5.12.2016

Baseball doesn't need cops

The baseball season is only five weeks old, and fans of the Chicago Cubs are already looking ahead to October baseball.

After all, why not? Despite losing both ends of a doubleheader on Wednesday, the Cubs are a major league-best 25-8. Though they haven’t won it all since 1908, they appear to have the pieces in place to — in the words of the Nationals’ Bryce Harper — make baseball fun again.

But John Lackey didn’t join Chicago for fun. He’s all business. Don’t you dare forget that.

So when he allowed a homer to career .224 hitter Christian Bethancourt, a blast that landed somewhere on Waveland Avenue and turned out to be only run either team would score, Lackey yelled at Bethancourt because he had the utter gall and temerity to watch the ball he hit.

The nerve of him.



"How many home runs does he have?" Lackey asked sarcastically after the game, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

That would be three this season. Five for his career. But Lackey wasn’t finished and uttered this threat.

"I got a long memory," said Lackey, 37, who added that the 24-year-old Bethancourt will “learn.”

Learn what exactly? The unwritten code of faux sportsmanship in baseball? Stop it. Lackey has been a noted jagoff for much of his 14-year career. Anyone remember in 2012 when he and buddies Jon Lester and Josh Beckett would hang out in the Red Sox’s clubhouse with fried chicken, beer and video games instead of being a good teammate and staying on the bench.

Lackey is one a group of players in recent years who have taken it upon themselves to be baseball’s lawmen. Bud Norris, now with Atlanta, took Houston outfielder Carlos Gomez to task for his exuberance last season.



“I think it’s a culture shock,’’ Norris told USAToday in September. “This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play.

“However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.”

I chuckle at the term “our American dollars.” Will Latin players have to build a wall and pay for it, too?

Then there was the infamous bat flip by the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista in Game 5 of the AL division series against Texas last season. That caused long-retired big leaguer Goose Gossage to call that a “disgrace” and fellow Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said it showed “flagrant disrespect.”

Turn off the siren, officers. Baseball players today come from all Latin America, Asia, all over the globe. That means different cultures. If some players, past and present, have a problem with that, don’t watch. You won’t be missed.

Does anyone really care what Gossage or Schmidt have to say or have they become the old men wanting kids to get off the lawn? Is anyone rushing to buy a ticket to a Braves game to see Norris pitch before he’s cut? Having a 1-5 record and a 7.31 ERA on the worst team in the majors isn’t exactly good for one’s job security.

And as for Lackey, get over being embarrassed, and keep collecting your $16 million this season and next. If Lackey feels he’s been shown up by a kid with 91 career games in the bigs under his belt, don’t give him something to hit.

Don't be this guy. That only works in movies.

Problem solved. 


5.02.2016

Anyone got a tourniquet?

The first newsroom I entered in 1995 had one computer with Internet access. There was no thought of reporters taking pictures and shooting video with their phone. Word people worked with words and picture people did their thing.

Stories, even for an entity where turnaround needed to be lightning-quick, went through one set of eyes — minimum — before going out over a wire, being set for print or posted to that vast new online world.

The game has changed, indeed. You cannot stop technology or progress. In all cases, it must be embraced without fear whether you’re fresh out of Mizzou or Syracuse or Northwestern, or if you’ve been chained to a desk for decades.

Not sure how this happened, but my 30’s gave way to the 40’s and now the early 50’s. I don’t consider myself too long in the tooth. If genetics hold true, I could very well be walking the earth for another 35 to 40 years.

But back to the state of industry, and it’s not good. Teresa Schmedding (@tschmedding) is leaving a 25-year-career in legacy journalism to become managing editor at Rotary international in Evanston, Ill. An article by her titled “The news industry can’t cut its way to quality” was posted on Poynter.org today. She gets it.

“He (James Robinson, Managing Editor for Content, Bay Area News Group) includes a serious warning that clearly states the value copy editors bring. Unfortunately, it’s not valued enough to pay for. Is this a tectonic shift in copy editing? No. The tectonic shift took place some years ago.

"According to the American Society of News Editors, copy editors have been bearing the brunt of legacy media job losses. Newspapers are now being produced by half the copy editors they were in 2007. More than 7,000 copy editing jobs were cut by 2015. And more current numbers, when available, will be more stark. 

"What this is is another nail in the coffin of legacy media. The industry is hemorrhaging revenue and readers. And all the cuts over the past nine years haven’t stanched the bleeding. 

The reason is simple: You cannot make a case that your stories are worth paying for by delivering crappy content.” 

Amen, sister. 

When reading an article online. there is one thing that drives me up a wall. It’s seeing errors get by, such the Twins playing in Target Center rather than Target Field, and Columbia as a country in South America instead of a university or a shade of blue. And those are just two examples that leap to mind. And it's not just me who feels this way. Look at comments on social media when one of these mistakes crop up. It's pitchforks and kindling time.

Why do things like this make me and other readers cringe and suck in a deep, dismissive breath? Quality — which includes accuracy — in story, headline and deck is everything in my industry. Plain and simple. Non-negotiable. Presentation is nice, but facts are indisputable.

Too many news organizations, though, have decided the middle layer, people who have to be experts at everything and in many cases have been reporters at one time, is an expendable underbelly. Problem is not every reporter or writer has the makeup or desire to be an editor as it's definitely not a glamorous job.

Asking and, in some cases, telling a reporter to keep their story to 17 inches because there is a finite space in print shouldn’t be met with “I need more room.” If you’re blowing the lid off something, sure, but 99 times out of 100, that’s not the case, and the writers know that.

Anyone can write long. Writing concisely without losing any meaning is a skill. If you can write it in 800 words, you should be able to do it in 500. If the reporter cannot do it, that’s where the desk is needed, be it New York, L.A. or Natchitoches.

There also needs to be an understanding between news organizations and veteran “desk folk,”  referred to in some places as the Island of Misfit Toys.

News organizations must, and I cannot stress that enough, understand the desk will invariably save the paper from embarrassment several times over. Each and every week.

I have also been in newsrooms where the old copy-editing guard still thinks it’s 1996. Or 1986. Or 1976. You get the idea.

To management, don’t strip resources that provide incredible value in so many ways. To the desk folk, learn to post stories and embrace technology and become indispensable. Readers are not always waiting for the slap of the paper at the front door.

It’s a start. If anyone has better ideas, serve ‘em up.

5.01.2016

Is this still a thing anymore??

It’s been a long time — too long — since I have posted.

***
Cubs storm out of the gate: Despite a two-game split with lowly Atlanta on Sunday, the Northsiders are off to an NL-best 17-6 start and are drawing comparisons to Cub teams from the early 1900s. All well and good: Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, et al. are following through on the plan to try and bring a championship to the corner of Clark and Addison for the first time in 109 years.


Anchored by NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta (5-0, 1.00 ERA, no-hitter), the Cubs’ staff has a 2.39 ERA and a WHIP of 0.98. If the opening month is any indicator, though, the Cubs will need their pitchers to keep stepping up.

Sure, Anthony Rizzo has eight homers and 24 RBIs, but he’s hitting just .220. Addison Russell (.216) is also off to a slow start, and the same could be said for Kris Bryant (.287) as compared to last season, when he was the NL Rookie of the Year.

The loss of Kyle Schwarber — five HRs in nine postseason games lat year — to a season-ending knee injury cannot be underestimated. But what should be most alarming is the lack of production from Jason Heyward, anointed with an 8-year, $184 million deal to jump from rival St. Louis.

Yes, I am well aware that there are 139 games to play, but after Sunday, Heyward is 0-for-17 in his last five games. He’s hitting just .211 so far, has yet to homer and driven in 13. Defensive metrics aside, he’s averaged almost 14 homers and 52 RBIs through his first six seasons.

Standing 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, lefty bat? Hey, hey — that’s not nearly enough bang for the buck.

11.05.2012

False hope

The respective sergeants-at-arms for the NHL and the union met over the weekend and more talks are planned for Tuesday.

Yeah. Thanks for the update and false hope. Does it matter? It’s another lost season as far as I can tell.

The first two months have been cancelled – right about the time where Roberto Luongo starts playing like he’s the second coming of George Hainsworth. Same for the Winter Classic – the league’s signature event, apart from the playoffs.

Even if, for example, a 50- or 60-game season is able to played, does it matter? Think back to last year when the NBA went to a condensed schedule because of a work stoppage. Teams were forced to play three games in three nights, and damned if it didn’t seem like there were more injuries.

If the labor issues don’t take down the players, torn ACLs and concussions can handle that, no questions asked.

I do hope it comes back. I miss watching and going. But unlike 2004-05, I won’t be crushed at all if the season is washed away. I’m used to this by now.

11.01.2012

Relocation blues


… so I have been living in Northeast Louisiana for 37 days. You can just call me the Big Jew in the Bayou.

I had little trepidation about coming here. I was offered a pretty good job, and after being out of full-time work for 11 months, I needed something to go to, something to make me feel productive.

About 10 years ago, I was offered a chance to work for The Associated Press primarily as a sportswriter in Jackson, Miss. Looking back, I should have jumped on it, but didn’t – a family-fueled decision. My father, a New York City native, underwent basic training in the Army during World War II at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. While he didn’t come right out and say that he subject to racism, he did everything but utter that.

Since I have been in the Deep South, nothing has happened or been said to me that remotely smacks of racism. If anything, just the opposite has occurred. People from the cashiers at Wal-Mart and Target to school administrators have bent over backwards to be friendly.

There have been two things, though, that have me doing the facepalm and that would probably have people from outside the region shaking their heads.  I want to make it clear that neither of these incidents happened where I live.

Several weeks ago, I drove to Baton Rouge to hit the Apple store. Could have easily had anything I needed shipped to me, but I cannot resist the need to get in the car and just go now and then.

Since there is no real direct route to get to I-10 from where I am, state roads and US routes were the way to go to the Gulf Coast. Driving east on one of these roads, I looked at houses that had the Confederate flag – good ol’ Stars and Bars – hanging from poles.

Ooooooooooookay. While hardly an expert on the Civil War, here is what I know – it’s been over for nearly 150 years. There is no cease-fire. REALLY highly doubtful that it’s going to start up again.

Just seeing those flags made me a little uncomfortable. Since I am not black, I cannot imagine what it’s like for a person of color to face that, but I imagine anger is an emotion that’s right up there.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, a news website thought this was – what were we going for here? Clever? Funny? A light-hearted tweak? That’s right, blackface and the dumb-ass ignorant thinking lives in 2012.

Needless to say, there has been the proper outrage and disgust over this and the site issued this statement: “This photo has been removed because of its inappropriate nature. The AL.com staff apologizes for any offense it may have caused, and we thank our readers who took the time to voice their concerns.”

May have? Lukewarm at best.

Keep this in mind – a decision was reached by at least one person to post this, that somehow it was OK in this day and age. Of course this is the same day and age that’s given us this and this.

Talking about diversity is one thing. Accepting it is another. Seems there are a number of people in my industry that don’t.  

1.09.2012

Blue Jackets lower boom on Arniel, rebuilding continues

That boom you heard this morning? Another NHL coach was fired in a move that was seen coming for some time.

The league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets ended the Scott Arniel era by parting ways with him Monday morning. Todd Richards, former coach of the Minnesota Wild, takes over for the remainder of the season.

Arniel’s dismissal comes at the midpoint of the season, one that’s going to end without a playoff appearance for a third straight season for Columbus, currently sporting an 11-25-5 record.

"We have two wins in our last 11 games,'' general manager Scott Howson told ESPN.com. "I just wanted to move the team in a new direction with a different head coach. Scott tried everything and he was running out of answers. I didn't see much hope in moving forward with him. I just felt this needed to be done."

Arniel becomes the seventh coach to be let go by the Blue Jackets. Two of them – Ken Hitchcock and Claude Noel - have resurfaced this season with great success.

A Stanley Cup winner with the Dallas Stars, Hitchcock took over in St. Louis for the fired Davis Payne and has the Blues contending for the Central Division crown. Noel was given the honor of being the Jets’ first coach since their relocation from Atlanta, and he has Winnipeg contending for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

For now, Arniel joins the likes of Dave King, Gerard Gallant and Gary Agnew as those who tried – and ultimately failed – in a hockey market that’s questionable at best. Roddy Marciano, a poster on the Columbus Dispatch's website, summed up fans' frustrations succinctly:

"Like that's going to change a thing, columbus will always be the black hole of the NHL, give me a break. We couldn't be any more irrelevant when it comes to sports."
And from Ohiosucks:
"The whole team needs fired. This is a garbage product and always has been."

The powers that be in Ohio's capital city didn't expect this to happen. The Blue Jackets were active in the offseason, acquiring three-time 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter from Philadelphia and adding James Wisniewski - at $33 million for six years (???) - to bolster the blueline.

Instead, Carter missed 10 games with a broken foot and is out indefinitely with a separated left shoulder. Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the season for an intentional elbow to the head and is not expected back before mid-February due to a broken ankle.

Add captain Rick Nash headed for one of the worst statistical seasons of his career and Steve Mason looking more like the second coming of Jim Carey, and it's another lost season in central Ohio.

Don’t be shocked if Howson is next to be shown the door.

12.19.2011

No Anglos allowed? Really??

So, let's see if I have this right. It's almost 2012, but in Montreal, si tu ne parle pas fran├žais as your primary language, then you should not be behind the bench of the vaunted "bleu, blanc et rouge."

Not even temporarily.

That's the position taken by Christine St-Pierre, the culture minister for the province of Quebec, after Montreal fired coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with longtime NHL grinder Randy Cunneyworth on an interim basis Saturday.

"The Montreal Canadiens are an institution and the coach must communicate in the language of the massive majority of its Quebec fans," she told The Canadian Press on Monday.

It should be noted that St-Pierre – a former journalist for more than three decades with the CBC – was referred to in September by fellow blogger Christopher di Armani as Quebec’s “self-proclaimed minister of propaganda.”

Di Armani may be on to something. He notes that St-Pierre is responsible for enforcing Bill 101. That’s the set of laws making it illegal to have a sign where English words are bigger than the French words.

Well, if that just doesn’t smack of censorship, but that’s another issue altogether.

Though they may bleed the fleur de lis, my message to St-Pierre and the remainder of the Bloc Quebecois is stay out of this issue.

Three – that’s right three – of the 26 players currently Montreal’s roster are from La Belle Province. I’m sure Cunneyworth, who has pledged to learn French, will be able to get his point across just fine en anglais pour maintenant.

Hard to have much of an uproar over a lack of French-first. The last time the Habs had a unilingual coach, Al MacNeil guided them to the Stanley Cup - oops! Coupe Stanley, sorry! - way back in 1971.

With 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters of the Bell Centre – oops! Centre Bell, sorry! – the Canadiens will forever be NHL royalty, on a par in North American sports with the Boston Celtics or New York Yankees.

However, there have been no victory parades since 1993. In fact, Montreal has reached the conference finals once since then.

Under whose guidance? Laperriere and Tremblay. Vigneault and Therrien. Julien, Carbonneau around two brief stints by Gainey and, finally, Martin.

Maybe there is something to this English-first thing after all.

There’s no doubt Canadiens fans want the best of both worlds – a francophone to help bring the Cup to Montreal. Suppose Cunneyworth out of Etobicoke, Ontario, somehow, someway gets this bunch to win it all next summer. Not likely, but what if?

Then what?

A mea culpa from St-Pierre and her cronies?

An apology?

Not likely on either count.

11.04.2010

Two minutes

THE GOOD...

Mathieu Garon, Columbus Blue Jackets

Steve who? Former Calder Trophy what?

Garon recorded his second straight shutout - and matched his total from last season - by turning aside 25 shots in a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

The longtime journeyman has four career wins at Philips Arena, three by shutout.

"I don't know what it is about this building," Garon said. "There's always teams that for some reason - I'm not saying it's easier - you have more wins against."

If one-time rookie of the year Steve Mason isn't hearing footsteps, he should. Garon is 4-0-0 with a 0.89 goals-against average.

The win improved the Blue Jackets to 8-4-0, making the Central Division perhaps the best in the NHL this season. All five teams are separated by three points.

Speaking of the Central Division ...

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

Three shutouts and a 0.73 GAA in his last four games. Not bad.

With a 2-0 win over the San Jose Sharks, Halak moved into a tie with Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins for the league lead in whitewashes.

"(Halak) plays into a lot of the things we talked about right from Day 1 in training camp - how we're going to show up and work every day, how we're going to prepare, how we're going to play and how we're not going to allow one day to affect the next," Blues coach Davis Payne told the NHL's official website. "We're just going to get back at it and he plays goal with that mindset.

"It's one play to the next and away we go. Very few highs and lows, just steady performances, and that's what we want out of our hockey team. We tailor things to opponents, but when we talk about our game we want it to be steady, consistent and at a high level and he plays right into that."

Now the test begins. Starting Friday night in Boston, the Blues will play seven games in 11 days with six away from St. Louis, where they're 6-0-0 in 2010-11.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Spezza proved that with a goal and three assists in Ottawa's 4-1 win over the New York Islanders.

The four points was one shy of his season total he had coming into the contest. Groin injuries have kept the high-scoring whipping boy out of the lineup.

"We don't watch the standings at this point in the season, but we do judge (ourselves) by how we're playing and you want to be playing good hockey. We're heading in the right direction and to get a few wins in a row here would be nice," Spezza told the team's official website earlier on Thursday.

THE BAD...

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

Jumbo Joe is probably looking at a suspension after laying out David Perron with an elbow to the head in a shutout loss to St. Louis.

Early in the second period, Thornton got a boarding minor for flattening T.J. Oshie. Seven seconds after coming out of the box, he ran Perron, but didn't think much of it.

"I felt like I established myself on the ice," Thornton said. "I just braced myself for the hit. He just ran into me, to be honest with you."

Perron would later score on a pretty backhand.

Three games sounds about right for Thornton to sit and feel shame - the same number of games given to Phoenix's Shane Doan and Philadelphia's Danny Briere for their respective head shots in recent weeks.

The New York Islanders

Has the Scott Gordon death watch begun yet?

If not, why?

With a loss to Ottawa, Team Fishsticks has been outscored 29-11 while losing six in a row.

"We didn't score," Gordon said. "I mean, we had two breakaways, we had a couple of point-blank chances in the slot that we didn't bury on and right now we're just going through a situation where it seems like every time we do make a mistake it's in the back of our net and we don't get the same kind of return on our chances."

It also doesn't get any easier immediately with a home game against Philadelphia before a three-game swing through California. Makes me wonder if Gordon will be returning from the West Coast with the rest of the team.

The Sharks ... provided they're not in San Jose.

It's been a while since the Sharks scored on the road. Like, a looooooong while.

To be precise, 185 minutes and 15 seconds since John McCarthy scored in the third period of a 6-1 rout of Edmonton on Oct. 23.

That was San Jose's third straight road win in which the Sharks found the back of the net 13 times. After that, there was a 4-0 loss in Calgary on Oct. 24 followed by a 1-0 defeat in Minnesota on Tuesday.

No team has been blanked in four straight road games since the Montreal Canadiens from Feb. 3-15, 1938.

"It's been kind of all or nothing," San Jose forward Joe Pavelski said. "We have to figure it out. We're offensively challenged right now."

AND THE QUOTABLE...

"That was a real playoff game. It was a real hard-fought battle. Nobody was going to give each other an inch, and there wasn't much out there for either team to get some offense. We're similar teams, in that we don't give much to the opponent. It was going to come down to who was going to make the mistake, and we made that little mistake and they capitalized on it. - Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher after the Lightning's 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in a matchup involving surprise division leaders

11.03.2010

Game of the night - Nov. 3 - Lightning look to continue dominance of Kings in LA

Tampa Bay Lightning (7-2-2) at Los Angeles Kings (8-3-0), STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, Calif.

Yes, I am serious. Have you not looked at the standings recently?

Just about a month into the season, the Lightning and Kings are at the top of their respective conferences.

Hey, if the Saints and Giants can come out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl and World Series, who's to say one of these teams can't take the Stanley Cup?

For Tampa Bay – which is tied with high-scoring Washington first in the Southeast Division and has a game in hand - its hot start is the continuation of a quick turnaround from last-place finishes in 2008 and 2009.

Last season, the Bolts didn’t make the playoffs, but totaled 80 points to place third in the Southeast. Despite coming off a loss Wednesday, they're playing right now as if they could win it all.

The key to Tampa Bay’s success? Steven Stamkos - and it pains me to no end to have to admit that.

Picked first overall in 2008, I called Stamkos a bust after the then-18-year-old failed to make much of an initial impression with no points in his first seven games and struggled for much of the first half of his rookie season.

With a return to Sarnia long out of the question, things changed on Feb. 17, 2009, when Stamkos recorded all of Tampa Bay’s goals in a 5-3 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Since then, guess who leads the league with 77 goals scored including 34 on the power play? Hint: It's not Ovechkin. Or Crosby. Or Malkin, Semin, Toews, Kane or Gaborik.

So. consider this my mea culpa: Stamkos is the superstar few know about, and needs to be talked about in the same breath as Ovechkin and Crosby.

Now, fellow STATS puckhead Jon Palmieri can STFU.

For years, the face of the Lightning franchise was Vincent Lecavalier and, to a lesser extent, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, now with the Dallas Stars. The three of them were keys in leading the Lightning to their only Stanley Cup in 2004 before the lockout.

While Lecavalier is still the captain, and the diminutive St. Louis can still score in bunches, it's clear the Lightning's success rests with Stamkos.

After going from 23 goals as a rookie to tying for the NHL lead with 51 last season, first-year coach Guy Boucher told USA Today last month not to put so much stock into numbers because he wants Stamkos to be more of a two-way player.

"We have to watch out when we look at numbers," Boucher said. "Improving doesn't necessarily mean he has to get more than 50 goals. He might get 42 goals and be a better player."

Stamkos getting better than last season when he tied Crosby for the league lead with 51 goals? Doing more and scoring less? Scary, scary thought.

No. 91 scored - what else? - a power-play goal 21 seconds into the third period Wednesday to lift Tampa Bay in a 2-1 lead over the Anaheim Ducks, a game the Lightning went on to lose 3-2 in overtime.

Still, Stamkos' 10th goal of the season moved him into a tie with the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp for the NHL lead.

"We expected a tough game," Stamkos said. "They've been struggling as of late and they were coming back home, so they wanted to come out strong - and I think they did that. It just took us too long to wake up."

Los Angeles will get a key player back in Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty after missing six games with a concussion.

"No question you miss your top defenseman, but the good thing is that we came through it in pretty good shape," coach Terry Murray told the Kings' official website. "It shows a lot of character on the team. Guys stepped up and played very well in the games that he was out.

Los Angeles allowed 16 goals while going 4-2-0 without Doughty. Still, there is no question the Kings missed what Doughty can bring.

Selected second in 2008 after Stamkos, Doughty emerged last season by finishing third among defensemen with 59 points. That put him ahead of more established names like Pronger, Gonchar, Lidstrom and Niedermayer.

Los Angeles has allowed six goals while winning its first four at home. Jonathan Quick stopped 39 shots, and improved to 7-1-0 with a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

The pick? Since joining the NHL in 1992, the Lightning have simply owned the Kings in LA, going 10-1-0 with two ties. I don't see much changing this year.

LIGHTNING 5, KINGS 1

10.31.2010

Game of the night - Nov. 1 - Blackhawks, Rangers in Original Six matchup

Chicago Blackhawks (7-5-1) at New York Rangers (5-4-1), Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.

“Some say that’s progress. Some say that’s cruel.” – Midnight Oil
I fly from Chicago to New York roughly once every four to six weeks. On my frequent flier statements, it’s the same 733 miles each way.

Not talking LA to Johannesburg here. Sometimes, I have gotten from O’Hare to La Guardia in around an hour and 45 minutes – less time than it used to take to get to high school in the Bronx from Queens.

So, when games like Monday’s tilt at MSG between the Blackhawks and Rangers are on the schedule, it makes me lament why there are not more of them.

The price of progress – or in this case, expansion.

Fifty years ago in the Original Six era, Chicago and New York faced off 14 times. In 1970-71, with the league more than doubled to 14, the Blackhawks and Rangers met just six times.

A decade later, there were four games between Chicago and New York as the league had 21 teams spread out over four divisions – including Calgary in the same one with Washington, Philadelphia, the Rangers and Islanders following the Flames’ relocation from Atlanta.

It’s 2,031 miles from New York to southern Alberta. The Rangers traveled there twice.


By 1990-91, Chicago and New York would meet only three times. Ten years ago, with the league comprised of 30 teams, the Rangers and ‘Hawks faced off twice.

That was cut to once each of the following five seasons, and none in 2007-08.

Why do I view this as a tragedy? Simple - because it’s a piece of history being erased.

No sport in North America reveres history as much as hockey. Think back to the reverence when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last spring, and the pomp and circumstance when a team raises a championship banner on opening night the following season.

The Blackhawks had members of the 1960-61 team hand off the banner to the remaining members of last season’s squad. A poignant gesture on a sports landscape dotted with ME! ME! ME! attitudes.

Do the Rangers have to play New Jersey or Pittsburgh six times a season? Does Chicago have to do the same against Nashville or Columbus? I think not.

As for this game, New York returns home following an impressive 2-0 win at Toronto on Saturday in the third of four meetings between the Original Six teams this year.

Henrik Lundqvist, who recorded his first shutout of the season, is 3-0-2 with a 1.76 goals-against average in his career versus Chicago, and has allowed only three goals in two home wins.

Despite losing two top players in Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury to injuries on Oct. 15, the Rangers have scored 18 goals while going 4-3-0. US Olympian Ryan Callahan has picked up the scoring slack with four goals, but five others have two goals each.

The biggest surprise in that bunch is Brian Boyle, a 6-foot-7 forward who has already matched a career-high with four goals in just 10 games.

Chicago will be without high-scoring Marian Hossa for a couple of weeks with an injury, but they still have Patrick Sharp, a steady performer over the past few seasons who is breaking out early in 2010-11.

Through 12 games, the 28-year-old has 10 goals, including four on the power play and three game-winners. However, he hasn’t scored in seven games against the Rangers since getting two in 2004 when he was with the Flyers.

Chicago, which defeated the Wild 3-1 in Minnesota on Saturday, has dropped three of its last four in MSG.

The pick? Sharp will score, but the Rangers will shut down Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and come away with a narrow win.

RANGERS 3, BLACKHAWKS 2

10.23.2010

The $73,000 scratch

Seems $100 million doesn't mean much in the NHL these days. Results matter.

Still, Saturday's decision by first-year New Jersey Devils coach John MacLean to bench high-scoring - and high-priced - forward Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the most eyebrow-raising moves this season by any team.

Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch for Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. For those with short memories, this is the same Kovalchuk and these are the same Devils who dragged out a contract saga for more much of this past summer.

First, it was a 17-year, $102 million deal in July that the NHL rejected because it circumvented the salary cap. After the union filed a grievance, a 15-year, $100 million agreement was hammered out and given blessing by the legal department on Avenue of the Americas.

Not without a heavy hand coming down. The league fined the Devils $3 million and took away two high draft picks over the next four years.

General manager Lou Lamoriello told the New York Times in September that things are just fine between New Jersey and Kovy.

“Certainly, the Devils are pleased that Ilya Kovalchuk will be an asset for the team for years to come," he said.

Or seven games into the new season, anyway.

Though Kovalchuk is tied for the team lead with five points, the Devils are in last place, and MacLean has said that all players are responsible for the slow start.

Commendable, sure, but look at the message being sent.

According to Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski, the decision to bench Kovalchuk was made by MacLean, arguably one of the best players in Devils franchise history.

"That's between him and I. It was my decision." MacLean said, and told The Associated Press that Kovalchuk knows the reason for being benched.

There is also a chance that Kovalchuk will be held out from Sunday's tilt against the New York Rangers. Based on his $6 million salary this season, Kovalchuk will lose $73,000 for each game he's held out.

So, what we have here, if I read this right, is an old-fashioned pissing match between a coach trying to exert his influence and a superstar player.

This scenario has been played out countless times.

Johnny Mac? Your intentions are good in wanting to show that you are the bench boss. Being the franchise's all-time goal-scoring leader also helps enhance your status some.

It will only go so far.

I don't know what Kovalchuk did that raised MacLean's hackles, but this is not some rookie from Moose Jaw. Kovalchuk was a No. 1 overall pick, and despite some perceptions of being soft, the Russian has scored at least 41 goals in six straight seasons.

Plus, you know, there is that contract and what it cost the Devils.

Advantage, Kovalchuk. Whether MacLean likes it or not.

10.22.2010

Canucks' Rypien draws six-game suspension

When I wake up, one of the first things I do is check what's going in the world - both in and out of sports.

I knew Rick Rypien of the Canucks was going to have a hearing with the NHL for a run-in with a fan that made its way onto YouTube before the end of Vancouver's 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

So, when I walked into work and co-worker and fellow hockeyhead Jon Palmieri told me Rypien would sit for six games, I was underwhelmed: "That's all?"

Originally, I thought three to five games. Then 10. It's hard to gauge with this league.

In handing down the suspension, the NHL said Rypien - a fourth-liner/enforcer/energy-type player - "made contact with a fan." That's couched a little too lightly considering Rypien shoved 28-year-old James Engquist and appeared to grab his Minnesota jersey.

"We understand and respect the League's decision today regarding Rick Rypien. While this game is played with passion and intensity, the safety of all of our fans and players is of the utmost importance at all times," Canucks' general manger Mike Gillis in a statement.

"Throughout his career Rick has been well respected by his teammates, coaches, fellow players and our community. Rick is a valued member of our organization and we will continue to support him and all of his teammates to ensure incidents like this do not happen in the future."

Perhaps it was frustration over having his ass handed to him by the same combatant in two fights. Or that his team was already trailing by four. Or that he's struggled to produce on a team that has largely underachieved early on.

The bottom line is Rypien crossed one. The NHL had a chance to send a message to its players Friday, and as they always seem to do, came up a little short.

10.21.2010

Two minutes

THE GOOD...

Martin Biron, New York Rangers

Now, that's a Broadway-style debut! So what if it came in Toronto?

Biron made 24 saves, including a stop on a breakaway by Kris Versteeg on the power play midway through the third period of a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

"As a team, I think this was the first time this year that we played a solid 60 minutes," Biron said. "We have to play up to that standard the rest of the season."

Biron came over as a free agent from the New York Islanders, giving the Blueshirts a better option as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist. Last season, Alex Auld, Chad Johnson, Stephen Valiquette and Matt Zaba combined to go 3-6-1 with a 2.84 goals-against average.

Kyle Brodziak, Minnesota Wild

Always a good feeling to stick it to your former team. It didn't take Brodziak long to do so.

The former Oiler scored twice in the opening 5:24 as Minnesota coasted to a 4-2 win over Edmonton.

"Both times, great passes from my linemates," the Alberta native said between periods. He played for Edmonton from 2005-09 before being dealt to Minnesota for draft picks.

Typical tactful response, careful not to rip his old team. You know he's amped on the inside, though.

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Thomas may be the only player to allow a single tally - and see his goals-against average rise.

The US Olympian stopped 38 shots, and the Bruins won their home opener 4-1 over the Washington Capitals to complete the home-and-home sweep.

The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner was 3-0 with a 0.67 GAA coming into the contest. His GAA is now 0.75.

"I'm hoping this isn't just a hot streak; this is me now," said Thomas, who had offseason left hip surgery. "At times last year I felt like I was a one-legged goalie."

THE BAD...

The New Jersey Devils

Here is all you need to know about the Devils some two weeks into the 2010-11 season: Both their wins have been courtesy of shutouts by Martin Brodeur, including 3-0 over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.

When he doesn't extend his NHL record for whitewashes, New Jersey is 0-4-1 and has been outscored 21-9.

Brodeur hasn't denied the club's slow start under new coach John MacLean.

"It looks like it so far but hopefully we'll get different kinds of wins eventually because it'll be tough to do that," he said. "It's been a rocky start but on the road the last few games with Buffalo and here in Montreal, it's nice to have shutouts but definitely wins is what we're looking for right now."

And you plan on doing this how?

The Calgary Flames

This is how bad things have gotten for Calgary: Rookie Mikael Backlund had his first two-goal game in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

He also moved into a tie for the team's goal-scoring lead.

Calgary has split its first six games, but has managed only Backlund's markers in the three losses, and 11 goals overall - one from franchise scoring leader Jarome Iginla, none from the reacquired Olli Jokinen.

It's time to clean the House of Sutter.

Phoenix Coyotes fans in Arizona

I took fans of the Blue Jackets to task earlier this week after the smallest crowd in Columbus' franchise history showed up.

That was an overflow gathering compared to the 6,706 that watched the Coyotes post a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Chicago investor Matthew Hulsizer reached an agreement earlier this week on a new lease at Jobing.com Arena that should lead to him buying the club from the NHL.

He must really want this team bad. If there's any doubt, and having seen the sparse crowd on television, he should reconsider wanting a club in a region of the country not really suited for the sport, and whose fans are apathetic at best despite an unexpected playoff charge last spring.

I'll ask again. Kansas City with a new arena waiting for a tenant? Back to Winnipeg? Seattle? Milwaukee? Fold?

Anyone?

...AND THE QUOTABLE

"Everywhere I go, everybody asks me about Derian, and I'll put this one to rest right now. Derian, I respect you, and I'm jealous of you because of your Stanley Cup. But never, ever did I feel one bit of animosity for our competitive level and what we did on the ice."- Jeremy Roenick speaking at his induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame about fellow inductee Derian Hatcher, who broke Roenick's jaw in four places (impresssive!) late in the 1998-99 NHL season.

10.20.2010

Two minutes

It's a light night, so this may be cut down to 90 seconds.

THE GOOD...

Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks

The old man can still bring it. The 40-year-old Finn scored his 609th career goal in a 3-1 loss to Columbus.

Selanne moved past Dino Ciccarelli into sole possession of 16th place all time. Next up - Bobby Hull with 610.

THE BAD...

Rick Rypien, Vancouver Canucks

Putting your hands on a fan? Not really the way you wanna go here, Ricky.

For those who didn't see what happened Tuesday in the Canucks' 6-1 loss to the Minnesota, Rypien was being led off the ice after a second fight with the Wild's Brad Staubitz. A fan was clapping as Rypien walked past - from what could be seen, clapping, not jeering, not being a knucklehead.

Rypien charged into that role with his blades up, grabbing a double-handful of the fan's jersey before order was quickly restored. The NHL on Wednesday suspended Rypien indefinitely pending a hearing.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis tried defending Rypien.

"This was totally unexpected," he said Wednesday night during the Canucks' game in Chicago. "In our experience with Rick, we never expected anything like this to occur. He's been a solid guy on our team. He's a good teammate, good in the community. It was something completely unexpected.

"Sometimes things happen, and you have to deal with them. You don't anticipate any event like that from a player of Rick's stature. There were events that led up to it, and we're going to support him."

Support him all you like. Look at footage and all you'll see was a Minnesota fan clapping.

At first, I was thinking a three- to five-game suspension. I'm thinking more like 10 now.

Columbus Blue Jackets fans

Way to show up - all 9,802 of you.

The Blue Jackets defeated Anaheim in front of the smallest crowd to see a game at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus is celebrating its 10th season in the NHL, but I'm sure this was a disappontment to the franchise.

"Yeah, it was unfortunate we got embarrassed," team captain Rick Nash said, referring to a lethargic, lopsided 5-2 loss to Chicago on Friday night in the Jackets' home opener. "The only way we're going to win them back is by winning games."

Good seats are available for Friday night's tilt against the Calgary Flames.

...AND THE QUOTABLE

"I was just standing straight up applauding as he was getting kicked out. He was out of control. And then I said, 'Way to be professional,' and he obviously didn't care for that comment and decided to grab me and almost dragged me over the rail. If my brother wasn't grabbing me and the other player wasn't grabbing him, he probably would have dragged me over the edge." - James Engquist, a 28-year-old fan of the Minnesota Wild who had his jersey grabbed by Vancouver's Rick Rypien on Tuesday.