Category Archives: Sports – Hockey

The Raffi Torres Hit

A Statement from GM Doug Wilson Regarding the Raffi Torres Suspension

Upon review of the incident, it is abundantly clear that this was a clean hockey hit. As noted by the NHL, Raffi’s initial point of contact was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an opponent who was playing the puck. He did not leave his feet or elevate, he kept his shoulder tucked and elbow down at his side, and he was gliding – not skating or charging.

It’s rare for me to disagree with Doug Wilson on hockey issues, but on this hit, I am.

I’ve watched various angles of the hit multiple times. I see a different hit than Wilson does. What I see is Torres gliding in for a hit and making shoulder to head contact with Stoll. Wilson is correct that Torres didn’t leave his feet or elevate in the hit, which is why Torres isn’t suspended for a dozen games. But it’s clear from a couple of angles that Torres was watching Stoll as he skated in, had the time and ability to shift the hit away from his head, and didn’t. To blame Stoll for putting his head in the way of that hit is a GM defending his player, and more power to Wilson for doing so. 

But it’s wrong. Shanahan’s right. My prediction on twitter a couple of days ago was three games off — one for the hit and two for the reputation. The way the sharks are playing I may well be right. there’s been some kerfluffle over “the rest of the series”, but I think that makes sense in this context, in that it keeps Torres away from the Kings (and vice versa), but it also doesn’t over-punish Torres. I do NOT think the suspension should have a term that might leak into next season, for instance, and this one doesn’t. 

I can see the logic of the league not wanting Torres to come back for a game-deciding game 6 or game 7, for instance. Just imagine the potential mayhem. This pushes any rematch out to next season where tempers will have had time to cool off a bit. 

I understand why Wilson is upset; the Sharks need Torres in the lineup. but I think Shanahan got this one right. The team knew what torres’ suspension history and reputation were before bringing him onto the team. Torres has done a good job of reforming his game away from the kind of suspendable play he’s known for — but he could have turned this into a good clean body check, and he chose not to. And so now he sits.

And yes, that really hurts the Sharks chances of making this a long series. But the thing is, he should have considered that before going for a head shot. And didn’t. Because Torres knows what “repeat offender status” means better than almost anyone in the league right now. 

In other news, after the hearing, the NHL suspended Bryan Marchment for two games, just in case. 

2013 playoffs, round 2

Round 1 is done, round 2 is starting up, and so far, it’s been one heck of a fun playoffs to watch. The sharks made it through to the 2nd round. The Leafs almost took out the Bruins. Washington is done. All four of the second round series look to be great ones and tough to call. No slackers here. 

But before I predict the second round, some housekeeping. How did my predictions in the first round turn out?

In the east I picked: Pens over Islanders, Montreal over Ottawa. Rangers over Capitals and Toronto over Boston.

Reality: Pens (but New York scared the hell out of them. well done!); Ottawa, Rangers and Boston.  two out of four. I was right in predicting Toronto/Boston to be a coin flip, though. That was a hell of a series. Both the Islanders and the Leafs can feel proud at how well they did and hopefully build on this, although the Toronto loss could be crushing. Hope not. The Capitals look tired, and as a franchise, this current mix of players is fading. their window has closed. Montreal could have won that series, but congrats to the Sens for not letting them. 

In the east I picked: Chicago over Minnesota, Anaheim over Detroit, LA over St. Louis.  and San Jose over Vancouver. 

In reality: Chicago was never really challenged, but that’s been true all season. Detroit squeaked past Anaheim. LA beat St. Louis, but again, that team, impressed me and can build on this season. and San Jose swept Vancouver (really? REALLY? didn’t see that coming). I’m not sure how San Jose swept the Canucks. Vancouver’s a team with a  lot going for it — and significant problems, of which I think the goaltending problem is the least of them. Not sure how to fix that team right now. Detroit? As I always say, never bet against detroit — they seem to find a way, but that team isn’t what it was, and it’s fading towards a rebuild. Still, dangerous and they showed it. 

The best hockey is out west by a long shot. And it’s been a lot of fun. 

So, 2-2 in the east, 3-1 in the west. 5-3 overall. Not bad. I still have time to drop myself below .500 for the playoffs, and if tradition holds, I will.

2nd round picks:

East: 

Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa: should be an interesting series, but I see nothing about Ottawa that makes me think they can stop the pens. Pens in 5.

Rangers vs. Bruins: Should be tough, should be physical, should be exhausting. Should be Boston. In 5. Sorry, Ranger fans. But I don’t think I’d bet money on it. or bet on whoever survives out of this round to win the next.

West:

Chicago vs. Detroit: another fun series, but reality should hit the wings here. Hawks in 5. 

San Jose vs. LA: For me, the series to watch in the 2nd round, and not because it’s got the sharks. should be the most interesting series in the second round. Closely matched, well played, hard, physical.  Either team could win it. I’m going to go for the Sharks in 6. But I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong. 

So, summary: Penguins and Bruins in the east, Chicago and San Jose in the west. My original picks for Chicago and Penguins for the final (pens winning) stand, and I see no reason to think that’s wrong. Yet.

On to round 2! 

2013 playoff predictions

I’m a day late, but what the heck,this season was whacked by the lockout so who really cares if I’m making the predictions after a couple of playoff games have been decided. Please do not use these predictions to lose money with any wager — I’m sure not.

But it’s a tradition. Every year I make my playoff predictions, and later this summer, you can all laugh at me when they prove mostly wrong. In a good year I seem to get about half right. Such is life… That’s why I’m not a famous hockey pundit….

Eastern Conference

Islanders vs. Penguins. Well obviously, it’s the Island…

Okay, I can’t say that a straight face. But I do want to recognize the Islanders (and Evgeny Nabokov) for making the playoffs when nobody, not even the Islanders, expected that to happen. Well done. But the Penguins will keep this playoff run short on the Island this year. Pens in 4.

Senators vs. Canadiens. I have a fondness for the Senators, but this year, I think I have to pick Montreal. Probably in six. And it would be really cool if Montreal and Toronto were to meet, although I think the Mayans have a prediction that if that were to happen the sun would go nova. I’m willing to risk that.

Rangers vs. Capitals: I have a fondness for the Capitals, but honestly, the Rangers are the better team. I don’t expect the Rangers to go past the 2nd round, but I do think the Capitals will go out in five.

Toronto vs. Boston: the series to watch in the first round, if only to watch and see if anyone dies. This ought to be a rough series for both teams. I’m not sure whoever wins this series will be in any kind of shape to win the 2nd round, but this is the series I plan on watching out of the east. And because I have to, toronto in 6, but this is basically a coin flip in my mind.

So in summary, Penguins, Canadiens, Rangers, Toronto. And I pick Pittsburgh to win the east.

Out west…

Minnesota vs. Chicago: Chicago has been amazing all season. I see no reason that’ll end. Blackhawks in 5. Sorry, Minnesota fans.

Detroit vs. Anaheim: It’s hard to bet against Detroit, but I’m going to. I like Anaheim, although I like Detroit’s goaltending a lot more. I still think the Wings can’t get past the Ducks this year, so Anaheim in 5.

Los Angeles vs. St. Louis: I like both teams. I like LA’s goaltending more. I think having lots of west coast teams is a great way to piss off the tv networks. Because of that, I want as many California teams to go as deep in the playoffs as I can, so Los Angeles in 6. but I’m not sure St. Louis will go easily, or the kings will have much left for round 2.

San Jose vs. Vancouver. Now excuse me while I do the homer thing and pick the Sharks (in 6). I think Niemi is a much better goaltender playing better. I like how the Sharks have played the last few weeks. They seem to get it. Although I wouldn’t be crushed if the Canucks win out, either. But I do think the Sharks will win the first round, although they have to prove to everyone (including themselves) they can go deeper. I’m not sure they can, especially against the talent in the west.

So summary: Chicago, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. If Toronto/Montreal doesn’t make the sun go nova, three california teams in the 2nd round might. or it might just make Don Cherry’s head explode. And then maybe he might finally retire (but I doubt it….).

Coming out of the west — Chicago. Hard to see any team taking them out this year, unless chicago does it to themselves.

So my prediction for stanley cup final: chicago and pittsburgh. And of the two? Flip a coin. I’ll take Chicago in 7, if only to save myself from sleeping on the couch again…

The NHLPA and Realignment

The Latest From The NHLPA On The Realignment Issue:

PA still gathering feedback from members on realignment. Exec board will decide this week whether to make call itself or hold full PA vote.

There’s a fight going on here that the fans should be paying attention to. The problem is, it’s a quiet one so it’s easy to miss.

Welcome to the world of Donald Fehr. 

If you think back to the previous work stoppage — not the one we’re dealing with this season, but the one before — the owners made big noises about wanting to make the players partners in the game, and that was part of the “concessions” that helped bring the agreement and the new CBA. 

The owners quickly made clear the whole concept was a sham; they put a couple of players on the competition committee, which was routinely ignored, to the point Martin Brodeur quit as a waste of time. And that was the most progressive aspect of “partnering”. In pretty much every other aspect of the game, the players were quickly told to go back to playing and leave the hard business stuff to the owners. 

Sometimes I think the owners forget that players have memories. And they remember this stuff. And so when a situation happens where they can “return the favor”, they will. 

After that CBA, the NHLPA spasmed, Kelly was dumped, and the players went off and decided to get serious about being a players association, and ultimately hired Donald Fehr. 

And you see Fehr at work here. One of the tenets that Fehr works under is that the players should be a business partner with the owners; everyone works together and everyone grows the game together and everyone wins. Baseball gave up on the idea that the players were property and shouldn’t have a say in business matters slowly and with great pain — just look at the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to the collusion lawsuits. But ultimately, between the work of Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr, the players were taught to get involved and be informed, the owners figured out it was better to work together than fight each other, and baseball has prospered. 

In hockey, it’s not as bad as it was in baseball in the collusion days, but you still hear the word “asset” thrown around talking about players far too often, and hockey has definitely moved back into the mode of “these are the things the owners decide, and the union should stay out of it”. To say that this doesn’t sit well with the players and Fehr is an understatement. 

But don’t expect outright war. The thing the hockey owners haven’t seemed to figure out yet is that Fehr plays a long game, looks for situations he can take advantage of and us them to his advantage. With realignment, the owners went off and made decisions without consulting the players, which gave Fehr an opportunity to push his “players are partners” agenda, and quietly threaten to bollix up the entire situation by shoving it into arbitration or even court. The owners realized that even if they ultimately won out that fight, it’d cause massive delays, and they might lose. So they backed off and agreed to bring the players into the discussion. 

Which they did. Sort of. After the decisions were done. Which isn’t what the players want. And the owners did it by offering the players the final decision to approve, and a short deadline to approve it, and more or less demanded a rubber-stamp on the decision. 

Not surprisingly, the players have decided they aren’t sure they like this plan (because, well, they weren’t in on the formation of it, among other things). And not surprisingly, it’s taking the union a lot longer to evaluate and vote on the plan than the owners asked for. Just going through the process, folks. Sorry about that (unspoken hint: if we’d been in the discussion EARLIER, this might all go faster… hint). By slipping this past the owners deadline, they create some minor heartburn for the owners. 

I expect the players will ratify re-alignment. Eventually. But along the way, Fehr has made it clear that the players have a say in these kinds of decisions, and ultimately, maneuvered the owners into agreeing to that (the owners, honestly, made that easy). And when the owners then tried to turn that into a rubber-stamp of what the owners decided to do, the players have turned it into a minor crisis as a way of spanking the owners on the wrist. 

That’s how Fehr likes to work. Not outright war, but smaller situations that allow him to push his agenda and manipulate the other side into an agreement that sets a precedent. And that precedent is then used on future, generally bigger targets (“we were involved in that decisions. How can we not be part of this one?”); a big target is going to be the next round of television deals — you can bet Fehr wants the players in on those talks, and the owners want no part of it. 

I’ll sell popcorn. But right now, the owners aren’t winning these fights, and Fehr and the players are. And they may seem like relatively small ones, but a poker player that wins a lot of small pots still ends the evening with a large stack to cash in. 

Fehr is doing a good job of accumulating chips, too, almost without it being noticed. 

Department of Player Safety examines tripping/slew-footing

The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday unveiled its “Tripping/Slew-Footing” video, the third in a series of educational videos designed to help players and fans better understand how specific infractions are viewed and evaluated, what is legal and what merits the assessment of Supplemental Discipline.

This is awesome material, because what the NHL is finally starting to do is put the league casebook online.

If there’s a significant difference between the Colin Campbell era and the Brendan Shanahan era in NHL discipline, it’s that Shanahan and the NHL have embraced transparency. I always felt Campbell got a bum rap from many for being arbitrary and I don’t think that was really true, but what Campbell didn’t do a good job on was explaining why he made the decisions he did. Shanahan is changing that in the way he’s disclosing the information and rationale that goes into suspensions and using online video to help explain the situation. You may not agree with his decision, but at least you’re getting a lot more of what went into making it than you got with Campbell. 

Beyond that, we’re now starting to see the publication of casebook material. The game is governed by a rule book, and the official rules of the NHL (and other hockey leagues) have been available for years — I collect them and I have rulebooks going back into the early 40’s. But the way leagues have traditionally helped instruct referees and linesmen is with what’s known as a casebook. This has traditionally been some kind of publication that describes how the league wants the rules interpreted. Sometimes it’s bound and published as a book; sometimes it’s a series of sheets or sections distributed in a binder for easier updating. 

What the casebook tries to do is help the referee interpret the rule. With descriptions and pictures in classic ones, and today increasing use of video samples, casebooks try to define where the edge cases are — if a player does THIS it’s hooking, but if they do THAT it’s not. Since interpretation of a rulebook is subjective even if the words in a rulebook isn’t, the casebook is the guide to where to draw the lines around the rules and when to make the call and when to let it slide. 

They can be fascinating reading. They also are intended to be a living document as special cases or new interpretations happen. The NHL has long updated their casebook on an ongoing basis and distributed memos with clarifications or notes describing specific situations. 

A number of years ago — more than a decade — I had a few conversations with people working in the officiating department of the NHL, and one of the things I encouraged them to consider was publishing their casebook so all fans could (if they wish) learn how the rules are intended to be called.  that won’t stop much the fan griping, but I felt it would help fans become better educated and give them another tool to study the game. 

At the time, there were people in the department who wanted to, but there wasn’t enough support to make it happen. Now there is, for which I take absolutely zero credit — but I did want to call it out and offer credit to the folks at the NHL who are now willing to take this step. If you’re interested in the details of the game, these videos will be a useful tool is learning to watch for them.

One of the things happening at that time was a lot of criticism of the NHL refereeing; I was writing about it a lot then as well, and not always positively. But a number of broadcasters and journalists (people who’s job it was to know how the rules were supposed to operate) were either too lazy to actually learn them (too true in some cases) or had made a conscious choice to criticize based on how they wanted the rules to be written (the, ahem, Don Cherry scenario). Occasionally I’d hear about something that I got wrong, and that led to a discussion about the situation. I felt that having the casebook available would give broadcasters no excuse for being lazy or craven about knowing the rules (I also suggested they look into pre-season seminars on the rules that team broadcasters and journalists could sit in on and ask questions. Again, teaching and transparency. Now, with modern online webinar capabilities, this is even easier to accomplish). 

These days, I think that the broadcasters do a much better job of being balanced and knowing the rules, and I think overall, the reffing in the NHL is better, thanks in large part to the two referee system. It creates some challenges, but it reduces the difficulty of handling the game and makes it easier for the refs to ref it appropriately. Mistakes still occur — refs are human and the game of hockey is by far the hardest game to referee, with perhaps the offsides call of a soccer game at an elite level — but overall, I think NHL refs today do a pretty good job. 

I do think there are steps the league could take to push even further into disclosure and transparency. I don’t expect to ever see these happen, however, but I’d love to see these be implemented:

  • Disclosure of referee and linesman ratings, as well as discipline (fines and suspensions) when issued. Unfortunately, when i’ve brought this up, it hits the wall of this being personnel issues and not wanting to get into disclosure issues over an employee. Of course, the league does so with players suspensions and fines, but that’s negotiated with the PA. Trying to negotiate the same disclosure with the refs union would be tough. (you do know that referees and linesmen are subject to reprimands as well as suspensions? And some leagues (not sure about the NHL) they can be fined in some cases as well. you have to be careful, though, because officials get time off in-season just as teams get extended breaks between games, so just because a referee doesn’t show up in the box scores for a while doesn’t mean he got suspended. And referees get injured and sick, too..)
  • Post game media access for referees and linesmen. Let them sit at the podium and talk about their decisions. Players have to man up and be responsible for what they did on the ice, I think the referees should, too. Not holding my breath. It might get uncomfortable at times; knowing that is something that I expect would make referees more thoughtful about their decisions. And non-decisions. 
  • Get a referee off the ice. While I like the two ref system, at the time I felt a better option would be for the second ref to be off ice and in some kind of elevated viewing position. One ref covers the actions on ice, the other covers the entire ice surface from an “eye in the sky” position, because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff going on that at ice level with all those bodies moving around is hard to see, even with two sets of eyes. Move one set of eyes above the action, and give them access to video replay and let them be responsible for it instead of the Toronto War Room (unless they want help). And that removes that extra body off the ice again. A minor advantage to this is that refs would end up skating half as many miles per season — so the senior refs would likely go longer before retirement. 
  • And finally, I want to see coaches challenges happen. There seems to finally be some movement in that direction. Video review and challenges and all of that can really screw over the flow of the game (hello, NFL replay…. yawn) — but getting it right and giving the teams some discretion in when it needs to be gotten right is a good idea. The devil is in the details (Hello, NFL Replay, in the 93 variants they’ve tried so far…). What major league baseball does is actually pretty good, but probably doesn’t go quite far enough. What you do NOT want is to screw up the game making sure you get every call right, because we’ll all die of old age before the third period ends. but there are key plays that if you get them wrong, you can destroy the integrity and results of a given game. And for those — find a way to get it right. And what seems to work is giving the coaches a limited right to challenge, and penalize them for being wrong (yes, the NFL Replay mode…. It works).