LCS Picks, Western Conference Preview & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It's the middle of the week and time for a deep breath before a big sports weekend. The League Championship Series start tomorrow. The NHL kicks off over the weekend. And of course there's a full slate of college and pro football to contend with. Now that I think about it, I'm glad I have Friday off. I may need it!

So let's not dawdle. There's plenty to get to. I've got LCS Picks. I've got the Hammer's NHL Western Conference Preview. And we'll wrap it up with this week's version of the DFTU. So let's get to it...

"Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much." - John Wayne (1907-1979), American film actor.

The Duke was offering advice on acting in that quote. But when I read it, I immediately thought of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. I wonder why?

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The National League Championship Series starts tomorrow. The American League Championship Series starts on Friday. Time for the official Sports Take picks!

Los Angeles Dodgers over Philiadelphia Phillies in 7:
It pains me to do this. Those that know me, know I can't stand Manny Ramirez. I respect the abundance of natural talent he was blessed with. But I despise the lax, disrespectful manner with which he uses it.

That being said, the Dodgers are on a roll, having swept the Cubs. Their starting staff has rounded into shape and their bullpen has settled into a solid rotation. Offensively, Manny's being Manny. And that takes a ton of pressure off of guys like Andre Ethier and James Loney, allowing them to swing free. And so far they're coming through.

The Phillies dispatched the Brewers in 4. But I think that series was somewhat deceiving. Neither Ryan Howard, nor Chase Utley hit all that well. And those are two bats that the Phills desperately count on. Granted, the Brewers pitched very carefully when Howard was at the plate. And the rest of the lineup more than compensated. But those two guys will have to get it going if Philly wants to make the Series.

Pitching-wise, this series should be awfully even. Cole Hamels looked outstanding in his start against the Brewers. And I liked what I saw from Joe Blanton in the series-clincher as well. Brad Lidge hasn't looked lights out as the Phillies closer, but he is 43 for 43. And that can't be easily discounted.

So when a series is that close pitching wise, you figure it'll go seven games. And then you pick your winner based on who's hitting has been more clutch. I hate to say it, but Manny Ramirez lives for clutch hits. So I'm going with the Dodgers. And now that I've typed that, I'm going to go slam my fingers in a door somewhere. Dammit.

Tampa Bay Rays over Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) in 6:
I'll say this right now. If the World Series comes down to L.A. vs. Boston (whom I hate), I'm declaring the baseball season officially over and not watching a second of it. It's not even a matter of not having someone to root for. It's that I dislike both teams enough that I'd be rooting for everybody to lose. And that's no way to watch a World Series.

Hopefully, my picks will come through and that won't be necessary. I think that the ALCS breaks down much the same way the race for the AL East did during the series. On paper, Boston (whom I hate) should be the better team. But in the end the Rays will prevail.

Boston (whom I hate) beat the Angels in 4 games. But sooner or later their injuries have to catch up to them right? 3B Mike Lowell is officially out for the ALCS. That's a big-time bat to take out of the lineup. Folks in the know are saying that DH David Ortiz's wrist still isn't quite right. And pitcher Josh Beckett lost the only game the Red Sox (whom I hate) dropped in the Division Series.

Tampa on the other hand, is finally healthy. 3B Evan Longoria had a big series as the Rays defeated the White Sox in 4. LF Carl Crawford has resumed his place in the lineup. And closer Troy Percival looks like he could be back after missing the division series.

The Rays were 8-1 against the Red Sox (whom I hate) at Tropicana Field in the regular season. So home-field advantage should matter in this series. If the Red Sox (whom I hate) can steal one of the first two games they have a shot. But if the Rays win the first two, then I think the series is theirs.

I know the folks at Fox are praying for a Red Sox (whom I hate)/Dodgers World Series. I can only hope that God has a sense of decency. Please God? Don't do this to me!

Moving on...

Monday I brought you the Hammer's NHL Eastern Conference Preview. Now it's time for him to tackle the Western Conference. Here are his thoughts:

15. Los Angeles-
Is it me or does it always seem that this franchise has been rebuilding? Except for a brief run in 2000-2002 this team has been completely irrelevant since trading away Wayne Gretzky in 1996. They have some good young talent on their team like forward Anze Kopitar, Patrick O’Sullivan, and defenseman Jack Johnson. The smart money is on the Kings having the inside track at picking John Tavares in the 2009 Entry Draft.

14. St Louis- It wasn’t long ago that this team has the longest streak for most consecutive years in the playoffs. Then the lockout hit and the team decided to rebuild. Whatever progress they made in 2007 was lost when they took a huge step back in 2008. To make matters worse their stud on the blue line Erik Johnson torn his ACL during a golf outing. (Who does he think he is Tiger Woods?) They have a nice forward in Brad Boyes but their other top forwards; Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya are on the downside of what have been magnificent careers. I won’t be surprised if one or both of these two are traded at the deadline.

13. Phoenix- One thing the Coyotes have lacked in recent years is depth at center. That won’t be a problem this season with Olli Jokinen arriving from Florida and Kyle Turris arriving from the University of Wisconsin. Still the Coyotes paid a step price, trading Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard to get a guy who has never been to the post-season. The only guy on the blue line I’m familiar with is Derek Morris who has never quite lived up to his potential. I see the Coyotes in a lot of 6-3 games this season. I’ll let you figure out which side of the number they are on.

12. Vancouver- A lot of people are making a big deal about goalie Roberto Luongo being named captain of the Canucks. I think a bigger issue is who will replace the scoring now that Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison have left for New York and Anaheim respectively. They still have the Sedin Twins and they added Pavol Demitra from Minnesota but Naslund will not be easy to replace. Luongo and the Canucks defense will have to win a lot of 2-1 to contend for a playoff spot.

11. Colorado- Remember when this use to be an elite team in the western Conference. Those days are gone as Colorado is now in transition and trying to stay afloat in the west. They still have Joe Sakic, who might be the 2nd greatest hockey player to wear the number 19. Replacing Jose Theodore in goal is either A) Peter Budaj who couldn’t win the job last year or B) Andrew Raycroft who is on his 3rd team despite winning the Calder trophy in 2004. They lost Andrew Brunette and brought in Darcy Tucker, who looks like a psychopath on skates, from Toronto to replace him. They still don’t know if they will have Peter Forsberg and Tony Granato replaces Joel Quennville, who replaced Tony Granato as coach in 2004. This team has me so confused that I don’t know what to expect. As of right now, it’s not much

10. Columbus- The Blue Jackets have never been to the NHL playoffs, which is amazing when you consider that it seems like every team finds a way in the post-season. This off-season the finally gave up on forwards Nikolai Zherdev, sending him to the Rangers, and Gilbert Brule, sending him to Edmonton. They made their commitment to Rick Nash and surrounded him with RJ Umberger, who played at Ohio State, Raffi Torres from Edmonton and Kristen Huselius as a free agent to bolster their core of forward. They have a great young goalie in Pascal LeClaire but after Rotislav Klesla their blue line is week. I think it will be another year before they are in the post-season.

9. Nashville- I thought after cutting salary last year the Predators would miss the post-season. I was wrong as the Predators clinch the 8th seed and earned a 1st round exit at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. After watching that series I realized that this is a well-coached team that is not easy to beat. But this year they lost their best defenseman, Marek Zidlicky, to Minnesota and one of their top forwards, Alexander Radulov, to the Russian League. (For now, stay tuned.) Dan Ellis emerged as their goaltender and I think they’ll play hard but they will fall just short of the post-season.

8. Chicago- it’s amazing how one man’s death can transform a franchise for the better. That is what happened last year in Chicago after Bill Wirtz passed away. His son Rocky took over day-to-day operations of the teams and the Black hawks have become relevant once again. Led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews the future looks bright for the Hawks. They added Cristobel Huet in goal and are hoping Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker can anchor the blue line. For the 1st time in about 15 years this franchise has hope and I think they make it to the post-season and Dave Anton becomes more pleasant to be around during the hockey season.

7. Edmonton- For as long as I can remember this has been the team no one wanted to face in the post-season because if you played them you were going to have to earn every win against them. After missing the playoffs the last two years the Oilers are back and they may be better than when they were in 2006 when they made the Stanley Cup Finals. They have a good core of young forwards led by Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano, & Sam Gagner. They added Erik Cole to give that trio some veteran leadership upfront. They brought in Lubomir Visnovsky from LA to pair with Sheldon Souray on the blue line. The success of this club will depend on Mathieu Garon who claimed the goaltender job away from Dwayne Roloson last season. If he plays in 2008-2009 like he did at the end of last season the Oilers will be in the playoffs for the 1st time in three years.

6. Calgary- They have one of the best forwards in the NHL in Jarome Iginla, a future Norris Trophy winner in Dion Phanuef, and a Vezina Trophy candidate in Mikka Kiprusoff. After those three players there isn’t much on the roster for Calgary. Unable to get out of the 1st round since the appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, the flames have been constantly tinkering with their team trying to find the right mix. I like the addition of Mike Cammalleri. I don’t like the addition of Todd Bertuzzi. This team will be very tough to beat in the regular season but I think they will underachieve once again in the playoffs.

5. Anaheim- Many people expected the Ducks to repeat last season as Stanley Cup champions. Instead they spent much of last year without Scott Niedermeyer and Teemu Selanne and when they did come back they were a step behind with the end result the Ducks losing to Dallas in the 1st round. This is still a pretty good team. They have good forwards in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry who are just starting to reach their primes. Bobby Ryan, who was drafted after Sidney Crosby in 2005, is expected to make the roster and will be a Calder Trophy candidate. They still have three good defenseman in Niedermeyer, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves because of Niedermeyer and Pronger. Plus J.S. Giguere is back in goal for the Ducks. This is still one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

4. Dallas- Last year Marty Turco finally chased his playoff demons and led the Stars to the Western Conference finals losing to Detroit in six games. This year I expect Dallas to even be better with having Brad Richards for a full season. They added Fabian Brunstrom from Sweden. He is expected to be the next great Swede in the NHL. The Stars also added Sean Avery just to irritate everyone in the West. They should make up for the loss of Niklas Hagman (Toronto) and Antti Miettinen (Minnesota).

3. Minnesota- I know they lost some of their scoring touch with Brian Rolston going to New Jersey, Pavol Demitra going to Vancouver and Mark Parrish being bought out. It doesn’t matter because they have the best coach in the league in Jacques Lemaire and they are much better on the blue line after adding Marek Zidlicky from Nashville. He should finally give the Wild the puck moving defenseman they have needed. The also added Marc-Andre Bergeron from Anaheim and Erik Reitz from the AHL in Houston. This trio will replace Keith Carney, Petteri Nummilen, and Sean Hill. The Wild also brought back Andrew Brunette from Colorado and added Owen Nolan from Calgary. The one weakness this team still has is depth at center. Another thing to keep an eye on is Marian Gaborik and his contract status for next season. Fortunately everyone in the Northwest Division has issues. That should be enough for Minnesota to repeat as division champions.

2. San Jose- This was the team a lot of people picked to win the Stanley Cup last year. (Myself included) And for the 3rd year in a row they lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs. That was enough for GM Doug Wilson who cleaned house this off-season firing coach Ron Wilson and bringing in Todd McClellan from Detroit to coach the Sharks. The Sharks also brought in Rob Blake, Dan Boyle, and Brad Lukowich, all who have won Stanley Cups to play defense for this team. This team is still loaded at forward led by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Jonathan Cheechoo. Look for Joe Pavelski to make the leap this year and join this trio up front. Evgeni Nabokov continues to be a workhorse in goal for the Sharks. This team has a lot of talent and will continue to be a big threat for the Stanley Cup.

1. Detroit- So how do you improve a team that just won their 4th cup in eleven years? Easy, just add the best free agent on the market in the off-season. That is what the Red wings did signing Marian Hossa to a one year deal worth seven million dollars. This team doesn’t rebuild they reload. The have arguably the best defenseman in the league in Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, Brett Lebda, and Andreas Lilja. It so good Chris Chelios will have trouble cracking the starting lineup. Henrik Zetteberg finally came into his own winning the Conn Smythe trophy in the playoffs. He is joined my Pavel Datsyuk to give the Wings the best one-two punch in the West. The one thing to watch is how Chris Osgood will fare being the number one guy in net after coming off the bench last season to lead the Wings to the Cup. There is so much talent on this team it’s hard not to pick them to repeat.

So I guess we Wild fans can book our playoff tickets right now! Nice!

Finally today, I'm taking Friday off, so here's your weekly edition of Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 3-2 (0-2 in the Big Ten).

Who'd have guessed the band would make that much of a difference? No, I'm not blaming the Ohio State loss on the band getting suspended. But it was clear to me, as well as several other fans I spoke with, that the atmosphere at Camp Randall was defintely more subdued than we'd expect for a big night game.

But as I said, that wasn't why the Badgers lost. They lost once again because their offense failed to consistently execute. Especially in the passing game. All American TE Travis Beckum was back on the field, and that helped. But under-appreciated TE Garret Graham was still nursing an injury. And frankly the Wisconsin WR's aren't consistent enough to represent a threat.

So once again, an opponent stacked the line trying to take away the Badger running game. And except for a couple of series were successful in doing so. When that happens, QB Alan Everidge needs to be able to throw the ball downfield and make the defense pay for over-playing the run. And once again, he failed to do so.

Head coach Brett Bielema has already declared that Everidge will get the start on Saturday versus Penn State, but he added that Everidge will need to cut down on his mistakes. The unspoken "or" in that statement is that junior QB Dustin Scherer is waiting in the wings and can step in if Everidge continues to falter.

Penn State should be an even sterner test than Ohio State was. So to put it mildly, I'm filled with trepidation. In fact, I'm strongly considering taping the game and going to the Wild game Saturday night. If the Badgers are going to catch the whipping I fear they might, then watching it on tape will allow me to zip through it a little faster!

Speaking of the Wild...

Minnesota Wild: The Wild open their season Saturday versus the Boston Bruins.

I wish I shared the Hammer's optimism about the Wild's season. But I fear that the losses they suffered during the off-season, combined with Marian Gaborik's contract status will be the impetus for a serious step backward.

Losing Demitra and Rolston cost the team 46 goals. Bringing in Nolan and Brunette brought in 35. And based on the style that the Wild play, 11 goals lost can really hurt.

Like the Hammer, I do like the addition of Martin Zidlicky on the blue line. He may finally be the forward-moving defenseman that Kim Johnnson was supposed to be.

But the over-arching story to the Wild season will likely be Marian Gaborik's contract. Gabby's in the last year of his deal, and so far, negotiations towards a new deal have been stuck in neutral. If Wild GM Doug Risebrough can't get a deal done with Gabby as the trade deadline approaches, the Wild may be forced to trade their original superstar. That equates to flushing the Wild's playoff chances right down the porcelain fixture (copyright Dark Star).

Maybe I'm just being pessimistic. I thought the Twins would struggle this year and they damned-near won their division. Hopefully the Wild will better the Twins outcome and finally break through and be a force in the playoffs!


That's all for today folks. I'll be back tomorrow, wrapping up this week with the 3rd edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll as well as my ever-popular college football picks! Until then, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. I could have told you the band would make that much difference. I remember going to Badger games back in the day when they sucked and the only reason to go was 5th Quarter. Just more proof what REALLY is important. It's always all about the music department, folks. ;)