Mike Trout Must Leave to be the GOAT

As Mike Trout approaches the end of his contract he faces a choice. He can stay in Anaheim, where the weather is warm and be guaranteed a big pay day once a year for the rest of his playing days. Or he could look at the state of the Angels and the state of the AL West. Houston is currently defending their world series title and Oakland might beat out the Yankees for the top wild card spot. And the Angels? They are battling it out with the Rangers to avoid the cellar of their top-heavy division.

Everyone knows Trout is the best player in baseball, so by that logic Trout knows he is the best player in baseball. When you know you are the best player in baseball two things come to mind.

  • I need to stay the best player in baseball for as long as I can.
  • I want to be the greatest player of all time.

Unlike basketball, football or hockey, baseball’s GOAT is up to much debate. Some say it belongs to the Babe, others claim it’s Wille Mays and then there are those who point to Ted Williams, Honus Wagner and the plethora of other players who litter baseball’s hall of fame.

Trout is in a rare position where he can align baseball with the three other major North American sports and allow fans to point to one man as the greatest to ever grace the game. If Trout plays his cards right and continues to build his illustrious career, he could be baseball’s GOAT.

But he must leave the Angels to do so.

Among just pure dominance and greatness, the one thing that Tom Brady, Lebron James and Wayne Gretzky all have in common is winning. For Gretzky it is his four Stanley Cups. For Brady it is his five super bowls and streak of nine straight division titles. For Lebron it is his three rings and promise to the league over the last seven years that he would be playing in the NBA Finals.

If Trout wants to be the best he not only has to play at a great level, he must play at a great level against great competition while succeeding on the biggest stage for an extended period of time. As a Los Angeles Angel, that is not a possibility. Over the past seven years, the Angels have proved their inability to manage and build a successful sports organization. Trout should take note of this and realize there is no reason any of this will change.

Sure, Shohei Ohtani is going to be good, maybe even great. But he and Trout can’t win a championship by themselves. They need a bunch of home-grown talent, and a couple of key free agents to have a shot in this league.

Once Trout has the chance to walk out of that home clubhouse in Angel Stadium for a final time in September (and yes I mean September) of 2020 he should not look back. He should take his time, say his thank you’s and goodbye’s. But he should not reconsider signing with the Angels.

It would be a shame to see a potential GOAT never be mentioned in that conversation because his team could not support him with good, winning seasons. Trout needs to realize this and sign to a team with a future next winter.

His options are spread across the country whether that be in the Northeast with New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Or if he wants to try the south and be a Brave or an Astro. He could go to the heartland and play in Cleveland or Chicago. And he could stay in the west with Colorado or Seattle.

Any hey, if he really likes LA that much, just sign with the Dodgers.

But whatever you do Mike, please, don’t be an Angel.

Advertisements

The NBA Playoff teams and players as characters from Avengers Infinity War

Original Comparisons as heard on Man to Man: A Basketball Podcast:

Western Conference:

Houston Rockets: Guardians of the Galaxy

Golden State Warriors: Hawkeye

Portland Trailblazers: Black Widow

Oklahoma City Thunder: Captain America

Utah Jazz: Spiderman

New Orleans Pelicans: Dr. Strange

San Antonio Spurs: Nick Fury

Minnesota Timberwolves: Scarlet Witch

Eastern Conference:

Toronto Raptors: Winter Soldier

Boston Celtics: Iron Man

Philadelphia 76ers: Vision

Cleveland Cavaliers: Hulk

Indiana Pacers: Black Panther

Miami Heat: Ant Man

Milwaukee Bucks: Thor

Washington Wizards: Falcon

 

Post Infinity War Comparisons:

Thanos: Lebron

This one shouldn’t need an explanation, but I’ll give one anyway. Even with only one Infinity Stone, Thanos beat up Thor and the Hulk. Lebron, while not as dominate as Thanos, was still able to win the East with only one other All-Star (Kevin Love) on his team.

Image result for thanos

Captain Marvel: Golden State Warriors

At the end of Infinity War, Nick Fury calls on Captain Marvel to assist the remaining Avengers in defeating Thanos. Kevin Fegie and other Marvel Studio executives have confirmed that Captain Marvel will be by far the most powerful hero in the MCU.

As we have seen over the past four seasons, the only team that consistently beat Lebron is the Warriors and with four all-stars and two of the five best players in the NBA today, Golden State in the most powerful team in the association.

Image result for Captain marvel

Spider-Man: Houston Rockets

After Civil War everyone fell in love with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the web slinger. Much like how people fell in love with the Rockets as the team that could finally break up Golden State’s monopoly on the West. Much like how Rockets were so close to beating the Warriors, Spider-Man was so close to pulling that gauntlet off of Thanos’ hand but was just a moment too late.

While it may not have been as tear jerking as Holland’s improve performance before fading into ash, it is always sad to see a basketball player such as Chris Paul sit helplessly on the sideline while the Warriors destroy his team and the 3-2 lead he built.

Image result for spiderman

Star Lord: JR Smith

Snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Something that JR Smith and Star Lord both have in common. Smith, who collected a rebound after a missed George Hill free throw left game one of the NBA finals knotted at 107 with four seconds remaining on the clock. Elected to dribble out the clock forcing the game into overtime instead of passing to a teammate or shooting the ball himself with a chance to win the game.

This lack of situational awareness gave the Warriors a second chance, allowing them to win game one on the way to the 2-0 series lead they have now. This is very similar to when Star Lord hit Thanos in the face, waking him up before Spiderman could get the infinity gauntlet off his hand. That punch eventually cost the Avengers the time stone, giving the mad Titan a 5-1 infinity stone lead at the time.

Image result for star lord

Banner failing to turn into Hulk: Rest of Cavs (Expect Kevin Love)

Perhaps the best recurring joke in Infinity War was Bruce Banner’s inability to get the Hulk out to fight after the green giant got curb stomped by Thanos in the opening minutes of the movie.

In that opening scene the Hulk appeared to be a match for his purple counterpart delivering consecutive punches and backing him into a corner. At that point Thanos had just about enough, as he proceeded to defeat the Hulk in hand to hand combat.

At the trade deadline it appeared the Cavs acquired ‘the Hulk’ when adding the talents of Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr together. While the foursome had their moments during the regular season, landing a few punches, when the rest of the league turned it up to 100% they (and their other teammates outside of Kevin Love) have looked bad and overmatched.

Image result for bruce banner cant turn into hulk

Hulk getting beat up by Thanos: Toronto Raptors

Going off the last comp, one of the first things we see in Infinity War to demonstrate Thanos’ power is a fight where he takes the Hulk to school. The fight is so traumatic that it turns the Hulk refuses to show up for the rest of the film.

Going off the assumption that in most cases Lebron is Thanos, this opening fight against the Hulk is exactly like his relationship with the Raptors. As mentioned above the Hulk comes out swinging and lands a few blows, just like the Raptors hitting 53 wins this past season and looking unstoppable. But when Thanos decides to get serious, or as we know him ‘playoff Lebron’ the Raptors and the Hulk don’t stand a chance.

Image result for hulk getting beat up by thanos

Ant Man: San Antonio Spurs

Ant Man did not make an appearance in Infinity War and his only reference was one liner dropped by Black Widow when she mentioned that he and Hawkeye to a deal to be under house arrest so they could stay with their families. This feels a lot like the Spurs presence in this postseason. Technically they made the cut, but they didn’t really contribute anything.

Image result for ant man

Hawkeye: Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota had just about the same impact on this postseason as Hawkeye and Antman did on the events of Infinity War. See the description above for more details.

Image result for hawkeye

Wong: Washington Wizards

At the start of Infinity War it seemed like Wong was going to be a big player, helping defend New York along side Iron Man, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Yet the second Strange was hauled off by Ebony Maw (Squidward) Wong bowed out and went back to defend the New York sanctum because Strange was gone.

This felt a lot like how the Wizards entered the playoffs. As the eight seed many wrote them off as a sweep or five game series for the Raptors. Like how many wrote off Wong to be a very minor character in Infinity War. In the first round the Wizards pushed the Raptors to six games but in the end exited the same way Wong did during the first act of Infinity War. Quickly and quietly.

Image result for marvel wong

Iron Man: Kyrie Irving

Both Iron Man and Kyrie were expected to make big waves throughout Infinity War and the postseason. That was until Iron Man went punch for punch with Thanos and almost lost his life had it not been for whenDr. Strange traded Time Stone to Thanos in exchange Stark’s.

While Lebron was not involved in Kyrie’s season ending injury, the significance of what it meant in the battle for the East was equivalent to giving Thanos another infinity stone. Certain victory for Lebron.

Image result for iron man

Dr. Strange: Boston Celtics

During the battle on Titan, Dr. Strange gave Thanos a run for his money, helping almost tear the gauntlet from his hand. The good doctor even went one on one with Thanos and landing a few blows. In the end, Strange gave Thanos the time stone because he was playing the long game.

This is exactly what the Celtics seemed to be doing in the playoffs, while Boston fought as hard as they could throughout the first three rounds in the end they came up one win short. While Boston did not concede the Eastern Conference Finals like Strange conceded the time stone, they seem to be taking a page out of Strange’s playbook. The Celtics are in the long game and next year will be very scary and a threat to Lebron’s chances to make/win the finals.

Image result for dr strange

Captain America (Falcon and Black Widow): Russell Westbrook (and the Okalhoma City Thunder)

Captain America’s character has been shown as intensely loyal to his friends and his ideals. Infinity war we not only saw those characteristics reaffirmed, but we saw Cap broken away from Iron Man with his own band of ‘misfits’ (i.e. Falcon and Black Widow). However even though he has lost the star on his chest, he is just as powerful as ever holding back Thanos when he had 5/6 infinity stones in the battle of Wakanda and taking two members of the Black Order (Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive) to task in Scotland.

Ever since KD left the Thunder, Westbrook has pulled a Captain America by increasing his strength (with his MVP award last year) and combining forces with a band of misfits in the form of Paul George and Steven Adams (I guess Carmelo Anothony could be included but he wasn’t very helpful down the stretch and into the playoffs).

Image result for captain america falcon and black widow

Vision/Scarlet Witch: Brian Colangelo/the Philadephia 76ers

It was tough to determine who is Vision and who is Scarlet Witch is this comparison, so I will leave that up to the reader. Clearly both Vision and Scarlet Witch are powerful in the film, we saw Scarlet Witch use her powers to lift ‘the giant razer saws of death’ away from the Wakandan soldiers and Vision was able to kill Crovus Glaive when he and Captain America fought him. Yet at the end of the movie, despite Scarlet Witch’s best attempts to destroy the mind stone, Thanos was still able to obtain it. This could be attributed to Scarlet Witch refusing to destroy the stone earlier at the Avengers compound in upstate New York earlier in the movie.

While many around the NBA feel that the Sixers are not only a good team, but have a promising future, they have been hindered by their GM’s burner twitter accounts (to be fair Colangelo has only said he operated one of the accounts named in the Ringer’s original report). Philadelphia is also catching heat from the fact they have not yet fired Colangelo and not putting an end to these rumors. Much like Scarlet Witch and Vision, the Sixers and Colangelo are a powerful team, but might have just stabbed themselves in the back with their actions (or lack thereof).

Image result for vision and scarlet witch

Black Panther: Utah Jazz

Going into infinity war Black Panther was a hot commodity, coming on the incredible success of his first solo film, the newly minted Wakandan king was sure to play a large role in the battle against Thanos. However while Black Panter had a few cool lines there was nothing incredibly memorable about his presence throughout Infinity War.

This is similar to the Jazz throughout the playoffs. Although they were a surprise to many people when they made the playoffs and defeated the Thunder in the first round, they were not as memorable as other second round exits (such as the Sixers).

Image result for black panther

Agent Hill: Miami Heat

Hill had one line in the movie and Miami had one win in the playoffs against the Sixers. Both were equally relevant in the grand scheme of things.

Image result for agent hill

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Thor

As one of, if not the, best young player in today’s NBA the Greek Freak has earned a category of his own. After his team (the Bucks) were disrespected for years, Giannis has willed Milwaukee back into relevance. In fact, many thought (myself included i.e. Hulk vs. Thor comp listed above) that Giannis would be and still is the most suited to guard Lebron James in this year’s playoffs.

While we never saw Bucks vs. Cavs in this year’s playoffs, we did see Thor vs. Thanos during the battle of Wakanda in Infinity War. The result of the match up (or more accurately axe throw) is probably what we would’ve seen in the playoffs had the two freaks of the East gone head to head in the playoffs.

Giannis coming very close to a win, but forgetting to aim for the head.

Image result for thor

Jason Kidd: Loki

Kidd is truly the Loki of today’s NBA, he is a hall of famer but he doesn’t have a ring, and was always a step or two behind the elite point guards of his era (Nash and Iverson). Then Kidd turned to coaching, where he did some good for his former team (the Nets) but then you have the water spilling incident.

When he was traded to the Bucks all of that seemed to be behind him until he struggled to keep the Bucks over .500 and was fired after the team was 23-22 as the front office felt he was holding back Giannis. The team then went 21-16 in their final 37 games boasting a 0.567 winning percentage, over 50 points over Kidd’s winning percentage of 0.511.

Much like Kidd, Loki has hurt characters around him (in the first Avengers movie and betraying Thor at the end of Ragnarok) but has a few things going for him as well (occasionally fighting with and working with Thor). With all the rumors surrounding Kidd’s dismissal and how the front office felt vs. how Giannis felt, it might be best to just paraphrase Thor here:

“You really are the worst brother(coach) ever.”

Image result for loki

Rest of Bucks: The other half of Asgaurd

In the first round of the playoffs, it seemed like a lot of the Bucks were MIA as the seven seed looked to pull an unlikely upset over the injured but still surprisingly good Celtics. Yet one of the main (if not the main) reason why the series went to seven games was the play of Giannis as his teammates did their best to ride his coattails.

When Infinity War opened we saw Thor’s ship (from the end of Ragnarok) in ruins and a scene play out with the God of Thunder, Loki, Heimdall and the somewhat incredible Hulk play out. Yet we were missing Valkyrie and Korg (the guy made of rocks from the last Thor movie). Both of these characters, and half of Asguard, have been confirmed to be alive by the Russo brothers so where were they?

A good guess would be shaking off the attack from Thanos which nearly killed Thor but they will be showing up in future MCU films. On the other hand, Bucks fans can only hope that their entire team shows up in future NBA playoffs.

Image result for valkyrie and korg

 

 

 

The Uniform Police: MLB Edition

We all know the story by now, Ben Zobrist has been wearing black spikes during day games at Wrigley field as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

Zobrist has been doing this for years to pay tribute to Cubs of the past and a field which didn’t host it’s first night game until the final year of Ronald Regan’s presidency (1988).

Baseball is desperately trying to compete with the NBA for the hearts of millennials and generation Z, while still hanging on to their storied past and tradition which dates back to the Civil War.

A move like this seems to split the difference by establishing player individuality and honoring the game’s past.

The league office didn’t think so and on May 13 warned Zobrist that he needs to change his shoes or be prepared for fines.

Essentially, the league is a professor yelling at a student for eating an energy bar and sipping on some water during at 7:30 a.m. class because the student’s (Zobrist’s) actions are distracting the rest of the class.

By sending this letter, the league has managed to piss off a veteran player who has been in the league for 13 years and isolate fans who want to see players express personality.

The NBA league office would never be stupid enough to try and kill the individuality of each player on an issue as insignificant as shoes, in fact, the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrated their star center Karl Anthony-Towns’ shoes in a series of twitter posts at the end of their season.

We have seen the NBA grow tremendously over the past few years due to their stars growing in influence.

So instead of trying to replicate their success to stay at number two behind the NFL, major league baseball decided to take a play of the NHL’s playbook and work to make their players as insignificant as possible.

Most normal organizations would do their best to back track after seeing something so small (such as uniform code) have such a negative impact.

But the MLB is not a normal organization. You are talking about the last of the four major sports leagues in the United States to integrate replay.

In case you forgot, biggest argument against replay was ‘integrity of the game’.

So baseball doubled down on their efforts to forbid any player from paying tribute to anything other than the team they happened to be playing for by sending Zobrist’s teammate, catcher Wilson Contratres, a letter about his arm sleeve.

The sleeve has the Venezuelan flag, the country which Contrares is from, on it as the catcher paid tribute to his upbringing.

The irony of this is that in less than two months, players across the league will be dawning the stars and stripes as part of the league’s celebration for the fourth of July.

Oh, and don’t forget about what the Blue Jays sport every so often.

That is an awful lot of red for a team with Blue in their name.

This is not to say the MLB should not enforce any uniform codes, if Bryce Harper decides that he is not going to wear a single piece of Nationals gear and still play a game by all means he should be fined.

However there is a line between blatant disregard for the rules and adding a bit of flavor to the game. If the MLB can’t figure out the difference they soon won’t have to worry about catching the NFL as America’s favorite sport.

They’ll be more worried about regaining their number two ranking from the NBA.

How the Capitals got to the third round of the playoffs

After 20, long, grueling years the Washington Capitals have done it. They have slayed the second round beast which has haunted them for years and finally bested the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs after losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in 2016 and 2017.

Yet statistically  in the regular season the Capitals team was the worst they have seen in a while finishing with 105 points. Yet in 2016 the Capitals recorded 120 points and in 2017 they put up 118, so why was this the team to finally put an end to the that curse.

The answer to that question dates back to the first round of the playoffs where the Capitals faced off with the Blue Jackets. Before anyone realized what was happening, Washington had dropped two at home and were heading toward what many thought was a certain first round exit.

As newspapers and sports talk radio debated the future of this Capitals core and what should become of it, captain Alexander Ovechkin was focused on game three. In fact, he guaranteed Caps fans that their beloved team would return to DC with the series knotted at two.

In the business of full disclosure, I must admit that when I first read this quote, I scoffed at the idea that the Caps would not only win the next two games, but win four out of the next five.

Yet Washington was in the business of ignoring all the doubters and showed the world what they were capable of by winning the next four in a row to advance to round two.

Their they met a familiar foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens vs. Caps matchup had been played out over the past two years, with the winner going on to take home lord Stanley’s Trophy.

So why was this time any different from the last two? One could point to ‘The Naked Man’ logic from How I Met your Mother where ‘The Naked Man’ only worked two out of every three times.

However, the more realistic answer is that the Penguins were tired.

This is not breaking news but hockey is hard, and playing over 100 games (which is what most teams who reach the playoffs do when you include the preseason) is exhausting. It is quite possible that the Penguins were gassed after their core reached the second round four out of the last five years.

This, and the fact that the Capitals were on fire (now with the series win winning eight of their last ten) lead to Washington knocking the two time defending champs out of the playoffs.

Looking ahead for the Caps, the road does not get any easier as they will be facing off against the Lightning who have looked practically unbeatable during the playoffs but if the past two years are any indication, the Capitals are in good shape.

NHL Playoff Preview: First Round

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils

This series is comprised of two teams that missed out of playoff hockey last year, the Devils by 25 points and the Lightning by just one point. Both teams came out motivated this year and as a result find themselves with a chance to bring home some hardware.

The Devils rode on the back of Taylor Hall who finished sixth in the league with 93 points this season. The next closest Devil was Nico Hischier who has just 52 points. The Devils also owe much of their success this season to the early season play of goaltender Cory Schneider, however his struggles to stay on the ice and preform once he is out there has left the Devils playoff hopes in the shaky hands of Keith Kinkaid.

The one man show and inconsistent goalie play that New Jersey will be bringing to this series, combined with the absolute dominance that the Lightning have seen from their entire roster this season spells a quick, easy series win for the Lightning.

Lightning in five

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

It is always a treat to see an original six match up in the playoffs, but espically when it is between two teams that have 100+ points on the season. This is exactly what we have in store for us in this first round match up.

Toronto has been trending up since the end of last season when they lost to the Capitals in the first round of last year’s playoffs. After a great regular season and earning a better seed, the Leafs have positioned themselves for a deeper run this year.

Standing in their way are the Boston Bruins, who were the second best team in the East this season, finishing just one point behind the Lightning. The Bruins have a solid team lead by goalie Tuukka Rask who is ranked inside the top ten in both GAA and wins. Rask’s stellar performance and the fact most of this Bruins team has been in the playoffs before make them a formidable opponent.

Although many think the Bruins can make and win the Stanley Cup, Toronto is a dangerous underdog as they have beaten the Bruins three out of four times on the season. If the Leafs can steal one of the first two games on the road, the Bruins should be placed on upset alert as the Leafs are 29-10-2 at home this season.

Maple Leafs in six

Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

After being two of the best teams during the regular season last year, the Caps and Jackets regressed a little this year as the NHL spotlighted shifted it’s attention from the metropolitan division to the Atlantic. However, just because they haven’t gotten a lot of attention this year, does not mean that these teams are undeserving of their playoff spots.

After a break through season in 2016-17 Columbus did their best to keep the band together heading into 2017-18. Lead by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky the Blue Jackets are a solid team that will be a big test for a Capitals team which has struggled mighty in the first few rounds of the playoffs.

Many experts are saying that this is a different Capitals team because of the lack of expectations, the team has not been as dominate in the regular season as they have in the past. This could mean that the team is regressing, or that they are just saving up to show out for playoff hockey.

Despite their struggles in the second round of the playoffs they have been money in the first round since 2014-15. The teams are pretty equal when looking at goalies and defense, but when looking at forwards the Capitals have a clear edge. Simply put, while the Blue Jackets are good, the Capitals are just better at putting the puck in the net, and all the first round experience has to count for something, right?

Capitals in six

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

This is perhaps the most interesting playoff match up East of the Mississippi this year. The Pens embark on a quest to become one of the greatest dynasties of all time by winning their third straight Cup as the Flyers seem to be like the rest of Philadelphia since the Eagles won the Super Bowl, on fire.

The Flyers have seen overall great play from their entire team this year led by captain Claude Giroux who ranks among the NHL’s best in points, assists and plus minus. The one weakness for Philly seems to be the man in the net. Brian Elliot led the team early int he season but has had barely any time to get back into the groove of things  with his first two games in over two months came last week against two non playoff teams.

Pittsburgh on the other hand seems to be firing on all cylinders as they look to their team with tons of playoff experience to lead them to the promise land once again. The most dangerous part of this Pens team is that there aren’t really any question marks on how players will perform in the playoffs.

This is especially scary for a Flyers team which has been in and out of the playoffs over the past six season with one common variable, a first round exit. While this will certainly be an intense, physical series that could hamper the victor in later round of the playoffs, it will be Pittsburgh advancing to the second round of the playoffs continuing their dreams of a three-peat.

Penguins in 6

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are the little engine that could of this years NHL playoffs, after missing the playoffs by 46 points Colorado finds themselves in the playoffs by the hair of their playoff beards.

The Avs have shown a special energy this year by laying together as a team and proving to a former star, who shall remain nameless, that Denver is the place to be for playoff hockey. To have success in the playoffs the Avs must lean on offensive weapons such as Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The latter found himself in the NHL top ten for points and goals. If these two forwards play well it should spark to rest of the team to follow suit and bring that crazy upset vibe that can only be seen in a first round matchup between the best team to make the playoffs and the worst one.

Unfortunately for the Avs, Nashville is all to familiar with that energy as they were in the Avs shoes last year when they upset the Blackhawks in just four games. So the Preds know how to handle an upstart playoff team. On top of this they are the best team in the West, after winning the Western Conference last year and have some of the best defense in the league. Oh and don’t forget, they are hungrier than ever after falling just two wins short of the Cup.

Overall it is pretty easy to pick a series winner here, the Predators are just too good, too hungry and have experience from last year to prevent a jaw dropping upset in the first round. This is not to say this will not be a good series because it will be, Colorado should steal a game or two at home but at the end of the day Nashville will be moving on to the second round.

Predators in 5

Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild

This series will probably fly under the radar in a first round that contains an expansion team, a team going for a three-peat and a battle between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. However, this is not to say that the Jets and Wild won’t put on a show, both teams have solid team which are coming off great regular seasons.

The great thing about the Wild in this series is that you know exactly what you are going to get, Minnesota has kept most of their players since 2012-13 which is when this current streak of six straight playoff appearances began. While the Wild have not found much success in April, the years of experience give them an edge over the Jets heading into this series.

For the Jets, it is about keeping the magic going as they finished with the second most points in the NHL (114) and just three behind the Preds for the division title. Winnipeg appears to be ready to win with Blake Wheeler ranking among the NHL’s best in points (91) and assists (68), while his teammate Patrick Laine finished with 44 goals on the season. Five behind Ovechkin who lead the league with 49 on the season.

Despite it flying under the radar, this will be one of the most entertaining first round match ups because of how well these teams match up with one another. Ultimately the Jets magic season and the Wild’s ability to be the Capitals of the Western Conference will win out allowing Winnipeg to move on to the second round.

Jets in 7

Las Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings

If the Jets had a magical season than the Knights had a super natural one. Becoming the first expansion team to reach the playoffs in their first year with the league, but after a flaming hot start and a good finish to the season that is exactly the situation in which Vegas finds itself.

The Knights were led by center William Karlsson and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Karlsson had an unreal season for the Knights leading the league with a plus/minus of 48 and picking up 43 goals to finish third in the leauge. Fleury showed that he is still an elite goaltender ranking in the top ten in save percentage and GAA. The one thing that should worry the Knights is their utter lack of playoff experience. Something that their opponets have in spades.

Securing the first wild card was huge for the Kings as they would avoid playing the deadly Predators in the first round. After missing Jonathan Quick and subsequently the playoffs last year, the Kings are back and Quick is healthy and ready to go. The Kings star goalie ranked top ten in the NHL in GAA, wins and shut outs.

This series will be decided by goaltenders as the Kings and Knights are pretty even when it comes to forwards and defensemen. This is dangerous for the Knights as Fluery has a lower save percentage and higher GAA than Quick in the playoffs. This combined with the lack of playoff experince for the Knights will spell their doom by the end of this series. Essentially, there is a reason why Los Angeles is the Kings and Vegas is only the Knights.

Kings in 7

Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks

Minnesota, Winnipeg might be the most under the radar game this first round, but this Sharks, Ducks series will be the most evenly contested series and your best bet to go the full seven games as the two teams were separated by just one point going into the playoffs.

The Ducks have been able to make the second round and conference finals consistently over the past few years but always seem to lose to a team that is just a little better. Last year that team was the Predators and two years before it was the Blackhawks. History, and the lack of big moves, points to another empty handed exit for the Ducks in this year’s playoffs however maybe the Ducks will get some luck this year. They’re certainly due after only missing the playoffs twice since 2005-06.

The Sharks are an interesting team only missing the post season once since 2005-06, their most recent success coming two years ago when they lost to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. There is not reason to count the Sharks out of this series as they have made the right moves to stay in contention.

When filling out our NHL bracket this series the most dangerous one because there is no clear winner here and whoever does come out on top has the posssiblity to make a run and win the cup based on talent and playoff experience. At the end of the day, the Ducks will come out victorious simply because neither team will lose a game at home in this series. The Ducks have four games at home and the Sharks have three.

Ducks in 7

 

The First Line: April 3, 2018

Right Wing: Patric Hornqvist- Pittsburgh Penguins

With two games remaining in the regular season the Pens have officially claimed their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in large part thanks to their veteran right winger.

Hornqvist was continued to be a solid source of offense for the Pens as 2017-18 marks his fifth straight 20+ goals season as he has found the net 27 times and added on 19 assists.

This past week, the 31 year old rally stepped up his game tallying four points via three goals and one assist. Pittsburgh will look for Hornqvist to carry this momentum through the final few games of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Despite projecting as a five seed right now (six seed Blue Jackets only two points back) the Penguins know how to win in April as they have shown over the past few seasons and should be treated as a threat.

Center: Auston Matthews- Toronto Maple Leafs

Since entering the league in the 2016-17 season, Matthews has proven himself to be one of the best young players in the game, with a nice season last year to win the Calder and lift the Leafs into the playoffs.

This year has been more of the same for the all-star center, collecting 33 goals and 27 assists and has yet again been an instrumental part of Toronto locking up a top four seed in the Eastern Conference (tied with three seed Washington with 103 points).

Over the past week Matthews has taken has game to the next level, with four goals and three assists. This is music to the Leafs’ ears as they see their star getting hot at just the right time and hope he can carry that play into the playoffs.

Left Wing: Filip Forsberg- Nashville Predators

For most of the season people around the world were fascinated with the Vegas Golden Knights and their historic first season. But over the past month, the Predators have crept back into first in the West and are a win away from winning the conference.

Forsberg has been clutch for the Preds all season, tallying his fourth straight 20+ goal season (he has 23) and setting a new career high for assists (38). Forsberg continued to shine the last week of March and into April with six points on two goals and four assists.

Much like the two players above, the hope for Forsberg is simple, continue roll through the end of the regular season and help the Predators get off to a hot start in the playoffs. Now that Nashville has ‘some’ postseason experience, there is no reason for Preds fans to think this is not possible.

The First Line: March 27, 2018

Left Wing: Brad Marchand — Boston Bruins

While Marchand may not be the ‘cleanest’ player on the ice when Boston takes the ice night in and night out, there is a reason why the winger has been a staple of the Bruins’ lineup since his first full season 2010-11.

It’s because he puts up seasons like the one he’s having right now; so far he has recorded 33 goals and 47 assists setting a career high in the latter category. Marchand also simply has a positive effect on his team when he is on the ice, ranking second in the league with a plus/minus of 34.

This past week has been no different for the veteran forward as he picked up three goals and four assists lifting his team to a 2-0-1 record during that stretch. The Bruins will look to capitalize on Marchand’s play as the team will cruise into playoffs as one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Center: Connor McDavid — Edmonton Oilers

Over his three years in the league, McDavid has shown the world why the Oilers took him first overall in 2015 recording 100 points in his first full season of action in 2016-17.

This year, McDavid is on pace to pass that mark as the centerman sits at a league high 99 points with six games left on the schedule. The 21 year old also ranks fourth in both goals (39) and assists (60) making him a contender for the Hart after taking it home last year.

However over the past week, the center was on fire recording a league high 10 points equally divided between goals and assists, coverting on 33 percent of his shots. Over that stretch the Oilers are 3-0-1,

This hot streak has come too late for the Oilers, who are mathematically eliminated from this year’s playoffs, but if McDavid’s play has shown us anything it is that missing the playoffs will be a rare occurrence for the Oilers throughout his career.

Right Wing: Phil Kessel — Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens are not done yet; after winning back to back Stanley Cups Pittsburgh is still hungry as they are in line to make the playoffs to try for the ‘three-peat.’

While not always in the spotlight, Kessel is a big reason behind the Pens’ success and has put together one of his best seasons in recent memory with 30 goals and 55 assists ranking tenth in the latter category.

This past week has not been much different for the forward who put up a goal and six assists over the past seven days lifting his team to a 3-0-1 record.  The Penguins need every win they can get as they are fifth in the Eastern Conference now, but only three points ahead of the No. 7 seed Flyers.

The First Line: March 20, 2018

Left Wing: James van Riemsdyk- Toronto Maple Leafs:

After making a brief appearance in the playoffs last year the Leafs seem to be even more motivated this year as they have picked up 93 points as they look to cement their place as the three seed in the Eastern Conference.

van Riemsdyk is one of the big reasons why the Leafs have been among the league’s best this year with a team (and career) best 31 goals while also adding 16 assists.

Over the past week, the winger really stepped up his game picking up five goals and one assists and lifted his team to a 3-0-0 record over that stretch.

As the Leafs shift their attention from the regular season to the playoffs they will look for van Riemsdyk to supply a lot of the offense so the lights at Air Canada Centre stay on until late May.

Center: Tomas Hertl- San Jose Sharks

After the trade deadline one thing was clear about the Sharks, they were going all in to make the playoffs and try to win the Cup.

Hertl working to make that goal a reality by having a career season by recording 22 assists and 20 goals ranking seventh and second on the Sharks in those two categories.

This past week was more of the same for Hertl who picked up seven points via four goals and three assists in an effort resulting in eight much needed points for San Jose.

The center man’s continued success will only become more crucial for the Sharks as they enter the home stretch of the NHL season. Especially since the 3-8 seeds in the Western Conference are all separated by less than five points (Sharks are fourth in the West).

Right Wing: Mikko Rantanen- Colorado Avalanche

With two years of play under his belt, Rantanen is getting the feel for being a star wing in the NHL and the Avs are reaping the rewards of his great season.

This is Rantanen’s second week this month on the first line, the forward has been incredibly crucial to the Avs final push for the playoffs in one of the tightest Western Conference races we have seen in recent years.

This season Rantanen has scored 25 goals surpassing his previous career high of 20. The winger also has blown past his previous career high of 18 assists piling up 52 helpers this season.

The past week has been no different for Rantanen who pick up two goals and four assists to help his team to a 3-1-0 record to keep the Avs in the playoff picture.

 

 

The First Line: March 13, 2018

As we get closer  and closer to the end of the NHL regular season, big weeks for players become more and more crucial for playoff teams. These three forwards have done the most to help their respective teams in their hunt for the playoffs.

Left Wing- Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins:

While you can certianly question the way Marchand plays the game, there is a reason he is an elite forward in the NHL.

Marchand is having a nice season piling up 29 goals and 40 assists in an effort to lift the Bruins back into the playoffs for a second straight year.

It appears that Marchand has avoided a suspension for his hit last week on Anthony Duclair and that is a good thing for Boston as the left wing has been heating up of late piling up four goals and four assists over the past week.

The Bruins will look to continue to lean on their star winger as they try to lock up one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Center- Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks:

The Bruins are playing for seeding in the Eastern Conference but for Getzlaf’s Ducks, it is all about just getting into the playoffs.

The Ducks currently sit in the nine seed with 80 points and will be leaning on their star center to help push them over the hump.

It has been a bit of a disappointing season for Getzlaf in regard to putting the puck in the back of the net only picking up 10 goals on the season. However he has been there when his teammates needed him most with 41 assists.

This past week has followed a similar trend for Getzlaf who picked up seven assists and one goal to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive.

Right Wing- Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets:

It has been a career year for Laine who has already matched his point total from his rookie year in 2016-17 with 64.

Laine has also set a new career high in goals with 41 which is just one goal behind Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead.

However this was in large part made possible by the past week where Laine picked up seven goals and one assist in just four games this week.

The Jets have flourished from Laine’s play as they are the three seed in the West just three points behind the surprising Vegas Golden Knights for the Two seed and six behind the Preditors for the top spot.

If Laine can continue to play like this, or anything close to this, level of play for the rest of the season the Jets will be in good shape going into the playoffs.

MLB Season Preview: New York Yankees

Last season Recap:

Going into the 2017 season, the Yankees had modest expectations for the first time in a long time. Fresh off a 2016 where they dumped most of their to contenders in an effort that created one of the best farm systems in baseball, the Bronx Bombers were not expected contend for anything.

However, someone forgot to tell that to the actual team who put together a postseason run that fell just one win short of a World Series appearance and a comeback from being down 2-0 in the ALDS.

Once the front office realized that this Yankees team was ready to win now, the team shifted from rebuilding to contending and has made the moves over the offseason to prepare New York to be competitors in 2018.

Offseason Changes:

The Yankees started off the 2017-18 offseason with a bang by firing Joe Girardi, the manager of the team since 2008.

Many people saw this as the Yankees trying to get a new voice in the clubhouse as after ten years, a coach’s message can become repetitive. However after Girardi reached the ALCS with a team that was expected to miss the playoffs it was certainly a surprising move.

Although perhaps the even more surprising move was Aaron Boone, a one time hero for the Yankees with no previous managing experience, was hired to replace Girardi.

After changing skippers, the Yankees continued to shock the baseball world by acquiring reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The outfielder was dealt to the Yankees for infielders Starlin Castro, Jose Devers and pitcher Jorge Guzman.

After these big splashes, New York had a relatively quiet offseason before the addition of infielder Brandon Drury at the start of Spring Training.

The former Diamondback  was acquired in a three team deal that had the Yankees give up pitcher Taylor Widener (to the Diamondbacks) and infielder Nick Solak (to the Rays).

2018 Outlook:

These moves, along with keeping much of the 2017 team together heading into the new season bodes well for the Yankees who will be counting on their big bats to win many ball games.

The Yankees can also count on their farm system bringing up more impact players, as Miguel Andujar and Billy McKinney have been red hot this spring, are forcing their way into the 25 man roster conversation.

One thing the Yankees must be wary of is the strikeout as Judge, Stanton and Sanchez combined for 484 punchouts last season.

While the pure power from these hitters could leave pitchers in a daze, a slump from even just two of the three sluggers could have very negative effects on New York’s offense.

In 2017, the Yankees had a top five bullpen in the MLB over the regular season with a 3.34 ERA ranking third among all teams.

The bullpen has become a strength over recent years, under the tutelage of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who has elected to stay with the team despite the manager change from Joe Girardi.

Look for the Yankees to use their bullpen, as they have in previous years, to cover up for their less than stellar starting staff.

Prediction:

On paper the Yankees are a top five, arguably top three, team in baseball as many of their players are expected to produce either the same or better numbers than the year prior.

However there is a reason why they play the games and many things but there aren’t too many variables, outside a complete collapse or awful luck with the injury bug, that will keep the Yankees out of the playoffs this year.

In the end the Yankees will fight tooth and nail with the Red Sox for the division crown and in the end, win the AL East by one or two games.

View this post on Instagram

#PinstripePride up in here. 😍

A post shared by New York Yankees (@yankees) on

When in the postseason, New York will again make it to the ALCS but this time win the pennant and represent the American League in the World Series.

Once there, the Yankees have all the tools the win and barring slumps from Sanchez, Judge and Stanton, they will win title number 28.