The Lee- Eberle Debate, Revisited

The Lee- Eberle Debate, Revisited

Last September 6 (that was 2018, before the hockey season started, I wrote the following on our old website. Apparently it may have been read by an NHL GM, who gave it some thought. Enjoy!

What to do with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee?

9/6/18

Fans of this blog- go ahead, there are one or two out there, you can admit it- know that for the most part this blog runs in the following cycle:

  1. State a problem
  2. Explain cause of problem
  3. Explain how others handled similar situations successfully
  4. Discuss potential solutions
  5. Use case studies, histories, and current trends to come to a research based conclusion instead of scream like some ignorant asshole.

Well folks, this is no exception. If you read the last blog entry about what it would take to trade for a star player (note: not much) then you have to come to the conclusion that you aren’t going to get a whole hell of a lot of you trade Jordan Eberle and or Anders Lee.

Think I’m crazy? What did the Islanders trade to acquire Eberle? Ryan Strome, a 3rd line center with one outlying career year. This was a STRAIGHT UP trade. No picks, no prospects, no other players. So what do you think the Islanders would get for the same guy on an expiring contract looking for a raise from his current $6 million salary?

Best hope- a pick and a prospect, or two picks. Anything north of that is a steal.

So this presents you with the following dilemma- what do you do with a Jordan Eberle? Do you trade him for the above mentioned package? Pay him the aforementioned raise? Or do you ride out his season and head off into the sunset for nothing like John Tavares just did a few weeks ago?

This is not an enviable position to be in. Eberle is a solid second line wing who helped with the learning curve of Mathew Barzal. Eberle most certainly has value to the team. He’s also a productive offensive player likely to score 25 goals and 30 assists on an average year.

But that’s not what makes this an unenviable position to be in. Every team has to make choices on players. No, what makes this particularly bad is that the Islanders have a first line wing in the same situation, that of 40 goal scorer Anders Lee. Some would say that Lee is a product of Tavares, having put up 76 goals in two seasons with Tavares after putting up 40 goals in the prior two seasons without him.

This situation boils down to the following concept: Islander fans might have a span of 366 days where the Islanders lose three of their top six forwards for nothing. Stuff like that cripples’ teams for years.

So what do we root for to happen, as fans? Well, you have the following scenarios:

  1. Pay both of them
  2. Trade Lee
  3. Trade Eberle
  4. Ride out the season

Let’s explore the pros and cons of all of these options.

  1. Pay both of them

Pro: They stay with the team for the rest of their effective careers.

Con: At least $15 million in combined salary cap hit. Roster inflexibility. Untradable contracts. Keeping younger players with potentially greater talent in lesser roles because you can’t give a 4th liner $8 million. Not even Garth Snow was that stupid.

This is the fan favorite option as we always love our own. But it’s also the one that would eat up at present 3/16th of the salary cap. Leddy, Ladd, Bailey and Boychuk make up another 4/16th of the cap. The 4th line makes up another 2/16th of the cap. 9 players, 9/16th of the cap. That’s on pace for a 16 player team, which probably won’t turn out so well.

Also, this will keep you not only from importing any skill players, but it will force you to choose which of the emerging players to pay from the likes of Anthony Beauvilier, Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, Noah Dobson, etc. A talent ceiling, which is also never a good thing for a team.

  • Trade Lee

Pros: Remove a slow skater from an always getting faster league from the lineup. Plus there are questions whether or not Lee was a product of Tavares and if he can repeat his prior successes. Also, you’re saving somewhere between $7-8 million that can be used to address other areas. And then of course you’re acquiring a lesser player, a draft pick, and a prospect in a trade now, or a little less at the deadline.

Con: I like Anders Lee. He seems like a great teammate, a stand up guy, and has made a career of grabbing those garbage goals that can be a difference maker when you’re in the playoffs. You would not get equal statistical value for 2016-2018 Lee…but if you act now you may get something similar statistically to 2014-2016 Lee at a lower price tag.

  • Trade Eberle

Pro: Save $7 million plus on a guy that is a 25 goal 58 point guy no matter who he plays with. Since Snow brought Eberle here specifically to play with Tavares (just like Ladd!), his time is up. Plus a 25 goal scorer should net you two picks in the top 30 of a draft, which may be nice as the Islanders transition from the team of Tavares to the team of Barzal.

Con: He scores 25 goals and 58 points no matter who he plays with. If Barzal slots in at 1C and they give him Lee and Beauvilier or Bellows of Whalstrom or whomever at wing, Eberle will still score 25 goals and get 58 points on line two. This may help stave off the inevitable statistical decline of Josh Bailey just a little bit, which makes Bailey fans happy. Those fans are overlooking the Bailey production hypothesis that says when Bailey is productive the team isn’t winning. He also has clear chemistry with Barzal and Beauvilier, although that can change year to year as players evolve.

  • Ride out the season

Pro: You get to see what Lee and Eberle do with a real head coach, something neither of them have had in their career. Yes, it’s a defensive minded coach so their offensive stats will inevitably suffer, but they’ll still show a glimpse of what the Islanders will look like in the future if all of the prospects develop as they’re expected.

Con: The scariest of all scenarios. Lose the players for absolutely nothing. Not as impactful as the rejection by John Tavares, but maybe more impactful in the overall standings.

If these are the options, which choice would you make? I’ve already made mine.

I trade Anders Lee. Lee’s skillset will make him injury prone as a contract unwinds. Also, his lack of foot speed will become a greater detriment as time goes on.

What would I seek for Lee? A 1st round pick and a legitimate NHL defenseman- think 3rd or 4th defenseman. If you package Lee with one of our middling defensemen maybe that 40 goal veneer gets you a #2 defenseman. Maybe. But if Lee could get you Mattias Ekholm and a 1st from Nashville would you say no?  Not me. I may make that move for just Ekholm.

Why not trade Eberle? His raise won’t be as dramatic, so it will have less of an impact as the $8 million a 40 goal scorer would command. Eberle also seems better equipped to move from line to line and still play his game, whereas Lee sees lesser production with lesser centers. Also, if Barzal is going to be a first line center, we’re going to see if his two linemates can also step up against the best defenses in the NHL.

Now, there are factors that can change my mind. What if Lee is willing to sign a deal similar to Josh Baileys- 6 years at $5 million? Or even 5 years at $6 million? That would be something that would make things interesting. Or what if Eberle pulls a Boogie Cousins and takes a pay cut so he can pick his team?

Or what if Carolina offers the Islanders Sebastian Aho for Eberle? How can you pass up the Aho to Aho potential! Alas, Aho is much younger with similar offensive statistics and at a much smaller cap hit. And based on the research I’ve done, trades like that just don’t happen.   

So as we approach training camp, the countdown to two major decisions begins. As will the constant questions and distractions about negotiating a contract in season, about two sides in communication with each other, and about what to do at a trade deadline with a UFA. Just like last season, or as we often say around here, more of the same.

POSTSCRIPT:

So far, here’s some on the money predictions from last September:

  1. Lee cam nowhere near 40 goals without Johnny Snake,
  2. The Islanders took my advice and resigned Eberle. My mistake was that he took a DISCOUNT to stay.
  3. The field of players with Lee’s history are earning between $7 to $9 million per season. My prediction was that Lee would seek $8 million.
  4. I overestimated Eberle’s stats, mainly because Barry Trotz plays a more defensive minded system and Eberle actually adapted his game for it which I didn’t expect to happen. Eberle did find his offense against Pittsburgh in the playoffs and was lethal.
  5. I called Lee slow. Anyone watching the Islanders playoff run could not validly disagree. One empty net goal in eight playoff games? Yikes.

On the verge of NHL free agency, that’s all I have Islander-wise for now. Hope you all watch the NHL Entry Draft tonight and enjoy the speculation as to what the Islanders are going to do. Rumor has it that there’s a trade or two in the works…

The 2019 New York Knicks Draft

The 2019 New York Knicks Draft

Hey dear readers, I bet you’re expecting a mock draft. Well, fuck that. What’s the purpose? Zion goes 1st overall? And then who gives a shit.

Here’s what a draft generally entails. There are 3 strong players in any draft. Maybe 2, maybe 4. But about three. They will play for a bad team. They will look to either become cornerstones for a franchise, or look to move to a better team to join up with another star. More on that later.

So the NBA draft in 2019 will be a lot like other drafts. But here’s where the NBA fucked up.

The league should have rigged the draft to allow the New York Knicks to have won the draft lottery. Why?

Because the Knicks were terrible. Worst record in the league. Understand that people buy tickets to see the Knicks- I would rather waste money on buying Absinthe, letting it evaporate, and snorting the crystals instead of paying for a train, seats, and snacks for failure- despite the fact that as an organization, they are losers? And the fans often get what they came for.

But the Knicks were such losers, they didn’t even win for losing. And even then, they’re still getting a solid player. Until they have to pick that player.

What the Knicks have is salary space for two NBA star players. And they drafted a high level wing forward last year. This means that if the draft falls wrong, the Knicks are going to be fucked. Why?

Easy. The Knicks took Kevin Knox as the future small forward. There’s a strong chance that the Knicks will be looking at drafting a small forward at pick 3. If so, the Knicks can either trade Knox, or trade pick 3. Except, there’s only one answer. And that is, there should no way that the Knicks trade the third overall pick.

NO WAY.

Whomever the Knicks choose?  Better than whomever they have.

So if the Knicks are drafting a point guard? Fuck you, Kyrie, with your name sounding like an 80’s song from Mister Mister. If the Knicks are getting the other kid from Duke? Trade Knox. And if Zion falls to them? Duh.

But me? I look to move my 3rd overall to New Orleans, plus this and next year’s seconds, plus a future first or two to get Zion. Dallas gave you two firsts for gimpy Kristaps Prozingas, who despite being punched in the face was a proven NBA all star, so why not make an offer to move up two spots?

New York Knicks first round NBA Draft pick, Kevin Knox, poses with his jersey at the teams training facility Friday, June 22, 2018, in Tarrytown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen) ORG XMIT: NYKH103

Why would New Orleans make the trade? Because they’d be getting a 3rd player in the draft, plus two more firsts and two seconds to move down two spots. Also, they’re still trading Anthony Davis and will take in a haul for him. The Celtics made a deal like this with the Nets and have been prosperous since. New Orleans could use the hype of Zion and the demands of Davis to make them potent for years. Oh, and since these will be so many guys on entry level deals, the Pelicans can be active in the free agency market.

Zion is made for New York. The next Charles Barkley. Not a small market guy. Then the Knicks can go out and sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or Kawai Leonard or whomever they want to. Kevin Knox can learn a jump shot and swing to G2, or sit behind Leonard. Actually, maybe Knox- Tim Hardaway Jr never did.

But here is what the Knicks will do. They will trade away a top pick to acquire a nightmare contract, then sign a free agent, which is what they could have regardless while keeping a major asset. Instead they’ll make some headline grabbing splash, keep an inferior player at small forward, and sign maybe one UFA. They’ll fuck up everything like they always do, because they’re the Knicks. And with the weaker level of firepower, they will b a 500 team that exits in the first round of the playoffs. Again.

If only the NBA had the sense to make the Knicks a valuable team based on something more than geography, they’d have frozen an envelope again.

The New York Yankees Are One of Baseball’s Biggest Surprises

The New York Yankees Are One of Baseball’s Biggest Surprises

The New York Yankees have been turning everybody’s heads this season 360 degrees, or completely around.  Despite the staggering injuries to the majority of their star players such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, along with Luis Severino and Dellin Betances, the Yankees have been able to exceed expectations and have managed to stay well above .500 for most of the season.  Not to mention, they are in first place in the American League East Division by two full games over the Tampa Bay Rays and 5.5 games up on the defending archrival Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees are 30-17 and imagine that when they get the majority of their elite players/starters back, they will be even better and more dangerous/powerful than where they are now.  The Yanks are 13 games over .500 and the main reason for their success without their starters has been their depth.  Role players such as Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin and the newly acquired Kendrys Morales have all stepped up and delivered on a night-to-night basis with clutch hits and home runs that have allowed the Yankees to go on an impressive run from mid-April through May. 

The Yankees have three wins this year when trailing in the eighth inning or later this season, which speaks volumes about this team that you can never count them out in any game, in any deficit; they can strike at any time.  Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres have a combined 15 home runs against Orioles pitching this season, while the Bombers are 8-2 versus the Orioles this season.

We aren’t even at the All-star break or through the first half of the 2019 season yet and it is simply amazing to see the sheer dominance and consistency of this Yankees team against the Orioles not only this year but for most of this decade.  The Yankees also have the 4th-best pitching staff in the American League, devoid of ace Luis Severino and the “Big Maple” James Paxton in the starting rotation. 

Daniel Correa of The World Wide Sports Radio Network produced this article.            

Esports Are For Real

Esports Are For Real

Trends are things that tend to come and go. Grunge rock, professional hockey teams in Atlanta, McRib- things that exist for a short period until wiser heads prevail. And so it was my thought that Esports would be the next trend that would end up immortalized in a few consecutive high school yearbooks and be gone.

Then I saw an article saying that Esports created almost $1 billion dollars in 2018.  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/the-explosive-growth-of-esports/

I was shocked. But there’s more, Colleges are offering Esports scholarships. Television stations are broadcasting Esports competitions. Professional sports are creating their own Esports leagues. The International Olympic Committee is considering Esports entry into the games.

Folks, billion dollar industries generally tend to be more than trends. And historically, they don’t just go away.

THIS is a billionaire. WTF

If you’re like me, you may be wondering “So what exactly are Esports?” Esports are contests played by professional video game players. Note to my Mom and Dad- remember when you said I was wasting my time with video games because that won’t pay the bills so I should read books or play sports? THANKS FOR NOTHING.

Now understand that I am not in my teens or 20’s, so my understanding of Esports is at best very rudimentary. Personally I find it fascinating that people will go to arenas and watch Esport gamers play Madden football or FIFA Soccer where they’re controlling video athletes instead of, you know, staying home and playing the games for themselves. Then again I do watch sports on TV when I could be, you know, out there playing the same games. So I see the parallels- people enjoy watching excellence, no matter what it is. Which still doesn’t explain NASCAR.

Esports is a perfect topic for World Wide Sports, but with my lack of organizational or industry knowledge I am far from the perfect authority to educate or inform anyone. So I reached out to someone who may be better versed to pick their brain and who knows a thing or two about the video game industry and video games themselves- Nolan Bushnell.

Nolan Bushnell is an icon. I don’t say this because we live in an era of celebrity worship and superlatives being handed out like Pez. After all, there may be a large part of this audience that doesn’t specifically know who Mr. Bushnell exactly is, but are unknowingly well versed in his legacy. Let me help out with a very short resume:

  • Pong
  • Atari
  • Chuck E. Cheese
  • Catalyst Technologies
  • Etak
  • ByVideo

You may be asking what these all mean. I’ll help connect the dots. Pong was the first commercially successful video arcade cabinet that launched the arcade cabinet industry. Atari was the original must have home video game console and the template for today’s Xbox and PlayStation, plus everything in between. Chuck E. Cheese was the combination of food, fun, and games that Dave and Busters, Jillians, and many others have since imitated. Catalyst was the first business technology incubator in the US, and maybe the entire world. Etak was GPS before there was GPS. ByVideo was the Amazon app except in the early 1980’s. The man is a combination of a futurist, inventor, capitalist, and visionary. Thus, icon. 

Think I’m exaggerating? Understand that in the sports world I’ve interviewed All Stars and Hall of Famers. There is no Hall of Famer in sports that was as much of a game changer since Babe Ruth…who in fairness would also have been an awesome interview. That’s the level we’re talking about here.

I spoke with Mr. Bushnell about Esports, and not surprisingly he was incredibly well versed on the subject. I was pretty much the equivalent of first grader attending class at Harvard. We had a wide ranging conversation that ran about 40 minutes and I was surprised at how long he tolerated my ignorance, but also marveled at how in touch he was with emerging technologies and how he was still sitting in the driver’s seat for how we play games today and also in the future. He listened to the subtext of my questions, and gave answers that were thoroughly developed and highly thoughtful.

Regarding  my main topic of Esports, Bushnell was surprised at the speed in which they have grown. He expressed excitement in watching video games as sports, and how tournaments fostered that excitement. He was also certain that Esports will develop little leagues just as baseball, football, basketball, and soccer have done. That’s an inclusive and wholly untapped concept – creating organized sporting opportunities for the non-traditional athlete. But Bushnell wasn’t done with just that idea.

He then discussed something that was mind blowing- the mixed reality of virtual reality with human interaction. He talked about the “Turing Test,” which many consider the basis for the origin of artificial intelligence. For those not familiar, here’s the concept- Alan Turing was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence back in the era around World War Two. Turing wanted to know if you could create a computer that could have a conversation with a person, with the person leaving convinced that he or she was talking to another human and not a computer. Can artificial intelligence be as real as base reality?

Bushnell mentioned games like such that are already available, such as the VR Roller Coaster game (I’ve played that and happily did NOT need a sick bag) and the VR flying game (of which I would entirely need that sick bag), but then teased the next level of VR- the combination of VR and athletic performance. The creation of a real life avatar playing on an Esports field, instead of manipulating pixels and polygons with a controller. Base reality wrapped inside virtual reality!

Imagine a fantasy draft where there are no teams to choose players from, just players to use to form your own virtual lineups that compete in actual contests? It would be like the movie Tron from the 1980’s with their deadly discs and light cycles, just without the fatalities. And he’s already started this ball rolling in working with ModalVR.

ModalVR (https://www.modalvr.com/) has already created competitive virtual reality sports games. Two such examples are Ping and Infinity Racer. Ping basically is Pong, except that participants are the bumpers for the game, and the game mirrors their movement. Infinity Racer makes you move your body to navigate obstacles as you compete against up to three other contestants. And as Mr. Bushnell shared, VR gaming is still in its infancy, or as he said “We’re in the Pong phase of VR.”

Bushnell did point out three of the biggest drawbacks of the world of Esports. The first one is that the games are in “walled gardens,” meaning that there are IP addresses created specifically for events that do not allow for open competition. He felt that to be powerful, there needs to be an ecumenical or unifying aspect to Esports, rather than a “Big Brother” approach that limit participation and talent. Limiting competition to just a few people in a room on a specialized server instead of opening up games to the masses will actually filter out talent instead of allowing new talent to be discovered. Think about when you play on line games at home and how some players just dominate your game- why aren’t they allowed to throw their hats into the ring?

Next up is the most generationally glaring aspect of Esports- it’s a young person’s game. Like, REALLY young person’s game. As a person ages, their reaction time slows. Most Esports games are twitch muscle related games. Unless you’re the Waco Kid, as people age their twitch reactions decrease. This would also create another barrier to entry to Esports. Bushnell offered up a potential solution to this potential segregation- and missed economic opportunity: have strategic games enter the Esports world. Strategy gamers are more cerebral and would encourage play by people who gain wisdom with age. This already happens with chess tournaments. Why not electrify that world?

Could this be an Esport?

Lastly, Esports athletes will almost always have short careers. As Esports gains popularity there will be a greater supply of new entrants and a quick phase out of “career” gamers. Think of this in comparison to other professional sports. It may be harder to root for your favorite team if the longest tenured player had just about a 5 year career. Unless they’re a phenomenon, think about how barely accomplished any traditional professional sports athlete is after five years in their game. Would Tom Brady matter? Or Alex Rodriguez? Or LeBron James? This small window for excellence generally means that Esports as a league will be a nice supplement to professional sports leagues, but will have an impossible task to replace them because you will never grow with a player, or relate to their era because their era may be 12 months.

We also spoke about the “gaming scholarships to college“ aspect of Esports. If the game is for young people, why waste your prime earning years doing something as mundane as, you know, getting an education? Couldn’t that come after with just a portion of your professional winnings? I really enjoyed his answer- this direct quote is fantastic:

“Colleges are becoming bloated, expensive, and stupid.”

If you look past the annual 7% rate of inflation for college tuition (two to three times the rate of actual inflation), the majors being offered to keep students interested in college have almost no bearing on the world that they’ll eventually become adults in. As for Esports, if you compare college athletes to professionals, the college athletes are rarely as good as the professional level. This lets a player that maybe has reached a plateau as a gamer gain an education as a person because they’re good at Call of Duty or some other title.

That college convo led us to an area I wasn’t expecting- Bushnell is a very proud Papa. As a father of eight, he must have infinite patience- lucky for me and my often awkward questions. Bushnell was well aware of the concept of “New Collar” employees- people with natural skill sets that need little to no college education to be successful in a given field- because there’s a few in the family. Three of his sons followed in his entrepreneurial footsteps and started their own companies: Coin Door Crew, Polycade, and TwoBit Circus. (https://polycade.com/, https://twobitcircus.com/)

While Bushnell has a fantastic optimism about the future of video games in general and Esports in particular, he has no actual idea as to what that future looks like. In his opinion, games have gotten better and better over time, which totally emasculated my question about games over relying on visuals as a crutch to poor gameplay. He did, however, give me an amazing compliment about a question I asked on programmers creating artificial intelligence that he called metaphysical and unique to his career. So suck it, gaming mags!

One area that Bushnell does see clearly is the combining of technologies to create multimedia gaming experiences. A very cool sounding project that he’s working on is called St Noire (https://www.st-noire.com/), which he described as a “Clue” like board game that centers gameplay around an Amazon Alexa, combining board gaming, interactive hardware and Non-Player Characters. Instead of using game cards to collect clues, you interrogate the Alexa, which has a thousand hours of recorded dialogue. Think about how few people you’ve talked to for a thousand hours in your life- that’s a lot of replay value! The quality of your questioning will help you figure out who is the criminal before your opponents.

https://www.amazon.com/St-Noire-Powered-Murder-Mystery/dp/B07P693BG1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=st+noire&qid=1555811945&s=gateway&sr=8-1

The multifaceted approach to gaming clearly does not end there. Another combination he sees as key to the future of gaming is the combination of Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence, but that conversation is the genesis for a follow up article. You can’t help but come away inspired after a conversation centered on possibilities and ideas.

Totally dope.

I had to ask if any classic Atari games would have made great Esports games outside of the obvious Pong (and its “Grueling Algebra”). He felt there were a lot of titles that fit that bill, specifically naming X and O Football. Imagine a time when a football game could exist without a professional league and professional union endorsement? And yet folks, it happened- you can look it up!

I also offered that there hasn’t been a game with a different take on “shoot ‘em ups” since Outlaw and Combat. He agreed on the later, but not the former. Combat would be a great Esports game, in my humble opinion. Cuts right to the chase without game ruining lag- the existence of such was also part of our wide ranging conversation.

So, what were my takeaways? Nolan Bushnell is a patient man. I am not an engineer and hardly had a grasp on programming ever, so he took time to explain processes like how to build an arcade cabinet, or why lag exists, why Microtransactions are really freedom of choice, or how branch narrative works for both gaming and for Netflix. Also, he’s the first person I’ve met besides myself that’s read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi without having it assigned in a college class.

But also, this is a pioneer that’s not only NOT resting on his laurels but is trying to forge new and exciting paths. His vision for the future of gaming is wide open, but it surely incorporates artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality as its core elements. After all, he is still an active gamer. In the face of PC, mobile and tablet gaming, he is surprised at the resiliency of console gaming. Unlike the average Esports athlete, he is still competitive after 50 years in the industry.

Our wide ranging conversation led me to further explore the idea of people enjoying just watching video games, which led me to my second phase of research- I studied my own kids.

My daughter had a friend over, and her friend was playing the Sims, which as far as I can tell is a one player game. My daughter was all in for watching, offering ideas, laughing at the results…but she wasn’t actually hands on playing. My son has Kingdom Hearts for his console, but he prefers to watch Kingdom Hearts videos on Youtube. I wonder if their upbringing was part of this behavior, as they watched me playing RPG’s while they were growing up and just think it’s normal to spectate, or was this something more akin to the sedentary lifestyle that’s acculturated as soon as a child starts school and is praised for sitting still in one place and is reinforced by the isolation provided by personal media accounts that are self indulgent without being interactive save for the attention. But that’s a discussion for a different piece, for a different day.

My last phase of this experiment was actually watching Esports. And….it did nothing for me. But there was an infectious atmosphere that was clearly visible in the crowd, which reminded me of watching a concert DVD. Yes I’m hearing the music, but the people at the show had a WAY better experience. It also reminded me of the Islanders- Maple Leafs piece that I recently wrote: if you weren’t at the game, there was no way to truly get it.

Which maybe finally led me to “get” Esports.

This journey started with learning about Esports, so I should have come up with some deductions on the topic. My take aways on Esports? Get used to it. Not only is it not going anywhere, it’s going to evolve. There is already sports betting available for Esports, which is a sign that a competition has truly arrived. It has a TV deal. The gamers take it seriously. The audience is into it. It’s fun. It’s harmless. It’s accessible. You can set up an ad hoc version tournament your own home and play pretend Esports. It’s not cost prohibitive. It’s something friends have been doing for ages on their own. And it’ family friendly, so it will play anywhere. Which explains why it’s a billion dollar business.

So if you get a chance, check out an Esports competition the next time it pops up on your TV. And if it doesn’t keep your attention? Turn it off and hit up a game of St Noire, or if you’re West Coast head out to TwoBit Circus.   


JT- Bagged

JT- Bagged

Hands down, this was the best Islander game I’ve been to since the game 6 2002 playoff game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe even better.

Usually you don’t open with the closer, but in this case, it could be a description of the pre-game atmosphere. In case you were living under an internet free rock or were in a sports avoidance coma, on February 28, 2019 the Toronto Maple Leafs were supposed to roll into the Barclays Center to face the New York Islanders.

In a rare moment of customer service, the NHL decided to move the game to Long Island at the Nassau Coliseum. This guaranteed a sell out on a Thursday night, which is a rarity in Brooklyn. More importantly, it meant that John Tavares would have to face a crowd of people he promised that he would play his entire career for, include asking not to be traded, only to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs by lunchtime of the first day of free agency.

The details are clear. $77 million reasons to go back home to his Mommy. Tavares put up his picture of himself in Maple Leafs pajamas as a child to defend his decision.

Maple Leaf fans were so happy that they couldn’t understand how a fan base could feel betrayed by lies. But boy, did JT lie. As I likened it, JT had a public Twitter- the one where you can read what he says, but also a private Twitter- the one you use to be sneaky and dishonest and hook up on the sly.

Here’s some catch up reading for you, if you’re not too familiar with the situation:

https://www.sny.tv/islanders/news/john-tavares-wants-to-stay-with-islanders/264717570

https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/john-tavares-pending-free-agency-want-stay-long-island/

https://www.nhl.com/news/john-tavares-has-no-plans-to-leave-islanders/c-281240260

https://www.nhl.com/news/john-tavares-wants-to-stay-with-islanders-wont-rush-decision/c-297838844

I added those links for ignorant Toronto Maple Leaf fans who are like “you’re all just salty he went home to Mommy.” Hey guys, he already lied to you as well. He said you were going to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Not only did he lie, but on the way out he insulted future former teammate Mathew Barzal by not mentioning by name “the kid that won the Calder.” Think Tavares was a little envious that HE didn’t win a Calder? HE LOST TO TYLER MYERS. Tyler Myers SUCKSSSSSS.

Not only did he lie, but it’s widely speculated that he moved back to Toronto because his wife wanted to. She had even taken a job in early 2018 in Toronto. Umm, if my wife made $80K a year and I made $11m? We’d live where I want. And if she had an issue it’d have already been covered in the pre-nup.

The Islanders had previously played the Maple Leafs in Toronto on December 29, 2018 and handed them a complete ass whipping. Before the game Islanders coach Barry Trotz told his players (I’m paraphrasing here) “John Tavares looked around this locker room and decided that he didn’t want to be teammates with any of you.” Final score? 4-0 Islanders. And the kid that won the Calder dropped 3 goals on JT and his crew.

But this game was different. Debates raged on line as what would be an appropriate response. Sports writers and talking heads wondered how classless would Islander fans be, or what would be acceptable dissent. Islanders management made pleas to be respectful. But in the long run, none of that mattered.

What mattered was that John Tavares had made himself a heel. He was the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff from the 1980’s. He was the 2000’s New York Rangers. Shit, he was the 1994 Rangers.

The roughest, toughest…

There would be a pound of flesh. Or in the case of that robotic cuck, a pound of pride.

50 years from now, this accounting will be a primary source of Islander history for future fans sitting in traffic as they leave a run down Belmont Arena headed towards home while the MTA is on year 32 of the renovations at Belmont train station. It’s a modern Anne Franks diary, where Islander fans are Anne Frank and the last 30 years of ownership and management were the Germans.

Looks professional, right?

Upon arrival, fans were taking pictures of themselves tearing apart a Toronto John Tavares jersey at the area in front of the box office/main entrance. There was a different than usual air to the atmosphere. Normally people will have their beers in plastic cups to avoid justifiable police harassment. Nah. 12 packs sitting out in plain sight. People drinking from cans right in front of 4four police cars. Not one or two people. Hundreds. If cops started to ticket people, they would have gotten carpel tunnel syndrome. The attitude was clear.

It was safe to assume that there would be no fucks given tonight.

After some milling around, my crew headed in. And this is where the carnival kicked into full gear.

Understand that for the past 9 seasons, John Tavares was our bright spot. In some of those years he was our ONLY bright spot. You can only do so much with Matt Moulson and Mark Streit and Garth Snow. So there were fans buying Tavares jerseys for nine years. Kids. Youth. Teens. Young adults. Adults. Seniors. Tens of thousands of jerseys. And what did that create?

Tens of thousands of canvases.

Some of them looked like this:

Others looked like this:

Still more:

But that’s not all. Expression can be written a well.

And of course, expression can be verbal.

The booing started with the scoreboard doing something as audacious as merely listing the game roster submitted by Toronto. The booing continued when the Maple Leafs came out for a warm up skate. And so did the signs. As did the rubber snakes.

One of my favorite chants broke out before any anthem was even suggested. As the teams sat in their respective locker rooms, 13900 voices (give or take) warmed themselves up with a unified chant of “ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE!” Some people were chopping their arms karate style as they did such, to my wonderment. Why are we chopping assholes? Is there a firewood shortage?

Next on the agenda was the national anthem. The first on the table was “O Canada.” I enjoy that anthem. It’s patriotic, it’s easier to sing than the Star Spangled Banner, and it’s subtle. People were afraid that Islander fans would shit on “O Canada.” Instead? We sang along with it. Someone asked me if I was Canadian because I don’t even need to read the words, I’ve heard it so many times.

Next up was the more rambunctious “Star Spangled Banner.” First off, there are not many other national anthems- if any- that let you know that if you come and fuck with us, ROCKETS AND BOMBS WILL REIGN ON YOU. Also, it’s a hard song to sing well. And yet, 13,900 were all in.

Finally, gametime. The Islanders send out their 4th line against Toronto’s first line- a line without an $11 million player. The fans wait like the calm just before the storm. Finally, out steps 91. The booing begins.

This is a primary source, for you college kids.

I’ve never been booed by 14000 people. Yes, there were less than 14000 fans, but I’m sure the concession people were booing, ushers were booing, vendors were booing, and outside of the arena a police horse took a noisy shit that sounded like a boo.

More to the point, I wonder if after that shift Tavares returned to the Maple Leafs bench and thought “well, they got that out of their system. Now I can focus on playing some hockey.” IF that went through his mind, he learned nothing in his nine years here, part of the infamous “12 Years of Failure” of Garth Snow’s design.

It wasn’t just his first shift. It was every shift. Booing with the puck, “JT sucks” without it. After a long run came the first TV time out. Usually a red light goes on to let you know you have a moment to get up and take a leak or grab a snack. For this game they kept the camera rolling for the video tribute of John Tavares.

First hand account…superhistorian, yo!

Tavares was a good guy in his time on Long Island. He showed up to every promotional event they programmed him for. He went to hospitals to try to learn what humanity was like. He looked at little kids and wondered how they upgrade. The video tribute I’m sure had some kind of “thank you” song to along with it.

I have no idea because I couldn’t hear shit over all of the booing. EVERY SINGLE SECOND WAS BOOED. The booing was supported by chants of “JT Sucks” and “We don’t need you!” Tavares, as his programming dictates, can do no harm to humans, so he raised his stick to the crowd. Some players would be moved to tears to see their 18 year old self score a goal in his first NHL game, to break a 25 year playoff drought with a game winning goal, to…well, that’s about it for his highlights. But does A.I. cry?

Something else interesting happened at this point. As the video tribute ran, Islanders players tapped their sticks out of respect to Tavares. Except Mathew Barzal. He kept his in his hands. As did Ryan Pulock. I sense there was a caste system in the Doug Weight locker room, and JT was on top, like Skynet.

Toronto drew first blood in the game, as Zach Hyman scored for Toronto. I find it very ironic that just like in nature, Toronto placed a Hyman with a vagina. There was an uneasy silence from the crowd, considering that the last time the Isles played Toronto the Leafs failed to score at all. Maybe they caught some video? Maybe they’re better prepared?

Those doubts went away 3 minutes later as Anthony Beauvillier tied the game. Fans booed lustily for the rest of the period as the teams exited as they entered: tied.

During the first intermission, I felt emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t had a stake in an Islanders game this big in years. I was out of shape, fanwise. Fortunately my resolve was fortified by fans asking to take pictures of my customized Tavares jersey.

The second period came and delivered the first non-obvious chant. Anders Lee scored and the roof blew off of the building. First off, it was a lead. Secondly, who scored it? THE CAPTAIN. Well, there was now a need for a new chant! “That’s our captain!” Another dig at JT. Oh, so tasty.

That pesky Hyman scored again, but a review showed it was 2 or 3 strides offsides. I’m not sure why they don’t allow replays in arena of the play, but the arena waited in suspense for the results. Fortunately for us, the NHL sent superstar referee Wes McCauley to officiate, and he did not disappoint.

The arena blows up again!

The next goal decided the game long before the score was decided. Casey Cizikas singlehandedly forced his will upon a Toronto power play that was completely buzzing. Cizikas and Valtteri Flippula pinned the Leafs into their own zone. Seriously, Toronto looked defenseless against their will. The crowd was already cheering the effort when Cizikas took a Cal Clutterbuck pass and came in to score a shorthanded goal, something the Islanders rarely do.

Oh, the “We don’t need you” chants reigned down. What made it worse if you’re a Toronto fan is that Filppula scored soon after on a strong pay by of all people Andrew Ladd, who looked energized, and there was joy in Mudville. There was booing. There was JT sucks. There was “We don’t need you.” There was “Barzy’s better.” But the best was yet to come.

After the second period, I had a headache. My voice was on life support. My crew was well lubricated, but I wanted to experience this moment and truly savor it without any filters. No, this was beer free hockey for the first time since our star player was Mariuz Czerkawski and going to Islander games forced you to drink.

I stood at the stairwell for the start of the beginning of period 3, because I have hockey manners, when I watched the Islanders scored another one. 5-1. I think there’s a stat that says if the Barry Trotz Islanders score 3 goals in a game then they can’t be beat. They were most certainly not getting beat.

As I returned to my seat, an older gentleman behind us started chanting “We want chili.” For those too young to know what that means, the dynasty Islanders had a promotion tied in with the local Wendy’s establishments in which if the Islanders scored 6 goals in a game and your brought your ticket stub to Wendy’s, you got a free bowl of chili. As an aside, one night in 1979 against the Rangers, your ticket stub got you double chili. Try to figure out the score there. Hint- it was more than nine.

At this point, the chanting lasted for the entire rest of the game. I kept a list. “Who’s your Daddy?” was lustily chanted. “You can’t beat us!” “Our team’s better!” “First Place!” “Barry!” When Ryan Pulock manhandled JT in the offensive zone, the place went nuts. When Mathew Barzal drove JT in to the boards as best as he could, the place went nuts. Even fan favorites like the chicken dance went rogue.

Halfway through the third period, the “Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey Goodbye” chant started. With ten minutes to go, that’s normally tempting fate. Just not on that night.

The fans then started to get personal. More personal than asshole? Yup. “You’re a liar!” and “Please don’t trade me!” were in reference to Tavares asking not to be traded at the deadline last year, and his constant assurances that he was an Islander for life.

“Past your bedtime” and “Where’s your jammies” were just fantastic references to his lame attempts at justifying his turning his back on a fanbase that did nothing but accept him, circuits and all.

There was a moment where Johnny Boychuk took a skate to the face and had to leave the game, but he returned for the third period because he’s a tough S.O.B. If he played for Toronto? They may have had a national day of mourning, but more on that later.

“Thanks for leaving” and “It’s your mistake” are references to the Islanders being in first place and having more points now without Tavares than they had in all of last season. To be honest, I predicted 82 points in the preseason with this roster, so this game was my reminder to serve me up some crow as well.

Brock Nelson closed the scoring with his 20th of the season, and gave a nifty little hand spin to celebrate what would have been chili, much to the dismay of Mr. Taggart. At that point it was a party. The booing was countered by standing ovations for every Islander shift change. It was an atmosphere that quite frankly you’re not going to find in most modern giant NHL arenas, and probably with fanbases nowhere near as rabid and betrayed.

Even the post game was awesome. The players gave a shortened “Yes” chant to the fans, probably figuring that we were exhausted. Fans weren’t exactly filing out, however. We needed to praise our heroes. The 3rd star of the game, goalie Robert Lehner came out pumping up the crowd by raising the roof, then threw a puck and his stick to the crowd. If anyone thinks Lehner doesn’t want to return here next season, they’re crazy. If he doesn’t its all on his agent, rest assured. Fans love him, and he loves them back.

The first star of the game was Casey Cizikas. He came out and was interviewed but I have no idea what he said, because the crowd was overpowering the PA system. This happens often at the Coliseum with a packed house.

On the way out I ran into a few more deliriously happy fans dressed appropriately.

As we sat in 25 or so minutes of Coliseum exiting traffic, we fans got to engage in a Long Island tradition that we are deprived of in Brooklyn- HONK HONK HONKHONKHONK.

Tavares was not his usual soulless self in his post game presser. He voice synth sounded agitated. He was defensive. He let down the guard for a second and said the equivalent of what an out of control teen says on the Maury Povich Show: “You can’t judge me! You don’t know me!”

Um, I don’t know you but I do know this: You’re going to make $100 million and more in your life playing a kids game. Grow a pair, Nancy.

Granted, for me the night wasn’t perfect. I tried and failed repeatedly to get a chant of “Snake! Snake!” going, but alas.

But the best was yet to come.

The Mayor of Toronto was so concerned for the Hectoring of Tavares by his former fans that he wanted to declare a John Tavares Day in Toronto. The next home game ScotiaBank Arena set aside a “John Tavares Appreciation” Moment.

Can you believe that shit?

I’m not a hockey expert by any means, but I do know this: if your psyche is so frail that you cave in and need social and emotional support from an entire city just to bounce back and beat on a bottom half NHL team? I don’t foresee you doing all that well in the playoffs. And for Toronto, your window is NOW. You think Tavares will be faster in 3 years? That Mitch Marner isn’t going to want his $10 million RFA payday, too? That a rebuilding team with cap space like the New York Rangers wouldn’t mind giving up a few late first round picks to shore up 7 years of Marner? That if the Leafs lose repeatedly in the first round for the next few seasons that Austin Matthews isn’t leaving after his shorter than need be taken deal is up? That you won’t be “salty” if Matthews leaves in the exact same way? That the salary cap is going to double?

No, Toronto, your window is now. As is Tampa Bays. Never mind those guys, because you can’t get through the Boston Bruins. And do you want to know why? Because your prize possession can’t take being booed. Imagine what every arena will sound like for the postseason? And the worst case scenario? You get the Islanders in the playoffs. In that case, my prediction- another early offseason.

Hands down, this was the best Islander game I’ve been to since the game 6 2002 playoff game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe even better.

Epilogue:

On Friday, March 1 2019 I was wearing my Islanders swag around town like a proud peacock, complete with my awful scratchy voice still not close to recovered from the lusty boos and the joyous chanting. I completely random person stops me and says “Hey Islander fan, did you see that game last night?”

See? I was there!

She goes on “I’m a Rangers fan, but I enjoyed the shit out of that game. You gave him what he deserves for what he did. I’m glad you kicked his ass and rubbed it in. Our season is over, but I hope you guys go a long way.”

Normally I’d say Ranger fans are classless douchebags. But that lady in the supermarket had more class in her pinky than John Tavares had in his whole chassis.

One of the best games I ever attended, hands down.