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Tuesday, July 31, 2021

arms race cold war
Time to combine two of my favorite leisure topics: Sports and alternate/counterfactual history.

In response to Greg Wyshynski’s look back at Tom Glavine’s aborted hockey career — in which my old post on the subject was cited — I contributed a fanciful comment over center-iceman Glavine’s subsequent National Hockey League career. And I was so pleased by my jotting that I’ve decided to record it here:

Who knows how Glavine’s hockey career would have turned out, and if he would have played for the Kings or some other club. But, as long as we’re playing what-if, how’s this one:

In August 1988, as the Edmonton Oilers were dickering with Los Angeles over a trade package, they get a read on a Kings prospect playing college hockey in Massachusetts. They ask, the Kings oblige, and Tom Glavine gets shipped to Edmonton, along with a bundle of players and picks, in exchange for Wayne Gretzky (with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley as throw-ins).

Gretzky does his Hollywood thing, while Glavine breaks into the NHL with the Oilers. He blossoms, becomes part of a 1-2 punch down the middle with Mark Messier, and is part of second Cup-winning dynasty for the Oilers through the end of the 1990s.

Hey, might as well maximize the potential!

Yep, the time period fits in just perfectly. Had Glavine committed to hockey, he would have been part of the blockbuster Gretzky-to-LA trade. And would have paid off for the Oilers, unlike practically every other part of the package they got from the Kings in reality.

Of course, this conveniently disregards the financial realities that, Glavine or no, still would have forced the Oil to dump quality players by the early ’90s. Despite my disdain for improbable alternate reality scenarios, I’ll turn a blind eye, just this once.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 07/31/2007 10:32:39 PM
Category: Hockey, Baseball
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Saturday, July 28, 2021

what's in store
I’ve walked by the corner storefront on 6th Avenue and 47th Street many, many times. It’s hard to not notice that specific building space: The large pane-glass walls are filled with giant-sized NHL graphics and player photos.

I had thought that this street-level display signified the presence of National Hockey League offices on the upper floors. Turns out that’s not the case, although the league’s headquarters are on 6th Avenue, just a couple of blocks north.

So what’s on 47th? Nothing less than NHL Powered by Reebok, a flagship store that will open in October.

A place to get league-authorized merchandise, along with a hockey-themed Starbucks on-site. It sounds cool as hell. With a literally “cool” component:

Another centerpiece will be a wall made of real ice that will serve as a backdrop for store merchandise.

Conceived by Miami artist Terje Lundaas, the ice wall will be visible through the glass storefront, and customers will be allowed to write or draw on the glass just as they would on a frosty window.

With the tolerable Fall weather coming, I can see taking plenty of after-work strolls down the Avenue of the Americas to hit this retail mecca. Plenty of photo opps, too. I can’t wait!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 07/28/2007 07:41:12 PM
Category: Hockey, Business, New Yorkin'
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Monday, July 16, 2021

It’s amazing to me how hockey columnists like Scott Burnside can’t figure out why Gary Bettman is preventing the Predators (or any other NHL club) from relocating to southern Ontario.

There are a couple of reasons. The more minor one: The now-favorable exchange rate between the Canadian and American dollars — which is doing more to level the league’s competitive field than the salary cap is — isn’t likely to last. Which means one more floundering Canadian team to have to subsidize in the near future. (This is a topic to delve into more deeply some other time.)

But the more concrete reason is that, when it comes to major-league sports, you don’t over-saturate your markets. And plopping another team in Hamilton or Kitchener-Waterloo — stone’s-throw distance from Buffalo and Toronto (and not even that far from Detroit) — effectively constricts the NHL’s presence, both regionally and continent-wide.

But no need to believe me. The National Football League itself encountered this very same dynamic some thirty-five years ago, just after the NFL-AFL merger was completed and further expansion was being contemplated. The football guys commissioned a report, “Socioeconomic Information on Candidate Areas for NFL Franchises”, delivered in December 1973 by Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International). It amounted to a detailed map of the football market outside the NFL’s 1973 boundaries.

The thought process of the Pete Rozelle-era NFL was dissected in David Harris’ 1987 book “The League: Inside the NFL”. Unfortunately, the book’s long out of print, and doesn’t appear to be online anywhere. But I’ve got a dog-eared copy, and the relevant section is reproduced below, with my notes:

At NFL direction, SRI made a preliminary investigation of twenty-four possible locations and then went into fourteen of those in detail. Of the cities investigated, ten seemed promising.

Of those ten, SRI identified the weakest expansion candidates as Honolulu, Hawaii and Birmingham, Alabama. The next five cities were deemed more promising as NFL cities, based on their current and trending demographics in 1973: Seattle, Indianapolis, Tampa, Phoenix, and Memphis. Given that four of those five cities eventually did land NFL clubs (and even Memphis temporarily hosted the Tennessee Titans, before they settled in Nashville), it’s safe to say that SRI knew what it was talking about.

However, when it came time to make the final recommendation for professional football best bets for expansion, SRI made a somewhat startling choice: The NFL’s most lucrative backyards.

Stanford Research Institute’s conclusions were simple: “According to all the economic and demographic criteria studied, the New York [Nassau and Suffolk], [Greater] Chicago, and Los Angeles [Anaheim] areas rank substantially above all the candidate areas, even when data are divided by two or three to account for a shared market.”

The demographics detailed by SRI presented the football monopoly with two fundamental dilemmas, both of enormous longterm consequence. The first was implicit in the size of the market SRI located. Even after adding two more franchises, some twenty-two percent of the NFL’s potentially profitable franchise outlets would remain fallow and the NFL would continue to be significantly smaller than its market… The principle question, as [the commissioner’s office] saw it was to choose from among the current options in a way that “strengthened the League and made it more truly national.”

The second of the NFL’s dilemmas was crystallized in SRI’s somewhat unexpected conclusion that the NFL’s best option was to put more franchises into its current three largest markets. But despite their independent size, Nassau, Greater Chicago and Anaheim were all still “suburbs” according to the terms of the NFL’s monopoly, and hence not significant enough for membership. In the long run, this stance would insure that the largest untapped markets for live football were not only frustrated at lack of inclusion in the NFL but even further frustrated by the lack of consideration at all…

Thus, the possibility of more franchises in the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles markets was summarily dismissed. The purpose of expansion was to extend the League’s monopoly, not reduce it.

“SRI did a good job,” [expansion committee member Dan] Rooney explained, “but they didn’t consider all the factors.”

In a nutshell: You don’t tend to the long-term health of a sports league by effectively imploding it thusly. Jim Balsillie’s efforts to move a team north of the border have been seconded by Canadian pundits who argue that hockey’s following is so strong that, not only would a southern Ontario team get support, but so would a second team in Toronto, and so on.

That’s probably true. Just as it’s true that, even today, NFL teams in burgeoning suburban zones would probably do well. But in terms of league macroeconomics, it sets the stage for ultimate constriction of the product. It’s in the same category as league contraction — again, the notion that shrinking the NHL’s footprint would concentrate its energy and revitalize it.

But ultimately, it’s short-sighted. The NFL braintrust didn’t fall for it three decades ago, and the Bettman regime shouldn’t let it happen in hockey now.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 07/16/2007 11:17:49 AM
Category: Hockey, Football, SportsBiz
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Saturday, July 07, 2021

built-in restrictions
The first megabucks restricted free-agent offer sheet of this National Hockey League offseason amounted to forestalled drama. The Edmonton Oilers’ seven-year, $50-million offer to Thomas Vanek was instantly matched by the Buffalo Sabres, effectively brushing off the attempted player acquisition.

So basically, Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe saved his Buffalo counterpart, Darcy Regier, some contract negotiating work. That’s what an offer sheet to a restricted free agent amounts to, after all — crafting a contract that has a chance of being matched by the team that still holds that player’s rights. It’s a big reason why restricted free agents pretty much never get signed away (that, and the bundle of first-round draft picks that usually end up being part of the acquisition package).

The amusing part of this is that it was the Oilers, perennially characterized as a small-market team, who served up this blockbuster, and inflicted it on another perceived small-market club — and an American one, at that. You won’t hear any gripes from the Canadian media, because there’s a rationalization ready at hand:

Last year, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke drew the ire of many around the NHL when he signed Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler to an offer sheet.

But there is a clear difference in what Lowe did.

His offer to Vanek was a legitimate long term deal, made to a player he wanted to have in his organization for years to come. Clarke’s offer was for one year, at a grossly inflated $1.9 million to a third line player which the Canucks begrudgingly matched.

There’s the biggest bullshit spin I’ve ever seen. It’s okay to throw money at a player as long as it’s for a long-term commitment? Nonsense. And it doesn’t explain the implied motive in last year’s Kesler situation: That Bob Clarke made his move to strategically hinder the Canucks — as though Philadelphia would have an interest in hampering a team in the Western Conference, which it didn’t even play against last year.

Teams look for talent wherever it’s available, and it’s up to them to at what terms they want to sign them. Besides, who’s to say that the Oilers wouldn’t have promptly traded Vanek away within a couple of years, had they landed him? Bottom line, if Edmonton had been the one challenged with a similar offer sheet for one of their RFAs, the Canadian media would have screamed bloody murder, much as they did when Kesler’s deal was derided as setting a new salary level for 10-goal scorers.

I’m sure Lowe really wanted to pick up Vanek. But maybe he wasn’t creative enough. After all, the art of the offer sheet includes inserting “poison pills” that are designed to be unmatchable by the rights-holding club. Such as:

When [Sergei Fedorov’s] contract dispute with the Detroit Red Wings dragged into February [1998], the Carolina Hurricanes gave him a six-year, $38 million offer sheet. It included a $14 million signing bonus and a $12 million bonus if his team reached the 1998 conference final, which the Hurricanes were less likely to do than the defending champion Red Wings. The NHL voided the offer, but an arbitrator ruled the clause was valid. Detroit matched and ended up paying out the $12 million bonus as they won the Stanley Cup a second consecutive year.

If a club is serious about prying an RFA away, it’s those sorts of team-performance provisions that it needs to include. Otherwise, it really is just throwing money into the ring and daring the other team to match dollars — not much of a feat with the salary cap.

Beyond the Vanek episode, you have the spectacle of the Oilers as a sort of free-agent repellent this offseason. Is the prospect of playing in Edmonton really so distasteful?

I’d argue it is. But it has little or nothing to do with the city of Edmonton. Rather, I think it has everything to do with the Oilers organization, primarily the stewardship of Kevin Lowe as GM.

Let’s review the recent history of on-the-job moves by Lowe:

- Abruptly shipping heart-and-soul player Ryan Smyth to the Islanders at last year’s trading deadline, over the inability to bridge a contract-extension gap of only a few hundred thousand dollars. Recently, Lowe admitted that, had he anticipated the cap increasing this year, he would have kept Smyth; while no one expects a GM to anticipate caponomics, this hints at severe shortsightedness on Lowe’s part.

- Trading team captain Jason Smith, which, while it netted Edmonton power-play pivot Joni Pitkanen, effectively gutted the Oilers roster of leadership (especially combined with Smyth’s departure).

- Despite being armed with three first-round picks at this summer’s Entry Draft and eager to parlay them into much-needed immediate help, Lowe couldn’t swing a deal.

- Fumbling negotiations with free-agent center Michael Nylander, and then lamely crying foul when he instead opted to go to Washington.

And now, the Vanek failure. And I’m not even going to include the Chris Pronger fiasco, which preceded all this.

To me, this points to Kevin Lowe being the problem. His handling of the Smyth situation probably makes most players and their agents wary of dealing with him, and the backlash is being felt now. It’s possible he just can’t maneuver under the new NHL’s CBA rules. The seemingly shrewd roster moves the year before last, that resulted in the Stanley Cup run, come off as more of a fluke now. He’s been at the job for years now; perhaps, much like Bob Clarke last season, he’s too burned out to effectively do his job.

I’m thinking it’s time to relieve Lowe of his GM duties. If he’s impeding the operation of the franchise, it’s better to get some new blood in, that can attract and retain talent.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 07/07/2021 04:50:38 PM
Category: Hockey
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Sunday, June 24, 2021

tomorrow the world
Judging from the mild buzz generated when the Chicago Blackhawks selected a Nigerian-born player in the second round of this past weekend’s NHL Entry Draft, you’d think the story would have been filed under a “news of the weird” header.

But being a black hockey player barely scratches the surface on Akim “The Dream” Aliu:

Here’s wishing the general public will take an interest in Aliu, the multilingual Sudbury Wolves right wing who considers himself more Russian than anything. He lists pierogies as his favorite food.

At the NHL Central Scouting combine, the Washington Capitals interviewed him in English, but not before they asked him to translate their session with Russian teenager Ruslan Bashkirov. “I got to see what kind of things I might be asked,” Aliu told the Toronto Sun. “I hope things work out for Bashkirov. He was a nice kid.” (He went four picks after Aliu, to the Ottawa Senators.)

Here is how things have worked out so far for Aliu: His father, Taiwo, traveled from Okene, Nigeria, to study geology in Ukraine. There, he met his future wife, Larissa. The couple settled in Nigeria, then went back to Ukraine when Akim was 9 months old. He learned to skate there, but he never played hockey until he was 10, after Taiwo moved Larissa and their two children to Canada for a high-tech job.

Nothing’s certain until/unless they make the roster, but it appears the Blackhawks cleaned up big in scooping up both Aliu and consensus No. 1 pick Patrick Kane. If they help turn around the team, then Chicago would be as big a sports stage as any to highlight two somewhat unconventional players: A smallish American-born winger with deft scoring touch, and a Nigerian/Ukrainian/Canadian power-forward prototype.

By the way: Believe it or not, Aliu won’t be the first-ever Nigerian native to make it to hockey’s big show. That honor went to Rumun Ndur, a bruising defenseman who played 69 NHL games with the Sabres, Rangers, and Thrashers. He was last seen in the league in 2000, but apparently is still playing in the UK.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/24/2007 06:54:29 PM
Category: Hockey
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Friday, June 22, 2021

draft form
Yes, I’m watching the televised coverage of the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft, on Versus.

Yes, I’m hopeless.

But it’s been entertaining, no doubt. Not so much the player selection so far — I’ve been familiar enough with the prospect buzz to expect Patrick Kane going No. 1 overall to the Chicago Blackhawks, along with a fairly predictable follow in the early first round. But as with Major League Baseball’s draft, this talent pool is mostly delayed gratification. Eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds generally aren’t ready to jump into the NHL; Kane and a handful of others will put on pro jerseys shortly, but the rest will take years to get to the show, if ever.

Still, Versus and TSN are putting on a good show, with the requisite scouting chatter. It’s dense hockey talk, which will be rare enough for the summer, so I’ll take it now.

Besides, the real action is taking place relationally to Draft Day — the big-time trades and other franchise transactions going down. Plenty of juicy stories:

- The Maple Leafs take yet another stab at scooping up a real starting goalie with the acquisition of Vesa Toskala from San Jose for a bushel of draft picks. Toskala and throw-in winger Mark Bell immediately go into the Toronto pressure-cooker, while the Sharks finally rid themselves of their years-long two-headed goalie controversy, with Evgeni Nabokov staying in teal.

- Florida also grabs a bona-fide starter in net, grabbing Tomas Vokoun from Nashville for picks. The Panthers come closer to replacing Roberto Luongo, and the Predators seemingly get closer to shedding more payroll in anticipation of franchise move to Hamilton, Ontario. Except that…

- In the biggest bombshell of the day, Craig Leipold has killed the deal to sell the Predators to Jim Balsillie, citing no finalized agreement and a distaste for the relocation plans. I’m sure Balsillie will try, try again, but at this stage, with the league clearly signaling that it won’t make a team move to Canada an easy process, I can’t believe any current owner will ever bother talking to the Blackberry king again; it’d be pointless.

Plenty of juice!

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 06/22/2007 08:37:08 PM
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, June 13, 2021

third, the charm
Right about now, Chris Gratton is probably thinking, “I wish I knew how to quit you”, with regards to his once and future team, the Tampa Bay Lightning:

[Lightning GM Jay Feaster:] “We have been pursuing Chris for some time now, and I honestly thought we were going to be able to get a deal done [with the Florida Panthers] to acquire him at the trade deadline this past season. While that did not happen, we never lost our interest in adding Chris as an ideal complement to Vinny and Richy as a big, strong, multi-faceted third-line center who shares our organizational commitment to winning. They say in life that ‘the third time is the charm’ and we truly believe that his third time in a Lightning uniform is going to be a great one for Chris and our team, and we welcome him back to the Lightning family.”

Having been in the Bay area when Gratton was drafted by the Bolts, watching him now return to his NHL proving grounds takes me back. Everything from his sure-fire hothead penalties to the infamous “smudged fax” that made him the only Group II free agent to get signed away (by Philadelphia) comes to mind. Oh, the memories.

It’ll really hit when I catch a Lightning game next year (probably on TV, although maybe when they visit the Rangers) and see the former franchise cornerstone once again skating in Bolts black.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/13/2007 11:38:44 PM
Category: Hockey
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Sunday, June 10, 2021

at the centers
Allow me to get in an extended dig at the Islanders over their buy-out of the remaining four years of Alexei Yashin’s 10-year contract:

They’d better remember the procedure. Because they’ll be doing it again in a few short years, with Rick DiPietro’s ridiculous 15-year pact.

Okay then, with that out of the way:

I’m crossing my fingers that the Rangers don’t start sniffing around the newly-freed Yashin. True, in my opinion, they’ve been thin at center for the past two years. No offense to Michael Nylander, who clicks with Jaromir Jagr nicely enough. But Nylander would be better as a second-line pivot. More of a dominator on the first line would really bring out Jagr’s best. And as far as physical skills, Yashin better fits that mold.

But maybe my fears are unfounded. After all, Yashin’s days as a top-liner may be behind him. He was relegated to fourth-line duty during his last days with the Isles. If that’s the best he can do, there’s no reason for the Rangers to bring him aboard. If the Blueshirts wind up landing the biggest free-agent catch at center — Scott Gomez — then Yashin will definitely be out of the picture for Madison Square Garden.

A new team could take a chance on Yashin, figuring a change of scenery would rouse his competitiveness. He would probably come pretty cheap and short-term, considering his money situation is settled with the buyout money.

In that vein, a possibility: The Buffalo Sabres. With their top two centers likely to bolt due to cap restrictions in Buffalo, the Sabres could take a flyer on Yashin. He might be motivated just from the shift from a borderline playoff team to a Conference finalist, as well as the opportunity to prove he can still play at a high level.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/10/2021 09:33:03 PM
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, June 06, 2021

In alphabetical order, Anaheim comes first among National Hockey League cities.

Now, it comes first for more a substantial reason: Tonight’s 6-2 win over Ottawa clinched the Ducks their first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

Congrats to Brian Burke and crew for delivering on expectations that were set in the preseason. The Ducks were built to go the distance, and they went the whole way. (By the way: Thanks to Burke’s prominence as the face of the Anaheim brass, has there ever been a more invisible Stanley Cup-winning head coach than Randy Carlyle?)

I’m sure this sticks in the craw of the Canadian media markets, who detest the idea of yet another Sunbelt city hoisting the Cup. They can go suck it. Besides, they’ll get a follow-up wallop in the next couple of months when the Predators sale to Jim Balsillie falls apart, thus evaporating the pipedream of another NHL squad in Ontario.

But for tonight, Orange County, California is party central. Wish I could join them!

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/06/2021 11:26:27 PM
Category: Hockey
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There’s way too much focus on the supposedly inflated pricing, but this little trade-rag opinion piece on how the comic book industry marginalized itself is thought-provoking:

On the surface, giving the best customers what they want makes sense. However, convoluted stories that required encyclopedic knowledge of series and higher prices pushed casual fans out of the clubhouse. Comic books had made their best customers the only ones.

The lesson of the comic book industry can also be illustrated in a March 2006 article from www.searchcrm.com. A pipe distributor used activity monitoring software to determine that the customer that generated the most revenue was not the most profitable, thanks to all the extra work that went into pleasing it. Repeated site visits and last-minute orders were just two of the ways this customer was costing the company money. Just like in the comic book example, what was best for the minority of devoted customers was not best for the company.

And, since as I write this I’m watching the Anaheim Ducks wrap up their first-ever Stanley Cup, I can’t help but note how interchangeable the word “hockey” is with “comic book” in this example (contrary to popular belief).

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/06/2021 09:28:29 PM
Category: Publishing, Hockey, Business
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Monday, May 28, 2021

fitting for an s-cup
It’s been a long playoff layoff — since last Tuesday — but the Stanley Cup Finals, between the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, commence tonight, with Game 1 in California.

I don’t have a strong rooting interest in either team. But I guess I’ll have to toss my support toward the Senators, if only because they’re the sister franchise of the Tampa Bay Lightning (they both entered the NHL as expansion teams in 1992), and I called that bay area my homebase for many years. (There’s even an acknowledgment from St. Petersburg of that lineage-linkage.)

Then again, I should hope for the Ducks to take home the hardware, just on the basis of this promise by Anaheim blueliner Chris Pronger:

Asked if he would kiss the trophy, a pretty standard reaction from players, Chris Pronger said he would indeed contemplate planting one on the historic symbol of hockey excellence.

“I may,” Pronger said. “I might even use a little tongue.”

I’m sure his wife won’t mind. No official statement from the league.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/28/2007 01:06:00 PM
Category: Hockey
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Saturday, May 26, 2021

where's the crew?
While the following isn’t intended to be a piling-on to last week’s “Horsie Game” brouhaha, it’s probably inspired by it:

Well over a year ago, when Al Michaels jumped ship from ABC to NBC to continue calling primetime National Football League action, I envisioned additional job duties for the broadcaster:

Of course, the Peacock Network also broadcasts NHL games for the next couple of years. Dare I hope that Michaels will work a few hockey games, along with the NFL gig? He should have plenty of time, since the departure from ABC means he’s also giving up NBA announcing. It should be an even workload swap for Mr. “Miracle On Ice”.

And yet, to date, Michaels hasn’t gone near a National Hockey League rink on NBC’s behalf (as far as I know).

In fact, the network hasn’t deployed any of its NBC Sports on-air personalities to NHL coverage. It uses largely the same hockey crew that Versus uses, with a couple of additions (Brett Hull being the notable figure). It seems to be a pretty segregated set-up, and further puts across the feeling that the NHL is strictly a rental property in NBC’s programming stable.

No complaints from me about Bill Clement and company and their on-air work. But you’d think NBC would want to leverage names/faces like Michaels and Bob Costas (and even John Madden, if only for general sportsworthiness) to push the NHL package. Broadcast personalities by themselves aren’t going to ramp up the ratings for any sport, but they’ll draw in a few extra eyeballs, and expose viewers who otherwise don’t take notice of the NHL. And there’s plenty of promotional value in highlighting Michaels’ “do you believe in miracles” background.

Why the lack of crossover? You’d have to conclude that the present low ratings indicate there’d be a low return on investment if NBC “spent” hockey airtime on its big-time sports personalities. That is, the contracts for Michaels and Costas likely spell out what they will and won’t do, and NHL games aren’t on the list — they’d have to be convinced (i.e., paid more) to take on the additional assignment. NBC’s probably not pushing them to do the NHL games, and the talents probably aren’t asking to get the extra work.

It’s a shame. Michaels and Madden aren’t doing anything else in the football offseason, and Costas can certainly squeeze in a pregame show or two during the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, relative obscurity.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 05/26/2007 02:53:13 PM
Category: TV, Hockey, Football
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Wednesday, May 23, 2021

declaring a loser
It seems there’s nowhere in North America that’s safe for an NHL telecast. On the heels of NBC’s “horsie game” over the weekend, hockey fans in Manitoba got gypped out of the first two periods of Tuesday’s Western Conference-clinching game between Anaheim and Detroit, in favor of live provincial-election results action.

The biggest tragedy, of course, is the civic blow north of the border:

Roddy Blochlinger said he was very upset about not being able to watch the game at home.

“I’m probably not going to go vote because of this now, just as my own little stand towards this,” he said. “I’m not even a huge hockey fan, but the playoffs are the playoffs.”

Now even Canada is keeping National Hockey League broadcasts off the air. Maybe there is something to all those conspiracy crackpot theories.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/23/2007 11:40:54 PM
Category: TV, Politics, Hockey
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Tuesday, May 22, 2021

American hockey fans are fuming over NBC’s decision to end its broadcast of Saturday’s Sabres-Senators game with overtime to go, opting to start its scheduled Preakness horseracing coverage instead. The NHL playoff game turned out to be the clinching game for Eastern Conference champ Ottawa.

Naturally, comparisons with the 1968 Heidi game of NFL (actually AFL) lore are made. Although those comparisons are probably coming from opposing momentums: The Heidi game — more accurately, the forceful reaction it got — represented pro football’s eventual ascendancy to coveted television draw; the (let’s call it) Horsie game, on the other hand, seems to underline the decline for the National Hockey League as a major television sport, with the nadir perhaps yet to come.

I’ll add to the cacophony of online noise over this with a couple of thoughts:

- Since I don’t live in Buffalo or Rochester (Sabres affiliate territory), I was one of those peeved hockey viewers. I think NBC flubbed big on two counts: By mentioning the coverage switch to Versus only once, audio only, in the hurried way it cut off coverage from the game; and again when, through the early part of the Preakness coverage, not running an onscreen scroll or other indicator directing viewers to Versus for the remainder of the NHL game. I myself missed the one-and-only announcement of the channel change, and it was only by luck that I instinctively turned to Versus to discover the hand-off. No question, a shoddy way of handling the situation.

- As far as the properness of NBC cutting off coverage in the first place: The financial commitments are pretty well-known regarding the network’s NHL contract. What’s not as apparent is the Preakness package. Simply put, the race coverage is a couple of hours of infomercial-like segments, featuring a slew of on-camera interviews with sponsor representatives, topped off by the new minutes of the horses running. That’s committed advertiser money, in what’s basically product-placement buys. It may not have been fair of NBC to yield to that financial pressure, but with its overall ratings picture so dismal, it would have been a tough pill to swallow to have to give back chunks of that money in favor of continuing coverage of a low-revenue hockey game.

- It should be noted that this game was originally scheduled as a night game (7 or 8PM). It was moved to the 2PM start specifically at NBC’s request. That makes the pullout more galling. It also makes me wonder why it couldn’t have been scheduled earlier in the afternoon, at noon or 1PM, which would have avoided the whole conflict.

- The popular conspiracy theory suggests that this was a blunt way for the TV guys to tell the league that it needs to ditch OT for the playoffs, and adopt the time-compacted shootout. That doesn’t really make sense in this case, since even a regular-season style short OT and shootout combo still would have encroached upon the Preakness timeslot. I wouldn’t count on seeing a change in playoff overtime format — yet.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/22/2007 11:51:03 PM
Category: TV, Hockey, Other Sports
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Wednesday, May 16, 2021

pay daigle
It seems that having Alexandre Daigle on your side — even in spirit only — produces a too-familiar “L” for the Ottawa Senators.

I’m as shocked as anyone to learn that he’s still playing, albeit not in North America:

After 616 NHL games and 327 points (129-198) with Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, Daigle may end his pro career in the Swiss League.

“The hockey is really good,” said Daigle. “The lifestyle is way different because you only have a 45-game regular season. You only play on weekends in the regular season, which also makes it different.

Most hockey observers seem to have forgotten Daigle’s central role in starting the salary-level boost in the National Hockey League. Here’s the rundown, by my recollection (feel free to corroborate via other sources):

When the Senators selected Daigle as the Number 1 overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, the team was so sure it had snagged the second coming of Mario Lemieux that it promptly locked him up with a five-year, $10-million contract. Those were eye-popping dollars back then, when the top tier of NHL annual salaries was established at the $3-million range (with the exception of Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, who, owing to their star power, were earning about twice that during this period). In effect, paying a rookie $2 million led, eventually, to a process that threw the league’s salary structure out of whack (or toward equitability, depending on your outlook).

The Sens were justified in committing to that package. Daigle seemed to have it all: Credentials as an offensive wizard in Canada’s most competitive junior league; camera-friendly looks; French-Canadian heritage, which, owing to Ottawa’s location on the Ontario-Quebec border, would bring built-in popularity. And ultimately, Daigle’s skills would be a major asset (along with the team’s previous-year first-rounder, Alexei Yashin) toward pulling the Senators out of their expansion-team doldrums quickly. It made sense to ante up early for a player who would be the franchise savior. When Daigle didn’t develop into anything close to the dominating playmaker everyone expected, his contract seemed like a folly.

But by then, the acceleration in salaries had begun. Even with two collective bargaining agreements designed to curb entry-level contracts, payrolls around the league began a sharp increase that wasn’t rolled back until the 2004 lockout.

The irony, of course, is that the years of salary inflation were always presumed to come from big-market, free-spending teams like the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings. In reality, a team often cited as a small-market club — in currency-conversion-challenged Canada, no less — initiated the league-wide ramp-up by making a bet that didn’t pay back.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/16/2007 11:30:23 PM
Category: Hockey
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Thursday, May 03, 2021

body eng
Somebody explain to me how Versus hockey on-air analyst Brian Engblom is not writing a hockey blog, appropriately entitled “EngBlog”.

I mean, it’s a natural. Which is more than we can say about his hair

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/03/2021 11:10:15 PM
Category: Bloggin', TV, Hockey
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Monday, April 16, 2021

neverending story
Four years ago, I presented by thoughts on why multiple overtime periods were ultimately a bad idea for the NHL.

My feelings haven’t changed much. Neither have the opposite opinions, really, despite the major post-lockout change of shootouts deciding regular-season contests.

Despite passage of time, I think my counters to maintaining the current system of perpetual OT still carry weight. And so, as I hinted earlier, I’ll reproduce the heart of them here for debate. I’ll annotate where appropriate.

First, the traditionalist (AKA anti-shootout) argument:

- The biggest argument traditionalists use against the shoot-out is that it reduces the game to a skills competition, and makes the preceding hours of gameplay nearly irrelevant. And the thing is, this is essentially true. Yet consider: What does the unlimited playing of sudden-death OT represent but an endurance contest that has no relation to the previous 60 regulation minutes of hockey? Once you get into overtime, the score basically gets reset to 0-0. It doesn’t matter at all what happened scoreboard-wise before that.

But here’s what does matter: The ice is chewed up, the players are tired, and the recovery time between games in a compressed playoff schedule becomes shortened considerably. Multiply that by (at least) two for every extra overtime period, and the negative impact is cumulative. All these things conspire to make the added gameplay anything but equal to regular gameplay. The moment that overtime starts, it becomes just as much a contest as a shoot-out would be, except it relies almost solely upon who can overcome fatigue and errors instead of skill. And to boot, it can take a ridiculously long amount of time, versus the relatively short time a shoot-out would take.

Not much to add to that. The regular-season shootout draws grousing, especially from Toronto, where it’s now reviled for helping bounce the Maple Leafs out of the final Eastern playoff berth. The criticism is largely capricious, though, and there’s no organized effort to try to get it repealed. In fact, the schizophrenic status of embracing it for 82 games and excluding it from the Stanley Cup tourney seems unlikely to persist. The physical factors mentioned above are even more pertinent, in my mind.

Now, the other half of the argument was/is that overtime periods lead to higher television ratings:

- From the economic standpoint: Ratings are paramount, and it’s hard for the league to ignore any uptick, slight though it may be. But there are two caveats here:

1) A tenth of a point actually is small enough to disregard. Just because NHL ratings are already so miniscule that a .1 or .2 increase represents a 30-40% gain doesn’t mean you have to keep the rules in place that potentially take games into the wee morning hours, where they could adversely affect future games. Advertisers don’t see an increase from .8 to .9 as a reason to significantly up their spending. When and if ratings move up to a level where they become a fantastic buy, the NHL can start worrying about it. Sticking to a playoff format that nets such small shifts isn’t justified; go with a change in format that has a better chance of upping the ratings a lot.

2) Keep in mind that the extra OT periods are commercial-free. This is done in an effort to keep the game from going even longer in real-time, and it’s a good idea from that angle.

But it also means that any ratings increase is, in effect, pointless. Advertisers aren’t totally stupid; they look at those increased ratings for an overtime game, and come back with, “So what? Maybe more people are watching late at night, but we can’t get our ads in front of their eyeballs during the game. During the intermission periods? Yeah, right, those exact blocks of time when viewers know they can switch channels for an extended period and not miss a second of game action. Thanks, but no thanks.”

So if you think about it, padded ratings due to overtime really don’t benefit advertisers, and they’re the only ones who matter as far as the ratings go. Beyond the broadcasting dollars, inside the arenas, most concessions close down at the end of the third period, so there’s little extra money being made that way (especially with the big money-makers, beer and alcohol, which stop being served in the middle of the third at most venues). Add to that that employees have to be paid overtime, and there’s really little to no economic benefit to sticking with non-stop overtime.

I’m going to have to plead ignorance as to whether or not Versus is broadcasting playoff overtimes commercial-free, as ESPN did back in the day. I watched a full OT period of this year’s Dallas-Vancouver Game 1, but honestly don’t recall if it was uninterrupted or not. I’m guessing not, in the interest of expediting the game. If so, my three-year-old example stands. If not, I still think the base ratings remain so low that it’s not a real justification for hanging onto this enduro-contest format.

My original prediction was that the NHL regular season would keep going with overtime-only (limited and ending with ties, the norm for thirty years), while the playoffs would adopt shootouts to decide games. Turns out the opposite happened. So maybe my luck with playing advocate for change in this arena sucks. Still, I’m hoping someone at league HQ sees the light I’m shining.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/16/2007 11:30:26 PM
Category: Hockey
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Thursday, April 12, 2021

the extra
I’ve gotten myself into a ripping argument at About.com over NHL playoff overtime rules. Not surprisingly, my online friend David plays the role of instigator.

In my comments there, I allude to previously-blogged opinions on this (over)timely subject. I’ll be re-presenting those here shortly. But not tonight; I’m worn down, and I don’t want to delve into this in a less-than-sharp state. Look for the lowdown this coming weekend.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/12/2021 11:04:20 PM
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, April 11, 2021

off to the cup
The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs started tonight, with four games to kick things off. And lucky me: I get to watch three of them (assuming I can actually pull in the Yahoo!-hosted Webcast of the Minnesota-Anaheim Game 1; throughout the season, my luck with those streaming media hockey fixes has been about 50-50).

This year, I’ve foregone making detailed playoff series predictions. But I couldn’t resist tossing my coin into the hat for this year’s Stanley Cup Challenge at Eric McErlain’s Off Wing Opinion!

Of course, I went homer all the way and picked the New York Rangers to win the shiny prize. I really only half-believe it. I certainly believe the forward momentum that took them into the postseason will get them past their first-round matchup with Atlanta; but eventually streaks end, and the likeliest second-round opponents (Buffalo or Ottawa) are more than capable of ending New York’s. If there were anything more than fun at stake, I’d have been compelled to go with the unstoppable-looking Sabres.

My entry was one of a total of 62 from Off Wing readers. I won’t list the picks here — they’re prominently displayed on the Off Wing homepage. I’m a bit surprised that four other suckers fans picked the Rangers to go all the way as well. I’m even more surprised that only one team was dismissed completely, as no one picked them as eventual Stanley Cup champ: The Tampa Bay Lightning. Heck, even the Isles, Flames and Thrashers got some love, in the form of a single vote each! Maybe no one believes the Lightning has a chance of getting past New Jersey in round one. (I wonder if, were I still living in Tampa Bay, I would’ve represented the only crackpot to pick the Bolts…)

Anyway, I’ve made my official mark. I’m crossing my fingers, both as a fan and prognosticator.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/11/2021 10:46:40 PM
Category: Hockey
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Monday, April 09, 2021

special finale
Here it be: The final 2006-07 National Hockey League Special Teams Index, a special Monday edition owing to the end of the regular season occurring on a Sunday. If you must, check out last week’s STI rankings, although not too much changed leading to the end.

Congratulations to the Anaheim Ducks, who win the Index crown with an STI number of 107.5. They achieved that ranking with a strong balance on both sides of the odd-man scenario: The league’s second-best power play and fifth-best penalty kill.

How much that STI prowess helps Anaheim in the playoffs remains to be seen. On the other hand, at least the Ducks get a chance to test it — unlike their Index runner-up Montreal, who missed the postseason altogether. The Canadiens exemplify how special-teams play is no guarantee of success in the NHL.

The only other thing I’ll note is that, as this is a full-season cumulative accounting of special-team statistics, it doesn’t particularly reflect streaky periods. Regardless of how a team started out in the Fall, or wound up during a playoff march, these totals come after a full 82 games of action.

STI Rank Team PP % (Rank) PK % (Rank) STI Number
1 Anaheim Ducks 22.4 (2) 85.1 (5) 107.5
2 Montreal Canadiens 22.8 (1) 83.5 (13) 106.3
3 San Jose Sharks 22.4 (3) 83.3 (14) 105.7
4 Minnesota Wild 18.9 (6) 86.0 (2) 104.9
5 Vancouver Canucks 17.2 (20) 86.9 (1) 104.1
6 Nashville Predators 17.4 (18) 85.9 (3) 103.3
7 Dallas Stars 18.5 (7) 84.4 (11) 102.9
8 New Jersey Devils 17.7 (15) 85.2 (4) 102.9
9 Pittsburgh Penguins 20.3 (5) 82.1 (17) 102.4
10 Ottawa Senators 17.9 (14) 84.5 (9) 102.4
11 New York Rangers 18.5 (8) 83.8 (12) 102.3
12 Detroit Red Wings 17.0 (21) 84.6 (6) 101.6
13 Colorado Avalanche 21.1 (4) 80.2 (23) 101.3
14 Florida Panthers 18.1 (13) 82.4 (16) 100.5
15 New York Islanders 18.1 (12) 81.8 (18) 99.9
16 Carolina Hurricanes 15.0 (25) 84.6 (7) 99.6
17 Boston Bruins 17.2 (19) 81.7 (19) 98.9
18 Edmonton Oilers 14.2 (27) 84.6 (8) 98.8
19 Buffalo Sabres 17.4 (17) 81.3 (20) 98.7
20 Calgary Flames 18.2 (11) 80.4 (22) 98.6
21 Philadelphia Flyers 14.1 (28) 84.5 (10) 98.6
22 Tampa Bay Lightning 18.4 (9) 78.4 (28) 96.8
23 Washington Capitals 16.4 (24) 80.2 (24) 96.6
24 Atlanta Thrashers 16.5 (23) 79.8 (26) 96.3
25 Los Angeles Kings 18.3 (10) 77.9 (30) 96.2
26 Toronto Maple Leafs 17.7 (16) 78.5 (27) 96.2
27 Columbus Blue Jackets 14.8 (26) 81.2 (21) 96.0
28 Phoenix Coyotes 16.5 (22) 78.4 (29) 94.9
29 Chicago Blackhawks 11.8 (30) 82.6 (15) 94.4
30 St. Louis Blues 12.1 (29) 80.0 (25) 92.1
by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/09/2021 11:37:25 PM
Category: Hockey
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Sunday, April 08, 2021

down to the wire
In lieu of the usual Special Teams Index, which I’m delaying until final stats come through tomorrow, I’ll jot a few quickie notes on the oncoming NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

This 2006-07 National Hockey League campaign has been quite a ride. I can’t imagine a wilder finish to the regular season than this weekend.

Basically, none of the first-round playoff matchups (which start this Wednesday, April 11th) were set in either conference until yesterday. And now, all but one set of the head-to-heads and home-ice advantages are decided. The last piece of uncertainty will play out at 3:30 today, when the Islanders throw everything they’ve got at the Devils, for the honor of squeaking past Toronto into the East’s No. 8 postseason berth (where they’ll promptly get thrashed by Buffalo, of course).

More than enough intrigue in the rest of the playoff field. Like: Is the addition of Peter Forsberg enough for Nashville to prevail against San Jose, in a rematch of last year’s first-round action? Can Dallas finally get out of the first round? What will the Penguins do in their return to the playoffs? Can the Rangers maintain the hot streak that vaulted them to the No. 6 seed?

From the local angle, I’m glad the Rangers were able to hang onto that slot, yielding them a matchup with Atlanta. Not only because I think the chances for an upset are good, but also because the alternative — a series with New Jersey — would have been tedious, given how much they’ve already played the Devils this season already (yes, I’m bitching about the current hyperdivisional schedule again). I’m not sure how good my chances are of snagging tickets, but I’m definitely going to try to catch at least one Rangers-Thrashers game at MSG.

From here, it’ll only get sweeter. Looking forward to being entertained.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/08/2021 12:47:27 PM
Category: Hockey
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