23 August 2009

Gary Bettman shouldn't go crawling back to ESPN

One of the recurring ideas that I see kicked around the blogosphere is the idea that the NHL needs to kick Versus to the curb, and go groveling back to ESPN. Presumably, going back to ESPN, even if it means taking a lower offer on the television contract, will mean that suddenly the NHL will be heavily featured on Sportscenter. This will hook all the casual sports fans on hockey, because if its on ESPN, they're going to watch it. It's just that simple!

Step 1 - Get on ESPN
Step 2 - ???
Step 3 - Profit!

The supposed returns from a return to ESPN seem entirely imaginary to me. The idea that the NHL returning to ESPN will lead to a significant NHL presence on Sportscenter seems entirely delusional to me. Last time the NHL was on ESPN, there was hardly a significant NHL presence on the morning Sportscenter. Back before all the scores and highlights were easily accessable online, and Sportscenter was the primary means for catching those items, the NHL usually appeared about 45-50 minutes in, and the WWL's idea of NHL coverage was to (maybe) show 20 seconds of highlights from a single game, followed by a bunch of scoreboards for the rest of the games.

The NHL was never a priority on Sportscenter when ESPN had the rights, and the only thing people point out to say why that wouldn't be the case is that the NHL has more marketable stars in Crosby and Ovechkin now. That may be true, but that doesn't mean the NHL is going to get exposure, just that the Penguins and Capitals would. We'd be right back to one or two quick sets of highlights about some combination of DET/PIT/WSH and then some quick scoreboards. This is before we even consider what quality of highlights or analysis you're even going to get on Sportscenter. Oh boy, nothing excites me like hearing Stuart Scott say something stupid as we see Sidney Crosby light the lamp.

The other wonderful thing ESPN will do is take their legions of casual fans and throw them at the NHL, making people fall in love with the game because ESPN gave it to them. Like all these people are really waiting for the NHL to move to ESPN to become hockey fans. One of the complaints about Versus is that casual fans don't even know what channel it is, if they even have it. You're telling me that someone who can't bother to look up what channel the NHL is on is who we're looking to recruit?

Furthermore, you're trying to convince me that because something is on ESPN, its going to suddenly net tons of casual viewers? Poker and NASCAR get plenty of time on ESPN, but they're not on any sort of higher ground than the NHL is, despite all their ESPN exposure. People watch poker because it comes on after they get home from work or after Sportscenter. I've watched poker because it was on. I've watched trickshot billiards because it was on. Hell, I've watched scrabble on ESPN before because it was on. But if you think legions of casual sports fans are marking their calendars for a poker event on TV and becoming actual fans who can be milked for their money, you're kidding yourself. There is a significant difference between "oh gee, theres nothing else on and I need background noise while I look at internet porn" and "OH MY GOD DUDE HE TOTALLY GOT THAT ROYAL FLUSH ON THE RIVER WOW IM GONNA GO GET A PHIL HELLMUTH T-SHIRT!!!". One of these isn't really a fan, and one of them is. One of them is a useful asset to a professional sports league, and one of them is considerably less than that.

Of course, there is the issue of quality of presentation and analysis of the product should the NHL return to ESPN as well. Yes, Versus doesn't have a very good studio team. Brian Engblom and Keith Jones are not exactly a couple of hockey-oriented Einsteins, but then again, neither was Barry Melrose, was he? Most of my time watching the NHL on ESPN was spent yelling at Barry Melrose or listening to Gary Thorne verbally fellate Peter Forsberg. ESPN really isn't much of a step up from where the NHL is at currently, in that regard. Its not like Engblom and Jones have tried to come back to the game recently and been summarily bounced right back out for being incompetent.

One of the fondest memories people have of the NHL on ESPN is the good ol' NHL 2Nite. Yes, a highlights show is better than none, which is what Versus currently does. The thing people forget is that NHL 2Nite was carried more by Buccigross' charisma than anything else. NHL2Nite wasn't even that big on the highlights either. It looked good because there weren't any other options, but when you got past the hour's worth of commercials squeezed into a half hour and reduced run times because of other sport's overages of time, you got a couple quick highlights and that was it. Really, it was John Buccigross' charisma and a lack of options that made NHL 2Nite great.

NHL Network's On The Fly Final is a far more complete highlight and general hockey news show than NHL 2Nite ever was, and hockey certainly isn't getting a full 1 hour show at a reasonable hour on ESPN anytime soon. It may not have flashy graphics or the charisma of a guy like Buccigross, but its pretty good as it is, it has some far better analysts in guys like Larry Murphy and Gary Greene, and those cosmetic shortcomings are the sorts of things that can be improved on. If you really want to make an improvement, do what the NFL Network did with Rich Eisen, and snag Buccigross away from ESPN and put him to work on the NHL Network. If we want a highlights show on cable, without being on NHL Network, why not just get Versus to start playing On The Fly once or twice a night? It's gotta pull in more eyes than Fanarchy or whatever else Versus is putting on TV.

What do I think would be best for the NHL in terms of television exposure? First of all, I think you re-up with Versus. They're willing to do a lot for the NHL, and not many other networks will give you two straight months of prime time programming without a fight. Keep Versus as a primary station. Secondly, re-up with NBC as well. Or maybe CBS. To me, the two are mostly interchangable and equally irrelevant. Give them the same package they have now, give them the Winter Classic, and give them some playoffs. And please, demand that they get McGuire and Milbury off the broadcast team, and replace them with some intelligent people.

Third, if ESPN is interested, you give them a weekly game. Don't hem and haw and make concessions to get on ESPN. Just say, "hey, you guys want some sort of game of the week package for every Friday night?". If they don't, fine, walk away. If they do, take it. Just a game a week for ESPN, no playoffs, no Winter Classic, just give them one game a week. Tell them that if the NHL is to return to the "World Wide Leader In Sports", its not going to be groveling and begging for forgiveness, but as a viable, growing product.

Beyond that, I think the NHL needs to seriously invest in the NHL Network, in an effort to make the NHL Network the primary platform for all things NHL. Obviously that road isn't perfect, as the NFL can tell you, but it has serious benefits. I'm a fan of hockey and football, and I can personally attest that the NFL Network is a far more attractive platform for all things NFL related compared to ESPN, Fox, or CBS. The highlights are more comprehensive, the analysis is more informed, you get far more insight into all aspects of the game, there is more NFL-related programming, and the discussions of relevant issues are far more informed. In fact, one of the things that most impresses me about the NFL Network is that, for a network owned and run by the league, it isn't afraid to be critical of the league, its commissioner, or its practices.

Its not quite perfect, but the NFL Network is leading the way in this aspect of business, and its something that the other three major sports should be eager to mimic. If the NHL started putting together more original programming, airing more live games, breaking more news, and working to bring more and better on-air talent into the network, they'd catch even more eyes. For me, I don't watch much TV, but for a significant portion of the year, I exclusively watch the NFL and NHL Networks. Giving more people more reasons to watch the NHL Network will only serve to help the league further. These steps will do far more to help the NHL long term, than to go crawling back to ESPN, asking to be loved again. For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone thinks crawling back to ESPN is going to be a miracle cure for the NHL's television woes.

19 August 2009

Rubber Ducky, You're The One

Today, the Detroit Red Wings announced the return of Todd Bertuzzi, on a 1 year 1.5M deal. I don't really like Bertuzzi, mostly because I never thought he was that great, and his general worthlessness since his suspension for trying to kill Steve Moore. I'm more or less ambivalent about the move, purely from a "Hey, the Wings acquired Bertuzzi" standpoint, because he can probably do halfway decent with enough talent around him and its a pretty cheap one year deal. However, the real problem with this deal is the roster spot that a mostly worthless Bertuzzi would occupy, especially after the signings of Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves. Check this out:

1 - Datsyuk
2 - Zetterberg
3 - Franzen
4 - Filppula
5 - Cleary
6 - Holmstrom
7 - Draper
8 - Bertuzzi
9 - Williams
10 - Maltby
11 - Leino
12 - Helm
13 - Eaves
14 - Abdelkader

That's 14 forwards, with only 12 spots for a given game available. I don't know which are on 2 way contracts (anyone know a good resource for finding that out?), which will play a significant role in which guys get to be in that top 12.

One of the important things under a salary cap is to get good production from your youngsters, who are still on very team-friendly cap hits. This becomes even more important when your team is very much jammed up against the cap, as the Wings are. In fact, coming into this offseason, knowing that the Wings were quickly approaching a very unpleasant meeting with the realities of a salary cap, there were calls from some sides to go ahead and let some of the kids take over, to take advantage of their cap hits and finally give some of them a chance to crack a notoriously tough lineup.

I don't think there is any question that Leino plays on the big club this year. He has a very team friendly deal at an 800K cap hit, and is a very good bet to produce more than any other forward making under 2M this year.

The question rises more in terms of the roster spots for Helm and Abdelkader. Obviously, the Red Wings' brain trust has faith in Helm, considering the games he's played the last two years. However, Helm was only brought up for 16 games last season. I expect he'll play more than that this year, but as much as the coaching staff loves him, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they bounced him back and forth between the AHL and NHL this year. The front office will want to try to get some results from Williams/Eaves/Bertuzzi, which isn't unreasonable, and I also think that Babcock will use a bus ticket to Grand Rapids as a way to punish mistakes and to let Helm know that as much as they like the kid, he can't ever let up. In fact, it might even be one of those things where they're even harder on him because they like him. That alone will probably get Helm a solid half a season this year, and additional subs because of injury will probably get him close to 60 games.

That leaves Justin Abdelkader. Given 4 games of NHL regular season duty across the last two seasons, Abdelkader hasn't had much chance to grab hold of a roster spot. However, in 10 playoff games this past year, he was good for 3 points, and play by play guys were calling his name (along with Helm's, oftentimes) pretty frequently. He seemed to be doing a good job of playing responsible across the entire ice surface, he got a few points, and he definitely got some attention. I've got to think that merits a chance to earn some NHL ice time, but for many of the same reasons as why I think Darren Helm will miss out on some games, I think Abdelkader will also miss out on some large stretches of time. I'm thinking Abdelkader is probably good for no more than a half season this year, tops.

So if I'm right on those guesses, Helm and Abdelkader are losing significant NHL time this year to Patrick Eaves and Todd Bertuzzi. I can't see any possible way that turns out to be a good move, especially in Bertuzzi's case. What offense has been lost to the departure of Hossa and Samuelsson will in large part be picked up by the promotion of Leino, acquisition of Jason Williams, and whoever fills out the roster (ideally, to me, Helm + Abby). It may not make up for all of it, but whatever isn't made up for can definitely be made up for on the defensive end. Giving Bert any of the ice time that has been earned by Helm and Abby, while Bert blames anyone else for the fact that he sucks, is an absolutely wrong move to make.

11 August 2009

Competent Competition

Over at the CLS redraft, we are almost through six rounds of re-drafting so far. When the idea was first kicked around, I envisioned something a bit different than what the draft actually became, but one of the most compelling parts of doing this whole exercise was that I thought it would be highly interesting to see how a group of people reacted to the constant changes of a league-wide fantasy draft. Seeing how people originally intended to go before the draft started, how they reacted to what came their way and to position runs, and where their team was completed compared to the intended build was going to be the most interesting part to me.

As I mentioned before, I came into this draft with a basic plan of how I wanted to build my team. I wanted to build a defense-first team, much in the mold of the Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Ducks. Instead, Jarome Iginla fell to #16, and I was obligated to take one of my favorite forwards in the game. After that, I went for a franchise D-man with Duncan Keith in the second round. In the third, I felt that most of the top end defensemen were gone, but Brenden Morrow is another favorite of mine, in a similar mold as Iginla, and he wasn't going to last much longer, so I had to jump on that.

One thing I noticed though by this point in the draft was that in a draft of 30 people knowledgeable about the game, while it was possible to still get some relative "steals" close to where people ought to have been taken, there was no way you were going to fill a team with quality players gotten from the bottom rounds of a draft. I wasn't terribly impressed with what was left over for me in rounds 4 and 5, and I was thinking I could nab some steals in rounds 5-10, so I took some opportunities to trade down and collect a bunch of 5-10's, at the expense of some of my much later picks. This way, while everyone else is fighting over nonames to fill their roster, I'll already have my roster filled with higher quality players. It may not be great all the way through, but top to bottom, it should be better than most people.

Part of the problem here though, is that everyone in this league freaked out and took goalies in a big hurry. I refused to get caught in a position run just to get bottom of the barrel goalies, so I just kept on picking. Then everyone started picking up "name" players and bargain contracts, several rounds before they should've gone. I love Milan Lucic, but there's no way he's a top 2 line forward. He went 130th, to a team that had Lecavalier and Hossa for forwards already. Presumably, he plays on a top line, or he was a tremendous reach. But those reaches are happening all over the draft board, so I'm having to reach similarly for any players on bargain contracts. Having 3 picks in the 6th round, I grabbed T. J. Oshie, Jonathan Ericsson, and Alexander Edler. Decent prices for each, which allows me more flexibility later in the draft for grabbing anyone who is a little overpaid (or even paid market value).

In the NHL, cap room is one of the most valuable resources you can have, and in this draft, people are collecting bargain contracts like they're going out of style. Part of the problem with that though, is that this redraft league is set up to run for one year only. There is no dynastic team building here. Having a $5 dollar shake on your team isn't a problem, as you don't have to think about those raises the rookies are due next year. Especially when you're going to be fighting over a bunch of minimum wage players in rounds 18-23 anyways, who cares if you grab the $5 milkshake now? Competent competition is definitely making this draft harder, as everyone else involved certainly knows their stuff, but at the same time, the pack focus on goaltenders all at once, then bargain contracts all at once, etc. is making for some pretty strange results. I'm not really sure how I feel about it, except that it frustrates me to no end that everyone I want to steal is being stolen by everyone else. This must be how Kevin Lowe ends up making stupid decisions.

Its definitely too late to do this now with this CLS redraft league, but I'm a huge dork and really think dynastic team-building, on a model like the NHL, would be pretty sweet. I'm not sure how such a thing would be done or kept ongoing, but I think it could be pretty cool. Doing an online NHL10 league for 30 teams would be similar, but it woul dbe just too long and unwieldy to possibly make into a reality. I guess I'm kind of envisioning something almost on the level of a Dungeons and Dragons thing, but it would be a hockey sim instead. That probably makes me a huge douchebag, but I think that would be pretty cool.

EDIT: I'm not entirely sure why I wrote this. I guess I'm just bitching because my competition is for the most part pretty good. What I want is for everyone else to grab the expensive players now, and fill out the bottom of the roster with minimum wagers, while I grab all the bargain guys and then am free to fill the bottom of my roster with more expensive guys if I want. Unfortunately, everyone else is screwing this up for me.

30 July 2009

The Detroit Red Wings newest franchise defenseman...

With the 15th pick in the 2nd round, #45 overall, in the CLS redraft, the Detroit Red Wings selected defenseman Duncan Keith. With a cap hit of only 1.475M/yr (for this year, at least), and a stat line of 77GP 8G+36A=44P and +33, playing ~25 minutes a night, Keith was a bargain that couldn't be passed. Especially after having deviated from my original plan of grabbing a defenseman in the first round, I really wanted to get a top end defender in the second. Jay Bouwmeester was considered, but with a cap hit reaching close to 7M, it just wasn't going to happen. I'm not unhappy to "settle" for Keith though, as I think he is either at the top level of defensemen in the NHL, or very very close to it, and at only 26 years old, I don't think he's hit his ceiling yet. What's not to love about this pick?

One of the interesting things about how this CLS redraft is working out is the way some people are drafting, based on what metric they want to win by. RudyKelly has discussed the fact that he doesn't care about any other metric except winning the NHL10 simulation. Some people are drafting to try to win the fantasy hockey league that will be created out of this. What am I trying to win by? I guess I'm going for the judging panel win.

I don't just want to build a team on paper by putting a bunch of snipers on my team, and ignore the fact that there would be no one to do the dirty work on such a team. I want to build a team that would actually work, if it were put together. Even if I come in last by every "metric", if I have a team that I think would be fun to watch and hard to play against, I'll be happy. Picking up Jarome Iginla in the first, and Duncan Keith in the second is a long way towards making a competent and tough team. Your team might be flashier than mine, but my team will knock you on your ass.

Also, since I couldn't find it for the Iginla selection post, here's the "Shift" commercial with Iginla. Personally, I think its right up there with the "35 pounds" commercial at the top of the NHL commercial mountain. Massive props to James O'Brien for grabbing it off Youtube for me, since I was at work.

26 July 2009

Jarome Iginla is now a Detroit Red Wing

In the CLS NHL redraft, that is.

With the 16th overall pick in the first round, I was able to snag Jarome Iginla. The pick was agonizingly hard for me though. Having stalled for a little bit on pick 14, I was given plenty of time to agonize over who to take. Personally, I would prefer to build a team from a pillar or two on the blueline and out, much like the Red Wings and Ducks have over the last few years, though I would prefer the physicality of the Ducks' system, if I got to choose. Heading into the draft, I was sure I would take a top flight defenseman. Since this redraft is for one season only, I was not constrained by issues of age (except as it would effect this year's performance), so I was really considering Chris Pronger, for reasons explained before, as well as Zdeno Chara. Unfortunately, Chara went at #15 to the Blue Jackets, so that Chris Pronger sitting alone on my chart of top-notch elite defensemen in the league,

However, as I copied a bunch of players off the NHL stat sheets into a spreadsheet to switch around and make a "big board" for my draft, one name in the forward column was screaming at me. Jarome Iginla embodies everything that I love about hockey. He can score. He fights. He hits. He can help out in his own end. He has endless amounts of passion for the game. He won't be knocked off the puck. He can put an entire team on his back. I love everything about Iginla, but he went completely against the philosophy for how I wanted to build my team. But picking Pronger would make me feel like a dirty traitor. What to do?

What ultimately settled it for me was this passage from wikipedia:

Iginla married his high school sweetheart, Kara, and the couple has three children: Jade, Tij and Joe. They had been dating since they were in the eighth grade.[4] He has two brothers, Jason and Stephen, and two sisters, Theresa and Elizabeth.[68] He is an avid golfer and a regular participant in the Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic.[4]

He is well known for his kind-hearted nature. Former Flames general manager Craig Button described Iginla as being grounded: "he doesn't carry himself with any attitude or arrogance. He's confident in his abilities. He's self-assured. He's genuine. He's a better person than he is a player, and we all know what kind of player he is."[69] In 2002, while in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympic Games, Iginla struck up a conversation with four Calgarians sitting next to his table, and found out they were sleeping in their car outside of the hotel. He excused himself from the conversation, and booked them accommodations at his own expense at the hotel his family was staying in.[70]

Since 2002,[71] he has operated the Jarome Iginla Hockey School in Calgary as a non-profit organization, donating proceeds to the Diabetes Research Association.[4] In 2004, he was awarded the NHL Foundation Player Award for his community service and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his humanitarian contributions.[72] Iginla supports many charities. In 2000, he began donating $1,000 per goal he scored to KidSport, a figure he doubled to $2,000 in 2005. From 2000 through to the end of the 2008 season he donated $430,000 from this initiative.[4]

Iginla is a part owner of the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.[73] He purchased a minority share in the franchise, along with fellow NHL players Shane Doan, Mark Recchiand Darryl Sydor, in October 2007.[74] He is also an ambassador with the NHL Diversity program, which supports youth hockey organizations that offer economically disadvantaged kids the opportunity to play.[75] Since 2008, he has been a hockey spokesperson for Scotiabank, appearing in commercials and at events supporting its grassroots hockey programs,[76] as well as for Samsung Canada.[77]

I've said in multiple places before that the way to grow this game is not to put it on ESPN or turn every game into a shootout, but instead to grow the game manually, but putting hockey sticks into the hands of more kids. Getting kids out there, whether its with just a tennis ball and a trash can or a fancy ice rink and a rubber puck, thats the best way to grow the game. One of the commercials that I really like on the NHL network is the "Hockey is for Everyone" commercials, which Iginla is a part of, because its the truth. Everyone, whether its rich suburban white kids, poor inner city black kids, or anywhere in between, should have a hockey stick put in their hands at a young age. Sometimes there is a tendency for people to think that just because you're black or mexican or whatever, that hockey isn't for you. This stereotype is one of the things that holds the game as a whole back, and keeps it from reaching a wider audience. Iginla does a lot of work in this area of growing hockey amongst minorities and the poor. For that alone, I'd be proud to have him on my team.

(Plus, unfortunately I can't get a link to it right now, but wasn't the "Shift" commercial one of the two best NHL commercials of all time? To me, that and the "35 pounds" commercial are 1-2 in some order.)

21 July 2009

Is an offer sheet in the cards for Phil Kessel?

Puck Daddy has an article up today discussing the Boston Bruins' options for dealing with Phil Kessel, and they touch on whether or not he is even worth the potential cap headache that would ensue with getting him signed to any sort of contract. One thing that stuck out to me though was the complete dismissal of the idea of an offer sheet being floated to Kessel, based on this post from the Blueland Chronicle. I've always thought that offer sheets were an interesting and effective way to add pieces to a team, without having to get into the bidding wars of July 1st. I think the offer sheet route is still a very attractive way to end this stalemate between Kessel and the Bruins, and I think that route is totally doable, because Blueland Chronicle is missing a couple of important facts here.

First of all, per the Puck Daddy article, the Boston Bruins only have 2.862M in cap space for this coming year. My understanding of the way the cap works is that you don't have to be cap compliant until a game starts, so if the Bruins wanted, they could sign Kessel to a deal for more than that 2.862M in cap room, but then they would be in a bad situation in trying to get back below the cap. If you're already above the cap, rival GM's aren't going to do you any favors. In trying to shed that couple million in salary, they're going to ask for draft picks or prospects in return for helping you get back under the cap. Getting into cap trouble late in the summer is a pretty bad situation to be in.

Because of the Bruins cap situation, an offer to Kessel doesn't need to be somewhere north of 5M, as Blueland Chronicle suggests. Unless the Bruins have a transaction in their back pocket that is going to create more cap room, their offer to Kessel has to be 3M at the top end. Kessel obviously would be most happy with a contract in excess of 5M, but the reality is that his options are somewhat limited. The Bruins aren't going to be giving him 5M/yr any time soon, unless someone forces their hand. Kessel has to be aware of this, and so if he gets an offer sheet for say 4M-ish a year, it's going to look pretty good by comparison. A 4M/yr offer sheet would be a little harder for Boston to match.

The second important thing that I think Blueland completely missed here is that Blueland seems to think that an offer sheet that does not land a player on your team is a failure, and I think that supposition is patently wrong. In the article, Blueland Chronicle discusses an offer sheet of 5M/yr for Kessel, and guesses that Boston would match it, making the offer sheet a lost cause for the Thrashers. I would argue that making Boston spend 5M on a player they don't want to spend that much money on would be a victory in and of itself. If Boston is forced to spend 5M on Kessel, suddenly, they're forced to rid themselves of 2.2M in salary to get under cap. This means they're going to give up depth in terms of roster players, as well as probably draft picks or prospects in order to get other people to take on the salary when they're in a pinch. That definitely helps the rest of the Eastern Conference to help knock down the recently competitive Bruins back to the rest of the pack.

In the 2010-11 offseason, when the cap is expected to fall down at least a couple million, the Boston Bruins already have 37.675M committed to 10 players. If this hypothetical 5M/yr offer sheet for Kessel were matched by the Bruins, that would grow to 42.675 for 11 players, with raises due to Lucic, Wheeler, and Rask, and players like Aaron Ward, Marc Savard to be resigned, as well as filling out a 20 man gameday roster. Depending how much the cap shrinks, that could be a bit of a pinch for Boston. Forcing them to skimp on other positions or lose depth or flexibility under the cap is a big help to their rivals. In this case, while the hypothetical offer sheet wouldn't get another roster player onto the Thrashers squad, it would still be striking a blow against an Eastern Conference power. Knocking your opponent down is often just as good as elevating yourself, and this is one way to do that.

All that said, if I were a rival GM, especially one in Boston's division, I'd try to float Kessel an offer for about 3.9M/yr for 3-4 years. If the Bruins fail to match, you're out a 1st and 3rd, which would be a great trade, and you still get the kid at a decent price. If the Bruins match it, then they will have to give up some sort of depth or pick/prospect, and you're no worse off than you were before.

13 July 2009

Am I the only one who likes to see a millionaire sweat?

One of the most interesting things to me about the NHL is the Business of Hockey, even aside from the hockey itself. On a more personal level, I absolutely love it when people presumed to know what they're doing turn out to not have a clue at all. One of my favorite things about the world of intelligent blogging is that it makes it pretty clear that there is an awful lot of people entrusted with the stewardship multi-million dollar enterprises, presumably because they know what they're doing, who are actually just as amazingly stupid and incompetent as anyone else.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the issues of what a decreasing cap will do to cap-strapped teams (like the Chicago Blackhawks!) next year. Some people think that its not unreasonable for teams to be given some sort of easy "out" to fix their problems next year. Why am I the only one who is eager to see GMs who suck and created these terrible positions for their teams get shown up? How awesome would it be to see a team like the Flyers or the Blackhawks get humbled by a complete inability to manage a team's salary cap in anything resembling a competent manner by being forced to gut the team because of the management's incompetence?

Maybe I'm spoiled because the team I've followed has been managed exceptionally well in the time that I've been following them, but frankly, I think that watching a few teams get their teeth kicked in by sheer incompetence would be a great way to get some fresh blood into NHL front offices. Consider how often the same retreads get shuffled around between front offices in the NHL! There is a small group of people who generally keep playing musical chairs with a limited number of chairs (GM/coaching chairs), and no matter how bad some of these guys are at the game, they keep getting to play. I'd like to see some of those chairs held by people who know what the hell they're doing. If such people were given the job and succeeded with it too, that would go an awful long way to creating more competition for those few job spots, meaning that we would (should, at least) see much better management in the long run of sports teams.

On a somewhat related note: At what point are we going to see a reality show of some sort in which the management of a pro sports team falls upon a couple of exceptionally bright fans? I cannot imagine that, given the chance, any blogger on my "Influences & Inspirations" to the right would not do better than such management luminaries as Mike Milbury, Mike Keenan, Doug MacLean, Don Waddell, Glen Sather, Kevin Lowe, or a number of other people who have/had jobs in NHL front offices. I really wish one of these guys that knows a thing or two would win the lottery and buy a team.

04 July 2009

The Blackhawks apparently forgot common sense, too

Per TSN:

Chicago tendered qualifying offers to several key players this week, including Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser,Aaron Johnson and Troy Brouwer, however the investigation underway is to determine whether the qualifying offers were filed correctly.

If not, there is the remote possibility the qualifying offers could be ruled invalid and the players listed above, conceivably, could be deemed unrestricted free agents because of the blunder.

Seriously? As I mentioned in my last post about the Blackhawk's forgetting their abbacus when they were signing Marian Hossa to a long term deal, the Blackhawks were going to have problems. I basically outlined out it is quite likely that Versteeg and Cam Barker, two important players for the up-and-coming Blackhawks would leave the team one way or another, as casualties of terrible cap management in coming years. Of course, it would help the Blackhawks somewhat, in that they would recieve some sort of compensation for those losses, in the form of draft picks surrendered to sign them (they were supposed to be RFA's) or whatever returns were acquired in a trade. Now, it looks like they may not get anything for them, as Dale Tallon might've accidentally let them walk away:

Chicago general manager Dale Tallon says the qualifying offers were mailed to the players in time, on June 29th, but says because of the July 1 holiday, some of the players didn't receive them in time.

What kind of mistake is that? Not qualifying a potential RFA means letting him become a UFA. Who even uses the snail mail system anymore? Much less uses it for time-sensitive documents on which the fate of multi-million dollar businesses depend? If you were a NHL GM, wouldn't you qualify Barker and Versteeg, at the least, the very first second you were able to do so?

The main stumbling block here may be that the league got the faxes (why didn't you fax the players while you were at it?), but the players never did, and only got the snail mail offer sheets. But as far as I can figure, the players are the important ones. If they didn't get the contracts before the deadline, then they might as well have never got them, and they should be UFA's. Sending the contract/check/whatever after the fact doesn't count for anything, in any business. Sorry, Chicago, but that's the rules, and there's no mulligans in pro sports.

It's easy to say "oh that team has always sucked" or "that team is always really good" or other such things, but its important to remember that oftentimes in sports, you can climb up the mountain in an instant, and you can fall completely off just as fast. The Blackhawks might be a good example of both sides of that, depending how things go for the next two years.

EDIT: Tom Benjamin has posted his take too, and discusses the conflicted feelings the NHLPA may have on the issue. For the NHLPA, while the revenues from a good CHI team are important, I think the issue of individual player's rights in a situation where team management has clearly screwed the pooch should take precedence. Firmly establishing player's rights in the situation of such a mistake is not going to return CHI to the depths of the league's revenue system. Be sure to check it out.

02 July 2009

The Chicago Blackhawks left their abbacus at home

The biggest story of the July 1st UFA circus was Marian Hossa quickly coming to a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. Terms of the deal were 12 years for 62.4M over the life of the contract. That adds up to a 5.2M/year hit against the cap. This leads to one of three possible conclusions: 1) the Chicago Blackhawks can't do simple math, 2) the Chicago Blackhawks don't have access to websites like www.nhlnumbers.com 3) the Chicago Blackhawks have a very interesting idea of how to build a winning team.

This year, 2009-10, the Blackhawks still have some of their best players operating under their entry level contracts, which means they'll be getting a hell of a lot of bang for their buck. Counting Hossa and the newly signed Tomas Kopecky (2 years, 1.2M/yr) and John Madden (1 year, 2.75M/yr), the Chicago Blackhawks one year cap outlook is like such:

48.775M spent on 15 players (11 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goaltenders)
UFA players from last year: Tim Brent, Pascal Pelletier, Aaron Johnson
RFA players from last year: Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Corey Crawford

I boldfaced the more significant players who have yet to be resigned to the club. Total, to fill the club up to a bare minimum that you need for a game (12 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goalies), the Blackhawks really only need to get one more forward under contract. Currently, they have 10.025M with which to play with for the duration of the 2009-10 season. That's certainly doable, and with 10M left, they could easily resign Versteeg and Barker, who are key pieces to the puzzle. Versteeg was a Calder Trophy nominee this year, posting 22-31-53 in 78 games. Cam Barker is a very capable defenseman for Chicago, a former first round pick, and he's just 23 years old.

Its clear that this year, Chicago could ice a very good team for a very good price. One of the most important things in the NHL since the lockout has been getting good bang for the buck. Taking advantage of rookies still being on entry level deals to allow a team to get a expensive free agent, being able to sign players at a discount to play for a contender, no matter how you do it, its important that you do it somehow, if you are to contend in the NHL. Chicago will be in a very good position to do that this year. The problem is going to be the cap dollars committed in the years going forward. In all honestly, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see the next big up and coming team hamstring themselves into becoming Tampa Bay Mid-West. Let's examine the Blackhawks salary structure for 2010-11, where it starts getting really interesting.

35.307M spent on 9 players (5 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie)
Players needing new contracts, not including those who still needed them from the previous year:
UFA's: John Madden, Adam Burish
RFA's: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Ladd, Jack Skille, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Joseph Fallon, Antti Niemi

To fill the club up to the minimum you'll need for a game for this year, the Blackhawks would need 7 more forwards, 3 more defensemen, and 1 more goalie. That's 11 more players. To sign all those players, assuming the cap stays the same (and that may be being generous), the team has only about 21.5M to spend to fill those 11 spots. That's pushing it a bit right there, meaning you'll need some real bargains.

But wait, remember all those players I boldfaced? Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker need new deals this offseason, and franchise stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith all need them the next year. Either of Kane or Toews will easily command 5M/yr, and that would probably be below market value. Even signing one of those two for 5M/yr would push the cap situation to 16.5M to sign 10 players. If you sign both of Kane and Toews to the same deal, its 11.5M to sign 9 players. And that's being generous in that the cap doesn't go down at all, and that those two would take discounted contracts on their first chance to earn big money. If they each want 6M, you're down to 9.5M to sign 9 players. That means almost every replacement would have to be making near league minimums.

This is to say nothing of what it would to in terms of harm to the team itself and the fanbase to let the other players (Keith, Barker, and Versteeg) go, in order to make the numbers work with the cap. Obviously, at least a couple of these top 5 have to be on the way out, and its very hard to see either of Toews or Kane hitting the road. Frankly, there's no reason either one should have to be forced out to be replaced with Marian Hossa. If neither of them are going, it comes back to the Versteeg/Keith/Barker choice again, and of those three, probably one can be kept while filling out the rest of the roster, maybe 2. Of those three, and given the lack of quality defense (Campbell is a forward playing defense, remember, leaving Seabrook as the only good defenseman not listed here), Keith should be the third to stay, and Versteeg and Barker should be given walking papers.

That said, we run into the timing issue again. Versteeg and Barker are both able to be resigned this year, and this year is when they have cap space to spend on those players. Will Chicago be able to plan ahead enough to let these two walk, for the future good of the franchise? Or will they sign them and get into a real nasty situation next year when you have to face the idea of losing one of the boy wonders to be replaced with someone older who doesn't really bring anything more to the table? It's a nasty nasty situation the Blackhawks have gotten themselves into, and frankly, I don't think they'll be good enough to manuever out of it effectively, unless they start sinking money into a time machine.

01 July 2009

Crosspost: Detroit Red Wings 2009 free agency outlook

(This is originally posted over at James O'Brien's Cycle Like The Sedins for his 2009 free agency preview series)

1. Which player, for the love of God, do you NOT want to see in your team's sweater in the 09-10 season?

Frankly, with the Wings' cap situation, they'd have a hard time signing someone for the federal minimum wage, to say nothing of the NHL minimum wage. For that reason, I think I'm gonna have to stick it to guys on the Wings that I don't want to return. First on the list of Mike Samuelsson. Why? People have tried telling me before that he's not that bad, and maybe I'm spoiled and expect everyone to be a franchise player, but I swear, he does a lot of stupid stuff. Nothing I can ever think of off the top of my head (unlike, say, Andreas Lilja costing us a Cup), but I just don't think he's that good, and I'd rather see that spot filled by a developing youngster for a bit cheaper. I just don't like the guy.

Now for my more shocking answer: Marian Hossa. If Ken Holland were to resign Hossa to even a 4M/yr deal (which would be ludicrous on Hossa's part), you'd still have a team payroll of 55.2M, lose my boy Hudler, still need another forward or two, and perhaps a backup goalie (or even a starting goalie!), all with 1.8M to spare. For the sake of the Red Wing's salary structure going forward, it would probably be best for Hossa to move on. Unless Holland can pull off some sort of nice deal to save us some salary (please, someone, take Lebda and Lilja and Stuart off our hands!), Hossa ought to be the odd man out. Sorry bro, you had your chance, and you blew it. Massively. GLHF winning a Cup next year.

(An interesting alternative way for the Wings to get cap space: Lilja missed the playoffs with a concussion which he's still not recovered from, and I think he's had concussion issues before. Slap the LTIR tag on Lilja and he doesn't count against the cap. That's an extra 1.25M of savings!)

Also, I should point out, Ken Holland already announced that the worst player on the Wings would not be back next year. I love what you've done through your career, Cheli, but it really is the end of the line. Go be a coach somewhere, but please, get off the ice.

2. Conversely, pick a potential move by another team that would just crush your soul/favorite team's chances.

A move that would put a stake through my heart? That's a tough one, as I think there are only a couple of teams that could really knock the Wings off their perch. Anaheim getting Hossa would be a tough one, as they're one of the few that can consistently beat the Wings as it is. Calgary could also be a threat if Kipper ever gets his head on straight, so I guess I hope that Calgary doesn't hire a team psychologist or exorcist or whatever the hell he needs. I guess that statement also applies to the Sharks as an entire team. I don't get concerned about the East because we never see them, and frankly, I didn't think any of them could beat the Wings in a 7 game series until a couple weeks ago. So I guess if Giguere/Pronger went to Pittsburgh, that would also suck.

Pronger or Giguere going within the Central Division, San Jose, Calgary, or Pittsburgh would really suck all around. Pretty much the god damn Ducks are the source of any sort of thorns in my side. Except I can't really hate them because they've got some great bloggers and they're a really damn competitive team. Like, Edmonton has good bloggers, but the team and management is a joke, so I just laugh at them and don't take them seriously. Anaheim is actually really damn good, and for some reason they want to get rid of a really great defenseman, and keep pulling phenomenally talented goalies out of their ass. It pisses me off.

Just ship Pronger and Giguere in a package deal to Atlanta so I don't have to put up with them anymore. And I'm glad Allaire left you guys. So there.

POSTSCRIPT: Ok, so I wrote this for James right before the draft, at which point Pronger was traded to Philadelphia. Really, the worst things that could happen to the Wings were things the Ducks could make happen. I don't think Pronger going to Philadelphia is that big of a deal for the Wings, because in the end, only one Eastern Conference team will matter, and I hardly think the Flyers will make the Cup Finals. I mean, come on, they're the FLYERS. With RAY FRICKIN' EMERY. This team could just as easily finish with the #1 draft pick on the heels of an absolutely magical explosion of conflicting and contentious (and mean) personalities. Pronger will help immensely to control guys like Crosby and Ovechkin, but I really don't think its enough to make the Flyers a threat to the Wings.

So now as long as Giguere doesn't go anywhere important (let's see a reunion with Allaire and Burke in Toronto!), and Hossa doesn't sign with the Ducks, it'll have been a somewhat acceptable offseason. I'm far more interested in how the Wings juggle the cap space to complete a full roster for next year, and I'm really interested in who is going to be our backup goalie. Hopefully one of our three serious goalie prospects takes the job, and then takes the starting job.

(I think its important to note here that if the Ducks didn't get in the Wings' way so damn much, I'd probably be a big fan. They play a great mean physical game, they have a style and an attitude that really speaks "hockey" to me, and they have some great coverage between the guys at Anaheim Calling and Earl Sleek. But unfortunately they keep getting in the damn way. Seriously, please go away. We're trying to win some Cups here.)

29 June 2009

How much (good) goaltending is available this Wednesday?

Goaltending is a pretty interesting thing. It's highly randomized by luck, its notoriously inconsistent, and there are only 30 starting jobs to go around the league. And yet its the most important position in a game that relies so much on teams as opposed to individuals. A bad goalie is the biggest goat in sports, but a good goalie is the most prized possession, for which another GM would trade his first born child and then some. That dichotomy is intensely interesting to me, especially when you consider that more and more research by bloggers like Tyler Dellow and the Contrarian Goaltender shows that the difference between the best and worst goalies in the NHL is very small.

This year's goaltender UFA class looks to be a pretty interesting one. Per Tyler Dellow, a replacement level goaltender for the 2008-09 season should post a .902 SV%. When you look at the stats of several goaltenders who were in the league last year, it quickly becomes obvious that several of these guys are below replacement level, and therefore ought to be replaced. Here's the list of available goaltenders starting July 1, per James Mirtle.
1BIRON, MARTINPHI31.93.50055290.915
2ROLOSON, DWAYNEEDM39.73.66763280.915
3KHABIBULIN, NIKOLAICHI36.56.75042250.919
4CLEMMENSEN, SCOTTN.J31.90.50040250.917
5CONKLIN, TYDET33.20.75040250.909
6FERNANDEZ, MANNYBOS34.84.33328160.910
7ANDERSON, CRAIGFLA28.10.55031150.924
8NIITTYMAKI, ANTEROPHI29.01.22532150.912
9MACDONALD, JOEYNYI29.40.48849140.901
10LEGACE, MANNYSTL36.42.15029130.885
11BOUCHER, BRIANS.J32.50.65022120.917
12JOHNSON, BRENTWSH32.30.81321120.908
13RAYCROFT, ANDREWCOL29.20.80031120.892
14DANIS, YANNNYI28.00.55031100.910
15GERBER, MARTINTOR34.83.70026100.902
16LABARBERA, JASONVAN29.40.8252880.901
17GARON, MATHIEUPIT31.51.1001980.894
18WEEKES, KEVINN.J34.20.6881670.920
19SANFORD, CURTISVAN29.70.6501970.906
20SABOURIN, DANYEDM28.80.5131960.898
21JOSEPH, CURTISTOR42.20.7002150.869
22KOLZIG, OLAFTOR39.22.500820.898
23DUBIELEWICZ, WADECBJ30.40.500310.870

I've highlighted in red those goalies who played below a replacement level last season. Olaf Kolzig is clearly on the way out, but Wade Dubielewicz certainly falls prey to a small sample size here. For a career average (which is again a small sample size) in the regular season Dubie has a SV% of 0.916, and he's had some better numbers and some worse ones. As a guess, I would think Dubie is probably pretty close to a replacement level goalie, and in fact, could probably be that replacement level goalie for some teams who had subpar goaltending last year.

So out of a list of 23 available players, 8 (not counting Dubie) are below replacement level goaltenders. This leaves 15 goalies who should have jobs in the NHL, judging by last season's performances. That would make up 25% of available goaltending positions (starting and backup) within the NHL. Tough room, huh?