Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

Brian Babineau, Getty

Brian Babineau, Getty

“To view the potency of narrative, consider the following statement: “The king died and the queen died.” Compare it to “The king died, and then then queen died of grief.” This exercise, presented by the novelist E. M. Forster, shows the distinction between mere succession of information and a plot. But notice the hitch here: although we added information to the second statement, we effectively reduced the dimension of the total. The second sentence is, in a way, much lighter to carry and easier to remember; we now have one single piece of information in place of two. As we can remember it with less effort, we can also sell it to others, that is, market it better as a packaged idea. This, in a nutshell, is the definition and function of a narrative.”

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

As we saw in Molly Brooks’ excellent comic that came out this past week, it’s easy as a fan to reduce hockey to theatre. It’s not just hockey: political reporters love to attribute slight increases or decreases in poll support to the public’s reaction on a promised policy change or event on the campaign trail.

It’s easy and satisfying to attach reason to everything, but part of the beauty of sports is that things happen without regard of logic or good sense. Not each outcome is determined, and the best team doesn’t win every game in every sport. If they did that, nobody would watch.

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jobingcom

In October of 2009 I had lived in Phoenix for about six weeks before I was given the neat opportunity to write a column for the Arizona Republic, the major paper in town. I wrote a piece explaining why I thought the attendance at Coyotes’ games was so bad. The theory: they had sucked, and watching sucky teams sucks. Not a complex idea, all told.

The piece was largely terrorized in the comment section (it is the internet, after all), and was brought up years after the fact by local fans after handshakes. I also suspect it was part of the reason I was so coldly received by the old PR team when I’d attend games in the pressbox, and came to prefer sitting in the crowd.

I lived there for three years after that column, and realized it was probably a bit of a miss. Not quite a strike out, but certainly not a hit. Having since moved out of the state and re-located to Toronto, I wanted to look back and reflect on where I went wrong. Since then, a lot of people have come to assess and understand the real issues.

The team recently secured ownership going forward, and has adopted the slogan HERE TO STAY for the upcoming season. So y’know, high five to that, ‘Yotes fans.

Now: why aren’t there more of you?

***

Upon learning I would be pulling in somewhere around $150 to $200 for an opinion piece in the Arizona Republic, I wanted to make a splash. In my freelance world, that was pretty darn good cheese. I didn’t want to write something I didn’t believe or anything – the aim wasn’t to troll for hate clicks – but I really wanted it to be something noteworthy. My honest feeling was that attendance in Phoenix was bad because the team was, and I figured a frank assessment from a then-outsider might start some conversation. The simple answers are often the ones people seem to take to most, after all.

I proposed the topic, and it was not just accepted, it was encouraged. I submitted it. I was never asked to write for them again. Read the rest of this entry »

Bobby Goepfert

Bobby Goepfert is a professional goaltender who I got to know in college (he was with St. Cloud), and our paths crossed again at a camp for the Hershey Bears in 2008-2009. He’s spent time in the American League and the ECHL, and has been a starter in the DEL (German Elite League) over the past couple seasons – he’s heading back there this year too. He’s a pretty darn good goalie, and also a great Twitter follow.

He’s written for Backhand Shelf in the past (you can still check out his post responding to my post about abusing goaltenders from the blog’s early days), so with the European season about to kick off, he needed an outlet for his energy and hit me up.

Hockey pucks hurt, I can confirm this. But I’ll let him tell you more about it below.

***

-by Bobby Goepfert

The hockey puck. You elusive, deceiving, unforgiving spawn of vulcanized rubber. To the naked eye, it doesn’t look like a formidable foe. One inch thick, three inches in diameter and weighing in at 6 ounces, it hardly boasts the dimensions of a menacing adversary. However, this small, unassuming sliver of hellish frozen rubber can travel up to speeds of 100+mph. (*Sidenote* In all honesty, that’s really only during the certain occasions when a 6’7″ defenseman really gets into one, or if you’re dumb enough to wonder in front of the net during the hardest shot event at the Skills Competition while Chara is going. Most of the hardest in-game, or practice shots us goalies face would be anywhere from low 90′s to high 90′s.)

People always say that us goalies are absolutely crazy for wanting to put ourselves in front of these flying bastards, actually trying to get a body part on it. Well…maybe we are. But I say to you, we are the most protected players out on the ice (or on the bench). The defenceman or forward battling in front of the net when an incoming rocket is headed our way wear no face mask, the shoulder pads Reggie Dunlop wore, and have an exposed abdomen. Are they not crazy? Or the winger challenging a point shot by sliding into the missile as it leaves the point man’s stick, with all sorts of body parts exposed – is that not crazier than we, the masked men, the padded Michelin men of today’s hockey game? (*Sidenote* Extreme kudos to our goalie brethren of yesteryear with their shoddy equipment and mask-less faces. I think I can speak for the goalies of today in saying, “Wow, & respect”…though something a bit more articulate.) Read the rest of this entry »

Black_Swans

I’ve done by best to get away from hockey for the last couple of weeks. It’s August, and hockey should only last from October to April in a perfect world—we’re conditioned in Canada to think about it year round and it’s hard to escape. The off-season is hit with deadlines, free agent signings, and often the low-profile ones are the most interesting to me. Scott Gomez upped with Florida last week which is interesting, Alex Pietrangelo is unsigned, and there’s still the matter of where Mikhail Grabovski and Brad Boyes will sign. There’s a lot surrounding hockey that has little to do with the actual playing of the sport in the months of the year when there’s actually snow on the ground.

(Although I’m from Vancouver, so I’m unaccustomed to seeing snow on the ground during hockey season. You don’t have to shovel rain.)

What I have been doing, on and off, is sitting around listening to music and have been reading some writing from Nassim Taleb. His job description is somewhat ambiguous, but his Wikipedia entry calls him an “essayist, scholar and statistician”. He has an interesting focus in random events, or “Black Swans”, that are essentially things you can’t accurately predict or forecast yet have a huge impact on our daily lives.

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benoit pouliot chris kelly

Right now I guess we’re still waiting for the manager of a good team that has the audacity to ship out his lower-level, fan-favourite players at the end of a good season.

Salary cap realities forced the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 2010 to shed some depth players. That was Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Adam Burish—but part of the reason they were forced into reality is because of not only the Great Restricted Free Agent Flap of 2009, but also because David Bolland inexplicably earned a five-year contract after 119 career NHL games and 23 total goals.

This summer, Stan Bowman caved into surely what was a lot of pressure and gave Bryan Bickell a five four-year deal. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to pay a depth winger long-term that has a shaky spot scoring goals or registering ice-time at the NHL level. He had a good playoff run, but you’d somewhat hope Bowman could have seen through his biases and recognized that Bickell’s scoring in the playoffs (nine goals and 17 points on a 13.86% on-ice shooting percentage and 18.4% individual shooting percentage) was more of a bonus on top of the things Bickell does bring to the lineup than a new talent that somehow manifested itself within.

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(Jonathan Kozub, Getty Images)

(Jonathan Kozub, Getty Images)

On Monday, the Winnipeg Jets re-signed restricted free agent defenceman Zach Bogosian to a 7-year deal, continuing an interesting trend this off-season. Bogosian is the fifth RFA defenceman to sign a long-term deal over the last couple months and it’s also the richest of the five deals. Roman Josi, Slava Voynov, Ryan McDonagh, and Travis Hamonic have all signed for 6+ years with their respective clubs

Like those four players, Bogosian is a very good young defenceman with the potential to be a cornerstone of his team’s defensive corps in the future. Bogosian’s contract, however, has been criticized in some corners by those who don’t think he deserves either the term or the money. I also saw a number of people making understandable comparisons of Bogosian with the four aforementioned defencemen who also signed long-term deals, wondering why he received more per year than any of them.

Some of the criticism is rooted in underestimating Bogosian, who has played for teams that could be generously described as mediocre and in front of goaltending that doesn’t even deserve that generosity. But a fair portion of the criticism seems to stem from missing the differences between his situation and those of his RFA defencemen contemporaries.

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rolling-dice

Fun little dice game you can use in social situations. It’s called ‘Mexico’. You have two six-sided dice, and your score is based on the actual digits facing up rather than the addition. The highest score, a 21 or a ‘Mexico’ comes when a two and a one show up on the table. Next up are doubles—66, 55, 44, 33, 22, 11—and then the single rolls, 65 all the way in descending order down to 31, the lowest possible roll. The idea of the game is to not have the lowest roll in a round.

It’s an interesting probability problem. I didn’t get around to calculating all the odds for all situations, but you get to either pass on the dice or take another roll, up to three rolls, if you’re the first roller in the round. If you take multiple rolls, so do all your opponents. If you end up with a fairly high score you have a good chance of not being the lowest once everybody else has shot during the round, but I found it interesting what scores most people were keeping. A player would pass on the dice almost instantaneously if a ’6′ showed on one dice while they were a little more reluctant if they saw double-3s or double-2s or double-1s, despite those latter rolls being a higher score.

In most dice games, where you add the dice together, the higher rolls are the ones with lots of black dice. Every kid grew up playing Risk and Monopoly and Backgammon where generally, the more numbers the better. ‘Mexico’ flips that around, and if the player is aware of ‘anchoring bias’, they’re less likely to be satisfied even with rolls of 54 or 53, which look like large numbers but are some of the worst in the game.

Every party has the awkward kid over-thinking everything during drinking games, right? Or was that just Kamloops circa 2006-2012?

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