Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hits to the Head (and all the headaches that come with making rules about them)

Part 1

You may not recall this, but the original concept of CLS focused on dissecting the NHL's biggest issues in a round table format. Instead, the blog morphed into something that is often much better.

Still, though, now that the blog features two brainy contributors in Joe and Chris Kontos, we'll occasionally take such an approach with various issues.

In this case, Joe e-mailed me after a weekend full off controversial hits. Here's the first part of our discussion.

James, we're not even a whole month into the NHL regular season, and already it seems that we've hit our yearly quota for incidents in which someone made a outright dirty hit, or at least made one which was borderline dirty. I got into this discussion last spring with Art and Daniel(and hey, we're even hijacking their gimmick!) on the Brown/Hudler hit during the DET/ANA series, and then again with Art when Kronwall broke Marty Havlat in the DET/CHI series. The other day, Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski said his piece on reactions to the recent Mike Richards/David Booth hit, comparing it to this hit by Willie Mitchell on Jonathan Toews. I'm sure both of us agree on such blatant cheap shots as this Ruutu shot on Darcy Tucker, which resulted in a 3 game suspension, but that black and white turns to gray really quick when you start looking at some other more controversial hits. Obviously we want a contact sport, but at the same time, there is a definite problem in the league with regards to headshots, even those delivered legally by the letter of the law like Richards', though the clean/dirty aspect of it, despite its legality, is definitely up for debate. Where do you think that line should be drawn, and how should it be enforced? Is a full ban on hits to the head the answer?

I'm just going to slip these in here, for reference, examples, general viewing enjoyment, and probably to stir up some folks in the comments as well, in addition to the previously linked hits:Nik Kronwall/Marty Havlat, Nik Kronwall/Mike Ribiero, Dion Phaneuf/Kyle Okposo, Doug Weight/Brandon Sutter, Scott Stevens/Eric Lindros, Stevens/Slava Kozlov, Stevens/Ron Francis,Stevens/Shane Willis, Stevens/Paul Kariya.


Oh boy is this ever a loaded issue. I guess the first point that needs to be made is that, unlike Joe, I don't have a frame of reference beyond street hockey. I am an anti-athlete. Watching me play sports is an exercise in unintentional comedy.

I can't even skate backwards without looking like an idiot.

So, from my personal perspective, it's difficult to be too hard on some of those gray area hits. Hockey is a ridiculously fast sport and to assume that they are ALL deliberate attempts to injure is probably misguided. In particular, hits against the boards (while often being the most dangerous from a neck injury/concussion standpoint) can go from painful to dirty while a player has already committed to the check.

That being said, these ARE world class athletes we're talking about. The Sports Guy Bill Simmons had an interesting take on Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs being accused of being a dirty player:

"Bruce Bowen is a cheap player. There's no debate. He's not some clumsy power forward who can't stay out of his own way (like Mark Madsen), or even some uncoordinated center who can't remember to keep his elbows near his body (like Shawn Bradley). He's a world-class athlete who has complete control over every inch of his body at all times.

As anyone who's ever played basketball knows, with the exception of clumsy people who probably shouldn't be playing in the first place, there are no accidents on a basketball court.Your feet just don't coincidentally land under someone else's feet as he's shooting a jump shot, and you don't just coincidentally kick someone in the calf as he's going up for a layup or dunk. These things don't just happen. They don't. The only room for error happens when someone's trying to block a fast-break layup or dunk, takes a roundhouse swipe and inadvertently ends up hitting his opponent's head instead of the ball (like we saw with Matt Barnes when he clocked Matt Harpring Tuesday night). When Jason Richardson nails Memo Okur at the end of Game 4 because he's pissed that Okur was driving at the tail end of a guaranteed win, or Baron Davis elbows Derek Fisher in the same game because he's ticked that the Warriors blew a winnable game ... those aren't accidents."

Before we get into defining what a dirty hit really is, I have to ask you Joe: does it matter whom the offender is? Should guys who seem to continually blur the line between legal and illegal ... who have a tendency to take advantage of other players ... should the Scott Stevens, Dion Phaneufs and Mike Richards of the world be under special consideration?

In other words, can we fairly judge the intention of a hit and should reputation be taken into account?


I don't think reputation should be considered at all in the actual penalty. If Pavel Datsyuk, who may actually be Lady Byng, makes a dirty play, he ought to be called just the same as anyone else. Conversely, while Nik Kronwall may be universally reviled for having a tendency to leave his feet when hitting, you can't tell me he doesn't make a lot of legal, clean hits as well. The ice itself is not the place for refs to have to make even more subjective calls about reputations and intents. Reputation and prior incidents should only be an issue during the supplemental discipline process, for players who are refusing to learn from past issues.

Hand in hand with avoiding subjectivity on the ice, intent should also be tossed out the window by the refs, and only considered within the supplemental discipline process. Refs have a hard enough time doing their jobs, and adding more subjective considerations to their calls is only going to make things worse, both in terms of calls missed and phantom calls made. Besides that, I think intent is a pretty shady area in which to judge anyways. Rarely does anyone ever mean to break someone's neck or end someone's career or change someone's life. The intent is usually to make someone think twice, to be hesitant in going into the corners, to help wear someone down. I think we both agree that particular intent is legit, and a good part of the game, but its the execution that sometimes goes a little too far, right?

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk along the lines of eliminating hits to the head. In the OHL, all hits to the head are deemed illegal, and in the AHL, any hit to the head which is deemed to be intentional is an automatic match penalty. The thinking behind those rules was that the acceptable intent of hitting someone, as I just mentioned, can still be fulfilled without hitting the player in the head. Hits to the head are then thought to serve no constructive purpose in the game, outside of attempting to inflict an injury on your opponent. On the other side, many people contend that such crackdowns wouldn't work, because you'd have Zdeno Chara getting penalties all the time for hitting the likes of Marty St. Louis in the head, or that such restrictions go too far and remove too much physicality from the game. Where should that line be drawn?

James: What do you think, fair readers?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Visors

If you haven't seen it already, you should definitely check out this fantastic piece posted by NHL FanHouse's Chris Botta. Pat Dapuzzo, a former NHL linesman of 24 years, shares what I'm sure is just a very small part of his experience after having his career ended and his life changed in a freak accident. If you're squeamish, the embedded video on the article may not be for you, but what happens in that video is that Philadelphia Flyer Steve Downie was being hipchecked along the boards by a New York Ranger. Dapuzzo was caught between the boards and the hipcheck, and as Downie pinwheeled over the hitter, his skate stabbed Dapuzzo across the face. The injuries are recounted in the article by Dapuzzo, the most startling of which being that his nose had to be reattached. It's a great piece, but one quote in particular cut to an issue whose answer seems so obvious that I've never been able to understand why it's even a question:

"This is a fact: all this happened to me because I wasn't wearing a face shield."

One of the things we all love about pro athletes (not you, Paul Pierce) is their toughness, and this is particularly true with hockey players. No sport emphasizes or lionizes sacrificing your body for the team like hockey does. The passion and commitment that it takes to drop in front of a Chara/Pronger/MacInnis type blast from the point is one of the greatest things in sports. A large part of the rationalization for making those sacrifices is that the pain is temporary: the bruise will heal, the teeth can be replaced, you can get a shot before the game, and that at worst, the bone can be set and put in a cast to heal. Really, most injuries a hockey player is going to take in their career are things that can be healed and fixed, and allow the player to live a normal life after their career. Perhaps the most glaring exception to this is a person's eyes.

I've been watching sports for years, and I've been on the internet for just as long. I've seen a lot of pretty gruesome injuries, but I can only remember one incident in a sports game that made me instantly gasp in horror, during the live play. In Game 5 of the Wings/Flames series in the 2004 playoffs, a point shot by Mathieu Schnieder deflected in front of the net, redirecting upwards into the left eye of Steve Yzerman. That was easily one of the scariest things I've ever seen. Yzerman was lucky - he was able to recover, and even come back for another year after the lockout. Seeing that video, its not hard to imagine how it could've been even worse.

Eye injuries cost Brian Berard his career. An eye injury forced Al MacInnis into an early retirement. Ducks prospect Jordan Smith lost his career to an eye injury, an incident that prompted the AHL to require visors for all players. There are plenty of examples out there, and even more close calls.

Considering that their bodies and abilities are their living, the fact that most NHL players don't wear visors is simply astounding to me. That the NHL BoG has not forced the issue in an attempt to protect their investments is even more surprising, given their sole motivation comes from dollars and cents. There seem to be 3 reasons, in my mind, why the NHL hasn't made the jump.

The first issue is obviously concern about impeded vision on the ice from the visor. Somehow, many of today's young stars see just fine with a visor, and besides that, there's always the tinted visors to reduce glare. Second, is that "the code", as given to us by the likes of Mike Milbury and Don Cherry and other assorted irrelevant people, demands that you not be a pansy and wear protection... except for shin pads, padded pants, a cup, shoulderpads, elbow pads, and a helmet. Just don't put on that visor, or you might as well go back to France.

Third, and less talked about, I think has to be a confidence and denial issue among players as well. With such skilled players, part of the problem has to also be an issue of overconfidence as well. Sure, an NHL player can deflect a puck or dodge or flinch away from a shot coming his way. It makes it easy to think you can avoid an injury in any situation. Unfortunately, it's never as cut and dry as a straight shot into your eye. On Yzerman's injury, the puck deflected significantly, less than 20 feet away from him. Bryan Berard and Al MacInnis were both injured by sticks, not pucks. Such freak accidents are fortunately uncommon, but the fact is that they still happen, and they are frequently the sort of incidents the victim couldn't dodge or avoid. Coupled with that, the attitude of "It will never happen to me" is definitely a part of the choice not to wear a visor. No one ever plans on suffering a catastophic injury. Of course, no matter how hard you look the other way, such things still happen.

Mandatory use of visors obviously wouldn't prevent every injury. Dany Heatley's left eye remains permanently dilated from an injury that occurred while wearing a visor. Pat Dapuzzo still would've had his face slashed by Downie's skate, but the injuries would certainly have been reduced significantly. But a $50 visor would likely mean Bryan Berard still pulled an NHL paycheck. Wearing a visor, Yzerman may still have been hurt, but at least most of the damage would probably be restricted to his mouth and cheekbones, as opposed to his cornea.

Even in the rec leagues I play in, I wear a visor. As we all know, shit happens. High sticks, deflected shots, or any of a million others things. Losing some teeth, I can deal with that. Even getting my nose broken again, or facial fractures, that can be dealt with. Not pleasant, but you can deal with it. Losing my vision? That's not something that I can deal with, its not something that can be fixed. That a 22 year old who has no material investment in his hockey ability can grasp that idea, while guys making a career out of the game continue to take avoidable career and life altering injuries is mind blowing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jersey purchasing advice from someone who never buys jerseys

I saw some photo of a Packers fan wearing a Aaron Rodgers jersey and it made me think about how nice (but risky) of a gesture that is. That made me think further: what jersey(s) should fans of each NHL team consider?

Here is my criteria:

1. A solid crossroads of obscurity and talent

It's not very exciting to wear a Crosby jersey if you're a Penguins fan or an Ovechkin jersey if you're a Caps fan ... so you want to get a sweater that's a little more unique. That being said, you don't want to wear the number of a guy who can barely play 10 minutes a night. Finding a good compromise between the two is ideal.

2. Longevity

This is a big one in a sports atmosphere where players change colors so often. Trying to find a guy who either has a longterm deal or is unlikely to leave is a key component to finding the right jersey.

3. General Goodwill

More in line with your fellow fans, general goodwill is measured by how your peers would react to that jersey.

Optional Categories:

4. Sentimentality

To contrast #2, some players build up enough goodwill that you can permit people to wear a rosterly outdated jersey. This does not apply to guys who leave on bad terms (so just go ahead and burn that Heatley Senators jersey or that Pronger Oilers jersey).

5. Hilarity

Special bonus points go for players who were horrible. You get instant respect from me if you rock a Tommy Salo Team Sweden jersey, a Roman Cechmanek LA Kings jersey or something of that ilk.



Teemu Selanne
Jonas Hiller

Guy Hebert
Steve Rucchin


Bryan Little
Colby Armstrong


Milan Lucic (even though it's pretty obvious)
Zdeno Chara (breaks the rules because he's super tall)

Bobby Orr (obvious ... but it's Bobby effin Orr)
P. J. Axelsson (judging from Cornelius's man crush)


Thomas Vanek
Derek Roy

Chris Drury
Daniel Briere


Jarmoe (he's just too bad ass)
Robyn Regehr

Theo Fleury
Al MacInnis


Chad LaRose
Rod Brind'amour

Ron Francis - Hartford Whalers edition


Brent Seabrook
Kris Versteeg

Jeremy Roenick
Stan Mikita


Craig Anderson
Kyle Quincey

Pretty obvious, right?


Antoine Vermetteg
Jan Hejda


James Neal
Brenden Morrow (he's just too bad ass)

Neal Broten - North Stars
Mike Modano - in his prime (just kidding)
Sergei Zubov


Darren Helm
Johan Franzen

There's about a million


Sam Gagner
Ales Hemsky

Again, lots. See: the 1980's


David Booth
Tomas Vokoun


Los Angeles

Dustin Brown
Drew Doughty

Kelly Hrudey
Luc Robitaille


Miikko Koivu
Brent Burns


Andrei Markov
Michael Cammalleri


New Jersey

Zach Parise

Scott Stevens
Scott Niedermayer

New York Islanders

John Tavares (before fans come back out of the woodwork?)
Kyle Okposo

See: Edmonton

New York Rangers

Ryan Callahan
Michael Del Zotto


Anton Volchenkov
Mike Fisher

Alexandre Daigle :)


Mike Richards (because he's so bad ass)
Braydon Coburn

Someone who hurt a lot of people


Max Talbot
Tyler Kennedy

Beyond the obvious ...
(to me anyway)
Straka, Kovalev, Wregget, Kasparitis, etc.

San Jose

M.E. Vlasic
Joe Pavelski IF he re-signs

St. Louis

T.J. Oshie
Erik Johnson

Adam Oates
Brett Hull
Al MacInnis

Tampa Bay

Steve Stamkos
Victor Hedman


Luke Schenn
Phil Kessel

Mats Sundin
Wendel Clark


Ryan Kesler
Alex Burrows

Trevor Linden
Pavel Bure


Nicklas Backstrom
Howeverhespellshisfirstnamenow Varlamov

Olaf Kolzig
Petr Bondra

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Addicted to Vampires? Take a look at Nashville pro sports ...

We live in a sports culture of "what have you done for me lately?" Although the trend hasn't been consistent in the NHL lately, it's not uncommon for a coach to win an annual award one year and find themselves in the unemployment line merely two years later. In a salary cap age, it's more understandable for owners to expect coaches to catch lightning in a bottle.

That's what makes Nashville's NHL and NFL teams unique; both of their coaches have basically lead their teams since they came to Tennessee.* Forgive my horrific pun, but I feel the urge to re-define the region as Tennessee-vania.

* Apparently Barry Trotz was a scout for the Predators' first season, though.

Now, obviously if the Titans' current meltdown continues, Fisher might find a pink slip attached to a stake in his heart, but it really is stunning that the two made it this far in the same city. After all, Fisher is the longest tenured NFL coach and Trotz is the second longest tenured coach in the NHL.

First, here's Trotz' career stats via his Wiki page:

And now, Jeff Fisher's from his Wiki page:

Of the two coaches, Fisher's bulletproof tenure makes the most sense (instantly at least). He lead the Titans to a notably competitive Super Bowl match up against the St. Louis Rams, managed an unexpected 13-3 record last season and has only four seasons with a losing record in his 15 year reign. Only Andy Reid (who started in 1999) can reasonably compete with Fisher in two treasured categories: longevity and mustache dominance.

Trotz's run seems the most vampiric (and in general, the guy conjures up images of various D & D inspired creatures). On one hand, Trotz managed to squeeze points out of teams that were among the league's worst in star (and fire)power. You cannot fault him for failing to transform Nashville into a juggernaut.

Which form of the undead is more exhausted: vampires or zombies?

That being said, many franchises would get antsy with his results. While he managed to break them into the playoffs for four seasons, the team was knocked out in the first round each time and never even made it to a Game 7. They've never won their division and some might say the main reason they were No. 2 in the Central for those years was because their other division mates rarely managed to muster even the slightest competition. Over the years, the Predators ceiling has been "frisky."

Such middling results kept the Predators from getting many premium draft choices and you wonder how many elite players are on that roster ... who beyond Shea Weber will truly threaten greatness? Oddly enough, Trotz shares a lot in common with Lindy Ruff, the only guy who has been sitting behind a bench for a longer period of time. Buffalo is off to a great start - and like Nashville - has a nice array of competent players. However, you wonder if the team could benefit from tanking for a season or shaking things up.

My question is: is the city of Nashville that loyal? Is everyone just so preoccupied with fixing the Vols that they don't even care what happens with their pro coaches? Or could it be that Fisher and Trotz feast on human blood and sleep upside down every night?

I must know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

State your case: An Oilers Refinery's Edmonton Oilers

In fake alternate universe hockey, you don't have to deal with messy divorces.

As they trickle in, we'll post "state your case" arguments for the fake GMs in the League Re-Draft. I'll also occasionally make awful pun names for the fake teams. You're welcome.

Previous "State Your Case" Posts

(Make sure to check out An Oilers Refinery, which along with having great Oilers analysis, also has one of the coolest banners of any hockey blog. Ever.)

An Oilers Refinery's Edmonton Phoilers




It's pretty hard if you're trying to reinvent the wheel and perfecting something that's already an art was quite a task. Trying to build a better NHL team than NHL GMs can is a lot easier in a video game that it is when you're up against other inquiring minds and pseudo-GMs in my follow CLS quasi-bloggers. But, nonetheless, one cannot go into a draft without a strategy of their own.

In my draft strategy, it was simple: I would take the best player available with the first pick.

After that, I picked according to ranking of importance.

I tried to take centers who could win faceoffs and defenseman that had great dollar worth, foot speed, and either great passing or great hitting ability. By loading up on these commodities, it was easy to trade from a position of strength to acquire the other things I needed, such as goaltending and wingers.

Also, it was important (in my opinion) to push hard for the players I thought would define the kind of hockey I wanted to see played. This would ensure that a certain leadership core was represented on this team and that a certain team culture could emanate from the players on the team. Exciting but responsible hockey.

For me, it was important to build a team that was not just about scoring goals, or being tough.

I needed a team that was a hybrid, something that could roll four lines and hound the other team.

Faceoffs, hitting and speed are key to this strategy.

I may not score a lot of goals with a team like the one I built, but I will be annoying to play against.

And that, in itself, is a joy of its own.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Like an internship, without the prestige but with gingers!

OK, there might not be gingers but the blog is named after a pair of twin-gers. That must count for something ...

ANYWAY, that was a horrific start to the post. Let's re-group.

There may be some bloggers/bloggers-in-waiting/hockey fans out there who are looking for a venue to promote their blogs. Maybe you are passionate about the blogosphere but honestly don't think you can generate enough content to run a blog by yourself. Perhaps you've never tried it before but want to see what it's like - while getting (marginally) more eyeballs than you normally would if you simply started your own without much fanfare. Then again, you might be running a mid-level blog of great promise but little results; after all, the hockey blogosphere is a colorful jungle of exotic animals and talented writers. Sometimes it's difficult to stand out.

Better yet, you might just want to become a contributor to CLS.

Whatever your motivation might be, CLS is looking for people to contribute to an upcoming daily feature we're planning to begin next week. Our goal is to find two "editors" per division to provide a once-per-week "Around the [blank] Division" links collection. Unlike great blogs such as Puck Daddy and Kuklas Korner, we're not hoping to cover all of the major news events of the week but instead the kind of posts that make you laugh or slip through the cracks.

Currently, we're looking for:

2 contributors for the Atlantic division
a contributor for the Southeast division
a contributor for the Central division
a contributor for the Northwest division
a contributor for the Northeast division

Again, the emphasis will be to find feature-heavy/not quite so time sensitive/funny/number crunching posts that go beyond simple news headlines. It's also a great opportunity to talk about what's going on in your blog, if you have one.

The point of having two contributors will be to rotate (or split) the duty so it would only be a twice-per-month proposition.

For more information and/or to "apply" for a position, send me an e-mail at: Don't be shy, but do tell me if you have writing/blogging/modeling experience.

Note: feel free to send "tips"/to beg for links in this feature too. If your stuff blows, you're still out of luck but it never hurts to try, right?

There are just some things you need to accept about the salary cap

I've been a little bit obsessive about the salary cap the last year or so and it means that certain flippant statements will bug me at times.

One thing that kind of irks me is the way people look at the offensive depth of last year's Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings compared to the current models. People linger on the fact that the Red Wings were unable to retain the services of Hossa, Hudler and Co. while the Bruins won't be able to throw as many waves of offensive talent at their opponents as last season.

There's a reason for that: those teams were a mirage; the Red Wings in particular were an unsustainable collection of top-end talent. When commentators made jokes about them having four lines of talent, they weren't far off-base. The Hudlers of the world are going to get paid and it's Ken Holland's job to be smart enough to let him go.

Going forward, any team that has an embarrassment of riches is going to get to that level by a perfect storm of entry draft steals/high pick home runs, well-timed contract extensions and short-term veteran pickups. (Also, cheap goaltending is probably wise unless you really love your goalie)

Teams like Vancouver worry me because there aren't many major players gunning for contracts in the near future ... the Sedins, Luongo and even role players like Alex Burrows don't have a big green carrot dangling in front of them.

Thing I learned today: the Internet provides many great results for "dangling carrot"

The crazy decade-plus contract trend is understandable for reasons of artificially diluting annual cap hits but I prefer the direction the Penguins (conscious or not) went with giving their young guns more reasonable (read: shorter) contracts. If Alex Ovechkin ruins his knees, the Caps aren't just fucked this year but for the next 10. If something happens to Evgeni Malkin, it would still be a catastrophe but not of the same degree.

This rant is going in a few directions, but if I were a GM, these would be some of my principles:
  • No one over the age of 30 gets more than 4 years
  • Really, on some crazy level I wouldn't want to give anyone more than 3 years
  • Extend players before you expect them to breakout, if at all possible
  • Fear the contract year anomaly
  • Sometimes, you have to let people go even if it hurts
Yeah, those are pretty simple rules but I think more GMs could use balls of steel and hearts of coal.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Boston Bruins in "How to Go From Cap Catastrophe to Potential Dynasty in Two Easy Trades"

Brian Burke: architect of the cap-friendliest contending teams in the NHL (Anaheim and ... uh, Boston, indirectly)

At first, it seemed like the Bruins were as hapless as a 13-year old trying to unhook a bra in the dark. In my preview, I criticized the Bruins for basically giving up on Phil Kessel ... for Derek Morris. Even if that was a case of obvious oversimplification, my question was: what were the Boston Bruins doing?

Perhaps it came down to a simple decision of Marc Savard over Phil Kessel.

Either way, the Bruins have parlayed Kessel and now Chuck Kobasew into an intriguing bounty of draft picks and cap relief.

Boston Gives Up

Kessel (to Toronto)
Kobasew (to Minnesota)

Boston Gains

2 First Round Picks (Toronto in '10 and '11)
2 Second Round Picks (Toronto in '10 and Minnesota in '11)
Craig Weller
Alex Fallstrom
$2.3 million in cap space

As others pointed out, the Bruins probably moved Kobasew to make room for Savard, Blake Wheeler and other valuable free agents (restricted and otherwise).

What this really does is give the Bruins the opportunity to "re-load" with quality depth while most other playoff-caliber teams will begin to hemorrhage supporting cast members. Especially if the cap ceiling plummets for the 2010-11 season.

With Kobasew gone and deals like Morris' set to expire, the prospects of the Bruins re-signing Savard (above) and Wheeler are looking much brighter.

Some have said that the Maple Leafs' staggering ineptitude may not continue, but realistically what is the ceiling for Toronto this year (or even next)? The fact of the matter is that these aren't just draft picks, they might be top-10 or even top 5 draft picks. It's not every day that the top seed in the Eastern Conference could end up with two potential lottery picks that didn't result from a regular season free fall.

Just look at the situations of similarly talented - and cap challenged - teams going into next summer.

A major problem with the Blackhawks salary structure is that there's a glaring lack of cheap talent. While the Penguins have some extremely expensive stars, they also have cheap role players like Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy.

Now obviously high draft picks take some time to translate to useful NHLers and some never pan out at all. But by adding a handful of top quality picks in years when the Bruins would normally be drafting in the bottom 10, Boston is sitting fairly pretty in a cap world full of uncertainty. They can stick with those draft picks and try to find roster talent for the future or trade picks for other quality parts.

The point is, they have options. That's something that Chicago, San Jose and many other cap conflicted teams will envy next summer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In Case you love percentages: factoring in shorthanded goals to PP and PK%

One more stats nerd post and I'll be this guy's wingman.

Note: like the last post, these are stats from the 2008-09 season although going forward I'll be using 2009-10 stats ...

Unless I come up with one more stat that I publicly deem dopey while ultimately find semi-clever, this should be the last stat introducing post for the foreseeable future.

The last flaw with simply listing PK and PP% is that shorthanded goals aren't factored in (or not seamlessly) to the equation. Even if SHG are rare, they can be gigantic for momentum. See: Jordan Staal in Game 6 of the SCF.

More than that, though, I think it's a subtle reflection of good coaching and/or heady players. For instance: the Philadelphia Flyers are known for having a scary-aggressive PK with Mike Richards but they're also amazingly efficient on their own PP. Unless I read incorrectly, they only allowed 1 SHG last season!

So I decided to see how much SHG negatively affect a PP and positively affect a PK. (The stat is the same as PP% except it's PPG scored - SHG allowed divided by PP opportunities.)

Let's take a look at True Powerplay Percentage (or should it be called "Net" PP% ... or the PP Efficiency Rating? I dunno, True PP% sounds pretty cool doesn't it?)

Click to enlarge TRUE PP%

What I like about these stats is that they create a more pronounced "upper class" or elite group of PP units.

The Red Wings' absurd PP is reflected better here: they are heads and shoulders above the rest of the league (as they should be). It also reflects just how bad the Blue Jackets' PP was; 12% is pretty bad as it is but the team let up a lot of SHG too. When you think about it, when the CBJ went on the PP something good would happen only nine percent of the time. (LOL)

I still think sheer quantity (ultimately PPG - SHG allowed) is the best way to judge a team's PP unit but this is pretty interesting, too.

True Penalty Kill %/PK Efficiency Rating/PK Success Level is the same as PK% except it's PPG allowed - SHG scored divided by Times Shorthanded.

Click to enlarge True PK%

The order of best PK teams doesn't change a ton here, but it again distinguishes the GREAT PK units. The Wild's special teams, again, were just amazing last year.

At some point I might try to come up with a "magic number" for special teams percentages combined. Is a great overall special teams a combined 110% or ... what?

Jeez, I'm a dork.

What do you think, though? Is this interesting or as fun as eating a lifetime supply of microwave re-heated pizza crusts?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Special Teams Plus Minus, Net Goals in 2008-09

Yesterday I posted some simple yet interesting stats for the early part of this season. It's uncertain if I'll be able to make that a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly special but I'll be tracking these things all season long.

But just to make sure I'm not crazy, I thought it would be smart to study the stats from last year to see how indicative they are of team success. It also is an interesting way to look at which teams were really deficient (or really strong) in special teams yet still managed to make (or miss) the playoffs.

First, here's the Standings for 2008-09 without sorting for the stats that tickle my fancy:

Now that you have a frame of reference, here's that list sorted by the simplest stat that we'll be tracking this season: Net Goals.

There aren't a ton of surprises there.

That being said, it's really interesting that the league's best team in Net Goals (Boston) scored 78 more goals than they allowed while the league's worst team in Net Goals (Islanders) allowed 78 more goals than they scored. Funny how things work out sometimes.

It's also interesting that only two playoff teams allowed more goals than they scored: Columbus (-4) and the Rangers (-8). This also shows that the Blue Jackets must have been one hell of an even strength team.

Perhaps the most intriguing set of stats comes in the form of the Special Teams plus-minus.

The number that sticks out the most to me here is the Columbus Blue Jackets being -29 special teams goals. 78 Special Teams Goals Allowed isn't astronomically bad ... what makes the Blue Jackets totals so bad is their anemic power play. Any CBJ pundits who are still sore that the BJ's lack a great PP point player could point to this stat and say, "How do you expect this team to make the playoffs (again) with numbers like that?"

Looking at special teams play, it must be especially heartbreaking for Minnesota Wild fans that their team narrowly missed the playoffs last season. They were second in Special Teams +/- with a +33 (12 more than the tied for 3rd place Bruins and Red Wings).

It also makes me think that maybe injuries and Sean Avery weren't the top reasons why the Dallas Stars missed the playoffs last season.

Just for your fun and to strengthen a point I made yesterday, here's some extended special teams stats:

This leads to a bit of discussion on a point I (sloppily) made yesterday: quantity of PP goals (and PP goals allowed) means a lot more to me than percentages, even though it's not a huge difference and it's easier for networks to use a %-based graphic.

There are, however, a few examples that illustrate my point. The Buffalo Sabres managed to be in the top 5 in PPG scored despite having a PP that scored about 2% less than the other top powerplays. Over 82 games, a couple percentage points can make a big difference (kind of like how a 2% save percentage difference can make a pretty huge difference in how a goalie will be perceived). Anaheim and Boston scored at 2.5% higher rate but the Sabres drew at least 40 more power plays (or about one more every other game) and therefore were able to generate more PPGs. (OK, it was only one more PPG ... but still.)

Conversely, the New Jersey Devils scored at at least a 2% higher rate on the PP than other bottom PPG scoring teams but they were only able to go on the PP 307 times (compared to Buffalo's 358) and therefore scored 17 less last season.

Does it make an enormous difference? Absolutely not. But even if it's only a slightly more accurate way of tracking the good PPs, that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Simple stats that I don't see often: Special Teams Plus/Minus and Net Goals

When it's midnight and you need a photo of a cranky journalist ...

There was a point when I was like those many curmudgeon old sports columnists who looked down on complex statistics. Thankfully, though, there have been enough great stat blogs to finally teach me my lesson: some stats just don't tell you as much as you might originally think.

Still, there is a part of me that always searches for the right cross-section between simple and deep. I'd imagine that these kind of stats have been around plenty of times before, but I've never seen them expressed before in official sites' standings sections (at least on ESPN or

So, with all the Power Rankings out there, I thought it would be fun to occasionally take a look at NHL teams through completely objective - and obnoxiously simple - statistics. Obviously, this first few weeks' worth of stats will be greatly altered by outliers but you know that already, right?

(A few more notes: these stats were taken from before tonight's games and I'm dumb and don't know a better way to put up an Excel spreadsheet on blogspot, so please tolerate my sloppy use of screenshots)

ANYWAY, first the NHL's leaders in Net Goals.

This takes a SUPER sophisticated formula of Goals For minus Goals Against (although the spreadsheet also provides even strength goals ... which I might incorporate into something more elegant and interesting in the future).

If you're a Maple Leafs fan, well, at least you aren't running your car in your garage right now. Small victories. feel free to avert your eyes.

(Click to enlarge)

So those of you who hate simple arithmetic, you're welcome. The real reason I thought to do this, though, was to take a look at special teams numbers.

It's always bothered me that such an emphasis has been made on Power Play and Penalty Kill percentages but who gives a rat's ass about that? To me, PP effectiveness has always been about a) sheer quantity of goals and b) timeliness. There's no doubt in my mind that I'd take a powerplay that scored 2 out of 10 than one that scored 1 out of 4.

I'm aware that is an overly-simplistic criticism, but work with me here.

To take a more "big picture" look at special teams, I think it is also important to compare teams' PP and PK together. If your team can eek out a substantial amount of PP goals while keeping PK goals under control, you'll have a major advantage while attempting to make the playoffs.

So, I've come up with (OK, I bet someone else has done this too since it's super-simple) "Special Teams Plus-Minus."

The formula's almost as simple as "Net Goals"

PP Goals Scored + SH Goals Scored - PP Goals Allowed + SH Goals Allowed* = Special Teams Plus-Minus.**

* Just realized I didn't include SHG allowed but I'll do it next time. Promise!

** - However, if I've come up with something stupidly original feel free to call it a Jimbo Score. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Sore Thumb: Vancouver Canucks

When you see the title of this blog, you'd think we'd be a source for Vancouver Canucks information (or at least snark). No, that is not the case. Instead, you should go to blogs like Vancity Canuck. Sha Sha's a longtime buddy of the blog and even runs a Tampa Bay Lightning blog (The Hockey Bay) to boot! What an overachiever...

All in-depth analysis aside, what flaw or weakness in your team sticks out like a sore thumb?

The one thing that hasn't changed from last year, is that the Canucks still don't have secondary scoring. There was hopes that Cody Hodgson was the answer. And Cody Hodgson was not the answer, at least not right now with his ailing back. Then, there was hopes that Sergei Shirokov was the answer, and it turns out he was not the answer. So where is our secondary scoring when the Sedins and Burrows don't score? Hopefully Kesler and Samuelsson can find some chemistry with the newly promoted Raymond, or hopefully Berniers hands of stone finally turn into hands that can put pucks in the back of the net. Hopefully. And speaking of sore thumbs, or sore shoulders/knees/who knows what Salo/Demitra/Schneider has hurt now....Some components of the Canucks are like glass, you never know who's gonna be hurt from taking a hit/puck/throwing a hit/trippingoverelectricaltape...

State your case: The CLS/Sports and the City Fake Leafs

In the event that you made an understandable hockey hibernation during the summer, we've been Re-Drafting the NHL for the last few months. Since rosters are (thankfully) just about to be finalized, it's time to start studying these bad boys like the Zapruder film.

Even though I'm a bad role model, I thought I'd start things off (well actually Joe started it off) by talking about my own team.

[Quick Note: this team was originally represented by EyeBLeaf from Sports and the City, but my dorkiness turned into a black hole and engulfed the team. So most of the blunders are my fault. His main picks were the first two: Marc Savard and Alex Semin.]

The CLS/Sports and the City Pseudo-Leafs:

Forward Lines
Alex Semin - Marc Savard - Bill Guerin
Jere Lehtinen - Patrice Bergeron - Teemu Selanne
John Madden - Manny Malhotra - Mike Grier
Sergei Kostitsyn - Kyle Turris - Chris Neil

Defensive pairings
Mike Komisarek - Sergei Gonchar
Matt Niskanen - Willie Mitchell
Kurtis Foster - Nicklas Grossman

J-S Giguere
Alex Auld

Mark Fistric, Eric Godard, Ryan Carter

Reasons Why the Pseudo-Leafs are awesome

1. Greed is Good

One of my team building philosophies (and general sports views) is to lean heavily toward players who have an obvious carrot dangling in front of them (instead of a guy who's fat and happy with a huge new 12-year contract).

Instead of listing all the guys in contract years, here's the only players who aren't playing for a new deal this season: Giguere, Komisarek, Bergeron, Fistric, Godard, Turris, Neil, Carter.

In other words, fourteen starters are in a contract year.

2. Elites aplenty

Naturally, these things are subjective but my team has:
  • An elite passer (Savard)
  • An elite sniper (Semin ... and maybe Selanne)
  • A playoff proven goalie (Giguere)
  • One of the league's best offensive D (Gonchar)
  • One of the league's best shutdown D (Mitchell)
  • A great defensive forward and one of the best guys in the FO circle (Malhotra)
  • One of the league's most frequent hitting forwards (Neil) and D (Komisarek)
3. Strong special teams

Fake Toronto is designed to be good in 5-on-5 situations but great in special teams.

Along with high-scoring guys like Semin and Savard, the team also has one of the best PP goal scorers in Selanne. Gonchar is so proficient as a point man that he is often on the ice for 90 percent of the Penguins' PP time! Niskanen and Foster provide nice second and third options for PP point men.

PP units

Selanne - Savard - Guerin (for screens)
Semin (rover) - Gonchar

Kostitsyn - Bergeron - Lehtinen
Foster - Niskanen

I also focused heavily on having strong PK units.

Malhotra, Madden, Lehtinen, Bergeron and Grier are all excellent PK forwards while Mitchell, Grossman, Komisarek and Niskanen can provide solid support on D.

PK units



4. Big, mean defense

With a lot of finesse forwards on the top two lines and a steady but more offensively inclined top D in Gonchar, I decided to focus on big and hard hitting D guys.

Komisarek and Grossman were among the league leaders in hits in the 08-09 season. The smallest D guy on the roster is Niskanen - who's still 6 feet tall.

Hell, our backup goalie Alex Auld is 6'5" himself.

5. Good in reality, fantasy and video games

I think the team covers all the bases reasonably well.


  • Assuming Matt Cooke would be around just a little bit longer. Same with Taylor Pyatt, Ian Laperriere and Travis Moen. (The hope is that Mike Grier and Chris Neil will hurt people sufficiently)
  • Could have used a little more grit with the team's best scorers.
  • While I'm on record in saying that I think Giguere still "has it," it would have been nice to get an obvious starter.
  • If I would have known that Rob Niedermayer and Rob Lang would be in the NHL, I would have taken at least one of them. Especially since Kostitsyn and Turris were booted down.

It's a bummer that both Sergei K and K Turris were sent down to the minors, but Ryan Carter and Eric Godard are playing NHL minutes so they can pick up some of the slack.

Overall, I think my team is strong defensively, has above average goaltending and a mixture of high scoring forwards and gritty PK guys. There might be teams that can score more or be a little more gritty, but few if any can boast as much versatility.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Sore Thumb: Anaheim Ducks

It always warms our collective hearts to see our buddies prosper, so we're delighted to see Anaheim Calling move up to SBN as the Ducks' representative. At the moment, though, AC is still at Blogspot so it is not yet time to adjust your bookmarks. Here's Daniel's perspective on the Ducks ...

All in-depth analysis aside, what flaw or weakness in your team sticks out like a sore thumb?

DANIEL: The one thing that could derail the Ducks season is puck support/team skating. The fact is, there isn't a single guy on the blue line who can strait clear the crease. With Pronger on the ice every other shift, it was possible to get hemmed up in the zone and then let your goalie face down a shot from outside, or the top of, the circles. Now the Ducks need to keep the puck moving. But, during the first two games of the season everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to make a play instead of working on quick outlets and strong support through the neutral zone. Puck support was also a problem in the offensive zone and the Ducks ended up outnumbered along the boards, leading to transition offense for opposing teams. If the Ducks keep losing battles along the boards because they don't support each other, they will be facing more rushes on defense, and no scoring chances on offense.

The Sore Thumb: Ottawa Senators

If there's one thing the hockey blogosphere can teach you, it's that team success and blog quality aren't necessarily connected. A great example of that is Sens at Land's End. While the Senators could face some tough times, SaLE is one of our favorite Ottawa blogs, so make sure you follow it like a blind Jason Spezza drop pass.

All in-depth analysis aside, what flaw or weakness in your team sticks out like a sore thumb?

Some might ask what isn’t an issue for the Sens this year, and those people might not be wrong. What worries me most, though, is the defense. Behind three usually reliable veterans – stay-at-homers Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov and puckmover Filip Kuba – play three young “mobile” defenders – Chris Campoli, rookie Erik Karlsson, and Alexandre Picard (who started the season in the pressbox). These guys may be great someday, but right now they’re prone to brain cramps that will definitely give Pascal Leclaire a workout. I would feel better if the defensive pairings were more balanced; however, the Senators have always shown an inexplicable unwillingness to split up the shutdown duo of Phillips and Volchenkov. This makes the second and third pairings a bit, well, scary. The more physical presence of Matt Carkner may help to an extent, but he’s been a career-AHLer until now and who knows how he’ll fare during a full season at the NHL level. To all these problems add the fact that Volchenkov and Kuba (already injured, by the way) both missed over 10 games last season and the picture becomes even less pretty.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Sore Thumb: Atlanta Thrashers

For Atlanta Thrashers (and often St. Louis Blues) thoughts, I often go to Laura from Wazzupwitchu and St. Louis Blues Game Time and that's exactly what happened this time around. On top of that blogging goodness, she also a very prolific person on Twitter to boot. Not too shabby.

All in-depth analysis aside, what flaw or weakness in your team sticks out like a sore thumb?

The biggest flaw? Defense. Not the people playing defense (thankfully, I can finally say that), but the system. Coach Anderson's system relies on offense to a high degree, and he expects puck moving and playmaking (as well as scoring) from the defensemen. That is fantastic, but when you emphasize that too much, D starts to suffer. We're still probably going to allow at least 30 SOG each game, and that's concerning with Pavelec in net. I'll reiterate my opinion of him being a good goalie in a few years, but he's not 100% NHL ready. Of course, there's Hedberg, who is a damn fine backup and a great person, but not a starter... and there's that other dude... can't quite remember his name, but I heard he used to be a pretty good goalie until he realized he was made of glass... yeah. Name escapes me. Been too long since I've actually seen him to confirm that he exists.

Huh. Apparently that makes 2 flaws. But by God, we are going to score. A lot. Hopefully it'll be more than the other guys.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Struggling to figure out whom to start?

Will it be Hiller or Giguere? That nightly question might be easier to answer (again) ...

In my Fantasy Hockey Guide, I mentioned how much I adored for their insanely accurate starting goalie updates ... but understandably they are asking for monetary return for (what one assumes) is a great deal of work. And you know what? You cannot blame them and I wish them the best.

However, if you're feeling like a cheapskate (like me), then you might want to look at other options.

Kent of Five Hole Fanatics pointed out the Daily Faceoff's Between the Pipes as a potential heir and one of his readers suggested Leftwing Lock. Are there any other reliable sources of starting goalie info out there? Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments.

The Sore Thumb: San Jose Sharks

We asked our good buddies at the Couch Tarts:

All in-depth analysis aside, what flaw or weakness in your team sticks out like a sore thumb?

Nabby's 5 hole.
Have you seen it? The thing is HUGE. You could drive a bus through there, I'm talking a double decker, not just your standard MUNI ride. Hell, it's so wide open I bet even Ehrhoff could find it with his wrist shot. Dude wouldn't even need a map. You know that tree they used to let people drive through? Yeah. It's like that.
Nabby is a tremendous goalie, but if he can't shut that 5 hole of his, we're in for a lot of ugly goals this season.

(Make sure to follow the Couch Tarts for their great San Jose Sharks coverage this season.)