Do People Really Like Losing?

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It boggles my mind when there is more talk about a player or team on the losing side than there is about the winners. People would point to the winning team becoming the champion because of a miscue by the opponent. Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal? Ryan Miller let in an easy one through his legs. Joe Carter’s World Series clinching home run? Mitch Williams grooved a fastball down the middle.

A more recent example is the Raptors win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many spend the whole night and the next couple of days trying to figure out what went wrong with the Cavaliers. While it is unusual for a Cavs team to lose by 34 points, there has been no attention being paid to the work of DeMar DeRozan and how he, without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, was able to manhandle the defending Eastern Conference champs.

People think it is fun to bring up losing. They always bring up the 1966-1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, the last Maple Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup. Today, it is the Cleveland Browns who are coming off a season where they did not win a single game.

More recently, talk around the media sees them encouraging teams like the Maple Leafs to lose as many games as possible in order to be in a position to select the best player in the upcoming draft. It used to be the only incentive to lose a game is money. In the past, gamblers would fix a boxing match to ensure the underdog would win over the favourite thus collecting a big payout. Now, it’s lose and you can be the first to pick the next franchise player. What’s really the difference?

I’m guessing there is no such thing as a perfect execution, where a player does well and outmatches their opponent. When they talk about skill, it’s mostly the lack of it rather than having an abundance of it.

For the life of me I can’t understand why the media wants to talk about losing. I always thought people want to associate themselves with winners. It is one thing to learn from losing, it’s another to dwell on it.

Also see:

The Point Where Haters Become Worse than Those You Hate
Only Losers Look for Someone to Blame
Why We Like to Lay Blame and Not Give Credit

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Are We Making Too Big a Deal About the NHL Not Being at the Olympics?

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The Canadian Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey was recently announced. The names don’t necessarily strike fear into the minds of the opponents. But with no current NHL players in this year’s games in South Korea, all the teams will feature a roster of grizzled veterans, young college stars, and some who were not good enough to score a gig in the NHL.

We will not be getting a short tournament featuring the best hockey players in the world. The NHL made that clear in 2017 when they could reach an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). It is a shame that backroom politics is preventing hockey fans from seeing the best hockey players in the world competing in the Winter games in PyeongChang. But it is not the end of the world. Depending how this year’s tournament fares, it will either hasten or slow down negotiations between the NHL and IIHF to reach an agreement for the next Winter Olympic games in Beijing in 2022.

For a long time, there has been an argument that no professional athletes should be competing in the Olympics (either summer or winter). Those people who like to keep the game pure are going to get their wish this year. At least in hockey.

The biggest complaint of NHL players at the Olympics is the two-week stoppage during the season. That to me is a moot point. There is simply no way around that obstacle. But I also understand there is a need to have some hockey played in North America. Which is why there was little objection when the Winter Olympics were in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. Fans got to watch games either late in the afternoon or early in the evening. With the games in South Korea, the time difference will be a huge factor. PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of Toronto. Which means a hockey game played at 6 PM there will air at 2 AM here. Many people would not be able to watch the men’s hockey tournament unless you are an insomniac.

With no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, this will give hockey fans an opportunity to see players that we don’t get to see on a nightly basis. There have been those who played Olympic hockey who  end up becoming high-caliber NHL players. Ken Morrow is one example. He played for the 1980 US team that won gold in Lake Placid. Morrow went on to play for the New York Islanders during their Stanley Cup dynasty.

I doubt that not having NHL players at the Olympics this year will cause a riot. There is simply much bigger fish to fry. There is a saying absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps, taking a break from seeing professional hockey players at the Olympics will make us realize why we like to see them play in the first place.

Also see:

Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.
The Lack of Animosity is Hurting the World Cup of Hockey

DeMar DeRozan: MVP

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DeMar DeRozan is having the best season of his career. Maybe not statistically, but he is the reason the Toronto Raptors are one of the best teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with the likes of the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, DeRozan is averaging 24.5 points a game through the first 48 games. That is less than the 27.3 points per game he averaged last season. But what’s important is that he is getting a majority of his scoring this season when it matters. We have seen when DeRozan is on the court with the game on the line, he wants the ball and has often come up with big baskets at critical moments. You also can’t discount his play making abilities or the way he has helped make the Raptors a championship contender year after year.

I first entertained the idea of DeRozan being the NBA’s most valuable player in 2017. With the way DeRozan is playing, there is an even bigger case to be said that he is an MVP candidate this season. I won’t waste your time arguing who is worthy of being an MVP. I have already written a piece on that. But if there is one quality I look for in an MVP, it is how he plays when the game is the on the line. In other words, is DeRozan a clutch player? I think he is. DeRozan is also becoming a leader of a talented but young Raptors team.

DeRozan is not an outspoken individual, much like another former MVP, Stephen Curry. But he is becoming that superstar player that some in the media feel the Raptors are missing. Since being taken ninth overall by the Raptors in 2009, DeRozan has developed into one of the league’s best players. He may not get the recognition from the US media, but basketball fans here in Canada know how good he is. It’s about time DeRozan gets his name on the Maurice Podoloff trophy.

Also see:

The Raptors are Playing with House Money
How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
By Far, Stanley Cup Playoffs are Better Than NBA Playoffs

Time for the Young Leafs to Start Getting Dirty

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The highly skilled Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a scoring slump. That has translated to very few wins over the last few weeks. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are not scoring as much as they did at the beginning of the season. There has been line juggling, line up shuffling, moving players around, anything to get the Maple Leafs out of a funk. People are having a hard time believing a group of talented players can find themselves in a slump.

I believe the problem with the Maple Leafs is because the players are not in the game. They have not shown the feistiness that championship teams possess. They must now be willing to grind, take the body, and yes even throw the occasional punch to the face, in order to win games.

I often mention Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews as examples. Brad Marchand, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dustin Brown are other players who play with an edge. All five of them are Stanley Cup champions.

Zach Hyman has the most hits among Maple Leafs players in the top ten in scoring with 77 (as of January 29th). Leo Komorov leads the team with 146 hits, Matt Martin is next at 135 followed by Andreas Borgman at 114 (the most among defensemen). It’s the bottom 6 who are the most physical. They are also the ones who see the least ice time. What’s surprising is that James van Riemsdyk, with his size, has only 25 hits this season.

I think if Matthews (7 hits), Marner (15), and Nylander (14) start knocking bodies around more, it will also help them with their game. Right now, they are struggling to score goals. I think it is because they are getting knocked around by opposing players. That has caused them to lose puck battles and give the opposing teams more chances to score. By being more physical, Leafs players won’t fall into a lull, and it keeps their minds in the game.

It is about time the training wheels come off these guys. Sweet William is going to have start being Big Bad Bill. No longer can Matthews, Marner and Nylander rely on Komorov, Martin, and Borgman to do their dirty work for them. The Maple Leafs can look like clean-cut guys off the ice but when they are on it, I expect them to get a little dirty.

Also see:

The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain
Stability Key to a Successful Team?
Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck

Yankees Looking to Strike Out

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One of the biggest stories in baseball’s off-season was the trade of all-star outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins to the New York Yankees. Along with reigning American League Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge, the acquisition of Stanton gives the Yankees two of Baseball’s heaviest hitters. Each are capable to slugging 50 home runs in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Yankee Stadium, even for a right-handed hitter.

But while we can expect 100 home runs between the two, I also expect a good number of strike outs. In fact, both Stanton and Judge can rack up at least 300 strikeouts together and it would not surprise me that at the end of the 2018 season, Stanton and Judge each have a minimum of 200 strikeouts.

In Judge’s rookie year, he struck out 208 times in 678 plate appearances, or one strike out for every 3.26 plate appearances. The Yankees as a team struck out a total of 1386 times that season. That is 6th most in the American League, 12th most in the Majors. If you do the math, that means Judge accounted for 15 percent of the team’s strikeouts. Baseball reference is projecting Judge will have 161 strikeouts in 549 plate appearances.

Stanton will be going into his 9th season in the majors. Last year, he made through an entire season without a significant injury since 2011. In 2017, Stanton struck out 163 times in 693 plate appearances, or one strikeout for every 4.25 plate appearances, or 12.7 percent of the Marlins strikeout total (1,282). It’s a little better than Judge but that is still quite a lot.

Compare the numbers of those two to that of Boston’s Mookie Betts. Betts struck of 79 times in 712 plate appearances last season, or one strike out for every 9.01 plate appearances. And Betts is no slouch at the plate smacking 24 home runs in 2017 and a career-high 31 the year before (in 2016).

The Toronto Blue Jays could not reach the Yankees in the standings but almost caught up to them on the strikeouts list. The Blue Jays accumulated 1,327 strikeouts last season, 8th most in the American League and 17th most in the Majors. 170 belonged to Jose Bautista or 12.8 percent of the team’s total.

There have been those who felt part of the reason the Blue Jays had poor season was the number of strikeouts the team had. But that’s fewer compared to the Yankees who ended up clinching the first wild card spot. And the Minnesota Twins, the second wild card team, had 1,342 strikeouts. Perhaps you can make the case if a good number of those strikeouts came with runners in scoring position. But overall, that doesn’t seem to matter. And the Yankees are willing to see Judge and Stanton swing and miss a good number of times in order to see them launch one into the seats.

The Yankees are expected to contend and their success this season will rest on the shoulders of Judge and Stanton. But if swinging at air was a commodity, I would bet the house that those two will be striking out a lot this season.

Also see:

Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money
Stability Key to a Successful Team?
A Baseball Record You Likely Never Heard of… But Should

Fans in Ottawa and Miami Have No Right to Gripe About their Teams

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PHOTO: Postmedia

Two teams were in the news this week, the Ottawa Senators and the Miami Marlins. Both are experiencing a level of turmoil.

The Senators have been slumping. They were expected to compete in the Eastern Conference again after being one win away from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. But the attention has been more towards off the ice where there have been rumblings that the team could be on the move. Owner Eugene Melnyk would like to see the team play out of an arena that is located in the downtown area. People have not been coming to Kanata where the plays its home games a half-hour drive outside of Ottawa.

The Marlins were recently sold by Jeffery Loria to a group led by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (brother of former US President George W. Bush and son of former US President George H.W. Bush) and New York Yankee great Derek Jeter. Jeter is quickly finding out that being an owner of a team is a lot different than being a superstar athlete on an iconic franchise. His first controversial move as an executive was to agree trading the team’s superstar Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees. It was a deal that was met with shock and disappointment.

The one common denominator in this is low attendance. This is much on the fans as is on owners or management. Canadian hockey fans have always used attendance to make their arguments on whether a team should move or not. I would suggest if that is the case, people in Ottawa and Miami have no reason to bitch and complain. They have done squat when it comes to showing up at games. I’m not targeting season-ticket holders who actually pay their hard-earned money to see a good product. I’m particularly pointing the finger at fairweather fans and the media who constantly cry foul over these decisions from a distance.

Ottawa is not known as a huge sports market. The only other professional team is the CFL’s Renegades. Miami on the other hand is a great sports market having been home to the NFL’s Dolphins and NCAA’s Hurricanes for decades. Those teams seem to draw well. Yet the Marlins, the Florida Panthers of the NHL, and even the NBA’s Miami Heat are struggling to gets fans to see their games.

Having a strong season-ticket and fan base, and new stadium or arena does not guarantee that a team will succeed or commit to staying in the community for a long time. Just ask fans of the Cleveland Browns. They have been burned by bad management decisions resulting in badly coached teams. In 1995, then owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore where the team became the Ravens and won a Super Bowl in 2000. The Browns would re-enter the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.

Folks in Cleveland have a gripe and therefore have carte blanche on critiquing players, coaches, and management. I don’t think you can extend that to fans of the Senators, Marlins, or just about every other professional sports team in North America. They may have not made the bed but they sure deserve to lie in it.

Also see:

Stability Key to a Successful Team?
There is Something to be Said About Loyalty
Dave Cameron is the Reason for Senators’ Turnaround 

SIDEBAR:

This is the last of five articles in fives day. This is also my final post for 2017. It has been a busy year for me both personally and professionally. I hope to continue delivering great sports opinion to you in 2018. Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel!

Sports Media Needs to go Back to Talking Sports

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To follow up on Wednesday’s piece, I believe sports media in general is in trouble. It is bad enough that the content on these platforms is boring. And many like me believe there is too much talk on social issues, politics, and non-sports related topics on sports talk shows of late.

There is no denying people who have no business in sport want to change the game. But there is no reason those like Black Lives Matter, or US President Donald Trump, get as much attention as they do. Those things you would expect from outlets like Huffington Post, Vice, and TMZ, not Sportsnet, TSN, or ESPN. When I see Kate Beirness on TV, I don’t want her to sound like Joy Behr.

Former Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun is one of the best commentators in the business. Earlier this month he was fired by Sportsnet for allegations of sexual harassment. The loss of Zaun means one less commentator who tells it like it is. Despite his critics, Zaun has been great at talking about the state of the Blue Jays in a way the average Joe can understand. I am starting to believe his firing was less about sexual harassment and more about political correctness. This to me is dangerous. It is one thing to use your position to exploit someone, but if people can get others fired simply because they don’t like what you say, that’s a red flag.

On the other side, Ken Campbell of the Hockey News posted on Twitter that the CBC should not have assigned analyst Cassie Campbell-Pascall to call the Oilers-Flames game in Calgary. He claims there was an apparent “conflict of interest” as Cassie is married to Flames’ Assistant General Manager Brad Pascall. Boy, did that set things off. Based on the reaction, you would have thought the tweet came from Donald Trump. Campbell has since deleted the post but here’s a snapshot of what he said. I am guessing Campbell is realizing no one gives a damn about conflict of interest, perceived or real, unless it involves Trump. And Cassie is not Donald.

Controversies like these are a way of getting people’s attention. But it will only last as long as minor penalty. Then you will have listeners and viewers shouting at the radio or television saying What the F***!

Recently, there have been cuts at local CTV stations and newspapers. Readers and viewers have depended on these outlets to get to know how their sports teams are doing. A lot are not what you would say “major league” sports but they are an important part of the community. Now, that has all but been eliminated and people are now resorting to getting their sports from (guess where?) the sports channels and major newspapers. Simply put, small town papers and stations are the ones paying for the poor content in big markets. It would be like if Maple Leafs finish last, no one will blame management that did poorly in acquiring players, it will be the ushers and ticket takers that end up losing their jobs.

I’m in the media business as well as the sports business. I should know a thing or two when it comes to what people like and expect to see and hear on a sports show. I don’t expect everyone to agree with what I say (including this piece here). But what you will hear from me is about sports and I am not going to waste your time talking about on another athlete who chose to kneel during the American national anthem. It is time to get sports media back to talking sports.

Also see:

Athletes Should Stick to Sports
Sports Media is Becoming Boring
The Latest Futile Attempt to Ban Fighting in Hockey

Stephen A. Smith is Why ESPN is Still on the Air

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Let me first off say Stephen A. Smith is the biggest bandwagon jumper in the history of sports. He will heap praise on the New England Patriots one week then dumped them and turn his attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith is also the biggest hater of the Dallas Cowboys in the United States of America. Smith would cheer on a team with half the talent than the Cowboys simply because they are not the Cowboys. Do you really think Smith is a fan of the Green Bay Packers?

Now that we got that out of the way. Let me tell you that the only reason ESPN is on the air is because of Stephen A. Smith. Yes, he is brash, in your face, and sometimes comes off as arrogant. But with all due respect to Max Kellerman and Molly Querm, Smith is the face of First Take. He is the one that has been carrying the show from its inception. In fact, while ESPN has been struggling to gain viewers, one program that is pulling its weight is First Take. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon owe Smith a steak dinner for allowing them to keep their jobs at ESPN. Sports fan like you and me owe a thank you to Stephen A Smith for letting us watch sports on a network that suppose to show sports.

While many of you gripe about some of the things he says, I want to ask you something: why are talking about him? This is the same mistake opponents of Donald Trump made during the US Presidential Elections. You talk sh*t about him and he becomes more popular than ever before. I would bet Skip Bayless would love to have that kind of attention again. Right now, he and Shannon Sharpe couldn’t get themselves arrested or accused of sexual harassment.

Despite the number of issues outside sport, Smith has been able to steer the ship on course. On issues on things like anthem protests, domestic violence (or violence in general), and drug use (especially marijuana), he doesn’t go into too much depth like others in the media. He knows exactly what he is paid to do and it’s not to critique public policy.

What also separates Smith from the rest of the pack is that he is not afraid to go against conventional wisdom. He is like former NBA player and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley (some would say basketball’s equivalent to Don Cherry). The two would say things that are not popular or rattle some people’s cages. Smith also has that personality and charisma that attracts people to him. And last but not least, he can talk trash with the best of them.

So if you like your ESPN, you better hope Disney do their best to keep Stephen A. Smith under contract. You may be turned off by what he says but that is the reason you turn on ESPN.

Also see:

Everyone’s a Critic
Sports Media is Becoming Boring
Nobody is Watching Sports Channels

Kadri and Stroman Don’t Not Need to Tone It Down

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“Why is everybody always picking on me?” from Charlie Brown by the Coasters.

You have to wonder if the Toronto media needs to manufacture a crisis just to keep them relevant. Take Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. He has been playing great this season. Floundering under previous coaching regime, Kadri has been a key piece of a resurgent Maple Leafs team. He reinvented himself from a pure goal scorer to a grinding, more defensive player. Once again, the media narrative in Toronto are calling for the Maple Leafs forward to stop with his antics.

And then there is Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman. He is one who is never shy of showing his emotions when on the mound. He still has learn how to harness it properly. But once he does, American league batters better watch out.

I had my share of criticism of Kadri. But it has always been about his game. Same with Stroman. It’s always been on baseball. If others focused more about their game than what they do outside the rink or diamond, then they may have a point. These critics are the same ones who think Don Cherry is all wet when he comes on to say stop celebrating over scoring the tenth goal of the game when your team is up 10-0.

You have heard me say I always like athletes who play with an edge. An edge is who do more than just relying on their talent to succeed. They are far more feisty, and play with more passion than others. They may be nice guys outside the game, but when the puck drops or the pitch is thrown, it is all business.

Both Kadri and Stroman are not the only ones who need to play with an edge. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are just two NHL players that have led their teams to Stanley Cup championships. Sure the two are known for their scoring but many seem to overlook the fact that they like to get dirty, sometimes more often than we like to think. They grind, hit, get in opponents faces, and yes, they will drop the gloves and throw some punches. I like to see if sports writers in Pittsburgh and Chicago would disavow their team’s respective championships when they learn it’s not just skills that won them the Cup.

So Kadri and Stroman don’t need to tone it down. They need to channel that emotion to win games. If those two can do that, the better their respective teams will be in the long run.

Also see:

Stroman Will be Fine
James Reimer Deserves Better
Bad Blood is Good for Sports

Donaldson Will be on the Move… to a New Position

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I don’t foresee the Blue Jays trading Josh Donaldson as others in the media are insisting the team does. That is not to say if a team like the Yankees are willing to sell the farm, General Manager Ross Atkins should listen. But short of that, the Bringer of Rain will stay in Toronto. You can’t have a contending team, either this year or in future years, without a leader. Donaldson has proven that he is a leader. Players like him don’t grow on trees so I would think carefully before trading him away.

I expect the Blue Jays will sign Donaldson to a contract extension during off-season. Maybe 5 years, maybe 7, but the team will have the former American League Most Valuable Player under contact for a long time. That being said, in a couple of years, when prospects Vladimir Guerrero, Junior (3rd baseman) and Bo Bichette (shortstop) are expected to be ready for the big leagues, the Blue Jays will have to make a change on the left side of the infield. Troy Tulowitzki’s contract will be up after the 2018 season. So it is likely the current shortstop won’t be resigned by the Blue Jays. Donaldson will need to move and having him in the outfield would make sense.

The move would enable Donaldson to play defense without making a huge impact to his health. Donaldson is getting up in age (he’s 33 years old as of December 1st). He has battled a number of injuries that have caused him to miss some games. That hasn’t hampered his defensive prowess at third base. But you have to wonder if Donaldson can maintain his level of production if he stays there. Having Donaldson in the outfield should also prolong his career as it did for former Blue Jay slugger Jose Bautista.

There is no question keeping Donaldson is vital if the Blue Jays want to consider being a contender. Even if the next two years will be seen as somewhat of a rebuild, what better guy to have as the face of the franchise than Donaldson? He won’t be Toronto’s third baseman for long but he will be in Toronto for a long time.

Also see:

Vintage Donaldson was on Display in ALDS
Health will Determine if the Blue Jays Contend
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain