Friday, April 23, 2010

First Day Recap and Second Day Preview

The NFL Draft completed it's first round last night in record time, allowing me to watch the end of Pens/Sens without distraction. While I don't like the NFL competing head-to-head against the NHL/NBA, they were competing anyway in the past. I love how this is spread out, allows for speculation and trades overnight. It's like the NHL Draft, without having all six other rounds going today and splitting the 2nd and 3rd from the rest. Here's some thoughts:

-I think we all knew the Rams would draft Sam Bradford because they felt like they couldn't pass on QB again. While Bradford could be a good player, if he doesn't work out, the Rams will continue to flounder. Ndamukong Suh was the best player in this draft and the Rams would have been better served to take him and then they would have their choice of Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy to open the second round tonight.

-The Lions in my eyes were the big winner by grabbing Suh and trading back in to take Jahvid Best at RB. Best adds to a team that is getting better in skill positions. The Lions have to now focus their future picks on adding to the offensive line so the skill players can be effective. Kind of like the Niners, who spend the first round drafting Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, who join Joe Staley to put some youth and talent to a San Francisco line that was poor a year ago. Very good for a team that's the NFC West favorite, at least in my eyes.

-My other favorite picks of the night; Dallas trading up to grab Dez Bryant, though it duels as my least favorite pick since I didn't want the Cowboys to take him. Jermaine Greisham going to the Bengals who needed a TE in the worst way was good, and to be fair, picks 2-6 are all obvious and smart, particularly the Chiefs not overthinking and taking Eric Berry, who will dominate at safety for the next decade, in a league which a dominant safety has become key. Finally, the Steelers drafting Maurkice Pouncey at center will be the next coming of Dermontti Dawson for that franchise.

-My least favorite moves: Why did the Chargers jump to 12 to grab Ryan Mathews and the Eagles jump to 13 to take Brandon Graham. Both players could have been available further down in the first round. Also, the Jaguars could have traded down to take Tyson Alualu and should have. The fact that Tim Tebow was taken in the first round also is a move I don't like, plus the Broncos keep compiling these QB's.

As for tonight, the key will be who wants Colt McCoy and/or Jimmy Clausen and who will give up anything to get them. Personally, I like Clausen and the fact he was dropped to the second round will rid him of some cockiness that is perceived. I also like he played in an NFL-style offense under Charlie Weis, and before you bring up Brady Quinn, let's be fair, he had no chance to succeed in Cleveland, especially after they were dumb enough to resign Derek Anderson to that contract after his successful '07 season. Not to harp on Notre Dame guys, but I'm keen to watch were Golden Tate will go. He was better than you think and with Weis in Kansas City, perhaps there's a fit. You know the Chiefs need more skill players. Sergio Kindle is the other guy I'm looking at since he's a first round talent and whomever grabs him will be pleased, unless his injury issues are much more serious.

Before I finish, I must talk about the Giants draft pick Jason Pierre-Paul and the Jets grabbing Kyle Wilson. Both teams picked in places of strength and both were the right move. Rex Ryan loves his corners and Wilson will provide some insurance for Antonio Cromartie, in case he doesn't work out. Expect them to look for another pass rusher and offensive line help today. As for the Giants, Pierre-Paul looks like the best athlete in the draft. Everything I hear is that he has a great motor and all he needs is to learn technique and he'll be scary good. I'm pleased. Now the Giants need to look at the linebacker hole and Kindle and Sean Lee are who I'd want the Giants to get in the second round. They also should be looking at a DT and OL if both are off the board and in the third round.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Round Preview

Time to start growing your playoff beard as the fight to win the greatest trophy in sports resumes. That's right, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight with first round action. Instead of the typical preview, I decided to rank the 16 most important players, one for each team, before giving my 1st round picks. This isn't necessarily the best players (I don't have Sidney Crosby), but the players who are the keys for teams if they want to advance a round or two. Let's get started.

16. Tomas Plekanec- Thought I'd go with Jaroslav Halak here, eh? Well while we all know that Halak has a tough chore facing him with the Caps snipers, the Habs need the Plekanec from October-December, not the one from January through the end of the season. He scored 46 points in his first 43 games, but only 24 in his last 39. The Montreal offense will go through him and a good Plekanec will help Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and the rest of Les Smufs.

15. Paul Stastny- One of the few Avs players with both playoff experience, while not being too old to impact the series (Adam Foote, we're looking at you). Stastny needs to show the pedigree of his family in this series. Plus, as the team's leading scorer this year, he can help make Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly's jobs easier.

14. Pekka Rinne- Our first goalie on this list as he will have to be as strong as ever to help the Predators upset Chicago. Nashville has little scoring, a solid defense and they need Rinne to reward Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and the rest of that blueline with a stellar performance. I.e. no more that two goals allowed a game.

13. Chris Pronger- Somebody needs to make Brian Boucher look good and that guy will have to be Pronger. He needs to show the Flyers why they paid him until he's 42. He truly can never do that, but if they can beat the Devils, it could lessen the sting of a bad year for him. Remember, he does show up for the playoffs (see Oilers, 2006 and Ducks, 2007).

12. Tuukka Rask- The feature of my first hockey-related article, (still among my favorites), Rask had better stats than his counterpart and American hero Ryan Miller, with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Now, he needs to enter the playoffs the way Simeon Varlamov did last year, with no fear of his first playoff run. Of course, it would help of the Bruins can score some goals.

11. Jonathan Quick- The taxi squad USA goaltender needs to shake off the struggles post-Olympics. He lost seven of his last 8 games, with the ninth game being his last win not involving a shootout. The Kings chance of winning in the first round come down to if Quick can play well or we might see Erik Ersberg before long.

10. Jason Spezza- The obvious choice for the Senators most important player as Ottawa goes as he goes. They can't have the Spezza from the beginning who couldn't score a goal in warmups. We know Daniel Alfredsson will show up (considering he was hurt the last time the Sens played in the playoffs), Spezza needs to step up, since Alex Kovalev is done for the year.

9. Shane Doan- The old veteran all the way back when the Coyotes made the playoffs regularly and even back to the days of the Winnipeg Jets, must lead by example if these Yotes have a chance against the Red Wings. Ilya Bryzgalov should play well, but Phoenix will need to get timely scoring, and Doan needs to prove that he is a leader in the mold of Jarome Iginla or Alfredsson.

8. Jimmy Howard- The Red Wings have given the keys to their playoff car to the Calder candidate and he needs to continue to play with the confidence that he showed throughout the season. Just remember, Mike Babcock would be hard pressed to leave Chris Osgood on the bench if Howard struggles, especially if the rest of the team continues their hot streak since the Olympics.

7. Evgeni Malkin- He proved last year that he can play through the entire playoffs. This year, he needs to return from injuries and give Pittsburgh's opponents someone else to worry about, aside from Crosby. Also, the added bonus of making them more formidable on the power play.

6. Thomas Vanek- Ryan Miller can handle the job in net. Vanek needs to recapture the scoring touch of last season after struggling for much of the year. He certainly appears to get out of the doldrums as he scored four goals Saturday against Ottawa. Him scoring only makes the Sabres more dangerous offensively and that much tougher to beat four times.

5. Roberto Luongo- The team Canada goaltender has struggled much of the season. Fortunately for Vancouver, the Sedin twins masked this problem by turning in their best years and the rest of the team followed suit. It seems like it should be easy for Bobby Lou to win, but last year proved he can turn into a sieve at any point. For someone considered among the best goalies in the world, he must show it this year.

4. Ilya Kovalchuk- The midseason acquisition for the Devils is only playing in his second playoff series and is in need for his first win. He was awful in his first go around, getting into more fights than goals. With big bucks awaiting him, this postseason could determine how much he'll end up getting and finally allows us to see him in the pressure spot. Plus, New Jersey hasn't made it past the second round since their last Cup in 2003, so they have pressure to do some damage for a change.

3. Marian Hossa- Two years in a row, Hossa's made the finals. Two years, he lost. Now he joined the team he last beat a year ago and needs to end this Cup jinx on a team that hasn't won a Cup in 49 years. Either Hossa's a reverse jinx or just some more bad vibes for the Blackhawks. Look out for any possible injuries.

2. Alex Ovechkin- Bad news Ovie, Sidney's ahead of you again. With the Cup win, the Rocket Richard trophy and his Gold Medal winning goal, he's starting to earn the hype he's received. Ovechkin has to now bring this Caps team, who can score with anyone and better, to at least the East finals. No excuses, this is the year we finally judge the Caps on their playoff record, not their regular season one. Speaking of that...

1. The entire San Jose Sharks- Yes, I cheated. Honestly, I can write a column on the 16 most important Sharks who need to step up for a playoff run. Evgeni Nabakov is a free agent and so is Patrick Marleau, both men need big postseasons. Meanwhile, Joe Thornton continues to be Tony Romo-like in the clutch, coming up small in the playoffs. He needs a year like A-Rod had in '09 to help the Sharks win. Lastly, Dany Heatley was picked up specifically to help in the playoffs. As wrong as it is to ask a former Senator for a dominating playoff performance, that's what the Sharks need from him. San Jose absolutely must reach the Western Finals at least, or the Stanley Cup Final if they don't face Chicago, or this team could face many changes next year.

My first round predictions: Caps in 4, Flyers in 7, Sabres in 6, Pens in 5, Sharks in 5, Hawks in 6, Canucks in 6, Wings in 5.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Randomness While Making 40 Cents On The Dollar Trades

-In order to avoid trading Donovan McNabb to the Raiders, the Eagles panicked a traded him for two draft picks to the Redskins. Now Washington gets a properly motivated QB who allowed to play for a rival of the team he's only known. Sounds like Favre parallels to me. Also, wait five years Philly fans on how you feel about McNabb. Believe me, the Ewing/McNabb comparisons are true and you'll find out soon enough. At least when the Eagles trade their guy with one year left, they didn't ruin any chance at competing in free agency like the Knicks did.

-Baseball has started and I didn't give picks. Nothing in my eyes has changed in the past week, so my AL playoff teams are the Yanks, Red Sox, Tigers and Angels, with the Yanks winning the AL. The National League will have the Phillies, Braves, Cards and Giants in the playoffs with the Phillies winning again. This time, the Phils get revenge over the Yanks and win the World Series. As for awards, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols win MVP's, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez win the Cy Young, Bobby Cox and Jim Leyland win MOY and Jason Heyward and Austin Jackson will be your top rookies.

-Biggest game of the Rangers season is on Friday as they start a two game series with the Flyers at MSG. Honestly, I've wanted the Rangers to just lose out and improve draft position and add a cornerstone forward, like they have on the blueline with Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto. Unfortunately, they decided to beat up the teams they should beat and now have a chance to get swept by the Caps make the playoffs. It wouldn't matter how they did because making the playoffs and charging Ranger fans for two or three playoff games is enough for Jim Dolan. He remains the only good reason for me to stay with DirecTV, though FIOS is something I might end up getting.

-My Tiger Woods boycott ended with the first round of the Masters, since he was playing golf instead of this over apologizing in this ridiculous scandal that gets too much attention than it should. Of course the latest story was the creepy commercial of Tiger's father voicing over a long take of Tiger staring into the camera. Do yourselves a favor, search through YouTube for all the parodies. This one's my favorite.

-I'm sure it's been said, but if Gordon Hayward makes the halfcourt three to win the National Title for Butler over Duke, it's the greatest shot in the history of basketball. I guess we have to settle for the greatest screen in basketball history that Matt Howard laid on Kyle Singler. Anything to avoid talking about Duke's victory.

-I don't know if league saying they screwed up calls are a good thing or a bad thing. If you haven't watched it, Kevin Durant was clearly fouled at the end of a 140-139 loss to the Jazz, marring the end of a brilliant duel between he and Deron Williams. If the NBA actually punishes the officials who they admitted missed the call, then it's a good thing they told us. If not, then you can take your apologizes and stuff them in a sack. I rather my intelligence insulted by denial, not allowance.

-I agree with Joe West, these Yanks/Sox games are way too long. However, if he can criticize the players like that with no kind of reprimand, then don't reprimand or fine managers and players who criticize umpires. What's fair is fair.

-Finally, on a night where Steven Stamkos scored his 48th and Sidney Crosby scored his 49th goal, the highlight of the night is Mike Smith challenging Chris Neil after Neil slew footed him in the 2nd period of Sens/Lightning. Anytime you see a goalie start fighting or showing anger, it's something that must be shared.