Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 33-Yard PAT

After they started talking about it during last year's owner's meetings and certain owners refused to let it go, it seemed inevitable that the NFL was going to make some sort of rules change regarding extra points.  Especially after they experimented with different things during the preseason and in the Pro Bowl last year.  So it came as no surprise today when they announced that they will, indeed, be changing the PAT rule for the 2015 season.

Starting next season, the ball will be spotted at the 15 for extra points, but remain at the 2 for two-point conversions.  That makes the extra point attempt 33 yards, roughly the same distance as a typical field goal.  Most people think that won't change much.  The success rate for 30-35 yard field goals isn't that much lower than the success rate for extra points.  But that doesn't make the rule change any less unnecessary.  So what if extra points are easy?  Isn't that the point?

The argument for the rule change is that the PAT from the 2-yard line has become almost automatic.  Kickers' success rate on extra points since the start of 2010 is over 99 percent.  And for some reason, the owners think this is a bad thing.  So they decided something needed to be done about it.  Which is unfair to the kickers.  They're being singled out for being too good at doing their jobs.

Nobody watches a football game to watch the kickers.  Everybody knows that.  But this isn't the answer.  The owners said that they're not trying to take the kicking element, which is still important, out of the game.  I do believe them.  If they wanted to eliminate kicks completely they could've. 

They could've implemented a rule where you automatically get 7 for a touchdown unless you decide to go for 2, where you'll get 8 if you make it and 6 if you don't.  (I'm not advocating such a rule, I'm just using it to illustrate my point.)  And who needs kickoffs, either?  Just let the other team take the ball at the 20 after a score.  While you're at it, get rid of special teams entirely.  Who needs punters?  Just like in the arena league, you have to go for it on fourth down no matter what.  If you don't make it, the other team gets the ball right there.  And with no special teams, that frees up like five roster spots.  You wouldn't have to worry about return men getting hurt, either.

But you know what, people weren't NOT watching because the extra point was virtually automatic.  On the rare occasion it actually did happen, it affected coaching moves later in the game.  I remember one game a couple years ago that a team lost 20-19 or 17-16 (something like that) because of a missed extra point.  And who can forget that playoff game where Tony Romo was holding for the extra point and bobbled the snap, resulting in Dallas losing 21-20.

There is one element of the new PAT rule that I like.  It's no longer a dead ball on a failed attempt.  If the defense blocks the extra point or intercepts a two-point attempt, they can return it for two points.  This has been a rule in college football for years and it'll definitely add something to  the NFL game.  It's already a rule that you can return a missed field goal, and that leads to some of the most exciting plays you could ever hope to see (Auburn-Alabama anybody?).

Teams might be more inclined to go for the block on an extra point or try and intercept a two-point conversion instead of just knocking it down now.  Imagine, one team is down 21-13 in the fourth quarter and scores to make it 21-19, but the two point-conversion is intercepted and returned for a safety.  Instead of being tied or, at worst, down by two, now they're trailing 23-19 and need another touchdown.  That's a huge difference.

Blocking an extra point just became a whole lot easier, too.  It used to be something most teams wouldn't even try because really, what difference did it make?  But now with a potential three-point swing at stake, there's actually incentive to defend the extra point.  Especially because blocking a field goal isn't unheard of, and that's essentially what they've turned the extra point into.

Ultimately, moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line probably won't make that much of a difference.  Just like we'll probably all get used to it pretty quickly and, five years from now, forget that the old rule worked just fine for the NFL for 95 years.  95 years.  That's how long the previous extra point rule lasted. 

As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The extra point rule wasn't broken.  But the NFL "fixed" it anyway.  Why?

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Fish Out of Water

I wish I had some way to explain why the Miami Marlins fired their manager only to replace him with their GM, but I simply can't.  It seems like everything the Miami Marlins do is confusing, and this is one of their most confounding moves yet.  I may be way off.  Dan Jennings might be the perfect person to lead the Marlins.  But I have a feeling I'm not.  It does, however, look like Jeffrey Loria is moving closer towards his goal of actually becoming Al Davis.

When Loria fired Mike Redmond after the Marlins almost got no-hit by the Braves on Sunday, he announced that the new manager would be introduced on Monday.  That's code for "it's somebody within the organization."  Most people assumed that meant one of the coaches would be promoted, like the Brewers did with Craig Counsell after they fired Ron Roenicke a couple weeks ago.  But to say that going with the GM (whose only managing experience in a 30-year career was at a high school) who was responsible for constructing the under-achieving roster came out of left field would be an understatement.  I doubt there was anyone outside of the Marlins organization who saw this coming.

Teams have had success with out-of-the-box hires before.  Houston made the playoffs a couple times under broadcaster-turned-manager Larry Dierker, and Arizona won the World Series the year after they plucked Bob Brenly out of the broadcast booth.  The White Sox' hiring of Robin Ventura despite his not having any previous managing or coaching experience seems to be working out OK so far, too.  But it's important to note that all of those guys played in the Major Leagues.  Dan Jennings did not.

Jennings made his mark in the Majors as a scout.  But identifying talent and coaching it are different things entirely.  And who's to say they translate?  Just because you clearly know baseball well enough to sign guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez into your organization doesn't necessarily mean you know when to make a pitching change or when to sit a struggling hitter.  We all think we can manage in the Major Leagues, but the truth is very few people actually can.

Loria clearly has a short fuse with his managers.  One of the articles I read today said that he's a big fan of George Steinbrenner, which is probably where he gets this itchy trigger finger from.  But to me, he's more like Al Davis than George Steinbrenner.  When Steinbrenner stopped firing his manager every other year, Joe Torre won four championships in five years.  After John Gruden left the Raiders, the longest Al Davis kept a coach was like two seasons, and Oakland hasn't finished above .500 since they went to the Super Bowl a decade ago.

That Raiders team lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Bucs in January 2003.  In October 2003, the Marlins won the World Series under Jack McKeon, who was brought in as manager after Jeff Torborg was fired in mid-May (I think it was the same number of games, and the Marlins had the exact same record as they do right now).  Florida/Miami hasn't been back to the postseason since, despite having guys like Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Jose Reyes, Stanton and Fernandez on the roster.

We all remember a couple years ago when the Marlins opened their new ballpark and they actually tried to be good for the first time since the 2003 World Series.  That was the winter of Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen.  What happened?  An epic failure of season that was bad even by the Marlins' historically inept standards.  (They fact that they were actually trying to be good that year probably made it worse.)  Who was responsible for constructing that team, and subsequently breaking it up the following offseason?  Oh yeah, Dan Jennings.

Miami is still paying Guillen, which I think had a lot to do with the decision to give the managing job to Jennings.  They're still paying Guillen, who was fired after only that one season.  They're still paying Redmond, who was in his third season as Guillen's replacement.  So, if they brought in somebody from outside the organization, even if it was just until the end of the season, that would be THREE different managers they'd be paying in 2015.  Jennings was already under contract with the organization, so they didn't have to add that third manager's salary.  For a money-conscious team like the Marlins, that had to have been a factor.

They've established a pretty impressive laundry list of managers who haven't lasted in Miami since McKeon retired.  They replaced McKeon with Joe Girardi, who was Manager of the Year as a rookie skipper in 2006, only to be fired after that season because he didn't get along with Loria.  Three years later, of course, Girardi won the World Series with the Yankees.  After Girardi it was Fredi Gonzalez, who actually lasted three and a half years before he got the boot.  Gonzalez then became manager of the Braves and has taken Atlanta to the playoffs twice.  They actually brought an 80-year-old McKeon back for the rest of the 2010 season after letting Gonzalez go.  Then there's Ozzie Guillen, one of their prize free agents in 2012.  Guillen was already established, having won the World Series with the White Sox in 2005.  After a 69-93 season and some not-so-good comments in the media, Guillen was gone.  He hasn't managed since.

Including Jennings, the Marlins have had 14 managers in their 23-year history, and no Marlins manager has lasted more than three and a half years on the job.  Loria hasn't owned the team the whole time, but those numbers are telling.  And this revolving door in the manager's office has likely had an impact on the team's fortunes.  They've never won the division and only made the playoffs twice (although they did win the World Series both of those years).  For most of the remaining time, they've been a bad team playing in a mostly-empty ballpark.

Jeff Loria wants his team to succeed very badly.  Perhaps a little too badly.  Because his "win now" approach is actually a hindrance.  He doesn't give his managers enough time to build something (Jim Leyland's 1997 team doesn't count since it was bought for the sole purpose of winning the World Series, then disassembled just as fast).  If he did, he might be amazed by what he saw.  Because Giancarlo Stanton is on the shortlist of the best players in the game and there's plenty of other talent around him.  The Marlins are almost good enough to be very good really soon.  If only their owner would stop getting in the way.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Stanley Cup Conference Finals

I don't want to brag, but I went 4-for-4 on my predictions for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (11-of-12 overall including the first round).  What's more, I even had the right number of games for three of the four series.  The only one I missed was two extra games in Chicago-Minnesota.

And that brings us to a pair of conference finals that I think actually do match-up the four best teams in hockey.  Sometimes we'll see a lower-seeded team sneak in, but this year we didn't.  Entering the playoffs, all four of the remaining teams were considered Cup contenders, and that hasn't changed.  I can't even pick a favorite at this point.  All four are capable of getting the eight more wins they need.  They're all strong.  These conference finals are gonna be good.

Rangers vs. Lightning: This is not the matchup the Rangers wanted.  Tampa Bay has their number.  Very badly.  The Lightning won all three games between the teams this season, and none of them were close.  However, they were also all early in the year, before the Rangers went on their ridiculous run to jump to the top of the NHL.  Regardless, they wanted to see Montreal or really anybody else.  Anyone other than Tampa Bay.

It also doesn't help that it's not just an NHL rule the Rangers play Capitals in the playoffs.  It's a rule that they got seven.  Playing all those one-goal games might end up hurting them eventually, too.  Playoff hockey is ultra-intense, and the intensity is dialed up that much higher in close games.  Even more so in overtime.  They've got the best goalie on the planet, but would it kill them to give Lundqvist a little bit of a break at some point?  As great as Lundqvist is, you can't keep relying on your goalie to win games 2-1.  You need some offensive punch.  During the end of the Washington series, Chris Kreider stepped up and turned things around in the Rangers' favor.  Maybe that'll carry over into the conference finals.

Scoring's not a problem for the Lightning.  In fact, they seem to be reinvigorated by moving Steven Stamkos to the wing.  Plus, they've got a healthy Ben Bishop.  Last season, when they got swept out of the playoffs in the first round, it was because Bishop was hurt.  This season, they've added a healthy goalie to their scoring punch, and it resulted in their first trip to the conference finals in four years.  They've also got a ton of ex-Rangers on the roster, which is going to be ultra-confusing, but could also help explain why the Lightning have owned the Rangers over the last two years.

Tampa Bay swept Montreal in the regular season and it carried over into the playoffs.  If this series starts like that one, it'll be short.  The Rangers need to figure out a way to actually beat the Lightning early.  Because if they don't, Tampa Bay won't let them back in the series.  They came back from 3-1 against the Capitals, but that won't happen against a better Lightning team.  I do think the Rangers will finally get a win.  Will they get four, though?  That I'm not so sure of.  Lightning in six.

Ducks vs. Blackhawks: Anaheim and Chicago have been the two most dominant teams so far in the playoffs.  As evidence by the fact that the two conference semis went a combined nine games.  When the playoffs started, most people predicted a Ducks-Blackhawks Western Conference Final.  And while Anaheim was the better team in the regular season, Chicago is built for the playoffs, which makes this series an absolute toss-up.

The Ducks have been every bit as impressive in the postseason as they were in the regular season.  Anaheim is a much better team than both Winnipeg and Calgary, and it showed.  That won't be the case against Chicago.  On paper, the Ducks probably are better than the Blackhawks, but the difference is negligible.  They also have to overcome a history of playoff disappointment.  They haven't been to the conference final since 2007.  Let's see if that lack of experience relative to the Blackhawks comes into play.

As for the Blackhawks, they're doing what they normally do this time of the year.  Chicago's in the Western Conference Final for the third straight year and looking to win its third Cup since 2010.  Against Minnesota, it looked like they really hit their stride, and after the goalie merry-go-round that was the first round, Corey Crawford settled in and once again played like the Cup-winning goalie he is against the Wild.  Offensively, the teams are a wash.  If the real Corey Crawford shows up, Chicago has the goaltending edge, though, and that could make the difference.

No matter what, I think this series goes deep.  They're both well-rested, talented, and well-coached.  This is the series everybody wanted to see, and it's going to be just as competitive as we were all hoping.  There's going to be plenty of goals scored, so it'll be all about who stops more.  I just have a feeling that'll be the Blackhawks.  It's their turn to win the West in that weird Giants-Cardinals thing they've got going on with the Kings.  Blackhawks in seven.

Friday, May 15, 2015

NBA Franchise Fours

For some reason, the NHL has decided that there won't be any hockey games until Saturday.  Even though the Blackhawks have been off for a week and the matchup has been set since Monday, the Western Conference Final will start after the East.  So, the Blackhawks get eight days off between games, while the Rangers will have two (and the "rested" Lightning will have three).  Although, after looking at the schedule for both series, it looks like they wanted to make sure they'd have that Saturday night Ducks-Blackhawks game on NBC, so they made it Game 4 instead of Game 5.

But I've found the silver lining in this lack of hockey.  It gives me a chance to continue my Franchise Four project before doing my conference finals previews (by the way, I went 4-for-4 in the second round, and I got three of the game numbers right, missing only on the Blackhawks).

Anyway, more about the NHL tomorrow.  Today it's back to the Franchise Four.  So do I do NBA or NFL?  Well, I read that Sports Illustrated article about the 1985 lottery and whether or not it was fixed for the Knicks to get Patrick Ewing, and that made my decision for me.  The Knicks' franchise center, he's obviously one of their four.  And since there's NBA playoff games today and the extent of what's going on in the NFL is Tom Brady declaring war against the league over his suspension, the NBA it is.

Same rules apply that MLB used for their Franchise Four and I then extended to the NHL.  The Charlotte Hornets, if I understand everything right, include both incarnations of the franchise, while the New Orleans Hornets count for the Pelicans.  Since NBA teams move around a lot, I'm not sure I'll have them all necessarily in the right places, but I'll try my best.

Atlanta Hawks: Dominique Wilkins, Bob Pettit, Kevin Willis, Al Horford
Boston Celtics: Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek
Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd, Julius Erving, Buck Williams, Richard Jefferson
Charlotte Hornets: Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, Gerald Wallace
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan, Derrick Rose
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, Rolando Blackman, Jason Terry, Mark Aguirre
Denver Nuggets: Dan Issel, Alex English, Dikembe Mutombo, Carmelo Anthony
Detroit Pistons: Dave Bing, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Grant Hill
Golden State Warriors: Chris Mullin, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond
Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Calvin Murphy, Yao Ming
Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller, Paul George, Jermaine O'Neal, Detlef Schrempf
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, Bob McAdoo, Chris Paul, Randy Smith
Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant
Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Bibby, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway
Milwaukee Bucks: Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Stephon Marbury, Wally Szczerbiak
New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, David West, Baron Davis
New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe
Oklahoma City Thunder: Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Durant, Nate McMillan
Orlando Magic: Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard, Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson
Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Walter Davis
Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton, Terry Porter, LaMarcus Aldridge
Sacramento Kings: Mitch Richmond, Oscar Robertson, Vlade Divac, Chris Webber
San Antonio Spurs: David Robertson, Tim Duncan, George Gervin, Tony Parker
Toronto Raptors: Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Damon Stoudemire, DeMar DeRozan
Utah Jazz: Karl Malone, John Stockton, Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley
Washington Wizards: Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Walt Bellamy, Gilbert Arenas

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baseball/Softball's Pitch For Reinstatement

Don't worry, we'll continue the Franchise Four project with the NBA and NFL soon enough.  But it would be boring to do essentially the same post three times in a row.  Besides, I've got to build that suspense.

The reason I wanted to do something different today?  Well, it's because the IOC has officially opened the process for the sports that are looking to be added to the Olympic program for the 2020 Tokyo Games.  Or, as many people think, baseball & softball's path to reinstatement.  While I'm not as confident as most that we're necessarily going to see that happen, I absolutely love the fact that the Olympic program will be expanding one way or the other in 2020.

This was one of the major reforms in IOC President Thomas Bach's "Olympic Agenda 2020" initiative.  During former President Jacques Rogge's tenure, the Olympic program was capped at 28 sports.  When baseball and softball were voted out, that created two openings, which were filled by golf and rugby for Rio.  That 28-sport maximum created even more controversy when they determined that a new sport would be added for Tokyo, which meant another sport would have to be dropped.  But, as it turns out, they didn't really add a sport at all, since they made that ridiculous decision to drop wrestling, then rectified the situation by immediately reinstating it.

I always hated the 28-sport cap, which seemed completely arbitrary (why not a nice round number like 30?).  Fortunately, President Bach agrees with me.  Why do sports have to get dropped so others can get added?  If you can find a way to work in new sports/events while keeping within the preferred number of athletes, why not do that?  To me, it just doesn't seem fair to take that Olympic status away from a sport.

Bach moving it from a sport-based program to an event-based program created a little more flexibility when creating the Olympic schedule.  One of the reasons for doing this was to give the host nation the opportunity to showcase sports that are more popular in their respective countries.  (If Boston does end up hosting in 2024, you can bet they'll want to have baseball games at Fenway Park included.)
That's why the optimism for baseball and softball's return is so high.  Both sports are obviously huge in Japan.  Baseball is the national sport, Nippon Professional Baseball is the highest level of pro ball outside the Major Leagues, and Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics.  Meanwhile, the Japanese softball team is the reigning Olympic champions, having upset the United States in the gold medal game in Beijing.  It seems to make perfect sense.  They're incredibly popular, and there are plenty of existing baseball/softball venues in the country that they wouldn't need to build one.

But my big worry about the readmission of baseball and softball is their place in the Games beyond 2020.  As I said earlier, I don't like the idea of sports coming and going from the Olympic program.  I have a feeling that's exactly what would happen if the right sport isn't added for Tokyo, though.  Baseball's popularity is limited throughout the rest of the world.  Among potential 2024 hosts, it's popular in the United States, Germany and Italy, but what if Paris ends up hosting?  Do they even know what baseball is in France?  Paris might want to say "au revoir" to baseball and softball and add something that's popular in France, meaning that Olympic return was limited to just one Games.

Don't get me wrong.  I think baseball and softball belong in the Olympics.  It was a mistake to drop them in the first place, and I would certainly welcome their return in Tokyo.  But I'd also like to see some assurance that whatever sport is added will stick around for a while.  Especially because of how devastating it would be (especially for softball) to be dropped from the Olympics twice. 

With that in mind, baseball/softball's not the only international federation that has been invited to apply for Olympic inclusion, and there are a few that I think would make excellent additions to the program.  OK, one mainly.  And, yes, I'm talking about squash.  There's also that camp that feels baseball and softball have had their chance and it should be somebody else's turn.  While I don't necessarily agree with that, I can see their point.

Squash, in my opinion, is the most Olympic-ready of the sports that have been invited to apply for inclusion for the first time, and is probably considered the sport most likely to get the nod if baseball and softball somehow don't.  There's also the possibility that more than one sport could be added.  Or none.  That decision won't come until next year.  First they'll look at the applications and choose which sports will move forward.  Then the Tokyo organizers will make a proposal to the IOC by September 30.  The IOC won't discuss it until they meet in Rio just before next year's Olympics, though.

It's highly likely that the Tokyo organizers will recommend that at least one sport be added to the Olympic program for 2020.  Does that mean the return of Olympic baseball and softball?  One can only hope so.  You know they're thanking their lucky stars that the 2020 Olympics are in Japan.  (Perhaps only the U.S. and/or Canada would've been better for baseball/softball's prospects.)  And if baseball and softball are brought back, I hope it's a permanent return for two sports that never should've been dropped in the first place.

Monday, May 11, 2015

NHL Franchise Fours

Yesterday I had a very lively discussion with my dad and brother-in-law about the MLB Franchise Fours and who is/isn't going to make it for the various franchises.  We agreed that it was stupid all of the players listed as Washington Nationals were actually Montreal Expos.  We also agreed that some were incredibly easy, some were almost impossible, and some teams had one or two that are absolute no-brainers.  That's part of the fun of this thing.  Everyone's going to have their own opinion, and it's not like anybody's going to be wrong.  It really is a matter of preference.

It also got me thinking.  What if they did the Franchise Four in the other sports?  Like baseball, it would be the same type of exercise.  The Franchise Four for the Columbus Blue Jackets?  They've only been around 15 years and irrelevant for most of that time.  For the Montreal Canadiens?  You want me to pick just four?  The Winnipeg Jets?  Sorry, Phil Housley and Dale Hawerchuk don't count.  They're technically Coyotes.  Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley count as Jets, though.

But that's part of the fun of all this.  My four might be completely different than your four.  But there are some that I'm fairly certain we'll all agree on.

Here we go.  Let the debating begin...

Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Paul Kariya, Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Arizona Coyotes: Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Phil Housley
Boston Bruns: Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk
Buffalo Sabres: Gilbert Perrault, Dominik Hasek, Pat LaFontaine, Rene Robert
Calgary Flames: Jarome Iginla, Theo Fleury, Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis
Carolina Hurricanes: Ron Francis, Erik Cole, Eric Staal, Rod Brind'Amour
Chicago Blackhawks: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Jonathan Toews, Glenn Hall
Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Michel Goulet
Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash, Sergei Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen
Dallas Stars: Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, Joe Nieuwendyk, Neal Broten
Detroit Red Wings: Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Ted Lindsay, Nicklas Lidstrom
Edmonton Oilers: Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Jarri Kurri, Mark Messier
Florida Panthers: Jay Boouwmester, John Vanbiesbrouck, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen
Los Angeles Kings: Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Anze Kopitar, Marcel Dionne
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, Nicklas Backstrom
Montreal Canadiens: Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Patrick Roy, Guy Lafleur
Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Tomas Vokoun
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer
New York Islanders: Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier
New York Rangers: Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Rod Gilbert, Mike Richter
Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Alexei Yashin, Wade Redden
Philadelphia Flyers: Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent
Pittsburgh Penguins: Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov, Owen Nolan
St. Louis Blues: Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Bernie Federko, Chris Pronger
Tampa Bay Lightning: Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Brad Richards
Toronto Maple Leafs: Syl Apps, Mats Sundin, Ace Bailey, Tim Horton
Vancouver Canucks: Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, Peter Bondra
Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Deflating Brady's Ego

We've finally gotten to the bottom of Deflatgate.  Sort of.  Actually not really at all.  After spending all these months and all that money on the Wells Report, they didn't conclude anything.  All they said is that it's "more probable than not" that the Patriots cheated.  Groundbreaking stuff.

What the Wells Report did tell us was stuff that we pretty much all knew already.  Bill Belichick was not involved and likely had no knowledge.  Why would he?  He's got more to worry about before a game than how inflated the footballs are.  That's a job you delegate to your quarterback.  He's the one actually handling the footballs.  They also acknowledged that Robert Kraft didn't have any influence over what happened or knowledge of what was going on.  They did stop short of giving Kraft his apology, though.  He "disagreed" with the findings (as if you'd expect him to say anything else), but as a "league man" will likely go along with whatever punishment is handed out.

Rather, the report centered the blame on three people.  There were two locker room attendants who had access to the balls after they were tested.  One of them, logic suggests, is the person responsible for the action of physically taking the air out of the footballs.  But it's the third person implicated that's the most significant.  They determined that Tom Brady "was at least generally aware" of what was going on.  Although, they did stop short of saying it was at his request that the balls were tampered with.

Of course, Brady remains defiant.  He insists that he never cheated, deliberately or otherwise, even though the evidence points to the contrary.  But that press conference he gave the day after the Deflategate report was released didn't help his case.  It struck me more as a guy whose head has gotten so bloated by the size of his ego.  "I'm Tom Brady.  I'm the All-American boy.  I didn't cheat."  He came off as arrogant and smug, and it looked like he thought he would either not get caught or not get punished because he's Tom Brady.  Which is completely absurd.

Even if the footballs in the AFC Championship Game had been properly inflated the whole time, it wouldn't have changed the outcome.  The Colts got their butts kicked.  And we all know that the balls used in the Super Bowl were legal, so there's nothing about New England's championship that's tainted.  But this is a team that's been caught trying to circumvent the rules before.  That's why the NFL has to come down hard on the Patriots.

So what kind of a punishment do they deserve as an organization?  I think the report is correct in that Kraft and Belichick had no knowledge or involvement.  But that doesn't change the fact this happened under their watch.  For Spygate, it was a $500,000 fine and the loss of draft picks.  I'd expect something similar here.  It's not their fault, so they don't deserve to be punished individually.  But their the bosses and have to be held accountable.  That's why the team won't escape something, even if it is just a fine.

Brady, on the other hand, deserves to be suspended.  He deliberately broke the rules and was cocky about it.  A message needs to be sent.  At the very least, he needs to sit out on Opening Night (although the Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Ben Roethlisberger quarterback matchup doesn't have quite the same appeal, but that shouldn't matter).  I think he needs to miss more than that.  Brady needs a multiple-game suspension.  I'm not saying the four that a substance-abuse policy violator gets, but at least two and I'd be OK with three.  But if Brady gets off with just a fine (or, worse yet, completely unscathed), Roger Goodell will be made to look like a total chump.

Goodell hasn't had a good year when it comes to suspensions.  The fact that Ray Rice got only two games was utterly ridiculous, then he tried to do an about-face and was ridiculed even more.  Then came Adrian Peterson, who he suspended indefinitely, only to have that overturned.  But the bottom line remains that Goodell still has the sole power to punish players under the personal conduct policy, and he still gets a lot of discretion when it comes to doling out suspensions.

The personal conduct policy was designed to deal with off-the-field issues in a very image-conscious league.  And while it's apples and oranges to compare Brady and Ray Rice, in a way what Brady did was worse.  He went against the integrity of the game.  He tried to gain an advantage by manipulating the equipment used on the field (which he didn't even need to do). The fact that he's one of the most recognizable stars in the game is completely irrelevant.  Tom Brady deserves to have the hammer dropped on him the same way it would be dropped on any other player who did the same thing.

Sure, the fact that it happened in the AFC Championship Game, and that it was the Patriots, and that, more specifically, it was Tom Brady gave this story a life of its own.  So what?  This isn't about the fact that a majority of the country hates the Patriots or that Brady is a love-him-or-hate-him personality.  It's about a guy who broke the rules and needs to face the consequences for those actions.  Anything less than a fine and suspension for Brady wouldn't be appropriate.  I don't care who it is.  The message needs to be sent that you can't do that and expect to get away with it.