blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: January 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Capitals On the Capital

In a prior post, it was proposed that the next Winter Classic be staged on the National Mall. With the Capitals approaching greatness, or at least recognition, this is Washington's window. We floated the idea by owner Ted Leonsis and received the following response:

Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 8:30 AM
Subject: Re: (no subject)

No-- I wont be able to do that.. league is scare dthat wether here could be in the 70s/. Ted

Seriously? Have you been outside in DC in January? Historical temperatures range between 28 and 42 degrees. Do you realize the NHL is considering the Las Vegas Strip and Rose Bowl as potential sites for future games, with seasonal temperatures ranging from 36 to 57 and 42 to 68 degrees, respectively? Sounds like you're being BS'd by Bettman.

With attendance at the Booth up 29.8 percent (averaging 17,973 per game), tripled TV ratings, and the league's most exciting player on the roster, your time is now. More importantly, you need to act before Ovechkin gets lured away from NHL hockey.

If Obama can manage 1.8 million for his inauguration, surely the Caps can muster 50,000 for a New Year's Day skate. Make the call. Lock it up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NHL Players Decline To Terminate CBA Early

Last week the NHLPA declined to exercise their Section 3.1(b)(i) right to terminate the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement two years before its 2011 scheduled end date. So sure were the players of their decision, they responded to the NHL four months before their answer was due.

Once considered an owner victory, the CBA has delivered unanticipated player prosperity at the expense of the small market teams the salary cap structure was designed to protect. At its 2005 starting point, team payrolls were mandated to fall between a $21.5m floor and a $39m ceiling, with a minimum player salary of $450,000 (a 250% raise over pre-lockout levels) and a maximum of $7.8m (representing 20% of a team’s upper cap limit). In four short years, the payroll floor has increased 90% exceeding the 2005 cap ceiling by $1.7m.

Team Salary Cap Range ($m)
2005: 21.5 - 39.0
2006: 28.0 - 44.0
2007: 34.3 - 50.3
2008: 40.7 - 56.7

Individual Player Maximum Salary ($m)
2005: 7.8
2006: 8.8
2007: 10.06
2008: 11.34
With the individual player maximum salary rising 45% over the past four years, and the average player salary jumping from $1.8m to $2.2m during the same period, it's no wonder the NHLPA wants to maintain the CBA status quo. They've got their mind on their money.

If the relationship continues to yield such dividends, don't be surprised if the NHLPA exercises their Section 3.1(b)(ii) right to extend this pimped out agreement for an additional year beyond its 2011 term.

Don't hate the player, hate the CBA.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Statistical Anomaly - Ovechkin Hits

It probably comes as no surprise that Alexander Ovechkin finds himself at, or near, the top of the NHL in numerous statistical categories, including points (third with 59), goals (first with 31), power play goals (fourth with 10), game winning goals (third with 6), shots on goal (first with 305, notching 103 more shots than second place Eric Staal), and ice time by a forward (first with 23:22 minutes per game, just ahead of Evgeni Malkin (22:40) and Sidney Crosby (22:13)).

What's unusual about the OV's play is that he also ranks seventh in the league in hits with 148. That's 100 more hits than Crosby (48) and four times as many as EV (37). It's worth noting that OV has also collected the fourth most minor penalties thus far this season (28), so I'm guessing not all those hits are clean.

Looks like all that goal celebration practice is developing into a fruitful physical game. Game onski.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NHL All-Star Joke - Why Bother

This weekend, the best hockey players in the world will descend upon the holiest of cities to battle for interstellar conference domination. Players will skate together for the first and last time, yielding some of the most talented line combinations the game will ever know.

So why does nobody care about this year's NHL All-Star Game? Because there's nothing at stake. If you're going to bring the thoroughbreds to the track, for god's sake let them run. Hell, make 'em run.

In 2003, Major League Baseball did just that awarding the pennant winner of the league winning the All-Star Game with home field advantage for the upcoming World Series. Since then, the game has become a competitive affair with intra-conference rivals bonding over a mutually advantage prize. In short, it made the event relevant.

If you're going to ask NHL fans to top up a pension fund for workers who make a minimum of $475,000 each year, and on average almost $2,000,000 per year, the least you can do is bait the players with a meaningful prize. History as our witness, it takes more than a free car to get these horses out of the barn.

When the NHL's Article 22 Competition Committee convenes this weekend in Montreal, let's hope they see the wisdom of MLB's ways and follow suit awarding home ice advantage for the Stanley Cup finals to the winning conference of future NHL All-Star Games. Now that's something worth watching. Until then, why bother.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 NHL All-Star Joke - Rigging the Roster

This year fans allegedly elected 2009 All-Star Game players from only four squads including no skaters from the defending Cup Champions, the top three teams in either conference, or the top 20 scorers.

Not even the league’s most exciting player Alexander Ovechkin made the cut. That's right. This year's festivities features the feathery combination of the Chicago Ducks and Montreal Penguins.

No stranger to tampering with fan voting - lest we forget the league's undisputed roll in Rorygate denying dedicated fans the all-star debut of defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick - hometown favoritism runs rampant in this year's selections.

Instead of rounding out the program with high performers from the first half of the season, hometown hacks like Alexei Kovalev are occupying spots belonging to Patricks Elias or Marleau and Mike Komisarek is keeping the offensively gifted Mike Green from the game.

Ironically, Canadiens defenceman Komisarek's mid-season production (1G, 4A) is akin to Rory Fitzpatrick's from his 2007 almost-all-star season (1G, 6A). With the benefit of hindsight, it appears Fitzpatrick's fatal flaw was collecting votes in a year when his home team wasn't hosting.

In the end, it doesn't really matter who cracks the lineup or how. It would just be nice for fans to have a say, whether the NHL agrees or not.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Statistical Anomaly – Detroit Red Wings PK

It probably comes as no surprise that the Detroit Red Wings lead the league in numerous statistical categories including goals (156), assists (277), shots on goal (1582), road power play percentage (33%), and home penalty kill percentage (88.5%).

What's unusual about the Wings is they own the NHL’s worst penalty kill percentage on the road (74.3%). Thus, your best chance of scoring on Detroit is when they're shorthanded on the road. The problem is, as the second least penalized team in the league (445 minutes), teams rarely find themselves in that position. And so the big red machine rolls on.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An Instant Classic In the Second City

Last week the NHL staged it’s second Winter Classic in as many years showcasing Original Six siblings and Central Division rivals Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings - the league's youngest team and owner of the highest home attendance this season facing off against the defending Stanley Cup Champs laying claim to the eldest roster and highest road attendance figures. A safe ratings play to be sure.

Shifting the location to Wrigley Field offered an intimate and historically rich alternative to Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But beyond the awesome setting, several small touches distinguished the event: scheduling the game on the back-end of a home-and-home series ensured a playoff intensity rather than that of an exhibition affair, singing both anthems despite the absence of a Canadian team (though two-thirds of Chicago’s lineup were born north of the border), the exposed brick facade on the outside of the boards, the coaches old-time cowboy hats, the pair of fighter jets that buzzed the ballpark, transitioning the title sponsor from Super Dew to Bridgestone, the Costas factor, and the handshakes at the end of the game all classed-up the cause.

A 2.9 television rating in the United States for this year’s game has all but cemented the Winter Classic as an annual affair. With fans flocking to the event, owners are lining up to get a piece of the action. Suitors include the Flyers (Beaver Stadium), Rangers (Yankee Stadium), Bruins (Fenway), Wild (TCF Bank Stadium), and Avalanche (Investco Field)

While gate receipts are a nice boost to annual revenues, the NHL should select its next location with an eye towards developing a U.S. television audience and leveraging a lucrative and comprehensive television contract with a broadcast network.

The goal should be to secure a unique space where no professional sports team has played, a venue of first impression. Can you imagine watching the Rangers and Islanders playing on Central Park's Great Lawn or the Capitals and Penguins skating on the National Mall?

At the very least, let's hope these iconic options are explored before the league stages a Battle of Florida at Disney World.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Wild Tale of Rotating Captains

Rule 6 of the NHL Official Rules provides that each team must appoint a captain. His official role is to discuss, not complain about, issues "relating to the interpretation of rules." Up to two alternate captains may administer this task when the captain is off the ice, three when the captain is not in uniform. Gretzky, Yzerman, and Sakic are names that come to mind when you think of modern day NHL captains. Tenured players with cup-worthy on-ice talents and leadership skills. In today's NHL, fewer teams are finding such talent in their ranks and appointment practices have varied accordingly.

Joining an already bloated league with increased player mobility through relaxed free agency rules, in 2000 the Minnesota Wild adopted a unique approach to captaincy. Each month the honor is up for grabs. While rotating the role may devalue the honor and alienate fans, it's hard to argue with the pedigree of the architects and the subsequent results.

With 16 Stanley Cup wins between them, including four together as teammates on the Montreal Canadiens, GM Doug Risebrough and Coach Jacques Lemaire have known success everywhere they've been. In their seven completed seasons running the Wild since inception, they've made three post-season appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2003. Not bad for an expansion team in the highly competitive North West division. Meanwhile, their expansion siblings the Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to participate in the playoffs.

Coming off a miserable 4-9-1 December, last month's captain Kim Johnsson will relinquish the 'C' to Mikko Koivu for the month of January. Mikko is the 22nd different player to captain the team, previously serving as captain in October and November of 2008. His duties resume this Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings, who have had two captains over the past 22 years, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. O captain, my captain.