04 July 2012

Offer Sheeting Shea Weber

Ryan Suter decided to go to the Minnesota Wild, who still don't look all that impressive, nor exciting.  The Detroit Red Wings still have a Nick Lidstrom-sized gap in their blue line.

Shea Weber was taken to arbitration last year by the Nashville Predators.  Once a case is going to arbitration, the player is unable to sign an offer sheet with another team.  However, the team can only elect for arbitration once in their interaction with a player.  As the Predators have already done this once with Weber, they're unable to do so again.  The ball is firmly in Shea Weber's court.  He can choose arbitration with the Predators (restricting him to only working with the Preds on a long-term deal until the arbitration date arrives), or he can sit back, keep his options open, and work on a long-term deal with the Predators while still being open to offer sheets.

Mirtle at the Globe and Mail revealed this year's RFA compensation tiers.  For a deal that averages between  6.728 and 8.410 M/yr, the compensation required is "only" 2 first round picks, a second, and a third.  I'd trade that straight up for Weber in a heartbeat.  Considering that Ryan Suter just went for 13 years/98 million (7.54M overall cap hit), and Weber is presumably the better of the two, it wouldn't be outlandish to give Weber a deal that somehow averaged 8-8.4M/yr.

There's two considerations that have to be made here though:

First of all, the compensation package is based off of the first 5 years of the deal.  Suter will be making a lot more than his 7.54M/yr average salary in the first 5 years of his deal, via signing bonuses that pump his total yearly pay to over 12M a year for the first couple years.  Putting years like this into the first 5 of a Weber offer sheet would bump the compensation up into the next tier, which would be four (!) first round picks.  Such bumps for signing bonuses would have to be pushed back until years 6-8 of a potential deal.  Would this be palatable to Shea Weber?  I don't know, but it would be necessary from the perspective of any team that would be putting an offer in front of him.

Secondly, would Nashville match the offer sheet?  Back in 2006, when Edmonton put an offer sheet in front of Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, the Sabres matched the offer sheet.  That same summer, Buffalo had already let Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walk (one of those was a good decision, the other was not).  Buffalo fans were already upset, and losing Vanek would have been too much to bear for the fanbase, which likely would've responded by demanding the heads of everyone in the Sabres' organization.  The Vanek offer sheet probably would've been matched for anything short of Wayne Gretzky and a time machine.  Nashville is likely at a similar point in their process here.  But if they wouldn't pony up what MIN would for Suter, would they pony up even more for Weber?  There's one way to find out...

18 May 2012

MvsW #0122 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0122 (May 09, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who do you like in today's Game 6 and why?

Again, this is the problem with answering these after the fact.  My pick was Washington, not only because I dislike the Rangers (for all the shit people give teams like Nashville and Phoenix about their style of play, New York is more boring than anyone else in the league), but because I had money riding on the Capitals.

While I was in Las Vegas a couple weekends ago with some good friends, I got the opportunity to do some sports betting for the first time.  I've always wanted to get in on this, but because our wonderful country thinks it needs to save us from ourselves, it's a pain in the ass to start online betting through Bodog/Bovada.  Unfortunately, I'm pretty low on funds right now, due to a combination of last year being an expensive one (my bank account is so sad!) and being in between paychecks right now, as I just started a new job.  Hell, I wouldn't have even made the trip to Vegas if my airfare and accomodations at the Bellagio weren't paid for.

To give you an idea of my bankroll, I ended up going to Vegas with about $200 in my pocket.  I came home with about $50.  About $75 or so of that was spent on food and drink while being out there, and the other $75 went into gambling, $30 of it at the sportsbook at the Bellagio, on three bets:

- $10 - The Flyers -1.5 in Game 1 to beat the Devils - Flyers won by 1, bet lost
- $10 - The Capitals +1.5 in Game 1 to beat the Rangers - Rangers won by 2, bet lost
- $10 - The Capitals to win the Best of Seven series against the Rangers - Spoilers: Rangers won, bet lost

I didn't win a damn thing while I was in Las Vegas.  I accidentally lost $30 to video poker by hitting the "maximum bet" button.  I placed some sports bets that immediately fell through.  I didn't have the cash to play table games at the Bellagio on a weekend (if you have that much money to give to a casino, you should give me some!).  The Capitals were my last hope on my first sports betting adventure, and my only hope of winning anything from my trip to Vegas.

So yeah, I was pulling for the Capitals.  And of course, they won.  Inevitably, they lost Game 7, and I sadly threw away my bet slip and accepted my fate as a sports betting failure.

17 May 2012

MvsW #0121 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0121 (May 08, 2012) Question of the Day:
Where is Ryan Suter playing next season?

Oh good god, I hope it's in Detroit.

I think that it would ultimately be best for the NHL if he stayed in Nashville, and if he's not going to go to Detroit, I'd prefer he just stayed there.  I can't help but root for a team that has done things the right way, in how they've built their team, which is an alarmingly rare thing anymore.  It is good for the league and for the Nashville market if they don't lose their star players and continue to be contenders in the West.  I believe that part of our job as hockey players and hockey fans is to evangelize the game, and help it spread and grow and be a positive factor in other people's lives.

One of the things I really dislike about a lot of people in the hockey world, and particularly in Canada, is the tendency to tell certain markets that they don't "get" hockey, that they don't "deserve" hockey.  Whether it's because they "don't even get snow", because they're "in the city", or because they don't "appreciate the game", that is absolute bullshit.  Hockey is for everyone.  If you don't believe me, ask Jarome Iginla, Sean Avery, or Brian Burke.  One of the things that we, as hockey fans, need to do, is to help push that mission.  We shouldn't do that because the NHL has a PSA about it, but because it's something that should happen for the good of and the growth of our game.

The only way we can grow this game is to do so organically, from a grassroots level.  Hockey can work in "alternative" markets, but it takes work and success on the part of an NHL team.  Hockey has exploded in areas like Northern California (Sharks), Texas (Stars), and Southern California (Wayne Gretzky Kings) because of successes that those teams have had, in addition to grassroots efforts on the parts of those teams to help build rinks and found youth hockey programs, to hook new generations on this wonderful sport.

As a result, 20 years later, we're beginning to reap the rewards of those efforts, as we start to see new players come from those areas, as well as building a culture by way of kids who've now grown up immersing their own kids in the game.  This is how a culture is built, and it's god damn ignorant for Canada and other "traditional" markets to think that because they have a head start of several decades, that they are somehow superior to anywhere located south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Bringing that tangent full circle, it's easy to see why Ryan Suter remaining in Nashville is important for the NHL and for the Predators.  If Suter goes to DET or PHI, he's going to a more established hockey culture, where his impact on the growth of the game will likely not be what it would've been had he stayed in Nashville.  If he stays in Nashville, he can be a part of the effort to grow the game there, helping push Nashville as a stronger hockey market.  This can help the NHL, not only by strengthening it's national presence, but maybe more importantly by maybe making the Nashville Predators stronger financially, eliminating them as a bottom-third team in the NHL's financial structure, making the entire league more financially stable.

All of that said, my personal preference is that he goes to Detroit, for my own selfish reasons.  Nicklas Lidstrom is on the way out, and ever since the 2009 finals where a hobbled Lidstrom was unable to be his usual self against the Penguins, I've been scared of what this team will be without him.  The way the NHL has worked for the last 20 years, the most valuable thing you can have is a true #1 top-flight elite defenseman who can fill a "shutdown" role.

The Red Wings do not currently have anyone to fill that role right now.  Kronwall isn't a "shutdown" type of guy - he just directs more chances at the opposition net than he gives up.  Quincey isn't that guy.  White isn't that guy.  Maybe Smith is that guy, but we don't know that yet.  Ericsson is a genuinely impressive kind of trainwreck.  Kindl probably won't be that guy either.  This team needs a player like Suter to win the sort of series that Detroit just lost to Nashville.

In the end, my money is on Philadelphia.  They have the riches in their forward ranks to trade to Nashville to get Suter's negotiating rights, and we all know that Paul Holmgren is not shy at all with ratcheting up the numbers on contracts.  If that happens, it will be a loss for both the Predators and the league as a whole.

16 May 2012

MvsW #0120 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0120 (May 07, 2012) Question of the Day:
Your favorite team wins the Cup - which jerseys do you wish they were wearing?

Well, being a Red Wings fan, this is pretty easy, as there's not a multitude of older jerseys or such to choose from.  My personal preference is the Detroit white now-away-but-previously-home jerseys.  I still don't like the whole "darks at home" thing that was inexplicably changed after the lockout, because I really prefer most teams' white jerseys.  I think they just look a little cleaner, a little sharper, a little more detailed than the darks for most teams, including Detroit's.  With the dark jerseys, it's a big blob with some little white writing and stuff going on.  With the light jerseys, it just looks neat and clean, like someone took a blank canvas and set to putting together something great.

On a slightly related note: my wife was watching Game 1 of the Kings/Coyotes series, and was briefly confused on which team was which, because the Coyote's "whiteout" seemed to be a statement of support for the team in white...  which was the Kings, as the whiteout pre-dates the post-lockout policy of home teams now wearing their dark jerseys.  Shouldn't Phoenix now change the event to be a "maroon-out" or a "burgundy-out", similar to the Capitals' "Rock the Red"?

If anyone knows why they changed the home jerseys after the lockout, I'd love to hear why.  The only thing I can think of is some sort of really silly thing like "We notice we sell more home jerseys than away jerseys, so we should switch the jerseys so that we can get people to buy the jersey they don't already have!", but that seems like a quite a stretch.

I would also like to mention (I think I've mentioned it on this blog before, but I don't remember for sure), I think the Edmonton Oilers blue-and-oranges are absolutely hideous, and I always really liked their McFarlane-designed alternates that they wore briefly about 10 years ago.  I thought they were pretty neat and a helluva lot more sharp than the blindingly bright jerseys that they've been bringing back.

12 May 2012

MvsW #0119 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0119 (May 04, 2012) Question of the Day:
What would make you care about the IIHF World Championships?

I think the whole problem with the IIHF World Championships is pretty obvious - it happens during the NHL playoffs.  That alone makes it a hard sell, as it's tough to get time to watch it (and don't even get me started on how stupid a tape delay is in the Information Age), but the fact that it's also not featuring all the best players in the world is a significant factor as well.

The obvious solution is to not play the event during the NHL season, which makes it more viewable, but also increases the player pool for the event.  I would personally schedule it for August.  June has the Cup Finals and the draft, and July has free agency, but from the second week of June to mid-September, there's nothing at all for hockey fans to sink their teeth into.  I always start getting my hockey jones real hard in mid/late August, and if the IIHF were on at that time of year, I'd be all over it.

The only thing that might become an issue then is if it would really mean much to be a yearly event, and if players would want to take time from their offseason plans to participate.  I'm not sure if that would be a concern or not, but if it were, I think setting it up to have a championship tournament every other year (alternating between Olympics and IIHF) would be a pretty solid idea.  I think just moving it to August would be good enough though, to significantly increase interest in the game.

10 May 2012

MvsW #0117 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0117 (May 02, 2012) Question of the Day:
You're starting a team, which currently unemployed GM do you hire and why?

For years now, I've always maintained that I would love to see what would happen if you put a couple of the smarter minds in the NHL blogosphere into an NHL front office.  With indefensible morons like Don Waddell, Doug MacLean, and Steve Tambellini (and I'm not even touching on Matt Millen - Never forget!) able to land jobs in the NHL, often multiple times, I would love to see a new team go way off the board, and get someone completely new to run their front office.

My ultimate preference would be to replace the individual GM position with a small GM-council, of James Mirtle, Gabe Desjardins, and Tyler Dellow.  You could even make it bigger (though an odd number is probably ideal, for voting out any disagreements) and add folks like Tom AwadVic Ferrari, or a hundred others.  These are the guys helping lead the advanced statistical revolution in hockey, and I cannot possibly fathom a scenario in which they wouldn't at least be moderately successful.  Given the incredibly low bar set by several of the GM's in the NHL right now, it would be nearly impossible for them to end up in the bottom of the league.

This wouldn't be half as much fun though if they couldn't document the things they were doing, for our entertainment, which obviously wouldn't be very practical.  But such a thing would certainly make for one ridiculously interesting blog or reality tv show or something.  Shows like the Oilers propaganda piece Oil Change wouldn't stand a chance against this.

Of course, this also would lend itself to adding more folks from around the blogosphere in other positions.  Earl Sleek could become the director of marketing, ushering in a new era of print media promotions for the team.  Corey Pronman, Director of Scouting?  James O'Brien, Community Relations?  The possibilities go on and on...

09 May 2012

MvsW #0116 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0116 (May 01, 2012) Question of the Day:
What is your best theory about what happened to Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov?

I'm not the most creative person, so I don't have a good answer here.  The best I've got is that a Russian friend of mine has told me that Russian women are far better than American women.  My understanding from him is that they take much better care of themselves, and are more interested in their men, relative to American women.  In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, Alex Ovechkin has at some point said much the same.  So my guess is that Kostitsyn and Radulov were either A) getting drunk and bemoaning the state of American women and how they are lacking in comparison to the superior Russian women/groupies in the KHL, or B) trying to go shot for shot with some Russian women that they ran into at the bar, which can take a very long time, to my understanding.

Of course, whether Russian women are better or not, they don't have a song like our American women do:

It's a shame it's Heather Graham dancing, instead of Elizabeth Hurley :-/

08 May 2012

MvsW #0115 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0115 (Apr 30, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who is the most underrated player in the playoffs so far?

You know what's interesting?  I'm still using these prompts, but I haven't even been able to listen to the Marek vs Wyshynski podcast since mid-April when I started my new job.

Anze Kopitar strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents.

Jon Quick, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown have all been getting a lot of attention for the job that Los Angeles has done so far this post-season, and rightfully so, but I think the straw that's really stirring their drink is Anze Kopitar.  From everyone's favorite pervert, Rudy Kelly of the Battle of California, after Game 2 of the Blues/Kings series:

Kopitar rules, we all know this. He's +4 thus far with 2 goals and a pretty consistent domination in the offensive zone (game 1 here, game 2 here). Last game saw Ken Hitchcock move David Backes away from Kopitar, which is something I thought I'd never see. It'll be interesting to see if Sutter pursues that match-up in LA or if he simply doesn't care who the Blues put out against Kopitar. So far it hasn't mattered.

If you'll recall, a lot of people began singing the praises of David Backes as a Selke nominee, trying to put the 28 year old in the conversation for best two-way player in the game.  Kopitar is 24 years old, and he's playing better at each end of the ice than the trendy Selke pick of the year in Backes, at a more important time of the year.  Murray's defensive philosophies may have stymied some of the Kings' offensive potential (as well as crushed Alex Frolov's NHL career, and helped the team miss out on quality offensive players like Matt Moulson and Teddy Purcell), but I think that forcing that sort of attitude on several of the Kings players when they were young will be a good thing in the long run for the Kings.  Kopitar is probably the #1 example of that.

He was always fantastically talented offensively (seriously, watch this), but the fact that he can play well defensively is what really gives him the extra dimension out on the ice to play in any situation, and do so extremely competently.  Having the same in Mike Richards allows the Kings to play with two lines with fantastic two-way capability, along with being able to run another line with Jarret Stoll as a stopper.  That defensive depth has been one of the keys to the way the Kings have been able to get so far in the playoffs, being able to create mismatches and take advantage of them.

07 May 2012

MvsW #0114 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0114 (Apr 27, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us 1 lock to advance and 1 lock to be eliminated in the second round.

This is the problem with falling behind, while having tied myself to the MvsW QoD as a means to get myself to regularly try to write something.  Sometimes I end up being stuck writing about some silly things.

Obviously, we're already most of the way through the second round, but my lock to be eliminated would've been the Devils, and my lock to advance would've been the Blues.  So, that turned out well.  But hey, my round 1 prediction totally happened!  In fact, I'd like to point out that I wrote the first (that I've seen) piece on this year's "passing of the torch in the West" piece, as a lot of other people said the same thing after a tumultuous first round finally ended.

MvsW #0113 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0113 (Apr 26, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us your two Game 7 heros for tonight's games.

Well, this just looks stupid, since the question was actually for Game 7 of the 1st round.  That night, NYR/OTT and FLA/NJD were both going to Game 7, and obviously, NYR and NJD won.  I was a bit busy that night getting ready for my trip the next day to Vegas, and on top of that, I didn't really care about either series.  Which is all to say that I didn't watch either game.  And yet here I am talking about it, 2 weeks after the fact.  Huh.

So instead, I'm going to cop out of doing a real post, and I'm going to tell you a joke.  By the way, I am a fan of bad jokes.

A man goes the doctor for a physical.  He gets to that part of the physical, and he drops his pants for the doctor.  The doctor takes one look, and says to him, "My god, you have five penises!  How do your pants fit?"
The man says, "Like a glove!"

06 May 2012

MvsW #0112 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0112 (Apr 25, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who deserves the Vezina trophy?

Jon Quick.  Henrik Lundquist might be the best goalie in the league, and he certainly has been over the last couple years.  However, to me, the measure of a MVP (and I tend to look at the Vezina the same way) is to try to guess what would happen with to the player's team without that player on the roster.  If you took Lundquist away from the Rangers, I think they would've been a decent (but not good) team this year.  I think they would've still ended up in the playoffs.

If you took Quick away from the Kings this year...  well, they barely made the playoffs anyways, right?  If they got anything less than the stellar season that Quick turned in, it's safe to say that they would've landed out of the playoffs.  In fact, with average goaltending, I would guess that the Kings would've finished well out of the playoffs, while still being good enough to not end up in the top of the draft, making this year a colossal waste.

I may come back to this at some time and take a good hard look (with numbers and stuff!) at trying to figure this situation out.  Probably be plugging in some average and replacement level goaltender numbers in for each team and using that to get a better idea of the performance each goaltender gave their team over that line.  We'll see if I get to that, but it's certainly an idea.

ESPN Sucks: Faux-Moneyball Analysis

Friday's Puck Headlines at Puck Daddy contained an inexplicably stupid nugget from ESPN:

NHL fans lost an entire season due to hard-line owners seeking a tight salary cap. So it’s shocking that since the empty 2004-05 season, payroll is linked even more with winning. Before the lockout, a 10% increase in spending was worth about 5.8 team points (roughly three wins) over a season. Since the lockout, that number has ballooned to 9.2 points. The Wharton researchers theorize that this counterintuitive trend is a result of the CBA’s producing a tighter range of spending between teams. “Each dollar became that much more valuable,” they concluded.  
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford agrees: “Despite not having as big a gap, $16 million between the cap and the floor, teams that consistently spend at the top will still have an advantage in getting top players.” He also says low-payroll teams can succeed only for a short period. Nashville earned the Western Conference’s fourth seed this year with a slightly below-average payroll. But the team is winning on borrowed time. “The Predators are at that point where they’re either going to spend toward the cap or risk losing top young players,” Rutherford says. “So from a consistency basis, you can see the advantage for the teams that are able to routinely spend at the upper end.” 

The portion of the piece discussing hockey is quoted above, and there are several things that stick out as being blatantly and stupidly wrong just on the first read.  I have no idea why Wyshynski would link to such an awful piece, but hey, I guess it gives me something to talk about.

First of all, it's not shocking that payroll should be linked even more with winning (if it even is - I'll get there in a minute) - part of the idea of cost certainty was that you had limited dollars to give out, so the way you used those dollars becomes more important.  Furthermore, you couldn't make mistakes and pay your way out of them (which notably ended up not being the case - ask Wade Redden!).  The idea was that across the board, no one would have to spend as much to try to compete, but cost certainty undeniably makes the money that you do spend more important.

It's also worth pointing out that frequently, the floor or near-floor teams are not just victims of circumstance - they're quite often in the poor house because they build shitty teams, and then bemoan the fact that no one comes to their games.  Consequently, that more money tends to mean more wins should strike no one as a surprise.

The second thing that immediately jumps out: Nashville has succeeded for a lot longer than a "short period".  Nashville has been one of the 5 most successful teams in the regular season since the lockout, along with New Jersey, Vancouver, San Jose, and Detroit.  You'll notice that Nashville has also done so on a much smaller budget than those other four teams.  Rutherford's Hurricanes are 17th, though I suppose you can point out that they lucked into a Stanley Cup in the strangest year ever.

In any case, Nashville has clearly outperformed at least 80% of the teams in the league, and have done it on a shoestring budget.  They may never have finished #1 in the conference or something, but they've been remarkably consistent about remaining in playoff contention, and that's more than you can say for the 'Canes.

The third point is the fact that the comparison from the article of "increasing payroll by 10%" is highly unequal between the two time periods as well.  If you ran a cap-floor team in 2012, you had to spend around $48,000,000, and the cap was around $64,000,000.  You can only increase your payroll by 10% three times, so the entire difference between the top and the bottom of the league is condensed into only three such payroll jumps (and magnified further by the increased number of points in the league - getting there in just a second).  Prior to the lockout, team spending ranged anywhere from under $20,000,000 to over $70,000,000.  A payroll increase of 10% for a team at the bottom of the pay scale still left you in the bottom of the pay scale, and you could increase your payroll by 10% many more times.  The method of comparison is incredibly disingenuous and misleading.

The fourth and final point is the reason why this piece should've never been written, and betrays the fact that those doing the research for the piece didn't know anything about the NHL.  The reason you get more points per million dollars spent in today's NHL compared to the pre-lockout NHL is because everyone gets more points, no matter how much they spend!  The advent of the charity point for losing in overtime/shootout means that everyone gets a bunch of extra points each year.  Any measure in which you compare points earned under the current CBA, to the pre-2005 CBA, will always show that there are more points up for grabs under the current CBA, because there are so many more points awarded to NHL teams nowadays.

A quick check of hockey-reference.com shows that in 2004, the league average for standings points was 87, whereas in 2012, it was 92.  That's about 150 extra standings points in the system, that weren't originally there.  And remember, there were charity points from 2000-2004 for overtime losses, though not nearly as many as we currently have.  If ESPN was including numbers in the pre-lockout points/payroll figure from pre-2000, that would make the difference look even bigger, because in 1998-99, the league average for standings points was just 82 points.  Is it any wonder that you should see an increase in standings points earned by nearly any measure?

Anyways, the important thing to remember here is that ESPN sucks.

05 May 2012

On Junior Seau

Junior Seau died this Wednesday, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.  He was 43 years old.  He was one of the best linebackers in the NFL over his career, and will very likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He was frequently the only bright spot on some truly atrocious San Diego Chargers teams, and he was one of the most respected people around the NFL.  He played high school, college, and NFL football in the southern California area, where he was revered for his play on the field, as well as his conduct off of it.  Seau was one of the most charismatic and down-to-earth stars in the area, and he was also extremely committed to charity work, including founding the Junior Seau Foundation.

One of my aunts used to work for the Chargers, and as a result, I got to meet him very briefly after a game, when I was somewhere around 13 years old.  I hadn't yet grown into the full frame that I now have, but I was a decently sized kid at the time.  I was probably about 5' 9" or so at the time, and about 180 pounds.  I've also always had very large hands - I don't mean fat sausage-fingers or something, but just very big, long, wide hands.  I played football and hockey, so I wasn't a stranger to big guys, and size advantages that other men have held over me have never really merited any particular notice from me.

All of that said, when I first shook Junior Seau's hand, I was stunned.  It is the only time in my life that I can recall being taken aback at the size of another man.  He was just so god damn huge!  Not huge as in fat, but huge as in "I am the best linebacker in the NFL and I am made of pure bone and muscle" kind of huge.  His head was big, his neck was big, his shoulders and his chest were huge, and his hand enveloped my own.

I know that in my lifetime, I have met taller men, and wider men, and maybe even stronger men, but I have never yet met anyone who radiated the sort of presence of "big-ness" that Junior Seau did.  I had shaken hands with a 6' 3" 250 lb giant.

And then that giant leaned down and said softly, "Nice to meet you".

I highly doubt that I will ever again in my life meet anyone as big as Junior Seau.

MvsW #0111 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0111 (Apr 24, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who should win GM of the year?

Definitely not Dale Tallon, despite the fact that he's nominated for the award.  Dale Tallon dicked up hard, as he is prone to do, and was rewarded for it by failing into a division title because the Capitals inexplicably shit the bed for the entire regular season.  Everyone points out that the reason Tallon signed all the UFAs this off season was to hit the salary floor.  Of course, that ignores the fact that he signed 7 UFA's to hit the 2011-2012 salary floor (and notably, the last year of this Collective Bargaining Agreement), and instead of giving them money just for this year's floor, he handed out a total of 28 years and 112 million dollars.

The Panthers ended up being one of the worst division winners of the last 30 years, and Tallon will point to that (meaningless) banner as proof of his success this year.  And hey, I guess you could call it a success.  But the point is, he got a very small improvement this year, at the cost of future years.  That strategy works when you're trying to get over the hump and win a Cup, where the "future costs" will be due when your window has closed.  Instead, Tallon's short-term and uncreative accounting will have "future costs" right when this team is trying to become an elite team behind guys like Huberdeau, Gudbranson, and Markstrom.

Aside: I think there's something interesting about Tallon and Kris Versteeg's success this year.  Remember, a big part of the reason why Versteeg has wandered across several teams while scoring 25+ goals a year, is because CHI had to prematurely jettison him as a cap casualty after winning the Stanley Cup, because of Dale Tallon's supreme screw-up as the Blackhawk's GM in accidentally allowing him to become a quasi-free agent.  As a result, Versteeg (and others) ended up getting paid more than CHI would've wanted.  

In the end, Versteeg ended up getting traded several times over, until he ended up in Florida, reunited with the man who originally screwed up his second NHL contract, Dale Tallon.  It makes me smile to imagine that Dale Tallon somehow actually planned all this back when he botched the RFA qualifying offers.  "Barker is going to end up sucking anyways..." and "If I mess up with Versteeg now, then later on after I get fired, I'll be able to reacquire him 3 years later..."

Anyways, back from that tangent, I suppose I should point out that my answer to the question is probably David Poile.  If nothing else, I can point to Tyler Dellow's chart of NHL team records over this CBA (since the lockout) and note that the Predators are one of the 5 most successful teams since 2005, and have done it while spending way less than most of the rest of the league.  To some extent, I think this is probably the best argument - a GM's job is about a lot more than "right now" and more about where you're going next year and the year after, and how you're going to get there.  Of course, reaching those levels of success with obstacles other franchises don't face (namely, their finances and ownership situations during that time) makes the case even stronger.  Poile ought to have one of these on his desk.

Further than that, I've honestly been impressed with the testicular fortitude that Poile has displayed this year, while trying to walk a very fine line.  We've previously discussed the Suter/Weber situation here on StB.  Poile has been dealt a tough hand, but he's played it masterfully.  Maybe it will blow up in the end, with Weber and Suter walking out, but no one can point the finger at Poile for it at the end of the day.  Most GM's would've dragged the contract issues into the media, used it as an excuse to trade the player and save their own skins, and probably have gotten a rather poor haul in exchange for a #1 defenseman, rather than risk losing him for "nothing".

That "nothing" is misleading though - the "nothing" is a chance at postseason success, and a chance to convince the player that you're building something real, and to get them to commit to being a part of it.  Poile isn't throwing in the towel on Suter or Weber - he's trying to get them to stay, and he's playing the whole thing out publically in a manner where no one is the bad guy, helping keep things friendly between franchise and player.  In doing so, he's continued to help a fledgling fan base (relatively speaking) continue to grow, by giving it something to cheer for, rather than stomping on all their hearts and blaming a greedy franchise player for the heartache.

Poile has also handled the mess that is Alexander Radulov in a similarly masterful manner for years, which has finally culminated in his being able to bring in a first-line forward in this most critical of years for no cost at all.  Poile has committed to this season and to the fans and to his star players.  Maybe it won't work out in the end, but it's been a tough hand from day 1 in Nashville.  He's done some great things with that hand, and all of it has been culminating into this one season.

Over the last several years, we've seen a lot of GM's go all out to lose intentionally, and usually in a pretty dramatic fashion. There's a whole lot of incompetent folks at the front of NHL front offices, and the way the NHL has incentivized losing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  If nothing else, I'd like to see a GM be rewarded for being smart instead of lucky.  And I'd really like to see an NHL GM be rewarded not for going all out to lose and rack up draft picks, but to be rewarded for following a plan and building a team and going all out to win games.

04 May 2012

MvsW #0110 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0110 (Apr 23, 2012) Question of the Day:
Which of the eliminated teams is in the most trouble?

I'd have to say the Sharks.  The Canucks might be a bigger clusterfuck, and consequently, they'll be a lot more entertaining to follow this offseason.  Of course, a large part of that comes from the fact that they still have a good team put together for next year, and are facing a lot of pressure to commit the organizational equivalent of building a brand new house and then burning it down because the wood floors got scratched.  The Red Wings have been on the downswing over the last couple seasons, so their position isn't a shock.  Additionally, most scouts that I've seen still rate the Red Wings' prospect depth as being pretty decent, with guys like Tatar, Jurco, Smith, and Nyquist.  Pittsburgh has some interesting decisions to make, but no one can deny that they have a pretty solid team entering next year.

No other team crashed the way the Sharks did.  No one else underwhelmed like the Sharks.  The Sharks watched their championship window slam shut in their face.  They lack flexibility to make significant roster changes.  They lack prospect depth to inject fresh blood via promotions to the NHL or trades to acquire roster players.  The Sharks have pretty much blown their load, as far and as hard as they could.  And it still fell well short of their goal, and they have nothing left with which to reload.

The Burns and Havlat trades were their last two shots of the cannon, and this season has largely amounted to standing on the wall of The Alamo, screaming "You'd better not try it, look at this big cannon we've got here!" and hoping no one notices that they're out of ammunition. Funny thing about the NHL though, is that you can't really hide the fact that you're all out of bullets.  Someone will always call your bluff.  Now everyone knows that they don't have anything left, and as Marleau and Thornton get older and the team slinks back out of the playoffs, they have nothing with which to pull themselves back up the standings, and will likely have to bottom out for a year or two.

03 May 2012

MvsW #0109 QoD

More edits: As I said before, I was pretty busy between training for a new job, and housework.  Over the last week, it's been continuing my academy, and a trip to Las Vegas with two of my favorite people.  I haven't even been able to watch much hockey lately, but hopefully I should be able to start getting into a better schedule now.  Also, apparently this post was also caught in my misunderstanding of the scheduled post within Blogger, but I should be good to go on that now.  

Also, The Elder Scrolls Online!!!  I'm crossing my fingers.

Marek vs Wyshynski #0109 (Apr 20, 2012) Question of the Day:
Which band would be worse than Nickelback for the NHL awards?

If I mention Sugar Ray here, it gives me an excuse to link to this awesome post that I did at James O'Brien's Cycle Like Sedins: Rob Scuderi Hates 90's Alternative Rock.  I got a big kick out of writing that.

As for the question, I don't have a real answer.  I don't listen to the radio anymore, I don't follow pop music (I can count the number of Lady Gaga songs I've heard on one hand), and I do not have an encyclopedic amount of knowledge in the subject.  I guess my answer would have to be something really dirty, just to watch Gary Bettman's head explode, and the suspension video Shanahan would have to make as a result.

So as to not completely dodge the question, I'll point out I've personally always thought that some NHL names would make for great band names.  Todd and the Bertuzzis sounds like a Motown group.  The Zarley Zalapski Experience?  There's got to be plenty more of them out there.  Feel free to chime in.

24 April 2012

MvsW #0108 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0108 (Apr 19, 2012) Question of the Day:
What team currently down in their series has the best chance to rally for a series win?

Edit: Again, this was supposed to get posted earlier, as in, before the Penguins were eliminated on Sunday afternoon.  Instead, I look silly saying that the Penguins had a chance to make a comeback, when they're already eliminated.  Whatever, I still think the point stands, and I think every other series going on is fairly boring.

Even when I answer these late, I try to answer them as if I were actually answering it at the time that it was asked.  In this case, this question was asked after Pittsburgh had convincingly won their Game 4, 10-3, finally getting on the board while still being down to Philadelphia, 3-0.  I don't think the fact that Pittsburgh won by such an overwhelming score means anything, with respect to the entirety of the series, outside of being further illustration of the fact that anything can happen in this series.  And that's the primary reason why my answer is Pittsburgh.

The Flyers/Penguins series is probably the strangest one I've ever seen.  Anything can and has happened.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a 1-0 game, nor a 11-10 one.  I wouldn't be surprised to see PIT make a comeback from 3-0, or to see Philadelphia settle down and skate through an Eastern Conference full of upsets to a Cup Final.  I wouldn't be surprised to see James Neal come back from a too-short suspension to score a winning goal in overtime of Game 7.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr both score hat tricks in a 10-0 demolishing of the Penguins in Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

No other series has that sort of feeling.  Vancouver seems like they're lost in the woods that Bryzgalov was lost in earlier this year.  The other series in the West very much have an air of finality about them, and I don't give the slightest damn about any of the other awful series in the East.  But in the PIT/PHI series, anything can happen, and PIT coming back from 0-3 is maybe the least of it.  I wouldn't be surprised if Chris Pronger returned in Game 7 with a bloodied eyepatch (shades of Curt Schilling!), ate Sidney Crosby for a pre-game meal, declared himself Stanley Cup Champion, and dared anyone in the NHL front office to deny his proclamation.

22 April 2012

MvsW #0107 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0107 (Apr 18, 2012) Question of the Day:
What do you expect to hear in the Flyers/Penguins handshake line?

Edit: This was supposed to get posted before the game today, but apparently I don't understand how the new post scheduling in Blogger works.  

Better question: What's the over/under on number of players who skip that handshake line?  After the way the Penguins gooned it up and earned themselves a few suspensions (though not nearly long enough), I think PHI would be totally justified to skip the handshake line entirely.  Moreover, for Philadelphia, who invented goon hockey with the Broad Street Bullies of the 70's, whose fans are noted as among the most hostile in all of professional sports, for that franchise to skip the handshake line entirely would be one of the funniest statements I could ever imagine.  I'm not sure if it would be hypocritical or ironic for Philadelphia to do so, but it would damn sure be hilarious, and more than that, it would be an absolute shitstorm for the NHL to deal with - another situation on which the league as a whole would undoubtedly screw the pooch once again. In all likelihood, it would the highest possible level of trolling we may ever see.

My answer to the question:
Bylsma: "Hey, where's Flower?  Did he skip the handshake line?"
Malkin: "Who cares, my mom made borscht!"
Crosby: "I don't know, come to think of it, I haven't even seen him around the last couple of weeks"
Meanwhile, a similar conversation happens amongst the Flyers...

21 April 2012

MvsW #0106 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0106 (Apr 17, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who is the biggest "MIA" player so far in the playoffs?

I have never in my life seen a performance as bad as the one Marc-Andre Fleury put in for the first several games of the PIT/PHI series.  The only thing that might be close is the time I had to fill in as goalie for my rec league team, and nearly (but not quite!) blew an 8 (!!!) goal lead while my team simultaneously almost had to forfeit for not having enough eligible players after several ejections and penalties.  Of course, picking on a goalie who is rocking a 0.837 SV% after having bounced back with two decent games is easy - it's like shooting fish in a barrel, stealing candy from a baby, or taking shots on Marc-Andre Fleury!

I am extremely happy at the number of people who've taken MAF's struggles this series so far to point out the fact that he's never been that good.  The guy has never been much more than a league-average goalie, but because he plays on a good team in a bad conference, and gets a lot of national TV coverage, he has a completely bogus reputation for "clutchness" or frequently considered some sort of great goalie.  As I recall, Fleury's rebound troubles this playoff are nothing new, being something that he has struggled off and on with throughout his career, though I thought he'd more or less turned the corner on that.

All of that said, I eagerly look forward to 2-3 years down the road when he turns in some more average or sub-average playoff performances but is dragged by his teammates on another long Penguins run, and the narrative is once again that Fleury is a "money" or "clutch" type of goalie.

18 April 2012

MvsW #0105 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0105 (Apr 16, 2012) Question of the Day:
What are your feelings on a "suspend to the injury" culture?

I already sort of addressed this the other day, but...

It's stupid and inconsistent, and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if eventually it bites the league in the ass in some sort of legal manner.  I can totally see a situation in which a court declares the NHL to have been negligent in terms of allowing risks greater than could be reasonably anticipated by participation in the game to have existed and perhaps even tacitly approved of such.  When the NHL loses a massive lawsuit to players on the issues of concussions (and this day is coming - the NFL already has such a class-action suit on it's hands), then we're going to see plays like Duncan Keith's (which, by the way, I think is by far the most egregious of anything we've seen this season, regular season or playoffs thus far) punished with some big (in the 10's of games, not 1's) suspensions so that the NHL can attempt to fix the environment that has been allowed to exist in the NHL.

Aside:  I've started a new career this week, and it's the kind of thing that's pretty demanding.  I've also had some other stuff going on around the house that has needed dealt with, but I should be back to posting again this weekend. I picked a stupid time to come back to writing, knowing that I had the career thing coming up, though a good chunk of this housework was unanticipated - trying to figure out what the hell the previous home owners did with this sprinkler system is a trip.  Anyways, this weekend I'm planning on having another pretty good post on this issue.

15 April 2012

MvsW #0104 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0104 (Apr 13, 2012) Question of the Day:
Which player or team made the biggest Game 1 statement?

A little behind (but hey, remember, I said that would happen.  I predicted the future!) but I'd have to say the biggest Game 1 statement was probably Los Angeles winning over Vancouver.  In retrospect, after the Flyers just winning Game 3 against the Penguins, maybe the way the Flyers won Game 1 is a bigger statement within the context of their series, but at the time when everyone had only played one game, I'd say Los Angeles' win over Vancouver was a bigger statement, largely because of how they played the Canucks.  The Canucks didn't look like the team that won a President's Trophy by just plain outplaying most of the league - they looked like a joke in that first game.  They were outskated, they were too busy trying to prove to everyone that they can be physical and made mistakes as a result, and they were diving in full-force.

Vancouver looked like a desperate team, and they were entering the game as the #1 seed, the President's Trophy winners, the defending Western Conference champs.  I'm not sure how much of that was Los Angeles' doing, and how much was Vancouver trying to exorcise their own demons, but in any case, it played right into LA's hands.  Most importantly (especially in conjunction with LA's game 2 demolishing of the Canucks), the Canucks are probably the biggest basketcase in the league, and the way LA beat them in the first game was perfect fuel for a fire begging to burn.  Los Angeles' win over Vancouver set the stage for some amazing organizational fireworks, and I'm excited to see who gets burned.

13 April 2012

Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Todd Bertuzzi

Preface:  I'm reluctant to bring up Todd Bertuzzi, because bringing up Todd Bertuzzi in an argument is pretty much akin to comparing someone to Adolf Hitler, but please, bear with me here.  This post is not campaigning about how long Weber (or anyone else) should or shouldn't be suspended, but is more about the NHL, the way the NHL punishes to injury and not to the action, the role that luck plays within the entire process, and how head injuries are still not being appropriately regarded as "serious" injuries by the league.  

Preface 2: Damn, Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika beat me to the punch, with an excellent post on the Weber thing specifically and a couple of the same points, particularly as it relates to the nature of head injuries and the difficulties inherent to punishing them.  I think my piece reflects a lot more on the relevance of "luck" within the entire process.  In addition, I think there's an interesting point to the contrast between Bertuzzi, who was publicly crucified by the hockey community, and the Weber and Keith incidents.  Each incident was obviously different in some ways and similar in others, but ultimately, what it boils down to is luck: Bertuzzi was unlucky, and Weber and Keith were both fortunate.  Read on to see what I mean.

In case you haven't seen them (or haven't seen them recently) before I talk about them, here's a couple of important videos.

Apr 11, 2012: Shea Weber, angry about the way Zetterberg hit him from behind, tries to punch Henrik Zetterberg in the back of the head, then grabs his head and slams it into the glass.  Weber earns a $2,500 fine.

Mar 21, 2012: Duncan Keith, angry about an earlier hit (which to be fair, was a hit to Keith's head), blatantly ignores playing the puck, and elbows Daniel Sedin in the face:  Keith was suspended 5 games.  

Mar 8, 2004: Todd Bertuzzi, angry about a hit by Moore on Markus Naslund 18 days prior, trails Steve Moore on a play, before sucker punching him in the side/back of the head, and then driving him headfirst into the ice.  Bertuzzi was fined $250,000 and suspended indefinitely (which ended up being 13 regular season games, 7 playoff games, and then was unable to play professionally in any other league during the NHL lockout in 2004-05).  

The NHL has always been very clear in the fact that the severity of injury (if one occurred) plays a very significant role when it comes to the league doling out supplemental discipline.  Obviously, there's some issues with that.  If Steve Moore doesn't break his neck, and merely just has the facial lacerations, Bertuzzi doesn't get suspended for almost 18 months.  Henrik Zetterberg was ok after the Shea Weber incident, but if Detroit sits Z for a practice or sends him to a doctor "as a precaution", does the NHL then allow itself to be baited into giving Weber a suspension where they otherwise wouldn't?  There's a couple points to make here:

- The NHL's safety and discipline processes lend themselves to manipulation
There's a dangerous situation there, with the NHL putting itself in position to be manipulated.  Teams setting guys aside for "precautionary examinations" or tossing words around like "upper body injury" or "concussion-like symptoms" can manipulate the league into coming down harder on opponent teams.  As unlikely as it is (though, in sports, you never know), it also opens up the potential for teams to outright fake or exaggerate an actual injury, particularly when it happens to a bottom-6 guy in their lineup.  

Obviously Detroit prefers to have Zetterberg in the lineup, but what if Shea Weber took his swing at someone with more of a propensity for faking injury, or if he hit a more "disposable" 4th liner, where the team could replace him while the 4th liner sat with "concussion-like systems", and Shea Weber missed games?  That's a net win for Detroit, in a tight series.  Worst of all, that sort of manipulation threatens the integrity of the league, as we start getting into issues of massaging injuries, or outright faking injuries, or begging the question of if a guy is really injured.

- Suspension based on injury is suspension based on luck
What Shea Weber did was reckless and stupid.  I think that's pretty much undeniable.  Slamming Zetterberg's head into the boards got most of the attention, because it's something incredible and dramatic to say.  However, the worse part of what Weber did, in my opinion, was the major league swing he took at the back of Zetterberg's head, which ended up missing.  Weber actually tried to punch a guy as hard as he could in the back of the head and neck.  I don't think it is at all unreasonable to say that, had the punch connected, he certainly could have done some extremely serious damage to Henrik Zetterberg - a concussion, fractured vertebra, or worse.

Take a look at the Bertuzzi video again.  There's two things that Bertuzzi does to Steve Moore.  The first is a sucker punch to the back/side of the head/neck.  The second is driving him down into the ice.  I'm not going to claim to know what damage was done by what action, but one thing we can look at is Steve Moore's body when Bertuzzi punches him.  Look at the way his body goes limp upon the impact of Bertuzzi's fist, and how his hands aren't reaching out to try to break his fall, even before Bertuzzi jumps on his back.  I think its pretty fair to say that the sucker punch alone by Bertuzzi did some significant damage to Moore.  

I also think we can agree that Todd Bertuzzi didn't mean to break Steve Moore's neck.  Yet, the fact of the matter is, he did.  Bertuzzi did something abhorrently reckless and stupid, and he ended a guy's career.  Duncan Keith did something stupid and reckless, but he didn't end Daniel Sedin's career (that we know of).  Matt Cooke did something stupid and reckless, but at the time, we didn't know that he would end Marc Savard's career.  Shea Weber did something stupid and reckless, but he didn't end Henrik Zetterberg's career.  Tie Domi didn't end Scott Niedermayer's career.  Chris Simon did several extremely stupid and reckless things, but he didn't end Ryan Hollweg or Jarko Ruutu's careers.  

We, as a hockey community, set Todd Bertuzzi as this example of someone who did something absolutely unconscionable, that has absolutely no place in the game, an act so vile that we cannot allow such a thing to be considered justifiable in any way, shape, or form.  The reason we set Bertuzzi aside as the "Hitler" of online hockey arguments is not because of the reckless action he committed.  It's because of the fact that he was the one who happened to end a guy's career.  Todd Bertuzzi is the pinnacle of dirty hockey plays, not for the sucker punch, or for the piledriver, but primarily because of bad luck.  

If Steve Moore just has stitches and a concussion, Bertuzzi is still considered a dirty player, but not the way he is today.  If Jarko Ruutu's leg is slashed open and tendons are torn and his career is over, we put Chris Simon on that cross instead.  If Marc Savard's neck is broken instead of getting a "mere" concussion, we put Matt Cooke on that cross.  If Shea Weber connects on that punch to the back of Zetterberg's head, we nail Shea Weber to the cross.  

But he didn't.

Shea Weber could've been Todd Bertuzzi 2.0, but he got lucky.  He was fortunate that Henrik Zetterberg's head was down, looking at the puck, trying to knock it loose.  Should Weber be excused for doing something stupid, reckless, and extremely dangerous just because he lucked out?  Do we give Weber more lattitude because the play happened "in the moment"?  Is the difference not just reckless or malicious behavior, but premeditation?  Obviously, Bertuzzi's attack on Moore had some degree of premeditation (not that Bertuzzi meant to break his neck, but that he certainly meant to rough him up), and I think it's clear that Weber's did not.  But then what about Keith?  

- The NHL's standard operating procedures are inadequate in the "Concussion Era"
Duncan Keith's elbow on Daniel Sedin's face clearly involved some degree of premeditation.  He sees an opportunity, he doesn't even look or move towards the puck going by, and he goes for the cheap shot that he was looking to deliver.  It was just as dirty, just as premeditated, as the Bertuzzi/Moore play, wasn't it?  But due to the nebulous nature of concussions and head injuries, as opposed to the dramatic clarity of "broken neck", Duncan Keith didn't get nailed to a cross either.  

Duncan Keith's hit on Daniel Sedin was widely agreed to be a dirty hit.  However, there was a lot of justification given out both for Keith's cheap shot, as well as for the relatively short suspension that Keith was given.  Many rushed to point out the check that Sedin had previously put on Keith as being justification for Keith coming back with the elbow to the face, or for a reduced suspension for Keith.  I guess you can use that as a mitigating factor, but I'd be curious to hear why Steve Moore's hit on Markus Naslund doesn't mitigate what Todd Bertuzzi did.  

What if it turns out that Daniel Sedin's career really is over?  If that is the case, how is the Duncan Keith play not exactly like the Todd Bertuzzi one?  A premeditated attack on another player for a previous incident, which ended the victim's career.  The Duncan Keith situation happened a couple weeks ago, and Keith is already back from suspension, while Sedin has not returned from his concussion.  It's a small possibility, but it truly is a real possibility, and we don't know if Daniel Sedin has played his last NHL game or not.  

If he does come back, haven't we Keith rewarded for the work of the Vancouver training staff, or for Sedin's body chemistry and a powerful constitution?  We assume that Duncan Keith didn't end Daniel Sedin's career or, just as significantly, severely detract from his abilities upon his return to the ice.  I guess because it's "just a concussion", and that's significantly less meaningful than a "broken neck".  Of course, I'm sure Eric Lindros, Marc Savard, Paul Kariya, and Jeff Beukeboom would have something to say about that.

*     *     *     *
"Mr. Bertuzzi pursued Mr. Moore on the ice, attempting to engage him in a confrontation.  When Mr. Moore declined to engage Mr. Bertuzzi, Mr. Bertuzzi responded by delivering a gloved punch from behind to the side of Mr. Moore's head, rendering him unconscious.  Upon falling to the ice, Mr. Moore suffered additional serious injuries.  We want to make clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated in the NHL."
- NHL Vice President Clarence Campbell, announcing Bertuzzi's suspension

So what exactly was "this type of conduct" that "will not be tolerated in the NHL"?  Premeditation in conjunction with an intent to injure?  Duncan Keith did that.  A career- or life-threatening injury?  Matt Cooke did that.  Does the injury have to be to a specific place, like the neck, instead of the head?  Shea Weber was pushing his luck on that one.  Maybe the conduct that Clarence Campbell meant was giving the NHL a black eye from a public relations standpoint?  

Or are we simply punishing for rolls of the dice, for simply having the misfortune to have been the one whose number came up, whose slot machine pull came back 7-7-7, and a sufficiently dramatic injury happened, leading to the end of someone's career?  

12 April 2012

Nashville is elite - but for how long?

I briefly touched on this in my response to a Marek vs Wyshynski Question of the Day prompt a couple posts ago, but I thought the entire thing merited its own post, because I think it's a fascinating little story within the context of the current Nashville-Detroit series.  Maybe you disagree with me on the idea that Nashville is an elite team in the Western Conference, on the level of Vancouver, for example, but you cannot deny that they are at least in the conversation.  Their roster, as currently constructed, has them poised to remain in that conversation for a long ways to come.

That "as currently constructed" part of it is what really makes it interesting though.  Nashville currently boasts the best defensive pairing in the NHL in Shea Weber/Ryan Suter, but Suter will reach unrestricted free agency this summer, and Shea Weber will get there a year later.  Neither has committed to Nashville for the long-term, and the general understanding of why is because neither is sure that they want to tie themselves to a team that may forever remain in "gets-to-the-playoffs-but-not-a-contender" limbo.  Nashville GM David Poile has made no secret of the fact that he wants to keep both, and that they're loading for bear to have a deep playoff run this year and start spending more going forward, in an effort to woo both defensemen into coming back.

Nashville is trying to prove something here, to two of the best defensemen in the game, and they need a deep playoff run to get there.  On the flip side, Detroit is staring a Lidstrom-less future in the face, and realizing that the sum of their team's defensive abilities is not enough to make up for the loss of one of an all-time great.  Detroit fans have been staring lustily at the embarassment of riches that Nashville boasts on their blue line for a year now, trying to come up with a plan to replace a formerly elite defenseman with one (or two!) coming into their prime.  Detroit is a hotly rumored destination for Suter as a UFA this summer, and whether they get him or not, they'll also be interested in Weber the next year.

And there's the rub.  Detroit wants Weber and Suter badly, and would also dearly love to cripple a division rival by signing them over the next couple offseasons, no matter the circumstance that they become available.  Nashville needs this playoff run in order to keep Weber and Suter.  It's a brutal matchup for Detroit to play Nashville on the road, but the stakes here are tremendous, beyond just moving on to the next playoff round.  Detroit, if they were to beat Nashville in this series, could help push Suter and then Weber toward unrestricted free agency.  Consequently, a Red Wings series win could cripple a Predators contender before it even gets going.  Moreover, knocking Suter and Weber loose gives Detroit a chance to acquire one or even both of them, which could help Detroit to move on after Lidstrom without skipping a beat, or to even step forward, back into the position of being elite Cup contenders.

This series is literally a fight for the future of the Central division.  That may be more significant than anything else either team could accomplish this spring, short of a Stanley Cup.  It's the highest stakes I've ever seen in a first round matchup.  One franchise's fortunes rise and it opens a nice long window at a championship.  The other falls and starts trying to build a new contender.

MvsW #0103 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0103 (Apr 12, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us your best taunting tweet from any NHL team

This obviously stems from the LA Kings Official Twitter feed last night tweeting this:

That's just a fantastically awesome tweet.  And yet people are getting all worked up over it today.

WHO CARES?  It's some very well-done shittalking, and it's a pretty genuine sentiment - the Canucks are pretty widely reviled through the rest of Canada for being divers and complainers.  Even if it weren't true (but the fact that it is true is what makes it pure gold), who cares?  It's not crossing a line, it's not obscene, and it's not classless.  It's a smirk, it's a poke, and more than anything, it's a little bit out of the ordinary within a sport with entirely too much cliche and too little original stuff to say.  If that sort of little poke really gets you worked up, it's because you're looking for something to get worked up about, and you need to sit down, shut up, and relax.  Now, that said, my answer to today's Question of the Day:

After Pittsburgh wins the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup, and Sidney Crosby wins the Conn Smythe:
@PGHPenguins: "Sure am glad we won that lottery in 2005!  Thanks a lot Gary!  Better luck next year, everyone!"

11 April 2012

MvsW #0102 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0102 (Apr 11, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us one "rock solid" prediction for the playoffs.

I think this is the year that the hockey community is going to mark historically as the year that we saw a definite shift in the balance of power in the Western Conference.  Specifically, I think this is the year that we will point to when we say "This is when the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks stopped being the cream of the crop, and the baton was passed to St. Louis, Nashville, and Vancouver".  Maybe you can take Vancouver off of that list, as they've obviously been a top-shelf contender for the last two years or so, but the point is the ascension of Nashville and St. Louis, and more so, the end of the Sharks and the Wings as elite Cup contenders.

We'll point to this playoff in particular, not just because of the seedings of each team or their somewhat-less-than-expected regular season performances, but largely because of the way each will meekly bow out of the playoffs, with the new contenders climbing over the bodies of those who came before to take their place at the top of the conference.

That's not to say that these two teams will sink into complete failure and join such perennial failures as the Blue Jackets and the Oilers in the bottom of the conference.  Neither franchise may stay down long (though Detroit will rebound faster than San Jose, with a surprisingly healthy prospect pool), but the both of them will fall into the #10 to #5 seed area, where you see the teams that can regularly make the playoffs, but aren't truly contenders.  A good example of a team like this would be the Maple Leafs of the late 90's/early 00's.  Those Maple Leafs always made the playoffs, they could frequently upset a pretender, but they couldn't get past the elite contenders in their conference.  In the end, Detroit and San Jose will both be forced to yield to stronger powers in their divisions, and it will take time to reload from the losses that they're going to incur over the next year or two.

But in a few years, they'll be back.  At least, Detroit will be.  So enjoy it while it lasts, Predators and Blues.

Also worth noting: Nashville's stay at the top of the conference could be extraordinarily short.  This is an interesting situation, in that in their playoff series provides a remarkable opportunity for Detroit, allowing them a fantastic chance to crush Nashville's contendership for the next several years, and maybe in doing so, restore the Red Wings to elite status.  I'll post on this later this week.


From today's Puck HeadlinesRobert Ullman over at Atom-Bomb Bikini has put together a far better (and far sexier) NHL playoff preview than the one I did the last couple days.  My linking to it is largely an excuse to post one of the illustrations from his preview, because if there's one thing I like more than hockey, it's a woman with some curves. That said, if you haven't done so already, you should go check it out and see the rest of the illustrations for each series winner.  In addition, there's a contest in the comments to win a custom piece of artwork featuring one of these girls in your team's jersey, in addition to a few other nice prizes.  Sexy art is the best kind of art, right?

10 April 2012

MvsW #0101 QoD

Huh.  So apparently I come back to Blogger, just in time for them to unveil a new user interface that I don't particularly "get".  That figures.  I'll reserve judgement on the new Blogger interface for now, but my initial feeling is that I'm not going to like it much.  I'm a big fan of simplicity and clarity within a UI.  I don't need a hundred bells and whistles.  I prefer words like "Save" or "New Post" to pictures of things like a floppy drive or a pencil.  "I am a man of perfect simplicity!"

(Figures, part 2: I couldn't find the "Link" button, because it's now a button that reads "Link" rather than a picture of a chain.)

Marek vs Wyshynski #0101(April 10, 2012) Question of the Day:
Create your own NHL apology.

"Citizens of Atlanta, we, the NHL, owe you an apology.  You may hate us because we let your team be repossessed to the frigid wastelands of Winnipeg.  You would be right.  However, our greatest error was not in allowing a broken shell of a team to relocate.  Our greatest error was in allowing a team to be started in a non-traditional marketplace, with Don Waddell at the helm."

"Yes, Atlanta, the NHL is most sorry for allowing your city's second incarnation of an NHL team to be run by a complete moron.  In fact, SBN's Copper and Blue recently used a highly scientific process to determine that Don Waddell was actually the worst GM under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that's not even giving credit for pre-lockout blunders like Patrick Stefan and Luke Sellars, or those ugly jerseys."

"Yes, our greatest mistake was allowing a brand new team in a non-traditional market to be piledrived by Don Waddell into irrelevance.  Markets that are new to hockey demand competent leadership, out-of-the-box ideas, community involvement, and most of all, hope on the ice.  Don Waddell delivered none of these, and allowing him to single handedly ruin an entire market for hockey."

"The NHL is truly sorry for allowing a joke management group to employ a joke GM.  We hope that one day, we can return to Atlanta with a competent ownership group that will employ a quality GM with experience in an organization with a winning attitude.  Perhaps someone like Steve Tambellini, Scott Howson, Mike Milbury, Doug MacLean, Brian Lawton..."

2011-12 Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

If you write a Western Conference playoff picks, then it creates an expectation that you're going to do one for the East too, right?

In the West, while I think things are primarily between NSH/STL/VAN to make it to the finals, I could legitimately see any of the lower seeds making some serious noise and presenting problems for the favorites in the conference. In the East, NYR/BOS/PIT are here to take care of business, and no one else will or has any business going on any sort of run. In the end, a healthy PIT (if they stay healthy) is the closest thing to a perfect team in the East (and maybe the NHL), while every other team has some warts. NYR's position as the #1 seed gives them a dramatically easier road to the Conference Final, facing the East's weak sisters, but I don't think that I'm buying into Tortorella and the Rangers to do any more than that. Also, it's been a long time since I've mentioned this, but I really do hate the Eastern Conference.

Round 1:
#1) New York Rangers VS #8) Ottawa Senators
NYR in 4 - OTT isn't a lottery team, but they aren't a great team either. OTT can score, but that's about it, and it gets a lot harder to do that in April and May. Lundquist makes this one nice and quick.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #7) Washington Capitals
BOS in 5 - This matchup makes me smile. BOS is everything that WSH lacks, including playing in the next round. Maybe getting the heart, determination, physicality, sacrifice, and the defensive awareness that they lack shoved in their face helps WSH in the long-term. In the short term, WSH gets outmuscled and outworked in a short series.

#3) Florida Panthers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NJD in 5 - After Florida made all their free agent signings, I sent this email which was read on the old Puck Daddy Radio show on The Score/Sirius, taking issue with Greg Wyshynski's contention that FLA was a free agency "winner":

Someone over there, please do me a favor and tell Wysh he's a friggin' idiot, if he thinks FLA was a winner in free agency. It's not just that [Dale Tallon] overpaid guys by incredible amounts - its that he did it long-term, for no reason at all - if you're gonna overpay guys, just sign em to 1-2 year deals, no point in tying up future money too. And not only did he pay guys for the sake of paying guys, but he didn't improve his team that significantly. At best, this pushes FLA into the 8-11 area in the conference standings, which is not good enough to actually be remotely relevant, yet its good enough to keep you out of the top of the draft.

Also, if the Panthers are going to overpay someone, why not just get some fan favorite grinder 4th liner type and give him 6M for 1 year? At least that makes a good story.

I was getting scared early on when FLA was really hot, but I think in the end, I'm right. This is an 8-11 team, and one of the worst division winners to ever appear in the NHL playoffs. The only reason this team is at #3 and not at the 8-11 spot that they belong in is because of an incredible collapse on the parts of both Tampa Bay and Washington. Basically, FLA lucked into their first and only division title, and they'll go home quickly to a NJD team that isn't great, but is better than they are.

#4) Pittsburgh Penguins VS #5) Philadelphia Flyers
PIT in 6 - This series is going to be mean and nasty, but it's going to be largely one-sided. If PHI were showing up healthy, I'd like them a lot better in this series, but PIT is coming in healthy at the right time, and PHI is just limping to game #83. I'm sure PHI will rush some guys back for the series, but they won't be in good enough shape to flip the script.

Round 2:
#1) New York Rangers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NYR in 6 - I just realized that I picked the same seeds to advance in both the East and West. In any case, this is where the NYR #1 seed really helps out. NJD will put up a fight, but they aren't good enough on the back end and in goal anymore to pull off the upset.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 6 - If the Penguins get through PHI relatively healthy, they should be able to take this one. I like their offensive depth, even against as good a defensive team as BOS. BOS has faltered at times this year, and they already play on the razor's edge, having to play the low-scoring style that they do. It's a hard line to walk, and I think PIT can push them off.

Round 3:
#1) New York Rangers VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 5 - NYR can probably beat any other team in the conference, but I can't see them beating PIT. The Penguins are just too fast, too good, too deep, and are a fully balanced team from top to bottom, front to back. The Rangers play defense, they block shots, they rely on Henrik Lundquist, and they don't score that much. If PIT can score 3 goals a game (and they can), they can beat NYR (and they will).

Stanley Cup Finals:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 7 - In 2009, DET lost to PIT in 7 games in the Cup Final. That year, PIT got to cruise through a joke conference (PHI, a soft WSH team, then swept CAR), while DET got murdered by ANA and CHI on their way. DET started the series strong, but couldn't keep it up for 7 games, and PIT got their first Cup in almost 20 years.

Why do I mention this? Because I think the same exact thing happens this year. PIT is going to make it, and their road may not be as easy as it was in 2009, but it won't be the sort of brutal that VAN is likely to see from CHI and NSH (or STL or SJS for that matter). It may be one of the best Cup Finals we'll ever see, between two fantastically talented teams, but PIT's road won't be nearly as arduous as VAN's. Besides, if the city of Vancouver thought last summer's riots were bad, can you just imagine the completely shitstorm that happens if the Canucks lose in Game 7 at home again?

09 April 2012

2011-12 Western Conference Playoff Picks

Hey, more easy content! I've been pointing at the Nashville Predators for the last couple years, and this year is no different. Even before they brought back Alex Radulov this spring, I was picking Nashville to go deep this year in the playoffs. I don't know if they can win the Stanley Cup, but I think they've got a damn good chance to make it out of a hellacious Western Conference. I think it will largely come down to Nashville or Vancouver to make it out of the West, and assuming Daniel Sedin comes back 100%, I give VAN a slight edge in that matchup, but I could definitely see a series between the two going either way. With that said, let's dive into my playoff picks for the spring.

Round 1:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #8) Los Angeles Kings
VAN in 5 - Los Angeles gives in to the inevitable and maintains their underachieving ways. They might steal a game or even two, but they'll quickly get back to mid-season underachieving form. VAN is just too good for LA, and LA just isn't good enough for themselves.

#2) St. Louis Blues VS #7) San Jose Sharks
STL in 6 - As soft and slow as SJ plays, without a good goalie or a good defense, I can't honestly give them a chance in hell against a Hitchcock team. Like taking a fish (Sharks aren't fish, but that's not important) out of water, the Sharks will thrash wildly, and might surprise STL to win 2, but they won't win 4.

#3) Phoenix Coyotes VS #6) Chicago Blackhawks
CHI in 7 - I was really hoping DET would choke their way down to this spot, because PHX is a tough team, but they're not deep, and that makes you vulnerable in the playoffs. CHI isn't perfect either, so this will be a long series, but with Toews coming back, I'm giving them the edge.

#4) Nashville Predators VS #5) Detroit Red Wings
NSH in 6 - As I've said, I'm buying what the Preds are selling. This team is too physical, too good on special teams, and they've got the style and the scheme to give the Red Wings fits, and that's before you consider the Wings sub-.500 record on the road. Everyone noticed the Preds last year, but my money is on this year being their real coming out party.

Round 2:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #6) Chicago Blackhawks
VAN in 6 - A large part of this series boils down to the returns of Toews and Sedin, and the level each is able to play at upon his return. If either is less than themselves, it could change this series, but I'm assuming both make it back at full power. Having Corey Schneider as a fall-back and with Chicago's defensive troubles this year, I'm giving this one to VAN.

#2) St. Louis Blues VS #4) Nashville Predators
NSH in 7 - A central division battle between two physical teams who can score capably, but are more known for their goaltending and defensive accomplishments? Yeah, this one goes long. And not just 7-games-long, but multiple-multi-OT-games-in-a-long-series sort of long. I could see it going either way, but I give NSH an edge for experience. STL has a long championship window in front of them, but you have to learn the hard way, and this is where STL does it.

Round 3:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #4) Nashville Predators
VAN in 7 - If each team comes in healthy, I think VAN has an edge in offensive depth that NSH can't match. The big question mark here is going to be how each team gets into the series, after having both gone through a grudge match in Round 2. VAN is a better team, but this is the playoffs, and a lot of times it comes down to depth and health. VAN has a deeper pool to drain from, and that could be the difference.