Posted on: August 26, 2010 11:53 am

Early, Pre-Camp NHL Predictions

With only about 6 weeks left until the return of hockey and with most teams basically having the players in place for their opening day rosters (with the exception of rookies making it out of camp and the Arron Asham-like signings), I figured it's a good time to give my early season predictions on how the 2010'11 season shall unfold. I already gave one set of early predictions on a thread on the NHL board, but I thought more on it and made some changes to how I see the season playing out. And I'm going to add in playoff picks for next season, something I didn't do on the NHL message board.

Eastern Conference 
Atlantic Division
*Pittsburgh Penguins
*Philadelphia Flyers
*New Jersey Devils
New York Rangers
New York Islanders

I fully expect the Atlantic Division crown is the Penguins to lose this year. It may be a homer pick, but top-to-bottom I think the Pens have the best team in the Atlantic. With an improved defense, the Big 4 with another year of experience, and with something to prove following the Game 7 beatdown by the Habs last year, Pittsburgh will take the division this year and compete with the Caps for 1st place in the East. The Flyers, as much as I despise them, look to have a solid team heading into next season, but the question that always follows them is goaltending. I don't even know who their starting goalie will be next season. Will it be Boucher or Leighton? Or will they make a splash and try for Niemi? I think Marty will keep the Devils competitive like always. But, I think they'll take a small step backwards this year because I think age will be a factor for Brodeur this year and they need to find scoring from somewhere, especially if Kovalchuk signs somewhere else. IF Gaborik can stay healthy again and Frolov provides a second scoring touch for the Rangers, along with a strong season from Henrik, I think the Rangers could shock some people. However, there are too many IF's for me to put them higher. The Isles look a little improved, but I think they're still too young to take that "next step" just yet.

Southeast Division
*Washington Capitals
*Tampa Bay Lightning
Atlanta Thrashers
Carolina Hurricanes
Florida Panthers

Unlike the last few years, there may be more than 1 competitive team in the SE this season. Even so, the Caps will run away this division once again. They basically have the same team intact from last year's President Trophy winning squad. However, like the Flyers, they have a major goaltending question. Is Varlamov good enough/improved enough to take them over the hump in the playoffs? I'm not sold. However, they will likely win the East regular season again due the SE being miles weaker than the Atlantic and SE, too many easy points for the Caps to pick up. Tampa is probably the most improved team from last season, and they'll make noise in the SE but their lack of depth in their 3rd/4th lines worries me. Atlanta could be a surprise team, but not a big enough surprise to actually make the playoffs. Carolina's lack of a strong defense and lack of scoring from anyone other than Eric Staal will hurt them this year. Florida is full-blown cleaning house mode it seems. Vokoun will be traded at the deadline this year.

Northeast Division
*Boston Bruins
*Buffalo Sabres
*Ottawa Senators
Montreal Canadians
Toronto Maple Leafs

The biggest problem the Bruins had last year was absolutely no scoring. They may have fixed that with the additions of Nathan Horton and Tyler Sequin. Improved scoring, combined with solid defense and a young stud in Tukka Rask gets Boston the division crown. Buffalo will once again be carried by Ryan Miller into the playoffs, and if Vanek can stay healthy they should provide Boston with good competition for the SE division crown. Gonchar adds depth at the blueline for the Sens, but Boston and Buffalo, and questions about Pascal Leclaire, keep the Sens from having as strong a season as they did last year. Montreal will quickly regret the decision to trade Halak away. Toronto, although improved, will ensure Boston of another Top-10 pick.

Conference Standings
1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Boston Bruins
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Ottawa Senators
9. New York Rangers
10. Atlanta Thrashers
11. Montreal Canadiens
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. New York Islanders
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Florida Panthers

Playoff Seedins/Results

1. Capitals vs 8. Senators
Caps offense is too much for the Sens to handle, win the series 4-1.

2. Penguins vs 7. Sabres
With Miller in net, the Sabres give the Pens some fits, but Pittsburgh battles through, wins the series 4-2.

3. Bruins vs 6. Devils
Two defensive teams make this a low-scoring series, but exciting nonetheless. Devils pull the upset in 7, win series 4-3.

4. Flyers vs 5. Lightning
Best 1st round matchup of the playoffs. High scoring and explosive, Tampa wins an amazing game 7, 6-5, win series 4-3

1. Capitals vs 6. Devils
An explosive offense vs a tight defensive system, the Caps survive, winning the series in 7, 4-3.

2. Penguins vs 5. Lightning
A high scoring series through the first 4 games, Fleury stones the Lightning in games 5 and 6, Pens win the series 4-2.

Conference Finals
1. Capitals vs. 2. Penguins
Rematch of the incredible 2nd round matchup of 2009, Crosby once again outduels Ovechkin, Pens take the series in 7, Washington loses a Game 7 on home ice for the 4th straight season. Pens win series, and the eastern conference, 4-3.

Western Conference
Central Division
*Detroit Red Wings
*Chicago Blackhawks
*St. Louis Blues
Nashville Predators
Columbus Blue Jackets

Chicago will suffer from a post-Cup hangover and a team blow-up the likes of the Florida Marlins. They'll still have a good team, but Detroit proves once again to not take them lightly and they'll take advantage of the Hawks sufferings. St. Louis will surprise people, and the Halak-led Blues will once again return to the playoffs. Nashville will probably have another strong season, but the rise of St. Louis means someone has to suffer, and that team is the Preds. Columbus has a lot of young players, and it will show again this season.

Northwest Division
*Vancouver Canucks
*Colorado Avalanche
Calgary Flames
Minnesota Wild
Edmonton Oilers

The Sedin brothers and Roberto Luongo will finally have a break-out season and take the West this year (regular season anyways). Colorado's young core continues to grow together, but their biggest question mark will be if Craig Anderson can have a second straight strong season in net. Calgary will be competitive this year, but just miss out on the playoffs. Minnesota did nothing to improve, they'll have another mediocre season. Edmonton did take steps towards improving, but they're another year or two away from being competitive. 

Pacific Division
*Los Angeles Kings
*Phoenix Coyotes
*San Jose Sharks
Anaheim Ducks
Dallas Stars

The young teams of LA and Phoenix take the "next step" behind strong seasons from Quick and Bryzgalov, with LA taking the division from a stronger defense and more scoring depth. San Jose will fall back to the pack as they recover from Nabokov's departure. Despite his post-season failures, Nabokov always made the Sharks one of the best regular season teams. With Jonas Hiller in net, the Ducks may end up being the surprise team from the West this year. A shaky defense (although improved with the drafting of Cam Fowler) will keep them from being too surprising. The losses of Turco and Modano will hurt the Stars next season.

Conference Standings
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. San Jose Sharks
8. St. Louis Blues
9. Nashville Predators
10. Calgary Flames
11. Anaheim Ducks
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Dallas Stars

Playoff Seedings/Results

1. Canucks vs 8. Blues
Halak doesn't come up clutch like last season for his 8th seeded team, Canucks win the series in 5, 4-1.

2. Kings vs 7. Sharks
The young Kings show the Sharks how to win a playoff series, win it in 6 games, 4-2.

3. Red Wings vs 6. Avalanche
Shades of '96 and '02, the Wings vets prove too much for the young Avalance, win the series 4-1.

4. Blackhawks vs 5. Coyotes
Second-best 1st round matchup behind Philly/Tampa, the series turns into a shootout, Chicago taking Game 7 at home, 4-3.

1. Canucks vs. 4. Blackhawks
Third times the charm for the Canucks, as they finally get through the Hawks, win the series in 7, 4-3.

2. Kings vs. 3 Red Wings
This time youth beats out experience, as the Kings beat the Wings and win in 6, 4-2.

Conference Finals
1. Canucks vs. 2. Kings
Quick outduels Luongo, and the Kings outlast the Canucks in a thrilling 7-game series, winning it 4-3.

Stanley Cup Finals
2. Penguins vs 2. Kings
Pens finish with a better record than the Kings, getting them home-ice. This proves costly, as the series goes 7, with the home team winning every game, and the Pens finally hoisting the Cup at home, win series 4-3.

Conn Smythe: Sidney Crosby
Hart: Anze Kopitar
Art Ross: Anze Kopitar
Richard: Steven Stamkos
Norris: Duncan Keith
Calder: Taylor Hall
Vezina: Roberto Luongo

May be a homer pick in going with the Penguins, but oh well. It's still August, I can be a homer for another month and a half until the season starts.

Posted on: August 11, 2010 9:34 pm

Way Too Early, Pointless NFL Predictions




With training camps well under way and pre-season games getting started this weekend, I figured now is as good of a time as any to give my professional opinion on how the NFL season will play out. It may be more prudent to wait until teams get a pre-season game or two in, but I don'tthink you can really learn too much from a team from their pre-season games. They're known as exhibitions for a reason.

AFC North
*Baltimore Ravens -- 11-5
*Pittsburgh Steelers -- 10-6
Cincinnati Bengals -- 8-8
Cleveland Browns-- 4-12

I see the Ravens as the team to beat in the division this year (as much as it pains me to say it). I don't think they're good enough to be considered a strong Super Bowl contender, but I think they will have a strong season. Call me a homer when it comes to theSteelers, but with Polamalu and Aaron Smith back and healthy this year, andI think Big Ben will want toremind peoplethat he is an elite QB despite all the offseason issues. I'm not sold on Cincinnati at all, even with the addition of T.O. Under the tenure of Marvin Lewis the Bengals have generally been a .500 team, and they'll have to prove they are a legit contender before I consider them one. And Cleveland will once again be Cleveland.

AFC South
*Indianapolis Colts -- 13-3
*Houston Texans -- 10-6
Tennessee Titans -- 5-11
Jacksonville Jaguars -- 3-13

Like the past decade, the Colts will be the class of the South again this year. They're a proven great regular season team, and I don't expect anything different from them until they show some great decline, or Peyton Manning retires. The surprise team I'm looking at this season is Houston. They've been heading in the right direction the last few years, nearly making the playoffs last year. I think they'll break through this year and earn their first playoff appearance in team history. I see Tennessee and Jacksonville taking major steps backwards this season.

AFC East
*New York Jets -- 11-5
New England Patriots -- 9-7
Miami Dolphins -- 8-8
Buffalo Bills -- 3-13

As much as I dislike Rex Ryan and how over-hyped the Jets have been this off-season (people seem to forget they were a 9-7 team last year and were handed a playoff spot), I do think they have improved and are good enough to win the division this year. However, if Darrelle Revis ends up sitting out this season, I'm not sure if the Jets will win more than 8 games, but time will tell. I think the Pats are currently on the down years of their dynasty and they won't have as a strong of a season this year. They are an aging team, and the Ravens exposed them last year in their massacre of a playoff game. Also, I think the East will be stronger this year. Miami I could see having a strong season this year and make a push for the playoffs, but I'm not completely sold on Chad Henne yet. Buffalo will suffer from a tough division and an even tougher schedule.

AFC West
*San Diego Chargers -- 13-3
Denver Broncos -- 6-10
Oakland Raiders -- 5-11
Kansas City Chiefs -- 2-14

The Chargers will have another walk through the West again this year. I don't think they'll will be as good as some of their past teams, but they have a relatively easy schedule, and the other 3 teams in the West are in current re-building modes. Kyle Orton is a solid QB for Denver, but he can't win games for them. The loss of Dumerville for a chunk ofthe season will hurt their defense. Oakland could be a surprise team this year, but I don't see them having a good enough team in place just yet. Kansas City will pull a Cleveland.

AFC Playoff Seeding

San Diego Chargers

Indianapolis Colts

Baltimore Ravens

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

Houston Texans



NFC North
*Green Bay Packers -- 11-5
Minnesota Vikings -- 9-7
Chicago Bears -- 6-10
Detroit Lions -- 3-13

Whether or not Brett Favre decides to come back, I think this is Green Bay's division this year. They have a strong defense and a solid offense with Aaron Rodgers at the helm (my darkhorse MVP this year). I think Rodgers and the Pack take the next step this year towards becoming a contender. Minnesota will take a step back this year, mainly because I don't see Favre coming back. I think this is a 9 win team without Favre, 11, possibly 12 with Favre. But as I said, I don't see Favre coming back. I don't see anywhere Chicago will find offense. Jay Cutler is only good if he has elite receivers, Matt Forte needs to bounce back after a sophomore slump, and someone in the receiving corps will need to step up. I think Detroit is close to turning it around (somewhat), but this will be another slim year in the winning column.


NFC South
*New Orleans Saints -- 13-3
*Atlanta Falcons -- 11-5
Carolina Panthers -- 8-8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- 2-14

I'm not just giving Saints respect for winning the Super Bowl last year, I think they have a solid team once again this year. It'll depend mainly depend on if the defense can create so many scoring opportunities once again this year. Brees will be awesome again. Atlanta and Matt Ryan will have a strong bounceback season after missing the playoffs last year. They have a great running attack, and if Ryan and the passing game can take the next step, this team will contend for the division. I just can't place Carolina. Matt Moore will have to have a strong season if he doesn't want to lose his job to Jimmy Clausen by the end of the season. Tampa will just be bad.


NFC East
*Dallas Cowboys -- 12-4
*New York Giants -- 10-6
Philadelphia Eagles -- 10-6
Washington Redskins -- 6-10

As much as it pains me, I think Dallas will have a strong season this year, and be the class of the NFC with the Saints. I still think of the Saints as the favorites for the NFC, but Dallas will have alot to say about it. I'm stuck in the middle when it comes to the Giants and the Eagles. One of those 2 teams will earn a wildcard seeding this year, but I can't separate the two. Both sport strong defenses, but both have questions on offense. Kevin Kolb is the major factor for the Eagles, and the Giants biggest question mark is their running game. It seems like alot of people like the Redskins this year, but I don't see it this year. Shanahan and McNabb will improve the offense, but Portis needs a strong season, and some receiver will need to step up. Also, the defense is a question mark too. Will Haynesworth play and be a factor?

NFC West
*San Francisco 49ers -- 11-5
Arizona Cardinals -- 9-7
Seattle Seahawks -- 9-7
St. Louis Rams -- 3-13

Along with Houston, the 49ers are one of my surprise teams this year. Although they may not be that much of a surprise to many. They're building a strong team, offensively and defensively, but Alex Smith is their major question mark. Mike Singletary will bring a strong defense, but Smith needs to improve to take the 49ers to the next level. Arizona will take a step back after losing Warner to retirement and Boldin to the Ravens. Matt Leinhart will have to prove this year if he's an NFL-capable QB. Pete Carroll will have the Seahawks more competitive this year, but I don't see them much more than an average team. St. Louis will once again suffer this season as Sam Bradford begins the changning of the guard. 3 wins may be a little gracious for this team



NFC Playoff Seeding

New Orleans Saints

Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay Packers

San Francisco 49ers

Atlanta Falcons

New York Giants



Category: NFL
Posted on: July 30, 2010 11:06 pm

Is the Pirates 2002 Draft the Worst of All-Time?

     While perusing the NFL network a week or so ago, I watched one of their “Top Ten” lists, and this particular list was about the best drafts of all-time. Naturally, number one was the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers draft.

     Obviously, the Steelers ’74 draft does not refer to the title of this write-up, the Worst Draft of all-time. But it was this draft, and with the recent NHL draft, that got me thinking of other Steelers drafts, and also the Penguins and Pirates draft histories.  I decided to look up the draft history of our Pittsburgh teams, especially the Pirates post-’93 drafts, because I figured poor drafting has been one of the key factors to this long losing streak. And, for the most part, I was right. The Pirates really missed with most of their drafts from 1994 to 2002. It’s not as though the Pirates have blown away the drafts since 2002, but in ’03 they drafted Maholm, and while he isn’t an all-star caliber pitcher I do consider him a quality starter, especially if he was in an organization that was stronger at developing their players. Since Maholm, the Pirates have nabbed Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, and Pedro Alvarez, all now up and contributing for the Pirates. It would seem as though Pirates drafting has gotten back on track.

      As a disclaimer I should say that I know that drafting in the MLB is nearly a crapshoot, what with fifty rounds and the fact that players can choose to reenter the draft if they don’t want to sign with the team that drafted them. Also, luck is a major factor in the MLB draft too, like in the 2001 draft. The Pirates didn’t have a great season in 2000, and had the eighth overall pick in ’01. As luck would have it, bad luck I suppose, Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Gavin Floyd and Mark Teixeira were all taken within the seven picks before the Pirates drafted at number eight. Also, signability is also a factor in the MLB. The Pirates have shown time again that they won’t draft a player if the player wants more than what the Pirates are willing to pay. So, I was aware of all of this as I began looking up past Pirates drafts. I should also mention that the term "worst" is subjective and opinion-based, so you may not agree with the Pirates '02 Draft as being the worst ever. But I'm going to do my best to try and convice you otherwise.  

     Every team has bad drafts, we all know that; however, there is one draft that is so painful to recount that I cannot think that any draft is worse than that of the Pirates 2002 draft. The ’02 draft was the Pirates second time drafting with the number one overall pick in seven years (Kris Benson in 1996). And as the more astute Pirates are aware of, the ’02 draft was the Bryan Bullington draft. Before I delve into who the Pirates passed over for Bullington, I want to also give the players the Pirates drafted in rounds two through four. This is important because it adds fuel to the fire that makes the Pirates ’02 draft the worst ever. Following the Bullington pick, the Pirates chose Blair Johnson, Taber Lee and Wardell Starling. If you’ve never heard of these players, don’t feel too bad, nobody has, at least I know I haven’t.

     Before we get to the disaster that was the Bullington pick, I want to take a quick look at the career stats for Johnson, Lee and Starling and who the Pirates passed up on in order to get these players. I’ll quickly mention that none of these players has made it to the big leagues.

      Beginning with the fourth round, Starling has appeared in 128 games (106 starts) and has a career record of 38-36 in six seasons in the minors. Not horrible for a fourth rounder you may say, and I may agree with you, but in drafting Starling, the Pirates passed on drafting Josh Johnson, who was taken ten picks later by the Marlins. For those who aren’t acquainted with Josh Johnson, I’ll give a quick review of him. Josh Johnson joined the Marlins big-league squad in 2005 and in six seasons has appeared in 103 games (93 starts) and has a career record of 42-19 and career ERA of 3.10 and is a two-time All-Star (including this year). This season Josh Johnson is 8-3 with a 1.82 ERA. I know what some may say, that the Pirates can’t be fully blamed for missing on Josh Johnson because every other team passed on him as well, and I would probably agree. However, when combined with the other players the Pirates missed on, this is a key brick in the building of the ’02 draft debacle.

     Now, moving on and looking at the third round and Taber Lee. Lee has a career batting average of .238, 16 home runs and 45 stolen bases in six seasons in the minors. Also, Lee’s last season of pro ball was in 2007. Even for a third rounder, Lee has to be considered a disappoint. Especially when you look at who was drafted seven picks after the Pirates took Lee, when the Tigers took Curtis Granderson. In seven seasons of playing in the AL (731 games), Granderson has 109 home runs, 73 stolen bases, 321 RBIs and a career batting average of .269. Not all-time great numbers, but Granderson is a former All-Star with 30 home run potential. Again, I know missed picks like this happen, and sole blame shouldn’t rest on the Pirates, seeing as how every other team passed on Granderson until the third round. But we’re looking at the big picture. This isn’t just the Pirates missing on Granderson or Josh Johnson. This is the Pirates missing on both players, All-Star caliber players that can help teams win, plus the players they missed in rounds one and two.

     In round 2, the Pirates took Blair Johnson. In eight seasons in the minors, Blair has appeared in 97 games (57 starts) and has posted a gaudy 22-20 record with a career ERA of 4.35. For a second round pick, calling Blair a bust is being way too kind. Drafting Blair with the first pick of round two is nearly as big a swing and miss as drafting Bullington with the first overall pick. Stress the word nearly, because taking Bullington is indescribable. Before we get to Bullington, let’s not forget who the Pirates passed up in round two to take Blair. Two picks after Blair was taken, the Reds took Joey Votto. In less than four full seasons Votto already has 72 home runs, 242 RBIs and is the Reds best hitter. Thirteen picks following Votto, the Red Sox took Jon Lester. I’m not going to go into Lester’s career stats, because I’m sure we’re all aware of what Lester has accomplished in his short stay so far in Boston. He helped the Sox win the ’07 World Series, plus he has a no-hitter under his belt. If missing on Votto and Lester wasn’t bad enough, the Pirates also missed on Jonathan Broxton (current closer for the Dodgers), Brian McCann (one of the better offensive catchers in the league) and Fred Lewis (by no stretch a great player, but a solid player).  

     Missing out on any combination of Josh Johnson, Curtis Granderson, Joey Votto, Jon Lester, Jonathan Broxton, Brian McCann and Fred Lewis is bad, there’s no other way to spin it. It’s not as though one team had a strong draft and nabbed these guys in each round. All seven of these guys went to different teams. So while the Pirates took three guys who never made it to the majors, seven different teams grabbed regular, everyday players. But, missing out on these guys is only half of the equation for the worst draft ever. The key piece, the icing that tops the cake, so to speak, is what the 2002 draft is remembered for: the drafting of Bryan Bullington number one overall.

     The disaster of drafting Bryan Bullington is really a twofold masterpiece. The first part is Bullington himself. Drafted because the Pirates thought he was the player they had the best chance of signing, Bullington posted decent numbers throughout the Pirates minor league system but amounted to nothing for the Pirates, before eventually being picked up off the waiver-wire by Cleveland. He suffered through injuries like most players do, but that’s no excuse for him attributing absolutely nothing to the Pirates organization. To call Bullington a bust is at best generous, at worst naïve. The Pirates have had plenty of bad picks during their current near two decade losing skid, but no pick has been as terrible as Bullington. Nowhere is this more evident then when one looks at the players taken in the first round following Bullington. Reading the names of these players may give you nightmares, but it is a necessary evil to fully understand how shockingly horrific the Pirates 2002 draft was. I’m not going to bother giving the stats of these players, because they are unnecessary due to the fact that any casual fan of baseball probably knows who these players are. Directly following the pick of Bullington Tampa Bay selected with the number two pick B.J. Upton. Three players also taken in the Top 10 include Zack Greinke (6th), Prince Fielder (7th), and Jeff Francis (9th). Other notable names that followed in the first round include Joe Saunders (12th), Khalil Greene (13th), Scott Kazmir (15th), Nick Swisher (16th), Cole Hamels (17th), James Loney (19th), Denard Span (20th), Joe Blanton (24th), and Matt Cain (25th). These players may not be All-Star caliber players, but any of these players would have accomplished more for the Pirates than what Bullington did, which was nothing.


     So is the 2002 Pirates draft the worst of all-time? Of the four players they drafted, only Bullington made it to the majors, and that was only a few appearances. Whereas by my count, 15 teams took quality to All-Star caliber players; all of whom could have been drafted by the Pirates. To review, the Pirates drafted:

     Bryan Bullington, Blair Johnson, Taber Lee and Wardell Starling.

And subsequently passed on any combination of:

     B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, Khalil Greene, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, Joey Votto, Jon Lester, Jonathan Broxton, Brian McCann, Fred Lewis, Curtis Granderson, and Josh Johnson.

     Sorry for being so lengthy, but I had to get that out. Rant over.
Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com