“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
Now that we’re just past the halfway point of the 2013-14 NHL season, I think it’s a good time to give the league an unofficial report card. Because this is hockey, after all, I’ll grade on a plus/minus basis (which is apropos, as plus/minus is a near-worthless stat, and mine is a near-worthless opinion). Aaaand away we go:
Another big minus is the shootout, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, we’ll just add up the plus/minus above and call it even, which ain’t bad…and which is a further example of why plus/minus is a near-useless stat.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926.
After a holiday hiatus, Matt Pryor has returned to the blogosphere. His New Year’s resolution is to keep it pithy in 2014.
THE 2013-14 NHL SMALL-STAR TEAM
For years, I watched Theo Fleury and the original “Little Ball of Hate,” Pat Verbeek, skate in the NHL. Despite being just 5’6″ and (allegedly) 5’9″, respectively, both players tallied over 450 goals and 1050 points while playing in the best hockey league on the planet. Small men with skill have always had a place in the NHL, at least since the New York Americans’ 5-foot-3 netminder Roy “Shrimp” Worters won the Vezina Trophy in 1931. Today, Martin St. Louis (5’8″) is the standard bearer for the short guys of the NHL. The 38-year-old winger currently ranks 20th in the league in scoring, with 19-21-40 in 43 games.
The average NHLer has grown over time, and is now 6’1″, 204 lbs. Coaches and General Managers alike covet big players, like Zdeno Chara or Rick Nash. One of the first comments Brian Burke made after assuming the role of President of Hockey Operations in Calgary was, “…this team needs to get bigger.” Does player size really translate to wins, though? This chart James Mirtle put together in January 2013 lists the average height, weight and age of all 30 clubs. Montreal, the shortest team in the NHL, finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference last season before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. The 2nd-shortest team in the truncated 2013 campaign? The Chicago Blackhawks, your 2013 Stanley Cup champs. The two tallest clubs last season were San Jose and Winnipeg, and only the Sharks made it into the postseason.
I grew weary of hearing “[Player X] is too small for the NHL” some time ago. The truth is, hockey is a game of skill. Being 6’5″ is nice, but if you can’t skate, stickhandle, shoot and pass, it means nothing. On the other hand, a little guy who can do all of those things can go far. To prove the point, I’ve selected my own 2013-14 NHL Small-Star Team, composed entirely of players under six feet tall. After a surprising amount of deliberation (I didn’t realize there were so many talented players under 6′), here’s what I came up with:
Matt Calvert, CBJ (5’11″) – Sidney Crosby, PIT (5’11″) – Martin St. Louis, TBL (5’8″)
Mats Zuccarello, NYR (5’7″) – Pavel Datsyuk, DET (5’11″) – Patrick Kane, CHI (5’11″)
Jussi Jokinen, PIT (5’11″) – Claude Giroux, PHI (5’11″) – Cam Atkinson, CBJ (5’8″)
Nathan Gerbe, CAR (5’5″) – Andrew Shaw, CHI (5’10″) – Brendan Gallagher, MTL (5’9″)
Mike Cammalleri, CGY (5’9″), Sean Bergenheim, FLA (5’10″), Ryan Callahan, NYR (5’11″)
Brian Campbell, FLA (5’10″) – Kimmo Timonen, PHI (5’10″)
Torey Krug, BOS (5’9″) – James Wisniewski, CBJ (5’11″)
Anton Stralman, NYR (5’11″) – Ryan Ellis, NSH (5’10″)
Honorable Mention: Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (5’11″)
Tim Thomas, FLA (5’11″)
Anton Khudobin, CAR (5’11″)
Honorable Mention: Jhonas Enroth, BUF (5’10″)
NOTE: When selecting the Small-Stars, I decided to use one “FancyStat” to settle any ties: CF% rel, or Corsi for percentage relative to team CF% when the player is not on the ice (h/t Extra Skater). In simplest terms, it’s a way to answer the question, “Is the team better (or worse) at controlling the puck when this player is on the ice?” Of all non-goalies on the Small-Star team, the only player with a negative CF% rel was Martin St. Louis, at -0.9%. Surprisingly, the highest CF% rel on the team was Brendan Gallagher, with a +7.8%, which is also tied for 5th-highest in the NHL.
The average height of the 2013-14 NHL Small-Star Team is 5’10″, a full three inches below the league average. Based on their CF% rel numbers, this is a team built for puck possession, one which will get the puck into the offensive zone and keep it there for an extended period of time, wearing down defensemen and goalies alike. The team, minus the honorable mentions, comes in just under the salary cap at $63,674,512. Take another look at the roster above. Could a team with no player over 5’11″ win the Stanley Cup today?
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
Right Wing Conspiracy – 31 OCT 2013
Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
It’s Good To Be An NHL GM…In America
This is all Paul Holmgren’s fault…well, and maybe Jay Feaster’s, too. I’ve been wondering of late about the average tenure of NHL General Managers, compared to that of Head Coaches. It began with a question: How does Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren still have a job? For that matter, why hasn’t Jay Feaster been run out of Calgary on a rail? It seems that NHL coaches are on an increasingly short leash, while GMs have a remarkable degree of immunity from the on-ice woes of their respective teams. Not content to simply throw my uninformed opinion on the table, I decided to look at the numbers. What I found was very interesting, if unsurprising:
So just 7 of 30 General Managers have won the Cup with their current team, compared to 5 of 30 coaches, but the average tenure of a GM is exactly twice that of a coach. Why the disparity? Simply put, coaches can be fired for many reasons, some of which are listed below:
Note that several of the aforementioned “fire-able” offenses are based on circumstances beyond the control of a coach; such is the nature of the beast. On the other hand, the career path of a General Manager seems to have far fewer potholes. For the GM of an American NHL franchise to earn a pink slip, he must:
While the average tenure of an NHL GM is 7.2 seasons, the difference between American and Canadian GMs is eye-opening:
Because hockey is “Canada’s Game,” the seven Canadian General Managers are under intense pressure from fans, the media and team owners to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Since the last Canadian Cup victory came back in 1993, the pressure continues to build. Thus, Ottawa’s Bryan Murray, currently in his 7th season, is the senior GM in Canada. In the Great White North, team owners must demonstrate to the fans their desire to win, which means GMs, like coaches, operate on a short leash.
In many American markets, though winning is always the ultimate goal, fan and media pressure are (compared to Canada) almost negligible. Some owners undoubtedly view their NHL franchise as part of a package, in some cases a tool which allows them to manage a highly profitable arena. In those instances, the team becomes a “loss-leader” of sorts, similar to the way Las Vegas casinos used to view their lavish buffets. In other cases, a cynic would say, owners are more concerned with turning a profit than with winning the Cup (I remember a certain GM back in the early 90s – though I can’t find the exact quote – who said his goal was not to win the Cup every year, but to simply ice a playoff-caliber team and hope for the best, thus ensuring a profit for the owner without spending too much money). In many American markets, it would seem, the GMs relationship with the owner can trump on-ice success.
While the desire to win is the same for GMs on both sides of the border, the pressure to win increases exponentially with each added degree of North latitude. Will the pressure on General Managers south of the border increase now that Canadians are buying American franchises (Dallas and Phoenix)? Time will tell. For now, though, it’s good to be an NHL GM…in America.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
(If you regularly read this NHL analysis, start under the title “The Chart,” and don’t miss the ending section “What Do We Already Know?”. And note – changes are in bold font except for previous Chasing Stanley or Tee Time Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) calls.)
Below is your NHL Point Predictor and PQC update for NHL games ending Saturday, 12 April. What are we showing here? Where the NHL is going, not where they are after the last game played.
How Will We Do It? Check back here daily as we provide you the simple chart below where you can follow the NHL’s projected standings leading up to the Playoffs. The chart tells you two things: each team’s finishing points based on current play projected over the 48 game season; and our PQC calls as every team reaches each 10-game marker (i.e. Game 10, 20, 30, etc.). As teams’ PQC calls change, their standings’ line color changes to the appropriate PQC designation as explained below.
The 14 April Chart
Here are the two Conferences’ projected, final standings points after games completed on 14 April:
From or current chart, it looks like it will take at least 27 wins / 54 points in the Eastern Conference and 26.5 wins / 53 points in the Western Conference to qualify for the playoffs. The estimated difference between projected 8th and 9th place in the Eastern Conference is 1.5 wins. That same estimated difference in the Western Conference comes down to tie-breakers. In addition the daily difference in projected standings included 10 positional adjustments from our last update.
We said way back right after the G10 mark that we would likely have about 40% of the IN or OUT calls made by G40. At G40 we actually have six IN and 12 OUT for 60%. If, as we state below in Conference breakdowns, three calls ring as Shots Off the Post (SotP), then we still correctly made the 50% mark by G40. The rest is going to come down to fast-paced mathematics as losses are worth more due to fewer games left to make up for each one.
Here are notes to explain the chart:
1. NHL Conferences are shown Western and Eastern from left to right as they would be on a map. The far left column in each chart titled ‘NHL Stnd’ indicates current team NHL standings as of the posted date. And teams use standard NHL abbreviations and color schemes.
2. ‘GP’ = Games Played.
3. ‘eW’ = Estimated Wins, our own formulary as the season progresses.
4. ‘eL’ = Estimated Losses
5. ‘eOTL’ = Estimated Overtime Losses, the third point in three-point games
6. ‘ePts’ = Estimated Points
7. ‘ePt Rnk’ = Estimated Points Rank, our order of how they will fare overall
8. ‘eTrend’ = Difference in the estimated, final standings position from the previous day
9. And the ‘PQC Code’: ‘CS’ = Chasing Stanley, or IN the Playoffs; ‘SS’ = Sharpening Skates, or just shy of IN the Playoffs; ‘ITC’ = In The Curve, or playing right about on average; ‘DoC’ = Dusting Off Clubs, or almost OUT of the Playoffs; ‘T2’ = Tee Time, or OUT of the Playoffs; and ‘SotP’ = Shot Off The Post, or a bad call of CC or T2. Remember, the PQC Codes get called every 10 games.
“What Do We Already Know?”
Looking ahead to G48 across the NHL, 15 teams can reach a call of Chasing Stanley (CS). Right now, one more who would fall in an In the Curve (ITC) status could receive a CS call and round out the playoff picture due to mathematical elimination. We also have 12 called at Tee Time (T2), leaving two more who will fall in an ITC status or lower and not see post-season play.
Eastern Conference PQC
For G48 Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh will remain the East’s CS teams. They could potentially be joined by another three teams per the model. And Washington and the Islanders are on track as Shots Off The Post (SotP), or making it into the Playoffs after a wrong, early call of T2. Winnipeg flat-out needs Washington to start losing now or they run out of hope for this season. Two other teams cannot top ITC. And we have seven teams already called out who are ripe for the adjustments mentioned above with Winnipeg and New Jersey likely to replace Washington and the Islanders on the outside looking in.
Western Conference PQC
Looking ahead to G48, Vancouver, Chicago and Anaheim are the West’s CS teams. Six more can potentially reach a CS level, although one of those six will drop by the wayside before G48. There is also still the possibility Columbus can earn a SotP call which would displace another of those six. One more can already not top an ITC call. And Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Edmonton and Nashville will remain the West’s T2 calls with the Columbus adjustment still possibly there.
G40 (IN or OUT calls):
Thursday, 11 April 2013, Verizon Center, Washington, D.C. – Based on their play through G40, the the Carolina Hurricanes are the twelfth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Wednesday, 10 April 2013, Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, AB – Based on their play through G40, the Vancouver Canucks are the sixth team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
G30 (IN or OUT calls):
Sunday, 24 March 2013, American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX – Based on their play through G30, the the Calgary Flames are the eleventh NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Saturday, 23 March 2013, Rexall Place, Edmonton, AB – Based on their play through G30, the Edmonton Oilers are the tenth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Saturday, 23 March 2013, American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX – Based on their play through G30, the the Colorado Avalanche are the ninth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Wednesday, 20 March 2013, Air Canada Center, Toronto, ON – Based on their play through G30, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the eighth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Tuesday, 19 March 2013, RSBC Center, Raleigh, NC – Based on their play through G30, the Nashville Predators are the seventh NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the
2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Monday, 18 March 2013, Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, FL – Based on their play through G30, the Philadelphia Flyers are the sixth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Sunday, 17 March 2013, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA – Based on their play through G30, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the fifth team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
G20 (IN or OUT calls):
Saturday, 2 March 2013, Jobbing.com Arena, Glendale, AZ – Based on their play through G20, the Anaheim Ducks are the fourth team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Thursday, 28 February 2013, BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL – Based on their play through G20, the Florida Panthers are the fifth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Wednesday, 27 February 2013, The Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON – Based on their play through G20, the Montreal Canadiens are the third team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Tuesday, 26 February 2013, Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, FL – Based on their play through G20, the Buffalo Sabres are the fourth NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Tuesday, 26 February 2013, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY – Based on their play through G20, the New York Islanders are the third NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Tuesday, 26 February 2013, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH – Based on their play through G20, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the second NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
G10 (IN or OUT calls):
Sunday, 10 February 2013, HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY – Based on their play through G10, the Boston Bruins are the second team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Tuesday, 5 February 2013, HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA – Based on their play through G10, the Chicago Blackhawks are the first team designated as Chasing Stanley, or IN the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tuesday, 5 February 2013, Verizon Center, Washington, DC – Based on their play through G10, the Washington Capitals are the first NHL team designated at Tee Time (T2), or ELIMINATED from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
This is the updated NHL Point Predictor and PQC Standings based on games ending 14 April.
Heading toward Game 48, 15 teams could rate a CS call. Three others’ maximums are between a SS and a DoC call. And 12 are currently eliminated from Playoff contention at T2.
All CS and T2 calls will now come game by game as teams show they are warranted.
Your next update will be posted after games played on Sunday, 14 April.
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