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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.
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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.
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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.
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your Team At The 50’s Continued: ‘Out West…’

Yesterday, On Goal Analysis posted its Game 50 (G50) blog about the Western Conference teams and their projections on into the playoffs. Today we look at the Western Conference…

The West is tight and therefore, many folks will tell you it is too difficult to predict. We hope to shed some better light on these 15 teams than throwing or hands up and telling you to pick ‘em.

Our recipe contains the same three ingredients as yesterday’s main course: an accounting of your team’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC); their projected finish in terms of Conference position and team points; and the likelihood of a surge or ebb in team play heading to G60…

The Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks. As of their G54, ANA is currently playing In The Curve, or just about average against the PQC. This is off of the back of a decent surge executed despite an injured Ryan Getzlaf. Their current PQC has only two better since the Lockout at G50: 2006/7 when they won The Cup and 2007/8. Their current projected points/finish in the West is 96 points/6th place. ANA’s propensity is to have a bit of an ebb going into G60, but their strong play indicates otherwise will occur – look for continued PQC improvement over the rest of the furlong.

Calgary Flames. CGY was the second and last Western team to be called at Tee Time back G29/9 December. They have since surged to a 15-6-5 record and began this morning as the West’s 8th seed. Projected points/finish in the West at G55 is 92 points/9th place. And while they are currently on a roll, they are due for a dip in their PQC, especially when you consider three of their next five games include contests against ANA, VAN and DAL.

Chicago Blackhawks. CHI is currently playing In The Curve and shows distinct signs they are not last year’s squad. As they hit the 50-game mark, their PQC was their lowest in the last two seasons and quite a bit off of last years’ pace. Their current projected points/finish in the West at G53 is 91 points/10th place. They are not likely to be called Chasing Stanley by G60 and odds are 2:1 their PQC ebbs a bit by G60. They need to dig in to return to the playoffs this year.

Colorado Avalanche. COL is also currently playing In The Curve right on par with CHI at G50. At that mark, their PQC was at its lowest, make-the-playoffs-season point tied with 2007/8. Their current projected points/finish in the West at G53 is 88 points/13th place. At best they will only remain In The Curve at G60 with odds at 5:3 COL will take a dip in their PQC this 10-game stretch. This does not bode well for playoff entry this season if the trend continues.

Columbus Blue Jackets. CBJ was called Chasing Stanley at G20/on 24 November. Ever since then, they have been attempting to force OGA to make a Shot Off The Post (SotP) call stating that we were incorrect in our first prediction. Based on current play, they are off their 2008/9 playoff entry pace by a notch. Their current projected points/finish in the West at G52 is 89 points/12th place. While odds are 5:1 they will see a continued PQC skid, they are showing some promise after a big win over DET and a one-goaler over EDM.

Dallas Stars. DAL was called Chasing Stanley for the first time in three seasons at G30/13 December. Despite a 1-5 record in their last six games, they remain high on the food chain in the Conference. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 53 is 101 points/3rd place behind VAN and DET. Odds are a bit better than 2:1 of them decreasing their PQC by G60, but they should be a solid lock for a Playoff seed.

Detroit Red Wings. DET was called Chasing Stanley at G20/26 November. Their PQC is only their fourth best in the six years since the Lockout, but at G50 was higher than all but PHI and VAN League-wide. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 53 is 108 points/2nd place behind VAN. Based on current play, expect a slight uptick in their PQC by G60. This team is slowing down, but they ain’t stopped yet as OGA calls them a Playoff ‘lock’ for 2011.

Edmonton Oilers. EDM, in an acknowledged rebuilding season, was predictably called at Tee Time at G20/23 November. Their G50 PQC is worse than every year except 2008/9. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 53 is 61 points/15th place and 30th in the League. It is even money their PQC continues to ebb by G60, but it is more likely they will skid some more. Still, the speedy squad is exciting to watch on many nights.

Los Angeles Kings. The LAK were called Chasing Stanley at G20/22 November. Their G50 PQC is not as kind, sitting at only its third best since the Lockout. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 53 is 96 points/5th place, but they must get their groove on for longer winning stretches. After three straight losing furlongs, expect the Kings to pick up the pace with a PQC gaining stretch by G60.

Minnesota Wild. A pleasant surprise in the State of Hockey this season, MIN has been playing strongly In The Curve and flirting with an opportunity to reach Chasing Stanley status over the last 20 games. Their G50 PQC is tied with their best in 2007/8, the last time they entered the Playoffs. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 52 is 96 points/4th place in the West. Expect the Wild to remain In The Curve by G60 due to a remaining furlong schedule of 8 games in 13 nights with two back-to-back pairs, but keep an eye on this squad as the Playoffs loom.

Nashville Predators. It cannot be overstated that NSH is a blue collar, hardworking team. They were called Chasing Stanley at G30/15 December, but were sporting only their fourth best, post-Lockout PQC at G50. With a bit of a streaky season, at G54 their projected points/finish in the West is 95 points/8th place. Odds are 4:3 they will drop off on the PQC by G60 but the schedule pushing out to there is favorable with recovery time between every game. If anyone can beat the odds, it is the Predators.

Phoenix Coyotes. Not last year’s team, this PHX has been playing only In The Curve all season. Their G50 PQC is second best since the Lockout, but that is also behind last years’ similar marker where they experienced a slight dip in play enroute to the Playoffs. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 55 is 90 points/11th place in West. Look for a PQC uptick in this team leading into G60, but in reality, they need to play 10% better on through to the playoffs to secure a seed.

San Jose Sharks. One of only three teams to make the Playoffs every year since the Lockout, SJS has struggled this season sitting at only In The Curve. Their G50 PQC is second worst in six years behind 2005/6. That said, projected points/finish in the West at Game 53 is 95+ points/7th place in West. They have enjoyed a 7-0-1 streak of late which they need to continue in order to push their way up to a Chasing Stanley call. Expect the Sharks’ PQC to grow heading toward G60.

St. Louis Blues. STL was called Chasing Stanley on a strong showing out of the gate at G10/4 November. They carried that momentum on through G20 and then began a skid. Their G50 PQC is only as good as 2009/10 when they failed to make the playoffs. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 51 is 85 points/14th place in the West. They need a stretch like their first 20 games to right the ship or they are looking at joining CBJ as a potential SotP this season.

Vancouver Canucks. Tops in the League, VAN is hot, hot, hot this season. They have been Chasing Stanley since G30/18 December and have only lost two games in regulation since then. They join DAL and DET as a solid playoff contender with the second highest margin of PQC ‘lock’ is in the League this season. Their G50 PQC is their best since the Lockout by several notches. Projected points/finish in the West at Game 54 is 115 points/1st place in West and the League. This team has depth in its favor, so expect a continued PQC rise heading toward G60.


So the Western Conference is likely to have seven teams increase their PQC while eight drop off, a prediction a bit better than the Eastern Conference and in line with this seasons’ performances. We are getting to crunch time now as things are most set in terms of the PQC by G60. Let’s see where the competition and excitement take us going forward…

Take me to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Your Team At The 50’s

At On Goal Analysis, we have you covered as your favorite team has hit or just passed the 50-game mark this season.

We give you three things of interest in this blog. First is an accounting of your team’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) which gives you the earliest possible call of IN (Chasing Stanley) or OUT (Tee Time) of the 2011 Playoffs. We also calculate their projected finish in terms of Conference position and team points. And finally, we tell you about the likelihood of a surge or ebb in team play heading to Game 60 (G60).

Without further ado, we now hit the Eastern Conference followed by the Western in alphabetical order.

The Eastern Conference

Atlanta Thrashers. ATL currently is playing In The Curve, or just about average against the PQC. The only year better, PQC-wise, was 2006/7. But having just hit the 55-game mark, they need W’s in the last half of this 10-game stretch or they may meet requirements for Tee Time. Their current projected points/finish in the East is 86 points/10th place. And in the next 10-game stretch, they are most likely to have another period of a diminishing PQC against the Curve which may just see them find themselves out of playoff contention.

Boston Bruins. BOS has been Chasing Stanley since G20/24 November. They have had a few minor dips in their PQC, but currently are playing a notch better than any season except their monstrous 2008/9 year. Projected points/finish in the East at G53 is 101 points/3rd place. Note they bounce back and forth with Montreal between 3rd or 5th/6th place with PIT and/or WSH in the middle and based on who won or lost each night. You might see them increase their PQC again between G50 and G60, but it would be a first against their post-lockout averages to have a third PQC-gaining furlong in a row.

Buffalo Sabres. BUF was currently playing In The Curve. But as they hit the 50-game mark, they barely missed a PQC call of Tee Time with their worst numbers since the Lockout at that point in the season. Their current projected points/finish in the East at G51 is 88 points/9th place. Their current winning percentages would see them hit G60 at Dusting Off Clubs, just short of elimination, but a hotter-than-average winning streak could just as easily see them ushered into 8th place. They are most likely, however, to ebb this 10-game stretch and either rest just shy of, or at, Tee Time.

Carolina Hurricanes. CAR was also currently playing In The Curve. Based on current hot-and-cold play, they are most likely to remain In The Curve at G60. At G50, their PQC was tied with that of the 2006/7 season, second only to their Stanley Cup winning year. Their current projected points/finish in the East at G53 is 91 points/8th place. CAR needs another 6-0-2 run like they had from 28 DEC to 11 JAN, but are likely to either post a very modest PQC gain, or ebb lower in PQC difference from the median.

Florida Panthers. FLA was called at Tee Time at G40/on 8 JAN. Based on current play, they are on par with last season and just barely better than 2005/6 through 2007/8. Their current projected points/finish in the East at G52 is 83 points/11th place. Truly, this is a rebuilding year for Dale Tallon and the Cats.

Montreal Canadiens. MTL was OGA’s first Chasing Stanley call of the season at G10/29 October. After a PQC slide from G31-G40, they are again on the rise, a normal slippage occurrence each year for this team. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 54 is 99 points/6th place behind BOS, PIT and WSH. (Remember the yo-yo with BOS between 3rd and 5th place here.) There is a 50/50 chance of Les Habs either increasing or decreasing their PQC, so anything – such as injuries – could adversely affect the team enroute to G60.

New Jersey Devils. NJD was given a qualified PQC call of Dusting Off Clubs – just short of elimination from the 2011 Playoffs – at G10/27 October based on their past ability to play The Great Game. By G20, there was no denying they were at Tee Time and will remain so going onwards to G60 despite their recent surge. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 53 is 67 points/13th place. The Devils are a ‘solid’ OUT when it comes to the nature of NHL play and making the playoffs this season.

New York Islanders. NYI had a dismal G11-G20 stretch and were called at Tee Time for G20/21 November. Their G50 PQC is worse than every year except 2008/9. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 52 is 66 points/14th place and behind NJD. Flip a coin as to whether or not they improve their PQC in the G51-G60 spread, but improving would mean teams are coming into the building thinking they are playing an easy mark. NYI, as with NJD, is a solid Tee Time this season.

New York Rangers. At G50, the NYR hit their second straight 10-game stretch with a Sharpening Skates – just short of IN the 2011 Playoffs – ranking. That G50 PQC is eclipsed by the 2005/6 and 2008/9 seasons, but markedly better than the two seasons in between when they also made the playoffs. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 55 is 95 points/7th place. After four straight PQC-gaining furlongs, expect the Rangers to fall off a bit and land at In The Curve by G60.

Ottawa Senators. OTT was called at Tee Time at G30/9 December. Their G50 PQC is tied with 2008/9 as their worst G50 PQC since the Lockout. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 53 is 62 points/and last place in the East. Expect OTT to slide on their PQC again by G60 – they have already joined NYI and NJD as a solid Tee Time this season.

Philadelphia Flyers. PHI was OGA’s fifth Chasing Stanley call of the season at G18/15 November. Fast forward and their G50 PQC is the highest they have experienced since the Lockout. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 53 is 114 points/1st place in East and pushing VAN for 1st overall in the NHL. They have increasing PQCs every 10-game furlong since G40 of last season. Expect the trend to continue – this team is the most solid lock for the 2011 Playoffs of any team in the League.

Pittsburgh Penguins. PIT has been Chasing Stanley since G28/4 December. Since G40, their PQC has been their highest since the Lockout, to include where they will be at G55. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 54 is 110 points/4th place in East. While there is a 50/50 chance of their PQC increasing above the In The Curve mark by G60, it is practically impossible to not predict a dip with the loss of their top two players through at least early March for Crosby and until next season for Malkin. PIT GM Shero needs to pull the trigger on a top three forward to ensure their Playoff future, but their current level of play could drop off by almost 10% and they are likely to still squeak in to the Playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning. The TBL are a legitimate Chasing Stanley team this season. A solid ‘lock’ for the playoffs unless the wheels fall off the cart, the only question is how deep into the post-season they will go. They have been Chasing Stanley since G10/20 October. They have also consistently been at their highest post-Lockout PQC rankings since G35 this season. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 54 is 110 points/2nd place in East. Expect the Lightning’s steadily rising PQC trend to continue through G60.

Toronto Maple Leafs. TOR was called at Tee Time at G36/30 December. Their G50 PQC is only better than in 2009/10. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 52 is 75 points/12th place in the East, an improvement from last season of only one point, but three places in the standings. TOR will likely continue their steady PQC slide by G60.

Washington Capitals. Make no mistake, WSH is having its issues in the W column this season. That said, they have been Chasing Stanley since G17/13 November. A solid playoff contender, their margin of ‘lock’ is less than in the previous two seasons. Their G50 PQC is lower than at any time since the 2007/8 season at the same point. Projected points/finish in the East at Game 54 is 100 points/5th place in East. The Caps have been surging since their pre-Winter Classic slump, and expect that trend to continue going onward to G60.


So the Eastern Conference is likely to have three teams increase their PQC, eight drop, and four either remain the same or go either way. That should point to increases occurring across the Western conference one would think. But such simple conclusions are not always correct in PQC-land.

Come back to the OGA blogs later for the rundown on the hard-to-call Western Conference to be posted at a later date.