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Gurus Look Forward Toward Exciting Baseball, Hockey, Football

By Grant Smith, Anuj Mohan, and Tosh Demsey

As major league baseball enters its second postseason since its infamous strike, we think that it is about time to look at the changes our "national pastime" has undergone in recent years. Thus we present a brief breakdown of baseball as it exists today.

Baseball: the good

The revised playoff format, introduced two seasons ago, which allows eight teams to advance to postseason play has created exciting pennant and wild-card races, allowing even Red Sox fans to have hope in the last week of the season.

Unlike many professional sports, baseball is one where parents can take their children to a game without having to take money out of their college fund. Despite a few bad apples, baseball offers some of the best role models, like Mo Vaughn and Cal Ripken, who are conscious of the youths who look up to them and do not cease to remember that baseball is a game for the fans.

Baseball: the bad

This season's offensive explosion has led to record-breaking home run statistics while ERAs under 3.00 have become nearly as rare as a triple play.

Some fans may view the upward spiraling scores as an improvement, but we think there is something wrong when the scores of baseball games can be easily confused with the scores of football games.

Also, although the strike is over, the players and owners have yet to come to a labor agreement, and the lack of a real baseball commissioner has left the future of baseball uncertain. The soon-to-be-implemented interleague play will break baseball's long standing tradition of keeping the American and National Leagues separate until the World Series.

Baseball: the ugly

The disgraceful quarrel between Roberto Alomar and umpire John Hirschbeck which began with Alomar spitting in the face of Hirschbeck and followed by Alomar remarking that Hirschbeck has changed since his son died (and resulting in Hirschbeck charging at Alomar while threatening to kill him), proves that grown men still have the capacity to behave like kindergartners (or worse).

Finally, what would an article about baseball be without playoff predictions? This year we expect a rerun of the politically incorrect World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians.

Once again, the Braves have the best pitching in the majors and the Indians have the best hitting in the majors. The old baseball adage that "good pitching beats good hitting" will ring true again this year as the Braves defeat the Indians in seven games.

Hockey season looks exciting

The new National Hockey League season is just around the corner, with games beginning this Friday, and coming off the excitement of the world cup, it's time to note the teams to watch in the new year.

The usual flurry of off season trades and signings and the addition of the Phoenix Coyotes has shaken up the league a fair bit and should result in some exciting play in the months to come.

One of the teams to watch in the upcoming season is the Colorado Avalanche. These Stanley Cup Champs were well deserving of their victory and have lost very little of their cup-winning core. One sore spot is the loss of backup goal tender Stephane Fiset, but with St. Patrick in net, much can be forgiven.

The New York Rangers are another team to watch. What will Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier be able to produce together? In any event, the Great One will be fantastic in the Big Apple. His rejuvenated look and tremendous insight into the game could help the Rangers go far.

The defense, anchored by the likes of Leetch, Beukeboom, and Samuelsson will also help the team tremendously. Richter's goaltending in the World Cup, as in '94, illustrated that a team will rise and fall with its goalie.

Both St. Louis and Toronto discovered that a team built on players who could have won a cup five years ago is a team with a very shaky foundation, and age could very easily catch up to this team. Watch for injuries and wear and tear to rip this team apart, or else for a very strong contender.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a team in transition. Eric Lindros, fresh off a Hart MVP Trophy performance and with the powerful Legion of Doom, was poised to lead his team to a breakthrough year last year. Hextall looked good in net, and Bobby Clarke's trades as GM suggested some sort of hypnotic power.

However, after a strong closing and stealing the top spot in the east on the very last day of the season, they ran into a very hot Florida team and couldn't overcome the rat.

Lindros' failure to take over leadership of Team Canada in a convincing manner places the onus on him to produce this year. Further keys to success, the play of John LeClair, and Clarke's ability to find a money goaltender.

Some teams sinking in ranks

The Florida Panthers are beginning to look more and more like the New Jersey Devils. Riding on the strength of a hot goaltender and a strong defensive system, a team with substandard scoring ability beats the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to fall apart the next year. We have a remarkable sense of deja vu going on here.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team in trouble. Year after year, they lose talent and get older, and year after year they continue to battle. Lemieux and Jagr are indeed formidable, and Nedved has finally found a system which can benefit from his skills.

However, trading Sergei Zubov to Dallas for Kevin Hatcher will not bolster the offense, and the cup years are indeed over.

The Detroit Red Wings need to do something quick to resolve their downward spiral. Four Russians did not work. Five Russians did not work. Keith Primeau wants out. Rumors surround Sergei Fedorov. This team can rack up as many wins in the regular season as it wants, but it will not mean a thing without the playoffs.

Team on the rise

The Ottawa Senators look to be an up and coming team. We are serious. Enough years at the bottom of the league and those number one draft picks have to produce. And judging from the end of last season and from the pre-season games, this will be a breakout year.

Alexandre Daigle's starting to develop (finally!), and Daniel Alfredsson's Calder (rookie of the year) trophy was no joke. Now with some leadership from Yashin and strong youthful goaltending from Damian Rhodes, this team will almost make the playoffs (yeah, rising slowly, but just wait a couple more years).

The home team: the Bruins

The Boston Bruins will be entertaining this year, at least you can say that about them. The addition of players like Trent MacLeary, Jeff Odgers, and Troy Mallette will bolster Tocchet's valuable addition of grit.

This will be a rough and tumble team that will hit, fight and bang heads around. The problem is that with the loss of Neely, Reid and MacEachern the team's scoring is remarkably thin.

As a result, they'll need strong goaltending to survive. Oh, and for Al Iafrate fans who are upset about his trade to San Jose, sometime last week, he stopped training with the Sharks due to pain in his knee.

New offsides rule to change game

The delayed offsides rule is now officially gone. For the past seven years, the defensemen have been able to dump the puck into an offensive zone despite stranding players offsides in the knowledge that the forwards can negate the offsides by clearing the zone.

This is no longer the case. Under the argument that this rule has reduced the talent of NHL defensemen by allowing them to be lax on stickhandling skill, an immediate whistle will be blown id any players are in the offensive zone when the puck is sent in. Watch for more turnovers and breakaways as defensemen are left high and dry.

Avalance should win again

A year ago, when we picked the Avalance to win the cup, we had the distinction of choosing the winner without seeming like we were jumping on a bandwagon. So this year, while we again feel the Avalance will top the Flyers in the finals, it is unfortunately nothing new to people who have heard the same prediction time and time again.

But in the end, the Red Wings are too soft, the Penguins too thin, the Blackhawks without enough punch, and the Panthers without promise. A season full of hockey awaits, however, and that is reward enough.