There are a lot of reasons for all the hullabaloo about Wayne Gretzky's birthday -- a subject we promise to never mention again until he turns 75, okay? -- but his impact on the emerging fantasy sports scene back in the day was one I'd never thought of before, so hockey pool geeks, enjoy. There's that; the latest update on Chris Bosh, not-so-closet narcissist; a pop-quiz on the best franchise in North American sports; breaking news about the whiteness of curling and proof that spousal snoring does not impact elite performance. We apologize in advance for our earnestness this morning.
1. Wayne Gretzky ruined (fantasy) hockey:
I've never got into fantasy sports but can see why so many people do: you connect with your buddies over a common interest in a light-hearted, competitive pursuit; and you don't have to sweat. Obviously there was/is a ton of Gretzky coverage going on right now with his 50th birthday just passed; but this examination of his career and it's impact on fanstasy sports really caught my eye, from TSN's Scott Cullen: Since fantasy sports was in its infancy in the early 1980s, Gretzky's outrageous scoring totals practically broke the game, forcing leagues to either ban Gretzky altogether or split his totals into goals and assists (ie. you could draft "Gretzky's Assists" and "Gretzky's Goals" separately).It just didn't seem fair to have the first pick make that much difference in a draft. In 1985-86, when Gretzky had 215 points, he finished 74 points ahead of Mario Lemieux! In 1981-82, a 212-point season, he was 65 points ahead of Mike Bossy. That was just too much to overcome, forcing rules to be changed.So, if you got stuck with Gretzky's assists, consider the following:
- Gretzky had 11 straight seasons with at least 100 assists, starting in 1980-81 and running through 1990-91, then added seasons with 90-plus assists in 1991-92 and 1993-94.
- He scored more than 70 goals four times and more than 200 points four times.
- Four times, between 1982-83 and 1986-87, Gretzky's assist total would have been enough to lead the league in scoring. During those 11 consecutive seasons in which he tallied at least 100 assists, Gretzky's assists would have finished in the Top 10 in league scoring every season, eight times in the Top Five.
Playing with Gretzky also benefitted his linemates. Blair MacDonald was a solid pro, a three-time 30-goal scorer in the WHA, but on Gretzky's wing in 1979-80, MacDonald tallied 46 goals and 94 points ..the premise has remained a consistent part of fantasy hockey since: Find the lesser player who will benefit from playing alongside a great player.
So, yes, the NHL's all-time leading scorer had a massive impact on the game -- those Stanley Cups, scoring records and so on -- but the combination of his sensational statistics (don't forget six straight seasons with at least a plus-60 rating) and the peak years of his career occurring in the early days of fantasy, makes him one of the most compelling players historically when it comes to fantasy sports.
2. P.K. Subban's vacation plans in shambles:
Remember coming home at Thanksgiving or Christmas during university? All you wanted to do is kick back, relax, maybe hit some bars with your buddies you haven't seen for a while. Montreal Canadiens' defenceman P.K. Subban is no different. After the Habs hit the all-star break Subban stuffed his bag with some jeans and t-shirts, caught an early flight home and was prepared to hang out in T-Zero. But then his phone rang: "I was up around six this morning because I had an 8:00 a.m. flight back home to Toronto. I landed in Toronto and my sister picked me up at the airport and not even two minutes after I walked in the door, my phone rang," recounted Subban, who will be taking part in the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition on Saturday night. "I hadn't even had a chance to take my coat off yet and I didn't recognize the number so I let it go to voicemail and when I checked it after, it was Brendan Shanahan. "I called him back right away and he just told me he wanted me to be there for the skills competition with some of the rookies. I was really excited," said the 21-year-old defenceman, who now has to buy a suit for his trip to Carolina. "It was awesome - I actually had a conversation with him for a few minutes which was pretty cool. He even started talking a bit about his days in New Jersey and he laughed about how quickly I made it back home and stuff like that...I had only packed for a few days at home so I don't have any dress clothes with me. All I have are my jeans and some casual clothes for hanging around Toronto and I don't think I'm going to walk into the All-Star Game with a pair of jeans and an Affliction T-shirt on."
3. Quick: Which is the most successful franchise in North American sports over the past decade-plus?
If you guessed Detroit Red Wings, you'd be wrong; same with New England Patriots or Los Angeles Lakers. Not even the Yankees. How about them San Antonio Spurs? They're an NBA-best 39-7 after a win in Utah last night and after 13 years of sustained excellence, may be at their best yet; in other words, they're the anti-Raptors, who, if you must know, lost their ninth straight last night to fall to 13-33. The Spurs can't relate; and if you find extreme teamwork pleasing; they're the team for you: Over the last 13-plus seasons, no major U.S. professional sports franchise has enjoyed more sustained success than the Spurs. They've won 70.1 per cent of their games during that time, a mark that ranks ahead of the NFL's New England Patriots (68.3 per cent) and the Spurs' own rival, the Los Angeles Lakers (65.9). They've also won four NBA championships and seven division titles and may have produced their biggest surprise yet this season: At a time when many thought the Spurs would slip from the ranks of the league's elite, they've surged to their greatest start ever with a league-best [39-7] record....these Spurs may be as team-oriented as any roster Popovich has ever had. All of the Spurs' three stars - Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker - are also averaging fewer than 33 minutes. With nearly everyone on the roster contributing in some form this season, the Spurs have continued to win in their usual understated style. "Even if we're up by 30 we're not going to keep screaming and yelling," veteran forward Antonio McDyess said. "That's why a lot of people call this team boring. Regardless, we get the job done." That's all Popovich has ever asked. Beginning with David Robinson, the Spurs have had a long line of players who have bought into their team-first mentality, including their three current stars. Players who come into the system learn to adapt - or leave."We try not to bring people in who we think they are a bit full of themselves and think they invented the dunk or something like that," Popovich said. "And after that if somebody is in, the players set an example and react appropriately. If one of our young guys was to try to show up the opponent or beat his chest, I might be the fifth guy to him. There will be other players saying, 'Hey, whoa, you look foolish doing that crap.'
4. Leafs: Poor value for the money:
In a salary cap league it's imperative you get production relative to the money being paid as there is no recourse fix it; if you're $5-million player is playing like a $2-million player, you're sunk. The Leafs, are sunk, writes David Shoalts: The list of those who exceeded expectations so far is short, indeed: The line of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur and defenceman Luke Schenn. That is about it among 24 players. A look at the team's highest-paid players shows a consistent failure to live up to their pay cheques. Kessel may be going to the all-star game as the lone Maple Leafs representative but he is third in team scoring with 39 points in 49 games. Dion Phaneuf is starting to make a contribution with his physical play but his one goal and 11 points in 33 games are not the numbers of a $6.5-million-a-year (all currency U.S.) defenceman. Ditto for forwards Tyler Bozak, Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg, who all carry $3-million-plus cap hits, although Bozak can claim his actual salary is $875,000. Then again, if you are playing with Kessel and only have 20 points in 49 games that is still no bargain.
5. Chris Bosh, ruining Maxim:
There are only a few reasons people pick up Maxim magazine; which is basically Playboy for teenagers, and a photo shoot with Chris Bosh can't possibly be one of them. The Miami Heat forward remains on the shelf with an ankle injury, but we do get to enjoy a behind-the-scenes video of his upcoming Maxim spread, Ball Don't Lie captures the unintended ridiculousness: The viral video enthusiast and Entourage guest star is a man of class and excellent taste, one who cares about fashion and the finer things in life. Are you wondering why he's pretending to eat apples and other types of fruit? Then you just don't know what it means to be a cool person in one of America's finest party towns.
This shoot appears to have occurred before the start of the season, and Bosh has some humble words about how the Heat have a long way to go before their champions and basketball players are just regular guys with families. On the other hand, he's also taking part in a ludicrous photoshoot at a lavish beachfront property while wearing a teal shirt. I don't know if that makes him arrogant, but it's certainly not an act of humility.
Then again, maybe Bosh just wants Maxim readers to know that he's a fun-loving guy. Why else would he stretch his arms out in displays of wonder and joy? Or peer out over his sunglasses while resting his arms on his knee? Or give other guys advice on women like he's in an infomercial for a dating website? Or stand in an extremely shallow pool while splashing water at the camera? Etc. ad infinitum.
Seriously, you have to watch this video. It will make you laugh forever.
6. First Up's first ever curling reference!
This may not fall under the category of breaking news; but curling is dominated by white people. What's interesting is that the curlers have noticed, and at least in some corners are hoping to do something about it; from Bob Weeks in today's Globe: While Canada's ethnic makeup has changed drastically over the past few decades, curling has remained a sport played almost exclusively by Caucasians. Research done in 2009 showed 91 per cent of curlers in Canada speak English as a first language, and 87 per cent identified their ethnicity as white. Less scientific, but just as revealing, after a recent game at a local Toronto club, a group of eight curlers with experience totalling more than 150 years could not recall ever seeing a black person on the ice. The larger issue is it's a sport that has simply failed to appeal to those who may not have anything more than a cursory knowledge of rocks and ice. And in a country where more than five million people list themselves as being a visible minority, according to the 2006 census - a number that's growing, especially in urban areas - it's imperative for governing bodies and even individual clubs to begin to reach out to these groups. It's one of the only ways in which the sport will grow.
7. Tennis player overcomes husband's snoring; makes history:
Li Na became the first Chinese player to make the final of a Grand Slam when she defeated world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open; but as almost all things down under the past two weeks, the best stuff occurred after the match in what has been an on-going comedy show. The video quality of this post-match interview isn't very good, but listening to her complain about her husband's sleeping habits is worth it.