Thursday, December 4, 2008

Auld's well, that ends well?

While I was in Vancouver, an impressive young goalie named Alex Auld, came into the NHL with the Canucks. After being taken in the second round of the 1999 Draft by Florida, his rights were traded to Vancouver, to become the Canuck's "goalie of the future". Unfortunately, another young puck stopper, Dan Cloutier, was having the best seasons of his career between the pipes. During the 2004 playoffs, Auld held his own against the Calgary Flames after a knee injury sidelined Cloutier. However, he was to be the odd man out in Vancouver, traded back to Florida with Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan Allen in the Roberto Luongo trade.

Even though he played in 67 games in 2005 for Vancouver, posting a 2.94 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage, Auld was relegated to backup in Florida behind Ed Belfour. A theme was developing... In Phoenix for the 2007-08 season, Auld had played in a handful of games, when Ilya Bryzgalov became available on the waiver wire. Auld spent time in the AHL with San Antonio until a trade to Boston had him packing again. Injuries to Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas had left the Bruins short handed in net, and Auld stepped in admirably, until his own knee injury forced him to the sidelines. In 23 games with the Bruins, he had a solid 2.32 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He also set a personal best with almost 114 minutes of shut out hockey. At season's end, Fernandez and Thomas were recovered and Auld was on the move again, but this time via Free Agency.

Which brings us to the current 2008-09 season. Signed to a two year deal in Ottawa this summer, Auld was once again supposed to be the dependable backup to Martin Gerber. After the patience shown by Gerber last season during the Emery saga, it was assumed here in Ottawa, that the number one job would be his. It all looked good on paper, but the games are played on the ice, and a slow start by Gerber and the Senators placed the spotlight on Auld.

There have been many surprises in Ottawa so far this season, the biggest surprise has to be where the Senators sit in the Eastern Conference standings - 12th. A team expected to battle for the division title, or at the very least roll into the playoffs; the Senators struggled out of the gate and seemed lacking in confidence in their own end. A once high powered offence, Ottawa has found it difficult to find secondary scoring, and goals from the D-men are few and far between. As teams pass the quarter mark of the season, Ottawa is slowly beginning to resemble the Stanley Cup finalists they were only a few seasons ago. Hockey scouts, and hockey fans, will tell you it all starts between the pipes, and in Ottawa Auld is quickly becoming the "toast of the town." The new Senator net minder has a 1.96 GAA and a .927 save percentage in 17 games played going into Saturday's afternoon match up against Crosby, Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming into the NHL, Auld was quick to go to his knees, and lacking in foot speed; he could be caught out of position. He has always had a great glove hand, and his tremendous size, at 6'4, he blocks a lot of net with his body, and pucks will often hit him. With time, comes experience, and Alex Auld has learned along the way. He has improved tremendously at covering his angles and being in the proper position for secondary saves. He's cool under pressure, and despite being the new number one goalie, he has a good working relationship and friendship with Gerber.

Wednesday versus the Thrashers, we witnessed a prime example of the new Auld. In the midst of two 5 on 3 penalty kills, during a goal mouth scramble, Auld found himself sitting on the ice - facing into the net. Instead of floundering on the ice, his 6'4 frame blocked a good portion of the net. Staying where he was, he made the save with his back. Ottawa would go on to expand their lead to finish a much needed 5-1 victory at home. As a hockey writer, but also as a fan, I'm glad Auld is getting another shot at being a number one goalie. Sens fans are hoping Auld's well, that ends well. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Early Christmas for Leafs fans?

As the snow falls here in Ottawa, I've finally resigned myself to the fact that it's almost December. The NHL is at the quarter mark, and each organization is starting to evaluate their team, creating their wish list for the month ahead. In Dallas, Marty Turco is hoping St. Nick brings his "A" game back to him. Ottawa is hoping to find a puck moving D-man under the Senator's tree. For one team in particular though, Christmas may have come a little early this year, but will it be that shinny red bike they've always wanted? This year, will they be serving turkey or duck?

When Brian Burke stepped down as General Manager of the Ducks recently, all eyes immediately turned towards Toronto and the Maple Leafs. All parties involved said and did the right things to avoid possible tampering charges. Burke would remain in Anaheim as a consultant, and all teams were given permission to negotiate a contract with him. All teams had permission, but let's be honest, this was a one horse race from the beginning.


With the announcement of an agreement in principle between Burke and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, for a reported $18 million over 6 years, and complete control of the hockey team; Leaf fans can now stop wondering "if" it will happen, and shift their focus to what will happen next. The winds of change are blowing through Toronto, and several players will be hiring moving vans in the coming months.


In the climate of today's NHL, with cap restrictions and economic uncertainty, trades will not come easily; so I would expect Burke to take full advantage of Toronto's farm team being across the street in the form of the Toronto Marlies. With no travel costs, the new GM can visit the "farm" to evaluate what he has, and if a large contract needs to be taken off the NHL books, under-achieving Leafs can be sent down to the minors, but kept close at hand. Would any Leaf fans be upset if Jason Blake and his multi-million dollar contract was claimed off the waiver wire on his way to the minors by Atlanta, or a resurgent Islanders team?


Another move Burke will use to improve the Leafs is through the U.S. College circuit. Ottawa's Bryan Murray and Burke are two of the best at finding good players, with some age and experience under their belts from the NCAA. The Sens have Jesse Winchester, signed out of Colgate University, in their lineup this season, and the Ducks have picked up similar players under Murray, and Burke. I'd expect Toronto's new GM to look for some undiscovered gems to add grit to the Leafs roster in late March or early April.

Don't expect a return of former Captain, Mats Sundin. Burke is a no-nonsense guy, and I believe the door to his office is firmly closed, despite the "he's always welcome back..." from the Leafs upper management. From my observations, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sundin with Burke's old team - the Ducks; or despite being in the basement at the quarter mark, the Dallas Stars would be a good fit for the former Leaf. Brenden Morrow is out of the lineup, and Mike Modano would have certainly petitioned friend and GM, Brett Hull, to land Sundin.

So as Ottawa contemplates a change of route for the Santa Claus Parade, Toronto is planning the parade route of another kind. They have their man at the helm now, but let's not forget there are 29 other teams in the league fighting for the right to plan the same parade. If I were an Ontario teacher, struggling to make ends meet, I might be wondering why $18 million is now in Brian Burke's bank account; after all, the only thing guaranteed in all this is the money Burke will make during this contract. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is A Three Game Suspension Enough?



The NHL's Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell, confirmed Monday that Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos will be suspended three games for his hit from behind on Mike Van Ryn of the Toronto Maple Leafs during Saturday's game. There has been great debate on the issue... Should there have been a suspension at all? Is it time to send a message to the players with longer suspensions? Could Kostopoulos have let up when he saw Van Ryn put himself into a vulnerable position? Is Van Ryn equally to blame for turning at the last minute? The answer to all these questions, in my opinion, is yes.

Let's examine the hit first... I honestly didn't see the game live, but thanks to YouTube, I've reviewed the "hit" at least twenty times. The Toronto D-man appears to be heading behind the net with the puck, a quick glance over his right shoulder to see Kostopoulos barreling into the Leafs end like a Mack truck, Van Ryn attempts a change of direction - and is hit square in the numbers, sending him face first into the boards. Van Ryn suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a broken bone in his hand, and lacerations to the forehead. He'll be out of the lineup 4-6 weeks according to early reports from Leaf Land. Kostopoulos received a 5 minute major penalty, was ejected from the game, and is now serving his 3 game suspension.

Should Kostopoulos have been suspended? The answer is a definitive yes... Did he break any rules? The answer oddly enough, is no... A quick look at the NHL Rule Book on hits from behind: "Rule 44.1 - Checking from Behind - A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed."

Somewhere over the years, the fourth line "grinder" has been replaced by the "energy" player. Professional agitators, who are given 4-5 minutes of ice time per game and told to hit anything that moves. When an "energy" guy takes a shift and doesn't lay a bone crushing hit, he may not see the ice for the rest of the period and/or game. Van Ryn had to know it was not Sakku Koivu coming down the ice towards him; at the very least, he knew someone was coming. One of the worst offenders of the energy players is his own teammate - Ryan Hollweg, already suspended repeatedly for hits from behind.

I'm sure my inbox is already filling with e-mails - "Well Voice, how do you suspend a player for the play that technically didn't even warrant a penalty?"... It's a question of respect. When you have an opposing player in your sights, is it necessary to obliterate him and leave half his face smeared on the glass? An opponent can be taken out of the play without putting him into the first row of spectators. Now that "hits" are a recorded statistic used in contract negotiations, the respect level has dropped among players. Just eliminating an opponent from the play, but not hitting him, could cost you money down the road. So why not level him?

As TSN's Pierre McGuire has stated repeatedly, and I used to think he was an alarmist; someone is going to die on the ice someday right before our eyes. We should all hope this never happens, but the NHL has an obligation to do more than just hope for the best. Besides the obvious trauma to the families involved, a league struggling to find its place in the American sports landscape and without a proper U.S. television contract, could find itself with no fans and enough lawsuits coming at them to bankrupt the league. The NHL can't say they were not warned, and a 1 or 2 game suspension does not demonstrate a serious attempt at changing the level of respect that appears to be lacking at this time.

Personally, watching the video footage of the Van Ryn hit, one thing in particular kept catching my eye, time after time. In the ensuing scrum that followed the hit, as Leaf players tried to get hold of Kostopoulos to defend their fallen teammate, nuclear deterrent, Georges Laraque was on the ice for Montreal - and he did not get involved. Instead, he stood to the side, looking down at Van Ryn and the Leafs trainer, with obvious concern on his face. He was in the scrum for a second or two, but decided to turn his attention to the fallen Van Ryn, and his gloves stayed on.

Last night, while watching the Habs versus the Senators, Ottawa's Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu attempted several times to taunt Habs D-man Mike Komisarek into fighting. Each time, Big Georges, the nuclear bomb, only had to skate into the conversation and the Ottawa players moved along... If the reigning Heavyweight Champ of the NHL knows when to pick the appropriate time to lay out an opponent, why can't the fourth line "energy" guys get the message? Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Devil's in the details...

Apologies to regular readers, thank you for your e-mails - yes, I am alive...I had to take some necessary time off, hopefully for the last time, due to health issues... Another NHL season is underway - let's get right into it.

My well researched NHL preview is still sitting on a shelf somewhere, and not online; with the season already started - who needs a preview? However, just for the record - I have Dallas and Detroit meeting in the Western Final, Detroit wins... and, Montreal versus the New York Rangers in the Eastern Final, New York wins... Detroit takes the Stanley Cup for a second year in a row.

One of the biggest NHL stories this year has to be coming out of New Jersey. Martin Brodeur had successful surgery Thursday morning on his injured left elbow and will be sidelined for three to four months according to GM Lou Lamoriello and the Devils in a press release. With Brodeur close to becoming the all-time wins and shutout leader in the NHL, the timing of the injury could have sent New Jersey into a tailspin; they gave up twenty shots to Buffalo in their first period without the legendary goaltender, but now seem prepared for life without Marty, at least for a few months. Currently, the Devils are 6th in the Eastern Conference with 16 points after 12 games. Many wonder, where will they be in four months without Brodeur?

In my opinion, the Devils will be right were they are now, fighting for 5th or 6th place in the Conference. This is Lou Lamoriello's team after all, and although names such as Stevens and Neidermeyer have moved on from the defensive corps, is their a more frustrating team to watch then the Devils? Well, maybe Minnesota - but they have Gaborik - for now... This is also a team coached by Brent Sutter, and we all know the work ethic of the Sutter family and their teams - the grit and determination are unmatched. While having a weak penalty kill so far this season, Bryce Salvador is the only minus defensemen on the team, at -4; they are also near the top of the League in goals against, allowing only 30 goals this season.

Which brings us to Marty Brodeur's replacement, Kevin Weekes. The Toronto born Weekes, was drafted by Florida in the 2nd round of the 1993 NHL Draft and has made numerous stops around the NHL in Vancouver, New York, and Carolina to name a few. When Brodeur was first injured, several experts immediately had the Devils suddenly missing the playoffs. It has only been a few seasons, but it amazes me how quickly we forget - as fans and media. Prior to the "Lock-out", Weekes was the number one in Carolina, and he posted some very respectable numbers for the Hurricanes as their starter. In 2002-2003, Weekes played in 51 games with a 2.55 GAA and .912 save percentage. He played in 66 games during the 2003-2004 season, posting an identical .912% and lowering his goals against to 2.33. It would not be a surprise to see similar numbers in New Jersey for Weekes now that he has inherited the number one spot.

A familiar face will be sitting at the end of the bench as back-up goaltender to Weekes, as Scott Clemmenson returns to the NHL after starting the year on the New Jersey farm team in the AHL. After playing most of last season with the AHL's Toronto Marlies, posting a solid 2.44 GAA and a .910 save percentage, the 31 year old Clemmenson will be a dependable back-up for the Devils. One thing that is certain, both net minders bring years of experience to the team, and although not future Hall of Fame members as Brodeur will be one day, they will get the job done in New Jersey's defensive system.

It's great to be back - Have a great sports day everyone!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ottawa Rapidz - One and Done?


I had been out of the city for a while, preparing for an upcoming show and recording session; when I arrived back in Ottawa, something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on it at first... I had my keys, my guitars, what was missing? Oh yes, our baseball team was gone...

In a move no one saw coming, Ottawa Rapidz Owner, Rob Hall, informed Can-Am League Officials last Monday that he was ceasing operations of the franchise and filing for bankruptcy, with $1.4 million in debts. With the worst record in the eight team league at 31-63, the Rapidz needed to average 3000 fans per game to break even. They battled the bad weather this summer, to average slightly more than 2100 fans per game, and losses were expected, but the bankruptcy was not.

Team Owner Rob Hall told Canada.Com, "Part of the reason losses were deemed acceptable in the first year was in the expectation that increased revenues over time would make it an acceptable business opportunity. Those losses were in excess of what we expected, but done looking towards the long term."

What changed that would force Hall to walk away? His lease agreement with the City of Ottawa was over in 2009, they currently pay $108,000 per year. Going into preliminary meetings with city staff, Hall was informed that because of the value of the land that the city owned stadium is on, a new lease may be in the $1 million per year range. An impossible amount for a Can-Am team. In observing the situation, I believe we just witnessed a game of "chicken", and we all lose. The city wanted to either sell the stadium to the Rapidz, or raise the rent substantially and allow the team to hold other events, such as concerts. There is limited parking in the area, and in its history, few concerts have been held at the stadium - investment would be needed to draw bands and their fans. Unfortunately for baseball fans, Hall walked away from the negotiating table, and the League. The city needs to understand, what is your stadium worth with no tenants at all? Certainly not the $20 million value placed on it.

He told Canada.Com, "At the meeting (with City of Ottawa officials), it quickly became clear that the rent would be upped to more than $1 million a year, and well, that became pretty hard evidence this was not going to happen."

In an interesting twist, the League and Commissioner Miles Wolff holds the lease rights for 2009, and he has not ruled out a team remaining in Ottawa. Once again from Canada.Com, "This came on very quickly, and I have found the city good to deal with in the past. Last week was my first indication things were not going as they should." Commissioner Wolff went on to say, "The potential of Ottawa remains huge, if we can get the proper situation." It remains a possibility that a League owned team could take the field in Ottawa in 2009 while new owners and lease agreements are worked out. Expansion into Montreal was very high on the list of the Can-Am League, it remains to be seen if this will alter those plans. I expect I will be speaking with Commissioner Wolff in the next few weeks on this situation.

Meanwhile, it's all good news coming out of Nashua, New Hampshire. While Ottawa was going under, the Pride were being sold to Businessmen Buddy Lewis and Jerry O'Conner, former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, and retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Terry Allvord - becoming official October 15th. Next season, the team takes the field as the American Defenders of New Hampshire. It is the complete opposite of the Ottawa situation, as city officials and the new ownership group are working together for the success of the team. A lease is already in place until 2011, but Lewis would already like to renegotiate, telling the Nashua Telegraph's Tom King, "Hopefully, if this is successful the first year out, I think we should start talking about negotiations going further than three years. Three years goes pretty fast..."

It's refreshing to see strong support from the Nashua Mayor and the New Hampshire baseball fans. Ottawa's reputation as a bland city doesn't improve when you look at some of the teams that have come and gone; here's a few - The Ottawa Rapidz - 2008 - 1 season(?), Renegades - CFL folded in 2006 after 4 seasons, the Wizard pro-soccer team - 2001 - 2 seasons, the Rebel - National Lacrosse League (our National sport) lasted 3 seasons in the Nation's Capital - folded in 2001, and the Loggers - pro-roller hockey - folded in 1995 after 1 season. The NHL's Senators were bankrupt a few years ago, if not for Commissioner Gary Bettman, that team would have been gone too.

While some of these leagues were a little obscure, the sad fact remains that Ottawa sports fans don't support their teams, or the City drags its feet - as is the case with the Rapidz and the possible return of the CFL. It's time for Ottawa baseball fans to let the city know we want them to negotiate a reasonable lease with the Rapidz, and it's time for us, the fans, to put up or shut up - and start putting our butts in the seats. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Skyhawks Claim Can-Am Crown



The 2008 Can-Am League post season has wrapped up, and this year's champions have been crowned; congratulations to the Sussex Skyhawks, who defeated the Quebec City Capitales in a 3-0 sweep in the best of 5 series. The Skyhawks, who call the 4,300 seat Skylands Park in Augusta, New Jersey home, had to win on the road in front of the Quebec City fans at the Stade Municipale.

The Skyhawks finished the first half of the season with a 25-22 record, 6 games behind first place Quebec City. A strong second half of the season, and an overall record of 52 wins and 42 losses, sent the 'hawks into the League's 4 team playoff format. After Quebec City knocked off the Atlantic City Surf 3-1, and Sussex defeated the Worcester Tornadoes by the same tally, the stage was set for the Finals. With victories of 3-2 (10 innings), and 8-6 at home, the Skyhawks opened up a 10-1 lead in game 3 before Quebec City could get their bats going, and went on to win 10-5 to take the series.

There was more good news for the Skyhawks, after two dismal seasons, they are not only League Champions, Manager Hal Lanier has been voted Manager of the Year by league managers and media representatives. This was the Skyhawks first playoff appearance, as they improved by 18 wins from the previous season. The Sussex turnaround should be seen as a ray of hope for the fans here in Ottawa. Perhaps next year the Rapidz can build on their 31-63 record, as they establish themselves in season two.

There was some good news for the fans in Quebec City, Les Capitales were named Organization of the Year for the first time in voting by league managers and the media. "It is a real honour to be recognized by the other teams of the Can-Am League," Capitales General Manager Alexandre Harvey is quoted as saying at the Can-Am League web site, ( www.canamleague.com ). He went on to say, "I want to share this award with my colleagues and employees. Obviously, we have no control on the team performance, so this is kind of a championship for us." Felicitations to Mr. Harvey and the Capitales staff for an outstanding season.

Hopefully, the next Can-Am League article here at The Voice of Sport will be regarding expansion to Montreal. In an interview for the Main Street newspaper, ( www.laurentianlife.com ), league Commissioner Miles Wolff told me he was hoping to make an announcement in the next 4-5 months. With any luck, a decision will come before Spring Training. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Great Coach in 2010?



My views regarding the Olympics are known to regular readers, I am against the inclusion of professional athletes, among other things, but I would certainly lose my press membership if I did not discuss the news of the day coming from Toronto's Fan 590.

On Hockey Central at Noon, simulcast on Sportsnet, hosts Daren Millard and Nick Kypreos, along with Mike Brophy, were able to confirm with Wayne Gretzky during an interview, that he will not be returning as Executive Director of Team Canada for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The Great One has spoken with Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson to discuss his role, but he will not be back as the boss. Gretzky told the Hockey Central hosts, "to be involved and just lend a hand is something I'd be happy to be part of."

When asked about coaching Team Canada, Gretzky stated, "Where I'll fit in, is still to be determined." He expects a management team to be in place within a few weeks, and then a coaching decision will be made. "There are a lot of great coaches, well deserving of being considered, and I've always looked at the guys(coaches) that have won." He went on to specifically mention Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle and Detroit's Mike Babcock.

Gretzky, the Phoenix Coyotes coach since 2005-2006, is 107-122-17 on a team that has not made the playoffs since their days as the Winnipeg Jets. He would be an asset to Team Canada, but he may need to guide his young Coyotes team into the Western Conference playoff picture this year to be considered on his coaching skills alone; if not he may face questions of whether his reputation won him the job. As Gretzky himself said, look towards the coaches that have won, but in Gretzky's case though, a trip to the post season would be enough.

Imagine a staff headed by Gretzky, along with Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock of Columbus, or Pat Burns, Randy Carlyle, Pat Quinn, Brent Sutter or Guy Carbonneau... The list of qualified Canadian coaches is almost as long as the list of great Canadian players. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Flame On!! - Bertuzzi comes to Calgary



On August 26th, the Calgary Flames introduced their summer additions to the media at the Saddledome: Rene Bourque, Mike Cammelleri, Curtis Glencross, Andre Roy, and the player everyone wanted to see, Todd Bertuzzi. Fans were quick to react to the July 7th signing, and several eyebrows were raised among hockey analysts. It should not have come as a complete surprise, besides the friendship between Bertuzzi and Flames Captain Jarome Iginla, this will be Big Bert's third tour of duty with Head Coach Iron Mike Keenan.

Drafted by the Islanders in the first round of the 1993 draft, Bertuzzi had am impressive 119 points for the Guelph Storm in his final OHL season. As a dispute was simmering in Vancouver between Mr. Canuck, Trevor Linden, and Coach/GM Keenan during the 97-98 season, Bertuzzi was a key piece of the trade that sent Linden into his 4 year exile to New York, Montreal, and Washington.

After Keenan's firing from Vancouver, ending a Keenan/Naslund feud, Bertuzzi's best season came in 02-03 on a line with Naslund and Brenden Morrison, scoring 46 goals and adding 51 assists. Then came the March 8, 2004 "hit" or "mugging" of Steve Moore. I'd like to address that later on in this article, for now let's continue with Keenan... After the NHL lock-out, which somehow counted towards Bertuzzi's suspension, Iron Mike was reaching out from Florida; making Bertuzzi the center piece of the Roberto Luongo trade. After scoring 7 points in only 7 games due to back surgery, Bertuzzi and Keenan were both out of Florida. A brief stop for 8 games in Detroit, then Bertuzzi was reunited with former Vancouver boss Brian Burke in Anaheim, but a concussion and third line status led to this summer's $2.6 million buy out.

This time around, it wasn't just Keenan that wanted Bertuzzi in town, good friend Jarome Iginla spoke with Bertuzzi before the signing. GM Darryl Sutter made the final decision, telling Eric Duhatschek in the Globe and Mail after the deal was announced, "I look at the power play. Even though we have the elements of Phaneuf and Iginla on it, I still think you put Cammelleri on there now and Bertuzzi, it gives you a totally different look - and it makes a big difference."

About fan reaction, Bertuzzi commented at his press conference, "Everyone has been very respectful and I hope it continues, especially when my family is around." He went on to say, "I'm going to come out and play hockey here and let my play do the talking."

While fans have been respectful in person, the anger towards Bertuzzi and the Flames is certainly in print. One comment in a Calgary Herald letter to the Editor at the time of the signing, "I can't believe a GM with Darryl Sutter's integrity would stoop so low as to acquire one of the biggest thugs in hockey." Harsh words indeed, but the biggest thug? A recent Hockey News article may shed new light on the Bertuzzi/Moore incident, while discussing another.

In the September 2, 2008 The Hockey News, Ken Campbell writes of former NHL player Ryan VandenBussche. Originally charged July 3, 2006 with 3 counts of assaulting a Police Officer and 1 count of uttering a death threat, for his involvement in a brawl outside a bar, he was found not guilty on July 9, 2008. The defense - VandenBussche's concussion history lead him to act without thinking - "over learned behaviour". After suffering at least 8 concussions and fighting 98 times in 310 NHL games, Justice Martha Zivolak agreed.

From the Canadian Press July 11, 2008, Justice Martha Zivolak ruled that "the action of Mr. VandenBussche engaged in was not voluntary as it related to the Officers, that it was not the product of an operating mind."

As Mr. Campbell states in his THN article, "The verdict in the VandenBussche case should be a wake up call to the NHL." While he doesn't address the Bertuzzi/Moore situation in his article, it crossed my mind, as did Marty Mcsorely and Chris Simon - 2 other players who "snapped" and were involved in brutal incidents on the ice.

I'll assume everyone has seen the Bertuzzi sucker punch on Steve Moore, so I don't need to describe it detail. The Vancouver Canucks and Moore's Colorado Avalanche play in the same division and their battles were becoming legendary in the early 2000's. Those of us living in Vancouver eagerly anticipated each game; the fact that Burnaby's Joe Sakic played for Colorado always added fuel to the fire. In October 2001, Bertuzzi was suspended for 10 games, having left the bench during a fight to defend teammate Ed Jovanovski - who was getting pummeled by Avalanche tough guy Scott Parker. This was a rallying point for the Canucks, who now looked to Bertuzzi for leadership, and he delivered - having his biggest seasons. When a blatant elbow by Steve Moore caught Vancouver Captain Markus Naslund in the head early in 2004, best friend Bertuzzi, as well as other Canucks promised retribution; leading us to the March 8th sucker punch.

Make no mistake, I don't condone Bertuzzi's actions. He was charged with assault and served 1 year's probation in a plea agreement. He and the Canucks are facing a lawsuit from the Moore family, as they should. However, $19 million seems a little excessive. Bertuzzi's offer of $300,00 is equally wrong. Moore was a fourth line player at best, but Bertuzzi's punch ended his career - $6-7 million would seem fair to both sides.

In a sport like hockey that is so reactionary, and the impact of each hit compares to a mini car crash; can players become too accustomed to dropping the gloves? Too accustomed to driving players into the boards? When it's time to let up, perhaps the muscles take over for the brain and players stop thinking - finishing a check even though the opponent is too close to the boards, or leaving their feet to finish a hit. Bertuzzi followed Moore up the ice, trying to lure him into a fight, but at some point could his mind have shut off? I don't offer this as an excuse, simply as another contributing factor. How many of the NHL'S uglier incidents have been the result of a player exhibiting over learned behavior?

The NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman have several problems facing them in the foreseeable future, but I believe this issue needs their immediate attention. One of these days, someone is going to be driven into the boards head first and be killed, and the player who did it, may not even realize how it happened - he just reacted without thinking. Perhaps there will be another stick swinging incident or another sucker punch with worse consequences. The NHL needs to study "over learned behavior".

As for Bertuzzi in a Calgary uniform? If a fine hockey citizen like Jarome Iginla would give Bertuzzi a second chance, Flames fans should do the same, letting his play speak for itself. Will you still be writing hate letters to the Calgary papers if he scores 40 goals as Iginla's winger and takes the Flames into the playoffs? We'll see... Have a great sports day everyone.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Odds and Ends

As my regular readers may have noticed, the articles have been few and far between this month. I was preparing for, and then travelled to Waterloo, Ontario, where I was performing with old friends and new ones as several bands from my past re-united for a wonderful evening of music, laughs, and catching up. A special thanks to Robbie and Brenda for all of the organizing; Robbie, Dianne, James, Chris, Marty, and Ron - it was a pleasure to share the stage with you all again; Norm, Ron, and Rodney all did an amazing job on lights and sound - thanks guys... and I have to mention old friends, George and Clara M. and new friends, Betty and Brock S., it was great to see everyone...

Starting in October, I'll begin my NHL coverage, breaking down each Conference; who will make the playoffs and who misses out? Looking at the teams on paper, it's hard not to pick Detroit as an early Cup favorite. Dallas is looking good too, having Brad Richards for an entire year and bringing Avery in to replace recently retired Stu Barnes. Combine them with goalie Marty Turco and that makes them one of the best in the West. Of course, the Kings and Islanders will be fighting for 30th place and the chance to draft first. The Kings are on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh of the West, filled with top draft picks but not ready to make the jump yet - wait a season or two to see real improvement. On Long Island however, things will only go from bad to worse, Ted Nolan's out of the NHL again and the Islanders will be in a fog. With some of the leagues worst attendance figures and needing a new arena, I believe New York may be looking for a Canadian home in a year or two. Red Bull Energy has a team in the Austrian Hockey League and they are rumoured to be interested in a NHL team to add to their MLS soccer team and their Formula 1 racing team (formerly Jordan Racing). The Islanders, Thrashers and Panthers all need a new home to strengthen the NHL.

As Brian Burke told TSN last year, there are only so many points available in an 82 game schedule, if a team makes a 10 point improvement, someone else drops 10 points. Things will be getting tight in the standings this year as Chicago, Phoenix and Tampa Bay look for better seasons. Just one more hockey thought - has anyone told Tampa that they still need a goalie to go with their high priced additions?

The Can-Am Baseball League playoffs get started in early September. Our expansion Ottawa Rapidz were comfortably in last place all season but still averaged 2400 fans per game. Needing a 3000 average to break even, the Rapidz came close to their goal and made an impact on the Ottawa sports scene - that's where I'll be tomorrow as the season wraps up September 1st.

And... I have to admit when I'm wrong. I've watched too many Seinfeld episodes in my life, and their portrayal of George Steinbrenner was always on my mind as I predicted a Tampa Bay collapse and a Yankee return to the post season. George always seemed to get the job done... I'll finally admit that the Rays are for real this season. After living in the basement of the A.L. East for years, they have accumulated enough top draft picks to become legitimate World Series contenders. The Yankees continue to battle injuries (Wang and Matsui have missed most of the season), age is becoming a factor (Jeter and Giambi are not getting any younger), and the New York tabloids (A-Rod hasn't helped himself or his teammates with his high profile divorce). The Yankees might find themselves battling Toronto for third in the next few seasons if they don't look in the mirror this off-season. Could we see a return of Joe Torre to the Big Apple? George is getting angry...

Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bishop's rough ride ends in Regina



I have begun to wonder if the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts share West Jet or Air Canada as corporate sponsors. The frequent flyer points between these two cities are beginning to add up for both clubs, and perhaps after the next trade, the players and coaches will travel for free.

Last season, Saskatchewan won the Grey Cup with former Argonauts Kent Austin and Eric Tillman at the helm. When Austin went South to be Offensive Coordinator at the University of Mississippi, his former school, Gm Tillman brought in former Argo Assistant ken Miller to be Head Coach for 2008. Miller proceeded to bring Argo staffer Paul LaPolice to Regina as Offensive Coordinator and Gary Etcheverry as an Assistant Coach.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler was becoming Head Coach after Mike "Pinball" Clemons moved into the front office. Clemons is perhaps the most popular player and coach in Argonaut history, rising above the CFL to mega-star status on the Toronto sports scene. With future Hall of Famer Damon Allen retiring, Stubler and his staff were planning an easy transition to Michael Bishop as starting QB, signing him to a contract extension in the off-season. When Clemons and the Argo ownership group saw the chance to bring 2007 Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph to Toronto, they pounced on the opportunity. Leaving the defensive minded Coach Stubler a new problem, two starting QB's that had been promised the number one job. Bishop is quoted as saying in Dave Naylor's Globe and Mail report, " I think Rich is a hell of a Defensive Coordinator. He's placed in a situation where I don't know if those were all his calls." From the outside looking in, it's hard to say Bishop is wrong.

Since this problem has been brewing for the entire season, why make this trade now? Toronto's 3-5 record and the QB situation had the Argo players picking sides and ready for a mutiny. According to reports in Toronto and Regina, Bishop went home to Texas during the bye week and contemplated not returning to Toronto, and Joseph was ready to ask for a trade after being pulled in a loss to the Als. On the other side of the equation at 6-2, the Riders pace has slowed. Since starting with six wins, Gm Tillman felt the team under-performed in the last two games and the coaches wanted a change. Said Tillman in the Regina Leader Post, " My job is to facilitate what the coaches want. Michael is a proven winner, he brings many things to the table, and he has a big time arm."

As the Riders lost one star player after another to injury, Tillman's eye for talent was evident as the depth players stepped in to take the team to the 6-0 mark. For Tillman to step in and trade a conditional pick to Toronto for Bishop is brilliant; after all, he helped create Toronto's problem, trading Joseph there in the first place. In recent moves, Tillman has acquired Bishop, Offensive Tackle Greg January, a 2008 1st round pick, a 2010 2nd round pick and other small parts for Joseph, a conditional pick, and a 3rd round pick. Toronto sent Defensive Tackle Ronald Flemons in the Joseph deal, only to bring him back from the prairies for another pick. When Kerry Joseph came to the CFL, only the lowly Ottawa Renegades would give him a chance at QB. He has carved out a fine career, with a Grey Cup ring, but has he plateaued? 2007 may have been his best year. Bishop on the other hand, is coming off a career year, going 11-1 as a starter in Toronto with 2,920 passing yards and 22 TD's. This former Arena Football League star holds several of that League's rushing records and his mobility is an asset in the CFL. Success has followed Michael Bishop in his football career.

Drafted in 1995 by the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball, Bishop chose football and was a star at Kansas State University, going 22-3 as a starter, and setting school records in rushing TD's for a QB with 23 and 1,314 rushing yards. In 1997, Bishop's Kansas team defeated Donovan Mcnabb's Syracuse University in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1998, he was second in voting to Ricky Williams for the Heisman Trophy, but did win the NCAA Davey O'Brien Award as best collegiate QB, an award Peyton Manning won in 1997. After being a 7th round pick of the New England Patriots in '99, Bishop was on their roster for the 2000 season, eventually being released and replaced by another 7th round pick, Tom Brady.

The Bishop trade is certainly a turning point this season. In a very strong Western Division, Saskatchewan was about to fall back to the pack but now seem destined to host a Western play-off game. Toronto and Kerry Joseph will decide their own fate in the Labour Day Classic in Hamilton. In their 3 win seasons, this game is Hamilton's Grey Cup, they'd like nothing more then to kick the Argos while they are down. This year, the Ti-Cats could emerge from the cellar if Coach Stubler can't hold off the mutineers.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Voice on the Olympics



On the eve of the Olympics in China, let me start by saying, this will be the only Olympic posting here at The Voice, and I won't be watching one second of coverage. Why you ask? Well, I've had enough of the fumbling and bumbling of the International Olympic Committee, the politics, or lack of politics leading up to the China Games, and the constant inclusion of Professional athletes in the World Showcase of Amateur athletics.

Much has been made about the smog and air pollution in China - and a promise to clean it up; the abysmal human rights record of the host nation - and a promise to clean it up; there was to be no censorship of foreign media during the Olympics - a CNBC reporter on Prime Time with Bob McCown openly stated his e-mails will be read by the government, his cell phone will be monitored, and he is quite sure his hotel room will be bugged. Reporters speaking out against China before the Games will never get there. Reporters speaking out against China during the Games will be immediately expelled from the country. One of the problems with the demands of the IOC, is that they put no deadline in place for China to meet these goals. Why do the work? The 2008 Olympics were never going anywhere else. The games should have been pulled from China fourteen months ago and moved to Australia, where the infrastructure was already in place from the 2000 Olympic Games.

On CBC Newsworld today, David Emerson, Member of Parliament, stated now that the Games are starting "it's no longer about politics." Really? Ask the Tibetans about China's politics. Emerson went on to state he hopes "Canada's Games are only about the athletes." Why Mr. Emerson? Is it because Canada is doing all that it can to remove the poor and drug addicted from Downtown Vancouver? It could be because Canada has been criticized by the United Nations repeatedly for forcing our Native populations to live under appalling conditions on Native Reserves; where even the most basic services like clean water is often unavailable. It's the usual Canadian governmental response - none, at least nothing of substance. We could soon have "favoured Nation status" with China, meaning their citizens can travel and visit Canada with fewer restrictions, and that means revenue for Ottawa. In my opinion, now that the games have started, the political conversations should be escalating, not declining.

In Athens, Canada finished tied for 19th in medals with world powerhouse - Bulgaria. Our government began the "Road to Excellence" program with much needed funding for our amateur athletes. The Canadian program will receive $24 million over the next two years, and then $24 million per year "to ensure our summer athletes have the support they need to perform at top levels of International competition". (From a government press release, March 2, 2008). When the 2008 budget is fully implemented, the government investment in sport will be at an all time high of $164 million annually. Do we really need to spend $164 million to squeak past Bulgaria? A small side note - The Olympic Stadium in Montreal, built for the 1976 Olympics, was finally paid for in the last few years. The final cost? A staggering $2.2 billion... that's the real Olympic legacy. Back to my point... We are spending to help amateur athletes and then the Canadian Olympic Committee does this:

The case of Ottawa Marathon runner and Radiologist, Matt McInnes, represents all that is right and wrong with the games. Working in the Health Care profession, one would assume McInnes is a hard working, dedicated, respected member of the community, and he still finds time to train and compete as a Marathon runner. The Olympic standard to qualify for the Games is 2 hours, 18minutes. At the Ottawa Marathon, Giijat Machoric of Burlington finished at 2:16:55, McInnes finished right behind at 2:16:59. So where's the problem? The COC has set the Canadian standard at 2:12:38. We now have four runners who could have gone to the Olympics but are staying home because the COC feels if they can't medal, why send them. Is this what the road to excellence is for? Didn't the Olympics start as a Marathon?

The final straw has been the inclusion of professional athletes. Canadians will say, "what about hockey?" Well, there is a World Championship every year, the Junior tournament, the under 18 tournament, there used to be a Canada Cup. I can remember growing up watching Canada's National hockey team. Sean Burke standing on his head in 1988; we didn't win Gold, but how have the pro's fared? Nagano anyone?? Let's get back to China though...

A 1989 rule change by FIBA, the International governing body for basketball, allows NBA players to assemble as the U.S. "Dream Team" every four years. This is almost acceptable to me, at least the Olympics are held during the NBA off-season; why though, do FIBA's rules carry more weight then the IOC's mandate to promote the best in amateur athletics? Recently, in a secret vote, IOC members voted out baseball and softball as Olympic sports. Many believe the heavily European committee was upset that MLB and the Players Union refused to stop the season in progress every four years to send players to the Olympics. I repeat again, I can't stress this enough, the Olympics are for the best Amateur athletes in the world. A figure skater, working for the Ice Capades, can't show up at Skate Canada and qualify for the Winter Games - they are considered Professional. The Yankees third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, and his $2o million plus salary would qualify for the Olympics if the IOC had gotten their way... that's absolutely mind boggling.

As I close, let me say for the record, I do support Canadian Athletes and I believe they should be properly funded. However, when the COC and the IOC can't get themselves organized, where is our money going? Are the Olympics for pro athletes? If so, why bother continuing the charade of drug testing? Obviously the IOC wants Ad revenue and TV ratings, why not have a 5 second - 100 meter World Record?

To put things in perspective, let's take a look at the athletes from Iraq. First banned because of "administrative irregularities", the IOC overturned their decision, now they will allow the athletes to compete - both of them. There were only 7 to begin with, but 5 missed the deadlines in their sport and cannot compete because of the temporary ban. Discus thrower Haider Nasir will be joined by 21 year old sprinter, Danma Husein. The young sprinter lives in Baghdad and would occasionally have to avoid sniper fire while training. When Iraq was first banned by the IOC, she was told "there is always 2012"; her response - "In this horrible situation who can say I will even be alive in 2012."

Canadian athletes think they have funding problems? There's your reality check. I hope for $164 million we get that Kayaking Gold... but I sure won't be watching. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

MASH 4077 - CFL odds and ends



If you see Hawkeye Pierce or BJ Honeycutt on the Saskatchewan Roughrider sidelines, your eyes may not be playing tricks on you. Despite being the leagues only undefeated team, it's starting to look like MASH 4077 in Regina. As week 6 wrapped up in the CFL, many big names are now watching from the trainer's table.

At 6-0, last year's Grey Cup champions have opening day QB Marcus Crandell back under center. The former East Carolina star missed several games with a hamstring problem, but will he have anyone to throw to now that he's back? Injuries have hit the receivers, with Andy Fantuz the latest to go done with a broken left tibia, he's gone for 10 weeks. Thankfully, the Riders have the CFL's top rusher in Wes Cates; leading the league with 632 yards and 7 TD's. GM Eric Tillman is fully deserving of his recent contract extension; after losing Head Coach Kent Austin to U.S. College football and trading away last season's MVP and starting QB Kerry Joseph, many expected the Riders to stumble out of the gates. The team has rallied under new Head Coach Ken Miller and his staff. With one-third of the season gone, the Saskatchewan trainers and scouting staff are in the lead for this year's MVP award.

While in Montreal last week, an article by Herb Zurkowsky, July 30th in the Montreal Gazette caught my eye. The Alouettes 2005 first round pick, Matthieu Proulx, was supposed to start the season as Montreal's Safety, but injuries forced him to miss the first four games. He played week 5 against B.C., only to have his hamstring "pop" practising for week 6. After missing 20 games in the last three seasons, Proulx wondered in the Gazette, "I love football, but it seems football hates me." He went on to say, "I don't think I'm a bad guy. I think I'm a reasonable person. I'm doing all I can to be healthy. Maybe I just wasn't physically made to play this game." It's a shame that after an outstanding College career at Laval University, he was also the 2005 East Division's Outstanding Freshman, and now his career may be cut short.

That brings me to another Montreal story... I didn't have access to TSN for the Montreal/Hamilton game in week 6, so I listened on CJAD 800 AM; the Alouettes English radio home. I always enjoy sports events on AM radio, that late night crackle... but I must take issue with a comment regarding Tiger-Cats Running Back, Jesse Lumsden. After being questioned on TSN about being injury prone, Lumsden, who has never rushed for 100 yards against the Als; left the game in Montreal with an ankle injury. The commentators immediately referred to the TSN "injury prone" issue and basically said - there's your proof, he's hurt again. Well, in a sport where every hit is the equivalent to a minor car accident, I'm amazed more NFL and CFL players are not injured more often.

Lumsden was a star at MacMaster University, carrying the load for the Marauders and breaking Canadian University records along the way. For several seasons, he tried to catch on in the NFL with Seattle and Washington and didn't see any real game action. Now that he's the man in Hamilton, his body needs time to re-adjust to the regular pounding, week after week. Despite Hamilton's usual 1-5 record, Lumsden ranks 5th with 443 rushing yards and 5 TD's; those are not the statistics of a "soft" player. Ti-Cat teammate Tre Smith is number two in rushing with 528 yards and 4 TD's. That's a pretty formidable 1-2 punch.

Hamilton will need Lumsden and Smith, as former Kansas City Chief and B.C. Lion, Casey Printers continues to struggle as the starting QB. In six games, he's yet to throw a touchdown and he has a 75.3 QB rating. Compare that to Montreal's Anthony Calvillo's 16 TD's, 1979 yards passing and a QB rating of 108.1. If Montreal's defense played an entire 60 minutes, they would be 6-0 with Saskatchewan instead of having a mediocre 3-3 record.

Going into week 7, seven of the top ten Receivers are in the Western Division. Montreal's Kerry Watkins is one of the few Eastern players to crack the top 10. He caught Calvillo's 300th career TD pass versus Hamilton last week. Keep an eye on former Tulsa star and Winnipeg rookie, Romby Bryant. He is the only good news coming out of Winnipeg this season, leading the league with 580 receiving yards. The only other Bluebomber headline has been a cheerleader controversy; the cheerleader coach quit because of private photos that became public. At 1-5, new cheers won't improve the on-field product, maybe more front office changes are coming... Although, all the Bombers need to do is get past Hamilton in the East Division to make the playoffs, and as a Ti-Cat fan it hurts to say, but it won't be that hard to do. After a strong start, it looks like another 3 or 4 win season for my Cats... Have a great sports day everyone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Can-Am Baseball League - a new option



Here in Ottawa, we love our NHL Senators and the OHL 67's, but other professional teams have tried and failed to make an impression on the Ottawa sports landscape since the early nineties. After over one hundred glorious years, the CFL's Rough Riders were folded in 1996, only to be reborn as the Renegades in 2002. The Renegades were losing on the field, and due to bad management they were losing at the ticket office; which led to the same result in April of 2006, the Renegades folded.

The Ottawa Lynx, our former triple A baseball team now calls Pennsylvania home. Originally affiliated with the Expos, the popularity of the Lynx ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of their parent club. As Montreal tore up the Majors in the early nineties, the Lynx were setting attendance records and winning a Championship in 1995. With the Expos gone, the Lynx were affiliated with Baltimore, and then Philadelphia and fan support dropped sharply. Lynx Stadium, which is owned by the city of Ottawa didn't stay empty for long, as the independent Can-Am baseball league moved in this summer, and the Rapidz are now Ottawa's newest residents.

The Can-Am League, is an eight team league based in the North Eastern United States, Ontario and Quebec. The Rapidz joined Les Capitales de Quebec as the Canadian stops on a schedule that includes the Atlantic City Surf, New Jersey Jackals, Brockton Rox, Nashua Pride, Sussex Skyhawks, and the Worcester Tornadoes. The teams play a 94 game, split season schedule starting in mid-May and finishing the regular season September first. The winners of the first and second half of the season, play the two teams with the next best records for the League Championship.

Any expansion team will struggle, and the Rapidz are no exception, posting a 13-34 first half record. The franchise continues to have growing pains on the field, they are 20-46 for the entire season, but they recently put together a winning streak and infielder Jabe Bergeron was named Batter of the Month in July. The Rapidz are averaging 2,147 fans per game, just under the league average of 2,333 ; more on-field success and more local coverage in the media will help the team finish strong at the ticket office and prepare for season two.

Ticket prices in Ottawa are $10 for adults, down to $4 for children. Can you get parking at a MLB game for under $20? The future success of sports leagues depends upon the next generation of fans. The Can-Am league has positioned themselves well for future success with an affordable day at the ballpark. There's nothing like being a kid at a ball game, the players all seem larger than life and a foul ball off the bat of the home team becomes a cherished possession.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the league Commissioner, Miles Wolff, for an article which will appear August 13th in the Main Street - www.laurentianlife.com . The Commissioner was very generous with his time, taking a moment from a hectic schedule to return my phone call, answer my questions, and then talk baseball for another 5 minutes. His passion and love for the game is unmatched. Hopefully, with a hard working Commissioner like Mr. Wolff at the top, the Can-Am League will have a permanent home here in Ottawa. I'll do all I can here at The Voice to help promote the league. If you're not in a Can-Am city, visit Online at www.canamleague.com for more info...

Do you remember when we used to talk about baseball the sport and not baseball the business? It's been too long. While MLB has the glitz and the glamour, I'm tired of hearing about a $20 million per year player who's not even trying. It should not be acceptable to say, "oh, that's just Manny being Manny"... Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brewing Something Good



After a sad weekend here in Ottawa, it's time to jump back into the sports world; so here we go...
The non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching in Major League Baseball and the buyers and sellers are starting to sort themselves out. As the races in several divisions tighten up, the dog days of summer roll in, and teams are looking for the one player that may put them over the top. Let's take a quick trip through the American and National League divisions.
In the A.L. East, the series to watch this week may be the Tampa Bay Rays in Toronto. I wondered here a few weeks ago, how Tampa would react to the Red Sox and Yankees in their rear-view mirror? Well, despite the best road record in the American League, the Ray's lead is down to 1 game over Boston and they are 3 ahead of the Yankees. With Manny Ramirez possibly wanting out of Boston, and David Ortiz just returning from a wrist injury, the Sox may face a power outage. I expect the red hot Yankees to jump past the Sox and Rays by August 5th; especially if they get Jarrod Washburn and former Expos Jose Vidro out of Seattle as is rumoured. After a dismal start, the Jays are now 7.5 games back and their season could be rejuvenated with a series win against the Rays. If Toronto should slip further back in the standings, I believe A.J. Burnett will be moved sometime in August, despite General Manager J.P. Riccardi's comments that he won't be shipped out.
Looking at the A.L. Central, the Chicago White Sox continue to show their 2005 World Series form, holding on to a 1.5 game lead over Minnesota. The Detroit Tigers, the team expected to run away with the division, sits 6.5 games back. With a lot of high priced talent, and carrying a 53-52 record, the Tigers have to decide if the Wild Card or Division title is a realistic option. However, the Sox, Twins, and Tigers are all 5-5 in their last ten games, and there are plenty of games to be played within the division, so the Tigers can't be counted out yet. The race for first will get tougher if the Sox land All-Star shortstop Miquel Tejada from the Houston Astros.
Speaking of being counted out, let's give the A.L. West title to the Los Angeles Angels. They have the best record in baseball and are 8-2 in their last ten, continuing to stomp their division rivals. Oakland and Texas are 11.5 and 12 games back; and only a few years removed from their best season, Seattle is the worst team in the American league and are 25 games behind the Halos. With a 6 run, sixth inning last night versus Boston, Los Angeles demonstrated their win/loss record is no accident.
Let's stay in the West, and have a look at the division no team wants to win; the National League West. The Arizona Diamondbacks have a slim lead over Joe Torre's L.A. Dodgers going into their series this weekend at Dodger Stadium. A split in that series could open the door for the Colorado Rockies, who sit 6.5 games back. According to the Boston Globe, the only team still showing interest in Manny Ramirez are the Diamondbacks. But with both teams in a pennant race, it seems unlikely Boston would take prospects in a trade, and Arizona would want to hold on to their roster players. Perhaps the Red Sox would bring in Barry Bonds to replace Manny's home runs in the line-up, then a prospect or two from Arizona wouldn't be such a bad idea.
The N.L.East looks like a three way race to the finish. After last year's late season melt down, and a slow start this year, a hot streak has the Mets .5 games ahead of Philadelphia and 1 game ahead of Florida. The young Marlins always seem to be in the hunt, but New York and Philly will pull away as August rolls on. There is lots of power on the Phillies with Ryan Howard leading the N.L. in home runs with 30, and RBI's with 94. The Mets have Jose Reyes leading the N.L. in hits with 133, and a rotation that includes ace pitcher, Johan Santana. New York still needs another arm though, they can't count on Pedro Martinez to stay healthy anymore. Only 7.5 games back, but throwing in the towel, are the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta is reportedly shopping future Free Agent, Mark Teixeira, and it appears the Angels are the front runners. If they land the Braves first baseman, they become heavy favorites to win the World Series.
The division I have been keeping an eye on all season long has been the N.L. Central. Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis could all be in first if they played in different divisions. There's no doubt that the Wild Card will be coming out of the Central this fall.
Only 4 games separate these three teams,but St. Louis needs to make a big move to improve their pitching, they rank 27th overall and they risk falling further back. Milwaukee looks like the big winners on the trade front, trading early for C.C. Sabathia, who has gone 4-0 since coming over from Cleveland. It's the power of the Brew Crew that should have the Cubs and the Cards scared. The Brewers have 140 team home runs, compared to Chicago's 121 and St. Louis' 114. Will the Cubs fold under the weight of the one hundred year curse? They look solid, ranked third in Pitching, but they'll need to avoid the injury bug to build upon their lead.
As summer really heats up; so do the pennant races.
Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Three Guys on the Radio - Thanks Buzz



It was a sad day at the Team 1200 here in Ottawa, for the last time the morning show was hosted by Buzz, Steve and Stuntman Stu. The show celebrated the life of Tim "Buzz" Kilpatrick, a local radio personality who passed away on Friday. The station has received over 1300 e-mails at this point and countless phone calls... I wanted my readers throughout North America to know how much Buzz has influenced my life. He was a truly wonderful man, and he is missed so, so much already.Today, I'm not writing as "The Voice", just as a sports fan that has lost a good radio friend. The following is for Buzz...

First let me say that my thoughts and prayers are with Buzz's family, the Team 1200 family, Steve, Stu and producer Kenny. Thank you guys for giving us the opportunity to share our stories today. While my words won't ease anyone's pain, perhaps the story of how Buzz touched my life will bring comfort someday in the future.

I am a free-lance writer here in Ottawa and I entered the world of sports journalism and broadcasting because of TGOR and Buzz. From 1994 until 2004, Vancouver was home and I worked as a musician. In 2002, while my band was recording our third CD, I began suffering from a chronic illness. My wife and I moved back to Ottawa to be closer to family. I could not work, leave the house, or even listen to music. Depression quickly set in... One lucky day in 2005, I discovered the Team 1200, Buzz, Steve, and Stuntman Stu.

Every morning, no matter how bad I was feeling, there you were with Buzz. His laugh and his jokes always made me feel better. His passion for life, his friends, and sports brought me out of my shell; and re-awakened those same feelings in me. My very first e-mail to TGOR was read by Buzz, I'm glad I had an old tape recorder going. I'd bet he didn't know he was sending me me on a new and unexpected career path. If not for Buzz, I'm not sure where I'd be... I now write for several newspapers and I write this blog. I received some big news on Friday, I couldn't wait to e-mail TGOR on Monday.. but now here we are...

Sometimes in our profession we wonder is anyone reading this? Or listening? Well Buzz, we were all listening, to every word... Steve, Stu and Kenny, thank you for what you bring into our lives, and Thank You Buzz for what you brought into my life - I owe you one.

Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Buzz Kilpatrick - One of the best

The Team 1200 here in Ottawa has lost a legend in Tim "Buzz" Kilpatrick. He brought laughs to us all, and his passion for the Maple Leafs was unmatched. My first ever e-mail to a sports station was read on air by Buzz, and I'm glad I had an old tape deck recording that day... So, we honour him here with the Leafs logo. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and co-workers at the Team 1200.
Tim "Buzz" Kilpatrick 1967 - 2008, you touched many people and you will be terribly missed by us all...
A full tribute to Buzz will be posted here Monday morning...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mr. Bungle - More Nashville News



The soap opera that is playing out among the NHL's Nashville Predators ownership group continues to unfold. In Canada, this situation is viewed as a hockey story; a struggling team in a struggling market. Meanwhile, in the US, this has become a business story, as hundreds, perhaps thousands of people have lost millions in the fraudulent dealings of Predators minority owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio.

Any Voice readers looking for further developments should be reading Brad Schrade's articles at http://www.thetennessean.com/ , a Nashville newspaper. Mr Schrade has done a tremendous job researching this situation, and has revealed such startling facts, it is hard to believe TSN and the other Canadian sports networks have next to nothing at their sites pertaining to these latest developments.

The fall-out of Del Biaggio's actions continue to spread throughout the league; his bankruptcy papers list former Predators and current Minnesota Wild owner, Craig Leopold, as a creditor owed $10 million, AEG Facilities Inc, a company that manages Sports Arenas and whose parent company owns the already financially strapped LA Kings, is seeking $7 million previously loaned to Del Biaggio. The FBI delivered subpoenas to the Metro Sports Authority, which acts as a Landlord on behalf of the city of Nashville. Federal Authorities are seeking any documents related to the finances and financial conditions of Del Biaggio and the Predators.

The biggest news revealed in The Tennessean article by Mr. Schrade was the discovery of a computerized presentation dated January 2008. According to the article, the presentation featured charts and slides with such titles as "Portability Value" and was marked "Strictly Confidential". Del Biaggio was telling potential investors Nashville was not a viable market and would never work long term, an investment in the team would speed up the process of moving the team to Kansas City. If the Predators somehow became a success in Nashville, Del Biaggio planned to remain as a minority owner. However, if the team failed and lost $20 million by 2009-2010, a secret agreement brokered by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would allow Del Biaggio and his new investors to assume majority control from David Freeman and move the team from Nashville. For Bettman to personally match-up a local group led by Freeman, with an outside investor holding a secret agreement to move the team is a real slap in the face to the city of Nashville, regardless of your opinion on Southern hockey teams.

Also from The Tennessean; Canadian Entrepreneur Doug Bergeron was approached to invest in the Predators last September. Said Bergeron, " Boots bragged to me that he was able to convince Bettman's office to overlook the need for his audited financial statements because it was too much work."

Too much work?? As reported here earlier in The Voice, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk referred to the Audit process as "intrusive, very, very intrusive". In my opinion, it is more likely Mr. Bettman couldn't afford the time to investigate "Boots" Del Biaggio. Bettman seems determined to keep re-located teams out of Canada, personally blocking the sale of the Predators to Canadian business genius Jim Balsillie. The Commissioner has often stated his bosses are the team owners, and until they state otherwise, he must be on the right track. Well, in a league desperate for revenue, there is no US television deal in place that actually pays money to the NHL. Bettman's secret deal not only jeopardizes the Predators; he devalued the other franchises by stopping the sale to Balsillie. The value of the Predators franchise was listed at $110 million, the RIM owner offered well over $200 million, which would have increased the value of the 29 other teams.

In 1967, when the league expanded from the Original Six to twelve teams, the expansion fee was $2 million. When teams like Ottawa and San Jose entered the league, the fee was $50 million. The general consensus among hockey insiders is that the NHL plans to expand to 32 teams in the next 5 - 7 years with teams in Las Vegas and Kansas City at a price tag of $150 - $200 million each for prospective owners. Say what you will about K.C., it has the highest TV ratings for hockey in the US for cities without a franchise. An NHL team in K.C. would actually be a good fit, and Bettman's secret deal in Nashville would have taken away a "sure thing" for expansion success there.

An internal NHL report reveals that coming out of the lock-out, (which many insiders and fans now question the need for as the Salary Cap hits $56 million), an estimated $733 million of the leagues $2.2 billion in revenue was generated in Canada. The six Canadian teams now account for 31% of the $1.1 billion in ticket revenue. Some insiders have that number as high as 40%. So, let's check Mr. Bettman's economics here; 6 teams generate 40%, 24 American teams generate the other 60% and yet re-location to Canada is not an option according to Bettman.

The strength of the Canadian dollar alone has increased the spending power and value of the six Northern teams. Since the lock-out, Canadian franchises are worth 25% more now just on the strength of the dollar, add to that the insatiable appetite for hockey in Canada and you have to wonder, how long will team owners support franchises in Phoenix (they lost a reported $30 million last year alone), Atlanta, Florida and Columbus? It is time for Bettman's bosses to get their heads out of the sand.

One other item I have wondered about for a few years and I'm yet to find an answer... During the lock-out, one of the teams alleged to have two different sets of accounting books was the Philadelphia Flyers and owner Ed Snider. One book showed an operating loss for the Flyers, while the real books actually showed a profit. The NHLPA was quite adamant that this was happening all over the league. Snider could lease his Arena to his hockey team for a large amount and then claim a loss, etc. So, as mentioned, the NHL's TV deal in the US on NBC pays them nothing. The league left an ESPN deal that paid, to get on Versus - the cable channel no one can get, which is on Comcast, which is partly owned by Snider. So my question to readers, please e-mail me an opinion - How does an NHL team owner accused by the NHLPA of shady accounting, sign a television deal with the NHL that puts absolutely nothing in the NHL coffers and yet puts ad revenue in Snider's bank account?

Have a great sports day everyone...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the House that Ruth Built - MLB All-Stars



July and August are a busy time of the year for most musicians, so last night when I saw that the MLB All-Star game television coverage was scheduled to begin at 8 pm Eastern, I figured I'd tune in around 10:30 to catch the later innings and hopefully, an exciting finish. If you consider Michael Young's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th inning exciting, you went to bed a happy baseball fan. For others, like myself, it was a merciful ending after watching the B stars leave runner after runner in scoring position for seven innings.

The American League is now 11-0-1 in the last 12 All-Star games, and with the win, they secure home field advantage in the World Series. After the infamous 6-6 tie in Milwaukee's 2002 All-Star game, Commissioner Bud Selig claimed there would never be another tie, but last night was dangerously close to the same ending as 2002. What would have been more embarrassing; another tie game or a position player pitching the 16th inning? AL Manager Terry Francona and NL Manager Clint Hurdle had eventual MVP, J.D. Drew, and the Mets David Wright preparing to pitch the 16th inning if the game went that long. How would a team feel losing game 7 of the World Series on the road, knowing they could have been at home if not for a bad pitch by a 3rd baseman in the All-Star game? Although, in the "House that Ruth Built", it would have been interesting to see the winning pitcher also have a two-run home run.

I'll give full credit where it is due; the MLB All-Star game is perhaps the closest thing to a real game among the big 4 sports. The NBA, NHL and NFL All-Star games are nothing like the real thing, defence is a four letter word during their mid-season showcases. But, if as Bud Selig says, "this time it counts", and the MLB All-Star game decides who has home field advantage for the World Series, it's time to change the way teams are selected and the way the game is managed.

In the days before 24 hour sports channels and Inter-League play, the rule that each team be represented in the All-Star game was appropriate. As a boy growing up near Montreal, it was always a thrill to see Expos stars like Gary Carter and Andre Dawson taking their place among the best of the National League in the mid-summer classic. The only time those of us living in a National League city saw the American League stars was in the World Series and the All-Star game. Now, with every team available at the click of a button on a remote control or computer, should a deserving player be left off the squad so one player from the Florida Marlins or Baltimore Orioles can represent their team? Fan balloting needs to play a lesser role in choosing the teams as well, a committee of General Managers should select the squad with fans choosing only 3 or 4 players for each team. Statistics should choose the starting line-up, not the Internet.

The Managers for each League also need to manage to win from the start, instead of trying to insert every player into the line-up. All the big names and big stars are gone by the third or fourth inning. What we are left with is a situation like last night; Dan Uggla of the Marlins, after hitting into a double play with the bases loaded to end the 12th, went on to commit 3 errors and strike out 3 times in 4 at-bats. Had there been another player available on the NL bench, you can be sure manager Clint Hurdle would have made a switch. It was uncomfortable watching the young 2nd baseman struggle, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but on the field. Hats off, and my vote for NL MVP went to Miguel Tejada of the Astros. Besides several defensive gems at short, he continually went over to Uggla after each error to calm him down and say, "don't worry about it".

So after 15 innings, the longest All-Star game, the fourth and last All-Star game to be held at historic Yankee Stadium finally ended on a sacrifice fly... The Ghosts of Yankee Legends had seen enough and it was time to call it a night.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

CFL News - New Beast in the East?



In 2005, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were in the midst of a 5-13 season, I decided to switch my fan support from the Lions to the Ti-Cats. Having moved from Vancouver, Lions news was nearly impossible to get, and cheering for Montreal was too obvious a choice. With only four teams in the Eastern Division, I decided to root for the underdog, and was I ever rewarded. The horrors of 2005 were followed by a 4-14 record in 2006, and a 3-15 record in 2007. You have to admire consistency, even if it's consistently bad performances.

Two weeks into the new CFL season and Hamilton already has a 32-13 victory over Toronto, only their 2nd win in 19 tries against the Argos, and a loss to Montreal in the season opener. This morning I received an e-mail from Ed, wondering if Jesse Lumsden and the Ti-Cats are for real. So as we go into week 3, let's take a look at news from the CFL's Eastern Division.

Let's start with the news of the day; Dave Naylor of TSN reported the Argonauts have placed QB Michael Bishop on recall waivers, possibly to gauge interest for a trade or release the QB outright. Coach Rich Stubler and other Football staff wanted Bishop in as starter, the owners and Pinball Clemons wanted last season's Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph to be the man. Both have struggled to get going this season, but Joseph has really sputtered out of the starting gate. He is yet to throw a TD, has only 269 passing yards, with 2 fumbles and 24 yards rushing.

Compare those numbers to unbeaten Anthony Calvillo in Montreal who has 665 passing yards, 6 TD's and an amazing 72.8 completion percentage. Montreal leads almost every offensive category, while Toronto leads the league in punts. The Argos can't get a first down when they need it, and to add to their woes, they have the second fewest rushing attempts in the East at 66 compared to Hamilton's 231. On the D side, they have allowed the most plays from scrimmage. Their opponents are getting first downs. It's very early, but the Argo season is going in the wrong direction.

When you look at the rushing and passing statistics, they mirror the standings in the East. With Calvillo's strong return after leaving the team last season to be with his ailing wife, and the 196 rushing yards by Avon Cobourne, it's no surprise the Allouettes are 2-0. At the bottom end, with an 0-2 record, Winnipeg's RB Charles Roberts has 87 rushing yards and QB Kevin Glenn has 1 TD and 3 interceptions. They'll get the Bluebombers organized and out of the basement, but only as high as third in the division. Only in the CFL could Winnipeg be an Eastern team...

At 1-1, Hamilton is on pace for more wins this season then 2006 and 2007 combined. I can't see a division title for the Ti-Cats this season, but with continued improvements, they should be the favorites in 2009. Bringing in Casey Printers last September was a smart football move. The 2004 Outstanding Player in the CFL had been wasting away on the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs practise roster before being signed by Hamilton. Printers went to K.C. as a free agent, and even though his numbers were not terrible, K.C. draft pick Brodie Croyle won the back up job. An NFL General Manager struggling to keep his job will not give up on his draft picks in favour of a CFL free agent. It doesn't say much for your drafting skills, and it doesn't sit well with NFL fans. It appears the Ti-Cats brought in the right man, Printers has rushed for 65 yards and 2 TD's while completing 70.5 % of his passes. Anyone who watched Timmy Chang run for his life last year is pleased with Printers progression.

As for Ed's question; is Jesse Lumsden for real? Well Ed, I'll answer it this way, he could be... I say could be for only one reason. If he stays in the CFL, he may finish his career as one of the best Running Backs in the history of the league. However, there is always the lure of the NFL and a huge contract as a back up / clipboard holder. Personally, I hope he stays in Hamilton, the CFL needs homegrown stars. Lumsden has already had a stint in Seattle with the Seahawks and in Washington, would he leave again or has he seen enough of the NFL?

The CFL is not known for it's large, run stopping linebackers, so at 6'2 and 226 pounds, Lumsden already has 225 rushing yards this season. Lumsden won the 2004 Hec Creighton Award as the Outstanding Canadian University Player, and is the third all time rusher in the CIS with 4,138 yards and is first in career TD's with 47. A second generation CFL player, he has football in his blood. As I mentioned earlier, if Lumsden stays in the CFL, he could challenge Mike Pringle and George Reed's various rushing records.

The problem the rest of the league will have when facing the Ti-Cats is that you know they will run, they are averaging 231 yards per game, but who will carry the ball? Printers the QB has 65 rushing yards and 2 TD's; Lumsden has 225 rushing yards and 2 TD's; and his back up, Tre Smith, has 148 yards with 1 TD. That's a three pronged attack most teams will struggle against. Thanks for the e-mail Ed, have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Go West Young Man - NHL odds and ends



There have been a few NHL odds and ends on my mind the past few weeks, so I thought I'd clear some cerebral space...

The Stanley Cup could be staying in the Western Conference for a few more years. After Anaheim dismantled Ottawa in 2007, and Detroit flew through the Penguins in 2008, it's hard to imagine this year's Free Agent signings changing that trend. Once again the big names have left the Eastern Conference and headed West. Some chose to stay there after arriving via the trade route - Brian Campbell turned down the Sharks and landed in Chicago, and others chose to go West in hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.

Of course we all know about Marian Hossa heading to Detroit for a Cup run, but what impact will Sean Avery have in Dallas? Can Huet be a number one man in Chicago and return them to the playoffs? Rising star Steve Bernier, ended his short stint in Buffalo to sign in Vancouver with the Canucks. The only names headed East are aging stars like Markus Naslund and Brian Rolston. In 2007, all the big Free agent signings were headed West too; Ryan Smith, Sheldon Sourray and Brian Rafalski to name a few.

Last month, while talking with my hockey insider, we were discussing the Western Conference. How long can these teams keep loading up on stars from the East? I foolishly believed that this off-season, the East would be the big winners. Where would the Western teams find the money for players like Hossa? With the rising Salary Cap, the West found a way. Last pre-season, Brian Burke commented in an interview on the fire power in the West, making an interesting observation. There are only so many points available in an 82 game schedule. If one team improves ten points in the standings, another team has to fall ten points. With only eight playoff spots in each Conference, some good teams will find themselves on the outside looking in.

It's going to be a brawl this year in the Western Conference. Edmonton, Chicago, Phoenix and Vancouver will all be fighting to get back to the playoffs. This could help the Eastern Champs when the Finals eventually roll around, they may be a little less bruised in June. However, I believe that the Western teams will be so battle tested by season's end, whoever represents the West in the Finals could be unstoppable.

Another thought - Has anyone told the Tampa Bay Lightning that besides scoring goals, they also need to keep the puck out of their own net? Every day, the Lightning are adding another name, Recchi, Bochenski and Artyukhin, and very little has arrived to help the defense. New arrival Matt Carle was a -8 last season, Kuba -8, Ranger was a -13, and their best option in goal is 38 year old Olaf Kolzig. He's only had a save percentage over .900 once in the last three seasons. Last year he finished on the bench in Washington behind Huet with a .892 save percentage. An NHL goalie should be well above .900, and now Kolzig's going to carry the weight in Tampa Bay? I've also noticed that all the announcements from the Lightning seem to be coming from the new owners, Oren Koules and Len Barrie, and not General Manager Jay Feaster. How long will the GM stay in place when he's not calling the shots?

Here in Ottawa, I've been pleased to see the signings Brian Murray has made. After signing two former Canucks, I was beginning to wondering if Naslund and Bertuzzi would sign here too, when GM Murray broke the streak and signed former Oilers Captian, Jason Smith. The defense looked a little weak as it was, and signing a veteran like Smith is a great move. Hopefully, he'll be a solid D partner for Andres Meszaros, if the RFA Meszaros, can be re-signed by Ottawa. Only three players have blocked more than 600 shots in the NHL since 2005-2006, and now Ottawa has two of them in Smith and Volchenkov.

One last note... The Toronto Maple Leafs and anyone else with their eyes on the first overall pick, and John Tavares, at next year's Draft, should watch out for the LA Kings. The Kings were at the bottom of the standings last year, and they'll be in the hunt for last place again. Coach Crawford is gone, not that it's a bad thing, but they also said goodbye to veteran Rob Blake and rising talents, Mike Cammelleri and Lubomir Visnovsky. Expect them to go with their Rookie net minder Jonathan Bernier for a good part of the year. They may be trying to follow the Penguins example and let their young goalie have a few years of growing pains as they build around him with number one picks. The Pittsburgh market had Mario Lemieux as a face for the franchise, someone to bridge the gap in the years it took to become a winner. The Kings are a team that has been lacking an identity since they lost Gretzky in the nineties. Will the LA fans still remember they have a hockey team when they finally do get better? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Have a great sports day everyone...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Can Sweet Lou's Cubs fight of Milwaukee's Brew Crew?


As the hockey news slows to a trickle, and fans sift through the Free Agent signings, Major League Baseball is one week away from their All Star break. July 31st is the first of two trade deadlines in baseball, so teams and fans are watching the standings to see what players may become available. Teams can trade during the month of August, but players must clear waivers. So if any big names are to be traded, expect it this month.
When the Expos were still in Montreal, I couldn't wait for April to arrive. The long winter had ended and Dave Van Horne's voice was on my AM dial, telling me what to expect that season from super stars like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Terry Francona and the rest of our boys. Now that the Expos are cellar dwellers in Washington, and the Blue Jays usually have a lock on third place in their division behind Boston and New York, I can't enjoy baseball until July. As the weather heats up, the races for first in each division will too. With only the Los Angeles Angels looking comfortable in the American League West, it should be a long, hot race to the playoffs.
Will this be the year the Chicago Cubs break their 100 year World Series drought? Manager Lou Piniella has his team on top in the NL Central, but their 20-26 road record needs to improve. The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central, so perhaps the World Series will be decided in Chicago. Will the Cubs road record matter if they're only travelling across town?
The Milwaukee Brewers sent a message to the Cubs and Cardinals today, picking up Cleveland's Ace, C.C. Sabathia in a trade. The Brew Crew now has a rotation with Sabathia and their own Ace, Ben Sheets. Both are Free Agents at the end of the season, it may be now or never for Milwaukee as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. A name that will be on the move from the NL Central is Ken Griffey jr. in Cincinnati. Expect him to land in the American League as a DH. Tampa Bay might want to add a veteran bat, and the White Sox will have to fend off Minnesota and Detroit.
Speaking of Tampa, the Rays are the surprise leaders in the AL East, ahead of big spenders New York and Boston. The Rays have been quietly accumulating top draft picks as they struggled through the growing pains of an expansion franchise. Now that they are in first instead of last, how will they react when they see the Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the rear view mirror at the end of July? You can bet that if they can still find a trading partner, the Red Sox and the Yankees won't stand still this month.
The American League has beaten up the National League during Inter-League games and that may cost the teams in the NL East and West. Only the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves have winning records against the AL. That could be a deciding factor as each division is filled with under performing teams. If New York and Atlanta can get hot down the stretch, they should challenge the Phillies for the division lead. In the NL West, it's a question of who's the best of the worst? All five teams have losing records, but Joe Torre's Dodgers seem to be on the right track, going 7-3 in their last ten games.
Then there is Canada's lone team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays waived the white flag when they brought back Cito Gaston. The team looked a little better for six to ten games, but they've been getting knocked around by the Angels and are back to their old ways. For years the Jays had a guaranteed third place finish behind New York and Boston waiting for them at the end of the season. With Tampa Bay's emergence, and Baltimore showing signs of life, the Jays are now in danger of being the new cellar dwellers.
If Toronto upper management don't have a plan to clear out the front office during the off-season, GM J.P. Ricciardi needs to spend this month working the phones trying to unload some big contracts. A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan have been a bust and need to move on. Does a team that is 14 games out of first need a 10 million dollar closer? How long until Roy Halladay says enough is enough and wants out? Would the Cardinals or Mets have an interest in Vernon Wells as they play catch-up in their divisions?
This month should be a busy one in baseball as General Managers evaluate their rosters and start making significant moves. The last All Star game to be played in Yankee Stadium happens July 15th. With seven members of the Boston Red Sox on the American League team, the Yankee clubhouse may prove to be just as interesting as the game. Have a great sports day everyone...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Let's settle this on Family Feud


An e-mail request came in today, asking for a comment on the Brian Burke / Kevin Lowe situation. Is Lowe responsible for the rising salaries among Restricted Free Agents? In a word; No. But let me say that I share a hometown with Kevin Lowe, and he brought each of his Stanley Cups home for us to enjoy. I also lived in Vancouver during Brian Burke's days as GM of the Canucks and I became a fan of the myth and the man. I think they should settle this by playing Family Feud, and the winnings can go to a charity of their choice.
Lowe's offers to Dustin Penner and Tomas Vanek last summer certainly woke up the league to the implications of the Cap world. Other teams assets were no longer off limits. Was Burke angry at Lowe for making the offer, or mad at himself for being caught without Cap space for a rising young star? Andy MacDonald is a member of the Blues because Scott Niedermayer and Temmu Selanne returned mid season after Burke had spent his money on Todd Bertuzzi. Burke is not publicly complaining about St. Louis GM Larry Pleau taking advantage. So why Lowe?
A 2006 quote from Bobby Clarke, " We had the money to do it, so we did it". Clarke was referring to his one year - $1.9 million offer to Canucks RFA Ryan Kesler. The third line center had made $600,000 the season before, not a huge increase by NHL standards, but the Canucks were mad as hell they had to match the offer. Lowe's seven year, $50 million offer to Buffalo's Vanek was outrageous, but all the Sabres had to do was turn it down, take the draft picks and watch Edmonton flounder under the weight of such a huge contract.
Personally, I've become a fan of Brian Murray's style here in Ottawa. He certainly has holes to fill in his line up but he hasn't opened the vault to get it done. Murray places a franchise value on his players. Where does this player fit on the depth chart? Is he a character guy? Offers to other D men in the league have made Senator RFA - Andres Meszaros a $3 - 4 million dollar man. There are teams with more Cap space, so an offer is sure to come. GM Murray will probably take the draft picks as compensation if the offer exceeds the franchise value he's placed on Meszaros. He can't earn more than Chris Phillips or Volchenkov.
To hold Kevin Lowe responsible for the rise in salaries, misses what I believe is the larger issue; the Salary Cap minimum. After the lock out, the Cap was set at a $39 million maximum and a $21.5 million minimum. Going into this season we have a $56.7 million ceiling and a $40 million floor. Under the current structure, teams that couldn't make a profit with a $30 million payroll, now have to spend $40 million. In the first Cap year, Minnesota spent $25 m , Nashville - $29 m, Florida - $27 m, and Columbus $34 million. Nashville's past owner Craig Leopold claims to have lost $70 million with the Preds. How is the new spending environment better in Minnesota? Going into the current season, Leopold will be spending $46 million on the Wild, Nashville - $43m, Florida - $44 m, and Columbus is at $41 million.
Brian Burke is not completely wrong. Teams will now need to find ways to lock up young stars early, like Kostitsyn in Montreal or Perry in Anaheim. Yes, you may have to over pay, but the fault doesn't fall on Lowe. Florida has signed unknown Rostislav Olesz for 6 years at $3.5 million. Toronto has given $4 million to Jeff Finger because the market dictated that price. (according to Cliff Fletcher...). Mike Commodore, valued in Ottawa at $1.5 million, gets 5 years at $3.5 million from Columbus. A prime example of a team desperately trying to spend up to the minimum. Atlanta currently has $24 million in Cap space and they have holes to fill. Andres Meszaros can expect one of his offers to come from the Thrashers. Are Kevin Lowe's offers any different from Vancouver's 2 year/$20 million offer to Mats Sundin? Mats is not the best player in the NHL, but the need and the money is there, so why not make him the highest paid player in the league?
The Blue Jackets have $34 million committed for next year (2009 - 2010), and only $17 million for the following season. Unless a major superstar decides to move to Columbus, the Jackets and teams like them will be over spending to reach the minimum for years to come. Wasn't Brian Burke still working for the NHL when the league expanded to some of these cities?