Good Sports: A Bunch of Hockey

With baseball narrowing itself down to ten teams, we next take a look at that marvelous sport, Canadian baseball on ice, if you would. Not many people are calling it these days, but maybe we can bring that back. Of note is that while baseball slims its remaining teams, the NHL added a new team (finally) to its group, the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s a shame they aren’t joined by a partner in Seattle or Quebec, but I guess we all digress.

We’ll start out our predictions for where Vegas and their fellow Pacific rivals will land:

Pacific Division

Edmonton Oilers

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This is suddenly Connor McDavid’s division to lose. I say that with all due respect to the rest of the Oilers, but McDavid already owned the league last year with 100 points in his first full year of NHL hockey. This year will likely be a much more difficult test, as teams can start their defense plans against him, although that never stopped the likes of other superstars like Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby before him. It won’t be an easy feat in a difficult division, but he has plenty of friends to help him get there – goalie Cam Talbot proved himself by getting the Oilers back to the playoffs last year; Milan Lucic signed a seven-year contract last summer “just to get the chance to play with McDavid”; Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have waited patiently for the good times to come in Edmonton, and the former welcomed it by signing an eight-year stint. They’ll be joined by Ryan Strome and Jussi Jokinen, who will want to cash in on their best opportunity for relevance after striking out in Brooklyn and Raleigh. My take is that McDavid will lead the Oilers to their first division title in thirty years.

San Jose Sharks

I have put my faith in Martin Jones. When you assemble a team that goes to the Stanley Cup, and you maintain that team for the following two seasons, it’s clear that something’s working well enough and tinkering may be the only course of action. Perhaps cap room limits blockbuster trades, or veterans like Patrick Marleau escape to Toronto. My faith lies, however, in the goaltending skill of Jones, to take the team back into a deep run through the playoffs. The usual suspect return, including captain Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joel Ward. Joe Thornton will continue his career for a third consecutive “final year” but that aforementioned missing left wing Marleau will be replaced by the only real newcomer, Jannik Hansen. Farm players like Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi will need to step up play, and Hansen needs to prove that he can score on the first line if this team really does want to buck insanity and win the division with the same old team.

Anaheim Ducks

Injuries could derail Anaheim’s plans to repeat as division champs, but my guess is that it’s more than that – age is starting to catch up to star players Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, so the squad will have to have youngsters step up or utilize their potentially last best chance to steal this away from the upstart Oilers. The good news is that John Gibson, he of 46 wins in the past two seasons, is the real deal after a handful of years with rotating goaltenders post-Giguere. He’ll be backed up by former Vancouver Canuck and Buffalo Sabre Ryan Miller, looking to slip into the sunset on a contender. Patrick Eaves was a nice surprise last year, but he may likely regress, as will Jakob Silfverberg. If the veterans can hold it together, we’ll be looking at some more California contention.

Calgary Flames

I was going to have Arizona in the fourth spot, but a certain aging hockey god pushed Calgary ahead. That’s right, Jaromir Jagr has made it back into the league for another year, coinciding with his 45th year on Earth. This time he’s back in the West, bringing his talents to a Canadian team for the first time. While he’s more likely to play third and fourth line minutes, he’ll be a publicity boost and even a points boost on the power play and penalty kill. In front of him on the depth chart will be several men who were born after his back-to-back Cups with the Penguins. Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau were all included in that, as well as Matthew Tkachuk, whose father Keith played against Jaromir in the 1990s on teams like the Jets, Blues and Coyotes. Luckily it isn’t all kids born post-Cold War. Veterans like captain Mark Giordano will hold the defense in check, while Mike Smith has come up from Phoenix to tend goal. He may be a bigger question than Jagr, as his win-loss record over the past four seasons, marred by injuries and inadequacy, stands at 75-102, including the ugly 14-42 record in 2014.

Arizona Coyotes

I wanted to put the Coyotes above the Flames, I really did – but there’s a lot of untested youth emerging in the desert. The biggest question mark here is how will Antii Raanta finally fare as a true number one goaltender? He was stellar as the backup in Chicago on cup runs and spelled Henrik Lundqvist beautifully in New York, but can he take over a team looking to return to contention? The defense is also looking different after abandoning Connor Murphy to the Blackhawks in exchange for Niklas Hjalmarsson. He’ll look to pair with Jason Demers behind future captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski. Those names sound good on paper, but we’ve never seen them gelled together on the same team. Up front, a healthy Max Domi will look to former Ranger Derek Stepan to become the first true stud scorer on the team. The post-Shane Doan era looks a bit shaky, but I hold out hope that they can form the first truly exciting team in Glendale since their deep run in 2012.

Los Angeles Kings

Since the three-year run where the Kings won two Cups and lost the WCF against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team has slipped away from quality. Their aging goaltender Jonathan Quick fell to injuries early last season, allowing for an excuse as to why they missed the postseason (although a 39-35-8 record is nothing to scoff at after the news). Anze Kopitar has promised a return to the top this season, but he’ll do so with a rejuvenated Quick, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Tyler Toffoli has stepped up and will likely lead the team into their next era, so eyes should check on him to see where the squad will go. My guess is that they’ll make a good run, but will be stifled by the youth in Edmonton and the better squads in San Jose and Anaheim. There’s always a chance for trade, as many of their veterans are nearing the final years on their contracts.

Vegas Golden Knights

The biggest news out of Vegas this week is obviously no longer about this hockey team. What would have been a momentous occasion for the first professional team in any of the four major sports is now overshadowed by the tragic shootings this past weekend. The NHL and their new team have announced a $300,000 donation to the victims and first responders, which goes a long way for their first charitable image. I’m sure there will be much in the way of catharsis for this young team, whose first game is in Dallas on Friday. Their first homestand begins next Tuesday when they host Arizona, and all eyes will be on veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury as he leads a team of cast-offs and newcomers that hope to put together a reasonable amount of wins to prove themselves as a serious hockey team. James Neal will hopefully appear soon after sustaining a broken hand in last year’s Western Conference Finals, so he can lead those younger players in example. The potential star in Vegas will actually be a Russian, Vadim Shipachyov, who will turn KHL scoring into gambling gold.

Vancouver Canucks

Unfortunately for the Sedin twins, this appears to be the end of the road. It remains to be seen if it’s the final year of their careers, but it is certainly the last year on their contract, and they’re 37. If it’s the sunset on their great time in Vancouver, it’s a shame, because virtually every team looks to be better than them, even the new one. It’ll be a neat surprise if they start off commanding the division like they did early last season, but in all likelihood the team will fall apart. The only talent here beyond the aging veteran Sedins are center Bo Horvat (the future), veteran Loui Eriksson and journeyman Thomas Vanek. With Jacob Markstrom between the pipes, it might not surprise anyway to see them fade behind better built squads.

Central Division

Minnesota Wild

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Devan Dubnyk is three years removed from his breakout performance as a surprise 32-game winner in Minnesota. He pretty much single-handedly revived the squad that had feared it’s best years were being squandered on extensive contracts for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Instead, with the insanely good play in net, and decisively good performances from those two and their teammates, including Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter and the revitalized Eric Staal, who cashed in on a surprising three-year deal last summer, proving he was worth the money. He’s joined by another player looking to improve from his less than stellar performance on a down and out team in Marcus Foligno, who was one of the last remaining Buffalo Sabres from their lean years. He’ll hopefully be the last peg needed to launch Minnesota back into the top of the heap.

Nashville Predators

An extensive postseason run ended in disappointment in Pittsburgh as the Predators fell 4-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals. The shame of it is, as with all losing teams, that the length of the playoffs did not result in awards, only exhaustion. As they look to capitalize on the stellar team they’ve put together, Nashville will hope they can return to another Stanley Cup Finals with much of the same squad that got them there. Gone is captain and stalwart Mike Fisher, turning to Roman Josi in his stead. Returning stars PK Subban, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg are joined by, of all people, former Penguins Cup-winner Nick Bonino. There’s an uphill battle to prove they can stick with the big boys, but this is finally the golden years for the Music City gang.

Dallas Stars

Dallas is due for an upswing, after a handful of injuries pushed the team just below quality. Besides, they’ve definitively solved their goalie problem, allowing former back-up Antti Niemi to head off to Pittsburgh, while Kari Lehtonen has accepted his current role behind Ben Bishop. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn hope to be healthy for the entire year, while Jason Spezza would love to prove his haters wrong. Alexander Radulov turned goodwill from the Canadians into a five-year contract, so he’ll need to prove he was worth it, more of the Montreal Radulov than the belligerent Nashville Radulov from 2007. I’m thinking that this team can put it together with a good run and the resurgence of Ben Bishop.

Chicago Blackhawks

It’s high time for the Chicago Blackhawks to miss the playoffs. Why do you say that, when they have two Hall of Fame players in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane? Well, despite their superiority for nearly a decade, there’s a sinking feeling that they’ve cast aside too much for too little this offseason. Gone from the team in trades are Marcus Kruger, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin and Scott Darling. Johnny Oduya, Trevor van Riemsdyk left for other teams, while Brian Campbell retired. The most tragic loss is Marian Hossa, struggling with a strange and rare allergic skin disorder that won’t allow him to wear his own equipment, sidelining him for an entire season (or more). The return is only former Coyotes Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin, former Blue Jacket backup Anton Forsberg, and returning faces Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. Unless Corey Crawford puts up one of his classic career performances, there’s a large likelihood that we’re looking at the first misstep in the downswing of this dynasty.

Winnipeg Jets

Wait, Steve Mason is the Winnipeg goalie now? That doesn’t bode well for Winnipeg, who went from an ancient fragile Ondrej Pavelec to the weak former Flyer. Signing Nikolaj Elhers to a seven-year deal on opening night is a boon for the Jets, as it shows they’re looking to build around him for the future. Patrik Laine will attempt to avoid a sophomore slump, while veterans Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien will struggle to keep Winnipeg afloat. I’m sorry, the Mason thing sinks this team – I can’t see them being more than a .500 team at best.

St. Louis Blues

Injuries have already dampened the spirits of a team that may have watched its recent best years fly by, losing players like Kevin Shattenkirk and Nail Yakupov to trade or free agency. Left behind, several people got injured in camp or otherwise – Patrick Berglund had shoulder surgery and may come back before Christmas. Alex Steen and Jay Bouwmeester should hopefully be back before November, but the worst news was that future star Robby Fabbri reinjured his knee that kept him out from last year’s play. The good news is that Jake Allen is healthy and showed he can command the team’s net, but that may not be enough in a team on the downswing. Mike Yeo has a lot of work cut out for him, this the first year as the new coach.

Colorado Avalanche

What to say about the Avalanche? After Patrick Roy jumped the sinking ship, it only seems to get worse and worse. The once-proud franchise is likely going to waste another peak year for Semyon Varlamov, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. They’re also likely to diminish the chances for Matt Duchene, who despite receiving an ‘A’ through the pre-season, will likely be traded to a contender before he gets wasted as well. It won’t be tanking in the same way as last year, but there has to be some direction injected back into Denver, or this will just be another lost season.

Atlantic Division

Toronto Maple Leafs

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It’s finally time to get excited about hockey in Toronto again. With a trio of talented young players – William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner – they’re headed for first place. Oh, what’s that? You thought I forgot Auston Matthews? Of course I didn’t, but this team is already so good even without him. In goal you’ve got Frederik Andersen, the man that solves what for years was a source of endless frustration – the tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier/Jonas Gustavsson. He broke out in Anaheim, but I’m fully confident he’ll shine in Toronto. Patrick Marleau followed him from California to put in one last good year or so in one of the original six teams, with all eyes on whether the veteran can perform like he did in San Jose. The defense remains a slight question, but beyond Gardiner and Morgan Rielly the recent Cup winner Ron Hainsey will make his case for veteran stability. For the first time in recent memory, Toronto has their most well put-together team.

Florida Panthers

Every year there’s a team that was totally snuffed by injuries. Last year, it was Columbus that came back from an abysmal 2015 to surprise everyone. This time around I think it will be Florida, who will see Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov come back after a combined 76 missed matches. They’ll miss the ageless Jagr, but youngster Roberto Luongo will certainly provide that veteran sensibility in his stead. He’ll be spelled once in a while by former Toronto netminder James Reimer, who’d love to bounce back as well. They’ll be helped by a Finnish expatriate, Henrik Haapala and the Russian Evgenii Dadonov, who was originally drafted by the Panthers and played in 2009 and 2010 before heading off to the KHL for five seasons. Could some European influence help the Cats back into the postseason? I think so.

Boston Bruins

Boston has steadily improved their foibles to a respectable level, and look to come back into the playoffs. Tuukka Rask is still the stud he’s always been, so without injuries to star players like David Krejci or David Backes will save them from being forgotten this season. Another David, this one’s surname Pastrnak signed a Matthew Stafford-esque contract this offseason, so the Bruins will hope he contributes almost immediately. I have faith that they can put together one last run before Zdeno Chara wanders into the sunset.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Stop the presses, Steven Stamkos is back! Boy, the Lightning love when their insanely fragile captain returns from injury, don’t they? Well, believe the hype, because when he isn’t fracturing something, he’s emptying pucks into the net. The team as a whole isn’t anything to sniff at either, as Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov should be stars in their own right. With Andrei Vasilevskiy moving up into the lead position, we’ll get the chance to see his first full season there, and I wouldn’t doubt he contends for the Vezina. An underrated team, I won’t be surprised if the squad storms up the standings and steals the division from the Maple Leafs.

Ottawa Senators

Last season was the feel-good time for the Ottawa Senators. They were the Cinderella team, a squad that has never won a Cup with the modern iteration. Their goaltender’s wife battled cancer, and the team rallied around the pair, invigorating every teammate to play harder. While they won’t slack just because time has moved on, there’s the prospect that Craig Anderson won’t play like his life is on the line. Several younger players like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman may turn out to be overrated, while veterans like Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan will struggle to prove their worth in contract years. I’m thinking only a .500 team based on their better rivals.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are getting there. Jack Eichel signed an eight-year extension on opening day, following suit like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and other phenoms before him. The future is bright, with Rasmus Ristolainen leading a superb class of defenseman and Robin Lehner hopes to try his hand at a 25 or 30-win season. Phil Housley has his work cut out for him, but there’s potential there. A burgeoning farm system will help ease the transition, but it may take another year for them to truly be the team Buffalo deserves. If the division were any easier, this team could sneak into the playoffs, but I think we’re still some time away from a consistently brilliant group of players.

Montreal Canadiens

The wheels have fallen off in Montreal. After letting PK Subban go to Nashville, it was becoming clear that Marc Bergevin didn’t know what he was doing. With up-and-down seasons from Carey Price all the time, we never know which Price we’re getting. Max Pacioretty has given his best years as captain, and he’ll try to get new teammates Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner to prove they haven’t already seen their best. Alex Galchenyuk would love to put his pitiful 2017 behind him and improve, able to contribute to a squad that happened to still win 47 games despite him. Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber quietly had nice seasons, but they’d love to push the Canadians to the next level, getting to the Finals for the first time since they won it all in 1993. Who knows? This may be completely off-base, but I have a feeling they won’t make it.

Detroit Red Wings

I have to feel for the Red Wings. My hometown team, the New Jersey Devils, went through this after their surprise Cup run in 2012. With Zach Parise homeward bound in Minnesota and Ilya Kovalchuk betraying us for Russia, we struggled to ever put together a squad worthy of playing on the ice. Similarly, Detroit has seen the great Pavel Datsyuk escape to the KHL and aging veterans like Henrik Zetterberg break down. With the youth not truly retaining that dynasty, it’s not looking good for a return to the postseason in the Motor City. After the Joe Louis was taken down, players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyqvist and Dylan Larkin are the future to watch in the Little Caesars Arena. A goaltending controversy is brewing between the elder Jimmy Howard and the clearly better Petr Mrazek, so that will waste time in the rebuild. Let’s see how quickly the fire sale appears.

 

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh Penguins

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After back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, it’ll be tough to dismiss the Penguins from winning a division. Oh wait, they didn’t actually win the division the past two years? That’s right, the Washington Capitals dominated the Metropolitan the past two seasons, meaning winning the division doesn’t pass for much in the end. With Pittsburgh’s teams firing on all cylinders by June, it’s fair to assume they would still be the odds-on favorite to top the class here, with production coming from elite players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to supporting stars like Phil Kessel and Kris Letang, all the way down to newcomers like Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. I expect them all to continue a great run, and I personally expect them to dominate the division despite recent history. Matt Murray has been handed the keys to the franchise after Marc-Andre Fleury departed to begin Vegas’ history, so he has everything on the line to prove he’s elite as well. Two straight Cups to start a career wasn’t shabby, but let’s see what he does now….

Columbus Blue Jackets

Being the new kids on the block is no longer an excuse here. After almost two decades of inadequacy, Columbus has finally coming into its own, finding a franchise goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky and star shooters like Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Alex Wennberg. Defense has been bolstered by Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, while the offseason acquisition of Artemi Panarin is gold. This squad is ready to hit the big time, and after putting up a franchise-best 50-24-8 record. If they don’t exactly repeat that level, they’ll certainly be in the mix for top three. If the injury bug doesn’t bestow itself upon the Ohio capital, we should be seeing this team finally ready to take on the playoffs like a beast, perhaps being the first early-2000s team to actually win a Stanley Cup.

Washington Capitals

I’m not going to lie, I’m getting a bit disappointed by the Washington Capitals’ narrative. Year in and year out, we pick the team to go the distance, only to watch them sputter in the first or second round. You could chalk that up to the rivalry matchups with New York or Pittsburgh, and some of it has to do with luck, but again – what’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting better results. This offseason I was prepared for one of the most surprising trades in NHL history, allowing Alex Ovechkin to skate off to an actual contender, rebuilding for a new era. Those trade rumors bubble larger every day, though with Barry Trotz and Ted Leonisis fully supportive of Ovechkin’s desire to play in the Seoul Winter Olympics, I expect him to be happy to play for them this year. Without a chance to finally win Russia gold, he’s going to be perhaps the hungriest he’s ever been for a Stanley Cup. The tragedy is that if they don’t win this year, he could be stuck watching his countrymen nab an easy gold in February. Instead, he’ll hope Braden Holtby plays like his normal Hall of Fame-bound self, and old teammates like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and TJ Oshie play like they’re desperate too.

Carolina Hurricanes

Here’s where my predictions fly wildly off the rails. I’ve been talking for a few years about the resurgence of hockey in Raleigh, a new era for the team that Eric Staal and Cam Ward built. With Staal revitalized in Minnesota, Cam Ward has finally taken a backseat to what Carolina hopes will be their next great netminder – Scott Darling. After a flashy turn behind Corey Crawford in Chicago, he’s earned his place on a secondary team looking to return to the playoffs. Carolina also now owns the longest drought in the league, having missed since 2009, where the were knocked out by the Penguins’ third Cup run. There are plenty of familiar faces, like Eric’s brother Jordan, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and even the return of veteran Justin Williams. Victor Rask is a bit of a question after a strange 2016-2017 campaign, but he’s the number one center Carolina needs to bring them into the 2020s with style.

New York Rangers

Fifth? You’re putting the vaunted Rangers in fifth place? Yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking Henrik Lunqvist is finally breaking down. With the team bleeding blue all over the country the past few years (Derek Stepan, Arizona; Derrick Brassard, Ottawa; Keith Yandle, Florida; Cam Talbot, Edmonton; Kevin Klein, retirement) they’re left with only a few players from the 2014 Cup run other the Swedish keeper – Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and captain Ryan McDonagh. The boys in blue will hope Kevin Shattenkirk can come in and add scoring depth to their defense corps, and Mika Zibanejad will hopefully step up and prove he was worth losing Brassard. Their backup for Lundqvist, though? Ondrej Pavelec. I’m sorry, but there’s simply no insurance if Henrik goes down. He’s going to be asked to play way more than should be expected of him at this age, and that’ll be the downfall of this once-proud franchise. Long live King Henry.

New Jersey Devils

With Carolina my choice for rebuilding team expected to exceed expectations, it falls to the Devils to disappoint in their return to the postseason. They’ve done everything right, however, in assembling a team for their new era – acquiring Marcus Johansson from Washington, lucking out to the number one pick in the 2017 draft, Nico HIschier and ensuring their bottom six have some talent with Brian Boyle. Unfortunately, veteran center Travis Zajac is out for months with a pectoral injury that required surgery. Nico HIschier is underrated, pundits claiming this year’s draft class the weakest in a decade. To top that off, Boyle was diagnosed with cancer, limiting his appearances this year. While we anticipate his health improving, it’s just indicative of a franchise that can’t catch a break ever since Lou Lamoriello made a deal with the devil to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta. If nothing else, it’ll be good to see Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique and Corey Schneider continue to play decisively.

New York Islanders

The only less surprising rumor than Alex Ovechkin getting traded away from Washington is anything surrounding star player John Tavares. For the past three years, he’s been forced to re-iterate his love for Long Island and his desire to cultivate a winning culture in Brooklyn. The franchise is in disarray in several areas, though, least of all that their stadium doesn’t even want them there, claiming they make more money when the team is away than home. Tavares would do well to consider a trade to a better team, and allow the team that raised him to let the kid move on to better pastures. I mean, the team is using longtime Shark backup Thomas Greiss as their goalie. Sure, he stood on his head late last year, running up an eventual record of 26-18-5. There just aren’t high expectations. And yes, they stole Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy from everyone, but there isn’t much more to be excited about until they settle things with goalie and stadium. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Philadelphia Flyers

After that shining recommendation of the Islanders, you’re surprised I let the Flyers fall below them? The long frustrated team has even less to be intrigued by, given the lackluster play of supposed superstars Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere. The band-aid needed is for an upgrade from Steve Mason to Brian Elliott, although that goalie turned a surprise performance with Calgary into a two-year deal. Of course then in turn he’ll probably end up platooning with Michael Leighton, the ever-ready backup in the city of Brotherly Love. The goals for were in the bottom ten, barely eclipsing 200. Lucky for the Flyers that the Devils passed on exactly what they need, a dynamic scorer in Nolan Patrick, the second pick of the 2017 draft. It makes more sense for both teams, that HIschier went to New Jersey and Patrick went here, but it will be a hell of a lot of fun conjecturing over the course of their careers to see how much the rival teams worked out with these two. If Elliott turns out to have another unreal season, and Giroux, Voracek and Wayne Simmonds turn out to be able to bounce back from an off year, maybe I’m wrong. Looks like they’re still just below average, unfortunately.


As for the playoffs I’m going to have to go with:

Edmonton over Arizona, as the surprise of the Pacific Division goes up against a dominant Oilers team, who in turn must face down the winner of San Jose-Anaheim. That California conflict is called in favor of the Ducks, who can’t handle Connor McDavid and his speed-defying tricks.

Minnesota is ousted too early by the upstart Calgary Flames, who then face off against Dallas, who has knocked out the unsuspecting Predators. With two underdogs up against each other, it’s less surprising that the biggest dog of them all, Jaromir Jagr, comes out on top to bring the Western Conference down to two Canadian teams: Calgary and Edmonton.

The battle of Western Canada is won in favor of the Edmonton Oilers, which is fashionable since Connor McDavid finally actually is the second coming of Wayne Gretzky, but it’s understandable given their palpability.

In the East, Toronto must try to take care of the rejuvenated Hurricanes, but they’re blown over easily. Florida handles an injury-riddled Boston, leaving Miami in for a treat.

Pittsburgh can barely handle the return of Steven Stamkos, but somehow come out on top when Matt Murray stands on his head. Columbus is no match for a hungry Alex Ovechkin, prompting pundits to propose that the league is in collusion for allowing yet another Pittsburgh-Washington match-up.

Maybe it’s just me, but I need Washington to win almost as badly as Ovechkin does, so I’d love to see them come out on top of Pittsburgh, while Florida surprises everyone by snuffing the youngsters up in Toronto. Florida is in for their own surprise when they come to the American capital, where Roberto Luongo shows he’s no match for Braden Holtby.

In the Stanley Cup, Edmonton goes for the first Canadian cup since 1993, and just might succeed if not for the insane desire to win the first in the franchise for the Washington Capitals. At this way-too-early juncture, I’m going with Washington over Edmonton in the Finals.

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Tomorrow in Good Sports we’ll continue our hell week by talking about the immediate Division Series that start in playoff baseball. Who will outlast the other? Well, I can’t tell you now, that defeats the purpose.

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Good Sports: Wild-Card Frenzy!

Ah, the smell of cider in the air! Leaves are falling, the threat of imminent war is upon us – must be October baseball! First, we’ll take a look at the two wild-card games that are coming up tonight and tomorrow:

Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees
Can the Twins slide into the Bronx and stifle the stylings of Yanks pitcher Luis Severino?

Tonight’s game features the Minnesota Twins back in the postseason for the first time since 2010, and the New York Yankees back in the big show for the first time since 2015. Minnesota sort of squeaked by towards the end, though that’s the nature of the game now with the wild-card game. The Yankees had a postseason slot wrapped up fairly early, and most of their September was spent watching phenom Aaron Judge blast his way to the rookie home run record (52). They better be ready, however, as the Twins have sneakily been the fastest team since the All-Star break. They’ve been the best baserunning team in baseball according to Fangraphs’ and they’ve gotten 87 home runs since August 8th. Led by a group of non-household names (let’s be honest, outside of Minneapolis name five) they’ll be bargaining on star pitcher Ervin Santana handling the dangerous young bats in the Bronx. Luis Severino will take the mound for the Bombers, and he’ll likely try to capitalize on his career year (14-6). Last time the Yankees were in the playoffs, they lost the Wild-Card game to Houston, and oddly enough the Twins have faced the Yankees in the ALDS their last two appearances, in 2009 and 2010, being swept both times. My guess is that Minnesota has put together something special for the first time in a while, and although the Yankees have a solid, young team, and are playing with home-field advantage – Minnesota has history on their side. Of the ten games played since the second wild-card team was added in 2012, seven visitors have won their match. I’m going with Minnesota 4-1 for this one.

Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies
Will Blackmon snake past the Diamondbacks, or will a rocky start put an end to Colorado’s postseason?

Whew! As a lifelong Rockies fan, I tried to stay as optimistic as possible, although we’ve only ever been to the postseason 3 of our 24 years previous. Heck, we’ve only been above .500 six of those years. Well, luckily they pulled through – even if it came down to the absolute wire. Next up, naturally is a rivalry game where new stud Jon Gray gets to face off against superstar Zach Greinke, who would love to prove that it wasn’t just being on the Dodgers that made him great*. What will hopefully be an exhilarating pitching duel may get overshadowed by the hitting prowess of the Rox sluggers – namely Charlie Blackmon, who’s having a career year batting .331, best in the National League – alongside 37 home runs and 104 RBIs. Will that translate alongside Nolan Arenado, batting .309 with 130 RBIs himself, although he was recently battling a hand injury. This will also likely be the last postseason berth for Carlos Gonzalez, at least as a Rockie. Will he be the hero in the game, or will we finally see the true first chance for Paul Goldschmidt to shine, after years waiting for an opportunity at autumn glory? He’s in the same level as the Rockies best, hitting in 120 runners as well as 36 homers. The redemption of closers was in play for both teams this year, as Fernando Rodney and Greg Holland both shined on new teams, so we’ll see a great final out. I give the edge to Arizona, who owned the season series 11-7, including a 5-4 record at home against Colorado. It’ll be tight, but I’m going with an Arizona 8-4 win.

*-Yes, I know he showed off in Kansas City beforehand, which got him to LA in the first place…


As for my predictions beyond this, you’ll have to wait for Thursday….tomorrow we’ll have a preview of the National Hockey League’s new season, including the first year for the newest member of the league, the Vegas Golden Knights, who now have the unenviable job of picking up their city’s spirits.

Podcast October 2 – Ghosted and Big Mouth

Somehow the Interjections podcast won’t back down….

Here we are with yet another hot button topic – gun control, incredibly important in light of the events of October 1st in Las Vegas.

Afterwards Jimmy and Tristan discuss two recent comedy television premieres, FOX’s Ghosted – starring Adam Scott and Craig Robinson as paranormal detectives, and Big Mouth – an animated coming-of-age story that sees Nick Kroll voicing his younger self and John Mulaney voicing a younger Andy Goldberg as they traverse the terrible years of puberty.

Tune in below, and never forget – comment responsibly:

Music to Your Ears – The Killers, Fergie and Sleeping with Sirens

This is a big week for us here, as we welcome the onset of autumn. The Killers have released their first album in five years, while Fergie has her first in eleven. We have another album from Canadian songstress Lights, and two post-hardcore bands with new music: Circa Survive and Sleeping with Sirens. Check it all out below, starting with the return of everyone’s favorite Springsteen impersonator:

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

This has been a long time coming – the culmination of a long career for Brandon Flowers and company that has produced a total of five albums as well as a rarities record, which by now is much adored by their fans and critics alike. Flowers came into his own on his second solo record, 2015’s The Desired Effect. Before this, especially indicative on the previous solo work, 2010’s Flamingo, he was considered jokingly too much of a Springsteen knockoff. Since then, luckily, Flowers found the right amount to represent his hero, and utliized his own talents to formulate a beautiful collection of albums, each better than the last – starting with the last Killers album, Battle Born. The sound the band has cultivated over the last fifteen years is a blue-collar one, by way of Vegas. The glitz of the strip poured itself all over the first album, and by the time it was clear that Flowers’ fandom of Bruce would color everything after, it was Sam’s Town. Perhaps letting loose his intentions too early, it was only a matter of time before they got it right. Wonderful Wonderful takes off like a shot with a rocket of a song in the titular track, followed quickly by the first single “The Man” which I reviewed favorably enough earlier this year. The Killers certainly aren’t stuck in a “Rut” like the next song suggests, as it continues to climb favorably towards the peak song, “Run for Cover”. Unfortunately, despite the perfection of that Thunder Road sound Flowers has always desired, it stumbles towards the end, with a strange namedrop or two and a bit too much of sentimentality and nostalgia. Then again, wasn’t that what most critics complained about with Bruce?

Key Tracks: Run For Cover / Tyson vs. Douglas / Rut / Out of My Mind

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – The Killers, Fergie and Sleeping with Sirens

Podcast September 25th – Assassin’s Creed, It and mother!

As it’s been for about two months, we’ve been keeping afloat here at the Interjections podcast by supplementing the journeyman Cory Taylor with the capable Jimmy Milliron – where he and Tristan More discuss films as well as current events.

The films discussed this week are Assassin’s Creed, a late entry in the 2016 holiday season that saw the adaptation of the stealth-driven action video game starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard; It, the latest book-to-screen version of the creepy clown classic from Stephen King that debuted two weeks ago; and another horror, but of the psychological and metaphorical variety, mother! which stars Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character who must learn how to live with her increasingly oblivious husband played by Javier Bardem.

All this and more below, but first we talk about the biggest goings on of the week – including most importantly the on-field demonstration of kneeling during the National Anthem at sporting events. Listen in to get Tristan’s and Jimmy’s takes on what is easily the hottest topic this past weekend:

As always, remember to comment responsibly.

Music to Your Ears – Foo Fighters, Rostam and The Lone Bellow

Wasn’t sure if I’d pick this up this week, but beyond the new Foo Fighters album, I didn’t expect anything new. I was able to scrape together a few new albums and a single, though. Take a look:

Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

Woof. I was deeply enamored with Ariel Pink’s 2010 album Before Today, which featured the fantastic track “Round and Round”. He followed that up with a stellar album Mature Themes, in which the great song Kinski Assassin kicked off the action. Unfortunately for us, this newest album is dead on arrival. Screeching out of the gates, “Time to Meet Your God” is a grating request to turn down your speakers. “Feels Like Heaven” attempts to remedy the misfire by toning down the instrumentals, but the singer-songwriter doesn’t seem to care if this fades from memory before we even finish. The prevailing mood settles somewhere between ethereal and downright dull, but there’s at least one bright spot in all of this: “Bubblegum Dreams”. My ears perked up as it started, as it was more traditional Ariel. Perhaps that was the point, to try to branch out, but I think he just reached out in the wrong direction.

Key Tracks: Bubblegum Dreams

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

I’ve talked at length at the dearth of good rock music prevailing in radio these days. I was thinking today, however, that it’s just that pure rock has escaped to the fringes – the indie, the clubs, the nostalgic cover bands. There’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing wrong with the change – as we evolve to a new form of rock, people that are thirty and older will have to discover something new to enjoy or grasp on to the last straws of rock, like two weeks ago when Queens of the Stone Age released a great new album, Villains, or now – a fantastic new album from classic nineties and aughts band Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl has been a mainstay on the scene for over three decades now, and it’s great to hear him admitting that sensitivity can funnel its way into his songwriting, like in my favorite track from the album, “Happily Ever After (Zero Hour)”. About two-thirds of the way through Concrete and Gold it feels like Grohl and the rest of the group just want us to relax, not worry about the end of the world, but take in their version of “It was all well worth it, I have no regrets”. Never fear though, true believers, there’s plenty of loud music to be had here: the one-two punch of first single “Run” and intimate rager “Make It Right” allow us back into the fray of Grohl’s world. After, second single “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” reminds us that latter-day Foo Fighters is anthemic but still full of pulp. The rest of the 11-song album is much of the same, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to the collection.

Key Tracks: Make It Right / Happily Ever After (Zero Hour) / Sunday Rain

Rostam – Half-Light

I have to preface this by saying that I’m very happy Rostam Batmanglij has still found a way to get his voice out there, it’s definitely one of my favorites – and one half of the reason why I loved his old band Vampire Weekend in the first place. My fear, however, is that much like another favorite band – Panic at the Disco – he was the weakest link. Time will tell of course, like it has with Brendon Urie and his extensive discography, but my guess is that I will still love Ezra Koenig’s version of the group, and at least admire what Rostam does from here on out. It may be that the group’s fracture comes not like the one that did in the pop group Fun. but rather more that Rostam branches out all the time much like Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla eventually did a few years ago. As this record goes, it’s a fine solo debut, with much of the music intimately familiar with his previous work. As I listened through, I could call out which tracks sounded like old Vampire Weekend ones. That isn’t entirely a bad thing: “Wood” has an Indian instrumental base that immediately reminds of “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” – a track from Vampire Weekend’s titular 2008 effort. “Bike Dream” is a dizzying revelation that has to be a play on massive hit “Diane Young”. “Never Going to Catch Me” has all the flair of “Everlasting Arms” sans the heart. All in all, it’s a fine thing that Rostam has done, and I hope he bucks the trend, ultimately working well alongside his reformed former band.

Key Tracks: Bike Dream / Don’t Let It Get to You / I Will See You Again / Gwan

The Lone Bellow – Walk Into a Storm

Speaking of the evolution of rock, a recent theme in popular music is the folk-rock movement. I hesitate to call it a bad thing, as many do – they cite weaker efforts from The Lumineers or Of Monsters and Men or Mumford and Sons. As I’ve been a long time fan of The Decemberists, I can see why this trend has picked up during the last decade. There was a need for more relatable tunes, and given the penchant for top-40 to feel edgy and alternative by picking up unknown bands, they latched onto the pseudo-country sound of these bands and ran with it. I don’t mind at all, as much of the music is full of emotions I want to hear about in music. The Lone Bellow, in particular, have a good grasp on what makes for a good album – as their newest starts out with a road-trip worthy song “Deeper in the Water” we ride along with them on a journey towards satisfaction. While the rest of the album doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of elation, I can imagine this being on Zach Braff’s short list for a new film, or playing in the back end of my next cross-country excursion. If nothing else, take a listen to “Come Break My Heart Again” an ode to those lovelorn lovers stuck in purgatory after a breakup.

Key Tracks: Deeper In The Water / Walk Into a Storm / Come Break My Heart Again


Next week is a big one – The Killers, Fergie, Chelsea Wolfe, Camila Cabello and Fergie! We’re going to do our best to get the facts to you as soon as they’re available!

Until next time…

Music to Your Ears – LCD Soundsystem, The Mynabirds and Tori Amos

With all the noise about the NFL season starting and the fall television preview, I had to push back this past week’s latest in music. That’s fine, though, as there’s plenty to catch up on this week as well! Let’s dive in:

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

James Murphy, like all good auteurs, went through a period of time where he claimed he was retiring. Just like Steven Soderbergh, Michael Jordan and Cher before him, Murphy couldn’t resist the pull of creating new music. Lucky for us, he’s come back to us with one of the slickest productions he’s crafted to date. Amidst homages to David Bowie (“Black Screen”) there are some of the most unnerving electronica tracks that Murphy has ever presented to us. An album that begs to be run to, or driven to, or danced to, it’s the album we all needed to close out the summer.

Key Tracks: Other Voices / tonite / How Do You Sleep?

The Mynabirds – Be Here Now

After The Mynabirds had one of my favorite albums of 2015, I expected the follow-up would be a bit of a decline. Surprise! The newest from singer-songwriter Laura Berhernn is a complete delight, albeit a bit political. Written in the aftermath of this past November’s presidential election, Berhenn wrote up a flurry as she participated in the Women’s March and lived in the shadow of the negativity as she lives in Washington D.C. In particular, the first single “Golden Age” directly calls out the current “president” – namedropping the inhumane Muslim Ban, saying she “could punch a Nazi in the face”. It gets pretty blatant her stance on things when she claims “we got some real villains to stop / before they kill us all”. Even though my favorite album of theirs will likely remain 2015’s Lovers Know, I’m ecstatic that she could come up with another album so beautiful yet also artistically integral to boot.

Key Tracks: Golden Age / Wild Hearts / Shouting at the Dark

Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”

After all the hot takes have fallen by the wayside, you can dive into the second straight single from the queen of controversy, the one whose own poptimism has been overshadowed by all the criticism thrown at her over the past decade, as well as even better musicians being perfectly genuine. Given her new narrative, this is a much more palatable song, something like darker version of last album’s “Wildest Dreams”. Lyrics such as “But if he’s a ghost, then I can be a phantom” imply that there’s at least some effort behind her bitterness, even if that’s been done in enough songs that we don’t necessarily need it again here. Eh, take or leave her, I’m satisfied so far with what she’s given us. I’m ready for the album though.

Tori Amos – Native Invader

I don’t know how I’ve missed out on Tori all these years – but I’m glad I discovered this. The odd thing is that it excites me more to dive deep into past works than listen to this again. Just getting past the sluggish opening track is a chore, but there’s some gems to delight in, including the one we reviewed just two weeks ago, “Up the Creek”. Folk rythyms are the order of the day, and in “Cloud Riders” Amos talks of the thunder gods as she regales us with a tale of lost love on the edge of a cliff. Much of the album sounds intensely personal, and clearly that’s worked well for Amos here – which is why I can’t wait to go back and drink in all that’s she served us before.

Key Tracks: Cloud Riders / Wildwood / Up the Creek

The National – Sleep Well Beast

I was ready to think that The National had peaked a few years ago, back when “Bloodbuzz Ohio” revealed that their pastiche was really just a stuttered version of their hit single “Fake Empire”. However, much like some of the best bands, they’ve returned with a handful of tracks that highlight the best of those tracks – Matt Berninger’s low rumble of a roar, the equalizing bass of Aaron Dessner and the striking drum work of Bryan Devendorf – the best of which is right off the bat in “Day I Die”. Fans will be soothed by the sameness of some of the songs, but there is also an experimental branching out with much of the music here.

Key Tracks: Day I Die / The System Dreams in Total Darkness / I’ll Still Destroy You

U2 – “You’re the Best Thing About Me”

For the past fifteen years, U2 has been synonymous with out-of-touch. Their duet with Green Day only fueled the latter band’s descent into oblivion with the younger crowd. Suffice it to say, it seemed like the group would never craft a song this good again. Instead, “You’re the Best Thing About Me” is a light-hearted throwback that I’m glad to say is the best song they’ve written since they figured out how to dismantle an atomic bomb. It’s nothing innovative, but the chorus will get to you, and certainly not overwhelm or underwhelm you like much of their last two albums did. The Edge is as sharp as ever with his guitar work, and Bono steps aside to let the rest of his bandmates shine. If the rest of their upcoming album works like this, perhaps a revival is in store.

Kelly Clarkson – “Love So Soft”

This earwormed into my head so quickly I didn’t even notice it came on directly after the U2 song. I went to play this only to notice it was the song I’d just listened to. I want to say that’s a bad thing, that I didn’t even register the song, but it’s perhaps perfect background music. It’s the right thing for Kelly Clarkson to re-emerge with, an understated ballad that you can drive along to, or have on at a party with a few close friends. Clarkson slowly grew on me over the years, but I hold her to one of the highest standards of musicians working these days, and I would have to say was one of the better singles of the past month (I’m looking at you Taylor).

 


 

Next week sees only one big new release – Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold. Beyond that there’ll be new stuff from The Killers, Fergie, Demi Lovato and much more. I’m sure there may be a handful of singles to peruse, but don’t be surprised if I slip forward with the Foo Fighters and wait until the last week in September to discuss more music, including perhaps my picks for the best of the summer!

Knowing the right time to talk about movies, music and television