Thursday, December 31, 2009

If the Olympics are Half as Good, We're in for a Wild Ride

I'm not sure how many of you out there are sitting at home on this New Year's Eve like I am. Those of you that are probably aren't watching hockey, and those of you who are watching hockey probably aren't watching the World Juniors match between Canada and USA. If you're not you are missing some fantastic hockey.

The skaters on the ice aren't old enough to drink (at least in the US). Few of the names are recognizable to the average hockey fan. Some may never make it to the NHL. Yet the action on the ice rivaled anything played in a major league arena this year.

Canada stormed back from a 4-2 deficit to tie it in the third period on a short handed goal. They had the go ahead goal disallowed on a referee's questionable whistle. The five minute overtime was back and forth and saw an incredible save by US goaltender Jake Campbell as he channeled his inner Hasek to stop a shot by Jordan Eberle

Heck there were even Mounties in full uniform!

Canada ended up winning the game in a shootout and will move on to the semi-finals. The skater who scored the decisive goal was the LA Kings 6th round draft pick Branden Kozun. What makes him special? Well he had dual citizenship and had a choice as to which team to play for - the US or Canada. I believe Canadian fans think he made the right choice.

Everyone who saw the game is also a winner. If this game represents the future of hockey, then I would say the game is in safe hands.

2009 - How Did I do as a Collector?

As I celebrate the close of 2009 on the couch (a couch that we didn’t own at the beginning of 2009) I recall that at the beginning of the year I laid out a three prong approach to my collecting strategy for 2009. So let’s take a look and see how I did.

1. No Blasters - Well that one failed mightily. As a matter of fact I just finished busting a blaster of Heritage High Numbers. I did cut down on the number of blasters I bought, which left me more money to spend on-line for boxes.

I found out that Target is way to close for me to resist the siren song of immediate card purchasing. Since all of the loose packs are well rifled through the only option left was the row upon row of blasters. So I delved into them on occasion, and didn’t pull anything special out of them. Was it a waste of money? Perhaps, but it was still fun to rip them open.

2. Pick one or the other - Topps or Upper Deck - I was successful on this one. I chose Topps because I liked the design better and wasn’t disappointed. The base set was filled with great photography and interesting inserts. The short print cards of veterans were nice to chase (even if I haven’t gotten around to getting any of the O’s). I did pick up a few packs of Upper Deck Series One late in the year as a free throw in from Dave and Adam, but they just confirmed that I made the right decision.

3. Limit what I buy and stick to it - I did alright on this one. As I already mentioned I didn’t buy any Upper Deck Base. I also skipped Obak, UD Idols, UD X and Topps Unique. After buying a box of Allen & Ginter I realized that I didn’t really care for this years release and have started giving away as many as I can. So if you need some shoot me an email!

This definitely kept the collection down, all of my baseball purchases fit in one box which is nice. Of course, it limits what I can trade to people looking to complete sets, but I’ve managed to work around that so far.

A bonus idea was to give away 5,000 cards. I don’t think I got quite to that level, but I believe I gave away at least 2,500. This year I’m really going to focus on culling the collection, especially older hockey and all of football.

Next up - what I’m going to do next year. Big changes coming!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

For Your Christmas Eve Reading Pleasure - An Upper Deck MVP Break

Before I pack my bags and head up to Pensacola for Christmas I figured I'd leave my readers (Hi Mom and Dad!) with one last product review. As an early Christmas present to myself I picked up a box of 2009-10 Upper Deck MVP from Blowout Cards. They had the best price that I could find on the intrawebs and right now they are running some nice year end specials so go check them out (look to the right of the blog for a very convenient link).

Back to the cards. Why MVP? Two reasons my merry readers. The first, and most important, is the price point. Less than $40 will get you 24 packs with 8 cards per pack. You will also get a relic card and usually an insert per every other pack.

Reason number two - on average, every other pack will include a rookie. Odds-wise MVP is usually the best shot you have of landing the big name rookies for an affordable price. True to form my box landed me 12 rookies.

Without further delay let us dive right into what was in my box. We're starting off with those rookies.

Victor Hedman! It's my first card of the Big Swede who's manning the blue line for the Lightning. So far he's seemed to have made the adjustment rather well, although occasionally he does struggle with the speed of the game.

Jonas Gustavsson, The Monster. It appears he's on his way to being the Leafs number one goalie.

Ryan O'Reilly. Along with Matt Duschene he's part of the young blood that's bringing the Avalanche back into contention in the west.

Other rookies were Yannick Wever (Montreal), Grant Lewis (Atlanta), John Negrin (Calgary), David Van Der Gulik (Calgary), Byron Bitz (Boston), Joel Rechlicz (New York Islanders), Alec Martinez (Los Angeles), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Ilkka Pikkarainen (New Jersey)

Next up let's see what Lightning cards I acquired along with the Hedman.

If you thought that Vincent Lecavalier would be among these cards then you haven't been reading this blog very long. Another box bought without landing the Lightning captain. Unlike the 2009-10 Series One break I had, he didn't even make a cameo appearance on any other cards.

It was nice to pick up my first Steve Downie in a Lightning uniform card. He's managed to garner a lot of bad press for someone who's only 22 years old, but he seems to have settled down a bit and is one of the more exciting players to watch on the Bolts (and new personal favorite of Wasteland friend Big Mike).

Now we move to the numbered parallels that I got. This year they break down to:

Gold Script # to 100
Rookie Gold Script # to 100
Super Script # to 25
Rookie Super Script # to 25

No super scripts for this guy, but the rookie gold script is numbered 100/100 which is kind of cool.

Your basic inserts - Hart Winners and Hart Candidates. You see the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the leagues "most valuable player" and this is Upper Deck MVP. See what they did there? Huh? Pretty crafty Upper Deck!

A Sidney Crosby Hart Winner. It's always nice to have an insert of the league's poster boy, especially with his awesome teenage mustache.

The MVP Candidates look to be Upper Deck's idea of the best player per team.

And finally the big hit of the box - a Two on Two 4 Jersey Swatch!

On the front Owen Nolan (yes he's still in the league) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard show off their Christmas spirit with a red and green swatch. How nice.

Only white pieces from Olli Jokinen's mesmerizing eyes. Look into them and be haunted! Jerome Iginla rounds out the foursome. A familiar face to Lightning fans. There aren't many fights in the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone between the team's top offensive players so it was a bit of a shock when he dropped the gloves against Vincent.


Total inserts: 10
Rookies: 12 (13 if you include the Backlund Gold Script)
Duplicates: 1
Base Completion (not counting rookies): 166/200

Final Thoughts:

Overall I really liked this box break. It's not designed for the big hit seekers, but if you're into team collecting and rookie cards definitely give it a whirl.

I'll probably buy another box just for fun to see if I can complete the set and maybe pick up a Tavares Rookie.

Final grade - Rookie Defenseman*

All cards pictured (except for Hedman and Gustavsson) are available for trade. The rookies that I listed but didn't include in the photo are also available.

*A needless reminder that the Wasteland Grading system means absolutely nothing and should have no bearing on if you buy this product or not

No Problems With This Trade

My trading has slowed down a bit over the past weeks. The holidays have intervened as has the job. After staring at a computer for eight hours the last thing I want to do is stare at my card collection and figure out what I have that other people want.

That being said, I've had one trade offer that I've been putting off for some time, mostly because I was too lazy to check out that person's list of cards needed to see what I had. Luckily for them they posted a card that I really kind of wanted so I knew I had to get off my ass and put an offer together.

The cards I had sitting unloved in a pile on a dresser in the kitchen (remodling a home office had caused some major rearranging) were 30-some Yankee Stadium Legacy cards that I've picked up from various packs and boxes over the last couple of years.

I knew Marie over at A Cardboard Problem was attempting the audicious task of putting the entire set together. I went through her list of needs and was able to put together about 20 cards that it looked like she needed. I wrapped them up and shipped them out and waited for one card in return.

A couple of days ago my mail slot had a nice, little, yellow-padded envelops sitting among the bills and Christmas cards. Inside was this little gem -

My first Adam Jones Relic card. The Gold Glover had a pretty nice second season with the O's and looks to be a cornerstone for the rebuilding team.

It's nice when a trade accomplishes two goals:

1. Acquire a card I want or need
2. Get rid of cards I have no use for, but others do

So a big Thank You to Marie!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Farewell, Goodbye, and Na Shledanou Mr. Krajicek

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bummed out. Yeah the Lightning won and yeah Vincent has 5 points in his last 3 games, but I’m still not feeling all that chipper. What’s got me down, might you ask? Well, it’s simple. I have to find a new scapegoat for the Lightning.

As of last week Lukas Krajicek is no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was sent down to Norfolk last week (just in time for the Blizzard of 2009!) and according to GM Brian Lawton he “won’t be on re-entry waivers under any circumstances”.

The dismissal seems mostly performance based, Coach Tocchet said he was “at the scene of the crime” too many times. The crime apparently being turnovers or overall less than stellar play. It will be interesting to see who is going to replace his 17:31 of ice time. The masses are begging for The Savior (Matt Smaby), the 25 year-old, 240lb defenseman who’s been raring to get in the lineup since the season started.

I have to believe money also plays a part in his dismissal. The Lightning will have to pay his whole salary since he has a one way deal, but it looks like they aren’t interested in placing him on re-entry waivers because they would be on the hook for half of his salary if a team claims him.

The Times mentioned that there was some interest from other teams, but they wanted to trade an “asset” to the Lightning. That means another player, which would mean salary for the Bolts. So if the Czech defenseman is moved it will likely be for a draft pick.

So after 23 games, 17 shots, -4 and 1 assist I have no one to pick one when the Lightning lose a game. I guess I’ll have to take a look at the roster and choose a new person to blame. At first glance the candidates are: David Hale, Matt Walker, Stephane Veilleux or Alex Tanguay.

I think I’ll have a candidate selected by the time the new year rolls around. I want to give them another week and a half to show why they deserve the wrath of The Wasteland.

Overall, despite the long losing streak the Lightning have been playing a little bit better. They’ve been killing penalties, scoring on the power play and winning face-offs. Vincent might be waking up, since the benching of Tanguay and Jeff Halpern the Lightning captain has been playing inspired hockey.

In those three games he has 2 goals and 3 assists, he has launched 12 shots at the net and won the majority of his face-offs. He’s back checking in the defensive zone and skating harder. He’s seemed to regained a bit of the edge that he used to play with and I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up a fighting major sometime in the next couple of games.

I’ll wrap up by saying good day to Mr. Krajicek. Please spread your wealth while you’re in Norfolk. Your $1.4 million salary will by a lot of cheeseburgers for your teammates. I’ll miss your soft checks and the wonderful sight of you flipping the puck out to center. I honestly believe if you had been given an entire year you would have eventually hit the scoreboard.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That's Right, I Saved Orlando Jai Alai

Let's check the timeline.

Saturday - Orlando Jai Alai celebrates the closing of the building with a fantastic Citrus Invitational.

Monday - I start writing a post about jai alai.

Tuesday - I post the column.

Wednesday - News stations announce that a mysterious person has an agreement in place to become the new owner and jai alai will resume in February.

It's quite clear my blog is the catalyst for everything.

That, my fellow readers, is a prime example of a logical fallacy. It really is the only thing I remember from Psychology 101 in college. At least I remembered something.

The real story is that this unknown person with "deep pockets" was impressed with the play over the weekend and announced his intentions to buy the building over the weekend. The employees were told Monday that they would not be losing their job at the end of the month. I had seen rumors pop up on a couple of jai alai message boards while I was writing my column, but nothing official was confirmed.

The good news is that Orlando Jai Alai will be around for at least another season. The as yet to be named buyer is planning on the fronton being able to secure card games (i.e. poker) which most experts see as key to the survival of the building.

The fact that poker games aren't allowed in Seminole County (which is where the building is located) is kind of a minor hurdle that has to be cleared. The fact that neither the fronton in the past or the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club have been able to get past this minor problem is a bit of a concern that can be debated at a later time.

For now, let's celebrate the fact that someone saw something in the play this weekend that inspired him to plunk down some money and save something. Officials are hoping the deal is finished by January 1st so that the eight week season can begin in February.

Securing card games will be very important to the survival of the sport in Orlando, that's not a disputable point. There has to be a reason to bring people in the building and right now poker and blackjack, along with slot games, bring people in to gamble.

Even I game to be a fan of jai alai in a roundabout way. I didn't set foot in Tampa Jai Alai to watch the "merry festival". I was there because they were showing a boxing match that we couldn't get in our dorm room. I want to say it was a Julio Cesar Chavez fight, but my memory fails me right now (damn college drinking!).

Getting people in the door is the first step, once they're in the play of the game has to bring them back. That means the talant level has to be there. Orlando trails Dania and Miami when it comes to the overall level of it's play. Let's face it,when Gino is one of your tournament backcourters you need to step it up.

So challenge number one for the new owner will be working out an agreement to bring better players either from Europe or the other frontons in the state. He would also need to develop local talant as well. The players on the court are closer to 40 or even 50 then they are to 25. Younger, more exciting players would strenghten the play and keep more fans.

Challange number two would be marketing the sport correctly. That means facebook, twitter, you tube videos, a better web site, etc., etc. Find local or national advisors to place advertisements on the wall or padding. Improve the on-site restaurant so that it's worth a dinner out. Find a presence on the local college campuses. UCF isn't that far away and it's one of the larger colleges in the nation. God knows college kids like the hipster, throwback to the '50 & '60s act now more than ever. Appeal to that trend.

This post dragged on a little longer than I expexted. I inteneded to just post the "I saved jai alai" joke and then move on, and now I've delved into marketing plans.

So I'll leave you with this. If you find yourself in the Orlando area in February, take a night and head over to Castleberry (about 20 minutes from Disney) and give jai alai a chance.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Long, Rambling Post on a Sport Most People Have Never Watched

I didn’t think I’d be starting this off by quoting Garth Brooks, but he summed it up best when he twanged that he was “much too young to feel this damn old“. What’s got me feeling older than my 30 some odd years? This weekend I attended the closing of the second fronton in my sporting/gambling life.

What the fr-uck is a fronton you ask? It’s a place they played a once great sport. That sport - Jai Alai. Why have 90% of the people reading this never heard of Jai Alai? In no particular order the following things are to blame:

The Lottery
Internet Gambling
Conservative Politicians
Netflix, Movie Theaters, Night Clubs
Not allowing Poker Rooms
Disney (please note - if anything in Florida fails, it’s because of Disney)

There is no smoking gun in the murder of jai alai, it’s more of a conglomeration of competing factors along with an inability to market an exciting sport correctly.

If you're still struggling to place the sport think if the opening credits of Miami Vice, one of those Dos Equis commercials with the world's most interesting man, a scene from the latest season of Mad Men and an episode of Jackass where Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville are having oranges thrown at them by guys with wicker baskets on their hands.

Got it now?

Saturday night Orlando Jai Alai (actually located in Castleberry) closed it’s door for the final time. When my buddy Big Mike dropped the news a few weeks ago that they were shutting down for good it was a no-brainer that we had to be there.

The good news was that they were going out in style - The Citrus Invitational. That meant they were bringing in some of the best players from around the state for tournament jai alai. Play is exciting when average pros are playing, it’s phenomenal when elite players are competing. Tournaments also mean the crowds will show up. Instead of playing in font of a hundred people they would be playing in front of a few thousand.

In college we had spent a few cheap weekend nights at Tampa Jai Alai (now a Home Depot). Quarter beer nights and $1 quinella boxes were cheaper then a night at a club or bar. After college, in my wild and crazy single days we had made the trek to Orlando for marathon jai alai sessions every few months. A Saturday matinee performance followed by a Saturday night performance followed by a Sunday matinee usually meant we were in the fronton for about 12 hours per weekend.

Even then we knew the sport was doomed. Often we were the youngest people in the crowd by a decade or so. The crowd itself would be sparse. More people would be watching simulcast horse races on the TV’s spread throughout the building then actually watching live action. I can’t begrudge the simulcast, it probably kept the place open for a few extra years.

While we saw some excellent players the overall quality of play, especially the early games, was sub par at best. We still had a blast though, watching sports is great, watching sports with the possibility of winning money after the match is even better.

During those days it was worth the drive over to watch the play of two or three players, the most exciting being a slender backcourter who went by the name Elicegui. Unlike most players who tend to be content spending most of the time catching and throwing the pelota, Elicegui played with a fury.

There was no lower gear for him, everything was thrown at top speed. He had a long, smooth throwing motion that generated tremendous speed on his forehand. If he had been born in Florida instead of Spain he probably would have been a pitcher who threw in the mid-90’s.

If he was on his game it was like he was playing on a different level, if he was off his game it could get ugly. Power has a place in the game, but there is also a subtle side to it as well. The best players move their opponents around the court with a mixture of shots. They use all of the angles available to make the pelota (ball) land where the other player isn’t.

Elecigui had no time for subtlety. Nor did he hide his emotion. Screaming at himself after poor shots or glaring out at the crowd as they heckled him were common reactions. When compared to the normally withdrawn players he tended to stand out. The crowd loved him when he won and jeered him when he lost.

He still plays, and was apparently a late scratch to the Citrus Invitational, but arm injuries and age have limited the explosiveness a bit.

The cancha, or court, at Orlando Jai Alai had certain quirks that set it apart from other frontons such as Dania or Miami. For starters the front wall was fast. If you’re familiar with the concepts of “live boards” in hockey arenas then Orlando would compare to the boards at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. The pelota came off the front wall like a cannon, which led to a quicker, more exciting game.

Unlike most cancha’s Orlando doesn’t have a net across the top of the court that signifies out of bounds. They do have a red stripe marking the boundaries, but the pelota actually has to touch the line to be out. This doesn’t sound like much, but it allows the players more room and that leads to more match saving catches and throws. Extended play brings the crowd into the match.

Each performance is divided up into 12-13 individual games. Most games are doubles (two players per team) with a couple of singles matches sprinkled through out the day. The players are divided up into eight positions. The 1 plays the 2, the winner plays the 3, the winner plays the 4, etc., etc. The first time through the rotation the player earns one point for the win, the second time around wins are worth two points. The first player to win 7 points wins the game.

Like a horse race you can bet on the winner, place, show, trifecta, exacta, quinella and probably some other combinations that I never noticed. Most popular among our crowd was the $1 quinella boxes. You pick three teams and hope that two of the three finish in first and second. Total cost - $3.00. Perfect for broke college kids.

Now if that description is confusing, imagine having it explained to you by a 70 year-old Cuban in broken English. That’s how I learned the game. I’m pretty sure the first few times I bet I threw away winning tickets because I had no idea what I actually bet. Luckily, the quarter beers helped erase any bad memories.

Each game had a certain rhythm to it. Early in the match, when only one point is up for grabs, the crowd is disinterested, maybe a little impatient. The players tend to split points, and when they drop an easy catch or fire one out of bounds it only elicits mild grumbling from the spectators.

Then as the players rotate through and the four post or the six post has three or four points the crowd’s attention focuses directly on the players. Now each point is crucial. The player they’ve wheeled their trifecta around might not get up again if he loses this point.

Now when the pelota clangs off the cesta (curved, wicker catching device) on an easy passing shot the suddenly hostile crowd shares their displeasure vocally, usually at the top of their lungs, and in multiple languages. Most players stoically complete their walk of shame back to the caged bullpen, the caged netting between the court and the spectators now seems more for their protection then for the paying public.

On the same token tension builds during great rallies. Most points last about five or six exchanges. Anything more than that usually contains one or two great catches and throws. The iconic image of a a jai alai player scaling the wall to make a catch happens rarely, but when it is pulled off the crowd is delirious with joy.

Whether is was the fact that the competition was better, or that the players were putting on a show for the capacity crowd the late games on Saturday were electric. None more so than game 13 of the nights performance was the Citrus Invitational Doubles Championship.

Heavy money was spent on the favorites - Solozabal and Oyarbide from Dania Jai Alai and Goikoetxea and Irastorza from Miami Jai Alai. Unlike most matches this one would be played to ten points and at no time would the points double. That way a team wouldn’t win by a fluke play or a bad bounce. They would have to cycle through the entire roster at least two times ensuring that the best two teams would match up more than once.

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that Solozabal and Goikoetxea are brothers and formally played at Orlando. The last time we saw Solozabal play in Orlando he had an epic day where it seemed he never lost a point. Yet no one seemed to be betting on him either than Mike and myself so it was one of the few days we walked out with money in our pockets.

Irastorza, a hulking backcourter from France, played with an elegant power that led a the person behind me to exclaim, “To me watching him play is like watching Tiger Woods swing a golf club. It is perfection, he doesn’t hesitate like these other players.” The fact that the person speaking was a former champion made it even more worthwhile.

The match itself would last about 45 minutes and it was one of the most fascinating three quarters of an hour that I’ve spent watching sports. The crowd was at it’s peak, roaring out in full fury when a referee missed a clear over serve. The anger turned to cheers as the aggrieved team (Egi and Hernandez from Spain) rallied back.

Egi, diminutive even by jai alai standards, was a whirling dervish of returns. All day long he had struggled. To me it seemed he was unnerved late in the matinee session when local whipping boy Gino struggled with a return and whipped a shot that missed the back of Egi’s head by about 3 inches.

I have never seen a major injury during my years of watching, the worst injuries being a blown out knee and a player taking a shot in the taint. If the ball had hit Egi I probably would have seen my first jai alai related death.

Gino is a large man who throws with great force, but as the guy behind me said, “He never knows where it’s going on the wall.” Gino also has a bit of a temper and just enough talent to have people bet on him only to let them down with a throw into the pad that marks the out of bounds area.

Part of the joy of going to Orlando was watching the crowd turn on Gino and Gino’s response to the crowd. For the most part the players take the abuse as fines and suspensions can be levied for inappropriate outbursts.

Gino didn’t care about that so much. On one occasion we saw his first match back from a suspension for reacting to the crowd. After being yelled at by a fan for most of the night (one voice can be quite loud when the fronton was empty) Gino finally snapped and yelled back at the heckler and fired off a single finger salute. We’re pretty sure he earned another suspension.

As I was saying, during the climatic match Egi was on fire, making several seemingly impossible saves off the fast Orlando wall. The best save of the night was off a carom (a kill shot that is thrown at high speed with the pelota ricocheting off of the front and side walls at a sharp angle) that I thought was destined to kill the middle referee. He caught and returned it passed the surprised front courter on the opposing team to win the point. The crowd was ecstatic.

Needless to sat Egi and Hernandez won the championship to the delight of everyone, even those that didn’t bet on him. For one night jai alai was back and I was able to see what it was like during it’s hey day of the ‘60s (minus the well dressed crowd). Perhaps, instead of focusing on the loss of another fronton I should remember the screaming delight of the crowd celebrating that shot.

So while I‘m sad that I can‘t make the drive over to Castleberry anymore I am glad that I have the memories from Saturday and from the years before. I started this post by borrowing from Garth Brooks so I’ll end it by corrupting the words of former Tampa Jai Alai announcer Mark Biero. For the last time - Bye, Bye Orlando Jai Alai.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Setback Can Be A Set Up For A Comeback

So the Lightning lost to Edmonton on Wednesday. Not only that, they also lost their top two goal scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone. Time to panic? Probably not. Word from Lightning organization is that they are both listed as day-to-day, Malone with a “lower body injury” and Stamkos with an “upper body injury”.

Of course Mattias Ohlund was day-to-day as well and he missed about two weeks. Can this team afford to lose half of their offense for two weeks? The two forwards have scored 33 of the teams 75 goals, quite a healthy percentage for two players. It could be a rough stretch for the team. Of course, the team is already in a bit of a rough stretch as they have been defeated six times in their last seven outings.

Rather than cry out in anguish and gnash my teeth I’ve decided to find some positive in the situation. Perhaps the losing the heart of the offense will force those that have been playing below their talent will step up.

There was a sign of it in the game against Edmonton. Everyone’s favorite pass happy French Canadian winger Alex Tanguay fired two shots at the goaltender. That’s right two whole shots. It doesn’t seem like much until you realize that two shots were one more than he had in the previous three games.

Vincent was a force in the face off circle winning 20 of 29, including both of his face offs in the defensive circle. He assisted on Marty St Louis game opening goal, deking goalie Jeff Deslauriers with a shoulder fake before dishing a no-look pass to the diminutive winger.

Will Lecavalier step up his game now that he might be the go to goal scorer? After all his last season with 40 goals was the year before Stamkos arrived on the team. It’s a wild theory, but perhaps he needs to be the focus of the offense in order to succeed.

This is all speculation of course, the two offensive cogs could truly be day-to-day and only miss a game or two. The local fish rags are already saying that it looks like Malone will lace up the skates on Friday in Denver and Stamkos isn’t that far behind.

Until then I’m sure fans will declare the season over, oh wait they already have?

I guess it could be 0-6 on the upcoming trip, 8 losses in a row, and 9 losses out of 10 and for the season 25 losses out of 36 games if you include ot losses & SO losses. The season is over early . . . Again
----Vincevet’s comment posted on the St Pete Times Hockey site

Oh right I forgot what town I was. Why would I think that the news would be met with optimism?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The One Where The Wasteland Declares Its Man Love for Coach Tocchet

I think Rick Tocchet is quickly leaping of the ranks of my favorite Lightning coaches of all time. He still trails Torts by a considerable margin, but he has left Steve Ludzick and Jaques Demers in his dust. I know what you’re thinking, “The Bolts are losing and when a team is losing you have to blame the coach. He’s lost the locker room!”

First, allow me to digress. Whenever some random commentor posts that a coach has “lost the locker room” I have to laugh. How does some anonymous fan with no relation to the team, no relation to the players or coach know what goes on behind closed doors? It’s such a meaningless phrase. Players don’t have to like their coaches, as a matter of fact most successful coaches have just a touch of ass-holeness in them. So stop saying that.

Blaming Tocchet is the easy way out. I could probably kick out an article about how it looks like the players don’t respect him, how he makes bad decisions (Matt Smaby is the answer! Matt Smaby will solve all of their problems. Matt Smaby is Tim Tebow on skates!), and how he just has the job because he works cheap and Len Barrie owes him money.

The problem is I don’t believe any of that. I don’t agree with everything he does (most notably the power play philosophy. I think their current system cuts off too much of the ice, but that’s a story for a different day). I do, however, think he’s doing a better job then he’s getting credit for.

As I type this, seven minutes before the Bolts take the ice against Edmonton, the team sits at a record of 11-10-8. They are two points out of the playoff race and 14 points behind Washington for the division lead. The chances of catching the Caps are pretty slim, it looks like the Caps do have a solid goaltender this year as well as secondary scoring. That’s something that they’ve lacked in the last few seasons.

Last season at this point the team had a record of 6-12-8 and wouldn’t win their 10th game for another two weeks. The team had fired Barry Melrose a month earlier and were just starting their roster shakeup that would last all season long. The Vinny trade talks were in full bloom and a sense of chaos reigned in the ownership box.

This season he is coaching a team that has seen has had it’s entire blue line reconstructed from the ground up. The two players that were supposed to lead the offense have nine goals - combined. The preseason goalie has been shaky at best and one of the top four defenseman has been missing for the last month.

Despite that they are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, a position that many critics didn’t think they would come close to this year. Yet the cry of “Fire the Coach!” still echoes across the blog-o-sphere.

So why am I taking the contrarian view? ‘Cause I’m a trouble maker of course! Actually, it’s because of something I saw on Monday night. After having a strong first half of the game the team almost on a whole faded. Instead of playing out the game and rotating his normal lines, Tocchet cut his bench in half and rotated two lines - the bottom two lines of his roster.

It was Steve Downie, Paul Szczechura, James Wright, and Zenon Konopka getting the extra playing time while Lecavalier, Tanguay, Stamkos and St Louis sat on the bench and felt shame. A lot of coaches say that they’re going to make players accountable, but rarely follow through. Tocchet followed through.

Not only that, he drastically shuffled the lines. Lecavalier was reunited with St Louis and Ryan Malone. Stamkos was paired with Szczechura and the human dynamo Steve Downie. Alex Tanguay was demoted to a line with Jeff Halpern and James Wright.

Since corporal punishment has been outlawed and a coach can’t fine a player for lazy play the only thing Tocchet can really do is to bench players who aren’t performing. During the past week the players that weren’t performing were the top lines. Even second year sensation Steven Stamkos has seen his play drop off in recent days. Vinny stopped skating and takes lazy penalties. St Louis has been a mess on the point on the power play and is stuck in a nine game goalless streak.

Kenopka, Wright and Downie (dubbed the AHL line by my buddy Big Mike) had been their best line. Their only problem is they can’t score, no matter how long they keep the puck in the zone. I think they could have an empty net and would manage to rattle it off a post, but they play hard. They cause turnovers and dig in the corners for pucks.

What must really be galling for Tocchet is the lack of offensive toughness that the top lines display. As a player who was a grinder, hard-nosed, worked in the trenches, etc., etc. to have to watch players who drift on the periphery of the circles, who dish off passes when they’re in front of the net must be extraordinarily difficult.

Why goalies even think that Lecavalier is going to shoot when he’s on a two-on-one is baffling. Vincent has admitted that he’s lost confidence and it shows. Even in the game against Edmonton (where the reshuffled line scored a minute into the game) he dished off the puck instead of shooting it. The good news is that Marty fired it at the net (and scored) instead of trying to pass it back to Lecavalier.

We might be seeing the evolution of Lecavalier. Instead a 50 goal scorer perhaps he’s going to be a premier set up man a la Joe Thornton. That will be fine as long as he’s paired with someone who’s willing to actually shoot off of his set ups.

That’s the problem Tocchet is facing right now - finding the right chemistry for his offense. The chances of a trade bringing in any new blood is remote. He is going to have to make do with the team he has, a team that isn’t really that bad. The defense seems to have settled into a steady, if not physical, presence. The goaltending is solid and there is talent on the front lines. If they can stay in the race with Malone and Stamkos scoring half of their goals just think how they will do when St Louis shakes off his current slump?

Oh and for all of those braying “Fire Tocchet” it’s not going to happen. The club is already paying two ex-coaches, I wouldn’t bet on them paying a third.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick Hits Monday Night Football Edition

- The Lightning Weekly Roundup is postponed until I can think of something good to say about the team. After watching Monday's game against the Caps it might be awhile.

- Why would the Rays trade one bad contract (Pat Burrell) for another (Milton Bradley)? Throw in Bradley's on the field antics and the fact that the Rays would be on the hook for two more years instead of just one for Burrell and it becomes even more puzzling. Even if the Cubs picked up 70% of the contract the headaches that come with the Bradley would not be worth it.

- That being said, I would have to consider the rumoured BJ Upton and Wade Davis for Roy Holladay deal. I don't see the Blue Jays taking it but if it's on the table I think the Rays have to do it. Picking up one of the elite starters in the league immediately puts the Rays back into contention.

- The Ravens are done. As I'm typing this they are down 10 and Joe Flacco just threw his 2nd interception in as many passing attempts. There are just too many holes on this team (weak secondary, ineffective passing game, inability to make a stop on 3rd down, no big play receiver) to make a serious playoff run.

- If I get to be the O's GM this offseason I forget about big time names and sign Nick Johnson to a two year deal, Joe Crede to a one year deal, and make a run at Rich Harden. That gives you a year to develop the young corner players (Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell) and saves money for next year's much more attractive free agent crop.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Upper Deck Review - Hockey Cards!

As the calendar turned to December I treated myself to a little gift. It’s amazing what a relief a steady paycheck is. Of course, some of that pay had to be turned into cards. So after a short perusal of the internet I picked up a box of 2009-10 Upper Deck Hockey Series 1. The flagship product always delivers on sharp photography, nice selection of rookies and a couple of hits.

For just over $60 I was looking forward to six Young Guns rookies, two game used memorabilia cards and a smattering of other inserts. The case hits (otherwise known as cards I wouldn’t be getting) are an oversize Playmakers jersey swatches, Cleary Canadian Die-Cut Acetate cards or Clear Cut Trios Acetate cards.

So how was the break? To sum it up in a word: typical.

Typical for me means I didn’t get cheated out of any cards, didn’t pull anything mind blowing and my “hits” were average. It also means I didn’t get any Vincent Lecavalier cards. That didn’t bum me out too much since his base card isn’t in series one.

Let’s take a look at what I did get.

Young Guns:

With a deep rookie crop this year I was holding out for at least one of the big names (Victor Hedman, Jonathon Tavares, Matt Duschene). I didn’t get any of them. Despite that at least three of the rookies I got were having decent seasons. Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers and Jason Demers are all in the top 20 for scoring for rookies.

Random Inserts:

Marc Staal Exclusives - a parallel of the base set that’s numbered out of 100.
Mike Green and Pavel Datsyuk All-World Team - Typical Hockey Insert that celebrates the geographic diversity of the league.

Radom Inserts II:

Eric Staal Top Guns: Tops scorers in the league with a fighter jet motif.
Pavel Datsyuk and Mark Messier Draft Day Gems - An insert set that explores some of the greater players that weren’t first round picks.

Lightning Cards:

According to the checklist the only base Lightning card I didn’t get was Marty St Louis. The inclusion of Noah Welch is a bit odd and a sharp reminder of the vast array of blue liners that rotated through the roster last year.

Hey isn’t that?

As I said Vincent was not in the checklist for Series One, but that didn’t keep him from popping up on two base cards. Bonus Vinny!

Last but not least - the game uses cards:

Michael Frolik and Francis Bouillon UD Game Jerseys. Now don’t go crazy offering huge money for these cards. They aren’t for sale….they are, however, available for trade. That goes for any of the inserts you see listed here.

The numbers:

Total inserts: 13
Young Gun Rookies: 6
Duplicates: 0
Base Percentage (not counting Young Guns): 169/200 ( 85%)

Final Thoughts:

A solid box for the cost. Anytime one box gets you almost the entire set you can’t be upset if you’re a set builder. Big hit hunters know that they should stay away from any base product so it’s not geared towards them. Nothing shocking I grade the box as a solid second line winger*.

* Please note that the Wasteland’s grading system is completely arbitrary and has no basis in reality.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Two Cents on The Tale of Tiger's Trouble

"You know, we really have something special here. Let’s not ruin it for the game, because the game is bigger than Tiger or anyone else in it.

Athletes and celebrities are human beings. They are going to have arguments with their wives or girlfriends. They are going to make mistakes in judgment. "In our society, we tend to build our athletes up, ostensibly just so we can tear them down. This is stupid. One day he is the greatest hero in the world for winning the Masters by a record-shattering 12 strokes, and the next day he is target practice"
---Earl Woods, Playing Through

I told myself I wouldn’t write about the Tiger Woods saga until a legitimate news source reported the news. He had earned that much at least. You can call me a cranky old man but I don’t consider TMZ or The National Enquirer as legitimate sources. With the release of Woods’ apology earlier today we can assume that the basic nature of the story, if not the sordid details, are true.

It appears the greatest golfer of this generation, perhaps the greatest golfer of any generation, was not faithful to the institute of marriage.

Am I outraged? No.
Am I going to stop watching golf? Much to the dismay of my better half - no.
Am I going to boycott Nike, Gillette, EA Sports, Rolex, American Express, etc? No.
Am I shocked? A little bit.

I’m not shocked that Tiger cheated on his wife, I’m shocked that a news story finally penetrated the fortress of silence that is Woods’ personal life. Until he wrapped his fender around a fire hydrant the negative stories about the world’s best golfer were limited to:

1. He swears on the course.
2. His caddy broke things like cell phones.
3. He chased women and told dirty jokes when he was 21 years old.
4. He didn’t like to lose.

So he was basically a guy.

Now it seems he was a guy with a rather healthy libido. He didn’t rob a bank or buy alcohol for minors. He didn’t call the Pope a fraud. He didn’t say that Hitler was misunderstood. He cheated on his wife. I’m not saying that cheating on your wife is ok, I’m saying it’s not worth the amount of outrage that we’re seeing on T.V. and on the internet.

When you’re the greatest in the world at anything - golf, baseball, debating, blogging, roshambo, whatever - you’re going to have a bit of an ego. You’re going to think you can get away with anything because, for most of your life you’ve been able to get away with everything.

That’s as deep as you need to get into the psychology of Tiger Woods. There’s no need to discuss that this was because of a “lost childhood” or that this was the desperate cry for attention from a socially awkward adult. He did because he thought he could get away with it.

Tiger Woods isn’t a saint, he isn’t a priest, he isn’t a politician or a community leader. So why should we think he is any better than Billy Joe down in the trailer park when it comes to relationships. Human’s are flawed, humans are weak. If we weren’t McDonalds wouldn’t be a billion dollar franchise and the need for lawyers would be limited to, well probably nothing.

Why we as a society any more shocked that an athlete or celebrity fails at a marriage then when one of our friend’s get a divorce? Just because they are famous? It’s hard to keep a relationship going even if you have Swedish good looks and millions in the bank.

I might argue that it’s harder when you’re famous. Us normal folk go through the trials and tribulations in realitive obscurity. If my girlfriend yells at me because I’m a lazy bastard who has never finished a housing project then I’m not going to have to read about online for the next two weeks. Through in constant travel, lots of free time and no one telling you “no” and it’s kind of amazing that all celebrity marriages don’t end in divorce.

Has anyone ever called Woods a moral role model in the first place? Does anyone know his stance on the war, poverty, abortion, gay marriage, the Irish Problem or Team Edward vs. Team Jacob? For all we know he believes in an open marriage. He and Elin could be swingers (insert your own golf joke or busted window joke here).

The point is that Tiger hasn’t set himself up to be a moral guidepost for the nation so he is going to be alright when this over. Now if this story was about someone along the lines of Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner or AC Green I would have much more outrage.

If Curt Schilling was caught fooling around (oh why God wasn’t it Curt Schilling!!!) this essay would have a much angrier tone. Simply because when an athlete or entertainer uses his fame to espouse his lifestyle choice they set themselves up for ridicule.

Tiger is playing his cards right on this one. He issued his apology and he’s keeping his trap shut as all of the allegations are unleashed. I’m sure he (or his PR team) knows that in a week or two this will blow over. That’s the beauty of the society we live in - there’s always someone else waiting to screw up right around the corner.

Anyone still outraged at Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rick Pitino, Mike Vick, or Michael Phelps? At the time of their infractions the talking heads of the sporting world would have made you believe that Armageddon was right around the corner. THEY HAD SULLIED THE GOOD NAME OF SPORT! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Now Tiger is going to have to endure his 15 days of torment. The media that has spent the past twelve years building him up to near mythical status will have their run at tearing him down. Is it fair? Of course not. Part of it is Tiger’s fault for being so private. If he had been a little less guarded with the press, if other flaws had been exposed earlier might the reaction now not been so drastic? Probably. After all, when was the last time a writer was outraged at a John Daly divorce.

If he struggles next year the pressure will be on. His father supposedly said that the only thing that could prevent Tiger from reaching greatness was a woman. Maybe, this will begin a downward spiral that results in Tiger putting on forty pounds and hanging out at driving ranges and betting people he can out drive them.

However, I don’t think Tiger is wired that way. If anything this might spark a “world is against me” revenge tour. If that happens all of this becomes a humorous Chris Farley Show-esque skit.

“Hey remember when Tiger was caught cheating on his wife?”
“Remember when she shattered the window with a golf club and he ran over a fire hydrant?”
“That was awesome!”

Isn’t it odd that all of the great ones have some flaw? Michael Jordan and gambling, Kobe Bryant and his alleged relationships with women, Mickey Mantle and his drinking, The Rock and his horrible family oriented movies. Is there something that makes athletes great that also exposes some sort social defect?

Tiger has risen to fascinating heights by being one of the most focused athletes in the world. Keeping his personal life private has been a key factor in maintaining that focus. Now that he will be spending a year fending off the sporting press and the tabloid press will he remain the same player?

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And the Wheels Begin To Turn

It was announced today that the Rays made their second off season move today as they acquired Kelly Shoppach from the Indians for a player to be named later. Is this the first move to severing ties with incumbent Dioner Navarro?

The rotund backstop is elegible for arbitration, but the thinking around the blogs is that the Rays will now non-tender him and grant him his free agency. Last season was a major step back for the former Yankee super prospect as his average dipped 77 points from a career best .295 in 2008 to a career worst .218.

Preceding the season long slump was an arbitration hearing last season that the Rays won. Despite the claims that process was fair, it seemed that Navarro was bothered that the Rays didn't think his season was worth a $2.5 million pay day (the Rays won at $2.1 million).

So how does this compare to the Aki! deal earlier this winter? Well, for one I'm not outraged by it. I was never a fan of Navarro. He had a tendancy to have moments of sheer laziness on the field. I've never seen a major league catcher have as many passed balls on fastballs as Navi did last season.

While he does have a strong arm, Shoppach isn't that much of a drop off. Navarro threw out about 27% of would be base theives last season (22 out of 83) while Shoppach nailed 23% (15 out of 64). Their fielding percentages were almost identical (.994 for Navi to .992 for the new guy).

This isn't a case of the Rays dumping a veteran for a young prospect either. Navarro is actually a few years older than Shoppach. Nor is it a salary dump. There's a good chance that the right-handed hitting Shoppach will earn more this year than Navi.

Rather this is the nDRO realizing it's time to cut the strings with a player who rarely lived up to his potential.