Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

It’s good to have people talking about baseball again.

Normally at this time of year, 100% of the Canadian sports fan focus is shifted towards the debut of the new National Hockey League season. Games are underway, and it typically seems as though all other sports fall by the wayside once the puck drops each fall.

As a massive baseball fan, it is the time of year where I find the small group of people to talk ball with, with those few others that watch my favourite sport right through to the end of the World Series.

There aren’t many of us, especially in the desolate outpost of Edmonton.

But not this year.

This year, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, giving us something to cheer about once again.

bj3After their massive trade deadline deals and rise to the top of the American League East, and then a great comeback to dispatch the Texas Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, the Jays are back, and have created excitement across the country.

People are Jays fans now. And they are talking baseball once again.

Many people would argue that it is a bad thing that there are so many bandwagon jumpers at this point in the year. People who had ignored the Jays for the past 20 years are now back, glued to their TVs with every pitch, and talking about the team non-stop. But it’s not a bad thing. It is creating a buzz, an excitement for the game that has been absent in Canada for a long time. This Jays run is creating a new generation of baseball fans, who are learning the game, and loving watching our nation’s only team win. The Jays, simply put, are making new baseball fans, and while there is no chance that all of them will stick around if the team is lackluster next season, there is a good number that will enjoy the thrills of the sport, and be hooked on baseball for life.

bj4Even out here in Edmonton, thousands of kilometers away from Toronto, perhaps the most despised sporting city in Canada, people are all in on the Jays. Car flags, men dressed in blue unitards on the streets with signs asking for honks to support the team, packed bars in the afternoon to cheer on every big play, and seemingly everybody willing to talk baseball for the first time in a long time, it’s a great thing to see. The country has rallied around the team. There are even concerns that our federal election will be affected by the Blue Jays Game 3 on Tuesday. That is some powerful drawing power.

It doesn’t hurt that the 2015 Blue Jays are filled with fun players with big personalities. They are an exciting team to watch, and have provided some thrills along the way already. The cheers ringing to the rafters of the local pub I was at during that magical 7th inning in Game 5 against Texas reminded me of other nation-unifying events, like Canada’s run to Olympic gold medals.

The Jays games are being watched in schools, on in the background, or as a centerpiece to the lesson of the day. It reminds me of being a teenager in 1992 and 1993, when the Jays were winning their World Series titles, and us students being loaded into the library to watch the game on a painfully small tube television, the only place in the school where cable TV was available. It was a great time, back then, watching them win it all in epic fashion.

And it has started off being fun again.

While they are in really tough with the Kansas City Royals- the one team I feel they match up poorly against- it should be an exciting ride as they try to win the American League pennant for the first time in over two decades.

Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, is on board.

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

Okay, now that the first few days of free agency are over and done with for another year, we can sit back and start to look objectively at some of the deals that were signed over the past few days. The free agent cupboard is now bare, and all that is left is some serviceable and semi-serviceable players who will probably be waiting all summer for a call to join a new team.

Some thoughts on the signings…

  • Paul Stasny to St. Louis: I like this one. Yes, $7M is too much for a player that is not even a #1 center, but he was the best free agent out there, so he got paid like it. The four years is nice, as it gives the Blues a chance to re-evaluate where they are fairly quickly, and not getting saddled with 7 years of someone who will probably end up being their second line center.
  • Brooks Orpik to Washington: Everybody has been piling on this signing as the worst one of the day. Five years for a 33-year-old is too much. The money is ridiculous. So, will I disagree, and take the other side? Nope. This is a bad deal, and quickly will be one that the Capitals regret.
  • Ryan Miller to Vancouver: Don’t like this one at all. Miller is showing his age, and demonstrated in St. Louis that he doesn’t really have the ability to help a team out over the hump anymore. Sure, he put up good numbers in Buffalo last year, but that means very little when the team was so bad. How does he help Vancouver? He is nearing the end of his career, and the Canucks are on a downward spiral. They are maybe the 8th or 9th best team in the conference, and I don’t see Miller making them any better to push them into the playoffs. Eddie Lack has similar numbers, and by bringing in Miller, they are pushing Jakob Markstrom out of the organization, which is a mistake, since he has plenty of untapped potential.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Oilers

  • Spezza and Hemsky to Dallas: Sure, Spezza arrived to the Stars via trade, but I’ll still count it. This is a good add for Dallas, even if they only get one year of Spezza before I could see him bolting for the West coast. But it definitely makes that team dangerous looking on paper, doesn’t it? This pair could have a really nice year since most teams will have to focus on shutting down Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin first. Although it doesn’t help their defensive liabilities at all, the Stars just got a whole lot scarier.
  • Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton: People are praising this as a win for people who love advanced statistics. And maybe it is a step in the right direction for the sad sack Oilers, who have done little aside from make poor decisions over the past few years. But my question revolves around Pouliot being able to put points on the board. Sure, his possession numbers are nice, but does that translate to success on the ice? He could be a decent addition to the third line, however. And yes, that is a lot of money to give a third liner.
  • Martin Brodeur to Nobody: I like this move. He is done. Wanting to move on from New Jersey is a huge mistake, and he should just put in one more year as a backup to Cory Schneider if he wants to keep playing. Yes, he is a legend, but the longer he plays, and if he switches teams, that legend will continue to be tarnished. Ask Mike Modano how his time in Detroit went to end his career? Or if he wishes that he just hung it up as a member of the Stars.
  • Christian Erhoff to Pittsburgh: Maybe the signing of the day, getting him for only $4M. I would have looked at signing him to a three-year deal, but this is a good chance at having him show the league what he still has left, and that was not completely sucked out of him from being in Buffalo for a couple of years.
  • Matt Niskanen to Washington: The only question that needs to be asked is if Niskanen can continue to put up points without guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Neal on the power play with him? Too many years given for one good season.

There were a lot of signings to get the whole thing started, which makes the negotiating window prior to free agency a nice idea. It makes for more interesting television when there are actually things to report, and the deals came in fast and furious over the first few hours of coverage. TSN must have been thanking their lucky stars, after a run of uneventful trade deadline days, and draft days.

Some teams made themselves a little bit better, and some of the signings were definite head scratchers, as they are every year. Of course, only time will tell if any difference will be made once the league resumes play in the fall.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

Round 2 Observations

Round 2 Observations

We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.

Boston and Montreal tied 2-2

  • I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
  • Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
  • It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.

Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2

  • Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
  • The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
  • It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
  • Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
  • It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.

Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2

  • Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
  • If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
  • I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
  • I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
  • Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.

anzeLos Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1

  • It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
  • These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
  • Good black and blue hockey.
  • The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
  • How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
  • Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.

End of Season NHL Thoughts

End of Season NHL Thoughts

With the year coming to an end in the National Hockey League tomorrow, I figured I would jot down a few thoughts I’ve had on the season that is wrapping up. It has had a ton of interesting stories, none being bigger than the Olympics (which really isn’t about the NHL, but at the same time, really is).

Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let's pretend it doesn't have the Thrashers on there.
Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let’s pretend it doesn’t have the Thrashers on there.
  • Congrats to the Bruins on winning the President’s Trophy. They are definitely the class of the East, and have been all season. It is really tough to pick anyone but them to make it out of the East to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Could the team to challenge the Bruins be the Flyers? This season was a pretty incredible comeback from what was a terrible beginning to the year, for a team that always seems to be involved in some turmoil.
  • About the Flyers, I am shocked that Steve Mason has led them to the playoffs and regained some of his form.
  • Interesting that the two teams who really wanted to move East, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings, both made the playoffs in their new conference. The team moving the other way, the Winnipeg Jets, did not.
  • Strange, but not surprising, that there will only be one Canadian team in the playoffs.
  • The Edmonton Oilers have to be the worst team in the league this year. The other miserable franchises, the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, were not expected to be anywhere close to good, and their expectations were to be bottom feeders. The Oilers often showed no effort or care, and this is why they are below teams like the Calgary Flames.
  • Great to see Sidney Crosby healthy and playing a full season. He has of course, shown what he can do, leading the league in points by a mile and probably on his way to the Hart Trophy as well.
  • Tough call to choose a Norris (best defenceman) Award. Weber, Chara, Keith, Pietrangelo, Vlasic, Doughty, Karlsson, are all worthy candidates.
  • I picked the Blues and Rangers to make the Finals at the start of the year. They are both in the dance, so I guess there is a shot that I’m right?
  • Should we be worried about the Blues, and their end of the season slump? It is poor timing on their part, but it just seems like they are too deep a team to have another early exit.
  • It seems impossible to decide who will come out of the West. Seems like every team who is in the playoffs has a legitimate shot.
  • Do the Oilers need to look at the Avalanche as a model of how to rebuild quickly and successfully? Part of the Avs getting to where they are was from making big trades. Something that doesn’t happen in Edmonton.
  • I have to give it to the Flames. They over-achieved purely based on heart.
  • Breakout season from Mark Giordano. An excellent defender in Calgary. And worthy of being their captain. Exploded offensively, unfortunately he missed some time with injuries, or he would be in the Norris conversation.
  • I have been ranting for years to friends about Alex Ovechkin being overrated and generally terrible when it comes to everything hockey that is not scoring goals. His league worst plus/minus and obviously giving up on plays is making him look really bad. He will never be a defensive specialist, but he is a poor leader, and the ways in which he coasts when not in the attacking zone is pretty embarrassing. Sure, the guy can score, but would anyone choose him to build their team around? When there are so many quality, all-around players out there? I doubt it anymore.
  • Countdown to the Penguins falling flat in the playoffs begins very soon.
  • Thank god the Islanders are up for sale. They need a change, and it begins with the owner. It is sad to watch so many bad things happen to one franchise. Poor choices mixed with bad luck equals another pathetic year on Long Island. Sad.
  • How crazy good were the rookies this year? MacKinnon, Palat, Johnson, Maata. Impressive.
  • What happened to Martin St. Louis in New York? Wonder if he regrets wanting out of Tampa, and not getting to play with Steven Stamkos anymore. Stamkos is one of the best, and makes everyone around him better.
  • The Lightning had better hope that Ben Bishop can play in the playoffs. He has been a revelation. And they are done without him, I think. Although the Canadiens aren’t the toughest first round match up.
  • Love Ryan Callahan in Tampa. Hope they get to keep him. Good all around player, solid leader.
  • Tuuka Rask for Vezina.
  • Enough with the outdoor games. If you want to keep doing it, make it one per year. It seemed like they kept coming, and like nobody cared. The Heritage Classic in Vancouver was a sham, being indoors. Feel bad for the fans who thought they were getting something special.
  • Incredible that the Red Wings have now made the playoffs for 23 straight years. Seems impossible.
  • I’m bored of shootouts. I’m sure the New Jersey Devils are as well, being the worst ever at them.
  • How many more career points would Jaromir Jagr have if he hadn’t gone to the KHL for those three years? You could probably pencil him in for an extra 160-200 points. Amazing career.
  • Goodbye, Teemu Selanne. You were always fun.
  • Is it fair that the Anaheim Ducks have 3 quality starting goalies? And they traded another of them, so they had 4 at one point. That is smart drafting.

Enough of this regular season business, let’s get the playoffs going! It’s always an exciting time of year, in what is the most gruelling tournament to win a championship in any of the major sports.

Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

shannonRecently, Canadian women’s hockey goalie Shannon Szabados signed a contract to play with the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League. She is now one of the few female goalies who will have suited up with a pro men’s hockey team.

Szabados is already a hero to many hockey fans, especially female hockey fans, for helping lead Team Canada to another Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. Now, she is breaking down the barriers, proving that a female can play with the boys when it comes to hockey.

She suited up for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers a while back in practice, to fill in when there were a few trades going down and the Oilers were short a goalie. Now, she is a pro goalie in a men’s league, after making her debut the other night. Sure, she may have lost 4-3, but she made 27 saves, and from the accounts I have read, it was a successful start to her men’s pro career.

Szabados is not a gimmick. She can play. This is great for her, and great for young female hockey players, to realize that there are opportunities out there. Sure, these chances are still extremely rare, but it only takes a few to prove so many wrong.

Shannon Szabados, Nail YakupovThere is a great article on Puck Daddy today about Szabados and the influence she is having on young girls who love hockey. It is quick, and definitely well worth a read.

Shannon Szabados plays for men’s team, inspires future female goalies

 

Flashback Film: The Mighty Ducks

Flashback Film: The Mighty Ducks

I was curious to see if this movie held up through the decades, and could still be a fun, underdog story that had a couple of laughs and some good memories.

Well, yes and no, I suppose.

Mighty_ducksOne thing that always annoyed me as a viewer, and as someone who knows and loves hockey, was how gimmicky all of the characters were. The Mighty Ducks doesn’t offer us a realistic look at the sport, where a bunch of kids need to hone their skills to overcome obstacles, it gives us characters who can only do one thing well, and it is some sort of trick play. Sure, when we were kids, the Flying V was a cool idea, but seeing it now, it is horribly unrealistic, and pretty lame. I know that’s not the point of the film, and if you are looking to see something more technical about hockey, there are other movies out there. This movie did a lot to garner interest in the sport, and that is something that not a ton of movies can do.

But, it’s not like I would watch this movie for the realism. As brutally cheesy as the on-ice action is, this movie is still pretty fun. The kids are fairly lovable, and even Emilio Estevez is still kind of fun as Coach Gordon Bombay. He has tons of terrible, and cheesy lines, but in the end, it kind of is right in his wheelhouse. Again, when watching The Mighty Ducks, you aren’t exactly expecting Oscar-calibre stuff.

We all know what is going to happen in the film, but we still want to see the “magical” triple deke at the end, and that evil Hawk coach go down. This movie is as Disney as it gets, and it is definitely a throwback to the early 90’s, where things like rollerblading were seen as cool.

Seeing a young Joshua Jackson again was funny, as he really is the best actor to come out of these films, and he was probably the best one in them, as well.

Let’s just say that for as cheesy as this movie was, after watching it again, I immediately put on D2: The Mighty Ducks, just to see what happened to the gang. The sequel could get it’s own post based on cheesiness.

Suffice it to say that the original movie, that spawned an NHL team, is worth another viewing as an adult. Just don’t expect too much at all, and it won’t be the worst hour and a half you’ve ever spent.

NHL: Ryan Miller to the Blues

NHL: Ryan Miller to the Blues

With the trade deadline approaching in the NHL, we as fans are always glued to all of the rumours that swirl around the league prior to the day that is an inevitable disappointment.

There are some huge names out there this year, which has fans salivating at an active day and not a complete waste of many hours of TSN coverage: Martin St. Louis, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Miller.

Well, there will at least be one big trade this year, as Miller and Steve Ott were traded to the St. Louis Blues for Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, a prospect and a couple of picks, including the Blues’ first rounder in 2015 (the Connor McDavid draft).

millerMy thoughts on this trade is that both teams win. The Sabres get a handful of pieces that they can hang on to, or turn around and trade again for more picks and prospects. Buffalo seems to be doing this rebuild thing the right way. They have a ton of first and second round picks in the next two drafts, and this will help them build to a much brighter future. They are not a better team today than they were yesterday, but that’s not what we are expecting them to do, anyways. The players they got back aren’t scraps, as Halak has numbers similar to Miller’s, and has been a pretty solid goalie in the league the past few years. Granted, that was playing behind the Blues’ mighty D, but he’s no slouch in the crease. Stewart is a solid power forward, who has the ability to put up points if he is in the right situation. He was up and down in St. Louis, and I think Buffalo will be a better fit for him, as more will be expected of him.

As for the Blues, many people have argued that getting Miller is only a marginal upgrade over Halak, and if you are purely looking at the numbers, this is true. But the fact is, Miller was playing in Buffalo, where they are simply awful. Now, he is on a strong, contending team, with a stellar defence in front of him (the best in the league, I would argue). He will turn out to be strong for the Blues, and in my mind, is a definite upgrade. If anything, it will give the team some confidence with him back there, something they obviously lacked by trying to get him in the first place. Now the D doesn’t have to be as concerned with making a mistake, because they have a solid stopper to cover up some mistakes.

As for Steve Ott, he is a good depth addition, who makes the Blues even tougher to play against. He is a pest with some offensive upside, and he does well to fill in the void left by Stewart.

The Blues gave up a lot for two guys who could merely be rentals, but for a team that needs to get into the deeper round of the playoffs for the first time in forever, it was a move in the right direction. I am excited to see how Miller does once he settles into his new surroundings, and if this team becomes the true Western powerhouse I believe it to be.

St. Louis was my Stanley Cup pick at the start of the year (beating the Rangers, I figured), and this move does nothing, in my opinion, but help that.

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.