19 January 2012

Stay positive! Yeo, Fletcher saying the right things, and hope in the playoff race...

Voice of optimism (stop laughing at me)

I'm starting to feel like the lone voice of optimism in the Wild blogosphere.  The State of the State of Hockey is one of general despair.  If we take a step back from the horrible games we've been watching.  I know many people will find my optimism foolish.  But I mean the following sincerely:  Despite this horrible losing the streak, I see the Wild are still very much in the playoff race.

It doesn't matter if the team won a bunch of games first, and then lost a bunch any more than it would matter if it happened the other way around, or if the big winning streak and the big losing streak were instead a bunch of shorter streaks mixed in.  However it happened the Wild are about where any reasonable person expected them to be if they stayed healthy. (And certainly they are above where unreasonable person Harrison Mooney at Puck Daddy predicted in his season preview.)

(more below the jump)

11 January 2012

Victory over the Sharks! Results, Opportunities, Controversies, and Congratulations...

1) Results

Yes it was an ugly collapse, yes the Wild still had to fight through several stretches where it seemed they were never going to get out of their own end.  But without Setoguchi or Bouchard, the Wild managed to score four goals against the Sharks, and hold on for a shootout victory they may or may not have deserved.

After losing to a beatable Calgary team on Saturday, the Wild bounced back and found a way to win what is probably their toughest matchup in January.

2) Opportunities

Yes, yesterday's win is only the 2nd victory in 13 games, but it helps ensure they stay on the right side of the playoff bubble for now.  This weeks games at Chicago and St. Louis are both going to be challenging, but the Wild can show a willingness to take their fate in their own hands, victories here will put the Wild back toward the top of the West and away from the bubble.

With only two home games left in January and plenty of tough road tests, points will be hard to come by.  However, if last night proved anything, it is that there are ways to win every game, just a matter of finding them.

3) Controversies

So apparently Setoguchi missed a meeting yesterday which resulted in his being scratched last night.  For everyone that has lamented the absence of offense in the lineup, I am yet to see anyone criticize Yeo for this decision.  I shouldn't be too surprised by this, my frustration with Richards (which I believe was shared by the fan base at large) is that he was unable to motivate the team, which led to the collapse at the end of the season.  So I think on some level, the fans understand that to not hold Setoguchi accountable would invite the potential that Yeo's principles can crack when tested.  This would jeopardize Yeo's ability as a leader.

Obviously, it's much easier to support Yeo's decision because the Wild found a way to win the game without Setoguchi, but I imagine, the fans would still generally respect Yeo's decision even if the result were different.  It's hard to know for sure, but I don't think my respect for fellow Wild fans is misplaced in issues like this.

Also glad to see Russo tweet that Setoguchi did apologize to the team, and take responsibility himself.  I hope this never happens again.  I'm willing to forget until it does.

4) Congratulations

Of course I'd like to congratulate Matt Cullen on his 1000 NHL games, becoming the seventh Minnesotan to do so.  Cullen has struggled to find the next since his quick start, but I love the way he moves with the puck and I love the way he forechecks, he has always been a positive player, regardless of his role and whether or not it shows up in the box score.  Cullen's number should rebound now the the Wild are becoming healthy .(though I think with Setoguchi's return Thursday, this is as healthy as the Wild will be for a while.)

Speaking of Richards, I am glad he is getting the chance to be a head coach again (albeit with the "interim" tag).  Richards replaces the fired Scott Arniel in Columbus.  As little as I like the Blue Jackets and Arniel, I do hope Richards learned from mistakes here and will do a better job this time around.

10 January 2012

Would a play-in round please the PA?, thoughts on Cullen's comments to Russo

I was glad to see Minnesota Wild player rep Matt Cullen spell out the Players' Association's position a little better on Sunday regarding their stance on the realignment plan.  Cullen told Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo,
"There's going to be realignment. It's just a matter of trying to actually do it right instead of rushing to get it done. I don't quite understand why the league imposed a deadline."
As always I recommend clicking over to Russo yourself to read the full article for more info from the players' mouths.  Cullen's remarks indicate the PA's issue is more they were not involved in the discussions and they felt they should be.  The issue is not necessarily that the PA opposes it, they just want more information before approving it, and I don't think its to big a stretch to read into Cullen's remarks that in the end, the PA wants to approve it.

It appears to me Players' Association leader Donald Fehr is using this to remind the league that the PA is ready fight on everything, even if players, particularly those on Western Conference teams (such as Calgary and Minnesota), do want the plan in the end.

The other issue mentioned is some players are concerned about the inequity of the playoff format.  That it isn't fair that teams in a conference of eight only (on average) have a 4 in 8 chance of making the playoffs, while teams in a conference of seven have an 4 in 7 chance.

I do think this is the most overblown issue in the realignment discussion, as I mentioned in my post following the BOG's announcement of the new plan's approval.

To summarize my opinion...
  1. The difference amounts to one extra playoff appearance every 14 years for teams in a conference of seven.  This difference takes longer to experience than most players' careers.
  2. A crossover rule would increase the travel of the top seed in the smaller division in the name of fairness to a fifth seed (furthermore, imbalanced scheduling means teams in different conferences play very different schedules, rendering any comparison quite meaningless).  I don't have a problem with tough love for mediocre teams.
  3. The conferences aren't etched in stone, there is potential for relocation and expansions that would change which conferences have eight teams and which have seven.  This in itself serves to balance some of this inequity.
But I do have an idea that might help and might provide a win for the Players' Association.  What if we consider a short #4 seed v #5 seed play-in series for the conferences of eight?

(I expand on this idea after the jump)

09 January 2012

Introducing NHL Standings with a Points Behind column...

I am very exited to bring a new, exciting NHL standings feature to the blogosphere.

It's often frustrating to rank NHL teams that have played a different number of games during the season.  One has to look at how many points a team has.  But little attention is paid to how many games a team has played, that must also be a factor, right?  Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have an easy method to deal with this, the games behind (GB) column, which factors in both wins and losses when ranking teams.  It has long been assumed that NHL standings, because they deal in points instead of wins and losses, cannot do the same thing.  Today, I show that it is possible to do this in a (hopefully) easy to understand manner.

First, to make sure everyone's on the same page, let's establish how games behind works in other league's standings tables.

Games Behind
In leagues that only count wins and losses (such as MLB or the NBA) in a given division/conference/whathaveyou any team can be measured against the first place team by averaging the difference between the teams records.  For example, two teams in a division might have a standings table that looks like this (team names have been changed):

New York has won two more games than Boston, and Boston has lost three more than New York, average that together and you get 2 1/2 games behind.  Fans of baseball and basketball understand this intuitively.  It's helpful in situations like the one below:

Boston has won two more games than New York, but they have also lost three more games.  We see New York has a higher winning percentage and we would calculate Boston as being 1/2 a game behind, despite having won two more games.

Even in the NFL, where they still have (gasp!) tie games, fans know a team that is 10-4 is two games behind a team that's 12-2.  The NFL has a definition of ties that is quite helpful, counting a tie as 1/2 in the win column, and 1/2 in the loss column.  The last tied game in the NFL was in 2008, some of you might remember Quarterback Donovan McNabb had something to say about his Eagles' 13-13 result against the Bengals.  The Eagles would finish the season 9-6-1 and take the 6th seed in the NFC, finishing slightly ahead of three teams at 9-7 (because 9.5 > 9, and 6.5 < 7).

Back to hockey

The NHL counts points instead of wins, so it's been long assumed the NHL can't have a column similar to games behind.  I say the time has come.  The standings table should no longer rank teams on points alone, instead let's create a "Points Behind" column for the NHL Standings.  Here's how it's done...

(how it's done, after the jump)

04 January 2012

Wild thing of the month - December 2011

(Editor's note: In October, when this feature debuted I listed the definition as "A new feature here at SOTSO Hockey! Shortly after the end of each month we will name one highlight, story, whathaveyou." I have decided on a definition that is a little more, well definitive.  The Wild Thing of the Month is now going to feature the one story, performance, or event that, in the opinion of this blogger, made Wild fans the happiest.  Feedback always welcome.)

So after returning from the family visits and what-not over the Christmas holiday, I realized there were only about five days left of the month, the Wild had lost six straight games, the Department of Player Safety has spit on the Wild three times, and nothing memorable enough happened to overcome that malaise.  The Wild would go on to lose two more games, including a hard fought shootout defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators.  On the afternoon of Thursday, December 29, the word was out that Matt Kassian has been called up for the matchup against the Oilers.

I attended the game against the Oilers on November 25, and watched in disgust as Oilers goon Darcy Hordichuk, who called Brad Staubitz out in the media, hit Staubitz high twice, and then turtled when challenge.  Hordichuk baited Staubitz into taking two double minors, and the grease had their way with the Wild that evening.

02 January 2012

Torres suspension only exposes flaw in NHL discipline.

The word is out that Raffi Torres has been suspended 2 games for a hit on the Wild's Nate Prosser.

Here's the Department of Player Safety's video:

I'm glad the NHL decided to punish this hit, but I must bring up the Eric Johnson attempt to hit Matt Cullen in the Wild-Avs game on November 17. Click over to Hockey Wilderness to find a good animated gif of this hit.

(more below the jump)