Mar 082007
 

It is probably the marquis match-up of the night. Ottawa is in another of its ‘mini’ slumps and their fans are once again wondering if they have a team to win. The Leafs are on the edge of making or missing the playoffs and should be in desperate hockey mode. This is a game which is both highly important and which should be highly entertaining. This is one of those games that you could sell hockey with to generate new fans. Problem is, in Ottawa, the majority of people won’t get to watch it as it is pay per view only.

One could easily argue that the Senators are the least supported of any of the six Canadian teams. Though season ticket sales have improved the last couple seasons the Senators still trail other Canadian NHL teams by a significant margin. Off Wing Opinion had an interesting post the other day about StubHub (a ticket sales company) and the average price of a hockey ticket and the other 5 Canadian teams ranked 1-5 but Ottawa failed to even crack the top 10. In essense, Ottawa is still in the process of building a loyal, ticket buying, fan base.

NHL’s Top Ticket Powerhouses (data as of March 6)

Per Ticket Price
Team (US Dollars)
—- ————
1. Toronto Maple Leafs $183
2. Edmonton Oilers $120
3. Vancouver Canucks $118
4. Calgary Flames $113
5. Montreal Canadiens $103
6. New Jersey Devils $ 95
7. Detroit Red Wings $ 93
8. Carolina Hurricanes $ 90
9. Minnesota Wild $ 90
10. New York Rangers $ 89

In the early 1990’s, the Chicaco Blackhawks ruled winter sports in Chicago and generally getting more coverage than the Chicago Bulls. In the mid 1990’s the Blackhawks made the decision to put all of their home games and some of their road games on pay per view only. Now hockey is almost considered a second rate sport in Chicago and their fan base has been significantly eroded away. On Tuesday a grand total of 9,118 fans showed up to watch the Blackhawks play the Los Angeles Kings. It is the opinion of many that PPV played a significant role in the demise of the Chicago Blackhawks and the erosion of its fan base. The lack of TV exposure cost them fans. Out of signt, out of mind.

So it seems to me to be a bad business decision by the Ottawa Senators to want to put one of its marquis games on PPV. Sure, it could generate a fair amount of revenue for this season, but it would seem to me to be a larger benefit if you used it to help generate a new, loyal, long term fan. Hiding the game on PPV and limiting exposure to the casual fan will not accomplish that.

One can certainly argue that if the game wasn’t going to be televised anyway (and there are several Senators games a season that do not get televised locally), why not put it on PPV. You know, I could accept that arguement but I cannot accept that one of Ottawa’s local braodcasters (A-Channel or Sportsnet) would not be interested in televising a marquis matchup like the Sens-Leafs. This was a cash-grab business decision.

Now I doubt that putting one Senators-Leafs game and a small number of other games on PPV will have serious long term effects, but if Senators ownership gets addicted to the new found cash they will certainly put more and more games on PPV and it is going to hurt them in the long run. I think the Vancouver Canucks have 17 or so on PPV this season and in my opinion that is getting seriously close to the threshold of doing long term harm but limiting access to the Canucks by the casual fan. Exposure and ease of access is the best marketing tool any team can utilize.

So, my message to fans is this: Support your teams by not buying their games on PPV.

Mar 062007
 

On the weekend Steve Simmons produced another unfair Leaf Bashing article largely criticising John Ferguson Jr. for his moves as the Leafs GM and for has lack of commitment to a youth movement.

He traded away a first-round draft pick, two second-round picks, a fourth and a fifth for Brian Leetch, 36, Yanic Perreault, 36 next month, Luke Richardson, 37, and Ron Francis, 41.

Once again I called him to task on this and we exchanged several e-mails. I pointed out that he was cherry picking moves that Ferguson made 3 years ago while Pat Quinn was still significantly influencing roster moves and that he unfairly ignored the moves like bringing in Jeff O’Neill, Chad Kilger, John Pohl, Bates Battaglia, and Boyd Devereaux for next to nothing were great moves and helped give the Leafs depth that no other team has. I also pointed out that the Leafs have are the 12th youngest team in the NHL and started the season with only Mats Sundin over age 31 (Travis Green and Yannick Perreault have since been added).

I then went on to argue that the Leafs are a good team (maybe very good) with bad goaltending which brought me to some interesting findings.

The Leafs are 8th in the NHL in fewest shots against and give up about as many shots per game (28.590) as the New Jersey Devils (28.576). Would a shoddy defense do that?

The Leafs are also in the top 10 in goals scored. The only other teams in both the top 10 in goals scored and top 10 in fewest shots against are Only 3 teams are in the top 10 in both categories – Detroit, Anaheim and Tampa. Two of those are considered by most to be strong Stanley Cup contenders and the third won the Stanley Cup 3 years ago and only questionable goaltending stops them from being prime cup contenders again. And weak goaltending is the Leafs problem too as the Leafs have the 4th worst team save % in the NHL.

But the most interesting finding I came up with was Andrew Raycroft’s home vs road statistics. On the road Raycroft has a good (though not great) .907 save% which he converted into a 2.72 goals against average and a 18-7-2 record. At home Raycroft has a horrific .882 save% with a 3.22 goals against average and a 11-13-5 record.

I will add that Raycroft has 752 shots in 1543 minutes (0.487 shots per minute) on the road and 752 shots in 1658 minutes (0.454 shots per minute) at home. What is interesting about that is that the Leafs have given up 7.2% more shots per minute on the road than at home which is very consistent with other home/road statistics. Historically teams score ~10% fewer goals on the road.

With that knowledge I think it is safe to say that the Leafs are just as good at home as on the road (if not better) except for Raycroft. It seems more likely that local boy Andrew Raycroft is buckling under the pressure of playing in front of an unforgiving home town crowd.

Now let us all think about that for a second. If Raycroft had the same home record as road record (lets say 19-8-2 since he has played 2 more games at home) the Leafs would have 13 additional points which would put them at 84 points trailing only Buffalo (93) and New Jersey (87) in the east. Not too shabby. Oh, and that is with a ton of injuries as well.

So, I think the question is, is it time to play Aubin at home and Raycroft on the road? It would be an interesting way to split duties among your goalies but it might something worth trying for coach Paul Maurice.

For the record, Aubin has a .900 save% at home and a .874 save% on the road.

Mar 062007
 
Rank Last Week Team AdjWinP SchedStr Power Rank
1 1 Detroit 0.644 0.505 0.629
2 5 San Jose 0.598 0.514 0.615
3 2 Anaheim 0.604 0.514 0.612
4 6 Nashville 0.634 0.500 0.610
5 3 Vancouver 0.569 0.524 0.603
6 8 Buffalo 0.623 0.480 0.598
7 4 Dallas 0.569 0.521 0.594
8 7 Calgary 0.569 0.523 0.590
9 9 Ottawa 0.583 0.486 0.571
10 11 Minnesota 0.515 0.527 0.551
11 10 New Jersey 0.606 0.465 0.551
12 14 Colorado 0.477 0.531 0.514
13 12 Edmonton 0.462 0.534 0.507
14 13 Montreal 0.485 0.490 0.488
15 15 Carolina 0.515 0.474 0.484
16 16 Toronto 0.485 0.488 0.476
17 21 St. Louis 0.431 0.524 0.463
18 17 Pittsburgh 0.523 0.460 0.461
19 22 Atlanta 0.485 0.475 0.461
20 18 NY Islanders 0.492 0.470 0.459
21 20 Boston 0.454 0.489 0.458
22 19 Tampa Bay 0.485 0.469 0.444
23 25 NY Rangers 0.462 0.477 0.444
24 26 Florida 0.455 0.480 0.439
25 23 Columbus 0.409 0.526 0.436
26 24 Chicago 0.394 0.530 0.428
27 27 Phoenix 0.385 0.527 0.415
28 28 Washington 0.432 0.481 0.414
29 29 Los Angeles 0.346 0.539 0.391
30 30 Philadelphia 0.300 0.480 0.293

AdjWinP is a teams winning percentage when shootouts are considered ties and there are no points awarded for overtime losses
SchedStr is an indication of a teams relative difficulty of schedule
Power Rank is the teams expected winning percentage if team played all .500 teams

Mar 052007
 

It’s time for another predicted standings update.

Eastern Conference Predicted Standings

Pos Team GP Pts Schedule
Strength
Future GP Future
SchedStr
Pred Pts Total Pts
1 Buffalo 65 93 0.479 17 0.460 25 118
2 New Jersey 66 87 0.464 16 0.443 22 109
3 Ottawa 66 81 0.488 16 0.447 21 102
4 Pittsburgh 65 79 0.460 17 0.507 18 97
5 Atlanta 67 78 0.473 15 0.467 17 95
6 NY Islanders 65 75 0.471 17 0.460 20 95
7 Tampa Bay 67 78 0.470 15 0.502 16 94
8 Carolina 68 73 0.473 14 0.455 15 88
9 NY Rangers 65 69 0.476 17 0.449 19 88
10 Toronto 66 71 0.490 16 0.489 17 88
11 Montreal 68 72 0.490 14 0.473 15 87
12 Boston 65 69 0.488 17 0.492 17 86
13 Florida 66 67 0.479 16 0.458 16 83
14 Washington 66 60 0.481 16 0.469 14 74
15 Philadelphia 65 45 0.479 17 0.510 11 56

A bit of a gap has opened up between 7th place Tampa and 8th place Carolina but the race for 8th spot is still extremely tight with Carolina, NY Rangers and Toronto all predicted to finish with 88 points, Montreal 87 and Boston 86. Even Florida is trying to pull itself back into the race. Strength of each teams remaining schedule is becoming critically important as it seems to be holding the Leafs and Bruins back a bit as both teams have games in hand on the rest of the pack while the Rangers benefit from the easiest schedule of the group of teams. Of the top 7 teams Tampa and Pittsburgh have extremely tough schedules and they must avoid any lengthy slumps because of that or else they could fall back into a playoff fight. The Penguins play Ottawa 3 times, Buffalo twice and New Jersey twice. They also play the Rangers 3 times, Boston twice, and once against Montreal, Toronto, Atlanta, the Islanders and Washington. They will have a lot to say on the playoff race. Tampa meanwhile starts a tough west coast swing with stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver this week. Three losses out there (and the west has dominated interconference games) and their playoff position is back up for grabs.

Western Conference Predicted Standings

Pos Team GP Pts Schedule
Strength
Future GP Future
SchedStr
Pred Pts TotalPts
1 Detroit 66 91 0.505 16 0.535 20 111
2 Nashville 67 93 0.501 15 0.571 18 111
3 Anaheim 67 89 0.513 15 0.496 20 109
4 Dallas 65 81 0.521 17 0.481 22 103
5 Vancouver 65 81 0.527 17 0.519 21 102
6 San Jose 66 80 0.516 16 0.497 20 100
7 Calgary 65 79 0.523 17 0.527 20 99
8 Minnesota 66 79 0.528 16 0.534 18 97
9 Colorado 66 69 0.531 16 0.535 16 85
10 Edmonton 66 66 0.535 16 0.524 16 82
11 St. Louis 65 66 0.526 17 0.539 16 82
12 Columbus 66 59 0.525 16 0.547 13 72
13 Phoenix 65 57 0.528 17 0.544 14 71
14 Chicago 66 57 0.529 16 0.532 13 70
15 Los Angeles 65 54 0.539 17 0.509 14 68

The western conference playoff race is all but over with only playoff positioning left up for grabs and their are battles in all three divisions for the division title. Detroit and Nashville are in a tight battle for top spot in the central division and Vancouver, Calgary and Minnesota are in a dog fight for top spot in the northwest conference. Currently Anaheim has a bit of a lead for top spot in the Pacific division but San Joe and Dallas aren’t too far behind and both those teams improved their teams (at least theoretically) at the trade deadline while Anaheim didn’t so that could still turn out to be quite a race too. Calgary, Minnesota, Detroit, Nashville and Anaheim have exceptionally good home records so gaining home ice advantage in the playoffs could be a huge benefit for them.

(I leave it as an exercice for the reader to adjust the standings according to the playoff seeding rules if desired)