Friday, May 30, 2014

As Luck (and Lundquist) Would Have It, the Rangers Move on

I’m a man who enjoys his routines.  Among them, is getting home on Thursday afternoon and doing a quick review of my newly arrived Sports Illustrated.   As I arrived home this Thursday, I was mortified when I looked at the cover – featuring New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

I loudly cursed the editors who suddenly decided hockey was worth putting on the cover after ignoring the sport all year.  The only thing going through my mind was evident to those who know the publication – the Sports Illustrated cover jinx!

The Rangers had just come off a disastrous Game 5, where, in the second period, they allowed the Montreal Canadiens to score as many goals in one period as they allowed to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last three games of the previous series - combined.  I envisioned the karmic laughter of those smug Qubecois with their gazillion Coupe Stanley banners, coming back from a 3-1 deficit.  I could see Rangers goalie Henrik Lundquist suffering through the New York summer like a character from an Ingmar Bergman movie.   I felt the cold, creeping specter of fear and doubt as I took my customary seat in my rec room for Game 6 (always the rec room – I’ve discovered that the family room provides less than optimal outcomes).

(Post Break 1:  I know I’m not the only person who believes in jinxes, but I admire a man who is directly affected and spits in the face of one.   Josh Beckett did a great job talking to everyone in the dugout throughout his no-hitter last week.  Of course I am also the man who jeopardized his marriage by banishing his wife to another floor of the house during the Giants playoff run on the way to Super Bowl 46.)

In a game that was not as close as the score would indicate, the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals beating the Habs, 1-0, but not before causing every Ranger fan to gnash their teeth and curse the SI staff.  The Ranger attack did whatever it could to put me at ease, peppering Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski from all angles, but with no result.  My sighs grew deeper with every failed Ranger power play and missed opportunity.  My plans to invade the Sports Illustrated offices grew more nefarious as the clock ticked down.   Thankfully, Dominic Moore buried a brilliant pass from Brian Boyle with about two minutes left in the second period to make the intermission a little less tense.   

(Post Break 2: There are a couple of other things that I will take very seriously:  I will not wear jerseys watching the games at home; the right side of the couch is mine; changing positions is only allowed if things are going wrong; you will jinx it if you blab; and never any premature celebrations - Reggie Miller, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Joe Pisarcik cured me of that.)

The third period saw the Rangers play perhaps their most dominant defensive period of these playoffs as the Montreal attack took minutes to get the puck into the Ranger end.   The Blueshirts broke all historic precedent by maintaining their attack, coming close to breaking the game open several times.   I kept waiting for the next “Zelepukin” moment, but none would come as I slumped on the couch filled with relief and gratitude when the final horn sounded (in your eye, SI!).

Oh, by the way, as the champions of the Eastern Conference, the Rangers were awarded the Prince of Wales Trophy.  According to hockey superstition, they did not touch the trophy.  Four more wins and they can carry the next trophy around the ice. 

Just Sayin’
Doesn’t Whitley, Nuno and Phelps sound like a law firm?  Maybe the Yankees should sue . . . 

At this point, I think Phil Jackson should just bite the bullet and rehire Hubie Brown . . . 

I’m waiting for someone to give Derek Jeter a lifetime supply of penicillin as a retirement present . . . 
Eli manning is back at practice two months early – I guess that Josh Freeman signing really did scare him . . . 

Fantasy Football Update:  In no way, shape, or form am I drafting any Browns this year.  

(Follow me on Twitter - @upperdeckview)

Friday, May 23, 2014

With the Draft Class in Session, the Knicks are Absent

By Craig Hoberman

The NBA Draft Lottery was held last week.  The New York Knicks had given up their seat at the table waiting for the cards to be revealed - but that might be a good thing.  According to a statistical analysis by, the Knicks are the worst drafting team of the last twenty years (based on the career averages and overall success of the draftees). Given that ever-so-prestigious title, it makes sense that the Knicks haven’t been a consistently good franchise since the Ewing era. In fact, it’s safe to say that they’ve been a fairly terrible organization since then – erratic coaching and management changes, failure to develop high draft picks, the Isiah Thomas catastrophe (most Knick fans try to pretend this never happened), playoff troubles and even owner James Dolan’s infamous meddling. And even more good news for Knicks fans this offseason: in what is being called the most talent-heavy NBA draft in over a decade, the Knicks have not a pick to speak of -- again.

Although the Denver Nuggets trade allowed Knicks fans to enjoy the team’s best multi-season run in years (Melo pushed them into the playoffs three straight times, a massive upgrade from the horrid performances of the prior decade), that success didn’t continue through to this season. The Knicks missed the playoffs and lost a multitude of disappointing games throughout the year. So the question is: although we Knicks fanatics got a few great years out of him, was Carmelo Anthony worth the price? It’s unanimous among analysts and fans that the Isiah Thomas pick-trade-a-thon of the mid 2000’s ended up sending the team spiraling into decay, but how much worse is it that years later, in 2014, the Knicks are again forced to face the consequences of the ‘win now’ mentality?

What kinds of players are NY really missing out on? Top prospects Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum will definitely fall outside where the Knicks pick would be (#12, currently held by the Orlando as a result of the Melo trade from the Nuggets and then more trades after) but even further down the list are players that could still make an immediate impact on any struggling team. Yes, this year’s draft class is that damn good.

The Knicks have tried the ‘win-now’ management strategy for far too long. Trading away the possibilities of young talent for players that didn’t even make a difference is not the way I expect new team president Phil Jackson to run this team. Somebody needs to step up, stand up to Dolan and explain to him that it takes time to build a team that can win -- and the best way to start is not by simply grabbing a star or two- but by using draft picks to build a reliable squad. The Kings, 76ers, Cavs, Celtics and Magic are doing it- so why can’t the Knicks? Hopefully, Jackson will see how this mentality has destroyed the franchise -- and, in addition, perhaps add Kevin Love in a year or two.  Maybe he’ll use the NBA draft to create a competitive squad that can win games. And I swear, if we trade even more picks away for someone like Kevin Love or Rondo, and that doesn’t work out, I’m moving to Orlando and declaring myself a Magic fan. They’ve been a laughable squad for years, but watch the moves they’ve been making in the last few drafts- they’ll be a winning team soon enough- and I’m getting tired of waiting around for the Knicks to win.

(Guest writer Craig Hoberman is a student and SUNY-Cortland and Social Media consultant, dedicated Knicks fan and patriot.  You can follow Craig on Twitter at @MyTownTutorsNY)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Rangers Get a Heart Transplant

As the New York Rangers started their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were staring fate right in the face.  They had never beaten the Penguins in a best of seven series.   Not in 1989, 1992 or 1996.  

As the series progressed, they were booed off the ice in Game 4 to go down 3-1, and were looking at another, larger issue.

Sixteen times the Rangers have been down in a series 3-1 - with zero wins.  In the almost 90 years of existence, the Rangers have never come back from a 3-1 playoff deficit.   Sixteen times.  This includes Stanley Cup Finals losses to the Bruins in 1972 and Canadiens in 1979.  There were no comebacks in the 70’s against the Blackhawks; 80’s against the Flyers and Islanders; 90’s against the Penguins and 00’s against Devils.   Zero, nada, zilch.

Well, all the boogeymen can go back into the closet!  The Rangers are officially one of “those” teams.  Teams that come back against the odds.  Teams that pull off upsets.  

They’re now a successful underdog.

The Rangers defeat of the Penguins in a seven-game roller coaster of a series could potentially mark a turning point in the team’s history.  Exorcizing two demons in a series, the Rangers survived consecutive shut outs and being booed off their home ice.  They overcame the sudden passing of the mother of one of their influential (if not newer) leaders, Martin St. Louis.   They were simply as un-Ranger-like as they could possibly be – gritty, tough, and self-sacrificing.  The Rangers showed more heart in the final three games of this series then at any time since 1994.   

St. Louis started the turn around, but was nowhere near ice when he made the biggest decision of the series.  Citing his mother’s and family’s wishes, he chose to play Game 5 with the Rangers down 3-1.   The team went from a demoralized, exhausted, twice shut out group to an inspired, energized, dedicated group, taking the emotional edge from their new leader’s example.   

Of course it didn’t hurt to have the hot goalie.  Henrik Lundquist proved himself to be as solid as a rock, stopping shot after point-blank shot from one of the best finishing teams in the NHL.  In comparison, Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury  went from being a wall to being a sieve, as Chris Kreider put one in from an impossible angle (for a left-hand shot) to start the Game 5 scoring and Carl Hagelin beat him with a savable backhand in Game 6 (after a St. Louis kick in put the Rangers up 1-0).  By the time Game 7 started, I’m sure Penguin coach Dan Bylsma wished he had Tom Barrasso between the pipes – even in is current, 49 year-old, retired condition.  

I know that the playoffs are only half over, but for a lifelong Ranger fan, overcoming two historical issues in one series, is enough to get one hopeful.  That is, until we have to deal with Carey Price, Subban, Gionta, Briere . . .

Just Sayin’

Steve Kerr realized that coaching the Knicks was as good for you as a Shake Shack hamburger.

I never thought Dr. James Andrews would be the Yanks MVP.  I also never thought I would need to learn how to spell Yangervis.  

Does it mean anything that I’m more excited about the Giants’ UFA’s than their draft picks?  Defensive linemen Emmanuel Dieke from Georgia Tech and Kelcy Quarles from South Carolina will make the team.  

Fantasy Football Update:  With the addition of Aaron Donald, I’m touting the Rams D/ST.  All the teams in the NFC West are in the Top 10 D/ST easy. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

“Sometime in 2015” The Yanks will Do the Right Thing

On May 8th the Yankees announced that they will retire Joe Torre’s number.  This was as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning, delayed only by Torre’s Dodger fiasco and Hamlet act regarding his next job.  The Yanks also announced that they will honor Rich “Goose” Gossage, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill during the Old Timers Day weekend celebrations with plaques in Memorial Park.  They included the following footnote in their press release:

Bernie Williams will be honored “sometime in 2015.”

Huh?  Bernie was the homegrown, quiet heartbeat of the 90’s dynasty.  He was the de facto leader, and star centerfielder.  Sure Tino and Paulie provided great moments as Yankees.  Goose had one of the greatest games in Yankee history – no Yankee fan alive at the time will forget the 1978 playoff game against Boston and Gossage’s 2 2/3 innings of relief to get the save.  (Goose was also infamous for getting his ass kicked by Cliff Johnson in 1979 and missing two months after injuring his thumb in the fight.)   However, these three all came from somewhere else (and in Gossage’s case ended somewhere else).   

In a time where it’s almost impossible to find an original Yankee, honoring Williams should take precedence, especially considering his highly successful career and classy demeanor.  Williams was a lifetime .297 hitter with over 2,300 hits; 127 playoff games with 22 postseason home runs; was the ALCS MVP (1996); won a batting title (1998); a Silver Slugger (2002) four Gold Gloves; six pennants and four rings.  During the 1998 season, in which the Yankees went 114–48 to set a then American League regular season record, Williams became the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove award, and World Series ring in the same year.

Sounds like no one should ever wear his number again.   

Williams came up through the dark days of the early 90’s and became the first original star in the transitional period between the Don Mattingly era and the 90’s dynasty.  As the Yankees celebrated the existence and departure of the “Core Four” of Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte, let’s not forget that there was an original one – actually 51.   

Just Sayin’
So Odell Beckham, Jr. joins the Giants to become the next Greg Jennings?  Donald Driver?  Hakeem Nicks? Rocky Thompson?

No piling on the Rangers today – there’s still more hockey to be played and I just found out that Martin St. Louis’ mom passed away.  

Phil Jackson, think hard on this next decision.  It might be nice to try and get a younger assistant from another team than try to build Steve Kerr into a coach.

Fantasy Football Update: With Sammy Watkins picked up by the Bills, I’d like to amend my previous prediction.