Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hockey Season Starts This Week! (or It'll Be Months Before the Caps Break My Heart Again!)

The Washington Capitals open their 2015-2016 season this Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils. I'll be in attendance, and maybe I'll post some pictures on my Twitter account (@GoodPointJoe). I'm very excited for the season to start; I work in an ice rink, so I have endless opportunities to talk hockey with co-workers and customers.

But as I get back into an NHL mentality, I can't help but remember how last season ended for the Caps: up three games to one against the New York Rangers, unable to close the deal, losing Game 7 in overtime on a rebound that found Derek Stepan uncovered and undefended.

It was the most brutal turnaround since...just kidding. It was classic Capitals hockey.

Same Old Same Old

Grantland posted an article before the most recent fateful game seven that explored the insane frustration that haunts Capitals fans (and presumably players, but we've been here longer). I won't rehash the whole thing, though there are a couple of quotes that spoke to me:
Despite being heavy underdogs, the Caps went into Pittsburgh and won the opening two games, returning home with a 2-0 series lead. “What could possibly go wrong?” asked Washington fans while pouring paint thinner into a whiskey bottle.
The lesson: Life is horrible and you should never care about anything.
The Washington Capitals have a unique ability to not just excite their fans, but excite them in the first or second rounds to the point of fervor. Think about it. Alex Ovechkin hasn't been to the conference finals in his entire career, but the heartache we've felt seems nigh unbearable. Can you imagine if we'd found ourselves closer to the promised land, only to fall short? I can, and it's a living nightmare.

Once again, however, we've managed to convince ourselves that this year will be different.


We've parted ways with Mike Green, who while a strong offensive player generated just as many scoring opportunities in the other direction. In this year's final game, Green's final game with Washington, he took two penalties early in the second period, the second of which resulted in a game-tying power play goal by Kevin Hayes, and 30,000 Caps fans shouting, "Every goddamn time, Green!" In case you forgot, in that Game 7 against Montreal, Green was also in the penalty box when the Canadiens scored the first goal of the game.

We've also added a couple of right wings, shoring up a position that's been a relative weakness since Alexander Semin left town (don't kid yourself, Semin was extremely talented). Justin Williams has a trio of Stanley Cup championships, and figures to slot in on the right side of the second and third lines. The hope is that he'll bring a killer instinct that's been lacking when the time has come to close out an opponent.

The bigger-name acquisition was T.J. Oshie, a skilled scorer and Olympic "hero" (as much as you can be a hero when your team doesn't actually win anything). He's looked good in preseason, and he'll enter the season as RW1, on a line with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov (until Nicklas Backstrom returns from injury).

I wonder, though, if the team might be better served by swapping Williams and Oshie. Ovechkin has helped and been helped by grittier right wings in the past; Mike Knuble comes to mind. And a second line of Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Marcus Johansson would be prolific, and would demand attention from opposing defensemen and coaches. The best teams are those that can run out multiple lines that opponents have trouble defending.

In the end, while the acquisitions will be important, I think so much of this season's potential success relies on three young players and their development: Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Tom Wilson.

Three Musketeers or Three Stooges?

Kuznetsov showed flashes of brilliance last season, and has extra professional experience from his time playing in Russia. Particularly during the Islanders series, he was cool and collected, playing like a veteran. If he takes another step forward, the Caps will finally have the 1-2 combo of centers that they've been seeking for years.

Andre Burakovsky had a two-goal game against Henrik Lundqvist in Game 4 of last season's playoffs, though his scoring the rest of the season was sporadic. He's got enough skill to be a contributor, though he strikes me as more of a Brooks Laich-type player: solid two-way forward who doesn't necessarily excel in either facet. I'd love to be wrong and for him to have greater upside than I think he does, but it would be a surprise.

Tom Wilson is a player who almost everybody hates, and who almost everybody wishes was on their team. He's a true agitator, he checks hard and answers the bell if the situation calls for it (and sometimes when maybe it doesn't). We've been told for a couple years now that he's also got offensive upside, but we haven't seen much of that. Partly because he's been cutting a rut to the penalty box, but plenty of guys take a lot of penalties and still score. The dream is that Wilson can grow into a Scott Hartnell kind of player; gritty, unpleasant, and opportunistic offensively.

Oops, I Did It Again

Naturally, after spending this much time talking about the Caps and thinking about how good our players could be, I'm all-in once again. This is totally our year. All of those years of frustration and disappointment have been leading up to 2015-16, when we'll finally break through. The NHL pundits have been picking the Capitals to excel this season, and it makes perfect sense. The stars are aligning.

Sigh. Here we go again.

Monday, September 7, 2015

CS:GO Skins Wishlist

A while back, I started to put together a series detailing my favorite skins for each weapon in Counter-Strike:Global Offensive. I got through the pistols before I lost steam, for a couple of reasons. First, there are just so many skins, and there are more coming out every few months. But secondly, I ran out of descriptive words to use when attempting to explain why I liked X skin or Y skin. My descriptions were always going to be subjective, but once they became subjective and redundant, I decided to nix the rest of the series.

But now we're back, with a more focused effort. I'm reviewing all skins for all guns, and deciding if I could have a single skin for that gun, what would it be? I'll also be marking the ones that I've already acquired, so that in the event that a generous soul comes across this list and wants to donate something, they know what I've already got.

Note: On two of the guns, because the skin of choice runs more than a hundred dollars, I selected a secondary option. I think the Dragon Lore is a phenomenal-looking skin, but it's unlikely that I ever find myself in possession of one. So, the Man-o'-War is my alternate target.

We'll start with pistols again, same as before. But this time, we're going all the way, like a saucy prom date.

P2000 - Amber Fade (got it!)
USP-S - Orion
Glock-18 - Brass
P250 - Undertow
Dual Berettas - Retribution
CZ75-Auto - Tigris (got it!)
Tec-9 - Nuclear Threat
Five-SeveN - Copper Galaxy
Desert Eagle - Naga

MAC-10 - Heat
MP7 - Nemesis
MP9 - Hypnotic
P90 - Desert Warfare (got it!)
PP-Bizon - Antique (got it!)
UMP-45 - Grand Prix

MAG-7 - Memento
Nova - Antique
Sawed-Off - Highwayman
XM1014 - Red Leather
M249 - Impact Drill
Negev - Loudmouth

AK-47 - Vulcan
AUG - Chameleon
AWP - Dragon Lore...or Man-o'-War
FAMAS - Djinn
G3SG1 - Murky
Galil AR - Chatterbox
M4A1-S - Hot Rod...or Atomic Alloy
M4A4 - Modern Hunter
SCAR-20 - Grotto (got it!)
SG 553 - Anodized Navy
SSG 08 - Abyss (got it!)

Friday, September 4, 2015

What do you do with Robert Griffin III?

So we're finally at a point where we don't know if Robert Griffin will take the field again as a Redskin. Lots of people will try to tell you they "knew" that Griffin was done before the season started, or at the end of last year, but they're filthy, filthy liars. Anyone who's watched how this team has treated Griffin from the day he was acquired knows that he was always going to be given one more chance to try to recapture some of the magic of his rookie season, when he led Washington to double-digit wins and a playoff berth. This ownership group (aka Daniel Snyder) is reluctant to admit that giving up so much to trade up in order to draft Griffin may have been a mistake.

And it might not have been a mistake. Does anybody actually believe that the Redskins would be championship contenders if they'd kept their draft picks instead of trading them? We might be looking at a couple more 7-9 or 8-8 seasons that would've been just good enough to allow Snyder to persist in the delusion that he didn't need help from football people to run the organization. If you're of the opinion that the addition of Scot McLoughan was a positive one (which I believe I am), then we likely had to endure the heartache of Robert Griffin to get here.

But the more pressing concern is that Robert Griffin III is still on the roster. He may be recovering from a concussion, but at some point, he'll be healthy enough to play. What do you do then? It's a difficult question, made more difficult if Kirk Cousins isn't setting the world on fire (and let's be honest, there's very little chance he does that). Do you run Griffin back out there? Do you slide him in as a backup and let him jump in if things get out of control in a game? Do you trade him as soon as he's cleared to play? Do you cut him?

No, no, no, and no.

You can't go back to Griffin as your quarterback at this point unless it's because you have no other healthy options. He can't be the quarterback in Washington ever again under any but the most dire circumstances. The situation in DC has gotten to the point that Griffin's mere presence on the field is toxic. I don't agree with this sentiment necessarily, but it doesn't matter. The fan opinion of Griffin has shifted to probably 80% negative, and that's untenable. So, he can't be the guy.

He also can't be the guy behind the guy. Remember that 80% I mentioned? Well, they're vocal and angry. And anytime you find a big group of people being vocal and angry in their attacks on someone, you'll find that people with the opposing view become just as vocal and angry. So if Cousins throws a few interceptions (which isn't, you know, wildly out of the realm of possibility), that vocal minority will be shouting from the rooftops IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME to put Griffin in at QB. No, backup won't work either.

And to all of the people saying that we should've traded Griffin over the offseason, or last year, or should trade him as soon as he's healthy, what exactly are you hoping to get out of that trade? Because if it's anything other than "7th round pick" or "backup long-snapper," you're fooling yourself. So really, you're only doing the trade if you believe that removing Griffin from the team is an opportunity for "addition by subtraction." You wouldn't be the only one to think that, of course. But I think barring someone losing their mind and trading legitimate value for him, it's foolish to dump him like that. And the Raiders seem to like their guy, so a crazy offer likely isn't available.

And if I don't want to dump him for something small, obviously I don't want to dump him for nothing.

If I know how your mind works, I can guess what you're thinking. "You don't want to play him, you don't want to trade him, and you don't want to cut him. You want him to ride the pine all season? That doesn't do anyone any good!"

I agree, that wouldn't do anyone any good, but that's not what I said. Here's my recommendation:

Don't bench him, and don't play him at quarterback.

Look, from the first day the Redskins acquired Robert Griffin III, I thought they would be best served by acquiring other "quarterbacks" with varied skillsets. My dream team was to partner Griffin with Michael Vick and Tim Tebow, and throw an offense at the opposition that was impossible to gameplan against. You'd have two "quarterbacks" on the field at any given time, and the offense could go in a number of directions. Maybe that kind of "gimmick" doesn't get you a Super Bowl championship, but neither has trying to shoehorn Griffin into being a pocket passer. At least my idea could result in some insane plays, and had the upside potential of being an indefensible offense.

So what do you do now? Well, Kirk Cousins isn't exactly Michael Vick, but he's young enough that he should be able to execute rollouts and trick plays. So you work with Griffin to get him onto the field, but in a receiver/H-back capacity. His speed should play anywhere, and it's worth at least finding out if he's got the hands to execute this kind of playbook.

Griffin won't be back after this season, that much is certain. And because of that fact, there's no reason to run him out there as a quarterback; you invest snaps in guys who might be around long-term. But that's no reason to give up on trying to get something out of him. Would I expect it to yield great results? No, I would not. But with most fans already giving up on this season, it would at least add a little excitement to what looks like a lost year.

PS for Mike: hockey Magic hockey Magic

Monday, August 17, 2015

How the Caps Looking This Year?

In reviewing my previous posts, I noticed that while I did a lot of speculation and evaluation on potential moves the Washington Capitals might make, I never gave my opinion on the roster changes they actually did make. I'll split it up into each different transaction, and give my thoughts on how the move impacts the team.

We'll start with the new players, since those happened first.

Acquired T.J. Oshie in exchange for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley, and a 3rd round pick
This was the Caps' biggest change this offseason. Brouwer has been on the team for several years, often playing a key role both offensively and defensively. He's got a good reputation around the league, but from what I saw last season, especially during the playoffs, he seems to have lost a step. Maybe he'll prove me wrong, but I think he's a 4th line player at this point.

Oshie, however, doesn't excite me as much as he does other people. I know he's famous for taking all those penalty shots in the Olympics a couple years ago, but he hasn't scored 60 points in any season, and while he's got some skill, I have to think that there's something about his game that's been left behind. Hopefully playing with dynamos like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will unlock his greater potential. Regardless, Oshie is definitely an upgrade over Brouwer for me, and Copley was years away from mattering anyways. I'm happy with the deal.

Signed Justin Williams - $3.25 million/year for 2 years
To me, Williams replaced Troy Brouwer, and he's actually a little bit cheaper this year than Brouwer. Williams is a veteran with a solid scoring touch, and he's got three rings to Brouwer's one. Williams was also a far more vital part of the Kings' championship than Brouwer was for the Blackhawks'. Regardless, I think it's probably about a push, with Williams rating slightly higher and being slightly cheaper, so it's a good move to me.

Signed Zach Sill and Taylor Chorney - $1.275 million total, both on one-year deals
Depth moves, I like that they're cheap. A friend from Pittsburgh says Chorney is decent, which is good enough for me.

Re-signed Evgeny Kuznetsov - $3.0 million/year for 2 years
I was at game 7 against the Islanders when Kuznetsov scored the biggest goal of his NHL career so far on a total composure play. He knew the right move, and skated from circle to circle to drag Jaroslav Halak out of position, finally opening up a chance to score the game-winning goal. That was basically the point at which I decided that the Caps should open up the pocketbook a little bit for Kuznetsov. He may not ever top that moment, but the potential is there for him to be a great player as he continues to develop.

Re-signed Braden Holtby - $6.1 million/year through 2020
You basically had to give Holtby something. The Caps' "backup" plan was Justin Peters (who's best spot is backing up a guy who plays 73 games a year) or Philipp Grubauer, who's probably okay, but I don't want to find that out just yet. Holtby was a horse last year, and has been a top 10 goalie for a few years now (accounting for the dark days of Oates). I'm comfortable with Holtby going forward, and it was going to cost about this much to keep him short- or long-term, so I'm fine with the resulting contract. It's possible that Grubauer will be very good, but when you've got a guy, I think you keep him.

Re-signed Marcus Johansson - $3.75 million for 2015-16
The Caps' offseason acquisitions left Johansson a player in flux. The top two lines seem to be set, with Ovechkin/Backstrom/Oshie up top and Andre Burakovsky/Kuznetsov/Williams on the second line. But the reality is that while Burakovsky has some ability and coach Barry Trotz seems to really like him, Johansson has been a productive offensive player for years for the Caps. He's proven himself enough to warrant being on that second line. And at least for one year, I prefer it that way. Let Burakovsky continue to grow with Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich, that sounds like a dynamic third line to me.

2015-2016 Prediction: Stanley Cup Champions

I mean, it could happen right? I think the Caps are strong on offense, defense, in goal, and behind the bench. What else is there? Maybe the Caps don't have the mystique of the Red Wings or Bruins, but you only get that mystique by winning Cups. So let's start now.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Magic: The Deckbuilding

As you guys know, I'm wild about deckbuilding. If you don't know that, well, I am. Over on the sidebar, you can see a bunch of the decks I've tinkered together over the years. For those of you who've been reading for years, you might remember that I asked for assistance developing them a while back.

Well, I'm back at it. I've got a whole new deck I want to tweak. I've entitled it "Soulcatchers." It is, unsurprisingly, built around Soulcatchers' Aerie. So basically it's a birds tribal deck. Right now, the deck is kind of lacking in non-creature spells. I'm thinking about adding a single copy of Bubbling Cauldron to give myself a beneficial sacrifice outlet, to help make the Soulcatchers' Aerie engine run. I'm open to other ideas as well, of course. I really like Arctic Aven in this deck, but I do see the value of going mono-white as well. Right now, I'm sticking with WU.

Anyways, that's what I've got going on. Sorry I haven't been blogging as frequently as I'd like. I have some other stuff I'm trying to figure out, and the blog gets left by the wayside while that's happening. I'll keep trying to post when I can. In the meantime, decks!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Podcasts: Is there anything they can't do?

Several weeks ago, I decided to watch the Acquisitions Incorporated series from the beginning up to and including the most recent content. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it's a quasi-celebrity game of Dungeons & Dragons. The core group of players consists of three online comic writers: Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, and Scott Kurtz, the writer for PvP. They have rotated in a few other "nerdy" celebrities, including Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame, fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss, and former G4 host Morgan Webb.

As a guy who likes humor and D&D, this is basically right in my wheelhouse. I discovered it by accident some time ago while skittering around YouTube, and I was immediately enthralled. Obviously I enjoy the role-playing and fantasy aspects of the game, but what was most appealing about it was the way the players were able to play off of each other, and create not just a player-character but a true character in their roleplaying. And of course, these are all really, really funny people, so the humor is nigh-transcendent. I find myself laughing out loud more often watching/listening to them than with almost any TV show or movie I've ever seen. It's really, really exceptional.

Anyways, while I could go on and on about how great Acquisitions Incorporated is, there's a second part to this post. Acquisitions Inc. started out as a series on Wizards of the Coast's D&D podcast. The game was/is DMed by Chris Perkins, a longtime D&D creator and all-around nerd badass. So, in order to listen to these podcasts, I downloaded them through the Podcasts app on my iPhone.

Now, I've never been much of a "podcaster," or whatever the appropriate term would be for someone who listens to podcasts. There was always a lot of searching and file management involved, and I didn't want to to spend all that time and then find out whatever podcast I chose sucked. I am, by nature, very risk-averse. But now I had found a podcast that I already knew I would most likely enjoy, so it opened up my willingness to do the necessary work.

When I say "work," I mean such considerable tasks as finding an aux cable for my car, or searching for podcasts on my phone while I'm already sitting on my phone. You know, really challenging stuff.

So now we're circling back to the actual reason for this post: what podcasts am I listening to now? Well, there are four main ones I'm listening to somewhat regularly. Here they are.

Marek vs. Wyshynski
Hockey Talk

Every year, when the Capitals are eliminated from the playoffs, I find myself hungering for hockey discussion. As the playoffs progress, you get more and more invested and focused on what's going on, and then suddenly, when your team is eliminated, you're left with all of this focus and nowhere to direct it. I always end up diving into the upcoming offseason, looking at potential signings, releases, and trades that could fix whatever that year's "one big problem" was. This year, it was "skill right-winger," but that's not really important.

What's important is that there's a vacuum in my attention span, and a hockey podcast is the right thing to fill it. Local sports radio is 90% Redskins, 9% Nationals, and the remaining 1% is split between the Capitals and Wizards and whatever else is convenient that day. Marek vs. Wyshynski is a Yahoo-produced podcast that's run by a couple of die-hard hockey fans who manage to get some high-end guests to join them for reporting and discussion. It's a national show, but that's okay. I like to know what the national take is on the Capitals, and this is a perfect way to get it. They're fairly funny and pretty self-deprecating, a good entertainment combination.

The Dungeons & Dragons Podcast
D&D Talk

This was obviously going to be the first podcast I had exposure to, since it's the one where Acquisitions Incorporated could be found. But the reality is that D&D is one of the things in the world that draws my attention the most. It's cooperative, it's creative, it's got swords and spells and traps and dragons. There's a stigma out there, sure. But I'd venture to say that, with the success of the Lord of the Rings movies, Harry Potter, Felicia Day, YouTube, and Game of Thrones, we're entering a "golden age" for D&D. Or at least, that's what I like to believe.

Either way, it's got a fan in me. The D&D Podcast offers a behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously this includes stories about the development of the game, the evolution of rules and classes, and general tips on DMing. But it's also got information about miniatures, marketing, cross-product integration, related products, and any other sort of secondary concept you can think of. As someone who likes the idea of board games in general, it's a great window into the minds of the people who made the world's greatest board game. It's very informative, and fairly entertaining.

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
General Nerdy Media

I actually listened to a couple episodes of GGttG a while back, but forgot I had subscribed to it on my phone. Eventually, I had some update come down and my phone said, "You don't have enough storage space to download this update." After some searching, I realized I'd been downloading every episode of this podcast for like two years. So I went through and deleted the ones regarding topics in which I have little-to-no interest, and kept the ones that piqued my interest.

Anyways, the podcast. It's run by two authors who I know nothing about. They apparently do mostly short stories and anthologies, with some other composition mixed in there. They seem to have read most books between them, and obviously there's a lot of overlap as well. They're definitely nerds, and they have a style of laughing and talking that's somehow both awkward and condescending at the same time. It's like if you were to walk into a darts tournament and there were a couple of darts aficionados hamming it up for the general darts fans. It's like, okay we get it, you know a lot about darts. Maybe scale back the insane talk about release angles and whatever.

Anyways, while the guys are a little bit smug on certain topics, the topics themselves delve into a lot of content I love hearing about. From Game of Thrones to Star Wars to Left 4 Dead, there's a lot of stuff that's both nerdy and mainstream, and I enjoy hearing people tackle it. They are able to make a lot of nerdy references, many of which I get, and because it's a podcast, they can approach topics from creative angles if they choose. Overall, I do enjoy the podcast, though I think I'd enjoy it more if it were run by gamer guys instead of book guys.

Drive to Work
Mark Rosewater's Magic the Gathering Podcast

After I started listening to the other podcasts for a while, I knew there was one that I wanted to check out. Spoiler alert, it's this one. Many of my fellow "Good Point Bros" have mentioned the podcast in the past, and now that I was listening to some, it was finally time to check it out.

And I love it.

The basis for the podcast is that you're basically riding with Mark Rosewater (head designer of Magic the Gathering, basically the king of Magic) on his drive to work. He records the podcast literally on his drive to work, so every episode is about thirty minutes. Rosewater's passion for Magic is evident with every sentence, and his gift for working his passionate creativity into the structure of acceptable Magic cards has got to be one of the most important pieces of why Magic has grown so much over the years.

The content of the podcasts (at least so far, I've only listened to a few) focuses on Magic sets and concepts from the past, and talks a lot about the evolution of that particular set/mechanic/card. The second episode (which is when I knew I was hooked) was a quick run-through of the creation of Zendikar, possibly my favorite set. Rosewater talks about the original idea of the set ("lands matter"), and how that idea evolved into Landfall, full-art basic lands, Ally cards, and the specific equipment in the set. It's just amazing fun to hear the process from a guy who was there firsthand, and as someone who dabbles in game development, I find it inspiring.

What Else Should I Listen To?

Obviously I've only begun to scratch the surface of what's out there. A friend recommended RadioLab, a science-ey podcast that touches on a wide variety of topics. Another friend (or twelve) immediately suggested Serial. I know it was a phenomenon, so I suppose I'll check out at least the first episode at some point. And my cousin Mike is always trying to get me to listen to Comedy Bang Bang. From the few clips he's played for me, it does seem pretty funny, so maybe now that I've got the whole setup, I'll finally give it a whirl.

What else should I listen to? If you've got any suggestions, I'm all ears. Leave notes in the comments section below!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Washington Capitals - 2015 NHL Draft and Preview of Free Agency

We're on the cusp of the opening of free agency on July 1st, and the Washington Capitals still seem like they'll be approaching it mostly from the sidelines...and I'm not sure that's necessary. But first...

The Draft

The NHL draft was fairly uneventful for the Caps. While the Bruins were shipping out top-end players and the Rangers were saying goodbye to Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot, the Caps were drafting Ilya Samsanov, a Russian goalie who likely won't even be available to play in North America for another three years. Organizational goalie depth has been a strength for Washington for a while, from Varlamov to Neuvirth to Holtby to Grubauer and beyond, and with how expensive a high-caliber veteran goalie can be, making sure you have additional options is never a bad call.

After Samsanov, the Caps grabbed a trio of young defensemen, presumably planning for the eventual downfall of Brooks Orpik. It's not likely all three of them make the NHL (and it's possible none of them make the NHL), but again, depth is never bad.

There, that's it. Now that we're past the minimalist draft (the fewest pick the franchise has ever had in a draft), let's look at the other way you get new players.

Free Agency

The biggest salary that the Caps have to look at is Braden Holtby's. I'm on record (in a few conversations with friends) as saying that I think Holtby is probably a guy you just pay. He's been between very good and exceptional since he came into the league, and it seems like overall his game has improved during the playoffs, which is always a nice sign. I don't love the idea of the Caps paying two different backup goalies in Grubauer and Justin Peters, but they're both making less than a million per year, so you've still got plenty of room to pay Holtby and keep your overall goaltender bill at a reasonable rate. Expectations: The Caps definitely won't be acquiring any new goalies.

Nate Schmidt has already signed an extension and will likely slide into the bottom defensive pairing right away. If Dmitry Orlov can stay healthy, the Caps' six defensemen are all already on the roster, and it's a pretty strong six. But Orlov hasn't been able to stay on the ice, so at least one other defenseman is in order. I've mentioned that I wouldn't mind just bringing back Tim Gleason, who was a responsible if unexciting addition last season. Pairing him with Orlov or Schmidt gives either guy a security blanket to explore their offensive options. Expectations: They'll sign one modest veteran defenseman as a depth guy, probably spending no more than $2 million on the guy.

The Caps only have nine forwards still under contract from last season, although Riley Barber and Stanislav Galiev could slide into the NHL squad come the regular season. Joel Ward and Eric Fehr are unrestricted free agents, but the two really important guys to look at are restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both have shown enough offensive potency to warrant salary increases, and Johansson especially is likely looking for a considerable contract, even if it's a short-term deal. Kuznetsov didn't have a great regular season, but his playoff performance has a lot of us excited about the future.

Obviously nobody's making lines just yet, but in general, I think this is how the lines shake out talent-wise at this point (only counting players under contract):

Line 1 - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, ___________
Line 2 - Andre Burakovsky, ___________, Troy Brouwer
Line 3 - Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson
Line 4 - Michael Latta, Jay Beagle, ____________

If the Caps go ahead and re-sign Kuznetsov and Johansson, they'd slide in at 2C and 1RW, respectively. If they do that, I'd still like to see Washington pursue a skilled winger who can play on one of those top two lines.

I'm not 100% convinced that Burakovsky is ready for second-line minutes, and I'm not crazy about putting Brouwer on a line from which you're expecting goals. His hands are still pretty good, but he seems to have lost a step. We keep hearing that Tom Wilson has the potential to move into the top two lines, but he still seems to too sincerely relish the role of scrapper to be able to count on him as a scorer. MoJo doesn't figure to be much/any better than he was last year, when he set career highs in goals and points. Kuzy has tremendous upside, but it's still just potential.

What I'd like to see and what we will see are probably two different things. The Caps have $18 million to work with under the cap. After about $5 million for Holtby and $2 million for a depth defenseman, that still leaves $11 million to play with for forwards. That's not a small number. The numbers I've seen for the RFAs are $4.5 million for Johansson and $3 million for Kuznetsov. If those are roughly accurate, the Caps could take on about $3.5 million in additional salary. In this year's very weak free agent class, there's no top-two-line winger who'd cost less than that, so you'd either be looking at rolling the dice on a young unproven RFA (extremely unlikely), or an older player who might only have 1-2 more years in the tank and is willing to take a modest salary. The latter idea has some possibilities this season.

Guys who could fit into that category (assuming they don't retire and aren't looking for irrationally large contracts) would be Justin Williams, Erik Cole, Daniel Briere, Tomas Kopecky, Brenden Morrow, and...Joel Ward. Truthfully, working out a way to bring back Ward might be the best option the Caps have. Ward has been a workhorse, an effective playoff performer, and a popular player in the blackest city in America (not a huge factor, but not a non-factor either). We'll see how things shake out, and GM Brian McClellan keeps talking about the appeal of improving via trade this offseason, so there may be additional machinations at work that we don't know about.

I have to say, even though the Caps aren't likely to be very active in free agency, I'm still excited to see how the roster shapes up over the next few weeks.

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 Washington Capitals Offseason - Who Should Stay and Who Should Go

Now that the hockey season is completely over, I can finally move on from the Caps' loss to the Rangers in the second round of this year's playoffs. It was a pretty epic series, lots of close games, and the Caps were so close to winning it so many times that the let-down was pretty severe. In Game 5, they were two minutes away from closing out the series before the Rangers sent the game into overtime, and after that, it all felt like fate.

That said, the team looked good at a lot of times throughout the playoffs (aside from all of the first periods). And hey, they were within a few minutes of getting into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, which is about 75 minutes closer than they've ever been, so we're making progress.

If you know anything about the Washington area, you know that we end up resorting to "winning the offseason" all the time. Still, I think the Capitals have an opportunity to tweak their roster, be even better next year, and take another run at the Cup. Here's a look at the personnel decisions that stand before the Capitals this summer.

Outgoing Unrestricted Free Agents

Jay Beagle (2015 salary - $1 million)
Eric Fehr ($1.6 million)
Curtis Glencross ($2.5 million)
Joel Ward ($3 million)

John Erskine ($2 million)
Tim Gleason ($1.2 million)
Mike Green ($6.25 million)

Restricted Free Agents

Marcus Johansson ($2.175 million)
Evgeny Kuznetsov ($900,000)

Braden Holtby ($2 million)

So what will the Caps do with all these free agents? Tough to say. Let's go one-by-one (because I've got nothing but time):

Jay Beagle
Beagle was a great faceoff guy all year and in the playoffs, and it was a lost faceoff where the Caps ended up losing Game 7 against the Rangers. Beagle's not a prolific scorer, and he'll never fit at a top six forward slot. He reminds me of Matt Hendricks, who showed some two-way ability and then made a solid payday heading elsewhere. I hope the Caps can find a way to hold on to him as a bottom six forward for another couple years without breaking the bank.

John Erskine
I've always liked the scallywag tone that Erskine brought to the ice when he played. He loved to mix it up, but always with a smile. I guess he's the hockey equivalent of Hines Ward...except, you know, not even remotely as good. He dealt with injury all year, and I don't know if he's actually able to play, but if he is, I'd be happy to bring him back as a 7th defenseman. Any higher than that (in role or cost), and I think you have to let him go.

Eric Fehr
Fehr was an nice surprise coming back from Winnipeg after a somewhat disastrous trip out West. He dealt with injury and a lack of production in his time away from Washington, but since he came back to town, he's been better than ever. He even worked on his faceoff game and became a viable center option. His injury created a scoring vacuum that the Caps weren't really able to fill during the Rangers series, and they looked lost at times. I think Fehr's trip north of the border may have cooled him on chasing big dreams, and I think he's likely to stay in town for a reasonable fee.

Tim Gleason 
Gleason is basically the opposite of Mike Green. He came to town via late-season trade; it cost us a pick and Jack Hillen, who I always thought was decent, but I'm not unhappy with how it turned out. Gleason was a nice depth addition for the bottom pairing, and he was a suitable partner for Green because of his dedication to stay-at-home, responsible defense. Gleason's contract expired, but he had lots of nice things to say about the Caps throughout his brief tenure, and I could see him coming back on a short-term, cap-friendly deal to try to get over the hump next year. Time will tell.

Curtis Glencross
While acquiring him may have been a nice idea, Glencross was basically a non-factor in the playoffs, except in the worst ways. He stuck at the bottom of the depth chart, and never really looked like the kind of player who could've made a difference. And then his painful turnover in overtime of game 5 created the sequence that cost them the game. He may have played alright, but he'll forever be Scott Hannan 2.0 in Capitals' fans minds.

Mike Green
There's no question that Mike Green has more than his share of detractors, but there's also no question that Mike Green was a very productive player in 2014-2015. His playing time was scaled back to where he was a 3rd-pairing defenseman who came in on most power players, and it seemed to put Green into his wheelhouse. His scoring was back up, his health was generally good, and he made fewer obvious, terrible, game-losing mistakes...right up until game 7 against the Rangers. I think Green will get paid very, very well by someone this offseason, and it won't be the Caps. I wish him well.

Braden Holtby
I'm a little bit torn on Holtby. I like him a lot; I think he's as talented as Varlamov was (who I loved), and he's shown himself to be far more durable. And I'd be perfectly happy to see the Caps sign him to a 7-year, $35 million contract. But where I get concerned is if Holtby starts wanting $6 million a year. Or $7 million. Goalie is the most volatile position in hockey, and plenty of unexceptional goalies have had flashes of brilliance that led them into the promised land. So is pushing 10% of your salary cap into a single player with that level of volatility is something I'm not totally sold on. I want Holtby back, and I'd like him to sign long-term. I just don't want to see the Caps forgo the opportunity to sign some other complementary pieces to get all the way home.

Marcus Johansson
From basically day one, I've been the guy who's been least impressed with Marcus Johansson. I don't specifically dislike him, and I see him make some good plays now and then, but I just think his upside is nowhere near what Caps fans (and Caps GMs) have been proclaiming for the past four or five years. I think he's fine, and I wouldn't want to let him go for nothing, but if another team threw some money at him in an RFA offer, I wouldn't be against taking some compensation picks and moving on. In the end, I expect MoJo to sign a one-year deal with Washington, and get one more shot at taking his game "to the next level." Which I don't expect him to do.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov was a streaky and minimally impactful player during the regular season, but he definitely ratcheted up his game during the playoffs. His game-winner against the Islanders in Game 7 was a thing of beauty. But he slipped back into the background during the Rangers series, an unfortunate turn of events at a time when the Caps really could've used a scoring spark. Kuznetsov is a restricted free agent, which means a team would have to provide compensation in order to sign him away from the Caps. That's not likely, but it's not impossible. I think the Caps will keep him, probably with a solid but unspectacular 2-year contract. And when that contract is up, who knows what happens.

Joel Ward
The Caps' biggest problem is still a lack of potent scoring forwards outside of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Joel Ward contributed moderately well to that end last season, but he wasn't the kind of player that "you have to account for" as an opposing team. I'd be fine with the team reacquiring him at a modest price, but he seems like the kind of guy who would get a big raise in a terrible free agent class. His big playoff goals and his overall useful play might push some team to pay him $4-$5 million a year, possibly for as many as six years. If that's the price, I think the Caps have to let him go.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Game of Thrones - Season Six Musings

Well, the Internet has spoken: Stannis Baratheon totally isn't dead. I mean, he definitely is dead, but a lot of the Internet is still fully in denial about it. Reddit even had a whole giant thread called, "STANNIS DENIAL THREAD" where they discuss what they think actually happened between Brienne and Stannis in the forest that day.

As I said, I'm pretty sure Stannis met his end in the forest that day, but it did get me thinking: what's coming up next season? I decided I'll write this up quickly, since I don't want it to be ruined by actual fact regarding what's coming up. These are just my musings, based on what's happened in the show, what I've read in the books, and my various discussions over time regarding these events. There will be some book-related spoilers in here, but come on, if you've been reading these posts you're already as far as I am, maybe even further since I refuse to read the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter that have already been posted. I'll read it when it's done.

So, here are the storylines I believe we'll follow in season six of Game of Thrones.

The Vengeance of Cersei
Right or wrong, Cersei believes that the Sparrows committed a great sin against her by holding her captive for her sins. And now she's got FrankenMountain (which I vastly prefer to Mountainstein) at her disposal, who I expect to be doling out pain and punishment at Cersei's demand. I think she's still hurt by Tommen's failure to help her, but that will only strengthen her belief that she needs to protect her baby boy.

Plus, don't forget that Jamie will be bringing her daughter's lifeless body back from Dorne. Cersei will lose her shit, and gods help the people of King's Landing when she does.

But what about Dorne? Clearly it would be Cersei's (and probably Jamie's) intent to burn Dorne to the ground, but would that be feasible? The reality is that Dorne wasn't involved in the War of the Five Kings, so whatever armies they have would be fresh, unharmed, and un-wintered. Who would help Cersei?
  • Tyrells are being imprisoned willy-nilly; there's no reason to think that they'd be motivated to go back to war.
  • The Boltons seem to be preparing for a Northern winter.
  • Walder Frey isn't sending his guys anywhere for free, and the Crown is already deeply in debt.
  • The other River Lords have no taste for Lannisters.
  • Nor do the former Stark bannermen.
  • Nor do the remaining Baratheon bannermen.
  • Nor do the knights of the Vale.
So with a city virtually under siege by a fanatic militia, the Lannisters would send their armies to fight in Dorne, and trust the city guard to keep the peace? Doubtful. That said, Doran Martell is clearly a man of thoughtful method. I could see him attempting to avoid a war by delivering Ellaria Sand to King's Landing for justice, and imprisoning the Sand Snakes (which hopefully would keep them out of the show; god they were terrible). The Dorne situation is fraught with trepidation; it could provide some of the best content of the season, or, if they follow this season's recipe, some of the worst.

Who Watches the Watchers?
If you know what that heading is in reference to, NERD! Me too.

The Night's Watch just killed their Lord Commander, and will presumably put Alliser Thorne in charge. I actually expect that there won't be a ton of content about this period of time at The Wall, but I think several interesting stories will find themselves passing through The Wall next season. First and foremost, I do believe that Jon Snow will return to us, fully human, possibly through a similar process as Beric Dondarrion's revival. I don't think it's a coincidence that Melisandre found herself at Castle Black just hours before Jon's fall.

We've also got Davos at Castle Black now, and he's suddenly kingless. I don't think he wants this freedom, but it's thrust upon him now. We also have Sansa and Theon safety? It's not 100% certain that they survive their jump, but I'm betting they do. And to where would they go at this point? Boltons and Lannisters hold most of the Seven Kingdoms, and I don't think that Sansa would risk the open road to make her way back to Littlefinger in the Eyrie (or wherever he is; he seems to fly across the continent). That means her best choice, her only choice really, is to head north to Castle Black, where (as far as she knows) Jon Snow is still stationed.

So what happens? Well, I'm guessing that Jon's revival coincides with him having to hide said revival, or he'll probably just get killed again. So he runs off to do something, maybe hang with wildlings, maybe flee to Essos with Melisandre. Regardless, I don't think he and Sansa will cross paths. But I do think that Sansa will cross paths with Davos, and since Davos just lost his "princess," he'll be warm to the idea of protecting another. So maybe the Greatjon Umber (who may or may not be alive) gets forced by the Boltons to take the Black, and when he arrives, he meets Sansa Stark, who he tells about Rickon being hidden away somewhere in the North. Then Davos, Theon, and Sansa run off to find him. That could be fun...although it'd be snowing like whoa by then probably, so it could also be deadly freezing.

Speaking of Starks...

Bran and the Tree Guy
I'm sure the Tree Guy has a name, I just don't know it. But some time has passed here, and presumably Bran has spent this time learning about warging and timewalking, and he's learning about the history of the realm. So next season, we'll probably get a fair share of flashbacks, maybe with some guest appearances by Sean Bean and Mark Addy, which would be fun. I'm not sure what Bran is supposed to do with whatever information he finds out, but that will be for the story to relate.

I'm sorry, I'm just not in on Arya's storyline. Presumably she'll get her sight back after getting better at being "no one," and then...I don't know, start killing other people? It was marginally cooler when she had a revenge list, but now she's just supposed to kill whoever she's told to kill? Doesn't that mean, at this point, she could be Flippy McTubernuts rather than a Stark of Winterfell? So it's fine, but I don't care.

What Is Dead May Never Die
The show definitely butchered the Iron Islanders last season with that little "rescue attempt" by Asha when they tried to rescue their "prince" (who, according to Iron Island code, they shouldn't give a shit about), and then got scared off by some dogs.

My desperate hope is that they recapture what makes the Ironborn interesting: they're basically orcs, attacking the weak and respecting only strength. But they look like everyone else, so we think they should think like everyone else. The show-runners might be able to bring those Ironborn back, and put them back on the high seas. I wasn't crazy about the Ironborn storylines we saw previously, but with what I've read in the books, there's potential for some sweet, sweet pirating. And also maybe super-important story stuff.

Missing: One Dragon
So, Daenerys flew off on the back of a dragon, and that was amazing to watch. But obviously she's going to need to come back to town at some point, if her pursuit of the Iron Throne is to resume. She's back in the hands of some Dothraki again, which turned out okay the first time, but I think Khal Drogo was unique among Dothraki Khals in his appetite for Western ladies. Regardless, Dany looks like she's going to be needing some saving, and I suppose Daario and Jorah are setting out to do just that.

Back in Meereen, I guess Drogon did enough damage to the Sons of the Harpy that they dipped out of the arena, but they're clearly still a factor. And I have to say, I'm a million percent excited to see Tyrion and Varys run the city. Varys might be a bit of an absentee father, though; I feel like he still has some moving parts he has to take care of on both sides of the Narrow Sea. Either way, as I mentioned before, Tyrion being added to the mix in Slaver's Bay has me edge-of-my-seat riveted to watch things play out.

So that's six storylines, four of which I'm very interested in, plus Bran's story could be informative. And then Arya's story has a lot of room for improvement. And now to spend the next eight months wondering what's going to happen.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones Season Finale Discussion - "Mother's Mercy"

The Prelude - Response

My point-by-point response to my own initial thoughts:

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are still up to no good.

Well, I was right about this, but I sincerely had no idea it would play out how it did. Also, oh my god, Tyene's line about her "bad pussy" was, it was definitely the worst line the show has ever had. Bar none. Terrible.

The Mountain is coming back. Like, now.

Definitely back. Definitely excited to see how his presence affects things. Cersei's pissed, and she now has a murderhobo Kingsguard the size of, well, the size of a Mountain.

Oh em gee, Syrio maybe still alive? Probably not, but a man can hope.

Well, Syrio was a lot to expect, and I feel like the way this played out, we can be pretty sure that he's dead. Although, Arya did put a rag in Meryn's mouth when she talked about Syrio...coincidence? Who's to say? I'll put a pin back in it.

Awful lot of Benjen in this. Looks like we'll get some kind of answer about him at least.
Well, so much for getting answers about him. Well played, Game of Thrones. I told you he was tricksy.

Dragons are still badass.
Slightly less badass when they're licking their wounds and being teen angsty with their mom, but still pretty badass.

I feel like a lot is going to happen in the North this episode. My prediction: there will be blood.
Prediction: confirmed. Though, the gore level wasn't all that high. The battle between the Boltons and Baratheons mostly happened at range or in the background, which I can appreciate from a production cost point of view. It does make me think that the show could've been made into like fifteen movies, but would it have been the sensation that it is? Maybe not.

Regardless, the body count was fierce, which transitions me to the second part of my post.

Feeding the God of Death

I had an inkling that this episode might be a bloody one, so I texted a couple friends to do a "deaths draft." We each predicted the demise of a few characters, and watched the murder unfold. There were several (though maybe fewer than it seemed?), so I'll go tombstone-by-tombstone.

#1 - Selyse Baratheon
This one should've been more predictable when you think about it. Stannis' demise was absolutely on the table, and no way would he die while Selyse still lived. Furthermore, we've seen her as being somewhat unstable since she showed up, and she was clearly distraught when Shireen was burned alive. Not a particularly saddening death, but it did kind of suck that mere moments after she finally seemed human, she took her own life.

#2 - Stannis Baratheon
Huge, huge death for the show. He was wildly popular on the Internet, with people referring to him as Stannis the Mannis. Yeah, not the Internet's most creative moment. Still, Stannis' storyline was a driving force since season 2, and his death frees up Melisandre and Davos to pursue their own paths. Davos specifically I've always enjoyed a lot; he's witty, sensible (other than his infatuation with Stannis), and understands the world better than most. He's who I want to see a lot of next season.

By the way, at this point in the show, Balon Greyjoy is the only remaining king from the War of the Five Kings. So, congratulations Balon.

#3 - Myranda
She was hot. Really, really hot. Also I think I'm into evil chicks, and she was definitely that as well. Her death was a redeeming moment for Reek/Theon. It was predictable in the scene, but a little bit against Theon's history with Ramsay. I mean, like three episodes ago he ratted on Sansa. I get that Sansa's worn him down over time, but still, a bit odd.

#4? - Reek
#5? - Sansa
I don't actually think Reek and Sansa are dead, but that was a long ass drop off of the battlements. It had the smack of a scene where we're supposed to think maybe they offed themselves, but then they landed in a wagon of hay, Assassin's Creed style. Not sure exactly where they'd go at this point, though. The Wall's got nothing for them anymore...spoiler alert. Although, maybe they meet up with Davos on his way to the Umbers to find Rickon and Osha? Boy, wouldn't that be a traveling party: a smuggler, a eunuch, and the Lady Sansa Stark.

#6 - Meryn fucking Trant
The easiest death to see coming, he was my first choice in one of my drafts, second in another. His death was utterly brutal too; maybe they used up their gore allotment in that scene, and that's why they couldn't show too much brutality in the other deaths. Probably not. Meryn Trant was a terrible guy; they've let us know that since season 1. A Kingsguard isn't what it used to be...although Barristan Selmy wasn't exactly Iron Man, either.

#7 - Myrcella Baratheon
This one was heartbreaking, and I don't know how I didn't see it coming. I mean you saw in my prelude, I knew Ellaria was still up to no good. But Myrcella always seemed like an absurd target for revenge. I guess we were supposed to buy into that, because clearly the Sand Snakes did. Moments after Jamie revealed himself to be her father, and she accepted it, and he had that first, brief moment of acceptance from his daughter about who he really was, she was torn from him. I have to say, while most of the other deaths are of longer-running characters whose personalities we've seen more of, this one rattled me the most.

#8 - Jon Snow
And now we come to the biggest death of the season, and one of the biggest deaths in the show. Jon Snow was someone we watched intently from episode one. He helped us learn about Tyrion's wisdom and wit. He showed us Sam's intelligence. Through him, we saw Grenn and Pyp grow into men of the Night's Watch, we saw Jeor Mormont command the rangers, we saw wights and White Walkers and wildlings. And through it all, we saw him as the next generation of Ned Stark. His heart was always looking at the big picture, doing "what must be done." But in doing so, he ignored what was going on around him, just as Ned did, and in the end it cost him his life.

Jon's death was foreshadowed all season with the decisions he was making, and the Brothers' reactions to them. All of his decisions made sense to us, but to the men at Castle Black who'd been fighting wildlings for years, or those like Olly who'd seen their families butchered by wildlings, his behavior was treasonous, hence the sign.

How will the story turn with Jon Snow's blood staining the ground at Castle Black? I don't rightly know. We do know that Melisandre is at Castle Black. And we do know that Melisandre met Thoros of Myr, who told her about how he asked the Lord of Light to send Beric Dondarrion back to him, and Beric had life breathed back into him, like freaking Gandalf the White. So, perhaps her presence at Castle Black is fortuitous for those who want Jon to endure, in one way or another. I don't know whether I want Jon's death to be permanent to see how the world responds, or if I want him to be reborn in some fashion.

I do know this: I liked episode 10 a lot better than episode 9. And that even accounts for the terrible "bad pussy" line.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Game of Thrones Season Finale Discussion - "Mother's Mercy" PRELUDE

I'm gonna go with a different style this time around. I'll still do my "discussion points," but I'm adding a prelude, right as I begin to watch the episode (I'm at work, so I'll be a bit behind the rest of you nine-to-fivers). This will be basically my immediate thoughts as I watch the, "previously on Game of Thrones." Here goes.

- Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are still up to no good.
- The Mountain is coming back. Like, now.
- Oh em gee, Syrio maybe still alive? Probably not, but a man can hope.
- Awful lot of Benjen in this. Looks like we'll get some kind of answer about him at least.
- Dragons are still badass.
- I feel like a lot is going to happen in the North this episode. My prediction: there will be blood.

Alright, I'm stoked, let's go.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 9, "The Dance of Dragons"

With the title, it was obviously looking like it was going to be a Daenerys-heavy episode, but now that Tyrion is in the mix, I wasn't dreading it like I had for the past 1-2 seasons.

Also, historically, episode 9 has been the "King Shit" episode of the Game of Thrones season. The first season it was Baelor, with the execution of Ned Stark. Season two, episode 9 was the battle of Blackwater, which gave us some of the best King's Landing scenes in the whole show. Season three yielded The Rains of Castamere and the Red Wedding. And last season's ninth episode was the longest episode in series history, and probably the most epic: the defense of The Wall against the wildling horde.

Would this season's ninth episode live up to its predecessors?

Ehh...not really.

Dorne was kind of fun this time.

I like Prince Doran Martell. He seems like how I would be if I were some form of royalty: methodical, thoughtful, not doing a whole lot of moving around. His "negotiation" with Jamie and Ellaria was entertaining if predictably boring. And Bronn's price for freedom made me laugh out loud.

And Tyene is still a babe. I wonder if her seduction of Bronn will have further implications, or if it was just for fun. I'm not upset either way.

I don't understand Ellaria though. She's like totally over her plot now? Or she's still playing coy and plans to yet exact her revenge? And are the three Sand Snakes over it? I just, I don't understand.

Good to know that the writers were comfortable making Meryn Trant an all-around terrible shit.

My guess is he's not long for this world, though. Also, am I wrong in thinking that Mace Tyrell coming to an accord with the Iron Bank was a relevant event that got kind of glazed over?

Aww, Shireen.

I haven't checked Reddit yet, but my guess is that Stannis lost every fan he had. Religious fanatics eventually act fanatical. Every ounce of goodwill he generated this season burned up with Shireen. I don't know what Davos is going to do; I have to think he'll be utterly crushed. I know that Book Davos has all sorts of fun stuff on the docket, and this event maybe releases him from Stannis to go do those things. If we hear anything about Wyman Manderly in episode 10, I'll be jazzed.

Jorah's not a great fighter.

He kept getting saved by luck or opportunity while he was in the fighting pit. I'm okay with it because Jorah's supposed to be like 60 years old and not terribly nimble, but it certainly makes for some frustrating TV. The one advantage to it is that, with Jorah's greyscale, his mortality is completely on the table. So there was always the possibility that he would actually be killed in the pits, adding drama and tension. Still, because the greyscale doesn't seem to have "served a purpose" yet, I felt like he was safe until we know why he has greyscale. Not like how he got it, but why the writers gave it to him.

Which leaves us with...

Guess who's back. Back again. Drogon's back. Tell your- OH GOD I'M ON FIRE!!!

Look, I knew it was coming. The books have something similar happen, except the circumstances are less heroic for Drogon. Him showing up to save the day as the Sons of the Harpy close in on Daenerys was great TV, and I mean, a dragon is a dragon. Skyrim nailed dragons, and Game of Thrones is doing a good job as well.

I liked how the scene built up, how the Unsullied were actually effective in combat against these assassins this time (cough cough Barristan and Grey Worm cough cough), and I actually, for the first time, liked Daario's comments and posture. But there's a weakness here that kind of gets ignored, maybe because so many show-watchers are also book-readers, or maybe because people just don't care that much about villains. But I have no idea who the Sons of the Harpy are.

Okay, that's not true. I know they're folks who don't like that Daenerys is ruling Meereen, and they have some level of preference for slavery. But like, are they from Meereen? Are they from the other cities in Slavers' Bay? Do they have demands? Are they "represented" by other people, people who serve in some official capacity? Do they have only a solitary goal of deposing Dany? Do they have leaders? There seem to be a lot of them, which means tons of these masks are getting made. Is anybody looking into them? It seems insane to think that a terrorist group with high-level kills on record would be treated like just some other gang. They found the one guy hiding in the wall, and that's the extent of their investigation?

That's the part of the story in Meereen that doesn't jive for me. I need my villains to have motivations, reasons, some kind of explanation for their behavior. Tywin had a reason. Roose Bolton had a reason. Walder Frey had a reason. At this point, we even have a rough idea of what the White Walkers want (the death of everyone and everything). But the Sons of the Harpy haven't been given depth at all. So to me, they're still basically just psychopathic killers, without any end in mind. And that doesn't work for me.

Looking forward to episode 10...

I'm hoping that, since this episode nine was a little lacking, episode ten will be strong. I'm expecting Arya to find a way to kill Meryn Trant, Cersei to receive punishment for her "crimes," Tyrion to start managing Meereen, something to happen at The Wall (no spoilers), and some sort of payoff between the Boltons and Stannis' army.

We'll see what actually happens.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 8, "Hardhome"

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook around 10:00 PM:
Game of Thrones? More like, Game of "Holy Shit that was F'in Crazy!"

So I decided I'd make sure to get my reaction post done right away. Here we go.

I love that Tyrion is back into a position of consequence.

Tyrion is one of the most enjoyable characters to watch try to work out a problem, or solve a problem. He's a decent person who still has sense enough to know that he's in danger pretty much every hour of every day. As I predicted last week, Dany's storyline got way more interesting with his insertion into it.

I don't know if Qyburn is an interesting character, or if he just picks up all the exposition about the workings of the world, which is my favorite part of the show.

I love the politics of the story, the different players, the movements of pieces across the board. And Qyburn spent like five minutes basically relaying to Cersei all the happenings in the realm with regards to the various Lannisters, as well as the Sparrows (who are still all shits by the way). Qyburn himself is basically just a necromancer, which is interesting enough, but probably doesn't warrant the enjoyment I feel in watching him on screen. Nevertheless, someone has to fill that role so that we viewers know what's going on in the world, and he reaps the rewards in my eyes.

Speaking of...

It was interesting watching Cersei go through the stages of grief.

Anger, bargaining...whatever the other ones are. Obviously not so much acceptance just yet.

When Sam said, "He always comes back" about Jon, I honestly thought Jon was done for.

We're getting close to the point where I don't know what's going to happen at all anymore, because we're passing the book's content. But there's no question that Jon's life is very much in play, as are the rest of...well, basically everybody in the North. The Boltons, Sansa, Theon/Reek, Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Shireen, Stannis' wife (who I would not miss at all), Sam, Gilly, Edd, Aliser Thorne, Olly, Tormund, and all those other wildlings up in Hardhome, every one of them was a potential casualty this episode, and remains a potential casualty for the rest of the season. Which leads into my final point...

This episode was a great example of a high-action, high-drama episode that didn't require the death of a major character.

In looking back to episode 9 of last season, the battle at The Wall, there's no arguing that the deaths of Grenn and Pyp brought a weight to the situation that might not have been matched if only big-name wildlings had died (Ygritte and Magnar of Thenn). It was definitely frustrating to see them die, and because they didn't die in the books, felt unnecessary, but that may have only been because I enjoyed the characters and didn't want to lose them.

This episode introduced the only characters who died: the other Thenn, that sassy mom wildling, and the white walker who Jon ate up with his Valyrian steel sword, which, by the way, was an awesome information addition. Anytime we learn any more about this world (see Qyburn up top) and how it works, that's a good thing.

I thought this was a really good episode. I'm hopeful that the last two are equal to it. I'm nervous for Stannis, who I haven't liked at all until the very end of last season and the beginning of this season. I'm expecting to finally get some payoff from Arya's story (perhaps in the form of a diced up Meryn fucking Trant, whose arrival with Mace Tyrell in Braavos is imminent). I'm hopeful that there'll be more conversations involving Tyrion and strategy, with whomever. I'm expecting Jorah to die. And I have no idea what to expect in Dorne.

See you next week!

EDIT: Oh shit, I almost forgot, that final scene with the Night King raising all of the wildlings into his army and smirking at Jon Snow? BADASS. Finally some supervillain flavor to these guys. Everything before was so slow and, well, "dead." I've always felt that there's no way that George R. R. Martin would've created the White Walkers and not given them some kind of motivation or backstory or reason for being what they are. That scene was probably the most important scene of the season so far, as far as establishing the White Walkers as the true villains.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 7, "The Gift"

No big lead-in this time, you guys have been waiting long enough. Here we go, five thoughts on this week's Game of Thrones.

I mean, we knew Sansa wasn't going to get out of trouble that easily.

They did a pretty good job of building up the anxiety when Reek was trotting around Winterfell, teasing us that he might be heroic, but we saw this movie before. Remember, when his sister came to rescue him, and he proved himself to be utterly brainwashed? Yeah, obviously that wasn't going to change after giving Ramsay more time to refine his control over Theon. So he ratted on Sansa, and Ramsay flayed the old lady. Sansa also learned that Reek isn't an ally here, which is important.

And Ramsay's still such a shit; we learned that too.

The death that happened...

Maester Aemon was a great character, and the actor did a phenomenal job as well. Just wonderful, one of the bright spots this season as his role at Castle became more important. I don't know exactly how Maester Aemon would have been "protecting" Sam Tarly from the beating he was going to get from his brothers, but I guess it's not outrageous to think that Aemon had earned enough respect over the years to be able to exert some level of influence simply by associating with Tarly.

Also Sam got laid, in Castle Black. So that was interesting.

...and the death that surprisingly didn't happen.

I was certain that Bronn was done for. They took the time to remind us of the cut he took in the battle in the "Previously on Game of Thrones" snippets, and I've thought he's been dead to rights all season. And then they confirmed he'd been poisoned, and then, inexplicably, that girl gave him the antidote. I say "that girl" because the show has still done a terrible job of trying to identify and differentiate the Sand Snakes.

Although...she looked pretty hot when she was trying to juice up Bronn. I might spend some time looking up her name over the next few days. You know, for research.

It was interesting to see how the "lower" fighting pits were so clearly below the level of a queen.

They were downright...pitiful.


I have to say though, adding Tyrion and Jorah to Daenerys' storyline has me fully interested in it again.

I don't know what I'm rooting for in King's Landing.

I mean, Cersei's obviously hateful and selfish and arrogant, but I still give her a lot of leeway for protecting her child. I mean, she's already lost one child, in her arms. The audience wants her to act rationally, and when she doesn't, she gets her comeuppance, but remember that this is basically like handing over the FBI, the Supreme Court, and the National Guard to the Klan. You may hate Cersei and everything she does, but encouraging fanaticism isn't going to solve your problems.

I'm afraid I have to say, unequivocally, that I'm rooting for the Lannisters versus the Sparrows.

And on that, I'm going to go throw up.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is it really a "delay" if you do it every week?

So this weekend I was all flummoxed or something, and I managed to totally forget that today was Sunday and thus Game of Thrones day. I've spent the whole day watching Acquisitions Incorporated videos and planning for D&D tomorrow. Whoops. I'll watch the episode now, and post tomorrow after I've had a chance to digest.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Favorite Past Features

I've spent some time of late looking at a variety of my previous posts. I do a lot of self-critiquing and re-reading; I find myself constantly changing old posts that nobody will probably ever read again, but they've got an apostrophe in the wrong spot, or poor word usage in another spot, and I can't let that just hang there.

I also re-read for content, and I've found a few spots that I really enjoyed re-reading, and I enjoyed writing in the first place. As I'm trying to find more topics to write about, and formats within which to write, these old posts are a good first stop. Here are a couple I really enjoyed from the past, and maybe I'll resurrect them in some form.

Is He A Keeper?

Back in the early days of the fantasy baseball keeper league, we had a lot of questions about which players were legitimate keepers, which guys were borderline, and which guys were too unreliable, too unproven, or just too unexceptional. It was a fun little mental experiment for myself to judge a player's potential upside, downside, and general value in relation to other players. It was also a way that I sort of gave my (often unsolicited) advice to my fellow owners about their players, and hashed out some of my own players as well.

The odds of this one coming back are pretty slim, as I think most of my league has caught up to (or surpassed) me as far as baseball knowledge. As a result, I'd be out of order trying to declare what other teams should do. It was a fun exercise, though, and it's a good reminder that little discussion points were a good way to churn out several medium-sized posts.

Twi-Night Doubleheader

For most of one season, I did a little weekly recap on the fantasy comings and goings of the week. Best player of the week, biggest disappointment, etc. I was so tuned in to fantasy baseball at the time, and I had a ton of downtime sitting at a computer at my job, so it was natural for me to kill time by writing about what I was paying attention to.

The Game of Thrones posts I've been doing this season are a reasonable comparison to Twi-Night Doubleheader (though much less readable for cousin Michael), in that they're weekly recaps with quick-hitter topics. I don't foresee getting back into the weekly fantasy baseball recap post game, unless it were with a partner to bounce things off of, work together, and generate fast content. If anybody's got an itch, drop me a message and we'll see what might work.

Magic Decks for Review

It's hard to say this was really a feature on the blog, since I only really got one post up for it. But the idea was that I have all these decks I've thrown together over the years that could use some tightening, some review, and some revision. And, like most intellectual exercises, crowd-sourcing can create inputs from a lot of different angles, which is important considering the sheer volume of Magic cards that exist.

That single post and its follow-up (both regarding my Landfall deck) were actually pretty useful as far as trying to put together possible ideas for how to refine the deck. So in looking back, that's something I could definitely see myself getting back to posting. I still have the decks, and I think I put most or all of them on TappedOut, so they should still be visible to make comments and offer advice. Definitely something I could see revisiting.

Mega Man Magic Set

The Mega Man Magic Set wasn't exactly a "feature," as it had a specific endpoint. Once the set was fully released, that was that, the series was concluded. That said, it generated dozens of posts, numerous comments, and a good deal of discussion, not to mention the enjoyment I had in creating the cards and writing the posts. Overall, I would rate it as one of my most successful blogging adventures.

Additionally, while I can't generate many(/any?) more posts using that particular content, there are plenty of similar types of posts I can make. Most of them will be pretty hard geeky, but that's how it goes sometimes. I like sports and I like games, and sometimes the games take the lead. Lord knows I don't feel like talking about football anytime soon.

So here are some similar ideas that I've come up with, and I'm thinking I'll try my hand at in the near future:
  • Create a D&D monster from other material
  • Create a Magic card from other material
  • Create another Magic set, this time using a different gaming "world"
  • Create, create, create...
In thinking about these ideas, I think that the most fun exercises for me are when I'm trying to be creative using other people's bases. Kind of like a fan-fiction writer, except somehow even nerdier.

Anyways, that's it for this post. Just wanted to reminisce a little about some of our brighter moments, and give you guys a little insight into what goes into developing a post or feature. Until next time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 6, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

So on HBO GO, the highlight image was of one of the Sand Snakes, and the title is Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. So without question, the episode was going to highlight a lot of Dorne. I was unsure if that was a good thing...

...and, I'm still not sure.

The confrontation between the Sand Snakes and Jamie was predicable, and surprisingly bloodless, but not terrible.

I've read a lot of commentary that decries how terrible their engagement was, and the people who say this aren't completely wrong. The buildup was laughable; watching Ellaria Sand "deploy" the girls was pretty absurd, and Bronn and Jamie remain insane for thinking their plan had any chance of working. And in actuality, the idea that five people could engage in heated combat without other people showing up, probably guards, probably people who are going to react with violence or at least the threat of violence.

The actual fight was okay, though, and while I think the editing was a little haphazard to create more of a sense of speed, the movements were fluid enough to generate drama. I can only assume, since the only injury happened to Bronn, and he was cut by the end of a Dornish spear, that we probably haven't seen the last effect of this battle just yet. Poison and such.

Arya's storyline is getting more interesting.

I think I blew through some of the Arya chapters because, like the Bran chapters, they're really about individual adventures across the countryside. I'm more of a "big picture" kind of guy. I enjoy political intrigue and large-scale activity.

That said, my speedy reading may have opened the door for the television version of Game of Thrones to provide some new entertainment. I don't remember anything about a Mines of Moria-style face room underneath the House of Black and White. And, it feels like we're getting close to where she might leave the temple and start interacting with regular people, which has the potential to be much more interesting.

Littlefinger remains full of quips.

When he zazzed Lancel about providing fantasies, I thought he was going to get popped. And when he gave Cersei a quick reminder that everyone knows about her and Jamie doing the dirty, again, I thought he was getting himself into trouble. But people seem to not want to pummel Baelish for some reason. I don't know if that's just TV, or if there's a bigger picture reason for it. Maybe people really don't want to cross The Vale? Tough to say. Regardless, the lines are good.

Jorah and Tyrion have an interesting ride ahead of them.

We're rounding out into the story as it happens in the books, but taking a different road. Regardless, we've brought in a couple new characters (including Mr. Eko from Lost), and a story arc that offers some excitement. I always enjoy seeing main characters get into battles, even though you often lose those characters because of those battles.

Also, even before Jorah and Tyrion were captured, it should be noted that their interactions were enjoyable. That's what happens when you have two good actors with good lines simply interacting as their characters would. There have been a lot of these small segments throughout the show that have worked simply because they seemed genuine: Sansa and The Hound, Joffrey and Margaery, Jon and Alliser, even Ros and Theon was pretty good. The one redeeming quality of Jamie's trip to Dorne is that we get some good old-fashioned Jamie and Bronn chatter. The characters make the show.

Ramsay Bolton is who we thought he was.

I'll admit, I wasn't sure what direction Ramsay was set to take this season. He's been put into a position of power, and he's got far more eyes on him than usual, so I didn't know if his behavior would change, out of responsibility or simply out of exposure. But of course, he's not a multi-layered character, not really. He's the physical essence of depravity, and that's really all he is. It would have been interesting if he were playing a long game, with some grand intentions, but it seems like he's really just interested in satisfying his urges.

One redeeming factor here is that Sansa will now have a specific reason to unleash the North. Whether it happens or not, or happens as I would hope it would happen (heads on spikes), who knows. But at least it's lingering out there.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Game of Thrones Delay...Again

There will be another delay on posting my Game of Thrones recap.

A man needs his sleep.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 5, "Kill the Boy"

Sunday night, I watched one of the most soul-shattering, gut-wrenching, utterly brutal television programs I've ever seen. Then after the Washington Capitals game was over, I took in this week's episode of Game of Thrones, which was also entertaining. I think this might have been my favorite episode of this season so far, though probably not for the kind of reasons any of you would feel. However, you might have recognized them in the show when you saw them as my kinds of moments.

Let's get into it.

I literally (figuratively) threw up in my mouth when Grey Worm pitched romance at Missandei.

I don't know why they insist on continuing this line. Someone must have been a huge Short Circuit fan and they said, "Let's match up a robot with an odd foreigner, it'll be delightful." Grey Worm is perfectly useful as an emotionless killing machine, and a battlefield commander. We don't need an awkward romantic angle shoehorned into that storyline.

Tormund is wildly entertaining.

Get it? Wildly? I kill me.

But seriously, Tormund is a strong character, as memorable and powerful as Mance Rayder was. He strikes you as a good person, but you can't help but feeling like when Jon Snow was trying to convince him to help him with the wildlings, it was a bit like trying to negotiate with a bear. But the whole scene was solid, and they actually did a good job of not having Jon trip over his lines so much. The multiple references to the chains were a bit much, and they telegraphed Jon releasing Tormund, but other than that, the scene was pretty judiciously spoken. A lot of this season has felt like people were narrating rather than acting naturally and letting the audience put the pieces together. But it's definitely better when you've got more "show" than "tell."

Stannis correcting grammar at Castle Black was maybe my favorite thing ever.

Seriously, god, it was amazing. I enjoyed it the first time when it was him and Davos, but this time was like fan-service, it was so good.

Roose Bolton is becoming as entertaining a "supervillain" as Tywin Lannister was.

The way he deals with Ramsay is a lot like how Tywin dealt with Jamie and Cersei; he acknowledges their roles in his plans, but he belittles and manipulates them as he likes, often with funny quips. He's become one of my favorite "characters to hate," so much so that I have to keep reminding myself that I hate him.

Along the same vein...

Is it possible that Roose Bolton legitimately believes that he's a more suitable Warden of the North than the Starks had been? And maybe more troubling, might that actually be a legitimate belief, at least in the current political climate?

Let's look at it from a broad view. As we saw in the first season, Ned Stark was incapable of working around his honor, even when he could see that the kingdom was in grave danger. Littlefinger tells him, "I did warn you not to trust me." It's like he's saying, "Jesus Ned, I told you I was going to betray you and you still didn't see it coming." Ned Stark just couldn't fathom that deception and politicking could triumph over justice and strength in combat. So clearly, he was ill-suited for the dealings of Westeros in its current state.

Now, on to Robb Stark. The Boltons followed Robb at the beginning, which made sense. Robb was hugely popular, and as they mentioned, he was winning every battle. Unfortunately, Robb inherited his father's tunnel vision; also unfortunately, he did not inherit the entirety of his father's virtue. Had Robb not reneged on his deal with Walder Frey regarding a marriage, the whole Red Wedding fiasco might not have been in the making.

And it might have been in the making anyways; either way, Robb was completely unprepared for his eventual assassination, while a bit of reconnaissance might have gotten him the information to know what was brewing.

Roose Bolton now controls the North. He's got a solid peace with the Lannisters (/"Baratheons") who hold the crown, as well as a firm alliance with Walder Frey. He correctly acknowledges that Stannis Baratheon is the greatest threat to peace in the North (or rather, Stannis' army being in the North and the Boltons being in Winterfell). While he's obviously committed some pretty horrible treason, encourages torture, and abides some pretty reprehensible behavior by his bastard son, Roose Bolton is, if nothing else, a true Lord. And he entertains the shit out of me.

See you next week...unless the Caps lose game 7 against the Rangers on Wednesday. If that happens, I'll probably be at the bottom of a bottle for a couple of months.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 4, "Sons of the Harpy"

Apologies again for the delay, I'm still trying to catch up on sleep/rest/sobriety. Let's leap right into the discussion points; they're going to be a bit more extensive this week.

Watching Tommen try to be king is almost as uncomfortable as it must be for Tommen to actually be king.

Say what you will about Robert Baratheon. He was a lecher, a drunk, and an overall brutal individual, but he would've never tolerated this Sparrow bullshit on his watch. His guards even seemed to know that a show of strength was necessary, but Tommen the Soft (as I've decided to call him) just slunk away. Tywin was a horrible person, but he did manage to keep the city in line. Tommen couldn't control his bladder. And that guy gets to bang Margaery on the regular? A classic story of being born into privilege, I guess.

The exchange between Jamie and Bronn was almost as boring as the exchange between Jorah and Tyrion.

Jamie and Bronn at least had some entertaining lines. But in both circumstances, we were supposed to believe that Bronn/Tyrion is clever for deducing a particular aspect of their traveling companion's story. I didn't find either one surprising or interesting or clever. It was a lazy way of having the one guy "learn" information about the other without the information needing to be specifically shared by someone who wouldn't want to share it.

Also, the conversation between Tyrion and Jorah was utterly unnecessary for the rest of this episode. It should've been jammed in with other, more relevant content. This plays into my fifth discussion point, so stay tuned.

I don't care about the "Sand Snakes."

I know they're supposed to be alluring or badass or both, but they just struck me as petulant children, which I guess they kind of are. They're upset that their father is dead; that I can empathize with. And they live in a world where death happens all the time, so vengeance isn't completely outrageous. Valar morghulis, after all. But for children of a prince, they seem to have no sense of the political ramifications of their planned actions. Furthermore, Ellaria Sand knew exactly what Oberyn was doing when he chose to volunteer to fight for Tyrion. She knew Oberyn was fighting a titan in the Mountain, and that his death was possible. Now she's all whiny about him dying? Skank.

Bitches need to listen to Prince Doran. The man's a Starfleet doctor for crying out loud.

While he was (and still is) vital to the books' progression, Barristan Selmy was completely expendable in the show, and I didn't feel particularly affected by his death (?).

I'm assuming he is in fact dead; he appears as such at the end of the episode, and the reactions around the Internet seem to confirm that. In the book, he fills the role of adviser after Jorah's departure, while Daario fills other..."roles." But in the show, he just seems much older, not as far as age, but in that he's always telling stories about how it used to be. And while they kept telling us how great a fighter he was, we saw him in all of one battle. And he died in it.

All of this leads into my final point...

This show should have 20-episode seasons.

Seasons 1 through 3 were conducted with the elegance of a painter. Season 4 was still good. Season 5 seems to be delivered with a hammer. And not a good hammer like, "Beric Dondarrion died but is alive again!" But like, "Here's information. Here's more information. This character likes this character but doesn't like this character. Facts facts joke facts."

Also, I mean, can we appreciate that it took them about four seasons to get through three and a half books, and now suddenly it looks like we're pushing the rest of book four and all of book five into season five of the show? This can't be by choice; certain stories go together, and there are certain logical ending points for each story within each season. So sometimes, you would need to rush to get to the end of a particular storyline "in time" in a ten episode season.

But beyond that, we're dealing with a lot of new characters, and a lot of old characters in new situations. A bit more exposition to really give us a three-dimensional impression of each character's current status would be wildly helpful; we cared about the Red Wedding because we'd had so much time with Robb and Catelyn. When Barristan Selmy died, it didn't feel like we were losing an important character; it felt like we were losing a guard, because that's all we've really seen of him. But if we had, say, 18 episodes this season, we could've spent more time watching a slow decay of order in the city of Meereen, and more time learning about Barristan, his motivations, what he cares about, and what kind of guy he is. As it is, we got an alley fight.

I feel like Robb Stark when he's talking to Edmure. "Now I have a mill."

Anyways, there are still a lot of interesting questions that give me and my fellow book readers stuff to discuss. We've got some endgames that we still don't know, like Tyrion, Stannis, etc., so the show still has a lot of ways it can re-invigorate me. But there's a lot that's getting swept away, and I'm not liking it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

GoT Delay

I got annihilated watching the Floyd Mayweather fight on Saturday night, and paid the iron price all day Sunday, so I'll be a little late in getting my episode discussion post up. Look for it Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Top Five 2015 Baseball/Fantasy Baseball Stories So Far

Baseball presents a wide variety of surprises every year; some good, some bad. But there are some stories that just blow you away, and we've had our share in the short season so far. Because baseball goes along so well with its fantasy counterpart (and because I can't help but look at every baseball story within a fantasy context), I'll include a little fantasy spin here as well, when applicable.

1. Are the Nationals actually this bad?

I mean, obviously they're not this bad. This pace would be unsustainable for a team that didn't have top-to-bottom the best rotation in baseball. But the Nationals are a team that a lot of people, including ESPN and myself, picked to win the World Series. After tonight's come-from-behind victory over the Braves, they're 8-13, tied for last in the NL East.

I still expect their rotation to bear out and to at least notch 80-85 wins, but this early stretch has shown just how foolish it was to trade Tyler Clippard. He may not be lighting it up for the A's, but the bullpen depth was already suspect, and Yunel Escobar is utterly replaceable.

Anybody still got Rafael Soriano's phone number?

2. Dee Gordon is teaching us all an important lesson.

All throughout the preseason, you couldn't take two steps without hearing someone talk about how Dee Gordon's production was incredible for a few weeks early in the season, and then just solid the rest of the way. Most fantasy players took that to mean that his production during those "down" months was the correct representation of his skillset. A few people (like myself) saw that short explosion and had dreams of Dee Gordon shaped sugarplums dancing in their heads.

But the truth is that Gordon, like every other baseball player, can't be identified as only his hills or only his valleys. He's all of them, the whole topography of his production. So while he's blasting off right now (#14 rated player in Yahoo), his final statistics for the season will probably be somewhere around where they were last year. And that works fine for me, as a Gordon owner and someone who's always hurting for steals.

3. Ace relievers always look better early in the season than they ought to.

Now, don't take this as an invitation to try to lowball me on Wade Davis, who I own in a couple of leagues. But when you look at the top rated pitchers in Yahoo (and presumably other systems), right now, way too many of them are highly productive relievers. Davis, Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Jeurys Familia, Joakim Soria, Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman, Brad Boxberger, and Yimi Garcia are all rated among the top 25 pitchers. That's almost 40% of the top end.

The imbalance is inherent with the system. We want relievers to be appropriately rated at the end of the season, so we want a certain number of saves out of our relief pitchers. That brings guys like Familia and Soria to the top. Wins are one of the hardest stats to accumulate, so the guys who have lucked into a couple of wins early look (statistically) like dominant starting pitchers, albeit with limited innings.

While certain guys like Davis, Miller, Robertson, and Chapman have a history of dominance, none of them should be traded for as if they're a top 15-20 pitcher.

4. Remember when we all thought the A's were crazy for trading Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie?

We were right.

5. The Orioles and White Sox are going to play in front of absolutely nobody today.

There's not any sort of fantasy spin for this story, but it's insane. Baltimore is in such a state of disarray that the audience can't be trusted to collect in close quarters and not erupt into anarchy. I'm hopeful that things will turn for the better and soon, but in the meantime, best wishes to the Orioles and to all Baltimoreans.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 3, "High Sparrow"

This time tomorrow, I'll either be relieved and planning out who's going to games 3 and 4 of the Caps/Rangers series, or I'll be a bowl of jelly and tears. In the meantime, Game of Thrones is a pleasant distraction.


It was nice to see Jorah Mormont back in the fray, even if it looks like he'll be playing the role of a quasi-villain in the near future.
I'm not sure if I mentioned earlier (and I'm not going to go look), but in the books we lose several months of Jorah, and he just appears later. I'm glad to see that we'll get some more substance using his character. Plus, it looks like he'll have a wholly new story to play out, which means it'll be brand spanking new to all viewers.

The beheading of Janos Slynt was brutal.
It was brutal in the book too, but it felt more necessary in the book. The approving look of Stannis afterward probably wasn't any comfort at all to Jon Snow, either. But to me (and feel free to disagree in the comments), it felt like an overreaction in its context. Jumping from insubordination to execution seems to skip a few steps of the punishment hierarchy.

Also, can I just say that being ordered to rebuild and take command of a castle is something that people in this world would dream to do? Winter's gonna be tough anywhere; winter being in charge might be slightly more fun.

Arya's storyline is still boring me.
To tears.

I'm digging the High Sparrow.
That's not to say that I'm "rooting" for the Sparrows; they seem like zealots, and I almost always find myself at odds with zealots. But after just one brief conversation with Cersei, I'm definitely interested in seeing how the character is played out in the show. He's got a powerful personality already, and his followers have already deposed the High Septon.

The progression of Sansa is enticing.
Not just because she's starting to look kind of hot, but because she's really the last Stark that the world knows about. She showed last season that she's more clever than we had realized when she came up with the half-story about Littlefinger and Lysa, and when Littlefinger encouraged her to avenge her family's deaths, Sansa definitely played up the look of a sinister mind at work.

Also, let me just say that when that old woman said, "The North remembers," I got my first ever murder boner. I'm a fan of comeuppance, as I know I've said before. There are other snippets from the books that I hope will fan the flames of vengeance, but just that hint was a good spark.

2023 In Review - Movies

Along with TV shows, this year was a pretty good year for me with movies. I have a lifetime of all-time classics that I've never seen, a...