Friday, September 29, 2006

Johnson and Tverdovsky go Hollywood

Bust out the PhotoShop and slap on some purple

The deal that was inevitible is now done. Jack Johnson and no-load Tverdovsky for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger.

The quote from Jim Rutherford:


"This deal improves our forward lines and adds a very good, young
defenceman with NHL experience to the Hurricanes," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford
said in a statement. "Eric and Tim strengthen the balance of our team."


Initial Thoughts:

JR has been way too public in expressing his frustration with Team Johnson. Something was not kwite right from the get-go in this relationship. Chris' comment about Papa Johnson staying in the car while JR had dinner with JJ was just plain creepy. The bridge was already on fire before that faithful evening. The bridge probably collapsed after that bit of strange cinema.

By late last spring, JR could no longer deal from a position of strength. The world knew he wanted to move Johnson. The world knows the Canes are hurting on the blueline and in need of an infusion of NHL ready blueline talent. He probably made the best deal he could get.

The Kings had a glut of similar-skilled centermen. Two of their top-three prospects play center, including the highly regarded Anze Kopitar. Jes has his Jaro Balastik Avatar, mine will probably be my brother in Sloveness, Kopitar...once he sticks in the show. The Kings get Tverdovsky. The Canes get their Tverdovsky. Only difference is that the Hurricanes new Tverdovsky has the chance to become Frankie Kaberle with manly pipes and a mean streak. Their Tverdovsky will more than likely stay just a Tverdovsky.

The Canes dump $2.5 in Tverdovsky salary per season for the next two years. They also make a clean break with a guy (JJ) who looks like he would have been hard to make happy. They take on Belanger's $1.3 mil for one year, and Gleason's $1.75 K, two-year contract. Salary cap wash. Great line from Lyle Richardson on his Fox Sports blog today:

"In the short term, they pick up an experienced puckhandling blueliner in
Oleg Tverdovsky, whose best seasons were with the Kings rival, the Anaheim
Ducks, around the turn of the century."

In his quote, JR stressed the balance this move brings to the team. I've been squawking for a third-line centerman since Matt Cullen signed with the Blueshirts. Belanger might just be that guy. This might let Letowski move back to wing.

The Hurricanes proved you could compete and win a Cup with a blue collar blueline. If Gleason works out to be another Tanaberdovsky, there are solid blueliners in Heddy, Wes, Nic and Commie to step up. With the cap space JR is freeing up, he also opens the door to another deal at or before the deadline. How about a run at Gionta or Gomez if Lou strikes out in his salary relief appeal?

Bottom Line

I was expecting a young star, or a superstar-to-be for the Canes superstar-to-be. JR didn't get that. I do like the addition of Belanger. I think he fills a need. I'm taking a wait and see approach on Gleason. The summary on hockeysfuture.com indicates Gleason made a commitment a while back to becoming a more complete defenseman. If that becomes reality, the Hurricanes will have at least another solid blue collar blueliner in the mix. History proves you can win with a no-name defense.

Epilogue

I love everything about Jack Johnson the player. I was really jazzed when he was still available when the Canes selected. He's a one-man youtube highlight machine. Blood, guts and a wicked slapper all rolled into six feet of hockey beast. If he gets a chance to play with Rob Blake, he'll probably learn more about professionalism and preparation than he will at Michigan. If he jumps to the Kings before the end of this season at Michigan, that will say a lot about the veracity of "Team Johnson."

I hope to see a lot of JJ when he makes it to the Pacific divison. Should be lots of cuts, stitches and bruises in his game. He'll look great in purple and black. Should go well with his complexion.

UPDATE: Best analysis out there right now comes from Bob McKenzie on tsn.com. Includes this passage:

The Hurricanes are defending Stanley Cup champions. They have a very good
nucleus with Staal, Justin Williams, Erik Cole, Brind'Amour but between injuries
and free agency, they lost a lot of their depth. It would be foolish for the
Hurricanes to think only of the present, but it's imperative for them not to
backslide this season if they hope to capitalize on their momentum in their
marketplace. Gleason and Belanger will pay immediate dividends and give the
Canes a fighting chance to defend their title.

UPDATE #2: James Mirtle does not concur.

Coyotes and Ducks Tomorrow Night!

Real !#*&?!!*!! - ing hockey is back !!!

Heading up to Phx tomorrow for the game. I'll get to check out these new Ducks duds up close and personal (from the upper deck).

Probably won't see Selanne or Nagy. Selanne needs to let his re-arranged face heal, and Nagy cut his hand in a scrum the other night. According to the Orange County Register's Ducks blog, Bruno St. Jacques apparently has a chance to secure a roster spot.

Team Batarang is a popular preseason pick to make it to the Cup finals. They've got a great crop of young, fast and physical forwards to go along with seasoned vets at the top of their game. I'm looking forward to seeing Pronger and Niedermeyer tomorrow night - not sure if they are both playing D on the PP. Hope you Ducks fans are doing all you can to keep Mrs. Pronger happy. Cause if momma's not happy, nobody is happy. Yeah the OC is sexier than Edmonton, but LA and the Big Apple are wicked-sexy.

Conversely, pundits are waiting in breathless anticipation to put a fork in the Coyotes. It is definitely hard to get excited about this Legion of Dinosaurs. I do like the younger guys they have on the blueline, but where are the future Getzlafs, Schremps or Brule's in the Coyotes system? Oh, that's right, the still have Krispy Kreme out there if they want to enhance a little team chemistry. Jovocop and Boynton should be fun to watch. But once the blueline makes that nifty outlet pass, every offensive rush will morph into slow motion mode, a la The Matrix.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Odell Thurman is NKR

Odell Thurman: drunk but very respectful
This was an acronym from my Navy days. It stands for "Not Kwite Right." It was used to describe a person or situation involving rampant stupidity bordering on insanity.

So the wife and I are sitting there watching the Bengals/Steelers game on Sunday when I turn to her and say something along the lines of, "The Bengals linebacking corps is doing pretty well without David Pollack and Odell Thurman. Can you imagine how good they'll be when Thurman comes off his suspension?"

No room left to imagine - at least for the season at hand. Odell pissed away his shot at an early season date with redemption at around 3 am on Sunday morning when he and fellow Eagle Scout, Chris Henry, got stopped and popped a .18 on the breathalizer after a night of binge drinking in celebration of the Bengals victory against the Steelers. Odell's excuse? He told the officers, "I was driving them because they had more than I did." At some point during the process, and I guess to provide physical evidence in support of pal Odell's claim, Chris Henry blew chunks out the window of the SUV.

For Odell, the blow is huge. Already on the outside looking in, and with a rich history rich of substance abuse and bad decision making, he will have eight or nine months of unstructured time on his hands. Unstructured time is the enemy of substance abusers and the immature. They say you have to hit rock bottom before you can pull yourself out. If Odell can gather his senses enough to realize what he has done, he might still redeem a promising career.

Chris Henry seems in no hurry to get his personal affairs in order. Speeding and driving under the influence; Marijuana and weapons possession, serving alcohol to a minor, and now puking out of car windows during a police stop, Henry seems to be enjoying his descent into debauchery. He also doesn't seem to care who he takes with him. Great talent. Clutch playmker. And yet a guy whose own college coach warned the Bengals about.

Chris Henry has once again let his teammates down. Not only did he he throw Odell Thurman under the bus, he took a rookie along for the ride. No word from Bengaldom on how the events of Sunday morning will affect Chris Henry's status.

Coach Lewis -Now would be the appropriate time to make a statement to Henry and the teammates he has let down. Mandatory enrollment in a residential scared straight program on Devils Island or two months of missionary duty with Mormons in Saudi Arabia seem appropriate.

Here's how to fail a field sobriety test: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060926/VIDEO/60926002/1066

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Albany should be pretty good this year

Sure Marek, I'd love some Fruity Pebbles...after my nap
The Hurricanes sent 11 more to training camp with the Albany River Rats. That list includes Brad Isbister, Shane Willis and Jessee Boulerice. It looks like Ryan Bayda and his three points are enough to win this year's Mike Zigomanis memorial preseason lottery. Willis is still the guy I'm pulling for. Scott Stevens' blindside shot on a head-down Willis started me down the road to Hurricane fandom.

...wonder if Papa Bayda's company is still a Carolina Hurricanes preferred vendor?

Here's the release from Canes media central: http://www.carolinahurricanes.com/news/news.asp?articleid=1610

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Welcome Aboard Canes Country


Bubba's got a neat site at Canes Country, check it out. Like how he ties his post titles to music re-sets. Seems like a rather eclectic collection.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Carolina Panthers

I had so much juice to do a preview on the Carolina Panthers. I spent a whole morning on my masterful Cincinnati Bengals jaunt, and closed with this teaser line setting up the Panthers feature:

"The Bengals will win the Superbowl because the same "Danger Jake" Delhomme who stunk up last year's NFC Championship will throw three critical interceptions in
the second half. John Kasay will have a chance to tie the game at the end of
regulation, but pull a hammy during the second half kickoff and then miss the
critical late field goal attempt short and wide left. More on Danger Jake in my
Panthers take to come."

"Danger Jake" is a nickname I picked up from Eugene Robinson, the Panthers radio color-man. He created the nom de guerre at the start of one game last season as he pondered which Jake would show up that day. "Safety Jake," is calm and steely-eyed. Safety Jake doesn't try and force plays. He is relaxed in the pocket and takes what is available down field. Danger Jake is jittery on the sidelines, jittery in the huddle and even more jittery whenever he has the ball. It's been all Danger Jake for your Carolina Panthers thus far. Didn't have to wait until the NFC Championship (like last year) or my projected Super Bowl meltdown. Danger Jake it dancing in the pocket, taking sacks, holding the ball too long and flinging passes into mass gatherings of opposing defenders like never before.

The offensive line are a bunch of 300 pound matadors. God bless Julius Peppers. He's got the heart of a lion, and he's about the only bright spot on a pretty dismal and undsciplined (see Chris Gamble) squad. Were you surprised that it took Dan Morgan as long as it did to suffer his first concussion? Who misses Will Witherspoon?

John Fox teams are usually disciplined and resilient. Not sure how they pick up from the debacle of the first two weeks of the season. Will the O-line suddenly figure it all out? Will the linebacking corps re-discover steriods?

How long will it be before Keyshawn Johnson lights up Jake in a very public manner? I say about one more Sunday debacle.

Phoenix Media and the Yotes...Sound Familiar?

In today's Arizona Republic, Bob Young gives us a taste of Cousin Ned in his piece about the appeal of going to Coyotes games this year. The title and lead say it all:

Put your worries on ice
There are many good reasons to hit Glendale for
a Coyotes game. Really.

Yeah, things steeped in great hockey culture like a new dance squad, the JR and Georgeous Georges show and a revamped mascot. We feel your pain Coyotes fans.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Color Johnson Gone

I know Chris has declared a moratorium on this never-ending story, but Luke DeCock is again out with a story about Jim Rutherford offering Jack Johnson to the right bidder. JR confirms again that he's shopping JJ, but with no sense of urgency. Ahhh, the makings of a great long term relationship.

Now if I'm in the Johnson camp, I read this as... We told the Hurricanes that junior was gonna stay at Michigan. JR has very publically gone hard-sell on us three times. Since June, the Hurricanes have made no bones about the fact that they are shopping our kid and their franchise blueliner. You can color Jack Johnson gone - and as soon as practicable (a term from my naval aviation days - not quite as urgent as "as soon as possible"). But make no mistake, the bridge has been torched.

In the article, Luke states:

....he (JR) now expects either a highly rated defensive prospect or established young
NHL defenseman of considerable ability in return.
So who would be willing to give up top young NHL-ready-now talent in exhange for a kid who won't even provide a clue as to when he might make the transition from college to the NHL? Who has talent in the wings or starting right now that they might be willing to part with in exchange for a Jack Johnson down the line...maybe way down the line?

Nashville's got a pretty solid existing defensive corps and system depth. Both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are at about the same stage of development and they've got three other future NHL prospects in the pipeline. However, neither Suter or Weber are Jack Johnson.

Atlanta's got at least eight NHL caliber defensemen in the fold, system depth, and their top prospect, Braydon Coburn, sitting on the outside looking in. His stock has dropped since he was drafted as the 8th pick in 2003. He's definitely no Jack Johnson.

Chicago's got young studs in Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith in place and youngster Cam Barker (3rd pick in '04) on the outside trying to crack the lineup. To me, the only prospect-age guy worth a deal is maybe Barker.

Boston also has depth at defense with a very physical and mature Mark Stuart who is ready for prime time. Stuart however has little offensive upside.

Not hearing Jordan Staal's name much anymore, but you do hear Marc Staal's name bantered about. The Rangers don't have much in the way of young blueliners beyond Staal, so a deal for the other Staal doesn't seem likely. However, the Canes also have depth in goal to offer as part of a package. Chicago has "a glaring weakness" in this area (according to hockeysfuture.com), as do the Rangers, who are apparently willing to part with their only system goalie of note, Al Montoya (according to Spector).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Behind the Blog Updates

Jersey's and Hockey Love is the feature of one of Christy's "Behind the Blog" installments. I love reading these, almost makes hockey bloggers seem human.

In honor of Tapeleg now joining the august cadre of featured hockey bloggers, I offer one of my favorite jerseys. This is the official jersey of the Tucson Ice, D3 Buzzards. This standard CCM practice jersey features a slick cartoon buzzard on the front, and the number 88 not so slickly screened on the back.

The jersey was supposed to have just the number 8 on the back (always my favorite number), but junior in the pro shop decided to take two shots at perfecting his heat-screening technique. The kid burned his hand on his first try and misplaced the first 8, but got better on his second attempt. The logo of our sponsor, the Old Pueblo Firefighters Association, is also displayed on the right sleeve.

The latest Behind the Blog features The Army of the Ohio.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Headline of the Day

Look out for the 2006 St. Louis Blues!
From tsn.com today.
Tkachuk reports to Blues in better shape

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Marketing the Sport

Time to Market Some Wild and Crazy Hockey Players


Here we are about to start the new NHL season and I've been noting the sharp contrast between how intensely and effectively the NFL markets their established and rising stars vs. the NHL. Chad Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger, Reggie Bush, Peyton Manning - they are everywhere, hawking everything. In the NHL, it's Alex Ovechkin, Jeremy Roenick and then crickets. Ovechkin is the real deal - a highlight reel superstar whose English makes him a candidate to stay a highlight reel star. Roenick's got two memorable highlight reels. One involves a puck to the grill and a lot of bleeding and swelling. The other is televised rant against the fans during the lockout. The most dangerous place to be in hockey is between Roenick and a TV camera. And when he gets to that camera, when is he ever "on message?" The most exciting place to be is at any game involving Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Crosby and possibly Phil Kessel, and that's where the focus needs to be.

The NHL can't compete with the NFL in the high fashion/hip-hop cultural icon arena. Reggie Bush as the uber-pimp - Matt Leinart as Neo from the Matrix; both are way over-the-top and work at that strata. Hockey is different. Hockey players aren't high-fashion and don't to get to grope Paris Hilton in a Vegas club. Yes, Sean (thanks Drew) Avery had a go at better-than-Paris for a while, but the generalization still works. Unfortunately, Ovechkin dresses like the a wild and crazy Czech brother from the old Dan Akroyd/Steve Martin SNL skit (at least he hasn't been caught in a kilt like Kovalchuk), but his play on the pond represents all that is wicked-cool about hockey. The NFL is in brand maintenance and refinement mode. The NHL is in brand re-invention mode.

I think the NHL needs to start selling the speed, physicality, danger, and the raw emotion of hockey by selling us on the daredevils who define a sport played at the very edge of the physical envelope. No more Rod Brind 'Amour climbing the mountain on a green-screen. No more, "This is hockey?!?" No more sweaty player head lifting to an icy glare glare (again on a green-screened backdrop). Give me dasher cam shots following Eric Cole on a breakawy rush. Give me spit, chicklets and mouthguards flying after a Dion Phaneuf hit. Give me acrobatic and impossible saves up close and through all the traffic and collisions. And devote the time, effort and resources necessary to connect fans with the studs who make the most athletic plays in all of sports.

Remain Calm...There is no need to panic...

The day started great. Luke DeCock's article in the N&O seemed to really put closure to the Jack Johnson as trade bait saga. Jack Senior steps out - sets the record straight. Pop says JJ wants to be a Hurricane, values his education and wants to finish out his dream of leading the Wolverines to an NCAA title. At least it seemed everybody knew where things stood.. .

Now this on tsn.com:

"Now that Frantisek Kaberle will miss most of this season because of
shoulder surgery, the Carolina Hurricanes are in desperate need of a
defenceman.
"

"Desperate?" Somebody splain to me how desperation rears its ugly head before the start of camp. Somebody tell me how desperation is the kind of leverage a GM wants right about now. Geeez JR! Play some poker, will ya? Get out there and do some perception management. It's Frankie Kaberle. Yeah, he's the Hurricanes best offensive-defenseman, but it's not like the Canes just lost Scott Niedermeyer. If I see some deal go down that involves Jack Johnson for Derek Morris, I'm seriously gonna hurl.

You can go to war with Wes, Heddy, Commie and Nic. Tanabe and/or Babchuk might even prove a pleasant surprises. Tanabe might even give the club some of that offensive -defensman mojo. Plus, Jason Woolley and Cale Hulse are in camp as insurance. Why hit the panic button? These articles make JR look like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House. I hope it's only the pundits who are projecting or inferring " desperation." Me thinks it's time for JR to step out and put and end to all this rot. A public vote of confidence for his boys right about now would be nice.

Usually, when I get wind trade rumors like this, I get giddy like a little school girl and start musing about the possible options. Today I feel no gid. Nope, "Desperate" is just not sexy.

Now Marc Staal, now he might be sexy...damn, there I go again. Oh well, just go with it man....I say let's get all the Staals and make them Hurricanes. Jordan, Marc....and how about signing 15 year-old Jared Staal to one of those multi-year Wanger deals. JR could lock Jared up for at least 20 years!!! Hell, twenty years from now we'll probably be able to clone us some more Staals!!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome Back to Wang World

Your 2006 Islander Blueline:
Tom Poti, Brendan Witt, Sean Hill....

Neil Smith is in - no he's out. Mike Milbury is out - well not really "out" cause he's still kind of really running things behind the scenes - kind of like the Dick Cheney of the Islanders brainless-trust...Welcome to Wang World.

Don't guys tend to step it up in a contract year? So, Rick DiPietro can sit on his fat arse until 2020 before he has to worry about proving his market value? How can you light a competitive fire under a guy who is abso-freakin'-lootly set for the next 15 years? And if he does tank at any point over the next 15 friggin' years, Charles Wang (or whoever buys him out after he's run his little rich-boy toy into the dirt) will never be able to trade him without absorbing a huge chunk of that $67.5 mil/$4.5 mil a year. Yeah, his inflation proof/per season salary drain will be less than the over-paid and under-performing Jose and Khabby, but to commit so many fun tickets to this mercurial goalie is sheer lunacy.

All this for a guy many would have liked to have seen get the Nancy Kerrigan treatment during last year's Olympics so that Ryan Miller could step in for Team USA. Leave it to the Wanger, Milbury and GM Garth and that inner-circle of Girls Gone Wild "advisors" to shock the world yet again. Don't worry Fish Stick Fans, you've still got that vaunted All-Easter Island blueline to protect your investment in Ricky Rich.

Monday, September 11, 2006

VOP Epilogue

The D3 playoffs started and ended on Saturday night for Valley Oasis Pools. After a season-ending six game winning streak, we lost 6-1. Our leading goal scorer, and the only guy older than me, was out with a possible blood clot in the back of his neck. Our second leading goal scorer, his son, was rightfully at this side Saturday night in the hospital. None of our sunshine roster members showed up leaving us with one extra forward and one extra defenseman. At the start of the third period, we lost that extra defenseman to a 12 minute combo-penalty. Not sure I've seen a 12 minute penalty before. He got 2 minutes for slashing and 10 minutes for misconduct after the slash. The 10 minutes didn't actually expire until a stoppage of play. That extended his time in the box another three minutes.

The team we played had two ringers. You could pick them out immediately. While the rest of the team wore Sharks jerseys, these two had Blue Jackets and Sabers jerseys on respectively. Sabers jersey guy was the classsic cherry picking ringer. He hung out all night along the side-boards as far away from the play as he could get looking for the homerun pass. He never lined up for a faceoff. If the drop was on one point outside the blueline, he positioned himself on the opposite side. "Fabio" also had a Jagr-esque mullet pulled back into a poneytail.

I played D against Fabio three or four times over the course of the season, and got pretty good at pushing him to the outside or disrupting his rush. But by the end of my 10 minute-plus shift, I was pretty beat. They had gone up 6-1 and Fabio decided it was time to turn on the jets and really show off. He crossed the blueline with the puck and decided to try go through my legs and pick up the puck on the other side. In my diminished physical state, I figured I had just a couple of options. Can you guess which one I chose?

  1. Turn and try to disrupt his rush with an aggressive backcheck
  2. Turn and let the goalie handle the shot while I try to cut off any late pass attempt
  3. Cross check the bastard straight up and drive his pretty boy ass into the ice

(hint: I ended up taking a penalty)

That's gonna be it for me and hockey till at least next spring. I have an MRI sheduled on the shoulder I blew up playing hockey four years ago. Based on the fact that I can't lift my left arm beyond about 30 degrees vertically, and the fact that I feel a "pop" whenever I move the shoulder suddenly (coughs, sneezes), I expect I'll be back under the knife again.

Five Years Later

I was in a meeting in the McKimmon Center at NC State University when the carnage began. I remember stepping out to ask my boss a question. He had the TV on and I briefly saw the smoke and flames coming out of the first tower. I went back to my meeting and told my friends from the ad agency that it looked like terrorists had again planted a bomb in the WTC. By the time the meeting broke up, everybody in the McKimmon Center was watching in horror.

I remember my hands shaking uncontrollably that afternoon. I faxed my contact information to the Naval Reserve Command in New Orleans that afternoon. Still haven't heard back. I guess they don't need a 44 year-old former Navy helicopter pilot who's been out the cockpit for thirteen years. If Al Qaeda ever gets submarines, maybe I'll get the call. Iran has submarines...

I watched snips of the "Path to 9/11" docudrama last night. I don't get all the political grandstanding of the last week. I took two things away from last night's episode.

  1. You can't win a war when politics and bureaucractic infighting are the paramount concerns (Clinton or Bush - no difference)
  2. We are fighting some really evil bastards
The second was by far the greater impact of the film on me.

To those who risk everything in defense of our freedom, and for the cause of freedom in our world, I say thanks. To my friend Captain Dan in Iraq, I say happy hunting and I look forward to pounding beers and listening to good music under the clear Tucson night sky when you get back.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Team Dillinger: Guys Who are Just Stealing Money

The $2.5 mil the Canes will owe Oleg Tverdovsky will make him hard for JR to move. The invisible man of the Canes blueline; the guy who was supposed to Gonchar the Canes PP generated a mere 23 points last year, and disappeared at playoff time. Actually, I guess he was pretty Gonchar-like last season. But Oleg's theft of salary hardly compares to others in this league. Now nobody is holding a gun to any GM or owners head. They don't have to throw money at deadwood - some just choose to (Hello?...Charles Wang?). Here are some other guys I think belong on Team Dillinger:

In Goal:
Jose Theodore: Great steroid-enhanced hair; papa a real-life Piranha Brother; 40ish in the league in save percentage and goals against average; nearly $6 mil in salary this year. If this year doesn't go well, somebody is gonna get their head nailed to the floor, eh Dimsdale?

On D: (Gonchar was too obvious)
Derek Morris: Nearly $4 mil this season for the 3rd or 4th best defenseman on the Yotes (I'd put Zbynek Michalek ahead of him at this point). $4 mil for a guy tsn.com says, "Has a tendency to lose his concentration in the defensive zone and give the puck away at the most inopportune moments." And he'll make more than captain Shane Doan, Cujo and newcomer Nick Boynton this year.

Adam Foote: Yeah, he's never been much of a point producer, but this former beast of the blueline just wasn't a force last year. Took over the captaincy when Luke Richardson got benched and gave up the "C", but the team never took on the old Footer personality. $4.6 mil a year for 20ish points and a -18 for a matador just ain't a good return on investment.

The Forwards:
Bobby the Missing-Holik: $4.25 mil a year for 33 points and a -6. This performance tied Herr Unibrow for 242nd in the points race last season. He'll make more this year than real difference-makers at center like Eric Staal, Pavel Datsyuk and Patrick Marleau.

Alexi Yashin: No brainer. He's still the fourth highest paid player in the league. His $7.6 mil/year averages out to around $271,000 per goal scored last season for the captain of the Fightin' Fish Sticks.

Sergei Fedorov: Over $6 mil per year for this savior of the franchise. Sergei was da bomb when the Soviet Empire still controlled Eastern Europe. Last season's number 228 goal scorer. Traded from Anaheim for Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin, both added a bump of grit to the Ducks lineup just in time for their playoff run. The Jackets got 12 goals for their $6 mil clubhouse leader and mentor to their now prodigal son, Nicolai Zherdev.

Team Dillinger GM:
Doug MacLean: The man who brought you two of the guys on this list - nearly $11 mil in salary to land Fedorov and Foote. With kind of money, you could buy yourself an Eric Staal, an Erik Cole and a Justin Williams. At a time when great young hockey players are doing everything possible to get out of Russia, Doug is about to lose Zehrdev back to the Russian Hockey Federation Mafia. He's had top 10 draft picks every year since 2000 (three of them top five picks), and has only Rick Nash to show for it. Yeah, Gilbert Brule might be the real deal, but he has yet to show any NHL chops. During MacLean's tenure, the Dinner Jackets have accumulated only two notable young stars, a bunch of high draft picks and a bucket full of bupkis. The big brag running right now on the Bluejackets home page proudly proclaims that the boys set a franchise record for wins and points last year. Translated, this means: "Whoooo!!! We suck a lot less comparison to.. well, just us!!!"

"Mr. MacLean, Mensa on line three..."

Your turn. I'm sure I've left somebody off Team Dillinger, or you believe there is somebody out there who deserves to replace one on my list. Let 'er rip.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Who Dey?

Rarely will you find commentary in this forum on sports other than hockey. Must admit to being really juiced about the opening of NHL play this fall.

I've been a Cincinnati Bengals fan since the late 60's - early 70's when my parents had season tickets and the team played in UC's Nippert Stadium. I got to go to one home game a year in those days. I could never figure out why dad wanted to take mom to games over me. I always picked either the Raiders or Chiefs game of that year. Ed Podolak and Fred Biletnikoff were my heroes as a kid. Bengal greats Bob Trumpy (who was a chain smoker in those days) and Bob Johnson (who wasn't) both lived on my street, but for some reason, no Bengal made my hero list when I was a kid. During the Bengals lean decades, my interest in the Carolina Panthers grew. Most of you by now have had ample opportunity to review Eric McErlain's Baltimore Ravens propaganda, so in the name of bringing some NFL balance to hockey blogdom, two posts will follow on my two favorite NFL teams. First up, Who Dey...

2006 Bengals Team Motto: "That which does not kill us, only makes us stronger"

Overview
Lots of negative news over the off season about Bengals with public safety issues. Chris Henry's serial boozing and speeding, Eric Steinbach's booze-cruise, Odell Thurman's off season trouble with weed, or if we are to believe Odell, just a insignificant problem keeping to his testing schedule. Adversity just seems to abound in the Queen City. Must be something in the water, or the chili. Marge, Robert Maplethorpe's naked men exhibit, Pete Rose, the list goes on. The good news is that this year's Bengals squad is jellin like fellons...so to speak.

The Division and the Schedule
With the exception of the Brownies, the play in the AFC North will be tough. The Superbowl champs, Ravens and Bengals might just be engaged in a little mutual assured destruction this year. Ravens enthusiasts are sure that Steve McCulpepper is the long-sought answer to their quarterback dilemma. After years of bravely playing hurt, he's brittle and broken, and on the downward leg of his career. And if and when he goes down, it's Kyle Boller time again. The Steelers continue to scare me. They just find a way to win. Last night, no Ben - no problem. They hung close and then capitalized on late Dolphin (read Culpepper) mistakes. The Bengals open in Kansas City and have New England, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Indy and Denver on the schedule. Ouch. The good news is that the Ravens and Steelers have to play NFC South teams as well. The Ravens however get to beat up on Buffalo and Tennessee - the Bengals and Steelers don't. To make the playoffs this year, the Bengals will have to earrrrrrrn it.

Key Personnel
Carson Palmer: Simple equation - Healthy Carson Palmer=Deep Playoff Run. Carson has great physical tools including a howitzer arm; he's calm in the pocket; a great decision maker, and he spreads the ball around enough to keep both Chad and TJ "Who's-Yer'-Momma" (love that commercial-kid deserves some sort of commercial acting-guy award) happy. And he's making a miraculous comeback from an exploded knee.

Rudi Johnson: The leagues 7th ranked rusher came to camp even leaner and meaner than last year. Who even remembers head-case Corey Dillon in stripes?

Chad the Ubiquitous: He's everywhere this year. He's been on the NFL Network all summer (I love the "Where ya at 85?" riff); he's dancing on the season TV schedule promo; he's cover-guy on the lastest NFL Street game, and he's featured on of one the Madden '07 ad vignettes. Good news is, despite all his flamboyance, Chad is no T.O. Cincinnati Enquirer columnist, Paul Daugherty, who spent a lot of time in the offseason working with Chad on a book, reports the mercurial star just lives, eats and breathes being a Cincinnati Bengal. His zeal is real, and according to Daugherty, he's learing how to channel his enthusiasm. And despite the presence of Drew Rosenhaus in the mix, Chad signed a multi-year deal to stay a Bengal. Note the lack of posturing or grandstanding in the process.

TJ: The best #2 receiver in football. The perfect balance to Chad in the offensive scheme. TJ takes the punishment over the middle and makes the tough catch at crunch time.

Odell Thurman: A little discipline would be nice. Odell better grow up during this suspension. He's way too talented to miss games because of some Columbian...no matter how fine. Look for him to come back fresher, meaner and more appreciative of his opportunity to play in this league. Look for Takeo Spikes, who once had Odell's role on this squad, and who bailed right before the Bengal turn-around, to play for a team that will continue to suck. Is it Monday yet in Buffalo, Ralph Wilson?

Willie Anderson and the O-line: Willie signed a deal to keep him a Bengal for the rest of his career. Look back just two years ago. Would you ever have thought anybody in the prime of their careers would want to be a Bengal for life? It took years, but the Mike Brown/Katie Blackburn team are finally getting it. You have to take care of good people if you want to create a winning organization. Carson Palmer was only sacked 19 times last season - Drew Bledsoe 49. Of the real-deal quarterbacks in the NFL, only Peyton Manning was sacked less times than Carson. Cincy also had the 11th ranked rushing attack in the league last year - better than Indy, Baltimore or New England. Bottom line-the boys on the O-line have Carson's back, and love to lay folks out for Rudi.

David Pollack and the D: Pollack blew his chance to prepare for last season when he held out until right before the start of the season. All reports are he's getting it, and eager to prove he he's the better Georgia Bulldog. Sam Adams is huge and a huge Marvin Lewis guy, and he should help stiffen what was a very weak run-defense last year. The defensive backfield corps was athletic, cocky and very opportunistic last year. The return of a healthy Madieu Williams at safety also bodes well for the men in stripes. New guy to watch - linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Taken in the supplemental draft; late of UVa, speed, size, killer instinct, and a proven discipline issues-guy, he should fit right in with fellow felons Henry, Frostee Rucker, Steinbach and A.J. Nicholson. Look for the boys to pop a few caps when necessary during a goal-line stands.

The Prediction
This is a band of brothers - not like those 101st Airborne guys in the HBO mini-series, more like the guys in The Dirty Dozen. Marvin Lewis will play the role of Lee Marvin in this epic. The Bengals will use the adversity to get and stay tight. They will finish 11-5; be AFC North Champs again, beat the Wildcard Steelers this time, and go on to defeat the hated Broncos in the AFC Championship. They'll then match up against my Panthers in the Superbowl. The Bengals will win the Superbowl because the same "Danger Jake" Delhomme who stunk up last year's NFC Championship will throw three critical interceptions in the second half. John Kasay will have a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation, but pull a hammy during the second half kickoff and then miss the critical late field goal attempt short and wide left. More on Danger Jake in my Panthers take to come.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Closure on the rumor that just won't die

The JStaal for JJohnson Rumor: Part XXII
Yeah, I saw the thing on Eklund last week. I popped off an email to Lyle Richardson asking him if he heard anything. His pointed response was, "Nothing." Dropped an email to DLee asking the same. I could almost feel the simmering hockey blogger-angst coming thru in his response. And that's my Eli Manning riff on the letsgocanes board. So, it's pretty clear where I've come down on what is increasingly becoming a highly contentious non-issue.

So how did the normally level-headed me get to where I distrust the greater intentions of Jack Johnson?

POINT
From tsn.com on March 28:

Johnson, the third overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, informed
the Hurricanes through his family advisor on Tuesday that he would not turn pro
at this time, even though the Hurricanes made a concerted bid to sign him and
immediately insert him into the NHL team's lineup for the stretch drive and
playoffs.

-and-

"Jack thought long and hard about it," said Pat Brisson, the family advisor.
"It was very flattering for him that Carolina was so interested but Jack just
feels his development is best served by staying another year at school."

OBTW: "Family Advisor," Pat Brisson is a high-powered player agent (formerly with IMG) who just happens to be Sidney Crosby's agent. I'm sure he was just doing a little philanthropic, pro-bono spokesman work as a favor to the Johnson family - no real intent to weasel his way to a fat retainer and future chunk of some big Reebok endorsement deal down the line, huh?

From Luke DeCock on June 24:

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford acknowledged he called Shero to
express his interest. "All I said was, 'If you're going to move the pick, give
me a call,' " Rutherford said.


-and-

The Canes remain high on Johnson's ability and potential, but he didn't make any friends (emphasis mine) when he
decided to stay at Michigan for his sophomore season this fall instead of
joining the team for its run to the Stanley Cup.


These are the takes I've been fixated on. Family advisors that remind me all too much of Drew Rosenhaus - reports that JR is frustrated with Johnson's coquettish. These things have festered in my mellon over the months.

COUNTERPOINT
Now in Jack's defense, he has been pretty straightforward since day one about his desire play and stay at Michigan. Go back to the Droschak piece on carolinahurricanes.com, and you'll find JJ quoted on or about draft day:

"It won't be money," Johnson said. "It will be what I personally think is
best for my development. I don't want to jump the gun too soon. I want to make
sure I do the right thing. I'm pretty sure I'll have the right gut feeling.
There is no rush."


Jump to the N&O on Mar 26, and I think JJ leaves little room for mis-interpretation:

"I think the only way you're going to get me out of here is at gunpoint,"
Johnson told reporters after a win in the conference playoffs."

In the Droschak article, you might also find the real source of JR's frustration lying in some expectation-disconnect that began on day one of the relationship:

Johnson had a Michigan tie on when he went to the podium to shake hands with
the Carolina brass.

"I guess he can take that off," joked
Rutherford. "We'll have discussions with him and his family and try to decide
what is best for him. I would like to have the opportunity to talk to Jack about
signing and getting started in Lowell because I think it would be a huge jump
for him to play in the National Hockey League immediately."


You think maybe JR just overshot on this one from the outset? American kids seem to be different than their Canuck counterparts. NCAA hockey is a big deal. The college experience is a big deal. The Hobey Baker Award, the Beanpot Tourney, Michign v. Wisconsin, the NCAA Frozen Four and now the chance to play big games in the great outdoors - all a pretty compelling ride for a kid who is willing to go to class (sometimes) and wait on the big pay day.

IN CONCLUSION
Through it all, I've continued to paint Johnson in my mind as the bad guy in the saga. Maybe it's because while he kept pretty quiet about the thing publically, he let a family advisor (aka, player agent) talk for him. How does that jive with NCAA eligibility regs? Working the hell out of that gray area, I'm guessing. Maybe it's because of the constant pulses and re-sets on this story from a Hurricanes management perspective. I just started to feel like JR (I guy I think is the best in the business) was getting stood up at the altar. Fool me once....you know the rest.

On a totally unscientific level, maybe it's also because Johnson's John Elway-like cocky sneer (Bronco-Elway hating engaged) started working on me. I also was a bit turned off by his thuggish play at the WJC - but rallied to his side when the locals started jumping ugly with him. I've always rooted against sneerers and guys who remind me of Jack Tatum. In the end, maybe it's because I too expected the kid to jump at the chance to play at the highest level when the red carpet was rolled out at his feet...repeatedly.

So, as of today I'm officially backing off on the JJ hating and doubting. JJ was up-front on day one about his intentions and has remained on message ever since. If the relationship is heading for the can, JR seems to be the one driving it there. I think it's time the kid got back some benefit of the doubt. If this ends up being an Eli Manning redoux, the blame might be as much on our beloved GM of the Year as it is on JJ, his pop, and semi-official family advisor, Pat Brissonhaus.

Tis Kismet.

Diverging takes: Red and Black, Sweet tea...