28 May 2011

Stanley Cup Final 2011: A Viewer's Guide

So your team has (yet again) not made it as far as the Stanley Cup Final? So jaded by the long grind of playoff hockey that you can't summon the energy to write an intro different to the one you used last year?

If you have nothing better to do, why not use my viewer's guide? Score along at home during the series and if you break 30 points, a multi-million dollar prize will head your way. At least that's what Chris Drury and Shawn Horcoff told me...

(I accept no responsibility for the consequences if you instead turn this into a drinking game. Watching a few playoff games is no excuse for drunken debauchery. At least that's what the Montreal Police Department told me...)
  • Man in garish, fluorescent green outfit performing tired, attention-seeking act next to road team penalty box during game (2 pts)
  • Man in garish, fluorescent green outfit performing tired, attention-seeking act next to Ron MacLean during Coach's Corner segment (1 pt)
  • Versus or NBC displaying on-screen graphic to illustrate where Canada is (5 pts)
  • Versus or NBC displaying on-screen graphic to illustrate where Sidney Crosby is (10 pts)
  • Denis Leary dropping F-bomb accidentally-on-purpose during mid-game interview with rink-side reporter (6 pts)
  • Mike Emrick failing to mention which US college was attended by Ryan Kesler, Jeff Tambellini, Chris Higgins, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, the goal judge, his hotel receptionist etc... (8 million pts)
  • Eddie Olczyk's forced chuckle (2 pts)
  • "Good active stick" (-5 pts)
  • Jeremy Roenick clearly articulating a thoughtful, rational point during post-game coverage (100 pts)
  • Jeremy Roenick scribbling "JR needs a wee wee" using his virtual crayons during post-game coverage (40 pts)
  • Each CBC shot of Bruins President of Looking Angry in Executive Boxes, Cam Neely (1 pt) 
  • Each CBC shot of Maple Leafs President of Looking Angry in Executive Boxes Even Though My Team Isn't Taking Part, Brian Burke (0.1 pts)
  • Tom Brady watching the game while holding a goat (7 pts)
  • Funny looking bald guy shouting and getting up close to Bruins players during timeout (10 pts)
  • Claude Julien struggling to muscle past Pierre McGuire and/or Darren Pang to diagram a play for Bruins players during timeout (20 pts)
Coach Julien is not usually happy to be interviewed during the game
  • Adrien Plavsic (0 pts)
  • Jim Hughson or Mike Emrick calling the winning goal in OT to clinch the 2011 Stanley Cup (1 pt)
  • Jim Hughson or Mike Emrick finally calling the winning goal in OT to clinch the 2010 Stanley Cup (88 pts)
  • Andrew Ference raising the Cup over his head in triumph (5 pts)
  • Andrew Ference lowering his pants around his ankles in triumph (15 pts)
  • After the final game, Mark Recchi immediately bringing the end to a long, dinstinguished career, by announcing the retirement of the patch of hair above his forehead (43 pts)

26 May 2011

Throwing games in the NHL

[If the title led you to believe this would be an analysis of the team-building strategy of the Pittsburgh Penguins, I apologise.  It's not.]

The aftermath of the post-game torrent of giveaway paddles/clappers/rally drums launched by Tampa Bay fans onto the playing surface - and ever so accidentally in the general vicinity of one or two Boston Bruins players - last night has brought with it the usual furious, yet measured and consistent, response from NHL HQ today.

The Lightning organisation and the retaliating Nathan Horton have both been left reeling from the respective heavy fine and suspension laid down by the league.

Far from being rare, of course there have been many instances of unusual objects being discarded onto the ice at hockey arenas over the years.  Here is just a small selection:

As every hockey fan knows, Detroit Red Wings fans have been lobbing octopi on the ice during the playoffs since the 1950s, the eight arms originally signifying the number of wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Recently the NHL has begun to frown upon the ritual, a crackdown on eight animal limbs hitting the playing surface first instituted by Colin Campbell in response to Sean Avery spilling the contents of Martin Brodeur's KFC bargain bucket during the 2008 playoffs.

A wooden bench
In January 2000, irate at a missed call, New Jersey Devils coach Robbie Ftorek opted to throw part of the team bench onto the ice. The Devils' well-established run-and-gun system allowed the bench to seamlessly fit in on a line with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo, chalking up a creditable +12 rating over the balance of the season, before signing a lucrative but ultimately disastrous free agent deal with the New York Rangers that summer.

Plastic rats
In one of several short-lived crazes aping Detroit's octupus tossing, during one of their team's regular marches to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, Florida Panthers fans took to littering the ice with plastic rats whenever the Panthers scored, apparently instigated by the story of Scott Mellanby killing a (real) rat in the dressing room. The practice is also thought to have inspired the recent throwing of plastic dogs after every Michael Vick touchdown in Philadelphia.

The Vancouver Canucks faced criticism this week for allowing confetti to be showered onto the ice after clinching the Western Conference championship, the sight of players consequently being forced to skate very slowly to avoid injury only bringing back bad memories of Mats Sundin's time in the city.

After famously throwing waffles onto the Air Canada Centre ice to express his displeasure at the Toronto Maple Leafs' loss to the Atlanta Thrashers earlier this season, die-hard fan Joe Robb avoided criminal charges but was forced to carry out five hours of community service and is now banned from ever again watching the Atlanta Thrashers play at Air Canada Centre.

Rubber snake
Following an internet-led campaign, a Keith Yandle goal in a 2010 playoff game against Detroit resulted in one Phoenix Coyotes fan flinging a rubber snake onto the ice. Originally believed to be motivated as a riposte to the Red Wings' octopus tradition, it later emerged that the sacrifice of a hairless, predatory and cold-blooded object merely symbolised the rejection of Jim Balsillie's as the team's potential owner.

The throwing of hats on the ice after a player scores a hat-trick goal has long been embraced by players and fans alike, a tradition only threatened by league spokesman Sidney Crosby's complaints during a 2009 playoff game about the sheer volume of hats being thrown in his direction by the Capitals' Dave Steckel.

A glove
In the final minute of a tied December 2008 game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning, popular Flyers forward Scott Hartnell attempted to thwart a breakaway by Ryan Malone by throwing his glove towards the Lightning player, resulting in a penalty shot being awarded and missed, thus astonishing Flyers fans under the age of 40, who had never before seen the glove of a Flyers player prevent a goal.

Tennis balls
The annual college match-up between Dartmouth and Princeton includes the ritual of Dartmouth fans hurling tennis balls onto the ice after their team's first goal of the game. The continuation of that tradition at Madison Square Garden for each goal scored by star New York Rangers forward and Dartmouth alum, Hugh Jessiman, is believed to have extinguished the entire stock of tennis balls in Manhattan.

2 May 2011

NHL Awards - meet the contenders

Somewhat lost in the excitement of the playoffs over the last couple of weeks have been the announcements about the nominees for the various NHL awards (those that are voted on).

Once again, these are to be handed out in a faintly embarrassing lavish ceremony in Las Vegas in June attended by whoever comes up first on Bettman's "Best Rock of the 80s" iPod playlist some of the entertainment industry's biggest names and Eric Weinrich and Darcy Wakaluk many legends of the game.

Here is a quick rundown of the main awards and those in the running:

Hart Memorial Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The player adjudged most valuable to his team
In practice, normally awarded to: The player with the most points and/or who happened to get hot in the last month of the season

Corey Perry (Anaheim)
Aiming to become the first MVP since Bobby Clarke in 1975/76 to rack up 100 penalty minutes in the season, thus creating the instant quiz question: "How the hell did Chris Pronger go a season without getting 100 penalty minutes?"

Daniel Sedin (Vancouver)
There is simply no other player like him.

Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay)
Put the team on his shoulders and carried them, the team promising to return the favour during a planned off-season trip to Disneyland.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position
In practice, normally awarded to: Nicklas Lidstrom

Zdeno Chara (Boston)
Neutralised the offense of Max Pacioretty and Ryan Callahan more effectively than any other player in the league could manage.

Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit)
Continued to defy conventional wisdom by putting up the first minus season of his career despite playing much less often in front of Chris Osgood.

Shea Weber (Nashville)
First Norris Trophy nomination for a player with an Irish name since Sandis O'Zolinsh in 1997.

Vezina Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The goaltender who is adjudged to be the best at this position
In practice, normally awarded to: The goaltender who is adjudged to be at least as good as Jim Carey and Jose Theodore turned out to be

Roberto Luongo (Vancouver)
Strong performance attributed to playing 12 inches deeper in his crease and Dustin Byfuglien playing 600 miles deeper in the Eastern Conference.

Pekka Rinne (Nashville)
Hoping to become the first Finnish goalie to pick up some hardware since Brian Burke sent Vesa Toskala to Canadian Tire to collect his new lawnmower.

Tim Thomas (Boston)
Rewarded for breaking Dominik Hasek's long-standing NHL record for most saves made while looking like an inebriated octopus playing Twister.

Calder Memorial Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League
In practice, normally awarded to: The player selected as the most proficient in what might be his third year of competition in the National Hockey League after what might be no or several years of competition in another professional league

Logan Couture (San Jose)
Consistent scorer over the long NHL season after being a less consistent scorer over the 40 NHL games he played last year.

Michael Grabner (New York Islanders)
Impending impressive season and his many suitors triggered Dale Tallon to start the Panthers' annual fire sale before Game #1.

Jeff Skinner (Carolina)
Highly promising rookie campaign means Jim Rutherford will surely look to re-acquire his services from other teams three or four times over his career.

Frank J. Selke Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game
In practice, normally awarded to: The forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game while having the offensive ability to score at least 50 points

Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit)
Incredibly, was not on the ice for a single goal conceded by the Wings during any of the 26 games he missed through injury.

Ryan Kesler (Vancouver)
Strong in all the areas the voters look for in determining the best defensive forward, most importantly in scoring a lot more goals than last year.

Jonathan Toews (Chicago)
Credited with significantly reducing the Hawks' goals against over the course of the season due to his suggestion to the coaching staff that Marty Turco should maybe start fewer games.

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey
In practice, normally awarded to: The player who missed the most games through injury the season before

Ray Emery (Anaheim)
Despite showing up for his first practice a personal best four months late, beat enormously long odds to become the more sympathetic character of the Ducks' goalie tandem alongside Dan Ellis.

Daymond Langkow (Calgary)
Displayed remarkable commitment, bolstering Calgary's lack of depth at center during his 78-game absence by matching Matt Stajan's production.

Ian Laperriere (Philadelphia)
Showed huge determination in his personal quest to prove that the Masterton Award is not a "Comeback Player" award by not coming back at all.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

Supposed to be awarded to: The player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability
In practice, normally awarded to: The player adjudged to have had the fewest penalty minutes when the voters quickly skim down the list of top 20 scorers five minutes before the deadline to send in their ballot

Loui Eriksson (Dallas)
Only 8 penalty minutes for the Swedish forward, meaning he only lost patience and speared Steve Ott once every 20 games.

Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit)
Six-time winner, perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer demonstrated admirable restraint by not throttling Versus reporters referring to him as Nicholas Lindstrom at the All-Star Game.

Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay)
Voters were apparently convinced by his claims that he had nothing to do with Guy Boucher's scar.

Jack Adams Award

Supposed to be awarded to: The coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success
In practice, normally awarded to: The coach adjudged to have coached a team to a position somewhere between 5th and 8th in the conference

Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh)
Led the league in the all-important media-friendly statistical category of Most Appearances in High-Profile Documentary While Swearing Fewer Times Than Bruce Boudreau.

Barry Trotz (Nashville)
Steered an offensively-challenged line-up to a playoff berth and calmly handled controversial mid-season addition of Randy Moss.

Alain Vigneault (Vancouver)
Coached his team to a 54-19-9 record in undoubtedly one of the American Hockey League's strongest divisions.

General Manager of the Year Award

Supposed to be awarded to: Brian Burke
In practice, normally awarded to: The top National Hockey League General Manager

Mike Gillis (Vancouver)
Backed his belief that extra goalscoring was not necessary for his team by acquiring the likes of Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and Chris Higgins.

David Poile (Nashville)
Veteran GM has refused to waver in his position that Coach Trotz's neck has never been on the block.

Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay)
Earned high praise from the Canadian media for showing superb prowess in the areas of being Steve Yzerman, not being associated with the previous ownership and somehow managing to find a better goalie than Mike Smith.

1 May 2011

The Pain Game - 3-year analysis (2008/09 - 2010/11)

Nothing much more than a data dump of aggregate figures here, having compiled three years' worth of stuff now.

Analyses of individual seasons (including explanations of the figures and their limitations) are at the following links:

 Firstly, a ranking of teams by aggregate CHIP over the last three seasons (click to enlarge):

The same figures grouped by division:

The largest ten and smallest ten CHIP figures by a team in a single season over the last three:

The largest ten CHIP figures accumulated by a player in a single season over the last three: