Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jeets and the 3000

In most cases a baseball player reaching 3,000 career hits is a special thing. Derek Jeter on the other hand, it's a monumental thing. The first Yankee player in history to reach 3,000 hits. Amazing. I think most casual baseball fans who understand that 3,000 hits is a special, hall of fame type achievement, would never think NO Yankee had 3,000 hits.

So he we are, Saturday morning and I'm out west and the Yankees are about to face the Rays. Jeter will bat leadoff today, and every single time he comes to the plate, the stadium will go nuts. I mean think about all the incredible moments that Yankee fans have witnessed over the last 50 years? World Series wins, countless All Stars, countless incredible performances. This achievement will ring across not only the baseball world, but it will be felt throughout sports and news media. The first Yankee to 3,000 hits, the captain, Derek Jeter is a Yankee, one of the truest forms of the Yankee brand, and someone that any young player looks up to.

How can it be that DiMaggio, Ruth, Gehrig, and all the other Yankee legends never reached this plateau? What Jeter is about to accomplish will cement him in baseball history forever, and 50 years from now, his grandchildren will be talking about how their Grandad was Derek Jeter, the only Yankee with 3,000 hits. Amazing achievement for an amazing player. I hope Yankee fans give him an extended ovation, because Derek Jeter embodies everything you want in an athlete. An honest, hardworking leader, who only cares about one thing. Winning.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The NHL return to Winnipeg, Good and Bad

in 1997, the NHL saw fit to relocate the Winnipeg Jets to sunny Phoenix, Arizona. The move crushed the dreams of Jets fans across Manitoba, the Canadian province located smack dab in the heartland of Canada, a distant locale known for it's booming economy based on finance, manufacturing and agriculture. Winnipeg has quickly become one of the fastest growing economic cities in Canada, and is also known for it's sunny disposition. The city has had a recent boom in the arts as well, with several recent additions, Le Cercle Moliere the oldest theatre company in Canada has moved into new digs and several festivals create a hearty, festive community atmosphere.

The Atlanta Thrashers were a marketing disaster and thus have flown north to Winnipeg on the heels of a dedicated, persistent takeover by True North and it's very credible leader, Mark Chipman. Chipman guided the former AHL Manitoba Moose into a brand new arena several years back, a long with a revitilized downtown Winnipeg, the fans flocked to Moose games and made Winnipeg a viable, credible destination for professional hockey. Billionaire David Thompson is also a part of the True North group that backed this surprising move and with that ushered in a new era for the NHL in Canada's heartland.

With the announcement that the NHL had agreed to the sale the new Jets ownership created the "Drive to 13,000" which was an instant success; having 8,000 people sign up for tickets in a mere 2 hours.

The Jets future looks bright on the ice as well, with young stars Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien. The club has recently added several hometown players in an effort to further connect with Manitobans. like Derek Meech for example.

The problems for the future of this club are exactly the same problems they faced in 1996-1997. Can the Jets remain competitive financially with American teams as well as other Canadian clubs in larger markets. The Jets will play in front of ravenous fans for sure, but the sustainability will depend on the strength of the Canadian dollar, their ability to attract free agents to a somewhat isolated market and their "small arena". MTS Centre can house 15,015 fans which is by far the smallest arena, next to Nassau Coliseum which checks in at 16,234. True North seem extremely committed, well funded and let's face it, excited to be in the NHL.

There is no doubt the Jets will have momentum for several years early on, and the only key to the survival of hockey in Winnipeg this time is creative, dedicated ownership that will do whatever it takes to keep the team there, where it belongs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sharks send Heatley packing, add Havlat

Very rarely do we see these types of trades in today's NHL. It was a shocker for sure and It seemed to come out of nowhere. The San Jose Sharks have traded Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for scoring winger Martin Havlat. Havlat and Heatley are both 30 and both players are true offensive wingers.

On paper, the deal is a wash, both players have dynamic offensive ability and are both top line skaters. Heatley played the bulk of last season with a broken hand, and didn't ask out of the lineup, just sucked it up and still put up a respectable 26 goals, 38 assists in 80 games. That is the lowest point total Heatley has had in any season with at least 70 games played. Heatley is a determined player and playing with two All-Stars in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau gave him many opportunities to score.

Martin Havlat has been a consistent scorer in the NHL, and had a brief period where he would be slightly invisible. A few years back Havlat was also a member of the Senators and was pawned off to the Blackhawks, in a three team trade, that also included, yep, the San Jose Sharks. Havlat quickly re-upped with Chicago on a 3 year deal, but his first two seasons in Chicago were met with injuries, until 08-09 when Havlat became team MVP. He had an incredible year in 08-09, notching 77 points and quickly became a hot commodity on the free agent market. He wanted to remain with Chicago, but former GM Dale Tallon would only offer a one year contract. Havlat signed with Minnesota, for 6 years, 30 million and quickly moved to the Wild's top line with rising center Mikko Koivu.

Havlat and the Wild struggled for much of his time there as the team was still very young and inexperienced. The Wild have without question shaken things up with their earlier acquisition of Devin Setoguchi, from the Sharks and tough two way center Darrol Powe from the Flyers. The Wild also bought out Cam Barker likely to make room for a new defenseman.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The NHL free agent blitz

So the summer is officially underway, and the National Hockey League has held is annual entry draft and now we're in day 2 of the Free Agent Frenzy. Many people who follow and cover the NHL have been very critical of the $300+ million dollars that has been spent in free agency. The problem that I have with these naysayers is that the NHL, it's player union and it's fans should be celebrating. I have read several blogs and comments on twitter regarding the subject and it always seems to be negative. How can a team, player, fan or writer have anything but good things to say?

Sure, maybe some of the contracts may seem a bit out of whack, or to quote Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee, "goofy". but the reason teams are giving such long term contracts is two-fold. Every NHL hockey club has a job to do. That job in a nutshell is to provide it's fans with a quality product, sell tickets, earn revenue and connect with it's community. In simple terms every professional team is a business and these teams are in the business to secure talent and ensure their future ability to compete. The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15, 2012, and most of what we're seeing is a result of that. No hockey clubs want to have thin rosters when the current CBA expires. They want to ensure that they have several components in place, so that if their is a lockout, strike or lengthy dispute. These clubs are targeting players of a certain age, that fill a role and spending on them.

How can people be critical of teams trying to compete? By adding assets to field a competitive hockey team, these clubs should be lauded, not criticized. It amazed me the level of negativity year in and year out. The agents are somewhat to blame aren't they? They are the people charged with negotiating these contracts, and the owners, general managers and players all work to make it happen.

The NHL is in mid boon. The owners are making money, and in most markets the fans are excited. Struggling markets like Florida and Buffalo are now in position to compete, and it's a result of adding payroll, adding contracts and spending money in free agency. When criticism is warranted I will be right there to provide some, but this is a day that fans of the NHL should be cheering. It goes a long way to prove that labor peace should remain constant and with the troubles of the NBA, NFL and eventual MLB, the NHL is proving to be a model of how to achieve labor peace and secure profits for your franchises.

Rangers land Brad Richards

After a long day of fielding offers and speaking with several NHL clubs, including watching several presentations, former Dallas Stars centerman Brad Richards has chosen to sign with the New York Rangers, a 9 year, 56.8 million dollar contract.

Richards, 31 was by far the most coveted free agent and by many accounts fits everything the Rangers needed. A top line center to create plays and help improve the Rangers anemic power play.

In his 10 year NHL career Richards has notched 220 goals, 496 assists for 716 points. He is extremely adept on the power play notching 230 power play assists.

Richards is a former Lady Bing, Conn Smythe winner and won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and was the driving force throughout that playoff year.

The Rangers have a solid core of youth around Richards including defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and young forwards Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. It's impressive how Rangers boss Glen Sather with coaxing from coach John Tortorella have stayed the course with their own prospects and built a very strong young group of players. Richards can now step in on the first line and give the Rangers are legitimate shot at the playoffs, every season.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mets win again, critics fail

The New York Mets got out of the gate very say the least. Most people wrote them off early on and often, and most critics had the Mets pawning off any veteran they could for anything they could get.

I guess no one could have anticipated the Mets being 5 games out of the NL wild card at the half way point in the season...and that Jose Reyes would be an early MVP candidate. Reyes is killing it right now, with several big numbers including 39 extra base hits, double digit steals and a surprising giddy up in his overall game. Reyes is playing the field well too and Carlos Beltran is on pace for 100 RBI's, something that he should do every year.

The Mets have also put together a make-shift starting rotation with power knuckler R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, rookie Dillon Gee and the surgically repaired Chris Capuano. The Mets have done well to stay in this race, and with the impending return of David Wright and Johan Santana, the Mets could become the second best team in the National League East.

If you look at this team on paper, the return of Santana is a key interest. If he's healthy, which he's on schedule to be, the Mets could really get good. It will be interesting to see where the Mets are on July 31st because that's the non-waiver trade deadline and the Mets could end up being a buyer if they are still in the wild card.

What a boon for the Mets that would be because they might actually sell out Citi Field for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gamecocks' CWS win and the perfect timing

The NCAA and College World Series picked the perfect time to air their annual baseball tournament. There is nothing really relevant in sports right now, except maybe Wimbeldon, but one could argue that those who watch Wimbeldon, probably don't watch much college baseball.

The South Carolina Game Cocks spirited their way to their second straight CWS championship. A record win as the Cocks become the first team to go 10-0, yes 10-0 in the tourney and first since Oregon State 2007 to go unbeaten in a CWS.

The Game Cocks rebuilt pitching staff and star outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. led the way for SC coach Ray Tanner and the team did so battling injuries throughout the season.