Given the friction both ways between Bill Simmons and ESPN — including suspensions, dares and the like — perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn Friday that Simmons and ESPN are parting ways.
Still, the manner in which it happened is enough to make one hit the pause button and ruminate a bit. First, the statement from ESPN President John Skipper:
“I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract. We have been in negotiations and it was clear it was time to move on. ESPN’s relationship with Bill has been mutually beneficial – he has produced great content for us for many years and ESPN has provided him many new opportunities to spread his wings. We wish Bill continued success as he plans his next chapter. ESPN remains committed to Grantland and we have a strong team in place.”
Deadspin correctly notes that this isn’t your typical corporate statement, and the site also did some insiding with ESPN employees to determine that this feels more like a firing and that most within the Bristol walls were surprised by it.
And the announcement comes several months before Simmons’ contract is up, another stunner. If you had to guess by piecing it all together, you would say ESPN threw its hands up and said, “enough is enough. We’re done dealing with this guy.”
It will be interesting to see where he lands … and to discern the answer to who needed who more: Simmons/ESPN or ESPN/Simmons.
The Vikings just wrapped up the morning walkthrough of the first day of their rookie minicamp. Soon after, head coach Mike Zimmer headed to the podium to talk about his impressions of those rookies based on watching them jog around without pads for about an hour or so.
So yeah, there are incredibly early impressions.
Still, this was our first time for us to ask Zimmer about the team’s 10-player draft class, and I was curious to hear what he had to say about Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter.
Zimmer seems pretty excited about Kendricks. The second-round pick played middle linebacker today and will remain at the position for the immediate future. The Vikings think he will ultimately wind up at weak-side linebacker, but they brought back veteran Chad Greenway to man that position in 2015.
“Kendricks is a very instinctive playmaker,” Zimmer said. “He’s very, very intelligent. You can tell that today in the meetings and when he was out here making the calls and getting things set up. We’re going to start him at Mike linebacker and see where that goes. We believe that eventually down the road he’ll probably be a Will linebacker for us, but you never know.”
The Vikings gambled on athleticism when they selected defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round. Zimmer compared Hunter to Everson Griffen in the sense that they are both great athletes, and Zimmer believes that if Hunter buys in to what the coaching staff is teaching him, he will eventually become a pretty good player, too.
“He’s got outstanding measurables. He’s 6-foot-5-plus, 254 [pounds] or something like that. He runs 4.5. Very, very smart. He’s got very heavy hands. He’s very athletic,” Zimmer said. “We feel like we can take guys like that and teach them really what we’re trying to do to improve them.”
Zimmer also said he was impressed how quickly first-round cornerback Trae Waynes picked up things during his first day with the Vikings.
“We just worked together for a little bit today and this is way, way, way early,” Zimmer said. “But actually, I told one of the coaches, for a young guy and trying to teach the technique that we’re doing, he caught on probably faster than I’ve ever had a guy on the first day.”
One more thing to note from the morning podium session: fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings, who played right tackle in college, is lining up at both guard and tackle during his first day at Winter Park.
Zimmer will have the rookies and eligible Vikings veterans back out on the field at 3 p.m. for an afternoon practice.
What else can you say about a sweep? The Wild made it interesting, finally solving Corey Crawford with two goals in the waning minutes, but ultimately the Blackhawks prevailed with a 4-3 victory. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, at least after Game 3.
Teams that go up 3-0 in an NHL playoff series are now 113-69 in Game 4s. And the Wild failed to become the fifth team out of 181 to come all the way back and win a series after trailing 3-0.
Those are sobering numbers, but these stats help tell even more of the story of the series (kudos to @cjsinner for the pretty graphics):
0: Yes, that’s not just the number of wins the Wild had. That’s the number of minutes Minnesota even held a lead in the series. That’s flat-out embarrassing. As you’ll note on the chart, the Blackhawks were playing with the lead more than 70 percent of the time in this series, while the rest of the time it was tied. Against a Chicago team that has not lost this season when leading after two periods, that was a particular recipe for disaster.
Goalies: If there was one distinct area of advantage for the Wild coming into this series, it was at goaltender. Devan Dubnyk was a revelation after being acquired at midseason, so much so that he’s a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Corey Crawfod? Meh, a decent regular season but he was lit up against Nashville and always seems vulnerable (except against the Wild, but this year was going to be different!).
It wasn’t different. In fact, Crawford won the goalie battle handily.
Dubnyk made 100 saves on 111 shots for a 90.1 save percentage.
Crawford made 124 saves on 131 shots for a 94.7 save percentage, a number that would have been even better if not for those late goals Thursday.
Dubnyk gave up a full goal per game more than Crawford on fewer shots. You could argue that he faced more quality chances than Crawford, but if that was the case it was only marginally so — not enough to account for the disparity in numbers. Crawford simply outplayed Dubnyk, a stunning development. Here is a game-by-game save percentage comparison between the goalies throughout the season (click to enlarge):
Ryan Suter: If you’re looking to blame Suter, well … don’t. He had an awful Game 2, but overall he had some much better moments in the series than people might realize. In Game 4, his Corsi rating was a plus-20, meaning he was on the ice for 20 more shots for the Wild (blocked, missed the net or on net) than he was for shots against the Wild. That’s a crazy number (Matt Dumba, it should be noted, was also a plus-20 for the night).
Simply put: Suter was doing his job for the most part in Games 1, 3 and 4, as Corsi-by-game chart illustrates. He can only do so much when it comes to the puck going in the net.
That’s little consolation, though, for a series that didn’t go the way most might have predicted. The final number is sobering: 12 Chicago wins, 3 Wild wins in the last three playoff series over the past three seasons. Minnesota will need to find a way to get over that hump. Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild is a good team that is looking to become the best team. It is not there yet.
The Twins were more than capable of losing anywhere, anytime between 2011-14, four seasons that ended with at least 92 losses.
But perhaps overlooked in that misery is just how awful the team was at Target Field. While most teams enjoy a home-field advantage no matter how bad they are, the Twins actually had a worse home record than road record over the past four seasons:
2011 H 33-48 R 30-51
2012 H 31-50 R 35-46
2013 H 32-49, R 34-47
2014 H 35-46, R 35-46
Totals: 131-193 at home, 134-190 on the road.
It’s not like the Twins CAN’T be a good team at Target Field; in 2010, when the park opened and the team won the AL Central, Minnesota was 53-28 at home and 41-40 on the road.
But recent incarnations of the club have been particularly ill-suited for the ballpark, with bad outfield defense (in a spacious park) combined with a starting pitching staff that didn’t strike out a lot of batters.
Those are still problems to a certain degree, but after today’s 6-5 win over Oakland wrapped up an 8-3 homestand, the Twins are in unfamiliar territory: 4-8 on the road, but 12-5 at Target Field, the best home mark of any American League team. The Twins have scored 7 runs or more in six of those home games and averaged 6.6 runs on this most recent homestand.