Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Randomization, 05/03/06

The Wings blow it again. If I told you that the mighty Detroit Red Wings have won exactly one playoff series since their last Stanley Cup win in 2002, would you believe me? The perennial Western Conference powerhouse ran away with the President's Trophy this year, racking up a league-high 124 points and rolling into the playoffs. But something was amiss from the first game the Wings played in the postseason, when it took a lucky bounce goal with less than six minutes left in regulation to tie the game before a fluke shot from the right wing wall won it for Detroit in the second overtime. They never were able to overwhelm Edmonton, as the seedings would indicate should have happened. Not only that, but the Wings were never able to gain a true upper hand in the series.

Detroit won Game 4 to tie the series, but that only came after the Wings got some fortunate bounces and equally fortunate officiating. The Wings were the beneficiary of two offensive zone non-calls that led to goals in that game. That said, goaltender Manny Legace played well, and the Wings had evened the series and regained home-ice advantage heading into Game 5. Their response? They fell behind 3-0 in the second period and couldn't come back, losing 3-2 to Edmonton to trail the series 3-2. They went back to Edmonton for Game 6 facing elimination, and they were eliminated.

The Wings took a 2-0 lead into the third period, and the Oilers looked flat. Edmonton couldn't complete two passes back-to-back, and no one appeared too terribly interested in getting involved offensively. Then Jason Williams took an egregiously stupid roughing penalty during a scrum in front of the Wings' goal, and Edmonton got on the board just 14 seconds into the ensuing power play. The proverbial floodgates were opened by Fernando Pisani's rebound goal. Pisani got free for a breakaway goal a couple minutes later to tie the game. After Detroit regained the lead, they took another senseless penalty, as Dan Cleary was hauled off for interference. During the power play, there was a scramble in front of Legace, and the puck somehow ended up in the net. Despite protests that the puck had been played with a high stick by Shawn Horcoff and then kicked into the Wings' goal by Ales Hemsky, the goal was allowed to stand.

(NOTE: CBC replays showed that there was no high stick by Horcoff, and no intentional kicking motion by Hemsky, who was being shoved from behind by Detroit defenseman Niklas Lidstrom as he moved towards the net. The high stick didn't happen, and the kicking motion was, at best, inconclusive. There was no chance that officials were going to reverse the call based on the available evidence.)

A Hemsky goal off a beautiful feed by Sergei Samsonov with 1:06 left gave Edmonton the game-winner. Hemsky somehow snuck behind Detroit's defense after being stood up between the faceoff dots and letting the puck slide behind him. It was the defining moment of the series for Detroit's defense, which looked a step slow for much of the series, and made far too many mistakes for the great skill on this team to overcome.

Now it's decision time for the management of this Detroit team. Do they try to bring in the skill players needed on defense to keep this team competitive? Do they let youngster Jimmy Howard take over in goal? Will Steve Yzerman come back? Do they want Yzerman or Chris Chelios back, or are the Wings going to commit to getting younger?

Meanwhile, what a story in Edmonton. A team that barely made the playoffs has moved on, thanks to hard work, skill, determination, and goaltending. The eighth-seeded Oilers and seventh-seeded Avalanche are both in the West semifinals, joined by the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks. The sixth seed, Anaheim, can make the semifinals by beating Calgary in Game 7 tonight. That would mean that the top four seeds would be gone in the West, while the top four seeds all advanced in the East, where Buffalo meets Ottawa and Carolina clashes with New Jersey in the conference semifinals.

Foley is apparently not good. Both Twin Cities newspapers are reporting this morning that Vikings vice president of player personnel Fran Foley is on his way out, just three months into a three-year contract he signed in January. Foley first ran into trouble, according to the newspapers, when it was revealed last month that there were some discrepancies on his resume. Foley's claims regarding his college football career and his time as a college coach were apparently embellished. He played and coached, but he didn't play as much as he claimed, and he apparently falsified his job titles to make his role look bigger than it was.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press says that Foley also had some personality issues with members of the Vikings' staff, including new head coach Brad Childress. Foley apparently had a tense meeting with owner Zygi Wilf on Monday, and began packing his things.

All of this comes after Wilf's silly claim earlier in the week that the Vikings had a great draft. No one will know for at least a couple years whether the Vikings' draft was worth anything, unless the Vikings end up cutting half their draft picks before the regular season starts this year (or if they go on a boat ride before minicamp). The Pioneer Press says Foley tried to hush several people in the Vikings' draft room over the weekend, and it rubbed Wilf the wrong way.

Also rubbing Wilf the wrong way may have been comments by Foley to the media after the second-round selection of Alabama State QB Tarvaris Jackson which were quoted in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Jim Souhan.

"We're very pleased with everything that we have learned about the boy."
Excuse me? What was that?

"We're very pleased with everything that we have learned about the boy."
What is this, 1966?

And this guy was helping run a professional football franchise?

Souhan makes a valid point in his column today. When you have a rookie owner and a rookie coach, you need a steady, experienced hand in the front office to guide the franchise while everyone learns how things work. Instead, Wilf and Childress were being led along by the equally inexperienced Foley, who had potential as a personnel guy but had never run an organization or a draft.

There's speculation that Foley's position may go unfilled, at least for the time being. That's a mistake. Wilf and Childress can't be trusted to run this thing by themselves. Wilf, in particular, has zero football experience, unless being a Giants season-ticket holder counts. Childress has never been a head coach, and his staff lacks experience, so he's better off concentrating on those duties and staying away from the front office. But for that to happen, Childress needs to know that there is a leader in the front office that he can trust to tell the truth on his resume and to not refer to his future starting quarterback as "the boy".

Team USA World Cup roster set. With the world's biggest sporting event set to begin on June 9, US Soccer coach Bruce Arena set the roster for the World Cup on Tuesday.

Marcus Hahnemann
Tim Howard
Kasey Keller

--> No surprises here. Keller is the guy here unless he gets hurt or is suddenly ineffective. Tim Howard should be the first one off the bench. Tony Meola was named as an alternate, so it stands to reason that he would get a shot to start if Keller were injured.

Carlos Bocanegra
Steve Cherundolo
Jimmy Conrad
Cory Gibbs
Frankie Hejduk
Eddie Lewis
Oguchi Onyewu
Eddie Pope

--> Alternate Chris Albright is probably the best player not in the group, but it would be nothing more than a minor quibble for me to say he belongs on the main roster. This is a good group of defenders who will play well in front of Keller.

DaMarcus Beasley
Bobby Convey
Clint Dempsey
Landon Donovan
Pablo Mastroeni
John O'Brien
Ben Olsen
Claudio Reyna

--> It's great to have Reyna healthy again, as he is such a steady veteran leader on this team. O'Brien also has plenty of experience, and they also have some dynamic talent in Beasley and Donovan. Donovan is good enough to be a huge star on this team if he is focused and ready to go next month. Some casual observers may be surprised at the exclusion of young star Freddy Adu from the roster (he's also not on the list of alternates), but Adu isn't ready for the World Cup yet. He'd simply be taking a spot from a more deserving player at this point, though Adu may be a factor by the time the 2010 World Cup rolls around.

Brian Ching
Eddie Johnson
Brian McBride
Josh Wolff

--> If there is a real surprise on this team, it's that Ching made it over Chris Rolfe and Taylor Twellman. Twellman has tremendous upside, though he may have sealed his fate with a subpar performance in the friendly against Germany. Rolfe is simply explosive. He adds a different dimension to any team he plays on, and he could have been a huge addition to this team over Ching or Wolff. Both Rolfe and Twellman are alternates, so we'll see how Arena handles things if there is an injury.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Prize.
Overall, I think this is a good roster. We're much deeper than we've been in a long time in soccer. The team has some good veteran leadership, and there are also some great young talents available for the first time on this stage.

Arena has done a magnificent job with this squad, and while the group (Italy, Czech Republic, Ghana) is insanely tough (well, except for Ghana), Team USA has a real chance to make some noise in this year's World Cup.


USAFA Bulldog said...

I saw a comment from Arena about how the USA can't afford to bring a youngster with, a-ala Brazil did with Ronaldo. That must have been mostly about Adu. Looks like we have a decent team this time around.

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