MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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Andrew McCutchen

The fall of Andrew McCutchen

Four top-five N.L. MVP seasons, one N.L. MVP award, five-time N.L. All-Star, four Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove. The accomplishments read as almost a prerequisite for greatness in the majors. But even though it was as little as two years ago that he garnered an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger, Andrew McCutchen is far removed from his glory days.

Gone are the All-Star appearances, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP discussions. In their place are trade rumors and position changes, as a former star tries to adjust to his diminished skillset.

But how did the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh become expendable?

An up and down 2016

Andrew McCutchen

The 2016 season was a roller coaster ride for Andrew McCutchen (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Many look at Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, compare it to his career, and call it a “down season”. And while that may be true, when you look closer, the numbers tell a different story.

Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter, and 2016 was no different. But even with a .226 batting average at the end of April, his 115 OPS+ was still respectable.

He seemed to be finally turning it on in May, when he hit .284 and posted a 119 OPS+. All signs pointed to McCutchen getting hot, that is until the calendar turned to June.

McCutchen hit a miserable .202 in June with a paltry 52 OPS+. The month of June is really what brought McCutchen’s numbers down.

Whether it was fatigue or an undisclosed injury or just the randomness of baseball, June 2016 was the worst we had ever seen Andrew McCutchen play.

Even so, he picked it up after June, hitting .247 in July and posting a 91 OPS+. While still a low number, it was a stark improvement from June.

And once July ended, the Andrew McCutchen of old seemed to return. A .280 batting average in August helped him earn a 119 OPS+, and set him up for a monster end of the season.

In September and October, McCutchen hit .287 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a 141 OPS+. Gong by the last few months of the season, it seemed McCutchen had returned to form, and gave some glimmer of hope for the 2017 season.

But an offseason of trade rumors and a position change left McCutchen in flux, and the doubts of his performance again began to crop up. Any tempered optimism that fans had in regards to McCutchen’s 2017 season were dashed once the games began to rack up.

Rock bottom: The 2017 season

While the calendar has just turned to June, the performance of Andrew McCutchen so far has left much to be desired. Those who called his 2016 season a downfall have only had their points enforced by his play this season.

In 52 games, McCutchen has hit .223 and posted an 86 OPS+. Some thought that a return to center field would provide a spark for McCutchen. But in his 38 games played in center field for the suspended Starling Marte, McCutchen has done little to show a return to form.

Many have speculated the cause for McCutchen’s decline, and I will add to that speculation. When looking at the advanced metrics, one thing stood out to me more than any other: a sign of declining speed. McCutchen had always been known for his blend of power and speed, and even though he hit .256 last season, he still hit 24 home runs.

That is right in line with his 162 game average of 24 per year. But his legs seem to be giving out on him, causing his overall performance to decline.

Explaining McCutchen’s decline

Andrew McCutchen

A decline in speed may be the culprit behind McCutchen’s decline (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

One statistic I saw a major drop in was his BABIP. With a career .328 BABIP, the .247 mark posted this season by McCutchen is well below his usual performance.

BABIP can be impacted by a number of factors, one being the speed of a player. It can be reasoned that the faster a player, the better chance he has at beating out a throw to first for a base hit. And that was something that McCutchen excelled at.

With a 9.2 percent infield hit rate, McCutchen was able to beat out ground balls for base hits. But this season, McCutchen’s 3.1 percent infield hit rate is vastly lower than his career mark.

With a lower infield hit percentage this season compared to his career, it seems that his speed has sorely diminished. And when you take into account his stolen base numbers, it becomes even more evident.

From 2009-2015, McCutchen averaged 22 stolen bases per season. In 2016, that number dropped to six stolen bases. He was also caught stealing seven times last season. The decline in stolen bases was a precipitous one, but only part of the decline of Andrew McCutchen’s game.

But at only 30 years old, it remains to be seen if the former MVP can adjust to playing the game with a diminished skill set.

 

Feature image by Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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Three Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal

Each season’s NHL trade deadline brings its own je ne sais quoi; its own certain something. And this year has been no different.

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Photo credit: Jillian Wagner, Hockey Fan Land.

Deadline trends this year have been dictated, and complicated, by an extremely tight Eastern Conference and an unpredictable wild card race on both coasts. Coupled with the high volume of quality pending free agents, high asking prices,

and an impending expansion draft, this season’s deadline has been a roller coaster already.

In earnest, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes kicked things off last Thursday but it’s been the last 48 hours that general managers have really begun to make moves. Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings; Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild; Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Senators; Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals; many of the League’s top pending free agents have already been dealt.

But there are still a lot of big names out there, and more than one contender who needs to bulk up their roster before the big show.

So welcome to the hot stove, pull up a seat, from our Haus to yours this is The Game Haus’ Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal.

NEW YORK RANGERS

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Photo credit: Jared Silber, Getty Images.

The New York Rangers have been awfully quiet thus far but don’t mistake their patience for disinterest. The Rangers boast over $10-million-dollars in deadline cap space, a number of draft picks, and plenty of young talent to attract potential trade partners.

The Rangers have been rumored to be looking at Brendan Smith. The Detroit Red Wing would add grit and bringing depth on the left side of the lineup.

The Rangers were also rumored to have been in the market for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. But, in what can only be described as a cruel twist of fate, the Washington Capitals appear to have acquired the coveted young defensman first. If all goes well for Alex Ovechkin and the President’s Trophy front runners, Shattenkirk will suit up tonight in New York against the Rangers.

Regardless, expect the Rangers to make a move or two before the deadline in order to improve their playoff chances.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

As if not to be outdone by his offseason wheelin’ and dealin’, Montreal Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin went ahead and brought Claude Julien back to the Bell Centre. Though this move has the potential to overshadow any other made by Bergevin this season it’s not likely to be his last.

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Photo Credit: NHL.com.

The Canadiens were in talks to acquire Martin Hanzal, but Arizona Coyotes’ general manager John Chayka chose to deal with Minnesota instead. In need of a defenseman to help Montreal’s big blue liners with the big minutes they’ve been carrying, Bergevin swapped Greg Pateryn and a fourth for Dallas Stars defenseman Jordie Benn.

Still, the Habs will need more than just a new coach and another mediocre defenseman if they have any hopes of advancing very far in the playoffs. Montreal desperately needs depth down the middle.

Despite the fact that Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has been very hard on his price point for star center Matt Duchene, the rumors around his being dealt have not slowed down. If Duchene’s price remains too high perhaps Bergevin might consider looking elsewhere for a new forward as the March 1 deadline fast approaches.

The Tampa Bay Lighting are flush with forwards pending restricted free agency. While teams like Detroit and Arizona posses similarly attractive assets.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

The defending Stanley Cup Champions have zero projected cap space, so they are looking strictly for a rental player only. That is, of course, unless they can unload a contract or two in the process.

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Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

Though he has a no trade clause in place, Marc-Andre Fleury represents roughly $6-million-dollars of cap space. Cap space which the Pittsburgh Penguins could otherwise use to their advantage. Though Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford has expressed his wish to keep Fleury and Matt Murray both, Fleury has recently voiced that he would rather be playing; opening the door for speculation once again.

But that’s the least of Rutherford’s worries at the moment.

What Pittsburgh lacks is a healthy defense. With Pittsburgh’s cap in mind, there are plenty of less expensive options on the open market. And Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia, and of course St. Louis, have a wide range of pending free agent defensemen for sale.

In addition to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes, the Penguins have experienced injury issues all year on the front end as well. That being said, don’t be surprised if Rutherford adds some depth to the bottom six.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

*all Salary Cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.com

Expect An Exciting End to the NBA Trade Deadline

With the recent blockbuster trade that sent Demarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, the Trade Deadline has started to heat up in the NBA. What deals can still happen in the next few days?

There has been some speculation that the Cousins deal actually depreciated the market. Teams may be less inclined to give up a bundle of assets since the Pelicans gave so little for a superstar. The current state of the NBA lends well for some trades to still happen however. There are a few names in particular that seem to be hitting the market.

NBA Trade Deadline

Brook Lopez (Photo courtesy: twitter.com)

The Nets seem to be the biggest seller at this point. Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic have both been floating around trade talks for a good while now. Finding an appropriate destination for them is a different story.

Lopez was often linked to the Pelicans who have obviously satiated their need for a big man with Cousins. The Pelicans’ deal seriously hampers the chances of a Lopez deal happening. Although he was linked in trade talks with the Pacers, it seems unlikely that the Pacers’ first round pick will be enticing enough to get Lopez.

Bogdanovic is another story. He would be a perfect fit in Oklahoma City as they need a wing threat. He also could fit in Washington as a bench scorer, which is something the Wizards desperately need. It’s yet to be seen whether either of those deals could materialize, but Bogdanovic is much more likely to move at the deadline.

The most recent development of the day is the linking of Blake Griffin to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are one of the few teams that have the assets to grab a superstar (assuming Vlade Divac is done giving them away), and if anyone was going to make a huge splash it would be Boston. With Kevin Love injured, the Cavaliers may try and leverage their assets for a chance at a title push this year.

The bottom line is that even though the Cousins trade undoubtedly will make General Managers more wary about being on the wrong side of a deal, the atmosphere for big trades may have been increased. The parity in the league right now is as high as it has been in a long time, and teams may try to take advantage of a perceived window of opportunity.

The four best teams in the East (The Cavs, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors) all have a shot at winning the East after the Kevin Love injury. Although the Cavaliers remain the favorites, an upset is more likely than it has been since Lebron Left Cleveland in the first place. In the West, the Pelicans trade allows for significantly more parity, and the chances of a playoff upset increase astronomically.

The next few days could reflect those sentiments. Look out for at least a few deals to be made, and maybe even a blockbuster.

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Goalies, Goalies Everywhere, yet Not a Save to Spare

What started off as a season flush with goaltenders has quickly eroded into one where quality starters have become exceedingly scarce. The 2016/17 campaign has been particularly tough on net minders across the League.

Take a quick glance around the NHL and there is one thing you’re guaranteed to see, goalie problems. Whether they’re the product of an overzealous media, mismanaged expectations, injury or under-performance, the league is rife with goaltending troubles.

From our Haus to yours, here’s The Game Haus’

top ‘tender troubles of 2016/17

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins sport a unique problem. They have two number one goalies. Not only do they have two number ones, they have arguably two of the best number ones in the League. As far as problems go, this is a pretty good one to have.

Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury have been at the center of speculation since before the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign.

Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup championship last year, has effectively taken over the starting spot from veteran net minder Marc-Andre Fleury. Still eligible for Calder consideration, Murray’s contract extends until the 2020/21 season; at which point he’ll be a Restricted Free Agent.

Detroit Red Wings, Tampa bay lighting, pittsburgh penguins, dallas stars, winnipeg jets, st. louis blues, calgary flames, los angeles kings, jonathan quick, jake allen, petr mrazec, jimmy howard, jared coreau, antti niemi, ben bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, brian elliott, marc-andre fleury, matt murray, steven stamkos, kari lehtonen, peter budaj, jeff zatkoff, chad johnson, ondrej pavelec, connor hellebuyck, micheal hutchinson, paul maurice, jim rutherford, NHL, goalies, trade deadline, NHL trade deadline, no trade clause

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press.

Murray’s annual cap hit is $2-million-dollars less than that of Fleury’s and his contract term one-year longer. Murray is also 10 years younger than Fleury.

Basically, the Penguins have two options. They can hold on to both Murray and Fleury for the remainder of the year or they can make a move, trade away Fleury, and gain something in return.

If the Penguins choose to retain both players the inevitable choice will have to be made, who to protect in the upcoming expansion draft?

Now the Penguins can only protect one goalie, and Fleury has a No Trade Clause built into his contract. So if the Penguins choose to go with Murray (which seems most likely) they will need Marc-Andre Fleury to waive his No Trade Clause. And if he does, there is a good chance that the Las Vegas Golden Knights will take Fleury off their hands.

The upside to this strategy: The Penguins will have the world’s best back-up for the remainder of the season.

The downside: Playing a two-goalie, hot-hand gets the start system, is tough on teams and net minders alike. Not to mention that if the Penguins go down this road they will most likely lose a world-class goaltender while gaining nothing in return. It would be the equivalent of letting him walk in Free-Agency.

Accordingly, there has been lot of talk about moving Marc-Andre Fleury.

Keeping in mind Fleury’s NTC, there are plenty of teams in need of a solid number one net minder right now. While one might speculate that the Penguins ought to shop Fleury sooner rather than later, Rutherford has made it known on several occasions that he is in no rush to relocated Fleury.

There remains the distinct possibility that the Penguins will ride with both guys for the remainder of the season.

The Penguins could also potentially buy Fleury out after the season’s end. Though this scenario is unlikely to play out.

 

Los Angeles Kings

Second last in the Pacific Division is not where the Los Angeles Kings saw themselves before the season started. Unfortunately, it is what it is.

When the Los Angeles Kings’ lost Jonathan Quick to a groin injury at the beginning of the season the Kings knew it would be a rough go without their Stanley Cup winning, Vezina nominated, net minder.

It was originally hoped that Quick would miss only a few weeks. Having recently undergoing a non-surgical procedure on his groin, however, it is unlikely that the Kings will see Quick back in fighting form until March.

Without Quick, the Kings were forced to turn to their back-up Jeff Zatkoff. But lightning struck twice in Los Angeles this season. Shortly after Quick sustained his injury, so too did Zatkoff. Zatkoff suffered a groin injury during practice back in October.

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Photo credit: Canadian Press.

And so it was without their number one starter and back-up that the Kings recalled goaltenders Peter Budaj and Jack Campbell from their AHL affiliate.

Budaj has been remarkably solid in net for the Kings so far, going 20-14-3 on the season. His Save Percentage is a respectable .916 and his Goals Against Average is 2.14.

Though it would appear that the Kings have managed to stop the bleeding, it will be interesting to see what happens when Quick returns from injury.

 

St. Louis Blues

For far too long the St. Louis Blues rolled with two tender system without any appreciable success to show for it. For the Blues, a choice had to made; it was between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.

The Blues decided to go with Allen, trading away Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames for their Second round (35th overall) draft pick in the 2016/17 NHL Entry Draft.

Putting their faith in Allen, the Blues went ahead this season with a clear number one net minder. No more splitting starts for Jake Allen, or at least that was the plan. For the most part, Jake Allen has received (and will continue to receive) the lion’s share of starts for St. Louis. But it has been a rocky road as of late for the 26-year old New Brunswick native.

On January 19th he was pulled for the fourth time in six starts after allowing four goals on only 10 shots against the Washington Capitals.

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Photo Credit: NHLPA.

And while the Blues began a three game road trip this weekend in Winnipeg, Allen stayed home.

Listed as Day-to-Day, General Manager Doug Armstrong believes that Allen’s goaltending woes are largely mental. He maintains that Allen is their “long-term goaltender” but with a Goals Against Average of 2.85 and a Save Percentage of .897 his performance has been troubling for the struggling Blues squad.

In the 2015-16 season Allen posted a 2.35 Goals Against and a .920 Save Percentage.

With the Blues reportedly shopping around Shattenkirk, it is conceivable that they may take the time to consider adding another quality goaltender to the team.

 

Calgary Flames

Did somebody say Brian Elliott?

After the Calgary Flames let both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo walk when their contracts expired last year they sorely needed a new net minder. While reports whirled around about who it might be the Flames found a suitable trade partner in St. Louis.

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Photo credit: Will Nault.

The Flames traded away their second round draft pick in the 2016 Entry Draft for Brian Elliott and never looked back. Until now.

Though Elliott was received with much fan fair, the Flames have been forced to rely on their back-up Chad Johnson.  As the situation would have it, it now appears that Johnson is Calgary’s new number one; while Elliott rides the pine as the team’s new number one in reserve.

Johnson signed as a free agent in the offseason. With a record of 16-11-1 and a Save Percentage of .917 (as compared to Elliott’s 8-11-2 and .893 Save Percentage), it looks as if the Flames will be rolling with Johnson for the remainder of the year.

Elliott is on the last year of his $2.5-million-dollar contract, which makes him attractive to teams looking to add a solid back-up before the trade deadline might be interested in Elliott.

Don’t be surprised to see him dealt at before the Trade Deadline comes and goes.

 

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are in a funny spot right now.

After assigning Ondrej Pavelec, their one-time starting goaltender, to the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, head coach Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets elected to go with their young guns Connor Hellebuyck and Micheal Hutchinson to start the season.

Though the season kicked off with a bang for the Jets their follow through has been less than stellar. The Jets are currently fifth in the Central Division and have consistently failed to crack .500 on season. And it was in the midst of these underwhelming results that the Jets decided to mix things up a bit.

Detroit Red Wings, Tampa bay lighting, pittsburgh penguins, dallas stars, winnipeg jets, st. louis blues, calgary flames, los angeles kings, jonathan quick, jake allen, petr mrazec, jimmy howard, jared coreau, antti niemi, ben bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, brian elliott, marc-andre fleury, matt murray, steven stamkos, kari lehtonen, peter budaj, jeff zatkoff, chad johnson, ondrej pavelec, connor hellebuyck, micheal hutchinson, paul maurice, jim rutherford, NHL, goalies, trade deadline, NHL trade deadline, no trade clause

Photo credit: John Woods, Canadian Press.

To the surprise of Jets fans everywhere Ondrej Pavelec was recalled from the Manitoba Moose last week. While noting that the move was not permanent, Maurice did mention that “nothing is set in stone.”

Pavelec got the nod against Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday and then again on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. He won both games, posting a Goals Against Average of 3.03 and a Save Percentage of .914.

And now the Jets are stuck with three mediocre goaltenders.

Given that Pavelec is in the last year of his $4.75-million-dollar contract, don’t be surprised if the Jets start shopping him around. It is likely that they will try to move him before the season ends and go with Hellebuyck and Hutchinson in the long run.

 

Dallas Stars

  W L OTL SV% GAA
Antti Niemi 10 7 4 .902 3.16
Kari Lehtonen 9 13 5 .899 2.87
Detroit Red Wings, Tampa bay lighting, pittsburgh penguins, dallas stars, winnipeg jets, st. louis blues, calgary flames, los angeles kings, jonathan quick, jake allen, petr mrazec, jimmy howard, jared coreau, antti niemi, ben bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, brian elliott, marc-andre fleury, matt murray, steven stamkos, kari lehtonen, peter budaj, jeff zatkoff, chad johnson, ondrej pavelec, connor hellebuyck, micheal hutchinson, paul maurice, jim rutherford, NHL, goalies, trade deadline, NHL trade deadline, no trade clause

Photo credit: Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News.

 

For the Stars it’s a bit of a ‘damned if you, damned if don’t’ type of situation. They sport an abysmal minus-22 on the season.

Neither of their net minders, Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen, can be played with confidence and they’ve lost seven of their last 10 matches.

The Stars are in serious need of some new life in net. Conveniently, they have roughly $2-million-dollars in cap space and a full 14 players set to hit Unrestricted or Restricted Free Agency next year. Taken together, the Stars are fully capable of being both buyers and sellers before the trade deadline.

Don’t be surprised if they make a move to improve their back end.

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

Though they didn’t make a long run into the playoffs last year the Detroit Red Wings were able to keep the streak alive. Largely due to the unprecedented effort of their young guns and the unbelievable net minding of Petr Mrazek.

Detroit Red Wings, Tampa bay lighting, pittsburgh penguins, dallas stars, winnipeg jets, st. louis blues, calgary flames, los angeles kings, jonathan quick, jake allen, petr mrazec, jimmy howard, jared coreau, antti niemi, ben bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, brian elliott, marc-andre fleury, matt murray, steven stamkos, kari lehtonen, peter budaj, jeff zatkoff, chad johnson, ondrej pavelec, connor hellebuyck, micheal hutchinson, paul maurice, jim rutherford, NHL, goalies, trade deadline, NHL trade deadline, no trade clause

Photo credit: Dave Reginek, Getty Images.

Mrazec’s effort last season earned him a two-year $8-million-dollar contract extension. Accordingly, the Wings’ former number one Jimmy Howard was relegated to the role of back-up.

Before the season began the plan was pretty straight forward: roll with Mrazec, expose Howard to the expansion draft, and call upon their farm team to replace the missing piece if need be.

But those plans never panned out.

Instead, Mrazec underperformed, Howard hit the Injured Reserve, and the Wings were forced to call up the youngster Jared Coreau.

And now the Wings find themselves in somewhat of an awkward position.

Do they protect Coreau? He appears to be the Wings’ new number one going forward.

Do they protect Mrazec? Though Coreau has been solid thus far, Mrazec has a much larger body of work. Coreau is young and relatively untested, as were Mrazec has a few solid years under his belt.

One thing is for certain, the Wings aren’t likely to protect Howard. But they aren’t likely to trade him either.

Detroit’s biggest problem, when it comes to net minders, is the amount they pay them.

Howard comes with a hefty $5.3-million-dollar a year price tag. With two more years remaining on his contract it is unlikely they will be able to move him without retaining some of his salary.

That said, keep an eye on the Wings’ at the deadline.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Even when big Ben Bishop was healthy the Tampa Bay Lightning were having a tough time stringing wins together. Now that he’s injured, they are having an even harder time.

Detroit Red Wings, Tampa bay lighting, pittsburgh penguins, dallas stars, winnipeg jets, st. louis blues, calgary flames, los angeles kings, jonathan quick, jake allen, petr mrazec, jimmy howard, jared coreau, antti niemi, ben bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, brian elliott, marc-andre fleury, matt murray, steven stamkos, kari lehtonen, peter budaj, jeff zatkoff, chad johnson, ondrej pavelec, connor hellebuyck, micheal hutchinson, paul maurice, jim rutherford, NHL, goalies, trade deadline, NHL trade deadline, no trade clause

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images.

Now you might think that Andrei Vasilevskiy would shine in Bishop’s absence but that simply hasn’t been the case. The Bolts have struggled immensely without Steven Stamkos in the lineup and things do not appear to be getting any better.

The story here is nothing new. The Bolts have two of the League’s most elite net minders in Bishop and Vasilevskiy but can only protect one in the expansion draft.

Whether it’s Bishop of Vasilevskiy, it’s better for the Bolts to make a trade and get something – rather than nothing – in return.

 

(Dis)Honourable mention

The Philadelphia Flyers have been struggling as of late. Both Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth are pending Unrestricted Free Agents and it remains unclear if either of them will be given extensions or resigned in the off-season.

The New York Islanders seem to have found a new number one in Thomas Griess and Jean-Francois Berube. After Jaroslav Halak cleared waivers earlier this season it is unclear what will become of their former starting net minder. Halak’s hefty $4.5-million-dollar salary will make him hard to move. He has another year left on his contract.

The Colorado Avalanche are unlikely to right the ship any time soon. With Semyon Varlamov out until at least after the All-Star break, Calvin Pickard playing sub-par at best, and a ton a trade bait on their roster, the Avs’ are going to be a team to watch come the trade deadline.

 

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Some Crazy (And Not-So-Crazy) Possible Trade Deadline Move

As the trade deadline approaches, it’s time to start thinking about some of the moves teams could make. With so many teams in the no-mans-land of not being elite, but not quite being terrible either, this trade deadline has the potential to be exciting. For the same reason, it also could lack intrigue and big moves.

Teams with young talent and no chance at a title may try to acquire picks or more young players. Teams on the cusp of being elite may try to bolster their roster. Here are some crazy (and not-so-crazy) deals teams should try to strike as the deadline approaches.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings

Alex Abrines

Kyle Singler

Andre Roberson

Cameron Payne

The Thunder get a deadly scoring threat to pair with Russel Westbrook. The Kings clear up cap space and are able to acquire more young talent (especially in Cameron Payne). Payne has a ton of potential and is wasting it as a backup in Oklahoma City. A change of scenery and a chance to get more minutes could do wonders for the second year player.

 

Sacramento Kings:

Goran Dragic

Miami Heat:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

This move would be making the exact opposite decision for the Kings. In the above move, they would be gearing for the future. This move would allow them to make a run at the 8th seed this year with a consistent point guard threat. They would also acquire their point guard for the net few years. For the Heat, they would free up cap space, allowing them to make a run at a big free agent this year. They might even be able to leverage some kind of future pick from the Kings.

 

Portland Trailblazers:

Marcus Smart

1st Round Draft Pick (From Philadelphia)

 

Philadelphia 76ers:

CJ McCollum

 Boston Celtics:

Nerlens Noel

Now these start to get a little crazier. The Sixers have a stockpile of picks, and could use one of them to land an offensive star. With McCollum, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the Sixers would have their core to build around. The Trailblazers have been disappointing this season, and may decide it’s time to refocus their team. With a high draft pick and Marcus Smart, they could kick-start that rebuild. The Celtics could use Noel or Okafor on their team, but Noel would add a defensive presence that would be vital to this team. It wouldn’t make them an immediate contender, but it certainly would help.

Sacramento Kings:

Amir Johnson

Marcus Smart

1st Round Pick

Boston Celtics:

Demarcus Cousins

If the Celtics try and leverage their 1st round pick, that they can swap with the Brooklyn Nets, they may become an immediate contender for the Eastern Conference title. They are one star player away from being a title contender, and Boogie Cousins could certainly be that star. For the Kings, they could start their rebuild with a top 5 pick and a solid young player in Marcus Smart. They may require more to even consider this deal (Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown) but a trade of the Kings’ star may be beneficial for both teams.

 

Charlotte Hornets:

Brandon Knight

 Phoenix Suns:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Frank Kaminsky

1st Round Pick

The Hornets need to help Kemba Walker in the back-court if they want to succeed in the East. Brandon Knight may be the solution. Knight’s value is as low as it has been in years, and for a pair of young players and a pick they may be able to snag the guard. He is still a solid player and fully capable of making this team relevant in the Eastern Conference.

 

So, how many moves will we see go down at the Trade Deadline? Who will be the winners and losers? With so many talented players in the rumor mill, we can only hope it will be an eventful one.

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Kyle Korver Trade Gives the Cavs Much Needed Depth

Somewhere in the depths of suburban Ohio, David Griffin will be sleeping a little bit easier tonight. This is of course due in no small part to his signing of Kyle Korver today.

Griffin is no stranger to big signings. Two season ago Griffin traded for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov in the offseason. After signing Lebron, Griffin traded Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Last season, Griffin acquired Channing Frye.

The litany of moves made by the GM over the past few years have transformed the Cavaliers into the dominant force they are today. His latest acquisition of Kyle Korver, for what is reportedly Mike Dunleavy and a first round pick, could make them the outright favorite to repeat for the NBA Championship.

Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver should have many open looks in his new offense. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

Korver has been one of the best three point shooters in the league since he was drafted in 2003. He’s hit 41% of his looks this year from beyond the arc. More importantly to the Cavaliers, he’s hit 48% of his looks when he’s open. When it comes to playmaking, the Cavs have a once-in-a-generation talent in Lebron James. Needless to say, Korver is going to get his looks this year.

In the bigger picture, this solidifies Cleveland’s chances of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Championship. The Raptors pose a threat, especially if they can obtain Paul Millsap by the deadline. The Celtics also pose a threat if they can strengthen their team with a deadline trade. Ultimately though, the Cavaliers should ride their star power and depth to an Eastern Conference Finals victory and a third straight Finals appearance.

The most likely scenario remains a rematch with the Warriors. Ever since the signing of Kevin Durant, the Warriors have been the heavy favorites to take the championship. The Warriors’ biggest weakness however, continues to be a strength for Cleveland. Simply, their lack of depth.

Despite what is most likely the strongest starting lineup in basketball, the Warriors bench is the weakest of any contender. Andre Iguodola has struggled compared to last year, and they have minimal depth in the frontcourt.

The Korver trade strengthens the Cavaliers bench and makes them even deeper than they were before. Mike Dunleavy was barely playable for the Cavs, and Korver can immediately bring a scoring presence to this lineup.

The Cavaliers already had Channing Frye, Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith and Kevin Love raining threes. On top of that, Lebron is having one of his best seasons from beyond the arc at 37%. The addition of Korver makes them one of the deadliest teams from long range in the entire league.

This trade makes the potential Warriors-Cavs rematch even more interesting as the amount of offensive firepower continues to grow between the two teams. The deal should boost the Cavs odds of taking the title, all with another deal on the horizon. The Cavs are reportedly in the market for a backup point guard, which could give them an edge on the Warriors. Either way, this will hopefully kick off one of the more eventful trade deadlines in recent years.

 

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The Philadelphia 76ers Only Have Two Stars, But Maybe That’s OK

As the season progresses, it’s becoming more evident that the Philadelphia 76ers simply don’t have enough of a core to build around. With the trade deadline less than two months away, it’s time for the team to start focusing on tooling for the future.

The Sixers have spent the past five years stockpiling assets at the top of the draft lottery. The result has been a logjam in the front court, and one that needs a solution before the trade deadline.

Monday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings serves as a decent benchmark for where this team is headed for the future. Former #3 draft pick Joel Embiid scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds with a plus/minus of +3. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor (fellow highly drafted big men) were rendered ineffective and the team was outscored when they were on the floor.

Throughout the game, Embiid flashed the talent that has made him one of the best young big men in the league. Defensively he guarded the paint and the perimeter, recording two steals and two blocks. In the post, he showed finesse and bullied Demarcus Cousins in the paint throughout the game. Outside the paint, he flashed his three point prowess and showed some breakaway speed on fast breaks. Better yet? He’s been doing it all season.

 

Joel Embiid Highlights from Dec. 26th 

 

Noel only played 3 minutes during the game, a testament to the pileup of big men in the roster. When Noel has seen the floor, he has struggled to score and rebound. He is a prominent defender who just can’t seem to put it together on this team.

Similarly, Okafor has also struggled throughout the season despite his promising rookie campaign last year. His post game remains impressive, but his inability to rebound and defend against many of the first units in the league would make it difficult to build a team around him.

Interestingly, his game compares well to a fellow third overall pick, Enes Kanter. Both big men are able to score well off the bench despite their inefficiency on the other end of the floor.

Many teams around the league could use a scoring presence like Okafor. Talent dry teams like the Brooklyn Nets could use his presence to help inject talented youth into their lineup. Teams like Portland and Boston could use him to build depth off of the bench.

The problem, however, is that Philadelphia has lost their leverage over the past few years. Nerlens Noel becomes a restricted free agent after this year and Okafor has only one more year left on his deal. The addition of Dario Saric and the impending return of Ben Simmons has created a need to clear space in the Philly frontcourt.

Realistically, Simmons and Embiid are the only future starters on this team and Simmons hasn’t even seen a minute in the NBA yet. Regardless, it’s hardly time to panic about the team’s future.

Saric, along with Robert Covington and Sergio Rodriguez, look like they could be a nice presence of the bench in the future. Hopefully, the team can capitalize off of Okafor and Noel before the deadline this year. Most importantly, the 2017 NBA draft approaches quickly.

This looks like yet another lost season for the Sixers in the “Trust the Process” era. Hope, however, lies in the draft.

This looks to be one of the most promising draft classes in years with a plethora of potential stars in the NCAA right now. Additionally, many of the highly ranked players are guards and wings which are holes the Sixers desperately need to fill. They will likely end up with two top ten picks this year and will no doubt be able to find playmaking and scoring at the top of the draft.

Another struggling season seems to be yet another embodiment of “The Process” for the woeful 76ers, but the future appears to be much brighter. A new year could bring a healthy Ben Simmons and a limitless Joel Embiid. February could open up the roster for more young stars. The Process just may be coming along.

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10 Things to Watch For in the NBA in 2017

2016 comes to a close as one of the most exciting basketball years in the history of the NBA. From Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan’s last seasons, to Russel Westbrook’s triple doubles, to the ridiculous Finals series, this year was full of memorable moments that will go down in NBA history. However, a new year brings new possibilities. Here are the ten best things to look forward to in the NBA in 2017.

10. Trust The Process?: Will Joel Embiid win Rookie of the Year? Can Ben Simmons make his long awaited return? Will the Sixers end up with two top ten picks? Can Dario Saric make the leap to consistent NBA starter? The New Year brings loads of questions for the NBA’s perennial doormat and not many clear answers. It will be interesting to see whether the 76ers will be able to escape the NBA’s cellar in 2017.

9. 2017 NBA Draft: This draft is considered to be one of the most talented ones in recent years. Markelle Fultz remains the prize at the top of the draft, and names like Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson highlight an unusually deep lottery pool. The lottery looks to be a mix of familiar teams (Philadelphia) and newcomers (Miami and Dallas) as teams try to find a future superstar. Summer league will no doubt be a spectacle this year as well.

8. 2017 Trade Deadline: The trade deadline this year will be full of stories, especially with the loaded draft coming up. Greg Monroe looks to be a possible big-name trade candidate. Portland, a team with a weakness in the frontcourt, may look to target Monroe or one of the big men from Philadelphia. Rudy Gay remains a big name for teams in need of a three-and-D wing presence. For teams with a need a guard, Goran Dragic and Will Barton look to be high end options on the market. With a talented draft class this year, teams may be less likely to part with picks. But the plethora of young talent around the league makes this deadline an especially interesting one.

7. MVP Race: This year brings one of the best MVP races we’ve seen in years. Right now, James Harden and Russell Westbrook look like the favorites. However, the award usually goes to a player on either the one seed or the two seed. Can the Rockets or Thunder grab that distinction? If not, voters may be compelled to look to former winners Lebron James and Kevin Durant, who have each put together noteworthy seasons. This MVP race is one of the most wide open in recent memory and looks to go down to the final weeks of the season.

6. The Greek Freak’s Takeover: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been incredible this year as his astronomical rise to stardom has continued. He’s taken the NBA by storm over the past calendar year by showing a Magic-esque ability to play every position on the court. He’s a freak athlete, a superb defender, and a great distributor. If he can develop a jump shot, the league better watch out. The Greek Freak’s continual rise to superstardom will no doubt be something to marvel at in the coming year.

5. Free Agency: This summer an exploding cap, combined with stars hitting the market, will make for an eventful free agency. Steph Curry is the biggest name as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, and many other players have player options that they can exercise to become free agents this summer. Madness will no doubt ensue as free agency opens this summer and teams have a historic amount of money to spend. Watch for a shakeup of the power balance in the league.

4. New All-Stars: 2017’s NBA All Star Game could play host to a slew of first time All-Stars. Second year guys Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis look like they have a decent chance of making their first appearance. More established league stars such as Giannis, Kemba Walker, and Hassan Whiteside have a chance at making their debuts. All-Star weekend should be a blast to watch as some young guys get a shot at making their NBA All Star Game debut.

3. Golden State Warriors in the Playoffs: The new-look Warriors are capable of putting out a lineup that looks seemingly impossible to stop. Meanwhile, their Western conference foes seem to have taken a step back compared to last year. This Warriors team lacks rim protection and depth, and it’s fair to wonder whether that will come back to haunt them in the playoffs. The Warriors will need their superstars to step up if they want to make it through to the Finals again this year.

2. Russell Westbrook Chases History: Russell Westbrook is currently averaging a triple double, a feat nobody has accomplished in over 40 years. Can the Oklahoma City star continue his dominance in 2017? With a motor that seems to never stop, the answer could be yes. A triple-double season may even be enough to secure the MVP on a low-seeded playoff team. Westbrook has truly been something to behold, and his dominance of the NBA will be something to watch in 2017.

1. The Cavaliers Title Defense: Lebron James and Kyrie Irving kicked it up a notch on Christmas Day. They outperformed the Warriors in the stretch and buried them on a Kyrie buzzer beater. Is the trio of Lebron, Kyrie and Kevin Love enough to beat the juggernaut in Golden State? Well, having the best player in the world doesn’t hurt. The NBA playoffs will no doubt be a appointment television as Lebron tries to win his fourth title for Cleveland.

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