Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shark Weak

I've been writing for almost 10 years about the amazing ability of the San Jose Sharks to choke on this page. Fans could debate whether their game 5 choke against the Red Wings in 2007 or their game 7 choke against the Ducks in their President's Trophy year of 2009 was worse—but now that just doesn't matter because they've done a choke for the ages.

They've tried replacing the goalie, the coach, even some of the players. But the core group here is the common denominator now. The new coach too. But, the fish, or in this case the shark, rots from the head.

In the past there were excuses, but in this case there is simply no way a team good enough to beat another team three games in a row and still take a lead in a fourth game isn't good enough to beat them in a series. Injuries weren't the difference. Blaming the refs? Really? You had FOUR chances to do it, and twice as many power plays in game 7.

One of the more insightful things I've read is that the Sharks are locked into a cycle of mediocrity because their success keeps them low in the draft, yet they have nothing to show for it. But that still fails to explain how they are good enough to win 3 games, be ahead in the 4th and not get it done.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

2014 Round 1

Detroit in 7. Maybe not the huge upset we're always looking for, but there you go. Boston will be mad they let this team into their conference.

Montreal in 7.

Pittsburgh in 4. Splat.

Philadelphia in 7. No idea. I flipped a coin.

Colorado in 7. They're hot, but Minny is not an easy out.

Chicago in 7. St. Louis = choked.

Anaheim in 5. They're in the zone.

Los Angeles in 6. San Jose is the most epic playoff choking team since the Buffalo Bills.

So, we have brackets now. Detroit beats Montreal. Pittsburgh beats Philadelphia. Chicago beats Colorado. Anaheim beats Los Angeles. Pittsburgh beats Detroit. Anaheim beats Colorado. Anaheim beats Pittsburgh.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Barry Melrose Makes The Worst Possible Argument In Favor of Fighting

He says fighting is already down.

This is meant to diffuse it as an issue, but he's right. It's down. And the fans haven't gone away. I'm not sure I would ban it, either. But if you had said to me 20 years ago: ban it! I would have said, no way, too much a part of the game. But now based on Melrose's argument, I can say, well, we can live without it.

There's no mistake that a large part of hockey's appeal is its toughness. Tough players who can endure extreme physical challenges to make a play, deliver some of that same punishment when they aren't on the puck, and throw down the gloves when necessary, is one kind of tough. Think Gordie Howe.

But we don't have an awful lot of Gordie Howe anymore. We have a meathead or two on most teams who "fight" to "change the momentum" or "bring energy" or whatever other sportscaster bullshit you want to use. Having 20 figure skaters on your team and one killer isn't the same as having a tough team.

So, I wouldn't want to ban fighting if we were living in a Gordie Howe world. But we're not. We're living in a world where there are 30 teams with 23 roster spots (yes, this is me playing the over-expansion broken record again) and so some of them get filled with guys who get a couple of minutes of ice time.

Here's my solution.

Instead of having 18 skaters and two goalies dress for every game, allow two goalies, 16 skaters and two emergency substitutes. If you put in one of the emergency subs, the person they replace can't come back on, like soccer.

You aren't going to want to put a boxer as an emergency sub. You're going to want a real center for face-offs and a defenseman.

This would not eliminate or ban fighting, but it would remove the fighting only player as a viable option from any team that wanted to win a game.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Better with Lou

A strong counterpoint to this is that ownership pushed Lou into the Kovalchuk contract and they're better off having him there than whoever else this same management would replace him with.

That's a fair point. I can only hope that this was Lou's revenge in a way and the reason they didn't protest was for something along the lines of these reasons.

But who knows.

Soon Martin Brodeur will be gone. Meh. Fucking lame.

I love to say I told you so, so I will. Or the tale of Ilya Palin.

Ilya Kovalchuk "retires" to go play in the KHL. This was the contract the Devils changed their image for. This was the contract that precipitated a lockout. This was the player who was thought to be among the top 5 players in the league for a while.

It was always wrong. I did not recant.

And worse, this is the player that cost the team young talent in Zach Parise and a chance at a new all star blue-liner like Gary Suter or Shea Weber. This is an almost Greek tragedy humiliation for Lou Lamoriello, who has been one of the best GMs over the last 30 years. But he just hasn't had it since the 2005 lockout. I repeat my call for him to step aside. He's all about accountability, right?

Worse, if they felt this was coming, why haven't they done anything about it? I mean, besides adding spare parts (good ones, but spare parts nonetheless) in Clowe and Ryder?

This was a team that just about a year ago was in the Stanley Cup Final, redeeming themselves from some of my criticism. But they didn't do it and now they are screwed for the rest of Martin Brodeur's career—if he comes back next season. (He should realistically be a backup at this point.)

What a damn shame.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Free Agency Heats Up

The Ducks had to do something after blowing a good regular season. And I think they got at the core of the problem. Bobby Ryan is not a character player, which is why I wrote that that columnist was on acid to suggest the Devils acquire him. (Ryan Clowe is, so good on Lou.)

Now the Ducks have the best young defensive corps in the league with Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa, and soon Shea Theodore, solid tending and $10m of cap space and a first round pick to shore up the front ranks that still feature Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

I'd love to see them pick up Brendan Morrow.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

W3


(1) Chicago vs. (5) Los Angeles
Los Angeles in 6
People will be talking about both of the second round series in the west for a long time. Both were great seven game series that were very even. It's too bad this can't be the final, because these are the two best teams in the playoffs. How can I say that, you ask? A team that can dominate one round and then come from behind down 3 games to 1 to win has what it needs to go all the way. So does a team that can come back from being down 2-0 winning a lot of tight games.
A lot of people will probably call this series a coin flip and go with Chicago based on home ice. That's probably not a bad pick. But I'm going to stick with my pre-playoff statement that I think the Kings have a damn good chance of at least defending their championship in the final, if not repeating.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

E3


(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) Boston Bruins
Pittsburgh in 7
Pittsburgh looked like they were about to have their bubble burst by the Islanders, but they fought through. Then they pretty much took apart Ottawa. Boston showed something too, against an opponent most people didn't expect to give them any trouble, when they came back from a 3 goal deficit in game 7 against Toronto. Then they pretty much rolled over the Rangers. The difference in Pittsburgh, though, was a change in net. Vokoun has been giving them something they haven't ever really had. Boston is still the same team in all important respects that almost lost to the very green Maple Leafs. It pains me to pick them, because I think they're annoying, but the Pens are gonna come out on top.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

E2 boring

Pittsburgh in 7. With Vokoun, the Pens are more complete.

What a boring second half to the playoffs. 2008 champion Detroit versus 2010 champion Chicago likely to play 2012 champion LA,with the winner facing the 2009 champion Pens or the 2011 champion Bruins.

Parity!!1!!1!1!1!111

Is it time to start rooting for the Sharks?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Journamalism

Pierre LeBrun writes:

Otherwise, I’m not sure this is even something the league looks at.

So, how does one get to be a sports writer? Excellent instincts for reporting coupled with an intimate knowledge of sports and great contacts with players, agents, league officials, and team front offices?

Or is it just people who have shitty grammar at J-school?

Seriously, I know there is immense social pressure to avoid the use of the modal verb "would" and a anxious fear of using the word "the" when you can sound more jocktackular and say "that." I know that all of the sports d00ds say things like "If I'm him, I don't dump in the zone, I use that skill and deke."

I'm not asking for correct use of the subjunctive or the swimming against the tidal wave of incorrect subject and object pronoun usage. I'm not asking for, "If I were he, I would not dump it into the zone; rather, I would use my skill and maneuver around the other player."

But I wonder why the normal colloquial "If I was him, I wouldn't dump it in the zone, I'd use my skill and deke" won't do. Is this some kind of quasi-police/military usage? What is it? Where does it come from?

But even if a player says that, why the fuck am I reading it from a journo?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Phoenix Fail Part 43

http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/9271905/nhl-rejects-darin-pastor-bid-buy-phoenix-coyotes Another suitor rejected.

E2

(5) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (6) New York Rangers
Toronto in 7. Toronto was a better regular season team than Washington was; don't be fooled by the barely earned 3 seed for winning over their shitty division. Toronto has home ice. They have come together as a team and beater a better team than the Rangers. Toronto's scoring line is heating up. It's a tough call, but I'm going with Toronto in 7. They seem to have destiny.
Fucking Leafs blow a 3 goal 3rd period lead in game 7. Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers Boston in 7. If they get past their injuries, they should be able to handle NY.

Cordell From The "I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about" Files

Todd Cordell:

A steep price, indeed, but you don't get young perennial 30 goal scorers without giving up a lot. You have to give to get, they say.
Whether Ryan ends up a Devil or not, Devils GM, Lou Lamoriello, must make some calls and try to get his hands on Ryan. Lamoriello has said you look at every opportunity to improve your roster. Well, an opportunity is sitting right in front of you.

There are two pretty serious flaws with this. First, I know most people don't watch the pacific time zone teams. They think they do, but they don't. If you watched Duck games this year, you'd see Ryan disappearing for long stretches of the season, flopping around the ice, not finishing checks, and making generally lazy plays. Not exactly Lou material.

Second, the reason the Devils scoring was so low? Probably the extended injury of Ilya Kovalchuk. Cordell's not knowing that makes me wonder if he watches eastern time zone games either. With another 10 goals, the Devils might have made it into the playoffs on the basis of their decent start. It's always a soft target to accuse the Devils of not scoring, but in this case it's pretty obvious why. There aren't that many teams that can lose their top scoring forward and not suffer in that department. 

Finally, even if Bobby Ryan really is a Devil and the Devils do really need more scoring, why would they dump the whole farm team a top pick in a deep draft and his salary to get him? It doesn't make sense especially at that price.


Should the Ducks Fire Boudreau?

Just to be clear: I'm not asking this just because they lost game 7.

Because that loss was part of a larger pattern of Boudreau's style as a coach. Though he did win championships at the ECHL and AHL level, Boudreau's teams in the NHL have been marked with the same stamp: excellence in the regular season followed by underachievement in the playoffs.

In Boudreau's first season in Washington, he pushed his team into a Division championship, but they lost in the first round in 7 games to the Flyers. Sound familiar? OK, so perhaps just a coincidence. The next year, the Capitals challenged for the Presidents Trophy, won their division again and barely beat the low-seeded Rangers (again in 7) but lost (again in 7) to Pittsburgh in the second round.

Then what? Well, the next year they did win the Presidents Trophy. But they were unceremoniously dispatched by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round in a mere 7 games. The next year? Another division championship, another early exit. They were swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After several years of playoff failure, when the regular season started to go wrong, the Capitals fired Boudreau. He was hired (literally) the same day by the Anaheim Ducks to replace Stanley Cup winning coach Randy Carlyle.

But what happened this lockout shortened season? The Ducks ran away with the Pacific Division and in the early part of the season, were challenging Chicago for the Presidents Trophy. Then they lost in 7 games to the #7 seed.

Is all of this a coincidence?

I don't think so. With about one quarter of the lockout shortened season left, the Ducks started to lose focus and they stopped winning. It started around the time Corey Perry was suspended, followed by an injury to Ryan Getzlaf, so it was easy to attribute to these causes. So while their Pacific Division championship was never much in doubt, it took them far longer to clinch it than it should have and by then they had fallen out of the hunt for the President's Trophy.

Boudreau preached a "calm down" and "don't get too high or too law" philosophy to his players. He rested players from the lineup before the division or the #2 seed was clinched. He did not make major changes to the lineup during the losing streak and the Ducks brought in a fourth-line faceoff man at the deadline and not much else.

This philosophy is great for regular season success. If you have a team that is good on paper, over time, they do tend to win games and do better if you're patient and let their talents bloom. There's also a strong argument to be made (made stronger, in fact, by Boudreau's losses as a higher seed) that getting into the playoffs is all that really matters and that once you're there, if you have the more rested team, you're bound to win.

The problem is, teams that coast into the playoffs don't fare very well. They have trouble getting into the playoff mindset and by the time they do, they are usually at a disadvantage in the series. The teams in the bottom few seeds have been pushing for a while either just to get in or jockeying for positioning. This can cost you. You can have injuries, but if you survive those, your team is set for success in the playoffs.

The Ducks were giving up goals in the first minutes of games, blowing leads, losing to teams that they should have mopped the floor with, and their scoring lines were not scoring towards the end of the season. Starting goalie Jonas Hiller had some bad games. Still, Boudreau went with Hiller and did not change goalies even after a 5-4 loss in game 2, to Viktor Fasth who played better than Hiller in the regular season.

So, on this evidence you have to wonder if Boudreau shouldn't be on his way out, or, if he has one more chance next year. A team that has won a Stanley Cup should want playoff success and a coach repeating his failure there shouldn't be given much slack, right?

Here's the thing, though. Ducks fans have gotten used to deep playoff runs in the last 10 years. Two visits to the finals, one Cup, three trips to the conference finals. But in order to have this kind of success, you first have to make the playoffs. The Ducks have not reliably done this over long periods of time. They had one 4 season streak form 2006-2009.

This is a team that needs some regular season success to build a playoff tradition that is solid enough to worry about transitioning from the regular season to the playoffs. Sure, sometimes the stars will align like they did in 2007 and you'll get two Norris trophy winning defensemen, a whole gang of high scoring rookies, and a goalie back at the top of his game. But if you don't, you need to build the base of your team into that kind of team to begin with.

Keep Boudreau if he can keep doing it in the regular season.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

W2

(1) Chicago vs. (7) Detroit
Chicago in 6. Anaheim gave Detroit everything they could handle and would have eliminated them in a short series if they had been better in OT or if they had been able to play consistently. Chicago is not suffering from the numerous mental lapses that cost Anaheim the series, they are even deeper, and this could be a short series.

(5) Los Angeles vs. (6) San Jose
Los Angeles in 6. San Jose barely broke a sweat dispatching the feckless Canucks. The Kings, on the other hand, dug themselves out of a 2-0 hole to beat St. Louis. Los Angeles is a better team and one that knows how to win. They probably never imagined getting home ice in the second round, but it should be more than enough to put them back in the conference finals.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

E2


(1) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Ottawa
Pittsburgh in 7. Ottawa was able to play their game against Montreal enough to beat them, but their lack of scoring will hurt them against Pittsburgh. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Overexpansion


For the entire duration of this blog, I have been writing about how if there is an ill with the NHL, it's attributable in major part to overexpansion. Personally, I very much enjoyed the hockey of the late 90s—the so-called "dead puck era." But the things that people didn't like in that era: goalies being competitive, low scoring, defensive systems, etc. I think are all attributable to there simply not being enough talent for teams to have 3 or 4 offensively skilled lines, so it makes sense to dedicate one line to defense and checking, and another one to hitting, dumping and chasing, and fighting.

Almost 10 years into the "New NHL" we don't have much more scoring, games aren't parades to the penalty box for looking mean at another player the way they were in 2005. We also don't have the sport being as popular as promised. Despite Cup victories to teams all over the map, in California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and back to traditional hockey markets like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Boston, the NHL is not relatively more popular than it was in 2004.

It seems to me that either the whole "dead puck era" bamboozle was a management ploy to avenge the 1994-5 lockout and get the cap deal they wanted in 2004-5 combined with a hangover from the Gretzky era which drove so many new fans into the sport they didn't realize that 7-6 was not a normal hockey score before 1980.

 But conspiracy theories aside, I just never cared. It was obvious to me that if you start with 22 teams with 22 players, you have about 500 of the most elite players in the world playing the game. If you have 30 teams, the number is closer to 700 (including a merry-go-round of minor league players, prospects, etc.) which is not only 40% more people, but it actually changes the way you form your lines, as I mentioned above. If you can only get 6 guys who can legitimately score, you gave the other 6 forwards something else to do—and, voila, you have checking taking up serious ice time.

But there's clearly another dimension to "overexpansion" as well that I noticed this year: there are too many games.

My increasingly vague memories of 1995 pre-date my obsession with hockey, when I was a more casual fan, but still a fan. At that point, I didn't have a team. At that time, as a suburban kid, I liked the teams that were from suburbs or that challenged the big city teams and remember enjoying the Devils series with the Rangers the year before (though I think I might have only watched the game with the Messier guarantee after seeing him make it on the news), enjoyed the idea of Orange County having a rivalry to the Kings, which were enjoying the last days of their bandwagon era, thought the Sharks had a cool logo even if they stank most of the time. In years past, I had watched a few Canadiens and Canucks games. 

But those vague memories recall an exciting year and an unpredictable playoffs that led to the New Jersey Devils winning the Cup, confounding expectations and provoking a wave of criticism about their defensive system as being the root of all evil. This was total horse shit, of course, as the '95 Devils were one of the most exciting teams around and had been on the cusp of the finals the year before. Between Scott Stevens's devastating hits and Scott Niedermayer's silky smoov end-to-end scoring, they were exciting and would have been even if they played 0-1-4 like the German olympic team instead of 1-2-2.

What was great about that year, and about this year, was that the irrelevant games were simply cut off. How many times have the Phoenix Coyotes been out to a great lead in October and then either not made the playoffs or been blasted in the first round? How many players have scored 10 goals in the first few weeks only to finish with 15 for the year?

There was simply no time to wallow in a losing streak this year. Between the start of the season and when teams clinched, every game mattered to them, and it showed. Interestingly, there were also only a few major trades. Trades are fun because they hold out the hope that your team can be transformed into a champion by getting that special new player, but in reality, only one team can win the Cup, so most trades fail. It seems like a huge distraction and sort of odd that a team can play decently up until March, and then decide to augment its roster.

Anyway, it won't happen in a league that depends on ticket sales instead of TV contracts (still—this wasn't supposed to be the case in 2003, let alone 2013) but a 48-game season would rock.

25 teams playing 50 games a season would produce a much better product. Contract Florida, Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, and the Islanders. Move Carolina to Hamilton. Move Anaheim to Seattle. Move Tampa to Quebec. Move Dallas to Vancouver. New York, Toronto, and Vancouver should be two team markets, and they probably should be the only ones.

Yeah, I know that's not going to happen. But the more the league moves in that direction, I think, the better it will be.

Also, stream every game in SD free. Charge $0.99 for HD. The first sport to do that will reap huge rewards.

First Round Update

The Sharks swept Vancouver out of the playoffs, the Kings have roared back to take a 3-2 series lead and can take the series on home ice, Boston hasn't let Toronto keep it down, the Rangers have tied up their series, and Anaheim has two chance to end the Red Wings.

But clearly the biggest news is that Pittsburgh, which started the playoffs as Vegas's favorite to win the Cup, is tied in its series with the Islanders, and this is only the case because of a very lucky call they received in game 3's overtime. Otherwise, they could be down 3-1. The situation has risen to the level where they are changing out goalies.

Part of it is that the Islanders are better than people thought. Part of it is that the Penguins aren't playing as good as people thought. But mostly, it's just the playoffs. The 8 seed beats the 1 seed all the time. If the Islanders pull off the upset, Boston could be the only favorite to win in the first round, setting up a Boston/Islanders Otttawa/Rangers second round.

Out west, we're on the cusp of the first Anaheim/LA playoff series. The Blues and the Wings could both still win, but the other series will almost surely be San Jose versus Chicago.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Shark Weak Delayed

The playoff chokers' derby was won by the bigger choker, the Can'tnucks.

So, Shark Weak is delayed until next week in Chicago.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ducks...

Mentally weak again--lucky to get out of the second period with the lead. They scored on the PP and seemed awfully pleased with themselves. Turnovers, purposeless plays...

...but it just ended up not mattering. Detroit came out dead in the third. Tired from the kill? Who knows. They stunk up their home ice.


My Shitty Picks

So, admittedly, my prognostications aren't faring well. I did better back when I watched almost every game and knew every player and I didn't have as many settled ideas about what matters in the playoffs. But, I still think my prospective analysis was pretty good. Here's why I've been wrong (so far):

PIT in 4 isn't possible, but I still think Pittsburgh will win. I still like my Montreal in 6 pick.

NYR in 6 is still technically possible, but it seems vanishingly unlikely at this point. Washington is not playing like the team that almost didn't make the playoffs at the end of the regular season.

Toronto in 7 is still also technically possible and game 1 went about how I expected for 15 minutes. This team doesn't seem quite mentally ready to handle the playoffs and they have to play to their maximum potential to beat the Bruins. Reimer looks like he's been figured out with the high glove shot.

[Edit: After game 2 it seems I might have been on to something... back to T.O. for games 3 and 4.]

Chicago in 4, Detroit in 6, and San Jose in 7 are still on track and largely for the reasons I suggested. If I had been wrong about the Ducks, they would be up 2-0. They don't play hard and mentally tough until it's too late sometimes.

LA in 6? What happened was two-fold: the Blues really came to play but still have only barely beaten the Kings at home, but mental lapses by Conn Smythe 2012 winner Jonathan Quick have cost the Kings both games and now they're in a hole. They could turn it around and win in 6, but if home ice matters that much to them, they'll lost in 7. This series is closer than the media is making it sound, but obviously the Blues are in the driver's seat.

The Kings have to be somewhat frustrated in the knowledge that even if they can turn this series around, they seem mortal—whereas last year they went through every other team like crap through a goose. Not having that intimidation factor, whether or not its deserved, means that it will be that much harder for them to repeat or even defend.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Boudreau Knew?

Sheldon Souray told the LA Times that Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau planned on facing Detroit.
"Bruce is probably the only guy who thinks he knows how it's going to go," Souray said. "He told us two weeks ago we were probably going to play Detroit, by his calculations.
If that's true then we have a slightly different situation in this series. First, if Anaheim felt they were going to be the #2 seed two weeks ago, it would explain their less than urgent attitude over that time. Second, it should mean they are prepared to face the Wings on more than two days of scouting.

Vegas has the Ducks as a weak favorite. Going into the first round is tough for predictions because you haven't seen the playoff lineup, you haven't seen the goalie under playoff conditions, and a lot of other stuff doesn't matter. Going in on a down streak is a pretty good indicator and I've never seen much to convince me that it being intentional mattered.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

E1

Pit in 4
Mtl in 6
Nyr in 6
Tor in 7

The Short Guide to the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Why Pittsburgh? Experience, scoring, and home ice.
Why Not Pittsburgh? Injuries, defense.

Why Boston? Experience, balanced roster.
Why Not Boston? One of the lower scoring teams in the playoffs.

Why Washington? Good finish to season.
Why Not Washington? Barely made the playoffs, despite division championship against weak division.

Why Montreal? Great +/-
Why Not Montreal? Questions in net.

Why Toronto? Energetic team buying into its coach.
Why Not Toronto? Inexperience, defense.

Why Rangers? Hot finish, weak first round opponent is opportunity for a good start.
Why Not Rangers? Poor road record.

Why Islanders? John Tavares.
Why Not Islanders? Terrible on defense.

Why Ottawa? Defense
Why Not Ottawa? Road record, poor scoring.

Why Chicago? Dominated season from start to finish, depth, experience, scoring, defense, goaltending.
Why Not Chicago? Losing record against Anaheim, not much else. They have to be the favorite to win the Cup.

Why Anaheim? Depth in every position, experience.
Why Not Anaheim? Special teams are terrible, horrible finish to the season, streaky play.

Why Vancouver? Experience
Why Not Vancouver? Terrible finish to season, goaltending controversy, weak division.

Why St. Louis? Good finish to season.
Why Not St. Louis? Inexperience

Why LA? Defending champions, finished well, playing well.
Why Not LA? They have to beat Chicago. Otherwise, they stand a great chance of defending and repeating.

Why San Jose? Weak first round opponent, decent finish to season.
Why Not San Jose? They are the blue balling Minnesota Vikings of the NHL.

Why Detroit?  Excellent finish to season.
Why Not Detroit? Scoring, low +/-

Why Minnesota? Because we like to believe in miracles.
Why Not Minnesota? Only minus team in the finals, apparently failed to make anything out of their free agency splash, just lost a game 6-1 they needed to win.

W1

Chicago in 4 - Dominating no. 1 versus iffy no. 8.
Detroit in 6 - Ducks limped their way in to the playoffs, Detroit roared.
San Jose in 7 - San Jose has been playing better than Van.
LA in 6 - LA has been back in form the last month or so.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Phoenix Fail

Nobody could have predicted

http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8898939/greg-jamison-main-suitor-phoenix-coyotes-produce-capital-purchase-team-according-sources

Sunday, January 6, 2013

So, you want your fans back?

This is a fairly simple proposition. When the game starts up in a few days again, make sure that the on-ice product appeals to the kind of fan that will still be tuning into NHL hockey and quit trying to chase the fair weather fans, at least for now.

You see, those folks are gone. Maybe permanently. It may take a new generation of growth in the game to create a halo effect sufficient to start thinking about whether a few more shots per game will be that much more attractive.

This lockout was clearly the owners' fault in that they simply wanted to get more of an expanding pie. There was no threat to the game. Revenue was at an all time high and the game was doing very well. They simply wanted to take more. You can argue they have the right to try—they do—but the players have the right to negotiate as well. The last lockout was the players simply failing to see the writing on the wall. Sure, that lockout and the financial emergency that spawned it was caused by over-expansion created by the league, but certainly not fought against by the players.

Larry Brooks, who was the only major writer to not only be pro-player, but whom no one else could seem to win any twitter arguments against at all, pointed out that in the pre-cap era, only one less team made it to the conference finals than in the post-cap era in roughly the same amount of time. Still, more teams made it to the Cup Final, and therefore there was an increase in parity. Still, his point remains: even when the money is available, nothing can stop teams with terrible management from making terrible decisions. Does anyone believe we are going to see the New York Islanders in the conference finals any time soon? It's not because they haven't drafted good players, either.

Anyway, this hardly means the NHL is off suicide watch. It just means that, for now anyway, we think we have the padding in the room soft enough and the straps on the staightjacket tight enough that we can play some solitaire while we wait.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Next CBA

Scott Burnside, whom I have lightened up on somewhat, complains that the GMs can't be arguing that players should accept concessions like the ones they have proposed when one of them is making $110m offer sheets.

Either he is simply parroting NHLPA talking points, making a facile argument for fun, or he doesn't get it: they're doing it because they can under the current CBA and, more to the point, because they are programmed to win.

This is the same thing people argue when they ask why people who think taxes should be higher just don't volunteer to pay more right now. The answer is simple: because something has to be the rules. Usually, we rely on the law. So, people do the best they can under the current rules. For the current NHL, it's the current CBA.

But the reality has always been the same: there is no amount of concessions the players can give that will make a 30-team league permanently stable with only 7 teams in Canada and more than that number south of the Mason-Dixon line, even if most of those teams have won Stanley Cups.

In fact, it's the fact of the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings winning the Cup and still not raising hockey's status nationwide that should the final nail in the Bettman expansions's coffin.

And the constant cycle of rule changes have apparently done nothing to end what various people call the "Dead Puck Era" (also known as "when the Red Wings and Flyers don't make it to the 3rd round"). How can this be? How can eliminating the position of goaltending from preeminence and do all kinds of things to supposedly enhance "skill" (i.e. scoring), which has had all kinds of unintended effects, such as increased concussions have possibly resulted in another "Dead Puck Era?"

The answer has been staring us in the face for 20 years. It is quite simple: this is the equilibrium of play in the league with the talent pool at its current depth as it is spread out over 30 teams. Reducing the league to 20-25 teams would instantly raise the level of play and put the puck on the stick of more talented players and reduce the need to rely on systems, all of which would get the goal they claim they want.

I say this not because I want that. I like the sport the way it is, the way it was in 1995, the way it was in 2000 and in 2005. I just don't want to hear a bunch of bullshit about rules and CBAs.

The owners' current proposal is not going to make hockey viable in Phoenix or Nashville.

Shea Weber did the right thing and the Flyers management did the right thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Devils in 7.

The buggy usually turns back into a pumpkin.

Recent Cinderella runs have been absolutely thrilling but also have usually fallen short.

In the last 15 years, there have been some amazing ones. I'm not convinced to this day that the 1999 Buffalo Sabres (#7 seed) should have lost, but they did. This was Dominik Hasek at his finest. In 2006, the Edmonton Oilers were defeated only by a stacked Carolina team that was itself something of a Cinderella in 2002.  The two best are the 2010 Flyers and the 2003 Ducks. The Flyers only even made the playoffs on a shootout goal in the last game of the regular season and had to overcome a 0-3 deficit against the Bruins in the second round. The 2003 Ducks swept the then-champion Red Wings out of the playoffs, beat the Pacific division champ Dallas Stars and then limited the Minnesota Wild to one goal in a conference final sweep. The Ducks even survived a Scott Stevens check, with Paul Kariya coming back and scoring a dramatic goal.

The Ducks made it to game 7, but had to play it on the road in New Jersey and while they got the closest, their coach turned into a pumpkin as well.

The similarities between the 2003 Ducks and the 2012 Kings are eery. Both teams had 95 regular-season points. Both teams beat a 110+ point first round opponent and a 109+ point opponent in the second round. In the third round, both teams beat weaker opponents with 95 and 97 points. Both head into the finals with a 12-2 record.

This sounds like, on the one hand, these were two underrated teams that are showing total dominance. On the other hand, both are clearly fueled by a hot goalie, and dependent upon him for success. Neither the 2003 Ducks nor the 2012 Kings have any experience in the deeper rounds of the playoffs and neither are offensively dominant. Also, there is the simple fact that the Devils just faced their strongest opponent and the Kings just faced their weakest and the Kings have more time either to rest—or rust. And with goalies on a hot streak, rust is more likely.

The Devils are experienced as an organization. They have appeared in 1 of 4 of Stanley Cup Finals in the last 20 years. Martin Brodeur has won Stanley Cups and Gold Medals. He has diffused hot goalies like Jonathan Quick before (see: Giguere, J.S., Lundquist, Henrik, etc.)

Otherwise, the teams are very similar. Ilya Kovalchuck is a slightly better forward than Anze Kopitar, but Drew Doughty is slightly better than any Devils defenseman. Marek Zidlicky and Slava Voynov's strengths and weaknesses even out. Zajac and Parise can go toe-to-toe with Richards and Carter. There is a slight edge strength wise for the Kings with Penner, but Zubrus is more skilled and not weak there either.

But unless it's a Cinderella effect of its own, the Devils are simply deeper upfront. Any continued production of tying or go ahead goals from the 4th line by them will give the Devils an edge. A similar thing occurs on D. While the Kings best defenseman are marginally better, their depth defenseman are worse. Lacking a home-ice advantage, those pairings will see a lot of Kovalchuk (probably Voynov, Martinez, and Matt Greene).

Having a slightly better set of top forwards and defensemen would create a good advantage if the Kings used it on the power play, but they have not been strong there.

So, even though Jonathan Quick has been playing better, I'm not sure he's playing so much better than Marty that it makes up for the psychological and experiential difference, which is likely quite fragile given the hot-knife-through-butter-like experience of the Kings in the playoffs.

I have always wanted to see a team headed to the finals win a game 7. Win a couple of games coming from behind and win games either at home or on the road depending on where the disadvantage is. (Road wins are only much better if you're playing more games on the road). And winning some in OT is great too. Coming from behind in a series is also a hallmark of a team with the psychological determination necessary to get all the way without relying on always dominating. The Kings have only done this a little bit. The Devils have done all of these things this time around.

So, even though the Kings are apparently the favorite, I think there are a lot of "intangibles" that should make this at least a close series, but the "pumpkin" factor, to me, gives the slight advantage to New Jersey.

Devils in 7.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

#1 Market Vs. #2 Market

No matter what happens in the Eastern Conference Final, a team from the New York TV market and the LA Kings will be playing each other for the Stanley Cup. That pits the top media market in the country against the #2 market. This happened previously in 2003.

In 2010, #3 Chicago faced #4 Philadelphia. Last year, it was #5 Boston versus the #3 Canadian market, Vancouver. Pittsburgh is only #23 but Detroit is #11. In 2007, the LA market was in the finals as well.

Anyway, this should be a perfect experimental test of the entire theory that the "New NHL" is built upon. The salary cap was supposed to bring parity between rich teams and poor, the rule changes were supposed to make the game more appealing. In addition to these changes, the most favorable circumstances have presented themselves, with teams from the expansion areas either winning or competing deep into the playoffs for the Stanley Cup. (Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Jose have all made trips to the conference finals recently.) In addition, big market teams, ostensibly with a lot of exposure have done well also.

And, if that isn't good enough for you, American teams with large old school fan bases, like Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, and Detroit have all been very successful recently.

Given the circumstances, the league should be firing on all cylinders. Revenue should be skyrocketing. The economy can be factored in, but player salaries are comparable to 15 years ago even though ticket prices are not.

How can it possibly be, then, that this is not the case?

My hypothesis—which stands ready to be confirmed or falsified in the next few years—is, and always has been, that the "build it and they will come" philosophy is too simplistic and has (and will) continue to fail. It's not just Atlanta. Atlanta was never a good team. Even traditional hockey markets have failed to become sustainably profitable and competitive.

Part II of my hypothesis is that overexpansion and talent-pool dilution, and not the scapegoats of defensive systems, equipment, and the position of the lines on the ice are responsible for the subjective reduction in the quality of play. (I never thought it got worse, personally.)

The NHL should have expanded; don't get me wrong. Hockey is the most exciting sport on earth. The combination of skills and speed and danger combine for a sport unlike any other. Yet a more incremental approach would have been wiser.

Perhaps one day a team in Atlanta will succeed, but that would only come to pass by making hockey a national sport, slowly. Incrementally growing the territory while not underserving the source of most of the players (i.e. Canada, Minnesota, etc.) would have been the way to go. By now maybe we would be at 30 teams; maybe not.

If the league can't get where it is under these circumstances (and we'll hear them cry poor during the upcoming contract negotiations) then it's their plan that's flawed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yotes Whine Pathetically

For a team that was nearly swept out of a series, the Coyotes sure seemed to focus a lot on one play that only cost them because they were too busy whining about it.

Read this.

What struck me as so hilarious about this article is that all through the game, Darren Pang, who is a Coyotes homer announcer during the regular season, was making comments about Coyotes players flopping and diving.

But here's what really happened: the alleged knee incident happened. The Coyotes freaked out. They lost their focus and got scored on on the next shift when the injured player wouldn't have been out there anyway.

It's not as if they were worn down by being down 1 D man for shift after shift and lost in game 7. They were never going to come back in this series and it was their thuggery and cheap play earlier in the series that made it that way.

And that's all assuming you don't believe there's anything wrong with a team owned and controlled by the NHL playing in the finals.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I know nothing

Embarrassing year for my picks, but it's already a great year for the Devils.

Third Round: Kings in 5.

What happens when a hot goalie meets an equally hot goalie? The better team wins.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Round 2

I really just made terrible, credibility destroying predictions on this round, didn't I? The Blues are toast, the Kings are good. The Nashville series isn't over yet. Out east, the Rangers are leading because of a 3OT goal and the Devils are only not up 3-0 because of an overtime loss.

I would love to see 40 year old Martin Brodeur beat the Rangers in the conference final which would sort of redeem the primal Devils trauma of Matteau Matteau Matteau. Winning the Cup would close the case on whether he or Patrick Roy is the best goalie of all time in Brodeur's favor.

I guess Vancouver has to be rethinking how horrible they were when the other Presidents Cup contender is getting the same ass kicking they got. The Kings are interesting.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Happened Canada?

What happened, they ask?

In short: a niche and regional sport got drunk on the national attention brought to it by Wayne Gretzky and overexpanded in markets that couldn't or wouldn't reliably support quality franchises and robbed Canada of teams in the process. The result was a diluted talent pool that the Ahabs leading this quest thought they could replace with imports from Europe.

Twenty years of rule changes, management-friendly labor deals, ticket price increases, and taxpayer subsidized arena deals haven't improved the quality of play and certainly hasn't boosted hockey above the #4 sport (which it is if you're only counting white men in the U.S. and Canada and college football and the NFL are one sport and you agree with me that NASCAR is not a sport).

Stanley Cup winning teams in Denver, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Carolina have failed to really ignite the sport nationwide. It has failed to produce the giant television contract that was supposed to do so much of the work here. My god, this is the first year all of the first- and second-round games have been nationally televised! (If you count OLN Versus "NBC Sports" as national.)

This is the equivalent of closing down a bunch of oil wells in Saudi Arabia and moving them to the middle of the Atlantic. Why? Because hockey players come from Canada. You cannot have hockey without hockey players. And while the major juniors and other minor leagues are extremely popular in Canada, fondness for the sport alone cannot develop the kind of talent needed to produce the kind of quality game that people want.

There are a few successes. The long-term presence of hockey in Southern California has produced a number of recent NHL players, including first-round draft choices from the area. But can a kid born and bred in Raleigh ever face the competition level required to hone him into an elite player without moving?

It's 2012. The gig is up. This 20 year experiment can't be blamed on free agent salaries, the neutral zone trap, or goalie equipment any more.

Move the Coyotes to Quebec, this summer. Move the Islanders to the Greater Toronto Area next year. (If Greater New York can support 3 teams, I bet Toronto could support 4.) Move Columbus to the GTA as well—or Vancouver or Western Ontario. Ten teams. There should be no fewer than 10 Canadian teams in the NHL.

An even better option? Do that and close 5 other teams.



Friday, April 27, 2012

Round 2

After going a Maggie The Monkeyish 4 for 8 in the first round (wtf Vancouver, Boston—I can live with getting Pittsburgh and Chicago wrong), I think I'm ready to make some better picks in the second round.

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

No team looked better to me in the first round than the Blues. Every skater was always in the right place and their goaltending looked great. They made the Sharks look bad. You might wonder about their lack of experience, but the Kings don't have any either. St. Louis in 7—and I expect the Blues to at least go to the finals, and I'd say they're my favorite to win the Cup right now.

Phoenix vs. Nashville

Nashville has the defense and the goaltending. Is this their year? Maybe. They need to do this quickly to be convincing too. Phoenix should not have beat Chicago. Nashville in 5.

New York vs. Washington

Holtby is doing something of the "hot goalie" thing, but it doesn't look like the cheap coaching trick of making reducing Ovechkin's minutes to get him to do something is working out all the great. Remember when the big stars scored in the post-season too? You know, in the "dead puck era?" Yzerman, Sakic, Lemieux, Gretzky, Niedermayer, Jagr, Hull?

As much as I hate the Rangers, they have mitigated a lot of what I hated about them by actually, you know, building a team instead of poaching one. (Remember how they got Theo Fleury, Jagr, Lindros, half the Edmonton Oilers, and a bunch of other ginormous flops?) But whatever I may think of them, they are a good team. There's just too much drama in the DC. Rangers in 7.

Philadelphia vs. New Jersey

A few years ago, I would have picked the Devils. And the fact that they lost to the Flyers the last two times would have been enough for me to be convinced that Marty would have somethin' extra special for their ass. But he's just not up to it anymore. And their coach is a little green.

Well, actually, the part of the team that isn't over the hill is also too green with rare exception. Lou Lamoriello used to talk about having freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Now, he has freshman, a handful of sophomores, few juniors, a bunch of seniors and a few grad students like Brodeur. Their PK is shit, their power play isn't as good as it should be with Kovalchuk (another non-playoff star—give me Claude Lemieux or even Stumpy Thomas ffs). And Marty basically personally blew at least 1 game this round.

Yeah, they beat the Panthers in OT in a game 7. But that was a team with an undeserved home ice advantage, a shitty retread goalie, a bunch of spare parts, and a hothead coach. OK, so the Flyers have a hothead coach—but one with a ring. And they just shelled the Penguins. It was gory.

Flyers in 7.

Embarrassing on the record forecast: Blues over Nashville, Flyers over Rangers. Blues over Flyers.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Even More Evidence Hockey Is Getting Better

First, Wayne says the playoffs are "risqué," and now a major Canadian newspaper wonders if we haven't seen a return to the "Dead Puck Era." (This on the basis of an interview with Sharks GM Doug Wilson who has the sorriest bunch of playoff chokers south of the Fraser River)

As if Phil Esposito scoring 60 goals and Wayne Gretzky scoring 90+ goals a seasons was the norm, not an aberration. And you might point out that there Steve Stamkos scored 60 this year.

As I've always said, "Dead Puck Era" is code for any hockey game not scoring 8-7 dominated by a couple of forwards who can't play defense and appear on cereal boxes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Parity

Another thing parity means is that teams have to rebuild (and therefore dismantle) quicker. You don't have time (or much at least) to wait for a group to "gel." If they don't work, you have to deal with it. Cap issues, earlier free agency, and the deemphasis of the franchise goalie all spell this.

Some GMs have adapted to the quick rebuild issue, but only a couple have gotten the flip side. Philadelphia is the best example of a team that has really changed gears without waiting for even more dismal failure.

Sure, they lost in the final just two short years ago. But that didn't stop their management from blowing the team up and they are much better now.

So, if there aren't major trades involving San Jose, Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago (just to name a few of this years playoff teams that have gone deep recently) there is something wrong. No movement clauses are a big problem for San Jose, but this core has done not gotten it done—it's a team that's supposed to win the Cup, not get bounced early. It's been 10 years+ since the Sharks were mediocre. Time to stop grading them on a curve and expect a winner there.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

About these playoffs.

In case you're wondering why these playoffs are so damn good: Wayne thinks they're—and I quote—"risqué". That's all you need to know. If it's good hockey, get out the fainting couch for Hwayne.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bring Back The Red Line.

Nobody could have predicted that "The New NHL" would fail. Now, hockey pundits are finally starting to admit that the rule changes might have something to do with all of the concussions and may actually be reducing scoring.

Bring back the red line.
Get rid of the trapezoid.
Enforce the crease rule.
Respect the different skills of all positions, not just forwards and scoring.

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