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Winter in Fenway

The train wreck that is the Saskatoon Blades

This column by Kevin Mitchell is why I won’t care about the Saskatoon Blades next season.

New people coming in will have to accept the Priestners’ hands-on approach, which is a direct contrast to the laid-back stylings of previous owner Jack Brodsky.

The new proprietors made it clear right from the start that they won’t, for example, allow a coach on their team to play a dull, trapping style of hockey – they want their fans to be entertained. Colin Priestner told reporters after dad Mike bought the team that while he wasn’t qualified to make trades or scout talent, “I will be actively involved within the dressing room.”

He kept that promise, maintaining regular dialogue with players within the locker-room, and it didn’t sit well with assistant coach Curtis Leschyshyn, a longtime NHLer who left the team last week.

“Those were some of the things that, as a player, I never saw in my career, nor do I think is part of the game,” Leschyshyn told our Daniel Nugent-Bowman when speaking about those frequent locker-room forays. “The room is a very special place for the players. It always should be that way.”

Those dynamics have been laid bare, the working conditions made readily apparent, so here’s the deal as the job hunt commences: If you’re uncomfortable with members of the ownership team hanging out in the locker-room, if you’d chafe at the hands-on approach the Priestners prefer … then Saskatoon’s not for you. Stay far away.

If you don’t see it as a big deal, then send in your resume and join the competition.

Molleken talked quietly Tuesday about “passing the torch.” while Hogle said the search crew will seek “candidates that have a rich hockey history, a tradition of success in the playoffs, who are leaders of culture.”

The new owners, while far from universally popular, talk a bold game when it comes to the Blades’ future. Much of the old guard has been swept away. A fresh canvas waits for either a masterpiece or a dud.

This 16-51-2-3 team is keeping things interesting, if nothing else.

I can’t think of a single successful owner who is doing what Colin Priestner is doing here.  Lots have tried it his way (Dan Snyder, James Dolan, Al Davis, George Steinbrenner, Mark Cuban in his early years) and it has never worked out.  The owners job is to hire good people, set expectations, and let them do what they know how to do.  Priestner’s way undermine the very thing that he says that he is trying to do.

At the press conference he said that he is going to be advised by ex Flames GM Craig Button.  Really.  Was Gord Stellick too busy?  Button had a horrible run as Flames GM.  In addition to not being able to assemble talent on the ice, his management tree doesn’t have any notable limbs on it either.  He struggled to find talent on and off the ice and now we are bringing him in as a consultant.  

If Priestner isn’t careful, he is going to so damage a product that when the AHL comes calling (and it will), the Blades will be looking for a new home.

What Happens When College Rivals Reach the Pros

I want to say the Duke players teach the North Carolina players how to read but it’s more complicated than that.

It’s kind of funny, the last, four, five years straight, I played with a guy from Duke. We all have a certain amount of respect for each other because we’ve all been through it and we all know what it’s like, so it just depends on who has the better team. You have to go back like “I only lost to you one time,” “Well, I averaged this amount,” talk like that. Carolina guys stand by Carolina, Duke guys stand by Duke. They have Coach K, I had Coach Smith, it’s Roy Williams now, you know, it’s a friendly debate that goes on. The best coach, the Duke guys have been pretty good about it. I think the Carolina guys, the old-school guys, because we were so dominant, we really laid it on thick. But sometimes we just say stuff like, “J.J. acting like a Dukie over there.” We always tell our stories, things of that nature.

The Hoth Tauntauns

The Denver Broncos reinvented in the Star Wars universe.

Hoth Tauntauns

Hey look, they just got their butts handed to them by the Toydaria Wattos.

Jim Harbaugh wears $8 khakis

And his awesome wife called into a morning show to basically disavow her role in buying them.

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh loves his gameday khakis, probably because NFL coaches are functional lunatics who cling devoutly to certain habits lest they come completely unmoored from reality, and also because khakis offer loose-fitting comfort at a reasonable price.

Harbaugh is serious about his pants. Even when his wife Sarah threw out some of his khakis, he refused to change his wardrobe. Harbaugh will not be denied his pleats. Khaki-less to the combine, Harbaugh ended up buying an $8 pair of billowy khakis from Walmart. It’s an addiction, dammit.

From Fernando and Greg on 99.7 NOW:

“I will not take the blame for his outfits,” Sarah said.

“I’ve thrown them away many of times. I’ve asked him ‘Please, pleats are gone. Wear the flat front.’” she explained to Fernando and Greg, “He has a flattering body.”

What’s next for Alex Rodriguez?

Tim Brown on the gong show that is Alex Rodriguez’s ego

Maybe he finds a legal avenue back to the field. Maybe he barges into training camp, makes a spectacle of himself. Maybe he spends the summer on an endless loop, ascending and descending courthouse steps, lawyers in tow, smiling, waving, tan.

Pretending.

For it is a dire day when the inevitable comes, when the game goes away, when the infamous Tony Bosch releases a statement that comments on your misfortune, when the people who really believe in your cause wouldn’t fill a good-sized banquet table.

His league has turned on him. His employer is over him. His union has done all it can. His lawyers are getting rich, an hour at a time. Well, richer.

So, Alex Rodriguez is in his element.

And this is all so terrible. Maybe not terrible, but sad. Certainly sad.

“The number of games sadly comes as no surprise,” Rodriguez said in his statement, “as the deck has been stacked against me from day one.”

He blamed the system and the witness. He said he’d fight for his fellow players. He said he’d be back.

But what exactly was day one?

Perhaps it arrived with his first big contract, the one that would make him wealthy forever and brought the consequences of expectations and scrutiny beyond any that had come before.

Day one may have been the moment a friend, or a teammate, or a cousin told him he could be better through science, through this stuff in a vial that nobody else had to know about. Or it was the moment he gave into it, to testosterone and Primobolan, more than a decade ago. Or the day the survey tester showed up holding a cup.

Maybe it was the morning he looked in the mirror and no longer saw the kid out of Miami by way of Washington Heights, but rather an aging superstar whose body and skills were becoming less reliable. Could he live up to the second big contract, here, in New York, in the shadow of men who’d become iconic?

Was it the day he met Bosch? Was it the day he might have chosen to go along with it again? Into the teeth of a toughened drug program and a more vigilant commissioner?

Was that day one?

Or, no, when the clinic and its proprietor were exposed, and he had no choice but to lie about his relationship with Bosch, and to hope it would all go away. But things don’t go away anymore. Not things like that.

Yes, the league would investigate them all, but then it was about one man, about Rodriguez. And, probably, that’s the day one he was talking about, the day they came for him, when everyone else had surrendered. He’s right, of course, the deck was stacked and he knew it, because he’d lived it, so he would not walk away clean. The day ones were adding up.

Personally I think this is about “redeeming” his legacy so he can be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It’s about ego and legacy more than anything, even if he is delusional to think even if he wins, he will be in the Hall.

The real winners in all of this is the New York Yankees who will probably try to void his contract and have all of that money they could be paying to a broken down third baseman and distraction and can now use it on reloading and trying to get back into the playoffs.

Chris Kluwe: I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot

Quite an article by former NFL player Chris Kluwe

On Sept. 7, 2012, this website published a letter I had written to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. chastising him for trampling the free-speech rights of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. The letter also detailed why I supported the rights of same-sex couples to get married. It quickly went viral.

On Sept. 8, the head coach of the Vikings, Leslie Frazier, called me into his office after our morning special-teams meeting. I anticipated it would be about the letter (punters aren’t generally called into the principal’s office). Once inside, Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.

On Sept. 9, before our game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the owner of the team, Zygi Wilf, came up to me, shook my hand, and told me: “Chris, I’m proud of what you’ve done. Please feel free to keep speaking out. I just came from my son’s best friend’s wedding to his partner in New York, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

On Sept. 10, I was once again called into Leslie Frazier’s office. Coach Frazier asked me if I was going to keep speaking out on the matter of same-sex marriage and equality. I responded that I was, and I related what Zygi Wilf had said to me at the game the day before. Coach Frazier looked stunned and put his hand across his face. He then told me: “Well, he writes the checks. It looks like I’ve been overruled.” At that point, he got his personal public relations assistant on a conference call to ask her what to do. She outlined some strategies, mainly centered around talking only with large national media groups and ignoring the smaller market stations (radio, television, print). I said that I would be sure not to say anything to denigrate the team, but that I would like to talk with anyone who was interested. Both Coach Frazier and his PR person attempted to dissuade me from this course of action, saying that the message would be more effective if presented properly. I suspected this was another attempt to keep me from speaking out. I did not agree to any course of action they suggested, and I left the meeting once it concluded.

On or around Sept. 17 (could have possibly been Sept. 19), I approached our head of public relations, Bob Hagan. It had come to my attention via Twitter that multiple news sources were attempting to contact me through the Vikings and had been unable to reach me (I learned this via those same agencies asking me on Twitter if I was available for interviews, to which I responded affirmatively). I told Bob Hagan that from this point on, any media requests he received were to be forwarded immediately to me. I would take care of them. He told me that he was trying to protect me from being overwhelmed. I repeated my request that he forward all media requests to me, as I could handle them. He assented, and later that day I found three media requests in my locker (to which I had already responded via Twitter), two of which were dated from four to six days earlier.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 season. He would ask me if I had written any letters defending “the gays” recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance. I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.

On Oct. 25, I had a poor game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Vikings brought in several punters for a workout to potentially replace me. I do not believe this was motivated by my speaking out on same-sex equality, though I do not know for sure. During the special-teams meeting the following day, Mike Priefer berated me in an incredibly harsh tone the likes of which I’ve never heard a coach use about my abilities as a punter (and I have been berated before). The room went silent after he finished speaking, in a way that normally does not happen during meetings when someone is being called out. The Vikings kept me on as their punter.

Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere was decidedly tense. I had never had an interaction that hostile with any of my teammates on this issue—some didn’t agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful. Afterward, several told me that what Mike Priefer had said was “messed up.”

The entire article is worth reading, especially because it means he will probably never play in the NFL again.  Sadly these kind of attitudes are not limited to NFL locker rooms.

Update: The Vikings are investigating the matter

The Best and Worst NFL Announcers

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

  • After all is said, here are your Bad Commentator Awards:
  • Worst Crew: Chris Myers and Tim Ryan
  • Least-Bad Crew: Dick Stockton and Ronde Barber
  • CBS vs. Fox: Fox has the less-bad crews, with 37 infractions per crew beating out CBS’s 45.
  • Worst Prime-time Crew: Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (ESPN)
  • Worst Commentator: Dan Dierdorf

As I suspected, Chris Collingsworth (NBC) and Mike Maylock (NFL Network) do pretty well.

This should be Rob Chudzinski’s press conference tomorrow

By the way, firing Rob Chudzinski is a joke move by the Cleveland Browns.  The entire season was supposed to be about the future (trading Trent Richardson) and he had the worst quarterback situation in the league.  No one can win in that situation.  Their franchise player, Joe Thomas was right when he said, “successful franchises don’t fire their coach after one season”.  Well no one is confusing the Cleveland Browns with a successful franchise.

Knuckler

What a brutal shot.  It goes high and then low.  I feel for Tuukka Rask who will mocked by this team mates for decades for letting this goal in.

I do love this Gerry Cheevers type response.  He just shrugged his shoulders and didn’t seem to let it bother him.  If I was him, I may have been tempted to take a chopped Zdeno Chara who broke the rule of never putting your stick down in front of a shot. 

How Athletes Go Broke

Basically it is easy come, easy go.

What the hell happened here? Seven floors above the iced-over Dallas North Tollway, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail is revisiting the question. It’s December, and Ismail is sitting in the boardroom of Chapwood Investments, a wealth management firm, his white Notre Dame snow hat pulled down to his furrowed brow.

In 1991 Ismail, a junior wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, was the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Instead he signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts for a guaranteed $18.2 million over four years, then the richest contract in football history. But today, at a private session on financial planning attended by eight other current or onetime pro athletes, Ismail, 39, indulges in a luxury he didn’t enjoy as a young VIP: hindsight.

“I once had a meeting with J.P. Morgan,” he tells the group, “and it was literally like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.” The men surrounding Ismail at the conference table include Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, Cowboys wideout Isaiah Stanback and six former pros: NFL cornerback Ray Mickens and fullback Jerald Sowell (both of whom retired in 2006), major league outfielder Ben Grieve and NBA guard Erick Strickland (’05), and linebackers Winfred Tubbs (’00) and Eugene Lockhart (’92). Ismail (’02) cackles ruefully. “I was so busy focusing on football that the first year was suddenly over,” he says. “I’d started with this $4 million base salary, but then I looked at my bank statement, and I just went, What the…?”

Before Ismail can elaborate on his bewilderment—over the complexity of that statement and the amount of money he had already lost—eight heads are nodding, eight faces smiling in sympathy. Hunter chimes in, “Once you get into the financial stuff, and it sounds like Japanese, guys are just like, ‘I ain’t going back.’ They’re lost.”

At the front of the room Ed Butowsky also does a bobblehead nod. Stout, besuited and silver-haired, Butowsky, 47, is a managing partner at Chapwood and a former senior vice president at Morgan Stanley. His bailiwick as a money manager has long been billionaires, hundred-millionaires and CEOs—a club that, the Steinbrenners’ pen be damned, still doesn’t include many athletes. But one afternoon six years ago Butowsky was chatting with Tubbs, his neighbor in the Dallas suburb of Plano, and the onetime Pro Bowl player casually described how money spills through athletes’ fingers. Tubbs explained how and when they begin earning income (often in school, through illicit payments from agents); how their pro salaries are invested (blindly); and when the millions evaporate (before they know it).

“The details were mind-boggling,” recalls Butowsky, who would later hire Tubbs to work in business development at Chapwood. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

What happens to many athletes and their money is indeed hard to believe. In this month alone Saints alltime leading rusher Deuce McAllister filed for bankruptcy protection for the Jackson, Miss., car dealership he owns; Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad put his mansion in Charlotte up for sale on eBay a month after news broke that his entertainment company was being sued by Wachovia Bank for overdue credit-card payments; and penniless former NFL running back Travis Henry was jailed for nonpayment of child support.

In a less public way, other athletes from the nation’s three biggest and most profitable leagues—the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball—are suffering from a financial pandemic. Although salaries have risen steadily during the last three decades, reports from a host of sources (athletes, players’ associations, agents and financial advisers) indicate that:

• By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

• Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

Brian Burke on the Calgary Flames

Burke speaks about the Calgary Flames

“Successful teams are big. We’re not big enough, that’s one thing. And we’re not hostile enough for me. I don’t like playing flag football. I like teams that bang. I don’t like the way we play … we want black and blue hockey here. It’s what we do in Alberta. And that’s the first thing. We’ve got to be big and more truculent — you’re all waiting for the word, and there it is.”

With slim chance of landing NHL team, Markham arena project somewhere between risky and outright insane

Bruce Arthur points out the insanity of the Markham stadium plan

Which brings us to the city of Markham, which hopes to stake a claim. The city has been wrestling for some time with a proposal to build a $325-million arena that would hopefully house an NHL team. Mayor Frank Scarpitti revealed a modified version of the funding structure on Friday with a murky new $70-million extracted from unnamed developers. The plan is still full of holes, with at least $50-million not covered, and council is expected to vote on a previous version of the funding structure Monday or Tuesday. And between now and then, someone should tell them that they are risking an enormous amount of money for a project that is somewhere between risky and outright insane.

“We have never been encouraging of this project,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, reached by phone on Saturday. “And we have repeatedly said that if this building is built, it should be built with the expectation that they will not get a team.”

Bettman was otherwise loathe to comment on the project, or any other one. Yes, he has always repeated a version of that line to those who hope to join the list, because the NHL does not want cities to bankrupt themselves in the faint hope that they might jump to the front of a queue. Yes, Bettman is widely disbelieved when he says, for instance, that Quebec is not necessarily getting the Nordiques back anytime soon.

But in this case, right now Markham is chasing something that isn’t there. One NHL source with knowledge of the league’s thinking called the Markham project “delusional,” and pointed to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, already outdated, as an example. The source added that Markham is not a priority for the league, and that building an arena will not make it one. The NHL loves to insist there isn’t a list, but if there is, Markham isn’t on it.

What’s even more delusional are those that say that Saskatoon is going to get a NHL team.

A new addition for Mosaic Stadium

Can someone tell me why the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not doing this with Gainer the Gopher?

BaCEmjOCMAASywC

In case you are wondering, this is from the University of Minnesota Gophers stadium.  I love it.  Here it is on video.

A Minnesota spokesperson told BTN.com that the dramatic gopher video (it’s actually a chipmunk, but whatever) had been ready to go since the Big Ten opener against Iowa, but Saturday was the first time an opponent had tried a field goal facing the video board. The school plans to use it from here on out.

This needs to happen Regina.  Get on it.

RIP Baily

A great piece by Peter King as he says goodbye to his dog Bailey.

Bailey real

I used to wash Bailey in our front driveway because the hose was convenient. On one May day in 2008, in mid-lather, my phone rang. It was Brett Favre. Not loving retirement. Having second thoughts. I was trying to talk to him and wash the dog at the same time, and finally I had to tell Bailey to lay down and wait—for about 40 minutes. There she lay, all soaped up, just doing what she was told, as she always did.

Mostly, she was just an incredible companion. Didn’t bark much at all. Never whined. Went nuts when any of us came home, as dogs do. (She saved her going-craziest for Doug’s occasional visits over the years. Ten years after we adopted her, a Doug visit still prompted Bailey to go into orbit. Amazing how dogs remember so well.) And that’s why the last few days have hurt so much. My wife and I wake up and look on the floor; no Bailey. We walk back into the apartment, and we look down in our foyer; no Bailey. What an empty feeling. I assume we’ll have that empty feeling for a long time. A month, two months … I don’t know. I wish I didn’t have to feel that pain in my heart for the next month or two or three.

But by my calculations, we had Bailey in our lives for 159 months. I will endure a few weeks of the occasional dark thought, and I will think: Pretty good trade, 159 months of companionship and friendship and unconditional love for one or three months when sadness creeps in. In fact, that’s a fantastic trade. I feel the same as I did when Woody died: The easiest way to not feel this grief is to never have a dog. And what an empty life that would be.

In her final days, Bailey had been given some steroid pills to treat a bad limp. She had arthritis, and we had to lift her to stand, and she couldn’t put much weight on her right foreleg. So we’d take her out for her regular trip to the sidewalk four times a day, and by Wednesday, it was unbearable to watch her struggle to make it outside. First thing Thursday morning, when I approached her to tell her it was time to go outside, she wagged her tail so hard it hit the wooden floor like it was a drum. This dog was still into life. But the limp … just too painful to watch. We went to the vet a couple hours later. I had to carry her more than half of the three-and-a-half-block walk. We told the vet, Keith Manning, about her trouble, and he was nice and avoided our beseeching looks about the next treatment, and said her longstanding bulging disk was pushing on her spine and preventing her leg from working and, well, there wasn’t much he could do, and …

“Give us five minutes,’’ I asked him. He left the room, and Ann and I said our goodbyes.

Ann gave Bailey her last milk bone. “Good girl!’’ she said one last time, through her tears.

Then Dr. Manning came in, with his assistant, and we lifted Bailey up on the table. Ann and I held Bailey as Dr. Manning shaved her left forepaw. He took the long silver needle with the red poison, found the vein and pushed it in.

I whispered into Bailey’s ear: “Go play with Woody.”