Saturday, May 27, 2006

Early Conn Smythe Favorite

In the playoff second round, I had picked Ilya Bryzgalov as the very early Conn Smythe favorite. He is no longer playing as unbeatably. In fact, Anaheim's only third round win came with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net and Bryzgalov on the bench. It is time to pick a new Conn Smythe leader. My choice is Chris Pronger. From defence, he is tied for second in scoring in the NHL playoffs with 17 points. He has a very good +9 +/- rating that leads his Oiler team. His 31:40 ice time per game leads the playoffs among players who are still active in the Stanley Cup race. Chris Pronger is having a wonderful playoff so far.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hall of Fame Media Awards

It has become an annual event that during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Hockey Hall of Fame give out their media award inductions. This year the broadcaster selected was Peter Maher who gets the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for his work as the radio voice of the Calgary Flames, a position he has held since the franchise arrived in Calgary in 1980. The journalist selected is Scott Morrison who gets the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award. Morrison is the managing editor of hockey at Rogers Sportsnet. Prior to that, Morrison was the sports editor of the Toronto Sun, a position he rose to in 1991 after several years of work as a columnist and a hockey writer (work he continued during his time as editor). Both are worthy inductees.

On June 28th, the remaining inductees will be announced. Here are my picks for the players who I would induct.

Here is TSN's story about the Hall of Fame announcements.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hall of Fame Picks 2006

After the playoffs end, the Hall of Fame committee will induct the class of 2006. While I am thinking about it I thought I would post the players I would induct were I a member of the committee. Here were my picks last year. You might notice none of my choices were inducted. So I could pick the same crew as last year, but I won't. There are some newcomers this season who are ready for induction.

In 2007, there will be a large class of new potential inductees as all the players who retired at the end of the 2003/04 season are eligible as well as those who retired before the start of the 2005/06 year after the lockout ended. As a result, this is the last chance (for a while anyway) for the players who were considered in 2005 to get serious Hall of Fame consideration.

From the group of newcomers who are first time eligible, I would induct Patrick Roy, Doug Gilmour and Phil Housley.

Patrick Roy is pretty obvious. Many consider him the best goalie of all time.

Doug Gilmour is the 16th highest point scorer of all time. He was also a respected defensive forward who garnered the 1993 Selke Trophy and serious Hart Trophy consideration.

Phil Housley is the 33rd highest point scorer of all time (and he did it from defence!). He is the fourth highest point scoring defenceman of all time. While some criticized his defence at times, if you put any importance into scoring, the fourth highest scoring defender ever belongs in the Hall of Fame.

As my fourth and final pick (the Hall is limited to 4 skater inductions per year - under normal circumstances) I bring back Dino Ciccarelli. It is politcs and not hockey that keep him out. He may not have been the most likeable person to the members of the Hall of Fame committee. He retired the nineth highest goal scorer of all time (though has dropped to 13th since retirement). If we believe goals are important to hockey, a player like Ciccarelli needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

In the past, I supported Mark Howe and Sergei Makarov for the Hall as well. I still do. I think they will have to wait for another year. Maybe after the glut of lockout retirements have passed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Problem With Parity

The Stanley Cup playoffs (especially the later rounds) are supposed to be epic battles between great teams. This year, this doesn't seem to be the case. None of the four truly remaining playoff teams look to me as great teams that win Stanley Cups.

A truly great team can be measured by a few metrics. I will choose two as examples (which I think demonstrate the problem). A truly great team has an elite goalie who is one of the best in the NHL. A truly great team (one that wins the Stanley Cup any year in recent memory) has at least four or five (and in many cases even more) players who are clearly on Hall of Fame tracks in their career.

This year, the four remaining playoff goalies are Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller, Dwayne Roloson and Cam Ward. At no point in any of their careers have any been mistaken for a Vezina nominee. That statement is a little bit unfair because three are rookies. Of the rookies, none have ever been mistaken for a Calder nominee. Can a rookie goalie win the Stanley Cup? Sure he can. In my memory, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy accomplished that feat. They are both elite goaltenders who go down among the best goaltenders of all time. Are any of the rookies this year? Maybe, but it is unlikely. Bryzgalov and Miller are on the old side for rookies both at age 25. Most elite rookie goalies are established NHLers by that age (I am sure we can all think of exceptions to that rule - but that's exactly what they are exceptions to the rule). Cam Ward is younger and might be more likely to become an elite goalie based only upon his age, but he is probably the least accomplished of the three rookie goalies right now. As for Dwayne Roloson, he's a solid NHL goalie, but he's never been mistaken for a superstar and at age 35 its awfully unlikely he will develop into one.

There are no goalies left in the playoffs that are clearly on Hall of Fame tracks. It’s not impossible that one of the rookies might get himself onto one, but he certainly is not there yet.

What about other positions? There are two clear Hall of Fame track (perhaps I should define this term - a hall of fame track player is a player who will quite likely make the hall of fame based upon logical projection of his statistics throughout the rest of his career) defencemen in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. There really isn't anybody else out there who comes close. As far as good defencemen who look to make a few all star games in their lives, but not the Hall of Fame, there is Teppo Numminen of Buffalo (though he is 36 years old as has problems with a rapid heartbeat, so he is no longer in his prime) and maybe Glen Wesley (who is 37 and has 3 goals since the start of the 2002 season). Aside from that we have Jaroslav Spacek (maybe but I might bet against it), Jay McKee (maybe but he'll have to stay healthy and find himself a bigger market to play in to get the correct reputation) and Francois Beauchemin (far too early to seriously suggest him, but as a rookie its hard to place limits on his upside). None of them are the truly great players who are likely to even get some failed Hall of Fame support (except Numminen and possibly Wesley). We only have two Hall of Fame track players in goal and on defence in the four remaining playoff teams.

At forward, there are a few more Hall of Fame track players. Anaheim has Teemu Selanne. Carolina has Mark Recchi and Eric Staal. Among the good but not quite Hall of Fame track, Carolina also has Rod Brind'Amour and Doug Weight (given the fact they are well into their 30's and have a way to go to move up the all time scoring lists, I doubt either ever make the hall). Edmonton has Ryan Smyth, who looks far more likely to project to be a Doug Weight type then a Hall of Fame. Buffalo has Daniel Briere, who doesn't project as a Hall of Famer at this point. Anaheim might offer Andy McDonald who at age 28 is giving us his first all star numbers and that is likely too late for a hall of fame type career.

All told, I count 5 hall of fame track players among the four remaining playoff teams. A typical Stanley Cup winner of years past had that on their team alone. In 2001/02, Detroit offered Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, Larionov, Hull, Robitaille, Lidstrom, Chelios and Hasek (which has got to be the most future hall of famers in recent
memory on one team). In 2004, Tampa Bay offered four people I would place on a Hall of Fame track: Brad Richards, Martin St Louis, Vincent LeCavalier and Dave Andreychuk.

This season will have the worst Stanley Cup winner in recent memory.

Why is that? The CBA was designed to bring the truly elite to the level of the mediocre (at least in its first season or two). The salary cap kept truly great teams from existing this year.

In fact, I think the best model of the NHL is that there are about 20 teams that are roughly equivalent in ability and can beat any other on any give day. There are about ten teams that have been poorly enough managed that they are not on that level. Should the eventual Stanley Cup champions have to play a series against one of the better non-playoff teams that are among the 20 good teams (Vancouver, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Toronto maybe) would the Stanley Cup winner win that series? I'm not so sure they would. In fact there is an almost 50% chance they wouldn't. The difference between mediocre and perceived to be good (Stanley Cup final four) and mediocre and perceived to be bad (missed the playoffs) is tiny. In many cases it comes down to luck. If we played out the season again with the same teams and different luck, quite likely at least one of the final four teams would miss the playoffs. When we play next season, with slightly different lineups, I bet one or more of the final four teams misses the playoffs. It could even be the Stanley Cup winner. Imagine that. Misses playoffs, wins cup, misses playoffs in consecutive (if you do not count a lockout) years. Hard to argue that a team like that would not be the worst Stanley Cup winner in recent memory.

So what can be done about this? Nothing needs to be done. The CBA is not designed for parity. Salary caps will significantly climb next year. Free agency has been significantly liberalized for next year (younger UFAs and less compensation for RFAs). That alone will go a long way toward allowing elite teams to be built. The bigger market teams will be able to afford to sign elite free agents (in their prime vs. past their prime in the old CBA) and have larger payrolls then the smaller market teams (even the final four this year). It will be good for NHL marketing if there is a roughly 50% chance in any given year that a moderately well run New York franchise will make the final four. Sure there will still be Cinderella teams, but it will be David against Goliath battles in the playoffs. A Goliath will exist, unlike this year when it is David vs David.

Is that better for hockey? I'm not sure that it is. I was happy with the old CBA. I was happy with a situation where a team that was skilled (and lucky) enough to draft a really elite core got to keep their core together for its lifetime and not worry about free agency until the players started to decline and until they had several years of success to maximize revenues. It is the nature of the game that an elite core remains an elite core for many years and probably wins multiple cups. It seemed that any market could build that core. New Jersey did with a stadium in the middle of nowhere (East Rutherford is a parking lot) and an attendance that is below league averages even when they are defending Stanley Cup champions. Tampa Bay built such a team (but they were derailed by lockout and CBA). The big market Rangers couldn't despite all the money they threw at the problem. Fans were brainwashed to believe that Denver, Detroit and East Rutherford were big markets and change was needed to keep them from winning in perpetuity. Now we have the situation where a New York, Chicago or Los Angeles can win a cup with competent ownership by throwing money at the problem. We didn't before.

In the meantime to set up this system, fans have to suffer though a year lost to lockout. Then they get a playoff where four teams battle to be the worst Stanley Cup winner in recent memory. There are no battles between two elite powers because there are no two elite powers. There is not even one elite power. We will get a Stanley Cup champ who is not significantly better than the non-playoff Atlanta Thrashers or Vancouver Canucks.

This rant was inspired by the comments on this post and is similar in thinking to that of Tom Benjamin.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Predictions For The Third Round

Why are you reading my predictions? Haven't I proven that I don't know anything yet? After an 0 for 4 in the second round maybe your best bet is to bet on all the teams I pick to lose. At least my first round was less embarrassing.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks defeat Edmonton Oilers Both teams are playing well right now. Anaheim has sustained it for a longer period of time dating back into the regular season. I would have never guessed that this would be the Western Final when the playoffs began.

Carolina Hurricanes defeat Buffalo Sabres Carolina is the only team left that had a strong run throughout the whole season. They added Doug Weight and Mark Recchi near the trade deadline, so they were not left out when other teams upgraded late in the year. I expect a comment from this guy telling me how I am wrong about Buffalo. Maybe my failure to pick the Sabres will ensure they make the finals.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

AHL Playoffs Second Round

The second round of the AHL playoffs are complete. Look back at the first round here.

Portland Pirates defeat Hartford Wolf Pack 4 games to 2 Zenon Konopka leads the AHL playoffs in scoring for the high scoring Portland (Ducks affiliate) team. They are also getting big offensive contributions from Ryan Shannon, Shane O'Brien and Pierre Parenteau. The Hartford (Rangers affiliate) offence is lead by Alexandre Giroux and Nigel Dawes.

Hershey Bears sweep Wilkes-Barre\Scranton Penguins in four games This was largely a goalie battle where Frederic Cassivi of the Capital affiliate in Hershey beat out Dany Sabourin of the Penguins affiliate.

Grand Rapids Griffins beat Manitoba Moose in a tight seven game series Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula were the top scorers for the Red Wings affiliate Griffins while Alexandre Burrows lead the way for the Canuck affiliate.

Milwaukee Admirals swept the Houston Aeros in four straight Darren Haydar and Simon Gamache lead the way offensively for the Predators affiliates in Milwaukee. Patrick O'Sullivan is the top offensive player on the Wild affiliate.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Orca Bay's Mistake

It is too early to make definitive statements under the current CBA as to how to build a Stanley Cup winning team, but we are beginning to get some hints by looking at the five teams that still remain in this years playoffs. All of these teams left salary cap room to maneuver as it became necessary during the season. There we other teams that fell off during the season and playoffs such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Philadelphia and New Jersey that were effectively at the salary cap when the season began. By August or September, the team's makeup was determined. Should anything not go according to plan, there was no room for plan B. The teams that left salary cap room, in this case Edmonton, San Jose, Anaheim, Buffalo and Carolina all were able to fine tune their plan into February and the trade deadline in March. Its really not a complex idea, that if I have to set my team in August or September and you can set it in February or March, then you will probably beat me. This is because you will have much more up to date information from which to set your team.

Vancouver is a great case study to see this. Vancouver had Brian Burke as general manager. He had built the team from a non-playoff failure into a serious contender. Burke rebuilt the team while all the while claiming that he wasn't. He did so by always having a plan B. He did so by not locking himself in down one road after it was clear it wasn't likely to work out.

Then Orca Bay ownership decided to go cheap on management (a HUGE mistake - history shows that the best way to build a good team is to hire a very good hockey man as GM and then leave him alone). Orca Bay thought that Brian Burke was essentially interchangable with his assistant Dave Nonis. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Nonis locked in as many of Burke's top players with large contracts that pushed Vancouver to the salary cap limit. Nonis let a lot of Vancouver's depth (Malik, Sopel, Chubarov) leave. It created a top heavy salary structure with no depth. It allowed for no plan B when injuries occured to Dan Cloutier or to the Vancouver defence. Effectively these injuries and the lack of a method to deal with them killed the Vancouver season and cost them a playoff berth.

Brian Burke went to Anaheim. While it looked at first as though he might lock in his whole season's roster with free agent signings (particularly Scott and Rob Niedermayer), this wasn't the case. Burke was not afraid to trade big names such as Sergei Fedorov and Sandis Ozolinsh. Basically, Burke saw that Anaheim had a very good group of young players who needed more playing time, so he got rid of some older underacheiving players taking ice time from them. Burke had a Plan B, when plan A of riding the roster as it stood at the start of the season did not look like the best plan. Nonis had no Plan B, so he rode Plan A right out of the playoffs.

Although I would rather have teams that were built to be strong without CBA provisions such as a salary cap which is designed to prevent elite teams and keep more teams mediocre, if one must live by this provision, one must make sure to have salary room to make adjustments throughout the season, instead of locking in the roster at the start of the year.

Vancouver made the wrong choices. They made it in a serious way that shows ownership has a systemic lack of understanding about how to build a winner. Can Vancouver consider firing their owners?

NOTE: I am moving and will likely not be able to blog for a while until I am set up in my new home.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Buffalo Eliminates "Best Team In The NHL"

I believe that when healthy, Ottawa is the most dominant team in the NHL, but their health down the stretch was questionable. Particularly, they went into the playoffs without future Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek in goal and rookie Ray Emery starting instead. While Emery was a satisfactory goaltender in the playoffs, he never stole a game for Ottawa the way Hasek likely would have. I think their result was almost as I predicted. Ottawa was the best team in the NHL, but they have an achilles heal in goal. Now that he is into his forties can injury-prone Dominik Hasek possibly hold up an entire season?

The Buffalo Sabres played a very good series (they had to in order to eliminate Ottawa). It was a much closer series than the 4 games to one record would show. Each game was a one goal game. Three of the games were decided in overtime. The mere substitution of Ray Emery with a healthy Dominik Hasek would likely be more than enough to change the tide in the series. I bet with a healthy Hasek, Ottawa could have won the series in about five games.

Ottawa now goes down as one of the best teams to NOT win the Stanley Cup. In part, they have the new CBA to blame for this. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to keep their team together next year. Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara will reach unrestricted free agency (liberalized free agency will be a serious problem in this CBA). Martin Havlat is also a restricted free agent this summer. A salary cap will prevent Ottawa from having the money necessary to pay for the raises each of these players deserve. Likely at least one of (and maybe both) of Redden and Chara will wind up in other markets next year.

Ottawa must also address the question of their goaltending. He turns 42 next season. Although he is clearly a good goalie when healthy, even at an advanced age, what are the chances he remains healthy? They have to be very low. Is there any possible way to address this issue under a salary cap? They don't likely have the money to offer a proven goalie. The new CBA is bad for Ottawa it is costing them another few shots at the Stanley Cup.

Buffalo wont likely come out much better. They have several key players who will become unrestricted free agents, who have played well enough to deserve significant raises and Buffalo cannot afford to pay them all.

This Ottawa vs. Buffalo series was a good one. I would like to be able to see these two teams battle for the Northeast Division title next year. Although they might do so, they will both be weakened teams after the CBA forces them to be somewhat dismantled.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Edmonton's Improved Goaltending (or Weakened Defence?)

During the most of the regular season, the Edmonton Oilers suffered from poor goaltending. The trio of Ty Conklin, Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison had very poor saves percentages while facing one of the lowest numbers of shots per game. This changed when the Oilers acquired Dwayne Roloson from Minnesota. He is clearly a better goalie than the previous goalies. The Oilers improved themselves shorterm, but I think it will cause longterm pain.

The situation has changed in the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers now have allowed the most shots per game at 36.5. But the team is still winning. Their goals against average with Roloson is a respectable 2.60. One factor that can partially explain the high shots per game is the three overtime game against San Jose (more time on ice should mean more shots faced right?). But its clearly not a big enough factor - in fact San Jose only took 34 shots in the three overtime game. The team that took the most shots per game in the playoffs so far is the first round opponent Detroit. In fact Detroit took 39.7 shots per game against Edmonton (with that many shots its amazing they didn't win).

So Edmonton's goaltending is significantly better with Roloson in goal. But suprisingly their defence has started to allow far more shots. Edmonton will have to fix up those defensive problems if they are to eliminate San Jose.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Story OLN Missed

I just finished watching the Edmonton Oilers win game four of their series with the San Jose Sharks by a 6-3 score on OLN. OLN has had problems in their regular season coverage, but their playoff coverage is somewhat improved. If OLN really wants to become the hockey network in the United States they need to cover all the major hockey stories and they missed an important one tonight.

The Edmonton game was broadcast from the CBC feed with intermissions with OLN talking heads Bill Clement, Brian Engblom and Keith Jones. During the third period, they broke to a scene from a bar on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton (my guess is Boston Pizza) where the fans were ecstatic. This was part of the CBC coverage. After the game was over they went to Clement et al and there was no further mention of one of the biggest stories of the playoffs. The celebration in Edmonton when the Oilers have playoff success is one significant playoff story.

Edmonton is a hockey mad city that is desperate for hockey success. They had not won a playoff series since 1998 and after seeing the Calgary Flames run to the finals in 2004 are more unified in support of their team then any other current NHL playoff team.

I grew up in Canada watching the United States on TV. I saw on TV huge celebrations when American teams won the World Series or the Super Bowl. I learned this is the way the world works. When your team wins you celebrate. Its a huge party. I have experienced it firsthand. I am in the Chicago area and I was in a sports bar when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005. It was a great party. One guy ordered shots for the entire bar. Everyone was screaming and high-fiving one another and dancing on table tops.

Americans need to see that there are people who would react this way in Canada. It is that way in Edmonton. Either OLN does not know this or they do not care. Edmonton is some remote northern outpost of limited significance to the United States. Who cares what happens when they win?

If OLN wants to be a great hockey network they have to cover the hockey stories. The celebration underway right now on Whyte Ave, in Old Strathcona, on Jasper Ave and in Edmonton in general is a huge story. I am dismayed at the way it is ignored on the OLN broadcasts. I hope that they learn to do this better in their days as Versus.

NOTE: This is the story OLN missed.

Top Playoff Even Strength Scorers

These playoffs have an special teams play. It looks as though the penalty rate is being manipulated to maintain a high scoring rate. So who is scoring at even strength? Its a suprising group of players.

Here are the top ten even strength scorers so far in the playoffs
Name Team Games Played Even Strength Goals Even Strength Assists Even Strength Points Total Points
Daniel BriereBuf1035813
Todd MarchantAna112688
Joffrey LupulAna116178
Martin HavlatOtt943712
Joe SakicCol93479
Jean-Pierre DumontBuf1034710
Jamie LangenbrunnerNJ725712
Andrew BrunetteCol92579
Derek RoyBuf102579
Chris KunitzAna112577

This is a suprising group of players. Those that remain in the playoffs should be given more power play time by their teams since they are clearly producing. Their scoring may rise if they get that chance.

It is interesting to compare with the top even strength scorers at approximately the same number of games into the regular season. The top even strength scorers have less points in the playoffs then the same group did in the regular season. There is less scoring at even strength in the playoffs - due in part to more dependence upon power play scoring.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Playoff Faceoffs

I wrote something about faceoffs in hockey back in December where I argued that faceoffs have little correlation with NHL success in part because even the best and worst teams at faceoffs win nearly half of them. There is a small advantage to winning faceoffs because it can gather teams extra puck possessions, but these possessions are easily made up in other parts of playing a hockey game. Tom Benjamin took offence to the discussion of puck possession, claiming the puck position is more important. Thats a distinction without a significant difference to the discussion. You get better position of the puck through its possession.

So how important are faceoffs in the playoffs? The four teams currently winning in the second round are Anaheim, Buffalo, Carolina and San Jose. These teams have 48.3%, 49.5%, 49.6% and 41.7% faceoff winning rates. Not one of the four teams has won half of their faceoffs. San Jose is the league worst in the playoffs.

Who is the best faceoff team in the 2006 playoffs? So far its the Nashville Predators who won 58.6% of their faceoffs (and lost to San Jose).

I don't think this means faceoffs are entirely irrelevant. It just means they they are such a small factor that their correlation with winning is lost in the noise from all the other factors. Its a fluke that all four winning playoff teams are below 50% in faceoffs, but it is not a fluke that the best faceoff teams are not the best teams in the NHL.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Masterton Trophy Nominees

When I went through the NHL award nominees one award I didn't mention is the Bill Masterton trophy for the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. I had assumed that the award would be given to Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils for making a successful comeback from hepatitis. Shockingly, he wasn't even nominated.

The New Jersey nominee is Tommy Albelin. The NHL listed him as retired, but he came to New Jersey training camp anyway hoping to win a roster spot. He didn't make the team but continued to practise and travel with them without getting paid. In December, he signed a contract for the NHL minimum salary and played 35 games this season.

I think that while hanging onto a hockey career that is nearly over and being a minor contributor in one final season does show perseverence and dedication to hockey, but it may also show a lack of legitimate opportunities in the rest of the world. Albelin spent the majority of his life playing hockey. What else did he know how to do? So he stuck around and managed to play part of one last season. Overcoming illness, as Elias did, is a much more unique story. It is the kind of story that is more likely to win the Masterton.

Likely the leading candidates for the Masterton, with Elias removed from the race, are Tim Connolly of the Buffalo Sabres, who missed the entire 2003/04 season due to a concussion and suffered a knee injury in the lockout year limiting him to a mere 16 games, but came back in 2005/06 and played a successful year in Buffalo where he had his highest scoring year of his career and Rem Murray of the Edmonton Oilers who has suffered from a rare incurable nerve disorder called cervical dystonia which caused him to miss more than half of the 2003/04 season, all of the 2004/05 season and most of the 2005/06 season. He has managed to play nine games with the Oilers this season and the playoffs. I would give it to Connolly, because he is more of a significant hockey player who over came serious injury that lost him most of two years to be a big contributor to his Sabres team.

Here is a profile of all 30 Masterton trophy nominees from the Hockey News, found via James Mirtle.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Unintended Consequence of the Obstruction Crackdown

One of the many significant changes to the NHL this season is the obstruction crackdown. The idea is that by calling many more infractions, the ice would open up and scoring would rise (apparantly high scoring hockey is supposed to be better than low scoring hockey). Scoring is up this season. The largest increase in scoring comes from an increase in power plays. Scoring is also up at even strength, but it is not nearly as big an increase.

The NHL has repeatedly been telling the story of how scoring and penalties are up (and how this is a good thing). This has been repeated so often, that some fans parrot back the increased scoring and penalty rates as though they show the health of the NHL (and not for example the decrease in revenue). The idea is firmly entrenched in the public's mind that the "new NHL" is improved because it has more scoring and more penalties.

Over time, there have been problems developing with this approach. Players have adjusted to the increased penalty calls. They have adjusted to the obstruction crackdown by reducing obstruction. So naturally, penalty calls should go down. With less power plays, scoring should also go down. This cannot be allowed. The scoring rate and the penalty rate have become barometers for the health of the league. Gary Bettman has to threaten the referees that if they do not call enough penalties theh they will not call any more playoff games. This has created the special teams playoffs. This is a playoff where more goals are scored on special teams than ever before. This is a playoff where in manyu cases there is no need to press for that game tying goal at even strength because if you wait a few minutes you will undoubtedly get a power play opportunity to score it.

Worse still, this is a situation where the definition of a penalty is constantly changed in order to maintain the scoring rate and the penalty rate. If there are less penalties then we need because players have adjusted to last month's penalty definitions, we will just call more questionable penalties that would not have been called in the past. The integrity of what is hockey is at stake. If refereeing standards are constantly redefined in order to increase penalties and to increase scoring, this refereeing threatens the impartiality of the game's officiating since it has an indirect goal of creating more goals.

Tom Benjamin has reached a similar conclusion.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Best Defenceman Of The Early Playoffs

There have been a few stars so far in the playoffs including Patrik Elias and Ilya Bryzgalov. One is Chris Pronger of the Edmonton Oilers. He has been the best defenceman in the playoffs so far. Pronger leads the playoffs in playing so far with 33:04 per game. He has been very important to the Oilers as it is his job to shutdown the top scorer on their opponent. He has also provided offence to his team with 7 points and he has a +4 +/- rating. Chris Pronger is one of the main reasons Edmonton is still alive in the playoffs.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Suprise Early Playoff MVP

Its still early in the second round, so naming a playoff MVP is mostly an academic question. The man who has jumped to the forefront as the best player in the playoffs so far is one of the rookie goalies playing big roles in the playoffs. Ilya Bryzgalov has an amazing 0.63 goals against average going into today's game. His saves percentage is equally impressive at .975 entering this game. It is currently about halfway through game two of the second round playoff series with Colorado and he has gone over three complete games since the last goal he has allowed. Not bad for a goalie who most expected to sit on the bench and watch 2003 Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere lead Anaheim as far as they would go in the playoffs.

NOTE: The game has now ended. Bryzgalov got his third straight shutout. He now has a .979 saves percentage and a 0.52 GAA.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Coach Of The Year

The NHL award nominees came out yesterday. As expected, the Jack Adams Trophy nominees were selected as the coach of the most improved team. The nominations went to Peter Laviolette of Carolina, Tom Renney of the New York Rangers and Lindy Ruff of Buffalo. Are these the three best coaches in the NHL or merely the guys who coached teams that were ready to make big steps forward this season?

Laviolette happened to be in a situation where Eric Staal had a breakout year, Rod Brind'Amour had a big comeback season and Martin Gerber provided very strong goaltending. Renney happened to be in a situation where Jaromir Jagr had a comeback year that was worthy of a Hart Trophy nomination and rookie Henrik Lundqvist provided such strong goaltending that he got a Vezina nomination. Ruff happened to be in a situation where Ryan Miller, Maxim Afinogenov and Daniel Briere all had breakthrough seasons and Teppo Numminen was added to provide very good defence. But what makes their team's improvements due to good coaching?

To see the problem with this method of coach of the year selection, one merely needs to look at the 2004 winner John Tortorella of Tampa Bay. He was the coach of the most improved team in 2004. He even won the Stanley Cup with that team. However, he is not that great a coach. He was merely in a great situation. When the situation got tough, he added to the division in his team by publically lambasting goalie John Grahame. This poor performance has me questioning whether or not he is even suitable as an NHL coach. However, he is the reigning coach of the year. It was a poor choice.

The other nominees in 2004 were Darryl Sutter in Calgary and Ron Wilson in San Jose. Why are they not back as nominees this year? Was their coaching worse this season? Or did their teams merely run out of room to be the most improved teams in the league. Calgary merely won the toughest division in the NHL. San Jose won 5th seed in the west with a very strong stretch run.

I support Jacques Lemaire of Minnesota as coach of the year. I think he is the coach that most positively helped his team this year. His team is disciplined and plays a strong defensive system and continuously gives a showing above that that their talent level should have (even with this his team missed the playoffs - but that is not relevant - you can be the most valuable coach to a team and provide the most Bill James "win shares" without earning a playoff berth). This year's coach of the year nominees were chosen poorly. To see how poorly, one only needs to look at the recent track record of last year's winner.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

NHL Award Nominees

Today, the NHL announced their award nominees. Here are the people I would have voted for if I had a ballot.

These are the nominees along with my comments:

Adams Trophy Peter Laviolette Carolina Hurricanes, Tom Renney New York Rangers, Lindy Ruff Bufalo Sabres

I dislike the fact that coach of the year candidates are chosen as the coach of the most improved team. Of these choices I would support Tom Renney. I bet Peter Laviolette wins since he coached a division winner.

Calder Trophy Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals, Dion Phaneuf Calgary Flames

I am dissapointed that Henrik Lundqvist did not get nominated. Phaneuf had a good rookie season, but Lundqvist had a better one. That said, Ovechkin should win.

Selke Trophy Rod Brind'Amour Carolina Hurricanes, Mike Fisher Ottawa Senators, Jere Lehtinen Dallas Stars

Evaluating good defensive forwards is always hard. Usually, when the full voting is released we see more people received votes for this award than any other one. That said, I strongly support Rod Brind'Amour and believe he will win.

Lady Byng Trophy Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings, Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks, Brad Richards Tampa Bay Lightning

I would have picked Jason Spezza as a nominee in place of Patrick Marleau, but it is pretty close (Spezza had more points in less games then Marleau and a few more penalty minutes from one game where he had a fight). I expect Datsyuk wins it.

Norris Trophy Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings, Scott Niedermayer Dallas Stars, Sergei Zubov Dallas Stars

This is the only award where my nominees are the same as the NHL's ones. I expect Lidstrom will win.

Vezina Trophy Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils, Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames, Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers

I find it interesting that Lundqvist is one of the three best goalies, but not one of the three best rookies and that Phaneuf who is allegedly a better rookie is not one of the three best defencemen. I don't think Brodeur deserves his nomination. He is having a great playoff so far, but this vote was taken before the playoffs began. He was chosen on reputation. Tomas Vokoun would have been a better nominee.

Pearson Trophy Jaromir Jagr New York Rangers, Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals, Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks

Hart Trophy Jaromir Jagr New York Rangers, Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames, Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks

Essentially these are the same award - merely selected by different people. I think Nicklas Lidstrom should be the third nominee in place of Ovechkin or Kiprusoff. I support Jagr for these awards, but I think Joe Thornton will probably win as he had the better finish to the season and that is the last impression in the voter's minds.

Second Round Playoff Predictions

Were my first round playoff predictions worthwhile? I picked five of the series correctly, but incorrectly picked Detroit, Calgary and Philadelphia as likely first round winners. On to the second round.

San Jose Sharks defeat Edmonton Oilers San Jose had a very good stretch run as Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo caught fire. I'll give Edmonton full marks for defeating Detroit, but they were not nearly as impressive during the stretch run and do not have the frontline talent of San Jose.

Colorado Avalanche defeat Anaheim Mighty Ducks I think Colorado was a better team then their regular season record showed. A team built around Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and Rob Blake is a very good team. Anaheim had a good stretch run, but lacks the same frontline talent.

Ottawa Senators defeat Buffalo Sabres Ottawa may be vulnerable in goal without Dominik Hasek, but they have too many strengths elsewhere. The Ottawa defence is extremely deep, Buffalo's may be vulnerable now that Teppo Numminen again has problems with a rapid heartbeat. Ottawa has more frontline offensive talent as well. Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza significantly outscored any Sabre players.

New Jersey Devils defeat Carolina Hurricanes New Jersey is currently the hottest team in the NHL. The biggest advantage the Devils have is goaltender Martin Brodeur who is playing very well. Carolina has the relatively unproven tandem of Cam Ward and Martin Gerber. That alone is enough reason for the Devils to be favored. Add in Patrik Elias, who is the top scorer in the playoffs so far, despite only four games played.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ozolinsh Is Still Messed Up

Sandis Ozolinsh is a talented offensive defenceman who spent time in the NHL Substance Abuse Program while he was a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He was traded to the New York Rangers on the trade deadline day. After being eliminated from the playoffs, Ozolinsh got himself into further trouble. He was pulled over for drunk driving on Tuesday in White Plains, New York. Allegedly we had a .17 blood alcohol level (while the legal limit is .08).

Hopefully, this prompts him to get his life in order.

Here is TSN's story on the issue.

Rookie Goalies In The Playoffs

One of the most covered stories in the hockey media has been that of the great group of rookies. This group is partly explained because it is actually two classes of rookies combined (both the 2004/05 rookies, who missed out on their rookie season due to the lockout, and the 2005/06 rookies). In fact, this story may have been overblown by the media.

The rookie story is continuing into the playoffs. Many of the playoff teams are depending upon rookie goalies for their goaltending this season. The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Philadelphia Flyers with rookie Ryan Miller in goal. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning with rooke goalie Ray Emery in net. The New York Rangers failed in the first round, but they depended upon rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated Montreal in part because of the strong goaltending of rookie Cam Ward, when he came in to replace Martin Gerber. Anaheim has lived to seven games with Calgary in part because of the strong goaltending of rookie Ilya Bryzgalov. Philadelphia lost to Buffalo, but they did so using rookie goaltender Antero Niittymaki in two of the games. Colorado remains active in the playoffs and has rookie Peter Budaj as their backup. He may become relied upon in the playoff games to come. This is a lot of NHL teams relying on rookie goaltenders in the playoffs.

That is not to mention non-playoff teams like the Atlanta Thrashers who would have relied upon rookie goalie Kari Lehtonen. Pittsburgh would have depended upon rookie goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Boston may have used rookie goalie Hannu Toivonen.

There is a strong class of rookie goalies in the NHL and many are playing important roles in the playoffs.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

AHL Playoffs First Round

The first round of the AHL playoffs has completed. Here is a summary of the results.

Portland Pirates defeat Providence Bruins 4 games to 2

Portland had some of the highest scoring players in the first round in Zenon Konopka, Shane O'Brien and Maxim Kondratiev as the Ducks affiliate bested the Bruins farm squad.

Hartford Wolf Pack defeat Manchester Monarchs 4 games to 3

A hard fought series where Hartford saw big offensive contributions from Colby Genoway, Nigel Dawes and Alexandre Giroux. Manchester had Alexandre Daigle and Noah Clarke lead the way for their offence. The Rangers affiliate bested that of the Kings.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defeat Bridgeport Sound Tigers 4 games to 3

Another hard fought seven game series. Dany Sabourin and Jonathan Filewich lead the way for the Pens affiliates from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Bridgeport, the Islanders affiliate, stayed close with the goaltending of Wade Dubielewicz.

Hershey Bears swept the Norfolk Admirals in four straight

Frederic Cassivi offered top goaltending and Tomas Fleischmann paced the Caps affiliate in Washington as they bested the Blackhawk affiliate in Norfolk.

Grand Rapids Griffins defeated Toronto Marlies 4 games to one.

The Red Wing affiliate Griffins were led by Jiri Hudler and a strong performance by backup goalie Drew Macintyre as they bested the Maple Leaf affiliates.

Manitoba Moose defeated Syracuse Crunch 4 games to 2

The Canuck affiliate Moose were led by strong goaltending from Wade Flaherty as they defeated the Blue Jackets affiliate.

Milwaukee Admirals defeated Iowa Stars 4 games to 3

A hard fought seven game series. Darren Haydar of the Predators affiliate in Milwaukee led the first round in scoring. Iowa, the Dallas affiliate, was led by Junior Lessard.

Houston Aeros swept the Peoria Rivermen in four straight.

Josh Harding provided strong goaltending for the Minnesota affiliate Aeros as they bested the St Louis Blues affiliate.

Oilers Upset President's Trophy Winning Wings

In probably the biggest upset of the 2006 playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 yesterday to win their first round series 4 games to two. Edmonton did not look like a good team down the stretch. Despite making several trade deadline deals that had a huge short term benefit (but likely leading to long term pain), Edmonton barely won the eighth and final playoff spot in the west when Vancouver fell apart. Detroit finished first overall in the regular season (though they were benefitted by playing in a weak division). This series looked like it would be one of the more one-sided first round series in the playoffs. I picked Detroit to win as did most observers.

Sometimes hockey games do not turn out the way they are expected to. That is why they play the games. Edmonton rose to the challenge and eliminated the Red Wings.

After the series was over, the biggest party in North America last night broke out on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. I wish I could have been there.

NOTE: Here is the TSN story on the Edmonton postgame celebrations.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Malkin's NHL Transfer

Evgeni Malkin was the second pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft, selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins after Washington selected Alexander Ovechkin. In 2004/05, when both Ovechkin and Malkin were in the Russian Elite League, Malkin outscored Ovechkin 32 points to 27 (though Ovechkin missed time to injury and Malkin didn't). Since Ovechkin is the Calder trophy favorite, it is quite logical to assume Malkin could have a huge impact in the NHL.

There is no existing deal between the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL (IIHF deal) to govern the coexistance of these two leagues. These deals usually set the costs for transferring players between the two leagues, among other things. When these deals do not exist, legal wrangling can occur over the status of players. This occurred this season regarding Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Evgeni Malkin could be next.

Historically, player transfer fees have been relatively small in hockey. Under the current deal that exists between other European nations and the NHL, the transfer rate is determined entirely by the draft position of the player in question. A player, such as Malkin, picked second overall would cost $300,000 to transfer to the NHL. One of the reasons the Russians have refused to sign a player transfer deal is because they feel these rates are unrealistically low. Vladislav Tretiak has been recently placed in charge of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and is on record that he would like to sign an IIHF deal, but he likely pictures one with much higher transfer fees.

The posturing is already beginning regarding Malkin. Malkin's Russian team Metallurg Magnitogorsk is claiming that a much more reasonable transfer fee for Malkin would be similar to those in soccer. Andriy Sevchenko had a transfer fee of $25 million when he moved from Dynamo Moscow to AC Milan. I don't think that Malkin will fetch as much as $25 million, but I do think he will fetch far more than $300,000. I think he will fetch several million dollars. I think this may set the stage for far higher player transfer fees in the future for European players.

Of course, with no transfer deal in effect if Malkin wanted to jump to the NHL without the Russian league receiving any compensation, this probably could not be stopped either.

It will be an interesting fight. This fight could help to spell out the future of relations between European leagues and the NHL. Should player transfer fees grow significantly, likely good players will not play in the NHL because it will be prohibitively expensive to bring them to the NHL. It may allow European leagues to keep more of their elite talent at home. While this would be great for European hockey, it would be a blow to the NHL.

Here is the TSN story on this issue.

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