Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letang, Pens close to deal

By Jeff

Word on the Twittersphere is that Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins were negotiating late into the night it appears a deal is close.

Renaud Lavoie of RDS tweeted "I've been told that the Penguins and Kristopher Letang are close to a deal. Small details to be resolved and contract will be official."

Yeah, so it's looking like I was pretty wrong about the whole trade thing. Once it was reported that Letang had rejected the Pens' initial offer and Letang was all mopey about members of the Pens organization saying Paul Martin was the team's best defenseman last season, I thought we had seen Letang's last game with the team.

It makes sense that Pens general manager Ray Shero want to bring Letang back. He is one of the top defensemen in the league. Who would you take ahead of him? My short list would be Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty and maybe Erik Karlsson.

The problem with Letang is that while he has been a regular season superstar, he has mentally broken down in the playoffs the past two seasons. If this deal gets done, the Pens are making an expensive gamble. They are betting that Letang puts it together in future postseasons.

One big factor in deciding if this is the right deal is if Letang gets a full no-movement clause in the contract. If he does, the Pens will be stuck paying him more than $7 million a year for 8 years. If he never matures in the postseason, that's a bad deal. I don't care how good of a skater he is.

Now, if there is no such clause, and the Pens can move him in the future if he doesn't improve in the playoffs, then I'm all for bringing him back and making that bet.

 Of course, all of this could just be smoke and mirrors while Shero works out a trade.

UPDATE: It's being reported that Letang and Pens have an 8-year, $58 million deal ($7.25 cap hit) with a limited no-trade clause to 15 teams on the table. Still need to iron out details at the draft. Not a fan of the clause, but at least it's not a full no-trade.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The path of Hurricane Lucy

By Jeff

If you came home one day and found the scene below, what would you first thought be?

The aftermath of Hurricane Lucy
Maybe that your home had been ransacked by hooligans? Or perhaps that your house was struck by a natural disaster, right?

I guess the natural disaster answer would be correct, but it's not your typical natural disaster or hurricane. No, it's a hurricane you can't stay mad at. It is a force of nature known as Hurricane Lucy.

Do not be fooled. This cutie is a one-dog wrecking crew

Hard to believe the cutie above is responsible for the destruction seen in that first picture, isn't it? You'll see a few toys mixed in with the destruction, so it appears that she just gets bored with those and moves on to more exciting items, like my DVD case and the couch cushions!

Unlike most hurricanes though, Hurricane Lucy can strike a day or two after the worst of the storm has supposedly passed.

Don't believe me?

Hurricane Lucy loves DVDs

Now this damage was partially my fault. I forgot to close the door to one of our bedrooms. You see, Hurricane Lucy is not just a mindless tool of destruction. No, she goes through the house with a fine tooth comb looking for any sign of weakness in the defense preparations. She pushes each door to ensure it's closed. If it's not, then you better hope anything you truly value is out of harm's reach.

Aside from DVDs, which you see are one of her favorite items to chew (I've lost "Highlander: Season 3", "Gladiator", "The Godfather" and "Heat" on separate Hurricane Lucy assaults.), Lucy loves to pull the stuffing out of couches. It's like a game to her. She keeps pulling it out, but there is always more to chew! How exciting!

You can see the stuffing on the couch on the right.
Hurricane Lucy likes to show off her destructive force. She thinks it's fun.

Lucy is lucky my wife and I are dog people. There have been several occasions where my wife has called on the verge of tears because she has come home to the carnage above or similar. I've been on the verge of breakdowns on several occasions myself because when I see the destruction, I picture me pulling an "Into the Wild" and just burning my money.

Fortunately, Hurricane Lucy has been dormant for the past few months. Well, mostly dormant. She has stopped destroying a new item every time we leave her alone in the house. But she has decided to take up cooking. Or at least she is trying to take of cooking. I'm not sure she understands how the stove works yet.

Yes, those are my stove's burners on the floor and Lucy
fleeing the scene.
Every few days come to find a few of our stove's burners scattered throughout the house. Thank goodness we don't have a gas stove. Just imagine if she somehow turned the gas on and burned the house down.

What this hurricane has going for it that others don't is that she is quite lovable when she is not creating mayhem in our home. She is one of the sweetest dogs who loves to play and cuddle. It is actually her love of my wife and I that leads to the destruction. She has what us called separation anxiety. So how can you stay mad at the girl when she is doing what she's doing out of love?

Letang rejects $56M extension

By Jeff

The trade winds surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins' All-Star defenseman Kris Letang are swirling.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun is reporting that Letang and his camp rejected an eight-year extension worth $56 million. LeBrun continued that Letang countered with a deal that would pay him less than $8 million per season but the Pens said no.

If you've followed the Pens and their GM Ray Shero the past few years, then you've seen this scenario before. Last year it was reported that the Pens offered Jordan Staal 10 years for $60 million. When he rejected, the Pens shipped him to Carolina for a first-round pick, Brandon Sutter and prospect Brian Demoulin.

The deal would have been worth $7 million a year, if LeBrun's numbers are correct. That would put Letang in the top five highest paid defensemen in the NHL. He certainly deserves that kind of green and it strikes me as a fair deal. But anything more than that for a player who has lost his mind the past two postseasons? That seems a bit steep.

I could be wrong, but in light of this new information it seems as if Letang is going to be shipped off sooner rather than later. It was fun watching Letang and he'll be hard to replace, but with a number of highly-touted defensive prospects in the system, moving Letang is the best option considering the return he could get.

Here is LeBrun's short story.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are they rebooting 'Ghostbusters'?

By Jeff

I was watching Jimmy Kimmel the other night and events on the show led me to excitedly believe that they are rebooting one of my favorite movies of all time, "Ghostbusters".

I happily checked IMDB the next day, but there was no luck. Maybe there will be a "Ghostbusters 3" with a new squad of spirit fighters, but no remake.

So how did Jimmy Kimmel make me think they were rebooting this classic? This image.
Yup, that is Miley Cyrus. I have no idea what she's wearing, but it looks like she stole my travel soccer jacket that a teammate on my high school tennis team lost junior year...

Back to "Ghostbusters". Can you really blame me for thinking that Cyrus had been cast as Gozer the Gozerian?

We got the scandalous outfits that both Cyrus and Gozer have no business wearing. We have the wild haircuts. Oh, and both give me nightmares. At least Gozer was fictional. There is an actual chance that I run into Miley Cyrus in the world and she tries to destroy me and the rest of humanity. 

At least we know, thanks to "Ghostbusters", that if Cyrus asks any of us is a god, we say yes, damnit!

Buccos are for real

By Jeff

Holy crap! The Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for the best record in baseball!

Usually that statement is filled with sarcasm because the only other time I remember saying it in the past 10 years is when the Pirates start the season off 1-0.

But it's June 27, and we're almost halfway through the Major League Baseball season. Did any of you see this coming? Could anyone have predicted a 48-30 record and a share of first place in the NL Central for the Pirates when looking at the team's opening day roster?

I'm guilty as anyone, OK maybe Bob Smizik is more guilty than I, for thinking this was going to be a bad year for the Buccos. The lineup looked like a joke on opening day. The rotation actually had Jonathan Sanchez in it. James McDonald went to hell after the All-Star break last season and showed no signs of turning it around in spring training. It looked like a bad team.

Well, the rotation has been incredible (It helped that the team dumped Sanchez). The team has not lost the last eight games Jeanmar Gomez started. This is the same Jeanmar Gomez who had a career ERA of 5.21 before coming to the Pirates.

Francisco Liriano could end up the Comeback Player of Year. Right now he's sitting at a sweet 2.30 ERA. In 2011 and 2012 he had ERA's of 5.09 and 5.34, respectively. He's also back to a K/9 higher than 10 for the first time since his rookie year with the Minnesota Twins in 2006.

Then there is Jeff Locke. Remember last September and early April this year when members of the media and fans alike were saying he didn't look like a major league pitcher? Well, Locke hasn't lost a decision since his season debut on April 7. He hasn't given up more than four runs in a start this year, and the last time he gave up that many was April 18. Hell, since May 4 he has dropped his ERA from 3.21 to 2.06.

St. Louis Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller is getting more national love, but Locke has been just as good if not better and deserves serious consideration for NL Rookie of the Year. (EDIT: If only he had pitched two less innings last year. But alas, as Mike commented, Locke pitched 51 innings between 2011 and 2012, so he does not qualify. ESPN lied to me.)
I'm Henry Rowengartner, and I approve
Jeff Locke as Rookie of the Year, even if he's not technically a rookie.

I never thought I'd be making this statement regarding the 2013 Pirates, but this potential of this team is scary.

The team playing the best baseball in the league right now Imagine how good they could be if Andrew McCutchen starts hitting for power or Starling Marte catches fire like he did at the beginning of the season. Not to mention if starters Wandy Rodriguez and AJ Burnett come back from their injuries and pitch as effectively as they did before they hit the DL.

What I love about this year's Pirates is they are playing all opponents tough. They are taking advantage of sub-.500 teams with a 28-16 record against them. But they also have a winning record (22-12) against teams with records above .500. To top it all off, their run differential is 

Pirates fans obviously still have a bitter taste in their mouths from the giant collapses the team suffered in the second halves of the past two seasons. But for right now they are playing great baseball and showing no signs of slowing down.

Pens news, rumors flying across Internet, Twitter

By Jeff

One good thing about this past NHL lockout is the compressed schedule that came with it. There has been non-stop hockey action and news since the season began in January.

Today is no different.

Just days after the Stanley Cup was decided, we're hearing about all kinds of big moves going around across the league. Danny Briere, a point-per-game player in the postseason, and Ilya Bryzgalov are being paid a combined $26 million ($23 million of which will go to Bryzgalov) not to play for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to pay their team captain Vincent Lecavalier $30 million across 14 years not to play for their team.

These compliance buy-outs have kind of turned the league upside down. There are players like Lecavalier, who have enormous, cap-killing contracts (Levcavlier was set to counts $7.27 million per season against the cap through 2020 despite scoring less than a point per game the past three seasons) who have no hope of being traded elsewhere. In the past, teams would have been stuck with these terrible deals. But the new CBA gave teams a chance to get rid of two of these contracts, and we're seeing teams use them.

And we're just getting started. The draft is Sunday and teams can buy-out players up to July 5. We're going to see a lot more moves in the next few days.

The Pens are making moves of their own. While they have yet to use a buy-out or make a trade, they are locking up their core players. We already know they extended Malkin for the next 8 years. Now they've extended Chris Kunitz to a fair 3-year deal with an annual cap hit of $3.85 million.

The Kunitz deal is a good one for the team. Here is a player who routinely gets 20 goals a year and plays well with both Sidney Crosby and Malkin. And when you see that the Washington Capitals are paying Joel Ward $3 million per season, Alex Tanguay is making $3.5 million per season and Drew Stafford is making $4 million per year, it's pretty clear that the team got a bit of a hometown discount.

Another way to look at this deal is it is an attempt by the Pens to show free agent Pascal Dupuis that they want to keep that top line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis together. According to Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi, the Pens and Dupuis are in talks on a extension. If it gets done, one can assume it would be in a similar range as the Kunitz deal. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on is Dupuis would take a discount.

The big questions on Pens fans' minds is what does this deal, and a potential Dupuis deal, mean for Kris Letang. Rossi is reporting that Letang doesn't have a preference of teams to be traded to. TSN's Bob MxKenzie is tweeting that "the Pens have made a substantial offer" and the longer Letang goes unsigned, the more likely it is that he is traded.

Rossi is also reporting that if the Pens were to trade Letang, they want a first-round pick, top prospect and an NHL-ready player. Or, if the team does not have a prospect the Pens want, they want two NHL players and a first-rounder.

With the talent at the top of this year's draft, and the fact the Pens don't have a pick until No. 77 Sunday, one would think that the Pens would move Letang before or on Sunday. But others out there, like Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy, think that Pens GM Ray Shero does not need to hurry and make a deal Sunday.

I don't agree with that line of thinking. If Letang doesn't agree to an extension with the Pens prior to the draft, I think the Pens would get the most for Letang if they traded him this weekend. If the draft comes and goes with no deal done, then the Pens have less leverage in trade talks.

What's exciting is that no matter what, we're going to have some news this weekend. Whether it is a Letang or Dupuis extension or a Letang trade, we're going to hear something that will tell us more about how this team will look in 2013-2014 and beyond.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NHL scores big with Stanley Cup Finals

By Jeff

Despite the Pittsburgh Penguins no-showed the Eastern Conference Finals, it has to be pretty hard to be disappointed with the way the Stanley Cup Finals turned out. The Chicago Blackhawks downed the Boston Bruins in six games, and it was actually nice to see a team that played at an extremely high level all season get rewarded, rather than one getting hot at the right time.

And no, it was not a great series just because the Boston Bruins choked away Game 6 and Jaromir Jagr put up a goose egg in the goal department through 22 postseason games.

Hockey fans had to love the hockey that was played for all six games. The entertainment level was tremendous with every game up in the air until the end. Hell, there were three game that went into overtime, including that classic triple OT Game 1.

Even if you hated one or both of the teams involved, you had to appreciate the effort and toughness thy displayed each night. It seems like we learn more about Patrice Bergeron every hour. Apparently he had a punctured lung, some bruised ribs and a few other injuries he was playing with. Tomorrow we might learn that he actually had his left foot amputated at some point in Game 4. That's just how ridiculously tough the man is.

We come to expect this kind of toughness in hockey players. They play with torn muscles, broken bones, herniated discs, concussions and just about every kind of ailment you can come up with. But that doesn't make it any less impressive when you hear about how these players continued to play such a physical game at the highest level with these injuries.

While we fans were treated to some of the best hockey of the year, the NHL was rewarded with the highest ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals since 1994. Sure, it helped that two major markets and original six franchises were involved, but an 83 percent increase over 2012's Finals is nothing to sneeze at.

Well, maybe a small sneeze. Like one of those sneezes where you hear it and you have to question the sneezer to determine if it was an actual sneeze or a some strange bodily spasm. 2012 saw one of the most boring franchises in the history of the world, the New Jersey Devils, playing a Los Angeles Kings team whom the LA media couldn't recognize, let alone casual hockey fans. So crushing those ratings aren't that impressive...

Nevertheless, outperforming the past 18 Stanley Cup Finals in ratings is great news for the NHL and the sport.

Now that the season is over, it's time to scour the Internet every day for rumors about where free agents are signing and what teams are trading which players. I'm pumped. Goodbye, sunlight!

Stars falling left and right at Wimbledon

By Jeff

What in the world is going on at the All England Club this week?

Two days after watching Rafael Nadal get upset in the first round to the No. 135 player in the world, perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game, Roger Federer, fell to Sergiy Stakhovsky, the No. 118 player in the world, in the second round.

It was Federer's earliest exit at a Grand Slam in 10 years, and only the third time he has ever lost at Wimbledon after losing the first set. Seeing that there was no indication Federer was hurt, and grass is his strongest service, this was a bigger surprise than Nadal's early exit.

The fall of Federer has been speculated for a few years. But each time that talk has come up, Federer has made a run at a Grand Slam and shown he is still one of the world's best. This time is different.

Despite all the talk before, Federer had still made it to 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. That's 9 years of being one of the last eight players in every Grand Slam, no matter the continent or the surface. Now he is out in the second round of the tournament he has won more than any other man in the world.

Federer never looked like the best player in the world during the 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 loss. Like Nadal, he was missing easy shots that we're not accustomed to seeing Federer miss. He had several break opportunities in the third set and missed short forehands that usually result in winners for the Swiss.

The whole match gave me flashbacks to the end of Pete Sampras' career. Sampras would coast through matches and show little effort when returning. With the best serve in the game, Sampras knew it was unlikely anyone would break him. He was content going into a tiebreaker or just waiting until late in the set to break his opponent's serve. The strategy worked for a long time, but late in his career, Sampras found himself getting broken more often and therefore, losing more often.

That's how Federer looked today. Every time Stakhovsky was serving, Federer looked like he was half asleep. Maybe it was the fact the All England Club wouldn't let Federer wear his sweet orange-bottomed kicks, but I think it was age finally catching up to Federer.

But wait, there's more! The women's side lost the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

First, No. 2 Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of a knee injury she sustained in the first round. Then, No. 3 Maria Sharapova lost in straight sets to Michelle Larcher De Brito.

Azarenka was one of seven players who either withdrew or retired on today. It's the most matches decides by injuries in a single day in the tournament's history. 

ESPN and the All England Club have to be pissed that three of their biggest stars and draws are out in the first week. Casual fans are not going to recognize most of the names left in the draw. If you love tennis and you love upsets, though, the next 11 days are going to be incredible TV.

Hernandez arrested, too cool to use sleeves

By Jeff

The Patriots released Hernandez just hours after he was arrested in relation to a murder investigation (No formal charges were released). This after signing him to a 5-year, $40 million deal last summer. Clearly the release came as a result of Hernandez's possible involvement a homicide.

The full story is linked below. Why the author of the story tells us about the clothes Hernandez was wearing when he was arrested, and the fact he spit into the bushes is a bit baffling. Especially because a picture and video accompany the story. The greater question would have been, why isn't Hernandez using his T-shirt's sleeves? Why not wear a beater or another sleeveless shirt if you're not going to use your sleeves?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Aspiring cosmonaut seeking work

By Jeff

One of the worst kept secrets in the NHL is finally in the open today. The Philadelphia Flyers are using their second compliance buyout on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

The man who became a star because of his universe rants on "24/7" will be paid $23 million by the Flyers not to play. Can you imagine that? You suck so bad at your job, or are just not the right fit at your current company, that they pay you $23 million not to come back. Can you really call Bryzgalov a loser here when this is considered?

Bryzgalov was the man the Flyers owner Ed Snider said he thought would put the Flyers over the top. Instead he got a guy his teammates never liked, his coach didn't like and the fans hated with a passion.

It's easy for us couch GMs to make fun of the poor decisions of real life GMs, but did anyone really think that Bryzgalov was the answer? He was the product of a defensive system in Phoenix. A system that couldn't cover for Bryzgalov's poor playoff performances. The man known as Bryz recorded a postseason goals against average of 3.73 and a save percentage of .896 in 11 postseason games with the Coyotes.

Yup, sounds like the missing piece to me!

The funny thing is, those numbers came while he was playing in a defense-first system, which Philadelphia certainly was not upon his arrival.

It's a joy to see the Flyers fall on their face with this move, but it's also sad that Bryz is gone. I was looking forward to he and Danny Briere (The other Flyers buyout) sucking more than $12 million from their cap for the next few years.

The good news is the Flyers have Steve Mason as their goaltender right now. There is talk of them bringing in Roberto Luongo, which would put them back in the cap hell they just got themselves out of with Bryz. Even Luongo admits his contract sucks!

It's stories like this, and the fact the Flyers signed 35-year-old Mark Streit to a 4-year, $21 million deal, that remind Pens how lucky have Ray Shero building their team.

Tennis news stealing headlines

By Jeff

It's rare that a tennis story gains major attention on a national scale. It's even rarer when there are two tennis stories creating buzz!

OK, one of the stories isn't about an actual match or something happening in the sport. It is just two tennis players having it out like I assume the women on those Real Housewives shows do.

First, one of the greatest players to ever play the game, Rafael Nadal, lost in the first round of Wimbledon in straight sets. We're talking about the man who has won the fourth most Grand Slams in men's tennis. And he went out in straight sets to the No. 135 player in the world, Steve Darcis.

It was the most un-Nadal match I've ever seen Nadal play. His ground strokes were inconsistent. Shots he routinely makes were flying wide and deep. Darcis would be at the net and Nadal would have a running passing shot he usually makes look easy, and he'd botch it or put it in Darcis' reach.

The whole match just left those of us who watch a lot of tennis confused.

Nadal won't make excuses, but it was clear his knee was bothering him. The fact that the French Open and Wimbledon are a few weeks apart probably didn't help any. Nadal had a rough road to the French Open final, although he breezed through David Ferrer in the final. The tight schedule and the amount of tennis Nadal played probably in that time didn't do his knee any favors, and he already has a history of knee trouble.

Despite the obvious injury Nadal was dealing with, no one should take anything away from Darcis. He played a fun match. He didn't sit back and try to wait out Nadal and his knee, probably because trying to wait out Nadal might be the worst strategy ever. Darcis played an aggressive game where he was taking risks all over the court. It paid off big and he got the biggest win of his life.

Will Darcis keep winning now that he has knocked off one of the game's greats? I doubt it. It's not as if he is a young stud breaking through. Darcis is 29 and has been around for some time. The style of game he played to beat Nadal is hard to replicate. What happens when he starts missing those risky shots? Will he continue to try them, or will he back off?

Either way, he got the win of his career so it would be hard to say a second-round exit for a tournament he sneaked into would be a disappointing result.

While the Nadal upset puts tennis is a positive light, this other story reminded me of the old ECW when two women wrestlers would start fighting and play-by-play man Joey Stylez would scream "Cat fight!" at the top of his screechy voice.

Apparently it started with a Serena Williams interview with Rolling Stone, where Williams called out an unnamed top-five player on the women's side. Williams said, "She begins every interview with `I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' -- it's so boring. She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

While no player's name is mentioned, everyone assumes she means Maria Sharapova, since Sharapova is dating Williams' ex, Grigor Dimitrov.

Sharapova got wind of what Williams said and replied, "If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids," Sharapova continued. "Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that's what it should be about."


It's one thing to not like one of your rivals (I use that loosely since Sharapova has lost to Williams the 13 times the two have played), but to come out to the media and call her a home wrecker? That's pretty terrible, but it's also so juicy!

The man in question is coach Patrick Mouratoglou, but neither he nor Williams have confirmed they are having the relations that Sharapova is talking about.

 It's a silly story about the personal lives of the sports biggest female stars. You could argue that Williams is the biggest star in the sport, period. Why either of them are talking about each others' personal lives is beyond my comprehension, but think about it. Now there is something else to watch for at Wimbledon. People are going to be cheering like crazy for these two to play one another. It could bring in non-tennis fans to the sport just because these celebrity feuds/sleaze stories.

The only way this story could be more entertaining was if they did play, things got heated at the hand shake and they started brawling. Wait, take that, and now add Joey Stylez somehow breaking into the broadcast booth and shouting "Cat fight!".

We can dream.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Possible trading partners for Letang

By Jeff

Penguins fans have seen this situation before. A beloved player is in the last year of his contract and looking for a significant contract that may not be best for the Pens. Last year it was Jordan Staal, this year it's Kris Letang.

There are stories out there reporting Letang is looking for at least $7 million per season with a no-movement clause. As talents as Letang is, that's just too much for a player who has come up short in the playoffs the past two postseasons.

While losing Letang will certainly leave a tough hole to fill, as well as lower the overall good looks of the team, the truth is there are a number of teams looking for talented puck-moving defensemen. Letang is one of the best puck-movers in the league, so there is going to be a number of suitors for his services.

Pens GM Ray Shero showed last year he is more than willing to part with fan favorites when he traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes. With my limited hockey knowledge, I think Shero needs to do the same this year, and he should get a greater return for Letang than he did for Staal.

The question is, if Letang gets shipped out, where will he go? With a very talented and deep draft class (That's what the experts say, at least.), it would be best if Shero made the move prior to or on draft day. Especially since the team gave up both their first and second round picks in this year's draft to acquire Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray.

Here are my top destinations. Again, I'm no Pierre McQuire or Jeff Marek, so I don't know that much about the OHL and juniors and all that stuff. I only know what I read. If you don't agree with me, you can read what Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers thinks here.

Tampa Bay Lightning - This team has some skilled forwards at the NHL and prospect levels. What they don't really have is talented offensive-minded defenseman. Just Matt Carle. I don't use this phrase often, but Carle deserves it. LOL!

The Lightning have the No. 3 pick this year, so that should be in play with any Letang deal. With that pick, the Pens could take Jonathan Drouin, who scored 41 goals and 64 assists in 49 games with the GMJHL' Halifax Mooseheads last season. He could immediately be plugged in on the first or second lines, especially if talks with Pascal Dupuis go south.

After that, Shero and the Pens should also be asking the Lightning for their goalie prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy. Shero and Pens coach Dan Byslma may have given Marc-Andre Fleury votes of confidence, but history does not lie. Fleury has been a liability in the playoffs the last two seasons and I can't see the team keeping him past 2014-2015 when his contract runs out. They may move him before that. Vasilevskiy is only 17 (He turns 18 in July), but when Fleury's contract runs out, he should be ready to contribute for an NHL team. Of course, other than Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, Shero has not been too keen on bringing in Russians and Europeans.

Maybe the Pens could also get a conditional third or second-round pick next year if Letang is nominated for the Norris Trophy. Just a thought.

Buffalo Sabres - Like the Lightning, the Sabres have a top-10 pick in this year's draft. They may be more willing to part with it since they also have the No. 16 pick. The Pens could also target forward Marcus Foligno, who saw time with the Sabres last year and could be a good, young replacement for Matt Cooke on the third line and penalty kill. Or perhaps they could snatch up Drew Stafford. He took a step back last year, but he scored 31 goals a few seasons ago and could do some serious damage on a line with Sidney Crosby or Malkin.

I don't want Ryan Miller and neither do you!

Calgary Flames - OK, I just put them here since their GM, Jay Feaster, is terrible and Shero could probably abuse him on a deal. The Flames don't have many top-end prospects, so the Pens could ask for their No. 6 pick this year and a first rounder next season as starting points. Feaster is silly and probably thinks his team is only one move away from the playoffs. That move could be Letang in his mind and Shero should at least give him a call.

Edmonton Oilers - The Oilers just fired GM Steve Tambellini and replaced him with Craig Mactavish. Tambellini was scared to move any of his young forwards like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins despite their desperate need for defensemen. Seriously, after Ryan Whitney, I couldn't name one.

Shero could ask for one of these young forwards and Edmonton's first-rounder this year (No. 7) that the Pens could use on defenseman Darnell Nurse or forward Max Domi.

As a Pens fan, I like Letang. His defense has improved every year in the regular season and he has become more physical (Remember the John Tavares hit in Game 1?). But with a hard salary cap, tough decisions must be made. Does the team want to a guy who plays great in regular season but doesn't have the mental game to handle the playoffs more than $7 million a year for at least 5 years? With multiple skilled defensive prospects who play similar to Letang in the system, and the pressing need for offensive defensemen across the league, it's probably best to move him and bring back a bounty of young, high-potential players.

But what I think and what you think doesn't matter. The decision is up to Shero, and he usually makes the right move. We'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Warrant to be issued for Hernandez's arrest

By Jeff

The NBA Finals just finished up in dramatic fashion, three of four games in the Stanley Cup Finals have gone into overtime and the Pirates are an MLB playoff contender. Granter, two of those stories are much more compelling to most than the other, but all three are being overshadowed by New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

According to ABC News, a warrant will be issued for Hernandez's arrest for obstruction of justice in a murder investigation. Hernandez was seen with the victim, Odin Lloyd, hours before Lloyd was killed by a gunshot to the back of the head.

It does not look good for Hernandez if the new being reported is true. His home security system was allegedly destroyed, his cell phone was handed to over to the police in pieces and he had a cleaning crew come to his house on Monday.

Hernandez and his lawyers have made no comment.

The obvious questions are why would Hernandez, or someone else, destroy Hernandez's security system and cell phone? Does Hernandez have cleaners come to his house on a regular basis? The story on ESPN says the cleaning crew was "hired" Monday, but was this just a new cleaning crew, or was it the first time he hired house cleaners?

This story is not going away any time soon. On the sports front, what does this mean for the Patriots? One of the team's major strengths is most teams can't match up with their duel tight end attack led by Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez. Gronkowski has had four surgeries in the past year and is an injury risk, and Hernandez's situation could prevent him from playing. It might even lead to his release if owner Robert Kraft decides the investigation is a distraction to his team.

Clearly, this story provides a lot of questions and it's going to be a while before we get any answers. It's a shame that it will overshadow more uplifting and the kind of sports stories we want to hear, but that's just the nature of news today.

Look at the murder trials of Casey Anthony and Jody Arias. These were everyday people who became celebrities overnight with their own Lifetime movies. Imagine if Hernandez is charged and tried for murder. It would covered across all media and over-scrutinized to death. It might not get a Lifetime movie, but a "30-For-30"-like treatment wouldn't be a stretch.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Snyder off to good start with 'Man of Steel'

By Jeff

Usually origin stories are pretty slow when it comes to comic book movies. It takes us at least a quarter of the movie to see how our hero gains his powers and is motivated to defend the world against the forces of evil.

Can you find a comic book movie series where the first one is the best? "Fantastic 4" doesn't count. The sequel was so terrible it made "Daredevil" look like "The Dark Knight".

I went into Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" with this trend in mind, but Snyder and his crew introduced us to Superman in a unique and touching way.

First, we see how our Superman came to be. Russell Crowe gives once of the best performances we've seen from him in a while. The scene where he and his wife say goodbye to little Kal-El (Superman's birth name on Krypton) succeeds where so many comic book movies fail. It was a scene filled with emotion that didn't feel forced or exaggerated (Just because Michael Cain cries in "Dark Knight Rises" doesn't make it an emotional scene!).

After Kal-El escapes Krypton, we are immediately introduced to the character as an adult, and then through a series of flashbacks mixed with Kal-El's finding his place on Earth, we witness the struggles the young Superman experienced trying to fit in. It was done very effectively, and like the beginning, you feel an emotional attachment to the character. How would any of us feel if we had to hide who were really were from all but two people in the world?

These scenes are the strength of the film, which you wouldn't expect from the same guy who brought us "300" and "Sucker Punch". The times where we were able to relate to the characters, even though some of them were literally from another world, are when the movie is at its best.

Surprisingly, the action sequences is where the movie lost me. Listen, I love stupid action. It's why I go to the movies sometimes. The problem with "Man of Steel" is Snyder should have said "That's a wrap" about 15 minutes before he did. The special effects were great, but seeing these forces who can't be hurt while exposed to the sun beat the hell of each other gets rather old. Imagine if if the sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Barbosa, when they were both undead and invincible, lasted for the final 30 minutes of "Pirates of the Caribbean". That's how the end of "Man of Steel" felt.

I enjoyed the homage to "Superman 2" where there is the stand-off in the rural town and complete destruction ensues, but did it have to last what seemed like 30 to 45 minutes?

I wonder if the film would have been close to as enjoyable or stirring without the very good performances of Crowe, Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon? Henry Cavill wasn't terrible as Superman, but he wasn't great, and Amy Adams was OK. For being the two characters with the most screen time, they certainly did not carry the film, which is never a good thing in a movie.

Overall, it was an excellent new start for the series. But will the sequels be able to top it? "Man of Steel" was at it's best when it showed us how Kal-El became Superman and those that shaped his life. The sequels will not have that dynamic. Will the writers answer the challenge? Considering "Man of Steel" killed at the box office, we'll find out in the near future.

Comic nerds can suck it; 'Iron Man 3' delivered the goods

By Jeff

Comic book movies suffer from the same problem regular books that become movies do. That problem is the hardcore fans of the comics or books get very upset when the movies deviate from the original works. Especially when that deviation is drastic.

It has happened to every comic book released, beginning with "Spider-Man", the film that kicked off the modern day comic movie craze. And if you read the blogs and message boards regarding "Iron Man 3", you'll see it's a trend still going strong.

I'm fortunate in that I have a basic knowledge of many of these comic book heroes, but the only comic I ever read was a random "Thor" issue in which there were two Thors fighting each other for reasons I don't remember. This allows me to just sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is, a re-imagining of the original work.

Sometimes the re-imagining falls on its face (I'm looking at you, "Daredevil" and "Fantastic 4"), but "Iron Man 3" suffered no such fate. It was an enjoyable story with great dialogue and some fun action that didn't take over the film.

The Iron Man movie franchise is unique compared to all the comic book movies that have come out in the past 13 years. Robert Downey Jr. absolutely owns the character of Tony Stark. So much so that the movie is more interesting and fun when Stark is out of the Iron Man suit and being Iron Man.

"Iron Man 3" showcases this fact as we only see Stark in his suit for about 20 minutes of the film. Most of the time it's Stark running around and being his hilarious, narcissistic self. There was a point where you're afraid he's going to take a kid with him on his adventure, which would be terrible, but instead he makes fun of said kid and drives off. It was one of the best parts of the movie.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have action. The final 15 minutes or so is nothing but action. It's kind of ridiculous, and you get the feeling director Shane Black was making up for the lack of explosions in the movie to that point. At the same time, it never felt like it was too much. Just sit back and enjoy the explosions, as well as the great chemistry between Downey and Don Cheadle.

The movie is far from perfect. There are some large plot holes. The whole PTSD thing was silly and awkwardly discarded, and I'm still not sure why some of the extremis soldiers die somewhat while others get blown up and survive. But when you're watching a movie where people take a mystery drug that makes them the love child of Wolverine and a dragon, you tend to let it go without too much questioning.

The biggest complaint I've heard and read about was the treatment of the Mandarin. This guy is a major villain in the comic series and he is very different in the movie. But it's not a bad thing. It's an interesting take on the character and Ben Kingsley does a great job.

All in all, "Iron Man 3" wasn't "The Avengers", but it was a good, fun movie that is probably the best of the trilogy.

LeBron makes believer out of me

By Jeff

The NBA bores the hell out of me 90 percent of the time. It's not that I don't respect the athletes and the awesome things they do on the court. The sport is just boring most of the time. Probably because there has never had a college or professional team I follow.

But last night's Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs had me staying up late and on the edge of my seat. Specifically, it was LeBron James who had me in awe as he took over the game in the fourth quarter.

For the first three quarters, it looked as if James was going to be destroyed the next day by all the major media outlets. He was shooting 25 percent from the field and only had 14 points. As a result, it looked like Tim Duncan would be celebrating a fifth title.

Then something big happened. James lost his headband early in the fourth quarter. From that point forward, James dominated the game. He scored 18 points in the 4th quarter and overtime, including a 3-pointer with under a minute that cut the Spurs' lead to 2.

I for one, lost track of James at first when the headband came off. He took a missed shot and slammed it home for two and I thought it was Dwyane Wade! I couldn't find James on the court! Maybe the Spurs lost track of him too.

James did not have a monopoly on the drama, though. Future hall of famer Ray Allen played the hero role as well. With less than 10 seconds to go he nailed a game-tying 3-pointer. Considering he is the NBA's all-time 3-point leader and a guy who has made big shots throughout his career, it was a bit surprising that the set play late in the game was no designed for him. But like great players do, he stayed in the play and got open for the shot. It was the most captivating basketball game I have ever seen and Allen's shot was the climax.

While the heroics of James and Allen cannot be overstated, you have to wonder what happened to Tim Duncan in the fourth quarter. He scored 30 points through three quarters and looked unstoppable. Then he couldn't make a shot the rest of the game. There were several times he got the ball down low and missed field goal attempts I've never seen Duncan miss.

Nor can we ignore the poor play of Wade in his limited time in the fourth quarter. After James single-handedly brought his team back from a 13-point deficit, Wade came in with a little less than 4 minutes left in the fourth. He went on to take several terrible shots that killed the Heat's momentum. He made one and a few free throws, but overall, he was not helping his team on the offensive side.

Fortunately for the Heat, James and Allen refused to accept defeat, and those watching at home or in Miami were the winners.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dealing with another Pens disappointment

By Jeff

Is there a guide out there that details how one handles the seemingly annual disappointment that has become of the Pittsburgh Penguins? If so, can someone please send me a copy?

I've had almost two weeks to deal with the embarrassing sweep the Pens suffered at the sticks of the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately, I have more questions than before.

First, what happened to the leadership of this team? In the past two playoffs, we have witnessed this team coming unhinged at critical times. Last year they did it in Game 3 against the Flyers, this year is was Game 1 against the Bruins. It's like the team collectively loses its mind for a few minutes and don't recover.

Just as Kris Letang's game misconduct in Game 3 last year, Malkin decides to drop the gloves when the Pens had a power play heading into the second period. Seeing as Malkin is a key to the power play's success, he needs to not take a penalty there.

Where was captain Sidney Crosby when he should have been trying to calm Malkin? He was getting into it with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and goalie Tuuka Rask. Now, a bigger deal has been made of Crosby jawing at those two players but the fact remains it was unnecessary. I don't care if he got punched in his recently shattered jaw by Chara. That's hockey. Guys take cheap shots in every scrum.

There was so much made of the team acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, who were captains of their teams. Yet I didn't see much leadership from any of the Pens players in the Bruins series.

Second, what happened to the offense? This was a team scoring more than four goals a game in these playoffs. Then they go and score only two goals in four games. What?

You have to give credit to Rask and Chara. They played very well. But the Pens also made them look better. Malkin was flying, especially in Games 3 and 4, yet no one on his line was there to knock home a rebound from the chances he created.

While Malkin seemed to create offense every time he touched the puck, the same could not be said for Crosby. The greatest player in the world was shut down. When he had the puck, you didn't get a sense something was going to happen. He just looked like another player out there.

Aside from Malkin, Matt Cooke was the only guy on offense that seemed to bring the level of play it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

Third, why does Letang fall apart in the playoffs? I've read a lot of media folks and bloggers ripping his Norris trophy nomination. He deserved that nomination. He played great during the regular season and it was very noticeable when he wasn't in the lineup. But in the playoffs, specifically the Eastern Conference Finals, he was all kinds of bad. Either he was getting caught up in the offensive zone, making poor passes in his own zone or just appearing lost.

The man has so much talent, but he clearly does not have the mental game needed to be a standout defenseman (defenceman for you Canadian readers out there) in the postseason.

Fourth, how much was coaching and how much was players not performing. While I have been a critic of head coach Dan Bylsma the past few two seasons, this playoff loss was not on him. He made the correct call in going back to Tomas Vokoun in for Game 3. He made the right decisions with the lines and had this team in position to win. It wasn't Bylsma missing open nets, hitting posts or making stupid passes from behind the Pens net.

No this series fell on the players.

Fifth, did Ray Shero hurt the team's chemistry with his trade deadline moves? This is actually an easy one for me. The moves Shero made improved this team. Period. Yes, Morrow, Iginla and Douglas Murray were slower than the players they replaced, but they made their lines better. Just because Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale skate fast doesn't mean they would have beat the Bruins.

Seventh, what does this team do next season to avoid the disappointments of the past few years? Bylsma is coming back, Malkin has been resigned to a huge contract and Shero and Bylsma have come out and said Marc-Andre Fluery will be back. The Bylsma and Malkin extensions make sense, but saying Fleury is the starter has me confused. As much as I love him, and have defended him in this space for years, he has fallen on his face the past two years. He, like Letang, succeeds in playoffs and has a mental breakdown when the playoffs come around. The team needs to move on at goalie.

So once again, what direction does this team go in for 2013-2014? It seems like there aren't any major changes coming. Fans will see some new wingers, as Morrow, Iginla, Pascal Dupuis and Cooke can't all come back. But the core will remain.

Or will it? Letang could be traded away before the start of next season, and he should bring back at least a top prospect, first round pick and maybe a NHL-ready player. And with the organization's abundance of little Letangs running around in the AHL and juniors, it makes sense. He will demand $6-7 million per year, and the Pens just can't afford that.

Thank goodness the team has Shero to make these decisions, because they are tough questions and he is the best GM in the league. He's certainly smarter than me. So once again it comes down to in Shero we trust. Right?

New Pirates proving me wrong

By Jeff

Prior to the 2013 MLB season starting, former contributor Mike and I made some wagers and predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Specifically, the amount of wins the team would get and how the new acquisitions like Mike Melancon and Francisco Liriano would turn out.

So far, it's safe to say I was about as wrong as one could be!

Looking at this lineup and rotation in the preseason, and there was nothing exciting. Other than Andrew McCutchen and AJ Burnett, I expected everyone to do poorly. The team looked like they were going to struggle to score runs and the starters, aside from Burnett and James McDonald, were going to get lit up on a regular basis. I predicted the Pirates would win less than 70 games.


The Pirates would be a playoff team if the season ended today. They are on pace for more than 90 wins and have created a sense of excitement and optimism for their fans. The team has collapsed the past two seasons, so there is still a chance I could win that bet. Of course, that's one bet I'd be happy to lose, as long as the Pirates make the playoffs.

In my defense, the offense hasn't been great. Pedro Alvarez is on pace for more than 30 home runs, but is striking out in 37 percent of his at bats. Andrew McCutchen has been hitting for average, but the power outbreak he had last year hit a snag (six home runs). As a whole, the team is in the bottom third of the National League in runs, average and OPS.

It's hard to imagine the team will continue its success when the team is atrocious with runners in scoring position. On the flip side, McCutchen is an All-Star who can start knocking some homers and Starling Marte is very dangerous on the base paths. This team's offense could catch fire like they did last June and July.

What has been the big surprise and the cause of the team's success is the pitching. Both the starters and relievers have been phenomenal all year. The team is No. 3 in the NL in team ERA and the league's best when it comes to batting average against. Who would have thought that coming into the year?

Liriano and Melancon have been a big part of that surprising success. Liriano has been striking out more than a batter an inning and his ERA is below 3 in eight starts.

In the bullpen, Melancon has been nearly unhittable as the eighth inning specialist. His 1.05 ERA and .90 WHIP is incredible. Especially when you consider he was terrible with Boston last year (6.20 ERA).

These guys have been getting a lot of help as well. Rookie Jeff Locke may be the surprise of the season. Last year he looked as if he had no right being in the majors, and this year he is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

The only starters that didn't perform better than expected were McDonald and Jonathan Sanchez. Well, no one actually expected Sanchez to be any good, so does it count?

Now the team has called up top prospect Gerrit Cole, who has tallied two wins in his first two starts. I'm not sure he's thrown more than a few breaking balls yet, but that high 90s fastball has brought a spark to the team.

It's impossible to predict if the Pirates will choke away this season like they have the past two, but right now they are playing exciting and winning baseball. It's a fun ride that has me thinking it could last until October this time around. Granted, my predictions have been pretty terrible lately, so I probably just jinxed the team.