Tag Archives The Win Column

It’s June and the Orioles are in first place. Baltimore would feel a lot better about this fact if it weren’t appended by about three footnotes. It’s only been June for 12 hours.

And that first-place position? A dead tie with Tampa Bay and everyone else in the AL East within a 3-game striking distance. In fact, in another twelve hours, after the Orioles finish the opening game of a series in Tampa, the Birds could be in second place. The final footnote to the mind-boggling first place in June statement is that the O’s have lost five in a row and eight of their last ten. The wheels certainly aren’t off the wagon by any means, but for the first time in this hopeful 2012 season, they are wobbling.

Is the cause for panic legitimate, or is this just the residue of a 14-year old culture of losing expectations? Has the culture of the team and around it changed enough to weather their precarious position?

The 2011-12 Capitals were as frustrating as a hockey team can be. From night to night they vacillated between inspiring play and sheer disorganized chaos.

They were a team that played for two head coaches, three starting goaltenders, and were without two of their stars for long stretches of the campaign. And yet, they not only made the playoffs, but made enough noise in them to take the number one-seeded Rangers within a few minutes of an Eastern Conference final.

Yet, there are few who’d call the season successful by the measures set out in September. It was supposed to be cruise control until the playoffs, where things were supposed to go much differently than they had in the team’s four previous attempts to break through to a Stanley Cup final. Instead, we got the manic collection of talent that reached its apex for brief stretches and its nadir for much longer ones.

To a certain extent, every year in the modern NHL is a reset of sorts. But for Washington, 2012-13 will absolutely look more different than any Caps team has in five seasons. Here are twenty burning questions we have about next year’s team, and a few futile stabs at some answers.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The NFL Draft has grown steadily in popularity every year since has been televised. Now a primetime event with an in-your-face buildup and breakdown, a portion of the public is understandably suffering from “draftlash,” a knee-jerk aversion to all things speculative and celebratory about the league’s annual labor influx.

Is the NFL Draft over-hyped and over-analyzed? Almost certainly. Is it still the best off-season event on the calendar of the best sport on the planet? Absolutely. Here’s five reasons why.

Perhaps I’m just looking for a silver-lining after last night’s 4-3 loss by the Capitals to the Bruins. Or maybe I’m just geeked up for summer movie season. Being down two games to one isn’t an insurmountable hole from which to climb, but in the numbness that happens beyond the loss has me wondering why this series has already been so emotional.

The reason? The same reason I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s all about the villains.

Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and to a lesser extent Tim Thomas are like an all-star team of infuriating opponents all wearing the same sweater. They are coached by the joyless Claude Julien. They dress in black. They hail from the most obnoxious den of sports fandom in the Western world. Oh yeah, and they are the reigning conquerors of Lord Stanley’s Cup. They are, unequivocally, the greatest villains the Caps could’ve drawn for a first-round series.

“The whole thing is quite hopeless, so it’s no good worrying about tomorrow. It probably won’t come.” – Frodo, The Lord of the Rings

The Washington Capitals are 30 to 1 longshots to skate with Lord Stanley. Only the Florida Panthers, who bested them at almost every crucial juncture of the season and won the Southeast, have worse chances (40 to 1).

You can count on one hand the number of Capitals who are playing the best hockey of their careers, and none of them are guys whose jerseys are readily available for purchase in the team store. If you were to list the Capitals three goaltenders in reverse order of playoff readiness, you would get a list of the Capitals three goaltenders sorted by severity of injury.

There is, frankly, little rational reason to hope for anything other than an unceremonious dismissal and the dismantling of the roster. Not a single ESPN analyst out of 12 picked the Capitals to win their first round series against the Bruins.

The 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 Capitals did not wear the favorite hat well. Maybe the underdog is simply more their style.

And if anyone is an underdog, it’s these maddening 2011-12 Capitals.

There are few structures that mean as much to me as Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I didn’t go there a single time last summer.

The Yard couldn’t have caught me during a more formative twenty years of my life. From age nine to 29, it has been my place of pilgrimage to the confusing and enriching church of baseball. Now it sits closer to me than it ever has before. I see it more often than I see the house I grew up in, 23 miles due north. It’s my stone and brick Velveteen Rabbit, a passing reminder of something that was so seminal to my life at times, and so distant and vestigial at others.

I like fantasy baseball in theory. I love drafting my team, reading the prognostications and listening to the podcasts that cover the game. Somewhere around July, especially if you’re in a rotisserie-style league, the grind wears on me and I start to lose interest. There has to be a better summer time-wasting activity than watching my closers lose their jobs and seeing my entire outfield perpetually on the DL.

Our esteemed editor emailed me the other day asking if I’d be interested in playing in a summer fantasy movie league inspired by the NSFW Show‘s version of the game. Within an hour, I had the document cointaining the draft pool and the rules drawn up. This is what I’ve been craving to get me through to next fantasy football season.

I’ve experimented with things like this before, organizing an ill-fated but mentally stimulating fantasy rock music league with some of my friends. I’ve played every “run your own movie studio” themed video game that’s ever been made. I watched all of “Entourage.” I know, I’m not proud of it either.

Fantasy summer movies are fun, simple, and inclusive. If someone nails the technology side of things and offers this as a web or mobile application, it could be the next big thing. Until then, we’re like roto baseball players in the 1980s, combing through newspapers and hand-writing our league’s story.

Here’s how we’ve set up our league, and why you should go do this immediately.

Photo: Mitchell Layton

For the second season in a row, small sample size notwithstanding, 22-year old Braden Holtby has been the Washington Capitals’ best goaltender. For the second win-or-die game in a row, coach Dale Hunter is giving the nod to Holtby tonight against Buffalo.

In his NHL career, Holtby has played in 18 games, and in all of them has displayed a confidence and swagger in front of the net that shows a visible boost in the 18 men in front of him. Even the four games he’s been lit up in the past two years, the young goaltender hasn’t been fazed.

Hunter might be the paragon of the Capitals organization, but the rough road the first-year coach has seen has exposed the fact that the team’s current makeup might not match Hunter’s coaching preferences. With three good goalies to choose from, Hunter is calling on number 70 in crunch time. Holtby, the Canadian who plays like a defenseman who happens to wear a mask and glove, might be Hunter’s best match in net and the Capitals best chance at the playoffs.

The NFL is benevolent socialism in a vacuum. Most people understand this, but few fans encourage their teams to act on it. Perhaps the fact that our country fought a 50-year Cold War against socialism that many fans still remember makes it hard to embrace this reality. It’s a shame really, because exploiting the cheapest labor possible at every position under the salary cap is exactly how you weather a system that knocks everybody down to the middle eventually.

As the first wave of free agency transactions have come and gone, the Ravens find themselves poached of some of their (previously) most efficient talent. Fans are upset, naturally, at the loss of integral pieces to the puzzle such as Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding. But the way the NFL is structured, losing players to the free market can often help a team more than it hurts.

I appreciate Johnson, Redding, Ben Grubbs, Tom Zbikowski, and the other players lost and leaving for their contributions. As newly signed free agents, they are all likely overpaid. Good for them, and good for the Ravens for not entering bidding wars to maintain the status quo.

Pro football is a grown man’s game. I mean that in the sense that, while they are coached and instructed, ultimately everything good and bad carried out on the field is done by grown men. They are free to choose any profession they want to seek out, and they choose to play football in the NFL willingly.

The NFLPA, as the players’ union, would obviously like there to be a unified front on player sentiments regarding the hot-button issues facing the league. In the most recent era, it has been lasting head injuries and the things that cause them, and in the most recent weeks, it has been incentives to injure opponents. Neither create a “safe working environment” by OSHA standards, but players seem to be much more comfortable with their own demise than someone profiting from it.

And that is the problem with the NFL today. There is not a unified front on the head trauma issue because the player pool is in a period of transition. What the league is transitioning to is a mystery, but there is a division between those willing to absorb the implied risk of a pro football career and those who claim to have been (metaphorically) blindsided. Current players bristle at a quick 15-yard flag or a fine for helmet-to-helmet contact. They feel the rules have been changed on them mid-flight. The liked the old way better. The way where the assumed risk was still the same, but the only ones suffering or profiting from a dangerous tackle was the tackler and tacklee themselves. Now, the NFL takes a bite out of the tackler’s paycheck, and the guys in the other jerseys get 15 precious yards. The players who are upset at the recent allegations of bounty systems among teams aren’t mad at the actions, they’re mad at the outcomes. Many are not calling for the game to be played differently. They simply want to absorb the good and the bad of their decision to play pro football like grown men.