Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new 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. It’s already Monday so let’s get at it. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Granger Danger

The Pacers do stand a chance against the Heat. They clearly showed that in game 1. A lot of things are going to have to go their way but it isn’t farfetched to say that they can win the series. Granger was terrible yesterday afternoon and the Pacers kept it close until the final couple of minutes.

What Indiana needs is for Danny Granger to play less like the role player that he has been this year and more like the emerging star he was only 2 years ago. He is just a couple of years removed from averaging 24.2ppg and three years removed from averaging 25.8ppg the previous season. Despite being the leading scorer of the Pacers, Granger dropped all the way down to 18.7 per game this season and shot a career low 41.6% from the field. Granted, he has taken a reduced role because of the emergence of guys like Paul George and Roy Hibbert.

Nevertheless, the Pacers can’t just play a good team game with good team guys and expect to beat an exceptional Heat squad. They have to play a good team game with Danny Granger finding the form of the top scorer that he is still capable of being even with Lebron James guarding him.

NBA Reffing

I complain about reffing a lot. I know. But bear with me.

The refereeing so far throughout the playoffs has been outstanding. They have been letting the players play like they should in the playoffs. This isn’t hockey. Scoring is not a problem.

What I have a problem with is the inconsistency between crews. Game 1 of the Heat-Pacers series was called more similarly to a regular season game than a round 2 postseason matchup. What’s worse is that it seemed as though every time Dwyane Wade or Lebron James put their head down to go to the basket it was an automatic 2 shots. The game lacked flow, which is something that hasn’t been a problem up until this point in the playoffs for the most part.

There’s a fine line between keeping the game in check and letting the players play but I’d like to see them allow the more aggressive style of basketball to continue.

Blue Clay, No Way

Players on the ATP tour have recently been complaining about the blue clay they have been forced to play on at the most recent stop in Madrid instead of the traditional red clay. Apparently, the ball bounces differently and it is much more slippery. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have both gone public with their staunch disapproval of the new surface.

Never mind the way it plays, the blue surface is atrocious for viewers. Like the bright blue field of the Boise State Broncos, the idea of playing over a surface dyed so colourfully may be fine in theory but, in practice, it’s a distracting sight for the most important people, the audience. Whether it is just a matter of getting used to it or just having such a bright, in your face colour, the blue doesn’t work for me.

I understand that these ATP destinations want to differentiate themselves from other tournaments but the blue surface doesn’t do that in a positive way. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who is more than a little annoyed by the blue surface. Take away the blue clay courts. The players don’t like it, I don’t like it and I bet there are a few others who feel the same way.

I’d Rather Be Golfing

As 26 NHL teams are probably out taking advantage of sunny weather to hit the links, 4 teams remain to battle it out for hockey supremacy. I think I’d like to be on the golf course with them instead of watching the hockey the NHL is presenting to the world this May. The matchups left in the Western and Eastern conferences are not worth my 3 hours to watch. Life is too short 3 period neutral zone free for all.

With the Capitals out of the playoffs the intriguing storylines have dissipated. It’s nice to see an old school goalie like Brodeur still thrive at 40 years old but his team is as boring as ever. Meaningful hockey in the big apple is a pleasant change of pace. Neither of those narratives are enough to entice this Canadian though. I didn’t even realize the Conference Finals began last night until around the 15 minute mark of the 3rd period between the Kings and Coyotes when I caught the game in one of my many surfing’s of the channel variety.

George Karl is Pretty Good

The Los Angeles Lakers might wish they had George Karl as their coach instead of Mike Brown. While Mike Brown’s security as a head coach was being questioned going into game 7 by the likes of Magic Johnson, George Karl went about his business to give his overmatched team a fighting chance. The job that Karl did with the Nuggets against the Lakers and throughout the entire season should be applauded. He can give himself a big pat on the back as well.

There was no way in hell that the Nuggets should have been able to take the Lakers to a tightly contested game 7. Absent of a big man who can score outside of the paint and a wing player able to create his own shot, George Karl was still able to come up with a successful game plan to counter the Lakers.

Linternational Appeal

I read on NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk that the Toronto Raptors are aiming for Jeremy Lin. As the article says, it is a bit unrealistic to think that the Knicks would let the “marketing dream” that is Jeremy Lin walk away. They would almost undoubtedly match any offer the Raptors would give Lin but the idea of Lin in the city of Toronto is no doubt appealing to a Raptors fan.

Jose Calderon has one year left on his contract and Toronto runs their offence almost exclusively through the point. Bottom line is that with Jerryd Bayless looking more and more like his ceiling in the NBA is that of a streaky combo guard, the Dino’s are soon to be in need of a point guard. Lin fits the bill and if he could come close to the level he played at this year, he could make the Raptors into one of the more intriguing dark horses in the next couple of years. Additionally, Lin would have no concerns about moving to a country outside of the United States, which is always an issue with the team in Toronto.

Linsanity in Toronto? I’m on board.

Sha-Na-Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye

I was absolutely shocked to see that Kevin Na blew a 3rd round lead at the Players Championship on Sunday. Bogeying 4 of the first 5 holes and finished with a 4-over 76 was so uncharacteristic of Na. Sorry, what, Kevin Na was the guy who shot that brutal 16 on the 9th hole at the Texas Open last April? Oh, that changes things a bit.

Seriously though, how often do we have these virtual no names leading after 3 rounds only to fade into the abyss. The sport of golf will always amaze me with its ability to separate the men from the boys. It always astonishes me that these unbelievably talented golfers turn into shy, little, hormonal teenagers when it comes to the final round of tournaments.

Na’s situation was no doubt worse with the crowd jeering him for his slow play and with the time clock being imposed on him by the PGA. He did not take any of that very well and deservedly lost. If he can’t mentally handle picking up his Kendry Morales running down the 1st base line pace then that’s too bad. Taking out the extra stuff Na had to deal with yesterday, I’m not so sure he doesn’t crash and burn like so many others have in the past anyways. When a professional loses his head enough to shoot a 16 on a hole, there are always going to be question marks.

Big Ball Parks

The Minnesota Twins spent a whole bunch of money on a brand new stadium and couldn’t have screwed it up more. Announcers and writers constantly mention the beauty of Target Field and that it’s one of the best parks in all of baseball. In the end, a ball park is just a ball park and no matter how you slice it, what you will still be watching is baseball on a diamond. The look of a stadium means nothing to the product on the field. For me, Target field is one of the worst parks in all of baseball.

I will never be able to comprehend the choice of teams to design a brand spanking new stadium that their players can’t hit the ball out of. Forget about the terrible and abnormally high centre field camera view that Target Field provides, the park is simply one of the worst to play in for hitters. The Twins have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer locked up for the long haul yet both have had their fair share of difficulties hitting home runs at Target Field. Injuries have played a part in that but, ultimately, Target Field hurts the Minnesota Twins’ two most prized commodities. It’s not much fun for fans to watch warning track power either.

Pitcher friendly stadiums are not only bad for fans but they hurt a team’s ability to sign free agents. For some reason, if the team is good enough, marquee free agent pitchers don’t mind pitching roughly half of their games at a hitter friendly park (see Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium). Conversely, teams such as the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are unable to attract the best power hitters. A hitter friendly park can give your franchise the best of both worlds, on the condition that you have a team that has the possibility to contend. And even if your team sucks, at least you can see a few more long balls. I hear the chicks dig it.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

Sometimes I should wonder if I should sneak my shameless promotion in the middle of the post just so you guys are caught off guard. Anywho, you should, no MUST, check me out on twitter and then maybe give me a follow @paintstheblack. If you like what you see around the blog, subscribe 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. Happy Monday!

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Kings Run Not a Cinderella

When the 8th seed upsets the 1 and 2 seed, the general consensus is to check if that glass slipper is going to fit. Usually, it will.

However, for the Los Angeles Kings, the glass slipper is way too small and delicate.

The Kings are much different than your average, everyday, run of the mill Cinderella story. Sure, the Los Angeles Kings barely squeezed into the playoffs. Sure, they knocked off the back-to-back Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in 5 games. Sure, the 2nd seeded St. Louis Blues fell to the Kings without taking a single game from them. That doesn’t make a Cinderella though.

The Kings deserve better than to be cast as Cinderella’s.

Los Angeles underachieved during the year and it didn’t appear likely that they would be able to reach their potential. If things started to click, it would be too little, too late. That notion, obviously, was dead wrong.

The Kings do not qualify to be true Cinderella’s because they are a team overflowing with talent. They were the Stanley Cup choices of more than a few people in the pre-season but ended up disappointing greatly with their regular season performance. The only big change made to their roster actually improved their product on paper as they swapped underperforming players with the Columbus Blue Jackets, receiving Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson.

Their roster, on paper, is one to be feared. Captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and shut down defenseman Willie Mitchell, along with the aforementioned Jeff Carter are as strong a core roster as any team in the NHL. For some reason though, their season was executed similarly to a Heath Bell 9th inning with the Miami Marlins. Considering their roster, the LA Kings should never have been a number 8 seed.

The coaching change closer to the end of the season seemed to be the turning point. Although the results didn’t show in the regular season, the hard-nosed style of a Daryl Sutter coached team showed up against the Vancouver Canucks as the energy and aggressiveness of the Kings combined with their skill made for a very difficult matchup.

Darryl Sutter has been able to take his Kings to the Western Conference Final and he hasn’t even had to rely solely on Vezina nominated goaltender Jonathan Quick to do so. Don’t get me wrong, Quick has been outstanding, but he is not the sole reason for the success of the Kings.

The Kings are not a reincarnation of the 2010 Montreal Canadians, who, despite a severe lack of talent, were able to ride goalie Jaroslav Halak to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final where they were eventually defeated. They are not a roster absent of depth parallel to the 2006 Edmonton Oiler team that made the Stanley Cup Finals on the backs of Dwayne Roloson who was able to transform from solid to other worldly in the playoffs.

To qualify as a Cinderella story in sports, teams generally have unexpected heroes emerging to immortalize themselves in playoff history. In the NHL, that role is predominantly reserved for the goaltender. After playing a mere 6 regular season games following a late season call-up, virtual unknown rookie Ken Dryden earned the starting job in 1971 for the Montreal Canadians before the start of the playoffs. The Canadians ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

For the Kings these series of events are just the result of an underachieving team putting things together at the right time. The Kings are not a one-hit wonder. This is not simply a matter of getting hot like Steve Blake in the 4th quarter kind of deal. They are built to succeed for a number of years to come. The 2010 Canadians, 2006 Oilers and 2003 Mighty Ducks, predictably, were unable to repeat the success of their fluky runs. Los Angeles does not fall into that category.

The Kings have won largely due to the fact that they are the better team. The 8th spot was a scary position for them to be for higher seeds because it was very possible that they could put it together at any time. The scattered puzzle pieces finally began to make some sense in LA and it was the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues who got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The slipper won’t be fitting for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 playoffs but that is by no means an omen for their imminent exit.

The slipper won’t fit because the Kings are too good to be a glass shoe type of team.

You can follow me 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.

NHL Trade Deadline Culture Change

Brad Richards headlined the not traded list following this year's NHL Trade Deadline

Even though the 2011 version of Canada’s second Christmas ended up being more like my great aunt’s birthday party, it may have signalled the beginning of a new culture in the NHL.

The NHL and NBA essentially switched positions this year as it was the NBA drawing headlines from a flurry of deadline deals. Generally, the NHL trade deadline is filled with intense madness as the clock strikes 3, with every Canadian sports channel and website giving you up to the minute updates and analysis on the most recent happenings around the league.

The lack of flare from this year’s trade deadline could be explained by the short supply of marquee and impact players on the trading block. That’s the easy explanation.

It seems to me though that the increasing acquisition of rental players by teams in recent years not translating to playoff success has led General Managers to realize the downfall of selling the farm for 2 months of a star player that you will most likely be unable to retain in the off-season. It has become apparent that, in the new millennium, past Stanley Cup Winning teams have not been forced to make major acquisitions in order to take home a title.

Whether it’s the inability for the acquired player to mesh well with the current roster, the team’s roster simply not being good enough, or luck being the cause of the failure of rental players, NHL front offices have taken notice.

This year’s most prominent moveable asset was soon to be free agent forward Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars who currently sits 8th in league scoring. The Dallas Stars are very much in the playoff race, sitting at 8th in the Western conference coincidentally, and the dilemma of trading or keeping Richards had caused the price for the Star forward to be quite steep.

The New York Rangers, who were rumoured to be the front-runners in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, would have had to pay a pretty penny to attain him. It didn’t happen. The Rangers decided to continue with their strategy of building around their young core of players.

Well, it’s about time.

In 2008, deadline day acquisition Marian Hossa was a key component in the Pittsburgh Penguin’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. It sure worked out for the Pens in 2008, but more often than not we see the teams that take on rental player’s finish their season more like Peter Forsberg and the Nashville Predators did in 2007. The Predators gave up Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, as well as their 1st and 3rd round picks for Forsberg and were eventually ousted by the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Through the beauty of hindsight we see that in actuality the trade was not all that bad. Nevertheless, it’s the process that counts not the result.

The overwhelming amount of failed deadline day shake-ups appears to have had a significant effect on the NHL. Teams are starting to place more importance on keeping prized prospects and quality draft picks while acquiring the steady, bottom 6 players that could be that slight difference between Lord Stanley and a 12:30 tee time.

Even the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian Burke have shifted gears. Prior to the common insanity that accompanies the trade deadline, Burke traded away proven current NHLers Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg in exchange for prospects and draft picks. Much to everyone’s surprise, Burke stood pat on deadline day.

There was only one striking trade this year with Dustin Penner’s tenure in oil town coming to a close. The Los Angeles Kings gave up first round draft pick Colten Teubert (13th overall) in addition to their 1st and 3rd draft picks to attain the 28-year-old power forward.

The number 1 seed Vancouver Canucks acquired Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, a couple of veteran depth forwards, in return for some minor prospects and mid-round draft picks.

This feeling of the need for a top defenseman or renowned forward seems to be slowly deteriorating and the 2011 trade deadline could very well be the start of this changing philosophy around the NHL.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

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