Archive for March, 2013

After an ESPN report that long-time Calgary Flames right winger and captain Jarome Iginla was traded to the Boston Bruins overnight, Iginla was instead traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and a first round draft pick.  The Penguins, of course, are the hottest team in the league right now, having won thirteen straight games and having recently acquired Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray.

Yet they are simply still not the best team in the league, as a pair of juggernauts from the Western Conference match up at least as well.  The Anaheim Ducks would match up well with the Penguins in a potential Stanley Cup matchup, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still the best team in the league without question, despite having lost four of their last eight after starting the season with a record streak of twenty-four games without falling in regulation or overtime, with all three losses having come in shootouts as the team started 21-0-3.

Adding Iginla bolsters the by-far best offense in the NHL, whose 117 goals are nine ahead of the next highest team.  The Penguins problem is that they are just tenth in goals allowed (with the lowest total being ranked first), despite playing in a division that includes three of the seven worst offensive teams in the league.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks have depth that rivals that of their 2009-10 team that ended the league’s longest championship drought that dated back to 1960-1961.  While their goaltending has been inconsistent as of late, possibly taking Corey Crawford out of contention for the Vezina, backup Ray Emery has started the season with a record 12-0-0 start.  The defense is lights out, having given up a league-low 71 goals, and the offense ranks second in the league, as previously mentioned.  All three defensive lines are capable of taking on any team in the league’s top line, and their offense has been described as having a “first line and three second lines”.  Jonathan Toews centers a first line with rookie Brandon Saad and the injured Marian Hossa who could return as soon as Friday.  Dave Bolland was promoted to the second line before the season and has played with the Hart Trophy candidate Patrick Kane and the injured Patrick Sharp, schedule to return in mid-April and recently returned to skating.  Andrew Shaw has made a nice transition from the wing to center, where he has been manning a line with Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg.  Marcus Kruger has centered a highly successful fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michael Frolik.  Jamal Mayers and Jimmy Hayes have had success as well in limited time.  The defending is the same story, as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook still compose one of the best pairings in the league, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jhonny Oduya form a very good second pairing ahead of Nick Leddy and either Michal Rozsival or Sheldon Brookbank.  The depth of the team mixed with the star power is very rare, and by buying out Steve Montador and Rostislav Olesz over the off-season, Chicago may be able to keep most of the roster intact for a full season run next year.

Regardless of the recent success of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is the Chicago Blackhawks, not they, that are the class of the league and remain the favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The Phoenix Coyotes have been under the relocation spotlight since their 2009 bankruptcy, with the potential to find a home outside of Glendale.  Despite the large scale interest from markets such as Hamilton, Ontario and their former home in Winnipeg, Manitoba (a market that would eventually land the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011), the league has remained committed to hockey in the desert.  Now, after a deal with Greg Jamison failed to be completed and a new mayor – less willing to provide financial support – entered the fold, the NHL again is reluctantly looking at relocation.

It was widely reported during the lockout that the league was looking to expand by two teams – with Quebec and a second Toronto franchise based in Markham being the front-runners, and Seattle also in the fray – and the realignment to two uneven conferences supports these assertions.  The city of Portland, Oregon was also recently reported to be luring the Phoenix franchise, but neither they nor Toronto appear to be on the shortlist for relocation.

Instead, Kansas City joins Quebec and Seattle as the leading candidates for the Coyotes to play in as early as next season.  Quebec – the former home of the Quebec Nordiques, and immediate rivals with the Montreal Canadiens – has a new stadium set to open in time for the 2015-16 NHL stadium, so a temporary venue would have to be used in order for the team to start play next season.  Seattle has a new stadium plan, but it would be contingent upon the NBA’s decision on the fate of the Sacramento Kings, whose owners have agreed to sell the franchise to a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen.  Kansas City – former home of the Kansas City Scouts – has had a vacant stadium ready to house an NBA or NHL franchise in the Sprint Center since it opened in 2007.

It would seem that of the three, Quebec or Seattle are the most likely to be awarded the franchise, with the other joining Toronto in a 2015 expansion to 32 teams.

Should the team be awarded to Quebec, the league’s realignment plan for next season that has already been approved may be thrown into jeopardy – as Phoenix is set to play in the 14-team Western Conference, where Quebec would be best fit in the 16-team Eastern Conference – though it could be bettered by mere swap of Colorado from the further east of the new Western Conference Divisions for the newly relocated Coyotes.  In this scenario, Quebec would play in a division with the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and Winnipeg Jets.  The team would have to wait until the 2015-16 season to be possibly realigned to join the Montreal Canadiens in a division.  Kansas City would be more feasible in the approved realignment, though the same swamp of Colorado would lessen travel.  Seattle would not require any modification to the realignment plan and would form an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks to the north.

As reported by Darren Dreger, news on the potential relocation is likely before the playoffs begin at the end of April or beginning of May, giving the situation approximately a month to develop.

The United States National Baseball Team fell 4-3 to Puerto Rico on Friday, with its comeback bid falling just short.  As a result, the United States was eliminated from the tournament, and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are facing off right now on MLB Network to determine who each team will face in the Semifinals in San Francisco.

The other two teams remaining are Japan and the biggest surprise of the tournament, the Netherlands, who recently added baseball’s top prospect to their roster in Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers.

Despite low attendance figures for games not involving the host countries, the 2013 World Baseball Classic must be viewed as a success, and has displayed great growth of the game internationally.

In the first qualifying pool, Israel and the incumbent participant South Africa figured to dominate the pool and fight for the right to play in the main tournament.  Instead, while France proved to be of no challenge, Spain dominated South Africa 13-3 and then went on to defeat Israel 9-7 int he pool finals.  The second qualifying pool was much less competitive, as Canada defeated Great Britain 11-1, and then Germany 16-7 and again 11-1 in the pool finals.  The Czech Republic fell to both Great Britain and Germany.  Colombia was the heavy favorites in the third qualifying pool, and handled Nicaragua easily before falling to both the eventual pool champion Brazil and the runner-up, Panama.  Chinese Taipei handled their pool easily, defeating New Zealand, the Philippines, and New Zealand again in the finals.    Johnny Damon played for last place Thailand.

The main tournament was full of surprises.  Cuba and Japan advanced over China and Brazil as expected, but the Brazilian squad played very well for a team that went 0-3.  The Chinese Taipei and South Korea were expected to advance in the second pool, but the Netherlands had something else in mind, falling to South Korea in the final game but winning on tie-breaker to send the Koreans home with Australia.  A strong Venezuelan squad failed to advance in the third pool, as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – both of which have made it to the semifinals – advanced, leaving Venezuela behind with Spain.  Italy was not expected to win a single game in the tournament, but managed to advance to the second round with the United States over two solid teams in Canada and Mexico.

The Netherlands run of upsets continued in the second round, advancing with Japan in a pool that also included Cuba and Chinese Taipei.  Italy’s luck would quickly run out however, as they were eliminated in the second round in two games, while the United States lasted only three, with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic advancing.

Despite low attendance, the tournament seems poised to have at least one more run in 2017.

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