Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Truth Hurts

Well, Even if you hate them (and I do), we must admit that the Red Wings are the best team in the National Hockey League this season. And, they are also the Stanley Cup Champions. They must be congratulated, even though it pains me to do so.

They were dominant. And their best players (5,13,40,28) are all unassuming very quiet superstars who never offend anyone. That Zetterberg is just fantastic. And, the key to the series is that in Game 4 and Game 6 the Penguins had crucial 5 on 3 power plays and Zetterberg, Kronwall, and Lidstrom killed each of them off with relative ease. Chris Osgood was very solid, but Zetterberg was the clear Conn Smythe.

So, the off-season begins, and you Detroit fans get the last laugh.

One final question: I know it happens every year, but what is the deal with the healthy scratches dressing up for the handshakes and Cup skate? Isn’t it bad luck to be in the dressing room when the game is in doubt getting into your gear? What if the Penguins come back and win, the Wings walk back into their room bummed out and there is Aaron Downey and Chris Chelios in their uniforms because they want to hold the Cup? Odd.

Detroit Enjoys

They had waited long enough and skated hard enough, endured sudden turns and crushing twists, until finally, finally, the Red Wings went ahead and took what they had to have, what they've been chasing all year, what they always believed was theirs.

They took it in gasping, grasping fashion -- fitting fashion, really -- with Chris Osgood swiping at Pittsburgh's final, desperate shot. As the puck slid past the open goal, the crowd shrieked and the horn sounded, and there was the briefest pause to see if it really was over.

It was. And then it began, and now it begins. The Wings leaped on the ice in celebration-exhilaration-exhaustion, and launched another rollicking Detroit summer.
In another terrific showcase of drama, the Wings beat the Penguins, 3-2, on Wednesday to win the Stanley Cup. They took this Cup with cool force, in their classically composed way, rolling into an enemy arena and quelling the noise. And in case anyone still wondered, yes it's true: What's old is new again, and the hockey world is back to Red again.

They had to shake off smothering pressure and pesky Penguins to do it, but the Wings did it with great defense and stellar goaltending by Osgood, with the relentlessness of stars Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, with pieces and poise from all areas.

They did it with a clinching third-period goal by Zetterberg, whose shot dribbled between the legs of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The puck just sat there, for a second, two seconds, forever it seemed, until Fleury fell on it and knocked it in, and knocked the Penguins out.

From there, it all came spilling out, all the pent-up emotion and ramped-up talent, all the ingredients that made the Wings the best in hockey, and one of the most complete teams we've seen. As the game ended, that crushing three-overtime loss in Game 5 became just another obstacle hurdled, another piece of history.

"This is much more gratifying," said owner Mike Ilitch, comparing it to previous titles. "I'm not saying the (NHL salary cap) is because of us, but everybody wanted a fair shot. People expected us to go down."

And now they know: History always reprises itself, and so do the Wings. They shook awake old glory, winning their fourth Cup in 11 years, their first in six years -- Hockeytown reborn, or revisited.

There were the new stars, similar to the previous stars, aligning themselves as they have throughout this dominating season. One by one, they hoisted the Stanley Cup, and with it, they raised the banner of a new era, the first championship without Steve Yzerman as captain or Scotty Bowman as coach.

There was another humble, superb leader in Nicklas Lidstrom, raising the Cup for the fourth time, his first as captain. He also becomes the first European captain to win the Cup.

"I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it three times, and I'm very proud of being the first European," Lidstrom said. "So much history with this team, the great tradition, I'm just so very proud."

Rangers house of cards has significant foundation problems

With their pitching staff in disarray, the Rangers prepared for the worst Wednesday.

That's exactly what they got in a 15-9 loss to Cleveland.

Starter Sidney Ponson, pitching for the first time in his career on three days' rest, couldn't get to
the fifth inning. The duo of relievers called up earlier in the day, Elizardo Ramirez and Kameron Loe, couldn't keep the game close.

But if there was one thing for which the Rangers weren't prepared, it was another fielding breakdown. Errors once again came in bunches and contributed to a pair of blown leads and four unearned runs.

The Rangers committed three errors. It was the fourth time this season they've allowed at least three errors in a game.

"It's on us to do everything we can to help our pitchers out," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who committed one of the three errors. "The times when the errors happened were critical. We need to pick up the concentration a little there."

The pitching and fielding were such a mess, they completely rendered the offense's prodigious run-scoring ability meaningless. The Rangers pounded out six runs off American League ERA leader Cliff Lee in five innings, making it Lee's shortest and worst start of the season. He still ended up the winner.

The Rangers have scored eight or more runs in their last five games. They are 2-3 in those games.

The Rangers had taken emergency measures before Wednesday's game because the pitching staff had allowed 33 runs (31 earned) on 42 hits and 18 walks in the previous three games.

In that span, two starters – Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood – had to miss turns to attend to family matters. Another – A.J. Murray – suffered a strained rotator cuff. The bullpen had worked 15 innings in that span, leaving almost nobody available.

It there was one saving grace to the game, it was that none of the regular members of the bullpen had to work.

"We got our bullpen back tonight," manager Ron Washington said. "Things should start to fall in line."

But before it got better, it got worse Wednesday. When the night was done, the staff ERA, which had been 4.73 at the end of May, had risen to 5.10.

Today is MLB Draft Day, so let’s look at who the Rangers may snag at #11:

Evan Grant’s list

Rangers writer Evan Grant ranks the club's most likely first-round selections and whether it's likely to require more than slot money to sign the player. The Rangers' first-round pick is No. 11, which probably will have a financial slot of $1.9 million-$2 million.

1. LHP Christian Friedrich, Eastern Kentucky: Only the University of San Diego's Brian Matusz is a more polished lefty in this draft. Friedrich throws a fastball in the 89-94 mph range, a curve, a slider and a solid change. He's had some blister problems. Bonus situation: Should receive slot money.

2. 1B Eric Hosmer, HS Cooper City, Fla.: The destination of this Scott Boras client might be the biggest wild card in the top 12 picks. Some projections have had him going as high as third; some have had him sliding to the Rangers. A left-handed hitter, he has drawn some comparisons to the Los Angeles Angels' Casey Kotchman. Bonus situation: Seeking well above slot.

3. RHP Aaron Crow, Missouri: It's unlikely the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year would get to the Rangers. He has refined command of a fastball-slider combo but didn't throw many change-ups in college. He might have a higher ceiling than former Tiger Max Scherzer, the No. 11 pick in 2006 who is pitching for Arizona. Bonus situation: Likely to go above slot.

4. RHP Gerrit Cole, HS Orange, Calif.: Another Boras client who draws some comparisons to last year's top Rangers choice, Blake Beavan. He has a very projectable pitcher's body, has a recoil to his arm at the end of his delivery and has been labeled as being a little too cocky on the mound. Bonus situation: Seeking well above slot.

5. RHP-OF Aaron Hicks, HS Long Beach, Calif.: In its first two sentences, Baseball America's scouting report includes comparisons to Darryl Strawberry and Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones. Like Rangers 2007 first-rounder Michael Main, he could project as either a pitcher or outfielder. Bonus situation: Should receive slot.

6. RHP Andrew Cashner, TCU: The Rangers aren't likely to take the top local prospect because he projects as a reliever rather than a starter. They don't have a history of selecting relievers high, though Cashner might be the first player from this draft to reach the majors. Bonus situation: Should receive slot.

Baseball Prospectus Mock

11. Texas Rangers

The Rangers would be pleasantly surprised to see one of the elite college players fall to them. Barring such a plummet, there’s been some talk of them selecting a college closer, as well as a late surge for high school pitcher Ethan Martin, one of the more athletic and projectable arms in the draft. In this scenario, Crow is just far too good a talent to let him slide any further, and as always seems to be the case, Texas needs pitching.

Selection: Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri Mock

11. Texas Rangers: Andrew Cashner, RHP, Texas Christian

There have been four names mentioned prominently here: Cashner, Hunt, Aaron Hicks and SoCal high school pitcher Gerrit Cole. Georgia prepster Ethan Martin could still figure into the mix as well. But we'll stick with the guy in the Rangers' backyard for now.

Last week's projection: Cashner

And, lest we forget, the main stage is about to go Lakers and Celtics on us. Love it. I think I am rolling with Kobe and the Lakers in 7 dramatic, amazing games….
What has happened with Kobe v Celts this year?

The grand totals show that in the two games, Bryant took 46 shots, which he made into 50 points, thanks in large part to being 17-20 from the line. He had only six assists, in the two games combined, and none of his teammates really got all that hot.

From beyond the free-throw line, again by my count, he finished 4-25 over the two games, and not surprisingly, the Celtics won both games easily. That means, to me, that the Celtics will almost certainly have to keep trying this approach. It's a no-brainer. If you were going to tweak anything, in fact, you might urge Allen not to play harder, but to be even more careful not to foul -- as the free throw line is where Bryant has been most efficient.

That means Bryant ought to be getting plenty of good opportunities to score from the perimeter. His ability to hit those shots, or to turn the space he can create for himself into opportunities for his teammates like Pau Gasol, could decide the series.
The only reason Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau might pause, is that San Antonio essentially just tried this same thing in the Western Conference finals -- with an even better defender, Bruce Bowen -- yet Bryant shot very well as the Lakers rolled.
For that reason, ESPN's David Thorpe imagines the Celtics probably are at least considering plan B.

"If you're Gregg Popovich right now, you're thinking that you executed your plan about as well as possible. You kept Kobe Bryant off the free-throw line. You shaded off of him, and forced him to make a shot, instead of getting to the line," explains Thorpe. "But now that the Lakers beat you, you might be wondering if maybe you should have tried beating him up all series long. Putting bodies on him again and again and hitting him hard. Sure he kills you at the line in the early going, but what happens in the fourth quarter, or in Games 2, 3, and 4? As the series grinds on, that tactic could make you look better and better. It might not work, but at least you don't have to deal with Kobe Bryant look fresh as a daisy in the fourth quarter of every game, which happened against San Antonio."

Will the Celtics let Bryant fire away from long-range, and if so, will Bryant convert?

If the regular season is any guide, there's a championship in the balance.

Need Tickets?

It will probably become someone's memorable Father's Day gift: a seat right behind the visitors' bench at Staples Center to watch the Lakers and Boston Celtics that day in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Should the best-of-seven series, which begins tonight in Boston, go to a fifth game, that seat is available for $27,028.

The nation may be struggling with soaring fuel prices, high food bills and rising home foreclosures, but when it comes to the revival of the celebrated Lakers-Celtics matchup in the NBA championship series after 21 years, all economic indicators are up. Ticket prices and merchandise revenue have risen steadily through this postseason, as have television ratings and online hits, with an even bigger jump anticipated for the Finals.

StubHub, an online ticket service, is offering the Father's Day special with up to eight individual seats available at the $27,028 price. For a group, a 44-person suite is being offered for $51,431.
Prices, ratings are up

Numbers across the board document the appeal:

* Tickets: According to StubHub, the average resale price for the Finals is $772 in Los Angeles and $547 in Boston. In last year's championship series, between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, the average was $366 in Cleveland, $311 in San Antonio. (Face value for the most expensive seat at Staples Center for the Boston series is just under $4,000.)

* Television: ESPN had a 3.3 rating for the postseason, a 38% increase over last year's 2.4. ABC, which will telecast the Finals, has had a 3.7 rating, up 28% over last year.

Though television executives won't predict blockbuster ratings for the Finals, a historic perspective certainly gives them hope. The rating for last year's Finals between the Spurs and the Cavaliers was a record-low 6.2, according to the NBA. It has been four years since the rating was in double figures. That was in 2004, the last time the Lakers reached the Finals. Their series against the Pistons got an 11.5 rating. In each of the three championship seasons by the Lakers at the start of this decade, the ratings reached double figures.

Owens Contract Details

Here are the contract figures for Terrell Owens' new deal with the Cowboys:

Total: four years, $34 million
Signing Bonus: $12.9 million
Base salaries:
2008 - $830,000
2009 - $2.670 million (He will also receive a roster bonus of $3.1 million)
2010 - $7.5 million
2011 - $7 million

This year's cap number is $5.721 million, followed by $8.995 million (2009), $10.725 million (2010) and $10.225 million (2011)

What about WR help? …Albert Breer with more…

By my count, there are three receivers out there serving as objects of the Cowboys' affection -- Chad Johnson, Roy Williams and Anquan Boldin.

Boldin's sitting out OTAs, and things have been quiet around him of late, though he publicly said a while back that he's not demanding a trade. Likewise, Williams and Ocho Cinco are skipping voluntary workouts, but both are now saying that they'll be there for the mandatory stuff ... Just in case you missed all of that.

"I'm going to make a lot of money this year," Williams told the Detroit Free Press. "You all can look it up. They owe me 5.8 million this year. So why would I be mad? I'm not mad. I'm not missing OTAs because I'm mad at the Detroit Lions. I'm missing because my flights got canceled."

Meanwhile, Johnson said to ESPN, "Am I coming back? Of course I am." His teammates don't seem concerned.

I look forward to the Rucker Park Film

Please Don’t Watch This if You Are Squeamish: Kimbo Slice makes Thompson’s Ear Explode

Kige Picks the Finals


danno said...

It's just so damn good that Hockeytown has the cup. In a perfect world, the Cup would just reside in Hockeytown year round

darkman said...

Actually it will probably be there long enough for the parade, then it will be off to Sweden.

Fake Sturm said...

Who would have thunk it? Hamilton wins the MVP and Volquez wins the Cy Young.

This lineup is ready, the bullpen is definitely not.

Mithrandiryod said...

*rolls his eyes*
If hockey town had the cup every year, hockey would grow more tiresome than baseball did when the Yankees seemed to dominate every year. Enjoy the cup, we'll see if you can hold it again next year as several other would be repeaters before you have fallen in the first round.


Megan said...

Blake Beavan is the micest person I know. He is far from cocky.