Friday, June 29, 2007

2007 Hall of Fame Inductions

The Hall of Fame Committee made the right moves yesterday by inducting Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens into the Hall of Fame in the player category. Also inducted was Jim Gregory as a builder. Gregory served as Toronto Maple Leaf GM from 1969-79, but is inducted mostly for his work in the NHL head office since then where he has been in charge of the central scouting office and the vice president of hockey operations. The player selections are the ones I predicted. While I feel that the Hall of Fame committee has made some poor selections in the recent past, they did not this year. I guess with the huge group of first time eligible players who have not played since the lockout, they had to do the sensible thing and induct the worthy players. Next year, there are no new first time inductees (since there are no players who played in the 2004/05 season), so they will have to take a second look at the remaining eligible players who didn't make it due to the numbers game this year. They include Adam Oates, Igor Larionov, Doug Gilmour, Phil Housley, Dino Ciccarelli, Manon Rheaume, Sergei Makarov and Mark Howe, all players I feel are worthy of induction as well as other candidates like Claude Lemieux, Glenn Anderson, Tom Barrasso and Pavel Bure who will receive some support, but I would not support myself.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cherepanov's Draft Slip

One of the more interesting stories out of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft is that Alexei Cherepanov was selected 17th overall by the New York Rangers. As the top scorer in the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championships, one can make a strong argument that he was the best player in the draft. Why did he slip as far as 17th?

The problems are the lack of a player transfer agreement with Russia which makes it hard to gage the availability of Russian players. Russia will try to prevent their top talent from leaving, forcing them to possibly defect from their team and leaving legal battles over player avalability. This makes the selection of a Russian player a bit daunting. This problem is made even worse due to a change made in the current CBA. Teams drafting European players now only have two years in which to sign them and then they lose their rights. This means the New York Rangers have two years to sign Cherepanov, when it is unclear if his team will allow him any chance to talk to the Rangers to sign a deal in that time. It is entirely possible that two years will pass and Cherepanov will want to play in the NHL but be unable to get their and sign a contract.

This rule giving a two year rights window to European draftees would have significantly changed the NHL had it existed earlier. For example, two of the Detroit Red Wings best recent draft picks Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were not signed within two years of their drafting. Detroit would have lost their rights.

It is the combination of a poorly thought out rule change with the cooling of relations between the NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation that makes the Cherepanov pick quite a risk. Of course he is a good player, but there exists a significant possibility that he will not be signed within two years despite the Rangers best efforts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Balsillie Conspiracy Theory

Tom Benjamin (post and comments) outlines an interesting conspiracy theory that everything we are being told about Jim Balsillie's attempts to get a hockey franchise to Southern Ontario are not on the "up and up". Jim Balsillie made a $175 million offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins last October. He withdrew the offer just before the Isle of Capri slots deal that was to finance a new Pittsburgh arena fell through. Allegedly, he did this because Gary Bettman forced him to sign papers where he guaranteed to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh at any cost. This kind of agreement would be unprecedented (and likely not be able to hold up under legal challenge). It is possible that is only the public explanation of what happened. Perhaps, Bettman knew Pittsburgh was a good market and wanted to keep the Penguins there (instead of have Balsillie move them), so he saw this as an opportunity to help Pittsburgh extort an arena from taxpayers. He offered Balsillie first shot at an expansion franchise, as soon as the NHL had created the political climate to add franchises with minimal backlash. So Balsillie willingly withdrew, and we are fed a false reason for it which helps to establish a precedent for new owners being forced to sign agreements to keep from moving franchises.

Along comes the Nashville problem. Nashville is a failed expansion franchise. Even with a team that challenged for first place in the West Conference, they cannot make money in the salary capped NHL. This franchise cannot continue to exist in Nashville because owner Craig Leipold is losing money and wants out. Jim Balsillie can help out. He makes a $220 million offer to buy Nashville to move to Hamilton and Leipold can bow out of Nashville gracefully. Leipold is crazy to not accept an offer like that, so it doesn't anger the Nashville public much (afterall he did all he could to make hockey fly in Nashville). It establishes a ridiculously high sale price for a failing hockey franchise. Balsillie already seems to be bowing out of the race for the Predators despite already agreeing to help renovate Copps Coliseum in Hamilton for the team to be moved. He has asked the NHL office to stop work on the sales agreement until it is binding. He is set up as the boogyman who will force the Nashville Predators to move (it seems likely to Kansas City where there is a waiting empty arena (but not a clearly better market than Nashville). Tim Leiwike, the governor of the Los Angeles Kings and the president of the company that owns the Kansas City rink is in charge of an informal expansion committee in the NHL (that could be a record for the number of conflicts of interest). They are the immediately ready market for an NHL franchise. Likely Nashville could be moved there. After Copps Coliseum is renovated, the NHL can expand and give Balsillie his Hamilton franchise (probably with a reduced expansion fee for his assistance to date). At tat time, likely the NHL would expand by another team and Las Vegas would be the favorite.

Is there any evidence tat all this is true? Only the fact that Balsillie is willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to buy NHL franchises to relocate and to renovate Copps Coliseum and then seems to bow out before any decision can be made. By doing this, he is helping Pittsburgh and Nashville owners increase their profits. As the future plays out, we will see if there is any truth to this or if it is idle speculation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Philadelphia Beats The July 1st Deadline

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers signed free agents to be Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from the Nashville Predators. To do this, the Flyers traded back the 2007 1st round draft pick that they acquired from Nashville in the Peter Forsberg trade. The Flyers then promptly signed Timonen to a 6 year $37.6 million contract and Hartnell to a 6 year $25.2 million dollar deal.

For Nashville, this deal is getting something for nothing. They were going to lose both players as UFAs this summer. Given the uncertainty in the Nashville ownership situation, the Predators will not be in a position to bid to sign high profile UFAs (including retaining their own). For Philadelphia, this represents the chance to beat the other teams out of the gate to sign free agents.

Philadelphia paid a big price for these two players. For Timonen to be worth his money, he must not get old quickly. He is signed from age 32-37 (possibly to age 38 assuming a Flyer playoff run in the final season) for some big bucks. He must be one of the NHL's top defenders (which he currently is) through the length of the deal. Hartnell must continue to improve. He is signed from age 25 to 30 (and would turn 31 during the final season's playoffs). Most players play the best years of their career at that age, but how good is Hartnell. In this season where he was 24 (and turned 25 in April) he scored 39 points. He has scored 30 or 40 something points every season since his 2001/02 sophomore season and does not appear to be making forward progress offensively. This is a lot of money tied up in two players who may not be worth it over the lifetimes of their contracts (not to mention the loss of a first round draft pick as well).

Philadelphia will likely improve next year. They were bad this season, but it is hard to remain that bad. They have too many good hockey players to do so. Adding Kimmo Timonen to their defence helps to fix a gaping hole.

The other teams were likely stunned to learn that Philadelphia beat them into the free agent market with this deal, but given the size of the contracts, it might be a better idea to have abstained. Paul Holmgren is clearly a creative guy to have pulled this deal off, but I don't think it is particularly good for the Flyers hockey interests. They can save face a bit by demoting Timonen to the minors in his final years if he plays poorly enough (to save cap room), but this deal is unlikely to turn the Flyers into contenders. They need some young talent to blossom to become contenders (which is possible given the presence of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scottie Upshall, RJ Umberger etc. on their roster). In which case, Hartnell would likely be a high priced second line forward and Timonen there number one defenceman (though he will likely be a high priced albatross later in his contract). Philadelphia likely made a move that was needed to keep their fanbase happy, but I question whether that move makes much a difference to the fortunes of the club and I question whether the move does not become looked at as a mistake in the years to come.

Here is the TSN story on the Flyers dealings.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Defence Of Brind'Amour's Selke

Rod Brind'Amour of Carolina won his second straight Selke Trophy at the NHL Awards for best defensive forward in the NHL. I would have voted for him if I had a ballot and I support his victory.

Some in the blogosphere think that Sami Pahlsson of Anaheim should have won the award. While Pahlsson was a better defensive forward when you combine the playoffs and regular season, I do not believe he was in the regular season alone. Pahlsson was one of the best players in the playoffs, while Brind'Amour was on a team that failed to qualify.

One of the most high profile blogosphere supporters of Pahlsson over Brind'Amour is Earl Sleek from the Battle of California, but he is far from the only one here is a statistical analysis by James Mirtle.

In theory, I believe the Selke Trophy should go to the forward who earns the most wins by his defensive play. I believe that, in theory, we could imagine being able to statistically analyze the contribution of all the players on a team and deduce how many wins they produced in a manner where the total wins of the players on a team strongly correlate with the total number of wins the team has (this would be the hockey equivalent of Bill James's baseball win shares method.

Now there are several problems with this idea in practise. First hockey is not nearly as statistically complete a sport as baseball. Much of the game is not recorded well on the statistical record and thus is hard to recover in any sabermetric theory. This is especially true in regards to defensive play, which the Selke Trophy is intended to reward.

Though James Mirtle made as good a try as possible with his statistical analysis, there are problems with it that are brought in because numbers tend to be averages over the whole season and are subject to the manner that a player is used. If a player is a very good defensive forward, but has little offensive value (at least compared to their teammates) then that play will be used in exclusively defensive situations and be up against a very strong strength of opposition (this is the case with Sami Pahlsson and Jay Pandolfo who were both the 10th highest scorers on their teams). This is certainly not the case with Rod Brind'Amour who was the second highest scorer on his team (and only one point back of first). There were situations where Brind'Amour was on the ice in an offensive role and hopefully against as weak as possible an opposition so that he would be able to score. For the most part, Pahlsson and Pandolfo were not used this way since they lack offensive upside. These offensive situations Brind'Amour was used in were in addition to all the important defensive situations. Brind'Amour had an incredible amount of ice time. His ice time per game of 24:06 minutes placed him third in the NHL among forwards (behind Martin St Louis and Brad Richards of Tampa Bay). It's not much of an exaggeration to say Brind'Amour was always out there. He was on the ice whenever there was a key defensive situation for Carolina and he was on the ice whenever there was a key offensive situation as well. This horribly distorts any average statistics (such as his average strength of opposition).

What about when Brind'Amour was on the ice? There was more even strength goals per minute scored then for either of Pahlsson or Pandolfo. That is entirely true, and related to the fact that both New Jersey and Anaheim had better defences then Carolina and allowed less goals all season. It is also due to the fact that New Jersey and Anaheim have other very good defensive forwards who were usually paired with Pandolfo and Pahlsson. In New Jersey, Pandolfo regularly played with John Madden (a former Selke winner) and Sergei Brylin. In Anaheim, Pahlsson regularly played with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. In defensive situations, Brind'Amour had a less regular set of linemates (though he was usually paired with Justin Williams). Also, the defenceman pairings on the ice were not as good in Carolina's case (afterall Mike Commodore lead Carolina in minutes played on defence). Average goals against rates are strongly linked to the quality of teammates (even when we try to correct for this) and Brind'Amour had lesser quality teammates (which explains why he missed the playoffs).

There is one final stat James Mirtle shows which makes a case for Sami Pahlsson, he played more minutes in 4 on 5 situations than anybody in the NHL. That is directly related to the fact that Anaheim took more penalties then anybody in the NHL. There was more time for him to play short handed because his team was more often shorthanded.

Statistically showing quality defensive play is hard (if not impossible) given the stats collected by the NHL. Any numbers need to be filtered through the way a player was used and to see the effects of his teammates on those numbers. For the most part, any defensive numbers have huge error bars and tend to preferentially select players who play in defense only situations (as opposed to those who play in offensive situations - often against lesser opposition - as well). As long as Brind'Amour is the go to defensive forward in any defensive situation in Carolina, he is clearly a top defensive forward and a potential Selke candidate. We don't have decisive enough statistics to determine who the best defensive forward is (and we likely never will). It comes down to watching games and judging among the top few players for any awards. The differences cannot be reliably pulled from Mirtle's statistics. There is too much lost in the numbers and too much open to interpretation. That is probably the nature of any defensive numbers in hockey. Brind'Amour was a very valuable defensive forward to Carolina. I believe he probably created the most win shares for his team with his defensive play (among all defensive forwards in the league). I cannot show this statistically. I do not believe it is possible to show this statistically. I do believe that the statistics that Mirtle cites to support Pahlsson do not show that he produced the most win shares for his team with his defensive play. There is too much clouded by the way he was used and his teammates.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Alain Vigneault Is A Poor Coach of the Year

The NHL Awards were handed out this week. I think that the worst choice for an award winner, by a significant margin, is coach of the year Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks. He maintains a long standing but ill-conceived tradition of giving the coach of the year to the coach of the most improved team.

It should be clear that teams improve for many reasons. The most common reason is that the team has better players. As long as a coach has basic competence, he should be able to lead a team of better players to an improvement in the standings. And worse, in the case of coaches who have been with a team for many years, such as Jacques Lemaire of Minnesota, there is no reason to expect an improvement in the standings based on good coaching alone (since he was a good coach in his previous seasons as well).

Fundamentally, I would define coach of the year in a more sabermetric manner. In an ideal statistical world, we would be able to properly quantify how many wins were produced by each player on a given team based on analysis of the numbers that they produce. The total wins produced by all the players on a team would correlate strongly with the total wins their team has in the season. This idea is akin to the win shares method that Bill James uses to analyze baseball. Baseball has a much better statistical record then hockey and thus is much easier to analyze in this fashion. However, even if it is not possible in practise to analyze hockey in this manner, one could use it as a lens to try to identify the best players and thus should-be award winners. Bill James does not try to give out win shares to baseball managers (who are the analog of hockey coaches) because this is too statistically dubious even in baseball, but the concept would still exist. Coaches in hockey (and managers in baseball) do influence the number of wins their team has over a season. One could imagine measuring this and ranking coaches based upon the results (in practise it would be a difficult if not impossible task). The coach who leads the NHL in win shares is the coach of the year. This coach might be on a team that improves. This coach might be on a team that has their record stay the same from the previous year. This coach might even be on a team that drops in the standings. But nevertheless that coach should be could of the year.

In hockey this season there were two coaches who stood out in this regard. Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, who has created a winning system in Minnesota, where the team regularly outperforms the amount of talent that they have. This is a team that improved in the standings despite Marian Gaborik being limited to 48 games played and despite no player scoring more than 64 points (Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra tied with that number). A Lemaire team is a team that plays the neutral zone trap better than any other in the NHL and has many fast skating defensively responsible players who are often shifted from one line to another during the course of the game. History shows us that this system works. Lemaire succeeds wherever he goes.

Ted Nolan of the New York Islanders also had a great coaching performance. He came into a team in chaos after a crazy summer on Long Island and lead the Islanders to the playoffs. This happened on a team without any huge offensive talents (Jason Blake led them in scoring with 69 points) and where Tom Poti was the number one defenceman (at least in terms of minutes played).

Neither Lemaire nor Nolan were nominated for coach of the year. Instead the nominations went to President's Trophy winning Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff and improved team coaches Michel Therrien of Pittsburgh and Alain Vigneault of Vancouver. Vigneault won.

The clearest reason for a Vancouver improvement was Roberto Luongo in goal. He was a Vezina and Hart nominee and a huge improvement from Alex Auld and Dan Cloutier in the previous season. Defensively, the team was roughly the same. They had lost Ed Jovanovski to free agency (though he only played in 44 games the previous season) but found Kevin Bieksa to be a solid replacement. At forward, the Sedins took over from Markus Naslund as the go to players offensively. This transition took place over the course of the season and coincided with the Canucks emergence in the second half as much as the rise of Luongo did. Vancouver had a poor offence but it improved somewhat as the Sedins took over as the first line offensively (from Naslund and Brendan Morrison).

Vigneault supporters cite the improvement the Canucks showed in the second half (as compared to the first half) as a sign that he was a good coach. This is probably a correct statement. Vigneault saw that the Sedins were better capable of being the first line offensively and gave them the shot. He saw that Bieksa was a competent defender and gave him more ice time. Luongo got better adjusted to Vancouver and his numbers improved. All this shows competent coaching ability, but it doesn't merit a coach of the year award. Definitely not while Lemaire and Nolan made playoff teams out of much less then Vancouver had.

It is hard to statistically isolate the result of coaching on a team. Probably, it is impossible. This makes it hard to definitively pick a coach of the year. This leads many of the writers who vote to do the lazy thing and pick the coach of the most improved team. That is a poor method to pick a coach of the year. It often leads to people selected as coach of the year who get fired not long afterward. It leads to acknowledged top coaches like Scott Bowman to coach for 30 years in the NHL and only be named coach of the year twice. Vigneault was a very poor choice who was chosen as a result of a poor selection method. The better coaches were overlooked.

Friday, June 15, 2007

NHL Awards

The NHL Awards were presented last night. Earlier I had posted my picks if I had a ballot and my comments when the nominees were announced. Here are the award winners and my comments.

Selke Trophy - Rod Brind'Amour Carolina Hurricanes He was a deserving winner and the best defensive forward in the regular season. This is a repeat win for him. Had the award been for best defensive forward in the regular season and playoffs, Sami Pahlsson of Anaheim should have won. I had him as the second best defensive forward in the regular season and the best in the playoffs (where Brind'Amour played on a team that didn't qualify for playoffs).

Lady Byng Trophy - Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings He is another repeat winner. I had Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay as my pick. St. Louis had a better season, finishing fifth in the league with 102 points, while Datsyuk was 17th with 82. Although one might argue Datsyuk was more sportsmanlike, using the fact he had 20 pims against St Louis's 28, I think that difference is largely explained by ice time. St. Louis lead NHL forwards in ice time, playing 24:09 per game (and all 82 games) while Datsyuk was 36th among forwards with 19:57 per game (in 79 games). That's over 400 extra minutes played for St Louis. If we assume that Datsyuk earned penalty minutes at a constant rate per minute of ice time he plays, he would had had 5 more minutes had he played as much as St. Louis. Using penalty minutes as a benchmark for sportsmanship, there is not enough of an advantage for Datsyuk to make up for the fact that St Louis was a better player.

Adams Trophy - Alain Vigneault Vancouver Canucks A poor choice. The hockey writers don't know how to pick good coaches. Both Jacques Lemaire of Minnesota and Ted Nolan of the NY Islanders went without nominations. Twelve different coaches were named as first place picks on at least one ballot. In the end, the coach of the year is often coach of the most improved team. Vancouver improved a lot, because their goaltending improved. Roberto Luongo is much better than Alex Auld and Dan Cloutier. Vigneault may be a competent coach, but he should have been far from coach of the year this season.

Masterton Trophy - Phil Kessel Boston Bruins Get cancer and win this award. I would have picked Owen Nolan of Phoenix. He didn't get cancer or anything, but he came back and was one of the Coyotes better players after injuries had kept him on the sidelines for two years. As bad as cancer sounds, Kessel was kept out about a month because of it. There is more perseverance and dedication to hockey shown coming back ion Nolan's case, when he could have easily retired, then in Kessel's case.

Calder Trophy - Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins He was the best rookie this season and he won. No big surprise there.

Norris Trophy - Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings This is Lidstrom's fifth Norris Trophy. He is one of the best defencemen ever. Might have been a bit more of a race if Niedermayer and Pronger were not teammates.

Vezina Trophy - Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils This is his third Vezina Trophy. He was the deserving winner, though Luongo also had an outstanding year.

Hart Trophy - Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Possibly the first of many for him. He was the deserving winner.

Pearson Award - Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Again the deserving winner and again likely the first of many.

First All Star Team - Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals, Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins, Dany Heatley Ottawa Senators, Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings, Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Ducks, Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils These are the same six I picked. Heatley moves from second team left wing last season to first team right wing this year. A successful switch of wings. That leaves left wing as a weaker position. Though Ovechkin is a good player, he had a worse season then the rest of the first team all star.

Second All Star Team - Thomas Vanek Buffalo Sabres, Vincent LeCavalier Tampa Bay Lightning, Martin St Louis Tampa Bay Lightning, Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks, Dan Boyle Tampa Bay Lightning, Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks I disagreed with three of these picks. I had Joe Thornton of San Jose and Jarome Iginla of Calgary on the forward line instead of LeCavalier and St Louis. This is largely because it was harder to score in the West Conference and East Conference players tended to have inflated offensive totals. I also picked Sergei Gonchar of Pittsburgh over Dan Boyle on defence. Gonchar slightly outscored Boyle and anchored a less porous defence that played in a more competitive division. It is interesting that all three of the players I did not pick all play for Tampa Bay. I think that is over-representation for a team that barely qualified for playoffs. If Tampa really had 3 players good enough for second team all star, they would have done better as a team.

Here are the voting results for the awards and here they are for the all star teams. On my hypothetical ballot, I did not bother to make as many picks as voters do on the actual NHL ballot (5 ranked choices for awards - I only picked three), but if I had cast my ballot it would not have changed the winner of any awards. In fact, it would not have changed the order of finish for any award except the Vezina Trophy, where Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Lundqvist tied for third place. I would have broken that tie giving Kiprusoff third place by himself and leaving Lundqvist without a nomination.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Columbus Hires GM Scott Howson

The best way for an owner to have a winning hockey team is to hire a top general manager and then leave him alone and let him build you a winning team. The problem is that all too often, the people who own hockey teams don't know any potential top general managers. This has been the case in Columbus where owner John McConnell hired Doug MacLean to be the Columbus GM and left him alone to run the team when they expanded in 2000 and was not fired until this year. MacLean talked like he was a good hockey man. He had a lot of respect from his coaching success (note that coaching is not being a general manager) including leading the Florida Panthers to the 1995 Stanley Cup finals. The problem was he was a bad general manager. He is a big part of the reason that Columbus has never qualified for the playoffs.

Columbus has now decided upon Scott Howson as their new general manager. Is he a good pick? We haven't seen him in action enough to know right now, but I am sceptical.

Howson certainly has a good resume. He had a short NHL career that lasted 18 games over two seasons with the New York Islanders. After retiring, he graduated from York University with a law degree. He was hired to run the Edmonton Oilers farm clubs in 1994 and continued in that job until 2000. In 2001, he became the Oilers assistant GM. He talks like he knows his hockey and has a good background, but what is lacking is success. In his time as Oilers assistant GM, the Oilers only qualified for playoffs twice (one was their improbable 2006 run to the finals - where the team also almost missed the playoffs). He is said to be a salary cap specialist, which I interpret to mean it was his idea for the Oilers to load up on contracts at the 2006 trade deadline so that their payroll for the playoffs may exceed the salary cap, but is legal due to savings from the earlier parts of the season. In principle, that may not be a bad plan and it worked for the Oilers that year, but it certainly didn't pay off for teams making big trade deadline acquisitions this year.

If I were to hire an assistant GM to be my GM I would want it to be somebody from a first class organization who has worked successfully under one of the most respected GMs in the league. The Edmonton Oilers are currently a team in shambles that look like a longshot to qualify for the playoffs next year. Their general manager Kevin Lowe is definitely a member of the old boys network in the NHL, but there is a lot of reason to doubt his status as a top GM. In fact some Edmonton Oiler bloggers think Kevin Lowe may not be back when his contract runs out next season.

Columbus gets a new start under Scott Howson, but is he really the best choice available?

Here is the TSN story on Howson's hiring.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Frank D'Angelo Keeps His Name In The Press

Frank D'Angelo is the president of Steelback Brewery. He is a pretty shameless self-promoter. In 2006, he made announcements that he is reviving the Ottawa Renegades of the CFL. This is despite the fact the CFL claims they only had informal conversations with him and there are no Ottawa Renegades on the 2007 CFL schedule. He claimed he was buying the Pittsburgh Penguins when Jim Balsillie withdrew his offer. This never seemed like a serious offer. He never made an offer and the Penguins were soon pulled off the market (all actions that suggest this was never more than a publicity move).

The most logical interpretation of all this is that Frank D'Angelo wants you to think that he is going to buy a sports team. Its good publicity for him. He got lots of press for these moves and the article always names his companies. He doesn't actually have to buy a team (and probably cannot afford one) and he still gets this publicity.

One blogger who has consistently called Frank D'Angelo on this scheme is Neate Sager from Out of Left Field. Frank D'Angelo has publicly fought with him trying to silence this criticism.

In what looks like a childish spat gone berserk or yet another way to get the Frank D'Angelo name in the press, he has filed a $2 million libel suit against Neate Sager. From what I see, there is nothing at all libellous in the Out of Left Field blog. It is not positive about Frank D'Angelo, but there is nothing wrong with that. It exposes him as a huckster getting free publicity by pretending to be buying up sports teams, despite the fact he doesn't actually buy any teams. That seems to be a correct interpretation of the situation. It certainly isn't libel and it certainly isn't worth $2 million. Its an annoying nuisance lawsuit. The biggest gain for D'Angelo is that he appears to be a strong man capable of hurting the little guy and he keeps his name in the press.

If this is a start of a trend, it will be an annoyance to the blogger, but in the end the people making nuisance lawsuits will go away with time and money wasted, but not without inconveniencing the blogosphere.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Montreal's Goalies

The Montreal Canadiens find themselves with too many NHL calibre goalies. Last season, they began with Cristobal Huet who played at Vezina calibre for the first half of the year before he fell to injuries and David Aebischer, who had a lacklustre season. Aebischer will leave Montreal as an unrestricted free agent. During the stretch drive, Jaroslav Halak came and provided solid NHL goaltending. Also, Carey Price delivered the Calder Cup to Hamilton with his MVP goaltending and is likely the Calder Trophy favorite for next season. Also, waiting in the AHL is Yann Danis who is still considered a capable NHL prospect.

Next season, Montreal will have to select two of these players to be their NHL goalie tandem. The best bets in my opinion are Huet and Price. Halak might be an NHL goalie, but he lacks the pedigree of Price or the track record of Huet. He could be traded to somebody who needs a goalie. Otherwise, he is likely lost on waivers next year.

There is some thought that Montreal should trade Huet. He is the most expensive and would likely net the biggest return, but it would leave Montreal with no proven NHL goalies and is likely a bad move.

Its an enviable position to have too much NHL talent, but the process of picking which of the players to go with in the future is a bit nerve-racking. A bad decision could be made - for example in a similar situation, San Jose traded Miikka Kiprusoff to Calgary for a second round pick. Sure they didn't really lose selecting Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, but only a second round pick for a future Vezina winner is not enough of a return. Montreal may find themselves in a similar situation. There is no bad goalie in the bunch, but they may be forced to trade one for less then they would like.

Friday, June 08, 2007

AHL Playoffs: Finals

The AHL Playoffs have completed. The Hamilton Bulldogs have won the Calder Cup. Look back at the first round, second round and third round results. Here is the summary of the final series:

Hamilton Bulldogs defeat Hershey Bears four games to one Hershey, the Washington Capitals minor league affiliate, is the defending Calder Cup champion. They lead the AHL in points in the 2006/07 season and seemed a good candidate to win the Calder Cup. They are lead by Tomas Fleischmann and Scott Barney offensively, with Mike Green, Kyle Wilson, Jakub Klepis and Dave Steckel all making significant contributions. They have a solid proven goalie in Frederic Cassivi. Hamilton, Montreal's affiliate, finished 3rd in the North Division and would not have been a serious Calder Cup contender unless they added goaltender Carey Price. Price joined them with two games left in the regular season and went on to lead them to the championship. He posted a .937 saves percentage and a 2.06 GAA on his way to winning the Jack Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP. Hamilton's other key players included Corey Locke, Dan Jancevski, Kyle Chipchura, Matt D'Agostini, Andre Benoit and Duncan Milroy. Hamilton managed to ride the hot goaltending of Carey Price to the Calder Cup. Price must be considered a top contender for the rookie of the year in the NHL next year.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Anaheim Wins The Stanley Cup

With a 6-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators, the Anaheim Ducks have won the Stanley Cup winning their finals series four games to one. Scott Niedermayer was given the Conn Smythe despite the fact he was the third best defenceman in the playoffs.

Anaheim has convinced me that they are an elite team this season. They are the best team the NHL has seen so far in its post-lockout era. It is possible to build an elite team with a salary cap (though it is clearly harder).

The Conn Smythe race was interesting this year. I argue that the most valuable player in the playoffs was Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and he didn't even make the finals. The most valuable player in the finals throughout the playoffs was Chris Pronger, but because of his suspensions he was not going to win the award. Enter Scott Niedermayer. He is clearly an all star level defenceman. He clearly played well, but he was the third best defenceman in the NHL in the playoffs. And he is MVP.

The stunning thing about the playoffs is how predictable they were. I managed to make 14 out of 15 correct predictions of the series winners. Here are my first round, second round, third round and finals predictions. The only wrong call was picking Calgary over Detroit in round one. The fact that the number one seed actually eliminated the number eight seed is hardly an upset. One could argue there were no upsets in this year's playoffs. That is stunning.

With the season over, now is a good time to look at the state of the game and what it is becoming. Just like last year I think we are still in transition from out of the lockout and I think likely the problems that led to the lockout are not solved and there will be some pain before they are. I think three major trends can be seen developing this year.

First, it is possible to build an elite team in the current NHL. Brian Burke did it in Anaheim. He did it with some outstanding general manager work. He found talent where others didn't (Beauchemin, Kunitz), in young players (Getzlaf, Perry), in checkers (Pahlsson, R. Niedermayer), in proven stars (Pronger, S. Niedermayer). Anaheim was brilliantly built. They are a model for how a franchise should be run. I was skeptical that it might not be possible to build an elite team in today's NHL. I am proven wrong. The question now is how does this successful team stay together? They have their top scorer (Teemu Selanne) and top goalie (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) both becoming unrestricted free agents this summer. They could lose them both. That would be a big blow. It would prevent fans from seeing this elite team take a shot at repeating.

As the salary cap goes up, I think we will see more elite teams. Those that are bought in big markets. The players will be available for purchase as young as 25 under this CBA. It is still possible to build an elite team. Anaheim did it. But which model will be more common and will either be able to keep their team together to repeat?

The second clear trend is the Sidney Crosby era. He's only 19 and the top scorer and probable Hart Trophy winner. This could be an era of dominance that lasts for well over a decade. Crosby could be on the verge of establishing himself as one of the NHL's all time greats. Of course, it is also possible that another player such as Joe Thornton, Alexander Ovechkin or someone else is more dominant then Crosby next year. However, it is clear that likely this time will be remembered as the Crosby era. Whether it happens with him in Pittsburgh or if he is the first superstar to leave via free agency before he has his best years of his career is to be determined.

Finally, it is clear that the problems the lockout was supposed to have solved are still here. There are too many NHL franchises in markets that do not care about them. Likely, the Predators days in Nashville are numbered. The TV deal is a mess. This mess was pushed to the forefront by the Preakness Stakes overtime debacle. Gary Bettman's push to get a major US TV deal has failed. It has already caused fans significant pain (a year lost to lockout and an ill-advised CBA). The problem keeps getting more and more obvious. This failure must be admitted and an alternative direction found. The sooner the better. The longer this has to play out the worse things will get.

Anaheim's victory renews some faith in me that elite teams can exist under this CBA. There are certainly significant problems in Gary Bettman's business model that must be solved (likely by abandoning the model). We are embarking on the Sidney Crosby era and it will be interesting to see where he takes the game. In the meantime, the summer is here so lets all enjoy the sun and watch our teams build for next year.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pronger Suspended Again

Chris Pronger has been suspended for game four of the Stanley Cup finals series for his elbow to the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. This is his second suspension during the playoffs. There is little doubt that were this the regular season and not playoffs, Pronger would be suspended longer than one game.

While some people are complaining that Chris Pronger is a dirty player, this misses the point. Pronger is at his best when he plays a physical game that is right on the edge of legal. This has given him a hall of fame career. Its expect a player to play right on the edge of legal at all time and then hypocritically complain when he does cross the line.

This puts Anaheim in a bad place as they lack defensive depth. They were able to win the game without Pronger in the Detroit series. Can they do it in the Ottawa series?

I figured that Chris Pronger was the most likely player to win Conn Smythe, though in light of his suspensions I don't think that is still true. While I still argue that the most valuable player in the playoffs so far has been Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit, I think he has no chance at Conn Smythe due to his being eliminated from the playoffs. I think, should Anaheim win the cup, they will be hard-pressed to find a worthy Conn Smythe winner. Likely they will give it to either Jean-Sebastien Giguere who will be the winning goalie (though his GAA that is 4th in the playoffs so far and saves percentage that is fifth hardly scream Conn Smythe) or they will give it to Sami Pahlsson (who has been the best defensive forward in the playoffs by a significant margin but its hard to argue he has been the best forward let alone player in any position). That assumes that somebody doesn't jump to the front of the race with some huge games for Anaheim in the rest of the playoff run.

It is hard for Anaheim to keep having to win key games with Chris Pronger suspended. He isn't doing his team any favors, but when he plays he has been their best player.

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