Wednesday, December 31, 2008
There ain't no stinkin' curse!
What's happened to Dallas over the last decade (until last season's Western Conference Finals, that is) may very well happen to Chicago now. Simply put, the Red Wings have the ability to find another gear when playing top-flight opponents (Exhibit A: DET 6, SJS 0). Last season, Detroit went 17-12-3 against the Central Division, but 39-7-4 against the rest of the NHL. Last season, Nashville was the only other Central Division team (Detroit aside) to make the playoffs, sliding into the 8th seed. In 08/09, the Wings' Central Division opponents are improved overall, with only St. Louis out of playoff contention at this time. So far this season, Detroit is 6-1-0 against the Central Division. Coincidence? I think not. The Wings see a threat, and rise to meet it.
Don't expect Detroit to sweep the season series with Chicago, though; I wouldn't bet on Ty Conklin putting up too many more 36-save shutouts against Toews, Kane & Co. Last night, the Hawks proved that they can dominate the Wings, as they outshot Detroit, 12-1, in the first ten minutes. Tomorrow, Chicago has the home ice advantage AND something to prove. Tomorrow, Ty Conklin becomes the answer to a trivia question: Which player has participated in all three of the NHL's outdoor games? If the Blackhawks have their way, Conklin will become the answer to another question: Who was the first goalie to be chased from the net in a Winter Classic game? Regardless, it's going to be must-see TV. DON'T MISS IT!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
That said, I think next year's Winter Classic - and there will be one - should be in Canada. As I stated above, I am from Louisiana where the Dallas Stars are the closest NHL team. So I should want them to figure out how to have a Winter Classic there, right? Well, yes, if my motive was purely selfish.
But the true fan in me, however, would go for one of the following, more historic recommendations:
1. Percival Molson Field at McGill University in Montreal where the rules for Hockey were codified.
2. In Montreal, outdoors, and near the Bell Centre near where the first Stanley Cup was awarded .
3. Somewhere between Kingston and Hallifax, Ontario, in recognition of the possible beginnings of hockey as games between British soldiers in the mid-1800's.
After Canada, and in recognition of desires to showcase Hockey eastward:
4. In Sheffield, England where the G.R. Collis and Company forged the original bowl to the Stanley Cup.
5. Stamford Bridge Stadium, Chelsea, London, England near the original site of the Glaciarium, the first, artificially refrigerated ice hockey rink in Europe.
6. Inverness, Scotland, the home of the Camanachd Association which governs Shinty, an ancestor of the modern game of Hockey.
Several issues might arise with the destinations in England as the local weather for this 1 January is between 34 and 30 degrees Farenheit. There are also the travel and network timing requirements to coordinate. But history is made and recorded because it transcends normality. So these options should not be completely overlooked.
I would also offer the competitors for the game should be either Montreal and Ottawa (who played for the first awarding of the Stanley Cup) or Montreal and Toronto (the first two teams to vie for the Stanley Cup once it came under the official control of the NHL).
So the NHL can sleep off of the excitement of this year's Winter Classic on 2 January and then crack open the maps and get some historical perspective into the decision about where to hold the 2010 Winter Classic. I am a personal fan of McGill University but On Goal Analysis would like to know what you think - either drop a note through the Comments section below, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, we will tabulate the results and then send them on to the NHL.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Just not in THE ideal location for the next relocated NHL franchise. For this change, On Goal Analysis (OGA) recommends go Westward, not East to Europe, and establish the HONOLULU WARRIORS (HON). We make this argument over several points beginning with climate, followed by the affect on the NHL schedule teams, and ending with team business operations that would, under the proper circumstances, work.
Ice? In Hawaii? You’re Kidding, Right?
No. We’re serious. The climate is one key reason why.
For a hockey game to work, the average rink temperature needs to be between 56 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit (F) with a relative humidity (rh) inside the rink at 40-50%. In order to do that, teams purchase heavy duty cooling and HVAC equipment with redundant systems and monitor the ability of all of it closely in order to make the best rink conditions possible for games. The farther south you are in North America, the harder that equipment must work and the greater the cost for energy and spare and repair equipment.
In Honolulu year-round, the average temperature is 77 F and humidity is 63% rh. (See the National Geological Survey web site.) Even more specifically, in the daytime it is an average of 73.2% rh, dropping in the evenings to 56.8% rh from September through June. November through March rh is higher than the average, but at night when most games would be played, it is never more than 5% greater. This would allow for more even, cost efficient requirements for cooling and HVAC systems year round, just like your car gets better gas mileage on cruise control over relatively flat terrain.
Even more telling is:
- Los Angeles’ rh is higher than Honolulu eight out of ten of those same months
- Dallas is greater all 10 Hockey months
- Tampa Bay is three-of-10 higher and within 1-2% rh for the other seven months
- And Atlanta is two-of-10 higher and never more than 5% rh different on average over the rest of the season.
As a bottom line, if there is HVAC and cooling equipment to make Hockey happen in Dallas, Texas (and there are teams farther south in San Antonio and Houston), then it can be done in Honolulu even more economically.
And did we mention there is already an ice rink in downtown Honolulu? You can find the Ice Palace on Salt Lake Blvd in Honolulu on the Internet where youth and adult ice hockey leagues already play. So an arena for professional Hockey, once built, is possible and might actually be a better playing surface than in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia for seven of the League’s 30 teams.
A Reorganized NHL Schedule
The addition of HON to the League is assumed to be by subtraction. By this we mean HON would be established because another NHL team folded versus the NHL attempted expansion (which is a subject for another story). At this time, let us say just for argument’s sake the NHL decided the state of FLORIDA could not support two teams, the Panthers were bought out by Jim Balsillie and then moved to Honolulu instead of Hamilton. Just for argument’s sake, people...
Once moved, some changes to the current scheduling system to accommodate playing in Hawaii would obviously have to be made.
First is an overall recommendation to return to the good ‘ole Campbell Conference for western teams and Wales Conference in the east. This would hark back to the NHL’s historical roots and likely be well received. That said, with FLORIDA’s departure, the Divisions would require some restructuring as well. My picks are as follows:
(A True) Pacific Division: Honolulu; Vancouver; San Jose; Los Angeles, and Anaheim. (Breaks up the three Canadian teams of the current Northeast, but ties the west coast teams to HON for travel.)
Western Division: Phoenix; Calgary; Edmonton; Colorado; and Dallas. (Keeps the Calgary/Edmonton rivalry going, and helps with Dallas’ traditionally nasty travel distance issue.)
Central Division: Minnesota; Chicago; Detroit; Toronto; and Columbus. (Moves another Canadian team – who will still get four each games against the other two Canadian teams they consider themselves to be major rivals with, but gives this grouping a very tight, regional area.)
Northeast Division: Buffalo; Ottawa; Montreal; Boston; and New Jersey. (Breaks up three Canadian teams and the New York/New Jersey pairings, but places five strong teams in one Wales' division.)
Atlantic Division: Islanders; Rangers; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Washington. (Preserves the battle of New York and the Pennsylvania turnpike rivalries plus adds Washington on well-established commuter lines.)
Southern Division: St. Louis; Nashville; Carolina; Atlanta; and Tampa Bay. (Gives these teams a southern regional identity.)
The schedule itself would have to consist of 84 games in order to give all teams:
- Three each Home and Away games within their division (total of 24)
- Two Home and one Away games with one division in their conference and one Home and two Away games with the other; this rotates every other year (total of 30)
- A Home and Away set with all 15 teams in the other conference (total of 30)
- Everyone gets at least one trip to Hawaii every year!
And for coming to Honolulu in particular:
- Teams from HON’s Division and the Division in the Campbell Conference playing 2 or 3 games in Hawaii would all travel to play games in at least one pair over a total of 4 – 5 travel days per team (depending on whether or not they were playing back-to-back or with a one day break in between). This allows a full travel day in and off the island.
- HON would rotate play for approximately one-to-two weeks at home and then the same on the road. (Best would be longer home stands and shorter road trips in the last half of the year.) They would generally play four games at home or three on the road in one week. (The team would have approximately 99 road days and 88 home days for 42 contests in each category.)
- HON, in order to fight jetlag, would need two travel days heading east before their first road game is played, and one day off after they returned home as much as possible. This would require eight-nine days minimum for a one week run, and 11 – 13 days for a longer stretch.
- Teams traveling to HON from the Wales Conference’s Northeast and Atlantic Divisions would come to Hawaii primarily in the November through February timeframes in order to allow them a warm respite from the weather.
- Whenever possible, the League would schedule Wales Conference games on holidays (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), Saturdays and Sundays so they could start at 1-2pm local time / 7pm eastern for the audience ‘back east.’
- In fall months Hockey in Honolulu would need to deconflict with University of Hawaii football when possible.
And the playoffs would require a few vagaries to accomplish the schedule:
Home pairs on back-to-back nights during the first four games of a series. Without home ice, for example, this would mean:
- Thursday and Friday – Games 1&2 are played on the mainland;
- Saturday – Teams travel;
- Sunday and Monday – Games 3&4 are played on the island;
- Tuesday and Wednesday – Teams travel;
- Thursday – Game 5 is played on the mainland;
- Friday – Teams travel;
- Saturday – Game 6 is played on the island;
- Monday and Tuesday – Teams travel;
- Wednesday – Game 7 is played on the mainland (total of 13 days)
Basically, the playoff timeframe that is currently used would be about correct to support the extra travel.
Hawaii’s Business of Hockey
There are endless possibilities for marketing Hockey in Hawaii. Overall, you can start with an average of about 36,500 fans that go to see the University of Hawaii play football as a measure of possible crowd turnout. Their favorite team traveling to Hawaii would be a great reason for hard core fans to migrate west to warmer climes at some point during the year. This would seem to align the sales of Hockey tickets with hotels and travel agencies, and partnering with the state’s number one source of revenue is not a bad thing.
There is every reason for a player to want to come to Honolulu and play. There are also a myriad of reasons for visiting teams to look forward to that point on the schedule.
The Warriors would have both passive and aggressive reasons to intimidate visitors. Passively there are many attractions that would potentially distract a visitor. And aggressively, the team you ice would have the excitement of stepping into an arena that is so contrasting with the local surroundings the fans could not help but get excited in the building – you would have to wear a jacket over your Hawaiian shirt; there is ice, not lava, involved; and you would have to field a team which would not necessarily have to mimic the Broad Street Bullies, but would have to be aggressive to earn the right to be called Warriors which is so very much the opposite of ‘hanging loose.’
Couple this with doing as On Goal Analysis’ Big Tex suggested in his article and ‘Turn the Arena Upside Down,’ and you have a good probability of success. If you have an 18,000 seat stadium, about 10,000 seats could be in the lower bowl at $30 - $75 and filled with rowdy, motivated fans that fuel the team. A ring of 2,000 seats for boxes would be next, populated by the tourism industry’s finest businesses and customers. And the wider, more plush, waited-upon, ‘expensive seats’ would be the upper tier for $100-$250 a ticket depending on the view.
For the Warriors’ arena, such items as Shaved Ice, Banana Pancakes on a Stick with Macadamia Nut dipping sauce, Roast Pig, Coconut Crusted Mahi-Mahi, Fried Shrimp, Mai Tais, Shaved Ice and the like would be for sale as well as your stadium favorites. (Heck, our mouths are watering already.)
The Ice Palace, advertised as the only skating rink in the islands, would eventually have to be expanded to more facilities on Maui and The Big Island of Hawaii as the sport picked up locally. Teams (and fans) would have the convenience of the relatively new Hawaii Superferry as transport between the islands for games and tournaments.
In short, a decision made to bring a franchise would meet with an American state that is driven by the service and entertainment industry, a combination that has boundless potential for success.
Moving an NHL franchise to Honolulu flies in the face of thoughts that a tropical paradise can only see ice if it is melting in a glass filled with a cool beverage. The average temperature and humidity for many of the Hockey season’s months are better in Honolulu, however, than in some currently established NHL cities, and only marginally higher than in several others. And the relatively steady weather markers should contribute to a more predictable set of cooling and HVAC system requirements and, therefore, a better ice surface to battle upon. The movement west of what was an eastern team requires some Divisional and Conference restructuring which makes us at OGA call for a return of the old Campbell and Wales Conferences for historical purposes, and some changing of the guard in the Divisions. It also seeks the 84-game season to provide an even number of games at Home and Away, and can be done in the time limitations that schedule would demand. And all of this can be packaged nicely with a state that knows how to market the service and tourism industry, and can just as easily do so in an arena ‘Turned Upside Down’ for the reasons noted in the OGA Blogs.
This can be done. Mr. Balsillie? Anyone? Anyone? Are you listening? Canada (Hamilton, et.al.) need not be the only possible destination to infuse a new funding stream into the NHL…
I think we all expect to see San Jose have to work extra hard to continue their torrid pace but work they must as the season is not even half over yet.
In the previous 10 games, San Jose has lost 1 game in regulation - that completely uncharacteristic loss to Detroit wherein the Sharks managed only 24 shots (they are currently 2nd in NHL averaging 34.9 shots/game) and were shutOUT by the Red Wings, 6-0.
Chalk that one up to the hockey gods having their say.
But on three other occasions, they lost in OT or in the Shoot Out. In fact, the Sharks have only won 1 out of the previous 4 games that needed 'bonus hockey' (OT/SO) to resolve the matter. For this powerhouse team that seeks to dethrone the Red Wings, this stat alone means they will need to buckle down on the little things that win games (finishing checks, a consistent forecheck, play along the boards, etc.) - esp. in OT.
But tonight we see what motivates San Jose. The Sharks are coming off a shoot out loss to St Louis (!) and head into the Big D (game 2 of a 3 game road trip) to take on the team that put them out of the playoffs last season. The Sharks have beaten the Stars in both meetings so far this season (one close game, one blowout) but this is the post-Avery Stars they face now. The Stars have picked up points in 6 of their last 10 games and are 8-3-1 in their last 12. The Sars are performing and are benefiting greatly by the return of Jere Lehtinen, the rise of James Neal and the ever-ready Modano.
So tonight's contest should stand to be a good measuring stick for both clubs, almost midway through the season. Keep an eye on San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo who has struggled this season with both injury and production as he will be playing on the top line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton while Devin Setoguchi has the night off (personal). This may be Cheechoo's chance to get back in form.
Lastly, regarding the Sharks : opinion poll. Now that Claude Lemieux is one step closer to re-joining play on the NHL ice (2-way deal just signed w/ SJS), do we start a campaign to bring back Mike Keane, too? He currently plays for the Manitoba Moose (AHL), so conditioning might not be too far off...Enter your thoughts in the comments section below.
One other note: I am so excited for this year's Winter Classic I just can't stand it. Last year, I called all my family and told them to get on the couch and watch the Sabres/Pens go at it in Buffalo. After the game, several members of the extended family (not all watch as much hockey as I do) called me back to thank me as they enjoyed the game more than they could have imagined. Of course, the falling snow and holiday spirit can add much joy to any sporting event, but seeing the pond game played outside was magical to even the occassional hockey spectator.
So, all ye hockey lovers out there, get on the horns New Year's Eve, wish your loved ones some Merry 2009 and tell them to wake up late in the morning, prepare the best breakfast time allows and sit down with loved ones and friends on a comfy couch and TURN ON THAT GAME!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
1. My Headline of the Night (which I just made up, so if you use it, you have to give me a nickel):
Fiddler Scores While Detroit Burns
Kudos to the Predators for their 3-2 defeat of the Red Wings. Given their off-ice issues (attendance, money, etc.), the fact that the Preds continue to ice decent teams year after year is remarkable. That said, the fact that they scored three goals against the defending Stanley Cup Champs is hardly worth mentioning. If you can't hang three on the Red Wings these days, you've got serious problems - Detroit has allowed three or more goals in 8 of their last 10 games. Is it because they really need Cheli that badly, or should they be in the market for a goalie? And if it's a goalie, who in the East (because no Western Conference GM in his right mind would give Detroit a goalie) has a starting goalie they'd be willing to part with? Boston's Fernandez comes to mind...
3. The Flyers arrival in the Windy City was delayed by problems on the ground which forced their plane to circle for an hour or so, which meant that they missed their morning skate. The Flyers needed more than a morning skate to avoid the beating they took. After winning five straight, Philly is 2-2-1 in their last five, and they've allowed 18 goals in those five games. Chicago, on the other hand, tied a franchise record with their 8th straight win, and Yours Truly will be watching Sunday to see if the 'Hawks can break the record against Minnesota.
4. Speaking of the Blackhawks...they're currently at the top of my list of Most Exciting Teams to Watch. Rounding out the Top Five are (in no particular order, because if you ain't first, you're last): Boston, Washington, Detroit and Los Angeles. Yes, you heard me: El Lay. They've got a bunch of talented kids out there, and if they can keep that nucleus together while adding a few pieces to the puzzle, the Kings are going to rule their division in 2-3 years.
5. No, San Jose isn't in my Top Five. I haven't seen enough of them to pronounce them, "Exciting". And now, you're wondering how it is that I haven't seen enough of them when I have the Center Ice package? The answer is simple: I don't watch San Jose much because I hate them. What can I say? I live in Dallas. I can watch the Kings, however, because they're not a threat to the Stars...yet.
That's it for tonight. Tomorrow is OGA (and families) Night at the Stars-Ducks game. The Stars' record this season when I attend games is a pitiful 2-3-2, but I take some comfort in the fact that they've won two in a row with Big Tex in the house. We'll see if they can extend the streak mañana...
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
HOT HOCKEY OPINION #3
Much has been written/spoken/acted out by street mimes of late regarding Sean Avery, his inappropriate remark, the six-game suspension handed down by the NHL for said remark, and his subsequent dismissal from the Dallas Stars. As a fan of the Stars (since '93) and the Rangers (since '80), the thought of Avery playing for a team other than those two pains me a great deal. In my opinion, both Dallas and New York were wrong to let him go. Allow me to explain:
I didn't really take notice of Sean Avery until he landed on Broadway. I quickly became a fan of his hard-hitting, abrasive style of play. The pinnacle of Avery's achievement in New York came in the playoffs last season, when he caused the NHL to change a rule on the fly and got so far into Martin Brodeur's head that Brodeur refused to shake Avery's hand at the conclusion of the series. To me, Brodeur's reaction was evidence of Avery's (evil?)genius, his (dark?)artistry, his thorough understanding of the mental aspect of the game. Then came the offseason and free agency. The day the Rangers signed Aaron Voros, I knew that Avery would be playing off-Broadway in 08/09. I immediately called my brother and told him that I hoped the Stars would sign Sean Avery, because if he went anywhere else, I'd have to start hating him; he's just that kind of player.
Avery's career in Dallas came to an untimely end after just 23 games. I freely admit that Sean should've saved the "sloppy seconds" line for the ice, and his decision to pull the pin on that grenade in front of the press, in front of cameras, and just moments after he told Stars' Head Coach Dave Tippett that he was NOT going to talk to the press was exceedingly unwise. A six-game team (not NHL) suspension would've been a fair amount of time for Avery to sit in the corner and think about what he'd done. The league's decision to step in and suspend Avery for six games was particularly egregious, considering other punishments handed down of late. To summarize:
1. Head shot which concusses the victim, taking him off the ice for weeks or months: 1-3 games.
2. "Third man in" sucker-punch to the head of a helpless victim, followed by a punch to the groin (assuming the perpetrator's name is Sidney Crosby): Two minutes in the box. Nothing to see here; move along...
3. Utter the phrase, "sloppy seconds," on TV: 6 games.
A shiny, new U.S. nickel to the first person who can 'splain that to me in a way that makes sense (without using the phrase, "paradigm shift"). But I digress...
Apparently, the Stars' decision to hang the "No Avery's Allowed" sign above the locker room door was made because of the sum total of Sean's effect on the team, with the comment in Calgary being the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Avery's teammates in Dallas didn't like him before he signed with the Stars, and he (supposedly) didn't make an effort to fit in with his new club. Allegedly, Sean Avery is a very self-centered, selfish, "me first" individual. Perhaps that's true; I don't know him personally, so I can't speak to his character. All I really know about Avery is what I've seen with my own eyes, which is what he's done on the ice. During his brief tenure in Dallas, Sean was the best player on a shallow, injury-riddled team. He hustled every shift, and was more than willing to do the necessary dirty work for the Stars - not what you'd expect from a self-centered, selfish, "me first" individual. If off the ice he was to the Dallas Stars as Scott Farkus was to Ralphie and his friends in A Christmas Story, well...there are ways to deal with Scott Farkus types - just ask Ralphie (skip ahead to the 6:42 mark):
Sometimes, a guy just needs a healthy dose of "tough love" to motivate him to be a good team player OFF the ice.
Some have disparaged Avery's style of play, claiming that he won't drop the gloves with bigger players, preferring to pick on players smaller in stature than himself. To that, I offer the following: Sean Avery is 5'10", 195 lbs. He has three fighting majors this season, against Chris Kunitz (6'0",193), Andrew Ference (5'11",189) and Dan Hamhuis (6'1",200) (were Sean here to defend himself, I think he would add, "...So suck it."). No, Avery generally doesn't go toe-to-toe with the Bolls, Godards, or Parroses of the league, but that's because his goal is not to fight for fighting's sake, but to get the Crosbys, Ovechkins and Phaneufs of the league mad enough to drop their gloves...and go sit in the box for five minutes. After the Western Conference Finals last season, I'm sure Stars management reached the conclusion that they couldn't skate with Detroit when the Red Wings were on their game, so they brought in someone who could take the Wings off their game.
Avery is a first-class agitator, the best in (or out of) the NHL. And with a little personal growth, a little maturity, he should be welcome on any team in the league. Until he catches on with another NHL club, though, Sean Avery is welcome on my Beer League team. But if he gets out of line in the locker room, we'll beat his a...
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Monday, December 22, 2008
NHL Standings at Game 30
For the Game 21-30 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from the historical 16.56 to the current 16.78, a gain of +.223. This is a bit lower than the Quarter Pole’s +.265, but still means the average team is winning 1/4 of a game more at this point than in post-Lockout history. The math tells us despite the PQC increasing by a +1 per evaluation period in order to qualify for the Playoffs from here on out, in relative terms, the average team PQC has increased. This change is a result of three, key observations and their related statistics:
1. Scoring is still up this season to an average of 5.85 goals per game from 5.57 (overall) last season, an increase of +.28 goals per game and a +.02 from the Quarter Pole.
2. With 10 days still left in DECEMBER, the rate of games progressing into OT/SO has slowed a bit from the Game 20 pace but is still on track to surpass historical averages for the Christmas month. Per team, the average number of OT/SO games is now four (4), with the NEW YORK RANGERS and PHILADELPHIA having the most extra period games at 12 apiece. After all 19 DECEMBER games – the last day of our rating period – we stand at 71.8% of the month’s average number of OT/SO contests. So the increase in scoring, coupled with the extremely competitive nature of the NHL continues to push us toward more ‘three-point games.’ Correspondingly, the gain in PQC averages is a direct result of the increase in 'three point games.'
3. The above facts, however, cannot be applied to all teams in the NHL. This is because the gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for both East and West Conference teams is increasing. In the East, the difference was 30% through Game 20. It is now 40%. In the West, it was also 30% but is now 41.7%. This means winning teams are doing so more often than a minority of teams who are suffering the burden of losses.
How do these characteristics of the 2008/9 season affect Conference play?
The Eastern Conference
The East ended the 30-game span only a +.05 higher against the PQC than the Conference's post-Lockout, historical average. This figure is –.16 lower than the same measurement at the Quarter Pole. Both are also below the League’s PQC average by almost –.5. The East’s average Goals For (GF) is lower than the West by –.6 goals per game. They are, however, playing in more OT/SO games (by a total of nine) than ‘Out West.’ As far as winning goes, the statistical difference maker is the Southeast Division with a combined PQC of only 14.4 and the lowest goals scored total by TAMPA BAY. The Southeast's PQC serves to lower the Atlantic’s (17.4) and Northeast’s (17.3) combined averages. Overall the downward trend during this furlong is a righting of the ship, as it were, from the Quarter Pole and indicates OGA’s PQC needs no adjustment ‘Back East.’
The Western Conference
The West continues to enjoy improvements against the PQC just as in the last, 10-game period. For the Game 30-period, the Western PQC has increased to a +.6 over their historical average. This is a boost of +.277 over the Game 20 average. In order, conference averages are 17.7 for the Pacific Division, 17.4 for the Central and 16.5 for the Northeast. Looking at those numbers, two observations are clear. Firstly, it is easy to see that the higher PQC is bolstered by the winning ways of SAN JOSE in the Pacific and DETROIT in the Central. In fact, if you remove SAN JOSE from the equation, the Western PQC is only 16.5 and a –.1 below the historical model. Dropping the RED WINGS nets a 16.8 / +.2. We also see that the average GF versus Goals Against (GA) is in favor of the West by +1.6, and they have 55.5 OT/SO games versus the East’s 64.5. So with these factors in mind, and especially SAN JOSE’s and DETROIT’s dominance skewing the Western PQC, OGA's model in the West is right about on track.
The difference between IN and OUT of a Playoff berth in the Conferences is telling:
In the East:
- The average difference between the eighth-seeded Eastern team’s PQC and that of the bottom seven teams is –.7, a change of an additional –.14 from the Game 20 period. To cover that distance and move into the upper tier of teams, the bottom seven need from two-to-6.5 more wins.
- The East also has eight teams playing above, and seven teams below, their historical PQC averages.
In the West:
- The difference between No. 8 and the rest of the West is –.286, a change from Game 20 of a relatively insignificant –.072, because from-1/2-to-three wins are still required to catch No. 8.
- The West also has nine teams above, four teams below, and two teams even with their historical PQC averages.
These facts display that the gap between those IN and OUT of the Playoff race in Eastern teams is more than twice as large as the same gap in the West. The Western Conference’s race to the Playoffs at this pace will therefore be significantly tighter than in the East.
At the 20-game mark, OGA’s analysis indicated 10 teams had qualified for the Playoffs with SAN JOSE performing best in the group Chasing Stanley. Another two teams have joined this croup at Game 30, both from the Eastern Conference. The complete list now includes: BOSTON; CHICAGO; DETROIT; MINNESOTA; MONTREAL; NEW JERSEY; NY RANGERS; PHILADELPHIA; PITTSBURGH; SAN JOSE; VANCOUVER; and WASHINGTON. Seven of these teams are in the East and almost set the Playoff picture there; five are in the West; and SAN JOSE is still the leader of this pack at this time.
Of those 12 teams, MINNESOTA looks to be in trouble. As a personal opinion, I would offer a likely reason is that MARIAN GABORIK is a Sean Avery of a different nature. Not the talented but loud, crude, and disruptive player on a team; but rather the talented, too-often hurt, seemingly unconcerned and possibly lacking heart kind of star player for a team that can make an organization question its own identity. If he is THE star player and it seems to his teammates that he does not really want to play like it appears to many on the outside, then you could have a disrupted, possibly disgruntled, locker room for a reason different than in a STARS-with-Avery space, but carrying the same end result. A lack of cohesion in the locker room can equal a less than polished effort on the ice. In affect, GABORIK is the on-contract version of NIEDERMAYER, SELANNE and SUNDIN who won’t play more than half of this season, and that are players only a home town crowd can love IF they contribute to the ‘W.’ The rest of us, however, are beginning to get tired of those who don’t want to show up every game. Injured, sure – nobody advocates playing and permanently hurting oneself. But there are an endless number of competitors who have played hurt and with an enormous volume of heart. That is not happening here with GABORIK who appeared unconcerned with signing a contract extension, in no hurry to get back on the ice after injury, and perpetually misses double-digit games. For MINNESOTA, this ‘disruption’ may be what is happening in the dressing room and is translating to a lack of the ‘W’ which is sorely needed to stay in the Playoff hunt.
Following that rant, OGA’s analysis says the other eleven teams who are Chasing Stanley are in position to stay that way barring a major collapse of PITTSBURGH.
There are no teams in the next 10-game stretch that stand a better-than-marginal chance of clinching a Playoff berth. For ANAHEIM, BUFFALO, CALGARY, CAROLINA, COLORADO, EDMONTON, FLORIDA, NASHVILLE, and PHOENIX, a major hot streak must ensue or they will all find themselves closer to merely In The Curve. If any team had to be chosen to move up the ladder, it would be the DUCKS and/or FLAMES, although both are likely to still fall a bit short of securing a Playoff position.
A TORONTO team that goes on an unbeaten streak for the remainder of this evaluation period could find itself Sharpening Skates, OGA’s tripwire indicator of closing in on securing a Playoff spot. Before we over-excite MAPLE LEAFS fans, this team is more likely to be at the lower end of teams In The Curve come early JANUARY instead of Chasing Stanley.
Three teams will only be able to remain In The Curve at best. The DALLAS STARS are still holding at OGA’s rating of Dusting Off Clubs with a possibility of a trend reversal looming via the departure of Sean Avery. This OGA rating is just above elimination from a Playoff berth. To move back In The Curve, they need to stay out of the ‘L’ column unless it is in extra stanzas that secures them standings points. COLUMBUS and LOS ANGELES are the other two teams and, frankly, anything less than an above average effort for this stretch will see both of these teams at Tee Time by Game 40.
At the 20 Game point, only one team – the NEW YORK ISLANDERS – had been considered at Tee Time, the OGA rating for elimination from Playoff contention. That team has since been joined over the last 10-game run by ATLANTA, OTTAWA, ST. LOUIS, and TAMPA BAY, however, as the rate of losing versus winning has increased for these teams. Of the five teams, only OTTAWA stands any real chance of being able to work their way back up to In The Curve. That is still going to require a lights-out performance by the SENATORS through this stretch, however.
Losing in the NHL is both cumulative and compounding. Cumulatively, doing so increases your level of difficulty for reaching the Playoffs because the odds of surging for long periods of time to make up the deficit are not in a team's favor when the average League winning percentage is only 56%. And losses compound upon themselves by assisting every team that defeats you on their own quest to earn a Playoff berth – a losing team must win their next game PLUS another one to even up the ledger. The only way to cut their catch-up-deficit (for lack of a better term) in half is for a loss to come in extra periods where team's gain at least one point in the standings. At this point in the season for several teams, unabated winning is the only hope they have for seeing the post-season. And looking deeper behind the W’s, L’s and standings points, On Goal Analysis cannot help but come to the conclusion that its proprietary PQC is still on track in both Conferences. As that remains the case, the current NHL landscape indicates one new team (BUFFALO, CAROLINA, FLORIDA or TORONTO) in the East and possibly two (CHICAGO and PHOENIX) additional Western clubs will change the Playoff race from last season.
There is still more hockey to play, but OGA’s PQC is beginning to solidify the picture. Stay logged in to www.ongoalanalysis.com to follow the calls…
HOT HOCKEY OPINION #2
I'm hearing that NHL attendance is on the rise, but with my Center Ice package, I can see LOTS of empty seats...everywhere but Chicago, San Jose and Canada, or so it would seem. League attendance figures are based on tickets distributed, not on an accurate count of warm bodies occupying seats, so I understand the reason for the disconnect there. While sitting in the upper bowl at the American Airlines Center last week (watching Columbus'(non)distinct-kicking-motion loss to Dallas), I pondered the empty seats in the lower bowl until the proverbial light bulb came on above my head.
My first question was simple: What's the easiest off-ice way to generate excitement, both in the arena and for the fans watching at home? The answer was equally simple: Fill the lower bowl. Doing so would create more energy/more noise at ice level. The players would feed off this energy, which should make for a better game overall. The obvious next question was: How can you ensure that the lower bowl will be full every night? The conclusion I arrived at was revolutionary: TURN THE ARENA UPSIDE DOWN.
In every NHL arena, the lower bowl is home to the most expensive seats in the house (outside of a suite). Thus, those tickets are purchased by the more affluent consumers, with a significant portion going to corporate entities. On a regular basis, those corporate tickets go unused. When they are used, it's not very often that they're used by dedicated hockey fans. Instead, they're handed out as perks to employees or used to entertain clients. And let's be brutally honest about lower bowl seats: Unless you're sitting up high enough to see over the top of the glass, you're basically paying a premium for a seat with a partially obstructed view. In fact, the most expensive seats - on the glass - offer the arena's worst possible view of any action not occurring right in front of you.
On the other hand, the upper bowl is home to the middle class and blue collar hockey fans. By and large, they are more knowledgeable and passionate than their lower bowl counterparts. Upper bowl fans aren't there to see and be seen, or to network, or because their boss gave them two tickets in lieu of a Christmas bonus. They're in the arena to cheer on the home team, and they're present in greater numbers than the lower bowl fans. So, you fill the lower bowl by turning the arena upside down.
Make the lower bowl seats the "cheap seats". Renovate the upper bowl, making the seats and aisles wider. Provide wait staff in the upper bowl, so that fans in the rarefied air only need leave their seats to go to the restroom or home. In your advertising, emphasize the fact that the upper bowl actually affords a better view of the game (which would be an all-too-rare occurrence of "truth in advertising").
Turning the arena upside down will ensure a lower bowl full of loud, passionate fans every night. Not only will the players be motivated, but the noise, the spectacle, will carry over to the TV broadcast of the game, undoubtedly generating additional ticket sales. Is it a radical idea? On the surface, perhaps, but it's not without historical precedent: In Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the "groundlings" stood at the foot of the stage while the elite members of society sat in galleries set back from the stage (so they wouldn't have to smell or otherwise interact with the groundlings). The system worked quite well 450 years ago. There's no reason why it wouldn't work today.
Over the last few days, I've let the league know how many goals/game teams need to score in order to ensure a playoff berth, eliminated the shootout , and helped make the NHL more exciting in the arena and on TV. You're welcome, Mr. Bettman. Tomorrow, I might end world hunger, cure cancer, or offer up another Hot Hockey Opinion. Which one will it be? Tune in Tuesday to find out.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Stated more accurately, Sean likes second chances. Or is it third and fourth chances?
The Dallas Stars have decided Sean Avery will not be rejoining the club on the ice as the Stars seek to improve their team play and avoid their continued downward spiral.
Obviously, the Stars have made the right decision considering it was well-documented coach Dave Tippett and many of the organization’s marquee players had vocally expressed their position; Avery was not welcome in the locker room.
One player, however, is not the reason for the Stars lackluster play this season but all factors contribute. Nobody can deny having such an immature soul amongst their ranks helped erode morale and did not facilitate the club to focus on what needs to be done to surmount mounting injuries, poor defensive play (early on) and goofy antics in net where normally a regaled veteran, Marty Turco consistently stood his ground. To be fair, it appears Turco has turned the corner. We still have to wait and see if high tide has yet ebbed…
For the Frozen Pill, two things stood out amongst all other matters discussed endlessly over the previous weeks.
First, the ‘negative’ press for the sport of hockey this incident generated and its subsequent surfacing of the hockey-bashers. Secondly, the ‘free speech’ issue.
NHL hockey is the fastest growing sport in professional team sports in America right now. However, whether it’s stick-swinging Todd Bertuzzi or Sean Avery, it seems it takes downright nastiness in order for hockey to grab some headlines in the major media. Okay, really no surprise here.
Our ‘news’ services love them some blood, some bad news, some controversy, etc. We know this, we expect this and we get this. But boy-howdy, do the gripers come out of the woodwork whenever hockey is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Avery makes a stupid comment (to generate self-publicity) and all of a sudden, the talkers are debating fighting in hockey again. Huh?
Folks are surprised the league and the other players are offended by ‘mere words’ when so much other nastiness happens on the ice during the games. And they are not referring to the chirping, but the basics of the sport – checking, hitting, fighting, etc.
To you haters out there, I offer this advice – Relax. It will be okay. If you are truly adverse to any level of ‘violence’ in a sport, you have your football, basketball and baseball. However, I always wonder how the majority of sports fans conclude hard-hitting tackles, headshots and nut-grabbing-in-the-scrums of football to be less violent than hockey.
But if you simply just don’t like hockey I would suggest, first, you actually sit down and watch a few games in their entirety (pretend it’s a movie: complete with three acts, a plot, fine character development, and both tragedy and comedy!) You may be surprised how much you enjoy the game…and we hockey fans would be happy to welcome you into the fold.
But please don’t feel you must offer your commentary if you are not at least watching the occasional game or have some clue as to the very gentlemanly rules of conduct governing all that mean and nasty checking and fighting you see on the ice. You see, in our sport, two men face off with known intentions, drop gloves and work it out. Then, they sit in a penalty box, think about what they have done and miss 5 minutes of playing time. It’s called sacrifice and it has its purpose. You will also notice it looks nothing like the group hugs of slappy-slap-slaps you see when the benches clear on the court or on the diamond and everybody bum-rushes to get into the…action?
So while your mouth hangs in aghast at the dastardly comments of Sean Avery, be sure to notice two other things: It speaks volumes of any organization (i.e. the NHL and the Dallas Stars) that they loathe such press (no press is bad press, right?). These organizations and the fans want the sport of hockey to be appreciated for the game itself and see no reason for the league to morph into a spectacle as opposed to a spectator sport. Also, notice how the NHL suspends, not glorifies or passively condones players who say or act in such a way to disparage the business, the team and the sport.
Which brings me to the second item to discuss – the free speech issue.
Fortunately, most analysts discussing this incident got the ‘free speech’ issue correctly assessed. However, it seemed quite a few struggled with this aspect and many analysts felt obliged to offer the conciliatory, ‘I believe Avery has a right to free speech, but…”
So the Frozen Pill is here to help all of us feel less confused about this angle. Yes, we have the right to speak our minds in America. In America…
Sean Avery was in Calgary when he made his comments, was he not? That’s Canada, folks. Our constitution, while widely respected and mimicked, is not the governing document of Canada.
I was surprised how many people calling into various talk shows or various writers brought up the fact Sean Avery has the right to free speech and were condemning the actions of the NHL in suspending him for speaking freely. Yet I imagine these same people would not exercise their right to free speech and step into their boss’s office and share their true feelings with him or her. Why not? Free speech, and all, right?
They don’t share because of the potential ramifications of telling one’s boss what one thinks of him or her…perhaps even with colorful language…because of a little thing called consequences. In particular, I believe the term is insubordination. Yes, it’s an offense meriting a firing in most organizations. So, most folks refrain.
Avery was in the visitor’s locker room when he sought out the cameras to make his prepared, inflammatory comments. He was there because the team he played with (his job) had just finished practice on Calgary Flames’ property (the workplace). He was on company time, folks and in the process of doing what one must do in this profession to earn their paycheck. On the clock, schlock, breaking the rules of conduct and representation. Even Donald Trump knows how to say, ‘you’re fired.’
It’s really not a complicated issue.
Too many people today cite free speech as a defense for being idiotic after turning off their internal editor and engaging in verbal diarrhea. So, regardless of whether Avery made his comments while on or off ‘the clock’ his right to free speech has been and would be protected.
Let me explain.
This ‘free speech’ thing comes from the United States Constitution. In particular, the first Amendment to said governing document, contained within the Bill of Rights. And here is what is protected (in case you ARE considering that visit to your boss’s office):
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Much was written and said about the Sean Avery sloppy seconds comment, but much of the debate over whether he had the ‘right’ to say what he did was, well, sloppy. Besides, we don’t need laws to guide us on our speech…that’s what Political Correctness is for, right?
What I did NOT read or hear was Congress debating a law forbidding Sean from speaking his dirty, little mind. Had this been the case (and Congress found time between lecturing the auto industry and saving the planet from cow farts), we would have had an actual free speech issue. And if such a law were written and passed, it sure would give new meaning to the Avery Rule, eh?
TOO COLD FOR HOCKEY?...A buddy of mine up in Chicago sent me a text message this morning, saying that the temperature was -6(F), with a wind chill of -33(F). I seem to recall reading somewhere, once upon a time, that the optimal ice temperature for skating is 19 degrees (F). If it's too cold, skate blades won't be able to cut/melt the ice, making skating extremely difficult. Naturally, this caused me to wonder about the skating conditions at Wrigley Field, and whether or not the ability to HEAT the ice exists. If not, and if it's that cold on 1 January, well...will the Blackhawks and Red Wings play broomball instead?
WHAT GIVES, SHOP.NHL?...I don't know about y'all (yes, I'm a Native Texan, and we say "y'all" down here), but I've done some of my Christmas shopping on shop.nhl.com, and I've noticed that several items - and not just the Winter Classic t-shirts - just don't stay in stock. For example, I was going to get a Dion Phaneuf t-shirt for Tex Jr., but it hasn't been in stock for over a week (not in adult sizes, anyway). Then, I was going to get him a Patrick Kane Winter Classic t-shirt, but that item has appeared in stock and disappeared again within hours, and was only available in just one or two sizes. My question is this: Is this due to A) Difficulty getting stock from suppliers, or B) Consumer demand far beyond the NHL's wildest expectations? As a fan, I hope the answer is (B).
HOT HOCKEY OPINION #1...At this time, I'd like to join the growing chorus of hockey bloggers calling for an untimely end to the Shootout. I liken shootouts to a newly-opened tub of Betty Crocker cake frosting (use your imagination, and pick the flavor of your choice). You stick a spoon in there, shovel it into your pie hole, and it's everything you hoped it would be...so you go back for another spoonful. Again, delicious...so you go for a third. Now, you're starting to realize that it's, well, really rich and sweet. Another spoonful, and you're wishing you had some cake to go with it. If you're foolish enough to go for a fifth spoonful, you begin to wish for some Saltines, or maybe a big hunk o' beef jerky...and so on, until you realize that the frosting is just too rich, too sweet, and lacking in substance. So it is with the Shootout, which was exciting and fun the first couple of seasons. On the surface, the Shootout would seem to be the perfect ending to a game, as it contains three key ingredients to exciting hockey: The Breakaway, The Goal, and/or The Great Save. The truth is, however, that we're deciding games played by opposing TEAMS with an INDIVIDUAL skills competition. It's just plain wrong, and in Year Four of the NHL Shootout, I find myself queasy and longing for a good, old-fashioned TIE. And don't even get me started on the fact that my fantasy league won't give me points for a shutout when my goalie loses, 1-0, in a Shootout...I'll save that rant for another day.
TOMORROW: HOT HOCKEY OPINION #2, in which I explain to the NHL the best way to put butts in seats, generate excitement and sell the game to The Unenlightened Masses.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis
Saturday, December 20, 2008
First, a wee bit of background: At OGA, we've already called 12 teams IN, and 5 teams OUT, of the 08/09 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Our calls are based on team performance compared to our proprietary Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC). Now that we've established where I'm coming from, let us move on...
How important is goal scoring, and how many goals must a team score (on average) in order to make the playoffs? To find out, I looked only at two stat categories this morning: Goals/Game and Goals Against/Game. As it turns out, the top 9 goal scoring teams have all been called IN the playoffs by OGA, and all nine are scoring better than 3.00 G/G. In addition, all nine have a positive goal differential (their G/G is greater than their GA/G).
In a bit of a surprise, of the 21 teams averaging less than 3.00 G/G, just FOUR have a positive goal differential (Montreal, Buffalo, Anaheim and Minnesota). Of the four, Montreal and Minnesota have been called IN by OGA, while Buffalo and Anaheim are on the bubble. The New York Rangers have the distinction of being the only team in the NHL with a negative goal differential to be called IN the playoffs by OGA so far this season. What makes the Rangers exceptional? Eight Shootout wins, that's what. They're winning small and losing big, which is generally NOT a formula for long-term success.
The moral of the story, kids, is this: In today's NHL, score more than 3 goals per game and you'll make the playoffs. Also, score more than 3 per game and you'll allow fewer goals (on average) than you're scoring. Score less than 3 goals per game, and you're going to have a hard time maintaining a positive goal differential, though some of you will make the playoffs (only to face San Jose, Detroit or Boston in the first round).
And with that, I've run out of excuses not to go Christmas shopping. I'm sure I'll come up with more tomorrow, though, so check back then.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Another Colonel with our group, however, had a dilemma. He needed a volunteer. And it had to be a Hockey fan. So I raised my hand.
I quickly found out I needed a second volunteer and grabbed another Colonel and off we went to the game where we had two free tickets, 2/3 up the lower bowl on the goal line. A good victory when its two of the teams OGA says are going to be Chasing Stanley at the conclusion of the regular season.
The best part came at the end of the 1st period when a gentlemen in an official, black, NHL blazer came down the steps and waived us over. After introducing himself to us, he took us up the media and officials' elevator to where he worked as a Video Replay Official. As we walked, I asked how he got that job. More than 1000 games refereed as an on ice official, an application to the NHL for the position, and a little luck in a scheduling conflict with another official and there you have it - a recipe for employment. That is my experience in life - hard work to earn your way, follow procedures, and get a lucky break, due in large measure to the first two circumstances.
Here is what we saw in the five-to-10 minutes we were there. (We excused ourselves with a bit more than three minutes to go until the second period began.) There were four gentlemen present, but, I believe, only two of them were the primary Replay Officials. They had a window down to the ice but did their work primarily sitting behind a bank of four HD TV screens, complete with corresponding TiVo's. Two of the screens were looking top-down on the nets so you could easily see if the puck crossed the goal line. We sometimes get to see that angle in replay on television.
The other two screens carried the home and away game feed which are sometimes necessary because of their different angles. As we were told, the over-net shots can tell if the puck crossed the goal line, but cannot tell you if, for instance, a high stick was used to tip in the shot. The home and away feeds often show that. There were also an additional two back-up screens over the bank of TiVo's and other equipment that passed the in-house feeds to Toronto.
In addition to the TiVo and television screen controls, they also had: the buzzer to alert the scoring judges that a goal was scored and missed by the on-ice officials before the next puck drops; the headset to talk to the referee at the scoring judge's window; the button to call the Toronto War Room; and of course, the TV and TiVo remote control system that would put the very best of man caves to shame.
As you might guess, the lines of defense for decisions about goals are: (1) the on ice official who signals that a goal was in; (2) if the goal is in dispute, then they go to the Video Replay Judges; (3) if Video Replay in the building cannot solve the problem, they punch the button for Toronto's look at their cameras; (4) and if Toronto cannot come to a conclusion, it comes full circle back to the on ice official's original call.
Two of the other staffers at On Goal Analysis knew that I was being afforded this opportunity. I promptly called them after the fact and told them I got to punch the button and wipe out a visiting goal. Don't let it color your opinion of us that they actually asked, "...Really?" (A guy's gotta live a little...)
What a great opportunity I am happy I could share with OGA readers!
Sunday, December 7, 2008
NHL Standings at Game 20
For the Game 11-20 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from the historical 11.09 to the current 11.267, a gain of +.265. This means all teams are winning 1/4 of a game more at the 2008/9 quarter pole than in the past three seasons’ history. This is displayed in three key and related statistics:
1. Scoring is up this season to an average of 5.83 goals per game from 5.57 (overall) last season. While this is still less than the 2006/7average, it is a good turn of events for fans and players’ stats (goalies excluded, of course).
2. The increase in scoring has led in turn to closer games as shown by a +27.45% increase in contests pressing into Overtime or a Shootout. This NOVEMBER has seen the most games in extra periods of the four NOVEMBERs since the Lockout by a margin of +10.
3. The extra points from the gain in Overtime and Shootout losses have seen only one team – the NEW YORK ISLANDERS – called OUT of the Playoffs so far this season. The historical average at this point has been three. This underscores the fact that teams are experiencing more parity at this point than in the past three seasons since the Lockout.
The above facts lead OGA to state that we may be looking at it requiring more wins/points to secure a Playoff berth for teams this season than the historical average. This theory, however, must be further dissected by observing at the Conference level.
The Eastern Conference
The East ended the 20-game span +.21 higher against the PQC than the post-Lockout, historical average. While they are currently under the NHL PQC average, they nonetheless indicate more winning is occurring ‘back East.’ This change is not yet enough to alter the overall conference PQC average, but bears close scrutiny as we progress to the Game 40 mark where OGA will know what it is likely to take to secure a Playoff berth.
The Western Conference
The West is enjoying improvements against the PQC just as with their Eastern brothers. They traditionally require an average 1/2 game more to qualify for the Playoffs than the East which is already reflected in the PQC formula. But the Western PQC has already increased by a +.323. That places this conference on track to end this year at least like they did in the 2006/7 season where an extra point/one OTL than the historical average was required simply to qualify for the final Playoff spot. As with the East, OGA is not quite ready to readjust the model, but it looks like we are headed in that direction, and possibly as early as the end of the 30-game mark. If this improvement continues unabated, by Game 60, it will require the highest amount of points to see the post-season in the West since the Lockout.
At the 10-game mark, OGA’s analysis indicated five teams had qualified for the Playoffs with MONTREAL performing the best of the group CHASING STANLEY. Another five teams have now done so at Game 20. The complete list includes: BOSTON; CHICAGO; DETROIT; MINNESOTA; MONTREAL; NY RANGERS; PITTSBURGH; SAN JOSE; VANCOUVER; and WASHINGTON. Five of these teams are in the East and the other five in the West. SAN JOSE is the leader of this pack at this juncture. Three of these teams are what we at OGA consider an absolute clench – BOSTON, DETROIT and SAN JOSE. In our opinion, and backed by historical analysis, the only way these three teams will not make the Playoffs is if they had a collapse so horrendous they looked like a completely different team on the ice than they actually are.
Three teams are at OGA’s rating of SHARPENING SKATES. This is just below securing a Playoff berth but indicates these teams – CAROLINA, NEW JERSEY and PHILADELPHIA – are on track toward doing so. At the 10 Game point, only two teams had earned this rating and BUFFALO has since slipped back to only playing IN THE CURVE. All three of these teams are in the Eastern Conference which points toward two more critical facts:
1. The average difference between the eighth-seeded Eastern team’s PQC and that of the bottom seven teams is –.557. To cover that distance and move into the upper tier of teams, the bottom seven will need from two-to-four wins more than the current eighth seed. Also, the East has six teams above, eight teams below, and one team even with their historical PQC averages.
2. The difference in the West is –.214 or 1/2-to-three wins. The West has nine teams above and six teams below their historical PQC averages.
These facts suggest that the top eight Eastern teams are playing a bit more than twice as well as their bottom seven than is occurring in the West. The Western Conference race to the Cup at this pace will also be significantly tighter than in the East.
As one of the season’s bigger surprises, The DALLAS STARS have reached the OGA rating of DUSTING OFF CLUBS, or almost out of contention. This means not yet eliminated, but if they do not get back on a normal, STARS’ winning track, they will be called OUT of contention by OGA after the next 10 games.
All other teams are playing IN THE CURVE with a few surprises here as well:
1. After a very slow start, ANAHEIM has picked up the winning pace and is on the positive side of the PQC.
2. Although still on the minus side of the PQC, ATLANTA improved from DUSTING OFF CLUBS to IN THE CURVE, proving how much pluck they have and why they are so difficult to levy a call against.
3. BUFFALO reversed course from a strong start to lose 6-of-10 in this timeframe and drop from SHARPENING SKATES – almost good enough to be called IN the Playoffs – to just on the positive side of IN THE CURVE.
4. COLUMBUS only lost two-of-10 to improve an overall +1.5 against the PQC.
5. Strangely, EDMONTON came off a long road trip to drop a –.5 against the PQC.
6. FLORIDA is still IN THE CURVE, but they declined another –1 to fall just short of DUSTING OFF CLUBS.
7. LOS ANGELES improved a +1 against the PQC on the strength of only three regulation losses in the 10-game span.
8. OGA called the NEW YORK ISLANDERS at TEE TIME – eliminated from post-season play – at the Game 10 mark. We will stick by our call until/unless the ISLES clench a Playoff berth. But it is worth noting that they improved from the cellar a +1.5 on the strength of only three regulation losses versus seven to start the season.
9. OTTAWA lost a –.5 against the PQC in this stretch of games, a continuation of their skid from Game 10. This is a surprise unless you compare this team to their Stanley Cup run club which began the season in a similar hole before finding their groove. They should be watched closely in the next 10 games for a rebound or there is real trouble here, however.
10. COLORADO, PHOENIX, ST. LOUIS, TAMPA BAY and TORONTO all declined a –1 against the PQC but are still IN THE CURVE at this time.
11. CALGARY and NASHVILLE played even for no change to their PQC between Game 10 and Game 20.
For the month of NOVEMBER, only one team, CALGARY, failed to have a game progress into extra periods. CHICAGO had six, a significant number although not a one-month record. COLORADO has played a total of four games that all went to a Shootout, and they are 100% victorious. Nobody else can stake that claim. CALGARY (0-1), PHOENIX (0-2) and DALLAS (0-4) have all failed to win in extra frames so far this season.
BUFFALO (0-4), CALGARY and TAMPA BAY (0-3) and VANCOUVER (0-1) have all failed to win in the second game of back-to-back pairings. Surprisingly, the NEW YORK ISLANDERS at 3-0 are the only team to win at every one of these opportunities so far this season. More teams continue to lose these contests, but the losing percentage is the lowest since the Lockout, again indicating more parity between teams.
SAN JOSE has scored the most Goals For while TAMPA BAY had the least by Game 20.
MINNESOTA had given up the least Goals Against and DALLAS the most.
Finally, 10 wins separated the highest– from the lowest–winning team.
The PQC is automatically adjusting for the Game 30 period per its formula. It will now be harder to stay above the curve from here on out as combined team fatigue and injuries turn stellar performers into average clubs against a PQC that demands a higher winning percentage for the remaining periods of play. Look for three or more teams to be eliminated from Playoff contention before Christmas. It is also likely the model may have to be adjusted for the West and continue to be closely monitored in the East in order to provide a truly accurate and early Playoff prediction for the 2009 Stanley Cup run.
The time is now for teams sitting on the verge of elimination to make some big move or adjustment to help bail the extra water from their leaky ship or they will be seeing the inside of the Clubhouse at the 19th Hole come early April 2009.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
And I am also an analyst for On Goal Analysis. So I instinctively know that the margin of error between a win and a loss and making or not making the playoffs is very thin. I also know that the seasons since the Lockout indicate that 2/3 of the NHL's playoff fate is decided by 1 January each year.
So I would offer that there is a distinct possibility that Lightning management understands this and decided that the play of the team was so substandard that things must be fixed right away or the team may be facing imminent Playoff disaster for this season.
Remember that last year's Capitals team is an example of how positive change can come from that big move - like replacing the coach - early in the season.
Also remember that management 'guaranteed' fans that Tampa Bay would be in the playoffs THIS season. They went out and bought a talented team. They are not the worst team in terms of goals against despite the SOGs they give up. Mike Smith has one of the highest save percentages in the league.
But they have trouble scoring and putting out enough effort on the ice. Just possibly, management believes what they promised should be delivered, know it is not, and need to correct those areas they believe can positively affect the "W" column.
Their method is General George Patton's management style of replacing those in command until he finds the one that can do the job. It is not a system, as some would suggest, of discarded people like so many limbs and digits on the floor on a SAW movie soundstage.
What the players that are NOT putting out should know is this management team is not afraid to suffer the slings and arrows of public pundits to grow a winner RIGHT NOW, like they promised. And that is not a bad thing to understand and respond to.
If you see Hockey as I do, that it is a battle each and every day to place a winning team on the ice that fights for the 'W,' then this could easily be viewed as a management team that, while unorthodox, is only lacking success at this point - which would be entering the playoffs this season - to prove that their style is just as much a winner as anyone else in the business.
Tampa Bay management is, at this moment in time in my opinion, simply misunderstood and they need only win to bring on a media epiphany.
Friday, November 21, 2008
The next game against the Chicago Blackhawks was the Stars' next chance to put together two wins in a row since last season. The 'Hawks scored at 19:23 of the 1st period, 19:30 of the 2nd period and again at 19:44 of the 3rd. Okay, yes, the last one in the 3rd was an empty-netter for Chicago, but...
Today we learn a Captain always goes down with the ship. Stars' captain Brenden Morrow is out indefinitely with a torn ACL. Perhaps 6 months....?
True, the StarShip Dallas is not down and out yet. But the captain is. So I offer a couple of thoughts.
Give the Captain's C back to Mike Modano for the rest of the season (or until Morrow returns, if he can). Mike has by far been the struggling Stars' best player so far this season. His stated goal of wanting to lead the team in points in this, his last season, is backed by his performance on the ice.
And the man is still the heart and soul of the first team to bring the Cup to the South. If you remember the 'drama' surrounding his C being given to Morrow a couple of years ago (the right choice at the time for the team's future) you should also realize how oh-so-glorious it would be for him to wear the Captain's sweater again in this, his final voyage. I do believe the sheer gravitas of the matter would be poetic enough. And just. And perhaps just what the team needs.
Not to mention the fact Modano's play merits this and it would probably come with less pressure this time around. Just a man who is the highest point-getter of all US born NHL players, an Olympian, and a Stanley Cup kisser who has played his entire career with one team captaining his team back to the playoffs for one final push to hoist the Cup again.
Legend is the word I am looking for here.
In fact, with the Stars having traded Philippe Boucher to retain Daryl Sydor (for the third time) from Pittsburgh, it occurred to me perhaps we could see a line of old.
Imagine, if you will, Sydor and Zubov on the points in a power play with forwards, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow. Call it the Legacy Line.
Ah, but there's the rub, gents. No more Morrow for a while. And in the same post on the Stars' site today where the MorrowNews is delivered, they also mention the recall of Landon Wilson.
That should help. No knock on Wilson but, yikes. This is a team struggling to find an identity and the puck at the same time. Something has to happen.
I also discussed in my previous post the potential for a shake-up in the future if the ship weren't righted. Well, the Boucher trade happened (most observers think the Penguins got the best of the trade, but the Stars need the familiar veteran for his locker room/bench voice and wisdom as much as his skills) but we may not be done with what is quickly becoming an 'experimental' year for the Dallas Stars.
In light of all of this, the OGA writers have conferred and we submit the following after learning of Morrow's injury:
Isn't Brendan Shanahan (free agent) still working out and looking for a team?
Give the Big C to Modano, tell him it's his to lead, get Shanny on the phone, tell him Avery misses him and get the spark ignited in Dallas.
You're welcome, internet. We'll take your comments below.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Richards had a fantastic first game in Dallas with 4 assists, setting up departed Nik Hagman for a hat trick in the process. But he cooled down quickly, made some contribution during the playoffs and very much looked forward to playing an entire year in his current system and new teammates.
To add to the brewing excitement of the 08-09 NHL season, the Stars added controversial free agent, Sean Avery during the summer. I have read nobody in the organization was too excited about Avery other than Co-GM Brett Hull who sees similarities in the maturing Avery and Hull's own, younger self.
And Coach Dave Tippett is the leader among active coaches for most wins and in his first year of a recently extended contract.
So what dramatic change is this team waiting for before they submit and commit to the cause of winning? I hope they are not second-guessing themselves on the Richards acquisition, especially in light of current netminder issues.
It sounds to me like some identity issues need to be sorted out for this team.
Turco is and has been one of my favorite goalies for a while and I think he is revolutionary in the way he plays the game. But I read him complaining about all the D-Men trying to block shots, essentially trying to be extra goalies on the ice instead of committing to good defensive play. It is the type of play you see when a team is struggling with their confidence in their netminder.
Interestingly enough in view of Turco's thoughts, Marty has played like a defenseman most of his career (puck-handling, backhand plays, playing it along the boards, deking opposing defenders while handling, etc.). Most of the time, historically, it has helped Dallas having a 3rd DMan in the back, especially when facing an opponent using DumpNChase offense.
But more and more, Turco seems to make mistakes more than glorious plays with his style. Not to mention his uncanny ability the last couple seasons to either:
a) let in the first shot of a game (sometimes the second if the first one bounced off him) and
b)let in a goal within the last minute (mostly last seconds) of ANY of the three periods. Marty, Marty, Marty....
So Marty has been frustrated by the defensemen playing goalie and the goalie likes to play the third defensemen. Big problem in the fundamentals of hockey.
It's time for Turco to remind us all of what an incredible goalie he is and bring his A-game back front and center.
The Stars began the season acting like playing the regular season is a burden. They just wanted another go at the Conference Finals game. Bummer about those 82 games that give a team the right to be invited to the party.
I think they have already addressed this, though and have been trying to re-tool and re-focus. But how do you do that when hockey fundamentals are not right and in place?
Remember the start of last season? They were losing most games and then the Doug Armstrong firing and co-GM deal shook it all up. The players responded and started to win. Are the Stars effectively waiting for the shakeup now before they will start to play? One has to wonder seeing the talent on this team and the bottom feeding of the standings they do each night now.
I don't think a shakeup is in order...yet. With a breakdown of team identity and fundamentals, it is time for Leadership. In other words, the man I called perhaps one of the league's best young Captains needs to take it to a different level. He needs to shake it up in the room, outside of the rink and on the ice. I think basic training would do the trick w/ Drill Sergeant Morrow whipping his own butt in shape as well as his teammates'. Brenden Morrow has a work ethic to be admired and it's time to infect this team with it.
And don't be surprised when it happens. The Dallas Stars have faced a few identity issues since the team on the ice hoisted the Cup in 99 and have overcome. Remember, most did not expect them to make the playoffs last season, much less be one of the last 4 teams skating.
But this season is not quite new at this point as the league closes in on the 20Game mark. It's time to get going in Dallas. Otherwise, the other 66 games that are definitely on the schedule will feel like a real burden, indeed.
Speaking of Fernandez...was Coach Julien trying to send a message to his own team by starting Manny, rather than Tim Thomas (the hottest goalie in the NHL not named Luongo) against Montreal, or was Julien sending a message to the Habs? Either way, it appears that both teams got the message.
The following clip is a perfect summation of the entire night:
Note to Montreal (and Mike Komisarek in particular): Father's Day is June 21, and it's never too early to shop for a nice tie.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins during the summer to sign with the Cup Champs, Detroit (despite pleas from Sidney Crosby to re-up with the Pens) was to be in the spotlight with his new team. Hossa played a good game and had two assists with the Wings leading the Pens 5-2 with about 15 minutes remaining in the 3rd period.
The spotlight then shifted to young, Jordan Staal.
Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin brought new life back to the effort when he slipped a wrister past goalie Chris Osgood and pulled the Pens within 2.
Just over a minute later, Jordan Staal scored and the game was feeling brand new at 5-4. But Detroit's Jiri Hudler scored two minutes later and it seemed Detroit would stake a claim on this game and quash any comeback efforts.
With just over 4 minutes remaining, Staal scored again and then with less than 30 seconds remaining, and the extra attacker on the ice, Staal netted the third Pittsburgh goal in a row for the hat trick and to force overtime.
During OT, while Detroit began transitioning from the defensive zone and into neutral ice, Jordan Staal began back checking and, looking like Mike Modano, simply took the puck away from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, turned it around and fed the puck to Ruslan Fedotenko who put it past Osgood for the game winner. Simply incredible. Jordan Staal took ownership of the 3rd period with 4 consecutive points while delivering 3 goals and a primary assist on the OT game winning goal.
The Penguins won 7-6 in OT. 13 Goals scored in the game billed as the rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Finals. Huge drama centered around famous names and a very memorable comeback made for an exciting hockey game last night...and a good night for the NHL and the fans, too. Although Hossa was the big name thrown about yesterday, it's Staal's name they take away in the headlines today. Just remember it's the Jordan version of the 4...because you will see it more and more.
Tonight's Game2Watch would have to be the late game in the league, when the Avs step onto the Canucks' home ice and the goalie-captain Luongo seeks his 4th straight shutout. OGA knows The Colonel is pulling for Luongo if only for the fantasy points...
The Frozen Pill also looks forward to healthy rivalry between the 'Canes and Caps tonight. More later...
Friday, November 7, 2008
Through the next ten games, expect Detroit to play along or slightly below the PQC. The Red Wings face a tough travel schedule, beginning Games 11-20 with a trip to SJS and VAN. They return home to face NJD and PIT, then head to Florida for games against TBL and FLA. After a brief stop at The Joe for a tilt with EDM, the Wings again head west, for three games against EDM, CGY and VAN (again). OGA is still waiting for the "Stanley Cup hangover" to kick in, and the combination of travel to both coasts and the quality of opponents might just be the catalyst. Post-Lockout, the Wings have found themselves an average of +4.5 against the PQC at Game 20, but they will be hard-pressed to maintain that average in 08/09.