Sunday, November 18, 2018


Toronto Raptors 2018-2019

On Monday night, the Toronto Raptors played their thirteenth game this season against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis, with 24 points. Their backcourt players, Holiday and Moore, also stung the Raptors for a combined 59 points. The Pelicans come out on top 126-110. But it was only the second loss of the season for the Toronto squad, as they still lead the Eastern Division.

Fans are packing the venue in which they play. There are Scotiabank symbols on the roof, and it is named after the bank. You may have known it as the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors share the facility with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I checked out the web site with the seating plan, and current ticket prices. You will have to fill both of your pockets with large bills if you want to procure a ticket from a scalper. The nature of the beast is that if teams are successful, the price of tickets rises.

The place is filled to the rafters for the games. At this point in time, Toronto fans are loyal to the Raptors. As they should be. They place an excellent squad on the floor for every game, under the direction of new head coach, Nick Nurse. At the end of the season last year, management made a few significant changes, effectively altering the direction of the team. Dwayne Casey had coached the team for several years, and had even been selected as “Coach of the Year”. In hockey, that is the kiss of death for a coach. Apparently, the same applies in basketball.

The team also jettisoned star player Demar DeRozan, and that was not exactly a popular decision at the time. DeRozan and the team's other star, Kyle Lowry, were the mainstays for several seasons. In a significant shakeup, DeRozan was sent to the San Antonio Spurs in a multi-player deal for Kawhi Leonard and others. I am not going to suggest at this point in time that it was a great trade. Not enough time has elapsed to assess the trade properly. But at this point in time, the results are very positive for the Raps.

Leonard was a bit of an unknown quantity when he arrived in Toronto. He was known as an outstanding defensive player, and some considered him to be in the top five of the talented players in the league. He was, however, prone to injury, and had missed several games the previous seasons. Raptor fans have discovered that when he comes to play, he is a force on the court. He sees the court well, and makes excellent choices, passing and shooting.

With the departure of DeRozan, Kyle Lowry has assumed a different role with the team, and seems to have a more pronounced team approach. Standing slightly above six feet, he is dwarfed by most of the players on the court. With a better supporting cast this year, he has had more opportunities to display his talents. He seems more sure of himself, and is willing to dish the ball to teammates more often. He still has no fear of dashing to the basket when that is required, and he plays hard every minute he is on the court.

Keep in mind that there are always five players on the court, all very important at all times. Teams need really big guys to clear the boards, to take down rebounds at both ends of the court. The Raptors are relying on Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka to fill the lanes under the basket, to clear the boards, to block out defenders, and to make the easy baskets around the rim. Valanciunas has also shown a nice touch on three point shots, at important stages in the game. Danny Green came over in the Kawhi trade, and has been most important to the Raptors' fortunes thus far. He is averaging 10 points per game, shooting a most respectable 45% on three pointers.

Fred Van Vleet has averaged over ten points a game, in the 8 games that he has played. One gets the feeling, and it is an important one, that this group is more of a team than we have seen come out of Toronto in many years, perhaps ever. There is not a joking, smiling , and fooling around on the court with these guys, especially with Kawhi. It is all business, and the rest of the league is taking notice.

I like the fact that the supporting cast with the team is ready to go at any time, and often outscores the starters when they hit the floor. Kudos to OG Anunoby, Lorenzo Brown, CJ Miles, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson, and Delon Wright for their contributions.

This will be a year to remember.

James Hurst.


Blue Jays Transformation 2018 to 2019

There was something in the news recently about the World Series trophy (officially the Commissioner's Trophy) making an appearance in Puerto Rico. The Boston Red Sox now possess that piece of silver, and their manager, Alex Cora, took the trophy into his childhood neighbourhood to visit with his old pals. This is a tradition that began several years ago with the Stanley Cup. And yes, last summer, the enormous Russian superstar, Alex Ovechkin, took the Cup to Mother Russia to display it to his countrymen, and countrywomen.

It has been some time since the Toronto Blue Jays had the opportunity to display the World Series trophy as champions. Back to back, as you recall, '92 and '93. Ah the glory days of baseball in Toronto! There was a glimmer of hope a couple of years ago. The powers-that-be opened up the vaults and brought in some fine players to help win the Big One. Alas, they fell a little short. Since that time, they have thrown all of the pieces of the puzzle back into the box, and are in the process of building another contender.

Part of the restructuring had to do with upper level management. Ross Atkins is now the General Manager of the Jays. Mark Shapiro is the President and CEO of the team. About two weeks ago, the team announced that they had found a replacement for John Gibbons, the on-field manager of the team.

Charlie Montoyo was selected to lead the Jays next year as manager. He is a native of Manati, Puerto Rico, and has been involved in baseball in America for many years. His only Major League experience as a player came in 1993, when he played four games for the Montreal Expos. He spent 10 years as a professional player in the minor leagues.

As is usually the case, the team has said good bye to a couple of their coaches, batting coach Brook Jacoby and first base coach Tim Leiper. Most of the time, when a new manager is hired, he is given a certain amount of freedom in the hiring of his coaches. There will be other changes in the coaching staff before next spring.

Montoyo has been with the Tampa Bay Rays' organization for almost 20 years. Last year, he was a Bench Coach for the team. He worked as their third base coach for three seasons. But it was as manager of the Durham Bulls for 8 seasons that he learned the ropes on team management.

He realizes what is at stake at the helm of the Blue Jays. “Managing a team that represents an entire nation is incredibly special. My family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship for this city”. He signed a three year deal.

The Ottawa Senators asked their fans a simple question last weekend. “Would you rather lose 9-2, as they did on Saturday night, or 3-2 in overtime, as they did on Sunday?” And yes, they were entertaining that dreaded two goal lead in the third period, yet again. They seem to run out of steam near the end of the game, and cannot sustain their leads. Not a lot of fun for their fans.

Our beloved Buffalo Bills were simply crushed again on the weekend. There's a tough assignment: staying loyal to that cause!

James Hurst
November 5, 2018.


Solving the Nylander Enigma

The world of professional sport is an extremely complex one. When it comes to salary caps, long term contracts, bonus payments, collective bargaining agreements, free agency, unrestricted free agency, and the myriad of other terms used in that world, I am clueless. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in much of the business.

The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has put together a fine team for this season. Nothing is perfect, of course, and there will be losses with the wins. But when it comes down to one excellent player, William Nylander, still biding his time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, there can be no doubt that he would be a valuable contributor to the team this season. But there he sits, waiting for all of the negotiations to be completed before he takes to the ice at the rink in Toronto.

In this case, there is a good deal of frustration. Although I am not privy to the amount of money he has been offered, I am certain most of us would be quite comfortable with it. There have been indications that either he, or his agent, is looking for six million dollars a year, or perhaps more.

Now with the injury to Auston Matthews the situation has become more critical. Matthews is not expected back for at least a month. He missed several games last season due to injury, and he is prone to shoulder injuries. Never a good thing.

This would be an ideal time for Nylander to show his loyalty to his team, sign the papers, and get back to business in Toronto. Not going to happen. At this point, the people in the Nylander camp are even talking about playing in the Russian pro hockey league, the KHL. One can earn some serious cash there, once they decide to pay you.

Nylander was actually born in Calgary, Alberta. His father, Michael, was also a professional hockey player. I would venture to say that his passport was well stamped. He played almost a thousand games in the NHL. He was constantly on the move from team to team, with stints in 7 NHL cities, 3 American League teams, and 14 European teams.

William has one brother, Alex, in the Buffalo Sabres' organization. Both lads were drafted in the first round, eighth overall.

Meanwhile, Leaf fans, coaches, and executives must await the consequences of Nylander's stance. You can tell from all of the words flowing from the Toronto media that there is great frustration. Nylander expects to turn those emotions into serious dollars.

The Boston Red Sox disposed of the Los Angeles Dodgers rather handily to win the World Series. Last May, Steve Pierce was trying to crack the Blue Jays lineup as a journeyman. Now he is the toast of the town in Boston as the MVP of the World Series. There was a certain amount of redemption for lefty David Price, as he had experienced some difficulty in post-season play.

And the Raptors dropped their first game of the season on Monday night. But they have stormed out of the blocks this year, at a record pace, and there are high hopes for them this year.

With this current chill in the air, we are reminded that the Grey Cup is not too far away. Always a great event!!

James Hurst
October 30, 2018

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?