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Friday Links: First Chance To Dance

Joe is getting some teeth pulled out of his face so you guys are stuck with me today. You can e-mail Justin for a full refund if you’d like. I’ll understand.

Let’s talk playoffs, shall we? Seems to be a popular topic around these parts. These playoffs have been kind of insane. Yes, every year the playoffs are kind of insane, it’s the nature of hockey, and we do like to elevate current situations because we have a short memory. Even just last year, four of eight first round series went seven games. That was nutty. But here’s my bold prediction for what is going to make this year even more hectic. This year, we are going to see the Cup head back to a city that’s never hoisted it before.

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I am a Leafs fan and I have a problem. No, the problem is not that I am a Leafs fan. I sit watching the playoffs like any fan of any team that’s not in the playoffs – quiet, trying not to get invested, an impartial observer just watching for the “enjoyment of the game”. Bullshit. There’s always a tinge of resentment in watching teams that are not yours in the playoffs. It’s like what I imagine being a parent is like and watching a kid other than yours score a goal. Yeah, good for them, but why the hell wasn’t it my kid? That’s what parenting is like, right? Encouraging animosity between children? No? I probably shouldn’t have kids. Where was I?

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It’s been nice to see two days of hockey go by without anyone getting seriously injured, really great change of pace for these playoffs and with news that Raffi Torres has been suspended 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa, you’d think that the NHL was getting serious about preventing further violence. You’d think.

I’ve seen lots of ideas bandied about by People Who Are Smarter Than MeTM on how to cut down on head shots so, naturally, I thought that I’d throw out an idea of my own. I know, you’ve all been waiting with baited breath. I had the idea whilst browsing the Twitter and saw my esteemed editor, Justin Bourne (a board member of People Who Are Smarter Than MeTM) mention that the best way to curb players from doing anything is to make the punishment one that would hurt the team as that’s the last thing any player wants to do. Bourne suggested that if a player is suspended, the team should not be allowed to replace them on the bench for the remainder of their suspension. A good, practical idea. However, guys like Dan Boyle and Duncan Keith are already playing 30 minutes a game. These are professional athletes and coaches, they’d be able to adapt and find a way to make this work, especially in the playoffs when guys are total workhorses at all times (oh God, that sounded like something Pierre McGuire would say. I’VE BECOME EVERYTHING I HATE.)

“Okay, then, what’s your idea,” you ask? Good question, disembodied voice, I’ll tell you. I think that soccer has it right. And yes, that is the first time I’ve ever said that so you win, The Footy Blog. In soccer, if a player gets tossed, his team plays a man down for the remainder of the match. I like this. It has an immediate impact and would totally devastate the team, a potential 59-minute penalty kill. They’d be screwed. Unfortunately, in hockey, this is impossible.

This model works well with soccer and it’s stretched out fields and 11 guys a side and its “half back passes to the center, back to the wing, back to the center, center holds it, holds it, holds it…” (this actually happens in hockey too, but only when Tomas Kaberle is manning a power play). While applying this to hockey would be insane, it’s less the specific plan and more the idea behind it. It’s that immediate impact that’s important. Players are getting damn near killed and the immediate result is a 5-minute power play. That’s just not enough; it doesn’t hurt the team so badly that players will think twice about throwing their shoulder into someone’s face. What we need to see is a change in penalty rules – get tossed, double major. We need double majors. A ten-minute power play would unequivocally change the pace of the game and could change an entire playoff series. No guy wants to be the one who let down his team so badly that they had to play shorthanded for a full 10, hung out to dry and exhausted. Let’s see it happen, NHL. Is it just me or is this so crazy it’s starting to make sense?

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If you needed any more proof that the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the best tournament in sports, the last four days should be enough to satisfy you. We’ve already had seven games decided in sudden death this year. Seven. The playoffs started four days ago. Could this be the year we see a new record for overtime games in the playoffs (the record being 28, set in 1993)? If I know anything, which I don’t, I’m going to say that yes, yes it will be the year. Regardless, more overtime please, Hockey Gods. We really enjoy it.

Also, the Blues won a playoff game!  That hasn’t happened in a really long time. April 12, 2004 to be exact. Oh, you don’t remember 2004? Allow me to refresh your memory.

  • Vladimir Putin won his second term as Russia’s President (The Poot!).
  • On May 4th, the Leafs played their last playoff game.
  • The series finale of Friends aired (I miss you, The Friends).
  • Paul Martin (remember him?) was still Prime Minister of Canada.
  • Lance Armstrong won his 6th consecutive Tour de France.
  • And this song was EVERYWHERE.

So, yeah (sorry, Yeah!), it’s been a long time coming for the boys from St. Louis. Good on them.

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Well, that was a fun night. We all learned lots. We learned that the Flyers are very, very good and the Penguins might not be, we learned that the Canucks still can’t be counted on in the playoffs, we learned that you can never count the Red Wings out and we learned that the New Jersey/Florida series is apparently happening. The main thing that I learned, however, is that the race for and subsequent winning of the President’s Trophy means next to nothing.

I know, I know, it’s nothing new that a number one seed doesn’t go through to the championship. That’s actually the entire basis for March Madness. But, in the NHL, the President’s Trophy is more of a burden than a benefit. In the last ten years, only one team has won the trophy and gone on to hoist the Cup – the 2007/2008 Detroit Red Wings – and until last year’s Vancouver Canucks, no Trophy winners had even made the finals.

Though this year’s Canucks team is not down and out yet, although it’s getting close, it’s starting to look like we’ll see yet another season where finishing first in the standings doesn’t lead to finishing first where it counts. There are many possible reasons for this, there’s the added pressure of being the best, teams are gunning harder for you because you were the best, or it could just be the law of big numbers coming into play once again as, no matter where you finish, teams still only have a 1 in 16 chance of taking home the hardware.

The point is, I think it’s time for us to stop putting such a focus on the race for the President’s Trophy at the end of the season. We don’t need the daily coverage, we can read the standings just fine on our own. The team that finishes first in the regular season absolutely should be recognized for their achievements, but maybe it’s best if we just wait until the season is over, rather than starting a playoff race before the playoffs begin.

I think they’d appreciate it.

As for the Vancouver Canucks? You guys can thank me next year.

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The Dump and Chase: 09/28/2011

Like the overly aggressive kid down the street that got away with whipping me in the face with a broken bicycle chain when I was six, if Wayne Simmonds says he didn’t do it then Wayne Simmonds didn’t do it. Mr. Simmonds met with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan Colin Campbell on Tuesday to discuss Sean Avery’s allegations that Simmonds had called him a “faggot” on the ice during Monday’s exhibition game between the Rangers and Flyers. After reviewing the incident with Simmonds, Campbell announced that the league would not be handing down any punishment.

Simmonds, who had a sudden case of amnesia during his post-game chat with the media Monday, denied the allegations on Tuesday. Without an official able to back Avery’s claims, Simmonds will walk away unscathed by the NHL’s hammer of justice.

Here’s the crux of Campbell’s statement:

“… we have looked into the allegations relating to the possible use of a homophobic slur by a Flyers player in the Rangers/Flyers preseason game last night in Philadelphia. Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom. Specifically, Flyers Player Wayne Simmonds has expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said. Additionally, none of the on-ice officials close to the altercation in question heard any inappropriate slurs uttered by either of the primary antagonists. In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night’s events. To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter.”

So unless an official or the talking head between the benches magically remembers Simmonds shouting a homophobic slur in Avery’s direction, then this case would appear to be closed. And that’s a shame.

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While advanced statistics aren’t likely to inspire Michael Lewis to write a book on any of the handful of NHL teams that have begun to rely upon them to build their rosters, it’s become increasingly challenging for the anti-stats set to find a viable argument against the use of them for evaluation of talent. We’re probably still a few years away from your local Statler and Waldorf from tossing a “Corsi” or “GVT” around in a Monday morning Tim Horton’s hockey conversation, but the work that guys like Gabriel Desjardins have been doing for a few years has penetrated both mainstream hockey coverage and NHL executive offices.

James Mirtle penned two excellent pieces on advanced metrics at the Globe and Mail over the weekend, including an article examining the challenges that hockey’s sabermetrics have faced in catching on across the board, and a second article on the half-dozen or so NHL teams that have integrated ‘fancy stats’ into how they evaluate players. Both are well worth a read, even if the term “Moneypuck” is entirely insufferable.

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