In this week’s matchup of Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Brendan McGrath, challenges sports editor Chris Molicki, staff writer Kevin Lee and correspondent Greg Oriolo to answer questions about the Devils’ playoff chances, the World Baseball Classic and Rex Ryan’s future with the Jets.
1. The Devils started off this shortened NHL season hot, but after a bad month, they’re barely in the playoffs. Will they make the playoffs, how far will they go and why?
CM: I don’t think the Devils are in any trouble making the playoffs. I wouldn’t be shocked if they finished behind Pittsburgh, Boston or even Ottawa, but they’re currently right around the same spot as Carolina, Toronto and the Rangers, three teams I have a good amount of confidence in them against. The Devils encountered a bump in the road (as all hockey teams do) right when goalie Martin Brodeur went down for nearly a month with a back injury. Brodeur’s stellar play in net is the key for New Jersey, and his return will certainly give them a big boost. As long as the Devils don’t get an extremely tough draw, I see no reason why they can’t win at least one playoff series in the postseason, and the magical run from last year, while difficult to duplicate, may not be far-fetched, because this is a team that knows how to get it done when it counts.
KL: Even though they are in the hunt with plenty of hockey left to play, I just don’t think the Devils are a good enough hockey team to make the playoffs. The Devils have aging goaltenders in Martin Brodeur, 40, and Johan Hedberg, 39. The reliability of the aging Brodeur is already in question as he’s coming off injury. Other key injuries that have bit the Devils this season are Alexi Ponikarovsky and Andrei Loktionov, making it tough for the Devils to get in any kind of groove. I also think this team is much different than last year’s 2012 Stanley Cup Final team. The permanent absence of Zach Parise, after signing with the Minnesota Wild, is a big loss for the Devils. The hard-working and skilled player will be a difficult void to fill. It’s a much different team than last year’s Stanley Cup Finals squad.
GO: Of all four major professional sports leagues, the NHL is by far the hardest to predict. In a game where team chemistry means so much and streaks could happen and end so quickly, the Stanley Cup could go to anyone in the playoffs. Just ask the No. 8 seed Kings. In terms of the New Jersey Devils, I think they will make the playoffs and make a potential run to the Conference Finals. The reason for this is because I feel a short season benefits the Devils. First, that means Brodeur will have to play less time this season and will be fresher in the postseason. He is the key to the Devils’ success, which was proven during the team’s cold streak when he was injured. Next, the team has the playoff experience and chemistry to make a run in the postseason. With veteran experience mixed with young offensive talent, the Devils have the potential to repeat what they accomplished last year. Like I said before, the NHL is extremely difficult to predict, but there is no doubt the Devils have the potential to make some noise in May.
Greg earns 3 points for talking about the benefits of a short season to Brodeur. Chris scores 2 points for saying that the Devils may burn other teams. Kevin gets 1 point for looking at the differences between the Devils last season and this season.
2. The third World Baseball Classic just wrapped up, with the Dominican Republic going undefeated on their way to the title. Do you think this tournament has been a success, needs improvement or should just be done away with?
CM: It’s not something that should be done away with because it gives baseball players around the world the opportunity to join together and compete for their respected countries. I do think it needs improvement, and there’s a dilemma in that: the World Baseball Classic is played at the same time as the end of college basketball season, as well as the NBA and NHL seasons. There’s really no other time they could have it to avoid scheduling conflict, since the MLB season is played during every other month of the year that is playable for baseball. Therefore, I say if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Why doesn’t the World Baseball Classic make its own March Madness? Change the format to a giant bracket like the NCAA tournament and expand to 64 teams. It’s fine if there are some countries that field weak teams, it just adds the possibility for Cinderellas, which is what everyone loves about March Madness.
KL: I personally love the WBC. It gives me an opportunity to take a look at some future international prospects and signings. I got to see the superstar potential that Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes each possess beforehand. All in all, it’s a pretty nice showcase tournament for international players. From a fan’s perspective, it is also way more entertaining than seeing a split-squad spring training game. With that said, I think the timing of the WBC is extremely poor. We want to see the best players on the field, representing our countries. Most players opt not to participate because they choose to prepare for spring training with their respective teams. It makes little sense to have the WBC and spring training coincide with one another. I would also like to see less intervention from MLB teams on how WBC players should be used. This way we see the competitive spirit of the players through all nine innings. I get it, MLB teams are just trying to prevent their investments, but the chances of freak injuries even during spring training are always there regardless of the event. Take Mark Teixeira, for example, who injured his wrist simply hitting off a tee. While the WBC has many flaws, it is still a relatively new event that has improved each time and I look forward to seeing the WBC in 2017.
GO: I would not call the WBC a success, but I don’t think the actual tournament needs improvement. The reason for this is because it is formatted very well. The pool play followed by a double elimination playoff system makes sense in baseball, and usually results in one of the best overall teams winning. Now in terms of the actual play, the WBC needs to improve. This is a chance for players to represent their country and play for something more than money. Yes, there is a risk of injury, but there is nothing better than winning with your country’s name on your chest. Many talented MLB players choose not to play in the WBC and that is why it needs improvement. Look at the USA Basketball team. Yes, the Olympics are more prestigious than the WBC, but the risk of injury didn’t stop the elite NBA superstars from playing. If you look at professional soccer and hockey as well, every player wants to represent their national team. That is the reason why Olympic hockey and the World Cup are so exciting. Every superstar is out their giving it there all, and if that happened in the WBC, it would be an amazing tournament.
Kevin gets 3 points for showing the benefits and problems of the WBC. Chris nets 2 points because I would love to see Tim McCarver explain the importance of small ball in a first round match-up between Peru and Nepal. Greg gets 1 point for comparing it to other tournaments.
3.Were the Jets right to keep Rex Ryan on as head coach? What does the team have to do this upcoming year for him to be able to stay around beyond next season?
CM: While it certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the Jets, I think it was right for the team to keep head coach Rex Ryan on board. Ryan did a remarkable job taking a team led by a rookie quarterback to back-to-back AFC championship games. I understand that the following season was average and this past year was a debacle, but those reasons aren’t good enough to fire Rex. Ryan’s team was plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and a poor assembly of players, two things that he is not entirely responsible for. The front office got rid of general manager Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to try to fix those things. Ryan is a very good motivator, even though his mouth gets him in trouble sometimes, and he should be the head coach of the Jets and given the chance to turn this thing around. Ryan had one season under .500 for the Jets. How many sub-.500 seasons has Marvin Lewis had with the Bengals? However, if Ryan wants to keep his job, the Jets need to finish with around seven wins this season. That may not be a high benchmark, but it’s an extremely tall task considering that this team has been stripped of its talent. Three declining seasons in a row would probably be enough to get Ryan the boot in this coaching carousel NFL landscape.
KL: I think it’s fair that Rex Ryan got one more year. He’s coached the Jets to the AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010, showing that he is capable of success. I thought last year wasn’t so much Ryan’s fault, but more so the players’ fault and due to players’ injuries. Ryan had no reliable quarterback last year, resulting in the Jets being one of the worst offensive teams. Ryan was criticized for not replacing Sanchez, but even if he had sooner, he didn’t have any other strong options as backups. It also didn’t help that Revis missed the majority of the season. I think it’s fair that Ryan gets one more crack at it. Ryan will have to exceed expectations and make the playoffs if he wants to stick around beyond next year. That won’t be an easy feet since the Jets still have many of the same problems that they had last season.
GO: As a Jets fan, I think Rex Ryan deserves one more season. The reason for this is because it is not entirely his fault the team did not succeed. The main weakness of the Jets is their offense, and without any type of talent on the offensive side of the ball, it is tough to win. Now everyone knows that Rex’s main responsibility is the defense, which in all seriousness did not play poorly last year. The reason they were ranked so low is because the offense could never move the ball, which resulted in the defense being on the field much longer in games, as well as in tough situations in terms of field position. The injury to Revis did not help either, and it limited the packages/blitzes the team could use. Now as head coach, Rex is responsible for the entire team and needs the offense to improve. With a new coordinator and hopefully new players coming in, there is a chance the team can succeed. With the quarterback situation, I do not think that it will happen and Rex will be out after next season.
Chris receives 3 points for his benchmark of seven wins, because I don’t see how the team can go past that. Greg gets 2 points for noting that the defense didn’t actually play poorly last season. Kevin grabs 1 for pointing out the futility of the QB situation.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5.