Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hurting Blue Jays Keeping Pace

Despite numerous injuries to the pitching staff, the Toronto Blue Jays keep on winning. Unfortunately, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees keep piling up the wins as well. Toronto has a 7-3 record in their last ten games but still find themselves one game behind the Yankees for second in the AL East and five back of the Red Sox for first. With Doc Halladay ready to return from the 15 day DL on Monday, the young arms on the Jays staff will get a much-needed boost with the return of their ace.

When he went on the disabled list, Halladay led the majors with a 10-1 record in 14 starts this season, with 88 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA. After a workout yesterday, Doc has proclaimed himself ready to go and will return to the line-up in a crucial series with Tampa Bay. After a slow start, the Rays are knocking on the door and ready to jump into the race for the division; they are one game behind the Jays.

Toronto started inter-league play with a 0-6 record but a sweep of the World Series Champion Phillies in Philadelphia seems to have put them back on the right track. They continued to beat up on the Phillies with last night's 6-1 victory in Toronto. Rookie pitcher, Ricky Romero took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Chase Utley managed a single to right field. With the win, the Jays are now 7-9 in inter-league play but they are one of only four American League teams with a losing record against the National League.
Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland are the other AL teams having trouble with their NL cousins.

In his first year with the Jays, the left-handed Romero has emerged as a dependable pitcher on a staff that has witnessed one arm after another head for the DL. He was there himself earlier in the year with a strained oblique muscle and has returned to the line-up in fine form. In 10 starts, he has posted a 5-3 record, struck out 54 batters in 64 innings of work and he has a respectable 3.20 ERA. Last night’s performance demonstrated this young pitcher has found his rhythm in the majors and his confidence on the mound will only grow from this point onwards.
With all the injuries on the Jays staff, who could have predicted they would still be contending in the wild card race? If not for the emergence of Romero, Scott Richmond (6-4) and Brian Tallet (5-4), the Jays would find themselves out of contention and struggling to attract fans to the Rogers Centre. While they have not been selling out the stadium formerly known as Skydome, being in contention will go a long way to packing the place in August when the pennant races really begin to take shape.

All the young arms on the Jays will be tested as the grind of the long season begins to take its toll. Looking at the DL on the Jays makes you wonder what is happening to these young pitchers. Is it just a series of freak injuries or signs of bigger issues? Perhaps the training staff needs to look into how many innings the pitchers are throwing in the minor leagues on their way up to the Jays.

On the shelf for Toronto: Halladay comes back Monday from a groin strain, and reliever Jeremy Accardo is also day-to-day with a groin strain. On the 15 day DL: Scott Downs (sprained toe), Robert Ray (right shoulder), and Casey Janssen (shoulder inflammation). Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan are out for the year with torn elbow ligaments. Shawn Marcum may be back in September after surgery on his elbow ligament. Joining the pitchers on the DL are the teams top two catchers. Michael Barrett has missed significant time with a shoulder tear and Rod Barajas is now day-to-day after leaving the game yesterday with a strained hamstring.

It will be interesting to see how this young staff reacts to having rookie catchers behind the plate. Although, with the way these Jays players keep responding to adversity, you have to think that they will keep up the pace with a least the Yankees in the wild card race. A real test is coming this week as they play three games against the Rays. A sweep of Tampa and they get some breathing room; if they are swept by the Rays, the season could quickly fall apart. For now, Jays fans will hope for a healthier pitching staff and more wins from the rookies as they attempt to keep the first place Red Sox within reach. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, June 22, 2009

We're Still Thinking of you George...

George Carlin 1937-2008
It is hard to believe that a year has gone by since George Carlin passed away... More then a comedian, George was a protector of free-speech and his passion for life will never be forgotten.
  • Get on the plane... I'd rather get IN the plane...
  • Running is not a sport! I can run, you can run. My mother can run and she's not on the cover of Sports Illustrated!
  • Swimming is not a sport; swimming is a way to keep from drowning!
  • If you send a letter to the Post Office, who delivers it?
  • Tonight's forecast - dark... continued mostly dark tonight... followed by widely scattered light in the morning...

For more George Carlin, visit the official website -

Thank You George for all the smiles and joy that you brought into the world. You are still missed...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Friday Night Lights Up for the Soo - Bryan Helmer's Hershey Bears Win Calder Cup

While Tyler Kennedy skated around the Joe Louis Arena with the Stanley Cup above his shoulders in celebration on Friday night, another Sault Ste Marie native was busy leading his team to the AHL championship for the second time in his career. In front of a sell-out crowd at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, Capitan Bryan Helmer lifted the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup in celebration as his Hershey Bears defeated the Manitoba Moose 4-1 in game six to win the best of seven series 4-2. The teams split the first two games in Winnipeg; the Bears then won two of three on home ice before returning to Winnipeg for game six. The Cup win is Hershey’s tenth as a franchise and an AHL record.

Born on July 15th, 1972, the right shooting Helmer has not only established himself as a highly valuable defenseman in the AHL, but as a reliable veteran, when called upon by the NHL teams affiliated with the AHL. Unfortunately, Helmer has been a victim of the numbers game at the NHL level, often being the seventh or eighth defenseman on the depth chart. While every player dreams of the NHL, Helmer has carved out a highly impressive and respectable career in the AHL. His resume reads like a road map of the hockey world with stops in Hershey, San Antonio, Grand Rapids, Springfield, Winnipeg, Worcester and Albany. His first Calder Cup win came with the Albany River Rats in 1995.

At thirty-six years old, Helmer became Captain of the Hershey Bears after signing with the team last summer. He played in 63 games for Hershey this season, scoring 2 goals and 27 points and filled in admirably when called up to the Washington Capitals for twelve games, assisting on three goals. At the 2009 AHL All-Star game, Helmer was Captain of his team, due in large part to his perseverance and dedication to the sport as well as the respect he has earned during his career from his fellow players.

Helmer has amassed 114 goals and 367 assists during his lengthy career in the AHL. He is twelfth in AHL history for career games played at 911. He has also been on the ice for 146 career NHL games with the Coyotes, Blues, Canucks and Capitals and acquiring 8 goals and 26 points along the way.

The Stanley Cup is one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports, but the Calder Cup has an equally storied history. Awarded to the winner of the AHL playoffs since 1937 and named after Frank Calder, the first President of the NHL, many hockey legends have their name on the trophy. Johnny Bower, Andy Bathgate, Al Arbour, Larry Robinson and Patrick Roy are just some of the twenty-seven Hall of Fame members that have lifted the cup in victory.
** This article was published in the Sault Star in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario**

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wings Cup Drive gets Staaled

The Stanley Cup Finals have reached game seven for the 15th time since the best-of-seven format came into effect in 1939. For the seventh time, the Detroit Red Wings will take part in the ultimate battle - one game, winner takes home the Cup. The Wings have won three of the contests - 1950 over the Rangers and back-to-back victories over Montreal in 1954 and 1955. They have lost three times, in 1942 to the Maple Leafs after going up three games to none and 2 more losses to the Leafs in 1945 and 1964. How will the modern day Wings react to a game seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Regardless of the outcome of Friday night’s game, one thing that can be said about this year’s Penguins squad, they do not know the word quit. The Pens have already come back once this year from a 0-2 deficit against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. After 104 games for the Wings and 105 games for the Pens, not counting exhibition games, it all comes down to one game. The thrill of victory for one team and the agony of defeat for the other.

When sitting to write this article, several headlines crossed my mind, Super Mario and the Crosby Kids, Osgood or Os-great, and Beware the Curse of the Rental Player. I settled on Wings Cup Drive gets Staaled, so let’s start there...

With Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar on the Penguins and Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom on the Wings, there was certainly no shortage of star-power on each team going into the final series. The goalies seem to be evenly matched, with the veteran Osgood coming off an average season but performing well in the playoffs and Marc-Andre Fleury maturing with every passing game. The real battle and possibly the deciding factor would be found amongst the grinders and depth players on each team.

The Red Wings found extra scoring help early in the series with Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader emerging as scoring threats after spending the season in Grand Rapids in the AHL. Helm, from St. Andrews, Manitoba has 23 regular season games under his belt and has yet to score his first regular season goal in the NHL but with a win on Friday, he will have his name on the Stanley Cup twice before starting his rookie season in the Fall. Playing in 22 games during this year’s playoffs, Helm has four goals and one assist.

Abdelkader, a native of Muskegon, Michigan, has played in four NHL regular season games and is yet to register a point in the regular season. The 42nd pick overall in the 2005 NHL draft, he has performed well filling in for the injured Kris Draper and has two goals and one assist in 10 games during the 2009 playoffs. His two goals came in the first two games of the series and were instrumental in building the 2-0 lead in the series for the Wings.

On the other side of the ice, Pittsburgh’s line of Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal have finally found their legs and have netted some crucial goals to bring the series to game seven. The checking line of the Penguins came alive in game six, with Staal’s 4th goal of the playoffs to open the scoring and Kennedy’s game winner; his 5th of the playoffs.
The all Ontario line stole the show in game six and could become the main factor in game seven. Cooke, the wily veteran from Belleville, Ontario has 1 goal and 6 assists in the 2009 playoffs. Staal, a native of Thunder Bay, may have scored the most important goal of the series in game 4 with his short-handed effort that beat Osgood and he has tallied 4 goals and 5 assists in 23 playoff games.

Kennedy, the Sault Ste. Marie native, has really begun to shine on a Pittsburgh team that is loaded with stars. In his second year with the Pens, he scored a career high 15 goals during the regular season and his awareness and attention to detail at both ends of the ice has impressed many hockey observers. Under contract for two more years in Pittsburgh, Kennedy will only improve as his career progresses. A fourth round pick in the 2004 entry draft, the former Soo Greyhound is skating his way to a long NHL career.

In a game seven situation, analysts look for anything that could be a deciding factor leading up to game time. Besides the emergence of Pittsburgh’s all Ontario line, there is also the curse of the rental player to consider. When the Red Wings signed Marian Hossa to a one-year contract last summer, I immediately made them my pick to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. As the dog days of summer turned into Fall, I began to re-evaluate my decision. Ultimately, I did not change my pre-season pick but I had my doubts because of Hossa. Openly stating that he came to Detroit because he wanted to win a cup, he became a rental in my opinion. That never turns out well...

Ray Bourque spent an extra season in Colorado before finally lifting the cup, Mats Sundin never came into form as a Canuck after skipping the first half of the season and last year, the Penguins sold the farm to obtain Hossa from the Atlanta Thrashers. The Red Wings had to be aware of the rental factor as Hossa began to struggle in the playoffs, Wings management began circulating the idea that perhaps a long-term contract with Hossa was possible. They tried to break the curse...

Unfortunately, Hossa has not found the back of the net in the Finals and has only three assists against his former club. If the Red Wings hope to lift the Cup on Friday night, their stars need to play like stars, Hossa needs to find his scoring touch and the Detroit depth players will need to find an answer to Pittsburgh’s Ontario line of Cooke, Kennedy and Staal. One game - one winner... it should be one heck of a game! Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jacques Martin Becomes Bench Boss in Montreal

There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding the hiring of Jacques Martin as the twenty-ninth Head Coach in Montreal Canadiens history. When General Manager Bob Gainey made the announcement at a press conference on Monday, many eyebrows were raised among hockey analysts and fans around the hockey world. Some observers believe the Habs are headed for a boring, defensive style brand of hockey, while others are once again planning a June parade next year in Montreal.

The main criterion in hiring a new coach for the Canadiens has been filled; a French speaking coach was a priority. While the media may be happy to have French press conferences, the main stars in Montreal are Russian, with a mix of French speaking players, some English Canadians, Americans and if rumours are true, a possible Russian Captain next year. What language will be spoken in the dressing room? Jacques Martin is a very experienced coach but his playoff record is questionable. In a city that is desperate for another Stanley Cup to validate their feelings of hockey supremacy, is he the right choice? As Montreal Gazette Legend Red Fischer wrote, “What was the rush” in hiring a new coach while team owner George Gillette examines his assets and a possible sale of the team.

Been Down this Road Before

Excluding Bob Gainey, nine of the last ten coaches in Montreal have been French speaking. Pat Burns is the only exception in a list that includes Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien to name a few. Jacques Demers and Jean Perron coached the last two Stanley Cup winners in Montreal but that had more to do with Patrick Roy then a system put in place by the coach.

Stanley Cup winners Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford were passed over, both of whom are also bilingual, and how many other AHL coaches like Washington's Bruce Boudreau or Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma were not interviewed for the simple fact that they are English? What becomes of Gainey's assistant and former Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever? He has all the credentials to be a fine NHL coach but apparently not in Montreal. Will he be an assistant to Martin or will he be forced to move on knowing their is absolutely no opportunity for advancement in the Canadiens organization?

Jacques Martin’s Teams Fall short in Cup Hunt

Not taking anything away from the regular season success the St. Pascal, Ontario native has had but Martin’s playoff record is not a stellar one. His only trip to the Eastern Conference Final came in Ottawa during the 2002-2003 season and he has reached the second round twice, once in Ottawa in 1997-98 and in 1987-88 with the St. Louis Blues. His teams have exited in the first round six times and he has failed to make the playoffs four times, most recently missing the playoffs three years in a row with the Florida Panthers. In the past, he has had players like Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, and Alexi Yashin in Ottawa. In Florida, he held onto Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline but failed to make the playoffs. He inherits a team in Montreal with far fewer stars then on his past teams and if not for implementing a boring, defensive “trap” style of hockey, how will he change his playoff fortunes in Montreal?

Bouwmeester Rumours Start

After the hiring, it only took a few minutes for the Bouwmeester to Montreal rumours to begin. In life, you can never say never, but if Martin was not able to sign Bouwmeester to a long-term contract during his four years as General Manager in Florida, why is it expected that the up and coming defenseman will follow Martin to Montreal? A free agent July 1, Bouwmeester made $4.875 million last season and is due a sizable raise even in the current economic climate. The third overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bouwmeester will not land in Montreal in my opinion.

The Canadiens already have Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik signed through the end of the 2010-2011 season at $5.75 million per year for Markov and $5.5 million for Hamrlik. Adding another big contract to Bouwmeester will commit $15-17 million of cap space for three defensemen; an unwise move considering the team has $23 million in cap space available next season and needs to fill fifteen spots on their roster. Currently, Andrei Kostitsyn is the highest paid forward under contract at $3.25 million and goaltenders Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak will be restricted free agents after next season and if they perform and progress as expected, they too will earn a raise from their current contracts of $2.2 million for Price and $775,000 for Halak.
Focus Shifts to Gainey

General Manager Bob Gainey has filled his vacant coaching spot but now the focus shifts to signing players and re-shaping a team that floundered down the stretch under Guy Carbonneau and Gainey. This will be a critical summer for Montreal's GM; he has made several coaching changes and the results have been the same; early exits from the playoffs.

In his introductory press conference, Martin said, “I really believe that you need some star players to be effective.”

If Alex Kovalev returns to the Canadiens as their “star player”, his lacklustre play and 65 points will not be enough to satisfy the fans or his new coach. Montreal requires an extreme makeover or they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time next year. Have a great sports day everyone.