Starkey: Surprises in store for 2014
Fourteen events that absolutely, indisputably will transpire (or not) in Pittsburgh Sports Year 2014 ...
14. Before Game 1 of a playoff series, Penguins fans will rip into The Honorable Shawn Thornton. Penguins players, however, will tap their sticks for a guy they view as an “honest” player, caring man, noted philanthropist and loyal friend. Thornton will then attack Sidney Crosby.
13. Pitt football will win eight games, three against non-conference opponents only Jamie Dixon could love: Delaware, Florida International and Akron.
12. After the Panthers' overtime win over MAC middleweight Akron, the Twitter-sphere will light up with people saying the program has taken another step forward – just like that pepperoni-bowl win over mighty Bowling Green.
11. Crosby will win the NHL scoring title by 20 points, finishing with 125.
10. The Steelers will cut LaMarr Woodley, who will play five games for his new team before succumbing to a calf injury. Or a hamstring injury. Or a groin injury. Or possibly a pectoral injury. He will then police the locker room during media sessions to make sure reporters leave at the prescribed time (he did a wonderful job of that the past few weeks and is not believed to have sustained any new injuries).
9. Ryan Succop, assuming he still is employed, will get the Jagr treatment and then some when the Kansas City Chiefs play at Heinz Field. He will then beat the Steelers with a 41-yard field goal.
8. Gerrit Cole will become the Pirates' first 20-game winner since John Smiley in 1991, Pedro Alvarez their first 40-home-run man since Willie Stargell in 1973.
7. James Conner – utilizing a Jerome Bettis-like mix of big body and light feet — will become Pitt's next great running back.
6. The Pirates will surprise everybody and re-sign A.J. Burnett for $10 million. Burnett will complain, via Twitter, that the Steelers and Penguins didn't commemorate the move on their web sites.
5. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will reach the Stanley Cup Final behind the stellar goaltending of Jeff Zatkoff and the top-line dominance of Zach Sill, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna.
4. Ray Shero will acquire a player whom he once allowed to get away: Buffalo Sabres winger Matt Moulson.
3. Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk will lead the Russians to gold at the Sochi Olympics. The pressure of playing at home will spur the often-disjointed Russians (sixth place in Vancouver Olympics) to an inspired performance. No, I don't trust their goaltending. Do you trust Canada's?
2. The Steelers will ignore fan pleas to take Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans and opt for 350-pound Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III with the 15th pick. Nix will become the rare rookie to impact Dick LeBeau's defense, immediately fortifying the middle of a sagging run defense.
1. The NFL, feeling regretful over the officiating error(s) that cost the Steelers a playoff spot, will decide against docking the team a draft pick for the Tomlin sideline fiasco. Roger Goodell will make Succop inform the team of his decision.
Moving on, 14 New Year's resolutions you would no doubt love to hear (or not) ...
14. Mike Tomlin: “I will take a course in clock management and leave opposing kick returners alone.”
13. Neil Walker: “I will ditch the whole hitting right-handed thing. Call me ‘Lefty'. ”
12. Kevin Colbert: “I will make the necessary decisions to retool a dying defense – even if it means eating enough dead money to feed 500 Casey Hamptons. Step No. 1: cut Woodley, sign Jason Worilds.”
11. Jason Worilds: “I will not test free agency.”
10. Steve Pederson “I will go back to the Pitt script logo (now, about that on-campus football stadium …).”
9. Andrew McCutchen: “I won't change a thing.”
8. Jamie Dixon: “I will survive to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament — and finally nail down that 20-year series with Champion Baptist.”
7. Brooks Orpik: “I'll pull up on Sid and Geno (but not Kunitz) in Sochi.”
6. Frank Coonelly: “I will finally explain our local TV deal, so that people don't accuse me of avoiding the subject, charging that I don't want the deal to be perceived as really good (lest they think we should be spending more money) or really bad (lest they think I handcuffed the franchise).”
5. Dan Bylsma: “I will clear space on my mantle for a gold medal and a silver cup.”
4. Neal Huntington: “I will find a first baseman not named Chris McGuiness.”
3. Kris Letang: “I will use the Olympic break to refuel, then silence my critics by playing the best hockey of my career from March to the end of June.”
2. Todd Haley: “I will be open to my best friend Ben running even more no-huddle.”
1. Jarvis Jones: “I will get stronger and double my sack total. … Wait, I only had one sack?”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.