Mainstream Media and the worst case scenario

If you ever wonder why blogging has taken off, just read the mainstream media every now and again and you’ll realize why. Some of the stuff they write is amateurish. Today’s target: Lance Hornby. Mr. Hornby wrote an article today titles “Maple Leafs do the math” which is all about what the Leafs current position in the standings and looks at what the Leafs might have to do to make the playoffs. Since the whole basis of the article is about math, is it too much to expect that one might be able to take an accurate and objective look at the numbers? Apparently not. Clearly the focus is on downplaying the Leafs chances at making the playoffs and not at taking an accurate look at the facts.

First, Mr. Hornby projects that the Leafs would need to go 18-12 over their last 30 games to reach 92 points and a playoff spot. Now, it may take 92 points to make the playoffs in the east, but the current math does not suggest that. As it stands now, the current 7th place Tampa Bay lightning project to just 90 points if they keep their current pace over the remainder of the season and the 8th place Carolina project to 88 points. Maybe it will take 92 points, but there is a reasonably good chance it won’t and that 89 or 90 points will earn a playoff spot in the east.

Second, Mr. Hornby says the Leafs are outside of the top eight and “waiting nervously for teams to make up their games in hand.” Well, that may be true but a) even if the teams behind them with games in hand (Rangers, Islanders, Bruins) win all their games in hand, the best any of those teams could do is tie the Leafs and b) The Leafs have games in hand on 7th place Tampa (one) and 8th place Carolina (two) which Mr. Hornby conveniently overlooked that. In fact, if Toronto wins their games in hand they would tie Tampa and pass Carolina.

I know some of you are going to think that I am an apologist for the Leafs but I am not really. I am just annoyed that most of the mainstream media see the Leafs as a horrible team destined to miss the playoffs. Far too many of them take the pessimistic view and not the realist view because the reality is that as of today the Leafs are the 8th best team in the east based on winning percentage. The other reality is that if the Leafs beat Ottawa on Saturday and win their game in hand they have on Ottawa they will only be a measly 2 points behind Ottawa. Will that happen? I have no idea, but that is just an indication of how close the standings are in the east and it is irresponsible by the main stream media to only focus on worst case scenarios. I am not looking for optimism or homerism, just realism. And that is why I blog: to present a realists view to the equation.

This article has 16 Comments

  1. Look closer and you’ll find even more flaws with the article you’re critiquing. In the breakdown of the Leafs remaining games Hornby states that the Leafs have only 6 games against teams with records for .500 or better. At the time that the article was published the Leafs had three remaining games with Montreal, three with Ottawa and four with Buffalo, all of whom are above .500. The Leafs also play Nashville and the last time I looked, they were above .500 too. He also states that of the last 30 games, 11 are against teams from the Northeast Division, 15 from the “Rest of Conference” and 3 from the Western Conference. That adds up to 29 which leaves the Leafs with one more game and he has eliminated everyone in the NHL. Who do they play, Team Finland? It would appear that Hornby’s arithmetic skills are on par with his journalistic ones.

    Somewhere there’s a village whose idiot has gone missing.

  2. Yeah, I saw that too but I suspect he probably mean 6 games agaisnt teams *below* .500. But with 3 point games the whole notion of a .500 team is silly anyway because there are only 4 teams in the east with fewer points than wins and 3 of them are only slightly below “.500”.

    But yeah, for the most part the article which is about math wasn’t based on the most sound math.

  3. Mr. Johnson: I just stumbled across your little rant. Since 2002 a few clubs have had 90-plus points and missed the playoffs. At the time my article was written, the Leafs needed to get around 92 to be sure of staying in the hunt. End of story. The way you over-reacted to the headline, ignored the basics of the story, and came up with your bizarre tirade against mainstream media (spelling my name wrong two or three times and strongly implying that a three-decade hockey writer keeps his job by being inaccurate and biased) only harms the reputation of credible bloggers.

    Lance Hornby

  4. Mr Hornby,

    First, let me apologize for spelling your name wrong. My mistake, my bad and it’ll be fixed. Let me also say that I enjoy reading a lot of what you write.

    As for the content of the blog post I fully stand behind what I wrote. Maybe it was a little harsh but the basics premise of it is perfectly accurate. The facts are that at the time of the article 8th place Carolina projected to end up with 88 points come seasons end, not 92. As of right now 9th place Montreal and 10th place Islanders project to 89 points. Even 7th place Carolina only projects to 90 points. Toronto currently projects to 92 points. So even now the projected cutoff is 90 points. Those are the facts.

    Again, I quite possibly over reacted but far too often do I see the main stream hockey media dismissing the Leafs as a bad team unlikely to make the playoffs. The media always seems to look for reasons why the Leafs won’t make the playoffs rather than why they might or will. I only read about how they can’t score or that their defense is bad. Truth is, they can score (6th in NHL in goals per game) and their defense is quite good. Try naming me 5 teams that have a better 3/4 tandem than McCabe and Colaiacovo. Try naming me 5 teams with a better 5/6 tandem than Ian White and Hal Gill. And the top pairing of Kubina/Kaberle ain’t too shabby either. The problems for the last 2 seasons can largely be attributed to weak goaltending. When Aubin came in and provided quality goaltending at the end of last season, the Leafs were great. When Raycroft started providing the Leafs with quality consistent goaltending in January and now into February, the Leafs have been great (and to a lesser extent the 3-4 weeks of the season). And it is not like Raycroft has been standing on his head. Neither his .912 save % in January or .902 save % in February are outstanding. He’s just been good and consistant. Even Aubin’s .924 save % to finish last season wasn’t extraordinary, just very very good.

    Now with those facts told I will put the challenge to you to point me to any article written my anyone in the main stream media that has a positive outlook on the Leafs chances to make the playoffs and even possibly do some damage in the playoffs. Or even better yet, write an article yourself. I’ve even done a lot of the leg work for you in the above paragraph as well as here:


  5. I don’t think it’s very safe to assume that Tampa will continue to play at the pace they have established for the whole season. They are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. I’m not saying they’ll continue to win 7 of 10 the rest of the way, but there’s not really a good reason to think they’ll win only 55% of their games the rest of the way. 10 of their remaining games are against teams not currently in the playoffs. Speculation is a wonderful thing, so I’ll do some; if they win 7 of those 10 and play .500 against the rest, that’s 26 points for a total of 95; pretty conservative for a team playing so well. I don’t see them falling behind the Leafs.

  6. McCabe: I’m sorry but when I look at Bryan McCabe, I see an offensively gifted, but defensively challenged defenseman; certainly not worth the money he’s being paid. I would stack the Senators defenseman (and they have 7) or the Flames and probably the Wings and Stars, crews up against the Leafs; especially defensively. All four are more mobile and solid defensively and have better balance offensively. Even if you think Corvo is bad defensively, he’s not worse than McCabe, in my opinion.

  7. The Leafs could have a defense of Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Dion Phaneuf, Zdeno Chara and Sergei Zubov and the Toronto hockey media will claim they are not good enough defensively. It doesn’t matter who you are, Maple Leaf defensemen get bashed and criticized beyond what they deserve. Is McCabe a great defensive defenseman? No. Is he a horrible defensive defenseman? No. He’s actually average to above average defensively. He has a +5 rating this year. He was -1 last year which put him about middle of the team. In 2003-04 he was +22 easily tops on the team and in 2002-03 he was +9, 6th on the team. He is not that bad defensively. Yes, there are certain situations where he can get caught looking flat footed because he isn’t the most mobile player around but he is big and he is physical and generally does a good job on defense.

    I would certainly rank the Flames as having a better defense. Detroit too. Ottawa’s is probably better though I think it is a bit over rated. Redden isn’t exactly a defensive gem either (probably no better than McCabe) and Meszaros is having a poor season (-7 to Corvo’s -2) after a very poor playoff last year. And it is tough to judge Ottawa’s 7th defenseman (Schubert) because he doesn’t get a lot of ice time as a defenseman though he is probably a decent third pairing guy.

    The stars defense aren’t great. Much of the Stars defensive ability comes from their forwards (Lehtonin and Morrow in particular). Robidas and Daley are nothing special and Sydor is getting near the end of his career. Hard to say their 6 guys are measurably better than the Leafs 6.

    I just have a hard finding 5 teams who clearly have better defensemen than Toronto’s.

  8. Well, I don’t put nearly as much faith in the +- ratings as you do. Too often it’s a reflection of the offense in front of you and as you mentioned, the defensive responsibility of the forwards. Tom Preissing isn’t a great defensive defenseman and his +- is second in the league. I base my defensive evaluations on what I see.

    I doubt you would find much support for your comparison of Redden and McCabe. Redden is far superior defensively. He’s smarter positionally and far more mobile. He’s not as tough as McCabe, to be sure. Redden’s glaring flaw is the one gawd-awful giveaway he has seemingly, every game.

    Other defensive corps I’d rather have also include the Preds, Anaheim, Los Angeles(surprisingly), Phoenix, and San Jose. I know your original assertion was a top to bottom comparison, but if I’m going to the playoffs, and that’s all that really matters, I’d rather have these crews. Some of these groups include young, unproven playoff performers, but then, so are White and Colaiacovo.

    As far as the Toronto media goes, I won’t apologize for them. They drive me nuts too.

  9. There are two ways a defenseman can help a team. Help the team score goals and help the team stop goals from being scored on them. +/- takes both into account. If a player is consistently in the upper portion of a teams +/-ratings he has to be doing something right. It’s not a perfect statistic because it can’t really be used when comparing players on different teams but is decent at comparing players on their own team.

    As for Redden, he gets a lot of hype for being a great defenseman but nearly every Senator fan that I know has complained about him from time to time. IF he were in Toronto he’d get crucified for his giveaways and sometimes unenthusiastic play.

    Predators: Maybe now that they picked up Vishnevsky. They were small and soft before that.

    Anaheim: So long as Niedermayer and Pronger are healthy, maybe, but they have zero depth to withstand an injury to either of them. Their #4-5-6 guys are really not that good.

    Los Angeles: Interesting. They are definitely under rated. They have a pretty good top 5 in Visnovsky, Blake, Sopel, Norstrom and Miller. The #6 guys is a little problematic. I have also always thought Blake’s defensive ability has been overrated as he is often among the worst +/- on his team. He has a team worst -23 this year. But yes, they have a pretty good defense corp. Are they better than the Leafs? Maybe a bit.

    Phoenix: Jovanovski, Michalek, Morris, Boynton, Ballard, Roche, Jones. Not bad but not better than the Leafs.

    San Jose: Hannan, Ehrhoff, Carle, Vlasic, McLaren, Gorges. Definitely not better than the Leafs at the top, the bottom, or in between. No team with 2 rookies, one and one 3rd year player can be considered to have a great defense. I wouldn’t want to go into the playoffs with that much inexperience.

  10. Senator hockey fans are no more charitable than the Toronto media. I complain about Redden too, but mostly because I think they made a mistake letting Chara go and keeping him; and his giveaways.

    Shane O’Brien is +10, Scott Neidermaier is +8. No one is going to argue that O’Brien does a better job at either end of the ice. +- is mostly meaningless. Andrej Meszaros is not a significantly different player than he was last year. The Senators are not blowing away the competition like they did last year. Therein lies much of the difference in his +-.

    Rob Blake’s +- has always been a function of the team he plays on simply because he gets so much ice time and another perfect example of why the stat means so little.

    Ian White 62 games of NHL experience. Colaiacovo has 53 games of NHL experience. Both rookies by any measurement, so I can’t compare them positively with Vlasic, Gorges and Carle, who all have better or at least, equal junior/college credentials than either of them.

  11. Chara is another perfect example of the meaninglessness of +-. He’s 2nd worst of the defensemen in Boston. No one in their right mind would suggest he’s the 2nd worst defensive (or otherwise) defenseman on that team. I would make an argument that he is the best defensive defenseman in the league. The combination of team offense and team defense is what makes the stat. One person’s abilities only go so far.

  12. Toronto has one of the bottom 10 groups of defensive D men in the league. McCabe is a 4 on a scale of 0 to 10 defensively. He constantly takes stupid penalties and sometimes seems to have planted himself in the ice. On the power play the Leafs have one of the top point tandems in the league but they don’t play D worth a darn. Heck, they bring in Hal Gill to be their defensive stopper and he’s even more plodding in his own zone than McCabe. You have to go all the way to Philly to find a defenseman that makes Gill look even average speed wise.

  13. Zdeno Chara is a ‘plodding’ defenseman too. Nobody has accused him of being quick or agile. I guess he is no good.

  14. That’s just ridiculous. There’s a huge difference between a plodding oaf like Hal Gill and a quick defenseman like Niedermayer. Not quick does not equal plodding. Chara skates as well as at least half the defensemen in the NHL and way beyond Gill, Hatcher, and their plodding brethren.

  15. Chara isn’t “plodding”… but frankly Gill isn’t either. They’re just huge men, nobody expects them to have the foot speed of Rafalski or Niedermayer… but they don’t need it since they’re twice their size.

    It’s sort of like how everyone bashes Nik Antropov as slow, when really he’s not at all, he just takes longer strides than smaller quicker players.

    p.s. my comments aren’t being posted… AGAIN.

  16. Remember that there is a big difference between fast and quick. Big men like Chara and Gill take a long time to get moving because they have so much mass to move. But watch them once they get going – Gill can actually move at a pretty good clip once he’s in full stride.

    The Leafs defence is better than many give it credit for but they need their top three to play up to their salaries. McCabe, Kubina and Kaberle are all capable of being solid to excellent blueliners but when they make between $4.25 and $5.75 million per year ‘capable’ doesn’t cut it. I could more easily forgive McCabe’s defensive gaffs if he made $3 million rather than 6.

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