Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Making Moves: McPhee, Capitals Splash Out in NHL Free Agency

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee didn't waste any time in reshaping the look of the team roster. The widely-believed theory that the Caps would replace Bruce Boudreau as head coach didn't come to pass. Instead, McPhee moved to keep adding to an already talent-rich squad with even more experience, muscle and attitude.

The Caps broke with recent tradition, which has seen them add sparingly to the team via free agency/offseason trades. The acquisitions of F Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, D Roman Hamrlik, and G Tomas Vokoun fire a massive warning shot to the entire league for next season. Each player makes us even more well-rounded as we continue to supplement a roster that finished first in the Eastern Conference.

The thing is that regular season success is nothing new for the likes of Coach Boudreau, Ovie, Backstrom, Semin, Mike Green et al. Each of these moves are made with the postseason in mind and it will be interesting to see how the team will perform over 82 games with the specter of the playoffs looming in the background the whole time. It's kind of impossible to play a whole regular season feeling as though it doesn't matter, so while these moves definitely strengthen the team, the pressure will be on us even more than it was last year.

Not to be lost in the shuffle was the re-signing of Brooks Laich, whose solid, quiet production and continuity are both essential. Conversely, we also dealt Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a first and second round pick, which bittersweet though it may be because Varly was a fan favorite, is being reported by hockey experts as a fleecing by the Capitals.

Exactly why the Avalanche gave up a first rounder they didn't need to for a player with just one playoff season under his belt and an injury history way larger than anyone would want for a 23 year old may never be known. Especially when you consider that we already have a surplus of young goalies and that draft pick may very well turn out to be a lottery pick (this was even before we signed Vokoun to a one year, $1.5 million deal. Pure madness).

So for the time being, all this excitement will give way to waiting for hockey season to actually start back up before we can see what any of this means. At least we'll have a lot to figure out while we wait.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are You Ready... To Enrage Your Fanbase?

If you have 45 minutes to kill, you must scroll through all the comments mocking U-Md.'s cocked-up football campaign:

Those are a few of the good ones. Even if many of them are inside jokes and/or nonsensical, still do yourself a favor and check them out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Programming Note

I wanted to pass the word along that my good friend's blog The Train of Thought, where I have posted many times over the past few years, is down due to an issue with its hosting. Anybody interested in checking out that site can find it at its original URL, , for a temporary basis.

Though most of the people who know me and know this blog are likely also regular readers of The Train, I thought I'd make sure and cover all our bases. So, please be sure to visit the temporary URL for some profanity-laced, political goodness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Riggleman Resignation Leaves All of DC Stumped

Just as I was thinking about writing a post about the Nationals surprising hot streak, manager Jim Riggleman shocked everyone by stepping down just minutes after the team's 1-0 victory over Seattle. Seriously, every single blog or site I read, sports-related or otherwise, had the same reaction I did (which is generally, WTF?). The Nats are playing their best baseball since their first season in DC in 2005, making the timing of Riggleman's decision that much more stunning.

Riggleman cited his contract situation as the reason why:
Citing an unwillingness by general manager Mike Rizzo to discuss an extension of his contract, Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals after today's 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Riggleman, who had guided the Nationals to 11 wins in their past 12 games to improve to 38-37, informed Rizzo before the game he would resign unless the GM would agree to have a discussion about his long-term status. Rizzo declined, saying it "wasn't the right time" for that, so Riggleman managed the series finale against the Mariners knowing it would be his final game...

A Rockville native who grew up rooting for the Senators, Riggleman took over as interim manager in his hometown after predecessor Manny Acta was fired during the 2009 All-Star break. Ecstatic to hold what he described as his dream job, he was given the permanent managerial job after that season, though his contract never ensured long-term stability.

Riggleman was essentially given a one-year contract with two club options, the first of which was picked up after the 2010 season. His salary (believed to be $600,000) was among the lowest in the majors, and though the club still held another option for 2011, Riggleman had on more than one occasion sought an extension that would provide more stability.

"It's been brewing for a while," Riggleman said. "I do feel like I know what I'm doing, and it's at the point where I don't think I should continue on with such a short leash."

Riggleman said he inquired several times with Rizzo this season about having a discussion on his future. Each time, Rizzo said he didn't feel the time was appropriate for that discussion, including Thursday morning, when Riggleman essentially gave his GM an ultimatum.

On the surface, I can definitely see where Riggleman is coming from. I think he has a right to feel disrespected by only receiving one-year deals while also being among the lowest-paid major league managers. I can also understand him wanting to discuss where he stands with the team, even if those talks didn't amount to formal negotiations.

Ultimately, the problem I have with this is that he did it during such a successful run for the team. It certainly appears as though he was trying to use this winning spell to cash in and I can't really blame the Nats upper management for standing their ground. Riggleman is a competent, if mediocre, manager. Of course, the speculation will be that this could have a little something to do with that whole Jayson Werth blowup from earlier this season. Even if that had nothing to do with him stepping down today, it does suggest that the players probably won't miss him very much.

All Nats fans are hoping for at this point is not to lose any momentum over this. This current run has put us in a position far greater than I was expecting this year without Stephen Strasburg. Most likely, our record was going to return to normal sub-.500 levels whether Riggleman stepped down or not. I just wish that we didn't have yet another negative thing to focus on just as the Nats were unexpectedly giving us something good.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Media Continues to Miss the Point in the NFL Lockout Debate

Let me say right from the outset of this post that nothing about the NFL's current work stoppage makes any sense to me. The fact that the owners have found enough just cause to lock out the players in the first place is iffy enough, but the way the lockout has been covered by the media calls into question how subjective their coverage is at all. For example, take into account yesterday's news that the owners were willing to negotiate a 48 percent share of revenue to the players:

Among the details NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed to owners Tuesday at the league's meeting in Rosemont, Ill., is that in the next proposed agreement players will receive a 48 percent share of "all revenue," without the $1-billion-plus credit off the top that had been a point of contention in earlier negotiations, according to sources familiar with the presentation.

Under the new formula being negotiated, players will receive 48 percent of all revenue and will never dip below a 46.5 percent take of the money, sources said.

In the previous collective bargaining agreement, players received approximately 60 percent of "total revenue" but that did not include $1 billion that was designated as an expense credit off the top of the $9 billion revenue model. Owners initially were seeking another $1 billion in credit only to reduce that amount substantially before exercising the lockout on March 13.

Ultimately, the two sides have decided to simplify the formula, which will eliminate some tedious accounting audits of the credit the players have allowed in the previous deal. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has stated that players were actually receiving around 53 percent of all revenues instead of the much advertised 60 percent.

So you take $9 billion in revenue last year, chop $1 billion off the top to give to the owners for "expenses" (stadium repair, construction, whatever the fuck else they want) then the players receive 60 percent of the remaining $8 billion. Now, just five years after agreeing to said deal, the owners lock out the players and are holding out for an additional $1 billion off the top, just because? How is no one seeing how arbitrary and unfair this is to the players? Considering that the league just grossed the most money in one year in the history of American sports, why are the owners of its 32 teams entitled to any more than the players?

John Clayton went on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio earlier today and the three of them discussed the negotiations (the segment can't be embedded, but you find it in the archives here). Mike Golic was an NFL player during the 1987 players' strike, but he seemed mostly concerned that everything get resolved in order for training camps to open on time. Greenberg said that yesterday's talks showed that the two sides were getting away from "needing to win" and were now just working on a deal everyone could agree on. Both of them failed to acknowledge how we ended up in this situation; the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell deciding to stake a larger claim, among other demands.

At one point, Clayton mentions that the league hopes to get this done before the start of preseason games so as not to miss out on a potential $700 million. Just think about that for one second. The NFL stands to generate $700 million from games that don't even count, yet still believes the 32 owners deserve a larger cut of the overall pie for some reason.

The argument has been made countless times that NFL fans shouldn't care about how this gets resolved because this is all just a bunch of billionaires fighting with millionaires over money. However, that argument doesn't hold any water. The players, the league's actual workforce, and the ones who lay their bodies and brains on the line, are being asked to take less money because the owners decided it was a good time to grab a larger share. I ultimately want to see football start back on time too, but anyone who isn't seeing this current work stoppage for what it is either isn't paying attention to facts, or doesn't care to.

The greatest take on, and easiest explanation for, this whole mess came from former Redskins coaching legend Joe Gibbs:
“I have a solution for the strike right now,” Joe Gibbs told Vinny Cerrato on the radio Tuesday morning. “Here’s the solution. Let me solve it, ok, put the power in my hands. I’ll take that $9 billion, I’ll put one-half to the players, and one-half to the owners, I’ll take one percent for doing that, and we’ll be done in 10 minutes.”

My thoughts exactly.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Death of Len Bias Turns 25

Len Bias

25 years ago today, Len Bias's death stunned the D.C. area, and shocked the sports world. It was one of those morbid "where were you?" moments you commiserate over years later on occasions just like this, sad hallmarks that remind you exactly how much time has gone by, and just how much of a life was never seen.

I was born in 1985, so I wasn't able to grasp what Bias meant until years later. Even still, it's hard to comprehend without being alive to watch his full life arc. The concept that there was a player as good as Michael Jordan was in college, and that he played for Maryland was hard enough to conceive as a young Terps fan. Then, for that man to die two days after being drafted as Larry Bird's heir apparent to the Boston Celtics throne... it's so tragic that I always well up any time I think about it for too long.

Instead, I'll use this space to honor the side of Bias that still brings joy to people. Instead of focusing on "what could have been," because ultimately it's impossible not to, I'll revisit what Len Bias was during his far too brief stint on this planet.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Redskins Voted Second-Worst Franchise in American Sports

ESPN asked fans to rank every team in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL from 1 to 122 in an online poll. According to fans nationwide, the Washington Redskins finished 121st:

While magazine rankings might not provide the final judgments about franchise health, the latest batch of franchise rankings from ESPN The Magazine is truly incredible. The Magazine’s 2011 “Ultimate Standings” — which provide “an overall ranking for pro sports franchises according to how much they give back to fans for the time, money and emotion they invest in them” — has the Redskins ranked 121st among 122 North American pro franchises.

That means the Redskins are behind the Raiders, who finished 104th. They’re behind the Clippers, who were 105th. They’re behind the Bills (107th), Knicks (109th) and Wizards (110th, sorry Ted.) They’re behind the Islanders (114th), and the Thrashers (115th), who aren’t even the Thrashers any more. They’re behind the chaotic Mets (117th), and the flagging Kings (119th).

In fact, the Skins are ahead only of the Bengals, putting them in territory not often associated with a franchise that won three world titles within the past 30 years.

Even more troubling, perhaps, was the result of the ESPN fan survey, asking fans to rate on a scale of 1-5 how their commitment to their favorite team had changed in recent years. The Redskins finished tied with the Kings for 116th in that category.

No D.C. area team was the best or the worst in any single category. The Ravens finished 21st overall, followed by the Caps (27th), Orioles (67th), Nats (78th), Wizards (110th) and Skins (121st). Last year, the Caps were 11th, followed by the Nats (94th), Redskins (102nd) and Wizards (120th).

The rankings, according to the Mag, are based on efficiency in spending fan money compared to on-field performance, while also factoring in feedback from 70,000 fans in online and independent polls. The categories include “bang for the buck” (24.3%), players (16.6%), fan relations (16.5%), affordability (14.1%), stadium experience (9.1%), ownership (9.0%), title track (6.7%), and coaching (3.9%). The full rankings are in the “Best in Sports” issue that hits newstands on Friday.

As a devoted, but embarrassed, Redskins fan, I find these rankings to be pretty accurate. It's one thing to simply lose a lot of games, like Nats or Wizards have for the past several years. The Skins' standing on this list comes down to our long string of national embarrassments, particularly the Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth sagas. When you can't go five seconds without being involved in a controversy, it's usually because your team has an incredibly inept and dysfunctional organization/front office. So I guess we have this 11-year long magical clusterfuck under the ownership of Dan Snyder to thank for that. Better watch what I say though, I don't want to get sued.