Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuesday NFL Musings - Week 12 Edition

Hey all!

After a long layoff, The Dwarf's Tuesday NFL Musings are back! And boy is there a lot to talk about... But before we get to my random thoughts, let's take a closer look at some of our readers' favorite teams, the Bills (Veillotron), the Broncos (Sweet LP), the Dolphins (me), the Eagles (Huy) and the Patriots (The Dick), and see how they have been doing recently.

Buffalo Bills (5-6): The Bills are currently sitting in last place in the suddenly much stronger AFC East, tied with Miami. Still, after a horrible 2-5 start in which they got outscored 153 to 100, the Bills have won 3 out of their last 4, with their only loss coming to the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. Even more impressive, the Colts only won by 1 point, 17-16. In the last 2 games, J.P. Losman has finally showed signs of coming into his own, directing his offense to game-winning drives in the dying seconds of both games. Their defense is playing well and they have the best special teams in the league, so things are definitely looking up for them. But with games against San Diego and Baltimore left, running the tables and having a shot at the playoffs is out of the question. That being said, a 7-9 or 8-8 record, major improvements over last year, are definite possibilities.

Denver Broncos (7-4): Just 2 weeks ago, the Broncos were 7-2 and on top of the world. They had the best defense in the league and seemed destined to win their division. Then, they fell, first to the Chargers and then to Kansas City, both very important division games. When they met the Chargers, both teams were 7-2 and fighting for the division lead. The Broncos lost. Then, at 7-3, they met the 6-4 Chiefs, looking to stay ahead of them in the wild-card race. They lost again. Jake Plummer has been benched and now Jay Cutler, the rookie with the big arm, will start against the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. If he can revive the offense, Denver will be fine. Otherwise, with the Bengals, the Jets, the Jaguars and the Chiefs all in the playoff race, getting in to the post-season will be tough.

Miami Dolphins (5-6): The Dolphins are sitting 3rd in their division. The playoffs are not in the team's future, but this is a franchise that is going up in a big way right now. Joey Harrington is not exactly playing like a man possessed, but he has been providing the Dolphins with steady and reliable play at the Quarterback position. On the other side of the ball, Jason Taylor has got to be the defensive MVP for the month of November. In 4 games, all Miami wins, he made 2 sacks (9 for the season) and had 2 interceptions, which he returned for touchdowns. He has also been constantly batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Plus, he has an amazing 7 forced fumbles this year. The defense as a whole has been playing very well, but it is the mergence of the offense that has made the biggest difference.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6): The Eagles are going the opposite way of the Dolphins, whichwould be down. After a promising 4-1 start that saw the offense hit on all cylinders and Donovan McNabb get mentioned as MVP candidate, Philly has dropped 5 of their last 6. Still, this should not be so surprising, even though I, for one, did not see it coming. When you look at their first 5 games, the Eagles allowed 24 or more points 3 times. But, in each of those games, they scored 30 points or more. So, when their offense started to struggle to get over the 30 point mark (which, in recent years, no offense aside from Indy has been able to consistently do), they started losing games. Simply, their defense has been pretty bad all year long. They haven't been able to stop the run at all, and lately they have been dropping interceptions as well. With McNabb gone, Philly's playoff hopes have taken a big hit, but in a weak NFC, anything is possible. On the bright side, Jeff Garcia has played really well since replacing McNabb.

New England Patriots (8-3): The Patriots are having another very good season. Still, this year's team seems to strangely resemble last year's team: a very good team that is missing a little something. Their defense, while adquate, is still very thin, and just got thinner with the loss of Junior Seau at linebacker, who was second on the team with 69 tackles. Tom Brady might be the best QB in the league, but his receiving corps is mediocre at best. What helps their offense tremendously is the play of rookie RB Laurence Mahoney. When they get to the playoffs, that strong running game will come in handy. That being said, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Indy again this year, and the Patriots haven't beaten Peyton Manning in 2 years.

Random Thoughts from around the league:
  • Good to see the New Orleans Saints still on top of their division at 7-4. Drew Brees is my pick for MVP this year. He has turned this franchise around and he is making 6th and 7th picks at wide receiver look like Jerry Rice. Consider these statistics: 275 of 413 (66.6%), 3463 yards, 19 TDs and 10 INTs. If you project that on 16 games, it makes 400 of 601 for 5037 yards, 28 TDs and 15 INTs. Wow! Only Dan Marino has broken the 5,000 yard mark in a single season. Sure, Philip Rivers looks really good in San Diego, but Drew Brees is playing like the best QB in the league right now.
  • This past weekend, Brees, the classic drop back quarterback, faced off against Mike Vick, the most "lethal" weapon in the league. Listen, I will never argue that Vick is not a very dangerous runner. That being said, he is an awful, as in really very bad, quarterback. Statistics of 9 of 23 fro 84 yards should never be accepted from any passer in this league. The fact is, even with very limited pressure because of the best rushing attack in the league, Vick is still unable to see the field well. He is now in his sixth year in the league and he still can't read coverages. To top that off, his accuracy is mediocre at best, as he regularly overthrows or underthrows his receivers. The real loser in all this: Falcons back-up QB Matt Schaub. Schaub is a very promising young QB. Numerous teams inquired about trade possibilities this summer and all were turned away because of Vick's injury history. If I was coaching the Falcons, I would take a cue from Bill Parcells and Mike Shanahan and I would put Schaub in there pronto.
  • Speaking of Parcells and the Cowboys, I have been a longtime supporter of Drew Bledsoe, but it seems like yanking him in favor of Tony Romo might've saved the Cowboys' season. It is hard to accept that any guy with a name like Tony Romo can have this much success, but the kid is really looking good.
  • The Giants are in a big mess right now and almost sound like the 2005 Eagles with all the in-fighting that's going on.
  • Could the real Jacksonville Jaguars please stand up?
  • Looks like Byron Leftwich could become a Raider next year. That would be good news for both player and team, but that offensive line needs help.
  • In the Sunday game between the Jets and Texans, both teams rushed for 52 yards combined, but still managed to put 37 combined points on the board.
See at you the end of the week!

Dwarf out

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Blog lives on...

Finally, after 2 weeks of absence and rumors of the apparent death of the Blog, The Dwarf's Musings are back. A lot has happened in the world of sports in the last 2 weeks, but discussing it all would be too long. We'll keep the football talk for next week as part of my NFL Musings, which will appear a day early on Monday. Also next week, I will post a couple of CD reviews, something I haven't done in a long while. But for now, here are my Thursday NHL Thoughts for this week...


There is an excellent article on espn.com by Toronto journalist Damien Cox on the current uproar against the setup of the schedule. You can read it on the NHL page of Espn.go.com. Check it out, it's worth it.

In the article, Cox discusses how the lack of current controversy in the league is opening the door to pity little debates like the one on the schedule. Reading that, I thought it would be a great idea for me to share with you my thoughts on the current state of the league.

Let's start with the on-ice product. Like any good hockey fan, I love it. The game flows a lot more, there is less clutch-and-grab and the excitement is just that much more palpable. I mean, 2 nights ago, the Devils lost a 2-0 lead in 1 min 30 sec. in the 3rd period of their game against the Rangers. A couple of years back, that was inimaginable. You have to love that. Still, the effect on the game of some rules are still being debated. Patrick Roy was quoted as saying that the rule preventing the goaltenders from playing the puck outside the trapezoid behind their net was facilitating the dump-and-chase tactic, thus perhaps motivating players not to try to enter the zone carrying the puck and making it easier on less talented players.

Roy might have a point. Then again, one of the reasons the trap worked so well for teams like New Jersey and Minnesota was that their goalies were so good at handling the puck. They could sit at their blue line and wait for the opposition because they knew that if the fowards dumped it in, Brodeur or Fernandez would have no problem getting there and handling the puck. Goalies can still stop the puck behind the net, but they don't have the same freedom they once did, so defensemen now have to back up a bit more and maybe the blue line to the opposition. So, in fact, it is now much easier to carry the puck in. Likewise, if the player chooses to dump it in, the defenseman has to go get it, and when he does, he knows he's gonna get hit hard. Defensemen getting pummeled into the glass by hard-charging fowards? You have to love that. The Dwarf's verdict: good rule.

Some believe that removing the red line for 2-zone passes has actually led to a greater number of lazy players not coming back and waiting at the opposition's blue line. I can imagine that for a coach, this is a nightmare. I can also imagine that for a defenseman, having a foward behind you is the worst feeling ever. But as fans, are we just always waiting for that long, Hail-Mary pass sending a guy in alone on the goalie? Plus, if the player is too lazy and doesn't come back, then you can have a 5-4 or 4-3 situation in the opposition's zone, which is good. And finally, if that long lead pass is intercepted, then you can have a turnover which leads to a scoring chance. The Dwarf's verdict: good rule.

Some will argue against the tag-up offside rule (where no offisde is called if a player exits the offensive after a puck was shot in) and the delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone, but I think that when you look at the overall spectacle the game offers now, it all amounts to nothing more than petty bickering.

Are there things that could be better? Sure. Diving is becoming a real problem now and the league needs to start taking the necessary measures to stop it. Also, some players have developed the habit of turning towards the boards before being checked, effectively attracting a boarding call. You will never change the fact that some players will use the rules to their advantage, but the league could do more to prevent these types of actions. But overall, the game is as good as it has been in years; and we, the fans, are the main beneficiaries of that. And, as Carlito would say: "That's cool".

Random thoughts fom around the league
  • The Canadiens are looking really good right now. In the absence of Chris Higgins, Guillaume Latendresse has been elevated to the first line and he's responded well. Still, I don't really understand the whole frenzy around this kid. He's gonna be good someday, but he's no Malkin. And if the fans in Montreal don't let up with all the talk, in 3 years from now, when he scores 25-30 goals/year, they'll burn him at the stakes for not being a 50 goal scorer. So it needs to stop. On another note, it's good to see Huet has regained some of his previous form and that Souray has learned the art of the slap shot again.
  • The Detroit Red Wings have as much character, if not more, than any other team in the league. Just when everybody was writing them off, they alter their game plan and suddnly no one seem to be able to beat them. Hasek is playing great again and Zetterberg is starting to fill the net. The question remains, though, as to whether they can avoid folding in the playoffs again.
  • While the Rangers, like the Red Wings, have gotten into a groove, Pittsburgh is quickly falling from grace. As of my last post, they were 7-3-0. Today, they stand at 8-6-2, having gone 1-3-2 in their last 6 games. The kids are scoring, but it seems getting outshot badly in every game has finally caught up to them. I still feel they will battle for a playoff spot, but they are just a pretender for now, not a contender.
  • Is there a more surprising team than Washington right now (8-5-5). It seems no one on that team except Ovechkin can score in the shootout, as evidenced by their 0-4 shootout record, but they have bought into a team concept, even though the team could be called the Washington Ovechkins. Still, they are letting their star player carrying the offense, and the rest of the team concentrates of playing good defense, being physical, and protecting their goalie. If they make the playoffs, it will be quite an achievement. Consider this: a team with far more talent, featuring the likes of Sergei Fedorov, David Vyborny, Rick Nash, Anson Carter and Adam Foote, the Columbus Blue Jackets just fired their coach.
  • Will someone please kill all the rumors of Martin St.Louis and Vinny Lecavalier going to Montreal, or anywhere else for that matter? It's not going to happen.
  • With Christmas approaching, big contracts are starting to be more easy to fit under the cap. Look for some more or less big trades to happen within the next month. Forsberg probably won't be a Flyer by the time the trade deadline arrives. Also look for the Oilers to add a #2 or #3 defenseman to quarterback the power play. Names going around are Brad Stuart (possible), Dan Boyle (not going to happen), Paul Mara of the Bruins (possible), Chris Phillips in Ottawa (not happening) and Lubomir Visnovsky of the Kings. If anything does happen, I think Visnovsky is the likeliest candidate.
  • Look for Glen Murray to be moved out of Boston. It won't happen soon, but towards the trade deadline, he will be very good bait. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Well, I have fallen even deeper in the standings of the pool. Very simply, my players stink right now. Between Martin Gerber in nets, Wade Redden and Marc-Andre Bergeron on defense and Doug Weight, Patrick Elias and Joffrey Lupul on offense, my team boasts an all-star lineup of busts. I thus proclaim this group the all-star bad pick team of the week. By contrast, our pool leader, Sweet LP, can put an all-star cast of Great picks of the week on the ice by sending out Slava Kozlov at center flanked by Marian Hossa and Jaromir Jagr, with Bryan McCabe and Zdeno Chara on defense and Martin Brodeur in net. Pretty good... Pretty good... No wonder he's 61 points ahead of me. Meanwhile, The Dick, Huy and Veillotron are fighting to stay alive, and they're still in the game. Huy is still a contender despite losing Marian Gaborik and Todd Bertuzzi for extended periods of time. And while Evgeni Malkin has turned out to be a pretty good pick (although a high one), I have to tease him a bit for picking Jordan Staal, who came a hair away from playing 10 games and the rest of the season in Junior. And finally, a little tip of the hat to Veillotron for picking the coolest player in the league, Ovechkin. Coolness goes a long way when you're doomed to lose.

See you Monday!

Dwarf out

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thursday NHL Thoughts - 11/02/06 Edition

Hey all!

Before I get on with my thoughts on the NHL, I would like to make a shout-out to Chelsea FC, for a great, come-from-behind tie against Barca in their Champions League match on Tuesday. Frank Lampard scored the goal of the year to tie it at one in the second half, but Chelsea needed a last minute goal by Didier Drogba (who is having a career year) to walk out of Barcelona with the tie. Right now, there is a huge probability that Chelsea will make it to the final 16 and Barca won't. And that would be too sweeeeeeeeet!

Now, onto my NHL thoughts of the week. As I was surfing the sports sites (www.espn.com, www.cnn.sportsillustrated.com, www.thehockeynews.com) I focused on those weekly "power rankings" that they all have. So, I thought I would give you my own Power Rankings, for the top 10 teams in the league, anyway. As you'll see, the balance of power lies in the West..
  1. Buffalo Sabres (10-0-1): We are now in November and the Sabres still haven't lost in regulation. That's pretty amazing. What is even more amazing is how they are filling up the opposition's net: Buffalo has scored a whopping 53 goals this year, for a juicy average of 4.81 goals/game. Meanwhile, Ryan Miller is establishing himself as one of the best goalies in the league, and Martin Biron is more than solid as a backup. Stars so far: Maxim Afinogenov, Chris Drury, Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Spacek.
  2. Dallas Stars (10-2-0): Right now, everything is going well for the Stars. Mike Modano is playing like he's 24, Eric Lindros is dominating again, Brendan Morrow is playing great and Marty Turco is just solid in net. Even Mike Ribeiro is looking pretty good. You do have to fear a little bit for Dallas, because names like Lindros and Modano don't go hand in hand with words like durability. Still, for now, this is without a doubt the best team in the West. Stars so far: Mike Modano, Marty Turco, Eric Lindros, Philippe Boucher, Brendan Morrow.
  3. Minnesota Wild (9-2-0): For the first few games of the year, Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik just lit up opposing teams. But then, Gaborik got hurt. Still, while Minnesota has been pretty much a 1-man team on offense with Brian Rolston carrying the load, they have really cut down on opposing teams' chances. The result is a league-low 1.9 goals allowed per game. As long as Manny Fernandez keeps playing like this, the Wild will be hard to beat. Stars so far: Manny Fernandez, Brian Rolston, Petteri Nummelin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Pavol Demitra.
  4. Anaheim Ducks (9-0-4): Many feel like the Ducks should be higher than this. They haven't lost in regulation yet, some will say. That's true, but the Ducks have also lost 4 times in overtime and the shootout. The Ducks are only 5-4 in games decided by 2 goals or less. In comparison, the Wild are 7-1. So, if I'm the Ducks coach, I do worry that my team is not doing too well in close games. Still, this team is a powerhouse and might have the best talent in the West. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermeyer are as dominating as they were expected to be, although Pronger has room to get better. Stars so far: Scott Niedermeyer, J-S Giguere, Chris Pronger, Corey Perry, Andy McDonald.
  5. San Jose Sharks (9-4-0): Of the top 5 teams in my rankings, the Sharks have probably had the toughest schedule so far. They have responded by coming out of the gates on fire, going 6-1-0 in their first 7 games. Vesa Toskala has played really well, and the starting job seems to be his. On offense, Jonathan Cheechoo has not filled up the net as expected and Joe Thornton has only 2 goals, but that line is still playing really well. Patrick Marleau is also having a great year. Rookie Matt Carle, like Dion Phaneuf last year, is going to make a run at the Calder this year. He is playing as well as almost any defenseman in the league. Stars so far: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Vesa Toskala, Matt Carle, Milan Michalek.
  6. Atlanta Trashers (8-3-3): What a difference a goaltender makes. Last year, the Trashers couldn't buy a win at this time of the year. Of course, their star goalie, Kari Lethonen, was out. This year, with him in net, they stand as the second best team in the East. Lethonen is getting the headlines right now, but the Trashers are also winning with offense: Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov have a combined 49 points in 14 games. Meanwhile, the Trashers have scored 49 goals as a team, good for 3.5 per game. Getting Vitali Vishnevski was a good move, as he has really solidified a defense that needed it. Stars so far: Kari Lethonen, Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, Scott Mellanby, Slava Kozlov.
  7. Nashville Predators (8-3-1): The Predators are really starting to look like last year's team again. After a slow start, Tomas Vokoun is showing why he is considered one of the best goalies in the league. The defense, lead by Kimmo Timonen, Marek Zidlicki and Shea Webber, has been solid in front of Vokoun. The offense has been good, but not spectacular. Paul Karyia leads the team in points, but Steve Sullivan is playing better. Martin Erat, J.P. Dumont, Jason Arnott and David Legwand are all having solid years too. Stars so far: Tomas Vokoun, Steve Sullivan, Kimmo Timonen, Paul Karyia, Jason Arnott.
  8. Pittsburgh Penguins (7-3-0): After a disastrous 2005-06 season in which the only bright spot was Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are enjoying a revival of sorts this year. Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent in net, finally living up to his potential. Evgeni Malkin has been even better than expected, scoring 7 goals in 6 games so far. Ryan Whitney is quickly becoming one of the better d-men in the league. Jordan Staal has made the team after scoring 3 shorthanded goals already. But make no mistake: this is Crosby's team. And boy does he look the part of the leader. Stars so far: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar.
  9. Montreal Canadiens (6-2-3): The biggest defeat the Canadiens have suffered has been a 4-12 loss to the no. 1-ranked Sabres. Otherwise, almost all of the other games have been pretty close, and the Canadiens have fared well. They need to learn how to win shootouts, though. It looks like David Aebischer will be the de-facto starter for the team, as he is playing great and Cristobal Huet, well, he isn't. One area on concern for the team is the defense. Here is a list of the +/- of the top 6 defesemen: -2, +2, E, -4, -2, +4. That needs to be better. Stars so far: Chris Higgins, Saku Koivu, David Aebischer, Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray.
  10. Detroit Red wings (7-4-1): Betrayed by a lack of offense, Detroit started the year 3-4-1. Since then, though, they have tightened up defensively, and they have gone 4-0-0 in the last 4 games. The Red Wings have been playing more of a defensive style lately, trying to capitalize on the opposition's mistakes instead of trying to create scoring chances, and it has worked well. They have also been getting pretty goog goaltending from Hasek and Osgood. Stars so far: Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Dominik Hasek, Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Markov.

Random Thoughts from around the NHL:

  • Have you seen Dave Nonis' comments? For those who don't know, Nonis is the Vancouver Canucks' GM. He came out this week and said the free agency was a joke, as was salary arbitration. His reasoning? It is now harder to keep your team together and build a dynasty. Well, Nonis is an idiot. That's the idea of a salary cap and younger free agency. Give an opportunity to the losers to catch up more quickly to the winners. Was he hibernating during the lockout or something? Again, idiot.
  • Could we please stop creating rumors about Vinny Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis coming to Montreal? I mean, Lecavalier is not moving. As for St. Louis, it is possible that Tampa will decide to move him, but do you all really want another overpriced french-canadian in Montreal? Remember what happened to the last one, a certain Mr. Theodore.
  • Word is going around that Edmonton is looking for a defenseman to be their power-play quarterback. Brad Stuart could be available in Boston, they say. Me, I don't think Kevin Lowe will make any move until after Christmas.

Well, after a short stint in 5th and 4th places in the Pool this week, I am back in the basement. It's very close though, and all positions from 3rd to 6th are subject to be interchanged every night. It's a lot of fun...

This week, my best pick is a combo. I look at Sweet LP's first 2 picks, and I see Jaromir Jagr at 20 points and Marian Hossa at 18 points, for a total of 38. How much are we, the others, getting out of our first 2 picks? Huy and myself are at 32, Veillotron is at 24, Nick the Dick is at 22 and Mat, which is unbelievable since he is sitting comfortably in 1st place, is at a lowly 20. Kudos to you, Sweet LP, for being the only one of us to hit it big with your first 2 picks.

My worst pick, this week, is a tie between 2 goaltenders. After getting Tomas Vokoun as his first goaler, Veillotron took Curtis Jospeh as his 2nd one. I remember applauding this choice, saying Joseph would be in nets for about 70-75 games and thus would get about 5-6 shutouts and about 30-35 wins, making him a very good pick. Well, turns out we were both very wrong. Joseph has so far been in nets 9 games this year, and he has given Veillotron a lowly 4 points. Veillotron did bounce back, though, with a good pick in Vesa Toskala. Now, when we did the draft, my strategy was to load up on fowards and defensemen, and take the best of the rest when it came to goalies. Well, I did really well with Dwayne Roloson and Ryan Miller as my 2nd and 3rd goalies (both have over 15 points so far) , but my first selection was Martin Gerber in Ottawa. Gerber has given me the same amount of points Cujo has given Veillotron, but what might make this pick worse is that Gerber is so bad, they're not even playing him. That's a really bad pick.

See you next week people!

Dwarf out.