Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Draft Re-Entries

According to the most recent NHL Central Bargaining Agreement, tonight (Tuesday) at midnight eastern time, any unsigned North American player in the 2003 entry draft can re-enter the 2005 draft. This is the first part of a potential huge group of unrestricted free agents that may swamp the NHL when the lockout concludes. If these players attempt to re-enter the draft and there is no draft, they could be declared UFAs. This group includes Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (Philadelphia Flyers picks) as well as Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Edmonton pick) and Patrick O'Sullivan (Minnesota pick).

The largest group of NHL agents, the International Management Group is claiming that these players should be declared unrestricted free agents and is likely to pursue this matter in a court of law. The NHL position is that this (and other UFA issues) will be addressed in the central bargaining process). That is the preferable position for the league, but if negotiaitions drag on too long, a court may have its say. This is one issue that may be force some very heated discussion in the CBA meetings and is one reason that I remain skeptical that the CBA negotiations are as close to being wrapped up as many report.

Here is Bob McKenzie's take on the potential fiasco.

NOTE: I Probably should have mentioned that IMG wants all the players chosen in the 2004 entry draft who had not yet recieved a legit offer from their new team declared UFA's also. I neglected to mention this - although it is clear from the Bob McKenzie article.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Calder Cup finals

The Calder Cup finals will begin on Thursday. The Philadelphia Phantoms will play the Chicago Wolves. Philadelphia defeated Providence 4 games to 2 in one semi-final. Chicago swept the Manitoba Moose in 4 straight in the other.

Top scorers in the playoffs so far have been Andy Hilbert of Providence and Jeff Carter of Philadedlphia. Kari Lehtonen of Chicago has been the top goalie.

Sadly, when the Calder Cup is won, there will not be any more meaningful hockey this season, but the finals should be great.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

London Knights win Memorial Cup

The London Knights won the Memorial Cup They went undefeated throughout the tournament and in the final defeated the Rimouski Oceanic 4-0. Adam Dennis saved 27 shots for the shutout. Danny Fritsche scored a goal and 2 assists for London, with Robbie Schremp and Bryan Rodney neeting a goal and an assist each. David Bolland scored the other London goal.

The tournament all star team was Adam Dennis in goal. London's Danny Syvret and Rimouski's Mario Scalzo Jr were on defence. London's Corey Perry and Danny Fritsche and Rimouski's Sidney Crosby were the forwards. Perry was named the torunament MVP.

Memorial Cup Semifinal

Rimouski defeated Ottawa in a 7-4 offensive showcase in the Memorial Cup semifinal. They will move on to face London in the final.

Rimouski was paced with big offensive days from Sidney Crosby who scored a hat trick and 2 assists, Patrick Coulombe had 2 goals and an assist, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Mario Scalzo Jr had 1 goal and 2 assists each and Dany Roussin had 4 assists. Ottawa was led by Jamie McGinn who had 2 goals and an assist, Julian Talbot with a goal and an assist, Chris Hulit had 2 assists and Derek Joslin scored a goal.

Most people predicted a London-Rimouski final. Its going to happen tonight.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Skepticism on central bargaining

There is a widespread belief that it is inevitable that a new NHL CBA will be signed soon. Bob McKenzie's latest article that expresses this sentiment is here. This opinion is often frequently expressed in the blogosphere, for example here.

It's not clear what is actually happening in the negotiations. It is clear that both sides have spent hours negotiating. It is clear that they are not openly calling each other names (or using the media for this). That is a positive. That's a pretty tiny positive. Its not clear that any serious agreement has been made. Both sides are trying to understand the NHL's revenue picture. They are pouring through the Levitt report and other similar documents trying to understand the complicated accounting systems that likely vary significantly from team to team. If some agreement is reached on this, then it might bew possible to negotiate a settlement. But it is not clear that any kind of settlement is close. Its not clear that both sides even have the same philosophy for what should be in a settlement. They are trying to agree on the current financial state of the league and that is a long complicated process.

Why is there so much positive stuff written if this is all that is going on? The NHL wants and needs positive press. They need the impression that it is inevitable that hockey will return next year. They want to maintain as much sponsorship and season ticket money as possible for next year - and to do this they need to make people think there will be a next year. The press members who are 'in bed" with the NHL like Bob McKenzie report it and in the vacuum of information, it gets repeated and believed by more and more people. Afterall, this is what they want to hear. It is important to the NHL that it is believed. It costs them money if it isn't.

ESPN is an example of the NHL losing money due to the lack of a CBA. They need to convince as many people as possible that a new CBA is inevitable to stem this tide.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Cup Playoffs

The round robin portion of the Memorial Cup tournament is complete. London had the best record in the round robin (3-0). They will go through to the final. The (2-1) Rimouski Oceanic will face the (1-2) Ottawa 67's in the semifinal - for the right to meet London in the final. Kelowna was winless in the round robin and was eliminated.

Leading scorers in the tournament so far are Corey Perry of London, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Antoine Pouliot of Rimouski as well as defenceman Mario Scalzo Jr of Rimouski. Top goalies are Cedrick Desjardins of Rimouski and Danny Bottochio of London.

ESPN declines NHL TV rights

TSN is reporting that ESPN has declined their $60 million option for NHL TV rights next season (should there be a next season). The story is here. The NHL brought it on themselves with their negative marketing campaign of the past few years to justify a lockout and then losing an entire season to work stoppage. It only makes matters worse for everyone in the NHL - and probably improves the chances of a startup rival organization because they have less to compete against. ESPN and the NHL may still negotiate a TV deal - but it will be for less money. Possibly it will be for no upfront money at all and the NHL shares in its profits (if any exist).

This makes hockey less available to the fan. And the NHL brought about it with their own stupidty.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sabermetrics and hockey

In the comments on yesterday's post, Jes Golbez points to a study one person named pnep put on the web at hfboards.com on his metric for who should make the hall of fame. It contradicts my intuition picking Glenn Anderson ahead of Dale Hawerchuk. I believe this is due to a flaw in the methodology of the study, but at this point I am unclear on exactly what the methodology was. I hope to address this in detail later when I further understand this study.

The idea behind this study is one I would like to support. I am a big fan of sabermetrics in baseball. Sabermetrics is the statistical analysis of baseball. Jim Albert describes it here. Bill James is one of my favorite authors. He is the most accomplished sabermetrics author in the world today. I strongly recommend anyone who is interested read his works.

I have wondered many times if it was possible to apply sabermetrics to hockey. The best attempt that I have seen on the net is Daryl Shilling's hockey project. I think it is imperfect, but if we keep in mind the errors that go with numbers produced by such attempts it is a nice effort. I think that it is not possible to have nearly as precise a theory in hockey as there is in baseball (though I would love to be proven incorrect). To explain why, I will quote from Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract

The difference between a good statistical analyst and a poor statistical analyst is that a good statistical analyst ... understands this, and a bad one implicitly denies it.

A good statistical analyst, in studying the statistical record of a baseball season, asks three or four essential questions:
1) What is missing from the picture?
2) What is distorted here, and what is accurately portrayed?
3) How can we include what has been left out?
4) How can we correct what has been distorted?

We all know many things and many different types of things that are not reflected in the statistical record. Acknowledging this, a good statistical analyst is sometimes able to reach out and draw areas of the game which were previously undocumented inside the tent, inside the focus of the statistical record. Sabermetrics is sometimes able to invent a way to correct for one or another distortion of the statistical picture.

The bad statistical anaylst , ot the other hand, will assume that what the statistical tells him must be true and complete- and by making that assumption, will forfeit his ability to add anything significant to the record.

We must look at hockey statistics. Playing winning hockey at its simplest requires being good at scoring goals and being good at preventing your opponent from scoring goals. If your team scores the most and allows the least goals your team will win. We must look at individual statistics and see how good they are as a proxy for a given player's ability to score and prevent goals.

Preventing goals is almost impossible to quantify. Right off the bat, we hit a huge roadblock. There is little to no reliable way to quantify how many goals a player has prevented being scored.

Most hockey stats attempt to quantify goal production. And they do a good (although sometimes misleading) job of this. An example of a misleading conclusion relating to goal production would be two average players. One player plays with all star linemates. The other plays with crappy linemates. The player with all star linemates will be creditted with assists and goals when his linemate did most of the work and he was just along for the ride. The player with crappy linemates will not get the same chance to score or assist. Even if he sets up a sure goal, there is no guarantee his crappy linemate will score. On the surface, these two identical average players will not appear identical because the one with the better linemates scored more often. This is misleading. In principle, I think this can be corrected for, although I am not certain I have ever seen it done successfully.

Hockey is different from baseball. It is much harder to quantify. As a result, I don't think as precise a sabermetric theory is possible. I think because of the misleading nature of some hockey stats and because many important aspects of the game are unquantifiable, many results of attempted sabermetric hockey studies produce garbage. Its not easy to shuck off the garbage from the input statistics and make something meaningful come out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Why Glenn Anderson is not a Hall of Famer

Yesterday, I wrote about why I think Mike Vernon should not be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Today I will turn my attention to Glenn Anderson. For the record my picks are here.

Glenn Anderson played in the highest scoring period in hockey history on the highest scoring team in hockey history. From that context alone, if he is to make the Hall of Fame as an offensive force he had better have some outstanding numbers. He definitely had some good numbers, but were they good enough? In his career, Anderson only once finished in the top 10 scorers in any given season (he was 9th in 82/83) and he never once made the post season all star teams. So, in any given season he was seen as a very good winger, but never a truly great one. He managed 498 career goals and 1099 points. Those are very good numbers, but in the context of where and when he played, they are not good enough. Those numbers do not differentiate him from others who are not likely going to the Hall of Fame such as Dave Taylor, Bernie Nicholls, Pierre Turgeon, Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows - and with the possible exception of Taylor (who played with Dionne - though I would argue LA was nowhere near as good a team as the Oilers), Anderson had better linemates surrounding him. I cannot see him making the Hall of Fame for several outstanding individual seasons or his career numbers.

Anderson did have playoff success. He won 6 Stanley Cups in Edmonton and New York. On the Edmonton cups he was one of the core players on the team. Nobody would argue that he was the best player on the team. He was a lesser player then Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Fuhr. He was roughly equal to a Kevin Lowe. Historically, halls of fame have had trouble deciding how many of the lesser stars on dynasty type franchises should make the hall of fame (hockey is no different - see for example Jacques Lemaire inducted as a player from the 70's Habs). Is it reasonable that a core player on a perennial cup winner makes the Hall when an equivalent player on a losing franchise does not? Yes ... if the player can be plausably shown to be the reason that his team won. Did Anderson ever win a Conn Smythe? No. Did Anderson manage a point per game in his playoff career? Again no. Although if we remove his "hanging on" years at the end of his career when he playing in his last 3 playoffs (94 with the Rangers and 95 and 96 with the Blues) then he would have a point per game. Of course we are removing his final Stanley Cup year. So there can be no claim that he was anything more than a hanger on when the Rangers won their cup.

Still, Glenn Anderson is the fourth highest playoff scorer of all time. This fact is probably the strongest argument for his induction into the Hall of Fame. His Oiler teammates Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and Coffey round out the top five playoff scorers of all time. Although, that is more a function of playing many playoff games in a very high scoring period of the NHL. Any player of near hall of fame calibre scoring ability playing under the same circumstances likely would have at least as many playoff points.

It can be argued he had "playoff longevity" if he played that many playoff games. Longevity is important and is valuable in getting a player to the Hall of Fame. Anderson didn't last nearly as long in the NHL as many of his contemporaries (some were still going up until the start of the lockout - and may continue when it ends). By his mid-30's, Anderson was more or less out of the NHL. He played parts of his last two seasons with the Canadian National Team and in Europe when he was unable to get signed to an NHL deal - he was brought back to the NHL for the stretch runs two more times. His defence was not too spectacular. As soon as his offence began to fade, there was little use for Anderson in the NHL. That's why he had trouble maintaining an NHL roster spot. His "playoff longevity" comes from playing with a dynasty team Edmonton when the length of the playoffs was expanded. It got him into more playoff games than players from older eras and players from lesser teams (including those that only managed a couple Stanley Cup victories).

Glenn Anderson was a very good offensive player. He played on one of (if not the best) teams in NHL history. He was a core member of that team when they won the cup. Howver, he was overshadowed by the other stars on the team. He was never quite as good as them. His offensive numbers benefitted somewhat by getting a chance to play with such a talented cast. He never had a season in the NHL that was truly great. His career numbers are among the best that have been acheived by non-hall of fame players, however there are others who also lack hall of fame credentials who played with weaker linemates who matched those numbers. He did put up some very good playoff career totals - despite never having a truly outstanding playoff. This was largely a function of being on a top offensive team that had many deep playoff runs in the expansion era NHL. His defence was never stellar, and as soon as his offense began to dip, Anderson was out of the NHL. This kept him from the longevity of many of his contemporaries who will make the hall.

All told, Anderson is nearly a hall of famer. He is a better pick then Mike Vernon is, but I don't think he belongs. Better choices exist. Had Anderson been an equally good player but spent his career with a weaker team (for example Vancouver or Washington), I think it would be much clearer that he did not have a hall of fame career. He benefitted by being a frontline player on a top team surrounded by hall of fame talent, but he was not quite a hall of fame talent himself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why Mike Vernon is not a Hall of Famer

This year's crop of Hall of Fame eligible players leave a little to be desired. There are few standouts in the bunch. Neil Stevens believes that of the first year eligible players Mike Vernon has the best shot at the hall. I do not believe Vernon should go there. Here are my picks.

I do not choose Mike Vernon because he isn't the best goalie available. I would argue that Rogie Vachon, Mike Liut, Chico Resch and Andy Moog are better hall of fame eligible goalies (and not all of them should make the hall).

The argument for Vernon is that he is the winningest goalie in the history of hockey who is eligible for the hall but not in it. This argument assumes that wins is a good metric to measure how good a goalie is. Wins are clearly a team stat. A good but not great goalie who plays on a series of great teams will get a lot of wins. This has become much more common in the expansion era (as opposed to the original six days) because there are many more goalies employed in the NHL. In the 50's the 20th best goalie in the world was likely in the minors. Today, he is likely an NHL starter. This allows careers of good but not great goalies to be much longer. Mike Vernon is a prime example. Had he played in the earlier days of the NHL, he would not have lasted 19 seasons. He wouldn't have been good enough for the NHL for the last several. However, he continued to play and gather wins.

Vernon clearly was a good goalie. He appeared in a few all star games. Although he never won a Vezina trophy, he was once the runner up. That alone makes his claim to be an all time great goalie a weak one. In no season was he judged to be the best goalie in the NHL (although once he was second best). What differentiates him from players like Ron Hextall and Pete Peeters who are not hall of famers and did win a Vezina in their careers?

The other argument for Vernon is his playoff success. He won two Stanley Cups with two different teams (Calgary and Detroit). Winning a Stanley Cup is a team achievement. To some degree it can be lumped into playing for a good team. But... he won the Conn Smythe trophy in his cup run in Detroit. Clearly he was a key to that run and not merely along for the ride. True. He had a very good playoff that year. However, he was not overly respected in the NHL at that point despite his Smythe win. As evidence the summer following the cup win, Detroit traded Vernon to San Jose for a couple second round draft picks. That would never happen if they thought he was the best (or even one of the best) goalies in the NHL at the time. In fact, the next year Detroit won the Stanley Cup again with Chris Osgood in net.

Mike Vernon was a good goalie. Mike Vernon won a lot of games. His win total was somewhat inflated due to his playing on top teams and playing in an expansion era that allowed him to maintain his career as a number one goalie longer than it would have in earlier eras. Wins are not a particularly good metric to measure a goaltender's ability. They are far too dependant upon the team in front of him. Vernon did have playoff success. He got very hot one year in the playoffs winning a Conn Smythe (Ron Hextall, JS Giguere, Roger Crozier and Bill Ranford did this also in other years and none of them are hall of famers). Even immediatley following his Smythe win, he was not considered an NHL star as is shown by his trade only a few weeks later. There are better goalies who are not in the Hall of Fame who are also eligible and I would not support the induction of all of them. That is why Mike Vernon should not be inducted.

Monday, May 23, 2005

NHL Sponsorship

One of the main reasons given that the NHL is considering a mid-June drop dead date for 2005/06 CBA negotiation is that it will be hard for the NHL to maintain sponsorship beyond that date for the season. This may be a deadline imposed by Gary Bettman to try to put pressure on the NHLPA, but it may also be a deadline imposed on Gary Bettman by major NHL sponsors.

Even if sponsors have set this deadline, it is likely still a bluff. Should an NHL season occur with a CBA agreement made well after June, the NHL will have many sponsors. There are few (if any) other ways to get the NHL's demographic. During the winter, where else could you advertise to garner the attention of as many young to middle aged males? In the markets where the NHL should be (ie not the Carolina's of the world), NHL sponsorship is a very good advertising situation for many products. If Labatts or Dodge stopped sponsoring games, somebody else would be happy to step up to do so. It would be a great way to establish your company. Given the possibility of labor unrest in the NBA, one major competitor for sponsorship money will not be as viable.

Of course, this is all dependant upon an NHL returning with its major stars in roughly the same format as before. Major changes to that would change the value of sponsoring a team or the league. However, it is not true that a June 15th deadline for a new CBA would be held to if no agreement was reached. Neither the NHL nor its sponsors would let that happen. There is too much money to be made when NHL hockey is played.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Hall of Fame Picks

On Friday, I promised to post the players I would select to the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. The committee meets on June 8th to consider their choices.

First I would pick Dino Ciccarelli. He has over 600 career goals. Nobody who has been eligible for induction has more goals and has not been inducted. He was a top NHL power forward 5-10 years before they even coined the term. His only knock is that he failed to win the Stanley Cup (a team trophy). However, in his rookie year he managed to take the Minnesota North Stars to the finals (as their top scorer) only to lose to the dynasty New York Islanders. Three other times he managed a trip to the semi finals. As the league has grown, so too have the number of extremely talented players who will not win Stanley Cups.

Second choice Mark Howe. Though he never won any Norris trophies, he was arguably the best defender in the NHL for a period in the 80's. He was a three time Norris runner up and a 1 time Hart trophy runner up. He was a 6 time all star. He was a 3 time Stanley Cup runner up and a 2 time Avco World trophy winner as the WHA champion. I argue that he is the best defenceman who is hall of fame eligible and not inducted.

Third choice Sergei Makarov. Its hard to accurately rate players who played in Russia in their prime versus the NHLers who mostly populate the Hall of Fame. Just how good were they relative to each other? They rarely played each other, but when they did, the tp Russians appeared to be as good as top NHLers. Makarov was the top scorer in the Russian league when the Berlin Wall fell. He came over to the NHL when he was into his 30's and was an immediate star winning the Calder trophy (he led to the NHL redefining the term rookie to exclude players of his age). He stuck around the NHL for most of the 90's but after 3 or 4 years, he started to really decline as he was well into his 30's. I think we should be conservative adding Russian stars to the Hall of Fame. Although one could argue for about a dozen players with no NHL experience being Hall of Fame worthy, there are huge error bars in those assessments. We only saw them play the top NHL players in a handful of tournaments at most. That said, Makarov is the cream of the crop and his success carried over to the NHL.

Those are my picks. In the days to come, I will post why I did not select several other high profile candidates.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Rant about bad officiating

I just got home from attending the Chicago Wolves - Manitoba Moose game two in their AHL semi-final. Chicago won 3-0. The story of the game was horrible officiating by Wes McCauley.

There were 159 minutes in penalties in a very chippy game. It became clear very early in the game, that McCauley was afraid to do anything decisive to decide the game, so he made a common mistake among inexperienced officials. He tried to keep the penalties even. If Chicago took a penalty, then very soon, Manitoba would be given an even up penalty. If Manitoba took a penalty, then very soon Chicago was given a penalty. It was predicatable. By the mid-point in the first period, the players were starting to catch onto this. If your team is "down a penalty" you can get away with anything short of bloody murder - so why not bend the rules. The first minor retaliation will send the other team to the penalty box. Both teams were playing this game. When you become one penalty ahead of the other team, you can get away with cheapshots that won't be called. McCauley is only looking for the penalty to make things even. As a result, the game got away from the officials and many more fights and penalties occurred.

I have done a bit of officiating in my youth (though hardly at an AHL level). Just call it like you see it. If one team keeps going to the box and the other doesn't - so be it. That team should be penalized for repeatedly breaking rules. No need to look for a phantom penalty to call on the other team and no need to ease up on the over-penalized team because they are up a penalty or two. If you decisively and repeatably make the same call for the same play regardless of the game situation (same thing thats a penalty in the 1st period is a penaly in the 3rd period even if the game is close) you will gain respect. When you play stupid games like trying to keep the penalties even between the teams regardless of if they actually are even on the ice, the game can get away. Players know when they can and cannot get away with cheapshots and with extra cheapshots going uncalled, tempers will flare.

The box score for the game can be found here. Kari Lehtonen looked good in a shutout - although the Chicago defence prevented many tough shots on him. Chicago was the better team on the ice. Both teams played very chippy cheap games. Several fights occurred. Lots of pushing and shoving after every whistle. Most of this could have been prevented with good officiating. By trying not to make any decisive calls (ie both teams get the same number of penalties called on them) Wes McCauley became the most noticable guy on the ice. He failed today.

Drop Dead Date?

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun is reporting that NHL is considering a drop dead date for the 2005/06 season believed to be June 15th. You can read the story here. In principle, I see why the NHL would like a deal with plenty of time to sell tickets and keep TV rights and sponsors happy, but it is ridiculous to think that if a deal was struck in August or October or even January of 2006, they won't want to have some kind of season.

This story may be merely Garrioch's opinion or it may be the NHL trying to put public pressure on the NHLPA (little exists right now - since they don't miss any paycheques for months). This kind of announcement would only serve to anger the NHLPA. Lately, negotiation has occurred for long hours. Both sides are reportedly pouring over revenue numbers trying to understand and define the complicated revenues and costs of the NHL - which vary (often significantly) from club to club. The basics of revenue and costs must be agreed upon before they can agree to any deal that includes either of them in its CBA. This is very complicated and will take a long time. This is progress - even if it is small progress. Announcing a drop dead date a month or less away does not help.

Should the NHL not play next year, the league may be dead. Can you imagine a business the size of the NHL shutting down for two complete years and coming back successfully? Has that ever happened? We may go through a period of no major pro hockey league - eventually one will fill the void, but it may take a generation for it to develop. Isn't that a sad possibility for hockey fans? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hall of Fame Media Honorees

The Hockey Hall of Fame added two media honorees on Thursday. New York Rangers broadcaster Sal Mussina and Los Angeles Times sportswriter Helene Elliott were inducted. You can read about it here. The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps its media honorees separate from the rest of its honored members and doesn't give much publicity to these inductions.

I have never attempted to predict these inductions because there are so many markets with good (and bad) writers and broadcasters that I have little to no access to, making me unable to give an informed opinion. I know both Elliott and Mussina have been on the job for many years and have had some access to them, but have never lived in either of their markets, so I canot claim to know them well.

The bigger Hall of Fame story will be the June 8th player inductions. In the couple of weeks to come before them, I intend to post who I would induct (and why) and probably more controversially why I would not induct some of the other more popular choices.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

AHL Semi-Finals

The Calder Cup playoffs in the AHL are going to the semi-finals. Its been a good playoff so far and as the stakes get bigger in the remaining rounds it should only get better.

In the Eastern Conference final, the Providence Bruins will meet the Philadelphia Phantoms. In the Western Conference final, the Chicago Wolves will meet the Manitoba Moose. Chicago is considered a runaway favorite given their late season additions. The other three teams are solid teams that won more then they lost in the regular season, but none can be truly considered favorites. The Manitoba Moose are a big story in Canada. They have given those remaining hockey fans in the country something to cheer about.

Some of the stars of the playoffs to date include Andy Hilbert of Providence, Jeff Carter of Philadelphia, Lee Goren of Manitoba and Kari Lehtonen of Chicago. Should be an exciting set of semi-finals.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Memorial Cup

One of the most exciting annual hockey tournaments (especially in a non-NHL year) is the Memorial Cup. It is the championship tournament for the CHL junior leagues. This year, it will be fought between the WHL champion Kelowna Rockets, the OHL champion London Knights (who are also the host), the QMJHL champion Rimouski Oceanic and the OHL runners up Ottawa 67's who are the best non-host team in the OHL (as the host gets an automatic berth).

Most people are expecting a coming out party for 17 year old Sidney Crosby of Rimouski. Other players to watch include 2004 first round picks Corey Perry (Anaheim) and Robbie Schremp (Edmonton) of London, Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Edmonton) of Rimouski and Lukas Kaspar (San Jose) of Ottawa, as well as two defencemen with World Junior Championship experience for Canada, Shea Weber (Nashville) of Kelowna and Danny Syvret (undrafted) of London.

The tournament begins on Saturday.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hall of Fame Chances from this Season

This hockey season was far from a normal one - due to the lack of an NHL. However, hockey did happen (and in a few cases is still happening). The highest level hockey probably occurred in two short tournaments- the World Cup and the World Championships. Some higher then normal level hockey occurred in Europe and in the AHL due to the extra NHL players on the rosters - but it was clearly a lower level then in the NHL. The question is in this abnormal year have the hall of fame chances of any players changed?

The players who have already had Hall of Fame careers before the season began still have had Hall of Fame careers. These guys include Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman and Scott Stevens (as well as others). Nothing they can do can keep them from the hall of fame - including a year without playing.

Probably the biggest beneficiaries this season are players who can make some claim for having been the berst player in the world this year. Due to the fact that the top players in the world rarely played against each other, there are several players that have plausable claims to this. For example, Joe Thornton and Rick Nash with top play in the World Championships and in Switzerland could make this claim. Pavol Demitra with top play in the world Championships and in Slovakia could also make this claim. With his gold medal game shutout in the world Championships, Tomas Vokoun can also make this claim. As MVP of the World Cup, Vincent LeCavallier could make this claim. With his goaltending leading a suprise Finland team to the World Cup finals, I think Miikka Kiprusoff could also make this claim. None of these players have had Hall of Fame careers yet, but one day they might as their plausable claim for being the top player in the world during this strange season helps their cases.

Some top players who didn't play much at all (possibly only in the World Cup) also increased their chances a bit (although not as much as a full NHL season of top play would have). For example, assuming Jarome Iginla or Scott Niedermayer continue to be top players after the lockout ends, it is a logical assumption that they would have been the same top player they were before the lockout and after the lockout had they had the chance to play during it. If their career numbers are close, the would likely be given the benefit of the doubt based on what they logically would have accomplished this year had it been a normal year.

I don't think any player who was not a Hall of Famer going into this season has established himself as one now, but it is not truly a null season, the Hall of Fame chances of many players have changed over the year.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

World Championships Medals

The World Hockey Championships ended today. Highest level hockey we will likely see in the world until the NHL starts up again (assuming that it does). Medal round occurred today.

Bronze- 4th game. Russia 6 Sweden 3. Russia jumped out to an early lead on a Maxim Afinogenov goal and never looked back. Henrik Lundqvist was chased from the net after allowing 3 first period goals. In total Afinogenov totalled 2 goals and an assist. Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and two assists. Evgeni Malkin had two assists. It was a very good day for the top draft picks from 2004. Henrik Sedin had a goal and an assist for Sweden.

Gold- Silver Game. Czech Republic 3 Canada 0. Tomas Vokoun stopped 29 shots for the shutout. Vaclav Prospal, Martin Rucinsky and Josef Vasicek with the goals. Jaromir Jagr had two assists.

A bit ironic that the only games in the playoffs that were not close were the medal games. It was nice to have this tournament for those of us hockey deprived fans who missed the NHL season. However, an NHL season would have been better.

Semi Finals at the World Hockey Championships

The World Hockey Championship semi-finals occurred yesterday. The finals are currently underway. I will write on them soon. Two more one goal games. So far all the playoff games have been one goal games.

Canada 4 Russia 3 - Canada took a 4-0 lead on goals by Wade Redden, Sheldon Souray, Dany Heatley and Ed Jovanovski. Joe Thornton had 3 assists. Canada struggled to hang on as Russia came alive scoring three unanswered goals from Alexander Semin, Alexei Yashin and Alexander Ovechkin. Canada hung on.

Czech Republic 3 Sweden 2 (OT) - In the second period, Jonas Hoglund and Petr Cajanek exchanged goals for a 1-1 tie. In the third, Martin Straka and Daniel Sedin exchanged goals. 2-2 tie. Fortunately before overtime ended and a shootout was forced upon us, Radek Dvorak netted the game winner in sudden death.

Friday, May 13, 2005

What about Todd?

Just a quick reminder to Gary Bettman that he met with Todd Bertuzzi 17 days ago and still has not made any definitive announcement about the results of the meeting? Is it too much to expect that he announces that either the suspension is over or that the suspension will continue X amount longer? Why can't he even get this done?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

World Championship Quarter Finals

Today the four quarter finals in the World Hockey Championships were played. Every one was a close game.

Russia 4 Finland 3 (shootout) - First, I would like to say that shootouts are an awful way to end a game. Finland took a 2-0 lead on goals by Petri Pakaslahti and one creditted to Jukka Hentunen that the Russians put into their own net. Alexander Ovechkin and Sergei Gusev tied it up. Kimmo Timonen put Finland up 3-2 with a power play goal. Pavel Datsyuk tied it up again with a short handed goal. They played out 60 minutes. Then 70 minutes. Then a shootout which Russia won. Did I mention that shootouts are an awful way to end a game?

Sweden 2 Switzerland 1 - The Swiss took an early lead on Martin Pluss's goal. Niklas Kronwall tied it up and assisted on Daniel Sedin's game winner.

Czech Republic 3 USA 2 (shootout) - Once again, I would like to point out that a shootout is an awful way to end a game. Mike Modano and Mark Parrish gave the US a 2-0 lead with Brett Hauer assisting on both goals. Marek Zidlicky and Jaroslav Spacek tied it up. Rick DiPietro played a strong game facing over 50 shots. The Americans were lucky to get to overtime and a shootout tied, but they lost the shootout. If this had been a highly watched, highly anticipated game that the US lost on a shootout, it might have been enough to kill the NHL's plans for shootouts. Unfortunately, nobody watched since it wasn't even broadcast in USA. Shootouts are an awful way to end a game. Unfortunately, nobody in the US market even noticed that one occurred.

Canada 5 Slovakia 4 - Slovakia jumped out to an early lead with Marian Gaborik scoring in the first minute. The teams alternated goals to end with a 2-2 tie at the end of the first with Dany Heatley, Michal Handzus and Ryan Smyth all scoring. In the second period Simon Gagne gave Canada a 3-2 lead and Pavol Demitra tied it up. Demitra put the Slovaks in the lead in the 3rd, but Simon Gane and Joe Thornton scored to give Canada the lead and the win. Rick Nash had 3 assists in the contest for Canada. Lubomir Visnovsky had 2 assists for the Slovaks.

Four games all decided by one goal or less. Czechs and Swedes will meet in one semi final and Canada and Russia in the other.

Did I mention that a shootout is an awful way to end a game? I wish the American fans had a chance to see that firsthand. I wish the backlash from the shootout was enough to stop the NHL from bringing them in. Unfortunately, that won't be the case.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

World Championship Playoffs

The preliminary round at the World Hockey Championships is now over. Eight teams have qualified for the playoffs. One group (Group E) was won by the Russia, Czech Republic took second (technically The Russians and Czech tied in points, but Russia defeated the Czech in their head-to-head meeting), Slovakia third and Switzerland fourth. The other group (Group F) was won by Sweden, Canada took second, USA third and Finland fourth. The quarter finals will take place tomorrow. Czech Republic meets USA, Russia meets Finland, Canada meets Slovakia and Sweden meets Switzerland. Should be some good hockey.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Unknown Goalies at the World Championships

Perhaps the biggest suprise in the World Championships so far has been the play of two goaltenders, Andrei Mezin of Belarus and Vitaliy Kolesnik of Kazakhstan. Neither were on the NHL radar before the tournament. Both have played extremely well behind weak teams that have allowed far too many shots on them, but both maintain low goals against averages and high saves percentages. Arguably, they have been the two best best goalies in the tournament so far.

Andrei Mezin is a well travelled goalie. In the 90's he played minor pro hockey in North America in every major league that existed at the time (AHL, IHL, ECHL, UHL and CoHL). He wasn't a standout at any point and was not drafted or signed by any NHL team. In 1998, he returned to Europe playing in the German league. He stayed there for three seasons. He has split his time between the Russian and Czech leagues since. It is only in his past couple seasons where he has started to put up really good numbers. He will turn 31 years old this summer, which makes him no longer a real NHL prospect. However, if he can play NHL hockey as well as he has played in the World Championships, there is little question that he could be a useful NHL goalie. His statistics can be found here.

Vitaliy Kolesnik is a far less travelled goalie. He has spent his career so far playing for a Kazakh team in a Russian league putting up some good numbers. This league is one step below the Russian elite league. He has played internationally for Kazakhstan several times in the World Junior Championships and later the World Championships. He will turn 26 this summer and is thus far undrafted in the NHL. His statistics can be found here.

Probably Kolesnik has a better chance at a meaningful NHL career since he is younger, although Mezin has played better so far in the World Championships. It is far to early to declare that either of these goalies could be NHL stars beased on only a handful of World Championship games, but they both appear to possess the ability. It probably helps that neither have been well scouted, so any potential holes in their games remain unknown to the players they are facing. If they were given a chance to play regularly in the NHL, these holes would be discovered and the longterm success or failure of these goalies would be based upon how well they can react to these scouting reports and continue to keep opposing players off balance.

If I was drafting for an NHL team, I would seriously consider asking Kolesnik if he was interested in coming to play in North America and invest a later round draft pick in him if he says "Yes".

Monday, May 09, 2005

Updating the World Championships

Originally, I planned to have little updates of all the games in the World Hockey Championships in this blog such as I did in this post, unfortunately I had computer problems that prevented me from blogging last week. Over a week's worth of game updates seems to be a bit much, so I will merely summarize what has happened so far in the tournament.

Teams we put into four groups of four teams for the qualifying round. Each group played a round robin amongst themselves and the top 3 teams moved on.

Group A consisted of Austria, Belarus, Russia and Slovakia. Austria was eliminated getting outscored 17-3 in their 3 games.

Group B consisted of Canada, Latvia, Slovenia and the United States. Slovenia was eliminated getting outscored 18-1 in their 3 games.

Group C consisted of Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Ukraine. Denmark was eliminated getting outscored 11-2 in their 3 games.

Group D consisted of Czech Republic, Germany, Kazakhstan and Switzerland. Germany was eliminated getting outscored 9-2 in their 3 games.

The three remaining teams in group A joined the 3 remaining teams in group D to form a 6 team group E. Teams play against the teams from the other qualifying group and keep their results versus the teams in their group that they had already played in the qualifying round. This is currently underway. The top 4 teams in this group move onto the playoffs. Russia currently leads this group with 8 points in their 5 games. The Czech Republic has 4 games played and 6 points and can tie the Russians in points with a win in their final game vs. Belarus. Russia would still win the group having beaten the Czechs in their head-to-head meeting. Slovakia and Switzerland have clinched the other two playoff berths leaving Belarus and Kazakhstan eliminated.

The group B and C teams that survived qualifying also move nto a 6 team group called group F. Sweden leads this group with 6 points in 4 games. They face Latvia in their final game. Canada can catch Sweden if Sweden loses and the Canadians defeat Ukraine as Canada had 5 points in 4 games. USA has clinched a playoff berth also with 6 points in 5 games. Should Sweden and Canada both lose, USA win the group. Finland will most likely get the last playoff berth, although with a win in their final game it is mathematically possible that Latvia could make playoffs. Ukraine is eliminated.

Some of the top scorers in the tournament so far have been Rick Nash and Joe Thornton of Canada and Zigmund Palffy of Slovakia. The best goalies have come from the overmatched teams that have been overpowered in this tournament. Andrei Mezin of Belarus and Vitaliy Kolesnik of Kazakhstan have probably been the best goalies. Maybe one day we will see them in the NHL.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Back Up - Lets Update the AHL

I am sorry that I haven't written any posts in a week, I had some computer problems. I think I have fixed everything up. I find it quite fun to maintain an older PC. You learn a lot and its not that expensive to find replacement parts if you mess something up. Anyway ... on to hockey ...

One story I had been following that occurred this week is the start of the 2nd round of the AHL playoffs.

In the second round, the Manitoba Moose (who defeated St John's in the first round) meet the Rochester Americans (who beat Hamilton).

The Chicago Wolves (who beat Houston) meet the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks (who beat Milwaukee).

The Providence Bruins (who beat Manchester) meet the Lowell Lock Monsters (who beat Hartford).

The Philadelphia Phantoms (who beat Norfolk) meet the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (who beat Binghamton).

Some of the top scorers in the playoffs so far have been Andy Hilbert of Providence, Simon Gamache of Milwaukee, Patrick Sharp of Philadelphia and Joffrey Lupul of Cincinnati. Some of the more successful goalies have been Antero Niittymaki of Philadelphia and Kari Lehtonen of Chicago.

Apologies for this post being a few games into the second round. I hope to do better at the end of this round.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

First Weekend World Championship Hockey

The highest level competitive hockey we will see in the world this spring is likely going to be the World Championships, so I will cover it. After two days of play we have seen each team play once.

Russia 4 Austria 2 - A tough match for the home country of Austria, but they performed well. Goaltender Bernd Brueckler stopped 31 of 34 shots from the far more talented Russian team. It was tied 2-2 with less than 4 minutes remaining beofre Alexei Kovalev scored the eventual game winner. Ilya Kovlachuk added an empty net insurance goal.

Canada 6 Latvia 4 - Another tough battle. Rick Nash paced the Canadian team with a hat trick plus an assist. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were other players gathering multiple points for Canada.

Slovakia 2 Belarus 1 - Goaltenders Jan Lasak for Slovakia and Andrei Mezin for Belarus kept both teams off the scoreboard for the first 2 periods. Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa both scored a goal and assisted the other one.

Finland 2 Denmark 1 - Finland played a very good game keeping Denmark to only 15 shots. Niko Kapanen scored the eventual game winner and assisted the other goal. It would have been a Finland shutout if not for Kasper Degn scoring for Denmark in the final minute.

Czech Republic 3 Switzerland 1 - Czechs played a solid game. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 22 of 23 Swiss shots. Vaclav Varada had a goal and an assist for the Czechs. Pavel Kubina 2 assists.

USA 7 Slovenia 0 - The Slovenian team was badly overpowered. I dont think the Americans are the dominant team in the tournament, merely the Slovenians are the "weak sister". Rick DiPietro stopped 15 shots for the shutout. Mike Knuble led the US offence with 2 goals. The only other multiple point scorers in the balanced US attack were Brian Gionta with a goal and an assist and Erik Cole with 2 assists.

Kazakhstan 2 Germany 1 - A mild upset. Kazaks got two first period goals from Dmitri Upper and Yevgeniy Koroshkov and held on the rest of the way. Their goalie Vitaliy Kolesnik stopped 32 of 33 shots.

Sweden 3 Ukraine 2 - Sweden threw all they had at Ukraine goalie Kostyantyn Simchuk, but he stopped 44 of 47 shots. It was tied until mid 3rd period when Daniel Alfresson scored the winner to go with an earlier assist. Thomas Rhodin scored 2 assists.

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