Category Archives: Sports

Replacing a Legend


(Originally posted on The NLL Blog)

How do you replace a legend, and one of the best players ever to play the game? We don’t know much at this point about what changes Terry Sanderson and Troy Cordingley might be considering for the Toronto Rock this offseason, but one thing’s for sure – they need a new #1 goaltender to replace the retiring Bob Watson, the only #1 goalie the Rock have ever had. How do you replace someone like Watson?

With all due respect to Pat Campbell, he’ll be 35 next year and has been a solid backup goalie most of his career, so I don’t see the Rock tossing him the keys to the franchise. The Rock have had a definite #1 goalie for their entire history so I don’t see them going the route that the Bandits and Stealth have used – having two main goalies and “platooning” them (to steal a baseball phrase), so going with both Campbell and Gee Nash is unlikely as well.

Not going with Campbell or Nash means they will have to try to acquire someone from another team. I don’t have of a list of goalies who are free agents this summer, so let’s ignore that route for the moment and just assume we’re talking trade. The top goalie on the “would be nice” list would have to be back-to-back Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc. Suuuuuure. The Knighthawks gave up John Grant for this guy so unless we offer Doyle, LeBlanc, and a few prospects, he’s not going anywhere – and definitely not to a division rival. Mike Thompson? Suuuuuure. Thompson is coming off of a fabulous season in which he had the second-lowest GAA and third highest save percentage in the league. If Ken Montour is able to return from his injury, the Bandits may consider trading Thompson, but Stephen Stamp’s article about concussions didn’t give much reason for optimism there. I hope I’m wrong about that. Brandon Miller from Philly? Maybe, although he was one of the few bright spots in Philly this season and was the reason they fought for a playoff spot as long as they did. Anthony Cosmo? Possibly – he had the lowest GAA in the league last year though I wouldn’t call it one of his better seasons. It’d be ironic if Cosmo actually did replace Watson in the Rock net, like we thought he would many years ago. Cosmo himself mentioned that possibility recently in an interview with ILIndoor.com.

Let’s look west. How about Poulin from the Roughnecks? That’d be great for the Rock, but why would Calgary do this? Do they want Palidwor as their #1 next year? Not likely. And it’s not like the team has some glaring weakness that could be addressed by making a big trade, so file that idea under the “Suuuuuure” category as well. (Not to mention the fact that making roster changes to his lacrosse team is not exactly at the top of Brad Banister’s To-Do list these days. Hey Brad, if you’re actively trying to sell the team, surely there’s a better way to convince some sucker astute business person to buy them than publicly whining about how little support the team gets and how much money you’re losing.)

So what about Edmonton? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind some extra firepower given that they traded Gavin Prout back to Colorado. But which Edmonton goalie to choose – Matt Disher or Rob Blasdell? Ummmm… no thanks. Chris Levis from Colorado? Another “Suuuuuure”. After years of mediocre goaltending the Mammoth finally have a strong #1 so I don’t see them trading him, though they could also use some help in the offense department. (Aside: It seems unbelievable that a team that just acquired John Freakin’ Grant still needs help on offense.) How about Washington? I didn’t think Tyler Richards had that great a 2011 season, but he was certainly the second-best goalie in the playoffs. But how likely are the Stealth to trade him to the team that beat them in the finals? Similar to Calgary, they’re a strong team to begin with, so what could we offer the Stealth for them to give up Richards? Would Minnesota give up Patterson? I doubt it, though I know nothing about Kevin Croswell – if they have enough confidence in him, maybe they would if they got enough in return. That’s a team that should have made big changes in the off-season last year and didn’t, so perhaps a big shake-up would be good for the Swarm.

There are lots of possibilities here, some of which I can’t address properly because I don’t know much about the backup goaltenders. Philadelphia backup goalie, Ray Hodgkinson, is only 23 and only played 46 minutes this year. But maybe the Wings think this kid is the next Dallas Eliuk – if they have enough confidence in him, maybe they would give up Miller for the right price. Hell, for all I know the Rock have some young goalie in their system (is there such a thing as a “system” in the NLL? It’s not like there are AAA affiliates like in baseball, or the OHL/AHL like in hockey) that is the heir apparent, though I’ve never heard mention of one.

So we have a few “maybe”s and a few “not bloody likely”s, but there aren’t really any “no chance in hell”s. (In a league where Gary Gait can be traded three years after retiring, nothing’s impossible.) But trades run two ways – the other question would be “Who could the Rock give up to get a #1 goalie”? Doyle, LeBlanc, and Billings are untouchables. Blaine Manning is a possibility, or maybe a rookie with potential like Aaron Pascas or Rob Hellyer. (Or more likely, the combination of a Pascas and a veteran like Manning or Cam Woods.) It’s not unlikely that a team trading away a goaltender may want defense in return rather than a goal scorer, so perhaps 2010 NLL Defender of the Year Sandy Chapman (though I’d prefer if he were untouchable as well), or hard workers that get little fanfare like Drew Petkoff, Jeff Gilbert, or Creighton Reid.

Trade speculation is fun but ultimately pointless, as there are a zillion factors that we as fans don’t know about that affect whether deals can be made. Are there no-trade contracts in the NLL? If not, could there be “gentlemen’s agreements” between players and GMs that effectively mean the same thing? Are there personality conflicts between players or between a player and a GM that mean that some trades are impossible? Are there players who might simply refuse to be traded? Since this is a part-time semi-pro league, it’s certainly possible that a player may decide that travelling across the country for the majority of games is just too difficult with work or family commitments, and would prefer to retire than be traded to a team on the other side of the continent. I remember a rumour that the Rock were not allowed to trade Dan Ladouceur because of his position with the Durham Region Police.

So after all that, here’s the net result of this discussion:

  1. The Rock need a new #1 goalie.
  2. I don’t know who they should get.
  3. I don’t know who they should give up to get him.

My work here is done. This is why the NLL Blog pays me what they pay me.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason


(Originally posted on The NLL Blog)

As I mentioned in my write-up on the Championship game, the reffing was pretty good on the whole, with the exception of one notable play. There were no significant in-game repercussions of this play, and I don’t know if there will be any coming, but their certainly could be. The player in question certainly needs to take responsibility for what happened, but I think that a big mistake was made by the ref and without that mistake, the whole incident could have been prevented.

It’s near the end of the first quarter, and the Rock are up 3-1. They have possession in their own end, but are having trouble getting the ball out. Just before Blaine Manning crosses the centre line, the ref blows the whistle for a 10-second violation. Everyone on the floor stops, and Manning turns around and heads towards the bench, still holding the ball in his stick. Kyle Sorensen must not have heard the whistle and ran from well beyond his own restraining line towards centre, and knocks Manning down while trying to get the ball out of his stick. This must have been at least five seconds after the whistle. It’s not like he hit Manning overly hard, but Manning certainly wasn’t expecting it since play had long since been whistled dead.

At this point, several players from each team approached the centre circle where this was happening and there were a couple of shoves. This is when the mistake happened. For some reason the ref, standing less than ten feet away from the scuffle, blew the whistle to start play. Kyle Ross immediately cross-checked Sorensen in either the neck or head, and Sorensen dropped like a rock (no pun intended). The ref blew the play dead again, there was a little more shoving, and Ross was sent to the box for five minutes. Sorensen remained on the ground for several minutes before being helped back to the bench by the trainer. He remained in the game. (For those fans sitting near me calling for a diving penalty, watch the replay and then STFU.) At the same time, the Stealth were given a too-many-men penalty.

I have three questions about this play:

  1. Perhaps Sorensen didn’t hear the whistle, but did he not wonder why none of his teammates were going after Manning – or moving at all? Manning was not looking at the defenders, and was walking slowly back towards the centre line, neither of which he would do if the play wasn’t dead. So why did Sorensen run so far to go after him? Did he really think that the ball was live?
  2. Sorensen hit Manning before the whistle (i.e. while play was dead), and then a small scuffle began. Why did the ref blow the whistle to start play at that point? Why not wait until things had calmed down a bit?
  3. If the Stealth were getting a penalty (too many men), why did the ref begin play at all? Possible answer: Another ref was about to call the bench minor and didn’t blow his whistle because the play was dead anyway.

For me, number 2 above is the biggest question. Ross waited until the whistle was blown before he hit Sorensen. If the ref had not blown the whistle, would he have hit Sorensen at all? Obviously there’s no way to know, but instead he’s in the box for five, and could have been thrown out of the game. In addition, there may even be other repercussions (i.e. a suspension) for this blatant hit to the head. Sorensen was down for a long time and if there was a concussion involved, he may not even know about it for a few days.

It’s amazing what one little mistake in judgement can lead to.

One slip, and down the hole we fall.

The Toronto Rock are the 2011 NLL Champions


(Originally posted on The NLL Blog)

The ending to Bob Watson’s incredible NLL career couldn’t have been scripted any better. Not only did he win his sixth championship with the Toronto Rock after an 8-7 victory over the Washington Stealth, but he was named game MVP for the second time in his career. And this was no “it’s his last game, let’s just give him the game MVP” thing, he deserved that puppy. Watson put on a goaltending clinic in his last-ever game, stopping 46 of 53 shots and keeping the most potent offense in the league to just 7 goals. Tyler Richards played a great game in the opposing goal, keeping the third-most potent offense in the league to only 8 goals, and only one in the entire second half. This was a strong defensive battle on both sides, especially considering the offensive firepower of both of these teams.

Rookie defender Glen Bryan of the Rock opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game, thereby doubling his career goals total. Cliff Smith answered a few minutes later, with a weak shot that went over Watson’s right shoulder. Watson looked quite awkward on the play, but then he and the Rock defense shut the door, not allowing another goal until twelve minutes into the second quarter. “The defense was Rock-solid!” said my eleven-year-old son Ryan, very proud of his pun. Both teams played excellent defense as I said, and many of the 50+ shots taken by each team either hit the goalie square in the chest, or occurred with a second left on the shot clock.

The Rock D kept the pressure on the entire first half, and the Stealth forwards started to make mistakes when they realized their game plan wasn’t working. When the Stealth did manage to get a decent shot off, Watson closed the door. Lewis Ratcliff was denied on one of Watson’s brilliant saves and when the ball ricocheted into the crowd, Ratcliff simply stopped and looked at the floor, frustration written all over his body.

On Teddy Jenner’s Off-The-Crossebar podcast last week, Rhys Duch said that they couldn’t afford to let the Rock get off to a big lead early: “If we’re going to spot Toronto a 5-1 lead like we did Minnesota, that’s a hole we might not be able to dig ourselves out of“. Duch was more accurate with that statement that he likely wanted to be. The Rock led 6-1 late in the second and 7-2 at the half. In Stephen Stamp’s live blog of the game, he even used the word “blowout”. That said however, everyone in both the Rock and Stealth dressing rooms (and I suspect many fans in the building) remembers the seven goals the Stealth scored in the 4th quarter of last year’s final on their way to a comeback victory. At halftime, despite the five goal differential, nobody thinks this game is over.

The second half was more of the same at the Rock’s end of the floor. Solid defense, frustrated Washington offense, and brilliant goaltending. The Stealth did start to put things together though, scoring two in the third and three in the fourth to get back to within one – while at the other end of the floor, Tyler Richards was more than doing his part and making his own bid for game MVP, keeping the Rock scoreless in the third and only allowing one in the fourth. As the Stealth slowly climbed their way back into the game, the crowd got quieter and quieter, praying they weren’t about to witness a repeat of last year. But as Whipper and the D continued to stone the Stealth forwards, the clock continued to wind down.

As an aside, “Whipper and the D” would be a good name for a rock band.

The Stealth got within one at 7-6, then Stephan Leblanc put the Rock up by two once again. But just thirteen seconds later, Paul Rabil got the Stealth back to within one with an absolutely blistering shot. Rabil was circling around the offensive zone when there was only a second or two left on the shot clock. He turned towards the net and fired, while still running, what might have been the hardest shot I’ve ever seen. The shot hit Watson so hard it knocked him down and then trickled underneath him across the line. An unbelievable goal. Rabil’s shot has been clocked at over 110 mph, so for all of you who laugh at the amount of padding lacrosse goalies wear, that’s why.

In the end, despite the strong play of Richards as well as Paul Rabil, Mike Grimes, and the Stealth D, the offense just couldn’t get it done. When Cam Woods picked up a loose ball with 15 seconds left, he did not shoot at the open net but just burned the clock until the horn sounded, and then joined his teammates in mobbing Watson.

Once the handshakes had been done, many of the Stealth players remained on the floor to watch the Cup presentation ceremony, and even applauded when Bob Watson approached the podium. They were given a well-deserved ovation by the crowd after a strong season and a great game. It was no surprise that Watson was named game MVP, as he was in 2002. There was really nobody else that could have been game MVP – the Rock played very well as a team but nobody other than Watson really stood out. (If I had to choose second-place, I might go with Kasey Beirnes.) After Watson thanked Commissioner George Daniel and the crowd, Daniel told Colin Doyle to come up for the presentation of the Champion’s Cup, but Doyle sent veterans Cam Woods and Kasey Beirnes up to get it. (Daniel later tweetedColin threw me a curve ball with that classy move…“) Woods and Biernes had each played ten-plus years in the NLL with no championships, so this was indeed a classy move by Doyle, a six-time Champion. After Biernes gave Doyle the Cup, he gave it to Watson, who got the biggest ovation of all.

The Rock are now tied with the Philadelphia Wings with six championships each. But if you only consider the NLL itself (not the MILL or Eagle Pro leagues), the Rock have won three times as many championships as anyone else, since no other team has won more than two since 1998.

After the game, a bunch of us went for dinner at Fran’s Restaurant. On our way back to Union Station to catch the train home, we were crossing Yonge at Front when we heard someone yelling “Yeah Rock! Wooooooooooo!” (Note that this was close to three hours after the game ended.) An SUV drove by (going south on Yonge) with the windows down – they must have seen a few of us with our Rock jerseys. I didn’t see the driver, but there was a smiling man in the front seat, and another very excited man in the back seat with his head and right arm out the window who was waving at us and still yelling “Wooooooo!” We laughed and waved as Troy Cordingley (in the back) and John Lovell (in the front) continued on their way to the next victory party.

Other game notes:

  • Paul Rabil was all over the floor, and did a great job killing time while the Stealth were down by two men.
  • The refs stayed out of it for the most part – no really stupid penalties were called, though I think one ref made a big mistake at the end of the first quarter that could have caused a severe injury to Kyle Sorensen and may result in a suspension to Kyle Ross. I’m going to write about that in a separate posting.
  • The Rock were hitting posts and crossbars all over the place. Kasey Beirnes took a shot in the second quarter that hit the right post, the left post, and Richards’ back but it still managed to bounce out.
  • If you recorded the game or get a chance to see it on the NLL network, go to the 11:05 mark of the second quarter (i.e. 11:05 left in the quarter). You will see Bob Watson make one of the best lacrosse saves you will ever see. As Stephen Stamp said, “He doesn’t look like a man who’s half a game away from retiring.
  • The Stealth were given an interesting too-many-men penalty in the first quarter. Usually “too many men” refers to a player leaving the bench just a little early and getting involved in the play before his counterpart leaves the floor. In this case, the Stealth actually had six attackers out on the floor, none of them within twenty feet of the bench. Oops. The crowd noticed this long before the refs did, and a number of people near me were yelling “too many men!” before the whistle was blown.
  • The Rock have really gotten into this Air Gait thing lately. For a while they were illegal, and then the rules were changed a couple of years ago. Since then they have been fairly rare, but in the last few Rock games, there have been several attempts (many successful!) at these leaps from behind the net. There was another attempt by Colin Doyle in this game, though it was disallowed because Doyle was touching the line when he jumped. Actually, since the goal was immediately waved off and there was a review, it’s more accurate to say that there was no evidence that he wasn’t touching the line.
  • Creighton Reid was given a goaltender interference penalty in the third, which you could describe as “two minutes for not knowing what to do when you’re in the offensive zone”. He took a shot which was trapped on the ground by Richards, but then he hit Richards’ stick with his own. As soon as he did it, he had this look like “Oh crap, I don’t think you can do that.” But how often has Reid even seen the other side of the centre line? I’m sure he’ll remember next time.
  • Garrett Billings scored a beautiful over-the-shoulder goal near the end of the second. While standing slightly to Richards’ left with his back to the goalie, he looked over his left shoulder and then fired the shot over his right.
  • The attendance at the game was 14,488. I was sure I read on Twitter through the week that over 15,000 tickets had been sold, and the last time a Championship game was held in Toronto, an NLL record was set when over 19,000 showed up. From those points of view, the attendance was a little disappointing, but I think it was also the highest attended game in Toronto in several years, so that’s certainly a good thing. Hopefully that carries over into next season.
  • In the Rock’s six championships, they have only had three Championship Game MVPs – Doyle won it three times and Whipper twice. The other winner was also in attendance – Stealth assistant coach Dan Stroup won it in 2000. Watson and Doyle are two of only three players who have won the award more than once – Philadelphia legend Dallas Eliuk won it in 1998 and 2001.
  • Interesting stat: Number of League MVP awards won by Gary Gait, Paul Gait, and John Tavares combined: 10. Number of Championship Game MVP awards: 0.

Blackout!


(Originally posted on The NLL Blog)

I travelled with my wife and sons to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario this past weekend for a family thing, which meant that I wasn’t able to travel to Buffalo to see the Toronto Rock’s victory over the Buffalo Bandits. I knew the game was being televised on TSN2, so I was hopeful that I would be able to watch it at the hotel. I checked in advance and the hotel did have free wifi, so worst case, the hotel doesn’t get TSN2 but I’ll be able to stream the game over the internet, right? Wrong.

Blackout

When we arrived at the hotel, one of the first things I did was to check to see if they got TSN2. No such luck. We went about our family stuff and after dinner on Saturday, we returned to the hotel where I planned on firing up the ol’ laptop to watch the game. I connected to nll.com, clicked “Watch Live” as I have done so many times this season, and waited in anticipation to see the score, since we had missed the first quarter. The game came up, I saw a score of 6-4 Rock, and a second later the screen went blank. A message came up saying something like “The content owner has blocked access from your current location, you LOSER”, and it was then I remembered the whole blackout thing. When Rock games are televised on TSN or TSN2, they are generally blacked out in Canada on the NLL Network. I have never really paid much attention to this before, since I am at the home games, and I watch the away games on TV. This time, I’m over nine hours away from HSBC Arena and I can’t watch on TV, so the internet is the only option.

I ended up “watching” the game by bringing up the boxscore from NLL.com and hitting Ctrl-R now and again to refresh it. This was less than satisfying so I tweeted NLL Commissioner George Daniel asking why. To his credit, he responded quickly. Here is our short conversation:

@GraemePerrow: . @NLLCommissioner Why is the Toronto/Buffalo game blacked out on NLL.com? It’s impossible for me to watch the game any other way

@NLLCommissioner: @GraemePerrow should have only been blacked out if you are in Canada because game was on TSN2

@GraemePerrow: @NLLCommissioner I’m in Sault Ste. Marie ON, in a hotel on the river. I could throw a rock and hit Michigan. My hotel doesn’t get TSN2

@NLLCommissioner: @GraemePerrow sorry about that but we did publish the blackout in advance on nll.com.

Mr. Daniel was absolutely right, they did publish the blackout in advance, I just didn’t pay attention to it. And the fact that my hotel was a few hundred feet from the American border was irrelevant – they have to draw the line somewhere, and if you’re on the wrong side of that line, too bad. (OK, so maybe I couldn’t throw a rock from the hotel and hit Michigan. But if I walked down towards the water a little, I could definitely hit the cut-off man.) I suppose I could have driven across the border to Sault Michigan, found a Starbucks with free wifi, and watched the game from there.

But Andrew McKay from The Laxist also chimed in, saying “IMO, shouldn’t be blacking out game that’s on an opt-in digital channel.” But he quickly changed his mind: “actrually [sic] I take it back. Agreement makes sense because TSN does move games to main channel.” I was a little disappointed that Andrew had pulled his support for my predicament, and we had the following exchange:

@GraemePerrow: @apmckay IF they move it to the main channel, fine, but otherwise it shouldn’t be blacked out

@apmckay: @GraemePerrow yeah but I can see signing blackout rights in return for main channel possibility.

There it is. That’s the thing that made me change my mind and see reason. The NLL must have negotiated a deal with TSN that says “All games televised will be blacked out in Canada. In return, the occasional game will be televised on TSN rather than TSN2.” I believe that Rock owner Jamie Dawick paid TSN to televise Rock games during the regular season, so I don’t know how the regular season blackouts worked. But I did confirm with Mr. Daniel (again, via twitter) that the Championship game rights were negotiated with the league, not the Rock. I would assume that deal included all the playoff series.

So yes, it sucked that I couldn’t watch the Rock-Bandits game last weekend, especially since it sounds like it was a great game. (On the upside, I did get to visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, which is much more interesting than it sounds.) But in the end, having lacrosse televised (even occasionally) on the most-watched sports network in Canada is worth a little inconvenience.

The Transition Player That Wasn’t


Last week, Calgary’s Jeff Shattler was awarded the 2011 Transition Player of the Year award. There is no question that Shattler had a great season, and I would even list him in the top few MVP candidates. I congratulate him both on his season and this award. But Shattler wasn’t a transition player for most of 2011, he was a forward, a significant part of the Roughnecks offense.

According to ILIndoor.com (a couple of typos left intact):

…apparently as long as a player is classified with a “T” by their name (which is done by the team, not league), they can be a contender for the NLL’s Transition Player of the Year Award. Andyone with D or F by their name (defender or forward), no matter what role they appear to be playing during the season, cannot be considered for the honour.

So Shattler was considered a transition player by the league because Calgary listed him as one at the beginning of the season, regardless of how he was actually used. This is silly. Surely the GMs and coaches and whoever else votes on these awards are lacrosse-savvy enough to be able to distinguish which players should be considered based on their play, not based on a letter on the roster list?

If you look at the Toronto Rock roster on nll.com, the only person listed with a “T” by their name is Ryan Sharp, who missed most of the year. Does this mean that nobody on the Rock was even considered for this award? I don’t think anyone on the Rock had a Transition Player of the Year type season quite honestly, but to completely disqualify players like Marshall and Chapman and Merrill because the Rock listed them as defenders is silly and unfair.

Whether a player is a “defender” or “transition player” is hard to nail down. Many transition players play a lot of defense as well, and some defenders are involved in transition while others aren’t. But as I said, the people voting on the NLL awards know lacrosse. They don’t need to be told that Brodie Merrill is a transition guy while Cam Woods is not. They are not going to vote for Colin Doyle for Defender of the Year, and they don’t need to look to see if there’s a D beside his name to make that decision. Having said that, enough of them did vote for Shattler which is why he got the award. Can’t say I understand that.

There were a couple of travesties in the NLL awards this year – Dave Pym should have been a lock for Coach of the Year, and Matt Vinc had a very good season but Mike Thompson’s was better. Many people are disagreeing with the choice of Pat McCready as Defensive Player of the Year. No disrespect to Shattler intended, but the league got this one wrong as well.

Expanded playoffs in MLB


I read an article in Sports Illustrated by a baseball writer named Joe Sheehan the other day, and after finishing it, I couldn’t get to the computer to fire up my blog-writing software fast enough. The article was called “More is Less”, and had the following subtitle:

Miss pennant races? Think the regular season should matter? Then an expanded postseason isn’t for you.

I was halfway through the first paragraph of the article before I realized that I read what I expected to read, not what was actually there. It said “an expanded postseason isn’t for you”. I can’t imagine how an expanded postseason isn’t better for everyone.

Sheehan says that adding an extra wild-card team to the playoffs will “finally destroy any notion that regular-season excellence matters”. He illustrates his point with a scenario in which the winner of the second wild-card spot (Team A, in fifth place) has a big lead over the sixth place team and therefore “cruises” into the playoffs, allowing them to rest their starters during the last few games of the season, while the fourth place team (Team B) finishes hard because they’re trying to win their division and just fall short. This means that the Team B, who finished ahead of Team A potentially by “10 or 12 games”, needs to play a well-rested Team A in the first round and the team that finished lower in the regular season could end up winning that series. I’m not saying that this scenario is not possible, of course it is. But that’s what we sports fans call “The Playoffs”. I suppose Mr. Sheehan thinks that the fact that the President’s Trophy winner rarely wins the Stanley Cup the same year is a failing of the NHL.

The thing is that this scenario could happen even without the wild cards. Say we’re back in the days when there was just two divisions in each league, and the winners face off in the League Championship Series. Now say the winner of the weaker East had a 90-72 record but clinched the division with a week left in the season, and the winner of the stronger West finished at 100-62 but didn’t clinch over the second-place 99-63 team until the last day. The team with the worse record is well rested and has a big advantage over the exhausted team with the better record.

I hate to tell you this, Mr. Sheehan, but the regular season is the seeding process for the playoffs. Ask any baseball player which they would rather do – have the best record in the regular season, or win the World Series? Any athlete in any sport will tell you that winning the regular season title is meaningless if they don’t win the Championship.

Mr. Sheehan came up with a theoretical scenario in which expanding the postseason might negatively affect a team in a particular situation (note that the team that was affected in his scenario did make the playoffs, so a lot of teams might think that’s a pretty nice problem to have). But let’s look at a real-life scenario – the 2009 American League. On September 1st, the Yankees, Tigers, and Angels were leading their divisions. The Red Sox were 6½ games back in the East (and leading in the wild card race), the Twins were 3½ games back in the Central, and the Rangers were 6 back in the West. None of the races is over, but if there is no wild card spot, the East and West are much less compelling. 6 or 6½ games out with a month left to go is certainly not insurmountable, but even if Boston sweeps a four-game series against New York, they’re still 2 back, so a lot would have to happen for the Red Sox to make the playoffs. The Rangers are in the same situation in the west, but nobody else really has a chance in either of those divisions. With a wild card spot, the Red Sox make the playoffs, and Texas and Tampa are only 4 and 5 games out respectively. Right away, you can see that having a wild card race means that excitement in these cities would be much higher – excitement not only for the fans, but for the players as well. More excitement for fans means higher attendance and more TV viewers, which is good for ownership and for baseball in general. More excitement for players means harder-played and likely more exciting games, which further increases fan interest. And that’s not just fans in those cities – fans of the other front-running teams will be watching more to see the team they might face in the postseason. I don’t see how adding the wild card spot is bad for anyone.

With a second wild card spot, there’s still excitement in Boston but now if things stay the same, Texas will make also  the postseason and Tampa is only one game out. The Mariners are 9 games out of the first wild card spot, but only 5 out of the second. More exciting games, more excited fans in more cities, more TV viewers. Once again, everybody wins. Winning the division is still valuable – you make the playoffs and have home field advantage while playing a weaker team.

This doesn’t turn MLB into the NHL, where teams barely over .500 make the playoffs (the 2009 Canadiens were 39-33-10) , or even worse – the NBA, where the 37-45 Pacers made the 2011 playoffs. (Of course, I’m a fan of the National Lacrosse League where 80% of the league makes the playoffs, including the 5-11 Minnesota Swarm in 2010. But I digress.) Even with a second wild card spot, only the top five teams in each league (out of 14 or 16) see postseason action.

It is, and should be, possible for a team to lose in the playoffs to a team below them in the regular-season standings. In Mr. Sheehan’s view, this makes the regular season meaningless. But what if there were no wild card spot in the 2009 season? The Yankees get a bye (fans love those, don’t they? They get to watch their team play fewer playoffs games) while the Twins and Angels play each other. But what if the Twins take out the Angels and then the Yankees? It certainly could happen – weirder things than that have. The Yankees won sixteen more games than the Twins in the regular season but don’t go to the World Series. Doesn’t this also make the regular season meaningless?

I am a Blue Jays fan, and the Jays haven’t played a really meaningful game in September for well over a decade, and this is true for many other teams as well. Maybe the entire regular season isn’t meaningless but the last month or so is, for the vast majority of teams. Adding an extra wild card team in each league means that some of these teams have a better chance of making the postseason. They may not be in a Pennant race, but they will be in a playoff race, and for teams that haven’t been in an actual Pennant race in years, that’s almost as good. September will be more compelling and exciting and therefore meaningful for these teams. Isn’t making the regular season meaningful something that you’re trying to accomplish?

So Mr. Sheehan, if you want to make sure that the regular season is really meaningful, you’d need to eliminate the divisions entirely and just have the first-place AL team play the first-place NL team in the World Series. The W-L records can’t be compared because they play with different rules and against different teams, and so there’s none of this worse-record-beats-better-record stuff that you don’t like. But you tell the owners that you’re reducing the post-season from eight teams and three rounds to two teams and a maximum of seven games and see how they welcome this dramatic drop in playoff revenue. You tell the fans of the fourth- and fifth-place teams that the fact that they didn’t make the playoffs is somehow good for baseball. This scheme may be better for the ultra-purists, but not for anyone else.

Game Review: Toronto 10 Rochester 8


The Toronto Rock moved one game closer to the Championship game on Sunday with a 10-8 win over the Rochester Knighthawks. Bob Watson, in what might have been his last-ever game in Toronto (only one of the four possible outcomes of next week’s games means another Rock home game), was great but Toronto’s defense was even better, only allowing 41 Rochester shots and keeping the Knighthawks scoreless for over 30 minutes from the first through the third quarters. The offense seems to have overcome the problems they had in the last few games of the season, though there were still a few situations that looked like a drill where the idea was to pass as much as possible and not shoot at all. Shawn Evans, Jordan Hall, and Mike Accursi each had 2 goals for Rochester, while Garrett Billings and Colin Doyle each had hat-tricks for the Rock.

The Knighthawks took an early lead but down 3-1 after ten minutes, the Rock scored seven straight goals to take an 8-3 lead. The first was a beauty by Colin Doyle, diving from behind the net to stuff the ball in behind Vinc in a mirror-image of a Tracey Kelusky goal against Boston the night before. Rochester didn’t score their fourth goal until ten minutes into the third, but then scored four in the 4th to make it close. One of those four included a rare penalty shot, scored by Jordan Hall after a Rock defender left the bench a touch early when Hall was on a breakaway.

The game was a fairly typical Toronto-Rochester matchup, a close game with no fights and not much chippiness. Somehow Shawn Evans was not aware of this, and seemed to think that more chippiness was just what this game needed. At one point Evans (5’9″, 180 lbs) got into a pushing match with Jeff Gilbert (6’4″, 215 lbs) and even managed to take Gilbert’s helmet off, but Gilbert just stood his ground and didn’t retaliate or let it develop into a full-blown fight. I’m not sure he even knew there was someone hitting him, actually. In the end, nobody was even penalized. There weren’t that many penalties called at all, actually; I thought the refs did a pretty decent job for the most part, though there was one “warding off” call early in the game – that happens all the time, but when is it ever called?

Toronto’s third goal was scored by Aaron Pascas, and I don’t think the ref had brought his arms down from signalling the goal before Mike Hasen had thrown the challenge flag. It looked pretty cut-and-dried to me – Pascas shot the ball, Vinc got a piece of it, Pascas ran through the crease, and then the ball crossed the line. Pascas was definitely in and through the crease before the ball went in, so I thought it was a no-brainer – no goal. So when the ref came out of the video booth and signalled that the goal was good, we (as Rock fans) were pleased but thoroughly confused. It turns out that if the player goes into and gets out of the crease before the ball goes in, the goal counts. This makes no sense to me, but I’ll take it. Pascas later left the game on a painful note – in the 4th quarter, a Knighthawks player fell on him in the Rochester crease and after the Knighthawk got up and ran off, Pascas half-crawled half-dragged himself through the crease, in obvious pain. The Rock trainer went out and after a few minutes, Pascas was helped off the floor, making sure to put no weight at all on his left leg. It didn’t look good, but according to TSN, Pascas should be ready to go for next week’s game.

Note to Rock promotional staff: it was nice to give the white “rally towels” to everyone, but you are aware of the phrase “waving the white flag” and what it signifies, right? Or “throwing in the towel”? That said, seeing ten thousand people spinning them around at the same time was pretty cool.

The Rock travel down the QEW to Buffalo to meet the Bandits in the Eastern division final next Saturday. The game is televised on Versus on Sunday afternoon, for those of you who get Versus (i.e. not Canadians). The winner of that game makes it to the Championship game – the winner either travels to Calgary or hosts Washington.