Archive for the ‘Improving the game’ Category

Hits to the Head (and all the headaches that come with making rules about them)

October 30, 2009

Part 1

You may not recall this, but the original concept of CLS focused on dissecting the NHL’s biggest issues in a round table format. Instead, the blog morphed into something that is often much better.

Still, though, now that the blog features two brainy contributors in Joe and Chris Kontos, we’ll occasionally take such an approach with various issues.

In this case, Joe e-mailed me after a weekend full off controversial hits. Here’s the first part of our discussion.

James, we’re not even a whole month into the NHL regular season, and already it seems that we’ve hit our yearly quota for incidents in which someone made a outright dirty hit, or at least made one which was borderline dirty. I got into this discussion last spring with Art and Daniel(and hey, we’re even hijacking their gimmick!) on the Brown/Hudler hit during the DET/ANA series, and then again with Art when Kronwall broke Marty Havlat in the DET/CHI series. The other day, Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski said his piece on reactions to the recent Mike Richards/David Booth hit, comparing it to this hit by Willie Mitchell on Jonathan Toews. I’m sure both of us agree on such blatant cheap shots as this Ruutu shot on Darcy Tucker, which resulted in a 3 game suspension, but that black and white turns to gray really quick when you start looking at some other more controversial hits. Obviously we want a contact sport, but at the same time, there is a definite problem in the league with regards to headshots, even those delivered legally by the letter of the law like Richards’, though the clean/dirty aspect of it, despite its legality, is definitely up for debate. Where do you think that line should be drawn, and how should it be enforced? Is a full ban on hits to the head the answer?
I’m just going to slip these in here, for reference, examples, general viewing enjoyment, and probably to stir up some folks in the comments as well, in addition to the previously linked hits:Nik Kronwall/Marty Havlat, Nik Kronwall/Mike Ribiero, Dion Phaneuf/Kyle Okposo, Doug Weight/Brandon Sutter, Scott Stevens/Eric Lindros, Stevens/Slava Kozlov, Stevens/Ron Francis,Stevens/Shane Willis, Stevens/Paul Kariya.


Oh boy is this ever a loaded issue. I guess the first point that needs to be made is that, unlike Joe, I don’t have a frame of reference beyond street hockey. I am an anti-athlete. Watching me play sports is an exercise in unintentional comedy.
I can’t even skate backwards without looking like an idiot.
So, from my personal perspective, it’s difficult to be too hard on some of those gray area hits. Hockey is a ridiculously fast sport and to assume that they are ALL deliberate attempts to injure is probably misguided. In particular, hits against the boards (while often being the most dangerous from a neck injury/concussion standpoint) can go from painful to dirty while a player has already committed to the check.
That being said, these ARE world class athletes we’re talking about. The Sports Guy Bill Simmons had an interesting take on Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs being accused of being a dirty player:

“Bruce Bowen is a cheap player. There’s no debate. He’s not some clumsy power forward who can’t stay out of his own way (like Mark Madsen), or even some uncoordinated center who can’t remember to keep his elbows near his body (like Shawn Bradley). He’s a world-class athlete who has complete control over every inch of his body at all times.

As anyone who’s ever played basketball knows, with the exception of clumsy people who probably shouldn’t be playing in the first place, there are no accidents on a basketball court.Your feet just don’t coincidentally land under someone else’s feet as he’s shooting a jump shot, and you don’t just coincidentally kick someone in the calf as he’s going up for a layup or dunk. These things don’t just happen. They don’t. The only room for error happens when someone’s trying to block a fast-break layup or dunk, takes a roundhouse swipe and inadvertently ends up hitting his opponent’s head instead of the ball (like we saw with Matt Barnes when he clocked Matt Harpring Tuesday night). When Jason Richardson nails Memo Okur at the end of Game 4 because he’s pissed that Okur was driving at the tail end of a guaranteed win, or Baron Davis elbows Derek Fisher in the same game because he’s ticked that the Warriors blew a winnable game … those aren’t accidents.”

Before we get into defining what a dirty hit really is, I have to ask you Joe: does it matter whom the offender is? Should guys who seem to continually blur the line between legal and illegal … who have a tendency to take advantage of other players … should the Scott Stevens, Dion Phaneufs and Mike Richards of the world be under special consideration?

In other words, can we fairly judge the intention of a hit and should reputation be taken into account?


I don’t think reputation should be considered at all in the actual penalty. If Pavel Datsyuk, who may actually be Lady Byng, makes a dirty play, he ought to be called just the same as anyone else. Conversely, while Nik Kronwall may be universally reviled for having a tendency to leave his feet when hitting, you can’t tell me he doesn’t make a lot of legal, clean hits as well. The ice itself is not the place for refs to have to make even more subjective calls about reputations and intents. Reputation and prior incidents should only be an issue during the supplemental discipline process, for players who are refusing to learn from past issues.
Hand in hand with avoiding subjectivity on the ice, intent should also be tossed out the window by the refs, and only considered within the supplemental discipline process. Refs have a hard enough time doing their jobs, and adding more subjective considerations to their calls is only going to make things worse, both in terms of calls missed and phantom calls made. Besides that, I think intent is a pretty shady area in which to judge anyways. Rarely does anyone ever mean to break someone’s neck or end someone’s career or change someone’s life. The intent is usually to make someone think twice, to be hesitant in going into the corners, to help wear someone down. I think we both agree that particular intent is legit, and a good part of the game, but its the execution that sometimes goes a little too far, right?
Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk along the lines of eliminating hits to the head. In the OHL, all hits to the head are deemed illegal, and in the AHL, any hit to the head which is deemed to be intentional is an automatic match penalty. The thinking behind those rules was that the acceptable intent of hitting someone, as I just mentioned, can still be fulfilled without hitting the player in the head. Hits to the head are then thought to serve no constructive purpose in the game, outside of attempting to inflict an injury on your opponent. On the other side, many people contend that such crackdowns wouldn’t work, because you’d have Zdeno Chara getting penalties all the time for hitting the likes of Marty St. Louis in the head, or that such restrictions go too far and remove too much physicality from the game. Where should that line be drawn?
James: What do you think, fair readers?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

What if the NHL instituted a luxury tax?

July 13, 2009
Stern: “Bettman’s on the phone again? Aw, not again … “

So, we are 99.99 percent sure that the CBA prohibits the institution of a luxury tax, but let’s just dream for a minute that Gary Bettman could justify his massive salary by stumbling upon a magic loophole.

Seeing that marquee franchises in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit and even San Jose will feel a considerable pinch going into the 2010-11, the league declares a “state of emergency” for the cap with the solution of instituting a luxury tax so that teams could exceed the ceiling. (At a huge price, of course).

Now, instead of wondering who the Hawks would have to move to accomodate the re-signing of Kane, Toews and Keith, the hockey world would ask: are the Blackhawks willing to fork over the dough to make it happen? It would be a godsend for hockey bloggers/pundits/message board trolls and a great way to allow money making franchises to keep their rosters together.

The best part, though, is how the league could potentially use the extra cash to benefit everyone. Let’s daydream for a moment:

  • The league creates a “luxury tax” pool each season. They pledge to use every dime to purchase high-end advertising spots during events such as the Super Bowl and American Idol. Also, more money could be spent to publicize the Stanley Cup Finals and Winter Classic.

  • Maybe the league could pump that money into moving the “NHL on the Fly” broadcasts from what seems to be a broom closet to … what’s that called again? Oh, right, a studio. It would also be nice if the NHL Network stopped playing the same Capitals-Rangers game on an endless loop, now that you mention it.
  • Since Bettman clearly will not take any egg on his face/acknowledge economic realities regarding the Phoenix Coyotes scenario, the league could use luxury tax money to take care of the ‘Yotes debts and pay Wayne Gretzky buckets of money to exist/coach a team that has never made the playoffs under his tutleage.
  • Perhaps they could lend Versus a little money to get Brian Engblom a haircut* and produce a freakin’ highlight show already.

  • Put the luxury tax money to good use by helping families who cannot afford hockey equipment. Or better yet, donate it to charity or to retired players’ pension funds.
  • Use the money to revamp the city of Edmonton, so Dany Heatley can continue his pampered existence without any fear of bad weather, the ghosts of his past or backchecking.
  • Bribe Pierre McGuire to just go away. Please.

What would YOU want the league to do with extra cash if they could receive luxury tax money?

* – I think he actually DID get a slightly better hair cut this year, but are you going to complain about seeing this photo?

The "Staal" trophy

March 18, 2009

It never sits well with me when an MVP gets dominated in the playoffs. This was a frequent occurrence in the NBA, when Michael Jordan would reign his vengeance and fuuuuuuurious anger on Charles Barkley and Karl Malone for stealing trophies from him.

The same thing happened in the NFL, when Peyton Manning meekly exited the post-season in the first round after receiving the MVP trophy. In my mind, the list of MVPs should read like a yearbook for what happened in a given sport each year. Last year wasn’t the year of Manning. It was the year of great offensive and defensive lines and the out of left field greatness of Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.

But, hey, calm down traditionalists. Stop spitting. The NHL wouldn’t have to alter the Hart trophy to make things right.

Instead, the league could change the Pearson trophy slightly, having a “player’s MVP” chosen by his peers for a full season. Instead of just judging a player by regular season numbers, both the season and the playoffs could be taken into consideration.

That would be a lot more interesting, as the Pearson is largely redundant right now. Just think of all the interesting debates. Would a player who lit the playoffs on fire win even despite a so-so regular season? Could a guy have a year so singular and special that he could with the Pearson and miss the playoffs? Perhaps we could award Pavel Datsyuk with something a little more meaningful than a Selke (not that there is anything wrong with a Selke)?

The idea came to me long ago, when Eric Staal lead the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship but received no individual trophies. Staal was one of the best players during the 2003-04 regular season, hitting 100 points for what might be the only time in his NHL career. Despite slowing down in the SCF, Staal lead all playoff scorers with 28 points. Yet, Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton were the best players in the regular season and Rod Brindamour and Chris Pronger overshadowed him in the Conn Smythe voting. So you wouldn’t know just how great Staal’s year was just from looking at individual awards.

But if the Pearson trophy was considered the award for the best full year, Staal would have been tough to beat. And us bloggers, MSM members and hockey talking heads would have yet another thing to debate tirelessly.

And, really, isn’t that what is most valuable?

Simple ways to factor shootouts into fantasy hockey

February 3, 2009

Puck Daddy just put up an interesting post detailing the best shootout specialists of the last couple years. (Apparently, Ales Kotalik and Phil Kessel are your winners)

The post ended with the line: “Now if only some of that mattered in my fantasy league …”

My suggestion(s) are simple.

1. Don’t let it affect goalies

Goalie stats are fine the way they are. The shootout IS, after all, a gimmick. And it’s the hardest on goalies so let’s leave it where it is: already huge since it decides numerous goalie wins.

2. GDG + GWG = the new GWG category

Some people don’t like GWG as a category, but it’s never really bothered me. Not when there are bigger evils like SHG/SHP (totally effin’ random and almost never happen relative to relevant stats like goals or +/-).

By adding those GDG that Puck Daddy mentioned (it’s not like it would be/is a hard stat to track) you’d guarantee a GWG stat for every game and it would add an interesting wrinkle of strategy. More frequent GWGs means the stat category would be less random and annoying.

3. Add a shootout goal category (better yet, make it a fraction)

A lot of fantasy sports leagues make certain stats more important than others or use other triggers. What if a shootout goal (which, let’s face it, in the scheme of a game is pretty damn important) counted as half of a normal goal? It wouldn’t be hard to track and would give fans one more reason to jump out of their seats.

If the shootout’s going to stay we might as well enjoy it. And what better way to enjoy a gimmicky event than to connect it to fictional competition?

Ways to improve the All-Star Game

January 7, 2009

In case you haven’t seen it, Sporting News‘s Craig Custance asked the hockey world how the league should improve the All-Star game. There’s a lot of neat (and a few crazy) ideas in there, but why not throw in a few more? Some of these might be reaches or smell like mad science. Just roll with it.

First, a few of my favorites from the article:

Love the pickup game idea

Is there anything cooler than the idea of highly paid professional athletes acting out an experience almost any non-home schooled person went through in junior high? Just imagine players weighing skill versus friendships versus their teammate’s egos would be great. Seeing which players were picked last probably would be the best part of all.

Also, helmets off is a must

Maybe we’d find there’s a guy whose eyes bug out when he sees some open net like a modern day Rocket Richard.

Any excuse for international ice is a good excuse

Since the league would never give up that prime seat revenue, we’ll probably never get the kind of open ice that could really make a bigger difference than less organic moves like widening the net. So at least tantalize audiences with the larger ice surface for the All-Star game.

Now, a few of my own:

Real estate and All-Star games: all about location

In the last few years, the league keeps shoehorning teams into opening their seasons in Europe. If those teams struggle, fans immediately (and not completely unjustifiably) blame said struggles on the extra travel.

And look at the New York Rangers this season. It seemed like a brilliant idea to have the Rangers play in the Czech Republic … until Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka left the NHL. That’s not to say that those games were failures because of a lack of prominent Czechs, but no doubt the league must have been thinking hometown fans would love to see Jagr play in those games.

Put the ASG in Amsterdam or Paris or Rome or some other awesome, tourist-y location and watch the mainstream media members suddenly catch hockey fever. Plus, having All-Stars instead of NHL teams play would allow people who never see the Crosbys and Ovechkins in person get to watch a bunch of big names at once.

Before you say “but the big names won’t show up” … don’t you think Martin Brodeur would be more inclined to play if the game was featured in some exotic location instead of, say, Columbus, Ohio?

And to take care of issues with travel:

Move the All-Star Game to the preseason

This would make the traveling concerns weaken. Also, instead of wedging the All-Star game in the middle of the season, why not play it when people are jonesing for hockey? By positioning it in late January, people already have seen 40-50 games per team. But hold it in September and hockey fans will be much more likely to tune in. And if you’re worried about competition from the NFL, just televise it on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

If an outdoor game becomes an annual event, why not give the ASG at least one snowflake boost?

Imagine watching the best players in the world skating and passing in an environment like Wrigley Field. Sooner or later, the novelty of the Winter Classic will wear off for the non-diehard hockey people so making one of the outdoor games an ASG would keep it fresh. What you’d lose in hometown team ratings you might just gain in nationwide ratings (maybe).


These events are that one time of their year when people don’t need to worry about empty shootout points, dirty hits and other scandals. So why not have a little fun with it? And what better way to schmooze sponsors than to showcase hockey in such a grand, borderline romantic setting?

Muy interesante

October 29, 2008

An absolutely fascinating idea featured in Bucci’s column this week:

Also, I like the idea of how once a team gains the offensive zone, the red line becomes the line in play for the defensive team to clear. In other words, the red line becomes the blue line, expanding the offensive zone to half the rink like a basketball court. That could help lubricate the game by creating a larger offensive zone. I’d like to see how that looks in action. It has popped in my mind a couple of times while watching games recently. It might give the game more time and space. Players are so fast and agile today that the game is sometimes clogged. But make no mistake, I love watching nearly every game, and I watch the game with a positive eye.

Since the lockout, the NHL generally has seen an increase in offense and scoring. One of the biggest proponents of that change is the increased emphasis on calling obstruction (hooking, holding, interference etc.) type penalties.

But even so, the league should always look for ways to improve the game.

The key is to do so organically, though. Making goalie pads smaller than couch cushions is more than reasonable. Looking at a comparison between a modern, Roy-inspired goalie and their almost Napoleonic brethren is like studying the difference between the size of Barry Bonds‘ skull before and after BALCO.

Perhaps Battlin’ Billy Smith was always so pissed off because he realized how much easier goalies would have it in a couple decades. Nah, he was just a crusty sonovabitch, small pads or big.

Countless, brave couches lost their lives to help J.S. Giguere win a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe during his career.

ANYWAY, I’ve always wavered on making the net bigger – sure, it would help cure the league of some Giguere-itis but it definitely would be on the verge of tampering. (Plus it would really piss off Roberto Luongo).

For a long time, it seemed like converting to International Ice was the elephant in the room – an obvious solution the league ignores because its teams depends so much on gate earnings.

But the idea proposed in Bucci’s column could be the best possible compromise to inject a European flair into a game that can always use more highlight reel and Youtube-worthy moments. Or, if nothing else, an even greater amount of flow and high-level hockey artistry.

Goals per game is the easiest way to measure offense, but for me and I would guess most hockey fans, the most important element of a good hockey game is quality scoring chances. Give me a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat 2-1 game over a sloppy, penalty ravaged 6-5 game any day of the week. For my money, the idea of “half court hockey” could really allow for the truly skilled players and Poor Man’s Orrs to push the Derian Hatcher dinosaurs out the door that much faster.

And who would be against that, aside from Mrs. Hatcher?