Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worthy of Pay-Per-View: German Efficiency Faces Off Against Collective Italian Hatred of People Who Aren't Italian, And Probably A Couple Who Are


This post will focus primarily on soccer. Don't worry, though: the anticipated complaints of you naysayers have already been dealt with in the text. Even so, I expect to arouse a few internal objections from the other end, i.e., the soccer enthusiast. Allow me to make a few things clear to this group now:

[1] At no time will I refer to soccer as 'football,' you elitist prick. I don't call it football, nor have I ever. Furthermore, the term 'soccer' emerged from 'association football,' which, frankly, more closely resembles what soccer is today: teams, i.e., 'associations,' that have assembled to play one another in league competition. Should that not be enough, keep in mind that the majority of the reading public is American and would therefore benefit from a clear separation of the sports 'soccer' and (American) 'football.' Finally, I'm not a delusional jackal that feigns cultural superiority by using foreign terms for everything, so go fuck yourself.

[2] In relation to the first point, I will not use any unfamiliar or otherwise borrowed term for soccer jargon, including 'pitch,' 'kit,' and 'boots.' You, to whom this criticism applies, are more welcome to maintain this charade that you were born in a different country or raised by family who said these things, but alas you were not -- you're just a fucking asshole. 

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, please read on... or if your ego is too bruised, then engage in one of the unpleasant behaviors I've recommended.

Hi there again, jag and jagettes. The 4th of July weekend is nearly upon us, and I have no reservations that, come Tuesday, we will both enduring its aftermath: heavy combat against the advances of paralyzing stomach cramps and immobilizing headaches, and frequent bouts of cursing in tandem the first person to apply raw meat to an open flame (or that fuck Prometheus for discovering fire altogether) and the pioneer of the keg stand. In anticipation of the holiday's latent wrath, we may as well plan to party the hell out of it and cherish the experience as a memento that, sadly, does not double as a antacid or pain reliever. 

To this end -- the partying one, that is -- we have a much easier solution. 

Sports are a natural complement to a long weekend of indulging, and nothing culminates such debauchery better than violently questioning the ethics of referees and umpires, wishing ill will upon fans of the team you don't like, and ruing its players' continued avoidance of debilitating injury.  There will be plenty of baseball to watch, of course, but with the Cubs up 7,000 games in the NL Central, tied neatly to their turbulence-inducing climb in player salary, and the Pirates pitching looking more like bell hops on Love Boat than intimidating seafarers of any variety, the outlook for a pleasurable three-day span seems foreboding at best. There is, however, one event that is sure to keep viewers on the edge of its seat, as it features two sides of interwoven roots, distinct tactics and strategies, and representing cultures that harbor an unrelenting streak of xenophobia: Germany vs. Italy.

I can already hear the groans from the nether regions of the internet; I can detect the sighs of an adult male who is too easily provoked by a sports blog he reads while casually browsing porn online. Before I go further, brave paladin of digital sports media, let me assure you that your internal monologue is attempting to give you sound counsel to shut the fuck up and deal with it. Football hasn't started, hockey and basketball are over, and long-term exposure to baseball has been shown to cause slow wits and social disorders in lab rats, so work your way through a couple more tabs and grant me the opportunity to explain why this match up is worth your time -- as if it owes anything to you.


Latest reports from your mom indicate you should stop being an incompetent piece of shit and watch a game of quality soccer

Listen, above all, I'm sorry your mother was so harsh; maternal advice can be rather vexing. That said, it is her refusal to let another nine innings of your life be claimed by a game that involves livestock running 90 feet at a time that has blessed you with the opportunity to witness -- for all that which is holy, I hope -- technical, entertaining soccer.

To diffuse your immediate criticisms and excuses, e.g., "I've watched soccer before and it sucks," let us first return to the wisdom passed on to you by your internal monologue. Moreover, you've probably watched the MLS, the entertainment value of which fits neatly between bass fishing and self-help videos to set up your cable box, featuring none of skill seen elsewhere around the world nor the magnitude of brutality inherent in other sports that make the average viewer forgive its faults. 

Even if you have watched the Premier League, well, just look how well the English managed in a major tournament again. That league has about four team full of foreigners -- you know, the teams that win all the time -- and then another four with some foreigners, and a bunch more are packed with useless Brits who think that the fashion in which they mount and impale the prey they bring home from the club is the appropriate way to play soccer. Talent isn't heavily concentrated in a league that North America owns, and that subsequently owns North America in its twisted relationship between consumer and provider, and this dynamic raises the expectations of the international game. 

In case I still haven't convinced you, considering I've already lost half of my easily angered, porn-addicted readership, let us look at a couple more reasons why this match is so promising.


Bullies are a confused bunch. A display of aggression, with which they are commonly associated, is often carried out with the goal of having and maintaining power or control, unlike the situation elsewhere; it is a surrogate for the intrinsic needs that the young person cannot satisfy under other circumstances.

Not too long ago, as history goes, Germany and Italy were two of such a breed, clasped at the hand as they clotheslined other countries and then shook them upside down for enough lunch money to get another wurst. They suffered alike, but their troubles blossomed from different seeds. Germany had to go home to an abusive struggling artist, who wasn't even his real dad; he was a short, ill-tempered Austrian, the stupid bastard. But he shouted and frenzied and droned on and on, day after day about what being 'deutsch' really meant, and it seemed easier at the time to let him get it out than to ask him for some peace and quiet, so that the neighbors could drink their Hefeweizen in peace. Italy, meanwhile, was a poor, illiterate son of a deity that spent more time praying than reading and more money on his stepdad, who like to be called "The Pope," than, oh, you know, infrastructure, education, and social progress. Germany saw a chance to have another brutish fool to manipulate for his own needs and moved in to sow what he could.

Italy's dad and Germany's stepdad often left their kids at home and went for pleasant rides on the local roller coaster
Germany and Italy quickly became close, knotted by their shitty family life and penchant for bad decisions, and their behavior spiraled out of control. Their notoriety soared and they left their indelible mark on the neighboring countries to whom they applied wet willies, gave Indian burns, and called 'Jew' and 'faggot' without remorse.

After awhile, though, child services were called in from abroad and teamed up with local agencies to find the least restrictive placement possible to improve their behavior. Italy had it easy enough: they kicked their dad's ass to the curb; Germany, though, had to be fostered by four different families, only then to be subject to a turbulent custody battle for decades until finally reaching the age of emancipation in 1989. Both would argue that this checkered narrative of their upbringing, for better or worse, has made them what they are today.

Nowadays, both are more or less well-adjusted, though it's questionable whether Italy ever learned to read. Germany is a straight-laced, no-nonsense sovereign nation that prides itself on efficiency and a refreshing candor about itself and others, while Italy is kind of a self-centered dick, who doesn't like most people, but stunning good looks keep things steady at least.

Consider now, then, that these two bullies of the past must suit up and take on each other head-to-head -- both forged into their unique identity by the tides of history and both, no doubt, still possessing a submerged desire of dominance that can reveal itself on the soccer field.


On the domestic front, i.e., the professional leagues around the world, La Liga (the top league in Spain) and the Premier League (England) get the most attention, mainly because of Barcelona and Real Madrid for winning, as well as the habit of English teams to invest a sinful amount of money into their roster rather than something beneficial to society. It would be easy to argue then that a game between England and Spain would be most desirable -- except for the minor hang-up that both have already been summarily executed from this tournament

England posted a pathetic showing, losing 2-1 to Iceland, a country of 300,000 people. Some pundits have already taken offense to the notion that Iceland is a 'Cinderella story,' claiming their success is a well-orchestrated showing of soccer acumen. While their fervor has been impressive, let me assure you of this: they qualified through a shitty, underachieving group and beat the most overrated team in international soccer today; they still have a long way to go.

As for Spain, well, their loss only strengthens my claims, as it came to hands -- or 'feet,' I suppose is more fitting -- of Italy. While the Spanish league does tend to take precedent in professional soccer, the team itself is a worn-out, hackneyed crew of fine technical skill, but no variety, and have been a predictable bunch for too long; their slide continues.

 After having discovered Spain's weakness in the 2014 World Cup, Robert Loggia spreads word to other nations in need
The numbers show, though, that Germany and Italy have made nearly an equal impact to international soccer, and to go wanting for a battle between two teams in soccer limbo would be foolish and ignorant to the stats at hand.

Take top European competition: when looking at the number of players from each nationality who participated in the UEFA Champions League, the "elite tournament" spanning the entire continent, Spain clocks in at #1 with 95, but as we have said, most of their team is log-jammed at the national level and their own 'play-it-safe' approach to the team's roster and development has yielded them an early exit. France comes in at #2 with 73, and their game would receive unquestioned approval were it not against the lead princess in the next straight-to-DVD film by Disney, Iceland. Moving on, Brazil, not associated with this tournament, lands at #3, with Germany following at #4 with 60 players. England holds #6 with 39 players and Italy #10 with 31. 

All in all, the gap is not significant and is based mainly on Spain's dominant player distribution, mostly because its young players can't crack the lineup of the league giants that trained them and get sent out to other teams around the globe. It is also important to note that Italy is guaranteed one fewer spot in the Champions League than Spain, England, and Germany (who each get four), and that one team could mean a bump of more than dozen players, depending on the team that qualified. 

Had enough yet? Too fucking bad because the stats just keep coming. Next, let's look at each country's victory count in all major international competitions:

It doesn't take much to realize that the historical resumes of each country stack up in way that -- internationally, at least -- favor a Germany-Italy showdown over a Spain-England one. Were it not for Spain's incredible run from 2008 to 2012, these stats would have appeared even more lopsided.

So, convinced to watch it? I hope like hell because I'm tired of the laborious task of combing each country's career achievements to convince your ignorant ass. Let's move on to the elements of the game to watch carefully in the next segment, Pounder Points.


Why call it Pounder Points, you ask? Because every jag likes to be right in a sports 'discussion' -- in other words, the volatile array of spit, shoulder poking, and "don'tcha remembers" that stand in its place in our fine city -- and in its midst, every no-nothing shit-for-brains that once overheard a minutely relevant piece of information in a rerun of Pardon The Interruption will champion said nugget of purported wisdom and nurture it like a glowing suckling divined by the heavens to win the argument and, with that, a free pounder from the bar. I'm sure your buzz might be wearing off as we speak, so time to dive into the main areas to watch in this bout.

#1: Boateng vs. Bonucci

Quite the odd couple -- sufficient for any sitcom: a black German and a man who represents a country whose fans hurl racial slurs at minority players, Italian or not, as a leisure activity. Stranger yet, in a way that isn't shameful to society, both play centerback for their respective country.

Why, then, would two centerbacks be the focal point of such a game?

For you jags who can recall Paul Coffey, the man wasn't so much a defenseman as he was a fourth forward who liked moving and playing the puck from a deeper position, and these two gentlemen -- as a pronoun; I don't know shit about their personal (lack of) virtues -- are built in the exact same mold. 

Build-up play has evolved drastically in soccer, particularly as suffocating ball control found itself en vogue once again within the last decade. Defensive players are more important than ever now in maintaining and properly utilizing possession: they rocket long passes, skipping 'layers' of players as needed, and spring into motion frenzied counterattacks or relieve massive swells of pressure from the defensive end of the field. Here are some instances of both in action:

Even in this tournament, their immense skill at placing a pass is evident. Bonucci lofts and weights a perfect ball in over Belgium's high-lined defense, not unlike what Italy may see against an attacking Germany, and the resulting goal inspired Italy the rest of way in their 2-0 opening victory.

Boateng, meanwhile, is an equally capable provider, as evidenced by this ridiculous half-volley pass that makes up one instance of, quite literally, a myriad videos online dedicated to his long-range passing ability.

Both are able defenders as well, and that shouldn't be neglected when considering how valuable each player is to his team's victory. Fortunately for Boateng, none of Italy's attackers are nearly as talented as Lionel Messi who made Boateng look like an amateur breakdancer in last year's Champions League campaign.

It's a little-known fact that Messi can also use Jedi Mind Tricks mid-dribbling
I'm sure Boateng isn't offended, however: he's won a World Cup, and Messi hasn't. Meme-worthy flaws notwithstanding, both players will be looked on to make plays that help break open an opposing side that is well-organized on defense. It's particularly notable when compared to some of the other 'major powers.'

Too bad I don't get paid for any of this shit; stats provided by
In this massive display, you'll see how Bonnuci and Boateng -- versus Sweden and Slovakia, respectively -- aided the team with numerous long passes to help work through defenses who were keen to sit back and bide time. The Spanish (Ramos) and English (Cahill), however, were less reliant on such long attempts from their defenders, asking instead that they make the tidy but hellishly unimaginative side-to-side shifts that drive most away from the sport. Interesting to note is that Boateng's passes were often aimed cross-field, while Bonucci's tend to be more direct. This difference will play a role in the next section.

#2: Four-Man Versus Three-Man

Don't get your hopes up; discussion isn't transitioning to the merits of hosting a gangbang with varying amounts of male participants. Instead, the focus here is the 'back line,' i.e., the defensive setup, for each side. To start, let's see how each side lined up during its most recent victory.

Germans had a lot of trouble adopting modern formations from the inconsolable rage caused by the lack of symmetry
The Italians opted, and have for this entire tournament, to play three men in the back -- need I remind you to settle your entendres -- working in a 3-5-2 formation generally, though De Rossi has tended to drop deeper than his position here suggests. On the other side, the Germans have used a chain of four defenders throughout, leading to a 4-2-3-1 formation with numerous moving parts.

The commonly adopted defensive standard is to have one player in surplus: if the other team has one or three attackers, a four-man defense is preferred; with two or, on rare occasion, four attackers, a three- or five-man defense, typically featuring defensive 'wing-backs,' is selected. With each team's resounding success so far, it;s doubtful that either will back out of its blueprint, even if only to suggest confidence in the team's style of play. As the game wears on, though, what will each formation mean for the flow of the game?

For Germany, the concern will be the exposure of the defensive line by counterattack, which, to be fair, is a fairly common, if not cliche, weak point in modern soccer, but valid nevertheless. The Germans tend to move both fullbacks aggressively into attack, and Boateng will even occupy space where a deep midfielder sits to get involved, especially with Italy's resolve on defense.

Italy will pass better than Slovakia did, and as Bonucci has shown, he is capable of latching a deep pass onto a hurtling forward, and Italy can release its wing-backs to do the same. Look, for instance, how Italy was able to take advantage of Spain's aggressive push forward.

Thanks to the Germans who have too much time on their hands at (German soccer analysis)
As the tactical breakdown shows, Spain's fullbacks push forward regularly in attack -- a trait Italy was able to take advantage of in part by having their attackers flood into that space, causing problems for the two, not three, Spanish defenders -- a liberal term for that pair of ass-hats, Ramos and Pique. 

What works against Italy is that it doesn't have as strong of a passing midfield as it once did. De Rossi is a good passer, but not exceptional, and he won't have much time to make incisive passes if Germany presses him higher up the field. Pirlo, arguably the best passer in the country's history, is making hand over fist in New York, while Marchisio and Montolivo -- two veteran midfielders accustomed to this style of play -- are not at the team's disposal.

Italy's shot to take advantage of Germany will be by using its wing-backs and forwards aggressively to turn any misplays or changes of possession into quick opportunities. Italy will almost certainly fall behind Germany in possession, but it won't matter if they stick to their plan.

So, what can Germany do in response to this potential weakness? There are a few options:

[1] Play Boateng as fullback and take them head on: by sliding Boateng over, he can get more license to roam without leaving the back fully exposed. The goal would be to keep him included in the attack, while also holding the Italian outside midfielder on that side at bay; his athleticism and speed would prove valuable here as well.

[2] Play three men in the back: Germany could also match Italy man-for-man, so to speak, though that is unlikely to happen for reasons mentioned above. Hummels could hold the center position with Boateng and likely Hector flanking him. This move may limit the two from getting as forward, but Boateng's passes are deadly from all over, and it would spare them a man in case of a dangerous counterattack.

[3] Play one, possibly two, defensively sound pivots: Germany commonly uses a 4-2-3-1 formation, the "2" representing the 'pivots,' i.e., the midfielders shielding the back line. Toni Kroos is a wonderful distributor, so it may be hard to part with him from the lineup, but Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both strong defensive options and capable short- and mid-range passers who could slide deeper into defense as help is needed. In build-up play, it's not unusual for one pivot to fall between the centerbacks and create a faux three-man line; such a maneuver could be considered by the Germans here.

Pep Guardiola regularly utilized the third option at Bayern Munich with Alonso, a pivot midfielder, dropping deep
Moving on to Italy, their main concern is without question Germany's unpredictable movement in and out of the midfield. The Germans, who looked to be somewhat stagnant earlier in the tournament, have an adept and strong-minded coach in Joachim Löw -- whose looks alone feed German stereotypes found in every facet of pop culture; and Löw's willingness to introduce tactical variation and solid player management has brought his team continued success as others have declined. The most jarring part of watching the German team play is their combination play that involves multiple players moving in succession and filling roles that may be outside their standard position.

This isn't absurdist German art, believe it or not; it's Germany's passing chart against Slovakia

And I shit you not; this is the man who trains and directs the Germans to do all that crazy technical and tactical work

This tendency to flood the midfield with different players was on display during their last match against Slovakia.

The chart here shows the average touch position of the German players, that is, where they would have the ball at their feet; the lighter shade symbols are for substitutes who came on later and can be ignored. It is clear to see that the six players who make up the defense and midfield were in generally stable roles, but the top four all made constant commotion leading into the attacking third, a threat that Italy will have to deal with. By numbers alone, they have enough to deal with Germany's attack, but can they handle the rapid movement and change of position for a whole 90 minutes?

Particularly dangerous is youngster Julian Draxler (#11) who not only boasts incredible speed and agility, but also high-end technical skill that has gained him the chance to play at this level at 22 years old. If Mario Gomez (#23), that giant fuck, can push back Italy's central defenders, occasionally swapping with Draxler for the sake of unpredictability, it will help create pockets of space for Draxler and Özil who thrive in such areas. What can Italy do to counter such a potent attack?

[1] Strict marking: Italy prides itself on its tough defensive posturing mixed with strong technical ability, and the team knows its route to the final won't get any tougher than this match here, even if it faced the French team who is playing at home. Accordingly, they could put it all on the line here, getting direct orders from manager Antonio Conte to cover specific players throughout the field. The issue here is whether they have the stamina for it, and it may be advisable to call for some players to be checked more readily than others instead of an all-out defensive showing.

[2] High pressing: Borussia Dortmund, a German team, were renowned for this tactic, and it could be used by the Italians in this game. By applying loads of pressure on the German midfield, the Italians could create turnovers for high-percentage chances and if they score, the team will be able to sit back and hold its defensive shape with less exertion. The skill of Boateng and Kroos as deep-lying playmakers, however, could make this strategy a significant gamble, as a high press demands the whole team move up the field -- space the Germans could abuse much like Italians have against strong possession teams in recent years.

[3] Slow the game down: above all, fuck the Dutch. I say that because their team's god awful excuse for soccer in 2010 World Cup Final, in which they committed a foul every six seconds to slow down the since-deceased Spanish juggernaut. That in mind, may the Italians rot in a layer of hell inconceivable even by Dante's brilliant mind if they attempt to derail the Germans with sheer physicality and purposeful interruption of the game. For the sake of the game, I like to believe the Italians appreciate the sport enough -- more than they do fellow man, no doubt -- to avoid such heavy-handed tactics.

#3: Choose Your Stereotype

Quite frankly, these teams embody the people of their country. Germany plays in a precise, carefully plotted style fit for a land in which it is a federal offense to choose the wrong definite article for a noun and arriving late is punishable by decapitation. The Italians play with suave charisma, a borderline arrogance that sees them through trials that would swallow a weaker ego. If things go poorly, they can always start kneeling and praying to Jesus, a strategy that has helped their country avoid turmoil and hardship since, uh, well never, but it's worth a try. 

That's it, jags and jagettes. So, this Saturday, it'll be easy to fall into the trap of tedium: rinse and repeat a viewing of the American 'past time,' called that, of course, because it's well past time that you change the damn channel to something worth watching, and that will be Germany-Italy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Cup Has Been Won, But the Kowalski Rages On: Post-Cup Analysis, Tireless Diatribes Continue

Hey, jags and jagettes. We at Sports Unfiltered hope your revelry was memorable -- or is, for those of you testing the limitations of the human body -- and may your hangover or stint in the tank have been as short-lived as the Sharks’ time with the lead during the Finals.

It’s a forgivable error to think that I, too, would be yet incapacitated, perhaps as far as contented, by the fruits of several months of incomprehensible shouting and rabblerousing, but even the last victory that clinched the cup can’t cool the scorching jets of your favorite yinzer orator.

Indeed, while the city of Pittsburgh soaks in the economic boom of binge drinkers, party animals, and Phil Kessel’s insatiable appetite, I continue to seethe at the injustices of the sports world, a few of which I will manhandle in this post more than Joe Thornton does the unfortunate bastard who has to wear the outline of his fist as a tattoo in the misconception that they were playing hockey and not starting a fight on the Southside. I know your attention is at a premium, as you skim this post in between gulps of pain medicine or your own homemade remedies, so let’s jump right in.

Not That You Need It: A Friendly Reminder, Barry Melrose Is a No-Talent Hack

Let’s start with the (off and on) mulleted gargoyle that roosts over the custodian’s closet and discount office chair called the ‘hockey department’ at ESPN -- a gargoyle so endeared there for his pathetic attempts at insight that they call him by his pet name, Barry. 

Melrose, whether by vendetta or cognitive dysfunction, chose the Penguins to lose every single round of the playoffs, and for the sake of humanity it seems appropriate to explore how the hell he has reached this threshold of madness and wonder how he is still employed, if it hadn’t made itself evident that the entertainment derived from the ironic spectacle of his ‘informing’ viewers was his own saving grace.  
Really, Barry -- in 6 to the fucking Rangers?!

Melrose must have already been ejecting nonsense via his devil tongue, head spinning wildly by virtue of whatever demonic presence possessed him, 'predicting' -- as much as weather reporters choose to 'forecast' the conditions over the coming days as a euphemism for 'guess' -- that the Penguins would lose as quickly as the first round to a Rangers team that they had shown dominance over since Sullivan took over his dictatorial reign as badass coach of the universe.

I will give him the slightest regard in that he at least had the second and third series go to seven games, before, I would imagine, hoping to be put out of his misery swiftly by picking the Sharks in six.

The more important question that arises from his hockey-soothsaying debacle is, how does this Neanderthal jobber continue to hold clout in the hockey community? There must be some source of genuine hockey success in his past that has anchored his position as a source for hockey 'insight' -- yet another term dripping in irony. Today, we explore that in the latest edition of Numbers Crunch Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending).


 Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

On today's Number Crunch, we investigate the staggering amount of faith put into the opinions of a man who looks like he spends more time getting his hair done and washing his Camaro IROC than observing the sport that he is, presumably, being paid to report. We will do so by breaking down three stages of his career -- as a player, coach, and broadcaster -- in an attempt to identify where, if at all, he rightfully earned the trust of anyone.

Playing Career

Melrose's playing days started rather auspiciously, and upon realizing that he made it to the pros, quite a feat in and of itself, it may seem warranted to tolerate the drivel spewed forth on the air. He was, in fact, drafted by both the Montreal Canadiens (round 2, #36 overall) and the Cincinnati Stingers (round 4, #37 overall) of the WHA, i.e., the World Hockey Association, the league that attempted to rival the NHL during the 70s, for yinz jags who haven't been brushing up on their hockey history. His draft position alone may even lure you into saying, "Ok, I guess I have to listen to what this guy has to say."

This logic would be shortsighted, though, for a number of reasons. First, before even exploring how well he fared in the pros, it is important to remember that scouting and drafting remain highly inaccurate, speculative, and in some ways arbitrary processes, in spite of the money and labor spent on them in modern professional hockey. The 70s, then, were even more archaic in these areas, and players have conceded that the procedures and expectations of today's hockey -- structured practices, using video, systematic styles of play -- didn't get the slightest consideration until the 1972 Summit Series, where the contributions of the Soviets to the philosophy of hockey and their merits were evident.

Now, with doubt brewing, why don't we push aside the historical framework and turn our attention to the freaking stats? Let's check out good ol' Canadian boy Barry's season and career totals.

Barry Melrose: a player who must believe in the 'intangibles'
So how does Barry stack up? Well, apparently the Canadiens were being bullied so they drafted Melrose with hopes of unleashing him and his irate mullet upon their worst foes. As the NHL totals indicate, he averaged a point roughly every ten games, would be approximately a minus-32 in a modern NHL season, and ended up going to box about once a game -- and jail, presumably, based on his caveman tactics stats, though the NHL looks at its checkered era of open violence with a fairy tale hue and favor. The stats are clear enough as is, but perhaps this tidy screenshot, originally omitted for its lack of information, furnishes us the most efficient explanation of Barry Melrose as a hockey player.

I actually laughed out loud at this one.
Unfortunately, an award for playing god awful defensive hockey and spending your time attempting to behead your opponents was not, and has yet to be, created, and so Barry's playing can be summed up in a photograph of a Canadian bar fight in the 70s, though I have my reservations whether Canadians actually fight outside of the chaos generated during a hockey game. His trophies at home are doubtless the various dismembered extremities and bits that he hacked off the person of his enemies because he couldn't skate, pass, shoot, or do any of the fundamental functions of a hockey player.

So, the mulleted taskmaster doesn't exactly impress with his playing ability, though points will be given for, if nothing else, somehow convincing professional hockey teams that his brand of barbarism was appropriate for the game of hockey and that they should provide him a salary to carry it out. Kudos in that regard. Let's move on, then, to where Melrose saw more limelight, his coaching career.

Coaching Career

As much as it pains me to do it, I have to start here by recognizing some of Barry's inexplicable achievements. Namely, as coach of the Adirondack Red Wings, Detroit's AHL affiliate at the time, he did win the Calder Cup by some miracle, as the team finished 40-36-4 during the regular season -- not exactly a record indicative of dominance and a stellar coaching job.

Since I am much more eager to share and focus on the failures of this living hairpiece, let's skip ahead, just a bit, to Melrose's days in front of the hottest team in hockey, an inferno of disappointment, the 90s Los Angeles Kings.

For context, it's 1988. In a blockbuster deal that shocked the entire hockey fandom, Peter Pocklington, then-owner of the Edmonton Oilers, sent Canada's golden boy, the face of the league, Wayne Gretzky to the Kings for, more or less, a substantial amount of money ($15 million) and several first-round draft picks. This move stirred even the most grounded follower of hockey, but was much less surprising to Pocklington's creditors, who were likely to give him the ol' Melrose skull-buster if he didn't come up with the money he started to take out to afford his perennial all-star team, though he will claim it had more to do with Gretzky's love life. In 2010, Pocklington was found guilty of felony perjury in the state of California. But don't worry: he claims the Gretzky deal was the "right move" for everybody involved and I wouldn't dare question a man of such resolute morality and financial management.

The Kings, their lord and savior now on-hand to provoke Americans everywhere into liking hockey, had a few test trials before landing on Barry Melrose. They started with Robbie Ftorek, who had a much more successful professional career to his credit in both the WHA and NHL, and the team did fairly well, going 42-31-7 and losing in the second round of the playoffs. Not too bad, but Ftorek was fired after this solitary season.

The Kings, as it were, had become a blossoming team of hotshots, not unlike the Oilers of a few years prior and, frankly, the Penguins every since a young French-Canadian man refused to go practice if a particular man was in the building. As the L.A. Times reported, Ftorek's contract wasn't renewed in light of failure, but because the players didn't like him, including one name whose opinion was held in the highest regard.

So it was Tom Webster who replaced Ftorek, leading the Kings to two average regular seasons, one stellar one, but nothing better than second-round burnouts in the playoffs. Left again without a coach, who could handle this team of talented underachievers?

Evidently persuaded by that stint as an AHL pit boss, the Kings decided the best man to coach their team of douchers, including arguably the best doucher to have ever played the game, was a man better known for his haircut than any contribution he had ever made to the sport. A man who also had no NHL coaching experience and, as we have reviewed, wasn't much of player himself -- Barry Melrose.

Coming soon to DVD: Melrose Place, Season 1 - 'Oh Shit, We Actually Hired That Guy'

His first full season was indeed worthy of cinema, guiding the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals, with an average regular season performance, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. With such resounding success in Melrose's first year, the potential for a dynasty in Los Angeles still loomed large; the window was still open.
Then the Melrose effect kicked in.
It's impossible to tell whether Melrose decided to pursue offense at any cost, simply didn't coach the team and spent practice looking in a mirror to adjust his hair, or if the team ignored him and he was actually providing sound, or at least any, strategy and advice. What the Kings did manage, however, was a precipitous drop in attention to detail and, you know, defense, with players, including Gretzky, ending the season with a double-digit minus and Goalie Kelley Hrudey getting beaten more than the children of an inebriated Irishman. Granted, yes, in the day of advanced statistics, plus-minus is not as trusted a measurement as it used to be, but there's no violent swell of coincidence that completely derails an entire teams plus-minus rating throughout the course of a season.

The next season saw the Kings miss the playoffs with a putrid record of 24-45-12, and Melrose was fired mid-season the following years, as the team limped to a 16-23-9 record to that point.

To be fair -- something, I can assure you, I truly prefer not to be with regard to Melrose -- there have been a number of teams throughout sports history assembled purely by the dollar bill and that never achieved much of anything. That said, let's look at some of the talent Barry had at his disposal as coach of the Kings.

[1] Wayne Gretzky: all-time goals and points leader; number retired by the NHL; inducted into the hall of fame.

[2] Jarri Kurri: 600+ goals, 1300+ points; inducted into hall of fame.

[3] Luc Robitaille: highest-scoring left winger in history; 600+ goals, 1300+ points; inducted into hall of fame.

[4] Rob Blake: 1200+ games played, 700+ points (as a defenseman); Norris trophy winner; multiple-time gold medal winner; inducted into the hall of fame.

Melrose also had some of those players who aren't going to light up the scoreboard, but help to win games, including Darryl Sydor, Tomas Sandstrom, Alexei Zhitnik, and Tony Granato.

Altogether, this man had four future hall-of-famers, plus a handful of NHL household names, and still managed to do jack shit with them.

But even greater infamy awaited Barry, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, seeking a new avenue for mismanagement, disappointment, and unmitigated stupidity, hired Melrose in 2008 to ruin their team.

 The organization, presumably tripping balls in celebrating their selection of Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick of the most recent draft, decided it was go idea to carry out their hiring process high on acid. Melrose's attempt at changing the culture of the Lightning began immediately.

Melrose imparting to his squad the most fundamental rules of 'Mulletology'
Luckily for them, the high wore off shortly into the season, likely thanks the atrocious play of the team, and they canned the mullet master after just 16 games, having posted a 5-7-4 record. Of course, Melrose's famous take on who was soon to be there best player didn't help his cause:

"Steven (Stamkos) is not ready for the NHL. Steven is going to be a good player, but right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defensemen who are 6-3 or 6-4 that can skate as good as him. … He just can't check in his own end well enough. … Right now, Steven is not a great NHL player by any stretch of the imagination.''

Stamkos didn't have a great year by any means, but he did score 42 of his 46 points after Melrose had been fired; that's a .25 points per game pace compared to .63. Oh, and he also went on to score 51 goals and tally 95 points the next season.

So, yet again, Barry has proven that, despite marginal glimpses of hope, that he is a hockey-related reject, devoid of any insight that should win him attention from the public. To cover all our bases, let's take one final look at his staple position, his broadcasting career.

Broadcasting Career

At this point, I would hope that Melrose's complete and utter incompetence in every facet of hockey would be clear, and that a foray into his broadcasting career would not prove necessary. Nevertheless, I want to wade only briefly into one of my favorite broadcasting follies that demonstrates, well, that Barry just isn't too bright.
When the New Jersey Devils had just built the Prudential Center, Barry Melrose wanted to bring clairvoyance to the hockey and sports fans around the world by issuing a brief synopsis of the building on ESPN. And with His gaze cast upon the camera, He did sayeth:
"It looks great on the inside but don't go outside, especially if you got a wallet or anything else because the area around the building is awful."  
I doctor a number of images, and this is guaranteed to be one because Barry Melrose is a godforsaken Canadian space cadet.
Naturally, Barry faced a tsunami of shit, apologized, and the people at ESPN continue to employ him nonetheless, knowing that no matter the personal pits of despair they find themselves in, they can always look over at Barry to put everything into perspective.
I will back to it soon enough, jags and jagettes; anger takes time to put into words. Keep tuned.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Top of the um... Afternoon, Jags -- Major Updates Afoot

Look who's back. That's right, jags and jagettes: I've returned, revived by long fits of cursing at the television, insulting every individual fiber and sinew of opposing players, and downing the American-made ambrosia called beer. My tireless bouts of rage and empty bottles have only re-affirmed my stake to the throne of baddest sports jag in town, while likewise propelling me to the top of the list of feared monstrosities alongside King Kong, Tetsuo from Akira, and Brent Burns.

Now back in the game, there are two important updates today for yinz to sink your teeth into: first, a news update from my jag cousin Richard, who is always sleuthing around to break the biggest stories in sports and get you a good deal on some free HBO; then, sit tight and strap in for the debut of a new segment to Sports Unfiltered, a dissenting viewpoint piece simply known as Jag Talk. Grab your Iron and let's get to it.


League "totally cool" with murder, considering other crimes to assimilate into game

The National Hockey League confirmed today in a press conference that it had informed the Penguins and Sharks organization last week that all violent conduct was permissible for the duration of the Stanley Cup Finals, encouraging both sides to avoid playing hockey and instead bludgeon each other until the point of mercy.

"Shit's about to get real," said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a prepared statement.

This open call for unmitigated bloodshed emerges from fear of another year of disappointing ratings for the Finals round. Through three games, the series has garnered an average rating of 1.7, the lowest viewership since an abysmal showing of 1.2 in 2007 for the Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks -- a series that had its first two games featured on the newly-minted Versus network, now known as NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). League officials insisted that they took a practical, cultural approach to get more people to tune in.

"I mean, The Purge was a pretty cool movie," stated league commissioner Gary Bettman. "It only got, like, five stars out of ten on [International Movie Database], but it's definitely been trending upward, and a glorification of meaningless loss of life is exactly the kind of progressive, forward-thinking mentality we need."

"Kill 'em all, I say," added Bettman with a grin.

Both sides appear to have heeded the league's call, as neither game has resulted in more than five goals, with referees ignoring potentially life-ending checks from behind and pretending to tie their skates while players take a half-dozen strides to catapult themselves into defenseless opponents. The Sharks, including seasoned veteran Joe Thornton, view the changes as beneficial to their overall style of play.

"I just don't got the legs that I used to," said Thornton following his team's Game 2 overtime loss. "And you think to yourself, 'Come on, keep moving; don't stop.' But then it's like, 'Why?' It's a lot easier to whip out the old battle axe and get to work orphaning a man's children."

Sharks center Thornton: "It's a lot easier to whip out the old battle axe and get to work orphaning a man's children."
Defenseman Brent Burns agrees.

"Definitely helps not having to worry about that whole 'play the puck,' 'don't hurt anybody' stuff," he told reporters following the Sharks' Game 4 loss to the Penguins at home. "Didn't work out for us tonight, but I'm pretty sure I can break somebody's spine in Game 5 and really get the guys going."

While murder and the slaughter of fellow humans are fresh additions to the playbook, league officials are still looking for other ways to integrate crime into the game.

"This train is moving and the possibilities are endless, really," said Bill Daly.

"Kill 'em all, I say," added Bettman -- again.

So far, the league has yet to decide which crimes they are most likely to push. Recent executive sessions have entailed hours of watching C.S.I., combing the internet for the latest controversy, and brainstorming sessions.

"Sexual assault is trending hard right now," noted Daly, forming a hashtag gesture with his hands. "So we think that's the next big move for the league. The way we see it, after skewering a player with his stick or any other sharp object he can find, one of the guys can go for some rough, unlubricated penetration -- should really have the people asking for more."

"Fuck 'em all, I say," quipped Bettman.

League officials say they intend to have more changes ready in time for Game 5, but the administrative body was forced to cancel today's brainstorming session to discuss an ongoing class action against the league for promoting behavior that led to concussions and long-term brain damage.


How about that hot piece of insight fresh off the proverbial presses? I've been telling yinz that Richard ain't messing around -- and if you call him now, he can get you free Netflix by hooking you up to his uncle Rob's account, so get to the phone or miss out on a great deal.

Now we move on to a new segment here at Sports Unfiltered -- an opposing op-ed section called Jag Talk, in which two jags duke it out via wits and words to claim argumentative superiority and bring pride to their families by winning a fight on the internet. Pop open the Ten High, and let's get rolling.


Today's topic: Joe Thornton

Jag #1: Chuck Kowalski
Joe Thornton is a subhuman hobgoblin jagoff who deserves to rot in an alternative to hell because hell ain't shitty enough.

The old hound.  The aging stallion. The graying giant. All terms you might use to show affection to long-time Sharks center Joe Thornton, if not for the overwhelming personal shortcoming that he is an intolerable spineless shithead who spends more time lining up his next victim, or his tee shot, than he does using the skill that got him a semi-favorable reputation in the first place.

The only saving grace for this bearded ogre may be that he is prepping for a role in the next Hobbit movie as its ruthless leader of the orcs or that he is collecting DNA from players around the league for the purposes of improving global medicine because there is otherwise no logical explanation for why his trademark moves of this series have been a vicious crosscheck to the neck or back, countless punches to face, and a few attempts at a public beheading -- short, of course, of his method-acting techniques for an orcish pit devil or collecting blood, sweat, and skin samples for the benefit of the world.

In fact, I don't know that the method-acting argument can even find its footing, as Thornton's apparent lack of empathy for the humans in his presence, along with his constant ploys to endanger them, indicates that he is already some raging beast who need not hone his craft to star in a fantasy blockbuster as the merciless overlord of underworld demons. The real miracle worker here, then, is Peter DeBoer and the Sharks staff who have somehow managed to direct his bloodlust onto opposing players and not at their own team and people in the stands. We can only hope that the magic potion that they created to lure him into eviscerating the opposing team can last long enough before they return him to his chains and cage.

Naturally, Thornton has simply corroborated this damning theory with his own actions. It's no surprise to anyone -- well, at least not the humans among us -- that every moment of the Stanley Cup Finals is being caught on film, and that the network has been more than happy to aid the world, or all seven people watching, in personally memorializing sights of the forced appendectomies and spinal readjustments he dishes out on a nightly basis.

The only thing needed at this point is somewhere -- real or imagined; it doesn't matter at this point -- for him to go to suffer eternally, which, after a few million millennia, would only repay an inkling of the misery he has inflicted during this series alone. I don't think even the able mind and pen of Dante could envision a place befitting of such a revolting display of genetics as Joe Thronton has proven himself to be, though Cleveland may suffice. Nevertheless, I'm still holding out hope that he will karate chop a few members of Metallica in half before the season's end.

Jag #2: Chuck Kowalski
I wholeheartedly agree with the prior position.

Listen, jags, this publication is despotic at its best, draconian at its worst, and there ain't a single damn nanometer of space to be defying its chief writer, editor, and resident asshole: me.  Likewise, there is not a single shred of viable evidence to exonerate that old pasture-grazing assclown Joe Thornton from the video-captured, regularly occuring and readily witnessed acts of inhumanity he has committed against opposing players, their association to my team of choice being a factor only for those who wish to get into a proverbial fistfight with a scarecrow rather than a classic North Side jag. 

Lest I be no less of a beast myself and adhere only to the name-calling and personal attacks that make me such an entertaining writer and orator, allow me to implore to the masses from here on out and spend less time fueling the attention paid to this general of the netherworld's finest demon soldiers.

Namely, could we please, just maybe, be able to watch some real fucking hockey? Before I have to endure a single throw of the hands in the air or angry shout at the screen -- yes, I know that pain, checking, physicality, and every other synonym you may dare to conjure are all part of the sport and meaningful participation in it. That doesn't mean, though, that the capstone of the league's season, what is intended to be its holy grail, should be held captive to a complete and irrefutable disintegration of the game's technique and purpose in favor of making it a poorly conducted carnival sideshow, in which its most valued assets, the players, get disfigured on live television.

The NHL was once called a 'garage league' for damned good reason, as it gladly catered to the lowest common denominator, both externally among the public and internally with its players, and these playoffs are no different. It's considered vile irreverence to question the merits of 'playoff hockey,' the yearly descent of the sport into something that more resembles Roman bloodbaths than modern competition. The term is a sacred monument meant to adore the occasional hotly contested battles between two teams actually trying to play hockey; of course, such sorties are much more commonly replaced with an open field charge of carbon-fiber bayonets applied to the skulls of its participants who don't strike first, whether out of circumstance or purely in dedication to the pursuit of good hockey. It's safe to say, then, if the NHL used to be garage league, at least it used to be a finished, attached two-vehicle garage, where as now the bricks are turned to dust one by one and all that is left is an uncovered gravel pit that provides no protection to its members from the blood raining down from the sky.