(L to R) LTC Michael Lee Pryor, LAARNG (Ret.), 8 JAN 1964 – 15 JUN 2014, and his brother, Matt, at Tex Rickard Arena in Henrietta, TX, in September 2008.
The sport of hockey lost its biggest fan yesterday: Michael Lee Pryor, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Louisiana Army National Guard and OIF veteran, passed away Sunday due to complications from a massive stroke. He was 50 years old.
Native Texans, Mike and his brothers became hockey fans for life on 22 FEB 1980, while watching the United States defeat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the “Miracle on Ice.” Shortly after the “Miracle,” cable television arrived in our Garland, Texas neighborhood. For reasons unknown, our cable package included the MSG network, so we instantly became fans of the New York Rangers. One of the highlights of our family vacation to Alberta that summer was our dad explaining to a Canadian border guard why a car with Texas plates had a trunk full of hockey sticks. We lugged those sticks back to Texas and played street hockey with our friends until the end of high school.
With the Stars’ 1993 arrival in Dallas, we finally had a home team to support (as long as they weren’t playing the Rangers, of course). As much as Mike loved the Rangers and Stars, though, he loved hockey itself even more. How big a fan was my brother? Last January, Mike, dad and I took a roadie to catch Dallas at Nashville and LA at Columbus. While proudly wearing a Stars hoodie, Mike marched into the Bridgestone Arena gift shop and bought a Predators t-shirt. He saw nothing incongruous about that; the man just loved The Great Game.
On 30 MAY, Mike suffered a massive stroke during hip implant replacement surgery (his defective hip implant broke and had to be replaced). He was left paralyzed on his right side, with blood clots in his lungs and brain. He had some cranial bleeding, as well. The stroke inflicted an unknown amount of damage to Mike’s brain. Because he had to be intubated to help him breathe, we didn’t know if he could still speak, read or write. When I saw him on 2 JUN, his eyes were open, though fogged by pain and medication. As soon as I started telling Mike about the Kings’ dramatic 5-4 OT win over the Blackhawks in Game Seven of the Western Conference Final, the fog lifted…as did his eyebrows. I told him about the rumor that Minnesota might host Dallas in an outdoor game next season…more raised eyebrows, and a squeeze of my hand with his good (left) hand; my brother was still there!
Over the next two weeks, Mike gradually improved. After the tube was removed from his throat, he slowly, and with great effort, was able to speak a few words and short sentences. With difficulty, my right-handed brother wrote a few letters and his name with his left hand. NBCSN wasn’t available on the TV in Mike’s hospital room, but he watched every Stanley Cup Final game televised on NBC. When Game Two went to OT, his blood pressure actually rose. During those two weeks (and, come to think of it, anytime during the last 34 years), if you wanted to get Mike’s full attention, all you had to say was “hockey.”
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if Mike was still awake when the Kings scored the Cup-winning goal. I know he would’ve shared my disappointment, but he also would’ve seen the joy on the faces of the Kings players and been happy for them, because that’s the kind of guy Mike was.
My brother improved to the point that he was moved out of ICU late last week. Saturday evening, however, he began to have trouble breathing and his heart rate spiked. Back to ICU he went. The problem was that the blood clots in his lungs were too large and the blood thinners normally employed to break up such clots couldn’t be used without worsening the bleeding into his brain. A team of ten doctors and nurses labored tirelessly through the night to save him, re-starting his heart twice in the process. They did all they could. Shortly after six o’clock Sunday morning, Mike – my brother, my friend, the greatest hockey fan I’ve ever known - slipped away.
This blog began in 2008 because of Mike’s brilliant insight: that NHL teams play out each season along a performance curve – the Playoff Qualifying Curve, or PQC. Teams must play at or above the PQC in order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here’s the kicker: Mike figured out that if teams reached a certain point above or below the curve, they could be called IN or OUT of the playoffs an average of 60 days prior to their mathematical clinch or elimination, and those calls could be made with 90% accuracy.
My brother and I saw multiple applications for the PQC: as a tool to help General Managers decide whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline, a mathematical way to prove that moves made at the trade deadline come far too late for most teams, as interesting fodder for discussion amongst hockey fans and pundits, or even for use in wagering on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Along with a friend, we formed ON GOAL ANALYSIS, LLC, and decided to monetize Mike’s idea by selling the PQC data on a subscription basis, with a blog designed to tease/tout the PQC while allowing us to express our love of hockey.
Sadly, we learned the painful lesson newspapers continue to absorb: most people don’t want to pay to read stuff on the internet. After three profit-free years, our friend withdrew, citing family and (paying) job commitments. Who could blame him? The subscription service fell by the wayside, but the blog remained. Mike and I continued to vent our opinions, our occasional insights and our abiding love of hockey out onto the internet. Usually, we’d start each new season strong, blogging regularly, and slowly wind down into the playoffs, when we often found ourselves too caught up in the excitement of watching the games to blog about them.
Now, after a six-year run, this is the end. My brother is gone and I just don’t have the heart to continue On Goal Analysis without him. We had so many great times, like our 2008 OGA Launch/Season-Opening Roadie, in which we caught five games in four (!) days in four different barns (first-ever trip to MSG for Hawks-Rangers, to Washington for Hawks-Caps, then Sabres at Islanders AND Devils at Rangers in a Columbus Day doubleheader, finishing up with Flyers at Penguins)…Our pre-Christmas trip with our sons to games in Atlanta and Tampa…Our last roadie, with dad to Nashville and Columbus back in January. OGA brought Mike and I closer together, as hockey fans and more importantly, as brothers.
I am eternally grateful to my brother for many things, including his great idea. Though the PQC wasn’t commercially viable, it’s still a fascinating and accurate way to assess a team’s playoff chances. Blogging on this site allowed me to rediscover my long-forgotten love of writing. Since The OGA Blog began, I’ve authored several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News and am now writing a biography of George Lewis “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers. Were it not for Mike, I doubt I’d be writing today.
At some point in the future, I may start a new hockey blog; I can’t say at this point. If I do, it won’t be On Goal Analysis. This was Mike’s brainchild, and I wouldn’t feel right blogging here without him. For those of you who have followed us over the years, I offer my sincere thanks and hope we’ve enlightened or at least entertained you from time to time. Yesterday, my family lost a son, a brother, a husband, a father and an uncle. Hockey lost its biggest fan. He was the best of all of us.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
While watching the New York Rangers embarrass the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, I heard a member of the broadcast team mention Henrik Lundqvist’s age (32). That was all it took to get the gears spinning in my head. The initial question I formulated was as follows:
Is there an optimum age and/or experience level for Stanley Cup-winning goalies?
Breaking the question down further, I wondered: When goalies of different ages and experience levels meet in the Stanley Cup Finals, who wins – the older, more experienced goalie or the younger netminder with fewer NHL games under his belt? Logic dictates that, in such a high-pressure environment, age and experience trumps youthful energy. Does logic apply to the Stanley Cup Finals? I decided to look at the 25 seasons prior to the current campaign, going back through the 1987-88 season. For each year, I noted the age and NHL experience (total seasons played) of both the Cup-winning and -losing goalie. When a team used more than one goalie in the Cup Finals, I took the average of both age and experience (I’ll admit it’s not a perfect system, but I didn’t have weeks to ponder this, so I went with the easiest solution). The results were not what I expected:
Over the last 25 seasons, Cup-winning goalies were, on average, 1.28 years younger and had played 0.64 fewer NHL seasons than the masked man at the other end of the rink. Looking at it from another angle, when an older goalie met a younger one in the Finals, the older goalie won 10 and lost 12 series, for a win pct. of .455. In addition, when netminders of differing experience levels met, the more experienced of the two went 10-13 (.435).
Obviously, a Stanley Cup-winning team is much more than just the man in the crease. Many factors beyond goaltending influence the outcome of the Finals. Setting aside all other factors, however, stamina seems more important than experience for goalies in the playoffs, where multiple-overtime games are not uncommon. As the last 25 seasons indicate, younger netminders have an advantage in the fourth, and final, seven-game series following an 82-game regular season. Older goalies can – and do – win the Cup: 10 of the last 25 Cup-winners were 30 or older…but older goalies lose more often, as 14 of 25 Cup-losers were in their thirties.
With the above numbers in mind, I decided to attempt to predict the outcome of the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Finals. I only considered the top three teams in each division (no Wild Card teams). Based primarily on the age and experience of the starting goalies for each team, I see the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals playing out like so:
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston (Rask, 27 yrs old/6 NHL seasons) def. Pittsburgh (Fleury, 29/9)
Western Conference Finals: St. Louis (Miller, 33/10) def. Chicago (Crawford, 29/6)
Stanley Cup Finals: Boston (Rask, 27/6) def. St. Louis (Miller, 33/10)
Is goalie age and/or experience an accurate predictor of post-season success? It’s not what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of statistical analysis tools, but it’s certainly something to think about…and if you’re now thinking about your team’s goalie, my work here is done.
Some sectors of the internet have portrayed the New York Rangers’ trade deadline acquisition of scoring winger and all-star water bug Martin St. Louis as a “win now” move by GM Glen Sather, designed to put the 2013-14 Rangers over the top in their quest for The Cup. While it’s always better for general managers, coaches and players alike to win now, Slats might’ve made the trade with next season in mind. Let’s look at the facts:
First, players with a combination of skill and grit, such as Ryan Callahan, are of immense value. Callahan was the heart and soul, not to mention captain, of the Rangers. Many of his teammates are still in shock over his trade to Tampa. Though the deal brought more offensive firepower to Broadway, who will step into the leadership/grit void in Cally’s absence? Derek Dorsett? He was a fan favorite in Columbus, but has yet to find his footing in New York and struggles to crack the lineup. Dan Carcillo? His impact is limited by fourth-line minutes, and frankly, he hasn’t earned more ice time. Simply put, the Rangers do not have anyone who can take Ryan Callahan’s place.
More importantly, when was the last time a team traded away its captain at the deadline and went on to win the Stanley Cup in the same season? I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but my research failed to turn up a single example. It’s common sense, really: if things are going well for your team, you don’t trade the captain. Team chemistry is of particular importance in the playoffs, when both wins and losses increase astronomically in value. Trading your captain at the deadline, with just one-quarter of the season remaining, is a clear sign something is wrong with the team…no matter what you get in return.
Finally, even before trading Callahan the Rangers were clearly not one of the NHL’s elite, as their combined record of 5-9-1 against the likes of Boston, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, St. Louis and Chicago shows. Rick Nash has had a disappointing season thus far, and while Brad Richards has rebounded from a nightmarish 2012-13 campaign, his 7.8% shooting percentage is the lowest it’s been since the 2002-03 season. Derek Stepan’s shooting percentage has dropped a full ten points from last season. Off-season pick-up Benoit Pouliot struggled for the first half of the season to fit in, and October will likely find the pending UFA on his fifth team in five seasons. The New York blueliners’ struggles to transition to new coach Alain Vigneault’s system are both well documented and a contributing factor in (but not the sole reason for) Henrik Lundqvist’s frustrating season, in which his save percentage is down .012 and Goals Against is up .51 over 2012-13. If you haven’t figured it out after the previous 459 words, what I’m saying is…Wait ’til next year, Rangers fans.
And what will next year look like? Here’s one scenario:
FORWARDS: New York has to exercise their compliance buyout on Brad Richards. They simply can’t dedicate $6.7M in cap space for each of the next five seasons to a player who is obviously on the decline. What will they do with the saved cap space? How about signing unrestricted free agent winger Ryan Callahan? Can’t happen, you say? Fourteen games into the 2003-04 season, the Dallas Stars traded Stephane Robidas to Chicago. Dallas then signed Robidas as a UFA coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, and held onto him until just a few days ago. Never say never.
The Rangers will have to re-sign either Brian Boyle or Dominic Moore to fill the 4th line center role. My money’s on Moore, as Boyle will easily find another club willing to overpay him. Speaking of choices, Glen Sather will have to decide whether he wants to keep pending UFA Dan Carcillo; if Carcillo is re-signed, Derek Dorsett becomes expendable and Slats’ll have to move him. RFAs Derek Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider all get raises. Speedy winger Carl Hagelin could be used as trade bait, if Sather sees an opportunity to upgrade the Rangers blueline.
With Richards gone, J.T. Miller will finally get the regular roster spot he deserves. A couple of kids could make it to Broadway, with the front-runners being RW Danny Kristo (45 GP, 17-14-31 in Hartford) and 18-year-old sensation LW Anthony Duclair, the Rangers’ 3rd round draft pick last summer who’s currently tearing up the QMJHL (59 GP, 50-49-99). New York’s forward lines could very well look like this next season:
DEFENSEMEN: McDonagh, Staal, Girardi and Klein are all under contract through next season and beyond (except Staal, for whom 2014-15 is a contract year). Stralman and the newly-acquired Diaz are UFAs this summer, and John Moore and Justin Falk are RFAs. Anton Stralman’s stock has soared since he came to New York, so he probably won’t return. Diaz is anybody’s guess, though it would seem head coach Alain Vigneault is high on him, so pencil him in as Stralman’s replacement. Whether or not the Rangers pursue more than a depth defenseman over the summer largely depends on the development of prospects Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath; if at least one of the two (with Allen being the front-runner at this point) has a good training camp, expect next season’s d-pairs to look something like this:
GOALTENDERS: Lundqvist, of course. And Talbot.
What does it all mean? Though no one in the New York Rangers organization will admit it, this is not their year. If they finish the season either 2nd or 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, the Blueshirts should make it into the Conference Semi-Finals, but the Conference Finals are a longshot. The acquisition of Marty St. Louis signals the rebirth of Sather’s “two sniper” scheme…provided Rick Nash has a bounce-back season in 2014-15. If Nash can find his groove and St. Louis can keep doing what he’s been doing his entire career, opposing teams will be hard-pressed to stop the Rangers, who will essentially have two top lines - 1A and 1B – for the first time in years. If Glen Sather can address the franchise’s grit/leadership deficiencies and add a solid No.3-4 defenseman over the summer, look out – next year could be HUGE.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
The 2014 NHL Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and what kind of a hockey blogger would I be if I didn’t take a moment to opine? After returning from a quick trip to the ER for a rotator cuff injury (suffered whilst patting myself on the back for using “opine”…wait – I also used “whilst!” There goes the other rotator cuff. It’s okay; I’m a hockey blogger, so I’ll type through the pain), here are a few quick thoughts on pre-deadline what ifs and why nots:
The Lesser of Two Evils?
I read recently that the Phoenix Coyotes, in a bid to improve their offensive output, have “kicked the tires” on both Ray Whitney and Matt Moulson. Dallas and Phoenix both have 64 points and 24 games remaining, with the Stars holding a razor-thin 24-23 lead in the first tie-breaker, non-Shootout wins. If you’re Stars GM Jim Nill, do you trade Whitney to Phoenix to stop them from trading for the younger Matt Moulson, who has much greater offensive upside at this point in time? In other words, do you help a rival with whom you’re battling for a playoff spot a little, to keep said rival from helping themselves a lot? Also, what do you ask for in return? Were I GM Jim, I’d offer Whitney and defenseman Trevor Daley for Keith Yandle, and wait for a counter-offer.
Selling the Rangers’ Soul?
Of course, I’m talking about the trade rumors swirling around Blueshirts team captain Ryan Callahan and stalwart d-man Dan Girardi. Both are pending UFAs, and Conventional Wisdom says both will be moved at the deadline if Glen Sather can’t re-sign them by that time. Much as it pains me to say this, I think Cally has to give some on his contract demands, or he’s gone. A seven- or eight-year deal is a significant risk for a player with Callahan’s rambunctious, injury-prone game. Any team signing him to a long-term deal will pay a premium for intangibles – leadership and a gutsy, leave-it-all-on-the-ice style of play - and those intangibles are meaningless when the player who possesses them is on Injured Reserve.
While the loss of Callahan would create a huge leadership/grit void in New York, losing Dan Girardi could be downright disastrous. The defensive yin to Ryan McDonagh’s offensive yang, Girardi is a critical half of the Blueshirts’ top d-pair, logging almost 24 tough minutes a game. If he goes, who’s going to fill his skates? Does Kevin Klein suddenly start playing an extra 8:30 each night? Does Anton Stralman pick up the slack? The truth is, while the Rangers’ top six defensemen are solid, the organization currently lacks depth. The loss of Dan Girardi would open a hole on the blueline which could not be filled this season, thus ensuring an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
What If Sellers Didn’t Sell…Or Even Became Buyers?
Back in September, I proposed scrapping the NHL Draft Lottery in favor of a Draft Tournament. While I still think it’s a great idea, I now see the Law of Unintended Consequences kicking in: If the bottom four teams played an end-of-season tournament to decide who ends up with picks 1-4 in the upcoming draft, would those cellar-dwellers be motivated to hang on to pending UFAs, or even try to improve their rosters, in the hope of winning the first pick in the draft? Put in 2013-14 season terms, would Buffalo keep Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and/or Ryan Miller, in effect trading those players (losing them to free agency this summer) for a shot at the top pick? Would Calgary decide not to deal Mike Cammalleri, or would the asking price just go up? My “expert” understanding of economics (I spent two semesters in college as an ECON major) tells me that a Draft Tournament could create both a decrease in the supply of players available at the deadline AND an increase in demand, while also putting even more pressure on the in-between clubs (those well above the bottom four, but for whom a playoff seed is a long shot) to move their assets. In short, a Draft Tourney could cause a significant shift in the Trade Deadline dynamic, taking General Managers and fans alike to an all-new stress level each spring. I love it. Make it so, Mr. Bettman!
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
“Don’t you know this league is insolvent?”
That’s what NHL Chief Financial Officer Jim Ford said to John Ziegler shortly after Ziegler became league president in 1977. It’s one of many eye-opening events in D’Arcy Jenish’s new book, The NHL: A Centennial History: 100 Years of On-Ice Action & Boardroom Battles (Doubleday Canada, 2013).
Hockey fans who know their history are well aware of the 1970s battle between the National Hockey League and the World Hockey Association, which resulted in the demise of the WHA. What many fans don’t know, however, is that the fight almost killed the NHL, too. In his thoroughly-researched and well-written book, Jenish ably fills in the blanks in the NHL’s storied past, presenting a more detailed portrait of league history than ever before.
If you’ve ever wondered how the NHL grew from the Original Four – yes, in the beginning, there were just four teams in the league – to thirty clubs today, The NHL: A Centennial History provides the answer in fascinating detail. From the American expansion of the Roaring Twenties to Depression-era contraction to six clubs to the dramatic 1967 expansion and beyond, it’s all in the book. As someone who is currently writing a biography of New York Rangers’ founder Tex Rickard, I was particularly pleased to see him beginning to receive long-overdue credit regarding his role in bringing the NHL to America. Drawing on meeting minutes archived at the Hockey Hall of Fame, Jenish offers a fly-on-the-wall view of NHL Board of Governors meetings throughout the 1940s and ’50s. Did you know the league first considered expanding to California shortly after World War II? Neither did I, until I read the book.
The NHL: A Centennial History also addresses the league’s more recent past, including franchise instability, the spectacular rise and fall of Alan Eagleson and battles between the Players Association and the NHL. Jenish’s portrayal of the causes for the NHL’s two lockout-shortened seasons (1994-95 and 2012-13) and one cancelled season (2004-05) is even-handed, though it’s difficult to look at the cold, hard facts and remain sympathetic to the players. In particular, former NHLPA head Bob Goodenow comes out smelling less like a rose than its fertilizer. On the other hand, league commissioner Gary Bettman was interviewed for the book, the final chapter of which is titled, “The Knock Against Gary.” Preconceived notions aside, you’ll at least come away with a better understanding of, and respect for, the “Most Hated Man in Hockey.”
Frankly, coming up with any serious criticism of this book was a struggle. My biggest complaint falls into the “nit-picking” category: Though the author touches on the subject at a couple of points in the book, I would’ve liked to read in more detail about the tension between the league’s pro-expansionists and Canadians who fear their national sport is being taken over by outside (American) interests. Alas, that’s probably a book unto itself.
Long-time readers of this blog know I don’t normally do book reviews. I felt compelled to make an exception because, well, it’s an excellent read. At first glance, you might think a book focused on the business side of the NHL would be dry, even boring, compared to the league’s legendary on-ice past. You would be wrong. If you have any interest whatsoever in the off-ice history of the NHL and you only read one book this year, make it The NHL: A Centennial History by D’Arcy Jenish.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926