Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

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Sharks Assessment

I have adopted MIZZOU as my rooting interest in collegiate sports, but have clung to my Bay Area roots for the pro teams I support. While two of them have fallen on hard times of late, at least the 49ers and Giants have won championships in the past. The San Jose Sharks, however, are still hoping for their first Stanley Cup. I have rooted for them since the first game I attended back in their Cow Palace years (’91-’93), so that’s around 27 years of hoping. They are now in the NHL’s equivalent of the Final Four, so I’d like to make some observations. Not team observations particularly, but about the players that make up their current roster, line-by-line. For the few who follow hockey, and the even fewer who follow the Sharks, I’d like to hear your reactions.

It could be debated which of their top two forward lines is their “number one” line, but I’ll start with the Nyquist-Couture-Meier line.

Gustav Nyquist: For quite some time after his midseason acquisition, I wondered if he’d ever show why they got him. But late in the season he rounded into form and has played quite well in the playoffs. He’s one of those odd players who does a lot of things right, but rarely scores goals (at least for the Sharks). Lately he has proven valuable as an assist guy for his line-mates, has decent speed, defends pretty well, and is a good puck handler and passer. I’d give him a A- overall.

Timo Meier: He has been a bit streaky this season, but has really come on lately in the playoffs. He has size and can throw his weight around effectively. He’s fast for his size, strong on the puck, makes good passes, is an excellent scorer, and defends well. I’d give him and A.

Logan Couture: Let me make it simple; he is excellent in every facet of the game skill-wise, and is extremely smart. Arguably the Sharks best player. He gets an A+.

Next is the “other” top line of Kane-Hertl-Pavelski.

Evander Kane: Very simply, he is Patrick Marleau with attitude. Like Marleau, he is fast and a dynamite shooter. Also like Marleau, the odds of him passing the puck to a teammate or an opponent are about 50-50 on any play (and that might be too generous). Plus, for as strong as he is, he coughs up the puck much too easily. However, unlike Marleau, he does provide some grit. If there’s a fight on the ice, or a penalty against the Sharks, chances are pretty good Kane is involved. He also does a decent job on the penalty kill. Still, given his proclivity for turnovers, I rate him a B-.

Tomas Hertl: Nearly as skilled, smart, and valuable as Couture, but bigger and slower. It is flukey that during these playoffs he has been a scoring machine at home and shockingly quiet on the road. Nevertheless, he is one of the top players on the team. He gets an A.

Joe Pavelski: Not, perhaps, elite in any single category (except puck-tipping skills), he is nevertheless the heart and soul of the team. They’ve shown they can win without him, but boy are they more fearsome with him. He possesses an outstanding all-around skillset, is extremely smart; he is nearly always in the right place at the right time, and not by accident. I also give him an A+.

The third line is the Sorensen-Thornton-Lebanc line.

Marcus Sorensen: Decent speed, shooting, passing, puck-handling, and feistiness, he’s sort of the ideal third-line guy. He sometimes finds himself out of position on defense, something that hopefully will improve with experience. I give him a solid B.

Joe Thornton: One has to give Jumbo Joe all kinds of props for rehabbing from multiple torn-up knees and still being out there every game at age 39. Still, the honest truth is that he has slowed down (both skates and hands) considerably and, worse yet, his elite playmaking skills have dropped off noticeably. I am shocked at how often he attempts cross-ice passes that are easily picked-off, too often leading to odd-man rushes the other way (as his tied-for-team-worst playoff plus-minus of -5 attests). Also, when he’s got his engine running full-tilt, he can still be a force on the ice, but there are times when the engine is clearly stuck in a low gear. He does sometimes show flashes of that old magic, and even puts the puck in the net now and again. No doubt most teams would salivate at the chance to have him on their third line, but I’m thinking if it doesn’t happen this year, he may never get that Stanley Cup that has eluded him for more than two decades. Of course, there is the intangible of behind the scenes leadership illustrated by his “get three for Pavs” demand in game 7 vs. Las Vegas, that cannot be discounted. I give him a B-.

Kevin Lebanc: I have had to completely revamp my opinion of Lebanc recently. Earlier in the year I could not figure out why he was anything more than a fourth-line player nor why on earth DeBoer had him quarterbacking the power play. But as the season progressed, and especially in the playoffs, Lebanc has more than shown his worth. He handles the power play admirably, rarely makes a bad decision, a bad pass, or loses the puck, and, man alive, can he shoot! I recently read a hockey scribe who claimed that the best teams are those with the best third lines. Lebanc ups the value of this third line considerably. I give him an A-.

The fourth line is finally configured the way it should be, with Donskoi-Goodrow-M. Karlsson.

Joonas Donskoi: His assets are speed, niftiness, and energy, with his motor revved up to maximum rpms at almost all times. However, I’m not sure what the opposite of “strong on his skates” is, but whatever it is, that’s Donskoi. Honestly, I think he spends as much time on his back, knees, rear, and elbows as he does on his skates. He is easily pinned to the boards or knocked off the puck (and onto his posterior) and most defensemen are aware of this. Hence, when he has open ice he can be quite dangerous, but open ice can be a rare commodity in the NHL. Still, he is much more of a scoring threat than Michael Haley, so he is right where he belongs. I rate him as a C+.

Barclay Goodrow: He has good size and a decent set of skills including acquitting himself well on the penalty kill. A good all-around workmanlike player, I rate him a solid B.

Melker Karlsson: Excellent and fearless on the penalty kill, he also possesses a good set of offensive skills, but for whatever reason, has gone cold as far as scoring. Still, he and his line-mates make up a much more formidable fourth line than most teams have. He and Goodrow in particular, are able to accomplish the main purpose of a fourth line: keep the puck in the opponent’s zone throughout their shift. I rate him a B+.

As for defensemen, the top defensive pairing is Burns-Vlasic.

Brent Burns: Offensively, he is pretty much second to none. Given his blistering shot, the ability to hit a forward’s stick for a tip-in, thread the needle with a pass, stick-handle well, and hold the zone it’s not without reason that he is a perennial Norris trophy candidate. Defensively, he’s a bit of an enigma. He can be amazing with his strength and his long stick making defensive plays that leave one awestruck. Then there are those times when he makes a completely boneheaded play and/or commits a horrible turnover that often leads to an odd-man rush the other way and, like as not, an opponent’s goal. Also, for every stretch pass out of the defensive zone that sends a teammate on a rush, there are a half-dozen that miss and end-up with an icing call. In fact, the vast majority of his mistakes result from him trying to do too much; trying for the highlight-reel play rather than the safer, saner play. To his credit, he has done much more right than wrong, even defensively, in the playoffs (he’s +4) and, failings notwithstanding, he’s a tremendous asset to the team. He gets an A.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Speaking of enigmas, throughout most of this season, he has not been the characteristic shut-down defenseman Sharks fans have come to expect. But in the playoffs he has returned to form. The difference in the games the Sharks have played with him vs. without him (i.e. the two he missed against Vegas that looked like an arcade game) has been incredible. Apparently his presence was a major factor in mostly neutralizing the lightning-fast, highly skilled Nathan McKinnon. He is back to making the smart play and extinguishing the fire when things get hot in the Sharks defensive zone. Offensively, he provides support, but most of his shots miss the net or go directly into the goalie’s glove. Still, he provides the ideal complement to the offensive-minded Burns. He also gets an A.

The E. Karlsson-Dillon pairing.

Erik Karlsson: Like Nyquist, I was somewhat impatient for him to show himself worthy of the preseason acquisition and, just as he began to do so, he was injured. Now, however, he is pretty much back to full health and is playing excellently. Smart, skilled, solid defensively, fast, and top-notch at getting the puck out of the defensive zone, he is a tremendous asset. Like Nyquist, though, he has plenty of assist points but can’t seem to find the back of the net. I give him an A.

Brendan Dillon: Unlike most of his teammates, his game has regressed during the playoffs. For most of the season he seemed to be just a notch below Vlasic defensively and a notch above offensively, with a bit of attitude sprinkled in, all of which meant he was an above average defenseman. In the playoffs, though, he has not been up to par, as his -5 plus-minus would suggest. There are certain players that, when they have the puck you just know they’re going to do the right thing with it (Vlasic and E. Karlsson, to name two). Dillon used to be one of those but, so far in the playoffs, my stomach tightens whenever he handles the puck. Maybe as he gets more time playing with a now-healthy Karlsson, things will improve. For now, though, I give him a B-.

The Braun-Ryan pairing.

Justin Braun: Back in the day, when he was usually paired with Vlasic, he appeared to be pretty similar to his partner in defensive capabilities. However, perhaps playing with Vlasic makes anyone’s defense look better. All I know is that the stomach tightening referenced earlier happens much more frequently with Braun on the puck than it used to. One of the more frustrating things is that, while he is pretty decent at battling for pucks along the boards, he too often wins the battle only to immediately throw it to an opponent, or fail to get it out of the zone. Offensively, he can usually get the puck on net from the blue line, but his shot is not one that strikes any fear in the hearts of opposing goalies. I give him a B-.

Joakim Ryan: The season-ending injury to up-and-coming defenseman Radim Simek pressed Ryan into duty, perhaps before he was totally NHL-ready. He has acquitted himself decently (he’s +1) but, averaging barely 8 minutes of ice time per game, there isn’t a lot to go on. He does not seem lost out there, but neither does he inspire a lot of confidence. I’d say he’s doing about as well as could be reasonably expected and rate him a C+.

So, there you have it. I welcome your thoughts, and if you’d like to check any playoff stats, you can do so by clicking the image below.


Wow, What a (Sports) Weekend!

Who’d a-thunk it? By the end of the weekend, all my favorite sports teams had come through!


NCAAF – MIZZOU 31, Texas Tech 27. MIZZOU WINS a nail-biter and is bowl eligible!
NHL – Sharks 4, Dallas 1. San Jose WINS!


NFL – 49ers 23, Arizona 7. SF WINS (now 9-1)!
NHL – Sharks 4, Colorado 1. San Jose WINS and moves into 1st place!


NCAAB – MIZZOU 87, Notre Dame 58. MIZZOU WINS what was supposed to be a close game!

Wonder which team will be the first to break the streak…

Other random sports thoughts:

I hear tell that MIZZOU basketball, which had garnered a pretty solid following during the Mike Anderson era, is having trouble attracting fans. The Frank Haith (a) hiring–since he has no exciting track record–and (b) NCAA investigation made me reluctant to get too excited. Then add that one of their best players–and one of their few big men–Laurence Bowers, is out for the season with an injury, and my interest was tepid. But I watched the game noted above and was mightily impressed! This is a tenacious, quick, scrappy team that, at least against Notre Dame, was fun to watch. How far can a 4-guard team go? Dunno, but they’re interesting and worth a look.

Q: Why aren’t the 49ers–with the second-best record in the NFL–getting any press?
A: The obvious answer would be east-coast media bias which, no doubt, plays a part. But the main issue is the lack of a “name” player. The media always wants an individual they can tout as “you should watch this team because of so-and-so if for no other reason.” Hence, it’s always “watch Eli Manning and the NY Giants take on Ray Lewis and the hard-hitting Ravens,” etc. But the 49ers have no marquee player. Certainly “Alex Smith and the 49ers” would not gain many viewers. And, although they have plenty of quality players who, together, are a formidable team, there are no true superstars. Patrick Willis? O-kay. Frank Gore? Yawn. Novarro Bowman? Who? The only “name” they have is the coach, Jim Harbaugh. Not much of a promo to say, “See the 49ers play Baltimore and watch Harbaugh’s post-game handshake!” So, face it, no matter how well they do, even in the playoffs, this blue-collar team of no-names is never going to garner much press.

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Odds and Ends…

First, a follow-up to the America’s Got Talent story.

So, Eeyore won. My pick, Barbara Padilla was runner-up. Interestingly, both had problems with their final performances. Barbara made a tactical error by reprising an operatic solo she had previously done. She needed to show that she could use her thrilling voice to sing something in English for us “just plain folks.” Even an old show tune like “Some Enchanted Evening” would have been a much better idea. Kevin Skinner’s performance was vocally poor; he was flat and off-key in parts. Seriously, now that the story of the sniveling chicken farmer has run its course, only the most hard-core and tin-eared CW fans would pay Las Vegas prices to sit through an hour-plus of listening to him. Better invest that $1 million wisely, Eeyore…

ON THE SPORTS FRONT, time for a quick recap of what’s happening with my teams:

  • SF Giants: Well, it was a nice run while it lasted. I guess you’ve got to give them props for making it interesting through the bulk of the season. Given their unimpressive offense it was amazing they were ever even in the race. But as it stands they have only gone from perennial bottom-feeders to perennial “almosts.” That is, “almost” as in almost a wild-card team. Winning the division is not even a consideration. Which, again, makes one scratch one’s head. Suppose SF managed to squeak into the playoffs and somehow won the two short NLCS series necessary to go to the world series. They are clearly not the best team in the NL by a long shot, so that would make no sense. Playoffs are sometimes of dubious value.
  • MIZZOU Football Tigers: However, the one place an 8-team playoff would make sense is in College Football. So, of course, that’s the one place in sports where it doesn’t happen. Anyway, as for the 3-0 MU Tigers, it has been said that their next 4 games will define their season. However, the next one against Nevada is significant only if they fail to win since they are heavily favored. Assuming they win, beating Nebraska will be huge, and vital. But whether they are just a decent team this year or something really special will be determined by how they play against OK State and Texas the following weeks.
  • SJ Sharks: Speaking of playoffs… No team in all of sports is as Jekyll and Hyde between regular season and playoffs as the Sharks. Last season, with a new coach, a new attitude, a new style of play, and a rip-roaring start I was really hyped about them. After their playoff debacle I’m struggling to generate more than tepid interest this year. Maybe if the Heatly-Thornton-Setoguchi line catches fire I might perk up but for now it’s not there.
  • SF 49ers: Still speaking of playoffs, for a brief shining moment we can mention playoffs and 49ers in the same breath. If they could play .500 for the rest of the season it’s a possibility. Of course, these lofty speculations are due for a sudden collapse after the Vikings in all likelihood rough them up this coming Sunday. Plus, if they should somehow reach the playoffs, they’ll be a really boring team to watch since their offense pretty much consists of a steady stream of 3-and-outs until a couple of times a game they manage to sustain a drive for a score or break Gore loose. I yearn for the Walsh-Montana-Young days when a 3-and-out offensive series was almost unheard of. But, anemic offense or no, Singletary’s got the defense making believers out of opponents week-by-week.
  • But… Why not root for Missouri’s pro football teams, you ask? Actually it’s not for the obvious reason that they’re both terrible. St. Louis is the Rams. C’mon now, no one who is or ever was a 49er fan can root for the Rams. Not even if they gave me a luxury box. As for Kansas City, I actually considered adopting the Chiefs as my AFC team until I heard that nausea-inducing noise that put them permanently on my black list: The tomahawk chant (or chop). This originated with the Florida State Seminoles although it is not some long-standing tradition – they only started it in 1984. It’s irritating to hear FSU do it, hideously repulsive to hear the Atlanta Braves fans do it, and pathetically plageristic for the Chiefs. Nope, sorry, not going to happen. I would not, could not root for any team whose fans do that lame, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard chant.
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    On Coaches…

    The position of head coach (“manager” in baseball) for a sports team is a peculiar one. No matter how good the coach, the team must have talented players but a coach can make a significant difference. It has been said that a great manager in baseball will maybe win a half-dozen games for a team over a 162 game schedule and a bad one lose about that many. However, I think a truly incompetent manager can have a greater negative impact than that because the aura of losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nevertheless, the impact of the head guy in baseball is not as significant as it may be in the other sports, specifically football where the right or wrong approach to the game and/or playbook can make a team of just above-average players either champions or underachieving losers. In general, though, for the four major sports, coaches are generally responsible for:

      A. Team Chemistry. The coach must create team cohesiveness that enables a group of individuals to work together as a unit. This is a bit less significant in baseball since there is frequently only one player from the team on offense involved at one time. But in sports like basketball and hockey, team chemistry is essential.

      B. Work and Discipline. The coach must establish when and how much the team will practice, make sure the players maintain conditioning and their focus, and handle problems with and among the players. He establishes how stringent or lax the rules are and whether or not star players get special treatment. He may also be a teacher, although this is less true in the Pro’s.

      C. Philosophy. Will this team focus primarily on offense or defense? Will it look for the quick strike, run-and-gun, or use a patient, opportunistic approach. How much are the players expected to decide on their own and how much will the coach control from the bench?

      D. Motivation. Players need someone in charge who can build a fire under them, help them recharge their batteries over a long season, and calm them down when things are too tense. While locker-room leadership from players is important, this falls primarily to the coach.

      E. Strategy. In football and basketball these are the plays the team has in its playbook on offense and the defensive coverages that they plan to use. In hockey there is a basic method of play the coach establishes and there may be nuances based on the opponent’s personnel and mode of play. In baseball it would involve how they plan to pitch to each opposing player, what each batter can expect from the opponent’s pitcher, and the positioning of fielders. In all cases it involves who starts and who gets how much playing time.

      F. Tactics or “Game Management.” Finally, the coach determines what happens while the game unfolds. Substitutions, what play to call or pitch to throw, time management, and what adjustments to make to offset what the opposition is doing are all parts of game tactics.

    Having established these, let me assess the coaches of my favorite teams. They are:

    MLB – SF Giants, Bruce Bochy
    NCAA Basketball – MIZZOU Tigers, Mike Anderson
    NCAA Football – MIZZOU Tigers, Gary Pinkel
    NFL – SF 49ers, Mike Singletary
    NHL – San Jose Sharks, Todd McLellan
    And I just can’t generate much of a rooting interest in the NBA.

    Below, these teams’ coaches are ranked in order of quality–in my view anyway.

    1. Todd McLellan, Sharks, hockey

  • Team Chemistry – This team truly clicks on the ice. No off-ice issues either.
  • Work/Discipline – The Sharks win as much because of their hard work as their talent.
  • Philosophy – Todd’s system is both a proven winner (Detroit) and fits his personnel.
  • Motivation – They’re not up 100% of the time but rarely coast thru full games.
  • Strategy – Again, the game strategy works and so do his line combos.
  • Tactics – The Sharks do a good job of adjusting between periods.
  • Overall coaching grade: A. Could be A+ or A- depending on playoff outcome.
  • 2. Mike Anderson, MU Tigers, basketball

  • Team Chemistry – A few off-court issues but minor compared to Quin Snyder. The team clicks.
  • Work/Discipline – Mike’s system only works if the players outwork the opponent. They do.
  • Philosophy – His defense-first pressure system is called “40 min. of hell.” It works.
  • Motivation – They beat KU because at halftime he laughed and told them to just calm down!
  • Strategy – After Snyder’s stand-around offense, Mike’s strategy is exciting.
  • Tactics – Mike doesn’t get out-coached during games; he pulls the right strings.
  • Overall coaching grade: B+. Could be A, A-, or B, B- depending on play in tourneys.
  • 3. Gary Pinkel, MU Tigers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Gary fosters good chemistry. A few off-field issues but he handles them.
  • Work/Discipline – Good work habits overall. Defensive mental lapses were too common though.
  • Philosophy – Offense: Spread works very well. Defense: Glad Eberflus is gone!
  • Motivation – Good overall but nerves often seemed to be a problem in big games.
  • Strategy – Playbook is very good when not too cute. Blitzes too predictable & often failed.
  • Tactics – Improved greatly over the past few years; they even won some in the 2nd half.
  • Overall coaching grade: B-. 2009, a reloading year, will reveal much about his true grade.
  • 4. Mike Singletary, SF 49ers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Greatly improved since Mike took over, but he needs to settle the QB issue.
  • Work/Discipline – Probably Mike’s strongest asset. It’s team-first or ride the pine.
  • Philosophy – “Smash-mouth” is cause for concern. I prefer scheme-derived success.
  • Motivation – Another of Mike’s main assets. Even players in his doghouse love him.
  • Strategy – I expect his defense will get the most from his players. Offense? We’ll see…
  • Tactics – The 49ers came back to win some, but the Arizona game-end fiasco was worrisome.
  • Overall coaching grade: C. But to be fair, he has yet to do it all HIS way for a season.
  • 5. Bruce Bochy, SF Giants, baseball

  • Team Chemistry – Doesn’t seem to be any discontent; revolving door of players doesn’t help.
  • Work/Discipline – Having so many old players beside rookies keeps things in line.
  • Philosophy – Limited talent limits options, e.g. can’t play long ball w/o power hitters.
  • Motivation – Team generally appears a tad listless as if fated to finish near the bottom.
  • Strategy – Here again limited talent limits roster, batting order, and bullpen options.
  • Tactics – Bruce seems to do an OK job pulling the strings for what he has to work with.
  • Overall coaching grade: D. But he needs a team with more talent to assess him fairly.
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    More Team Name Stuff–Just for Fun!

    College Team Names

    Okay, since my sons (Paul and Scott) and I are on the good/bad/marginal team name kick, I thought I’d take a shot at College team names. The rules for quality team names still apply the same as for the NFL/MLB/NHL/NBA names except that these are of course not sport-specific. Here we will just have to use the idea of ferocity, speed, agility, courage, or, if all else fails, something with a valid local connection as long as it does not run directly counter to the above attributes, is not offensive, and is not hopelessly lame—local connection notwithstanding.

    I’d like to suggest that we each choose various regional conferences’ teams to examine. Since I’m located in the middle of the country I’ll start off with some middle of the country colleges: the Big 12 and the Big 10. Since the teams making up these conferences might not come readily to mind, here is a list of them for starters:
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    NFL Team Names

    Team names should have one of two characteristics. Either they should be evocative of something that would be an asset in football (courage, power, ferocity, speed, etc.) or something unique to the area in which they reside, so long as that unique entity is not a liability in football. For example, the California State University, Santa Cruz has as their team name the “banana slugs.” Banana slugs are, indeed, native to the Santa Cruz area but are one of the dorkiest team names ever since nothing about the repulsive banana slug is in any way an asset to any sports endeavor. That is, unless at some point they come up with a competition for disintegrating into a mucous glob when salt is poured on you.

    Meeting the first criteria, a name suggesting ferocity, for example, generally negates the second. In other words, for Detroit to use the name Lions is fine given the characteristics of a lion, regardless of the fact that there have never been any actual lions in Detroit (unless in a zoo or circus).

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