1. Have the Minnesota Wild shown enough over the past week to make you believe they will beat the St Louis Blues in the 1st round of the NHL Playoffs?
JJ Benz: The past week weighs much on how I feel about the Wild and whether they can beat the Blues. The Wild have known they were going to be in the playoffs for the last two months or so. The Blues had to play spectacular hockey just to make the postseason even if it was the easiest schedule in the NHL to finish. What this playoff series comes down to for me is how deep the Wild are compared to the Blues. The Blues have the 1 superstar in the series in RW Vladimir Tarasenko and other than him it’s a bunch of good but not great players. Jake Allen, the Blues G, isn’t the more talented of the two starting goalies. Allen has had a good record coming down the stretch against non playoff teams. Both coaches really really really want to advance, one being fired in the offseason and the other having a horrible postseason record. I will take the WIld in 6 because of the depth they have on lines 3 and 4.
Kras: I would agree with JJ Benz that the last week is not all I can grade the Wild on. They were a top 5 team in the NHL for most of the season but over the last month they have looked average to below average at times. The St. Louis Blues have had to play good hockey post All-Star Game to even get into this position. I believe they will carry that into the playoffs and ultimately beat the Wild in the 1st round. Come playoff time, goaltending has to be on point and Devan Dubnyk is not right now. He has shown the ability to be great at times but not enough for me to believe. I think Jake Allen will be the difference in the series and Mike Yeo will get the last laugh.
2. Are you surprised at how well the Twins have started the season and what do you think is the biggest reason for the good start?
Nate Leer: I am not surprised yet, not because it isn’t surprising for the team to be playing well but because it is still too early to know whether this is legitimately a good team or just a squad on a little hot streak. It is not surprising that the Twins are hitting the ball well – they have a number of talented young hitters. I am also not surprised that the D has been better – manager Paul Molitor seems to be a detail oriented teacher who should be able to get young position players to improve their fundamentals. The most surprising, most important and most precarious development has been the quality starting pitching. The starters have not been great but have been okay to good in all of the wins. Pitching is so unpredictable that it is possible that the Twins staff can be better than expected. More likely though they regress to their individual norms and that means giving up plenty of runs. Maybe the young lineup can still produce enough to keep the team competitive.
Kras: I am happy for the Twins and the start they are off to so far but I think we all need to just pump the brakes. It is nice to see them winning some games but it is way too early to get overly excited about the way things are going. The way the starting pitching in particular has performed has been the biggest surprise to me. Ervin Santana is off to a good start on the season with 2 wins in 2 outings while posting a 0.69 ERA. Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson have also had good starts but it has only been 1 start for each of them. Outside of the starting rotation, the bullpen has been able to pull their own weight as well. That said they have been spotted some nice leads late in games. If the pitching can hold up this team will be in contention most games. From a hitting perspective, it would be nice to see the team get more from “super prospect” Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer, especially if they are going to be hanging around in the middle of the lineup. Any dip in production from some of the other batters such as Miguel Sano, Jason Castro, and Eduardo Escobar and this team could find themselves on the losing end of some closer games. Overall a solid start for a team that I thought might make fans wait awhile before putting together a nice 4-game win streak.
3. If the Timberwolves look to add a starting caliber veteran player in the offseason, what would better suit their needs – a wing player or a big man?
Nate Leer: The T-pups need help on D and a 3 & D wing would be a nice addition. That said, an athletic, rim protecting PF/C could also make it tougher for opponents to put the ball in the basket. Looking at the available names heading into free agency, I think there are more intriguing options at the swing positions. It also seems easier to find an athletic big who can play 15-20 minutes a night in the draft than to get young player that knows how to defend on the perimeter in the NBA AND can shoot. Some fun options to think about for next year among free agents and restricted free agents (RFA) include Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr. (RFA) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (RFA). Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel (RFA) is the only big that fits the team’s needs and I hope Dallas is smart enough to pay him to stay. Finding a player who can cover athletic PFs, help protect the rim and give a little O should be doable drafting around #8 in the lottery. One sneaky move would be for the Wolves to try to pry Willie Cauley-Stein from Sactown. Shouldn’t be too hard since the Kings management seems incompetent and WCS would fill a perfect niche for the Wolves.
Kras: I like the idea of a big man that can play D and block some shots. I very much like Nate Leer’s idea to reunite Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein again, this time at the pro level. I am not sure how willing Sacramento would be to move him but it is Sacramento so you never do know for sure. Another big that they may want to look into this offseason is Serge Ibaka. He is a reputable shot blocker who has shown the ability to shoot, even step out and hit some 3’s. It will be interesting to see how the Wolves management and coaching staff approach this offseason, what they will do with the draft and free agency, and how they will build this team moving forward.
1. Does the return of Kevin Durant make the Golden State Warriors the NBA Finals favorite?
Nate Leer: Yes, I think Durant being back makes the Warriors the favorite but I don’t think the gap between them and the Cavs or even the Spurs is as large as other people may believe it to be. The Warriors are certainly a cool group of skill players to watch running around on a basketball court but size and physicality can make a big difference in the playoffs. The Warriors only true post players are guys who should not being playing more than 10-15 minutes a night. Come the playoffs, upper tier bigs like LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love and even Tristan Thompson may be able to exploit highly favorable mismatches in the post and on the boards.
Kras: In my mind, yes. The Warriors were arguably the favorite to make the Finals without him. Now they bring back the guy who is a top 3 talent in the league so it is hard to bet against them. Nate Leer does bring up a great point in that the Warriors are on the small side to begin with and without KD in the lineup they are even worse off. KD is long enough to be an effective rebounder but that is not his best strength. What the Warriors lack inside, they make up for in perimeter shooting. With KD healthy, the Warriors should be deep enough to create mismatches on the floor at any given time and should ultimately get back to the Finals.
2. Is this the year the Washington Capitals get to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals and do you think they will win it all?
JJ Benz: I believe that if any team from the East is going to win the Cup it will be the Capitals. If the Caps come out in the first series and sweep the Toronto Maple Leafs, I would agree with Las Vegas odds that makes them the favorite to win the Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins are dealing with several key injuries and aren’t as deep as in years past. The Caps power play may be the ultimate trump card. They have all the pieces in place and just need to get it done while hopefully avoiding a flaming hot goalie.
Kras: Yes and yes! I think this is the year. Good goaltending is the ultimate game changer in the playoffs and Braden Holtby can, and I think will, be the difference. The regular season doesn’t mean much when it comes to the playoffs but I do like their chances with a guy who posted 42 wins this season with a 2.07 goals against average. Outside of the goaltending, they have the talent to score with any team they will play. I like their chances to raise the Cup.
3. What did you think of Sergio Garcia winning his 1st Major and do you think he can win another one?
JJ Benz: I was happy to see Sergio win the Masters on Sunday and for it to unfold the way it did. Garcia has had the talent to win a major and many people thought he would at the age of 19. As we know, the most talented golfers don’t always win. The winner is usually the golfer that can stay mentally focused throughout 72 grueling holes. In this weekend’s case, Justin Rose lost his focus on the 73rd hole. Garcia has been knocking on the door of a major victory for a while now and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he wins another this year. His game sets up well for the Open championship hitting his low bullets into the high winds that come into play during that tournament.
Kras: It was beginning to look doubtful for Sergio and his quest for a Major Championship but he finally got it done. It looked like it was going to slip away when he started slowly on the Back 9 on Sunday until his eagle on 15. It was from that point on I felt he was in good shape, until 18 when he missed the putt and went to a playoff hole. Ultimately he exercised his Major demons and won the Masters. As fas as if he will win another Major or not, I think he might be able to win another one. Now that he knows what it takes to win a 72 hole marathon, he can better prepare for the high pressure moments. Congrats to Sergio!