Sunday, October 4, 2015

NFL Picks: Week 4

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post
The weather is terrible, I'm tired, but it's always a good day for some football. Again, this will be an abbreviated version of my usual picks column, because life at Davidson is a busy one.

On Thursday, I tweeted my pick for that night's game:

Thanks to a missed field goal that could have sealed the game for Pittsburgh, and a late comeback by Baltimore that saved their season, I came away with a push.

Thanks to the early start time in London, there's a game on right now, and I tweeted that pick out this morning:

I'm looking pretty good on that one. I've had a pretty good season thus far, so let's keep it going.

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

NFL Picks: Week 3

Photo courtesy of the NY Post
College is very fun, but very busy. Today I have a lot of work to do, as well as a lacrosse game, which means this week will feature some very quick picks. No explanations (well, maybe one), just picks.

By the way, let's go Mets. 

As always, I made my Thursday night pick on Twitter:

That's a win, which pushes me to 19-13-1 on the year.

Okay, let's do this.

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.
Falcons (-1.5) over COWBOYS.

TITANS (+3.5) over Colts.

BROWNS (-3.5) over Raiders.

RAVENS (-2.5) over Bengals. 

Jaguars (+14) over PATRIOTS.

PANTHERS (-9.5) over Saints. 

JETS (-1.5) over Eagles. I'm really upset by this line. The Jets are undefeated, the Eagles are winless. The Jets are playing at home, which means immediately that they should be getting at least three points simply for that reason, never mind the fact that they are better than the Eagles. According to this line, the Eagles would be favored if this game were on a neutral field, and if anyone actually believes that right now, they seriously need to get their eyes checked. Wake up folks, the Jets are good, the Eagles...maybe not so much. Endrant.

Buccaneers (+7) over TEXANS.

VIKINGS (-1) over Chargers.

RAMS (+1) over Steelers. UPSET ALERT.

CARDINALS (-6.5) over 49ers.

DOLPHINS (-2.5) over Bills.

SEAHAWKS (-14.5) over Bears.

Broncos (-3) over LIONS.

PACKERS (-7) over Chiefs.

Bye for now, let's go Mets.

Last Week: 8-8

This Week: 1-0

Season: 18-13-1

P.S. Let's go Mets. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

NFL Picks: Week 2

Photo courtesy of Business Insider
The first week of the season was really good, and I'm not just saying that because the Jets won an actual game. There were interesting games all around, and I can still say that after having to sit through that ridiculous Baltimore-Denver game where each team forgot how to play offense. Sunday night was capped with a great comeback, and that's just how Week 2 started

I made my pick on Twitter as is standard Thursday night procedure:
Despite being wrong, I'm okay with that exciting ending.

Fair warning: I'm very unsure about a lot of these picks, so this week could be a total disaster for me. 

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

NFL Picks: Week 1

Photo courtesy of Grantland
The first full football Sunday is finally upon us again which means many it's the return of feigning productivity between the hours of 1 PM and 11:30 PM while watching every second of game action possible, and repeating for the next four months. At certain points, the feigning productivity part even gets thrown out, and it's just time to sit back, relax, put your feet up, and occasionally yell obscenities at the screen.

I didn't really do as much of a preseason deep dive as I usually do, because the first few weeks of college life have been very, very busy, but I'm still as excited as always to get the season underway. I want to see how the Jets are going to anger me in 2015, how the 49ers recover from a hellacious offseason, whether or not Odell Beckham, Jr. is of this species, and to see what incredible mistake Roger Goddell is going to make this year.

Also, being that it's Sunday again, it means it's time for my picks. I went 117-135-4 during a very frustrating regular season and 5-6 during the playoffs. I just didn't have it last year, and I'm already off to a bad start after one game this season:

The pick was going swimmingly, until Antonio Brown caught a stupid garbage time score with two seconds left to cut the lead to exactly seven points and lead to a push. I easily should have started off the year with a win, but I guess I can't have nice things.

Let's get on with the show.

UPSET ALERT next to games in which I think the underdog will win outright, not just cover. Home team in CAPS.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Musings of a Transplanted New Yorker

Photo courtesy of NY Times

On January 31, when I first discovered that I had been admitted to Davidson College, I was obviously elated that I was given the opportunity to attend my first choice school. However, it only took an hour or so for the reality to hit me, that I was actually going to uproot myself from New York City, where I've lived all my life, Queens born and raised, and move to small town North Carolina for nine months out of the year. From learning to stop speed-walking even when I have nowhere to be, and getting used to living in a place with grass, there were a lot of differences I have to be ready for.

Then I had another thought, what about sports? I'm a fan of the New York Mets, Jets, Knicks, and Rangers. New York is the operative word, as I've never had to deal with being outside of my team's market before. Sure, I've spent the bulk of my summer in Ghana a few times, but the Mets were never any good during those years, and my internet connection is so bad that I reconciled myself to virtually disconnecting from the MLB until I returned. But there was no real investment, I'm talking about the 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014 Mets, teams who were for the most part already dead in the water by the time I left the country in late June. 

Starting in a little over a week, I have to adjust to life as an out of town fan. That means a lot of illegal streaming, wearing team gear on the streets with absolutely no context, and the potential apathy of the people around me. The size of the school, roughly 1,800 students, and its distance from my home base greatly decreases the chances that I'll find people who root for the same teams as I, even if they are as nutty about sports as I am. While trying to stay away from sweeping generalizations about the rest of the country, it feels to me as if baseball has lost a lot of traction in the sports market. That part is obvious to anyone, as football is now America's national pastime, but it's entirely possible that basketball has passed baseball as well. As much as I love those two games as well as hockey and even soccer, baseball will forever and always be my favorite sport, so it's sad to think that this is the case for increasingly fewer people. I said all of this to say that even when I find people who are in love with sports, which shouldn't be hard, especially at a Division I school whose national recognition outside of academia stems solely from its success on the basketball court, who says I'm going to find enough people that love baseball as much as I do? And how many of those will care to hear me ramble on about the WHIP of someone on the Savannah Sand Gnats (who are located roughly four hours away from campus). The nearest major league club is four hours away, and it's the damn Braves. 

I'll survive, but it remains to be seen how I deal with this issue. By far the biggest issue I'm going to have is timing. The last time the Mets played a playoff game, I was a month and a half into fourth grade, and I'm writing this as I look at my suitcase, filled with a bunch of clothes which I'm probably not going to need yet still taking with me to start my freshman year in college. That's a long gap, and it's been a long road since that final out of our 2006 season. 

So naturally, I have to be leaving Queens just when things are finally starting to get a little bit interesting at Citi Field. I recognized this a while ago, that the Mets would complete their long-awaited rebuild at some point during my four years in college, and there was a good chance I'd be nowhere near Flushing when they make it back to the playoffs, but now this is a reality. 

This past weekend, as the Mets played the three biggest games in the history of Citi Field, I attended the final two games of the series. It was an incredible experience. I paid way too much money ($42 including fees) to sit in the upper deck on Saturday night, and it was well worth it. Jacob deGrom was shaky to begin the game, which quieted the crowd a little bit, but not enough to stop us from giving Yoenis Cespedes a warm New York welcome every time he came to the plate, or serenading the greatest Met of all time, Wilmer Flores with multiple standing ovations and nearly becoming unglued when he flew out to deep left in his first at bat. Lucas Duda's two homers sent us all into a collective frenzy. deGrom's recovery from a rocky first inning didn't go unnoticed by the sellout crowd either, as people all around us stood up with two strikes throughout the game, something which I haven't seen at Citi Field in a couple of years. 

Then, the best moment I've had at a baseball game occurred. Matt Williams intentionally walked Yoenis Cespedes in the eight inning, in one of the most egregious managerial decisions I've ever seen. Seriously, all of the stats say it was a stupid decision, Cespedes has been bad against lefties, while Duda has been crushing lefties. Duda had been on a Ruthian tear, including two home runs in that very game. There is simply no justification for it. 

Anyway, right after the walk, the crowd came alive. I can't fully justify this with words, but it felt like the crowd doubled in size, and "Lucas Duda" chants began in unison. Remember, this wasn't even a reaction to anything that he'd done, this was in anticipation of his at bat, and it may have been the loudest moment in the history of the stadium. All I could think is, "woah." The place was shaking. And Duda delivered with the game winning RBI double, which caused the building to rock of course. 

The next night was even more wild. This time, I was much closer to the action, as I was able to get field level tickets not too far from the left field foul pole, for even less money than I paid to be one row in front of the very top of the stadium. There were a lot more people at batting practice than I'd ever seen at Citi, and it felt like at least half the crowd was milling about the stadium a full hour before the first pitch. The crowd was better on Sunday, despite the fact that there were fewer in attendance thanks to the late start time. The cheers felt louder, the boos of Bryce Harper were more forceful, the chants never stopped, and people around me started to hit the Nationals' left fielder with the classic "Jayson Werthless" chant when he was near us. People spent the entire bottom of the third inning on their feet thanks to the three homers slugged by the Mets, and the same for the whole top of the ninth inning as Tyler Clippard was on for his first save as a member of the team. The atmosphere was like nothing I could have ever imagined. I'd say it felt like a real playoff game, but I've never been to a playoff game so I can't articulate what that feels like. Even so, it felt special. That's the proper term for that series, and those two games I attended: special. 

So, as the game ended, and the Flushing Faithful collectively lost their minds because the Mets were finally in first place again, I had to fight back a certain sadness. But this wasn't a sadness like the final strike of the 2006 NLCS, or end of the 2007 season, or even the feeling I and many other Mets fans had during the 2009 season when it was becoming clear that the team's window was closing. This was a sadness because I realized what I'll be missing over the final month and a half of the season, and potentially the playoffs. I wanted to be at Citi Field to watch the Mets take the field in October, running out deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, and Matz. Even if the comically inflated playoff prices only allowed me to sit in the worst seat in the park one time, I desperately want to be there and share the experience with 40,000 over long-suffering Mets fans. Even not being in New York at all, and missing out on the chance of some random guy on the streets pointing at me and yelling "let's go Mets" at the sight of my (now outdated, thanks for changing your number) Travis d'Arnaud shirsey. I really thought that after sitting through years of Pat Misch, Chris Young, and Ramon Ramirez, I could see Citi Field buzz with the prospect of a championship.

I still get that opportunity, but through an unfamiliar and uncomfortable lens. For the next few years, I'm an out-of-towner during half of the baseball season, including during its most important month: October. Eeven though I will not be lucky enough to bound down the stairs of the 7 train at Mets-Willets Point station for a playoff game anytime soon, I said my final goodbye to Citi Field in 2015 knowing, that finally, after all of these years, 41,800 people who bleed blue and orange can enter that stadium every night expecting to win, and knowing that the good times are here to stay. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New York Mets Trade Deadline Primer

Photo courtesy of the NY Post
It's officially trade season, ladies and gentlemen. The All-Star break has come and gone, which means that soon it's time for teams to truthfully evaluate where they are this season. Sandy Alderson was right in saying that the trade market is only beginning to materialize at this point in the season, because no matter how badly a front office pursues a player in June, it's unlikely that anything will become of it immediately. Backing off until the deadline looms larger is a helpful strategy to more effectively assess a team's needs. Not every team is able to figure out whether buyers or sellers until just about this point in the year, where the team has already played roughly 90 games, and it becomes clearer who should be in contention at the end of the year. It also helps to ensure that both sides receive roughly equal value for the assets they are trading away. The longer teams wait, the more "fair" a trade will be.

In case you haven't heard this said at least five times a day over the past month and a half, the Mets need a bat. The return of David Wright isn't necessarily a guarantee, which means that unless Dilson Herrera looking markedly better in his latest stint in Vegas, Ruben Tejada will be playing shortstop for a team with playoff aspirations. Lucas Duda has been a catastrophe for a while, throwing up a highly upsetting slash line of .166/.279/.287 in his last 43 games. Juan Lagares has never been a very good hitter, but this year he's even worse than expected. Kevin Plawecki has been great recently, but Travis d'Arnaud looked primed for an All-Star season if he weren't stopped by two separate injuries.

And now for everyone's favorite whipping boy, Michael Cuddyer. I liked the deal at the time, because it was clear that the Mets needed a corner outfielder, and he was one of the only options out there. Sure, the contract was a little pricey, but I thought he'd be worth at least most of it. I preferred him to Melky Cabrera because the Melk Man's performance has been hard to predict, and the Mets couldn't afford a down year from him. There was also talk about Nelson Cruz, despite the fact that his second half was significantly worse than his first half. Without allowing hindsight to affect my view, all things considered, Cuddyer was the guy.

Unfortunately, he's been an abject failure to this point. He's having the worst season of his career, which is to be expected at age 36, but the extent of his decline is the surprising part. He's certainly earned his new names, Michael Cruddyer, as well as my favorite, Michael Cadaver.

I do think that the pitching is good enough that technically, the Mets can sustain this level of hitting and make the postseason, so they don't need a hitter. Not trading for a bat will not kill the season. But it makes all the sense in the world, and it could be the thing that pushes them over the top. Whether or not that last sentence is equal to need, well that's a semantic debate. 

First off, we need to look at the trade assets before diving into the trade market. Dillon Gee has absolutely no trade value at this point. Sandy blew it with him. His value was highest in the middle of last season, when he was outperforming his talent, and Alderson kept holding out to find the perfect trade for Gee. A combination of overvaluing Gee and hoping some other team overvalues Gee, has led to a pitcher who has little value to his own team and none to anyone else.

Friday, July 10, 2015

New Day in New York City

Earlier this week in midtown, New York City FC officially introduced three new players to their roster. First, the two Spaniards were introduced to the media at the Grand Hyatt: 18 year old defender Angelino and 33 year old defender Andoni Iraola spoke to reporters in both English and Spanish, at times through a translator.

Much like fellow defender Shay Facey, Angelino will be making his professional debut with New York City after being loaned from Manchester City, NYC's English sister team, where he spent his youth career. He's a confident player, and injects a lot of skill into New York City's back line. When asked how he felt about joining a team laden with great veterans like David Villa, he responded: "I never would have imagined playing alongside Pablo [Alvarez] and players like Villa and Lampard, and I must take advantage of the opportunity." That answer even further underscored his age and relative inexperience, because it reminds us all that he grew up watching these men who are now his teammates, and while David Villa in his heyday with the Spanish national team and in La Liga, Angelino was just reaching puberty.

On the other side of their translator was Andoni Iraola, who comes to the team after spending his entire professional career in the system of Athletic Bilbao, and having been on the big club since 2003. After finishing a very successful career in Spain, the 33 year old finds himself in an entirely different situation in New York. Perhaps the most important change is that he's coming from La Liga, where there are only a few teams (but really, mostly two) that have a shot at winning the title each season, to a league where, as he put it, there is a lot of parity. As for everything else, whether it be adjusting to a new country, a new city, a new team, etc., Iraola said he had spoken with former Spanish teammate David Villa prior to agreeing to move to NYCFC, and Villa had nothing but "positive things" to say about his experience so far in New York. Undoubtedly, Villa's thoughts were a big factor in Iraola's eventual decision to join his new club.

After those two finished taking questions, out came Coach Jason Kreis and his newest midfielder, English legend, Frank Lampard. As a Chelsea fan myself, simply being in the same room as Frank Lampard made Tuesday incredible. While Lampard said he hasn't necessarily had a New York moment just yet because he hasn't had the opportunity to fully explore the city, he's excited for the opportunity. Lampard considered the move to New York City "a very easy choice to make." He's ready to "live in this great city, and join this new project" after finishing an incredible career in the English Premier League.

Jason Kreis has a lot on his plate right now. These three new players, along with the arrival of Andrea Pirlo in the near future is great overall, but could potentially hurt the team in the immediate future. When a team gets such an influx of talent at once, if not handled correctly by the coach, it could ruin the team chemistry. Especially with New York City playing very well over the past few weeks (outside of their game against the Red Bulls), it's up to Kreis to make sure that while he installs the new players into the lineup, he doesn't affect the comfort level that the current players have built up with one another. He was confident in his abilities to add players while maintaining the mojo when I asked him about just that. Kreis said that he's not too worried about it, because the players he's adding all have a lot of character, and will do whatever is best for the team. He reminded the media that while he considers it difficult to add players in midseason, it's not impossible. He has ideas as to how he'll manage the roster in the near future, but he wasn't prepared to share it with the world.

Kreis was excited, and his three new players were equally pumped. July 7th was a very important day in the history of the franchise, and all fans should be very excited about what's to come next.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rangers Free Agents: Stay or Go?

Photo courtesy of NBC Sports
The NHL season is over, the draft has come and gone, which means it's time for them to start looking at free agency. There are a lot of possible moves that Glen Sather, or, possibly Jeff Gorton can make with this team over the summer. Before looking to the outside to see what players from other teams can contribute to the Rangers next season and beyond, management has to look at the players who are already in New York to see how they can help the team in the future.

The cap situation isn't great. In fact, it's rather terrible. The Rangers will have quite a few tough decisions to make this offseason in order to build on the success of the last few seasons. Based on the new salary cap set at $71.4 million, the Rangers will have about $12 million to work with. That looks okay, but not when looking at the amount of free agents the management has to figure out whether or not to re-sign.

The team wants to keep the core of the roster together for years to come, so where does that leave these Ranger free agents?

Emerson Etem, RFA
The newest Ranger happens to be a restricted free agent, just like the guy Sather traded for him. Obviously, given the circumstances under which he was acquired, the Rangers expect to retain him for years to come. He's a former first round pick who never seemed to develop properly in Anaheim, but is still a pretty solid player. He's a very good addition to the third line.
Verdict: Stay

Jesper Fast, RFA
At only 23 years old, Fast solidified a spot for himself on this team with a great showing in 2014-15, restoring some dignity back to Brad Richards's old number 19. Throughout his career in Sweden and the minor leagues, he was known for playing good defense and skating well. He's never going to score too many points, but he continues to show an improving offensive game. The injury to Mats Zuccarello at the end of the first round, as well as the ineffectiveness of Martin St. Louis throughout the postseason forced Fast into a higher profile role with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan on the second line, where he excelled. His forechecking is great, his speed not only fits his name (which, in case you didn't know, had an "h" at the end before he dropped it) but also New York's style of play, and he's young. That's probably the most important factor, and what makes re-signing him a no-brainer.
Verdict: Stay

Matt Hunwick, UFA
Hunwick carved out a role for himself in New York as a depth defenseman, whether it be providing energy out of the third defensive pairing when John Moore's play began to dip early in the year, or filling in when multiple defenders missed extended time with injury. I suspect that a lot of other GMs took notice of his performance, and are ready to hand him an enticing offer to join their third defensive pairing. He was nice for a season as he outplayed the pennies he was earning, but in the process, he priced himself out of the Rangers' plans. Not unlike Benoit Pouliot after the 2013-14 season, the Rangers just have to accept that he earned himself a bigger role in a different city.
Verdict: Go

J.T. Miller, RFA
Much like Jesper Fast, this young gun had himself a breakout season. After a couple of lackluster stints with the Rangers over the two previous seasons, Miller began to show why the Rangers took him with their first round pick in 2011. Whether it's playing on the third line, the fourth line, or even one of the top two scoring lines when called upon, Miller played very well. He's a big body who's capable of playing the center or the wing, and he uses his exceptional speed to simply blow by opponents at times. He's not totally polished just yet, but the talent is there, and he needs to stick around.
Verdict: Stay

James Sheppard, UFA

Simply put, Sheppard is like Wayne Gretzky compared to Tanner Glass, but Glass still has a year left on his contract, so Sheppard has to be on his way out, opening the door for Oscar Lindberg to claim the fourth line center spot.
Verdict: Go

Derek Stepan, RFA
This one is a no-brainer. Just look at how lost this team was without Stepan when he was injured at the beginning of the season. Considering his age, and his production, it's impossible to envision the Rangers moving forward without this star forward (I crack myself up). Surely, this is the most important move of the offseason.
Verdict: Stay

Martin St. Louis, UFA

After propelling the Rangers to competing for Lord Stanley's Cup in 2014, Martin St. Louis just finished up his final season in New York. He followed up his remarkable playoff run with an up and down season, and totally disappeared during the most recent postseason. He was ineffective throughout the playoffs, but his decline became more of an issue when the team lost Mats Zuccarello, forcing Alain Vigneault to trust some of the youngest players on the team in Kevin Hayes, Miller, and Fast, in much more important roles than originally anticipated. While those kids were all up to the task, a better performance out of Marty certainly would have helped, and maybe could have pushed the Rangers back into the Stanley Cup Finals. He aged very quickly, and while he's likely to keep playing and accept a smaller role than he's used to, there's no chance of that happening in New York. Farewell Marty, thanks for the memories. His '14 playoff performance will forever be etched in Rangers lore. Unfortunately for him, the same can be said about 2015, but for all the wrong reasons.
Verdict: Go

Friday, June 26, 2015


Photo courtesy of ESPN
With the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft...

*deep breath*

The New York Knicks select...

*deep breath*

Kristaps Porzingis.



Here I am again, as the voice of reason after the Knicks selected an international prospect, and the fans booed him mercilessly. Three years ago, I was forced to defend Kostas Papanikolaou after the Knicks selected him in the second round, and guess what? I was right. It took him a couple of trades to find an NBA home, but Papanikolau landed in Houston, and was a legitimate contributor off the bench for the Rockets, which is great return for the 48th pick in the draft. 

This time, it's under a different regime, and it's a totally different situation. Porzingis isn't a late second round stash pick, he's a highly touted first rounder who's going to be expected to carry the franchise for years to come, well after Carmelo Anthony is gone. 

Porzingis is a massive talent, and I'm not just talking about his seven foot plus frame. No, he was not the safest pick on the board at number four. Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, and Willie Cauley-Stein just to name a few probably have a higher floor than Porzingis, but the sky is the limit for the Latvian. He can shoot, has great footwork on the perimeter, and can finish at the rim despite his excessively lanky frame. He was able to improve his post game last season, but it's nothing to write home about. He has tools that could make him a good defender, but his length alone will do for now. 

Clearly, he's a project. He needs to put on some weight to be able to handle the more physical style of play he'll encounter in the NBA, but overall he has a lot of skills and can be a force a few years down the road. 

So, why all the hate, the angry hot takes, the boos, the tears, and general hopelessness in response to this selection?

He's European.

Photo courtesy of
So is the dude on the right, and I think he's okay. 

No, seriously, European big men are risks. Look at Andrea Bargnani, Jan Vesely, Nikoloz Tskitishviligiojgtiohyuihyuigtkosaskoprasopkakopogfnjtuioty (often shortened to Tskitishvili), and Darko Milicic.

Okay, I hear you, voice in my head. And I ask you, what is the connection between these players other than the simple fact that they were born in the same continent and that they're large? Oh, nothing? If "the Europeans" were all such busts, NBA teams would have stopped scouting players there a long time ago. Porzingis wouldn't have been considered a top tier talent in this draft for the past year if simply his country of origin were cause for major concern. Maybe talk to me about his build, or his questionable rebounding, and I'll listen. But throwing out where he was born is not a legitimate argument. The Gasol brothers, they're pretty damn good. That Dirk dude pictured above, he's not too shabby himself. Not a big man, but Tony Parker may have been the best point guard in the game at his peak. His European descent isn't an automatic black mark against him. It may raise some eyebrows, but his talent should put those concerns to rest.

Also, read this. Any questions?

He wasn't playing against good enough talent. Anyone can look good against the scrubs in Spain.

Or maybe he was playing in the second best professional league in the world, against guys much better than the majority of players in the NCAA. Put his Sevilla team up against Duke, and watch what happens. 

He won't be ready for a few years.

No, he won't be. News flash: neither will the Knicks. No matter who they happen to sign in free agency this year, whether it's the absolute dream scenario of LaMarcus Aldridge and Goran Dragic (which leaves the Knicks with no money to fill out the rest of the roster, by the way), or a more realistic combination of Greg Monroe, David West, and Patrick Beverley (or players of a similar caliber), the Knicks were in no way going to win the title this season. It's hard to hear this, I know, but they weren't going to win a title next year either. In fact, they're probably never going to win another championship, but let's not go down that rabbit hole. Yes, Carmelo Anthony is getting older and about to exit his prime, if he hasn't already. Yes, the Knicks have a chance to make the postseason depending on how free agency goes, and had the potential to augment their chances in the present day by grabbing a guy like Winslow. But, when afforded the opportunity to pick fourth in the draft, why not go for the home run? If handled correctly, Porzingis can be the franchise cornerstone this team needs to carry the torch in the post-Anthony era. 

He's a seven footer who can shoot. While that may remind you of Andrea Bargnani, there's a chance Porzingis is actually good at shooting the basketball. In the "pace and space" generation that the NBA is trending towards, having a stretch four as the team's best player doesn't sound too terrible. If he turns out to be a bust, it happens. It's part of the trials and tribulations of drafting players. And when it's clear that he's a bust, you're allowed to look back at the moment that Adam Silver read his name, and cry, and boo, and hiss. Then you're allowed to yell "Why Phil, why?" You're allowed to throw things and question why God hates the Knicks and their fans. You're allowed to travel back in time and hand your 2015 self a lot of hard liquor, with the warning, "you're going to need this in a few years, thanks to that seven foot brick machine." Then and only then are you allowed to write off Porzingis. That time has yet to come, so let's not end this guy's career before it even begins. Give it time. 




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Scott Darling

Photo courtesy of Inside Hockey
The date is Wednesday April 15.

It's game one of the playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are in Nashville for what many expect to be a very closely contested series.

One period in, the score is 3-0 Nashville. Hawks goalie Corey Crawford was very shaky in the first, allowing 3 goals on 12 shots. The game is slipping away.

At some point during the intermission, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenenville looks at backup goalie Scott Darling and says, "you're in." I was surprised by the short leash, but clearly

I'm not sure whether to call him a star, a cult hero, or an internet darling (I swear, no pun intended), but this goalie from Lemont, IL became more than just a backup. He stopped all 42 shots he faced, and the Blackhawks came back to win the game in double overtime.

This wasn't your average 42 save playoff performance over 3+ periods, Darling made some absolutely spectacular saves, with this one probably being the best:

Great game from Darling, but it just made sense for the Blackhawks to return to Corey Crawford in Game 2. Darling's career was only 13 starts deep, and despite playing well in those starts, the sample size wasn't large enough to justify pulling the starting goalie after one bad period. 

Quenneville did just that, and the Preds proceeded to put up a 6 spot on Crawford in Game 2. Now the decision was easy. Crawford wasn't up for it, it was Darling's time. 

Boy, did he answer. 

In his first start, he stopped 35 of 37 shots, as the Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead in the series. Two nights later, Darling reached his zenith. He made 50 saves on 52 shots in a triple overtime thriller in Chicago, as his team moved one win away from advancing to the next round. 

These numbers aren't really doing him justice. Saving 85 of 89 shots over 8+ periods of hockey in two nights is outstanding enough, but the way he reached those numbers was even better. A lot of the saves he was making would have been impressive even for the Prices, Lundqvists, and Rinnes of the world. He had people questioning if he was even of this species. In fact, Darling was even outplaying the opposing goalie, the aforementioned Pekka Rinne, during his time in Games 1, 3, and 4, which all ended in wins for his team. 

The good play continued for the first two periods of Game 5, a only Filip Forsberg was able to get past Darling with about five minutes left to go in the first. The score was 1-1 after two periods. Three minutes and fourteen seconds into the final period, the Preds were leading 4-1 after scoring twice in the last twelve seconds. 

Now, the goalie position was in question once again. The alien that possessed the body of Scott Darling had disappeared at the end of Game 5, and it wasn't clear whether or not it would ever return. 

All eyes were on the backup goaltender to begin Game 6, and 11:16 and 3 Predator goals in, Quenneville (presumably) sighed and called on Corey Crawford again. Crawford shut out Nashville for the rest of the game and the Blackhawks went on the win and advance. 

What happened to Darling was simple: regression. He's a backup who got hot, and he the hot streak ended. 

But now what does Quenneville do for the rest of the playoffs? Does he just have a short leash on Crawford and be ready to stick Darling back into the fray and hope he succeeds again, or trust that his sometimes inconsistent starting goalie will be able to turn it around himself when things go badly. Personally, I'd stick with Crawford, but it's a very tough call. Darling was incredible for a while, and earned three of the four wins so far this postseason. At the same time, he's a rookie backup. But, he's also the same man who caused my friend (who's a Predators fan because when choosing a team to root for he asked himself why anyone would put a team in Nashville, and decided to go with them) to make this proclamation:

We may see Darling again between now and June, or we may not. Either way, it was a damn good run while it lasted.