Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Randomization: 04/26/06

Sorry, Brett, but you don't get your own column today. ESPN is reporting that Favre has finally decided on what he will do in 2006, and his decision is to play. Favre reportedly informed the Packers of his decision yesterday, and we now await some sort of formal announcement from either Favre or the team, which could probably come at any time. The Packers, who could make the case that they didn't deserve to be 4-12 a year ago*, certainly benefit from having Favre back.

(*As discussed here on Monday, eight of the Packers' 12 losses in 2005 came by a combined total of 31 points. This came despite a turnover-plagued offense and a defense that was practically incapable of forcing turnovers or making any big plays. It's not exactly a stretch that fielding a status-quo roster in 2006 will produce better results without any other improvements.)

Green Bay still has some work to do before the draft, as final preparations continue. But having the Favre puzzle solved helps the team on a number of levels, especially considering the media attention this story drew. The Packers moved Favre's roster bonus deadline back to July 27 a couple weeks ago. They did it because they were sick of the story being brought up every time the artificial deadline approached, and they wanted the press to back off of Favre a little bit. All along, Favre's relationship with the front office was always good, and their communication remained intact. He kept in touch with general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, and while he never expressed any public support for the team's offseason moves, he made it clear that he wanted to come back to a contender in 2006. So despite the fact that the team hasn't done much of anything in free agency, Favre must have some reason to believe that this team is going to be vastly improved in 2006.

(Maybe he read this blog on Monday and realized how many close games this team lost while they were suffering debilitating injury after debilitating injury. Eight losses by a combined 31 points, which means a few touchdowns or a few big plays from the defense could have been the difference between 4-12 and 10-6. Even the sure-legged Ryan Longwell cost this team a game last year by missing an extra point (!).)

I went on record last week as saying that the Packers would be a playoff contender, at the very least, if Favre returned. I meant it, and I stand by it. This team will be improved, and Favre will be the ringleader of the improvement.

(EDITED TO ADD: Shortly after this entry was posted, the Packers officially announced Favre's intent to play in 2006. In a short press release, Thompson said, "The Green Bay Packers are very pleased that Brett has come to this decision, and look forward to a successful 2006 season."

Bruce's reaction: Yay!)

Can the Oil pull it off? I picked Detroit to win this series decisively, but that's not looking like such a smart move. The Wings have had trouble throughout the first three games of this series scoring goals, though they did show some explosiveness last night with two goals in :18 to tie the game in the third period. But Edmonton again held off the Wings' charge, and Jarret Stoll won the game for the Oilers in the second overtime to give Edmonton a 2-1 series lead. Game Four is Thursday night in Edmonton, and it's a golden opportunity for the Oil to take command of a series that they were supposed to get blown out of.

I'm not going to get too hard on Detroit here, but the Wings need to pick up their defensive play. They gave up three even-strength goals last night, and all three of them came off of broken plays where the Wings failed to clear the puck out of their own zone, or where they just flat-out got beat to loose pucks in their zone.

The first Edmonton goal, early in the first, came when Detroit netminder Manny Legace gave up a rebound off a shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Legace kicked said rebound behind the net, but Brad Winchester beat his man to the loose puck, brought it around the back, and fed Jaroslav Spacek in the left circle for a one-timer goal. The second goal came on a play where a one-timer from the left point was deflected over to the right wing. Again, Winchester got there first, and he shoveled the puck down the wall and around the corner. Ryan Smyth took the puck behind the net and scored on a backhanded wrap-around shot.

Edmonton's third goal came on the power play, and it was a great setup for a shot by Chris Pronger in the high slot, which was tipped home by Raffi Torres. The Wings didn't defend that power play particularly well, but it was a very nice play by Edmonton to get the goal.

In the second overtime, Stoll's goal started as a pretty innocent-looking play. Stoll took the initial shot from between the top of the faceoff circles. The puck was played behind the net, where Shawn Horcoff, again, got there first. He couldn't play it back out front, but it got to Sergei Samsonov, whose wraparound attempt was thwarted by Legace. But in doing so, Legace turned himself around and threw the puck right up the slot, where Stoll one-timed it home before Legace could get into position, sending the crowd of nearly 17,000 into a frenzy.

(You can watch the highlights, and check out the best goal horn in hockey, here. What a great crowd. By far, that was the best atmosphere we've seen for a playoff game so far, and the best part is that the crowds are only going to get louder as the playoffs roll on.)

As long as Detroit is going to rely on their passing ability to score goals, they are going to have problems. They need someone to take charge, and they need to find a way to get more traffic in front of Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson, who has clearly outplayed Legace so far. Edmonton has the upper hand, but it won't last long if the Wings start playing more like the team that was the best in the NHL all season.

Why was Ron Artest suspended? Just curious. After all, his "forearm" or "elbow" was so blatant and vicious that Manu Ginobli, the NBA's answer to Peter Forsberg, barely sold it, and the officials at the game didn't see fit to charge Artest with a flagrant foul.

The Spurs are the top seed, the defending NBA champion, and they beat Sacramento by 34 points in the first game of their series. Did they really need another advantage?

Coming up...More on the NFL Draft, with a mock draft coming tomorrow and Friday. I'll also chime in on other issues as stories warrant.

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