29 December 2011

The forgotten mantras of the Department of Player Safety

Sorry, I'm going to be opening some wounds to State of Hockey fans, but this needs to be said about the Head of the Department of Player Safety.

Remember when this rule meant something...

From NHL Official Rules - Rule 41.1 - Boarding (emphasis mine)

The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize the contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. 
"The onus is on the hitter." had been the so-called Department of Player Safety's mantra in the dozens of suspensions so far (as indicated by the first part I underlined).  It appears they have given up on that, at least where the Minnesota Wild is concerned.  There are now three well known examples...

1) Bogosian on Bouchard (click here for Hockey Wilderness' breakdown on this incident and video)

The Department of Player Safety didn't even make a formal statement regarding the Bogosian hit on Bouchard.  An anonymous Departement of Player Safety rep told the Star Tribune's Michael Russo they felt Bouchard turned into it.  Does it get any more vague than that?  No justification for why Bogosian can use his stick there?  This lazy statement is certainly not enough to show the onus shifted from Bogosian to Bouchard regarding who was responsible for this incident (again, as in the first underlined part in the rule quoted above).

I thought this era was supposed to be about transparency.  I thought it was about following the words in the rulebook above and using video to show how this should apply, not about lazy statements from a nameless lackey.

Punishing recklessness is another mantra that the department of player safety has given up on.  The fact that Bogosian led with his stick is apparently no longer considered reckless.

Bouchard misses two weeks as a result of an ILLEGAL hit, and the only explanation is one sentence from an anonymous source, and no suspension.  Pathetic.

[two more examples follow the jump]

26 December 2011

A World Juniors confession from a Minnesota hockey fan...

I try to be a good blogger, but the truth of the matter in my time as a Minnesota Wild fan, I have largely ignored the prospects.

The NHL draft (and MLB draft as well for that matter) is different than its NBA or NFL counterparts. Usually, outside of the first 2 or 3 picks, most of the players selected are not NHL ready, and they will be sent back to their college teams or to their Junior teams. So it's easy to see why there isn't the casual interest in the NHL draft as there is in the other sports, where those players are expected to be with the big club right away (there isn't really a "farm system" for the NFL and NBA like there is in baseball and hockey).

The other reason is that frankly, from a Wild perspective, there just hasn't been a lot to be excited about among the Wild's prospects under Riseborough's leadership. First Round Bust is more than happy to document Wild prospects being rushed into the NHL like James Sheppard.


21 December 2011

Passive Play against the Flames...

The second period last night was just brutally bad.  The Wild were extremely passive against the Flames the in their own zone.

It looked like they were content to let the Flames move the puck without any attempt to force turnovers, and when they finally did get the puck, all they could do was chip it out, hoping they didn't ice it to change lines.  This made a team with a 16.8% powerplay conversion rate look outright competent 5 on 5.  The Flames had the first 9 shots of the 2nd period including what would be the game winning goal.

After that horror of a period, it did seem the Wild got the message, and there is some positivity to take from the game last night.


14 December 2011

Quick thought on the Bogosian hit on Bouchard.

Last night was a wonderful game to watch between Winnipeg and Minnesota.  It was a tough one for the Wild to lose on a delay of game penalty, but both goaltenders really wanted it, and both teams were quick and generated plenty of changes.  For 58 minutes, this was among the two or three most entertaining games to watch this season, and it is what hockey should be.  Then of course one of the ugliest injuries I have ever seen happened behind Winnipeg's net.

Hockey Wilderness already has a good piece and the videos up, and makes a good case for why Zach Bogosian should be suspended for his cross-check on Bouchard, so please click there to get the background and the videos if you haven't already seen it.


12 December 2011

Wild thing of the month - November 2011

So between the wonderful realignment news and having a post picked up by Puck Daddy it's been a busy week here at State of the State of Hockey, and so I'm quite late with naming SOTSO Hockey's "Wild Thing of the Month" for November.

First an honorable mention to the Minnesota Wild's defense.  They have improved on what was already near the top in the league on goals against average.  But it's efforts like these that make it seem that the GAA isn't just about the excellent goaltending.  Defenders are helping when they need to get to the line in a pinch.

(video after the jump)

A response to the Puck Daddy article...

Some of you may have noticed, Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshysnki wrote a response to my piece on supplemental discipline on Puck Daddy on Friday.

First and foremost, it is always a pleasure when the folks at Puck Daddy link to my posts.  I thought Wysh wrote a very good piece and made some very good points even though we aren't quite in agreement on a couple things.

I'll point out a couple differences...

09 December 2011

It's time the NHL fines divers...

In last night's game against Los Angeles, Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak was ejected for this hit on Anze Kopitar.



The replay shows that this was a pretty clean, shoulder to shoulder hit.  The hit did take place that magical 6 to 10 foot range from the boards in which anyone going down will fall hard, and it will probably draw a boarding call.

What is disgusting is that Kopitar stayed down, and it appears the longer he stayed down, the more the referee felt he needed to make this a major penalty.  Then, of course, Kopitar managed to skate just fine on the ensuing 5 minute major.  This is incredibly reminiscent of Coach Gordon Bombay teaching the Mighty Ducks how to cheat with the mantra "Take the fall, act hurt, get indignant."

06 December 2011

Objections to the new four conference alignment that don't make sense.

It is a wonderful day is the State of Hockey.

Last night, the NHL's Board of Governors approved a realignment (story from Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog) which would group the Minnesota Wild with many of the rivals from the old Norris Division days.  The Wild will even be grouped with that franchise that used to call Bloomington home, along with Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg.

(For clarity, in the rest of the article I will be prefacing conference and division names with "current" if I am referring to the current alignment that ends this season, or "new" if I am referring to the approved change starting nest season.)

I have written extensively supporting a four-division/conference alignment as it would be beneficial to most current Western Conference teams, and beneficial to Detroit, Columbus, Dallas and Minnesota in particular.  The proposal that passed is rather close to the split the southeast idea I posted about a month ago.  It's not exactly the same, they put Florida-Tampa, and Carolina-Washington in different divisions from where I had them.  Furthermore, they left both Detroit and Columbus in the "new Central," but these are points on which I do not want to quibble.  This is a great day for Minnesota hockey fans, and I suppose for everyone in the current Western Conference.

The travel in the first two rounds of the playoffs are going to be cut as well, as four teams from each new conference will advance, pure and simple.  Teams will face new conference opponents in the first two rounds, and then there will be some form of re-pairing (apparently still being discussed) for the NHL's "Final Four."

All of that said, I have been participating in a lot of comment sections through the blogosphere, and I see many frustrating objections in the comments sections in which I've participated.  So here's my attempt to quell some of the issues.

(more below the jump)

15 November 2011

One SOH opinion: The "goalie should be fair game" crowd doesn't help themselves defending Lucic

Editor's Note: "One SOH opinion" posts solely reflect the views of the author.  This is to draw a distinction from the implication that this blog reflects the general views of average Minnesota Wild fans.  Still what's the fun of maintaining a blog if you can't use it as a personal soapbox once in a while.  All readers are welcome to submit "One SOH opinion" posts if you want to be published here.  On twitter DM your email address @SOTSOHockey if you would like more details.


A lot of talk over the weekend about the Bruins' Milan Lucic hit on Sabres' goaltender Ryan Miller on Saturday.  Video in case you missed it:



Lucic was penalized for charging on this play.  Lucic did have a meeting with Shanahan about this, but no suspension came of it.

I believe that is the right decision.  Don't get me wrong, I whole-heartedly agree with Miller's characterization that this was "gutless" and I love that he was willing to use the phrase "piece of s**t" to describe Lucic.  Furthermore, I think Lucic is lying through his teeth with his justification of "I did everything I could just to brace myself.  Like [Miller] said, I have 50 pounds on him.  So that's probably why he might've got the worst of it."

On the debate of whether or not goaltenders should enjoy the protected status when roaming beyond their crease, I understand both sides of the argument.  It would make for a simpler rulebook, and end the advantages goaltenders have against players with less equipment if it's clear to goaltenders their privileges end at the blue paint (doing this by changing the rules on "goaltender interference").  On the other hand, because goaltenders wear an extra 20 or so pounds of equipment, they will never be able to reach speeds of their skating counterparts (which is why goalie races are hilarious), so perhaps some added protection is in order.

But there is one thing I know for sure, Lucic's hit has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with whether or not a goaltender is "fair game" beyond the crease.  Lucic could make a legal body check on an opposing defenseman in this situation, and if this were an otherwise legal body check on Miller, then perhaps the goalies-should-be-fair-game advocates could use this as an example.

But this is a textbook charging call.  Lucic built speed for about 100 feet, Miller was to the puck before Lucic, by a large enough margin where he should've slowed down into the impact (as he would have to in order to avoid a charging or boarding call if hitting a defenseman).  Lucic didn't stop his stride until he was just a few feet from the impact.  All the elements of a charging call are clearly present.  The goalies-should-be-fair-game folks would do well to not to use this incident to make their case.

And yet, these folks' reaction to this hit is probably why the NHL will never do away with the protections provided by goaltender interference rules.  If the league ever did that, they just open the referees to too much criticism if they ever do have to penalize a hit on a goaltender that meets the standard of a penalty for a hit on any other player.  Instantly, the penalized player will go straight to the "he's fair game" defense.  If referees hesitate because of this, I'm afraid there will be a de facto higher standard on severity for penalizing hits on goaltenders  in comparison to hits on skating players.  If you don't believe me, there are many posts out there like this that don't recognize that this would've been a penalty against any player, not just a goaltender.

So to be like David from Seinfeld and ask myself questions and then answer them:

Did the refs get this right? Yes, a charging penatly was correct.

Was this cheap? Yes it was.

Should Buffalo have retaliated? Absolutely.

Is Lucic's explanation beliveable? Not in the least.

Should there have been a suspension? Probably not.  Now on the other hand if Lucic had targeted the head, I'm sure he'dve been in for a 5 game Shanaban, but that's not the case here.


What did the wheel of justice say? "Paltry Fine: Milan Lucic has been fined the paltry amount allowed in the CBA as a result of his actions on Ryan Miller. In reviewing this play, we also took into consideration that Milan Lucic plays for the Colie's son's team, the Boston Bruins.."


Out of date because Gregory Campbell is now a Florida Panther, but still funny :).

10 November 2011

Wild's Old Sharks visit old team tonight in San Jose

The Wild have won 5 straight and to the pleasant surprise of fans like myself the Wild are one of two teams averaging two goals allowed or fewer per game (I'm suprise, but not so pleasantly, that Edmonton is the other). Against most predictions, the Wild are overachieving, yet Yeo seems to be a good job of making sure the team doesn't stay satisfied where they can improve.

Tonight's game features the teams that made two big deals with each other, evaluate how the Wild did on this.

more after the jump


03 November 2011

Wild thing of the month - October 2011


A new feature here at SOTSO Hockey! Shortly after the end of each month we will name one highlight, story, whathaveyou, The "Wild Thing" of the month.

The best highlight in October is definitely Dany Heatley's tying goal at Edmonton on October 20, with less than 2 seconds remaining.




(Click here if the video doesn't play correctly)

The Wild would go on to win the game in a shootout, and have since earned five points in four games.

So congrats to Dany Heatley. The Wild Thing of the month



(Future posts may include honorable mentions in addition to the Wild Thing of the month)

31 October 2011

Working with the Eastern Bloc in Realignment...

The four conference realignment topic has made a comeback. A Puck Daddy post yesterday included a CBC video (first two minutes or so focus on the realignment issue) in which analyst Elliotte Friedman reported a four conference realignment that is apparently gaining steam despite TSN's Bob McKenzie's report earlier this month that a six division NHL may be here to stay.

The proposal is to align like this...
(Division names are my assumptions, as they are omitted from the graphic in the video)

Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, PHX, SJ, VAN
Central: CHI, CLB/DET, DAL, MIN, NSH, STL, WPG
Northeast: BOS, BUF, CLB/DET, MTL, OTW, PIT, TOR
Atlantic: CAR, FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, TBY, WSH

Each team would play home-and-home against each team outside of the division (44 or 46 games), and the rest of the games would be divided among division opponents (38 or 36 games).

As a fan of the Western Conference team, I think realigning the Western Conference into two divisions along the lines of the proposal above makes all the sense in the world. For most teams, they would cut the road games that start at 9pm or later local time by at least half, which would be great for TV.

The problem is there is no good geographic way to split the Eastern Conference in such a way without separating someone in the Atlantic Division. The proposal above seems to split Pittsburgh from all of their rivals.


25 October 2011

Pronger Schadenfreude...

I should point out that despite the title of this blog being "The State of the State of Hockey", I feel the need to point out I have no reason to believe the following opinion is in any way representative of fans opinons in the State of Hockey.

In case you missed it Pronger took a stick to his face in the Flyers' game against Toronto last night.



I for one cannot feel the least bit sorry for the man who once did this...



(low volume, and skip to about :23 if you want to go past the talking).

In fact if you search "Pronger Elbow" on Youtube, you'll find an alarming number of results.


10 October 2011

My take on Bouchard suspension...

Here is NHL player saftey VP Brendan Shanahan on Bouchard's two game suspension:



Click here if the video doesn't show correctly on the page.

At first glance I think this is too harsh for the incident, but if Shanahan is consisent, I don't really have a problem with him setting this standard.

At 1:10 of the video, Shanahan says "His [Bouchard's] reckless swing regardless of where it was intended did in fact cause an injury"


08 October 2011

My Wild Preview...

So it was a busy summer for the Wild, here's what's new...

New Coach Mike Yeo

GM Chuck Fletcher passed on some bigger names to roll the the dice with the AHL's Houston Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo. The Aeros of course made it all the way to the Calder Cup final, and many players from that team Fletcher expects to be with Minnesota within a year or two. Again Fletcher decides to give a guy his first gig, passing on experience, but again, I think Yeo might have more upside than Richards' had.

Burns trade

Fletcher made San Jose pay dearly for the much loved Brent Burns, sending Minnesota forward Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle, and another first round pick in this past summers' draft. Setoguchi brings a shoot-first mentality and has been part of a top line that has been stellar in the preseason (see below).

Havlat for Heatley trade.

The Wild took a problem contract in exchange for dumping what proved to be a problem contract with Martin Havlat. I'm skiddish about Heatley because he hasn't lived up to his $7.5M contract, and that's kind of a sore number for Wild fans that remember the whole Gaborik saga. But after this initial concern, I have warmed to the deal, and he, Koivu, and Setoguchi have found some chemistry in the preseason so far. Havlat and Koivu seemed to be crossing one another, and agent Allan Walsh certainly wasn't helping matters. The worst case is the Wild took on an extra $2.5M to get out of a contract one year sooner, if Heatley doesn't work out. That said, it really seems Heatley, Setoguchi, and Koivu have a lot of potential if they can carry over their pre-season chemistry.

So what does all of this mean for the Wild's chances this year?

I certainly think the Wild will be better than last year. I think losing Burns is a bigger deal than most homers are making it, unless the other 5 D improve, the back end will struggle to match up well. Though I'm excited about Scandella's chance with the team, it may be a season or two before he adjusts to the NHL game. That said it's not as castostrophic as this Harrison Mooney idiot makes it out to be. That said BRenylods at Hockey Wilderness wrote a good rebuttal.

There is no doubt this first line is certainly the best since the Gaborik era. The second line should be better. Latendresse has reported to camp in better shape than last season and he seems to have his speed which will hopefully result in a good counter-attack. The question is who will center this line. Matt Cullen appears to be slotted in this role for now. Despite his disappointing stat sheet last year, I love Matt Cullen. He plays very hard, he wins pucks in corners, he makes good passes, and he just plays smart. But he's got to find a way to finish. He should benefit from playing with Latendresse and Bouchard, but if he doesn't this team is going to look rather thin offensively beyond the first line.

The goaltending picture is the same as it was two years ago. Harding will return to backup Backstrom, and I'm sure Yeo will be comfortable giving Hards starts when he wants to rest Backstrom or if Backstrom's isn't consistently great. I like them both, I'm glad Harding will be in the lineup tonight despite the injury scare during this week's team-building trip to Duluth.

So where does that leave the Wild. As they sit right now I think they're just slightly more likley to end up on the wrong side of 8th this year. They could still be the second best team in the awful Northwest division, but the defense doesn't match up well against too many Western Conference opponents. That said the Wild have about $9M in cap space, so Fletcher has options. I think he's demonstrated he'll make moves if he believes it'll make the team better. That said there really aren't any appealing free agent D options right now, and Fletcher knows first hand how hard it is to get a top defender, since he basically set the market quite high in the Burns trade.

But there's room to move, and if the Wild are in contention in February, Fletcher might find the deal that could put them in. Fletcher has avoided putting himself in a corner, very much unlike his predecessor (anyone else shocked I got to paragraph number eight before slamming Dough Riseborough?).

But if I had to wager, I'm saying the Wild get better, but again miss the playoffs this year. Then again if I had to wager, I think over 82.5 points for this team would be a good speculation :).

Let's Play Hockey!






06 October 2011

One Line Predictions...

Time for my one line league predictions, I rank the teams, I type the first thing that comes to mind.

Here we go...

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1> (N) Vancouver - Don't think this years team is as good as last, but good news, they're still in the Northwest division
2> (P) San Jose - If Burns doesn't stay healthy, it could be trouble, but there's no reason to doubt the Sharks
3> (C) Chicago - A team built to be back on the rise
4> (P) Los Angeles - Richard's provides good offense
5> (C) Nashville - They could sneak into round 2 again
6> (C) Detroit - Think the wings could be in for an awakening
7> (P) Phoenix - Will need good goaltending post-Bryz
8> (C) St. Louis - I'm not sleeping on the Blues
9> (N) Minnesota - Better, but not quite enough strength in back
10> (P) Anaheim - Did Teemu come back?
11> (N) Colorado - May have better goaltending, but they overpaid
12> (C) Columbus - Wisnewski might be helpful, when his isn't suspended for being a jag-off
13> (P) Dallas - Rebuild
14> (N) Calgary - see below
15> (N) Edmonton - Good hockey must be against provincial law in Alberta.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1> (A) Pittsburgh - That's what everyone else tells me
2> (S) Washington - C'mon they can't choke forever
3> (N) Boston - No reason to like anyone else in northeast, they're the most complete team
4> (S) Tampa Bay - They'll nip on Washington, and they'll be close to my next choice
5> (N) Buffalo - Added some goals, they won't be an easy first round
6> (A) Philadelphia - Who to root for if they play Boston in the first round?
7> (A) NY Rangers - If they stay healthy they'll do better, but Gaborik is still on their team
8> (S) Carolina - They were close last year, I think they'll finish on the right side of the 8 line
9> (N) Montreal - At least Habs fans have a history of taking failure well.
10> (A) New Jersey -They'll be in the hunt most of the way this time
11> (N) Toronto - They'll still sell out every game
12> (S) Winnipeg - Me thinks this guy overstates the importance of home ice advantage
13> (S) Florida - An expensive failure
14> (A) NY Islanders - Out of the conference cellar at least
15> (N) Ottawa - Yeah...

05 October 2011

Fun Minnesota Wild things to do in the off season...

1) Ticket onsale day

I like going to the X the day tickets go on sale. I'm not a season ticket holder, but I don't mind getting in line and getting first dibs on the games I want. I have made every home opener since 2006.

And the folks at the X are always nice to people waiting in line. There are always free cookies, muffins, donuts, juice, milk and soda from the good people at Kwik Trip. My mom and I arrived about 7:45am (for 9am onsale) and we were about 60th in line. We got to the windows about 9:30 and it we had our tickets.

Oh and some guy from "Becoming Wild" asked us some questions. And used one of my mom's answers.


video
(Mom is answering a question at :27, that's me giggling in the background).

2) Training Camp Scrimmage

The first chance to see all the players likely to make this year's team. It's fun and it's free. I went to both days. Yes, there was only one goal scored in the two days, but that could be a good thing right? After all, all the critics are questioning the team's ability to defend this year.


Yes it lacks the intensity of an actual game, but this is a welcome respite of surviving a whole summer of not watching hockey. And imagine how wound up I'd be if I actually were a baseball fan.


My lovely wife Heather took these pictures :).

3) Open House

I don't know if the team does this every year. It seems to me I remember this a few years back and I couldn't attend. But again, it's a chance to get a close look at the X and skate on the ice :)! There was a scavenger hunt (which we didn't win :( ) for a chance to win a 10 pack of tickets. A very informative Q & A with GM Chuck Fletcher and Head Coach Mike Yeo. My wife and I were also able to tour the press box, the video room, and the fishing lodge club under the lower bowl.




It was a fun day, and they let us do it all for free!

4) Preseason game

Well seeing as how season ticket holders are just trying to give their preseason tickets away, my brother and I took my wife and our mother to the Wild's preseason game against St. Louis. By the way, I recommend using Ticket King to buy tickets on the aftermarket. They had prices as low as craigslist for this game, the pickup is convenient, and they didn't charge any hidden fees.

So I scored 3rd row in the corner for $24 each :)! And as you can see below, I enjoyed Mikko Koivu's goal in the game

video


So much video this summer of me looking ridiculous.

Obviously, all of these things don't compare to when regular season hockey starts, and hopefully there will be playoffs in the Wild's future (Wild preview on Friday).

But before October comes around, I enjoy taking advantage of the things like the open house, or open scrimmage. And I enjoy taking advantage of cheap tickets, even if its for exhibition hockey.

I don't recall making all of these things in one season before, but now that I have, I hope to do most of these things every year :).

It's back to the 200 level with me on Saturday, but I can't wait to be there!

17 August 2011

Goals and Goaltenders - part of a series on the NHL's RDO tests

A great thing Brendan Shanahan has brought to the NHL is the Research, Development, and Organization camp, where they have players experiment with rule changes and get a real idea of how these things might work in practice.

This will be the final topic in this series, and Camp Shanny is underway today, so there may be further comment when results are out.

Today's Topic: Penalties

There are a couple initiatives being tested that merit discussion relating to penalties, without further adieu...

1) Offending team must exit own zone in delayed penalty situation for whistle

This one sounds a little strange at first, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Right now a team that commits a penalty while not in possession of the puck does not get a stoppage of play until they gain control of the puck. Now many fans recognize the first problem, what constitutes "control" varies from official to official, some are certainly too quick to the whistle when a defender grazes his stick on a shot puck.

Right now during delayed penalty situations, attacking teams take the opportunity to remove their goaltenders and get a little extra man-advantage time until the offending team gets the puck. This proposed change would give the attacking team more time in these situations and rewards teams that are able to regain possession of the puck after turning it over.

I think this change should be worded such that play would be dead when the puck leaves the attacking zone (to prevent goals from being scored on an open net) otherwise I think this could be a potentially great change.

2) Penalties in their entirety

In other words, a team scored upon while shorthanded does not get relief from the penalty box. I like this rule the way it is as it effectively puts a maximum of one goal for any minor penalty called. I assume the argument for this is to increase scoring by effectively adding power play time to each penalty that terminates early. The reason the NHL went away from this is because it had a chilling effect on officials calling penalties in the first place. Referee's were afraid to make calls that might lead to more goals against the penalized team. I think this is a legit concern that probably won't be borne out at the RDO camp.

Thanks for reading this series, I hope you enjoyed it. As I stated above I may post more once some opinions come out of the actual tests, which started today.


15 August 2011

Goals and Goaltenders - part of a series on the NHL's RDO tests

A great thing Brendan Shanahan has brought to the NHL is the Research, Development, and Organization camp, where they have players experiment with rule changes and get a real idea of how these things might work in practice.

Today's topic: Goals and Goaltenders

This really should've been the first topic. What is more important in hockey than scoring goals or good goaltending? I'm a fan of both. The NHL is planning a number of related experiments.

*No Trapezoid.

Not sure why they need to test this at RDO camp. The NHL has seven decades without any restriction on the goaltender. That said I am a minority voice in favor of the trapezoid. I really think that created more races into the corners and make dump and chase hockey more exciting to watch. The flip side is that free roaming goaltenders behind the net could be a deterrent to playing dump-and-chase in the first place. I like the trapezoid, but I would like hockey about the same without it as well.

*Rule 63.2 - Delaying the Game

From the NHL rulebook

"A minor penalty shall be imposed on any player, including the goalkeeper, who holds, freezes or plays the puck with his stick, skates or body in such a manner as to deliberately cause a stoppage of play. With regard to a goalkeeper, this rule applies outside of his goal crease area."

Basically the way the rule is written (but not how it's called) is that goaltenders cannot cover pucks outside of their crease. They are able to leave the crease to defend shots, and I believe they would be able to freeze a puck following a shot when outside the crease, but they would not be able to cover loose pucks if outside of their crease.

I think this will keep more pucks in play and would probably be a positive change. I'll be curious to find out how it actually tests.

*Verification line

The idea is there would be an additional line behind the goal line that would confirm a goal if the puck touches it. Remember the entire puck must be completely across the goal line to be considered a goal. The verification line would presumably be behind the goal line one diamater of the puck. The thinking is this will help with replay verification. The confusing thing about this is that it would be possible for goals to be scored without breaking the plane of the verification line (puck on end for instance). I think the current standard on a replay review is to look for any white space between the puck and the goal line, and that suits the game just fine. I don't think an additional line will help the review process more than the current standard, and probably would just serve to bring confusion.

*Shallow Back Nets

This is a great thing to test in the RDO camp. The idea is a shallower goal cage will create more space behind the goal for players to maneuver. The first positive is that this would make more players wrap-around threats. A positive for the defense would be it becomes easier to move the puck when breaking out. The only potential downside is that it might become more difficult to spot whether pucks have gone in the net or not. Even with the current cage, sometimes pucks bounce out too quickly. If a shallower net would cause more replay reviews I'm probaly not in favor, if it doesn't I think this would be a wonderful change. I will be curious how this tests as well.

Next topic: Penalties


12 August 2011

Overtime - part of a series on the NHL's RDO tests

A great thing Brendan Shanahan has brought to the NHL is the Research, Development, and Organization camp, where they have players experiment with rule changes and get a real idea of how these things might work in practice.

Today's topic: Overtime

My Take:

I am no fan of the shootout, or the collusion point standings right now. I think there was nothing wrong with the standings system the NHL used for seven decades and I don't think tie games are a less legitimate result. Ties are certainly more legitimate than manufacturing a winner in the skills contest.

(I could even make an extreme argument that Overtime isn't even necessary other than in Game 7 of a playoff series, but the world isn't quite ready for that).

Everyone loves playoff overtime, and I dare say I know the reason. It's very simple. They just add periods until one team scores a goal. If travel and long games weren't an issue in the regular season, I wish they could do this format all year.

Before I get on a tirade, I'll just make my point: I wish they could play OT that was a little longer. The Minnesota High School league plays three 17 minute periods followed by an 8 minute overtime (about 1/2 a period. Is it that much to ask to increase NHL OT to 8, 10, or maybe 15 mins before declaring a tie, or having a shootout (if the shootout must be kept safe, rare, and legal)? In any event, I think longer overtimes would lead to more decisions and fewer shootouts, which I think is where my views and the RDO camp overlap.

The ADO Experiments:

*Four minutes of four-on-four, followed by three minutes of 3-on-3

I like this idea because it does make OT longer. I'm not sure about the logistics of this. If essentially there are two OTs, or teams have to reduce the number of players after a stoppage once 4 minutes have expired.

I don't really know how much the number of players in OT matters. It's tough to say because this change was made just a couple seasons before the shootout, and that changes the motivation and psychology of the game a lot.

*Shootouts

There are several ideas on the table about changing the shootout.

Five players: I definitely have a preference for this over the present three player format. This rewards teams that are good beyond their first line. If the NHL must have a shootout, why haven't they done this yet?

Shootout Precedes Overtime: This is interesting. Presumably this means the shootout will take place first, and then overtime will be played. The result of the shootout will stand only if there is no goal scored in OT. This means the team that lost the shootout will be in the role of attacker and the team that won can be content to play for a scoreless overtime.

It just seems to me that it would be odd to see two teams playing two different games, one extremely defensive, one extremely aggressive. (For you soccer fans I have the exact same problem with the "away goals rule" in aggregate series', I'm glad MLS and NASL have stayed away from this idiocy).

Repeat v. new players: I have a slight preference for using new players if a shootout is tied after 5 players, again because I think rewarding the deeper team is more consistent with successful teams during regular play, but that's not to deny the excitement of having players that may have already failed being called on to succeed (and vice versa), both are going to be tested at Camp Shanny.

Next topic: Goals and Goaltenders (in retrospect this should've been the first topic)



11 August 2011

Icing - part of a series on the NHL's RDO tests

A great thing Brendan Shanahan has brought to the NHL is the Research, Development, and Organization camp, where they have players experiment with rule changes and get a real idea of how these things might work in practice.

This summer's edition starts Wednesday, August 17, and there's a whole list that can be found at NHL.com. I'd like to take a few of these in a series of posts.

Today's topic: Icing

The camp will be experimenting with no-touch icing and the hybrid icing (where a linesman can blow the play dead immediately upon crossing the goal line if he believes no player from the offending team has a chance to play the puck).

I dislike the current touch icing for three BIG reasons.

1) Waiting for touch-ups is a waste of time in about 90% of instances

2) The point of calling icing is to punish a team for failing to clear the zone, it just doesn't seem right to give the offending team a chance to reverse that for not being able to clear their zone in the first place

3) Needless injuries from racing to the end board

The hybrid icing addresses the first issue. Instead of a player coasting back to secure and uncontested whistle, those few seconds could be spent in an attacking faceoff. Multiply that by a dozen or so calls per game and that time adds up and that time is spent in more attacking situations (That itself should show a slight increase in scoring, or at least in exiting situations).

But hybrid icing does not address the other two, and won't do anything to prevent the Kurtis Foster-like injuries. Races to the endboard which the linesman deems close will still have to be played to a touch.

Another test has to do with calling icing violations during shorthanded situations.
(This series will have an entry on the other Penalty and Power Play experiments later).

Because I favor attacking faceoffs over puck races, I think this is a good idea in theory, and I am glad they will test it. The big concern over this is that could add a lot of whistles to power plays that might cause more disruption than good for the team on the advantage.

During shorthanded situations, the team that is short rarely contests a puck they dump to the other end, so the team on the advantage usually get to bring it to the neutral zone without being contested. So is that status quo better for the team on a powerplay, than having an attacking faceoff? That is the answer the camp should seek and that I am very curious about.

Next Topic: Overtime


10 August 2011

Leopold perhaps leaks realignment, rightfully excited...

So I'm only about a month late to this party, but a month ago Wild owner Craig Leopold gave an interview to Kevin Gorg on KFAN (Podcast, skip to 22:00, or click here for the Star Tribune story) and may have revealed what is very important about the NHL's realignment plans for the 2012-13 season.

Leopold said the Wild will play in a division with "the Winnipeg Jets, us, the Blues, the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets – maybe not, depending on which way they would go East or West."

The two great things about this.

1) The Wild will be in a division with all of the other Central time zone teams (plus one more depending on where Columbus lands)

2) The Wild will probably be playing the minimum against teams in the "new Pacific" cutting their travel to these cities in half (also cutting the 9pm or later TV starts in half as well).

In passing Leopold metioned "we will be playing fewer teams in Canada." If he means fewer games against the west Canada and the Pacific coast teams, this would be consistent with the stories that believe a four division alignment means that teams will play home-and-home against the three other divisions and load up on games within their division (5 or 6 against each division opponent). This really mitigates the disadvantage of being in the Western Conference (maybe to the point where Detroit might want to hang around? maybe not?).

As I've said ad nauseum on this blog, the travel issues come from the four games against everyone in the conference in the current formula. While I understand the rational of the formula that it is better to schedule as many games as possible against the teams that influence the playoff race, it is far more burdensome in the West than it is in the relatively close-knit East.

Leopold is rightfully pleased if this is how it's going to shake out. He said, "I am all in favor for that. That is a grand slam, home run, hat trick for our team." That said, reports that "he gave away the realignment" plans overstate it a bit. He gave away one division which many people speculated on. Detroit was noticeably absent from the division he mentioned, fueling speculation that they will play in the East after the realignment.

Still giving away the "new Central" makes it pretty easy to infer that the teams to the West of the ones mentioned will end up in a "new Pacific" division. So he gave away half the realignment.

And from this we can determine the remaining teams will be in the Eastern Conference (Columbus being "in the air"), but he made no mention of how the East will be divided. Dividing the east has many unpleasing options as it seems to necessitate at least one team being separated from the current Atlantic division (and that could be a topic for a future post). For now I'm assuming Pittsburgh is the team to be moved out because of their proximity to Buffalo and Detroit, even though I hate the idea of having to separate them from Philadelphia.

If Columbus stays in the West I would predict...

Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Central: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto
Atlantic: Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington

If Columbus moves to the East I would predict...

Colorado goes to the Central, Columbus goes to the Northeast

Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Central: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto
Atlantic: Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington

And again, Phoenix's situation is wide open and may influence whether two teams can go into the Eastern Conference.

But in any event, Minnesota hockey fans should be very exited, and this would seem to be a win for the Wild, Dallas, Detroit, and Columbus, the four teams that struggle the most with travel under the current system.




04 August 2011

Should the NHL have left ESPN?

I have a comment on Puck Daddy today in response to an article about the NHL leaving ESPN being a mistake, I thought I would share it here:

I never have, and don't think I ever will miss the NHL on the worldwide leader in lying about sports.

Of all the reasons to criticize Bettman, this would be the one thing I secretly respect him for (in the spirit of the "Guilty Pleasures" series).

Remember ESPN picked up NBA rights during the lockout, at best the NHL would've got one game a week on "the deuce." Yes, Versus offered double, and double the airtime. And now look. We're talking national coverage on every game from the second round onward in the new deal with NBCU. Never would've happened on ESPN.

After this ten years is up maybe ESPN/NBC share ala the NBA, leaving ESPN had its growing pains, but is clearly paid off big. NBCU clearly has some growing to do, the rebranding of Versus is a start, and hopefully will mean some programming that might compete with sportscenter for raitings (personally I can't stand sportscenter so much I watch "Final Score" on FSN, the often get to hockey in the first segment!). They'll probably develop and ESPN3 like platform soon as well.

Good on NBCU for their treatment of the NHL, ESPN can f themselves with a broken bottle for all I care.

05 July 2011

Four reasons I've warmed to the Dany Heatley trade.

The Minnesota Wild traded maligned forward Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks for other maligned forward Dany Heatley.

My inital reaction (on Twitter Sunday night) to the trade was that Fletcher has just traded one problem contract for an even bigger problem contract as there is a 2.5M difference in the cap hits and both players battled injuries last year with Heatley scoring 26 goals and Havlat scoring 22.

On the surface this seems pretty risky, but then a few things came to mind after digging into it.

1) Contract length.

The Wild will be out of the Heatley deal one year sooner than the Havlat deal, which is a little more consistent with the overall goal of signing the talent in the Wild system as they mature.

2) Wild cap space

The Wild are no longer right at the cap with the increase and letting most of their free agents walk (so far only Josh Harding signed, Theodore and Brunette have already signed elsewhere). Even after this deal, the Wild have $12M left to spend and are a better team (at least on paper) than last year.

Before this past season, there's no way the Wild can make this trade because they were right at the $56M cap (and ended up 13th in the West). They couldn't squeeze $2.5M then, so I might have been in this knee-jerk mode that it's impossible for the Wild to add that hit on a risky deal like this. But when you think about it, it's not really the case anymore.

3) Heatley does have more upside.

I had to think about this for a while as well, but if you look at the numbers Heatley has had some pretty good seasons in the past, though he hasn't cracked 100 points in five seasons. A lot of good players won't do that, but for Heatley's money I think higher expectations are justified. At age 30 I don't think time will be on Heatley's side much longer, so its hard to expect him to duplicate these results. However, if Heatley does earn the role of "go-to guy," even if it's not to the extent that Gabroik was that guy, this deal is probably worth it. Heatley seems to have a better chance to achieve this that Havlat.

Furthermore, GM Chuck Fletcher has said many times recently the team needs to shoot more and shoot better. Setoguchi and Heatley do help achieve this end, better than the players that have left (well except I will miss Burns' shooting ability greatly).

And while Havlat showed flashes of brilliance in his two seasons here, at times he was just outright brutal. He certainly earned his way down to the third line at the start of this past season (and I would say he subsequently eard his way to higher on the depth chart). I personally wanted to see Havlat work through this here and achieve his potential, and he was heading in a better direction by season's end. But when considering that against a chance to get Dany Heatley... it's just tough to picture Heatley playing bad enough to be in a 3rd line situation like Havlat was.

Which brings me to my fourth point....

4) One less Allan Walsh client on the team

The situation between Havlat and the Wild turned ugly when agent Allan Walsh went public with his dissapointment in Havlat's 3rd line role. Walsh was way out of line criticizing Richards and acting like a coach wannabe (yes, as an amateur fan-blogger, I have found the nerve to call someone a wannabe). Beyond my enjoyment in rehashing this, I think not having Allan Walsh out there takes some pressure off of Yeo. If Havlat stays in Minnesota and things go south again, maybe Yeo handles this situation better, we don't know. But this is something I'd rather Yeo not be distracted by this year.

(I suppose I hope Walsh's behavior affects the way the Wild deal with his clients if they have a chance to acquire any of them in the future. Well except for Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, because come on, that guy's awesome!)

In conclusion, Heatley probably won't be the seconnd coming of Gaborik in his prime, which I think the dollars of his contract should suggest. But will probably be more helpful than Havlat toward the team's goals. If he doesn't work out, worst case is he walks in 3 years and hopefully the Wild's youth movement will be realized by then. If he's good, he'll be 33 at the end of his deal an could get one more contract here.


29 June 2011

What if the NHL never went to six divisions...

A return to a four division realignment reportedly proposed by Commissioner Bettman last week is apparantly being very well recieved, and will probably be finalized this year to start in the 2012-13 season. As many of you know, I have been a supporter of at the very least realigning the Western Conference into two divisons and reducing play between the Pacific and Central teams. I proposed this several weeks ago before the Thrashers to Winnipeg move was made official.

But now that this idea finally seems to have some traction among the Board of Governors, I wonder what would've happened if the NHL never abandoned the four-division format in the first place? The NHL switched to six when the last batch of four expansion teams (starting with Nashville in 1998-99) began play. First, let's look at the last year of the four division format in 1997-98, the Coyotes have been a Phoenix a few years, and the Whalers just moved to Carolina.

1997-98, Last year of four division format
------------------------------------------
(7) Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, SJ, VAN
(6) Central: CHI, DAL, DET, PHX, STL, TOR
(6) Northeast: BOS, BUF, CAR, MTL, OTW, PIT
(7) Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, TBY, WSH

Carolina stays in the Northeast, because there isn't a logical team to switch with in the Atlantic. Looking at this now, I'm surprised Phoenix and Colorado never swapped divisions after Phoenix's relocation. Oh well, let's assume it stays this way as we now enter the most recent expansion era.

1998-99, Nashville's first year, joins Central division
------------------------------------------
(7) Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, SJ, VAN
(7) Central: CHI, DAL, DET, NSH, PHX, STL, TOR
(6) Northeast: BOS, BUF, CAR, MTL, OTW, PIT
(7) Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, TBY, WSH

The Central and Northeast are the only divisions that are "short a team." The Central seems to be logical choice because of Nashville's proximity to Chicago and St. Louis, even though they are commonly thought of as a "Southern" team, they are as close to those cities as anywhere in the Atlantic division, plus there isn't a realistic trade here. Nashville to the Central seems obvious.

1999-00, Atlanta's first year, joins Northeast
------------------------------------------
(7) Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, SJ, VAN
(7) Central: CHI, DAL, DET, NSH, PHX, STL, TOR
(7) Northeast: ATL, BOS, BUF, CAR, MTL, OTW, PIT
(7) Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, TBY, WSH

The Northeast is the only division short a team, and again, I don't see a switch that would be made out of the Atlantic to make a space for them. This is probably why it looked like a good idea at the time to realign to six divisions of five as it splits the Eastern Conference pretty nicely, (although separating Washington from more "traditional" rivals). But the way the three division format was applied to the West, really screwed Dallas and Minnesota down the road. Furthermore, the way the schedule was divided, with double home-and-home against all conference opponents, it also really screwed Detroit and Columbus (and frankly, probably wasn't so easy on west coast teams either). Still, I think they made the best decision possible with a three division Western Conference constraint, but I'm glad they are now re-thinking this.

2000-2001, Columbus and Minnesota first year, major realignment
------------------------------------------
Columbus & Minnesota will become Central Division teams, Toronto moves to Northeast, Pittsburgh moves to Atlantic, Phoenix moves to Pacific

(8) Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, PHX, SJ, VAN
(7) Central: CHI, CLB, DAL, DET, MIN, NSH, STL
(7) Northeast: ATL, BOS, BUF, CAR, MTL, OTW, TOR
(8) Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, PIT, TBY, WSH

Now that its a given that there will be two divisions of eight and two of seven, there is a lot of flexibility. Both Columbus and Minnesota make sense as Central teams. But I could see the NHL making Columbus play in the Northeast for the first couple seasons and then swap with Toronto. The NHL did this in the six division alignment because Nashville was still a very young franchise in the Central and the league didn't want another expansion team in the same five-team division. I think they'd be willing to allow two expansion teams in a seven-team division, but three would have been a lot.

Phoenix finally moves to the Pacific, making that an eight team division. Given that there will also be an eight team division in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Atlanta all have a case to move out of the Northeast. Let's assume Pittsburgh gets the nod based on seniority.

So above is a very possible alignment the NHL would have from 2000 up until Atlanta's relocation for next year.

2011-2012, Atlanta Relocates to Winnipeg
------------------------------------------
Winnipeg to Pacific: Move Colorado to Central, move Detroit OR Columbus to Northeast,
Pacific: ANA, CGY, EDM, LA, PHX, SJ, VAN, WPG
Central: CHI, COL, DAL, DET, MIN, NSH, STL
Northeast: BOS, BUF, CLB, CAR, MTL, OTW, TOR
Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, PIT, TBY, WSH
(Option, also move Phoenix to Central so both Detroit AND Columbus could go to the Northeast)

I Imagine Canadian TV prefers this scenario, but the one below is simpler

Winnipeg to Central: Move Detroit or Columbus to Northeast
Pacific: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM, LA, PHX, SJ, VAN
Central: CHI, DAL, DET, MIN, NSH, STL, WPG
Northeast: BOS, BUF, CLB, CAR, MTL, OTW, TOR
Atlantic: FLA, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, PIT, TBY, WSH
(Option, also move Phoenix to Central so both Detroit AND Columbus could go to the Northeast)

Note in both scenarios, I'm assuming Columbus will move because of a preference for Detroit and Chicago to remain together. Still the decision is close, given that Detroit probably could win on seniority.

Also I could see a swap of Pittsburgh and Carolina somewhere along the way, though that would mean separating Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, perhaps a reason the Penguins wouldn't want to move.

While I noted above Atlanta's move to Winnipeg is before the upcoming season, the actual realignment isn't going to take place until 2012-13, so Winnipeg will stay in the Southeast division for now (and honestly who isn't rooting for a Southeast Division championship banner to hang at MTS Centre for all time). Since there were only about four weeks between the relocation being made offical and the release of the schedule for next season, it was easier to do a Find and Replace of "Winnipeg" with "Atlanta," rather than figure out how to change the schedules of three divisions if a "simple" three-way swap took place for this coming season (For example, Winnipeg to Northwest, Minnesota to Central, Columbus to Southeast would've drastically impacted 15 teams' schedules).

But the other big reason for waiting to realign is that there will be a Phoenix question if the City of Glendale stops funding the team's losses (they have paid the NHL $25M for the last two years to keep the team open for buisness while trying to find a local buyer).

Where to put Phoenix in the event of a relocation becomes clearer in a four division setup. Keep in mind that for a team to move, there needs to be a potential owner, and a potential arena, ALL of the possible cites below lack at least one of those things. Winnipeg was the only city that met the two criteria, but with the Thrashers going there, the Coyotes seem likley a team without a destination. For that reason, frankly, I think it is more likley the Coyotes simply fold if Glendale stops funding the losses than a relocation to any one of these cities. That said...

If Phoenix moves to...

Seattle or Portland, Pacific Division
Houston or Kansas City, Central Division
Quebec City, Northeast Division (probably means Detroit AND/OR Columbus have to remain in/return to the Central).

I don't forsee any Atlantic division destinations unless Atlanta inexplicably gets a third bite at the apple, highly unlikely given no ownership emerged to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta for what would've amounted to a discount compared to what True North paid.

And while drawing pretty lines on maps is fun for a while, the real issue is how they balance the schedule. Particularly, if the playoffs become division based instead of conference based, will the Central and Pacific divisions only need to schedule home-and-home and load up on division games. If that is the case if Detroit AND/OR Columbus get left behind in the Central, it makes little difference compared to getting to move East. If the number of games between opponents inside or ouside the division remain close, then it doesn't really matter where they draw the division lines, and it doesn't really help the travel situation in the West.

Hopefully, looking at the four-division question as if the six-division era never happened, clears up what might work if the NHL indeed follows through with this idea.

28 June 2011

Three Quick Notes: Congrats to Boston, Wild hire new coach, trade Burns.

I think I might make "Three Quick Notes" a feature here at SOTSO Hockey.

1) Congrats to Boston.

Yes, I rooted against you in every round except for the final (and I was probably rooting for Boston in the first rounds against Montreal). Yes, you were my pre playoff pick to win the final, and yes, I bailed on you after a dissapointing start in the first round. And yes, while I'm glad you have defeated the most hated team in hockey, I'm sure next fall, you'll remind me why I hated you so much against Buffalo and Tampa. Though I must admit, for teams like Tampa and Boston, they played a game 7 that was way cleaner than it should've been. There were no penalties, but not for the usual reason of the refs ignoring stuff, it was becuase they really played hard and clean.

2) Wild Hire Yeo

I do think Fletcher made a gutsy pick here after all the deserved criticism of hiring the inexperienced Todd Richards. I understand where he's coming from, the coaching pool this year was much thinner than it was two years ago. I think Fletcher is rejecting less appealing big names here. The Wild need discipline, I don't think Richards ever had the ability he needed to motivate the locker room. The two "big names" were MacTavish and Hitchcock. Both teams lost their recent NHL gigs for the same problem Richards had, though I would say Hitchcock got some redemption in the recent World Championships with team Canada.

Still former Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo was recently a head coach (unlike Richards who was a few years removed from being "the guy"), and led the Aeros to a phenomal season which resulted in a trip to the Calder Cup finals. Motivation appeared to be a key in Fletcher's remarks (while, to his credit, he was very careful to not directly disrespect the outgoing Richards), and Fletcher later even went so far as to later call out the players' conditioning.

Yeo has more upside than Richards, and has a record of being able to motivate players, specifically players that will be with the big club before too long as the Wild go into this summer ready to "blow it up"

3) Burns trade

I'm sorry to see Brent Burns go, but I understand after the abltross that was Kim Johnsson's contract, the Wild were going to be wary of overpaying another defensman. Burns is going to command more on the open market than the Wild would be willing to pay next summer. But I think they made a good deal with San Jose to get an extra 1st round pick, the affordable, albiet inconsistent scoring winger Devin Setoguchi, and prospect Charlie Coyle who has a pretty glowing scouting report (stick tap to Hockey Wilderness).

I think this is a pretty good price they probably would not have been able to get if they waited until the deadline. This is a good deal for San Jose too, Burns will be joining a deeper defensive core there, which means he won't always have to against opposing top lines. Both teams did well on this, but give the Wild credit for making the Sharks pay, this is way better than getting nothing for Gabroik for sure!

12 June 2011

Schedule Formulae with a balanced NHL schedule...

I wanted to address something Commissioner Bettman mentioned along with the news of Atlanta's impending relocation to Winnipeg last season. He mentioned the possibility of going to a "more balanced schedule."

Most people are taking this to mean every team will appear in every building at least once a year, or a the very least an expansion of interconference play from the current number of 18 games per team pear season. Let’s assume it is the case that the NHL will go to 30 interconference games per team per season (15 opponents times 2 games, one home one away). This means there will be only 52 games (down from 64) to be spread among conference opponents. Surprisingly, this means there are a fairly finite number of schedule formulae the NHL could use depending on how the league chooses to realign (how many diviisons, conferences, etc...), which Bettman believes will happen following next season.

Depending on travel priorities, the schedule will look something like one of the five possibilities that I analyze below. While, I have my preferences for the how the league should be realigned and the schedule it should follow, I think the bigger point is regardless of which of these possibilities the schedule looks like, realignment is actually going to matter less under a more balanced schedule.

Under the current alignment, when we argue which teams belong in the same division or conference, we were arguing over which teams appear three times versus twice versus three times every five years* in a given building. With a more balanced schedule and guaranteeing every team appears at least once it means we would be arguing about fractions of those numbers.

(*Yes, I know the Canadian teams have an exception that means they play Canadian interconference opponents home-and-home every year, so 3 times every 5 years isn't correct other than as an overall league average)

I think it's pretty safe to assume the NHL will stick with two conferences of 15 teams each, moving Winnipeg to the West in favor of moving Detroit or Columbus to the East, let's assume for the sake of argument that remains true. The question then becomes how many divisions will be in each conference.

WARNING: Lots of numbers and nerding out below.

As you scroll the possibilites, keep in mind...

Breakdowns written as [Number of Opponents] * [Number of Games per opponent].

Categories of Games:

Div - Games against opponents in the same division
RC - Games against opponents in the same conference, but not same division
IC - Interconference games, or games against opponents of the opposite conference

Sample Schedule:

The Sample home schedule shows how many teams would appear how frequently in each building. The first option will have the Sample Home Schedule listed as:

4*3 (All Div), 5*2, (All RC), 20*1 (5 RC, 15 IC).

Which means, four opponents from the division would appear three times, five teams would appear twice from the rest of the conference, and then 20 teams would appear once, 5 from the rest of the conference and 15 interconference opponents).

If there is an imbalance, assume that it could be handled on a rotating basis. (There’s an argument for doing this by seeding, but that’s not crucial to overall point of this post)

Lastly assume all options include two games home-and-home against 15 interconference opponents, the only difference between the options is how the Div and RC games are divided.

Three Division Options
Conference has 3 Divisions of 5 Teams.

Option A - Division Focused

24 Div (4*6)
28 RC (8*3, 2*2)

Sample Home Schedule:
4*3 (All Div), 4*2, (All RC), 22*1 (5 RC, 15 IC).

Comment:
These are two possible schedules that are close enough to be under the same option. Both possibilities try to preserve the six games against each division opponent, however only 4 or 5 opponents from the rest of the conference will appear twice (down from 10) as the RC schedule is reduced by 25%.

Option B - Conference Focused

16 Div (4*4)
36 RC (6*4, 4*3)

Sample Home Schedule:
12*2 (4 Div, 6 RC), 17*1 (4 RC, 15 IC)

Comment:
This is the current formula the NBA uses. This makes it almost unimportant in which division a team is, as the most a team will appear in any building is twice, and it would be 12 out of 14 conference opponents that would appear twice. (Detroit or Columbus in the Southeast division wouldn't be so ridiculous travel-wise, just name-wise)

Two Division Options
Conference has 2 Divisions, one of 7 teams and one of 8 teams.

Option A - Really Division Focused
Division of 7 Division of 8

36 Div (6*6) 38 (3*6, 4*5)
16 RC (8*2) 14 (7*2)

Sample Home Schedules:
Division of 7: 6*3 (Div), 23*1 (All RC and IC)
Division of 8: 5*3 (Div), 2*2 (Div), 22*1 (All RC and IC)

This formula would preserve a large balance in division games, and mean the minimum number of games between teams outside of division matchups. (Might not be so great in the Eastern Conference if "rival" teams get forced into different divisions).

Option B - Division Focused
Division of 7 Division of 8

28 Div (4*5, 2*4) 31 Div (3*5, 4*4)
24 RC (8*3) 21 RC (7*3)

Sample Home Schedules:
Division of 7: 2*3 (2 Div), 6*2 (2 Div, 4 RC), 22*1 (RC and IC)
Division of 8: 1 or 2*3 (Div), 3 or 4*2 (Div or RC), 24*1 (RC and IC)

This formula would still favor division games, while not paring games against other conference opponents to the minimum.

**NOTE: If divisions have an unequal number of teams, it is impossible to create a formula similar to Option B in the three division format in which the games between opponents of different divisions after guaranteeing the maximum games between opponents of the same division. The only way such a formula comes close to working is if some teams in the larger division give up a game against a division opponent to ensure there are enough opponents in the smaller division to go around, but that seems to defeat the purpose of using a divisional alignment in the first place.

No Division Alignment
Conference has no divisions, 15 teams in one group

52 (10*4, 4*3)

Sample Home Schedule:
12*2 (12 Conference opponents), 17*1 (2 Conference Opponents, 15 IC)

Note the schedule is the same as option B in the 3 division format. This formula is the simplest and means the only relevant alignment is where line is between two conferences.

Which formula to use is a matter of how much emphasis the NHL wants to keep on division play. But adding interconference games does necessarily reduce games within the conference and within the division. How are playoff races going to be decided? That’s a very important question regarding where the balance in the schedule should lie. What do you think?

Coming Soon

I will update my last realignment plan now that the move to Winnipeg has been made official.