The Penguins have no elite defencemen

cutIt’s almost impossible to win the Stanley Cup without an elite defenceman. The past 10 Stanley Cups have been won by teams with Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.

With Kris Letang done for the season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, the Penguins are trying to be the first since 2006 to win without one.

From Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts:

Pittsburgh’s top seven defencemen in these playoffs — Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta, Chad Ruhwedel and Justin Schultz — have exactly zero lifetime Norris Trophy votes between them. (Mark Streit, who would be number eight, received votes in three different years.) That’s almost unprecedented for a Stanley Cup champion.

The only real comparable is 2006 Carolina, also managed by Jim Rutherford. The Hurricanes’ top six — Mike Commodore, Bret Hedican, Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward and Glen Wesley — also had none. The seventh, Oleg Tverdovsky, did. He dressed for one game in the final.

Daley has missed the first two games of the series against the Senators and hasn’t practiced with the team since his injury in Game 5 against the Capitals. Schultz left game two with what looked like a right shoulder injury, but traveled to Ottawa for game 3 and the Penguins say he’s “day-to-day.”

Schultz has anchored the left point on the Pen’s power play since the injury to Kris Letang, and leads the playoffs in PP points by a defenceman.

Jason Botterill, The Penguins associate general manager until last week, credited former Ottawa Senators Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin for their coaching efforts with the Penguins defenders.

“Sergei is responsible for one-on-one work. Video, stick detail and individual skills. Jacques chooses the pairings, the defensive-zone strategy, how do we want to play opponents?”

Postscript: Justin Schultz did get some Norris Trophy votes in 2016-17. He finished 10th in voting, which was a bit of a surprise. Playing on the Penguins power play has boosted more than a few players who hadn’t been considered elite.

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A Ryder Cup for soccer?

1024px-RyderCupLogo.svgWith the Ryder Cup underway and in the afterglow of a good World Cup performance some American soccer fans are suggesting that there should be the same type of competition for soccer. One of them wrote in to the Men In Blazers and suggested the Americas (North and South) could make a team to take on a Europe team in a series of games.

It’s an amusing idea, but the North American (CONCACAF) representation on such a squad would be so minimal that they would hardly be worth including. The only obvious choices would be the goalkeepers (who shone in the World Cup) Keylor Navas, Tim Howard and Guillermo Ochoa. Even one of them would have to be left out in favor of Chile’s (and Barcelona’s) Claudio Bravo.

Are there any outfield players from North America who would belong on a team of the Americas?

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Sweet home Athabasca

Big wheels keep on turningTar sands truck
Carry a load of bitumen
Singing songs about the north-land
I miss McMurray once again
And I think it’s a sin

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A northern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Athabasca
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Athabasca
Lord, I’m coming home to you

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Sports movies and sports docs

Bill Simmons wrote one of his better recent columns on a subject he knows first hand. He is the executive producer of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries. He explains how the rise of sports docs has coincided with the decline of Hollywood sports movies. Hollywood’s increasing reliance on foreign box office means they are reluctant to make movies about the big four North American sports because they only sell tickets domestically.

HBO has been making great sports documentaries for a long time, like When It Was a Game from 1991, but sports docs really began to get attention in 1994 with the fantastic Hoop Dreams.30-for-30-soccer-stories ESPN began its 30 for 30 series to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2009 and now sports documentaries can be found on every sports channel. Bill must not have watched NBC Sports Network on their first day because they threw their hat into the sports doc ring with Cold War On Ice: Summit Series ’72 on the Russia-Canada hockey series.Rush poster

Simmons goes on to review the Formula One movie Rush. It should do decent box office internationally because of F1’s global popularity. There are better reviewers to read. (Stephanie Zacharek for one)  Simmons spoiled a scene for me. I wished I hadn’t read the rest of the paragraph from “There’s a scene after Lauda finally …”

Vulture ranked the 30 for 30 films. It’s a decent attempt, but Winning Time should be higher and Marian Jones much lower.

Comparing the two treatments of South Africa’s Rugby World Cup, I saw the 30 for 30 doc, The 16th Man (ranked number 16 on the Vulture list) before I saw the Hollywood version, Invictus, and enjoyed the doc much more. It helped that most of the story was new to me when I watched the doc. I did remember New Zealand’s juggernaut, Jonah Lomu and had a vague memory of who won the tournament.

Maybe Invictus was just a bad movie (former England rugby player Martin Bayfield said of it: “Dreadful film. Dreadful rugby. Dreadful.”). In a story that would be hard to believe if it was fiction, the fictional scenes in Invictus seemed banal. If you don’t know what Nelson Mandela did for South Africa and would like it served up with some sports, watch either film, but I liked The 16th Man. It’s a great story.

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Daniel Cormier preparing for his final heavyweight fight at UFC 166

Heavyweights Daniel Cormier and Roy “Big Country” Nelson will clash at UFC 166. If Cormier wins he would be in line for a title shot against the winner of the Velasquez-Dos Santos main event, but he says this will be his last fight at heavyweight before he drops down to the 205 pound light-heavyweight division.

This is only Cormier’s second fight in the UFC, but the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner is the UFC’s #2 contender. A big reason for the change in weight class is that he doesn’t want to fight American Kickboxing Academy teammate and friend Cain Velasquez. Any chance he changes his mind if Dos Santos upsets Velasquez?

here-comes-cormierThe thought of Cormier cutting weight is a little concerning. He was at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing cutting weight to make the 211-pound weight limit in freestyle wrestling when his kidneys shut down. He missed the Olympics and wasn’t allowed to train for a year.

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Velasquez vs. dos Santos 3 at UFC 166

The heavyweight champion will fight Junior dos Santos at UFC 166 on Oct. 19 at Toyota Center in Houston. It will be their third meeting in less than two years. They are still ranked #1 and #2 in the division by virtually everyone.UFC 166 Velasquez vs. Do Santos

Let’s hope they are both 100% healthy and focused this time, unlike their first two fights.

In another heavyweight battle that night, Daniel Cormier will take on Roy Nelson. If Cormier wins he will likely get a title shot against the winner of the main event.

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Dos Santos vs. Velasquez II: UFC 155

The last UFC fight of 2012 was a rematch of the first UFC on Fox where the two best heavyweights in the world battled for the title: Junior “Cigano” dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez.

Knee injuries
Both fighters went into their first match (in 2011) with knee injuries.

Cain Velasquez knee injuryThen champion, Velasquez injured his ACL 14 days before the first fight. A video was released in the weeks before the rematch showing Cain grimacing in pain and clutching his left knee during a training session. It was reported that he tore it, but it is extremely unlikely Velasquez had a complete tear of his ACL. That would have required surgery and usually takes nine months to return to normal activities. He fought six months later at UFC 146. Georges St-Pierre was out for over a year with an ACL tear.

Velasquez has never given any details about the injury beyond saying: “I don’t think it was the best decision, but you know, I did it anyway, so it’s in the past. Junior was hurt, and I was hurt as well, so we’re just guys who get in there and fight.”

While training for the first meeting, Dos Santos tore the meniscus in his left knee and required surgery after the fight.

The rematch
After his quick knockout in the first fight, defending champion, Dos Santos went into the rematch as the favorite. His punching is so powerful (responsible for ten knockouts in his first fourteen fights) that reporters were asking if he’d challenge one of the Klitschko brothers.

Velasquez was aggressive from the start, diving at Dos Santos’ lead leg. Dos Santos retreated and effectively defended against the takedown for the first two and a half minutes. With a minute and a half left in the first round VelasqueDos Santos Velasquez IIz knocked down the champion with a hard overhand right to the head. Dos Santos never completely recovered and Velasquez dominated the rest of the fight with 11 takedowns, landing 111 strikes.

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