Here's an update on the story that we brought you yesterday about the East Side Union High School District consideration of cutting all sports programs at their 11 schools across the East Side.
The superintendent of schools for the ESU proposed $11.4 million in budget cuts at a board meeting last night, including $2.1 million from the athletic budget.
$2.1 million IS the athletic budget.
In front of what I'm told was an overflow crowd full of coaches, athletes and parents, the board passed the tentative budget plan, which may change before the June state deadline to have their budgets for 2010 and beyond set in stone.
I exchanged voice mail throughout yesterday with Jeff Borges, a PE teacher and the head football coach at Andrew Hill High School; the last I heard from him, he was on his way to the board meeting. I'm hoping to catch up with him this morning and get his thoughts on what happened last night. Here's an excerpt quoting Borges from this morning's San Jose Mercury News:
"Shame on you and the people who are responsible for even bringing this up tonight," said Jeff Borges, a coach at Andrew Hill High, before a standing-room-only crowd that filled the board room and spilled into the lobby. "You say $2 million in sports, I say get rid of an administrator at each school and the problem is solved."
The Oakland Athletics and San Jose Earthquakes, the Bay Area's MLS team, are trying to work out a plan to help save athletics for the ESU, which is a noble effort from each team. I'm hoping that this isn't the end-all, there are other very successful teams and organizations that can help prop up the programs and support the school's struggling booster programs.
Like I said yesterday, cutting all athletics would be a disaster for thousands of kids who are going to high school in run down and crime-ridden areas of San Jose. Said one sign at yesterday's meeting: "Sports keeps me out of trouble."
Is there any simpler way to put it?
However, a story I read in today's San Jose Mercury News prompted me to write this morning, especially because this is a matter that concerns where I grew up and programs that helped me along to where I am today.
One of the last bastiens of amateurism in sports today is found in high school. With all the controversy surrounding collegiate athletics, whether it be players receiving improper benefits, not completing classes or the what not, one of the last places to find pure, unadulterated sport is at your local high school.
For those who ever participated in a sport during their high school years (track and field, in my case), you remember what a tremendous experience it was. We all grew as athletes and as people, guided by coaches we'll never forget, and learned lessons in sports and in life that most of us carry with us into adulthood.
For many, after-school sports is a way to stay out of trouble as well. In many neighborhoods and cities across America, playing a sport is a way for school administrators to keep their students off the street once the school day is over and channel their talents towards the positive.
Which brings me to this...today's Mercury News reports that the East Side Union High School District, located in San Jose, CA, is considering cutting all sports programs at their 11 high schools.
Some areas of the East Side, for those who don't know much about the Bay Area, is considered one of the poorer areas of the Silicon Valley. Geraldo Rivera once actually called East San Jose "the ghetto side of town." Areas around Andrew Hill High School and James Lick High School have been historically noted for their high incidence of crime.
I know the economy is bad. It's affecting everyone throughout the United States, especially the education sector.
However, the last I checked, high schools are supposed to be where the youth of America are prepared to enter higher education and the working world. They're supposed to be sources of spirit and pride for their surrounding communities, and like it or not, these high school teams are most often the catalyst for this spirit.
Even more importantly, of course, is that for thousands of students at Andrew Hill, James Lick, Santa Teresa, Overfelt, Evergreen Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Piedmont Hills, Yerba Buena, Independence, Oak Grove and Silver Creek, their after-school sports programs, which for some provide springboards to playing in college and for all provide a way to stay in shape, gain positive support from coaches and teammates and, most importantly, stay out of trouble, will be gone.
Maybe I'm naive, maybe I'm short sighted...whatever it is...all I know is that I'm 23 years old...only 6 years removed from my own high school experience as a thrower and runner for Cupertino High School. I'll always remember those times for what they did for my self-confidence and athleticism.
Taking these sports away from thousands of student-athletes would be a huge mistake.
When a team starts losing..."it's easier to fire the coach than fire 20 players."
However, when those 12...15...20...however many players just don't have the experience and refined talent to win consistently, is it really the fault of the man in the suit?
There have been two questionable firings so far this season, and in both situations, the teams who did the firing are simply too raw to be competitive, at no fault of the coach who was fired.
In Oklahoma City, the Thunder are just too young. Sure, Kevin Durant is one of the most dynamic young players in the NBA, so it's easy to forget that he's just in his second pro season. But when you look at the players surrounding him, they're either equally as young and inexperienced (Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green), a veritable draft bust (Nick Collison) and several players who would look lost playing basketball anywhere (Johan Petro and Chris Wilcox).
In short, the Thunder are simply just not a very good basketball team. With a few more good draft picks and possibly some shrewd free agent moves, they still have the pieces in place to be at least a competitive team.
So why pull the rug out and get rid of the only coach that some of these players know? PJ Carlesimo was unceremoniously released a few weeks ago...one of four head coaches in the Association to already lose his job...and I feel like out of all of them, he was the least deserving. While Eddie Jordan, Sam Mitchell and Randy Wittman all failed to capitalize on their past success and with the talent infusion they each received (with the exception of Wittman, who was just in a hopeless situation in Minnesota), Carlesimo was never even given the chance to succeed.
Down the Sun Belt in Tampa, an even more egregious firing took place...one that has already stunted a young team and possibly the development of their brightest prospect.
You can say all you want about how Barry Melrose may have lost touch with the game of hockey during his 12 years as the lead NHL analyst at ESPN, but you can never question his enthusiasm and passion for the game.
It makes his outster after just 16 games behind the bench in Tampa Bay just that more mind-boggling.
It's incredible how the Lightning have sunk so swiftly to the bottom of the NHL standings just four years removed from a Stanley Cup title, especially with players like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Paul Ranger on the roster. It's the effects of poor management and poor coaching that led them to this spot.
Maybe Melrose wasn't the long-term solution to the problems in Central Florida, but it's hard to judge that when he was only given a month and a half to be the team's head coach. From what I have been told by sources, Barry wasn't happy with how hands-on the ownership and front office were with the on-ice product. When he tried to get them to retreat, he was fired.
The worst thing about the entire Melrose/Lightning fiasco is it's effects on #1 pick and super-rookie Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay struck a coup when they landed Stamkos and Melrose was trying to give him every opportunity to get ample playing time and invaluable experience; now that Rick Tocchet is in charge, Steven's minutes have decreased. Melrose said in an interview with The Fan 590 in Toronto that Stamkos is not NHL ready but he was trying to get him there. Now, I imagine it will take extra years to get him ready to play every night in the NHL, if he's ever ready, period.
I went to last night's Blackhawks/Coyotes game at Jobing.com Arena, honestly, to get my first in-person look at Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane; I hadn't seen either of them live it. That should be no offense to the 'Yotes; I've only missed one home game all season.
However, I found myself more occupied with nitpicking at what the young Coyotes are doing right and wrong so far this season rather than drooling over the immense talent that Kane and Toews have.
Doing it right: Defense. This past draft day, I was convinced that the trade sending Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida for Olli Jokinen was addition by subraction. Boynton was nothing more than minute-eater in his two years in Phoenix; scoring only 5 goals and finishing with a -22 rating. Ballard still has the potential to become a fine defenseman in this league; he's currently 2nd on the Panthers in scoring; but I would have definitely taken a playmaking forward over a developing defenseman in the short term. The six regular defensemen the 'Yotes put on the lineup every night are doing a fine job so far; I really like what Keith Yandle has become, Derek Morris is having a solid start to the season and, frankly, Kurt Sauer may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of this past offseason's free agent market. It's a nice balance of youth and experience that will continue to get better.
Doing it wrong: Power Play. Despite the defense being solid a whole so far, the Coyotes lack a proven power play quarterback. The Coyotes currently own the 4th worst power play in the National Hockey League, mainly because it seems like noone is comfortable taking shots. Granted, Phoenix potted two PP goals last night against Chicago, but they came into the game with only 9 man-advantage goals through the season's first 16 games. They don't move the puck well and struggle on forechecking when they lose the puck down low. Special teams are a key factor during a tight playoff race and this is something the Coyotes need to sure up once February and March roll around.
Doing it right: The Rookies. I've got nothing but good things to say about Kevin Porter, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov. Boedker might be the most complete 18-year-old player I've seen this decade; I thought it was the right pick and the right fit after watching him play in the Memorial Cup last season and he's jumped right into the action with the Coyotes so far. Porter has shown flashes of superb playmaking skill but could use a little more toughness while Tikhonov is a terrific stickhandler and passer. With vets like Olli Jokinen, Shane Doan and even a grinder like Steve Reinprecht around, I have no doubt that these kids are in good hands and will develop nicely.
Doing it wrong: Line Juggling. Last night, Peter Mueller and Olli Jokinen shared a line with Daniel Carcillo. If I never see that forward combo again, it will be too soon. Poor Daniel, for all the grit and motor that he has, just can't keep up with those speedy linemates. There were several breakouts before Carcillo was taken off the line in which Mueller and Jokinen sped through the neutral zone for a potential odd-man rush, but the advantage didn't materialize because Carcillo didn't have the wheels to jump into the play. IMO, get Doan back on that line and the scoring will come. Doan said it himself last night in the locker room: "We need more offense." It's tough when you can only put two on the board when you get 38 shots on goal, and the right line combinations will lead to more pucks in the net.
Not more than two years ago, this conference contained arguably the two best teams in the nation at the time and a collection of the best players in America. The Big Ten sent a team to the national title game twice in three years (Illinois in 2005, Ohio State in 2007) and last season had two teams in the Sweet 16 and another win the NIT.
Now, I'm struggling to find more than two teams that will be nationally relevant in 2008-09. The one thing that's for certain, though is that Raymar Morgan (pictured left) is going to be a terror for the other 10 teams to stop.
Here are my thoughts on these Big 2, Middling 2 and Little 7 in my predicted order of finish.
1) Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo, under his watch, will never let this program slip. They brought in another top-20 recruiting class to complement All-American caliber players like Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan. They've got shooting touch with those two, size with senior Goran Suton and leadership from fiery senior guard Travis Walton. They'll miss Drew Neitzel's motor, but the Spartans will have no problem going into March on a roll and should hang their first Big Ten Champions banner since 2001. Delvon Roe, a 6'8" forward, will make an immediate impact as a freshman.
2) Purdue Boliermakers
There's no way Matt Painter can do a better job stepping into Gene Keady's giant shoes than he has done over the past two seasons. A 25-9 record and revitalized fan base has West Lafayette buzzing about this team in 2008. Even more remarkable, he had that record and a close loss to Elite Eight member Xavier being led by a freshman trio of Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. They're all back this season and the experience they gained will take the Boilermakers far this spring.
3) Ohio State Buckeyes
Will the star big man from any recruiting class go anywhere but Columbus anymore? Greg Oden and Kosta Koufous made immediate impacts for the Buckeyes over the last two seasons...this eyar...it will be 7-footer B.J. Mullens. Thad Matta's team was left in the cold on Selection Sunday last year, but no matter, they just parlayed that into a deep, impressive run to an NIT title. Athletic guard David Lighty and Evan Turner are the returning starters and Matta is expecting a lot from sophomore Jon Diebler at the two-guard. The Buckeyes are clearly the best of middle pack behind Michigan State and Purdue this season.
4) Wisconsin Badgers
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after Big Ten POY Alando Tucker split for the NBA, the Badgers didn't really do anything...other than win the conference title and could only be stifled by Cinderella Davidson. The best thing about Wisconsin every year is that Bo Ryan is the best in the Big Ten at coaching up younger players. This year, his disciples will be Trevon Hughes, Marcus Landry and hulking forward Joe Krabbenhoft. The Badgers are also blessed with quality depth at every position.
5) Minnesota Golden Gophers
If there's one guarantee about the Gophers this season, its that Blake Hoffarber will nail a ridiculous shot. He had this one in a Minnesota state title game to send the game into double OT and then, to follow it up, this buzzer-beater to knock off Indiana in the quarters of the Big Ten tourney. Tubby Smith has immediately given this program credibility again and, while they will not challenge for a conference title this year, they've got a real shot at making the tournament. Along with Hoffarber, Lawrence Westbrook is an experienced starter and Al Nolen's lockdown defense pace the Gophers attack and swingman Jamal Abu-Shamala's ceiling is sky high.
6) Illinois Fighting Illini
Major steps back are the name of the game for Bruce Weber since losing the '05 title game...their win total has dropped every year since going 37-2 in 2004-05 up through last year's complete miss of the postseason. The ray of hope for Chief Illiniwek this season is transfer Alex Legion, a 6'5" guard who decommitted from Michigan to go to Kentucky, then left after six games in Lexington to enroll at Illinois. He's surrounded by Trent Meacham, another transfer, Demetri McCamey and Chester Frazier; those guys paired with Legion will make for a very good backcourt.
7) Michigan Wolverines
John Beilein will see improvement in his second season in Ann Arbor, but not enough to get Michigan to the Big Dance. Laval Lucas-Perry, a small yet rangy transfer guard from Arizona, will provide an immediate impact, but the Wolverines has major trouble scoring across the board.
8) Iowa Hawkeyes
It's safe to say that this program hasn't been the same since winning the Big Ten in 2006 then getting quickly dispatched by 14-seed Northwestern State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes spiraled to 17 and 13 win seasons since then and Todd Lickliter has his work cut out for him now as Tony Freeman and Justin Johnson, who combined for nearly half of Iowa's points last year, are gone.
9) Northwestern Wildcats
It's almost crazy to put the Wildcats up this high in the Big Ten seeing as that they had one win in conference last year, and that was over sad-sack Michigan. However, Kevin Coble and Craig Moore give Evanston a light at the end of the tunnel this year; they're two of the conference's better long-range shooters. That light, unfortunately, isn't a postseason bid though.
10) Penn State Nittany Lions
Hopefully fans in Happy Valley got their share of winning this football season, because there sure wont be much at the Jordan Center this season. Ed DeChellis' job is on the line here...no improvement, again, will probably cost him his job.
11) Indiana Hoosiers
This will probably be the most anyone writes about a last-place projection anywhere, but it's warranted for the Hoosiers, who have gone through more turmoil over the past nine months than anyone in the nation. After the Kelvin Sampson debacle mercifully ended (depending on who you talk to), Indiana and new head coach Tom Crean is left with no returning starters and barely a returning scholarship player in sight. In fact, according to The Sporting News, more than 50% of the members of the USBWA couldn't name two Indiana PLAYERS, let alone starters. Senior Kyle Taber is the Hoosiers most talented player, but beyond him, walk-on Brett Finklemeier has the most experience of any othe player on the team with 11 minutes. No, not per game. Total. In his career. Indiana will trot out eight freshmen this season and it will be a lean year in Bloomington, that's for sure. However, if there's one coach that brings the attitude and the fire to turn this program around, it's certainly Crean.
Can't get all 16? Don't worry. Neither can I. It's a near impossible feat because inherently, you'll forget South Florida. Or Seton Hall. Or Rutgers. Or all three!
Either way, the Big East has become a lumbering giant of a power conference, spitting out some of the best talent, most memorable games and the most tourney bids every year.
Many actually think the Big East could receive 10 tournament bids this season. I'm not ready to go quite that far; I think the top half of the conference will be next to shoe-ins for March Madness, but if the cards fall the right way, 9 or 10 might actually not be too far off.
The most fun thing about the Big East this season will be the amount of incredible, quality upperclassmen that are returning this season. I feel like the lack of turnover throughout the conference will only increase the quality of conference play in 2009 and make the postseason tournament, which this year includes all 16 teams, that much more intriguing to watch.
On to my analysis of the Big East, in order of predicted finish:
1) Louisville Cardinals
It all starts at the top at Freedom Hall; Rick Pitino is still one of the premier coaches in Division I basketball and he does more with the talent that he has than anyone else. Despite the loss or David Padgett and the defection of Derrick Caracter (who was an attitude problem anyway), this team is a Final Four contender. If they can find someone to fill Padgett's big shoes, they're going to be dominant. Super-recruit Samardo Samuels joins an already talented cast including Earl Clark, Edgar Sosa and Terrence Williams.
2) Connecticut Huskies
Another Final Four contender is located in Storrs, where Hasheem Thabeet is back and stronger than ever. Possibly the most dominant big man in the college game, Thabeet's 7'3" frame dwarfs everyone else in the Big East. During the offseason, he sured up the weaker points in his game (handling contact and foul shooting) to fine tune his repertoire of skills. It also goes without saying that he's the conference's best shot blocker. Around him, A.J. Price will return from his ACL injury and reliable four Jeff Adrian will be Thabeet's supporting cast.
3) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I never thought I'd say that the Big East' best 1-2 punch would come out of South Bend, but enter Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody. With the loss of dominant rebounder Rob Kurz, the Fighting Irish are going to need Harangody to become more of a banger down low, something that should be a problem considering his 251-pound frame. McAlarney has arguably the best range in the conference, and when you pair him with Tory Jackson and his ball-moving ability, you've got a very dangerous backcourt.
4) Pittsburgh Panthers
Kind of an unfortunate year for Jamie Dixon to have what many regard as his best Pitt team under his tenure. However, their defensive prowess and the recovery from the rash of devestating injures the Panthers suffered last year makes them more than a darkhorse to finish on top of the Big East heap this season. This year's Pitt team will be very physical inside with DeJuan Blair, Gary McGhee and Tyrell Biggs...it's the unit that will have the best chance to match up with Hasheem Thabeet. The surprising return of Sam Young gives the team desperately needed veteran leadership and long-distance shooting.
5) Syracuse Orange
This is my conference sleeper. They bring back six (yes, six) players with significant stating experience from last season, and we all know what Jim Boeheim can do with experience. The Orange return Jonny Flynn, who I think is the most exciting young point guard in the Big East. Pair him with Eric Devendorf, and you've got a very athletic, quick and talented backcourt. They lose uber-talented guard Donte Greene, but it shouldn't be a large dropoff. I'm a bit concerned about their size in the post; starting center Arinze Onuaku only comes in at 6'9", but their outside shooting will pick up that slack. The most appealing thing about Syracuse is their depth; Boeheim has at least 10 players that will make a significant impact this season.
6) Marquette Golden Eagles
I'm putting Marquette lower than most experts on this list because I really do think the loss of Tom Crean will have an immediate, short-term mental impact on the program. Despite the fact that there isn't a whole lot of turnover on the roster, Buzz Williams has his work cut out for him in this top-heavy conference. At least setting the starting lineup will be easy; it won't take a rocket scientist to get the trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews on the floor and active every night. A startling lack of size up the middle will hurt this team as the loss of Ousmane Barro leaves Marquette without an experienced big man.
7) Georgetown Hoyas
Georgetown is going to be the mystery of the conference this season; they definitely have the talent to finish higher than 7, but they have the lack of depth that could send them spiraling lower. The lack of depth comes from the sudden transfers of Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers, but having shooters and defenders like Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers make Hoyas fans optimistic. Look for a jump in production from swingman Austin Freeman along with the return of oft-injured guard Chris Wright. Oh yeah...the loss of Roy Hibbert...it just might hurt. A little.
8) Villanova Wildcats
The 'Cats are way too small to compete for a Big East title this season. Jay Wright loves the small, speedy guys (Speedy Claxton, Randy Foye, Allan Ray), but it leaves his teams year in and year out without matchup size in the post or length in the backcourt. The thing that Villanova has going for them is the lack of roster turnover; the Wildcats didn't lose anyone of significant value to graduation or the draft, as Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark will lead the way.
9) West Virginia Mountaineers
I'm reluctant to call anything that Bob Huggins has his hands on a rebuilding project, but it's the closest thing to it he may have encountered. His most talented player and emotional leader, Joe Alexander, is gone, and there isn't a sure shot to take his place. Joe Mazzulla is a bit unreliable with his shot selection, as are Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler, but when all three of them are hitting, the Mountaineers are able to steal basketball games. This isn't a good defensive team by any stretch though; the starters aren't quick enough and they don't block enough shots.
10) Providence Friars
First year head coach Keno Davis, who comes over after his tremendous work at Drake last year, has his work cut out. He'll soon find out that this isn't quite the Missouri Valley, especially with the offense he runs and the three-point shooting he lacks. Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie are nice outside shooters, but they're going to be taking many more long-range shots in this flex offense than they're used to.
11) Cincinnati Bearcats
They're better, but still not a tourney contender. The cupboard was bare for Mick Cronin when Huggins took off and he's done his best to recruit over the past three seasons, but his roster this year tremendously lacks experience. There's no doubt that this is the most talented team that Cronin has fielded in three seasons, but they're still a year or two away from being a postseason threat.
12) Seton Hall Pirates
The conference isn't getting any worse while Seton Hall progressively gets better. The Pirates stingy defense will create turnovers, but scoring off of those TO's tends to be a problem that keeps them from winning games. The loss of Brian Laing, the team's emotional and physical leader, will hurt Seton Hall big time.
13) DePaul Blue Demons
It was a surprising step backwards for DePaul last season and it will not get much better in suburban Chicago this year. Their most significant players, Mac Koshwal and Dar Tucker, are not surrounded by experienced role players, putting undue pressure on the youngsters. DePaul has a devestating habit of blowing leads, which obviously isn't conducive to being a consistent winner.
14) Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Worst offense in the Big East. Period. 16th in FG percentage, 16th in 3-point percentage, worst assist-to-turnover ratio and next to worst in overall scoring. Pretty much explains it all for the Knights. The one thing they have going in 08-09 is a surprisingly good recruiting class, headlined by Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique. This is definitely a work in progress.
15) St. John's Red Storm
How can "New York City's College Basketball Team" be this bad every year?
16) South Florida Bulls
Can Matt Grothe play power forward, too?
It's Final Four or bust for the guys in Carolina Blue.
In 2005, Roy Williams took North Carolina's best team since 1993 to a national title over Illinois. Since then, it's been strong teams but disappointing results for the Tar Heels, right up through last year's Final Four debacle against Kansas; a game which was over before tipoff.
The Heels landed a coup when the pacemakers of their team; Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green; all decided to come back to Chapel Hill after the last three all dipped their toes in the NBA waters.
An ACC regular season and tournament title might just be the tip of the iceberg toward the Tar Heels march to the National Championship.
However, there ARE other teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and they'll all be gunning for UNC throughout 2008-09. Here's my predicted order of finish:
1) North Carolina Tar Heels
Read everything above and it'll explain why the Heels are on top of the ACC this year.
2) Duke Blue Devils
Just another season in Durham. Coach K returns from helping Team USA toward their gold medal and will be the Tar Heels stiffest competition in the ACC this season. They return sharpshooting guards Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer while sophomore forward Kyle Singler has improved his post presence this past offseason. If Brian Zoubek can stay healthy, the reigning ACC Newcomer of the Year will become a 7'1" terror. Gerald Henderson is quite possibly the best wing in the league; his tenacity and grit are traits that coaches coveted during recruiting and he has only expanded them. Highly touted forward Olek Czyz is in the system now and earned MVP honors during spring workouts.
3) Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The Deacs endured one of the biggest tragedies in recent memory when Skip Prosser suddenly passed away just before last season started. Many pundits wrote off Wake because of a combination of Prosser's passing and their overall youth, but the Demon Deacons came through with a respectable 17-13 record and youngsters like James Johnson and Jeff Teague emerged as budding leaders of the future. All three recruits for 08-09, including Al-Farouq Aminu, kept their commitments as well and Aminu, Tony Woods and Ty Walker will all see significant playing time.
4) Miami Hurricanes
You're not reading incorrectly. The traditional football powerhouse has a hell of a basketball team again this year, and it all centers around stellar senior guard Jack McClinton. He's possibly the most underrated player in the ACC but he's ready to burst on the national scene this season. A dynamite three-point shooter and commanding floor leader, if it weren't for Hansbrough, McClinton might be a frontrunner for POY honors. Beyond Jack, the 'Canes return four starters from a team that won 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament last season, including forwards and dominant rebounders Dwayne Collins and Jimmy Graham.
5) Clemson Tigers
This should take the sting away from another disappointment of a football season: Oliver Purnell is the anti-Tommy Bowden. He's got a young, dynamic and now tournament seasoned team that's hungry to make strides in conference. Though they lose dynamic leaders in Cliff Hammonds and James Mays, senior swingman K.C. Rivers is ready to fill their shoes. The guys helping him out, Demontez Stitt, freshman phenom Andre Young and sharpshooting guard Terrence Oglesby, are a cast of characters that make the Tigers a darkhorse for a top-3 finish in the ACC.
6) Virginia Tech Hokies
Seth Greenberg almost got it done for the Hokies last year, but his team got snubbed on Selection Sunday. Greeny didn't let his team get down about it though, leading VA Tech to the quarterfinals of the NIT after a 21-win season. After being a high-scoring, explosive team in 2006-07 and going to the tourney, the Hokies have transitioned into one of the best defensive lockdown teams among the major conferences. They're a top-three rebounding team in conference but will have to find a way to improve their long range shooting. 1-7 against the RPI top-50 will not cut it, either.
7) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Iman Shumpert is going to make an impact very quickly. He's Paul Hewitt's only freshman and he's going to muscle his way into the rotation with his shooting touch and defensive skill. Bassirou Dieng is a graduate transfer that will use his 6'9" frame to bang around inside and matchup with the best ACC big men.
8) Florida State Seminoles
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The 'Noles have made the NIT for three consecutive seasons but have been left at the altar scratching their heads on Selection Sunday in all three of those seasons. I don't think this is the year they'll get over the hump, either. Leonard Hamilton does the best with what he has, which this season will include a major upgrade in size.
9) Boston College Eagles
Tyrese Rice is back, and BC should thank their lucky stars to have him back, as he accounted for 28.5% of their entire offense last season. The Eagles are woeful from the outside but make up for it with adequate defense. Josh Southern and Rakim Sanders show promise, but this is a work in progress for Al Skinner.
10) N.C. State Wolfpack
Was JJ Hickson's departure really addition by subtraction? He commanded touches on almost every possession; something that rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. Sidney Rice doesn't have a ton of talent to work with, including the lack of a seasoned point guard, and he's got not much to build on after losing their last nine of 2008 by more than 10 points each night.
11) Maryland Terrapins
Hard to believe this team was the national champion just 6 1/2 years ago. Then, it was all about Juan Dixon and Steve Blake...now, it's all about whether Gary Williams will hold onto his job. The program continues to lose the top recruits from Baltimore and Washington year after year. The Terps turn the ball over more than any other team in the ACC, and all of those turnover machines return this season.
12) Virginia Cavaliers
Ever wonder what life in Charlottesville would be like without Sean Singletary? Welcome to it.
Back then, no one thought that an all-sports channel would catch on and become popular. However, we we all know, the network has become a cultural icon. It's been the host of thousands upon thousands of the best moments in sports for the past 29 years. It's the channel that gave us The Big Show, Bodyshaping, the ESPYs and plenty of other indelible marks on sports society.
However, I have a serious problem with the news that came out today that ESPN (not ABC, it's parent company) put in a bid to get the BCS television contract after the 2009 season, when their contract with Fox mercifully ends.
Let's be realistic here, first off. There is no network that provides better coverage of college football than ESPN. Save Pam Ward, they've got the best group of announcers and anaylists, the best in-game presentation and easily the best studio shows in the business. They especially kick it up during bowl season and, god forbid, actually make people like me care about the Meineke Car Care Bowl; usually a match-up between Joe's Plumber College and Wossamatta U.
Having those second-tier bowls on cable is just fine with me; however, I feel like the major championships of major sports in the United States belong on network TV. Even with the switchover to DTV this coming February (and we all know about it, those PSA's never end!), cable TV only penetrates just under 66% of homes in America.
I'm pretty sure that a good percentage of those 34% probably still like college football, too. If the BCS games, including the National Championship, make the jump exclusively to cable, it'll potentially leave millions of fans in the dark.
It only makes sense. The World Series is on Fox, the NBA Finals are on ABC, the Super Bowl rotates among the three networks that carry the NFL (Fox, NBC and CBS) and, god forbid, even the Stanley Cup Finals are on NBC. This allows even the casual fan who may just be flipping channels on their local networks to stumble across these pivotal games.
Why should college football, which easily outrates most NBA and NHL games, be any different?
I really enjoyed watching BCS games on ABC over the first several years of their agreement with the NCAA and if this were to happen, I'd be very interested to see if heads of the BCS suggest that the games be carried there again.
Now, most of you know from my ASU blog, Pitchfork Nation, that I'm on record as voting for Ric Flair. So, despite my minor in political science from THE Arizona State Univesrity, and the inane amount of CNN that I've been glued to since last February, I'm not the authority to be running to to predict who will win on Tuesday.
Who is, then? Wolf Blitzer? Keith Olbermann? America's Sweetheart Bill O'Reilly?
Nope. Over the years, it's apparently been guys like Joe Theismann, Mark Rypien, Art Monk, John Riggins and Clinton Portis.
You see, over 17 of the past 18 elections, the Washington Redskins have had a knack for showing us who's going to win. The 1936 election in which Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, defeated Republican candidate Alf Landon (who sounds like more of a furniture salesman than a politician) started a trend that for almost 70 years was frighteningly accurate.
Why is this significant? The Redskins, then a franchise based in Boston, beat the Chicago Cardinals (what a surprise! Our Cardinals, losing a game!) 13-10. Several days later, the incumbent Democrat, FDR, won an easy re-election.
In every election between 1936 and 2000, if the Redskins won their last game before a Presidential election, the incumbent stayed in office. Naturally, if the 'Skins lost, the challenger from the opposite party was headed to the White House. It ended in 2004, when Washington lost to Green Bay (and presumably securing a victory for John Kerry) but the Republicans stayed in office.
It's a Monday night affair for the 'Skins this year as they take on Pittsburgh. If all goes according to overwhelming plan, we'll know who the winner on Tuesday is by about 8:00 PM on Monday night.
Here's a record of the remarkable streak the Redskins put together in election years (blue means the Redskins Rule worked, red means it did not):
1936: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Cardinals 13-10, Democrat reelected
1940: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Pittsburgh 37-10, Democrat reelected
1944: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Cleveland 14-10, Democrat reelected
1948: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Boston 59-21, Democrat reelected
1952: Democrat incumbent, Pittsburgh defeats Redskins 24-23, Republican elected
1956: Republican incumbent, Redskins defeat Cleveland 20-9, Republican reelected
1960: Republican incumbent, Cleveland defeats Redskins 31-10, Democrat elected
1964: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Chicago 27-20, Democrat reelected
1968: Democrat incumbent, NY Giants defeat Redskins 13-10, Republican elected
1972: Republican incumbent, Redskins defeat Dallas 24-20, Republican reelected
1976: Republican incumbent, Dallas defeats Redskins 20-7, Democrat elected
1980: Democrat incumbent, Minnesota defeats Redskins 39-14, Republican elected
1984: Republican incumbent, Redskins defeat Atlanta 27-14, Republican reeelected
1988: Republican incumbent, Redskins defeat New Orleans 27-24, Republican elected
1992: Republican incumbent, NY Giants defeat Redskins 24-7, Democrat elected
1996: Democrat incumbent, Redskins defeat Indianapolis 31-16, Democrat reelected
2000: Democrat incumbent, Tennessee defeats Redskins 27-21, Republican elected
2004: Republican incumbent, Green Bay defeats Redskins 28-14, Republican reelected
So, obviously, it's all up to the 'Skins on Monday night. A win means we'll be seeing some John McCain for the next four years, but a loss to the Steelers means it's four years of Ba-racking and rolling.
A few weeks ago, I brought you analysis on the tragic death of New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherapanov. The 19-year-old died during a game while playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL.
There was a lot of criticism from around the world targeted toward the league and Russian authorities for their underwhelming response to the medical emergency, where Cherapanov collapsed and stopped breathing during the 3rd period of a game.
Now, instead of accepting responsibility and trying to find a solution to the problem, Russian authorities are dodging blame. A spokesman for the Russian army says that Alexei was illegally playing for Omsk.
According to Col. Vladimir Karpenko (no relation), Cherapanov should have been serving his mandatory military service rather than playing pro hockey.
End plug about the blog. Now onto the meat.
Last night, a lot of what we heard floating from the bowels of the US Airways Center related to the 2008-09 Suns being a work in progress.
I don't buy this for a second.
A work in progress doesn't do into the most hostile territory in Suns history and gut out a win, regardless of Manu Ginobili being out and the Spurs "not caring" until February. It doesn't work like that.
A team with a potential problem of maintaining momentum is what we may have seen last night as the Suns got rolled by the NOOCH (My pet name for the Hornets, a harkening back to the old days when they split games between N'Awlins and Oklahoma City) 108-95 in a game that really wasn't as close as the 13-point margin of defeat may suggest.
The Hornets own the Suns. Period. If the Suns were to face NOOCH in the playoffs in a seven-game series, Chris Paul and the guys in teal might win in three. The Hornets never trailed last night, outshot the Suns all night, turned over the ball at almost half the rate as Phoenix and outstole them to the tune of 10-2.
I'm forgiving of the idea that the team might still be getting used to Terry Porter's style of coachign and the style of play he has introduced. I'm attentive to the fact that this, god forbid, was only the SECOND GAME of the regular season and, according to my Microsoft Outlook calendar, there are 80 more to go.
I'm not buying into the "work in progress" tag. The nucleus of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire are still intact. The roster as it is, save Matt Barnes (who is an atrocious shooter, officially, and shouldn't be starting), Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez, is the same that gelled down the stretch, went into the playoffs and spent all of training camp together.
This isn't a work in progress. The Suns got beaten by a better team last night, and it might be something we have to get used to in the Western Conference this season.
Some quick other thoughts...
-In 12 minutes of action, I think I liked what I saw out of Goran Dragic, but he needs to get over the jitters. He's just a bit hesitant with his ball movement, and it's going to cost him in the NBA, where the game moves much faster than it does overseas. One thing is for certain though: this kid can pass.
-James Posey signing with NOOCH might end up being the most important, yet nonheralded, free agent pickup of the past offseason if the Hornets end up making the deep run in the playoffs that many expect. He brought New Orleans instant energy off the bench and showed dagger-like accuracy with his three point shooting.
-Did I mention that Matt Barnes shouldn't be this team's starter at the 3? Maybe I didn't. Matt Barnes should not be this team's starter at the 3! As a life-long Warriors fan, I know of Matty's exploits; he doesn't realize that he shot just 29% from beyond the arc last year. Despite that, he continues to launch ridiculous shots from all over the court.
Despite the enthusiasm around this year's young and talented squad and the late season surge that almost put the Desert Dogs in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, the team apparently is still in financial dire straits.
A Forbes Magazine report lists the Coyotes as the NHL's least valuable team. According to the article, which is released once per year for every league in the United States, the Coyotes are worth $142 million, $8 million behind the New York Islanders, who came in 29th.
"The plans to expand the NHL to the southwest and ignite economic growth in Glendale, Arizona by meshing a new multi-purpose arena with 6.5 million square feet of new real estate development has been a catastrophe. Under the leadership of Steven Ellman, Jerry Moyes and Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes have been a dysfunctional and under-capitalized hockey franchise that Gretzky, the team boss, has been unable to get a grip on. Westgate City, in part tied to the success of people showing up for hockey games, has been a bust. As a result of their consistent losses on and off the ice the Coyotes have struggled to draw fans to Jobing.com Arena since the building opened in December 2003. If it were not for the huge fee the team would have to pay as stipulated by their lease if they were to move, it would make sense for the Coyotes to bolt Phoenix." -Forbes
The Islanders, strikingly, are in a much worse off position in terms of hockey operations than the Coyotes; the Isles are clearly in a rebuilding phase, have a roster stocked with NHL also-rans, raw talents and aging vets and play in a dilapidated Nassau Coliseum. That's a 180-degree difference from the 'Yotes, who play in what I think is one of the best buildings in the league, have talent across the board and stand a real chance at making the playoffs in the next season or two.
The Coyotes are also second to last in the NHL in operating income; the team operates in the red to the tune of -$9.7 million. That's 2nd to last in the league, only ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.
If you're curious, the league's most valuable team, not surprisingly, is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite their recent struggles (the team hasn't made the postseason for three consecutive seasons, a franchise first), the team is, for comparisons sake, simply the New York Yankees of Canada. The top four teams on the list, Toronto, the Rangers, Montreal and Detroit, are four of the NHL's Original Six.
Despite all of this, Forbes says that 2007-08 was the NHL's most successful (financially) in the 10 year history of the survey.
Check out the rest of the report here, which also includes links to their reports on football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
It was a microcosm for just how wacky the 2008 MLB season was.
It was a season where...
-A long dormant baseball town (on the national stage, at least) who hadn't seen success since 1982 awakened and passionately supported the Milwaukee Brewers through their first playoff appearance in 26 seasons
-A shrine of baseball closed in the Bronx and ironically, for the first time in 13 years, didn't host a postseason game
-One of baseball's most dominant pitchers got traded and, somehow, became even more dominant after the trade, as CC Sabathia commanded Cy Young talk in the NL after only pitching it for half a season
-The Chicago White Sox, stocked full of veteran leadership, needed two wins in two single-game playoffs after the end of the regular season just to fend off a pesky, young and robust Minnesota Twins squad
-The Florida Marlins continued their final-day-of-the-season dominance of the New York Mets, once again knocking the Amazin's out of the playoffs in game 162
-The LA Dodgers made quite possibly the most prominent trade in their history and actually saw it pan out, as Man-Ram donned #99 and led Los Angeles to their first NLCS since 1988
-A team in Motown with so much expectation and so much hype start 0-7 and finish dead last in the AL Central in a harkening back to...well...four seasons ago
-A team in Cleveland who stumbled just as badly after being a handful of outs away from the World Series in 2007, yet still trotted out baseball's most dominant pitcher every five days
-The Chicago Cubs bucking every trend in history, grabbing 97 wins and their first...well...I guess somethings actually never change
-The Tampa Bay Rays, baseball's version of Larry, Moe and Curly since 1998, proved to all of us that patience is a virtue, that a guy with Hanson Brothers-style glasses CAN manage a baseball team and that even the most futile of teams can do something special. The best part about it is that this nucleus is going to be in St. Pete and be young for a very long time, making their run in 2008 less than a fluke.
-A city that went 100 pro sports seasons between titles finally got theirs, and just to prove that the odds were against them, they had to do it in 27 degree weather. The Phillies, despite their recent regular season success, World Series victory still felt unlikely. They weren't the team that made the big deadline deal to get over the hump, they weren't the team with the curse and the "a few wins too early" signs, they weren't the team with the Nation behind them and they certainly weren't the media darlings from Tampa. They were simply the best team in baseball come October, and they proved it in five terrific baseball games.
It was everything we wanted in a baseball season and more, and it leaves this writer hungry for more in 2009.
Because I know that all of you missed it SO much.
Most of you know that hockey is the sport I actually know best. I fake it pretty well with the other ones, right? Hah! I do know about those as well.
I just know substantially more about the NHL. And since Dr. Kemp doesn't lump hockey into his new Professional Sports That Count organization...it's up to me to fill in that void.
Either way, Around the NHL is coming back this Friday. I'll be joined by Adam Proteau of The Hockey News.
Looking back at my reporting career, I was at what will go down as Lute Olson's last basketball game. It was a 69-50 loss to Oregon in the first round of the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles.
In that game, to my recollection, Lute made several questionable coaching moves (I'm almost apt to chaclk that up to how much he hated the tournament), looked like a shadow of his fiery self strolling in front of the Wildcats bench and, most notably, had significant trouble stringing together thoughts during his post game press conference.
It then came as no surprise to me that a few months later, he announced that he was taking a medical leave of absence. That's then this whole bizarre saga began, and while it "ended" last Thursday with Jim Livengood's 2-minute-57-second press conference, this saga isn't even close to being over.
With the announcement today by his doctor that Olson suffered a mild stroke at some point in the past year, this bizarre story just takes another strange turn.
The situation, in my mind, could not have been handled any worse by the UA administration. From the initial announcement of the leave, to the silence about the situation on both ends throughout said leave of absence, to the rumors of Lute's divorce, to the turbulent Kevin O'Neill run and right through Thursday's announcement, was all botched.
I'm all for respecting Lute's privacy, and frankly the privacy of anyone going through any sort of personal situation, but when you've got such a public figure who is so beloved by the Tucson area and is hailed as a hero by many in the profession, people are going to want to know at least a small shred of what's going on.
This story is not going away anytime soon...it will take on different shapes and forms as it develops, but it's certainly far from over.
First off, I'm thrilled that the Rays won the series...and that's not just because I'm a jaded Yankees fan who thinks all ill that falls on the Red Sox is awesome. I'm not thrilled for the Rays "fans" who have waited through a whopping 9 losing seasons to see their team's success.
I'm happy for Tampa Bay because their players play the game right, the franchise grew and cultivated their own home-grown talent while adding veteran leadership only where necessary.
On the other hand, the Phillies have found the pinnacle of their return to the top of the National League. It's been a long 25 years since the city of Philadelphia has seen a team win a major professional sports title (apologies to the Philadelphia Soul) and this is definitely their best chance to get that title in that era.
So, who's going to win it?
Sorry, Philly. It's going to be the Rays, and it's going to be because of their pitching.
I can't say I was baffled by Charlie Manuel's rotation for the Fall Classic but I still don't think that it matches up well with the Rays lineup. Tonight, its Scott Kazmir against Cole Hamels, and it's probably going to be the Phillies best chance to get a win at Tropicana Field. I don't give Brett Myers much of a chance to leave The Trop with a win in game 2, especially because he'll be going against James Shields, and with Shields sporting a miniscule sub-2.00 ERA at home, Myers will have to keep the Rays off the board.
With 45-year-old Jamie Moyer going against Matt Garza, who has been lights out this postseason, in game 3, I feel like at worst, the Rays will be leading the series 2-1 after Saturday's game. Game 4 is a toss up to me at this point (Sonnanstine vs. Blanton).
These young hurlers in Tampa have proven that the pressure of postseason baseball has done nothing to phase them. Unless they engage in a complete collapse in this series, I feel like they'll be the ones leading the Rays to their first world title.
In this week's show...
-An early preview of this Sunday's Cards/Panthers match-up
-A breakdown of why the 49ers fired Mike Nolan
-Will the Colts miss the playoffs?
-And as always, the plays of the week!
With all the incredibly knowledgeable sports personalities on this station, sometimes we need to keep them in check.
And that's exactly what I, the assistant program director of this here radio station, and Angel, our program director, did during Week 7 of The Fan AM 1060's Fan Pick'em.
As you'll see, both of us went 11-3. And not only did we completely clean up (Manuch tied us at 11-3 as well, but this is all about me here)...Angel and I both predicted that last night's Broncos/Patriots debacle would put up 48 points.
More importantly, the huge week vaulted me into a tie with Kevin McCabe, who went a paltry...pfft...10-4. Weak.
As we all know, it's my sole mission this season to finish ahead of McCabe in the standings, and I'm one step closer to that goal!
Ed. Note: The only purpose of that last paragraph was to sneak a picture of Hope Solo into this blog.)
A LOT. And the TBS coverage of the MLB playoffs, no matter how good it has been, has almost ruined I Love This Town, regardless of whether or not JBJ is the master of all he surveys.
Regardless, I do love San Jose/Santa Clara, CA, the town where I grew up, and I'm headed back there this weekend. Tomorrow night, to be exact.
That building in the picture is HP Pavilion. I grew up there. Well, not literally. My parents provided me with an actual home, but I spent enough time going to San Jose Sharks games there during my youth that the barn has basically become an ad hoc second home.
Regardless, I haven't been there for a hockey game in two long years. And I'll be making my reappearance for this Saturday's Sharks/Flyers game.
This entire backstory is basically my message to you, loyal reader, that my posts might be few and far between between Thursday and Sunday nights. I'll be back in full form on Monday the 20th. Maybe I'll even post some pictures of my foray back to the Shark Tank.
And if you just can't get enough of I Love This Town, here it is:
Or, if you'd rather have it sung to you by a group of baseball legends (oh, and Ernie Johnson), here you go.
Figured it'd make sense to throw it up here as well. Click the little green play button to listen. Enjoy!
It's especially worse when it was totally preventable by the most basic of medical care.
Enter the story of Alexei Cheraponov, the 19-year-old budding hockey superstar.
I'm sure you've seen the story. Cheraponov died on Monday while playing a game with Avangard Omsk, a team in the new Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. Plenty of controversy surrounded the KHL this past offseason, whether it be the lack of a formal transfer agreement between the NHL and IIHF, the Alex Radulov incident and so forth.
However, now it's got another, and much more serious, controversy.
Apparently, there was no defibrilator at the arena outside Moscow. There wasn't even an ambulance there. It took several critical minutes to get appropriate medical personnel to the rink, then about 20 minutes after that to get him to a Moscow hospital. There wasn't even a defbrilator in the ambulance that carried Cherepanov to the hospital.
"There are elements of negligence here," says Pavel Krasheninnikov, a member of the supervisory board of the Russian Hockey Federation.
I think that gets the blue ribbon for "understatement of 2008."
It is an absolute travesty that this rink did not have ANY appropriate medical equipment. We've seen two instances since the lockout where a player in the NHL suffered a devestating illness or injury during a game (Johan Franzen went into cardiac arrest on the bench and Richard Zednik's skate to the throat), but on both occasions, lives were saved because appropriate medical personnel and lifesaving equipment were stationed at the rink.
It's now an industry standard. Every arena and stadium in the NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA and MLB are fully equipped for a rare instance like this. 99% of the time, it's thankfully not necessary.
The Russians need to take a serious look at what they're doing here.
Posted below is amateur video of Cherepanov passing out on the bench and being carried off. There's nothing really graphic about it but if you can't handle intense moments like this, I'd advise to not watch.
If you do, and you recognize the player wearing #68 standing up at the front of the bench...yes, that's Jaromir Jagr. The former NHL mega-star was talking to Cheraponov on the bench when he passed out.
It all came to a head...again...this morning as NFL commish Roger Goodell announced that he's suspending the Cowboys corner indefinitely...which means he'll at least miss four games.
This, of course, comes after Jones missed all of 2007 due to repeated violations of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
Enough is enough now. It's obvious to me that Jones doesn't grasp the idea or is mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being a professional football player. Knowing Goodell's track record, this will probably be the end.
I'm not going to be surprised when Jones is suspended for another year...two years...or even kicked out of the NFL entirely.
This all of course spawns from an incident at a Dallas hotel last Wednesday in which he reportedly scuffled with his personal
If Roger Goodell wants to continue to set his precedent as the toughest sheriff in sports, he'll consider an ultra-long term penalty after his temporary four-gamer expires on November.
In a related story, the Dallas Cowboys will be starting three of their cheerleaders in the absense of Pacman, Tony Romo and Mat McBriar.
If their two opening week wins over Columbus and Anaheim are any indication of what we're going to see through the other 80 games this season, then the Desert Dogs really do have a legit chance of making a run at the postseason. Going into the season, I believed that the Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks were going to be the two teams that would be scrapping for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
However, once again, the cynics and critics are out in force when it comes to the NHL and the amount of teams it lets into the postseason. I've heard it too many times in my 18 years of watching, playing and covering hockey: "How can you miss the playoffs in the NHL...more than half the teams make it!"
This is a load of crap.
The last I checked, people will make that remark and then go on to claim, this time correctly, that the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most grueling and gutty postseason tournament in professional sports. And the last I checked, and I'm not trying to hate on other sports here, but the NBA also throws the top eight in each conference into the playoffs as well.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic wrote a really good column after the 'Yotes 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets about his optimism about the direction of this team, but then took what I perceived to be the jab:
Take a look at the 2007-08 seasons in the NBA and NHL. In the NBA, Toronto, Philadelphia and Atlanta all made the playoffs with .500 or below records, with the Hawks having the worst record amongst playoff qualifiers in the history of the NBA. Washington, just above Toronto at 41-41, was in 5th with a record only two games over .500.
In the NHL last season, Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, Toronto, Edmonton, Chicago, Vancouver and Phoenix all missed the playoffs with records over .500. Most of those teams (save Toronto) were in a legit race for the final spots going into the latter half of March.
So before you go and devalue a team in the NHL because they don't make the playoffs in a "league where 16 of 30 teams qualify," take a look at the precedent set last season and how competitive the league has become.
As many of you probably do as well, I make sure to keep a close eye on the TV listings as they come out. I'm always interested in seeing what games ESPN, CBS and ABC are picking up so I can plan my Saturday around what I'm watching.
Game 2, 12:30 PM