1. 4.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Colonel's Calculations vs. Big Tex's Guts, Round One

The first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Wednesday night. As such, it's prognosticatin' time again. The Colonel is down in the Caribbean paradise (or maybe not) that is Haiti, a.k.a. "The Land That Internet Forgot". Though he lacks the ability to climb up into the Interwebs, The Colonel was able to text me his first round picks, as well as the calculations behind them. Let's compare The Colonel's Calculations to Big Tex's Guts, shall we?

The Colonel's Calculations

The Colonel made his picks using a stat-based approach. First, he looked at the regular season performances of the five post-Lockout Stanley Cup Champs. Their stats average out as follows:

Wins per 5 games: 3.36
Shots For/Shots Against: 32/27
PP: >19.1%
PK: 83.3%
Cup winners outscored opponents in every period, but greatest goal differential to lowest was (by period): 3rd, 1st, 2nd
Teams also got a big boost if they won at least 7 of their last 10 games.

With the above factors in mind, The Colonel's first round picks for 2011 are:

Capitals over Rangers
Canucks over Blackhawks
Sharks over Kings
Sabres over Flyers
Bruins over Canadiens
Coyotes over Red Wings
Ducks over Predators
Lightning over Penguins

Big Tex's Guts

When it comes to the playoffs, Yours Truly likes to throw cold, hard numbers out the window and go with a gut call. With a minimum of verbiage, here are my first round winners and losers, and why:

Capitals over Rangers - As a passionate Rangers fan, it pains me to make this call. If the Blueshirts' oh-so-talented youngsters had more experience, if Marian Gaborik were...Marian Gaborik, and most importantly, if Ryan Callahan were healthy, this series goes to New York. Chin up, Rangers fans - this team is going to make some playoff noise...in another year or two.

Canucks over Blackhawks - This is the year Vancouver gets past Chicago. The 'Hawks have plenty of talent, but not enough Ladd, Burish or Byfuglien to beat the Canucks this time around. And let's face it: it took a truly crapulent 0-3-3 run by the Stars from 19 MAR - 2 APR for Chicago to even make it into the playoffs. I like the Blackhawks, but they're not worthy.

Sharks over Kings - No Kopitar, no Williams, no brainer. San Jose will be Vancouver's biggest obstacle on the road to the Cup.

Flyers over Sabres - The Sabres are red-hot coming into the playoffs, while the Flyers appear to have stumbled in like a drunk coming home to the wrong house. Nonetheless, this is the playoffs, and the Sabres still reside in the city of Buffalo, which was (apparently) built on an ancient indian burial ground and is thus accursed. Flyers win without even sobering up.

Bruins over Canadiens - The Habs will be one-and-done simply because A) Boston is just that good, and B) Vancouver needs to bear the burden of being The Only Canadian Team Remaining In The Stanley Cup Playoffs, a.k.a. Canada's Last Hope, for three full playoff rounds. Suck it up, Canuckleheads.

Red Wings over Coyotes - The Hated Red Wings win this series not because Phoenix isn't worthy, but because I desperately want Phoenix to win. And because Phoenix desperately needs to win a playoff round (or four). Detroit, The Destroyer Of All That Is Good In My Hockey World, in three. Yes, three.

Predators over Ducks - Speaking of teams which desperately need to win a playoff round...fortunately, Nashville gets to bypass Detroit in the first round. Jordin Tootoo goes all Jeff Gillooly on Corey Perry in Game One, and it's all downhill from there.

Lightning over Penguins - No Crosby, no Malkin, no brainer. How y'all liking that Neal & Niskanen for Goligoski trade now, Pittsburgh? As the late, great Johnny Cash said, "Well, I fooled you/I fooled you/I got pig iron/I got pig iron/I got aaallll pig iron".

So there it is, folks: statistical calculations vs. plain ol' guts. Within two weeks, we'll know which one is better. In the meantime, we got us some playoff hockey to watch. In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On."

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.
1. 4.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exploiting the NFL

For those who bleed Hockey, a little slice of fictional heaven...

At 3:04 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, 2011, Gary Bettman calls the meeting to order. The required NHL staff was in the room with him, but there was a notable teleconference of the 30 NHL teams’ owners and GMs mutely staring back at him through the lone Polycom device in the middle of the table.

“Gentlemen,” he begins. “We are here today to get a GO/NO GO vote from all teams on the initiative I mentioned in a broad strokes email message yesterday. We are here today to determine if we, as a League, are going to exploit the NFL Lockout for the greater good of Hockey.”

He paused a minute for that to sink in. You could feel the nervous excitement through the electronic silence.

“…There are a couple of things to say up front,” he continued. “We have sent out back channel feelers to Direct TV, NBC/Versus, CBS, ESPN and FOX networks in the United States. Any deal we have at worst would have us splitting September TV rights with the NFL coming out of a Lockout. For example, we would get either the 12 or 3 p.m. slot on all U.S. networks on Sundays, even if the Lockout does not persist. This will elongate our season in some respects as we will discuss below. But for our efforts, we get the prime time Monday night matchup unless the NFL comes back on line at which time we will get another week night, most likely on Fridays. But until they come back, we fill all open slots with our games. And, of course, there is no change on games provided to our Canadian broadcast partners. The new revenues will obviously be substantial. But the overall increase in exposure is the crux of the impact to our League.”

Again there was a short pause of silence, calculated by the Commissioner to allow some comments to pass back and forth by owners and their GMs who were taking the call together. He could not imagine any dissent over these two points.

“…And before we take a roll call vote of teams, I need to add the following. In light of man games lost to injury we have throughout the season, and because we want to have our best players on the ice at all times, we need to provide a means to produce more recovery time. That has driven some recommended changes to scheduling I have had our Hockey Operations team burning the midnight oil over. I will now let them tell you what I am talking about.”

As the rundown of changes began, the fundamental transformation to how the NHL season is played are obvious. Those changes include:

1. The league will play an 84-game season. This allows for: home-and-away against all teams in the other Conference; three games against all teams in the other divisions in a team’s Conference, and six against Division rivals.

2. The 2011-12 season begins three weeks earlier than in 2010-11. Pre-season camps cannot begin before 20 August and end no later than 1 September. Teams still coordinate their own pre-season schedule, but nobody plays more than five pre-season contests. Regular season play begins the week of 3 – 9 September when the NFL is otherwise scheduled to kickoff. It ends the week of 24 – 30 March. Playoffs follow thereafter with rounds scheduled as follows:

Round 1: 2 – 15 April
Round 2: 17 – 30 April
Round 3: 2 – 15 May
Round 4: 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27 May

3. Season ‘special circumstances’ scheduling occurs as follows:

Thanksgiving Break 23 – 25 November 2011

Christmas Break 23 – 27 December 2011

All Star Break 26 – 29 January 2012
(‘Old Timers’ Game and Fantasy Draft on 27 January; All Star Game on 28 January)

2012 NHL Entry Draft 1 – 2 June 2012

4. Season weeks run Saturdays through the following Fridays. For all teams, two games are played between Saturday and Monday to facilitate weekend crowds and the increase in U.S. television broadcasts. Deference is paid to U.S. college football with fewer games on Saturdays than Sunday schedules hold. High profile rivalries are highlighted for Sunday prime time and Monday games.

5. Teams play Intra-Conference foes three times back-to-back-to-back and across Conference lines in back-to-back pairs. This facilitates short, sharp rivalries with no history lost between contests such as seeing a team in October and then not again until March.

6. Fundamentally, no team plays greater than three games in an NHL week more than four times during the season. In most cases, teams only play four games in seven days just three times. Where teams play four games in one week, the first pair is executed Saturday through Monday and the second, Tuesday through Friday. The additional recovery time afforded by spreading out the schedule can only work to our benefit in icing more complete teams.

7. While there are a greater number of road trips, travel costs are offset by increased television revenues. Road trips, due to alternating home and away schedules, are no longer than four games long.

8. The season begins with Intra-Divisional battles over the first five weeks and ends the same way. This opens and closes the year with a playoff-like atmosphere in all NHL cities, building momentum for both the regular season’s launch and the start of the playoffs.

9. The divisions also receive a reorganizational overhaul in order to tighten up regions and highlight strong rivalries. They look like this:

Eastern Conference
Northeast Division: BOS, MTL, OTT, TOR, and BUF
Tri-State Division: NJD, NYI, NYR, PHI and PIT
Central Division: CAR, CHI, CBJ, DET and WSH

Western Conference
Southern Division:
Northwest Division: STL, COL, MIN, CGY and EDM
Pacific Division: PHX, ANA, LAK, SJS and VAN

As a side note to questions, Hockey Operations explained i f Phoenix has to move to, say, Winnipeg, then you have:

Western Division: COL, ANA, LAK, SJS and VAN
Great Plains Division: STL, MIN, WPG, CGY and EDM

Otherwise, there are no further changes to any Divisions or Conferences.
The Commissioner then continued. “And in order to allow you to visualize these changes, we are sending you right now a draft schedule of matchups broken down weekly for the regular season.” With a nod and a stab in the air to indicate ‘ENTER’ on an imaginary computer, the file was sent to all teams.

Hockey Operations continued. “…When you look at the schedule, home games are in bold. Two bold letters to a lone team name means they have home advantage for the week. That happens for half of all game pairings. Two bold letters in a team name with a slash afterwards indicates which half of the week a team is playing and the desired order of home and away games. This facilitates road trips without bouncing away, then back home, and finally on the road again in quick succession. As you can see, this schedule is doable and frankly could have always been a course of action for play in a season. We just have not chosen to do so to date.”

The Commissioner interrupted the conversation for a short interjection. “Our intent for European games this season is spread them out a bit. We are currently negotiating for Calgary and Philadelphia in Stockholm 8 and 9 October, Washington and Nashville in Moscow 19 and 20 November, and Pittsburgh and Vancouver 10 – 11 December. Those games are indicated in red and white highlighting on the file.”

And Operations followed up with, “There is also room for scheduling options based on arena availability. Intra-Divisional weeks can be played on back-to-back nights with at least a full night off before Game 3, or can be played as a home-away-home triple with travel days in between. Our scheduling folks will speak with all teams about their constraints once you have looked at the schedule and discussed it between opposing clubs for a recommendation to the actual calendar. Are there any questions?”

“Just one. Are we doing this for only one season?” asked Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke.

“Good question. The answer is no. We intend to repeat this in the 2012-13 season and, using momentum from 2011-12, take on the NFL head-to-head. We will reevaluate our League position after then.”

A few more questions are asked before the vote, primarily circulating around divisional reorganization. There is nothing insurmountable, however. The vote is 28-2 in favor of pushing ahead from the teams.

“Ok then. We set it in motion. Work the draft schedule over the next week and we will have another conference call on March 19th to solidify our plan. Then we will go to the networks for what I am calling initial consultations for contracting the 2011-12 season broadcast agreements contingent upon the NFL Lockout remaining in place. That is all for now.”

…And thus is borne what becomes a fruitful extension of the inroads the NHL is making in the United States market which benefits the League, its teams and players, and Hockey fans as a whole.

Ah, to dream, perchance, to imagine. For in the dreams of (an NFL season) death what opportunities may come…
1. 4.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

(Playoff) Border Wars

Hockey is combat. With injury rates on each team greater than casualty figures for units in the U.S. Civil War, don’t let anyone tell you different.

When you add in that the average difference in the East between 8th and 9th seed since the Lockout has been 1.2 points, in the West, 2.8 points, and overall, only 2 points, it is understandable that the battle for final playoff seeds will once again go down to the wire.

How do the teams engaged in these ‘Border Wars’ stack up through Saturday, 12 March's games? We compare those in the range of the playoff possible below…

Eastern Battles

Eastern teams within two points of the final,projected point spread of the 8th seed based on On Goal Analysis’ ability to project from all possible points that can be awarded are only the NYR and BUF.

NYR are projected at the #7 seed with 90 – 91 points, behind #6-projected MTL by 7 – 8 points. They are winning at a .543 clip, just under the Eastern Conference’s average winning percentage (W%) of .550. They have 12 games left to play which include: one each with MTL and BUF who bookend their projected position; two with BOS and one each with PIT and PHI who are playing at better than the Eastern W%; and six additional games against NYI (x2 – a traditional thorn in the side), FLA, OTT, ATL and NJD. The Rangers have won three of their last four games. NYR has only had four players in all 70 games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to DelZotto, Biron, Boogaard, Frolov and Drury. Caution: If NYR needs a win against NJD in their last game of the season, they may be in trouble.

BUF is projected at the #8 seed with 90 – 91 points, behind #7-projected NYR by 1 point or less and ahead of #9-projected CAR by 4 – 5 points. They have a .523 W%, also under the Eastern Conference’s average by greater than .025. They have 14 games left to play which include: two against CAR and one vs NYR who rest on their flanks; one each with NSH, MTL, WSH, TBL and PHI who are all sporting W%’s better than .580; and six additional games against OTT, ATL, FLA, NJD, TOR and CBJ. The Sabres have lost two of their last three games, a trend they need to reverse. BUF has only one player, Tyler Ennis, who has participated in all 68 games for the team this season. Their injured roster includes Butler, Gaustad, Kaleta, Stafford, Lalime and Roy. Caution: The stretch of NJD, TOR, NYR, WAS, CAR and TBL from 26 MAR to 5 APR will make or break them as far as the playoffs go this season.

Honorable mentions: CAR likely to finish 9th with 85 – 87 points; ATL weighs in at 9th or 10th with 83 – 85 points; NJD – with a great comeback attempt – likely to come in at 9th – 11th with 84 – 86 points; and TOR rests at 10th to 12th seed with 82 – 84 points.

It looks like the East boils down to PHI, WSH, BOS, PIT, TBL, MTL, NYR and BUF with CAR falling just short.

Western Conflict

The competition in the untamed West is even more ferocious for teams that are within three points of the final, projected point spread of the 8th seed. Teams in this range include CHI, ANA, PHX, NSH and CGY.

CHI is projected at the #6 seed with 97 – 98 points, behind #5-projected LAK by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .596 clip, above the West’s average W% of .570. They have 14 games left to play which include: only one game against PHX in the Border Wars gang; three with DET including a Black and Blue pair on 8 and 10 APR to close out the season; games against WSH, SJS, DAL, BOS, TBL and MTL who are all playing at a W% greater than .600; and four more games against FLA, EDM, CBJ and STL. The Blackhawks have gone 0-1-1 in their last two following an eight game W streak. CHI has only had three players compete in all 68 games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to Bolland, Campbell, Hendry and Johnsson. Caution: Three games left versus DET, including the away-and-home pair to close out the season may give the ‘Hawks some fits.

ANA is projected at the #7 seed with 96 – 97 points, behind #6-projected CHI by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .581 clip, still above the West’s average W%. They have 14 games left to play which include: two games against CGY and one each against PHX and CHI within the Border Wars circle; they have three with LAK including another Black and Blue pair on 8 and 9 APR to close out the season; two each against DAL and SJS and one versus NSH who look to be in the Western playoffs already; and one more each against STL and COL. The Ducks are 5-1-1 in their last seven games which is the right trend for right now. ANA has only Perry and Ryan who have made every opening faceoff and currently reports injuries to Blake, Hiller and Jafray. Caution: Two speed bumps for the standings may crop up: LAK, CGY, DAL, NSH and CHI from 19 – 26 MAR and CGY, SJS DAL, SJS, and 2x LAK closing out the season from 30 MAR – 9 APR.

PHX is projected at #8 with 95 – 96 points, behind #7-projected ANA by about 1 point. They are winning at a .587 clip, ahead of the Wests’ W%. They have 13 games left to play which include: only one game against ANA, CGY and CHI from the Border Wars group; they have three against SJS with that Black and Blue pair on 8 and 9 APR to close out the season; games against VAN, DAL, and LAK who are already projected in the playoffs; and four more games against EDM, STL, CBJ and COL. The Coyotes have gone 2-0-1 in their last three games. PHX has only four players who have played in all games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to Hanzal, Klesla, Whitney, Sauer and Jovanovski. Caution: PHX games at LAK, and home-and-away versus SJS 6 – 9 APR may have a huge impact in terms of points and player health rolling toward the playoffs.

NSH is projected at the #9 seed with 94 – 95 points, behind #8-projected PHX by 1-2 points. Their W% is .580, still above the West’s average. They have 13 games left to play which include: ANA as the only Border Wars game; a pair at home against DET; games against LAK, BOS, BUF, DAL, and VAN who are projected as playoff teams; and five more games against EDM, COL, ATL, CBJ and STL. The Predators have gone 4-1-2 in their last six games. NSH has five players who have started all 69 games so far and currently has injuries reported to O’Reilly, Sullivan, Goc, Bouillon and Lombardi. Caution: Complacency versus ATL, CBJ and STL to close out the season may actually close out the season.

CGY is projected at the #10 seed with 94 – 95 points, behind #8-projected PHX and #9-projected NSH by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .570 clip, right at the West’s average W%. They have the least games left at 11 to play which include: two versus ANA and one against PHX in the Border Wars gang; they have one each with LAK, SJS and VAN who are likely seeded above them in the final playoff standings; and two each against COL and EDM and another at STL. The Flames are on an 0-2 mini-streak after going 5-1-1 in the previous seven games. CGY has five players who have made all 71 starts and currently has injuries reported to Jackman, Modin, Morrison, Langkow, Pardy, Wahl, Ivanans and Negrin, the most of all Border Wars teams. Caution: Their final 11 games over 26 days / one-game-every-2.36 days is a double edged sword. It is good for recovery purposes, but is a slower rhythm than the rest of the teams they struggle against for the final playoff positions.

Honorable mentions: MIN likely to finish 11th with 91 – 92 points and the final Western team projected over 90 would likely nudge out #7 NYR and/or #8 BUF for a playoff seed were they in the Eastern Conference.

Most likely in the Western Conference, we are looking at VAN, DET, SJS, DAL and LAK with three of CHI, ANA, PHX and NSH rounding out the top eight.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Border Wars in the Eastern and Western Conferences will decide who rounds out the final playoff pictures. History tells us only once – EDM in 2005/6 – has a team below the fifth seed at the end of the regular season been a Stanley Cup finalist. So the odds are against survivors of the Border Wars playing into June. But you never know, so gather your provisions, reload the batteries on your remote, strap on your recliner, and enjoy the Border Wars from now until April 10th.
1. 4.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Attacking The Neutral Zone Trap?

Here at On Goal Analysis, we have a recommendation for study during the next NHL R&D Camp.

If there remains a desire to increase scoring, how about trying to attack one of the key areas where puck movement gets clogged up – the Neutral Zone?

We propose testing a change to the Offside Rule in order to increase the potential for scoring chances.

The Rule

It is pretty clear what Off-sides is in the NHL rule book: “…83.1 Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone….”

How do you potentially alter this rule without inducing ‘down town hockey’ and the reason off sides was introduced as a rule in the first place. The intent would decidedly NOT be to remove a definition of off-sides altogether, just to, in effect, extend the neutral zone.

Our proposal would read, “…83.1.1 Off-side – No more than one player of the attacking team may precede the puck into the attacking zone as deep as the nearest mark for the faceoff circles before the puck crosses the attacking zone blue line….”

What The Change Looks Like

Graphically, the change in the rule as stated above looks like this:

There are at least four, basic passing routes to get the puck into the attacking zone. In a transition to offense, the attacking team may send what could be called a ‘Rover’ across the attacking blue line once they have possession of the puck, but the early man would have to remain on the defending side of the faceoff circles until the puck comes across the blue line (see the imaginary, dotted blue line in the picture above).

Second And Third Orders Of Effect

Perhaps the most obvious effect this none-too-subtle change would spawn is an elongation of the neutral zone as in the graphic below:

If we may provide the blinding flash of the obvious (BFO), the Rover forces at least one, if not two, foes backwards out of the neutral zone in order to defend against the deep attacker. That unclogs the neutral zone by at least one – if not two – defenders and buys attackers more real estate to set up scoring chances.

It will force players to see ‘deeper’ down the ice and therefore, mentally play the game faster.

It will put a premium on skaters – and even goalies – who can pass the puck tape-to-tape as accurately and long-range as possible in order to facilitate quick attacks up ice.

It will potentially open up the offensive spread in the zone as one player is now positioned deeper down the ice.

It will potentially create a new emphasis on using more of the middle of the ice over the attacking zone blue line than the ‘rim around’ push along the boards depending on the Rovers’ position.

It will potentially create more scoring chances as the Rover may get in behind the defense like a player does now on a breakaway.

Where the attack breaks down due to bad/intercepted passes, it potentially creates more opportunities to quickly transition to an odd-man attack back into zone.

Overall, it supports offensive hockey, potentially creating a quick method to score with less players clogging up the Neutral Zone. In effect, its implementation serves to break up the Neutral Zone trap.

Lest You Think It’s Completely Absurd…

…This idea can be exploited under current, no-red line rules in its desired effect. Current rules have a Rover remaining on his defending side of the blue line until the puck crosses it. But a defender/forward that is moving the puck up ice simply has to loft a puck over the neutral zone to a spot somewhere between the attacking zone blueline and the top of the faceoff circles instead of sending it along the ice. With skill and good placement, the puck crossing the blue line in the air releases the Rover to follow it into the attacking zone, potentially behind the defenders. It is, in military terms, an ‘air assault’ play into the attacking zone.


So we would like to see the neutral zone opened up in favor of more offensively oriented hockey by redefining the off-sides rule to allow for up to one Rover over the attacking zone blue line and north of the faceoff circles prior to the puck’s arrival. This change could fundamentally alter hockey tactics and potentially increase scoring chances/goals due to the increased space it provides on the ice.

A candidate for the next NHL R&D Camp? Why not take this baby out for a test spin?

We say give 'er a shot.
1. 4.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Phoenix Restructures the NHL

I’ll say it. In my opinion, The Goldwater Institute is inspired by the late Senator Barry Goldwater’s stated proclivity if elected President back in the 60’s to ‘drop The Bomb’ on North Vietnam in order to end the Vietnam War. They, for whatever ACLUesque, Quixotic reason desire to force the Phoenix Coyotes to move, Arizonans to lose jobs and Hockey to suffer in a market where it is beginning to grow at all ages/levels. Their motto should be “I Threaten, Therefore I Am.”

That said, what if Phoenix moves to Winnipeg, possibly resurrecting the Jets of old? How should the NHL re-align? If there’s no getting around the loss of Phoenix to the Western Conference, what are our options here?

The Simple Geographic

One method is for the NHL to do their best to simplify realigning based on two things: geographic distance from other teams and the least disruption possible to current Divisional organization. That might look something like this:

Western Conference

Pacific Division: SJS, LAK, ANA, DAL, COL

Northwest Division: VAN, EDM, CGY, WIN, MIN

Central Division: No Change

Eastern Conference

Southeast Division: No Change

Atlantic Division: No Change

Northeast Division: No Change

This Course Of Action (COA) has the least disruption that could be imagined and is probably the preferred COA to execute.

While some folks may say, “COL = Pacific? What are you talking about?” Is DAL near the Pacific other than when it flies to California?

And some pundits south of the 49th Parallel may smugly offer, ‘With four Canadian teams in one division, that’ll give Canada a better shot at winning a Cup for a change…’ (Silly pundits – there is no conspiracy about who wins Lord Stanley’s Cup. It always goes to who wants it more.)

The Alternate Geographic

But what if the NHL likes their change shaken, not stirred? They could wind up doing the following:

Western Conference

Pacific Division: SJS, LAK, ANA, VAN, COL

Northern Division: EDM, CGY, WIN, MIN, CHI

Central Division: STL, NSH, CBJ, DET, TOR

Eastern Conference

Southern Division: DAL, ATL, TBL, FLA, CAR

Atlantic Division: WSH, PIT, PHI, NYR, NYI

Northeast Division: BUF, OTT, MTL, BOS, NJD

There are many reasons to say this wouldn’t be done.

Foremost is that it is more revolutionary than evolutionary and solid organizations usually stand upon a foundation grounded in the latter.

Additionally, several rivalries are broken up: TOR from the Eastern Conference; BUF-TOR; WSH out of the Southeast; NJD from the NY/NJ state-o-plex; and a basic unbalancing of Canadian teams between the Conferences of four in the West and two in the East all come to mind at first glance.

But there are some arguments to be made for this COA as well. All near-Pacific teams are actually in the Pacific division; a ‘Southern’ division is now truly southern in American terms; and if any Canadian team can transition to the Western Conference, it’s Brian Burke’s Maple Leafs.

While this wouldn’t be a traditional, military-style ‘throw away’ COA (one that is completely out of the box just thrown on the table for hasty discussion and discarding amongst the COAs you are really interested in implementing), it would likely not be as popular with HQ-NHL because it flies in the face of some NHL historical precedents, for the number of differences and the other detractors listed above.

And yet, there is now the Shannahan Factor in NHL research and change implementation. Hmmm…

The Alternate Alternative

Lest we forget one quickly spoken statement in Commissioner Bettman’s Phoenix press conference the other day, there are other options than simply considering Winnipeg for a move of the Yotes. Not knowing if that is Toronto (II), Quebec or even Hamilton, let’s just for the moment call this team TORQUEHAM. With ‘The T’ in the League because of a move, you could make the NHL look like this:

Western Conference

Northwest Division: SJS, VAN, EDM, CGY, COL

Southern Division: LAK, ANA, DAL, TBL, FLA

Mid-West Division: MIN, STL, CHI, NSH, DET

Eastern Conference

Central Division: ATL, CAR, CBJ, PIT, PHI

Atlantic Division: WSH, NJD, NYR, NYI, BOS

Northern Division: TOR, BUF, TORQUEHAM, OTT, MTL

How do you like those apples? Here are some cool reasons to go this route if any new resting place for the Coyotes winds up East of Lake Michigan:

The Northeast Division has a nice, tight, travel shot group.

The Southern Division is where everyone will want to be on the road to in January and February (although we do note the extreme East-to-West Coast distances).

The Mid-West Division adds MIN who seems, in my mind, to always have been missing from the same division as CHI.

The Central Division tightens up their travel shot group like the Northeast.
The Atlantic is now all along the Atlantic seaboard.

And TORQUEHAM’s new division will be an all Canadian quartet playing BUF for the pride of the USA every night.

There could even be branch plan to the above, call it ‘The AA II,’ that could alter the Conferences as follows:

Northwest Division: No Change From Immediately Above

Southern Division: No Change From Immediately Above

Mid-West Division (West): MIN, STL, CHI, NSH, ATL

Central Division (East): CAR, CBJ, WSH, PIT, PHI

Atlantic Division (East): BUF, NJD, NYR, NYI, BOS

Northern Division (East): DET, TOR, TORQUEHAM, OTT, MTL

Both are intriguing, yes?

The Return Of Toto

Wait a minute… What if the new location is Kansas City? What if the NHL goes for long-term, grow-the-gamedness versus immediately potential monetary impact? What if that nice new arena waved under NYI’s nose two years ago is the targeted landing spot for a displaced Phoenix franchise?

How about these combinations:

Western Conference

Northwest Division: SJS, VAN, EDM, CGY, COL

Southern Division: LAK, ANA, DAL, TBL, FLA

Mid-West Division: MIN, STL, KAN, CHI, NSH

Eastern Conference

Central Division: ATL, CAR, CBJ, PIT, PHI

Atlantic Division: WSH, NJD, NYR, NYI, BOS

Northern Division: DET, TOR, BUF, OTT, MTL

That gives you pause for a moment, doesn’t it? Any way you slice this option, Kansas City as a destination for the franchise makes a modified form of one of the Alternate Alternatives a more likely, final COA to adopt.


There are at least five options out there if Phoenix is moved due to the obstructionist methods of The Goldwater Institute.

If Winnipeg is the destination, then the most likely COA is go with The Simple Geographic change that creates the least amount of change and turmoil. The Alternate Geographic is less likely to occur as a more revolutionary than evolutionary change, but an interesting alternative to still consider.

If the Coyotes move east of Michigan, two equally enticing prospects come to mind. The Alternate Alternative or The AA II are equally intriguing, and the best COA comes down to whether you want DET or BUF taking on four Canadian teams in their division.

The Return Of Toto assumes a move to Kansas City is the final choice. It is an thought-provoking spin on The Alternate Alternative and her sister, The AA II, that keeps the moving franchise south of the 49th Parallel where The Great Game has a better chance of growing and expanding that returning the club to a Canadian market whose love of the game can only swing in less than 10% increments upwards.

You can hypothesize changes to NHL divisions any number of ways. But you can hang on your hat on the idea that changes to Phoenix cannot come without restricting NHL divisions.

Take me to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Yesterday in “ (THEY’RE) GOING STREAKING!!! ”, we threw out the notion that streaks in the NHL are more than just ‘how many in a row’ a current team is. The Streak statistic is really a three-part proposition which includes a Winning Streak (WS), Point Streak (PS) and Losing Streak (LS) for every team.

We loaded you up with facts about Streaking in the Eastern Conference and provided a nice table showing you how teams stack up. And we pointed out perhaps the most telling number in these stats is the difference between the number of winning streaks versus losing streaks as they are a better indication of why a team is where they are.

So today let’s compare what you eye-balled in the East with what it looks like ‘Out West.’

Streaking Western Style

Streaks of the winning variety and in good quantity are the difference maker in Western Conference standings. They are, indeed, and indicator of who is in the hunt for a Playoff seed in almost every case. Here are the comparative figures for the WS’:

Average Western WS Length – 6.4 (high is CBJ with nine; low are EDM and MIN with four); this is more than one full game in the Streak more than ‘back East.’

Average Number of WS – 7.2 (high is DET with 11; low are EDM and PHX with four); this is .133 of a game below the East and indicates how strong the competition is in the West.

Additionally, and the reason the WS out West is an indicator of who is in competition for a Playoff spot, is because seeds 1 – 8 average 8.25 WS’. The 9th-11th place teams – all of whom are within one point of Number 8 – all have a 9.0 WS’. And the overall average of 1st – 11th place teams is 8.46 WS’. And PHX is in the top eight seeds with only four WS,’ but those Streaks have been seven, two, four and eight games long. This makes them one of those exceptions spoken of in yesterday’s post.

The bottom four spots in Western standings? CBJ, STL, COL and EDM only hold a WS average of 3.75. COL, as an example of how the lack of WS’ affects a team, has had no WS’ since 18 JAN in what has likely become an unannounced rebuilding year for the franchise.

Between East and West for teams in the mix for a playoff spot, the West’s longest WS’ beats the East 6.364 games – to – 5.667. Convexly, the average number of Eastern WS’ is greater than the West at 9.222 games – to – 8.455. But as an extreme example, if you multiply the longest WS’ by the average number of times they occur, the West’s figure is 53.808 while the East’s is 52.261 – the West will win more than 1.5 games more than the East at this pace.

In terms of the Point Streak, there is not a great deal of difference between the two conferences:

Average Western PS Length – 7.4 (high is VAN with 17, the most in the NHL; low is MIN with four); this is .133 less than in the East.

Average Number of PS’ – 8.933 (high is MIN with 14, a reason they are hanging in the race for the final seed(s); low is PHX with six); this is the same figure as in the other Conference.

Of interest here is the difference between Conferences for every team within striking distance of a Playoff seed (as of last Sunday night). In the East, positions 1 – 9 average an 8.0 PS’ while 1 – 11 in the West have a 9.273average. This is why you can add up the total points awarded by game play or projected by On Goal Analysis per team and get 74.933 / 93.281 in the West respectively and 72 / 89.891 in the East.

Losing Streaks – the LS’ – also show a significant departure both from within the Conference and when compared to the East:

Average Western LS Length – 5.2 (high is COL with 10; low are CHI and DET with three); this is .667 better than in the East.

Average Number of LS’ – 7.133 (high is PHX with 11 that average 2.546 in length, a reason they are still in the hunt for a Playoff spot; low is VAN with four, the lowest in the League); this is .533 greater than in the other Conference (because lower is better in this category).

Think there’s competition in the West? Heck, you can see it as the standings jump around each and every day. But wrap your head around this combination of stats reference the LS: while the average longest LS in the West is 5.2 and more than half a game less than in the East, for teams still within one point or less of the 8th seed, in the West that average is 4.636 versus the East’s 4.333. So the top Western teams tend to lose less games back-to-back than the East overall. That disparity plummets even greater for teams who are chasing more of their tail than the leaders of the pack (6.75 LS’ on average for the bottom, Western four teams versus 8.167 LS’ for the East’s bottom six).

The West’s Chart
Here is what it looks like, again, with the current Streak and average leaders in bold:

Of interest here is that the difference in LS’ from WS’ is greater – there are more of them – in the West than in the East. But the reason for greater actual and potential point value per team rests in the fact that LS’ in the West are shorter in average length and number.

Going into the playoffs for the West, your important note is still to watch your favorite team for runs increasing the longest, or number of, LS’. Western Stanley Cup Finalists since the Lockout over the last 10 games of the regular season have an even WS : LS ratio. And only DET in ’07-’08 did not have any LS’ in that same timespan. More telling for the West in their last 10 games is that the ratio in length of WS to LS is 3.4 : 2 with Stanley Cup Winners averaging 4.333 : 1.667. When compared to the East, these numbers indicate that Western Cup Finalists’ last 10 games of the regular season display longer WS’ and PS’. There is also a greater WS to LS. ratio present.

In Summation

By comparison, the West leads the East in terms of length of WS’ and shortness in length and quantity of LS. The East’s number of WS outdistances the West, as does their length of PS and differential between WS and LS. It all adds up to the West being more competitive than the East in terms of how long they win and how short they lose back-to-back.

The averages in the three stat categories of WS and PS and LS for Stanley Cup Finalists over the last 10 games of the regular season indicate fans should be looking for the following out of your team as the Playoffs near:

East: Average WS’ of 2.5 or more games; average PS’ of more than 3.5 games; and average LS’ of only one games.

West: Average WS’ of three or more games; average PS’ of five games; and average LS’ of two games.

Remember, however, as you line up to dog out PHI and say they are imploding before the playoffs over their recent four-game losing streak. It is, after all, their longest of the season and all…

PHI has had five losing streaks this season when the Eastern average is 7.667. Their losing streaks averaged a combined 2.8 games in length, while, again, the Eastern average is 5.867. They are also seven wins in front of the 8th seed after game splayed on Sunday night. All that needs to happen is they set their sights on getting back in the ‘W’ column at least by the end of the third game from now versus ATL, follow it up with wins versus FLA and, again, ATL, and they are back to their winning ways having endured a LS still smaller than the Conference average.

Six games in the West, on the other hand, may be unrecoverable…
1. 4.


What we know for a fact here at On Goal Analysis is that the difference between winning and losing in the National Hockey League is THAT close (see thumb and forefinger a miniscule distance apart here).

You can see in official NHL standings that the last column on the right is entitled ‘Streak.’ That’s got to have some importance, yes? But there is still the question of, “Streak? So what?!”

Let’s look then at the ‘So what?!’ and determine the value of that Streak column in those standings. This will be a two-part blog analyzing first the Eastern Conference and then the West due to their distinctively different winning natures this season.

That’s right – here at On Goal Analysis, we hate to admit it, but we’re watching the NHL as ‘They’re Going Streaking…’

What’s In A Streak?

The NHL stat – which is very popular when you consider the fan outrage at its temporary removal from the standings last year – tells you the latest combination of unbroken W’s or L’s teams have.

Our terms studied are three-fold and carry through games ending Sunday, 6 March:

1. A Winning Streak (WS) is at least two games in a row with any kind of ‘W’ a team can acquire. In the East, the largest WS is 12 games (PIT) while three teams have weighed in with only 3-gamers (BUF, FLA and NYR). The average length of greatest WS is 5.333 games. It is interesting to also note the largest number of WS’ is 13 (NYR), the least, five (NYI), and the average number per team is 7.333.

A large number of WS’ may or may not be a good thing. TOR, currently sitting in the 10th seed, has 10 WS’ this season. Lots of WS’ may conversely show that a team can bounce back from a loss with two or more W’s. BUF, currently the 8th seed, is just such an example. And a small number of WS’ may also show success because winning streaks occur more often for a team than losing streaks. Fourth seed PIT has just six WS’ this year, one less than 14th place NYI.

2. A Point Streak (PS) is at least two games in a row with at least one point awarded. Take note a PS can also be a WS. The East’s longest PS is 15 games (again, for PIT), two teams have had a maximum of only 4-gamers (NYR and OTT), and the average length of the largest PS is 7.533 games. The NYR hold the most number of PS’ with 13, NJD has the least with five, and the average number of PS’ per team is 8.933. Remember: a huge PS may be a bad thing if the vast majority of the PS’ games are of the one-point variety, and this season, also is they are Shoot Out Losses (SOLs) which do not count in the standings’ tiebreakers.

Since the Lockout, the average point differential between the 8th and 9th seeds in the East has been 1.2 points. So perhaps the win-and-a-half spread says that the PS carries more weight than the WS. Again, to keep it all in perspective, remember a 10-game PS with all OTLs/SOLs is worth 10 points in the standings, while a six game WS equals 12. For this season, it is interesting to note all teams with double-digit PS’ except CAR are in the top seven seeds. (CAR is currently 9th.)

3. Finally, a Losing Streak (LS) is at least two games in a row with any flavor of ‘L’ attained. An LS can also be a PS or contain a combination of OTL(s)/SOL(s). The East’s greatest LS is 14 games (NYI), four teams have had only 3-gamers (BOS, CAR, MTL and TBL), and the average length of the largest LS is 7.533 games. The NYR hold the largest number of PS’ with 13, NJD has the least with five, and the average is 8.933.

Again for caution, a bunch of LS’ that are short staccatos of loss are not necessarily a bad thing. The NYR in the 7th seed have 10. Know, too, that every team has ‘em as the top eight seeds in the East range from five – 10 with an average of 6.375.

Observing The Streak

Below, we will show you the numbers on the Eastern Conference teams, but add one more observation here… It is most important in analyzing The Streak to determine the difference between WS’ and LS’. Why? Because of the nine teams above, at, or within 1.2 points of the 8th seed, only two – CAR and PIT – have a negative differential between their WS’ and their LS’. (Note also that the average differential here is in the negative, showing teams tend to have more LS’.)

There are a couple more notes here besides the bold number showing what streak a team is currently running.

ATL had seven of their eight WS’ by 5 JAN which is why they are in their current shape in the standings.

How is BUF hanging in the Playoff race? They have only had one LS since 27 DEC.

NJD only had one WS up through 14 JAN, but has had no LS’ since 8 JAN. This is why NJD fans think they look like they might threaten for one of the final Playoff seeds.

As we head toward the playoffs, what becomes important to note is if your favorite Eastern team increases their longest, or number of, LS’. That is a bad trend that is difficult to pull out of and gain success in the playoffs. Remember here that since the Lockout over the last 10 games of the regular season, Eastern finalists have all had one or more WS’ and PS’ and hold a 1.2 WS:LS ratio. (Last season’s PHI is the only Eastern Finalist to have ANY LS’ over the last 10 games of the regular season.)


Streaking is a three-pronged analytical tool consisting of the Winning Streak (WS), Point Streak (PS) and Losing Streak (LS). The Streak is about much more than simply ‘how many in a row’ a current team is. The focus of attention in the NHL streak should instead be the difference between the WS and LS where four of five Eastern Stanley Cup finalists since the Lockout have a positive ratio in that regard.

Stay tuned to On Goal Analysis as tomorrow, we take up observation of the Western Conference streak…
1. 4.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An NHL Vision For The Future

Here at OGA, we believe there is never a horse too dead to kick again. Principally, we like to hypothesize on modification of the NHL schedule. So here we go one more time.

But we would like to do it with an eye toward an overall vision for the NHL. Take this if you want it, Mr. Bettman – there’s no charge for this recommendation.

The Vision

A vision – sometimes called ‘mission’ – statement has to have a simple, clear direction while allowing for an ample margin of flexibility. So here is our recommendation:

The NHL will grow the game of professional hockey over the next five years in order to increase the game’s marketability against other professional sports.

Simple, yes? In fact, it can easily be argued it sounds like the unofficial vision of the NHL already. The difference from our perspective is in how that vision is executed.

It Starts With Organizing ‘The Product’

‘The Product’ here is the presentation of the game to fans and media outlets. In our humble opinion, it has never been better (with the exception of the excitement of the 1980 Olympics and the Edmonton Oiler Stanley Cup era). That said, there are some tweaks that can be applied. Why do it? Because the NHL is on the cusp of passing up other major North American sports in popularity. (And we might add it may be a great year for exploitation if the NFL does not get its CBA in place.) And to tip something over the edge in the direction you want it to go, you apply some obvious pressure to make it happen.

After the words ‘…in order to…’ above, there are two ways to look at how to ‘…increase the game’s marketability….’ On one hand, you can succumb to the position that the NHL can attempt to avoid the draw of college and NFL football as much as possible. Or, you can cross check them into the boards and take them head on, a character trait that runs deep in the core of Hockey.

Take ‘em on, we say.

So in that vein here is our recommendation for The Product, our overall 2011/12 schedule:

27 AUG – 8 SEP 11 (Camp/Pre-Season)
10 SEP – 31 MAR (Regular Season)
23 – 25 NOV Thanksgiving Shutdown
20 DEC – 2 JAN Trade Moratorium
23 – 27 DEC Christmas Shutdown
26 – 29 JAN All-Star Break
26 JAN Fantasy Draft
27 JAN Skills Competition
28 JAN All Star Game
26 FEB – 31 MAR Division Triples
3 – 16 APR (Round 1 Playoffs)
18 – 1 MAY (Round 2 Playoffs)
3 – 16 MAY (Round 3 Playoffs)
17 – 30 MAY (Finals)
1 JUN – Annual NHL Awards Show
2 JUN – Round 1 of Entry Draft
3 JUN – Entry Draft Complete

Our BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) here is recommending starting Training Camp and Pre-Season earlier than in the past. The reasoning is two-fold. First and foremost is to allow for a more predictable schedule (three games per week) with a less games-to-days ratio (1:2.3) that allows for better team and player regeneration. And second is to complete the regular season (on 31 March) and entire season (2 June) earlier than normal.

Most teams have three-to-four days of camp at their facilities before striking out on the road for pre-season games. This schedule would also limit the number of games a team can play in pre-season to no more than five. But in the spirit of "...grow(ing) the game of professional hockey...," teams would have to play at least two games every pre-season in a location where NHL teams do not regularly play.

In conjunction with what is likely the first or second major week of college football and in direct confrontation with the NFL opening weekend – if they have a season this year – the NHL would begin the season with 100% of teams playing on opening night, 10 September 2011. For the sake of those who are nervous about taking on the NFL, weekly games through much of the NFL’s season can hover on Tuesdays through Saturdays. But I would say for the two big brass ones the NHL has, every Sunday and Monday should have premium games scheduled as well – the kind that give a fan of both sports a dilemma as to which channel to tune in.

There will be stoppages for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the All Star Weekend. The Moratorium on trades over the Christmas holidays will run longer, and the Christmas/Boxing Day break will be both two days before and after Christmas Day, all for the sake of NHL families.

If this schedule continues on out into the future, taking back all but Thanksgiving Day and the three days with Christmas Day residing in the middle buys back one week of an Olympic Break every four years. And then adding one more week into the schedule to make 14 days’ room for the Olympics would simply carry the season’s conclusion out to about where it sits now.

But Wait…

On the surface, 10 September through 31 March minus stoppages is 27.5 weeks. Why so long? That also calls for a two-fold answer.

First is because scheduling guidance would call for teams to play no more than three games per week. The one-game-to-2.33-days ratio will allow for better recovery of the NHL’s key asset, its players. And it lessens strain across the board on all teams’ operations and logistical support. Tell me that could not be of great use when you currently see the rash of injuries in the League, to include to Sidney Crosby, one of the NHL’s great draws.

And second is because the schedule increases to 84-games. That’s to cover one home-and-away game against every other team in the League, one more against inter-conference foes (for a total of three), and four more against intra-divisional rivals (for a total of six). On a higher level, there is now an opportunity for everyone to see Ovechkin, Crosby, the Sedins, Pronger, Doughty, Thomas and all of the other players at least once a year.

But down between the lines, and in further support of "...increasing the game’s marketability..." is the five weeks at the end of the schedule called “Division Triples.” In four of those five weeks, teams would play a home-away-home, three-game, uninterrupted mini-series against a division rival. You then get your ‘Hated Red Wings’ week for Blackhawk fans, or your ‘Visser la Bruins’ week for a Habs passionnĂ© with all of the media-supported and driven passion that entails. It brings a playoff-like, pre-playoffs atmosphere to every barn in the League before season end. The fifth week is to round out the rest of the schedule and is required because of the odd number of division teams.

Why the three-game mini-series? What’s the ‘So what?’ in that. Here’s the numbers. Through contests ending 11 February of the current season, 381 of 827 / 46.1% of all games played have ended in a one goal deficit. For all Stanley Cup playoff games since the Lockout, 4% more games than that did likewise. But specifically in what On Goal Analysis has called the Black and Blue Schedule, for 18 of 30 back-to-back, uninterrupted pairs of games played this season, 10 of 18 / 55.5 % of those pairs were one-goalers. Other key stats include the facts that 44.4% of those B&B games have seen the second game’s winner not the same as the first games’ victor and 50% of second games displayed an increase in PIMs. These statistical rationalizations would be natural fuel for the personal and media-driven, emotional reactions that would occur during such events as a three-game Battle of Alberta.

Bring us the Division Triples!

Oh, and don’t wait weeks for the Annual Awards Show and Entry Draft after the Stanley Cup finals either. A couple nights after the Stanley Cup Finals are complete, BAM! have the Annual Awards Show. Don’t wait – go while the season is fresh in everyone’s mind. And then hold the Entry Draft, the single event that gives each and every team (and drafted player) a glimpse at, and hope for, the future, on its heels. THAT puts the bow on top of the whole package that is an NHL year.

You Said ‘Vision’…

That term implies seeing something else down the road. We say for that ‘next five years,’ the NHL can truly test the bounds of practicality in expanding one day to Europe. For an investment in team and program support, the NHL can foster a regular, pre-season playing regimen with teams in Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia. Ten teams conducting their pre-season in those countries with exhibition games between local, professional or all-star clubs and other NHL teams in Europe would give a September NHL presence in ‘The Old Country.’ It would also give teams a taste of international play that helps everyone’s psychological preparations for the Olympics.

If it is attempted, a diving board for potentially expanding the NHL by 10 European teams at some point will be put over the pool, allowing the League to determine when, where, and even if a splash will be heard. But in terms of a vision, options are opened to grow the game beyond even North America.


In terms of a vision, the NHL should grow the game to increase its marketability against other professional sports. Screw football – you can like it, but you’re not going to love it like you will love hockey. That should be the NHL’s mindset.

Increase the length of the season to decrease the number of games played weekly allowing more recovery time for players and a more manageable pace for hockey operations and logistics.

Give us the Division Triples because four home-away-home weekly series in the last five weeks of the season will increase fan anticipation and drama to a crescendo each week, bring fans out of their seats for the greater PIM-driven passions that ensue, keep them on the edge of their seats as more than half of the games end with a one goal deficit, and bring everyone to a lather for the Stanley Cup finals.

And exploit the pre-season to test the viability of expansion into Europe. Make it at least a three-year experiment so all 30 NHL teams would have the opportunity to play in Europe over a weeklong (+), pre-season timeframe – expansion of the NHL eastward would require it in the normal course of a season. Or find out it is not viable and pour all of your efforts entirely into North America expansion.

It’s a vision. That’s our $.02 free of charge.
1. 4.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why is the Best NHL Referee "None"? (Part 2 of 2)

In Part One, we addressed the possible causes behind the current sorry state of NHL officiating. Today, we'll look at five solutions/improvements.

5. A Third Referee

Even if I'm completely wrong and NHL officials are 100% bias-free, the fact remains that the boys in stripes either miss calls or make the wrong call with alarming frequency. The game of hockey moves so fast that it seems even two referees can't keep up. A third referee on the ice would only get in the way, causing even more problems. On the other hand, a third referee in the press box (or perhaps in Pierre McGuire's spot between the benches), with two-way radio communication to the on-ice officials and access to the video feed, could catch many of those missed calls and utilize the video feed to help the on-ice officials make the right call.

How would it work? When the third referee sees an infraction which both of the on-ice referees failed to call, he keys his mic and says, for example, "Hooking, 29, white". The on-ice refs' arm goes up, whistle blows, and #29 in white goes to the box. Likewise, after the whistle blows, the third ref can review the video to ensure the correct call is made (as in Rick Nash's "no goal" against Detroit). To keep controversy to a minimum, the off-ice ref would have to have the authority to overrule his on-ice counterparts.

4. Coach's Challenge

Dale Tallon was right: NHL coaches should be able, on a limited basis, to challenge certain calls. How limited? Coaches should be allowed up to three challenges per game. If the first challenge fails, the challenging team is charged with a timeout. If the second challenge fails, a two-minute minor for Delay of Game is assessed. If the third challenge fails, a double minor is assessed. If the challenges are successful, no penalties are assessed. Ideally, though, the introduction of a third referee (as above) would make the Coach's Challenge unnecessary. That's predicated on the competence of the third referee, however.

3. Kill the "Intent to Blow" Rule

One of the most controversial rules in the NHL is the so-called "Intent to Blow" rule. In a nutshell, it means that the play is considered dead as soon as the referee decides to make a call (blow his whistle), as opposed to when the whistle is actually blown. In other words, play is stopped by the referee's intent, rather than his action. Many a goalmouth scrum has resulted in a good goal being waived off because of this awful rule. It's demise is long overdue.

2. Publicized Fines and Suspensions for On-ice Officials

When players and coaches are fined or suspended, those penalties are public record. Are NHL officials ever fined? Are they ever suspended? What sort of disciplinary measures are referees and linesmen subject to...if any? Who knows? On-ice officials would receive greater respect from fans, players and coaches if only we could see proof that they're subject to some form of discipline.

Referees are, and should be, held to a higher standard. Far too many nights, we watch them fail to meet that standard, seemingly without consequence. The net result is that referees are generally held in low regard. "Wow - wish I could do a lousy job every night, and get rewarded with a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the end of the year" is a common refrain. Publicizing penalties assessed to on-ice officials would be one way to let the public know the NHL is truly interested in producing the best possible product.

1. Actively Recruit On- and Off-ice Officials from Non-Traditional Markets

Bias among NHL officials is real. Sure, we all want to pretend that every NHL official treats the Atlanta Thrashers with the same respect and attention as they do the Montreal Canadiens, but that's simply not the case. As we've already seen this year, a blown call in a Thrashers-Panthers game won't receive the same level of scrutiny as it would in, say, a Maple Leafs-Canadiens game. In the Leafs-Habs game, many more people are watching; thus, the game is considered "more important". What NHL officials fail to understand is this: While there aren't as many fans of the Panthers, those who do care, care deeply. By the same token, the objective in non-traditional markets is to grow the game. It's difficult to turn casual fans into fanatics when they see the home team screwed repeatedly by capricious and disinterested officiating.

The NHL needs to actively recruit on- and off-ice officials from the non-traditional markets. I'm not suggesting, for example, the Dallas Stars should have a Dallas-born-and-bred referee for every home game; what I'm saying is that a referee from any non-traditional market would carry with him a greater level of respect for the Dallases, Phoenixes and Floridas of the world. In the end, the Atlanta-Florida game would be officiated with the same level of attention to detail as Toronto-Montreal. Bias is mitigated, controversy subsides, and non-trads succeed or fail on their own merits, rather than at the hands of an inattentive referee.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.
1. 4.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why is the Best NHL Referee "None"? (part 1 of 2)

If it’s a day ending in “y”, it must be time to discuss the sorry state of NHL officiating. Sadly/Unfortunately/Infuriatingly (take your pick), it seems there’s much more to complain about this season than in any other post-Lockout campaign. In a recent survey of the NHLPA, “none” was the most popular answer to the question, “Who is the best NHL referee?” There’s a reason for that.

Today, in Part One of this post, we'll identify the problem(s). Because it's just plain bad policy to gripe without also offering solutions, Part Two will deliver five ways in which to improve NHL officiating. For the sake of brevity, we will only discuss the bad on-ice calls, and save the NHL's mercurial suspension "policy" for another time. With that, let the dissection begin! Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been subjected to this season:

Friday, 4 FEB 2011 – Columbus @ Detroit: Henrik Zetterberg gets tangled up with goalie/teammate Jimmy Howard, allowing Columbus’ Rick Nash to shoot the puck into an open net. Referee Francois St. Laurent signals “no goal” and sends Derick Brassard to the sin bin for goalie interference.

Wednesday, 2 FEB 2011 – Detroit @ Ottawa: Chris Neil stuffs the puck into the Detroit net during a scrum in the crease, then inadvertently pulls the puck back out of the net. Puck ends up underneath Jimmy Howard. After a War Room review, it’s “no goal”, because “…the puck was under the goalie, who was then pushed into the net.” Replays clearly showed this was not the case. Neil’s goal would’ve tied the game at 6 with just under eight minutes remaining in the 3rd; instead, Detroit adds an empty-netter to win, 7-5.

Wednesday, 5 JAN 2011 – Atlanta @ Florida: With Atlanta leading, 3-2, late in the 3rd, Florida Captain Bryan McCabe scores the tying goal…or not: Somehow, both the on-ice officials and the War Room missed Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec fishing the puck out of the back of the net after the whistle. Atlanta wins, 3-2.

Tuesday, 28 DEC 2010 – Boston @ Tampa Bay: Game tied, 3-3, late in the 3rd, when Steven Stamkos is sent to the box for “Boarding” – in this case, a clean, shoulder-on-shoulder hit. Boston scores on the ensuing PP, wins 4-3.

Tuesday, 26 OCT 2010 – Florida @ Toronto: At 11:02 of the 3rd period, with the score tied at 1, Colton Orr flattens Panther goalie Scott Clemmensen. Tim Brent sends the puck toward the now-empty net, and it deflects off Orr and in. Former NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom says it’s a “good goal”, Leafs go on to win, 3-1.

Sunday, 10 OCT 2010 – Florida @ Edmonton: Florida trails, 2-0, early in the 2nd period, when Marty Reasoner scores for Florida to make it 2-1. 1:09 later, Oiler Shawn Horcoff kicks the puck past Tomas Vokoun. The War Room says “good goal” after a lengthy review, Edmonton goes on to win, 3-2. Horcoff’s “goal” is the game-winner.

Anyone notice a pattern here? Before we get to that, Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck had a very interesting post last week regarding post-Lockout suspensions, which asks the question, “Do the NHL’s Original Six franchises receive special treatment?” Again, we aren’t discussing suspensions today, but Hoag’s post caused the proverbial light bulb to come on over my head. What do I mean? Well, about that pattern…

In five of the six examples above, the beneficiary of the bad call was either an Original Six or a Canadian club. Likewise, in five of six examples, the party which was injured by the bad call was a non-traditional market club. This, combined with Hoag’s post, raised a question: In the eyes of NHL officials, is there a distinct hierarchy of teams? If so, it probably looks something like this:

1. Original Six clubs
2. Non-Original Six Canadian clubs
3. “Traditional Market” American clubs (i.e., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, etc)
4. “Non-Traditional Market” clubs (Phoenix, Columbus, Florida, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Nashville, Dallas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose)

Am I suggesting NHL officials are biased? Absolutely. It’s common knowledge around the league that rookies – both players and coaches – have to “pay their dues” before referees will give them the same treatment veterans receive. If refs are biased against rookies, why wouldn’t they be biased against non-traditional market teams? After all, they’re only human, and overwhelmingly Canadian:

On the NHLOA website, the list of 39 referees includes 1 Swede, 6 Americans and 32 Canadians (note: four referees have no birthplace listed, but three of them have distinctly French-Canadian names, so we’ll call them all Canadian). Of 33 linesmen on the site, 1 has no birthplace listed (I’ve requested a copy of his birth certificate from Hawaii), 8 are American and 24 are Canadian.

Why does nationality matter? Because the overwhelming majority of Canadian hockey fans are offended by the very idea of NHL clubs in non-traditional markets, just as American baseball fanatics are still upset over the Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. While I’m not suggesting Canadian-born NHL referees and the War Room staff in Toronto are actively conspiring to keep the “non-trads” down, I think it’s safe to say their feelings toward those clubs mirror those of Canadian hockey fans, ranging from “barely concealed hostility” through “general contempt” to “It’s Florida/Atlanta/Phoenix/et al; who really cares?” How else can some of these calls/non-calls be explained? Put another way, why aren’t the Torontos of the world victimized by bad calls as often as the Floridas?

Taking it a step further, only two of the American NHL referees were born outside of traditional hockey markets: Dennis LaRue (Savannah, GA) and Brad Meier (Dayton, OH). Among American linesmen, only one doesn’t come from a traditional hockey area (Bryan Pancich, the pride of Great Falls, MT). American hockey fans in traditional markets are largely guilty of the same biases as their Canadian counterparts.

Bias aside, NHL officiating has never been more than "adequate", and this season, is much closer to "putrid". A combination of inexperienced referees (relative to past seasons) and increased game speed are partly to blame. What can be done about it? Tune in tomorrow for Part Two…

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.