Experience Matters

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experience-mattersLast week, I wrote about the fallout of the off-season trade of PK Subban by the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. First off, it was a rare trade involving two all-star defensemen and it was straight up. No “throw-in” players involved, no draft picks, no salary was retained.

Habs fans were quite incensed when they heard the news of the trade. I expected many in the media would do their best Stephen A. Smith impression. They would say to themselves: why on earth would General Manager Marc Bergevin give up a talented player like Subban for a veteran who maybe is in the twilight of his career?

Having Weber in the lineup has paid dividends for the Canadiens. Coupled that with a healthy Carey Price in net and the team is off to great start. But the one thing that no seems to realize is that, by trading away a guy almost 4 years younger than the one you got in return, Bergevin has put a value on experience. Sure, a young, talented Subban could have contributed a lot to the Habs. He has already made an impact in the community with his charitable donations. But what the team lacked was maturity and leadership. Those two qualities are hard to come by and that is why Bergevin made the trade.

The Edmonton Oilers have done the same adding the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell to complement Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse, and the other younger players on the team. At the same time, they have jettisoned their once promising superstars in Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers, much like the Habs, are off to a good start to the season. Hall, by the way, was traded to New Jersey on the same day as Subban.

Contrast that to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have an abundant of rising young talent: Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. The trio will one day be asked to lead the Maple Leafs into the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they will need some veteran experience to help them along the way. If the Buds can add someone like Corey Perry or Zdeno Chara, I can see them going far. But there doesn’t seem to be a rush on the part of management to do that and would rather wait and see how good their current group is before making moves.

Think about this the next time you hear a reporter or writer whine and complain about a team shipping out young prospects for experienced talent: would you rather watch 15-second highlight-reel goals? Or watch a Stanley Cup celebration for hours? The answer is pretty obvious to a hockey fan and sports fans in general.

Also see:

Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money
Maple Leafs Got a Raw Deal
Winners Blaze Their Own Trail

 

There is No Substitute for Patience

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there-is-no-substitute-for-patienceAnother year, another disappointing ending to the baseball season for the Toronto Blue Jays. A 3-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series sent the Blue Jays packing and the Indians to the World Series.

People will point out Jose Bautista’s statement after the Blue Jays’ Game 4 win suggesting Indians Game 5 starter, rookie Ryan Merritt, is probably shaking in his boots as the reason Cleveland were able to shut down the Blue Jays. They say that provided motivation for the Indians players but that’s a cop out. It’s another gutless, empty reaction by some petty people who call themselves fans. It also doesn’t help that critics of the Blue Jays continue to look the other way and be an enabler for the bad officiating in the series.

But the real reason the Blue Jays lost the series was the lack of patience hitters showed at the plate. In fact, Blue Jays hitters showed very little of it since the start of September. That led to them going from being a division leader to having to battle for a wild card spot. They would go on to win the wild card game against the Baltimore Orioles and sweep the Texas Rangers in the division series but we didn’t see much of a change in their approach. It was tough watching guys like Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion going after bad pitches especially the first and second pitches of their at-bat. I know they are better than that. Blue Jay hitters made things easy for Cleveland pitchers and I don’t think their staff should get the credit that the media are giving them.

Let’s get serious for a moment. ALCS MVP Andrew Miller did not throw a strike in any of his four relief appearances in the series. A number of the called strikes were actually out of the zone. The umpires simply had no clue what the strike zone was. But we also saw Blue Jay hitters getting riled up as a result. They continued to swing at everything that was being thrown to them, regardless of who was pitching and where the pitch was located. Sometimes keeping the bat on the shoulders when the pitch crosses the plate, even if it is a legitimate strike, pays off.

Some would say a team stacked with home run hitters like the Blue Jays don’t show a lot of patience at the plate. While that maybe true, I would argue that some of baseball’s best bashers zero-in on one area when they look to take a big cut. If the ball doesn’t come into their sights, they let it go. That to me is patience and, again, the Blue Jays hitters showed very little of it during the last 4 weeks of the regular season and in the postseason.

A lot of changes are expected in the off-season. Bautista and Encarnacion are free agents once the final out of the World Series is recorded. Perhaps Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro will get players who aren’t trigger happy at the plate. That and adding a left-handed bat or two could turn the Blue Jays’ fortunes around in 2017.

Patience is a virtue and we will have all winter to practice that.

Also see:

Bautista’s Fate with Blue Jays in His Hands
Blue Jays Need Players… Ones That Don’t Get Hurt Easily
Two Views on the Valencia Move and the Importance of Role Players in Sport

Dissension in Habs Land

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dissension-in-habs-landPeople who follow the Toronto Maple Leafs knows that their fan base, Leafs Nation, is divided into two (perhaps more) factions. One camp wants the team to go in one direction, the other the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter what the issue of the day is: tanking, going with youth, more skill, etc, you will find at least two, maybe 3, different points of view that try to claim that theirs is the only one that matters. It is kind of like the current state of the Republican Party. But infighting is not mutually exclusive to Leafs Nation. We are seeing cracks coming out of Habs land.

A Canadiens season ticket holder recently put out a full-page ad in the Montreal Gazette expressing his frustration and disappointment towards Habs management over the team trading PK Subban to Nashville over the summer.

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One of my old colleagues, a Habs fan himself, went on Facebook to respond to the ad. He essentially told the good doctor to f— off!

facebook-post-2Mind you, Frank (or Freeway as he likes to go with on the radio) regularly invites disgruntled Leafs fans to hop on the Habs bandwagon. So take his criticism of the doctor with a grain of salt. But as you can see, his friends and followers each took different sides on the issue. You don’t see it here but one of them went as far as to accuse Frank of being an enabler for Canadiens management and the bad decisions they have made over the years. Those are fighting words.

Believe it or not, fans of the Montreal Canadiens, and fans of every other sports team for that matter, are just as divided as Maple Leafs fans. The difference is it is no longer being kept under the radar. Social media has made the feud among Habs fans out in the open for everyone to see. The divide, however, did not begin with the Subban trade. This goes way back to when the team traded Patrick Roy to Colorado in 1996. Then there’s the decision to re-hire Michel Therrien as the head coach in 2012 largely because he speaks French. And then of course you got the separatist Habs fans against ones who are in favour of having Quebec remain as part of Canada.

I don’t take joy in seeing a group of fans tearing each other to shreds. But this destroys any belief that no other fan base is as divided as Maple Leafs fans. Habs fans are in a league of their own when it comes to battles within their ranks and it should come as a surprise to no one. Unless of course, you blindly believe a fan base like the Habs is too perfect to sink to a low level.

Also see:

Habs Fans Becoming Snobs
Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning
Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?

Vintage Donaldson was on Display in ALDS

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vintage-donaldsonIt took a gutsy play by the reigning American League MVP to help the Blue Jays sweep away the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series. With Josh Donaldson at second base and Edwin Encarnacion on first, Russell Martin hit a ground ball to the right of the shortstop. The Rangers tried to turn a double play. Elvis Andrus fielded the ball and delivered a low throw to Rougned Odor at second base. Odor then made another low throw to first base that forced Mitch Moreland off the bag. Moreland couldn’t secure the ball and that brief moment allowed Donaldson, who reached third on the ground ball, to race home from third and slide in head first with the winning and series clinching run.

A lot of people were kind of surprised to see Donaldson take chance on scoring from third at that moment. But for those who follow the Blue Jays the last couple of years, this kind of play is typical of Donaldson. If you recall last season, Donaldson scored from third on a sacrifice fly to the second baseman by Troy Tulowitzki in a regular season game… against the Cleveland Indians no less!

Donaldson is batting .500 with 5 runs scored and 3 RBIs in 4 post season games. This is vintage Josh Donaldson. This is the guy we have seen time and time again make great defensive plays on the field, and deliver clutch hits at the plate. This is the Donaldson we all know and love, not the divisive fictional figure that the media is trying to portray.

Between the run he scored last September and the one that clinched the division series, I can’t remember if Donaldson ever did something like that. I know he has been playing hurt for much of the season and that has compelled him to pick his spots as to when he wants to take a chance. Donaldson decided last Sunday in the bottom of the 10th inning with the game tied at 6-6 and Martin at the plate, that is where he is going to catch everyone on the field napping. I have said it before that Donaldson is the kind of player that will eventually lead the Blue Jays to the World Series. But first things first, the boys will have to take care of the Indians, a team whose name is being treated like a four-letter word.

Also see:

How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
Is This the Year for the Blue Jays?
It’s About Time John Gibbons Gets His Due

 

Even a Genius Makes Mistakes

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FOX Sports

Buck Showalter is considered one of Major League Baseball’s best managers. His Baltimore Orioles were in control in the American League Wild Card Game against the Toronto Blue Jays last Tuesday night. And his bullpen has been one of the best this season. Which was why many were scratching their heads as to why Showalter did not put in his best reliever in the game when a berth into the American League Division Series was on the line? Showalter kept his closer Zach Britton in the bullpen despite the Blue Jays having the winning run in scoring position with only one out in the 11th inning. Edwin Encarnacion crushed Ubaldo Jimenez’s first pitch into the second deck over the left field wall for a walk-off home run and a trip to Arlington, Texas in the division series against the Rangers.

Showalter did what anyone else would have done when their team is on the road, he saved his closer for a lead. Critics like to point out that no one would have left Britton in the pen and let Jimenez pitch to Encarnacion. These are the same people who complain that managers/coaches don’t follow conventional wisdom.

This also goes to show that even someone with an extremely high IQ is prone to the occasional brain fart. You don’t have to look too far back to see another so-called genius make a serious blunder in a big game. The Seattle Seahawks were coming off a one-sided victory in Super Bowl 48 and were one play away from making it back-to-back championships. The Seahawks were down by 4 late in the 4th quarter but had the ball inside the New England Patriots 2-yard line in Super Bowl 49. Head coach Pete Carroll decided to call a pass play instead of letting running back Marshawn Lynch run it in for the potential winning score. Russell Wilson’s intended pass to Jermaine Kearse was intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the end zone to seal the win for the Patriots.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick himself was caught making a questionable play call. With the Patriots leading the Indianapolis Colts by 6 points late in the 4th quarter on November 15, 2009, Belichick decided to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards to go… from inside his own 30 yard line. Gutsy call to be sure but Tom Brady and the offence were not able to get those yards needed for a 1st down and ended up turning the ball over. Peyton Manning then wasted little time to lead his offence for the winning score to keep the Colts, at the time, undefeated. Belichick was able to quickly put that behind him as the Patriots went on to beat the New York Jets the following week. Unfortunately for Carroll, he had the entire off-season to think about what he had done. Showalter will now have to do the same.

Usually an error in judgment in a game of big significance is a serious hit to one’s credibility. But I think Showalter, Belichick, and Carroll are too good to let their mistakes hang over them. It will hardly make a serious dent into their armour and they will move past this. This is what winning championships will allow you to have, some margin for error.

Also see:

Nobody’s Perfect
Everyone’s a Critic
Only Losers Look for Someone to Blame