Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Capital offense

Back on March 31, I wrote about the possibilities of first-round upsets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, focusing on the matchups between first-seed and eighth-seed teams. The focus was on the chances of the Montreal Canadiens, who squeaked into the playoffs, taking out Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who won the President's Trophy for the NHL's best regular-season record.

On paper, it was a complete mismatch. But as the legendary King Clancy used to say, "Hockey's a slippery game -- it's played on ice." And so it was for the Caps, who have slid into the abyss of summer after being eliminated by the upstart Habs.

It was truly a monumental collapse; not only did the Caps become only the ninth 1-seed to be upset by an 8-seed in 34 series under the current NHL playoff format (26.5 percent), but became the first 1-seed in league history to lose a first-round matchup after holding a 3-1 series lead, as the Canadiens stormed back to win the final three games.

The Caps also became the fifth President's Trophy winner to succumb in the first round since the NHL moved to its current playoff system in 1994. That, after scoring a league-leading 318 goals during the regular season (Vancouver was a distant second with 272 goals) and netting a league-high 79 power-play goals.

In their seven-game loss to the Canadiens, the Caps were a woeful 1-for-33 on the power play (3.0 percent) and scored only one goal in each of the last three games of the series, all won by Montreal.

The series was clearly divided into two parts; through the first four games, when Washington took a 3-1 series lead, they averaged 4.75 goals, as Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak had a pedestrian .880 save percentage (139 saves in 158 shots). But in Games 5 through 7, Halak was a hero as he stood on his head for a .978 save percentage and allowed only three goals in 134 shots.

There will be much finger-pointing in the nation's capital, most in the direction of Ovechkin, who has yet to translate his pulsating, exhilarating talent and style of play into postseason success, and has failed to make a dent into the territory firmly held by Sidney Crosby.

"There wasn't much I could tell them," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said in the interview room. "I told them I feel exactly like they did. I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row. We all feel as low as we can possibly feel, and we'll meet in a day and we'll discuss the shoulda beens, the coulda beens at that time."

Perhaps Washington forward Jason Chimera said it best.

"If someone came to your work and stepped on your desk or punched you in the head, that's how I feel," Chimera told "You come for a long playoff run, and it doesn't happen. It's tough. Right now, it's weird."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The curious case of Terry Crisp

On Monday, Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement as an NHL coach, thus laying cement on his legacy as one of only 14 men in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup as a player and then as a head coach.

The list is awe-inspiring, containing some of the sport's most legendary and mythical names -- Jack Adams, Toe Blake, Hap Day, Lester Patrick, Al Arbour and Larry Robinson. In fact, of those 14, no less than 13 have a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Which leads us to the strange scenario involving Terry Crisp (above) -- the only man in NHL annals to win a Stanley Cup as a player -- twice with the "Broad Street Bully" Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s -- and as a coach, with the 1988-89 Calgary Flames -- who is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Crisp played 11 seasons in the NHL with four teams, and never scored more than 13 goals in any campaign. He was an effective defensive forward, who was once second in the league in short-handed goals, and faded a bit into the background on a team known for the offensive firepower of Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach and Bill Barber, the pugilistic prowess of Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly and Andre "Moose" Dupont, and the stellar goaltending of Bernie Parent.

Crisp retired in 1977, coached in Canadian Juniors and the minor leagues, and was named head coach of the Calgary Flames in 1987. He led Calgary to three first-place finishes, including the Flames' hoisting of the Cup in 1989, a team bolstered by 51-goal-scorers Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk. Despite the team's success, Crisp bickered with some of his key players, and he was dismissed as coach in 1990. He was the first coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, and coached the team for six seasons, never finishing higher than fifth place. Crisp is now a color analyst for Nashville Predators games.

Crisp is the co-holder of another NHL playoff record that's a statistical oddity; until last year, he was the only player in league history to play in the most Game 7s without a loss -- six. Alex Kovalev of the Canadiens tied that mark last season.

Here's the complete list of those who won Stanley Cups as players and coaches:
Name / Cups as Player / Cups as Coach
Jack Adams* / 2 (Tor. Arenas, Ottawa / 3 (Detroit)
Al Arbour* / 3 (Chicago, Toronto) / 4 (NY Islanders)
Toe Blake* / 3 (Mtl. Maroons, Montreal) / 8 (Montreal)
Frank Boucher* / 2 (NY Rangers) / 1 (NY Rangers)
Terry Crisp / 2 (Philadelphia) / 1 (Calgary)
Hap Day* / 1 (Toronto) / 5 (Toronto)
Cy Denneny* / 4 (Ottawa, Boston) / 1 (Boston)
Eddie Gerrard* / 2 (Ottawa) / 1 (Mtl. Maroons)
Tom Johnson* / 6 (Montreal) / 1 (Boston)
Jacques Lemaire* / 8 (Montreal) / 1 (New Jersey)
Lester Patrick* / 1 (NY Rangers) / 2 (NY Rangers)
Joe Primeau* / 1 (Toronto) / 1 (Toronto)
Larry Robinson* / 6 (Montreal) / 1 (New Jersey)
Cooney Weiland* / 2 (Boston) / 1 (Boston)

* Hall of Fame

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The NFL QB domino effect

Quarterbacks were a hot topic all weekend -- from Sam Bradford being selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, to Tim Tebow going in the first round, to Jimmy Clausen waiting until the second round, to Colt McCoy going in the third, to the Raiders filling their hole at the position by trading for Jason Campbell, the erstwhile Redskin.

So hot, in fact, that when the NFL kicks off the 2010 regular season, no less than eight teams -- one-quarter of the league -- will be opening the campaign with new signal-callers. The biggest name that will go under center in a different uniform is Donovan McNabb, who was dealt from the Eagles to the Redskins in a rare trade between division rivals April 4. But there will be similar scenarios all over the league's landscape next season, with each move causing its own countermove -- a domino effect of sorts.

When Washington acquired McNabb, Campbell suddenly became expendable, and he was thus shipped to the Raiders on Saturday, ending the brief and pathetic JaMarcus Russell era (or is that error?) in Oakland. Campbell is also expected to start ahead of Derek Anderson, who signed with the Raiders as a free agent after finishing last season with the Browns.

Cleveland, in turn, drafted McCoy in the eighth round this weekend, but the Browns were quick to state McCoy will not start in his rookie season; that duty is expected to be performed by Jake Delhomme, who was beset by injuries and poor play with the Panthers next season.

Carolina took advantage of an opportunity by selecting Clausen in the second round of the draft. The Panthers, who finished last season with Matt Moore at QB, aren't tipping their hand, but with head coach John Fox in the final year of his contract, there will be plenty of pressure from Charlotte fans and media to give Clausen a shot.

In St. Louis, the Rams are trying not to put similar pressure on Bradford, but it would be shocking if he is not behind center on the opening play from scrimmage Sept. 12 against Arizona. The immortal Keith Null was the Rams QB in their final game last season. As for the Cardinals, Kurt Warner's retirement opens the door for Matt Leinart, known more for his playboy reputation off the field than for his performance on it.

And the Lions will turn their reins back to Matthew Stafford, whose rookie season was hampered by knee and shoulder injuries. Veteran Daunte Culpepper, who played out the string last year, is an unsigned free agent.

Here's a closer look at the NFL QB carousel:

Team / Starter, Week 17, 2009 / Projected starter, 2010
Arizona / Kurt Warner / Matt Leinart
Carolina / Matt Moore / Jimmy Clausen
Cleveland / Derek Anderson / Jake Delhomme
Detroit / Daunte Culpepper / Matthew Stafford
Oakland / JaMarcus Russell / Jason Campbell
Philadelphia / Donovan McNabb / Kevin Kolb
St. Louis / Keith Null / Sam Bradford
Washington / Jason Campbell / Donovan McNabb

Saturday, April 24, 2010

For McCoy, third round a charm

Pop quiz, hotshot: What does Colt McCoy, the newest member of the Cleveland Browns, have in common with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton?

If you said that all were selected in the third round of the NFL Draft, you get a gold star. And after much consternation and hand-wringing in the McCoy camp after the former Texas QB fell to the 85th overall pick, he's clearly sitting among very good company.

It could well turn out that Cleveland is the ideal place for McCoy; he will get a chance to compete for the starting job with free agent Jake Delhomme -- whose skills declined last season with the Panthers -- and former Seahawks backup Seneca Wallace. Considering the new Browns president is famed quarterback taskmaster Mike Holmgren -- who presided over the careers of Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck -- that's even better.

There have been a host of successful quarterbacks in NFL history who fell to the third round. Leading the list are Hall of Famers Montana (49ers, 1979), Fouts (Chargers, 1973) and Tarkenton (Vikings, 1961). Others in the club include Matt Schaub (Falcons, 2004), Neil O'Donnell (Steelers, 1990), Jeff Hostetler (Giants, 1984), Danny White (Cowboys, 1974), Ken Anderson (Bengals, 1971), John Hadl (Chargers, 1962) and Don Meredith (Cowboys, 1960).

Not too shabby.

"We love his leadership. We love his track record," Holmgren told the Associated Press. "He runs well. He's intelligent. He's fiery. He's everything you look for in the position."

"I told (Holmgren and Browns coach Eric Mangini) I can't wait to be a Cleveland Brown and that we're going to win a lot of games," McCoy said. "Cleveland has a little orange in their jerseys just like UT.

"It's a perfect fit."


After the fourth overall pick of the Draft Thursday night, there is now an alternate following line to the above, with apologies to Louis Gossett, Jr., who uttered something very close to that in "Officer and a Gentleman."

Consider that when the Redskins selected OT Trent Williams of Oklahoma with the No. 4 overall selection, it marked the first time in NFL Draft history -- which spans 75 years -- that three players from the same college were taken in the first four picks in the Draft. That, after the Rams took QB Sam Bradford No. 1 overall and the Bucs made DT Gerald McCoy their man at No. 3 overall.

Kudos to the Sooners, who can now boast something no other school can. There had been two instances when a college had three players selected with the top five picks of the NFL Draft; it happened in 1967 (the first NFL-AFL joint draft), when Michigan State's Bubba Smith (1st, by the Colts), Clint Jones (2nd), by the Vikings) and George Webster (5th, by the Oilers ) were selected. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1946, when Notre Dame's Boley Dancewicz (1st, by the Boston Yanks), Johnny Lujack (4th, by the Bears) and George Connor (5th, by the Giants) were tabbed.

Michigan State's impact in the 1967 Draft was even greater, given the fact Gene Washington was selected by the Vikings at No. 8, which means the Spartans accounted for four of the first eight picks.

There have been two other occasions when players from the same school were taken in the first two picks of the Draft; in 2000, Penn State's Courtney Brown (1st, by the Browns), and LaVar Arrington (2nd, by the Redskins) were selected, in 1984, Nebraska's Irving Fryar (No. 1, by the Patriots) and Dean Steinkuhler (No. 2, by the Oilers) were tabbed.

The 2010 Draft order is significant for another reason; when Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh was taken by the Lions with the No, 2 overall pick, it marked only the second time in Draft history that four players from the same conference -- in this case the Big 12 -- went in the first four selections.

The only time that had ever happened was in 1945, when the opening four picks were all players from SEC schools -- Charley Trippi (Georgia), Paul Duhart (Florida), Joe Renfroe (Tulane, which left the SEC in 1966) and Eddie Prokop (Georgia Tech).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Just sin, baby: Raiders good fit for Big Ben

According to, the Steelers are considering trading Ben Roethlisberger in the wake of the NFL suspending the embattled QB six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Reportedly, the Steelers have reached out to teams that own top-10 selections in Thursday night's opening round of the NFL Draft to gauge interest in a deal for Roethlisberger, with at least one team, and perhaps more, discussing the possibilities of such a trade internally.

It's pretty easy to figure out which teams Pittsburgh might have reached out to, and it's even easier to identify who might be the "at least one team" seriously thinking about making a move for the embattled QB who fell from grace with a crash.

Don't be surprised if before the eighth-overall selection in the first round, the team owning that pick sends a note up to the stage in New York, and commissioner Roger Goodell says, "There has been a trade."

Which would mean that Roethlisberger would still be wearing black, but would trade the gold trim of Pittsburgh for the silver trim of the Oakland Raiders.

Think of it -- Al Davis' traditional haven for miscreants and outlaws would welcome yet another one to the fold. And I'll bet as we speak, Tom Cable is punching out an assistant coach who disagrees with the logic of such a move.

The Raiders are one of four teams with Top 10 positioning and a glaring need at quarterback (more about the other three in a minute), and what better way for the angry and embarrassed Steelers to expel Roethlisberger to purgatory than to ship him to Oakland? Remember, the Raiders were part of the conversation to acquire Donovan McNabb before the Eagles inexplicably traded their QB to the Redskins. And Roethlisberger -- even with a six-game suspension -- would probably put up better numbers in 10 games than the Raiders' current QB threesome of Charlie Frye, celebrated draft bust JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski could dream of in a full season.

Consider that Roethlisberger passed for 4,328 yards and 26 TDs last season, while Frye, Russell and Gradkowski threw for 2,875 yards and 10 TDs COMBINED.

Oakland brought free agent Kyle Boller into the mix to compete for a spot, but on his best day, Boller could never come close to what Big Ben can do on even an average day.

The other three teams with Top 10 Draft picks that could consider adding Roethlisberger are the Bucs (No. 3 overall), Browns (No. 7) and Bills (No. 9).

Tampa Bay's QB is youngster Josh Freeman (1,857 yards, 10 TDs in 2009), and Cleveland's anointed starter is Derek Anderson (888 yards, 3 TDs) after Brady Quinn was traded to the Broncos. Buffalo has Brian Brohm, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards, who combined for 2,737 yards and 15 TDs.

But Ralph Wilson, who has owned the Bills since their inception, is probably too conservative to consider such a move. The Bucs are a bad team, but their owner, Malcolm Glazer, may be too focused on his other, more profitable sports venture -- Manchester United -- to give the American version of Big Ben much thought, and Browns owner Randy Lerner has come under much scrutiny on the shores of Lake Erie after the perhaps-too-quick hiring of Eric Mangini as coach last year, and may be a bit gun-shy.

All of which adds up to a very possible scenario come Thursday night that could make Roethlisberger a Raider.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thunder not in forecast

We're not suggesting that Kevin Durant back down from Kobe Bryant when the Thunder takes on the Lakers in their first-round NBA Playoff series beginning Sunday. But a quick look at the past performance charts says the boys from LA shouldn't have to worry about bringing their Wellies and yellow slickers to the Staples Center. Besides, it never rains in Southern California anyway, right?

On one of my recent posts, I wrote about how eighth-seeded teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs have about a 25-percent success rate in their opening-round matchups against the top-seeded clubs. In the NBA, the chances of a first-round upset are far less -- only 5.76 percent.

Consider that since the NBA adopted its current postseason format in 1984, the No. 8 seed has beaten the No. 1 seed only three times in 52 series (27 seasons times two series in each playoff year).

It hasn't happened since 2007, when the Baron Davis-led Warriors stunned the Mavericks in six games in the Western Conference first round -- the only time this has occurred in the current best-of-seven opening round format.

The other two first-round upsets were registered by the 1994 Denver Nuggets, led by Dikembe Mutombo, shocking the Seattle SuperSonics 3-2 in a best-of-five series; and the 1999 Knicks, powered by Latrell Sprewell in a 3-2 ousting of the Miami Heat 3-2 in their best-of-five meeting. That Knicks squad remains the only eighth-seeded team to reach the NBA Finals, where they lost to Tim Duncan and the Spurs, the first of San Antonio's four NBA titles.

Home-court advantage in the NBA has traditionally been formidable, mostly because of the proximity of the fans to the court and the extra intensity the postseason brings. And clearly, the numbers are even more sobering, going a long way to quiet the talk of upsets. So while the Thunder and their Eastern Conference brethren, the Chicago Bulls -- who take on the top-seeded Orlando Magic -- will definitely show up this weekend, chances are we won't be seeing them for very long.


Speaking of sobering numbers, the darkness inside Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and the Izod Center is especially so this year, for this marks the first time that four of the five New York Metropolitan-area professional teams failed to make the playoffs in the NHL or NBA. The Rangers, Islanders, Knicks and Nets will all be watching the postseason on TV; since the Devils came on the scene in 1983, there had never been a playoff year when more than three teams from Gotham did not qualify for the playoffs. Certainly, baseball season began early in the Big Apple. Given the Mets' sputtering start, maybe it isn't too early for New York sports fans to look ahead to the beginning of NFL training camp.


Saw that the TV informercial "voodoo priestess" Miss Cleo -- remember her? -- was recently on ESPN giving her forecast on what team uber free agent LeBron James would sign with next season. She exhorted the host to "throw away" the Knicks and Bulls jerseys she was holding up before exclaiming that King James' next home will be in Washington, with the Wizards.

But being that "Miss Cleo," who spoke with a Jamaican accent, was outed as a native of L.A. and whose employer was shuttered due to, shall we say, less-than-scrupulous business ethics -- you may want to draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rewriting Tiger's tale

Over my morning coffee, I wanted to take a closer look at Tiger Woods' scores after the first two rounds of The Masters. So I was Googling "Tiger Woods Masters," but never got that far.

Say this much for Google analytics -- they sure are topical. After typing in "Woods," the autofill provided several directions for me to click, including "scandal," "affair," "jokes" and "women."

Go ahead, try it yourself. I'll wait.

After a chuckle, I then continued. The M in "Masters" led me to "mistress," "mistress count," "mistress list," "mother-in-law" and "marriage."

Let me propose a different direction. How about "masterful" or "mind-boggling?" Because if Woods, only two strokes off the lead halfway through The Masters, finishes with one of his patented closing charges to win this thing, this HAS to be the sports story of the year.

It's simply amazing that after 14 months away from the game, with everything he has done and been through, to come back -- at Augusta, no less, where he has won four times and finished second twice -- and be lurking so close to the lead? I mean, how much better is this guy than anybody else out there?

I've said this from day one -- obviously, the first tournament back, no matter when or where it took place, was going to be a feeding frenzy. Granted, Tiger's pre-Masters press conference was an attempt at closure (as opposed to his robotic statement a while back). Yes, it should have taken place a lot sooner, which would have stemmed all the tabloid crap we've seen for months.

Isn't that crisis management 101? Admit a mistake, apologize profusely, promise it'll never happen again and take steps to ensure it doesn't.

Anyway, once Tiger wins his first tournament back -- and there's a very real chance that will happen this weekend -- we'll forget about his infidelity and transgressions. Let's face it, we have very short memories, especially when it comes to our athletic heroes. Does anybody even remember the similar scenario revolving around Kobe Bryant a few years ago? Even in the height of the scandal surrounding Tiger, I don't recall any references to Kobe. How about all the drug users and other miscreants who have gotten several chances to be welcomed back to the sports society, Pac-Man Jones notwithstanding? I mean, wasn't Ray Lewis directly responsible for killing somebody? Nobody ever talks about that, either.

The point is, by golf's greatest player choosing golf's greatest stage for perhaps the greatest comeback we'll ever see, Woods is well on his way to not only forcing the paparazzi to find a new target, but also putting the finishing touches on a new chapter well worth reading.

With an exclamation point, no less.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another Philly phlub?

There's an old saying that says those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles need to take some remedial courses.

The most stunning aspect of Donovan McNabb leaving the Eagles isn't that he was traded -- although some, like Giants QB Eli Manning, openly questioned the logic of such a move -- but where he was traded to. It's one thing to make a trade in order to make your team better. It's another altogether to make a deal with a division rival, as the Eagles did with the Redskins, leading to a very real and very likely scenario that the transaction will come back to haunt them -- perhaps for a very long time.

The Eagles chose to strike a deal with the Skins, despite the historic precedent that was set back in 1964, when they traded Sonny Jurgensen even-up for another QB, Norm Snead. Jurgensen went on to win three NFL passing championships and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Snead? In seven seasons with Philly, the Eagles had one winning season.

As Jurgensen himself told Ray Didinger of Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia, speaking of the Eagles and their fans, "Those people never learn."

Jurgensen even earned the praise of the legendary Vince Lombardi, who coached Jurgensen in 1969 in Lombardi's only season with the Redskins before he died of cancer.

"He is perhaps the best (quarterback) the league has ever seen,” Lombardi once said. “He’s all man. He stays in there under the most adverse conditions.”

Getting booed by the Philly faithful would qualify in that department, something Jurgensen and McNabb can relate to. Despite being banged up at certain points in his career, McNabb still has plenty in the tank, and it is by no means a stretch to suggest the Eagles could wind up regretting this trade for years to come.

There have been several quarterbacks in NFL history who were traded in their prime and flourished with their new teams, including Fran Tarkenton, Y.A. Tittle and Norm Van Brocklin, but Jurgensen can say he's among the very few who found success playing for a former division rival.

Clearly, McNabb and the Redskins hope for the same.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

First time not always a charm

Braves rookie phenom Jason Heyward, above, joined an exclusive club on Monday, as he became the 105th player in Major League history to hit a home run in his first at-bat. Now, all the preseason reports peg Heyward as a "can't-miss" prospect, so unless every scout, scribe, teammate and opponent who ever watched Heyward play are loony, chances are he won't finish his career as a member of another club, one he probably doesn't want to become a card-carrying member of.

That would be one of the 20 players in big league annals who homered in their first at-bat, but never belted another round-tripper again. I won't recount all the names here (gleaned from, since you probably haven't heard of any of them, with the exception of Hoyt Wilhelm, whose best work was done on the mound. It should be noted that Wilhelm is the only Hall-of-Famer on the list.

Here's the quirky part of the story, though: Statistically speaking, Heyward, despite all of his potential, actually has a better chance of joining that group (20 of 104, 19.2 percent) than he does of becoming a member of the 14-player community who homered in their first at-bat and went on to record at least 100 homers (13.5 percent), or the six-player group who went on to join the 200-homer club (5.8 percent).

For the record, here are the 14 players who homered in their first Major League at-bat and hit at least 100 career dingers:

Player, career HR
Gary Gaetti, 360
Carlos Lee, 307
Jermaine Dye, 298
Tim Wallach, 260
Earl Averill, 238
Bill White, 202
Jay Bell, 195
Terry Steinbach, 162
Wally Moon, 142
Bob Nieman, 125
Whitey Lockman, 114
Brad Fullmer, 114
Carmelo Martinez, 108
Marcus Thames, 101

There are two more players on the cusp of making this list: Mike Jacobs of the Mets (99 career HR) and Miguel Olivo of the Rockies (96).

At the other end of the career spectrum, there have been 41 players in big-league history who hit home runs in their final career at-bat, the most notable being Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams in 1960 (that list also includes Albert Belle and Mickey Cochrane).

And 11 of those 41 really went out with a bang, for it was their only career round-tripper. The last player to do it was Chris Jelic with the Mets in 1990.

A big moment for Jelic, certainly, but for few others -- I'm a huge Mets fan and I don't even remember him.