Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday NHL Thoughts - 10/26/06 Edition

Hey all...

I went online to check out the results of our hockey pool this morning, only to find out, not surprisingly, that I am still dead last in the standings. What is surprising to me is that my players are not doing that bad. Most teams have played about 1/10 of their season so far, and I am sitting at 145 points. If my players continue scoring at the same pace, I will finish the year with 1450 points, which would've easily won last year's pool. Meanwhile, if you look at Mat's team, his players have scored 186 points in 173 games, a rate of 1.07 points/game. Considering we all have 5 defensemen on the roster, that is pretty amazing.

Now, I know that as the season goes on, injuries will happen, and some players' performance will fall off a little. Mat will not win the pool with 1860 points, that much is sure. But I think that what we are seeing this year is simply a much better draft than we had last year. I believe all of our picks are quite better than last year's. Except, of course, for The Dick, who, even if he wins the whole thing, can never get any credit whatsoever for his successes.

Now, let's get to my best and worst "value picks" at this juncture of the season. I really, really like the Nylander pick on The Dick's team. As The Dick's 12th foward, Nylander has 13 points in 9 games. But, again, The Dick cannot get any credit, so he can shove Nylander 'where the sun don't shine'. Instead, you have to look at Mat's pick of Chris Drury. Drury, as of this writing, has 14 points in 9 games, which is excellent. Now, factor in this: Drury was Mat's 14th foward, and only 5 players were picked after him. That's what we call an excellent value pick.

As for my worst pick, I was really tempted by 2 really awful picks and, unable to decide, I settled on calling it a tie. The 2 picks? First, there's Guillaume Latendresse, whom Sweet LP thought might explode and score 30 goals in his first season. Well, he currently has no points at all, so let's just hope he saves face and gets 20 points. Not much better was getting Doug Weight as my 9th foward. Weight currently has 2 points and is sitting comfortably in my "red" and is kicking back.

Random Thoughts from around the NHL:
  • Bobby Clarke quit his job as the Flyers' GM this last Sunday and, subsequently, Ken Hitchcock got axed as the coach. Whether he quit or not, Clarke's days as a Flyer were numbered. He botched a series of transactions the last 2 years and that has seriously hurt the team. Granted, winning the Peter Forsberg lottery was a good move, but breaking the bank for Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje was not very bright. Also, his trade of Michael Handzus for Kyle Calder does not look so good right now either. With Primeau now retired and Handzus in Chicago, Philadelphia is now very thin at center, an area that was once a strength. Meanwhile, the big contracts given to Rathje and Hatcher prevented Clarke from keeping Kim Johnsson in the fold. With Eric Desjardins retired as well, the defense is now full of holes. But the reality remains that the Flyers are a team loaded with talent. From Forsberg to Simon Gagne, not to mention Joni Pitkanen, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Mike Knuble, this team has enough tools to somehow fix the problem. Don't get me wrong, they're not good enough to win the Cup and making the playoffs will be tough, but they are much better than their ranking indicates.
  • The Sabres just keep on winning. On Monday night, they easily handled the Canadiens. People are talking about how the Sabres are the best example of a team built for the "New NHL". I think this is somewhat true. Yes, they are a teambuilt around speed. They have 2 very good goaltenders, just like the Ducks and Sharks, and a deep defense corps. But I think what sets the Sabres apart this year is their hussle. They play hard. They don't take shifts off. The Canadiens are also a team built on speed, but they looked slow Monday night because they just didn't skate as hard. In the "New NHL", just like in the old one, you win with heart. And the Sabres are the team that has the most heart in the league.
  • Speaking of Montreal, Bob Gainey's job is not the easiest the evaluate in the last couple of years. Actually, it seems like it's been very hot and cold. I mean, first, he starts by giving a ton of money to Jose Theodore. Meanwhile, he trades his backup goaltender, Mathieu Garon, to the Kings in exchange of a more experienced but less promising backup, Cristobal Huet (if you remember, at the time, Garon was challenging Theodore for the starting spot, so Gainey shipped him to ease his #1 goalie's mind). Fast foward to the trading deadline; Cristobal Huet is playing like one of the best goaltenders in the league, and Theo is hurt. So Gainey takes his huge salary and dumps it on the Avalanche, and in return gets the new backup to Huet, David Aebischer. Then, this summer, Gainey gave over 3 million/year to Huet. And now, Huet can't seem to be able to stop a beach ball, and Aebischer seems to have the inside track on the starting spot. Bad move, good move, bad move, good move. A little uneven if you ask me, and it doesn't stop there. This summer, Gainey made 2 moves on the same day. First, he signed Sergei Samsonov as a free agent. Then, he traded for Mike Johnson of the Coyotes. So, while Johnson has really lived up to expectations (and maybe even exceeded them), scoring 3 goals and 6 points in 8 games to go along with a nice +3 rating, Samsonov has been a true disapointment, failing to add anything to the Canadiens second line. Samsonov will play on the fourth line tonight agains the Bruins. Indeed, very uneven preformance by Gainey.
  • A little word on the San Jose Sharks: they're awesome! So far, they are 7-3. Evgeni Nabokov is 2-3, but both his wins were shutouts. Vesa Toskala, on the other hand, is 5-0. What's amazing is that San Jose is playing this well and getting all these wins while their first line is dormant. Joe Thornton has only 10 points in 10 games, which is much below his usual production, and he has yet to score a goal. Jonathan Cheechoo has only 5 goals, and 3 of them came in 1 game. Mark Bell has missed 3 games, and he only totals 4 points right now. But the Sharks are deep. Patrick Marleau has picked up some of the slack. Miran Michalek is playing really well. Steve Bernier is banging bodies and putting scores up on the board. And Matt Carle, a rookie, anchors a very good defense. Make no mistake, the Sharks just might be the best team in the West.
See you tomorrow for my NFL picks.

Dwarf out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday NFL Musings - Week 7 Edition

Week 7 was another crazy week in the NFL. As was the case in week 6, we were treated to a few back-and-forth, down-to-the-wire, last-possession-wins type games. There was Michael Vick throwing 4 touchdowns against the Steelers in a 41-38 overtime win that wa capped by 46-year old Morten Andersen kicking a game-winning field goal. Meanwhile, with 6 seconds left in the game, Chiefs kicker Lawrence Tynes was nailing a 53-yard field goal to win a crucial division game against the Chargers. At about the same time, in Tampa, Matt Bryant made over 60,000 Bucs fans jump out of their seats by putting the ball throught the uprights from 62 yards out, once again as time expired.

Along with those nailbiting endings, Week 7 in the NFL saw some big-time playoff hopefuls fall from grace in some big upsets. First Jacksonville saw David Carr slowly pick apart their defense and eventually lost 27-7 to the lowly Texans. The NFC reigning champion Seahawks were at home on Sunday night, but they got killed by the Vikings and lost QB Matt Hasselbeck for 3 weeks in the process.

One game that might've flown under the radar, though, is the Cardinals' loss to the Raiders, in Arizona. Two years ago, in pre-season, with Dennis Green at the helm and Kurt Warner at QB, the Cardinals had become the "chic" pick of the year. So-called experts had them sitting in second in the NFC West, and some even had them winning their division. Of course, that never happened, and the Cards finished at a disappointing 5-11.

But after a 2006 draft that landed promising Quarterback Matt Leinart of USC and the off-season acquisition of star RB Edgerrin James, the Cardinals once again became the 'talk of the town'.

The fact is, we in the media and in the public love big names. The public loves big names because they don't care enough to know the support players. The media loves big names because they mean people will tune in to see the big name players or read about them the next morning. But a GM cannot be falling in love with big names all the time. A GM has to build from the ground up. And it is well known in football circles that you don't win football games with star receivers or a star running back: you win in the NFL by having good, solid, offensive and defensive lines. That is the foundation of a football team. If you look around the league, with the exception of the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, the 10 best offenses in the league have offensive lines that are good to very good. On the flip side, look at the 5 worst offenses in the league: Cleveland, Oakland, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Baltimore. Baltimore's line is average at best. The other 4 have had depth issues for the longest time. As a result, when they have suffered injuries, and they all have, they haven't been able to find adequate replacements. Furthermore, all 4 lines had starting lineups that were shaky at best even before the season started.

Dennis Green fell in love with big names. Let's face it: Green has always been a big name guy. He drafted Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper with the Vikings. He had guys like Jeff George and Randall Cunningham quarterbacking his team before Culpepper arrived. But in Minnesota, he already had a very good offensive line. LG Randall McDaniel, the anchor of the line, was already there. All Green had to do was add a little piece here and there every year and everything would be fine.

In Arizona, Dennis Green came to a team that needed to be destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up. Green did that, but he forgot to build the foundation. He went out and drafted Matt Leinart, J.J. Arrington and Larry Fitzgerald and has signed high-profile free agents Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James. And all those acquisitions are commandable. The only problem is to this day, neither Warner nor Leinart have had sufficient time to find their star receivers down the field. In the meantime, Arrington was a bust as a rookie behind the woeful line and James can't find any holes and is running at under 3.0 yards/carry. Without a strong foundation, Green's offense is falling to pieces right now. Every once in a while, they will have a great drive, but they can't sustain it for a whole game, and certainly not for a whole season. People can talk all they want about the "Arizona Curse", but forgetting to draft linemen has nothing to do with a curse. It is very simply bad management. And for that, Green will lose his job at the end of the season.

Random thoughts from Week 7:
  • The Philadelphia Eagles dropped another close one on Sunday. This team could be 7-0 if it hadn't been for 3 heartbreaking, last-minute losses. I still feel like the Eagles will make the Playoffs, but they need to start winning some of those close ones. Otherwise, even if they get in, they won't go far.
  • Michael Vick throws 4 touchdowns and everyone starts writing about how he has finally arrived as a passer. Well, watch the same people who are singing his praises right now look like idiots next week when he throws three INT's. Vick is a great runner. But as a passer, he is like a nude dancer: he might look very good, but he will always be no more than a tease.
  • New England just keeps winning. And Tom Brady is starting to look comforable now. They'll be a player come January, that's for sure.
  • Has anyone noticed David Carr is the highest rated passer in the league. Yes, David Carr. And yes, he does still play for the Houston Texans. Pretty amazing, huh?
I didn't have time to get my picks in this weekend, so my record still stands at 48-24. I'll make sure I'll get them in this week.

See you Thursday for my NHL Thoughts.

Dwarf out.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thursday NHL Thoughts - 10/19/06

If you were to open the sports section of your newspaper this morning and go to the NHL standings, you would see that while Buffalo and Atlanta have dominated the conference, the Stanley Cup champions from2 years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting in 13th place, with only 2 wins in 6 games. Right now, the talk around the league is that John Tortorella's ways might've run their course and that the players might not be responding to him anymore. His job could be in jeopardy, some might say. With 3 superstars like Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, with a supporting cast that includes Vaclav Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko and defenseman Dan Boyle as well as newly acquired Marc Denis in net, Tortorella has the elements to win. So if these elements are just not responding to the coach anymore, you have to fire the coach, right?

Personally, I think this is a bunch of crap. The players are not responding to the coach anymore? Well, youngster Ryan Craig, with 5 points in 6 games, seems to be responding. So does Fedotenko, who has 4 points. Nikita Alexeev also has 4 and is +4, so he's getting his points at 5-on-5. Defensemen Luke Richardson, Corey Sarich, Doug Janik, Paul Ranger and Nolan Pratt are all even or better on a team that has scored a measly 11 goals so far. So what;s wronf with the Lightning? Very simply, the stars have to start living up to their billing. Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards have to start producing. Dan Boyle needs to become dangerous again on the power play. Marc Denis needs to start playing like a #1 goaltender. These players are the core of the team. GM jay Feaster gave up Fredrik Modin and his 30 goals/year to get Denis, so he needs to start living up to his billing. As for the 19.5 M/year gang (St. Louis, Lecavalier and Richards), letting the media blame your coach for your pathetic performance is just lame.

As a team, the Lightning are playing pretty good defense, allowing 2.5 goals/game and only 21.5 shots/game. If Denis can improve on his .888 save percentage, that would be a good start. Then, you need your top guys to get a dismal power play (8.6% efficiency) to get the power play going.

I can udnerstand a coach needs to go when his whole team has tuned him out. In the case of Tortorella, his team is playing hard for him, except for a few players. I believe that the Lightning will start winning games sooner than later, and when it is all said and done, they will be in the playoffs. But sometimes, it would be nice to see players being held accountable for their lack of effort. If Tortorella gets canned, it won't be his fault or the GM's fault; instead, it will lie on the shoulders of 3 or 4 lazy superstars.

My early thoughts on the 6 Canadian Teams:
  • Calgary Flames (2-3-1): In the 2006 playoffs, Calgary's lack of scoring punch was finally exposed. So, in the offseason, Darryl Sutter went out and traded for Alex Tanguay. Tanguay is a good player, but his point totals have been inflated for years while playing with Milan Hejduk, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. He now plays with Jarome Iginla, but it is clear that they need a true #1 center. Sutter will have to start working the phones sooner than later. He has many good defensemen, and with the best goalie in the NHL, he can afford to give up one or two. In a division as strong as the Northwest, they can't stay in this funk for 2 long.
  • Edmonton Oilers (4-2): Losing Chris Pronger doesn't seem to have affected the team's defense as much as anticipated. The Oilers are sitting at 6th in the league in goals against/game. Dwayne Roloson is playing great for them. Petr Sykora, signed as a free agent, is playing exceptionally well with Ales Hemsky. Ryan Smyth is also producing. If they have one concern, it's that Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll have failed to score 1 goal so far. But the whole team has shown a lot of heart and things are truly looking good.
  • Montreal Canadiens (3-1-2): The Canadiens, led by Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev, are playing very good hockey right now. Their first line of Koivu, Higgins and Ryder is dominating the opposition. They are playing good team defense as well. The one issue they have right now is that Kovalev seems to be alone sometimes. Sergei Samsonov, aside from noe nice goal scored Saturday night, has been invisible. Tomas Plekanec, for his part, looks a lot more like Jan Bulis than Mike Ribeiro right now. But if the Canadiens can learn to win some shootouts, they will be more than ok.
  • Ottawa Senators (2-3): Let's see... Martin Gerber is playing like he did at the start of the playoffs and not like in the regular season, which is really bad news. Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley have 9 points combined in 5 games. That's bad news too. They are giving up almost 3 goals/game. More bad news. The good news? They are too talented to be this bad. They will get a lot better.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (3-2-2): Well, they are playing much better than pundits predicted. Like the Canadiens, they have already lost 2 games in the shootout. They are scoring a lot, but have given up the same amount of goals as they have scored. Common sense they won't keep it up, but you never know...
  • Vancouver Canucks (3-3-1): As the only potent offensive threat on this team, the trio of Markus Naslund and the Sedin Twins is doing well (comined 22 points in 7 games). After that, there's a huge dropoff. Roberto Luongo has played well for them, but not exceptionally well. And since they lost Anson Carter, Eddie Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi and Alex Auld to get him and then sign him, he needs to be exceptional. Their season will ride on his shoulders, there's no doubt about that.

And finally, we get to the pool. Sweet LP has has a great week, and he is now sitting on top of the standings. Nick The Dick, who has been a real dick about the choices that were made for him while he was doing God-knows-what with Champagne bottles in Paris, is sitting in second. Mat and Veillotron, who is used to smelling the rotten basement of the standings, are not too far behind. Huy has seen choices like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal backfire so far (those were just bad, bad picks... somewhat reminiscent of The Dick picking Brett Hull last year). As for yours truly, well, I can bitch all I want about the teams, but I'm sitting dead last, surrounded by the incredible futility of my top picks. But the season is young, and I will be back...

Dwarf out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NFL Tuesday Musings - Week 6 Edition

We are 6 weeks into the NFL season now, and one of the most interesting stories so far, in my opinion, has been the developement of young quarterbacks. Look around the league, and you will see youngsters Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Philip Rivers, Andrew Walter, J.P. Losman and Bruce Gadkowski starting for their team. And surprisingly, most of them are faring pretty well so far.

The oldest of this young group, Rivers, is having a really good season in San Diego. Everytime Marty Schottenheimer has put the ball in his hands (which isn't often enough according to most experts), Rivers has responded tremendously. GM AJ Smith made a bold move when he let Drew Brees go to New Orleans, handing the reins of his playoff-hopeful team to his young QB, who had never to that point started a game. But after sitting on the bench for 2 years, Rivers now has the Chargers at 4-1.

Matt Leinart, for his part, has looked like an 8-year veteran in his first 2 games at the helm of the Cardinals offence. In both contests, he has managed to build a comfortable lead heading into the 4th quarter, only to see his team crumble down and fall behind. But he has also managed to lead his team from behind twice in the last 2 minutes, mounting drives that ended with Neil Rackers missing the tying (against KC) and winning (against Chicago) field goals. As a rookie, Leinart has displayed great presence in the pocket, an unusual feel for the rush and a superb ability at reading defenses. What makes this even more impressive is that he is playing for a team without a running game or an offensive line. Still, he is poised enough that he constantly buys enough time to get the ball out to his receivers. Mark my words: this kid will be a star for a long time in this league.

With Vince Young, it's all about potential. In that sense, he is a lot like Mike Vick was when he came out of college. Both QB's are blessed with superior athletic skills, but both are plagued with the same problem: trouble reading defenses. The book on Vick has always been to mix converages, confuse him, and to try to contain him. If you can limit his yards rushing, you won't have any problems stopping him. It is still to early to say if Young will eventually learn to read defenses (like Donovan McNabb has) or if, like Vick, he will always be a great weapon but never a develop into a great quarterback. But so far, he has yet to achieve the same level of success as Leinart, who was picked seven spots later in the draft. To his credit, Young did play reasonably well in leading his Titans to their first win of the season over the Washington Redskins.

As for the others, well, Bruce Gadkowski, like Leinart, has displayed a lot of poise. He has managed the game very well and he led his team to the winning touchdown in the last seconds of the game against Cincinnati last Sunday. J.P. Losman has been up and down, but he has played way better than he did last season. And finally, there's Andrew Walter, Oakland's QB of the future, who has been as pitiful as the rest of his team. In any case, the way these kids play is something I will continue to monitor all season long.

Random Thoughts about Week 6
  • The New Orleans Saints are for real. Their victory against the Eagles was well deserved. They are truly impressive on offense, with Drew Brees continuing to prove he is for real. Plus, Sean Payton continues to find ways to get the ball to both Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. More surprisingly, they are proving to be very stingy on defense. Kudos to Veillotron for predicting they would climb out of the league's basement. I'm sure he's very proud and right now he must be wishing Dave Krieg would come back out of retirement and replace Brees. But that wouldn't be very good...
  • Joey Harrington played a very good 4th quarter for Miami on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Still, he looks nothing like the failure he was in Detroit.
  • A second loss in a row for the Ravens after their offense once again proved inept under Steve Mcnair. Funny thing though, after he came off the bench in the middle of the first quarter, Kyle Boller led his offense to 3 touchdown drives. Still, probably not realizing his offense might've just needed a QB who doesn't look 60 years old on the field, Brian Billick fird offensive coord. Jim Fassel today.
  • What a game in St. Louis on Sunday. First, with 1:54 left in the game, Torry Holt makes a circus catch then runs off for 67 yards and a touchdown to put the Rams in front 28 to 27. But Matt Hasselbeck, not to be undone, took the field and Josh Brown nailed a 54-yard field goal with 4 seconds left on the clock for the 30-28 win. Gutsy win. The Seahwaks are fighting hard without Shaun Alexander, and they will be a force when he comes back. By the way, Brown had field goals of 49, 49 and 54 yards in the 4th quarter. That's what we call an MVP performance for a kicker.
  • Ok, it was against the Raiders, but the Denver defense held another team without a touchdown. In 5 games, that defense has yielded only 1 TD to the opposition. Boy do I like that defense.
  • I went 8-5 with my picks this week, bringing my season total to 48-24. But do note that I did pick Tampa to upset the mighty Bengals. I also did call that Matt Leinart would have a good game versus the Bears and that the Cards would come close. Yes, you can call me Nostradwarfus.
Check back thursday for my NHL Thoughts.

Dwarf out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Week 6 NFL Picks

Before I get to my picks, a little word on the Oilers. 3 games into the season, the Oilers are now 2-1. That's nothing remarkable, except for tthe fact that so far, they have played the Flames twice and the Sharks once, both teams favored to sit atop the Western Conference at the end of the season. The Oilers have now scored 10 goals while allowing only 7, not too shabby for a team picked to finish 12th in the West by The Hockey News. But, regardless of all that, last night was special. The Sharks came into Edmonton with a 3-0 record last night and seeking revenge for their ousting in last year's playoffs. And for 40 minutes, everything looked great for the Sharks. Nabokov was playing great, Cheechoo had a natural hat trick and San Jose was leading by 2 heading into the 3rd period. But, coming right out of the gate, the 'Cardiac Kids' got to work. Ryan Smyth scored 3 goals in the span of 2 minutes and 1 second, breaking the old Gretzky mark of 2:18. The defense settled down, Roloson made a couple of huge saves, and Hemsky iced it in the 15th minute, taking the puck while coming out of the box and beating Nabokov.

Now, listen to me people. Wherever you live, if you're reading this, please, please, call your cable or satellite company and order NHL Center Ice. Then go on and print out the Oilers' schedule. Study it carefully, and then sit down and watch every Oilers' game this season. It's gonna be wild...

Week 6 NFL Picks:

NY Giants vs. Atlanta: The Giants put up a great defensive effort last week vs. Washington. But John Abraham will start this week, meaning he and Patrick Kerney will terrorize Eli Manning all afternoon. The Giants will try to run, but Grady Jackson will be waiting. On the other side of the ball, Michael Vick has his usual day: 10 of 22, 95 yards, 1 int, 100 yds rushing, 1 TD. Atlanta.

Houston vs. Dallas: Dallas will look to rebound and stay in the hunt with Philly. Against a weak Houston defense, look for Bledsoe to have a big day. Dallas.

Buffalo vs. Detroit: The Bills got killed last week by Chicago. Their defense will rebound against a bad Detroit offense. And Losman will have a career day against a defense so incompetent that looks like it's coached by the White House staff. Buffalo.

Seattle vs. St. Louis: Shaun Alexander was rumored to maybe play in this game, but he won't dress. The Rams are 4-1, but this is a real test. Hasselbeck will continue to struggle, but the Seahawks defense wins this one. Seattle.

Philadelphia vs. New Orleans: Game of the week. Brees is a smart guy, and he won't get rattled by the Philly blitz schemes. It will come down to big plays: Brees and Bush vs. McNabb. And it's hard to bet against Mcnabb these days. Philly in a nail-biter. Philadelphia.

Cincinnati vs. Tampa Bay: Bruce Gradkowski looked like a seasoned veteran last week. The Bucs are 0-4, but they have some fight left in them. The Bengals will overlook them, and Gradkowski picks up his first win. Tampa Bay.

Tennessee vs. Washington: Let's see... Clinton Portis will run for 150 yards. Brunell will look like he's 26 again. Vince Young will look like, well, a rookie QB. Washington.

Carolina at Baltimore: Steve Mcnair is not playing too well. Julius Peppers is the best defensive player in the NFL right now. Steve Smith's hamstring is still bothering him, and the Ravens "D" is amongst the best in the league. This game will see less than 20 points total, and Carolina wins by a field goal. Carolina.

Miami at NY Jets: Didn't Joey Harrington look a lot better than Culpepper last week. I always thought Harringtn was a good QB who never got a fair chance on a terrible team when in Detroit. On Sunday, he prves he belongs in the NFL when getting a late 4th quarter TD that wins the game. Miami.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh: 2 teams that want to establish the run and win with good defense. This time, Willie Parker runs wild, Roethlisberger benefits and throws his first 2 TDs of the year, one to TE Heath Miller. Pittsburgh.

San Diego at San Francisco: After a week of celebration (SF beat the Raiders last week), things go back to normal in the Bay Area after the 49ers get clobbered by SD. San Diego.

Oakland at Denver: The league's worst offense plays against the league's best defense in the most hostile environment in the league. That one is easy. Denver.

Chicago at Arizona: I like Matt Leinart. He will be a star. Not in 2 years though, but in 2 weeks. On Monday night, we will show the country his calm and his poise, and just what a pretty ball he throws. Unfortunately, his defense won't do enough to help him, but the game will be a lot closer than people think. Chicago.

Season record: 40-19

Dwarf out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday NHL Thoughts - 10/12/06 Edition

Hey all!

Ready to talk hockey? First, I would like to start off with a few words on the "OTAN" pool. After a week of dwelling in the standings' basement, I have finally started my comeback with a big night yesterday. It's only a matter of time until my players stop sucking. By the way, can someone explain to me why Ilya Kovalchuk has 2 points in 4 games? Still, on the subject of the Pool, I would like to give a big hand to Sweet LP and especially Mat, who after 1 week, are kicking the rest of the Pool's butt. On the other hand, I will give a big thumb's down to Nick The Dick formissing the draft and then having the audacity to lead the Pool for 4 days. Luckily, things have gone back to normal and the Dick seems headed for the basement once more. Pick of the year so far? It could've been Michael Nylander, who came off the board pretty late and now has 5 points in 3 games, but The Dick was absent on draft night and so did not technically "pick" Nylander. So, instead, we wind up with a tie between Mat's Kari Lethonen ( last goaltender taken, 2 shutouts in his first week) and Sweet LP's Martin Havlat (2 games, 6 points, LP's 9th foward). Now, why would I have given the "best pick" tag to Nylander, who doesn't nearly have as many points as the other 2? Because Lethonen and Havlat, as we all know, will get injured at some point, and thus their production will go down. Nylander, playing between jagr and Shanahan, could keep this up all year. Nice "non-pick", The Dick.

On another note, the Canadiens won again last night, giving them a total of 5 points out of a possible 6 in their 3-game season-opening road trip. That's pretty good. In fact, it's very good. But the Canadiens need all the points they need now. As a "small" team, they are bound to get tired, as they do every year, and will probably lose ground as the season goes on. So, yeah, they do need the fast start. One more thing: Aebischer is starting to make Gainey look like an idiot for giving Huet that much money in the off-season.

We are one week into the season, and already there is talk that offense is down in the NHL. Why is it? Well, for one thing, teams have gotten a lot better on the penalty kill. Last year, teams scored on 17.64% of their power plays. This year, as of last night, the league average was down to 15.74%, almost a full 2% below the standards set last year. That being said, the season is still very, very young. Some power plays perhaps haven't really clicked yet. Pittsburgh and Dallas, for instance, still haven't scored with the man advantage. Buffalo, which had the best PP at home last year, are clicking at a rate of 5.0%, and the Senators, with guys like Jason Spezza, Wade Redden, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson on the ice, are a measley 5.3%. So things will get better for these teams, and they will get worse for others. In the meantime, the only thing that matters is the show, not the amount of goals. While I am sure there have been boring games this year, the 2 Edmonton-Calgary games I have seen, as well as the Montreal-Buffalo and Montreal-Toronto games, have all featured a very tight, very back-and-forth, very exciting brand of hockey. And no fan can complain about that.

Next week, I will talk about the eventual transfer of Hockey Night in Canada from CBC to CTV, as well as my thoughts on all 6 of the Canadian teams' seasons so far.

See you tomorrow for my Week 6 NFL Weekend Picks.

Dwarf out.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tuesday NFL Musings - Week 5 Edition

Back on May 23 of this year, we discussed in this very space the return to form of the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that went to 4 straight NFC Championships before imploding last year. Well, 5 weeks into the season, the Eagles are sitting atop their division, 2 games in front of everyone else. In my opinion, 2 things are contributing to the Eagles resurgence: a re-energized defense and Donovan McNabb.

The Philly defense has shown a tendency to give up a big play here and there, but they have looked absolutely dominating since the start of the year. Consider this: while they are sitting in the bottom half of the league in yards and points allowed, the Eagles are tied for sixth in interceptions with 6 and lead the league in sacks with 23, 5 more than second-place Chicago. 21 of these quarterback takedowns belong to defensive linemen, which is quite a feat in itself. But you really find out about the the quality and depth of the line when you see that 6 different linemen share that total, and that the leader is a backup (Trent Cole) who mostly plays third downs only. Philadelphia also leads the league in forced fumbles with 13, 5 of which they have recovered. So, while they have given up big plays, they have created a truckload of them too. And with the return of Pro Bowl Cornerback Lito Sheppard (2 int's in Sunday's win vs. the Cowboys) from injury, things look to get even better for this defense. With Sheppard back with Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown in the secondary, def. coordinator Jimmy Johnson unleashed a myriad of blitzes upon a confused Dallas offensive line this Sunday. Look for that to continue all season long.

On offense, it has been the Donovan McNabb show. McNabb has played like a man possessed all season long. Early on, he was developping something special with newly acquired Donte' Stallworth. But Stallworth hasn't played in 3 games. Still, McNabb just keeps going. He is finding receivers all over the field, no matter their names: Brian Westbrook, L.J. Smith, Stallworth, Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis all have over 10 receptions this year, and some guy named Hank Baskett caught an 87-yeard touchdown from McNabb on Sunday. Furthermore, McNabb is playing so well that the Eagles offense is actually rushing the ball to a tune of 114 yds/game, good for 11th in the league.

Indeed, like Sheppard said after the Dallas game on Sunday: "5 is alive".

Random Thoughts from Week 5

  • The Bears look very strong. Very very strong. But all the talk about how no one cna touch them in the NFC is ridiculous. The Panthers, if Steve Smith can get healthy are capable of doing it. And Rex Grossman has yet to face a defense like the that of the Eagles' or Panthers'. And remember that when they took on the Seahwaks 2 weeks ago, MVP RB Shaun Alexander was not in the lineup.
  • At this point, I really don't know what team is more pathetic: the Oakland Raiders or Detroit Lions. I mean, yes, the Lions are actually trying to give themselves a chance to win every Sunday and they have come close a couple of times, but that's the thing: they're trying. In the off-season, Al Davis hired Art Shell to be his coach and Tom Walsh to be his offensive coordinator, both of whom had not coached in years. Then he signed Aaron Brooks to be his quarterback. And then he passed on Matt Leinart. Davis knew what he was doing: he wants the #1 pick in the 2007 draft, and he's gonna get it. So, with that in mind, I now proclaim the Lions the 'most pathetic team' in the NFL.
  • Speaking of Matt Leinart, he certainly looked good in his first start. Too bad Neil Rackers couldn't hit his first meaningful kick in 2 years.
  • Kudos to the Saints for yet another win. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers with some guy called Gradkowski at quarterback. But you know what, Gradkowski looked much better than Chris Simms in there. He played with poise, and threw a good ball all afternoon. But in the end, when it mattered most, the Saints showed they had superior talent. Indeed, Reggie Bush scored his first TD in the NFL on a punt return with less than 4 minutes to go. I'l tell you that much: no one plays faster than Reggie Bush in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh still has a chance to get back in the playoff hunt.
  • Miami doesn't.
  • Denver has the best defense in the league. Not Chicago. Not Baltimore. Denver.

Oh by the way, I finished 12-2 in my picks this week, by far my best outing this year. That brings my season record to 40-19. Not bad, not bad at all, I say.

Dwarf out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Random thoughts and Week 5 NFL Picks

Hey all...

Well, the curtain was lifted on a new season of NHL hockey this past Wednesday. So far, it's been a bit of a wild ride. The Stanley Cup champions Carolina Hurricanes have opened the season with 3 straight losses. The Nashville Predators, favored to win their division ahead of the Red Wings, have also yet to lose a game. Ottawa, after wnning on opening night, have lost 2 straight and their starting goaltender is already drawing the ire of the fans. Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have scored 12 and 9 goals in 2 games, respectively. And in Montreal, after 2 games, David Aebischer looks a lot better than Cristobal Huet in nets. What can we learn from this? Well, most teams have played only 2 or 3 games, and the season is a long one. There will be lots of trades, and when it's all said and done, things will look a lot more normal than they do now.

In regards to the Canadiens, I have said all summer long that putting Sergei Samsonov with Alex Kovalev and a small center (originally thought to be Mike Ribeiro, who's been replaced by Tomas Plekanec) was a mistake. So far, that has hel true. That line is not doing anything. Samsonov looks invisible out there. Kovalev, I believe, works best with a lot of space, and right now, no one on that line is able to give it to him. Meanwhile, Saku Koivu looks like Wayne Gretzky out there, feeding his 2 big wingers, Mychael Ryder and Chris Higgins, some beautiful passes and putting the puck in the back of the net every time the opposition forgets about him. I think that it is only a matter of time for Carbonneau to send Kovalev backonto the top line and put Mychael Ryder with Plekanec and Samsonov. Montreal is a talented team, but they don't have enough talent up and down the roster to have a one-line team. They need both lines to produce and right now they're not getting that.

The Buffalo Sabres are looking really good right now. You get the feeling that had they not had so many injuries last year in the playoffs, they would've definitely beaten the Hurricanes in the Conference Finals. Ryan Miller is the real deal, Martin Biron is the best backup in the league, the defense is strong, and boy oh boy are they fast. They don't have a Jagr or a Kovalchuk on the team, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a team with better depth at foward. Too bad their new uniforms are so butt-ugly.

I will have more NHL thoughts on thursday, but now here are my weekend NFL picks:

Buffalo at Chicago: 2 very good defenses faceoff. It will be a close game, but in the end, a better quarterback and better running game means Chicago will win. Chicago

St. Louis at Green bay: Favre got rattled pretty good by Philly last week, but I expect him to bounce back. Still, the Packers look terrible this year on defense, and I believe Torry Holt and company will have a field day. St. Louis.

Tennessee at Indianapolis: Peyton Manning vs. Vince Young. Enough said. Indy in a landslide. Indianapolis.

Detroit at Minnesota: Minnesota has some big holes on defense and a sputtering offense. Still, this is Detroit they're playing. And they're at home. Minnesota.

Miami at New England: There is talk Joey Harrington could start. While I think he might be better than Daunte Culpepper, New England is too good and Miami too bad right now. New England.

Washington at NY Giants: The Giants are coming off a bye. But they've been horrible on defense this year. Against a Redskins offense that has finally hit its stride, that can't be good. Washington.

Cleveland at Carolina: Super Bowl contender against team that almost lost to the Raiders. Enough said. This is a massacre. Carolina.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans: Drew Brees against Bruce Gardowski or whatever his name is. Deuce McCallister and Reggie Bush against a banged-up Cadillac Williams. A surprising Saints defense against a disappointing TB Defense. This one will be close, cuz Jon Gruden will have shis team ready to play, but the Saints have their sights set on the Playoffs. New Orleans.

Kansas City at Arizona: Matt Leinart starts for the Cards. That means maybe one more interception, but 3 less fumbles than Kurt Warner. Cards win a close one. Arizona.

Oakland at San Francisco: Oakland is so bad Alex Smith will look like Steve Young, Antonio Bryant will look like Jerry Rice and Frank Gore will look like Ricky Watters. For one week, the 49ers will look like the team that won the Super Bowl in '94. San Francisco.

NY Jets at Jacksonville: The Jaguars defense got cut up pretty good by the Redskins last week. I expect them to return to form, which can't be good for Chad Pennington and his gang of green goblins. Still, the Jets are a resilient bunch. This one is close, but give it to the jags. Jacksonville.

Dallas at Philadelphia: Game of the week. T.O. returns to Philly. Teams fighting for the division lead. Great storylines all over. The Eagles are gonna throw everything and everyone at Drew Bledsoe and force him to make mistakes. And Mcnabb will methodically find holes in the Dallas defense and lead his team to over 30 points. Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh at San Diego: The Steelers will try to establish a ground game to help a struggling Roethlisberger. It won't work. San Diego.

Baltimore at Denver: How good is the Broncos defense? It's better than the Ravens'. In a game where only 1 touchdown will be scored, it belongs to the Broncos. Denver.

Season record: 28-17

Dwarf Out.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday NFL Musings - Week 4 Edition

Hey all,

I didn't get to watch too much football this weekend, so this will be short and sweet.

Random observations from Week 4

  • Donovan McNabb looks awesome this year. He is playing like a man on a mission right now. Last night, he was sharp and displayed a really nice touch. Plus, he ran around a lot, avoiding sacks and he was a nightmare for the Green Bay defense all night long. With Owens gone, he's back to his old self, distributing the ball around. It's good to see him play like that.
  • Daunte Culpepper is having a lot of problems at the helm of the Dolphins offense. He looks very slow and immobile, not unlike Drew Bledsoe. Another week like that, and they'll be calling for Joey Harrington in Miami.
  • Buffalo is now 2-2 and sitting in 2nd place in the division. The defense is playing like a unit possessed. J.P. Losman looks like Ben Roethlisberger did 2 years ago. He is managing the game, getting important first downs, and he seems to understand that Willis McGahee and the defense will win games for him if he doesn't lose them by turning the ball over. That was a big win against a pretty good Vikings team.
  • The St. Louis offense finally exploded. Then again, it was against a Lions team that looks worse every week. Good thing that city has the Red Wings. What a sad bunch these Lions.
  • The Saints are looking like they are for real. They'll be fighting for a playoff spot till the last weekend of the season. They took a very good Panthers team (with Steve Smith in the lineup) down to the wire.
  • For the first time this year, the Patriots looked like a Championship caliber team. I still don't think they have what it takes to win it all this year, but it's good to see them dismantle a team like they did. The NFL is just not the sameleague if the Pats aren't kicking some butts. Laurence Maroney looks like the real deal right now. And Corey Dillon's career is over.

I did better with my picks this week, going 10-5. That brings my season record to 28-17.

I'll see you all for the pool tomorrow night.

Dwarf out