Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, October 01, 2021

gaming on
Another Sunday of NFL action. So naturally, as the day winds down, my thoughts turn to…

Hockey!

Yes, I’m unusual. But since hockey is my favorite sport, bar none, I’ve been eyeing this week in a big way. The National Hockey League season starts this Wednesday, and I cannot wait for the first puck to drop.

Not that I’ve been doing much of a countdown on this blog. I’ve jotted down some of the more unusual business-side developments from this past summer, but have refrained from general player movement deals and the like. The offseason and preseason is great fun to track, but it’s so fluid, and ultimately moot once the games start to count, that I didn’t feel compelled to write too much on it.

But now, as the last of the preseason tilts wind down, and rosters becomes close to finalized, I’m ready. So here’s my more-or-less quick division-by-division view of the NHL on the eve of Opening Night, 2006. I’m starting with the Eastern Conference, and will continue tomorrow with the West:

Atlantic Division
Now my hometown division, with the Rangers attempting to sustain their surprising climb back to regular playoff contention from last season. I’m still surprised they were able to do it, seemingly just on the strength of Jaromir Jagr’s resurgence and then-rookie Henrik Lundqvist’s emergence. Whatever smoke-and-mirrors technique they used, it worked (until that season-ending and playoff-commencing swoon, but baby steps…). Can the Blueshirts turn the same trick this year? Lundqvist solidifies the nets, and snagging Aaron Ward to play in front of him should make his job easier. Up front, it’s heartening to see Jagr joined by a still-potent Brendan Shanahan, Adam Hall (who I think will turn out to be a steal from the deal with Nashville), and ready-for-action prospect Nigel Dawes. But — where are the centers? Michael Nylander clicks well enough with Jagr, but he’s a classic second-line player. Same goes for newcomer Matt Cullen. Maybe it’s not an issue with all that skill on the wings, but it’s a glaring shortcoming.

Elsewhere: The incumbent division champ Devils are beset with cap issues, which were partially alleviated tonight with the trade/salary dump of Vladimir Malakhov to San Jose. As always, Marty Brodeur is the pivot for New Jersey’s fortunes. This year, he won’t need a half-season to adjust to a revamped defensive corps…

The Flyers, as usual, gear up with fearsome front lines, bolstered with the addition of Kyle Calder. But the blueline looks as slow as the one that was victimized so badly by Buffalo in last year’s playoffs, and with goalie Antero Niittymaki hampered by day-to-day injuries, it could be rough early sledding in Philly…

The Pens continue to fine-tune around Sid “The Kid” Crosby, who should go hog-wild on the score sheet once Evgeni Malkin returns from injury. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Pittsburgh break into the playoffs this year, even though their defense could use major bolstering. Marc-Andre Fleury, playing his first full season in goal, will have to turn in a superhuman performance…

Out in Long Island, no reason to expect much different from the Islanders. Offsetting the NHL return of head coach Ted Nolan are the baffling maneuvers of owner Charles Wang; so if nothing else, the Isles will provide plenty of comic relief.

Northeast Division
The big movers and shakers in the division were the Bruins. They made the biggest early splash in free agency by scooping up Zdeno Chara, while also completing deals to bring in Paul Mara and establish Hannu Toivonen as the starting goalie. Thus, the B’s seemingly have addressed the defensive shortcomings that sunk them last season. Then again, they splurged on the player market last year as well, and never found the right chemistry. A lot rides on new head coach Dave Lewis to hold things together, and to break in flamboyant-but-potent rookie Phil Kessel.

Elsewhere: A lot of what happens in Ottawa hinges upon how well a reworked defensive corps gels, with the most pressure on Anton Volchenkov and newcomer Tom Preissing. Also, deposed Carolina goalie Martin Gerber has something to prove…

Despite their much-noted cap-related defections, the Sabres retain a solid, if generally undersized, core of players. Buffalo is particularly deep at center, with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury keying the attack. They’re also loaded in goal, which could come in handy as trade bait later in the season…

Will a prospective Samsonov-Koivu-Kovalev top line bring the Habs bunches of goals? Regardless, Montreal moved to solidify the blueline with the acquisition of Janne Niinimaa from Dallas

Toronto’s retooling depends largely on the Leafs’ conviction that Boston import Andrew Raycroft is ready to win a bunch of games as the No. 1 netminder. Past that, it’s another season of Mats Sundin carrying the team on his shoulders, with little skilled support. Don’t be surprised to see Sundin finally get shipped out by the trade deadline.

Southeast Division
The past two Stanley Cup champs came out of this division. The Atlanta Thrashers… won’t continue that trend. But they look to have the ingredients to finally break into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Along with the scoring punch from Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, they finally have the makings of third and fourth lines that can actually pressure opposing offenses. Combine that with a blueline that boasts the addition of hard-hitting Anaheim castoff Vitaly Vishnevski and the development of goalie Kari Lehtonen, and the Thrashers will cut down their goals-against enough to taste some postseason action.

Elsewhere: Thanks to their goaltending issues last year, the perception is that the Lightning’s acquisition of Marc Denis answers the club’s chief problems. But the defense, while still featuring stalwarts Dan Boyle and Cory Sarich, remains as thin as ever, with practically no organizational depth. And despite his pedigree, Denis hasn’t proven himself as a winner at the NHL level…

After winning the Cup as an unheralded rookie, Carolina’s Cam Ward gets to show how he’ll perform as a starter in the regular season. He’ll have plenty of support, as the core of the championship team returns, although an early lack of blueline depth prompted GM Jim Rutherford to trade the rights to prospect d-man Jack Johnson to the Kings for D Tim Gleason and C Eric Belanger

A shakeup in Florida means the Panthers will rely less on goaltending and more on the power forward position. Todd Bertuzzi gets a chance to put his tumultuous Vancouver stint behind him and mesh with an offense previously led by Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton. The goaltending situation could take a while to settle itself; expected No. 1 Alex Auld hasn’t distinguished himself, and Ed Belfour’s not being counted upon to be an everyday starter. The murky front office situation, which saw Mike Keenan abruptly ousted this summer, could also be a distraction…

The Capitals have brought in help for rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin, in the form of winger Alexander Semin. The rebuilding won’t yield many more wins this year, despite rock-solid goaltending from Ollie Kolzig

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 11:37:51 PM
Category: Hockey
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The demographic trending in these United States has long shown steady gains by non-white groups, portending significant redefinition of just what constitutes “mainstream America”.

To underline that dynamic, a new summation of the population mix from last year’s Census estimate: Fully one of every three Americans is either black, Hispanic or Asian.

Obviously, the default white European-descended demographic is still the biggest hunk of the pie, and still ultimately controls the machinery. That’s going to be the case for the next couple of generations, at least. But the sands are shifting. It’ll be fascinting to see what American society becomes by mid-century.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 09:03:40 PM
Category: Society
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just under
Even though I followed my usual sports blindness this summer by ignoring baseball, I do recall taking a quick glance at the league pitching leaders sometime in August and thinking, “Those win totals seem kinda low”.

My instincts were true. This season marks the first full (i.e., non-strike) one ever without a single 20-game winner, and the buzz is over whether this is an anomaly or a trend.

“Starts go down, innings pitched go down, complete games go down, so wins go down. It’s kind of simple math,” Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. “You even talk about shutting people down when they reach 200 innings. If you’re going to win 20 you need to be in the game in the late innings.

“Twenty wins is always a major marker, but 20 is going to go by the wayside and 15 is going to be the standard,” he added. “I don’t think it’s the quality of the starters, I think it’s the evolution of the game.”

I don’t think 20 wins will become unreachable, but it will get rarer. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for this to happen. Bullpens are so stocked these days, as the MLB is more of a pitchers’ league than ever. More pressure is put on the middle relievers, and so a game’s pitching performance truly becomes a collaborative effort.

It’s easy to rap the pitchers for seemingly being coddled, but that ignores all the work they really do. True, the comparable position players in other sports don’t function the same way. In football, you have one designated starting quarterback every game, who throws his arm off; but he plays only once a week, for a grand total of 20 full games or so per year. In hockey, there’s typically a starting goaltender who plays the bulk of the season; but most teams like to limit that to 75 percent of the season, and teams don’t play practically every single day like in baseball, and the backup goalie tends to play the split in back-to-back games. The structure of baseball’s season makes it ridiculous to expect a pitcher to hurl 90-mile-an-hour bombs every night.

Hey, if they really want to hang onto the 20-win standard so badly, I guess they could add another 20 or 30 games to the schedule. It’s already ridiculously long now, so I’m sure no one will notice the extra padding…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 06:53:15 PM
Category: Baseball, History
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Tired of the investment banking/Wall Street grind? There’s a clear career path in front of you: Starting up your own niche liquor brand, which affords you all the club-centric celebrity that comes with it.

What’s the cost of out-every-night schmoozing with the stars?

Besides exotic travel and an entree to clubs, Fashion Week after-parties and charity galas — which all seem to have a liquor brand as a sponsor these days — another allure of the boutique spirits business is its low start-up cost. All you have to do is find a distillery, design a bottle and start marketing, said Brian Sudano, the managing director of BMC Strategic Associates, an industry consultant. “It wouldn’t cost you more than a quarter million,” he said. “And you probably could get it up and running for less than 100 grand.”

A mere pittance. Sign me up! You can bill me later, after my custom-distilled booze bottles are displayed all over Page Six.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 03:17:22 PM
Category: Business, Celebrity, Food
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Book publishing faces an embarrassment of riches this fall, when new volumes from Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum and other blockbuster authors will drop nearly simultaneously. With so much firepower unleashed on the New Releases shelf, how do the houses make their titles stand out from the clutter?

The exposure publishers like best — a TV appearance for an author — is less of an option, according to David Rosenthal, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster. “There are too many new books to fill these slots on news, cable and magazine shows,” he said. “So you have to think outside the box.”

At Simon & Schuster, for example, publicists and marketing directors have been reaching out to bloggers to boost Robert Harris’ political thriller “Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome.”

“This isn’t something I was doing a year ago, but I think it’s a huge opportunity for us now,” said marketing director Leah Wasielewski. “I got a fantastic response from some bloggers, and it makes sense because this approach allows us to target consumers directly and gauge their interest. You go right to the source.”

Among the sites that Wasielewski contacted were Bread and Circuses, which deals with the later Roman empire; Prettier than Napoleon, a blog on literary and legal issues; and Mental Multivitamin, a literary site. All three generated reviews of “Imperium,” she said.

Hmmph. All I know is that I didn’t get any review copies, despite my previous dipping into the blog book review activity with Time Warner Book Group, two years ago. Where’s the love, Simon & Schuster?

Anyway, this is a further evolution of the publishing biz accepting blogs as just another marketing outlet, perhaps more malleable than most:

But while many authors routinely use the Internet to communicate with their fan base through personal blogs and websites, some publishing executives, such as Daniel Menaker, editor-in-chief of the Random House Publishing Group, are just now beginning to understand the medium. “For me the Web is like a teenager’s room,” Menaker said. “It can be very messy, and you don’t quite know how to bring order to it. But you can’t ignore it. You have to deal with it.”

The author reach-outs to readership come off as more personal. Offering up excerpts of works in progress, for the purposes of eliciting feedback, has been catching on with some writers. Shooting for a similar unfiltered relationship between publishers and readers is a little trickier, because publishing houses don’t establish loyal audiences, per se — their authors do. So what would endear them to their customers?

Bingo! Free pre-release review copies. No better way to have passionate readers — as book bloggers presumably are — than to feed their addiction. In the long run, this benefits publishers tremendously. I’m a little surprised the state of this marketing strategy hasn’t advanced much over the past two years, though. Maybe the prospect of a new-release glut like this season’s accelerates the trend.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 02:00:29 PM
Category: Bloggin', Publishing
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Well, what do you know. According to Brooklyn’s Garry P. Webb-Bey — a “tax preparer” but not an accountant — for Federal income tax exemption purposes, New York state is a foreign country.

Actually, he’s gone ahead and granted tax sovereignty to all 50 states:

In court papers, the Justice Department said Mr. Webb-Bey told clients that only residents of the District of Columbia were required to pay federal income tax and that income earned in any of the 50 states was foreign income.

For example, in 2003, Mr. Webb-Bey prepared and signed a 2001 tax return for a New York City woman listing $68,704.77 in income, according to court papers. Mr. Webb-Bey is alleged to have used Form 2555, the foreign-income exclusion, which completely offset her income, leading to a claim for a tax refund of $4,932.87.

I don’t know why New York’s economic development pimpers don’t seize upon this as one more incentive to induce people and companies to relocate to the Empire State. They can deal with the court hassles later, after the pumped-up numbers go into the books.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/01/2021 09:17:16 AM
Category: Comedy, New Yorkin', True Crime
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