Thursday, June 08, 2006

So this is what I've been reduced to...

The NBA Finals are all I've got.

The Cardinals stink worse than a dead possum on the side of the road in an August heatwave. Roadkill's a good description for this sorry bunch. Their starting pitching is horrible, giving up an average of about five runs per game. Their middle relief has been somewhat encouraging, though none of these soft tossers will ever remind anyone of Eric Gagne or Billy Wagner. If I start to talk about Isringhausen, I might fly into a Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk rage and smash my computer before I get a chance to upload this post.

Bill DeWitt apologist Al "Mad Sycophant" Hrabosky says Cardinals fans should support Izzy. What on earth for? I think walking the bases loaded every time he pitches warrants a little hostility on the part of fans. Speaking of DeWitt, he's not letting Jocketty do a darn thing to improve this team as long as they're selling out the new ballpark in the middle of the week. The only thing rich people respond to is a decline in the bottom line. Cut this guy off from his cash cow and watch how fast Walt makes a trade.

At this point, wouldn't the NHL be better off going to strictly pay-per-view? This awful Stanley Cup finals is going to be a sweep--and a blowout sweep at that--that only a handful of people will (or even can) watch. The Outdoor Life Network? Are you kidding me? The channel that deer hunters turn to when they want to watch deer hunting?

By the way, it's easy to slam marginal television sports like hunting and my personal kryptonite, poker. What more disturbing to me is the proliferation of these kinds of shows. It seems like every other channel is showing some poker tournament. I mean, what kind of a pointless existence does someone have to lead to watch a televised poker tournament. It's four hours of watching people who natural selection evidently overlooked stare vacantly at each other and occasionally push stacks of plastic disks forward on the table. This crap makes "My Dinner With Andre" look like "Die Hard."

At least I've got Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN2, right? Wrong--we're into something like the 13th week of French Open tennis coverage in the morning. Tennis? Are you kidding me? The men are soulless robots, clones without personalities who make Ben Stein look like Crispin Glover. The women? Skinny Russian teens (these girls are hot? Only if you like anorexic junior high girls) against Belgian dwarves? I remember when we had Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Nastase and Ashe on the men's side. At this point, even a blank technician like Ivan Lendl has ten times the charisma of a cipher like Roger Federer. On the women's side, there was Martina, Chrissy, Billy Jean...icons known only by their first names. Now we're stuck with a never-ending series of unpronouncable European adolescents. And how long does this tournament last, anyway? At this point, it's longer than the NHL playoffs, which started around Valentine's Day and might end by the 4th of July.

That leaves the NBA. Of course, I am giddy about the prospect of the Miami/Dallas matchup--old master Riley coaching against young wizard Avery Johnson; Shaq vs. Dirk; Wade vs. Terry; Mark Cuban freaking out on the sidelines. This is going to be the most entertaining NBA Finals series since MJ, Scottie and the Worm were playing for the Zen Master in Chicago.

Man, I'm glad there are two teams playing who I would be equally happy to see win, because at this point, the NBA is all I've got.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tuck gives us his Stanley Cup preview

A special treat today in The Sandlot—Hockey cartoonist and frequent sarcastic comment contributor “Tuck” offers his take on the Stanley Cup Finals, which started tonight.

Q: Edmonton Oilers vs. Carolina Hurricane--why should the casual or curious hockey fan tune into this matchup (assuming they are one of the 27 households who get the OLN cable channel)? What is most intriguing about this matchup?

A: Well, first off, can someone please explain to me who, exactly, is supposed to be the "casual" hockey fan? Doesn't this marginalize hockey fans (proper)? Doesn't this stink like rhetorical strategy on the part of ESPN/ABC to extort a more favorable TV deal from the league? You never hear anyone talk about the "casual NBA fan," or the "casual pro rasslin' fan"...but I digress...

Given the STL-centric nature of your space, I'd say there's LOTS for you (and your readers) to find intriguing:

1) First off, we have the "Count the Ex-Blues": On the left, we have Rolofson, MacTavish, and Prongs; on the right, we have Head-i-case, Rod the Bod, Stillman, and Doug Weight. And that's just off the top of my head. The more industrious fan will want to research this further, and likely turn it into a drinking game of some sort.

2) Related to the "Count the Ex-Blues," there's "Who Do You Hate More"? Finding someone to cheer for in this series is going to be a serious test of the STL hockey fan's resiliance. My memory isn't so addled as to not remember Head-i-case's conduct, both as a Blue, and then immediately in the wake of the "Trade-him-make-the-Janney-For-Nedved-debacle-go-away" Fiasco (as a Vancouver Canuck). Then there's Cory "You Don't Wanna Pay Me What I Want? Fine, I'm Going To Tampa and Winning a Cup!" Stillman. And all of us have heard the "Hi, I'm God, but you can call me Chris Pronger" stories. So you (eventually) have to go positive, and cheer FOR Doug Weight (not to mention, he's likely coming back home to the Note next season). I figure if JoeJoe Murphy has HIS name on the cup (and just who exactly are they turning away then??), then Weight can have his there. Not to mention the thought of Weight knocking out his former team to get there (in Edmonton) is just too much. And yes, ALL this is in spite of the sign I saw on TV in Carolina last night, "Redneck Hockey."

3) Another fun game: Spot Kristi Yamaguchi. (She's apparently married to Head-i-case.)

Q: Break down the goalie matchup--we have Carolina rookie Cam Ward going against Edmonton veteran Dwayne Roloson--who has the edge, and why?

A: Gotta tell ya, I think this series has less to do with the goalie matchup than it does with how effective the Carolina forecheck is, versus how effective the Oilers D will be.

On the other hand, the Canes could just employ the same tactics they used against my adopted Sabres...if you can't beat 'em, injure 60% of their D. (But I'm not bitter or anything. Well, not much.)

Q: How much will Edmonton's long layoff affect their performance in the first couple of games, especially since they will be on the road? Does this give Carolina a big advantage?

A: Apparently they've been in New York practicing for the last know, that time difference between Alberta and the NEUS is SO FREAKIN who knows. Personally, I think they're just there so that Michael Peca can show off all his favorite places from when he played for the Islanders for 20 minutes...

Q: How much will the coaching matchup—Peter Laviolette for Carolina vs. Craig MacTavish (still without a helmet) for Edmonton--affect the outcome of the series?

A: Well, no one will ever confuse either of these guys for Sun Tzu. But I think a pretty nice sub-plot is the news that (again, reportedly) Laviolette has been offered the GM/Coach dual role by the New York Islanders (them AGAIN??)...all while trying to steer his team to the Cup. Yikes.

Q: Which team will raise the Cup this year and why?

A: The short answer is Carolina, b/c God won't allow the #8 seed to skate away with the hardware. On the other hand, there's the issue of that "Redneck Hockey" sign (but again, it's not like Atlanta or Nashville are in the Finals. And the league already awarded the cup to Dallas in 99, so it's about time a Southern franchise, you know, actually WON it). (Did someone say "bitter"? Again, not me.) But the bottom line is that I just think Carolina is the deeper team (and, no, not b/c Barry Melrose and/or his mullet says so).

Q: As a transplant to the Buffalo, NY region, were you disappointed with the Sabres falling short, or did they overachieve this year? What did you like and dislike about their team?

A: First off, let me just point out that it's less than 24 hours since my other guys were eliminated, but I'm not bitter. Well, not a lot. Now, onto the disappointment: A little disappointed, I thought they had a really good chance to win it all this year, but you'll recall (from personal correspondence) that I had the Sabres as a Final Four team at the beginning of the season (with Ottawa as the other from the East, so there you go). This flew in the face of ALL the alleged experts (like Ted Whatisisname from USA Today online, for example, who must have dug out all his predictions from 2003 and just re-submitted them). Anyone who was surprised by Buffalo this season (and then continually went out of their way to reiterate that "'no one' saw them coming" throughout the season) just wasn't paying attention to the Rochester Americans (AHL) in 2004-2005, and certainly couldn't have been checking out earlier in the season. This team was custom-built from the beginning of the lockout for this kind of CBA, and anything less than the Conference finals would have been a shortfall. And I will maintain til my last breath, that if 60% (that's right, all but FOUR) of their defense hadn't been injured, the Sabres coulda/shoulda/woulda been starting on Monday (instead of Bret Freakin Head-i-case)...

Q: As a fellow Blues fan, here's what really sticks in my craw about these finals: Carolina features ex-Blues Rod Brind'amour, Doug Weight, Cory Stillman and Bret Hedican; Edmonton is led by the consensus best player in the NHL Chris Pronger (who the Blues traded for what, a six-pack of Moosehead Beer?). What is it about the Blues that they can't keep quality players, and what would be an appropriate punishment for Mark Sauer and Larry Pleau-must-geau?

A: You forgot Rolofson and MacTavish. You owe me a round (or something). I don't know that we should get too upset about Stillman or Hedican -- it wasn't like they set the world on fire when they were here. I look at those guys like Andy Van Slyke -- they were NEVER going to excel with the home team, but you can see how a change of scenery would do/did them good.

I tend to blame Weight and Pronger on Bill Laurie. Which is why I'll never spend another dollar at Wal Mart. Ever.

And Rod The Bod? Jeez, it's been such a long's kinda like seeing your ex-girlfriend from highschool starring in a Cinemax softcore Friday night special, isn't it? Yeah, everyone can see she might've been hot at one time (tho the years haven't been exactly kind), and, yeah, everyone knows she "got away from you," and yeah, she's "famous," know, it's Cinemax (or Raleigh-Durham, in this case).

As for Pleaumustgeau and Sauer...that's simple. They have to sit and watch DVR of every minute of every game from the 2005-2006 season...(so you can see: Sadistic, yes, bitter, no.)

Q: What do you think about new Blues owner Dave Checketts, and what is your outlook for the Note next season?

A: Haven't seen anything from Checketts yet, so it's wait and see. But if the spies are telling the truth, we're gonna like what he has in store (John Davidson, anyone? HE knows something about goalie!) (insert your favorite Chris Osgood joke here)....

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why we must have a Miami vs. Dallas final...

Because the prospect of watching Dirk Nowitzki going up against Shaq is just too good to pass up. Of course, even though both teams are just one win away from the NBA Finals, the prospect of dual game sevens is distressing for a few reasons.

In the East, Miami needs to close out Detroit at home in game six. I don't like their chances if they have to go back to Detroit for a decisive game seven. In the same vein, even though a West game seven would be back in Dallas if Phoenix wins game six at home, the Suns have shown that they can steal a road game anywhere, and they've already won game sevens in their two previous series.

The possible Miami-Dallas matchup is intriguing because of the quality of their star players and their ability to play at both ends of the court. With Phoenix-Detroit, what you would get is fast-break offense against shut-down defense, which spells abject boredom (blowouts or low-scoring snoozers) for the casual NBA Finals fan such as myself.

For casual fans, it's all about the star power. Phoenix has Steve Nash, who is Canadian, which means he has about as much charisma as Bob and/or Doug MacKenzie (take off, eh! no, you take off, you hoser!). Who else plays for Phoenix? Yeah, that's my point. Detroit has a great starting five if you appreciate team defense, but they don't have any star power at all. Come on, does any kid in America really have a Rasheed Wallace poster on their wall? I don't think so.

With Dallas, you have Nowitzki, who looks like Lurch's little brother and sounds like Schwarzenegger's little brother, an absolute freak of nature--a seven-foot white guy who moves quickly and gracefully and can play in the paint, grab rebounds, make free throws and hit the three. He's one of the most exciting players to watch since Jordan was with the Bulls or when Kobe still had Shaq.

Speaking of Shaq, he and Dwyane Wade are one of the best current tandems in the league. Add in all the other "NBA Greatest Hits" talent--Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker--as well as Machiavelli-in-Armani coach Pat Riley, and Miami's easily the most interesting team in the league.

Finally, you want Dallas in because the prospect of watching David Stern handing the championship trophy to Mavs owner Mark Cuban is just to delicious to let slip away. Here's hoping Dallas and Miami both take care of business this weekend and give us an NBA Finals that's actually worth watching.