Saturday, 18 June 2016

NHL Expansion: Hold Your Horses

NHL Expansion in Canada is one of those things that people go nuts over for in Canada. After 1996, Canada lost two of its smaller teams, the original Winnipeg Jets and the Québec Nordiques, and by 2003 the Sens were on the cusp of bankruptcy. Since then Canada regained the Jets after they relocated from Atlanta in 2011. When Jim Balsilie made the bid to get an NHL team in Hamilton of all places, the country got swept up in relocation & Make It Seven fever. We did get seven, but now seven isn't enough. Many, like me, want eight back.

Of course the lose of the teams was not because Bettman hates Canada, it's because in the mid 90s, the Canadian dollar was almost at 60 cents American, and with the Nordiques & Jets playing in outdated arenas with dwindling ownership support, fans were left out to dry when outside bids in the Southern US began popping up. Cities like Hampton Roads, Phoenix, Atlanta, Raleigh, were all vying for NHL teams, and all but one of these southern cities got one (Hampton Roads was passed over for Raleigh). That doesn't mean I like Bettman, but I think he gets a bad rep from Canadians because at the time he made the best business decision for the league. Since then he's kept the Coyotes and Hurricanes longer than he should have but none the less, if the reports of the NHL only selecting Las Vegas for expansion (which will be confirmed on Tuesday), then I feel this is the right move.

Of course this isn't only Bettman's say. The NHL board of governors & general managers have had to vote with 2/3 yes to get expansion approved. On top of that, the ownership group has had to prove they are able to sustain themselves through this entire process. Due to Phoenix, many Canadians are turned off completely by the idea of a hockey team in anywhere south of the Dixie Line with some exceptions. That's of course based on the emotions of losing the Jets to a lacklustre market without a replacement team for 15 years, but it's stupid at that. The NHL is a business, and it costs them and their partners a lot more money in relocation than it does hanging on to a crappy team. Many times, the ownership groups bares much of the losses rather than the league. Majority if not all of Southern NHL teams have worked at some point aside Phoenix, and only recently did Carolina turn sour.

Why is the NHL expanding? The league is doing the best it has done in quite a few years. The talent pool is high and the standards to win are higher because of this. This is the best the league has ever been financially, and markets like Nashville, Florida, Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh that were struggling are now doing better thanks to 45 year old Czech players and good management/ownership.  If there is more money to be made, the NHL wants to expand into those markets.

Why Las Vegas? The city/unincorporated community has never had a professional team in any of the major 5 North American sports leagues (refresher: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA, MLS). The only professional teams to play there were the CFL's failed American expansion Las Vegas Posse and the AAA baseball Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast league. That of course isn't including the vast amount of minor league teams and gimmick leagues like the Roller Hockey International's Las Vegas Flash & Coyotes (1994 & 1999 respectively) and the two Arena Football teams, of which only the Las Vegas Gladiators lasted more than in season, from 2002-2007. Best example of the gimmick teams are the Las Vegas Outlaws in the famously failed XFL or the Las Vegas Quicksilvers of the NASL in 1977. Aside from said Quicksilvers, Las Vegas lacked many sports teams, likely due to leagues not wanting to deal with Vegas's reputation at the time. Vegas's reputation has improved vastly since then.

If the announcement is confirming NHL expansion in Vegas on Tuesday, it could trigger an onslaught of expansion in the coming years. The NBA, while not currently expanding, may chose Las Vegas as a market if the NHL works. The Oakland Raiders have confirmed to be looking to Vegas & San Antonio as relocation markets if Oakland doesn't work (which it likely won't). This would mean the Nevada city would has as many pro teams as Toronto, and if they all work, it'll be very lucrative for all 3 leagues.

Honestly, I'm completely in favour of Vegas expansion, however, the whole point of this post is to say that Québec City will get a hockey team, they will be called the Nordiques and it will be through the relocation of the Carolina Hurricanes or Arizona Coyotes, and not through expansions for the simple reason that the Easter Conference is larger than the Western by 2 teams, and that needs to change through expansion. Seattle is the other Wester market likely to join once their arena is built or Key Arena is renovated. That being said, people running around blaming Bettman for hating Canada in the one case are idiots. They're not considering what's best for the league and just want a team as soon as possible. Consider this: Expansion teams suck. They do, and very rarely succeed right away or even for 2-3 years. If Carolina becomes Québec for 2017-18 or the next year, imagine how good that team will be and all the young stars now, in their mid 20s then, will help get Québec to the playoffs faster than the Vegas Black Knights will. I hope that Seattle, Vegas & Québec get their teams, and who knows, maybe KC will get a relocation team or another market opens up, but these things take time, and need to be done properly to prevent another Hamilton 2006 incident or KC 2007 fiasco from making relocation unfavourable to the league and expansion impossible. 9

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Mess That is the Philadelphia 76ers

I promised this post...time to deliver!

photo from
We talked a few posts ago about the Oilers decade long struggle, but they aren't the only team in the arena leagues with a constant bottom finisher in recent history. The Philadelphia 76ers, a team famous for Allen Iverson, Maurice Cheeks, Dr. J (The Grover Washington Jr. song & the NBA Legend), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley's first 8 years, has been abysmal for the past 4 seasons! Their combined record of 81-247. a ~32% Winning percentage. 34 of those wins came in one season, subtracting that means the team in the past 3 seasons has only won 23% of their games, which is frankly...well the numbers speak for themselves better than I could insult the team for. Of course basketball is a sport where when you're bad, you're really bad, and the teams ahead of you will walk all over you. Most team's worst seasons in franchise history won't top 20 games, so every so often a team is to have their unadulterated stinker of a season. However, how do you suck THAT bad? How does one of the NBA's classic megamarket teams (like the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers and Pistons) go so wrong? How does a perennial playoff team go to winning so few games?

1. They just don't have the talent

In the NBA, talent comes from two methods; drafting it and buying it. If your team can't afford to buy a Lebron or Kevin Durant, you'll need to draft a superstar from high school or a top ranked NCAA school to get other good players interested in playing for you to play with them. Problem is, these superstars need to be superstars right away; they need to redefine your team within a few seasons, or you should trade them to a team with pieces to get some pieces of your own. You need to build chemistry and get a winning team going. When your team is mostly under 25s without any winning're setting your team up for disaster. The Sixers have already gone through a cycle of good but not great players. Michael Carter-Williams left, Evan Turner left,  Thaddeus Young left, and have been replaced with....more of the same with Nerlens Noel. Jahlil Okafor is a fantastic rookie, but he might be the next Carter-Williams, rookie of the year material, but not a team saver. When the Cavs traded amazing player Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love, they made the right move, the two NBA Finals speak for themselves, and while Kevin Love is streaky, was certainly worth the trade that got rid of bust Anthony Bennett. The Sixers need to do something similar and make a big signing.

2. They haven't had that key no.1 pick

Because of the NBA draft lottery, the Sixers have yet to receive something perennial losers get at least once in their spend of crap, a no.1 pick. Since 2013 (when the bad losing began), the Cavs and T-wolves got their no.1 overall picks, while the Sixers picked 3rd both years, drafting injury prone Joel Embiid and decent Okafor those years. This year doesn't have Andrew Wiggins or the under the radar Karl-Anthony Towns. I wouldn't call this year a weak draft year, but with such a large draft class (162 eligible players), predicted no.1 overall pick Ben Simmons has to make an impact quick, as the Lakers and Celtics will have the other two picks (for now, the Celtics may trade the pick).

3. Their division isn't getting any easier

When you're in a division the Brooklyn Nets could win in 2012 and 2013, you're in an easy division. When the Sixers tanked, they picked a good time to do so. Their division was crap, and gave their rookies and chance to gain experience without playing a powerhouse to knock them down a peg a few times a year. With just the Raptors and Celtics making the playoffs since 2014 and the Knicks/Nets being bottom dwellers in the East with little improvement. Now, the Raptors and Celtics are two of the top teams in the East with the Cavs, and only improving. The Knicks have been drafting well and appear to be turning a new leafs. That means there are now 3 teams ways ahead other Sixers, rather than just one or two. It'll become harder for the Sixers to make the playoffs in the Atlantic baring a catastrophic failure from 2 of the 3 teams.

4. The Eastern Conference isn't getting any easier

Playing in the East has gotten a lot harder in the past few years. When I started this blog, the West was leaps and bounds better than the East wth regards to strength of teams. This year however, the East was 3 games better than the West in terms of playoff teams, despite the West having the Warriors & Spurs. The Chicago Bulls & Washington Wizards could have made the playoffs in the West while only the top 5 teams in the West would have done so with their records in the East. Aside from Brooklyn & Philly, the teams that missed the playoffs in the East are either rebuilding, suffered injuries or getting better. The Bucks & Magic played good basketball considering the age of their teams, the Knicks are improving, and the Wizards/Bulls suffered from off season loses and injuries. The Pistons and Hornets are back in the playoff picture and look to be staying. The Sixers need to hope some of these teams get worse or they magically improve. The Sixers could have hoped to get into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record like they did in 2011 & 2012 but not anymore.

5. They Are Miles Behind a Playoff Spot: Statistically

It could be argued the Sixers have not been competitive since 2009, when they pushed the favoured Orlando Magic to 6 games, but making the playoffs in 2011 & 2012 showed signs of life, you could argue things were trending upward after getting Carter-Williams....but now...I don't even think the Sixers have hit rock bottom. The team went 1-30 to start off 2015-16....18 straight right off the bat....those are some depressing numbers. It sucks the moral right out of the team, it makes players, coaches, management and fans feel the worst feeling: out of control and helpless. Unlike most bad teams where you can pinpoint the problem areas, literally nothing is going right for the Sixers. How can a team be THIS bad for 3 straight seasons. Their leading scorer last season, rookie Jahlil Okafor, averaged 17.5 points a game....that's 5 more than 2nd place Robert Covington. To give you an idea of how far that is from playoff ready, the 8th place Detroit Pistons top 5 scorers all average at least 14 points a game, and the Toronto Raptors had two players averaging at least 20 points a game. Okafor is producing, but the rest of the Sixers are not, and without help, he will burn out before his 5th season. The Sixers also on average give up 10 more points than they score, averaging 97.4 points per game and giving up 107.6, the Pistons averaged 102 PPG and only gave up 101.4.

I would end this with a summary, but I think Jim Mora put it perfectly back in 2001....

There are 7 NFL teams with more wins than the Sixers and 4 with as many during the 2015 season...and the New York Jets still missed the playoffs with 10 wins...the Sixers were 34 games out of a playoff spot....I have no solution, I have no's just pathetic! 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Devils Before Brodeur

Every St. Patricks Day, and once in the winter of 2014, the New Jersey Devils wear their vintage green & red jerseys from their inaugural seasons. The team has only worn 4 different jerseys in their entire 34 year history since relocating from Colorado, and has worn the same thing since 1992, and are a defining staple of NHL jerseys. The team has also won 3 Stanley Cups and made it to 5 since 1995. Prior to 1992 however, the Devils were not the team of Niedermayer, Brodeur, Langenbrunner, Arnott, Elias...nope, they were the team that the Great One called "Mickey Mouse".

Considering that the Devils were at one point the KC Scouts, and the 1974 Washington Capitals happened, the Devils were far from the worst thing the NHL produced in the mid 80s. Hell, the Leafs were awful at this point, the Penguins were tanking to get Lemieux, and aside from the Oilers, two of the former WHA teams (Whalers and Jets) were as bad as ever. The Nordiques sure had a conference finals visit, but at this point, if you weren't on the Oilers or Islanders, success only got so far.

The Devils were a symbol of something the NHL would be doing a lot in the next decade: Expansion into smaller US markets that wanted teams. The Devils were not built in Canada or large American cities, they were built in East Rutherford, with a population less than 10'000 as of today, in a county with less than a million.

Considering Wayne Gretzky played for the Indianapolis and Ste. Sault Marie, it wasn't the size of the city that was how bad they were...and it was at this point the team snapped.

Gretzky was calling out a certain type of team that was very common during this time and the decades following, and a type of team we haven't seen since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators. TERRIBLE! Yes! The worst teams in NHL history came between 1967 and 1992. The California (Golden) Seals, Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Washington Capitals, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets, during this era, set records for being terrible and/or gained a reputation for being mediocre at best and awful often. Some teams like the Jets, Whalers and Capitals grew out of it, but the Seals/Barons folded and the Scouts moved to Colorado and finally got a taste of the playoffs. Having teams....multiple teams in a hockey (not basketball or football) losing 80%+ of their games gets to you.

You're out there running circles around these teams who can't string a single line together and it makes the league look bad. Sure the Islanders, Habs, Flyers and Oilers are great, but the Jets lose 20+ games in a row, well no wonder the Oilers/Islanders are so good, look who they have to play against! That isn't true, but to the average person who reads eye catching headlines in the paper, this opinion is not uncommon, a league with little competition does not breed dynasties, it makes the rest of the league's fans feel alienated. A common compliant of baseball is that the same teams win every year and small market teams like Seattle, Toronto, Colorado, San Diego, Arizona etc. cannot win on a year to year basis and don't have the money to get the best players without a salary cap. That turns fans off, and having teams winning constantly without competition turns fans off too.

A 13-4 loss is pretty bad, but in the 80s, hockey was A LOT higher scoring than it is today by a large margin. Having perennial shit team starter Rob Low add another bad team to his resume also doesn't help, but to think that in 11 years, the Devils would be cup winners and the Oilers be in a 5 year playoff drought, and Gretzky being shipped to the Blues of all places. 11 years is a long time sure, but when you sink that low, and your opponent is that much higher than you, you can really only go one place.

By 1988, the Devils were finally a playoff team, getting to the conference finals and never looking back on those previous years. But who were the Devils, how big of a mess were they and what a cash strapped organization could afford. Are there any stars to be pulled from this era of NJD hockey?

Surprisingly, yes.

Names like Bruce Driver & Ken Dayenko may not be the first names when you think stars in the mid 80s, but both guys were staples of the Devils from 1983-1995. Aging Islanders star Chico Resch played goalie from 1982-86, after playing in Colorado since 1980, and of course, Kirk Muller was the most well known name on the team from 1984-1991. Young Brendan Shanahan was on the team from 1987-1991 before returning to finish his career where he started in 2008. The team wasn't strapped for good players, but never really had a star on the team to call their own before Brodeur.

Goaltending truly was an issue for the team. Resch isn't the worst name to have on your team, but he wasn't in Islanders dynasty form from the late 70s. Ron Low, Craig Billington, rookie Sean Burke and Alain Chevrier all started for the Devils before Broduer...but the no.1 before Broduer truly was Chris Terreri, from 1988-1995, he was the guy backstopping New Jersey. He certainly wasn't best of all time or even HHoF worthy by any stretch, but respectable in getting the Devils to the playoffs most years. He also wore a unique cage in a time where cages were on the decline.

The jerseys were some of the best in NHL in my opinion. The logos and colours popped against each other, the colours were well laid out and the team used a very unique colour pattern. The jerseys did something odd in the arms, where they had a single white stripe above the arm stripes and then put that said stripe underneath the hem striping (hem striping being under the stripe along the waistline of the jersey to the bottom of the jersey). The yokes (coloured area on the shoulders that the shoulder patches are found on) had a double outline around them, which is classic 80s design but looked really good and helped the green/red stand out. I really liked their jerseys during this era, but they lasted as long as they needed to, and seeing them 2-3 times a season is good enough for me and most Devils fans.

The team, aside from the green & red jersey, really doesn't look back on the years before the 1995 Cup win, and even more rarely on their early history. Similarly to the Penguins, once the team got their superstar, the rest of the noise just faded away and the Devils reputation until 2013 was a perennial playoff contender and always a Cup threat. That has changed, and it seems we've entered another 1988-1995 period. The team isn't bad, but I won't call them good until they make the playoffs again. Corey Schneider is a good goaltender, however, without Parise or Kovalchuk, a scoring star has yet to be seen. What will the Devils of 2013-20XX bring?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Throwing Games: The Cowards Way Out?

2014- "The NBA playoffs are heading back to Canada for the first time in over 5 years, and there's no reason not to be proud of the Raptors this year. After spending half a decade near the bottom of the already lackluster Eastern conference, new management and the surprising mid season trade of Rudy Gay, propelled the Dinos into the Atlantic division crown and will play the Brooklyn Nets.

Why would I be mad? My favourite team in the NBA made the playoffs. This post is more direct to the Nets and any team who pulls this stunt, throwing the last few games of a season to be given a perceived easier opponent."

2 year break

2016- I wrote that 2 years ago and my thoughts remain the same: The Brooklyn Nets only made it past the first round (barely at that) because they lost out their 2014 season to play the Raptors rather than a tougher opponent. The Raptors certainly weren't the worse of the two teams, they were the less experienced. Now the Raptors are the 2nd best in the East and the Nets will be bad for a long time thanks to a short sighted trade with the Celtics and some bad signings. However in 2014, I was heavily under the impression throwing games at the end of the season to face a particular opponent. With a little more maturity, I think throwing all part of the game.

Think about it this way: Had the Raptors had the option of facing the no.3 seed that has little playoff experience or playing an experienced team in a tougher division in the no. 4 seed...I'd think the Raptors would be smart to take that no. 3 seed to gain momentum. It sounds slimy, but sometimes, the smartest moves and the ones that will get you further are slimily. However, if you team has any chance of winning the championship, they should be able to beat either team...that's just a fact. Seeding has mattered little in recent years: Strong teams will beat the weaker team every time, no matter if they are a 6th seed or 1st seed.

That being said, nuance is key to determine what "throwing" is.

The Penguins in 1984 actively threw their season to get Mario Lemieux with the number one overall pick. By trading Michal Neuvirth at the 2015 Trade Deadline, the Buffalo Sabres acquired the less talented Chad Johnson to get the highest odds of getting the number 1 pick and Connor McDavid. Throwing a season means taking steps to actively lose on purpose to meet a certain goal through unfair means. The 2014/15 NHL season was a race to the bottom for the Leafs, Coyotes & Sabres, yet none of them got McDavid. With the implementation of the NHL Draft Lottery and the NBA Draft Lottery, it's almost impossible to know you'll get the no.1 overall pick without having a trade plan in place. This year, the Leafs had the highest odds to get the no.1 pick, and likely Auston Matthews, but those odds were 20%. Last place doesn't guarantee you that pick anymore! Hell, the Penguins weren't even guaranteed Sidney Crosby in 2005.

What about a team resting their starters? This is common in the NFL, where the last thing teams want is an injured starting QB going into the playoffs. Many times, as early as week 15, starters will be rested and by week 17, most playoff teams have their starters on the bench. This is especially common in older QBs who have their apprentices as back-ups who need experience and an upside. A team with a Derek Andersen type QB (past their prime and former multi year starter a decade or so ago) as their back up in 2015, will likely not start him over Cam Newton. So when this happens every year, is this throwing? No! It's smart.

Smart in that just because you're starting your bench, it doesn't mean you can't win. On top of that, these teams usually have won their division recently and have their playoff fates decided. They have nothing to gain position wise by resting starters. Of course, say for example the Cleveland Browns went 11-4 through week 16 and in week 17 started Jonny Manziel and the Ottawa Renegades 2002 practice squad with the choice of facing the 10-6 Miami Dolphins who are in a division with the 14-2 Buffalo Bills with a win or the AFC South leading 8-8 Tennessee Titans with a loss ...things would look fishy. But this hasn't happened to my knowledge, and often times these teams want the bye week between the Wild Card & AFC Divisional round, so they'll try to win to get into the top 2 seeds. On top of that, these back up players want the pride in winning and proving next season they should be starters, or if they are older and their as experience back ups, they want to prove they still have it and not has beens.

So did the Nets throw their last few games? I can't say for sure, but the series was entertaining, and now with the Raptors' recent playoff run and pushing the Cavs to 6 games, while Brooklyn finished with 21 wins and 3rd last in the NBA, its safe to say who is laughing now. Throwing games to get draft picks has been common for years, and with draft lotteries becoming common and with odds now not favouring last place finishers, teams are less likely to throw games. It seems kind of dickish for a team no one likes in your city that your team has always had trouble playing against loses a few games to play a perceived easier team in the playoffs, but that's sports for ya. You were banking on the same thing: Facing an easier team. It's just smart to want to play a team you are more likely to win a 7 game series against.

Here's the thing: If your team really is better, they'll beat whomever they face, whether it's Brooklyn, Washington or even Cleveland! Sports isn't fair and it shouldn't be, that's what makes it enjoyable. Watching your team win a 7 game series over a tough rival and having that satisfaction versus a four game sweep against a team out of their elements....I know what I'd pick. Getting caught up in the emotion of "We could have gotten to then 2nd round only if..?", you can't say that for certain, no one can! When I planned this post two years ago, I was really pissed at Brooklyn. Watching teams try and fail to benefit from throwing games/seasons, particularly Arizona in 2015 helped put things in perspective. No one sympathizes with petty losing, a no.2 loser, or someone who tries to take the easy way out to avoid adversity. So next time your team gets shafted because another team plays slightly worse to lose a few games to face someone easier, remember that shows loads about the team's character, and what round they'll be eliminated in compared to yours. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Give Kansas City a Chance!

With a beautiful arena for basketball or hockey, it's amazing to think Kansas City doesn't have another professional sports team. With the Chiefs & Royals having excellent fan bases and fielding great teams in the past couple seasons, it got me thinking about the time the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Nashville Predators in about a year's span, were given the real possibility of relocation to KC in 2006 & 2007. The reason being: Sprint Arena.

To call Sprint Arena the best option for relocation for a team in either "arena" leagues (being that teams in the NBA & NHL can share arenas) stadium wise isn't far from the truth. For one, it actually exists, unlike Seattle's new areas, Québec City's new arena isn't finish and Las Vegas's new arena would need some work; assuming any of these cities were to get a team in respective leagues.

Outside of the current 2 major league teams, the Missouri city had the Kansas City Athletics before they moved to Oakland. The A's at this time were....awful. They hosted the 1960 All Star Game sure, but to call a 74-86 season your best season in 12 years of being saying something. The A's had some stars...briefly. Cardinals star Enos Slaughter, Yankees legend Reggie Jackson and Satchel Paige all played for the A's in KC. Along with that, reliever Vern Handrahan is from Prince Edward Island, and I have a soft spot for the team because of his story. Furthermore, the A's adopted their famous gold & green while in KC, and carried over the jerseys used from 1965-67 to Oakland under famous owner Charles O. Finley.

Kansas City's other professional sports team was the Kansas City Scouts in the NHL...and they were a colossal failure. The team never made the playoffs, and in two seasons between 1974-76, the team won 27 games, lost 110, and tied 23. The team however, had a beautiful logo that holds up to this day, and while they were never popular at the time, have grown popular as a throwback team. The Scouts kept their red, blue & yellow and moved to Colorado before the 1976-77 season, and the Rockies would move to New Jersey to become the Devils we know today in 1982.

So why not since then?

College basketball is a big part why the NBA won't move a team or expand to KC. Similarly to the logic of "Why not put an NFL team in Alabama", putting a team in the same sport as a popular NCAA team is business suicide for the new team. An NBA could not compete with not only the Jayhawks, but also the Kansas State Wildcats. Sure the Chiefs work against the Kansas State Football team, but the Wildcats have never won the national championship, and while they are a decent program, they are not the same level as the Jayhawks basketball program.

Kansas City did have an NBA team from 1972-1985 and moved to Sacramento in 1985 due to lack of interest. The team made the playoffs 5 times and even made it to the conference finals in 1981, and won their division in 1979. Not the worst record for a 70s/80s basketball team not called the Lakers or Celtics. Having a team fail hurts a team's likelihood of getting another team, even 30 years after the relocation happened.

As for hockey...well... Since the 2007 relocation threat, KC hasn't had much buzz about hockey. There hasn't even been an attempt to put an ECHL or AHL team in the city, which is common in non-traditional hockey markets, or previously failed markets. Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Winnipeg at one point, Québec City at one point, Columbus at one point have all had minor league teams to test the market, and teams like the Monsters, Moose & Chill have all worked, while the Oil Barons and Citadels did not. KC did have the Blades in the old IHL until said league folded and merged with the AHL, leaving the Blades behind in the process. Since 2001, Kansas City has had no real tangible interest or plans to replace either the Blades or the Scouts. Most interest comes from outside the city, suggesting they should have a team whether they want it or not.

If Kansas City wanted a team in either league, there'd first have to be the obvious expansion bid. The NHL's expansion period is over for now, with Las Vegas looking like the winner of a new team. The NBA on the other hand has had no desire to expand since the addition of the Bobcats (Now using the old Hornets name) in 2004. The league is at 30 teams, and with stability in Sacramento, no team seems to be on the chopping block for the time being. That could change with Seattle's inevitable bid for a new Super Sonics team, Kansas City might be able to get a team in the West supposing Memphis or Milwaukee moved to the East and join Chicago in the Central division. That would leave each conference with 16 teams and make a 32 team league.

In short, Sprint Arena is being wasted now, it's less than a decade old and has only been used for Arena Football and NCAA Basketball. If Kansas City gets an NBA team, the more likely of the two leagues, it won't fail, I think it very well could succeed, and Pittsburgh/KC are the best cities for an NBA team not called Seattle SuperSonics. As for NHL, starting small is the key. Get that ECHL team, get that AHL team and prove that people in Kansas City want hockey! 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

EDM Oilers: What's Going So Wrong?

When the Edmonton Oilers got the 2010 first overall pick, it was a sign of something good. The Oilers had not made the playoffs since 2006, when they were SCF runner ups under Dwayne Roloson & a good team that pushed the heavily favoured Hurricanes to 7 games. Since then, a terrible set of jerseys, not replacing Roloson with a better goalie as he aged, the Khabibulin experiment gone wrong, and flashes of brilliance from decent players like Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner & Sam Ganger being few and far between as like Phil Kessel, they are best as contributing players, not no.1. The team needed help, and with the choice of Taylor Hall & Tyler Seguin, the team couldn't chose a bad player, and could build a team around their new star....whomever they draft this year with the #4 overall pick, under the Leafs, Jets & Blue Jackets.

Oilers fans are getting a nice new downtown arena, and who knows? Maybe they will break this cycle next year....but how does a team with all these pieces go so south

1. Goaltending

If there's one position the Oilers should have traded one of those picks for, it is goaltending. After 2010, the Oilers had two young goaltenders, Devin Dubnyk & Jeff Deslauriers, both of whom were mediocre at best and while Dubnyk is now one of the best goalies in the NHL after 2 great seasons in Arizona and mainly Minnesota, Deslauriers hasn't played in the NHL since 2010. Both young goalies at the time, Dubnyk & Deslaruiers lacked experience to take on a rebuild....and that trend continued with the addition of former Leafs & Kings backup, Ben Scrivens, who was turning heads taking over for an injured Jonathan Quick. Scrivens, like the two previous starters, was not experienced enough as a starter, got massively outshot against by most teams, and had no defence to help him. He was replaced by current starter, Cam Talbot, and Scrivens was shipped to Montréal to help a team with no direction and an injured Carey Price. Talbot has the same issues as Scrivens, but has only played 1 full season as an NHL starter, and backstopped the Canadian World Championship team to Gold in 2016, with Taylor Hall. As for why I mentioned Khabibulin, after backing up Cristobal Huet in Chicago, Edmonton took on the former 2004 Cup winner and all-star....leading to a DUI incident, and playing some of the worst, most uninspired hockey from a 30+ goalie I've personally seen.

2. Aside from the picks.....not much to work with

The Oilers have fallen for the trap of drafting these great picks, and then filling the team with mediocrity. Andrew Ference is the best example I can think of, but picking up players like David Perron and expecting them to be no.1 players doesn't help your team. Justin Schutlz was a bust before leaving the city, and keeping Shawn Horcoff & Ales Hemsky long past their prime didn't help the team at all. More busts in the early 2010s from Linus Omark & Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson further forced the team to let go of dead weight with no replacement. When the team got rid of Ryan Smyth in 2007, they made the right choice. He was a very productive player and deserves accolades for his tenure in Edmonton for sure. However, aside from the emotional ties to the player, he was not worth bringing back by 2011 and keeping him 2 years beyond he was productive. 2011/12 was a great season for him, but he scored more points that season, than he did the next two

3. Not trading the 2012 #1 overall pick

Nail Yakopov is not a horrible player, not even bad; but he is NOT a no.1 overall pick, and Edmonton must have had some idea they didn't need him. The rest of Edmonton's draft picks since 2010 have been productive, but not Yakopov. The team could have gotten a starting goalie better than any of the previously mentioned goalies in 2012 for that pick. They could have gotten some much needed defence or a package deal to get some of all their needs.

4. The Coaches weren't bad choices...but they couldn't do much

Craig MacTavish is a good coach when he has a good team to work with, similar to Paul Maurice, but he's a coach you should have when the base for the team has been laid, not when you're trying to lay that base. Ted Nolan is by far the best coach to have in this scenario and the Oilers passed him up. Dallas Eakins was a fantastic AHL coach with the Marlies...but didn't have the experience to work at an NHL level and get the team to the point they should have been, not to his fault though. Tom Renney was not the best choice as a coach in hindsight, but in 2010, with Taylor Hall and then Nugent Hopkins on the way, it made sense to give him a chance to run the team disciplined. The rest of Edmonton's coaches, including the great Pat Quinn, were interim coaches. Their current coach, Todd Mcclellan, is a good coach, and left San Jose under little fault of his own and more so a disconnect between the players and management, with him caught in the middle. His problem, like Renny, is that he should be on a team that is mature. Having Marleau & Thornton is a luxury discipline wise, while having this young team, with the task of making the City of Champions great again.

5. Building a Disciplined & Winning Environment is not easy with guys who don't know what it's like to win!

This is an all sports problem. Taylor Hall is entering his 6th NHL season next season, with plenty of good IIHF experience and no real winning experience in the NHL. Ryan Nugent Hopkins is entering his 5th, and again, without no real winning experience. There are few if any contributing winners on that team with experience. The current Florida Panthers team has a lot of young players, who until last season had little playoff experience. With the addition of Jaromir Jagr & Roberto Luongo to help give the young guys some guidance and motivation, Huberdeau, Barkov, Ekblad and the youth of the team learned and continue to better themselves. Who does Taylor Hall have as a team role model? Who did he have in 2010? He is now the role model to his teammates younger than him, but he lacks that playoff experience, it's the only thing he lacks!

Bonus: Crappy jerseys until 2013

While the Oilers have beautiful jerseys now and finally introduced a orange throwback, before 2013, they had the worst jerseys to fall victim to the Reebok Edge template. While people will always prefer the bright orange and blue jerseys of the past, the 1996-2007 jerseys were not bad for the time. The edge jerseys, introduced in 2007, were such a mess of colours and half striping, and became a symbol of the team's play: UGLY! The white jersey (worst of the two) was scrapped by 2011, but the blue jersey stuck around an extra season. Some of you are thinking "well why do jerseys matter with regards to team play? Teams have won the Cup in ugly jerseys." That is true, however, crappy jerseys and crappy play create an ugly team image all around and will drive players/fans away.

In short, the Oilers have a lot of work ahead of them, some trades to make, and room to grow. The mistakes of the past have been made, and the team needs to get its head on straight, do what they need to do and bring the playoffs back to a city that had it for decades 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The No-Stars

Think of your favourite professional sports league?

Got it? Good! Can you name all 30ish teams? Probably not off the top of your head. You were able to name your favourite team, their rivals, the historically good teams and maybe a few ones who have one championships recently...but a lot of you will get to about 25 and get stuck....and frankly, I can't blame you...some teams are just forgettable.

Now look up the teams you couldn't remember. Does any player on their roster really jump out at you as interesting? Probably not!

The sport where I see this happen the most is baseball. To be fair, baseball has teams split up over 2 leagues and it can be almost a decade before some teams play each other. The average Blue Jays fan won't know who's on the Miami Marlins or Colorado Rockies off the top of their heads? But would any baseball fan really know that?

Think of the '10/11 Florida Panthers; a team mainly made up of salary dumps and AHLers, no stars, nothing memorable. What about the Carolina Hurricanes? Colorado Rockies? San Diego Padres? Minnesota Twins? Cincinnati Reds? Atlanta Braves? Miami Dolphins? St. Louis Rams? Columbus Blue Jackets? Orlando Magic? Minnesota TimberWolves? Sacramento Kings?

Unless they have all star rookies, most of the players on those teams that came to mind, aren't there anymore....and notice anything about those teams? These are teams that have been mediocre at best for years now, and in smaller markets (or at least current smaller markets). Which is sad, since without their local fans, the team would have nothing if they can't expand a base outside their market. This leads to a lot of teams being relocated to new smaller markets to try to make it work (Hartford to Carolina, Montréal to DC).

What's a team to do? Star players aren't going to drop everything in their current cities to come play for a team that can't have a winning season on a regular basis, and likely can't afford to keep them around. Star players can only be stars if there's a base to work with, most if not all are not miracle workers. Mike Trout or Bryce Harper won't save the Rockies from a 90 loss season out of the goodness of their hearts.

Many teams could have a good base that lacks experience, so they'll bring in players with experience to help the rookies. This has worked with the Florida Panthers and bringing Jagr/Luongo, but it certainly isn't the only thing a team needs. Teams need to be careful in not bringing dead weight onto the team. Remember when the Leafs had Ron Francis & Brian Leetch, two of the biggest names in the early to mid least 6 years past their primes? Or when the Brooklyn Nets traded way too much in draft picks to get the downward trending Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce? Giving up your future to try to save the present never works!

A team can draft well, and know when to trade draft picks. While I'll save it for another post, the Oilers/Sixers are learning this the hard way; it's easier said than done. Players can peak later (Alex Steen, Tim Thomas & Victor Hedman come to mind) than a GM can wait, and sometimes, unpredictable busts and injuries can occur (Bryan Berard & Brian Lawton?). Most draft busts are not Ryan Leafs, Jonny Manziels or Alexander Daigles; aka, pure trash; Most have the injury bug. Greg Oden, the two previously mentioned Br(i/y)ans, Brandon Roy, Rick DiPietro and many more had promising careers shortened by injuries and became hated when bad GMs couldn't let them go. Making another team over pay in a mediocre draft for a high pick for your team to get young pieces is the best way to build a team outside of the obvious "draft the next Gretzky".

Good marketing also helps. Making your team memorable to local and out of market fans will help people go "Oh shit, they still exist". The Sacramento Kings are a good example of this, ditching their 20 year old logo for a semi-throwback and beautiful new jerseys...on top of that, gave out free tattoos of their new logo. Many mediocre teams put out good redesigns (keyword GOOD) to refresh their brand. Bucks, Jazz, Raptors, Florida Panthers, Detroit Lions and others have done this, usually after the team begins to get better or after the team sinks to rock bottom.

Sure, teams have done this and failed, but a new logo wasn't the reason for that, sometimes, it's just polishing a turd and other times, bad redesigns are exactly that...BAD! Furthermore, teams with classic looks that fans have grown attached to (Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Reds come to mind) and if the team were to change that look, it'd be ditching many years of history. Fans don't want to let go of said logos, even if the previous logo wasn't that great. Of course you can just modernize like the Twins did in 2011 & Dolphins also did, with mixed results at best for the Dolphins and sighs of "meh" for the Twins. However generally speaking, new logos in the 4 major leagues are rarely worse than the previous logos.

In short, if your team wants publicity outside of your city and wants to get better; there is no one fix! Good drafting/trading go hand in hand, and different strategies are going to work in different scenarios. However, making your players wear bland jerseys and ugly logos certainly won't help. Furthermore, if you cannot get a winning team in a few years, stars aren't going to want to come. Money can buy you any player, but it can't help you keep a player. Don't take mediocre players as a way to fill out the ranks.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Atlanta Hockey Part Deux: The Trash Thrashers

Atlanta: Hockey's dumpster fire for hockey

As I wrote two years ago, the Flames problem was not bad play, it was a bad time to be a team in a new market, that got little to no publicity. Anyone who tells you the Flames were a bad idea and a bad team....they're wrong and don't know hockey.....They're likely thinking of the Thrashers.

To give you an idea of the NHL in 1999/2000, when the Thrashers entered the leagues, hockey was heading south. Tampa Bay, Sunrise, Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Jose and Anaheim were now NHL cities with varying degrees of fanbases, but were relatively successful teams, all finding the post season before the end of the decade with the exception of Nashville, who were only 1 year old at this point. The Thrashers obviously couldn't do this, but how long did it exactly take them? Try until 2006/07...and ONLY 2006/07.

Biggest problem with the Thrashers: Horrible teams in almost every aspect!

The Thrashers were in the 2000s what the Florida Panthers were for most of the past decade, a dumping ground for washed up players and mediocre salary fillers with a few exceptions. The Thrashers never had a real franchise player aside from Slava Kozlov or Ilya Kovalchuck, who in 2016 are not household names. The Thrashers had a few good players over the years, a young Dany Heatley, a young Kari Lehtonen, Johan Hedberg and most of the 2010 Blackhawks the team could not afford (Buffs, Ladd, Eager). However for those players, there were MANY mediocre at best player choices that are hard to justify, even at the time.

Here's just a few: Patrik Stefan, PHP (past his prime) Byron Defoe, Pavel Kubina, PHP Scott Mellanby, a very PHP Chris Chelios, Jim Slater, Nik Antropov,  Garnet Exelby, PHP Mark Rechi amongst others

On top of that, the Thrashers had a tendency of taking on players like Marian Hossa and Maxim Afinogenov, players who certainly could help a team that HAD more pieces, but instead were used to get wasted draft picks, rental players or just walked when the team couldn't piece things together

The Thrashers were a team with players that on a team with a good base could do well (Antropov and Hossa are the best examples of that), but when those guys are your base...not a good start.

Furthermore, similarly to the Flames, the Thrashers had an uphill battle competing for attention in Atlanta without winning. The Falcons made into the Super Bowl in 1998, and later had a young Michael Vick in the early 2000s and Matt Ryan by the end of the decade, with some good teams. The Braves were the best team in the NL East from 1995 until 2005, were in the best division in baseball after that, first with the Marlins, then the Mets & Phillies and in the 2010s the improved Nationals added competition, won the 1995 World Series and had an exciting team. The Hawks had very similar issues to the Thrashers, and were both owned by Atlanta Spirit Group (how interesting). That being said, the Hawks hit rock bottom by 2005, and were playoff ready by 2008, and despite not making the playoffs from 1999-2008, the Hawks haven't missed since and made the playoffs 3 more times than the Thrashers did in their entire history.

This might not matter to some...but the Thrashers only had ONE good jersey in their entire history. Their 2003-04 - 2006/07 Baby Blue jerseys with the hem stripe was unique and certainly not for jersey traditionalists, but they were pretty sweet! The rest of the Thrashers jersey history was dark, drab, experimental and rarely worked outside of hindsight.

Original Navy: Bleh, bland dark and awful primary logo choice
Original White: Not the worst, but not enough colours, mostly navy and maroon
Edge Blue: The hem stripe was very much missed
Edge White: Same issue as the original white, but looked slightly better
Maroon alternate: A glorified Motocross jersey that Chris Chelios had to wear

I do own all 3 edge Thrashers jersey, and one thing I will say, they are funny to look at now! Really, they are pretty awful, but an icon of an era bygone. If you find one cheap....pick it up, enjoy it, wear it proudly. But on an objective level...they're ugly.

I could go on about the Thrashers, but those are my main gripes. The Thrashers did later become by team, the Winnipeg Jets, and some would argue that Atlanta's bad management is still seen today with some players that would be gone on almost any other team. Players like Buffs, Enstrom, a personal favourite of mine, Thorburn, Ladd, Pavelec and Burmistrov were Thrashers, but it took me 2 years to get this post out because I had to get over the idea of getting every little gripe about a team that bothered me every year they existed