Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The NHL Trade Deadline: Washington Capitals Style



It happens every year.  The Capitals don't make any significant moves (that benefit the Capitals at least) because General Manager George McPhee is stuck in salary cap hell.  Why?  Because when GMGM does make a move, he typically parts with his own highly touted prospects in exchange for twilight-of-their-career retread veterans with horribly expensive contracts.  Rarely proven stock.  Oh no.  George pushes the envelope of his league mandated salary cap ceiling by stuffing the roster to the rafters with old, worn out, second-to-last, or last stop players who've already done their part for other franchises back when they were still in their prime (if they had primes to begin with).  The last trade George made that visibly benefitted the Caps was when he brought in Sergei Fodorov ...in 2008!

Since GMGM has been playing the role of Oz: The All Powerful for the Caps, his teams have failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.  Despite boasting one of the best players on the planet in the hard-hitting, goal scoring juggernaut and 3-time MVP, Alex Ovechkin.

If you had Michael Jordan on your NBA team while he was in his prime, would you surround MJ with older, cagier, fatter, slower, injury prone players that are twice as expensive as they should be?  Or would you build around Jordan by sacrificing talent and money to bring in younger, hungrier role players who want to contribute alongside Jordan for multiple seasons and not just watch from the bench as dead weight?

Exactly.  And that's probably what Ovechkin is thinking, too.

Entering YEAR ELEVEN of the infamous “Five Year Plan” to get the Caps back to the Stanley Cup Finals, sooner or later you’d think owner Ted Leonsis would step in and say ‘enough is enough!’ and hand GMGM his walking papers.  But Ted is a marketing guy.  He knows that as long as he’s got Ovi potting goals and the Caps (usually in a rather exciting manner) barely qualifying the playoffs on an annual basis, he’ll keep selling jerseys and keep his team visible.

To the average fan, Ted looks like he’s on cruise control.  Devil may care.  Absent from everyday operations.  Ted is becoming an owner less demanding and entirely more pedestrian as the Capitals failed hockey campaigns stack up like the endless years on a convict’s prison record.  “What’s that?  We may not even make the playoffs this year?  I know, let’s RAISE season ticket prices for NEXT year just in case we do!”  When exactly did Ted Leonsis become Dan Snyder?

It’s time the big man who strokes the paychecks follow the yellow brick road straight into George’s office and dangle a pink slip in front of GMGM as motivation over this year’s trade deadline.

And if George doesn’t make something impactful happen (i.e., shed salary and age for experience and grit), Ted should reward his faithful fans and investors with a front office that’s not afraid to make bold moves and build a team ethic that’s rooted in hard work and dedication.  The “wait until next year” attitude is for the Chicago Cubs.  Caps fans want to win now.

I think Ted will find that making it past the second round – and beyond – is much more satisfying to write about in his blog than having to spin yet another early round playoff exit to the readers of one of his predictably unapologetic, “we may have lost, but we’re built to compete for years to come” rants.  [yawn]

The NHL Trade Deadline is tomorrow afternoon.  George, you’re on the clock.

Ted, the excuses have run dry.  It’s time to be an owner.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why The Sochi Olympics Are Great For The NHL ...and the rest of us



Nothing is better than Olympic ice hockey.  With the pros.

As a fan of the National Hockey League I enjoy the most competitive product possible.  I also find interest in recognizing the names of players who were former lamp-lighters or stay-at-home blueliners in their big league primes who now play in the Games to help round out their nation’s roster.  Each squad is also littered with future NHL prospects and home country pros (who we rarely get a chance to see), many getting their first shots to play against top NHL talent.  Outside of the World Cup in soccer, there is no better All-Star break in all of sports.

Think about it.  A traditional NHL All-Star break lasts around four or five days and culminates with one game between two teams.  Traditionally, the highest stakes involved determine which conference is better than the other, which in recent seasons has devolved into an old school pond hockey captain selection situation where absolutely nothing is resolved.  And in the NHL All-Star Game, nobody really plays defense and six goalies play during the course of the game.  [Snore.]

Similar to soccer’s World Cup, the Olympic format presents you with action spread across a multi-day schedule between 12 teams divided into three groups.  Each country plays one game against every other team within their group and then the four teams with the best records (the group winners and the second place team with the best record) advance to the quarterfinals.  The remaining eight teams will play in a qualification game.  Then it’s on to the medal round.  That’s 30 games in 11 days with the pride of a dozen nations on the line.  And if you can’t get behind that, you don’t have a pulse.

Every four years the NHL owners bitch and moan about threatening to wave contracts in their premiere player’s faces, the possibility of barring stars from competing and whining about lost revenues and possible player fatigue and/or injuries.  And EVERY FOUR YEARS we hear, “Enjoy it boys, this’ll be the last year you get to do this.”  Whatever.  Every four years, like clockwork, the owners relent, the NHL schedule is pushed forward a week or two to accommodate the Olympic break (translation: no lost revenue) and the greatest hockey tournament in the world takes place.

Here’s the upside for the NHL in 2014.  NBC owns the rights to the Olympic games.  Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, owns NBC.  The NBC Sports Network owns the national broadcast rights to the NHL.  The same announcers who do the games of the week for NBC Sports Network cover the Olympic matches.  In the course of live play-by-play an NHL players’ surname is either preceded or followed by the name of the NHL team they represent.  It’s built in plug for the league!  That’s a win-win, right?  Right.

Further, the more players that an NHL team has spread across the tournament, the higher the visibility of those players, and therefore the broader the spotlight on the NHL team they represent – regardless of how that team performed going into the Olympic break.  The truth is if you own an NHL team that boasts a number of Olympians, it can be a built-in PR boon for your franchise.  Especially for a team that may have been struggling going into the Olympic break.  And if you think NBC won’t be promoting the holy H-E double hockey sticks out of their upcoming NHL coverage toward the conclusion of the tournament, then you haven’t watched television in decades.  And oh by the way, in terms of TV ratings, the Olympics KILL.  For a US pro sports league that’s still considered number four in the pecking order, any extra exposure is a good thing.

Most importantly, the players WANT to represent their countries at the Games.  They understand the pressure involved, and their own desire to bring home a gold medal.  They play hard and when they return to their NHL teams, most of them return with a new perspective and renewed drive to finish their professional seasons strong.  And the teams they return to have had two weeks to rest up and get ready for the NHL’s stretch run.  It’s great Olympic hockey followed by the rush to the NHL playoffs!  If you’re a fan, what’s not to like?

Well, right off the bat, you probably miss the lack of NHL action, tracking player statistics, as well as following conference and divisional records to name a few.  That’s why I went looking for a compendium of NHL player stats relating to Olympic performance.  Thankfully, The Bleacher Report took the effort out of that personal mission for me.  Turns out they are tracking every point scored by an NHL player during the Olympics, and it’s great.

Now perhaps it’s the television ratings researcher in me, but I couldn’t help it; I took each NHL team’s Olympic scoring stats and dropped them into a table to track average scoring performance.  After all, if I can’t have fantasy hockey and shifting divisional records during the Games, I’ll make my own!

Through Friday’s matches, here’s where each NHL team stands in terms of average scoring per player (you’re welcome):



Team
Skaters
Goals
Assists
Points
Avg Pts
Toronto Maple Leafs
3
1
4
5
1.67
New Jersey Devils
4
4
2
6
1.50
Ottawa Senators
2
2
1
3
1.50
Phoenix Coyotes
4
2
4
6
1.50
New York Islanders
3
3
1
4
1.33
Pittsburgh Penguins
7
4
5
9
1.29
Washington Capitals
5
3
3
6
1.20
Anaheim Ducks
6
1
6
7
1.17
Carolina Hurricanes
4
0
4
4
1.00
Colorado Avalanche
3
2
1
3
1.00
Dallas Stars
2
2
0
2
1.00
Philadelphia Flyers
5
1
4
5
1.00
Winnipeg Jets
3
1
2
3
1.00
St. Louis Blues
8
2
5
7
0.88
Los Angeles Kings
5
2
2
4
0.80
Boston Bruins
4
0
3
3
0.75
Minnesota Wild
4
2
1
3
0.75
Nashville Predators
3
2
0
2
0.67
Montreal Canadiens
5
0
3
3
0.60
Detroit Red Wings
8
3
1
4
0.50
Florida Panthers
2
0
1
1
0.50
Vancouver Canucks
6
1
2
3
0.50
Chicago Blackhawks
10
0
4
4
0.40
Columbus Blue Jackets
3
0
1
1
0.33
San Jose Sharks
3
0
1
1
0.33
Tampa Bay Lightning
5
0
1
1
0.20
Edmonton Oilers
3
1
1
1
0.33
Buffalo Sabres
2
0
0
0
0.00
Calgary Flames
1
0
0
0
0.00
New York Rangers
6
0
0
0
0.00



At the end of the tournament, I’ll post a final version so that you can see where your NHL team placed in this purely subjective and trivial exercise.  Of course in theory, if your squad comes out on top, you could use that information and dubious distinction as ammunition in sports bar banter with your friends and rivals alike.  Or don’t.  That’s entirely up to you.

Once again, you’re welcome.

Enjoy the Olympics, and good luck to your NHL team the rest of the way.

EPILOGUE

The Sochi Games are over.  The hangover begins as primetime television programming schedules resume in full.  The IOC and Russia claimed the fiasco to be a rousing success despite the unfinished hotels, the brown water, the wandering animals, the closed (albeit) new storefronts, the missing manhole covers, the "buddy toilets," average temperatures well over freezing (some days into the 60s), a closing ceremony featuring a GIANT creepy animatronic teddy bear straight out of a bad Japanese anime film and the inability of Bob Costas to get his hands on standard over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory antibiotics to treat his pink eye.

But like a seasoned vet, Bob powered through, and so did I.  Once again, thanks to the Bleacher Report, here are your final scoring results for the most useless comparison of NHL hockey talent ever assembled... Average Points Scored Per NHL Team in the Games of the XXII Winter Olympiad:


Team
Skaters
Goals
Assists
Points
Avg Pts
Toronto Maple Leafs
3
6
7
13
4.33
Ottawa Senators
2
4
4
8
4.00
Los Angeles Kings
5
11
6
17
3.40
San Jose Sharks
3
1
8
9
3.00
Anaheim Ducks
6
6
11
17
2.83
Minnesota Wild
4
4
7
11
2.75
Pittsburgh Penguins
7
8
9
17
2.43
Nashville Predators
3
4
3
7
2.33
New York Islanders
3
5
2
7
2.33
Boston Bruins
4
3
6
9
2.25
Detroit Red Wings
8
7
10
17
2.13
Carolina Hurricanes
4
1
7
8
2.00
New Jersey Devils
4
4
4
8
2.00
Phoenix Coyotes
4
2
6
8
2.00
Washington Capitals
5
3
7
10
2.00
Edmonton Oilers
3
4
1
5
1.67
Vancouver Canucks
6
3
7
10
1.67
Winnipeg Jets
3
2
3
5
1.67
Philadelphia Flyers
5
2
6
8
1.60
Chicago Blackhawks
10
4
11
15
1.50
Dallas Stars
2
3
0
3
1.50
Montreal Canadiens
5
1
6
7
1.40
St. Louis Blues
8
6
3
9
1.13
Buffalo Sabres
2
1
1
2
1.00
Colorado Avalanche
3
2
1
3
1.00
New York Rangers
6
3
3
6
1.00
Florida Panthers
2
0
1
1
0.50
Columbus Blue Jackets
3
0
1
1
0.33
Tampa Bay Lightning
5
0
1
1
0.20
Calgary Flames
1
0
0
0
0.00



Da svidaniya, Vladimir.  I hope it was worth it.  And hey, stay out of Ukraine while you're at it.

See everyone in Rio.