Monthly Archives: July 2009

MLB: Check in here for Trade Deadline analysis

(As of 11:30 a.m.)

By Craig Filazzola, WSOE Sports Director

This is the day we’ve all been waiting for.  The trade deadline process feels a little bit like Hanukkah, as major league teams have steadily received gifts of newly acquired players over the past week or so.  Today will be Christmas for the team that lands Roy Halladay if indeed he is dealt. 

We’ll give you the recap and analysis on all of the trades around baseball.

Contact Information:
Craig Filazzola
WSOE Sports Director

NFL: Looking At Vick’s Options


Courtesy of:

By Jake Lang, WSOE Sports

When news of Michael Vick and the “Bad Newz Kennels” first broke, pundits, fans, and the NFL alike wondered what would happen to the QB’s football future.  After being convicted in August 2007 on felony counts of dog-fighting charges, the former Atlanta Falcons QB was released from federal prison. With his public fall from grace, Michael Vick’s public image has been destroyed, making any NFL comeback much harder. 

With Monday’s news of Vick’s partial NFL re-instatement, the answer becomes a bit clearer. The partial re-instatement means that Vick cannot play for the first six weeks of the season, but that he can participate in training camps, drills, practice, etc. As a convicted felon, the CFL can be ruled out as a possibility, as getting a Canadian work visa would be nearly impossible.  While teams certainly aren’t jumping out of their seats to give Michael Vick a contract, he is not a man without options.  While there has been little to no official word of which teams are interested in Vick’s services, there are a few teams where it might make sense:

Baltimore Ravens: The only team to publicly admit interest in the former Pro Bowl QB, head coach Jim Harbaugh was quoted in an article by the AP: “We’ve had long discussions about Michael Vick and we have a feeling about how he would impact our team and not impact our team.”  While this is not a ringing endorsement of a possible Michael Vick signing, they are the first team to publicly mention internal discussions surrounding Vick; making it worthwhile to mention.  That said, with Joe Flacco’s surprisingly good performance last season, it’s hard to envision Vick in a Ravens uniform.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Though the team from the Queen City does already have another Pro Bowl QB, relying on Carson Palmer to stay healthy is akin to relying on a rainless day in Seattle; it’s not going to happen.  Signing Vick would also not be completely out-of-left-field, considering Marvin Lewis’ pension for having highly talented if not character lacking players. Furthermore, with the recent explosion of the Wildcat offense, Vick could become a lethal weapon in various substitution packages. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: With the overrated David Garrard as their only legitimate option at QB, it’s hard to imagine that Jack Del Rio hasn’t considered bringing Vick in.  The Jaguars’ running game is sure to look different this season with the departure of future Hall Of Fame RB Fred Taylor. The gaping hole left by Taylor will mean that Maurice Jones-Drew will have to shoulder the load.  Instead of allowing defenses to zero in on MoJo Drew, Vick would force the distribution of defensive pressure. With the anemic passing offense that the Jaguars employ, signing Vick would provide a much-needed shot in the arm.

Minnesota Vikings:  With the Brett Favre saga finally coming to a close, Brad Childress and the Vikings are left with only Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson in the stable (Impressive, I know!) For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Vikings need to look at every possible option.  The window of opportunity is only getting smaller with key players like Pat Williams aging; he will be 37 in October.  While Vick does not assure a return to the playoffs, let alone a spot in the big game, he does provide a skill set with which Adrian Peterson could mesh perfectly.

Oakland Raiders: Would any controversial player speculation be complete with out Al Davis?  Despite picking JaMarcus Russell with the #1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Vick is a distinct possibility.  Davis loves to bring in players like Vick (re: Randy Moss); electrifying, talented, yet combustible.  It’s unlikely that Vick ends up in Oakland, but it should not be left out for the simple reason that Al Davis is unpredictable.

Pittsburgh Steelers: One of the few franchises that wouldn’t have issues selling Vick to their extremely rabid and loyal fan base, the Pittsburgh Steelers could emerge as the team who takes a chance on the troubled QB.  Though the Steelers already have the future Hall Of Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger, the team has a history of using athletic QBs as essential parts of their offense.  Between Kordell Stewart as their starting QB, former QBs Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle-El at WR, Vick provides another weapon.  Between the aforementioned Wildcat offense, the trademark use of trick plays; the Steelers could be the perfect fit.  Additionally, the strong veteran leadership of the players and coaches could be enough to keep Vick in-check.  It is also worth mentioning that Vick’s mentor, and future Hall Of Fame head coach, Tony Dungy, has come out in defense of Vick.  A former player with the Steelers, Dungy has deep ties with the organization and could be the bridge between the two.

This list of teams is not definitive by any means; it is purely speculation.  With the NFL options mapped out and the CFL not being an option, the three-time Pro Bowl QB would still have one more option:

Orlando Tuskers: The who?! The Orlando Tuskers are one of four teams slated to kickoff this fall with the inaugural season of the United Football League.  As per UFL rules, the Orlando franchise is aligned with the NFC/AFC South divisions. This means that each team retains any rights to players from their aligned divisions if they defect from the NFL.  While the level of competition would be considerably lower, it would provide a stepping-stone to the NFL, as Vick would have a chance to once again prove his abilities.  The head coach, former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Haslett, is familiar with athletic and mobile QBs (re: Aaron Brooks), so the marriage could make sense.  Moreover, dazzling fans in the UFL would make a NFL return much easier to sell as, the public often ignores star player’s problems as long as they still perform.

Contact Information:
Jake Lang
WSOE Sports

MLB: Trading deadline predictions

(As of 10:00 a.m.)

By Craig Filazzola, WSOE Sports Director

The trading deadline is always unpredictable.  Some players that are sure to be dealt aren’t, and some players that are expected to stay with their teams are dealt.

Here are my predictions on nine top players that have been discussed in trade rumors.

Will they get traded?

Roy Halladay, SP, Toronto

Yes – to the Phillies – Now is the best time for the Blue Jays to get the most for Halladay. They have been holding out for the best deal, and I think they will end up getting similar prospects the Phillies first offered. The Brewers, Dodgers, Angels and Red Sox still remain contenders.

Cliff Lee, SP, Cleveland

Yes – to the Angels – Several teams have been unable to land Halladay. These are the same teams that are interested in Lee, because they wouldn’t need to give up as much as they would in a deal for Halladay. I think the Angels will be Lee’s new team, because they have prospects the Indians want. If the Phillies don’t get Halladay, they could easily acquire Lee. Other possible teams include the Dodgers, Red Sox and Brewers.

Victor Martinez, C/1B, Cleveland

No – The Red Sox appear to be the most interested, which is bad. They don’t need a first baseman, because they now have Adam LaRoche. I don’t think Martinez will be traded unless he’s in a package deal with Lee.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego

No – The Padres would need to receive too much in return. Reports say that the Padres are afraid that their attendance will significantly decrease if they send Gonzalez.

Heath Bell, CP, San Diego

No – I don’t think the offers have come close to matching what the Padres are looking for.

Scott Kazmir, SP, Tampa Bay

No – His ERA has been under 3.80 in each of the last four years. This season his ERA is an awful 6.22. I don’t see the Rays unloading him due to one bad year.

Adam Dunn, 1B/LF, Washington

No – Even though he should get traded, I don’t think a team is in desperate need of Dunn. The Tigers have been mentioned as a contender.

Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pittsburgh

Yes – to the Giants – The two teams reportedly almost got a deal done Tuesday night. They should get it done by the deadline. The Giants could use a push to earn an NL Wild Card spot.

Jack Wilson, SS, Pittsburgh

No – I don’t think there are many teams looking for a shortstop. He’s been rumored for a long time, and a trade probably would have happened by now.


Contact Information:
Craig Filazzola
WSOE Sports Director

NHL: 2009 Draft and Prospects – A Changing Tide? (Part 3)

By Angus Dunk, WSOE Sports

Top 30 Picks at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal

Picks 21-30

Round 3

21.) Tyson Barrie, Defenseman (picked 64th overall by the Colorado Avalanche) – The second-year defenseman of the Kelowna Rockets helped his team win the 2009 WHL championship and make it the final round of the Memorial Cup. In the playoffs, Barrie recorded 18 points and a plus 18 rating in 22 games. In the regular season he scored 12 goals and added 40 assists for a combined total of 52 points this year; each statistic was an improvement on those of his rookie season. In addition to his on ice credentials, Barrie’s family carries a rich hockey background as well. In 1993, his uncle, Mike Barrie, was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and his father, Len Barrie, is co-owner and president of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Len Barrie was also drafted in the NHL by the Edmonton Oilers in 1988 and was the WHL scoring leader (185 points in 70 games) in the 1989-1990 season. Barrie’s hockey idol is Scott Niedermayer. Overall, a great 3rd round pick by Colorado who could benefit from a two-way defenseman at both ends of the ice.

22.) Matthew Hackett, Goalie (picked 77th overall by the Minnesota Wild) – Entering the draft he was ranked as the top North American Goalie and was selected accordingly (5th goalie overall in the draft). He may take a little more time than the average goalie to develop, but Matthew Hackett continues to get better season by season. He started out as an unnoticed back-up goalie with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) during his first span of games which took place during the 2006-2007 season. In seven games that season, he had a 4.38 GAA, a .859 SV%, and no shutouts. Since then, his game has improved immensely. With the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) last season, Hackett recorded 34 wins in 55 games, .913 SV %, a 3.04 GAA, a career high 3,036 minutes, and his first two career shutouts in the OHL. In the playoffs, he improved on his regular season performance with a 3.01 GAA and .930 SV %. This season, he and the Whalers were knocked out of the playoffs by the #1 Windsor Spitfires, who would go on to win the OHL championship and more importantly, the Memorial Cup. Matthew Hackett is the nephew of former NHL goalie, Jeff Hackett, who played in 500 NHL games in his career. He credits his uncle with teaching him how to play goalie. Hackett’s NHL idol is Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. Overall, Hackett should be able to enter the NHL by no later than his mid-20’s at the rate he has continued to improve his game.

23.) Simon Bertilsson, Defense (picked 87th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers) – A smart move for the Flyers to go with this defenseman; the recruiting staff was clearly aware that a lot of the attractive and lucrative forwards had already been selected. Bertilsson finished with 31 points in 30 games this past season with Brynas IF’s Jr. squad (Elitserien/SEL) and helped the team to win the championship and receive the honorary Anton Cup. He has also played in 21 regular season contests with Brynas IF’s regular squad and recorded 1 assist and 2 penalty minutes. Bertilsson has also played at the international level for Team Sweden which included this year’s Under-18 World Championships, where he recorded a plus-5 rating. During the tournament, he also played with defenseman Oliver-Ekman Larsson (drafted 6th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes) as a pairing frequently. Despite demonstrating his offensive abilities with Brynas Jr., Bertilsson has been categorized by the NHL scouting team as a “defensive minded defenseman.” Bertilsson says he centers his style of play around that of Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings. Overall, he should prove to be a suitable replacement for the Flyers defense whenever Chris Pronger leaves.

24.) Michael Lee, Goalie (picked 91st overall by the Phoenix Coyotes) – Only a year out of high school and this kid is coming up big. Michael Lee shined at Roseau High his senior year (2007-2008) in the Minnesota High School League. During that season he managed to compile a dazzling 14 shutouts, 1.10 GAA, and a .936% in just 29 games. Lee elected for an off year before college and joined the Fargo Force of the USHL for the 2008-2009 season. He was able to keep solid numbers while playing for the Force and tallied 26 wins, a 2.40 GAA, a .918 SV%, and 3 shutouts in 48 games. His wins and SV% both ranked second best amongst USHL goalies. Entering the NHL Entry Draft, Lee ranked 4th amongst North American Goalies (drafted 2nd in this category). Overall, Michael Lee should continue to improve and soon earn a back-up position with the Coyotes. I like his approach to the whole process and decision to attend St. Cloud State this fall.

Round 4

25.) Alex Hutchings, Left Wing (picked 93 overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning) – A great selection by the Lighting fairly late in the draft. In round 3, many defenseman and goalies were plucked leaving over some carryover of forwards into the later rounds. Hutchings in three seasons with the Barrie Colts has notched 64 goals, 63 assists, and 127 points in 165 games in the OHL. This season he set career highs in all categories with 34 goals, 34 assists, 68 points, a plus 27 rating, and 60 penalty minutes. His achievements earned him a spot on the Eastern Conference Team in the OHL All-Star Game for the second consecutive year. In the playoffs, he scored 7 goals tying for the team lead before the Colts were eliminated by Mississauga St. Michael’s. Barrie Head Coach, Marty Williamson, said the following about Hutchings: “He has been our go-to-guy all year long, he’s got exceptional speed, a great shot and he’s really worked on being a team player… He is working hard on his consistency and trying to be effective every game and every shift.” Hutchings looks similar to a young Martin St. Louis and has a modest sized 5’10, 173 pound frame. Also, by Coach Williamson’s description that he’s a fast skater makes me believe this point only more; Martin St. Louis has won the fastest skater competition in past All-Star games. The young forward idols Steve Yzerman and Mike Richards. Overall, a great middle round steal by Tampa Bay.

26.) Linden Vey, Right Wing (picked 96th overall by the Los Angeles Kings) – One of the very offensive focused players coming into the draft. He likes to skate hard and crash the net or cash in on opportunities at short range from the slot. Vey is a goal scorer, but will be more influential as a playmaker. This year Vey racked up 24 goals, 48 assists, and 72 points with the Medicine Hat Tigers (2006-2007 WHL champions) of the WHL. Vey is also a restrained player when it comes to taking penalties as he recorded just 20 penalty minutes in 71 games. The Wakaw, Saskatchewan native idols Sidney Crosby and compares with the Penguins star in regards to his confidence and leadership abilities on the ice. Overall, Vey is the classic, good-natured player everybody will love to watch and cheer for.

27.) Alexander Fallstrom, Right Wing (picked 116th overall by the Minnesota Wild) – Fallstrom’s high school, Shattuck-Saint Mary’s (Minnesota), gives him credit alone. Aside from boasting national champion teams, this elite Episcopalian boarding school has produced both collegiate and NHL stars including Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks), Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabres), Patrick Eaves (Carolina Hurricanes), Jack Johnson (L.A. Kings), and for a brief period, Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins). The Swedish born Fallstrom was admitted to Shattuck-St. Mary’s after playing with many teams in the Swedish Elite League (SEL), which included a standout season in 2006-2007 with Djurgarden Jr. when he scored 32 goals and compiled 56 points through 49 games. In his first year (2007-2008) at St. Mary’s, he had no problems adapting to the North American style of play putting up a solid 67 points in 56 games. Last season though, Fallstrom was even more electric and earned the team lead in goals (40) and points (87), demonstrating that he was a great pick for senior team captain. He models his game after fellow countryman, Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit). Fallstrom may be sick of Minnesota and may have hoped to go elsewhere, but the Wild will keep this talented young forward where he is for the moment.

28.) Edward Pasquale, Goalie (picked 117th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers) – Pasquale was originally the top ranked North American Goalie, but dropped a couple of places before the start of the draft to #3. Pasquale came off a stellar season with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL finishing sixth amongst goalies in wins with 32 (32-21-6 was his overall record this year) and ninth in SV % with .911. He also distinguished himself this season by playing at the 2009 OHL All-Star Classic and the 2009 Top Prospects event. Pasquale was described by NHL scout, Al Jensen, as a quick, mobile, butterfly-style goalie who can protect the net soundly. Furthermore, Pasquale’s size (6’2 and 218 pounds) will give his team some extra coverage of the high corners in the net. He idolizes Carey Price and likes how his relaxed style of play compares with his own. Overall, Pasquale will bring a positive, determined, and hardworking attitude to the ice and with some improvement to his play; he could soon become the #3 or #2 goaltender on the Thrashers roster.

Round 5

29.) Tomas Vincour, Center (picked 129th overall by the Dallas Stars) – In his sophomore year with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, Vincour recorded 36 points and 23 penalty minutes through 46 games. He would have played more had he not made the World Junior Championship (WJC) roster for Team Czech Republic. At the WJC, Vincour tallied 3 assists and a plus 2 rating in six games. In his WHL career, Vincour has totaled 75 points in 114 games. Vincour’s older cousin, Libor Zabransky, was also drafted into the NHL by St. Louis in 1995. Edmonton Coach Steve Pleau said Vincour is a “big, strong kid who shoots the puck very well. He plays up and down and a physical brand of hockey and he’s very effective. He uses his skating to drive the net and he takes the puck to the danger areas.” Vincour models his play on that of Ales Hemsky (Edmonton Oilers), but has a strong admiration for recently retired European great, Jaromir Jagr. Overall, Vincour needs to play a few more years of junior hockey before he can compete at a higher level, but will prove to be an effective playmaker and deadly on rushes to the net when he reaches that point

30.) Nicola Riopel, Goalie (picked 142 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers) – It was hard deciding between Riopel of the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) and Olivier Roy of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) for my 30th and final prospect pick. I had to compare two goaltenders with similar playing histories, statistics, and body frames. Riopel won my vote despite Roy being ranked as the #2 goalie before the start of the draft. Over three seasons with the Wildcats, Riopel has seen an improvement each season, watching his GAA drop from a 3.35 at the start of his career to a 2.01 in the 2008-2009 regular season. His 2.01 GAA not only won him the Jacques Plante Memorial Trophy (lowest GAA in the league), but also established a new QMJHL record for the lowest GAA ever recorded in a single season in the league. He also earned the Michel Briere Memorial Trophy (QMJHL player of the year) this season with his notable .930 sv%, 5 shutouts, and a 43-15 record. Additionally, he earned a spot on the 2009 QMJHL1st line first all-star team. In the 2007-2008 season, Riopel was also impressive in net recording a .910 sv pct. and 3.04 GAA despite Moncton’s poor 15-34-5 finish. Riopel is a 6’0, 167 pound butterfly-style goalie who shows good potential as a future NHLer. His mindset should only make him more confident in improving his game in junior hockey, which will make it easier for him to make the transition to the professional level.

Recap of Top 30 Picks

Team                                        Position                        Previous Club

N.Y. Islanders-3            Centers-10            OHL: London-2, Barrie-1
Colorado-3                       Left Wing- 3          Brampton-1, Erie Otters-1
Atlanta-3                           Right Wing- 3       Windsor-1, Oshawa-1
Detroit-2                           Defense- 8               Saginaw-1, Plymouth-1
Tampa Bay-2                  Goalie- 6                  SEL: Timra-1, Modo-1
Nashville-2                                                              Farjestads BK-1
Dallas-2                                                                      Frolunda (Jr.)-1, Brynas-1
Philadelphia-2                                                       WHL: Red Deer Rebels-1
Minnesota-2                                                            Kelowna-1, Edmonton-1
Toronto-1                                                                  Vancouver Giants-1
Edmonton-1                                                             Medicine Hat Tigers-1
Ottawa-1                                                                      QMJHL: Shawinigan-1
L.A. Kings-1                                                               Saint John-1, Moncton-1
Phoenix-1                                                                   USHL: Chicago Steel-1
Wasington-1                                                             Des Moines-1, Fargo-1
Pittsburgh-1                                                             OTHER: U-Minn-1
Columbus-1                                                              USA U-18-1, Espoo Blues-1
Vancouver-1                                                         M Zvolen-1, Shat. St. Mary’s-1

Contact Information:
Angus Dunk
WSOE Sports

NHL: 2009 Draft and Prospects – A Changing Tide? (Part 2)

By Angus Dunk, WSOE Sports

Top 30 Picks at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal

Picks 11-20

11.) Marcus Johansson, Center (picked 24th overall by the Washington Capitals) – Johansson is a quick skater who scores on the rushes, breakaways, and crash net situations. He has a very good wrist shot and compares with Victor Hedman on the same level. He’s played with Farjestads BK of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) for the past two seasons which included this season’s championship team (Farjestads BK has won 8 championships in the last 28 years). In the 2007-2008 season, he had an outstanding season with Farjestads’s junior team scoring 18 points in 12 games. This year he recorded 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 45 games. At the World Junior Championships this year he tallied 2 goals in 6 games helping Sweden to a silver medal. In addition to his one ice credentials, he has a detailed hockey pedigree. Overall, a solid late pick in the 1st round like Schroeder; a real steal for the Capitals.

12.) Simon Despres, Defense (picked 30th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins) – His English may be incomprehensible and he may prefer to speak French, but Despres comes ready to play. In his 2nd season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) he recorded 32 points in 66 games and led defensemen in scoring. As a 16-year old rookie with the Sea Dogs last year (2007-2008), Despres racked up 14 points and a plus-18 rating in 64 games which earned him a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. In 2007, he was picked 1st overall in the QMJHL draft. Despres, who isn’t even 18 years old yet, is 6’4 and weighs in at 205 pounds making him a threat at both ends of the ice. Scouting Director E.J. McGuire compares Despres to defensemen in recent past drafts such as Zach Bogosian (2008 by Atlanta) and Jack Johnson (2005 by Carolina).

Round 2

13.) Mikko Koskinen, Goalie (picked 31st overall by the New York Islanders) – The Islanders didn’t waste their 2nd pick by selecting Koskinen, but they may have surprised some teams nonetheless. Koskinen was a small underdog pick because he was ranked as the #2 European Goalie entering the draft (behind #1 Robin Lehner), but his numbers obviously impressed the Islanders. After an impressive span with the Espoo Blues’ junior squad this season (2008-2009), Koskinen held a 1.91 goals allowed average (GAA), a .931 save percentage (sv%), and 1 shutout through 33 games with the regular Espoo squad of SM-liiga. Koskinen also covers a huge part of the net with a 6’5, 187 pound figure. Koskinen officially became the 1st goalie picked in this year’s draft and was probably the oldest player drafted this year as well (he turns 21 in July). Obviously, the Islanders wanted a little extra insurance in the goaltending department for Rick Dipietro (injured for almost all of last year’s regular season) and newly acquired Dwayne Roloson (good goalie, but his playing has been shaky at times). 

14.) Landon Ferraro, Center (picked 32nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings) – I find it hard for me to exclude Ferraro from a top prospects list. This scrappy- 17 year old forward is the son of former NHLer, Ray Ferraro. Besides “hockey sense,” Landon says his and his father’s style of play vary quite noticeably. To add to his hockey pedigree, he is also the stepson of Cammi Granato, who captained the U.S. Women’s Olympic team to a gold medal in 1998 and a silver medal in 2002. This year, Ferraro played in the 2009 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Prospects game and won the fastest skater competition with a lap time of 14.009 seconds. For the past two seasons, Ferraro has suited up for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL and this year led his team in goals with 37 and assists with 18 through 68 games. In his rookie season with Red Deer in the 2007-2008 season, he recorded 13 goals, 24 points, and 65 penalty minutes in 54 games. Overall, Landon Ferraro is a developing forward with a deadly mid-range wrist shot that the Red Wings should be able to put to good use. Additionally, Ferraro will add some bulk to Detroit because he also serves as an enforcer, after racking up 99 penalty minutes with Red Deer this past season.  

15.) Ryan O’Reilly, Center (picked 33rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche) – It’s hard to find footage of this OHL player, but that doesn’t make him any less qualified. In two seasons with the Erie Otters of the OHL, O’Reilly has tallied over 100 points. In his rookie season (2007-2008), he earned team honors with both the Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Player Awards; he scored 52 points and only notched 14 penalty minutes. This season, O’Reilly recorded a career high 50 assists and 66 points in 68 games played. Ryan’s older brother, Cal O’Reilly, was drafted in the 5th round of the 2005 draft by the Nashville Predators. In the future, O’Reilly will serve as a playmaker and help assist the Avalanche in creating quality scoring chances.

16.) Alex Chiasson, Right Wing (picked 38th overall by the Dallas Stars) – I was disappointed by the Stars in the 1st round, but their 2nd pick with Chiasson helps make up for it. In the 2007-2008 season, Chiasson had a standout senior year in the Northwood School (New York High School League) recording 35 goals and 81 points in just 45 games. However, his transition to professional hockey didn’t hinder his scoring abilities. Last season, he played with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and notched 33 assists, 50 points, and 101 penalty minutes. After taking his off-year from college, Chiasson plans on attending Boston University (2009 NCAA Division I Champions) this coming fall.

17.) Charles-Olivier Roussel, Defense (picked 42nd overall by the Nashville Predators) – The Predators gained this pick through negotiations with the Minnesota Wild. After drafting Zach Budish right before, Nashville opted to go with this offensive-defenseman. The 17-yearold skater models his play after and says he wants to be the “next Dion Phaneuf.” After 68 games this season with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL, Roussel was a standout with 11 goals, 33 assists, and 44 points. At the same time, Roussel disciplined himself and recorded a modest 77 penalty minutes. In addition to all of this, he finished with a ninth-best 31 plus rating amongst defensemen. In the post season, Roussel continued his scoring success and led defenseman throughout the playoffs with a total of 18 points in 21 games. Roussel helped the Cataractes reach the Presidents Cup Finals, but unfortunately saw his team lose in 7 games to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. With his 6’1, 196 pound frame, Roussel should be able to hold his own in both Nashville and the NHL.

18.) Jeremy Morin, Left Wing (picked 45th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers) – I don’t feel like the national development training development plans (NTDP) give players the same amount of depth and competition than others in such leagues as the OHL, QMJHL, USHL, or the WHL. However, nonetheless even NHL Scouting Director, E.J. McGuire has praise for Morin. McGuire considers Morin to be one of the top offensive specialists in this year’s draft and loves his “puck-dishing” ability. McGuire draws comparisons in Morin’s games to that of Adam Oates and Brendan Shanahan. Morin had impressive scoring highlights this year totaling 33 goals and 59 points in 55 games. Morin also tied for first in the U.S. National Training Developmental Program (US-NTDP) for game winning goals (5) as part of the U.S Under 18 Team. In international play, he averaged a point per game this season with 14 points in 14 games. At the 2009 Under-18 World Championships, Morin helped Team USA earn a gold medal while he led the team with 6 goals in 7 games. His stellar play in the U.S. NTDP earned him a contract with the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) who he plans to play for in the upcoming season. Morin and his family members both share a common hockey background. His older brother, Chad Morin, will be a senior defenseman on the Harvard University team and his cousin, J.D. Forrest, was an All-American at Boston College and now plays professionally in Finland. Morin’s outlook is positive. With some time to work on his game in the OHL, in a couple of years he should have no problem making the Thrashers’ roster.

19.) Robin Lehner, Goalie (picked 46th overall by the Ottawa Senators) – The next Henrik Lundqvist? The Senators scouting staff seems to think so. Like Lundqvist, Lehner is a quick butterfly style goalie with a calm and composed mental attitude. Last season, Lehner played for Frolunda Jr. recording a 3.05 GAA, a .903 sv%, and 1 shutout in 22 games. He also represented Sweden in the 2009 Under-18 World Championships and tallied a 2.80 GAA and a .918 sv % in 4 games. Lehner’s father coached Lundqvist and is credited with being a key contributor to his success in the NHL. Ottawa’s staff has also said that Lehner has a competitive mindset and differs from his fellow Swedes in this aspect of hockey. It was surprising that he was picked as late in the draft as he was; his final ranking among European goalies was #1. However, the Islanders decided to go with Mikko Koskinen (#2 amongst European goalies) whose statistics added up better. The Senators say Lehner will play Canadian Junior Hockey next year to further help develop his game and seem confident that he will be a contender for them in net. The only question is, “Can the man who wants to be Henrik Lundqvist, be Lundqvist or better?”

20.) Tomas Tatar, Center (picked 60th overall by the Detroit Red Wings) – 2nd Slovakian-born player drafted this year. He’s a good-puck carrier and knows how to dangle with excellence.  In the 2007-2008 season, he played with Trencin Jr. and notched 41 goals, 35 assists, and 76 points through 42 games. Last season he played with Zvolen HKm of Slovak Extraliga, the most premier league of Slovakia, and totaled 11 points in 41 games. At the 2009 World Junior Championships, Tatar scored 7 goals and totaled 11 points in the tournament to finish 4th amongst scorers overall. At 5’11, 176 pounds, Tatar is one of the smaller forwards in this year’s NHL entry draft. However, that does not discourage Tatar who idols and stylizes his play after Martin St. Louis (another relatively small player). On St. Louis, Tatar said, “He is smaller than others, but strong with the puck. He has great hockey sense and scoring ability.” Overall, Tatar is a solid puck carrier and fast skater who can be deadly in front of the net, 1 on 1 opportunities, and breakaways.

Contact Information:
Angus Dunk
WSOE Sports

NHL: 2009 Draft and Prospects – A Changing Tide? (Part 1)

By Angus Dunk, WSOE Sports

A very impressive draft altogether, the teams with the top picks stuck to the right players. There was talk and speculation according to that the Islanders were considering center, Matt Duchene, as their #1 pick. As good as Duchene has been, the Islanders were clearly more impressed with the exploits of John Tavares at the World Junior Championships.

Top 30 Picks at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal

Picks 1-10

Round 1

1.) John Tavares, Center (picked 1st overall by the New York Islanders)Owner Charles Wang might have finally landed a winner for the New York Islanders, who have been defunct since the 80’s. Tavares had already been a standout star in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) well before this year’s World Junior Championships. During his 6 year run in the OHL he managed to compile 433 career points, which included back to back 100 point performances with the Oshawa Generals in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. Tavares finished his scoring with 104 points this season, playing the latter half with the London Knights. Tavares gets to the front of the net with his quick stick movement and clearly has a tick-tack-toe style of play which leaves goalies in question to where the puck is. Debate over the next Wayne Gretzky has been speculated since “The Great One” retired in 1999. Is he the one? Number one picks like Sidney Crosby (2005 by the Penguins) and Steve Stamkos (2008 by the Lightning) have proven big for their respective teams, but Tavares will play the definitive role of “Hero” for the struggling New York Islanders. His skating ability has been the only thing questioned by scouts, keeping in mind that the National Hockey League and American Hockey League feature quick paces like no other. But this shouldn’t be a worry, Tavares can clearly deliver. Even though he went to the Islanders, as opposed to my Rangers, I welcome the healthy competition in the Atlantic Division.

2.) Victor Hedman, Defense (picked 2nd overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning) – Hedman originally comes from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden; home to famed NHLer’s Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, the Sedin twins from the Vancouver Canucks, and Anders Hedberg (retired).  The 6’6, 220 pound defenseman plays for Team Modo of the Swedish Elite League and has been a stand out star like so many of his teammates. While his numbers haven’t been huge, Hedman has been on the rise. The NHL Central Scouting Service compares him to defensemen such as Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara. Clearly, Hedman had his best year playing in the Elite League with Modo and recorded 21 points, a +21, and 52 penalty minutes. On offense, Hedman’s biggest attributes include his ability to score quick one-timers and wrist shots. His shot in turn has made him a threat to opposing teams in overtime and special team situations. On defense, Hedman’s size will provide his team in their own end with good checking and hits. Overall, my analysis is that Hedman is a great player. My only concern is his ability to strive with a struggling team such as Tampa Bay. However, Tampa has typically drafted forwards in previous drafts such as Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Stamkos. Hedman may be the missing piece of the puzzle to this team. If things go awry for this young star, he has a back-up option revealing that he would be a pilot if he wasn’t a hockey player.

3.) Matt Duchene, Center (picked 3rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche) – This playmaker from the Brampton Battalion of the OHL well could have been picked 2nd this year in my opinion. Duchene sneaked his way up from being in the top 10 draftees to the top 5. In the May issue of “The Hockey News” he was ranked at #6.  Duchene comes from the same OHL team, the Brampton Battalion, as Vancouver Canucks prospect, Cody Hodgson, who was ranked #2 by “The Hockey News” amongst current NHL prospects. Duchene is a great player because of his speed. This is seen consistently in his skating and with his stick handling. In just two seasons with Brampton, he recorded back-to-back 30 goal seasons (2007-2008 and 2008-2009) and compiled 129 points. So why wasn’t he #1 in the draft? He doesn’t have as much experience as Tavares and could use more time to develop his game. Overall, he’s very good, but not quite matching Tavares in scoring caliber. However, his skating does outmatch that of Tavares. Duchene will put up big numbers for the Avalanche and shouldn’t have trouble making the roster this season. His only flaw might be that he favors the right wing a little too much, but every player has their tendencies.

4.) Evander Kane, Center (picked 4th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers) – The forward is named after boxer Evander Holyfield. Kane is coming off an explosive season with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in which he recorded 48 goals and 48 assists for a total of 96 points. Partial owners of the Giants include former NHL players, Gordie Howe and Pat Quinn. Kane also played alongside John Tavares on Team Canada in the World Junior Championships averaging a point per game. Kane also possesses an aggressive style of competition which could prove useful to his team in both the offensive and defensive zones. With a 6’1, 176 pound frame, Kane holds his own and is unafraid to dish out hit after hit or get involved in a scrap. On offense, Kane’s “rush to the net” style of play has drawn scouts to compare him to Eric Staal. Additionally, Kane is superb on breakaways and in shootouts. He lists a variation of shootout moves as his favorite including the backhand, forehand, and backhand to forehand. In these types of scenarios, more than likely he scores.

5.) Nazem Kadri, Center (picked 7th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs) – Here’s a fun fact. He’s the first player of Lebanese-Muslim descent to be drafted in the NHL. He played with teammate, John Tavares, on the London Knights of the OHL this past season. This season, Kadri finished 2nd in scoring on the Knights, with a career high 78 points (25 goals and 53 assists), only trailing Tavares. This year he also led the OHL in shorthanded points with 10. In 2007-2008, he played on the Kitchener Rangers who the John Ross Robertson Cup as OHL Champions. Kadri is a big asset in my mind for two reasons. First, according to “The Hockey News” he is a player that comfortably plays all three forward positions which will prove critical on special plays as well for 5 on 5 hockey. Secondly, Kadri is a goal scorer, but his bigger attribute is going to being a playmaker. He finished ninth last year in assists (53) in the OHL.

6.) Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Left Wing (drafted 10th overall by the Edmonton Oilers) – I was very surprised to see Paarjarvi-Svensson drafted so late, seeing how he was one of the top ranked skaters. His final ranking before the start of the draft was #2 amongst European skaters. This also begs to question why the Phoenix Coyotes didn’t draft him, given they have for the past two drafts selected Europeans (Mikkel Boedker in 2008 and Oliver Ekman Larsson (#4 amongst European skaters) in 2009). This was a real steal for the Edmonton Oilers. He has made a difference for his country playing on Team Sweden in the World Junior Championships and World Junior Championships U-18 (Under-18). In 2009 in the World Junior Championships, he recorded 7 points in six games and earned a silver medal with Sweden as he did in the tournament the previous season. This year at the World Junior Championships Under 18 tournament he recorded 12 points. He currently plays in the Swedish Elite League with the Timra IK Red Eagles. This season he recorded 17 points in 50 games in his second year with the Red Eagles. Paajarvi-Svensson may not be tallying record breaking numbers, but has played amazingly for a player who just recently turned 18. Paajarvi-Svensson has also been credited with being a forward that can stop defensemen in their tracks. NHL Central Scouting Director, E.J. McGuire, confirms this fact and says the left-winger is an encouraging player in this regard. With more time, development, and maturation added to his game, Paajarvi-Svensson should prove to be a standout player in the NHL. He was the first left- winger to be drafted this year.

7.) Ryan Ellis, Defense (drafted 11th overall by the Nashville Predators) – Based on his career and record, I believe Ellis to be as good if not better than his higher ranked counterpart, Jared Cowen (9th overall by the Ottawa Senators). The only reason for him not being drafted in the top 10 would be based on his size. Ellis stands at 5’9 and 173 pounds. However, hockey is a game of spirit and determination in many aspects. Furthermore, defense isn’t all about how well one can check and hit the other skaters. Cowen’s ability as a scoring defenseman seems like a natural reflex. The 18 year-old has come off a productive two year stint with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. He increased his single season scoring to 89 points this season after establishing a solid 63 in his rookie season last year. His play on the ice this year earned him the OHL’s “Most Outstanding Defenseman” Award for the 2008-2009 season. But wait he’s done more? That’s right. Ellis was another key component in helping Team Canada win this year’s World Junior Championships, registering a total of 7 points in 6 games. The young defenseman is quick and fast and he could easily prove to be a nuisance to his bigger, slower opponents. On a side note, Ellis demonstrates a good deal of maturity and articulation for such a young player. Ellis says he styles his game after New Jersey’s Brian Rafalski and Columbus’s Kris Russell, both talented, “lightweight” defensemen in the NHL.

8.) Calvin De Haan, Defense (drafted 12 overall by the New York Islanders) – He’s young and only just finished his rookie season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, but shows great promise if he continues to play the way he has. He notched a total of 55 assists and 63 points for the Generals this season. Additionally, he also played for Canada’s team at the 2009 World Under 18 Championships tallying six points. He has a reasonable frame standing at 6’0 and 170 pounds. He’s another quick skater, who is particularly good at staying with his man on the ice. Overall, forwards will have trouble trying to out skate him. Before he was acquired by Oshawa, De Haan played with the Kemptville 73’s of the Central Junior Hockey League (CJHL). The Islanders made good use of their extra pick in round 1 by choosing De Haan.

9.) John Moore, Defense (picked 21st overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets) – Picks 20  through 30 in the draft are always tricky and there isn’t a clear cut answer of who to go with. Still the Blue Jackets have thought outside the box a little by going with a player from the United States Hockey League (USHL). Moore, a native of Chicago, decided to play for one of his many hometown teams and joined the Chicago Steel this season. In his second year with the Steel, he totaled 39 points during the 2008-2009 season and was named the USHL Defenseman of the Year. Moore was also tagged as the highest ranked USHL player entering this year’s draft. Moore plans on attending Colorado College in the fall, but is unsure if he will keep that commitment pending the demands of the Blue Jackets. Overall, I think he shows promise and is a safe investment for the Jackets, but all investments need time to grow. If he wants to develop his game further he should go to Colorado College. He has been compared to defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Jay Bouwmeester by NHL scouting director, E.J. McGuire.

10.) Jordan Schroeder, Center (picked 22nd overall by the Vancouver Canucks) – Schroeder had the honor of being drafted as the first collegiate player in this year’s draft. And where better than from the alma mater of Herb Brooks? That’s right, the University of Minnesota. As a freshman with the Golden Gophers, Schroeder recorded 45 points in 35 games for a season average of 1.3 points per game. Additionally, Schroeder was the only freshman to rank in the top 50 scorers in NCAA I Men’s Ice Hockey. For his achievements this season alone, he earned Rookie of the Year awards from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), the College Hockey News, and from the Gophers as well. Schroeder has also been of value for USA hockey, playing on the U-18 team and competing also with Team USA in the World Junior Championships in 2009. Schroeder led the team in scoring this year with 11 points.  Overall, he will only continue to become better in the next 3 years at Minnesota and will be a definite playmaker for the Vancouver Canucks. The scouting report in the May Issue of the Hockey News describes him best: “His strengths are his hockey sense and puck skills. He’s intelligent, poised and creative, with a very good focus around the net.” At 5’8 and 175 pounds, his size was a concern for many teams and explains him being picked so late in round 1 of the draft. In May, The Hockey News pegged him as the #10 pick.

Contact Information:
Angus Dunk
WSOE Sports

MLB: What’s the next big trade?

By Craig Filazzola, WSOE Sports Director

The big trade Friday was the Oakland A’s sending three-time all-star outfielder Matt Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals for top prospect Brett Wallace and two other minor leaguers. Many anticipate another significant transaction to be made before the trading deadline.

One of the following four star players may be the next to be moved.

Roy Halladay, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Several reports say the Blue Jays have asked the Phillies for J.A. Happ, one of baseball’s best prospects in Kyle Drabek, and minor leaguers Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown. The asking price is very high, and Philadelphia doesn’t appear to be willing to give up that much. This is the only time the Blue Jays can get the most for Halladay, and the Phillies are the best fit. A deal can still get done between the two sides.

The Dodgers are interested, but John Schlegel of says the Blue Jays want them to part with two or three players on their current roster or five or six prospects. Don’t rule out the Dodgers, because they have the pieces.

Another serious contender is the Brewers. They are 3.5 games back of St. Louis in the NL Central. Six teams are ahead of them in the NL Wild Card race, including the leaders Colorado and San Francisco by four games. Yet Milwaukee is trying to make this move. The Rays and Red Sox remain interested, but both teams are very unlikely to make it happen.

Cliff Lee, SP, Cleveland Indians

The Yankees have shown interest in Lee but aren’t willing to throw Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes in the deal like the Indians want them to. The Rays can land Lee if they yield some of their young talented pitchers. The Phillies and Red Sox have also been named as potential suitors.

Victor Martinez, C/1B, Cleveland Indians

The Rays and Indians have discussed the trade for weeks. The Indians recently talked to the Red Sox. According to ESPN’s Peter Gammons, the Indians asked for young pitcher Clay Buchholz in a package deal, but the Red Sox rejected it. Boston still remains as a possible destination.

Adam Dunn, RF/1B, Washington Nationals

Some reports include the Giants and Tigers in the sweepstakes. There’s no reason the Nationals should keep him, and he can impact any team with his power.

Contact Information:
Craig Filazzola
WSOE Sports Director

NFL: Vick’s a changed man, I promise!

By Adam Lawson, WSOE Sports

I was being poked and prodded more than a cute child on his first birthday a few days ago.  I didn’t want quarterback Michael Vick in the National Football League after missing two full seasons due to the fact that he fought and killed numerous dogs in Virginia.  “He’s served his time, idiot, let him play!” was probably the phrase I heard the most after I put that link up on my Facebook wall.  “He’s the best athlete of all-time!” said one of my high school buddies.  I wasn’t really sure how that applied to the fact that he believed he should be allowed back in the league. (To clear things up, there’s no way Vick was ever the best athlete that ever lived, but I’ll let that go.”)  I was basically an idiot for even thinking that NFL Commish Roger Goodell should keep Mike Vick from playing this season.  If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t take my few personal victories quietly, so please enjoy this piece.

You see, multiple sources are reporting that Vick was seen in a Virginia strip club with, of all people, Allen Iverson, on his first night of freedom.  Because there’s nothing a guy can do to improve his awful image and convince teams to sign him than by making it rain, right?  And before you jump on this post, like you did the last one, realize that I know strip clubs aren’t illegal, and if Vick wasn’t shooting the place up then he was already a better role model than Pacman Jones.  That’s not the point.

It’s really funny, actually.  You would think that after all he’s been through, after all the lawyers and PR people gave him recommendations on how to clean up his image, he would stay in and play Monopoly, apparently he got those privileges back, with his fiancée.  Nope.  That doesn’t satisfy the former Virginia Tech Hokie.  Why appreciate his wife-to-be when he can provide one-dollar bills for Candy and Jasmine while they take their clothes off so that they can pay the rent for their trailer?  Nothing screams role model louder than that, does it?

What can we take from this story?  Well, many things.  First, Vick is a liar.  He took forever to admit that he, in fact, was guilty of the dog fighting charges.  And now he is flat out denying that he visited the strip club with AI.  Michael, Michael, Michael!  Multiple people saw you there.  Don’t lie to us.  Secondly, I’m pretty sure NFL teams aren’t looking for quarterbacks devoid of common sense, because it’s pretty clear that Vick doesn’t have any.  He doesn’t care about playing in the league again.  If he did, he would be a choir boy until, at the very least, somebody signed him. But he didn’t.  All he did was prove once again that he doesn’t belong in the NFL.

It’s really sad.  He’s absolutely ruined a once promising career.  But you can’t feel sorry for him.  He knew what he was doing.  He just didn’t care.  The joke is on you, the supporters of 7, because 7 betrayed you.  He said he was going to change.  Tony Dungy put the fear of God into him.  Apparently, the veil of ignorance fell on his supporters.  Good news, though.  He’ll have plenty of time to hit up those joints this year.  He can even stop by on Sundays.

Contact Information:
Adam Lawson
WSOE Sports

MLB: A Wise play guides Buehrle to perfection

Wise is in the process of making his tremndous catch.  Courtesy of

Wise is in the process of making his tremendous catch. Courtesy of

By Craig Filazzola, WSOE Sports Director

Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game Thursday, as the Chicago White Sox picked up the 5-0 home victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. 

The perfect game was in danger to start the ninth inning when Gabe Kapler ripped a ball to the deep left-centerfield.  DeWayne Wise, who came into the inning as a defensive replacement, ran to the warning track, jumped up and made a full extension over the 8-foot wall.  The ball hit the webbing of his glove, popped out when he was coming down and landed in his bare hand as he fell to the ground. 

Under the circumstances, many consider this one of the best catches of all-time.  Wise robbed Kapler of a home run and kept the perfect game in tact.  If he didn’t make the catch, the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout would have all been gone. 

Ozzie Guillen also looked like a hero.  The White Sox manager placed Wise in centerfield, moved Scott Podsednik from center to leftfield and took out leftfielder Carlos Quentin.

Buehrle retired the next two hitters to complete baseball’s 18th perfect game.  The left-hander also delivered his second career no-hitter.


These pitchers threw baseball’s unofficial perfect games

–  July 23, 1917 – Ernie Shore came in relief in the first inning after Babe Ruth walked the lead-off batter.  Ruth was ejected for arguing with the umpire.  The runner on first was caught stealing, and Shore retired the next 26 batters in Boston’s 4-0 win over Washington.

–  May 26, 1959 – Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates tossed 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves, but that wasn’t enough.  The 13th inning included an error, sacrifice bunt, walk and double, all leading to the 1-0 loss.  Haddix was the losing pitcher.

–  June 3, 1995 – Pedro Martinez threw nine perfect innings, but the game went into extras.  He gave up a hit to his only batter in the 10th but still got the win, as Montreal defeated San Diego 1-0. 

Contact Information:
Craig Filazzola
WSOE Sports Director

NBA: Which team has improved itself the most?

By Tom Waterman, WSOE Sports

In an off-season where multiple big name stars including Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace have all changed teams and will be suiting up for legitimate championship contenders.  This begs the question which teams have had the best off-season?

Starting off the Eastern Conference with the defending Conference Champs, the Orlando Magic have certainly addressed their biggest need; their need for an explosive wing player who can create his own shot.  Their acquisition of Vince Carter provides them with just that.  Also, by matching the offer sheet for backup center Marcin Gortat along with the additions of forwards Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes provide ample depth and scoring off the bench to survive the rigors of the Eastern Conference and contend with the powerhouses of the Western Conference.

Another Eastern Conference team that has made a few moves this off-season is the Boston Celtics. However, none may be more important then the healthy return of Kevin Garnett, whose injury late in the season decimated the Celtics and their chances for a repeat.  The return of Garnett along with the addition of Rasheed Wallace gives the Celtics plenty of firepower to get back to the finals.

O'Neal, 37, will play for the Cavaliers, his 5th NBA team.  Courtesy of:

O'Neal, 37, will enter his 19th season with his 5th team, the Cavaliers. Courtesy of:

No off-season acquisition was larger, especially in the literal sense, then the Cleveland Cavaliers addition of Shaquille O’Neal to a lineup that desperately needed some help in the paint. While adding Shaq five years ago would have automatically turned your team into the favorite for the title, he is not the player he was five years ago and that is why I still rank the Cavs a step behind both the Magic and the Celtics.

Over in the Western Conference, one team has clearly improved themselves the most and that is the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs acquired forward Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and drafted DeJuan Blair and Jack McClinton, all who will provide even more depth to a team that all ready has Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs aren’t the only team in the Western Conference that has been busy though.  The Dallas Mavericks were able to re-sign point guard Jason Kidd and also acquire forward Shawn Marion in a four-team trade this off-season.  Unfortunately for the Mavericks their search for a starting center was halted when the Magic matched the offer sheet for Gortat, but the Mavs still should not be overlooked.

That brings us to the defending champs who replaced a solid player in Trevor Ariza with arguably the league’s toughest defender in Ron Artest.  Artest will certainly bring a new level of tenacity to a team that already has the lethal inside outside combination of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. 

As tough as it is to pick against the defending champs, I have to say that as of today my very, very early pick for the NBA Finals is the Orlando Magic and the San Antonio Spurs. 

Contact Information:
Tom Waterman
WSOE Sports