Thursday, November 07, 2002

Canada Will Always Love Hockey. . . Its national sport, more than the residents of the U.S. Unfortunately, North of the border, they seem to be getting more familiar with America's national pastime -- the frivolous law suit:

A New Brunswick father is suing the provincial amateur hockey association after his 16-year-old son failed to win the league's most-valuable-player award.

Michael Croteau is seeking $300,000 in psychological and punitive damages from the association. He is also demanding that the MVP trophy be taken from the boy who won it and given to his son, Steven, as well as the league's playmaker award, which was awarded to a different boy. Croteau also wants Steven to be guaranteed a spot on the New Brunswick Canada Winter Games roster.

In an interview yesterday from his home on Lameque Island, N.B., Croteau said Steven was so crushed after losing the New Brunswick Bantam AAA MVP award at a banquet in March that he lost his love for playing hockey. That, his father argues, resulted in Steven failing to pursue the Canada Games tryouts in which he had been excelling.


Sorry everybody, this one is leaving me without much to say. (Link via Drudge.)
Rick Charlton at Calgarypuck.com asserts that the collapse of scoring in the NHL may be greatly overstated. He draws this conclusion from an historical perspective arguing that the statistics posted today parallel those dispatched right the way through much of NHL history.

Charlton argues “that if it was good enough then, in the age of Gordie Howe, The Rocket and Auriel Joliet, then why isn’t it good enough today?” Maybe Charlton is being kind, but he uses a Ken Dryden metaphor that is so facile, that it is hardly worth consideration. Dryden says in his day, “On radio, there was never a bad game ever played. Foster Hewitt gave you bare-bones information and you would fill in the rest with your imagination…” Sure Ken. Television killed the game and people today, especially the kids, don’t have an imagination! While the advent of anti-clutch and grab rules are clearly an effort by the NHL to get more offence into the game, Charlton portends that history shows us that in virtually every period where the NHL has seen dilution of talent, scoring levels have risen, not fallen. So the free wheelin’ high flying 1980’s, when NHL scoring hit a high of 8.03 goals per game in 1981-82 and continued apace until roughly 1992-93 was not because of the advent of European/Soviet speed and style of play, but simply because a Canadian population of 23 million, supplying some 90% of all NHL players, could not support continued expansion. The NHL had essentially expanded to the point where it was outstripping the available talent pool even with the influx of NCAA players and the boost the American game received in the 1980’s from the Miracle on Ice.

It also raises questions about the quality of play and player accomplishments during various periods of NHL history. Mike Bossy scored his 50-in-50 in 1980-81 just when NHL scoring was reaching an almost record high of 8.03 goals per game. The NHL of the 1950’s, when Gordie Howe ruled the rinks, averaged an eye-popping 5.16 goals per game, according to Charlton and I have no reason to doubt him. By 1974-75, in an 18-team NHL, goals scored averaged 6.85 per game. In 1976-77, with the failure of Kansas City – a boost for the talent pool – scoring dropped to 6.42 goals per game. With the addition of four WHA teams in 1979-80 averages jumped to the highest levels since WW2 at 7.03 per game.

During World War II, when English Canadians [French Canada’s participation rates were nominal] proudly pulled on puttees and took up the mantle of Lord Nelson, goal per game averages jumped from a meagre 4.8 per game from 1930-41 to an astronomical 8.17 goals per game in 1943-44. Maurice the “Rocket” Richard’s much heralded first ever 50-in-50 occurred in 1944-45 when English Canada’s hockey stars were in Europe risking their lives.

Fascinating insights are wrought from a comparison of Howe’s scoring stats in the 1950’s and Gretzky’s in the 1980’s. In straight totals, Howe scored 383 goals over the decade and Gretzky’s tallies were 637. Howe’s season was 70 games long and Wayne played 80. To account for the additional games we multiply Gordie’s totals by 1.15 giving Howe a total of 440. Then accounting for the goal per game average differential we multiply 440 x 1.6. Howe’s total jumps to 705 goals scored if he had played in the 1980’s - an average of almost 7 goals per year greater than Gretzky; one can only dream.

Charlton rightfully asserts that the busting of the Berlin Wall changed the face of the NHL in the 1990’s. In addition to the newfound skills in the NCAA the NHL unexpectedly gained access to a considerable collection of talent from behind the Iron Curtain. As Charlton says, “ A population base closing in on one billion people – instead of a single country of 30 million – was now providing talent to the NHL”. As Charlton affirms the 90’s were an era of expansion without dilution contrary to much of NHL history [except the original six expansion] where player excellence increased scoring has dropped.

Charlton’s stats show scoring totals stabilized at an average of 5.27 goals per game in the 1997-98 season after the wave of European talent crested in 1994-95. In a bizarre dichotomy, on the one hand pundits who praise the wide-open European style of the 1980’s epitomised by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers and on the other Charlton’s revealing statistics and the implication that the freewheeling 80’s were the most diluted decade in the history of the NHL, bearing a resemblance more to shinny than heavenly hockey, we view that era. Charlton’s contention that, “It is a myth that dilution reduces scoring...the effect is quite the opposite” is correct. For me it signifies even more, affirming what I have intuitively known for many years by watching the great ones play, that Howe is far and away the greatest ever to play this game and that the accomplishments of Gretzky and more importantly Richard should be re-evaluated in light of the talent less era in which they plied their craft.

Update: Even more compelling evidence of Howe's superiority is found by examining the second decade of both Gordie's and Gretzsky's careers. In the 1960's, with goals per game averaging 5.45 Howe tallied 314 goals. In the 1990's the average hovered around 6.28 goals per game, reaching a low point in 1997-98 of 5.27, a year in which Gretzky totaled 23 goals culminating in a decade tally of 248. Even without considering the effect of inflated scoring totals caused by expansionist dilution of the talent pool, Gordie outscored Wayne by almost seven goals per year.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Jordan Cooper, Grand Poobah and NHL Governor of the Hockey Pundits argues that,
Shane Corson shows the epitome of selfishness towards his teammates when he said that he would invoke a no-trade clause in his contract. Corson would rather suck out the joint in TO than be a winner somewhere else and maybe, just maybe bring in the talent needed to turn around the Leafs. Shane Corson is comfortable in Toronto and if he is losing, he doesn't care.


Of course Corson, at 36 years of age, is not the only Leaf with a no trade clause in his contract. Sundin, at 31, also wants to end his playing days in Toronto. Corson, who hails from Barrie, Ontario, is not far from home and family and probably likes it that way. No trade contracts, a show me you love me clause, once prohibited, can be a minefield for management to negotiate. They are now becoming a popular request in the contracts of older players. In an increasingly transient hockey world, the security in knowing that there will be no uprooting of families and instead the chance to enjoy the comfort of familiar surroundings is a valued commodity.

Basically, you may end a no-trade contract two ways and neither is pretty or profitable. A player may waive his no-trade clause and force a trade, or the team loses the player in an expansion draft. Arbitrator John Sands ruled that, not only do no-trade clauses not cover expansion and waiver drafts (i.e., they only cover trades), but also that a player and team cannot incorporate a no-movement clause (i.e., guaranteed protection from expansion, waivers, and whatever else might crop up) into a contract.

Essentially, four criteria are used to evaluate a request for a no-trade provision.

1. Physical condition - No-trades can only be offered (officially) to players in their thirties, so age is the primary factor. Can the player perform well for the duration of a long-term contract?

2. Humiliation or disruption - Loose cannons need not apply for no-trade clauses. Remember Brett Hull's face-off follies. Hull went on television an hour before a Blues-Hawks game and told his interviewer that he would be honored to follow in his father's footsteps and play for the Blackhawks. The Mouth that Roared cost Hull his tenure as longest serving current Bluenote.

3.Relevant and useful - This one is like judging Ice Dancing at the Winter Olympics - hugely subjective! It requires not only an accurate reading of the future of a player through his past, but also a solid assessment of where a team's direction is headed.

4. Usefulness outweighs trade value. - It's the old issue of supply and demand. Usually it is veteran rearguards that are very much in demand just before the trade deadline and clubs are making a big push for Lord Stanley's Cup. No-traders may handcuff their team just when their trade value is highest.

Clearly Corson met these criteria when Leaf management signed the deal and his usefulness still outweighs his trade value.
Ok Chuck, Goalies are a unique bunch, but a unique bunch of what...coconuts?

Steve Ovadia
of PuckUpdate writes about Penguin goalie Johan Hedberg's cerebral approach to the game.
Johan Hedberg may be ahead of the times or he may simply be a head case, but the Pittsburgh Penguin this off-season has dared to go where no goaltender has gone before — to a hypnotist.
Puck Bunnies and Ice Shoveling: Something new is catching on. Will it get you to attend more games in person? Read this Wall Street Journal article:
Hockey Goes Back to the Cave With Shovel-Wielding Ice Girls

Just a few minutes into the first period of a recent New York Islanders
game, the dasherboard gates swing open and out they come: two pairs of young
women in Lycra suits, figure skates and lots of glittery makeup. And no,
you're not imagining things. They're carrying shovels.

Have you ever gone to a hockey game and wondered: Where are all the babes?
Then this column is dedicated to you. Just when it seemed the National
Hockey League couldn't roll back the evolutionary clock any further, there's
a new craze sweeping the professional rinks of North America: Ice Girls. Or
as Islanders fan Chris Cavaioli describes them, "Cheerleaders with a
purpose."

As any hockey regular knows, NHL teams are required to send maintenance
workers on the ice during TV timeouts to scoop away the shavings that build
up in heavy-traffic areas. Of course, the rule book doesn't say the job has
to be done by fat old guys in boots and blue windbreakers. So the Islanders'
marketing department decided to change the paradigm. "We wanted to jazz
things up," says team spokesman Chris Botta.

The Bucket Brigade

The story begins last year when the Islanders called one of the strangest
auditions in sports history. "I was a little confused about what it would
be," says Ice Girl Deirdre McLaughlin, a college student who saw the posters
at a local rink. First, she was asked to show her skating technique,
executing crossovers and T-stops. Then there was a formal interview. And
finally, she says, "They handed us buckets and shovels."


Clean sweep: Several NHL teams have approached the


For $75 a night, Ms. McLaughlin and her squad mates take the ice about nine
times during the game. First, they clean up the goal creases, then they
scrape the area along the boards just in front of the benches. Sure, there
are occasions when klutzy players nearly run them over, or worse, start
gawking like Cub Scouts at a Modigliani exhibit. ("We try not to look," says
Islanders veteran Claude Lapointe.) But other than that, the job is pretty
straightforward. "It's shoveling," says Ice Girl Lauren Balcuk, a
20-year-old student and figure-skating instructor. "That's about it."

To be fair, hockey doesn't really deserve to be singled out in the sexism
department. After all, boxing promoters put beautiful women in the ring
between rounds. There's always a model or two on the Tour de France podium
exchanging air kisses with the guy in the maillot jaune. And don't forget
the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders: The only difference between their $13
lingerie calendar and a copy of Playboy magazine is a couple of
strategically placed throw pillows.

But hockey, thuggish as it may be, used to stand alone as the only major
sport that didn't stoop to this kind of crass pandering. For most hockey
guys, it was worth the price of admission just to see a few loose teeth
skittering across the ice. Or, crazier still, a decent game. Of course, that
may be part of the problem: NHL teams are starting to feel a little insecure
about their product.

Adding Value, Losing Violence

Think about it. Did any sports league have a worse year than the NHL? With
anemic ratings, an impending labor war and a raft of troubled franchises,
things were already looking glum. But after a young fan was killed by a
stray puck, all NHL arenas had to install protective netting that's become,
to many regulars, an irritating obstruction. And after Olympic hockey stole
the show last winter and made the pro game look clunky by comparison, the
league adopted new rules to promote speed and elegance.

That said, it's no wonder the Dallas Stars have developed an Ice Girls team
of their own this season, or that the Islanders say 10 other teams have
called for information. In addition to their ice duties, Islanders girls
hand out souvenir pucks to kids and shoot T-shirts into the crowd from atop
the Zamboni: anything to add value at a time when some of the game's
Neanderthal charm is being subtracted.

Pepsi on Ice

Not that this is strictly a magnanimous gesture. Hockey teams such as the
Islanders are often run on the tightest of margins, and Ice Girls can
command as much as $100,000 a year in sponsorship dough, roughly the same
price as putting an ad or two on the dasherboards. (The Islanders' Ice Girls
are sponsored by Pepsi.) Besides, after the Ice Girls debuted last season,
the Islanders sold out 21 games and broke a seven-season playoff drought --
enough to make anybody a little superstitious about disbanding them. "Facts
are facts," says Mr. Botta.

All told, the Islanders say they've had less than a dozen letters of
complaint about the ladies in Lycra, mostly from purists who think nothing
should detract from the hockey. But a random poll of female Islanders fans
suggests they may have a larger problem on their hands. "It's a joke," says
Lori Pellegrino, watching the Islanders play the Carolina Hurricanes with
her daughter, Brianna. Given the amount of ice shavings the girls were
actually scooping up, she says, "They don't need shovels, they need
dusters."

Adds Vicki Dorney, a longtime Islanders fan and mother of six: "I wish the
hockey players would come out in skimpy outfits and skate around. That would
be nice for the ladies."

Sam Walker appears Thursdays on ESPNews

Monday, November 04, 2002

Roger Neilson and his terrible ties make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

CHRIS STEVENSON of the Toronto Sun writes:
Neilson's legendary bad neckwear is just one of the characteristics that has made the 68-year-old Senators assistant coach into one of hockey's colourful and influential personalities.

Captain Video. Neilson got the idea of watching a videotape of a just-played game when he was with the Peterborough Petes. Video cassette recorders were just making their way into the consumer marketplace.

Neilson's gift -- or curse, if you were a hockey administrator -- has always been the ability to think outside the box.

He has been responsible for several rule changes because of his ability to exploit situations to his team's advantage.

His favourite:

While coaching the Petes, he got the idea of pulling the goaltender when his team faced a penalty shot and replacing him with a defenceman. As soon as the opposing player touched the puck, the defenceman would charge out of the net and check him.

"We had six (penalty shots) one year and Ron Stackhouse stopped them all," said Neilson. Now a team has to have a goaltender in net for a penalty shot.

"It's something I never expected," said Neilson. "You kind of wonder what you're doing there. You look at all the guys in there, they were my boyhood idols, all those players and coaches, to be in there with them is pretty exciting."

Sunday, November 03, 2002

With a little over ten minutes remaining in the third, an unlikely hero, a 26-year-old journeyman defenceman with the Pittsburgh Penguins blasted a shot from the left point to beat Patrick Roy and put the Czech Republic up 1-0 over Canada. The year was 1998, the place was Nagano and the unlikely hero was Jiri Slegr.

"I'm not a goal-scorer, that's for sure,'' [Slegr] said. "The goaltenders were stopping everything, so it was a great feeling. I thought that would be the only goal.''

The word on Slegr, from the scouts, is that he is inconsistent, that he has all the tools including mobility and an excellent shot from the point but is prone to mental lapses which result in give-a-ways. Slegr has yet to show his entire package at the NHL level and likely never will.

But Jiri tells Frantisek Bouc of the Prague Post that the transition from Stanley Cup champ to NHL chump doesn't worry him:
"Winning the Stanley Cup one day, and then becoming virtually unemployed the next day may look a little bizarre, but it's the reality in my case," Slegr told The Prague Post. "But the NHL is all about business and money. ... I can't sink below my price, and so I have to wait until I come to a consensus with some NHL club."

Having failed to prolong his contract in Detroit, Slegr joined his mother club, HC Chemopetrol Litvinov, in the top-flight Extraliga this summer. Slegr played 10 Extraliga games, scoring two goals and three assists. He quit the Extraliga before the NHL start to remain eligible for this year's NHL action.

While Slegr insisted that he is happy in Litvinov, he said he wanted to restart competitive playing soon. Slegr said that he would be most happy if he could move back to the NHL, but if he doesn't receive what he calls "an adequate offer," he would play elsewhere in Europe.

"Should I remain in Europe, I'd then need to think more about finance and I would probably move from Litvinov and play for a richer club here, or perhaps in Sweden, Finland or Russia," Slegr revealed.

Slegr experienced a similar situation six years ago. After failing to renew his contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Slegr played for SOdertalje in Sweden in the 1996-97 season. He returned to Pittsburgh one year later. Not only did he earn a regular spot in the NHL but he was nominated to the Czech Olympic team for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

Slegr said that the Nagano triumph still brings him big joy.

"When I'm in crisis and don't feel too good, I switch on video and watch it again. It's great and it helps me," Slegr said. "It was fantastic how the whole nation was sticking together [during the Olympics], and how they supported us. It was unbelievable."

Roger Neilson provides us with a tip for the Offensive Zone:
Offensive Zone Play

Good puck control in the offensive zone can disorganize the defending team.

'Give and go' plays, wraps and walkouts can create good chances. Cycling the puck can often open up a man. On occasion, a point man can join the cycle to further confuse the defenders. Getting shots away quickly is a key factor in scoring goals. It is important to screen the goalkeeper and look for tips and rebounds. Of course, to score goals you must get the puck to the net. Offensive zone pressure is helped considerably by timely pinching by the point men. Pinching should only be used when there is pressure down low and a support forward in position.

Keys:

1. Cycle the puck to test the defenders coverage
2. Get the puck to the net whenever possible
3. Be ready to screen, tip and get to rebounds
4. Use the net for wraps and walkouts
5. Pinches require support from the forwards


But what exactly is cycling, from a hockey perspective?

From the Roller Hockey Handbook we get this insight:
Work Your Offense In Cycles


Cycling is a term that refers to players in the offensive zone who utilize motion and continuously exchange position. In conjunction with other offensive plays, cycling can create pressure on and confusion for the defense and it can also buy time for your offense.

A team can use two-man, three-man or four-man cycling.

In a two-man cycle, the two forwards rotate and change positions. The left forward (the puckcarrier in this instance) moves behind the net and the right forward moves across to fill the position vacated by the left forward. This type of motion continues as the offense looks for a scoring opportunity. One of the defenseman can also move into the slot for a shot.



In a four-man cycle, the entire team [in Roller Hockey there are only five-a-side but the principal is the same] gets involved. The left forward (puckcarrier) moves behind the net. The left and right defenseman move down and the right forward moves up high.

Cycling is used to supplement the offense. Do it well and your scoring opportunities will increase.