Thursday, October 2, 2008


I think it's time I get something of my chest.

While I think the current state of professional hockey, and for that matter the National Hockey League, is arguably the strongest we have ever seen as fans, there is one portion of the record that absolutely needs to be changed.

The loser point.

In sport, you have winners and losers. Winners are rewarded with points and/or wins in the standings. The losers get zip, except for that additional mark in the loss column that pushes them one step closer to the golf course and the first tee.

The overtime loss point in the NHL is cheap. It downgrades the spirit of competition. Force overtime in 10 regular season games, lose every one in overtime and still come away with 10 additional points?

Not right.

Being rewarded for losing doesn't have a place in a professional sports league. It's reminiscent of little Sally or Johnny being awarded a soccer trophy just for competing.

What's the point?

The time has come for the NHL to do the right thing. Award teams two points for a win and ZERO points for a loss, regardless if the loss was sustained in regulation, overtime or the shootout. End the conversations between fans heading to arena exits lamenting their team's loss but being grateful it happened in overtime or the shootout "so at least they get a point".

And while we're at it, it's time to drop the policy of awarding the top three conference seeds to the three divisional winners. Let's give these seeds to the top three record holders.

It will allow to chance the structure of how we read standings everyday. Have a win column and a loss column. Forget points and go off winning percentage and "games behind" like they do in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. This simplifies the standing for fans making the entire process easier to read and more fan friendly.

How would it look and how would it change playoff scenarios?

Below is a model based on the final standings in the Western Conference last season. All overtime and shootout losses have been included in the loss column. The final standings in the west last spring looked like this:

1. Detroit 54 21 7 115
2. San Jose 49 23 10 108
3. Minnesota 44 28 10 98
4. Anaheim 47 27 8 102
5. Dallas 45 30 7 97
6. Colorado 44 31 7 95
7. Calgary 42 30 10 94
8. Nashville 41 32 9 91
9. Edmonton 41 35 6 88
10. Chicago 40 34 8 88
11. Vancouver 39 33 10 88
12. Phoenix 38 37 7 83
13. Columbus 34 36 12 80
14. St. Louis 33 36 13 79
15. Los Angeles 32 43 7 71

2007-08 Western Conference Playoffs: Opening Round

1-Detroit vs 8-Nashville
2-San Jose vs 7-Calgary
3-Minnesota vs 6-Colorado
4-Anaheim vs 5-Dallas

Under the proposal of using strictly wins and losses and going off a "games behind" format, last season's final Western Conference regular season standings would have broken out like this:

1. Detroit 54 28 ---
2. San Jose 49 33 5
3. Calgary 42 30 7
4. Anaheim 47 35 7.5
5. Dallas 45 37 8
6. Minnesota* 44 38 10
7. Colorado 44 38 10
8. Nashville# 41 41 13
9. Edmonton 41 41 13
10. Chicago 40 42 14
11. Vancouver 39 43 15
12. Phoenix 38 44 16
13. Columbus 34 48 20
14. St. Louis 33 49 21
15. Los Angeles 32 50 22

* Minnesota wins tiebreaker with Colorado based on head to head play.
# Nashville wins tiebreaker with Edmonton based on head to head play.


1-Detroit vs 8-Nashville
2-San Jose vs 7-Colorado
3-Calgary vs 6-Minnesota
4-Anaheim vs 5-Dallas

So under the new proposal and set-up, two of the four first round playoff matches would have changed. Minnesota would have lost home ice while Calgary would have gained home ice. The Flames would have improved their ranking by four spots, moving from #7 to #3. Anaheim would have secured the final home ice spot by beating out Dallas by a "half game". All non-playoff teams would have remained the same.

So what do you think? Seems pretty fair to me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Are teams missing the point in how they structure their training camps?

These days, it's not unusual for teams to invite 50 to 60 players to their camps each September, all with hopes of making the big league roster. But the reality is that most teams have, at most, a handful of job openings with the rest of the flock being shipped to places like Portland or Peoria or Albany.

I doubt the current scenario is unlikely to change in the coming years. Still, the question needs to be asked.

Are training camps designed to evaluate players, or prepare teams for the start of the season? Or both?

Sure, there is the evaluation process which is critical to all organizations. Young draft picks need a chance to play against established veterans so management can assess their playing progress. And now and then, there are those surprise breakthrough players that end up sticking. For example, look at Tobias Enstrom in Atlanta last season. He used the pre-season practices and schedule to earn a spot on the roster. Tyler Kennedy in Pittsburgh is another example, making veteran Mark Recchi expendable.

But the overwhelming number of roster spots have been determined long before the first practice in September. Prospects have auditioned at rookie camps, they have shown their skills to the hockey ops brass many times over through game play of previous campaigns. They have been tested, sent through off-season conditioning programs. GM's get to know them like their sons and daughters. With the exception of a few highly regarded draft picks or free agent signings, the evaluations have already been entered into the computer systems of scouting departments across the league.

So why do teams continue to designate valuable pre-season prep time to players who don't even have a remote chance of cracking a roster spot? Wouldn't it serve teams better in the ultra-competitive NHL to set rosters earlier in training camp?

In other words, why don't more teams around the league strive to determine their opening night rosters as early as possible, leaving additional time to practice systems, power play and penalty killing scenarios, while testing line combinations and defensive pairings in pre-season games?

Last season in the NHL, seven of the 14 non-playoff teams (50%) came within 10 points of making the post-season. That equates to slightly more than 1/2 of a point in the standings each month.

It's a razor thin margin between the last playoff team and the rest of the pack.

Look, I understand that all sorts of variables factor into the success of teams, mainly the level of talent and each team's injury situation. But I also know that team's who fail to make the playoffs often lament the day after a regular season ends about lost opportunities of gaining a point or two back at the start of the season. Teams coming out of training camp will often talk about the need for a fast start.

Doesn't this philosophy begin early in training camp? Aren't teams who use these days as a means for preparing for the start of the season and not so much an evaluation process at a greater advantage than those teams that don't?

Steve Gorten wrote an interesting article on Tuesday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal talking about Florida Panthers general manager Jacques Martin deciding to trim the team's roster by half earlier this week as a way for allowing him to get ready for their season opener a week from Friday at Carolina. 27 players flew back to South Florida after their game on Monday at Montreal. The overwhelming majority of those players will start the season with the team. Now the organization has nine days to concentrate on all facets of their style of play.

"Only having one more (exhibition) game, we feel this is a great chance for our team to get ready for the opener," Martin told the Sun-Sentinal. "We didn't want to bring too many people back."

Taking two points in Raleigh next week, believe it or not, could be the difference between gaining a playoff spot next April and sitting at home in the wide open Southeast Division.

It should be interesting in the coming years to see if more teams incorporate this type of training camp philosophy that purges prospects and fringe players much earlier in the process. After all, based on the parity of today's NHL, it's true that you can't clinch a playoff spot in October.

But you can certainly lose one.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The week prior to the start of the NHL's regular season is traditionally the cut down week as teams try to get towards their roster limits for the start of the season.

This morning, the Atlanta Thrashers made three cuts, sending Joe Motzko, Jordan Lavallee and Junior Lessard to Chicago of the AHL. According to Thrashers head coach John Anderson, Lavallee and Lessard didn't stand out enough to stick around past today.

"I thought they didn't finish checks enough," he said. "We need to see more power out of them because they're big, strong guys. I just didn't see the physical presence that I wanted to see.

"For Lessard, in fairness to him, he hasn't seen all the things we've done as a team and in a system. He struggled with some of the simpler systems. When you're a guy that's on the bubble, you have to be right on. If you want to knock somebody out of a job, you have to look like you know what you are doing all the time, and do the right thing all the time and finish checks. I just didn't see it from either of them. I wish I would have. But at some point, I have to start making decisions."

Earlier this week, the team sent highly touted Angelo Esposito back to his junior team in Montreal, a move the had been anticipated since the start of training camp. Anderson thinks another season in the Quebec League will do great things for Esposito's development.

"There's two types of thoughts on players like him," Anderson analyzed. "One is to keep him up and play him. The other thought is the Gretzky thought. Very early on he (Gretzky) was the best player in Brantford and he was scoring 300 goals a year. And one of the reasons he scored so many goals when he came up is because he saw every situation. This is what we want for Angelo. We want him to be the top dog, the guy who can maybe score 60 goals in junior and see every angle of how to score goals and be the top dog, so when he comes up here, hopefully, he'll be full of confidence and feel really good about himself."

Anderson's early on-ice impressions of Mathieu Schneider:

"He's got his head on a swivel all the time out there. He moves the puck so well. It looks like he's played pro hockey for a little bit. We did some set breakouts today and I told him once and he said no problem. I think he's seen pretty much every breakout."

As for Schneider's ice time in the pre-season, Anderson indicated he'd let his defenseman decide when he's like to see game action. I'm sure he'll play at some point during the pre-season, but my hunch says not until this weekend.

Other notes from today:

Looks like the Thrashers top line continues to feature Ilya Kovalchuk on left wing with Erik Christensen at Center and Jason Williams on Right Wing.

Defensively, Enstrom and Havelid appear to be a lock with Zach Bogosian seeing time with Ron Hainsey and Schneider paired with Nathan Oystrick. The other pairing was Garnet Exelby with rookie Arturs Kulda.

Speaking of Kulda, he took a shot off his foot today and had to sit out a few drills. He returned and seemed to be fine.

The team finished practice, then headed to the locker room for a video session. Anderson doesn't seem all that happy with the players grasp of the new system, which is typical for many teams early in a season incorporating a new head coach. So look for more of these sessions as the season approaches.