Monday, August 21, 2017

That's Right, Jags: It's Time to Watch Some Soccer, But Don't Worry, You Can Keep Your Roethlisberger Jersey On

Another day, another noble cause I take on for you, dearest jags, to keep the alignment of the sports world balanced and steady. As I’m sure you know, I would normally dedicate the greater share of my efforts to unabated tirades inspired by the Pirates’ continued treading of divisional water – those lessons down at the Schenley pool as a kid really paid off – and the Steelers’ putrid defensive showing against the Falcons.

That said, I sometimes like to diverge from the tired narratives that you find everywhere else and do something completely different. As I’ve remarked in the past, perhaps the only enduring pleasure of running your own blog is autonomy, so I will ultimately write about whatever the hell I want.

My authoritative advances aside, I ask you to take a moment with me to talk about soccer: first, because it’s better than talking about “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” but also because I think I can convince you to join me in becoming a fan of Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga (the German league), a team that embraces a style that Pittsburghers would be proud of – you know, if they gave a shit about a domestic German soccer club.

This cynicism, though valid, is receding somewhat, as the sport continues to grow locally and in the United States as a whole. The MLS, for instance, has taken careful, calculated steps in improving its product and expanding its audience, declining to act on any rash moves to make more money that would risk a total collapse of league infrastructure. Moreover, the success of NBC Sports Network has helped furnish the professional game a reliable national television platform, broadcasting several (if not more) English Premier League games weekly.

Pittsburgh does have its Riverhounds – I won’t insult you by hazarding the descriptor ‘beloved’ – but the USL remains a secondary league and, simply put, the talent isn’t there, all of which is OK, but not entirely suitable to qualify as your “favorite team” at the professional level. So the question emerges: what team should you follow?

Mark Madden insists upon Liverpool. I don’t know why, and I usually don’t listen long enough to find out, but I do appreciate his discussing soccer at his leisure despite what the listening audience may think. Frankly, and forgivably, his affinity for Liverpool likely stems from the circumstances that most soccer fans faced before the game became more accessible: you could only pick from the teams you know; the teams you know were the good ones; Liverpool happened to be good when he was getting into soccer.

The reality is that English soccer is not the only top-flight league worth your time and, arguably, it’s not even the best. To consider: an English team last appeared in a Champions League final and won in the 2011-2012 season with Chelsea squeaking out victories to secure the title. Since Manchester United’s dominant run under Sir Alex Ferguson, though, English teams haven’t shown any sincere odds at reclaiming, let alone retaining, the world’s top spot, while Spain has taken complete control: Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Atletico Madrid have featured in six of the eight slots in the last four finals.

La Liga (the Spanish league) suffers from an abysmal lack of competitive balance, however, being a league of only three serious competitors, and Atletico would likely be unable to keep up, were it not for the tireless, rage-fueled work of manager Diego Simeone (hey, I have to rep anybody who uses fury to achieve their goals).

So where else can you turn? Well, I will finally – sorry – hit for the cycle here and get back to the Bundesliga and the team I am going to encourage you to support, Borussia Dortmund.

First, though, let’s take a brief look at the German league. Bayern München are its Lakers, Yankees / Dodgers, Cowboys (without the domestic abuse, drugs, and drunk driving tragedies), earning the most money, winning the most titles, and employing the best players. Looking past them, the league stands out in that the next several spots and mid-table teams often swap positions, making the domestic season meaningful for more than just a select pool of clubs. A short review of the final standings over the last few seasons verifies this suggestion:




Of note: over these seasons, six teams have made up the top three positions, and 11 teams have populated the top five, indicative of parity most leagues can’t count among their merits – and it didn’t even require some bullshit overtime loss point to do it!

OK, so maybe you’re on board now for watching some Bundesliga soccer, but the more vital task is at hand. Let me explain then why you should be following Borussia Dortmund with the same fervor you display on holy Sundays when any person in a striped shirt has countless miseries wished upon him or her – quite loudly and graphically, in fact – and there is holding on every single play – unless, of course, the player is wearing the right colors. That’s just good football.

“Yinz see dem kellerz?”

The most obvious connection between the Dortmund team and our sacred Pittsburgh teams is the aesthetic. Both teams brandish the black and gold with the only nuance being that the Germans correctly identify their own ‘gold’ as yellow, while we prefer our gold to look like a piece of cheddar someone has stuck between their teeth.


            
This adopted colorblindness notwithstanding, you can root for Dortmund, if nothing else, because you have to do little to nothing with your wardrobe and various fan paraphernalia to adapt it to soccer. Terrible towel? Wave that son of a bitch. 143 free Penguins playoff t-shirts? Hell, wear a different one for each game until you find the lucky one(s). That Steelers taco salad you make? The leftovers will fit just fine for the soccer game, too.

Let’s be honest: nobody wants to a back a shitty team – not even the shitty players on that shitty team.

Listen, don’t play this game. We all know, especially when we get involved in a new sport, we want to watch somebody with some skill, some excitement, some real potential for celebration. Nobody – scratch that; maybe hipsters – scrolls down to the bottom of the standings, landing on the underdog in hopes that an incredible miracle unfolds in a twist fit for a dreadful Disney athletics film. Yeah, it was great that Leicester City captured the Premier League title two season ago, and I wanted them to win it, too, but not a single damn soul getting into soccer that year decided before the season started, “Hey, this team seems like the one I want to support.”

Accordingly, I’m not going to direct to a woeful sack of shit that just crowds the defensive third and pounds the ball down the field in prayer that somebody is actually paying enough attention to possess it for three seconds. No, Dortmund is good, consistently so, but without needing to mortgage their team’s identity or take on the role of the league villain who buys any player who may be good enough to beat them.

In fact, that is in part what makes Dortmund a great club to get behind: they can exhibit the possession-based, skill-laden, combination-heavy style of soccer that often earns the sport its title of “the beautiful game,” but also turn to a lightning-fast, “oh shit, here we go” counterattacking approach when it’s needed (*cough* Bayern *cough*).

The team’s results over the past several seasons emphasize their ability: 3rd place last year, 2nd place the year prior and a DFB-Pokal win, along with 1st place finishes, Pokal wins, and regular runs into the knockout rounds of the Champions League within the last decade.

They have an American on their team – a damned good one, too.

Am I exploiting an overwhelming swell of nationalism to gain favor with you? Uh, hell yeah I am. But how could I not? Christian Pulisic, who spent part of his childhood in Hershey, PA, is an absolute fucking animal, and he will be – bar none – the best American player of this generation and, quite possibly, all time, assuming good health and such. He will be what Landon Donovan was supposed to be. The kid can dart all around the field, has impeccable ball control in tight spaces, and can play his best when the pressure on. Aren’t those the kind of things – even in a proverbial sort of way – that we as Americans and Pittsburghers all hold dear? So not only can you wear your black and gold, but now you can bust out the red, white, and blue, too, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” even while watching a German soccer game.

The Bundesliga is legitimately entertaining.

Everybody is familiar with the Premier League’s international profile; players from all over the world flock to the riches and bright lights of English soccer. Still, the German league competes on this level as well, not just because it has almost the entire roster the 2014 World Cup-winning German squad among its ranks, but it also features / has featured a collection of other high-end talent.

Beyond Bayern, who have Arturo Vidal (Chile), Thiago Alcantara (Spain), Renato Sanches (Portugal), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), and countless more, there are a number of high-performing internationals, even on Dortmund’s roster: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Marc Bartra (Spain), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Ousmane Dembélé (France), Nuri Şahin (Turkey).

Germany remains a location for quality soccer, especially for those who are still excellent players, but can’t make it onto the league giants around the world, or simply don’t care to deal with them, and having them distributed among the different clubs means, again, that the play reaches a higher threshold.

The fans are crazy, usually in a good way.

In short, German soccer fans, Dortmund’s especially, are intense, and if anybody should appreciate such dedication and slightly frightening commitment to the team, then it’s Pittsburgh fans.

Pierogi for your thoughts?

Fuck pennies; pierogis are far superior. At any rate, I hope I’ve been able to show you just why, if you should get on a soccer kick, you ought to start waving towels, screaming at the TV, and drinking beer on Saturday mornings (most common game day / time) for the black and gold (/yellow) of the German league, Borussia Dortmund.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thomas Tuchel verweigert, seinen Abschied zu akzeptieren; schreit doch noch Anweisungen vom Spielfeldrand

"Ich habe sogar seine Handynummer blockiert, aber er hat doch jedes Mal ein neues [Handy]", sagte Marco Reus. "Dann simst er mich die ganze Nacht lang, ob 'wir' mit einer Dreier- oder Veirerkette spielen sollten."


Im Spiel gegen Wolfsburg schaffte es Tuchel, von der Tribüne herunterzukommen und die Dortmunder Spieler anschreien zu können.
Ehemaliger Borrusia Dortmund Trainer Thomas Tuchel, der am Saisonende wegen einer zunehmenden Risse in der Mannschaft verließ, versuche doch noch beim Training und Spielen, taktische Befehle zu erteilen, meldeten heute einige Spieler.

Im Mai trennten sich das Verein und der 43-jährige nach Angaben, dass es Konflikte zwischen ihm, den Spielern und Vorgesetzten entstanden, die nicht zu lösen waren.

"Ich erinnere mich an den ersten Tag Training mit Trainer Bosz", sagte Mittelfeldspieler Julian Weigl. "Ich konnte ihn über den Zaun der Traininganlage gucken sehen. Er hat sich die Arme wild bewegt. Ich glaube, er wollte, dass ich tiefer in die Richtung Verteidung hineinrückte."

"War echt unheimlich", meinte Weigl.

Der intensive Tuchel führte das Verein zu guten Leistungen in der Bundesliga und gewann auch 2016 den DFB-Pokal, aber diese Erolge reichten nicht aus, seine schädlichen Beziehungen mit bestimmten Spielern und Direktoren auszugleichen. Doch er tauche immer wieder auf und spreche die Spieler an, als ob er erwarte, noch eine Saison als Trainer zu dienen.

Tuchel erschien auch beim Training.
"Bei einem Training habe ich ihn in der Tribüne gesehen", sagte Marcel Schmelzer. "Er hat dauernd 'Schneller! Schneller!' gebrüllt. Dann habe ich einen Zettel in meinem Gepäck gefunden, der lautete: 'Triff mich heute Abend im Parkhaus um Mitternacht, komm doch allein.' Ich bin ja zu Hause geblieben."

Reus und Schmelzer sind nicht die einzelnen, mit denen Tuchel kommunizieren wolle. Auch Mario Götze habe von ihnen geheimnisvolle Nachrichten bekommen.

"Er hat doch mein Mercedes mit Graffiti überzogen!" schrie Götze beim Telefongespräch. "Warum muss er mich mit seinen taktischen Fragen stören? Er ist doch nicht mehr unser Trainer!"

Götze entdeckte am Tag vor dem Spiel gegen Wolfsburg, dass jemand seinen Mercedes mit Graffiti markiert hatte. 

Dortmunder Vorgesetzte haben zur Zeit nur kurz kommentiert, dass sie diese Situation ernst nehmen und nah überwachen werden. Nach neusten Angaben steht Tuchel ruhig hinter Bosz in der Umkleidkabine mit einem Plastikbeutel in der Hand und einen Finger zur Ruhe am Mund.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

NFL Alters Concussion Protocol to Hasten Players' Return, Long-Term Debilitation

A coach for the New York Giants initiates the new protocol against preseason game with the Steelers.
The NFL has redesigned its concussion protocol in an effort to accelerate its players' return to the field and a life soon to be plagued by agonizing pain and suffering, league officials announced today.

"It's our hope that these changes will help our athletes quickly get back on track to play -- and, of course, a future restrained to a hospital bed barely able to speak from high volumes of pain medication," said league commissioner Roger Goodell.

"We wouldn't want it any other way," he added.

The NFL experienced a substantial drop in ratings last season, and despite its still outperforming other major sports in the United States, team owners agreed that some tweaks to current policy may prove fruitful.

"We simply had too much star power sitting on the sidelines," noted Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "It was our goal to give back the fans what they wanted: the chance to see a healthy, athletically extraordinary adult male confined to a wheelchair due to brain trauma within the next five years."

Based on the latest policy language, "asymptomatic" can be defined as staring at a Godzilla toy for seven seconds without crying.
The decision has not escaped criticism, however. Opponents to the changes point to the discovery of CTE in the brain tissue of deceased players like Ken Stabler and the current hardships experienced by many retired players like Jim Plunkett, who recently stated that "[his] life sucks" in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. The league empathizes with such plight, but can only offer limited assistance.

"It was a different game back [in the 70s]," said Goodell in response to a mention of Plunkett's comments. "We feel for Jim; we really do. And we do know with compelling certainty that, if he had played today's game at this speed and with the knowledge we have, we could have maneuvered past all this suffering at his old age and gotten him directly into a vegetative state by his mid-30s."

"Just tragic," he told assembled media, bowing his head in a moment of silence.

Sports Unfiltered conducted an anonymous survey among 60 active players regarding concussion protocol: 21 approved of the new approach, while 18 did not; 15 were indifferent, and seven stared vacantly ahead and nodded softly when we said their name.

When asked whether the league would then provide financial support to the players and their families in light of their post-playing difficulties, Goodell was quick to address the league's position.

"Woah now, let's not get ahead of ourselves here," he said. "Research regarding football injuries and their long-term impact is still ongoing, so we don't want to make statements without the full scope of information available. We are using our money to improve and safeguard the game, not pay for its past mistakes. I mean, just look at Jim Plunkett."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Vices of Chuck: an Exploration of Pittsburgh's Unsung Sanctuaries

Welcome back, fine purveyors of the hidden gems that are the pubs, tap houses, bars, and lounges we are here to celebrate, nurture, and cherish. For this rendition, I was able to make the most of the night and take a double dip in the Greenfield area, specifically down the hill and "in the run," i.e., the valley area of Greenfield underneath the parkway east where you can watch fine Pittsburgh motorists approach the tunnel at a mean speed of three miles an hour, but also stop for some solid food, great deals, and friendly people.

TODAY'S FIRST SANCTUARY: Big Jim's

201 Saline St, Pittsburgh, PA 15207


We start the night at Big Jim's "In the Run," a bar and restaurant around since 1977, perhaps best known -- outside Pittsburgh, at least -- for being featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" with that oversized douche nugget who has, unfortunately, yet to break down indefinitely on his ride to "Flavortown," Guy Fieri. Relics of his stop still linger about: an unevenly formatted image of his face and the title of his show is emblazoned on all the menus, and a sign "As Seen On..." hangs on the front door. It is brought to my attention early in the visit that he may also be an active member of ICP and Smashmouth; clearly, further investigation is required.

To be fair, it's hard to believe that one person could produce such massive volumes of awful media.

Food personalities be damned, Big Jim's sports a gracefully out-of-date, but wonderfully welcoming ambience. Walking through the door of Big Jim's is much like entering a time machine, and for those introduced to the painful agony of the human condition in the late 80s or early 90s (sorry, self-deprecating existentialism remains a critical component in my writing style), you will instantly sense the elements that stand out when recalling trips to similar spots in your youth: that classic wood paneling and drop ceiling, the casual, homey setting, local news on the TVs, and a sort of calm that befits the environment over which it presides.
 
Once inside, there are two sections to choose from: to the left is an area set up for dining and bit more quiet, whereas the right-hand side, notably bigger than its counterpart, exudes that aforementioned classic bar and restaurant feel. We walk up directly to the bar and take a seat. A moment of dread occurs, as I face the possibility that I'm parked in the same stool that Guy Fieri abused during his segment here. Upon further consideration, I'm confident that somebody from Big Jim's at least drenched it in bleach after he had departed, assuming they hadn't actually covered it in gasoline and torched it.

A look at the bar / cooler, as well as the glorious mid-generation digital cable box.
Our bartender / server, Tim, hands out the menus and welcomes us. The bar offers quite a few drafts of tap and an impressive list of bottles, stretching from standard domestics to crafts and imports. Most of us select a pint of Big Jim's Special Ale. When pressed for some details, Tim explains that it's produced by Leinenkugel, tasting like Yuengling, but with a bit of a citrus finish. His description is spot on, though why it was given such a name demands something a bit more charismatic: "I don't know. Because everything is special at Big Jim's -- how about that?"

Works for us, and so the night moves forward.

Sated in one manner, we start to pick through the food menu. At Big Jim's, it's reasonably sized; they aren't trying to do much, but there is plenty to choose from. Noteworthy are the calzones, requiring 45 minutes of preparation time, alongside induced vomiting, an aggressively invasive parasite, or just a complete disregard for your own well-being to finish alone in one sitting. Remarkable, though, are the sandwiches and hoagies, crafted with a simple combination of ingredients -- think Reuben, Italian, hot sausage, steak and cheese, etc. -- in equally marvelous portions. If you loathe cooking at home, then an order here should manage to get you through at least a day's worth of leftovers, if not more.

Tim makes the round for food orders and refills, and we continue to take in the place as a whole. After the food arrives and as the talk carries on, a brief survey of the surroundings reveals the exact marks you would expect from a spot with Big Jim's reputation: the cook, currently unoccupied, kills some time on the touch-screen game machine; the server for those dining away from the bar is talking to a young girl about hanging up her crayon-bedazzled portrait and how she would like it to be displayed; members of one table converse with those from another -- not to criticize, interrupt, or annoy, but just because like-minded people enjoy the company of one another.

We finish up the food and get ready to grab our checks; more 'work' lies ahead. Before leaving, though, we have to ask Tim the same thing you all want to know: what was that massive blonde beach ball wearing sunglasses Guy Fieri like in person?

Misfortune strikes, in that nobody working that night was around during his visit. Just as well; long-term, Big Jim's certainly doesn't need his patronage or exposure. We go back and forth with Tim some more -- he did have experience serving at a particular Italian restaurant in the area with Food Network experience -- and then get ready for our next destination, thankfully in good spirits and with no desire to eat for the next six or so months.

Rating: 14 / 10 -- Quadruple Mega Steel Recommendation

Pros: comforting setting; huge portions; extensive beer list; reasonable prices.

Cons: Guy Fieri once came here; no guarantee you aren't sitting in his residual ass sweat that almost certainly is resistant to most disinfectants.

TODAY'S SECOND SANCTUARY: Zano's Pub House

3806 Acorn St, Pittsburgh, PA 15207


We take the short walk diagonally across a few streets, reinvigorated by, first, the outcome of our inital stop and, secondly, the grand aesthetic of our sanctuary in waiting, Zano's Pub House. I have to, and will gladly, admit that Zano's is one the sights that helped to inspire this very segment, and it all starts with an exterior that embodies an underlying tenet of Pittsburgh life: it doesn't have to look pretty; it just needs to do its damn job.

That's right, the outside appeal of Zano's is much like the highlight reel moments so closely associated with Ben Roethlisberger: a not-so-well-coordinated, "what the fuck is going on" clash of good intentions and questionable execution that, somehow, churns out something worth cheering and shotgunning nine beers. 

While it lacks the intriguing elements of loud signage, so to speak, and giant glass block windows that lure you to DALE'S, Zano's ties the game with one uncomplicated fact: this place was definitely -- most definitely -- once a house. Much like #7 rolling out of the pocket, somebody decided, "Well, fuck it," fenced in a patio for outdoor seating, situated some powerful lighting along the edges, and what you have is a visual collision that you admire for its own anachronistic qualities.

The group is already thrilled for what's to come. As we get closer, though, even more hallmarks of the corner dive present themselves. To the left, two printouts for Bud Light specials on St. Patrick's Day still reside in the framed advertising windows; to the right, a current special that should warm the heart of any patron who seeks out a cozy spot even on Saturday nights.

Even sans "mom's spaghetti," knees grew weak and palms sweaty with expectation.
One area of contention calls for elaboration here: namely, taking pleasure in outdated deals and marketing material is not intended as a disguised slight or heavy-handed compliment. Returning to the fundamental principles of this segment, it merely validates that the establishment doesn't operate on the guidelines of some pitiful aspiration to become 'faux' whatever or a blatant scheme to commercialize bars that serve layjags (laypeople, but in Pittsburgh, of course), often of local, blue-collar working backgrounds. Avoiding socioeconomic appropriation, to invent a term of sorts, to fake a bar's 'personality' or to attract a clientele on the premise of irony is a core component of an authentic -- at least working on the standards of my own design.

This consideration established, let's move on.

We wander through the door to a bar filled with music, a few TVs airing the typical smattering of sports media available when no game is on, and about a dozen patrons, ranging from the working folk near retirement to a group of guys in their mid-20s. Our first exchange at the bar materializes right as we enter, as two of the working-class gents sitting at the bar stretched to the left greet us with, "How yinz doin'?" This welcome only augments our excitement.
Another great staple of the Pittsburgh dive. Off to the head? Leave your stuff on the bar; it won't be touched.
We stand a few steps in to scope out where we might want to sit and to develop a picture of the interior as a whole. In our pause, one of the guys jokes that we owe the $5 cover. It's an obvious rib that we sure don't look like regulars, but issued in a tone that's more inviting than defensive, akin to the 'tease the ones you like' mentality. 

We have a laugh and shoot the shit, while one of us takes charge of the first round of beverages. Another indicator of a great local spot is the unmistakable value of your money; that is to say, you know exactly how much the money stashed in your wallet and pockets will provide you, and it almost always stumbles onto the side of too much rather than too little. Zano's fails not in this regard with the generous Saturday special more or less donating us four beers for $7, served in chilled point glasses for an extra nice touch. In the meantime, a man who came into the bar with no shoes -- luckily, he had not forgotten any other articles of clothing that were readily identifiable -- is asked to leave. A few words from Dana behind the bar suggest his presence is not entirely infrequent.
There's a kitchenette in case you want to work as house chef for free.
Saturdays are a wildly different beast in sanctuaries such as these, as you may have already  concluded and likely desire if you're headed to a beloved home for libations within earshot of your residence. Typically, a weekend night entails dreadful economics for the patron, even worse acoustics, and an entourage of fellow bar-goers who, you'd swear, must be Browns fans until you realize people from Ohio generally can't drive that far without getting into a debilitating accident.

In almost every facet, Zano's signifies a grand departure from such obstacles standing stubbornly in the path of weekend pleasure: the jukebox is free nearly every Saturday unless there's a band or karaoke; a game of pool is cheap (50 cents); darts are always at the ready; and everybody gets on with their night. It invokes, yet again, a different spin on that common Pittsburgh thread: it doesn't have to be complicated; don't be a raging asshole and you'll get along just fine.

We try to make the most of what there is to offer, slowly navigating to the back to play a few rounds of pool and keep the jukebox going. Throughout our time, the usual cast of individuals, all of whom enrich the night by some unique means, take a few moments to brighten the stay of those who care for the entertainment: the bouncer beats his ice bucket to the rhythm of Michael Buble's "Sway," dreadfully missing the downbeats and presumably in no rush to find them, and one of the regular old jags among the group puts on a dazzling dance display to Bruno Mars's "That's What I Like."

We regularly return to Dana -- who, we later discover, worked at Le Mardi Gras on Copeland Street -- as each member of our party is happy to finance a $7 fill-up, not to mention a few bottle-poured detours in between. We regale in the simple pleasures that Zano furnishes, just as much by chance as by design, and prepare to settle up before we call the night complete.

Strangely, as 1:30 a.m. rolls in, another pack of people come through the door, during a time you'd foresee most places losing numbers. But if Zano's has reinforced anything, it's the inherent unpredictability -- or perhaps the "predictably unpredictable," as we established at DALE'S -- of a good stint at your sanctuary of choice. Let Big Jim's and Zano's serve as endearing reminders that home can be where you make it, whether at a local spot, bar, or quite actually somebody's home... that's now a bar.

Rating: 17 / 10 -- Septupletastic Mega Crazy Recommendation

Pros: free jukebox; cheap games; ridiculously affordable weekend specials; contrast in decor.

Cons: Bud Light Aluminums cost $3 and that doesn't even include a bologna sandwich or hot dog.

Do you have your own sanctuary that you think should be featured? Let me know, so I can spread the word for the places you love so dearly! (No, my post won't attract a horde of toolbags to come ruin your spot forever.)
I gotta be honest: I like none of these three things.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Analysis: It Shoudn't, It Can't, It Won't -- Dear Lord, Somebody Sign Jaromir Jagr

After a day or two of pleasantly relenting in my pursuit of promoting and advancing beer-augmented sports hysteria and sensationalism, I'm back on the wagon -- with regard to sports, at least -- and ready to force my opinions upon you as viciously as text will permit. 

Jagr's mullet has been preserved for museum display.
NHL teams have yet to begin official preseason practices, sure, but I come to you today with a hockey tirade and analysis of dire urgency. Not only is the current situation a travesty, but it also gives the proverbial finger to both those enamored with maintaining legacy and those who rely on the measure of statistical review. As such, I am asking you, fair jag reader, to help me Save the Mullet; that is to say, we must get Jaromir Jagr a contract from an NHL team.

Before we dive into the always salacious pleasure of breaking down the figures, I'm obliged to start with arguments that stem from the heart or, as some may phrase it, "for the love of the game."

#1: Jagr Deserves a League-Wide Goodbye Done Proper

I want to acknowledge fully that these opening assertions are not going to convince those who are fixated with the scoresheet, and that may well be part of the hesitation facing NHL general managers when considering Jagr.

That said, it nonetheless seems appropriate to note that he is the most emblematic representative -- at this level, at least -- of somebody playing the game for its own sake since Gordie Howe. Money's important, sure, and I'm certain Jagr's debtors are quick to remind him of that, but Jagr's dedication to the sport, both on and off the ice, and his visible joy of the game set him apart from other "old-timers," all of whom demand our respect, but can't win over the public the way Jagr does.

This point can be further fleshed out when we dive into the numbers, but it suffices for the moment to say that Jagr will know when he can't compete at the apex of the game anymore. Accordingly, to rob him of a goodbye tour, so to speak, is beyond criminal; he will no doubt make it clear when he intends to stop playing in the NHL, assuming that opportunity is not unduly taken away from him beforehand.

His story, however, is not only grand on a personal level: the NHL needs its heroes, its all-timers, its "hey did you know" folklore that players like Jagr inspire in fans. While the league has no direct impact on the lifespan of one player's career, Bettman and company should still be waiting with bated breath for Jagr to find a team to make the most out of his final season(s).

#2: That Mullet

A mullet and jean jacket? What a fucking boss.
Listen, let's cut the shit: that mullet fucking rules. It did then and it does now. The only difference being that his mullet is, in fact, party all around, forgoing so much as a fleeting thought at feigning business. The hair, the humor, the style, the bravado -- simply put, it's a cult of personality that refuses to be overlooked.

Whether he's sleeping with attempted extortionists, whose boyfriend cites Jagr as his hockey hero, or just spending some leisure time in an underground, high-stakes, break-your-thumbs-if-you-don't-have-the-money gambling ring, Jagr is a character whom we mustn't let fall off to the fans in Europe.

#3: Even at 45, There's No Goddamn Chance That He's Worse Than, Presumably, 93 Right Wingers

Now let's get to the good shit -- that's right, statistical analysis and comparison. And to do so, I'll have to unleash one of my favorite segments: the Numbers Crunch Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending).

NUMBERS CRUNCH: SAVE THE MULLET EDITION

Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

In Jagr's case, a lot of critics, and no doubt NHL executives, will offer age as their top concern. Now, I understand and concede that age can strike fast, but such limitations are often more damaging to a player who, for instance, relies on speed or, flatly, doesn't possess the skill of an all-time great as he does. In fact, just two years ago Jagr led the entire league in points 5v5/60, meaning he tallied the most points relative to time on the ice while at even strength. This feat alone is incredible, let alone that he was 43 years old when he managed it, and to suggest that a single, less successful season -- which, as I'll explain, was still a solid year of performance -- forebodes a precipitous decline in ability is absurd.

Moreover, his most recent campaign itself should be viewed with caution, considering that the Panthers took significant strides backwards, mired in the firing of their coach -- a situation that, some pundits argued, was handled poorly -- and regression from a number of players in the team's young core who were expected to improve (Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith). While Jagr is still a viable option on the wing, it's unfair to demand that he shoulder the offensive output for a team with so many rising players, and it probably plays -- or should, at least -- into his favor when combating the conception that his skill is in a free fall.

Even investigating his output from last season, though, Jagr still doesn't drop to a spot where he couldn't be considered one of the top-93 right wings in the league, calculated under the thought that 31 teams need to fill that position for their three top lines; I doubt Jagr would stay in the NHL for fourth-line minutes, nor should he have to.

To prove this point, consider where he lands in some of the following statistics:

1) He came in #41 in points at the right wing position for 5v5/60, so he is still generating offense, and at his position he lands -- based on the 93 assumed spots -- somewhere above the middle.

2) He was #148 in shots league-wide for 5v5/60, so, again, he is putting the puck on the net and still capable of getting himself into positions to shoot. This figure ranks higher than players like Jake Guenztel, Claude Giroux, Kyle Okposo, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Killorn, not all of whom are right wingers, to be sure, but some names that nevertheless stand out when considering players who are (/trending to become) part of the group of skilled forwards.

A counterpoint can be fairly made that the drop in shooting percentage is reason for alarm, having dwindled to 8.8%. It is important to realize, however, that Florida as a team shot an abysmal 7.722% last season, besting only the miserably awful Colorado Avalanche. As I have stated before, this statistic represents more the Panthers' collective slide than anything related to Jagr's play.

3) His shooting aside, Jagr is still able to make plays as well, registering 30 assists last year to place him #115 league-wide in assists 5v5/60.

4) Ultimately, what these numbers show is that Jagr still has value at even strength; he is not going to earn his contract purely on the power play, much like you saw in the last couple of seasons of Teemu Selanne. Jagr does get notable time on the power play (#28 for wingers in power play time on ice / 60), but only 28% of his points came from man-advantage situations. Compare that to players like Phil Kessel (43%), Claude Giroux (53%), and Jack Eichel (42%); in fact, only players classified as "elite" accrue a similar percentage of points in even strength play, including Patrick Kane (25%), Connor McDavid (27%), and Sidney Crosby (28%).

 OK, let's finish this shit up...

Simply put, the game is mostly played 5v5, and Jagr has demonstrated that those beautiful locks still have the power to perform in those situations at the highest level. Understandably, some players are already under contract; some teams play a different "style" -- the Penguins, for example -- that doesn't fit best with him; some organizations have money tied up elsewhere and can't bring themselves to spare it. All in all, however, Jaromir Jagr is an absolute machine, a hockey deity, and a relic for the sport who shouldn't, who can't, who won't be cast aside. So for fuck sake, somebody sign this man to a deal.
Together, we can see to it that this story never ends -- well, at least until he's too old or just dies on the ice.

Friday, August 11, 2017

News in Short: Pirates T-Shirt Designer Really Starting to Show Some Mental Wear

Pittsburgh Pirates media and marketing staff member Jason Collins has started to demonstrate a significant deterioration in his mental condition, co-workers reported Friday, citing his most recent team shirt designs as evidence of his ostensible turmoil.

"Jason used to be into all the little catch phrases and nicknames," said his co-worker Suzie Lucas. "Now all his pitches are depressing."

Mary Reynolds, Collins' manager, voiced similar concerns. 

"For the club's next 'Free Shirt Friday,' we had to pick between a clear plea of existential dread and one that just read, 'Kill Me,' with a dead pirate mascot who had been shot in the head.

A new shirt design by Collins.
"I don't know if the team's ups and downs are having an effect on him or what, but there has definitely been a change in his outlook."

While media and marketing staff share discomfort in Collins' recent affect, they are hopeful he will still be able to pull through on his latest assignment to create a new pierogi for the club's "Great Pierogi Race N'at." They admitted to being discouraged, however, after seeing Collins' initial sketches of a pierogi covered in maggots and a tattoo that says, "Death Comes for All of Us."