Is it spring?
With the Masters in the rear-view mirror — atta boy, Bubba — hockey playoffs are underway. The NBA starts its tourney on Saturday, and, most happily, baseball is in its third week.
Yep, it’s spring.
• I normally would be very pumped for the NHL playoffs, but the league, not the sport, has lost me. The NHL, with its ridiculous labor stoppages, clearly assumes that its fans, which, while not as numerous, are probably more hard-core than in any other of the major team sports, will automatically come back after lockouts. Most of them have.
But life went on for me last winter, and I didn’t watch a truncated 48-game regular season and playoffs, and, though I have the Center Ice package on DirecTV, I found that I didn’t watch a full game this season.
Again, hockey’s a great sport, but if the people who run it don’t care about the fans, and they clearly don’t — a half season lockout in 1995, a full wipe out of 2004-05 and another lockout last year — why should I care?
Maybe, it’s because my attachment to hockey didn’t start as a kid — my infatuation with the San Francisco Giants and 49ers started when I was 5. Maybe, it’s because I always find it strange watching a sport on ice in late May and early June. Whatever it is, enjoy the playoffs.
• Speaking of which, congratulations to the resurgent Colorado Avalanche for winning the Central. Even better, the Avs get a great draw in the Minnesota Wild, while the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues get to beat the snot out of each other.
• In the NBA Playoffs, the question is who will survive the West and will that team have anything in the tank for the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat? Both the NHL and the NBA are in cycles where the West is best — certainly as far as depth goes. I know that people are suggesting new playoff formats, but this is just a cycle.
Local fans know this well as the Broncos made the Super Bowl three times during the 80s when the NFC (New York Giants, Washington Redskins and 49ers, respectively) was just better. The Broncos, in fact, tipped the balance back by beating the Packers in the “This one’s for John” Super Bowl in 1998.
• As for the Broncos, Eric Decker to the Jets isn’t a huge deal for Denver. (It will not work out for Decker and the Jets. Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning make a receiver like Decker look good.) Emmanuel Sanders will suffice.
My question is has Denver done enough to make itself tough enough to compete at an elite level? DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward (infinitely better than Camp Bailey) are good, but it’s an attitude as much as talent. Seattle didn’t win the Super Bowl on a tactical level. As noxious as they are, the Seahawks simply punched the Broncos in the mouth, and that was that.
Until the Broncos can find that aggression and swagger, they’ll win the AFC and be Super Bowl fodder. As much as the NFL is a quarterback’s league — and the Broncos are good on that count — defense matters in the playoffs.
• What do the Niners do with Aldon Smith? The troubled linebacker is in trouble again. After already having a stint in rehab and a weapons charge, the guy allegedly said he had a bomb during a security check at Los Angeles International. (Hey, Aldon, the TSA really doesn’t have a sense of humor about these things.) Do the Niners keep him? (He’s that scary mean for which the Broncos are looking, but is he worth the trouble?) If they do, then does the NFL step in with a suspension? (Likely.) San Francisco’s Super Bowl chances may be in danger with what happens here.
• As we approach the draft, look out for two teams that are drafting in good position who are also not as bad as we think: the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. Both had seasons where everything just went wrong. It happens, especially in the parity that is the NFL. Atlanta, talent-wise is not 4-12, nor is Houston 2-14. Both squads will bounce back this fall.
• It’s 16 games into the season, and, somehow, the Los Angeles Dodgers are not running away with the NL West yet. To read preseason prognostications, the Dodgers should be 16 games up by now. Too bad. Real shame.
The Rockies are coming back from a 3-4 West Coast swing, which is not horrible, given the team’s struggles in the Pacific Time zone. The starting pitching remains sketchy and the bullpen would be the same. Stay healthy, Tulo and Cargo.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.