Baseball

I’m hardly the first or only to point this out about Cheating Scandal ’20, but it’s hard to get past the fact that no players were suspended as a result. Which makes you wonder just how much the actual players care about this sort of thing.

Yes, there are complication with the MLBPA that suspending players would come with that punting a manager and a GM don’t have. It would also have made things very awkward for at least half the Astros to be missing for a month, as well as suspending players now on other teams. It probably should have happened anyway, but I can at least see where Rob Manfred didn’t want to step into that muck.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if given the chance to do so off the record, wouldn’t players point out the following: every game, they get thorough and massive reports about what pitchers like to throw and when. About how much those pitches move both with runners on base and not. What they do various trips through a lineup. What he might do with his glove before throwing a break pitch. And that if you pick up the signs from the catcher from second base and relay that to the hitter, that’s considered the fault of the pitcher and catcher. There are 20 pairs of eyes at least in every dugout looking for tips to pitches from either the catcher or pitcher. Basically, hitters are prepped to suspect what might be coming every pitch in just about every way.

So how much farther is it to what the Astros, Red Sox, and I’m sure we’ll find out other teams, did? If everything else is right up to the line, is this so far out over the horizon? Or is it a mere few steps onto the other side?

Because if the players themselves thought this was such a huge violation of things, you’d have to believe at least one clubhouse leader–say an Altuve or Correa or Verlander or the like–would have put a stop to it. We know Hinch made some half-assed efforts to do so, and they were pretty much rebuffed. Clearly the Astros players either never thought they’d get caught, or they didn’t think it was such a big deal if they did. At least Tom Brady had the awareness to bust up a phone, and that was just over footballs.

And I’m sure what the players would tell you, at least the hitters, is that there are just as many reports and scouts on them, nailing down what they can and can’t hit and where they can and can’t get to and the defense is allowed to line up seven guys in accordance with all of that while they’re trying to hit a small rock hurled at them at 97 MPH. Perhaps it’s not such a great imbalance of knowledge?

The argument is of course that the Astros and Red Sox must’ve gleaned a huge advantage from it because they won two of the last three World Series. Except that’s going to go away when we find out just how many other teams had their own scheme in place. And also, what the hell happened to the Red Sox last year, then? I would still bet their success was more predicated on having more good players.

Not that this should have been swept under the rug or not even addressed, because clearly it’s a violation of rules. And perhaps you could solve a good portion of this by getting rid of the still idiotic challenge system of replay so that dugouts wouldn’t even have monitors anywhere near them. You’ll always have video rooms because hitters check that mid-game, but you could easily run those on delay for that purpose. It wouldn’t solve all, but it would solve some. Sure, VAR in England has shown us the problems with a non-challenge system, but baseball is different than everything and I will always be convinced that a fifth ump in the pressbox with radio communication to the other four umps could solve close calls in less than 30 seconds.

At the end of the day, I don’t see Correa or Altuve or Springer or Bregman hitting .228 next year.

In his letter, Manfred made comment how the Astros had made everything about winning at all costs, and results were all that mattered. Yeah, and? That’s the idea of every sports organization, or so I thought. There is something even more soulless about how the Astros went about things, going through their Taubman/Osuna grossness and their streamlining of their scouting department, and we could keep doing. I suppose there’s a part of all of us that’s the “Can’t we do better?” question when it comes to how much winning means and what we’re willing to put up with to see our team do so.

Again, haven’t the Patriots answered all of this?

It really feels like the Astros and Red Sox tried something, they got caught, and they’ll get punishments that might or might not affect them on the field. And maybe other teams will either be found out or stop doing whatever they were doing for fear of getting thwacked themselves. And then some other team will come up with something new. Others will follow. Cycle probably repeats itself.

It’s a violation. It doesn’t feel like a major crime. And it doesn’t feel like one that MLB has solved now, or will anytime soon. And that’s fine. There’s always shit like this.

Hockey

In the easiest sense, Ryan Getzlaf’s legacy is more than secure. Other than Teemu Selanne, he’ll go down as the greatest Duck in their history (whatever that’s worth). He’ll be a Hall of Famer, thanks to the 1,000 career points he’ll rack up before too long. It might even be first ballot, buoyed by having two gold medals for Team Canada which is seen as delivering your people out of the desert up there. He’s even got a ring, which came as a second center at a very young age. There’s not much to point to on the surface.

Still, those in the know we’ll say that once this became Getzlaf’s team, once he was the #1 center, he didn’t stand up to be counted when it mattered most. The Ducks managed two conference final appearances in that time, and in those springs he was chucked to the curb by either Jonathan Toews or various Predators. His style of floating around the outside and looking for passes didn’t inspire his team to greater heights. There was never a charge to the middle to get the goal his team had to have, both literally and figuratively. The past 13 seasons since the Ducks won have been short. Even the crosstown Kings have basically erased the memory of the Ducks one championship, and capitulating to Anze Kopitar in their one playoff series doesn’t help much.

And that might be what most remember, the string of Game 7 losses at home (there were five) where Getzlaf wasn’t anywhere to be found. These are the moments that people remember about players, and Getz doesn’t have any. There is symbolism in Toews or Kopitar or even Johansen scoring in those games and Getzlaf just waiting until it was time to grab his golf clubs. Maybe the points and the paycheck were always enough for him. Only he will know.

The Ducks are clearly ready to move on to the next generation, as Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Isac Lundestrom and others are getting serious time. Perhaps there’s one more move to make.

Getzlaf has the option of taking on one more chase for a ring, being that final, veteran piece. He has one year left on his deal after this one, and at the deadline or even in the summer he would still have value to a contender that needs a second line center. One that can flourish if someone else is taking the heavy fire. Getz’s $8.2M hit is big, but not so large that a team couldn’t make it work. The Ducks don’t have a ton of room to absorb some of his salary or take bad money back, but it’s it can be worked.

Is that what Getzlaf wants? The word on the street is that he’s always been happy to be out of a spotlight in Orange County, and you can’t argue with being warm all the time and amassing points that don’t matter beyond scrutiny of a ravenous fandom and media. You get the impression a market like Toronto or Boston or Vancouver would eat him alive. It would for a lot of players. After all he has accomplished and the money he’s made, you can certainly see why he feels he can duck it (sorry).

And those questions will certainly fade when he retires, which could be as soon as summer 2021 when that contract runs out. They’ll just see the statsheet. Will Ducks fans themselves think there should have been more? Perhaps with another bounce or two, or more inspiring performances from Getzlaf, they could have won in ’15 or ’17 or even ’14. Maybe it was always the goalies’ fault. That would be his and Bruce Boudreau’s argument.

A ring, two gold medals, 1,000 points. It doesn’t sound like a disappointment. But if that’s how it ends, it probably should be, just a little bit.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 32-31-10   Avalanche 33-29-12

PUCK DROP(S): 2pm Saturday, 7pm Sunday

TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Sunday

BUCKWHEATS, ALL OF ‘EM: Mile High Hockey

“It’s come to this,” is a cliche, but that’s where the Hawks are. They have three games over four days to rescue whatever barely flickering light might be there for their playoff chase. Or any meaning for their season. Quite simply, the Hawks have to take all three of these–two against Colorado, one against Arizona–and they have to do it in regulation. The part that gives you pause, of course, is that every game the Hawks have had where they had a chance to really turn the season into something, they’ve stepped on a rake. At home to these Avalanche, at home to the Stars, at home to the Canucks, and last out against the Flyers. And maybe they got goalie’d in one or two, but they’ve lost the right to get goalie’d with all the points they’ve pissed away in truly bewildering and comedic fashion earlier in the season.

Good thing they’ll be seeing a goalie who’s carrying a .967 SV% in March, then.

The Avs sit four points ahead of the Hawks, and were in the last wildcard spot until Minnesota won last night, having played a game more. They’ve won three in a row, including two wins over fellow wildcard chasers Dallas and Minnesota. They had lost five of seven before that, which is why they’re in this mess. A few more wins and they may get themselves out of it. And if Phillip Grubauer keeps this up, they’ll get them.

The last time the Hawks saw the Avs at the end of February, Grubauer has watched a chance to grab the starter’s role pass over his shoulder and into the Avs’ net. It was Varlamov who stoned the Hawks that night, and it looked like the Avs plan to pass the crease from Varly to Grubauer and letting the former walk off in the summer had fallen to pieces (somebody put me together). It looked as if the Avs were at a crossroads in net, which is the last place you want one.

Grubauer got another chance a few days after, and so far he’s taken it and run with it. In his seven starts since that time, he’s given up six goals. They’ve needed it, because their forwards are starting to drop like flies. Mikko Rantanen is questionable for the weekend. Gabriel Landeskog is out until the Avs make the playoffs and maybe not even then. Matt Nieto, a reliable foot soldier, might be done for the year as well. Vladislav Kemenev has been a long-term casualty.

Which means the Avs offense is basically what Nathan MacKinnon can come up with. He’s doing just about what he can, with 10 points in his last 10 and 20 in his last 24. Carl Soderberg chips in where he can, with 22 goals. But other than that, the Avs are still a group of a lot of guys who have a little. They have a bunch of 10-goal scorers when they need 15- or 20-goal ones. Maybe Tyson Jost or J.T. Compher become that one day, but they’re not there yet.

So it’s Grubauer, it’s MacKinnon, and it’s ride or die for the Avs. Which makes the task simple in statement for the Hawks, if not action. Keep MacKinnon from going off for three or four points, and you have a real good chance. Coach Cool Youth Pastor might have to get cute and switch out lines on the fly, whether he wants Toews or Kampf dealing with MacKinnon. Or if he wants Murphy and Dahlstrom out on the back end. He might have to work to get those matchups, if that’s something he wants, on the road. It should be easier at home, but MacKinnon did whatever he wanted his last visit here.

The Hawks have won both games in Denver this year, one in overtime. Both were Collin Delia magic tricks, so the Hawks might need that from Corey Crawford. Beto O’Colliton has hinted that Crawford might take both starts, which seems a risk but these are desperate times. Whatever plays are left in the playbook have to be pulled out now.

It would be encouraging to see the Hawks actually step forth in a game with something at stake. Just to know their coach is up for it, and that players who are doing it for the first time have it in them. None of that has been shown yet. And the Hawks are going to have to get it from a new source for these three games, or likely will, because Patrick Kane appears to be getting awfully tired. He can’t keep pulling out a rabbit. Insert your “white rabbit” jokes here.

Come Tuesday night, it could all be officially done. Or maybe this empty calorie fun continues a little longer. Strap on in.

 

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Four years ago, Justin Faulk was something of a surprise inclusion on Team USA in Sochi. We got it, of course. He had been a young, dynamic puck-mover simply plying his trade in anonymity in Carolina, which as far as hockey coverage is concerned might as well be Narnia. While the Hurricanes have always been a metric-lovers delight under Bill Peters, for the most part Faulk had stayed above the team-rate and pushed the play the other way. It’s why you heard rumors of him being the name exchanged for Taylor Hall once upon a time, and he would have been a great improvement on Adam Larsson. Then again, so would dozens of players, but we’ve done the Chiarelli post before.

Now we sort of wonder if Faulk missed the point where he was supposed to take THE LEAP. And if it’s going to come around again for him to jump off.

On this Canes team, and last year’s, Faulk has essentially been skating second-pairing shifts. Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin take the hardest shifts in terms of both zone-starts and competition. They do the mine-sweeping. Faulk and rookie Haydn Fleury (and his missing “e”) or Noah Hanafin are next up. Everything is basically set-up for Faulk to mimic what Brent Burns does in San Jose, to at least be the poor man’s version of that (or the Carolina version, if you will. And you won’t). Simply slaughter the competition below the top lines of the opponent.

And yet, Faulk comes into this one with just 26 points. That’s not horrible, of course, but given Faulk’s skillset you can’t help but wonder if he shouldn’t be pushing 50 or 60 points when the season is over. And he’s never really come close to that. His career-year was three seasons ago already when he managed 49 points.

Faulk still pushes the play at a clip of 54% Corsi and that’s above the team-rate. But his scoring-chance percentage is below the team rate, and while some of that can be attributed to the growing pains of Fleury when they’ve been paired, considering they’re getting second and third lines you have to figure that should be better.

Faulk has also been undone by a 3.6% shooting-percentage, almost half his career-rate. And he’s firing more attempts than he ever has, and getting more scoring-chances per game than he ever has. Clearly bad luck is playing a huge role in this.

Which makes one wonder if a team couldn’t get Faulk this summer at a possibly lower rate than they should if they’re looking at those numbers. After this season, even if they’ll both be RFAs, both Pesce and Slavin are going to be due big raises. After next year so will Fleury. Elias Lindholm up front is due one after this season, and Teuvo is up after next. While the Canes have plenty of cap space, they’re something of a budget team, at least for right now, though that could change with their new nutcase owner. And they have to make room to find a #1 center, and probably a goalie if Scott Darling can’t find reverse on a Russian tank anytime soon.

So you know what we’re thinking. Justin Faulk would solve a lot of problems around this town, though what the Hawks have to offer is unclear. The Canes would certainly ask for Schmaltz or DeBrincat, and for the Hawks that might just be running in place. You can be sure the Leafs, Oilers, Canadiens, Sabres, and a host of others will be bothering Ron Francis at the draft if he puts Faulk on the market. Faulk has two years left on his deal that pays him a mere $4.8 per, so his value is through the roof. The Canes won’t get any more for him than they will this summer.

But is he the unlucky player who will start finding the net and assists with regularity next season given what his chances are? Or is he the one who just quite can’t break through? It’s probably worth finding out for someone.

Game #68 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built