Friday, April 29, 2011

NFL Draft: Borrrrring

So my plan last night was to curl up with a bag of popcorn and a couple cans of Diet Mountain Dew and watch the spectacle that is the NFL draft. It's an exciting event where you get to see how teams change by adding high end talent, and you get to lament questionable picks by your favorite teams (I'm mostly talking to you, Raider fans).

But as I watched the first few picks go by, I became extraordinarily bored. At first I wasn't sure why, but after a few minutes, I realized that ESPN was utterly destroying every piece of drama in the event. Two big examples:

First, when the Denver Broncos were on the clock with the #2 pick, the camera cut to a scene of Von Miller crying backstage. Unsurprisingly, Von Miller was soon selected by the Broncos.

Later, the Cardinals were on the clock with the fifth pick, and the graphic on the screen changed to "Pick is in," indicating that the decision had been made, and we'd be going to the commissioner for the announcement. But rather than doing that, ESPN went to Colleen Dominguez in Phoenix, who "broke the story" that the Cardinals would be taking Patrick Peterson, rather than Blaine Gabbert as had been long expected.

Both of these instances were situations where ESPN found out who would be drafted before the player was actually drafted, and rushed to be the first to report it. But in doing so, they sapped all of the excitement out of the commissioner's announcements. The most exciting moments are when you're watching and you don't know what will happen next. It would be like watching a hockey game on a three minute tape delay, but with an up-to-the-second Bottom Line on the screen. "Oh, the Kings are about to score. Yep, there it is, they scored." Yawnsville.

Thankfully, as the night went on, Cleveland and Atlanta made a huge trade to spice things up, and Baltimore ran out of time to add a frantic nature to the draft. And that'll always be the case. NFL teams are under tremendous pressure to make draft night a night to remember, the night where the GM made a savvy move to set them up for years.

I just wish ESPN relaxed their mad dash to be the first to "break" news on TV, and left that up to the bloggers, and ESPN.com. Let TV stay a minute or two behind, and let's have that announcement still mean something.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

2011 - Who should the Panthers take with the #1 overall pick?

I asked friends of Joe and Joe Sports to say what they'd do with the #1 overall pick if they were the Carolina Panthers (as I did last year with the Rams' pick). The responses weren't quite as analytical as last year's, but to be fair, I gave our friends just a couple hours to respond.

Here you go:

"I just don't see their GM being willing to abandon hope on Jimmy Clausen, who had legitimate first fifteen pick potential last year. I think the right pick is either A.J. Green or Von Miller. I'll say Green, as he'd give Clausen a top flight weapon with whom to develop, or if Clausen doesn't end up working out, an enticing potential teammate for free agent quarterbacks in two years. And because linebackers just never go #1."
- Rockville, MD

"Doesn't matter who they take, it's not going to help. But probably Cam Newton."
- Bethesda, MD

"Going out on a limb (or maybe not, I haven't followed the draft too closely this year), I'm saying they will trade out of the top spot. Cam Newton seems to be the consensus top pick, but do they really need a guy who looks to be a "project" when they have Clausen in the fold? My gut tells me no. I think they trade down and pick up a few extra draft picks in order to fill multiple holes."
- Altoona, PA

"We always say 'don't take that project QB,' but those are usually the only QBs out there. Take Newton, and trust your coaches to be able to harness his skills and turn him into the quarterback you need."
- Waynesville, MO

"I think Carolina should select A. J. Green. I think they can select a QB in free agency or make a trade after the draft to get by for a year or two. Matt Hasselbeck, Kevin Kolb. None of the QBs in this years draft exhibit the qualities of a franchise QB. I think Green is a safe pick and can help the running game, Steve Smith and Clausen if you choose to go with him."
- Frederick, MD

"Cam Newton!!!!!!11"
- Reston, VA

NHL Second Round Predictions

As a review, here are my predictions from the first round. The results are in parentheses, bolded if I got the winner correct.

Western Conference
Vancouver over Chicago in 6 games (Vancouver in 7 games)
San Jose over Los Angeles in 7 games (San Jose in 6 games)
Phoenix over Detroit in 7 games (Detroit in 4 games)
Nashville over Anaheim in 6 games (Nashville in 6 games)

Eastern Conference
Washington over New York Rangers in 5 games (Washington in 5 games)
Philadelphia over Buffalo in 5 games (Philadelphia in 7 games)
Boston over Montreal in 5 games (Boston in 7 games)
Pittsburgh over Tampa Bay in 7 games (Tampa Bay in 7 games)

So I got three out of four right on each side. Not bad, though that Detroit/Phoenix series was a slap in the balls.

Both conferences in one post from here on out.

Western Conference Semifinals

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

Vancouver had a rough time closing out the Blackhawks in the first round. Chicago has been a thorn in the Canucks' side for years, and you knew they weren't going to go away easily, but they were a lucky bounce away from ousting the President's Trophy winners and making everyone forget about the Caps' collapse last season.

But Vancouver did pull out the victory, and they're still the most skilled offensive team in the country. The thing that concerns me about this series for Vancouver is the state of Roberto Luongo, both physically and mentally. He got benched for game 6 (then came in as an injury replacement), and barely won in game 7. He wasn't on top of his game at the end of the series, and he knew it. Does that carry over?

I think it does. My "gutsy" pick last round didn't pan out at all, with my underdog Coyotes not winning a single game, but I'm going back to the well again. I'm taking the brutal Predators, led by their outstanding goalie Pekka Rinne, to grind the Canucks to a halt and move on to the conference finals.

Prediction: Predators in 7

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings

Every time I start to write something on this matchup, I delete it. These two teams are just so dynamic that it's impossible to pick against either of them. The Sharks are peaking at the right time, and with Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Ryan Clowe, and phenom Logan Couture, their offense is as talented as anybody's. But Detroit's got a couple of legitimate megastars in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and a lineup riddled with winners like Niklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, and Mike Modano. So how do you pick between them?

Goalies. The Sharks have got a goalie who showed last year that he's got the skills and the head to win a Cup. The Red Wings have a young goalie who keeps pushing the envelope to show how amazingly inconsistent a goalie can be. In a matchup between two juggernauts, you take the one that has the goalie who can turn in consistent, effective performances.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

Eastern Conference Semifinals

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

If the Capitals go deep into this postseason, I have to think we'll look back at game four against the Rangers as a turning point. Down three goals coming into the third period and hearing it from the rowdy Madison Square Garden crowd, the Capitals hunkered down, played aggressive and responsible hockey, equalized the game in regulation, then won on a decidedly non-Capitals-style goal by Jason Chimera in double-overtime.

That goal, and in fact that whole game, is a sign that this isn't last year's Capitals team. The mid-season course correction that Bruce Boudreau undertook to rededicate the team to defense and puck control has been completely embraced, and you can't understate the importance of Jason Arnott's addition to this team. While I was sad to see David Steckel go in the trade, the Caps needed a playmaking second-line center, and Arnott has been all that and more. His presence has been tremendous in helping the Capitals find goals that they couldn't before.

Tampa Bay had to come back from three games to one to beat Pittsburgh in the first round, and it was impressive that they were able to turn things around. They also flashed some of their vaunted offense, outscoring the Penguins 13-4 in those last three games. But you can't forget that they got down 3-1 in the first place. Against this Capitals team, the Lightning don't overcome that deficit. Let's hope the Verizon Center remains friendly for Washington this weekend.

Prediction: Washington in 5

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #3 Boston Bruins

We were a game away from booting both of these teams in the first round, but the Sabres and Canadiens (respectively) couldn't close the deal. Now we've got a matchup between two very talented and downright ornery teams that should end up being very entertaining.

Boston holds the advantage at goalie, as Tim Thomas actually deserves a little bit of consideration for the MVP. While he didn't play every game (and in fact came into the season as the #2 goalie behind Tuukka Rask), he turned in one of the best statistical seasons a goalie has ever had. Ever. A 2.00 goals-against-average is simply unheard of. The Flyers, meanwhile, started three different goalies during their series against Buffalo, and while it seems clear that Brian Boucher should start, none of them is a game-changer.

But that's okay, they don't need to be. Philadelphia's strength is the depth of their skaters, both at forward and defense, and their rough and tumble attitude. They had ten different guys register at least 9 hits during the series, and their top two scorers (Claude Giroux and Danny Briere) were both also in the top three of hits on the team. That tells me that the whole team has a commitment to being physical, not just the fourth-liners. In the end, I think that physical nature and the offensive skill players for the Flyers will help them outlast the Bruins in what figures to be a nasty affair.

Prediction: Flyers in 7

LET'S GO CAPS!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yes, dogfighting is bad, but...

I caught an article on Yahoo Sports today that reports how Michael Vick came out against an Android application called Dog Wars that allows users to raise and fight dogs.

First off, this is absolutely the thing Michael Vick should do. He still has work to do to repair his image with a lot of people, and taking this kind of stand only helps him. Additionally, it's a perfectly reasonable stance to take. Animal rights activists, animal lovers, and even just decent people will feel similarly about dogfighting.

I came away with two things here, though. First, it's a video game. Video games offer an overwhelming number of opportunities for players to engage in illegal activities: murder, battery, robbery, prostitution, and aggressive driving, plus plenty of missions in Warcraft and other RTS's that force you to engage in treason or even genocide. Part of the draw of playing a video game is being able to synthesize an experience that you'd never have in real life.

The second interesting bit is this line from the article: "Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said, however, the game could be used as virtual training ground for would-be dogfighters." Not really though, right? I mean, we don't think there are dogfighting recruiters out there who see this app and think, "Finally, a digital way for our industry to appeal to the masses!"

Besides, that game already exists anyways, and kids are already playing it by the millions. It's called Pokemon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

In the Moment

One thing you hear all the time but probably never appreciate or take seriously is the idea of "living in the moment."

I think we all believe that we live in the moment from time to time, but the reality is that we're always looking forward. We think about what work we have to do tomorrow, or what we're going to eat for dinner, or which video game we should play, or if we should call that pretty girl from the party last weekend, or what we should do this weekend, or a thousand other ways we think we'll be happy in the future.

I know I'm as guilty of it as anyone. For 99% of my life, I'm thinking about how much better things would be if I were (thinner/more motivated/more focused), and I spend every waking moment thinking through every possible contingency for every little decision I want to make. If I go to this party, who will be there? What other events will I be missing out on? How will I feel the next day? Can I still stay below my calorie goals? I may be a little more introspective than most, but I'm sure a lot of you can relate to my whirlwind of thought.

The reason I bring this up is that last night, for the first time in I don't know how long, I had a moment that I just lived in. I had left my house for an evening walk, and I came to a T in the sidewalk where I had to decide which way to go. I looked left, then right, and back again, and I took a deep breath. I started to just look around, and I remember distinctly thinking to myself, "This is nice."

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the situation or the scenery; if anything, it was a little drab and wet. But for a few seconds, I just stood there, not thinking about which way would be better for my walk, not thinking about anything, just relishing the moment for the sake of relishing. It was probably the happiest I've felt in a decade, albeit brief.

I've got to chase that feeling.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Boombox

So a couple weeks ago I ordered a boom box from MidnightBox.com. It was probably overpriced, and it's refurbished so it may very well crap out in a couple months, but in the meantime, I'm quite pleased with my purchase.

It took virtually no time to set up. Just hooked up the speakers, plugged in the power, and away we go. It took longer for me to find an actual music CD to test the machine. The system actually has a hookup for an iPod, but as I do not own an iPod, that function will remain unused for now.

The CD, you ask? Well, what other CD could it be but Under The Table And Dreaming, the first CD I ever owned (okay, technically my friend gave me his copy of Dookie like two weeks before, but nobody counts Green Day anymore...in any regard).

Anyways, the CD brought back a lot of nostalgia from some of my greatest high school and early college days. I remembered a lot of old friends I'd forgotten about, as well as a few I'll never forget, but lost touch with. Good nostalgia. You can't go back though, you know? Those connections you felt to those people in high school, those are just shared memories by some now very different people. It's a shame, but that's life. People come and go all the time. The ones who belonged in our lives are the ones who stuck around anyways.

This is my way of saying, while it would've been great to keep in touch with Thyda, that was never going to happen. And we could see each other today, and I'm sure it'd be nice and friendly, but at the end of the day, we'd go our separate ways. On the other side, it's no surprise that Chip and I are still in each other's lives to this day. We weren't ever going to be able to get rid of each other. And believe me, we've tried. :)

Here's track 8 from the album, the last song I came around to like:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reinvention...Ninth Time's The Charm

As I do every 3-6 months, I'm going to take another stab at blogging. This time, I'm going to go more towards "conventional" blogging. That is, shorter posts, more "in this moment" kind of stuff, more links, and hopefully more frequent posts.

We'll see.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NHL First Round Predictions - Eastern Conference

Here are the predictions you really care about, beginning with the most important one of all.

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers

The Caps are a tough team to figure out right now. They've been playing a lot better since the trading deadline, when they acquired Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, and Dennis Wideman. Arnott and Wideman in particular have been tremendous. Problem is, Wideman is out for the first round of the playoffs, and he's not the only Caps player who's under the weather. Mike Green hasn't played since taking a blow to the head against these very Rangers on February 25th (a day which will live in infamy), Tom Poti has been out even longer, and almost every important Washington player has missed at least a game or two over the past few weeks. Hopefully that was just a matter of giving guys rest, but it gives me pause.

The Rangers are without their third-highest scorer Ryan Callahan, and this is a team that could ill-afford to lose any kind of offense. They're young, and they get contributions from a lot of different guys, but they mostly rely on defense, goaltending, and opportunity to win hockey games. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the East, but he went just 36-32 this season. Could he steal a game? Sure. But not more than one.

Prediction: Capitals in 5

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

The sexy pick these days is to count out the Flyers after they stumbled into the playoffs. Did they lose the #1 overall seed? Yes. Did they almost yield the division to the streaking Penguins? Yes. Are they suddenly a crummy team? No.

Buffalo has a few nice pieces, including their all-world goalie Ryan Miller. But Miller hasn't been nearly as dominant this season as he was last year. And while neither of Philly's goalies (Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher) have been tremendous, they both benefit from an extremely physical team in front of them, and a team that loves blocking shots. I just don't see how Buffalo can overcome Philadelphia's depth and physicality.

Prediction: Flyers in 5

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price has carried Montreal this season, but this is the same Carey Price who got ousted for Jaroslav Halak in last year's playoffs. He also appeared in 20 more games than he's ever played in before, second only to Cam Ward in games played and goalie minutes. All together, I feel like Price is setting up for a disappointment.

Meanwhile, the Bruins have arguably the NHL's best goalie in Tim Thomas, who led all of hockey in save percentage and goals against average. He was also afforded a good deal of rest by backup Tuukka Rask, and should be 100% ready to go come playoff time. Furthermore, with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the Bruins might have the strongest defensive pairing in the Eastern Conference.

I could see half of the games going to overtime, but I'm confident the Bruins will take the series.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Penguins definitely miss superstar Sidney Crosby, but they've acquitted themselves nicely of late, winning eight of their last ten regular season games. Of course, their two losses came against the last two playoff teams they faced, including a matchup against the Lightning on March 31st. The reality is that Pittsburgh is a nearly impossible team to figure out right now. Their two noteworthy deadline acquisitions, James Neal and Alex Kovalev, have been either inconsistent or downright disappointing. We know Kovalev can step his game up, but if Neal doesn't, who else scores on this team?

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is one of the easier teams to assess. They're gonna score, probably a lot, and they're going to give you your chances to score, too. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis both registered more than 90 points on the year, but finished just a combined +3. They did, however, finish in the top 10 in both the power play and penalty kill, and led the NHL in shorthanded goals.

Marc-Andre Fleury is a damn fine goalie, and he's got a chance to win this series for the Penguins. They'll need exceptional play from unexceptional players. Dan Bylsma is a good coach, and he just might get his guys to rally. And there's always the chance that Crosby actually does play. If he does, make it five games instead of seven.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Playoff predictions: NHL Round 1

I have been watching and reading different "expert" picks for the last few days. They come from all over the internet, Ex. ESPN, NHL.com, and TSN. What I found was very few analysts were willing to gamble on upsets. The only upset pick was Buffalo over Philly. This comes a year after half the first round ended with upsets. So I've tried to put my big boy pants on and try not to be a tool like 90% of the people out there.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals Vs. New York Rangers

I have watched each of the four games between these two teams and it wasn't pretty. The Rangers will be looking for Marian Gaborik to break out of his funk and put goals on the board. Two things worry me about this series. 1. Washington has been killed by injuries on the defensive end as the season closes out. 2. Gaborik and several other Rangers just seem to kill the Caps over the years. With all that said I think the Caps take this one in 7. With a healthy Wideman and Green I do not think this is a series to be honest. However Tyler Sloan and Erskine on the ice together at MSG with Rangers having last change will make anyone worry. As Skinner says "Prove me wrong kids. Prove me wrong."

Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabers

As I mentioned before this has been the trendy upset pick. In a way the Flyers remind me of the Caps last year. Great regular season but just seemed to get stagnant over the last month. That combined with a healthy Ryan Miller and an injured Chris Pronger I am also going to go with the Sabers. Remember these Sabers can score unlike in previous years. Sabers in 6.

Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadians

Since the addition of Tomas Kaberle maybe people have loved the Bruins. I don't know what it is but I think Boston stumbles here. Maybe I just can not get past what Montreal did last year but Boston just seems like its primed for a fall. Call me crazy. Montreal in 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

No Sid the Kid of Geno for half the season and still Pittsburgh comes within a game of taking the Atlantic and the 2nd seed. This team can play defense and has the top PK unit in the league. MAF has been outstanding over the last few months. Enough so, Mark and I have discussed if he should be in consideration for MVP. However picking Pitt just doesn't seem right to me. Pitt has won 10 games by way of SO. Which I have come to believe is not real hockey. Also their GPA is 2.3 since Crosby went out with an injury. That is not a lot of room for mistakes. While I would like to see a round two match up (or Eastern Conference Final for that matter) of Pens v Caps I think TB is able to take one game on road and win in 7.

Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks vs Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks control their own destiny and lose at home to Detroit. Not the best note to start the playoffs on. I like the Blackhawks a lot and I think they will score more in this series then people think. But Crawford makes me cringe in net. I just do not see him stopping Kesler and the Sedin twins. Vancouver in 5.

San Jose Sharks vs LA Kings

Jonathan Quick is a great goaltender. However the loss of Kopitar is just too much for LA. Penner has not meshed since being acquired and LA will struggle to score. I think this series goes to San Jose in 5.

Detroit Red Wings vs Phoenix Coyotes

Keith Yandle... ever since my All-Star draft I like this guy. However, I think Detroit is the better team even without Zetterberg for game 1. (By the way his wife or girlfriend is really attractive) Jimmy Howard comes up big and makes this a short series. Detroit in 5.

Anaheim Ducks vs Nashville Predators

Dan Ellis looks to be in goal for the Ducks for game 1. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are great d-men and provide a good chance to slow down the Ducks offense. Many people have the Ducks as a dark horse Cup contender. I think Anaheim runs out of steam and falls to Nashville in a 7 game series. Nashville moves to the second round.

Think I'm crazy? Let me know comment below.

NHL First Round Predictions - Western Conference

Nothing fancy, just predicting the first round matchups in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here we go.

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks

What a treat for the President's Cup winners: you get to face the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round! Honestly, though, the Blackhawks aren't nearly the team they were last year. They needed help from the Minnesota Wild on the last day of the season to even make the playoffs at all, edging out the Dallas Stars for the 8th seed. Vancouver, meanwhile, has had the Western Conference wrapped up for weeks.

So what's going to happen? Well, I normally like to see upsets, but I don't like the Blackhawks, and Vancouver boasts last year's MVP and this year's front-runner in Henrik and Daniel Sedin, respectively. Partner that with a solid goalie in Roberto Luongo and plenty of playoff experience, and I don't see the Blackhawks finding a way to win four games.

Prediction: Canucks in 6

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings

It's worth noting that just seven points separated these two teams at the end of the year. Not exactly a huge difference for such a spread on the seedings. That should tell you how strong a lot of the Western Conference is this season.

It took a little while, but the Sharks did finally start to show some of their old swagger. They finished with seven different twenty goal scorers, and discovered that Antti Niemi is a top end goalie, overtaking Antero Nittymaki as the #1 man between the pipes. Now, no team is as talented in the back end as the Kings, with Jonathan Quick, who's maybe the best goalie in hockey, and a whole rack of special defensemen, including Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson.

But Anze Kopitar is going to miss the whole playoffs due to a broken ankle, and without him in the lineup, they haven't got the firepower to compete with San Jose. Quick can probably steal a game on his own, and the overall defense will keep them competitive, maybe even push it to the brink. But in the end, the Sharks are going to move on.

Prediction: Sharks in 7

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

This is one of the toughest first round matchups to predict. It's a rematch of last year's 4/5 series which the Coyotes pushed to seven games (before getting blasted 6-1 on home ice). This year, defenseman Keith Yandle has stepped up his offense, and in fact the whole team is extremely balanced. They don't really have a superstar (Shane Doan is as close as it gets), but that means they're unpredictable on offense.

Detroit, meanwhile, will be without Henrik Zetterberg for at least Game 1, and while there's still plenty of talent on the team, if Phoenix can steal a game in Detroit while Zetterberg is out of the lineup, the series is wide open. Jimmy Howard wasn't exactly stalwart in goal for the Wings, and it wasn't but a year ago that the Coyotes' Ilya Bryzgalov was arguably the best goalie in the West. Everybody likes to make a gutsy pick, so here's mine.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

Nashville is one of those teams that nobody really wants to play. It's not because you don't think you can beat them; you just know that you're going to pay the price for every inch of real estate. Shea Weber is one of the biggest sons of bitches in the league, delivering tons of hits and blocking shot after shot. The rest of his defensive linemates fall in line with the same mentality, giving up their bodies and making sure their opponents take just as much damage. That's a big reason why goalie Pekka Rinne was third in GAA this year.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are an offensive juggernaut. Corey Perry led the whole NHL with 50 goals, and the team boasts three other 70 point players (Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan). But their commitment to defense leaves a lot to be desired. Only Detroit averaged more goals allowed per game than the Ducks among playoff teams. You can attribute that to their very good goalie, Jonas Hiller, but everything gets magnified in the playoffs. I foresee more problematic mistakes for the Ducks defensively, and I think Nashville will be opportunistic.

Prediction: Nashville in 6


Coming soon: Eastern Conference predictions...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Playoff Fantasy Hockey

Join the group, make a squad, embarrass your friend Joe:

http://games.espn.go.com/playoff-hockey-challenge/en/group?groupID=2063

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...