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Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Wild reaction: Blues coach Hitchcock pushes all the right buttons in Game 4

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 23rd at 7:38am 301019901

ottThe last I personally saw of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, he was abruptly ending an unhappy postgame news conference following a 3-0 Game 3 loss to the Wild. He wasn’t rude. It was just clear he didn’t have much more to say after his team was thoroughly outplayed. There were far more questions than answers, and with his team trailing 2-1 in the series it was his job to bridge the gap.

Now: too much can be made of the influence of coaches in sports — particularly in the pro game, when motivation, preparation and strategy can only go so far because the talent of individuals often carries the day.

Maybe Hitchcock had nothing to do with Wednesday’s butt-kicking at the X. But I’m going to guess he did and give him credit for playing some wily veteran coach cards prior to Game 4.

The two main things: Showering the Wild with praise and juggling lines.

Before Game 4, Hitchcock said the Blues needed “Messier, Gretzky, I’ll take an Anderson, Kurri’s fine,” to beat the Wild, harkening back to the Oilers’ juggernaut of the 1980s.

“We’re playing a team that’s played the best hockey in the league since the goalie change and everybody is trying to catch up to them,” Hitchcock said. “I knew they were playing like this when we came in here and got beat right at the end of the regular season. It was our first experience at watching them play. They’re on top of their game and it’s our job to catch up.”

Classic coach stuff. Wild players didn’t read those quotes and think, “Man, we’ve got this one. They’ve quit. Might as well not even try hard.” But don’t underestimate the psychological battles that go on in sports. Anything that might cause an opponent to lose an edge or slip just a little can be critical, and making them think they’re better than they really are is a tactic.

The second thing, juggling lines, is a minor tactical ploy and often the mark of a desperate coach. It can be overrated. But Hitch tweaked the lines, going back to some groupings that had good chemistry earlier in the season, and the proof of effectiveness was in the results. Every Blues line contributed, while Hitchcock also minimized the role of Steve Ott — chief Wild villain, who had been doing the Blues more harm than good. Ott had just 7:02 of ice time in the first two periods, the second-lowest total of any St. Louis player.

Now it’s up to Mike Yeo to decide how to counterpunch. He’s a “slow and steady wins the race” guy in general, believing in his system and trying to be even keel. I imagine he’ll treat Game 4 as a terrible mulligan and hope the Wild’s road pedigree (which starts with Devan Dubnyk) shines through in Game 5. I’m betting he’ll resist any major changes or tactics (other than to remind his team that the hard way seems to be the Wild way and this is no time to panic).

Maybe that will be the right button for him to push. In Game 4, it sure seemed like Hitchcock was the one who could do no wrong.

TFD: Is an NHL franchise in Vegas really a terrible idea?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 22nd at 6:32pm 300989071

vegasIf Minnesota is the State of Hockey, Nevada is … well, it is not the State of Hockey. It is the state of legalized gambling, however, and it is a state in which the NHL is considering adding a team.

Is that a good idea?

Five Thirty Eight doesn’t seem to think so. Maybe Nate Silver is right, but his logic doesn’t quite seem right, either:

According to my previous research, the six current NHL markets with the fewest number of hockey fans are Nashville, Miami, Raleigh, Columbus, Phoenix and Tampa. Those franchises lost a collective $51 million in 2013-14, according to Forbes. Now there’s momentum to place an NHL expansion team in Las Vegas, another idea that makes little sense. Our 2013 analysis estimated that there are just 91,000 NHL fans in metro Las Vegas. That’s tiny even by comparison to the six smallest NHL markets that I mentioned before, which have between 146,000 (Nashville) and 279,000 (Tampa) hockey fans. And it’s well below Seattle’s 241,000 or Quebec City’s 530,000 fans.

Silver also argues against an NHL team in Vegas because the city hasn’t supported minor league teams well in the past, while concluding that an NBA team makes far more sense.

On that last part, I agree. But the minor league reasoning seems far-fetched. And to a larger degree, so does the argument about a small base of NHL fans. Any team based in Vegas in any major league is going to be more about capturing the tourism crowd than the locals.

Yes, the NBA is a better fit than the NHL — and probably the ideal draw in Vegas. But even without a full house night after night in an NHL arena in Vegas, the league exposure in Sin City would be worth it. I’d put a team there before I’d put one in, say, Kansas City.

(Photo of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock in Vegas for 2012 league awards was a wonderful bit of serendipity).

Wild by the numbers: Game 3 in-depth, Game 4 historical probabilities

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 22nd at 3:32pm 300964331

Advanced stats in the NHL are still fairly new and sometimes terrifying. I still don’t know quite what to make of all of them, but I did use them a few months ago to build a compelling case after Devan Dubnyk was traded as to why he could very well be a massive upgrade in goal.

That turned out to be one of the few things I’ve ever been truly right about, so I am taking a moment to reflect on that. I’m also offering this disclaimer: I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing here. I’m just a guy who likes numbers and wants to see meaning in them.

As such, some of the numbers from War on Ice from Game 3 jumped out at me more from the standpoint that what I saw in the stats and what I saw in the game were two very different things.

What I saw was a Wild team that either dominated or at least carried the play from about midway through the first period all the way through the rest of the game — and even in those first 10 minutes, Minnesota wasn’t in real trouble. Just tentative. St. Louis barely had a sniff on Devan Dubnyk, while the Wild buzzed the Blues for long stretches.

What the numbers say is that the game was — at least during 5-on-5 situations, which was almost all of the game — far more even. “Corsi,” which measures not just shots on goal but shots blocked and those that missed the net, shows both teams were almost the same: Minnesota had 45, St. Louis had 43. And St. Louis was actually credited with more scoring chances (20 to 19) than the Wild.

Was I watching the game with an inherent bias, getting caught up in the emotion of the crowd and a couple of nice goals, thus distracting me from a much closer game than I imagined?

Or is this a case where the numbers lied and the quality/tone/flow of the play was a much better measure than the raw data?

I tend to think it was the latter, since the general consensus was that the Wild badly outplayed the Blues. But it bears watching on Wednesday.

Speaking of Game 4, here are some fun historical numbers per Who Wins that should make Wild fans feel pretty good about things going forward:

In all NHL best of 7 series in history (443 of them), a team with a 2-1 series lead has gone on to win the series 69.3 percent of the time. That winning percentage dips to 61 percent when the team up 2-1 is the one that started out without the home-ice advantage — which makes sense because the team with home-ice is presumably the stronger team — as is the case with the Wild. But those are still pretty good odds.

Interestingly, the team up 2-1 only wins Game 4 specifically 47 percent of the time, with the road/home splits almost exactly the same. That speaks to the desperation of teams down 2-1, which is what the Wild should expect tonight.

If Minnesota wins tonight, the numbers get even better (of course): Teams up 3-1 all-time in NHL series go on to win the series 90.2 percent of the team (248-27 series record).

How many games would Vikings win with Batman and/or Superman on roster?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 22nd at 10:36am 300927241

batmansupermanI see a lot of “hot takes” in a given day, but they don’t get much hotter than the e-mail I received last night, the title of which was “A Peterson & His Dum Agent.” (Yes, it was spelled like that).

Why Don’t All Of You Just “STOP” Writing About A P & His Agent, Who Cares. This Team Could Have Batman & Superman On It They Will Only Win 6 Games This Year, Our Great Q/B Can’t See Over The Line, He Is To Short.

There was so much in such a small space that it would have been easy to overlook one of the most glaring points of controversy: A team with Batman and Superman would only win six games? I don’t think so. Thankfully, a lot of other folks jumped in on Twitter after I posted the letter. What follows here is a smattering of their thoughts combined with my scouting report of Batman, Superman and how they would impact the 2015 Vikings.

SUPERPOWERS

In this area, it seems as though Superman has a clear edge over Batman. In fact, I’m not even sure a lot of Batman’s powers are relevant on a football field because he’s so dependent on gadgets and a fancy car. Superman, though? Faster than a speeding bullet; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound; those are transferable skills. Also, there’s this intangible:

That said, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges jumped into the Twitter discussion on Wednesday morning with a good point in favor of Batman, calling Superman, essentially, a one-trick pony while Batman has the ability to evolve in an ever-changing NFL. 

FILM REVIEW Any good scout, though, will go back to the film instead of just relying on preconceived notions and raw data. Here we see the official trailer for Batman vs. Superman. At around the 30 second mark, you see Superman’s strength really coming through when he holds up what appears to be an entire rocket ship. The combine doesn’t test for that kind of thing, but I have to think in basic bench press drills, he’d kill it.

The first glimpse of Batman is around 1:10, and he’s stoic; dark; brooding. He’s not even really doing anything. Sure, in previous film sessions he’s saving people and showing off tremendous strength. But I want to see it every time I turn on the film.

MOTOR

Superman is a reluctant hero, but he never seems to shy away from the call of duty. That’s a guy I want on my team on 3rd-and-6 with the game on the line.

Batman? Yeah, maybe if the play is called for him he will go all out, but he seems to have some Randy Moss “I play when I want to play” in him. The guy has also retired and unretired more than Brett Favre. Am I questioning Batman’s motor? Yeah, I think I am. Not saying I don’t want him on my team or that he couldn’t help the 2015 Vikings. Just wondering how much he wants it.

BEST POSITION

Superman seems like a natural wide receiver with his speed/athletic ability. Maybe even a modern tight end considering he’s so strong. Imagine trying to cover him in the Red Zone. Talk about a matchup nightmare.

Batman, while a tremendous athlete himself, seems like a man without a position. Maybe try him at running back? Middle linebacker where he can scan the field and fly to the ball? I just don’t know, but I guess it’s a good problem to have?

NFL CRACKDOWN

We haven’t even opened the Pandora’s Box of what the NFL would do about both these guys. This is the No Fun League that was mad T.O. had a Sharpie. There would be anti-superhero rules in place within five minutes, not to mention this:

FINAL ANALYSIS

As great as both of them would potentially be on the field for the Vikings, I don’t see either as a QB. And this is still a quarterback league. Regardless of how good we think Teddy Bridgewater will become, the Vikings will only go as far as he can take them, even with Superman and/or Batman are on the roster. And we haven’t even gotten into player acquisition. Are they free agents? I’m not even sure they’re draft-eligible, and even if they are, there’s this:

Maybe it’s for the best? I see the Vikings as a 13-3 playoff team with Superman, maybe 11-5 with Batman and probably 14-2 with both. But in the playoffs … can one of them kick a field goal when the Vikings need it most? Will they avoid jumping into the huddle and causing a critical penalty? Will they try to do too much? Those kinds of questions are best left unanswered.

TFD: ESPN mock draft predicts Wolves will take Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 22nd at 7:29am 300848631

rubioI know. I know.

I know.

Mock drafts are ridiculous, speculative, low-hanging Internet fruit.

But we are hungry. Oh how we are hungry. So we picked up the bruised apple off the ground and took a bite — in this case, Chad Ford’s latest ESPN.com NBA mock draft.

It’s particularly absurd at this point because the draft ORDER hasn’t even been determined. We won’t know that for another month. And still, it’s fun to sit and think … what-if?

So we’ll note here that Ford has the Wolves taking Karl-Anthony Towns, the Kentucky center, with the No. 1 overall pick. There’s no guarantee the Wolves will do this. There is nothing about this that is factual. But Ford did say nice things about the Wolves:

While the Wolves had the worst record in the NBA, they actually have one of the brightest futures in the league. Andrew Wiggins will likely win the Rookie of the Year Award and has the talent to be a transcendent player. Zach LaVine finished the season strong and won the dunk contest. Ricky RubioShabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng all had their moments, and several other players such as Anthony Bennett and Adreian Payne have strong futures as well. Adding Towns to the team just makes them scarier — an athletic big man who can score inside and outside and protect the rim. In two years, this team is going to be very hard to contend with.

I wouldn’t go quite that far with some of those players (Payne is intriguing at best, while Bennett has shown next to nothing). But this much is true: adding more top-end talent to this collection could — could — make the Wolves dangerous in the future.

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Cleveland - LP: C. Carrasco 6 FINAL
Detroit - WP: K. Lobstein 8
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: A. DeSclafani 2
Washington - LP: G. Gonzalez 2 FINAL
Miami - WP: D. Haren 6
Toronto - LP: M. Buehrle 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 5
Atlanta - LP: T. Cahill 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 5
Boston - LP: W. Miley 7 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: B. Norris 18
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 3 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Blazek 6
Kansas City - LP: K. Herrera 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: D. Robertson 3
Kansas City - LP: E. Volquez 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 5
Texas - WP: N. Feliz 5 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: J. Alvarez 4
Houston - WP: T. Sipp 7 FINAL
Oakland - LP: T. Clippard 6
Los Angeles - LP: S. Baker 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: B. Morrow 3
Pittsburgh - WP: F. Liriano 8 FINAL
Arizona - LP: J. Hellickson 0
San Francisco 0 Postponed
Colorado 0
Minnesota - WP: C. Fien 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: T. Olson 2
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: C. Shreve 6
Cleveland 101 FINAL
Boston 93
LA Clippers 114 FINAL
San Antonio 105
Toronto 94 FINAL
Washington 125
Houston 57 3rd Qtr 4:24
Dallas 81
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Montreal 2 FINAL
Ottawa 0
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Toronto FC 2 FINAL
Orlando City 0
Portland 0 2nd Half 25:00
Seattle 0

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