Good Sports July 27th – Baseball Trade Deadline, NHL Offseason, World Cup Victory

Hey all, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can contribute some writing for the blog – Cory has been doing a ton with all his retrospectives, and I feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight.

Well I’m considering a way to have a regular column on the blog – and I already have one prepared – Good Sports! Instead of having posts whenever a significant event approaches, I want to try the column as a weekly post, highlighting those events of the week I deem worthy – could be playoffs that week, thoughts on significant NFL games, or trade rumors. We’ll see how thus goes the next few weeks and if it seems like I’ve got a good handle on it, hopefully it’ll stick.

1) Mid-season baseball

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The biggest part of this week’s Good Sports is for a mid season report on baseball – really the impetus for ramping up this column. Well, looking at my predictions from the beginning of the year, it isn’t top pretty. As with most sports expectants, I had high hopes for a number of teams and along the way we discovered some surprises. The biggest of these was the Minnesota Twins, in my opinion. I’d left them for dead, as lost as their neighbors in the NL, the Brewers. Under rookie skipper Paul Molitor, however, the team has expedited their rebuild and forced their way to the front of the AL Central division. While there was always a chance of the Royals repeating as a quality team and fighting for the division lead, I expected it would be the perennial champion Tigers as their opponent, not the rejuvenated Twins. Speaking of which, it looks as though the streak of four straight seasons as AL champs will be broken this season, likely by Kansas City or even Minnesota if they go on a hot tear at some point in the second half.

Another surprise has been the red-hot Houston Astros. They took off like a shot to start the season, but have cooled a bit leading up to the All-Star Break. The Angels nipped at their heels and are, as of right now, finally a game ahead in the AL West. If they don’t falter too much with injuries, the Astros might be able to muscle their way back into the postseason, a stark transformation from two years ago, when they had 111 losses (their third straight with more than 106). In fact, as of today, they’ve matched their wins from that season. I’d say this year will be pretty good for the state of Texas. Speaking of which, we thought the Rangers were dead in the water after Yu Darvish was gone before the season started. In third, they could surprise and challenge their cross-state rivals for a wild card spot.

dallaskeuchel

Otherwise, most predictions were fairly close, with the AL East a mess (8 games separate the woeful Red Sox and the surprise Yankees); the Mets and Nats battling it out for the NL East; St Louis dominating not only the NL Central, but all of baseball at 58-34 (with the Pirates and Cubs not far behind); and sure enough the Rockies are abysmal, bottoming out well below the division leading Dodgers. Highlights have included Todd Frazier’s HR Derby win, Bryce Harper’s emergence as a solid MVP candidate, Dallas Keuchel’s Cy Young worthy season, the rookie seasons of both Joc Pederson (LAD) and Kris Bryant (CHC), and the beginning of new commissioner Rob Manfred’s term as head honcho.

What will we see in the second half? Well, with the trade deadline looming, we’ll certainly find out new homes for Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto, two of the most coveted arms on the trade rental market. They also both want to get out of dead in the water teams, so expect them to land on a contender like one of the LA teams or Houston (or one of my hopes, Toronto). Ervin Santana has also returned to the Twins from his PED suspension, and struck out 8 in a loss to KC. Since then he’s done fine, nearly blowing his second game before turning in a gem last Friday (5-0 over Oakland). We’ll see the teams that are really going for postseason glory (Kansas City, St. Louis, Washington) spread themselves apart from those that have already pretty much faltered (Boston, Philly, Milwaukee). The postseason should be exciting, as it may be the first time in 22 years that Toronto has played there. Perhaps we’ll see a new World Series champion crowned? Seattle and San Diego have never won, but their seasons haven’t slipped away just yet. Houston certainly has the best chance to command their first Series victory.

2) NHL free agency and draft

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Since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June, a flurry of activity has taken place within the NHL. Now that the rush has died down, let’s take a moment to analyze what went on – the biggest stories. To start, the city of Glendale attempted to weasel their way out of a contract with the Arizona Coyotes early by way of a loophole buried deep within the paperwork between the two entities. This loophole stipulated that if the team stood to lose x amount of money over the rest of the period of time within the contract, Glendale could pull out and relinquish access to their stadium. Immediately commissioner Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL backed the Coyotes position and called Glendale out on their nefarious actions. By now the uproar has settled and the Coyotes will play in their current home – but for how long? Rumors persist that the NHL can move it fairly easy within a year or two to another location – whether that be their old stadium in the heart of Phoenix, or another city such as Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas or Quebec City. Which brings us to our second point – expansion.

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Around the same time, Bettman announced that the league would be opening up offers to cities that would be interested in adding an NHL team. They had until the end of July to apply and then the league will confer and concern themselves whether or not it’s feasible to expand to those applicable cities. As the month went on, only two cities applied officially: Las Vegas and Quebec City. The latter formerly hosted the Nordiques team from 1972-1995, when they transferred to Denver and promptly won the Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche. The former city has never hosted a team in the five major sports before, though they have had arena football and minor league baseball there. My belief on all this is the more the merrier, but there are pros and cons to the whole thing. First, a lot of pundits have mentioned that teams may become diluted with lesser quality athletes the more there are. My thought on this is that more younger athletes will push themselves to get a chance on a team, knowing it will be that much easier to get on a professional team. As it is, there are hundreds of professional teams anyway, so it can only enhance the spotlight on hockey to have more cities excited about their team. Second, cities like Las Vegas and Quebec (and other briefly potential sites like Hamilton, Ontario or Portland, Oregon) are smaller and thus less likely to build revenue and fan bases. To that I say it could be expected, but I personally want to try before being worried about the downfall of smaller teams. Parity in the league by having more teams means more chances for a team to rotate into the postseason, so I’m all for it. I was hoping for even more teams, such as from Seattle (what a mess, they’re really only waiting for basketball) and another Toronto team (biggest market in the NHL, deserves two teams), but that may come another day if all goes well in these two cities first.

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Lastly, the usual business of the league has run through the summer with free agency and the annual draft. The big news that everyone saw coming for quite a while was that Connor McDavid, wunderkind, would be selected first in the draft – though the lottery saw Edmonton come up first and Buffalo a little short. Not to be dissuaded from their lottery loss, Buffalo still has a franchise-caliber player in Jack Eichel. These two young players remind me quite a bit of 2010, when Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were thrust into the spotlight as the first two draft picks. Edmonton chose first that year as well, and while Taylor Hall has been a fantastic anchor on a team that has been slowly rising around him, Seguin had an immediate impact on a Bruins team ready to win their first cup in decades. He’s since gone to Dallas, where he nearly won the Hart Trophy and helped linemate Jamie Benn land the scoring title in 2014-2015. Long term, I think Seguin won out, and I believe the same will be true this year – Eichel is destined for just as much greatness as McDavid (who even Gretzky’s been quoted as saying may be the next Gretzky), though I’m rooting for Buffalo to win their first cup first. In free agency, it was a bit of a dearth of talent, where the most interesting news came from trades to free cap space on teams looking at free agents. Dallas was among the best of the pack, swinging trades that landed Patrick Sharp and Antti Niemi, as well as signing free agent Johnny Oduya. The Calgary Flames managed to snare Dougie Hamilton away from the Boston Bruins (who made some strange first-round picks this draft) in order to bolster their blue line for years to come. The Bruins also dumped Milan Lucic on the Kings, who were pleased to take him off their hands. My hometown team the NJ Devils had a bit of a shake-up by adding Ray Shero as GM, losing 28 year veteran GM Lou Lamoriello to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and changing a lot of internal staff. They may be destined for greatness eventually, but after three decades of it, they’re looking at the bottom of the barrel finally. I’m most interested to see how the Washington Capitals head into the new season, with veteran Blue TJ Oshie centering a team ready for their first Cup. On the opposite end of the country, San Jose looks to Martin Jones to command the net on a daily basis.

A lot of strange things happened this offseason, but it’s making me more and more excited for October to get here quicker.

3) FIFA and Women’s World Cup

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What a win for the US Women’s national team! I’m so proud of them, being a huge fan myself (full disclosure, I typically root for Italy or another nation in most international tournaments). The shape of FIFA right now is a bit in flux, as the information has come out about the tragic deaths in Qatar leading up to the 2022 Men’s World Cup and all the other controversy surrounding Sepp Blatter amid massive corruption. This was a win for US women’s soccer, however, as it highlighted the talent on our national team, and the support their fans provided. Viewership was up this cup (despite every effort to dissuade people, such as lacking live scores on any sports app available to smart phones), and the teams on the fields were internationally talented, representing each continent and having better parity than the men’s FIFA tournament last year seemed to, at least to me. The re-match in the final (Japan beat US late in 2011’s final match) was one for the ages, and it proves that soccer as a US sport is on the rise. Here’s to all the great players (especially the ones from NJ) – Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Megan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday, Julie Johnston, Ali Krieger, Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly and finally Abby Wambach, who finally got her World Cup win.

Okay, well those three pieces were a bit generalized – I’d like next week to focus on actual timely events – but I think you get the gist of what I’m going for with this column. Here’s looking forward to an exciting week in the world of sports!

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