between head trauma and the development of Alzheimer’s, CTE, and other horrific life-destroying ailments is rather spooky.

Roger Goodell’s tenure will always be looked at as the beginning of this investigation into head trauma and the NFL.

This issue lies precisely at the core of being a supporter of these athletes. Is the NFL in support of helping players with these problems? Yes, as far as they can while supporting this violent tradition (not to mention keeping a brand). The question is why aren’t they working to prevent it?

As recent studies show, the definition of a concussion is not just the bruising of the brain if it bumps the skull. It can also occur over the course of slight head traumas (those that accrue over the course of an NFL career probably). This has me thinking that there is not a cure for this. There just isn’t. The only way to prevent it is to not play football at all.

This is the dilemma that keeps Roger Goodell awake at night. Football = money. Big money. Like enormous skyscrapers of money that can’t be counted. Money that is waiting on the stoop when you open the front door in the morning. And of course Mr. Goodell is under constant pressure from the board of White Balding Grey Hairs to keep the money rolling. That is his job: to be an ambassador of the game and keep the game as pure as possible without showing the cracks, all this while progressing the game.

The NFL’s revenue structure and TV deals ensure that every Super Bowl is worth more money than the one previous.

It’s true that even with all this education and warnings and obvious correlation between football and suicide or at least football and mental health trouble, some (or most) men will play regardless. And of course this is their right as adults and citizens and all that. It’s a crazy, crazy thing to think about.

Then, if you consider how the college game works, breeding specimen after specimen of athletes from low-income households going to the professional with literally nothing to fall back on, then we have a big problem here: you can’t stop it. There’s too much at play to pull the plug on this elaborate machine. The high-road solution would be to up the education programs for college athletes to ensure at least a day-job if/when an NFL career falls through–but we all know how much colleges care about that as opposed to their football programs being on TV a lot. Of course, Certainly not every college athlete is inept at life, but it’s worth thinking about.

So this is the part that gets even darker. The conclusion here is that I fear it will keep going. The NFL will remain, and this head trauma thing will continue unless there’ s a drastic change (i.e. removing helmets) or television becomes obsolete and the NFL’s infinite money chain just peters out. After a while, the sound of many people “banging their heads against the wall” is akin to applause after all.

Hair of the Dog

In NFL on January 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

by Chris Carosi

Three of the four teams in the NFL’s “final four” this Sunday also played in last year’s championship weekend. The storylines have altered, but the demarcation of winning and losing remains the same: limit mistakes on offense and play sound defense and special teams.  How the games will go will depend a lot on that basic formula. There is rarely a boring game on this weekend historically.

You've never seen anybody like this during the playoffs.

You’ve never seen anybody like this during the playoffs.

Last year, it can be said that both Baltimore and San Francisco screwed themselves over royally with shoddy special teams play. Can they possibly do it again or just genuinely lose?

The good news for casual fans or fans with no team in the race is that the chances of someone new winning the Super Bowl is very good. With the exception of New England, the other three teams have had significant droughts or no championships at all. That is a good thing. Rest assured I will be rooting for any team not named “Patriots”. Let’s take a look at each team’s history in championship games and Super Bowls. This is your nerd warning.

Baltimore Ravens

All time W-L in AFC Championship games: 1-2

Last AFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Lost to New England)

Last Super Bowl appearance: 2001 (Defeated New York Giants)

The Ravens are running on adrenaline, which is historically a sure-fire way to upset team after team. That has been done before and recently, as teams with low seeds have actually won a lot of titles over the years (teams with higher seeds are just 12-10 in conference championships in the last 10 years). This is the Ravens second-straight AFC title game against the same team, which by sheer odds alone favors them (if you ignore the uh… game itself). They’ve dropped two AFC title games in a row going back to 2008, with roughly the same players. Their lone Super Bowl with Brian Billick’s defense-only squad in 2001 won one of the most irrelevant Super Bowls ever. Trent Dilfer was their quarterback. Trent Dilfer. I’ll say it again. Trent Dilfer. 

This was a strange, mysterious way to start the 21st Century.

Atlanta Falcons

All time W-L in NFC Championship games: 1-1

Last NFC Championship appearance: 2005 (Lost to Philadelphia)

Last Super Bowl appearance: 1999 (Lost to Denver)

The Falcons are underdogs at home for a lot of good reasons:

  1. They have trouble putting teams away
  2. Their defense is poop
  3. Historically bad at home in the playoffs

These playoffs are all about forgetting the past for Atlanta. They have struggled so hard in the playoffs under Mike Smith/Matt Ryan, and have already shit their pants once against Seattle. As above, I’ve seen teams bounce back from unimpressive wins in the playoffs before, but the weight of all that stuff plus the powerful 49ers offense coming to town is really daunting for this team. Also, their reaction to their Divisional win was way too emotional. The only thing that hasn’t happened for this team: they’ve never hosted an NFC championship game until this year. The last time they got this far, Michael Vick was their quarterback and they got smoked at Philadelphia. The time is now to set things right.

Super Bowl XXXIII (1999): “The One That Was Never There”

New England Patriots

All-Time W-L in AFC Championship games: 7-1

Last AFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Defeated Baltimore)

Last Super Bowl appearance: 2012 (Lost to New York Giants)

If we’re talking history, then New England pretty much sets the bar for success in these games. In the Belichick era, the Patriots began winning as underdogs in their “dynasty” years in the first half of the oughts and then as favorites for the last half, only losing one (to the Colts in 2007) in their entire history. They are heavy favorites at home in this game, and will no doubt do what they always do: crush you with their offense. So much pressure is on the Raven’s defense in this game. But as I said above, the odds are certainly in favor of Baltimore. You can’t lose the same game two years in a row right? Right?!

Tom Brady - AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots

“Sup, Joe? Next year I might do you a favor and choose to bang your wife AND your mother instead of beating you again. Fair trade?”

San Francisco 49ers

All-Time W-L in NFC Championship games: 5-6

Last NFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Lost to New York Giants)

Last Super Bowl appearance: 1995 (Defeated San Diego)

I didn’t know until I did research for this article that the 49ers have a losing record in the NFC championship game: including two in the Steve Young era. That kind of dulls the gold of their helmets a bit. But just like last year, they are favorites again. We all know what happened last year.

The 49ers are poised to erase this image from their canon.

Eli Manning even said after that debacle that the Giants had defeated a “Super Bowl Defense”. Kind of a high-road burn, that is. San Francisco is poised to win and there is no doubt in that defense to play tough. That might be all they’ll need to do to win.

Revenge of the Hockey Blogs!

In NHL on January 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

by Chris Carosi

A shortened hockey season of 50 or so games, with some changing faces due to the new cap and contract rules (no more 17-year contracts!), means a concise, fast-paced season rocketing toward a fun-filled playoffs with healthier (albeit beleaguered) players and (hopefully) re-ignited fan bases.

This also means an interesting race to the playoffs. Contrary to some predictions, the league is decidedly not expanding the playoffs. And from the looks of the Vegas odds, things could have started in October. We’ve missed the Winter Classic (damn) and the All-Star Break (thank god), but with a lot of the top players staying in good shape, things should pick right back up. Here’s the top five according to Vegas at a glance:

5. Philadelphia Flyers (12/1 odds).

The Flyers play like they’re a man down all the time, and while that means more annoyingly pointless and violent play from a collection of long-hairs, it also means they can mix and match mid to elite level forwards that buy into their system and win games. Solid goaltending is still a strange and mysterious creature to Philly, with the bizarre Ilya Bryzgalov starting and the inconsistent Michael Leighton backing him up, but if they can just shore up that defense, they will certainly contend again and try to make a run. Oh yeah and Jaromir Jagr has gone to Dallas. Darn.

“Yes, I have already placed my bet on your team to win all of Stanley Cup.”

4. Los Angeles Kings (12/1 odds)

A lot of lucky people made some dough off this bet last year, as the Kings did precisely what they set out to do: take advantage of a weakened Western Conference and usurp the Cup from under the nose of both the East Coast-biased media and the vast majority of American sports fans. While the Kings’ run was spectacular in its dominance (going on 3-0 runs for all four playoff rounds for the first time in league history), the extra long off-season has that Stanley Cup high in extended hibernation. It looks like Anze Kopitar will be out for 3 weeks with a bum knee, which doesn’t help either. The Kings will be ready to go though. Their defense and goaltending are way too awesome to let anyone down. Get the sun tan lotion out and drop the puck.

I have a bachelor pad on Malibu Beach!

3. Vancouver Canucks (9/1 odds)

The Canucks: the San Diego Chargers of the NHL. The hype machine that works up a constant spray of self-approval and mindless Luongo chanting is very, very easy to hate by anyone, even casual fans. Of course, from a hockey perspective, the Canucks will be poised as ever to earn another President’s Trophy.

Bobby Lu’s contract has a clause that states he only plays well at home.

2. New York Rangers (17/2 odds)

The Rangers shore up their ridiculous line-up with more ridiculousness by signing All-World power forward Rick Nash in the off-season. The Rangers, in spite of firepower and great goaltending, could not outscore the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Longevity has always been a issue for this team, signing elite players while letting their solid draft picks go. For the sake of argument, this shortened season is just the kind of thing that works well for a team like the Rangers.

This is equivalent to a Dwight Howard to Lakers situation without all the personality.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (8/1 odds)

Not far from the Canuck hype machine is the Penguins, although they do have the hardware to back it up. With the two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin returning in full health, it’s obviously the safe bet to win. There are chinks though, as revealed in last year’s laughable playoffs series with the Flyers, where the Penguins defense was akin to a sieve made of swiss cheese. What’s worse is their best d-man, Kris Letang, is strongly considering keeping his KHL contract. The loss of Jordan Staal to play with his brother in Raleigh also doesn’t feel good. If they do score eleven goals a night, it might not matter.

Hmm, I guess that hair doesn’t seem to matter in Russia either.

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