Friday, April 28, 2006

Getting sloppy at the top

The Worldwide Leader™ is not having the best stretch this week.

Skip Bayless, for one, seems to enjoy taking a contrarian stand just for the hell of it. (Longtime readers know that I don't particularly care for his work.) His latest is that Reggie Bush should forfeit the Heisman Trophy because of perks offered to his family.

As Jason Whitlock points out in his own excellent column, the Heisman voters are required to choose someone who adheres to the NCAA guidelines. However, I'm trying to wrap my mind around Bayless' logic at the moment. On the one hand, he thought Barry Bonds' records should stand; yet it's certainly clear to me that Bonds' performance benefitted far more from the drugs than Bush's performance did from his mom's house. Would he have somehow run for fewer yards if the family had a third-floor walk-up in Sausalito? Even if he had known about the details (and why would he?), what possible on-the-field impact would this have?

Then, of course, there's the hockey. John Buccigross is still top-of-the-line, but otherwise I'm quite disappointed. Terry Frei, front and center - based on four games of the first round of the playoffs, you're speculating that goaltending isn't as vital to team success as it used to be.

Let's mention the very first flaw in your argument: "The point is, a week into the first postseason of the New NHL, definitive conclusions would be premature." That's from your own column. So naturally you caveat everything you say in the column to try to have it both ways - but your only evidence is the poor statistics from the Dallas-Colorado series.

Have you noticed that, without Dwayne Roloson (.929 save %, 2.49 goals-against), the Oilers would have probably been swept by Detroit, instead of level at two games each? Have you seen the difference that Cam Ward made instead of Martin Gerber in the Carolina nets?

Most of all, the point entirely left out of the column - goaltending is deeper now than ever before. You don't have the consolation of thinking, "It's only one game, we can come back and score five on that patsy tomorrow night." And even when a number-one guy goes down, through injury or poor play, the backup is still very sharp. All around the league it's the same thing - Ray Emery in Ottawa, Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers (Kevin Weekes was their expected starter before the season began), Vesa Toskala in San Jose, Tim Thomas in Boston (who didn't make the playoffs)... With more scoring chances and the greater speed of the game, it becomes more important than ever to have a guy who can deflate the opponent with big saves, and there are more guys like that now than ever before.

Why, yes, I am a goaltender myself. Does that make me biased? Possibly. But even on my level I can see the difference between a guy who comes up big and keeps his team close vs. a guy who flubs his chance. No other major sport has quite the equivalent to a hot goalie, a guy who holds off incredible pressure for three, four, five minutes... A goalie can face a dozen tough shots, right after the other, and if he keeps the puck out, and his team comes right back and scores on the counterattack - you feel the whole rink just tilt in your favor. Even in a goal-line stand, you know the other guys are only getting four shots, max, and on the fourth they may just take the easy field goal.

I know I'm in the distinct minority here. Sports Guy refuses even to mention has foresworn the Lord's Own Hockey in his pages. But fair's fair - I'll leave basketball to him, and work my side of the rink.

UPDATE - he mentions the Joe Thornton trade today. But he also says:

But even though I loved hockey once upon a time... even though I have all these NHL memories from 1976-1994 that have been rendered pretty much useless, there came a point in my life where I had to make a decision: is it worth spending 400-500 hours every year caring about a franchise [Boston Bruins] that doesn't care about me, playing in a league that was becoming less interesting by the year? The answer was no.
I can dig it. The Mets nearly did that to me during the Dallas Green years - and I'd been a fan since their best player was Lee Mazzilli. With the Islanders, at least there was the false hope that we would start keeping some of the great young players we'd drafted, but those Mets teams were horrible: Bret Saberhagen, Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray... Even our good players, guys like Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeff Kent, and John Olerud, were joyless and mechanical.

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