NHL Season Preview

The time of the year where the air gets cool and crisp, means it’s time for the NHL to start up again. Unless you live in the northern part of the US where it’s been 80s and 90s over the past few weeks. However, with the nice weather, it’s hard to believe that the three and a half months have already passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year becoming the first team to repeat since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

Below you will find a primer to each division along with predictions for all of the major awards and playoffs.

Atlantic Division

This is a division that seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard over the next couple of years. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked everybody last year by coming out of nowhere, led by the first pick of the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews, to grab the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and challenge Washington before losing in 6 games in the Metropolitan Divisional Semifinal. With another year, Toronto looks to build with their promising young core led by Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

However, reigning divisional champs, Montreal will have something to say about that as they have the best goaltender to never win anything in Carey Price leading them again along with Shea Weber quarterbacking the power play.

Meanwhile, Ottawa will try to build off of their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final, but can they survive the loss of Marc Methot? And will Craig Anderson be able to avoid a slump after his phenomenal year?

Tampa Bay looks to be finally healthy with Steven Stamkos returning from injury. If he’s healthy watch out, as Tampa will be contending for the divisional crown assuming that they get good goaltending play from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Boston could struggle if they don’t get more secondary scoring to support Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, they will need a huge year from Tuukka Rask.

An interesting team to watch is Florida, they have proven that if they can stay healthy they have the talent to make the playoffs. If Aaron Ekblad has a strong year they will be in the mix for sure.

A big question for Buffalo is can Jack Eichel stay healthy and elevate his team? If he can stay healthy he should have a monster season but do they have enough around him?

Sadly the Detroit Red Wings will remain in their rebuild after 25 years of excellence; however, the future is bright for them as they have exciting pieces in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

Metropolitan Division

As is always the case with this division, the two biggest intriguing storylines will revolve around the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The biggest storyline in the NHL is can Pittsburgh three peat for the first time since the 1980s New York Islanders? The answer to that will revolve around the healthy of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray.

For the Capitals after losing yet again in a Game 7, this time to Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Divisional Final, will they be able to get over the hump after losing several key defensive pieces in Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Nikisen? This is not as deep of a team anymore and Alex Ovechkin will need to raise his game to another level to get Washington over the hump.

The New York Rangers bolstered their blue line corps with the addition of hometown boy Shattenkirk, but they lost a lot on offense with the departure of Derek Stepan and do they have enough scoring to get by?

Meanwhile, Columbus continues to add more talent as they got more dangerous offensively with the addition of Artemi Panarin who will have a chance to prove he can be the guy as he plays without Patrick Kane. They’re a nasty, physical young team that hopes with more offense they can take another step forward.

Meanwhile the New York Islanders hope to retain John Tavares and the addition of Jordan Eberle certainly doesn’t hurt but the Islanders didn’t get substantially better in the offseason.

The New Jersey Devils added first overall pick Nico Hirschier but he alone will not fix what is wrong with New Jersey which continues to waste the prime of Corey Schneider’s career.

Philadelphia has Nolan Patrick in the fold now; however, much like New Jersey they haven’t been able to fix their goaltending woes either which prevent them from challenging for a playoff berth.

Finally, Carolina is an intriguing team as they try to become Chicago East with the additions of Marcus Kruger, Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling. These additions along with a young core led by Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Sebastian Aho have the potential to surprise some people.

Central Division

In a division where it seems that it’s never good to be the division winner, that history continued last season. The Dallas Stars who won the division in the 2015-2016 season, didn’t make the playoffs as they were ravaged by injuries. Additions of Ken Hitchcock, Ben Bishop and Marc Methot should make this team more defensively focused and tougher to play.

Chicago surprised everybody by getting swept by Nashville in the Central Divisional semifinal after gaining the number one seed in the Western Conference. A mini retooling of the roster brought Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp back to help Jonathan Toews and Kane which should help the Blackhawks with scoring depth.

The Nashville Predators were the trendy pick at the start of the season but struggled to adapt with the addition of PK Subban but from midseason on they were humming along. Nashville had an amazing run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final.

Minnesota surprised everybody last year with a strong regular season. But again the struggles of Bruce Boudreau teams in the playoffs happened as they lost in the Central Divisional Semifinal. If Eric Staal can have another big year, Minnesota should be right there at the end of the season.

Mike Yeo got his revenge as he took over the St. Louis Blues in the middle of the season to lead them to the playoffs and upset his old team Minnesota. Injuries are a huge concern on the blue line already and they will only go as far as Jake Allen takes them.

Offense isn’t the problem in Winnipeg. They are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Mark Schiefle and Patrick Laine lead the way and had monster years last season. But can the defense and Steve Mason in goal do enough to get Winnipeg back to the playoffs?

And in Colorado they continue to be a dumpster fire that seems to be directionless. They still haven’t traded Matt Duchene and seemed destined to be the worst team in the league again this season as they struggle on defense and putting the puck in the net.

Pacific Division

The other big story in Canada last year was the ascension of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers who burst onto the scene and made the playoffs while McDavid took home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. However, Edmonton isn’t just McDavid, they have Leon Draisiatl and Cam Talbot as part of a dangerous young core. Talbot was superb in the playoffs after playing 74 games in the regular season.

But before that they will have to go through the bully of the Pacific in the bruising Anaheim Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf had a great second half of the year and then teamed up with Ryan Kesler to shut down McDavid and company in a classic 7 game Pacific Divisional Final. Anaheim is loaded on the blue line and seem poised to make another huge playoff run.

It’s rare to see in this day and age that a team doesn’t make any moves in the offseason to bring back the same team but that’s what the San Jose Sharks did. But San Jose is still talented with Brett Burns bringing a ton of offense from the blue line and Martin Jones in net; however, this feels like the last run with this aging core of players who only lost Patrick Marleau in the offseason. .

The Calgary Flames added several veterans to help the young kids along the way. The additions of Mike Smith and Jaromir Jagr bring veteran leadership to a team looking to recover from a shellacking in the first round of the playoffs. If Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan continue to grow, Calgary will be good for a long time.

Meanwhile the other team in western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks, seems to never want to pick a direction. The Sedin twins are past their prime but the additions of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto appear to be win now moves when Vancouver should be looking to the future.

Another team that seems to be in between is the Los Angeles Kings who got rid of Darryl Sutter as their coach. But this a team that seems to be slower and not adapting to a faster NHL. If they are to get back to their glory days, they will need Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty rebound and be excellent along with good health for Jonathan Quick.

One team that is going to be at the bottom but actually does have a direction is the Arizona Coyotes who are in a youth movement. There are the pieces for the future with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair leading the way and the addition of Niklas Hjalmarsson will bring veteran leadership to a young locker room.

Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights enter the league with a mish mash of parts. But they have talent in goal with three time Cup winner, Marc Andre Fleury and the presence of him should keep Vegas in a lot of games. With Fleury, Nate Schmidt, James Neal and others, will that be enough to keep them out of the basement?

Predictions

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs-They are loaded with Matthews and company and the addition of Marleau brings veteran leadership and scoring to make them even more dangerous and win their first division title.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning-One of these years they have to be healthy right? With Hedman and Nikita Kucherov leading the way, this is a team that no longer relies on just Stamkos to thrive.
  3. Montreal Canadiens- Can Jonathan Drouin elevate his game in Montral with top line minutes? If Price goes down, they are in trouble but his play in net will allow Montreal to secure a guaranteed playoff berth
  4. Florida Panthers-The Panthers are a team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Luongo has played well and they will get bounce back performances from Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau to sneak in as a wild card team.
  5. Buffalo Sabres-It will be a positive step forward for Buffalo as Eichel shows he is a star in the making. The goaltending of Robin Lehner will prevent them from making the playoffs
  6. Boston Bruins-A team in transition, they need Rask to be sensational to get into the playoffs. However, without a true superstar among the forwards or defense, Rask won’t be enough for them to get in the playoffs.
  7. Ottawa Senators-The darlings of last season fall to earth as the loss of Methot will hurt the team defensively along with the anticipated regression of Craig Anderson.
  8. Detroit Red Wings-The glory days are over and the long rebuild begins for Detroit but the promise is there with Larkin, Athanansiou and Anthony Mantha, a last place finish is assured.

Metropolitan Division 

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins-The Stanley Cup champs are the class of their division and with Crosby, Malkin and Letang leading the way, they should barely win their division.
  2. Columbus Blue Jackets-John Tortorella has changed the culture of this team and the addition of Panarin bring more offense to a defensive team that has stellar goaltending in Bobrovsky.
  3. Washington Capitals-They won’t win the division while they retool. Holtby will need to be great in net with new pieces on the blue line in front of him but again the playoffs will be key for them.
  4. Carolina Hurricanes-Loaded with young talent such as Jaccob Slavin, Faulk, Hanifin, they have the potential to surprise. Having Justin Williams back as a veteran forward will give Carolina the boost they need to return to the postseason.
  5. New York Rangers-Lundqvist is still there and they have a good blue line that will provide points. However, the lack of elite offensive talent will cost them this year as they barely miss out on the playoffs.
  6. New York Islanders-Eberle will be a great running mate for Tavares; however, they struggle in goal and with secondary scoring and defense. They will be in the running for a spot but fall short.
  7. Philadelphia Flyers-They’re in the middle between being competitive and rebuilding. Nolan Patrick should be fun to watch as swell as their blue line but they don’t have enough pieces.
  8. New Jersey Devils-Schneider keeps them in games and it should be fun to watch Hischier but they are another team that doesn’t have enough on the blue line to win consistently.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Nashville Predators-Ryan Johansen is healthy and Pekka Rinne is still in net. They should be more consistent after their incredible run next year and win a tough division with the best blue line in the West.
  2. Dallas Stars-Hitchcock’s system will bring discipline to a great offensive team. That along with no debate about the number one goalie with Bishop in tow will have Dallas back in the playoffs.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks-Did the retooling help? Saad back with Toews should make the line dangerous and Nick Schmaltz should have a break out year with Kane. The key will be the blue line where there are unknowns after Keith and Seabrook.
  4. Minnesota Wild-Minnesota thrived under Boudreau last season and they should make the playoffs again. Parise should stay healthy and help Minnesota which returns every contributor snag a wild card spot.
  5. St. Louis Blues-After Yeo took over, they were spectacular. Getting Brayden Schenn to play on the first line gives them some serious offensive power. Expect Allen to regress but do just enough to get the second wild card spot.
  6. Winnipeg Jets-They will be able to outscore teams with their tremendous offensive talent. But the lack of an upgrade in net will cost them a playoff berth as they’ll be just on the outside looking in.
  7. Colorado Avalanche-They don’t have enough defense and not enough offense. Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have regressed and that’s not good for them as they stare at another last place finish.

Pacific Division

  1. Edmonton Oilers-McDavid leads the way again as they take another step forward while Talbot will show that he is the ironman in goal. They will lead the league in goals and get home ice which will be crucial early.
  2. Anaheim Ducks-The bully of the Pacific, they will jell later in the season and make a late run. Getzlaf and a resurgent Perry will lead the way for Anaheim as they look to make their 3rd conference final in 4 years.
  3. Calgary Flames-They have a lot of great young talent and that will continue to mature as Jagr shows them how to handle increased expectations. Mike Smith is an upgrade in goal and will solidify their weakest position as they make the playoffs.
  4. San Jose Sharks-They will fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end but another year for a core that didn’t add anything will cost them. But don’t be surprised if they wind up in the playoffs as their experience counts for something.
  5. Arizona Coyotes-Arizona will take another step forward and continue to improve and play meaningful games late. Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan show that they’re serous about winning and will help a young core grow.
  6. Los Angeles Kings-Another team that is long in the tooth, they need Kopitar and Brown to bounce back in order to make the playoffs. Their lack of depth will cost them a playoff spot in a tough division.
  7. Vegas Golden Knights-The expansion team won’t finish last thanks to the performance of Fleury. A young team that will get better as the year goes along and show the potential to make the playoffs in the next few years.
  8. Vancouver Canucks-The real question will be if they’re out of it by the middle of December if the Sedins get traded to chase that elusive Stanley Cup. There’s not enough talent for them to compete with everybody else.

Playoffs

Eastern Conference

Divisional Semifinals

Atlantic

1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. W1.) Carolina Hurricanes-Toronto in 6

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Montreal Canadiens-Tampa Bay in 5

Metropolitan

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. W2.) Florida Panthers-Pittsburgh in 5

2.) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. 3.) Washington Capitals-Columbus in 7

Divisional Final

Atlantic

1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 6

Metropolitan

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Columbus Blue Jackets-Pittsburgh in 7

Conference Final

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 7

Tampa Bay is a team that has been bit by the injury bug the past two seasons but they’ll be healthy this year entering the postseason and will beat a tough Toronto team and also Columbus will put Pittsburgh through a physical series the round before that they won’t be able to recover from. Vasilevskiy will outduel Murray in an incredible series that will see the impact that new addition Chris Kunitz has on both his new team and old team.

Western Conference

Divisional Semifinals

Central

1.) Nashville Predators vs. W1.) Minnesota Wild-Nashville in 6

2.) Dallas Stars vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6

Pacific

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. W2.) St. Louis Blues-Edmonton in 5

2.) Anaheim Ducks vs. 3.) Calgary Flames-Anaheim in 7

Divisional Final

Central

1.) Nashville Predators vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7

Pacific

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 2.) Anaheim Ducks-Edmonton in 7

Conference Final

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6

The Chicago team that you see to start the season will not be the same team at the end of the season as they’ll use the cap space available from the departure of Marian Hossa. Edmonton will get their revenge against Anaheim in another memorable series. Chicago with improved depth will get their revenge on Nashville as they’ll have the speed to skate with them this year. Edmonton is still a year away and will learn another important lesson on their journey to the Cup when Toews and company prevail over them.

Stanley Cup Final

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7

Never discount what an angry Toews can do. He’s been embarrassed before when the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012. However. the sweep last year against Nashville embarrassed him again. To add insult to injury Crosby won his third cup and completed something that Toews wasn’t able to by repeating as Stanley Cup Champion. Toews and company want to prove that they should be mentioned among the elite franchises of all time and the last time they were eliminated in the first round twice? They won the Cup the next year. With the radar not on them and a deeper supporting cast, they will sneak up on everybody and win on the road in a Game 7 to win their fourth cup in nine seasons.

Awards

Hart: Sidney Crosby

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Patrick Laine

Norris: P.K. Subban

Vezina: Matt Murray

Calder: Nico Hischier

Jack Adams: Bill Peters

 

 

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Looking at NBA Expansion possibilities

Minds were intrigued over the past weekend when Adam Silver said that while expansion is not imminent it is inevitable. So could it be within the next five years that the NBA expands to 32 teams? With that thought in mind, let’s look at some of the possibilities and how an 82 game season would work with 32 teams.

It’s no secret that the balance of the NBA has been out of whack over the past decade with the West being the powerhouse conference while the East is the sisters of the poor. This is more evident when looking over the past seven years during the superteam era.

One way to balance out the leagues could be to put two expansion teams in the Western Conference which would balance things out a little more while two teams are trying to grow and become competitive.

The other reason that the NBA will expand? It’ll bring more money into the league. If the NHL could get $500 million from Bill Foley and the Vegas Golden Knights then why couldn’t the NBA get a similar fee if not more as they have a much better television deal.

Now for some of the cities that could be in the mix for a team.

The first city that has to come to mind is Seattle. It’s been a long decade since Kevin Durant was playing games for Seattle before they moved to Oklahoma City. With Clay Hansen and company looking to bring the NBA back to Seattle they would be the prime candidate.

Another city that is going to be a prime candidate is Las Vegas. The NBA will wait to see how the NHL performs in the market first before expressing any interest but if the Vegas experiment works, you can bet the NBA will be calling.

There’s several other interesting candidates including Mexico City. The NBA has put on several regular season games with great success in Mexico City which can open up other revenue streams and a new and exciting market.

With the Chargers out of town, San Diego could be looking for a new pro league team to fill winter days when the Padres aren’t playing. Or perhaps, St. Louis or Kansas City could be other candidates.

Now what would a league look like? Well the NBA has two options with either an 8 division setup or a 4 division set up. The challenge is trying to make equal scheduling for each team. Seattle has been told by the NBA that they have first rights to any expansion that the NBA does. So let’s assume that the NBA becomes intrigued by the success that Vegas shows as an NBA market. An 4 division set up with 8 teams would look something like this:

Division Atlantic Central South Pacific
Team Name Atlanta Chicago Dallas Golden State
Boston Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Brooklyn Detroit Houston Los Angeles Clippers
Charlotte Indiana Memphis Los Angeles Lakers
Miami Milwaukee New Orleans Phoenix
Orlando Minnesota Oklahoma City Portland
New York Toronto San Antonio Sacramento
Philadelphia Washington Utah Seattle

Divisional Games: 4 games each (2 home, 2 away)-28 games

Intra divisional games within conference: 3 games each (alternate 2 games home, 2 away)-24 games

Inter conference games: 30 games (2 home, 2 away with 14 teams, 1 home with 1 and 1 away with 1, rotating through a 8 year time period where it will balance out with 15 games against each team in an 8 year period).

The first thing that you will notice is that the Minnesota comes over to the East which makes sense since they’ll be paired with teams in their geographical region and Toronto was a logical fit for the Central as well. The trickier challenge was deciding the eighth team in the Central but Washington makes the most sense as it’s at least not too far to Cleveland and Philadelphia pairs better with New York, Brooklyn and Boston.

In the West, it’s a lot smoother as with Minnesota going to the East, Oklahoma City, Utah and Denver can be in a division with the Texas teams and other Southern teams. It allows Portland to seamlessly go with the Pacific division. The only issue is scheduling and whether or not the NBA would like to go with every team playing a home and home with each team in the other conference. By rotating them, there is only year in an eight year span that there would be one game with one team in each division of the other conference.

But what if the NBA were to go to a radical 8 division, 4 team model? It actually works out better from a scheduling standpoint.

Division Atlantic Central South Coastal
Team Name Boston Chicago Dallas Golden State
Brooklyn Indiana Houston Los Angeles Clippers
New York Milwaukee Oklahoma City Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia Minnesota San Antonio Sacramento
Southeast North Mountain Pacific
Atlanta Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Charlotte Detroit Memphis Phoenix
Miami Toronto New Orleans Portland
Orlando Washington Utah Seattle

Division Games: (4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-12 games

Inter conference games: (3 games each, 2 home and 1 away for 10 teams, rotating every year; along with 2 designated rivals where you play 4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-38 games

Cross Conference games: (2 games each, home and home with each team)-32 games

Besides some wacky names and travel issues, this has the potential to be very intriguing. The scheduling works out great with still 4 games against each team in the division and playing each team in the other conference twice. The interesting thing in order to get to 82 games is having designated rivals outside of the division which would allow for preservation of those rivalries.

For example, Chicago would have Cleveland and Detroit as their designated rivals. Or New York could have Indiana and Miami as their designated rivals. There are two ways to do this, you could match up divisions so both rivals come from that division or you could split them up between divisions.

The 8 division setup allows there to be more focus geographically. The only question is does it devalue division championships? There would be 8 automatic berths into the playoffs and then the top 4 teams that don’t win their division would advance into the playoffs.

There may not be a perfect answer to expansion in the NBA but it’s fun to look at these possibilities and see what would fit.

If you have any expansion ideas, let us know in the comments below or email MRosenberg@wrlr.fm

Colin Kaepernick deserves better

There are some things that are just head scratching to think about. And the fact that Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned is disturbing and unfathomable for teams that want to win football games.

In the past week, the Baltimore Ravens have debated whether or not to sign Kaepernick as a backup quarterback. However, they have been hemming and hawing including reaching out to fans and sponsors to see if they would be okay signing him.

Now let’s be clear, we all know this isn’t about his football ability because there are about half a dozen teams that Kaepernick could be starting for and at worst should be a backup for almost any team in the league. Kapernick threw 4 interceptions in 331 pass attempts and had a 4:1 TD/INT ratio last season.

Yet because Kaepernick has the courage to take a stand and speak up about a growing problem in America regarding social inequality, he is unfairly punished. It all started with Kaepernick and him sitting during the national anthem which started a ruckus about how he was disrespecting his country. In fact, after the initial protest, Kaepernick spoke with several retired veterans including Nate Boyer to see how he could show respect to themselves while protesting, resulting in him kneeling during the national anthem.

This is not unpatriotic or disgusting; in fact it’s far from it and the notion that people think that is completely misguided. To say it’s unpatriotic would mean that any time anybody took a stand would be unpatriotic which would mean that everybody would get punished for saying their thoughts on social media. My definition of patriotism is going to be different from your definition of patriotism and everybody else’s definition of patriotism which is a good thing. Yes we are grateful for others who have risked and sacrificed their lives for our freedom which is why it’s more important to exercise our right to freedom to speech to further discussion on issues in the United States because otherwise nothing gets solved

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that instead of growing, we are going backwards as a society in the United States. Instead of promoting discussion, our society has become inclined to go against anybody that doesn’t conform to their beliefs and fit in our neat and tidy square box of a definition of an American citizen. Conformity doesn’t promote discussion, it squashes it and allows situations to become worse.

When you look at this situation, it has become a prime example of the hateful rhetoric that goes on in this country. The country has never been more divided and those who don’t conform to the narrow minded visions of some are penalized. Nobody pays attention to the fact that Kaepernick donated suits to parolees in New York or any of his other charitable efforts.

Kaepernick didn’t commit a crime or hurt anybody. All he did was exercise his first amendment right which has been around since the founding of this country. But what Kaepernick did was wrong and he doesn’t deserve to make a living; however, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, Riley Cooper and others who have committed crimes are forgiven and better human beings than Kaepernick? Seriously is that the backwards type of country that we live in nowadays? There is perhaps no one who has better summed up this situation than Sarah Spain yesterday during an appearance on Around the Horn on ESPN.

It’s inconceivable that someone who didn’t commit a crime is treated worse than athletes who have. This isn’t saying that they athletes who committed a crime are bad people, but somehow Kaepernick has been made out to be a villain in a situation that has no villain.

How is this different than the Black lives matter protest that NBA and NFL players did several years ago? It’s not except that it’s easier to pick and single out an individual rather than a group. Perhaps it’s because Kaepernick isn’t a “star” player so nobody cares if they ruin his career and livelihood because they won’t miss him while consuming the product that he plays in.

When it’s all said and done, Kaepernick is an NFL quarterback who is being blackballed by the NFL and society because he took a stand and one that was not unpopular. He doesn’t have a job because everyone wants to live in their ideal world and not rock the boat. And somehow he is the source of the problems in society. Sorry Ray Lewis the answer isn’t to shut up and keep your head down, that just allows the situation to stay the same.

Kaepernick deserves better from the NFL, fans, society and everybody. He took a stand and that should be applauded not vilified. Kapernick has been failed by everybody for speaking up for his beliefs. He deserves our respect and he should be held in esteem for standing up for his belief like everybody else is encouraged to. Kaepernick was extremely brave for what he did and as a whole he deserves better from everybody.

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons to be excited for Bears training camp

Last year was the worst season for the Bears in the span of their franchise history. After going 3-13 and watching three different quarterbacks start at least 5 games, there isn’t much outward evidence for optimism. But with training camp starting there are a few reasons to be excited to pay attention to the Bears.

1.) They have some new quarterbacks

It was a busy offseason for the Bears as they signed Mike Glennon to a 3 year, $45 million contract, which is essentially a one year contract as all of the guaranteed money is in the first year, seemingly signing the bridge quarterback of the future. Now it remains to see whether Mike Glennon is a legitimate NFL quarterback. For his career, Glennon has played in 21 games, throwing for 4,100 yards, 30 TD and 15 INT. Not door busting numbers, but Glennon had the job in Tampa Bay taken away from him twice. By all accounts, Glennon has looked decent during the first few days of practice.

However, the Bears weren’t done as the traded up one spot in the first round and selected Mitchell Trubisky #2 overall. Trubisky struggled in the past two days with getting snaps from center, fumbling four. However, it’s not about right now for Trubisky or the Bears, he will be on the bench to start the season and ideally if Glennon plays well and stays healthy, Trubisky won’t see game action at all this year. But for the first time in a long time, the Bears went all in on a quarterback in the first round and it’ll be intriguing to see what talent Trubisky possesses and if his one excellent season in college, 3,748 yards passing, 30 TD and 6 INT in 13 starts (only starts in college), translates to the NFL.

2.) The new draft picks

Every year it’s exciting to see the new draft picks of the Bears. But this year they drafted two intriguing talents in Adam Shaheen and Tarik Cohen. Shaheen is the big tight end that fans have been clamoring for in the past decade. He’s 6’6, 275 lbs and catches everything. The Bears did reach for Shaheen who came out of Ashland Great Lakes in the second round, but the upside is huge if he can continue to grow in the NFL. Shaheen has a great catch radius and caught 127 passes and 26 touchdowns the past two seasons in college. The Bears are desperate for a go to big target and Shaheen will be a candidate to provide that for them.

At a full foot shorter than Shaheen is Cohen. However, if there is one comparison that comes to mind because of the height and elusiveness when discussing Cohen, it’s Darren Sproles. The key for the Bears will be to get Cohen the ball out wide where he can use his vision and ability to avoid tacklers. He has the nickname “The Human Joystick” and has shown that he has that big play ability as he had four touchdowns of 83 plus yards last season. For once, the Bears have two intriguing offensive weapons that will be exciting to watch in camp.

3.) Leonard Floyd

Floyd had a spectacular rookie season last year before it was cut short by the second concussion that he sustained in a Dec. 24 game against Washington. However, before that Floyd had seven sacks and a touchdown including a three game run against Green Bay, Minnesota and Tampa Bay where he recorded 4.5 sacks. Stretching that out to a five game run, Floyd had 6.5 of his 7 sacks in those games.

Now that Floyd is recovered from the second concussion which limited his ability to work out for the first part of the offseason, Floyd is looking to be more consistent in his second season. Having put on some weight, Floyd should be able to shed blockers and if he progresses he should be a double digit sack guy for the Bears.

4.) Jordan Howard

Without question, the best player for the Bears last season was Jordan Howard. A fifth round draft pick, Howard had a phenomenal rookie season rushing for 1,313 yards with 6 TD along with 29 receptions, 298 yards and 1 TD which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Now Howard will be looking to put his name as one of the top running backs in the NFL while being the focal point of the offense and facing heavy defensive fronts. If Howard repeats the season he had last season, the Bears will have a real steal on their hands.

5.) Secondary play

We all know that the front seven will be fine with Floyd, Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman leading the way. However, the secondary was awful last year and will need to be significantly improved if the Bears are going to be better this year.

Plenty of resources were spent to overhaul the position with the signings of Prince Akumamara, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps. For a defense that had 8 interceptions and just 3 fumbles recovered last year, the secondary needs to show better ability to get to the ball and force turnovers. Demps had 6 interceptions last season. In addition, the Bears selected Eddie Jackson from Alabama in the fourth round who is nearly recovered from a broken leg and will hopefully be able to play in preseason games. The Bears need some of the players mentioned as well as others from a group that includes Deon Bush, Adrian Amos, Kyle Fuller and Johnthan Banks to step up and become NFL starters.

There you have it while it might not be a fun regular season there are things to look forward to as training camp and preseason progresses.

Venus Williams and Roger Federer are proving age doesn’t matter and on the cusp of more history

Sometimes the old folks have still got it and that is what Venus Williams and Roger Federer have proven so far at Wimbledon. For the past 12 days, they have turned back the clock and it feels like we are in 2007 not 2017.

Williams has played spectacularly so far and has only dropped one set which was in the second round. In fact, over the past three rounds, Williams has only dropped 19 games while dominating the competition and has not dropped serve in her last 12 service games.

It’s been a long journey for Williams who has battled Sjogrens Syndrome, which causes fatigue, muscle and joint pain. But slowly over the years, Williams has gotten her game back to the level it was when she was winning grand slams over a decade ago. This has been her most successful year since the diagnosis and now she is one match away from making plenty of history.

At 37, if Williams wins on Saturday, she will become the oldest grand slam winner in history, passing ironically her sister, Serena who beat her in the Australian Open Final this year to grab that honor. Also, with a victory, Williams would set a record for most grand slam tournaments between championships as it has been 39 grand slam tournaments since she last won one which was at Wimbledon 2008.

Williams will face stiff competition in the final from Garbine Muguruza who is a grand slam winner herself winning the 2016 French Open by defeating Serena and lost to her in the 2015 Wimbledon final. Nobody has defeated both Williams sisters in Grand Slam Finals. Muguruza has the opportunity to become the first player to ever do that.

And it can be argued that Muguruza is playing her best tennis and has actually lost less games in the tournament than Williams. Muguruza has lost 37 games throughout the six rounds and dominated in the semifinals.

One way or another history is going to be made in the final. One final interesting stat is that at Wimbledon, the Williams sisters have followed peculiar trends. In 2000-01, Venus went back to back. The next two years? Serena went back to back. In 2005-08, Venus won three out of four and went back to back in the final two. Want to guess what happened the next four years? Yep, that’s right, Serena went back to back, matching Venus and won three out of four.

In 2015-16, Serena won back to back. Ironically, the next year, Venus is in the final and could continue a weird trend with a win. If Williams serves like she has so far in this tournament on her favorite surface, she has a great shot.

On the men’s side, it has been a fantastic tournament for Federer who has made the Wimbledon final for a record 11th time. Federer is also experiencing a resurgent year after taking off six months last year and looks healthier than ever.

Federer is trying to win a record 8th Wimbledon title which would break a tie with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. There have been two previous attempts for Federer to win his record eighth but both times he was stopped by Novak Djokovic in 2014 and 2015.

But now Federer is trying to accomplish even more history by extending his record total of grand slams to 19. Also, Federer has not dropped a set in the tournament so far and is trying to become the second man in the open era to win Wimbledon without dropping a set which has only been accomplished by Bjorn Borg in 1976.

At 35, Federer is serving brilliantly and can still hit those shots that make your jaw drop and wonder how the heck did he do that? He’s a magician and wizard on grass and continues to amaze at his advanced age. With a win on Sunday, Federer would become the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the open era.

However, he will have a stiff challenge in Marin Cilic, who won the U.S. Open in 2014 when he stunned Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinals. The two have met at Wimbledon before last year in the quarterfinals when Cilic won the first two sets before dropping the final three including the fourth in a tiebreak.

The big serve of Cilic could give Federer trouble and allow for easy holds. Federer will not faze Cilic who has defeated four players in a row ranked in the top 26 on his way to the final and Federer will be his fifth ranked player in a row.

Much like the final on the women’s side, history is going to be made whomever wins. If Federer wins he extends his record grand slam titles and becomes the winningest player in Wimbledon history, winning the tournament for the first time since 2012. If Cilic wins, he cements his legacy by winning two different grand slams.

It has been a fantastic two weeks for Williams and Federer who are the old grizzled veterans on the tour. What once seemed improbable to think of 12 months ago, when it looked the game passed them by, is on the verge of happening. The question is can they use their experience against much younger opponents and pull one more out?

If they do, they’ll be the oldest champions in Wimbledon history and will truly have turned back time. By the way, the champions on both side in 2007? That’s right, it was Williams and Federer. In two days, we could possibly see the same winners of Wimbledon that we saw 10 years ago. Now wouldn’t that be a trip?

 

NHL Free Agency Winners and Losers

With the NHL in a lull now after the initial free agency period, it seems to be the perfect time to look back and see who the winners and losers are so far.

Winners

1.) Dallas Stars

Perhaps the most improved team on paper is the Dallas Stars. They had a very successful last month as they addressed several needs. First, they hired a very good coach in Ken Hitchcock who should make them more disciplined and finally got away from the two goalie tandem in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Raanta by acquiring Ben Bishop. However, they weren’t done there as they signed Alexander Radulov to provide some scoring and Martin Hanzal to bring some defense to a talented offensive squad. But no move may be bigger than trading for Marc Methot who will be a top pairing defensive defenseman who will help John Klingberg immensely and finally give Dallas a minutes eater who can be an anchor on the blue line.

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning

Sometimes it’s not the big time splashes that lead to winning in the offseason. Instead taking care of business can be just as effective which is exactly what Tampa Bay did. It was small signings but the re-signing of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Peter Budaj are great signings and nobody cost them an exorbitant amount of money. Spending $11.5 million on the three of them is shrewd business by Steve Yzerman. By extending his own players at affordable rates, it allowed Tampa Bay to go out and get some veterans in Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi with winning experience to provide some additional leadership to a talented young core that has gone to a Stanley Cup final and another Eastern Conference Final and could be the final piece of the puzzle.

3.) Restricted Free Agents

Connor McDavid broke the bank when he signed an 8 year extension for $12.5 million per year which means the market has been totally reset in terms of what young players are going to make coming off of their first contracts. Leon Draisaitl, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen are among those who are going to get paid in the offseason. All those players stand to make over $6 million a year if not close to $8 million or more. This will lead to some issues for these teams and restricted free agency just got a whole lot more interesting because this could possibly lead to a few offer sheets which are rare in the NHL.

4.) Toronto Maple Leafs

It was a phenomenal season for Toronto this year and they followed it up by adding veteran leadership and a proven scorer in Patrick Marleau. He will slide in seamlessly alongside Auston Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to show them the way as they navigate the NHL in their second seasons. Another great add was getting Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh with a 2 year, $6 million contract. Toronto did not have much defense last year and Hainsey can play 20+ minutes, kill penalties and brings Stanley Cup winning pedigree to Toronto which will be much needed for a group whose arrow is pointing sky high.

5.) Old guys

Some of the old guys cashed in during free agency this season. Marleau got three years at 37 along with $6.25 million per year and a no movement clause which ridiculous. Meanwhile his San Jose BFF, Joe Thornton got $8 million to re-sign there for this season. Another old guy cashing in was Trevor Daley who received $3.16 million per year for three years from Detroit. Hainsey, Kunitz and Girardi all got $3 million a year as well from the teams that they signed with. And there’s still the possibility that Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla join this list as well.

Losers

1.) Washington Capitals

There is no question that Washington has gotten weaker during this period so far. Down the road they may wind up regretting the extension of T.J. Oshie for 8 years and $5.75 million per year which will take him until he’s 39. But perhaps the bigger hit is to the defense which has lost not only Kevin Shattenkirk but Karl Alzner as well. Right now as the roster is currently constructed there are four NHL defensemen and Washington still needs at least two more forwards with only $4 million cap space remaining. Everybody knew that last year was all in and Washington will have to get creative to replace the talent that has been lost.

2.) Colorado Avalanche

It’s not so much what Colorado has done, it’s what they haven’t done. The main objective entering this offseason was trading Matt Duchene and getting young defenseman back to rebuild an atrocious defense around. Yet on July 14, Joe Sakic has not traded him and may keep him to start the season. Why he hasn’t traded him to either Nashville, Columbus, Pittsburgh or Montreal to name a few is the $64,000 question. There are three NHL defensemen on the roster and only 32 contracts in the organization! Colorado has so much work ahead of them and instead of pulling the trigger, Sakic seems inclined to yo-yo everybody around while trying to pry some huge payday that is never going to come. It’s been a very bad offseason for Colorado so far.

3.) Ottawa Senators

It has been a quiet offseason for Ottawa, who had a fantastic spring in making the Eastern Conference final and taking Pittsburgh to double overtime in Game 7. And quiet is good except that Ottawa lost Marc Methot, a top pairing defenseman, to Vegas in the expansion draft (Methot was later traded to Dallas as detailed above). And the issue is that Ottawa hasn’t done anything to replace Methot which is puzzling. No run at Andrei Markov or any other defenseman on the market. In addition, postseason star and restricted free agent, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, remains unsigned. For a team that has cap space and needs on defense, it makes no sense for Ottawa to be silent.

4.) New Jersey Devils

For a team that has loads of cap space and no players to re-sign, New Jersey has been awfully quiet. Currently they have 14 players on the NHL roster and $20 million in cap space. At least surround Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier with other scoring talent when there are plenty of capable offensive options out there. Now New Jersey did miss their big target of the offseason when Shattenkirk signed with the New York Rangers but there are other areas that they can spend their money on when they have the third most cap space in the NHL.

5.) Philadelphia Flyers

In the toughest division in the NHL, Philadelphia did not improve enough with their signings. When they have to compete with Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, both New York teams just to get in the playoffs, they need to bring a deep and talented roster. They replaced Steve Mason with Brian Elliott who flamed out with the Calgary Flames, no pun intended, which is not an upgrade. They did get Jori Lehtera but traded Brayden Schenn in order to get him which is a wash and possibly a bit of a downgrade. It’s not like Philadelphia got worse it’s just they didn’t get much better with the players they signed and Nolan Patrick.

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

After a week and a half since the free agency market has been open, the dust has settled and it seems appropriate to examine the winners and losers of the free agency period in the NBA.

Winners

1.) Boston Celtics

The clear winner of free agency is the Boston Celtics and Gordon Hayward. Hayward reunites with his college coach, Brad Stevens and will be a perennial all-star in the Eastern Conference where there is a black hole sized void of talent besides the Cleveland trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Boston should have an easy path to a top two seed in the East next season with Hayward in fold and there is no reason that they should not have a rematch with Cleveland as Jayson Tatum looks to be a very promising draft pick for the Celtics.

2.) ESPN

ESPN made out like bandits during free agency. I’m not talking about their addition of Adrian Wojoranowski, which was probably the second worst kept secret in ESPN in the first half of the year behind the breakup of Mike and Mike. However, with the giant shift of superstar talent to the West, ESPN will have plenty of primetime offerings for their slate of games with five monster teams in the West to begin with in addition to good teams such as Memphis, Denver, Portland, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans. And guess who has the Western Conference playoffs next season? That’s right, ESPN, which will have the Western Conference Final between two of Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City. ESPN and fans have got to be extremely happy to see that the Western Conference playoffs should be insane and a lot of fun next season with some great matchups if everybody stays healthy.

3.) Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota had a monster offseason even before free agency started. They get a star in Jimmy Butler who will provide veteran leadership and improve the defense in Minnesota as he reunites with Tom Thibodeau. Then Thibodeau continued to improve the roster by signing Jeff Teague who will provide offense and shooting to supplement Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But Minnesota wasn’t done after that as they signed another Thibodeau favorite, Taj Gibson, who will provide frontcourt depth and energy off of the bench.

4.) Blake Griffin

If there was ever a time to take advantage of your own organization who is desperate to keep you, this was the time for Griffin. After the Clippers traded Chris Paul to Houston, the writing was on the wall that LA had to do everything it could to keep their other star in Griffin. Now you can argue whether Griffin is worth the max deal that he got, news flash, he isn’t as he is extremely injury prone and has missed 83 games in the past three seasons in addition to an alarming decrease in scoring and rebounding over the past three seasons. However, you can’t fault Griffin for taking this deal as he gets an extra year and $50 extra million by re-signing with Los Angeles, it was a no-brainer as every dollar of his $176 million is guaranteed.

5.) Darryl Morey and Sam Presti

Give credit to Morey and Presti who decided they weren’t going to lay down and try to wait out the Golden State dominance. It’s refreshing to see especially since every team in the Eastern Conference except for Boston has essentially decided to lay over and provide a poor product for their fans and hope they win their golden lottery ticket. Which will ultimately wind up in the walk of shame home from the draft lottery next season for almost every team. Seriously, how hilarious would it be if Boston has a great year andwins the draft lottery again with the Brooklyn pick after half the league tried to tank? Rather, both Morey and Presti went out and acquired a superstar to mount a challenge to Golden State with the trades of Paul and Paul George respectively. At least there are a few teams that are willing to make it interesting and challenge Golden State and Cleveland for supremacy and not make it a formality.

Losers

1.) The fans in the Eastern Conference

Not every fan is going to wind up disappointed but outside of Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee, the rest of the east is going to be dreadful. If Philadelphia gets their act together they can be interesting but that’s a giant question mark. Instead if you’re an Eastern Conference fan of another team, my condolences to you, it’s going to be horrible. Chicago, Indiana, Atlanta, New York, Brooklyn and Orlando are going to be bad, really bad that’s it’s going to be embarrassing. And in the end the Eastern Conference playoffs will be horrible until the Eastern Conference final where Cleveland will most likely roll in 5 games.

2.) New York Knicks

You have to ask yourself, what are the Knicks actually doing? Is there an actual plan? They get rid of Phil Jackson which happened to be their best move of the offseason because he was terrible and everyone could see this a mile away when he got hired. Jackson had never been in management and had no experience running a team from the front office viewpoint. Instead, New York gives Tim Hardaway Jr. $71 million which blocks Frank Nitilikina who was drafted to be the future. And they haven’t traded an unhappy superstar in Carmelo Anthony for which they won’t get equal value. Another head scratching moment for the Knicks which is just like every Monday morning for them at this moment.

3.) Miami Heat

There were some nice moves that were made by Miami but they struck out in landing the big fish as they missed on Hayward and Griffin. Hassan Whiteside is a beast for Miami and their leader but they are wasting his prime by not pairing him up with another superstar. Miami has a lot of positives associated with it including being run by Pat Riley, warm weather and no state income tax. However, none of those have worked in their favor over the past two summers and they tied up cap space by paying James Johnson $15 million a year for four seasons which will hamper their ability to be financially flexible for next year.

4.) Derrick Rose

It’s hard to believe that Derrick Rose is still unsigned after having a very good season in New York. Rose averaged 18 points per game and 4.4 assists per game. While no longer the dynamic basketball player that he was before, Rose still brings a lot of value and can be a serviceable starter in the league still. He proved that last season but there are no more opportunities out there to be a starter after the Clippers signed Milos Teodosic who will be their replacement for Chris Paul. That move combined with Teague signing in Minnesota could mean that at 28, Rose’s days as a starter in the NBA are numbered which seems shocking.

5.) Mid-tier free agents

There are plenty of good options still out there and it’s surprising that some of them aren’t signed. Some of the players that are still available include Nerlens Noel, Jonathan Simmons, Ersan Ilyasova, Mason Plumlee, Ian Clark, Rose, Tony Allen, Deron Williams and Terrence Jones among others. The problem that they are all facing is that they will make less than they are worth as most teams have blown through a majority of their cap space that would use them. The other issue is with half of the teams trying to tank, some of them don’t want to add somebody that could potentially win them a few games. It’s a tough year to be a middle class free agent.

 

Venus Williams continues to shine on the grass of Wimbledon; other Wimbledon thoughts

Wimbledon is through 10 days of the tournament and there has been plenty of exciting action taking place already.

Venus Williams made her tenth Wimbledon semi-final today by defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 7-5. It was another steady performance by Williams who has been sensational during this tournament only dropping one set in the first five matches.
The grass of Wimbledon suits Williams  like no other as she is able to use her powerful serve to her advantage and limit the length of points.

At age 37, Williams continues to defy time by playing some of her best tennis after coming back while battling Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder which causes fatigue in addition to muscle and joint pain, which she was diagnosed with in 2011. Arguably, Willams is playing her best tennis since that diagnosis.

Williams has performed well in the grand slams this year, losing in the Australian Open final to sister, Serena before bowing out in the round of 16 in the French Open. Now Williams has made the semifinals of Wimbledon for the 10th time in her career.

In fact, the last time that Venus won a major was in 2008 when she won in Wimbledon by defeating her sister, Serena. Her last final at Wimbledon came in 2009. Improbably, Williams has battled back since the diagnosis and gotten stronger as she has aged. One other record that fell on Tuesday was Venus recording her 86th career win at Wimbledon in 100 matches which matches Serena for third-most victories at Wimbledon.

This leaves for a titanic matchup on Thursday when Williams takes on hometown favorite, Johanna Konta who defeated Simona Halep in a tense three setter. The crows at Centre Court will have to choose between Konta or Williams who is equally beloved at Wimbledon. Konta is the first British woman since Virginia Wade 39 years ago to make the semifinals of Wimbledon and trying to end a 40 year drought for British women winning Wimbledon. Konta holds the edge at 3-2 but Venus Williams might be at the peak of her game, it promises to be not miss TV on Thursday morning.

Five more thoughts on Wimbledon so far

1.) Rafael Nadal shows class and that he’s a warrior in an epic loss

Watching the first part of the match between Nadal and Gilles Muller, it seemed like it would be a runaway rout as Muller took the first two sets behind his big serve which flummoxed Nadal. But Nadal battled back like the champion he is by taking the next two sets. What followed was tennis at its best when Muller and Nadal engaged in a 2 hour and 15 minute fifth set. Neither man cracked through 27 service games, holding serve until Nadal was broken in the final game as Muller won the final set 15-13.

Throughout the deciding set, Nadal could be seen getting pumped up and showing emotion during big points whether he won them or not. One of the most fantastic things about tennis is that players get to be themselves and show their personality. This extends to the class that Nadal showed during the post match as he waited for Muller so they could walk off the court together. Say what you will about Nadal but he is classy and someone who never gives up, an absolute pleasure to watch.

2.) The wonky scheduling of Wimbledon

Not only was Novak Djokovic affected by the Nadal-Muller epic but so were the fans. It was puzzling and befuddling why the officials at Wimbledon did not move Djokovic-Adrian Mannarino was not moved to Centre Court. The match between Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov was over around 7 PM local time while the fifth set was still over an hour and a half away from being completed.

At that time it seemed logical that the officials would close the roof which would allow Djokovic and Mannarino to have the opportunity to start and complete their match as they can play until 11 PM with the roof closed before curfew. However as Djokovic answered at the post match press conference after his straight sets victory over Mannarino today, there was no good reason given. This was part of the statement given by Wimbledon officials

“The safety and security of all visitors to the Championships is of paramount importance. The preference was to play the Djokovic v Mannarino match as scheduled on No.1 Court.
“When that was no longer an option, it was determined the match could not be moved to Centre Court due to the number of spectators remaining in the grounds.”

This makes absolutely no sense as they could have opened Centre Court to the approximately 30,000 fans available and allowed them to move in between sets to watch the rest of the match. Now Djokovic must play on consecutive days as he has his quarterfinal match tomorrow against Tomas Berdych before potentially having to play the winner of Roger Federer-Milos Raonic on Friday. 3 matches in 4 days to make the final of Wimbledon is daunting and the officials at Wimbledon got this one wrong by not moving the match yesterday to Centre Court.

3.) Federer and Murray continue to roll

The other two big 4 members, Federer and Murray continue to roll through the tournament. Federer has not lost a set in this tournament after handling Dimitrov in straight sets and looks to be in prime position to win his 8th Wimbledon title and 19th grand slam overall. Federer has been serving well and still moves around the grass like nobody else in the game. Talk about a resurgence that has come out of nowhere after looking like the game had passed him by over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, Murray has shown a few cracks in the foundation as he did struggle in the first set against Benoit Paire but pulled out a tiebreaker which led to him winning a straight set battle 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. Murray has only dropped one set but his path to the final looks a lot clearer with Nadal’s loss on Monday. The defending champion is showing that he has the fitness and defense to escape trouble and only has Sam Querry and the winner of Gilles Muller and Milan Cilic in his way of making the Wimbledon final where he’ll try to win the title for the third time in his career.

4.) Garbine Muguruza has an excellent chance to win her second grand slam title

Remember Muguruza who shocked the tennis world by overcoming Serena Williams in the 2016 French Open final in straight sets? Well she is knocking on the door of playing for the Wimbledon title on Saturday. A fantastic performance on Monday, against Angelique Kerber, prevailing in three sets, winning the last two, was followed by an easy straight set victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 6-4.

The victory sets up a showdown with Magdalena Rybarikova who has come out of nowhere to make the semifinals, more on her below. If Muguruza who will be heavily favored in their semifinal match prevails, she will have an excellent chance to win Wimbledon and add that to an impressive resume that will only continue to grow as she is just 23.

5.) Miracle runs continue on the women’s side

As mentioned above, Rybarikova finds herself in the semifinals as she has knocked off two top 25 players in the first five rounds and only dropped two sets. Rybarikova dominated in her match against Coco Vandeweghe winning 6-3, 6-3. It was clear from the first ball that Rybarikova was not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment as she rose to the occasion and never allowed Vandeweghe a chance.

Ranked 87 in the world entering the tournament, her improbable run to the semifinal continues where she’s definitely got a good chance of winning. After all, Rybarikova knocked off Karolina Pliskova, who will be ranked number one in the world after the tournament in an odd case of accumulating points, in the second round. Centre Court is not new to Rybarikova which is where she played on Pliskova in the second round, so she’ll have some familiarity when she enters the match on Thursday.

To finish off, how about Johanna Konta, who has also come out of nowhere to make a deep run during this fortnight. It seems strange to say that about the sixth ranked player in the world but Konta’s run was unexpected. Entering the tournament, Konta had only won one career match in Wimbledon which came last year before bowing out in the second round to Eugenie Bouchard.

But during this tournament, Konta has risen to the occasion winning a trio of three set matches with two of those coming in the last two rounds. The pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Konta as the hometown favorite; however, she has shown that she is ready for the moment by winning long rallies and having incredible resiliency.

Her reward for all of her efforts on Thursday is Venus Williams, the 5 time Wimbledon winner, on Centre Court in what should be the second of the two semifinals for a shot at the title. It should be an awesome match on Thursday as Konta holds a slight edge in their career head to head and one miracle run will continue to the final, the question is which one?

Celtics slow build into a powerhouse continues to make the right moves

The Boston Celtics slow, long arduous rebuild under Danny Ainge took another step forward earlier this week with the signing of Gordon Hayward.

Now Boston has a legitimate secondary scorer who will be a perfect compliment to Isaiah Thomas. Hayward isn’t someone who is going to be the primary ball handler unlike many other stars in the NBA. Instead, Hayward will play on the wing and can slash to the hoop or play outside.

In his seven seasons, Hayward has increases his scoring average every season recording a career high 21.9 points per game last season. Over his career, Hayward has improved steadily in several categories besides just points per game which emphasizes his well-rounded game. In addition to the career high in points per game last season, Hayward posted career highs in rebounds per game (5.4), defensive rebounds per game (4.7), free throw percentage (.844), three pointers made (149) and field goals made (545).

There is no reason to not believe that Hayward won’t be able to continue to ascend and reach higher levels. In the horrible Eastern Conference, there is no reason that Hayward won’t be a perennial all-star and average 20+ points per game. Another reason for Hayward’s move is reuniting with Brad Stevens, his college coach at Butler. The two of them together took Butler to new heights during their time together and if Hayward’s final half court heave had been one inch to the right, Butler would have won the national championship in 2010.

But while the addition of Hayward helps, it alone does not make Boston a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference. Jaylen Brown, the #3 overall pick in 2016, is expected to take another step forward. He had a fine rookie season but should grow more in an expanded role. Brown averaged 6.6 points per game in the regular season and had 29 points in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland.

Also, there is great promise for Jayson Tatum, the #3 overall pick this year. At Duke, Tatum averaged 16.8 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 85 percent from the free throw line. If Tatum excels coming off of the bench, he will help replace Avery Bradley who was traded to Detroit on Friday for Marcus Morris who adds a versatile big who can come off of the bench for a team that is small. In addition, the move created cap space for Boston to sign Hayward and gives them flexibility next summer to re-sign Thomas to a lucrative contract extension.

Boston will roll out a very good lineup next year with Thomas, Marcus Smart, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Al Horford in the lineup. If Thomas recovers from his hip injury in the playoffs and resembles what he did last season when he led the team with 28.9 points per game and was a top five player in the fourth quarter then Boston could very well be the number one seed in the East again. Hayward will replace the scoring of Bradley and Horford will be his steady, solid self who averages 15 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.

The scary thing is how much more skill and potential could be added to this team. In addition to their own pick next year, Boston has Brooklyn’s first round pick next season that is unprotected which means there is a real likelihood that will be a top five pick if not top three as Brooklyn was horrid last year and looks to be just as bad this year although they’ll have some competition with some teams in the East obviously tanking. And that’s not all because if the Lakers pick falls between 2-5 next season, Philadelphia will send that pick to Boston as well due to the exchange of draft picks from Philadelphia trading up to pick Markelle Fultz. If that doesn’t happen then Boston will receive the higher of either Sacramento’s or Philadelphia’s first round pick in 2019 which are both protected for just the top pick. So either way, there are two additional stud first round picks coming to Boston.

This all aligns with Ainge’s master plan which is to wait for the departure or decline of LeBron James in order to set up the Celtics advantageously to be the next successor to the throne in the East. With a little bit of time for the games of Brown and Tatum to mature, Boston should be in prime position to be ready to take over the East in 2018. Although seriously if you’re LeBron James why would you leave to go to a team in the West with the bloodbath that is waiting out there for you with Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Minnesota, Oklahoma City and others? He’d be better off going to another team in the East if he wants to leave Cleveland which is going to happen if Dan Gilbert is running the team.

Anyway, Boston will be ready to be the power of the East by 2018 when they will be ascending and Cleveland will be descending. They might be able to seriously challenge Cleveland this year as they are a more well rounded team in a very weak East and should make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. But in the grand scheme of things, Boston is a team that is gaining experience and still young. The master plan was to make this a slow rebuild and stretch it out. However, the time is coming soon where all of the laborious hard work for Ainge and the Boston office will pay off. Watch out NBA because Boston has been preparing to become the next power in the East and it’s going to be happening shortly.

NHL Free Agency Preview

It’s that time of the year when teams spend themselves frivolously into a money coma. There’s ton of rumors flying around and the clock is almost ready to strike as noon on Saturday comes closer. Here is our look at the top 15 free agents, all of whom are unrestricted.

Players are noted with their existing teams and positions with predictions at the end.

1.) Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Washington Capitals

Undoubtedly the prize of the free agent market is Shattenkirk. He is an offensive defenseman who can push the puck and play on the power play. There are some health concerns as Shattenkirk has not played in 80+ games since 2013-2014 but he has scored 14 goals on the power play in the past two seasons and averages 21 minutes per game. Rumors indicate that Shattenkirk would like to be in New York or somewhere close to there as he grew up in Connecticut. Both New York teams, New Jersey and Toronto could be destinations.

Prediction: There is no question that Shattenkirk will be in the Eastern Conference it’s just where. While the Rangers are intriguing and most likely his first choice, they did just sign Brendan Smith to a 4 year extension. In New Jersey, Shattenkirk can be a number one defenseman and get the most lucrative offer as they have over $27 million in cap space. Shattenkirk signs with New Jersey

2.) Karl Alzner, D, Washington Capitals

Alzner is the other defenseman who looks to be on the move from Washington. Shattenkirk is the offensive defenseman while Alzner brings the opposite being a shutdown defenseman. He plays 20+ minutes a night and is durable as he has not missed a game in seven seasons. The potential to slot him into the top defensive pairing will allow Alzner to command big money and have plenty of suitors including Montreal, Toronto and New Jersey.

Prediction: For teams who are looking to improve defensively, Alzner will be the top target. Long term and big money will be on the table from Montreal and Toronto but Alzner will choose the young core of Toronto where he can lead a young defensive unit to go along with an intriguing team that has a bright future. Alzner signs with Toronto

3.) Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

It seems unfathomable that San Jose is allowing Thornton and Marleau to hit free agency but it seems likely with no deal in place for either player as of this evening. Thornton is coming off of ACL and MCL tears but will find a robust market for his services. The 37 year old center is still very productive in the twilight of his career as he had 50 points this season including 19 on the power play. Thornton averages 20 points a year on the power play and could be a number two center who brings a boost to a contender’s power play. Several teams will be in the mix including San Jose, Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Prediction: There will be no shortage of legitimate contenders for Thornton. It’s hard to fathom Thornton not in a San Jose uniform but don’t be surprised if he goes to a team that is a Stanley Cup contender. Nashville would be able to slot him as a second line center instantly becoming the deepest team down the middle in the Western Conference and improve their power play. Thornton signs with Nashville

4.) Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose

It’s hard to believe that Marleau has been in the NHL for 19 seasons. Marleau has been a life long Shark and also seems to be on the cusp of leaving San Jose. Turning 38 before the season, Marleau is still incredibly productive, scoring 27 goals this season and has scored 104 goals in the past four seasons. An extremely durable player having not missed a game since the 2008-2009 season, Marleau will have plenty of suitors including San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, Columbus to name a few teams.

Prediction: Marleau puts the puck in the net and contributes on the power play. He will be in high demand and like Thornton, it’s hard to fathom him in a different uniform. The usual suspects are included in this list but Marleau has deep connections in California and decides to finish his career with the only team that he has known. Marleau re-signs with San Jose

5.) Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal

A talented but enigmatic winger who had a great season with Montreal after returning from the KHL. Radulov posted 18 goals, 36 assists and 54 points this season, his second 50+ point season of the four he has played in the NHL. In the full seasons that he has played, Radulov has scored at least 18 goals. Radulov also brings physical play recording 62 penalty minutes last season. He is asking for a lot of money and will have some suitors including Las Vegas and Montreal.

Prediction: Radulov does bring a lot of positives but also questions about his commitment to the NHL with rumors that if he doesn’t get a good enough deal he’ll go back to the KHL. Ultimately, when all is said and done, Radulov will wind up back with Montreal where he will fit seamlessly with Jonathan Drouin. Radulov re-signs with Montreal

6.) Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota

Hanzal is a big-bodied (6’6) center who is a two-way player that can win faceoffs. However, don’t expect a lot of offensive punch for Hanzal who averages between 35-40 points per season. A big concern is durability as Hanzal played in less than 65 games in the three seasons prior to this year. That being said, there will be several teams interested in him as a two-way center who is defensively responsible including Los Angeles, New York Rangers and more.

Prediction: Hanzal will provide great depth to whichever team picks him up. He’ll be looking to make a move to a contender where he can play on the second or third line. Los Angeles is looking to get back to the playoffs and could use another big body to allow Jeff Carter to shift back to the first line. Hanzal signs with Los Angeles

7.) Justin Williams, RW, Washington

Whatever team picks up Williams will be getting a player who is the definition of clutch. The three time Stanley Cup champion has played in eight game 7’s in his career and is 7-1 with 7 goals and 7 assists. At 35 and soon to be 36, Williams is showing no signs of slowing down having recorded 40+ points in the past 4 seasons and 20+ goals in each of the past 2 seasons. There will be a demand for Williams to join a team that needs some veteran, winning leadership. Some of the suitors will include Dallas, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Columbus.

Prediction: With the big contract handed out to T.J. Oshie, a return to Washington seems unlikely. A young team that has advanced far in the playoffs but needs that one piece would be intriguing to Williams. Tampa Bay could use some more veteran depth to help out Steven Stamkos and company. Williams signs with Tampa Bay

8.) Andrei Markov, D, Montreal

Another veteran who is approaching the twilight of his career but is still supremely productive makes the list. Markov brings offensive game to the blue line and has scored 5+ goals in each of the past five seasons and still averages 23+ minutes a game. At 38, Markov is still durable although this year he missed 20 games. Before that he only missed 2 games in four seasons. Markov seems likely to go back to Montreal but might look elsewhere such as Toronto or Ottawa.

Prediction: Markov will have options if he wants to look elsewhere but he has been in Montreal his whole career. Even at 38, Markov is extremely important to Montreal as he eats up minutes and is part of a talented offensive blue line which is why Markov will wind up back in Montreal. Markov re-signs with Montreal

9.) Jaromir Jagr, RW, Florida

Like a fine wine, Jagr continues to age gracefully. At age 45 he just simply continues to keep producing with 43 goals in the past two seasons in Florida, as well as two 60+ point seasons in the past four. A positive presence in the locker room and on a young team, Jagr should have some competition for his services as he has helped grow the game of the young Florida players.

Prediction: Even though Jagr came out earlier this week and said that he has 0 offers, he should eventually get an offer. A return to Florida is definitely a possibility for a player who wants to play until 50. However, it’s time for the mullet to move on and sell tickets in a market that could use a veteran winger to mentor young players such as an expansion franchise in Las Vegas. Jagr signs with Vegas

10.) Sam Gagner, C, Columbus

A rebound season in Columbus will allow Gagner the opportunity to cash in with a free agent deal. Gagner recorded career highs in goals (18), assists (32) and points (50). Now the questions is can Gagner maintain that consistency and be a 50 point player for several years? 18 points on the power play certainly helped the cause and Gagner has scored 15+ goals in 6 of the past 9 seasons. He will have several suitors including Columbus, Dallas, Chicago and Nashville.

Prediction: Gagner had a great season and established himself as a top-six player which means he will command a hefty price tag which will price him out of Chicago and Columbus. Gagner would look good in the top six of Dallas and get to play against Chicago 4-5 times a year which means 7 of his goals will come against them each season. Gagner signs with Dallas

11.) Nick Bonino, C, Pittsburgh

Bonino is a tough, physical player who plays both ways. He has put up 15+ goals in three of the past four seasons when he was healthy and played 75+ games. Bonino is someone who can center the second line and is good for 16+ minutes a game. During the past two playoffs, Bonino has posted 25 points while being a major contributor to back to back championships in Pittsburgh. Expected to command a big raise, Bonino will have lots of suitors including Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Vancouver.

Prediction: There will be a robust market for the services of Bonino who will not be in Pittsburgh next season. Columbus would benefit from Bonino two-fold by slotting him in as a second line center to give a veteran, winning presence in their lineup. In addition, they would weaken Pittsburgh who they are chasing in the Metropolitan division. Bonino signs with Columbus

12.) Brian Boyle, C, Toronto

When you think of tough players who are a pest, Boyle comes immediately to mind. At 6’7, 245 lbs, imposing and intimidating are only a few words to describe Boyle. Not known as a playmaker, Boyle has a knack for coming up with clutch goals and has scored 13+ goals in each of the past three seasons. Boyle is a commodity in the playoffs as his heavy style wears down opposing defenses and draws penalties. Toronto, Tampa Bay and Ottawa are among the contenders.

Prediction: The draw to go back to Tampa Bay will be very heavy for Boyle; however, with their own restricted free agents to take care of there may not be enough cap room. Boyle would fit in well in Ottawa with a bottom six role to antagonize rivals such as Boston and Montreal. Boyle signs with Ottawa

13.) Michael Del Zotto, D, Philadelphia

The oft-injured defenseman hits the market with questions about his ability to stay healthy but offensive potential. In the past three seasons, Del Zotto has scored 20 goals but missed 79 games during that time as well. Even with the impressive goal total, Del Zotto has only scored one of those on the power play. The question with Del Zotto for teams such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Colorado and Dallas, will be if the offensive potential outweighs the durability concerns.

Prediction: Del Zotto will get paid somewhere and teams that are defense needy will be the ones to overpay for him. Colorado and Dallas immediately come to mind; however, Colorado badly needs a quality defenseman to add to their roster to try to shore up their defensive deficiencies. Del Zotto signs with Colorado

14.) Ron Hainsey, D, Pittsburgh

An underrated defenseman who is durable, plays on the penalty kill and is a minutes eater. Hainsey averages 22 minutes per game and will bring a dedication to shot blocking. While not an offensive juggernaut, Hainsey can contribute a little and scored 5 goals two seasons ago. After getting his long awaited Cup, Hainsey will have plenty of options whether he wants to go to a young team or a cup contender. Plenty of teams will have interest including Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Chicago.

Prediction: Hainsey will have his pick but winning the cup may lead him to going to a cup contender. Pittsburgh may not be able to retain him with Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz free agents. With a hole for a veteran who can be a stabilizing presence in the top four, Chicago would be a great fit who could use him to help show the way to the young defensemen in their system. Hainsey signs with Chicago

15.) Thomas Vanek, LW, Florida

A supremely gifted offensive player, Vanek will provide offense to a team but he is on the downslope of his career. While 35 goals in the past two seasons is nothing to sneeze at, those are the two lowest single season totals of his career. Prior to that, Vanek had 10 consecutive seasons of 20+ goals. A team will buy into his offensive potential and commit money to him on a short term deal. Potential suitors include Florida, Detroit, Arizona and New Jersey.

Prediction: This will be a prove it season for Vanek again to see what he produces and if he comes close to 20 goals again. Several teams that need a veteran scoring presence to surround young players with will be interested. Ultimately, Vanek will go back to Detroit where he had a good season putting up 38 points in 48 games before being traded to Florida. Vanek signs with Detroit