Monday, July 28, 2014

All hail PK and pay him whatever he wants


It's appropriate that in the process of laughing all the way to the bank, PK Subban took a theater full of Just For Laughs comedy fans along for the ride.  That he stole the show from one of the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood at the Seth Rogen gala underscored how incredibly valuable a commodity Subban is - not only for the Canadiens, but for the NHL.  Along with being one of the best and most exciting players in the game, his larger than life persona stamps Subban as the undisputed face of hockey's most celebrated franchise.  Add the visible minority element - and it's an important part of the marketing equation, whether or not it's politically correct to say so - and you've got an asset without equal.  Never mind this arbitration business or the negotiation two-step.  This should be an easy call for a man of Geoff Molson's means and business savvy.  Pay PK what you know he's worth and be grateful that you have him.

They can deny it until the hormone-injected cows come home, but the Baseball Hall of Fame's decision to shorten the eligibility period from 15 to 10 years is a transparent attempt to hasten the end of the steroid era debate.  The sooner the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are off the Hall of Fame ballot, the fewer awkward inconsistencies Cooperstown will have to answer to in the selection process.

While the baseball media debates whether Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig is the new face of the game, my question is what happened to Bryce Harper?  A knee operation and thumb surgery have both contributed to Harper's declining production since he won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, but he looked like he needed a brain transplant when he made two outs on the basepaths Saturday against Cincinnati.  That's clown baserunning, bro.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When no news is bad news (and other Monday musings)

I don't know if it's a measure of his family's ability to guard their privacy or a rare example of media respect and decency, but very little information has been made public about the diagnosis and prognosis for Michael Schumacher nearly seven months after the Formula One legend suffered critical brain injuries in a skiing accident.  Even an attempt to sell Schumacher's stolen medical records found no takers among journalists, whether for ethical or legal considerations.  Sadly, it's not unreasonable to speculate that if Schumacher were doing well and on the road to a full recovery, there would be no need for the level of secrecy surrounding his health.

Dan Hawkins probably can't help but feel vindicated as he watches the Alouettes' early season misfortunes from afar. Whether or not new head coach Tom Higgins has a firmer grip on the team than Hawkins did before he was unceremoniously fired five games into the 2013 schedule, the results are essentially the same.

It's tough enough to survive in the modern media at 50-plus years of age without adding to your own burden by deliberately being a contrarian, especially just for its own sake. Hockey broadcasters and columnists who go out of their way to denigrate the advanced stats community are revealing themselves as being out of touch. Increasingly, fans, journalists and NHL teams are embracing statistics like Fenwick and Corsi as relevant measuring sticks and valuable scouting tools. Fancy stats are rapidly becoming mainstream, and media blowhards who believe otherwise are going to find themselves on the fringes - if they're not already there.

Rory wasn't the only McIlroy who cashed at the British Open yesterday. The 2014 champion's father collected 170 thousand dollars(US) on a bet he made in 2004, when Gerry McIlroy got 500-1 odds against his then 15 year old son winning the Open by age 25.  I tried to get the same odds 10 years ago on my son passing Grade 9 math but the bookies weren't biting, which is just as well because I had to drop him off summer school today. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stale soccer jokes and other Monday musings

There's an old joke about no longer having to pretend you like soccer after the World Cup is over, and it's a gag that fails to stand the test of time.  Passion for the world's most popular sport has become mainstream in North America.  Youth soccer participation has been booming for at least a generation, but the real force at work is technology.  Massive internet media coverage and easy access to televised games around the globe have given rise to enormous interest in professional European league play, and well-run MLS franchises like the Impact feed a growing appetite for elite-level soccer at the local level.  Not everyone has the bug and you don't have to jump on the bandwagon, but to say that soccer is still a marginal sport on this side of the Atlantic only betrays an ignorance of the modern North American cultural landscape.



The Canadiens don't have much offensive help on the farm in Hamilton, but it might not be long in coming. Jakob de la Rose, Nikita Scherbak and Charles Hudon drew rave reviews at the Habs' summer development camp in Brossard last week, and even 2013 first round draft choice Michael McCarron appeared to be in bounceback mode after a disappointing rookie season with the OHL's London Knights.  If even two of those four meet their top end potential, it'll give the Canadiens some big-time added upside at around the time the team's current core are moving into their prime playing years.




If legends are measured by longevity and championships, Jim Popp is in elite company.  In signing a three year contract extension with the Alouettes, Popp has surpassed the tenures of the Canadiens two longest-serving general managers, Frank Selke and Sam Pollock, and while he can't match them victory parade for victory parade - Selke and Pollock won a combined 15 Stanley Cups in Montreal - three Grey Cup rings put Popp's championship credentials beyond dispute.  His contract extension is welcome, warranted, and well-earned.




Argentina's World Cup semifinal win over the Netherlands on penalty kicks triggered the obligatory hand-wringing over shootouts being a terrible way to decide an important match and why they don't play it out until someone scores.  I'll tell you why: because they might still be playing.  If two teams can't score a goal in two hours, what's to say they won't need another two hours - or two days or two weeks?  Ain't nobody got time for that. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The real reason Brazil lost


    By now, you've probably heard the experts break down what went wrong for Brazil in yesterday's humiliating World Cup semi-final loss to Germany - the main themes being incompetent defending, lack of leadership and too much emotion improperly channeled.  Here's my non-expert analysis on another Brazilian shortcoming: too pretentious, especially when it comes to the longstanding tradition of referring to their players by one name only.
     I don't disagree that the legendary likes of Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar are instantly recognizable by their first names, but go down the roster a little further and you'll find Fred, Jo, Oscar and Hulk.  These are not household names on a global scale.
     First of all, if Hulk was in the Brazil lineup yesterday, why didn't he call in Iron Man, Flash and the Mighty Thor as reinforcements before the game got out of hand?  Fred and Jo are horrible monosyllabic soccer names.  They sound like two guys you'd go bowling with more than they sound like world class soccer players.  Mention Oscar to me and I automatically think Bert and Ernie, who probably wouldn't have done much worse against Germany than Fred and Jo fared.
      There are but a handful of professional athletes in all of North America who resonate on a first name only basis - Sid, PK, Lebron, Carmelo, Tiger, Phil, Peyton, Eli, Miggy...and that's about it.  When the entire roster of one country's national soccer team bestows single name stature upon themselves, it's the height of presumption.
      For KIC Country Sports, I'm Ted.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Girls will be boys (and other Monday musings)


Just because he filed for salary arbitration doesn't mean PK Subban won't come to a long-term contract agreement with the Canadiens.  It's part of the dance, and it suggests Subban is asking for more than the team thinks he's worth. If that's the case, it must be a staggering number, because Subban is worth a lot. Relatively speaking, he bit the bullet on his last contract on the understanding that the big pay day would come if he delivered on his potential.  If anything, Subban has exceeded expectations and the franchise is honour-bound to compensate him accordingly.  They also owe it to the untold legions of PK fans who religiously feed the Canadiens cash cow at insanely inflated prices, whether for tickets, concessions or Subban swag. 

Here's the takeaway from Genie Bouchard's straight sets loss to Petra Kvitova in the women's final at Wimbledon: For the first time in the tournament, Bouchard looked like a 20 year old in over her head.  She had no answers against a seasoned veteran and former champion who taught Bouchard a valuable lesson in competitive resolve.  While she was gracious in defeat, her body language made it abundantly clear that Bouchard took the lesson to heart.  She's on a mission, and she'll treat the schooling she got from Kvitova as motivation and an education rather than a setback. 

Bouchard's Cinderella ride to (if not through) the women's final overshadowed the best-ever Grand Slam showing for fellow Canadian Milos Raonic, who made it to the men's semis before losing to Roger Federer. Raonic's rise up the ranks hasn't been as meteoric as Bouchard's, but it's been steady and bodes well for his first Grand Slam final appearance sooner rather than later.

Coming off a season-opening loss to Calgary that was ugly with a capital "Ugh", the Alouettes got the bounce back effort they needed in a Week 2 win over visiting BC, but Troy Smith has got to be better. Pinning your hopes on a quarterback who struggles to connect on intermediate routes - never mind the long ball - is a recipe for disaster in the pass-happy CFL.

Timing is everything, and to think that the average ticket price for UFC 175 in Las Vegas was 436 dollars makes me grateful to have come of age at a time when you could watch two women punch each other in the face for the price of a quart at Bar Diana.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"C" is for Subban


     If ever the forest was obscured by the trees, it's in the discussion over who will replace Brian Gionta as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens.  There's some suggestion that the Habs won't even have a captain next season, and that they'll go with three assistants until a suitable candidate for the "C" emerges.
     Hello?  Could it be any more patently obvious that PK Subban is the guy?  Subban meets every qualification for the job.  He's face of the franchise, the best player on the team and a born leader, whether vocally or by example.  His supposed character flaws - egotism and immaturity - are wildly exaggerated within a hockey fraternity that still likes its role models to be humble, deferential, and yes - white.  They're also enormously outweighed by his character strengths.  Subban has shown steady growth as both a player and a person and answered every challenge that's been thrown his way since joining the Canadiens four years ago.  He would embrace the captaincy and the obligations that come with it, on and off the ice.
     Maybe the hold up is that the Canadiens haven't signed Subban to a new long term contract yet.  That's going to happen sooner rather than later, so let's sew the "C" on number 76 and get on with the next eight to ten years.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Markov, Pat Burns and severed heads


Three years at $5.75 million per is plenty steep for a defenceman on the wrong side of 35 and with two reconstructive knee surgeries in his medical history, but it was the cost of doing business for the Canadiens to retain Andrei Markov.  It's a measure of how much they value Markov that the Habs gave him a better deal than he probably could have negotiated as an unrestricted free agent.  It's also an example of what you can do when you've got ample cap space and your franchise is a cash cow.

The embarrassingly overdue election of the late Pat Burns to the Hockey Hall of Fame begs the question: what changed since 2010, when Burns was dying of cancer and the Selection Committee declined to induct him while he was still alive?  The whole notion of multiple years on any Hall of Fame ballot defies logic.  You're either worthy of the honour or you're not, and letting guys who deserve induction swing in the breeze for years on end is unworthy of the institution.

A generation ago, if you weren't part an ex-patriate community from a traditional soccer country, chances are the World Cup wasn't on your radar.  Canadians don't even have a dog in the fight at Brazil 2014, but soccer fever has gripped this country to the point where the normally all-consuming NHL draft and free agency are afterthoughts.  That said, do we really have to continue to making a British accent a pre-requisite for being a soccer analyst on Canadian network television?  The obligatory deference to Old Blighty on matters of soccer expertise only serves to undermine the reality that the beautiful game is now part of the Canadian sports mainstream.

The upside of flopping as a child prodigy is that there's a substantial comeback window.  Golfer Michelle Wie, who spent years underachieving relative to the promise she showed as a 13 year old, won her first LPGA US Open title this past weekend at the ripe old age of 24.  Don't be shocked if Wie wins another major championship or three before she starts knitting booties for the grandkids.

Much like the collective bargaining agreement grudgingly accepted by CFL players two weeks ago, the release of injured receiver Jamel Richardson by the Alouettes was a case study in Canadian pro football economics.  Richardson could yet come back from a long-term knee injury and perform at an All Star level for another team, but as one of the highest paid players in a budget-conscious league, it made more sense for the Als to let him go.

If England are the Toronto Maple Leafs of World Cup soccer - no championships since 1966, the year before the Leafs' last Stanley Cup - what does that make Algeria?  According to a television graphic on Sportsnet, a 4-2 win over South Korea in the group stage was Algeria's first World Cup victory since 192.  Presumably, that's a typo, because soccer in the second century AD was traditionally played with the severed head of a vanquished enemy, which I'm pretty sure is against World Cup regulations.