Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best NHL Team Money Can Buy

The only rule I am enforcing in assembling "The Best NHL Team Money Can Buy" is the ineligibility of players who are still on their entry-level deal, because their salaries are fairly standard depending on their draft position, meaning I couldn't select guys who have never been through a real negotiation. And of course, in a salary-capped world, this team must fit in under the current salary cap of $57 million.

I also tried to construct a team as if I were a real NHL GM, not focusing solely on offensive production but rather trying to build a well-rounded roster with defined roles. I'm not ready to say this squad would be the definite Stanley Cup champions, but I'd take my chances. (To any NHL owners reading this: my resume can be e-mailed in seconds!)

(All salaries are for the 2009-10 season.)

Ryan Getzlaf: $5,125,000 - A big, strong well-rounded player with soft hands, good speed, and incredible awareness. He's like Joe Thornton, only younger and with a Stanley Cup ring.
Marc Savard: $5,000,000 - Claude Julien has the formerly one-dimensional Savard playing hard at both ends of the ice. His play-making ability, especially on the PP, is among the best in hockey.
Derrick Roy: $3,500,000 - His salary goes up each of the next three seasons, but in 2009-10 he provides excellent value and production on my third line.
Dominic Moore: $1,100,000 - Good faceoff man, excellent on the PK and can chip in on scoring. The perfect 4th line center.

Left Wings
Ilya Kovalchuk: $7,500,000 - Granted, my man-love for the supremely-talented Russian is well documented (for the 1000th time, please come to Toronto next year Ilya!), but his scoring and play-making ability is under-appreciated. He is a guaranteed 45 goals and 90 points no matter who he's playing with.
Rene Bourque: $1,400,000 - Spark plug who can score (31 points in 32 games) and seems to be getting better and better every game.
Andrew Brunette: $2,500,000 - I've never understood how this guy continues to get passed around the league without ever finding a home. He's put up consistent points in every stop.
Nigel Dawes: $850,000 - How could Phoenix let Dawes go over a few hundred thousand dollars?

Right Wings
Ales Hemsky: $3,600,000 - I know he's hurt right now, and has never really fully delivered on his talent, but he's not overpaid and I still see a lot of upside.
Dustin Brown: $2,600,000 - Should surpass 30 goals for the second straight year and could really break out offensively at any time. Also not afraid to mix it up.
Jason Pominville: $1,350,000 - Has already signed a contract extension that will give him a hefty raise to $5.3M a year beginning next season. Suffice to say, Pominville isn't likely to be a repeat member of this squad.
Mikael Samuelsson: $1,200,000 - A smart player and a veteran presence to fill out the 4th line. Slightly more expensive than what you'd ideally want to pay a checker, but his ability to score combined with his winning experience make him a valuable addition.

Tomas Kaberle: $4,250,000 - One of the best powerplay quarterbacks in hockey and certainly the most affordable.
Shea Weber: $4,500,000 - My number one shutdown 'D' continues to live in relative obscurity in Nashville, but won't on this team.
Dennis Wideman: $3,750,000 - Has grown into a superb two-way defenceman. Another former London Knight, who learned from the Hunter brothers and is now excelling in the NHL.
Duncan Keith: $1,900,000 - With his recent long-term contract extension and likely inclusion on Team Canada's Olympic defence, Keith's unknown days are over. Could be the best value in the entire league for 2009-10.
Andreas Lilja: $1,250,000 - My top two defensive pairings will eat up close to 25 minutes a piece, leaving only 10 minutes or less for my numbers five and six. Lilja is a bit player who knows his role and excels in it.
Matt Carkner: $500,000 - Strictly a physical presence who will keep the opposition honest.

Antti Niemi: $827,000
Jon Quick: $570,000

My goaltending philosophy is well known in this space, so I won't repeat myself. Let's just say I'd continually roll the dice and take chances on 25-29 year-old guys, never over-paying any of them.

Total Salary: $51,866,000

(Another note to NHL owners: That would leave a little more than $5 million on the table, leaving room to make a deadline deal or take on salary in case of injury.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Canadian Sports Broadcasting Power Rankings V 2.0

#474 - Gabriel Morency - In November the management team at The Score finally came to their senses and removed Morency from his daily national program that was killing more Canadian brain cells than BC bud. Gabe is a horrific broadcaster, incapable of making an articulate point or creating an interesting argument. Listening to his show for even a second always made me think of the classic Billy Madison quote "what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it."

#296 - Jason Portuondo - Now that Morency is off the air, Portuondo could be the worst sports broadcaster in the country. Ummm, Jason: There is no such thing as an "offensive rebound" in hockey, it's just a damn rebound. Same thing for baseball, where an error isn't "unforced", it's simply an error. The good news is if he keeps this up we'll soon be watching Portuondo push ridiculous comments on viewers of the Weather Channel.

#107 - P.J. Stock - He continues to attempt to set the world record for most words packed into a 60 second segment but at least the producers haven't moved him back onto 'Hotstove', where he was like Scrappy Doo, only even more annoying. To be fair, Stock has improved during his three years on HNIC, and in another three years he could be very good. But the first three years haven't been a lot of fun.

#81 - Ron MacLean - You certainly can't question his sporting knowledge, he's always been extremely well researched and prepared for any and every interview and you'll never catch him off guard with a random name, story or stat. He knows his stuff 100%. For a good ten years I thought MacLean was the best broadcaster in Canada, but the last number of years he's drifted away from what made him great. Instead of asking good questions, he rants on and on inserting copious amounts of background information into his question which he effectively answers even while delivering it.

#21 - Sid & Tim - The late-night duo on The Score make a big drop down from last year's rankings mainly because they've lost their cool. They've gone from loose and likable to over the top and kind of goofy. Not long ago they were innovative...unique...and awesomely funny, and now all you see are knee slaps and over-laughing along with way too many hand signals and pointing. They've become those weird dudes on the dance floor who try too hard. Get back behind a desk! Canadians like their sportscasters to appear legless.

#12 - Gerry Dee - Originally I thought his schtick on The Score would wear thin very quickly, but I've totally reversed my position. Now I love his bits, his dry humour, and the way he can pull off the lost puppy look without fail. During the group pieces with Cabbie, Sid and Tim, he steals every scene. And the Wiserhood commercial where he rips a hole in his sweater so that he won't match his wife...I've seen it 1000 times and it still gets me everytime. A year ago I would have said Dee was one of my least favorite Score personalities. Now the rankings (within the rankings) would look like this:

1. Gerry Dee
2. Cabbie
3. Sid + Tim
5. Glenn Schiller
204. Jake Thompson

#8 - James Duthie - He has found a home as the host of NHL hockey on TSN. Duthie knows how to provide the proper balance between straight-forward hockey talk and the humour/entertainment factor. The panel changes, but Duthie is constant and he always gets the best out of whichever analysts happen to be joining him. Anyone who can make Craig Mactavish seem personable has to be good at his job.

#4 - Mike Milbury - The new star of 'Hotstove' has quickly turned himself into the main reason why the second intermission on Saturday nights continue to be perhaps the best seven minutes of television each week. You may not always (or ever) agree with what Milbury has to say, but he certainly is entertaining. Watching him dismantle Ian Pulver in back-to-back episodes was particularly delightful. So are the endless jabs and jokes that his counterparts continue to fire at him because A) his track record as GM of the Islanders and B) the time he went into the crowd, pulled off a spectators shoe, proceeded to repeatedly smack him with it, and then poured ketchup on the shoe and fed it to the poor guy. (Okay, I made up the last part, but the rest is true.)

#1 - Darren Dutchyshen - Dutchy continues to be the gold standard against which every other Canadian sports broadcaster is judged. His delivery is engaging and he nails every one-liner. Basically, he's the exact opposite of everyone on Entertainment Tonight Canada. I can't find a single fault, not even the vest he now wears under his suit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inside the Mind of Chris Bosh

Recall the the movie 'Being John Malkovich'. Directed by Spike Jonze and released in 1999, the film revolves around a portal that leads people directly inside the head of John Malkovich and allows them to feel, hear and see anything Malkovich is experiencing.

Well, it just so happens that I've found a similar door in my office that acts as a portal inside Chris Bosh. Seriously. And just as it does in Being John Malkovich, this adventure lasts for 15 minutes (although instead of being dumped by the Jersey Turnpike this ride ends with a seat on the TTC, in a Subway Car stopped at Finch station).

However, unlike John Cusack's character in the movie, I will not attempt to profit from this finding. Instead I will pass on everything I saw and learned about the impending free-agent.

Trip #1
My first trip inside the mind of CB4 came while Bosh and his teammates were in the practice gym, working on shooting. And by 'working on' I mean joking around, trash-talking, texting and generally not working on shooting. In one corner you had Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu and Marco Belinelli flipping through an issue of Vogue and re-enacting Justin Timberlake dance moves. No kidding. In another, Antoine Wright, Marcus Banks and Sonny Weems were throwing dice, and in another Rasho Nesterovic and Patrick O'Bryant looked like they were frozen. I wanted Bosh to walk over for a quick chat or throw a bullet chest pass to one of them to see if they were actually sleeping on their feet with their eyes open. It was extremely creepy and yet fascinating. In the midst of it all, head coach Jay Triano was pacing back and forth and constantly repeating sporadic comments like "play hard guys", "hustle", and "that's it, that's it". To whom he was talking was a mystery, because absolutely no one was paying him any attention. Except DeRozan, who was nodding his head like a puppy eager to please his owner. Bosh, on the other hand, was alone shooting at a basket along the side of the gym with the athletic trainer feeding him basketballs. Swish. Swish. Swish. I counted 22 in a row before he finally missed and the whole time all he was thinking was "jump, cock, release, follow through". You know how sometimes you're watching the game and you wonder how and why some players are so much better than others? Stop wondering.

Trip #2
On my next expedition Bosh was in the gym lifting weights with Amir Johnson and Raptors strength and conditioning coach Francesco Cuzzolin. In between bench-press sets Bosh asked Cuzzolin, "where are the rest of the guys?" and the only response he got was a simple shrug of the shoulders. Bosh momentarily pictured the arms of Turkoglu, and then Bargnani, shook his head and began another set of reps. With each push of the bar upwards, Bosh imagined former and current NBA greats. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Lebron, Wade, Kobe. During rest periods, he exchanged texts with Jay Leno, who was inviting him back to cover the NBA Finals again. Bosh was flattered but said he couldn't commit yet because he could still be playing. Hmmmmmm, that doesn't sound like the Toronto team I've been watching. Red flag alert.

Trip #3
This one was a total waste of time. Hoping for further insight into his plans for next year and beyond, all I ended up doing was watching Bosh play 'Madden' with his brother while they tried to rap over Timbaland beats (apparently brand new and produced specifically for him) and discussed possible YouTube skits. Be prepared for a Whoopi Goldberg/Mikki Moore love child bit. And maybe an album. Or a variety show. Really, everything is on the table at this point. Oh, and if you ever have the chance to play vids with Bosh, do not take him on in Madden. His cover-two defense was suffocating and he had Drew Brees looking like, well, Drew Brees. Only better.

Trip #4
Finally, I end up on the floor with Bosh during an actual game. Well, almost. It was against the Atlanta Hawks and the Raps were already down by 20 in the second quarter by the time I arrived, but I was still looking forward to getting a better understanding of the on-court relationships Bosh has with his teammates. And just like that, Jose gave Bosh a look and they connected on a devastating alley-oop dunk. Since I was a kid, I've always wanted to experience the thrill of dunking a basketball. Good times. From there it took about 60 additional seconds for me to realize that there are 20 or so games left in CB4's Toronto career. Bosh cursed Bargnani under his breath for A) letting a rebound tip off his hands out of bounds, B) clanking consecutive wide open threes without giving Bosh a touch, and C) looking like a big dope who only plays basketball because he happens to be seven feet tall. After Mike Bibby burnt Jose on back-to-back possessions and Turkoglu laughed off a 14-0 run against them, Bosh's blood was boiling and I'm 90% sure I heard him think, "five more years with this nucleus? No thanks". When Triano mercifully pulled him off the court with less than a minute remaining in the half, Bosh went to the bench, put a towel over his head and definitely said "only six more months till Miami".

That final trip was more than enough to break the heart of every Raptors fan, but is by no means a shock to anyone. The team around Bosh is simply not good enough to entice him to stay.

Clearly things can change. The Raptors, theoretically, could go on a ridiculous tear that turns them into a bonafide title contender and convinces Bosh to stay. The rest of the Toronto roster could suddenly develop toughness, intensity and basketball smarts. Heck, Lindsay Lohan could still potentially win an Oscar.

It's just not likely.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Youngblood II

Potentially coming to a theatre near you: Youngblood II.

Yes, 23 years after the original cult hit about a young hockey player trying to impress the scouts and learning how to live on his own, and I, the CSJ have been asked to write a sequel. And I've made it my mission to put together a star-studded Canadian roster that could potentially turn Youngblood II into this country's signature cinematic masterpiece. (What, you really thought Passchendaele was that great?)

The cast I have in mind is obviously quite ambitious, but if Ryan Gosling can agree to be in 'Breaker High', I have to assume he'd be open to this project. Especially considering I've targeted Rachel McAdams to play his love interest. And as they did in the original, Youngblood II will utilize current NHL talent to fill out the rosters of all teams seen in the film. Expect to see the Staal brothers, Dion Phaneuf, and any current player cool enough to wear a moustache. Well, sorry, not you Ian White.

Anyway, I've been asked not to give away too many details, but I can pass along the following brief plot synopsis:

Clark Youngblood (played by Ryan Gosling) is a gifted offensive talent from rural Ontario looking to follow in the footsteps of his professional hockey-playing Dad (Cameo Alert! Yes, a certain former West Wing star and the original Youngblood has a role in the sequel). After some brief internal debate, Clark leaves his hometown and joins the junior Hamilton Mustangs where he is quickly taken under the wing of team captain and stay at home defenceman Rick Thompson (played by Ryan Reynolds). Thompson shows the rookie which bars to drink at, which restaurants to eat at, and which girls to stay away from. (I'm considering Elisha Cuthbert for that role, but I'm not sure she'll be able to understand the character.)

The Mustangs get off to a quick start thanks in large part to their dynamic rookie center, but last year's scoring leader and current assistant captain Dwayne Stock (played by Hayden Christensen) is threatened by the emergence of Youngblood and does all he can to sabotage his performance, including tainting his food, humiliating him with vulgar hazing tactics, and purposefully making him miss the team bus.

This eventually leads to Coach Parker (played by Kiefer platform shoes) benching Youngblood which causes the rookie to question his ability and his decision to leave his family. Picture a montage set to Sam Roberts' Brother Down.

Meanwhile, Youngblood and Tracy Parker (played by Rachel McAdams), who happens to be the coach's daughter, take their passionate relationship to the next level and that again lands the rookie in hot water with his Coach. After Thompson negotiates a truce between the Coach and Youngblood and inspires the entire team (think Al Pacino's two inches speech from Any Given Sunday), the Mustangs again face the Blades, their chief rival, who feature the meanest, toughest, dirtiest player in the league, Sam Crampton (played by Taylor Kitsch, who is Tim Riggins in FNL).

Will Youngblood be able to mend his relationship and co-exist with teammate Stock? Can Coach Parker get past his personal feelings and put the Mustangs in the best position to win? And can the Mustangs man-up and out-duel their nemesis, the Blades, and advance to the league championship?

I'm trying to decide between Jason Reitman, David Cronenberg or Paul Haggis to direct. This thing has 'blockbuster' written all over it. No really, it does.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Greatest Canadian MLB Free Agent Class...Ever

This winter's MLB free agent class has been labeled as 'weak', 'ordinary', 'lacking in star power' and 'more boring than an episode of Ugly Betty'. Okay, I made that last one up but for the most part, the labels are deserved. After all, it's hard to get fired up when Chone Figgins, Johnny Damon and Miguel Tejada are amongst the biggest names available.

However, when you observe with a Canadian perspective, this is without doubt our country's greatest collection of un-signed baseball talent ever available in the same off-season. It isn't a long list, with only three names on it (sorry Eric Gagne), but what it lacks in length it certainly makes up for with pure talent.

The class is headed by Trail, B.C. native Jason Bay. The right-handed, power hitting right fielder burst onto the scene by winning the NL rookie of the year in 2004 with Pittsburgh, but really made a name for himself when he was traded to Boston in the Manny Ramirez deal in 2008. It was in Boston where Bay, fueled by the constant national and local media attention as well as his first taste of a pennant race, finally had his considerable talent noticed.

In 200 games with the Red Sox, Bay hit 45 homers, drove in 157 runs, had a .380 OBP and carried Boston to within one game of the 2008 World Series. Bay reportedly turned down a four year $60 million offer from the Sox and will likely end up signing for somewhere in the neighborhood of $85 million. Unfortunately for Blue Jay fans, that neighborhood will not be in Toronto.

Bay has consistently been mentioned as one of, if not the premier free agent of the 2009 class (along with Matt Holliday and John Lackey), but seemingly forgotten are two other highly talented Canadian pitchers who have been marred by injury.

The first is Erik Bedard, who reportedly spent the last two seasons fighting with teammates and the coaching staff in Seattle. Bedard has a career record of 51-41 with a 3.71 ERA but has only managed to make 15 starts in each of the last two years. The lefty from Ottawa was so highly sought after two years ago that Seattle traded Adam Jones and George Sherill for him prior to the 2008 season (both became All-Stars in Baltimore). Not surprisingly, Bill Bavasi, the Seattle GM who made that trade, is no longer the Seattle GM.

The second is Victoria's Rich Harden, who followed up an impressive 2008 (25 starts, 10-2, 2.07 ERA, 181 K's) with a mediocre 2009 (26 starts, 9-9, 4.09 ERA, 171 K's) but has a 50-29 career record and averages better than a strikeout an inning. Harden broke into the big leagues as a 21 year-old with the Oakland Athletics and appeared to be destined for stardom but injuries have been a constant issue. He has topped 150 innings only once in his seven seasons but continues to tantalize scouts with his repertoire.

Harden turned 28 on Monday of this week and Bedard is only 30, so perhaps both will follow in the footsteps of former Blue Jay Chris Carpenter, who stuggled with injuries in his mid-twenties before blossoming into a Cy Young winner and World Series champion with the St.Louis Cardinals.

Both players, because of their injury histories, will be forced into accepting short-term deals at what will likely be deep paycuts (Bedard made $7.75M and Harden $7M in 2009). However, if both can stay healthy they certainly have the ability and talent to provide excellent value to whichever clubs end up signing them.