NINER NOISE

From now on all my San Francisco 49ers posts can be found on Niner Noise.  My first article is titled “50 is Enough”. Check it out:

http://ninernoise.com/2011/04/13/50-is-enough/

Bringing the score to you,

Nick

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

Right now every hockey fan, writer and analyst is putting together their N.H.L. playoff predictions.  Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?  Click on the link for my predictions.  I think you’ll be surprised at some of my picks.

2011 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

Until the next puck drops,

Nick

SPIN-O-RAMA

Nathan Gerbe‘s goal last night may have been a complete fluke, but it was one of the best goals I’ve seen all season. It was a throwback to the Dennis Savard era. The spin-o-rama was a move made famous by Savard throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s. I was ecstatic to see a goal scored that way as I was a Savard fan back then and loved that move. It also didn’t hurt that the goal tied the game for the Sabres with just over nine minutes left. Thomas Vanek would score the winner in overtime and clinch a playoff spot for the Buffalo Sabres, a win they desperately needed. It was a great game to see and a great finish. Philadelphia now is in danger of slipping from the second seed to the fourth seed as they are now tied with Pittsburgh. Check out the highlight for yourself as Gerbe scores the tying goal midway through the third.

Now check out the great Dennis Savard, who made the spin-o-rama famous.

Until the next puck drops,

Nick

LETS GO BLUE JAYS

As an on again off again Toronto Blue Jays fan, I have to say it looks like we’re finally headed in the right direction.  It’s been 18 years since the Jays last won the World Series, in fact it’s been 18 years since they’ve made the playoffs.  Playing in the toughest division in Major League Baseball (M.L.B.) doesn’t help.  With the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees strong again, it’ll be tough for the Jays to get back into the post season again this year.  What gives Jays fans hope is a promising young group of players with potential to make this a strong team for years to come.  This is the way the Tampa Bay Devil Rays worked and they managed to sneak by a few times with a World Series appearance not too long ago.  Alex Anthopoulos wants to build a team strong enough to contend for years, not just now.  The Jays will never be able to outspend the Yankees or Red Sox, but at least with good scouting and smart decisions, they’ll be able to compete with them.

Last night, in the season opener, the Jays looked like a team ready to challenge anyone in baseball.  They looked like the teams from the early 1990’s.  They played exciting baseball; smart and fundamental baseball.  It also didn’t hurt continuing on last years home run numbers with four in this game.  J.P. Arencibia led the way batting 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBI’s while the Jays crushed the Minnesota Twins 13-3.  Today again the team played well led by Kyle Drabek who pitched seven innings allowing only one hit and one run while striking out seven.  He had no hits allowed until the 6th inning in a 6-1 win over the Twins.

The team looks poised to improve on last season’s success and quite possibly make a long awaited playoff appearance.  As a fan, I hope most of you will love the Jays again and the team can average 50 thousand in attendance for the games.  Fan support is a key component of a winning franchise.  With it, the players feel energized when playing at home.  They fed off that energy last night with over 45 thousand in attendance at the Rogers Centre.  This can be a baseball city again, the fans just have to give it a chance.  I believe John Farrell will be a great manager; I believe this team will win again.  Let’s go Blue Jays!

Bringing the score to you,

Nick

DRAFT THOUGHTS

All the mock drafts in the world can’t really predict the way the draft will turn out.  With mere speculation, analysts will tell you which players teams will choose.  Sure some will be right on, but really they’re wrong more times than right.  It’s just feeding in to our excitement as fans as to which direction our favorite teams will go.  As a San Francisco 49ers fan, I can’t wait to see who they land in the draft.  Many draft experts are thinking the 49ers will choose either a pass rusher or cornerback with their first pick and then look for a quarterback in the second round.  I am in agreement with this depending on who’s available when it comes to the seventh overall selection.

If Blaine Gabbert is there when the 49ers choose, I think no matter who is on the board still, whether it’s Patrick Peterson or Von Miller, Gabbert is the choice.  I know there have been hidden gems in the later rounds, but statistics show the quantity of successful quarterbacks chosen have been greater in the first round.  Though the 49ers need a skilled pass rusher and cornerback, quarterback has to take priority in this situation.  It takes the longest to develop and is the most important position in football.  That being said if Gabbert isn’t there when the 49ers draft and it looks that way, then by all means choose the best player available at a position of need.

They can look to draft Christian Ponder, who I believe would be the next best quarterback, but it’s likely they would have to move back in to the late first round to get him.  Gabbert is the only quarterback worth taking in the top 10.  He has the size, strength and mobility to be a star in this league.  The best thing he has which a quarterback needs most is moxie.  Gabbert has that quality; he is a leader.  I don’t think Cam Newton is worth a pick in the top 10; he looks too much like a very risky project.  This is what the 49ers had in Alex Smith.

Smith was a project and played the game too safe; he never had that moxie which is why he is a bust.  Aaron Rodgers had that quality and had Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan not gone for the safer choice, their puppet to be molded, the 49ers would have drafted Rodgers and been in a much better position now.  Who knows, they might have been contending for a Superbowl.

Either way things work out for a reason and though us 49er fans have suffered for the last eight years, I do believe the team has turned the corner.  Jim Harbaugh will deliver the right quarterback; he will deliver a winning team; he will bring the 49ers back to relevance in the National Football League.  With a strong draft and the right quarterback, I truly believe this team will contend again.

Bringing the score to you,

Nick

GO HABS GO

This weekend my family and I went on a trip to Montreal.  While there we visited family, went on a few tours and watched the Canadiens play the Washington Capitals.  I have been a Canadiens fan for nearly 22 years and had only been to one game, back in 1998, until now.  My brother, who came with me, became a Habs fan over the last 3 years.
It was a true honour to see the statues of the Habs greats outside the Bell Centre; players like Richard, Beliveau and Lafleur stood tall as I photographed each of them.  As I walked inside the Bell Centre, I felt like I was an 18 year old seeing the place for the first time again.  It was absolutely an amazing experience looking up at the rafters seeing all the retired numbers and Stanley Cup banners.  It didn’t hurt that we were 6 rows from the ice, near the centre.  The atmosphere inside was electric; chants of “Go Habs Go” and “Carey, Carey, Carey” echoed throughout the building.
The actual game itself wasn’t so great.  The Canadiens were sleeping from start to finish.  Only Carey Price was on his game stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 2-0 loss where Montreal was outshot 33-18.  It’s the third straight shutout loss for a Canadiens team struggling to stay in the playoffs.  Their playoff future seems secured but if they continue playing like this, it is possible they won’t make it.  They need to wake up and start playing better.
At the end of the game, Price was named the first star and as he came out he was tossing souvenirs to the crowd.

Overall in spite of the loss, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to go back.

Until the next puck drops,

Nick

CAMPBELL SHOULD BE COOKED

How is it that someone with only a high school diploma, is the Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations for the National Hockey League?  It is clearly evident through his actions recently, he is not qualified and should be let go.  He has shown favouritism to certain clubs, like the Boston Bruins, over the years.  How he has lasted nearly 13 years is beyond me.

On November 15, 2010, TSN and various other media outlets reported on a string of emails from Colin Campbell. The e-mail correspondence became a matter of public record in the wrongful dismissal case of referee Dean Warren against the N.H.L. and the emails were entered into evidence in the case, although specific references to names and dates were blacked out.  In these emails, Campbell calls Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard a “little fake artist” after Warren assessed Colin Campbell’s son, Gregory Campbell, a high-sticking minor on Savard and sending further emails to director of officiating Stephen Walkom complaining about the work of referees who gave Gregory a late-game penalty that resulted in a tying goal.  It’s funny how he considers Marc Savard a “little fake artist” when Savard’s career has been ruined with several concussions, the last coming from an illegal hit by Matt Cooke.  That’s the mark of a great VP; criticize a good hockey player who was hurt by his own son.

Campbell dropped the ball again with his “expertise” in the Zdeno Chara ruling with Mike Murphy nearly two weeks ago, which saw Chara get away with an illegal hit to Max Pacioretty; a hit still talked about today.  Now again he had another chance to right the ship.  Though I still believe Campbell is not fully qualified to be in the position he’s in, at least he handed out a pretty severe suspension to Cooke today.  The incident with Cooke occurred less than five minutes into the third period of Sunday’s Rangers and Penguins game, when Cooke went high and landed an elbow on Ryan McDonagh‘s jaw.  McDonagh had his back turned to the Penguins forward, and was in the process of shooting the puck into the offensive zone.

“Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,” said Campbell. “This isn’t the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response.”

Matt Cooke represents everything that’s wrong with this league.  He’s injured so many with his illegal hits and it’s time the league does something about it.  Enough is enough with this guy!  If it were up to me, I would banish him from the league!  I don’t think 14 games is enough of a suspension.  He’s already been suspended for minimal time and no progress has ever been made.  Simply put, Cooke hits to injure.  He’ll deny it but the evidence is all over.  So many injuries have come at Cooke’s expense, so why is he still allowed to play?  At least Campbell should have suspended him for the rest of the season with a hearing scheduled at a later date to discuss if Cooke should be allowed to play again.

If I were Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, I would release him.  I wouldn’t want him playing for my team or any association with him whatsoever.  Lemieux expressed his disgust with the punishment of the New York Islanders after a fight-filled game February 11, 2011 against Pittsburgh.  Lemieux called the game a travesty, said the N.H.L.’s suspensions of two New York players did not send a strong enough message to deter on-ice violence, and he implored the league to do more to protect player safety.  Well take a stand Mario; fine your player for his behavior!  If Lemieux does nothing, he’ll just be joining the list of the hypocrites running the N.H.L.

It’ll be interesting to see what the reactions, if any,  from Lemieux are and the response from Campbell’s decision.

Sources:  TSN, Wikipedia, National Post, Toronto Star

Until the next puck drops,

Nick

BILLIONAIRES VERSUS MILLIONAIRES

So the war of the Billionaires versus the Millionaires continues.  The N.F.L. lockout, barely over a week old, continues to be the hot topic in Football.  It’s kind of hard to have any sympathy for these guys when the N.F.L. is the most profitable league in North America.  So the players union decertified and certain high profile players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are suing the league.  What a mess.

Realistically the only people hurt by all this are the fans and the behind the scenes workers; I’m talking about the concession stand workers, the stadium maintenance workers, the people who deal with the experience of the game without touching the game itself.  Obviously the fans are hurt, but it’s those workers who will suffer the most.  Their livelihood is put on hold for some ridiculous fight for more money when both sides clearly have enough.  The funny thing is those employees have been brought in to this war.  They’ve been used as selling points to aid in the battle.  For anyone to say this lockout is about them, it’s just plain garbage.  This lockout has nothing to do about them; it has nothing to do about the fans.  Everything this lockout stands for is about more money.  Whether it’s $1 Billion or $1 Thousand, no matter because both parties want more of it.  It’s out of control.

Every major sport in the past decade or so has had a lockout or some form of strike for money control.  There is no such thing as “for the love of the game” anymore.  The funny thing is I wrote about this 11 years ago and nothing has changed; it’s only gotten worse.  So what can we the fans do?  Do we stop watching?  Do we stop going to the game?  Realistically that’s not going to happen.  We’re fans for a reason, we genuinely love sports.  So all we can do is sit here and take it on the chin every time some league fights over more money, which seems to be a 10 year thing.  When will they realize, eventually the fans will not agree with what I just said; eventually the fans will turn.  Many fans are the “average Joe’s” of this world, working a job which affords them a decent life and the ability to attend a few games here and there.  If they keep raising ticket prices, which is what they’ll keep doing in order to pay these ridiculous salaries, eventually the average person will stop attending.

The best bet for any sports league is to maintain a strong public profile where everything is running smoothly.  At best, even when they raise the ticket prices, the fans won’t grumble so much and still feel good about attending.  When there are constant battles between the owners and players, it just angers everyone, reducing the moral amongst the people who matter the most, the fans!

Bringing the score to you,

Nick

BRING BACK THE GLORY

With all the talk surrounding the National Football League (N.F.L.) lockout, the players union decertified and now the prospects boycotting the draft, I thought I’d leave that for another post and talk about my beloved San Francisco 49ers.

I can remember the incredible performance by the 49ers in Superbowl 24, it is the first game I remember watching.  A lot has changed since then, where the 49ers were always expected to be in the hunt for the Superbowl, now they are just trying to get back to a winning team.  It has been nearly a decade of futility filled with incredibly terrible coaching and poor personnel decisions.  Much of the blame has been directed on their owners, the Yorks.  Whereas the previous owner Eddie Debartolo Jr. did what it took to build a winner and remain a winner for 17 seasons with players like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, John York has taken the inexpensive route and produced 8 consecutive seasons without a winning record.

In the last couple of years John has turned over most of the control of his team to his son Jed.  Jed York is a brash young executive with the same passion for the game as his uncle Eddie had.  His problem is he is young and inexperienced which led to him hiring, quite possibly one of the worst head coaches ever, Mike Singletary over two years ago.  That coaching situation ended badly as has every other coaching situation since 2003.  Still though he will have growing pains as an executive, I believe Jed will bring the 49ers back to relevance in the N.F.L.  It all starts with the head coach he hired this year and his name is Jim Harbaugh.

When the 49ers hired him on January 7, 2011, it gave hope to a starved fan base longing for the good old days.  49ers fans can only hope this Stanford coaching product can be as good as his predecessor and mentor, Bill Walsh.  In Harbaugh I see a smart, confident coach who truly believes he can turn this franchise around.  I see a coach very knowledgeable in the x’s and o’s of football.  He does inherit a team with quite a bit of talent, only a few pieces away from being a playoff caliber team and dare I say, Superbowl contender.

Bringing the score to you,

Nick

THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Boy oh boy this kid is playing phenomenal!  Carey Price is going to be 24 this year and already looks like he is one of the best goalies in the N.H.L.  In a big game against the Boston Bruins this week, he was as sharp as ever stopping 30 of 31 shots.  He continued his success Saturday night with a 26 save shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s been sharp all season with flashes of greatness.  He leads the N.H.L. in wins, games played and minutes.  He is second in shutouts with eight and is in the top 10 in nearly every other meaningful category for goalies.  He is definitely a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy.  When you think of all the ups and downs he’s gone through over the last 3 years, and especially in the hockey mad city of Montreal, it’s truly remarkable how he’s responded this season.  We’re talking about a city where hockey is life and some players choose not to play there because of the immense pressure.  Price lives on and is beginning to fulfill his destiny as a franchise goalie and dare I say world class goalie.  He is adored by the fans now and could potentially “steal” a few rounds in the playoffs.

When you look back at his brief career so far only one saying comes to mind, “What doesn’t break you only makes you stronger”.  Well that is definitely the case here.  He’s gone from being cheered in 2008 to being booed in 2009 and replaced with Jaroslav Halak in early 2010.

Halak, who was a key part in the Montreal Canadiens reaching the Eastern Conference Final in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, was traded in the summer of 2010.  Many Canadiens fans were outraged over the deal and showed their displeasure while booing Price after a poor performance in an exhibition game this season.  I, for one, had never lost faith in Price.  I was and am happy they chose him over Halak even if Halak won the first meeting of the two Thursday night.  The Canadiens chose to keep the right goalie.  In my opinion, all he needed was a veteran presence to learn from, which he wasn’t getting with Halak.  Alex Auld has been that great influence on Price.

Now the chants of “Carey” in the Bell Centre are deafening and will continue throughout the playoffs should the Canadiens go on another run like last spring.

Until the next puck drops,

Nick