How David Volek became synonymous with playoff hockey

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Andrew McGilligan | One Volek In Time

At the age of 12 years old, I became aware of David Volek.

In fact, he’s become somewhat of a folk hero to me. If it weren’t for Volek, my greatest hockey memory may not have happened.

On June 9, 1993, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Volek was nowhere near the ice of the Montreal Forum when this happened. No Volek’s contribution to this moment, the greatest one for me as a life-long Habs fans, happened almost a month earlier on May 14. With a well-placed one-timer, Volek and the New York Islanders eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins – correction, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volek’s goal paved the way for the Habs to win the Stanley Cup with a series of amazing overtime wins. Had Volek not scored that goal, I truly believe the Habs would have been overmatched against the Pittsburgh and not captured their 24th title in franchise history.

Just look at the Penguins roster from that season which included four 100-point scorers – including 160 from Mario Lemieux. Of note, Jaromir Jagr was not among the four 100-point getters, he finished with 94.

Compare that to the Habs to scorers which included zero 100-point players (Vincent Damphousse and Kirk Muller were three and six points away, respectively).

The goal was jaw-dropping at the time and has come to symbolize what I love about playoff hockey. There’s really no way the Islanders should have won that series and that goal resulted in one of the truly amazing playoff upsets. However, Volek’s marker has been somewhat marginalized due to the unlikely overtime heroics of the Canadiens during their Cup run (10 OT wins in the playoffs)and the fact it was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.

Despite all that, Volek’s goal epitomizes playoff hockey. It was the shocking moment, the embodiment of the ‘anything can happen in the postseason’ cliché that gets thrown around too often.

All this to say, I’m always reminded of Volek every time I sit down to watch playoff hockey. I revert to being a 12-year-old kid watching the playoffs hoping to witness a miracle.

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Former All-Star Jason Dickson reflects on his first Spring Training and Opening Day

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

With fans around the world anticipating the start of the Major League Baseball season on Sunday, we at Out of WriteField decided to find out how a former Major League player viewed spring training and the start of a new season. We spoke with former MLB pitcher Jason Dickson about his first big-league spring training and the early days of his inaugural season in the big leagues.

 

Andrew McGilligan |Out of WriteField

It was the sixth inning of the second day of the Major League Baseball season when Jason Dickson felt that he could finally exhale and relax on the mound. To that point in the game on April 3, 1997, pitching at home for the California Angels against the Boston Red Sox, Dickson had been masterful, allowing only a pair of hits in what was then a scoreless game.

The start was the first of his rookie season – he had appeared in seven games the year before – but that day, that season, marked a series of first in his young career.

“That first game of the year, the first start, all I was really hoping for was nothing to be a disaster,” Dickson said. “By the time the fifth inning was over and nothing major had gone wrong, it was a sense of relief. I thought to myself, ‘You’ve proven you can do it, so just keep pegging away.”

He would surrender just three more hits the rest of the way in the Angels 2-0 win, tossing a complete-game shutout – the only one of his career. His final line for the day, nine innings, no runs, five hits, five strikeouts (including fanning Fenway slugger Mo Vaughan) and no walks. Not a bad debut for the rookie hurler from New Brunswick.

Coming into spring training, Dickson didn’t think he would crack the major league roster; not many players do their first time out. Despite having been called up the year before, ’97 was his first big-league camp.

“Every year, right around the time spring training starts, I still get the itch be down there, be around the guy and the atmosphere and that all stems back to that first camp,” he said. “You’re excited to be back on the field and in the warm weather.”

Arriving at camp, Dickson figured there were five or six pitchers ahead of him and he would probably return to AAA Vancouver to start the season. The starting pitchers in camp with him included Chuck Finley and Jim Abbott.

“I really had no expectation of making the team,” he said. “I just went out and threw. I was just excited to be there, but at the same time with no expectations, I was doing well, having a pretty good spring.”

As spring wore on, cuts started being made and Dickson was not among them.

“When you start to see the cuts and the guys that are cut are the ones you’re competing with, you start to think you might get the chance to start the season with the big club when spring training breaks.”

This spring training, his first, was also when he learned how tough the business of baseball can be. In order for him to make the starting rotation, a spot had to be opened up; a veteran pitcher would need to be released. Dickson had gotten to know Abbott throughout the spring and considered him a friend, which made it even more difficult when the Angels cut the iconic one-armed pitcher to make room.

“That’s so tough because on one hand, it’s a friend being released, but it also means you’re going to stay. I remember reading Jim’s book a few months ago and he wrote about how tough that was for him. It definitely was a hard situation.”

Making the roster, being part of Opening Day, his win in the second game of the opening series against the Red Sox and earning an All-Star berth was all part of his first full season in The Show. Despite having played baseball his whole life, Dickson said he wasn’t prepared for some of the things that come with being a major league player, things you can’t prepare for.

“Your teammates are guys you had on posters on your wall growing up,” he said. “Everything is bigger, from the clubhouse to the stadiums. You go from being anonymous to being known overnight.

“You go from walking out of the park with no one around in the minors to driving your car past a large group of fans waiting for you after the games. You learn not to use your own name in New York City hotels because you’ll either end up with autograph seekers waiting for you or people leaving you death threats.”

As for Opening Day 2013, Dickson said he’ll be watching, especially the Toronto Blue Jays to see how they handle the pressure given the headline-grabbing offseason. He’ll also think about that first start of 1997 against Boston, standing on the mound trying not to be overwhelmed by the realization he had achieved a life-long dream.

“For the first little while that season everything was awkward, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing. The only time it felt normal was when I was on the mound making pitches.

“All I was trying to do was convince myself this was no fluke, that I belonged. Just pitch well enough to get four or five more starts.”

He would get 31 more chances that season, earning his way to an all-star game and third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting.

 

 

 

 

 

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New rule for NHL GMs: Stop trading with Ray Shero

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

Being an NHL General Manager comes with enormous pressure, constant scrutiny and second-guessing by players, fans, media and ultimately ownership.

It’s a tough business, but there’s one rule all NHL GM’s should live by, one that will extend their stay as the boss of hockey operations for a considerable amount of time – DO NOT MAKE A TRADE WITH RAY SHERO.

Seriously, don’t do it. If you do, start looking for the nearest employment office because your days are numbered. Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster is the latest to strike a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins GM, sending beloved captain Jarome Iginla to the Penguins for two prospects that wouldn’t rate anywhere near the top five in the Pens system and a first-round pick in 2013 that will be in the late 20’s.

In fairness to Feaster, he was limited in where he could trade Iginla and there’s a good chance any deal he made wouldn’t have been met with mass approval, but this – on paper – looks bad. He can take solace in the fact it’s not the first time Shero has done this. Let’s look back at some of the big deals the Pittsburgh GM pulled off in the past few years.

Feb. 26, 2008

Pittsburgh trades Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and 1st round pick in 2008 (Daultan Leveille) for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis

Result: Hossa and Dupuis helped the Penguins reach the Cup final in 2008 and was the biggest trade of the year. Hossa finished third in playoff scoring with 26 points in 20 games, the two players who finished tied for first with 27 were Sidney Crosby and Conn Smythe-winner Henrik Zetterberg. Hossa would sign with the Red Wings in the offseason, but Dupuis remained and won the Cup the following season.

The other players were traded to the Thrashers, a team that no longer exists, so it’s fairly obvious who won this deal. An interesting note is that Esposito and Leveille were both first-round draft picks, but neither has suited up for an NHL game. Armstrong and Christensen were with the Thrashers for a couple of years before being finding their way out of Atlanta before the team moved to Winnipeg. Dupuis has been a main stay in Pittsburgh with much of the time spent on Crosby’s wing.

Feb. 26, 2009

Pittsburgh trades Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi

Result: A year to the day after fleecing Atlanta, Shero and his staff take their act to the West Coast and rob the ducks. Kunitz would win the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and is in the top five in scoring this season. Whitney has been a healthy scratch for the Oilers this season. Enough said.

March 4, 2009

Pittsburgh trades a conditional fifth-round pick (Michael Lee) to the New York Islanders for Bill Guerin

Result: Guerin played two seasons in Pittsburgh with the team winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. In total, Guerin played in 130 games for the Penguins, racking up 81 points. The Islanders traded the pick to the Phoenix Coyotes who selected goaltender Mike Lee who has yet to appear in an NHL game.

Feb. 21, 2011

Pittsburgh trades Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen

Result: New rule, do not trade with Pittsburgh in February, nothing good will come of it. The funniest part of this deal is picturing Shero saying that Neal for Goligoski wouldn’t be fair, he’d need another asset. Goligoski has been solid for the Stars, but since arriving in Pittsburgh Neal has continued to improve into one of the top goal scorers in the league. In fact, Niskanen’s numbers since the deal – 130 games played and 71 points – have been slightly better than Goligoski’s (125 gp, 62 pts).

Many people will mention that Feaster had his back against the wall with Iginla only wanting to go to a few teams. Shero faced a similar situation with Jordan Staal last summer, but had the disadvantage of Staal only wanting to play in Carolina with his brother Eric. Shero quickly pulled the trigger, sending Staal to the Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 1st round pick in 2012 (Derrick Pouliot). Sutter has 14 points in 34 contests this season while Staal has racked up 20 in 31 games. Pouliot is part of the glut of young defensemen Pittsbugh has in its system including fellow first-round picks Simon Despres and Olli Maata as well as second-rounder Scott Harrington. It’s that core of young blueliners that allowed Shero to deal 2011 first-rounder Joe Morrow to Dallas for Brenden Morrow a week ago.

So the thing to remember is this – if you’re an NHL GM and Shero calls, don’t answer…especially if it’s February.

By the Numbers

Here’s a breakdown of the trades above in terms of games played and points. The numbers are consistent with how may games the players involved played with Pittsburgh and their trading partner. Numbers include the Staal-Sutter deal and are current as of Mar. 28, 2013.

Pittsburgh acquired:

1,248 games played

786 points

Teams that traded with Pittsburgh acquired:

487 games played

229 points

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Time to ‘Catch the Taste’ again in Toronto

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Kevin Barrett | Out of WriteField

So former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay is a Yankee.

That may cinch it.

The Jays may be back.

Thanks to a hilarious, albeit short-lived, commercial career, Overbay became my favorite Toronto Blue Jay since, well, when they were relevant.

Overbay once promoted himself in the third person in a radio spoof that drew attention to his incredible ability to crank out doubles while with the Jays.

It helped to keep an average Jays player on an average Jays team prevalent, but now, after an off-season highlighted by spending a boatload of Rogers Cable money, it is time for the Jays to stop hitting those doubles and finally crank out a home run.

Goodbye Lyle; Hello Melkey. See video here:

No pressure Mr. Knuckleball Dickey or Mr. Jose Reyes, but it’s been an excessively tough ride for Jays fans since the last World Series conquest.

Not Mets-fans bad and certainly not Leafs-fans bad but just average beyond belief.

Maybe Lyle’s move to the Big Apple will transform the Yanks into Toronto average and, given the ambitious antics of GM Alex Anthopoulos, could good times be ahead in the Big Smoke?

Let’s hope so.

It’s been a lean run.

Hitters came and went. Pitchers produced lofty ERAs. Managers were axed, rehired and departed again.

Not once since Joe Carter touched them all with his Series winning shot against the Phillies in ‘93 have the Jays hit the 90-win plateau.

Their best attempt came with 88 victories in 1998, when they finished third in the AL East, 26 FREAKING GAMES back of the Yankees.

In 2008, Overbay and crew were gaining recognition, in parts because of ads like this: See video here:

Yet, they went 86-76, finished 11 games out, making the commercials more memorable than the club.

Oh, there have been stars like Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, now also a Yankee by the way, Shawn Greene, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios.

There have been catchers, like Darrin Fletcher, Charlie O’Brien, Lance Parrish, Gregg Zaun and one of the fabulous Molina brothers. How about Jose Canseco’s one year run in 1998? He slammed 46 homers and drove in 107 but is best known for controversy, which is still going strong.

Then there was the whole Troy Glaus experience. The Scott Rolen experiment. The Frank Thomas fiasco.

Canadians Matt Stairs (impressive total 32 homers over two years of DH and pinch-hit duty) and Corey Koskie (less than 32 HRs in his time) have suited up.

There were some of rather undistinguished abilities – Frank Catalanotto, Eric Hinske, Woody Williams and Dustin McGowan to name a few.

Oh where have you gone Raul Mondesi?

Pitchers, well some were awesome before they departed – Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter.

 There was the moody A.J. Burnett, Ted Lilly and the hard-throwing Billy Koch.

 The Rocket went 41-13 in two years in Toronto, which included regular ‘visits’ from his personal trainer.

 We also had Joey Hamilton (14-17), Eric Hanson (13-20) and Danny Darwin (1-8 with the Jays).

Certainly, some of the positive starts out of spring training boosted the optimism some years, lighting fuel in April, only to fizzle when it got truly hot in August.

Cito left, came back. Buck Martinez sandwiched media gigs between a two-year stint as manager. John Gibbons was hired, fired and now is back.

Is this the year the teasing stops?

Is this the year they get back on track and provide marketing opportunities for their stars like this classic: See video here

In the Jays’ championship era, Roberto Alomar might have been the most widely known player – thanks in part to this ad.

All these years later, ‘Catch the taste’ sticks in my head. That is probably because the Jays haven’t done much to whet my appetite since.

 With a wild off season of free agent signings, and Overbay’s journey to the Big Apple to join Wells, maybe, just maybe, there will be a new jingle in town.

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The 2013 Out Of WriteField Unscientific Guide to MLB

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Andrew McGiligan | Out of WriteField

With the Major League Baseball season set to kick-off on Sunday, it’s time for the second annual Out of WriteField Completely Unscientific Predictions for 2013.

 

As noted earlier this week, we hope to improve upon our 38 per cent success rate from last season which included accurate predictions of the AL Cy Young, AL MVP, several division winners and the two World Series teams (we incorrectly took the Tigers over the Giants) and a whole host of ones that were wrong.

 

So without further delay, here are the Out of WriteField picks for 2013:

 

American League

Division Winners

Al East – Tampa Bay Rays

Al Central – Detroit Tigers

Al West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Wildcards – Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers

Analysis: Jays fans should get their first taste of postseason baseball in decades, but it will be through the wildcard. Early injuries and demotions to Brett Lawrie and Ricky Romero combined with some skepticism of how this team will gel makes the Rays a more appealing pick to win the East. The Tigers will continue to roll in the Central, but the potential for the Kansas City Royals to emerge and what looks to be – on paper anyways – a much improved Cleveland Indians squad should make for an interesting division. As for the West, it’s time for the free-spending and a full season of Mike Trout to result in a division win for the Angels with the Rangers playing well in enough to edge Oakland for the second wildcard.

 

AL MVP – Evan Longoria

AL Cy Young – Justin Verlander

AL Rookie of the Year – Wil Myers

Analysis: Not known for their offensive prowess, the Rays will churn out two awards this season. Longoria defines MVP when it comes to the Rays who were about a .500 club without him in the lineup and 20 games above that mark with him last season. If Longoria can play in 140 or more games, he will have the best season of his career and some new hardware. Bryce Harper started in the minors last year and it made us shy away from picking him as ROY. Big mistake and it won’t happen again. Myers won’t be playing on Opening Day, but he will be called up before the All-Star break and make the front office look even better for dealing away James Shields for the slugging prospect. Verlander is a perennial candidate for the Cy Young and entering a contract year makes him even more determined – if that’s possible – to be the best pitcher in the game.

 

National League

Division Winners

NL West – Washington Nationals

NL Central – Cincinnati Reds

NL West – San Francisco Giants

Wildcards – Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves

Analysis: The Nationals will once again be the class of the NL with a great pitching staff and solid lineup. Consider what Bruce Harper did at 19 and what he can do with that year of seasoning and adjusting behind him. The Reds should be able to ride a solid hitting, but potentially poor defensive lineup to the Central crown while the Giants pitching staff should make up for the offensive shortcomings of its lineup in taking the West. The Dodgers are similar to the Jays in that no one is sure what to expect from the ridiculous budget squad, but talent alone should carry them to a postseason spot. The Braves enjoyed a successful offseason and have the brothers Upton patrolling the outfield. They should beat up on everyone in the NL East not named the Nationals on the way to a wildcard berth.

 

NL MVP – Joey Votto

NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw

NL Rookie of the Year – Oscar Taveras

Analysis: Similar to Longoria, if Votto stays healthy there’s no one that can hold a candle to him with the bat (the exception being Miguel Cabrera). Votto has been described as a hitting savant and genius in the batters’ box. Kershaw is dominant and probably the best left-handed pitcher on the planet, he’ll reclaim his spot as the NL’s top arm after finishing second in the voting last year. Like everyone else, we were ready to pick Adam Eaton as a lock for the NL ROY, but an elbow injury will keep him out of the lineup for a few months. Because of this, Taveras is the new pick. Like Myers he will start in Triple A, but the hitting machine will eventually get called up to the St. Louis Cardinals and force one of their current outfielders to the bench.

 

World Series

Tigers over Nationals in six

Analysis: I think Detroit will finally get over the hump and win the World Series this year. The Nationals will continue their ascension to the top of the heap, but ultimately come up short….at least for this season.

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Dreaming of Wrigley

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Kevin Barrett | Out of WriteField

For many Canadian boys, early days on the ice led to dreams of making it into the NHL, scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the home team and basking on the championship glory.

But along the way, many also dreamed of ‘The Wrigley’.

No, not the baseball field, or the chewing gum.

‘The Wrigley,’ as it was known in rinks across Canada for many teenagers, was the national midget hockey championship, the stepping stone to greatness for some who still held those long coveted big league aspirations.

The tournament carried big time cache, especially in small towns, like Dieppe, St. Stephen and Summerside, Prince Edward Island and many points between the coasts of British Columbia and Newfoundland.

In contrast to regular events for minor skaters in their early career path, this was the first Canadian tournament for hockey, an event for the 15- or 16-year-old puck dreamers that today, could be best compared to the Brier. That’s because every province was represented, every province had a chance to play at the national level and every player could impress scouts looking to uncover a hidden gem.

The added distinguishing characteristic was the gear.

When you hit the Wrigley, you got a free helmet, gloves, pants, socks and of course, your province’s jersey.

Star or scrub, you were taking gear home. Your own game-worn swag was a big deal.

However, my diminished skills did not get me on or even close to a squad that ever made it to the Wrigley, or the Air Canada Cup that followed or the Telus Cup, which it is known as now.

But in the day, when it was an event featuring provincial instead of regional championship, there were more opportunities for Maritime players to shine.

While I did not make it, I knew of some who did.

Any many hockey fans heard of those elite midget stars – such as Rollie (the Goalie) Melanson of Shediac, defencemen Don Sweeney of St. Stephen and Randy Jones of Quispamsis, forwards Andrew McKim of Saint John and Scott Pellerin of Shediac as well as former Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant, and current superstar Sidney Crosby of Cole Harbour.

None of their teams’ won gold but the ‘Wrigley’ or its later incarnations opened the doors to continued development to the big leagues.

That’s why a current Telus top-40 of all-time list is intriguing in advance of this year’s 40th anniversary celebration of the national event in Sault Ste. Marie in late April.

(Check put the link to the list here: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/National-Championships/Men/National-Midget/2013/40-for-40/40-36.aspx)

On the list of potential top-40 alumni, including the NBers listed above are: Three overall first round NHL picks – Wendel Clark, Crosby and Gord Kluzak.

There are nine Hockey Hall of Famers on the list of alumni – Glenn Anderson, Ron Francis, Mike Gartner, Al MacInnis, Larry Murphy, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman.

They have already started to countdown – with Chris Mason at No. 40, Manny Fernandez at No. 39, Joffrey Lupul at No. 38 and Ryane Clowe at No. 37.

It is interesting to see where Crosby will end up and if he jumps Yzerman, Sakic, or Patrick Roy – an early indicator of where he could rank in the greatest of all time discussion when his career eventually ends.

It will also be interesting to see if any NBers make the grade.

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.388 – Good Batting Average, But Not Good Enough On Predictions

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

If a player was coming into the 2013 Major League Baseball season with a .388 batting average, he would be a hot commodity. Give that same percentage to a person for their 2012 MLB predictions and it doesn’t seem as impressive.

However, with Opening Day less than a week away, we’re not shying away from our past here at Out of WriteField. We’re going to make predictions for 2013 later this week, but first we need to revisit 2012.

 

2012 Predictions and Actual 2012 Winners

 

American League Division and Wild Card teams

*actual winners in parentheses

Predictions:

AL East – NY Yankees (Yankees)

AL Central – Detroit Tigers (Tigers)

AL West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Oakland Athletics)

Wildcard – Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox (Rangers, Baltimore Orioles)

Analysis: Predicted three of the five correctly, but so did most people. The big surprises of Oakland and Baltimore come out of nowhere. If you know someone who predicted both of those teams making the playoffs, you should heed their advice from now on.

National League Division and Wild Card Teams

*actual winners in parentheses

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies (Washington Nationals)

NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers (Cincinnati Reds)

NL West – San Francisco Giants (Giants)

NL Wildcards – Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins (Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals)

Analysis: Predicted one of five correctly, a brutal stat line. The Marlins imploded, the Phillies were awful and the Brewers never got it together.   

World Series

Detroit over San Francisco in six games (Giants over Tigers in four games)

Analysis: Got the teams’ right, but not the outcome. Really thought this would have been a much closer series, but the Tigers couldn’t get the bats going against the dominant pitching of the Giants. The guy with perhaps the best nickname in sports Pablo ‘Kung-Fu Panda’ Sandoval was named MVP.

Individual Winners

*actual winners in parentheses

Predictions:

American League

AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera (Cabrera)

AL Cy Young – David Price (Price)

AL Rookie of the Year – Matt Moore (Mike Trout)

Analysis: I was two for two and then Trout happened. The Angels rookie had a season for the ages and will be mentioned a lot when it comes to the 2013 predictions.

National League

NL MVP – Matt Kemp (Buster Posey)

NL Cy Young – Roy Halladay (R.A. Dickey)

NL Rookie of the Year – Yonder Alonso (Bryce Harper)

Analysis: Not one correct. Kemp got injured and Halladay just wasn’t himself. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so bullish on the Phillies. No chance of me betting on Philadelphia this year.

So overall, it’s painfully obvious that I watch much more of the American League than the National given my correct guesses. We’ll see what happens this year when the 2013 predictions are posted later this week.

BONUS: Here’s a link to some other 2012 predictions to see what others thought would happen.

Yahoo: http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ys-brown_henson_passan_season_predictions_040412

CBSSports: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/blog/eye-on-baseball/18271059/2012-mlb-cbssportscom-expert-predictions

 

 

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The Blackhawks are Justified

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of Writefield

Two of the best things to happen to television and hockey have collided this year. The Chicago Blackhawks are the best and most fun team to watch in the National Hockey League. Same goes for the show Justified. Both have been unbelievable this season and are eerily similar.

Here’s an unscientific look at how the Blackhawks and the show set in rural Kentucky have been mirroring each other for the past few years.

Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks = Raylan Givens and the cast of Justified

With each passing episode Justified just keeps getting better. Same goes for the Blackhawks with each passing game.

Both Justified and the Blackhawks seemed to peak in 2010 as the show – specifically Margo Martindale won an Emmy – and the Hawks won the Stanley Cup. At the time, it was hard to think either would surpass those lofty heights.

The fourth season of Justified keeps getting better with every episode and could – so long as the final episodes continue this trend – replace Season 2 as the best in the series.

How do you top winning a Stanley Cup? How about setting a streak for the best start in NHL history by not losing a game in regulation for 24-straight to open the season. If they win the Cup, it will cap off one of the most remarkable runs in NHL history.

Interesting Comparison: The protagonist of Justified is US Marshal Raylan Givens, a throwback type of lawman to the old West days who has a clear vision of good and bad. He’s a no-nonsense kind of man.

To describe Jonathan Toews as no-nonsense would be an understatement. The young captain of the Hawks’ nickname is ‘Captain Serious.’ He goes about his business with a workman-like approach but has unbelievable skills with a hockey stick (coincidentally, Raylan is the quickest draw in all of Kentucky).

Toews is what you would envision when creating an old-school type player: tough, plays both ends of the ice and leads by example.

Second  in Command: The second lead in Justified is Boyd Crowder. Just as confident and skilled as Raylan; but on the other side of the law. Patrick Kane is just as talented as Toews, but possesses a great wild streak (just google Kane and Cinco de Mayo) and a flare for the dramatic. Both Crowder and Kane manage to keep their cool in tense situations (see Kane scoring in final minute to tie a game in Detroit then notching the shootout winner during the streak; Boyd has himself in countless perilous situations, but never seems to sweat). When Boyd and Raylan are in a scene together, its TV gold as both know how to push the others buttons. Kane and Toews have a similar dynamic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCMaOKr7bPs).

So let’s enjoy some good TV while it lasts. Justified only has two more episodes left this season. As for the Hawks, watching them play in late May would be the best way to cap off the hockey season.

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Are we witnessing collusion

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Kevin Barrett | Out of WriteField

The owners in the NFL agreed on a few rules changes this week, namely eliminating the Tuck Rule, to the delight of Raiders fans everywhere, and instituting a controversial rule for running back who like to steamroll defenders in the open field.

The one thing not announced but appears to be a real component of the off season is the dreaded ‘C’ word – collusion.

With Wes Welker and Elvis Dumervil playing starring roles, it appears as if NFL owners have said neither is worth 2/3 of last year’s salary, let alone a hefty raise for remarkable campaigns on AFC championship calibre clubs in 2012.

Same for Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers, who arguably could have captured the Super Bowl MVP award when he led, from his wide receiver position, the Baltimore Ravens to football’s biggest prize in February.

Sure the flat salary cap has something to do with the owner’s frugal methods but even cap friendly teams such as Miami and Cleveland have to think Welker and Dumervil would assist their team’s sagging fortunes in the win-loss column.

Same for Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney and John Abraham, who are adding Air Miles at a record clip while visiting prospective new teams after the defenders  were ditched by the clubs their enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons with on an annual basis.

Surely some teams – Hello Bills, Bengals, Jags  – could use Welker’s hands instead of waiting for the cheaper and riskier option through the draft. How could Abraham not assist the Eagles?

Don’t the Jaguars Also require help on D, assistance Dumervil can provide.

And what’s with the Bears offering  paltry $2 million to Brian Urlacher?

This year, the market has dried, so they say, a market where injury-prone Danny Amendola and the poor -route running Mike Wallace command more than Welker, Dumervil, Frenney, Abraham and Woodson combined.

Maybe, just maybe, there are other deals that have been struck, arrangements that the players are finding out first-hand about in free agency.

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Fantasy Sports: Oh, the People You’ll Meet

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Andrew McGiligan | Out of WriteField

Millions of people play fantasy sports every year. Despite these numbers, the same types of people end up being in your league at one time or another. Here’s a list of the types of folks you’ll come across in various leagues.

Explain the Trade Guy

What he does: Will send you a trade proposal along with a 1,000 word essay on why it makes sense for you to do it.

Why it’s irritating: No one wants to be told how to run their team, let alone be lectured by a guy who thinks he invented statistics and is the only one who knows how to use them.

Why he does it: Has to convince himself that the terrible, lopsided trade he proposed was actually a good one.

I Called It (a year too late) Guy

What he does: Constantly talked about how he predicted such and such a player was going to have a big year, well after the fact. Basically, anyone who says this season that they knew Mike Trout was going to have a monster season last year or knew Adrian Peterson was going to have the second greatest season by a running back in history after tearing his knee to shreds less than a year before.

Why it’s irritating: Nothing worse than someone shouting ‘I told you so’ when they said nothing at the time and then pretend to be some sort of sports Kreskin 12 months later.

Why he does it: For bragging rights, likes to pretend he’s right all the time, thinks no one has noticed he’s full of it.

Guy Who Changes Team Name Every Day

What he does: Changes the name of his fantasy team on a regular basis as a means of humour, insults, way to be topical, etc.

Why it’s annoying: No one cares about your team name, only the place in the standings it holds. Plus it take a few seconds every day to realize who it is, most times you think you’ve logged into the wrong league.

Why he does it: Possibly to prove he’s up on things or simply because he has too much time on his hands. All that time spent on thinking up team names would be better served scanning the waiver wire.

Guy Who Takes It Too Far

What he does: After watching far too many episodes of the FX comedy The League, decides to constantly bash and try to humiliate other members of his league and may even try his hand at rapping. He will often involve other players’ family and pets, which really shouldn’t happen. You can make fun of the fact I started Adam Lind for a period of time, but not my dog.

Why it’s annoying: The show is fictional, you and your buddies are not ‘exactly like that’ and if you haven’t know everyone in your league for years; you end up coming off as an idiot.

Why he does it: Thinks he’s mixing it up and keeping things fun, but is just an embarrassment.

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