Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NHL Rookie Of The Year? Not So Fast!

The 2013-14 NHL rookie class has been phenomenal.  Guys like Hampus Lindholm, Olli Määttä, and Torey Krug have become regulars on the defensive rotation for their teams.  And a fantastic new batch of goal-scorers has arrived in the forms of Mark Scheifele, Sean Monahan, Tomáš Hertl, Tyler Johnson, Ondřej Palát, and Nathan MacKinnon.  Rookies also left their mark on the goal-tending position with Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Martin Jones, and Eddie Lack all playing valuable minutes for their teams.

Needless to say, the next batch of NHL stars is already making its mark on the league.  But who, for the 2013-14 season, is the rookie of the year?  As a San Jose Sharks fan, I was very pleased to note that Hertl seemed to have this award in the bag early in the season until an unlucky hit sidelined him for the rest of the season.  Since then, Nathan MacKinnon seems to have cemented his place atop the rookie rankings with an impressive 24 goals and 39 assists for a total of 63 points.  And a (+/-) rating of +20 for the season doesn't hurt either.  But hold up there!  Yes, MacKinnon has had a spectacular rookie campaign, and yes, he warrants the attention that he's garnering; but if this were my vote, I'd put Ondřej Palát in line for the Calder Trophy.

Palát finished the season with 59 points to the tune of 23 goals and 36 assists, seemingly placing him below MacKinnon at first glance.  But let's keep digging into the numbers.  MacKinnon had a nice +20 for the season, but Palát blew that away with a +32!  Palát also averaged more time on ice (TOI) than MacKinnon did.  Palát has a  much more accurate shot that MacKinnon does with a 13.9% shooting percentage on 165 shots to MacKinnon's 10.0% on 241 shots.  Palát also averaged more shifts per game at 23.5 vs. 21.2.

But the biggest factor is who they play for.  MacKinnon's Colorado Avalanche have come out of nowhere to win the Central division after finishing near the bottom of the league in the previous year.  They've been good all year long especially with Semyon Varlamov in goal winning a league-best 41 games.  Life is good when you have good goal-tending.  But how about Palát's Tampa Bay Lightning?  In the off-season they lost one of their all-time greats in Vincent Lecavalier to free agency, before the trade deadline they dealt their other great, Martin St. Louis, to the Rangers, and they lost their best up-and-coming player, Steven Stamkos, to injury for 57 games.  Ben Bishop was primed for a breakout year in goal, but he's dealt with injuries all year long.  Their three best players were out and Tampa had turmoil in goal most of the year, but they still made the playoffs?  Due in large part to Palát, yes!  It would not be fair to not also mention that Tyler Johnson has also been a great rookie for Tampa and Valtteri Filppula's instant success has helped to give them some much-needed consistency.  But there is no denying that Palát has led the way for Tampa through what could have been a trainwreck of a season. 

By the numbers and by the tone of the season, I think it's pretty clear that Ondřej Palát should take home the Calder Memorial Trophy in Vegas this year.  The problem is...no one else agrees.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Peyton Manning's Anti-Legacy

He's one of the nicest and most humble players you'll ever meet.  At age 37, he has to be one of the hardest-working football players ever in order to achieve the success he's had.  This season he set NFL records for most yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in a season.  After Super Bowl XLVIII, Richard Sherman was on his way to the press conference, limping on crutches, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.  When he turned, it was Peyton Manning asking how he was.  Even in defeat, Manning is classy and gracious.  His attitude and demeanor are those that you look for in people; he has what it takes to win championships and create a legacy that might never be equaled; but he hasn't.

The regular season is merely the qualification round for the playoffs.  If you don't get to the playoffs, this year is a failure.  If your team gets to the playoffs but doesn't win games, it's a failure.  And if your team loses the Super Bowl, it's a failure.  The Super Bowl loser may as well have the number one pick in the NFL draft...there are no moral victories.  Peyton is on his way to putting up the most prestigious regular season numbers in NFL history.  But those don't really matter do they?  Do fans and teams want regular season records or Super Bowl titles?  

Peyton HAS won a Super Bowl!  He beat the Chicago Bears in XLI and won the game MVP.  Now a Super Bowl is a Super Bowl, but let me put this in perspective: he beat Rex Grossman.  Um, who?  Grossman in that game had one of the lowest QBR's in the history of the Super Bowl at 7.1  Peyton's QBR last night was a paltry 24.4, which is the lowest since Grossman's game.  Since he beat the Bears, Peyton is 0-2 in Super Bowls, and was part of the reason for each loss by throwing a pick-six in both.

The conclusion of this post is this: players don't win championships, teams do.  Number 1 offenses have gotten to the Super Bowl before, but Denver's scored a record-low 8 points.  A more successful quarterback by far was Terry Bradshaw, who had 212 touchdowns in the regular season and 210 interceptions.  And yet, he won 4 Super Bowls.  Success isn't measured by what you do in all your games, it's measured by what you do when it counts.  And when it counts, Peyton is a mediocre 1-2. 

While he may be the nicest, most respectable quarterback the league has ever had, he hasn't created a legendary legacy.  His legacy is one of big game chokes and failed opportunities.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snow Game

The NFL was born in the snow.

The Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona, but not until 1988), the Baltimore Colts, the Detroit Lions, and the San Francisco 49ers...ten teams that were founded prior to 1955 and formed the nucleus of the modern-day NFL.  What stands out about these teams?  Nine of them are cold-weather teams.

In light of Super Bowl XLVIII's cold weather forecast, it seems as though most people are bemoaning the fact that there may be snow on the ground for the biggest sporting event of the year.  Snow: that frozen uncontrollable element of the world that tests men to see whether or not they really were born to be football players

Is it the fans people are worried about?  The idea of having to wear a coat and bring a blanket can hinder some fans, but these are literal fair-weather fans.  Real fans don't care; they root and travel wherever their teams do.  When the Ice Bowl was played, fans still packed Lambeau Field to see their Packers win.  Toughen up, Buttercup!  It's football.

Maybe we think the teams won't play well in the snow and the team who deserves to win won't.  Well, if you can't gameplan for the weather as well as the other team, you don't deserve to win, period.  It's part of the game; teams win in the snow every season.  It's tough in this pass-happy league, but it's doable and victories become that much sweeter.

The real issue is that we've become soft and accustomed to perfect conditions.  We like New Orleans Saints football: inside a dome where our team can set astronomical records and get lots of publicity without that annoying factor called "weather".  We don't want our games to come down to a fumble caused by slippery conditions!  We want the other team to beat us, not for us to beat ourselves.  And yet, that's where football was created to be played: outside.

Of the 47 previous Super Bowls, 30 teams or 64% of the winners were cold-weather teams.  63 of the 94 teams to make an appearance in the Super Bowl, or 67% were cold-weather teams.  That's two-thirds of the time, folks.  Teams who learn to play in inclement weather and uncontrollable adversity learn to win.

When I learned the Super Bowl bid was won by MetLife Stadium for this game three years ago, I was intrigued by it; now I can't wait for it.  Last time Seattle made it to the Super Bowl, they complained about also playing the men in black and white, let's see how they tackle that other enemy in white.