Best of Seven
Whoever came up with the best of seven game format to determine playoff winner should be knighted. The twists and turns, the constant give and take and the tension created by seven games is simply wonderful. Home ice can be huge in any NHL Playoff series but it’s not everything. If the lower seaded club wins one of their first two games on the road, it changes everything.
Click here to learn more about the trends of a best of seven visit.
This past week Sharks GM Doug Wilson appeared on a conference call with members of the media. There was little doubt about Wilson’s emotions a full two weeks after the LA Kings eliminated the Sharks. Doug said he was unhappy with the result, but more ticked about the surrendering of a 3-0 series. It was only the 4th time in NHL history a team had won the first three of a series, only to lose the next four.
Look for a major facelift of the Sharks roster come training camp in September. Two initial changes were announced during the media call. Winger Martin Havlat, despite a year remaining on his contract, will not be back. Havlat was brought to the San Jose camp to add skill and his high-powered offensive style. But Marty struggled to remain healthy and when he was at 100% he failed to provide any grit or fire, both prerequisites to any effective NHLer. Also Wilson announced that veteran defender Dan Boyle would not be offered a new contract. Two main reasons came into play with that decision. First, Boyle will be 38-years-old come opening night next October. Second, the Sharks were not interested in offering a multi-year deal. San Jose wants to get younger and grittier, especially on the blueline. While Boyle was ‘devastated’ by the news, he wasn’t surprised. Boyle will become a free agent on July 1 and he certainly will find a home for the 2014-15 season.
During his six seasons in teal, Boyle was the definition of a ‘gamer’. He’ll long be remembered by Sharks fans as a smart, skilled, play-making d-man. He was a true professional both on and off the ice. I will always remember his tireless skating and clever moves to get the puck up the ice.
These two moves will free up some cap space which will give San Jose more flexibility going forward. Stay tuned.
Former Sharks Success
As a Sharks follower, it was especially tough to see the rival Kings topple San Jose’s playoff dreams, but there are those in San Jose and around the league that were quietly pleased to see success come the way of former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter and ex-GM Dean Lombardi. Both are dedicated hockey men and they contributed greatly to the Sharks success going back to the mid 1990’s.
Playoff Bracket Format
The NHL’s new bracket-style playoff format will take time to establish it's goal of enhancing rivalries. It was tough to see either the Kings or Sharks get knocked out in round one, but it did allow for all-California series in Rounds 1 and 2. Those matchups will stoke the fires for next years’ regular season contests and undoubtedly for future playoff seasons.
Hockey in Seattle
It was quietly reported recently that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a stop in Seattle to speak with city leaders. Both parties are interested in prospect of bringing the NHL to the Emerald City. Time will tell, but a new arena is in the plans, and there is interest in local ownership for an NHL club. It must be noted that the Seattle market loves the NBA and is very interested in replacing their Sonics which was relocated to Oklahoma City. Can Seattle support both the NBA and the NHL? With the right ownership, and strong corporate support, the answer is a bold ‘absolutely!’.
Enjoy the exciting Stanley Cup Final Four.
Notes from the first round…
Last night at Staples Center the Kings beat the Sharks 6-3 forcing a game 5 in San Jose this Saturday. The Kings made a statement to everyone involved that they will not go down without a fight. The Sharks also made it clear that they will not back down from anyone. With the game essentially decided the 2 California teams found a way to make the final moments of game 4 get chippy. Game 5 seems to be set to be a memorable classic playoff battle.
Despite the San Jose being up 3 games to one in their series, the Sharks-Kings rivalry is alive and well. With three playoff meetings in the past 4 seasons there are plenty of bragging rights authored by each California club.
The Sharks captain, Joe Thornton, scored the game 6 and series winner in 2011. Last season the Kings/Sharks series ‘deux’ went the 7-game distance, only to see the Kings capture the deciding game in LA. Both teams brought their solid franchise core to this spring’s 1st round matchup.
In many ways these teams mirror one another. LA and San Jose both have excellent coaches. The Kings Darryl Sutter plays it ‘old-school’. He’s a no nonsense guy who demands unwavering discipline and effort. Anything less and Sutter will find a way to get his group re-engaged. The Sharks bench boss, Todd McLellan is not afraid to lay down the law either, but his style is to stress details and create an environment of responsibility. Players know they are responsible to their team and their teammates. Todd’s staff spends considerable time breaking down tape, to ensure each player is prepared and provided with best information possible. Both coaches are genius at making adjustments during the game. Lastly both are winners. Sutter led the Kings to NHL royalty status by capturing the Stanley in 2012 while McLellan was part of the coaching staff in Detroit that led the Wings to the 2008 Cup.
The Kings Cup squad was built around a great puck-moving D-man (Drew Daughty) and a corps of forwarded who combine skill, speed and work ethic (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards). The Sharks long run as an NHL power has been anchored by future hall-of-famer Joe Thornton, franchise icon Patrick Marleau and a combination of young and experienced impact players. Both clubs have consistently restocked their rosters via the NHL draft.
Regardless of the outcome the Sharks-Kings rivalry is set up for years to come. Both GMs, Doug Wilson of the Sharks and Dean Lombardi of the Kings know what it takes to assemble a competitive NHL squad. Like great chess masters they can look into the future and anticipate the dynamics of their organization.
It’s been fun to watch these two emerging hockey markets grow and embrace the west coast game, especially those matchups with feature the Sharks, Kings and the Powerful Anaheim Ducks. These games are some of the most anticipated be it regular season or the playoffs.
As we prepare for game 5 of the series it’s interesting to ponder the idea of young California kids watching these games, falling in love with the game and identifying with California natives, Matt Nieto of the Sharks and Alec Martinez of the Kings. This series will certainly add to the rich history of California hockey. Mark my words; it won’t be all that long until we see a fresh crop of California hockey talent break into the NHL.
So as you watch the Sharks and Kings face off tomorrow, be aware you are seeing one of the great rivalries of the NHL. Enjoy the games.
Something we learned watching game 1 of the Kings/Sharks series was that no lead is ever safe in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks burst out of the gate to a 5-0 lead after two periods. But it wasn’t by luck that the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup in 2012. Three 3rd period goals and a wave after wave attack by the Kings made it clear that each and every game will be a struggle.
It’s not a coincidence that when the San Jose club stopped finishing their checks the Kings came to life. Sunday’s Game 2 will start with a 0-0 tie and the Sharks need to again push the pace and play the body for all 60 minutes.
The Kings’ all-world netminder Jonathon Quick never seemed in control of his game following the Sharks crashing of the net from the opening faceoff. Expect Quick to rebound and give his team a great chance to win in Game 2. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Quick will not give up 5 goals again this series.
How different are the Sharks with Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres back in the lineup? Hertl's debut in the Stanley Cup was impressive as he scored one goal and chipped in with an assist. The amazing thing about the Sharks’ rookie phenom is he doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t shy away from physical play and works to make plays at every turn. As for Torres, his body on body style of play clearly rattled the Kings. If Torres can continue his hard-nosed style while staying out of the penalty box he will prove to be a force on every shift.
This season two Sharks in particular appeared grow their game by leaps and bounds. Jason Demers has blossomed into a solid, trusted puck-moving defenseman who also has upped his level of battle. Operating in the shadow of veteran d-man Dan Boyle for the past few seasons, Demers has been a good study and gives San Jose highly valuable right-handed blueliner.
Up front, James Sheppard is playing an inspired game. The former first-round pick of the Wild suffered a horrific ATV accident that put his career in Jeopardy. Sharks GM Doug Wilson identified Sheppard’s potential and said yes while many teams said no. That decision has been paying off as Sheppard was named the Sharks’ Player of the Month for March. Combined with the return of Hertl and Torres, Sheppard’s play makes match-ups difficult for the Kings’ bench boss Darryl Sutter.
This first-round matchup has the potential to be an epic test of wills. Enjoy.
Into Twitter? Do yourself a favor and follow Darin Stephens @SharksStats. Darin is the main graphics man for the Sharks television games on Comcast Sports Net California. His ability to get deep inside the numbers of hockey makes him the best in the biz.
Samples of his work from last night…
--The Sharks are the 1st team to score 6+ in their playoff opener since the 2007 Senators.
--Tomas Hertl (20 years old) is the youngest Shark to score a playoff goal since Patrick Marleau (19 years old) in 1999.
Make note of the 7:00 p.m. start time for this Sunday’s Game 2 in San Jose.
Hockey is a fast, beautiful and often violent game.
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Moms and Dads
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Making a move
The Big Moment
The game of hockey is ...
A game....that belongs to all of us!
Barring a huge Anaheim collapse it appears that the Sharks will clash with their rivals, the LA King, in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If Thursday’s LA vs. SJ matchup at the Tank is any indication, we are in for a series to remember. The Sharks captured a hard-fought 2-1 victory showing quite evident that this West Coast rivalry is alive and well. In many ways these team mirror one another.
It starts at the top. The Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson and the Kings’ Dean Lombardi are both experienced passionate leaders who have built their staffs with solid and trusted hockey people. Lombardi learned his trade as an assistant in San Jose. Later Dean earned the keys to the GM’s office. At the time the Sharks franchise was in disarray. Under Lombardi’s leadership the Sharks built a competitive club relying on cagey veterans who could still play at a high level, yet were also able to mentor young players like Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm. Later the Sharks stumbled, missing the playoffs in 2002-03, and Dean was relieved of his duties. After several seasons serving in Philadelphia’s scouting staff, Lombardi was named GM of the Kings. After a partial re-build, strong drafting and a culture change, LA won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
The Sharks GM, Doug Wilson took over for Lombardi and has assembled a club that is an annual Cup contender. Wilson has made strong draft picks, wise free-agent pickups and has fostered an environment of success. Each season the Sharks ‘refresh and reset’ by anticipating moves that are focused on the future without sacrificing the present. Under Doug’s leadership the Sharks have made the playoffs in 10 straight seasons, second only to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Kings’ 2012 Cup team’s bench boss was long-time NHL coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter’s no-nonsense approach was exactly what LA needed to push them to the top. It was the same Darryl Sutter that was hired in San Jose prior to the 1997-98 by then GM Dean Lombardi. It has always been Sutter’s style to create an environment of responsibly, no excuses and an inward pressure. Some call it ‘tough love’, but it drove players like Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci and Vincent Damphousse to some remarkable achievements in San Jose.
The Sharks head coach these days is hockey ‘lifer’ Todd MacLellan. He’s regarded as one of the best head coaches in the NHL and his record reflects that. MacLellan served as an assistant to Detroit’s Mike Babcock in their 2008 Stanley Cup season. That success catapulted Todd into the head coach job in San Jose. He has assembled a coaching staff that leaves no stone unturned in their quest to bring the Cup to the South Bay.
Both the Kings and Sharks have 4 games remaining in the regular season to prepare for what could be a first round playoff collision. Each club relies on a veteran cast of performers like the Sharks’ Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. The Kings’ veteran core is lead by guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anzi Kopitar.
Regardless of the final outcome of this year’s playoffs both LA and SJ have a wealth of young talent, most notably the Sharks Logan Couture and the Kings’ Drew Daughty. Daughty suffered a shoulder injury in the most recent Sharks/Kings battle. His return is essential to the Kings’ playoff fortunes.
On top of talent, these two clubs boast big, strong rosters that do not shy aware from a physical style. In fact, these teams seem to feed off one another with intensity. The long-time NorCal-SoCal rivalry has not been lost on the NHL. Two recent playoff series have only stoked the fire. The Sharks defeated the Kings in six games in round one of their 2011 run. Last season, the Kings ousted the Sharks in a hard-fought second round matchup up. It took seven games and total home ice success for the Kings to move on. Should the clubs meet this year the Sharks will hold the home-ice edge.
As they line up for the opening faceoff, know that both clubs despise but also respect one another. The Kings and Sharks share a common goal, the Stanley Cup. However, one of these teams will go home unsatisfied after the first round.
The road to an NHL career is long and often bumpy. Every player has his own story. Players come from the biggest cities and from the smallest towns. They come from the North America. They come from Europe. It’s the last amateur stop that separates the men from the boys. Many top players come via the Canadian Junior system; others make their way by way of U.S. College Hockey.
There was a day when virtually every NHL player came from the 3 Canadian Juniors leagues. The juniors consist primarily of the ‘Western Canadian’, the ‘Quebec Major’ and the ‘Ontario Hockey League’. Prior to the 1970’s it was rare to even dress a U.S. born player. Often they were not even scouted. It was assumed American players were not skilled or tough enough to crack an NHL lineup.
Today American players have proven their worth and the U.S. college system is a legitimate way to prepare for a pro career. Most Canadian-born players still take the junior path, while most American-born players take the college route. A vast majority of European players play junior hockey in their home countries. Some Americans play junior, some Canadians play college.
The current Sharks roster is a good example of the face of big league pro hockey in 2014. San Jose has 11 players from juniors, 11 from U.S. colleges. The club’s 2 Europeans learned at home. It can be argued that the high level stars still come primarily from the juniors. The Sharks Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all played Canadian Junior hockey. However Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Justin Braun, Tommy Wingels and others played college hockey.
Why junior? Why college?
Those who support junior hockey say that it closely resembles the pro game. Juniors play a 70+ game regular season with a long playoff system. Juniors travel thousands of miles by bus. Players wear half-shields, fighting is allowed and the juniors foster an environment that makes hockey the number one priority. Junior clubs are also very young, with players being from 16 to 20 years of age. It’s a great choice for a young ‘can’t miss’ type of player.
College hockey is a great option for an ‘excellent’ player who may aspire to a pro career but wants to a plan B by getting a great education while playing high level hockey. College players are generally older, more mature and bigger physically. NCAA hockey insists on full face shields or cages.
Junior hockey has more games than practices. College plays only 2 games a week which allows for more practices. NCAA hockey is perfect for the ‘late-bloomer’.
The old prejudices are no longer in place. NHL teams know that great players come from everywhere. Great players come from junior, college and from Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Winning is all they care about.
The new trend that will continue in the future is high-level players born and bred in the states of California and Texas. The Sharks boast 2 Californians, winger Matt Nieto from Long Beach and defenseman Matt Tennyson of Pleasanton. Both played in California, both took the college route. Nieto went to Boston University, Tennyson played at Western Michigan.
The hockey world is just beginning to see the emergence of players who have grown up in NHL warm-weather markets. The hard work of growing hockey in places like California, Texas, Florida and other is beginning to pay off. That only means good things for young players and for NHL fans. Dreams of NHL glory can come from warm weather places as well cold weather places. Great players can come from college and from junior hockey. One day the Sharks will dress a team made primarily of players from places like San Jose, Gilroy, San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont and countless other California towns. Equally likely is Division 1 hockey will be played by programs like Stanford, UC Berkeley and San Jose State. On that you can bet.
It takes a lot of heart to play in the NHL and the San Jose Sharks know that more than anyone. Since the team’s birth back in 1991 the professional ice hockey club has given fans some great memories. The SAP Center has been the venue where many of those memories have been made.
Big goals, great goaltending, last minute comebacks and incredible individual accomplishments have been many. But this past Tuesday we may have been given the finest, most important memory of all.
18 year-old Sam Tageson was born with a heart condition that has affected his family every day of his life. Sam may need a heart transplant sometime in the near future, but in the meantime, Sam treats every day like the gift it is. Helping him along the way has been his love for the game of hockey and most specifically the San Jose Sharks. Despite doctor’s advice, Sam loves to play roller hockey. He’s a goalie and his role is to protect the net. It’s the game that gives him joy. It gives his life structure.
As is the case with many children who have medical challenges, the future is uncertain. Along the way, Sam’s family came in contact with the Make a Wish Foundation of the Bay Area. Sam’s wish was to skate with San Jose’s NHL team. I’m sure his family tried to let Sam know that was a lot to ask for. Parents are there to protect their sons and daughters from harm and from hurt. But like a wonderful glorious daydream…the Sharks Foundation entered his life. Sam would be granted his wildest dream.
On Tuesday Sam signed a one-day contract with the Sharks. Terms were not disclosed. The team bought him a nice suit, gave him a customized home jersey and let him get on the ice with his heroes towards the end of the morning skate. The players treated him as they would any new teammate. They gave him some good natured teasing and tips on how to improve his game. The Sharks spent time and smiles on their new friend.
In the afternoon Sam was let loose in the Sharks Store to pick up some new team gear.
Sam’s pregame meal was Chicken Parm in the Sharks Press Room. The young goalie and his family were joined at their meal by radio man Dan Rusanowsky. They also visited with other broadcasters Randy Hahn, Drew Remenda, Brodie Brazil and Bret Hedican. But the best was yet to come. Sam spent time in the Sharks dressing room prior to the game. He watched the warm-ups from the Sharks’ bench where almost every player acknowledged him a tap, fist bump or small joke. Jason Demers, as he does most every night, sprayed those on the bench with his water bottle.
He got to see firsthand how his heroes prepare for a game. With the warm up finished, the clock ticked down. The team shared their final moments before their trademark entrance via the “Shark Head”. The starting goalie Anti Niemi is first, followed by the Captain Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is always last. But this night was different. Sam would be the last Shark to hit the ice. It was the first time ever that a non-player has skated through the “Shark Head”.
Sam joined the San Jose starters on the blueline as their names and pictures were announced on the in-house JumboTron. Following the anthem, Sam headed to the bench and was once again acknowledged, this time by the fans. Many gave him a standing ovation. Both teams, the Sharks and the Florida Panthers applauded or banged their sticks on the ice or the boards. Sam waved to the crowd as a flood of emotion came to Sam. He sobbed with joy and an understanding that his wish had been granted. It was a wish that he was able to share with his 17,500 best friends, the Sharks’ fans.
The kindness of the players was truly remarkable. I knew they are grounded, loyal and caring people but their performance on Tuesday may be their finest moment. The Sharks Foundation, Sharks’ staff, coaches, GM Doug Wilson and even Sharkie did everything possible to make this a memory for Sam and his family. At the same time all involved crafted a lasting memory for hockey fans everywhere.
We all know that sports are nothing more than a diversion for people, a way to forget their daily troubles and spend time with friends and family. But Tuesday Sharks hockey was more than that. Tuesday made sports important.
Click here and I dare you not to feel emotion for this brave young man.
I’ve always enjoyed playing, watching and talking hockey. It’s a game of action and excitement. It’s a game where effort trumps skill on many occasions.
Travel is another passion. I’ve lived on three continents, been to 23 countries and 45 states in my life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to combine these two interests during my sports-television career. Each year the Sharks send Randy Hahn, Drew Remenda, Dan Rusanowsky, Jamie Baker, producer Sean Maddison, graphics producer Darin Stephens and me on the road to visit the other 29 cities in the NHL.
Let me start by saying I think San Jose is the best stop in the league. For me they have classiest team, the nicest arena, best location, best TV techs and finest weather in all of the NHL. However for this exercise I’m eliminating San Jose from consideration.
Here is my NHL travel best-of list.
Most beautiful city…It’s hard to do much better than Vancouver, BC. It’s where sea meets land and mountains set the perfect backdrop. Stanley Park is an amazingly beautiful city part that offers world class vistas. Also considered…New York City and Calgary, AB.
Best arena to broadcast from…I love all of the Canadian building but for my money Calgary is the best. Camera angles are excellent, announcers are stationed almost over the rink and lighting is very good overall. Also noted…Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Best US venue…Dallas.
Best press meal. Writers, broadcasters and staff get access to an on-site pregame meal. Los Angeles has a spread that any fine restaurant would be proud of. Lots of choices, great salad bar, fresh fruit and soft serve ice cream make it a special place to visit. Others considered…Buffalo, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Montreal.
Best cheap meal….Marcel’s sandwiches in Edmonton. Try the super Donair/Gyro. Nice food courts in many places…most noted the ones in Calgary and Toronto.
Best restaurant…Ted’s Montana Grill in Columbus, followed by Cordero’s in Vancouver, and Caesars Steakhouse in Calgary. As for cities, LA and New York feature some amazing places for breakfast lunch or dinner..
Best ice. Near 100% of players claim Edmonton has the finest playing surface in hockey. A winter of severe cold and dry air make for good ice-making. Calgary, Minnesota and Detroit also boast great ice.
Best arena location. The Staples Center in LA is pretty awesome. Across the street there’s ‘LA Live’ along with hotels, restaurants and entertainment. Do yourself a favor and take in a Sharks’ game next time they visit the Kings. Another nice setup is the Coyotes with arena, shopping, meals and hotels all a short walk.
Best place with two hours to kill…the Hockey Hall-of-Fame in Toronto. Great displays take you into the history of the game while honoring the greatest players and teams of all-time. Exit through the gift shop and pick up a t-shirt of the 1917 Stanley Cup Champion Seattle Metropolitans.
Most-friendly people. The people in Calgary and Edmonton always welcome visitors with a smile.
Best walking city. It’s hard to top the overload of the senses that is New York City. Walk 10 minutes in any direction and you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. It’s free entertainment and makes it fun every time we visit the Big Apple. Other walking towns of note…Toronto, Vancouver and Chicago.
Best shopping town. Chicago’s Michigan Ave offers everything you’d ever want. I enjoy looking a high tech gear and clothing spots
Best off-day city. Chicago boasts great restaurants, museums, and shopping. Chi-town is also known for its entertainment, is it live blues, the Blue Man group, concerts or comedy clubs.
Best weather. Tampa Bay is a great place to go any winter. Mild temps and low humidity make for a break from places like Buffalo, Detroit and Winnipeg.
Best live music. Now I don’t much care for country music, but it is hard to ignore Nashville. Broadway is lined with bars with live music. People from around the world make pilgrimages to Nashville with hopes of see the next big talent. If you know your way around, there’s some nice rock bars too. Chicago live blues venues are tough to top also.
Best Hockey town. They call it ‘Hockeytown’ for a reason. Detroit’s love for the game spans generations. The Red Wings are the talk of the town all year round. Joe Louis Arena is always packed and the winged wheel logo is everywhere.
Best sports bar…’Real Sports’ in Toronto has set the standard for all to come after it. It features 199 TV’s, arranged around the enormous space. The jewel however is a truly massive 39-foot video display. Great food and drink, sports and lots of interesting characters make it fun.
Best place to come home to…San Jose and the Bay Area.
Some sports grant followers inside knowledge via the use of statistics, others not so much.
Baseball is a perfect game for stats. Major League Baseball came to life when the National League began business in 1876. Later the American League first breathed life in 1901. Over the lifetime of baseball very few rules have changed. More importantly none of the measurements have changed in that time. The bases have always been 90 feet apart. The mound has always been 60’ 6” from the plate. And while the height of the mound has changed and the ball has been wound tightened and loosened (juiced or deadened), the game remains essentially the same.
Anyone with even a passing interest in baseball knows what it means to be a .300 hitter; they know what it means to be a 20-game winner. 60, 3000, and 1.12 translate into…Babe Ruth’s longtime home run record, how many hits it takes to be an all-time great hitter, and Bob Gibson’s epic ERA in 1968. With the advent of fantasy sports and the internet baseball has found more and more ways to crunch the numbers in a never-ending effort to understand the game.
Basketball lends itself to stats quite well. Shooting percentage from the floor and free-throw line show fans who is a difference maker. Registering points, assists, steals and rebounds per game make it easy to compare teams and players.
Football stats have just recently become of age. However the NFL is never afraid of changing foundational rules in an effort to make their game more fan-friendly. We still look at yards per carry, TD receptions and quarterback ratings. Current stats can point to who might be the better quarterback…Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. More difficult to determine is comparing different eras. Is Drew Brees better than Johnny Unitas? The numbers do not so readily answer such questions.
Maybe the toughest game to understand by way of stats is hockey. When you sit back and look at the game, hockey has more in common with soccer than any of North America’s other big 4. Like soccer it’s a ‘flow’ game. All players are moving at all times with limited game stoppages. On the ice all players play both offense and defense, and some players get ice in even strength, powerplay and short-handed situations. The more you watch one team or one player, the more you know a player’s real worth to his team. With 30 teams and over 700 players in the NHL it is nearly impossible to know the value of each player. Hockey can’t be accused of not trying to use stats. Goals, assists and points are the most basics of hockey numbers. A 20-goal man tells us all that the player has enough skills to find his way to the net enough to score a goal roughly every 4 games. Not so clear is who that player plays with or what his ‘role’ might be in context of his team.
Detroit hall-of-famer Steve Yzerman registered some amazing scoring stats in the late 80’s and early 90's. Yzerman scored 50+ goals and 100+ points in more than a few seasons. However once Steve was surrounded with better players his role changed. No longer was it necessary for Yzerman to provide all the offense. When Scotty Bowman took over the Detroit bench…he needed Yzerman to win face-offs, kill penalties and play shutdown defense. When that changed is when Detroit challenged for Stanley Cups. However if you only look at the stats you might have been led to believe Yzerman had lost some ability. Similar to the NFL, the NHL has had distinctive eras. Scoring has risen and dropped due to these very distinct eras. Career totals tell us who was a great scorer and who was not, but it’s difficult to know how many goals Rocket Richard might score today or how many Wayne Gretzky would have scored during the original six.
In recent years the NHL has spent time and money to keep track of ice times, face-off wins, plus/minus and scoring percentage. But even with that there’s no accounting how good a passer or puck handler really is. Also unclear is how clutch a player is. In baseball there’s batting average with runners in scoring position in night road games after the 7th inning. In hockey we do not readily know puck clears in the last 30 seconds of tied road game.
The numbers tell us something but we aren’t certain what.
Two ideas which I think might give us better, quality information are by tallying 1st assists as compared to 2nd assists. More time than not the 1st assist makes that goal possible…it credits a player with that quality which led directly to the goal. A 2nd assist does not share that knowledge. Watch any game and you’ll see what I mean. Players routinely get assists for pucks that bounce off a skate or other body part. Little 5 foot passes in the defensive zone can lead to a goal if the scorer makes a series of remarkable moves. The practice of giving the same points to goals, 1st assists and 2nd assists do not clearly tell us who is ‘best scorer’ is among the league leaders. How about 3 player points to a goal, 2 for the 1st assist and 1 for the 2nd assists? It might give us a better measure but it would not give us a good comparison to the history of the league.
My other suggestion is to change the way we view powerplay and penalty kill statistics. Presently one can calculate powerplay percentages by dividing powerplay goals by powerplay opportunity. Say a team has 20 PPGs in 100 powerplay opportunities…it’s a 20.0% ranking. However there is no accounting for true powerplay time. A 3 second powerplay counts as a powerplay opportunity just like a 2 minute powerplay. The resulting numbers give us a distorted view of a team’s powerplay true ability. My recommendation is to change the powerplay and penalty kill from a percentage base to an index. This system would be derived from powerplay time divided by total powerplay goals. The resulting number would tell you how many minutes and seconds of powerplay time is needed to score a goal. Let’s use the previous scenario…team A scores 20 powerplay goals in 145.00 minutes of powerplay time. The result of this is an index of 7.15. The penalty killing would use a similar equation. Once this system begins to be used it wouldn’t take too long to know what number is a good pp or pk index.
While some get frustrated not being able to translate the action into numbers, others see this as a good thing. Baseball, football and basketball are tamed by the stats. Hockey is a wild animal that’s hard to capture but fun to watch.
For you stats geeks…this article is 1159 words long. Enjoy the games.
Well things are getting quiet in Sochi. The 22nd Winter Olympics are now in the books and Canada has won ice hockey for their 2nd straight time. The Canadians started slowly but got better in each game. The Gold was clinched early Saturday morning in an impressive 3-0 win over the Swedes. Kudos go to the Sharks two Gold medal winners, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Marleau was a member of the 2010 Gold medal Canadian team and now owns 2 Olympic prizes. Vlasic was a first time Olympian and will certainly represent Canada again in the future. Sharks netminder Antti Niemi, despite not seeing action, picked up Bronze as a member of the 3rd place finishers Finland. Standout center Joe Pavelski played well for the Americans. Back to back losses to Canada and Finland pushed the USA off the podium.
The NHL’s future participation in the Olympics is questionable. The New York Islanders’ captain and leading scorer John Tavaras suffered a severe season ending injury while Red Wings captain re-aggravated a back injury which will end his regular season. With the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, the time difference along with it being a non hockey country may seal the end of the NHL’s participation in the Winter Games. A pre or mid-season World Cup tournament may wind up being the best option for International hockey. A huge factor may come to dollars and cents as the league and players could split any revenue.
As the Olympians return to North America, the NHL’s remaining season will be a sprint to the playoffs. Following Thursday night’s game in Philadelphia the Sharks have just 22 games to go. It’s perfect timing for the returns of Logan Couture, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish from injury. A huge question is... can the Sharks chase down the Anaheim Ducks for 1st place in the Pacific Division. With so few games remaining it looks like a tough order for San Jose. If Anaheim continues to rack up points the story may turn to the Sharks and Kings battling for home ice advantage in a head to head 1st round playoff series.
It will be interesting to see if this could be the year that NHL Superstar Sidney Crosby plays an entire season. Through the years Crosby has been hampered by injuries. Crosby is leading the league in scoring and is essential to the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sid the Kid is arguably the face of the league and its top box office attraction.
I’m hearing that next week, March 8th a long-time fan favorite, Marco Sturm, will be visiting San Jose to take in a game. Earlier this winter Sturm announced his retirement from pro hockey as a member of the DEL’s (German League) Cologne Sharks. It’s a coincident that Marco started and ended his career as a ‘Shark’. He was a fleet footed forward who played in all situations…even strength, powerplay and penalty killing. He may have spent his career in San Jose except for the fact that Joe Thornton became available. A high price was the cost for Jumbo and the Sharks needed to part with Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. It will be great to see Marco who played with heart, flair and a big smile on his face.
How great is it to see the NHL back in business? Enjoy the games!