Monday, June 29, 2009

Top Shelf Makes a Wish

One of the things on Artvoice's list of 100 things to do in Buffalo during the summer was to get your fortune told by the vending machine lady on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Not really ingwhere Clifton Hill is, I cast that one aside. However my mom is a big fan of lighthouses so the Henderson family took the scenic route to Rochester and stopped at a few places along the way. We were at what I believe was Olcott Beach (don't quote me on that though) when I found this:


Now, I've seen Big a number of times. I know these machines hold some crazy power and that any wish made upon them should be sincere and carefully thought out. I mulled it over for a while before depositing my 50 cents and didn't step forward until my decision was made and my wish was the only thing on my mind.


The machine initially gave me a muddled and confusing message about age just being a number. I wasn't sure what that meant. Was it a mistake to let Teppo go because of his age? Or is it okay to bring Tyler Myers up to the big club despite his age? While I mulled that over, my fortune appeared before me.

Well, that certainly sounds promising but I thought it needed a little interpreting yet. After consulting with Esmeralda a little longer, I'm pretty sure this is what it means:

I see a great deal of happiness in store for you (possibly as early as Wednesday). You will receive a letter soon (from Darcy Regier), and that letter can easily be said to change the whole course of your life (by offering an assistant GM position). You deserve this happiness (via a large, shiny Cup) because you have been so faithful and sincere in your love (to an occasionally bratty, always underachieving, and just plain sucky hockey team).

So Sid, enjoy that Cup while you can. I'm pretty sure it's not going to be yours for long. The power of Esmeralda is against you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the Road Again

So my mom and two of my three brothers, Chris (older) and Lee (younger) are now in Buffalo. This afternoon we're leaving for a four-day jaunt across the area (Strong National Museum of Play, Corning Museum of Glass, and the Baseball Hall of Fame being the big stops). We'll then while away a couple of days here in Buffalo. I thought I'd give you a quick peek inside the mind of Heather B.

Here are the clothes I have set aside for the trip:

And here are the books I have set aside for the trip:

A girl's gotta have priorities.

I'll be posting when I can but the next few days might be quiet ones. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zack Kassian and Other Thoughts

A few quick thoughts before I start preparing for vacation with my mom and two of my three brothers, on their way to Buffalo from Birmingham even as I write this:

-- Zack Kassian seems like a good pick. There appeared to be a lot of talent on both sides of him but there's no doubt that size and grit are desperately missing in the Sabres system. I would've preferred "This kids works amazingly hard!" to "He's inconsistent" but he is young yet. Too bad he can't play like, yesterday.

-- Pierre McGuire was driving me CRAZY. He kept taking a stance on a player or a team's direction and then when Bob McKenzie would disagree he said, "I'm not arguing that!" You're arguing that, Pierre. YOU ARE!

-- Is there a reason Pierre has taken it so personally that the Islanders failed to draft Zach Parise? Because he seemed a tad fixated. One of the funniest moments of the night was Pierre pumping up the Islanders and how they were turning things around and how they had the gumption to trade for a second first round pick because there was another game-changing player they just had to have and then Garth Snow went and picked a player rated so much lower than their spot that not even Pierre could pretend to be excited. Awesome.

-- Every once in a while Mark and I make the same joke at the same time and for some reason, I always find that completely hilarious. Before the Islanders made their first pick, another guy stood up and spoke a lot of French and then introduced Snow. So it sounded like this: French French French French French French French Garth Snow! We both shouted, "They just drafted Garth Snow!" It was doubly funny because it was the Islanders and well, you just never know with them. All right, maybe you had to be there.

-- Wow, those Penguins, they're really good drafters, aren't they? It's amazing how they completely re-built the team with all those top three picks!

-- I think the Flyers gave up an awful lot for one year of Chris Pronger, more than a team that isn't close (like us) should give. And before anyone gets any ideas, no we do not want to help the Flyers unload Danny Briere. That highly over-priced ship has sailed. I don't think you can bring back leadership that's already flown the coop and he's as small and non-gritty as the rest of the players we already have. And hey, did I mention that he makes a whole lot of money? For a really long time yet?

-- I'll give it up to the Buffalo News on this one. They had video and stories up on Kassian just about as fast as any other blogs and Twitters did. Stellar job by Mike Harrington on all the web stuff.

-- As Pookie said to me in celebration (I think), Henrik Tallinder lives to be traded another day! Yes! I really thought the Sabres would try to move into the second round so I'm not feeling out of the woods yet. And won't really until the season starts. But for now, my blog banner and Twitter background can remain as is.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Draft Day Thoughts

Keeping in mind that I don't know anything about these kids that I haven't read in a magazine or seen on TV...

If I'm the Islanders and I have a choice between a very good but probably not Crosby/Malkin-level forward and a stud defenseman, I'm taking the stud defenseman every time. I think that kind of player is much harder to come by and should be grabbed when he's in front of you. I know the Islanders need a good PR pick as much as anything and in that case, John Tavares probably is splashier, but I'd take Victor Hedman. You know, in case Garth Snow is reading this. Or in case the Sabres package the entire roster for the number one pick.

I have no idea who the Sabres will pick but Zack Kassian is the name that I've seen attached to us the most in mock drafts. The Hockey News Draft Preview quotes a scout who compares him to Milan Lucic in which case, yes, please I'll take him. (Of course, it also quotes someone saying that his playoff performance was disappointing because the passion didn't seem to be there in which case, please God, no, we need lack of passion about as much as we need another teeny-tiny forward.)

On a totally different note, there's now a "Follow Me on Twitter" badge on the right sidebar. Yes, I did once declare that I would never follow anyone on Twitter because it was stupid but I was wrong, okay? I kind of love it even if a number of my friends spent the evening laughing at Hank's trade value. I'm really excited to have it cued up during the draft tomorrow. There was a Pirates feed that was absolutely nuts during the MLB draft a few weeks ago. This guy was posting all their picks and then almost immediately linking scouting reports, video, interviews, all kinds of goodies. I'm hoping we'll get some good stuff like that for the NHL draft too. Anyway, if you're not following me and you're so inclined, please do. If you're following me and I didn't follow you in return feel free to give me a poke. I either didn't recognize your name or I couldn't tell if you were just trying to show me SEXY BRITNEY VIDS! or not.

One more day of work, one more day of work, one more day of work...

Monday, June 22, 2009

GM For More Than a Day

When I was writing a few weeks back about the Pirates and Nate McClouth, I realized something that's probably pretty obvious to anyone who's been reading Top Shelf for a while but that I've never really stated outright. I'm fascinated by general managers.

If the Sabres were to call me tomorrow and say, "Heather B., as a reward for being the greatest blogger ever, we're going to let you shadow the person of your choice for three days," it wouldn't even be a contest, I'd follow Darcy Regier in a heartbeat. Not just because I like him - I do - but because I find his job really interesting. A few years ago, the Sabres did an intermission piece about trade deadline day and there was a very short scene of Darcy, Lindy Ruff, and a few other people in a room with a white board behind them. Any delicate information was blurred out and the conversation we saw had been carefully culled of any direct references to specific offers or players but I was still fascinated. I could watch footage like that forever. Regardless of what you think of Regier, you have to admit that his job is not an easy one. I don't think fans or journalists appreciate that enough. I think a lot of times even when people say, "I realize it's not easy..." they're just paying lip service to the idea because the thought is almost always completed with, "I could do it better" whether directly stated or implied.

GMs have so many decisions to make. Is your team good enough to go all in this season or do they need a little more time to grow? Do you make a really long commitment to this player or do you attempt to keep things more short-term? Do you chase the big money free agent or do you earmark that money for players already in your organization? Do you sign one big name or two or three smaller names? Do you go with high-flying offense or steady, fundamental defense? Do you trade one of your more productive players while his value is still high or do you hold on to him and say a prayer that he plays at his current level for a few more years? Do you draft the alleged can't-miss prospect or do you take a chance and go after the high risk-high reward project? I love how two GMs can look at the same issue, come up with two totally different takes, and respond in completely opposite ways.

The aspect I find most interesting - and most difficult - is that none of the above decisions can be made in a bubble. Almost every single choice a GM makes has long-term ramifications for a team. If you throw a lot of money at the hyped free agent of the year and he doesn't work out, you might not have the money or cap space to fix your roster later. If you give one player a huge contract, the younger players coming up for renewal behind him are going to expect the same. How is the contract you offer right now going to affect your cap space for the next four years? Heck, what's the cap going to do for the next four years? Go up? Or come down? Those decisions are even harder in smaller markets like Buffa where a team isn't going to be able to buyout a player without still feeling a crunch.

And none of this is even taking into consideration the personal aspect. GMs are part of creating an environment that players are comfortable in and want to play in. If a player is drafted by the organization and comes up through the system and plays with them for a while, the player develops ties to the organization and the fan base. They want there to be that player or two who become the face of the franchise, the fan favorite. But then after going to the trouble of helping that develop, a GM has to be able to put emotions aside and think of players as assets, nothing more, nothing less. That would be incredibly hard.

I know GMs have a whole team of people who help them with decisions - coaching staffs, cap specialists, scouting teams (or if you're TBN, that guy in Darcy's basement watching grainy footage on a 13 inch black-and-white TV). But ultimately the final decision comes down to the GM. And even if it doesn't - even if there's an owner or a money man in the way - the blame for any screw-ups comes down on the GM. Unless you win a Stanley Cup - and yeah, that's REALLY easy to do - no one's happy with you. Being a GM sucks, yo.

What's my point? I don't know, really. I've just been thinking about this more lately with the draft and free agency coming up. I have my problems with the Sabres roster as is and I hope to see some changes, some small, some big. But I also have some sympathy for how easy it is for us to talk about making those changes and how hard it is to actually make those changes, how many different factors go into a trade or a contract negotiation. I'm not making excuses. I do like Darcy but I'm going to be disappointed if the Sabres start next season with pretty much the same roster. I just think it's a difficult and interesting process and I think we sometimes forget just how complicated it all is.

For the record, if the Sabres called and said I could shadow anyone I wanted, my top three choices would be as follows:

1. GM - See above.
2. Head of scouting - Where and how do they find players? How much do they watch the kid in person, how much do they watch him on video? What are they looking for? What pushes one prospect over another on draft day especially in the later rounds? Are they really watching video on a 13 inch TV?
3. Equipment manager - I'm fascinated by hockey equipment, how much of it there is and how a group manages to get it all packed up and on a bus in 0.6 seconds.

Didn't really get a chance to listen to Darcy's press conference today but I heard bits and pieces of info about it. I'm going to assume he's just keeping that Derek Roy trade under super secret wrap until draft day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Please Help.

If you're looking for hockey content, scroll down. I have a quick Twitter related question. I'm following the MLB Twitter and while I like it, it updates ALL THE FRIGGIN' TIME. I don't want to unfollow it - there's some good stuff there - but it's absolutely burying my more personal Twitter feeds and I hate having to dig for them. I downloaded TweetDeck and I managed to move MLB to the groups feed but it's still updating in my Friends column too. Is there any way to get it to update in the groups column but NOT the friends column? Seriously, this feed has updated EIGHT times in the amount of time it took me to write this. It's driving me crazy! Can anyone help me?

Saturday, June 20, 2009


So I see that tomorrow's Buffalo News will feature Bucky Gleason's annual GM for a day column. I seem to have developed a reputation as a bit of Bucky slayer - I dropped in on one of Bucky's chats a few months back and even he commented on me being hard on him - so I know some of you will wander this way looking for my response. I figured I should explain why you won't find any reaction here.

It started with that Bucky column that most of the blogosphere got worked up about. You know, the one where he called us all dumb, lazy sheep? That column pissed me off something fierce. I thought it showed a gross misunderstanding of his audience and the local sports scene and I thought it was insulting for a number of reasons. I said in the post I wrote about it that I wasn't going near anything he wrote for a long time and I meant it. That was on April 22nd and I haven't read any of Bucky's columns or chats since.

The initial anger dissipated but the truth is, that column did make me think about how easy it is to just accept things as they are whether you're happy with them or not. I'm not ready to give up on the Sabres. They're only two years removed from back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances and I think they have talent and good, young players in the pipeline. For me, there are still enough signs of hope to hang in there with them, to think things might get better. I'm not, however, as optimistic for TBN's coverage of the Sabres.

I've written this blog for a little over two years now. For most of those two years, Bucky has been writing variations of the same column with me writing variations of the same reaction. The beat and blog coverage, while better, has often been as repetitive. The same people have been blamed over and over, the same mistakes have been criticized even long after they happened and the same people skate by without taking any criticism at all. When a beat writer finally getting around to criticizing the head coach of an undisciplined, unmotivated, non-playoff team is considered a big deal, I think you have to question how willing the hockey beat is to challenge us and itself.

Which leads to my real problem with Bucky. He thinks he's smarter than us. We're just fans, what do we know? We could never understand the way things work. And hey, why bother educating us when he can just lecture us instead? Why raise the level of the conversation when he can write for the lowest common denominator? Why challenge us or himself when he can just say the same thing over and over? And TBN is obviously just fine with that because when it came time to pick one guy on the hockey beat to send to the Stanley Cup Finals, to represent them, to fill us in on what was going on during the biggest moments of the hockey season, they didn't choose one of the beat writers, they chose Bucky. They don't care what we think of him or them. If we're reading their hockey coverage, great. If we're all talking about it and throwing up links to it, even better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's nothing of value in TBN's Sabres coverage. There is. And for better or for worse, they have some of the best access to the organization which would make it very difficult to cut them out altogether. But there are certain parts of their coverage that I find so consistently infuriating that I think it's about time I started showing my displeasure with those things and the best way to do that in this case is to quit reading them and quit commenting on them.

So there you go. If you want commentary on GM for a day, you'll have to seek it elsewhere. Going forward, it's an all-new Top Shelf.

Awards, Trades and Moral Victories

Okay, one more post of random thoughts and then hopefully I'll be back on track as next week winds down and we start moving toward draft day and free agency.

-- The NHL Awards ceremony was, as usual, an awkward disaster. I get what they're going for and I love it in theory but it really just emphasizes how irrelevant hockey is to much of the country. Chaka Khan? C-List celebrities? Come on. And good lord, can someone please give the players some kind of reading training. Some of these guys make Sidney Crosby appear to have as much personality as Charles Barkley. You can't deliver three lines off a teleprompter with some pizazz? Oy. Thank god for Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara who were both well-spoken, sweet, and funny.

-- I was pretty upset when Teppo Numminen wasn't a final nominee for the Masterton but I comforted myself with the fact that Richard Zednik was going to win anyway. I mean, the guy almost died in front of thousands of people but he faced down any demons and got back on the ice, including the ice where he almost lost his life. That's dedication to hockey right there. But he didn't win. HE DIDN'T WIN?!?!?!?! I'm sure Steve Sullivan is a nice guy and his injury does seem like a bitch. But it's an injury he could have lived with even if he'd never played hockey again. I'm not really sure how that trumps playing in the NHL less than a year after open heart surgery and almost dying in the middle of a game.

-- The only award I really, really cared about was the Norris, partly because I wanted Zdeno Chara to win and partly because I wanted Mike Green to lose. I've read some stats that suggest Green isn't the defensive disaster I think he is but I know that I haven't been impressed with him at all in the games I've seen personally. Thirty-one goals is an awesome achievement and I would happily take that on my team. But I wouldn't give it the Norris. Green is better than Chara offensively but Chara is better than Green defensively and if a guy is going to be stronger on one side of the puck than the other, it should be the defensive side. Because it's an award for defensemen, see? The Norris winner should be a shut down guy and a top unit penalty killer. He should make forwards a little tiny bit nervous. I've said this many, many times before but defensive defensemen are the most unappreciated players in the NHL. For the love of all that's good and right, they can't even get any love in the one category they should be winning. It's really past time for the NHL to create an award for defensive d-men. And please, would it kill you to find some defensive highlights for the Norris nominees? Hits, blocked shots, stolen pucks, something?

-- I'm not one to make fun of the Lady Byng - I think it's perfectly fine to have a sportsmanship award even in a sport like hockey - but I hate the way people vote for it. It's basically the guy with the most points and the fewest penalty minutes which means it's yet another award that a defenseman will never win along with goalies. That's bogus. Hey, voters, why don't you actually put some thought into this one for once?

-- A few days ago I read a really interesting post at Silver Seven about the Dany Heatley situation. Blogger PeterR discusses Heatley's trade demands and how because of his no-trade clause he has a lot of power about where he ultimately goes. It does put the Senators in a very tough situation. If the best offer comes from a team Heatley isn't interested in, the Sens have to either pressure Heatley to accept the trade or pass on it and take the best offer from an acceptable team which could ultimately not be a great offer. Sucks for them especially since everyone in the league knows Heatley wants out.

The idea of a player having to give up his no-trade clause when he demands a trade before the contract is up is interesting but probably not really passable. (Though don't get me wrong, I would love for Bryan Murray to say, "What's that? Trade you? Sorry, can't. You have a no-trade clause.") Ultimately, it really is the Senators fault for giving Heatley the no-trade clause in the first place especially since they seemed to give one to everyone they signed in that little period of time. I'm glad Darcy Regier and/or the Sabres seem to have avoided them even (as far as I know) with all the big contracts they signed in the last couple of years. As a fan, I like the idea of having players around for a long time but if a player wants to move or a team wants to move him, they find a way around those clauses anyway. And more often than not, no-trades end up hamstringing the team from making moves that could potentially help them. Think Toronto had second thoughts about the no-trade for Mats Sundin? Think the Flyers are re-thinking that no-trade clause they gave Danny Briere? Heck, the Senators spent most of the 07-08 season trying to get around Wade Redden's no-trade clause. If you have a really, really special player - and I'm talking top ten or so in the league - maybe I could understand giving out a no-trade clause. But even then I think the player should be willing to give up some money or a year or two in exchange. Giving a guy big money, long years, AND a no-trade/no-movement clause? That's insanity.

-- The SBNation blogs have been doing a mock draft for the last few days and today Die by the Blade selected Zack Kassion on the Sabres behalf. I don't really keep up on juniors/college very well but I've heard Kassion's name quite a few times and I do like his size. I love Darcy Regier but if we draft another pipsqueak I might have to punch him in the head a few times. Follow the link above if you want more info on Kassion or the rest of the mock draft so far. Die by the Blade will also be attending the draft with press pass in hand which does make me a tad jealous. I had a blast at the draft last year just as a plain ol' fan and it's the one event that I think would be pretty fun to cover in an official capacity.

-- In case you didn't notice, I would just like to announce that yours truly won the Goose's Roost playoff pool. Okay, technically Kate and I tied and we have to take a GR quiz to break the tie but I know in my heart that I'm the winner here. I got the Finals right after all and I'm pretty sure Kate went with her Finals pick in an effort to stave off Mark, who was right behind her going into the final round. In other words, she fell back into defensive mode in an effort to protect her lead and I went for broke, desperate to get that game-breaking goal. I think we can all agree that we don't want to see trapping creep into our hockey playoff pools. So regardless of the final outcome, I'm claiming moral victory. (That said, if anyone knows if Ryan hates bears or not, please let me know.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This 'n That

-- I've been meaning to mention this all week but Mike Harrington talking about it in his Inside Baseball column this morning made me think of it again. First a little background: Blogger Jerod Morris writes a post about Raul Ibanez and steroids, reporter reads blog post and runs to Ibanez for a quote, Ibanez gets pissed, the mainstream media goes crazy about bloggers and how irresponsible they are.

Here's the thing. I think the original post is perfectly fine and this guy is getting lambasted for no reason. Considering how much outrage I'd heard about it, once I read it I was surprised to find it pretty thoughtful and even-handed and if I'd read it in a newspaper, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. Morris did a fair amount of statistical analysis which addressed a couple of issues, including Harrington's suggestion that Ibanez moving from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park is responsible for the hot start. The whole post was in fact a response to speculation from a buddy of his. Morris started out defending Ibanez, mildly mentions that certainly PEDs are a possibility and says he'll wait until there's an entire season of numbers before making any kind of final judgment. His main point is that considering the climate of the league today, when a 37-year-old player is having the best season of his career, people are going to question what's going on.

I just don't get that this post was any different than what Howard Bryant did here or Bill Simmons did here. (And yes, Simmons is more or less a fan writing but he's getting paid for it and doing it for the biggest sports source in the world.) How may times a day do the talking heads on ESPN say things like "Players have lost the benefit of the doubt" and "I don't know who to believe anymore" without even thinking? How many baseball writers have written columns or blogs about how they're not voting for Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds for the Hall of Fame because of the suspicion that they were on steroids even though none of them ever failed a MLB test?

I'd be very curious to know how many of the people criticizing Morris - including Harrington - went to the trouble of clicking over and reading the original blog post in entirety. I completely understand why Ibanez got defensive when confronted by the reporter in question. I'm glad he did respond so forcefully and I hope he is clean. But to use this post to vilify blogging is ridiculous. I've read things in the newspaper and heard speculations on TV that are more irresponsible.

Which brings us back to Harrington. Either he jumped on the MSM bandwagon and criticized Morris without reading the blog post or he read the blog post and misrepresented it by suggesting it didn't address something it actually did address. Either way, I'm disappointed, especially considering how blog friendly Mike has always been.

Then again, I'm just speculating here which I, as a blogger, am not allowed to do because I should be held to much higher standards than the real journalists of the world. My deepest apologies.

-- I know he's become the whipping boy for a lot of fans but I'm really happy for Sidney Crosby. He came into the NHL at 18 with just ridiculous amounts of pressure on him to save the Penguins and rejuvenate the league. I think he's lived and played under a brighter, more critical glare than anyone else including Alexander Ovechkin. There was a really great shot of him on the bench as the final seconds of Game 7 ticked away, getting ready to spring over the boards with a huge smile on his face, a smile very unlike what we've seen out of him most days because it was genuine and child-like. I'm hoping maybe having that first Cup will help him relax and just be himself a little more. He's certainly earned that. I don't have anything against the Red Wings at all but I think it's always pretty fun to watch a bunch of kids win their first Cup.

-- Mark and I went to Allentown yesterday and as always, really enjoyed ourselves. Between the two of us, our final food tally was onion rings, hand-cut potato chips, fried dough with chocolate sauce, and the most gigantic shaved ice I've ever seen. And then we topped that all off with the first stop on the summer-long pizza crawl, Casa di Pizza. (If you wanna know what we thought, you'll have to stay tuned.) And in the midst of all that, we did actually look at art.

My favorite booth by far was Yardbirds' junkyard sculptures. The guy takes all kinds of metal scraps - screws, sockets, nails, forks, pots, pans, pretty much anything you can think of - and turns them into various animal sculptures. I was in awe at how creative they were and how much personality each piece had. It just amazes me that someone can look at all those scraps and make something so delightful and charming from them.

I really liked this elephant the best but even the smallest one was out of my price range for the day. (I will get one though, oh yes, I will.)

I also really liked the hanging monkeys but I could not for the life of me think of a good place in the house or yard to hang it. I'll have to ponder that and buy one next year.

I ended up taking home this cute little froggy. Despite not being my first choice, it's still totally adorable.

They don't seem to have an official website but I found a lot of examples here if you want to see more. The dogs are especially cute, I think.

-- Now that the hockey season is officially over and we can start talking about things like completely dismantling the current Sabres roster, I'm hoping to start blogging on a more regular basis again. That said, this week will probably be a quiet one as I hunker down for the final stretch run of the school year. There are some posts in progress however so keep checking back.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finally, It's Over!

Congratulations, Penguins!

NOW can we trade Derek Roy?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Basketball Boyfriends

So I've been watching some basketball. While I don't think I'll be taking up basketball full-time any time soon - I'm not sure the NBA could squeeze anymore TV timeouts into four quarters if they tried - it's made for pretty decent filler on non-hockey nights. For the record, I'm totally pulling for the Magic and I'm totally in love with Hedo Turkoglu. Check him out, ladies.

I am completely serious. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Heart Jim

You know what? While this might be an unpopular opinion around these parts, I love Jim Balsillie. If he wasn't trying to put his team right on top of the Sabres, I'd be all about that crazy kook getting a team. I don't understand half of what's going on with the bankruptcy hearings but so far dude has taken deposits on season tickets for a franchise that doesn't exist and made big plans for renovating an arena he has nothing to do with. He's causing huge problems for Gary Bettman (love that Bettman is going on and on about keeping the franchise in Phoenix while the NHLPA is all, "Eh, Phoenix blows") and the NHL. This is a total mess but I kind of love his "I'm just gonna throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" method to trying to get a team. If I'm ever a multi-billionaire I plan to run around, partaking in all kinds of crazy shenanigans like this.

I have a few posts half started that I'll hopefully get around to finishing in the next few days but things might stay pretty quiet for the next week and a half or so. The end of the school year sucks and by the time I get home I just want to eat and crawl into bed. For those of you who are interested however, I did recently sign up for Twitter. I spent many, many months refusing Twitter but so far it's kind of fun. We'll see if it has staying power or if I'll get bored with it but for now I'm totally down. You can find me here. If you're not into it, it's cool. When I want to expound on a subject - and let's face it, I almost always do - it'll still happen here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

This Summer in Buffalo

Some of the posts I most enjoyed writing last summer were the ones I wrote about getting out and about and doing some things in Buffalo. (If you missed them you can find them under the tag "Top Shelf Does Buffalo.") This year I want to get do even more. I did some of the biggies - ArtPark, Taste of Buffalo, Allentown Art Festival - but I know there's a ton I've yet to do. I poked around on the internet, talked to people, and pored over Artvoice's List of 100 Things You Must Do This Summer. (Technically it's from last year but I figure the list still applies.)

I'm going to try and be a little more organized this summer. There's no way I can do 100 things in the next few months so after careful consideration, I'm going to aim for 25. I feel like even that may be aiming high but some of the things I took off AV's list are pretty straight-forward. And cheap. Which is good. We like cheap here at Top Shelf.

For the purpose of this list, I'm eliminating all the things I did last summer. I probably will do some, if not most, of those things again but I want to do a lot of new things. Not sure if I'll blog about repeat experiences either. I eliminated all the things that don't really hold any interest for me (go to every Thursday in the Square concert? I'd rather kill myself) along with everything that involves swimming or jumping into large, natural bodies of water.

Here's what I came up with. If you're not interested in knowing all my plans, please at least scroll down and read the last paragraph. I have some questions for you all.

1. Eat ice-cream every day.

Well, gee, if you're gonna make me. Okay, I probably won't eat ice-cream EVERY day but I will make a solid effort. Really I just want to try some of the places that Artvoice name-checked: Sweet Tooth, Dolci, Anderson’s Custard, Fowler’s, Sweet Jenny’s, Condrell’s, Charlap’s, Parkside Chocolates, the Hatch, Rascals. I'm also going to make an effort to break away from my tried and true favorites and try some new flavors.

2. Determine my favorite Buffalo pizza.

A few months ago I did an interview on First Time, Long Time and one of the questions was, "What's your favorite Buffalo pizza?" I didn't really have an answer and gosh darn it, it's about time I did. I'm going to visit all the most talked up local joints so next time someone asks me this question, I'll have a real answer.

3. Visit every Olmsted Park.

I definitely want to check out Shakespeare in the Park this summer so I'm going to make that my trip to Delaware Park. Not sure yet what I'll do at Cazenovia, the Front, Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside, South, and Parkways but I'll think of something.

4. Tour Forest Lawn Cemetery.

5. Watch a sunset at the Front.

6. Visit the Butterfly Conservatory at Niagara on the Lake.

7. Go to a drive-in movie.

I'm not sure if those of you who have always lived in WNY realize how unusual it is to have so many drive-in theaters around. There is nowhere to see a drive-in at Alabama and I always, always wanted to be able to do that. We did see a movie at the drive-in back when I first moved to Buffalo but we had about a million people with us, most of whom were very loud. I'd like to try again.

8. Tour City Hall.

9. Visit the Wilcox Mansion.

10. Go to Fantasy Island.

Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat. I don't particularly want to go there but I will be going there with my kiddos during summer school so I'm counting it.

11. Find a favorite fish fry.

Yes, more food. One of my favorite Buffalo things is the Friday Fish Fry but I've definitely gotten stuck on a couple of places, primarily because they've always been close to me. I want to try a bunch of new ones.

12. Grow tomatoes in your backyard.

I changed tomatoes to potatoes and this is already under way. Might blog about this one soon. Funny story about why I moved from tomatoes to potatoes...

13. See Zoar Valley on an an inner tube.

This was an Artvoice suggestion and I'll be honest, I have no idea what or where this is. I do know that one of my favorite things in the world is a nice lazy river ride so this immediately struck my fancy.

14. Explore Letchworth State Park.

Mark and I visited there a couple of years ago and quite literally explored it when we wandered off the path and spent a couple of hours trying to find our way back. We were only there for a day though so I know there's a ton 'o area we didn't see. I'd love to check it out again. I was kind of thinking about trying a hot air balloon ride but since they run $225 per person for five or fewer, I'm probably going to have to wait until a summer when we haven't just spent an abhorrent amount of money on an injured dog. She was totally worth it but good grief.

15. Visit the Darwin Martin House and Graycliff, both in the same weekend.

I can't promise I'll do them both in one weekend like Artvoice suggests but I'll definitely check out both of them at some point.

16. Take a boat ride through the canal locks in Lockport.

17. Hang out at Canal Fest.

18. Go see Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

19. Watch rowers from the steps of the Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse.

20. Don’t miss the Erie County Fair.

We'll see. We lived within a 5 minute walk of the fairgrounds for almost 5 years and never went so the likelihood of finally making it this year are slim. But hey, you never know. This has been on the list of things to do pretty much since we moved here.

21. Pick my own berries.

22. Catch a movie at Riviera Theatre.

I'm aiming for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which is a favorite of mine and part of the Paul Newman tribute series they're doing this summer.

23. Walk through Rock City Park or Panama Rocks. Or maybe both.

24. See Sonnenberg Gardens.

25. Walk Griffis Sculpture Park.

There you go. 25 things. There are a couple of more things I'm noodling over that I'm not sure will work out so I may or may not stick completely to this list. And I'm admitting up front that it's very likely I won't get all 25 things done this summer. But hey, it's good to have goals.

So what do you guys think? Anything on here you've done and loved? Anything you think is a dud? Anything that isn't on the list that you think everyone in Buffalo should absolutely see or do? What pizza places should I try? How about ice-cream? Fish fries? What are your favorites? What's the over/under on how many things on this list I actually get to before Labor Day?

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

It's been many, many years since I watched tennis on any kind of regular basis. To give you a timetable, my last favorite player was Stefan Edberg. However, that doesn't mean I don't know a great sports moment when I see it. Roger Federer standing on that podium this morning, openly crying while the Swiss anthem played? If you were watching and that didn't choke you up, you have no heart. This is why I love sports. Congratulations, Roger.

Click on any of the pictures for a close-up look.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Warning: Baseball Ahead

This is for my little brother and the three other people who might care.

So I discovered at 4:15 this morning that the Pirates traded Nate McClouth (long story). I was pretty bummed. I like McClouth. I just bought a McClouth jersey tee last summer and now I can shove it in the drawer with the Bay jersey tee. He was pretty easily the Pirates best regular. Kind of a tough pill to swallow.

But I started thinking about it, did a little reading, heard Neal Huntington (Pirates GM) talk about the trade on the Pirates website and I might have come around to being okay with it. McClouth sticks out on the Pirates because well, they're not very good right now. On most teams he would be a nice complementary piece of the puzzle. He definitely has his strengths but he's not a guy you can really build a team around. He's played 1.5 quality seasons and he's already 27. I was actually a little surprised when I checked out his stats today because I thought they were better. Maybe he continues to improve, maybe he continues at the the level he's at right now for a number of years yet. But if he drops just 5 or 6 points from his batting average or 5 or 6 home runs from his home run total, you have a pretty average baseball player and then he's not worth as much on the trade market. If you're going to trade him, now might be the best time to do it. Sell high, baby.

Don't get me wrong, it friggin' blows to watch all the talent get traded off. It's hard to be in a spot where you can't really get that attached to guys. It sucks that there was zero talk about trading McClouth so it was all kind of a nasty surprise. But the best way for a market like Pittsburgh to compete in the Majors - maybe the only way - is with a really strong farm system. When Huntington took over, Pittsburgh's system was in shambles. Easily one of the worst in baseball. He's absolutely right to make fixing that his priority and if you can take a pretty good baseball player and turn him into more than one prospect who you really like and who you think might be better in the long run, well, maybe you make that move. It's light years better than the bench warmer and washed up veteran Dave Littlefield would have gotten in exchange for McClouth. When you have to rebuild to the extent that Pittsburgh does, no one but tip-top prospects and young, established stars should be considered untouchable and I don't think McClouth fits in either group.

I don't know. I do know this: I realized this morning that, even in light of McClouth's trade, for the first time in a really long time, I'm excited about being a Pirates fan. We have a GM who seems to genuinely want the team to be competitive and understands how they're going to do that in today's league. We have a pipeline of talent in the minors, some of it pretty highly rated. We have Andrew McCutchen finally getting his call-up and going 2-4 with 1 stolen base, 1 RBI and 3 runs in his debut. We have reason to believe finally, that better days might finally be just up the road. The only thing I'm disappointed in right now is McCutchen getting the promotion before I got to see him play in Buffalo this weekend and that's a pretty good problem to have. I believe this faint, fluttery feeling in my chest just might be hope. 2011, baby. Look out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Trying to Catch Up

Before I talk about you know, hockey, I just want to quickly answer some FAQs regarding Marlowe. Mark and Marlowe were playing ball in the backyard. Marlowe went airborne - not recommended for large breed puppies but trying telling the puppy that - and landed completely on one leg. It was clear from the loud, heart-rending yelps and cries that she was pretty seriously hurt. She fractured the tibia of a hind leg, right around the shin area. The fracture was serious enough that it required surgery by an orthopedic specialist and Marlowe is now the proud owner of one metal plate, nine screws, and three wire bands. Yep, just like me. In fact, if I walked on all fours, we hurt exactly the same leg. Mark is considering some of kind of voodoo to ensure that he isn't next. Anyway, the surgery was successful, the doctor said it should heal very well and because of her young age, Marlowe shouldn't suffer from any aftereffects. With the exception of bathroom breaks and 3-5 minute walks every couple of hours, poor pooch is confined to her crate for the next 8 weeks. She's done okay with it so far but for the humans in the house, I think 3 days has already seemed like forever. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes.

Wallowing in misery, pre-surgery.

Snuggling up, post-surgery.

-- So I picked the Penguins in 7. Whoops. I'm pretty surprised with how things have gone so far. The Penguins, even in the close series they played early in the playoffs, just looked very focused and business-like. They're a more balanced team than they were last season and Evgeni Malkin was playing better than he was at this point a year ago. I really thought increased maturity and the experience of playing in the Finals last year would push them past Detroit in a close, hard-fought series. But it turns out the Red Wings are really, really good at hockey. Maybe Pittsburgh can still make it close but I don't see Detroit choking away a 2 game lead. They're too experienced and too level for that. No panic in them anywhere.

-- I know it was a big issue for some of the people involved but I loved the back-to-back to open the series. Has Mike Babcock stopped complaining about it yet? No?

-- How awesome would it be to have a Henrik Zetterberg on your team? Someone who can put the puck in the net but who can also be relied on to play very well against the opposition's top line. That's amazing. We should find someone like that. Surely those guys are just lying around waiting to be signed.

-- It feels like FOREVER since I've watched the Sabres play but I have to admit, I do not miss them at all yet. In fact, I anxiously await the opening of trading season. Let's dump some of these losers.

-- Watched some of Tyler Myers on the ol' telly. He really is pretty impressive. At prospect camp I was already amazed at how well he skated for such a tall guy especially since, from what I understand, he'd sprouted really quickly and suddenly so he hadn't had that body for very long yet. I'm kind of torn on him playing in Buffalo next season. As good as he looked, it was very clear that the game he was playing this season is nowhere as fast or strong as the NHL level so I think it might be a mistake to expect him to jump right in without missing a beat. Just because some 19-year-olds have had immediate success in the league, it doesn't mean they all will and most of those 19-year-olds were forwards, not defensemen. If fans are really willing to watch him and all the other kids learn on the job with an eye on being better in the couple of years after this one, that's great. But I question how many people who are saying they'd be happy with that are actually going to be happy if and when they struggle. Should be interesting. That said, Myers not being eligible to play in Portland is definitely a bit of a catch-22 and if he's done all he can do in juniors, I can understand the temptation to move him right to Buffalo. I'd love nothing more than for him to jump in and take over.

I'm pretty sure that should be two or three paragraphs. Sorry.

-- I've been thinking about this a lot and talking about it with some friends and as much as I dislike some things about Versus' hockey coverage, there is nothing on Versus that even comes close to the dreadfulness of Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury's intermission shtick on NBC. They are awful and I think they might even make each other MORE awful.

-- This is going way back but I never got around to blogging it then. I had quite a laugh at Pierre being offended by Brian Campbell calling someone else's hit gutless because Campbell has an "UNBELIEVABLE HISTORY" of making those kinds of hits himself. And then they showed the one vicious hit Campbell has made IN HIS ENTIRE CAREER! One hit makes for a history? Really, Pierre? Gosh, I can't imagine why Minnesota passed on you for the GM position.