Open Letter to John Saunders

While watching ‘The Sports Reporters’, John Saunders, during his segment entitled ‘parting shots’, had a lot to say about the NHL and its handling of Sidney Crosby, as well as the game of hockey as a whole. The minute editorial piece can be seen here, He urged his audience to respond to his segment, which I felt compelled to do. Here is my response.


Your ‘parting shot’ segment on the November 27th show demonstrated two major problems that ESPN and it’s litany of analysts have. One, no one in Bristol has any real insight to the game of hockey, and two, whenever hockey is talked about there is way too much emphasis placed on changing the game, instead of trying to understand the way it is played. Sidney Crosby came back to the Penguins starting roster this week, and in related news there were 29 other teams that had players who battled for their team. Crosby is one in a number of all-star caliber players to lace them up night in and night out for a league that has a marketing problem. Should the game of hockey have a rules change so that the game gets less physical? No, every player knows that the game of hockey is physical, and has been since they first started to love the sport.

Why bring up Super Mario? He had non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and missed three years. How is that related to a head injury in the slightest? On that note, how is Tom Brady’s knee injury related to any type of head injury? You can protect the QB in football because the QB is not expected to be able to take hits. Hockey players don’t have the luxury to be protected in a bubble. You claim that there was once a double standard to save stars from the onslaught of hits. When was this? For decades the NHL has had one way to deter players from going after stars, enforcers. Gretzky had a slew of them, as did Messier, and every other big name star. They are on the team to protect the star and go after any opposing player who threatens him. And this type of thought process was used in the old NHL, before the rules changed to allow finesse players more room on the ice. This rules change was thought to cut down on big hits, but unfortunately it has caused many players to keep their head down and get rattled more frequently. Big hits are an NHL mainstay, and unless the players get smarter about keeping their heads up during a play they will continue. It’s not something where a rules change needs to occur. It’s a physical game, and if the players aren’t interested in it they can go try their hand at football.

Have you ever actually watched a hockey game that did not feature a player named Crosby or Ovechkin? With names like Stamkos, Toews, Giroux, Iginla, Tavares, the Sedin twins, etc. the NHL talent pool is deep, and none of them are complaining about being hit while playing. The NHL front office can be blamed for the fact that many of the countries half-hearted hockey fans do not know these players, but your job is to know more than the typical fan. Your job is to try and understand how hockey is played, instead of just pandering to your executives who insist that you say something about Crosby, despite the fact that you truly have no idea what to say.

My services are always available. Trust me, you need them.

Thank you for your time,



Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em, Snag ‘Em for Week 12

Start ‘Em

1. Aaron Hernandez – TE – New England – @ Philadelphia: He will undoubtedly be covered by a Linebacker in one on one coverage without safety help, as the Eagles try to take away Rob Gronkowski. Given the Eagles horrid linebacker play this year Hernandez could have a career game.

2. Matt Leinart – QB – Houston – @ Jacksonville: If your fantasy team recently suffered the loss of Jay Cutler you are most likely in the market for a new starting quarterback. Leinart has a potent offense around him and knows the offense well. The only problem is if they get up early and end up running the ball to close out the Jaguars.

3. Greg Olsen – TE – Carolina – @ Indianapolis: The Panthers have played well but can’t seem to win a game. Now they’re playing the Colts, the winless Colts that is. Look for Olsen to catch the ball early as the Panthers try to get out to an early lead.

Sit ‘em

1. Michael Crabtree – WR – San Francisco – @ Baltimore: The 49ers have been claiming that Alex Smith is an elite quarterback, and tried to prove it by throwing often against the Giants, giving Crabtree some decent numbers. But against the Ravens their air assault will be grounded, and not due to inclement weather.

2. James Starks – RB – Green Bay – @ Detroit: The Packers leading rusher is questionable at the moment. Even if Stark’s were healthy it’d be a tough matchup for him given the Lions front seven.

3. Tarvaris Jackson – QB – Seattle – vs. Washington: The matchup against the Redskins is a favorable one for Jackson, but he is still questionable as of the middle of the week. His limited practice schedule recommends to many fantasy owners that the bench is the best place for him on Sunday.

Snag ‘Em

1. Kyle Orton – QB – Kansas City – @ Pittsburgh: The former Bronco was acquired off of waivers by the Chiefs this week. He won’t start this Sunday, but will in the future. If you lost Cutler and missed the boat on Leinart picking Orton up off of waivers isn’t an awful move.

2. C.J. Spiller – RB – Buffalo – @ NY Jets: The question surrounds Spiller, can he fill Fred Jackson’s shoes? It is unlikely that he will pick up where Jackson, the leagues leading rusher before breaking his leg last Sunday, left off, but he’ll definitely get the chance.

3. Vince Young – QB – Philadelphia – vs. New England: Word out of Philadelphia is that Vick is still not practicing and is still questionable for Sundays game. Despite throwing 3 interceptions last week, if Young starts he could enjoy a better outing given the Patriots lackluster pass defense and getting Maclin back in the lineup.

In Nee(D) of Help

Trade rumors are an everyday occurrence in sports and the Philadelphia Flyers are no different than anyone else. Sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs to boost him to play at a higher level. That is the reasoning that propels many trades in the National Hockey League involving veterans. It’s not always that easy, which is why the success rate when bringing someone in is not always great, remember Kris Versteeg in Philadelphia, but the Flyers try to make moves to better their team during the season almost every year, and, once again this year, a move is imminent. Although it seems to have been put on hold currently.

The backline for the Flyers is stagnant, in need of a definite change to spark some life to it, but is there a viable option in the trade market? Being near the top in the league in scoring is great, however when coupled with ranking in the lower third for goals against it doesn’t help win playoff games, let alone championships.

Erik Gustafsson offered the team some much-needed options, both on the rink and in the front office. With his emergence on the rink as a quality NHL level defensemen the Flyers were rumored to be shopping around Matt Carle, once a stalwart on the blue line when paired with Chris Pronger, who is now plagued by constant turnovers and lackluster effort. The plan seemed to be working smoothly and trading Carle for another defensive option was clearly the way the front office wanted to go, but Gustafsson subsequently injured his wrist and has been placed on long term injured reserve, effectively ending any trade moves for at least 6 weeks.

With more time to stew about the current roster while watching opponents cut through the defense with ease the need gets increasingly more evident from game to game. Whether the Flyers want to bring in a promising young talent or a wily old veteran is moot, something needs to happen for this team to have consistent showings in the future. But, that being said, there’s no reason we can’t speculate. Here are the best possible defensemen that could use a change of scenery.

 Johnny Oduya – The Winnipeg Jets are an oddly built team that is looking for depth throughout their roster. Given that realization, Oduya may be available, for the right price. What is that? To get this young defenseman the Flyers would have to part ways with a player like Brayden Schenn.

 Luke Schenn – If the Flyers are willing to part with their own Schenn, swapping Brayden for his older brother, defenseman Luke Schenn from the Toronto Maple Leafs, should be high on their list. Luke is having a much-maligned start to his 2011-12 season and catching a lot of grief for it in Toronto. Creating a need for a fresh start in a new city.

 Shea Weber – The biggest fish in the small pond of available defenseman is Weber, Nashville’s blue chipper who had to go through arbitration to get his current contract, a one-year deal. Getting him in mid-season would cost more than the Flyers are willing to part with, but it would be a gigantic splash. Remember when Scott Hartnell was on the trading block and was then moved to the Giroux/Jagr line. There are plenty of players that can flourish in that scenario, and Hartnell’s stock has risen because of it.

 Ryan Suter – If the waters aren’t warm for Weber, the Flyers should inquire about Suter, another Nashville defenseman who is rumored to be on the trading block, along with Weber, but at a considerably cheaper rate. The Predators can’t afford both players, so depending on whom they want to keep the other will be available.

 Johnny Boychuck – The Bruins are stout defensively and could part with Boychuck. A physical blue liner that could add another right-handed slap shot to the power play is always a welcomed addition.

 Cory Sarich – There have been rumblings that Sarich is on his way out in Calgary after being a healthy scratch in five straight games. He is the epitome of tough and doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in the Flames roster. A move should be on the horizon for him, at relatively cheap costs.

Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em, Snag ‘Em for Week 11

Start ’em

1. Mark Sanchez – QB – NY Jets – vs. Denver: His numbers were surprisingly decent despite losing to the Patriots last Sunday. Say what you want about his rock star status despite lack of ability, but with the weapons around him, he always has the possibility to put up a big game. This week against the Broncos poses a great chance for that scenario.

2. Mario Manningham – WR – NY Giants – vs. Philadelphia: He’s matched up against the Eagles defense this week, is there another reason that’s more relevant? It seems that there is consistently an opposing wide receiver that has a career day against the Eagles secondary.

3. David Nelson – WR – Buffalo – @ Miami: The Bills were shellacked last week. What better way to put that behind them than playing the Dolphins? Fitzpatrick has made a habit of looking for David Nelson in the red-zone given his size. There should be plenty of opportunities for him to haul down a touchdown or two this week, but he’s only starting in a quarter of fantasy leagues, and only owned in a little less than half.

Sit ‘em

1. Cam Newton – QB – Carolina – vs. Detroit: Not playing one of the better fantasy options at quarterback this year seems silly, but Carolina’s offensive line looked downright awful against the Titans. Detroit boasts one of the best defensive lines in the league, making time for Newton to look downfield a near impossibility.

2. Jeremy Maclin – WR – Philadelphia – @ NY Giants: He is currently questionable but reports are that he will try to play this Sunday. However, coupling his injuries with the fact that Michael Vick may not be on the field either, playing Maclin does not look to be a safe option.

3. Eric Decker – WR – Denver – @ NY Jets: He has been a solid contributor in deep leagues all season, mainly because all he seems to do is catch touchdowns. However, with Tebow under center the Broncos pass offense has dropped every week, to a season low 8 attempts last Sunday. Not good odds for Decker to be an impact player.

Snag ’em

1. Lance Ball – RB – Denver – @ NY Jets: Knowshon Moreno is out for the year with an ACL tear, and Willis McGahee is highly questionable, thanks in large part to a short week before Thursdays game. You can call it the veer, the option, or Timmy’s offense, but the Broncos run the ball nearly 50 times a game, and Lance Ball is currently their top running-back on the depth chart.

2. Laurent Robinson – WR – Dallas – @ Washington: Last weeks blowout win against the Buffalo Bills was a coming out party for Robinson, who scored two touchdowns in the affair. Don’t expect an effort like that every week, but while he fills the void left by injured Miles Austin he will continue to put up decent numbers.

3. Matt Leinart – QB – Houston – bye: Picking up Leinart is not a move that will help you this week, but Houston sports an exceptional offensive line, two great running-backs, and one of the best wide receivers in the league. This explosive offense could help Leinart produce big time come fantasy playoff season. Pounce on him now, before he’s gone.

12 Ideas for the NHL in 2012

Clearly the NBA learned nothing from the NHL over the last few seasons. The NHL had a lockout that nearly crippled the league in more ways than one. Not only were games and TV contracts lost, arenas left empty, and countless marketing dollars nowhere to be found, but the reputation of the league was tarnished, only to be slowly creeping back to pre-lockout levels now, a full six years after the fact.

While NBA owners and players argue over three percent of the share of the league they threaten to give the same fate to a league that saw record numbers watch the playoffs and championship series. Whether fans watched because they rooted for Dirk and the Mavs or hoped that Lebron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh would simultaneously break their legs is irrelevant.

Their sport was hot, and now they’re digging their own grave; news that could be great for hockey fans. Key word – could.

In the wake of their stupidity stands the NHL, a league prime to capitalize on millions of fans who’s TV’s are tuned to less than exciting comedies, dramas, and reality television shows. The huge question is how.

People watch baseball and basketball because they grew up playing it. A basketball is 20 bucks and there are hoops almost everywhere, and the only things baseball requires is a glove, a ball, and a friend. Hockey will never be able to compete on that level, but implementing more youth programs around the country, mirroring the efforts made in Philadelphia by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, could, at the very least, help put a stick in kids hands more often than not. Coupled with that is an across the board understanding that our countries economical future is uncertain and at present is downright shameful, therefore prices should be lowered for equipment and rink time. Money for expensive equipment is simply not an option these days, but there is no reason that multi-million dollar companies can’t help out with programs that are supplemented by NHL teams and owners.

As it stands now the NHL is obviously failing in the way it markets. Ask 100 people in any shopping mall in the country and there are two names that every person will recognize. Outside of Crosby and Ovechkin people will struggle, which leads us to idea number two; Gary Bettman needs to step down as commissioner. I’m aware that this is not going to happen, but the second part of this idea is much more practical. Bring in a marketing guy, preferably someone with a background of transforming a mediocre product into something people talk about. Apple did it; the UFC did it, why can’t the NHL do it?

That being said, marketing players requires marketing personality, something that hockey players are not necessarily oozing with. In addition to hiring a marketing guy idea three would have to include teaching players to be more comfortable in their newfound celebrity. Whether it is on television, at signings, at restaurants, or anywhere that fans can be influenced by their attitudes and charisma; the players need to learn how to step up and take charge of recruiting fans to the sport.

24/7 was a major step forward in trying to showcase the personalities the NHL has, in addition to the talent on the ice, however it is on HBO, immediately shrinking the possible viewing audience by nearly 70 percent of households. A reality show was a great idea, one that I’m sure Bettman did not come up with, but idea four is a caveat onto this; try to get a behind the scenes show, much like 24/7, on basic cable. Will it be as vulgar and over the top? No, but it will have the possibility to be seen by a much larger audience. That’s the point.

The next idea is in much the same vein as the last. The NHL and its TV contract department must do whatever needs to be done to get off of Versus, or NBC Sports, or NBC International, or whatever it is they want to call themselves in 2012, and onto a real network. It doesn’t matter if it’s less revenue to start, revenue will be made up in other areas when more fans are converted. Considering the fact that ESPN2 shows crossfit games I’m sure they have the market share time for the NHL, especially with a litany of NBA timeslots to fill, creating a golden opportunity for the NHL.

Being on a network with the reach and reputation like ESPN and its family is a plus, but people still aren’t going to magically turn the dial, they need a reason, and what better reason than feuding teams, players, coaches, cities, etc. Americans love feuds almost as much as train wrecks, so give them one. Ok, fabricating hatred between teams or individuals is bad, but the Crosby vs. Ovechkin feud was programming gold. With the way hockey players are, nothing needs to be made up, just encourage their own animosity to come out both on the ice and off of it. Those feelings could not only fuel better ratings, but could also stimulate the players to play just that much harder.

With feuds, growing animosity, and a sure hatred that some teams have for others there is sure to come more physicality, one thing that hockey cannot live without but has decided to try and lessen in recent years. Hockey needs hitting, it needs fighting, and it needs the threat of something happening to a grinder if he goes after a star. Ground rules are also necessary; let’s get this straight, hockey isn’t bare knuckle boxing, but it isn’t pillow fighting. The NHL has to realize that they can’t push fighting to the brink of extinction and claim it as a positive step forward. The lack of fighting, or the threat of fighting, is directly connected to the incessant amount of boarding calls, cheap shots, illegal checks, hits to the head, and dangerous plays. Fighting needs to be an integral part of the game for the game to survive. The game would actually be safer with it playing a bigger role. And let’s not misconstrue the viewing public’s taste, people love to watch violence, it’s just taboo to admit it in the world of hockey these days. MMA seems to be capitalizing on the blood lust just fine.

With the re-implementation of fighting, the league must also repeal the instigator rule. Doing so will not only further encourage the physical players to fight each other, but will also help get rid of the bad penalties that currently riddle the league. In addition to this change the league must also establish written rules regarding the headshots, boarding, intent to injure, and hits to a defenseless player penalties that I continue to complain about.

Most of the rule changes listed here require players to be more prepared to take on an even more daunting physical battle night after night. Two things that the NHL can do to combat that side effect are, one, to play less games on the schedule. This not only will keep players fresher throughout a grueling season, but will also make every game truly mean something. Two, league officials must also contact hockey companies regarding the equipment that they are making. For years the idea was to continue to “improve” players padding by making every piece of equipment larger, harder, and stronger. This design is more of a flaw than anything else. These days players are already bigger, stronger, and faster, and now strapped with padding that enables them to hit another person with virtually no pain to themselves means that they are less like hockey players and more like American gladiators. By making padding bigger hockey companies created more concussion problems for the players. It’s time to reduce them.

The last rule change is the most drastic. The NHL should adopt something that European soccer leagues have been doing for years. If a team, or two for that matter, underperforms in the NHL they should be sent down to the AHL for the next season. This would increase the probability that the players will give it their all towards the end of the season given the realization that there is no longer “nothing to play for”. They’re literally playing for their job, a motivation tactic that could increase viewership despite a team being underwhelming all year long.

All of these changes, when combined, have the possibility to increase popularity of the NHL, while at the same time helping to save players from nasty concussion problems that currently plague it’s most popular player.

Yes, I realize that none of them will ever actually happen.

Week 10 Fantasy Insider

Sleeper Starters

1. Joe Flacco – QB – Baltimore – @ Seattle: The Ravens are still flying high after a last second victory over their archrival Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. The game-winning drive, highlighted by a touchdown throw from Flacco, will surely boost his confidence and translate into solid play versus a Seattle secondary that is beaten and bruised from a week prior.

2. Jacoby Ford – WR – Oakland – @ San Diego: With a rusty Carson Palmer waiting to show signs of consistency Ford could see a considerable amount of throws go his way. With a match-up against the Chargers all but guaranteeing a high scoring affair Ford is a great option.

3. Willis McGahee – RB – Denver – @ Kansas City: If you ask Willis, he’s the greatest running back in the NFL. Last week he backed up his mouth with some quality production. The Kansas City Chiefs sport a lackluster run defense, enabling McGahee another chance to shine for his team and yours.

Bench ‘em

1. Jay Cutler – QB – Chicago – vs. Detroit: Cutler lit the Eagles secondary up this week thanks to one necessity; he was not sacked. The Detroit Lions sport a harrowing defensive line that has the ability to shut down the run, forcing Cutler to obvious passing situations. It could be a long day for the Vanderbilt product.

2. Early Doucet – WR – Arizona – @ Philadelphia: The Eagles were torched last week against the Bears and will work diligently to turn things around. With most of the attention placed on Larry Fitzgerald the school of thought is that Doucet will be open, but with a 2nd string QB and a lackluster offensive line Doucet won’t get the chance to produce.

3. Rashard Mendenhall – RB – Pittsburgh – @ Cincinnati: His production this year does not justify his relatively high selection in many leagues. The Bengals strength this year is their defense, which will surely look to make the Steelers one-dimensional. If Mendenhall can’t find the cracks in the line there is an ample backup that coach Mike Tomlin is not afraid to replace him with.

Free Agent Frenzy

1. Earl Bennett – WR – Chicago – vs Detroit: Bennett emerged as Cutler’s favorite target last Monday versus an underwhelming Eagles defense. The match-up does not bode well for his QB to get much time in the pocket, but Bennett may become Cutler’s failsafe option.

2. Roy Helu – RB – Washington – @ Miami: Playing anyone on the Redskins offense is a gutsy call, but with a glowing endorsement from his coach, and the understanding that Ryan Torain won’t be seeing the field much, if at all, Helu, who can catch the ball out of the backfield as well as run, is a decent option in a deep league.

3. Matt Moore – QB – Miami – vs. Washington: The reigning NFC Offensive player of the week, Moore will look to compound his efforts last week with another solid performance. He’s still available in nearly 95% of most fantasy leagues, and is as promising an option as Tim Tebow with absolutely no risk.

Hello to the Old and the New

Tonight’s Flyers game introduced another new epoch that the front office had envisioned during the summer of change; first off, it showcased the ability that Jaromir Jagr has to put the puck in the net during games that actually matter. After seeing him score against us for so many years it was a nice change of pace. With two quick snapshot breakaway goals Jagr reaffirmed the notion that he should be feared by defenses around the league when given space, despite his grey hair and wrinkles. His shot, stick handling, and quick bursts of speed are still evident, and will continue to improve thanks to his incessant work ethic, study time, and fervor to be great (late night practices galore). It also re-introduced us to Scott Hartnell. (Yes, believe it or not he is still on the roster) He recently was fortunate enough to replace James Van Riemsdyk on the top scoring line, and partnering up with Giroux and Jagr seems to have reinvigorated his game, which had lost its way as of late.

The move paid off quickly, when Hartnell netted two goals in his second appearance on the line and looked more like a player worth a cap hit above four million dollars instead of the salary dump that many viewed him as early on in the season. (Remember the Nashville rumors?) Keeping Hartnell on the top line is a no brainer if he can keep up his hot streak, but even if his numbers start to dip he could still make his presence felt with his physical play and energy in the dirty areas. He added an element to the former Briere-Leino line that was invaluable to its success, and could prove to be the type of spark plug that boosts everyone on the Giroux line.

In this young season the Flyers have looked great, good, okay, downright horrible, pathetic, uninspired, and above average. No, not all at once, but the team must search for an identity that allows the young skaters to feel comfortable while also taking advantage of their strengths on a regular basis. Laviolette’s system takes time to be implemented and has proven to work in the past, but requires certain attributes and instinctive that may be foreign to rookies.

So what does this Flyers team need to make consistent play a habit? Stability within the roster, strong skating, and a commitment to back checking are always at the top of the list.

Matt Read and Brayden Schenn have both seemed to supplant themselves within the lineup for the foreseeable future, while Harry Zolniercyzk and Zac Rinaldo will likely make the trek from Glens Falls to Philadelphia and back on a regular basis, however one decision is still up in the air. With the time quickly approaching regarding what to do with Sean Couturier, the 18 year old 1st round draft pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, there are a few possible directions the Flyers can still go with their roster.

There are parties on both sides of the line, whether to send Couturier back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) or keep him up in the NHL, but the one major sticking point is always going to be money. Couturier has a few things to work on, some are tangible like skating and strength, and some are intangible like maturity and patience, but he has proven himself to be worthy of the high draft pick and can certainly hack it in the big time.

However, by pushing him back to Juniors, where he has had back to back 96 point seasons, doing so in 68 games and 58 games respectively, the Flyers can push back his contract another year, making his NHL contract essentially void for this season, and giving another year to the back end, when he will undoubtedly have improved both the tangibles and intangibles in his game.

Overall he’s looked better than Brayden Schenn and certainly sports better stats, but centering a fourth line with Talbot and Shelley could make it harder for the youngster to make a dent during the season. Given the possibilities the Flyers have financially with Couturier in the future it is surprising to keep him up this year, however his impressive play and the recent moves to clear cap space and contract amounts to fit him into this years plans have made it clear that Couturier will be around past the tenth game.

With the season being so fresh, and the book on this Flyers make-up so thin there are few things to go on, but with some chemistry and dependability starting to show the Flyers could be pushing towards the type of year that Ed Snider had envisioned