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Monthly Archives: October 2010

There is no doubt that the National Basketball Association’s 2010 free agency period left a deep impact in both the media and the public’s eye. The overall depth of the free agent class was so great that practically everyone declared there had been no other like it. Like the exodus of the Jews from Egypt a host of player’s chose to take their talents to a new team and start fresh. Nearly the entire landscape of the NBA changed in a matter of days and now we are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what is what and which teams are feeling good about their chances to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.

 

The first half of the article will shed some light into the conference that gained the most from the free agency period and the newly established contenders that will vie for the championship. The Eastern Conference has a host of talent that all have a legitimate chance of competing and should change the balance of power between the East and West in the near future. A list of teams that should make the playoffs is at the end.

 

Atlantic Division

Toronto Raptors

09-10 W-L: 40-42

 

After missing out on the playoffs by one game the Raptors saw their supposed centerpiece of their team, Chris Bosh, go to South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The loss of Bosh is no doubt a major factor, leaving only former number one pick Andrea Bargnani and free agent signing Amir Johnson to man the frontcourt for the dinos. They also added Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa to go with point guards Jose Calderon and Jarret Jack. If the Raptors can get better production out of DeMar DeRozan they should be a dark horse pick to make the playoffs in the new east despite the loss of Bosh.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

09-10 W-L: 27-55

 

A team that entered the season with high hopes quickly found itself in a quandary with power forward Elton Brand still not being able to effectively play with his teammates. While most of the players on the 76ers roster like to run, Brand needs to operate on a slower, post oriented pace. At the age of 31 and due nearly $16 million this year they can only hope that new head coach Doug Collins can figure out a way to get Brand to put up better numbers, otherwise this team may be headed to another staggering season. The Sixers added College Player of the Year Evan Turner in this year’s draft but it might take a year or two to fully see him develop into an effective player.

 

New Jersey Nets

09-10 W-L: 12-70

 

12 wins would indicate a bad team with nowhere to go, but the group that got those 12 wins was a pretty young team that showed that there was a lot to look forward to. With PG Devin Harris and emerging center Brook Lopez the team definitely has a core that they can build upon in the next few years, especially with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov willing to spend the money to get a contender out on the floor. This was evident in their efforts to obtain Carmelo Anthony, and although they haven’t gotten anything worked out, this should work in their favor since they still have their core players. They drafted Derrick Favors this year to be their PF of the future and with Lopez the Nets should like what they have in their frontcourt should Troy Murphy stay healthy.

 

New York Knicks

09-10 W-L: 29-53

 

After a dismal regular season that more trying to shed salary than legitimately winning, the Knicks still failed to land their top targets in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Instead they had to settle for Amare Stoudemire for the max $100 million deal. While they missed out on the now Miami Trio they still signed PG Raymond Felton and traded PF David Lee for Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Randolph. Turiaf should bring some defense to a team that is dedicated to its run and gun offense but persistent foul trouble should dampen that idea. The Knicks still have Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and Wilson Chandler so they may have a team that can make the playoffs this year. What they may be looking at though is next year, when Carmelo Anthony can become a free agent and barring a lockout, sign him and maybe trade for another star in say, Chris Paul. Knicks fans should definitely be excited and not let what happened this past summer stick in their mind.

 

Boston Celtics

09-10 W-L: 50-32

 

The Celtics were a few minutes to closing in on their second championship in three years when they lost to the Lakers in game 7 of the Finals last season. The loss of center Kendrick Perkins left them sorely lacking in strength in the paint and with Perkins still recovering the front office went out and signed big men Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal (no relation) to help the power forward tandem of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. But the main trio of this team, SG Ray Allen, SF Paul Pierce and Garnett may be in its final year as age has definitely caught up with at least two of them. The only starter for the Celtics this year under the age of 30 is point guard Rajon Rondo, who has all the talent to carry a team but may have to do more than ever to keep the veterans fresh for the playoffs. The signing of Delonte West is questionable at best given his troublesome history and that’s a cause for concern with the bench also having Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, never the best in off-court conduct. The window is definitely closing for this incarnation of Celtics but they should be near the top when all is said and done.

 

Central Division

Detroit Pistons

09-10 W-L: 27-55

 

The Pistons definitely had their share of problems last season, with the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva not panning out like they had planned. The signings were also peculiar in that had the Pistons saved their cap space they may have been able to make a run at a top free agent last summer. Since they didn’t we saw them struggle to win games, with SF Tayshaun Prince lacking the same energy that he displayed in years past and Richard Hamilton struggling to be the premier point maker. They have young talent in Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey but both appear to be combo guards and not truly able to fill the point guard slot. Center has been a position of concern the past few years with Ben Wallace manning the middle since he lacks any sort of offensive game to be worried about. This team is headed for another long season and may have to start thinking about trading away some players.

 

Indiana Pacers

09-10 W-L: 32-50

 

Another young team with developing talent around super SF Danny Granger, the Pacers have a lot to look forward to with new point guard addition Darren Collison. By trading for the former UCLA guard the Pacers now feel they have the playmaker with the talent to get them into the playoffs. They have Mike Dunleavy in the SG slot and Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert in the frontcourt to go with Granger so the Pacers should be able to make some strides this season with the young core established. They also drafted Paul George and hope that he can make some kind of impact to make the Pacers a legitimate team to make the playoffs in the future.

 

Milwaukee Bucks

09-10 W-L: 46-36

 

The Bucks were headed for a great season until center Andrew Bogut went down with an arm injury that kept him out the rest of the way, when the Bucks were eliminated in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks. Bogut had finally shown himself to be the number one overall pick the Bucks made him and was the core of their defense, averaging 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks until his injury. With sophomore point guard Brandon Jennings the Bucks have a good starting group with John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden. What may be a concern for coach Scott Skiles is how this group will go about on offense with Salmons and Maggette each being used to dominating the ball in iso type situations. The Bucks are a good pick to make the postseason and it will be interesting to see how they follow up last years run.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

09-10 W-L: 61-21

 

The team that probably lost the most this past summer with LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach, the Cavaliers are now a shell of the team that won 61 games and was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. James was the centerpiece of the offense in the Cavaliers offense, and its up to new head coach Byron Scott to get these players to focus on this season. The team remains mostly the same, but that is sort of a problem since this group tended to rely mostly on James for many stretches. There probably is a lot of rough times for the Cavs in the next few seasons, and it doesn’t look like it will get better anytime soon.

 

Chicago Bulls

09-10 W-L: 41-41

 

Most likely the best team in the Central Division, the Bulls had cap space in the summer and used it to grab three formers Jazz players in Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. That’s not bad when you also have PG Derrick Rose and C Joakim Noah to fill out the starting lineup. The Bulls have a load of talent and, Carlos Boozer’s hand injury notwithstanding, are a lock to make the postseason and do some damage. They extended Noah’s contract and are poised to be one of the premier Eastern Conference teams for some years to come.

 

Southeast Division

Washington Wizards

09-10 W-L: 26-56

 

The team with the number one overall draft pick last summer used it to grab their point guard of the future in John Wall. The question after that would be the future of Gilbert Arenas with the Wizards. Arenas does have a quirky nature and last season it cost him 50 games with his gun in the locker room stunt and now must play second fiddle to Wall as the Wizards look to move forward. They do have some other young talent in big men Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee and some backcourt help in Josh Howard and Nick Young but in what looks to be one the NBA’s more deadly divisions it wouldn’t be surprising if the Wizards were to struggle through this season.

 

Charlotte Bobcats

09-10 W-L: 44-38

 

The expansion Bobcats just made their first trip into the playoffs last season and did it with some astounding defense, allowing the fewest points in the league at just under 94 points per game allowed. It got better for the Bobcats when they found out that Michael Jordan would become the majority owner of his homestate team, and this season look to expand upon their playoff berth. They will look to DJ Augustin to be their point guard and know that he can play based on last season. They have vets in Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Boris Diaw who know how to play and can all play some stout defense. Like other teams, the Bobcats don’t have a center who can score, as they employ Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop and Kwame Brown, so they will again be more of a defensive team under coach Larry Brown.

 

Atlanta Hawks

09-10 W-L: 53-29

 

The Hawks finally made it past the first round of the playoffs, where they were unceremoniously dumped by the Orlando Magic in the second round. This past summer they signed guard Joe Johnson to a maximum contract, but many questioned whether Johnson was deserving of the deal. Regardless, they still have the same team that made the playoffs and will look to improve some more this year. They still have Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford in the frontcourt, but the backcourt may be an issue with the ever aging Mike Bibby still the starting point guard. Backup SG Jamal Crawford was superb for the Hawks, but has revealed his demands for a new contract, something the Hawks are probably hesitant to commit to with the deal just completed for Johnson still hovering over their heads. This may be a good team, but don’t be surprised if they somehow have a down year with the new East.

 

Orlando Magic

09-10 W-L: 59-23

 

The Magic were one series away from reaching the Finals in back-to-back years but were stopped by the Celtics in six games. This year the team opens in a new arena with essentially the same team and hopes to once again contend for the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Magic have a good team built around center Dwight Howard, who has to show improvement in the offensive half of the game to compliment the defense we all know he has in order for the team to succeed. If not, it will be up to players like Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis to score more points, and that may not be what the Magic need if last years series against the Celtics are anything to go by. While he is a good scorer, Carter is heading into the tail end of his career and doesn’t have the same explosion he did in his youth. Once again the onus has to be on Howard to be an all-around player and carry the Magic to the promised land, especially in this competitive Southeast Division with the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats all making cases for the playoffs.

 

Miami Heat

09-10 W-L: 47-35

 

This year’s Heat isn’t the same as the one that won 47 games last year and was trounced by the Celtics in five games. This past offseason GM Pat Riley went out and got arguably the biggest free agents of the summer in LeBron James and Chris Bosh, both accompanying Dwyane Wade as Miami’s own big three. The preseason has not been as kind though, as Wade and James have missed time due to injuries but hope to be at full strength by the season’s start. With those three it looks to be a tough time for many defenses to guard, but it will be up to the other complimentary players, such as Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, to ease the load off the big three and make it that much more difficult for teams to load up on the stars. This team is already in contention for the title and many expect to see them up there until the end. They have the talent in Wade, James and Bosh but need the others to step up to compete this year.

 

Playoff Teams (in no arranged order):

Boston Celtics

Miami Heat

Orlando Magic

Chicago Bulls

New York Knicks

Milwaukee Bucks

Atlanta Hawks

Indiana Pacers

 

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There is no doubt that the National Basketball Association’s 2010 free agency period left a deep impact in both the media and the public’s eye. The overall depth of the free agent class was so great that practically everyone declared there had been no other like it. Like the exodus of the Jews from Egypt a host of player’s chose to take their talents to a new team and start fresh. Nearly the entire landscape of the NBA changed in a matter of days and now we are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what is what and which teams are feeling good about their chances to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.

 

The first half of this article will give some insight into the conference that lost a number of players to free agency but still has a number of threats that can legitimately vie for the title in June. The Western Conference may not have the same depth that we grew accustomed to in recent years. The playoff teams are listed at the end of the article.

 

Northwest Division

 

Minnesota Timberwolves

09-10 W-L: 15-67

 

With new coach Kurt Rambis and his hybrid-triangle offense the Timberwolves struggled to get any kind of synchronization and faltered to a paltry 15 win season. In the offseason they lost Al Jefferson, but as a player mainly known for scoring only is there any hope that the Wolves can get better on defense? They do have Kevin Love who played with Team USA in the World Championships and they gave Darko Milicic $16 million over 4 years to be their center so it seems they have the two big men they want. GM David Kahn still has to work with the point guard mess he has created, drafting Johnny Flynn but this offseason adding Sebastian Telfair with European blue-chipper Ricky Rubio still to come. They may not be contending this season but at least there are a few pieces to work with.

 

Utah Jazz

09-10 W-L: 53-29

 

The Utah Jazz may be the one team who lost the most players this offseason. With Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver all going to Chicago PG Deron Williams will have to adjust to new addition Al Jefferson, who the Jazz believe can fill Boozer’s shoes along with Paul Millsap. Mehmet Okur, who missed most of the previous season due to injury, is hoping to make an impact with the team and there is no doubt that Williams will have them playing at a high enough level, but will it be enough to compete with the likes of the Thunder and Lakers in the playoffs?

 

Portland Trail Blazers

09-10 W-L: 50-32

 

A team that many said could have legitimately challenged the Lakers last season, the Blazers’ season started going the wrong way when top draft pick Greg Oden went down with yet another leg injury. Management did a nice job of filling the void by acquiring Marcus Camby, but an injury to backup center Joel Przybilla left the Blazers with little depth up front, and they soon found themselves without Brandon Roy as they were ousted by the Suns in the playoffs. Like with many teams the Blazers hope that this season will be the one where everything comes together. Barring injury there is a good chance that the Blazers do very well and make it deep into the playoffs, but injuries may always be lurking. Where the frontcourt had its issues, the backcourt is the virtual opposite. There is a great deal of talent and experience, with veteran PG Andre Miller and the talented Jerryd Bayless running the plays. There is one issue that the Blazers have and that is the unhappiness of backup SG Rudy Fernandez. Unsatisfied with his playing time, he has expressed his wishes to be released so that he may pursue and contract in Spain. It’s unlikely that the Blazers will release him, but in time they may be able to trade him and find a complementary piece to their core of Roy, Oden and PF LaMarcus Aldridge.

 

Denver Nuggets

09-10 W-L: 53-29

 

This year may be the swan song of the current group of Nuggets, with many core players’ contracts expiring and head coach George Karl in the last year of his deal. All of this doesn’t even include the Carmelo Anthony saga that really dampers the Nuggets’ chances of going all the way this season. It’s clear that Anthony will be gone and the only questions are when and where is he going. With the Carmelo Anthony cloud hovering over and players Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Nene and J.R. Smith approaching free agency we may Denver play very well but also speed up their roster turnover if the season goes south.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

09-10 W-L: 50-32

 

This season’s trendy pick, it’s no secret that everyone believes the Thunder are legitimate contenders with Team USA MVP SF Kevin Durant showing the talent that made him the league’s top scorer last season. With their thrilling 7 game battle against the Lakers in the playoffs the Thunder may have been one player away from being a true rival to the Lakers. They addressed their need for size by drafting Kansas C Cole Aldrich. With Aldrich, C Nenad Krstic and PFs Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison the Thunder are loaded with explosive guard Russell Westbrook and supports Eric Maynor and James Harden to go with their linchpin Kevin Durant. They surprised many last year, but it won’t be a surprise if the Thunder make a deep run and maybe hoist the trophy in the end.

 

Southwest Division

Memphis Grizzlies

09-10 W-L: 40-42

 

The Grizzlies last season showed they could play with a bunch of teams. With a resurgent Zach Randolph and C Marc Gasol the Grizz have a couple of big men who can play. They may have a few issues at guard with an ineffective Mike Conley leading to SG O.J. Mayo learning the PG position. One of the more puzzling moves the Grizzlies made in the offseason was handing Rudy Gay a max contract. While Gay may be a young and talented player there really was no reason for the Grizzlies to give him a contract of that size when they were really bidding against themselves. This may cripple them in the long-term and inhibit their ability to put out a good team in the future.

 

Houston Rockets

09-10 W-L: 42-40

 

The Rockets, like the Blazers, have their issues at the center position. They’re mainstay, Yao Ming, has shown that he has plenty of troubling staying healthy as he missed much of last season with a foot injury. The Rockets management then traded Tracy McGrady, Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza and brought in Courtney Lee. With a starting group of Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola and presumably a healthy Yao the Rockets may be a group that can bounce back and get into the playoffs and probably make a dent depending on the team they match up with. They also have a good bench with Kyle Lowry, Lee, and explosive Chase Budinger coming in and being able to play extended minutes if needed. Look for the Rockets to stay low throughout the season and make their way into the postseason.

 

New Orleans Hornets

09-10 W-L: 37-45

 

The Hornet’s offseason was as action packed as any other team, with Chris Paul voicing his displeasure with the team and attempting to have a trade out of the Big Easy. Management was able to keep Paul from staging a full revolt and exit, and they were able to get Trevor Ariza to start ahead of the aged and ineffective Peja Stojakovic. The Hornets have the talent with Paul, David West, Emeka Okafor, Ariza and the young Marcus Thornton. A prime concern is their bench, where they don’t have much to offer against other teams with Marco Belinelli being one of their top guys off the pine. If this season goes badly, and it may not surprise anyone if it does, look for Paul to find his way out of New Orleans ASAP.

 

San Antonio Spurs

09-10 W-L: 50-32

 

It seems that every year the Spurs are the team that you just can’t seem to write off even though the age of their core gets a year older. With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all taking extended breaks over the summer to rest their bodies, it’s apparent that they and head coach Gregg Popovich know that this year could be the last that we see of the Spurs and their big three. Last season they dealt with injuries to their big three but young players like George Hill and DeJuan Blair were able to fill in nicely and make the most of their playing time. This offseason they finally added Brazilian Tiago Splitter, a Spanish League MVP who they believe can be the center they need to complement Tim Duncan in the post. Splitter has some skill with the pick and roll and running on the break, but like any Euro import there remains concern over whether he has the physique to handle the rigorous 82 game season. The Spurs also resigned Richard Jefferson to a restructured contract and hope that one year in the system can give him the experience to adjust to playing with the big three. The Spurs are looking to send off Duncan with one last ride into the sunset, but their season may hinge on the quality of minutes they get from their role players.

 

Dallas Mavericks

09-10 W-L: 55-27

 

The previous season seemed like déjà vu for the Mavericks, having a great regular season but again faltering in the offseason, losing to the Spurs in the first round. They have basically the same team this year, but are looking for a big impact from point guard Rodrigue Beaubois. Sweet shooter Dirk Nowitski will always give you the points and they have some effective players in Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, and they added Tyson Chandler to be able to compete with the length of the Lakers. They have a roster that can make an impact, but do they have the mentality to make another deep run through the playoffs like in 2006?

 

Pacific Division

 

Sacramento Kings

09-10 W-L: 25-57

 

The young Kings have a good young nucleus that they can conceivably work with and hopefully contend in the next few years. With Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and top draft pick DeMarcus Cousins they hope they have an inside-out duo that can bring success on the court. They also added Carl Landry mid-season as he was showing that he could be a force in the post. With the defensive-minded Samuel Dalembert manning the middle the Kings could bring an interesting game every time they play. The development of their younger players will be key, but they already have a core group that should be ready to play sooner rather than later.

 

Golden State Warriors

09-10 W-L: 26-56

 

The Warriors are a team looking to start fresh with a new coach, removing Don Nelson from his position and replacing him with rookie head coach Keith Smart. They have exciting young players in Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis and actively attempted to improve their frontcourt by signing forward David Lee. What remains of the rest of the team is a mystery with the entire team built to run and run some more in Don Nelson’s run-and-gun style. With a new coach how will the Warriors play and how effective, if at all, will they be? It’s doubtful they will contend and having players go from a pure offensive mindset to one with defense may be difficult to do this season.

 

Los Angeles Clippers

09-10 W-L: 29-53

 

The Clippers haven’t been good the past few years, and ever since their 47-35 season in 2005 their win totals decreased every year. They did win 29 games last year, but their top draft pick, Blake Griffin, went down early with a knee injury and missed the entire season. If Griffin can stay healthy this season they may be able to improve their record. The talent is there, with Baron Davis and Eric Gordon in the backcourt and Chris Kaman the main man in the paint. The Clippers have a shot at the playoffs if they can stay healthy, which is a lot better than what they’ve achieved the past few seasons.

 

Phoenix Suns

09-10 W-L: 54-28

 

After making a run to the Western Conference Finals the Suns became one of the victims of the free agent bonanza, losing marquee big man Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks. They did reload, adding Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress, but they only have Robin Lopez in the middle. Much of the roster remains intact, with Steve Nash still playing and his backup Goran Dragic fresh of a breakout playoff season.  They still have Jason Richardson, Grant Hill and Channing Frye, but the loss of Stoudemire may be too much to overcome with the Lakers still the top of the class.

 

Los Angeles Lakers

09-10 W-L: 57-25

 

As the defending NBA Champions, the Lakers truly earned their back-to-back, finishing off their season in a seven game series against the Celtics that they battled through until the final minute. This offseason they didn’t lose any true impact players, the loss of Jordan Farmar being the most significant. They added Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, bringing in a ballhandler and a defender to reload in their bid for a third straight title. They do have issues with health, with center Andrew Bynum delaying surgery until late in the summer and having no set timetable for his return. Kobe is also recovering from knee surgery, and it remains to be seen how he will handle this season. The Lakers probably will go for the marathon approach, trying to make the playoffs while sustaining the team’s overall health. They still have Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest to carry the load and they will be ready for the playoffs.

 

Playoff Teams (not seeded):

Los Angeles Lakers

Oklahoma City Thunder

Portland Trail Blazers

Dallas Mavericks

Houston Rockets

Utah Jazz

San Antonio Spurs

Denver Nuggets

 

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“I’m going to take it all the way to New York and play for St. John’s,” Harrison said as he donned a “I Love NY” hat on his head and that seals the deal for another top recruit coming to St. Johns and joining Lavin’s “Ark”.

The 6’3″ guard from Missouri City, Texas chose The Red Storm over Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Big East Rival Marquette.

Harrison joins Maurice Harkless and JaKarr Sampson as the third recruit to join the 2011 St. John’s recruiting list in the past two months. Coach Lavin had an in-home visit with D’Angelo Harrison in Texas on Tuesday.

“Coach Lavin is a very straight up guy and he had a plan for how I would fit. Plus, he told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear,” said Harrison.

Harrison is one of the best shooting guards in the country scoring 20.9 points during his 2009 high school season at John Foster Dulles High. The 44th ranked player in the 2011 recruiting class is a lethal from the perimeter and explosion off the dribble. Not only can he shoot and take the ball to the rim aggressively, he can also come off and fight through screens something that opens Lavin’s play book even more.

In this high tempo offense that Lavin seems to be putting together, Harrison will cause a lot of match up problems for defenses who have to worry about the lanky slashers in Harkless and Sampson and now Harrison around the arc waiting to rain threes.

Don’t look now folks but St. Johns is now #9 in the Class of 2011 Team Basketball Recruiting Rankings and seemly ready to add even more talent very soon. Nurideen Lindsey could be the next to join the back court with Harrison as well as the big man out of Long Beach, California, Norvel Pelle.

The storm is coming. Can you feel it?

-Tim Dimas

@TimmyD_WSJU

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The 2010 NHL season on an overtime goal by Chicago Blackhawks left winger Patrick Kane. This incredible finish landed the Stanley Cup back in Chicago for the first time in 49 years. With the amazing finishes of both the Stanley Cup Finals and the Gold Medal game between Canada and the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics, hockey has gained some popularity back in the United States after setting one of the highest television ratings for the NHL in quite some time. Last year’s regular season and playoffs lived up to the expectations of many and the 2010-2011 season is shaping up to do the same with the promising skills and talent of the new generation of hockey.

As is the case with just about every NHL season, there are a lot of new faces in new places this year. Probably the biggest transaction during the offseason was the Chicago Blackhawks not resigning Antti Niemi their goaltender that went 16-6 in the playoffs last season. After the Chicago said “NO” to Niemi, Niemi is taking his talents to Northern California to join forces with Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks who were the number 1 seed in the Western Conference last season. With the addition of Niemi between the pipes, San Jose has arguably the strongest team in the Western Conference with the Vancouver Canucks competing for the top spot. With Roberto Luongo in goal and last year’s Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin leading this team, Vancouver could easily walk away with the Northwest Division championship this year. Other teams to watch for coming out of the West this year are the Coyotes, Kings, Red Wings, and Flames. The Phoenix Coyotes were clearly the surprise team of the NHL season last year. It was Phoenix’s first playoff appearance since the 2001 season. What makes Phoenix’s playoff run even more impressive is that the team was on the verge of bankruptcy only a year ago and having “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky fail as head coach, the team was not shaping up to be in contention for the 2010 season. Ilya Bryzgalov is back in goal for this season. Bryzgalov is the reason why the Coyotes made the playoffs with his .920 save percentage and was second in the league in shut outs. The Kings are showing promise for the future with the emergence of their young studs, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown who combined for 137 points. As usual, the Red Wings are expected to do well with the core of the team still together and with the signing of the ageless Mike Modano. But the Red Wings are a year older and not getting any younger. The Red Wings definitely have the experience but youth is not on their side. Furthermore, the Red Wings are definitely going to make the playoffs but will they be able to keep up with the young Western Conference during the playoffs? Now the Calgary Flames are a team that did not make the playoffs last who are hungry and have a lot to prove since they only missed the playoffs by 10 points. With the veteran leadership of Jamore Iginla and Craig Conroy, the Flames should be back in the playoffs this season. The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the clear favorites to win the West again this year but with losing star goaltender Antti Niemi and losing half of the roster including Dustin Byfuglien who cleared out the middle for the Blackhawks during the playoffs. The Western Conference does have potential to have a sleeper this season but put your money on the Vancouver Canucks to win this Conference this year.

Switching over to the Eastern Conference, there are several teams that have talent but this conference is home to the worst division in hockey being the Southeast Division. This division only had one team making the playoffs last season, that team being the Washington Capitals who are led by superstar Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin was once again in strong contention for the Hart Trophy after finishing top 10 in all major offensive categories and missing 10 games. The major problem with the Capitals is that they have no one that has stepped up to be Ovechkin’s sidekick. In all sports, one great player can get you to the playoffs and that is it, but one superstar with above average talent can win you a championship. If Capitals manage would be willing to open up their wallets to get 1 more person on the line with Ovechkin and maybe another on defense, the Capitals would be a dominate team but until they do that, they are 1 and out in the playoffs. Moving to the Northeast Division, Buffalo is looking like the favorite out there with Olympic Hero Ryan Miller in goal. Miller had a .929 save percentage which ranked him 2nd in the NHL and was ranked 4th in wins last season. Ryan Miller has become to best goaltender in the NHL but needs help from him scores like Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy who combined for 54 goals last year. The Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadians are looking to be contenders for the East as well. Boston is looking to make some noise this year after a premature exit from the playoffs last season. This team is out to prove that they can be the heavily favored teams such as Buffalo and Pittsburg with the help of Patrice Bergeron who led the team in points last season. Montreal did not surprise a lot of people when they made the playoffs last year, but did surprise people when they made the Eastern Conference finals as the number 8 seed. This team is looking to ride out their hot streak from last season into the 2011 season. Now the Atlantic division is full of talent with the New Jersey Devil, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Philadelphia Flyers being the front runners in that division. Philadelphia is currently the defending Eastern Conference Champions and after their disappointing showing in the Stanley Cup Finals, they want to make a statement this year. Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards are leading the charge this year for the Flyers. Pronger is consistently rated as one of the best defensemen in the game and this year is no different. The Flyers are looking to split time between goaltenders this year with Michael Leighton and Brain Boucher. Whoever is the most successful out of the 2 will most likely start in the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils are coming off of a very impressive 2010 campaign finishing second in the Eastern Conference last season. The Devils are expecting Zack Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk who signed a 15 year $100 Million deal in the off season, to carry the load and lead the Devils to another high seeding in the playoffs. And of course the most important part of winning a championship is goaltender and the Devils still have arguably the best goaltender in history between the pipes this season. At the age of 38, Martin Brodeur was top 10 in all major goaltending categories and does not show any signs of slowing down. Then of course there are the Pittsburgh Penguins who have to complete package, goaltending, defense, offense and the face of hockey, Sidney Crosby who had 109 points last season. His sidekick Evgeni Malkin is back for another season and is reported to be in the best physical shape of his life. Marc-Andre Fleury is back in net after having a down year but is looking to prove himself worthy again of being a Stanley Cup winner. The Penguins have to be the favorite going into the season despite their early exit from the season only a couple of months ago.

For this year’s Stanley Cup Finals I like the Penguins to win the East and the Canucks the win the West. Canucks will win the Stanley cup this year in 7 games because playoff series is hockey always seem to go the distance but I do ultimately think that more talented teams will prevail this year and the Stanley Cup will find its way to Vancouver this season.

– TJ Acierno

As the American League Divisional Playoffs get underway on Wednesday, let’s take a look at the match-ups:

New York vs. Minnesota

It seems that this is deja-vu all over again. Haven’t we seen this movie before? As a matter of fact, yes we have. The Minnesota Twins have lost in the first round of their last four playoff appearances, three of which they lost to the Yankees. As good as the Twins were during the regular season, they finished the season 2-8, including getting swept by Detroit and losing 2 of 3 to Kansas City.

Moving into the playoffs, it’s all about who has the momentum, and the Yankees have it. Though they ended the season 3-7, they did it against much tougher opposition in Boston and Tampa Bay. I believe a better match-up to see would have been New York and Texas, because that would force both struggling teams to take on teams on the upswing.

It was reported that AJ Burnett would not be in the three-man rotation which seems to be an addition by subtraction. With the performance that he’s had this season, there is little confidence instilled in him that he could win a baseball game for them in the postseason. For that reason, he will work out of the bullpen.

Obviously the Yankees have a very strong lineup, especially moving into October, with Rodriguez, Cano, Texiera, and, in his last chance to show that he is worth a $20 million per year extension, Derek Jeter.

Minnesota, on the other hand, is more of a small ball team. Joe Mauer is obviously their big bat with Justin Morneau out, to go along with the breakout year of Delmon Young. In the pitching rotation, Francisco Liriano is the only guy in that three that could be put in and win a game for you single-handedly.

In the end, it will be big bats against small ball, and I expect the powerful Yankees to win the series 3-2.

Tampa Bay vs. Texas

The Tampa Bay Rays, holding off the Yankees to win the AL East, actually got the shorter end of the stick going into Round 1 of the playoffs. It seems that the AL West champion Rangers pose a bigger threat to them than the AL Central champion Twins do.

With such big bats as Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, the Rangers are poised to run up the scoreboard if the Rays pitching, led by Cy Young candidate David Price, cannot keep them in check.

The biggest key for the Rangers this season was picking up ace Cliff Lee. Not only is Lee a great pitcher in his own right, but he also brings a great deal of stability to a rotation that is very young. Moving into the postseason, it is tough to say with confidence that the Rangers would be in a position to win if it were not for Lee. He brings the winning attitude and postseason experience that was lacking before his arrival.

On the Rays side, they do not have the overpowering lineup that the Yankees or Rangers have. They are similar in style to the Twins offensively in that they will get guys like Carl Crawford on base and use their big bats to drive runs in. The biggest concern seems to be the rotation where, outside of David Price, there have been inconsistencies. Matt Garza has been up and down this season, a different pitcher from the one we saw in the 2008 run to the World Series. Going up against such a potent lineup, the pitching will need to be on top of its game.

Ultimately, I think the Rangers lineup is too powerful for the Rays to handle. Because Texas has solidified their rotation with Lee, they look to be the better team in this series. I see them winning it 3-2.

With the post season upon us it’s time to pick and choose who will come out of the N.L. Division to face the A.L. winner for a chance at the World Series Title.

Phillies verses Reds:

The Reds are here for the first time in quite sometime, the Phillies on the other hand are just back to where they always seem to be.

With a rotation that consists of Roy Halladay (21 wins) Roy Oswalt (13 wins) and Cole Hamels (12 wins) the Phillies have the right formula of H2O to make another trip to the World Series. Not only do they have their top three starters with lower the a three era they have a line up that consists of Ryan Howard, a finally healthy Chase Utley and Jason Werth who has been their catalyst for the most part this season. Werth and Howard have combined for 58 home runs and 193 runs batted in. Not bad for you number four and five hitter but I believe that the play of Chase Utley at the Phillies number three spot will be a big key in this offense getting going early.

For the Reds they have a very young and or inexperienced pitching rotation. Besides Benson Arroyo, who has been their ace with 17 wins this season, no pitcher has playoff experience. Arroyo had his time with the Boston Red Soxs so he knows what to expect. Johnny Cueto is seconded in wins this season with 12 but everyone else is below ten and whats surprising even more is that it’s not either of those pitchers will take the mound game one. Edinson Volquez will take the mound for game 1. Dusty Baker saying he wanted to go with his most rested pitcher in game one. The Reds will have to look for their bats to come up big. Joey Votto, arguably the MVP of the N.L. can’t do it alone. Brandon Phillips, Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce have to get it going as well. All three players have big bat potential and will need to help Votto in putting this offense together.

Who Wins?: Ultimately I think the Phillies will win this in 4 games. I think the Reds will be able to eek one out at home but having to face Halladay twice is no easy task. Phillies in four.

Braves vs. Giants


Will the retiring of manager Bobby Cox be the fuel to a Braves World Series run or will the Giants play spoiler and advance themselves?

For the Braves starting pitching will be their main key in winning this series. With Derek Lowe posting a 4.00 era it does not say good for the first game against a hot Giants offensive team. Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson have had the best season of all starting pitchers and both will have to be on their game come their starts. Hudson has been great all season long posting a 2.83 era and earning 17 victories. Tommy Hanson had a great start to the season but fell off a bit towards the end. The Braves line up has some high averaged hitters at the 1-2 with Omar Infante and Martin Prado at the top. A rookie slugger in Jason Heyward and a veteran Derek Lee.  Lee is the main guy in this rotation. Playing clean up, Lee needs to find his former self. Hitting for power and average and keeping the offense always ahead of the team it’s facing.

For the Giants the number one factor is the offense. This offense isn’t a very solid one that you can compare to other teams in the playoffs. No real big bat in the line up but a lot of average bats that if they heat up can score some runs playing small ball. Buster Posey, the rookie catcher, had a great season when he was called up. Batted over .300 and hit 18 home runs. Aubrey Huff was their only player to get over 20 home runs with 26. Huff will need to be consistent with the long ball to help drive in timely runs when needed. Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the Giants offense needs to produce for this pitching staff that has pretty much carried them all season. Tim Lincecum, though having a down year, is still your number one ace. Can strikeout a whole line up with no problem but consistency has been an issue. Matt Cain has been another stellar pitcher for this team with 13 wins and a 3.14 era. Johnathan Sanchez, though erratic at times, is a very tough pitcher to face. If he’s on, beating him will be a very difficult task. And Barry Zito, probably having the most experience out of all the starting pitchers, had found his old self for the most part of the season. Curve ball looks to be up to par and ready for playoff action.

Who Wins?: I’m taking the San Francisco Giants over the Atlanta Braves in 5 games. I think their pitching will be to tough for the Braves batters and their offense has been hot of late and they say, “The hottest team is the dangerous team.”

Giants vs Phillies

This will be a great pitching match up every night for both teams. Oswalt, Halladay and Hamels vs Sanchez, Cain and Lincecum will be even match ups. Though the pitching might be even the offense is not. Here is where the Giants offense will hurt this team and their chances. The Phillies hitters are consistent and will cause problems on the base paths. The Giants will truly miss a big bat in their line up.

Who Wins?: The Phillies will win this in 5 games. Pitching will be good for the Giants but the Phillies hitters will be better. Phillies return to the World Series for the third time in three years and look to be winners twice out of the three times.

– Tim Dimas ( @TimmyD_WSJU )

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