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Monday, October 02, 2021

gaming on, closer
Two days left before opening night on this new National Hockey League season. I barrelled through the Eastern Conference yesterday, so now I’ll give my thoughts about the makeup of the West, division-by-division:

Central Division
Pundits seem to think the Red Wings will conduct business as usual, rolling to yet another division crown. That assessment doesn’t hold up on examination of Detroit’s new lineup. Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan are gone, leaving a big hole in offensive production and veteran leadership. Even worse, the Wings are rolling the dice on 41-year-old Dominik Hasek holding up in goal all season — very iffy considering his recent injury history. When (not if) Hasek goes down, retread Chris Osgood is next in line — a prospect so distasteful that the team is keeping third-string goalie Joey MacDonald on the regular-season roster. On the plus side, Detroit’s defense, led by perennial Norris candidate Niklas Lidstrom, is a strong mix of speed, skill and toughness. It’ll be relied upon more heavily than usual this year, as the Wings are a candidate to take a sharp fall in the ultra-competitive West, possibly even out of the playoffs.

Elsewhere: Nashville will continue its emergence as a newly-minted elite club, taking over the division title. Its biggest need — strength and size down the middle — was addressed with the signing of Jason Arnott. Josef Vasicek, the team’s other addition at center, will add a crucial two-way presence on the third line…

Every year, the Blackhawks somehow fool me into thinking they’ve made the right moves to once again contend in the NHL. I’ve got that same feeling again this year — which means they’ll probably turn in yet another disappointing campaign. Still, the early prognosis is good, with a healthy Nik Khabibulin likely to turn in a dominating performance, especially with a suddenly resurgent Brian Boucher pushing him as his backup (a similar situation as Khabibulin had in Tampa Bay). More importantly, the forward corps is tantalizingly potent, not only with big-ticket acquisition Martin Havlat but also the mix of Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, and Bryan Smolinski. The defense is still mostly young and raw, representing Chicago’s primary weakness…

St. Louis had a lot of holes to fill from last year’s disaster; it’s probably halfway there. The Doug Weight-Keith Tkachuk tandem can do plenty of damage, but there’s little beyond that on the lower lines. The defense can only benefit from the addition of Jay McKee, and by midseason could meld into a fairly versatile unit. Goaltending is a puzzle, with Manny Legace keeping the seat warm until youngster Curtis Sanford is ready…

The Blue Jackets have a lot riding on young Pascal Leclaire being ready to assume No. 1 duties. He may not get enough help from the defensemen in front of him, who lack the toughness element to go along with their mobility and skill. The offense is loaded on the wings, but Sergei Fedorov’s injury will have Columbus scrambling to put together two solid top lines. Don’t be surprised to see new addition Anson Carter shifted to the middle, at least for the early part of the season…

Northwest Division
The Edmonton exodus took on ridiculous proportions this offseason, as significant chunks of the team’s Stanley Cup Finals roster couldn’t leave town fast enough. What’s the Oil left with? One key cog opting to stay was goalie Dwayne Roloson, meaning the team won’t have to slog through the better part of another season before finding a clutch starter. GM Kevin Lowe also made the best out of the contentious Chris Pronger situation when he traded the defenseman for sniper Joffrey Lupul. Still, a drop in blueline mobility and depth will hurt. Even in the “new” NHL, a team built for the postseason doesn’t make for a team that can actually make it there.

Elsewhere: No mystery as to the Canucks‘ strategy this year. New backstopper/saviour Roberto Luongo is going to be checking the front of his jersey and wondering if that orca whale isn’t really his old Florida panther in disguise, as Vancouver’s suddenly-tepid offense will give him scant support most nights…

Alex Tanguay should provide more pop in the Flames lineup, which will help open up Jarome Iginla. The rapid acclimation of Dion Phaneuf last season adds a speedy dimension to Calgary’s defense, and made it possible to part with Jordan Leopold. With Miikka Kiprusoff in goal, this team looks like a strong contender to repeat its 2004 run to the Finals.

Exceptional special teams play has been a hallmark for Colorado this decade. Now, with the departure of playmakers like Tanguay and Rob Blake, it’s questionable if that odd-man production can continue. Hope rests on a career renaissance from Jose Theodore

Look out — Minnesota’s going run-and-gun! The pairing of newcomer Pavol Demitra with fellow Slovak Marian Gaborik yielded offensive fireworks in preseason, fueling expecations of a playoff berth. The most intriguing offseason addition, though, might be offensive defenseman Kim Johnsson, who should thrive quarterbacking the power-play…

Pacific Division
Winning the Chris Pronger sweepstakes instantly granted the Ducks a championship sheen. And indeed, adding Pronger to a crew that already sported Scott Niedermayer and Sean O’Donnell should give opposing teams fits. With a roster nearly intact from the one that reached the Western finals last year, the road to the Cup round likely will wind through Anaheim.

Elsewhere: San Jose boasts the league’s most explosive scoring tandem in Scott Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo. They’re just the cream of a forward corps that’s dominating from first line to fourth. However, a suspect defensive unit, which sunk the Sharks in last year’s playoffs, remains a liability. A sometimes-contentious goaltending controversy between Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov could threaten team chemistry…

The overhauling Kings will hang their hat on a strong defensive unit, buoyed by the return of once-and-future King Rob Blake to L.A. Dan Cloutier gets another chance to redeem himself after prior stops in Vancouver and Tampa Bay…

The Eric Lindros experiment hasn’t worked out as expected in Dallas, so Mike Ribeiro was acquired from Montreal. That doesn’t mean Lindros can’t still contribute 20 goals for the Stars…

Phoenix continues to assemble talented parts. A notable upgrade on the blueline brought in Ed Jovanovski and Nick Boynton, giving the Coyotes much-needed grit…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/02/2021 11:37:27 PM
Category: Hockey
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When ESPN announced it was going into the mobile phone service business two years ago, I predicted rapid expansion among sports freaks everywhere. There’s no more captive audience than ESPN Nation, so it would have been daft to bet against their appetite for all things branded with those four little letters.

So it’s fairly shocking to see Disney pull the plug on the venture now, citing tepid subscriber growth in a fiercely competitive sector.

The spin is that ESPN will benefit more from being a pure content distributor to multiple wireless networks. That’s true, but it masks the reality: This is a rarely-seen setback for the sports programming behemoth, which seemingly couldn’t screw up if it tried. The small screen — at least control over it — has proven to be a brick wall for Bristol.

To me, this seems like a quick hook. It must have been bleeding plenty of money (reportedly $30 million), even with the carriage partnerships. It’s really uncharacteristic.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/02/2021 11:01:42 PM
Category: SportsBiz, Tech
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This may have occurred to me before, but the recent release and review of “iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It” by Steve Wozniak opened my eyes to a strange parallel:

Both Apple and Microsoft were founded by pairs of partners: Steve Jobs and Wozniak for Apple, Bill Gates and Paul Allen for MS. Coincidental, but not necessarily noteworthy.

But for all the comparisons and contrasts made between Jobs and Gates, consider the similarities between their respective co-founders. Both Wozniak and Allen started out as tech renegades, providing inventive energy for their respective partnerships. Both helped launch their companies, then left the companies they helped build only a handful of years later. Both opted to “do their own thing”, although that represents widely divergent pursuits (for Wozniak, it was business/inventive/educational tinkering; for Allen, it was mostly making even more money). Over the long term, both men have been overshadowed by their former partner, although by the same token neither faded away into obscurity.

The Woz and Paul Allen: Separated at birth? Not so much, but at least kindred spirits.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/02/2021 10:24:57 PM
Category: Business, History, Tech
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