Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Want The Caps

I like Mike Wise’s musings on the nature of the Washington Capitals’ pre-series view of their match-up with Montreal:
Montreal was supposed to be a tuneup for a wounded-but-game Philadelphia team. The most unruly fans in Canada and the true-grit players were supposed to be preparation for the most unruly fans and true-grit hockey team in America.
I know I am unruly. Very unruly.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Messing Up The Draft Two Years Straight

For the second year in a row, I really don’t understand the Philadelphia Eagles strategy for the NFL Draft.

Frankly, in case Andy Reid missed it, the Iggles have needs everywhere: safety, cornerback, defensive line, right tackle, linebacker- probably QB too. Really, the defense is not good. After ridding themselves of multiple high priced veterans and accumulating 5 of the first 87 picks, conditions seemed ripe for the re-stocking of talent this team badly needs. Philadelphia needed to find two or three "plus" starters, plus another three/four roster guys, that can play a lot thru 2013.

Basically, they need new bodies. And you can absolutely get guys who can play in the third round. Why else did the Eagles accumulate six fourth and fifth round picks?

And instead we gave up THREE picks in said first 87 selections for a guy, Brandon Graham, who won't play 50% of the total defensive snaps over the next two years?

The Eagles rotate DEs like crazy on game day- no defensive end is going to play exclusively in today’s NFL. And don’t tell me Graham is a first-round level run-stopper... if Philadelphia wanted the generic, all around quality rotational DE, that guy is on the board at 24- and the Eagles still have that pair of third rounders.

Or they are going to keep him on the field as an OLB. Yeah right. Now the Eagles have spent three picks on a guy who has never played standing up, covered tight ends, etc. Lord, the #14 overall selection is now spent on a situation pass rushing linebacker! That isn’t risky.

Still, it is not so much I don’t think Graham can play (although, again, it isn’t a straight shot: new position, specialist). But the road to finding three "plus" starters in the draft is easier with the original five picks than this plethora of fourths and fifths. It smacks of being too smart- you need really to hit 100% of Graham and the safety from South Florida. And that is just it- even if your talent evaluation is perfect, stuff happens in the NFL. Guys get hurt, discover drugs, get in accidents. Reid has zero room for chance or error- whereas had they taken the five picks, the necessary hit rate is three in five.

Jeez, we could have packaged those two threes to get more “prospects” like Shady McCoy in here. At least this year we're not spending high draft picks on guys who can't block. Thus, it isn’t a total disaster.

More optimism, and video, here.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Bring On Best of 31

Candidly, this Flyers’ fan could have watched the Flyers feed the Devils a healthy dose of their own medicine for a lot longer than five games. Seriously, bring on best-of-31 or something.

How many times over the last decade-plus did I watch the Devils pitch this same formula at Philadelphia: long stretches of territorial dominance thwarted by superior goaltending, clutch goals from guys down on the roster, quality defensemen patiently pitching the puck out with the lead as soulless robots within a “system”? And of course, at the end, a bewildered coach slurring his players as no one can quite put a finger on why the whole was less than the sum of the parts.

Zach Parise = John LeClair? Oh yes, yes- drink it all in.

Even better, that is it! This is the end of the Devils’ dynasty- the magnitude of this lost will consign the last of our old enemies populating that roster to also-rans. Forever. The New Jersey Devils are dead- they will be turned over starting now and their snotty vibe is over.

Ultimately the Devils weren’t good. I pitched them as a team that probably would, if the season re-started today- lose more than it won. The defense collective isn’t very good. Brodeur is up and down, period to period. Kovalchuk is a freelance player locked in a system environment, a Lecavalier without a St. Louis- a winger added to a team that needed depth down the middle.

So this series never figured well for the Devils. Plus, the two traditional ways to close a series talent gap are goaltending and power play- and the Devils got jobbed here too. In goal, Boucher played his best hockey in a decade and the Flyers dominated special teams play- a situation further aggravated by the official’s willingness to stack the penalty box for sundry infractions. The result: New Jersey looked bad an awful lot of the time.

Hard to know what to make of the Flyers though? After a season of disappointment featuring winning as often as losing, it is hard to go whole hog crazy by rubbing out a bad team literally declining every night. This probable next series with the Caps feels a lot like the one with Buffalo a few years ago. The Flyers' defense seems pretty good- but repelling that firepower night after night with officials calling every bump or stumble an infraction penalty. Unlike the Devils, the Caps will score repeatedly given eight power plays a night.

The formula used against the Devils- rely on the Devils inability to score, feel little urge to force the play, win the special teams battle- probably won’t work. The Flyers need to score here- and the issues up front make nightly production of four, five goals problematic.

Still, it is bouncing out those fink Devils- and that will never get old. Winning always helps (at the very least, one of the goalie roster spots for next year is no longer problematic, which is up a notch from “a total mystery with no good choices” between Boucher, Emery and the guy who is hurt). And it looks like Coburn and D are legit top four defensemen- although that will have to be further validated against Washington.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


This probably falls into the category of not having too much to complain about- but I finally got around to browsing the Winter 2010 issue of the Tulanian. The Tulanian is billed as The Magazine of Tulane University. I’m a little annoyed.

How can the official communications arm of the university not have a single mention of the I-A athletic program?

While not a high crime or misdemeanor, it is also inexcusable. I mean, the university spends millions on this sports' stuff, there is still an official commitment that sports helps the university branding and visibility- and the Tulanian makes no mention?

It does have room for a two -page photo spread of undergrads decorating a King Cake. This photo does not advance the university mission. No offense, but the image of the Tulane undergrad as a somewhat carefree student is firmly cemented in the national awareness. Just ask my father. Nonsense cannot take precedence over projects the university does deem relevant to national discernment.

I mean, most communiqués we alumni receive about athletics are the teams losing or, alternatively, getting crushed. There needs to be counter-programming. The magazine is a chance to put pure administration propaganda or actual news out there. Give the casual fan some confidence that the stewards of our dollars and efforts are bringing neat kids to campus and losing isn’t the only thing Tulane’s programs do. Raise some consciousness, some appreciation, people.

Athletics is obviously important to thousands of donors and fans of Tulane. Even its woeful status vis-à-vis large state university programs does not change that. So, head of the EPA Lisa Jackson gets page after page. Sure, I get it- she is a dreamboat for the internal politics of university academics: a minority woman, environmental, an official of President Obama’s administration. It probably dovetails with the aforementioned university goals: Tulane has a powerful interest in attracting smart women and sucking up to the administration in power for federal dollars. How could she not be lauded to the skies in a university maganzine and literally portrayed as a superhero complete with cape? Impossible to resist. I get it. We are not churlish here at Frank Helps You Think It All Out. She is an accomplished person.

But leaving sports out, while writing page after page on Lisa Jackson and three other environmental blurbs, frankly smacks of an axe to grind. Does anyone doubt that the editorial staff of the Tulanian, as does a huge majority of the faculty, loathe the emphasis and interest of I-A sports over their scholarship? Portuguese is important, darn it! Not football!

I don’t want to get into interest level comparison- let’s just say there is a not insignificant population of donors and fans out there of the Tulane athletic programs. We deserve to hear from the university leaders regularly on the status of our programs and the kids participating in them. And it ought to be done in the Tulanian.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NHL Power Play Tournament News

I was browsing my copy of “The 75th Anniversary of the NHL” and discovered that the 1933 Stanley Cup Final was decided 1-0 in overtime when the Rangers scored with a two-men advantage. Today, this result is, of course, the secret fantasy of the people currently running the NHL product into the ground.

Despite the Flyers handling their archrival, this hockey is horrible to watch. The past three games there have been almost fifty minor penalties called. That is right- almost fifty- and practically none of the off-setting kind. In the two games in Philadelphia, the teams have traded 29 power plays. And this is not a chippy, emotional series. How could it be? Everything is a potentially game-changing foul.

The Devils have been dominated: zero goals at even strength in the last two games. But that simply doesn’t matter in the NHL Power Play Tournament- as they managed to hang in, and had a chance to steal Game 3, by scoring three power play goals (including a 5 on 3 last night during an incredible stretch of three minor penalties called on Philadelphia in 3:02).

Kerry Frasers' last NHL game was the Flyers-Rangers' tilt that sent Philadelphia to the play-offs. It was a fun game with a lot of scraps and emotion- where Fraser was not part of the story. We can’t have that, can we? Fraser couldn’t get a play-off assignment??? But the four league toadies calling stick fouls right and left the past two games know the ticket to advancement in the NHL Power Play Tournament is to keep character teams (i.e. all teams without European Stars! or Crosby!) like the Flyers and Devils parading to the box.

The NHL is the only pro League where the best play was twenty years ago- not today. And this nonsense is why.

Plus, if you are going to call a game this tight- you need to get right, like the NFLofficals calling holding penalties right. And let’s face it, that sort of repeatable competence is not the NHL. Players are diving all over the place, a culture bred by tick-tack fouls being endlessly rewarded.

I watch the Devil’s feed here- and Doc Emrick was showing once again why he is the voice of hockey and in the Hall of Fame. He was wondering aloud about the state of play in the NHL- backed up by Ken Daneyko, a worthy elder statesmen, who was just killing the officials.

It is a bad, bad show. Sigh, at least the Flyers are winning.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Long March Destined For Disappointment

Well, after a harrowing, disappointing regular season, the Flyers catch a break in the opening round of the play-offs. They perhaps deserve it- the last two seasons they’ve opened with Pittsburgh and Washington. Still, the true Flyers’ fan has trouble accepting any series with the New Jersey Devils is a lucky break- even if New Jersey is in the same “disappointing” category.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Flyers and Devils series is not exactly easy to decipher. Both teams have underachieved. Picked by some as the best team in the east, the Flyers have been a .500 team since the get go (41 wins in 82 games).They fought tooth and nail with the Rangers over the weekend to even get in the play-offs- and I don’t know anyone who thinks the Rangers are “good”. The Devils have been worse than .500 over the last forty games or so (18 wins in the last 41 games- ugh) as their defense and goaltender wore down.

So like a lot of teams where the sum is less than the apparent parts, the teams are hard to figure out. For example, both teams have missed on their key veteran pick-up. Chris Pronger was brought here to go toe-to-toe with Crosby and Ovechkin. Surely, he can do that better than most. Unfortunately, it turns out Pronger really doesn’t bring much more than “a good player” to match-ups versus the more routine forwards. He is more gangly than strong, not very quick. He doesn’t move the puck all that well. As we all saw in the Olympics, he is a nice player rather than elite- helped playing with the lead rather than having to force the play up ice.

By the same token, New Jersey is trying to fold Ilya Kovalchuk- a great scorer but merely okay in other facets- into a system that demands competence in many areas (like defense? Ilya is an amazing career "-75" despite scoring 338 career goals) that greatness in the offense zone. I mean, who on the Devils is a good line mate fit for Kovalchuk?

Add in a few merely overrated players and this series has a lot of “what are you going to get from who?” Mike Richards was a +36 total the last two years- and simply cannot be a season long “-2” playing on the top line (and a flat zero in the two key games versus the Rangers) and be considered an elite player.

Ultimately, I just think this rivalry has moved past the Brodeur hex. The Flyers no longer fear the guy- going twenty-five minutes without scoring isn’t going to mess with their heads and sticks. If anything, Brodeur is now a division opponent where familiarity breds contempt: everyone has beaten the guy, that team, repeatedly this year (five wins in six tries for Philadelphia).

Plus, the Flyers seem to have more ways to get to three goals again and again than New Jersey (better forwards, much better power play). And the Devils' big slide over the second half can be traced to their increasingly "less than average" defense- so the Flyers are probably better on the blueline too. Only the fact the Flyers are probably on their third goalie option gives the Devils hope.

But again, Brodeur isn’t the same guy. Flyers upset New Jersey in six.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

More On McNabb

For any Eagles fans' needing relief from nagging doubts about the McNabb trade, Jerry's Wheelhouse offers the posted picture above and this link (warning- a bit vulgar) re-assuring us masses. The main points are here:
Why this move is stupid?

1. You are giving up a 2nd this year and (most likely) a 3rd next year on a team not remotely built to “win now”
2. You took a QB who complained for years that he didn’t have enough weapons on offense to win, and you brought him to a team with less weapons
3. The offensive line is currently comprised of three folding chairs, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Stephon Heyer
4. McNabb has missed 15 games due to injury since 2007
5. At best he gives you three “good” seasons. At worst, zero.

I am an unabashed fan of the Wheelhouse- we started our blogs almost the exact day and have managed to hang in there in blogspace. It is funny and I always learn something.

Some of the comments are pithy too- read through them. They are a bit hard on the Eagles' fan base- which is hardly represented by the few hundred yo-yos who call 610 WIP. Again, not that my family, surrounding season ticket holders and Philly-based friends is any more representative- but they all think McNabb was a class act who was the best qb in Philly history. McNabb is a popular icon with the African-American community- who are not exactly WIP's base of listener support. You watch, when he returns with the Redskins this year he will get a massive, sustained burst of love from Section 204.

I actually think most Philadelphia fans have the absolute right take on McNabb- a very good player but short of greatness. Somehow, mostly due to rabble-rousers on the radio, there is an impression that Philadelphia dislikes the guy. Yes, he is the starting qb in a major media market, so he is going to take lumps. But he is more popular, more well thought of in Philadelphia than Eli Manning is in New York- and Eli won a Super Bowl! He never took the lumps in the Philadelphia press that Tony Romo took in the Dallas media.

But Philly has the rep. But- whisper- the Philadelphia fan has substantially mellowed since the Eagles began a decade of good football and the Phillies run of superior play.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thowing My Hands Up

I sort of throw up my hands at the selection of Ed Conroy as the next men’s basketball coach at Tulane. I mean, if you want proof positive that Tulane ain’t investing in Division I basketball success- here you go. You don’t build a multi-million dollar arena commitment around this sort of coach. I mean, that sort of expenditure can't be allowed to fail because of Ed Conroy?

Isn’t he just such a Tulane hire? Like Coach Toledo, he is so safe, so vanilla- a guy who will spend five years being real, real grateful for the opportunity- real satisfied to make a decent wage, content with the culture of 6-10 conference records. Coach Conroy isn’t ever going to raise any real stink about anything. He will be so happy to be here.

I understand Tulane’s normal aversion to challenging coaches. First, with athletics hanging on around here by a thread, the athletic department can’t afford any embarrassing screw ups or routine bad ink. Second, success in football is so problematic, it is difficult to justify any coaching risk because the resultant reward feels impossible to obtain no matter who is calling the shots. Third, even if they were to cash in the gamble, a mouthy coach who brought success, what does it really get the university? What tangible item has Rice or SMU’s recent success brought to justify potential craziness?

But in basketball, I would make an exception because I think success is obtainable- and such success would bring tangible rewards to the community. I remember the early 90s-there was real juice and civic “follow along” in Tulane basketball. This can be done and is worth doing- so if Tulane has to pick a spot to plow an extra few hundred grand in athletics, basketball is where I’d do it. Football is a lost cause in the current larger NCAA environment, baseball is too small and the other sports, while worthwhile human endeavors, just aren’t nationally relevant enough.

Ed isn’t that guy- the guy to justify spending the extra dollars and effort, the guy who gives you the maximum chance of success to justify risk.

As to the facts on the ground, well, Tulane needs an upgrade in talent. I was hoping for a coach who either proved he could recruit the local geography (spare me any talk of chasing a quality national recruiting class) or proved he could bring in the occasional all-Conference USA from anywhere. Frankly, this guy brings neither. Who is his tenure at Citadel would be all C-USA? Worse, there are guys out there who would take this job who would bring one or the other.

No doubt in five years we’ll all be reading here on Frank Helps You Think It All Out that Coach Conroy was a great human being who coached a lot of classy young men to seven win conference seasons. There is merit in graduating classy players- but don’t tell me Tulane is moving forward.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

So Long Donovan. I Feel Sad.

The departure of long time friends continues as Donovan McNabb- the greatest Eagles’ quarterback of all time- leaves after a decade of service to those of us in Section 204.

I took pains to put in “greatest” to drive home the magnitude of his departure. McNabb started 142 regular season games for the Eagles. In almost all of them, the Eagles had the better quarterback. Only the goalie in the NHL has a bigger impact in American team sports, and the Eagles just traded away this decade long resource. The next ten years of Eagles’ football will not feature such a sustained advantage.

Plus, he was a good guy in a world where a lot of lousy athletes get a lot of ink. It was fun in the national media to characterize Philadelphia fans as louts who did not appreciate #5. No doubt there is a vocal group of dopes on 610 WIP. But in my experience in Section 204, family and friends, anyone that I knew who was a knowledgeable Eagles’ fans, thought the guy was a good player. Anyway, the Redskins will never have to worry if he is prepared, in shape or committed.

Nevertheless, it had to happen. I cannot complain for two years about the overpaid, underachieving McNabb-Westbrook axis- then complain when the Eagles break it up. The high second round pick with the three in 2011- is equivalent (according to the chart) to a low first round selection. Seems fair. You can quibble with the tactical nature of an inter-divisional trade, but frankly Washington is going to have to prove to me first that they are are worthy measuring stick. Sort of feels like the same Redskin shortcuts: take a clearly declining veteran player for two first day draft picks. I mean, isn’t this a team screaming for a pair of quality o-line prospects?

In a strategic sense, yes, I’d have traded McNabb. For the first time since 2007, the Eagles are a clear step behind the conference powers and a divisional rival. They aren’t going to win a Super Bowl next year with Unitas at quarterback. The Eagles are taking advantage of the uncapped year to purge roster mistakes right and left. They are cleaning house of underachievers and thirty-somethings. So might as well do it now. It is never going to be easy.

Plus, Kevin Kolb is the prototype of doing things the right way- drafting and developing your core players rather than exchanging a pair of first day picks to solve endless holes caused by trading your said draft selections. But part of that is allowing your groomed players to actually, you know, play- particularly when they have a single year left on their deal. Kolb has shown enough to deserve a year long audition. He was frankly pretty darn good in his pair of starts this year (700 plus yards passing, 4TDs, 3 INTs). Frankly, I want to see him- get Kolb a year of seeing the elephant in a year with zero big expectations.

Plus, it is the Eagles. Even a rebuilding year will probably have them at ten-ish wins, in the divisional mix until December. This is a team that was missing seven offensive starters last year for significant time (Curtis, both Andrews brothers, Peters, Westbrook, etc.) still won eleven. They will keep moving forward.

Still, it is not about tomorrow today. McNabb was a lot of fun here- and I was a big fan. But this change was never going to be a good day- so best be done soon and quick.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

So Long Dave. I Feel Bad

I’ve been writing Frank Helps You Think It All Out- and its ‘zine predecessor since 2001- and in that time I’ve only called for the head of one figure in my immediate realm of interest. That being said, I had a word document already prepared, noodled over, asking Tulane to relieve Dave Dickerson of his duties as Tulane’s coach of men’s basketball. In short, I was pretty close to powerlessly editorializing- the prime function of America’s blogging community. In the end, Coach Dickerson walked the plank of his own accord.

Like most Tulanians, I have high regard for Coach as a human being. He stuck by the university during the Katrina experience. His players were classy and graduated like crazy. He never caused our university one iota of embarrassment. When he was hired, I editorialized that he was a good pick. Even a year ago, I was on board.

In the end, it did not work out. After five years, Coach has fixed what he could fix. In fact, it is hard to point to just what is improving now around Coach Dave.

The Coach Toledo experience is one of never-ending long term “improvement”, an everlasting series of humiliations where, in the words of one yowgf poster, Toledo is “teaching Tulane how to win”. In contrast, for Coach Dave, these last two seasons have felt like long range perspective is over, the time to show improvement is now. With Toledo, whole years drift by- while the past fifty basketball games or so were direct referendums on the program.

And little was better. I watched way too much of the NIT Final Four over the weekend- and who on Tulane could play real minutes for Ole Miss, Dayton, Rhode Island- and forget about North Carolina? The talent here at Tulane is like one step over Rice or something.

And basketball at Tulane is not football, the inherited cultural situation is not without hope. You can win as a mid-major. The League isn’t horrid- it is a mid-major with a pulse on a half-a-dozen campuses. Most teams in mid-major basketball have athletic facilities on par or worse than Tulane- and very few have a better campus and story (urban, New Orleans, etc.). You don’t need a ton of money to win. You could draw a “good for college basketball” 3500 to home games regularly with a competitive product. And that level of support has been done here within the last decade. Tulane simply ought to be better than awful.

Football may be doomed to failure at Tulane. You could make the argument. But Tulane basketball not only should not be fruitless, but should be one of the nation’s top 150 programs. An average coach doing an average job should be in the NIT conversation. A good coach might even make the big show on merit.

And Dave was not getting them there- and I don’t see how he was going to. Five years- and no cemented pipeline of talent, no evidence of being able to coach up the resultant third tier recruits to the second tier. You gotta do one or the other- get the second tier guy or coach up the third tier. Name one big man he developed? Show me a player who was much better technically, rather than just growing into his athleticism, when he left? Coach never recruited or developed anyone of note in five years. Ultimately, where was the first team all C-USA player?

Ultimately, it cannot get worse. It would almost be impossible to draw fewer fans or win, say, six, with this schedule? So let’s see if a new guy can do better- particularly since coach gave them an easy out.

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