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Archive for September 2011

Hockey Is Combat

I have said it before. Hockey is a lot like combat. Consider this:

Players (soldiers?) don protective equipment and uniforms, grab their sticks (weapons) and enter into games (conflict).

While bullets aren’t flying, players skating at speed build up kinetic energy that is released in the form of hits and shots which can injure players and/or produce tactical results.

Medical personnel are required to be on hand to patch up the wounded and (occasionally) save lives.

And management and coaches lead at tactical and operational levels to meet strategic goals.

So here – have a look at Hockey in combat terms…

Tactical Hockey

Coaches, players, fans and the media ‘fight’ Hockey at the tactical level.

More than anything else they do, coaches work before, during and after games to provide tactical guidance for players in order to focus their efforts toward victory in each game (or battle). Before the game, they employ intelligence functions to analyze the opposing team (enemy) and themselves (friendlies) against their experience of the game on the ice (the environment). During the game, they must adjust systems (tactical maneuver) such as how they attack, defend or run the power play and penalty kill to take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses (center of gravity) in order to win. And after a game, they must assess their current status (injuries, weaknesses, and strengths) against the next opponent in order to continue to succeed in the next battle. It is a magnificent cacophony of struggle to overmatch an enemy who dynamically opposes your very being because you stand in the way of them reaching the exact, same strategic goal. Coaches are the Captains of Hockey, assisted by their coaching staff (Lieutenants) in running the troops.

Players on a team are the platoon of troops who execute tactical actions. On the ice, they have 60(+) minutes of skating, passing, hitting, shooting, blocking shots, making saves and scoring (engagements) that feed into a game victory or defeat (tactical battle). During the game (battle), they must continuously analyze their efforts (engagements) to keep doing what is working and stop repeating what is failing to achieve victory (their tactical goal). If they win, they must not rest on their laurels as they have to tactically readjust to the next opponent (enemy) who plays the game (tactically engages) differently based on their own capabilities. If they lose, they must analyze what they did wrong and apply it to their next opponent so they do not repeat the same mistakes. A lot of people think the goalie has to be the smartest tactical player on the ice because he has to know how some 19 different players on 30 different teams are going to attack his defensive position at speeds up to Zdeno Chara’s 105.9mph slapshot in a space of less than 60ft / in about .386 seconds. His position is but one reason the tactical echelon of Hockey is the fastest executed echelon of the sport. It is also why those who do not execute at the tactical echelon of Hockey often fail to understand the on-ice conflict as the troops, er, players do and are a subject of mostly private, and sometimes public, derision by them. Players are the grunts we both glorify and vilify in the sport.

Fans live and breathe going to a game, following players’ engagements on the ice, and talking smack about the tactical wins and losses they witness. They drop big money to observe and immerse themselves in each game – jersey/team gear, gas money, parking pass, game ticket(s), arena food and beverage, and after-game food and drink at a sports bar. Either that or they tailgate at home with any number of services paid for to provide the game feed for viewing. Their efforts at supporting the tactical level of play are how the NHL makes much of its revenue and is why more effort than for any other echelon goes into exulting tactical Hockey. Fans are the civilians / tax payers.

And the media mostly fights tactical Hockey because that is where the fan – their target audience – lives. Fans are their primary target audience and where they derive the quickest/biggest bang-for-the-buck from their efforts. Some great media strive to influence management on occasion. They are the only ones fans can vent directly at when they do not like what they see because they are the fans’ connection to vicariously engage in the combat. There is no other defining word for them but ‘media.’

Operational Hockey

Management, coaches, some fans and some media ‘fight’ Hockey at the operational level.

League management first arrives on scene at this level to ensure the mechanics of Hockey keep the game alive. They provide the overall form and function and police the execution of the game. They are the bureaucrats.

Team management steps in at this echelon to apply fan-generated revenue to provide short, medium and long-term assets their team needs to achieve the common strategic goal. They employ scouts who comb the globe looking for the best tactical talent to infuse into the organization to help it win. (Theoretically, you see that talent in trades no later than the trade deadline each year and at the end of every June in the entry draft.)  They also staff and organize personnel, operations, logistics and media/public affairs to that end as well. In effect, they provide orders and intent that are an executable framework which brings players, coaches, fans and the media together for the experience of the team engaged in battle. They are City Hall, presumably with the fans best interests at heart and the place they want to storm when not getting satisfaction.

Coaches also operate at the operational level in that they manage the players in an attempt to operationally string enough game wins (tactical battles) together to feed the strategic goal of winning the Stanley Cup at season’s end. They look at the past for lessons learned to alter tactical decisions, but they also look ahead a set amount of time to determine how best to apply tactical efforts toward the overall goal.

Some fans engage as amateur media in the blogosphere to provide analysis beyond a tactical preview or replay about their favorite team’s efforts. If they are not talking tonight’s or last night’s game, they are likely writing about some piece of the overall picture which steps just across into the operational view of the game.

Media often does the same as blogging fans, but they do so in a planned way. As the saying goes, there is method to their madness when they take a step back from discussing one player, one event and/or one game and providing analysis of the team/league as a whole. This operational thinking is a line of analysis that is less introduced, however, because most fans – the targeted audience of the media – are caught up in the tactical echelon.

Strategic Hockey

This echelon is the realm of League and team management.

At the League management level, providing the Stanley Cup for awarding at the end of the finals is but one tactical engagement of each season. The League’s battles are not each game, but rather revenue streams and appropriate sharing and reorganization to support those streams as required. Their operational engagements include the collective bargaining process and enforcement of rules for the good of player health and the game. And strategically they battle for more influence than the other major sports in North America and grapple with issues like supporting playing in the Olympics and whether or not they one day expand the League to Europe. They fight these management battles, turning them into that operational guidance spoken of above that is designed to ensure future success of the sport/League.

And at the team management level, winning the Stanley Cup remains the strategic goal. It is the culmination of every effort and exertion from everyone in the organization. Only one of 30 teams meets that strategic goal each season, but it is why all is given by everyone for their team each season ad infinitum.

On The Objective

What did we learn here? Some key things:

Fans = Civilians / Tax Payers (rootin’ on from the bleachers through the media)

Players = Grunts (in protective gear and uniforms, totin’ weapons)

Coaching staffs = The Lieutenants

Coaches = The Captains

Team Management = City Hall

League Management = Bureaucrats

And the Media = The Media (loved to be hated because they are the civilians’ only recourse for interaction)

Plenty to do battle over, there. That’s because the above is a slate of actors representing a pugilistic society, if not all of the time, at least on game nights.

So I maintain Hockey is combat. It’s fast pace transition from tactical offense to defense coupled with it being the national sport of Canada is why in my experience Canadian soldiers are so tactically sound. They were groomed for the give and take world of tactical combat from the very youngest of ages.

Americans? In general, we are a football-centric country. We believe in piling on where we want to with as much as we can, and if that is not enough, we will pile on with some more. We are blunt and sometimes pushy as our national sport has made us. It works for us, too, just differently than it does for our northern brothers and sisters in uniform. But I tend to believe we could apply our tons of resources more efficiently if we happen to be the U.S. military person who knows Hockey.

Any way you slice it, there’s no denying Hockey is combat.

Peaches & Herb – The NHL Remix

Big Tex here.  Yep, after a lengthy hiatus from the blogosphere, I have returned.  I can’t guarantee I’ll blog on a regular basis going forward, but I’ll throw my two cents out onto the interwebs anytime the Hockey Gods compel me to do so.  Today, They have spoken, so here I am.  Enjoy.

When I heard the NHL Board of Governors was discussing realignment proposals last week, I immediately thought of the 1979 Peaches & Herb hit, “Reunited“, albeit with a subtle change to the lyrics (and title).  On or about December 6th of this year, the BoG will vote, and Peaches & Herb will have a new Number One hit with “Realignment“.  And yes, it does feel so good.

While certain clubs (Dallas, Columbus and Detroit) have campaigned for some time for realignment, the BoG has finally been forced to act…by the movement of a franchise from Atlanta to Winnipeg.  How will this realignment shake out?  The Colonel explored some possibilities here and here back in July.  I took a run at it myself, back in August of ’09.  As the Thrashers have migrated north, I’d like to revisit and revise my rather radical realignment.  Here’s what the NHL would look like in 2012-2013, if Big Tex was running the show:

Clarence Campbell Conference  

  • Patrick Division:  NYR, NYI, NJD, BOS, BUF
  • Smythe Division:  MTL, OTW, TOR, DET, CHI
  • Neilson Division:  MIN, WPG, EDM, CGY, VAN

Prince of Wales Conference

  • Adams Division:  PIT, PHI, WSH, CBJ, STL
  • Norris Division:  DAL, NSH, CAR, TBL, FLA
  • Brooks Division:  LAK, ANA, SJS, PHX, COL

Here’s why this realignment works:

  1. Better travel parity.  Conferences are aligned north-south, rather than the traditional east-west, so every team has to travel to the Pacific time zone every season.
  2. While some divisional rivalries are broken, most are preserved…and old rivalries rekindled (see Smythe Division).
  3. The presence of the Penguins, Capitals and Flyers in the Prince of Wales (Southern) Conference will help balance the media focus between conferences.

Also, how ironic/apropos/cool is it that the Original Six are in one conference and the Next Six (or Surviving Five, actually) are in the other?  It’s a radical realignment with a strong nod to tradition, both in the groupings of teams and the division and conference names.  I think both Roger Neilson and Herb Brooks, innovators extraordinaire, would approve.

On a spooky, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon note, Reunited” was a Number One hit for Peaches & Herb in May, 1979.  On May 20, 1979, the final WHA game was played.  In it, the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 7-3, to win the Avco Cup for the last time.  Just a few months later, the NHL would realign to accomodate the entry of four WHA franchises – Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hartford and Quebec.

–Big Tex

Player Fatigue And The ’11-’12 Schedule – Out West

In Wednesday’s blog, we introduced the Fatigue Difficulty Factor, or FDF, for the Eastern Conference in the 2011-12 season. We now turn our attentions to the Western Conference. (Don’t forget when we mention ‘trends,’ we are referring to our Winning Hockey Trends blog .)

By Way Of FDF Review…

The FDF, is a four-factor calculation expressing the potential for fatigue to take its toll on a team’s ‘W’ column.

Once more the only positive FDF is derived from the:

- Number of Black and Blue (B&B) schedule – home-and-away pairs of – games

and the negative categories are:

- Average number of days between games

- Number of back-to-back (B2B) games

- Any stretch where the team returns from two or more games at least two time zones away

The factors above make the Western Conference’s average schedule FDF rating a –16 games lost per team to fatigue with a 5.8 negative,10-game periods per team number similar to the Eastern Conference. The slightly higher FDF than the East has a lot to do with time zones crossed in Western Conference travel. At the same time, the West has lost a slightly lower-than-the-East average of 35.27 games per team, per season since the Lockout. (The range has been from only 20 for the ‘05-‘06 Red Wings up to 53.5 for the ‘05-‘06 Blues.) These opposing numbers indicate a more fatiguing Western schedule than in the East but with teams who overcome the jet lag better.

Without further ado, here are the Western Conference FDF calculations. Where does your favorite team fall out?

The Western FDF

In order from easiest to most difficult, below are the 15 Western Conference teams’ analyses. Note a bold
font
indicates a positive FDF number and a bold, italics font underscores a team who could lose more games to fatigue than the average number of games conference teams lose per 10-game period.

1. Colorado has a Tampa Bay-tying FDF rating of –8.  By 10 game groupings, here are the Avalanche’s ratings:

10: –2    20: –2    30: –2    40: 0   50: –1    60: +4    70: –3    82: –2

In the plus column, COL plays four B&B pairs to play this season which assists their overall FDF: CHI (Game 1 – 10); SJS (Game 31 – 40); NSH (Game 51 – 60); and MIN (Game 61 – 70)

Overall, the triple –2 FDF’s across the first 30 games have one key effect on the team – an indication
of a predictable cycle in terms of fatigue and recovery. It is also interesting to note that when average losses for the team are 3.89 in every 10 since the Lockout, these 30 games are not more difficult to handle than the Avalanche norm. Games 31 – 60 are even better and combined make for a schedule COL should be able to pad with wins until the final 22 games which are a bit tougher, but not by much. As a whole, COL should be able to exploit their schedule this season better than any other Western Conference team. They will need to as the trending model indicates a likely second year in a row for the Avs in negative overall wins.

2. Nashville has a –10 FDF rating for this upcoming season but in an unpredictable manner:

10: –1    20: –1    30: –4   40: 0    50: –3    60: +5   70: 0   82: –6

NSH has one B&B pairing this season versus COL in the Game 41 – 50 stretch.

This is needed to offset the lack of recovery time and return from one trip across two time zones during those 10 games. Beyond the B&B, you remember the way NSH seasons normally go, right? Good starts as a general rule; a dip or two followed each time by a strong 10 games; the mid– to late–season call of Chasing Stanley by OGA; and a scary stretch of close games to close out the season. Right? That is what we have in terms of the FDF this season where NSH’s play should start out decently with lulls in the W column in November/ December and January/February. The final 12 games will be a crap shoot, but that is where NSH often works their hardest. Just hang on for the ride, Predator fans. Barring abnormal injuries, this team should keep playing past mid-April. NSH looks to be trending in negative wins this season so must take advantage of those stretches with less negative FDF rankings.

3. Both Dallas and Minnesota sport a –13 FDF. Dallas’ FDF falls out like this:

10: –2    20: 0    30: –1   40: –1    50: –2   60: –5    70: –3   82: +1

Dallas wastes no time in opening the season with a B2B pair in the first two games and throws another three more bookending pairs in there for good measure: CHI 7 – 8 OCT and CBJ 15 – 18 OCT (Game 1 – 10); and CGY 24 – 26 MAR and SJS 31 MAR – 3 APR (Game 71 – 82).

The Stars begin the season with a relatively favorable first 10 games at only a –2 FDF. But remember that is balanced by the +2 factored in for two B&B pairs. They will need some character to shine through at the
season’s onset. But Games 11 – 50 are not too difficult in terms of the FDF. It’s Game 51 – 70 where the going will get a bit rougher as they suffer with three each road trips to one or the other coast and B2B pairs of games. Their final 12 games are a bit less taxing and may be what lands them back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus. DAL will have to break the current trending averages to gain a third straight year in positive win territory in order to overcome that Game 51 – 70 stretch.

Minnesota’s –13 comes a bit differently:

10: –2    20: –2    30: –3    40: –4   50: +4    60: 0   70: –3    82: –3

Minnesota only plays 2 B&B pairs: DET (Game 11 – 20); and COL (Game 61 – 70)

The schedule is a little rough on Minnesota this season with mostly negative FDF’s. Game 1 – 30 sits close to the Western Conference norm making the Wild’s task not any more difficult than other conference foes. But in late December/early January they could take a dip before they hit a string of games on through February that should bolster their position in the standings. If they only lose the six negative FDF games to close out the last 22 contests, they would be in great shape. But, as we say in the military, the
enemy has a vote. So all other teams will be lining up to get their W’s to secure playoff berths. Still, with a likely second positive wins trend on tap, maybe MIN fans will see their team on into the post season for the first time in three seasons.

5. Detroit is next with a –14 FDF:

10: +1    20: –3   30: –1    40: –3    50: –6    60: +1    70: 0   82: –3

Detroit lines up with only two B&B pairs: MIN (Game 1 – 10); and CBJ (Game 71 – 82).

For the Red Wings who have received OGA’s Chasing Stanley call by Game 20 in every season since the Lockout except ’09-’10, an opening, positive FDF is likely to continue as the norm. January is likely to be a bear, but they get from there through March with another FDF–favorable scheduling period. They also get to close out the season with only a Western average –3 FDF. Coupled with a positive winning trend for this year, Red Wings fans will most likely see the Winged Wheel remain one of only two teams who have made the playoffs every season since the Lockout.

6. Calgary comes after DET with a –15 FDF:

10: +1    20: –4   30: –3    40: –8    50: 0   60: +4   70: –2   82: –3

Calgary only has one B&B pair this season versus DAL (Game 71 – 82).

The positive FDF to open the season is a recipe for a potentially wrong, early Chasing Stanley call by OGA. Such calls may be premature as the –15 FDF over the next 30 games could see the Flames looking
more like a flame-out by 1 January before a bit of an FDF respite arrives. If they hold their own or can recover, with nine of the Western teams experiencing a greater FDF over their last 22 games, CGY may still find themselves ending the season with a push toward a playoff bid. This will be a tough one to call
for the Flames as they navigate this season despite a positive wins trend again this year.

7. Edmonton’s –16 in the last slot at or above the Western FDF average comes across this way:

10: –3    20: –1    30: –7    40:+1    50: +2    60: 0   70: –3    82: –5

Edmonton gets zero positive FDF benefit this season as they are B&B free.

The Oilers begin the season with a negative FDF that is about double the Western average. Youth and optimism will have to carry them in November where they will have a better-than-average FDF schedule. Woe is December, however, as they will have to overcome the -7 FDF caused in large measure by four B2B pairs with less recuperation time between games and pull out some fatigued wins. If they can avoid a Tee Time – eliminated from the playoffs – call by OGA before Christmas, their schedule should allow a positive respite on into February. Their trend can go either way this year, so they need to stack ‘em up in the W column during more the more positive winter span as the closing twelve games look to be less favorable.

8. Anaheim, Columbus and San Jose all three tie with a –17 rating. Continuing alphabetically, the Ducks’ FDF looks like this:

10: –2     20: –1    30: +1    40: 0   50: –2    60: –5    70: –5    82: –2

Anaheim has only one B&B pair this season but, as it should be, it is a Freeway Fracas with the LAK (Game 11 – 20).

For the Ducks, remaining healthy to begin the season could lead to very good things through Game 50/into February. All things equal, by then they could gain an OGA Chasing Stanley call. Then they hit a speed bump to overcome in a less favorable 20 games on through to mid-March. As long as they
hang in there, and coupled with their most likely positive wins trend this season, the Ducks close out the final 12 games in a less formidable FDF schedule.

Here is the FDF breakdown for the Blue Jackets:

10–2    20: +1    30: –2   40: –1    50: –3    60: –5    70: 0   82: –5

Columbus sports three B&B pairs on the positive side of the FDF this year: DAL (Game 1 – 10); STL (Game 61 – 70); and DET (Game 71 – 82).

As with ANA, the ‘Jackets first 50 games sport a relatively supportive FDF. We cringe at OGA as we are Columbus fans, but they have fooled us with early Chasing Stanley calls in the last two, consecutive seasons. Will we be fooled again? Absent a huge collapse, we likely wouldn’t be able to tell until February rolls around. Still, we note they are likely to experience a positive wins trend again this season and temper that with the knowledge they likely need seven more wins this year than last to make the post season. Do we seem wishy-washy? It’s Columbus’ fault. We will be keeping our eye on you, ‘Jackets…

And the Sharks close out the trio of –17’s like this:

10: –3     20: +2    30: –2    40:+2   50: –3    60: –5    70: –5    82: –3

San Jose has three pairs, ending the season with back-to-back B&B’s: COL (Game 21 – 30); and DAL and LAK (Game 71 – 82).

Firstly, we note San Jose stands with DET as the only other NHL team to appear in the post-season each year since the Lockout. That said, they gave Sharks fans a bit of a scare last year by not hitting that Chasing Stanley-like playing stride until the final 22 games of the season. So when you see they being the year with a –3 FDF, you are thinking ‘…If everyone is predicting this year as our year to compete for the Cup, why are we starting out so average?..’ It’s because that opening 10 game schedule is, for lack of a better term, weird. Just look at it. And with three B2B pairs to boot. So expect the surge to occur between November and January. And take comfort in the likely positive wins trend this season which is likely to show again to close out the season. See you with skates and gear on the ice in mid-April, Sharks
fans.

11. Los Angeles and the Phoenix fall out next, both with a –18.

The Kings’ FDF looks like this:

10: –1     20: –2    30: 0   40: –6    50: –2    60: 0   70: –4    82: –3

Beginning the season in Europe, the LAK only have two B&B ‘s throughout the season: ANA (Game 11 – 20); and SJS (Game 71 – 82).

So the battle cry for the Kings must be “Exploit, exploit, and exploit again…” to open the season. There’s that Euro jet lag to overcome, but the Kings look to exploit that by easing into a returning week on the road with only two games on the East coast. And they get through Game 30 with only three more B2B pairs and a good average days between games. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays may suck a bit, but there’s another 20 games following that are pretty favorable FDF-wise before they have to close out the season. The re-tooled Kings need to overcome what is on average supposed to be a negative wins trend this season as two less W’s may see them out of the playoffs. Go sign/convince Daughty to report and gel that team, Los Angeles. Time’s a wastin.’

The Coyotes’ FDF is the following:

10: 0     20: 0    30: –4   40: –6    50: –4    60:+4    70: –4    82: –4

As with EDM, the Coyotes have no positive FDF gain as they play no B&B pairs.

What they do have is a good, opening 20 game schedule to face in terms of the FDF. Late November to late January might leave a bad taste in their mouth. So February must be leaned upon to build up W-power toward the playoffs. Only ANA, EDM and VAN have as difficult an FDF schedule as the ‘Yotes
to close out the season’s last 22 games. And with another negative wins trend potentially looming this season, that needs to be a shallow trend as three more L’s this year over last could see Phoenix out on the links early.

13. Chicago carries a –20 into the season:

10: +2     20: –5    30: –3   40: +1    50: –6    60: –4   70: –3    82: –2

Chicago not only opens their B&B pairs with DAL in Games 1 and 2, but closes out the first 10 games with one more pair versus COL (Game 1 – 10).

So the ‘Hawks begin with a positive schedule in terms of fatigue and then are smacked in November with their second most difficult 10-game stretch to overcome. Depending on overall team health, they can exploit games from late November to early January before they hit another rough patch of ice. It is a consolation of sorts to point out their negative FDF trend progressively decreases as they close out their final 32 games. But they barely made it into the playoffs on the strength of a DAL Game 82 loss and face
another likely downward wins trend this season. Hope and cheer for their still youthful enthusiasm to show through and carry them into the playoffs for fourth consecutive season. Because hope by itself is not a winning method in the NHL.

14. St. Louis has a character building –21 FDF:

10: –5     20: +1    30: –2   40: –4    50: +2    60: –6    70: –5    82: –2

St. Louis has only one B&B pair on back-to-back nights late in the season against CBJ (Game 61 – 70).

The interviews from the St. Louis camp indicate an abundance of team optimism going into this season. Hold that thought opening the year as there is a chance they are only at .500 by the end of October. Then jump on the FDF roller coaster up in early November, moving downward into early January, back up briefly to open the new year before February comes harshly.  Since the Lockout, only one Western team has failed to make the playoffs while winning 10 of their final 12 games as a –2 FDF might suggest. Problem is, in 90 possible tries only five Western teams have won like that. So the Blues, with their likely positive wins trend this season, need to ensure that happens. They need at least three-to-four more wins
than last year to see the post-season.

15. Finally, Vancouver has the most difficult schedule of any team out West with a – 23 FDF:

10: –4     20: –1    30: –2   40: –4    50: –1    60: –3   70: –3    82: –5

Not only did Vancouver play longer in last season than anyone other than BOS and now has to play on opening night of the new NHL season, they have no B&B pairs to add a positive spin to their FDF.

How do you add to key injuries and long-season-just-completed stumbling blocks in terms of a repeat visit to the Stanley Cup Finals? For the Canucks, you schedule them an FDF that is just shy of the League worst. They also join BUF as the only two teams with an FDF absent any periods of break-even or positive rankings. VAN fans need to be on notice – it may really look like they have a hangover to open the season before November and December will seem a bit more kind. Mid-January to early February
will be the last chance to catch a decent breath as the Canucks could understandably drop one-third of their final 32 games. So don’t think President’s Trophy this year – be satisfied with a Top 8 slot from a slightly negative wins trend and then let team character take over in the post-season.

Summary

The potential ups and downs:

October Ups: CGY, CHI, and DET; October Downs: VAN

November Ups: CBJ, SJS, and STL; November Downs: CGY and CHI

November/December Ups: ANA; November/December Downs: EDM, NSH and PHX

December Ups: CHI, EDM and SJS; December Downs: CGY, LAK, MIN, PHX, STL and VAN

January Ups: EDM, MIN and STL; January Downs: CHI, DET and PHX

February Ups: CGY, COL, DET, NSH and PHX; February Downs: ANA, CHI, CBJ, DAL, SJS and STL

March Ups: None; March Downs: ANA, LAK, PHX, SJS and STL

March/April Ups: DAL; March/April Downs: CBJ, EDM, NSH, PHX and VAN

As with the East, the biggest question about schedule fatigue is who can exploit their positive FDF periods and hang on when the schedule is less favorable? The answers begin to come as the Western Conference begins their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Player Fatigue And The ’11-’12 Schedule – Back East

There are only a few weeks to go until the ’11-’12 NHL season starts. Pre-season is in full swing. And there are less than a handful of holdouts as everyone wants to get on the ice.

So it is time to have a look at next season’s schedules. How difficult are they and where might you have an indication of when your team may struggle? More precisely for this blog, where will they be hit with the Fatigue Difficulty Factor (FDF) in the Eastern Conference this season and how will likely winning or losing trends come into play? (When we mention ‘trends,’ we are referring to our Winning Hockey Trends blog at http://ongoalanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/winning-hockey-trends/ .)

What The Heck’s An FDF?

The FDF, particularly as the season moves on into the later stages, is a calculation expressing the potential for fatigue to take its toll on the team ‘W’ column, thus increasing the dreaded ‘L’ entry instead. Here’s the simple math:

- Number of Black and Blue (B&B) schedule – home-and-away pairs of – games:

B&B games are the only calculation to carry a +1 FDF factor. This is because second consecutive games with the same opponent end in a one-goal win approximately 50% of the time and with the opposite team winning Game 2 in about 40% of contests. The level of competition in these pairs of games thus creates a positive FDF factor.

- Average number of days between games:

Any five-game stretches below the team’s average days-between-games equals a potential ‘L’ in that period or a –1 FDF factor. (The two five-gamers combine for a 10-game FDF rating.) This is because less days between games equals less player recuperation time. In the Eastern Conference this season, the average is 2.25 days between games.

- Number of back-to-back (B2B) games:

B2B games against different teams equals a -1 FDF factor. This is an additional negative FDF factor because it magnifies a lack of players’ recuperation time. And unlike the B&B pair, there is no history upon which players can feed to increase the compete level for the second game. Think here you were in a back alley brawl last night, went to bed with some ice on your bumps and bruises and woke up to get mugged again the next evening. The Eastern team average is 14.533 B2B’s per team with a range from 10 for TBL to 21 for BUF.

- Any stretch where the team returns from two or more games at least two time zones away:

The two time zones away rule nets a –1 FDF factor as well. This is because studies show traveling people have natural, physical issues readjusting to their normal time zone, most especially when traveling from west to east.

These factors combine for an average Eastern Conference schedule FDF rating of –15.4 (or 15.4 games lost) with 5.8 negative, 10-game periods per team in the Eastern Conference. Now we know teams will lose more games than this average indicates.

Since the Lockout they have averaged dropping 36.11 games per team, per season. (The range has been a low of only 21.5 for the ‘09-‘10 Capitals to a high of 54 for the ‘06-‘07 Flyers.) And it is important to note
for teams who finished the season in the East’s Top 8 lose an average of about four games in 10. But the calculations below stand as at least a partial explanation of why and when teams may lose and, conversely, also indicate where teams can excel along next season’s schedule.

How does your favorite team fair?

Stacking Up The FDF

Below we show you each team’s FDF ranking in 10-game increments through Game 70 and for the final 12 games at the end. We also give you the positive B&B schedule FDF before we summarize the team’s
performance in terms of fatigue. So in order from easiest to most difficult, here are the 15 Eastern Conference teams’ FDF analyses:

1. Tampa Bay has an FDF rating of –8.  By 10 game groupings, here are the Lightning’s ratings:

10: +1    20: –3   30: –1    40: –2    50: +4   60: –4    70: –4    82: –2

On the positive side, Tampa Bay has three B&B pairs to add a positive FDF: FLA and BUF (Game 1 – 10); and FLA again (Game 29 – 30).

What can Tampa Bay fans expect from the above FDF’s? In basic terms, the Lightning should start better than average through Game 10 and end Game 20 near the middle of the Eastern Conference pack in terms of performance against fatigue. With some perseverance, they can kick their winning ways into gear from Game 21 through 50 just about like they did last season. They will have to hold their own for Games 51 – 70 and protect early wins to close out the regular season with a playoffs bid. Note too, that the
Lightning project a negative wins trend this season. This they must overcome facing that –8 FDF rating in February before their final 12 games provide some relief.

2. New Jersey has a –10 FDF rating for this upcoming season:

10: +2   20: –3    30: –3    40: 0   50: +2    60: –2    70: –4   82: –2

On the positive side of things, the Devils sport four B&B pairs: WSH (Game 11 – 20); NYI (Game 21 – 30);  and two, back-to-back, B&B pairs versus NYI again and PHI (Game 61 – 70).

New Jersey’s positive rating for Games 1 – 10 should see them kickoff the season much better than they did last year. This is a good thing for last season’s Eastern annually imploding team and should equate to a return to respectability. (PIT, PHI, BUF, OTT, CAR and NJD in succession lost an average of eight games in one season from their previous season’s performance.) They also look to break even for Games 31 – 40 and hit another positive stretch in Games 41 – 50 for a January/February boost in the standings.
All other 10 game furlongs carry a negative rating although none are worse than a –4. Add to the mix the Devils are trending toward positive wins this season and fans may just be able to wipe last season from their memory.

3. Florida has a –11 FDF:

10: 0    20: +1    30: –2   40: +1    50: +3    60: –3   70: –6    82: –5

The Panthers get an extra adrenaline rush from two B&B pairs, both against in-state rival TBL (Game 11 – 20 and 31 – 40).

Through Game 50, Florida has only one negative FDF period. That sounds like a good time to store up the W’s for the season. They have to exploit those wins, however, as their last 30 games are much more difficult. In particular, the last 22 are the worst and have the FDF ability to surpass average losses for teams who still make the playoffs. This is where veterans acquired by the team in an active free agency period need to come to the forefront and win games that otherwise contain little recuperation time and require more mental toughness. It looks like facing this finish they are due for their upward winning trend just in time.

4. Toronto follows with a –12:

10: 0    20: –3    30: –1    40: –2   50: +4    60: –4   70: –4    82: –2

The Leafs share with NYI a League-high five B&B pairs of games this coming season: BOS (Game 21 – 30); BUF (Game 31 – 40); NYI (Game 41 – 50); PIT (Game 51 – 60); and BUF again (Game 71 – 82).

Each of the last four seasons, the Maple Leafs found themselves out of the playoff hunt by On Goal Analysis’ (OGA’s) standards at the Game 45 mark. That may very well not be the case this year. In practical terms, they have a favorable schedule to Game 50 which Toronto fans should be looking for them to exploit. And while Games 51 through 70 hold a combined FDF rating of  –8 (or eight potential fatigue losses in 20 games), if the Leafs need a strong finish, they only have a –2 rating closing out their last 12 games which only six other Eastern teams can tie or beat. This schedule coupled with the Toronto’s trending positive wins again this season should provide justification for optimism in Toronto this year.

5. Philadelphia holds a –13 FDF:

10: –2    20: –1    30: –3   40: 0    50: +1    60: –4    70: –2   82: –2

The Flyers have two B&B pairs of games: OTT (Game 31 – 40) and NJD (Game 61 – 70).

PHI is in the low negative ratings for all but Games 21 – 30 and 51 – 60. Their –2 FDFs are lower than or equal to 10 Eastern teams in the Game 61 – 70 stretch and for an additional 11 more teams to close out the final 12 games of the season. As long as they do not experience a nasty losing streak like the last two years when they dropped eight of their final 12, they should be in good shape heading into the playoffs bolstered by a positive winning trend they carry this season.

6. Both Pittsburgh and Washington sport –14 ratings. For the Penguins, their breakdown looks like this:

10: –8    20: +3    30: –2   40: +2    50: –1    60: –2   70: 0    82: –6

Positively assisting the Penguins this season are three B&B pairs: NYI (Game 11 – 20); TOR (Game 51 – 60); and again versus the NYI (Game 71 – 82).

Positives aside, you cannot help but notice Games 1 – 10 are brutal. With Crosby most likely out, the Pens may have to kick off the first 10 games in a panic (or as we say under fire in the Army, with a purpose) to win. Get through October and they have the potential to rebound quite nicely, thank you.
And then for good measure, the Game 71 – 82 stretch holds an FDF of –6, the highest close-out deficit in the East along with BOS and WPG. The bookends do not look inviting here, and the Pens also fight a battle with a likely negative wins trend. Team motivation and perseverance needs to be present to succeed here.

Washington’s –14 falls out like this:

10: +1    20: 0   30: –1    40: –1    50: –2   60: –4    70: –4    82: –3

The Capitals have only one B&B pair against NJD (Game 11 – 20).

While Washington’s overall average is the same as Pittsburgh, the effect is not as concentrated as the Penguins’ opening and closing periods. The Caps should benefit with a less fatiguing first 20 games, likely
landing OGA’s ‘Chasing Stanley’ call – or in the 2012 playoffs – by Game 20 as they have over the last three consecutive seasons.  And they can continue to reap the benefits of a less fatiguing schedule through Game 50. But unless they are on fire as they were two seasons ago, they will play about average from Game 51 – 70 and close out the season with at least three fatigue losses. They also bear a negative wins trend again this season and cannot afford the seven game drop-off they experienced from ’09-’10 to ’10-’11 or they will inexplicably miss the playoffs this season.

8. Montreal and the New York Islanders are next with a –15 rating and are the last falling under the Eastern Conference FDF average this season. The Canadiens FDF looks like this:

10: –2     20: –2   30: –4    40: 0    50: +2    60: –2    70: –4   82: –2

Montreal only has two B&B pairs of games: BOS (Game 11 – 20); and OTT (Game 71 – 82).

Since the Lockout, the Canadiens have met criteria for OGA’s call of Chasing Stanley by Game 20 every season except ‘09-‘10. That will be a bit more difficult this year with four games likely lost to fatigue by Game 20, another four by Game 30 and untold other, normal loses that occur because a team sometimes just gets outplayed by the competition. Games 40 through 60 are more favorable and chronologically fall in a more traditional period of team success. And while their Game 61 – 70 stretch is tough, they finish with a more advantageous –2 FDF in their final 12 games. Couple all of this with the fact the Habs trend positively in wins this season and you have a Montreal team that stands a good chance of returning to the playoffs.

Here is the FDF breakdown for the NYI:

10: +2     20: –2   30: –1    40: –4    50: +1    60: –8    70: –2   82: –1

The Islanders share that League-high five B&B schedule pairs: PIT (Game 1 – 10); NJD (Game 21 – 30); TOR (Game 41 – 50); NJD again (Game 61 – 70); and once more with PIT (Game 71 – 82).

The Islanders have met Tee Time criteria – out of the playoffs – by Game 35 over each of the last three seasons. Their relatively beneficial schedule through Game 30 gives them a chance to change that trend. Game 31 – 40, and especially Game 51 – 60, are among the most fatiguing in the NHL, however, so the team needs a sturdy starting set of wins. If they can hold on through then, and are not affected by their projected negative wins trend, their final 22 games could potentially be cause for their training camp optimism you currently hear in the media.

10. Ottawa, in the middle of a rebuilding year, sits just over the average Eastern Conference schedule
FDF at a –16:

10: –2     20: –4    30: –2   40: –2    50: –3    60: –2   70: 0    82: –1

The Senators sport two B&B schedule pairings: PHI (Game 41 – 50); and MTL (Game 71 – 82).

Could it be the scheduling God’s took pity on this rebuilding team? As you can see above, this type of FDF is more favorable for an even playing rhythm. The last two measurable periods also swing in the
Senators’ favor. So early, character play to hold their own, coupled with a combined –1 FDF over the last 22 games when the Eastern average is a –4.53, may bode well for the young team despite an expected negative wins trend this season.

11. Boston and the New York Rangers are next, both with a –18.

The Bruins FDF looks like this:

10: +1     20: +2    30: –3   40: +1    50: –2   60: –5    70: –6    82: –6

As with OTT, the Bruins have two B&B schedule pairs: MTL (Game 1 – 10); and TOR (Game 21 – 30).

As if there was a plan to fight the post-Stanley Cup hangover imbedded in this schedule, Boston begins the season with positive FDF ratings in three of its first four 10-game periods and a generally favorable
first 50 games. This should allow some momentum to build in conjunction with their projected positive winning trend. They need this energy, however, to overcome the battle they face in their final 30 games, the most difficult in terms of FDF for any Eastern team. The NHL giveth, and also taketh away…

The Rangers’ FDF is the following:

10: 0     20: +1    30: –3   40: –1    50: –1    60: –4   70: –5    82: –5

The Rangers are one of a handful of NHL teams with no B&B schedule pairs of games this season.

New York’s schedule is favorable through Game 20, a mark by which they earned OGA’s call of Chasing Stanley three of five times since the Lockout. But their combined –14 from Game 51 through season’s end stands as the second most difficult FDF over that span after BOS’. So look for the character Rangers show in close games through Game 50 as a potential measure of their performance over the final 32. They need that temperament and the ability to exploit a projected positive wins trend to close out the regular season in playoff position.

13. Buffalo has a –21 with negative FDFs in every 10-game furlong.

10: –2     20: –4    30: –2  40: –1    50: –1    60: –4   70: –6    82: –1

Buffalo’s positive relief this season comes in the form of three B&B schedule pairs: TBL (Game 1 – 10); and TOR twice (Game 41 – 50 and Game 71 – 82 periods).

The Sabres’ FDF with zero positive rankings will try the team’s character and fans’ patience in the hunt for a playoff position. Their negative FDFs, however, are in large measure due to the fact they play more
than half of their games as back-to-back pairs this season. For example, their –4 or better FDFs in the Game 11 – 20, 51 – 60 and 61 – 70 periods are directly related to six of 10 games played in back-to-back fashion each period. (Can you say Ryan Miller will play a less games this season than in previous years?) Buffalo’s only consolation is sharing the lowest FDF rating in the Conference over their final 12 games with NYI and OTT. They still need to overcome an anticipated negative wins trend, however, as two additional losses may see them out on the Back Nine instead of on the ice by mid-April.

14. Carolina comes in with a difficult –22 rating:

10: –4     20: –3    30: –5    40: –1   50: –4    60: +2    70: –2   82: –5

The Hurricanes have no B&B pairs to offset their FDF.

Carolina holds the second most difficult FDF in the East and is more taxing than all but one Western team to boot. The Canes have averaged 15.833 wins in their first 30 games annually since the Lockout. Their FDF this season indicates a possibility of losing 12 games based solely on fatigue, so fans should not get too excited seeing more of the same. But if: they are closer to 12 losses than 15 by Game 30; build momentum in the Game 31 – 40 and Game 51 – 60 periods when their schedule is favorable; and overcome their tie with FLA and NYR for the second most difficult final 12 games of the season, they might just make it into the playoffs. Their expected positive wins trend only requires about two-to-three more victories than last season for that to be so. But make no mistake – this will have to be a character season for the ‘Canes to play past early April.

15. Finally, Winnipeg, already feeling the effects of off-season relocation, has the most difficult schedule of any team back East. As a matter of fact, theirs is the most difficult in the League this season with an FDF rating of –24:

10: –3     20: –3    30: –1   40: –2    50: –7    60: –4   70: +2    82: –6

The Jets have no B&B pairs to bolster their play.

While Winnipeg ‘only’ sports a –9 FDF through Game 40, they catch up to CAR’s negative rankings with a whopping –7 in the Game 41 – 50 period due to average days between games, two back-to-back pairs, and two road trips to and from the East coast. Games 61 – 70 are favorable and needed to pad the teams’ ‘W’ column. But WPG faces an East-most-difficult –6 FDF to close out the season. Pile on top of it all a projected second straight negative wins trend and this might be a long season for the Jets. While we hate to say ‘…Wait until next year…’ a schedule realigned in the Western Conference cannot help but
improve their 2012-13 FDF.

Summary

The potential ups and downs:

October Ups: BOS, NJD, NYI, TBL and WSH; October Downs: CAR and PIT

November Ups: BOS, FLA, NYR, PIT and TBL; November Downs: BUF and OTT

November/December Ups: None; November/December Downs: CAR and MTL

December Ups: BOS, FLA, PIT and TBL; December Downs: NYI

January Ups: FLA, MTL, NJD, NYI, PHI and TOR; January Downs:CAR and WPG

February Ups: CAR; February Downs: BOS, BUF, MTL, NYI, NYR, PHI, TOR, WSH and WPG

March Ups: WPG; March Downs: BOS, BUF, FLA, NJD, NYR, PHI, TOR and WSH

March/April Ups: None; March/April Downs: BOS, CAR, FLA, MTL, NYR, PIT, TBL and WSH

The biggest question in looking at Eastern teams’ schedules is who can exploit their positive FDF rankings and hold their own when the going gets tough? The answers are coming soon as the Eastern Conference teams jump over the boards for a chance to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Our next blog analyzes the Western Conference’s FDF’s…

NHL Pre Season Day 1

Now we really have Game On! The first day of pre season 2011 has come and gone with for contest complete to include the double-header in Florida. Below are the box scores with game winning goalie and Top 5 scorers for day.

NSH        0              3              2 – 5

FLA         0              2              1 – 3

Game Winning Goalie – Pickard

CAR        0              1              0 – 1

BUF        0              0              3 – 3

Game Winning Goalie – Enroth

OTT        0              1              1 – 2

TOR        1              1              2 – 4

Game Winning Goalie – Scrivens

NSH        2              1              0 – 3

FLA         1              1              2 – 4

Game Winning Goalie – Markstrom

Top 5 Scorers are: C. Wilson (NSH) with 1 G + 2 A’s

Gerbe and Kaleta (BUF) both with 1 G+2 A’s

Bozak (TOR) with 1 G + 2 A’s

Tootoo and Kostitsyn (NSH) with 3 A’s

Twitter Updates

  • Go Jackets! RT @KaeceeSeverance: bluejacketsnhl we are #defendnwa tonight. Be here #cbj 💙❤ instagram.com/p/nJc09fK17B/ 15 hours ago
  • For MTL fans, since the 2005/6 season, teams who sweep Round 1 are 2-6 /25% in Round 2 series 15 hours ago
  • ...Since 2005/6, the LAK have not begun a Round 1 series with a L-L-L pattern; their previous worst start was 0-2 in 2013 and the beat STL. 15 hours ago
  • ...Since 2005/6, SJS is 1-0 in Game 4 after beginning a Round 1 series with a W-W-W pattern and won that series... 15 hours ago
  • ...Since 2005/6, DET is 0-1 in Game 4 after beginning a Round 1 series with a W-L-L pattern and they lost that series... 15 hours ago

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