Friday, November 30, 2007

Predators Sale Approved

Only a couple days after I wrote about how hard it is to buy and sell teams in the NHL, the Nashville Predators sale has been approved by the NHL Board of Governors. Original Nashville owner Craig Leipold is selling the Predators to a group of nine owners. Seven of them are local to Nashville, including their spokesman David Freeman. The problem is the largest shareholder in this partnership is William "Boots" Del Biaggio, who was previously trying to move the Predators to Kansas City and it is unclear where his allegiances lie. The Nashville group is paying $193 million for the team and is on record saying they would be happy to break even on their purchase. In order to do this, they asked for and received concessions from the city of Nashville in a new lease.

What happens if the Predators cannot break even (they couldn't under Leipold)? What happens if the Predators no long qualify for revenue sharing payments from the league (they were the largest beneficiary of revenue sharing last year)? The re-negotiated lease may make things a bit harder to leave Nashville, but I would not be too surprised if that possibility is discussed again before too long. Nashville has not been a market that has generated enough revenue for an NHL team so far.

Here is TSN's story on the approval of the sale.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lady Byng Leader

The Lady Byng Trophy is given every year to the player who best combines playing ability and sportsmanlike play. At this point in the season, I think the leader is Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators. He currently is sixth in NHL scoring with 30 points and has only four penalty minutes. He is the captain and leader of the first place Ottawa Senators.

Given Alfredsson's reputation, it is surprising that his only individual trophy so far in his career that he has won is the 1995/96 Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Alfredsson would be a deserving Lady Byng winner.

James Mirtle has different ideas about the Lady Byng. He feels it is far too often given to forwards and not frequently enough to defenceman (this is true). However, this leads him to pick only defenceman for this award. Most of the defenceman he picks do not have the playing ability of Daniel Alfredsson. He is currently picking Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks as his Lady Byng pick. Now Vlasic may be a solid defensive player who leads San Jose in ice, but his four points and ten penalty minutes so far this year make him a far from ideal choice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hard To Buy And Sell NHL Teams

It is becoming harder and harder to complete deals to buy and sell NHL hockey teams. Since the lockout, the only team successfully sold outright to new owners has been the St Louis Blues and it took the better part of a year and two different agreements before it happened. This was a sale to a man who was well known to the NHL, Dave Checketts, who was the former president of Madison Square Gardens. There has also been a case where an ownership partner bought out his partner. This was the case of the Aquillini Group buying out Orca Bay to purchase sole ownership of the Vancouver Canucks. This purchase was approved by the NHL relatively quickly, but it was not without problems. Tom Gaglardi sued the Aquillini Group claiming he was double-crossed by his former partner. Gaglardi and Aquillini were both supposed to join the Canucks ownership group, but Aquillini eventually brokered a deal that did not involve Gaglardi.

Currently, the NHL has two teams with pending sales. A group called Absolute Hockey Enterprises had agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning and a "local" group had agreed to buy the Nashville Predators. Of these two deals, most considered the Tampa deal to be the much more likely one to work out.

The Tampa Bay deal has failed when the Absolute Hockey Group failed to make a payment. It appears that one member of the group, Oren Koules, the movie producer behind the Saw franchise, is trying to broker his own deal without his partners involved and failed to make his payment under this deal. A lawsuit is pending over this broken deal. It is unclear whether this deal can be revived with Koules on his own or with the rest of the Absolute Hockey Group without Koules making the purchase. It is also unclear if current Tampa Bay owner Bill Davidson will cut payroll until a deal is completed. On a team with current season MVP Vincent LeCavalier, former MVP Martin St Louis and former Byng and Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards, this could lead to some very big trades should he go this route.

Where does this leave the Nashville group? This group is nominally a local group, but the biggest investor is William "Boots" Del Biaggio, who was previously leading the charge to move the team to Kansas City. That alone makes it appear to be an unstable situation. Add to this the fact that this ownership group immediately looked for concessions from the city of Nashville which they have in a new lease agreement. Can this group maintain stable ownership in Nashville and make a profit where others have failed? I am very skeptical, but it is the best hope Nashville fans have. I would not be too surprised to see this deal never succeed.

With the failure of the Tampa Bay sale, hopefully the situation there will not become too unstable. Bill Davidson has done a good job with the team so far. It would be a shame to see him reduce Tampa payroll. If that happened, it could be the beginning of the end of NHL hockey in Tampa. I think NHL hockey in Nashville might already be on life support. This potential deal is keeping hopes alive, but there are many reasons to be skeptical about it. The fact that selling an NHL team has become such a hard process creates a lengthy time period where the old owner is committed to selling, but no new owner is firmly in place. This is a weak period where teams can be dismantled. In an already weak market, this could kill those teams.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Slightly Shocking Best Goalie

I had been calling Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets the best goalie in the league so far this season. I think it is time to re-address that position. Leclaire continues to play well. He has the third best goals against average (1.87) and third best saves percentage (.932) in the league. This is very good, but it's no longer the best in the league. My new pick for best goalie in the NHL so far this year is Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.

Tim Thomas is not a player I would have considered before this season. He is not on the NHL All Star Game ballot. When the lockout came in 2004, Tim Thomas was a minor league goalie with four career NHL games. He turned 30 in 2004 and it looked like he would not have an NHL career. He spent the lockout year playing in Finland and had a very good season. As a result, the Boston Bruins signed him as an extra goalie. In 2005/06, they expected Andrew Raycroft would be their number one goalie, but it turned out that Thomas played very well and played more games than any other Boston goalie. In 2006/07, they expected Hannu Toivonen would be their number one goalie, but it turned out Thomas played very well and played more games than any other Boston goalie. This season, it was expected that Manny Fernandez would be the Bruins number one goalie, but Tim Thomas is outplaying him and should play far more games this year. Tim Thomas has a wonderful .941 saves percentage that leads the league. He is doing this behind a poor Boston defence that is third worst in shots allowed per game. If the season ended right now, Boston's 11-10 (with two losses counted as regulation ties) record would give them seventh seed in the East Conference. The biggest reason for that is Tim Thomas's play. In order for Boston to make playoffs, Thomas will likely have to keep it up all season long.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

MVP So Far

We are a little past the quarter point in the season. I had earlier picked Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets as the NHL MVP. While he is still having a very good season, his claim to that title has dimished. My current MVP choice is NHL top scorer Vincent LeCavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His 36 points lead the NHL in scoring, while playing an incredible amount of time per game with Tampa.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Washington Fires Glen Hanlon

With the Washington Capitals sitting in last place in the NHL with a 6-15 record (one loss counts as a regulation tie) it is no surprise that they fired coach Glen Hanlon. Hanlon has been coaching the Capitals since 2003 with little success. I think it is amazing he managed to keep his job this long.

Washington is a bad team (though I argue the Edmonton Oilers are worse). Washington only has three players with ten or more points this year (Alexander Ovechkin, Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov). Alexander Semin has not been healthy, but he also has scoring ability. Their defence is bad. Brian Pothier and Mike Green are leaders on their defence. Neither of them can be considered stars. In goal Olaf Kolzig is acceptable but aging at 37 years old. Brent Johnson is a relatively poor backup who cannot seriously challenge for the starting job. Washington is a bad team and Hanlon couldn't do anything with them. It would taker a special coach to do something with that team.

Bruce Boudreau will take over as interim coach. Boudreau coached the Hershey Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup. He has been a successful AHL coach, but has no NHL coaching experience. I doubt he can do much with this Washington team, though he will likely lead it out of last place.

More than likely, when the season completes, Washington will fire GM George McPhee and start again with a new man in charge. Unless a major turnaround is possible with this team.

Here is TSN's story on the firing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Worst Team In Hockey

I spend quite a bit of time worrying about which team is the best in the NHL (and thus most likely to win the Stanley Cup). For the record, at this point in the season I would pick the Detroit Red Wings as the best team in the league right now. Today, I want to take a look at the bottom of the standings and pick out the worst team in the league.

I think the worst team in the league so far this year has been the Edmonton Oilers. They currently sit in 29th place in the 30 team NHL (Washington has a worse record) with a 7-13 record (one loss counts as a regulation tie. They have the world goal differential in the league. They score a league worst 2.00 goals per game while allowing 3.15. This is a differential of -1.15 goals per game (for comparison the Washington Capitals may be below Edmonton in the standings but have a goal differential of -0.65 per game)).

Edmonton's biggest problem is a lack of skilled forwards. Lowetide addresses this when he points out that Edmonton only has four impact forwards playing right now with more than 150 NHL games played in their careers. This problem exists in part because Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani are both injured for long periods of time. Even with Moreau and Pisani playing (both are competent NHLers but neither are stars) the Oilers forward unit would be a weakness.

Their defence has also been hit by injury with Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen out. This unit has some depth. Veteran NHLer Dick Tarnstrom has been a healthy scratch at times, but it lacks any proven defensive stalwart. Steve Staios might be the closest to this on the roster.

In goal, both Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson are capable, but neither is all star calibre. Roloson is 38 years old and might be starting to show his age.

Edmonton is an example of a team without strengths. A team with no strengths is a bad team. They are far worse than a team with strengths and also clear weaknesses (for example Tampa Bay - LeCavalier, Richards and St Louis are clear strengths and their goaltending a clear weakness).

The biggest problem with the Oilers is that they won't have a first round pick this year. It was given up to sign Dustin Penner as a restricted free agent. This pick will almost certainly be in the lottery and could be the first pick in the draft. This is a bad situation. For this, Kevin Lowe should be fired. It's a serious mistake. Instead, the Oilers resigned Lowe for four years.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Watch Out For Them Rangers

When the New York Rangers started the season 5-7 (with one loss counted as a regulation tie), a lot of people said here we go again. The Rangers had spent big money on free agents Chris Drury and Scott Gomez and it looked like the pre-CBA Rangers who conclusively proved that they couldn't buy a winning team.

Since then, the Rangers have gone on a tear. They are 9-1 in their last ten games. They have the best defence in hockey (allowing only 1.85 goals per game). While they are not a high scoring team, they have been able to move past the Edmonton Oilers in the scoring race to climb into 29th overall.

Henrik Lundqvist has played very well in goal. He has been one of the best goalies in the league so far this year. Their defence has been a very strong well coached until with a lot of credit going to Tom Renney for the coaching job he is doing. Though the Rangers lack any big name defensive stars, Michal Roszival, Daniel Girardi, Fedor Tyutin and Marek Malik have done very well as a unit. Offensively, Jaromir Jagr leads the way with 17 points. Scott Gomez has come alive netting 12 of his 15 points in the last ten games. Brendan Shanahan has done the same scoring nine of his 12 points in that span. Agitator Sean Avery has scored all eight of his points this season in that span (though he was injured earlier). This is why the offense is waking up. The key offensive players on the Rangers have started to show some life.

As long as the Rangers offense can stay alive (it does not have to lead the league with Lundqvist and their defense around), the Rangers will be a good team this season. They have been the hottest team in the NHL in their last ten games and could continue that success into the future.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Please Help Me Find A Clip

Last night on Hockey Night In Canada, Ron McLean referenced a recent post I made where I discussed the declining Russian presence in the NHL. This was noticed by some readers of this blog and by mudcrutch hockey, but unfortunately I did not watch it. If anyone knows where I can find this clip online please tell me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Best Forward So Far

I had been picking Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings as the best forward in hockey so far this season, but another forward has done so well lately that is no longer true. The best forward in hockey so far this season is Vincent LeCavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Currently, he leads the NHL with 32 points and is a very respectable +9. LeCavalier is a player who was very highly by scouts when he was drafted first overall in 1998. He was the next big thing. He was going to be the NHL's next superstar. Though he was a solid contributor to his Tampa Bay team from day one, it took a while for superstardom to arrive. Last season he won the Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals and this season he is doing even better. LeCavalier has now lived up to his early hype and seems to be on track to have a Hall of Fame career (though he is several top seasons away from making it).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bryzgalov On Waivers

With the salary cap, it is hard to make a trade in the NHL. At most times you have to trade a player for another player with nearly the same salary. That makes trades rare. No significant trades have occurred yet this year. Anaheim has been trying to move their backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov wants a trade to a city where he could be a starting goalie. Given Anaheim's slow start there have been a lot of rumors that Bryzgalov could be moved to attempt to help them out. Brian Burke has been trying but it hasn't worked. With the likely return of sabbatical players Scott Niedermayer and maybe Teemu Selanne, Anaheim looks as though they have to make a move that frees up salary space. The problem is moves like that are very hard under the salary cap. It is so bad that Brian Burke floated the trial balloon that teams should be able to trade players but still pay part of their salary to help him make a move. Likely this idea is a non-starter, but it is an interesting idea.

Things have got to be so bad that Anaheim has decided to put Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers. I am sure some team will claim him. It's a move that weakens the Ducks. They give up a good goalie and get nothing in return except for the space to add Niedermayer and maybe Selanne under the salary cap. Some team will claim Bryzgalov. He is too good not to be claimed and there are at least a handful of teams with goaltending weaknesses.

Here is the TSN story on the Ducks move.

NOTE: The Phoenix Coyotes have claimed Bryzgalov. Given that their previous goaltending pair was Alex Auld and Mikael Tellqvist he will be their clear number one goalie. I imagine phoenix hopes to resign him since Bryzgalov is a UFA this summer. Anaheim got rid of his salary and moved him to a division rival who is a weak enough team that it won't matter significantly to their positioning in the division and conference. The problem is they have no assets to show for Bryzgalov leaving Anaheim.

It is entirely possible (though I have no evidence for it) that this move was forced by Bryzgalov declaring he would return to Russia unless he was given number one playing time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Declining Russian Presence In The NHL

There are less Russians in the NHL than there used to be. This decline has begun with the lockout and the new CBA. It is alarming because there are some NHL talents who in years past would have played in the NHL but are not playing there anymore. The loss of players from the NHL talent base reduces the overall talent level of the NHL.

There are less Russians in the NHL today because the NHL has made it less economic for players to come from Russia to play in North America. The Russian League has more money than ever before and is able to play their elite players a few million dollars a year tax free. Meanwhile, the NHL has reduced the amount of money available to entry level Russians. In part, they have done this with a salary cap, which forces teams to decide where they want to spend their money. Those left without the bigger money contracts they feel they deserve return to Russia to play. This has sent players such as Alexei Yashin, Aleksey Morozov. Danny Markov and Oleg Kvasha back to Russia. More alarming is the way the NHL has reduced the amount of money young unproven players can get in North America. The re-entry waiver system keeps players in the AHL making $100,000 a year or less. Any minor league player making more than that amount must clear waivers to get called up to the NHL. Any team claiming a player on re-entry waivers is only assessed half his contract (thus making him a bargain) while the other half is charged to his previous team as a penalty. This makes it so that any Russian player in the North American minors is earning less money than he would in Russia by a significant margin. It has sent many of them home instead of learning the North American game in the AHL. This costs the NHL several players who have the potential to be talented NHL players.

This situation is made worse by the lack of a player transfer deal with Russia. Most major European hockey nations have an agreement whereby the NHL pays some money to bring players from these nations to the NHL. This money helps to pay for development of future players and the cost of development of the new NHL player (at least in principle). The European nations tend to believe that they are not getting enough money in transfer costs from the NHL, but they have little leverage to negotiate a raise. The negotiation of these amount has been done in a "take it or leave it" style by the NHL. Russia is, so far, the only nation to reject this agreement. This means that Russian contracts do not have to be honored in North America and North American contracts do not have to be honored in Russia. A Russian player who signs in North America can decide that he is unhappy there and leave in mid-contract to sign in Russia. In principle, things could happen in the other direction also, where a Russian player leaves Russia in mid-contract to sign in the NHL, but with the waiver system in the NHL it is far less common. A player cannot pack up in mid-season from the Russian league without having to clear waivers to play in the NHL. If the player is at all valuable, he won't clear waivers so this is a non-starter idea for NHL teams to obtain talent.

Sure enough some players do leave Russia for the NHL each summer. Russia gets no compensation for their losses (for example Evgeni Malkin). However, they gain when their talent base expands by adding disgruntled NHL players who leave in mid-season to return home to Russia. Without a transfer deal, Russia gets more players in their league than they would have with one, but it costs them some money. They usually lose the best of their young talents, but they get to keep far more than they would have with a transfer agreement.

It is only mid-November, but already five players have left North America to play in Russia. Gone are Roman Voloshenko from the Minnesota Wild, Igor Grigorenko from the Detroit Red Wings, Darius Kaparaitis of the New York Rangers, Konstantin Pushkarov of the Dallas Stars and Maxim Kondratiev of the Anaheim Ducks. Each of these players could have been useful to an NHL team this year. Many are young enough that they could have significant futures in the NHL, but more likely than not, none of them will. This loss of talent is Russia's gain, but it is also the NHL's loss. The NHL had been the league where all the best players in the world came to play. It no longer is. Some of the best players in the world are in Russia and lost from its talent base. This weakens the NHL.

To illustrate the drop in Russian talent, here is the number of Russian players who played in the NHL in the last few years:

Number of Russian NHL Players By Season
Season Number of Players
2002/03 57
2003/04 57
2005/06 40
2006/07 35
2007/08 27

While it should be noted that this season isn't over yet, so it is possible that more Russian players will wind up playing this season, the trend is clear. Before the lockout, the NHL had a stable 57 or 58 Russian players playing a year. That number has dropped steadily since then. So far this season only 27 Russian players have appeared in one or more NHL games. That is a drop-off of at least a team worth of players. Sure somebody (usually a North American) is found to fill these spots, but he is not as good as the Russian player who would otherwise be in the league. This lowers the overall talent level in the NHL. This makes the league weaker than it could be. This is not a good thing for the NHL. The NHL has set up a situation where economics keep about half of the NHL worthy Russians out of the league. There is a situation where a Russia player who comes to North America must make the NHL immediately or he will likely return to Russia where he can make more money. This prevents players from getting the seasoning they may need in the AHL. This reduces the overall talent level the league has. As an NHL fan, I am unhappy with this.

NOTE: The Russian Elite League does not attract only Russians to play there. Recently, Tony Salmelainen of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who is Finnish, abandoned the Maple Leaf organization (he was in the AHL) to play in Russia.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dallas Fires GM Doug Armstrong

Yesterday, the Dallas Stars fired GM Doug Armstrong. This is a surprise because Armstrong seemed to be doing a good enough job as Stars general manager. During his tenure as Stars GM (he was hired in 2002), Dallas has been the third winningest team in the NHL. They had not had much playoff success, having last won a playoff series in 2003, but they are still an above average team. At the time of his firing, Dallas's 7-10 record (with 3 losses counted as regulation ties) would have qualified for playoffs as eighth seed in the West Conference. One night of play since then has been enough to (temporarily) drop them from a playoff berth.

Armstrong has kept together most of the core that won the 1999 Stanley Cup that previous GM Bob Gainey put together and is still finding success with them. There are questions about what happens when this core (Marty Turco, Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen) become too old to compete, however that is not a problem yet. Armstrong has done a good job acquiring current top scorer Mike Ribiero for Janne Niinimaa, who is now out of the NHL. I would not have figured he was a GM who was in much risk of being fired.

It appears that owner Thomas Hicks got bored and wanted to exert his power so he made a big move despite the fact it was not needed. This is usually a poor move for an owner. The best plan is to find a good hockey man and let him run your team and stay out of his way. Armstrong has been doing a more than acceptable job.

Dallas has brought in Les Jackson and Brett Hull as co-interim GMs. The idea of co-GMs is a weird one. In event of disagreement, who makes the decision? Or is the idea to set up a bottleneck where nothing major gets done until a permanent GM can be found? If Dallas wanted a permanent GM, firing Armstrong during the season is a poor move. They would have been far smarter to have made the move last summer when more potential GMs were available for hire. Dallas does have former Los Angeles GM in their organization as director of player personnel. It is a surprise with a GM opening that they did not turn to him.

Les Jackson has been a good assistant GM in Dallas for many years. He gets a good portion of the credit for building their cup winning team. He had been considered as a potential GM for a few NHL franchises but never landed the job. He could be a solid Dallas GM given the chance. His problem is he is hampered with Brett Hull as his co-GM.

Brett Hull was a future Hall of Fame player but he has no further qualifications and he has a loud mouth that often gets him into trouble. He is a very poor choice to be GM.

Dallas made a surprise unnecessary move yesterday. They are no better for doing it and have likely made themselves worse. They would be better with Armstrong as GM. He was doing a good job. This co-GM situation is bound to lead to problems, especially given the fact one of them is unqualified.

Here is the TSN article on the move.

NOTE: Jim Lites is also out as president of the Dallas Stars. Presumably he disagrees with the recent Stars moves. Jeff Cogen is the new president. He had previously served as the president of baseball's Texas Rangers (who are also owned by Thomas Hicks). He is not a hockey man, but he has a sports management background. He will be replaced as the Texas Rangers president.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The East's Dominant Team

I have posted about how the Detroit Red Wings have been a dominant team so far this year. Led by the NHL's top scorer in Henrik Zetterberg and best defenceman in Nicklas Lidstrom I think they are the team that currently looks most likely to win the Stanley Cup. They can get even more dangerous now that Dominik Hasek has returned from injury. Likely he will get his game on track and give the Red Wings some top level goaltending. They are leading the West Conference with a 13-4 record (one loss counting as a regulation tie). There is a team with an even better record that Detroit. They are the Ottawa Senators, who have a league leading 14-2 record. They have also been playing very well.

Ottawa is led by Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza (though he has been injured) offensively. This is a formidable group. Their defence has also been very good with Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Mezsaros leading the way. Although their goaltending has been good with Martin Gerber in net and should be good when Ray Emery gets healthy, it is the Senators probable weakness. Neither of those goalies is likely good enough to provide the top level goaltending necessary to win the Stanley Cup. I think this is the main reason I would rate Detroit ahead of Ottawa, despite Ottawa having a slightly better record.

Nevertheless, Ottawa has been very good so far this season and lead the league in points. They are a good bet to return to the Stanley Cup finals. They currently have the NHL's second best offence (3.31 goals per game - behind Carolina) and second best defence (2.00 goals per game - behind the New York Rangers). This is a good team. If the right things fall into place, this team could win the Stanley Cup, but I would bet against it. At this point in November, a Detroit vs. Ottawa Stanley Cup final is looking likely. Of course, what looks likely in November often no longer looks so likely come April.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NHL's Best Power Play

With the increase in penalties called under the post-lockout obstruction crackdown, power plays have become very important in the NHL. Last season, the best power play was that of the Montreal Canadiens they scored on a league leading 22.8% of their power plays. In the summer, they lost power play point man Sheldon Souray to the Edmonton Oilers via free agency. Since he had led the team with 48 power play points, it was expected that their power play would decline this season. That has not happened. So far, Montreal's power play leads the NHL with a 29.5% success rate (a significant improvement from last season).

This is done with a power play led by Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov, Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec. Though these are solid players, they are not the type of stars one might expect would lead the NHL's best power play (for example none are NHL superstars or top scorers). The man who gets the biggest credit for Montreal's power play success should be assistant coach Doug Jarvis who runs it from the bench. Jarvis has done a magnificent job setting up a successful power play without building it around any superstar players. If I had a coaching opening in the upcoming summer, Jarvis would be on the short list of people I would want to talk to in order to fill it because of this success.

This power play success is a large part of the reason that Montreal is off to a good start. Their current 9-7 record (with three losses counted as regulation ties) has them in fourth place in the East Conference to date. Their power play success has not followed at even strength. Their offence has scored 23 of its 49 goals on the power play (this is almost 47%). In non-power play situations the team has not been nearly as successful. In fact no Montreal player has more than 3 goals in non-power play situations (Alexei Kovalev, Christopher Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault all have three goals when not on the power play). Thus it should be clear that to defeat Montreal it is very important to not take penalties. When you take their league leading power play out of the game you have neutralized their biggest weapon. Since Montreal is 15th in the league with 78 power plays drawn this is a reasonable goal.

The Montreal Canadiens power play is the best in the NHL. It has improved with the loss of their 2006/07 top power play scorer Sheldon Souray. A large part of this credit should go to assistant coach Doug Jarvis. However, if their power play is neutralized by not taking penalties, a large portion of Montreal's offence disappears and thus the team should be very beatable.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Scoring In The West

As a further look at yesterday's post where I criticized the theory that fans like higher scoring hockey, I maintain that well played hockey is usually lower scoring than more poorly played hockey. The AHL typically outscores the NHL every season. The ECHL typically outscored both the NHL and the AHL. The better league is usually the lower scoring league.

Last year, the West Conference had a better record in games versus the East Conference but was the lower scoring conference. This season, I think those trends will continue. It's still very early in the season; some teams have not played any inter-conference games. There is no clear leader in inter-conference play yet (in fact the east and west conference are 10-10 in inter-conference play), but it is clear looking at the NHL's top scorers that the East Conference is over represented (8 of the top 10 scorers play in the east). If the West Conference is as good as the east (or the better of the two conferences), then the top scorers in the west are having dominant years which are being lost because they are not scoring as often as their eastern counterparts. Here are the top ten scorers in the West Conference so far this season:

Top 10 Scorers In The West Conference (as of the conclusion of Nov 10th games)
Name Team Goals Assists Points Standing in League
Henrik ZetterbergDet1313261
Jarome IginlaCal1014243
Paul StastnyCol7121920
Patrick KaneChi6131921
Joe ThorntonSJ6131923
Alex TanguayCal5141924
Rick NashClb1161727
Daymond LangkowCal891729
Mike RibieroDal7101730
Joe SakicCol5121731

There are 21 east players with enough points that they would qualify for the top 10 in scoring in the west. The east is the higher scoring conference and thus has more players at the top of the scoring list, but that does not necessarily mean they have the best scorers. I think it means they play against weaker defences. This list shows just how well Henrik Zetterberg and Jarome Iginla are playing to be the first and third highest scorers in the NHL respectively despite playing in a lower scoring conference.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Test To Bettman's Fans Like High Scoring Theory

One unproven axiom that has been behind many of the moves that Gary Bettman has made to try to sell hockey to a wider audience in the United States is that fans like high scoring games. I do not believe that the attendance at a hockey game is related to the number of goals scored in the game, but nevertheless, the NHL has acted upon this principle. Sometimes this has led to some crazy rule changes such as the "trapezoid rule" where a goalie can only play the puck behind his net if it within a trapezoid region that defined behind the goal. The most successful method of raising scoring has been an obstruction crackdown whereby referees call penalties more tightly. Often this has led to phantom penalties where the puck is in a crowd and a player falls down so a penalty is assessed. This has allowed for smaller players to succeed in the NHL more frequently than in the past (Cory Murphy of Florida, Patrick Kane of Chicago and Tobias Enstrom of Atlanta are some examples of successful new smaller players). The main reason scoring has increased is not the increased space created from the obstruction crackdown it is from increased power play time.

On test to this theory should come this year in the form of the New York Rangers. With 1.88 goals per game, the Rangers are the lowest scoring team in the NHL. They are not a bad team. Their defence allows even less goals than they score with a league leading 1.69 goals against per game. This Rangers team is good enough to make the playoffs (their 8-8 record with one loss counted as a regulation tie would currently have them in fifth seed in the east conference). The Rangers fans see a good team, but they also see fewer goals per game than any other set of fans in the NHL. If there truly was something to the premise that fans like high scoring, this would be a problem for the NHL. The New York market is the biggest market in the US and their team is a low scoring one (a successful low scoring team thus reducing their desire to change that situation). If fans truly like high scoring games, this would present a problem to the New York Rangers. Their low scoring style would cause a drop (or at least reduction in the rate of increase) of revenues. Do we see this? There is no sign of it yet. However, in the second highest scoring market (Detroit) we are starting to see some softness in ticket sales. A Red Wings game is not a guaranteed sell out each night. This is despite the fact that the Red Wings are a dominant team. It seems that changing hockey to make it higher scoring is not as important to revenue as Gary Bettman would have us believe. If scoring is a factor in the amount of money the NHL can make, it is far less important than other factors. If the Rangers can be the lowest scoring team an maintain high attendance while Detroit can be an even better team that is second highest scoring in the NHL as see attendance soften, worrying about scoring rates and how to increase scoring seems like a waste of time. Let's hope Gary Bettman gets the message before they try something drastic like larger nets.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Future Hall of Famer Eric Lindros Retires

Yesterday, Eric Lindros announced his retirement at a press conference in London, Ontario where he donated $5 million to the London Health Sciences Foundation. I have recently written that I consider Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer. He is the first Hall of Famer to retire since Brian Leetch.

Eric Lindros was born on February 28th, 1973 in London, Ontario. He grew up in the Ontario Hockey system starring with the St Michael's Buzzers in the OHA-B League in 1988/89 where he scored 67 points in only 37 games. He was drafted into the OHL to play with Sault Ste Marie, but refused to report wanting to play in a more major market where he would have better options for his schooling. Instead, he went to play for Detroit Compuware in the NAHL (basically a tier II league) where he put up 52 points in only 14 games. After a trade was arranged to get him to the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, (Oshawa being a Toronto suburb made it an acceptable place to play) he began his junior career. He scored 36 points in the 25 remaining games and was an all star in the Memorial Cup tournament. The next year he dominated his opposition leading the OHL with 71 goals and 149 points and leading the playoffs with 18 goals, 38 points and 93 penalty minutes. He was Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year, the OHL MVP and a first team all star. He was selected first overall in the 1991 draft by the Quebec Nordiques.

Before playing an NHL game, Lindros played for Canada in the 1991 Canada Cup where he scored 5 points in 8 games. Again, Lindros refused to report to the team that drafted him. Again he wanted to go to a bigger market- He returned to Oshawa to play junior scoring 31 points in only 13 games before joining the Canadian National Team program and playing in the 1992 Olympics for Team Canada, where he scored 11 points in only 8 games. That summer, the Quebec Nordiques traded him twice. He was traded once to the Philadelphia Flyers and once to the New York Rangers. There was an investigation to determine which of the two trades was the legal one and the league eventually found that the Flyers trade was made first so it stood (the Nordiques thought they had a better offer from the Rangers and had tried to take back the Flyer deal to make the ranger one). Lindros was traded for Peter Forsberg (who had yet to play an NHL game), Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Philadelphia's 1st round pick in 1993 (Jocelyn Thibault was selected), Philadelphia's 1st round pick in 1994 (which was eventually traded to Washington and Nolan Baumgartner was selected), $15 million and future considerations (originally this was supposed to be the 1992 Flyers first round pick but the two trade contreversy had the Flyers make this selection for themselves before the trade could be finalized. Chris Simon turned out to be the future considerations.). It was a large price to pay for a player who had never set foot in the NHL yet, however Lindros had been so dynamic in junior. He was heralded as "the Next One". He would be the next superstar to follow Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

In Philadelphia, Lindros's NHL career began. He scored 75 points in 61 games as a rookie and made the all rookie team. The next year, he improved to 97 points in 65 games and appeared in his first of six NHL all star games. In the lockout shortened 1994/95 season, he tied for the NHL lead in points with 70 and won the Hart and Pearson Trophies as NHL MVP and made the first team all star. He returned in 1995/96 with his career best 115 points (in 73 games - Lindros usually missed a few games a year to injury). He made the second team all star. In 1996/97 he was limited to 52 regular season games with 79 points. He led the playoffs with 26 points as his Flyers team lost in the Stanley Cup finals. His 1997/98 season was also injury shortened with 71 points in 63 games. By this point, Lindros had established himself as the third highest scorer ever in terms of points per game (behind Gretzky and Lemieux). Lindros was selected to be captain of Team Canada in the 1998 Olympics (the first one the NHL participated in). Though Canada did not medal, Lindros tied for Canada's scoring lead with 5 points in the tournament. Nevertheless, much of the disappointment for Canada's failure was placed upon Lindros. In March of that season, Lindros suffered his first of many concussions after a hit by Darius Kasparaitis. Lindros returned with 93 points in 71 games played the next season. He scored 59 points in a concussion plagued 1999/2000 season where he was limited to 55 games. In the playoffs a hit from Scott Stevens resulted in his most serious concussion. He sat out the remaining season recovering concussions and involved in a dispute with the Philadelphia Flyer organization. Lindros was unhappy with the contract he had been offered (a two way contract) and was unhappy with the medical treatment he had received from the Flyers organization (where they had rushed him back and had him playing through a concussion). In 2001, Lindros was traded to the New York Rangers for Kim Johnsson, Jan Hlavac, Pavel Brendl and a 2003 third round draft pick (Stefan Ruzicka).

With the Rangers, Lindros managed 73 points in 72 games and once again appeared for Canada in the 2002 Olympics, this time winning a gold medal. His next season was his career best in games played with 81, but the concussions had taken their toll and his point totals began to drop. Lindros only scored 53 points that year. He added 32 more points in 39 games in 2003/04.

After sitting out a season for the lockout, Lindros signed as a free agent with Toronto. In his one season there, he scored 22 points in 33 games.

Lindros moved on as a free agent to Dallas for the 2006/07 season where he scored 26 points in his 49 games played.

Eric Lindros began to attempt to make amends for his brash actions of his youth (refusing to report to the team that drafted him twice). He worked to re-establish the NHLPA, which had been badly damaged in the 2004/05 lockout. He was one of the five players involved in the search committee to find new NHLPA head Paul Kelly and is expected to be the NHLPA ombudsman.

Lindros retires as one of the most dominant players (arguably the most dominant) for a period of a few years in the 1990's. His career was shortened due to concussions and that left fans wanting more, but his peak value and his recent work as an NHLPA builder, when it was strongly needed make Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer.

With Lindros's retirement, there are 15 still active players I think belong in the Hall of Fame regardless of their future achievements in their careers. They are:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Joe Sakic
Teemu Selanne
Brendan Shanahan
Mats Sundin

As more hockey is played this season, the list may grow. There are also a few players on the list not currently active on an NHL roster, so there could be more retirements.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Best Defenceman So Far

One sign that the NHL season is starting to have reached a meaningful number of games played is the top players taking their place at the top of the lists of best players so far in the season. Earlier this year, I picked Brian Campbell of the Buffalo Sabres as the best defenceman so far this season. While Campbell is a good defenceman who appeared in the All Star Game last year, he would be a significant surprise to win the Norris Trophy. As time passes into the season, one would expect a more probable Norris Trophy candidate to emerge as the top defenceman. This has happened. Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings has been the best defenceman in the league so far this season. Lidstrom is a very probable Norris Trophy candidate (in fact he has won it five times).

Lidstrom and Campbell both have 12 points so far this year, but defensively Lidstrom has been quite a bit better. Lidstrom has a +11 +/- rating, which is currently good for second place in the league (behind Chris Phillips of Ottawa). Currently, he is second in ice time (per game played), behind Francois Beauchemin of Anaheim. Lidstrom has been his usual powerhouse anchoring the Detroit defence.

With Lidstrom as the best defenceman so far this year and Henrik Zetterberg as the best forward so far this year it is no surprise that Detroit has been a dominant team so far leading the West Conference in the standings.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NHL All Star Ballot Announced

Yesterday, the NHL released the list of players who will appear on their ballot where fans vote for the starters in the 2008 All Star Game. Here are the players that made the ballot:

East Conference


Martin Biron Philadelphia Flyers
Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils
Rick DiPietro New York Islanders
Ray Emery Ottawa Senators
Cristobal Huet Montreal Canadiens
Olaf Kolzig Washington Capitals
Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Tomas Vokoun Florida Panthers
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes


Jay Bouwmeester Florida Panthers
Dan Boyle Tampa Bay Lightning
Brian Campbell Buffalo Sabres
Zdeno Chara Boston Bruins
Tomas Kaberle Toronto Maple Leafs
Andrei Markov Montreal Canadiens
Bryan McCabe Toronto Maple Leafs
Chris Phillips Ottawa Senators
Wade Redden Ottawa Senators
Henrik Tallinder Buffalo Sabres
Kimmo Timonen Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan Whitney Pittsburgh Penguins


Maxim Afinogenov Buffalo Sabres
Daniel Alfredsson Ottawa Senators
Jason Blake Toronto Maple Leafs
Daniel Briere Philadelphia Flyers
Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Chris Drury New York Rangers
Patrik Elias New Jersey Devils
Simon Gagne Philadelphia Flyers
Brian Gionta New Jersey Devils
Scott Gomez New York Rangers
Bill Guerin New York Islanders
Dany Heatley Ottawa Senators
Marian Hossa Atlanta Thrashers
Jaromir Jagr New York Rangers
Olli Jokinen Florida Panthers
Saku Koivu Montreal Canadiens
Ilya Kovalchuk Atlanta Thrashers
Slava Kozlov Atlanta Thrashers
Vincent LeCavalier Tampa Bay Lightning
Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Brad Richards Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin St Louis Tampa Bay Lightning
Marc Savard Boston Bruins
Brendan Shanahan New York Rangers
Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators
Eric Staal Carolina Hurricanes
Mats Sundin Toronto Maple Leafs
Thomas Vanek Buffalo Sabres
Justin Williams Carolina Hurricanes

West Conference


Niklas Backstrom Minnesota Wild
Jean Sebastien Giguere Anaheim Ducks
Dominik Hasek Detroit Red Wings
Nikolai Khabibulin Chicago Blackhawks
Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames
Pascal Leclaire Columbus Blue Jackets
Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks
Evgeni Nabokov San Jose Sharks
Marty Turco Dallas Stars


Francois Beauchemin Anaheim Ducks
Rob Blake Los Angeles Kings
Scott Hannan Colorado Avalanche
Ed Jovanovski Phoenix Coyotes
Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings
Mattias Ohlund Vancouver Canucks
Dion Phaneuf Calgary Flames
Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks
Brian Rafalski Detroit Red Wings
Robyn Regehr Calgary Flames
Sheldon Souray Edmonton Oilers
Lubomir Visnovsky Los Angeles Kings
Sergei Zubov Dallas Stars


Jason Arnott Nashville Predators
Mike Cammalleri Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Cheechoo San Jose Sharks
Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings
Shane Doan Phoenix Coyotes
Marian Gaborik Minnesota Wild
Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim Ducks
Martin Havlat Chicago Blackhawks
Milan Hejduk Colorado Avalanche
Ales Hemsky Edmonton Oilers
Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames
Paul Kariya St. Louis Blues
Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings
Daymond Langkow Calgary Flames
David Legwand Nashville Predators
Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks
Andy McDonald Anaheim Ducks
Mike Modano Dallas Stars
Brendan Morrow Dallas Stars
Rick Nash Columbus Blue Jackets
Markus Naslund Vancouver Canucks
Brian Rolston Minnesota Wild
Joe Sakic Colorado Avalanche
Daniel Sedin Vancouver Canucks
Henrik Sedin Vancouver Canucks
Ryan Smyth Colorado Avalanche
Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche
Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks
Keith Tkachuk St. Louis Blues
Henrik Zetterberg Detroit Red Wings

Each NHL team has at least two players on the ballot.

If I were to vote today, based only upon the way the players have played so far this season (which is not the way I would normally vote - I might pick some favorites of mine who are less deserving), my ballot would have Martin Biron, Brian Campbell, Andrei Markov, Sidney Crosby, Mats Sundin and Rod Brind'Amour starting for the East Conference and Pascal Leclaire, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dion Phaneuf, Henrik Zetterberg, Jarome Iginla and Paul Stastny starting for the West Conference. The problem is Brind'Amour is not even on the ballot. While it is understandable that not every player who might be considered an all star will be on the ballot, it is a huge oversight not to include a player who is worthy of an All Star Game starting position when the ballot is announced omitted. This is especially true given Brind'Amour is not a surprise to be an all star talent. He has won back to back Selke Trophies and was picked by the Hockey News as the 38th best player in hockey this summer. If I had to pick a player who appears on the ballot as Brind'Amour's replacement I suppose Eric Staal would be my selection.

Like last year, voters have the ability to write in selections who do not appear on the ballot (such as Brind'Amour). Whether there will be a campaign for an unworthy write in all star (like Rory Fitzpatrick last season) remains to be seen. There seems to be no rule to prevent it - except for the NHL's failure to count all the votes he receives.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

MVP And Best Goalie So Far

A little over a week ago, I picked Martin Biron of the Philadelphia Flyers as the top goalie in the NHL so far this season. Since then, Biron continues to play well and currently sports a .942 saves percentage and a 2.10 GAA, but another goalie has played phenomenally. This goalie is Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets. In his last four games, he has faced 108 shots and stopped 106 of them. That gives Leclaire an outstanding .957 saves percentage and a 1.12 GAA. He already has five shutouts in only nine games played.

Behind this MVP calibre goaltending, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the most improved teams in the NHL. They are 8-5 (with two losses counted as regulation ties). If the season ended now, the Blue Jackets would finish sixth in the NHL. A lot of this comes down to a better team defence under coach Ken Hitchcock, but the most important reason for their record is Pascal Leclaire. Their goaltending last season had a .896 saves percentage (with time split between Leclaire, Fredrik Norrena, Ty Conklin, Brian Boucher and Tomas Popperle). This season, they have a .944 team saves percentage (with Norrena and Leclaire having shared time). While improving team defence, Columbus has had a tremendous goaltending improvement that has dropped their goals allowed per shot allowed by almost half.

Leclaire turns 25 in a few days (November 7th) and was a high draft pick of the Blue Jackets (8th overall in 2001), but has thus far not had any prolonged NHL success. He appears to have turned the corner. This success so far this year is worthy of the Hart and Vezina Trophies should he keep it up. Although, Leclaire will likely have the most successful season of his career, keeping up these numbers would be such a tremendous accomplishment that I doubt he can do it. Pascal Leclaire has been the best player in the NHL so far this season by a wide margin.

Monday, November 05, 2007

What's Wrong With Anaheim?

Last season, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup. They were the first elite team in the NHL since the lockout. However, their start this year has not been so great. Currently, they are 6-9 (with two losses counted as regulation ties). Should the season end today they would miss the playoffs.

Under the current CBA, it is hard to keep successful teams together. However, Anaheim came out pretty well in terms of CBA related moves last summer. Their only significant loss was Dustin Penner to the Edmonton Oilers. They also have been hit by the sabbaticals of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.

The NHL season is a long and hard one and this is especially true for a team that has a long run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their off-season is shorter than that of most of the league and that takes a toll on your players. It takes so much of a toll that two key Ducks from last season have chosen not to play yet this season. If you subtract Niedermayer and Selanne from Anaheim, they will be a weaker team. This is especially true when these stars have not been adequately replaced.

Brian Burke attempted to replaced Niedermayer and Selanne via free agency, but it has not turned out to have been very successful yet. He signed Mathieu Schneider, who has been limited to two games so far due to a broken ankle and Todd Bertuzzi, who has been limited to seven games and only two points due to a concussion. This has tested Anaheim's depth. While Anaheim was an elite team last year, the CBA imposed parity kept them from having significant depth. When their stars were out, they were not nearly as strong a team and some of their stars have been out this year (on sabbatical).

On defence, Francois Beauchemin and Chris Pronger have been worked very hard. They are the two leaders in the NHL in ice time per game. When Schneider was out, Anaheim did not have any other defenceman that they had enough faith in to play them a lot. Ice time went to people like Kent Huskins and Sean O'Donnell, but they were not particularly effective.

At forward, the loss of top scorer Teemu Selanne cut into their scoring depth. So far, only four Ducks have scored more than one goal this year (they are Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald). Clearly the team need better than that.

Goaltending is the only position of depth where both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov are good enough to be NHL starting goalies. Many rumors have had Anaheim attempting to trade Bryzgalov but it is very hard to trade in the salary capped NHL. In fact, there have been no significant trades made yet this season.

Anaheim is coming off a Stanley Cup victory. This makes them a significant team to play against for any opponent. It is easier for the opponent to be up for the game than it is for the Ducks (where it is just another game in the season). After all the emotions of a Stanley Cup victory it is not uncommon for the defending champs to start slow (a Cup hangover). This was made worse by the NHL schedule that had Anaheim start the season in London, England against the Los Angeles Kings. This further served to increase their travel and shorten their off season (those two games against the Kings were the first two of the season).

Mathieu Schneider is back and playing well. Todd Bertuzzi should be back soon. Scott Niedermayer may decide to play before too long. Even Teemu Selanne could sign. Things will turn around. The Ducks are too good a team to miss the playoffs. They have fought through a short off-season, a couple significant sabbaticals and injuries to their replacements. Most likely, Anaheim will start to climb in the standings before too long. They have won their last two games with Mathieu Schneider in the lineup.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Kasparaitis Latest Russian To Leave NHL

The NHL has been losing Russian players back to the Russian hockey league at an alarming rate. Already this season Roman Voloshenko and Igor Grigorenko have left. The latest player to leave for Russia is Darius Kasparaitis of the New York Rangers.

Kasparaitis has been an NHL player since 1993. However last season, the New York Rangers assigned him to the AHL. He is back in the AHL this season. He was unhappy with riding the buses in the minors and told the Rangers he wanted to leave. The Rangers franchise had a choice. They could suspend him and let him go or they could give their "approval" to the situation and "loan" him there. He was going back to Russia. They had no control over that situation. It was in their best interest to "loan" him. By giving their approval to his departure, this season will count against his contract and there is no chance that Kasparaitis could return to the NHL in the future with a year owing on his deal - a year that appears to be a mistake where Kasparaitis would get paid NHL money to be in the minors.

There has been an alarming exodus of players to Russia. The NHL is having trouble hanging onto Russian talent within their system. No longer is the NHL the location where all the best players in the world play. Many Russians who are good enough for NHL service or could become good enough with a little North American seasoning are not there. Players like Aleksey Morozov, Alexei Yashin, Alex Perezhogin and Oleg Saprykin are not in the NHL. These are some of the Russian players who are good enough for the NHL but are in Russia instead. Every loss of an NHL calibre player weakens the NHL talent pool. Likely, some of these players could be having very solid seasons in the NHL.

For the typical NHL fan, this doesn't matter much. A few "whiner" Russians have left so that gives more chance for local boys to take their NHL jobs. However, the loss of potential NHL talent hurts. No longer is the NHL the place all the best players in the world play. It is entirely possible that a major international tournament such as the Olympics would reveal that one of the best players in the tournament is not in the NHL and is no longer on the track to get to the NHL. This is a major loss to fans. Fans are best served by having one league with all the best players in the world present.

Here is the TSN story on the latest departure to Russia.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Court Rules NHL Can Run Websites

There was an interesting lawsuit where the New York Rangers sued the NHL over its insistence to run NHL website claiming it to be an illegal cartel. US District Judge Loretta Preska ruled there is nothing illegal by this practise and the New York Rangers have shown no harm from it.

This lawsuit is the first public sign of a breakdown between the larger market NHL teams and the NHL itself. Since revenue sharing is incorporated into the CBA, there is less reward for a team seeking new revenue streams - as a significant portion of that new revenue will go to smaller markets via revenue sharing. The Rangers were hoping to generate new revenue that was not bound to revenue sharing on their website (for example by selling Rangers products outside the NHL's marketing). The Rangers are unhappy that central NHL marketing has not had revenue grow as fast as they think it should. This is to the benefit of smaller market teams that have trouble paying salaries today (with salaries linked to revenue, growing NHL revenue makes small market payrolls even larger). From the point of view of the fan, the centralized NHL team websites force teams to meet minimum standards on their websites (before doing this some teams had awful websites) but also serves to limit the creativity that teams more adept at the internet might have offered. It serves to silence the voices that might have existed on these websites if they were more independently run.

Here is TSN's story on the court ruling.

Friday, November 02, 2007

NHL Sentences Rick Tocchet

At the beginning of 2006, Rick Tocchet looked like a very promising assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes. When head coach Wayne Gretzky left the team for a few games earlier in the season when his mother Phyllis died, Tocchet took over as Phoenix's head coach for a short period of time. It looked quite likely that whenever Gretzky permanently stepped down as the Phoenix coach, Tocchet would be his replacement. All of this changed with Rick Tocchet's gambling arrest. He was arrested for his part in running an illegal gambling ring in New Jersey along with James Harvey, a New Jersey policeman.

This story was a juicy one for the media. It could be a serious scandal for the NHL. There could have been gambling on (and fixing of) NHL games. There could have been associations with organized crime. Since Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet was one of the gamblers, this could bring down Gretzky himself, who is hockey's most well known figure. Tocchet was immediately convicted in the court of public opinion. This scandal turned out to be not nearly as big as it first appeared. There was no gambling on NHL games. The gambling was only on NFL and NCAA games. This was a group of wealthy individuals who were making large bets on these games. There was no link to organized crime found. James Harvey was found to be the ringleader and was convicted with a five year jail term. Rick Tocchet plead guilty and was given probation. Since the story broke, Rick Tocchet has been indefinitely suspended from the NHL.

Gary Bettman has now met with Tocchet and handed down his ruling. His suspension will last two years (making him eligible to return on February 7th, 2008). He must abstain from gambling in any way and submit himself the NHL/NHLPA doctors to see if he has a gambling disorder. Bettman reserves the right to further discipline should these conditions not be met.

While it was not an intelligent move for Tocchet to be involved in illegal activity, a two year suspension seems more than adequate. The problem is in the court of public opinion. Many people still believe Tocchet gambled on NHL games - despite the fact courts and NHL found this was not true. It will be a black eye in the future if Tocchet is in a high profile situation, such as head coach of a successful Phoenix organization when somebody dredges up these old charges. It won't look good, although that is largely due to public overreactions and a rush to judgment.

Phoenix has kept Tocchet's assistant coaching position vacant and Wayne Gretzky wants him back (it is a common complaint of Gretzky that his loyalty keeps him from hiring the more qualified people for Phoenix Coyote openings). Tocchet may be a competent assistant coach, but many other competent coaches exist. It might have been a smarter move to hire one of them and b ring in their new perspective on the Phoenix situation.

Here is TSN's story on the Tocchet ruling and here is Eric Duhatschek's Globe and Mail article on the story.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why The Flyers Are Off To A Good Start

Last season, the Philadelphia Flyers were a bad team. They finished last in the league with only 22 wins and 60 losses (12 of those losses were regulation ties). They finished in last place by 9 points. They set out to improve this year by signing free agents Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere. This combined with the already existing youth in the Flyers system (players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and RJ Umberger) had a team that looked likely to improve. They certainly wouldn't be the worst team in the league again. I didn't pick them to make playoffs, but they should improve.

Ten games into the 2007/08, Flyers lead the Atlantic Division with a 7-3 record. Has their transformation happened that quickly? Have they gone from worst to a contender that quickly? To answer that question, it helps to look at why they are winning.

The Philadelphia Flyers defence has not improved. They have allowed 33.7 shots per game so far this year. That is worse than last year when they allowed 32.6 shots per game. Last year that was the 27th worst mark, this year it drops to 28th. They are also taking less shot on goal so far this season. Last year, they took 28.8 shots per game and this year it is down to 25.9. That is not a sign of a team getting better. So why have they won?

The simple answer is Martin Biron has been outstanding in goal. He has been the best goalie and MVP so far this year. He has a .948 saves percentage while being peppered with lots of shots so far this season. He alone has raised the Flyers saves percentage so far this year by about 50 points. The Flyers are winning because the goaltending has been exceptional. They are not allowing fewer shots, but of those shots they allow almost half of those that went in last season have been saved this season.

There is another strong reason the Flyers have a good record so far this year. They have had an easy schedule. So far this season, teams facing the Flyers have a combined record of 50 wins and 61 losses (with 8 losses counted as regulation ties). That is a poor level of competition. In his initial power rankings, David Johnson lists it as the worst quality of opposition faced by any team in the league. He is not at all impressed by the Flyers. He ranks them 23rd in the league ion the power rankings despite the fact they lead their division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are off to a good start this season. They have done so with outstanding goaltending from Martin Biron. As good as Biron has played, there is little evidence that he can keep this up all season when looking at his past record. They have played against weak competition as well. Likely given tougher competition, they will not have the same success. I don't think they will remain atop the Atlantic Division all season and I doubt they will make the playoffs.

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