Friday, November 25, 2011

Why are we awarding losers?

The NHL has many problems with the game that they're frequently trying to fix. It surprises me though that the overtime point does not come up as something the NHL needs to look at to improve the game.

The overtime point was introduced post-lockout in order to make games more decisive, with a shootout at the end of 5 minutes of extra time. Prior to the lockout, games would end in a tie and teams would use how many ties they had as a tie-breaker for entry to the playoffs. The point each team would receive for "making it to overtime" was supposed to eliminate this indecisiveness because the team that won either in extra time or in the shootout would be awarded an extra point.

This has now turned the 3rd period of some games into something that can become horrible to watch. On November 23rd, there were 13 games played and 7 of them went to overtime. That's more than half! During the last 10 minutes, the game practically stops being played if it is tied. Both teams just try to make it to overtime to get one point, and then try for the extra in extra time. This is ridiculous and not hockey.

First of all, fans pay good money to go to these games and watch a hockey game take place. Nothing makes me angrier as a fan than watching players dipsy doodle all over the place, playing a super tight defensive game and trying half-assed on offense, just to make sure they don't sustain an "actual" loss and not have any points to show.

Why is the NHL awarding points for losing?! They did not win, so why are they rewarded. If you wanted to make the game more decisive, why not just award one point to the winner in overtime, not two because they made it there and then won, and the loser gets nothing? Because they're the LOSER! Also, this allows teams to squeak into the playoffs due to the points they were awarded in overtime for losing. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The NHL needs to make changes to extra time to ensure that teams actually play the game the way it's supposed to be played. This will make the game more enjoyable, more decisive, and ensure that losers are not awarded for losing a game.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fans Want Consistency

Someone has obviously sat Brendan Shanahan down and told him to slow down and pull back. During the preseason he was handing out suspensions on all kinds of hits, setting what many thought was a dangerous precedent and would change the way the game was played. Don Cherry was his loudest critic, pointing out players who were going in for soft hits, or avoiding hitting altogether.

Cherry was criticizing Shanahan for the three game suspension that Toronto's Clarke MacArthur was issued for his hit on Justin Abdelkader. MacArthur didn't raise an elbow or his shoulder to hit Abdelkader, rather issued a clean open ice hit, that made incidental contact with the head. Abdelkader only missed his next shift due to the penalty he took trying to gain retribution on the hit.

Since the preseason, suspensions handed out by Shanahan have dropped significantly. So much so, that when Milan Lucic delivered a devastating hit to Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, he was not issued a suspension or fine. Now there are some out there that consider the fact that Miller was significantly out of his crease, playing the puck, and should be aware of what's going on and is fair game. However, the rule book says quite differently. Rule 42 states that "a minor, major or a game misconduct shall be imposed on a player who charges a goalkeeper while the goalkeeper is within his goal crease. A goalkeeper is not 'fair game' just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."

Lucic received a penalty for the hit, but that's it. Miller is now out with a concussion. Lucic's own goalie did not like what he saw, and was worried about retaliation. “I will say that as a goalie, you’re not really prepared for people to hit you in a situation like that,” Thomas said. “You’ve been trained over the course of your whole career [to believe] you’re not going to get hit in situations like that. It must have taken him by surprise.” There is no touching the goalie. No if ands or buts about it. Buffalo showed class by not seeking retribution against Boston's goalie.

I watch this hit on Miller and wonder how Shanahan can justify his suspensions on MacArthur and others in the preseason but completely back off in the season when it matters more, and not give any kind of penalty for what happened. Shanahan is now facing harsh criticism due to this decision, having to defend himself at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but no one seems to agree or stand behind his decision. He has dug himself a hole in the preseason and needs to be consistent or else it looks as though he's not capable of doing the job properly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Devil in the Details

With three Stanley Cups in less than 10 years and the Hall of Fame goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils have been known as a serious contender in the NHL. However, since the lockout this team has been a shadow of its former self.

First of all, the Devils have not won a playoff series since 2006-07 season when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year they did not even make the playoffs. How can they be considered a contender with no recent playoff success? Due to management's inability to recognize the results for what they are, and the revolving door of coaches, the problems have gone from the front office to the ice.

Without question, Ilya Kovalchuk is the Devils’ banner acquisition post-lockout. Prior to Kovalchuk’s trade to New Jersey, he was a two time 50+ goal scorer. In his time with Atlanta, he averaged a goal every 1.68 games. New Jersey acquired him, and then subsequently signed him to a 15 year, $100 million contract, to produce all-star offensive numbers. In New Jersey, including the results from this season so far, he’s averaging a goal every 3.6 games. Clearly, his production has not justified his salary.

Beyond Kovalchuk’s salary, he has had other negative impacts on the Devils, chiefly the diminished role of team captain and “franchise player” Zach Parise. With Parise coming up on Unrestricted Free Agency, there should be cause for concern that Parise, and his camp, have not agreed on a long term deal with the Devils. Parise’s average ice time is 3 minutes less than that of Kovalchuk. Parise is playing 1:30 less in power play time this season compare to Kovalchuk, and Parise has more goals at the moment. Before Kovalchuk’s arrival, Parise was an undisputed first line NHL left winger, although it’s now clear that he’s second string.

Through parts of three seasons, it is evident that Kovalchuk and Parise have virtually no chemistry on the ice. Despite this, Jacques Lemaire and his successors, have continually tried to play both left wingers on the same line. I’m starting to wonder when the coaches and management are going to wake up and realize that this is not working. These two players have succeeded in the past with two severely contrasting styles. Anyone who watched Kovalchuk play in Atlanta would know that he hardly ever scored while manning the point on the power play, which is how New Jersey futilely deploys him. Parise, on the other hand, generates the majority of his offensive abilities off the cycle. Given Parise’s sharply declining production, he has less incentive to sign long term with New Jersey.

New Jersey’s management may not have noticed that both their goaltenders combined age is almost 80. Based on his health and recent statistics, Martin Brodeur is nowhere near the Hall of Fame calibre that he displayed earlier in his career. And, there is nothing wrong with that. Brodeur’s impressive longevity has more so to due his recent accolades than his overall goaltending quality. For example, journeyman Johan Hedberg has been the better goalie for the Devils.
The 2010-11 season Hedberg is statistically better than Brodeur, posting a 2.38 goals against average, and .912 save percentage versus Brodeur’s 2.45 goals against, and .903 save percentage. This season the statistical gap is even larger. However, at 38 years old Hedberg is not an exceptional goaltender capable of carrying his team deep into the playoffs. Looking at New Jersey’s goaltending pipeline, things do not look much better. Jeff Frazee, at age 24, has not been able to crack the role of backup goaltender in the 3 years he’s been with the Devils farm team. Given their cap situation, New Jersey will have a hard time finding a quality replacement through free agency, when their current tandem ultimately retires.

Another issue for New Jersey is their defence. In this past offseason, the Devils bought veteran defensemen Colin White out of the last year of his deal. White has been a big bodied defensemen with the team since they won their second Stanley Cup in 1999-2000. Despite suffering a serious eye injury, over the past couple of seasons White has been their most consistent and reliable stay-at-home defensemen. The questionable part of this transaction is they kept Bryce Salvador, after he did not play a single regular season game last year due to a concussion he suffered during the pre-season. New Jersey fans know that Salvador’s abilities were diminishing prior to his injury. Therefore, keeping Salvador while releasing long time Devil Colin White makes little sense, especially given their virtually identical salaries.

On top of that, Andy Greene, who signed a long term deal with the Devils this season, has seen his role diminish in favour of the 18 year old rookie defensemen Adam Larsson. I made my thoughts clear on 18 year olds in the NHL in my last post, so it comes as no surprise that I do not see the reason for this. Larsson has replaced Greene on the power play as the point defensemen. It took Larsson 10 games to register his first NHL point. Greene has played barely over 1 single minute of power play time this season after scoring 37 points in 2009-10. Since New Jersey’s power play was more potent with Greene as quarterback, the reasoning for his lack of play escapes me, especially since Larsson has not yet proven to be an effective power play point man.

New Jersey cannot be considered a contender any longer. Based on the standings and overall look, this team do not appear strong enough to make the playoffs, let alone win a series. The more the team stagnates, the less reason Parise has to commit to the team long term. If I have noticed that his role in New Jersey is declining, then I’m fairly certain Parise can as well. Management needs to recognize the mistakes they have made and reconstruct this team into an ACTUAL contender rather than relying on the remnants of a dynasty.