Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 2nd Round Picks

That was one of the more interesting 1st Rounds I've seen in a long time. For the first time that I can remember, we had no Game 7s, and only four Game 6s. But we also had a ridiculous amount of OTs, including three six-game series that had 5, 4 and 3 OT games. That first one, the Caps-Leafs series, again, had 5 of their 6 games go to OT!

The NHL, and more so, NBC, is probably not all too happy to lose Chicago and Boston in the first round, but they keep New York, and maybe can grow US interest in Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers - which they probably should try to do given they'll probably a fixture in these parts of the playoffs for years to come. 

Even to me, this is a weird set of series. The only team I'm really disappointed to see lose is Minnesota, as they play a much more attractive brand of hockey than the Blues, and also, as Bruce Boudreau correctly surmised, vastly outplayed St. Louis in that series only to lose in 5 games because Jake Allen became Marty Brodeur (who himself quietly became Allen's goalie coach this year) for a series.

Anyway, on to the serieses:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

(A2) Ottawa Senators (98 pts)  vs.  (A-WC) New York Rangers (102 pts)

The State of the Teams: The hockey-world (particularly Canada) would have probably wanted to renew Bruins vs. Canadiens for the umpteenth time (they've met in the playoffs in, get ready, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2014), but instead we get what could end up being a really interesting series. The Senators are, by any measure, the worst team to make the playoffs this year, with their negative goal differential. The Rangers are definitely not that, but they are also not a conventionally great team. They have ridiculous team speed, and depth at forward to roll three lines, but have regressed mightily on the blue-line (Ryan McDonagh got old quite fast). Both goalies are capable of stealing the series. Craig Anderson, already a crowd favorite given his wife's struggle with cancer, was great against Boston. Henrik Lundqvist had the worst season of his career, but turned back the clock five years against Montreal. Looking deeper at the Senators roster, they probably should have done better than they did. They have one of the league's premier players in Erik Karlsson - who was outrageously good against Boston - and a nice stable of forwards. The Rangers? Well they are right where they should be. They'll probably never admit to feeling happy to be #4 in the Metro division and moved into this part of the bracket, but it is working out perfectly.

The Matchup: One way to look at the series is which goalie remains hot. Anderson has always been very up or down. Lundqvist played at a higher level in the playoffs than he had all season. Both have a likelihood of slipping. However, I could write "which goalie plays better?" for all series. Beyond the masked men, the Senators were more impressive top to bottom in the first round. Erik Karlsson, despite his two heel fractures, was insane. Derick Brassard - former Ranger - was solid. Bobby Ryan turned back the clock as well. Even older depth guys like Dion Phaneuf and Clarke McArthur were great. They can now match the Rangers depth better than I would have thought.  The Rangers were not nearly as good on paper against Montreal, but have some advantages. They are very fast - which the Senators first round opponent most certainly was not - and they have a huge edge on the power-play. The Rangers depth at forward can hurt the back-half of the Senators roster. The series will come down to, more-so than the goalies, if the Rangers 3rd/4th lines can outplay Ottawa's by a greater margin than the Sens top-two lines can outplay New York.

Random Stat/Memory/Factoid on the Series: The last time these two met in the playoffs was when the 8th seeded Senators took the top-seed Rangers to 7 games in 2012. That series was not beyond much controversy, including Carl Hagelin getting a three game suspension for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson in the head, and the Senators responding with Zenin Konopka punching Brady Boyle in the face. Fun times!

The Pick: I'm going with Ottawa for a few reasons. First, I have more faith in Anderson to retain the first round performance than Hank. Second, the Senators top guys are firing on all cylinders right now. Third, their bad special teams is less of an issue in the playoffs - and the Rangers aren't great on special teams, just merely better than Ottawa. And finally, I don't want a Metro Division team to win the Atlantic Division playoffs. It will happen eventually, and this is only 1% of the reason I am picking Ottawa, but still let's not go there yet.

Senators in 6

Metropolitan Division

(M1) Washington Capitals (118 pts)  vs.  (M2) Pittsburgh Penguins (111 pts)

State of the Teams: It's the series everyone wants - and once again they are the two best teams in hockey. Now, people said that last year - I heard a lot of 'this is the real Stanley Cup Final' when they met. But this time they were literally by point total the two best teams in hockey. They are deep, fast, a great mix of youth and experience. The Capitals had the best overall season by a team in some time. The Penguins had the best offensive season by a team in some time. Both teams are fairly healthy, though missing key pieces. The Penguins overcame these absences more easily than I expected, but not having Kris Letang will be a bigger issue against Washington's great depth. Similarly, any continued absence of Karl Alzner for the Caps will pose the same challenges. Like always, the Penguins start with Crosby and Malkin, who are both in great form in the playoffs again. Especially Malkin, who had an insane 11 points in the 5-game win over CBJ. Crosby is turning randoms into stars again (Jake Guentzel). Kessel is performing as per usual. And now Marc-Andre Fleury is doing his best Matt Murray impression - and I imagine he stays in net until they falter, if that even happens. The Capitals actually got good performances from all their key pieces in the first round. Justin Williams remains playoff dynamite. Kuznetsov was far more engaged this year. Their issue seems to be the back-end and Holtby struggling in the playoffs for the second straight year. Key issues if you are playing the best offensive team in a half-decade.

The Matchup: I've never bought into curses or one team owning an other. That often is true until it is not. That said, how can you overlook the way these two have played in the playoffs. Of course, the 'Penguins great in the playoffs' story is just a year old, as prior to 2016, most people considered them playoff chokers ever since their Cup win in 2009. In the regular season, the Capitals were 2-0-2, winning by huge margins (7-1, 5-2) and losing twice in OT (including a class 8-7 Penguins win). The key in those games was the Capitals depth outskating the relatively slower Penguins, and also awful performances by Matt Murray, who may not factor in this series. The Capitals have on paper the deeper team, but I am starting to worry about Holtby. He was not that good in the playoffs last year and had huge issues against the Penguins. Fleury seems in a much more calm state than he used to be. The Penguins power-play was phenomenal in the first round, and the Capitals took too many penalties. This is the best Capitals team to play the Penguins in the playoffs, but let's remember this is also the same team that needed to go to OT in five games against an average Toronto team. I would think the injuries on Pittsburgh's side (Hagelin is out, Kunitz is iffy to come back) will hurt them against a deeper team. But it really is ever hard to trust the Capitals is it?

Random Stat/Memory/Factoid on the Series: I've heard a lot of complaints this year on the new playoff format, with essentially two divisional tournaments in each conference with potential for Wild Cards to shuttle between divisions. I've heard those complaints renewed when these two have to play each other. But let's remember in the preceding format (3 divisions), this would be the #1 seed vs. #4 seed as the division winners were seeded #1-3.

The Pick: That said, I have to pick Washington. Part of this is simply that I want it. I want to see Ovi win the Cup so he never has to hear that he can't again. But I also think they are just better. The Capitals are more or less as good as Pittsburgh on offense. They are far better on defense. They have, on paper, the edge in goal though they desperately need Holtby to step up his level. They have home ice. They are healthier. Now, most of these statements were equally true last year and the Pens got them in 6, but this is a better Capitals team and that series last year basically came down to Holtby getting outplayed by Murray. I don't think that happens this time.

Capitals in 7

Western Conference

Central Division

(C3) St. Louis Blues (99 pts)  vs.  (C-WC) Nashville Predators (94 pts)

State of the Teams: If ever there was a poster-child series to the cliche that the teams that enter the playoffs hot wins, it is this one. Both of these two teams were among the league's largest disappointments for much of the season. The Blues almost indicated they were giving up on the season when they traded away Shattenkirk, and had a goalie in Jake Allen who was lost. The Predators were everyone's darlings in the preseason and were mired around .500 for much of the year. And now they meet in the 2nd round. The Predators are doing this mostly by just being the team everyone thought they should be. They have a great core of young forwards (Forsberg, Arvidsson, Johansen the stars in the group) and a ridiculous top-4 on defense (Subban, Josi, Ekholm, Ellis). And now they are getting vintage Pekka Rinne (3 goals allowed against Chicago). They had the potential to dominate possession with their puck moving defenseman and speed up front. The Blues made their run by basically getting Jake Allen to find himself. Their skaters aren't playing markedly better, and other than adding Vladimir Sobotka back to the mix, it's mostly the same group playing at the same level that got Ken Hitchcock fired. Turns out when you get Vezina-level goaltending from February onwards you can go on a nice run. Better yet when that run continues in the first round.

The Matchup: The Blues were massively outplayed on the ice against the Wild apart from goalie. Devin Dubnyk wasn't actually that bad for Minnesota, but Allen was heroic. And yet, I don't even know if we can give the Blues the edge in goal in this series given how good Rinne was. In many ways, the Predators are similar to the team that the Blues just beat. They have the same deep forward crew the Wild did. If anything the Predators are better on the blue-line. It is sad they sleep-walked through the regular season, but it is clear this is not the same Nashville team. The Blues will have to depend on getting a lot of non 5v5 time in the series, as they were very good on both the PP and PK, but very much average 5v5. The Predators are basically the opposite. That tends to work better in the playoffs when penalties are called at a much reduced rate. Jake Allen apparently got into a much better mental state once Brodeur became more involved, but again there is no indication he's even better than Rinne - though Rinne's brilliance only dates back to this series as he was very average throughout the regular season. Neither team has much injury concerns at this point, so we should get both teams close to their best. It just seems now that the Predators have found their best, it is as impressive as well thought it was going to be.

Random Stat/Memory/Factoid on this Series: This is the 4th year of the new playoff format, and the 3rd time the Central Division will have the #3 seed play the #4 seed. In the first two iterations, that #3 seed was Chicago, so it was more understandable (they beat St. Louis in 2014 and Nashville in 2015). In fact, in general out of the 16 matchups we've gotten so far in the 2nd round, there have been just 7 between the top two seeds in their division, and four of those have come in the Metro which has so far always been 1v2.

The Pick: It became fairly obvious, but I'm going with Nashville here. The Predators we see now are playing so much better than a 94 point team. They are playing like the team we all expected them to be, with the added bonus of having vintage Pekka Rinne. That last part is crucial because the Blues won in the first round essentially only due to Jake Allen being ridiculous. Well, there is no clear indicator they'll have the goalie matchup here. The Blues will need a lot of penalties called to keep this close, which I can't really see happening. Plus, after seeing the Blues win the division last year, would be nice for the other snake-bit Central Division team to join them this time around.

Predators in 6

Pacific Division

(P1) Anaheim Ducks (105 pts)  vs.  (P2) Edmonton Oilers (103 pts)

State of the Teams: This might be my favorite second round series. The Ducks have been my pet team for a while now. The Oilers should be everyone's favorite team right now as we can enjoy them before Connor McDavid replaces Sidney Crosby as the league's best player leading to anti-Oiler sentiment becoming pervasive. The two teams play enjoyable hockey - that Ducks/Flames series was underrated in its manic nature and was fully enjoyable despite being a sweep. The Oilers were probably my favorite home atmosphere in round 1, and now their fans can legitimately have Stanley Cup Final aspirations. Both teams are healthy. The Oilers have barely anyone on the injury report. The Ducks have loads, including all their three key defenseman (Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen) but all three are expected to play in Game 1. This should be a good one. The Ducks were derided for replacing Boudreau with old-school Randy Carlyle, but the team has done really well under him, didn't mutiny like everyone expected, and have gone 15-0-3 dating back to the regular season. The Oilers have more young talent than anyone (including Toronto), have the league's MVP who is only 20, and are just a joy to watch given their free-wheeling nature. Again, this should be a good one.

The Matchup: Much like the Blues and Oilers, the Ducks were relatively disappointing for much of the year before turning it on late. Unlike those two teams, people expected the Ducks to be slightly disappointing. However, they still have tons of talent on the team, with two premier, if entering their post-prime phase, forwards on the top-line, a great 2nd line (Kesler-Silfverberg-Cogliano) and those three talented puck-moving defensemen. John Gibson also had a really nice season in net. The Oilers on the other hand have the top-flight guys we know about, but have shown more depth and more non-Connor McDavid sourced scoring in these playoffs, even mixing and matching lines to spread out their top guys across the lines rather than concentrate on one (splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl has done wonders). Both teams are similar 5v5, as the Ducks have never been a possession-hungry team, and they have opposing specials strengths (Oilers great PP, Ducks great PK). The Ducks have the more known goalie but they were basically equally good this season. As shown by their point totals as well, not much separating these two.

Random Stat/Memory/Factoid on the Series: The last time the Oilers made the playoffs, they beat the Ducks in the Western Conference Finals on their way to that miracle Cup Final appearance in '06. While the Ducks lost the series in 5, that was the breakout for them in a post-Babcock world, with it being the first taste for Getzlaf and Perry (2nd liners back then). The Ducks would then steal the Oilers best player (Pronger) and win the Cup the next year. In the 10 years after they met in '06 (2006-07 through 2015-16), the Ducks made the playoffs eight times, including winning a Cup and making another Western Conference Finals appearance. The Oilers on the other hand won the lottery four times.

The Pick: Ultimately, I favor the Ducks. The Oilers are just not deep enough, and the Ducks 2nd line has as good a shot as any defensive-leaning line in the playoffs left to slow McDavid. If that forces Edmonton to join McDavid and Draisaitl together it will only amplify the lack of options the Oilers have. The Ducks also have a large edge on the blue-line assuming the key three are back and healthy. Whatever edge the Oilers have on PP is neutralized by both the general lack of penalties and the Ducks strong PK. The Ducks are not a great team, and the Oilers are definitely faster, but I do think it isn't time for them just yet.

Ducks in 6

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bye, Bye Blackhawks

By the end of it, they looked slow and old and, more than anything, tired.

The Blackhawks were swept aside, this from a team that had never gone away without a fight. This isn't the first time the Blackhawks have lost in the playoffs, in this run as a modern dynasty. But the first time they looked outmatched, and outworked. They lost in 7 games to a, frankly, better team in 2011, but there they came back from 0-3 down to force a game 7 against the President's Trophy winners, and even forced OT in that Game 7 before Vancouver finally beat them. That was the height of the Blackhawks fight, forcing a Game 7 with probably the worst team in this run.

The next year they lost in 6 to the then Phoenix Coyotes, but four of the games went to OT. In 2014, they fought back from 1-3 down to force Game 7 against the LA Kings, and while they somewhat blew Game 7 (they were up 2-0 and 3-2 in the game), they lost to the team that won the Cup. And then last year again down 3-1, again forcing a Game 7 against St. Louis. The Blackhawks have been very good for a long time. They were a dynasty, becoming something the league tried to marshal away during the 2005-06 lockout. They did it anyway, and now it is over.

For the first time, the Blackhawks did not have any answers. Their lack of depth has been a problem for a while, but in the past their stars could make up for it, and they would summon 3-4 imports and random rookies and have them contribute more than anyone could expect. The vets struggled, the rookies even moreso. In the end, the Blackhawks bag of tricks was empty and crinkled as the Predators feasted on the older, tired, shallow Hawks in four quick games.

When the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup they were something of a superteam. They brought in a bunch of veterans to supplement a ridiculously good young core (the same core that would headline the team ever since). That was a great risk but a brilliantly calculated one. The Hawks knew how good, and how cheap, their core was at that moment so they brought in free agent after free agent (Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, John Madden, Thomas Kopecky, Brent Sopel, and on and on) to provide ridiculous depth. That team cruised, and then they had to face the music for the first time with a summer cap crunch immediately following that forced all of those names along with other homegrown talents (Dustin Byfuglein, Troy Brouwer) out the door. The Hawks had to rebuild.

Of course, rebuilding is easier when you have the core they did, and while it took them a couple years to shore up the depth, when they did the Hawks had the most dominant season we've seen. It was a lockout season so the dominance was hidden, but the 2012-13 Blackhawks got 71 points in 48 games - a pace for 131 which would be the most in the post-lockout NHL. They had their core at a perfect age, a new wave of younger, cheaper but sitll great depth (Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Nick Leddy, etc.) and that wave crested that year and the next where they came so close to making back-to-back Cup Finals (and in all probability back-to-back Cups). The team that won in 2014-15 was mostly the same, but now with a more glaring depth problem (especially on the blueline) washed over by a still in-their-prime core group. That third Cup was the one that was most 'won' by the stars. And that lies their biggest problem: those stars aren't good enough any more to mask holes.

There were seven players on all three Blackhaws cup teams. The names float easily off the tongue for most hockey fans: Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson. Six of the seven are still here - with Patrick Sharp sacrificed after the 2015 Cup Win to Dallas. Those six are all great players. They include four guys that are essentially locks for the Hall of Fame (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith), and another that may make it with a pro-Blackhawks bias (Seabrook) and another quality player (Hjalmy). However, the biggest issue with the Blackhawks come down to these three lists of numbers:

Jonathan Toews: 28, 10.5 MM, through 2022-23
Patrick Kane: 28, 10.5 MM, through 2022-23
Marian Hossa: 38, 5.3 MM, through 2020-21
Duncan Keith: 33, 5.5 MM, through 2022-23
Brent Seabrook, 31, 6.9 MM, through 2022-23
Niklas Hjalmarsson: 29, 4.1 MM, through 2018-19

Those six players, the six guys that were (Hossa aside) youngsters for Cup #1, square in their primes for Cup #2, and about to leave their primes for Cup #3, are now at a point where their salaries will start outmatching their production, and the length of the deals along with the hefty price tag will make it really hard for the Blackhaws to reload like they have in the past. This was a calculated risk to keep this core together, and in some cases overpay for long-term contracts partly to reward the key guys that made this renaissance possible. It is always hard to fault that approach from a moral point of view, but when a team has no money to get additional players in it puts a huge onus on player development, one area the Blackhawks have struggled mightily in.

Player development as much as the key seven won the Blackhawks the 2012-13 Stanley Cup, and for Saad and Terevainen, the 2014-15 Stanley Cup. But now, with those guys shipped out as cap casualities (with very little in return), the Hawks had to try to do it again and it didn't work. This was especially stark on the blue-line, with Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson looking tired at best or old at worst. In truth, the Blackhaws defense core was 3-deep in 2014-15 as well, but two years is a big difference - the difference between Keith in his prime to starting his decline.

The Blackhawks are not going to be a bad team next year. They will almost assuredly make the playoffs, and while they may not be the playoff favorite again, there is enough good players on the team to catch some luck and win Cup #4. It's not like they are markedly worse than some of the teams still alive in the playoffs, it is just they caught the wrong team fast enough and deep enough to expose them.

The Predators should be lauded for finally being the team we all expected them to be in the playoffs. When they brought in Subban adding him to an already great back-line (Josi, Ekholm, Ellis are all great defenseman) the Predators on paper appeared to be one of the best teams - goalies excluded. In many ways, the current Predators are a close match for the old Blackhaws, with great depth on the blue-line and deep, young talent on offense. Mostly through trade, the Predators have collected a great, deep roster that is young, fast, skilled, and while Pekka Rinne can easily turn back into regular-season Rinne next round, this team should be the favorite in any series until the Cup Final.

The Blackhawks were able to resurrect hockey in Chicago, show the league a dynasty is still possible in the post-lockout NHL, and set a stellar leading example of how to play calm, collected playoff hockey. My favorite stat for all time will be that from 2010-2015, 8 times the Blackhaws found themselves tied 2-2 in a series. Their record in the remaining games: 16-1. The Blackhawks did some unbelievable things, and participated in some of the best series I've seen in the last half-decade or so - the 2010 2nd Round against Vancouver, the 2013 2nd round against Detroit, the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals win against Boston, the 2014 Conference Final against LA, the 2015 Conference Final against Anaheim, the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against Tampa, last year's 1st round loss to St. Louis. All great series, all great moments provided by those guys in Chicago. 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe their next set of development players turns out to be as good as the Saad/Shaw/Teravainen group. Maybe Stan Bowman pulls off some magic in the trade market, or gets someone to take one of the contracts. Maybe another year without two-and-a-half months of playoffs will help an aging, but still extremely talented core, rest up. But if not, if that was the end, it was a great ride.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 1st Round Picks

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

(A1) Montreal Canadiens (103 pts)  vs  (EW2) New York Rangers (102 pts)

I for one am really glad that the Canadiens did end up with one more point than the Rangers. It would have been a little much if all four Metro Division playoff teams finished ahead of all four Atlantic division teams. The Rangers were a very good team for most of the season, essentially equal to the other three Metro division powerhouses, but tailed off somewhat over the second half to finish with a +36 goal differential. Of course, that is still a good 10 goals better than Montreal, as the Rangers offense had a great year (Top 5 in goals). The Canadiens begin and end with Carey Price period. Nothing is that great about the team apart form Price. Their supposedly next set of stars all struggled with Alex Galchenyuk having a middling 44 points in his 61 games and guys like Gallagher (29 pts), Shaw (29) and Danault (40) all doing the same despite playing a majority of the season. In the end, the Canadiens are their goalie – and Carey Price is really good. The Rangers used to be the team as recently as just two years ago who would enter any playoff series with the edge in goal. That is no longer.

The Rangers are a deep offense with quality across all four lines and great team speed (something that used to be said of Montreal fairly recently as well), but Henrik Lundqvist struggled in posting his worst season of his career. The .910 save % is not great, but the 2.74 GAA is even worse. Backup Antti Raanta far outperformed him and it will be interesting to see if Alain Vigneault, a man not unfamiliar to goalie switching in the playoffs, moves to Raanta if Hank struggles. The Rangers are the better team on paper with better performance from their four lines and more depth on defense, and neither team has any real edge on special teams. In the end, though, it is hard to go against a team with a large edge in goal.

Pick: Canadiens in 6

(A2) Ottawa Senators (98 pts)  vs  (A3) Boston Bruins (95 pts)

Let’s get this out of the way early, the Senators are the worst team in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are the only one with a negative goal differential. They are the worst offensive team in the playoffs. Their defense depends on Erik Karlsson keeping the puck for all the minutes he is on ice and Craig Anderson performing miracles. The Bruins are living a charmed life, as the Maple Leafs loss on the last day of the season gave Boston this slot, an eminently more beatable opponent than what Toronto now gets to face (Washington). The Senators have a few nice spots, including the continued brilliance of Erik Karlsson who logged another 71 points in 77 games and continues to be underrated for his actual defensive abilities. Their top three forwards (Hoffman, Turris, Stone) all had nice years. And of course, Craig Anderson remains great. However, they have no discernable skills beyond these things, being both below-average on the PP and PK, and from a possession standpoint not too great 5v5 either.

The Bruins, on the other hand, parlayed a shockingly great season from Brad Marchand (85 pts – way above anything he’s done in his career), a breakout season from 20-year old David Pastrnak (70 points), and the continued brilliance of Patrice Bergeron into a really nice bounceback season from a team that missed the playoffs each of the past two years and fired their coach midseason. Tuukka Rask showed signs of slippage, but the Bruins did a good enough job limiting shots that it didn’t really matter as he ended up with a perfectly acceptable 2.23 GAA despite being below average in both general save percentage and quality save percentage (.493 – anything below .5 is considered bad). The Bruins were both above average in the PP and PK as well. Basically, they are way better top to bottom aside from goalie and the difference here is nowhere near as large as it was between Montreal and New York. Despite all of this, the only reason I am skeptical in the Bruins is the fact that they underperformed all these peripheral stats and performances and ended up with just 95 points. Still, gotta use my head when every indicator points to Boston.

Pick: Bruins in 6

Metropolitan Division

(M1) Washington Capitals (118 pts)  vs  (EW2) Toronto Maple Leafs (95 pts)

The Capitals were a juggernaut last year. They scored 252 goals and allowed just 193, for a league-leading goal differential of +59. If we are being honest, the Capitals were better this year. They scored 11 more goals, allowed 11 fewer, for a goal differential of +81. They were #3 in goals, and #1 in goals allowed. They had an above average power-play (4th in %) and penalty-kill (7th in %). Nicklas Backstrom had his usual great year (quietly 4th in points). Evgeny Kuznetsov an Marcus Johansson had very nice years. The defense is deep. Kevin Shattenkirk came in and had 14 points in 19 games. Alex Ovechkin’s ‘down’ year consisted for 33 goals. Oh, and they may have the best goalie in the league, as Holtby finished with a tidy .925 save% and 2.07 GAA. The Capitals are really good.

The Maple Leafs are not. With the young talent they have, maybe they become the Capitals 5 years from now – but right now they just are not there. Now, they can probably match Washington’s offensive firepower. Auston Matthews had the most goals by any rookie since Ovie (40). Their other two precocious youngsters (20-year old Wille Nylander and 19-year old Mitch Marner) had matching 61 point seasons. And they have coach extraordinaire Mike Babcock living up to all his billing. Even if they were to get swept in embarrassing fashion, this season was a rousing success. But there is a chance they do get swept in embarrassing fashion. The goaltending, and defense as a whole, is brutal even if Frederik Andersen were not somewhat gimpy. Their special teams are good, but their 5v5 numbers are below average – and their opponent can easily attest to how important 5v5 is in the playoffs. Finally, Babcock himself has had really good teams flame out in the playoffs. This should not be a close series, and if the Capitals do struggle to put Toronto away, that is a major warning sign going forward.

Pick: Capitals in 5

(M2) Pittsburgh Penguins (111 pts)  vs  (M3) Columbus Blue Jackets (108 pts)

To me, this is easily the most exciting of the four Eastern Conference playoff series. Not only are these two so close to each other geographically, and not only is there some bad blood between the two teams, but add into it myriad interesting characters from John Tortorella’s triumphant return to the playoffs, to Sidney Crosby, to Crosby nag Brandon Dubinsky, and you may get something special. The Blue Jackets had such a bizarre season. They started off on a pace that was on track to make them one of the greatest teams of all time. Everyone decried this because no one expected it, and their early-season possession numbers were middling, and their depended too much on the power play. Then, the team struggled mightily for six weeks or so, getting passed by Washington for good and then trading spots with the rest of the Metro powerhouses, and then, like magic, they became good again. At the end, the Blue Jackets were fairly good in possession, were 6th in goals scored, 2nd in goals allowed, had their power-play drop to all the way to just above average, and became a team whose performance belied a really good team. And that is what they are. 19-year old Zach Werenski is a future star on the blue-line, and their young forwards all had nice seasons, from Cam Atkinson (62 points), Alexander Wennberg (59), Brandon Saad (53) and Sam Gagner (50). But the team ill go far if Sergei Bobrovsky can continue to be the beautiful star he used to be in 2013-14, and was again this year. Bob’s season was ridiculous, with a .931 sv% and a .651 quality-chance save percentage. The Blue Jackets are a good team with a great goalie.

The Pens are a great team with an ‘eh’ goalie, as Matt Murray had a nice year for a rookie (yup, technically he’s a rookie) but not a great year overall. Never mind, though, as the Penguins raced with 282 goals, the most scored by an NHL team in 7 years, since the Capitals scored 313 in 2009-10 (the year they got Halak-ed in the 1st round). The Penguins did it in more ways than they used to as well. Crosby was great (44 goals and 89 points in 75 games), and Malkin was as good but he missed 20 games. So did Conor Sheary (53 points in 61 games). The slack was more than picked up elsewhere. The powerplay is great, and their continued ability to split their lines up keeps them as deep as the team that dominated last year. My biggest issue with the Penguins, and ultimately why I am picking them to lose, is the injuries. There’s no Carl Hagelin and no Chris Kunitz, two key Top-9 forwards for them. But worst is the lack of Kris Letang, who was dominant in the playoffs last year in possession. The Blue Jackets can somewhat match the depth of the Penguins now, and I can see a break-out series for Bobrovsky on the big stage.

Pick: Blue Jackets in 7

Western Conference

Central Division

(C1) Chicago Blackhawks (109 pts)  vs  (WW2) Nashville Predators (94 pts)

For years, the Blackhawks relatively underperformed in the regular season despite great peripheral numbers and then generally went really deep in the playoffs. For the first time in a while, they decided to outperform in the regular season. By no numbers are the Blackhawks a great team that should have had the best point total in the Western Conference. Yes, this was a down year in the West (109 pts wouldn’t have led the West in any recent year), but the Blackhawks are a team that finished 3rd in the Central three straight years, not a team that cruised to 1st place. The usual suspects all had great years (save for Toews), with Kane pouring in 89 points, Panarin having a nice encore performance, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remaining great. The team is not deep however, and a team that can roll lines consistently has a really good shot of knocking them off. There’s no real explanation for the Blackhawks ending up with 109 points being merely good 5v5, and below average both on the PP and PK, and with both Crawford and Scott Darling having average seasons. Of course, the fact that this team normally plays better in the playoffs and is already the top seed in the West is quite scary.

The Predators are the anti-Blackhawks. They should have been better. They were everyone’s trendy Stanley Cup pick in the preseason after they added PK Subban to an already great blue-line, and had a deep set of forwards that can roll with anyone. Injuries and slow starts by Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen set them off course early but they rebounded to grab the final playoff spot (something everyone else’s preseason pick – Tampa Bay – just missed out on doing), but there’s no real indication that this is a team ready to flip the switch. Their top forwards are all young, but maybe a year away from truly breaking out (their top three point getters are 23, 24 and 22). Their defense is deep, and Subban seems to be healthy, but even their blueline can’t cover for a goalie who’s best days are years behind him. Pekka Rinne is just not a top flight goalie anymore, and while Juuse Saros is intriguing as his backup, that too is a long-term option. The Predators should have been better, and they should be better next year, but I don’t think there is some great team hiding in the 2016-17 vintage.

Pick: Blackhawks in 6

(C2) Minnesota Wild (106 pts)  vs  (C3) St. Louis Blues (99 pts)

In many ways, the fact that this matchup seems uninspiring speaks volumes about how sad the Central was this year. The Blues, Predators and Stars all seriously underperformed, and even the Wild dropped off from their ridiculous early-season pace to have a nice season. The Blues enter this series injured, on an already top-heavy roster, and still with questions in goal. They certainly improved once Ken Hitchcock was shown the door, but something still seems off on the team. Only Tarasenko (who’s really criminally underrated at this point), Jaden Schwartz and Alex Peitrangelo had anything resembling nice seasons. The largest red flag was the stagnation of Jake Allen. For years we were told he needed to be fully handed the reigns to succeed and now we see why the Blues were so hesitant to give him them. He was perfectly average, which behind a perfectly average team (12th in both goals scored and allowed), the Blues don’t pose too much of a threat.

The Wild on the other hand will really test the theory of momentum. Their beginning of the season was absolutely phenomenal. At one point, the top four players in the NHL in +/- were Wild players. In the end, still three of the top four were (Zucker and Suter at +34 and Jared Spureon at +33). The team had a goal differential on pace to break +100. Even though they noticeably slowed down in the second half to the point they gave away what was once a huge division lead, the Wil remain a very deep, very good team. Eric Staal had a crazy bounceback year, all their young talent broke out together (24 year olds Granlund, Niederreiter and Coyle all had very good years). They don’t even have the red-flag hallmarks of the usual Boudreau teams like an unsustainably good powerplay (the Wild were just good on the PP). The biggest reason for their fall-off remains the only reason for skepticism (other than Boudreau’s past history), in that Devan Dubnyk regressed quite clearly in the 2nd half of the season. He ended the year really well, but he was Bobrovsky level good in the 1st half, and merely Tuuka Rask good in the 2nd. Now, in this matchup they still have the goalie edge, but this could doom them later on.

Pick: Wild in 5

Pacific Division

(P1) Anaheim Ducks (105 pts)  vs  (WW1) Calgary Flames (94 pts)

The Ducks won the Pacific Division the first three years it existed in its current state. Because of playoff failures they fired Bruce Boudreau, hired old-school Randy Carlyle, and ended up winning the Pacific again. They maybe had the quietest 105 point season I have ever seen. The Carlyle hiring was much derided, but the Ducks continued to be what they are. They have one great forward (Getzlaf – another quiet 73 points in 74 games), a few great defenseman (though Cam Fowler’s injury hurts them, and will become more significant if they advance and he is still out), and an overall deep, large team that can tighten up when they need to. The Ducks started slow but ended great, and John Gibson put a hammer-lock on the starting job. The biggest red flag is how the players that normally wither away in the playoffs fare this time around. The pickup of Patrick Eaves has been a great under-the-radar move to add even more depth to an already deep forward group. If they can continue to roll lines the Ducks should be fine – especially in this matchup.

I was wrong when I said the Blues were the most average playoff team – the Flames are. The ywere 15th in Goals Scored, and 16th in Goals Allowed, with a differential of +5. The Flames are an average team. Like Nashville, they will likely be very good in a couple years as Gaedreau and Monahan continue to develop, and as Dougie Hamilton grows into the Norris-level player he can be (50 points and a +12 was a good start this year). But their depth is a serious issue – exacerbated by the disappearance of Sam Bennett this season. They have the team speed to give Anaheim problems, but outside of that it is hard to see where they have any edges. They’ve relied on PP and PK excellence to mask serious deficiencies 5v5, and that gets exposed like nothing else in the playoffs (as the Ducks can attest to from previous seasons), and finally their goaltending is unlikely to steal anything. The Western Conference may end up giving us great drama, but nothing is pointing to that at this point.

Pick: Ducks in 5

(P2) Edmonton Oilers (103 pts)  vs  (P3) San Jose Sharks (98 pts)

The Oilers may seem to be on paper to the Western Conference’s answer to the Maple Leafs, the team that crashed the playoff party way before anyone was ready for them to, but the Oilers are in reality a fairly good team. Their offense may be top-heavy, but when that top is the NHL’s scoring leader and likely MVP in Connor McDavid, another precocious young center with 77 more points (Leon Draisaitl), and a few other really nice pieces playing in front of the surprisingly-good Cam Talbot, that can add up to a 103-point season where the team probably should have won the admittedly soft Pacific. What’s more is that they are fully healthy, and have been for essentially the full year. There is only two areas to poke and prod at: their lack of depth beyond the top two lines (RNH did not have a very good year) and their reliance on the PP which usually spells doom in the playoffs.

The Sharks are the anti-Oilers, the team that has, outside of Chicago, more playoff experience with this core than any other. I’m going to assume Thornton plays, but even if he does, his play finally started showing some signs of slippage this year (he is 37 after all). The future can’t be too bright on a team with so many key cogs being 32 or older, and it’s never a good sign when a defenseman leads your team in goals and assists (admittedly, Brent Burns is fantastic), but experience should matter, right? Really, that’s the only reason I am picking the Sharks here. This team is a worse version of the one that made the Stanley Cup Final last year, but their relative depth (compared to Edmonton), and better 5v5 performance are advantages. Finally, I don’t like when a team plays its starting goalie so many games, and the 73 that Talbot played are glaringly high.

Pick: Sharks in 6

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Favorite Craft Breweries

Tier 1:

Founders Brewing Company

Great Lakes Brewing Company

Troegs Brewing Company

Left Hand Brewing Company

Tier 2

Victory Brewing Company

Ballast Point Brewing

Stone Brewing Company

Flying Dog Brew Co.

Southern Tier Brewing Company

Tier 3

Firestone Walker Brew Co. 

Bell's Brewery

Arcadia Brewing Co.

Oskar Blue's Brew Co.

Allagash Brewing Company

Anchor Brewing Company

Tier 4

Flying Dog Brewing Co.

Harpoon Brewing

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 Things I'm Looking Forward To in the 2017 MLB Season (Part 2)

I'm looking forward to...

... Living in a Clayton Kershaw world. What Kershaw is continuing to do is put together a run of pitching seasons that deserve to be alongside Maddux, Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. We had that foursome at their best in more or less the same time in the mid-90's through the early-00s. We haven't had a pitcher since reach that level consistently. Halladay had a few years that were great, but not near the level of those four, same with Johan Santana, and Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, etc. Kershaw is better than all those guys. He probably should have won teh Cy Young in 2015 over Arrieta, with a 300 strikeout season, something I thought was undoable in the innings-limited modern era. He keeps pushing his ERAs lower and lower, and last year may have been his best. What he does is so insane, so ridiculously insane.

... Enjoying the random regional broadcasts. There is a separate point on the brilliance of as a package, but here I wanted to focus on the broadcasters themselves. Baseball seasons are endless, with so many dreamy, stolid nights in June-August where these announcers become your friends. I feel the quality of baseball announcing at the local (team-specific) level is at a far different, and in my opinion, better level than any other sport. Getting to watch random Giants games or Mariners games, or Indians games, or Royals games and watch these random 60 men do great work is a blessing.

... Seeing if the Verlander Renaissance becomes a multi-year production. Let's be real, Justin Verlander probably deserved the Cy Young over Rick Porcello. I thought we were past the days where a gaudy W-L record could beat out being better in nearly every other facet of pitching. Anyway, Verlander had a great comeback season after fairly average 2014-15 seasons with 250 Ks in 227 innings. From July through the end of the season, he threw 123 innings of 1.98 ERA ball, holding batters to a .184/.239/.323 slash line, with 147 Ks to 29 BBs. That is prime Verlander stuff. After cratering in his age 30-32 seasons, I don't think many expected that in the Age 33. If anything, he should get worse this upcoming year, but I for one found his revival one of the great, hidden stories of 2016 and am desperately hoping it continues into 2017.

... Watching the sausage race a couple of times. I'm being serious here, the sausage race in Milwaukee's Miller Park is one of the great traditions in the sport. It is something so incredibly unique to that area, to that team, to that fanbase. Plus, it is, and will always be, hilarious. The sausage race is never not funny. Every now and then, some choreographed stuff happens to make it even better, like a player getting involved or some inter-sausage sheninegans. Long live the sausage race!

... Seeing if the Orioles can beat the analytics again. The Orioles ever since their great run to the playoffs in 2012, have habitually outperformed the analytic projections and even their own expected record based on their performance. The Orioles have done it mixing an odd combination of boatloads of home runs from varying imported sluggers (Nelly Cruz, Chris Davis), terrible starting pitching, great bullpen performances (don't tell Buck Showalter though that he should use such an advantage in a Wild Card Game type setting) and a few homegrown stars like Matt Weiters and Manny Machado. The Orioles, as usual, are projected to go around .500. Of course, they were last year when they went 89-73 and lost the Wild Card game. They were three years ago when they went 94-68, and who knows maybe they can do it again.

... Watching Max Scherzer spit hot fire a few times a year. No one since maybe prime Verlander can feel so dominant as Max Scherzer. Now, Kershaw has him beat in 'actually' being more dominant, but Scherzer at his best is an incredible experience. In 2015, he threw two no-hitters, and another game that was about as good as a no-hitter (complete game, 1-hit shutout with 16 Ks). He followed that up with a Cy Young season that featured a 20-strikeout game. Scherzer had 284 Ks. Again, Kershaw topped this in 2015, but Scherzer's gas just seems more dominant, more untouchable, more exciting.

... Hoping that Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy and bomb away. Watching Giancarlo a few times a year really get into one where it flies out at the speed of an Aroldis Chapman home run, with a ridiculously high arc deep into the outfield seats is one of the great moments of joy in the game. Many scouts and baseball analysts have been asked to name the single best tool anyone possesses in MLB, and the answer almost always in Giancarlo's power. He's played 123-116-145-74-119 games the last five years. The one year he had the 145 games? He was 2nd in MVP voting and jacked 37 HRs. He actually had a more ridiculous year in 2015, hitting 27 HRs in his 74 games (slugging .606). The Marlins are an awful franchise, but with Jeffrey Loria finally giving up and looking to sell, things may be finally brighter in Miami, and Giancarlo staying healthy would make it as bright as possible.

... Seeing if the Rockies can actually turn the corner. It has been a strange last 10 years of baseball in Colorado. They made a World Series trip to start the decade in 2007 with a young core that should have dominated. They made another Wild Card run in 2009, but have done nothing since. The centerpiece is gone with the Toluwitzki trade. Carlos Gonzalez is still around but the Rockies have a nice new core. Nolan Arenado is the star, but they have DJ LeMahieu who was a 5-win player last year, and Trevor Story who started the year with an insane first couple weeks but still ended up decent after inevitably not hitting 324 home runs. And that is just hte infield. The real area for optimism is the rotation that has, Coors-field adjusted, an ace performer in Jon Gray. I've been to Denver. Coors Field is beautiful. That team should be better because Denver should be a baseball town. It was for Rocktober in 2007, and a decade later maybe they are back?

... Watching Buster Posey hit and catch. Yes, I'll admit I have something of a man crush on Buster Posey. I've been a fan of the Giants revival mainly because I loved watching Tim Lincecum pitch, and then they went and got Hunter Pence in 2012 and he became an integral and loved part of the '12 and '14 Title teams. But Buster was my favorite. First off, he's a great hitter, especially for a catcher. Last year was the worst hitting year of his career, but still had a 112 OPS+. He has such a smooth, compact swing. The real joy is watching him catch, though. Pitch Framing became a huge cause celebre in the stats community the past two years, and he is the active God of it. They haven't figured a way to put it into WAR yet, but the rumor is if they do, guys like Posey would be some of the most valuable players in baseball. His 2016 may be the beginning of the end of Posey as a great hitter (he just turned 30), and he may at some point be moved off to 1st base, but as of now, he's still a joy to watch on both sides.

... Not caring about the Phillies, Twins and Padres. I tried to think of which team I hadn't really talked about yet, and these are the three that came to mind. I then tried to think if I had anything to say about them, and the answer in the end was essentially that no, I do not. These are three bad teams, that are aggresively boring without much to actually care about. The Phillies and Twins have some decent prospects, but we've heard that for a few years and there are worse off teams with better prospects. None of them have discussed implementing some crazy idea or new way of playing. There's really no reason to care about any of them.

... Enjoying every single aspect of the product. Online/App-based league packages have essentially replaced the TV versions to become the standard for all mass sports watching. Out of these, including DirecTV Sunday Ticket Online (which of course is still limited to DirecTV customers or anyone in a city where they may not be able to get a dish), NBA's LeaguePass and NHL's Center Ice, is by far the clubhouse leader. Crystal-clear quality. Access to both home and away TV adn Radio announcing. Very easy to discern quad-box watching. MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media) is a powerhouse that has even started going into other sports having essentially redesigned the NHL Center Ice package to match what is, and you can understand why other sports may want to jump on board.

... The Home Run Derby without Chris Berman. I'm a huge proponent of the home run derby as an event. Out of all the skills competitions that various sports attempt to put on each year at their respective all-star games, the Home Run Derby is by design the simplest and the best. What has kept it from reaching the mountaintop as the great event it should be was the presence of Chris Berman and his gratingly annoying 'back, back, back, back, back x100' awfulness. With Berman gone they can put in the hands of someone more sedate and let the Derby speak for itself. The new timed round format is brilliant, and while last year at Petco wasn't as great as Todd Frazier's win in Cincinnati in 2015, I have high hopes for the 2017 vintage, especially if it involves Gioncarlo Stanton going long in Miami.

... Imbibing endless, endless, endless baseball. I give extreme credit to the baseball world for accepting the beauty of the regular season. Other than the strange anti-Kershaw-cuz-he-chokes crowd, baseball fans generally accept that playoff performance has very little to do with your recognition. No one doesn't call Mike Trout the best player in baseball because he's only made the playoffs once. I feel a lot of this is due to just how long the baseball season. The length of the season may seem overwhelming for non-baseball fans, but for those who love the game, nothing is better. There is no better feeling that in June, 80 days into the season, there are still 100 more days to go.

... Watching Albert Pujols pursuit of 600 Home Runs. Yes, he is playing on an albatross of a contract. Yes, watching him hack away these days is sad. But this man ruined my life to the point I became in awe of him. Prime Albert Pujols was terrifying at the plate, with a perfect, powerful swing. Out of the guys that are in the 600 HR club, few preceded my time, three are clouded by steroids (Bonds, A-Rod, Sosa), and two I only really got to enjoy during the end of their careers (Thome, Griffey). Pujols is different. I remember him as a rookie. I remember him turning my life into a nightmare in the 2005 NLCS Game 5. I remember him hitting three home runs in Game 5 of the 2011 World Series. Sure, he's been a relative disappointment in LA, but when he reaches 600, he'll have the 2nd highest batting average and 3rd highest slugging percentage of anyone in that club. The only guys above him are Messers Ruth and Bonds. He was a generational player. He is still having a generational career.

... Enjoying the Astros. Of course this was going to be #30. The Astros are by most analytic forecasts, fairly clear division favorites. Their offense is either the best or 2nd best in MLB (Boston is the only other contender for that title on paper). Their offense is crazy, with last year's #3 MVP finisher Jose Altuve (still just 27), George Springer (when healthy an all-star level player), super-prospect Alex Bregman, and imports in Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick. If Cuban import Yulieski Gourriel works out they can be terrifying. Of course the centerpiece is Carlos Correa, who is still just 22. Take away any potential call-ups this year, and out of the whole set of great young players in baseball, he is the youngest. Most GM and front-office types consider him the guy with the most potential in that whole group. If he reaches it, and one day he will, the Astros will me ridiculous. Let's hope, for my sanity at least, that it happens.

Monday, March 27, 2017

30 Things I'm Looking Forward To in the 2017 MLB Season (Part 1)

I'm looking forward to....

... watching the Cubs and their fans slowly turn into the post-2004, pink-hat wearing Red Sox. The Cubs great run to the World Series was amazing. It was nice to see octogenerians sobbing with their children in joy after they won. That's all well and good. Now that the curse and all that is in the past, they can take their rightful place next to the Red Sox. I'm very sure the Cubs are going to monetize every last cent out of this ring - as is their right - but with that comes the very real endpoint of pink-hat wearing Cubs fans that couldn't name anyone from the 2003 team that last ripped their hearts out.

... enjoying the defensive wizardry of some of the games best, whether on, or Vine, or twitter or anything else. Already my juices got flowing for this with Javier Baez's insane no-look tag on the World Baseball Classic (which was fantastic up until the dud of a final), one that was so perfectly performed that Baez started celebrating and pointing to Yadier Molina before the ball even reached him. Along with Baez are great defensive wizards like Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, Kevin Keirmaeir in the outfield, and so many others. I'm sure fans of the Ozzie Smith days would disagree, but this seems like the best defensive era in MLB history.

... tracking if home runs continue to go up. One of the more famous stories of the 2016 season was the sudden spike in home runs. This actually started in the 2nd half of the 2015 season and was reported on a small scale at the time. 2016 upped the trend and got a lot of theorists out there. The most commonly accepted theories seemed to be a slight change to the ball and a change in swing path (more uppercut) around the league. It has to be something slight as overall offense was more or less the same, but home runs were way up. If it is was the ball, I'm interested to see if that continues on into 2017.

... Seeing if Mike Trout can make it 6 for 6 in being the best player in the AL. At some point the general public will wake up to the fact that we have a Willie Mays / Mickey Mantle level supernova on our hands, a guy who is every bit as good as the pre-steroid Barry Bonds. Trout could, if not should, have five MVPs right now (though I hold that it is quite easy to argue for Josh Donaldson winning in 2015) from his five full seasons in baseball, and in only one of those seasons, 2015, was he not the MLB leader in WAR (Bryce Harper was that year - more on him in a bit). Trout's team is bad, though has some strange sleeper buzz, but he himself is appointment TV. At some point he may get hurt, or get slightly worse, or get passed by one of the young superstars, but there is a path where this continues for ten more years and he is rightfully seen as the heir to Mays/Mantle as the best all-around player we've ever seen.

... Compiling evidence of the continued shift in pitching strategies. It's been a few years now that the baseball analytics cognoscenti has hailed the idea that a starting pitcher should never pitch the 4th time through an order. That has been whittled down to teams going with 3rd time through the order, with teams like the Rays and potentially Rockies jumping on board. Coupled with that is the rise of the super reliever, which seems to have reached national prominence with the way Andrew Miller was used by the Indians. There are enough super reliever types out there to get this going leaague-wide. Certainly, it will be sad to see starting pitcher stats fall off in a volume perspective, but seeing the rise of these super relievers, like Miller, or potentially guys like even Matt Harvey (if he's slow to recover from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery) would be a great journey to follow.

... Counting down the 58 more hits Adrian Beltre needs for 3,000. I guess I'm supposed to be anti-Rangers given they are a manufactured division rival of the Astros, but I can't help but love Adrian Beltre. His whole career has been so strange. He was a good but not great player for a number of years, then had an insane 2004 season with 48 HR and 9.5 WAR and immediately went back to being the 3-5 WAR player he always was. Of course, then in 2010 he went to Boston, had a 7.8 win season, and has been between 5.5-7.5 ever since. He's now a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer, with numerous joyful plays including some insane defensive stops and throws at 3rd. The 3,000 hits milestone may be passe in 2017, but to me it is still cool to see someone so damn good reach this mark.

...  Seeing which division race actually gets competitive. Each of the six divisions have a clear favorite in Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Washington, Chicago (Cubs, obviously), and Dodgers. Some are more clear than others, with the Cubs and Dodgers being heavy favorites, and the other four just moderately strong favorites. There seem to be known challengers as well, but baseball is never that easy to predict. Someone we don't think of will make a run. Very often that team ends up falling off around August, but still, if Arizona, or Milwaukee, or Miami, or the LA Angels, or Tigers or Rays make a run, the sport will be better off for it.

... Watching the Mariners be relevant. Now, they were somewhat relevant last year when they won 87 games, but the Mariners enter this season with significant wild card buzz from the baseball pursists and stat-heads alike. The trade for Jean Segura gives them three all-star caliber infielders in Segura, Cano and Seager. The outfield centers mostly around defense, which is needed in that beautiful but cavernous stadium. Their pitching always looks better on paper because of the home field, but this is an aggressive strategy to compile a bunch of #2-3 guys (sadly Felix is this now), but it should work. The Mariners have a beautiful ballpark, great uniforms, and baseball will be better off if October baseball returns to the Pacific Northwest

... Identifying what crazy thing that one of the bad teams throws at the wall sticks. Baseball is the sport that has their teams try more analytically-driven crazy tactics than any others. The Astros were the first team to start shifting like crazy back in the days when they used to suck hard. The Rockies went with a 6-man rotation a few years back. My favorite random idea was when the Reds went with all rookie starting pitchers in 2015 to see if any of them could stick. One of these bad teams is going to try something, and it will be great

... Saying goodbye to the early-to-mid-2010s revivals. The early part of this decade saw the rebirth of the Pirates and Royals, two franchises that had been bad for a good 20 years before they made the playoffs in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The Pirates were the top wild card team three years straight. The Royals made it to back-to-back World Series. Let me repeat: the Kansas City Royals won the AL pennant two years in a row. Both started their drop back last year and it may continue this year. Reports are the trading of top players for prospects may begin in both places, with guys like Andre McCutcheon and Alex Gordon on the market. It will be sad, but we'll always have those memories.

... Tracking the Mets pitching path to fit six pitchers into five slots. The Mets still have a bevy or ridiculously good, ridiculously cheap pitching talent. Now, pitching talent is always a gamble, and while the got blackjack in 2015 when they made it to the world series by winning an NLCS by sweeping the Cubs on the back of their pitchers, in 2016 all of their top guys got hurt at some point in time. On the face, the Mets have two of my favorite pitchers to watch in Syndegaard (probably ready for a huge breakout) and DeGrom (who might be my favorite pitcher to watch). Add to that hopefully healthy Matt Harvey and Steven Matz and you get the core that dominated the Cubs. Now add Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman and you get a team with legitimately six starters ranging from precocious prospects to potentially best pitcher in baseball (Thor). The Mets upside is so high, and if they hit it, it will be so fun to watch it happen

... The progression of the White Sox, Yankees and Braves prospects. These three teams are seemingly the owners of half the Top 50 prospects in baseball, and all have ones that may come up this year and flash something. The White Sox got a ton back for Chris Sale (deservedly) and we may see Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech (he of the 105 MPH fastball) this year. The Yankees stockpiled to the hilt last year and while their top guys may be further away, getting a full year of Gary Sanchez would be fun. Finally, the Braves are terrible but are maybe 2-3 years away from being really good and the first signs of that will be this year.

... Watching Madison Bumgarner face off against Clayton Kershaw. I'll have a specific one about Kershaw in part 2, but let's just say any start of his is worth watching. But add in Bumgarner, who seems to take special pride in going up against Kershaw, and you get must-watch baseball. Shout-out to the Giants and Dodgers for figuring out a way to lineup their rotations to get these two against each other fairly often. Kershaw and the Dodgers have had the upper-hand, but it is close, and Bumgarner's twirled a few gems in their head-to-head. Also, this matchup has the added advantage of watchign Bumgarner bat against Kershaw - he's hit a HR off Kershaw two straight years. Kershaw is the best pitcher of this generation and an all-timer. Bumgarner is not at that level, but he could be a HOFer (he's just in his age-27 season). Let's enjoy these while we still can.

... Seeing if Bryce Harper can rebound. Bryce Harper has seemingly been on the MLB landscape for 10 years now, ever since he was on the cover of SI as a 16 year old. For the most part, he's fulfilled the high-end projection if anyone were to guess where his career would be at this point. He's won an MVP, in a ridiculous season where at age 23 he had the best relative to league average batting season anyone has had since peak-Bonds. He had a 198 OPS+, with a .460 OBP and .649 SLG. The only guys since Bonds that sniffed these numbers were peak-Pujols and Miggy, who at their best were all-time great hitters. Of course, he surrounded that 10.0 WAR season with two years that combined 2.6. Career trajectories aren't always linear or static. Most people that have 10.0 WAR seasons don't have those again. But most don't drop to 1.6 either. Harper still had the plate patience and still has all the physical gifts. He's good enough to have had a season where he legitimately was better than Mike Trout. Baseball would be a lot better off if he got back to that level, even if most of that is because he's a perfect lightning rod anyway.

... Watching the growing superstars continue to grow. The league has maybe never been this stocked with such good, young talent. Obviously, Trout leads this pack - and he's still young at just 26. But then you get Harper (24), Bryant (25), Machado (24), Nolan Arenado (25), Francisco Lindor (23), Corey Seager (23), Javier Baez (24), Kyle Schwarber (24), Mookie Betts (24), Xander Bogaerts (24) and Carlos Correa (22). This crop of players already are really good if not MVP-level great. The league is so well stocked right now it is crazy. By the way, my favorite part of that list: the youngest guy is Carlos Correa.

Monday, March 20, 2017

10 Thoughts Ahead of the Sweet 16 in 2017

1.) It makes perfect sense that after a disaster of a 1st round, with few upsets, even fewer competitive games, and the fewest opening day(s) drama that I've ever seen, we get an uber-competitive second round full of well played games (if again few dramatic finishes) and a nice set-up for a Sweet 16. I've long said that a great tournament is so rare to get from start to finish. There have been numerous great opening rounds with top seeds falling everywhere. We didn't get that here, with all sixteen Top-4 seeds getting out of the first round, but we got a few nice upsets in the 2nd round and a lot of fun ahead.

2.) Quick continuing tip of my cap to the NCAA for reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds two years back. The game is just immeasurably better with the reduced shot clock. So many games with scores into the 80's if not even higher. Maybe this is a confluence of a few different events, such as a lot of offense heavy teams still being alive but the tournament has been offense first and the teams themselves have executed with more sense and planning than normal.

3.) The East Region was shaping up to have a great finish, with a potential Elite 8 matchup of the defending champs at the #1 seed, and Duke at the #2 seed, battling it out in Madison Square Garden. Of course, both of those two teams get knocked out and we are left with absolute madness. Wisconsin after for years disappointing with Bo Ryan, is now a run of Final 4, Runner-Up, Sweet 16 (as a #7 seed) and Sweet 16 (as a #8 seed). A year after knocking out #2 seed Xavier, they played so well to knock off a team I really thought was impervious to an early upset. Wisconsin is really good (the Big 10 as a whole had a great first weekend), but now they get Florida (who just held a decent Virignia team to 35 points, and then get the winner of South Carolina (we'll get to Duke's killer in a bit) and Baylor, who continues to be the least respected team to make a handful of good tournament runs in recent years. I have no idea who will escape this region. I would favor Florida, but really, who knows?

4.) The West bracket is chalk city with the #1, #2 and #4 seeds all alive (Gonzaga, Arizona, West Virginia), and the only intruder is Xavier, who was a #2 seed last year and is the definition of a live dog. By the way, one of these four will be in the Final 4, and if you combine these four with the four I just mentioned in the previous point, one of them will play for the National Championship. If ever there was a year for either Mark Few's Gonzaga or Sean Miller's Arizona to break out, it is now when they have a clear path to not only the Final 4 but likely the Title Game. Even Xavier actually would be a great 'Cinderella' story for one of the most well respected programs to finally make the Final 4 as a disrespected #11 seed.

5.) I still can't get over both Villanova and Duke going down. For Duke, it was not an unfamiliar loss, as it had many similarities to their loss to Arizona in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen, when Duke got run out of the gym by a more athletic unit. The one difference is that team had a monster in Derrick Williams (before he turned into an uber-bust). I still can't fathom Duke giving up 65(!) points in teh second half. Frank Martin has done a really nice job building that South Carolina program. Duke had a clear path to another Final 4 with Villanova out of the way, and screwed it up. For a guy who has won 5 titles overall, and two in the last seven years, Duke has had a litany of early flameouts, not making it past the first weekend in: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014 and now 2017. As for Nova, their one year respite of not being early seed losers is gone, but I still found that the most surprising loss by the #1 overall seed since Kansas got stunned by Northern Iowa in 2010. This Villanova team was deep, experienced and so solid, and for them to get picked off in the 2nd Round still shocks me.

6.) That midwest region is well set-up for Kansas, but if anything that's when they've really struggled in the past. Louisville is gone, and the #3 seed in the region, Oregon, is missing one of their best players in Chris Boucher. Michigan is fine but still a #7 seed. Purdue is big and is an analytical-favored darling, but still, this should be Kansas's region to lose. Now, it was easily their region to lose in 2013 when Michigan picked them off in OT in the Sweet 16 (Michigan would end up in the National Title Game). That year, their #2 seed in the region (Georgetown) lost to Florida Gulf-Coast in the first round. In 2011, Kansas was the #1 seed with a #12, #11 and #10 in their region, and the #11, Shaka Smart's VCU, blitzed them from deep in the Elite 8. More about Kansas later, but while this draw looks really enticing, it never is as easy as it seems for them.

7.) This is probably year five or so of the Turner/CBS coordinated broadcast of March Madness, and I appreciate it more and more every year. Getting every game available live is just such a treat. Sure, it gets annoying juggling four channels and having to figure out where TruTV is each year, but you know what was worse? When you had to depend on CBS deciding to switch to the game that was best for you to watch as we did for a decade or so before this. The announcing teams are generally great (even if I still pour one out sadly for the Verne-Raftery duo). The halftime/pre-game/post-game teams are good - especially now that Charles and Kenny give 10% of a shit instead of zero. I'm all for this continuing for years and years and years.

8.) My word, that South Region just loaded up with blueboods, huh? Sure, Kentucky, and to a point, UNC, escaped in the 2nd round, but here we are with a mouthwatering Sweet 16 game of Kentucky vs. UCLA, with the Lonzo Ball and Friends show up against an always entertaining Kentucky group. And who does the winner most likely get? The one team that would like to run as much as either Kentucky or UCLA in UNC. The over/under for these games has to be 170 or so. Now, if a half-decade back taught us anything, it is to not disrespect Butler, and it is great to have them a live sleeper again, but the world wants Ball vs. UK and then Ball/UK vs UNC. Just give us this, please!

9.) As someone who has tertiarally followed Kansas for a while, this is the strangest brew yet. FOr years, they have plaed the tournament in a skittish, try-not-to-lose variety that was infuriating. In so many games they start out slow and cold and depend on their great defense to eventually wear teams out. This entire season has been something very different, a Kansas team defined by their guards, their tempo, their offense and not their defense, and they are looking like it through two tournament games. 190 points total. Bombing away from three. The combo of a potential Player of the Year in Frank Mason III and a top one-and-done prodigy in Josh Jackson is a title-winning combination. Kansas has easily been the most impressive team through two games, something very foreign for them, and while past Kansas teams have shown that can turn in any given cold five-minutes, this vintage just seems different.

10.) The Picks:

(4) Florida beats (8) Wisconsin
(3) Baylor beats (7) South Carolina

(4) Florida beats (3) Baylor

(1) Gonzaga beats (4) West Virginia
(2) Arizona beats (11) Xavier

(2) Arizona beats (1) Gonzaga

(1) Kansas beats (4) Purdue
(7) Michigan beats (3) Oregon

(1) Kansas beats (7) Michigan

(1) UNC beats (4) Butler
(3) UCLA beats (2) Kentucky

(3) UCLA beats (1) UNC

Final Four
(W2) Arizona beats (E4) Florida
(M1) Kansas beats (S3) UCLA

(M1) Kansas beats (W2) Arizona

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

15 Thoughts on March Madness 2017

1.) Let's start out with me admitting that my knowledge of college basketball is incredibly limited, more so than usual as I probably watched only one game fully all year long and only bits and pieces of a dozen or so others. That said, the bracket seems to be fairly well balanced. There seems to be a consensus weakest region - the West where we have both the team seen as the weakest #1 seed (Gonzaga) and #2 seed (Arizona), but there does not seem to be a clear-cut strongest bracket. The South with UNC, Kentucky and UCLA probably takes that distinction, but none of them seem far tougher than the others. Each has a few premier programs, like Villanova and Duke out East, Kansas and Louisville in the Midwest, and the aforementioned trio in the South. There are some mouth-watering potential matchups.

2.) That said, we enter this tournament with arguably our best chance at a repeat since it last happened with Florida ten year's earlier. The last defending champ to enter the tournament with a #1 seed was Duke in 2011, but that was a very different team that probably didn't even deserve a #1 seed. Villanova was wire-to-wire one of the best teams in the country, returns their best players from last year's team, and went through this season with a singular focus that was very reminiscent of that great Florida team. I am excited about the prospects of them going for their place in history, especially with a potential Elite 8 matchup with Duke on the way.

3.) I think the world has to be excited that three of the most fast-paced teams in the tournament are all grouped together. The mouth waters at the prospect of a UCLA-Kentucky Sweet 16 matchup, and then the winner getting UNC, a team never known to avoid a shootout if needed. College Basketball had grown really slow and plaid but the decision to reduce the shot clock to 30 seconds did wonders, and started unshackling the teams. These three probably would have run in the old system anyway, but the tempo's been pushed around the nation and all three are leading the charge.

4.) There doesn't seem to be a lot of ballyhooed potential Cinderella's this year. The most talked about seem to the #10 seed Wichita State (also in that area with Kentucky/UCLA/UNC) but this is a team that made the Sweet 16 as recently as 2015 - the year after they entered the tournament undefeated - the year after they made the Final 4. Apart from that, last year's darlings Middle Tennessee State are now a 12 seed, which always seems like a good seed to make a run from. Anyway, the best Cinderella's are unexpected anyways. In recent years, we've seen a decent number of #14 seeds beat #3s and even a string of #15s beat #2s dating back to 2012. If we get one of those, even better.

5.) I still can't believe Northwestern had never made the tournament until now. I had heard of that stat previously, so it wasn't like it took me by surprise, but still to think of all the random podunk schools that had made the tournament, and that Northwestern had not. Honestly, the only thing separating Northwestern from a place like Duke is Coach K. Had someone like Coach K gone to Northwestern all those years back, maybe it is Duke who never makes the tournament. Anyway, maybe this is the start of something special for the Evanston school.

6.) Again, as someone who didn't really follow the sport too closely this year, there are some really interesting seeds. Minnesota as recently as last year was garbage, now they are a #5 seed? Seton Hall is somehow a #9 seed at-large team? Or how about South Carolina getting a decent seed from an SEC that most people think is a two-team conference (or maybe I am the only person who thinks that). The soft middle of the college basketball world truly is a fluid place.

7.) It is odd to see Xavier down at a #11 seed. For such an incredibly consistent program these past 15 years, including a trip to the Sweet 16 just two years ago, I was surprised to see them down at #11. They are up against a Maryland team that I've seen called overseeded, and also a #3 seed that at the very least Jay Bilas thought was way overseeded. Much like Syracuse last year as a #10 seed, I just had an immediate reaction when seeing the #11 by Xavier's name that they are still long for this world in 2017.

8.) I'll say this, we see time and time again how coaching matters more in college basketball, how the best coaches (or to be more skeptical, best recruiters) are the one's that keep winning. Well, if seeds hold and we get #1-vs-#2 in all four regions, we get the following coaching matchups: Jay Wright vs. Mike Krzyzewski, Mark Few vs. Sean Miller, Bill Self vs. Rick Pitino and Roy Williams vs. John Calipari. Three of the four matchups have coaches that have both won titles. In five of their cases they've been finalists as well. Few and Miller are probably the two best coaches nationally who haven't mad the final four. Coaching matters, as always.

9.) Another year, another Big 12 regular season title for Bill Self, and another #1 seed. This is the 7th time Kansas has gotten a #1 seed since 2007. In their previous six, they've lost in the 2nd round once (2010 - arguably their best team aside from 2008), the Sweet 16 once (2013, blowing a game they would lose in OT to Michigan), the Elite 8 three times (2007 to UCLA, 2011 to VCU and last year to Villanova), and then once winning the title. Yes, on the course of history, Self's Kansas teams have underachieved in March, but he gets another chance here to right that wrong. This is a good Kansas team with a great mix of veteran guards (a strong focus of the 2008 Title winning team as well), one great talent in one-and-done Josh Jackson, and some good role players. The team is easily good enough to win. Will they? I'm not sure, but I will likely pick them (those are coming in a minute).

10.) The fellating of the ACC continues, with UNC getting a #1 seed and Duke getting a #2 seed and most ESPN-ites complaining that Duke didn't get a #1 seed if not picking those two to meet in the Title Game (both Jay Bilas and Jay Williams did so). Of course, should we talk about how by record they are the worst two teams that got a Top-2 seed? That so much of their resume seems to be built off playing each other and a conference that is trumped up for no great reason? I get these are two blue blood programs, both with teams good enough to win the title, but it is sad to see year after year the bar for both of them to get as high a seed as possible is just lower than it is for other teams in the field.

11.) Picks for East Bracket:

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Villanova beats (4) Florida and (2) Duke beats (6) SMU
Elite Eight: (1) Villanova beats (2) Duke

12.) Picks for West Bracket:

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Gonzaga beats (5) Notre Dame and (2) Arizona beats (11) Xavier
Elight Eight: (2) Arizona beats (1) Gonzaga

13.) Picks for Midwest Bracket:

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Kansas beats (4) Purdue and (2) Louisville beats (6) Creighton
Elite Eight: (1) Kansas beats (2) Louisville

14.) Picks for South Bracket:

Sweet Sixteen: (1) UNC beats (4) Butler and (3) UCLA beats (10) Wichita State
Elite Eight: (3) UCLA beats (1) UNC

15.) Picks for Final 4

Semifinals: (E1) Villanova beats (W2) Arizona and (M1) Kansas beats (S3) UCLA
National Championship: (M1) Kansas beats (E1) Villanova

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ramblings about Flying

I've been traveling on business to the Netherlands (Leiden, about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam) and Bangalore the past couple weeks. Travelling for business in and of itself is different, but I've been able to long-haul on a few different airlines, different planes and in a different way (more about this in a minute), so I think it is time I give some little feedback, especially since I have a few (many) bones to pick:

* Despite their seeming omnipresence on so many routes globally, I've been on Emirates just once and never through Dubai, until now. I flew them from Amsterdam to Bangalore, getting a chance to go on their A380-800, B777-300ER and spend a lot of time in Dubai International. On the whole, I am thoroughly unimpressed

* For the second time on Emirates, I had the incredible joy of waiting 90 minutes after takeoff to get my food on an overnight red-eye. The amount of time they took to start serving (I was in the second row so it wasn't like I was waiting a while after they did start) is absurd. This is a 6-hour flight overnight. You cannot start serving a quarter into that flight. This lended itself to them putting the lights off in the cabin a good two-and-a-half hours into flight. Really pathetic for a flight that most people would probably try to get some sleep on

* The two aspects I found the best of my previous Emirates flight (New York JFK to Milan) were fairly bad this time around. Their food service was at an incredibly high level in terms of both amount and quality - neither was true this time around. Then, their beer service was incredibly uninspired. Having just Heineken, Amstel and Budweiser is ridiculous. Even the shitty US airlines have started serving decent more mainstream craft beer. Then, their movie selection was a disaster. Maybe it's that I'm unimpressed with the current selection of 'new releases' but the other options were a dozen or so random selection of movies from 1980-2010, and a near complete set of Marvel movies. I resorted to attempting to watch Valkyrie for the first time I saw it in theaters before giving up halfway and decided to watch Season 3 of Silicon Valley instead

* Finally, let's get to Dubai's airport, which has some redeeming qualities. I'll get to their irredeeming one in a minute, but the airport was grand, well laid out, impressive and had some nice restaurants, including a Shake Shack for fucks sake! That was an incredibly welcome site, even if I didn't partake. The airport too had barely more than Budweiser, Heneiken or Amstel - but they did have Tiger on tap.

* Actually, I forgot maybe the most reprehensible part of Emirates' service. I was placed in 'Group F' for boarding - the last group. They seemingly group passengers by location in the plane from back to front, so this wasn't surprising. I was expecting a long wait. What I was not expecting was in Dubai for the order to go 'First & Business (Group A-B)', Group C, Group D, Group E and then go back to the beginning. After Group E seemingly finished and we were left with the ~20 of us in Group F, they announced First and Business class again, not once but twice. I'm sorry, no one in First or Business class hasn't boarded. If they have, too bad, they should not benefit from their abhorrent laziness. Then, more shockingly, they announced Group E again. This was outrageous. Us Group F-ers did not have some steerage class ticket, we were not economy basic. We had Group F because we were in the front, not because we deserve to have classes that already had ample time called again without us being able to board.

* OK, let's move on from Emirates to some better experiences (though one last gripe). Somehow, I was able to finess my way onto Singapore Airlines as part of my trip to Amsterdam, as they fly the New York to Frankfurt leg before continuing to Singapore (I did that sector the other way on way final trips of my Round the World trip in 2013). The experience was every bit as good as the first time. Great food, with thai beef salad along with Malaysian Pork curry for dinner. Great drinks, with ice cold Singha beer along with a well made Singapore Sling. The plane was empty allowing me to stretch out over three seats. They had fine movie selection, nice menus, and a perfectly temperate towel to refresh yourself at the start of the flight. Singapore Airlines truly is beyond anything else.

* Quick aside before I get to my point about airport lounges, but I am a total mileage hoarder. I've gotten every credit card imagineable, taken advantage of any discount, getting the chance to build up a fortress of miles across myriad airlines and hotel chains. My white whale, though, was the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which was an amatuer mileage compiler's delight. I was one of the people who got declined for their 100,000 mile bonus due to having opened too many cards too recently. Not only did I not get the miles, or the travel credits, I didn't get the accompanying Priority Pass allowing access into hundreds of lounges. My two friends who I went to Peru with both had it, lording it over me every time we entered an airport. Well, I impulse got the Citi Prestige card which comes with the same Priority Pass, and after using it three times, I'm kind of over it.

* The club at JFK Terminal 4 was great. Nice seats with outlets at basically all of them. Decent selection of snacks to eat at dinner time. Good selection of liqour and cold, refrigerated beer both mainstream and craft. Very impressed by the JFK lounge. Not so much in both Amsterdam (somewhat surprising) and Dubai (very surprising). Amsterdam's was truly bad, despite being at peak departure time in the night bank, their food selection was invisible and the only beer they had was Heneiken. With Dubai, it wasn't the best time (morning), but their food selection was equally bad, and the place wasn't even well air conditioned (it was open air on the 4th floor of the departures area). I understand in most cases these are lounges not affiliated with any one airline, let alone hub airlines (KLM for Amsterdam and Emirates in Dubai) and those would have better lounges. But I would not have expected to say that the best lounge I've seen so far is in JFK, what with our terrible airports. Very Sad!

* Finally, Frankfurt. My transfer in Frankfurt was so strange. The walk from my arrival date through to security to the departure area was seemingly three miles long despite the fact the two concourses (where I arrived and departed) are fairly close to each other. Then, for the first time ever, I was scolded for not putting my liquids in a plastic bag and leaving them in my bathroom case. During security, they pulled my handbag aside, swabbed it and then the guy went through my bag. He pulled out my case, opened it up and placed each small liquid container into a plastic bag and put it all back in. I went on my way, but in retrospect I should have just ripped open the plastic bag and put the liquids back in my case. I don't play like that.

* I have two more flights left. First a relatively short hop from Bangalore to Doha in the middle of the night (3:50 depart, 5:50 arrival), and then a 14-hour haul back to JFK. I am excited for it as I get to take Qatar Airways for the first time. I don't get to take their A350-900 as that operates on the other Doha-JFK flight, but I do get to finish off the ME3 and get to make a real comparison. Emirates is squarely in 3rd, and I don't foresee Qatar being worse.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.