Monday, January 19, 2015

The Lightning Card of the Week Returns! Draft Day Edition

There are certain cards out there that you have to have because they are awesome cards (1971 Topps ThurmanMunson). There are some cards that you have to have because they are iconic (1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr). And there are some that you have to have because they represent a specific moment in history.

For me, the 2011-12 Panini Rookie Anthology Draft Year Vincent Lecavalier/ David Legwand because it represents the draft that the Lightning got right and started building into a Stanley Cup winner. The fact that it has Vinny on it and two jersey swatches makes it a little bit awesome as well.

Let's talk about the 1998 draft. Heading into it, it was clear that there were two players at the top of the class and then a bunch of decent players after that (sounds familiar). Both of those players were centers (sounds familiar). There was a consensus number one pick, a franchise savior, a “Next One” if you will, but the other player was quietly gaining in popularity to the point that some think they might go first overall depending what team ended up with the overall pick (sounds familiar). One was Canadian and one was American (again, sound familiar).

So yes, there are a lot of parallels between the 1998 NHL draft and the upcoming 2015 draft. Instead of McDavid vs. Eichel we had Lecavalier vs. Legwand. Lecavalier played the part of McDavid, dominating Major Junior hockey for years leading up to the draft, while Legwand was the hard-working American kid that may be having a better year (mostly because of McDavid's injury, but hey I'm trying to build a narrative here!)

It's odd looking back now that fifteen years have passed, but there was talk that the Lightning might go with Legwand instead of Lecavalier. At the time, Legwand was actually considered the more offensively gifted of the two players by some. Now, it was quite apparent that the Lightning were all aboard the Lecavalier train, but that doesn't prevent experts from speculating.

Would things have developed differently if Art Williams had declared Legwand the “Michael Jordan” of hockey instead of Lecavalier? Would he have blossomed into the scorer under the defensively lax guidence of Jaques Demers and Steve Ludzik? Would Lecavalier developed into a solid two-way center instead of the 50-goal scorer under Barry Trotz's offense-stifling style of play?

One thing is certain – Lightning fans wouldn't have had to sit through a decade of “Lecavalier to Montreal” rumors. Talk which actually started before the Lightning had drafted him. In an April 1998 St. Pete Times article, Tim Buckley mentions that Montreal was rumored to be dangling Saku Koivu inexchange for the pick.  Joe Sakic's name was also floated around as potential trade bait.

While Sakic and Koivu never ended up in Tampa, without a couple of trades this card would look a lot different. The picks used by Tampa and Nashville were not their original first round picks. The number one pick used by the Lightning was originally held by the Florida Panthers who traded it to San Jose for Victor Kozlov. At the time the deal was made (November of 1997) the Panthers were 5-9-4 (the last column was for ties. Yes Little Jimmy in the '90s games could end in a tie). They were struggling, but not necessarily out of the playoff hunt. General Manager Bryan Murray thought Kozlov, 23-years-old at the time, would be more beneficial to the team in the short run then what he thought would be a mid-round draft pick. “Certainly we thought we'd be a playoff team and never expected the top pick, but we'll have a top player in Kozlov for many years to come” he told the Sun Sentinel after the draft order was announced.

While Kozlov never reached the upper echelons of stardom he did have some solid seasons for the Panthers topping out with 22 goals in 2002-03 before getting dealt to New Jersey in 2004. Oddly enough Kozlov has the distinction of being traded for a #1 overall pick (Lecavalier) AND a #2 overall pick as his rights were traded from Hartford to San Jose for a package that included Chris Pronger in June of 1993.

Speaking of the Sharks, they kept that first round draft pick all of four months when Lightning General Manager “Trader” Phil Esposito came a' calling. For Bryan Marchment, David Shaw and the Lightning's first round pick Espo received the Sharks first round pick and Andrei Nazarov. Marchment himself had barely unpacked in Tampa before getting shuttled off to San Jose. He had been part of a trade with Edmonton that had sent former first overall pick Roman Hamrlik to the Oilers. It was a busy year for Mr. Esposito as he managed to pull off 10 trades over the season. 

So the Lightning had the number one pick and drafted Lecavalier. So why isn't David Legwand a San Jose legend? On the day of the draft the two teams swapped positions with San Jose moving down to draft third (where they would pick up defenseman Brad Stuart and a second round pick that they used to draft Jonathon Cheechoo who would score 56 goals in 2005-06 for the Sharks, a year before Lecavalier would score 52 for the Lightning) and Nashville moving up to get their franchise center in Legwand.

All-in-all I think it ended up alright for everyone involved (maybe not Florida). Despite never developing into a scoring juggernaut Legwand had a long tenure in Nashville and still holds just about every offensive record for the team. And despite some rough going early on (and suffering the shame of having the captaincy stripped from him) Lecavalier put together a pretty decent career in Tampa before economics and nagging injuries made him a contract buyout casualty.

All three of the top picks from that year have logged more than 1,000 games in the NHL which is kind of special in itself (Kozlov ended up playing in 897 NHL games and is still kicking around in the KHL). In the last 30 years only three other drafts can boast that – the 1987, 1988 and 1997 drafts. We have a few years left to see if the 2007 and 2008 drafts can be added to the list, but the top three players in both drafts are still in the NHL so there is a chance!

One thing that began to bother me after staring at this card for the last couple of hours. Panini surely could have used better pictures/cropping. Vinny is missing part of his hand. Meanwhile they went with the LinkedIn profile practice of cropping Legwand out of a group photo – most likely this one:

They get credit for using draft year photos (and for both of them sporting the dress shirt/tie/jersey combo. However, a little more time in the Google Image search probably could have led to some better results. Despite that, still a pretty neat card to add to the Lightning collection.

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's NOT A Major Award! Mid Season Lightning Report

We’ve made it to the halfway point of the Lightning’s season and I’ve managed to write about them all of twice. But seeing how I’ve apparently only written four articles (yes I count the one at Raw Charge) since the hockey season has begun, at least the percentages are pretty good.  Really, four posts since October?  I am so sorry loyal readers (Hi Mom and Dad!).  I will resolve to write more. After all, I can’t really write less, eh? As a reward for your patience - let’s hand out some awards! Welcome to the 1st Annual Mid-Season Random Lightning Awards column.

Before we hand out the hardware let’s take a pulse on the team’s season. After 41 games they find themselves tied at the top of the Atlantic conference with Montreal. Granted the Canadiens have played in two fewer contests, but for now the only thing that matters is points and both teams have 54 of them. Which is one more than the mumps-ridden Penguins and the surprising New York Islanders.  All-in-all the Lightning are holding up to the pre-season predictions many folks had for them.

Despite my lack of writing, I have actually been following the team closer than in recent years (thank you NHL Game Center) and have even managed to get to a game or two in other cities.  Based on many, many hours of watching this team I’ve come to one conclusion - this is a fun team to watch.

As a long time Lightning fan I’ve seen teams of the past barely able to string together two successful passes, let alone any kind of coherent offensive plan, it is so delightful to watch a team that, on most nights, is decidedly better at putting the puck in the net than most of the other teams that they line up against. (Congratulations, you just made it through the first run-on sentence of 2015).

This team is an amazing team to watch on transition.  Other than the Blackhawks, I would venture that no one can switch from defense to offense more efficiently than the Bolts. And while their fondness for cross-ice passes tends to get them in trouble from time to time, when they are clicking they are one of the prettiest teams to watch play hockey. Even Link, who has spent his life watching Pittsburgh teams with the like of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, Milan Kraft and Mario Lemieux play was impressed with the Lightning’s offense.

A team has to be fun when Steven Stamkos can’t crack the top line. Almost as  fun to read/hear people wonder what’s “wrong” with Stamkos since he only has 21 goals.  Granted, his projected 42 goals would be the fewest he’s scored in an 82 games season since his rookie year, but 40+ goals is nothing to sneeze at.

Part of the reason it seems like a down year for the former Sarnia Sting Sniper (first unnecessary alliteration of the year!) is that whatever line he has been playing on has constantly been overshadowed by the Triplets. Or #ThatLine. Or #ThatTripletLine. Or the #TKOLine or #TheBestLineInHockey.  Whatever you want to call them, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV (MBNK) have simply been dominant when on the ice together.

The Russian, who bounced around on a couple of different lines to begin the season, has found a home with his fellow Syracuse alumni. They each fill a specific role: Tyler - The Creator, Ondrej - The Net Front Presence and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV - the Shooter. They are all gifted with speed and a sense of knowing where the others are on the ice as evidenced by the Kucherov fake-slapshot-pass to Johnson in the Ottawa game Sunday night.

"We're The Three Best Friends Anyone Could Have"

MBNK is third on the team in shots despite averaging almost 5 minutes less than the leader Stamkos and  3 minutes less than the second place player Johnson.  So everyone in the building and everyone watching was 100% certain that when he got the puck in the slot he was going to unload a cannon on the Ottawa goalie.  Yet, despite bringing his stick back to maximum slapshot height he managed to torque it so that he sent an ankle high pass across the ice (because that’s what they do!) to Johnson, who swiftly knocked it down and into a wide open net.

Where was Palat on the play? In front of the net screening Robin Lehner, of course.  Each has their role and they’ve each played it to perfection so far.  Which leaves their opponents with a match up question. Do you stick your best defensive players out against the Lightning’s best line (Johnson, Palat, MBNK) or against their best player (Stamkos).  Because you can throw Matt Carle and a bag of pucks on Stamkos’ line and he’s still going to score 35 goals every season. Having that option is one of the reasons the Lightning can go on the road and still keep scoring.  They are not restricted to just one line.  Heck, depending on the night the so-called 3rd line is going to either have their best offensive prospect (Jonathan Drouin) or the player with the best hands/vision on the team in Valtteri Filppula.

Throw in a defense that not only is doing better at stopping pucks from going in (12th in the league in goals against), but knows how to get it on net as well (Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison all have 14 or more assists) and things are looking bright for the second half.

But I’ve droned on enough about the team, let’s get to the awards.  So without anymore accolades or delay here are The Hopeful Chase Mid-season Awards for the Tampa Bay Lightning:

The What ‘Cha Talkin’ About Sophomore Slump Award: Tyler Johnson

He narrowly beats out fellow Calder Finalist Ondrej Palat simply because he’s been healthier. One of the questions going into the season would be how the Young Guns would perform in their second season and I think the answer is - not that bad.

The It Seemed Like it Was a Good Idea at the Time Award: Evgeni Nabakov

Look, he hasn’t been as bad as Twitter would make it seem. His goals against is under 3. During the Mike Smith-era we would have built him a statue for those kind of numbers, but if Ben Bishop is ever seriously injured I don’t think Nabokov is going to be the answer. Which leads to….

The Every Time He Goes Down I Say a Little Prayer That He Gets Back Up Award: Ben Bishop

Not something we ever, ever want to see again

The big net minder beats out Ryan Callahan by the width of an ant’s hair on this one.  Let’s face it, should Bishop break himself the options are Nabokov and rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy or Vasilevskiy and Nabokov or Vasilevskiy and other rookie Kristers Gudlevskis.  While all of those options are better than Anders Lindback I don’t want to have to test them down the stretch run.

The Shouldn’t He Suck Or Be Hurt Now That He Signed a Big Contract Award: Ryan Callahan

"Whooooa I GOTS PAID!"

Hey, Ryan Callahan has played in 36 of the 41 games so far! If he plays in 10 more games then that will be the most he’s played in a season since 2011-12. Better yet, he’s been pretty good while he’s been on the ice. Twelve goals and thirty points while mostly causing havoc in front of the net on Stamkos’ line. This is the Callahan that General Manager Yzerman was looking for when he signed him to the six-year deal this off-season.

The Maybe He Is Who We Thought He Is Award: Ben Bishop

The second award for the big guy.  There was a lot of talk at the end of last year about Bishop perhaps being a bit “lucky” or that he couldn’t sustain his play. After all the Lightning were the third team he’d played for in four seasons.  Well, it seems that if he’s riding a lucky streak it’s sustained itself for this season as well. His numbers are down a bit (2.37 GAA vs. 2.23 and .911 Save Percentage vs. .924) but it’s not like he’s fallen off of a cliff. He’s still capable of stealing a game or three and despite the occasional soft goal he’s kept the Lightning in games long enough for their offense to catch up.

The Charlie Brown You’re the Charlie Browniest Award:  Matt Carle.

Sometime this week I’m going to write a whole article about Matt Carle. I really, really do like him as a player, but man….sometimes he does boggle the mind.  Let’s play fill in the blank.   _______ fired a pass up the middle of his own zone that was picked off and led to a 2-0 against his own goalie.  _______ bounces a pass off of Radko Gudas past his own goalie from center ice.  The first name that pops into your head is Matt Carle isn’t it?  I know the second one was from last season, but still….

The Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio Award:  Radko Gudas and the Radko Gudas hipcheck

Maybe it’s a good thing.  Maybe he’s a better positional player now that he isn’t RADKO-SMASH on the ice every shift, but damn I miss a good hipcheck.*Ed Note. After writing the first draft             I've now learned that Gudas is undergoing knee surgery. Ouch. 

The Aaron Rodgers Says “RELAX” Award: Steven Stamkos/ Jonathan Drouin

A tie! I could have also called this The Setup For a Big Second Half award.  I did read
 on a YouTube video comment section that Drouin is already a bust. (Advice - don’t ever read You Tube comments. It will make you hate humanity). Stamkos is still coming back from a pretty big injury and it seems he is pacing himself at times.  Drouin, well he spent most of the season with Brian Boyle and Brandon Morrow on his line and still has 15 points. Now that he is moving up and playing with better skilled players (I think a line with him, Valtteri Filppula and Brett Connolly would make me weep with happiness) he is going to start moving up the rookie point standings.

The Next Young Forward Traded to Toronto Award: JT Brown

Following in the footsteps of Carter Ashton and Richard Panik, I see Brown as the next player dealt off simply because there isn’t a place for him on the roster. I love the energy and pace he brings when he’s in the line-up, but I just think he isn’t as talented as other forwards on the roster.  Time for the Bolts to give him a shot somewhere else.

The Hope is a Beautiful Thing Award: Andrei Vasilevskiy

I love the way the organization is handling the big Russian goalie. Getting his feet wet slowly in the NHL while making sure he still gets playing time in the AHL. One of the things I can say about this season is that I was there at his NHL debut and it looked like he had been playing for years. There was a sequence at the end of the first period against Philly wear he made two or three point blank reaction saves and wasn’t rattled at all. In fact he was in position to stop two or three more shots. This kid is going to be really, really good. As in, Mr Yzerman might play the “I Wonder What Ben Bishop Would Bring in a Trade” game this off-season.

The Man That Really Sucks Award:  CapGeek ceasing operations

On January 3rd, the most useful NHL website in the history of the internet ceased it’s operation due to owner/operator Matthew Wuest’s health issues.  I’m going to miss having that site as a resource in the off-season and during the trade deadline. Just think how many writers (both professional and blogger) have used the phrase “according to CapGeek” in a story or a Tweet.  It boggles my mind how quick and reliable Wuest’s information was and how important it was to a sport where finances matter as much as on-ice performance. If there is ever a Sports Website Hall of Fame, CapGeek and Matthew Wuest are first ballot inductees.

Welp, that wraps it up for me.  Here’s to a second half that is as much fun as the first!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tributegate - Martin St. Louis' Return To Tampa

The moment of truth is coming this Wednesday for Lightning fans. For the first time since he talked his way out of town last Spring, Marty St. Louis is playing a professional hockey game in Tampa. What will the reaction be? Will he be serenaded with boos every time he touches the puck? Will he be cheered? Will there be boos and a smattering of applause? Or will there be nothing but apathetic silence?

Chances are it will be option three.  While I’m not as emotionally invested in the saga as other fans, the fact remains that St. Louis slid his way out of town while he was captain of a playoff-bound team. The only way he could have made the exit uglier was if he kicked Joe Redner’s dog on the way out of town. It truly was a Hulk Hogan-NWO worthy heel turn.And yes I would give St. Louis $5.00 to grow a blonde handlebar mustache/5 o'clock shadow combination.

That being said he is also on the Mount Rushmore of all-time great Lightning players.  He will always have supporters in the crowd (including myself) where his past accomplishments outweigh his acrimonious exit from the organization. I’ll take a decade of exceptional/border-line hall of fame play in exchange for a forced trade that netted the Lightning a first round pick, a second round pick and a decent player in Ryan Callahan.

Fans will be fans but the more interesting aspect will be how the Lightning as an organization handle his return. If circumstances had been different, an elaborate video package would be produced chronicling his storied past with the team (and most likely fading out with the image of a bearded, scared  St. Louis raising the Stanley Cup). The Rangers produced such a package for Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman when they returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time last week.  And the Lightning put together a similar welcome for Vincent Lecavalier last season when he returned wearing the garish orange and white Flyers uniform.

Remember the good times (photo lifted from

However, as of press time for this post, questions still linger on if the Lightning will produce such a video. General Manager Steve Yzerman is pretty much a soulless, team-building robot (that’s a good thing!) so I’m not surprised that he isn’t going to go out of his way to welcome back a player who went out of his way to paint the organization in a negative light while demanding his trade. It is worth noting that the team celebrated the 10th anniversary of their only Stanley Cup victory a few days after St. Louis was traded and his contributions to that historic campaign were noticeably absent in the tribute video they ran during the celebration.

I don’t know Mr. Yzerman personally, but needless to say I think he’s the type of guy who knows how to hold onto a grudge. I kind of wish the Rangers were still banged up with injuries so that the skating dumpster fire that is Mike Kostka was still on their team.  I could totally see Mr. Yzerman having the team produce a 90 second video highlighting Kostka’s 19 game career with Tampa Bay and showing that instead of a tribute to St. Louis.

It wouldn’t shock me if he forbids all mention of St. Louis’ name during the game. Imagine Paul Porter announcing a New York goal, “New York goal scored by 61 Rick Nash. Assist by number 26.  Rick Nash assisted by number 26 at 14:19”. Kind of like the old NHL video games that didn’t have the rights to certain players.

There haven’t been many Lightning players that have demanded to be traded from the team. The closest example might be Brian Bradley, one of the team’s first “stars”.  Rumors of Bradley being “soft” led to some grumbling in the clubhouse about his dedication to the team and rumors that the club wanted to move him. However, he suffered an a serious concussion that would end his career before he was able to be traded.  Since then he has been welcomed back into the family and can often be seen on Lightning broadcasts.

In the overall big picture trading St. Louis was good for the team. There are the actual assets brought back in the trade. Callahan has fit in well enough to sign a long-term deal to stay in Tampa and has produced while skating on the top line with Steven Stamkos.  The draft-pick for 2014 turned into a 1st round pick when the Rangers made the Eastern Conference finals.  Mr. Yzerman then traded that pick to the Islanders for two second picks and selected defensemen Dominik Mason and Jonathan MacLeod. Still waiting to be cashed in is a 1st round pick in a stacked 2015 draft.

It has also opened up ice time for some of the younger players.  Ondrej Palat and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV (his official name from here on out) in particular have flourished with the playing time afforded by the former captain’s departure.  The Lightning offense hasn’t exactly stalled without the diminutive forward.  St. Louis has 17 points coming into the game on Wednesday.  That would put him fifth on the Lightning behind Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Valterri Filppula and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV.  It would also put him one point ahead of his trade partner Callahan.

Why yes, I do now own a MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV jersey.

Speaking of Marty St. Louis scoring points. He’s scored a lot of them in his career. Nine-hundred and ninety-eight of them to be exact. Which means there is an outside chance that he could record his 1000th point AGAINST Tampa Bay. Which would only be slightly awkward. Imagine reaching a career milestone while boos rain down on the ice like jerseys at an Oilers game.

I really hope it doesn’t happen.  First and foremost because it would mean that the Rangers have scored at least two goals and no one wants that to happen. Secondly, I think if the fans do boo him for accomplishing such a milestone in a different uniform it would be something that wouldn’t age well.  As we know, time heals all wounds and ninety-nine times out of a hundred fans will forgive a player eventually, no matter how ugly the exit was. Remember that he did score 953 of those points in a Lightning uniform.

A decade from now, when St. Louis is inducted into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t it be nice if the media could play a video clip of him recording his 1000th point and not have to edit out the sound of 19,000 people booing? Respect the accomplishment, if not the man doing it. Kind of like the Yankee fan begrudgingly cheering for Billy Chapel’s perfect game in “For the Love of the Game”.

It would be a little petty for the Lightning as an organization to not show a video. Hilarious, but petty. They should just man up and put a tribute together, potential booing be damned.  Besides it would provide a closure point for all of the animosity. The fans can finally direct all of their discord directly at him and then move on. The healing/welcoming back process can finally begin in earnest.

Friday, October 31, 2014

An Open Letter To Joe Maddon

Dear Joe,

Welcome to Chicago! Ever since you opted out of your contract with the Rays, rumors have run rampant that next year would be sitting on the bench in Wrigley come next spring.  Even though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, seeing how Rick Renteria is now looking for employment, it looks like those rumors are actually coming to fruition.

So I figured I’d take this chance to reach out to you, one former Tampa Bay-area resident to another, to let you know a little about your new city. Things are going to be different, way, way different now that you’re coming to the Midwest. For instance, no more “Florida residents are so weird” jokes from the late night comedians. Instead you get, “Chicago politicians are so corrupt” jokes!

You're going to need that hoodie, and a hat, and some gloves, maybe a scarf, too.

Let us get the main issue out of the way first - the weather.  Dont' forget to pack your favorite hoodie. Yeah, winters in Chicago are a bit brutal.  As a matter of fact, as I type this, it is, in fact snowing outside.  The good news is that except for April, possibly a few weeks in May, ok maybe a day or so in June, the weather is pretty sweet during the summer.  Dining al freso at a local farm-to-table restaurant, enjoying a nice glass of wine after a day game victory against the Reds on a perfect July 72 degree night is one of the underappreciated joys of living in this town.  Not something you can really do in the middle of a sweltering St. Pete summer.

Speaking of weather - how about getting a chance to manage 81 games in Wrigley Field?  Kind of an upgrade from “The Pit”, huh?  (I’m kind of bummed your nickname for Tropicana Field never caught on).  Sure the friendly confines are a bit of a mess right now with the first phase of renovations going on, but trust me, watching baseball in one of the true historic fields in the league. You appreciate the fact that it is a true neighborhood park (even if the neighbors get a bit grumpy from time to time).

As far as the neighborhood itself, it is quite different than St. Pete.  While there is no Fergs to enjoy pre-game there are plenty of other options.  I’ve read that before your wife introduced you to the wine world you were a bit of a beer and whiskey guy.  Well welcome to Beer and Whiskey town!  On those nights that Castro boots an easy ground ball and costs you a game skip all of those bro-joints right around Wrigley and join me a couple of blocks south at a couple of true dives.

Just pop into Monsignor Murphey’s and put the first round on my buddy Dan’s tab…I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even notice. Plus you can get a Flubby special from downstairs.  With Hot Doug’s (RIP) out of business, it’s better to go with the regular Chicago style dog than a gourmet encased meat dog. Just don’t put ketchup on it.  Some guy might lose an election because he made that mistake.

If you are looking for places with a bit of a better wine list we have that covered as well. Personally I’m a fan of the Purple Pig downtown.  Great wine, food is pretty good.  If you’re looking for steak, Del Frisco’s has you covered as well.  I understand they’re saving a very special bottle of wine for that moment you’ve been brought into town for - winning a World Series (no pressure, though). If you’re looking for something more “Chicago” then Gene & Georgetti has that old-school, rat-pack vibe to it.

Kudos to you for not backing out of the Italian restaurant you’re opening in Tampa. Nothing says sound investment like a restaurant! If you need menu ideas you are in luck because every other restaurant that’s opening in this city is an Italian joint.  While I haven’t had a chance to sample them all I can say that we have everything that you could need from family-owned neighborhood joint (Volare) to sports-celebrity-themed (Harry Carry’s) to super fancy (Spiaggia). And don’t forget about Eataly - the downtown temple that worships all things Italian.

We might be losing a Michelin-starred restaurant in L2O, but there is still plenty of fine dining options around.  If you put your name in now, you might get a reservation for Alinea by the time the season starts. Top Chef alums Fabio Viviani and Stephanie Izzard run pretty popular restaurants while Rick Bayless has built an empire of Mexican eateries downtown.

With the restaurant and your ties to the Tampa community I’m not sure if you’re looking to permanently relocate up here (state taxes are a bitch). If you do I hear there is some property available.  Johnny Toews has a sweet bachelor pad he’s looking to unload on the Gold Coast. If you want something a little more historic, a little fixer up that used to house Al Capone is looking for a buyer as well.  You might even be able to talk them down from their asking point.

Hipster Joe Maddon 
I know you like to bike so you might be tempted to buy a place in Wicker Park/ Bucktown and hang out with the rest of those kids.  While the greatest pizza place in the city is there (Piece) I don’t think you’ll like it.  First off - not enough tattoos, second - it looks like your bike has gears.  Not cool, man. Plus there is a 67% chance you’ll be run over by an enraged driver on Milwaukee Ave.

Lakeview wouldn’t be bad for you.  Walking distance to work, close to the lakefront trail and excellent dining options. You like your diners and Broadway has plenty of them. Melrose Diner, Stella’s, The Bagel and Yolk are all in the neighborhood.  All of them are nice places to grab a bite to eat on the way to the park.

But, hey, if you’re in town for a few years, feel free to move around and try a couple of different neighborhoods. The transit system is pretty great (when people aren’t getting attacked by machetes) and despite the occasional delay gets you from one part of the city to another in a quick fashion. I even have an extra Ventra card laying about that you can have (saves you the $5.00 sign up fee!)

As for your actual job, let me warn you, expectations are going to be a bit higher for you. While Chicago sports fans aren’t as insane as New York fans they are a bit more loyal than your typical Florida sports fan. For one thing, they pretty much all grew up here. Luckily there are approximately 164 professional sports teams in this city (165 if you include the MLS) so some of the loyalties are a bit divided.

 If you can keep the Cubs competitive from May to September you should be fine.  After that attention starts to drift to the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. The press is a bit more jaded than what you’re used to dealing with down south, but what would you expect if you had to cover a team that hasn’t won since Roosevelt was in office? And if you do struggle, at least the White Sox fans will like you more than whoever is coaching their team.

Your are coming into a pretty good situation. There is some considerable young talent on the team. Although it might be a bit odd for you to have young offensive talent as opposed to young pitching talent.  Pitching is a bit thin in the prospect department, but guest what - you have an ownership group that can actually spend money on high end free agents.  No more dumpster diving for players like James Loney and Roberto Hernandez!

See, they weren't always at odds with each other!

Remember how much fun you had with BJ Upton and his occasional “lack of hustle” and “mental breakdowns”? Luckily for you Starlin Castro is still a Cub.  You’ll get to bench him at least once or twice this season for not running out a ground ball or forgetting how many outs there are in an inning.  That way you can earn some street cred with the press while still being a friend to the players.

Of course, there is the outside chance that Castro is moved to some other team this off-season to help out with the pitching situation.  If that happens, Javy Baez can step in. Don’t be worried about his strike-outs.  The kid hits wherever he goes. He’ll figure it out.  Jorge Soler has the best bat speed I’ve seen since a kid named Sheffield.  Not a bid duo to build a playoff team around - and we haven’t even mentioned Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo yet.

You’ve already done what a lot of people didn’t think was possible - take a team that was a laughing stock because they had never won anything in the Tampa Bay Rays and make them respectable. Now you get to take a team that is a laughingstock because they are the Cubs and hopefully make them respectable as well.  Good luck with that.

See you at the Convention in January.

Good Luck,

Justin G.

P.S. It’s tradition that when you move to Chicago you crash on someone’s couch for 3-6 months.  If you need a couch to crash on, just hit me up.

P.P.S - If you could hook me up with tickets for the Foo Fighters when they play Wrigley this summer, that would be great!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My 3 Cents On Ray Rice and the NFL

“We are in an era in which being well-rounded is perhaps more important than ever before, and nobody in the NFL is more versatile and efficient than Baltimore’s starting running back. I believe that Ray Rice will be recognized as the clear-cut best running back in football by the end of the season, primarily because he is already the best running back in football.”

Bill Barnwell wrote those words just over two years ago. Since we have the advantage of perfect hindsight, we can chuckle at our how wildly things have changed since then. One of the curses of recording your thoughts and opinions for a living is that they are always there to haunt you, but when Barnwell wrote this post it wasn’t an outrageous claim.

Adrian Peterson was rehabbing a torn knee (little did we know about his superhuman ability to recover from career-ending injuries) and Rice was coming off of a year when he accumulated over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in four seasons. He had the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and a quarterback who was more than willing to dump passes off . And he was only 25 years old.

Fast forward to present day and Rice is little more than a pariah in the league. Instead of being remembered for  “4th and Forever” his name is synonymous with something much, much more negative. No one in this story comes off well. Rice for his actions, the NFL and the Ravens for their reactions all share blame in this mess.

With great reason, of course.  Ray Rice deserved to be suspended, not for two games, but for at least six. Did he deserve to be run out of football indefinitely?  No.  Josh Brent killed a teammate in an alcohol-related car crash and was suspended from the league for 10 games. Donte Stallworth pled guilty to DUI-manslaughter and was suspended for one season. Officially, although he is responsible for half of the murders in the state of Florida, Aaron Hernandez is not suspended from the NFL.  Any team wanting to sign the former Patriot would have to make quite a compelling case to get approval from Roger Goddell.

So why did the hammer come down on Rice, a player with no legal trouble in the past and a rather extensive history of community service?  I would venture that we are seeing the power of video.  The only difference between Rice’s case and all of the other domestic violence cases is that his actions are readily available for all to see.

There was never any doubt at what had happened. It was always accepted that Ray Rice knocked out his fiancée in an elevator and then dragged her unconscious body out. Nothing changed once the full video came out. However, before the video - two games, after the video - indefinite suspension.

It doesn’t matter if Goddell or his lackeys saw the video of the actual punch. They are reasonably intelligent men (at least we think they are). I’m pretty sure that they figured out what happened even before meeting with Rice and his now-wife. It doesn’t even matter if Ray Rice lied to them about the exact events that happened in the elevator.  He admitted he hit her, screw the build up to what led to the left hook. Jay-Z proved that you can be in an elevator with a violent female and not resort to knocking her out.

There is no doubt that the NFL first erred in going to light on Rice’s suspension. If they had come down with an 6 or 8 game suspension, much of the trouble that they are going through right now would have been avoided. If that had been the official suspension, there is a good chance that Ray Rice would still be a member of the Ravens, and Goddell wouldn’t be worrying about his future employment and concussions would be back to being the number one reason to feel guilty about being a fan of the NFL.

They didn’t help their situation by allowing Greg Hardy to play in week one. The same Greg Hardy who was found guilty of two counts of domestic violence this summer.  Hardy is currently appealing the ruling (something Rice isn’t doing) and has been moved to the NFL exempt list (a kind of purgatory where a player isn’t allowed to play, but is still able to cash his paycheck) while the team does its “due diligence” on the matter.

If there was no video of Rice hitting his domestic partner would he be in the same boat as Hardy?  We are a visual culture. Reading or hearing about events is never going to impact us like seeing them. For whatever reason actually seeing something leaves such little doubt. It’s just human nature.  It goes back to the Bible (if you’re one for religion). Did Thomas believe the other disciples that Jesus had popped out of the cave after a couple of days? Nope, he had to see him for himself, not only that, he had to see the nail wounds as well before he would believe their story. Pictures or get the f*ck out, I guess.

It’s a sad fact that domestic violence doesn’t occur only among football players. Everyday someone is getting arrested for incidents similar to what the Rices went through. And the truth is, most of the convicted receive similar punishments. If a plumber hits his wife during an argument, chances are he doesn’t lose his job.

It’s easy to blame the violence on the “culture of the NFL” but it happens in all sports, in all walks of life. Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Chris Brown and Sean Penn have all seen their names in the paper because of domestic violence issues and as far as I know none of them have played a down of football.

I asked a Human Resource professional, “If an employee [of your company] is convicted of a crime..say domestic violence…does that give you the grounds to terminate them?”

Their response, “Not necessarily….If {they} are charged - not work - related. I can’t do anything. However, time you will serve or if the charge directly relates to your job then we can part ways as we can’t keep your job while you are in jail or put the {business} in jeopardy”

They did follow up with an important side note - “We are not a company that uses our associates as the face of the company.”

There in lies the crux of the problem for the Ravens and the NFL.  Ray Rice is considered a “face” of the NFL. He is in their advertisements, their video games, their endorsed movies (a photo of Ray Rice appears during the end credits of “Draft Day”) so for him to be embroiled in a high-profile does put the NFL in jeopardy.

Any team that employs Ray Rice (and I think someone will sign him next year) is going to take a hell of a chance. Not only in incurring the wrath of the public, but also in signing a 28-year-old running back with declining numbers.

It‘s interesting that an organization that has stood behind players with nefarious actions in the past would be so quick to cut their number one running back. Could the Ravens be callously using this an opportunity to jettison a large financial commitment? Sure they take a huge cap hit next season, but they do so without any fan backlash at all.

Since Barnwell wrote his article, not only has Rice not been the best running back in the league, he’s barely been average. While he should be in the prime of his career, several seasons to go before that magic age of 32 when running backs fall off the table, he has racked up a tremendous amount of use in the NFL. While being a multi-use back is great for offenses and fantasy football (PPR for life!) all of those extra tackles do add a lot of wear and tear to an athlete.

The initial reaction by the league and the Minnesota Vikings to Adrian Peterson’s child disciplining techniques shows that the league is amazingly tone deaf when it comes to these types of issues. Here you are in the middle of getting raked over the coals for a player committing violence upon a member of their family and a similar situation arises and the response is…. “Eh, maybe we’ll suspend him.”

Since he hasn’t been tried in court yet, but has admitted to the discipline placing him on the exempt list actually makes since (sure it took them awhile to get there, but at least they got it right).  And for the record the “We do things different in the South” defense is a load of horse shit. As is the “That’s the way I was raised” defense. If my dad beat the shit out of me growing up (which he didn’t) it wouldn’t give me the right to continue the cycle.

Of course I can see why the Vikings might want to go a little lenient on Peterson. If I was the owner of a team that had Christian Ponder as my starting quarterback I would do everything I could to keep my superstar running back on the field.

In the end, I have no problems with watching NFL games on Sunday (other than getting time off of work to do it). I long ago made peace with the fact that athletes aren’t role models or heroes. You can’t really follow boxing without having to accept that people are assholes. I have to chuckle every time I hear someone talk about a player doing things “the right way”. All that does is set them up for a future disappointment. I’m sure Russell Wilson is a great guy, but does he need Peter King writing about Wilson needing to be “front and center” for the public to regain its trust in the league.

Ray Rice’s name will slide to the back pages soon enough. Just like Michael Vick, Ritchie Incognito and Lance Armstrong’s names did. It’s just another part of human nature to for us to let time dim the outrage. Its extremely possible that he finds away to bring some good out of this. More recently on Grantland, Bill Simmons wrote a poignant column about how it feels to be a parent of child in pain and how he couldn’t understand how someone would want to cause that.  In the passage he lays out a scenario for Peterson that would work just as well for Rice:

“Eventually someone will convince Peterson that he needs therapy, and that he will become an advocate for child abuse. Peterson will follow that person’s instructions for one of two reasons: He wants to save his football career or he understands that he failed as a parent and a human being….One or both of those reasons will be genuine”

Replace Peterson with Rice and replace child abuse for domestic abuse and that sums up the future for Ray Rice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My NSCC Haul!

OK. So I didn't actually go to the National Sports Collectors Convention. It was in Cleveland. I've been to Cleveland twice and I think I've hit about all I need to see (except for the “Christmas Story house”. Besides, next year's NSCC is back here in Chicago and if I put in my request for days off now, I should be able to go (unless I'm paddling a kayak through some remote waterway like I was the last time it was in the Windy City).

However, I was so jealous of everyone posting their loot from the NSCC that I went online and bought some cards. A healthy PayPal account and a couple of hours to spare led me to pick up 17 new cards from For roughly the price of a blaster I added 17 cards to my shoeboxes. Here, presented with commentary are those 17 newest cards.

2011 Topps Finest Refractor Rookie Autographs Zach Britton

It's an Oriole. It's shiny. It has an on-card autograph. Winner Winner Winner. Britton has taken over as the closer for the first place O's and not doing a bad job of it. Say what you will about the O's front office, but they saved themselves some money by letting Jim Johnson ($10 million) walk and finding a way out of the Grant Balfour ($4 million) contract.

Instead they installed former starting rotation savior Britton in the closer role and he's thrived. He's converted 24 saves while striking out 51 batters in 58 2/3 innings. All for the low, low sum of $522,000. Which once again proves that teams that spend more than $4 million on a closer are insane.

2008 Topps Sterling Eddie Murray

One for the personal collection. For some reason I never know what to make of these Sterling cards. I like the fact that they frame the action, but the serial numbering seems excessive. Is there any reason to only make 250 of these cards? Other than artificially driving up the value of course.

2012 Topps Heritage Dee Gordon

I have a deal with myself. Anytime I buy cards on COMC I have to knock at least one card off of my “Wanted” list. I'm pretty sure that I had this Gordon card at one point and then traded it away because I am bad at keeping track of things. Oh well.

2010 Bowman Platinum Jake Arrieta

I've been in Wrigley for two of Arrieta's starts this year. Both times he's taken a no-hitter past the 5th inning. I've never been to a professional game where a no-hitter has been pitched. Much like knocking down a hole-in-one,I would like to attend a no-hitter before I die. I should put together a sports-related bucket lists of things I'd like to see that are out of my control. I'd also like to catch a foul ball, just once. My niece is five and she already has a foul ball. Life isn't fair.

2012 Topps Heritage Aroldis Chapman

He throws really, really hard. I like the fact that there is someone who just brings the heat. I also like the fact that he doesn't have any wins this year. If you're a closer you should either get the save or the loss. When I see a closer that has 5 or 6 wins I think, “He's probably blown a lot of leads only to get bailed out by his offense in the bottom of the inning.” That's not cool. Don't be a wins poacher.

2013 Bowman Dylan Bundy

The price was right for a rookie card of the O's best prospect. I'm glad that they made it through the deadline without parting with any of the big three young pitchers in the organization. While the pressure to make a big deal to WIN NOW there is something to be said for holding on to your prospects. Especially pitching prospects since projecting their success is pretty much a crap shoot. Bundy is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and it isn't unreasonable to think he might make it back to the majors in time to help the O's in September.

2012 Topps Chrome Wei-Yen Chen

If I was to tell you Chen is 12-4 this year would you believe me? No, you would probably go look it up and say, “huh – how about that”. On a staff without a true ace Chen is at least the most consistent of the starters. He goes out there every start and gives the O's about 6 innings of solid work. He doesn't dazzle nor does he get knocked around. He's only had one start where he's gone less than 5 innings (June 28th against the Rays) and has only one start where he's gone eight innings.

2013 Topps Manufactured Rookie Card Patch Eddie Murray

Card number two for the personal collection. Normally I'm not a fan of the manufactured patch card, but at least it's not a fake jersey letter. I kind of like the reprint of the rookie card on a cloth background. I also like any card that says “Congratulations” on the back. Thanks for the inspiration Topps!

2008 Razor Signature Series Bobby Bundy

And Justin G. goes WAY off the board for this pickup. Honestly, at this point I was just looking for an on-card autograph at a reasonable price. The older of the Bundy brothers, Bobby is also working his way back from elbow surgery. After showing some success in the A level, Bundy has struggled a bit over the last few years. If he can work his way back from the elbow issue, maybe he can find a spot in the organization as bullpen arm.

2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Chris Tillman

I guess Tillman is the “ace” of the staff. Or at least the number one starter. Well, he was the opening day starter. It's kind of weird to think that he is only 26 years old. Oriole fans have been on the phenom/bust/phenom/bust roller coaster with him for what seems like a decade.

He has nine wins on the year which is boosted slightly by the 4.76 average in run support he gets during his starts. Come stretch run/playoff time he's going to have to turn it up a notch as he won't be seeing that type of support against quality teams.

2014 Bowman Blue Kevin Gausman
2014 Topps Kevin Gausman
2013 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Blue Refractor Kevin Gausman
2013 Topps Finest Refractor Kevin Gausman

Yeah, I kind of went on a Gausman run there didn't I? When I went back to Baltimore this summer for a wedding (Congrats Little Cuz!) it was in the midst of the Jeff Samardzija trade talks. It kind of surprised me that the popular consensus in the Charm City was that if the O's were going to pull off the trade it would be better to ship Dylan Bundy to Chicago instead of Gausman. Now granted some of that could have been due to the “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. With Bundy on the shelf and Gausman contributing it would be easy to forget that Bundy is the top-rated prospect.

Luckily, Oakland went all in for the Shark and O's fans can look forward to a future rotation with both Gausman and Bundy starting. It'll be interesting to see how much Gausman pitches down the stretch. He has been bounced back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore quite a bit (12 starts in the majors and 11 in AAA) and is at about 112 innings pitched between the two. In 2013 he threw about 129 innings.

In spring training it looked like he would have an innings cap around170 innings, but since his last call up it seems like Buck Sholwalter might be removing that limit. I could see him moving to the bullpen once Miguel Gonzalez is recalled from the minors. Granted, I would rather see Ubaldo Jimenez sitting out beyond center field eating sunflower seeds, but you don't pay someone $11 million to pitch in blowouts.

2000 Skybox Matt Riley

Speaking about blowouts. Hey it's former prospect Matt Riley! I bought this card more because of the photo than of the player (Motion Blur-Jo!). The former 3rd round pick was a hard-throwing, left-handed prospect during the lean years for the Orioles at the turn of the century. He lasted parts of three seasons before injuries and a lack of discipline derailed his chances of being the next Brad Pennington.

He was shipped to Texas for the legend that was Ramon Nivar (one career RBI for the O's) and then quietly faded away. Not before I stocked up on a few of his rookie cards, though.

2008 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Jake Arrieta

Another early card of the Cubs current ace. Arrieta was the opening day starter for the O's in 2012. By 2013 he was on the Cubs. The 2013 opening day starter for the O's was Jason Hammel. By 2014 he was on the Cubs. The 2014 opening day starter for the O's was Chris Tillman. Will he keep the streak going?

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome Draft Picks Hunter Harvey

The last card in the bunch has the longest set name in the history of baseball cards. Also, in keeping with the Justin G. curse the day I selected this card, Harvey was shut down for the season with an elbow injury.

Seventeen cards at an average of $1.44 per card. The most expensive card was the Britton and the least expensive was the Dylan Bundy Bowman. The card I feel like I overpaid the most for was the Matt Riley. The card that looks better in person than online was the Britton. The best value I thin was the Gausman Finest refractor.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Opposite Ends of the Hype Line - Gennedy Golovkin and Mike Lee Both Fight This Weekend

It's a pretty good boxing weekend for one that doesn't include anyone named Mayweather or Pacquiao. Well, good enough for me to shake the dust of the keyboard and bang out some words about it. First up on Friday night, ESPN returns to the Windy City and features quasi-local boy Mike Lee. Sadly I do not have tickets or a press pass to attend. Then on Saturday, Gennedy Golovkin headlines a HBO Pay-Per-View in Madison Square Garden where he looks to add another victim to his hit list.

We'll begin with Golovkin, because he is the most interesting fighter on the list. Born in Kazakhstan, lives in Germany but training in Big Bear, California Golovkin has ascended rapidly up the “must watch” fighters list over the last two years. During that time (which coincided with his United States debut – a blistering TKO victory over Gregorz Proksa) he has gained a reputation, spearheaded by HBO Boxing, as the “Most Dangerous Man” in boxing.

It's easy to like a fighter who finishes off his opponents and Golovkin's string of 16 straight knockouts makes him as easy to like as apple pie on Thanksgiving. He can hit with both hands, throws power punches at will, has the agility and balance that rarely leaves him off balance all while commanding the ring like it's his personal dance space.

He's drawn a lot of comparisons to a young Mike Tyson (maybe we should call him Kazakh Dynamite much like Tyson was Kid Dynamite) for his power and the way opponents are starting to shy away from him. Of course, no one is flat out admitting that they won't fight him, but no one of note seems to be in a hurry to sign the dotted line for a fight.

Not only does he dole out his fair share of punishment, but he's not going to be confused with Winky Wright anytime soon when it comes to defense. He gets hit from time to time, enough so that you begin to wonder if this might be the time he pays the price for keeping his hands down.

I can imagine his opponents thinking, “Hey I just rocked him with a straight right. I can do this” right before they wake up staring at the bright lights and a mustachioed man in a blue shirt waving his arms over his head.

Maybe it's his love of cardigans or huge smile whenever he's being interviewed, but no one scheduled to face him is ever thinks that they're going to fall victim to his fistic bombarment. Granted no one on the professional level is ever going to admit that they're scared of getting hit by their opponent, but some of his victims have been extremely boastful prior to stepping in the ring.

Gabriel Rosado: “I'm gonna smash him”

Curtis Stevens: “I'm coming there ready. I'm not scared, obviously, because I asked for the fight.”

Osumanu Adama: “The difference with me is that I'm not scared of Golovkin”

The point being, you might not fear him going into the fight, but chances are your thoughts will change once your back is on the canvas and the overhead lights are swimming in your eyes.

For boxing fans, enjoy Golovkin for where he is at now in his career. He is getting popular, but he is not at the over-saturation point yet. Sure, there are folks on the internet who say he's overrated, but that's the cynical internet where God himself could come down, heal the sick and lame, end warfare and someone would write, “Ehhh. That's nothing, Buddha would mop the floor with that guy.

Nor has Golovkin risen to the point where he's become the pick and choose, fight two times a year superstar boxer. Remember how much fun it was to look forward to Manny Pacquiao's fights when he was laying waste to his opponents? When he was ripping up De La Hoya and Rickey Hatton? Those were fun days, before the “When Will He Fight Mayweather” talk really escalated or he got mired down by Timothy Bradley.

That's were we're at with Golovkin. His future fights aren't more important than his present fights. Who care's if he'll fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or Saul Alvarez. All we want him to do is bust up Daniel Geale like a birthday pinata.

I agree that he hasn't fought the best fighters yet, but in this business you still have to work your way up the ladder. He's beating, straight up stole-his-money beating, everyone that enters the ring with him. So enjoy that now. Because it's going to change. It always changes.

I don't know much about his opponent, Daniel Geale. He was born in Tasmania (awesome) and lives in Australia (still awesome) and held both the IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles. His two losses were split decisions that were somewhat controversial and he's beat Felix Strum on points in Germany. Which is like beating Floyd Mayweather on points in Las Vegas. It just doesn't happen.

He seems like a nice fighter. Fairly competent on defense as he has never been knocked out and hasn't been down in a round since 2008. Of course, looking at his list of opponents, none of them has had the power of Golovkin. He is the requisite feel-good underdog. Unlike most fighters, he doesn't seclude himself in a remote fortress when he trains for fights, rather he stays at home with his family. He has even dedicated this fight to his mother who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And against almost anyone other than Golovkin I would be rooting for him.

Like those who stumbled to the mat before him, Geale isn't afraid of Golovkin. Of course, he can't allow himself to be. Or else the fight is already lost. Geale has to believe that he is different than everyone else who has fought Golovkin. That his defense is tighter. That if gets inside he can do serious damage where others have just annoyed the happy go lucky Kazakh.

Does he have a chance to win? Sure, I'm sure his trainer has developed a plan for him. Maybe not a knockout plan, but a “keep it close on the cards an squeak out a win” plan. Of course, even the best laid plans tend to go awry once a thudding left hook lands on your liver. That's when we'll see what Geale is really made of.

I've never had much good to say about Mike Lee. If I'd listened to my mother then I would never have anything to say about him. I'm sure Mike Lee is a good guy, I'm sure he works with charities and is nice to his mother. For some reason he just rubs me the wrong way – much like Lukas when he played for Liverpool.

Maybe I'm finding out that I have a bias against fighters who've graduated college. Especially fighters who went to Notre Dame. Or the fact that despite being from the area he's only fought in Chicago once (his pro debut). It's probably the Subway deal. You know the one. There are actual recognizable athletes saying how much they like Subway sandwiches and then there is the guy with boxing gloves around his neck.

Imagine if Subway had, instead of Ryan Howard, chosen Jesse Biddle to pimp their Sweet Onion Teriyaki subs. Sure, Biddle might be a star at one point, but right now he's just some face in the crowd. Boxing deserves more than that for one of the few commercials that has a national spotlight.

Despite my dislike of the fighter he is setting himself up for a nice little comeback story. The golden (domer) kid who has a nice contract with Top Rank boxing and a little money coming in from endorsements without really having accomplished in the ring was kind of riding the top of the wave.

Then it came crashing down. A couple of bulging disks in his back and some jaw issues sidelined him for almost two years. His contract with Top Rank expired and wasn't renewed. He left his Texas-based trainer, Ronnie Shields, and signed up with former heavyweight contender Chris Byrd. He TKO'd undefeated Peter Lewison in April and will look to do the same on Friday to Paul Gonsalves.

Those two fighters have a combined record of 13 and 3. In the previous 11 fights his opponents were 39 and 51. So he is stepping up his competition. Hopefully he steps up his work rate as well. He needs to be working regularly to make up for the missing years and for a relatively empty amateur career as well. If he does, then maybe he replaces Mike Jimenez at the top of my Best Chicago Fighters list.