Friday, December 21, 2012

Of All Time

Here's a list of the Top 10 Worst NHL Logos Of All Time.  That's right: of all time.

And look who's in 7th?


Text:
The Ottawa Senators had a perfectly good logo when they debuted in 1992. Then they came up with their first third jersey in 1997. And it had this multi-colored mark on the front. And we all asked, "why?" Turning the guy's head to make the logo more three-dimensional takes the logo to a weird place. And it just looks bad. The Sens thought they fixed the problem in 2007 by adding bolder lines and sharper corners. But they didn't. Long live the 2D head.

(looks up at the top right of this post) Long live the 2D head indeed.

While I agree that the 2D logo is superior, I'm not sure this qualifies as one of the top 10 all time. The 3D look never warmed me, for some reason I prefer the old* logo.

And I don't think the Jet's current logo deserves to be on that list either, even if my initial reaction was less than complementary. (Why is that jet bombing a curling rink?)

---

*= as opposed to the "classic logo", which is the barbershop-O. Which still looks like a zero to me, as in "how many stanley cups has your team won?"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Boycott

One of the things that is floating around this lockout is the idea of some kind of retributive strike on the part of the fans when the league returns. A particular variation is along the lines of "a game for a game" -- that is, the fans would boycott the league one game after the return for each game that has been cancelled.

My first reaction is that this is a stupid idea -- along the lines of "you won't take my money when I want to spend it on you, so I'll stop spending money on you for longer!"

But on reflection, I think this is a great idea.  Think about it.  What's going to happen when the league comes back?  Faux-apologetic pricing discounts!  ie tickets which are marginally cheaper than normal!  And if the hard-core fans boycott the league, that'll mean there is less demand for them, which means A) I'll be more likely to afford to go, and B) I'll be more likely to get a good seat when I go.

And if the boycott really does have an effect, then at the very least the pricing will be extended -- if not reduced to actual-apologetic pricing!  Thus improving the chance that I'll be able to go more than once!

So I say on with the boycott!  Thanks for the seats!

But really, we know that the majority of those loudly proclaiming that they'll boycott will have their bums firmly in seats one the league resumes play next fall, and those who actually stop paying their money will be in a minority, so the net effect on attendance will be minimal.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lockout Mythbusting

PuckDaddy explores the myth of the career-ending lockout.  Nice headline pic of Alfredsson in action.

Personally I don't see why everyone's hung up on Alfie's "last season" getting stolen by the lockout.  If last year wasn't a victory lap, what the heck is?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Just Shut Up

What do you mean, I'm not
the center of the universe?
One of the things I don't understand is the feeling of entitlement that some fans seem to have.

Exhibit A: Flyers fan and all-around entitled misfit Jaymes Hall.  Mr. Hall crashed a press conference that Mr. Bettman was giving, and demanded to know why they didn't just implement his overly simplistic band-aid and continue playing.
"Why not freeze the revenue generated from those sources that are still in dispute?" he screamed. "What about an escrow account or something so we can get back to playing? Let's get back to playing! The fans are angry!"
First of all, no, nobody in business is going to leave money on the table without applying a certain amount of leverage to get at it. That's what this lockout is -- leverage. The idea is that by denying the players money for playing, you'll put pressure on them to settle faster than if they just did their jobs. The players applied pressure back on the owners by offering to continue to play under the old CBA, but that would mean the owners would be on the hook for potential losses incurred under the old CBA. Now the whole lockout thing has horribly backfired on the owners under this strategy, and the losses the league will incur are now much higher than if they'd just played under the old CBA, but that ship has been quite thoroughly sunk in the harbor. No sense even thinking about it anymore.

So yeah, no. Shut up.

Second, if hockey is so important to your life that it encourages you to show up places where you shouldn't be and yell half-assed bandaid suggestions at people, then frankly your life is more than a little sad. If the strike really made you angry at hockey you'd give up on it and wouldn't care any more.

Going off on a rant like that makes me think that you are acting more like a spoiled kid who isn't getting to see his favorite bedtime show because the TV is broken, and is having a temper tantrum because his parents won't take him down to Best Buy every night to watch it while the parents work out financing a replacement.

So yeah, shut up.

I can understand the entitlement from the media. They are paid to cover this circus, and if the circus isn't running the articles can get repetitious and boring. I can even understand* anger from the people who would be working the games in the arena, and even sympathize with anger from people who work in the wider secondary markets (like restaurants and sporting memorabilia stores) because there isn't the same driver of business that there usually is.

But Mr. Hall doesn't seem to be either of these. He's just an entitled "fan".

In any case, I'd bet real money that when hockey resumes in January or in October, Mr. Hall will be more than happy to pay good money to park his butt in the arena again.

---
*= even if I think their anger is misguided -- when you pick a pilot fish industry to work in, you end up in trouble if the shark dies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Contracts

Puck Daddy says the NHL's concern is around four player contracting issues. Let's pretend that these are the real issues and have a look at them, shall we?
1. Cap circumvention in which contracts are buried outside of the NHL, be it Wade Redden in the AHL or Cristobal Huet in Europe.

2. Cap circumvention on long-term deals that front-load salaries and then "back dive" later in the contract, with annual salaries dropping by a large percentage in order to influence the cap hit.
I'm listing these two issues together because they are A) related and B) ass-backwards -- the first is a direct consequence of the second. The only reason that universal whipping boy Wade Redden is buried in the AHL is because Rangers idiot GM Glen Sather signed Redden to that ridiculous contract in the first place.

I understand that the league is concerned about both these issues because of the negative impact they have on running franchises, but the problem isn't the players. Wade Redden wouldn't have been able to hold Sather hostange if Sather wasn't buying. I'm sure that Redden would have happilly signed for $25 million. Or $20 million. Or maybe if that was Sather's threshold of sanity, then maybe someone else would have signed Reddin to some other amount, and he'd be someone else's problem now.

This whole thing is like situations where bus drivers don't pick up passengers, and the bus company says to the passengers, what can we do to make this situation better? How about have the bus drivers stop the bus and pick up the passengers when they should?

If the league has a problem with the way that their owners and GMs are behaving, well then fix your owners and GMs.

Maybe the grownups should start acting like grownups and A) stop doing stupid things, and B) live with the consequences of their actions.
3. There is $5.7 billion in future contractual liabilities to players, i.e. long-term contracts that have already been signed. How can NHL owners deal with those commitments and still have the freedom to, for example, refinance their stakes or sell the team?
Ugh. See the whole rant above about "living with the consequences of your actions". That $5.7 billion hole has been dug, now you have to live with it. Trying to make it hard to make the hole bigger is a different problem.
4. Rewriting the contracting rules for young players, from contract term to arbitration rights. The idea is to shift the money from a player's "Second Contract" to his third contract. It's a way to create a little more fiscal sanity when it comes to big money thrown at still unproven players. It's also not a money-grab by the NHL — rather, it shares the wealth with established players in a way the system doesn't encourage at the moment.
I go back and forth on this issue.

One the one hand, keeping young players cheap is good business sense (for the owners). It also builds in space for the inevitable cap drop in the future, in that the younger players won't be paid as much while the cap space to pay them also drops. This helps protect the older contracts in a reduced cap world.

On the other hand, many -- most? -- of these guys won't see a third contract. At the end of the day, we watch the game to see the game played. We don't tune in to watch the owners and GMs make money. So it would be nice to see some more of these guys get a bit of a payday before they lose their spots.

The whole message behind these "issues" that the league has is that the individual owners can't control themselves, so they want the players to fix the problem that the owners made.

Same story as last time. Same story as next time.

The situation is exasperated by the fact that there are some teams that make a lot of money (ie Toronto) and this is pushing league revenues up, which lifts the payroll requirements for the poorer teams. This makes it harder for these teams to continue financially, which leads to the kinds of ownership debacles that we've seen (Nashville, Phoenix, etc).

Some of these teams are not viable. They won't be viable unless either A) there is a substantial cash infusion from the more successful teams (ie Toronto) or B) they get moved someplace where there is a population willing to support them. However the league's refusal to contemplate either of these possibilities just compounds the problems that they've continued to make.

So what is it going to take for long-term viability?

1) Move or close some of the financially weaker teams. Phoenix, I'm looking at you. Find someplace viable or shut them down.

2) Real revenue sharing -- something like 20% of all revenues go into a pot, which is then distributed by proportionally inverse revenues. Ideally break-even teams like Ottawa break even. Phoenix and Nashville get a ton of money. Toronto just pays. (Everybody wins!) But that's a problem for the league to solve with its franchisees. As long as the players get paid, they really shouldn't care where the money is coming from. (Or going.)

3) Real limits on contracts. Like five years max. Like "the money you pay in a July-to-June calendar year -- including bonuses -- is the cap hit." Like a cap tax for contracts signed but not active with the big team (ie the Wade Redden clause).

My guess is that in the end we might see some limits on contracts. The league is actually making some steps in this area with previous offers.

But the rest of these issues? The league has had its collective head in the sand for so long, I don't see them changing now.

And in five or seven years when this CBA expires, we'll do it all again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taking A Run At Fehr

Elliotte Friedman talks about the NHL's disdain for NHLPA head Fehr:
Rightly or wrongly, even moderates among the teams question his true devotion to the players, believing he has invested nothing in the sport and will damage it, simply walking away once this is all over.
Thing is, in the long run a disinterested 3rd party is what you do want to help you come to a fair, workable settlement. Those who think Fehr is damaging "the game"* are the same ones who think that if the players just relax and become indentured slaves to the individual teams, we could all just get on with playing hockey. And isn't that what everybody wants?

It is in Fehr's best interest to get the best deal possible for his clients. That is the business he is in, and that's the reputation he needs to continue to maintain and build. He won't be in the NHLPA for ever, but he will have to work afterwards. And standing aside while his clients get a bad deal does nothing to enhance his future employment prospects.

I hope the NHLPA holds firm behind Fehr. Completely folding for the owners last time round didn't buy lasting labour peace, and it won't this time either.

---

*= by which they mean the owner's pocketbook

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Calling Time

I almost hope, for Daniel Alfredsson's sake, that there's no hockey this year.

Lots of people have been writing that Alfredsson's return for another victory lap is good for the Senators. That to go out after missing a season due to a lockout is, somehow, a diminishment of his accomplishments over his career with Ottawa.

My argument is: there's almost no better way to go out.

Alfredsson came off a frankly disappointing 2010-2011 campaign, playing hurt and eventually missing time due to an injury. He seemed slow and couldn't produce the way he had in previous years.

And then...

And then he roared back in 2011-2012. He looked like the leader of previous years, giving maximum efforts at both ends of the ice. The whole All-Star weekend was frankly an Alfie love-in. And he was instrumental in dragging a "rebuilding" team, one which was expected to miss the playoffs, to fighting the #1 East seed in a winner-take-all 1st round game 7.

Short of Stanley Cup glory, is there really any higher note to go out on?

Alfredsson risks becoming another Micheal Schumacher, who doesn't quite know when to quit and gets embarrassed by younger, stronger players.

Alfredsson's career is one that will leave him with respect up and down the league. Failing to call time on it at an appropriate moment is very risky to his legacy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Optimistic Penguin Is Optimistic

Anyone else amused by the fact that after all the lockout-fanboys went through a couple of cycles of optimism-to-pessimism over the press releases, offer exchanges, and instant-refusals -- now they're all getting optimistic again because there hasn't been any new press?

Up until now, offers and public negotiation was good.  When the press stopped, everyone got depressed, until someone made a new offer, and then optimism spiked again.

Now we've gone through a couple of weeks where there's been nothing public happening.  There are rumors of secret negotiations, and guess what?  Everyone's optimistic again because this means that "they've decided to stop posturing" and "they are getting down to business".  I'm sure once these negotiations collapse everyone will get depressed again.

It's just amusing that the media in general takes any excuse to be optimistic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Speaking Of Wade Redden

Speaking of Wade Redden... what's he up to?
Now, Redden is in the middle of the lockout because by not assigning him to Connecticut before the lockout began, the Rangers do not have to pay him for the duration of the work stoppage. His situation is unusual, and just another example of ownership using loopholes to their advantage.
You almost have to feel sorry for the guy. Having a clause named after you in a CBA offer is bad enough, but your owner taking advantage of a loophole to get out of paying you? Man, that's cold.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Confusing Punishments

I'm starting to think that the NHL actively dislikes its own owners, and has frankly stopped pretending otherwise.

One of the clauses in the text of the NHL's latest offer (which has been left behind by the PA's stampede to make three insta-rejected counter-offers) was this golden idea:

All years of existing SPCs with terms in excess of five (5) years will be accounted for and charged against a team's Cap (at full AAV) regardless of whether or where the Player is playing. In the event any such contract is traded during its term, the related Cap charge will travel with the Player, but only for the year(s) in which the Player remains active and is being paid under his NHL SPC. If, at some subsequent point in time the Player retires or ceases to play and/or receive pay under his NHL SPC, the Cap charge will automatically revert (at full AAV) to the Club that initially entered into the contract for the balance of its term.

If the AHL salary provision wasn't enough, the League wants to burden teams which sign obscenely-lengthed contracts with the cap hit should the player retire.

Now I've been on the record as saying that if owners want to do stupid things they should have to live with the outcome -- good or bad. Having a team trade away a long contract and then later getting whacked with a cap hit when that player retires strikes me as being excessive.

Especially if you consider that many of these contract will probably be coming home to roost after the current ownership has been replaced. Definitely after the management has been replaced.

So what is the point of this cluase? Who, really, are we punishing with this?

While amusing from a karma point of view, I don't think this really does anything to build the league in the long term.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Leafership Priorities

Seen on my RSS reader, in an article listing today's Leafs-related link dump:



My reaction is: no, the Leafs are in dire need of players worth leading. Solve that problem first, then worry about "leadership".

And yeah, just kicking the Leafs in a quick one-line post is kinda low, but that's all I have time for today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Owners Lob A Fastball

So it sounds like we're down to serious activity with the CBA negotiations.  Whether or not this is a serious offer or a serious PR stunt remains to be seen.

So let's peruse the low highlights of the offer:

50/50 split of Hockey Related Revenues

This marks a serious movement on the league after we started at a ridiculous 42-58 split.  So this is movement to what is commonly thought of as a "fair" split.  But in the longer run it doesn't mean much.  It certainly won't solve the problem of Phoenix, let alone those other southern American franchises which are not profitable -- something which was the express goal of the NHL in these negotiations.

Free agency would start at 28 or eight years of service

...which is an increase on both counts in the current deal.  Locking up players rights longer means that the owners have assets longer that they can leverage either in the arena or against each other for trade.

Entry level contacts last four years

...same reason, excepts this keeps players cheap for an additional year.  I'm not sure I like this.  The players are the lifeblood on the league, and many of them don't last long enough to see the large payouts.  Keeping them cheap longer seems a lousy way to short-change money.  If anything, the owners are offering the existing players a way to hedge their future earnings by restricting the earnings of the future union members -- if young players are cheaper longer, then they won't be providing pressure on caps -- meaning the existing players can get paid more in the short run.  But my feeling is that those young guys who are not going to make it should get paid more.  Seems... fairer some how.

Put those three things together and you have the total pool being cut, but younger players are going to cost less over the long run.  This will only inflate free agent salaries as if you make the bulk of your players cheap, you have to make up the difference somewhere else.

Maximum contract length of five years

This is such a good idea it stuns me.  I'm shocked to see such a common sense proposal -- from either side, frankly.  Now I'm sure that once the CBA is signed, the clever wonks will be all over it looking for other ways to pay players ridiculous amounts of money.  But this proposal would limit the amount of damage that owners and managers could do to their franchises, damage that all to often outlives said owners and managers.

Revenue sharing pool of $200 million

I'm not sure this is enough to make those other franchises viable.  It is a start, though.  No word on how this pool would be generated.  If it is an off-the-top skim from all franchises, including the ones in trouble, well then it is laughably insufficient.

Arbitration would still exist

Only notable because the NHL's previous offers explicitly killed arbitrarion.

NHL Players in AHL would have their contracts count against the signing NHL club's cap

...aka the Wade Redden clause.  I don't like this one, I think it penalizes a NHL club more than it should for signing a bad contract.  By all means make them pay out the contract value, but I'm not against burying that contract in the AHL as long as the hockey player gets paid.  Yes, such a clause would act as a disincentive to making bad offers.  But it would also reduce the supply of bad contracts that every year are sent up and down through waivers, which reduces the chance that someone might be picked up off of waivers.  Sure, Redden is a bad deal at $6 million.  But $3 million?  Maybe someone* would take a chance on him.

Must... not... smirk.
My Conclusion

I think this straddles the middle ground between serious offer and PR-pandering.  50-50 is widely seen as a "fair" split, echoing the levels seen in other professional sports.  Since much has been made of the revenue splits in the mainstream media, this would make Joe Q. Public think yeah, we're there, get the deal done.  The revenue sharing is an improvement -- "yeah, we're there, get the deal done." However the devil is going to be in the details.  I don't think the PA will want to give on the free agency or the entry level contracts.  The "Wade Redden" clause is a blatant throw-away clause, something the owners are willing to "walk away" from in order to gain another concession -- I doubt it will make it into the final agreement.

In total, I think that this could be the basis for a serious counter offer from the PA, and if the PA ignores or craps all over it, the league can use it as a platform to blast the media with the message "well we tried, but the union is the reason why you don't have any hockey".

Either way, the union has to respond.  I'd look for a counter offer of some form from the union, probably before the end of the week.  The media spin, of course, starts now.

---

*= OK yeah not me either, but hypothetically speaking.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Random Kickage

So the league has cancelled the first two weeks of hockey, which includes 6 Ottawa Senators games, and I presume a similar number of Maple Leafs games.  And this got me thinking.

You know that all things being equal, the Maple Leafs have enjoyed some barn-burner starts to the last couple of seasons.  It is clear that the Leafs are traditionally much better at the beginning of the year than at the end of it.  And the lockout could, in fact, work in their favor.  See, all the Leafs need to do is arrange for the second half of the season to be cancelled -- rather than the first half -- and they'll make the playoffs.

Simple, yes?  Don Cherry must be licking his chops.

In other, equally relevant news, the Leafs are still tied for first place in the East.

Chirping The CBA: The Amnesty Clause

One of the more interesting parts of the CBA process is that it gives us a chance to discuss some more intriguing ideas as far as regulations go. These new regulations can change the way the teams do business in interesting ways, adding wrinkles to the way teams go about building their rosters.

The "Amnesty Clause" is not one of those interesting ideas.
After the NBA lockout of 2011, a majestic clause was put into place. The clause allows each team to exterminate the burden of one albatross contract, thereby freeing the team from the immense weight of an ill-advised decision. An amnesty clause is essentially Pepto Bismol for regret.
From management's standpoint, this is the ultimate mulligan -- you can make a mistake and then avoid having to pay for it.

And this is why there shouldn't be one.

Mistakes -- and especially mistakes made by management and owners -- should hurt. Frankly, that's the only way these people learn. If you are going to do something stupid, you should deal with the consequences.

If you are going to sign Wade Redden to a six-year, thirty-six million dollar contract, then by god you should have to pay the man his money.

Look at it the other way. If Sidney Crosby and his agent get roaring drunk and sign a twelve-year, fifteen million dollar contract with the Florida Panthers, nobody is going to let them have a mulligan, are they?

Now there is an argument for a partial mulligan. If a new owner comes in, maybe he should get one or two. Maybe if a new GM is installed the argument could be made for granting one. As long as the player in question still gets paid some how. The only problem with this is that we already have a mechanism for doing this -- the buy-out. Teams can buy their way out of contracts that they don't like. It costs them both in money and cap space, but they can get out of it.

Put it all together and I think this is a dumb idea, and that it isn't really necessary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Learn From The Experts

This is absolutely hysterical:


The team that hasn't made the playoffs since... well let's just check the counter:

...ok let's just say it has been a while and leave it at that.  But they're going to help other coaches select their Tim Hortons' or something!  You could write a whole comedy routine about this: "Yes, Mr. Coach, welcome to the Leafs Coaching Clinic.  First, could you show us how you are doing things so we can see... erm... uh... what to correct?"

The only way this would be more hysterical would be if it was announced just after a coaching change.  (Update: it was, kinda.)

Tune in next week when the Leafs host their clinic for General Managers!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Economic Impact

There was a lot of hand-wringing in the Ottawa Citizen on the weekend about the NHL strike, and the spin-off economic impact that said strike was going to have.

Personally I don't see the problem in the larger picture.  I have faith that my hockey fan citizens can dig deep and find other things to spend their money on: different bars and restaurants, gadgets, family, whatever.  I seriously doubt that the typical hockey fan will save their money or reduce their debts this year.

In the large view, all that money will get funneled into different parts of the economy, parts that will undoubtedly experience a return to long term norms once hockey returns.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Selling Cap Space

So one fine idea which will never see the light of day in the actual CBA was an idea in one of the offers by the players that rich teams which found themselves in need of hockey talent but with a shortage of cap space could undertake to buy unused cap space from another team for actual cash money.   This I thought was an interesting idea.  It would be a ready-made mechanism to transfer an unused asset from a poor team in exchange for the cash money that a rich team is making hand over fist.

Of course I'd want to limit it.  Say that at opening night, your cap hit had to be in line with the regulations for the season.  Say that said cap space had to be purchased at the full year rate, even if it was only used for a third of the season.  So if you needed to hire a guy who got $3 million a year, you'd pay at least $3 million to some other team to use their cap space for the rest of the year.  And oh yes you still have to pay the trade and pay the guy.  And then find some way to be legal before the next opening night.

Of course people won't go for it.  It would let rich teams like Toronto buy their way out of their terrible management, and while I agree that's bad, something like this would be a market to permit teams with unused cap to get money from the richer teams.  And the rich teams would be getting something for their money, unlike revenue sharing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

McKenzie on the CBA

TSN's Bob McKenzie considers the CBA negotiations.  Although I disagree with his conclusions, it is a pretty good detailed survey of the situation today as we head into the lockout.  I agree with his assessments of both the league's and the PA's relative offers: they both totally miss the point.

Unrelated: The last time we had a strike, poker made its big splash into our collective attentions.  While poker has definitely had its last gasp as a "mainstream" "sport", I wonder if something else interesting will make its appearance in the gap that hockey will leave.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ice

Ellen Etchingham fetishes ice, albeit incorrectly:
No other sport is as dependent on such a mercurial surface, and because of that, no other sport has been so dependent on technology for its evolution.
Now while hockey is the most important sport in the world, it isn't the only sport in the world. It isn't even the only ice-based sport in the world. The finest, fastest, most perfect, fresh-from-the-zamboni sheet of hockey ice isn't suitable for a rec league curling game.

You want an ice fetish? Hang out at a curling rink. Throw a few thousand rocks yourself and you'll look at ice in a totally different way; after losing an important stone to a hair, crease, or bubble you'll see that NHL-caliber ice isn't suitable for mixed drinks.

Them NHL fellers play a fine game, but they don't know ice.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Wake Me Up When It Starts To Matter

So it's been a month since anything happened in the CBA negotiations. I mean really, the player's "counter offer" was so out there that I wondered if the NHLPA was even taking the process seriously.

When you consider that the "counter offer" basically boiled down to A) suggesting that maybe the owners should share revenues between themselves more, and B) reducing the revenue split down to 54% for three years before jamming it back up to 57% of revenues, there's no wonder that the owners thought this was a non-starter.

Now there's been a counter-counter offer from the league, which would A) redefine "hockey related revenue" (down, of course) and B) set the revenue split between owners and players at 50% for five of the six years proposed.

There's been no mention of the other details that I've been hoping for.

But since there is still two weeks before 15 September, we are still not at the point that any of this should be taken seriously.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ottawa Fans Out West?

So last week I was in Drumheller for a family function, and I had occasion to go to the Walmart there.  And just for fun I walked through the sporting-goods section to look at the hockey stuff.

What  I found was interesting.  They had the predictable pile of Flames shirts, a bunch of Vancouver shirts, one Edmonton shirt... and a half dozen Ottawa Senators shirts.

In Drumheller.

Fascinating.

(Also no Toronto or Montreal shirts, which was more predictable.  It was the presence of the Ottawa shirts I found interesting.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Love The Smell Of Hypocricy In The Morning

The title of this article says it all: Minnesota Wild owner on crying poverty then spending $196 million on Zach Parise, Ryan Suter

Let's review:
In April, [Wild owner Leipold] told the Star Tribune that his team wasn't turning a profit, and put the onus on player salaries:

"We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries."

Three months later, Leipold authorized his general manager to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to contracts totaling $196 million — including $50 million in signing bonuses in the first three years of the contracts.

Everyone keeping up now?

This is why there has to be brakes on the insanity that is player contracts.  The players themselves, while not totally blameless, are certainly not the prime reason for the hole that the Wild are carefully digging themselves.  And while I'm not opposed to Leipold being creative with his future as an owner, he's taking an awfully dangerous risk with the franchise, one that could hamstring it for the next ten years or more.  And that's likely into the reign of the next owner, after Leipold goes bust or decides hemoraging money isn't such a good idea after all.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chirping The CBA: No Movement Clauses

It's another offseason filled with players wanting to be shipped somewhere new, but only if they approve the destination and I can't help but feel that rightly or wrongly, the end conclusion is hurting the game and frustrating the fans.
My reply in a comment on that post:
No. Frankly the only answer is the one you hand wave away at the top of your post: if management doesn't want to deal with NMC/NTC contracts, they shouldn't offer or sign them. If they sign them, they should live with them.

The NTC is about player compensation, the recognition that at a certain level of skill, the player wants some kind of control over their destiny and career so that if a contract does go sour, they don't get shipped off to some career graveyard like Edmonton (see also Dany Heatley) in exchange for a bag of pucks (see also Dustin Penner).

Banning NTC contracts would put the power disproportionately in the hands of management, and like him or loath him, Heatley's history with the Senators had afforded him the respect that gained him some measure of control over his destiny should a move be required.

You claim these contracts "hurt hockey". I don't buy that. They hurt individual franchises, yes, and I can see how individual fans could confuse the two. If a franchise becomes stuck with a player who doesn't want to be there, then that's a problem. However, shipping him off somewhere else he doesn't want to be like Edmonton doesn't fix the problem. It merely transfers it. And while shipping Heatley off to Edmonton would have solved Ottawa's immediate problem, it wouldn't have done anything for the Edmonton fan since Heatley clearly didn't want to be there either.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Alleged Opening Offer Terms


There are media reports that the owners have tabled a summary of an opening offer to the NHLPA.  Keeping in mind that an opening offer is as much about gauging the opposition's attitude as it is towards setting the table for constructive talks (ie: the details mean nothing in the grand scheme of things), let's quickly look at those same alleged details in the framework of my CBA wishlist:
  • Reduce players share of revenues from 57% to 46%: this is a meaningless position.  We know the owners want more of the pie.  46% is never going to happen.  It is a good starting point from which to compromise.
  • UFA status now only happens at 10 years, not 7:  This I think is a ridiculous idea.  How many players' careers make it even to the seven year mark?  Increasing the length of time a player's rights are "owned" does nothing for the game, really.
  • Contracts limited to five years: yeah, that's pretty much verbatim one of my wishlist items.  I like this.  I don't understand why the owners are talking sense in this matter.  It is not in the interest of the individual teams to have shorter contracts even if it is in the interest of the League's overall health.  Maybe the grownups really are in charge for once.
  • End salary arbitration: honestly I don't know enough about arbitration to make an intelligent comment about this.
  • Entry level deals five years instead of three:  I don't like this, I think that there needs to be some more give on the matter of entry level deals.  Forcing new guys into a standard cookie-cutter deal for three years is bad enough -- there's a difference between Erik Karlsson and Zack Smith right from the get-go.  Locking them both up for five years at the same peanuts rate is stupid.  My suspicion is that this is a throw-away position to be compromised away through negotiation.
  • No more signing bonuses: I don't like this.  How management and players structure the transfer of money to the players shouldn't be an issue, as long as the cap hit issue is addressed (see the next item).
  • Future deals all have the same financial value for each year of the contract:  This is why they want the signing bonuses eliminated, because it makes the math simple for analysts like Dave Hodge to follow without a capologist calculator.  I'd let owners and players structure deals differently through different years as long as the cap hit reflected the money paid.  If they want to pay some guy (say) an extra $1 million as a signing bonus in year 1, I have no problem with that, as long as the cap hit for that year reflected that $1 million.
Overall: this sounds like a pretty standard opening offer.  There's no way it will be accepted (not that the owners would be heartbroken if it was).  It is a starting point for discussion.  There's stuff to like in here and stuff to hate.  But I don't agree that this amounts to the owners "declaring war" on the NHLPA.  What matters more is how the NHLPA reacts to the offer, how reasonable they are with a counter-offer, and how willing to move the owners really are.  Only once we see that, probably over the next two or three weeks, will we really understand if we're dealing with a contract negotiation or a "war".

Monday, July 9, 2012

CBA Wishlist

OK, so the open secret here is that there's going to be a lockout of the NHLPA by the NHL owners in September.  The reason for this is because the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is apparently so heavilly tilted in favor of the players that they players would be quite happy to see another year run under it.

The owners, on the other hand, are in the position where around a third of them (I have read 10 of the 30 teams) would lose less money by not playing hockey in October than they would if hockey was played.

So, well, lockout, with the theory that they will be forcing the players to consider the potential damage to their careers (which for many players will be breathtakingly short anyways) and loss of a year's earnings.

Yeah.  We'll see how well that works, shall we?

Having watched hockey in one form or another for a few years, I have some thoughts about what I'd like to see change in the CBA.  Note that I'm not coming down on this from the side of either the owners or the players, although my bias is towards the players personally.  I'm trying to propose things that will make the NHL a better league, something which benefits the owners and the players both.

Player Contracts

The problem the last time around we did this was that some of the owners who had money had gone on a spending binge that tied up insane amounts of money to players that A) the owners couldn't afford and B) had the side-effect of raising the expectations proportionally for everyone else.  Having spent themselves into a hole, the owners were demanding that the players dig the league out of this predicament.  Which they did, through the introduction of the salary cap et al.

There are two problems here that can't really be addressed by any CBA (these proposals included): A) owners and management are smart people and will find clever ways around any rules that actually get written in order to spend money they don't have; and B) owners and management are dumb in that they'll use said clever ways to spend money they don't have and dig themselves another hole, and the next time the CBA comes up for renegotiation we'll play the same game again.

This time around the clever way/dumb result is the insane contract lengths that marquee players are getting these days.  Eight years for Quick.  Ten for Kovalchuck.  Twelve for Crosby.  I don't know how many years Luongo got initially, but he's still got ten to go.

The purpose of these contract lengths is to pay marquee players large amounts of money by planning to pay them much less at the end.  Since the cap hit is the total contract payout divided by the length, you can pay someone a large amount of money now, and still have a cap hit such that you don't have to pack the rest of the team with league-minimum entry-level type deals.  In Crosby's case, this allows Pittsburgh to pay Crosby $12.some million over the first three years, and then by reducing that number to $3 million over the last three years they get a manageable cap hit of around $8.7 million.

The thing is, it has always been a dumb idea.  The player probably won't turn out to expectations, and you end up with mediocre players eating both cash and cap space.  Or getting dumped into the AHL where the salary on their contract doesn't against the NHL team's cap (see also our favorite 6-year, $36 million man, Wade Reddin, who ended up playing in the AHL and getting paid more than most of the rest of the AHL -- combined).

So there are two things we need to do to create a disincentive against being excessively clever: make contracts more dangerous by forcing teams to live with their contracts, and limiting the maximum damage that these contracts can do to franchises.

So, my proposals:
  1. Change the cap hit calculation to be the money paid, July 1 to June 30, for that playing year.  Management can still play with the individual amounts paid each year through a contract, but the cap hit is what is paid.
  2. No more burying bad contracts in the minors.  1-way contracts stick with the big league team.  If a player doesn't make the cut, then have something like 75% of the cap hit still be charged to the team's cap.  If a player holds out or violates his contract (like running off to play in the KHL) then this doesn't apply.
  3. I like the idea of buyouts but I want them still to hurt when applied.  Limiting them to a certain time of year is good; limiting the number that a team can do per year (and maybe, additionally a lower aggregate number over every four years) is also good.
  4. Maximum contract length is four or five years.  That way, future franchise owners and management are not hamstrung too long by bad contracts.
None of this will happen easily because A) owners and management want the flexibility to be smart and believe there won't be any negative consequences for them; and B) the players think, if someone wants the flexibility to pay me $12 million while only costing them $8 million in cap hit, who am I to say no to that?

But for the health of the NHL franchises, which will all hopefully live on after the current owners are bankrupt and the management has all been fired, some kind of damage limitation has to happen.  The League really has to be the grown-up here and take a long term view of the entire organization's long term health instead of the 2 to 5 year view that management and owners typically take.

Cap Inflation

One of the interesting effects of the CBA was to tie the cap to league revenues.  Revenues go up, the cap (and minimum) go up with it.  The theory is, a rising tide lifts all boats.

It does make comparing apples to apples difficult though.  Since the last CBA went into effect, the cap has risen around 80%.  This means that contract values (statistics cash values of players) are hard to compare year over year, let alone across multiple years.

What would be more interesting -- and make things easier to compare -- would be to write contracts in terms of percentages of the cap.  So you wouldn't pay Jason Spezza $7 million, you'd pay him 8% of the cap.   Which, if the rules above applied, would help keep the damage being done to a franchise right out in public where the League can get a good sniff of it.

This won't happen because it would mean the owners would have to pay their stars more.

In the same vein something has to be done about the cap floor.  If the league really wants the smaller market teams to survive (forget succeed, just survive) without a revolving door of ownership, they have to make the smaller teams more able to spend to their budgets.

Revenue Sharing

Frankly, I think revenue sharing has no place in the CBA.  Once the gross revenue split(s) between the players and teams are decided, what the owners decide to do between themselves with whats left in terms of revenue splitting is their business.

The whole point of the cap was to ensure that the smaller teams have better access to big name/big skill players and have a better chance at overall success.  I think the wild-wild-west nature of the playoffs runs, where entry-into or failure-to-make the playoffs happens by hairs of points, plus the fact that there has not been much in terms of a dynastic hockey power, since the CBA marks this as overall a success.

On the other hand, franchises are always going to be unequal.  Not every franchise is going to be blessed with a history-steeped, hockey-mad, population dense area surrounding not only its arena but its city and region.  Frankly if the last thirty years can't blow MLSE's profitability out of the water, nothing ever will.  At the same time, Phoenix is putting a winning team on the ice but can't make it at the box office.  New Jersey made it to the finals, but I read that their owner is having finding the proverbial nickels to rub together -- which is a problem with the ownership, not the franchise, but still a problem for those in the front office.  In general, I read that there are potentially ten clubs that will lose less money if hockey is not played than they will if it is.  That's a third of the league, and there's no way you can consider that healthy long-term.

With all due respect to the fans of these franchises in trouble -- at some point the league is going to have to decide if the costs of carrying weaker owners/markets/franchises is really worth it in the long run.  There are options -- new owners, moving franchises to new markets, or outright revoking the franchises -- but bleeding the rich to keep tilting at arenas in the f---ing desert is not a long term recipe for success.

In general, revenue sharing only makes sense if you think the league really needs the number of teams that it has, in the locations it currently has.  And I don't.

But the bottom line is where I started: franchise revenue sharing has no place in the CBA.  What the owners/league decides to do with their share of the revenues should be entirely up to them.

Player Discipline

Overall the spinning-wheel-o-justice is not really any worse than it has been.  For all the guff I give Brendan Shanahan for his unwillingness to swing the Shahana-ban hammer more, he's been willing to stand up on YouTube and explain most of his non-actions.  This is the first step of improvement, and I hope that he (or whomever follows along after him) continues this reaching out to the fans and players to explain the league's actions.

I would prefer that "intent" wasn't ever an excuse for application of discipline, or lack there of.  There's no intent cop-out for off-side or delay-of-game.  There shouldn't be intent cop-out for head-shots.

I would like to see more serious fines for player violations.  $2500 is pocket change for too many of these guys.  Fines should be proportional to both the offense and the salary earned.

Related, I would also like to see fines levelled more at bench and front-office staff for repeat on-ice offenders.  At some point the teams have to take responsibility for the fact that they are employing some of these guys because -- not in spite of, but because -- of their willingness to indulge in hackery and goonery.  Which may be fine, but if we are fining and suspending the player, I'd like to see management held responsible too.

Realignment

The move of Atlanta to Winnipeg proves the point about revenue sharing, and that the League gets it, at least after a fashion.  The league was better off with strong support in a small market than with tepid or no support in a large market.

That said, the League needs more flexibility on realignment if and when franchises moved.  With the exception of leaving the East and West unbalanced in terms of playoffs and franchise numbers, the last realignment plan had several good points I would have liked to see:
  • a better playoffs format, with more variety in the potential opponent seeding
  • every team visiting every other team at least once per year
  • Winnipeg in the West where they belong
I totally get why the NHLPA blocked the realignment over the winter.  But specifically some kind of  realignment has to happen as part of this CBA to deal with Winnipeg.  But in general the league needs more flexibility to deal with franchise movement.


In Conclusion


Most of these issues are probably orthoganal to everyone at the CBA's bargaining table except possibly the League.  The players want to look after themselves, and the owners want to look after themselves.

If anything, the NHLPA has a better long-term perspective since the majority of the players understand that their stay in the league is necessarily brief, and the PA especially has to protect the interests of the future members before they are actually members.  By contrast, the owners probably delude themselves that they'll either stay in this forever minting money or sell-up to some bigger sucker, at which point the mess becomes someone else's problem.

The only potential grown-ups at the table are the League -- and only potentially, since they dance to the tunes played by the owners.  But the squabbling over these issues isn't doing the long term viability of the League any good.

NHL Hockey is enjoying some of its best success ever.  The League just needs to be careful that in an attempt to slice up the current pie they don't make it difficult to keep growing the pie larger.

Overall though I'll say we'll see some movement on these issues, some movement against these issues, and some movement on issues I know nothing about.

And I predict that which this CBA has expired, some of the owners will have dug themselves a different hole they expect the players of the day to dig them out of.

Update(s):

The section on Revenue Sharing was lifted pretty much verbatim from a comment I left on this Sens Shot article on the subject.  Jared Crozier has posted a comprehensive dissection of my arguments listed in that comment.  He and I are approaching the discussion from different viewpoints; it is natural we have different ideas on the way forward.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eyes Water

Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby conspired to make eyes water today as they came to terms on a 12-year, $104.4 million dollar contract extension.  This sees the Penguin superstar on the books somewhere until 2024, when he'll be 36.

For Pittsburgh, this is possibly a can't lose proposition:

  • There's always the chance that the CBA being negotiated this summer will exclude ridiculous, cap-circumventing terms like this, with some kind of retroactive clauses to get owners out of the deep holes they happily dug (see also: Luongo, Kovalchuk, et al);
  • If the CBA deals with both the salary cap and floor, there's a good chance that it will include a haircut on existing contracts the way the previous did -- my guess is that the haircut is priced into this contract and the cap hit for Crosby will be less than what's indicated here;
  •  If Crosby plays well, it keeps the asset safe in Pittsburgh;
  • If Crosby doesn't play well, he'll probably be on the injury reserve with another concussion or similar condition -- where the team doesn't have to pay his salary
The possibility that he stays healthy but doesn't play well doesn't seem likely with this player.

Personally though if I was a GM, I wouldn't be signing such contracts before I knew what the CBA was going to do them.  Similarly, if I was a player, I'd want to know if I needed to price in a haircut into my contract.

Isn't hockey fun!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Colloquialisms

I hate to go all grammar nazi on you, but dammit:

Perhaps most importantly, he's been nominated five times and won once, giving him the history that voters sometimes expect from winners. He's "paid his due," so to speak.

No, it isn't so to speak. You would speak: "paid his dues".

Cue the oxford dictionary: Phrases: pay one's dues
  • fulfill one’s obligations: he had paid his dues to society for his previous convictions
  • experience difficulties before achieving success: this drummer has paid his dues with the best
You'd say you'd paid him his due if you wanted to use the singular; but that means a payment to him, not from.

I know, it is hilarious that this bugs me, of all people, but it does.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cool Story, Bro

So unless you've been dead, you've probably both A) have seen this and B) know the back-story behind it:



Basically Brian Burke used the above quote to justify not selling* the Maple Leaf's future in a bid to buy additional short-term talent in order to make the playoffs in the East this year.  And as we all know, the 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings are now Your Stanley Cup Champions For 2012.

And probably for the next three years as the Maple Leafs continue their graceful slide in irrelevance, this image will be dragged out as a rebuttal to any hint of patience or conservative trading.

What those in Toronto tend to overlook are the differences between the 2011-2012 Kings and the 2011-2012 Maple Leafs.

One of these teams has a recent track record of success in the regular season.  One of these teams has a roster which had people complaining all year that they were underachieving.  And one of these teams had the fundamentals in place so that it could all come together with a bit of luck to win it all.

The Leafs are not the one team.  The Leaf's "success" in the regular season was A) a symptom of other teams not taking them seriously; and B) over in February.  Not even firing their coach could turn the team around from its nose-dive.  Their success was due to hard work and luck, but not due to any qualities one could point to as them actually being an underachieving hockey team.  No, it was pretty obvious that they were overachievers.  And while it isn't impossible that they might have continued to overachieve, they would have required sharply more luck than... well... they'd need a lot.

If you have an underachieving team that has responded positively to a coaching change, then trading away some future for the present might make sense.  But the Leafs are, let's be honest here, a couple of years away from being any kind of serious contender -- longer if Mr. Burke is shown the door over the next six months, which isn't an impossibility itself.

But to claim that all you need to do is get in -- and then hope for luck -- is stupid.

Get in with a legitimate chance to win.  Don't lunge and then hope.

---
* = what little was left of

How To Tell It Is Summer

Slow days make for silly hockey article titles:


Now while they both might be true, their juxtaposition is rather amusing to me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bad Officiating

Can I get a hell yes?

NHL Officials Need to be More Accountable
As fans, we should care less about this or that call against our team and instead unite in our anger about the standards of accountability and consistency in NHL officiating in general. These guys can and should be a lot better.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Consorting With The Enemy

In which I help out some Leafs fans.

What happened was that they had a server problem and lost a bunch of posts. I read their site using RSS through Google Reader, and one of the "features" of Google Reader is that it remembers posts that it has seen before in the feed -- even if those posts are no longer in the feed. So the take-away from this is: Google Reader remembers posts which are deleted.

This could be considered an epic backup backup strategy, in that your reader pool is now acting as a backup of your blog posts -- but it means if you retract something, the retraction doesn't make it to Google Reader.  I have observed this before, where people have published posts and then removed them (either because they wanted to delay the posting or because they had second thoughts) but I still got to read them.

Moral of the story: think carefully before you hit on your blog post.  The internet remembers.

Er, no, I mean the moral of this story is: your backups are good, right?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Parity

Backhand Shelf's Ellen Etchingham muses on what the drive towards parity means for the NHL:
Parity favors some elements of hockey over others. It does not, for example, favor the work of general management. The more all teams are inevitably equal, the less influence good management has on outcomes. Even now, the best GM in the NHL using all the most sophisticated technologies and advanced metrics available has only a small edge of the competition. The more parity increases, the less far behind the stupid franchises can fall, and an incompetent manager riding a lucky season has more and more of a chance of snatching the Cup away from the shrewd builder of a vastly superior team.
Super.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prelude to Game Seven

Well that was interesting -- the Senators jumped out to an early lead and held on until "penalty trouble" in the second.

I'm not so sure about it being "penalty trouble".  That's not to say that any of the official's calls were not justified, I think they were.  I just think that the officials showed a distinct lack of interest in calling similar offences when they were committed by New York.

The End Of Pittsburgh's Season
And Neil's goal in the dying seconds of the game -- well while he probably kicked it in, I'd say that there wasn't conclusive evidence on the tape, so the war room couldn't over-ride the call on the ice.  When the official spoke after the call and his mike was dead, I'm like: "Nobody cares what you have to say buddy, just point at the center of the ice."  And he did.

I think that dying goal gives momentum to Ottawa going into New York for game 7.  New York has to know that Ottawa is capable of beating them in their own rink and has done so before.  I still think it is possible for Ottawa to come out of this as the series winner.

Make no mistake about it, I don't think the Senators have pushed this series to seven games -- I think New York pushed it to seven games.  Ottawa has been the superior team for long, long periods of time in the games I have watched -- it is just that A) they have not been better than Lundquist and B) the Rangers have been better enough.

Roll on Thursday.

(I added the picture there because it made me laugh.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cardiac Kids: Playoffs Edition

Wow!  That was fun, wasn't it?  When Michalek ripped that goal in the 2nd, it was just such a relief after a total lack of scoring in game 1.  Even through the TV I could see that the rink just exploded in relief that scoring on home ice was actually going to be possible.

And coming after giving up two easy goals, well lots of other teams would have just given up.  But for whatever reason this team wants to play from behind, and so they are still in this series even though they've never led in regulation.

The second goal was similarly epic, coming after Spezza went off after a scary blow to the head.

Ottawa was the better team for long periods of play last night, with only Lundqvist's heroics keeping New York in the game.  It looked to be a game of inches as the puck slid slowly and gracefully just wide of the post at least twice, where Ottawa wasn't going to get the lucky breaks.

I wouldn't say that game was fun -- but it sure was a relief.

And with that win the boys have bought another home game for Mr. Melnyk, helping to ensure that the team doesn't slip into the red this year.

Game 5 is in New York on Saturday, and Game 6 is TBA but should be Monday.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Round 1: NYR(1) vs OTT(8)

Even though Ottawa has beat the Rangers in the regular season, I think overall the Rangers are the better team.  They have more depth, more skill.  That's not to say that Ottawa won't put up a stiff fight -- I'm sure the Rangers will have to work for their wins, and at the end of the series they'll know they were in a series with a serious team.

My call: Rangers in 6, or maybe Ottawa in 7.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Defense Of Hockey Night In Canada


The Backhand Shelf* wonders if Don Cherry is on his way out as a result of the inevitable re-tooling of Hockey Night In Canada that is about to happen at the CBC.  The article describes HNIC as "equal parts live broadcasting and unintentional comedy" and derides the analysts as not bringing much to either the evening's game or the state of the league in general.

Personally I like HNIC as it is**.  You have to look at it from the view of someone who doesn't eat, breath, sleep, live hockey the way the sports media does.  For most of the week they're stuck in something we call "real life" where you can't follow the instant-by-instant goings on in their favorite team, let alone the league as a whole.

For some of those fans, the opportunity to curl up with Don Cherry is exactly what they want.  He tells them what they want to hear and they generally go away happy with his delivery, if not always his message.

For me, my favorite part of the show's fixtures is the Hotstove where the issues of the week are stripped down to a 15 second sound bite and maybe 45 seconds of give and take on the part of the commentators.  It is here that we get an actual view into the minds of both the league and the NHLPA.  And while I'm sure the fact that I place such importance on this forum means I'm just not following the right twitter feeds or am not on the right people's speed dial, I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Every circus has its clown, and while Don Cherry is a one-clown act, Mike Milsbury runs a close second.  However of all the people involved, Milsbury has been involved at the highest levels and while he is may be an idiot, that gives him a perspective the rest of us can only dream of.

Besides, I read somewhere else that the CBC should be doing more stories on the players -- please.

Years ago I was a devoted follower of Formula 1 magazines.  I bought a non-trivial percentage of them*** and kept them for years.  Still have some of them, too.  What got me to stop following them was the fact that the stuff I really wanted to read -- the technical information about the cars -- was vanishing.  But worse, all the stories about people were inevitably in one of these categories:

  • New rookie promises to become the next F1 god
  • Mid-career driver seeking a way to step up his career
  • Senior driver reflecting that it just isn't going to happen for him
  • Retired F1 driver reflecting on his past glories
  • Head-to-head comparison of the current two title protagonists (note the annual fete celebrating that year's winner falls into this category, for the winner is nothing without those he beat)
Substitute the names as appropriate.  Oh sure, throw in some randomized factoids to make it uniqe -- Salo's family owns a milk company.  Wurtz was an inline skater.  Montoya answered prepared questions from randomly pre-seeded red balls.  But the bottom line is the same.  Boring.

And frankly it would be the same for hockey.  Rookies on the way up, veterans on the way down, inbetweeners trying to become elite, celebrations of those who do become elite, hometown hero makes good... plus your weekly Sidney Crosby.  It would be always the same.

Bo-ring.


Meanwhile the parts which count -- who's zooming who (ie Don Cherry) and the business of the game (ie Hotstove), the only parts of the game which are new and changing -- they'd get cut out.

And the intermission shows would become even less interesting... and less watched.

I'm probably not even close to the desired target market for HNIC.  And sooner or later Cherry will get bored or run over by a bus or something -- and god help us if the CBC turns to Kelly Hrudy to fill in.  But changes will come, because that's the way of life.

I just don't think the state of today is so bad.

---
* =  which, amusingly to me, still shows up in my RSS reader as its previous title, Houses Of The Hockey.

** = ...well except from the excessive bias which puts the Toronto games on the national feed, but that's both A) my Ottawa bias showing and B) not that big a deal since I've sought the Ottawa game when I've been out of market exactly once in the last three years.

*** = this was in the days before the Internet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy No Playoffs, Toronto

So just for a giggle, I googled "Truculence".  The Leafs showed up in item 7, a reference to Coach Carlyle asking for and receiving a particular call-up.

The fact that the Leafs show up 7th in this list is funny to me because today they're 14th in the east and have been mathematically eliminated from post-season play.

Sure, they've beat the Senators several times this year, but a team in year four of a rebuild needs to be beating a team in a 1st-year rebuild more reliably.  Heck, they need to be beating a whole lot of other teams more reliably.

Something for Leafs fans to be chewing on this off season* is that if Burke is going to be let go, it has to happen now so that a replacement has a chance to get organized for the upcoming July 1st free agency and the entry-draft later in the summer, as well as seeing about a replacement head coach.  The longer Burke is left in place, the harder it will be for any replacement -- forget a good replacement -- to make a positive impact on next year's fortunes.

But anyways -- Go Sens go!

---
* == which let's be honest started mid-February

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comedy

Brand new goalie!  Best Goalie not in the NHL*! Plays really well!  Savior of the present, builder of the future!

Right?  Suddenly:

Bishop Sidelined for At Least a Week
Sources say Ottawa Senators goaltender Ben Bishop will be sidelined for at least a week after injuring his groin over the weekend.
Ha ha, you thought it would be different this time?  It isn't just that this town hates goalies -- it's that this town really hates goalies.

Tune in next week when Craig Anderson hurts himself again, and we go into the playoffs backed by Alex Auld and Robin Lehner.

---
* ...at least until we traded for him.  Yes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

There Are Greeks In Toronto?


Varada at Welcome To Your Karlsson Years writes at length at the depths of the greek tragedy unfolding in Toronto. Mandatory reading.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Refs Steal Another Point

So really the only thing I want to say about the Buffalo-Ottawa game last night is: that disallowed goal was bogus. The refs waved it off as no goal, and the war room didn't over-ride "because the whistle blew before the puck crossed the line". Which is crap. HNIC replayed the sequence, and once could clearly see the puck go in, and then out again before the sound of the whistle came across.

"Interesting" was the HNIC commentator's view, but he didn't follow up on that.

"Interesting" meaning "That statement is totally contradicted by the evidence we've just examined", maybe. The only way you come to a conclusion like that is by buying into the whole "intent to blow" theory that says that the play is dead when the ref decides to blow the whistle, not necessarily when he blows it.

So yeah not to say that the Senators wouldn't have blown another goal lead, but frankly it would be unlikely. So I think Buffalo basically stole two points last night. Ottawa was compensated by being permitted one. That's more important to Buffalo at this point in the season than it is to Ottawa, but it is still bogus.

Bad officiating aside it was a reasonably entertaining game.

  • Karlsson's now one goal shy of the franchise record for goals in a single season by a defenseman. HNIC says's he's now got 69 points in 69 games -- that's a defenseman producing at a point-per-game scoring rate. We're all just hoping this isn't merely a career year and that he'll continue to grow, because the last thing you want to do is over pay for declining production.  One good goal from the slot, and one billiards goal off the back of Buffalo goalie's shoulder -- shouldn't have worked, but he's clearly got the magic touch these days.
  • Spezza's looking tentative with the puck at times, but he's still attempting -- and frequently achieving -- those outrageous dangles that I love to watch.  Still magically showing up in almost the right place at the right time to get the rebound or the cross-ice pass.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Brian Burke Is Pretty Much Finished

By firing Ron Wilson tonight, Brian Burke has put his credibility with the Toronto Maple Leafs firmly behind him.

Now by all means, Wilson had to go. The problem was he probably had to go at the end of last season when the Leafs didn't make the playoffs -- again. The problem was Wilson certainly didn't deserve a contract extension scant weeks ahead of his firing. The problem was that the players had probably tuned him out and had just started waiting for the inevitable swing of the axe.

However, you really can't lay the blame for the Leaf's history at Wilson's feet. It would be nice for Leafs fans if you could* but the problem with the team is the on-ice personnel, and the buck for those decisions stop in the GM's office.

Frankly the Leaf's recent success -- that is, the success that immediately predated the recent lack of success -- was probably due to the same factors that Ottawa profited from earlier this season. Teams saw the Leafs as easy pickings, only to discover that in the NHL even the easy-pickings teams can beat you if you don't take them seriously. Once the rest of the league got the message that hey, Toronto needed to be taken seriously, bam, we return to regularly scheduled programming.

I read something a few years ago that I liked. It said: deficiencies for special teams' play are the fault of the coach, because it is the coach's systems which either work or don't, his messages which gets through or doesn't, his ability to get buy-in which works or doesn't. But for five on five hockey: the credit or blame for how the team does belongs to the GM. That's his group of people that he's assembled. And if it works, he's a genius, and if it doesn't, he's a goat.

Burke's fingerprints are pretty much all over the Leafs. The fact that they are -- again -- probably going to miss the playoffs is now his fault, and unless something happens soon, Burke's departure is the next change that needs to be made.

He's tried building through the draft. Actually no he didn't, he traded away two first round picks to Boston for a player who, while being a very good player, can't carry the entire team on his back. Frankly he should have waited two years to make that kind of trade, giving him assets to build from within before trading away his immediate future in pursuit of immediate, improbable, success.

He's tried trading away a quarter of his team to the Calgary Flames.

He's tried shaming his players through the media.

He couldn't find something to do before the trade deadline. Now that might be a very good thing, we have no idea who was demanding how much for what, and frankly A) there's no point having a fire sale and B) there really wasn't much to sell.

Burke's 2011-2012 plan has basically boiled down to then miracle happens.

Firing Wilson now is a tacit admission of that fact.

And really, Leafs fans better hope he doesn't get one.

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*= and I'm pretty sure tomorrow I'll wake up to a RSS reader full of articles doing precisely that

Torn

So I am, as the title above says, a bit torn.

Torn because the Chicago Blackhawks came in here and while I figured they would be beatable, the demonstration they left on the ice suggests that tonight they were by far the better team. They were faster, more aggressive, tighter, looser, everything-er.

Frankly the only reason the score wasn't run up was Lehner.

That's not to say this was a bad outing for the Senators. No, the fact that they could live with -- more or less -- a demonstrably better team reflects well on them. For a first year rebuild team, this was an exceptionally good game. They lost, yes, but it wasn't a blow-out and while I felt they were running around in their own end a bit much -- as well as the neutral zone and frankly the offensive zone -- they never really stopped trying. They looked like a young team, but they never gave up.

I think with the ongoing implosion that is going on behind them in the standings (see also Toronto) the first round of playoffs is a lock for the Senators at this point. Beyond that, anything can happen. And again, for a first-year rebuild team, that's an outstanding achievement. Even if it is more of a condemnation of how mediocre the east really is.

The ever-present danger here is that the Senators won't be able to continue to build on this momentum, that management might decide to go back to trying to "tweak" the team into contention.

So I'm continuing to enjoy the games I manage to catch. I'm just not sure I'm optimistic about the long-term.

In other news:
  • Good on Ray Emery to get his career back on track. The boy can play, and as long as he focuses on that, he'll continue to do just fine. I don't know why he was run out of Ottawa, but he's clearly got his act together in Chicago.
  • Also nice to see ex-Sen Antoine Vermette get some attention through the game.
  • Hossa still looked dangerous at times, but he kind of came across as a faded star -- someone capable of occasional flashes of his former brilliance, but not a regular super star. Sort of like -- and it pains me to say this -- how Daniel Alfredsson might look next year.

A Meditation On Famdom

Backhand Shelf meditates on hockey fandom in Why We Do The Things We Do:

The most common answer is to speak of one’s fanaticism with metaphors of obsession, addiction, or disease, as though one has been tragically afflicted with this loyalty against one’s will. We disingenuously pretend as though we just can’t quit.

We can. We just don’t want to.

Brilliant.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Under The Bus With You

I don't understand, I really don't.

Auld ends up being in goal when the vastly better Boston Bruins come in to town and, horror of horrors, manage to beat the inferior Ottawa Senators. And somehow that's Auld's fault, and he should be banished forthwith for failing to steal a game against the better team.

Really?

For once I actually watched the game. I wanted to watch it so much, I watched it in french while I was in Montreal this weekend. Thank god the Canadiens were not playing or I wouldn't have gotten to see it. I even manage to watch the whole game, even sticking it out when it was 4-1 with ten to go.

Frankly the only goal I blame Auld for was that weak one -- Marchande's one in the first. The rest of them I blame on the rest of the team for A) poor defensive coverage and B) only turning the offense on in the last quarter of the third period.

You want to talk about defensive coverage? Fine, let's talk shots on goal:

Team1st2nd3rdTotal
BOS 13 16 9 38
OTT 9 6 15 30

...I don't wanna talk about it any more.

And about the last period: look, guys, these games are 60 minutes long, not five. It's fun and all watching the heart-attack-inducing last gasp desperation plays and all, but this is about winning, not trying really hard.

So in summary, yes, Auld was the losing goaltender. But no, he wasn't the problem. The problem is a little further up the ice, and the sooner we recognize that and start dealing with it, the sooner we can start having a honest discussion about goaltending.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Cut Above

Craig Anderson cuts his hand making dinner after last night's whooping of the Washington Capitals.

...you can't make this stuff up, can you.

The team has been pretty lucky, injury-wise, so far this season. Michalek was out with a concussion, and both Phillips and Gonchar spent some time on the injury list. But if there is one player who has been single-handedly carrying this team so far this season, it's Erik Karlsson. No wait, I mean Craig Anderson.

Look at last night. Craig Anderson stopped 33 of 35 shots on goal. The two Washington goalies combined to stop 19 of 25 (with one empty-netter at the end of the game). So yes, "Mister" Anderson was the man last night. But let's review: Ottawa gave up 35 shots on goal. Unless the goalie is the man, the end result could have been much, much uglier.

With all respect to Alex "back from the goalie graveyard" Auld*, the problem in Ottawa has not yet settled down to something you could call weak goaltending. Even if Auld is only average, it is going to get ugly. If he's merely human, we'll probably get the opportunity to watch "Goalie Of The Future" Lehner get lit up like a pinball machine a couple of times again.

This team has got to play better in front of their goalies. Only then can we start appreciating** how good the goaltending we have actually is.

As far as the standings go, however, I feel pretty good. The only teams with genuine chances to catch Ottawa are Toronto, Winnipeg, and Washington, and I think the gap that Ottawa has now will permit them to retain a place in the playoffs by playing only .500 hockey through Anderson's absence. It pains me to say it, but Toronto isn't as bad as the last-10 makes them look, while I think Winnipeg's last-10 numbers of 5-4-1 are probably a bit above where they should be.

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* = stupid nickname, I know, but what you going to do?

** = although it is nice to watch Toronto demonstrate that they are no better than Ottawa at refraining from fitting goalies under the bus at the first sign of trouble.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fan Tab III

So I have to say, FanTab is pretty amazing as a website.

After my last post, and the re-tweeting of my pointer to them complaining, I got an email from one of the guys at FanTab. I sent him my tale of woe, and he figured out that my account was on hold. He undid the hold, and my access was immediately reinstated.

Gotta love that.

He asked for some feedback on the site, and so I thought I'd write up my thoughts, brief as they are, here.

I do enjoy playing with FanTab. I think the main problem is: there's no community surrounding the hockey clubs -- or at least, the hockey team I follow (and those other teams in the East that the Senators end up interacting with). Right now it is just me talking to myself. Which is kinda weird because I found the link to FanTab on another 'blog, and assumed that its presence meant that at least the site admins participated.

I notice that the published web gadget has changed -- it just shows the slider, rather than the graph. Personally I thought the graph was the hook, that you could see how confidence changed up and down over time. Having the slider under the graph that anyone could grab, and then get directed into creating a site account, was the gateway into getting a participant to sign up. (Disclaimer: I'm a sysadmin and so am unreasonably fixated on graphs.)

One thing which might be nice is a RSS feed for individual users, something I can throw into the planet. But that is just my desire to aggregate all my personal content generated into a single place.

Beyond that I think that one would have to be careful what one did to FanTab -- it would be too easy to add too many knobs and bells and whistles. You'd end up with people getting fixated on the mechanics of the thing, rather than just using it as a fun gauge to stimulate conversation.

Growing the community around the hockey teams, though, I'm not sure how to go about doing that. I'm not exactly an opinion leader here. (See also Sturgeon's Law.) A healthy community is key to getting, and keeping, things going, even if it does mean it will grow to the point that community management will become a problem. But that's the cart before the horse.

FanTab is fun, and I'll keep playing with it while it (and hockey) continues to be fun.

Anyway Rob, thanks for listening.