Thanksgiving No Longer a Texas Tradition

In the midst of all the Super Bowl pageantry last week, it was announced that the University of Texas will no longer play football on Thanksgiving Day.

Ok, so maybe it’s just this upcoming season that they are moving the game, for now; but in my opinion, it should be a permanent move. Texas fans have mixed emotions about having the game moved, and there are valid points on either side.

Ever since the game with A&M ended, attendance has gone down and TV ratings have followed. Part of that has to do with the Longhorns not being a very good team, but another part is because the NFL has taken over.

Texas and A&M arguably had the best rivalry in college football and dominated the state on Thanksgiving Day. Even the Dallas Cowboys were put to the back burner at times, depending on whom you talked to. But now, Texas plays either TCU or Texas Tech on the big day.

Who. Cares.

Aside from the loyal fans from each school, who do you expect to watch those games? With the NFL trying to take over Thanksgiving by scheduling big matchups on that day, it was time for Texas to move out.

They will still have a chance to be in the spotlight for a Friday afternoon game, though. You can expect the attendance to rise, especially from the students, and the ratings to increase as well. Texas may be a powerhouse for ratings, but even they can’t compete with the NFL without the help of A&M on Thanksgiving.

Texas Athletic Director Mike Perrin indicated that the move to play on Friday is essentially a trial, and that the game could move back to Thanksgiving Day soon. What a big mistake that would be.

The only way Texas or A&M will be relevant on Thanksgiving Day is if they played each other. That rivalry itself is enough to garner the attention of a big audience, no matter how bad both teams are.

But let’s look at some possibilities that could make the game relevant again, in the event that Texas does still want to play on Thanksgiving Day in the future:

  • Play against A&M. The schools aren’t close to playing each other at this time, but it’s really the best way to make the game on Thanksgiving relevant again.
  • Play a high quality non-conference opponent other than A&M. What if Texas played Notre Dame or Michigan or some other traditional powerhouse on Thanksgiving Day? That’s a game that people would tune in to.
  • Create a rivalry within the current conference. Outside of Oklahoma, Texas really doesn’t have a hated rival. And considering rivalries create themselves, you can’t put your finger on a team and declare a rivalry. That’s what Texas has tried to do with the Tech and TCU experimet, and it hasn’t worked.

So what do all of these have in common? The answer is tradition, or lack of.

People will show up and watch a traditional matchup between storied programs. Tech and TCU don’t do that for Texas. Just like LSU doesn’t do it for A&M. Thanksgiving Day is a tradition itself, so it would only make sense to play the game on that day if it was between two teams rich in tradition.

Considering it may be more likely to have Texas play against A&M again rather than a program like Notre Dame, we might as well shelve the discussion.

With all due respect to Tech and TCU, they just aren’t natural rivals right now and it just doesn’t feel right. It will take at least a decade of both teams being relevant nationally in order for the rivalry to bud naturally. But considering that none of the teams have been consistent lately, we are still at least a decade away from that happening.

The only logical way that you can “create” a traditional game is by playing it the way Texas and A&M did. Alternate playing each other home and away. If Texas wants to do that with TCU, great. Same with Tech or even Baylor.

Give people something to look forward to every year. If fans from TCU know they play Texas on Thanksgiving weekend every year, then the process of a natural rivalry budding will increase drastically.

But, we all know that Texas is arrogant and wants the spotlight on them, so expect them to keep the game at home on that weekend in the near future.

There’s still a long way to go before the Thanksgiving weekend game is relevant again, but not playing on Thanksgiving Day is at least a step in the right direction.

The NHL Playoffs Without a Canadian team????

For the first time since 1969-70 we may be seeing an NHL playoff season without a Canadian team. That’s the harsh reality that faces the seven Canadian teams as we look at the standings on February 10.

Since the current format of two points for a win and one point for a loss in overtime or the shootout was added for the 2005-06 season, only four teams have reached 95 points and failed to qualify for the post-season. The 2006-07 Colorado Avalanche had 95 points and the Calgary Flames claimed the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference with 96 points. The 2010-11 Dallas Stars had 95 points and the last playoff spot went to the Chicago Blackhawks with 97 points. Just last year, we saw it happen twice as the Los Angeles Kings reached 95 points only to the see the Flames claim the final berth with 97 points and in the Eastern Conference the Boston Bruins ‘ 96 points left them two short of the eight place Pittsburgh Penguins.

So a decade of history tells us that the magic number is generally 95 points if a team wants to pretty much guarantee itself a post season berth. Can any of the Canadian teams get to 95 points? Mathematically yes, all seven teams have enough points “still on the table” to reach 95 points, but realistically it isn’t going to happen. All seven teams are going to have to pick up their paces significantly compared to the percentage of points they have obtained from their games to date. As an example, Edmonton has played at a .427 pace to date and to reach 95 points they would have to play at a .889 pace over the remaining games to reach 95 points. Toronto would have to play at a .800 pace (compared to .452), Winnipeg would have to play .759 hockey (compared to .481), Calgary would have to step up to a .733 pace (compared to .490 to date), Ottawa would need to pick up points at a .722 pace (compared to .509 to date), Vancouver would have to play .696 hockey (compared to .519 so far) and Montreal would have to show the least improvement, playing .685 hockey from here on out (compared to .527 to date). Add to that the fact that Toronto and Edmonton currently sit last in their respective conferences and Calgary and Winnipeg sit third last and second last respectively in the Western Conference, all four of those teams have the added burden of having to catch and pass a number of teams to reach eighth place. Given the hole the Oilers, Leafs, Flames and Jets have dug for themselves it would appear that if they are not already planning for “next year”, then they should be.

That leaves us with three interesting possibilities for one or more Canadian participants in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s look at each one individually.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens started quickly (19-4-3) and for a long time were in first place in the Eastern Conference. Triggered by an injury to star goaltender Carey Price they have continued to slump (5-20-1 from Dec 3 through Feb 3) and have now fallen to 10th place in the East, three points behind the eighth place Pittsburgh Penguins. Their problem since Price’s injury hasn’t really been goaltending (Mike Condon has been respectable), it’s been lack of scoring, but of course in this era of low scoring games it does help if you have the league’s best goaltender between the pipes. The Canadiens have 27 games left in which to get the 37 points they need to take them to 95 and they are within nine points of all of the teams ahead of them except Washington and Florida, so they have a good chance, providing they can get back to playing good hockey and avoid any further slumps. If Price could get healthy, he may be the wild card. Better than any trade deadline addition and well rested to boot.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators showed this week that they are a “now” team, by obtaining Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf as they gear up for a playoff drive. Phaneuf was the key player in a nine player trade with the Maple Leafs and will add depth to the Senators blue line. He will no longer be expected to log top pairing minutes (Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot will handle those responsibilities), but the mere fact that the Senators were willing to trade with their Provincial arch enemy shows how keen they are to get this turned around1Ottawa-Toronto trades are as rare as Red Sox-Yankee trades in baseball, the rivalry is so intense. Not only is there playoff revenue to keep in mind, but the team is making noises about wanting a new arena, and non-playoff teams are not usually a good advert for attracting financial support for a new building, whatever the sport. The Senators are currently twelfth in the Eastern Conference five points out of a playoff spot and like the Canadiens they have 27 games remaining. It will take a good streak, similar to the route they took last season to get to the post season if they are to reach 95 points. But to do so, they need to catch and pass at least four of the teams ahead of them in the standings, but they are only two points behind Montreal so the possibility of playoff hockey in the Nation’s Capital this spring still exists.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are a bit unique. They have shown signs of being in a rebuild mode, have had bad stretches and lost some key games so far this season. However, they are only two points behind Colorado, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the west. The Canucks biggest advantage is that they play in the relatively weak Pacific Division, where the first three teams automatically qualify for the post season. Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim are ahead of them in their division (67, 60 and 59 points respectively) and the Canucks are fourth with 56 points. The Kings appear to be a lock for the division title. San Jose has been a much better road team this year than at home (18-8-2 on the road vs. 10-12-2 at home) and 18 of the Sharks remaining 32 games are at home, which leaves the Canucks with an opportunity if the Sharks continue to struggle in San Jose. The Ducks started out very slowly, not scoring goals and languished in the bottom three in the conference for much of the season, but are playing their best hockey of the year right now. The Canucks should likely target San Jose as the team to catch, but while doing so they can’t forget about the Arizona Coyotes who are only two points behind and with a game in hand and maybe even Calgary if the Flames can go on a run. The Flames are only five points behind Vancouver and have played two less games than the Canucks.

With three point games in the mix, sometimes even a loss picks up a point for a team, so nothing is out of the question, but we certainly won’t see five Canadian teams in the post season like we did last year.

Forty six years ago, in 1969-70 the then twelve team league comprised two divisions. The only Canadian teams in the league at that point were Montréal and Toronto, with both in the Eastern Division. The Canadiens had 92 points and the Leafs 71 points good enough for fifth and sixth respectively in their division. Could it happen again? It certainly could if someone doesn’t go on a run very soon.

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1. Ottawa-Toronto trades are as rare as Red Sox-Yankee trades in baseball, the rivalry is so intense

Purdue at Maryland: A Moral Victory for the Boilermakers?

Purdue entered their game this past weekend against #4 Maryland with something to prove. The Boilermakers hadn’t beaten a ranked team this season, and were looking to make a statement by winning on the road against the Terrapins.

Now that the results are in, let’s take a look at what went down in College Park on Saturday, and evaluate where Purdue’s 72-61 loss to Maryland leaves them in the Big Ten race, as well as the national picture.

Maryland entered this game with an impressive resume, including a 14-0 conference record at home since joining the Big Ten, and an overall 25-game home winning streak.

For the first 34 minutes of game action, however, the Boilermakers were making a case that they belong. Purdue and Maryland were engaged in a back-and-forth contest that the Boilers were leading 51-47 with six minutes remaining. Purdue was doing a nice job on the interior, led by centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, and the Boilermakers’ defense was holding a potent Maryland offense in check.

At this point in the contest, Maryland increased their defensive intensity, particularly on the inside. Purdue was unable to get the ball to their post players, and the Boilers also committed several turnovers as they tried in vein to get the ball inside to Hammons or Haas.

Maryland’s defensive tactics left Purdue with no choice but to fire away from the outside, and the results were disastrous. Purdue’s perimeter players couldn’t make shots all game long (3-25 from three-point range), but they were particularly ineffective in those last six minutes. The Terrapins put Purdue away with a 25-10 run to end the game, spoiling the upset hopes of the Boilermakers.

Some say there is no such thing as a “moral victory,” but even if that is the case, some losses are better than others. In the case of Purdue’s defeat at hands of Maryland, they showed they can compete on the road with one of the best teams in the country. On the flip side, they once again failed in crunch time against a quality opponent.

The jury is still out on how the Boilermakers stack up against the best of the Big Ten and the nation, but in order to move from a team just outside that top tier to being considered one of the “elite” teams, Purdue is simply going to have to beat one or more of those quality opponents.

In order for this to happen, Purdue’s outside shooting must improve. When teams clog up the paint defensively, the Boilermakers have to hit enough perimeter shots to keep the defense honest, and that hasn’t been happening. Purdue’s inconsistent outside shooting has been a thorn in their side all season, but it’s been even more evident against top competition.

The Boilermakers have now proven they can play with anybody, but there is a big difference between making a good showing and closing out key games with a victory. Purdue has yet to take the next step of finishing off a ranked opponent, but they’ll have more opportunities to do so, starting tonight when they host #8 Michigan State.

Purdue is a good team, but they don’t look like a Big Ten contender or a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament at this point. The only way the Boilermakers can change that perception is to break through against an elite opponent, but that’s going to take a complete, 40-minute performance that Purdue has yet to put together this season.

It’s time to put up or shut up…the clock is ticking.

HoriZone Roundtable Episode 6 – Who's Separating Themselves?

Bob (@BobMcDonald) and Jimmy (@pantheru) kick things off with a clip from the song Norris Cole from hip-hop artist Graddy Co. They also talk about Oakland’s recent six-game winning streak, along with Milwaukee’s two-game slide. Bob also gets into comments made by Cleveland State coach Gary Waters after the loss to Detroit. Finally, where does Valpo sit as an at-large NCAA bid, and how many teams will make the post-season?

Topic:

  • Norris Cole’s jersey retirement (and song)
  • Oakland’s six-game winning streak
  • Milwaukee’s two losses against Wright State and Northern Kentucky
  • Is Cleveland State really going to blow up the roster?
  • Valpo’s NCAA at-large chances, and how many HL teams make it to the post-season?

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Hanley Ramirez Is An Anchor For the Red Sox

It was with great interest that I watched current Red Sox GM Mike Hazen speak of the plans that were in place for the 2016 season.  My ears perked up when he game to Hanley Ramirez’s name, hopeful that he would be the first Red Sox GM to listen to advice, and reveal his plan for moving Ramirez.  Instead of those happy words, Hazen laid out a plan that included Ramirez moving to 1B.  This will necessitate a move of one of the Red Sox budding young stars, because there simply is not enough positions on the field, not with Fat hanging out across the diamond. Continue reading Hanley Ramirez Is An Anchor For the Red Sox

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

Cavaliers offend with their offense

After declaring a rebirth of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers in my last piece, I now feel a bit of egg running down my face after the team has dropped two very winnable games this past week. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two factors that I think led to these disappointing outcomes.

I have said this before, and it rings true this week as much as it has all season. We MUST win the games we are supposed to win!

No one takes us seriously when we beat the #2 team in the league one week and lose to a sub .500 team the next. It makes fans and the national media question whether we are actually a good team or just putting on a show with smoke and mirrors.

Offensive Strategy: At times, I find the strategy that the Cavaliers decide to use on offense, offensive. Meaning that it offends my common sense approach as an analytical fan.

For example, when the game is close or we are starting to squander a lead late in a game, why on earth do any of these professional players think that the best idea is to run the shot clock down and hoist up a three pointer? Is it an engrained desire to be the hero as they have practiced thousands of times since they were first introduced to the game as kids?

Sure, sometimes the shot goes in and we all talk about how clutch that player is and how they always seem to bail us out. Most of the time, those shots do not go in and amongst fans there seems to be no accountability for having just wasted a crucial possession.

We should be taking high percentage shots from the paint in these situations. This is the most opportune time to rely on Kevin Love.

He has shown over the last few weeks to be not only shooting a high percentage from down there, but it also puts him in a great position to possible secure an offensive rebound for another clock eating possession. I don’t understand why we settle for just running out 24 seconds and taking a low percentage shot when we can get a higher percentage shot and possibly the chance to run out 40 seconds.

I also want to complain about one more strategy on offense that goes hand in hand with the one I just mentioned. That strategy is the isolation play for James.

Yes, I realize that he is The King and can make his way past most defenders one on one and get a high percentage shot, but it is what consistently happens AFTER he makes it past the player defending him that is in question.

Either he takes a tougher than necessary shot trying to get an “And One” and doesn’t get the call, OR if he does get the call and misses we take our chances at the free throw line.

For being a superstar in our league and contending with James Harden for most “And One” opportunities amongst all players, he has been mostly inconsistent at the free throw line. In close games like the 104-103 loss to Boston, #AllFreeThrowsMatter

Another thing that the isolation play does when you run it over and over, is that it gives the opponents time to rest as the play usually consists of James on one end of the court and the rest of the players just standing around watching on the other side. Make these guys run the slalom around picks at the end of the game so that the fatigue catches up with them and they will make more mistakes.

If Lue is dead set on running the ISO in these situation, PLEASE do it with Kyrie! At least he is shooting a reasonable percentage from the line and finishes just as well or better than James.

Bench Play: The contributions off of the bench in these two most recent losses have been truly disappointing as a collective group. Dellevadova being out with a hamstring issue only cements my suspicion that he is maybe the most important component of the second unit.

The strength of the second unit is clearly anchored in Iman Shumpert’s ability to steal the ball and make players think twice about lazy passes. This is an invaluable asset that we have as it gives us more possessions in addition to take potential points off of the board for our adversaries.

From an offensive standpoint, we just cannot produce consistently. Just when we think that Mozgov has “figured it out” he reminds us that there is a reason he is not starting anymore with another blunder at a crucial juncture.

Against the moderately talented Charlotte Hornets all that out five bench players could amass was 13 points. Delly is averaging over 8 points per game on his own so his contributions are clearly missed.

We cannot expect to win close games without these intangibles. I challenge the players and coaches to play a smarter game and, if necessary, make some key changes to the team that put us in a stronger position to contend in the Finals.

Even if we play horribly, we will get one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference purely based on our talent level. Having Kyrie and Love in the Finals this year will not matter though unless some of these issues are corrected.

I’m ready to see if Tyronn Lue is up to that challenge.

Charles Barkley Should Be Rolling Over In His Grave

As the legendry Phoenix sports figure Charles Barkley might say “First of all Ernie, let me tell you something. The Phoenix Suns are turrible. Charles Barkley should be rolling over in his grave.” Now that the near miraculous Arizona Cardinals season has ended in disappointment, the only teams we have currently playing are the Suns and the Coyotes.

The Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks have had pretty similar paths over the past several years. The Suns have finished at or near .500 in three of their past five seasons, with one decent season in 2013-14, and a terrible campaign the year before. The team has not even made the playoffs since 2009-10. The Diamondbacks have also finished exactly at or very close to .500 in three of their last seasons, with 2014 being a very forgettable year.

While this comparison does not seem very encouraging at first, what we have learned from the Diamondbacks is that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. This offseason the D-Backs shook up the baseball hot stove with their huge signing of right handed pitcher Zach Greinke, and also signed RHP Shelby Miller from Atlanta.

During the offseason the Phoenix Suns did everything they could to try and sign coveted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, but they did not succeed. It seems as if they will need to do something similar this year to try to get a big free agent that can turn things around. At this point the team would be best off trying to tank and lose as many games as possible so they can get more ping pong balls in the draft lottery. If they can get a high draft pick and a big name free agent, the Phoenix Suns might get back to being respectable faster than Charles Barkley can yell for their hated rival “Ginobili!”

 

Wideman suspenion gets messier

On January 27 Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman took a hit to the boards from the Nashville Predators’ Miikka Salomaki. On the play, Wideman’s head appeared to hit the glass. After laying on the ice for a few seconds, he got up, still looking groggy and skated to the Flames bench. But just before he entered the Flames bench he cross-checked linesman Don Henderson from behind. Henderson went down immediately. Estimates are that the whole sequence of events took between eight and nine seconds.

Wideman was not assessed a penalty on the play and Henderson finished the game, but did spend the night in a Calgary hospital under observation. The NHL immediately suspended Wideman indefinitely pending a full investigation and hearing that was held in Toronto on February 2. Given that the incident involved an official, the only real question was how long the suspension would be and if Salomaki’s hit on Wideman had been a factor.

A day after the hearing, we got the verdict. Twenty games, assessed for “conduct violative of Rule 40 – physical abuse of officials – during NHL game No. 742”. The NHLPA has already stated that it will appeal the decision, which will be heard firstly by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and then by an independent arbitrator1James Oldham, an independent arbitrator jointly by the League and the NHLPA if Wideman and his representatives are not happy with Bettman’s review. Under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, Wideman will forfeit US$564,516.20 in salary, which will go to the Players Emergency Assistance Fund. We would expect Bettman to rule that the penalty is appropriate, if only to protect the NHL officials, if nothing else. That means that Wideman’s case may be the first to go to an independent arbitrator.

While Wideman is obviously the only one who knows, for sure, whether his hit on Henderson was intentional, the whole situation brings to mind more questions and points for discussion.

Wideman’s explanation was that he was dazed from the Salomaki hit and didn’t see Henderson until the very last moment, at which time it was too late to avoid Henderson. Wideman apparently apologized to Henderson soon after the incident and again later that evening2he later stated that the Salomaki hit left him with “some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck. I was just trying to get off the ice. I was kind of keeled over. At the last second I looked up and saw Henderson. I couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go – or how to get out of the way”. In the player’s defense, he has no history of violent conduct, either against another player or against an official. However the NHL has made it very clear on numerous previous occasions that abuse of officials will not be tolerated, so a lengthy suspension was anticipated.

The League took the position that it was clear abuse of one of its officials and ruled accordingly. It really had no choice. Any other decision would put its officials at risk and would undoubtedly trigger the officials association to take a stance with the league. Wideman, the NHLPA and Flames management took the position that Wideman was dazed and was unaware of what he had done. If he was dazed, it isn’t clear why he stayed on the bench after the incident. The NHL’s concussion protocol requires that any player suspected as having any kind of concussion, even if considered minor, he must go to the so-called “Quiet Room” for further examination. Media sources in Toronto are now reporting that Wideman was in fact diagnosed with a concussion and that the “concussion spotter” at the game advised the Flames bench that showing symptoms of a concussion and should be taken to the “Quiet Room”. It is also being reported that the Flames trainer(s) wanted Wideman to go to the Quiet Room, but Wideman refused.

This latest development throws a whole different light on the matter. If in fact the Flames bench was notified of the possibility of a concussion, why was it left up to the player to determine whether he stayed on the bench or went to the Quiet Room? If a player is truly concussed, is he in a position to make that decision as to whether he stays in the game or not? If the League has taken the time to institute a concussion protocol and employs “concussion spotters”, why does the process not immediately take matters out of the player/his team’s hands and put it in the league’s hands or at the very least the hands of a qualified, impartial medical staff?

It seems that the League finds itself in a very awkward situation now. If in fact the concussion protocol was not followed correctly, then they may have ruled incorrectly, or at the very least prematurely. If the player is found to have been concussed, to any degree, how does the league prevent players from using the concussion defence in the future for any attacks on opponents or officials? If the Flames coaching staff actually were informed about the possible concussion, will the league take action against the team for ignoring the protocol?

Wideman is a useful player and was a pleasant surprise last year in the Flames run to the playoffs, getting 56 points in 80 games. His role diminished somewhat this season as the Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins over the summer, reducing Wideman’s ice time by about three minutes a game and bumping him to the Flames third pair of defensemen. The Flames are struggling to make the playoffs this year and if the 20 game suspension is upheld, Wideman will be out until March 14, by which time the Flames will have 17 games left in their regular season. Between now and March 14, the NHL trade deadline will be upon us (February 29) and if the Flames find themselves as sellers at the deadline, how can they trade a suspended player or an injured player and expect a suitable return? With one year left on his contract at US$5.25 per season, Wideman would be a classic trade deadline target for a contender looking to add depth on their blue line.

No one wins here. Wideman’s reputation has been tarnished and he may well have a medical issue. The NHL may have overstepped its bounds by ruling so quickly, perhaps without sufficient evidence. The Flames may have contravened a league policy and be subject to a fine or other penalties. Henderson may also have a concussion.

It’s a mess, and likely no clear winner will emerge from this situation. Let’s hope that whatever the reason(s) for this ugly incident, all of the facts are on the table before a final ruling is made.

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1. James Oldham, an independent arbitrator jointly by the League and the NHLPA
2. he later stated that the Salomaki hit left him with “some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck. I was just trying to get off the ice. I was kind of keeled over. At the last second I looked up and saw Henderson. I couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go – or how to get out of the way”

Successful Next Man Up Means Next Round in NFL

This season in the NFL seems to carry a constant theme. Press conferences, media commentary, play on the field and even front office success carries the theme “Next Man Up.” A simple three word phrase when broken down further can explain the NFL and the teams able to rise above. When you apply this phrase to individual teams it’s more evident a team’s success is based on this motto.

The Denver Broncos are no exception. Their reaction to injuries can explain their success AND the hole that could be their downfall

Manning-Osweiler

The quarterback situation is THE biggest “Next Man Up” example for the Denver Broncos. When an aging first ballot hall of famer come up lame and your back up not only contributes BUT advances your division and playoff seeding that is the best case of “Next Man Up” available. The Dallas Cowboys similar situation ended in a completely different way. Tony Romo went down and Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were disastrous. The defense was the anchor of the Broncos but Brock Osweiler steered the ship well.

Defensive Replacements

This defense will lead the Broncos where they are going to end up. Their success with “Next Man Up” was a big part of this. Whether it was Shaq Barrett or Shane Ray filling in for Demarcus Ware or Bradley Roby stepping in for Chris Harris Jr in the AFC Divisional game this side of the ball had an answer for fallen teammates. An example of how poorly this could have gone would be the Baltimore Ravens. A Super Bowl pick by some but losses of Chris Canty, Terrell Suggs and Matt Elam hurt them tremendously. They are now picking 6th in the upcoming draft.

Offensive Line

This is where “Next Man Up” falters with the Broncos. It was and still remains the main weakness looming, ready to haunt a promising team. Injuries to two left tackles, a left guard and having only one right guard on the depth chart is the main culprit of this ghost. It has posed challenges for an average offense. Throwing the ball down the field, opening running lanes and sustaining long drives are issues impeding the offensive success of this team. All issues stem from poor offensive line play and not enough talent for “Next Man Up” to be successful. It will also be the issue that determines how far this team can go in the playoffs.

“Next Man Up” is a rousing phrase for fans and players alike to be ready and know their number could be called at any time. It is inspiring and simple but if the player coming into the game is Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden the phrase means high draft picks are in your future. A team has to acquire the right players to make “Next Man Up” work. Depth is huge in the NFL. If you don’t have quality depth you will not maintain high performance on the field. The Broncos capable fill-ins are a direct cause of the front office drafting and signing the right players. Brock Osweiler, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Darrien Stewart and Bradley Roby all filled in well AND even excelled. They were also drafted and signed by the Broncos. A strong organization from the front office down makes “Next Man Up” effective. The void of capable offensive linemen ready to step in and maintain is also the front office’s fault. This lack of depth could lead to an earlier than hoped exit from the 2016 playoffs.

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