Monday, December 21, 2009

All Things Hockey, December 21st, 2009

Well, the Board of Governors Meetings are wrapping up not far from my usual Santa Clara residence (although I am not there currently) in the beautiful Monterrey, California area. The Board of Governors is going to go over quite a bit of ground, but there appear to be a number of salient issues that they need to figure out.

The central issue seems to be the Phoenix Coyotes, as clearly the league cannot continue to run the team at a loss to other franchises. Unsurprisingly, the owners will be eager to do something about a situation that costs them significant money. My opinions on this are unambiguous, but they are covered later.

Phoenix will likely be sold to IceEdge, since the league still thinks (mistakenly) that the Phoenix market is viable. They are being asked to put in $70 million towards projected loss, as an insurance policy against loss (which all teams carry), but it is unclear that they can afford it, and on top of that, the 70 probably isn’t enough. Unfortunately, the Coyotes are in all likely hoods going to be put into this situation once again. It will be interesting to see what they do when they try once again to move in 3 years, after IceEdge fails, or at least grows sick of the Phoenix market.

After Phoenix, the other financial/business issue at stake will be the salary cap. Whispers are that the cap will go up, but very little. A cap increase has interesting implications, since some teams having serious financial issues with no support (Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, Colorado, to name a few) have to be bleeding money. Since the NHL doesn’t have a very extensive revenue sharing system, going instead with the cap, any increase signals an advantage for the markets that continue to sell out (the Canadian teams, San Jose, Chicago, Pittsburgh etc). One or two million dollars would be a small increase, but that is one extra player that the teams with revenues exceeding the cap figure will have the luxury of paying. In simple Econ 101 terms, the salary cap is an effective price floor only for some teams. For others, it has no effect, because their equilibrium player salary figure is well below the cap. While this increase isn’t that significant, it may have a small effect on the free agent market next July.

On the ice, like on the gridiron, head shots and concussions are en vogue. A 2010-2011 rule change may be in order, as the league may put in a head shots penalty. Although USA Hockey has already done this, I would be against this. If a hit is rough, or dangerous, it will be a roughing, charging, boarding etc penalty. Automatic penalties that don’t give one team an advantage like delay of game for shooting the puck out don’t improve the game. If a headshot penalty is implemented, all it would do is make hits that should be clean, but happen on a play where the head is involved, something that can’t really be avoided with penalty incentives, into frivolous penalties that skew games.

Most, if not all goaltenders seem to have adjusted to one of the previously more effective moves that a player could do in a shootout. A little fake shot, stickhandling to the backhand then bringing it back to the forehand was, a couple of years ago, a way to get more or less as much net as you need, like such:

This move has now become commonplace. Rarely does a shootout go by without seeing it, and other than shooting, it is the most common thing on a breakaway (or penalty shot) when the shooter has time. No longer, though, does this work nearly as much as it used to. Granted, the former London Knights teammates (Kane and Gagner) are somewhat more adept at performing the move, but that isn’t the only reason. Check out all three of these saves, and notice the difference in how they are played.,2,427&event=NYR326

All three goaltenders in these clips (all from this year, while the goals were from 2007) do the same thing. They seem to see the move coming, which is not surprising given how common it is these days, and the fact that they do study film on the shootouts. Back in 2007, on the first two clips, they played the backhand, creating an empty net for the shooter when he went back to the forehand. Now, they don’t play the backhand nearly as hard.

They can’t completely cheat to the forehand side, since that would leave an easy goal for any shooter with his head up, which is what creates the problem for goaltenders on the move in the first place. Rather, what they have started to do is pretty simple. In both saves, and indeed at a rink near you in pretty much every shootout, when the shooter goes towards the backhand, the goalie will give it a bit of respect, but not too much. While he is doing this, he will get ready to react to the forehand.

The way in which the forehand is then played seems to now be common as well. It is impossible to cover enough net to play both shots, so the goalies do their best to play the percentages. They are pushing back towards their net, and spreading their legs as much as possible. This puts the onus on the shooter to lift the puck, which is difficult in that close, and with that much stick handling going on.

Compare that to the way it was played just a year couple of years ago, with goalies on their knees, flopping around and just generally out of position and you can see why the move has been much less successful. I may be the only one (though I doubt it), but to me it is a really interesting copy cat, counter development that wouldn’t have happened without the shootout.

Roberto Luongo is a better goaltender than Evgeni Nabokov. This isn’t to take anything away from Nabokov, who might be the best athlete on the ice in the league, but rather to recognize that Luongo, maybe the most skilled netminder in the world. Despite this, Nabokov has not just a better GAA, but also a better save percentage. I think I know why.

There are actually two reasons. The first is obvious, that Nabokov has better team defense. The Sharks are a big, strong fast team, who consistently puts their backup goalie atop the standings for non-qualifiers. The effects on GAA are obvious, but by keeping shots to the outside, controlling rebounds/screans etc, save percentage is helped by team D as well.

The second reason is more interesting. Luongo has little to no faith in his defensemen. He feels obligated to play the pass across, at a given time, rather than play the shot aggressively. His fears are somewhat justified, as the Canucks have given up more than their share of backdoor goals, but this has translated into problems even when the back door is covered. One clip doesn’t really justify it, but perusing the goals Luongo (who hasn’t been bad lately, just not exceptional as he should be) has given up lately, two things come through.

First of all, Luongo’s mistrust of his D, who are missing Matts Ohlund badly, is justified, as a lot of goals are indeed scored on cross ice cross crease passes. The second, though, is that Luongo’s mistrust leads him to let in some shots he would normally stop. Luongo isn’t challenging the puck, but rather hanging back in his net. Fearing the need to slide across, he isn’t cutting down angles, rendering him less effective. He is getting beat on shots a lot of times while he could literally reach back and touch the post.

Now watch Nabokov. Most saves he makes, even when he is fighting screens, or playing a shot from the point, he is at the bottom of the circles, at least. Watching games in the arena, this comes through even more than it does on TV. It is amazing how many times you see Nabby hold on to a puck out towards the hash marks, with 4 or 5 players closer to the net than he is. He can only do this because he has an undying trust in his D to tie up sticks so he doesn’t get beat in passes. In fact, most of the time he gets beaten, fir being overly aggressive, it is because the shooter is given time and makes a move a la Ryan Getzlaf in the Sharks last game, rather than on a backdoor pass.

Inspired by the shorter hockey thoughts, here are the top 10 reasons to move the Coyotes

1. There is no hockey history there. Sure, there isn’t any in markets like Dallas, who has done fine, or the southeast, which has at least one too many teams, but can support a bit of professional hockey, but unlike those markets, Phoenix has proven it can’t support an NHL franchise. There is absolutely no reason to make excuses for their failures as a location.

2. The demographics don’t exactly line up with the prototypical NHL fan. I don’t want to say anything offensive, but compare this to this, and do the math yourself.

3. Other owners, not the Phoenix owners, but the owners OF OTHER TEAMS lose $6 million to keep hockey in a city that doesn’t want it.

4. I have had a lot of disagreements with Gary Betteman, but to be honest, for the past couple of years I think he has done a pretty good job. Until now. Jim Balsille is sitting there as one of the most wealthy men in the world. He wants the team. But for whatever reason, Gary found the “ICE EDGE” group (note- that originally said “these ‘ICE EDGE’ clowns, but after listening to what they have to say a bit, they appear to have a legitimate ownership strategy, and they are a legit group, but they are delusional if they think it can work in Phoenix) who likely don’t have the capitol to sustain the Coyotes.

5. The ICE EDGE people only need long term capitol, in the first place because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE MONEY ON HOCKEY IN EFFING ARIZONA.

6. I’m bias on the whole issue, since I find the entire state of Arizona offensive anyways. Yes, this counts as a reason.

7. It is a desert, for Christ sake. (These are getting flimsy, I’ll go back to real reasons now)

8. I was going to write out an entire list of teams that do almost as well as the 9000 and change that can be bothered to go to a Coyotes game, but it was extremely tedious and boring to write, and probably equally boring to read. Suffice to say, Indiana, Oklahoma, Southern Ontario, and Manitoba, among others, with comparable attendance for Minor League and Junior teams.

9. If the only way you can make it work in Arizona is by having 5 games in Saskatchewan in order to fund the indifference in Phoenix, it can’t work in Phoenix.

10. You can get season tickets for as low as $9 a game, the lowest price in the league. Despite this, they can’t get 10,000 a game. Did I mention that all of this futility from the business end is taking place while the team is in contention? Because that makes it worse.

I’m with Bruce Boudreau, who pointed out that the notion of enforcers may be a bit dated. It is a waste of a roster spot, especially when you can only dress 18 guys, to have someone who is going to spend 3 minutes on the ice and 5 in the penalty box, then call it a night. By my count, there are 17 teams who are wasteful with the 18th spot (Anaheim- George Parros, Tampa- Zenon Konopka, Ottowa- Matt Carkner, Colorado- David Koci, Minnesota-Derek Bougard, Philly- Daniel Carcillo, Columbus- Jared Boll, Islanders- Tim Jackman, Los Angeles- Raitis Ivanans, Toronto- Colton Orr, Boston- Shawn Thornton, Calgary- Brandon Prust, Dallas- Krys Barch, St. Louis- Cam Janssen, New York- Donald Brashear, Montreal- Georges Laraque). All of those guys have played the vast majority of their team’s games, are towards the top of the league in fights, and have virtually no production.

I’m not suggesting that fighting doesn’t have a place in hockey. I am always quick to reject that notion out of hand when the debate crops up. Hockey is a physical, emotional game and fighting is a necessary, embedded part of it. That doesn’t mean that you should have a guy collecting dust on your bench until you need the gloves dropped. Look at the hit on Green. As Boudreau said, the Caps don’t have a goon, rather, Tomas Fleishmann, a guy who can contribute to a hockey team, not just fight, stuck up for his teammate. Plenty of guys can fight and play, why not let them take the bulk of the enforcement that does, and should, go on in hockey?

That is one thing that I have been really happy with the Sharks about this year (and in the last few weeks at least, there hasn’t been all that much). The last two years, the role of enforcer has been filled stereotypically (and well, for that matter), by Jody Shelly. Any visit to the tank saw a plethora of 45 jerseys, and the crowd went crazy every time he ran a defenseman and got in a fight, making him a fan favorite, even if he was completely ineffective. It annoyed me that he was so popular, while more subtle players (some of whom were German and wore #10, and ARE SECOND IN THE NHL IN +/- I EFFING TOLD YOU SO YOU STUPID-collecting myself-…sorry) but it was par for the Sharks fan course, to be honest.

This year, it has been different. Shelly has been sidelined for much of the season with injury, but that doesn’t mean that the Sharks have shut down the enforcement game. Rather, Frazier McLaren has picked up the slack by dropping the gloves. While McLaren only gets 6 or 7 minutes a game, and usually spends at least 5 in the box, the difference between him and the aforementioned list of goons, or Shelley, is that McLaren brings something in those 6 or 7 minutes. While McLaren’s point totals aren’t impressive, he has good hands, and great size, enough so that he has potential as a power forward, or at least a decent grinder, unlike the guys who rack up the minuses but drop the gloves at a potent pace.

Sharks/Homer Note of the Weeks / What I Love About…

To take nothing away from Seto, who finishes with authority, this play is why I love Patrick Marleau. This play is why Patrick Marleau is one of the best players in the NHL. This is why he might be the MVP (although the 22 goals don’t hurt). This is why I hate it when he is criticized in the playoffs. Because this is a play that winners make. This is refusing to get beat. This sort of play is why the Team Canada brass needs to take notice and make sure he is on the team.

Marleau makes a physical mistake. It is one that the best players in the world make once a week, suffice to say it happens. He fans on the pass, in an extremely noticeable way. He blew an obvious break in for Devin Setoguchi on what should have been a simple pass. Rather than being defeated, you can see Marleau make a statement to himself, that is my puck. Marleau needs to make up for that mistake, and he does. He gives everything he has to make up for what he did. He holds himself accountable, and sure enough, he steals the puck making the play possible for Joe Thornton and Setoguchi, who is no Swedish on this one, but rather all finish.

It is easy to recognize the shot by Seto, just like it is easy to recognize when Marleau wins a race and gets a breakaway goal. It is harder to recognize when he doesn’t win the same race cleanly, but draws a penalty (like he does almost every game), or when he makes up for his mistake and turnis it into a scoring chance. This happened at the tail end of a 3-1 game, but often times that is the difference between a W and an L in the standings, and it is the kind of play that winners like Patrick Marleau make.

(I think I will make the above a running feature—“What I love about…” where I just write a few paragraphs about one thing I really like about a certain player. This week it will also serve as the “Homer Point,” but it will probably become its own thing.)

Goal of The Weeks

No one stood out in terms of brilliant goals, so I am giving it to a fluky play, and assuming that he meant to do it (this is because I want to think he tried to, not because I think he did). The goal of the week was scored by Dallas’s Louie Eriksson. The Swede was parked in front of the Atlanta net at the tail end of a wild affair in Atlanta that 36 people (mostly friends and family) saw in person, judging by the look of the stands. With an empty net, Stephane Robidas steped into one, and sent it at Ondrej Pavelec, who, despite the 4 goals against, had made a few saves to keep the Thrashers in it already. Eriksson and James Neal were parked in front, but Ron Hainsey got a stick on the shot and sent it what appeared to be out of harm’s way. In a fit of brilliance and desperation, Eriksson channeled his inner Ronaldinho, drawing from his days growing up a soccer player on the pitches of Sweden, and executed a perfect header into the net, tying the game at 5. It cost Eriksson a $50 half-shield, but while the Thrashers won it in OT, the header earned Dallas a key point.

(Disclaimer- I am well aware that Eriksson had absolutely no intention of doing what he did. The puck was coming at him way to fast to have time to actually attempt a move like that, he even tried to get out of the way. Also, I have no idea if Eriksson has ever played soccer, although I am pretty sure he is Swedish. It is way more fun to think that it was premeditated though…right?)

Hit of the week

Luke Schenn got this one for laying out Jon Sim (why waste words…that’s what happened).

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough to keep him in the lineup, but Schenn’s play has been physical, to say the least, while he has been out there.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- Buffalo appears to have a franchise defenseman in the making in Tyler Myers. He has the size and reach to be a shutdown guy on the defensive end, and they can comfortably play him on the power play thanks to his good hands (for his size at any rate) and cool poise with the puck. It’s too bad I have to hate him and call him Tyler “Benedict Arnold” Myers because he was born in Houston, Texas, which, to the best of my knowledge, is not in Canada, yet he dons the Maple Leaf rather than the Stars and Stripes in international play.

- Speaking of Buffalo and international play, I feel better about the United States’ chances each time I watch Ryan Miller play.

- I somehow neglected to mention this when I was writing the Center Ice rankings, but the Coyotes color guy is absolutely abysmal. He is obnoxious, clearly has no idea what is going on, messes up basic hockey lingo and sees everything in the Coyotes favor , which is to be somewhat expected (and hardly unique, all color guys on local channels fall into favoritism, and at least five or six do to a fault, but a lot of times his views aren’t so much subjective or biased as much as they are just wrong. I think this makes reason 209,381 why they need to JUST MOVE THE DAMN COYOTES ALREADY.

- I hate it when announcers claim that guys turned their back when they get hit from behind, because a. of course he did, that is the only way you end up facing the boards, you don’t start a faceoff staring at the glass and stay there until the puck comes. Yet they always break down 5 second replays, and point out that it was partially their fault for turning and facing the boards, even if they weren’t even pressured when they did so, and b. it doesn’t matter when they turn, if you hit someone from behind 2 feet from the boards, that should be a boarding penalty. Despite this, it is never the guy’s fault who saw the numbers and followed through, presumably because the guy wasn’t standing still with his back to the play for 30 seconds. I know the two offenses aren’t comparable, but as far as defenses go, isn’t this basically the erroneous “she was asking for it” defense for rape?

- Robby Schremp has to have broken the record for time between becoming known as a NHL ready prospect and actually scoring his first goal. It seems like years ago that we saw him doing ridiculous stuff with a puck in Edmonton. You know why that is? It was years ago, more than three to be exact. Having said that, while I haven’t watched much of the Isles, he is playing hard and a good role for New York, and his teammates looked absolutely thrilled for him. So in honor of his first goal (and since I’ll take any excuse to post it), here is a clip of Schremp defying physics with a hockey puck.

- I have watched the play at least 10 times, and I still can’t figure out if Marian Hossa knocked the puck out of the air like a punt, or just timed it perfectly when it hit the ice. Either way, a great and creative goal.

- As I write this, I am watching the Sharks-Ducks game on NHL Network, and NHL on the Fly is functioning as the intermission report. In case you aren’t familiar with NHL on the Fly, it is the no frills highlight show that serves as the network’s Sportscenter. There is minimal transition dialogue, they show 15-20 clips from each game, and they spare you the catchphrases and time filling that can be good on ESPN, but annoying when done by those less talented than the Dan Patrick’s of the world. It is probably the best intermission show I have ever seen, not involving Don Cherry. Seriously, I see highlights, enough to get a good feel for the game (at the very least see every goal), of pretty much every game. What more could you ask for?

- The Rangers started 7-1, but since then they are on a (what’s the opposite of torrid?) 7-17 pace. They have too much talent, in my opinion, to be this bad, but John Tortorella’s squad clearly has issues.

- I hate to admit it, but Bobby Ryan has a better power, to the net from the wing move than anyone in the game.

- The standings look a bit tricky, LA is in first in the West as of 12/15, but the Blackhawks have all of 5 games in hand.

- In the playoffs- Phoenix, Nashville, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Florida, Ottawa, Colorado, Buffalo

- Out of the playoffs- New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus, Detroit, Anaheim, Edmonton

- The entire first list was out of the playoffs last year, all of the second list was in. I have been preaching that it is a bit early to read too far into the standings, but it is getting cold outside, and that is a lot of turnover. The only ones that don’t surprise me are Buffalo and, oddly, Atlanta.

- Every time Cory Perry gets a point, or even a plus, I lose a little faith in the hockey gods. Osama bin Laden could where 10 and play Getzlaf’s wing for the Ducks, and it really wouldn’t change my opinion on the position. His name is on the Stanley Cup. I’m going to vomit.

- I get the same feeling when a great, classy, hard working player like Sidney Crosby ties the game after a dumb play and a penalty by a punk like Scott Hartnall, eventually costing the Flyers a point. The same feeling, except exactly the opposite.

- I get it, Robert Nilsson’s father Kent was a good NHL player, and may even have born a resemblance to his son on the ice. Thank you, every announcer in the league, for informing me of this, you can now stop mentioning it every time the Jr. Nilsson does something well.

- Non-Hockey

o As if the Bill Simmons bus/underwear story and the ensuing Jimmy Kimmel live appearance weren’t enough, the latest entry on Ron Artest’s blog, an open letter to Tiger Woods, have convinced me that he is the most delightfully insane athlete alive. This guy needs a reality TV show. If it were just cameras following him around, that would suffice, but it would be the hardest editing job in the world. I’m sure you could get 4 hours of entertaining footage a day. I say we let him try to run companies that are failing. Chrysler, newspapers, Blockbuster are going down anyways, and I can’t think of a more worthwhile way for them to go.

o We have reached the fourth of six stages of the coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal: the media talking about how the media is covering the scandal, and entering an inexorable hellish vortex of unwatchable programming. Fortunately, now all we need is another story to take over the airwaves.

o RIP Chris Henry, nothing else to say, other than if your team isn’t in it, the Bengals just replaced the Saints as the team that you have to root for if you feel human emotions.

o Darko is going back to Europe! I’m speechless, since this wasn’t a forgone conclusion 6 years ago. But hey, Carmelo, D-Wade, Bosh….at least the Pistons didn’t pass anyone up.

o A lot of people have said it was stupid for Chris Gamble to call out Randy Moss’s effort against the Panthers last Sunday. I disagree. Gamble did shut Moss down, and whether he quit or not, Gamble has no reason to be afraid of Moss. I can think of a few people who would have appreciated it if Gamble had kept his mouth shut though. The first is my friend Brendan, facing Moss and my brothers team in week 1 of our Fantasy Football playoffs, and the other is the Buffalo Bills secondary. Seriously, if Moss has even a little bit of competitor in him, there is no way he doesn’t work as hard as he ever has against a mediocre defense in the Bills this week. Look out.

TOP 8/bottom eight

This is especially difficult. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Los Angeles is better than Chicago or San Jose, or that Toronto isn’t one of the worst teams in the league, or that Philly is. That, though is what the standings tell us, and the 35ish games that teams have played is a pretty good sample size. Anyways, I am going to go with gut over numbers, but I am definitely giving strong consideration (for the first time this season) to the teams that I would have considered fluky before.

8. Boston Bruins- I trust them more than the Thrashers, and the Sabres are feeding off of a weak division, leaving the Brus to round out the nice list.

7. Los Angeles Kings- I’m not ready to take them seriously quite yet. Impressive point total, but they have games in hand. This is a good spot for them.

6. Calgary Flames- They are a small step behind the top 5, which make up the top tier, mainly because it is hard to trust their scoring once you get past Jokinen and Iginla.

5. New Jersey Devils- Obviously very good, but they just don’t look quite as talented as the teams that make up the next 4.

4. Washington Capitals- The top 4, in my opinion could pretty much go any way 1-4. These are the contenders in the league right now.

3. Chicago Blackhawks- Hossa back makes their scoring propensity absolutely scary.

2. San Jose Sharks- I was ready to drop them to 4, but they looked like the best team in the league, which I still believe they are, for the first time in a few weeks on Thursday.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins- Right at the top of the standings, and as the defending chanps, they get the nod in a crowded top 4.

On the Down

23. New York Islanders- Too bad, they are a few years away.

24. Toronto Maple Leafs- Playoff hopes from Toronto media are unfounded.

25. Edmonton Oilers- Toothless attack minus Hemsky, and their goaltending situation isn’t exactly formidable.

26. Anaheim Ducks- The most talent on the bottom 8 list.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning- Lack an identity.

28. Philadelphia Flyers- Last weeks, they were here because they had just fired their coach and needed to be included. This week, they are here because they have legitimately been one of the worst teams in the league. What a mess.

29. St. Louis Blues- They have a lot of young talent, but they need to cut ties with the past and commit to youth.

30. Carolina Hurricanes- Injuries have plagued them, but they have earned the bottom spot in the standings.

Award Watch


Still Tavares, he has shown up all year long and been consistently one of the best players for the Islanders. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a good start for a rookie.

HM- VanRiemsdyk, Myers, Duchene


Hockey’s golden boy, Sidney Crosby, is emerging, finally, in his fourth year as a top tier goal scoring threat. He has been the best playmaker, and the guy you would want on your team if you were playing for our life for three years now, but for the first time in his life, he finds himself in the hunt to lead the NHL in goals. To be honest, I haven’t seen all that much of the Pens, but knowing how much little stuff Crosby brings, with him near the top of the scoring race, he has to be MVP right now.

HM- Marleau, Ovechkin, Marian Gaborik


Ryan Miller is, if anything strengthening his campaign. It has been a phenomenal season so far for the former MSU Spartan, who leads the league in just about everything.

HM- (a long way back from Miller), Ilya Bryzgalov, Tukka Rask


Mike Green is no longer on the torrid scoring pace he started with, and he is no longer on pace to surpass the 82 point mark, as I alluded to last time, but he is still the best offensive defenseman in the league, and his numbers back that up.

HM- Thomas Kaberle, Christian Ehrhoff, Drew Doughty

Adams (best coach)

We all love Wayne Gretzky. I am no exception, and I was disappointed when he was pushed out in Phoenix. Having said that, I don’t think that they are where they are without Dave Tippet’s leadership this year. They have the least talent of anyone in contention, and the only difference from last year is the coaching change. Add that to the chaos surrounding the franchise, which has yet to be a distraction on the ice, and Tippet is the coach of the year so far.

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