Friday, April 4, 2008

Last 10

I was just taking a peek at the current standings, and something really caught my eye. Record in Last 10. The majority of every team's last 10 games have been versus division opponents, so you would think 2 or 3 teams would have winning records, and the opposite have losing records. Don't get me started on how stupid that type of schedule is when only 3 of 8 playoff spots are determined by division winners; I think battling 4 or 5 conference foes, as to compared to 1 or 2 division opponents, leads to a greater chance of non-division teams fighting for the last playoff spots. Who wouldn't want to see a Caps-Flyers game this time of year? But anyway, on to the Last 10....let's take a look at the East:

Pittsburgh 7-2-1 (15 out of 20 possible points)
New Jersey 5-4-1 (11 out of 20 possible points)
NY Rangers 5-3-2 (12 out of 20 possible points)
Philadelphia 5-3-2 (12 out of 20 possible points)
NY Islanders 2-6-2 (6 out of 20 possible points)

Montreal 7-2-1 (15 out of 20 possible points)
Ottawa 4-5-1 (9 out of 20 possible points)
Boston 4-2-4 (12 out of 20 possible points)
Buffalo 6-3-1 (13 out of 20 possible points)
Toronto 5-4-1 (11 out of 20 possible points)

Carolina 6-3-1 (13 out of 20 possible points)
Washington 9-1-0 (18 out of 20 possible points)
Florida 6-3-1 (13 out of 20 possible points)
Atlanta 3-7-0 (6 out of 20 possible points)
Tampa Bay 3-6-1 (7 out of 20 possible points)

So, even though things have come down to the last game of the season, with the exception of Washington, things really haven't changed all that much. If you're sitting in 9th or 10th, trailing by a few points, it's near impossible to leapfrog anyone, even if you're playing decent hockey and a few games above .500. If you're chasing, you basically have to win out the last 10, because almost everyone is going to get 10 points or better, thanks to the bonus point system. How all games don't have the same potential point total is beyond me. So this is what we get. Perceived "parity" and playoff "races", and playoff spots determined by a bonus point awarded for losing in OT or winning a skills competition.

Call me bitter because the Sabres missed this year, but the logic isn't flawed, the reasons are clear, and while many fans have engaged in good discussion for solving this problem, the league seems to be oblivious to our frustrations. My patience is wearing thin Mr. Bettman.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Matt Leinart

Seriously? People are going to make a big deal out of this? This guy should be given a medal. I'll probably be proven wrong, seeing that having some hot college girls in your hot tub is much worse than, oh let's see: manslaughter, DUI's, domestic abuse, drug possession, gun possession, dog fighting, and general thugery (see Adam Jones). Oh, don't forget murder. I'd rather run Matty for getting snapped in a pic holding a beer bong. Shame! I suppose once you graduate you have to stop having fun. I mean, at 25, he should be more worried about what Phoenix retirement community he'll live in. WTF?! If he wasn't nailing hot co-eds 24/7 I'd be disappointed. Who wouldn't want to be him? (Well, minus the baby in L.A., but I suppose that can't be all too horrible.) And for all of you who want to point out that those girls may be underage: Blow me. If you can drive a car, vote, and get your ass shipped to war, you should be allowed to have a beer. In fact, make them all 18. I don't need asshole 16 year olds playing bumper cars on the thruway anyway. Now I'm really pissed. What the F.

Balsa wood (aka Composite) sticks

Someone please explain to me how this works: Stick technology is to the point of composite one-piece sticks. Carbon fiber, kevlar, graphite, etc. For me and you, these sticks can cost up to $240. I'm sure most NHL players get theirs for free, and I'll assume major college programs include sticks in their budgets. AND YET THEY BLOW UP! You would think these things come with self destruct buttons. So how is it that with all this technology to create lightweight composite one-piece sticks, which generate greater torque, etc., they can't make them just a bit stronger and hold up to a slapper from the point? Is this some conspiracy by the manufacturers to sell more sticks?

Listen, I always liked wood over an aluminum shaft/wood blade. I never liked the flex or kick point of a 2-piece. I played with wood Flarrow sticks for years, and shot harder and more accurate than with any 2-piece, even the newer composite shafts. But I've made the switch to one-piece composite sticks, mainly because in the pickup hockey I play a composite 1-piece will last me a year or so, and I've received a few as gifts. And they are nice. But I'm not out there winding up taking slap shots left and right, wondering when my stick is going to snap in two and lead to a turn over. I understand why Gretzky has commented on not liking these things. You see way too many turnovers and players playing without a stick all because these sticks shatter much too frequently. I understand that players are bigger and stronger, and the loading on the shaft will continue to increase. Maybe wood sticks wouldn't be able to hold up to these increased strains either. But how is it that the technology is there to make these sticks light and "responsive", but not durable? Is it a fair tradeoff? Is the stickhandling/passing/shooting that much better to justify the increased lost scoring chances? You tell me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

3 Point Games and the Skills Competition (aka Shootout)

I love this time of year. Races for playoff spots and final positioning. Tons of meaningful games. Exciting hockey. But I can't help but be completely annoyed by the current point system and OT/shootout format used by the NHL. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think twice about it last season, as Buffalo dominated the league and won the President's Trophy, all while going 10-4 in the shootout. I'll even admit that I used to hate ties, and was in favor of the change to 4 on 4 OT and the shootout. But if this season has given me anything, it's a new perspective on just how important every point is, and how cheap that bonus point for a shoutout win is.

I know: the standings probably wouldn't end up all that different, and teams like Buffalo will have had 82 chances to get enough points to make the playoffs, just like everybody else. And while they could easily be right in the thick of things by getting the job done during regulation, or even OT, in a handful of games recently, it's a tough pill to swallow knowing they lost 9 points to other teams, some of them contenders, through a skills competition. I enjoy the shootout as entertainment; but it belongs in the All-Star game as a showcase and exhibition of the game's best talents. I'd also argue that if Buffalo were 9-3 this year in the shoutout, and in a playoff spot, they'd be so as basically the same flawed team who's underperformed all season. Do I want a skills competition allowing a lesser quality team a chance to make the playoffs? A team who during the course of regular play, and 12 OT's, wasn't good enough to get the points needed to make the playoffs? Do I want another 2006-2007 Islanders team getting in on the last shot in a shootout in the last game of the year? No, no, and no. I do not want the NFL's version of parity, where medicore .500 teams are playoff contenders.

So, even though I know that the shootout is here to stay as long as Mr. Bettman and his NBA marketing genius is still running this joke of a league, I'll hold out hope that someone comes to their senses and gets rid of the shootout. Give me a 10 minute four on four OT with 2 points for the winner and 1 for the loser or tie, to help ensure an exciting OT instead of teams just playing for the tie. My biggest problem with the old ties was five minutes of boring OT, with teams (especially the visitor) ensuring themselves of a point. I still don't like the 3-point game, but there needs to be incentive to win, unless it's 2 for a win and 0 for a tie or loss, which I don't see ever happening. But please, just allow games to be won or lost based on actually hockey, and not a skills competition.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ryan Miller

Often a topic of conversation among hockey fans here in Buffalo, along with local media, and possibly throughout the league as well, I have a few thoughts about Ryan Miller.

First off, I like Ryan Miller. For the most part I think he's done a solid job in net for the Sabres. I will do my best to detach myself as a Sabres fan and look at the realities facing this team in the coming year.

Ryan Miller statistically is an average goaltender. He falls in the middle of the pack in GAA and save percentage. However, without looking at the numbers, that can be misleading. While not always, or even often, the case, it's possible for the #1 goalie to have a .935 save percentage, and the #20 goalie to have a .925. Same for GAA. That's a difference of 1 goal in 100 shots. Hardly a huge difference. My point is that of any position, the numbers don't give nearly the whole picture in terms of a goalie's "productivity" or effectiveness. Winning percentage to me is important. Do you give your team a chance to win every night?

That being said, I think Miller is a goalie that you can win with. Maybe even win the Cup. He's not likely to steal 2 or 3 games to win a series for you. But with a team playing decent hockey in front of him he makes most of the saves he's supposed to. He will let in a "soft" goal here and there, but I don't need, nor expect him, to be perfect every night. I need him to be steady and solid. Which I think for the most part he's accomplished. There are not that many "elite" goaltenders who can consistently play great hockey with a bad team in front of them.

That has been the biggest problem this year I think. The team has not played well in front of him. Defensively the Sabres have just not played consistently well enough game to game, and even period to period. And it's shown. There have been way too many times where I've said, "I'd like to see him make that save, but how many times do they expect him to bail them out of a bad play?" Tuesday's Ottawa game is a prime example. Yes, througout the season there were saves he could have, and should have, made, and in instances could have changed the momentum of a game or kept them in a game. But overall he has been steady, and that's all I need.

So what now? What does Buffalo's front office do next? Given their track record, nothing. However, I think they realize the importance and value of a decent goaltender, and will make an offer. I'm curious to see what transpires from the Miller camp. I can only imagine what influence the NHLPA and his agent will try to impart during negotiations (ala Brian Campbell). I feel Miller not signing and looking to end up in Detroit is a very real possibility. I would hope that the Sabres at least look into what they could get in return. Goatending prospects in the organization look good; Enroth is supposedly looking great over in Sweden. My concern is timeline. Buffalo likes to let their prospects develop before jumping to the NHL. I think that strategy has worked for the most part. Miller, Vanek, Campbell, Pominville, Stafford, Paille, etc. have all had time in Rochester and Cunnyworth has done a tremendous job preparing them for the NHL. But are the Sabres prepared to incur the wrath of their fan base if they trade or let Miller go and in effect "rebuild" for a year or two? It's not looking like there will be any better options than Miller available as free agents. Just as unlikely for them to trade for a goaltender, and who's going to give up a comparable netminder? What would be the cost?

So, as objectively as I can, I think the best course of action for the Sabres is to get a deal done
this offseason to extend Miller's contract. You're probably looking at $6M-$6.5M, 5-6 years. Then focus on tweaking the roster just enough to give them a spark to perform better next season. I think this team has a lot of talent, enough to have easily made the playoffs this year. I feel they badly underperformed and lacked real leadership, someone who can take control of the dressing room and get these guys to wake up and play with some fire.

The sky is not falling.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Did that just happen?

That just can not happen. Buffalo up 2 in the 3rd on the PP and you give up a shorty? Unacceptable. I could go on a rant about how 5 guys were on one side of the ice (and Paetsch no where near his RD position) when Shubert came down the left wing all alone and beat Miller with a perfect shot. Or how I'd like to see Miller's glove make a save. Or why their points can't seem to get pucks through and on net. Or why a guy like Alfredsson (ala Ovechkin) doesn't have someone glued to him all night. Or hoping Miller gets across and makes the save on the SH 2-1. Or another perfect shot that had eyes to beat Miller off the crossbar. Or why Alfredsson is wide open in the slot with our center watching the puck behind the net. Or how Alfredsson made Tallinder look stupid with that hit the brakes, spin, get to the slot, and fire a 20 footer past Miller. Or better yet where their offense whent after the SH goal against. I could rant about things like that, but I won't.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Yo.....yo home slice!

That sums it up pretty good Rocco......not much else. Just got done watching some hockey (great fanatsy night again...championship week) and I must say that I really want Washington to get into the playoffs. No clue how Boston wins, but they did again against a hot Leafs team.

Observations from tonight:

1) Caps made a HUGE deal to get Huet at the deadline. That deal may have really advanced the franchise a few years and makes them contenders soon. With Green to jump in from the D spot and Backstrom/Ovechkin up front, they really have a bright future.

2) Rangers maybe winning a lot lately and I love them as a fan, they are just not that good. They need Henrik to be an animal if they want any chance to represent the East. Even then, I am not sure they can handle the Montreal. They are young, fast and deadly on the PP.

3) The NHL really needs to address the point system. Just not the best way to do it. We can debate for awhile on what works best, but many systems are better than this one.