Monday, December 24, 2007

Chicago Bulls to Coach Skiles; Merry Christmas, You're Fired

The holidays can be tough on some people. It can be a very stressful time with all the running around, chaotic shopping crowds, and inclement weather. Thankfully for the struggling Chicago Bulls head coach Scott Skiles, he'll have plenty of off time to recoup. Off to a dismal 9-16 start the Bulls have fired Skiles, with no replacement in the wings.

Skiles took the head coaching position in Chicago 5 years ago and lead the Bulls to their first post-Jordan playoff appearance in his first full season. Last season the Bulls overcame a disappointing start to advance to the Western Conference semi-finals before losing to the Detroit Pistons in 6 games.

However with the raised expectations, and another poor early season performance, Skiles was shown the garland adorned door. Well, so much for the holiday spirit.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Game 36: 12/23/07: Penguins 4 - Bruins 2

In their final game before the Christmas break the Penguins put together a victory, beating the Boston Bruins at home 4-2. It was a milestone night, as the Penguins sold out their record 31st straight game at the Mellon Arena, Sergei Gonchar picked up his 400th career assist, and Georges Laraque's 50th career goal turned out to be the game winner.

After a rough game against the Islanders on Friday night, giving up 4 goals on 20 shots, Dany Sabourin was given the night off and Ty Conklin got the call. It was Conklin's second start of the season since being called up following the Marc-Andre Fleury high ankle sprain.

The Bruins PJ Alexsson opened up the scoring, taking advantage of a Evgeni Malkin turnover and beating Conklin only minutes into the 1st period.

But it was the Penguins who came out flying in the 2nd. Erik Christensen feed Georges Laraque behind the net, who found Gary Roberts in the crease for the tying goal.

Later in the 2nd on the power-play, Evgeni Malkin's slapshot found it's way over the shoulder of newly acquired Bruins goalie Alex Auld, and giving the Penguins the lead.

30 seconds later Georges Laraque increased the lead to 2 goals, crashing the net and deflecting a Roberts pass Auld.

In the last minute of the 3rd, with Auld pulled for a 6th skater, the Bruins pulled within one on a Petteri Nokelainen goal.

But when Sidney Crosby's bad angle attempt at an empty net goal hit the post, Gary Roberts was there to pick up the puck and burry it into the net to put the game away.

Conklin stopped 28 of 30 shots, picking up his 2nd win on the season.

It was the play of the Penguins 3rd line of Laraque-Roberts-Christensen that made the difference. Collectively they had 3 goals and 4 assists.

Brooks Orpik found himself a healthy scratch again, the 3rd straight game. The Penguins have had one too many defensemen since the call up of Kris Letang, and lately it's been Orpik who has been the odd man out. As explained by Rob Russi in this mornings Pittsburgh Tribune, Orpik's been upset about the recent scratches, especially in Boston where he had purchased tickets for family and friends.

With the win the Penguins jump to the 3rd spot in the incredibly tight Altantic Division, which sees only 5 points separate the first place New Jersey Devils and last place Philadelphia Flyers.

After a Christmas break the Penguins will welcome the Washington Capitals to the Mellon Arena on Thursday evening. The two teams have played once this season, with the Penguins skating away with the 2-1 victory in Washington.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chris Simon Recieves 30 Game Suspension

In another notable suspension handed down from the NHL league office, New York Islanders Chris Simon has found himself with a some mandated time off around the holidays, and a good deal after that. Simon, who already has a storied history with the leagues disciplinary committee, received a 30 game suspension for a stomping incident that occurred Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the 3rd period, down 3-2, Chris Simon slue footed Penguins irritator Jarko Ruutu and then proceeded to stomp on Ruutu's foot while he laid on the ice. Simon received a 5 minute major penalty and a game misconduct for intent to injure. Ruutu hobbled off the ice, but was able to return to the game.

By this point the league office probably has Simon on the speed dial. It was only 9 months ago that he received a 25 game suspension after he took a baseball swing with his stick at New York Ranger Ryan Hollweg's face. Saturday night's incident happened in only Simon's 26th game returning from the suspension. But those are just the most recent of 7 suspensions Simon has totaled.

1997 - Suspended 3 games after directing racial epitaph towards Edmonton Oilers Michael Grier
2000 - Suspended 1 game after cross checking Penguins Peter Popovic in the throat
2001 - Suspended 2 games after elbowing Ander Eriksson
2004 - Suspended 2 games for cross checking and then jumping on and punching Tampa Bay Lightning's Ruslan Fedotenko
2004 - Suspended 4 games for kneeing Dallas Stars Sergei Zubov
2007 - Suspended 25 games for swinging stick at Rangers Ryan Hollweg
2007 - Suspended 30 games for stomping on Penguins Jarko Ruutu

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flordia State Players Face Suspension For Online Cheating Scandal

Cheating is all the rage in sports recently. Sure, gaining an edge on an opponent has probably always existed, from pitchers doctoring baseballs to bosses stacking inner-office basketball games in their favor. But this year, cheating has been taken to a new level, and as many as 20 Florida State football players are reminding everyone that it need not be defined to the actual realm of sports. It can occur, I don't know, say in an online college class.

According to a report from's Mark Schlabauch, as many as 20 football players at Florida State, as well as student athletes from other sports, will face suspensions following an investigation into a cheating scandal revolving around online courses. If the football players are suspended they can not participate in the teams New Year's Eve Music City Bowl against Kentucky, along with the first 3 games of the 2008 season.

I'm a little caught off guard about this, because before now I just kind of assumed that the players actually did not participate in any classes. In the ol' days I believe they just focused on what's most important, football, and their teachers just passed them on.

I don't know just how much I can add to this story, but I should say that I have some own personal experience in the temptation of academic cheating. Once in first grade during a spelling bee the bonus word was "baseball". Well, being the same obsessive sports fan I am today, only 2 1/2 feet shorter and with a Mario Lemieux poster on my wall (actually who am I kidding, I still have 66 on my wall), I was wearing a baseball t-shirt that had the word "baseball" spelled out clearly on it.

Sadly I must admit I gave in to the temptation and cheated off my apparel, and I still carry the guilt for it to this day.

Now It's The Players Turn

The aftermath of the Mitchell Report has seen several phases. The initial was directed at the actual names named in the report. Next all eyes turned to the evidence behind the claims. Now all attention is on the actual players. Who is going to step up and admit to performance enhancing drug use? Who will fight the claims of the report?

First to act was the biggest name on the list, Roger Clemens. Before the sun fell on the day that will forever be remembered in baseball infamy, a Clemen's representative issued a statement adamantly denying any use of PEDs by the 45 year old 7-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher.

But next came Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone while rehabbing an elbow injury in 2002. This admission does significant damage to Clemen's defense, and gives credibility to the testimony of personal trainer Brian McNamee, who named Pettitte and Clemens in the report.

Back immediately after the initial reaction to the report, when everyone began sifting through the evidence, the name brought up most to discredit the report was that of Brian Roberts. They attested that mere testimony and no actual evidence other than that should not have landed Roberts in the report, and used him as the primary example of the flaws of the Mitchell Report.

However, in an interview in this mornings Baltimore Sun Brian Roberts came clean, admitting to using steroids in 2003.

MLB player turned ESPN analyst Fernado Vina was also named in the report and has publicly owned up to use of HGH. Vina claims to have only used the substance on one occasion, a common theme amongst the admissions of those named in the report. However, the report included 3 checks, from March of 2003 through July of 2005, from Vina to Mets clubhouse boy and steroid dealer Kirk Radomski.

Ex-Red Sox reliever Brendan Donnelly was named in the report for having a telephone conversation regarding steroids with Radomski, and then later receiving steroids in 2004. He has admitted to talking with Radomski about Anavar, a steroid, but claims he never received or used the substance after learning it was classified as a steroid.

Add ex-Arizona Diamondback Alex Cabrera to the list of those denying the Mitchell Report, as well. Cabrera was named in the report for allegedly having a package of steroids delivered to the Diamondbacks clubhouse, but Cabrera claims to have nothing to do with it. In a statement on his Winter League teams website, the Caracas Lions, he suggests he is only an easy scapegoat for the Diamondback organization.

But that's only a handful of the 86 current and former players named in the 409 page report, where are the rest? Miguel Tejada, Eric Gagné, David Justice? And will those, like Pettitte and Roberts, who were named and have admitted use, now meet with the league and be more forthcoming? I don't know, but it seems as if the aftermath of the Mitchell Report may play out to be ever bit as meaningful and informative as it's release.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dolphins Chances at 0-16 Dashed

From the reaction in Miami you'd think that they just won the Super Bowl. They haven't. In case you didn't know, the Super Bowl is in February and, well, the Dolphins suck. But after somehow making it to overtime, and Raven's kicker Matt Stover missed a 44 yard game winning field goal, the Dolphins QB Cleo Lemon hit Greg Camarillo, who broke free for the 64 yard touchdown.

Don't get me wrong, as a Pittsburgh fan I thoroughly enjoy every since Baltimore loss. And good on the Dolphins for picking up a victory. But it's still a little sad to see the chances at a 0-16 season go down the drain.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mitchell Fallout

Its almost 24 hours later, and there seems to be a wide range of response from the fallout of the Mitchell Report. After quickly skimming it in process of yesterday's live blog, I'm reading through in detail. If you were expecting this to have all the answers, I can tell you it doesn't, it only provokes about a thousand more questions.

With the initial reaction focused primarily on the names that appeared in the report, many have moved on to examining the soundness of the evidence presented against the players. While some players have a plethora of evidence, from positive tests to thousands of dollars in payments to actual shipments, others were included solely based on testimony and appearing in the address book of clubhouse boy and steroid dealer Radomski.

What's important to remember is George Mitchell was asked to gather all the information on performance enhancing drugs in professional baseball and include it in the report. Just because Cody McKay's name appears on the report, that does not imply he is guilty of anything. In time the report will be read and reread, the evidence will be weighed, and, it appears, that Bud Selig will investigate all those named in the report. From these investigations on a case by case level, surely some will face the action of the league. At the same time, surely some of those named will be found to not have adequate evidence to produce a disciplinary action.

The popular question of the morning seems to be "Was this good for baseball?". And to my surprise, many do not believe that this was good for baseball. Essentially they believe that the game would be in a better place today had Selig never commissioned a report of this nature. And I honestly do not know how to respond to this, because for me it seems so straight forth that aside from many analysts close tie to players, I have no idea how they could conclude this.

Steroids is and was an issue in baseball. It was one before Selig took notice, it was before Mark McGwire broke Maris's single season home run record, and it was one before the Mitchell report came out. The only difference now is that we have more information. And what I read from comments from "analysts" like Sean Salisbury is that they don't believe the report was good for baseball because fans will not be smart enough to interpret it. They believe we'll just look at the names and quickly condemn them all. And I'm sure some will, but no reporting information because you are not sure how the general public will react to it is the reason why the steroid issue is only beginning to be addressed now, instead of over 10 years ago.

If you don't want to read the report, if you don't want to look at it in detail, if you just want to read the list of players named in the report, then you should probably take only one thing away from the entire thing. And that is that the issue of performance enhancing drugs is every bit widespread as we believed. But this report will not be worth the paper it is written on if it does not produce more and better tests and stricter actions on both those who test positive and those who are found to have purchased performance enhancing drugs.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Live Bloggin the Mitchell Report

The day has come, and we are only hours away from the release of the Mitchell Report. but already information and names have been leaked to the press.


Fehr has been more timid than I expected, though he is certainly upset about not getting a preview of the report before it went public.
MLBPA press conference has just begun with Executive Direction Donald Fehr
There is another list of players over at ESPN that includes the pages that the players appear on.
Roger Clemens attorney has spoken on Clemens behalf and denied any use of PEDs. Pettitte's agent says he will not comment until conferring with the players union
Decisions regarding disciplining players and staff mentioned in the report will be made on a case by case situation.
Selig: will immediately enact any of the Mitchell Reports recommendations that is in his control
ESPN is streaming MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's Press Conference.
The phrase of the moment is "circumstantial evidence". Legal minds are taking a detailed look, and in many cases it seems as if the evidence may not hold up against the union if any actions were taken.
Considering that increased growth of the skull is a side-effect of steroids abuse, all these "Fat Head" commercials that are airing at each and every ESPN break seems oddly
The one good thing that steroids did to the world, it kept Disney from making a movie out of the feel good story that was Rick Ankiel.

I'm gonna get a little more into this report before the press conference at 4:30. Although I don't expect there to be much said by the leauge. Overall Selig has to feel alright about how the report shaped up. It is definitely critical of the league, but more so of the players union.

Mitchell does take Selig to task on ignoring the issue of steroids prior to 1998, referencing hundreds of articles that speculated at the use of steroids in baseball when Selig claimed the leauge did not know it was a probably.
Bud Selig will have his press conference in less than 1 hour at 4:30 EST.
My quick count looks to be a little high. It's looks to be just a couple players short of 80.
I'm still getting over the absolute shock of the report, and trying to read in a little more detail. I've got to admit that coming in, while I was expecting big results (otherwise I wouldn't of had a live blog from early this morning), but I was not expecting this. This is huge.
Deadspin is also in the process of breaking down this massive report. They have a list up, just in case I missed someone.
Over 80 Players named in Mitchell Report
It is very important to remember that these are just the players listed in the report as being linked to performance enhancing drugs. They in no way have been found guilty, there has only been evidence that links them, in most cases, to purchasing PEDs.

MITCHELL: 1/2 players named in report no longer in baseball
MITCHELL: Asks Commissioner to forgo punishing players listed in the report
MITCHELL: Players tipped off to unannounced drug testing
MITCHELL: Each club has at least one player involved in taking illegal substances
Between 5-7% tested positive for steroids
SI has the full report available online in PDF format, it's 409 pages long.
MLB had 3 days to review the Mitchell Report and made NO CHANGES to the report.
ESPN is streaming Mitchell's press conference, as is
Reports are being handed out right now, and they should hopefully openly be available any minute.
-'s Jon Heyman is now reporting that, as EFotG speculated earlier, Miguel Tejada is infact named in the Mitchell Report.
We are now sitting about 1/2 an hour away from the release. It is expected to be over 300 pages and available online, so get out those reading glasses.
Through this whole ordeal with Kirk Radomski, the Mets Clubhouse boy, many have brought up the fact that just because he's cashed a check from a player does not mean it was for steroids, players tip the clubhouse boys often. ESPN analyst and former player John Kruk says he gave a clubhouse boy $14,000. Man, I'm in the wrong business.
Things have seemed to settle down as we approach the 2pm release. ESPN will officially begin it's coverage of the Mitchell Report in 15 minutes, although really it's been the story all morning.

Also lately it seems like more at more analysts are referring to the amount of players as "several dozen", which is significantly down from the 60-80 earlier reported.
ESPNews just stated that they will not report on the list that is out there, presumably the Deadspin list, which is turning up all around now. According to ESPNews MLB is denying the authenticity of this list.
According to George Mitchell most of the information from this report comes from former Met's clubhouse boy Kirk Radomski who acted as a steroid supplier. From this can we assume that many of those named in this list will be from the National League. Well, so far, that does not look to be the case, but it's something to keep in mind.
A memo from the players union to all players suggests that they should not respond to any questions regarding the Mitchell Report today. Probably a good call with a report of this magnitude. It's going to take days before this report can be adequately assimilated.
Deadspin has received a list of players that are supposedly in the Mitchell Report. There's really nothing to substantiate this list, but it's certainly interesting.
- will be streaming both press-conferences at 2pm and 4:30pm EST. When those become active, EFotG will have the link.
Alex Rodriguez has finalized his agreement with the New York Yankees. There is absolutely nothing to tie this to the investigation, but it's certainly interesting timing. And don't forget that early speculation has at least several prominent Yankee's being named.
Clemens is obviously the big name that was leaked early, but another prominent Yankee's pitcher, Andy Pettitte was also provided to the investigation by personal trainer Brian McNamee. Unlike Clemens, I have never heard Pettitte's name brought up in steroids speculation.
The biggest news so far broke only minutes ago, with ESPN reporting that Yankee's star pitcher Roger Clemens will be named in the report. This may very well be the biggest name in the report, because really, how much bigger can you get than Clemens?

In a weird way, this actually lends some credibility to Jose Canseco and his book Juiced. Many wrote off Juiced as an attempt to cash in on the controversy. But with Canseco conjecturing Clemens as a user and this early report tying him to report, maybe Juiced is worth a little more than we originally thought.

The Morning of the Mitchell Report

1 year, 8 months, and 2 weeks ago it was announced that Senator George Mitchell would head an investigation commissioned by Major League Baseball, detailing steroid use by players. Today, at 2 pm EST he will release the report.

As the public awaits what is sure to be a bombshell for the sport, everyone is digging into position preparing to spin the result. The theme of todays morning sports section around America is the tiny morsels of information that have apparently leaked. The commissioner, the agents, the players, the pundits, they haven't seen it yet, but they all have something to say.

The report was only finalized 2 days ago. Thus far only select eyes have viewed it, and it's believed to be so massive, that clearly no one outside the investigation could have fully digested it already. However, already MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who has not seen it, is digging in his heels. In a quote to the Chicago Tribune this morning, even while admitting that it may not cast the league in the best light, he says he will not apologize for it*.

Scott Boras, the infamous sports agent that represents some of the leagues biggest stars, has not read it, but already he's attempting to discredit it. He reminds everyone that the report does not actually mean that the players are guilty, and that the investigation did not receive support from the Major League Baseball Players Association.

This is true, the MLBPA did not cooperate, but that is not unlike the players association, who are currently petitioning the suspension of steroid user Jose Guillen.

But it's the reporters from around the country that are really having a hayday with the report this morning. Everyone is trying to stretch the few bits of information that have been passed along from different sources. The report will name somewhere from 60-80 players. Several of those being prominent Yankees. It will include several MVPs. There's no way to know exactly how true any of these accounts are until the report is released later this afternoon.

Speculation about exactly which players will be named has also been a big discussion point around the tubes of the interwebs. The Orioles dealt Miguel Tejada to the Astros yesterday for 5 low-key players, which lands on most peoples radars as much more than coincidental.

Aaron Rowan and Andruw Jones, both free agents, agreed to contracts within the past 24 hours. Perhaps they are only attempting to work out a deal before baseball becomes all about the Mitchell Report, perhaps they are trying to ink a contract for what they can before they are implicated.

In some ways today is a great day for baseball. A few years ago it became apparent that professional baseball had become infused with the steroid scene. Not investigating may have saved face for some prominent players, but it would have left a black eye on the entire generation. This report won't undo what has been done, even if it is thorough and well investigated, as I expect it to be. It will not save Bud Selig's legacy. But it will at least address the problem, which is more than we've seen in the past.

*Selig also curses. Which, when imagining that awkwardly disheveled man cursing, is actually quite entertaining.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fleury and Talbot Out for Pens

As if last nights game in Philadelphia wasn't enough for Penguins fans, the bad news just keeps on coming. Marc-Andre Fleury, who left 5 minutes into a game against Calgary on December 5th, will miss 6-8 weeks with a high ankle sprain.

It seems as if goaltending has been a constant issue this season. Fleury struggled early in the season, but he had just seemed to turn things around before the injury. Responsibility will fall on the shoulders of backup Dany Sabourin.

This will probably only act as fuel on the fire that has been trade rumors involving Pittsburgh and goaltenders.

At the same time, it appears like Maxime Talbot's high ankle sprain is worse than expected, and he will most likely miss the next 2-4 weeks.

With injuries mounting, the Penguins will have to buckle down and try to make it to the January all-star break. If not, and they struggle, Ray Shero might be forced to act via trades.

Petrino Literally Phones It In, Leaves Falcons For Arkansas

After only 13 games as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, much like his teams performance, Bobby Petrino phoned it in. His resignation, that is. No word on whether he actually talked to someone or, you know, just left a message. Although I imagine either way it was pretty awkward.

Less than 6 hours later* Petrino was announced as the new head coach for Arkansas. He signed on for 5 years at $2.85 million a season, which means, in case you were wondering just what a person might do to disavow themselves from the fiasco that is the Atlanta Falcons organization, it's take about a $2 million a season pay cut.

The short stay was Petrino's attempt to transition from the college football scene into the NFL. Injury, free agency, retirement, maybe even a suspension or two, these are the obstacles an organization is expected to deal with. But after his star quarterback was sentenced to 23 months on dog-fighting charges and his players seemed more interested in wardrobe attempts to free the said criminal, one can't really blame Petrino for packing it in early.

In Atlanta the Falcons have scheduled a press conference this afternoon where they are expected to announce just which lucky assistant coach will become the interm head coach for the remaining 3 games of the season.

*If I've done the whole time zone difference math thing right

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vick Sentenced to 23 Months

The word has come from a courthouse in Virginia, and a District Judge has sentenced Michael Vick to 23 months in jail. Early speculation put Vick's sentence time at around a year, but when his co-defendants, who appeared to be more forthcoming with prosecutors, received 18 and 21 months, it became clear that the Judge was sentencing on the higher end of the range.

Vick, who was found guilty of federal dog fight charges, elected to start serving his sentence early, voluntarily surrendering on the 19th of November. Apparently he's not a big fan of Thanksgiving.

It seems as if Vick didn't do himself any favors during the legal process. It definitely factors into the sentencing when you lie about using drugs and then test positive, or claim to have never actually killed a dog, only to have his co-defendants and partners testify otherwise.

On the steps of the courthouse Vick's representative Billy Martin suggests that Vick could get out early, around 18 months, for good behavior. But if the past is any representative for the future, I imagine Vick will serve every day of the sentence.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

So I Didn't Catch the Fight

Let me lay some truth on you, I did not watch the Mayweather fight last night. Now I realize this was kind of a big fight for professional boxing, and by admitting that I was not watching I assume I'm in serious danger of having at least one man card revoked, but what can I say. First of all I'm poor, I can't be dishing out fifty bucks, or however much it was, to watch a fight. Now I know there's lots of other ways to view the fight, if you are reading this you have some knowledge of the internet, and I'm not going to play dumb, the stream is out there. However trumping last nights bout was the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby playing in Vancouver for the first time in years, and on Hockey Night in Canada no less.

Truth be told, I'm not a huge boxing fan. Which, you have to understand, is a relative statement. I watch boxing. I enjoy boxing. But I also wake up at 3:30 in the morning during the winter Olympics to catch Sweden and Finland in an team curling match. It's just how I work, I wouldn't recommend it (1), but it works for me.

Individual sports don't do it quite enough for me. The last round of a close PGA event is exciting. The Open Championship playoff was one of my favorite sports moments of the year. And won by an Irishman, might I add. Wimbledon is a treasure as well. I wish the entire sports community would pause and reflect on how lucky we are to have both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the game at the same time.

These are all great sporting events, no doubt. But still, I just can't seem to really follow it all. I tune in for big matches. The Opens, the Championships, the meetings of the greats. But as much as that is the pinnacle of the sport, I can't help but be ignorant of the rest. Yes, I saw Padraig Harrington down the stretch, but I wasn't watching on Round One when he was on the 4th hole. I only saw the spectacle at the end. It's like how most casual fans tune in for the Super Bowl.

And that's what last night was, the Super Bowl of boxing, a spectacle. And from all accounts, it was a great fight. I was pulling for Mayweather and I'm glad it didn't have to go to a decision. But even still, I'd rather be following my hockey team. Sure it was only one game out of 82, and not even a division or even conference game at that. But thats what makes a sport great. The World Series would not be as grand if 30 teams didn't go through 162 games just to have a shot at being one of the 2 teams that play in it. But the fight doesn't mean as much to me because I didn't follow these two boxers. Sure I saw Mayweather take De La Hoya in a decision earlier this year, but I haven't even ever really heard of this Hatton guy before now.

Which is exactly why I was watching the Penguins win another 2 points out West last night, because come April, May, June, maybe not this June, but hopefully some June, it's going to make it all the more worth it.
Until then though, I'm gonna go check the mornings SportsCenter and catch some highlights from the fight, and keep a close hold on my man cards.

1. having your life revolve completely around sports, that is, not curling. I wholeheartedly encourage the enjoyment of curling. it's like chess on ice.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Testimony Reveals Former Canucks Head Coach's Role in the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore Incident

According to court documents obtained by CBC, locker room statements by former Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford may have played a role in Todd Bertuzzi's on-ice attack of Steve Moore. Since the incident, March 8th, 2004, Moore has been unable to return to professional hockey, and is in the process of suing Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks for $38 million.

Sworn statements made by Bertuzzi, and confirmed by Canucks GM Dave Nonis, allege Crawford pointed to a board with Moore's name and jersey number and said to the team, "He must pay the price."

The Canucks were still upset from an incident in a game against the Avalanche 3 weeks prior that left star forward Markus Naslund concussed. Moore was not penalized, nor suspended for the hit. With 11 minutes remaining in the 9-2 Avalanche blowout Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind with a sucker punch, and following through, driving his head into the ice. Moore was taken off the ice on a stretcher with 3 fractured neck vertebrae and a severe concussion.

Bertuzzi was suspended by the league for the remainder of the regular season (13 games), the playoffs, and not allowed to play hockey overseas during the lockout. He plead guilty to criminal charges and was sentenced to a years probation and 80 hours community service.

17 months later, prior to the start of the 2005-06 NHL season, Bertuzzi was reinstated into the NHL.

Marc Crawford is not a defendant in the civil lawsuit, but now that the testimony has been reported by CBC it will take only hours before it's picked up by news outlets around the world. Newspapers, TSN, ESPN, SportsCenter, and weblogs. I can see the headline: "Head Coach Orders Bertuzzi Attack". And I can imagine why, it grabs your attention, it's shocking. But is that really what happened? Can we really tie perhaps the most horrific attack in the history of hockey to a statement by a coach.

Surely we can agree, announcing to a team that a particular player "must pay the price" is in incredibly poor taste and even dangerous. Clearly it's an abuse of the position he held. But when drawing the line from Crawford's statements to Bertuzzi's actions, it spans the distance of the Alaskan-Russian Land Bridge. It certainly was not the first time since a player has been targeted by an opposing club. Hockey is an intense sport, full of speed, finesse, skill and, yes, violence. From time to time competitors may lose their composure. Penalties occur, fights take place.

I'm not Don Cherry, I enjoy hockey, and fights are only a small part of this. Contrary to Cherry and his disciples point of view, I don't tune into a game for fights or acts of violence. If I watch a game with scoring opportunities, great play offensively and defensively, I am more than thrilled. I don't yearn to see someone get hurt. However, if the situation calls for a good old fashion throw-down; if per say, a team is down a goal or two and feels the other team is taking liberties with it's star player, and a player feels the need to send a message and inspire his teammates, I enjoy it.

Outside sources who might consider fighting in hockey barbaric would probably be surprised when they actually saw two players earn a five minute major. Sure, sometimes tempers flare, but more often than not, after being separated by an official the two smirk, jaw a little at each other, maybe share a laugh. Fighting in hockey is not about injuring the opposing player.

What Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore on a spring evening 3 and half years ago was about injuring another player.

And I don't say that to complete villanize Bertuzzi. What he did was horrible, yes, but I don't believe it was a premeditated decision. He may have laced up his skates looking to get under his skin or lay a bone-jarring body check, but I do not believe he intended to impart the damage he did to Moore. He was incredibly distraught over what he felt was an attack on his teammate, in an emotional game his team was being blown out 9-2, and in a Meursault-ian state of rage he attacked Moore.

It was frightening act, but unlike Camus's absurd protagonist, Bertuzzi has shown remorse for his actions. He's stepped up to plate, expressed regret, and taken his punishment. And even amidst a situation like this, I can respect him for it. But one thing I will not do is place any blame for the situation on a coach who in an attempt to fire up his team crossed a line. When Crawford wrote Moore's name and number 36 on the board he was attempting to send a signal, he was not attempting to send a young man off the ice for the last time in a stretcher.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tuesday Morning Headlines: 12/04/07

- Yankees self imposed deadline on Johan Santana deal passes. Something tells me Hank Steinbrenner is a pain to play fantasy sports with.

- It came down to the wire, but the Patriots remain perfect, defeating the Ravens on a last minute touchdown drive.

- Baseball Hall of Fame announced this years inductees from the executives/pioneers category. Barney Dreyfuss Pittsburgh Pirates owner from 1900-1932 and creator of the World Series finally got in.

- You have to respect the good people of Brooklyn that can hold a grudge for over 50 years.

- Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-1

- 76ers are firing GM Billy King and pillaging NJ Nets GM Ed Stefanski.

- Riley Cote becomes the 5th Philadelphia Flyers player suspended this season. Gary Bettman sits them down and explains that they can't act like this, Santa is watching after all.

- The Dolphins lost again. Sure it's yesterday's news, but the Sun Sentinel has the greatest headline of the day "Dolphins Start to Question Team's Effort". And in the World News section "Pakistanis Begin To Suspect Perez Musharraf Is Not Really All That Nice".

Game 26: 12/4/07: Penguins 3 - Coyotes 1

For two teams that had only seen each other once in the past 3 and a half years, there was a lot of bad blood between the Phoenix Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins at the Mellon Arena Monday night. It makes me wish the two meet a little more often. This is also true because I like saying "Coyotes" (It's not Co-yo-tes, people. It's Coy-otes).

The Penguins squandered 4 power-play oppurtunities in the 1st period, but Maxime Talbot, in his first game back from a high ankle sprain, scored in the final minute of the period giving Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead. The goal was assisted by Georges Laraque, who was playing his first game against his former team since being traded to the Penguins last season.

Despite ample opportunities the scored stayed at 1-0 through the 2nd period and into the 3rd, in part thanks to a couple posts and crossbars.

If the Penguins are going to put together a winning streak like the one that catapulted them to the top of the Atlantic division last season, they are going to have to learn how to put away teams. But they didn't, the Coyotes held on, and on the power-play a minute 26 seconds into the 3rd.

Thankfully the Penguins finally took advantage of their numerous power-play opportunities. Scoring on their 7th power-play when Sidney Crosby's fake shot-pass found Kris Letang, who scored his first goal of the season.

Later Tyler Kennedy put the game away with a wicked wrist shot that beat Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov near post.

Fleury faced only 18 shots and allowed only 1 goal while he picked up his 3rd straight victory. In some of the most entertaining moments of the game, with less than a minute left in the game Fleury looked several times at attempting to shot down ice on the Coyotes empty net, but did not get a shot off. The Penguins teammates appeared to jokingly give Fleury a hard time about it after the buzzer.

Perhaps coach Michel Therrien has stumbled upon a good motivator for his young squad, "lead by 2 and I'll let Fleury shoot at the empty net".

Without a doubt Maxime Talbot was the driving force in this victory, and just in case there was any doubt as to how important he is to this team while he was absent, there is not anymore.

The Penguins (12-12-2) press on a break neck speed, heading to Edmonton to take on the Oilers on Wednesday night.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Another Flyer Faces Suspension

According to ESPN sources coming out of Philadelphia, Flyers winger Riley Cote has been suspended 3 games for the elbow he threw at Dallas Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen in the final few minutes of a 4-1 loss.

Cote becomes the 5th Flyer to recieve a suspension this season, and it appears from comments coming from Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren that the NHL has issued a verbal warning to the organization.

Thus far this season the NHL has suspended Flyers players a total of 53 games, and the rest of the 29 franchise only 23 games.

When the Flyers are the center of discipline stories, they are orchestrated a return to contender status, sitting only half a game back from the Atlantic Division lead after finishing worst in the division last season.

Morning Headlines: 12/3/07

- The lowly New York Jets thrashed the Miami Dolphins 40-13, putting the Dolphins perfect season (0-16) only 4 games out of reach. Somewhere out there the '76 Bucs are getting nervous.

- The BCS Bowl game match-ups were released and Ohio State will face LSU in the championship game. Let's all get really excited and pretend that the BCS Rankings mean anything more than a Teen Choice Award.

- MLB winter meetings kick-off this morning, and if like me you are a subscriber to then you'll be able to follow the whole thing in streaming video. I'm making some popcorn.

- Having completely won over the American markets the NHL will be expanding television coverage to China. Also the new schedule will fix everything that's wrong with hockey. I mean, everything that Sidney Crosby hasn't already fixed.

- Just when it appeared as if nothing else could possibly go wrong for the New York Knicks and Stephon Marbury, Don, Stephon's father, suffers a fatal heart attack while in attendance at MSG.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Game 25: 12/1/07: Penguins 2 - Maple Leafs 4

The Penguins attempt at a season high 4 game winning streak was denied by the Vesa Toskala and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who held off the Penguins late game attacks for the 4-2 win.

Dany Sabourin was called to start for the Penguins, after starter Marc-Andre Fleury faced 28 shots in a 4-1 victory the previous night. But the Leafs got to him early, with Mark Bell scoring his first of the season 3:56 into the first period.

Bell missed the first 15 games of the season and was placed in the NHLPA Substance Abuse Program after an off-season incident which lead to drunk driving causing injury and hit-and-run charges.

In the 2nd immediately following a power-play Toronto scored on a two man breakaway, with Kyle Wellwood assisting Jason Blake. The Maple Leafs caught the Penguins with only one defenseman on the ice, and when Mark Eaton failed to keep the puck in at the blue line the Leafs were clear in on the two man rush.

Nik Antropov made it 3-0 later in the 2nd, deflecting a Bryan McCabe shot for a power-play goal.

Ryan Malone broke up Toskala's shut out attempt, scoring in the third off a fortunate bounce. Colby Armstrong's bad angle shot deflected off Toskala and then bounced off Malone's knee and into the net.

With less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd Erik Christensen's shot handcuffed Toskala, who initially made the save, but had the puck roll up his shoulder and into the net, bringing the Penguin's within one, 3-2.

However in the dying throws of the game the Penguins turned up the pressure and pulled Sabourin in favor of a sixth skater. After numerous attempts were thwarted by Toskala and the Leafs, Alexei Ponikarovsky sealed the deal with an empty net goal.

Maxime Talbot was again a healthy scratch, but that didn't stop him from having some fun after practice. With 14,000 fans on board for the Penguins open practice, encouraged by Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Talbot threw on Crosby's 87 jersey and borrowed a stick to take the ice. For 2 minutes he did his best Crosby impersonation to the delight of the crowd and his teammates.

Mark Recchi was once again a healthy scratch, and further ensuring his departure from the franchise, it appears he may have been stripped of his Alternate Captaincy. Defenseman Mark Eaton had the "A" patch on his jersey, though it was not apparent whether this was due to Gonchar's injury or Recchi's absence.

The Penguins (11-11-2) will welcome the Phoenix Coyotes to the Mellon Arena on Monday, in what will be the 2nd game of a hectic early December schedule that sees them playing 5 games in 8 days.

Game 24: 11/30/07: Penguins 4 - Stars 1

After a six day layoff in action the Penguins made it three straight last night, defeating the Dallas Stars 4-1. They've only won 3 in a row once before this season, back in the third week of the season. The victory put the Penguins at .500 for the first time since November 7th.

Sidney Crosby came up big early, scoring 24 seconds into the first period, taking the puck from behind the net and beating Stars backup goaltender Mike Smith five-hole.

Just minutes later Tyler Kennedy jumped on a Stars turnover, and scored his 3rd of the season. Kennedy has seen increased playtime due to his solid play and the injury of Maxime Talbot, and rounded out the 3rd line with Gary Roberts and Jordan Staal.

Five minutes into the 2nd period Dallas pulled within one on a Mike Ribeiro shot that deflected of Daryl Sydor and beat Fleury high. The goal ended Fleury's shutout streak of 85 minutes and 31 seconds since he was pulled in the first period against the Ottawa Senators on November 22nd.

Crosby scored his second of the game, and 14th of the season, putting a Sydor rebound behind Smith and increasing the lead once again to 2.

Evgeni Malkin put the game away in the 3rd period when Petr Sykora found Malkin
streaking down the wing, who made it 4-1.

Mark Reechi was a healthy scratch once again, further fueling trade rumors. Surely Reechi must be frustrated, but his poor performance has dictated the Penguins position. Rumors have it that Reechi is pursuing a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Reechi played under Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia.

I'm a little skeptical about whether the Penguins will find a trade partner for Reechi, but even if they do, I can not imagine anyone valuing him to the point that Pittsburgh receives in return anything that would be of use this season. Perhaps a draft pick.

Maxime Talbot and Sergei Gonchar were both scratched due to nagging injuries. Talbot's high ankle strain has kept him out of service since the 17th of November, but he has been skating with the Penguins in practice and should return to the lineup shortly.

Iron Man Gonchar left Saturday night's game against Atlanta with a groin injury, and saw his 105 game starting streak end. He is listed as day to day and is not expected to start on Saturday when the Penguins (11-11-2) take on the Maple Leafs(9-11-6) in Toronto.