Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new, hopefully, weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

April is Undoubtedly the Best Sports Month

I used to believe that April and October were essentially equal in the best sports month department. I have now officially changed my mind. There is simply no comparison to the month of April. While October features playoff baseball and the new beginnings of the NBA and NHL seasons, the month of April contains all those things flipped around, but so much more. The Masters start the real golf season off right as we saw one of the most exciting Master’s of all time with big Bubba gettin ‘er done. But on top of that, everyone’s favourite bullshit season, the NFL draft is arguably the best football day of the year.

Yeah, April trumps the competition.

Liberal Strike Zones

I’ll never understand why so many umpires choose to give such liberal strike zones. The plate is there for a reason yet umpires are always giving 2 or 3 inches off the edges. This isn’t anything new to baseball but it is something that should change. The MLB is having enough problems with teams inability to score runs and it doesn’t help that umpires continually call strikes that hitters simply can’t reach in this steroid-less, nasty off-speed, hard throwing age of baseball.

It always rubbed me the wrong way that star players in any sport get the benefit of the calls. They are already the best and do not deserve an even bigger advantage. Greg Maddux is the pitcher that immediately comes to mind whenever I see star pitchers get the benefit of the doubt on calls outside the zone. Expanding the strike zone beyond its predisposed limits makes great pitchers like Maddux virtually unhittable. All this ‘they have earned it’ stuff is really just a bunch of garbage

Why the MLB puts up with this is beyond me. Like the NHL, they are losing ground on the NFL and NBA and a simple fix for more runs would be to tell umpires to call strikes within the strike zone. Who is running this league? Gary Bettman?

I don’t get it.

Pujols Struggling

The choice to sign a player on the wrong side of 30 to a double-digit year contract doesn’t really ever strike me as the brightest idea.
Now, of course it would be moronic to deem Albert Pujols’ 10 year contract a failure after 21 homerless games but the decision making behind the signing was questionable prior to the signing. The fact that his age is still an unknown and that he already was on the decline last season, despite his great second half, were not good indicators for his success over the next decade.

Missing Colour in the NHL

The amount of high quality colour commentators in the world of professional sports is few and far between but each sport seems to have at least 1 or 2 guys that qualify as elite. Except for hockey that is. Watching the NHL playoffs this year has brought this to my attention again.

CBC’s lead guy, Craig Simpson, suffers from a severe case of lack of insightful analysis and appears to be ignorantly blissful to all the head shots, hooking, holding and other problems that are hurting the game of hockey. Although Pierre McGuire knows his stuff well for the most part, there is a sense of arrogance to his general lack of likeability from NBC’s new top colour man.

It’s frustrating that, out of all the former players and front office men, they can’t find one guy to be the voice of authority for the NHL. The game experience really becomes a lot less enjoyable without that dynamic tandem up in the booth.

Steve Nash to Miami?

I keep hearing about Steve Nash to Miami and how this is the ideal destination for the 2-time NBA Most Valuable Player to win a championship. Sure, Miami would give Nash arguably the best opportunity to finally get that elusive ring but that’s about all it will do for him. The ring isn’t everything for Steve Nash. There’s a reason why he hasn’t demanded a trade out of Phoenix. He likes it there. He likes playing in a system that he is comfortable with and, more importantly, where he is the focal point.

Nash dominates the ball but that wouldn’t be the case with Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. I can guarantee you that Steve Nash doesn’t want that. Miami and Steve Nash makes about as much sense as cheeseburgers on a pizza. What, Pizza Hut did that?

Welp, anything is possible I guess.

Classy Bruins Fans. Very Classy.

Not that you probably need it but here’s another reason to hate Boston sports fans and it’s not a good one. Following Washington Capitals African-Canadian forward Joel Ward’s game 7 overtime game winning goal, a barrage of racially filled hate flooded the twitterverse directed at Ward by the defeated Bruins fans. It’s a classless display. I realize that it is only a small portion of the Bruins fans and by no means represents their entire fan base, but the fact that there were enough people to use the dreaded N-word in this defamatory manner to make a story out of it is pathetic.

The double-edged sword nature of twitter rears its ugly head again as its lack of any sort of filter allows emotionally charged individuals to vent their frustrations before they have any chance to properly collect their thoughts. Twitter is fascinating in that regard because it shows people in their most uninhibited state, without the masks that they put on for society each and every day. It’s almost like alcohol in that your true persona and feelings come out whether you like it or not. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe this could not have happened to another city’s fan base but, at the same time, it is by no means a shocker that the city of Boston is the culprit.

Good on Joel Ward for playing the story down though and not making this out to be something more than it has to be.

Jose Bautista, ah, Struggling

Like Pujols, Bautista is mired in a prolonged slump, which seems to concern me a lot more than the rest of Blue Jays nation. Sure, Jose Bautista has hit the most home runs in the Majors in the past 2 seasons, had a slash line of .302/.447/.608 in 2011 and WAR’d an outstanding 8.5 last season. However, those inflated numbers were due in large part to his torrid April and May. Yeah, I know his OPS was still .896 after the all-star break last year but he hasn’t ever looked like the same player since last May. A lot of his walks were because of his inability to put the ball in play even as pitchers shied away from him less and less with the realization that he wasn’t Barry Bonds anymore.

Enter 2012, where Bautista is slashing a terrible .187/.337/.333. While it would be absurd to say that Jose Bautista cannot become close to a shadow of his former self, I think it’s starting to become evident that his post all-star break numbers are a better indication of what we’re going to see from him in the future. As a Blue Jays fan, I want to be wrong (kind of). I was wrong in the summer of 2010 when I told the Blue Jays not to re-sign Bautista. Being wrong doesn’t hurt nearly as much as seeing Bautista pop out or foul back good pitch after good pitch.

It doesn’t look as though it is merely a matter of finding his timing anymore. He still has the power but something is seriously wrong. Maybe this is a case of coming to a conclusion a little bit too quickly but this feeling has been churning in my stomach since last June and, as of right now, it isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t Turn Off the Game, Ever

I think I turned the Clippers-Grizzlies game when Memphis was up by 21 points with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter. Bad idea.

By now you probably know how the story turns out. Fairy tale for the Clippers, horror story for the Grizzlies and yada, yada, yada. Nevermind the awesomeness of the comeback in itself. This is just another one of those “if you put it in a movie you wouldn’t believe it” moments that play such a big part in making sports so fascinating to society. I realize I didn’t actually watch this comeback but these are the times when I feel sorry for people who don’t watch sports. Those guys are missing out.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Sweet, I know.

Stan Should Still Be the Man

Coaches are expendable. Players are not. That’s the traditional wisdom.

It’s hard to disagree with it. Someone try convincing the city of Cleveland that Mike Brown was worth more than Lebron James. Yeah, that would be impossible.

However, it’s time to do away with traditional wisdom in Orlando.

Sure, franchise players are incredibly hard to come by. These guys are your rare, one of a kind, Koh-i-Noor kind of diamonds only found in the British Crown Jewels collection. You don’t simply pick Dwight Howard’s up at the local corner store. That’s why you have to do whatever you can to keep the gem, no matter what the cost may be. Well, supposedly.

The Orlando Magic have been patient enough now. Their patience was partially rewarded when Superman rescinded his trade demand, for now, and picked up his player option for the 2012-13 season. They had been given a reprieve.

Then Stan Van Gundy went to the media to inform them that Howard wanted a new coach, leading to one of the most awkward moments in sports interviewing history. Most people assumed that was Stan’s swan song. All that was left was for the fat man to sing.

Apparently, a fat man doesn’t do the trick.

In a series where just about every man, woman, child and alien gave the Orlando Magic Hell freezing over odds, Stan Van Gundy’s boys went out and took home court away from the Pacers with an ugly, yet impressive 81-77 victory. An opening game win versus the sexy dark horse team of the 2011-12 playoffs with a generously listed 6-9 Big Baby Davis starting at center in place of Dwight Howard was shocking to say the least.

The victory, as shocking as it was, should also be very telling to the Orlando Magic front office.

Whatever the outcome of this series, Stan Van Gundy has to stay on as coach of the Orlando Magic. This game 1 victory wasn’t a result of some hot shooting as you would probably expect. The Magic didn’t even shoot 40% for the game. The victory was a result of them scratching and clawing their way to a typical grind it out, playoff victory.

It’s not the win that should impress you, it’s the way the Magic team have responded to Van Gundy in Dwight Howard’s absence. It is clear that there is only one person that isn’t buying what Stan Van Gundy is selling. Right now, that certain someone is out with a back injury. This performance speaks volumes about Stan’s ability as a coach. How he has been able to keep an entire locker room on his side despite the face of the franchise mailing it in is beyond me.

A coach like that doesn’t come around every day.

I didn’t have a problem with the Magic telling Dwight Howard that he could choose his own coach a while ago. It seemed like the right thing at the time. Do whatever you got to do to keep Superman around. The Magic have spent every year since Dwight Howard was drafted building a team around him. I felt that they had no choice because of that reason alone.

I don’t see it that way now.

Dwight Howard should be the one to go. For the past year he has caused nothing but problems for the city of Orlando and the fact that he is the one guy on the team unwilling to open his mind to Van Gundy is more than a little concerning.

Screw him. Let the baby have his bottle. Send him to Brooklyn, Los Angeles or wherever someone will take him on. Orlando doesn’t need that head case for another wasted year.

Related: Indecision Does Not Compare to The Decision

It is almost inevitable that Dwight Howard will be on his way out of Orlando in a year. Picking up his option was just a desperate attempt to regain some public support and prove that he is a loyal person. Sorry Dwight, it’s too late.

Stan Van Gundy is the more valuable commodity for the Magic. The Magic are going to be left without Dwight Howard soon enough. They don’t want to be left without Stan Van Gundy as well. No need to delay, they can start their rebuilding project a year earlier. Everyone knows they aren’t going to win a championship next season anyways.

Cleveland was left for dead after Lebron spurned them. Orlando GM Otis Smith has the opportunity to begin his rebuild with some real assets instead of starting completely from scratch. Some real assets and, of course, one of the best coaches in the National Basketball Association.

It takes a special man to take a Mike Tyson, in his prime, style beating and come out of it smelling of roses.

The Magic ownership and front office cannot see this situation any other way.

Stan Van Gundy must remain in Orlando.

You can follow Chris Ross on twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Defence First, Ratings Last

NBC’s ratings were up a whopping 50% mid-way through the first round of the NHL playoffs. Savour those ratings NBC.

While the first round has featured such gripping matchups as Penguins-Flyers and Washington-Boston, the Western Conference has seen, to put it nicely, its more defensively aware teams succeed. The St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and L.A. Kings have all prevailed against offensively superior teams.

Thus, the problem associated with modern day hockey.

Defence is being rewarded and offence is being punished. While the NFL and NBA continue to make the game easier for high octane offences, the NHL is devolving. Teams heavily reliant on goaltending and sound defensive strategy are reaping the benefits of the NHL’s slow but steady return to the obstruction and hooking that made hockey almost unwatchable in its pre-lockout years.

While Tom Brady throws touchdown after touchdown and Blake Griffin, well, throws down, the NHL highlights are featuring save after save from robotic…sorry, technically sound goaltenders. I like a great save as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. Actually that’s probably a lie, goalie saves are overrated.

Nevertheless, the NHL is now going to have to make it through these Dick Cheney waterboardingly painful Western Conference matchups.

There is not one team left in the Western Conference that plays an entertaining brand of hockey. The West will be riding their new defence first motto all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. No matter what, some team that you couldn’t pay most of America to watch will have a very good chance at hoisting Lord Stanley.

The defensive mindset issue has been getting out of hand recently. Peter Laviolette boldly stood up to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1-3-1 trap system during the middle of the season. I wrote about the lack of goal scoring plaguing the NHL in late October and what they should do to fix it.

Goal scoring is still a big problem. The average goals per game in the NHL has decreased once again in the 2011-12 season and is at its lowest average since the 60’s. The goals do not stem from a lack of shots as that number has kept steady for the past half century.

The players are bigger and faster, the goalies are just too big and there’s not enough room out on the ice for skill players to be skill players. Defensive hockey is not a bad strategy, it’s just boring. In no way am I saying that we should be blaming the coaches for implementing this brand of hockey.

Blame the NHL for allowing this to develop.

This is the NHL’s problem and they seem content with ignoring it. I guess they figure if they ignore it, the problem will go away, you know, like headshots.

The fact that the defensive teams are being rewarded for playing their watching grass grow on a sunny day style of hockey is not good news for hockey fans. It is possible that this year’s playoffs could be chalked up to an anomaly but it appears to be more of a trend than anything else. If this trend does continue, more and more General Managers will be forced to build their franchises around goaltending and defence rather than skilled offensive players.

The Washington Capitals for years have been an underachieving playoff team despite their ability to be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL on a nightly basis. The Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup 3 years ago but have been ousted in the first round the last 2 seasons after losing a considerable chunk of their Cup winning core. The Vancouver Canucks are still without a championship in their history despite being one of the best offensive teams.

The leading regular season scorers of the Western Conference teams advancing include 39 (soon to be 40) year old Ray Whitney (77 points), Anze Kopitar (76 points), Martin Erat (58 points), and David Backes (58 points). The 2nd leading scorers for both Ray Whitney’s Coyotes and Anze Kopitar’s Kings have less than 60 points. It also isn’t coincidental that the Predators and Kings have 2 of the 3 Vezina nominated goalies for the 2011-12 season.

The cliché defence wins championships could not be more true at this moment in time for the NHL.

I said in late October that the NHL would be best served to significantly reduce the size of the goalie’s pads in order to help buck this trend. Not enough to compromise the safety of goaltenders obviously, but enough to make a difference for goal scoring in the NHL.

The effect that poor goaltending can have on a series was on full display in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series in the first round. That type of goaltending is rare in this era of the ridiculously sized and robotic, R2D2-like goaltenders. Smaller pads would make the unpredictable excitement of the Penguins-Flyers series more of a common occurrence.

Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson. They have been the story of the NHL playoffs so far. The Great 8, Alex Ovechkin, was benched for the entire 3rd period of the Capitals game 4 victory because coach Dale Hunter felt that would be best for preserving a 1 goal lead. He was right.

Fantastic. Just…fantastic.

Right now, there is a fork in the road and the NHL is clearly headed down the wrong path.

NBC brace yourselves. This is going to be a long month.

You can follow Chris Ross on twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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