Saturday, July 31, 2010

Video from Blackhawks Convention, day 2 (CSN)

Blackhawks Convention opening night fun and information


I do have many more pictures and video from the opening night, but I'll leave you with just a few for now. (I videoed the complete player/alumni/front office introductions, but it's a sizable file and it keeps stalling out mid-upload.)

Current team roster introductions as given during the Opening Ceremony:

25 - Viktor Stalberg
32 - John Scott
37 - Nick Leddy
28 - Jake Dowell
42 - Shawn Lalonde
12 - Kyle Beach
20 - Jack Skille
29 - Bryan Bickell
4 - Niklas Hjalmarsson
22 - Troy Brouwer
36 - Dave Bolland
51 - Brian Campbell
7 - Brent Seabrook
10 - Patrick Sharp
2 - Duncan Keith
88 - Patrick Kane
19 - Jonathan Toews

Not at Convention: Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi



Fans having fun as they wait for the Second City event

Note: video quality for the following videos is not great. I wasn't in the main ballroom, so I was filming off an auxiliary video feed.

Longtime fans said it just didn't feel quite the same without Pat Foley calling the games, so the team had Foley call that fateful Stanley Cup-winning goal...




And everybody says they wanted to see the red lamp go on after Patrick Kane's Stanley Cup-winning goal. Well, tonight, everybody got that opportunity to see Kane light the lamp:




The other big event of the night was the Second City production with several team players. The Second City crew worked their improv magic, and Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer and Brent Seabrook all lent a hand:



Troy Brouwer



Patrick Sharp during a skit



Troy Brouwer, Duncan Keith



Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp



Videos from the opening night of the Convention (CSN)




Jonathan Toews greets the crowd

Friday, July 30, 2010

Niemi's arbitration case is heard; now it's hurry up and wait

Blackhawks fans are looking at each other in amazement and asking each other, "How did it come to this?"

Antti Niemi's arbitration case was heard this morning in Toronto. The Finnish goalie was present; he flew in specifically for the hearing before heading back to his home country. According to an article in the Sun-Times tonight, Niemi wasn't going to be at this weekend's upcoming Blackhawks Convention anyway, but if the timing of the arbitration hearing was just a day or two earlier, fans would know who the 2010-11 starter goalie is going to be.

ViewFromMySeats.com wrote a very good article today about what it would feel like to go through arbitration. Whoever took the other party to arbitration goes first, and one party tries to sell themselves (generally the player) while the other party (usually the team) tries to convince the arbitrator that the guy isn't worth as much money as he wants. The two look at each other sheepishly - the player for daring to wanting a raise, and the team for wanting to keep the player but having to tear them down.

What fun.

Everybody wants Niemi to stay a Blackhawk. Niemi has said he wants it, his agent wants it, the team wants it, the fans want it.

So why wasn't a deal struck before the arbitration hearing?

Niemi and his agent, Bill Zito, both know the Blackhawks are hard-strapped against salary cap restraints. The team has steadily shed salary through trades or simply not re-signing since winning the Cup on June 9th: Byfuglien. Eager. Sopel. Versteeg. Burish. Fraser. Madden. All important parts of the winning team; all popular with fans; now scattered to other teams around the league. And unless some team suddenly decided they wanted to do the Blackhawks a huge favor by taking on the remainder of Brian Campbell's sizeable $7.1M/yr contract - which would give the Blackhawks breathing room in more ways than one - there's not too much more salary that the team can get rid of before it faces the risk of not being able to field a full team on the ice next season. The team currently consists of a core of high-salary players (Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, Seabrook, Campbell, Sharp, Bolland, Hjalmarsson) with a couple mid-range players (Kopecky, Brouwer) and a handful of bargain players to fill out the roster.

They still need a goalie and a few more regular skaters.

The two key players that fans and sports writers most expected the Blackhawks to re-sign were Niemi and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Unfortunately, in choosing to pursue Niemi's contract first, the team ended up being surprised in the middle of training camp by the announcement an offer sheet from San Jose for Hjalmarsson - which the 23-year-old Swede signed to the tune of $3.5M/yr for 4 years.

Just a few days earlier, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman had confidently told the press that both Hjalmarsson and Niemi weren't going anywhere. Imagine if the Blackhawks had managed to lock in Hjalmarsson for $2.5-$3M/year instead of the $3.5M/year that San Jose forced on the team; they would probably have locked in both Hjalmarsson and Niemi by now. The team might not given Niemi as much as he/his agent were looking for, but it could've been a better raise than the suggestion of $2M that has been floating around in the rumor mills over the past several days.

Niemi's situation is unique. Here's a player who was driving his team's Zamboni in Finland to make ends meet just three years ago. His agent got NHL teams interested in him by promoting him by DVD. He beat out Corey Crawford for the backup goalie position and eventually bested Cristobal Huet for the starter position. He finished out the season with less than half a season worth of regular-season games played (39) yet 7 shutouts. He was just the 4th rookie goalie to win the Cup, with a 16-6 record that included 2 more shutouts.

His salary for the 2009-10 season was $826,875 - a very respectable figure for a rookie player. Tripling that would take it to $2.48M; quadrupling it would bring it to $3.31M. (Hjalmarsson's 2009-10 salary by comparison was $666K and his new $3.5M/yr is more than quintupling it.)

The Blackhawks simply can't afford that kind of raise. Most speculate that $2-$2.5M for Niemi would be comfortable; $2.5-$3M a squeeze but doable; and anything over $3M just not possible.

Niemi knows it; Zito knows it. Every hockey fan out there with a CapGeek bookmarked in their browser knows it.

So if Niemi wants to stay a Blackhawk so badly, why hasn't he given the team that made him famous, a record-maker (first Finnish goalie to win the Cup; just the 4th rookie), a Stanley Cup ring in his first full year in the NHL, and given him the chance to prove himself, a 1-year salary break? So that next year, once he's proven himself again and the Blackhawks have gotten past their salary cap crunch, he would actually be in a far better position to negotiate both a larger salary figure and a longer-term contract?

Only Niemi and his agent could answer that.

Fans were baffled to hear that Niemi was taking the team to arbitration. It's probably been two dozen years or more since a Stanley Cup-winning goalie wasn't with the same team the following season. It simply doesn't happen that often. Despite the team's salary cap issues (and other apparent money issues), the Hawks want to retain his services.

Niemi has said next to nothing in the press, and his agent hasn't said much more. In fact, Zito has made it sound like it's entirely the team's issue to cough up a larger figure - or possibly a longer contract, or both.

The goalie market at this point is tight. Most teams have their #1s and backups in place, although there have certainly been plenty of rumors about which teams might be willing to make room on the roster if Niemi became available as a UFA. The two goalies considered best in the remaining UFA market - Jose Theodore (formerly with the Capitals) and Marty Turco (career-long Stars goalie) are both in their mid-30s, and either would have to take a sizeable reduction in salary to fit within the Blackhawks salary cap picture. But it's a good bet that either would take it to get another year or two in the NHL on the defending champions of Lord Stanley's fabled chalice. Neither has ever won the Cup, so it would also give either of them a chance on a team that will still be contenders in 2011, even if they're not quite the same team as they were in 2010.

Stan Bowman has said that the Blackhawks have mapped out a variety of decisions based on the arbitration outcome, which should be announced Saturday, if not earlier.

It'll be a long wait.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A busy week in Chicago

The Blackhawks Convention is this weekend, Friday-Sunday. CSN Chicago has announced that it will be broadcasting the opening ceremonies at 5pm CT, as well as posting live updates throughout the first evening of the convention. 

As I will be attending the Convention, I will have pictures and updates throughout the weekend.

Foremost in a lot of fans' minds as the Convention looms near (aside from which players will be appearing) is: are we going to hear an announcement about who the team's goalie will be for the 2010-11 season? Antti Niemi's arbitration hearing takes place this Thursday morning, July 29th at 8am CDT - will he and the team work out a contract before the hearing? Or will the team let the arbitration hearing go on and see how the dice roll? There hasn't been any word out about what's been offered or refused, so the only thing we can assume is that each party went back and forth on this and couldn't find a mutual central ground. We'll see. 

It's a good bet that the team would like to announce who the team goalie is going to be at the Convention, no matter what happens.

Former Blackhawks and recent trades to the Atlanta Thrashers, Ben Eager and Andrew Ladd, will also be having their own arbitration hearings within the next week.



In other news, defenseman Nick Leddy, who made such a splash at the Prospects Camp earlier this month, has signed a 3-year, $2.7M contract with the Blackhawks. That's a $900K cap hit, and he's still young - 19 - so I wouldn't expect him to be in the NHL this fall.

If Leddy makes a good enough impression at training camp, he'd be more likely to start out the season in Rockford, where he could probably get re-paired with Shawn Lalonde. The two looked very promising in Prospects Camp together - perhaps one day in the future we'll be talking about "Leddy and Lalonde" the way we talk about "Keith and Seabrook" now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Training Festival - Saturday 9/18


Tickets for the 2010 Blackhawks Training Camp Festival are now on sale! Just $5. Seats are sold general admission by tier (100, 200, 300). 100 level tickets are currently sold out, and they've started selling 200 level tickets.

Training Camp is Saturday, September 18th, from 8am-2pm at the United Center.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review of the new Stanley Cup 2010 DVD

The new Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup 2010 Champions DVD finally came out this week. This is, of course, the DVD that was already on sale on shop.NHL.com right about the same moment as Jonathan Toews was laying his first kiss on that famous silver trophy - which means fans had to wait about six weeks for it to arrive.

Has it been worth it? As a Blackhawks fan, sure. It's a condensed version of the 2010 post-season, boiled down to a couple hours worth of footage. It consists of the main "movie", and then includes bonus footage: the 2006 draft with Jonathan Toews, the 2007 draft with Patrick Kane, behind-the-scenes with the Cup, locker room celebration footage, and more coverage from the parade.

Watching the movie part is very enjoyable, especially as a Hawks fan; NHL studios did a good job of integrating game footage - both previously seen and extra; player, Coach Q, alumni, and front office interviews; and a voiceover narration. Player interviews included Toews, Kane, Byfuglien, Seabrook, Sharp, Fraser, Bolland, Versteeg, Ladd, and Burish. It's a touch bittersweet to know a few of those players got traded before the celebrations had even really cooled off, but it's good to see them on the DVD. It's fun to see more clips that didn't make it onto game-night broadcasts, both on and off the ice.

In fact, I wish there had been a lot more player interviews interspersed in the movie part - I wanted to see every single player on the team get some face time, because every single one of them contributed to the team hoisting the Cup. I wanted to see Hossa talk about his game 5-winning goal; I wanted to see Niemi talk about what it was like playing as a rookie in the Big Hockey Show; I wanted a chance to see all the players talk. 

The extra stuff was interesting. I liked seeing the locker room celebration, the interview with the Keeper of the Cup, and parade coverage. It was interesting to compare Toews and Kane's draft pieces. When you watch him, Toews is so composed and mature, you're forgetting this kid is only 18 or 19. Comfortable and un-self-conscious in front of the camera; rock-steady. It's kind of amazing when you realize Toews was chosen third of his draft class (behind Erik Johnson and Jordan Staal) - and he's the only one of his draft class to so far be elected as an NHL All-Star. And he's only going to get more exciting to watch - sometimes it's hard to remember that "Captain Serious" is only 22 and has plenty of years of growth as a player ahead of him.

Had I been designing this DVD, I would've made it a 3-disc DVD. The first two discs would've been the movie, plus the series-clinching games (Game 6 vs. Nashville; game 6 vs Vancouver; game 4 vs San Jose; game 6 vs Philadelphia). Disc three would've been all extras - Blackhawks game videos and BHTV videos; extra player interviews; the materials included as bonus material on the DVD; whatever else kind of fun extras could fit on there.

Maybe the NHL could create a deluxe (non-Blue Ray), extended edition.


EDIT 7/24 - thanks Big Apple Blackhawks for the heads-up; Amazon is listing an extended, 4-disc version of the Stanley Cup Champions DVD, due out October 5th. If the NHL is smart, since the United Center banner-raising ceremony is October 9th, they should push it back a week, and add footage of the ceremony. We'll see!
 
* * * 

Speaking of moments in Blackhawks history, Jeremy Roenick has been named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. A lot of old-time Blackhawks fans will tell you they feel Roenick should've been a Blackhawk for his whole career; you still see plenty of fans walking around in a 'ROENICK 27' jersey at games.



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Women & Hockey, part 3: What makes hockey special

The following are a mix of answers to two questions: "Is there any particular memory/reason that sticks out as to why you became interested in hockey?" and "All time best hockey memory for you?"

Because a lot of respondents said that their favorite memories of the game were tied into the same thing(s) that first turned them on to hockey, I'm sharing a mix of the answers here. The stories all stand on their own, so they are quoted direct from my interviews.
 *  *  *  *  *

"I don’t know how my love for the game started, probably because I was so young, but what I DO remember is playing the game with scraped up kneepads on the driveway with my dad, always like it was game seven and the Cup was being polished as we played. I have always been drawn to the sport, the fans, the players, and the drama of it all. What an exciting sport to devote myself to!" - Meg

"Riding the Zamboni before a game started in 1994 at the United Center. It also happened to be the very first regular season game at the United Center. " - Emily

"It started off with watching Hockey Night in Canada with my family when we got CBC on our TV. My dad lived in Montreal for a bit as a kid, so he was a Habs fan. What really sticks out to me, though, is 7 years ago a city near by me got a WHL hockey team, and in their expansion season they went all the way to the WHL finals. After attending the series clinching game 6 of the WHL Western Conference semi-finals between the Everett Silvertips/Vancouver Giants I fell in love with the team & hockey. I started listening to the games & radio show on the local AM radio station, collecting newspapers for the articles about the team, etc, like the sports nerd I am. Junior hockey helped me keep my hockey love alive and survive the NHL lockout." - Hannah

"November 30, 2000, Hawks got shut out 0-3 by the Predators - I got engaged at the end of the first period on the scoreboard." - Renia

"I took up playing in-line hockey in my home town (about 8 hours from an ice rink in country Australia). Fell in love with playing, one day before going to training on a Sunday afternoon, I turned on the tv, flicked through pay tv channels and stumbled across ice hockey. It was game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and within a minute, Paul Kariya was knocked unconscious by Scott Stevens. You could see him skitter across the ice, you could see the exact moment he regained consciousness as breath fogged his visor. Eleven minutes later he came back and scored, and I was hopelessly and forever hooked on the sport of hockey." - Sasky

"One of the most meaningful memories I've ever had would be when the Detroit Red Wings won the cup in 1998 and presented the cup to Vladimir Konstantinov. It was a very emotional moment for everyone here in Detroit." - Jennifer

"It's hard to beat the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup as my favorite memory.  But that's the obvious answer so I'll go with this:  I mentioned that my brother played hockey competitively for 16 years, making it all the way to the AAA level before deciding, at age 19, that he didn't want to play anymore (that definitely was NOT my best hockey memory).  But for the sixteen years that he did play, my family was inseparable.  Hockey - my brother's team and the Blackhawks - kept us together.  We all (my parents, my younger sister, and my hockey-playing brother) piled into our car for all of his practices and games.  We missed days of school to drive to places like Fraser, Michigan, and Affton, Missouri, for weekend youth hockey tournaments.  Those weekends away were our family vacations but we loved it!  We had so much fun, and most of the boys had sisters the same age as my sister and me, so we all were BFF, too.  It seemed that the Blackhawks had a lot of road games on Saturday nights back then, too, and they were televised.  So it became our family ritual on Saturday nights to have Dad make homemade pizza (dough, sauce, everything); we'd have that for dinner, watch 'Dance Fever', and then wait for the Blackhawks game to come on.  Those were the days." - Francesca

"I mean this playoff run for the Flyers was amazing and something I will never forget. One of my favorite hockey memories comes from the '97 Flyers playoff  Game 4 ECF run when Eric Lindros scored the GWG with under 6 seconds left vs a Gretzky lead Rangers team. Flyers went on the win series and it was also the last playoff game played in Madison Square Garden till after lock-out." - Kali

"[My husband] Frank  was watching the Rangers and Washington in the 2nd round of the 1994 playoffs - we were living in the NY area and Frank was a Rangers fan.  I was hanging out with him, but not watching the game, as I did not particularly like hockey then. I think it's because my previous boyfriend, who tried to get me interested in the sport, was a Devils fan.  Frank stared going nuts, laughing and saying "I can't believe this!!", so I looked up to watch the replay of Esa Tikkanen kiss an opponent on the nose.  Apparently they were getting into some scrap and the guy was going nose-to-nose with Tikkanen, who just leaned over and smooched him on the nose.  The guy did not know how to react, and it was hilarious!  So I started watching (hockey).  The Rangers beat Washington and then faced the Devils in one of the most exciting playoff series -- a couple of triple-overtimes, Messier guaranteeing a win and then getting a hat trick, game 7 won in double-overtime." - Laurie

"Probably any number of the trips I've taken to see hockey games. Driving to Phoenix from Denver  to see the Bruins play the Coyotes was insanity (15 hours each way, I was in Phoenix for a grand total of 10 hours), Epic December in Chicago was AMAZING (I got to see my team practice at Johnny's Ice House!), but yeah, all the travelling and all the great people I've met are a huge key part of my favorite hockey-related memories." - Sarah

"My best hockey memory comes from college. Our school, University of Alabama in Huntsville, beat Providence College at home. That victory caught the attention of NBC Nightly News, who sent a reporter to do a feature about the team. I produced a feature of the feature (still with me?), which aired on our local newscast the same night the NBC feature aired on Nightly News. I also have fond memories of the Penguins' 3 Stanley Cup victories." - Su

"If you had asked me this a week ago [before the Stanley Cup win], it would be totally different. Today, it would be touching the Cup the night (or I suppose early morning after) the Blackhawks won it, and being able to thank the players and management. Before then, it would probably be a tie between celebrating the Chicago Wolves Turner Cup victory in Grand Rapids with many players that I had by then befriended, and having the chance to interview Bob Probert for a local newspaper for a column I wrote when I was 11, which changed my life in MANY ways, including allowing me to realize how accessible hockey was." - Alexa


*  *  *  *  * 


Female or male, please feel free to share your own favorite hockey stories below! 

On older Patrick Sharp video from NHLPA.com

BHTV videos from yesterday's DVD premiere



Patrick Sharp



Dave Bolland



Brian Campbell



Stan Bowman


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And from Fox Chicago, an interview with Dave Bolland.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pictures from the Stanley Cup DVD premiere at Navy Pier, 7/19


Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito were all on hand for the premiere of the "Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup 2010 Champions" DVD. Campbell, Bolland and Sharp will also be doing signings around Chicago the next few days.



Crowds at the IMAX



Brian Campbell



Dave Bolland



Patrick Sharp

I could tell when Sharp arrived, because a big squeal went up from the girls at the front of the crowd.  (Only a few days left til he's married, ladies, sorry!) Also, for those who keep asking why this pic is in B&W when the rest are in color: due to where I was standing, I really didn't get any good, clear shots of him. Every time I had a good shot lined up, this guy about four feet in front of me would manage to move and block it, so this was the only picture that came out mostly decent/full view of face, but too dark in color. After playing around with it in Photoshop Elements for a while, I decided it looked best in B&W and I was able to up the contrast a bit to make it more visible as well.



Tony Esposito



Stan Mikita

* * * * *

Later, Patrick Sharp was at the Best Buy at North and Clyborne for a midnight signing/release of the new DVDs. (see link above for Campbell and Bolland's signing dates/locations) He showed up a bit early, they got the line moving, and with strict rules in place - limit 2 DVDs per customer; only those DVDs would be signed - the line flew. The line that was wrapped all the way around the building (and it's a big building) was almost done by 12:30 am.



Just 10 days til the Blackhawks Convention!

Women & Hockey, part 2 - Why women like hockey, and what they don't like

No big surprise: female fans love hockey for the same reasons that men do: the fast pace, the excitement, the passion, and yes - even the physicality of the game. Beyond that, female fans mentioned the "down to earth" nature and accessibility of the players, the sense of family, and - like martial arts - the skills learned from hockey that carry over to daily life.

When asked to discuss what they liked best about the game, less than 5% of the respondents mentioned hockey players' looks, and it was entirely in passing - i.e., "it doesn't hurt, but it's definitely not what I'm going to the game for." If anything, the women all discussed details about the game and what made it so exciting.

"It's the most exciting game around. Also, when I first got into hockey, it was not mainstream at all. I liked being one of a few people who knew anything about the sport. Even more, I like(d) being one of only a few females who could talk hockey and PLAY hockey. I kind of took ownership of the sport and haven't given it up yet." - Francesca

"I wish I could explain what I like most about hockey why I keep coming back to it, becuase then maybe I'd look a lot more sane than I do when I flail my arms around and try and explain it. The action, the skill level, the speed, it keeps my attention, draws me in. There's team work, there's loyalty and passion and fire. Everything that's great about sport all in one game." - Sasky

"It's fast-paced and physical. Goals aren't rare, but the scores don't usually end up 11-10 or something. I love the teamwork involved...the idea of sticking up for teammates if they are hit hard, of role players making a difference even if they are under the radar. My favorite plays are the huge hits." - Stephanie

"I love just about everything about the sport! I like how no two games are ever the same, even if the score winds up that way. I like how I can sit through sixty minutes of play, an hour worth of intermission reports, an OT and a shootout and somehow find myself more engaged the longer I spend sitting in front of the T.V! I like the players, I like the fans, I like the history, I like the tradition, I like the superstition, I like the excitement that looking at my calendar and seeing '[team] @ Hawks - 7PM CSN+' brings." - Meg

"I love that unlike all the other sports the best team will not necessarily win. There are so many factors can influence a game. The penalty kill is my favorite aspect of the game. I like the game holds players accountable for their actions and that it forces players to overcome adversity." - Kim

"The game itself is fast paced and exciting. It takes a lot of skill, some luck and good refereeing. Most players seem very down to earth, unlike some other sports. It is also a sport I love to be in person for or watch on TV (yes we subscribe to Versus! and the Hockey Channel). With both my husband playing and my son learning, I like that it is a household sport now. Even on local levels, the hockey clubs are very family oriented. A girl I knew from high school had her 12 year old son killed by a car (who was a goalie for his team) and their club held a fund raiser for the family. As heart-breaking as the whole situation was, the club was there to support them." - Renia

Boiled down: it's not that women don't appreciate seeing some eye candy, but let's face it: with all-over protective shields/padding, helmets and face guards, your average female fan isn't coming to games with drooling over the players as their first priority. The only thing clearly on display during a game is the player's skills and abilities.

What do women dislike about the same sport? The same things you'd hear complaints about from the men, of course - inconsistent refereeing; blind side hits; and dirty players. As for fighting, women tend to be split down the middle - some enjoy it and call it "part of the game", others call it "unnecessary".

Most women fans seem to think that the NHL is kind of missing the boat when it comes to understanding why the majority of female fans like the sport. When asked "How do you think the NHL's approach to female fans has improved over the past several years?", there was more than one response along the lines of, "Has the NHL done much to appeal to female fans specifically? Because if so, I missed it."

It is interesting that the Washington Capitals felt the need to make a distinction between the sexes for their fans, creating the Club Scarlet, a female fan club for the Caps. (Puck Daddy gently mocked the concept, asking, "Capitals all-female fan club: Isn't it time men were objectified?") Perhaps this kind of fan club can help ease newer female fans into the sport, but it certainly shouldn't be the blueprint for approaching all female fans.

There is no doubt that NHL marketing has improved in general over the last several years, especially post-lockout. Taking a page from their counterparts in the NFL and MLB, the sport has received a complete facelift. NHL fans are among the most net-savvy among professional sports teams; and combined with today's media-smart audiences, the NHL has been crafting a very fan-friendly internet presence, combined with in-game media which reflects each team's personality.

The demographics for the NHL show a rising interest in the sport from female fans. Ten years ago, female fans made up more than 41% of the fan base; it fell below 27%, and is now back to 35% and rising. The bulk of the NHL's fans are 24-54 (average age 44.1), with at least some college education, and more than 65% of the NHL fanbase earns over $60K/year. Women's spending power is on the rise as well, so between those two factors, you would expect the NHL to want to figure out how to better appeal to that share of the fan base.

Hockey never had a need for cheerleaders, but several years ago, hockey fans for several teams got introduced to their team's "Ice Crew" or "Ice Girls" - or whatever the team chose to peg the squad of scantily-clad women whose duties ranged from simply interacting with fans to going out and helping scoop clean the ice throughout the game.

Female fans opinons about these women range from the indifferent - "If a team needs Ice Girls in bikinis to put butts in the seats, they have bigger problems with the team" - to insulted. Those female fans whose teams do not have their own ice crews seemed the most indifferent. Others called them "unnecessary", "degrading", "insulting", and "ridiculous".

Women hockey fans can also definitely have a sense of humor about them, even as they dislike them - as one quipped in conversation, "Hey, I'm not against them - even bimbos need a job."

Ouch!

A couple of sample replies, hitting both ends of the spectrum:

"Honestly, I don't like [ice girls]. I think it gives girls that are interested in hockey a bad name. I don't feel like they're picked for beauty rather than brains, as well. Mostly, as a female hockey fan, I want to be respected for my hockey knowledge and dedication to the team, not looked at like an object and definitely not mistaken for a woman just there to pick up a hockey player. I'm not saying all the ice girls are shallow or anything (I've only met a few), but I don't think they leave people with the right impression of a girl interested in hockey. - Stephanie

"Eh. They’re chicks scooping up ice. People don’t want to watch old fat men do it, I guess. But my question is, if the NHL is willing to objectify women in tiny skirts, knee socks and half-shirts, then why can’t the women fans have a little eye candy as well? Maybe a few shirtless airhead dudes driving the Zambonis?" - Meg

It's obvious that the ice girls are meant to entertain the male portion of the demographics; the majority of ice girl uniforms have gotten progressively skimpier since they were first introduced. A couple of the ice crews wear form-fitting sports gear instead of "cheerleader gear", and one or two teams actually are co-ed.

But even the male fans acknowledge that ice girls are unnecessary - even if they get a kick out of drooling over watching them.

"I'm not paying to see them, but I'm not exactly objecting they're there, you know?" commented a male fan sitting next to me at one of the playoff games.

Speaking of clothing - which is a part of team marketing - women would like to see more variety in what's offered to women. Less than 3% of my respondents said they actually liked the pink or crystal-studded gear that the NHL has rolled out in the past few years, for example.

Every single one, however, noted some variant on two thoughts:

1. The desire to see more "women-sized" clothing - both gear that is better cut and designed to the female form in general, and more plus-sized women's choices. "Hey, I've got hips and boobs," one explained, "and I always have to buy a much larger size than I would prefer to, in order to get it to fit."

2. The desire to see more choices in styles in general, but in team colors. "I don't see why it's so difficult to create some more feminine styles that are in team colors," was a general opinion. A few pointed out the Alyssa Milano-designed items were "a move in the right direction". 

Perhaps it is time for the shop.NHL.com to capitalize on on the kind of engine that Zazzle has: where the customer selects the graphic they like and then puts it on the shirt style and color  they prefer, giving them a wide range of sizes from XS all the way up to 2-6X. This would benefit not only women, but male fans as well.



In general, most women felt that the NHL tends to miss the mark on reaching out to their female fans - although slowly improving, in a haphazard sort of manner. Serious female fans want to be seen as equals to their male counterparts in terms of dedication and knowledge, but they also want to be seen as women while still being treated with respect.

In a growing market that is seeing a larger share of female fans coming to the game than ever before, the NHL needs to make more effort to discover what makes female fans tick, and how to better reach out to them.




More on the "Women & Hockey" story line to follow this week!



Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old Spice, for manly, Stanley-Cup-winning men

In case you missed it earlier this week, Old Spice used real-time responses to the Old Spice Man via their Twitter account and posted them on YouTube. One of the responses was to @NHLBlackhawks's question of what would he do with the Stanley Cup. The response is here:







"... Eexplosive missle bits, the spirit of a mountain ram, and the tail rotor of an Apache helicopter".... priceless. But sorry, Mr. All-Around Great Guy Who Was Strong, but we already have a guy like that on the team, and his name is Mr. Jonathan Toews!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Women & Hockey part 1: Understanding the female hockey fan: An introduction

After polling a number of female hockey fans, it is possible to draw one main conclusion: there is no typical mold to fit female hockey fans into.

Like their male counterparts, female hockey fans are very passionate about their sport. While there is a small minority who fall into the "puckbunny" category, the majority take the sport seriously. They can quote you on par - or better - with the men when it comes to stats, skills, and obscure factoids. They can discuss skating styles, puck handling, know the difference between fore and backchecking.

Female hockey fans come in all ages, sizes, styles. You've got 70-year-old grandmas who learned the sport at their father's knees. You've got teenagers who play hockey with their brothers. You've got moms and widowers and singletons; students and office workers. 

The younger the female fan, the greater the likelihood that she's played some form of competitive ice or street hockey herself. Those 35+ may have played field hockey instead.

In short, the same kind of diversity and passion as you'll find among male hockey fans.

And almost every single one of them can tell you they have had men not take their hockey passion seriously at some point.

Female sport fans have long fought for equal footing, whether it's to be able to play the sport they love, or to be a sports reporter taken seriously for what they bring to the table beyond a perky smile, or just to have their opinions equally regarded.

Maybe it's because women will talk about a lot more than simple statistics or style of play. Men aren't going to discuss who's the hottest player on the team or squeal over a rookie's smile, so they end up dismissing the other opinions that may go with it. It's just natural for women to want to discuss as many aspects of sports as possible. But it doesn't mean they aren't serious about their sports.

Women don't want to be stereotyped when it comes to sports. Those who want pink or sparkling sports gear are far fewer than those who would simply prefer that the NHL and other sports gear providers create gear that has team colors, but cut in more "female-friendly" styles and sizes (i.e., bigger in the bust; designed for curves; women's plus sizes).

Having collected a lot of very interesting stories and opinions, I'm going to share these interviews with you over a few days. I want them to each get attention on their own; I don't want half the stories to get lost within a much longer article.

Earlier this week, I got one of the best compliments possible. "Seriously refreshing to see a girl who knows alot about the sport!" wrote one of my followers on Twitter. "I learn more about the Hawks that I didn't know... because of your blog. To me, it doesn't matter that you're a female!" 

More female sports fans should be taken the same way. It doesn't matter whether they carry the X or Y chromosome, a fan is a fan.


to be continued....


 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Locker room tour at the United Center



If you're a member of the Chicago Standbys, the "Ambassador" level membership includes a locker room tour - as in, the Chicago Blackhawks' locker room. Of course, it'd be wildly cool to have this happen in-season, but the UC is a busy place - and no matter when it happens, it's a thrill nonetheless! I found out when my assigned time would be, and my friend and I made the dash over to the UC at lunch for the tour. 

We were led down into the depths of the UC, down hallways and staircases that you'd normally only get to see if you're a member of the team, staff or press. There's lots of pictures of past UC events on the walls.

Eventually, you get down to the lower concourse that circles the arena below the arena floor level, and walk down the hall that is familiar from all those videos and from on TV, watching the athletes arrive for games. The Blackhawks' and Bulls' locker rooms are not the only ones down there; there are a number of auxiliary ones as well, used for concerts and other events; as well as a workout room, offices, meeting rooms, an x-ray room (gotta keep those athletes in one piece!), and more that we didn't get to see. 

The Bulls and Blackhawks locker rooms are diagonally across the hall from one another. Iconic figures from both teams stare at each other from murals on opposite walls. The Bulls mural has a bit of court floor in it; the Blackhawks one has two columns of shards of sticks (above).



And here, below sections 101-102-103, is the inner sanctum for the Blackhawks, marked by a gleaming door. We're told two rules before going in: don't open any closed doors/drawers, and don't step on the Indian head logo. (Well, if you're a fan, you already know that, right?)

There's a short hall inside the outer door; a short hallway filled with photographs of the iconic trophies of hockey, including of course the Stanley Cup. Each picture has a listing of dates and players who have won it.

I was looking at the one under the picture of the Stanley Cup, which read "1934 1938 1961".  The next time the players walk this short hallway to start the season, that sign will have another date on it.


The Blackhawks shield just inside the locker room. You'll notice that one stick is a regular player stick and the other is a goalie stick; and there's netting in the backdrop.

You see this shield in the "Hit the Ice" video - Seabrook pushes through the inner locker room doors at 0:16 (the area of the locker room w/the Indian head logo would be behind you at this point), and see the shield ahead, then if you turned left, towards the ice, you would see Sharp plucking a stick from a wall frame full of them.


Straight ahead as you enter the locker room is the hallway - the ramp to the ice. This being the off season, the sticks were mostly gone, but you can't help but think of that moment when you're sitting in the arena, waiting for the game to start, and the Jumbotron shows the players striding up that hallway to the team box, and out onto the ice. 


Above the ramp is a sign which proclaims "EARN IT". 

Then there's the room:



(This isn't me. ;))

Not saying a lot about the room itself except that it looks a lot bigger empty than it seems on TV. I'm sure full of some two dozen players, some coaches and a bunch of reporters that it feels quite different, in many ways. But it was still pretty cool to stand there and think about a game day, imagine the energy, think about what it must be like to do something something really fun and exciting that you love for a job, that simultaneously brings excitement and happiness to a lot of people.

Being a rock star would be pretty cool, but on the whole, I'd rather be a hockey player.




More fun with numbers

Just because I enjoy looking at and analyzing these kind of statistics, I took the top 20 goalies in terms of number of games won during the 2009-2010 season, and computed their winning percentage. Sharing it here for those of you who enjoy these kind of things, too.

Some interesting things to note:

- Due to the number of games played (and subsequently won/lost) in the playoffs, there were some minor, 1-place shuffles between regular season win % ranks and combined regular/playoff win % ranks. However, the goalies with the top 4 win percentages remained consistant: 1. Niemi; 2. Theodore; 3. Nabokov; and 4. Bryzgalov.

- Michael Leighton, who made such an impression in the post-season, didn't win enough games in the regular season to qualify in the top 20. (Top 30, yes.) He played 34 regular season games, and combined total of 48 reg/playoff games, going 17-11 in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs for a total of 25-14, giving him a 50% regular season winning record and a 51.2% combined regular/playoff record. He was hot at the right time, but he was far from spectacular.

- Please shut up already about the possibility of bringing in Turco in as a cheap replacement for Niemi. He might show up here cheap, but his winning percentage was abysmal. No matter how good your defensive line is, the goalie is the ultimate and final say about what goes into that net. If the price for all three goalies was exactly the same, I'd pick Niemi first, Theodore second, and somewhere far far down the road, Turco.


reg
season
# wins
rank






Goalie






Team


games
played
(GP)




GP incl
playoffs




Wins
(W)


Wins
incl
PO




Losses
(L)




L incl
PO


win %
reg
season


win %
reg +
playoffs
______________________________________________________________________
17Antti NiemiCHI39614242111766.768.9
15Jose TheodoreWSH47493030141563.861.2
2Evgeni NabokovSJS7186525226336260.5
3Ilya BryzgalovPHX69764545263060.859.2
4Ryan MillerBUF69754343263059.457.3
5Roberto LuongoVAN68804646263258.857.5
8Jimmy HowardDET63754242253258.756
1Martin BrodeurNJD77824646313558.456.1
18Jaroslav HalakMTL45633535182757.855.5
12Pekka RinneNSH58643434212555.253.1
9Marc-Andre FleuryPIT67804444273355.255
19Cristobal HuetCHI48492626181854.253
6Jonathan QuickLAK7278414131355452.6
7Craig AndersonCOL71774040323653.552
16Brian ElliottOTT55593030222452.750.8
14Jonas Hiller *ANA59-30-27-50.8-
13Chris Mason *STL61-30-30-49.2-
11Henrik Lundqvist *NYR73-35-37-47.9-
10Miikka Kiprusoff *CGY73-35-38-47.9-
20Niklas Backstrom *MIN60-26-31-43.3-

* = team did not qualify for playoffs

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can the NHL do anything to help protect fans from brokers?

It's summer, which for hockey fans means a lot of things: the draft, prospect camps, and the anxiety of hearing about trades and re-signings for one's favorite teams.

Beyond the nuts-n-bolts of team organizational points, however, is the other main issue that fans deal with over the summer break: season ticket renewal.

The Blackhawks were not the only team to announce price increases over past years' rates. In perhaps one of the most interesting announcements, the Florida Panthers announced new tiered seat pricing, similar to what you see with most airlines these days.  The earlier you buy your tickets, the better the price. Most games will start at "bronze" level pricing. If a game proves popular, as it draws closer to the game date, the price may rise to "silver" pricing or if demand is high enough, "gold" or "platinum" level pricing.

For a team like Florida, which struggles to meet their arena's capacity, and who has much smaller season ticket holder populations than say, Chicago, Detroit, or any Canadian team, this kind of pricing will likely drive more people to purchase season ticket plans and/or to commit to buying a certain number of tickets as soon as they go on sale. In post-lockout vocabulary, this would drive Florida towards "cost certainty" for the team. In addition to the pricing changes, the Panthers also announced a plan to reduce seating capacity at BankAtlantic Center in an effort to create a "more intimate" atmosphere. The new plan will not remove seating, simply cover up the top several rows at the very top of the arena. (Perhaps the Panthers' new slogan under Dale Tallon could be, "Less seating, more excitement!") If the Panthers' plans increase ticket sales at the BA Center, this is of course a good thing as it helps contribute more money to the league as a whole.

On the other side of the coin are those arenas which frequently or constantly sell out - generally those who boast season ticket sales in the 10,000-14,000+ range. A couple years ago, you would've struggled to have paid fans to come to the Blackhawks' games, but today the United Center is at a 100+ sold-out/over capacity game streak, and counting.  League-wide, the NHL sold nearly 93% total attendance last year - the 3rd highest figure in NHL history.

Just a reminder before we get deeper into the discussion: the NHL is a business. Corporate sponsorship went up 20% in the past season, ad spending went up 37%, revenue from big event platforms (ie. the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) went up 22%, cable and internet NHL-specific subscriptions were up, Shop.NHL.com sales were up by 12%, viewership and ratings were up. Those are the kind of double-digit increases that any company could be proud to boast. 

With all of that being said, how can the NHL best protect their fans when it comes to ticket sales, while still selling as many seats as possible?

Let's face it, we live in a capitalist society, and if the NHL is selling all their seats, they don't really care who buys the tickets, so long as they're sold. They rather sell out the season packages early, and renew as many as possible. Being able to say something like "team X has 14,000 season ticket holders with a 95% renewal rate" is far sexier than begging people to buy your product.

It's a double-edged sword when it comes to fans, however.

To keep a franchise healthy for a long period, you must continuously renew the fan base. When it comes to sports, word of mouth is the best tool you've got. Ask any hockey fan, and the majority will you it was somebody else who got them into the game. Maybe their dad used to bring them to see live games when they were a little kid. Perhaps a cousin plays in a local league. Or the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled around, and their hockey fanatic roommate had the TV turned to the playoffs night after night.

Those fans bring their friends and family to games, and create new fans.

For most fans, season tickets are the pinnacle of their fandom. The most diehard among us wish we could be like Blackhawks season ticket holder Bob Gertenrich, who's been a season ticket holder for 44 years and seen over 2,000 consecutive home games. Most of us can't afford the season packages that run for $4,000+, but the more conservative 300-level tickets are certainly within reach. Depending on the team, season tickets for the least expensive prices can run anywhere from $400-$1,500+. Canadian teams tend to be pricier than their US counterparts.

But especially true for championship teams or consistently solid teams like Detroit, the attrition rate is low. On less-in-demand teams, you may see yearly turnover of 20-30%. In the really good hockey markets, the retention rate is 97-100%.

As season tickets can start around the $500 mark, and soar into the thousands, not everybody can immediately afford to buy a season ticket. Once you decide you can afford it, you put down your deposit and get in line. If your team is very popular, it may be an exceedingly long wait - even 10 years or more.

So how, if you're a fan who wants to buy a season ticket, can you ever have hope of getting a season ticket if your team's renewal rate hovers high in the top 3 percentile?

The problem is that not everybody buying a season ticket is actually using it themselves. There are three kinds of season ticket holders out there:

1. Ticket season holders who actually use the majority/all of their tickets;
2. Ticket season holders who buy extra tickets and use them as an investment, selling the extra tickets to make money;
3. Ticket brokers.

Every team has its rules about ticket sales, but nearly every one lists rules such as "no more than 6 or 8 tickets per customer, per game."

And then there's scalping.

Around a dozen states have a law that makes ticket scalping flat-out illegal. Several states require a special license to be allowed to resell tickets. Connecticut reviewed all states' ticket scalping laws when it took the same topic under review in 2006; view state-by-state guidelines as found in 2006 here.

Even among those states which allow ticket scalping, the rules vary wildly from state to state. Illinois, for example, has restrictions about reselling tickets for over face value, and how far away from an event's venue that tickets may be scalped - and, depending on each state's guidelines, season ticket holders may even lose their status if they violate a venue's resale policies.

The rapid growth of the internet has further facilitated ticket scalping through the rise of regulated, tax-paying websites such as StubHub and TicketsNow that make their business entirely by buying up huge bulks of tickets and selling them at sizeable profits. These companies take a risk in the hopes of capitalizing on a significant gain in the future.

The problem with this is that instead of the NHL and its teams controlling the market and its prices, fans are left at the mercy of both brokers, and those people who choose to buy extra season tickets as "investments".

Unfortunately, little to nothing is ever done about ticket scalping procedures not following the law. Generally, if somebody is surfing a site like StubHub or Craigslist looking for tickets, it's because they're desperate to get their hands on tickets, and are willing to pay more - much more - playing right into the brokers' open hands.

During the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, several news stories arose not just in Chicago but in other playoff markets with complaints about tickets being resold twice. Fans would buy the tickets from one source (say, TicketExchange) but another fan would by the same ticket through an external source such as StubHub. Only the first fan to arrive at the stadium would be permitted into the arena; the second fan would be turned away, being told that their ticket had already been scanned.

And as frenzied demand rose in Chicago, it was tough for fans to stomach an interview on a local news station where a ticket broker was interviewed during the playoffs. The broker carefully stated - you could tell he had thought about his wording - that as a broker, they "foresaw the demand" and "stocked up on product" because they "didn't want to disappoint their customers by not having any tickets available."

Hey, last time I checked, Ticketmaster works pretty closely to how most ticket resale websites work. The broker was making it sound like the customer was too stupid to know how to work Ticketmaster on their own, and hey, isn't it nice how this broker can do that customer a favor by pre-purchasing those tickets and then resell them to the eager customer for a big fat profit?

As a sampling, I went to StubHub and searched out season ticket packages for the Blackhawks. I found 82 season ticket packages currently priced from $2,200 (upper level 303, original price roughly $800) to $20,500 (lower level 109, original price roughly $4,400). Keep in mind that the on-the-glass season ticket seats sell for about $14,000 direct from the team. (These are estimated base prices computed from last year's prices plus increases.) That's 200-400% markups.

Nosebleed tickets, for example, often run $65+ on resale websites. What cost the "STH" perhaps $30 is being resold for double the face value plus "handling fees", shipping fees, and taxes. It means that the ticket brokers might as well be given a printing press for all that free money.

You can witness for yourself the same thing; just look at all the tickets regularly available on TicketExchange during the season - you can often find the same exact seats available game after game after game.

None of this resale profit goes in the NHL's pockets. So why would teams be willing to renew ticket brokers bulk ticket offers before getting people off the waiting list?

The payoff may be that by being able to say that season ticket packages are sold out or a particular game's tickets are sold out drives demand. But that demand doesn't help the teams or the NHL any; it only helps to serve the interest of the ticket brokers/scalpers.

As teams will generally only resolve problems with ticket resales that are conducted via TicketExchange (an online website designed to facilitate sales of tickets held by season ticket holders), it would seem easy and logical to create a program that could look through ticket sales for each seat and determine how often a seat has been resold. A resale rate of say 0-30%, even perhaps as high as 40%, is a realistic figure for a season ticket holder - people are sometimes out of town or sick or other events prevent them from going to every game. (If you sold approximately 25% of your tickets at face value, instead of the lower STH rate, without even marking up the tickets, you could pay for your next season's tickets. Many season ticket holders earmark a few games they're willing to sacrifice seeing live in order to simply have enough money to pay for next year's ticket[s].)

Season ticket holders who are reselling 50-75% of their full season package should be interviewed to find out if there's anything that could be done to improve attendance; and probably downgraded to partial packages, 9 or 20 games.

Partial-ticket plans often cost slightly higher on a per-game basis but still cost less than full ticket prices. These plans are better suited for those wanting to attend only part of the season, and at the same time, has the added benefit of putting more money into the league's profit margins. 

But when you reach resale percentages of 75-100%, then those accounts should be flagged, because they are clearly being purchased - and resold - simply for profit. If you're only attending a handful of games, why else would you be purchasing a season ticket? Any full-season seat being resold more than 85% of the time (35+ games) should be automatically removed from the renewal list, because there's somebody on the waiting list who would actually use that seat as it's meant to be used.

The ultimate deterrent against ticket resales? Once a ticket has been resold for over 60% of the games for which it has been good for, invalidate eligibility to buy post-season tickets with that account. Resellers, after all, hope to hit the jackpot by having a team enter the playoffs, and achieve the Holy Grail of all sports team tickets - the Final Two, no matter what the sport. Depending on its location in the arena, a single playoff ticket sold at markup can easily cover the cost of the entire season ticket. And for a so-called "fan" who sells off the majority of their season tickets - are they really a fan if they only show up for the playoffs?

If a season ticket holder only attends a handful of games protests about the ticket being dropped from the renewal list, ask them why they're selling off 35+ games. I can guarantee you there isn't a single person out there who'd honestly answer "it's my supplemental income".

Alternatively, brokers bulk ticket renewals should be made to wait until after wait list demands are met. If the ultimate concern is simply selling the ticket, shouldn't a fan waiting on the list be given higher priority to purchase it than a broker who is simply looking to make a profit?

Ultimately the goal of ticket sales is to sell as many seats as possible for the good of the league, because it not only helps owners' profits, but increases/benefits salary cap and players' salaries as well. Hockey is a business, after all.

But it's in the league's best interests to find a way to artfully find the balance between putting as much ticket revenue in league pockets (vs. outside companies' pockets) as possible, while continuing to be able to provide for true fan demand. Happier fans stay with the sport and bring more fans into the sport, which is an ongoing cycle.

Fans get frustrated when they have a near-zero or zero chance of getting tickets direct from their team. Why should they be forced into paying a broker a sizable markup? That markup doesn't benefit the team, the league, the players, or the fans. It only makes profit for somebody or some company that just looks at the league and sees dollar signs.

It's because hockey is a business that it's very unlikely these practices will ever change. For the league's bottom line, it doesn't matter who buys the tickets when they're put up for sale, so long as they're sold. But for fans' goodwill, it would be an improvement to figure out the way to put more tickets directly in the fans' hands, and less money in the middlemans' pockets.

Of course, there will always be those who find their way around the system. But it's not enough to simply put rules in place; rules must be enforced. 

In the end, I would actually predict that more teams move towards the Panthers' new model. Those who buy season tickets - or even single-game tickets - benefit by getting their tickets at the cheapest rate they can early in the season when they go on sale. The profits increase for the league, as the closer it gets to the game time, the more they can/will charge under the sliding/"airline"model - which yes, sadly, means more costly tickets for the fans. 

Unfortunately, under such a model, the brokers would attempt to buy up even more of the tickets up front in order to maximize their chances of making a profit.

It's a vicious cycle, from which the fans will likely never emerge as the winners.




Food for thought on Niemi's NHL rookie year statistics

For all the people out there anxious to debunk the idea that Niemi is a good goalie; and for those of you so hasty to dismiss Niemi and say "he couldn't have done it without his D-men", some food for thought.

For the 2009-10 regular season, Niemi ranked 17 out of 83 goalies in number of wins. And that's with only 39 games played. 26 games won - with 7 of them shutouts.

For the SC Playoffs, add in 16 wins, 6 losses, 2 shutouts, so that brings his total 2009-10 record to 42-17, with 9 shutouts.

Stats-wise, that means he won 67% of his regular season games, and when you factor in his SCP games, the figure actually rises to 69%, with a staggering 21.4% of his wins being shutouts (15.2% of all games played). I don't care how good your defense is when considering shutouts, because there are still shots against goal, and it is still up to the goalie to stop them and be credited for them. Martin Brodeur, who had the most regular season shutouts (9) and zero in the playoffs, won 20% of his regular season wins as shutouts, but had only 10.9% of all games played be SOs.

For a compartive benchmark, we'll use the goalie who won the most games in the league: Martin Brodeur: won 45 of 77 GP (58.4%), only 168 goals (2.24 GAA), 2004 SA, w/.916 sv%, with 4,499 minutes played. Add in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he had 46 wins in 82 games.

By comparison, Niemi won 26 of 39 of his regular season games, with 82 goals (2.25 GAA), 936 SA, w/.912 sv%. Add in SCP, his record becomes 42-17.

Regular season: 39 games, 936 SA (24 avg/game), 82 goals, 2.25 GAA, .912%,  2190 minutes played
Playoffs: 22 games, 645 SA (29.3 avg/game), 58 goals, 2.63 GAA, .910% in the playoffs, 1321 minutes played

Let that sink in a moment: the shots against average for the Blackhawks went up by a whopping 5.3 per game in the Playoffs. So although Niemi's playoff GAA looked bad, he faced 69% as many goals in just 56% as many games as he'd played in the entire regular season.

Regular + playoffs together: 61 games, 1581 SA, 140 goals, 2.39 GAA, .911 sv%, 3511 minutes played.



You can see the math. It might be his first year in the NHL, but Niemi is experienced from his years in the Finnish leagues, and he is not a bad goalie.