Nov 132007
 

You have probably already noticed the new look of this blog/website. I think the new look is much cleaner and less cluttered and hopefully is easier on the eyes when reading. If you have any comments/suggestions feel free to post them here. I also want to add that this is probably just the start of the upgrades and I hope to be adding some interesting new stuff in the coming days (and maybe weeks). During this time you may experience site access interruptions but don’t fear, we’ll be back soon enough.

Nov 092007
 

Last season there were seven eastern conference teams between 86 and 94 points. As I write this there are seven eastern conference teams within one game of .500 hockey and another nine in the western conference. That is the kind of parity the NHL seems to have been striving for with the new CBA, salary cap and all. But is it good for hockey? Is it good for promoting the sport?

Of the major North American team sports the NFL is probably tops followed by MLB, the NBA and finally hockey. The NFL is kind of a unique entity in that they only play 16 games and that it is gains a lot of popularity because of sports betting (even just casual betting between friends) but parity is anything but real in the NFL. Over the past 4 1/2 seasons the New England Patriots (past 4 plus the current one) the New England Patriots are 59-14 and the Indianapolis Colts are 57-15. Those two teams have won 3 of the last 4 Superbowls and have been the dominant teams in the league. The New England-Indianapolis game a couple weeks ago generated huge media attention and fan interest and football fans of all kinds tuned in to watch. I even found myself, who rarely watches football, tuning in to see what the excitement was all about.

Then there is MLB where it is thoroughly dominated by the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. These two teams and its rivalry have dominated the MLB landscape for years and people get excited about Red Sox-Yankees games and playoff series. Fans of other teams can use playing against these two teams as a measuring stick of how good their team is. It’s a challenge to compete with these two but when teams do people get excited. People enjoy the David vs Goliath stories. Now one could argue that the Yankees-Red Sox dominance is a bit too lop-sided in baseball but it is hard to argue that that rivalry and having those two teams being a standard in baseball is not good for baseball. The love-em or hate-em attitude that fans have towards the Yankees and Red Sox keeps fan interest alive.

Once upon a time the NBA was the fastest growing sport and in the mid-1990’s may have even been the top team sport in North America. The reason was not parity but because of the Chicago Bulls dominance. Michael Jordan was the biggest sports star on the planet and the Bulls won six of 8 championships between 1991 and 1998. As the Chicago Bulls dominance faded, the LA Lakers dominance rose and they won three straight championships from 2000 to 2002. While the NBA is still a popular entity it has lost some lustre over the past several seasons and I believe a part of that is because there is no one dominant team or player.

And that brings us to the NHL. Most hockey fans, even the casual ones, remember the Colorado-Detroit rivalry of the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s. When those two teams played fans watched. Those games were intense even if they were played in November and only meant 2 points in the standings and those teams were all but a certainty to make the playoffs regardless of who got the 2 points. They were intense. They were hard hitting. In the standings they didn’t mean much, but for the pride of each franchise they meant a lot. They were measuring stick games. When teams played the Wings and Avalanche those games were viewed as measuring stick games. They were games to watch. Not surprisingly, those years were the years when the NHL had their best U.S. national TV contract and probably the most consistent fan interest and media coverage.

The NHL now has parity. The 2006 NHL Stanley Cup champion missed the playoffs in 2007 as did the NHL runner up. The 2007 Stanley Cup champion is currently floundering two games under .500. The big media markets of Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles all saw their teams miss the playoffs last year and despite having a real good team, fan interest in Detroit has waned probably in part due to the fact they really don’t have a big time rival anymore with Colorado missing the playoffs last year and long time rivals Chicago and St. Louis sucking big time the past few (or more in Chicago’s case) years.

The NHL has tried to create rivalries since the lockout by having each team play their division rival 8 times which seemed to have back fired and resulted in over-saturation. It is difficult to generate a rivalry from 8 relatively non-important games between average teams. Rivalries are created between good teams or through playoff battles but while the NHL promoted divisional games in the regular season they missed the boat by promoting a conference style playoff system. There was a time when teams frequently played the same teams in the playoffs over a number of years but that is not the case anymore. Ottawa-Toronto faced each other in 4 of 5 seasons and Edmonton-Dallas faced each other something like 5 consecutive times. Those Edmonton-Dallas series made Edmonton-Dallas regular season games seem just a little bit more interesting than they probably would have otherwise. That doesn’t happen much anymore. Last year featured only two playoff series which also occurred during the 2006 playoffs. Those series were San Jose-Nashville and Ottawa-Buffalo. The San Jose-Nashville series were generally uninteresting and fairly easy San Jose wins so they probably didn’t generate much of a rivalry but now that parity has hit and Nashville is no longer a good team, and rivalry would have lost its lustre anyway. The Ottawa-Buffalo series did create a bit of a heated rivalry that did generate some regular season game interest but once again the NHL’s parity plan hit the Sabres in the face and now they currently sit out of a playoff spot and no longer do the Sens-Sabres games feature two dominant offensive powerhouse teams.

Who knows, maybe a couple of dominant teams will rise up and some key rivalries will create some league-wide excitement like the Wing-Avalanche did in the late 1990’s but in the new salary cap era I have my doubts and that is going to keep fan interest low. Fans just do not get excited about mediocrity.

Nov 082007
 

Well, after a couple of days of work I have managed to re-design my stats website which to be honest, was pretty much non-existant and/or non-usable before this update. I have put the power rankings, player rankings, and adjusted hits/giveaways/takeaways, and player on ice/off ice and with/without teammate and against/not against opponent data on that website. In a few days I will migrate much of that off of this blog site and move it there where it will be easier to update which means far more frequent updates.

For the regulars to this website, please head over there and take a look at the new redesigned user interface and let me know what you think of the new look? Do you like it? Anything you want to see changed/improved? I ask because my plan is to use an almost identical look and feel here on my blog. I think by moving much of the stats over there and also using a cleaner page design the page will look significantly less cluttered. Eventually i hope to re-design PredictHockey.com in a similar way but before I go ahead and put in all that effort feedback from you would be greatly appreciated. I am almost ready to roll out this new design on this blog so if the feedback is positive I may change it over in the next day or two.

Nov 072007
 

The Leafs have struggled at times this year but is it really fair to call the Leafs “vehemently awful” as Howard Berger does today? If vehemently awful describes a team which is 6-5-2 when not playing a team with a 13-1 record, what adjectives would you use to describe the Washington Capitals who are 2-9-1 in their last dozen games? The Leafs are not without problems but to call them vehemently awful is probably something only a vehemently biased member of the media would write or say, particularly when you follow that up with “emerging catastrophe.”

As for my opinion, the Leafs need a change. They need a new direction. I have liked a lot of what John Ferguson Jr. has done except for what he has done with his goalies. He has made two major moves with his goalies and both have flopped thus far and the worst move of them all was giving Toskala a 2 year, $8 million extension before he proved he could do the job. TO a lesser extent, I am not convinced that Paul Maurice is the right guy for the job either. For whatever reason he has not been able to get his team to play as a team for a full 60 minutes as and some of his teams worst efforts are against the weaker teams in the NHL. When Maurice was hired he was supposed to be a systems coach (compared to Pat Quinn’s more free flow approach) but I don’t see any kind of system in place. Ian White had a horrible game last night and looked out of place on several occassions but somehow he got rewarded with 24 minutes of ice time. That just doesn’t seem logical to me. Maybe I am wrong and that this group of players aren’t capable of playing a system but if Ken Hitchcock can get the noname Columbus Blue Jackets playing a strong team system and off to a 8-3-2 record I suspect that this crew can too. You cannot convince me that a defence anchored by an aging Adam Foote and waiver pickup Ron Hainsey and first round dud Rostislav Klesla and complemented by Jan Hejda, Kris Russel and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is any better than the Leafs.

The problem is, the team is playing paranoid. They are playing as individuals. The forwards seem to be trying to do too much on their own rather than play with each other. They are trying too hard to score goals and make the big plays but not remembering to help out their teammates and defensemen in particular once and a while. It’s not that hard. When a defenseman pinches, a forward drops back to protect his place. If you are undertaking a 5 man rush, you do everything you can not to turn it over at the opposing teams blue line as your players are not moiving in the right direction to defend a counter attack (play dump and chase instead if you can’t skate the puck across the blue line). But for some reason this team isn’t playing that way. The players definitely deserve some blame but so does the coach. If he doesn’t have a system, he should be fired. If he has a system but the players aren’t responding, players need to be benched or even called out publicly. But I don’t see that either. And on top of that it seems apparent that Leaf ownership is not committed to JFJ and in turn not committed to Maurice. That is a problem too a the players know that next week, next month or next year there will probably be a new GM and coach in place. Why learn Maurice’s system (if he has one) when a new coach and a new system is likely to be right around the corner. Why do that when I can play all out offensively and pad my offensive statistics which should land me a better contract?

So, while the Leafs are far from “vehemently awful”, that do have some problems that needs to be addressed. If the teams upper management is not going to commit to JFJ and if JFJ is not going to commit Maurice then something definitely needs to be done and it is better it gets done now. There is just too much lack of focus and lack of consistency and lack of committment (from the players to the coach and from the owners to the GM) to justify not making a change of some sort.

Nov 062007
 

Here are this weeks Power Rankings. I think a lot of people before the seasons figured that Ottawa would have a good chance to be the top ranked team but I doubt anyone would have bet that teams 2, 3 and 4 would have been Carolina, Montreal and Columbus.

When one looks at Philadelphia’s record you see 16 points in 13 games which isn’t too bad especially when compared to last year but in reality things aren’t looking so good. Last night they were shut out by the offensively challenged NY Rangers who managed to get 45 shots on goalie Biron. That was the fourth time the Flyers have given up 40 or more shots in their last 8 games and during that span they have averaged 37.6 shots against per game having only twice allowed fewer than 38 shots in those games. Good goaltending has given them a 4-4 record in that span but I think we can clearly see that the Flyers defence is still a huge question mark. Plus they haven’t played many top ranked teams all of which means they get ranked 23rd.

Rank Last Week Team AdjWinP SchedStr Power Rank
1 5 Ottawa 0.885 0.509 0.851
2 1 Carolina 0.679 0.555 0.760
3 2 Montreal 0.607 0.573 0.738
4 3 Columbus 0.692 0.500 0.672
5 7 Colorado 0.607 0.512 0.624
6 8 Pittsburgh 0.500 0.567 0.599
7 6 Minnesota 0.667 0.494 0.599
8 4 St. Louis 0.538 0.524 0.595
9 17 Boston 0.538 0.515 0.582
10 9 Detroit 0.786 0.441 0.581
11 11 Toronto 0.433 0.581 0.558
12 12 NY Islanders 0.636 0.465 0.545
13 13 Chicago 0.464 0.528 0.545
14 24 NY Rangers 0.500 0.497 0.510
15 14 San Jose 0.536 0.472 0.499
16 10 Calgary 0.433 0.505 0.498
17 19 Los Angeles 0.433 0.500 0.449
18 16 Vancouver 0.429 0.488 0.444
19 20 Anaheim 0.406 0.509 0.441
20 21 Phoenix 0.417 0.501 0.432
21 28 Florida 0.433 0.480 0.415
22 15 Buffalo 0.385 0.521 0.406
23 23 Philadelphia 0.583 0.414 0.402
24 25 Nashville 0.500 0.446 0.383
25 22 Dallas 0.393 0.500 0.381
26 29 New Jersey 0.393 0.478 0.373
27 18 Washington 0.357 0.502 0.362
28 26 Edmonton 0.233 0.502 0.260
29 30 Atlanta 0.286 0.459 0.254
30 27 Tampa Bay 0.357 0.397 0.242

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

Nov 022007
 

With Peter Forsberg set to play for Sweden in a small tournament in Finland (Karjala Cup) next week and set to make a decision on returning to his NHL career shortly after I think it is time to take a look at the possible destinations. There are potentially three significant factors that will influence where Forsberg will end up playing:

The ability of the team to win the Stanley Cup

When you are a player who can pretty much decide to play wherever you want you will naturally gravitate towards choosing a team who can win. This is particularly true for older players who have already made a bundle of money and are set for life financially. All indications are that Forsberg has this mindset and really wants to play for a winner. With that in mind, here is a fairly deep list of teams with a relatively decent chance of winning a cup loosely ranked in order of chance of winning: Detroit, Ottawa, Colorado, Minnesota, San Jose, Carolina, NY Rangers, Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Anaheim.

Familiarity of the team and/or players on that team.

I have read several reports that Forsberg would give preference to returning to a team he has already played with. That would put Colorado, Philadelphia and Nashville as potential destinations. There are also reports that he might enjoy playing with fellow Swedes, or at least fellow Swedes will try to convince him to come play with them. Teams with a significant Swedish contingent of players include Detroit (Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Kronwall, Samuelsson, Lilya, Franzen), Vancouver (Naslund, Ohlund, Sedins), Ottawa (Alfredsson), Toronto (Sundin), NY Rangers (Lundqvist) and Dallas (Norstrom). Not all Swede’s are created equal though so guys in Forsberg’s age group (Alfredsson, Naslund, Lidstrom, Sundin) probably have an edge over younger Swede’s who Forsberg isn’t as familiar with and hasn’t play with as much in international competitions (i.e. Lundqvist, Sedin’s, etc.).

Ability for that team meet his salary/contract requests

The final factor is who has the salary cap space to pay Forsberg. Though salary may not be at the top of Forsberg’s priority list, it will be a factor as several teams have an ability to pay him good money. I would expect Forsberg might end up with a contract similar to the contract he signed in Philadelphia which would put him in the $5-6 million range. If Forsberg returns to the NHL in late November or early December it would put the teams salary cap impact at approximately two thirds of Forsberg’s annual salary or about $4 million. There aren’t too many teams listed above that can afford Forsberg’s salary without shedding any salary. The candidate teams (a team mentioned above) that could fairly easily afford (both salary cap wise and internal budget wise) Forsberg’s salary for the current season Colorado, Anaheim (if Niedermayer doesn’t return), Pittsburgh and San Jose though Pittsburgh and San Jose have an abundance of skilled centers already. Detroit has some cap space available as well and if necessary could push Hasek’s bonus money (should he obtain them) onto next years cap space. All other teams would have to shed salary to add him. The Ottawa Senators could probably afford Forsberg if they could manage to shed Martin Gerber’s $3.7 million contract and with his good play to this point in the season it may be possible though I am not sure there are all that many teams looking for a goalie with a good sized contract (maybe Phoenix if they could shed Morris’s contract). Vancouver could if they could find a taker for Brendan Morrison’s $3.2 million contract. Dallas would need to free up a couple million in cap space but the only potential candidates to create that space would be Mike Ribeiro or Mattias Norstrom though Norstrom’s contract is probably a tough one to move at this point in the season and it is borderline whether freeing up Ribeiro’s contract would create enough space to afford Forsberg. The Flames who always seem to be looking for a center for Iginla could possibly afford Forsberg if they rid themselves of Conroy’s contract. The Philadelphia Flyers are very tight to the cap and would have to get rid of a couple of contracts to afford Forsberg. They could rid themselves of Hatchers contract by either trading him (which is not likely possible) or sending him to the AHL but they would still have to make another move and the remaining candidate are either core players making real big bucks that won’t likely get moved or are lesser players that just don’t make enough money to make any significant impact. Most of the rest of the teams probably don’t have enough interest in Forsberg or vice versa to really make any attempt at freeing up cap space to sign him.

There is also talk that Forsberg might be looking for a three year deal. If this is the case it puts a whole new spin on the situation. While it may be somewhat easy for Ottawa to rid themselves of Gerber’s contract and sign Forsberg for this year, with Spezza, Vermette, Eaves, and Meszaros restricted free agents and Redden and Kelly unrestricted free agents and already close to $35 million committed to salaries for next season it seems unlikely Ottawa can afford to sign Forsberg to a long term deal. That is unless they made the bold decision to choose Forsberg over Spezza and trade Spezza (an unlikely scenario update: Spezza just signed for 7 years so this won’t happen now). Of the teams mentioned Colorado is in the best shape to dole out a three year contract as they have lots of cap space available with Theodore’s contract ending as seasons end. Detroit and Vancouver are in pretty decent shape as well though not quite as good as Colorado. Calgary is also a possibility if they chose to commit to Forsberg and not give Conroy, Nolan and either Langkow or Huselius new contracts (all UFA’s at seasons end). Philadelphia is not though as they already have $40 million committed and will have to negotiate new contracts for Carter, Richards, Umberger, and Coburn, most of whom will be seeking raises.

So, where does that leave us? Here is how I would rank the teams in order of how likely they are to land Forsberg:

1. Colorado Avalanche
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Dallas Stars
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Calgary Flames
9. San Jose Sharks
10. Pittsburgh Penguins