Monday, April 30, 2012

Award snubs fuel for Flyers' Cup run

If the Philadelphia Flyers were looking for any extra motivation on the road to the Stanley Cup, they found it in the award nominations for league MVP and NHL general manager of the year. Claude Giroux's exclusion as a Hart Trophy finalist is justifiable only to the extent that Evgeny Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist are all equally worthy nominees, but Stamkos plays for a team that missed the playoffs and Lundqvist is a goaltender, resurrecting old arguments about whether the MVP voters are too enamored of personal statistics, and whether goaltenders should be disqualified from Hart consideration because they already have exclusive dibs on the Vezina and Jennings trophies.
Meanwhile, no general manager rolled the off-season dice like Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, who gutted the team's core by trading franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, took a chance on Ilya Bryzgalov and Jaromir Jagr and was rewarded with a 103 point regular season and a first round playoff upset of Pittsburgh. With due respect to Nashville's David Poile, Florida's Dale Tallon and Doug Armstrong of St. Louis, Holmgren wasn't just effective - he was visionary...P.K. Subban's injury at the World Hockey Championships, while apparently minor, is proof enough of the perils inherent in accepting an invitation to represent your country at a relatively meaningless tournament. Considering what's at stake in Switzerland versus the bigger picture, Sidney Crosby did the right thing by staying home...It hasn't been a banner year for playoff beards, and one of the worst offenders is Washington's Jason Chimera, who looks like he's on his way to a barn-raising...St. Louis borrowed the Cincinnati Bengals blueprint for team-building at the NFL draft, where the Rams spent the 39th and 65th overall picks on a couple of guys as likely to open the season on probation as they are on the active roster. Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have a lot in common - they're both projected as starters at cornerback, and they've both been tasered for resisting arrest. Jenkins has a particularly colorful background including multiple marijuana arrests and fathering four children by three different women, which if nothing else qualifies him to be an Afghan village elder if the football thing doesn't work out.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Klan's all here

Just when you think it's 2012, it's still 1942, when social norms held that a black man was better suited to load steamer trunks onto a train than he was to be the hero in a Stanley Cup playoff series.
The outburst of racism among Bruins fans on social media after Washington's Joel Ward scored the overtime goal in Game 7 against Boston last night was as ugly as it gets. Twitter was especially awash in attacks and insults the likes of which haven't been liberally tossed around in public since Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama.
It's difficult to imagine substantial numbers of baseball, football or basketball fans going on racist rants against black athletes, because those sports are so racially integrated at this point that black players are the stars and difference-makers more often than not. In fact, the pivotal player in a modern-day major league baseball game is almost as likely to be Latin American or Asian as he is to come from a white or African American background. Hockey is still a predominantly white sport with an overwhelmingly white fan base, many of whom are still sporting remnants of the primordial ooze from whence they apparently only recently crawled. And let's not kid ourselves and pretend racism is exclusive to Bruins fans. We've seen enough bananas thrown at black players in other cities to know better.
The good news is that the troglodytes who give everyone else a bad name are relatively small in number, but the lowest common denominator sets the standard for the larger group, and by that measure, the standard for hockey fans everywhere is still appallingly low.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I got your world peace, right here

The most disturbing element in the latest controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Laker formerly known as Ron Artest isn't the vicious elbow he delivered to the head of Oklahoma City's James Harden. It's that serious, professional sports journalists and broadcasters are forced the refer to Artest as Metta World Peace - the name he legally took when he made the leap from unhinged to merely loopy. There ought to be a law against giving yourself a name that's more appropriate for a pet turtle than it is for a person. In fact, in some jurisdictions, there are laws. Several years ago, the Quebec government refused to register the birth name Spatula for a couple who thought it would be a good idea to name their baby after a cooking utensil. More recently, 5 year old Adolf Hitler and his siblings were taken into protective state custody in New Jersey, not long after young Adolf's parents tried to special order a "Happy Birthday, Hitler" birthday cake. But back to Metta World Peace, whose name is apparently supposed to represent the principles of Buddhism in promoting harmony among nations. Lovely sentiment, but how do you list that in the phone book? Under "M" for Metta World Peace, "W" for World Peace, Metta, or "P" for Peace, M.W? If he has kids (and paternity can be proven), what's their last name, and how do they line up in alphabetical order at school? Do they fall in behind the MacDonald kid, the Walton kid or the Patterson kid? Did World Peace give any thought to the longer term implications of following the harebrained example set by fellow pro athletes Chad Ochocinco and World B. Free? And if he's violently elbowing opponents in the head on the basketball court, where's the credibility in claiming to be the embodiment of global reconciliation? It seems to me that if someone's going to legally change their name to promote a belief system, it's incumbent upon them to live by the principles their new name represents. I'm Eta Lotta Pi, K103 Sports.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vigneault? Been there, done that

Stand by for the Alain Vigneault rumours to heat up after the Vancouver coach steered the heavily-favored Canucks onto the rocks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There's a media consensus that Vigneault's goose is cooked in Vancouver, and that he'll jump to the head of the line for the Canadiens' job. No disrespect to the man, but Vigneault, who coached the Habs from 1997 to 2000, is a "been there, done that" proposition. I really don't see the point in recycling a guy who couldn't get over the hump with a team as talented as the Canucks...The more I think about it, the more I like Patrick Roy as the next coach of the Canadiens. So what if he's volatile? In a hockey-mad market like Montreal, some emotion would be a welcome change after two-and-a-half seasons of the deadpan coaching stylings of Jacques Martin. Roy is a fan favorite and proven winner who won't abide indifference or mediocrity, HATES to lose and has paid his dues as a junior coach. What other qualifications do you need?...If there was a defining sequence in the opening-round epic between the Penguins and Flyers, it was the first shift of yesterday's game in Philadelphia, where playoff MVP frontrunner Claude Giroux knocked Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby on his can, and then fired a wrist shot past embattled Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to send the Flyers on their way to a series-clinching win. Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette is guilty of hyperbole when he calls Giroux the best player in the world, but the 24 year old franco-Ontarian is unquestionably the best player so far in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs...Don't know if you saw the supposedly unintentional elbow that got reformed pro basketball bad boy Metta World Peace kicked out of yesterday's Lakers-Thunder NBA game, but it brought to mind Marty McSorley's unintentional high stick on Donald Brashear, Earl Jones' unintentional misappropriation of client funds and Germany's unintentional invasion of Poland...Someone stole my son's Philadelphia Eagles hat at his school dance Saturday, but returned it after realizing it was an Eagles hat.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One man's dump is another man's urine-stained shrine

Forty-nine year old Jamie Moyer struck a blow for middle age last night when he became the oldest pitcher in major league history to record a win(or at least the oldest pitcher with a legitimate birth certificate and/or working visa). Moyer's not even half as old as Boston's Fenway Park, but he's getting significantly more respect.
One hundred years after it was built, baseball's most historic existing venue was dissed over the weekend by Tampa Bay designated hitter Luke Scott, who called Fenway a "dump." First of all, a guy who looks like Wolverine from X-Men has no business passing judgement on the asthetics of anything or anyone else. Secondly, just because the place is 100 years old and smells like pee doesn't make it any less of an American cultural shrine. If anything, Fenway Park's marginal dilapidation is what gives it its historic charm relative to newer ballparks that try but fail to duplicate the bygone era atmosphere that permeates Fenway's every irregular corner.

Although Scott's point is that it doesn't have the clubhouse amenities to which modern era baseball players are accustomed, describing Fenway as a dump demonstrates a remarkably shallow sense of history and occasion. It's a personal affront to baseball afficiandos - Red Sox fans or otherwise - who consider a visit to Fenway something akin to a holy pilgrimmage. Presumably, Scott wouldn't go to his great aunt Effie's 100th birthday party and criticize her liver spots instead of lauding the milestone. The old girl might not be the belle of the ball anymore, but she still deserves to be celebrated with the appropriate measure of respect.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The misrepresentation of "old time hockey"

Whenever Don Cherry or anyone else old enough to remember Watergate, Beatlemania and the Treaty of Versailles compares the goings-on in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs to "old time hockey," they need to be more specific.
Fighting has long been part of the game, but the blatant disrespect for health and well-being between competitors is a relatively new phenomenon. Rocket Richard once clubbed an opponent over the head with his stick and punched a linesman in the same sequence, Wayne Maki shortened Ted Green's career in what still ranks as the worst stick-swinging incident in NHL history and Dale Hunter will forever be remembered for a brutal cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon scored a series-clinching goal, but incidents of that nature used to occur years apart - not two or three times per playoff series, if not per game. Back in the day, you might have taken an elbow in the chops if you got too much inside Gordie Howe's kitchen, but old-time hockey did not regularly feature blindside head shots, multiple sucker punches, cross-checks to the throat and deliberately slamming an opponent's face into the boards.
So when the discussion turns to "old time hockey," let's be clear that we're talking about physical and emotional intensity that sometimes leads to fights between willing and mutually respectful participants adhering to a time-honored code. Too much of what we've seen in the first round of this year's playoffs isn't old time hockey as much as it's old time aggravated assault.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brendan of Mayberry and other Monday morning musings

Brendan Shanahan needs to turn in his badge. In not suspending Shea Weber for a WWE-style head slam on Henrik Zetterberg in the first game of the Detroit-Nashville series, Shanahan tacitly authorized the shameless goonery that's characterized the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Subsequent suspensions for rookies and role players like the Rangers' Carl Hagelin and Ottawa's Matt Carkner legitimize the long-held notion that there are two standards of justice in the NHL - one for perennial All Stars like Weber and another for everyone else. After a promising start as the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Shanahan has proven to be just another toothless watchdog for a league that continues to put star power and cronyism ahead of credibility and fair play...Almost lost in the mindless post-season mayhem is the startling fact that the pre-playoff Stanley Cup co-favorites - Pittsburgh and Vancouver - are both a loss away from being swept in the first round, which opens up all kinds of previously unforeseen possibilities, like a Kings-Panthers or Devils-Coyotes Cup final. I said unforeseen; I didn't say tantalizing...Nico Rosberg's surprise win for Mercedes at the Chinese Grand Prix continued a welcome 2012 trend towards intrigue on the normally predictable Formula One circuit. Too bad the three races so far this season took place on the other side of the planet, which translates into the middle of the night for North American fans and early morning for the sport's core audience in Europe. It's a testament to F1's global reach of that one of its biggest challenges is keeping everyone in the world happy at the same time...After missing five games because of a cold, legendary 84 year old baseball broadcaster Vin Scully was back behind the microphone this weekend in his 63rd season as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers and archetype for the Freedom 85 retirement plan.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Big league baseball's return a distant dream

On the eve of a news conference to kick off former Expo Warren Cromartie's organized campaign promoting the return of professional baseball to Montreal, the obstacles facing Cromartie and his supporters are being underscored by developments at the major league level - specifically, lucrative new contracts for Matt Cain and Joey Votto.
The first question that comes to mind is "Who's Matt Cain?" Well, Cain is a 27 year old righthanded pitcher who's never won more than 14 games in a season, and will be paid 127.5 million dollars by the San Francisco Giants over the next six seasons. Votto you might have heard of. Two seasons removed from winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award, the Toronto born-and-raised slugger has signed a contract extension with Cincinnati reportedly worth 225 million over the next decade.
The Expos total payroll in their final season in Montreal was 43 million dollars. If they couldn't compete economically then, how could they compete now? The fact is they couldn't - not without a deep-pocketed local owner willing to absorb huge personal losses for the sake of a small core of die-hard baseball fans. That's the reality facing Cromartie, and to his credit, he recognizes the reality and is talking in terms of baby steps, suggesting a minor league franchise as the first phase in the rebirth of pro baseball in Montreal.
If passion alone was the only requirement to bring back major league baseball, it would be a done deal on the basis of Cromartie's enthusiasm alone, but it's also going to take money and trust, and more of each than can be amassed overnight.

Monday, April 2, 2012

PM-in-waiting?! (and other Monday morning musings)

There's a fine line between glass half full and hopelessly naive, and it's a line Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth crossed some time ago. More often than not, Cunneyworth's post-game comments accentuate the positive, which might carry some currency if the Habs had more than 16 wins in 47 games on Cunneyworth's watch. That he's a lame duck saddled with the "interim" tag doesn't make it any less delusional when Cunneyworth routinely says things like "our heart was in the game" or "the guys deserved better" while his team is leaving points on the ice two-thirds of the time...Despairing Canadiens fans searching for a thread of hope need only look a couple of hundred kilometers down the road to Ottawa, where the Senators clinched a playoff spot yesterday, just a year after finishing 13th in the conference and missing the post-season by 19 points. Like this year's Habs, last year's Sens were hard hit by long-term injuries to key players, and didn't get the most out of the guys who were healthy. This season, they were virtually injury-free and everyone played to their potential...While it raised a lot of money for a good cause, Saturday's three round charity boxing match between Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau probably didn't do anything for Trudeau's credibility as a would-be statesman. I'm no political spin doctor, but it seems to me that following in the footsteps of celebrity washouts like Danny Bonaduce, Jose Canseco and Donny Osmond represents a sharp detour off the road to the Prime Minister's office...Never let it be said that baseball is a young man's game. No fewer than ten players over 40 will be on Opening Day rosters this week, including Toronto shortstop Omar Vizquel, who turns 45 this month, and 49 year old Colorado pitcher Jamie Moyer, who's earned a spot in the Rockies starting rotation after leading the Florida Grapefruit League in gout, erectile dysfunction and early bird specials.