by Paul West
Welcome to the first edition of PDub’s Observatory, in which I humbly offer my own observations on the trending sports topics of the week. Call them informed hot takes, if you will; and it’s my hope that you, dear reader, will find them of a reasonable critical standard.
Take 1: Pete Alonso might be onto something.
By now, you might have heard of Pete Alonso’s theory regarding the open secret of the ever-changing MLB baseball. Before I address the specifics of his assertion, let me clarify my stance on so-called conspiracy theories.
First, and most importantly: conspiracies do exist, in many walks of life, from the smallest to the largest. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a word for it; and if they never happened, well, not just the world but our collective consciousness would be radically different. Conspiracies rely on many things to succeed, but one factor is among the most important: the existence and public debunking of ludicrous conspiracy theories, and the subsequent public aversion to anything that can be labeled a ‘conspiracy theory.’ I realize this is slippery-slope territory, so I won’t explore the matter any further; in fact, let’s avoid the now loaded and at times conversation-derailing word altogether, and for the purposes of this topic we’ll use the word collusion. Collusion is a word we commonly associate with matters of business and industry; but it means the same kind of thing as that word I’m no longer using in this piece, and it’s most commonly used to refer to franchises ‘acting in concert’ against the players’ collective interests.
This is a sport where franchises will send their best young players to the minor leagues, often at the real-time expense of the team, in order to manipulate service time in case said player raises their market value. This has been done for years, resulting in controversy at times when (as in the case of Kris Bryant) it’s cost teams who were in or close to playoff contention–and the public knowledge thereof has scarcely made a dent in the practice. Does it seem so far-fetched that owners would collude to change one variable, behind the scenes, to favor offense or defense depending on the upcoming free agent class? Not at all.
Take 2: The championship window for the Avalanche might be tighter than we thought.
This seemed, for so many reasons, to be the year the Colorado Avalanche put it all together and went on a Stanley Cup run. They had Nathan Mackinnon, one of the top five players in the league and a playmaking cheat code; they had a bumper crop of speedy young defensemen who could play in all three zones; they had an elite top line; they had good goaltending, though admittedly not the level you often see on Cup winners; they had line depth and top-to-bottom speed, and they seemed to have the power of belief. They blew the doors off the Golden Knights in the first game of their second-round series, seeming to validate expectations that this was their year.
Then, in the second game, they lost Nazem Kadri–their second-line center and an important depth piece and force multiplier–to an 8-game suspension for a hit that wasn’t just dirty but mind-bogglingly foolish. Then they inexplicably gave away game three, and the Knights took control of the series and won it in six games. In the process of losing their last four games of the year, the Avalanche committed costly turnovers all over the ice and let in soft goals. They scored goals, and surrendered them almost immediately thereafter. They didn’t play with the confidence and fluidity that made them look so good all year. To be fair, this year’s regionally-driven format did them no favors; the Knights tied them for the most points in the NHL this season, and actually led the league in wins, and if anything should have been their Conference Finals draw. A casual glance at the record books will simply show another second-round exit, but under normal circumstances the Avs would likely have made it another round. Still, Mackinnon’s postgame frustration was telling:
I’m going on my ninth year next year and haven’t won s–t, so I’m definitely motivated and it just sucks losing four in a row to a team and it felt like last year was our first real chance to win and this year, I felt we were the best team in the league.
It’s never good when your best player sounds that frustrated, especially one who’s generally competed in good faith and not been given to drama. Moreover, Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad are unrestricted free agents, as is goalie Phillipp Grubauer–though goaltending might be one of the few areas the team will target for upgrade this offseason. They also still have to figure out how to keep Cale Makar, and keep the team’s self-belief afloat as the narrative around them becomes less forgiving. Meanwhile, the Knights aren’t going anywhere and some other teams in the West are bound to improve. There’s always fine-tuning to be done, as there’s no such thing as a perfect team; but the Avs are almost as good as they’re going to get, and if they go another year without at least getting within sniffing distance of a title, it’ll be hard to keep that loaded of a roster together.
Take 3: it might be time to split the MVP in all sports into two awards.
This year’s NBA MVP Award went to Nikola Jokic, who had one of the best all-around seasons in the history of NBA bigs. The conversation surrounding the award was, as is often the case, dominated by arguments over the nature of the award itself. Joel Embiid, it was generally understood, didn’t play enough games; and Stephen Curry was sidelined by the ‘can’t win an MVP for a struggling team’ argument. While the latter position is often meant to address the matter of stat-padders who don’t make their team much better, this doesn’t really apply to Mr. Curry–who almost undeniably is the single most important player to his team of all the ones in the conversation. This is no slight to Jokic, an actual point-center who’s his team’s best shooter, passer, and rebounder and fueled a solid playoff run despite the loss of Jamal Murray; but in Steph’s absence, the spirited and talented but inexperienced Warriors were a nightly debacle. When Steph returned, and played true to form, these same Warriors had a puncher’s chance of beating most teams on any given night, and scrapped their way into the postseason. When one player’s presence is the difference between lottery team and playoff team, that’s the literal definition of a valuable player. This brings me to something I know I’m not the first to suggest: splitting the award into a Most Valuable Player Award and a Most Outstanding Player Award. Mike Trout has won the American League MVP three times, but each time the matter of ‘great player, bad team’ has dogged the proceedings. Splitting the award in two will create controversies of its own, for sure, but it will likely solve more circular debates than it causes.
Come back next week for the next installment, stay healthy, and enjoy the games!