Monday, January 30, 2012

Final results, blogger vs blogger/ASG competition

Final scoring for the blogger vs. blogger ASG: HockeyBroad 183 points, Utley 207 points. The 15 points she gained from the winning coach, MVP, and Zdeno Chara's new record gave a huge boost, but she also had more players with goals to their name at the end of today's 12-9 All-Star Game, and a lot of attempts got thrown on goal in the 3rd, when both of her goalies were in.

Here's the complete scorecard for today's game, with assigned point values, below.

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll notice I'm sporting a different avatar for the week as a result of the loss. Thanks to Kim/@Utley for being a good competitor for this!



Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scoring update: Blogger vs Blogger ASG competition

After the All-Star super skills competition, here's how the first 2 rounds of the Blogger vs Blogger ASG competition looks: Team HockeyBroad & Team Utley are tied at 46 points apiece, which means it all comes down to Sunday's hockey game.


Draft & Skills competition results

Draft:
+3 - Logan Couture for being picked last in the Draft

Skills events:

Bridgestone Fastest Skater (+1 point per round)

- Kris Letang (backwards)
- Jonathan Quick (goalie)
- Colin Greening (rookie)
- Phil Kessel
- Erik Karlsson
Final round (fastest of each team vs each other) (+1) & overall winner (+1) - Carl Hagelin

Allstate Breakaway Challenge
- Winner: Patrick Kane (+1)

NHL Accuracy Shooting (+1):
- Matt Read (Alex Edler passer)
- Jason Spezza (Dan Girardi passer)
- Jamie Benn (Jordan Eberle passer)
- Marian Hossa (Brian Campbell passer)
- Jamie Benn final round (+1) / winner (+1)

Gatorade Skills Challenge Relay
Round 1 winners (relay 2) (+1) - Nick Johnson, Shea Weber, Kris Letang, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Sedin, Milan Michalek, Logan Couture, James Neal
Round 2 winners (relay 4) (+1) - Alex Edler, Keith Yandle, Scott Hartnell, John Tavares, Daniel Sedin, Craig Smith, Claude Giroux, Jason Pominville
Overall winners: Relay group #4 (+1)

BlackBerry Hardest Shot
Round winners (+1):

- Luke Adam
- Daniel Alfredsson
- Jason Spezza
- Zdeno Chara
Final round (+1) & overall winner (+1) - Zdeno Chara
Set new record (108.8 mph) also = +5

Tim Horton's Elimination Shoot Out

Goals scored 1st round (+1): Evengi Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Kimmo Timonen, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Pominville, Kris Letang

Goalie saves made 1st round (+1 each): Henrik Lundqvist (3), Carey Price (3), Brian Elliott (3), Tim Thomas (3), Jonathan Quick (3), Jimmy Howard (2)

Goals scored 2nd round (+1): Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jason Pominville

Goalie saves made 2nd round (+1 each): Henrik Lundqvist (3), Carey Price (2), Tim Thomas (1)

Goals scored 3rd round (+1): Steven Stamkos

Goalie saves made 3rd round (+1 each): Tim Thomas (1), Jimmy Howard (1)

Overall winner (+1): Steven Stamkos



Team HockeyBroadDraftSkillsTeam UtleyDraftSkills
Hossa "C".1Giroux "C".2
Weber "A".1Malkin "A".1
Stamkos "A".5Suter "A"..
Lundqvist.6Thomas.4
Letang.3Lupul..
Howard.3Girardi.1
Datsyuk..Quick.4
Price.3Gaborik..
Karlsson.1Chara.8
Hartnell.2Elliott.3
Eberle.1Timonen.1
Campbell.1Yandle.2
Edler.3Kane.1
Phaneuf..Wideman..
Benn.3Perry..
H. Sedin.1Neal.1
Seguin..Kessel.1
Couture+31Tavares.4
Michalek.1D. Sedin.2
Iginla.1Pominville.4
Alfredsson.2Spezza.3
Faulk..Read.1
Hagelin.2Couturier..
Landeskog..Johansen..
Hodgson..Smith.2
Johnson.1Greening.1
Adam.1Diaz..
Total as of Sat 1/28
46Total as of Sat 1/28
46



Friday, January 27, 2012

What does $211,828,708 worth of All-Star players look like?

Last night, the NHL All-Star Game held its live draft, and you can see the results for that over on the NHL website.

Beyond that, how did the two team Captains do? How would their rosters look like in comparison to a regular NHL salary? (Hint: Way, way, way over the salary cap.) And what kind of stats do these players bring to the game?

Here's a look at both teams, by the numbers. Player stats are compiled from NHL.com, and player salaries are compiled from CapGeek.com:






Offensive firepower comparisons:
Team Chara : 265 goals, 473 assists, 738 points
Team Alfredsson : 291 goals, 445 assists, 743 points

Goalies:
Team Chara : 67-37-9 with 11 shutouts, 1.96 GAA and .930 sv%
Team Alfredsson : 58-27-15 with 16 shutouts, 1.97 GAA and .936 sv%

Rookies:
Team Chara : 56 goals, 77 assists, 133 points
Team Alfredsson : 54 goals, 68 assists, 122 points


Further fun with figures from these stats: this set of stats is mainly for the salary stat nerds - what does the average player look like (veteran/goalie/rookie), east vs. west, and broken down by percentage.



Given the scoring totals above, and the salaries laid out here, there is a total of 666 goals and 1,063 assists, for 1,729 points. Or, roughly $111,367 for every point earned across 48 skaters. For the goalies: every save they've made is worth $3,358; and it's cost $46,784 for each goal given up.

There's one other graphic I also compiled this week, and that's a look at how the players shake out, West vs. East, as the final selections for the 2012 All-Star Game. Last year, the attendees were evenly distributed; this year, it was a nearly perfect 40-60% West-East split.

As you can see, this year, the Western Conference had 14 veterans, 3 goalies, and 5 rookies; the Eastern Conference had 22 veterans, 3 goalies, and 7 rookies. Teams without any representation were the Winnipeg Jets and NJ Devils, both EC teams - originally, they were represented, but when their players (1 vet for WPG and 2 rookies for NJD) were injured, they were replaced by players on other teams. Of the 3 western/4 eastern players that ended up not being on the roster due to injury/other, they were replaced by 2 western/5 eastern players.





Thursday, January 26, 2012

Battle of the bloggers: 2nd annual All-Star Game competition

Last year, Matt of DownGoesSpezza and I faced off in the All-Star Game Blogger Showdown. This year, I will be facing off against another Philadelphia blogger, this time fellow TheCheckingLine.com writer Kim. Today, we did our version of the All-Star Draft, using the same rules as Matt & I used last year.

The Draft rules:
- Our first 3 players had to be 2 fwds & 1 d-man. (We did not go by the established NHL captains)
- The first player we picked was our team captain.
- Our next 2 players were our "A's".
- All goalies had to be chosen by 10th round
- All defensemen had to be chosen by 15th round
- After all regular players were picked, we each picked our 6 rookies 

The scoring over the weekend will be determined this way: 
+1 each player, each event won in the skills competition (including +1 for 1-on-1 rounds and +1 for being part of a team win)
+1 for SOG
+2 for assist
+3 for goal / +1 for goals in "Elimination shootout" (as they count as rounds)
+1 for goalie save (including in "Elimination shootout")
+5 for MVP
+5 for winning coach pair
+3 for Mr. Irrelevant (as determined by NHL ASG Draft, not our own draft)
+5 for setting new records/events at ASG -1 for each penalty minute


Update - Player names listed below reflect their ASG team based on color - Red = Team Alfredsson; Blue = Team Chara. Bold is Mr. Irrelevant (Couture).


Round@HockeyBroad/Cheryl@Utley/Kim
1Hossa "C"Giroux "C"
2Weber "A"Malkin "A"
3Stamkos "A"Suter "A"
4LundqvistThomas
5LetangLupul
6HowardGirardi
7DatsyukQuick
8PriceGaborik
9KarlssonChara
10HartnellElliott
11EberleTimonen
12CampbellYandle
13EdlerKane
14PhaneufWideman
15BennPerry
16H. SedinNeal
17SeguinKessel
18CoutureTavares
19MichalekD. Sedin
20IginlaPominville
21AlfredssonSpezza (our "Mr. Irrelevant")
R1FaulkRead
R2HagelinCouturier
R3LandeskogJohansen
R4HodgsonSmith
R5JohnsonGreening
R6AdamDiaz
CoachesJulienTortorella/McLellan

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rookies on fire : Jimmy Hayes & Andrew Shaw


It was the end of practice on Tuesday. Half a dozen players - four of them rookies - clustered around one of the nets, casting Rock, Paper, Scissors. What was at stake? The loser would have the duty to lug in the milk crate that was heavy with the pucks they'd filled it with after practice. Although it might have been any recreational rink across the country, this was Johnny's West, and the players in question were the young men who are lighting the lamp for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Recent call-up Andrew Shaw was the first to peel off for the cluster with a gleeful shout, and waving his stick for a celly like he'd just scored a goal. Frequent "Rockford Express" rookie Ben Smith was next, followed by Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. It came down to Jimmy Hayes - also a fresh call-up from the IceHogs - and Nick Leddy, who just a year ago was in the same place where Shaw, Smith, and Hayes are now. As Hayes yelled in triumph over the last round, the other players teased Leddy about his task.

It's this youthful spirit and enthusiasm that is giving the Blackhawks a huge jolt of energy at the time of year when it's most needed - the winter doldrums as the All-Star break approaches, but the final push of jockeying for playoff positioning has not yet begun. One of Chicago's top scorers, Patrick Sharp, is out with a wrist injury; and agitator Daniel Carcillo's season is finished after knee surgery. As a result, the team is filling the roster holes with the players who've been making a difference for their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Hayes on the ice at Detroit 1/14/12
By now, everybody has heard Hayes and Shaw's stories: After originally being picked in the second round of the 2008 Draft by Toronto, Jimmy Hayes came to the Blackhawks in a 2010 trade that gave the Maple Leafs a Draft pick. Then Chicago chose Kevin Hayes - Jimmy's younger brother - in the first round of the Draft that summer. 

Meanwhile, Andrew Shaw was picked by the Blackhawks in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft, in what was Shaw's third year of eligibility.

Other players have been called up from Rockford this season - playoff hero Ben Smith has made the trek several times; forward Brandon Pirri and defenseman Dylan Olsen saw a handful of games in Chicago. So what has made these two players - Shaw and Hayes - fit so dynamically now, when others have simply filled a gap? 


JIMMY HAYES

Jimmy Hayes, 22, spent three years at Boston College, where he not only played alongside his brother, Kevin, but also current IceHog/Blackhawk Ben Smith. (The older Hayes and Smith were on the 2010 BC team that won the NCAA ice hockey championship and that played Boston University at Fenway Park in January 2010 - the same ice that had hosted the 2010 Winter Classic.) Much of the buzz during the 2010 prospect camp swirled around the Hayes brothers, although there are those who feel Kevin was the more exciting of the two prospects.

Hayes has been quoted as saying that he set goals for the 2010-11 season and that he met them, so he decided it was time to pursue his dream to be a NHL player. He took the first step towards that when he appeared in several games for the Rockford IceHogs at the tail end of the 2010-11 season. He was already noticeable then - at 6'6", it's hard to miss him - with a long reach, a scoring touch and good consciousness of body positioning. He returned for the Blackhawks' summer prospect and training camps, and was one of the last to be cut before the season began; the improvement from 2010 to 2011 was noticeable - and the change from training camp to today even more so.

In Rockford, when Kyle Beach dislocated his shoulder in late October and subsequently required surgery, it would end his season early. Hayes ended up taking his role on the third line. As his skills and confidence grew, he began seeing more ice time, and by the time he was called up to the Blackhawks, he was tied for fifth in scoring for the team with 5 goals and 13 assists.

Those who have been around Rockford for a while describe Hayes as "a solid kid" with "a great sense of humor". For his size, he moves well - and more importantly, has speed and soft hands. He's willing to set up camp in the other team's crease and work hard for the greasy goals - something which was helped along by a nudge early in the 2011-12 season in Rockford. The coaches benched him for two back-to-back games to send him the message that he needed to not just be a big body, but play like a big body. Chris Block, who regularly covers the IceHogs, states that "Hayes took the message and hasn't looked back." In other words: Hayes is the kind of player that the Blackhawks wanted to see out of Bryan Bickell, but which the team has only seen in fits and spurts.



Andrew Shaw: high speed, at the net - 1/17/12
What the team and its fans have seen so far with Hayes is a player who fills the role Dustin Byfuglien used to - that big body with the scoring touch in front of the net - but Hayes is more than that. He's more akin to Andrew Ladd - a guy with good ice vision, the mobility to get where he needs to be, and a drive to keep improving. 

ANDREW SHAW

Andrew Shaw was chosen in the fifth round in his third year of eligibility, but from the way he's been lighting up the score sheet, you have to wonder how he got overlooked for so long. 

Last season, he dominated for the Owen Sound Attack both in the regular season and in the Memorial Cup playoffs. By modern hockey player standards, he's considered on the "small size", at 5'10" and 180 pounds. But you'd never know it for looking at how huge he plays.

Shaw made an immediate impression in prospect camp - not only for his scrappy, persistent style of play, but for going toe to toe with fellow prospect Dylan Olsen, who has a few inches and some 40 pounds on him. During regular training camp, he would further prove his fearlessness by dropping the gloves with Daniel Carcillo - and easily holding his own in both cases.

Like Hayes, Shaw didn't start off this season on the top lines in Rockford. When Rob Klinkhammer's performance slumped, Hayes began seeing time on Brandon Pirri's line. Shaw clicked well with the line, giving them the boost needed for them to produce. Subsequently, Pirri became one of the top producers in Rockford, aided by Shaw's energy and net presence.

A near-goal in Detroit, 1/14/12
Like team captain Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw scored a goal on his first shot in his first game in the NHL. He didn't stop there, either - just 8 games to his name and he already has 5 goals and 1 assist. He should have 6 goals, but an overeager referee in Wednesday night's game blew dead a play as a hand pass, rather than what it was: catching and dropping the puck to his stick, where he swatted it across the crease to Marcus Kruger, who tapped it in. in less than a fifth as many games, Shaw already has more goals than Bryan Bickell and has tied MIchael Frolik and defenseman Steve Montador at 5. Shaw has undeniable talent, not only in terms of skill with the puck, but ice vision as well. He's an energy guy and an agitator, bending the rules but rarely breaking them: he's collected 7 PIM so far, a fighting major in his first game, and a 2 minute minor in his 8th. He seems to be all over the ice at once and yet in the right place at the right time as well.

"I don't like losing, so I always give everything I've got to try to win," Shaw said earlier this season in an interview with IceHogs "Hog Talk" radio.

Should any of this be a surprise when it's the player who was given the OHL Hardest Working Player Award last season? Coming out of the Canadian junior hockey system, Shaw could have spent another year there rather than Rockford, but he felt that his play would improve his game more playing against men, rather than being "a man among boys" in the OHL.

It shows in his persistent play. Earlier this week, in a game versus the Sharks, Shaw was at the net against Antti Niemi. Niemi gave up a rebound; Shaw threw it back at him. Niemi gave up another rebound, Shaw threw that back too - and rebound # 3 was the magic number as Shaw leapt over Niemi's outstretched leg and banged the puck home.

It probably shouldn't be surprising that Shaw looked up to Wendall Clark as a kid, either. In the same radio interview, when asked about what he found appealing in Clark as a player, Shaw said, "Just his style of game. He's not a flashy player; he just goes to the net hard. He's a team player, lot of character, just goes out there and gives it his all, every shift. I just try to play kind of like him."

As far as that goes, Shaw is doing exactly that, and doing it well - and as a result, he's quickly getting noticed: by his teammates, his coaches, the fans, and around the league. He's gritty, he's determined, and he's fearless on the ice - and as a result, he's winning the battles and screaming up the score sheet. Couple that in with his humble attitude and work ethic, it's no surprise he's quickly found himself a fan favorite, even being the subject of a "#ShawFacts" hashtag on Twitter this week, an homage to Chuck Norris jokes. (Shaw's favorite? "Chuck Norris wears Andrew Shaw pajamas to bed.")



The popularity of the "#ShawFacts" hashtag might have been their first exposure to the depth of dedication that the Blackhawks fanbase has in this city. Shaw's Twitter following surged by some 2,000 followers in two days; Jimmy Hayes' popularity isn't far behind. 

They're both aware of the power of social media, however, and Shaw spoke wisely on Wednesday and Thursday, noting that he was a professional athlete and aware that he had to be cautious about things he says online. 


LOOKING AHEAD


Hayes and Shaw are both currently performing beyond expectations, but they realize their spots on the Blackhawks roster can disappear at any time, and they're playing to stick with the big club. After all, they're still under Entry Level Contracts, meaning the Blackhawks can ship them back and forth to Rockford as needed without the risk of losing them to waivers; but if they can outplay some of the struggling vets, well... it makes decisions a lot more difficult for the team. 
 
Fans watching at a Blackhawks practice 1/9/12



By all indications, the rookie duo are humble and even-headed, constantly conscious of their role on the team, the expectations placed upon them, and are both striving to do their best to stay up with the Blackhawks.

Coach Quenneville loves what he sees from the two rookies, and the pair has electrified the team's depth, so the team is currently firing on all four lines. Clearly, the rookies' energy and style of play is infectious, and the team seems to be having a lot of fun playing as of late.


The rookie pair are taking the NHL one game at a time. They're making a midseason adjustment into the locker room, but it helps to join friends they're already used to playing with in Rockford - namely, Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger - who are established on the team.

In the meanwhile, the playful antics between the youngest members of the Blackhawks remind you that these guys are not all that far away from their college and junior hockey years.


But to watch them on the ice, you'd never notice.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Projecting current potential playoff scenarios

We're all glued to the standings, and getting very excited when we see our teams atop the division or holding on to a playoff berth. But looking three months down the road, who'll still be in the running for the Stanley Cup, and who might be dusting off their golf clubs?

Let's take a look at the current standings (as of 1/15/12), and then project how the playoffs might look based on those current stats.


KEY:

pts - current points 
GP - games played to date 
Avg/PPG - average points earned per game to date, taken to 3 decimal points 
projected - Avg/PPG x 82 
prj rank - projected rank based on projected point totals, and adjusted for how division champs factor into the standings. Those teams marked with "or" have their rankings based on tie breakers, which cannot be accurately represented on this chart.
* - division leader



Some interesting items leap out while looking at these projections.

IF these projections hold, and teams maintain their current trends (and that's a BIG "if" -- just look at the NJ Devils last season):

-- Today's top 8 in both conferences would still be in position for the playoffs. The only "wild card" would be Dallas or Minnesota - based on tiebreakers.

-- This would be the first time since the 2008 playoffs that a team had home ice advantage without at least 99 points. (2008 was also Washington, with just 94.)

-- Two teams - both in the East - could potentially need a tiebreaker for the Presidents' Trophy: the Bruins and Rangers, with 114 points each. The tiebreaker for the Presidents' Trophy is most wins; based on current projections, that would be Boston.

-- There would be 3 teams in the East (FLA, OTT, NJ) and 2 teams in the West (STL, MIN or DAL) in the playoffs who haven't been to the playoffs in a few years. Of those teams, two would have the potential to be division leaders (FLA, STL) and one (STL) would have the potential to be Western leader.

-- While the Panthers went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, they have never won their division. The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since 2000, when they were swept out of the first round to the NJ Devils (who in turn went on to win the Cup).

-- The Blues haven't won their division since 2000. They won the Presidents' Trophy the same year. The Blues last went to the playoffs in 2009, and were swept by the Canucks in the Quarterfinals.

-- The Central and Atlantic divisions would send 4 teams apiece to the playoffs.

-- Minnesota and Dallas might be duking it out for 8th place in the West. Of course, last year, it was Minnesota's win over Dallas in game 82 that sent the Blackhawks, instead of the Stars, to the playoffs. Expect the end of season to be heated between these teams.



Of course, these are simply projections - what MIGHT be, three months from now. Any of these teams might get hot -- or get into a rut. Injuries can affect a team; returning players can make a major difference. Teams can realize how close they are to home ice advantage - or a playoff spot - and bump another team out of position. There's still plenty of season left, and who knows what might happen? Still, it's interesting to take a look at who might be in the playoff picture, and what some of the potential last-minute storylines might be.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Head west, young Bettman - time to expand the Winter Classic horizons

Monday was the 5th annual Winter Classic, which has become the premiere showcase for attracting new fans to the NHL. It couldn't have turned out a better day for it weather-wise: excellent weather for an outside game, although a bit windy. A dusting of snow late in the game was the icing of perfection on the event; they couldn't have scripted it better.

Last year, HBO partnered with the NHL to bring an in-depth, all-access, behind-the-scenes look at the NHL. Their 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic was greatly anticipated by puckheads. It gave a look inside the rarest of environs explored on pro sports channels: hockey locker rooms. Make no mistake, the NHL picked its participants for the inaugural pairing of 24/7 and the Winter Classic with great care: the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, two extremely high-profile teams headlined by two of the superstars of the league, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. It was a hockey marketer's dream come true.


But a funny thing happened on the road to the Winter Classic. HBO certainly gave a look into both Crosby and Ovechkin, but the "breakout" stars of the first season of the NHL's 24/7 turned out to be people like coach Bruce Boudreau; Brooks Laich; Mike Green; and goalie Marc-André Fleury. 24/7 uncovered exactly what fans had known for years: every guy on the team has an interesting personality; every guy on the team can attract fans. 

Obviously, the league can't market every single player. They've got to pick a handful of top players and sell them as the faces of the franchises. That generally means the highest-profile/leading scorers - so for the past five years, that's meant Crosby and Ovechkin. But what do you do when your number one player misses a year of play due to a concussion suffered in that major showcase you've been promoting? What about when the other player starts off the next season struggling as much as the team he captains?

Unfortunately, the way the sport has grown, and the way layout of teams happen to fall across the U.S. and Canada, this means that the thickest cluster of NHL teams stretches across a small section of the country, defined on a map by a triangle stretching between Montréal, Chicago, and Washington. That area encompasses roughly half the league, while the rest of the league is sprawled across the rest of the continent. Add in the factor that all the Eastern Conference teams and two Western Conference teams fall into the Eastern time zone, and that means that the majority of hockey media is in the East, too.

As a result - and not surprisingly - the NHL caters to that half of the market. Major events like the Winter Classic are timed for prime viewing hours in the east, so that it can draw as many eyes as possible, and have to date featured mostly Eastern Conference teams.

That's perfect marketing sense on paper, of course, but Western Conference fans are starting to get pretty annoyed at feeling left out. Detroit and Chicago have been featured together in 2009, but that was before the Blackhawks became the powerhouse they are today, and before the Winter Classic - and now 24/7 - really took off for the NHL.

Last year, as the Stanley Cup field narrowed, the press seemed to fret on the behalf of the league and fans alike. If a Canadian team made it into the Final, who would want to watch in the U.S.? Other than Boston fans, obviously? Well, not surprisingly, with a Canadian team in the Final, viewership north of the border boomed considerably in 2011 over 2010 (98% greater, in fact). But what about American viewership?

In the U.S., the BOS Bruins - VAN Canucks Final "attracted the largest audience across all platforms in the history of the sport", including the most-watched NHL game in the U.S. in 38 years - game 7, which drew 8.54 million viewers.

Clearly, the fact that one of the teams was Canadian didn't stop U.S. viewers from tuning in. And they tuned in with record numbers. It may have even helped, considering that a U.S. vs. Canada Final brought out the kind of fervor usually reserved for the Olympics. The teams built the start of a new rivalry between them - although they previously have met just once or twice a year, this was a Stanley Cup showdown of epic proportions, with some 80 years of Cup drought shared between them, and a fierce 7-game series.

So why so much resistance to getting Canadian teams involved in the Winter Classic?

The Heritage Classic was the original outdoor game for the NHL, first held several years ago and then again last February in Calgary. Despite the fact it featured two Canadian teams, it drew in strong U.S. viewership, more likely drawn by the novelty of an outdoor game rather than the participants.

This summer, Gary Bettman spoke frankly at the Wild Fan Fest, held the same weekend as the NHL Draft. He discussed the Winter Classic and 24/7, stating that the match ups have to be "compelling". What it all translates down to, of course, is revenue; what teams do people tune in to watch, and how many people are doing so? He said that Minnesota would "eventually" get an outdoor game, but he wouldn't give ballpark guesses as to when.





There can be little doubt that 24/7 has done amazing things to spike interest in the Winter Classic, no matter who plays. Whether or not hockey fans liked either team or any of the players didn't matter; diehards and new fans alike tuned in to watch 24/7. The show even helped change people's opinions on players or teams.

Most importantly, the show got people emotionally engaged with teams they wouldn't normally root for. After each episode airs, social networks like Twitter light up with discussion of the game. Who are the latest standouts? What do fans think of each coach's style?

The fans aren't even alone in watching 24/7 - not surprisingly, the players are tuning in to watch, too. Players who are involved with the current Winter Classic weigh in on Twitter and respond to fans. It is marvelous and engaging television. Bettman and the NHL keeps repeating that it's not merely an exhibition game and that there are "two points at stake". Two points, of course, can make or break a team's chances to make the playoffs, four months away.

But the Winter Classic is a way to showcase the game, its history, and some of its finest rivalries. And guess what - not every excellent rivalry is played in the Eastern time zone.

The NHL wants to keep expanding into "non-traditional" markets, but how can they do that if they're going to act like the existing non-traditional markets aren't as important and viable as the Eastern cash cows of the league?

The fact is, so long as the game remains a novelty - held once a year, with new teams getting into the WC mix - then it will remain fresh for the fans and it will draw interest. If it is watered down by too many outdoor games held each year, or if the same teams keep showing up every 2-3 years, then that's boring. Sorry, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you've had your turns - twice each in the first five years. Time to let other teams get some attention. There's 30 teams in this league.

Here's who has played in the Winter Classic so far:

2008 - Buffalo Sabres; Pittsburgh Penguins - at Buffalo/Ralph Wilson Stadium
2009 - Chicago Blackhawks; Detroit Red Wings - at Chicago/Wrigley Field
2010 - Boston Bruins; Philadelphia Flyers - at Boston/Fenway Park
2011 - Pittsburgh Penguins; Washington Capitals - at Pittsburgh/Heinz Field
2012 - Philadelphia Flyers; New York Rangers - at Philadelphia/Citizens Bank Park

As Puck Daddy reported today, the initial overnight ratings for the 2012 game were the worst of any of the Winter Classic games; later figures put the TV viewership at an average 3.74 million, which made it 4th-best (out of 5).

Yes, there's some obvious culprits. The game ended up being scheduled on Monday, January 2nd at 3pm. Sure, the schedule might have worked against the game's ratings. Maybe the date/timing (late on a Monday afternoon) had a lot to do with the downswing in viewers.
Then again, maybe not enough people were compelled by the match-up. Maybe the viewers of 24/7 didn't feel compelled enough about the "Amtrak rivalry" that New York and Philadelphia have; that there wasn't enough spark or personality coming out of the locker rooms on either side. The biggest "star" of 24/7 was in fact Ilya Bryzgalov, who, due to poor play in games leading up to the Classic, got benched in favor of sophomore goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. It could be that people who would have tuned in to the game to watch "Bryz" play, lost interest in the game at that point.

Maybe people just weren't as interested in these two teams. Philadelphia has already been featured in the Classic just two years ago, and has been a staple in the playoffs for the past three seasons.

Maybe hockey fans want something more.


Looking West - and to the Great White North

This week in Sports Illustrated, Michael Farber disparaged the Winter Classic, saying that the format is contrived and claiming that nobody grows up on outdoor rinks anymore; that today's players just know artificial rinks.

He's incorrect, of course. Many current NHL player will speak fondly of time spent outdoors playing pick-up shinny, be it on frozen ponds or backyard rinks built by dad or just a fortuitous sheet of ice left in the park after a wet winter storm. Naturally, this kind of experience favors those markets who have the weather for it - Canada, New England, the Midwest, Colorado. Then there's kids who grew up with roller blades on their feet year-round, and who only knew man-made ice - those kids learning hockey in Florida and Tennessee and California and yes, even Phoenix. Wait - hasn't the NHL been trying to expand and fortify their hold upon these warm-weather "nontraditional" markets?

2012 Winter Classic - photo courtesy Christopher Najewicz/Flickr
For the players, it gives a unique experience, one most of them probably haven't enjoyed since they were kids - year after year, as the players leave the ice, they rave about the experience they had. Yes, the Classic might be contrived. But at its heart, it speaks to that little kid on the ice inside all of us. You pick sides; you root for your team; you enjoy the game; you have a memorable day (or night) out. We all want to get back to that, even if it's only for a day and we're clutching $8 beers in our frozen fingers while we do so.

If, as mentioned earlier, the Heritage Classic proved that it could draw U.S. viewers - and remember, that was a pair of Canadian teams - and if the 2011 Stanley Cup proved that people will watch a Stanley Cup run even if Canadians are in it - again, why so much resistance to a Canadian participant in the Winter Classic?

The NHL talks about revenue, so let's discuss that. The View From 111 blog wrote a two-part article titled Does the NHL's business model work? (part 1 | part 2) (Feel free to review the NHL's CBA, also.) In short, NHL's revenue stream is a complex entity, driven by two currency rates (U.S. and Canadian), revenue sharing, and perhaps most importantly, broadcast revenues. Revenues from playoff games and regular season games get distributed differently; let's just say that it's good for the financial health of the league (if not fans' sanity) for playoff rounds to each go as long as possible. At the end of the day, Gary Bettman - and everybody else - will say: planning the Winter Classic is about the revenue.

But the Winter Classic, after five years, has reached a point where it is practically a license for the NHL to print money. Each team creates a new winter jersey - the designs for which are eagerly anticipated by the fans - and they fly off the shelves in great haste once they are introduced. Add in all the other WC-related merchandise, ticket sales (with all the WC venues holding at least twice the capacity of the largest NHL arena), broadcast rights... well, it adds up. And the NHL wants healthy revenues, so it's important to have showcase teams and established rivalries, which give two strong built-in marketing points. The Winter Classic has established itself as the regular-season game that the most fans will tune in to watch; give the fans a good show.


So who would be worth watching?

Fans in the Western Conference are getting pretty cranky that they're "being ignored" in the Classic. Canadian fans are feeling flat-out snubbed, but so long as the finances that count are being counted in U.S. dollars, the Winter Classic will remain on American soil.

Gary Bettman might not care so much about the "Original Six" label, but fans still do. Four of the "O6" have made it into the Winter Classic, one time each. The remaining two are Toronto and Montréal: two of the largest, most fervent, high-spending teams in the league. Why wouldn't you want to have one of these teams in the Winter Classic? Imagine the merchandise sales! 

At least three major U.S.- Canadian rivalries jump to mind with little effort:
  • Detroit-Toronto (just picture it at the Big House!)
  • Chicago-Vancouver (Soldier Field this time!)
  • Montréal-Boston (perhaps Gillette Stadium, as Fenway's been done?)
All are huge rivalries between major, well-known hockey markets that not only have strong local fan bases, but fans spread across both countries - pitting together large-market U.S. teams with the strongest of the Canadian teams. Imagine Detroit hosting Toronto at The Big House, or the Blackhawks welcoming the Canucks to Soldier Field. (Bettman seems to favor baseball stadiums, but there's 30,000+ more seats to be sold at football venues - let's not hesitate to point that important number out.)

Even better than that, imagine the look at hockey from the Canadian point of view, and how it would compare and contrast to the American one, as seen through the 24/7 lens. Hockey is "Canada's game". Instead of simply paying lip service to the Canadian part of the audience/fan base by playing "O Canada" at the Winter Classics, bring in one of their teams. It'd be fascinating, compelling television. Maybe HBO would even be willing to do an extra episode of 24/7 (or a stand-alone 1-hour show) to talk strictly about the history of hockey and the Stanley Cup.

Hold these CAN-US games at a U.S. venue. If you haven't been to a game where a Canadian team is playing an American one in an American venue lately, you clearly have missed how well Canadian fans travel. A strong Canadian dollar has meant hordes of Canadian fans have faithfully and regularly crossed the border, especially as it is getting so expensive to see hockey at home - many Canadian arenas charge nearly twice as much as their U.S. counterparts to see games.

Four years ago, the then-struggling Blackhawks worried about selling out Wrigley Field for the Classic. The team ended up promising that anybody who invested in season tickets would be able to buy tickets for the Classic. That not only boosted STH sales, but meant that very few tickets ended up available for purchase on the open market (without resorting to resale sites). The Blackhawks needn't have worried, however - the novelty of this outdoor game was so big that demand for tickets was huge. They could have easily sold out Soldier Field - and this was before the Classic became as popular as it is now. The heightened focus on the Blackhawks - not to mention the growing strength and skill of the team - help propel Chicago's interest strongly back towards hockey.

Selling out the stadium won't be a problem, no matter who plays who. If local fans can't manage it, traveling fans will buy the rest. It gives a boost to the local economy. The Winter Classic is a perk, a benefit, of doing well within the league; so it needs to be spread around.

Site of the 2013 Winter Classic? The Big House at U. of Michigan - photo courtesy of Cariberry/Flickr
According to numerous sources, the 2013 game happening at Detroit is "the worst-kept secret at the 2012 Classic". It would make perfect sense: the chance to break the world record for attendance at a hockey game by holding it at the Big House (U. of Michigan) would be far, far too tempting, for a start. No doubt UM would be willing to help cut the league a break on the stadium costs thanks to the huge amount of publicity the school would be receiving.

Who should be Detroit's opponent, though? As tempting as it would be to have a rematch vs. Chicago, the league should go in one of two directions: Red Wings vs. Toronto, which would draw huge viewership from both sides of the border, and has long been one of the Red Wings' best rivals; or Red Wings vs. San Jose Sharks, a rivalry which has been cultivated over the years but especially of late via the playoffs. The Sharks are a popular team; their tickets sell well at home, and it would appeal strongly to all the "sunbelt" fans, who are feeling left out due to the slim likelihood of their own teams getting to host an outdoor game.

Looking ahead beyond 2013, however, there are so many possibilities for great locations and match-ups. Chicago vs. Vancouver, either hosted at Soldier Field or in/near Vancouver if feasible, would be spectacular - especially while the two teams are still vibrant rivals. The Dallas Stars vs. the Minnesota Wild would be another natural match. Imagine the Colorado Avalanche hosting a team at a venue like the University of Colorado at Boulder's gorgeous and historic Folsom Field, with the dramatic backsplash of the Flatirons and Rockies. New York City will eventually want to host a game; could the idea of a Winter Classic double-header be feasible? (Think of the double revenue streams, Gary!)

Imagine a Winter Classic here at Folsom Field - photo use courtesy of Timmer82 on Flickr


At the end of the day, there's a lot of reasons to look West or North for ways to keep the Winter Classic fresh. The addition of 24/7 was brilliant, and each season will be truly unique. Now it is time to show that hockey truly "is for everyone", and get Western and Canadian teams in on the action.