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Mason’s Mastery Leading Columbus to Playoffs

March 30, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

steve mason 300x178 Masons Mastery Leading Columbus to Playoffs
As the regular season comes to a close there have been a lot of great stories to develop and perhaps more to come as the playoffs approach us. Whether it’s the Bruins’ unexpected rise to prominence, San Jose’s ability to play at a high level from wire-to-wire; or Florida’s fight for a playoff spot and Nashville’s continued push toward the playoffs despite little money and rumors of them leaving Nashville swirling around from time to time. But arguably the best story of the year has been the unbelievable performance of Columbus Blue Jacket netminder Steve Mason who has seemingly come out of nowhere to take the league by storm and has Columbus poised to make their first post-season appearance in the franchise’s brief history. Mason has put up incredible numbers posting a 2.24 GAA, .918 save percentage and a record of 31-18-5. Mason always seems to be solid when he absolutely needs to be and has (get this) TEN shutouts! The next closes to Mason are three goalies tied with seven which is absolutely unreal. If you had asked around in many hockey circles last year and in the early stages of this year many respectable hockey minds couldn’t tell you anything about Steve Mason if they had even heard of him at all. The Blue Jackets’ netminder has been consistent all season and despite all of his success perhaps Mason’s best quality is not his glove, positioning in the net, or any other technical attribute, it is the fact that he is only 20 years old. It is unlikely that Mason will be able to continue this year’s success as the years go by but if there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that he’ll be giving NHL opponents a really hard time for many years to come. With a goalie like Mason and a vast assortment of other young talents assembled in Columbus this is a team that can make noise in the playoffs not only this year but for many years to come… the folks in Columbus have reason to be very excited.

NHL Stretch-Run a Wild Ride

March 17, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

roller coaster 225x300 NHL Stretch Run a Wild Ride
It’s time again to sweep around the league to talk about a few of the stories developing as the playoffs inch closer and closer:

1. Number one Story of the night is the Marty Brodeur has surpassed Patrick Roy in wins to take the all-time lead at 552. There is not much more to be said about Brodeur at this point after the article dedicated to his tying of the record. If you missed it you can click here or on his name above.

2. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the midst of an eleven game point streak which catapulted them from 10th into a tie with Philadelphia in fourth position in the Eastern Conference. The acquisition of Kunitz and Guerin has been golden so far as both have contributed majorly on the scoreboard as they play the respective wings next to Crosby on the top line. Roughly 20 games ago many people suspected the Penguins were very likely to miss the playoffs or do little damage even if they managed to scrape by to get in. But now not only are the Bylsma led Penguins in decent playoff position by some of those same people feel they can not only make it to the playoffs but make yet another run at the Stanley Cup. Oh and don’t forget about that Malkin guy who scored his 100th point Tuesday night, they tell me that’s kind of a big deal or something.

3. The Montreal Canadiens have been in a virtual free-fall for weeks now. Carey Price has been struggling mightily, Alexi Kovalev has been subpar all season long and Guy Carbonneau has been fired and replaced by GM Bob Gainey who does not have them in much better position. It was supposed to be a celebration in Montreal this year with it being the 100th anniversary of the franchise with allegedly their best team in a long time. Now the Habs are in 7th position and barely hanging on with Carolina, Florida, and Buffalo hot on their trail.

4. In the West the LA Kings all the way down in 13th place still have a legitimate shot at qualifying for the playoffs. Only six points separate eighth from 13th as the teams play “musical chairs” with playoff positioning almost nightly. Also, the Columbus Blue Jackets have surged as of late and really separated themselves from the lower pack in the West led by rookie sensation Steve Mason. Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks—who were once considered to be a shoe-in—have been struggling as of late and risk surrendering the 4th spot and the first-round home-ice advantage that comes with it

All-in-all there have been a lot of surprises over the last two months and the league continues to entertain. Things you thought you knew just a short time ago have completely changed and that’s the beauty of the sport. As fun as the last two months have been they are sure to be topped in the next few weeks. So hang on to your seats hockey fans because as great as it has been thus far you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Pittsburgh’s Perfect Ten

March 9, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

sergei gonchar 191x300 Pittsburgh’s Perfect Ten

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won six in a row, eight of the last nine and when five-for-five in their most recent road trip yielding them ten points out of a possible ten. Since hiring Bylsma, Pittsburgh is 8-1-1 with an increase in the level of scoring, a rise in offensive zone pressure and spectacular goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only did the road trip go very well for the Penguins but in those five games, four of the teams are either in a playoff spot or are tied in points with a team who is. The addition of Chris Kunitz has been priceless thus far as he has netted three goals in four games and five points overall. Kunitz gives them a presence in front of the net they missed dearly with the loss of Ryan Malone. Along with Kunitz was the acquisition of Billy Guerin who has provided invaluable experience and a right-handed forward for a power play that has improved with every game since the return of Sergei Gonchar. Pittsburgh’s power play scoring has not exactly been stellar, but the amount of opportunities they are creating is more than they have in months. The amount of movement for those with and without the puck has increased which is a substantial change from recent months and will only lead to more scoring which is key to the Penguin’s continued success.

As great as the last ten games have gone for Pittsburgh they have needed to use every point gained to reach a playoff position. Right now they stand in eighth with 76 points tied with Florida and New York ahead of them and are only one point behind fifth place Montreal. However, Carolina and Buffalo are breathing down their necks and even a minor slip up can spoil this ten game party. Thus far the trades have been great, the coaching move is paying dividends and Fleury has elevated his game. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh they cannot celebrate their recent success too much because they almost have to go 8-1-1 in their NEXT ten in order to ensure themselves a playoff spot. The Penguins have certainly proven that this new look team can make a lot of noise in the NHL’s second season; but for now… they just have to get there.

Flames Win Big; Penguins, Rangers Improve; Canadiens Do Nothing

March 5, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

ollie jokinen 300x218 Flames Win Big; Penguins, Rangers Improve; Canadiens Do Nothing
Now that the NHL trade deadline has come and gone the general consensus is that the Calgary Flames made the biggest splash acquiring Ollie Jokinen. Many in the hockey world think this acquisition puts them over the top and makes Calgary the new Stanley Cup front runners. Calgary did indeed improve their status greatly but not because of Jokinen but rather because of Jordan Leopold. In recent years the Flames have struggled in the playoffs in large part because of their inability to limit the amount of shots Mikka Kiprusoff. Adding Leopold may be just what the doctor ordered to take some pressure off of Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf. With this acquisition and Detroit’s goaltending issues the Calgary Flames have now put themselves up there with the San Jose Sharks as the front runners to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Looking to the bottom part of the West perhaps the most notable move was made by Columbus who acquired Antoine Vermette. For the first time Columbus is on the cusp of making the playoffs and now management has shown that they are both serious about making the playoffs and also about winning once they get there.

Turning to the Eastern Conference now it’s probably fair to say that no major splashes were made by any of the teams on deadline day. The biggest impact of any trade to this point in the season is probably how Chris Kunitz has played in Pittsburgh netting three goals and five total points in only three games. Pittsburgh added Bill Guerin in the meantime and have won four in a row all without Crosby, so adding Guerin and Crosby to the lineup probably makes Pittsburgh somewhat of a wildcard down the stretch/into the playoffs. Perhaps the “splash” of the day in the east was made by the Rangers who acquired Nick Antropov which may just be the answer to all of their offensive woes and may provide the spark the Rangers need to break out of their recent funk. Erik Cole going back to Carolina means they are sure to score a lot of goals the final month and a half of the season. The bigger question for the Canes is can Cam Ward continue to carry them defensively; they rely on Ward a ton and he will probably get burned out pretty soon.

There were also some “non-moves” that will greatly impact the Eastern Conference race. Most notable was Florida not moving Jay Bouwmeester. If the Panthers were going to make the playoffs or at least make any noise once they got there they were going to need Bouwmeester and now they’ve got him so Eastern Conference teams beware. Also of great significance is the fact that the Montreal Canadiens did not make a single move. After addressing none of their on ice issues the Canadiens promptly lost to Buffalo 5-1 in a game they were thoroughly outplayed by Buffalo in the final 40 minutes. Many (including myself) believed the Canadiens were the favorites to win the East and they still can do just that, but by not making a single move at the deadline coupled with Price’s continues woes their chances are in jeopardy. Mathieu Schneider has done a lot to improve their power play and it’s possible that Wednesday night was the exception but considering how poorly they played it’s hard to imagine. In the end, no matter how the season turns out these final 19 or 20 games will be an awful lot of fun to watch.

By the way, I know Sean Avery is back in New York… I don’t care.

NHL Eastern Conference Stretch-Run Mayhem

February 3, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

eastern conference jersey 300x300 NHL Eastern Conference Stretch Run Mayhem

Unlike the West, the Eastern Conference is a much tighter race top to bottom with the exception of the Boston Bruins who have all but officially secured the top spot as they are 12 points ahead of their closets challenger. But looking beyond Boston a very colorful picture is painted as Washington and New Jersey battle for the second spot separated by only one point and the difference between 4th and 10th spot is only 9 points (essentially 3 games). That’s right ladies and gentlemen the difference between home ice advantage in the first round and being out of the playoffs altogether is merely 3 games. So you may be asking yourself how all this will end up, who’s in and who’s out? Well look no further folks, we’ve got it broken down for you right here.


Washington – The Alexes (Ovechkin and Semin) provide the Caps with enough scoring to hang with anybody from either conference and at any level of the playoffs. Supplement that with great defensive play by guys like Mike Green, outstanding goaltending by Jose Theodore and the toughness of the likes of Donald Brashear needed to wear teams down in the playoffs, you’ve got a team that can go a LONG way.

New Jersey – No Brodeur? No problem. Scott Clemmensen has been great, Parise, and Elias combine skill with leadership, and of course New Jersey always plays amazing defense. Add in Brendan Shanahan as the proverbial cherry on top and you’ve got yourself an irresistible sundae—i.e. a team that can rely on its core not only to get to the playoffs, but deep into the second season.

Montreal – Sure they lost Robert Lang for the season (a major blow indeed since he led the team in goals scored overall and power play goals) but now Kovalev and Price and company need to step up their play. They were picked by many (yours truly included) to represent the East in the finals and you better believe they’ll be there.

NY Rangers – Everything they expected to get from Wade Redden but haven’t has been more than adequately made up for by the play of Henrik Lundqvist. However, his play can only get them to the playoffs so do not expect them to get very far. A lot of their games have been won in shootouts and in case you didn’t get that memo there aren’t any shootouts in the post-season. Scott Gomez is great too but they miss Jagr and Shanahan so enjoy the Rangers while they last because it won’t be long for them in the playoffs.

Philadelphia – They are huge and can score. Big teams who can score make it to the playoffs, and as long as Biron stays solid they will be in excellent shape.

Florida –  Netminder Craig Anderson has been fantastic and somehow this team has learned how to score on a more consistent basis. They have a lot of guys who are overachieving and it doesn’t look like that will stop anytime soon; however, as Anderson goes so go the Florida Panthers. In my estimation a 2.47 GAA and .930 save percentage are no accident, the Panthers are for real.

Pittsburgh – They have not played well as of late and have a lot of injuries to boot. Despite all that the Penguins have an incredible amount of talent and are becoming a grittier team as they realize they cannot win on talent alone. Losing Malone, Laraque and Hossa (among others) has hurt them more than most realize but regardless the team refuses to quit and their new 1-2-2 trap will help them win enough games to make reservations for post-season play.


Carolina – Cam Ward has been too inconsistent and the Hurricanes don’t score enough goals to bail him out every night.

Buffalo – They run Ryan Miller into the ground and he will start to wear down before the playoffs arrive. Thomas Vanek and company can certainly put the puck in the net and that will help their push toward the playoffs but they will fall short by “that much.”

Fixing The BCS

January 17, 2009 by Theboinger · 1 Comment 

The BCS Needs Some Fixing

The BCS Needs Some Fixing

Every year since its inception the BCS, specifically its voters, have made a mockery of the rankings resulting in at least one if not two undeserving teams playing for a National Championship. Thus resulting in a national outcry from college football fans for a playoff “system”. Bowl games are what separate NCAA football from any other sport. It makes it unique. The tradition of New Years Day bowl games are its Holy Grail.

A playoff would ultimately destroy college football as we know it. Politics aside I do have a few suggestions that I feel would lead to a more diplomatic approach in crowning a champion while still allowing for BCS rankings to play their part. Short of appointing me the “Bowl Czar” they are as follows:

1. INTEGRITY -  Eliminate all conference championship games and align all 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools into 10 conferences of 12 teams each.

2. CONTINUITY – Assure that all teams end their regular season on the same day. (First Saturday in December) All conference games must be completed no later than the third Saturday in November.

3. BALANCE – All teams will play 8 conference games as well as 4 non conference games. Non conference games to be determined by a power ranking. Power rankings will be determined by the previous years bowl results based on the winning percentage of each conference in their respective bowl games.

4. TRADITION – Conference champions would play each other New Years Day in the five major bowls; Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta. The BCS would continue to rank teams accordingly and the two highest ranked winners from these bowls would then play for a National Title.

Suggestion three would eliminate “cream puff” games from the non conference schedule. Teams would play two non conference games to start the season and two more to end the season. This would also give each team in each conference a chance to host a bowl type atmosphere home game at seasons end creating the revenue lost by the elimination of conference championship games.

Under this plan a sample of what the Gators, Sooners, Trojans and Utes non conference schedule would be as follows:

Gators: Boise St, Oklahoma, USC, Tulsa

Sooners: Florida, Utah, Cincinnati, Penn State

Trojans: Penn State, Troy, Florida, Cincinnati

Utes: Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Virginia Tech

I am not one for mathematical formulas but I am sure the BCS could and would adjust accordingly. Insuring two deserving teams play for the national title.

College Football Playoff

December 29, 2008 by Big Tony · 1 Comment 

ncaa football 300x300 College Football Playoff

While I’m a fan of all sports I try to keep to writing about hockey. However, last month I put together my idea for a possible college football playoff that I would like to share. Feedback is encouraged because I think FBS (former D-IA) is overdue for a playoff.

Below is my attempt at creating a college football playoff.

General Setup

· 12 teams, 6 automatic births, 6 at-large
10 regular season games min. (8 conf, 2 non-conf)

· Keep BCS system as it is today to rank teams. At the end of the season—in the final BCS poll—remove BCS conference champs.

· Take remaining teams and put them in order. Top 6 ranked teams get at-large bids.

· Of the 12 playoff teams top four in BCS get bye weeks. Seeding based on BCS rank among 12 teams.

· Regular season ends Saturday before Thanksgiving at latest. Conference title games played Thanksgiving weekend.

· Opening Round played weekend after conference title games.

· Playoffs run through National Semi finals weekend.

· Monday after national semi final games is when the minor bowls start. Bowls played every day at existing sites and played for subsequent two week period leading up to National Championship Game.

· National Championship Game played first Monday in January

Current BCS Bowl Sites

· Four BCS Bowl sites kept as is.

· Sites get a national quarterfinal (to be shown in prime time) national semi-final, and national championship game on rotation.

· Remaining playoff games (other 3 quarterfinals and opening round games) played at current non-BCS bowl sites

Minor Bowls

· Minor Bowl games played in two weeks leading up to national title game (after national playoffs). Their significance is not changed at all.

Under the system proposed above here is how the playoffs would shape up

Automatic Bids (BCS Conference Winners):

· Virginia Tech (ACC); Oklahoma (Big 12); Cincinnati (Big East); Penn State (Big 10); Florida (SEC); USC (Pac-10)

At-large bids (top 6 in BCS excluding BCS Conference Winners):

· Texas (Big 12); Alabama (SEC); Utah (Mountain West); Texas Tech (Big 12); Boise State (WAC); Ohio State (Big 10)

Seeding (In order of appearance in final BCS rankings)

1. Oklahoma*

2. Florida*

3. Texas*

4. Alabama*

5. USC

6. Utah

7. Texas Tech

8. Penn State

9. Boise State

10. Ohio State

11. Cincinnati

12. Virginia Tech

*Denotes opening round bye

Opening Round match-ups (weekend of 12/5):

USC vs. Virginia Tech

Utah vs. Cincinnati

Texas Tech vs. Ohio State

Penn State vs. Boise State

National Quarter finals (weekend of 12/12):

Oklahoma vs. Lowest remaining seed

Alabama vs. Highest remaining seed

Florida vs. Second lowest remaining seed

Texas vs. Second highest remaining seed

National Semifinal (weekend of 12/19):

Semi #1: Highest remaining seed vs. Lowest remaining seed

Semi #2: Second highest remaining seed vs. Second Lowest remaining seed

National Final (Monday 1/5/2009)

Winner Semi # 1 vs. Winner Semi #2

Dates listed are for how this system would have worked if it had been implemented from the season’s beginning

I realize there are a lot of logistics to figure out but this is the basic frame work. The automatic bids disallows a team in a major conference to feel like they were cheated, win your conference and you’re in guaranteed. The at-large spots give those not in BCS conferences a chance to participate and it gives teams who played in top level conferences but did not win it a chance gain a spot as well. And no the idea did not come from the NFL but rather it was the best way I could think to have automatic bids make up half the playoff and half to be at-large (similar to basketball where the split is close to 50-50 at 34 at-large to 31 automatic bids). I also thought this might be the best way to determine a champ on the field while also keeping a healthy discussion going about: 1. Who should be seeded above whom and why 2. Who should be the “twelfth” team in.

Let me know what you think, thanks.