Thursday, December 16, 2010

HBO's 24/7 Pens/Caps Series

Before I watched last night's premiere episode of HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic", my friend Frosty emailed and asked if I thought Bruce Boudreau might get fired during the show?

I quickly dismissed the possibility. Here was a coach who had led his team to three straight division championships and even with the playoff underachievement Washington had experienced the last two years, they still appeared to be building towards something bigger. I assumed that Boudreau would at the very least get the opportunity to coach the Caps into the playoffs, and then if they faltered again in the post-season, that would be the time to make a swap.

Now that I've actually seen the show, I can't change my mind quick enough. Naturally, I thought that watching the show would offer an insider's view of coaching in the NHL as well as a deeper look into the overall dynamic of a professional hockey team, that it would be something of a free clinic into the strategising and skill building, the people management, and all the day-to-day details.

And it did. But it all came from Dan Bylsma.

The Penguins coach comes across as intense but intelligent. Demanding yet rewarding. He met with the GM to go over player grades, came up with the "moustache boy" shootout game, and made an effort to get everyone involved. His captain paid him compliments and the entire roster seemed to be confident they had the right man in charge.

All Boudreau did was drop a thousand "F" bombs and address the team with his hand in his pants. Seriously. The look on his face during the third period of the Rangers game when his Caps got shelled 7-0 said it all. He might as well have peed his pants right there on the bench.

Obviously the perception shown on screen of each team was going to be different, what with Pittsburgh riding a lengthy winning streak and Washington a lengthy losing streak. But it shouldn't have been that drastic.

Some other thoughts on a terrifically entertaining show:
  • Interesting to see that while Sid's home locker is in the middle of the room, accessible to everyone, Ovechkin was tucked into a corner with only one stall beside him (belonging to Semin), basically cutting him off from the rest of the team.
  • Seeing Ovechkin shirtless at two different times with multiple gold and diamond studded chains around his neck wouldn't make me feel all that great about his desire to win a championship if I were a Caps fan. Rocket Richard trophies? Yes. Stanley Cups? No.
  • Winning and losing streaks aside, it definitely seemed as though the Pens players liked each other a whole lot more than the Caps did. Hearing Marc Andre-Fleury call Max Talbot a "douche" on the team plane and then everyone, including Max, laugh at the joke was very telling.
  • In the GM department we had one team sitting down together to go over the recent grades for each players performance (Penguins) and another basically throwing up their arms when it was revealed that they were going to be short-handed due to illness and injuries (Capitals). George McPhee didn't quite wave the white flag, but the image of Michael Scott managing Dunder Mifflin did enter my mind.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fixing Major League Baseball

After hearing about the Red Sox swooping in to sign Carl Crawford to a $142 million deal only days after trading for Adrian Gonzalez, I quickly went into yet another doomsday level of panic on behalf of Toronto Blue Jay fans everywhere.

Totally unfair. Ridiculous. What's the point?

It was the same old storyline: How can the Blue Jays ever realistically expect to compete when a maximum of two teams from one division make the playoffs, and the Jays reside in a division with the two biggest spenders in the sport?

Of the last 27 AL East teams to qualify for the playoffs, 24 of those births have gone to either the Red Sox or Yankees.

When the inevitable finally occurs and Cliff Lee accepts somewhere around $160 million from the Yankees in the next few days, the two Evil Empires will have spent around $530 million on five players (Crawford, Gonzalez, Jeter, Rivera, Lee) over the last two weeks. (The Red Sox have agreed to an extension with Gonzalez for about $154 million but won't announce it until opening day in order to save money on the luxury tax.)

In an attempt to have another baseball geek console me and remind me that the Rays have managed to sneak past both Boston and New York and into the playoffs twice in the last three years, I turned to my friend Marshall and quickly began texting up a storm. After several exchanges, neither of us were particularly hopeful that things would get better.

And that's when Marshall came up with gold.

Rather than luxury tax payments going into a pool that is then evenly divided between all the non-luxury taxed teams, why not have all (or at least the bulk) of luxury tax payments stay within the division? Why should the Pirates or Padres or Marlins get an equal amount of Boston and New York's luxury tax dollars when it's the Jays, Rays and Orioles who have to compete with them?

And wouldn't this model actually potentially curb the spending of these teams? If the Sox and Yanks knew that going into luxury tax territory would mean directly financing their AL East counterparts, wouldn't they think twice about their next big acquisition?