Wednesday, May 28, 2008

#98: The End of an Era

---Madden Done at ESPN 1250---

It was going to happen sometime.

Pittsburgh sportstalk ratings monger and long-time host of his own eponymous afternoon show, Mark Madden, has been pulled from the ESPN airwaves.

Unsurprisingly, it's due to a controversial comment. The one in question regarded ailing Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

This is the life of a shock jock. He gains and retains his listenership by saying things off-the-cuff that most people would blush at even thinking, then continually testing how far over the line he can go before eventually succumbing to the taste of his own foot.

I compare this to last year's Don Imus debacle, just different in scope. Some might disagree as Imus insulted an entire demographic with one comment, whereas Madden just blurted his comment at one man.

Madden loyalists are leaping to his defense in a myriad of ways. One of the most interesting I've seen so far is that it's not nearly so big a deal because Kennedy is a "murderer", referring to the controversial-in-and-of-itself case of a young woman who drowned in the Senators car under mysterious circumstances nearly 40 years ago. He challenges that if Madden would have made the same comment about O.J. Simpson, it wouldn't even be an issue.

I can't say I completely disagree.

The removal of Madden from the airwaves was likely more of a corporate decision based on the fact that the Kennedys are still a very powerful national influence, and O.J. Simpson is but a shadow of his former self, practically convicted in civil court and in the court of public opinion. If Madden had been employed by an independent, Pittsburgh-only station, he might have been able to survive with a brief suspension.

But Madden is out there representing the Worldwide Leader in Sports; perhaps the one entity in the business bigger than than the King


My personal thoughts:

Three years ago, I would have been on the rooftops, proclaiming a sort of V-P Day for all of radio (Victory in Pittsburgh, by the way, not Vice President).

This was before I tried my hand at breaking into this industry. Before I hosted my first-ever sports talk show. Before I realized I am still mainly clueless in some aspects of the world of sports.

I personally did not listen to his show most of the time. The way he handled his callers, especially to my "customer service call center" background, was largely unforgivable and in no way entertaining. Even though I would admit at the time that the person called in just to hear himself on the radio.

That kind of treatment irked me more than some of the issues of sports that he would just gloss over to hide some things he wasn't sure about. I understand that was to ensure that no one would be able to catch him with an, "A-ha! That's not true! It says so right here!" or "You're contradicting yourself again!"

If someone were to do that, 10-second delay would see to it that those words wouldn't hit the airwaves, anyway.

That said, the Mark Madden Show was my impetus to actually try to do something about it. Get in somewhere and try to bring together an intelligent sports program that takes out all of that unnecessary confrontation - seriously, with the way Pittsburghers eat, they don't need their blood pressure increased any more! - where disagreements (even heated ones) are wonderful, but sophomoric name-calling and things of a disrespectful nature are heavily frowned upon.

Three years later, I have a weblog that receives a very pedestrian amount of traffic compared to several Pittsburgh Sports-based blogs; I have some demos of the few sports talk shows I've hosted; and I have hit the same wall that literally hundreds of would-be Pittsburgh sports broadcasters have run up against in an effort to prove they've got what it takes.

I have to grudgingly respect that Madden was king of the radio waves in Pittsburgh sports talk for a long time, even if he was using methods I thought were degrading to others.

Madden had what it took to break through, and he'll break through again.

Before too long, I suspect we'll see him on the other side: FoxSports Radio 970.

Friday, May 23, 2008

#97: Red Wings in Five

---Hockeytown VS. Steeltown---

Regular reader/commenter 'karri' always roots for me to be wrong about stuff.

Frankly, I do, too.

Earlier this hockey season, I said that I thought the Penguins were still a year away. At the outset, I thought the Pens were good for about a 2nd round playoff exit. The acquisitions of Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill made them legitimate contenders for the Cup, to the point where their negative Shots-on-Goal Differential for the season was offset.

Despite all this, the Penguins are in for a real "culture shock" of sorts when they open the Stanley Cup Final tomorrow night at Joe Louis Arena.

Going from the Flyers to the Red Wings is like a relatively new boxer to the professional circuit going a few bouts with, I don't stepping into the ring with the current light heavyweight champion.

Game One is going to get ugly fast. Detroit scores goals early and en masse. Their puck control is unmatched, and the entire team can roll four lines as easily as any team ever has.

Detroit is a machine, and a well-oiled one at that.

Chris Osgood, the weak link of the team, has even been playing well through these playoffs.

It's just going to be a matter of how Pittsburgh responds after the inevitable Game One rout that will determine how long the series goes.

For the Penguins to prove me wrong over the course of a seven-game series against the only true juggernaut in the NHL, these four things will need to happen:

1) Pittsburgh must win face-offs. And lots of them. Detroit has won over 55% of their face-offs this post-season. Pittsburgh? Just 46.7% Only two teams were worse in that statistic: The Calgary Flames (46.4%), and, get this, the Dallas Stars (45.6%).

2) The Penguins must get sustained pressure on Osgood. Most of the Detroit games I watched featured the other team getting into Detroit's zone, blasting a one-timer from the point, Osgood making a save, and Detroit's defense clearing the rebound. This is why the Red Wings have one of the highest (if not the highest) SOGDs this decade.

3) Marc-Andre Fleury will have to stand on his head. Detroit will dictate the tempo, and they will have plenty of opportunities in the Pittsburgh zone. Fleury will see more shots on average per game - by far - than he saw in any of the three previous rounds. Detroit made an average of over 36 shots per game this postseason, versus just over 32 from Pittsburgh. Through three rounds, the Philadelphia Flyers shot just under 30 times per game, through two rounds, the New York Rangers shot slightly fewer than that, and the Ottawa Senators only 28 times per game. Are we convinced about the tendency of the Shots-on-Goal statistic over a seven-game series yet?

4) The Penguins must force the Red Wings to take penalties. This may be the toughest task, as the Wings had 25% fewer Penalty Minutes than Pittsburgh this postseason. Detroit is superb at 5-on-5 hockey. Pittsburgh must find a way to get them on the shorthanded end of the stick as often as possible.

All of these items are not likely to happen, and Detroit is not likely to slack off in any clinching game like they did in Games 4 and, especially 5 of the Dallas series.

Still, losing to a team as powerful as Detroit will serve as a passing of the torch, and the final step in the evolution of the Pittsburgh Penguins from cellar-dweller to Stanley Cup Champion in 2009.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

#96: Thoughts on Pens Playoff Push

---WOOOOO(hat ever this meansss...)---

If blogging paid as much as one of my many jobs, I'd post more, I swear.

So, I've pretty much neglected this relic of a blog for a month, and, in the meantime, the Pittsburgh Penguins have come to within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals, steamrolling their opponents en route.

Comments that have come my way more than a few times during this incredible stretch have been along the lines of, "So, looks like your shots-on-goal-differential stat isn't going to hold up this year!"

Well, first, while it's unlikely that either Dallas or Philadelphia will erase a 3-0 series deficit when they've both been so outplayed, let's not start talking Cup until game 4 is won.

Secondly, the Penguins absolute explosion got me looking through some more historical stats to see if there's something I missed.

As it so happens, there is.

At the time of my last post on the subject, I had failed to identify the last team to win the Stanley Cup that posted a negative SOGD.

That team was none other than the 1990-1991 Pittsburgh Penguins.

And this year's squad, thanks to General Manager Ray Shero, has an eerie similarity. On March 4, 1991, the Penguins acquired (stole) Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson from Hartford (perhaps you've heard of them). With a key face-off man and an intimidating (and admittedly dirty) defenseman, the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup.

This year, Pittsburgh acquired Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill at the trade deadline. Don't forget, that veteran Gary Roberts returned just in time for the playoffs after missing much of the season with a broken leg. And Sidney Crosby, the Penguins only face-off man to record better than a 50% win percentage during the regular season missed most of it.

With all the components either returned or acquired, the Pens have posted a +4.5 SOGD entering the 4th game of the Eastern Conference Finals (currently +2.0 vs Philly, they were actually a bit behind the New York Rangers at -0.2, and they shellacked the undermanned Ottawa Senators by a margin of +12.25).

Almost certainly up next: The Detroit Red Wings.

I won't go too far into this at the moment, but I'm calling them the Big Red(Wing) Machine. They are peaking at the right time, and they have the ability to win face-offs and control the puck consistently. Barring some kind of injury or a brilliant Penguin gameplan, this could be a 5-game exit for the plucky Pens.

Hopefully, we get to analyze it a bit more in less than a week's time.

In the meantime, I hope one of my friends at ThePensBlog can fill me in on why they hate the Wings so much. They've been a team I've enjoyed watching over the last decade and a half...particularly when they would take it to the Colorado Avalanche.

====Awesome Pics Time=====

During the Game One of the Rangers series, remember all the whining New York fans did after Marty Straka was called for interference penalty that helped Pittsburgh knock the winning goal home? Let's look at that call...

Uhm. I don't know. That looks pretty interference-y to me.

The result:

It's Malkin's goal, but Sid doesn't care.

Jaromir Jagr almost kills the celebration.

Fleury loves you, post.

How close was it?


After winning Game Four, New York thought they'd try to send Pittsburgh another physical message. Hal Gill (left-center) knows better.

He thinks it's kinda cute.

Then, in Game One of the Conference Finals, Evgeni Malkin shows Flyers Captain Mike Richards that he can take whatever is dished, and then top it.

Malkin just misses.


"(however you say 'Ouch' in Russian)".

Flyers back on the attack! But he whiffs. Hossa removes him.

The Gonch sees the Malk! Goes deep!

Touchdown! ... oops, I mean...

Biron thinks, "This is not good."

Malkin disagrees.