July 29, 2011

Why I'd trade Domonic Brown for Hunter Pence.

Domonic Brown is 23 years old. He's batting .247 with 5 homers and 18 RBIs in 2011. His .338 on-base percentage is equal to Ryan Howard's and ahead of Jimmy Rollins'. He also sees 4.08 pitches per plate appearance, good for 34th amongst players with 200 or more plate appearances (ahead of Andrew McCutchen and the aforementioned Mr. Howard). He was Keith Law's third-ranked prospect coming into the season.

Hunter Pence is 28 years old. He's batting .309 with 11 homers and 61 RBIs in 2011. His .356 on-base percentage ranks 50th amongst qualified major league hitters, which would place him behind only Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz on the Phillies, and he's a two-time All-Star who is under team control until 2013.

I love Domonic Brown. Not as much as Mike Meech does, but close. That being said, I'd trade him for Hunter Pence.

Editor's note: This is implying a straight-up Brown-for-Pence deal, not any of these psychotic three-for-one offers that are suddenly popping up all over the Internet.

Domonic Brown will grow up to become a successful baseball player -- probably a very good one -- but the Phillies are stuck; they need to win now. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, while still productive, have seen their best days. Placido Polanco, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee aren't getting any younger. Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge are all on the way out the door.

It's not an old team, but it's not a young one either, and it could use a jolt. Charlie Manuel, in particular, has been vocal about his desire to add another slugger to the order, preferably a right-handed one; the Phillies as a whole are batting .237 versus left-handed pitching and .242 as right-handed batters. Pence is probably the best bat on the market, especially considering that he's not a rental.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not a particularly patient man. For better or worse, he tends to sets the market price for free agents by jumping on desired players like Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco as soon as possible. He also doomed anyone interested in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder this offseason by locking up Ryan Howard with a large, lengthy (and probably unwise) extension.

So the fact that he's waiting on Pence, that he hasn't consented to move Brown yet, tells me he's not particularly interested in the Astros' demands. He must think that Ed Wade will crack and decide that Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart are a reasonable return for the outfielder.

And maybe he will; Ed Wade's made his fair share of bad trades before. But if Houston doesn't bite, I think the Phillies should concede. Amaro's aggressiveness, for the most part, has paid off thus far (Lee and Halladay have been pretty cool), and he knows Ben Francisco and John Mayberry can't be the only right-handed outfield "threats" on a championship contender.

Time to pull the trigger, Rube. Top prospects come and go, but championships last forever.

July 26, 2011

What he meant is that Dry Island is actually a peninsula!

By now, most Philadelphia Flyers fans have heard about the Dry Island controversy that unexpectedly emerged in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News.

Mike Richards said "it wasn't a big deal." Peter Laviolette admitted that he meant to focus his new team on a deep playoff run (and it worked; the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals). Paul Holmgren basically told everyone to shut the fuck up. And, as it often does, talk radio rumbled with a bevy of assorted opinions.

All this begs the question, "Who cares?" The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were beloved for their partying ways, and the Flyers of the 1970s were a rowdy bunch that drank (heavily) with their own fans.

I think it's because, in the eyes of many, Richards and Carter never "earned" that kind of respect. Even after appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, they were still seen as pretty-boy millionaires who cared more about the bar afterwards than they did about the game. While both became top NHL players, they never matured into superstars (and some would make the case that neither one wanted that kind of pressure).

Normally, I'd classify that kind of thinking as "beyond stupid." Carter was a 35-goal scorer in a league where those no longer grow on trees, and Richards was the kind of hard-nosed player that Philadelphia normally adores. Superstars? No. But incredibly valuable hockey players. It's the sort of rambling you'd expect from older, blue-collar hockey fans who can't really relate to the handsome, rich young men they're cheering for every night.

But after watching how the 2010-2011 Flyers ended their season -- with an epic collapse that still reminds me of the 2007 New York Mets -- I'm tempted to agree. Not because Richards and Carter personally ruined the team, not because their partying impacted their performance, but because there had to be scapegoats. Heads needed to roll, and it was time to blame the leaders.

The Flyers were unquestionably the best team in the league...and then they weren't. And rumors about that were what bothered me; no one really blamed Laviolette, no one really blamed Holmgren, no one even really blamed the Chris Pronger injury. Sure, the goalie controversy was a disaster, but where was the gritty play? Where was the forechecking, where were the pumping legs? Pretty much nonexistent for months on end, and that's what ultimately killed the Flyers. Either they totally ran out of steam...or it was something worse.

The mini-meltdown was embarrassing, and it wasn't unprecedented. The past few seasons of Flyers hockey have featured similarly painful slumps, just never on such a grand scale, in front of such a large audience. And with the arguably still-immature Richards and Carter about to be locked into gigantic contracts with no-trade clauses -- whether they were hurting their careers with drugs and alcohol or not -- was another disaster something you wanted to risk happening again? Were they the right guys to lead?

So now Richards and Carter ply their trades elsewhere, and we'll continue to learn about all the "horrible" things they did. They were apparently "drinking heavily on painkillers." A friend of a friend of a guy I know told me post-trade that the two "loved cocaine." Everyone with the Internet has seen photos like these.

None of it matters anymore, but it does make you wonder about what could have been. Do the Flyers win the Stanley Cup if Richards and Carter give up vodka? Will things be that much different without them? Only time, as they say, may tell.

July 21, 2011

The Sox at the deadline.

With the All-Star Game behind us and the Philadelphia Phillies -- I mean, the National League -- having secured home-field advantage in the World Series, it's time for every team to prepare for the second half and muster their reinforcements.

The AL East is a two-headed monster, and it's very likely that both heads will reach the postseason. Were there a greater gap between the Yankees and the Red Sox, perhaps Boston might stand pat at the trade deadline. But the overachieving Yankees continue to play well, which may force Theo Epstein into making a move.

Interestingly, though, the Red Sox don't have a lot of weaknesses. They have baseball's most powerful offense, a strong bullpen and three top starters. The rotation would seem to be the weakest point, given that all three of those top pitchers have lost time to injuries, but Josh Beckett returned strong and Jon Lester is due back very shortly. Clay Buchholz has been out much longer than expected, but the patchwork quartet of Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and John Lackey have kept the team afloat, thanks in great part to thunderous offensive support.

And who's available, anyway? Epstein and every other GM with brainwaves have been kicking the tires on Ubaldo Jimenez, but the Colorado Rockies would demand a king's ransom. Hiroki Kuroda doesn't want to leave the Dodgers, and bringing back Derek "DUI" Lowe would be silly. Jeremy Guthrie? Doug Fister? The Sox can probably do better with the pieces they already have.

Right field, however, is an interesting area. It's the only position of below-average production on the team, or at least it was until the emergence of Josh Reddick. Reddick has always been a player of high potential, but he looked overwhelmed while sucking down his previous few cups of coffee. His mental approach kept him in the minors, until this year when, as Theo Epstein put it, "the light went on." His .378/.432/.671 slash line -- with 4 dingers and 18 RBIs in only 82 at-bats -- no longer sounds like a weakness to me.

Reddick, of course, would be replacing J.D. Drew, who Sox fans have been all over since he arrived. Yes, he seems very overpaid, but I'd argue that his first few years in Boston were worthy of such a contract. Plus, his defense has always been outstanding.

But I can't defend him this year; Drew has been flat-out awful. I just wait patiently until he grounds out to second; if he comes up with men on, I pray for a walk. He has hit .223/.321/.309 with 4 homers and 22 RBIs in 233 ABs. Think about that. Reddick's batting average is higher than Drew's OBP in a fraction of the at-bats. If there was a J.D. Drew era, it's officially come to an end.

There are other options: Carlos Beltran is known to be available, Hunter Pence is a possibility (for a high price) and players like Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham are always on the radar. But unless the Sox actually sell a small farm for Pence, I say give Reddick the full-time job until he no longer deserves it. There are concerns that the lineup is far too left-handed, but I don't particularly care what hand a batter hits with, so long as he hits. And, although in a very small amount of 2011 at-bats, Reddick has yet to show any particular weakness against lefties.

With the deadline ten days away, the front office will have a little time to decide if the emergence of internal options and the return of injured players will be all the reinforcements they'll need. If I was the general manager, I would save all my chips for when they were really needed and refuse to overpay for anyone, even a Pence or Jimenez. If those teams intend to drain the Sox, they can try to rob someone else. Focus on the little pieces just to fill in the gaps, that's what I say, because a healthier Boston Red Sox team shouldn't have too much to worry about in the second half.

Life after the lockout.

A few days from now, professional football will (probably) rise from the semi-dead. When this finally happens, we'll let out a little cheer...and then get right back to our quiet, uncomplicated lives. Nothing will change for us fans; nothing's changed this entire time. It's possible that, in a few years, we'll have forgotten everything that transpired here.

Meanwhile, a similar lockout is currently crippling the NBA's dream of a successful follow-up to the epic 2010-2011 season. And although the long-term effects of the 2004-2005 NHL lockout have been extremely positive, it took hockey quite a while to recover (at least Versus got a cool new name out of it all).

But that won't happen to the NFL. The draft went on without a hitch. No one's missing any games. Ray Lewis didn't kill anybody (else). The only downside was a late start to free agency and maybe some sloppy play for the first few weeks.

In fact, it's kind of a disgrace how many bytes and brain cells were wasted on analyzing this whole process. I think most intelligent fans realized a few weeks -- if not months -- ago that a deal was going to be worked out eventually. There's just too much money available for everyone involved in football, and no real reason to leave it all sitting on the table.

But it's the summer, when puff pieces are already de rigueur on the sports page. So we kept hearing about each side's stance on the issues, kept being buried in Peter King's love letters to Roger Goddell, kept dreaming up Kevin Kolb-to-Arizona trades while the rich handsome athletes and the rich old billionaires made faces at each other from across a long, expensive-looking table, one that was probably made of fine oak.

Sometimes it's fun to read about the economics of sports, especially when it relates to a league with a salary cap that your team has to navigate. But it's fleeting fun; there's a reason that auction drafts for fantasy sports are only a few hours long, that those stupid leagues where you have to build a team with 1,000 bucks and players valued in dollars aren't that popular. There comes a time where you just want to watch the games, and I think every reasonable fan reached that point a while ago.

But it is kinda odd that football will suffer no repercussions for this "work stoppage." It reminds me of a piece Chuck Klosterman wrote in one of his books -- I want to say Chuck Klosterman IV -- about rebelling against the American government. If, say, we could prove that 9/11 was a plot engineered by our leaders, how would the country's outraged citizens respond?

Basically, he decided that we wouldn't. At all. Where would we go? Who would we punch, or shoot? America's infrastructure is just too big and too entrenched; he made a great observation about how he's surprised they don't fuck with us more. In a certain way, we are pretty much helpless.

And that's kinda where the NFL has us all. It's by far the most popular sports league in the world's most influential country. The networks desperately need it for ratings. Certain cities define themselves by their teams, and the economic advantages of a game-day football crowd must be ample. People will never, ever turn away from the game. Hell, the league practically stabbed Cleveland in the back, but a nice new franchise was enough to re-buy most (not all) of that city's love.

Thankfully, the NFL isn't really using this power for evil (unless you count using taxpayer dollars to build massively expensive stadiums as "evil," which it probably is); they've been busy fucking amongst themselves. But now that a "potentially apocalyptic" lockout has pretty much been resolved, it's official: nothing can stop the NFL, not even itself.

(Note: Drew Magary posted a post-lockout recap today over at Deadspin, reminding us that the game will be just a little different when it returns in September. It's a great read.)

July 18, 2011

Back to the WWE.

As a kid, I watched professional wrestling nonstop. But once I turned 15, like any good teenager with a modicum of self-respect, it was time to move on. It helped that the nWo, ECW and all the trendy storylines of the 90s had already petered out. By the time that the WCW Invasion was declared an unmitigated disaster, I was already out the door.

But something's brought me back. Maybe it's the Masked Man's excellent wrestling columns on Deadspin and Grantland. Maybe it's moving in with two giant fans who still love the "sport" as much as I did as a young boy.

Or maybe it's CM Punk. The Internet is aflutter about Punk's rise to the top; his victory at last night's Money in the Bank pay-per-view was one of the most anticipated non-WrestleMania matches in recent memory. The easiest way to describe what Punk's accomplishing is "Stone Cold Steve Austin for a new generation." But that's too simple, too lazy.

Punk's anti-authority, anti-establishment and anti-McMahon; those are all Austin-esque traits. But he also cuts scathing, realistic promos that purposely poke holes in wrestling's puffed-up facade. Austin might have been cool and edgy, but he was still another variation on a traditional character: the rebel. He just did it better than everybody else.

Punk's current gimmick, however, is tailor-made for the online age. Now that the WWE has transitioned back into a more kid-friendly product, fans that've been following wrestling for dozens of years are fed up. Too much John Cena, not enough of the D-Generation X/The Rock-driven ideas that put WCW out of business. They'll argue that Vince McMahon is taking the easy way out, making the quick buck, not coming up with new, groundbreaking ideas that could take pro wrestling to the next level.

CM Punk is the answer to all those complaints. He asks the questions that people want to scream in Vince McMahon's face, and he's a mouthpiece for the wrestling-related criticisms that've been posted on message boards since the Internet was created.

And, most importantly, he's making wrestling legitimately unpredictable again. The easy way out last night would have been to put Punk down, once again reassuring all the 10-year-old kids that buy boatloads of Cena-oriented merchandise. But, to his credit, Vince didn't take the bait. He seems to be powering ahead with the Punk storyline, "firing" Cena and holding a tournament for the "real" WWE Championship. Hopefully, he'll bring Punk back to RAW as soon as possible and continuing building him up into a real folk hero.

There's no guarantee that this angle will continue to please; plenty of other good ideas have fallen apart over time. But for now, I'm watching wrestling again. And as long as Vince McMahon and company continue to keep things interesting, I'll be tuning in.

July 14, 2011

One more Friday night with Coach Taylor.

Tomorrow night, the final episode of Friday Night Lights will finally air on NBC.

It's going out with a bang. Critics are raving about the finale, and the Emmys have unexpectedly recognized Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and the show itself with a bunch of well-earned nominations. Suddenly, after years of moderate neglect, a very vocal minority finally has the chance to say, "This is a great show, and we will miss it."

My thoughts on certain aspects of FNL are well-known, but disliking one or two plot elements doesn't mean disregarding the entire show. Far from it, actually; I believe that FNL ranks up there with The Wire, The Shield, The Sopranos and Deadwood as one of the best television dramas ever.

Not only did it somehow survive for five seasons, but (almost) every episode was produced with a level of emotionally jarring quality that became the show's trademark. It turned Buddy Garrity into one of the best sidekicks in TV history. It introduced a new group of main characters in Season 4 and convinced viewers to love them as much as the originals. And it brought us Taylor Kitsch, who's about to become a superstar if any of his crappy new movies hit. God knows his first real foray into cinema didn't.

But you know who deserves all this praise the most? Coach Eric Taylor, known in real life as Kyle Chandler. An oral history of FNL that came out today recalls how executive producer Peter Berg didn't think Chandler was remotely right for the part:
Berg: I said, "Kyle Chandler?" I only knew him from [late-'90s CBS drama] Early Edition. I was not a fan of that show, and I was not a fan of Kyle Chandler.
Of course, Chandler won Berg over, just like he won every fan of the show over with his gruff-yet-loving demeanor. Chandler created a Coach Eric Taylor that believed in football, in its abilities to shape young men into fine citizens with a sense of right and wrong. Sometimes he valued the team over his own family, but his heart was always in the right place, and he was quick to recognize his failings and work to make everything right again. No matter the situation, he found a way to expertly mix football with love for his daughters and wife.

And that's the real joy of Friday Night Lights, the aspect that superstar TV critic Alan Sepinwall references over and over: the relationship between Eric and Tami Taylor. No television coupling has ever been so realistically shaped by love, even in the face of adversity. Eric and Tami fight as much as the next couple, maybe more so; they're both passionate, committed individuals. But their every interaction contains at least a hint of the adoration that the two share; a reminder that the Taylors are forever a team.

Hopefully fans of FNL take that away from this wonderful show: what a truly loving couple can be. And just like Chandler and Britton perfectly capture the mannerisms of two people in love, Friday Night Lights portrays how something as silly as high school sports can bring a community together and, if you allow it, define lives for years to come. It's a very specific, very real slice of fictionalized reality, and it brings something to the table that'll never be matched. Thank you, Peter Berg and Jason Katims, for bringing us five seasons jam-packed with emotion and entertainment.

July 12, 2011

Steve Cimino's ultimate running playlist.

Once upon a time, I used to run seven miles a day.

Not anymore, of course. I got tendonitis in my right ankle while training for a half marathon. It wasn't a freak accident; I was too lazy/cheap to buy new running shoes, and my legs gave out as my mileage increased. That put me out of commission for a few months, and I've never gotten back to that level again.

I still jog whenever I can, though, and I never go out without my trusty iPod. Running without music is like a cheesesteak without Cheez Whiz and onions; why even bother? So if you're looking to mix up a quick batch of tunes that'll get you through 27-or-so minutes, go no further. Here is a classic "Steve Cimino running playlist" that all ages, races and sexes can enjoy (although it will really only speak to white people between the ages of 21 and 29).

Annie Lennox - "Walking on Broken Glass" (0:00 to 4:13)

You'll want to start off your run with a little fire, which is precisely what Annie Lennox brings to the table. I know Kelly Hinde would agree with me. And the music video features John Malkovich! I know that doesn't help much when you're jogging, but it always makes me happy.

Passion Pit - "Little Secrets" (4:14 to 8:13)

The first time I heard Passion Pit was while wandering around the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square. I went up to the cashier and asked who this band, which was something I've never done before. I love this song in particular because parts of it sound like something from the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack.

JoJo - "Too Little, Too Late" (8:14 to 11:49)

The first 90s pop tune on this playlist, and it's not the last. Save all your energy for the part at 2:40 where JoJo screams and kicks the final chorus into overdrive; you'll magically turn into The Flash.

REO Speedwagon - "Time for Me to Fly" (11:50 to 15:29)

The song I was listening to while officially driving out of Boston for the last time. REO Speedwagon's biggest hits are "Take It on the Run" and "Keep On Loving You," but "Time for Me to Fly" and "Roll with the Changes" are by far the band's best workout tracks. Keep that in mind.

The Band - "Ring Your Bell" (15:30 to 19:25)

One of The Band's funnest songs, along with "Ain't Got No Home"; no offense to Richard Manuel or Rick Danko, but I'm of the opinion that Levon Helm was The Band's best and most memorable singer.

Backstreet Boys - "Larger than Life" (19:26 to 23:19)

The best Backstreet Boys song...and that's saying something. This is also terrific for karaoke, so exercise your vocal cords and memorize lyrics while you run. Multitasking!

Bruce Springsteen - "Ain't Good Enough For You" (23:20 to 27:23)

Finally, a little Bruce to wrap things up. This is a new old song, off his outtakes album The Promise, but it's one of Bruce's bounciest tracks. Feel free to replace it with "So Young and In Love," " Be True" or even the 16-minute "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" from the Reunion Tour, if you can handle six or seven miles. And if you can't, well, don't blame this wonderful little playlist.

July 10, 2011

Nothing to fear?

It's the All-Star break, and the Philadelphia Phillies have the best record in baseball (57-34). Can any other team in the National League compete with Charlie Manuel's boys? Let's take a look.

Milwaukee Brewers: Quietly, this might be the most interesting team in the NL. While Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are no Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Brewers are one of only a few teams with the potential to match the Phillies' aces. But while Prince Fielder (.300/.417/.580), Ryan Braun (.320/.402/.559) and Rickie Weeks (.278/.348/.485) are all in their hitting primes, the rest of Milwaukee's lineup is pretty sad. Yuniesky Betancourt? Carlos Gomez? A back-to-earth Casey McGehee? If Chase Utley stays healthy and Ryan Howard heats up this summer, that's closer to a wash than you might think.

St. Louis Cardinals: Lance Berkman (.291/.405/.604) has kept this team afloat while Albert Pujols recovers/struggles, Chris Carpenter's back on track (3.27 FIP) and Colby Rasmus and Matt Holliday provide outfield offense that few other teams can match. But Kyle Lohse (3.32 ERA, 3.68 FIP) has pitched a bit over his head -- plus, he's Kyle Lohse -- and Jaime Garcia has yet to taste the playoffs. It's a good team, but they're going to have trouble winning the division, let alone taking down the Phillies.

Cincinnati Reds: The fourth-best offense in baseball is going to continue to mash all summer -- especially now that Jay Bruce (three homers in four games) is re-heating up -- but with Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto "anchoring" a subpar-at-best rotation, the Reds will have no choice but to out-slug everyone. Which, as the pre-2008 Phillies showed, is not the easiest way to win championships. There probably won't be many aces available in-season; the Reds might have to wait another year to make a serious run.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Yep, the Pittsburgh Pirates are only one game back in the NL Central. Led by Paul Maholm (3.08 ERA), Jeff Karstens (2.55 ERA) and thoroughly mediocre All-Star Kevin Correia (11 wins, 4.01 ERA), the Pirates have unexpectedly been surviving with their arms. Joel Hanrahan's the best reliever in baseball (26 saves, 1.34 ERA) and Andrew McCutchen is becoming a superstar before our very eyes (.289/.391/.495). I don't expect them to beat out the Reds or Brewers, but it sure is fun to have Pittsburgh looking passable again. If Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez live up to their potential, the Pirates might evolve into a force to be reckoned with.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Another surprising team that still hasn't faded away. Justin Upton (.297/.379/.512) has reasserted himself as perhaps the game's premier young slugger, while Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson (nine wins each) have really profited from trades that brought them over to the National League. Plus, Paul Goldschmidt might be the next Mike Stanton. But when it comes down to it, Arizona won't go any further than the Division Series. Nice little story, but they're a few pieces from serious contention.

San Francisco Giants: Once again, this is a team that the Phillies want -- and need -- to avoid at all costs. Jonathan Sanchez has regressed in a big way (a horrifying 5.9 BB/9) and Phillies killer Cody Ross is back to being an slightly-above-average part-time player (6 homers, 25 RBIs in 222 at-bats). Pablo Sandoval, however, is in the middle of a 20-game hitting streak, and Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain remain legit aces (2.72 FIP and 2.90 FIP, respectively). The Giants can't hit (328 runs, 27th in baseball), but on the right night, the Phillies offense can slum with anyone. Philadelphians should really start rooting for Arizona.

Atlanta Braves: The strongest competitor by far. Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy are the only starting foursome that can compete with the Phillies. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are an incredibly fearsome late-game duo. And they've done it all without Dan Uggla (.620 OPS, 185 points lower than his previous low point) and Jason Heyward (.719 OPS, down 130 points from last year). If those two enjoy improved second halves and Chipper Jones attains even moderate health, Atlanta will be tough to beat. Hell, they're only 3.5 games back right now.

Are the Phillies a lock to win the National League? If they get/stay healthy and score a few more runs, the sky's the limit. But nothing's ever certain in Major League Baseball -- especially with 71 games to play -- and Atlanta's going to be nipping at their heels all year. All we know right now is that the Phillies are very, very good; unfortunately, they don't give out trophies for that.

July 6, 2011

Welcome, Jaromir Jagr.

Adam Oates. Tony Amonte. Paul Coffey. Petr Nedved. John Vanbiesbrouck.

What do they have in common? All were very skilled NHL players; Coffey's already a Hall of Famer, and 1079 career assists lead me to believe that Oates will probably join him in the near future.

They were all also, at one point, Philadelphia Flyers. You might not know that, though, because their hockey careers in Philly were tainted by awfulness. For whatever reason, the Flyers have spent a portion of the last 15 years acquiring aged stars and watching their careers end in shame.

But Jaromir Jagr? I think he's different.

Sure, he hasn't played NHL hockey in three seasons. And some people will always hate Jagr no matter what; certain morons are already insisting that what he did to Pittsburgh this offseason was Montreal Screwjob-esque.

And his contract? That might have sparked the biggest debate, as no one really thought Jagr was worth $3.3 million. But look at what other wingers signed for: Ville Leino got six years and $27 million, while Erik Cole snagged four years and $18 million. Would you rather invest heavily in those guys or take the chance on a fun year of Jagr?

Jagr's purely an offensive player at this point, but he'll help on a power play that suffered mightily at the end of last season. He's expressed interest in playing with the right-handed Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, and reports from the recent World Championships indicate that Jaromir was one of the best players on the ice.

Has the 39-year-old learned how to maximize his remaining strengths? Can he buy into Laviolette's system more than, say, Nikolay Zherdev did? Will he contribute positively to a locker room that grew stagnant as the team started to fall apart in February?

We won't know until the season begins, but I think it's a risk worth taking. And the lines are already shaping out a bit better than they did last year:

James van Riemsdyk, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Scott Hartnell, Briere and Jaromir Jagr. Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Andreas Nodl.

Not as sexy as ones featuring featuring Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but (relatively) younger and (possibly) better. Different, that's for sure, and after the total meltdown we all witnessed earlier this year, I think some changes are a good thing.