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Monday, September 30, 2019

NHL Western Conference Preview-Pacific Division

Our final preview for the Pacific Division of the Western Conference

Calgary Flames  Finished 1st in the Pacific Division with 107 points and highest points in the Western Conference.  Lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Colorado Avalanche.

What's to like  The Flames have a lot of firepower offensively as they finished tied for 2nd overall in goals scored last year with 289.  With Sean Monahan (34 goals, 48 assists), Johnny Gaudreau (36 goals, 63 assists), Elias Lindholm (27 goals, 51 assists), and Matthew Tkachuk (34 goals, 43 assists) the Flames should score plenty of goals this year.  Mark Giordano who was 2nd overall in scoring for defensemen and who also won the Norris Trophy last year anchors the blue line for the Flames.  The Flames last year gave up the fewest shots against and had the 3rd best face off win percentage.

Concerns  David Rittich & Cam Talbot will in likelihood split the goaltending duties this year but neither has established himself as a true #1.  Rittich won 27 games last year but did not play in the playoffs last year while Talbot struggled badly in Edmonton only winning 10 games in 31 starts with a 3.36 GAA and .893 save percentage.  Rittich has never started a playoff game and Talbot only has 13 career playoff starts.  Giordano is about to turn 36 and any long term injury to him would test their defensive depth.

Outlook  It will be tough for the Flames to match last year's 107 points but as long as the goaltending is adequate this will be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

San Jose Sharks  Finished 2nd in the Pacific Division with 101 points.  Lost to the St Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals.

What's to like  Even with the loss of Joe Pavelski and his 38 goals to the Dallas Stars the Sharks should again continue to score plenty of goals as they were tied for 2nd overall last year with 289.  Tomas Hertl (35 goals, 39 assists), Logan Couture (27 goals, 43 assists), Timo Maier (30 goals, 36 assists), and Evander Kane (30 goals, 26 assists) return and even at age 40 Joe Thornton could net 20 goals and Kevin LaBanc and Marcus Sorensen have 20 goal potential.  The Sharks arguably have the 2 best bookend defensemen in Brent Burns who led defensemen in scoring last year and Erik Karlsson. 

Concerns  The Sharks have to hope that the struggles don't continue for goaltender Martin Jones.  He did win 36 games last year but he was near the bottom of the league in GAA 2.94 and save percentage .896 for starters.  Backup Aaron Dell also struggled in a back up role with a 3.17 GAA and .886 save percentage.  Any injury to Burns at age 34 or Karlsson would test the defensive depth as Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan who were in the defensive rotation last year were lost to free agency and a trade. 

Outlook  The Sharks are a playoff team and still one of the better teams in the Western Conference and the window is still open to win a Stanley Cup.

Vegas Golden Knights  Finished 3rd in the Pacific Division with 93 points.  Lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks.

What's to like  Another team in the Pacific Division that will score a lot of goals with its scoring depth.  The big addition of Mark Stone last year and putting him on the same line with Jonathan Marcheassault and William Karlsson should result in one of the top scoring lines in the Western Conference.  You add in Max Pacioretty, Paul Statsny, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin and the Golden Knights could have 7-8 20 goal scorers.  Marc-Andre Fleury has shown no real slippage and is still reliable as a #1 goalie with 78 career post-season wins.  This team has one of the biggest home ice advantages and this will be a very motivated team after the controversial game 7 loss to the Sharks in the 1st round of the playoffs last year.

Concerns  Fleury will turn 35 in November and has battled some injuries over the last couple of years and back up goalie Malcolm Subban still hasn't proven enough consistency to step in for the long haul. The Golden Knights only had one defenseman (Shea Theodore) in the top 50 in scoring last year for defensemen and were only 25th overall in power play conversions. 

Outlook  This is a playoff team and if Fleury stays healthy and the offense lives up to expectations this team can make a Stanley Cup run.

Arizona Coyotes  Finished 4th in the Pacific Division with 86 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  After finishing 28th in goals scored last year the Coyotes traded for Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel in the offseason to bolster their offense.  Kessel has averaged in the last 10 years 29 goals and 38 assists per season.  The Coyotes gave up the 5th least amount of goals last year and had the 3rd best power play kill percentage in the league.  Goaltender Darcy Kuemper stepped into the #1 spot for the injured Antti Raanta and posted stellar numbers with a 2.33 GAA and .925 save percentage. Oliver Ekman-Larsson anchors a strong veteran blue line with Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. 

Concerns  Even with the addition of Kessel the Coyotes could still be hard pressed to score goals night in and night out as they did not have anyone score more than 20 goals last year or top 50 total points.  In a division where the top 3 teams all have considerable offense the Coyotes must score more if they want any chance to break into the top 3. If the Coyotes start slow it could cost Rick Tocchet his job and cause the Gila Center to again become a half filled arena with a beaten down fan base. 

Outlook  The Coyotes just missed making the playoffs last year so we will see if the addition of Kessel will finally get the Coyotes over the line and into the playoffs.  They are a borderline playoff team.

Vancouver Canucks  Finished 5th in the Pacific Division with 81 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  A good place to start is last year's rookie of the year Elias Pettersson who led the Canucks in scoring with 28 goals and 38 assists in 71 games.  They traded a conditional 1st round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for J.T. Miller who in all likelihood play on the same line as Pettersson and should see his offensive numbers improve. Other additions include Michael Ferland from the Carolina Hurricanes (17 goals, 23 assists) and also defensive fortifications in Tyler Myers from the Winnipeg Jets and Jordie Benn from the Montreal Canadiens.

Concerns  Even with the new additions the Canucks might be hard pressed to score goals as they finished 26th in goals scored last year and only had 3 players over 40 points. They have to hope that Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Pettersson all become 30+ goals scorers and the secondary scorers contribute more.  Goaltender Jacob Markstrom tied for 7th in goaltender starts last year with 28 wins and has been serviceable but still hasn't proven he can be an upper echelon goalie.  This is still one of the younger teams in the league with not a lot of playoff experience.

Outlook  Markstrom and the scoring would have to improve significantly to make the playoffs.  Probably a year or two away from being a playoff contender.

Anaheim Ducks  Finished 6th in the Pacific Division with 80 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  Veteran Ryan Getzlaf will provide leadership and scoring and with Richard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg on each side of him it should be a strong and productive top line for the Ducks.  Despite some struggles last year goaltender John Gibson keeps the Ducks in most games and has a chance to regain his all star form.

Concerns  This team went into total free fall last year costing head coach  Randy Carlyle his job as the Ducks during a stretch from December 18th to February 9th lost 19 of 21 games and had a 12 game losing streak to start this slump.  The Ducks were dead last in goals scored last year and were shutout 9 different times.  They did not have a player score more than 50 points and you are asking a lot for Getzlaf at age 34 to carry the scoring load.  They made no significant moves in the off season and will rely on a lot of youngsters to play well.

Outlook  This is not a playoff team and the franchise could be in need of a rebuild.

Edmonton Oilers  Finished 7th in the Pacific Division with 79 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  Ken Holland who built the Detroit Red Wings into a multiple Stanley Cup winning franchise moves into the GM position for the Oilers along with new head coach Dave Tippett.  They have probably the most dynamic player in the NHL in Connor McDavid and as long as he stays healthy has a chance to win multiple Hart Trophy's.  Leon Draisaitl was the 4th leading scorer last year with 105 points (50 goals, 55 assists) so along with McDavid the Oilers could have two 100 point scorers. 

Concerns  The Oilers were tied for 6th in allowing goals last year and were 2nd to last in power play kill percentage.  Even with McDavid and Draisaitl they were only 20th overall in goals scored with only 6 different Oilers scoring over 10 goals.  Plenty of questions where the secondary scoring will come from.  Mikko Koskinen struggled as the #1 goaltender last year and even with bringing in reliable veteran Mike Smith as the back up this could still be a major weakness for the Oilers unless Koskinen shows marked improvement. 

Outlook  It will take Ken Holland maybe a year or two to reshape the roster for the Oilers to be a playoff team.

Los Angeles Kings  Finished 8th in the Pacific Division with 71 points and missed the playoffs

What's to like  They still have a good core of players who were part of 2 Stanley Cup Championships in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Jonathan Quick.

Concerns  The Kings were 2nd to last in goals scored and 5th from last in power play conversions.  Most of the core players are in their 30's (Kopitar 32, Brown 34, Ilya Kovalchuk 36, Carter 34, Martinez 32) and there are a lot of bad contracts on the books.  Goaltender Jonathan Quick who is now 33 regressed badly last year with a 3.38 GAA and .888 save percentage and has battled injuries over the years. 

Outlook  This is not a playoff team who might escape the basement but are in need of a major rebuild.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

NHL Western Conference Preview-Central Division

We now start our Western Conference previews with the Central Division.

Nashville Predators  Finished 1st in the Central Division with 100 points and lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Dallas Stars.

What's to like The free agent addition of Matt Duchene adds more scoring to depth to the Predators and with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Filip Forsberg, Victor Arvidsson, Craig Smith, and Mikael Granlund they could possibly have 6-8 20 goal scorers this year.  Even with the loss of P.K. Subban they still have good depth on the blue line with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, and Dan Hamhuis.  Pekka Rinne who will turn 37 in November is still an upper echelon goalie.

Concerns  Rinne has shown some slippage and did not play well in last year's 1st round playoff loss to Dallas and his game 7 debacle against Winnipeg 2 years ago.  The power play was dead last in the NHL last year at 12.9% so the Predators have to think that the addition of Duchene will upgrade that number.  The Predators had a spate of injuries last year and hope that is not an omen for this upcoming season.

Outlook  The window could slowly be closing but the Predators are still a solid playoff team and Stanley Cup contender if there is no significant drop off in Rinne.

Winnipeg Jets  Finished tied for 2nd in the Central Division with the St Louis Blues and lost to the Blues in the 1st round of the playoffs.

What's to like  Offensively not many teams can match the firepower of the Jets as they were 7th in goals last year and 4th in power play conversions.  With Blake Wheeler (20 goals, 71 assists), Mark Scheifele (38 goals, 46 assists), Kyle Connor (34 goals, 32 assists), and Patrick Laine (30 goals, 20 assists) they will night in and night out score plenty of goals.  Also Bryan Little and Nickolaj Ehlers could be 20 goal scorers this year as well.  Connor Hellebuyck won 34 games last year and is a steady presence in net.

Concerns The obvious concern for the Jets is on defense as three of their top defensemen from last year are no longer on the roster as Jacob Trouba signed with the NY Rangers, Tyler Myers signed with the Vancouver Canucks, and Dustin Byfuglien's status is still in limbo.  The Jets gave up the 5th most shots against per game and Hellebuyck was the only goaltender last year who faced 2000+ plus shots during the regular season.

Outlook  The Jets should still be a playoff team but to many questions on the blue line to make them a Stanley Cup contender and if the defense slippage is drastic this team could be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

St Louis Blues  Finished tied for 2nd in the Central Division with the Winnipeg Jets and won the Stanley Cup.

What's to like  Nothing but positive vibes for this franchise with their historic Stanley Cup winning run. The chemistry should still be there with almost the entire roster returning. Jordan Binnington who did not start the season in the Blues goaltender rotation carried the Blues into the playoffs winning 24 games in 32 starts to end the regular season and was stellar again the playoffs.  Now they will get Binnington for a full regular season.   Defensively they gave up the 4th lowest shots against and have good depth on the blue line with the signing of Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes to go along with Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko, and Jay Bouwmeester.  Offensively Vladimir Tarasenko is still capable of having a 40 goal season and the offense overall could improve after being in the middle of the pack last year.

Concerns  Tough to repeat in any sport after winning a championship and the Blues will definitely have a bigger target on their backs.  The Blues this year can't afford to be dead last in points in January and expect to go on another historic run.  Binnington will have to prove he is not a flash in the pan for a full regular season after signing a huge 2 year contract extension.

Outlook  This is a playoff team but repeating will be a difficult task.

Dallas Stars Finished 4th in the Central Division with 93 points and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St Louis Blues in the 2nd round of the playoffs in double overtime in game 7.

What's to like  Plenty to like for the Stars starting with goaltender Ben Bishop who despite injuries had a Vezina type season with a 1.98 GAA and leading the league in save percentage at .934.  The Stars made a big splash in free agency in signing Joe Pavelski from the San Jose Sharks.  Pavelski tallied 38 goals with the Sharks last year and you add Pavelski with veteran scorers Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov the offense should improve after being ranked 29th in goals last year.  Also Roope Hintz could emerge as a 25+ goal scorer and if they can get anything from Corey Perry who they acquired from the Anaheim Ducks and is sidelined with a broken foot it will also help the offense.  The Stars allowed the second fewest goals last year and features a good young solid core on the blue line with John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Miro Heiskanen.

Concerns Even though Anton Khudobin filled in nicely as the backup goaltender, Ben Bishop battled injuries in the regular season and playoffs and they need to get more than 46 starts from him this year.  Benn, Pavelski and Radulov are now all in their 30's and you can't expect Pavelski to match last year's 38 goals.

Outlook  This is a playoff off team and a dark horse Stanley Cup contender.

Colorado Avalanche  Finished 5th in the Central Division with 90 points and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks.

What's to like  They arguably have the best scoring line in the NHL anchored by center Nathan MacKinnon (41 goals, 58 assists), Gabriel Landeskog (34 goals, 41 assists), and Mikko Rantanen (31 goals, 56 assists).  In the Tyson Barrie trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs they acquired Nazem Kadri who has averaged close to 20 goals per season in the last 8 years and also added for scoring punch Joonas Donskoi from the San Jose Sharks and Andrey Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals.  Goaltender Phillip Grubauer had a dominant second half in net carrying the Avs into the playoffs and will now be the #1 with Semyon Varlamov signing with the NY Islanders. Even with the talented Barrie being traded to the Leafs they have a future all star on the blue line with former Hobey Baker award winner in Cale Makar who you saw glimpses of in the playoffs last year as a 20 year old.

Concerns  Grubauer has never played a full season as the #1 goaltender and if he gets hurt untested Pavel Francouz would be thrown into the fire.  They are extremely young and inexperienced on the blue line with veterans Erik Johnson and Ian Cole still sidelined.

Outlook  Borderline playoff team who will probably be fighting it out toward the end of the regular season to get in.

Chicago Blackhawks  Finished 6th in the Central Division with 84 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  This team can still score as they were 8th in the league in goals last year.  Jonathan Kane finished 3rd in overall scoring with 110 points (44 goals, 66 assists), Jonathan Toews scored a career high in points last year in the regular season with 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists), and Alex DeBrincat emerged with 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists).  They signed goaltender Robin Lehner from the NY Islanders to be their #1 after putting up Vezina type numbers last year with a 2.13 GAA, .930 save percentage, and 6 shutouts.  They also tried to fortify their defense in the offseason acquiring Olli Maata in a trade with the Penguins and Calvin De Haan from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Concerns  The Blackhawks gave up the 2nd most goals in the NHL last season and had the worst penalty kill percentage at 72.7%.  There will be a lot of pressure on Lehner to perform and no guarantees that the new acquisitions on defense will make the them better.  Also Kane and Toews are now in their 30's and not a ton of scoring depth behind them.

Outlook  Unless their is dramatic improvement on the blue line and in net the Blackhawks will not be a playoff team.

Minnesota Wild  Finished last in the Central Division and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  The free agent signing of Mats Zuccarello should bolster an offense that finished 27th in goals scored.  Devan Dubnyk is a steady presence in net who won 31 games last year and kept the Wild in a lot of games where they got shut out or held to only 1 goal.  Two big injury losses from last season defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikko Koivu will return and should be 100% when the season starts.

Concerns  Jordan Staal and Zach Parise their 2 leading scorers from last year are 34 and 35 years of age who have battled injuries and are both in decline.  They will have to rely on some untested youngsters like Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway for much needed scoring production.  It is an older roster with some bad contracts who finished last in the division and head coach Bruce Boudreau could be an early candidate for the chopping block if things go wrong early in the season.

Outlook  Longshot to make the playoffs.

Friday, September 27, 2019

College/NFL Picks

Here are the college and NFL picks this week. 

College picks
Last week 2-2-1
Overall 9-4-2

Nebraska +14
Washington -9.5
Charlotte +1.5
UAB -1
UL Lafayette -2.5

Last Week 4-1
Overall 9-6

Kansas City -6.5
New England -7
Minnesota +1.5
Oakland +7
Arizona +5

Good Luck!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

NHL Eastern Conference Preview-Metropolitan Division

We continue our previews with the Metropolitan Division for the Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals  Won the Metropolitan Divisionwith 104 points but were upset in the 1st round of the playoffs losing Game 7 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime.

What's to like  You can still classify this team as a Stanley Cup contender as they still have high quality scoring talent and most of their core players from their Stanley Cup run 2 years ago are still in place.  Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals last year with 51 and he still probably has 2-3 years of being a top goal scorer.  T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (will serve as 3 games suspension before the season starts) all scored 20+ goals last year and they will also have Carl Hagelin for a full season.  John Carlson who was 4th overall in scoring for defensemen anchors the blue line and Braden Holtby is a consistent presence in net who won 32 games last year.

Concerns Oshie, Backstrom, and Ovechkin are all in their 30's and they do not possess a lot of depth on the blue line with the retirement of Brooks Orpik.  Any long term injury to Carlson would be tough to overcome.  Phoenix Copley played well last year as the back up goalie but is still unproven. 

Outlook  The window might be slowly closing but this team still has enough talent to contend for the Stanley Cup. 

NY Islanders  Finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division last year with 103 points.  Swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1st round and were swept my the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2nd round.

What's to like  Coach Barry Trotz's disciplined system turned the Islanders into a team that gave up the most goals two years ago to allowing the fewest goals last year.  They did lose C Valtteri Filppula to the Detroit Red Wings but resigned a good core of their top scorers in Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle to long term deals and still have Josh Bailey and Mathew Barzal in the fold.  The biggest free agent addition for the Islanders after losing goaltender Robin Lehner to free agency to the Chicago Blackhawks was Semyon Varlamov from the Colorado Avalanche and should thrive in the Trotz system.  Back up goalie Thomas Greiss who was spectacular last season with 23 wins, a 2.28 GAA, and a .927 save percentage is back to form one of the best goaltending tandems in the league

Concerns  It seemed like everything went right for the Islanders last year so could it bounce the other way and nothing go right this year?  Will the Islanders score enough this year as they were 22nd in goals scored and 29th in power play conversions last year and did not have anyone over 70 points. It will be difficult to top the years Lehner and Greiss had in net last year and there will be a lot of pressure on Varlamov to perform.

Outlook  This team might not match the 103 points last year but still should be a playoff team playing Trotz's system.

Pittsburgh Penguins  Finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Divsion with 100 points and were swept in the 1st round by the New York Islanders.

What's to like  Sidney Crosby is still arguably the best player in the NHL and Jake Guentzel scored 40 goals last year and as long as Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Hornqvist bounce back from sub par seasons and the new addition Alex Galchenyuk lives up to expectations the Penguins should score plenty of goals.  Goaltender Matt Murray was solid last year with 29 wins and a .919 save percentage.  Kris Letang anchors the blue line and was 8th overall in scoring for defensemen. This franchise has made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons.

Concerns  Will they be able to replace the 82 points lost with Phil Kessel moving to the Arizona Coyotes.  Can Galchenyuk fill the Kessel void and live up to expectations. Was Malkin's off year an aberration or will his decline continue. Can Letang stay healthy for a Penguins defense with lots of question marks and not a lot of depth.

Outlook  This is still a playoff team but probably not a Stanley Cup contender.  It would not be a big surprise if this team underachieves and misses the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes Finished 4th in the Metropolitan Division with 99 points and made it to the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Boston Bruins.

What's to like  This is a team on the rise with a good core of young scoring forwards and solid depth on the blue line.  Rising 22 year old star Sebastian Aho scored 30 goals along with 53 assists last year and with Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Nino Neiderreiter, Jordan Staal and the 2 big additions in the off season of Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights and Ryan Dzingel from the Columbus Blue Jackets.  On defense they did lose Justin Faulk to the St Louis Blues but acquired Jake Gardiner from the Toronto Maple Leafs to go along with Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce. 

Concerns  Justin Williams retiring removes a veteran presence from the locker room along with 20 goals and a prime time playoff performer. Goaltender Petr Mrazek is still a question mark as a true #1 and back up goalie Curtis McElhinney who was outstanding in the back up role moved to Tampa Bay. 

Outlook  This should be a playoff team and has the potential of getting in the top 3 of the division and making another long run in the playoffs

Columbus Blue Jackets  Finished 5th in the Metropolitan Division with 98 points and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the Boston Bruins after stunning the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round of the playoffs with a sweep.

What's to like  Coach John Torterella still likes this team even with the big free agent defections of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel.  Cam Atkinson anchors the offense coming off a 41 goal season along with Pierre-Luc Dubois (27 goals), Josh Anderson (27 goals), and Oliver Bjorkstrand (23 goals).  They have one of the top pairs of defensemen in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski who ranked 17th and 22nd in scoring for blue liners. 

Concerns  Tough to overcome major free agent losses especially in net as the Blue Jackets will go with untested Joonas Korpisalo who was the back up last year.  They lose their leading scorer from last in Panarin with 87 points and even with Panarin the power play was the 4th worst in the NHL last year. 

Outlook  This team will probably not make the playoffs as losing Bobrovsky and Panarin is just to much to overcome.

Philadelphia Flyers  Finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division with 82 points and did not make the playoffs

What's to like   A full season of young and talented Carter Hart in net who showed flashes of his talent last year when he got called up during mid season.  The Flyers played 8 different goaltenders last year so they might finally have their #1 to solidify a major sore spot with the franchise.  Center Kevin Hayes was the big free agent signing to go along with 20 goal scorers from last year Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Koceny, and James van Riemsdyk. 

Concerns  Carter Hart even with his talent still has to prove he can be a top level goalie for an entire season.  They were outside the top 20 in both power play conversions and penalty kills so the special teams will need to improve.  Hayes is a talented forward but has never put up big numbers and Flyers fans will expect a lot from him and if he doesn't produce and the Flyers struggle he will feel the heat from an impatient fan base. 

Outlook  Borderline playoff team who could possibly snag one of the last playoff spots.

NY Rangers  Finished 7th in the Metropolitan Division with 76 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  The Rangers made 2 huge free agent signings in Center Artemi Panarin from the Columbus Blue Jackets who was 11th overall in scoring last season and defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets who was 13th overall in scoring for defensemen.  You also add the 2nd overall draft pick in future NHL all star Kaapo Kakko along side Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad and you should see a much improved offense who ranked 24th in goals scored last year. 

Concerns  At 37 years of age can Henrik Lundvqist bounce back and be a servicable goalie after struggling last year or is it time to make the unproven but talented back up goalie Alexandar Georgiev the #1.  Even with the signing of Trouba still many questions on the blue line after giving up the 9th most goals on defense last year and having the 5th worst penalty killing percentage.

Outlook  The Rangers are improved and could be a playoff team if Panarin has a huge year, Lundqvist bounces back, and Kakko lives up to the hype but probably a year away from making the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils  Finished last in the Metropolitan Division with 72 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  A nice remake of the roster in the offseason as the Devils traded for all star defenseman P.K. Subban and a promising scorer in Nikita Gusev, added the #1 overall draft pick in Jack Hughes, and signed veteran Wayne Simmonds.  Also Taylor Hall, the Hart Trophy winner 2 years ago returns healthy after only playing in 33 games last year. 

Concerns The goaltending position is still a question after 3 different goalies last year combined for 3.30 GAA and .895 save percentage.  Cory Schneider played well at the end of last season after coming off of hip surgery.  The lingering off ice issue is whether the Devils will resign Hall to a big extension or let him become an unrestricted free agent. 

Outlook  The Devils like the Rangers should be improved and if Hughes is the real deal and Schneider solidifies the goaltending position this team could compete for a playoff spot.  Probably to many questions to answer and will likely miss the playoffs. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Hurdle Race To Highlight Turbulent World Championships

Karsten Warholm looks to shock the world next week with a new 400H world record(Getty Images)

by Harry Cummins

     Amid sluggish ticket sales and excessive heat that threatens cancellation of the men's marathon, the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics will open a spectacular 10-day run this week in Doha, Qatar.

     More than 1,800 athletes from 150 countries are expected to take part in these championships which will be held in the Middle East for the first time.  The marquee event could well be the men's 400m hurdles which will feature 3 of the fastest 4 men in recorded history, including defending world champion Karstan Warholm who has reeled off five consecutive victories at IAAF Diamond League meetings this year.

     The 23 year old Warholm raced to a European record 46.92 in the recent Diamond League final in Brussels to move into 2nd place all-time behind Kevin Young of the United States.

     In third place on the all-time world list is 22 year old U.S. athlete Rai Benjamin, who clocked a sensational 46.98 time in Brussels.  Benjamin's breakthrough calling-card came in 2018 as a USC Trojan when he ran an impressive 47.02 in the rain to capture the NCAA title at Eugene's Hayward Field.

     The third member of the select sub 47 second club is Qatari hero Abderrahman Samba whose 46.98 time in 2018 stamps him the sentimental favorite in front of his home town fans in Doha this week. Kevin Young didn't have company in the sub 47 second club until Samba's clocking last year.  Samba has battled injuries this season and his current racing form is in question since he has not competed since May 18.

     Slow ticket sales have caused event organizers to already cover the top section of the 40,000 seat Khalifa International Stadium to make the event look better on TV.  Reports say that local migrant workers and children will be bused in to prevent the stadium from appearing half empty. These are the same migrant workers, one presumes, who as construction workers on the Stadium site, complained to Amnesty International about having their pay withheld for months The boycott of Qatar by other gulf states have made it difficult, as well, for many fans in the region to attend the championships.

     The men's marathon race, already scheduled to start at midnight, is rumored to face last minute cancellation due to excessive heat.  In this age of global warming, if staged, the event could be on par with some of the hottest world-class distance events ever staged.  High temperatures next week in the Persian/Arabian Gulf are predicted to be in excess of 100 degrees, only dropping to the upper 80's at night with 80% humidity.

     Adding to the list of woes facing these world championships is the fact they are being held in late September to early October, long past the normal conclusion to the traditional track and field season.  Although the 10 day event will be live streamed in the U.S thru the NBC family of networks and the Olympic channel, it must also now compete for viewership with MLB baseball playoffs and NFL and college football.

    Despite all the troubles facing these World Championships, including the clouded bidding process itself to host the event, there will be great drama and stories that will surely emerge from track and field's biggest event.  None bigger than the men's 400 meter hurdle final set for next Monday, where the oldest world record in men's track (Kevin Young's mark of 46.78 from the 1992 Olympics) is still intact.  To this day, It may be the most under-publicized, under-celebrated mark in T & F.

     With a wandering eye also on Gerrit Cole's fastball next week in the MLB playoffs, I will be closely watching the 3-man assault on this hallowed mark. It will be contested in an air-conditioned stadium. It should not take much of your time!




Monday, September 23, 2019

NHL Eastern Conference Preview-Atlantic Division

Only 9 days before the NHL regular season starts and we will preview each division. We will start with a preview of the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division.

Tampa Bay Lightning  A historic regular season last year for the Lightning with 62 wins and 128 points but it came crashing down abruptly as they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jacks in the first round of the playoffs.

Things to like  They still possess the most talented roster in the league and have no real weaknesses.  They led the league in goals and power play percentage last year and return league MVP Nikita Kucherov (41 goals, 87 assists) along with tons of scoring depth with Steven Stamkos (45 goals), Brayden Point (41 goals), (who just signed today and is coming off hip surgery and should be good to go by mid-October), Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn & Ondrej Palat.  On defense they are anchored by Victor Hedman and added Kevin Shattenkirk from the NY Rangers who the Lightning are hoping will bounce back after a subpar season last year.  Good depth on the defensive side as well with Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Eric Cernak, and Braydon Coburn.  In net they return last year's Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy who signed an 8 year $76 million dollar extension.

Where things could go wrong  The Lightning will not duplicate the incredible regular season they had last year and there will be a ton of pressure on this team after last year's playoff debacle.  Questions if Shattenkirk can regain his form and if Vasilevskiy will slump after signing the big extension.  A long term injury to Hedman could also slow this team down. They play in a very top heavy division with the Bruins and Maple Leafs so just getting out of the division will be a challenge.

Outlook  Still the team to beat so it is Stanley Cup or bust.

Boston Bruins   A great regular season for the Bruins last year tieing for the 2nd most points in the league with Calgary at 107 and included a great playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals ending with a disappointing game 7 loss at home to the St Louis Blues.

Things to like  The Bruins have one of the best trio of scorers in Brad Marchand (36 goals), David Pastrnak (38 goals), and Patrice Bergeron (32 goals) and had the 3rd best power play last year.  They have good scoring depth with veteran center David Krejci who should still be effective at age 34 and Jake DeBrusk who scored 27 goals last year could be the break out star and score 30+ this year.  They have 2 of the more talented defensemen in the league in Torey Krug and 21 year old Charlie McAvoy and if they stay healthy (Krug missed 18 games last year and McAvoy missed 28) they will anchor the Bruins blue line.  Tuuka Rask had a solid regular season and playoff and at age 32 is still a top flight goaltender and the Bruins have one of the best back up goalies in Jaroslav Halak who won 22 games last year with a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Where things could go wrong  They have many key players who are now in their 30's (Marchand, Bergeron, Rask, Krejci)  and not sure if they can still get anything out of 42 year old Zdeno Chara.  They did not make many changes to their roster while other teams in the division look to be improved.  Any long term injury for Marchand, Pastrnak, or Bergeron would test the Bruins scoring depth.

Outlook  This is still an upper division playoff team and should be a contender once again.  Will probably not duplicate the 107 points from the previous year but should not finish worse than 3rd in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs  A disappointing end to the Leafs season last year losing in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Boston Bruins.  The Leafs had a chance to eliminate the Bruins at home in game 6 but lost at home and got routed in Boston losing game 7 5-1.

Things to like  Another team with a lot of firepower in the division (4th overall in goals last year) with John Tavares (47 goals, 3rd overall) Auston Matthews (37 goals), and the recently resigned Mitch Marner (26 goals, 68 assists 4th overall).  Add William Nylander (20 goals) who could possibly sitting on a 30 goal season, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Alexander Kerfoot who they acquired in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche in the off season.  The big jewel the Leafs acquired in the trade with the Avalanche was defenseman Tyson Barrie who finished 7th overall in scoring for blue liners last year.  Goaltender Frederik Andersen tied for 3rd in wins last year and has established himself as a steady presence.

Where things could go wrong  Another team and coach under a lot of pressure from the media and local fan base with a 50+ year Stanley Cup drought.  Andersen slumped badly toward the end of the regular season so they will have to limit his workload and hope that whoever wins the back up goalie job will be efficient.  Barrie will be under a lot of pressure to perform and with a number of new faces with the Leafs this year it could take a little bit of time for this team to gel.

Outlook  On paper with the addition of Barrie this is a Stanley Cup contender.  All the pieces are in place but can they get through Boston or Tampa Bay?

Montreal Canadiens  A good year as they overachieved and just missed making the playoffs finishing 2 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and 3 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes.

Things to like  The top scoring line for the Canadiens came up huge last year with Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher combining for 86 goals and could possibly improve with all 3 players under the age of 30 and in their prime.  Carey Price stayed healthy last year with 66 starts and is still capable of putting together a Vezina type season.  All star defenseman Shea Weber, who missed 24 games last year at the beginning of the season, is back healthy to anchor the blue line.

Where things could go wrong  If Weber or Price miss any significant time this will not be a playoff team. Also if the Canadiens top line doesn't produce like last year they don't have the scoring depth to make up for it.  They have to improve their power play per ranking 2nd to last in power play efficiency at 13.2%.

Outlook  This is a team who could finish 4th in the division and grab one of the last playoff spots or finish 6th or 7th in the division and miss the playoffs.

Florida Panthers  Missed the playoffs last year with 86 points

Things to like  They signed 3 time Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville as their head coach and had the arguably the biggest free agent signing with the addition of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who led the league in shutouts last year.  They have good scoring power with Aleksander Barkov (35 goals, 61 assists), Jonathan Huberdeau (30 goals, 62 assists), Mike Hoffman (36 goals, 34 assists), and Evgenii Dadanov (28 goals, 42 assists).  They had the 2nd best power play at 26.8% and scored the 9th most goals last year.

Where things could go wrong  Bobrovsky ends up being a total bust and the Panthers defense keeps giving up goals in bunches.  An already apathetic fan base continues to stay away in droves and gives the franchise no real home ice advantage.  This franchise has missed the playoffs the last 16 of 18 years.

Outlook  Sleeper team who should finally break through and grab a playoff spot.

Buffalo Sabres  Faded badly and missed the playoffs last year with 76 points.  Lost 15 out of 16 games from March 2nd to April 2nd.

Things to like   They have good frontline scoring with Jack Eichel (28 goals, 54 assists), Jeff Skinner (40 goals, 23 assists) and Sam Reinhart (22 goals and 43 assists) and added scoring depth in the off season with Jimmy Vesey from the NY Rangers and Marcus Johansson.  They have one of the best young defensemen in future all-star Rasmus Dahlin and also added defensive depth in Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights and Henri Jokiharju from the Chicago Blackhawks.  Also they added a new head coach with the hiring of Ralph Krueger who replaced Phil Housley.

Where things could go wrong  Jack Eichel's bad luck with injuries continues, the goaltending tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark don't show improvement, and the new off season additions on defense do not pan out.  Already the Sabres are struggling with injuries before the regular season starts.

Outlook  Will have to show tremendous improvement for any shot at the playoffs.  Still probably a year or two away.

Detroit Red Wings  Missed the playoffs with 74 points.

Things to like  A homecoming for all time Red Wing great Steve Yzerman as he took over as General Manager on April 19 and will try to rebuild this franchise into a Stanley Cup contender.  He built the talent pool and formed the roster for arguably the best team in the NHL right now in the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou each scored 30 goals last year and could improve and their is potential with young forwards Tiro Hirose and Michael Rasmussen.

Where things could go wrong  Goaltender Jimmy Howard at age 35 shows nothing and is finished, the defense continues to struggle with injuries, and Dylan Larkin's preseason heel injury turns into something worse.

Outlook  Still years away from being a playoff team.

Ottawa Senators  Finished with the lowest point total in the league with 64 and also gave up the most goals last year

Things to like  Veterans like Matt Duchene and Mark Stone were traded away last year and now the Senators are going into full rebuild mode with a nice core of young players starting with Brady Tkachuk who at age 20 finished with 22 goals and 23 assists along with 75 penalty minutes and Thomas Chabot who at age 22 finished 10th overall in scoring for defensemen.  Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev were signed in the off season to fortify the defense.

Where things could go wrong The defense continues to give up goals in bunches and goaltender Craig Anderson continues to his downward slide, the veteran signings don't pan out and the young kids continue to struggle.

Outlook  Continued struggles and at least 3-4 years away from being a playoff contender.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

College/NFL picks

Here are the College and NFL picks for this week

Last week 4-0-1
Overall 7-2-1

Northwestern +9
Tennessee +14
Texas -6
Notre Dame +14.5
Utah St -4

Last week 2-3
Overall 5-5

Denver +7.5
Pittsburgh +6.5
LA Rams -3
NY Jets +22.5
NY Giants +6.5

Friday, September 13, 2019

College/NFL picks

The picks for this week

Last week 3-2

Kansas State +7.5
Air Force +3.5
BYU +4
Florida -8
TCU -2

Last week 3-2

Detroit +2
Pittsburgh -4
Cincinnati -1
Chicago -2.5
Atlanta -1.5

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Two-Homer Mania Revisited

By Harry Cummins

     Just when we thought it was safe for pitchers to toe the rubber again, Tuesday night happened!!

     Last month in Craw's Corner we detailed the season-long explosion of  MLB players hitting two home runs in a game. (Home Run Histrionics Aug 21,2019)

     Least we forget what is happening in this homer-happy of a baseball season, consider this. TEN different players had two homer games last night in a dumb struck display of baseball bashing.

 Here are the ten players who circled the bases twice last night:

Brett Gardner (NYY)
Didi Gregorius (NYY)
Corey Dickerson (PHIL)
Corey Seager (LAD)
Matt Olson (OAK)
Sean Murphy(OAK)
George Springer (HOU)
Martin Maldonado (HOU)
Kris Bryant (CHC)
Jason Heyward (CHC)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Scoring position isn’t what it used to be

A single used to score a runner from second, with few exceptions. That’s why they call it scoring position.

The axiom was reinforced in my youth by playing APBA baseball, a table game using dice and player cards reflecting their real life performance. My 1955 game, one of the first versions sold, was understandably crude and not a precise reflection of real outcomes. But in my game, runners from second always scored unless it was a bunt or infield single.

That’s not how it is in 2019. Even three singles in an inning often do not change the score. Sending the runner home from second is more complex calculation, depending on the velocity and location of the hit and the arm of the outfielder. Increasingly, the runner is simply held at third.

The evidence is in.

According to research on (, 71 percent of the runners scored from second on singles in the 1950s. That share has steadily declined in each decade since so that in the current decade, only 58.8 make it home.

The article characterized the trend as a reluctance to take chances, though I differ with that point. As fewer runners being sent home, those who try are being thrown out more consistently. It’s not just that third base coaches don’t want to look bad; they really are mistaken more often when they take the chance. In the ’50s, 3.4 percent of such runners were out at the plate; in the 2010s, 4.7 percent are nailed.

What’s going on?

Outfielders have stronger arms, for one. Many approach 100 mph on their pegs, which more than makes up for the presumably better speed of today’s runners.

Like seemingly everything else these days, the trend favors homerun hitting. Singles lose some of their value when they do not advance runners as far as they used to. Homeruns always clear the sacks.

College/NFL picks

5 college and NFL picks against the spread every week.

Colorado +4.5
Fresno State +3.5
Coastal Carolina +7
North Texas +3.5

NY Jets -3
Tennessee +5.5
Indianapolis +6.5
Houston +7
Denver -1

Sunday, September 1, 2019

College Football Week One Action In Review

By Steven Weldon

     Week "zero" was a ton of fun, but the first big weekend of the college football season was still upon us. This past weekend, we had zany finishes, surprising victories and teams crumbling under pressure. I'll take a look at some things that stuck out to me this weekend.


   In a game that was moved from Jacksonville back to Florida State University's Doak Walker Stadium due to the impending Hurricane Dorian, Boise State took on the Florida State Seminoles in a hot, humid swamp. The Broncos would go down big and looked dead in the swampy Florida water. However, as Seminole fans know of recent history; no lead is safe. Boise State tromped all the way back from down 31-19 at the half to win 36-31.

  Thus why I urge the PAC-12 to add Boise State to the conference. Just as Utah dominated the Mountain West Conference before, Boise should be allowed a piece of the pie. They're always in the mix for a January bowl game and would likely not experience a drop-off as Colorado did. They deserve to be in a Power 5 conference.


  Never, ever underestimate your opponent. Football Championship Subdivision teams will often find a way to shock a team that believes they are the clear favorite. It didn't happen this week, but both Northern Iowa and Portland State came quite close to knocking off Power 5 Conference teams. Northern Iowa had a better chance, forcing a 3 OT game against the Iowa State Cyclones. The Cyclones are ranked #21 and are primed for a nice season. Northern Iowa had other ideas. Alas, the Cyclones slammed the door shut on the visitors coming for a paycheck. Portland State had a shot against the mistake-ridden Arkansas Razorbacks, but they would make their own mistakes leading to a seven-point loss.

  The mid-major teams also played well. In a shocking game in Reno, the Nevada Wolfpack defeated the Purdue Boilermakers on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Nevada isn't predicted to be a top team in the Mountain West, but they could be an interesting story.

  Memphis faced Ole Miss in a game that should be considered a rivalry based on location, and largely kept the Runnin' Rebels at arms' length the entire game. They would knock them off in a 15-10 victory. Another mid-major team shocking an SEC team.


  Finally, I turn my attention to the two biggest teams in Oregon.

  Friday night, the Oregon State Beavers faced the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Reser Stadium. Honestly, it looked like it would be a shootout. Both teams' offenses were firing on all cylinders and making the right plays. That was just the first quarter.

  The second quarter was not a good time for #BeaverNation, as the Cowboys offense torched them for 24 points, solidifying a victory that was well in hand before the final whistle.

  Down in Texas, the bright lights shone down on the Oregon Ducks and Auburn Tigers, a rematch of the national championship game played in 2011. This game went all Oregon for the first half, but the Ducks offense wilted and was not consistent enough to keep Auburn on their heels. The Ducks would lose with less than 10 seconds left in the game on a passing touchdown by Bo Nix.

 If you combine the Beavers' offense with the Ducks' defense, you've got a pretty good team.


  JT Daniels, Southern California Trojans Quarterback, suffered a Torn ACL against Fresno State. He's out for the season, leading the Trojans with a lot of ambiguity about how their season will go.

After another win over BYU, Utah is looking like the class of the PAC-12. With USC's season in the balance, look for the Utes to take the PAC-12 South.

 Jalen Hurts tossed six touchdowns for Oklahoma in a victory over Houston. When will the Sooners not have a talented, Heisman-potential quarterback?

Of course, Alabama smashed Duke. Wake us up if they're not leading the SEC this season.

Next week, I'll be at Autzen Stadium for Oregon-Nevada. Follow me on twitter, @Airweldon, for my college football input.