The odds are out on the Blue Jackets' chances of winning the Stanley Cup this season and, well, they're not good.
Bodog.com puts the Jackets in a tie with the New York Islanders at the bottom of the list at 100-1. Even Edmonton, which finished 17 points behind Columbus in the Western Conference last season, checked in at 75-1. Columbus also has the longest odds to win the Western Conference (75-1) and Central Division (50-1).
Why so bad? The Jackets' failure to make significant roster changes in the offseason doubtless has something to do with it, although bookmakers also clearly aren't convinced that Steve Mason will have a comeback season. Only one goalie, Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles, has longer odds than Mason's 40-1 of winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.
Chicago (6-1), Washington (13-2), Pittsburgh (7-1) and Vancouver (8-1) are among the Cup favorites.
Infielder Cord Phelps is still hitting like he did in Columbus after his call-up from Akron on June 9. The switch-hitting Phelps, who batted .316 against lefties and .317 against righties after his promotion to help the Clippers win the triple-A national championship, hit an RBI single and scored two runs in Team USA's 8-3 win over Puerto Rico in the Pan American qualifying tournament in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
Phelps, a former Stanford second baseman, will go to the Arizona Fall League after this tournament and work on getting comfortable at third base, where Cleveland Indians officials hope he will compete for the starting job in 2011.
Baseball season eventually will lead to arbitration season in Cincinnati, and when it does, the faces might not be quite so bright. Joey Votto, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto will be eligible for arbitration for the first time, and that often means that players go from being valuable puzzle pieces to expensive problems.
Volquez and Cueto will earn nice raises, but Votto is going to hit the lottery. The slugging first baseman has had an MVP-caliber season -- .324 average, 37 home runs, 113 RBI -- and could get $10 million next season in arbitration. The Phillies' Ryan Howard won a record $10 million for a first-year arbitration-eligible player in 2008 after the Phillies had offered $7 million.
Whatever Votto gets, the Reds will doubtless fit that into their budget next season. But the Phillies avoided arbitration with Howard the following year by giving him a three-year deal that paid him $15 million, $19 million and $20 million, and that's where Votto might start getting a little rich for the Reds' blood.
It appeared that Nebraska's move to the Big Ten after this season would kill its football rivalry with Oklahoma, but school officials aren't ready to completely let it go. Cornhuskers athletic director Tom Osborne told USA Today this week that he has had discussions with OU, and Sooners sources told The Oklahoman that Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma's AD, came up with the idea of a series in 2020-21 or 2021-22.
The 2021 game would be played in Norman, Okla., 50 years after a 35-31 Nebraska win in what is considered one of college football's best games.
Former Indians general manager John Hart reportedly is one of the five to seven names that the New York Mets have targeted as possible replacements for fired GM Omar Minaya. The Mets haven't made the playoffs since 2006, and owner Fred Wilpon is smarting after a team with a $130 million payroll finished 79-83.
With Michigan and Michigan State both off to 5-0 starts, a Stubhub.com spokesman told the Detroit Free Press that their Saturday game in Ann Arbor is the Detroit metro area's No. 1 event of the year, based on the website's formula (quantity times the average ticket price). It's the most expensive ticket in the rivalry's past 10 years, which is as long as Stubhub has tracked it.
The site said fans have paid an average of $200 a ticket, with purchases ranging from $50 to $600. Some fans are asking $1,400 for the better seats. Ticket face value is $65.
Edmonton sending Sheldon Souray to Hershey, the Washington Capitals' American Hockey League club, and not its own minor-league club in Oklahoma City is a clear sign that the Oilers don't want the disgruntled defenseman around their top prospects.
There was speculation that the Blue Jackets would try to make a deal for Souray -- they need a puck-moving defenseman -- but it never happened. Souray is a tough sell, in part because he has two years left at $4.5 million a season, with a salary-cap hit of $5.4 million, and in part because he's had injury problems. If a club makes a deal for him now, he will have to go through waivers, and another team can claim him for half his salary.
But if he plays well and is injury-free in Hershey, that could make him attractive to teams that have a clear need, including the Jackets.
If there's not trouble in Happy Valley, there is at least doubt. After Penn State's 24-3 loss at Iowa on Saturday, receiver Devon Smith wondered whether the Nittany Lions are a good team.
"It needs to be answered: (Are) we good?" Smith said. "I thought that to myself walking off the field. We always say, 'Oh, we could have,' or 'We were in the red zone, but we didn't score,' But (are) we really good? That's the main question."
Indirectly, Smith might have been wondering if his coaches are good. He said there was a lot of confusion on the sideline Saturday regarding personnel going into and out of the game.
"When we call the plays, just stick to the plays," he said.
All the talk in the Twin Cities about the possibility of Minnesota replacing beleaguered coach Tim Brewster with Gophers grad and former NFL coach Tony Dungy was just that, apparently.
The Pioneer Press in St. Paul reported this week that "there is virtually no chance" that Dungy would take the job. The source said Dungy enjoys his NBC gig as a NFL studio analyst and wants to keep his schedule free to watch his son, Eric, play football at Oregon -- although Eric is a freshman receiver who is redshirting.
Having grown up in the Dayton area as a Cincinnati Bengals fan, Kirk Herbstreit made seemingly innocent comments on ESPN last week about his frustrations with the team's offense, despite the presence of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
As soon as T.O. heard about it, he went on a Twitter attack, asking, among other things, for "somebody to tell kirk herbstreit 2 keep my name outta his mouth."
Given Cincinnati's problems on offense, Owens' reaction seemed ridiculous. Still, he proceeded with a variety of tweets that referred to Herbstreit as a "benchwarmer" who spent his time "holding a clipboard," and he suggested that Herbstreit was "jealous."
The next day, the Bengals lost to the Browns -- but Owens had 10 receptions for 222 yards.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.