Scott Lewis

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The Kevin Connolly film Big Shot chronicles Dallas businessman John Spano and his purchase of the struggling New York Islanders in 1996. Spano appeared to be the franchise’s savior, swooping in to save the storied Islanders from the NHL’s basement with his perceived deep pockets, and a commitment to keep the team on Long Island.

The latest ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, which airs tonight (Tuesday, October 22 at 8pm/ET), is the series’ second run at a hockey story. Kings Ransom focused on the Edmonton Oilers 1988 trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings was the first feature in the 30-for-30 film series.

Spano, as it would turn out, was too good to be true for the Islanders and their fans. The would-be owner forged numerous documents and lied his way into a fortune that never really existed. With his Dallas based rental company and country club friends, Spano had fooled bankers, investors, and then Islanders owner John Pickett into believing he had the resources to buy the hockey team.

“You run in the right circles and people just stop asking questions,” Spano tells director Connolly in a one-on-one interview in the film. This was the basis of the pseudo millionaire’s existence as someone who appeared to be in the position to purchase a hockey team for $165 million.

Big Shot is possibly the best entry in the 30-for-30 so far this year. It works very well as an informative look at one of the biggest financial scandals in recent memory involving a professional sports franchise. It’s not without its faults, but Connolly does a fairly good job of riding the line between fan and filmmaker.

The film’s finest moments are the historical bit on the Islanders and their four straight Stanley Cup victories from 1980-1983, and the points in the film where Mike Milbury and John Spano are interviewed. In particular, the segment which jumps back and forth between Spano and Milbury offering their opinions of each other makes for great viewing. Their mutual hatred of one another is almost chewable.

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Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

It was over a month ago now, but the memory of the great collapse remains as fresh as ever in the minds of Toronto Maple Leafs fans. The Maple Leafs, of course, famously squandered a three-goal lead versus the Boston Bruins with ten minutes remaining in the third period of Game Seven. To be even more specific, they blew a two goal lead with under a minute and a half remaining in the game.

It was the type of sporting rarity that we’re unlikely to ever see again. The type of thing one doesn’t usually see in his or her lifetime. Hell, it’s the type of thing that may occur once in sixty lifetimes.

You can joke to your heart’s content about how the Leafs were this close to marching to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1967. Leafs fans aren’t laughing.

I took it upon myself to solicit stories from Leafs fans on their experiences from Game Seven. Not even trolling, I swear. I received scores of responses via email, Twitter, and even conducted a couple of old fashioned face-to-face conversations. The responses I received were reflective, sad, bizzarre, incoherent, and sometimes hilarious. Some names have been changed (when requested). Here’s a thorough sampling for your reading pleasure/despair. Read the rest of this entry »

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins

Judging a trade can be tricky business. It’s especially difficult to gauge winners and losers in a trade when the parameters involved offer varying degrees of benefit to the parties involved.

Personally, when it comes to measuring trade value in the immediate versus the longrun, I like to think about the Todd Van Poppel rookie card I swapped back in 1991. Van Poppel was supposed to be some kind of pitching phenom. I was too young at the time to understand or investigate why such sentiment was so popular, but I bought in. I scored a Van Poppel rookie card in a pack of Score baseball cards one afternoon. Knowing that such a card was a valuable commodity at the time, I used it to complete my set of 1990-91 Upper Deck hockey cards. Jeremy Roenick’s rookie card was featured in said set, and it just so happened to be the final piece of cardboard I required to complete my collection.

One afternoon, at the age of 11, I wandered in to my local card shop and presented the owner with my Todd Van Poppel rookie card. I told the man at the counter that all I wanted was the 1990-91 Jeremy Roenick card. I can’t recall what the value of these cards were at the time, but I know that this older gentleman looked at me and didn’t think twice about ripping me off. We had a deal. I had my Roenick rookie card to finish off my inaugural Upper Deck hockey set, and card store guy had his 25th Van Poppel rookie to add to his collection for the purpose of cashing in at the end of Van Poppel’s illustrious career.

Todd Van Poppel flamed out famously in the Majors. My 1990-91 Upper Deck hockey collection sits in a Rubbermaid container in my parents’ basement and I’ve seen its current sale value as low as $3.99 and as high as $19.99. Whatever the case, I won that trade, but it wasn’t a certain victory until four or five years after the fact.

This may not seem relevant at all here on Backhand Shelf, but it’s remotely relevant when we consider the Phil Kessel-for-Maple Leafs draft picks trade. Brian Burke gambled when he shipped three draft picks to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Phil Kessel back in 2009. He gambled that the pieces already existing on the Maple Leafs roster before he took over, combined with the free agents he had brought in, would make for a legitimate contender with the addition of Kessel. It didn’t work out right away, but here we are looking at a Game 7 between these two teams nearly five years after the fact. Brian Burke is no longer present in this picture, but his finger prints are smeared all over it.

Below is a timeline of the Kessel trade and the events that took place in its aftermath, complete with facetious judgment on who held the upper hand at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Cam Charron wrote a great piece on how the New York Islanders came to be a hockey team currently sitting in sixth place. It’s a fantastic post and you should go read it. In the meantime, here’s a .gif of Travis Hamonic looking as hockey player as it gets. You’re welcome.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

I can almost pinpoint the day that I first dove headfirst into advanced hockey analytics. It was at the conclusion of the 2009-10 regular season, and I was set to appear on a radio program as part of a panel to discuss our picks for the NHL Awards. With a couple of days notice before my appearance, and knowing who else would be joining the panel, I did some background work to see who my peers would be picking for individual awards. When it came to the Norris Trophy, I discovered that the two other panelists were leaning toward Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. I was all-in on Duncan Keith, the eventual recipient.

Knowing full well that the Mike Green crowd would be pointing to his superior point and +/- totals as reasoning to go with the Capitals defenseman over Keith, I set out to learn more about the analytics that you can find on Armed with a few days of research and a slightly more than fundamental understanding of how stats like Corsi, quality of competition, and zone starts are calculated and weighted, I felt like I effectively argued how Keith was a superior defenseman.

Today, advanced stats have become a major part of my daily player analysis routine. Of course, a balance between watching games and analytics is optimal when formulating an opinion on a specific player or team. I wanted to do something important. Like, the most IMPORTANT thing ever. So, I took it upon myself to apply this same analytical approach to the most barbaric aspect of hockey: PUNCH FIGHTS. Anybody can look up a scrap on and cast a vote for a winner, but, much like goals don’t tell you the whole story, a knockdown punch or homerific voting system can’t tell you everything about a fight.

So, I’ve spent far too much time over the last three weeks watching hockey fights and counting punches exchanged in an effort to look at who among the NHL’s fighting major leaders controls the battles.

Enter: Punch Corsi

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on quite a roll as of late. A large part of their success can be attributed to the stellar play of Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. Bobrovsky took a Kevin Klein slapshot to the mask in the second period of Tuesday’s game versus the Nashville Predators, and it looked like he was rather dazed from the blast. Of course, rather than pull their hot hand from the game, the Jackets’ trainer let their goaltender huff some smelling salts and all was right… or was it?

Like a regular picture, one that doesn’t move, a .gif can say a thousand words. It’s commonplace at theScore’s palatial towers for bloggers to ogle a good sports .gif for minutes on end. Below is a collection of hockey .gifs that we’ve really enjoyed from the first half of the season. It is, after all, the midpoint of the NHL season for most teams.

Pictured above is Martin Brodeur narrowly saving Martin Brodeur from himself. MOAR .gifs after the jump Read the rest of this entry »