Oct 302007
 

Here are the first power rankings of the season. For those unfamiliar with my power rankings, they are algorithm generated based on each teams records and their strength of schedule. If they have a great record but have played an easy schedule they might not be ranked as highly as you might think they should. Remember, it is still early in the season so these rankings are still quite dynamic and can change quickly if a team puts together a couple wins or losses in a row.

Also be sure to check out each teams records against the top ten, middle ten and bottom ten teams in these rankings.

Finally, I hope to get some of my other stats up soon including adjusted hits/giveaways/takeaways stats, player rankings, and my game predictions on PredictHockey.com.

Update (Oct. 31): Fixed a minor problem with accounting for OT and shootout games.

Rank Last Week Team AdjWinP SchedStr Power Rank
1 2 Carolina 0.682 0.638 0.911
2 5 Montreal 0.591 0.622 0.788
3 7 Pittsburgh 0.545 0.626 0.711
4 6 Ottawa 0.900 0.471 0.705
5 8 Columbus 0.650 0.521 0.684
6 1 Minnesota 0.667 0.510 0.634
7 10 Colorado 0.591 0.513 0.620
8 4 St. Louis 0.600 0.506 0.594
9 9 Detroit 0.769 0.451 0.586
10 12 Toronto 0.423 0.596 0.572
11 17 Calgary 0.542 0.482 0.557
12 15 NY Islanders 0.556 0.505 0.554
13 18 Buffalo 0.500 0.531 0.517
14 3 Chicago 0.409 0.547 0.515
15 11 San Jose 0.542 0.475 0.507
16 14 Vancouver 0.417 0.522 0.482
17 19 Boston 0.550 0.449 0.470
18 22 Washington 0.455 0.522 0.469
19 23 Phoenix 0.400 0.509 0.439
20 20 Los Angeles 0.458 0.478 0.437
21 16 Anaheim 0.385 0.511 0.418
22 25 NY Rangers 0.409 0.478 0.400
23 13 Philadelphia 0.667 0.366 0.395
24 21 Dallas 0.409 0.486 0.389
25 24 Edmonton 0.269 0.517 0.313
26 28 Nashville 0.364 0.459 0.311
27 29 Tampa Bay 0.500 0.354 0.291
28 27 Florida 0.318 0.429 0.272
29 26 New Jersey 0.300 0.417 0.246
30 30 Atlanta 0.250 0.443 0.216

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

Oct 252007
 

Ninja posed an interesting question in the comments that I think deserves a post of its own.

We both know the Leafs didn’t block shots last year as a general rule and still managed to be very good in the shots allowed category. This year, they seem to be giving up the body slightly more often, but the shots against are way up. The zone coverage is comparable to last year, except the forwards seem to be missing assignments or switches with more regularity. How do you reconcile these quasi-facts with the Leafs shots allowed averages of last year?
I’m starting to think the Leafs didn’t allow alot of shots because other teams weren’t desperately peppering the puck at the Leafs’ net because the Leafs were rarely in the lead. Other teams could afford to take their foot off the gas, and I think this is partially responsible for the shots-allowed statistic.
Please share your thoughts on the subject, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say on this in the coming weeks as the season starts to really take shape.

—————————————————-

I have thought about this and while it is possible, I don’t think it is completely true. Essentially what you are saying is that the better a team is (offensively in particular), the more shots the opposition gets because it just starts firing away to try to play catch up.

Looking at last years shots against stats we find that the worst 10 teams are Boston, Washington, Montreal, Philadelphia, NY Islanders, Atlanta, Nashville, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Calgary. Ottawa was 11th.

Two things come to mind from that group. 1. Most of the teams on the list were bad teams and 2. Those that weren’t bad teams also scored a fair number of goals (Pittsburgh, Nashville, Buffalo, Calgary and Ottawa were top 7 in goals for). That may lend some support to what you are saying. But the other two top 7 teams in goals for were Colorado and San Jose and positions 8-10 were Toronto, Anaheim and Detroit. Those teams ranked first (Detroit), third (San Jose), 5th (Anaheim), seventh (Toronto) and 13th (Colorado) in shots against so I am not seeing a distinct correlation.

Let’s take a look at last years games in which the Leafs gave up fewer than 25 shots.

Oct. 28 – 22 shots against 5-4 Shootout win over Montreal
Nov 20 – 21 shots against in 4-2 win over NY Islanders
Nov. 24 – 23 shots against in 7-1 win over Washington
Nov 28 – 24 shots against in 4-1 loss to Boston
Dec. 2 – 22 shots against in shootout loss to Montreal
Dec. 16 – 13 shots against in 9-2 win over NY Rangers
Dec 26 – 21 shots against in 4-3 win over Minnesota
Jan 11 – 24 shots against in 4-2 win over Buffalo
Jan 13 – 21 shots against in 6-1 loss to Vancouver
Jan 16 – 23 shots against in 4-2 win over Tampa
Feb 6 – 20 shots against in 2-1 win over St. Louis
Feb 13 – 20 shots against in 3-2 shootout loss to NY Islanders
Feb 20 – 21 shots against in 3-0 loss to Boston
Feb 24 – 24 shots against in 5-2 win over Philadelphia
Feb 26 – 24 shots against in 5-4 loss to Montreal
Mar 6 – 24 shots against in 3-0 win over Washington
Mar 10 – 22 shots against in 4-3 OT win over Ottawa
Mar 13 – 21 shots against in 3-2 win over Tampa
Mar 24 – 20 shots against in 4-1 win over Buffalo

Most of those games are wins (or very close games) but if Ninja’s theory held true when they had leads (which occurs when you win) opposing teams would shoot more and get more shots. That doesn’t seem to be the case. So what is the situation when the Leafs do give up a lot of shots? Here are the games in which the Leafs gave up 35 or more shots:

Oct. 4 – Gave up 36 shots in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa, Leafs never held the lead and Sens had a 3-0 lead mid-way through second period.
Oct. 26 – Gave up 40 shots in a 7-2 blowout loss to Ottawa.
Nov 2 – Gave up 43 shots in a 4-2 loss to Florida, Florida had a 2-0 lead midway through the first, a period in which the Leafs gave up 23 shots.
Nov 6 – Gave up 41 shots to Philadelphia in a 4-1 win. Game was tied 1-1 heading into the third until Antropov scored at the 7:18 point.
Nov 9 – Gave up 37 shots to Boston in a 6-4 win. Leafs had a 4-0 lead by 4:04 of the second period despite Boston having 19 shots in the first (and they only got 7 in the third).
Nov 16 – Gave up 36 shots in a 2-1 OT loss to Boston.
Dec 5 – Gave up 37 shots in a 5-2 loss to Atlanta – Leafs scored 2 in the first but gave up 5 goals in the third on only 8 shots. Atlanta had 12 shots in first and 17 in second.
Dec 19 – Gave up 36 shots in a 7-3 loss to Florida. Leafs scored early in the first but Florida score 3 late first period goals and 3 more second period goals.
Jan 18 – Gave up 41 shots in a 3-2 win over Florida. Leafs led 3-0 by middle of second period before Florida came on strong getting 14 shots in second and 18 shots in third.
Jan 31 – Gave up 38 shots in a 2-1 win over Rangers. Rangers scored mid-point of second, Leafs quickly replied and took the lead 6 minutes into third.
Feb. 15 – Gave up 36 shots in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia. Leafs led 3-0 fourteen minutes into first, Philadelphia dominated 3 period outshooting Leafs 16-3.
March 8 – Gave up 40 shots in a 5-1 loss to Ottawa. Ottawa was up 3-0 four minutes into second and outshot the Leafs 23-7 in the first.
March 31 – Gave up 36 shots to Pittsburgh in a 5-4 OT loss. Leafs entered third period up 4-2 before Pittsbrugh came on strong getting 14 shots and 2 goals to tie.

Not many of those games fit the profile Ninja describes. That being, the Leafs have a lead and the other team peppers Leaf goalies to try to get back in the game. The games that would match that description are Nov 9th vs Boston, Jan. 18 vs Florida, Feb 15th vs Philadelphia and March 31 against Pittsburgh. A couple other games were close games from start to end (Nov 16 vs Boston and Jan 31 to Rangers) but most of the other games were blowouts at the Leafs expense. So, I am not sure one can conclude that the Leafs didn’t give up a lot of shots because they didn’t have leads.

What might be concerning though is the number of shots the Leafs were giving up to bad teams like Florida, Boston and Philadelphia. Combine that with the number of times they have blown leads in the third period (both last year and this year) and it tells me that they might be a lack of focus on this team and letting their foot off the pedal when they shouldn’t. If that is the case it sounds like it could be more of a leadership or coaching problem, not a skill/ability problem. Paul Maurice hasn’t received much blame for the state of the Leafs (some actually praised him for almost getting the Leafs into the playoffs last year) but has he really done a good job? I am not so sure.

Update: Alan Ryder has an interesting look at the Leafs early season woes. His final paragraph reads:

If I were Leafs coach Paul Maurice, I would be deeply worried about this picture. Too many penalties, an ineffective penalty kill and too many shots on goal while even handed. Add to that a struggling power play and you begin to wonder if there is something wrong with the systems that have been installed for this team.

Oct 242007
 

The Toronto hockey media continues to amaze me. Today it is Howard Berger…

Having compiled 17 points in 10 games (including a league-leading 11 assists), Sundin is tied atop the NHL scoring stats with fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit

Mats is almost 37 years old. He’s playing like a 27-year-old right now, but the lack of offensive support will turn him into a 57-year-old by February.

Now they are complaining about the lack of scoring depth on a team with the 3rd best offense in the NHL (based on goals per game). The first thing worth mentioning is that you can’t lead the league in assists without at least a little help from your teammates. Second, the Leafs have scored 37 goals with Sundin having been in on 17, or ~46% of them which is high, but not extraordinarily hight. Zetterberg has been in on 55% of his teams goals and Crosby was at 45% last year and Lecavalier 44%. I don’t hear much complaining about those teams offenses or lack of help for those players. For the Leafs Blake and Antropov are both producing points at greater than a point per game. The Ducks last year had just one player (Selanne) producing at a point per game pace but it didn’t seem to hurt them. They have 6 guys with 3 or more goals and that puts each of them on pace for 20+ goals and that doesn’t include Darcy Tucker who has averaged 26 goals the past 2 seasons. Last years best offensive team, the Buffalo Sabres, only had six 20 goal scorers. Mr. Berger, offense and offensive depth is the least of the Leafs problems and hasn’t been a problem for years.

Oct 232007
 

The table below lists most of the significant and not so significant off season acquisitions. So far the Flyers and Islanders have done quite well with their off season acquisitions while the Rangers and Oilers haven’t fared too well considering the money they spent. Although he didn’t change teams, I have included Vanek in the list because he was given an offer sheet.

Player Team Games Goals Assists Points +/- PIM
Mathieu Schneider Anaheim 0 0 0 0 0 0
Todd Bertuzzi Anaheim 7 1 1 2 -2 6
Todd White Atlanta 8 1 3 4 -1 6
Peter Schaefer Boston 8 1 4 5 -1 4
Thomas Vanek Buffalo 7 2 3 5 2 6
Adrian Aucoin Calgary 9 1 3 4 5 13
Cory Sarich Calgary 9 1 0 1 0 6
Owen Nolan Calgary 9 0 1 1 0 9
Matt Cullen Carolina 9 3 4 7 -1 6
Jeff Hamilton Carolina 9 2 5 7 0 2
Brent Sopel Chicago 8 0 3 3 3 0
Andrei Zyuzin Chicago 5 1 1 2 -5 8
Sergei Samsonov Chicago 8 0 2 2 -2 2
Michael Peca Columbus 5 1 1 2 -1 10
Ryan Smyth Colorado 8 3 3 6 0 8
Scott Hannan Colorado 8 0 2 2 -5 0
Brian Rafalski Detroit 9 2 6 8 -1 4
Dustin Penner Edmonton 8 1 1 2 -1 6
Sheldon Souray Edmonton 6 1 1 2 -3 9
Geoff Sanderson Edmonton 8 2 0 2 0 8
Joni Pitkanen Edmonton 8 1 1 2 -4 8
Dick Tarnstrom Edmonton 7 0 2 2 2 12
Cory Murphy Florida 8 1 5 6 -1 4
Richard Zednik Florida 6 2 0 2 -3 6
Radek Dvorak Florida 8 0 2 2 0 6
Ladislav Nagy Los Angeles 7 0 4 4 0 4
Kyle Calder Los Angeles 9 2 1 3 -5 4
Michal Handzus Los Angeles 9 1 1 2 -5 2
Brad Stuart Los Angeles 9 1 1 2 -8 8
Eric Belanger Minnesota 8 3 4 7 9 4
Roman Hamrlik Montreal 8 1 4 5 2 2
Patrice Brisebois Montreal 7 1 2 3 0 8
Bryan Smolinski Montreal 8 1 2 3 -1 4
Radek Bonk Nashville 7 3 0 3 2 2
Greg deVries Nashville 7 0 3 3 -2 10
Martin Gelinas Nashville 7 1 1 2 0 6
Arron Asham New Jersey 8 2 2 4 0 13
Dainus Zubrus New Jersey 8 0 4 4 -6 2
Karel Rachunek New Jersey 8 0 1 1 0 6
Vitaly Vishnevsky New Jersey 8 0 0 0 -5 2
Mike Comrie NY Islanders 8 5 5 10 -3 14
Bill Guerin NY Islanders 8 4 6 10 -1 4
Ruslan Fedotenko NY Islanders 8 2 5 7 -1 8
Josef Vasicek NY Islanders 8 3 1 4 -2 2
Bryan Berard NY Islanders 5 2 2 4 -2 2
Andy Sutton NY Islanders 8 0 1 1 -2 15
Chris Drury NY Rangers 7 1 5 6 0 10
Scott Gomez NY Rangers 7 2 1 3 -2 0
Shean Donovan Ottawa 9 1 0 1 1 2
Luke Richardson Ottawa 7 0 0 0 3 7
Daniel Briere Philadelphia 7 4 7 11 3 4
Joffrey Lupul Philadelphia 7 2 5 7 5 2
Kimmo Timonen Philadelphia 7 0 4 4 1 6
Scott Hartnell Philadelphia 7 0 2 2 4 4
Jason Smith Philadelphia 7 1 0 1 3 9
Mike York Phoenix 6 1 0 1 2 0
Radim Vrbata Phoenix 7 1 3 4 -2 2
Petr Sykora Pittsburgh 7 4 3 7 -1 2
Darryl Sydor Pittsburgh 7 0 1 1 0 4
Jeremy Roenick San Jose 7 3 2 5 1 4
Paul Kariya St. Louis 6 1 6 7 0 4
Chris Gratton Tampa 6 3 1 4 3 13
Michel Ouellet Tampa 6 0 2 2 3 0
Brad Lukowich Tampa 6 0 1 1 -2 2
Jason Blake Toronto 9 2 6 8 4 4
Simon Gamache Toronto 5 2 2 4 1 4
Ryan Shannon Vancouver 3 2 0 2 -7 4
Brad Isbister Vancouver 5 0 2 2 0 7
Byron Ritchie Vancouver 8 0 0 0 -2 22
Aaron Miller Vancouver 9 0 0 0 0 14
Mike Weaver Vancouver 8 0 0 0 -1 2
Michael Nylander Washington 7 2 3 5 -4 4
Viktor Kozlov Washington 7 2 1 3 1 4
Tom Poti Washington 7 0 2 2 0 2
Goalie Team Games W L OTL GAA SV%
Manny Fernandez Boston 4 2 2 0 3.94 0.832
Thomas Vokoun Florida 6 3 3 0 2.98 0.913
Mathieu Garon Edmonton 2 1 1 0 4.33 0.833
David Aebischer Phoenix 1 0 1 0 3 0.909
Alex Auld Phoenix 3 1 2 0 3.02 0.89
Vesa Toskala Toronto 5 2 3 0 3.99 0.886
Oct 222007
 

I am going to write more about the Leafs in another post probably later this week but for now let me continue my rants against the media:

Today Mike Zeisberger writes:

The Leafs are allowing an average of 35.33 shots per game, leaving them as one of the worst teams in the league in that category.

Now, I don’t have a problem with that statement per se, but the problem I have with it is Zeisberger is using it as an example of the Leafs bad defense while a year ago he ignored the fact that the Leafs allowed the 7th fewest shots against in the NHL and still claimed that the Leafs defense was bad. The real story here with regards to the shots against totals is whether the Leafs defense overachieved for 82 games last year or are they dramatically underachieving for the first 9 games of this year. One could, and probably should, conclude that this is a good defensive team that is currently playing poor defensive hockey. But I guess that is either too difficult of a concept for members of the hockey media or doesn’t sell enough newspapers for their liking.

Oct 042007
 

The Dany Heatley signing by the Ottawa Senators yesterday had me asking that exact question. It is expected that the Senators are going to desperately try to sign Jason Spezza to a long term contract as well and it is probably safe to assume that he will earn somewhere between $7 and $7.5 million bringing the total for the Spezza-Heatley duo to close to $15 million. So the question is, if you spend that much on two forwards, can you build a good enough team to win the Stanley Cup? It is an interesting question that I think Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and other GMs around the league should seriously ponder.

A prime example for the no, it can’t be done side is the Tampa Bay Lightning who have spent ridiculous amounts on three forwards – Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis. Those 3 guys eat up approximately $20 million in salary cap space and as good as those three are the Lightning haven’t been able to build enough of a team around them to be much more than a fringe playoff team in a weak division.

If/when Ottawa locks up Spezza long term they would have Spezza, Heatley and Fisher locked up long term at total salary of about $19 million and I am not sure that trio is any better than the Tampa trio. Can Ottawa accomplish something that the Lightning can’t by building a better team around those three over the long haul? Let’s investigate.

If Jason Spezza gets signed they will have nearly $41.5 million spent on the following 12 established players going into next season:

Forwards:
Spezza
Heatley
Alfredsson
Fisher
Neil
McAmmond

Defense:
Phillips
Volchenkov
Corvo
Schubert

Goaltending
Emery
Gerber

Even if the Senators spend to a $50 million budget that leaves just $8.5 million to fill out their roster with ~10 more players so they can spend an average of $850,000 per player. That means definitely say goodbye to Wade Redden or any other high calibre puck moving defenseman. So the question then becomes, can you win the cup with a defence that doesn’t consist of a high quality puck moving defenceman that kills penalties and can anchor the power play? The Ducks had Niedermayer and Pronger. The Devils had Niedermayer and Stevens/Rafalski. The Red Wings had Lidstrom and Murphy and Chelios. The Dallas Stars has Zubov. The Lightning had Kubina and Boyle. The NY Rangers in 1994 had Zubov and Leetch. So, I am not sure next years projected defence crew of Phillips, Volchenkov, Corvo, Schubert, Meszaros and Brian Lee would be good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Look what happened to Edmonton when they lost Pronger before last season. Let’s watch what happens to the Devils now that they have lost Rafalski. It will be interesting to watch.

Goaltending is another key aspect of every Cup winning team and for a team that wants to be a perennial cup contender, they need an established quality goaltender. Yes, the Senators have Emery signed for three seasons at $3.2 million per season, but I don’t think has yet proven himself to be an elite goalie and when he does, he will command far more than $3.2 million. So in the short term (for the next few years) they could be in good shape having a good goalie at a reasonable price, but beyond that, can they afford to keep him at $6 million when $15 million is being spent on two forwards? And if they do, what will it do to the secondary scoring among the rest of the forwards. Could they afford to keep a Vermette or Kelly around?

I guess the point I want to get with this post is not so much questioning whether the Senators are making a mistake should they choose to lock up Spezza along with Heatley long term at big bucks but rather to prompt a discussion of what is the correct way to build a long term cup contending team? Is it building around a couple of high priced forwards like the Lightning have done, the Rangers seemingly are doing, and the Senators may end up doing or is it going more the route of the Ducks where the team is built around a star goalie (Giguere), and a couple of top tier defensemen (Pronger and Niedermayer last year and Pronger and Schneider this year) and not spending more than $4 million on any one forward (Bertuzzi is the top paid Duck forward at $4 million, Selanne was the top last year at $3,750,000) but having a deep group of forwards with three lines that can score and play two-way hockey. We know what happened when the Ducks and Senators met last spring, but is that a usual outcome when these two differently built teams meet or just one of those things where the Ducks were just playing better at the time, got the momentum and ran with it?

It is my personal opinion that goaltending, a top tier defence and depth up front is the better route to go but what do you all think? Can the Rangers win without a top tier puck moving defenseman? What about San Jose? Can the Senators be perennial Cup contenders (not just a good team that makes the playoffs every year but a true top tier cup contender) with a core of Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson, Fisher, Volchenkov, Phillips and Emery surrounded by a number of young players on cheap rookie contracts (like Eaves, Foligno, etc.) and aging veterans making under $1 million (like Donovan, Richardson, McAmmond, etc).?

And maybe a similar question would be this: If you had the choice, who would you rather build your team around, Heatley and Spezza or Luongo and Phaneuf (with the latter possibly being a tad cheaper)?

Oct 032007
 

I am sickened by what seems to be an outrage on behalf of Leaf media and fans (and others) at Maurice for starting Andrew Raycroft. It sickens me because it seems to be a media made goalie controversy that if anyone had a clue would realize that Raycroft was the likely starter.

Ever since the trade was made Maurice and JFJ said that Toskala was brought in to help Raycroft and that Raycroft was still the starter. Now, that may have been some posturing and in the long run they expect/hope Toskala will take over the #1 role, but they made it clear that Toskala would have to earn that. Based on Toskala’s preseason starts, he has not yet earned that. He did nothing to pass Raycroft on the depth chart. Had Maurice played Toskala to start the season it would have been the wrong message to send to Toskala, Raycroft and to the rest of the team. It would have been the wrong message to send to Toskala because it would have said “this is your job, the other guy is crap, and all the pressure is on you.” It would have been the wrong message to Raycroft because it would have basically told him “you suck and we have no use for you and this new guy who has shown absolutely nothing has taken your job for good.” It would have been a bad message to the rest of the team because it would have told them that you don’t necessarily have to prove yourself to get a job, you just have to have a more expensive and longer term contract.” None of those are good messages to send so Maurice was 100% correct in playing Raycroft. I suspect it had always been Maurice’s plan to start Raycroft unless Raycroft was horrible in the pre-season and Toskala was very good.

Now, that said, Raycroft was nothing special last year, was nothing special in the pre-season and was nothing special tonight. So, Toskala will definitely get every opportunity to steal the job away from the incumbant Raycroft, but he will not be handed that role if he doesn’t perform. And that is a good thing and that is how it should be.

Oct 032007
 

In honour of the start of the new season and another Leaf-Sens rivalry game, here are some interesting, maybe surprising, stats related to the Leafs-Sens rivalry (mostly ammo for Leaf fans)

Leafs top 6 forwards: Sundin, Blake, Antropov, Tucker, Wellwood, Ponikarovsky
Sens top 6 forwards: Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson, Fisher, Vermette, Kelly (based on points last year, not projected lineup)

Goals scored by Leafs top 6 last year: 142 in 386 games or 0.37 goals per game
Goals scored by Sens top 6 last year: 169 in 453 games or 0.37 goals per game

Next 3 forwards:
Stajan, Steen, Pohl: 103 points in 238 games
Eaves, McAmmond, Neil: 89 points in 236 games

Shots on goal last season:
Leafs: 2681 (3rd in NHL)
Sens: 2651 (4th in NHL)

I better not hear any more about the Leafs mediocre offensvie punch while the Sens are an offensive powerhouse.

Shots Allowed last season:
Leafs: 2330 (7th fewest in NHL)
Sens: 2479 (11th most in NHL)

Must be that crappy Leaf defense eh?

And now for an interesting player comparison of two players drafted in 1998.
Career stats:
Fisher: 384GP, 92g, 192pts, +49
Antropov: 374GP, 78g, 189pts, +57

But somehow Fisher is a $4.2 million hero in Ottawa and Antropov is (more often than not) a $2 million underachieving flop of a first round pick (though that seems to be changing).

Oct 022007
 

A couple months ago I wrote about how the NHL was on the path to self destruction. Well, a couple of news items have come out this past week to reconfirm that thought.

1. TSN is reporting that the sale of the Nashville Predators is on the verge of collapsing because the owners have requested more ‘subsidies’ from local and state governments and it appears unlikely they will get them. This comes on the heels of a story from James Mirtle that the team is well below the ticket sale level required (14,000) to receive revenue sharing from the league and also the level for which they can get out of a lease. It is time that Gary Bettman realize that Nashville is a failure and the team has to be moved but will he let Balsillie buy the team or is he going to block that sale once again?

2. More importantly might be a growing divide between ownership groups. Over the weekend The Puck Stops Here had a story about the NY Rangers suing the NHL over rights to market their own team. The basis of the lawsuit is that the Rangers believe they should have the right to operate their own website and not be forced to use the style and format that the league wants to impose on them. This is an interesting lawsuit because it pits a large market team challenging Gary Bettman’s control over all things NHL. An article by Larry Brooks on the subject presents a very interesting letter the NY Rangers wrote to the league governors and in the letter they did not only discuss the website issue, but explicitly questioned the competence of Bettman and the central NHL offices for generating league revenue.

“After sacrificing a season to set our player cost economics on a proper footing, we believe that the League continues to squander opportunities to improve our business and solidify and grow our fan base,” Dolan wrote. “The proper focus for the league is the growth of interest in the game as a whole, both in North America and internationally – and we support that focus.

“The League cannot be permitted, however, to accumulate team assets in the League office, growing centralized revenues at the expense of the clubs. Hockey is a distinctly regional game – unlike other leagues, most of hockey’s revenue is generated locally – 93 percent of our revenues as a league are local.

“The League’s continued efforts to take over club rights hurt each of us by taking away our ability to be responsive to our fans and react to changing business opportunities or events.”

Those are some pretty strong statements against Bettman’s view of a powerful NHL head office controled by himself as well as a questioning of Bettman’s competence. All this becomes interesting because the next CBA negotiations are potentially only a couple of seasons away and the players union is in the midst of rebuilding into possibly a more militant group. The basis for the NHL winning the last round of CBA negotiations was keeping the big market teams on board but this lawsuit by the Rangers might be the first step in the big market teams attempt to wrestle back power and control of the NHL.

And what really irks me in all of this is that Gary Bettman is starting to float around the idea of European expansion. I really wonder what is going on in that man’s head when he starts floating ideas like this around. My guess is he views European expansion (as well as more North American expansion) as yet another tool to appease existing owners. The current state of the NHL is a joke with several teams struggling to make money and even established teams like the Red Wings have seen fan support wane in recent years. In the 1990′s Bettman kept teams alive through the promise of expansion money and a new big TV contract to follow. Now it seems his attempt to keep teams alive is through expansion both here and abroad but the reality is expansion revenues are one time revenues and expansion itself won’t solve the problems of the NHL. Having a team in Prague, London, Stockholm and other European cities is not going to generate more fan interest in Miami or Atlanta or Phoenix or anywhere else. But this is Bettman’s only tool to keep owners around while he hopes and prays that fan interest and revenues will grow.

The reality is that outside of Canada the NHL is a mess in both traditional American hockey markets and non-traditional ones. It is a mess that is on the verge of imploding. Mark my words, within the next 2-4 years dramatic changes will be coming in the NHL and my bet is it will be prompted by a pseudo-alliance between the newly rebuilt players union and the large market teams trying to wrestle power away from Bettman and his group of small market teams. How it all turns out is anyone’s guess but if the NHL is ever to thrive it will have to rid itself of the dead weight known as Bettman and the fringe franchises. The future of the NHL is reigniting interest in Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, etc. and it is high time that franchises in those cities rebel against Bettman’s expand, rebrand (with new jersey’s) and hope for the best philosophy.