May 232008
 

Both Pittsburgh and Detroit have made it to the Stanley cup finals relatively easily and over the course of the season these two teams probably showed themselves to be the best of the east and the best of the west. But, over the course of the season (and last season) the west has also shown itself to be the much better conference overall. But, Pittsburgh was one of the only eastern teams with a winning record against the western conference going an outstanding 8-1-1 though Detroit went 7-2-1 against the east as well. These two teams did not play each other in the regular season so we have nothing to go by there. I have said in previous rounds that I think this could be Pittsburgh’s year but I really don’t know if they have enough to beat Detroit. The big difference I think will be Detroit’s defense which is superior to the Penguins. Pittsburgh really needs to get some confidence and success early in the series or this could be a quick one. My prediction is the Wings win the first two at home and then take the series in 5.

  1. Pittsburgh at Detroit

    Pittsburgh (road) Detroit (home)
    Predicted Winner Detroit (Good)
    Fair Odds +131 -146
    Overall Record 47-27-8 54-21-7
    Home/Road Record 21-17-3 29-9-3
    Last 10 Games 6-3-1 7-2-1
    Past Games
    • None
May 222008
 

David Newland has an interesting article on 10 ways to improve the NHL which prompted a disagreeing response from Eric Francis. David’s suggestions were:

1. Management must love the game more than the money.
2. Bring back the tie, get rid of the shootout, and then rule changes must stop.
3. Play with wooden sticks, reduced equipment, and increased respect.
4. Favour franchises in real hockey markets.
5. Cut the playoffs down to the month of April.
6. Accept that hockey is an international game.
7. Get rid of the mindless violence.
8. Allow fans to watch every game on TV.
9. Arena naming rights have got to go.
10. Let the real fans back in the rinks.

For those that have followed my writings here will know that I don’t like a lot of what has happened in the NHL the past dozen or so years and I agree with some of what David Newland has to say. But the reason why I am writing this post is to disagree with some of what Eric Francis has to say in his counter arguments.

Eric’s response to #2: “HE TIE IS THE WORST THING IN SPORTS, THE SHOOTOUT IS THE MOST EXCITING – FEW CAN ARGUE EITHER.”

Well, I can argue both, sort of. I will accept that a tie is not the ideal ending to a sporting event, but I will argue that a shootout is worse. The reason the shootout is worse is because it is not fair. Bad teams can be good at the shootout and good teams can be bad at the shootout. Edmonton, a team who missed the playoffs was 15-4 in the shootout. Atlanta, maybe the worst team in the league from start to finish, was a second best 9-6 in the shootout. Minnesota, one of the better teams in the league were a dismal 3-8 and Detroit, easily the best team in the league this past season was a mediocre 5-5. Can anyone explain to me how Tampa goalies had a better save percentage in the shootout in 2006-06 than they did in the actual games? Is it worse to end a game in a tie, or using a method in which the relative quality of each team at playing hockey has little bearing in the outcome of the shootout? If integrity and fairness matter to you at all then a tie is the better way to end the game.

As for whether the shootout is exciting, I disagree there. What makes the shootout exciting is the anticipation of the game being decided. Everyone complains about how unexciting the NHL skills competition is at the all-star game, well the shootout is no different except the anticipation factor. Sure, every now and again you get a real highlight real shootout goal that gets everyone talking but for the most part all shootout attempts fall into one of two categories: The player tries to deke the goalie, or the player tries to shot through one of the goalies ‘holes’. Most of them are not all that special and independent of the situation would be dull and boring.

Eric’s response to point 3: “BETTER STICKS INCREASE SCORING AND YOU CAN’S LEGISLATE RESPECT. GRANTED, GALIE EQUIPMENT NEEDS TO BE REDUCED. ”

Do better stick really increase scoring? Is there any evidence of that? The evidence I have is that scoring dropped dramatically during the late 1990’s and into the 2000’s which was the exact same time that these new composite sticks became popular. It is a difficult argument that they have increased scoring. Yes, I know the theory of it all: Players can shoot harder making it harder for goalies to stop the puck but has anyone ever proven that theory is in fact reality in the concept of the game? I haven’t seen such a study. Maybe because players feel they can shoot harder they focus on shooting harder and not more accurately or maybe they shoot more often take hard slap shots from the blue line and less slower more accurate shots from in close. If being able to shoot harder changes how players play in a way that in fact reduces scoring then it may not be better for the game.

One must also not forget that maybe one of the reasons goalie pads have become bigger is because the shots are harder. Why not go back to wood sticks and smaller pads like we had in the past.

Eric’s response to point #4: “DOES HE WANT A TEN TEAM LEAGUE?”

I understand that that is clearly a bit facetious but the concept of focusing on big markets and hockey markets is a valid one. One could easily argue that increasing fan interest in New York by 5% will do much more for the league than increasing fan interest in Nashville by 25%. The TV networks don’t want a Nashville-Carolina Stanley Cup final, they want a New York-Detroit final. MLB doesn’t want a Milwaukee Brewers-Kansas City Royals world series. They die if that happened. They want the Yankees or Red Sox against the Cubs or Dodgers. Fan interest in big markets is what will generate TV ratings and revenue and from there you will then have a basis for improving the relative strength of the non-traditional hockey markets. Focusing on making hockey popular in Carolina or Nashville will to very little for the NHL.

May 212008
 

Or are others having a hard time getting excited about these Stanley Cup playoffs?

Despite a Stanley Cup match up that almost certainly features the best in the east against the best in the west (which actually doesn’t happen all that often) and two star studded teams, I have a real hard time getting excited. It could be that I have been real busy with other stuff (work, moving, etc.) but the NHL is really making it hard for me as well. First off the past two rounds have been pretty dull as far as the competitive level of hockey goes as none of the series really had much drama in them and then the NHL goes and makes matters worse by having lengthy breaks between rounds. There were 3 days without hockey between rounds two and three and now we have 4 days off before the Stanley Cup finals begin on Saturday.

The NHL will say it is for (American) television reasons but when American television doesn’t bring in any significant revenue one wonders why they don’t for once do something for fan interest reasons. Why give fans 4 days to find something else to do or watch like the NBA playoffs or baseball or go out and get a head start on summer and enjoy some nice weather. It makes no sense to me.

It is times like these when I think back to a time when the NHL had a simple straight forward playoff format: One conference plays on one night, the other conference plays on the next and they alternate for the whole playoffs and teams play on every other night. Life was simple back then and you knew when your team was playing without having to refer to a schedule. Plus it kept interest high as one day you are talking about what might happen tonight, the next day you are talking about what actually happened last night, and then the next day it is back to talking about what might happen tonight, etc. Interest and discussion amongst fans was constantly happening but these lengthy breaks just kill all that.

I think it is time that the NHL change its philosophy from “get your product on network TV at all costs and the fans will come” to “lets serve the fans what they want and network TV will come”. TV ratings (and revenues) come when you have fans that want to watch hockey not when networks make time to show hockey.

May 082008
 

Unfortunately I am kind of short on time these days so I have to keep these predictions brief. In the west, if Osgood continues to give the Wings good goaltending I think Detroit wins this series fairly easily. Dallas will still pull out a couple wins based on Turco’s stellar goaltending but I’ll predict Detroit in 6. In the east I like Pittsburgh. The Flyers have really been saved by some solid goaltending from Martin Biron and a sputtering Montreal power play. I think Pittsburgh’s two lines of top talent will give the Penguins a big edge. Pittsburgh in 5.

For more analysis of the series see stars.hockeyanalysis.com and penguins.hockeyanalysis.com. If any Detroit or Philadelphia fans want to contribute drop me a message.

  1. Dallas at Detroit

    Dallas (road) Detroit (home)
    Predicted Winner Detroit (Good)
    Fair Odds +128 -139
    Overall Record 45-30-7 54-21-7
    Home/Road Record 22-14-5 29-9-3
    Last 10 Games 3-5-2 7-2-1
    Past Games
    • 2008/01/02: Dallas 1 at Detroit 4
    • 2008/01/05: Detroit 3 at Dallas 0
    • 2008/02/17: Detroit 0 at Dallas 1
    • 2008/03/13: Dallas 3 at Detroit 5
  2. Philadelphia at Pittsburgh

    Philadelphia (road) Pittsburgh (home)
    Predicted Winner Pittsburgh (Some)
    Fair Odds +120 -126
    Overall Record 42-29-11 47-27-8
    Home/Road Record 21-15-5 26-10-5
    Last 10 Games 7-2-1 6-3-1
    Past Games
    • 2007/11/07: Philadelphia 3 at Pittsburgh 1
    • 2007/11/10: Pittsburgh 2 at Philadelphia 5
    • 2007/12/11: Pittsburgh 2 at Philadelphia 8
    • 2008/01/24: Pittsburgh 3 at Philadelphia 4
    • 2008/02/10: Philadelphia 3 at Pittsburgh 4
    • 2008/03/16: Philadelphia 1 at Pittsburgh 7
    • 2008/04/02: Philadelphia 2 at Pittsburgh 4
    • 2008/04/06: Pittsburgh 0 at Philadelphia 2