Breaking Down the Rudy Gay Trade

My better late than never thoughts on the seven player trade where the Toronto Raptors traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings:

What the trade means to the Kings:

The Kings take a bold step to add an above average wing player who is a significant upgrade over their existing options. It is well documented that Gay is an inefficient player but his usage rate should fall now that he is sharing the floor with DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. I don’t think Gay makes the Kings a playoff team in the Western Conference but he makes the team better. They will have an intriguing offence but I don’t think a Gay, Cousins and Derrick Williams frontcourt is going to make a lot of stops. It will be entertaining at least. There is also a small possibility that Gay opts out of his contract after this year. It is unlikely that the Kings will be able to lure a marquee free agent this summer so the loss of cap room is not
a crippling move. Gray and Acy are depth players only.

The trading of Vasquez gives much deserved full time starting minutes to Isaiah Thomas. It will be interesting to see who the backup point guard will be now that minutes are available. I think the Kings need to give Jimmer Fredette these minutes to see what they have and to possibly showcase him for a potential trade.

What the trade means to the Raptors :

The Raptors finally set a course for a much needed rebuild with this trade as it gets them out of Gay’s contract and gives them flexibility to make additional moves.

Vasquez gives the Raptors a point guard to replace Kyle Lowry when he is eventually traded later this year.

Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes can be solid role players and can be used as future pieces of a trade at the deadline. John Salmons is simply a salary that the Raptors had to take on to make this trade work.

I would grade the trade as a A- for the Raptors and a C+ for the Kings. What are your thoughts on the trade? Hit me up on Twitter at @jefflingard and let me know.

Ranting About Another Long Florida Panthers Season

This is going to be a very long NHL season for fans of the Florida Panthers (all twelve of us). The Panthers have only won two of their first eight games and do not have any losses in overtime or shootout so they don’t even get “loser” points.

What is going wrong with the Panthers? Let’s review:

  • Neither Jacob Markstrom or Tim Thomas have been very good in goal so far and both have save percentages well under .900. This is a team game but when you need to steal wins to make the playoffs you need excellent goaltending.
  • The Panthers have scored 10 goals in their two wins and only eight goals in their six losses.
  • The seven defencemen who have seen ice time this year have combined to score one goal in eight games. 
  • The Panthers are tied for worst in the NHL in goal differential.

This is the tip of the iceberg of the Panthers on-ice problems this year. What really makes me angry about how crappy this year is going to be is that outside of four or five players, we have an idea of what each player’s best expected outcome is and even if most of them meet this best case scenario the Panthers are not a playoff team. I never understood people being excited about players that couldn’t get a contract somewhere else being signed during training camp. Good teams do not pick up defencemen after the last preseason game and expect them to contribute immediately.

This roster is a failure of the organization as a whole. The old ownership group failed by handcuffing the front office with a budget equal to the salary cap floor. A playoff team does not look back on its summer and identify signings similar to the Scott Gomez and Brad Boyes signings as events that pushed that team into the playoffs. These signings were simply made to stay at the cap floor and to give the kids like Petrovic, Robak, Trochek, Shore and Howden more time in San Antonio.

Both the current and past scouting departments have failed the Panthers because, out of every player that has ice time this season so far, only six players (Huberdeau, Barkov, Bjugstad, Gudbranson, Kulikov and Markstrom) were drafted and developed by the Panthers in the recent past. I excluded Jovonovski because he was drafted 19 years ago. The Detroit Red Wings have 11 players that they drafted on their active roster. There is only one Panther draft pick from outside the first round and that is Markstrom who was an early second round pick. You contrast that with Detroit having virtually none of their 11 homegrown players as first round picks and you see what the Panthers scouting department should strive to become. This is inexcusable because the Panthers in the last 10 years have drafted in the top 10 five (FIVE!) times. This doesn’t just mean that the Panthers get to pick one of the 10 best prospects in those draft classes but they also get one of the first cracks at the best players in rounds two through seven. Hopefully players like Alex Petrovic, Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore reverse this trend.

Finally this is on the coaching staff and the players as this team does not have an identity and an uneven work ethic. It’s Kevin Dineen’s job to avoid a slow start and there have been too many lapses that have led to blowout losses so far this year. The players need to look in a mirror too and realize that if this continues they are likely out of a job since a glorified San Antonio squad could still finish last or second last in the East. This team needs to decide who they are and how they are going to play. If you play St. Louis you know what you are in for and it’s going to be a battle. The Panthers need to decide on a system and then start acquiring or developing players for this system.

I’m just ranting now. This stinks. The Panthers have to win 44 of their last 74 games to reach 92 points which is usually the cut-off for a playoff team. This isn’t happening. For this team to win everyone has to play their “A+” game and it is impossible to play at that level over a full season. I will try to see the positive side of this season (Barkov and Huberdeau have been great so far) but for now I’m angry about the fact that the only real reason to cheer for guys like Gomez and Boyes is so they increase their trade value by the deadline.

Thanks for reading.

Can the Florida Panthers Make the Playoffs This Year?

The Florida Panthers had a very uneventful summer until making a number of veteran signings in September. There is some optimism in Florida after the signings of Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney. Here is what needs to happen for the Panthers to make the playoffs:

1. A true number one goalie emerges

With the signing of Tim Thomas, I really believe that the Panthers’ front office doesn’t quite believe in 23 year old Jacob Markstrom just yet. I am still trying to decide if I like the Thomas signing or not. I would like it more if the team was closer to playoff contention. That being said, competition is not a bad thing and I agree that Markstrom should have to earn the job. Markstrom ran hot and cold after injuries to Jose Theodore last year and had a propensity to give up goals early in the first period. He has been hyped as a prospect for a while and needs to live up to this hype soon. I have no idea what to expect from Thomas. I’m sure he has kept himself in shape but not a lot of goalies return from a year off for their age 39 season. If he does have a strong year I’m sure he will be a trade chip if the team is not in the playoff chase. Scott Clemmensen is the odd man out which is unfair to hmm as he is a capable backup goalie. He was put on waivers on Wednesday and I hope for his sake that someone claims him so he can stick n the NHL.

2. Erik Gudbranson and Dimitry Kulikov need to take the next step

The Panthers season hinges on the continued development of Erik Gudbranson and Dimitry Kulikov on the blue line. If these two can round into above average two-way defencemen then this unit will have a great top three to eat up ice time with Gudbranson, Kulikov and Brian Campbell. This also results in Whitney, Gilbert, Mike Weaver and Ed Jovonovski slotting into more supporting roles where their games can thrive. I’m excited to see how well the Panthers move the puck as everyone player except Weaver and Jovonovski are good puck-movers.

3. Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann have to stay healthy

For the Panthers to make the playoffs, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann have to play at their peaks, ie, at a borderline all star level. The good news is Versteeg has returned sooner than expected from a knee injury and will be playing tonight in the opener in Dallas. One of these two players should lead the team in scoring and will fill two spots on the top two lines.

4. The kids have to contribute scoring

The Panthers have two of the top young forward prospects in the game in 2013 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2013 2nd overall pick Aleksander Barkov. Barkov was a top 10 scorer in the Finnish Elite League as a 17 year old so I’m excited to see what he can do again the NHL level. I expect Huberdeau to improve on last year mainly because it is more likely that he will have more consistent line mates as it would be hard to believe the Panthers would gave so much bad injury luck thus year. These two need to supplement Fleischmann and Versteeg’s scoring so that opposing teams cannot focus on shutting one line down.

5. Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Matthias cannot take a step back from last year

You can make an argument that Kopecky and Matthias were the Panthers two best forwards last year. Kopecky is more of a consistent player while Matthias will have hot streaks followed by series of games where you don’t notice he is on the ice. Matthias needs to be the top centre on the team for it to make the playoffs. Kopecky should be able to slot in the third line where he excels and helps the team all over the ice.

Can the Panthers make the playoffs this year? I don’t think so. Too much is being made of signing a bunch of veterans that no one else wanted like Gilbert and Whitney who are really depth players. There are too many “if’s”. I’m not sure this team is better than letting the kids play even though I support having players like Petrovic, Robak, Trocheck and Bjugstad play in San Antonio instead of jumping straight into the NHL.

It is impossible for a team to play their “A” game 82 times a year. And the lack of current elite talent requires the Panthers to be at the top of their game every night. Coupled with 4 road games to start the year and a difficult home schedule in October and I think it is another playoff-free year for my favourite team. I hope they prove me wrong.

Thanks for reading.

Sometimes Sports Are Worth It

I don’t want to throw a pity party but 30 years of cheering for professional sports teams from Cleveland and the Florida Panthers have led to more bad memories than good. Even when things were good (every team I have cheered for have made at least a conference final) they seem to lose in the most heartbreaking way possible.

Then tonight happens. I’m at the office tonight and I have the Indians audio streaming on the ipod from the 6th inning on. As the game goes on I am sure the Indians are going to lose because:

  1. The White Sox always seem to punch the Indians in the gut at an inopportune time (note: I have no actual evidence of this fact and the Tribe are somehow 14-2 against Chicago this year) and
  2. Chris Perez will do Chris Perez things in the ninth. The Indians always seem to have a shaky closer.

So what happens? Perez gives up two solo home runs after the Indians scored two in the bottom of the 7th to go up 3-2. I hung my head and kept plugging away here at work but did not expect a comeback tonight. Tampa was winning by a comfortable margin and Texas was playing Houston so I was resigned to thinking about how the Indians are now tied for the 2nd wild card spot and are now two games back of the first wild card spot.

I have on occasion questioned my choices when it comes to sports teams. I question it through drives, fumbles, Mesa, Michael Jordan, losing to Orlando and losing in overtime in game 6 and 7 to the Devils.

Then this happens:

Yes my friends, sometimes sports are worth it. The lows can be almost unbearable but the highs make you part of something greater than yourself. To listen to the radio call of Tom Hamilton screaming about a walk off home run is a little piece of sports fan heaven. It makes you raise your arms and scream in an empty office even though people driving outside can look in and may think you are crazy. Because, for once, you can feel good about believing. And I do believe. We just won with a 72 year old guy who only signed with the team because he didn’t get a managing job. If that isn’t a sign then what is?

Thanks for reading.

 

On Trent Richardson

I was shocked to hear the Cleveland Browns had traded Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 1st round pick. It is unprecedented for a team to give up on a player taken 3rd in the draft after 18 regular season games. I am conflicted about this trade. I like the fact the Browns were able to add a 1st round pick but I didn’t want to see Richardson leave. This trade raised 3 questions about the Browns in my head that I have been trying to answer for the last few days:

1. Are the Browns really giving up on 2013?

This sounds a bit crazy but it is well documented that Richardson’s yard per carry was nothing special and he has not shown the ability to break long runs. How much worse can this offense be after only scoring 16 points in two games? Nothing has changed on the defensive side of the ball.

That being said, there are a number of talent evaluators that believe Richardson has the tools to be an elite back, which the Browns haven’t had in ages. I think that the Browns coaches are not giving up on this year and still think they can be a 8-8 team this year.

2. Is Trent Richardson that good?

He may have the tools but he hasn’t produced at a level worthy of the 3rd pick in the draft. I think I’m more disappointed that the Browns even thought about trading him since he was supposed to be a core player on the next Browns playoff team.

3. Where does the Browns offense go from here?

This is Brian Hoyer’s audition for the rest of this season. He won’t have a good running game but Josh Gordon is back this week to bolster the receiving corps.

The number one weakness of this Browns team is the quarterback position. If Hoyer can bring league average production to the table then I think the Browns will surprise people and win 6 or 7 games.

All in all, I have come around on this trade. I think the Browns received maximum value for an asset that did not fit their plans. The new objective for the front office is to find a quarterback to build the offense around and the Browns now have extra picks to use in a potential trade.

Week 1 Sunday NFL Picks

I’m 1-0 after picking Denver to beat Baltimore on Thursday. Onto my straight-up picks for the first Sunday of the season with the winner in bold:

Buffalo at New England

Why I’m right: A perennial Super Bowl contender playing a rookie quarterback (EJ Manuel) who missed most of his first training camp at home? Sign me up. The Patriots enter this season looks to get past the Aaron Hernandez situation and try to win one last Super Bowl as their contention window comes to a close.

Why I could be wrong: CJ Spiller has a monster game and the Bills pick up a special teams or a defensive touchdown. The Patriots never get on track on offence and the Bills shock everybody.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Why I’m right: the Steelers could be in line for a second consecutive down season but I think they can beat Jake Locker at home.

Why I could be wrong: Chris Johnson runs wild and the Pittsburgh offence cannot overcome a no-name running back corps and question marks at receiver which leads to field goals and not touchdowns.

Atlanta at New Orleans

Why I’m right: I believe Sean Payton’s return from a one year suspension carries the day for the Saints.

Why I could be wrong: Payton won’t fix the defence and Matt Ryan could take advantage of a suspect Saints defence.

Tampa Bay at NY Jets

Why I’m right: I think Josh Freeman is going to have a strong start to the year. It also helps that the Jets are a tire fire with a rookie quarterback making his debut.

Why I could be wrong: Freeman plays like he did the last four games of 2012 and the Jets play an ugly game and keep the score down.

Kansas City at Jacksonville

Why I’m right: This was the first game that really made me think but I think the Chiefs hold the advantage over the Jaguars at coach and quarterback and think it’s going to be another long year for the Jags.

Why I could be wrong: I believe too much in Alex Smith and the Jaguars find a way through their ground game to score some points.

Seattle at Carolina

Why I’m right: The Seahawks are one of the few teams that have Super Bowl aspirations this year. Carolina may keep the game close but they have been atrocious when the game is decided by less than a touchdown.

Why I could be wrong: Cam Newton makes a leap in his third year and the Panthers build an early lead forcing Seattle to rely on their passing game instead of their strong rushing attack.

Cincinnati at Chicago

Why I’m right: I think the Bengals are a playoff team again this year but I like the Bears at home and think Jay Cutler will benefit from an improved offensive line and I believe in Marc Trestman to finally install and offence that works in Chicago.

Why I could be wrong: The Bears’ offensive line cannot protect Cutler against a very good Bengals defence and the Bengals find ways to get AJ Green open in the passing game.

Miami at Cleveland

Why I’m right: As a Browns fan I hope I’m right. I believe that the Browns defence will be one of the better units in the NFL this year and Trent Richardson will be healthy and will get the bulk of the carries. It will not be a high scoring game but the Browns pull this out.

Why I could be wrong: There is not enough space on the internet to describe how I could be wrong about the Browns. The Dolphins did make some high profile additions over the summer and Ryan Tannehill has shown some promise and could take advantage of Brandon Weeden’s penchant for turnovers.

Minnesota at Detroit

Why I’m right: Adrian Peterson will be awesome again this year but I can’t buy into one player carrying a team to the playoffs two years in a row. I love the Reggie Bush acquisition by the Lions and I don’t believe the Vikings’ offence will keep pace with the Lions this week.

Why I could be wrong: The Vikings offence finds a way through Peterson to keep the Lions offence off the field and the Lions lack of a running game hurts them in the red zone.

Oakland at Indianapolis

Why I’m right: Even though I agree the Colts could regress this isn’t going to happen at their home opener against a very bad Raiders team.

Why I could be wrong: I don’t see any way the Raiders win this game. Maybe Darren McFadden has a crazy game scoring three touchdowns?

Green Bay at San Francisco

Why I’m right: The Packers have not proven that they can stop the 49ers on either side of the ball and with San Francisco having home field advantage and Green Bay having injuries on the offensive line I think the 49ers win this game.

Why I could be wrong: All of the time spent over the summer at different colleges pays dividends for the Green Bay coaching staff and the Packers have an effective game plan on defence. Aaron Rodgers redeems himself against the 49ers and the Packers win. This was the toughest choice for me to make this week.

Arizona at St. Louis

Why I’m right: I think the Rams are a dark horse to make a wild card run and even though I like the upgrade at quarterback in Arizona to Carson Palmer I think the Rams win at home.

Why I could be wrong: Larry Fitzgerald turns back into Larry Fitzgerald with an average quarterback under centre and Sam Bradford continues to regress instead of progress as he begins his fourth season.

NY Giants at Dallas

Why I’m right: The Giants have historically put up points on the Cowboys over the last three years and are a lot healthier compared to last year. I like Tom Coughlin much better than Jason Garrett when it comes to the coaching battle. This was a toss up pick to me.

Why I could be wrong: DeMarco Murray has one of his two or three good games this year before getting hurt, the Cowboys use their offensive weapons to build an early lead so Tony Romo doesn’t have to perform in a close game situation.

Philadelphia at Washington

Why I’m right: This is betting on the NFL being slow to defend Chip Kelly’s new type of offence. I am betting against Robert Griffin III being able to play at full speed after missing training camp and rehabilitating from his knee injury suffered in the playoffs.

Why I could be wrong: RGIII does RGIII things and Michael Vick does not meet the demands of Kelly’s new offence.

Houston at San Diego

Why I’m right: This is probably the easiest pick of the week. The Texans are a Super Bowl contender and the Chargers seem to be a mess.

Why I could be wrong: The fact the Texans do not have receiving depth causes Matt Schaub to struggle. A change in coaches and offensive scheme might reverse the downward trend of Philip Rivers’ career.

So that’s it for this week. I’m not used to picking games so we will see if I improve as the year goes.