Thursday, April 29, 2010

THE ONION: (written by The Hammer Speaks, as there was some confusion)

--William C. Rhoden, New York Times

With his usual candor and insight Wiliam Rhoden lashed out again today against the establishment that is the NFL and it's unwillingness to give equal opportunities to African-American quarterbacks.  "Tim Tebow has proven to be the best college football player in the country.  He has won two National Championships, played for a third and won the Heisman Trophy.  Now the NFL and various scouts are going out of their way to discredit him after being selected late in the first round by the Denver Broncos.  It is a complete affront to African-Americans everywhere."

Rhoden, an accomplished writer for the New York Times, finds the inequality in sports today ample fodder for articles.  "There is no other topic in today's society more worthy of discussion, than how disadvantaged today's African-American athlete is."  Rhoden has found particular fodder in the way the NFL handles the quarterback position.  When asked about his 2007 quote in which he said "having a quarterback who moves, and moves with speed and purpose, is not a luxury, and that is the essence of the revolution at quarterback," Rhoden stood by it.  "It is quarterbacks like Michael Vick, JaMarcus Russell Vince Young and Tim Tebow who are going to transform the position if they are ever given the opportunity."

When it was noted that the QBs in this year's Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, last year's game, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner, and the 2008 game, Tom Brady and Eli Manning, were all pocket quarterbacks who lacked great mobility, Rhoden suggested it was just a "phase."

"When they let the Tim Tebow's of the world have a legitimate chance at playing the position, you will see how quickly things change."  Rhoden continued, "When African-American athletes like Tebow go out and speak their mind about causes they believe in, it's not 'Wow, isn't it great he stands up for his beliefs,' no, instead it's that uppity black guy can't be allowed to run a football team or be the face of our organization.  The African-American athlete still has a long way to go."

When informed that Tebow was white, Rhoden looked confused.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Steelers Restructure and Extend McFadden

In what seems to be a good deal for the Steelers, they have restructured Bryant McFadden's contract.  McFadden was due to make $4.75 million as the second year of a deal he signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals last off-season.  Instead McFadden signed a new three year deal for $7.5 million.  It appears there is no signing bonus involved so the salary and cap hit will be $2.5 million/year.  If he doesn't pan out the Steelers cut him and the ramifications are minimal.

I expect McFadden to battle with Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis for a starting corner spot.  As I've said before I think William Gay is going to be the odd man out in the battle for roster spots.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Greatest Mascot Highlight Ever

The Smorgasbord

• The Oklahoma City Thunder have looked great in their two games at home and have now evened their series with the Los Angeles Lakers at 2.  I thought this series would go seven and it still might, but tonight is do or die.........for the Lakers.  Yep.  They aren't going to win game six on the road so they better win tonight if they want to continue their title defense.

• In early April RJ Umberger ripped the Washington Capitals, saying among other things that a good defensive team would beat them in the playoffs.  The Columbus Blue Jackets winger sounded a little silly calling out a team on it's way to winning the President's Cup for having the most points during the regular season, particularly when his Jackets were not even going to make the post-season.  Well RJ was spot on and if the Caps lose Wednesday night to the Canadiens the season will go down as an epic failure.  

• The Caps have only won one playoff series since they lost 4-0 in the 1998 Cup finals to the Red Wings.  As a result,  Wednesday's game is an early referendum on Alex Ovechkin's career.  There is no arguing the energy and excitement #8 brings to the game, but it has not translated to playoff success.  This is only the fourth playoff series of his career and they have all gone to seven games, with the Caps losing two of three.  A loss tomorrow will absolutely crush the Rock the Red crew and will make for an interminable twelve months for Ovie and the boys.  It isn't just on Ovechkin though as Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann have been invisible with one point each through six games.

• Speaking of epic failure, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost their seventh consecutive game and their 22nd straight at Miller Park last night 17-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Over the seven games they have been outscored 72-12 (53-4 courtesy of the Brew Crew) and have not held a lead at the end of any inning.  They have been beaten by more runs than they have scored 82-65.  After winning seven of their first twelve and generating some cautious optimism, the Pirates have gone from bad, to embarrassing to comical with frightening speed.  Hope, located on the horizon, still appears to be at least two years away.

• It's a big weekend for some finge sports as the Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs and Floyd Mayweather will fight Shane Mosley in Vegas, both on Saturday.  In the Derby the bloom is off Lookin at Lucky but I expect him, Dublin and Devil May Care to battle it out at the wire.  I'll be a conflicted fan in Vegas as I would love to see a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, but a Mosley win would strip it of its luster.  It's hard to root for Money, but I guess I have to.  Hopefully Shane can win a few rounds early and make Floyd work.  I think he'll win a decision.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Second Inductee into the "Best Lines" Hall of Fame

Bills cornerback Drayton Florence asked his followers on Twitter what undrafted players have the best shot at making the Buffalo roster.

Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker's answer: "Whoeva u guard in practice!"

And for all the world to see thanks to Twitter.

Now Presenting: Those Not Wearing Black and Gold, Fall 2010 Edition

Everyone knows you can't judge the success of a draft until the players, you know, actually play.  But, that doesn't stop hundreds of people from slapping a letter grade on the past weekend's activities.  Fans want answers, so the media gives it to them.  What the talking heads should be doing is looking at the 2007 draft and seeing how that turned out.  (Yea, I'll do if for you later and I'll get my buddy at Back to Foulke to do the same for the Pats.)

So what does the draft tell us other than who is going where?  It tells us what a coaching staff and front office think of their team's personnel.  When the Steelers take a linebacker in rounds 2, 4 and 5 they are sending a message, actually more like screaming it, that they aren't happy with their depth at the position.  With that in mind lets take a look at which veterans on the current roster aren't likely to be back because of what took place this past week.

Offensive Line: With the selection of Maurkice Pouncey in round 1 the Steelers have started remaking the line.  With the addition of an undrafted free agent today the team has 14 lineman on the roster, including two long snappers.*  Obviously one of those guys goes.  If the team carries nine it means Doug Legursky and either Tony Hills or newly-signed Jonathan Scott is gone.  Fifth round pick Chris Scott is probably headed for the practice squad.  Trai Essex and Willie Colon may be in their last season with the club.

*I don't understand why every fringe NFL lineman doesn't spend all his free time practicing long snaps.  While it certainly is an important role for every team, it is not a difficult skill.  There is NO reason teams should allocate a roster spot solely to this.  If I ever have a kid who projects to be over six feet tall, I'll have him long snapping in the backyard every afternoon.  Is there an easier way to half a million bucks?

Wide Receiver: Third round draft pick Emmanuel Sanders and free agent signees Antwaan Randle-El and Arnaz Battle mean the Limas Sweed era in Pittsburgh was a brief one.  Battle's special teams versatility gives him the edge unless Sweed has a big training camp.

Secondary: William Gay was horrible last year.  It's telling that he will be best-known for this.  Thanks for coming.  Anthony Madison's Steelers days are over as well. Deshea Townshend wasn't resigned and Bryant McFadden was re-acquired from AZ.  It's time for Ryan Mundy, Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett to step up.  Fifth round pick Crezdon Butler is probably headed to the practice squad.

Linebacker: Clearly the organization is worried about it's depth at this position.  Drafting three linebackers and resigning Larry Foote means Patrick Bailey and Andre Frazier are done.  Keyaron Fox is in his last season.

Oher guys that might surprise you but aren't likey to be back include Nick Eason, Chris Hoke, Mewelde Moore and Stefan Logan.  Only 53 spots.  Unfortunately for most of these guys they have cashed their last NFL paycheck.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This blog is still located at

It may move back to this site in the future.

First Inductee into the "Best Lines" Hall of Fame

Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of WR Dez Bryant's issues with punctuality, "We had a president that couldn't get there on time a lot, Bill Clinton. Seriously. But boy, when he got there, he brought the wood."

Good Signs for the Future as the Present Flounders

There is no question the Pirates are banking on all the prospects they have stockpiled in the minors.  FanGraphs does a nice piece on their high-A team, the Bradenton Marauders.  Most of these guys are 2-3 years away, but after yesterday's 20-0 shellacking taken by the big club, dreaming about the future once again takes center stage.

Some Positive News for Ben

He sure needs it.  And this leads one to believe the Nevada suit is completely without merit.  Unfortunately for BR I don't imagine this will get much play.

Steelers Pounce, Penguins Don't, Pirates Pounded.

As I forecasted here and on my radio show (Saturday 3-5 pm this week, 1-3 pm going forward) the Steelers drafted Maurkice Pouncey a 6' 5", 305 lbs. interior lineman from the University of Florida in the first round of the NFL draft last night.  You don't need me to tell you much more about this because it appears people have come to follow this parsing and packaging of young, athletic men with the same enthusiasm that the Holy Roman Empire pursued the Crusades.  Listen, there are few people on the planet who want to talk about this stuff more than me, but if I think we might be approaching overkill then we are probably getting close.  Let's suffice it to say that I like the pick.

Since I am one-for-one in the forecasting business and have more on record here, let me channel my inner-Nostradamus and tell you what is going to happen with Pouncey.  He is going to be the Steelers starting right guard this season, no later than game 5 (which will interface nicely with Roethlisberger's return) displacing incumbent Trai Essex.  Next season he moves to center even though current center Justin Hartwig will be in the final year of his contract.  Keith Urbik or Ramon Foster will then slide into his vacated right guard position.  There, now you know.

UPDATE: PFT follows my lead.
While the Steelers were on the clock the Penguins were working their way back from a 2-0 deficit incurred because they chose to sleepwalk through the first fifteen minutes of their Game 5 with the Ottawa Senators at the local ice rink.  They managed to come back and tie the game and then appeared to seal the deal when the Captain scored another highlight reel goal to put the Pens up 3-2 with 11 minutes left.  Two minutes later it was tied and 52 more minutes of tense playoff hockey ensued.  A slapshot deflected off Matt Cooke's knee and now the Penguins have to go through customs again.

Kris Letang was excellent, Jay McKie wasn't.  Dan Bylsma probably isn't ready to turn to Ben Lovejoy, but I would.  Fleury was fine, but the boys really squandered a chance to put a beaten Senators team away.  The first goal probably would have done it (see Flyers-Devils), but not only didn't the Pens get it, they didn't get the second either.  It's worth noting that the Senators changed goalies and Pascal Leclaire was largely responsible for keeping the team's Gone Fishin' sign in the drawer at least until Saturday.


I spent my afternoon at PNC Park yesterday.
(Nice touch with the photo, huh.  I won't tell you how long it took me to sort it out.  And no, there certainly weren't that many people there.)

It was a beautiful sunny day.  And I was part of history.  The Pirates lost 20-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers.  It was their worst loss in 124 years and a shutout no less.  Fortunately I was also in attendance the night before and was lucky enough to watch the Bucs go toe-to-toe with the Brew Crew, only to come out on the short end of an 8-0 cliffhanger.  So yesterday it was easier to just sit back and take it all in.  The Brewers pitchers got three hits.

I'll have more about this in a Pirates post later, but suffice it to say that when you get outscored 36-1 in a three game series at home, it's time to take inventory even if you are only 15 games into the season.

Also, on a personal note I went to four local sporting events in the past week.  The Penguins lost twice and the Pirates lost twice.  Anybody want to pay me to stay home?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Rooneys (and the NFL) Win and Win Big

Absolutely masterful.  I don't know who is calling the shots on this one but give him/them an A+.  With the franchise in apparent disarray (it isn't) and Steeler Nation angry as hell (some are) the Rooneys and the NFL have played this one spectacularly.

Ben Roethlisberger gets accused of rape in a college bar in Georgia.  Santonio Holmes throws a drink or a glass at a woman in a nightclub in Florida and then proceeds to tweet that he's gonna smoke dope and a critical fan should go kill himself.  Not exactly the behavior you are looking for from two of your key employees.  The two employees responsible for the touchdown that won you a Super Bowl 14 months ago.  Your team's reputation has taken a severe hit and people are asking whether the organization cares, whether it's coaching staff has lost control, whether it's coddling its superstars.  Time to go into crisis mode.  And we haven't seen it played this well in a long time.

Sammy Sosa pretended he couldn't speak English.  Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger in indignatinon.  Mark McGwire teared up and didn't want to talk about the past.  ARod butchered his apology and didn't own it.  Roger Clemens denied everything and made a fool of himself.  Michael Vick didn't take it seriously.  Tiger Woods went into hiding.  It's a slightly different situation in that the Rooneys didn't commit either offense.  But, they were wearing it nonetheless.  Talk show callers in Pittsburgh were wondering if they could still root for the team.  That my friends is a crisis of the highest order.

The wheels went in motion April 11 when the Steelers abruptly cuts ties with Holmes, trading him to the Jets for a fifth round draft choice.  The first message was sent.  No matter how good you are if you are repeatedly an idiot and make poor choices you are no longer going to be a member of this football team.  The media was shocked at how little the team got in return (incorrectly in my opinion as Holmes is going to miss 25% of the season due to suspension and is a free agent at the end of the year) and this helped as a first step in winning the PR battle.  It doesn't matter what we get in return we don't want this person associated with our team the Rooneys seemed to be saying.

Art Rooney II continued this process last week with a press conference in which he condemned the quarterback's behavior and said there would be consequences for his actions.  Not once did he point out that BR wasn't even charged with any criminal offense.  Not once did he try to plead for understanding or offer a sympathetic voice for his star quarterback.  Nope.  He stated flatly that management, the entire organization, the whole of Steeler Nation was incredibly disappointed and angered by BR's actions and that much had to be done on the young man's part to earn back the trust and support of those he had offended.  He said BR would be punished.

Art Rooney II hit it out of the park.  The only concession that Mr. Rooney made was in saying BR appeared to be contrite and would be allowed to participate in OTAs with his teammates.  Essentially, he said, "we're pissed as all hell, but he's still, for now, part of the family."  But, the groundwork was being laid.

Yesterday the NFL came down and it came down hard.  BR became the first player in the history of the league to be suspended without being arrested or charged with a crime and he was suspended for six games (which will most likely be reduced to four by the start of the season).  In an open letter the league outlined BR's transgressions and the reasons for his suspension.  It is by far the best letter I have ever seen in this regard--strong, evenhanded, personal and outlining a clear path to forgiveness and reinstatement.  The NFL does nothing better than protect its own image.  It understands how important its credibility is to having a fanbase.  With the suspension and accompanying action, Roger Goodell and staff moved decisively.  Art Rooney II and the Steelers came out fully supportive of the punishment.  In concert the League and the Steelers won big with the media, its players and their fans by suspending the "arrogant, reckless white quarterback" with a punishment longer than many anticipated.

The Rooneys and the Steelers are completing the final steps in the crisis plan as we speak.  It has been actively leaked that the Steelers are doing everything they can to trade their franchise quarterback.  The media is breathlessly reporting that the team is "desperate" to trade BR before the draft this evening.  Certainly this is designed to put the fear of god into #7 and appease the (smaller, in my opinion) part of the fanbase that wants blood, that never wants BR to put on the hallowed Steelers jersey again.

I think there is ZERO chance the Steelers move BR today or in the near future.  BR is a fantastic talent that has guided them to two Super Bowl victories in five years--and he's a bad guy and a jerk.  The team has already paid him an extraordinary sum of money in bonuses and guarantees under the 8 year, $102 million contract he signed in March 2008, making the rest of his remaining years under contract relatively reasonable.  The Rooneys are smart businessmen and realize, not only BR's talent, but the minuscule return they would get on such an investment if they were to trade him now.

No, the Rooneys aren't really looking to trade Ben Roethlisberger.  Rather, the PR machine is rolling in full force.  The fact that they are "investigating" the possibility will appease many of the fans that want him gone.  When the story is told that they could get nothing of value for him in return, BR will be appropriately humiliated and Steeler fans will nod understandingly.  And five months from now, when the quarterback returns from his suspension--cowed and contrite, not coincidentally just as the Steelers enter their bye week, the healing of Steeler Nation will begin.  Fans like to forgive and by leading the Steelers to the playoffs this fall, BR will earn himself a lot of forgiveness.

I'm not suggesting that the Rooneys are in anyway supportive of anything BR has done.  I believe they are mad as hell.  But they are also smart people with a very large investment in their team.  They know that BR brings great value to the franchise.  And being smart businessmen selling a product they also know they need to listen to and have the support of their fans.  Oiling the PR machine to protect their investment isn't disingenuous, rather it is brilliant.  They have done a fantastic job.  Now fans just have to decide what they are going to do when he takes the field Sunday, October 17th at home against the Cleveland Browns.

Well played, Rooneys, well played.

Sifting Through Round 1 (NHL & NBA)

With 14 NHL and NBA playoff games the past two nights, Round 1 has taken on some color.  Let me take you to the finish line.  First the NHL.

NHL-Eastern Conference
(1)Washington v (8) Montreal:  Currently 3-1 Caps.  Nice early effort by the Habs, but blowing a 4-1 lead with two minutes left in the second period of game two, coming back to tie and then losing in OT sealed the deal.  Caps 4-1.

(2) New Jersey v (7) Philadelphia:  Currently 3-1 Flyers.  The only team the Devils can beat with any consistency is Pittsburgh.  Being in the same state hasn't helped, but I think the Devils don't go down without a fight.  Flyers 4-3.

(3) Buffalo v (6) Boston:  Currently 3-1 Bruins.  The least entertaining series of the eight.  Neither team can score and they don't look good trying.  Good goalies and not many other good players to watch.  Boston won't close the deal even though they are up 3-1.  Sabres 4-3.

(4) Pittsburgh v (5) Ottawa:  Currently 3-1 Penguins.  Pittsburgh appears to be rounding into form and Crosby's showing he's easily the best player on the planet.  Penguins 4-1.

Gary Bettman is loving the way things are playing out in the East.  If either the Bruins or Flyers win one of the last three games the Capitals and the Penguins will be set up to meet in the Conference Finals rather than Round 2.  Remember the NHL reseeds every round.  A ratings bonanza for the league, but work still to be done to have it all work out.

Western Conference
(1) San Jose v (8) Colorado:  Currently 2-2, the last three games going to OT.  Q: What do you call 25 millionaires at home watching the playoffs?  A:  The Sharks.  But I can't pick against them here.  They are too big and physical for the Avs and I think they win the next two.  Heroic work by Craig Anderson to keep the Avs in it, but Sharks 4-2.

(2) Chicago v (7) Nashville:  Currently 2-1 Predators.  The Hawks have four goals in three games and I don't see much changing.  I think Game 4 is a must win for Chicago and I don't think it's going to happen, Pekka Rinne has been too good and the Preds are too responsible in their own zone.  A hugely disappointing bow out by Chicago.  Predators 4-2.

(3) Vancouver v (6) Los Angeles:  Currently 2-2.  The most wide-open and entertaining series so far.  Great play by the stars and shaky goaltending at times on each side.  I have no idea.  Let's say Drew Doughty with an OT goal in Game 7 in Vancouver.  Kings 4-3.

(4)NHL/Phoenix v (5) Detroit:  Another great series.  The Coyotes have been the season's surprise team and have given a great account of themselves thus far.  But Zetterberg and Datsuyk appear to be heating up and I don't think Bryzgalov can carry the day.  Red Wings 4-2.

Three lower seeds and setting up for San Jose-Detroit.  The NHL would love Chicago to make it through.  We'll see what happens.  Feel free to express your views below.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Paul Coffey quarterbacked the power play like Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops.  Cullen, Brown and Stevens finished with aplomb.  Barrasso was solid, if not spectacular in goal, and of course Mario was the best player on the ice.  Late in the game the Penguins rewarded their faithful with the "chili goal"--goal number 7 when Danny Quinn poked in a rebound on the power play and earned a free bowl of chili from Wendy's for all those in attendance.

Something like that.  

Last night wasn't 1989, but it sure had that feel.  Although the Ottawa Senators didn't throw in the towel, this pivotal Game 4 was over when the Captain snapped a wrister from above the right dot over Brian Elliot's glove midway through the second period--sending Elliot home from work early.  Sid's second of the game gave the Pens a 4-0 lead.  And even though the Sens made a game (and a scrum) out of it and fought back to 4-2, the outcome was never in doubt.  The teams alternated goals the rest of the way and the Penguins emerged with a well-deserved 7-4 victory and 3-1 games lead in the series.

As in Game 3 the Penguins came out flying.  An early power play goal by Malkin, his fourth of the series and third from the right dot on the power play, got the Pens off early.  But the period ended that way thanks to excellent goaltending by Elliot, who was spectacular at times and kept the Senators in it as they were outshot 14-6.  But, ahh the fickle winds of fate.  Elliot went from star to spectator in a 2:25 span early in the second when Sid put a brace (English for two goals, stay with me) around a great hardworking goal by Matt Cooke setup by Max Talbot.  The teams combined for eight goals in the second, one off the record, and the Pens emerged with a 6-3 lead.  Jason Spezza got one back early in the third which kept the beer vendors happy, but Jordan Staal--welcome to the series--closed it out with a power play goal, his first.

The Portenders of Doom have been quieted and the Pens will try to finish things off at the Igloo on Thursday.  The forwards to a man were excellent again last night.  Superstar (Max Talbot for the unindoctrinated) continued to elevate his play in the playoffs and his goal at the end of the second essentially insured the win as the Penguins are now 10-0 when Max scores in a playoff game.  Sid was Sid with two and two.  Is it possible he is continuing to raise his level of play?   He now has 11 points in four games, two off his career series high.

Defensively the Pens seemed to loose focus after going up 4-0 and they gave up two 5v3 shorthanded goals.  Fleury was again sufficient.  He looked bad on Spezza's goal in the third, but he had no chance on either 5v3 goal and he made some big saves again early, particularly when the Pens were only up 1-0 at the start of the second period.  Jay McKie has done well in place of the injured Jordan Leopold and the reunited pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik seems to have found the chemistry they had in last year's playoffs.  The only sour note is that Tyler Kennedy went off in the second with what appeared to be a right leg injury after taking a hit from Andy Sutton and did not return.

With the Flyers 4-1 home win over the Devils and 3-1 series lead, things are now shaping up nicely for the boys.  If Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both close out the series the Penguins will avoid the Washington Capitals in round 2.  They will play the winner of the Buffalo-Boston series if the Caps and Flyers both take care of business.  The Pens would have home ice against the Bruins, but would start on the road against the Sabres.  Enjoy the chili.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Steelers Trade for a Familiar Face

Leftwich backed up Big Stupid during the Super Bowl winning 2008 season.  Could this mean the trade winds are blowing?  I don't think so, but it will certainly raise some eyebrows.  With 11 draft picks the seventh-rounder wasn't particularly valuable so the cost was minimal.

Ovi and the Caps Doing Steroids?

The story is coming out in this week's SI.  There is nothing good here for the NHL or the Caps and Bill Daly and Gary Bettman are going to have some hard questions to answer.  I'm sure Ted Leonsis will have something pithy to say about it on his blog.

McShay's Mock, My Pick and a Free Mercedes

Todd McShay just published his latest Round 1 mock draft (ESPN Insider, subscription required).  As most of you know the real draft is taking place starting Thursday night at 7:30.  While the first three picks appear set at this point (Bradford #1 and then Suh and McCoy in either order at #2 & #3), the rest of the first round is open to speculation and could change drastically if any trades are made at the last minute.

Here is the interesting part.  In McShay's latest version he has the following three players available when the Steelers pick at 18--Maurkice Pouncey, C/G Florida, Mike Iupati, G Idaho and Joe Haden, CB Florida.  Those have to be the three guys the Steelers are targeting, particularly if the top four OTs are already off the board.  I'm on record as saying there is no way the Steelers pass on Pouncey if he's there.  But, that was under the assumption that Haden was taken in the top 10.  So, I'll give the caveat that the Steelers take Pouncey, unless Smokin' Joe is on the board.  If he is, you know who your new starting right corner is on September 5th.

As for the speculation that the Steelers would take Clemson RB C.J. Spiller at 18, please pass the crack pipe.  Some talk show hosts and a variety of bloggers think Spiller is going to be available when the Steelers are on the clock around 10:00 Thursday night.  There is ZERO or less chance CJ is on the board at 18.  McShay has him going at six.  I'm guessing between 7 and 13 to SF or Seattle.  If he's is on the board the Steelers will be offered a king's ransom to trade down.  In fact, if Spiller is on the board I'll buy everyone who provides a comment to this blog post a Mercedes.  These people are brain dead.  Or I'm going to be broke.

Troy Changes Tune

Troy attending OTAs, different than years past.  Doubt it will effect the likelihood of him getting injured one way or the other.  Some of the comments (starting with #1) are pretty damn funny even if you're a Steeler fan.

UPDATE: Post in the comments at PFT has been deleted.  Gotta be quick around here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sweed, the new Plax?

Good to see Limas Sweed is participating in the OTAs after missing the end of the season for personal reasons.  The 2008 second round pick out of Texas has been a huge disappointment thus far.  Maybe his switch from #14 to #80 will change his luck.  I just hope he isn't packin' some heat in his pants when he's out clubbin' it in the Burgh.

Steelers Institue Zero-Tolerance Policy?

I can understand why Tomlin might want to deny such remarks.  How is "zero-tolerance" defined--a parking ticket, a DUI, public urination?  Are they going to cut Troy if he pulls a Jeff Reed?  Again it's a slippery slope and the previous "case-by-case" was the right way to go.  I don't think he wants to be on record with the public having said as much.  In the locker room it's probably a different story.

Lost and Found

It's hard to put an exact date on when the Penguins lost what they were looking for.  I think the closest one might come is Saturday, October 24th.  That morning the Penguins were 9-1-0 and had scored three or more goals in every game except their 3-0 loss to Phoenix two and a half weeks earlier.  Times were good.

That night they lost at home to the New Jersey Devils 4-1.  It was their first game against either the Devils or the Washington Capitals, against whom they would proceed to go a combined 0-9-1.   For the third year in a row they were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.  Their 38-27-7 record after their hot start is nothing to sneeze at, but after winning four straight coming out of the Olympic break, they won back-to-back games exactly once the rest of the year.  They have been alternating wins and losses in their last nine games including last night's 4-2 road win in Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators.

But last night I think they found what they were looking for.  There is no question the Penguins played one of their most complete games of the season.  Almost all the components that have been keys to their success this year were in evidence.  
  • Scoring Early.  Alexsei Ponikarovsky, last seen on a milk carton, played his best game as a Penguin and jump started the team by ripping a quick wrister past Brian Elliot low on the glove side at 1:17 of the first.  It is just Ponikarovsky third goal as a Penguin and his second playoff goal and sixth point in twenty-six post-season games.  
  • An Aggressive Forecheck.  Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams where just a few of the guys who constantly pressured and harassed the Senators back line.  And like Kunitz in Game 2, Talbot's hustle and deft stickwork lead directly to a Penguin goal when he beat Erik Karlsson to the puck and flicked a shot on Elliot.  Evgeni Malkin was there for the rebound and the Pens were up 2-1.
  • Timely Goaltending.  Marc-Andre Fleury causes heart palpitations for many of the Penguin faithful.  He only had one shutout all year, and as I've mentioned, was pulled a league-leading eight times.  He seems to give up a soft goal every game.  Last night was no exception as he got caught cheating across his crease on the Senators second goal.  But, as is his wont, he makes timely saves and he came up with more than a few good ones after the Senators had tied the game at one.
  • Dancing with the Stars.  Malkin played another good game, scored a goal and was a dominating factor early.  He loves to carry the puck, but his carelessness with it leads to turnovers that have led to way too many scoring chances for the opposition.  But, when he's on, he's unstoppable and last night he was mostly on.  Sidney Crosby was the best player on the ice for the second game in a row.  His game-winner came when he outworked Andy Sutton in the corner and "crab-walked," as the "Old two-niner" put it, out of the corner and waited and waited and waited until Elliot went down and he saw an opening.  Another one of those goals that very few guys in the NHL can score.
The Penguins didn't play a perfect game.  Their penalty killing, a strength most of the season, has been victimized this series giving up 2 goals in 4 chances last night and 4 in 9 for the series.  Jordan Staal has gotten off to a slow start and as a team they have had trouble getting a lot of shots on net to pressure Elliot, who has been shaky in two of the three games thus far.

But last night I think they finally found what they were looking for.  The Senators are trying to play New Jersey Devil-style hockey--keep the Pens on the side wall, limit their ability to breakout and go north-south quickly, block shots and keep the front of the net clean.  Last night the Penguins were able to solve that style of play, really for the first time all year.  They found the switch they've been looking for and they turned in a dominating performance.  It was probably their best overall game since the calendar changed.

The Penguins have alternated wins and losses in the last nine games.  Tuesday night we'll find out if they really did get to reclaim their game from the lost and found window or if they just had a really good night.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Early Look at who the Bucs May Draft #2 in the MLB Amateur Draft

Woodlands H.S. (Texas) right-hander Jameson Taillon tossed six shutout innings Tuesday, allowing two hits and striking out 11.  He is still the highest-ceiling pitcher in the draft in most people's opinion, but the Bucs may be reluctant to take a HS pitcher this high.  I still think they will go for the best college bat available when the time comes.

Here is a video scouting report on Taillon:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Great Piece on Trying to Stop Sid

Needless to say, there is no great answer.  Work hard and pray.

Big Salary Cap News in the NBA Today

It will be interesting to see if and how this effects the CBA.  Negotiations just got tougher for the owners.  Ramifications for labor negotiations in the NFL as well.

Mariners Looking to Recreate Bucs Infield Magic

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Credible Ben Trade Story?

I don't think Ben is going anywhere, but this story at least provides some credibility to the idea.

Notes from Game 1

As I tweeted before Game 1 I felt Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury would be the keys to the Penguins success in the playoffs.  In Game 1 they were the two most visible players on the team, but with very different performances.

Marc-Andre Sieve continued his run of poor play after being pulled a league high eight times this season.
  • He gave up a terrible goal late in the first period when he couldn't handle a high shot and left the rebound out front.  Chris Neal, noted more as a fighter than a scorer, controlled the puck and beat Fleury high glove side after he went down early.  This has happened repeatedly since the Olympic break.  It is worth noting that Tyler Kennedy was beaten cleanly on the draw leading to the goal after Staal was waived out of the circle.
  • On the last goal Fleury was beaten on a 2v1 when he was slow to move across the crease after a cross-ice pass.  Jarkko Ruutu beat him stick side from just inside the left dot after Fleury had come out to challenge the shooter and Eaton, the lone defenseman back, was in no position to commit to the shooter or the pass.  He got caught too far out challenging the shooter (a habit that has lead to some bad goals off the back boards during the season) and wasn't able to react well to Ruutu's shot.  Another bad goal.
This season Fleury's positioning has been weak at times and he has had trouble with his rebound control.  Throughout his career his stickhandling has added a level of excitement to the game that most Penguin fans could do without.  That was also in evidence last night.  But there is no question that Fleury has proven to be a big game goalie over the past two years.  Most impressively he has shown a tremendous ability to come up with the huge save at key moments.  He has also shown great mental toughness by being able to bounce back strongly from subpar performances.  The first of these traits was not in evidence Wednesday night.  We'll see if the other is on Friday.

Malkin on the other hand, had an excellent game, continuing a run of good play late in the season after an up and down year which saw flashes of his extraordinary talents interspersed with long stretches of middling play highlighted by the fact that he was third in the league in minor penalties despite missing 15 games.  While Sid brings it every night, Geno can be maddening with his up and down efforts.  Nonetheless he does seem to bring his best when spotlight shines brightest and he continued that last night with two goals and an assist and generally solid work at both ends of the ice.

As for the rest of the Pens, Sid was his MVP-self getting three assists and executing one of the prettiest passes you'll ever see to set up Gogo with two minutes left as the Pens made a final desperate charge.  Dupuis, Talbot, Cooke and Kennedy brought their usual effort and energy and Craig Adams scored a nice backhander over Elliot's glove side after not scoring all year.

On the downside, Ponikarovsky and Fedetenko have to contribute more.  They were both -1 and brought very little.  Defensively, Bylsma decided to switch his defensive pairings electing to put Gonchar with Orpik rather than Letang, which had been the pairing for much of the year.  But, the results were the same, with the defense giving up multiple odd-man rushes and a variety of other good scoring chances.  It's going to take a much better effort starting on Friday if they want to keep playing into May.

    Early Reviews

    Last night (4/13) Aki hit a deep opposite field home run and Andy LaRoche hit an absolute bomb 420 feet to dead center. Meek and Donnelly pitched a combined 3 innings of relief, giving up one hit, no walks and getting five Ks. (Dotel made it interesting in the ninth giving up a two run homer before shutting them down).

    This team has been an absolute disaster when it hasn't gotten a good effort from its starter (Morton, McCutchen, Burres) but has hit much better than expected, played pretty well in the field and shown surprising power with ten homers in their first eight games. They have shown good plate discipline and been able to work deep into counts, and are 9/9 in stolen bases with Cutch registering five of those.

    The obvious problem is their starters, other than Morton, don't miss enough bats. In the 7 non-Morton starts the starters have 14Ks in 35.1 innings which translates to 3.6Ks/9 which just isn't going to cut it. (Morton struck out 6 in 3.1 innings in his only start). Add 16 walks and 6 HRs from the non-Morton starts and one could argue that the Pirates are very lucky to be 4-4. (And Morton got shelled in his start giving up 9 hits and 8 runs in 3.1 innings, despite the six strikeouts.)

    The bullpen on the other hand has gotten 28Ks in 31.1 innings, a much more desirable figure although the 17 walks are clearly a bit higher than desired.

    Early days for sure, but it appears that with Dotel, Donnelly, Hanrahan, Meek and Lopez the bullpen may actually be a strength. All five guys can get a strikeout when necessary. The bench with Church, Young and Crosby appears solid, certainly the best we've seen in the past 5 years. Obviously the performance of the "everyday" regulars is crucial, but it really is going to come down, very simply, to starting pitching, particularly from the 4 & 5 spots in the rotation. If the Pirates can get four quality starts every time through the rotation they have a chance to play .500 baseball. But, for that to happen they are going to have to stay extraordinarily healthy, which already appears to be a problem with Ollie missing his start on Monday, and hope that someone from the group of McCutchen, Hart, Veal or Lincoln eventually proves to be a passable fifth starter.* Without getting any strikeouts and with the four guys above being huge question marks thus far, this seems a tall order. And getting three good starts from the four anointed starters seems like a stretch at the moment as well.
    (*-Pozterik- Management very much wanted Hart to win the fifth starters job because he does have the best stuff and the ability to miss bats, registering 8.6 K/9 through the minors and 6+Ks/9 in the bigs. Obviously if you are also throwing it to the backstop every fifth pitch and have no command whatsoever, that ability is a bit overshadowed. But, their willingness to give him every chance to win the job is rooted in the fact that the starters get so few Ks.)
    There is much to be encouraged about thus far, but it seems clear even at this early stage, the season is resting on the shoulders of a rotation that lacks depth, doesn't strikeout anyone and hasn't shown an ability to keep the ball in the park or limit the number of free passes. Not a good recipe when the everyday lineup includes five or six guys still trying to prove their mettle in the bigs. Hope resides on the young pitchers in Altoona, Bradenton and extended spring training developing fast because it really doesn't look like anyone other than Morton even has the potential to be more than a #3 in a good rotation. That could make for some bumpy stretches during the remainder of '10.