Sep 222009
 

A year ago Cliff Fletcher as interim general manager of the Maple Leafs suggested that the Leafs had only one top 6 forward, that being Nik Antropov. With Antopov now gone there was ample discussion among the media and fans about how dismal the Leafs offense will be and despite the upgrades Brian Burke made on defense the Leafs lack of scoring will likely lead them to another missed playoff. Brian Burke has addressed that in a major way by acquiring what everyone will agree is a top 6 forward in Phil Kessel, but is Kessel enough? To answer that, we need to get a clearer understanding of what a top six forward actually is because there seems to be a misunderstanding.

The obvious answer is that a top 6 forward is a player who can play on your top two lines. Most people also seem to believe that to play on a teams top two lines you have to produce offensively. So for the purpose of this analysis let me assume that ‘top six’ really means ‘top six offensive forwards.’

Since there are 30 teams in the NHL to be considered a top six forward you could consider the top 180 offensive forwards in the NHL to be top six forwards. On a points per game basis for players with at least 41 games played the 180th player on the list was Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers with a points per game pace of 0.49 which equates to just 40 points over the course of an NHL season. Yup, score 40 points and you can be considered a top six player. Maple Leafs among the top 180 include Jason Blake (57th), Ponikarovsky (78th), Stajan (85), Hagman (114th), Grabovski (129rd), Stempniak (139th). Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore were also among the top 180 offensive players in the NHL.

Of course, a top six player on the New York Islanders is completely different than a top six forward on a cup contending team. The top teams in the NHL will surely have a better top six than the bottom teams. To find out, I looked at the top 96 offensive forwards on the 16 playoff teams from one year ago. The bottom players on this list were Markus Naslund and R.J. Umberger both of whom had 46 points in 82 games for a points per game pace of 0.56. So, to be considered a top six forward on a playoff team you have to be capable of producing at a pace of 0.56 points per game. Even with this higher cutoff Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Hagman, Grabovski and Stempniak would still be considered top six forwards as was Antropov and Dominic Moore was right on the cutoff.

Heading into this season the Leafs still have Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Hagman, Grabovski and Stempniak on the roster and now with Phil Kessel (46th overall and 32nd on the playoff team list) in the mix they arguably have 7 top six forwards on their roster and that is without factoring in what youngsters like Kulemin, Tlusty, Bozak and others might do. I am sure many in the media are surprised by this but yeah, the Leafs have more than enough top six forwards to compete for a playoff spot.

Yeah, I know, the critics are going to come out and say ‘well, ok, but they don’t have any first line players’. Fine, let me address that too. The 48th leading point per game producer on a playoff team was Brian Gionta who produced 60 points in 81 games for a point per game pace of 0.74. Jason Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky along with new addition Phil Kessel meet that threshold so all three can be considered first line players on a playoff team and Matt Stajan was just short of that threshold at 0.72 points per game pace.

I will grant critics the argument that the Leafs lack the true superstar like a Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg or even someone like a Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane or Mike Richards. That was a fair argument, and to some extent may still be, but with the addition of Kessel that argument holds less weight. Yes, there is still some risk in Kessel in that he has only produced at an elite level for one year and he does have some detractors, but Kessel does have elite level talent and is more than capable of developing into a perennial 30+ goal, 80+ point player and be among the leagues elite.

To summarize, too many people have a false view of what kind of offense a top 6 forward will produce. Most top 6 forwards aren’t 30 goal, 70 point guys. The majority of them are 20-25 goal, 50-60 point guys and in that regard the Leafs are just fine. Are the Leafs going to be an elite offensive team in the NHL? No. Can they be a good one, as they have been for several years now? You bet.

Sep 182009
 

There has been a lot of discussion over the last week or so on the rumoured trade offer that Brian Burke has made to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel and now that the trade seems very likely to go down, possibly within hours, we may as well take a look at it. (TSN is now reporting the deal is done and pending Kessel signing a contract with the Leafs which is probably not a significant hurdle issue).

The rumour is that Burke has offered two first round picks and a second round pick for Kessel and a third round pick (no word yet if this is the actual deal though). Howard Berger has argued that it makes no sense to trade two first round picks for Kessel because the Leafs are still rebuilding and the two first round picks could be far more valuable and he eluded to Schenn and Kadri as being an example why. Schenn and Kadri are the Leafs most recent two first round picks and he wouldn’t trade the pair of them for Kessel so why would he trade the Leafs next two picks for Kessel.

To me that is a shortsighted view of the situation. First off, Schenn has one years NHL experience and he performed relatively well so the ‘downside risk’ in Schenn has diminished somewhat while much of the upside potential remains. Kadri is still an unknown asset but he was a 7th overall pick which is likely higher than where the Leafs will pick in the next two drafts so he at least theoretically is likely more valuable than the Leafs than the Leafs first round pick in either the next two seasons (and Schenn was a 5th overall pick). So in short, Schenn and Kadri are measurably, possibly significantly, more valuable than the Leafs next two first round picks.

Finally, how good are those first round likely to be. Burke has every hope to make the playoffs this upcoming season and I am sure he would show some level of truculence to me if I suggested that the Leafs would miss the playoffs in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but lets assume a worst case scenario and they do and lets assume that both the draft picks end up in the 8th to 12th overall range. How might those draft picks turn out. Lets look at past drafts 8-12 picks.

1998: Mark Bell, Mike Rupp, Nik Antropov, Jeff Hereema, Alex Tanguay
1999: Taylor Pyatt, Jamie Lundmark, Bransilav Menzei, Oleg Saprykin, Denis Shvidki
2000: Nikita Alexeev, Brent Krahn, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Alexei Smirnov
2001: Pascal Leclaire, Tuomo Ruutu, Dan Blackburn, Fredrik Sjostrom, Dan Hamhuis
2002: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Taticek, Eric Nystrom, Keith Ballard, Steve Eminger

So that is 5 years of drafts for a total of 25 players and maybe there are a couple of pairings in there among Tanguay, Leclaire, Bouchard, Ballard, Ruutu, Hamhuis and Antropov that might be worth more than Kessel but none of those players will make you regret making the trade, especially if you believe that Kessel can be a top level offensive player in the NHL capable of consistently getting 30-40 goals. And if the Leafs were better and made the playoffs in either or both of the next two seasons the likelihood of regretting the trade drops off even more. Yeah, I understand that every draft seems to produce a star player or two in the 12-25 overall range like Parise (17) and Getzlaf (19) in 2002 but those are rare and more often than not the drafted player turns out to be nothing more than a name on a sheet of paper.

Sep 182009
 

Yesterday Bob McCown interviewed Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk discussing mostly the Phoenix Coyote situation. For the most part it wasn’t a very interesting interview and Melnyk often played dumb claiming he really didn’t know much about the situation. Particularly intriguing was that Melnyk stated he really knew nothing regarding the permission the NHL board of governors gave Bettman in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes through bankruptcy. He stated he was not at the meeting and knew nothing about anything including the cost, what they would do with the franchise if they gained control of it, who would put up money to pay for it, etc. That seems odd to me considering it may cost him millions of dollars and that he is a relatively involved owner in the Senators team itself. Me thinks he was just playing dumb. Even if he wasn’t at the meeting that granted permission you’d think he’d have received a briefing or at the very least asked a question or two to someone once it became public that the NHL was in fact going to bid on the team.

But the most interesting part of the interview came squeezed in right at the end when Bob McCown asked him a hypothetical question about whether he could block a team wanting to move to Hull (for those who don’t know, Hull is really part of the metro Ottawa area on the Quebec side of the border).

McCown: Do you have the constitutional ability to block that.
Melnyk: I believe we do, yeah, we have territorial rights. Yeah, absolutely.

Maybe Melnyk accidentally let that slip out but that feeds right into the Balsillie argument regarding the Leafs having a veto to any team relocating to Hamilton. If Melnyk and the Senators have territorial rights to Hull and could block a relocation to Hull then the Leafs have the same rights to Hamilton and could block a relocation to Hamilton. Balsillie believes the league voted against him being an owner and are fighting to the end to stop him from getting his hands on the Coyotes and relocating them to Hamilton because the league cannot allow a team to relocate to Hamilton which would violate the Leafs constitutional rights with the league and could result in a lawsuit from the MLSE.

It really was a surprising statement from Melnyk who was generally cautious and reserved about giving out any information on anything important during the rest of the interview.

Sep 162009
 

There were some tweets going around this morning regarding the attendance in Phoenix and whether pre-season attendance really matters or is an indication of franchise stability etc. So I figured I would take a look at last nights attendance figures and went to the NHL.com box scores for the information.

Boston at NY Rangers: 11,111 (a curious number)
Columbus at Pittsburgh: 15,766
Minnesota at St. Louis: 10,582
Edmonton at Calgary: 19,289
Phoenix at Los Angeles: 8,432
Los Angeles at Phoenix: unlisted

Apparently the Los Angeles at Phoenix (split squad game) didn’t list an attendance figure. I found that curious so I went and checked the box scores at Yahoo and ESPN and both listed attendance at 4,643.

So that poses the question, is the NHL embarrassed by the attendance, or relative lack there of, for the Phoenix Coyotes game so much that they would deliberately hide publishing that number on their website? Curious.

Book Abomination

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Sep 152009
 

Most Leaf fans, and probably many hockey and sports fans, have heard about the recent book release of “Leaf AbomiNation” written by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange. Let me start off by saying that I have not read the book, and I probably won’t read the book, but if you want a good book review go and read one here by mf37. My beef with the book is its insistence that the Leafs have sucked for a long time and two significant reasons for that suckage (if I may use that non-word) are the fans undying loyalty to the club and the ownerships (specifically the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan) undying love of profits and not wins on the ice.

One of the authors’ central arguments about the Leafs is that fans have supported crap for far too long and that support is partially responsible for perpetuating a four-decade string of mediocrity.

This kind of thinking isn’t restricted to just Feschuk and Grange, this kind of senseless thinking permeates through much of the Toronto hockey media and thus to some extent into the fan base but the reality is it is baseless thinking. Let me first address the point that ownership, specifically the Teachers Pension Plan, is only interested in a profit. Although the Teachers Pension Plan is the majority owner, they are not the controlling owner (Larry Tannenbaum is) and they only have 3 of the 7 members of the board of directors. In short they don’t have any control over day to day operations of the franchise and they don’t even have majority control over the long term direction of the franchise. Most importantly though, I haven’t yet seen one study anywhere that suggests that not winning is more profitable than winning. Logic seems to tell me that if the Leafs were as successful as the Detroit Red Wings the Leafs would be even more profitable and my, albeit limited, business sense suggest to me that generating playoff revenue should generate more profits. So that whole argument is 100% pure hogwash.

As for the Leafs fans being at least partially responsible for the Leafs poor play, that is pure hogwash as well. If you want a list of teams that generally lead the league in being bad, just look at the bottom of the team attendance list. Atlanta, Florida, NY Islanders, Phoenix, etc. all have generally been bad and all have a small fan base and low attendance. Are the authors actually suggesting that if Leaf fans abandoned the team that they would break that trend and actually get better as the fan base disappears? That makes no sense.

But maybe the biggest beef with the whole notion of the book is that the Leafs have been bad over the long haul in the first place. It seems like as deep as the authors and many in the Leafs media base all their opinions of the Leafs on the fact that they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and somehow interpret that as they have been a horrible team ever since that last cup win. That is simply not true. In fact, they have experience relatively good success the past decade and a half. Over the past 16 seasons they are 8th in wins, ninth in points, sixth in goals scored per game (how many times have we heard the Leafs can’t score goals??), and seventh in playoff rounds won. That’s not too shabby of a record and better than any other Canadian team. Yeah, they have struggled post lockout (significantly due to bad goaltending), but generally they have been pretty successful since the early 1990’s and have generally played pretty entertaining hockey (if you equate goals to entertaining as most in the media do) as well. Maybe we need a book on how success has grown the fan base of the Leafs post the Ballard era and not the fan base leading to failure.

I am not trying to say that the Leafs don’t deserve some criticism. Every franchise makes mistakes and deserves criticism and the Leafs are no exception and of course they have been unsuccessful in reaching the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. There is a certain amount of fair criticism to be made and maybe if the authors of this book, and the Toronto hockey media in general, opened their eyes to reality and took an even slightly more complex view of the Leafs than their “They haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 so they have sucked for decades” view (which is factually false) then maybe we could actually see an insightful book on why the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup and why other teams have, from a hockey, not a business point of view.

Sep 142009
 

Over the course of the summer there were a lot of people sympathetic of Wayne Gretzky and felt bad that his name and his contract was openly discussed, and often not in good light, in the courts, and sometimes that spread into the media. Over the course of the summer we learned that Jerry Reinsdorf wasn’t interested in retaining his services should he bid for the team, Ice Edge was only interested if he took a substantial pay cut to $2 million and that the NHL was not interested in retaining his contract through the auction process either. There are many that feel that Wayne Gretzky has been treated somewhat unfairly by all of this. Maybe he has, but I have no sympathy for him, especially after his no show at the Phoenix training camp this past weekend.

First off, the only reason Wayne Gretzky has been such an issue in these bankruptcy proceedings is because he is getting paid a ridiculously stupid salary to be coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. If I recall correctly Gretzky’s contract is to pay him $6.5 million this season and $8 million next season. Not only does that likely pay him more than 3 times the next highest paid coach (Ron Wilson makes $1.6 million which might be the highest for a coach) but it is probably significantly more than any other teams pays their coach and general manager combined (Burke and Wilson I think combine for a little over $5 million per season) and Gretzky signed this contract without having any coaching experience.

Before he became coach he was a minority owner and was the head of hockey operations, again with little or no experience in such a role. In that position he hired his former agent Mike Barnett as General Manager even though he had no experience operating as a general manager of the team. Since Gretzky became involved with the team they have made the playoffs just once, in 2001-02, which was also the only time they finished higher than fourth in the Pacific division. Wayne Gretzky deserves a lot of credit for what he has done on and off the ice throughout his playing career and he has been a great ambassador for the sport but his coaching and managing career with the Coyotes has been questionable at best.

There is a somewhat valid argument to be made that his salary combined with the fact that the Coyotes have never had a winning team (which he is significantly responsible for) are two of the three reasons why the Coyotes are in the financial mess they are currently in (the bad lease agreement is the other). For that alone one loses a lot of the sympathy one might have for Gretzky for having his name and salary drug through the court system this past summer but when the Coyotes training camp opened on the weekend we learned that Wayne Gretzky was a no show. In my opinion, if Wayne Gretzky deserved any remaining sympathy it was lost by him not showing up. He is the coach and the head of hockey operation and his contract is still valid and there is still a very good chance that he would have had the opportunity to coach the team for the remainder of the season. Should the NHL win the auction they have stated they would like to retain his services under a new contract and if the dreaded ‘third option’ occurred where no bid was deemed a winner Gretzky’s current contract would continue to operate. By not showing up to camp, while under contract, he is essentially abandoning the team. To me he had two options. Show up, or resign. He has chosen neither and has left the team in limbo. If this was anyone other than Wayne Gretzky he would be criticized far more than he has been (which is relatively minimal). Suck it up Wayne. Fulfill your contract or resign if you don’t want to.

Sep 112009
 

I have been following many of the people in the Phoenix courtroom tweeting on all of the happenings of the ‘auction’ of the Phoenix Coyotes.  So far there really hasn’t been anything close to resembling an auction.  After initially reaffirming each sides bids, the Balsillie camp, the NHL, and the City of Glendale have been presenting their arguments about everything associated with the case, much of it we have already heard before either publicly or in earlier court filings.  The only new and interesting item is the judges assertions that there is a possibility that no one will win the auction with the judge ruling that neither side has submitted qualified bids.  Although this seems to many like an unlikely outcome, it appears that the judge really believes this is a possibility.

With regards to the NHL offer, he has concerns about how the NHL has specified who gets what and how they essentially have chosen to shut out Jerry Moyes from getting much of anything which, if I understand correctly, is not allowed.  In bankruptcy the courts make the decision on who gets what and the bidder can’t pick and choose who is to be paid off and how much.  He has asked the judge to clarify their bid and who gets what by the end of today and has said ‘he cannot choose a bid he does not understand’.

For Balsillie there are several issues.  First, can/will the judge overrule the NHL board of governors vote against Balsillie as an acceptable owner.  Second, if the judge does decide to overrule the NHL’s vote against Balsillie, is he able to force relocation upon the NHL.  The Balsillie lawyers have argued that the bankruptcy code does give the judge the powers to do this while the NHL has argued that the only the right to play in Phoenix is up for sale, not the right to play anywhere else.  The judge has apparently stated that there is no precedent in for relocation to be granted in a bankruptcy sale.  Additionally, the judge has apparently stated that Balsillie’s September 21st deadline is unreasonable and his decision might not be completed by then.

This has me thinking that Balsillie really is going about this the wrong way and he should make a last minute adjustment to his bid and take relocation off the table.  In fact, he should present a bid similar to that of the NHLs where he will accept playing in Glendale under the current lease agreement for one year just like the NHL but with no commitment to Phoenix/Glendale beyond the 2009-10 season (i.e. he can get out of the lease after the 2009-10 season). If he offered $175 million he could absorb $60 million in losses that the team might incur during the 2009-10 season and still be under the $242.5 million bid he submitted earlier this week.  An offer such as this would only require the judge to overrule the NHL’s vote on Balsillie, which he may be more inclined to do than force relocation on the league as well, limit his commitment to Glendale to just the 2009-10 season.  This would put Balsillie’s offer pretty much on par with the NHLs bid, except $35 million higher.  This eliminates the need for the judge to force relocation on the league and in time for the 2009-10 season or to make a decision by September 21st, when Balsillie’s offer expires.  It would make picking Balsillie’s offer much easier for the judge.

Then, once Balsillie has his team he can submit his relocation application to the NHL at which point the NHL will have to vote on it and only a majority vote is required.  The NHL may attempt to block him again, but the situation will be different.  He will already be an owner, he will have a team that is losing money and has for 14 years, he will not have an ongoing lease commitment (Bettman has used the phrase ‘NHL is not in the business of breaking leases’ as an argument for not giving up on Phoenix in the past).  If any reasonable person applied the NHLs relocation rules fairly one would have to conclude the team is prime for relocation and Hamilton would be a prime location for a team (NHL has argued in these proceedings that a team in Hamilton could generate the 5th most revenue).  The league might try to block him but then he could sue for anti-trust reasons and make the same arguments he is making now but his case would be even stronger.

Such a plan would be risky on the part of Balsillie as it would require him to spend a lot of money to purchase a team before knowing 100% if he can relocate, but it might have a higher likelihood of getting the outcome he desires.  In any event, sometime before the end of the day we will get to hear the NHLs and Balsillie’s final bids and i will be interesting to see if either change their bids any.

Sep 092009
 

I am sure most of you are aware of the rumour monger who goes by the alias ‘Eklund’. I think most of you also realize he is a complete fraud and that most of his rumours are a complete joke. But for those of you who don’t, or even those of you ho do and want another good laugh at Eklunds expense, consider this statement he wrote on his blog today.

Some sources are saying that a Kessel trade to the Leafs may be much closer than we think. “Remember that Kessel isn’t signed,” a source said, “So before any trade is made, the team acquiring Kessel would have to be given some ability to talk and know what exactly it is that Kessel is looking for in terms of dollars and years.”

Why does that single sentence show what a farce Eklund is? Well, it is quite simple. That ‘source’ of Eklund is indicating that any team trading for him would have to be given the ability to talk to Kessel to essentially negotiate a contract before making a trade for him. Well, for the other 99.999% of us who have a clue about hockey know that Kessel is a free agent and any team is perfectly able to call up his agent and begin negotiating a contract. They don’t need to be ‘given some ability to talk’ to Kessel, they already have that ability. I am sure that Brian Burke has talked to Kessel’s agent and/or Kessel himself and has a very good indication of what it would take to sign Kessel to a contract.

But getting back to Eklund, it seems to me the only way that Eklund’s sources would say something so nonsensical is:

1. Eklund’s source is so uninformed of hockey matters that he does not realize Kessel’s status as a restricted free agent and the rights that gives other teams to talk to them and that Eklund is equally uninformed not to realize what RFA status means himself and thus regurgitated his sources quote thinking it was a valuable piece of information.

or

2. There really is no source and the ‘quote’ was made up by Eklund who is still apparently uninformed enough not to realize what Kessel’s RFA status means relative to other teams ability to contact him.

Not sure which is worse but neither say much for the rumour monger.

Server issues

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Aug 302009
 

I apologize for the server issues we have experiences over the last several days.  The issues should be resolved now and everything should be back to normal but if anyone is still having issues be sure to let me know.

Also, I’ll get back to writing some hockey stuff in the next week or so.  I am just finishing up my summer vacation/break before I get back into things full force.  Hope you are all having a good summer as well and I look forward to the upcoming hockey season.

Aug 052009
 

Judge Redfield T. Baum has decided to allow all bidders into the September 10th auction, including Jim Balsillie against the pleading of the NHL. It was the most significant decision that Judge Baum has made so far in the bankruptcy case and in my opinion has clearly put Jim Balsillie’s offer for the Coyotes at the front of the line.

On June 15th, Judge Baum ruled against the Balsillie offer to purchase the team largely because Balsillie could not prove that the NHL was violating anti-trust laws mostly because they had not yet denied his request to move the team to Hamilton. This was a setback for the Balsillie camp, but only a setback. Today’s decision of Judge Baum’s to allow Balsillie to participate in the September 10th auction is an outright nightmare for the NHL. It really is a worst case scenario because unlike what was set to occur, a Glendale only auction followed by a relocation auction only if necessary, the new setup will see any bids to keep the team in Glendale directly compared to Jim Balsillie’s bid and that is bad news because it will likely now just come down to how much Jim Balsillie is willing to pay for the team. In essence the Phoenix Coyote’s are now Jim Balsillie’s team to lose. Yes, there will be appeals by the NHL and possibly by Glendale, but that probably won’t change the outcome.

I suspect that there are two key factors in Judge Baum’s decision today. The first is that he has no assurances that either the Reinsdorf or the Ice Edge bids can resolve all of their outstanding issues (and there are still a number of significant outstanding issues with both bids) prior to the September 10th auction meaning there might still be no bidders on September 10th just as there were no bidders for the auction that was supposed to be today. The second significant factor, and maybe the primary factor, is the statement from Michael Dell’s investment company SOF Investments Ltd. in which they supported the Jim Balsillie bid as it was the only bid that provided cash to fully repay the nearly $80 million in secured debt that SOF is owed and neither the Reinsdorf or the Ice Edge bids had come to any satisfactory arrangement with SOF (Reinsdorf has stated he wants to renegotiate the loan arrangement but hasn’t even talked to SOF yet). Furthermore, SOF and nearly every other creditor outside of the NHL spoke to the importance to have these bankruptcy proceedings resolved by the end of September at the latest and of course right now, keeping the Jim Balsillie bid alive is the only way to assure that of happening. These factors made the NHL Board of Governors vote against Balsillie look like a small issue in comparison.

With all the issues that still surround the Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Holdings bids and the fact that they are now going to be bidding against Balsillie, it would not surprise me if one or both of them drop out of the process. Jerry Reinsdorf has previously threatened to drop out and his attorney’s in court on Monday stated they they never expected to be bidding against relocation bids. With all the backlash that has come about regarding the $23 million subsidy request Reisndorf has made to the City of Glendale I might actually be surprised if Reinsdorf just says it is not worth it anymore and pull his offer.

I eagerly await the response from Gary Bettman and the NHL regarding this decision. I expect the response will be to fight the decision however it can, but the proper response should be, at least behind closed doors, is to start preparing for hockey in Hamilton this October.