Category Archives: Hockey

Fun with maps: US Olympic hockey team

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 6.05.00 PM

 

The US Olympic hockey team doesn’t exactly encompass a lot of the United States.

They have 25 players from only 6 states (5 if you exclude Paul Stastny who chose St. Louis, Missouri as a hometown after his dad played there. He was actually born in Quebec City, Canada):

– 8 from Minnesota
– 6 from New York state
– 3 from Wisconsin
– 3 from Michigan
– 2 from Connecticut
– 2 from New Jersey
– 1 from Missouri

Pretty random (and maybe uninteresting) information… but whatever!

Sometimes there’s just not much there to hate

Phaneuf signing pic Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 5.36.16 PM

So Dion Phaneuf signed a new contract, and there’s been a pretty exceptional amount of mouth frothing on account of it.

I get that people don’t really like Phaneuf all that much, but is seven years at $7 million per season really that bad when you think about it?

Of course, I’m predicating all of this on the idea that the salary cap is going to start going up, and up. And maybe up some more.

With Rogers dumping $5.2 billion into the NHL economy over the next 10 years that might become a pretty pedestrian salary by the end of it… hell, maybe even by year two.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently speculated that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews could possibly be earning $11-12 million per season on their next contracts (which expire just as the money will start rolling in).

So with the realization that $7 million might be pretty mid-range for a contract in the next seven years, maybe we should temper our concern.

Pundits and the peanut gallery have brayed non-stop over the last month about just how awful 29-year-old defenseman is. And let’s be certain, there’s some stuff not love about Phaneuf’s play, or his deal. But hate? Hate is so strong, and in this case, so unnecessary.

Is he going to be a quality player at the end of the deal? Hard to say. He’ll only be 36 once it’s done, which is plenty young for lots of quality defenseman.

But Bruce Arthur of the National Post put it well when he said, “this is what the Leafs have, so this is what the Leafs have to hold on to.”

Maybe it was the act of signing the deal that played into what people didn’t like about it? It went on a little publicly, then was oh so perfectly timed to happen right before the Winter Classic… and then there was that silly collage photo of the signing on the Leafs Twitter account.

But the biggest concern for anyone who is evaluating a contract in a salary cap system should always be pretty simple: How much of my pool of (financial) resources is being taken up by this asset, and is that amount proportionate to the player’s value?

And in this case, it’s not an extravagant amount for what you get, or at least it’s not going to be.

I get that some of the advanced metrics, like Corsi and Fenwick paint an ugly picture of him, but in all fairness to hockey’s advanced stats (and I dig that hockey is getting into them), I think there’s still some issues with them – notably, measuring shot quality versus quantity.

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur from the Don Cherry School of Hockey, Phaneuf really does eat big minutes against top lines. He may not be the best defenseman in the league, but he’s still doing an admirable job against other teams top lines.

Be angrier about the David Clarkson deal. Pretty sure most beer-leaguers could get paid an AAV (average annual value) of $5.25 to rake in suspensions and be invisible on the ice. At present, he is the one wasting cap space.

You may not like Phaneuf, and he may not be the best player on the ice any given night, but he is a good player, and a consistent one nonetheless. His deal seems like a lot right now, especially when you compare it to other top flight defensemen. But if that cap goes up, this deal is going to look just fine in the long run.

Besides, not that long ago this was a team that signed Jeff Finger to a 4-year deal at $3.5 per year! Surely they’re getting better at this whole “signing defensemen” thing! Hooray for progress. 

Unfinished thoughts: All for one, or one for… everyone?

Just a few small thoughts ahead of the Red Wings-Leafs Winter Classic this year.

I really like the New Year’s Day outdoor game a lot. But, clearly the NHL has never heard of the “too much of a good thing” concept.

If the league isn’t careful, 2014 could mark the start of a great idea being ruined.

On tap for this year: 1 Winter Classic, 4 Stadium Series games, and 1 Heritage Classic, for 6 total outdoor games.

The Classic is in Detroit, The Stadium Series will hit Chicago, New York and Los Angeles!?, then the Heritage game takes place in Vancouver in March.

Is this not all getting a little excessive? I could get onboard with two games. New Year’s in the U.S., and a Heritage game in Canada (maybe on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada… or whatever will become of it on account of the new Rogers deal).

The big issues with it, in my mind anyway, are that you run the risk of having the appeal wear off the more it happens, and the other is the lack of equity across the league. With a random selection of teams being put into weird conditions, you’re automatically putting them at a disadvantage in terms of the environment.

In the run up to the New Year’s game, we’re already hearing lots about the amount it is snowing. It’s coming down hard, apparently:

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.43.57 PM
Photo via: @reporterchris

TSN’s Mike Johnson made a good point about how the snow could force players to shoot more (hey, maybe the Leafs won’t get outshot?), and obviously this would alter their game plan to keep things about as simple as possible.

Fraser McLaren has already talked about the wind at practice, and how it was like “skating with a parachute on” and left him gassed.

Jonathon Bernier has mentioned the sun, and how it the glare was throwing him off a bit.

Someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned Alfredsson’s back spasms, and how the colder than usual temperatures could possibly impact him.

These are all weird disadvantages you’re forcing a select group of teams to deal with – and in the case of the Rangers, you’re doing it twice. Yes, both teams are facing the same conditions on the day, but in the long term view of the season, even though it’s just one game, it seems pretty unfair.

And who even knows what’ll happen in L.A. with the game at Dodger Stadium. Temperatures in January average between 8-20 degrees (Celsius). Weird conditions for hockey.

So shouldn’t we consider limiting these factors for the sake of equality across the league?

Or, at the very least, subject every team to an outdoor game once a year… but then you’re really killing the unique, exciting nature of the event, and that’s obviously not the point. I mean, I love a little McDonald’s breakfast every once in a while, but you’re not going to find me eating it every day.

I get that the games are cash cow, and great exposure for the league, but lets treat it like an Egg McMuffin and not ruin a good thing by overindulging.

Feature image via: @NHL twitter account

*note: please excuse spelling and grammar errors till I can clean it up. This was hastily posted on account of game time. 

A misuse of anger

The reaction came fast and furious. Fans of the Ottawa Senators – and formerly fans of Daniel Alfredsson – began violently gnashing their teeth in the instant following their Captain’s decision to bolt.

Threats of an egged house, burned jerseys, etc., etc., were plastered across Twitter in the wake of the news. And while it’s hard to completely blame fans for said reaction, we can certainly hold them to account for it.

The reaction was (sort of) understandable. Over the Senators brief history, there has really been only a (small) handful of players the franchise can really call its own – Alfie, Phillips, Neil, Spezza, Redden, Fisher… and Daigle maybe? (albeit for all the wrong reasons).

After that the well starts to run pretty dry. Hell, even Fisher might be more of a Predator by the time he’s done with the game.

So with this in mind, why, as a fan base, would you nail to the cross one of the only players who’s ever embraced Canada’s cold, staid capital?

There’s no good reason really. So in this case we’ll just have to chalk it up to anger.

And make no mistake – anger is easily one of the more complicated human emotions.

Often we use anger as a means to create an emotional distance – a barrier to the pain we’re caught in.

So in this case the hatred just feels like an effort to mask the pain of losing the only thing such a young organization has ever had the chance to be proud of.

Was the situation embarrassing? Certainly. And having Alfie basically call the team a non-contender on the way out of town hurts all the more.

But, the #SensArmy’s (or whatever the hell they are) irrational, unexpected, and vitriolic reaction is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Think it out, Ottawa. We’ve see this kinda thing before. In 15 years will anyone ever call Sundin a Canuck, or Iginla a Penguin? No. And Alfie will be a Senator… you’ve just made a little more awkward because of some anger issues.

To any Sens fan, I would offer this advice: Try focusing your anger towards something more productive – like how Leafs fans come into your barn and boo your team on their home ice. That’s more embarrassing than a Captain leaving town.

You have a Jack Adams coach, a young, Norris-winning blueliner, and you just got that Bobby Ryan guy. The future is perfectly bright, it’s just captain-less… for now.

 

Ed. note: This was written shortly after the Elliotte Friedman article that’s hyperlinked in the above text. It just wasn’t posted till now…  I’m busy, okay? 

Silence of the lamb

A controversy has rocked the Maple Leafs on the eve of what should have been the most joyous of moments – returning to the playoffs after a nine-year wait.

All of a sudden, one of the team’s top snipers, Phil Kessel, went silent and dodged the media the day before the team was set to fly out to Boston for game one.

Kessel’s surprising change of pace will no doubt leave the Leafs reeling, and couldn’t have come at a worse time, as “top” centre Tyler Bozak struggles through an upper-body injury.

“His eloquent verbiage is, without question, one of his finest attributes,” said Dion Phaneuf, the second most well-spoken player on the team.

“For Phil to abandon such magnificent vocal leadership at our greatest time of need is a treason from which we may never recover,” he continued.

* * *

Hah. Okay, back to reality.

After the hockey writers in the Centre of the Universe descended on Phil Kessel for not speaking to the media following a practice, we’re left with one nagging question:

Why?

Just what exactly did they expect?

Was what Kessel did right… or a smart thing to do? No. He just made things worse for himself in the long run.

But do we really need to drag him over the coals for it? Also no.

I suppose Toronto media has shown a certain fondness for well-spoken athletes. Mats Sundin was quite well spoken, and quite well treated as a result. R.A. Dickey has stolen the hearts of local writers – he even wrote a book himself!

But just because a guy doesn’t feel like talking doesn’t mean he should given such a hard time, even if it is part of his job (we all conveniently fake a sick day once in a while, no?)

If we really want accountability we should focus our frustrations on something more practical.

For example, why aren’t referees forced to speak with the media after games?

Or better yet, when Gary Bettman hosted an XM radio show, why were all the callers pre-screened with nothing negative to say?

Those are the cones of silence we should question. Not why some shy, distant 25-year-old hockey player is trying to avoid giving boilerplate answers to a swarm of people he doesn’t like.

Kessel’s gonna Kessel. Just leave it at that and move on.

Pay dat man hees money

It must suck to be PK Subban right now – or Jamie Benn, or Ryan O’Reilly.

These guys ride out the lockout, only to have hockey come back, but their teams are then unwilling to sign them.

Don’t worry, we can all still blame Gary Bettman for this somehow, I’m sure. But that’s neither here, nor there at this point.

PK probably banked a little coin doing his Sportsnet TV spots, so I’m sure he’s not too strapped for cash yet, but at some point he’s going to need to paid, so let’s figure out just what he should earn.

Here’s PK’s last two years with the Habs (which other than two games in 09/10 is all of his NHL experience):

Games

G

A

P

PIM

+/-

2010-11

77

14

24

38

124

-8

2011-12

81

7

29

36

119

9

 

Here’s a mystery player’s numbers from last year:

Games

G

A

P

PIM

+/-

2011-12

82

12

26

38

39

-7

 

Those look an awful lot like PK’s numbers!?

But it gets better… the mystery player’s contract is seven years, with a $4.35M/yr cap hit.

The mystery player is also Jack Johnson. Aside from a bit more time in the box those two are carbon copies.

Now, it’s not Montreal’s fault that some irrational GM came along set the bar too high for average defensemen like Jack Johnson. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about the business of hockey today, it’s that there are lots of idiot GMs out there running up the market value for average players.

Now, of course there are other case studies. Michael Del Zotto posted a nice year last year:

Games

G

A

P

PIM

+/-

2011-12

77

10

31

41

36

20

 

In the end, he settled for a two-year deal with a $2.5M cap hit, but he also split 2010-2011 between the AHL and NHL.

Plus, you could argue PK has a bit more pedigree than Del Zotto what with being an OHL standout, World Junior player, and an NHL All-Star. Being the face of the Canadiens’ marketing campaign doesn’t hurt either.

The other thing is PK should get paid now and get paid a lot if he can. These guy’s careers can be lost to freak injuries in an instant (see: Trent McCleary), so it’s always better to pull a DiPietro and cash in early.

So, stick to your guns PK.

Montreal, we get it. It’s a bit unfortunate for sure, you don’t have to like the market rate for top four defensemen, but at some point it looks like you are going to have to “pay dat man hees money”.

 

Or trade him, I guess.

The Vodka Diaries

Not Mikhail Grigorenko.

It’s always hilarious hearing quotes from Russian hockey players translated into English.

An article from rt.com has a great one from Mikhail Grigorenko reacting to news that a coach of a local club in Ufa called out the junior team for partying too much.

“Who is he? A coach? Of what club? Tolpar? Never heard of such!”

Classic.

Not giving the kid a hard time or anything, because Russian doesn’t exactly translate that well to English. I mean, they don’t even use articles, like ‘the’… but it’s still a funny one nonetheless.

But back to the bigger issue. Were Russian players legitimately out late partying before the gold medal game? If so, get a grip, you boozehounds. There’s plenty of time to drink your face off when you get the win.

Update:

Some sleuthing around the internet (read: Wikipedia) has led me to a discovery. Tolpar Ufa is in fact a real hockey team. They seem to be playing in an OHL-like junior league, founded in 2009 (this could explain why Grigorenko was unaware of them). They also appear to be the farm team (of sorts) for Salavat Ufa of the KHL.

Man’s gotta eat.

Well, the Earth is spinning off its axis again. Connor McDavid, the 15-year-old phenom for the OHL’s Erie Otters is set to sign an endorsement deal with Reebok.

Apparently it’s a multi-year deal, which sounds like it’ll take him through to “when and if he is in the National Hockey League.”

This is good, because I’ve been waiting for the day I could walk into Canadian Tire and buy a hockey stick named for a player who can’t drive a car.

Really, there’s so much else to say, but lyrics from my favourite songs by The Roots come to mind:

You don’t see that somethings wrong? Earth’s spinnin outta control.
Everything’s for sale, even souls. Someone get God on the phone.

Hello, hello, hello… 

Yeah that sounds about right.

Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic. Good on the kid for getting paid.

Poking the Bear

“”I’m not afraid of anything. I’m afraid of bear – but bear in the forest.” – Ilya Bryzgalov

An NHL lockout is bad for a number of reasons. People will be out of work, and not just the well-paid hockey players. Hockey’s popularity will suffer right as it was making inroads in less conventional markets. And sadly, the Stanley Cup could wind up with odd gaps in its lineage unseen since the seasons lost to World War II (or the 2005 lockout).

But something that’s getting lost in the fray of this lockout conversation is the potential for other hockey leagues of Europe to start encroaching on Canada’s favourite pastime – particularly the KHL.

Unlike football, baseball, and to a lesser extent basketball, hockey is actually quite popular in Europe. In fact, leagues like the KHL are quite ambitious. The popularity comes with an asterisk though. While popular, the leagues are smaller than the NHL, and in some cases, the countries are simply don’t generate NHL-type money from ticket and merchandise sales.

The KHL doesn’t exactly follow the business model of the NHL, where fans flood to arenas (at least in the northern climes) and pay staggering amounts for tickets, food, booze and merchandise. This is not really a trait of the European leagues. For example, hockey games in Sweden are actually relatively inexpensive, and beer is moderately priced – even though the country itself is exorbitantly expensive.

But does this mean the European leagues can’t ever compete with the NHL until they start charging $12.50 per beer and $8 for a plate of shitty nachos?

Not necessarily.

Gates, concessions, and merchandise make up only a portion of a team’s revenue. Another bulk of a league’s revenues – and therefore a portion of a team’s revenue – can be driven by the TV deals they have. Of course ‘can’ is the operative word here. Forbes.com (loosely) summarizes the relationship between revenues, ticket sales, and TV deals of the major North American sports leagues as such:

“During the 2010-11 season, the typical NHL team relied on gate receipts for half of their revenue. Last year the average team in the NFL, which has the richest national television deals (divided equally among all teams), got less than 25 per cent of its revenue from ticket sales. The comparable figures in the NBA and MLB are 33 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.”

Also… “The league’s new 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC is such a small piece of the overall revenue pie that it is virtually inconsequential.”

Interesting and alarming at the very same time. In the TV world, it would seem hockey is getting left out in the proverbial cold – leaving it on dangerously thin ice. Oh the puns, how rich.

Further Forbes-based analysis would imply that the NHL is ankle-burning its way to a bad business model: “During the 2010-11 season the typical NHL team only generated 18 per cent of its revenue from television. Last year the average team in the NFL, which has the richest television deals (divided equally among all teams), earned 54 per cent of its revenue from TV. The comparable figures in the NBA and MLB are 38 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively.”

So, the idea goes something like this: If Russian TV networks pony up and drop serious coin on a KHL TV deal (one big enough to compete with the NHL’s revenues) then the league would get enough of a cash influx – regardless of merchandise and ticket sales – to inject money into the teams, pay comparable salaries to the NHL, thus luring away the top talent and becoming more watchable.

Of course it is not that cut and dry, and it probably never will be with the corrupt and slippery world of Russian business. The KHL has plenty of obstacles to overcome. Some teams are very spread out, currently the league is largely funded through petro-dollars, there are the legalities of more than just two countries to juggle, and the general population has less disposable income than North Americans.

But the troubles aside, the potential exists. PwC has done an interesting analysis of the Russian media market, which is one of the fastest growing in the world.

“In 2010, the Russian media market grew by 13 per cent and is now worth $20.5 billion, while the global media market increased by only 4.6 per cent.”

Kovalchuk: “Hey Ovie, you know we world’s fastest growing media market?”
Ovechkin: “No. Dats cool.”

They predict that between 2011-2015 the market will continue to grow at an 11.7 per cent compound annual advance, compared to the global rate of 5.7 per cent.

But here’s the kicker… They expect “in 2012 Russia will overtake the UK and Germany as the largest TV advertising market in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa) with USD 6.1bn. By 2015 Russia will be the fifth-largest TV advertising market in the world, behind only the US, Japan, China, and Brazil.”

Shit. That’s a lot of available advertising dollars. Where those will go of course is anyone’s guess. But, what if the KHL suddenly becomes the hottest thing going on TV? What if Tretiak is on TV every Saturday doing his best Don Cherry impersonation? Given Vladimir Putin’s use of hockey as a foreign policy tool, maybe it’s not such a far-out idea.

If hockey starts to drive ratings, and advertisers pay more, and the KHL funnels that money back into the league, all of a sudden there may be enough cash kicking around to keep the Ovechkins and the Malkins from going over to Canada. Especially considering Hockey’s grip on the North American sports market is tenuous at best.

Plus, the NHL seems to be very unaware of the simplest laws of economics. If there is a demand for hockey, but no supply of it on TV, someone will figure it out. Hence, the KHL and ESPN3 will be joining forces.

I can’t believe Yakupov score shootout winner!

It doesn’t stop there though. Internet access share of the media market is expected to increase as well. Granted, the revenues might be small, but the more clicks on khl.com from Igor in Chelyabinsk and next thing you know the league has even more money to play with.

Then there’s more potential for money from ads on jerseys, other European TV deals in countries, and the money that does actually roll in from the games themselves – St. Petersburg sells out a 12,000 seat arena every game.

Of course, this would require the KHL to act more like a governing body as the NHL does, where they take money in and distribute it amongst the clubs. Then, the owners will need to use that money on players and these Russian “businessmen” who own teams will have to avoid spending cash on ridiculous stunts.

Plus, there’s the little image problem the league has of using aging planes, planting drugs on players to get them to quit, making players buy their own equipment, folding teams mid-season and players going fishing for their dinner after games. That last one is not a joke – read Dave King’s book about coaching Magnitigorsk for a year for details.

Yes, the obstacles are large, and some NHL teams are catching on to the importance of TV deals – LA recently signed a regional TV deal with Fox Sports West.

But tread carefully, NHL. You had a pretty good thing going, and you probably will once things start up again, but it’s always safer to just not poke the bear.

Brodeur: The Greatest to Ever Play the Game

For those of you who agree the with title, read no further. For those of you who disagree with the title, get serious.

I am writing this brief article in response to a segment that I saw on The Score, whereby you could visit some silly social media site and post whether you thought Brodeur was the greatest goalie to ever play the game. My first thought was how bush league The Score was because no one would ever disagree that he is the greatest goalie ever. However, it turns out that Steve Denby from Small Town, Nova Scotia (fabricated name and location – but you get the idea) believes otherwise. Assuming that Mr. Denby is just the tip of an iceberg of idiots I became overwhelmed with rage, thus forming the stimulus for me to shed a bit of light on this issue.

I create a summary of what I believe to be some key statistics for Brodeur, Roy and Sawchuk (see below). In five of the seven categories Brodeur takes the cake. Also, consider that in the context of some other useful statistics:

  • Brodeur has never had a save percentage under 0.900
  • Brodeur has never have a GAA over 2.60
  • Brodeur did not breed uncontrollable rage into his offspring, causing them to skate the full length of the ice, massacre an innocent goalie, and then go to the US to pursue a country singing career.

Brodeur 1