Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Hazies - The Champs & Chumps From 2006


Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae.

For those of you who haven't been here before, The Hazies take a look back at the week or so that was in the world of sports, highlighting some of the more notable performances - this week's entries will look back at 2006. To those who have risen above the rest, we award them with an honourary "Hazie" - the lucky few have the title of "Hazel's Hero" bestowed upon them. While Hazel hasn't officially approved this week's winners, we'd like to think she'd give her trademark smile and thumbs up to our selections.

HAZEL'S HEROES - THE CHAMPS

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Boston Red Sox David Ortiz had an MVP type season - .287 BA, 54 HR, 137 RBI, 115 R and an OBP of .413; need more convincing? 40 of his RBI represented the tying or go ahead run for Boston, and a walkoff HR seemingly every week. Contrary to what Mike Adams would have you believe, it wasn't Manny Ramirez who cost Ortiz the MVP - it was a terrible pitching staff that cost the Red Sox countless wins. The baseball writers of America were not going to give the award to a player on a third place team. But Big Papi is a champ - I'm sure Hazel would agree.

Minnesota Twins' 1B Justin Morneau was awarded the American League's MVP award, and with very good reason. Morneau was the driving force behind the Twins second half surge to win the AL Central - .321 BA, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R and an OBP of .375 - he didn't have the benefit of playing in a major media market, but he was as a good as anyone in either league over the last four months of the season. We'd like to think that Hazel would be down with giving the thumbs up to a good Canadian boy like Morneau.

St. Louis Cardinals' 1B Albert Pujols is without a doubt the best hitter in all of baseball - .331 BA, 47 HR, 137 RBI, 119 R and an OBP of .431; those numbers despite missing 19 games due to injury. What made it all the more impressive was that Pujols did it all without a lot of protection - he didn't have a Manny Ramirez hitting behind him, or a Joe Mauer hitting in front of him and setting the table...Pujols was a one man wrecking crew.


NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
Carolina Hurricanes' C Rod Brind'Amour finally won a Stanley Cup - Brind'Amour had always been a good foot soldier in the NHL, which was likely the reason why he was traded from Cup contenders to also-rans twice in his career. He broke in with the Blues during the 89/90 season and was a very serviceable player on a very good Blues team that were legit contenders; he was traded to the Flyers before the 91/92 season, spending eight season there as the Flyers built their team for a Stanley Cup run. The Flyers rewarded Brind'Amour's loyalty by shipping him to the Carolina Hurricanes during the 99/00 season - a time when the Canes' were as bad as any team in the league. It took him five years with the Canes' - but he finally got to stick around for a run at the Cup, and the party that goes with winning the Cup. Pretty damn good for an Ottawa boy.

Anaheim Ducks D Chris Pronger deserves some mention as one of 2006's Champs. In a surprising post-lockout move, Pronger announced that he was leaving the St. Louis Blues to join the Edmonton Oilers. The addition of Pronger transformed the Oilers from an average team, thought not to be a playoff team, to a team that not only made the playoffs but went all the way to the finals. While Dwayne Roloson was given much of the credit for the playoff run, Pronger was far and away Edmonton's best performer - he was their shutdown defenceman against the opposition's best lines and he added offence...all this while playing 30+ minutes a game. People in Edmonton hate him now for requesting a trade - but there is no way they get to last year's finals (let making the playoffs) without him. Chris Pronger, drafted second overall behind Alexandre Daigle (who went to the SenaTards), answered the question posed by Daigle after the draft day - said the former SenaTard "I wanted to be number one overall, because 'Who ever remembers who was drafted number 2?" Daigle was last seen playing in the Spengler Cup - I don't expect any of our American friends to know what the Spengler Cup is...though I'm sure Hazel knows.

Speaking of the Anaheim Ducks, I've got to give that last hockey Hazie to Brian Burke - a GM who is as valuable as any player in the league. If you have read this page before, you know that I think Burke is a hockey God (and he's AMERICAN no less). Burke has proven himself to be a Champ by having the smarts and the balls to make big time moves to help his team - he did it in Vancouver when he picked up Bertuzzi - but he has outdone himself in Anaheim, transforming them from a pretty good team to the odds on favourite to win the Stanley Cup. Why is a GM getting a Hazie? Burke made three moves to show how ahead of the game he is in the NHL - he overpaid Anaheim C Rob Niedermeyer prior to last season, which was a key move in order to sign former Devils D Scott Niedermeyer to a contract when consensus was that he would stay in New Jersey. Then he managed to unload an underperforming "Sam Jones" (aka Sergei Federov - you'd have to be Canadian or a Red Wings' fan to know the significance of Sam Jones) and his $5M+ contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets, freeing up cap space and clearing out dead wood in one fell swoop. Then he outdoes himself by beating everyone to the punch and trades a few decent prospects (not expected to be much more than spare parts for the Ducks) to Edmonton for Chris Pronger. So Anaheim has two of the league's top four or five defencemen - even this doesn't do the man justice - the guy is a CHAMP.


NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
If you have read the page in the past - you know this fall's Hazies have pretty much featured San Diego Chargers' RB LaDainian Tomlinson. His 2006 season was the epitome of a Champ - 1,800+ yards rushing, 500+ yards receiving, 31 TDs scored (setting a record for most consecutive 2+ TD games) and 2 TD passes thrown. He came into the year with questions about whether or not he would be as successful with a rookie QB as he was with Brees there - as well as about whether he or Larry Johnson was the league's best RB. L.T. did it his way, quietly and on the field - but he answered the questions.

New Orleans Saints' QB Drew Brees has been, in my mind, one of the bigger surprises in the NFL this year. Brees raised a lot of eyebrows when he signed a long-term deal with the Saints - with most so-called NFL experts saying that the Saints had made a mistake signing a QB who had had one good season. Brees responded to critics and doubters by leading the Saints to a division title and second seed in the NFC (sadly for Brees, that will all end next weekend when the Cowboys come to town - you heard it here first) and garnering plenty of support for NFL MVP. Brees has thrown for 4,400+ yards with 26 TDs, and more importantly has been a solid and visible presence in a community that is still rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You have to wonder how good the Chargers would have been had they held on to Brees - I'm not saying that it was a mistake to let him go, but...

Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young has been one of the pleasant surprises in the NFL since taking over for Kerry Collins in Week 4. Young started off 2006 with leading Texas to the BCS Championship with a win over favoured USC - and followed it up by going 8-5 as a starter in his rookie season in the NFL. Young was named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year with good reason - he lead a Titans team that projected to win 6 games this year to a .500 record, and was a difference maker in at least three of Tennessee's wins. Young had a rough off-season prior to entering the NFL - with bloggers questioning his intelligence and aptitude, but he shrugged it all off and was one of the NFL's bright young stars this season.

I have to mention New England QB Tom Brady (who spent some time on Renee's shit list) - the man just keeps winning, no matter who the Patriots throw out there as his receivers. When everyone had counted the Patriots out - Brady steadied the ship and has his team poised to make a run at the Super Bowl.

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL
Yeah yeah, most of you don't care and Hazel likely doesn't either - but we like soccer here...well, Renee doesn't, but I do!

Barcelona's Ronaldinho had an indifferent World Cup this year - but he was money in league and European play this year. The Brazilian led Barcelona to the title in Spain's La Liga, as well as being the driving force behind their run to win UEFA's Champions' League competition. The little kid with the overbite is easily the world's most recognizable (and dare I say most popular) athlete - sorry Tiger.

Portugal's Luis Figo played his last international appearance sporting the maroon of "O Equipo das Quinas" at the World Cup in Germany. Figo, who many thought had seen his better days, came into the tournament with few expectations but surprised everyone but the Portuguese with his play - he proved once again that he is a force to be reckoned with, leading Portugal to the third place game against Germany. The man cemented his place alongside the great Eusebio as one of Portugal's best players. Figo is a champ...period.

Italy's Fabio Cannavaro won the heart and soul of the Azzurri in their run to the World Cup (it still sucks saying that) and was awarded the FIFA Player of the Year; I guess that has to qualify him as one of Hazel's Champs. We won't talk about his 2006 with Juventus - you all know the story there.


HAZEL'S ZEROES - THE CHUMPS

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL


San Francisco Giants' LF Barry Bonds leads the list - I don't think I need to explain or justify this selection.

New York Yankees' 3B Alex Rodriguez - the king of the meaningless hit. Rodriguez' troubles were well documented this year - prolonged slumps, not coming through in the clutch, questions about his relationship with teammates, and his commitment to a "team first" approach. Through all of this, while most professional athletes would stand up and be accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) Rodriguez' chose to deal with criticisms by denying there were any problems and instead share his belief that Yankees' fans and media give his teammates a free pass for their shortcomings. The guy is a great talent - but he is a cancer.

Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi makes the list for being completely ineffective. The list of J.P.'s gaffs is too long to outline here, but consider the following: he publicly called out his players during a slump (players who had been having great years but hit a rough spot); he stood by a manager who had lost control of his clubhouse and the respect of his players; and in his annual state of the union (the "It's not my fault" address) he brings out the tired old excuse that the poor old Toronto Blue Jays can't compete with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox who have seemingly unlimited financial resources at their disposal - a nice slap in the face to the team HE was responsible for assembling. I'm pretty sure that Hazel wouldn't be down with this one, but the Chickenhawk is a chump.


NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
Ottawa SenaTards GM John Muckler is the poster boy for incompetance at the executive level in the NHL - he was brought in to bring a "Championship attitude", and instead has been the architect of the Tards slow descent down to the middle of the pack in the NHL. Where do you start with Muckler's decision making? He trusted Dominik Hasek (a guy who had quit on teams before) when the goalie said he'd be back for the 2005/06 playoffs - Muckler refused to make a move for a goalie and the Tards were bounced by the Sabres; he allowed Martin Havlat to walk as an unrestricted free agent rather than sign and trade him like he did with Marian Hossa; he gambled that Zdeno Chara would buy into the "hometown discount" crap and "be part of a winning team" speech and sign with the Tards - instead, Chara took $1.5M more per year and signed with the Bruins...the Tards haven't been the same without him. I have to say, as a member of Leaf Nation - I love that this guy is running the SenaTards - they'll never win anything as long as he is the prime decision maker.

Philadelphia Flyers' Vice President (or whatever they are calling him these days) Bob Clarke was right up there with Muckler as one of the league's worst General Managers. Clarke refused to buy into what you had to do to win in the post-lockout NHL - evident by his big free-agent acquistions of Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje prior to the 2005/06 season; signing the likes of Petr Nedved, when no one wanted him; maintaining that the Flyers could win with a backup goalie like Robert Esche; and too many other bad moves to mention here. Clarke is primarily responsible for where the Flyers are right now - one of the league's worse teams, with a massive rebuiliding process ahead of them. Clarke took the easy way out this fall - resigning from the team citing burnout, rather than being fired alongside his coach Ken Hitchcock; but returned one month later to assume the role of VP of the team. Clarke was regarded as a gutless player in the 70's...he is still gutless.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Miami Dolphins' QB Daunte Culpepper (the skipper on the Vikings' "Tub Rub") found out that life after Randy Moss wasn't nearly as good as he thought it would be - but that is not why he is being nominated as one of 2006's Chumps. No, Daunte is a chump for swindling the Dolphins' into thinking that he was healthy enough to step on the field this year - let alone being an average QB. He is without a doubt the most overrated player in the last 20 years.

Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora was fired today - with very good reason. Mora's steadfast belief that Michael Vick is a QB you can win with is absolutely outrageous; Mora cost his team a chance at making the playoffs with his refusal to admit that he was wrong and do the right thing for the organization.

In the builders' category we have Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen; he is as bad as they come. Millen took over a bad team and made them the laughing stock of the NFL. Millen has been responsible for very poor drafting, very bad personnel decisions, and alienating the 15 - 20 Lions' fans still left in Detroit. As sports fans, we often think we know more than every GM - in the case of Millen, we would definitely be right.


EUROPEAN FOOTBALL
ZIDANE! I don't have to elaborate on why he makes the list.


CYCLING
LANDIS!!!!!

That's about it for tonight gang - as always, if you think I have missed something or that I've missed the boat completely...lemme know. Have a great one peeps!

Hazel, I hope things are groovy in your world.

Song of the Night on Hazelspeeps - from the "Give 'em Enough Rope" Album (YES - ALBUM)

All The Young Punks - The Clash

Peesth Out...Buh Bye!



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