Saturday, December 31, 2011

12 Sports Predictions For 2012

Here are 12 sports predictions for 2012. How many will come true? Only time will tell, but I want to officially be on the record with my own predictions for the calendar year.

1) Even if it is not a Major Championship, Tiger Woods will win a major tournament.

2) The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs, lose in 1st round.

3) Sidney Crosby will play less than 30 games in calendar year.

4) There will be fewer fights and hits in hockey in 2012 than 2011.

5) The NHL will lose zero regular season games to a work stoppage.

6) The Blue Jays will come close to a playoff spot, but fall short.

7) A Canadian team will NOT win the Stanley Cup.

8) Tim Tebow will have fewer wins than Kyle Orton in 2012.

9) The Green Bay Packers will lose at least 3 games.

10) This may not be a sports prediction, but Charlie Sheen will be on a higher rated sitcom than Ashton Kutcher by the end of 2012

11) Winnipeg's Evander Kane will outscore Toronto's Nazem Kadri by at least 40 points in calendar year.

12) The world will not end on Dec 21st, out-living the Mayan calendar.

NHL Final 2011 Power Rankings

As the year 2011 comes to an end, here are my final NHL power rankings including a review of the year that was for each franchise. A graph of the team's January to December regular season power rankings are included. You can see what the picture of a Stanley Cup hangover looks like. Note that last season my rankings were a subjective opinion based on my own opinion, where this season is based on a mathematical formula derived from goal differential and points. Over the summer I altered how I did rankings. Most rankings were about 2-3 weeks apart, and early this season there was a higher variance based on the small sample size.

1. Boston Bruins (last rank #1): If someone asked you to draw a picture of a Stanley Cup hangover, recovery, and improvement, refer to the image below. This team is even better than they were last season, and a lot of that has to do with Tyler Seguin and spectacular goaltending. Brad Marchand is becoming an elite player very quickly.

2. NY Rangers (last rank #3): They finished last season as a team that was average at best, and have evolved into a very competitive franchise this season. Garborik and Richards are both producing on separate lines, giving the team a very balanced attack. The level of play they are getting from their depleted defense is far better than I would have expected. Del Zotto, McDonagh, and Stralman have been playing great hockey. Henrik Lundquvist has been earning his pay cheque this season, and then some. The return of Marc Staal can only make this team better.

3. Vancouver Canucks (last rank #6): The same picture as Boston, except that Vancouver is a little bit worse than before their hangover, while the Bruins are a little bit better. Right now few teams are playing better than the Canucks, with the Sedin BROTHERS firing on all cylinders and Luongo in his happy place. We should start calling Roberto Mr December.

4. Detroit Red Wings (last rank #2): This franchise was a model of consistency in 2011, notwithstanding a small blip in early November. Detroit had 7 forwards score at least 4 goals in December, and right now Pavel Datsyuk is carrying the team on his shoulders. This is often the time of year that he gets hurt and takes some time off, so Wings fans need to hope he stays healthy. Jimmy Howard is having a strong season, but he's still a level below the elite tier between the pipes.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank #5): Another model of consistency, this is just a good team with a great core of young players. Toews and Kane are among the league's best duos, next to maybe the Sedins. Hossa and Sharp led the Hawks in scoring in December, combining for 16 goals. Also this month, Ray Emery is 6-1 with a 1.91 GAA while Crawford is 4-1 with a 2.42 GAA. Right now Rayzor is getting more action, but their Save Percentages are virtually identical (suggesting Chicago gives up more shots when Crawford is in the net (the math works out to roughly 6 shots more per 60 min), which could possibly be due to rebound control).

6. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank #4): The team should start slipping any day now, though getting Claude Giroux back is a big boost. Giroux had 17 PTS in 9 GP in December. Jaromir Jagr deserves some kind of award for the season he's had, be it comeback player, or the stick it to your old fan base award. Ilya Bryzgalov has been quietly bad for the month of December (6-3, 3.21 GAA), while Sergei Bobrovski has been stellar (3-0, 1.86 GAA). You can see the team has been gradually trending downwards following a strong start to 2011.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank #9): Continuing to play strong despite missing the league's best player for most of the year. So far this season Evgeni Malkin is the team's MVP, but James Neal is a close #2. What's hurting the team right now is missing Letang, who did not play a game in December, which explains the team's dip as much as the loss of Crosby. Letang is the one player this team cannot afford to be without. Note that last season's rankings were more subjective and I dropped Pittsburgh after the Crosby and Malkin injuries down to 17th place, but the team's on ice performance never actually regressed that far. This season's rankings are based on a mathematical formula in lieu of my personal feelings.

8. San Jose Sharks (last rank #10): Havlat is hurt, not that the team is going to miss his lacklustre production. Couture led the team with 9 goals in December, followed by Jamie McGinn with 6 and Pavelski with 4. After that, nobody has been scoring goals. This is a team that was great in the 2nd half last season, advanced to the conference finals, and has been less impressive thus far this season but still at a playoff calibre level.

9. St. Louis Blues (last rank #8): This team was consistently bad for most of 2011, but has taken off here as the year's end is near. David Perron is the feel good story of the season as he led the team in scoring in December since returning from an extended concussion absence. If you look at the Blues 2011 graph below, that sharp jump upwards aligns with the rise of Brian Elliot and the return of Perron. The Blues will make the playoffs this season, and possibly win a round.

10. Minnesota Wild (last rank #7): The Wild have won just 2 of the last 10 games after spending some time at the top of the NHL standings. This season has been substantially better than last season, and Mike Yeo is an early favourite for coach of the year (provided they are able to stabilize their recent tailspin). They have won 55% of their games with Zidlicky in the line-up, and 80% without him.

11. Florida Panthers (last rank #11): Clearly this team improved itself in the offseason with their big spending spree. I'll admit to being very skeptical that these acquisitions would have a substantial impact, but this season they have been playing like a playoff team. Though I've said it before and I'll say it again, beware putting any faith in the team starting Jose Theodore in goal. Scott Clemenson has been brutal this month as the #2. The future is Markstrom, and the time is now to get him in the starting line-up. Versteeg having career year. That bears repeating, especially in conversations with Leaf fans. Versteeg having career year for a team competing with Toronto for a playoff spot.

12. Nashville Predators (last rank #12): For the next 5 years, this team will only go as far as Pekka Rhinne can take them. If they lose Weber for a significant period, making the playoffs would be very improbable. Pekka went 8-2 in December but had a 2.92 GAA. That's not the same Pekka we have become accustomed to. Jordin Tootoo had 8 PTS in 12 GP in Dec, which is far above his standard offensive output. They have won 7 of their last 10 games.

13. Washington Capitals (last rank #18): Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. After a sudden collapse that led to the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, they are quietly inching back up the standings, though still finish 2011 outside of a playoff spot. Their goaltending has been playing very well in December, when combined with balanced scoring has led to a reversal of fortune. Still, they have a way to go before they can be considered back in the elite tier.

14. New Jersey Devils (last rank #13): This team entered 2011 as the worst team in the league and have since steadily improved to the point where they are now tied for the final playoff spot in the East. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck deserve most of the credit, as the Devil's normally reliable goaltending has been shaky at best.

15. Winnipeg Jets (last rank #19): The 2011 Atlanta/Winnipeg team slowly bottomed out before leaving town, and have been steadily improving since returning to Canada. Their stadium is proving to be a very difficult place for opponents to play. This team has some of the best fans in the league, which goes to show that the Jets never should have left in the first place. Though perhaps it is appropriate to say "you don't know what you've got till it's gone"? Expect Evander Kane jerseys to sell like hotcakes in Manitoba for years to come.

16. Dallas Stars (last rank #14): It is now safe to drop Andrew Raycroft in your very deep fantasy leagues where all goalies are owned. Lehtonen is back, and Richard Bachman is backing him up. This team has survived the loss of Brad Richards without a significant regression (they missed the playoffs with Richards). Even the month long absence of Kari Lehtonen did not have a significant impact on their rankings. They are only a marginal playoff team at best. They won't rank higher than 6th or lower than 10th in the West.

17. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank #17): This team has shown steady improvement for most of 2011, but has leveled off as of late. Phil Kessel has played mostly great since being picked last at the all-star game, and Joff Lupul has been outstanding since they acquired him in the Beauchemin deal. This is a year that the Leafs must make the playoffs, and if they don't, that Ron Wilson contract extension won't be worth the paper it's printed on.

18. Los Angeles Kings (last rank #22): This is a difficult team to figure out that has endured a roller coaster year. Only one player (Dustin Brown) scored more than 2 goals in December, while Jon Quick has continued his strong play. Kopitar had zero goals and 10 assists this month. Dustin Penner has been a major disappointment this season and it looks like these guys could really use Ryan Smyth.

19. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank #15): They have been a consistently average team for most of the calendar year, but they have been declining the final 6 weeks. Goaltender Mike Smith was playing very poorly before getting injured, and Jason LaBarbara has been decent as his replacement. Still, too many under-achievers on offense has proved too large an obstacle to overcome.

20. Colorado Avalanche (last rank #25): Just what the Western Conference needs, the Avalanche winning 7 of their last 10. This team has experienced some major swings in the year 2011. They were brutal to finish last season, great to start this season, then brutal again, now suddenly playing well again. JS Giguere is currently outplaying Simeyon Varlamov. Matt Duchene has been statistically comparable to Daniel Winnik and TJ Gallardi, rather than an elite player in this league. The kid has regressed.

21. Calgary Flames (last rank #24): With Iginla and Jokinen firing on all cylinders, this team will challenge for a playoff spot. The concern is the future beyond Iginla and Jokinen. Leyland Irving looks like he could soon replace Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes, or at least that he's ready to. As you can see below, their 2011 year has the roller coaster shape in terms of team performance, though not with the swings of some of the other teams.

22. Ottawa Senators (last rank #23): This has been one of the worst teams of the year, though they finish 2011 tied for the last playoff spot in the East. Their year has been one steady, consistent improvement. It is great to see Alfredsson back and producing at a strong clip.

23. Edmonton Oilers (last rank #20): 2011 has been quite an up and down year for this young team. They were terrible last season, drafted Ryan Hopkins, brought back Ryan Smyth, started this season as one of the league's best, and have been regressing to the mean ever since. Jordan Eberle was the team MVP for December with Hopkins declining from his early pace.

24. Buffalo Sabres (last rank #16): This season has been steadily getting worse for the Sabres, who barely squeezed into the playoffs last season. After the money they spent in the offseason acquiring high priced talent like Ville Lieno and Christian Ehrhoff, fans must be disappointed. Vanek and Pominville are co-MVPs, while the goaltending has been atrocious.

25. Montreal Canadiens (last rank #21): Clearly this team over-achieved last season. This season they have been playing more on their level, because there is no loss or acquisition which can adequately explain their collapse. They have struggled with injuries over the years. Not enough French Canadians I suppose...

26. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank #26): This team has fallen off a cliff after a great playoff run. There is no hangover here, this team just isn't very good. The D has played poorly and Roloson is not the same guy. He has a 4.97 GAA in December as Garon has taken over as the #1 guy. The only problem is that Garon has never succeeded as a #1 guy and the team is not improving.

27. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank #28): When you look at the big picture, this team's regression was slow but steady. It is very nearly a straight line down. Are they missing Erik Cole that much? It is not absurd to say that E.Staal is paid too much money. Paul Maurice wasn't the problem.

28. NY Islanders (last rank #27): A pathetic 2011, with a small highlight blip at the start of the season when Tavares was leading the NHL in scoring. This team has a lot of nice young pieces, but it is not coalescing to an upward trend. Is the team too young? If they can keep the core together, there could be a bright future on the Island.

29. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank #29): Is this team really this bad? They survived the loss of Jonas Hiller last season by getting other-worldly production from Corey Perry, but this season has been a nightmare. This team needs either strong goaltending, or Perry/Getzlaf being the best tandem in the NHL. Long term prospects questionable.

30. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank #30): This team is just not good. Sorry Ohio.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Is The NHL's Best Back-up Goalie?

Who is the NHL's best back-up goalie this season as we approach the end of 2011? According to save percentage, the NHL's best #2 guy is none other than Boston's Tuukka Rask. He has a 1.66 GAA and a .944 SVPCT with a 7-4-1 record. Statistically the next best back-ups are Josh Harding (2.13, .932) and Cory Schneider (2.17, .931). Jhonas Enroth (2.54, .918) has been far better than Ryan Miller (3.05, .904) this season in Buffalo. Johan Hedberg (2.45, .913) rounds out the field of top back-ups in New Jersey. Honourable mentions go to Sergei Bobrovsky, Evgeni Nabokov, and Ray Emery.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My War Against Hyphenated Names

I would like to start my own personal war against hyphenated names as we start to see more and more athletes in the pros with names like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. Perhaps society in general is to blame for this annoying phenomenon of making names longer and longer, but what happens when someone with a hyphenated name has kids with someone with a hyphenated name? "What a goal by Jonathon Nugent-Hopkins-Letourneau-Leblond!" Seriously, what is the natural evolution of name longification??? As an amateur sports blogger, I am drawing a line in the sand. Hopefully others will follow. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is now Ryan Hopkins. For punditry purposes, I will only recognize the last name in the hyphenation sequence going forward. If we as a blogging community don't make our stand here and now, heavens knows where this could take us. I don't want to type really long names. I don't want to speak really long names.

"Ladies and gentlemen, starting in goal tonight for your Toronto Maple Leafs, Patrick Krushelnyski-Joseph-Robitaille-Johnson-Ericsson-Trudeau-Marshall-Thompson!"

It has to end here...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Detroit Lions Clinch A Playoff Spot!

It feels like decades ago that the Detroit Lions last made the playoffs during the Gus Frerrotte dynasty, before Matt Millen was ever hired. Yet it was not decades ago, it was 12 years ago, and for Lions fans those were 12 long, gruelling, painful years. Trust me, I know, I experienced it. 1999 was also the year that Barry Sanders retired, which was a punch in the face for the fan base. Does this 2011 team have a shot to win the Super Bowl? Sure, everybody who makes the playoffs has some probability of winning, but a team that struggles to run the ball and stop the run is at a disadvantage at playoff time. Calvin Johnson may be the best wide receiver in the league, but forgive me for lacking faith in Kevin Smith for getting it done at crunch time.

Matthew Stafford might be the best QB this team has had in my lifetime (and that isn't saying much, depending on where you value Scott Mitchell), and I'm happy to have him leading this team for years to come. He is a fierce competitor and this young team feeds on his energy. They have some playmakers on defense and a tackle in Ndamkong Suh that is a truly scary player to face. This might not be their year to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but they will be competitive for years to come, depending what happens with Calvin Johnson's free agency in 2013. Hopefully Megatron will want to stay with the franchise he has helped build from an 0-16 team to a legitimate contender.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Canucks Defeat Leafs, Red Wings As Team Heats Up

Don't look now, but after a mediocre start that saw the team sitting outside of a playoff spot for the first month + of the season, the Vancouver Canucks are quickly regaining their spot as one of the best teams in hockey. Tonight they soundly defeated the Detroit Red Wings, who have been one of the best teams in the league thus far. Beating the Maple Leafs on Saturday was a less impressive accomplishment, but still a punch in the face for Leaf fans. The much hated Alex Burrows scored the game winning goals in both victories. This pundit has a higher opinion of Alexandre than most of my contemporaries. Roberto Luongo made 38 saves against the Wings, and 26 against the Leafs, as the winning goaltender in both contests.

That should quiet the Luongo detractors for the time being, as his GAA has shrunk from over 3 to 2.46 since coming back from injury. Cory Schneider's seat on the bench has been re-established, and order has been restored in Vancouver. The Canucks will almost certainly cruise into the playoffs as the Sedin BROTHERS continue another Hart Trophy calibre season. Canucks fans still calling them the sisters do not appreciate how lucky they are to have the opportunity to watch this talented duo on a nightly basis. Those idiots shouldn't call themselves fans. I'm a Red Wings fan, and even when I'm disappointed, I don't call local talk radio claiming their players have female genitalia. That's bad karma.

The Canucks will make the playoffs and once again lose in magnificent fashion.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Golf World Mourns The Loss Of Kim Jong Il

When I heard the news that Kim Jong Il had died, my first thought was what a terrible loss this was for the world of golf. We are talking about the greatest golfer of all-time, hands down, as he famously once hit 11 aces in a single round. Unquestionably the greatest golfer never to win a major championship, and we were robbed of this talent before we ever got to see it. Shame. Sure he might have been a brutal dictator whose reign of terror saw millions of people die of starvation, but sometimes you need to forgive people of their transgressions after death and appreciate what they brought to the world. Kim Jon Il brought holes in one, more holes in one than any living human being. If only the Guinness Book had been there to record any one of his spectacular rounds of golf.

We may never again see a human being shoot a 38 over 18 holes of par 72 golf. Granted, we never did see these accomplishments, but they were reported on the North Korean news, so I believe it. Why would he lie?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

While 1972 Miami Dolphins Rejoice, 2008 Detroit Lions Sombre

Two things happened today, the Kansas City Chiefs ended the Green Bay Packers undefeated season, while the Indianapolis Colts won their first game to snap their winless season. The 1972 Dolphins rejoiced as they remain the only team in history to go an entire season without losing. The 2008 Lions however are the only team to go an entire season without winning, a club I'm sure they'd like to have more memberships. Nobody wants to be alone as the only winless team in history. Two teams at opposite ends of history cheering for different results. Every year those 72 Dolphins cheer for the last undefeated to lose a game, while the 08 Lions should be cheering for the last winless team not to win. Today, the Packers and Colts ensured that both teams will remain alone in their places in history for at least another season.

NHL Power Rankings Dec 18/2011

With the half way point of the season quickly approaching, where do the NHL's teams rank? Rather than make subjective decisions, my rankings are based on a simple mathematical equation accounting for points per game and goal differential. Included in these rankings are the unsung heroes for all the NHL's teams, at least those teams who have any heroes at all...

1. Boston (last rank #1): Unsung Hero: Rich Peverly. While few likely predicted Seguin would be leading the team in scoring, Peverly's 24 points in 29 games is more unexpected. 6 more PTS than Krejci.

2. Detroit (last rank #2): Unsung Hero: This is a tie between Valterri Filpulla and Jiri Hudler. 30 GP into the season, they have a combined 55 PTS. Jimmy Howard is having a great season, hence why this team has scored 35 more goals than they've allowed.

3. NY Rangers (last rank #3): Unsung Hero: Ryan McDonagh, someone few were talking about heading into the season is leading Rangers D in ice time. 14 PTS in 30 games.

4. Philadelphia (last rank #6): They have earned this rank mathematically, but going forward with all these concussions is going to be very difficult for Philly to sustain current success. Unsung Hero: Matt Read has 20 PTS in 28 GP as an undrafted rookie. Scotty Hartnell 27 PTS 2nd on team in scoring. Karma works in mysterious ways, Chris Pronger's career likely ends in the same manner as Scott Stevens.

5. Chicago (last rank #12): Unsung Hero: Ray Emery. It is hard to find a top producer on this team that have not had their praises sung by the pundits, but Ray Emery 8-1 as the back-up goaltender is creating a goalie controversy in Chicago. Nick Leddy is stepping into the void left by Brian Campbell.

6. Vancouver (last rank #7): Unsung Hero: Chris Higgins has been playing terrific hockey for what he was signed to do, scoring 21 PTS in first 30 GP. Jannik Hansen's 10 goals was not sung prior to the season, as this player would be a valuable addition to any line-up in the NHL.

7. Minnesota (last rank #8): This is not the best team in the NHL. Unsung Hero: Mike Yeo. Not sure the coach should be labelled as the team's most valuable piece, but he is getting the most out of an otherwise unimpressive line-up. He's running away with coach of the year.

8. St. Louis (last rank #10): Don't look now, but the young upstart St Louis Blues are climbing up the charts. Unsung Hero: Brian Elliot 16 GP 13 W 1.43 GAA. That's your team MVP and unsung hero as no pundits were predicting this guy to be a Vezina candidate.

9. Pittsburgh (last rank #4): Sid the Kid back on IR with concussion symptoms as this team has been devastated by injuries the last few weeks. Does James Neal qualify as unsung? If so, he's been playing like a hero this season, with Malkin easily the team's MVP.

10. San Jose (last rank #5): Only 4 wins in their last 10 GP, this team is slipping ever so slightly. Nobody producing on this roster is truly unsung, but Joe Pavelski is having a very strong season. Havlat's 2 goals in 26 GP has been a disappointment.

11. Florida (last rank #11): Unsung Hero: Kris Versteeg's 33 PTS in 31 GP is one of the league's biggest surprises this season. Then again blue liners Jason Garrison, Dmitri Kulikov, and Brian Campbell all deserve enormous credit for this team's early success with 58 PTS between the 3 of them.

12. Nashville (last rank #18): The Preds have quietly won 5 in a row as they climb into contention. Unsung Hero: Craig Smith has 24 PTS in 32 GP and is second on the team in scoring. Even Tootoo's 13 PTS in 30 GP is a pleasant surprise from the agitator/goon.

13. New Jersey (last rank #20): This team has won 4 in a row and 6 of their last 10. Unsung Hero: Adam Henrique! 25 PTS in 29 GP easily their biggest surprise. Johan Hedberg has played a lot of games this year and he has outplayed legend Martin Brodeaur.

14. Dallas (last rank #16): A short 3 game winning streak on the back of rookie goaltender Richard Bachman has helped stop the bleeding. Eric Nystrom's 10 goals has to qualify as their top unsung hero, but there haven't been any quality surprises so far this season. Jamie Benn is the early candidate for team MVP.

15. Phoenix (last rank #9): Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata are having great seasons for the Coyotes who have lost 4 of their last 5 games. They did get good value for Kyle Turris.

16. Buffalo (last rank #14): Luke Adam's 20 PTS in 32 GP is probably a bigger surprise than Pominville's 35 in 32. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Ryan Miller is having the worst season of his pro career. They have lost 3 of their last 4, giving up 19 goals in that span.

17. Toronto (last rank #13): They have lost 4 of their last 5, including a loss at the hands of Alex Burrows. Unsung Hero: without question Joffrey Lupul has been the biggest surprise on the roster, and a big reason for Jonas Gustavsson's 9 wins despite a 3.36 GAA. McCarthur and Grabovski have been disappointments.

18. Washington (last rank #19): Playing like a slightly better than .500 team, which might be all that they are. Semin and Ovechkin major disappointments, with D-man John Carlson being the closest thing they have to an unsung hero.

19. Winnipeg (last rank #26): Don't look now but this team is climbing the charts with a fury. They have won 6 of their last 8 games thanks in part to unsung hero Kyle Wellwood, who is having a career year. The Canucks should never have let him go. Evander Kane will finish his career with about 400 points more than Nazem Kadri.

20. Edmonton (last rank #17): This team is regressing to who we thought they were. The future is bright, and the biggest surprise this young season are Eberle, Hopkins, and Smyth

21. Montreal (last rank #22): Unsung Hero: David Desharnais. Not a lot of heroes on this team, but Max Paccoriety deserves a tip of the hat for a strong season.

22. Los Angeles (last rank #15): Blown out by Detroit yesterday, the Kings are struggling mightily with a solid line-up. The Unsung Hero: nobody.

23. Ottawa (last rank #21): Erik Karlsson's 29 PTS in 33 GP would have to earn him their Unsung Hero award, though Milan Michalek's 19 goals have been a surprise. Jason Spezza team MVP. Sens have serious goaltending issues.

24. Calgary (last rank #25): It might be tough to call Olli Jokinen an unsung hero, but given the criticism hurled at him over the years by Flames fans, the fact that he's having a great year and leading the team in scoring is noteworthy.

25. Colorado (last rank #24): Unsung Hero: Ryan O'Reilly. Leads the team in scoring and has been their best surprise. Semyon Varlamov on the other hand has been a huge disappointment for the price they paid.

26. Tampa Bay (last rank #23): Unsung Hero: Marc Bergeron's 22 PTS in 32 GP has been one of the few bright spots for this team. Unfortunately the rest of their D and their goaltending has been terrible. Stamkos is the MVP.

27. NY Islanders (last rank #29): Unsung Hero: Matt Moulson's 15 goals leads the team, and Al Montoya has been respectable in goal. They have the potential to be a good team.

28. Carolina (last rank #27): Unsung Hero: none. This is not a good team, coaching change has not helped one bit.

29. Anaheim (last rank #28): At least Perry and Getzlaf have been producing, but this is a seriously underachieving roster. Selanne is the leading scorer on a team without any truly unsung heroes. In fact lack of secondary production is a big part of the team's struggles.

30. Columbus (last rank #30): Unsung Hero: Vaclav Prospal is suddenly having a great season, lost in the malaise of the worst achieving roster in the NHL. Curtis Sandford is having a career year, though it isn't helping the team move up the standings.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brady Vs Tebow

This week we should get an answer to the question how good is Tim Tebow as they face Tom Brady and the mighty New England offense. It is easy for a defense to look magical against Caleb Haine and Marion Barber, but Denver can't count on the same futility from Brady. If Tebow sucks for the first 3 quarters like we have seen so often this season, this game will be a blowout for the Patriots. The Denver defense has been as blessed as Tebow, but not even God can't make Tom Brady play poorly. Tebow time this week is more likely to be mop up time for Patriots second stringers.

The one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that a lot of people will watch this football game. I know I will.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who Does God Love More; Tebow, Praeter, or Broncos D?

How much does God love the Denver Broncos? Tim Tebow gets all the attention for these comebacks and his faith in the man upstairs, but the kicker and defense deserve as much or more credit as the QB. This morning driving my nephews to school I was talking about Tebow and how he sucks all game and then wins it in the 4th quarter; and my nephew asked "didn't the kicker win the game"? Certainly Matt Praeter's two 50+ yard field goals to tie and then win the game were as impressive a feat as anything Tebow accomplished in the 4th quarter.

Tebow was only able to do what he did because the Broncos D kept it close. Does God love Tim Tebow as much as he loves Von Miller? Or does God just love the whole Broncos team? They play in a high altitude stadium, which puts them closer to heaven when they pray. Does God hear their prayers louder because they are a mile high? I'm a religious agnostic, but these Broncos wins defy conventional logic to the point that almost have me second guessing myself. However self confidence explains Tebow's swagger when the game starts to matter. It's not like there is a high power manipulating the results of pro football games. Tebow's belief in himself is more important than his belief in the Lord, unless you argue that he only believes in himself on that level because he's convinced God helps him win football games.

By the way, it was not fair of God to nudge Marion Barber out of bounds or knock the football out of his hands in those critical moments. Had Barber been a bad boy or something? Was God punishing the wicked? Does God just hate Chicago?

There's a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Winnipeg Jets Taking Off

Don't look now, but the Winnipeg Jets have won 4 in a row, including an impressive 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. The team is not 7-2-1 in their last 10 and currently sit 1 point out of a playoff spot on Dec 9th. They suddenly find themselves in the middle of a playoff hunt despite getting off to a very poor start. The Jets are 9-4-0 at home and 4-7-4 on the road, showing that Winnipeg has not been a kind venue to opposing teams. A big reason for their recent success is fantastic play from Ondrej Pavelic, the same goalie who fainted for Atlanta on opening night last season. Pavelic has a history of running hot and cold. He can be both magnificent and terrible for extended durations in the same season.

The next best player for the Jets has been the young Evander Kane who has 14 goals on the season. Kyle Wellwood has fallen from 1st to 4th on the team in goals over the past six weeks. I recall observing at one point that any team with Kyle Wellwood leading in goals was in serious trouble. Thankfully for the franchise, Little and Ladd have stepped it up. Dustin Byfuglien has had another strong season despite allegedly being 50 pounds overweight right before training camp.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chris Kunitz Should Be Suspended For Crosby Hit

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz collided with Sidney Crosby recently, and Sid the Kid will now be sitting out for a few games because he is not feeling well. Brendan Shanahan needs to discipline Kunitz for this hit, regardless of whether or not he intended to cause harm to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby. A two game suspension should be the minimum for any hit that takes Sidney out of action, even if it came from a teammate. The result of the incident is more important than the intent. Intent to injure is very difficult to prove in hockey beyond a reasonable doubt, which is why Kunitz needs to be suspended for the hit. Steckel should have received a lifetime ban. Honestly, who'd miss that guy?

Having previously supported automatic suspensions for injuring Crosby, I can't back down when the hit was delivered by a teammate. If you hurt the NHL's prized asset, you need to be punished no matter team you play for...

(and yes, I'm being completely sarcastic)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tootoo Deserved Suspension For Miller Hit

There is a difference between the two high profile collisions with goaltender Ryan Miller. On the Lucic hit Miller skated out to the face-off dot to play the puck and should have been fair game (whether the rules permit it or not), where Tootoo lost the puck and launched himself at Ryan Miller in the goal crease. One hit deserved a harsh penalty, one deserved no penalty. Goalies should not have the right to skate far out of their net to play the puck without being touched, but when they get plowed in the crease while down on their knees to make a save, that's crossing the line.

Shanahan was right not to suspend Lucic, and right to suspend Tootoo. Well done. Just like when Patrick Roy once skated out to center ice to defend Claude Lemieux, he got plowed by Brendan Shanahan. That did not deserve a penalty or a suspension. If I'm not mistaken, Detroit won the Cup that season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicago Bears Need Brett Favre

Message to the Chicago Bears, if Brett Favre is willing to return to the NFL to play for you, that is a phone call you absolutely have to make. Cutler might not be back, Caleb Haine was terrible against the Chiefs, and you still need to win 1-2 games to even make the playoffs. Losing Forte for 2-4 of your 4 remaining games further handicaps your offense and decreases the probability of a playoff game. Just give Brett a call, and talk about it, that's all. Hear him out. Hear what he has to say. You owe it to your franchise and you owe it to your fans. Listen to Brett and decide for yourself if the passion still burns, because if it does, your team needs that fire.

Do it!

Tiger Woods Breaks Slump, Wins Chevron Challenge

Tiger Woods has accomplished something for the first time since plowing into a fire hydrant, he has won a golf tournament. Sunday he went head to head with Zach Johnson and won the Chevron World Challenge. The fist pump was back, the excitement was back, Tiger was back. It is possible this win was just a fluke and the next victory will take another 2 years to achieve, or it is possible that Tiger is ready to be Tiger again. If he's re-discovered that missing edge, this could be the start of something special. While his personal life is really none of my business, allow me to speculate that he has resumed his dating life. Maybe he's just dabbling on e-harmony, maybe he has found a new long term relationship, or maybe he has re-discovered his love for porn stars, we don't know. What I do choose to believe is that Tiger's passion for golf and women are more closely related than originally anticipated.

The fire was back on Sunday. If this persists, golf might have just become interesting again.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Matt Forte Gets Hurt, Marion Barber Takes Over

On Sunday against the Chiefs, Matt Forte went down with a sprained MCL which will keep him out for 2-4 weeks. Things can't get much worse in Chicago, as Marion Barber takes over as the team's #1 running back. The possibility of even making the playoffs just got a whole lot worse. Marion Barber has been valuable because he's got a nose for scoring on goal line carries. Outside of that specific set of circumstances, he isn't very good. Ergo losing both Cutler and Forte means that the Bears are going to struggle mightily to get near the end zone. Anyone who was excited when Forte got hurt because they own Barber on their fantasy team might want to take a moment for sober second thought. Barber might actually be worse without Forte, even if it means he'll get more carries. Without touchdowns, Barber won't be worth a whole hec of a lot. They were terrible against the Chiefs. Kansas had 7 sacks and 3 picks as Chicago had 88 passing yards.

Next week they play the Broncos. Marion the Barbarion better hope he's on good terms with God, or that Von Miller misses another game. As starting RB, I don't see him getting more than 60 yards in any game the rest of the season, or maybe once. Chicago is more likely to get crushed and lose out the rest of their schedule.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

NHL: Who's Hot In November

Who were the hottest players in the NHL for November 2011? I was tempted to put Crosby on the list but he only played in 5 games, scoring 11 PTS. He'll likely make my list for the hottest players in December. Joffrey Lupul is the real star of the month, while Boston and Detroit were the hottest teams.

1) Joffrey Lupul, Tor - Led the NHL in scoring for the month of November, far exceeding anyone's expectations. He even outscored linemate Phil Kessel by 5 PTS in the month.

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pit - 16 PTS in 12 GP, and you could argue that Malkin is back. He's been a force, which comes at exactly the perfect time with Sidney returning to the roster. Pittsburgh is a scary team.

3) Steven Stamkos, TB - His 10 goals in November led the NHL after a slow start to the season. He has officially returned to form.

4) Kris Versteeg, Fla - Came out of nowhere to score 15 PTS in November, as Leaf fans glance uncomfortably at Florida box scores. Do I expect Versteeg to stay on fire and Theodore to continue his best season in 10 years? No.

5) Jonathon Toews, Chi - Toews and Kane have been been re-united on the first line and are magnificent to watch. Chicago has to be considered one of the strongest Cup contenders in the West.

6) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm - You may as well engrave his name on the Calder trophy right now and get it over with. Can Ryan Smyth's career year continue at this pace?

7) Zdeno Chara, Bos - Led all D-men in scoring last month for the NHL's best team of the month. He's a monster.

8) Jordan Eberle, Edm - The Hopkins/Eberle combination is going to be great for years to come. His shooting percentage has been extraordinary.

9) Pavel Datsyuk, Det - He has 13 PTS in his last 8 games and suddenly Detroit has won 7 in a row. Johan Franzen also heating up.

10) Tyler Seguin, Bos - A point per game and a whopping +12 for the month, this player is the real deal. He should have been the #1 pick in that draft.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Marshawn Lynch Quietly Having A Great Season

Most people will remember that tremendous run in the playoffs last year against New Orleans when they hear the name Marshawn Lynch, but the Seattle running has quietly followed that up with a very strong season in 2011. He has scored a TD in 7 consecutive games on a 5-7 team that is weak in the passing game. He has now tied his career best with 9 TDs, and is just 261 yards shy of his best season. This is the 5th year of his career that began in 2007, the year he set his personal best for yards. Seattle has 4 games remaining, which is plenty of time for Marshawn to eclipse all his personal best marks and make 2011 the official best year of his entire career.

Skittles must have magical powers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dec 1st NHL Power Rankings

Here are my NHL Power Rankings for Dec 1st 2011. The season is nearly two months old, and there has already been substantial movement up and down the rankings. There have been a number of extended hot and cold streaks, and right now the hottest teams are Boston and Detroit. Dallas and Washington have plummeted in the rankings.

1. Boston (last rank #15): This is currently the best team in NHL who very nearly had a perfect month of November. A scary team.

2. Detroit (last rank #14): Datsyuk is heating up, and now the Wings have won 6 in a row. They snapped Boston's winning streak in what has been a very streaky season for this team.

3. NY Rangers (last rank #6): This team is remarkably difficult to score on, and is getting just enough offense from Gaborik and Richards to win hockey games. Scoring depth is seriously lacking.

4. Pittsburgh (last rank #4): With Crosby back this team is going to be tough to beat. Come to think of it, they were tough to beat even without Sid the Kid.

5. San Jose (last rank #9): Marleau and Pavelski playing great where Havlat has been a disappointment. Just as any other year, the Sharks are a Cup contender, though I don't expect them to win the Cup.

6. Philadelphia (last rank #5): Without Pronger, who is hurt again, this team could have problems. But they have been getting it done and having a decent season, certainly a better season than I would have predicted.

7. Vancouver (last rank #20): Roberto Luongo gets hurt, Cory Schneider jumps in, gets hot, and now the Canucks shoot 13 spots up the rankings. Enjoy the view from the bench Lou...

8. Minnesota (last rank #7): Currently sitting in first place in the NHL as of Dec 1st. They'd be ranked higher if they had not played so many games and had a better goal differential. Mike Yeo is channelling Jaques Lemaire and is running a blatant unapologetic trap. Boo that, but he is squeezing every last point out of his roster.

9. Phoenix (last rank #11): This team is performing far better than I would have predicted. I expected the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov to have a more significant negative effect.

10. St. Louis (last rank #21): This is a solid young team on the verge of an extended period of success. It has been a slow and painful rebuild, but finally the pieces are in place.

11. Florida (last rank #12): Do not expect this to last. Jose Theodore has a 2.29 GAA and a .923 save percentage. This would be his best season in 10 years, so it can only go downhill from here unless he found some quality hair replacement medicine...

12. Chicago (last rank #10): Duncan Keith is having a Jeckyl and Hyde season. Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa having quality seasons, but it starts to drop off significantly after that.

13. Toronto (last rank #17): The team is winning hockey games, but their goal differential is suspect. No team ranked higher has a worse goal differential. Reimer expected back soon.

14. Buffalo (last rank #8): Perhaps what has been overlooked in the whole Ryan Miller drama is that he had actually been having a bad season at the time of his injury. Jonas Enroth has been pretty good as his replacement.

15. Los Angeles (last rank #18): Outside of Kopitar and Richards, this offense is seriously underachieving. They should be scoring a lot more goals than they have been and owe a lot of their early success to great goaltending, which is slowly cooling off.

16. Dallas (last rank #1): Ouch. Kari Lehtonen out 3 weeks. Talk to me after 3 weeks of Andrew Raycroft and I'll bet Dallas will be ranked lower than 16th in those rankings. It can't get better with Raycroft. Injuries have derailed what was a phenomenal start to the season for Dallas.

17. Edmonton (last rank #3): It didn't take long for Edmonton to start slipping. Their early success was due largely to unbelievable numbers by Khabibulin, who has regressed back towards his normal expected production. Come on man, he wasn't going to win the Vezina!

18. Nashville (last rank #13): This team is having too much trouble scoring for an extended run of success. They need production from deeper down their bench.

19. Washington (last rank #2): F**k, that was a f**king rapid decline from what started as a great f**king season. They fell 17 f**king spots in the rankings in less than 3 weeks since Bruce f**king Boudreau had his episode with Ovechkin on the f**king bench. I'm almost f**king willing to bet that Ovechkin and Semin have been intentionally f**king tanking in an attempt to get f**king Bruce f**king fired.

20. New Jersey (last rank #19): This has been a consistently below average team for the first 2 months. Zach Parise is having a quietly bad season, as this team needs more out of him if they are to even have a sniff at the playoffs. David Clarkson has 7 goals, Kovalchuck has 4. Not acceptable.

21. Ottawa (last rank #25): As of right now they have squeaked into the 8th seed in the East. Far better than I would have predicted after the first 2 weeks of the season. Karlsson has been their MVP to this point.

22. Montreal (last rank #24): Slowly improving, but they are not a legit contender. They overachieved last season, and have more or less been properly achieving this season.

23. Tampa Bay (last rank #16): Dwayne Roloson has become a problem. This team needs to get solid goaltending to be what they were last year in the playoffs. Things are not looking good for team. They could really use a Roberto Luongo.

24. Colorado (last rank #22): The season started out so great, but it has come crashing back down to earth. They gave up way too much for Varlamov. This team does have some quality building blocks, but that Stastny contract is an albatross and soon they will have to pay Duchene.

25. Calgary (last rank #23): The Flames have scored the 2nd fewest goals in the NHL this season and are below .500 despite getting good goaltending from Kiprusoff.

26. Winnipeg (last rank #27): No NHL franchise increased their value more in the last year (according to Forbes) than the former Thrashers now Jets by moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg. If only the team was doing better, then this would be a greater story.

27. Carolina (last rank #26): Kirk Muller, we'll see what he can do behind the bench. There is talent in that there roster, a team that was significantly underachieving under Maurice. The coaching move made perfect sense.

28. Anaheim (last rank #29): Will the arrival of Bruce Boudreau turn this team's fortune's around? When you look at that roster, this team should be performing far better than they have been, and thus the firing of Carlyle was justified.

29. NY Islanders (last rank #28): Tavares slowed down considerably and now this team has returned to pathetic status.

30. Columbus (last rank #30): They suck.