Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A sporting Christmas wish list

Apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days: a combination of my computer dying (or at least suffering serious injury) and the craziness associated with Christmas meant that I wasn't able to find the time to sit down and hammer out a post. Anyways, in step with the many pundits who have traversed the road before me(such as Ben Knight and my own father), here's my shot at offering symbolic Christmas presents to those I write about.


-To Roberto Luongo: A trophy case for those he should collect later this year. Luongo narrowly lost out to Sidney Crosby and Martin Brodeur in the Hart and Vezina Trophy races last year, but is having a better season than either to this point. He also dominated their head-to-head battles, stopping Crosby twice on late breakaways and shutting out Brodeur's New Jersey Devils in a 5-0 rout. As the Vancouver Province's Ed Willes pointed out in an insightful column yesterday, "Luongo, at this moment, is the best player in the NHL." His numbers (2.03 GAA, second only to Detroit's Chris Osgood, and .929 save percentage, second only to Boston's Tim Thomas) are impressive on their own, but look even better when you look at the shot-difficulty data Gabe Desjardins has compiled (thanks to James for the link). Luongo is sixth on his list of those who have a better GAA than expected from the difficulty of shots that they make, with a delta GAA of -0.65. Brodeur is way down the list with a delta GAA of -0.11, suggesting that many of the saves he makes are on easier shots (not surprising, when you consider that the defensive system New Jersey plays with is even more pronounced than Vancouver's). Hopefully a strong continued performance from Luongo will be enough to sway the necessary voters come June.

- To Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth: get-well soon cards. The league is a better place with players of their quality.

- To Mike Weaver: Some toys for his new son. He's been a solid team player thus far for the Canucks, effective in his role and capable of stepping up to fill in defensive holes in the roster.

- To Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins players: some toques. They'll need them.

- To Colin Campbell: a clue. The NHL's discipline czar uttered some great lines to Toronto Star writer Randy Starkman on the legitimacy of concussions in hockey. "Some are legitimate," said Campbell. "I think some you might find aren't legitimate. ... I think there's a small percentage, not a great percentage, of players who use it as an excuse, `Oh yeah, I've got a concussion.' They can milk it. It's a hard thing to really say that you haven't, you know, if you're trying to get some extra insurance money out of it to get paid an extra year or something." I think Campbell is out of his mind here, especially given the hockey culture of not reporting injuries and returning far too soon. As Keith Primeau, who was knocked out of the game by concussions, said in Part Two of Starkman's series, hockey players aren't going to take themselves out of a crucial game due to concussion symptoms. "They're not going to do it," Primeau said. "Guys aren't going to think long-term. We never do." It's a little worrying to hear that the head of NHL discipline thinks players are faking concussions. I'll have more on this in a later post or column. By the way, kudos again to James for highlighting these articles in an insightful post.

- To Starkman himself: sincere commendations for the work he did on his features on concussions in hockey. Concussions in sport are a tough, often touchy topic to address, as I found out earlier this year when writing my original piece on them. Players and coaches are frequently reluctant to give out too much information on concussions for fear that it might be used against them by opponents. Yet, it can be rewarding: there's a deep issue here, as concussions bring up the tension between the manly image of playing through pain and the concern about what's best for an athlete long-term. They make us ask the question of "at what price do we value sporting triumphs?" Starkman did a fantastic job on this article, and deserves a hearty round of applause. Hopefully, more work will be done on concussions in different sports in the future: I still think that this is perhaps the most important, if rarely talked about, issue facing sports today.

- To all NHLPA members: reading lamps for them to enjoy their new gifts from Chris Chelios and Eric Lindros, Susan Foster's The Power Of Two. This fantastic book, on the work that Foster and ex-NHL star Carl Brewer did to expose Alan Eagleson's shameful activities as head of the Players' Association, should be required reading for every hockey player, particularly in light of the recent troubles the PA underwent with Ted Saskin. Kudos to Chelios and Lindros for springing for these. I'll also send the PA members Russ Conway's great book Cracking the Ice, based on the investigative articles he wrote for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, to give a journalist's perspective on Eagleson's downfall. Both books are terrific, and should be read by anyone interested in the history of hockey.


- To Jonny Evans: a good lawyer. He'll certainly need one.

- To Manchester United: Blinders to ignore the fallout from the Evans case. Regardless of how this turns out, it's going to be a public black eye and a distraction for the club at a very inopportune time. Hopefully, they'll be able to keep their focus on the pitch.

- To Luca Toni and Franck Ribery: some choice German sausages, beer, and Black Forest cake to make them feel at home at Bayern Munich despite Oliver Kahn's recent comments. I'm pretty sure Toni at least feels somewhat comfortable, judging by his recent four-goal performance against Aris.

- To the Vancouver city council: a desperately needed kick in the pants to get going on the new soccer stadium. Unlike every other arena deal in recent history, Greg Kerfoot is proposing this one with very little cost to taxpayers at any level. Council should stop moaning and listening to the constant grumblers, and get on board with this before Kerfoot realizes just how much better his offer is than any proposed by a sports franchise in any other city. It's a wonder that this man puts up with this city.

- To Toronto F.C.: a playoff berth next year, and an injury-prevention device. They made some great strides this year, and could have done much better if not crippled by a string of bad luck. Hopefully the support will stay strong in Year Two and the on-field success will follow.

- To the UBC Thunderbirds and the Cape Breton Capers: a belated bottle of champagne for their CIS championship wins.

- To the men and women of the Queen's Golden Gaels soccer teams: a round of drinks in celebration of a successful season, and best wishes for next year's campaigns.

- To George Gillett: success in his new stadium endeavour for Liverpool. He comes across as a guy who genuinely cares about his franchises, and the tremendous level of access he gave to the Globe and Mail's Stephen Brunt recently certainly speaks well for him.

- To the aforementioned Mr. Brunt: congratulations for a solid year's worth of work. He's written many terrific soccer columns this year, including the aforementioned one on Gillett and Liverpool and his earlier call for replacement of the Canadian Soccer Association around the Black Wednesday protest. It's great to see a columnist of such stature not only talking about soccer, but writing insightful pieces on it. He's also written some other great columns this year, including those on the imminent invasion of the NFL, Bret Hart
, and the backroom maneuverings between the NHL and NHLPA. Keep up the good work.

- To another great Globe columnist, Ben Knight: kudos for a fantastic first few months in his new digs at the Globe on Soccer blog. He consistently provides great insight into and fascinating takes on the beautiful game.

Other Sports

- To the New York Giants: superhuman strength to knock off the insufferable Patriots against all odds (and not the steroid variety: it's not worth becoming cheaters to beat cheaters).
- To Madison Square Garden head honcho Jimmy Dolan: a hint that it might be time to Fire Isiah?
- To those named in the Mitchell Report: a old-fashioned Bronx cheer

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