Halfway through the semester, Around the Dorm is nearing playoff season. In one of the last regular season contests of the year, we debate NHL transactions, the football and men’s soccer teams and ESPN.com’s rankings of the top five players. Staff writer and AtD rookie Duncan Slobodzian, sports editor Allison Singer and arts & entertainment editor James Queally are the contestants, and Editor-in-Chief Lauren Kohout is the ref.
1. Many offseason moves were made in the NHL. Which one do you think will impact its respective team the most and how?
DS: This might be going out on a limb, but I’ll say that Anaheim’s addition of right winger Todd Bertuzzi is going to have the greatest impact. Casual hockey fans know him as the man who was involved in an on-ice incident where he sucker-punched Steve Moore and pushed him violently to the ice. His reputation has suffered immensely since, and rightfully so; but 2007 could be a breakout season for him. There isn’t much evidence to support the claim that his skills have diminished. He played out a somewhat unsuccessful stint with Florida but showed promise in last year’s postseason where he totaled seven points in 16 games for the Red Wings. Bertuzzi isn’t just playing with a “chip on his shoulder,” as the sports cliché goes. Every minute he’s out on the ice he’s trying to dispel the negative perception that fans, media and other players might harbor. If that’s not enough motivation, joining a team that is defending a championship title should do the trick. A slimmed-down Bertuzzi can undoubtedly be an impact player and contributor to an already solid roster.
AS: I believe the one transaction that will affect a single team the most is the Philadelphia Flyer’s acquisition of Buffalo’s All-Star center Daniel Briere. After setting record team lows last season (most losses, fewest points and the first playoff miss since 1994), the Flyers have nothing to do but improve. Briere is going to get the momentum going in the right direction. His stats at center are incredible, and he was one of the key reasons Buffalo has been so successful. He’s not taking only his athletic talents to Philly; he’s also bringing enthusiasm and intense determination – two things that will benefit the Flyers in a big way as they work to turn the team around. The Flyers have been in need of a permanent center since Forsberg was injured last season, and Briere may be just the man they’re looking for.
JQ: I think the Red Wings made some of this summer’s best moves, resigning the incomparable Dominic Hasek and adding Dallas Drake, a former Blues captain and tough, physical veteran, to its lineup. Hockey is one of those tough-as-nails games where leadership and experience mean much more than they do in other sports. Drake’s veteran status and aggressive style will greatly benefit a Red Wings lineup that is already difficult to compete against. There’s not much more you can say about Hasek. He’s got a list of accomplishments nearly a mile long, including six Valenzia awards and a gold medal. The Wings will most likely find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals this year, and these two men will help to lead the charge.
LK: I gotta give Allie the 3. The Flyers have nowhere to go but up and Briere is the one to get them there. His plus/minus of 17 is a lot better than Drake’s -14 last year. Queally gets 1; Drake is not the man to take the Wings to the Finals. If he were so tough, he would have more than 38 penalty minutes. Duncan, I like the analysis, but there isn’t much more one guy can do for a team who just won the Stanley Cup – 2 points.
2. The Lions’ football and men’s soccer teams have improved dramatically since last season. Which team do you think will go farther in the playoffs? Is there a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship in sight?
DS: Both teams are having sharp 2007 campaigns; through six weeks, soccer is ranked 25th and football is ranked 24th. Both teams have had some trademark wins on the young season, soccer topping the previously unbeaten Montclair State University and football outlasting archrival Rowan University thanks to a final-second field goal. It’s tough to tell if it’s a case of early season overachieving or if these teams can outlast the other schools in the NJAC down the stretch. As long as defense wins championships, I like our football team’s odds. Their ‘D’ yielded a paltry 50 points and 1,010 yards in five games – numbers good enough for fourth in the country in total defense. An offense that manages the game, protects the ball and capitalizes on great field positions is a winning offense. The defensive unit can even put some points on the board and swing momentum – just ask anybody in the stands from the Rowan game.
AS: I’m putting my money on the football team taking the NJAC Championship this season. Why not? The team is on a five-game win streak, three of which have been NJAC contests. The only team leading the College in the conference is SUNY-Cortland, and I believe our defense is going to put a stop to Cortland’s offensive dominance when they have to travel to Lions territory later this month. The men’s soccer team has improved leaps and bounds from last season, but it’s got some big NJAC competition. The team has played two NJAC contests to double-overtime ties and has yet to test themselves against No. 1 ranked New Jersey City University. With senior kicker Matt Dalessio’s consistent field goals, an intense defensive line led by senior Joe King and a solid, settled quarterback in sophomore Chris James, I’m betting on Lions’ football.
JQ: After a dismal 2006 campaign, the football program has experienced a phenomenal rebirth this year, winning five of its first six games, including victories over rival Rowan and a resilient ranked opponent in Montclair. I think the Lions have a chance to win the NJAC title this year. They have plowed through some of their toughest competition, with only SUNY-Cortland remaining unbeaten out of their other top opponents. The play of Joe Spahn and King has helped the Lions’ defense, which gave up only 50 points in the last five games. They limited Rowan to 173 yards of total offense last week. If the team can use its defensive strengths to keep the game at a slow pace, it will emerge as a threat in the NJAC once again.
LK: Duncan gets the 3 this round for being the only one to mention the Lions’ ranked defense. Allie and Queally had pretty similar answers but I’ll give 2 points to Allie for mentioning why football has the better chance over soccer. Queally gets 1.
3. ESPN.com recently ranked the top players in the game, the ones who force the opposing coaches to alter game plans around them. The list of the top five players in the NFL according to ESPN.com is 1. Peyton Manning, 2. Randy Moss, 3. Tom Brady, 4. Steve Smith and 5. Antonio Gates. Do you agree with this order? Are they missing someone?
DS: Manning and Brady are top of the class in the quarterback position, so there’s really no arguing with them being at the top of any NFL-related list. That said, I feel like there’s a difference between elite level players and those that alter the way the opposition game plans. Coaches who know they are up against the Colts or Patriots know it’s going to take a lot of preparation and cause some gameday headaches. But if we’re talking purely dominant, game-plan altering talent, then there’s one glaring omission from the top five: Devin Hester from Chicago. He set an NFL record for return touchdowns in his rookie season, then ran the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl back for a score. There’s little evidence of a sophomore slump; he already has two punt and one kick return touchdowns (not to mention a fourth that got called back) in six games. Anybody who watched the Sunday night game a couple weeks back knows it was as strong a testament to his playmaking ability as any other. The Packers tried kicking away from him all night, favoring the pooch kick to the up man around the 30-yard line. Hester’s mere presence in the game gave the Bears an average starting position around the 35-yard line.
AS: Manning has got to be first, and I think we can all agree on that. When the Colts’ opponents look at their schedules and see a trip to Indianapolis looming ahead, I have no doubt Peyton’s face is the first thing that comes to their minds. As for the rest of the top five, while I might argue for switching Moss and Brady, ESPN’s list is solid. That is, as long as they’re talking about the current top players – a list of the all-time top players would undoubtedly look much different.
JQ: My only problem with the ordering of that list is that Brady is not right behind, or even tied with, Manning. I won’t take anything away from Moss, but it’s not just him who forces teams to alter defensive schemes – it’s the entire Patriot’s receiving core. What happens when you focus on Moss? Dante Stallworth explodes for several TD catches and massive yardage. The quarterback is always the focal point of an offense, and thus will be the player that messes up the opposing defense. The effectiveness of Manning and Brady will alter every angle of an offensive unit’s play, while guys like Moss and Smith, while still tough to deal with, are dependent on the QB to get them the ball.
LK: Duncan wins this round, so 3 points for him. You’re right: Hester’s a beast. Queally gets 2 points; I agree with your receivers being completely dependent on the QB. Allie, I would also switch Moss and Brady, but you just didn’t give me as much as the guys – 1 point.
In an 8-6-4 victory, first-timer Duncan takes this week’s title.