Goalie contracts a bad case of the overpaids

January 29, 2012

The first all-star game since 2006 to feature neither Crosby nor Ovechkin might have been the coming out party of John Tavares, as an NHL star.  After following the path of many great players, being selected first overall by the Islanders after a storied Junior career, and finishing second in rookie scoring his first year like Crosby, Tavares seemed destined for team-lifting greatness.  Unfortunately for Tavares and the NHL, the Islanders cannot be lifted.  There is no John Tavares era.  Instead on Long Island it is the era of Rick DiPietro’s contract.

Those NHL fans chuckling at the Isles misfortunes may want to check their own team’s roster, as somehow the disastrous error seems the beginning of an idiotic trend in big-league hockey, one which threatens the near-future of several otherwise competitive teams.  There are 5 goalies who currently have NHL contracts for over 6 million dollars per year, and three more who are effectively also making over 6 because they have years under contract in which they will obviously not be playing, although they are on the books for less than 6 per year.  DiPietro is one of those latter three, and while he has had the most disappointing career of all these highly paid goalies, his contract does not have the most money left on it; not by a long shot.

If the Flyers continue to be forced towards using Bobrovsky as their regular starting netminder, then Ilya Bryzgalov will become the most expensive backup goalie in hockey history, and he is owed 5.66 million each year for eight more seasons after this one.  Bryzgalov may bounce back; many players have had a tough initial half-season for a new team and facing more pressure.  If he doesn’t bounce back quite dramatically, however, Philly will have to go with Bobrovsky, as he has not only been much better, but the younger Russian was also better last year than Bryzgalov has been this year, by almost as wide a margin, and this is supposed to be a contending year in Philadelphia.  Players like Jagr may not be easy to keep around if they suffer a first round playoff exit. 

While his season resembles his disappointing ’08-’09 campaign, he’s facing 3 and a half less shots per game, which seems fairly representative of the situation in front of him.  Bryzgalov turns 32 during the offseason.  If he doesn’t turn it around, he will not be tradeable, and the Flyers will immediately become also-rans in the Eastern Conference for the indefinite future.  The problem is that even if Bobrovsky solves the goaltending situation for them, they won’t have the necessary cap room to keep him and pay the rest of the team.  New rules, such as the salary floor will bleed such would-be contenders of their depth, and vets like Jagr, seeing the writing on the wall, will take their services to teams with the flexibility to adapt and win.

All too famililar for a guy guaranteed 5.66 million in 2019.

Cam Ward’s contract burdens his team in a different way, because Ward’s performance has not been the problem.  The problem is that the rest of the team is a disaster, but they can’t do much about it because as one of the Hurricanes’ only valuable assets, Ward’s contract makes him almost as undesirable as Bryzgalov.  The same situation could be evolving in Vancouver as well, but with the added complication of the Sedin twins twin contracts.  A sort of mix of the two seems to be unfolding in Minnesota, where Harding could easily be given the starting gig at this point, but the situation there is less dire for Backstrom’s contract having only one more season after this one, and because Backstrom is still good.

There has been a clear split in the philosophy of NHL teams when it comes to goaltending in the past several seasons.  As the financial regulations have been tightened, teams are splitting into either ‘cap-circumvention’ or ‘spend it on D and role the dice’ camps.  Those who doubt the effectiveness of the latter approach should address their concerns to Chris Osgood’s Stanley Cup rings. 

Good News/ Bad news Pt. 2: How Caron Butler saved the big leagues. (assists: M. Recchi, T. Thomas) 6:14

June 23, 2011

Big league team owners are people too.  They are wealthy people, who have business empires to run and pensions to fund, but people none the less.  They are also competitive, although they are not necessarily sportsmen.  Therefore, they are prone to making the decision to take their ball and go home, if they feel slighted.  And that is how Caron Butler saved the big leagues.  Still not clear?

The good news is that the numbers are in, and people love their pro sports on tv!  Wait; is that good news?  The ratings for the NBA finals are up.  Way up.  The same for the NHL.  The numbers can be sliced and diced any which way, but it is good for both the NHL and NBA that two larger markets long absent from the finals had teams competing in the last game (though some more than others), and compelling storylines abound in both cases, keeping the teams on front pages, putting ‘Burrows’ and ‘Barea’ on lips that had never known them before.  At the expiration of the collective bargaining agreements of both leagues, the pie to be divvied up is growing, so perhaps both sides in both negotiations will be in a mood more conducive to deals than they would otherwise be.  Each sport also has had a potentially disturbing trend rising, both having ramifications on the relationship between salary-cap and financial regulations in general, and the ability of teams to compete.

In the NHL, contracts with bizarre lengths of duration have been proliferating, and Roberto Luongo’s is a prime example.  The slap on the wrists of the New Jersey Devils for this goes part of the way towards addressing this silly trend, but the total collapse under pressure of a trio of stars, one of whom possesses this team-finance-strangling deals, will do even more.  It will hold forth the Boston model of building patiently through the draft and US College signings and annually fleecing the Toronto Maple Leafs, rather than just throwing the most money at the biggest names.  In the NBA, a trio of players tried to decide the trophy by collaborating.  They failed, and now the clock is on Chris Bosh’s knees and ankles.  If they had won, it would not only have signaled the possible beginning of a dynasty, but also virtually guaranteed the construction of at least one or two more ‘superfriends’ teams, all in ‘major markets’ where the promise of the most sponsorship money is found.  Remembering that the Knicks and Lakers, the Mavs and Bulls were already not going to be the ‘hard line’ teams in the CBA negotiation, teams like Utah and Portland would be faced with an easier decision to cancel games if they felt their chances of winning the title had been foreclosed on already.  This may seem unrealistically petty, until you consider that the average playoff series nets each team several million in revenue, while most of their costs remain fixed.  NBA teams that don’t get out of the first round must have unusual circumstances to turn a profit each year.

Why does it matter that the Heat lost?  Because the NBA’s middle markets were on the brink of joining the smallest markets in an epic fit of whining, as they became all too painfully aware that their chances of winning it all had been reduced to nil for the foreseeable future.  But the Heat didn’t win, and as his team won Caron Butler in a suite was the most cut-too fan of all.  He’s also a two-time all star, younger than a couple of the lynchpins, and relatively capable of defending Dwayne Wade or LeBron James.  More so than say Jason Terry, or Dirk.

So there Caron Butler will be, next year, for 82 games, the third or fourth leader on the defending champions: preserver of labour peace.  Instead of heading into the offseason and labour negotiations filled with bitterness and acrimony, NBA and NHL ‘communities’ will move forward with more positive questions in mind:  Can Dallas repeat with a healthy Butler?  How many games does Rask start in net for Boston next year?  Is Mark Recchi a hall of famer?  We love the big leagues.

Good News/Bad News Pt. 1: Identify and Persecute a Looter Today!

June 16, 2011

First the bad news:  Vancouver is filled with losers.  They are certainly a minority, but it’s their version of the city’s reaction that represents the whole in the bullet-point media cycle, and they are a noxious minority.  Those in Damascus and Athens have reason to be upset to the boiled-over point of destruction and recklessness.  Those few in Vancouver, leaping about the flames and stealing pants, are not sporting people.  They are losers, much more than the team.  What could the majority have done?  What could Vancouver have done?  They should have done like the people of Miami, but instead for the second time in two opportunities some Vancouverites – what, 1000?  1500? – failed, on behalf of the whole city, to show a little class.

If people in Vancouver had reacted this way to every Canadian Olympic Silver, Van City would look like Tripoli.

Unfortunately, in any scene of mob mentality like this, it is the large group of bystanders in the middle who bear the real blame.  If you tweeted about it without taking any photos of rioters, it’s your fault.  If you just drank your beer and watched, it’s your fault.  If you cheered people on from the periphery and hung around when it was time to disperse, it’s your fault.  May you get tear-gassed next time.

Many people in Vancouver took pictures which will be useful, and afford an opportunity for the regular people of the area to take steps to redress the situation and discourage it from happening again: look at the facebook page.  Identify and persecute a looter today.  Fire them from your workplace.  Wake them up early.  You didn’t agree to cover for them, so you can identify them to the police without being a rat.  Tell them you know as you pass them in the hall.  Vancouver needs a big blanket of shame, and it can only be knit by the rational majority of people who live there.

I say persecute rather than prosecute because this was not a legal event.  It was a social event, and can only be dealt with in any constructive way by social action.  That’s why those who are cleaning up deserve credit, and a pass on the reputational smear that they will have to live with as much as the looters.  That’s why those who took good pictures deserve credit.  That’s why those who stood around are guilty.  Guilty until today, when they wake up, tired, maybe hung over, and decide to do the right thing.  Persecute!

Name Suggestions for the new Winnipeg NHL Team

May 20, 2011

I Told You So!


With the inevitable announcement that the Atlanta Thrashers have been purchased by True North Holdings, Canada is finally ‘getting back’ an NHL team.  True North Holdings is backed by David Thomson, who became a billionaire by inventing business news.  It is interesting to note that the Joe Johnson trade which brought the Atlanta ownership group’s conflicts to a head may not have had any more to do with the initial rift than disagreement over the hockey team.  The former governor of the ownership group Atlanta Spirit LLC Steven Belkin seems to have felt that the Thrashers made Philips Arena more profitable, whereas new governor Michael Gearon Jr. will bet on filling the vacated arena dates with monster trucks and concerts.  If you’re keeping score at home, it appears that Belkin was totally wrong about both the Thrashers and Joe Johnson.

Anyway, Gary Bettman will presumably be announcing his resignation over the weekend, having proven himself incompetent by repeating history.  The next big announcement will be the old team’s new name.  Below are humbly offered my dozen sincerest suggestions.

  • Winnipeg Flames
  • Winnipeg Coyotes
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • Winnipeg Roughriders
  • Winnipeg Whole Wheat (trademark WWW)
  • Winnipeg Exchange
  • Manitoba Movers
  • Winnipeg Carpetbaggers
  • Winnipeg Ha-Ha Nyah-Nyah Quebec City’s
  • Manitoba Moose
  • Manitoba Roughriders
  • Winnipeg Leaves

Some Jocks’ Opinions on the Definition of Marriage

May 15, 2011

So; I was going to go and ask a couple of people I don’t know, who are not well educated, have no track record of insightful comment, and maybe even aren’t married what their opinions are on gay marriage.  Luckily, Damian Goddard and Sean Avery have saved me the time and effort.

Thanks to them, and thanks to Rogers for their blatantly reactionary censorship!

Migratory Patterns of the Short-Sighted Hockey Franchise

March 2, 2011

Jets ’95-’96 11,300 / 1.37 = 8,248 equivalent fans in us dollars

Coyotes ’96-’97 15,200 * 1.375 = 20,900

Coyotes ’09-’10 12,000 / 1.08 = 11,111

Nordiques early ‘90s 14,300 / 1.25 = 11,440

Avalanche ’99-’00 (new arena) 18,000 * 1.485 = 26,730

Avalanche late ‘aughts 15,900 / 1.05 = 15,142

*= max capacity

Look like a bell-curve; doesn’t it?  Yup.  It’s a couple’a good ol’ fashioned bell curves.  If you asked a person who was brilliant with math and economics but new nothing about hockey what would they tell you?  The future.

It is easy to sympathize with cities losing their hockey teams to cities which have tenuous histories with big league hockey.  Even before Atlanta was given its second kick at the National Hockey League can (tallboy, obviously), traditionally strong hockey areas felt ripped off, but a lot of blame was placed on the dollar, and I can’t find a quote but I’m sure that included by people within the organizations.  This must have seemed less plausible to people in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, where teams made money even in the worst of times.  As some of the variables have changed since the NHL relocations and expansions of the mid nineties, we can see that the dollar really was temporarily screwing some teams, and we can draw some pretty solid conclusions about what will happen over the near future to some of the league’s more troubled organizations.

All things are not equal, of course.  Addressing the NHL’s consistent inability to garner television network coverage like that of the NBA, NFL or MLB has long seemed a top priority of the commissioner’s office.  Perhaps it was thought that truly national coverage by the league, geographically, was the greatest, or even the only hurdle to achieving the desired television coverage.  We now know at least the latter to be untrue.  The league is all over the south now, but coverage continues to mostly consist of Sunday afternoons.  Is this a problem?  I certainly don’t care.  Some of the league’s southern teams, however, will depend on that revenue and publicity, even if they don’t already.  Of course, the ones which are making money are also losing money.

This issue appears to me to be related to the headshots issue, which is related to the brawl issue, but that is a matter for another day.  The current concern is how this seeming legacy-building project on the part of Bettman and Co. is effecting the ability of hockey crazed Winnipegers and Hartford . . . um . . .ers to enjoy top level hockey.  This is where the numbers up top come in.  It is certainly plausible that the NHL people who let ‘market forces’ move teams South never expected the Loonie to rise above the value of the American dollar, but if so that would simply indicate another way in which NHL brass have failed to plan effectively for the future.  The cold, hard numbers suggest that both the Jets and Nordiques would make enough from their home gate to be not just solvent, but economically competitive, now that the exchange rate has changed.  But is the home gate what matters?

Now we return, full circle, to the question of whether a lucrative American network television deal is a) realistic, and b) worth changing the criteria for what makes a city worthy of the honour of being an NHL franchises’ home.  If not for the striking clarity with which question a) has been answered negatively, question b) might be an interesting conundrum.  As it is it is irrelevant.  Nashville and Tampa and Dallas got teams, and the games showed up nationally in the USA on the Outdoor Life Network or not at all.

The sad fact of the matter is that when those articles appeared explaining the mechanics of the Fox puck, the success of the great NHL foray into Confederate territory peaked.  Now that it has waned, franchises like Florida and Atlanta are guaranteed money pits, the Coyotes are owned by the league (what does this even mean?  Post coming soon. . .), and the Avalanche may as well be in Quebec.  If you agree, I will signal you when to write the NHL asking that I be made commissioner, during the upcoming hockey ‘labour dispute.’

PS.   I personally consider every team below 80% capacity on this list in danger of moving or folding.  Long term.  You know.

Brain damage.

February 19, 2011

When the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins collectively lost their minds all over the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum ice last Friday night, they set up a media frenzy.  After the announcement of suspensions and comments from Penguins owner Mario the Magnificent, the story was lead news on CBC and actually reported in Pittsburgh sports pages!  Hopefully some rational discussion and decision will come of this great accumulation of nonsense.

To wit:

This is a guy who’s paychecks Mario signs, so he’s not only being hypocritical, some would say that he’s the wolf in sheep’s clothes.  That, however, would be both unfair and beside the point.  Mario’s reaction is an institutional reaction, because hockey ‘scores’ that were not settled by the referees but were deemed sufficiently egregious — usually meaning dangerous – have always been addressed by the players according to a code.  Some players may hold it dearer than others, some may even deny it, and I make no claim to know its finer points, but it is verifiably true.

So, bringing Matt Cooke back, please watch this clip of Don Cherry also reacting institutionally.  This was a very popular Coaches’ Corner segment, and his finger-wagging story is the kind of thing that has beautified him in some circles, but this is also an institutional response.  Nothing is gained.  I believe all is explained, and the Friday night incident was as predictable as the Leafs trading for youth in February.  To emphasize that point, if you follow NHL hockey closely, and you knew they were playing Friday, either you knew that was going to happen or you are a moron.

So what gives?  Why?  Both to Lemieux and Cherry: why?  Why do you have Matt Cooke?  At least Burke both gets the best fighters and acknowledges why he’s doing it.  Colton Orr hasn’t ended any careers lately.  One of Lemieux’ goons is the Ulf Samuelsson of his – oh!  See how that works everybody!*  What should happen is that both Lemieux and Cherry should team up and apply pressure on the league to give out meaningful suspensions.

The league’s response was also predictable, and the reaction from the league’s goons, and subsequent counter-reaction from their victims’ team’s fighters and goons, is equally predictable.  In that sense, Mario is right.  In the more meaningful sense, Mario is wrong in the sense that people trying to navigate by clouds are wrong.  You may be momentarily pointed in the right direction.  You cannot get where you are trying to go that way.

*for those too young to recall, Ulf Samuelsson was ostensibly a Lemieux bodyguard a la Semenko, but without fighting prowess.

The Sportsvssports suspension system:

Multi-time offender auto 1 game or 2x

Minimum penalty

Attempt to injure –            10

Head shot-                        1

Leaving feet-                     1

Injurious elbow,                1 with no swinging motion

kick, or high stick              3 with swinging motion

leaving bench                   10

sucker punch                     5

from behind                       2 if questionable.  5 if clear

All penalties are cumulative, so Cooke on Tyutin carries a minimum of 30 games, as opposed to the 4 he actually got.

Fights don’t injure people, Sean Averys do.

December 8, 2010

I am writing this on the evening after the nasty brawl between the Rangers and Oilers of November 14th.   As I do so it occurs to me that whenever I post this, as long as it’s hockey season and Avery and his ilk are active, there will be something in the immediate past that stands as an example of why fighting is in the game.  This kind of brawl reflects poorly on the sport, and whatever the Bettmanites believe, it does not draw in fans in the South as quickly as it alienates them in the North.

The above statement will be expanded upon soon in this forum, but for now let’s just agree that isn’t the most important reason why that kind of thing should be unacceptable in the NHL.  The brawl is particularly nasty because it involved not just more than two people, but also people on the bench, and caused such commotion that the game was delayed longer than any reasonable fan wants to wait for anything other than intermission.  The bottom line for the league is that violence has become a business problem.

This brawl itself was, however, not an example of ‘what is wrong with hockey’ as such, but rather is symptomatic of it.  The reality is that the first moment in the sequence in which an injury was substantially more likely than in game play was Avery’s cheap hit on Smid.  He made as if to skate away, and then attacked.  It was not a hockey play, and it was not a fight.

Everything after that is significant in a discussion about who should get one kind of penalties et cetera, however if you remove the Avery action which started it all, the rest of it simply would not have occurred.  Not all fights in hockey are a result of this kind of often injurious behavior, and most fights do not involve injuries.  Most fights do involve players who are essentially designated fighters, and almost all which involve other players can be traced causally, without thinking too hard about it, to something recent which involved one player taking a cheap shot at another.

Consider famous NHL catastrophes such as Bertuzzi/Moore, and McSorley/Braeshear.  In both cases a player attempted to instigate a fight with another to address cheap shots.  It is easy but more probably incorrect to say that eliminating fighting would have changed either incident.  Cheap shots occasion redress.

So what do you do about it?  The league’s approach appears to be to deny that there is such a thing as a cheap shot (please recall Bettman’s  ‘credit to the league’ comment about Darius Kasperitus, who had inarguably ended a star player’s career with a cheap shot just previously), while handing out the occasional suspension.  This is ineffective doublethink.  One possible solution is to crack down in a meaningful way on cheap shots.  Some misguided souls fear a drop in ratings if the Avery’s of the league disappear, but how many Vogue readers bought an NHL centre ice package?  Some more appropriately fear diving, but this already a growing curse which needs to be nipped in the bud, so get out the suspension book and take care of both birds with that stone!  The NHL should appeal to hockey fans.  Seems straightforward, doesn’t it Gary?  Gary?