Saturday, July 30, 2005

Drink to Me Babe Then

Ah, it's late July and naturally one's thoughts turn to...the NHL draft? Well, not in a normal year, but this is not a normal year for hockey fans. Today in Ottawa, the NHL held an abbreviated version of its annual draft. Not only was it a chance for the Pittsburgh Penguins to do the obvious and actually draft wunderkind Sidney Crosby, but it left the other teams with interesting decisions: Do you draft the best player available or do you address glaring team needs? The latter wasn't completely clear for many teams, who will be using the beginning of the free agency period to fill a lot of roster spots. Still, for a team like Toronto, drafting late in the first round, it made sense that they drafted Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask, since after 40-year-old starter Ed Belfour and backup Mikael Tellqvist, their system is a bit thin on netminders. The pick, and most of the draft, was overshadowed by the news that the Leafs traded for Carolina sniper Jeff O'Neill, whom they landed in exchange for a conditional pick in '06; the pick could be as high as a third-rounder, depending on how many goals O'Neill scores this season. O'Neill, who's from the Toronto area, agreed to a two-year deal that would pay him $1.5 million per, a cut from the nearly $3 million he had been scheduled to earn had the Hurricanes been willing to do so (which they apparently didn't plan on). He's only 29 and has scored as many as 41 goals in a season, although he dropped off to 14 in '03-'04. Still, a nice pickup for the Leafs that didn't cost them much. That said, I'm a bit perplexed at Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr.'s failure to buy out any contracts other than Owen Nolan (which technically they didn't because they believe they don't owe him anything; this thing will end up in court); I expected others to be bought out to make more cap room by Friday's deadline, but no such luck. So now we'll have to see what JFJ does on Monday.

Other quick thoughts before I hit the sack:

  • Boston is all abuzz about the possible trade of Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who's leading the AL in RBI but who apparently wants out of town, even though his team is leading the division. Manny is definitely a free spirit and supposedly doesn't like the media attention in Boston, and the team is trying to acommodate him by trying to do a three-team deal involving the Mets and Tampa, but the deal has hit some snags. Still, Ramirez was a last-minute scratch before tonight's game, leading many to believe the deal had been done. Not yet, as he was out on the field celebrating after the Sox win. Tomorrow's the trade deadline, so something may still happen. Makes you wonder what losing such an offensive powerhouse will do to a team in first place, though.
  • It has been a rough summer for my coed softball team, which lost two more games this weekend. Our record stands at 3-13, our ugliest output in a decade. It has been a challenge to put a decent lineup on the field this year; we lost our entire female contingent from last year for various reasons (marriage, pregnancy, disinterest, etc.) and have been forced to field a patchwork lineup most games. And as the losses have piled up, the guys aren't having much fun, either. Rough stuff. Only a few more weeks left, though.

That's it for now.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hell Yes

It's nice to type without sweating on the keyboard. I'm just sayin', is all.

Things that make me go, "Hmm...":

  • I'm enjoying the summer TV, namely Rescue Me, Entourage, and HBO's The Comeback. The latter is Lisa Kudrow's post-Friends return to TV and it has really hooked me. Like another fave of mine, The Office, The Comeback is chock full of painful, awkward silences and slow-burn humiliation as Kudrow's character, a has-been sitcom actress, attempts to make her comeback while simultaneously filming a reality show about her comeback. It's not easy to watch, but is ultimately rewarding. Kudrow proves she can play much more than a ditzy blonde.
  • As if you needed more evidence that mainstream radio suck-diddly-ucks, the New York Attorney General's office announced this week that Sony BMG Music Entertainment has settled a payola probe, admitting that it bribed radio stations to play its music. Sony will pay $10 million as part of the deal. Payola has been going on forever, but it's nice to see one of the big boys take it on the chin.
  • Scientists in western Canada this week tested a clump of hair found in the Yukon territory that was believed to belong to a sasquatch-like creature, but tests found it was actually bison hair. Witnesses claimed to have seen a large ape-like creature running through the woods in Whitehorse, the Yukon capital. Whatever the science proves, it don't change the fact that this site is awesome.
  • The newspaper I used to work for, the Salem News, was just sold along with its parent company this week to an Alabama company. This is the paper's third owner in 10 years; I actually worked for the Beverly Times, whose parent company, Dow Jones, bought the News in 1995 and then merged the Times into the News. In 2002, Dow Jones sold the News and two other local dailies to the Eagle-Tribune, a family-owned publishing company based in North Andover, MA. Plenty has changed since I last worked there in '95, but I still have friends there and wish them well. My sources tell me the new owner promised that there will be no immediate layoffs or buyouts, but those promises can change quickly.
  • One hockey note: NHL Players Association head Bob Goodenough fell on his sword today, only a week after the players voted to accept a salary cap, something Goodenough had convinced them to fight to the extent that an entire season was lost. It's no surprise that he's gone, only that it happened this quickly after the agreement was signed. Goodenough led the players to prosperity in the '90s as salaries rose astronomically, but he stubbornly held fast to a non-cap stance and caused players to lose millions, both from the wiped-out season and from the cap and 24% salary rollback that was finally agreed upon. To his tenure, I say Gooderiddance.
  • The Smoking Gun is one of my favorite sites, and this recent addition to its mug shot collection is a classic. Sparkly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Freak Scene

It has been redonkulously hot here the last few days, although a thunderstorm is beginning as I type this so things will be cooling off.

To speed up the process, I'm thinking about hockey. The NHL released its 2005-06 schedule today, which runs from October 5 through April 18 with a break in February to allow NHL players to play in the Winter Olympics. But the action has already begun, as GMs prepare to radically redesign their teams through free agency. The maneuvering has all the makings of a fantasy hockey draft, with every team almost starting from scratch.

This week, teams are deciding whether to buy out players on their rosters so they can free up room under the salary cap. After the draft on Saturday, the real fun starts next Monday when the free agency period begins. Some big names will be available, including stud defensemen like Scott Niedermayer and Derian Hatcher, all of whom would improve any team's defense but who also will command big bucks.

Here's a look at what might happen with the two teams I'm most familiar with, the Leafs (the team I root for) and the Bruins (the team in my area). In Toronto, the self-proclaimed mecca of hockey, speculation is rampant about who's coming and going. Just in the last few days, there have been articles or rumors about the Leafs signing or trading for Peter Forsberg, Niedermayer, Joe Thornton, Chris Pronger, Jason Allison, Eric Lindros, Curtis Joseph, Manny Fernandez ,and Glen Murray, while buying out or not re-signing the likes of Owen Nolan, Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi, Brian Leetch, and Alex Mogilny. I'd love to see Forsberg in the blue and white, but I can't see the Leafs being able to afford both him and Mats Sundin while assembling enough of a supporting cast to contend. There are also reports that the Leafs want to trade up in the draft to move from pick 21 to somewhere in the top 10.

Realistically, I expect them to sign Allison, who was quoted in the Toronto Star today as wanting to play in Toronto and who will be affordable because he hasn't played a full season in about three years because of a serious neck injury. They'll probably sign Lindros because he wants to play there, although I don't know how much he has to offer anymore. I'd like to see them get Murray and hopefully Niedermayer, as well as a goalie to replace 40-year-old Belfour. Much as I appreciate what Joseph did for the team a few years back, he's not the goalie he once was, either. In his first season as Leaf GM, John Ferguson Jr. continued with the Leaf tradition of trading prospects for aging stars way past their prime; the new CBA will force him to think younger, which is definitely a good thing.

As for the B's, they took action yesterday and announced that they had made contract offers to five key free agents: Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Sergei Gonchar, Martin Lapointe, and P.J. Axelsson; Gonchar and Lapointe are unrestricted free agents, while the others are restricted, meaning the team can match any offers made to them. There's not as much of a microscope on the Bruins, as the Red Sox are all anyone wants to talk about and for good reason.

Still, Thornton's agent is already saying the five-year, $25 million offer ain't enough, so it looks like he'll play this season and become an unrestricted FA next year. Unless, of course, the B's turn around and trade him, which has also been rumored (to Toronto, naturally). The Bruins are probably in the best position of any team in the league, having dumped a ton of players before the lockout, which leaves them with plenty of cash with which to acquire impact players. And GM Mike O'Connell claims they're actually going to spend the dough this time around.

All of which means I'm going to have a lot of fun watching how this all plays out over the next few months.

Aiight, hockey geek talk is over. Back tomorrow with some non-hockey blog fodda.

Monday, July 25, 2005

On the Boardwalk

Hangin' with Lily in Ocean City, NJ. She was enjoying my Patriots lid and the fact that she was up waaaaaay past her bedtime.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Sunburned Hand of the Man

We're baaaaaaaack. Just got back from our vacation on the Jersey Shore at midnight last night. It was a great, but tiring, week. Between the four of us, Deb's brother and his family of four, his inlaws, his sister-in-law and her four kids, and Deb's mom, there were a ton of us staying at two condos at the Marriott Seaview in Absecon, NJ. Eight kids total; the same as last year, only this time, the two youngest were mobile. We visited Brigantine Beach a few times, hit the resort pools a bunch of times, got plenty of greenhead bites, drank lots of beer (well, the adults did, anyway), and had a lot of fun. Didn't get to play golf as originally planned, but that's okay. Ran three times in the sweltering heat and got sunburned from the beach, although not nearly as bad as last year. I also had to do some work the first few days down there, inputting edits to book chapters that came in late; I borrowed a laptop from work but had to get creative because the room had high-speed wireless but the laptop was not enabled to work with it. Ended up getting a 256 MB USB storage card, transferred the documents I needed from PC at the hotel's business center, spent parts of two days finishing the chapters, and then emailed the finished versions from the biz center. Not how I originally envisioned my vacation, but it had to be done.

So now we're back, unwinding a bit today. I've got a ton of TiVoed shows (couldn't watch anything last week because I was so busy with work) and downloaded podcasts to get through.

While I was gone, the world kept turning:

  • The NHL deal was officially ratified by the players yesterday and the owners today. I watched the draft lottery live on the InterWeb and found that, contrary to the conspiracy theories out there, phenom Sidney Crosby will not go to New York or LA but instead Pittsburgh. That team has been awful the last few years, so combined with Crosby and the new fiscal "equality" imposed by the CBA, the Pens might actually have a decent team next year. The Leafs got the number 21 pick and the Bruins the number 22; the only good news for them is the draft order reverses for the second round, much like in the C. Montgomery Burns fantasy hockey league that I will be participating in this fall. In addition, the league unveiled the much talked-about rule changes for next season (shootouts, the return of tag-up icing, and a bunch of other stuff designed to boost offense and make the game more watchable). Of course, I'm still waiting to hear about what the league plans to do about a TV deal now that ESPN has flown the coop. There are rumors that Comcast may form a sports station to carry the games; of course, I won't get to see it because I have DirecTV, but I plan on getting the Center Ice pay-per-view package again, anyway.
  • Got some good reading done on the vacay and polished off Nick Kent's The Dark Stuff, a collection of his rock writing over the years for numerous British pubs. The articles range from the early '70s to 2002, covering some of the most interesting figures in music: The Stones, Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, Sid Vicious, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Eminem. Moved on to Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live, about the author's road trip to visit the death sites of many of rock's inconic figures. Pretty good so far.
  • Okay, uh, ouch.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Ballad of Wendel Clark

Halle-frickin'-lujah, the NHL lockout is over! The rumblings started at TSN at about 10 a.m. and were confirmed just after noon in a terse statement from the NHL and NHLPA. The two sides have a deal in principle that must now be ratified by the owners and the players before it becomes official, which the league estimates will take about a week.

And then, the fun begins. Sportsnet believes the entry draft will take place on July 30; the lottery to determine who gets Sidney Crosby could happen as soon as next Thursday. It's still unknown how the draft lottery will be structured: will everyone get a even shot or will it be weighted by a team's record the past few years? If it's 30 balls for 30 teams and the Rangers or LA wins, get ready for the conspiracy theories. Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, for one, thinks it will be a weighted draft.

My hometown club, the Leafs, will have to find a lot of players on the cheap, although as I've said before, I think they'll buy out some of the expensive guys (Owen Nolan, for one) they've got under contract to make some more room under the cap. They've been forced to do what I've wanted them to do for a while: stop spending money on geezers and start growing their own talent.

Check out the always great Off Wing Opinion for reaction from other hockey bloggers to the NHL deal.

Aiight, must get some work done as I get ready to go on vacation. We're heading down to the Joisey Shore again for a week starting Friday night. But I might post something tomorrow if I have time. Then again, I might not. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Kids are Insane

Hola. It's brain-meltingly hot here in Massachusetts today. I'm sweating just thinking about it.

My Blue Jays have been fighting to stay in the AL East race so far this season, most recently giving the Red Sox fits before getting swept by the Rangers over the weekend to head into the All-Star break. Of course, as luck would have it, they lost their best pitcher (and arguably, the best pitcher in the AL) in Roy Halladay when a line drive hit him in the shin Friday and broke a bone in his leg. D'oh! He was going to start the All-Star Game and now he's out for at least a month. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

MLB announced plans for its World Baseball Classic tournament, which will take place next March with 16 teams from around the world. It's a variation on the World Cups of soccer and hockey, although unlike those tourneys, I don't know how good the other teams besides the U.S. and some of the Latin American clubs will be.

Still no NHL deal, after 81 meetings and countless hours of negotiations. But they're close. This is an interesting story about how the lockout has affected video game developers, who have no idea what teams are going to look like next season because of the new free agency rules. Looks like they'll have to make the new rosters downloadable once the dust settles. Ah, I remember when I used to have time to play video games on my PlayStation Uno. I mainly played the EA NHL titles; the last one I have is 2001, I think. I still have a season I've only partially completed. Maybe I'll go finish it one of these days. Right after I relearn my guitar and write my novel. It's good to have goals.

One name that jumped out at me in the video game story is that of EA hockey lead developer David Littman, who I remember tending the goal for Boston College when I was at UNH. BC was dominant back then, UNH not so much, and Littman ended up playing for many years in the minors, getting in a grand total of three games in the NHL with the Sabres and Lightning. Nice to see he got a cool job after retirement.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Don't Let the Bastards (Get You Down)

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised anymore when things like the London bombings happen. It's all part of living in this big, dangerous world. We're constantly told we should be prepared for anything. And yet, it was surprising, and horrifying, and tragic. I checked in with my old college buddy Slander, who works for People magazine in London, to see if he was all right; turns out he's busy covering the aftermath. Even when it's half a world away, yesterday's bombings definitely remind you that you never know when it could all end. Cheerful thought, I know.

REM were in London to play a concert this weekend; they're arguably bigger across the pond than they are in the U.S. these days. The show was cancelled, but the city invited them to stay another week and have it next weekend.

Other stuff:

  • MTV was universally slammed for its lame-ass coverage of Live 8 last weekend, which was replete with annoying VJ blather, stoopid celebrity interviews, commercials up the wazoo, and the occasional concert footage. The network took so much heat that it plans to rebroadcast the concerts, sans crapola, this weekend. Good.
  • The LA Times got everyone's hopes up yesterday with a story about the NHL and NHLPA reaching a tentative deal, but the league and union quickly denied it. Nevertheless, both sides are creeping closer to a deal, possibly as early as next week.
  • The International Olympic Committee yesterday put the kibosh on baseball and softball at the 2012 Olympics, reportedly because of the lax steroid policy in MLB. Some reports are painting it as a European vs. American situation, but the fact remains that there are plenty of folks in Latin America and Asia who are disappointed as well.
  • People are really getting creative when devising new ways to use an iPod. Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Does It Float

Just whiling away the hours waiting for the NHL deal to be announced...seriously, though, it does appear to be close. Teams are starting to make coaching announcements and talk about the draft and what they'll do when the CBA is signed, the cap goes into effect, and the mad scramble for free agents begins. Should be fun.

In sharp contrast to Jeremy Roenick's ill-advised rant, Sean Avery of the Kings offers up a mea culpa, apologizing to the fans for the lockout and claiming the players were "brainwashed" by union head Bob Goodenough. It's a great read from the L.A. Times. Give the guy credit for speaking his mind.

So how are teams planning to lure the fans back? Lower ticket prices would help, and this Canadian Press article talks to all 30 teams about whether they'll offer any discounts. Not surprisingly, the teams that struggling financially (Anaheim, Columbus, Pittsburgh) are already slashing prices, while the more established clubs (Toronto, Colorado, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver) are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Phenom Sidney Crosby isn't waiting around for the CBA and the NHL draft to happen. The highly touted prospect has already signed a big deal with Gatorade and is in negotiations with Swiss League club Lugano on a deal that could be worth $10 million over three years. I don't expect him to go to Switzerland if/when the NHL returns. Maybe he's trying to encourage whichever team that wins the draft lottery to think creatively about its contract offer.

Congrats to Eric from Off Wing Opinion, who is the new cohost of the Bleacher Guy podcast.

London today was awarded the 2012 Olympics, edging out Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow. It may be a blessing in disguise for the losers. I remember when Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976 and dramatically underestimated the costs of the event. The city ended up hundreds of millions in debt. But they'll always have Nadia Comaneci.

An update to my post the other day about the Live 8 coverage: MTV still sucks, but AOL made it a lot easier to check out particular bands who played the various shows by posting video clips of each song, searchable by concert and by artist. Nicely done.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Wish You Were Here

Here we are on the cusp of the 4th of July and all I can think about it how horrendous MTV's coverage of Live 8 was yesterday. Thank god for TiVo, because if I had to sit through that eight-hour debacle live, I would have broken something. Like the TV. We were busy doing stuff all day, so I TiVoed the noon-8 p.m. "coverage" of the 10-concert worldwide event. This morning, I spent an hour or so fast-forwarding through the seemingly neverending stream of annoying VJs, various celebrity talking heads, and commercials (I can safely say there was more advertising than concert when all was said and done). And the few times there was something worth watching, like the Who playing "Won't Get Fooled Again" (yeah, I've heard it a zillion times, but damn if Pete and Roger still don't sound great) or the Pink Floyd reunion, they cut away for more commercials or insipid commentary. At least they showed most of the Floyd set; as Deb noted, the guys haven't aged particularly well, especially David Gilmour, but they sounded sharp. Can a blockbuster world tour be far behind? The only company, media-wise, who got it right was AOL. AOL Music webcast all the shows live, uncut; you can go there to watch the shows in their entirety, although the downside is you can't skip to your favorite bands. Still, bravo to AOL (still sounds weird to say that) for leaving out the BS that nobody except MTV really wanted. As for the actual goals of Live 8, to raise awareness among the major world powers about increasing aid to Africa to eliminate poverty, it's hard to say if the event was a success. It was definitely a blip on the radar screen around here. But I give Geldof credit for pulling it all together on relatively short notice.

Deb and I spent the evening attending the Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway. Our seats weren't really seats at all; we had tickets for the standing-room only area on the right field roof of Fenway, which the owners opened up last year (I think) in an effort to add more capacity to an antiquated stadium that they're stuck with (previous attempts to build a new park have been thwarted by local politics). Even though we were about as far away from the action as you could get, we had a good time. It was a long game and the Jays blew a 4-0 lead to lose 6-4, so I wasn't happy with the outcome, but we had fun. At least the Jays beat the Sox on Friday and today to win the series.

No big plans for tomorrow, other than to take the girls to the Beverly Farms parade in the morning. They're too young for fireworks displays (they happen too late), but they love a good parade.

Anyhoo, happy Independence Day to all y'all, and a belated happy Canada Day to my Canadian homiez.