By Rob Ficiur
Students came home with report cards this week. It is time to do my annual sports report card. Watch out – some marks dropped as I was putting this together.
A – Edmonton Oilers – The Edmonton Oilers came within one game of making the NHL final four. Connor McDavid won the scoring title and was voted the most valuable player. After a decade of going nowhere the Oilers are going up in the standings. For the second June in a row, the team had the courage to trade a core piece to get a defenseman. Hockey optimism is a fever for Oilers fans this summer. Long time fans remember the 1980’s Oilers and they now see (hope) the same thing happening again.
B – Calgary Flames – Just like the 1980s the current Calgary Flames seem one step behind the Oilers. This year Calgary made the playoffs with a core of young stars. Since their early playoff exit the Flames have acquired veteran goalie Mike Smith and defenseman Travis Hamonic. All summer long, hockey fans will be wondering if the upgraded Flames and the rising Oilers reignite the battle of Alberta?
C – Toronto Blue Jays have been hot and cold this year. Since the worst April in team history, the Jays have been the second hottest team in baseball. Eight times they have come within one game of a .500 record only to lose. Just when I am about to give up on them they string together a winning streak; their stars play like stars. My mind goes back to 2015 when a sub .500 Blue Jays team took off in August and created playoff memories for Blue Jays fans. I start to believe that an excellent second half will bring great memories in 2017.
Update the Blue Jays just lost two of three to a less than average Baltimore team. In the third game of the series, the Jays were shut out by a pitcher who had an earned run average over 6.00. Change their C to a failing mark of D.
D – The National Hockey League is not going to the 2018 Winter Olympics – Since the 1998 Winter Olympics, hockey fans have taken for granted that the NHL will stop their season to allow NHL players to compete in the Olympics. When the games were in Sochi Russia in 2012, there were rumblings that the league might not go. Eventually the International Ice Hockey Federation gave the concessions the NHL wanted and the pros went to the games.
Players and fans want the NHL in the Olympics. Though the official announcement was made months ago, this week more NHL players commented that the players should be going to the Olympics. Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin has publically stated he is going to the Olympics whether the NHL allows him to or not. What is going to happen when (not if) NHL players leave their league teams and go to the Olympics? It is easy to say they will suspend the player. Suspending a fourth line winger is not the same as suspending Alexander Ovechkin.
Fans want the Olympic best on best tournament. If the NHL players don’t go to the games, the tournament will be no more than a minor league event. With so many second tier Russians playing in Europe; the Russians are the favorites in an Olympic games that no one cares about.
The 2018 Winter Olympics have always been a question mark. The National Hockey League appears to be inconsistent in its philosophy regarding the Olympics. Baseball and basketball do not shut down their pro seasons for the Olympics. If that is the NHL’s reasoning then I can accept that. If the NHL argues that their on ice product is weakened by a longer seasons, I can see some validity to that point.
However, once the NHL opts out of the 2018 Olympics what will they do in 2022 when the games are in China? If the NHL choses to go to a big market like China while skipping the smaller market in Korea, it shows a lack of leadership by the National Hockey League.
F – Toronto Blue Jays injury list – The Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of setting an all-time record for the number of players sent to the Disabled List. Starting this season the minimum number of days to be on the Disabled list went down from 14 to 10 days. It was expected that more players would be placed on injury lists. In the Blue Jays case, the number of injuries has nothing to do with the rule changes. Stars such as Josh Donaldson, Russel Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Sanchez and Jay Happ spent extended periods on the sidelines.
Yes, all teams play through injuries. Over a short period the Jays played more than .500 baseball with half of their starters injured. Long term the injuries are one reason for the team’s poor play. Last year starters Aaron Sanchez and Jay Happ won 15 and 20 games respectively. Half way through the 2017 season these two pitchers have won zero and two games respectively. At last year’s rate, those two would have had about 17 total wins; instead, they have two. The fifteen “lost wins” is concrete way of showing how injuries have derailed the 2017 season.