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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Schneider shines,Skaters don't in 2-1 Pittsburgh win

Cory Schneider showed up for the New Jersey Devils on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Too bad that his teammates didn't as Schneider was forced to make 41 saves with little offensive help as the Penguins took a 2-1 overtime win at the Rock.
Steve Bernier scored the Devils only goal (7) in the third period.
The Devils play the Florida Panthers tomorrow night,but I have to go to the road office early,so it'll be Cavaliers coverage on Saturday.

Hell Raisers

1) Cory Schneider was the best part of another less than great Devils effort.
41 saves,neither goal being on him and giving the Devils a point that should have never even been close to a consideration.
Add in Schneider's spectacular sliding save on Sidney Crosby among many top stops and it was blatantly clear that Schneider was the top star of this game...

2) Take away Steve Bernier's wraparound goal and the Devils offense was non-existent.
Even that took a break-as in the puck was inadvertently stopped by the referee behind the net,allowing Bernier to grab the puck at he originally was just trying to clear.
When you finish any game (let alone one that goes to overtime) with 14 shots-that's downright pathetic.
What a miserable effort

3) Now,look-I understand some of you might look at this and think "The Devils got a point,what is he so angry about?"
I'm angry because crappy games like this and the Toronto win help no one.
They don't help the Devils because they aren't helping draft position.
They don't help young players because really except for Adam Larsson,no young players have prospered since the coaching change and they damn sure don't help the fans watching dull games every night.
I'm all for boring hockey,the Devils won three championships that didn't remind anyone of the Gretzky Oilers,but you better be winning that way.
I'm sure there will be similar rants before the season is out.

4) I bag on Peter Harrold a lot and I always feel bad when I do.
Harrold is an Ohio guy,seems like a super nice fellow and always tries hard,but here is my problem watching penalties like his third period one that gave Pittsburgh a late power play that allowed the Penguins to then tie the game.
Peter Harrold is an AHL level defender that would be perfect in Albany as a veteran mentor,but is painfully outmatched in the NHL.
Playing Harrold at the expense of the maturation of Eric Gelinas and keeping his offensive skills in the skybox makes no sense to me.
Gelinas makes mistakes-more than I'd like,but sitting him doesn't help him become part of this teams future-either as a player or a valuable trade chip.

5) Lousy passing.
Just lousy.
The Devils offense rarely completed the most fundamental part of this game-moving the puck from stick to stick to create offense  and that results is bad hockey,folks.
I was hoping to see some improvement in the offense since the coaching change,but the bigger problem is just not enough talent.
The sooner we wake up to that,the sooner that the foundation for the future can begin to be laid.

As I noted above,I'll be watching the Cavaliers not the Devils tonight from work.
That just might be a good thing.....

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cleveland Browns Season in Review-The Offense

A bit late,but I've been taking my time getting to this in order to give this series the attention that deserves.
Over the next few weeks (hopefully sooner),I'll be looking at the Browns on offense,defense,special teams and mixed in (or in a post of its own) some thoughts for the off-season.
Usually the free agent season and draft are about as good as it gets for Browns fans,so I always try to address that.

Quarterback once again bedeviled the Browns and looks even worse for the 2015 season.
Brian Hoyer has his supporters and share of good games,but even at his best,Hoyer consistently underthrew and overthrew receivers,left points on the board and drove me crazy with accuracy issues.
I still wouldn't mind bringing Hoyer back under the right contract and conditions,but there are two quarterbacks that I prefer in the free agent crop,although only one might have a chance to be more than a stopgap solution.
I admit that the frustration of watching Hoyer made me want to see Johnny Manziel,especially after his touchdown drive in Buffalo.
However,that was as good as it got for the diminutive Texas A&M product,who looked overmatched after Buffalo and was more noted for off the field antics than playing performance.
Frankly,I'm just not sure what to do about Manziel for 2015.
If you draft a quarterback high,you admit Manziel was a mistake without a second year,but on the other hand,a decision to play Manziel could end in disaster if he performs in the manner that he did last year.
If anyone wants to give anything for him,I think I'd take it,but a outright release such as some are calling for is a stretch....
I liked the grit and moxie shown by rookie Connor Shaw in the final game against Baltimore and want to keep him around,but a lack of arm strength limits the upside of Shaw to be more than a quality backup...

The running game showed a vast improvement over 2013,but still was inconsistent.
Terrence West,Isaiah Crowell and the departed Ben Tate each had their big games,but each were benched at times and each had issues holding onto the football.
Tate showed an alarming lack of burst around the corner and wasn't used enough in the passing game.
The lack of speed likely was the main reason (other than a reported locker room issue) that Tate was released,but not playing to his strengths did not put Tate in a position to succeed.
I think Crowell is the more skilled and talented of the two returning backs and if I was selecting the player to carry the load,I'd select Crowell,but West was solid as well-when he didn't tap dance behind the line of scrimmage.
I think the Browns will select one or the other as the main back in camp and the other will see carries at a reduced rate.
The team talked a good game at fullback with Ray Agnew bookending that position with a cameo from Kiero Small.
Neither showed much in the passing game and neither looked to be anything more than average as lead blockers.

Ray Farmer was criticized for not devoting draft picks to a wide receiver and for a while,Farmer looked quite smart.
As the season progressed,Farmer's group began to come back to the field like a six furlong horse running a mile and a quarter.
Josh Gordon was disappointing and uninspired in his return from suspension and considering Gordon will likely miss the 2015 season to another suspension,Farmer's hand will be forced to do something (and maybe more than one) in the draft and/or free agency.
Miles Austin performed well when he was able to play,but once again injuries bit the former Cowboy and he is a free agent.
I'd be fine with bringing him back at the right cost.
Andrew Hawkins was very productive when he was able to be used inside in the slot,but struggled when forced outside due to the rash of injuries and suspensions.
Hawkins size works against him in the outside positions.
Taylor Gabriel was a nice sign as an undrafted free agent,but is small for a larger role than a 4th receiver.
Travis Benjamin is the only other Browns WR to catch a ball and he too is on the smallish side.
Ray Farmer is going to have to do something in the next few months.
Jordan Cameron has the ability to be a huge part of any teams passing game,but Cameron is a free agent and between being a little underused (24 catches on 48 targets in ten games) along with persistent concussion issues and a reported desire to be on the Western side of the country makes tight end a upgrade as well.
The Browns got more than expected from veteran blocking types Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge as pass catchers (30 catches for just under 400 yards between the pair) and both are solid blockers,but neither are the type of players that you would want to hitch your horse to as a starter.

The Browns offensive line certainly missed Alex Mack at center after his injury and it really hurt the running game.
I think the Browns would have been best suited keeping John Greco at center for Mack instead using Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour there.
I understand the value of keeping the solid Greco at right guard,but desperate times etc and both McDonald and Seymour were sieve-like at center.
Joe Thomas might have had his best year at left tackle and rookie Joel Bitonio deserved Rookie of the year consideration at left guard.Mitchell Schwartz was adequate at right tackle,but no more than that.
I'm still not against a better solution than Schwartz at the right tackle,someone that is more of a hard nosed run blocker than Schwartz,who is more of a finesse' blocker suited to the pass blocking/deflect the rusher away of the previous west coast era...

Grades
Quarterback:C
Brian Hoyer wasn't great,but he did win seven games-although I wouldn't credit him with winning all those with his arm.

Running Back: B-
Fast start,slow finish brought this bunch back to the pack.
Two quality rookies and somewhat of a learning curve allows this grade.

Wide Receiver C-
The Browns got about all they could have expected from Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins and wound up expecting too much by Hawkins playing him outside.
Taylor Gabriel was a huge surprise,but still this is a below average bunch.

Tight End C
Jordan Cameron's season was disappointing,injuries or not,although Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge gave all that they had to offer..

Offensive Line B+
Grade would have been higher had Alex Mack stayed healthy.
Overall,a above average year despite post-Mack issues at the center spot...

Stay tuned over the next week when I take a look at the defense.


On the Signing Front

We return to the signing front for more cards as I try to put things away for the year.
My goal is to have everything put away before the season.
Good luck with that...

We start with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans,who were then a Texas Rangers affiliate and switched to the Chicago Cubs in the off season.
Looks like that switch will cause one class of players in the Rangers system (Last years Hickory players will now play in the California League in High A),to skip our circuit,but it'll be fun having the Cubs...
The biggest prospects were Jorge Alfaro on his top 100,Carolina League All-Stars and Prospects along with his team set card and Nick Williams on his all-star and prospect card.
Preston Beck and Royce Bolinger each made the CL all-star team,Lewis Brinson signed his SAL top prospect card and Christopher Bostick signed his Myrtle Beach card.
Bostick was obtained by the Nationals in the off season for Ross Detwiler and will likely play in AA Harrisburg...

The Carolina Mudcats were next into Frederick with the prospects of the Cleveland Indians.
Carolina and the Lynchburg Hillcats swapped the Indians with the Atlanta Braves in this off-season,so at least those two will remain in the Carolina League.
Like the Pelicans,the main attraction was knocking out team sets.
The Mudcats were a pretty mundane bunch with the biggest two in my opinion being former UCLA star Adam Plutko,who signed his USA and Lake County cards and Indians minor league pitcher of the year Ryan Merritt,who signed all three cards that I had.

I had next to nothing for the Lynchburg Hillcats-as in two cards as Cody Scarpetta signed an old pro debut and Lucas Sims signed his Carolina League top prospect....

Thanks to Mike Oravec for giving me a 1972 Alex Johnson.
Johnson had two cards with Cleveland and this was much appreciated.
Mike also gave me a 1989 Brian Fisher from the Pirates,

Thanks to the Superfan,who did multiple cards from the 2013 Aberdeen and 2014 Daytona sets.
The Cubs were uninspired,while the best Aberdeen catch was outfielder Mike Yastremski.
The Superfan also was able to add former Virginia Squires guard Dave Twardzik on a 75-76 Topps card.
Twardzik is currently the color commentator for Old Dominion's basketball radio network..

I had a few cards to fill in from the Akron Rubber Ducks,mainly players promoted from Carolina and Mike and Fred Landucci helped me with them.
All the Carolina League top prospect card were added as Erik Gonzalez,Louis Head and Shaun Morimando along with Eastern League All-Star cards of Shawn Armstrong and Joe Colon.

Tracy Mackereth gave me a card of Andy Reichard out of the 2012 Richmond set,which completed the 2012 Flying Squirrels.
I don't hear from Tracy anymore,but I always thought very highly of him,.

The Kannapolis Intimidators hit Hagerstown for their 15th (actually 4th) time and I had three players,the most notable being Toby Thomas on an Applachian League prospect card.

Thanks to Steve Nicholas in Indianapolis for getting me two Nick Kingham cards finished,the main one being a 1/100 Bowman Breakout Chrome card...

A special thanks to Brett Shaw-Brett did a Richmond team set for me since I couldn't get to Altoona in what was the only series that was close for me to do it.
I couldn't and Brett did it for me.Thanks,Brett-I appreciate it.
Notable players were Kyle Crick,Clayton Blackburn and Hunter Strickland,who was a post-season performer for the parent Giants.

Jason Christensen did a lot of work on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and their team set along with some stragglers from Portland and Binghamton.
Notable pickups with Jason were Mets prospects Brandon Nimmo and Dilson Herrera on their pro debut card,while New Hampshire featured manager Bobby Meacham for the 1988 Score set,pitching prospect Daniel Norris on his Bowman,Donruss Elite and Midwest League top prospect and former White Sox pitcher Gregory Infante on his Topps Heritage and an old Carolina League top prospect that was nice to get out of the unsigned box.

Thanks to Patrick O'Connor for getting a few Trenton Thunder players-especially Mason Williams on a top 100! Dante Bichette Jr was another player that I didn't have...

This edition finishes with the Greensboro Grasshoppers in Hagerstown.
The Grasshoppers had won the SAL first half and would return for the playoffs,but we were able to get their team set finished along with some other things.
Top pickups were Brian Anderson on his New York/Penn league top prospect,Avery Romero on his SAL top prospect,Donruss Elite,Bowman and Batavia and Greensboro team set cards and Chad Wallach (son of former Expo third baseman Tim) on his SAL all-star card along with his Greensboro.

That narrows the pile further,but still a few more signing fronts to go,so more from the season to come!



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cleaning out the inbox

Time for a quick cleaning of the inbox and we start with the passing of former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouqette at the age of 78.
"Monbo" was the best pitcher on some really bad Boston teams of the early to middle 1960's with a 20 win season in 1963 on a 7th place squad and a no-hitter in 1965 as well.
Monbouquette also was special to me for another silly reason-the card pictured to the left is the first ever 1965 card that I ever owned.
The card was for sale at the "top of the mall" a now demolished area of the Valley Mall for bingo players and small specialty shops.
I don't remember the price,but it was not overtly expensive,but more than I had on this day.
The next week (I remember going there roughly once a week),I went and Monbo was gone.
A few days later,as I played basketball with a friend down the street (remember this,readers?) and he was my envy because he was always able to buy these old cards because he had loads of spending money because his dad had passed away.
Anyway,Christopher was bragging about his latest conquests at the top of the mall and showed me his stack,which of course had Monbo.
Enraged (on the inside),we bet cards on some basketball games that we play and when it was over Monbo was coming home with me.
That card is around here somewhere still,but I still remember that every time I read or saw Monboquette's name or card.
For a better story on Monboquette by Gordon Edes,click here      

My friend,Krista Anderson,posted this story of a bear,lion and tiger that live together in one enclosure as family.
The three were found in deep physical distress in Atlanta by policemen during a drug raid and by being around each other at young ages,look at each other as buddies,not rivals.
It's a very sweet story and I always fall for stories like these.
Thanks to Krista for posting it.....

More from the film Red Army as Larry Brooks (Not usually my hockey writer of choice) writes about the Devils signing Vlacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov in the late 80's.
My fandom of those Soviet teams and their top defensive pair signing with the Devils cemented the Devils with me as my favorite NHL team.
The story discusses the former best friends,how they lost their friendship and how they would play in the same defensive pairing as Devils without speaking to each other.
Interesting and surprising coming from Larry Brooks,who often writes with a anti-Devils bias,since he used to work for the team and was fired.....

We finish up with Grantland's look at the great actor Gene Hackman and his career.
Hackman is retired now at 85,but what a great career and Hoosiers ranks as one of my favorite films ever.
A funny note is that Hackman almost got the role of Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch.
Bet his career would have been far different,had he taken that role and I wonder if that show would have been different with Hackman and Shirley Jones as the Brady parents as originally hoped for my the shows creators......

Devils top Leafs 2-1

The New Jersey Devils grabbed a win in a game that saying was dull would be an understatement after Jacob Josefson and Patrik Elias both scored against Jonathan Bernier in the shootout for a 2-1 win over Toronto at the Rock.
Adam Larsson tied the game with his goal (2) with just under three minutes remaining in regulation.
The Devils are back on Friday against Pittsburgh.

Hell Raisers

1) What an ugly game and one that wasn't exactly fun to watch.
After nine days without Devils hockey,this was not exactly what I was hoping to see,although I'll take the two points!
Often times when two bad teams play each other,you can have a fun game to watch-not this time.

2) I've always loved Mr.Devil-Ken Daneyko,but he's either being a homer or deluding himself as he talks about a playoff run.
The Devils are 13 points out of the final playoff spot after tonight's win and despite wanting I just don't see it.
If they have even a prayer of this,the Devils need a ten point sweep of this five game homestand.
Anything short is just that-short...

3) I'm not just saying this because he scored the only regulation goal,but Adam Larsson looks so much more confident and mature in his play since the firing of Peter DeBoer.
It's amazing how that happens when you are not constantly looking over your shoulder...

4) Cory Schneider was strong in net with 29 saves and I thought he was the Devil that performed best.
Schneider and Toronto's Jonathan Bernier gave each team a chance to win,which is all you can ask.

5) I missed overtime and the shootout as the 7;30 start and a slow moving game forced me off to work before the end.
It is nice to see some shootouts that aren't the automatic loss of days past and it is nice that Jacob Josefson does so well in these.
Usually the likable Swede's shot is like a magnet to the goalie's pads in regulation,but he shows much more skill in the shootout....

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pirates send Travis Snider to Baltimore

The Pittsburgh Pirates needed to make some space in their outfield and sent outfielder Travis Snider to a place that he could play-Baltimore in return for minor league pitcher Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later.

Snider hit 13 homers last season in playing a career high 140 games (previous high was 111),but with the Pirates wanting to give the right field job to Gregory Polanco and Polanco also hitting from the left side of the plate,Snider was an extra part that had too much value to sit and not enough to play ahead of the talented Polanco.
With Baltimore's loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in this off-season,the Orioles could have use for Snider,who may finally have his opportunity to play every day.

The Pirates end of this is Stephen Tarpley,who was the Orioles third rounder in 2013,but did not get out of short-season Aberdeen last year.
Tarpley turns 22 in February and the lefthander will likely be assigned to low A West Virginia to start the season.
Tarpley is reported to have a solid fastball and curve and led the Ironbirds in innings pitched last season.
Tarpley was most likely a top 20 prospect in the Orioles system,but not a top 10 player.
The player to be named later is not likely to be a top prospect either and considering the player is to be named,I'd guess it might be someone from the 2014 draft that will not be transferred until later this summer due to the rules of MLB that a player cannot be traded until one year after his signing.

We'll see how this works out,but I like Baltimore's end of the deal as they get a solid defensive outfielder that might have 20 homer power in a hitter friendly park like Camden Yards.
The Pirates added two players to their system for a player that was likely going to play a smaller role than on last year's team.

Back tomorrow with a possible cleaning of the inbox....

Five things that Bud Selig broke that I wouldn't have broken

I've never been a fan of Bud Selig and have always thought that his reign as commissioner was a disaster despite what many in the baseball media have to say.
My list ended at eight,but I wanted to keep it light-much like Bud Selig's reign.
Here are my top five things that Bud Selig botched that I would fix,but first this does not include problems that were in existence before Selig took over such as the designated hitter.
I have opinions on more baseball items that need decisive fixing,but I'll stick to Bud for tonight as the snow falls in the Hub City..

1) The minor league draft.
A few years back,there was a movement among some of the leagues lesser lights like the Pirates and Royals to name two to spend lots of money in the amateur draft in an attempt to balance the system that keeps them from competing for the best free agents.
Selig instituted a "Cap" to keep teams from spending freely for the amateur draft by assigned each team a specific amount that they could spend on the draft and if they exceeded that,a team would pay a "tax" for overspending.
I find it ironic that the man that had no problems with the Yankees,Red Sox and Dodgers outspending on veteran talent every year by tens of millions,felt compelled to limit spending by the Pittsburghs,Houstons and Minnesotas of the league.
If there was a salary cap in place,I would be able to live with this system.
Instead it smacks of hypocrisy and pandering to the larger markets...

2) Interleague Play
Several of the items considered for this list are somehow related to this one.
I just plain dislike this.
I understand the theory of fans in certain cities never getting to see the stars of the other league,but in an age that you can see any game that you want if you have the desire,that really isn't such a big deal.
Many of the issues that bug me could have been fixed or never been a problem to begin with had Selig not rammed this through.
This also ruined the special aspect of the All-Star game,which has had ratings consistently drop since this decision.
I wouldn't have a problem with certain teams with an interleague weekend each year,but other than that-yuck...

3) PED's
Selig had to know that something was going on and refused to do anything as guys like Shawn Green went from 15 homers to 45+ among many.
Selig allowed drug users to prosper rather than be punished and as a result watch the games history and record book get trampled.
This gave fans a bad taste on the game,destroyed past numbers and made players from other times stats look weaker and hurt Hall of Fame chances.
A stain of the game that all the positive P.R. over time cannot erase...

4) Houston
No,I'm not talking about Dean Martin's hit-I'm commenting on Selig's heavyhanded treatment of the Astros as in forcing new ownership to agree to a move to the American League or their purchase of the team would not be approved.
This led to interleague play every day of the season (yuck),but one of the reasons given was now Texas fans can have their Astros-Rangers rivalry,but wasn't one of the pushed reasons for interleague play was for series like Astros-Rangers to be played?
To throw 51 years of history in the National League away just for that reason was dumb and I'll bet that one day,someone in baseball will bemoan the lack of a National League presence in Texas-blame Bud.....

5) 1994
Selig playing hardball and allowing the labor issues in 1994 resulted in the World Series being cancelled and the game's history now having a hole that cannot be filled.
Selig could have guided things along and had all winter to fix the problem,instead he used poor leadership and allowed the worst case scenario to occur.
This essentially greased the skids for the end of baseball in Montreal....

Dishonorable Mentions
Montreal: Kissing the rump of noted con-man Jeffrey Loria rather than concerns about the fans of the Expos resulted in Canada losing Major League Baseball and Loria being allowed to scamper to Florida where he runs the Marlins to this day to mixed results..

Wild Card: I don't like the Wild Card period,but I really hate the second Wild Card.
The amount of champions that came out of the wild card cheapens the title and that comes from a Giants fan that has seen that team prosper under the system..

All-Star Game; Mentioned above,but the silly "now it counts" to determine the home field for the World Series is a terrible way to decide who gets the advantage in the post-season.