Wednesday

4-29-09: 2009 NHL Playoffs: Round 2

Hello again everybody...

It's mid-week time again and it's all downhill from here, right? I sure hope so, since I'm off on Friday! No, I'm not trying to rub it in. I'm merely hoping that tomorrow won't be even worse than a normal Thursday.

(Aside: Ask me sometime about my theory about why Thursday is the worst day of the week. I guarantee you'll feel less neurotic by comparison.)

And since I'm off on Friday, that gives me a little more time to work on the column. That's especially helpful, since I've decided to put off my 2009 Kentucky Derby pick til then. I know I promised it for today, but this year's field is a little trickier than usual, and I've decided to hold off making a pick until I see the draw later this afternoon.

Rest assured, you'll have your chance at Recreational Gaming greatness come Friday. And there'll be a DFTU too. So consider it a bonus!

Today, however, we venture back to the world of the NHL. Last night wrapped up Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a mixed bag for the Hammer. I'll let him explain, but he felt compelled to preview the second round of the playoffs.

So let's get to it!

"Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in."
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian polymath, being a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer.


My educator friends may have thoughts on this. But I've always see this as the struggle with educating kids. Kids don't want to be at school, they want to be out playing and causing a ruckus. So how do you get them to learn when they really don't want to?

I don't have all the answers people. Sometimes I just ask the questions!

«Read More...»


On to today's column. As I mentioned, the Hammer had something of a mixed bag in the results of his Round 1 picks. Here's what he has to say:

"Well, the 1st round of the NHL Playoffs are done and I am proud to say that I predicted six of the eight series correctly. Unfortunately one of the series I got wrong involved my pick to win the cup, San Jose. With the Sharks out of the mix it will be interesting as to what tweaks they make to the roster to try and get over the hump. I’m sure Dan will keep you up to date on all their moves in the off-season.

(Ed.'s Note: The NHL off-season really isn't my bag, since I'm usually in full-on baseball mode. But if the Hammer points something big out. I'll mention it.)

That being said I did not come here to dwell on what might have been. (Ed.'s Note: copyright Mark McGwire) Since my pick to win the Cup lost in the 1st round I figured the least I could do is come by and give you my picks to win in the conference semi-finals. That and try to redeem myself in the process. Without further adieu, here are my conference semi-finals picks:


EASTERN CONFERENCE:

1. Boston vs. 6. Carolina: For as good as Boston was in the regular season I still needed convincing as if they were the real deal. They were able to exorcise their nemesis the Montreal Canadiens in four games to win their 1st series since 1999. I’m still not sold yet. I think the sweep was more of the fact that Montreal was in disarray than it was for the Bruins being really good. Boston will get another test when they face Carolina in the 2nd round. Carolina defeated New Jersey in seven games to advance to the 2nd round. Carolina won two of their games in that series by scoring the game winning goal in the final minute of play. Goalie Cam Ward is playing like he did in 2006 when he won the Conn Smythe award and led Carolina to their 1st Stanley Cup. This should be a fun series. And while I am not sold on the bruins yet as being a legit Cup contender, I do think they have enough talent to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bruins in six.


2. Washington vs. 4. Pittsburgh: This couldn’t have worked out any better for the NHL. The Capitals come back from a three games to one deficit to win the series against the Rangers four games to three. Meanwhile Pittsburgh does me a huge favor and rallies from down 3-0 to score five unanswered goals to eliminate Philadelphia four games to two. (I love happy endings.) Because of this you have Pittsburgh vs. Washington in the 2nd round and most importantly Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin vs. Alex Ovechkin. Do yourself a favor, even if you aren’t a hockey fan try to make a point and watch this series. I won’t guarantee you will become a huge NHL fan but you will find a new appreciation for the game. I think (and I hope) this series goes seven games with Washington winning the series.

Capitals in seven


WESTERN CONFERENCE:

3. Vancouver vs. 4. Chicago: The Vancouver Canucks made quick work of the St. Louis Blues winning that series in four games. The Chicago BlackHawks meanwhile had to outlast the Calgary Flames in a hard-fought six game series. When I look at these two teams I see a lot of similarities. They have quality scoring forwards, and both teams are solid on the blue line. But I think the difference in this series comes between the pipes. Roberto Luongo is the backbone for the Canucks. As he goes so does Vancouver. Meanwhile Nikolai Khabibulin stepped up this season to fend off Cristobel Huet and become the number one goalie in Chicago. Luongo has only won two post-seasons series in his career. Khabibulin has won a Stanley Cup in Tampa but hadn’t won a series until Chicago beat Calgary. After going back & forth on this I had to refer to rule number seven of the Manifesto to make my pick. When in doubt go with the Canadian team.

Canucks in seven.


2. Detroit vs. 8. Anaheim: The Anaheim Ducks stunned the President’s Trophy winner defeating the San Jose Sharks to move on to the 2nd round. Congratulations Anaheim, your reward is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. But unlike Columbus, this Ducks squad isn’t just happy to be there. Most of the nucleus from their Stanley Cup team in 2007 is still on this roster and they are good enough to play with anyone. Jonas Hiller has come out of nowhere to take over in goal for J.S. Giguere (which convinces me even more that he is overrated) and their depth up the middle and on the blue line is good enough to match up with Detroit. Being a Wings fan I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about playing the Ducks. It’s no secret that the Ducks have had their way with Detroit the last two times they have met in the post-season. And I realize that this will not be easy for the Wings. That being said, they are the Defending Stanley Cup Champions and they are not going to be afraid to play anybody. The best way to beat the Ducks is to force them to take dumb penalties and capitalize on the power play. Detroit has more than enough talent to do just that plus they remember what happened in 2007 & 2003. They won’t let this happen again.

Wings in six."


So there you have it. The Hammer coming through with his Round 2 picks/preview. If you disagree, attach a comment and let him know!

That's going to do it for today. Remember, Friday's post will have my Derby pick as well as the DFTU. No need to thank me. I'm happy to provide for my people!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

4-27-09: Yanx/Sawx vs. NFL Draft

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another work week. It's a short one for your humble author as I've got the day off on Friday. (Twins vs. Kansas City? Definitely a possibility.)

But it's my absolute intention to bang out a DFTU column on Friday as per usual. So don't fret.

That's all several days away, however. And first we've got to deal with this past weekend. There were two events over the weekend that got more coverage than most in the world of sports: the Yankees visiting the Red Sox (whom I hate) and the annual NFL Draft. I caught parts of both and will break down which I enjoyed more.

The pick is in, and the commissioner is headed to the podium. Let's do this!

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist


Just a touch cynical? I wonder why I agree with him so much?!

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So in case you weren't near a TV this weekend, you missed quite the sports weekend. The NHL playoffs are in full swing and teams are getting to critical games in their first round series. And apparently there was something called the "NBA Playoffs" that was occurring as well. I'm not terribly familiar with it, but apparently it's a type of basketball where freakishly large men try to clobber each other whilst preening for their individual posses. At least that's what I'm told...

But overshadowing both (I know Hammer, I know... the NHL playoffs are supposed to take priority. I'm sorry, but they just don't for me), were the Yankees losing three straight games to the Red Sox (whom I hate) and the NFL Draft.

Yanx/Sawx (whom I hate) games get better ratings than any other regular season match-up, and the NFL Draft is far and away the only amateur draft that's turned into a can't-miss event.

Me? I watched some of both (thank you picture-in-picture). But I couldn't help but compare the two and break down which one I'd choose if I couldn't see both.

NFL Draft - Pros:

- Who's my team going to pick? There's nearly always drama around this question. When it got to #22 on Saturday, ESPN had a shot of OT Michael Oher as though that's who the Vikings would likely select. But that crafty commentator Chris Berman said, "But I think there might be a slightly more interesting name coming here." It turned out to be Percy Harvin.

Now, don't kid yourself. ESPN knows who the pick's going to be before the commissioner reads the name. They have to in order to have the appropriate graphics and video ready, the producers have a representative stationed where the selection is "turned in" so it can be read. That person notifies the truck, who then gets the appropriate stuff ready to go. The producer also has the ability to talk to the talent on set, so they can get the appropriate notes in front of them and prepare their "debate".

So it wasn't like Berman had any special insight into what the Vikings might be preparing to do. A producer told him it was going to be Harvin and he decided to slip in that coy sentence before the pick was announced.

All that being said, even with Harvin's name being rumored as the Vikings' pick, it was still something of a surprise when it actually happened. And that's a big draw. Part of draw of sports is it's unpredictability. And that's in full effect for the Draft.

- How long's that poor schmuck gotta sit there until he gets drafted? It's hard to feel too sorry for these guys since even if they go 28th instead of 10th, they're still going to make a solid chunk of change.

But there's still a human drama involved in watching a guy who clearly thought he was going to have a home already, sitting in the green room waiting for his agent to call with good news. The longer this goes on, the more dramatic the moment when he actually gets drafted.

2007's Draft provided the most recent example of this phenomenon as Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn expected to go easily in the top 10 and ended up sliding all the way to 22 before the Cleveland Browns traded up to grab him. It got so tense, that after a time, Quinn was invited to go sit in a suite at Radio City Music Hall in order to get him out of the glare of the cameras.

It's something of a "reality TV/train wreck" phenomenon. But you have to admit it's a draw!

- How much Erin Andrews are we going to get this year? Granted, this one applies mostly to the fellas. But most women I know understand the phenomenon. Erin Andrews is a stunning woman with above-average interview skills. This means that most heterosexual males want her on their ESPN screens as much as humanly possible.

And this year we got to see her hang with Bill Cosby. There's no question that Bill won the battle of wits, but give Erin credit. She hung in there!

NFL Draft Cons:

- Any Chris Berman is too much Chris Berman. Look, I get it. Berman's been with ESPN from the beginning and is going to be around as long as he sees fit. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

He's become so much a caricature of himself at this point, that it's borderline nauseating. The inane nicknames, the silly "he... could... go..." style calls, and the outrageously bad ties. I've had enough of all of it.

And it's not like he's even that good anymore. Instead of just playing traffic cop and letting the insiders do the analyzing, he feels the need to throw in his own analysis and comes up with gems like, "this guy's got a lot of speed... that should really help out his new club." Really? You think? Thanks for that Chris!

- Any Mel Kiper is too much Mel Kiper. I don't want to be one of these guys who spends all day ripping TV talent, but when you've got a guy as good as Todd McShay sitting there waiting for his opportunity to sit at the big desk, you've really got to ask yourself what Mel's bringing to the broadcast.

The hair jokes are old. The "not quite human" accent has gotten old. And there's only so many times you can recall the clip of then Indianapolis Colts VP Bill Tobin ripping Mel before that gets old too.

- How freaking long is this thing?! Admittedly, the NFL has taken important steps towards making their Draft a more watchable event in terms of it's length. Instead of the first 3 rounds being on Day 1, they've reduced it to the first two. And they've also reduced the amount of time between picks. But the whole event is still way too much to consume for all but the craziest of NFL fans.

I used to be able to sit through all of Day 1 and a sizable chunk of Day 2 before feeling burned out on it. Now? I pull up a web page so I can monitor it until it's time for Minnesota or Pittsburgh to make a pick, then I'll flip on ESPN to see what happens.

Yanx/Sawx (whom I hate) Pros:

- Say what you will, watching these games always feels like a big deal. There are plenty of reasons not to like this match-up (see below), but there's no question that it's a unique atmosphere in regular-season baseball.

Lots of teams don't like each other. The Dodgers and Giants don't swap recipes and the Twins and Indians don't send each other Christmas cards. The list goes on. But there's no enmity quite as strong and special as Yankees/Red Sox (whom I hate). The history is extensive. From the Babe Ruth trade to the 2004 ALCS, these two teams have been connected in one form or another.

I don't care how well Derek Jeter and Kevin Youklis got along during the World Baseball Classic, the first time a Red Sox (whom I hate) pitcher beans Jeter, those two will be at each other's throats once again.

- Radio City Music Hall is nice, but Fenway Park is just this side of a cathedral. New Yankee stadium has altered this equation somewhat, but since this weekend's games were at Fenway, it still holds.

You're all well aware by now of how much I loathe the Red Sox. Ironically enough, I love their ballpark. I've never been to Fenway, so I can't speak directly to the allegedly disgusting interior. Instead I can only go by what I've seen of the field and stands on TV.

(Aside: I'd love to credit the new HDTV + digital audio for it, but I suspect it was a new microphone set-up that allowed me to hear the sound that a ball makes banging off the Green Monster for the first time this weekend. I can't even tell you why it sounded so cool. Perhaps it was just the newness of it (to me anyway). But it rocked!)

I've long compared classic ballparks to legendary architectural structures, particularly those with a spiritual bent. I'm well aware that most people don't feel the bond with baseball that I do. But even folks who aren't baseball geeks can feel a sense of awe the first time they walk into a Wrigley Field, a Fenway Park, or a Dodger Stadium.

Yanx/Sawx (whom I hate) Cons:

- They're the Yankees for chrissakes! I get this too. I don't have a problem with the Yankees' payroll, but I understand why other people do. It is far and away more than any other team in the big leagues.

There's a reason they're referred to as the Evil Empire. And unless you're a born and bred Yanks fan, they're not an easy team to root for.

- They're the Red Sox (whom I hate) for chrissakes! Obviously I get this one too.

I've covered my hatred for the Red Sox ad nauseum. But even for those without my problems with the Red Sox (whom I hate), they're getting tougher to root for.

If we're going by payroll, they've been a top 5 payroll for years now. Plus they're the only team to ever win a World Series with a $100+ million payroll. And they did it twice.

- The Yanks and Sox (whom I hate) get WAY too much press coverage. This is the old chicken and the egg argument.

Do the Yankees and Red Sox (whom I hate) get a lot of coverage because that's what people want to see? Or do a lot of people watch because they're on so damned much? (My beliefs tend towards the former.)

ESPN residing nearly equidistant between the two doesn't help matters either.

Final Analysis:

So given all those pros and cons, if I had to choose, which way would I go?

I'm sure most of you have already guessed, but since I watched most of all three Yankees/Red Sox (whom I hate) games this weekend, and only a little bit of the draft, I'd have to go "Yanx/Sawx (whom I hate)".

And even if the outcome is decidedly not in my favor, as happened this weekend, I still enjoy watching those clashes as much as any baseball I get to see. Yes, Saturday's game was ridiculously long, and nobody should have to wait four hours and 16 minutes to see the end of a ballgame, the series taken as a whole was a lot of fun to watch.

Besides, if you don't like either team, you get to see somebody lose!

That's all for today. Make sure you tune in Wednesday. The Kentucky Derby is this weekend and I'll be attempting to select my fourth consecutive winner in the Run for the Roses. You don't want to miss it!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

4-24-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of yet another week. My job's one of those where some weeks it feels like I'm stealing money, and other weeks it feels like I've earned every penny. This week felt more like the latter. I couldn't even tell you why specifically, all I know is I'm thoroughly ready for the weekend.

Which mostly means that I'm praying that today doesn't drag along too slowly!

To help me (and hopefully by extension, you) pass the time a little more quickly, I've got a satisfactory helping of some DFTU on the way for you. Not a brilliant start for my two favorite clubs, but as the Hammer would say, "It's way too early to panic."

Let's throw some strikes and put the ball in play!

"All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."
- Sean O'Casey (1880 - 1964), Irish dramatist and memoirist


I'm not entirely sure what a "memoirist" does. Obviously he could write his own memoirs. But then isn't everyone a memoirist? Did he edit other memoirs? Did people pay him for stories to fill their own memoirs like J. Peterman did with Kramer? And if so, did he start his own "J. Peterman Reality Tour"-like business? These are the things I think about on a Friday.

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Well, that and the single greatest segment in the history of the modern American blogosphere! That's right, you've waited all week for it, and now it's time once again for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 7-9 and in 4th place in the AL Central. They're 1.5 games behind the 3-way tie for first.

Okay, 7-9 isn't the start I would've liked from my World Champion pick. But there are several reasons that this start doesn't have me terribly panicked.

Let's start with the starting pitching. Francisco Liriano is 0-4 with a 7.09 ERA. Scott Baker is 0-2 with a 12.46 ERA. Those are god-awful numbers for your top two starters. Worse, neither guy is averaging more than 5 innings pitched per game, which means the bullpen has been seeing more work than you'd like. And we've already seen the results of that with Jesse Crain's trip to the DL.

So why am I not more worried? I'll start with the fact that Glen Perkins is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA, and Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are both averaging 6.5 innings pitched per game. So as much as the front end of the rotation is stressing the bullpen, the back end has made up for it a little bit.

Then I'll point to the fact that it's only April. Baker's still coming back from shoulder stiffness and is having trouble keeping the ball down in the strike zone. As long as he's not still hurt - and I'm not convinced that he's not - he'll figure that out. Liriano? He's shown flashes of his dominant form, and then turned around and gotten shelled an inning later. All I can do is hope that he finds some consistency as he gets stretched out.

Then there's the hitting. I don't want to be one of those fans who says, "Joe Mauer's out. When he comes back, everything will be okay." I don't think it's nearly that simple. That being said, when you lose a 2-time batting champion from your line-up, it's bound to have an effect. The trick is to not expect a switch to flip upon his return. It'll take time for him to settle into the line-up, and you know they'll be careful with his playing time to make sure his back is okay.

I'm actually pretty optimistic about the offense. Jason Kubel's starting to emerge. Denard Span has shaken off the tough Spring he had. And Justin Morneau is hitting .333 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. Throw the Baby Jesus (everybody loves the Baby Jesus, and everybody loves Joe Mauer) in the middle of that grouping, and you've got a pretty scary top-half of a lineup.

Lastly there's the bullpen. I'm not worried about the late innings. Joe Nathan is as good as it gets in the 9th. And now that Jose Mijares seems to have realized that mixing in a salad is a solid move (do as I say, not as I do), I think the 8th inning spot will sort itself out. It's the 6th and 7th innings that scare the devil out of me. R.A. Dickey will be fine as the "our starter's getting shelled and we need someone to eat up some innings" guy. But when the Twins are in a game and need someone to come in the 6th or 7th and hold the other guys down, I don't know who they can turn to.

Matt Guerrier is the guy you'd like to take that role, but he's got a 6.23 ERA and a very average 1.154 WHIP. Craig Breslow is another option now that Mijares looks to be taking over the 8th inning role, but you'd rather have him available in a "situational" role where he could come in when you need to get one or two specific lefty's out. That leaves Luis Ayala who's had a roller coaster of an April and Juan Morillo who I wouldn't trust even if the Twins were down 10 runs.

(Aside: Every time this Morillo kid throws, I flash back to "Bull Durham" when Crash Davis says to a hitter, "I wouldn't dig in if I were you. I have no idea where it's going. I swear to God." Morillo throws hard. But nobody has a clue where it's going once he lets go of the ball. Maybe Rick Anderson can get him settled down, but until he does, I don't want this kid in any kind of important situation.)

So perhaps one or two guys will emerge and take hold of that middle-inning role, but I fear the club's going to have to go outside the organization to find that guy. Fortunately, they have a lot of depth in other areas which they can use to make a move. They just have to make the decision to pull the trigger.

As I said earlier, it's just April. There's a lot of baseball to be played. So far it's been frustrating as a Twins fan, but I like their chances to settle in and get on a run soon.

Minnesota starts a 3-game set in Cleveland tonight, then they come back home for three more with last year's AL pennant winner, Tampa Bay.


Arizona Diamondbacks: The Snakes are 6-9 and in 4th place in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

Also not a good start by Arizona. Unfortunately for my "other favorite team", they reside in a division where someone else has run out to a hot start. As I feared, the Dodgers are hitting everything in sight and getting "better than expected" pitching from their starters.

Again, there's a long way to go. But in the case of the D'backs, they sort of are what they are: an inconsistent offensive team with a shaky bullpen.

But let me try and find some positives. First, Dan Haren is off to an incredible start. If Arizona could produce any offense for him, he'd be off to the kind of start that Brandon Webb had last year. Instead, the team's scoring an average of 0.75 runs over his 4 starts. To put it in perspective, his average run support last year was 5.25 runs per game. It's only 4 starts, so I have to figure the offense will balance out for him at some point, but you hate to waste the 1.38 ERA that he's put up so far.

Second, Brandon Webb is on the DL. Wait, that's a positive?! It is in this sense: Arizona's still around .500 and Webb hasn't made a fully-healthy start yet. If the shoulder problems he's been having aren't serious and the rest he's had works them out, then you're going to add a Cy Young winner to your rotation in a couple of weeks. That's none too shabby.

Third, Stephen Drew started out red-hot before he tweaked his hamstring. That's a similar positive to Webb's in that he'll be back and healthy sooner or later, and hopefully it'll help stabilize the offense when he does.

Finally, while the bullpen has some shaky spots, like the Twins, the back-half is pretty good. Chad Qualls has surprised me by being a fairly reliable closer. He's 4-for-5 in save opportunities and has a 3.00 ERA. Tony Pena has nailed down the 8th inning role. And coming soon to a D'backs game near you: Flash! That's right, Tom Gordon is making yet another come back and it sounds like manager Bob Melvin is ready to immediately insert him into the 7th inning role as soon as Gordon completes his minor league assignment.

So if the D'backs can get their bullpen stabilized and get a few of these guys back healthy, there's room for improvement. I'm still not sure they have enough to catch the Dodgers (damn you Manny... damn you!), but with the starting pitching Arizona has, anything's possible.

The Snakes start a 6-game home stand tonight as they host the San Francisco Giants (Tim Lincecum alert tonight!), followed by a visit from the Chicago Cubs (how are you liking that Milton Bradley acquisition now Cubs fans?).


That's all for today ladies and gents. Have yourselves a fun and safe weekend. Make sure to tune back in on Monday as I discuss whatever news happens over the weekend (think Sawx/Yanks might be involved?).

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

4-22-09: The Joy of the Double Header

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the mid-way point of the week, and after a couple of cool days here in the upper-Midwest, we're finally warming up a tad. I can't even tell you why, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic about life in general. Check back with me tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll be back to my usual, cynical self (man I hate Thursdays).

Today, I'll discuss one of the wonders of baseball that Twins fans will have to contend with more often in the near future: the double header. The Twins/Red Sox (whom I hate) game that was scheduled for last night was postponed by rain. So the two clubs are in the midst of a double header to make up that game. Two baseball games in one day? Yes please! Why aren't there more of these? Why don't they schedule them regularly? And why are they so much fun?

Let's talk about it!

"It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... let's play two!"
- Ernie Banks (1931 - ), MLB Hall of Famer

Mr. Cub with his catch-phrase. And it fits in perfectly with today's topic!

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The double header is one of those gems of baseball's past which has dwindled in today's game. It used to be that double headers were part of the regular major league schedule, but now the only reason you see them is because a game got postponed. There are several reasons for this change.

To start with, like seemingly everything else in professional sports, money is a large consideration. It used to be that fans could purchase one ticket for a double header and get twice the value. Owners finally decided that they could increase their profit by separating those two gates into the "day-night" double header. That, at least, would get them two different gates.

Then they realized that fans would come out to the ballpark even in late October and early November for playoff games, which would allow them to lengthen the regular-season schedule and eliminate the need for scheduled double-headers all together.

And not only is money an issue for the owners, but it's also an issue for the players. Players these days make so much money that they've essentially become products. They are widgets off of which owners, agents and ex-wives make money. I'm not trying to convince you to feel sorry for players - they certainly make their fair share. Instead I'm pointing out that once you consider players to be a meal-ticket, they become something to be protected. And two games in one day means twice the number of opportunities to get injured. So players and agents appeal to the Union, and the Union "suggests" to owners that they'd rather not play double headers.

("Suggests" in this case having the meaning of "threaten with labor trouble".)

So since both owners and players feel like it's to their financial advantage to not play double headers, the fans lose out on the opportunity to enjoy one of the wonders of baseball.

Of the four major sports, baseball is the only one that could reasonably be played twice in one day. Football and hockey are far to physically punishing to expect professionals to play two without people getting seriously hurt, and basketball requires so much running that pros would blow out knees at an alarming rate if they played twice a day.

That's not a knock on the athleticism of baseball, it's just the nature of the game. Baseball is played in short bursts. A slower pace doesn't mean it requires less athletic ability, it just means that there's more down-time, more time to recover. Plus with 25-man rosters, it's not that difficult to tweak your line-ups so guys don't get worn out.

(Aside: that is unless you're the Twins and your bullpen is god-awful. Seriously, Juan Morillo?! Can we please take some of this position-player depth and trade for some relief help already? Please!)

And it's because it's so doable that it should be done. Fans love multi-game days. Why do you think "Hockey Day in Minnesota" has been such a success? Planning your day around multiple games creates an event. People love events. They're something that allows us to ignore the mundane nature of the rest of our lives and have something to look forward to.

When I was down in Arizona visiting my folks in March, we had the opportunity to catch two games in one day. It was brilliant. Day baseball with the feel of the warm sun and the smell of freshly mowed grass, followed by more baseball on a cool evening under the lights. That's a helluva way to spend a day, I promise you.

And those were just Spring Training games. I can only imagine how cool it would be to experience something like that at the big league level.

Here's my thought. Why can't we have two scheduled double-headers a year? I know the schedule is ridiculously complex as it is, but they used to be able to pull this off, so you can't tell me it can't be done today. They could work it just like they do interleague play. Pick two sections of the year where teams have a double-header on the weekend. One could be late May, the other could be early August. Something like that. Weekends like that would be huge marketing opportunities. And you don't think teams with low attendance wouldn't see a boost from a well-marketed "Double Header Weekend"? Of course they would.

You know why independent minor league baseball has had such success? Because they decided that playing to the fans is as important as putting together a quality team on the field. MLB has gotten part of that message (see: an increase in promotional days). But if I was running a team like Florida or Kansas City and I wanted to get my fan base excited again, things like double headers would be a solid way to promote a team with a lot of young talent.

I know, I know. It's probably not going to happen.

Fortunately, even players and owners reluctance to play two can't defeat mother nature. Sometimes games get rained out, and double headers are necessary to get all 162 games in. Which brings me back to today.

The Twins and the Red Sox (whom I hate) are in yet another rain delay, with the Sox (whom I hate) leading 10-1 in the 7th inning. Yes, even when my favorite team is getting shelled, I'm happy because it's a double header day. And I look forward to having the chance to take in two at Target Field starting next year!

(Full disclosure: the forecast for tonight looks pretty damp in Boston, so it's entirely possible that they'll call this game today and move game 2 to tomorrow. But dammit, I'm still happy!)

That's all for today ladies and gents. I'm back on Friday with more DFTU wonder for you all.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

4-20-09: Monday Notes

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to yet another Monday. Sometimes you blink and it goes from Friday to Monday in a nanosecond. This was one of those weekends for me.

First off, I did get my new HDTV, and holy s@#! is it cool. I'll have more on that in a minute. Then, Saturday night, I did end up going to the boxing event at the Target Center. Not the best boxing I've ever seen, but it was a fun night. At least up until the main event when the Bismarck Bomber, some dude named Pudwill, got hosed by the judges in favor of the local fighter, Matt Vanda.

I'm not saying it was rigged, but the only people in the building who thought that Vanda won the fight were either in Vanda's corner, or judging the event. That's it. And that, in a nutshell, is why boxing isn't a more popular sport. When fans can't trust the integrity of the outcome (and even worse, nobody was surprised that the guy from South Dakota got screwed), then it's hard to get too excited about the sport.

On the upside, the boss hooked us up, and the only thing I paid for was parking. Thanks boss!

Oh, and thanks should also go out to Scheik's Gentleman's Club for providing the ring girls. Ahem. Right. Let's just say that I know where about 1/3 of the boxing fans were headed after the show. Not that I'd ever do such a thing myself!*

(* - Actually, I wouldn't at this point. After Minneapolis enacted it's smoking ban, it just killed the atmosphere. At least that's what I've heard from people who've actually gone. I'd have no idea myself. Hi Mom!)

Finally, on Sunday, I did get to that Twins game I mentioned. However, since I was going with some friends I hadn't talked to in ages, I decided against taking notes for a Running Game Commentary. I know you're devastated... okay, some of you are devastated... okay, I know at least a couple of you are mildly disconcerted. And that's enough for me to promise that I'll get you a RGC next time I hit a ballgame!

A fun weekend all in all, but way too short!

On to this week. Lots of stuff happening over the weekend, so today's column will be a random series of notes.

Off we go!

"All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse."
- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.


There are a handful of go-to guys when it comes to famous quotes, and Ben's near the top of list. I like the basic sentiment here: the harder you try to control what's coming down the pike, the more likely you are to screw it up. Solid.

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Monday Notes:

- Holy s@#! sports in HD are cool... The only bummer this weekend was that the Sunday night baseball game on ESPN got rained out. I was really looking forward to catching an entire baseball game in HD. So far, I've only caught bits and pieces. But those bits an pieces have been pretty spectacular.

Despite that disappointment, I did have something of an epiphany. If you're having trouble getting excited about the NHL playoffs because your team fell flat and didn't make it, playoff hockey in HD helps... a lot!

The enhanced sharpness of the picture is great. But equally as helpful for hockey is the wider picture. One of the reasons people enjoy hockey so much more in person as opposed to on TV, is because you can see all the ice when you're there. You can see plays developing. You can see a forward sneaking behind the defense. If you want, you can even see what the goaltender's doing while the play's on the other end of the ice. But until HD, you didn't see any of that on TV.

Okay, you still can't see what the goaltender's doing when the play's on the other end of the ice. But you do get a much wider view of the ice, and can see far more plays developing than you can in standard definition.

I like hockey anyway, but all my kvetching about not being into the playoffs has been mitigated. Now if I can just get to watch that baseball game!

Next...

New Yankee Stadium's a band box?... It's far, far too early in the year to make any kind of final judgement on the new home of the Yankees. But so far, balls have been flying out of there almost as quickly as me fleeing a room in which someone's watching the NBA.

In the first 6 games played at the new Yankee Stadium, there were 28 home runs hit. Friday and Saturday alone, the Yanks and Indians combined for 14 home runs. And a substantial majority of them were hit out to right field where there appears to be some sort of jet-stream that's developed.

Granted, we don't have nearly enough data to tell whether this is due to the new ballpark, bad pitching, April weather patterns, or (as is most likely) some combination of all three.

I'm of the opinion that Saturday's 22-3 drubbing of the Yanks at the hands of the Tribe is one of those fluky aberrations that happens from time to time in baseball. Certainly Chien-Ming Wang has been awful in his first three starts for New York. But he was terrible on the road too, so it's hard to blame the ballpark for his getting worked on Saturday.

I'm also thinking that as May turns into June, and summer weather settles in the Bronx, this "jet-stream" in right field is going to work itself out.

In the mean time, I'm sure there are plenty of Yankee haters out there that are reveling in New York's 7-6 start. Although the haters in Massachusetts can't be too vocal about it, since their club has started with an identical 7-6 record!

Finally...

John Madden retires... Okay, technically this happened Friday, but since I didn't comment on it then, I'll add it today.

Yes, I was one of the people that joined in the "mumble, mumble, mumble... Brett Favre" impressions after hearing the news of Madden's retirement. And why not? It's a funny bit!

But I've got to give the guy his due. Over the course of 3 decades, Madden carved out an amazing resume as a broadcaster. He worked for every network that has carried NFL football, and finished his run calling a Pittsburgh Super Bowl victory. Not too shabby.

And though I've never been sucked into the game, there's also no question that the EA Sports "Madden" NFL games have been and continue to be the pinnacle of the sports gaming market. Put it this way, it's the only video game that's turned itself into an ESPN show. Granted, it's a spectacularly bad show, but that's not Madden's fault!

NBC deserves kudos, not only for the way they handled Madden's announcement, but for quickly naming Cris Collinsworth as his replacement. If Madden's the Dean Smith of color-commentators, Collinsworth's the Mike Krzyzewski. I know some people find him a bit smarmy, but he's able to communicate clearly and saliently, which is more than I can say for a certain Fox A-team color commentator who's name (Troy Aikman) I won't mention.

Life in the NFL won't be the same without the Madden cruiser and the Turducken, but it will go on. Thanks John!


That's all for today ladies and gents. I'm back on Wednesday with more Sports Take wonder for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

4-17-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've done it. We've come to the end of another work week and once again it's time to take 48 hours to rest and rejuvenate.

Except I don't think I'll be resting so much this weekend. Don't fret though, it's for very good reasons.

First off, I'm going to take the plunge into the world of HD television. Thanks to my grandmother (may she rest in peace) and my folks, I've come into a little bit of cash which I've promised to do something "fun" with, i.e. a HDTV. So tomorrow during the day, I'm going TV shopping and stopping by a cable payment center to pick up an upgraded cable box.

Then tomorrow night, I'm attending my first ever live boxing event. They're calling it "Unfinished Business" and at the top of the card is St. Paul's own Matt "The Predator" Vanda. This man has more tattoos head to to then any of the natives in "Pirates of the Caribbean 2". I don't know if that makes him any better of a fighter, but it's got to make him pretty tough, no?

That brings us to Sunday, where I'm hoping to get to my first Twins game of the year. Twins v. Angels, Glen Perkins v. Jared Weaver. I'm still only 60% as to whether I'm actually going to get there or not. But if I manage it, there's a 90% possibility of a Running Game Commentary headed your way next week! We shall see...

So that's my weekend, how you doin'?

Before we get to the weekend, however, there's today's column to deal with. I know you've missed it. I've been buried in an avalanche of emails asking for it. And now, it's back. That's right, there's a DFTU headed your way!

Bring the pain!

If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.
- Bill Lyon


Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Cleveland Indians! (copyright Bill Simmons) That's right, the savvy pick to win the AL Central has started with a whopping 3-7 record! In the interest of full disclosure, my pick has started 4-7 (see below).

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It's that time again! You've been missing it. You've been itching for it. You've been aching for it. I've felt your pain and now I'm here to bring the goodness. That's right, it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

To start this out, we've got to put a bow on a couple of seasons:

Minnesota Wild: The Wild finished the year 40-33-9 for a total of 89 points. Unfortunately that was the 9th best total in the Western Conference, which means that they missed the playoffs.

First of all, let me deal with the end of the season. If you look at the last two weeks of the season, it sort of encapsulates the entirety of the Wild's season. They won games they probably shouldn't have and choked away games they should've won. And in the end, the Wild were eliminated from playoff contention, in the midst of winning their last two games. "Inconsistency" thy name was Minnesota Wild.

The season had barely ended when the Wild's off-season got very interesting. In a post-game interview with Wild color-man Tom Reid, head coach Jacques Lemaire announced that he would be stepping down. So the Wild's season had been over for about 10 minutes, and they were already without a head coach!

I respect Jacques as much as any coach in the league. That being said, I'm not sure this was such a bad move. Head coaches are like good - but not great - movies. You like them a lot early on, but after a while the punchlines lack punch, the lead actress doesn't appear as appealing and you can't look at the lead actor without remembering that story about him getting caught with a transvestite hooker. So you end up putting the DVD in a pile and suddenly it's 4 years later and you realize you still don't want to watch it.

How does that connect? Good question. I did get off on something of a tangent there didn't I?

I just think head coaches have a shelf life. After 8 years, the rah-rah speeches get repetitive. The cycles of carrots and sticks get predictable. And ultimately, the players just tune the coach out. That doesn't make them bad people. It's just human nature. It's why employees rebel against employers. It's why kids rebel against their parents. Sometimes you just need to change the voice that the players are listening to.

So while I don't think Jacques was doing a bad job, I just think it was time for a change.

But the real jaw dropper came just yesterday, when Wild owner Craig Leipold announced that he wouldn't be renewing the contract of GM Doug Risebrough. There had been plenty of rumblings that Jacques might be hanging it up, but there'd been barely any discussion of Risebrough not being retained.

Again, I'm not saying Risebrough deserved to be fired, but I can't argue with the notion that a change might be helpful. I say "might be", because the helpfulness of change is completely dependent on who the Wild bring in to fill those positions. In Doug's case, I'd point out that beyond Gaborik and Koivu, his record of drafting and developing talent isn't stellar. I'm a big fan of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but I can't argue that he had a dreadful season. I became a fan of Brent Burns after this fight, but it's equally clear that he had a terrible season. So in a sense, it wasn't totally shocking that Leipold decided to take things in a different direction.

What will that direction be? It's hard to say. I won't pretend to know enough about NHL management personnel to put together a worthwhile GM candidate list. Solely in the interest of annoying my favorite Blackhawk fan, I'll point out that legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman is currently serving in an "advisory" capacity with the 'Hawks, and might be available given the right price. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

What I do know is this: NHL free agency opens July 1st. And if you think Marian Gaborik's contract status didn't have an effect on the GM move, you're kidding yourself. So I believe the Wild will have a new GM by June 1st at the latest, in order to give the new GM time to hire a coach and put together a package to try and convince Gabby to stay.

Stay tuned Wild fans. This might be the most interesting off-season the Wild have ever had!

Next...

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers defeated the Florida State Seminoles in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but lost to Xavier in the second round.

First off, let me admit that I technically picked FSU to beat the Badgers in the first round. But I also painted a picture by which the Badgers could win. And it was that precise scenario that played itself out. No, I shouldn't get credit for any kind of "call", but I was thrilled that the Badgers managed to win a game in the Dance.

Oh, and incidentally, that's precisely 100% more wins in the tournament than the Gophers managed. Will I trade 2 head-to-head wins for 1 more win in the Tournament? Yes, yes I will. Take your regular seasons wins and stick 'em Gopher fans. Bucky made it to the second round, and you didn't!

*End of spiteful rant*

The Badgers had what I thought was a nice mix of youth and experience this year, but they lacked leadership. I don't know how they fix that going into next year, but I trust that if any coach can shore that up, Bo Ryan's the man to do it!

So that takes care of the fall/winter FT's. On to the Spring!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 4-7 and in 4th place in the AL Central. Though, for the record, the leaders are in a 3-way tie for first at 5-4.

Ugh. Where do I start?

The starting pitching's been mediocre. The hitting's been inconsistent. And the bullpen has been dreadful.

Yes, this team is my pick to win the 2009 World Series. Feel the excitement!

I'm trying to stay balanced in my attitude. In these first 11 games, the Twins have faced the team that topped them in last year's division race (Chicago), and two teams they've traditionally struggled with(Seattle and Toronto). Last year the Twins were 10-9 against the White Sox, this year 1-2. Last year the Twins were 5-4 against Seattle, this year 2-2. Last year the Twins were 0-6 against Toronto, this year 1-3. I'm not excusing their poor performance, I'm just saying it's not that inconsistent with where they were last year when they missed the playoffs by 1 game.

I also have to point out that the Twins are only 7% of the way through their season. There's a lot of baseball yet to be played. And there's a lot of "settling in" to be done.

All that being said, at first glance, the fear that the Twins' bullpen would be less than competitive looks to be the case. Phillip Humber has a 17+ ERA. Craig Breslow has a 16+ ERA. Matt Guerrier has a 7+ ERA. You don't need me to tell you how horrible those numbers are.

Just as worrisome, the starters haven't exactly been dominant. Liriano held his own against Halladay last night, but when my first thought was, "sure he lost, but it was better than his first two starts", that's not good. Scott Baker got lit in his first start back from the DL. Kevin Slowey has had flashes, but keeps getting in trouble. Perhaps their best starter has been their #5 guy, Glen Perkins. I'm hoping this is all a matter of guys getting settled in. But I fear that the jump in innings that nearly every one of these guys took last year, may be affecting their start this year.

And then there's the offense. C Joe Mauer is about set to head out on a rehab assignment. His return to the Twins line-up can't come soon enough. But while he'll help, he's not the end-all, be-all. Last year, the Twins excelled at clutch moments with runners in scoring position. This year, not as much.

Again, they've run into some excellent pitching. Felix Hernandez, Eric Bedard, Jerrod Washburn and Roy Halladay have all thrown gems against them. But that doesn't excuse their lack of offense against lesser pitchers.

Bottom line, the Twins have to improve in several areas in order to compete for the division. I hope that most of that involves guys settling into their roles. I fear that the bullpen's going to need some outside help. We shall see.

The Twins open a 3-game set with LAAGOCRCUSE tonight. Then they head on the road next week for a 2-game series against the Red Sox (whom I hate) and a 3-gamer with the Indians.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona is 3-6 and in fourth place in the NL West.

Mea Culpa: I've seen bits and pieces of about 3 different D'backs games so far this season.

Here's what I know: Brandon Webb's on the DL. They're calling it "shoulder stiffness". I'm calling it "is that all you can get on your fastball"? Hopefully rest will cure what ails him. But if he's got to make another visit to Dr. James Andrews, things could get bad in a hurry.

Dan Haren has been pretty good, but isn't getting a lot of offensive support. Doug Davis is what he is. John Garland had 2 very good starts and 1 awful one. And Max Scherzer is still trying to figure out how to be a full-time big league starter.

Here's the issue, the starting pitching was supposed to be the cornerstone of this club, and it's been relatively average. If that doesn't change, this club could be in all kinds of trouble.

Arizona's on the road for three this weekend in San Francisco, then returns to Chase Field for a 9-game home stand.

There you have it. A little longer than usual, but I had some catching up to do! Have a wonderful weekend and make sure you check back Monday for more Sports Take wonder.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

4-15-09: 2009 NHL Playoffs Predictions

Hello again everybody...

Mid-week and we're reveling in the warm weather here in the Upper Midwest. It was damned near perfect as I walked into work this afternoon, and the forecast keeps it around til the weekend anyway. High's in the upper-60's to low 70's... sunny skies... perfect weather for an outdoor ballgame.

Woops. Gotta wait til next year for that!

One quick baseball note before we get to the hockey. Yesterday was the first time since August of 1951 that there were more extra-inning games than 9-inning games. Just a fluke I guess, but you know how I love me some baseball history!

Moving on.

Today is the final column in the series of NHL Playoff posts. Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Hammer for all his hard work putting this stuff together. It's certainly made my week easier and slightly more interesting. Thanks Craig! Today's column is Hammer's 2009 Playoff Predictions.

Let's hop the boards and get after it!

Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.
- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist


This is pretty much Mr. Clemens' version of one of my favorite sayings, "I just don't like people that much."

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No reason to fool around. Here are Hammer's predictions for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

NHL Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Eastern Conference:

1. Boston vs. 8. Montreal:

This is a complete flip-flop of last year’s 1st round series where Montreal was the number one seed and Boston was number eight. Boston had 116 points to lead the Eastern Conference this season and it looked like everything went right for them. Tim Thomas emerged as a number one goaltender and Zdeno Chara is a favorite to win the Norris Trophy. Meanwhile everything went wrong for Montreal around January. Goaltender Carey Price went into a slump. Alexei Kovalev was sent home for two games to refocus and injuries to Robert Lang and Andrei Markov have been tough to overcome. This has the makings of a Boston rout. That being said I am picking Montreal because historically they have owned the Bruins in the post-season going 24-7 lifetime in playoff series. I have seen Montreal teams that are worse than this team beat Boston in the playoffs twice this decade. I won’t believe in the Bruins until I see them do it

Montreal in seven games

2. Washington vs. 7. NY Rangers:

This is a match-up between teams with high expectations going into the season. Washington lived up to those expectations winning the Southeast Division for the 2nd year in a row; the Rangers did not as they struggled to make the post-season. I love the Capitals in this series. They are deeper and have better scoring than the Rangers. The one thing New York has in their favor is Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Unless he can win a lot of games 2-1 it won’t be enough.

Washington in five games

3. New Jersey vs. 6. Carolina:

These two teams have met in the post-season three times this decade and each time the winner of this series has gone on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Back in March I was ready to pick New Jersey to go to the Finals after watching how they played this season with Martin Brodeur being out with a bicep injury. When Brodeur returned the Devils didn’t miss a beat for the first few games. Then they went 5-7-1 in their final 13 games, which cost the Devils a number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Carolina on the other hand was the hottest team in the Eastern Conference losing only three times in regulation in their last 18 games. I think if someone is going to get the Devils in the playoffs they better do it in the 1st round. I think the Canes get it done.

Carolina in six games.

4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Philadelphia:

This is a rematch of last years Eastern Conference Finals. Pittsburgh like Montreal, Carolina, and the Rangers had their struggles during the middle of the season resulting in a coaching change. The difference is the Penguins were able to play their way out of a tailspin and clinch home ice in the 1st round. They have the best 1-2 scoring punch in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There are two reasons I’m picking the Penguins here. 1. I hate the Flyers and 2. I don’t like Philly’s goaltending. I have a hard time believing the Martin Biron is the man in net for the Flyers when he had three years in Buffalo to succeed Dominik Hasek and failed to do so.

Penguins in six games.


Western Conference

Round 1

1. San Jose vs. 8. Anaheim Ducks:

The San Jose Sharks had 117 points this season and won the President’s Trophy for the 1st time in team history. That’s all fine and dandy but the Sharks will be judged by what they do in the post-season. They have lost in the 2nd round for the last three seasons resulting in changes being made where it is Stanley Cup or bust in the Silicon Valley. Two seasons ago Anaheim was where San Jose wants to be this season and that is Stanley Cup champions. This Ducks team is different than that Stanley Cup team from two years ago but the nucleus remains the same. This should be a great series but I feel this Sharks team is more complete than previous teams.

Sharks in seven games

2. Detroit vs. 7. Columbus:

Congratulations Columbus, you have made the post-season for the 1st time in team history. Your reward, the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round. Honestly, I liked Columbus' chances going into the post-season as long as they could avoid Detroit or San Jose. Well that didn’t happen and because of that I think it will be a short stay for the Blue Jackets.

Detroit in five games

3. Vancouver vs. 6. St Louis

St. Louis was the hottest team in the Western Conference, overcoming numerous injuries to make the post-season as a number six seed no less. It’s been a great run, but I think it ends here against the Canucks. I think their goaltending is better and I think the Canucks have better scoring depth. The future looks bright for St. Louis but the Canucks win this series.

Vancouver in five games

4. Chicago vs. 5 Calgary

All year I have been down on the Flames. I think they have three great players in Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, and Mikka Kiprusoff and not much else after that. Their stumble from the top of the Northwest Division to the number five seed in the West in the last month all but confirms that the Flames are in trouble. Now they go up against a Chicago team who swept the Flames in the regular season. I really wished I lived in Vegas so I could bet against Calgary.

Chicago in six games


Eastern Conference Semifinals:

2. Washington vs. 8. Montreal:

While I think Montreal finds someway to eliminate the Bruins in the 1st round I think they are in trouble against Washington in the 2nd round. With Andrei Markov hurt and Mattheiu Schneider banged up I don’t see how they can contain Alex Ovechkin. Plus I think Washington goalie Jose Theodore will be pumped up to play his former team.

Washington in five games

4. Pittsburgh vs. 6. Carolina:

The best 1-2 scoring punch in the Eastern Conference vs. the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. Carolina goalie Cam Ward has been brilliant this season but I don’t think he and the Canes can shut down the Penguins offense.

Penguins in six games


Western Conference Semifinals:

1. San Jose vs. 4. Chicago

After surviving the Ducks in the 1st round the next opponent for the Sharks are the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks. While it has been a great run by the Hawks this season to become relevant once again it ends here, as the Sharks are too deep and too good for the Blackhawks.

Sharks in five games

2. Detroit vs. 3. Vancouver

A lot of people are high on the Canucks going into the post-season. They are the popular dark horse pick to win the Stanley Cup. I don’t buy it. While their goaltending may be better than Detroit the Wings have a better line-up from top to bottom. While this match-up does concern me because of Roberto Luongo’s ability to steal a game I think the Wings are too talented to let that happen.

Detroit in six games.


Eastern Conference Finals:

2. Washington vs. 4 Pittsburgh

You know the NHL is praying for this match-up. Crosby & Malkin vs. Alex Ovechkin. I only hope this goes seven games. If it does Washington wins.

Capitals in seven games


Western Conference Finals

1. San Jose vs. 2. Detroit

The two best teams in the West. The President’s trophy winner vs. the defending Stanley Cup Champions. These two teams split the season series 2-2 both winning on home ice. Something has to give here. I said earlier that this is the most complete Sharks team I have see. I think this will be a great series and it pains me to right this but I think this is where Detroit’s goaltending gets exposed.

San Jose in seven games


Stanley Cup Finals:

San Jose vs. Washington

Last year it was Sidney Crosby making is 1st appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. This year it is Alex Ovechkin’s turn. That being said I think it will be a short stay for the Capitals. This Sharks team reminds me of the '94 Rangers, '01 Avalanche, and '02 Red Wings, teams that were built to win the Stanley Cup now. Plus I think the team with the better goaltending wins in the finals. I like Nabokov more than Theodore and I like the Sharks to deliver the cup to Northern California.

Sharks in five games.

There you have it. The Hammer says the San Jose Sharks will be the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions. Keep and eye on your favorite sports media source over the next few weeks and we'll see how he does!

That wraps it up for today. Check back on Friday when I bring back the segment to end all segments... the DFTU!!!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday

4-14-09: 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Manifesto

Hello again everybody...

Yes, it's a rare Tuesday post here at The Sports Take. But with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs kicking off Wednesday night, there's a lot to get in within a short window. Yesterday, we presented you with Hammer's 2009 Regular Season Mea Culpa. Today, it's time to start getting ready for the playoffs. Hammer will be here tomorrow with his predictions.

But today is a column I've looked forward to for a long time. Today, the Hammer brings you his 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Manifesto. Included in the 2009 Manifesto is a brief history, so I won't repeat it in the preamble. Suffice it to say, if you're unsure whom to root for in the playoffs, the Hammer is here to provide you with a potential road map. You don't have to use it, but considering the obvious amount of thought he put into it, you might want to!

It's time to drop the puck!

"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any."
- Russell Baker (1925 - ), American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer


And it's even easier when you have a co-worker do most of the writing for you!

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Which brings me to today's column, Hammer's 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Manifesto. Without further ado, here it is...

Overview:

The creation of the Manifesto came about in 2007. Both the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild made the playoffs that season and for about the final two weeks of the season it looked like the two could meet in the first round of the post-season.

Being a huge Detroit Red Wings fan, I thought it was crystal clear to everyone as to where my allegiance would be if these two teams met in the post-season. Instead, my co-workers kept asking me who I would be cheering for in the playoffs even after I told them the Red Wings always came first and I would cheer for the wild as long as they didn't play Detroit.

At this point I realized that I needed to spell out my rules as to whom to cheer for and against in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and to where the Hammer stands each post-season. After the Manifesto was introduced, a listener to the Al Malmberg Show sent it over to a relative of his who was stationed in Iraq. the whole battalion took the Manifesto and got behind the Detroit Red Wings and cheered them on during their playoff run in 2007.

(Ed.'s Note: If it's good enough for the troops, shouldn't it be good enough for us!?)

Here now is the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Manifesto:

Rule 1: Always cheer for the Detroit Red Wings. This is the most important rule in the Manifesto.

Rule 2: Always root against the Philadelphia Flyers, NO MATTER WHAT.

Rule 3: Support the Minnesota Wild as everyone here in Minnesota should get to experience playoff hockey. If the Wild play Detroit, see rule number one.

(Ed.'s Note: The Wild didn't make the playoffs this year, so this rule is somewhat moot. However, I would like to point out that the second sentence is the sole opinion of the Hammer, and in no way reflects the opinion of the rest of us here at The Sports Take. We now return you to your regular Manifesto programming.)

Rule 4: Cheer against the Pacific and Southeast Divisions. The fans in some of these cities don't appreciate the game until the post-season comes around while true hockey cities like Winnipeg and Hartford are without teams. Of course if any team from one of these two divisions plays Philadelphia, see rule number two.

Side Note: You are allowed to cheer for the Washington Capitals as they are in the Mid-Atlantic and not the geographical Southeast. They are the only specific team exempted from Rule 4.

Rule 5: Cheer against the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a Michigan Wolverine fan, it's hard for me to support the city of Columbus, Ohio. Plus they play Detroit in the first round. If they play Philadelphia, see rule number two.

(Ed.'s Note: For those of you not up to speed with College athletics, Columbus, Ohio, is the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes - the mortal enemies of the Michigan Wolverines.)

(Ed.'s Note #2: I kind of like the Blue Jackets since they derive their moniker from the nickname for Ohio's Civil War regiments, and I'm a self-professed Civil War geek. But it's the Hammer's Manifesto, so I'll defer to him.)

Rule 6: Support the Original 6. They are the backbone and have shaped the history of the NHL. Anytime an Original 6 team goes on a Cup run, you are watching something special.

(Ed.'s Note: For those of you who aren't ardent hockey fans, the Original 6 are: the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

Rule 7: When in doubt get plenty of Molson beer and cheer for the Canadian team. If you can't find Molson, Labatt Blue is an acceptable substitute.

That's your 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Manifesto.

Again, the Hammer isn't telling you all how to root during the playoffs, he's merely providing you with some well thought-out options. Personally, it's going to be tough for me to get into the playoffs this year since the Wild aren't in it and the baseball season is underway.

But I'll do my part and try to catch some games here and there, and I'll be following the Manifesto when I do!

Hope you enjoyed it. Tune in tomorrow when we'll have the Hammer's playoff predictions as the puck drops on the 2009 post-season tomorrow night. Then on Friday it's back to the normal Sports Take schedule as I bring you the long-awaited return of the DFTU!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

4-13-09: NHL Regular Season: Fin

Hello again everybody...

First off, I'd like to take this chance to thank all of you who responded with your thoughts on Friday's column. It was a bit different than my usual columns, so I was moderately concerned about how it would be received. But based on the reaction I've gotten so far, those concerns were pretty much unfounded.

I'm always happy to hear from readers with their comments, compliments and yes, even criticisms. So whatever you've got for me, I'm happy to hear it! Thanks again to all those who wrote in!

Unfortunately, Nick Adenhart's passing wasn't the only one we'll be dealing with early in the season. Today came the news that Phillies broadcasting legend, Harry Kalas, has passed away at the age of 73. One of my early radio mentors, Mike Sullivan, is a huge Phillies fan, and I cringe at the the thought of how this news must be affecting him. Also cringe-worthy is the thought of these things coming in threes. I'm trying not to think of who's next. Honestly, I'm trying.

Moving on.

This week marks the beginning of the NHL post-season. That means it's time for some special columns looking back at the season that was, and looking ahead at what might be the best post-season in all of professional sports. And of course, if The Sports Take is talking hockey, it's going to be the Hammer doing the talking!

Coming up this week we'll have the Hammer's post-season predictions, as well as perhaps the finest document in hockey history: the Hammer's 2009 NHL Playoff Manifesto. Don't have a playoff team and need some guidance in who to root for? The Manifesto can help you out. But before all that, we have to look back. Today, the Hammer reviews his regular season picks.

Let's light the lamp!

"I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself."
- Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), American actress and singer

Any of you wondering why I include a quote with every column? There you go!

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Back in October, The Sports Take's resident hockey expert, the Hammer, brought you his Eastern Conference and Western Conference previews. As is usually the case, some of those picks worked out, some didn't. But I'll promise you this, he got a lot closer to right than I would have!

But that doesn't mean he got them all right. And being the stand-up guy that the Hammer is, he's sent me what he likes to call his "Mea Culpa". Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Hammer:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

15. New York Islanders

Hammer’s preseason pick: 15th
This one wasn’t hard to nail. There was turmoil from the beginning of the season and then Rick Dipietro got hurt and missed most of the year. They are the favorites to win Tuesday’s draft lottery and choose between John Tavares or Victor Hedman.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning
Hammer’s preseason pick: 8th
I wrote at the start of the season that this team had too much talent to miss the playoffs. I didn’t realize how bad their defense was when I wrote that. I also didn’t realize how dysfunctional the ownership situation was. Once Barry Melrose got fired 16 games into the season I knew this team would miss the post-season. I don’t think Rick Tocchet is the answer behind the bench. Another thing to watch out for is if the lightning try to trade Vinny Lecavalier before the draft.

13. Atlanta Thrashers
Hammer’s preseason pick: 14th
This team finished about where I thought it would. They are still trying to rebuild their team after trading Marian Hossa last season. They may have to do the same thing next season with Ilya Kovalchuk as he approaches free agency.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs
Hammer’s preseason pick: 13th
This team also finished around where I thought it would. The difference between them and Atlanta is they have stability in the front office with Brian Burke as GM. If you look what he did in Vancouver earlier this decade and Anaheim a couple years ago it won’t be long until Toronto is back in the post-season.

11. Ottawa Senators
Hammer’s preseason pick: 10th
After talking to some hockey people last season I had a feeling this team was in trouble. With one line, no depth at defense and no goaltending Ottawa struggled right out of the gate. They were able to turn it around late in the season after firing Craig Hartsburg as head coach but it was too little too late. One key issue is whether Ottawa trades Jason Spezza before his no trade clause kicks in July 1st.

10. Buffalo Sabres
Hammer’s preseason pick: 9th
I said in my preview that goalie Ryan Miller was the key to their playoff hopes. He suffered an ankle injury in February. Buffalo proceeded to stumble out of the playoff picture and missed the post-season for the 2nd straight season. What Buffalo needs to do is get some offense so they don’t have to depend on miller to carry this team.

9. Florida Panthers
Hammer’s preseason pick: 12th
I wrote in the preview it would be interesting how Florida would handle the Jay Bouwmeester situation with him becoming a free agent at the end of the year. They decided to hold on to him and make a push for the playoffs. They finished tied with Montreal for the final playoff spot but lost out via tiebreaker. Fortunately Florida stockpiled defenseman last off-season in case Bouwmeester walks and can use that money to get a top six forward.

8. Montreal Canadiens
Hammer’s preseason pick: 1st
I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried. They started out strong but everything started to come undone around the all-star break. Goaltender Carey Price lost his confidence and Guy Carboneau lost his job. The Habs limp into the post-season with a lot of questions surrounding them.

7. NY Rangers
Hammer’s preseason pick: 4th
This team also came very close to missing the post-season. It took the return of Sean Avery and John Tortorella replacing Tom Renney behind the bench for the Rangers to make the playoffs the 4th straight year. It might be too late for this season but I’m curious to see what Tortorella can do with a full season in charge.

6. Carolina Hurricanes
Hammer’s preseason pick: 11th
This team was limping along when they fired Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Paul Maurice. That and the return of Erik Cole from Edmonton sparked the canes on a 10-1-1 run in March to get into the playoff picture and clinch the 6th seed. This team will be unpleasant to play in the post-season.

5. Philadelphia Flyers
Hammer’s preseason pick: 5th
My mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. I hate this team. Let’s just move on.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Hammer’s preseason pick: 2nd
The Penguins also struggled in the middle of the season, which cost Michel Therrien his job. It wasn’t until Sergei Gonchar returned from injury and Bill Guerin was acquired from the NY Islanders that allowed this team to make a late charge and clinch home ice in the 1st round.

3. New Jersey Devils
Hammer’s preseason pick: 6th
I said as long as Martin Brodeur was the goalie this team would be in the playoffs. He then goes out and injuries his bicep in October and doesn’t return until March. Scott Clemensen fills in his absence and the Devils don’t miss a beat. The offense steps up and they win the Atlantic Division. This team struggled near the end of the season but for as well as they played all year a lull was expected. This team is a threat to whomever they play.

2. Washington Capitals
Hammer’s preseason pick: 3rd
They have the most exciting player in hockey in Alex Ovechkin. Even if you aren’t a hockey fan take some time this post-season to watch Ovechkin. I think you will enjoy what you see.

1. Boston Bruins
Hammer’s preseason pick: 7th
I like the nucleus of this team but I didn’t think they would be this good this early. Tim Thomas may be the most underrated player in all of hockey. I still think they are a player short but with 114 points this season who am I to judge.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

15. Colorado Avalanche
Hammer’s preseason pick: 11
When I looked at the roster this off-season I felt that it would be a tough year for Colorado because of their goaltending and lack of depth. Sure enough Colorado struggled because of their goaltending and lack of depth due to injuries. This is a far cry from those Colorado teams in the mid-90’s. Winning the NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday and getting John Tavares would be the best thing to happen to the Avs this season.

14. Los Angeles Kings
Hammer’s preseason pick: 15
Truth be told this team is better than their ranking. They have a good young nucleus of talent and the acquisition of Justin Williams from Carolina at the trade deadline will only help them going into next season. Most importantly they are 13 million under the salary cap and are ready to make an impact in free agency July 1st.

13. Phoenix Coyotes
Hammer’s preseason pick: 13
The Coyotes paid a step price trading Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton this past off-season for Florida Center Olli Jokinen. I’d like to say the moved paid off because later this week Olli Jokinen will be preparing to play in his 1st playoff game. Unfortunately for Coyotes fan(s) it will be in Calgary because Phoenix traded him at the trade deadline. The Coyotes got rid of two good defenseman for a guy that played for them for five months. That’s the mess on the ice. Things are worse off the ice where the franchise is hemorrhaging money. (I know, I can’t believe hockey is failing in the desert either.) I’ve talked to some people close to the Phoenix organization and the word is the Coyotes will be very different a year from now. What does that mean? Stay tuned.

12. Dallas Stars
Hammer’s preseason pick: 4
Last year the Dallas Stars got all the way to the Western Conference finals before losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Their major move this off-season was to sign Sean Avery to a 4 year deal hoping to be a pest and get under the skin of their opponents. Avery was a pest, to his teammates and management. His stay ended after about a month when he made some comments about former girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert. If that wasn’t bad enough the Stars lost captain Brendan Morrow to a knee injury early in the year and where never able to recover. I think this team is better than 12th place. They just had a horrible run of bad luck this season.

11. Edmonton Oilers
Hammer’s preseason pick: 7
This team can’t make up its mind as to what kind of team they want to be. They miss the playoffs in '07 and figure they need a puck moving defenseman so they trade for Joni Pitkanen from Philadelphia. Then they feel they need a little more grit up front so they trade Pitkanen to Carolina for Erik Cole before the start of the season. Then at the trade deadline the Oilers need scoring so the send Cole back to Carolina as part of a three way deal for Kings forward Patrick O’Sullivan. They have a good young nucleus of players and the Oilers need them to step up if they want to return to the post-season.

10. Nashville Predators
Hammer’s preseason pick: 9
I think Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the league and he does a great job of getting more with less but all the free agent defections finally caught up to Nashville and they miss the post-season for the 1st time in four seasons. I think they are one or two players from being a playoff team but I’m not sure if they have the cap room to make a move.

9. Minnesota Wild
Hammer’s preseason pick: 3
This was the most frustrating season in team history for Wild fans. It doesn’t help that their best scorer, Marian Gaborik missed 4/5ths of the season due to injury and now seems certain to leave as a free agent. On top of that Jacques Lemaire steps down as head coach. A lot of people blame GM Doug Risebrough for the situation the Wild is in. Myself, I’ll wait to see who he hires as head coach and what player moves he makes this off-season before I judge him.

8. Anaheim Ducks
Hammer’s preseason pick: 5
I don’t understand how a team with this much talent struggles to clinch a playoff spot during the season. They are a little older on the blue line but they have a good nucleus at forward. Jonas Hiller has been splitting time with JS Giguere in goal. At this point I don’t know if they are going forward or backwards. They should be better than where they finished.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets
Hammer’s preseason pick: 10
I wrote in October that I thought it would be another season before Columbus made the post-season. That is before I knew who goaltender Steve Mason was. His 10 shutouts in goal allowed him to take the job from Pascal Leclaire and give the Jackets the steady goaltending needed to make their 1st post-season appearance. The city of Columbus is going to love playoff hockey.

6. St. Louis Blues
Hammer preseason pick: 14
This team was dead last in the Western Conference in February and lost numerous players with injuries during the season. All they did was go on a run and have the best record in the league in the last 30 games to clinch a playoff spot. If Andy Murray isn’t the coach of the year there is something wrong here.

5. Calgary Flames
Hammer’s preseason pick: 6
Before the season I wrote “This team will be very tough to beat in the regular season but I think they will underachieve once again in the playoffs.” After watching them lose the Northwest Division lead to Vancouver during the last few weeks I have no confidence in the Flames in the post-season. I wished I lived in Vegas so I could bet against them.

4. Chicago BlackHawks
Hammer’s preseason pick: 8
I knew they were on the right track after how things went last year. I didn’t expect them to clinch home ice in the 1st round this season. They have a good young nucleus and for the 1st time in nine seasons Detroit may have a serious threat to the division title. Most importantly Dave Anton (WCCO Production Guru) is happy.

3. Vancouver Canucks
Hammer’s preseason pick: 12
Going into the season I wondered how Vancouver was going to replace Markus Naslund & Brendan Morrison. I said Pavol Demitra was not enough. In December they signed Mats Sundin. It took about a month for the team to adjust but now they are clicking on all cylinders and because of that they have won their 2nd division title in three seasons. I’m curious to see if Sundin can do with Vancouver what he couldn’t do in Toronto which is get them to the finals.

2. Detroit Red Wings
Hammer’s preseason pick: 1st
Everyone questions whether Detroit has the goaltending to win the Cup this season as Osgood has looked less than stellar in recent months. While that is a fair question I think the problem has been more along the Detroit blue line than in goal. Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski have missed significant time due to injuries this season but both appear to be healthy for the post-season. As for the goaltending I’ll say this, if Osgood is the guy they have a chance to repeat. If Ty Conklin becomes the starting goaltender the cup will leave Hockeytown.

1. San Jose Sharks
Hammer’s preseason pick: 2
Going into the season I felt this was the biggest threat to Detroit in the Western conference. After watching them it is clear to me that they are built to win the Cup this season. Every free agent and trade GM Doug Wilson has made this season had the Sharks acquiring a player whose name is on the Cup. After three consecutive exits in the 2nd round for the Sharks it’s all or nothing this year.

So there you have it. Hammer's Mea Culpa on his 2009 NHL picks. Make sure you check back tomorrow. We'll have either his post-season predictions, or the Manifesto. I'll let you know when I find out!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

4-10-09: Nick Adenhart (1986 - 2009)

Hello again everybody...

It's the end of the week, but I'm having a tough time enjoying it. I had all sorts of stuff set to go today, but it was all trumped by yesterday's news of the death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart.

I went back and forth a dozen times over the last 24 hours or so trying to decide whether I just wanted to mention it today, or make it the whole focus of my column. The Sports Take is supposed to be fun and enjoyable to read. At least, that's my primary intention. But it's also a vessel for me to try to sort through how I feel about things, and that's what I'm trying to do today.

So I apologize for not giving you more gems like:

If you haven't checked out the MLB Extra Innings Free Preview yet, your really missing out. MLB is offering the service up free through April 12th. It's their version of giving the heroin away for free, hoping that you'll get hooked and decide that $170 is a perfectly reasonable price for being able to immerse yourself in the high of baseball all season long. I got hooked last year, and vacillated only a touch during the off-season. Once Spring Training started, there wasn't much question left in my mind. Give me the China White (Matt Garza vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka last night was excellent), I'm hooked baby!

But today's going to be slightly more serious... here it comes.

"Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), British Prime Minister


There's a couple of levels to this quote. One, sometimes being taught requires a submission of one's ego, and that's not always easy. Two, I've always been one to make life difficult for teachers. Once I learned that learning is about saying "Why" until you're satisfied, I drove more than a few teachers to distraction.

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And in a sense, that leads me into today's column. All I've been saying for the last day and a half is, "Why".

Let me take you back to Wednesday night. I've been using the Extra Innings package in 2 ways: one, I check the day's probable pitchers in the morning to see if there's a match-up I'd especially like to see - if there is, I set the DVR and record it; two, if I don't see one of those match-ups, then I come home after work, catch the end of the Twins game and then flip between West coast games until I find something that's interesting.

And that's where I was Wednesday night, flipping between Brewers/Giants, Dodgers/Padres and A's/Angels. The Brewers had Yovani Gallardo pitching, so he was my primary focus. Vin Scully still does Dodger games solo - it's the baseball broadcast version of Wagner. And the Angels had a young right-hander making only his fourth big league start, Nick Adenhart.

I didn't think a whole lot of it at the time. Why would I? He was a big prospect that took longer than expected to get to the Show because he had Tommy John surgery at age 18. He wasn't lights-out, but he did work out of a couple of jams and managed to get through six innings without giving up a run. A solid performance, but nothing remarkable.

Now skip ahead to Thursday morning. I flipped on "First Take" on ESPN 2 like I usually do, and saw a "Breaking News" alert. And they were talking about Adenhart. My first thought was, "Oh no, they're going to say the poor kid blew out his elbow again, or had some other injury that's going to end his season."

Never, not once, did I think they were going to follow "Nick Adenhart made his 4th career big league start" with "and was killed in a car accident while driving with 3 friends after the game".

I was floored. I'd just watched this young, vital, 22-year-old kid pitch in the majors last night! His family was there watching him, celebrating the fact that he'd finally made the Opening Day roster with the big club. And now he was dead? Really?! How was this possible? I was confused. I was saddened. Most of all I just had this empty feeling it the pit of my stomach.

I'd gone through a similar set of feelings in 2001 when Minnesota Viking lineman Korey Stringer died after suffering heat stroke during a Training Camp practice.

How can this happen? And I don't just mean in terms of, "why weren't precautions put in place to prevent stuff like this?" But also in terms of, "in the cosmic, spiritual sense, how the hell does this happen?"

(Ed.'s Note: I should have put the following paragraph in during the initial writing of this column, and just plain failed to do so. So consider this a make-good paragraph:

"I want to stress the fact that the deaths of men like Adenhart and Stringer are no more important than the deaths of the thousands of other people who are lost through no fault of their own every day. The young student from the University of St. Thomas who's been missing the last several days, or Tyesha Edwards, who was sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework and was killed by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting; these deaths aren't any less tragic nor were their lives any less valuable than Adenhart's or Stringer's. And it's probably a failure on my part that I think more about these things when it's an athlete that dies than when it's a previously unknown student. But I guess that however I'm inspired to ask those questions, it's the inner struggle they cause that's central to what I'm writing about."
)

By all reports, Adenhart was a good kid. One of his high school teammates referred to him as "the kind of guy you always wanted around... he always had your back." Coaches described him as a good team player. Sure he wasn't perfect, but he also wasn't one of those athletes you had to warn your kids against idolizing either.

Korey Stringer was a strong force in the Minneapolis community. He donated his money and his time to helping underprivileged kids. His death not only left his wife with out a husband and his kids without a father, but it left all those kids he was mentoring without a large, positive influence in their lives.

So how the hell does this happen? How does Plaxico Burress bring an un-registered hand gun into a club, accidentally shoot himself in the leg while fumbling for a handle on his drink, and come away with just a scar? How many times did Pac Man Jones put himself in great physical danger, getting in fights at the strip club, and only come away with minor legal troubles? Hell, 50 Cent's been shot 9 times and has kept right on cranking out hits!

So how does all that balance with the fact that guys like Adenhart and Stringer were doing nothing wrong and in the blink of an eye, ended up dead? Nobody in Adenhart's car was violating any traffic laws. It was a drunk driver that ran a red light and hit them. Stringer was working out trying to prepare himself physically for a football season. I can't find any kind of bad karma in any of that.

(Ed.'s Note: Please do not read any disrespect for religion or religious people into the following paragraphs.)

I think when you start asking yourself questions like these, your first instinct is to revert to whatever religious/spiritual upbringing you've had. Personally, I was raised as a Catholic, though I haven't practiced since my early teens. And it's the less-than-personally-satisfying answers I've received to questions like these that led me to look elsewhere.

I hear that I'm supposed to take solace in the fact that God has a plan for us all, and that tragedies like the deaths of Stringer and Adenhart are part of that plan.

Personally, I have trouble finding any measure of solace in that. The first thing that comes to my mind is, "What the f@#! kind of plan requires guys like that to be ripped from their families?! How is that helpful or positive in any way, shape or form?!"

The second thing I struggle with is, "Why can't we be trusted with understanding 'the plan'? What kind of God gives us the ability to reason and learn and grow, yet won't give us the opportunity to understand the 'why' of things like this?"

The dark, cynical part of me wants to just say "F@#! it. There's no rhyme or reason to the Universe. Chaotic s@#! happens and there's nothing we can do to stop it." But I think that's just as overly-simplistic as "God has a plan" is.

I don't want to be critical of people who find solace in "God's plan". I'm actually envious of them. I wish something like that helped me process and deal with stuff like this. But it just doesn't.

So instead, I sit here and struggle. I process it as best I can, and try use tragedies like this to remind myself how precious life is. It reminds me to stop and think before I do things that are potentially stupid. And it's not even my death that scares me as much as it is the thought of what my family and friends would go through if something happened.

I know that I can't live my life over-analyzing every little thing. I know could get hit by a bus taking a wrong step off the curb. But I try to find the balance between living life to the fullest, and taking moments to remind myself not to get too stupid.

But I'd trade all of that - call it wisdom, or whatever you like - to have guys like Adenhart and Stringer still around.

Okay. I hope that wasn't too much of a downer. It's just something that's been bouncing around my head for the last day or so and it helps to write things like that out sometimes.

I'll be back on Monday with stuff that's hopefully more upbeat. Until then, enjoy your weekend, enjoy your families, and thanks for reading!