Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Friday, September 24, 2021

A blast from the past in today’s sports transactions:

Kalamazoo Wings (UHL) - Signed defenseman Zarley Zalapski to a one-year contract.

Yes, one of the greatest hockey names — and the guy it’s attached to — is back in North American hockey. Just what we need during this lockout malaise.

Of course, it’s been a while since Zarley played in the NHL, so I think even the UHL would be a challenge for him at this stage. Honestly, when I first saw the tranny item, I wondered if it wasn’t a son of the NHL great.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/24/2004 06:53:16 PM
Category: Hockey
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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

virtual lock-out
Because we’re missing out only on the mostly-invisible training camps, the almost-week-old NHL lockout hasn’t really hit home yet. Much like all the hurricane prepping we’ve grown used to in these parts, diehard fans can see the hurt coming about a month from now, when regular-season gamedates start biting it.

But if you’re a hard-core hockey fan, and still wanna get your geek on, G4techTV got the remedy: A season-long videogame simulation of the NHL season, game by game.

I don’t get G4techTV. Darn. Then again, I’ve got my own copy of NHL 2k4 for the Xbox, so I can go to that. Of course, I haven’t fired up that disc in months…

This could turn into an unexpected boon for the league. If ratings for this cyber-ice tourney look strong, NHL owners could reason that they don’t need to hire flesh-and-blood players at all — just run videogame matchups every night! That’s your cost-certainty for you.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/21/2004 07:33:24 PM
Category: Hockey, Videogames
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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

on ice
Today’s the day. Barring a last-minute miracle, the National Hockey League will lock out its players, cutting into training camp and eventually slicing away chunks of the 2004-05 season. The worst-case scenario has the entire season being cancelled.

Some scattered thoughts on the impasse:

- The way things look now — and this is with the caveat that the external view doesn’t necessarily match what’s happening behind the scenes — the players will have to be the ones to blink first. And to avoid being totally fleeced, they can’t do that without at least a month being lost. If I had to guess, in order to get the owners to sign, the Players Association would have to accept one of the league’s don’t-call-it-a-cap “cost-certainty” proposals, most likely this one:

A player partnership payroll plan (P-4), which would involve individual player compensation being individually negotiated on the basis of “units” allocated for regular-season payrolls, supplemented by lucrative bonuses for team playoff performance.

The only gain the NHLPA could squeeze out of accepting this would be an elimination of the “groups” qualification levels for free agency, and lowering the age for unrestricted free agency to 28 for all players, regardless of experience or other factors. It would be a mostly hollow victory, given the built-in restrictions of the P-4 system, but it would be a longer-term gain to build upon some eight years from now, when the CBA after this coming one is up for discussion.

- Fans should keep in mind that the lockout is not a required action. The owners could allow the indefinite continuation of the the current CBA terms while they hammer out a new deal with the players. That means the owners are in the driver’s seat as far as training camps and the season starting on time. Naturally, from the owners’ perspective, this would rob them of leverage in negotiation, so there’s little incentive to do so. The only advantage is to foster goodwill with the players and, more importantly, the fans; but again, that won’t expedite a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, so there’s little point to it.

- As much as the owners think a cap will help them, it really won’t, because any system that locks in salaries will create an opportunity for a rival league to start poaching players. Aside from filling a geographic market need (think football’s old American Football League and it’s base in the unserved Western U.S.), competing sports leagues find short-term success by offering the players an expanded free market for their services.

Naturally, in order to appeal to players, an alternate league has to offer better salaries and on-ice opportunities than the NHL, and with the “cost-certainty” models the owners are pushing, that won’t be hard to do. What’s more, once the poaching begins, it’ll only drive up salaries in both leagues. That’s exactly what happened during the WHA era in the ’70s, when the formerly monopolistic NHL had to suddenly compete for players with the upstart league.

Right now, the relatively free market for player salaries in the NHL ensure that it’s the world’s premier hockey league. The sheer size of the North American sports entertainment market means there’s plenty of money to attract the best players. Leagues in other countries don’t have those resources; the only advantage they might have is the appeal of playing in a native country (thus avoiding culture shock for a player and his family). If the owners choose to limit how much of those resources are available to attracting and retaining players, the NHL loses that edge, and opens the door for a challenger.

What are the prospects for a challenge league? That’s where the NHL has an advantage. The league, along with the NFL and NBA, learned their lessons from past rival league experiences, and have maneuvered their franchises into positions where almost all of them own and/or control their arenas. With most metro regions having the infrastructure for only one hockey-friendly major-league venue (including all the revenue streams such a venue brings), that makes it extremely difficult for a start-up league to set up shop. Add to that the geographic saturation the NHL has achieved: There aren’t that many major-market cities that lack a team these days (efforts in Kansas City and Oklahoma City notwithstanding).

Still, there are possibilities (and I’m not talking about the phantom menace that is the resurrected WHA). The Russian league, in particular, has ownership that’s demonstrated a willingness to pay NHL-level salaries to attract talent. I imagine that Russian/European players would be the main ones siphoned away initially, and for provincial North American fans, there would be few tears shed. But if leagues in Russia and other European countries really start a talent rush for hockey players, it won’t be long before even Canadian and American players are lured overseas. At that point, NHL owners will have to open the pursestrings, cost-certainty be damned.

- In the midst of owners’ claims that you can’t make money in the current NHL, consider that two teams look to be in play: The Vancouver Canucks and their arena could change owners for $250 million (that might be in Canadian currency; if so, it would be something like $175 million U.S.), and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have three suitors, including Howard Baldwin, former owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers.

There are other clubs on the market, either actively or passively. But why would anyone want to buy into a league that’s about to shut down, and whose business model is allegedly so bad? Why would Baldwin, in particular, a former owner, want back in? He went through bankruptcy with the Penguins, which you’d presume would be the ultimate disincentive for owning a hockey team again. Why would the Vancouver group want to buy a team that, thanks to the currency exchange as it relates to player salaries, operates in a perpetual small-market environment?

Anticipation of a CBA that fixes player costs obviously creates a window of unique opportunity for potential team owners. But with that being far from a sure thing, these offers indicate that owning a club, even within the current business structure, ain’t a bad way to make a few bucks.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/15/2004 10:52:47 AM
Category: Hockey, SportsBiz
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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

last dance?
To show my appreciation for Tuomo Ruutu’s un-freakin’-believable goal in the second period of tonight’s Canada-Finland World Cup of Hockey final, I’m linking to his official website. And to his diary/blog.

It’s players like Ruutu that make me foolishly pick the Chicago Blackhawks to make some noise every year. They always make me look like a fool. This year, of course, they’ll have to wait until after the lockout ends to do that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/14/2004 08:57:43 PM
Category: Bloggin', Hockey
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Tuesday, September 07, 2021

we are the world
I’m watching tonight’s World Cup of Hockey North American quarterfinal between the U.S. and Russia. Pretty good game so far. I’m impressed the Americans are doing so well through two periods; I didn’t think they looked very good even in their win against Slovakia, and wasn’t sure they could get it together enough to win this elimination game. The Russians are far from done, though.

It took me until the halfway mark, but I finally noticed something unusual about the Russians’ uniforms: The names on the jerseys are written in Roman alphabet, instead of their native Cyrillic. It’s even more odd because the double-eagle crest on the Russians’ chests includes the word “Russia” in Cyrillic (roughly “Poccia”).

I guess it’s the influence of uniform maker Nike. If they’re going to sell official player-style jerseys, they want to make sure North American fans — the biggest market for such merchandise — can read the names on the back.

Accordingly, I’d say this represents the final nail in Russian socialism’s coffin (as if it needed it).

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/07/2021 08:43:42 PM
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Art snobs be damned! “Focused Passion: The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Quest for the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship”, a 26-photo series by Lightning team photographer Scott Audette, will be on display at the Tampa Museum of Art. The exhibition starts today and runs through September 21st.

It’s a good enough reason for me to hit the museum. I’ll bring along some hockey buddies, a couple of coolers, have a big ol’ time! (Actually, I’m no stranger to the Tampa Museum; I could try to bring a friend or two to this, but I’m not sure it’d be worth the cajoling.)

Obviously, a show like this is an attempt to draw in people who normally would never get within whiffing distance of something as hoity-toity as a museum. That’s the idea: Hook them in with something more hoi-polloi, and hope they see something else that brings them back. The S’real Fridays cocktail parties at the Salvador Dali Museum were conceived along the same marketing principles.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/01/2021 05:22:31 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey
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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The 2004 World Cup of Hockey (excuse me — the 2004 Toyota World Cup of Hockey; what can you do…). On ESPN/ESPN2 for most of the next two weeks.

I’m all set, thanks.

I’d love to be able to take off a few weekday afternoons and catch the 1PM games. That’s not going to happen, unfortunately. But I’ll take all I can get during the evenings and weekends.

I’d like to link to the local paper’s great full-page color package for the World Cup, which ran yesterday. However, inexplicably, there’s no trace of it online.

I’m sure plenty of NHL fans are drinking in this tournament with the possibility of a lockout in September in mind. Personally, I’m not looking at it that way; I’m still optimistic about a CBA being forged in time. Regardless, all that matters right now is what’s on the ice.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/31/2004 07:43:30 PM
Category: Hockey
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Monday, August 23, 2021

no-touch league
The NFL’s mandate to have refs actually call pass interference penalties will have a big impact on this coming season. But not a good one, according to Green Bay safety Darren Sharper:

“If the NFL wants to see more points scored, how about you just don’t play any defenses out there? Just let the offenses go out there and play by themselves, because that’s what they’re trying to do,” Sharper said Saturday night after Green Bay’s 19-14 exhibition victory over New Orleans.

Sharper had quite a bit to say about this stricter interpretation of what, we’re constantly reminded, are existing rules:

Sharper told reporters he hoped they had a “beep” button before he spoke his mind on the penalties.

“Those calls that were called are ridiculous because the guys are running with them and Joey [Thomas] has his head turned, his eyes looking back to the ball and they still throw a flag when both guys are like chicken fighting back there and doing little things that are not impeding anyone’s progress,” Sharper fumed.

“Those are just terrible calls. And then Ahmad [Carroll]’s call, it’s thrown out of bounds and they call pass interference on that. It’s just ridiculous.”

Sharper said he’s afraid that offenses will just throw the ball deep during the regular season and pray for a flag on what used to be brushed aside as incidental contact.

“That’s going to be the game plan,” Sharper predicted. “Tell the receiver to run into the defensive back when the ball is in the air and get a flag. And what kind of game is that going to be?”

Sharper said it would be a shame for a playoff game or a late-season game with postseason implications to come down to “a bogus call like that, a ball that’s not catchable or a guy that doesn’t impede the receiver to catch the ball and it’s on the 1-yard line, score and they win a game like that.”

It’s easy to dismiss Sharper as an aging player who won’t be able to adapt and is afraid of getting scorched every play. But he’s right: The offenses are going to exploit the crackdown on defensive backs, and the strategy of drawing first-down penalties will work, at least for a little while. Meanwhile, defensive lines are going to be less inclined to blitz, and thus be hemmed in.

This controversy echos the ongoing one in the NHL over obstruction calls. When the neutral-ice trap regained prominence in the mid-’90s, the league pledged to make refs start calling obstruction penalties. As with the NFL this year, new rules weren’t introduced, but rather, emphasis was placed on enforcing the existing rules.

Unfortunately, this increased enforcement resulted in parades of players going to the penalty box, which disrupted the flow of the game. Every year, the pattern became familiar: Referees would start the season by calling games tight, then would lose the war of attrition as teams continued to press and criticism of choppy gameplay increased. By midseason, trapping teams would be back to business as usual, and the obstruction crackdown would be deferred until next season, when the process would start all over again.

The parallels between the NHL’s obstruction and the NFL’s pass interference situations are fairly clear. So I think the pattern established in hockey will appear in football: Early rigorous enforcement, then retrenchment in the face of pressure from teams and owners. Despite the league’s perpetual desire for higher-scoring games (which the NHL shares, actually), things will be back to the typical lax pass interference calls by Week 8 or so.

Hopefully, this won’t spark any calls in the NFL for a reduction of men on the field, similar to the calls for full-time 4-on-4 hockey in the NHL. (It’s hard to argue the football field is getting too cramped, but you never know.)

I think it’s appropriate to frame this in the classic word-association structure:

NFL : Pass Interference :: NHL : Obstruction

Don’t worry, there won’t be a test on this later.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/23/2004 10:29:32 PM
Category: Hockey, Football
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