Thursday, July 7, 2016

Germans Taking Lyric 'Throw Your Hands In The Air Like You Just Don't Care' A Little Too Literally

Welcome back, jags and jagettes. Another day, another confounding handball by the Germans, who were unable to bounce back against France to secure a place in the final round of the European Championship. As the game wore on, the Germans showed the devastating impact of their tactical cohesion, much like they did against my Polish namesake as documented in a post from years ago, though it was aimed this time at the French defense and not an unassuming pierogi shop that turned into a battle zone of guns and artillery and potato and butter; needless to say, my family lost this particular skirmish.

Though getting to the semi-finals is no failure, this German machine expects nothing but victory, and this defeat has undoubtedly raised a multitude of questions. Why were the Germans so undisciplined in the box? Were set pieces a major concern for the team? What were they thinking? Well, don't worry: all these questions will be answered in the latest pieces here on Sports Unfiltered, so let's get right to it.

JAG ON THE INSIDE: THE LATEST SCOOP FROM MY COUSIN RICK

Löw Regrets Bringing On Dirk Nowitzki To Help With Set Pieces 

"A good idea at the time," says Löw who watched players dominate the backboards and box out the opponent, regrettably in a game where it is illegal to use your hands 


The set piece: always a dangerous moment in the game of soccer. It can be so dangerous, in fact, that it is not unusual for teams to rely on these dead-ball opportunities as an ace in the hole against opponents of superior technical skill and tactical prowess.

The German team is the reigning World Champion. They possess an intimidating combination of ability on the ball and movement off of it.  There are few teams who could attempt to challenge their soccer acumen, let alone eclipse it.  For these reasons, they are the common target of the set piece strategy, and so when training for the European Championship, German trainer Joachim Löw was faced with a serious dilemma: how does he best prepare his team for the onslaught of orchestrated free kicks and corner kicks?

The solution was simple, he thought: bring in a professional.

What better man for the job than fellow German and professional NBA player Dirk Nowitzki?

"You want to find someone who not only is an expert in his field, but will resonate with the team," said Löw, who considered several others to take the position, "and Dirk is a world-renowned basketball player, who is also German, so the fit was ideal."

Löw and Nowitzki, who insisted on wearing his national team jersey, celebrate Boateng's monster board in training

It appeared to be a perfect match -- Nowitzki the missing piece for a German team poised on securing another major championship. The 13-time NBA all-star began immediately schooling his soccer counterparts on how to win the aerial game, conducting drills with obvious influences from professional basketball: basic jump ball exercises, small-sided games centered at winning a loose ball, and extensive practice demanding the opposition "get the fuck out [the player's] house."

Löw was enthralled at first at his squad's rapid understanding of the principles introduced by Nowitzki, but as the training continued, he started to notice concerning changes.

"Corner kicks, which tend to feature aggressive confrontation as is, were getting even more intense," stated Löw, citing one corner kick at training where striker Mario Gomez violently swatted the ball out of the air and began beating his chest. "It was at that moment that I had to reconsider the effectiveness of my decision."

When Löw saw veteran defender Jerome Boateng throwing talcum powder in the air prior to Germany's quarterfinal match against Italy, his nerves worsened.

"I was on the sideline when it happened and instinctively yelled 'Ach nein,'" Löw recalled. 

Boateng asked teammates to call him 'Jerome der König' (King Jerome)
The Germans confirmed Löw's fears, committing two costly handballs during the knockout round of the tournament. Against Italy, Boateng challenged the shooter Chiellini hard, only to realize that his block is completely impermissible in the game of soccer; facing France, captain Bastian Schweinsteiger made a great desperation play on a corner at the end of the first half that was nullified by the fact that there is not a single reason a field player should be flying at the ball hands-first.

After a penalty was issued, Schweinsteiger began to complain to the referee under the impression that he had received a technical foul.

"I thought the ref had 'T'd' me up," he said in a press conference, utilizing a piece of basketball slang he had learned from Nowitzki. "Then I remembered that, you know, you're supposed to use anything but your hands."

The goal put France up at half against the run of play, and the Germans were unable to overcome the deficit. Despite the loss, Löw insists he will continue to innovate the way he trains and manages the team.

"This particular attempt did not work out as intended, but there are plenty of areas that I can improve upon," he said.

Nowitzki, for his part, relished his time with the national soccer team.

"I thought it was great. I think I learned a lot in my time here, especially from Jogi (Löw)."

Most recent reports state that Löw is on the phone with Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who keeps asking "why the hell [Dirk] is kicking the ball all over place."

(END STORY)
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The only thing more amazing than two egregious handballs in consecutive games is the unrelenting daggers of insight provided by my jag cousin. He never fails to impress. Now onto second piece today on Sports Unfiltered: another round of dissenting viewpoint commentary called Jag Talk.
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JAG TALK

Today's topic: corner kick at end of first half in Germany-France game


Jag #1: Bastian Schweinsteiger
  Position
I'm pretty sure I can bat this one out of here with my hand -- no problem.

OK Bastian, keep your head in the game. Near the end of the half here and your team is playing well; no need to do anything rash.

Corner kick. Find your mark, find your mark. There he is -- #3. Got him. Now relax. Keep your eye on your man. Don't let him through because if he scores...

Stop! Enough negative talk. You've done this a million times, Bastian; just do it once more and get yourself to halftime. Keep it simple: time your jump, up and away with header -- this is easy. You're a pro, dammit; why are you making it so difficult?

OK, here we go. Here we are; he's kicking it. Just gotta keep an eye on... Uh oh. Shit, shit, shit -- where is he?!

There he is! Oh fuck, you've done it now. Move your ass! Move! Move!

Not gonna make it. Panic time. I mean, this ref -- how much could he be paying attention? Time to get desperate.

You know what? Fuck it. I'll hit it with my hand. Make it look like a mistake. Yeah, that's it. It's almost too easy. Just jump up, get a casual skip off the arm, and everybody goes to the locker room none the wiser.

OK, line it up; time it right. Wait for the perfect moment, Bastian. There it is -- riiiiiight now!


Jag(s) #2: Every German Fan
Position
What the fuck are you doing?!

OK guys, let's do this. Just one corner and we get through to the half. We have to say, we're kind of irritated you haven't scored yet, but that happens, so do what you have to and live to bring them down in the next half.

So who's got who? Neuer looks to be in good position, on his toes. Boateng! Please. for the love of Christ, don't pull any stupid shit this time, will ya?

Who's got Evra? Schweini, you got him? Perfect. He's the consummate pro -- no way he would do something stupid or risky in a game like this.

Here's the kick. Who's got it? 

Um, wait... Schweinsteiger? What the?! What... How...

What the fuck are you doing, Schweinsteiger?!

Maybe they didn't see it. Nothing yet. But seriously, Schweini, you got away with a dumb as shit m...

Oh no. The line ref. He saw it. Oh come on -- please, no. Shit! Shit! 

Seriously, Schweinsteiger, what on Earth were you thinking, you asshole?!
 
OK, don't panic. Neuer's got it. He's good. He's the best. He won't let you down.
 
Let's do it, Neuer! Here we go, here we go.
 
Shit. Holy handballing shit.

Fine. We'll handle business in the second half then. France should take it easy on us, anyway, after that giveaway. I mean, what have we ever done to them?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Holy Shit Balls: Evidently July 1 Is Canadian Day of Making It Rain On Them Hoes

Wow jags and jagettes -- before this tumultuous weekend, including a German victory that made the Internet (it seems appropriate to capitalize) cry, the general managers of the NHL decided to meet up on July 1, apprently to play Kings and Up the River with Banker's Club until the day became an ominous blur that they experienced third-party via TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, and the tsunami of angry messages sent by otherwise benign Canadians on social media and in ransom notes. 

Pittsburgh's Jim Rutherford is far too senior, of course, to be indulging in such leisure pursuits, so it's safe to assume he just drove the gang to and from each venue, and then got them some pizza to snack on when they got home. It also didn't help that his money stack, if determined by cap space, was able to be neatly folded and carried with a rubber band, while some of the other managers rented a yacht just to transport their bankroll.

Anyhow, the GMs spent most of their brotherly bonding time, it would seem, smoking peyote and catapulting small-denomination bills on exotic dancers because their disposition on the opening day of free agency could be described as charitable, perhaps even magnanimous, and for a number of its members, decidedly regretful. It isn't difficult to do the multiplication necessary to determine contract value, and to induce vomiting out of pure offense and outrage for the contracts issued, but for the sake of underscoring my ongoing sponsorship battle, let's dive into a Numbers Crunch to examine the winners and losers of the early proceedings in NHL free agency.

NUMBERS CRUNCH: GENERAL MANGERS LISTENING TO FAT JOE EDITION

Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

This year's trade deadline blew worse than Daryl Sydor at a traffic stop, but fans of overpaying professional athletes were graced instead with a wild surge of spending and a few ridiculous trades during this free agency period. Let's take a look at which teams came out on top and which need to host an intervention for their GM's likely codependency on experimental chemicals and amphetamines.

WINNERS


[1] New Jersey Devils: OK, I know what you're thinking, and you're right: nobody 'wins' in New Jersey; you just lose less. Even when they won the Stanley Cup, it wasn't enough to overcome the purgatorial experience of working in a state consisting primarily of trash and douchebags. But hey, it's better than playing in, oh, I don't know, some towns in Alberta or Manitoba, where the only women you can meet are actually moose disguised in foundation and mascara, and drinking bathtub whiskey is considered a viable medical treatment for seasonal depression, which in these towns is a year-round ailment.

In the light of hockey analysis, however, former Penguins GM Ray Shero did well with a club that's looking to re-establish itself in the league. Moving away from an organization with violently high expectations has allowed Shero to get back to his initial managing approach: patient caution with the occasional dive into calculated risk.

Ben Lovejoy was a notable signing around these parts, but a more daft contract was his keeping Devante Smith-Pelly, acquired from Montreal, for two the next two years. Smith-Pelly had fallen out of favor in the Canadiens organization as the team soured mid-season, and he clicked immediately with the Devils, tallying eight goals and 13 points in 18 games to finish the year. His upside was questioned throughout the year after having been drafted #42 overall in 2010, but it looks as though the Devils may have gotten a steal that works out for the player as well: the two-year term means a much more lucrative deal could be in store.

"Hey Adam, what do you know about Edmonton? Nothing? Perfect."
Moreover, Shero's trades continue to suggest that he spends most of his scouting budget on high-end camera equipment, espionage technology, and filling out his staff with former undercover agents, as the trade for Taylor Hall could have been completed without photo evidence of Peter Chiarelli getting in a limo with a transvestite moose hooker in the alleys of Edmonton. Though Adam Larsson -- the player going the other way, the hapless bastard -- was a high draft pick and had the potential of being a solid, "won't show up on the highlight reel" anchor on the back end, Shero's acquiring a face for the franchise in Taylor Hall in a direct swap is, well, absurd. In fact, it must have been two moose hookers.

Somebody probably should have warned him
Notable Deals
Devante Smith-Pelly, two years at $1.3 mil.
Taylor Hall (via trade), four years at $6 mil. 
Not signing a bunch of useless sacks of shit to long-term contracts
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[2] Tampa Bay Lightning: now, instead of having to deal with excessive garbage and assholes, players here have to deal with Floridians, who are a unique breed of repugnance in their own right. At least it's sunny, and if things turn to shit, there's always the chance that a hurricane can barrel through town and put you out of the your misery.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, one of the more fruitful transitions from the ice to the front office, did a whole lot to maintain the status quo -- a result that will be considered a resound success and rightfully so.

Having made it to the conference finals two years in a row, the team didn't need much to change; in fact, the greater concern was that the players who pushed to the cusp of a Finals berth would chase big-money deals from other organizations seeking that 'winning edge.' But Yzerman was able to maintain his core without so much as a minor slip, and he didn't have to unravel the Lightning's financial situation to do it.

Interestingly, Yzerman's first victory came in his putting baby in the corner, that is, telling Jonathan Drouin to eat shit and sending him to minors. Drouin, after some time crying in his room and a glass of chocolate milk, decided to stay with the club and made an undeniable impact on their playoff run -- one that I would have rued and for which I would have burned him an effigy, had he not had the good sense to be offsides at the start of game 6 against the Penguins.

The team also kept both Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos under contract for a large portion of their meaningful playing years. Hedman (25) is signed with the team until 2025, while Stamkos (26) would have his contract expire the year prior. These two players ensure the Lightning will remain competitive over the next decade, not unlike the brilliant stretch assembled by the Red Wings with Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg.

Hedman's contract, which kicks in for the 2017-2018 season, will make him the second-highest-paid defenseman in the league behind P.K. Subban, but not far off from many others -- a number of whom, one could argue, are inferior to Hedman in ability, including Dustin Byfuglien ($7.6 mil.), Ryan Suter ($7.54 mil.) and Dion Phaneuf ($7 mil.). Stamkos, meanwhile, chose to stay in Tampa in a deal that comes in under the yearly cost of other top-tier players, such as Alex Ovechkin ($9.54 mil.), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 mil.), and the identical deal issued to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane ($10.5 mil. each). Combined, these two deals were a huge score for Tampa.

The underrated signing made by the Lightning was extending young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for three years after his initial contracts expires at the end of next season. Vasilevskiy proved his value in the playoffs, taking over for the injured Ben Bishop, and almost willed the Lightning into the final round. Locking him in for several more years opens up a lot of possibilities for the team.

One of the most intriguing possibilities is moving Ben Bishop, who remains tied to the team through next year ($5.9 mil.), but is now expendable thanks to Vasilevskiy's playoff display. Trading a goalie who will be an unrestricted free agent following the season seems unlikely, even if ideal, so the Lightning will likely have to wait it out to let him go at the year's end. When they do get that contract off the books, though, they could have a nice chunk of cash to work with, whether to acquire players to get them to that last rung of the playoff ladder or to pay players with expiring deals like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

To solidify this off-season as one of their finest, the Lightning still have to work out deals with restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn: both were valuable contributors to the team's playoff run and are seemingly unfazed by the unsavory types who populate the Floridian landscape.

Notable Deals
Steven Stamkos, eight years at $8.5 mil.
Victor Hedman (extension), eight years at $7.875 mil. 
Andrei Vasilevskiy (extension), three years at $3.5 mil.
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[3] Nashville Predators: perhaps not a hockey-crazed town, but it can't hurt to be able to walk along the street without being harassed on the  unless you are related to or penetrating a country music icon. The only misfortune to befall a player here is the chance of having to talk to Toby Keith -- if only they could send him to Edmonton.

The Predators were another team who didn't wade far out into the free agent pool, but instead make the list for adding to their already impressive collection of players. The team did well last year, losing in seven games in the second round to the Western Conference champions, the San Jose Sharks; however, the Predators have long been a team that has done 'well enough' and look poised to make that next step, lest they take too long and end up like the geriatric Sharks who barely had enough energy to activate their Life Alert bracelet on the ice when they needed a shift change. The Predators only have seven players older than 30, though, and other than Pekka Rinne (33), the list includes nobody in their core.

So what exactly did the Predators do? They made two simple moves to safeguard their long-term success, as well as make their roster a promising one for the upcoming season.

The simpler move was re-signing 21-year-old Filip Forsberg to a reasonable six-year deal. With more than 30 goals last season, the young Swede has nowhere to go but up, and the Predators are slowly developing a team that can rely on its offense to win games, unlike their reputation in years past.

Then, in a jaw-dropping exchange, the Predators sent long-time captain and potential hall-of-famer Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Weber is only 30, but still three years Subban's senior and under a similar, though slightly cheaper, contract. On the other end, Subban (27) brings a dynamic edge to the team's back line and will fit nicely with its speed, an area most teams are looking to improve after the Penguins Cup victory. His contract is constraining, but the Predators have their young defensive unit locked over the next several years, including players like Roman Josi who are more affordable while still securing the team's presence in the back.

The roster now includes a wide selection of young players who can contribute on offense, but none of whom demand an untenable salary, such as Ryan Johansen (23; 34 points in 42 games; $4 mil.), Colin Wilson (26; 20 goals in 2014-2015; $3.94 mil.), Craig Smith (26; 21 goals; $4.25 mil.), and even that hardheaded prick James Neal (28; 31 goals; $5 mil.). If nothing else, it's good to see Nashville dedicate itself to something other than shitty bro country.

Notable Deals
Filip Forsberg, six years at $6 mil.
P.K. Subban (trade), eight years at $9 mil.
Something for people to talk about other than Luke Bryan
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TEAM WHOSE GM IS PROBABLY GETTING A DUI RIGHT NOW


[1] Edmonton Oilers: in recent interviews, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has stated in effect that he doesn't care what anyone thinks about his deeds, and he feels just fine about his actions. Anyone with experience in the field of social work or psychology knows that these statements are desperate pleas for help from somebody who has encountered such trying personal crossroads that he feels he can no longer be saved. We have to this poor man because, clearly, there is no telling what he may do next. I have provided a list of numbers you can call to get him the support he needs.

People who suffer as significantly as Chiarelli is won't directly confront their issues or take advantage of opportunities for help, so you will have to do it for him. When you call, it's important that you have a thorough report of the observable, unsafe behaviors carried out by the person in need, so let's go over that now:

First, this ill, beleaguered man traded one of the league's best forwards, who was still under contract for four years at a reasonable salary for a defenseman who is somewhat cheaper and plays, you know, alright -- not great, but he's pretty good -- and that's it. No picks, no other roster players to build with. It's evident that this man does not know the value of importance things if he was willing to throw away his possessions so carelessly.

Sometimes, though, behaviors can seem dangerous or bizarre, but actually be working towards a healthy goal. Accordingly, the person on the other line may say, "Well, he does have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, so maybe he is trying to establish a fresh beginning." At that point, you can mention that he signed Milan Lucic, on average a 20-goal scorer, for seven years at $6 million per season, and then they should be sending help right away.

Peter Chiarelli has fallen on tough times, but you can help
Our flooding of emotion for Mr. Chiarelli aside, the Oilers seem to be perpetuating their strategy of using luck for naught. Having been gifted four first overall picks in the last decade or so, the first string of these picks is running bare and they don't have much to show other than a revolving door of coaches, none of whom could get this putrid roster in the right direction.

Nail Yakupov is turning into a bust and won't haul much of a return. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have got the puck skills, but their dedication to the defensive end of the game remains in question. Their 'top-pairing' defenseman is Andrej Sekera, a 30-year-old who was a -21 last year and is signed for another five seasons at $5.5 million each year; I don't get paid enough (read: at all) for these posts, so I don't have time to cross-examine the advanced stats, but I think we can agree that that's still bad. Adam Larsson may help some, but as young defenseman it's not clear how well he will develop into a long-term solution. Meanwhile, Cam Talbot appears viable in net based on the small window of play to go by, but the Flames were smart in getting a player like Brian Elliot at a discount and re-evaluating their goaltending at a later time. 

The one piece they did have to bolster their roster more immediately was Taylor Hall, and they got one player in return; that's it. With the money they saved from removing his contract, they spent it on Milan Lucic, who doesn't look entirely different from former Oiler Dustin Penner, whom the Oilers  signed back then to a five-year deal at a much better value with the same idea: he had won before with the Ducks, could score goals, and was a big guy who could take the body. We will see, though, how such a style of play suits Lucic long-term and how well it contributes to the overall success of the team -- for instance, when Penner scored a career-high 32 goals and 62 points in 2009-2010, the Oilers still finished last.

Ultimately, the Oilers seem to be doing the opposite of the Lightning and Predators organizations, both of which have worked towards internal building and reasonable contracts outside the stars they really want to keep, and we will see if it costs them. 

I will try to be fair with Chiarelli, though: maybe Shero gave Lucic a copy of the moose hooker picture, too.