Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stop The Rhetoric: The West Isn't Tighter

by NiNY

How often have you heard some hockey pundit say this " the ultra-tight Western Conference..."? Or 'super competitive' or something like that. Just, in some way imply that the Western Conference is more competitive or tighter from top to bottom than the East. Often, right?

Well, I'm here to bust that myth right now.

Look at last season.

In the East the difference between 1st (WAS 107 pts) and 9th (CAR 91) was 16 points. In the West, the difference betwen 1st (VAN 117 pts) and 9th (DAL 95 pts) was 22 points.

And the discrepancy between top and bottom in the East was tighter than it was in the West.

Again, in the East Washington won the conference with 107 points. The bottom of the conference looked like this:

9. CAR 91
10. TOR 85
11. NJ 81
12. ATL 80
13. OTT 74
14. NYI 73
15. FLA 72

In the West Vancouver won the conference with 117 points. The bottom of the conference looked like this:

9. DAL 95
10. CGY 94
11. STL 87
12. MIN 86
13. CBJ 81
14. COL 68
15. EDM 62

However, the differential between the top eight teams in the West was tighter than it was in the East.

In the East the difference between 1st and 2nd overall was 3 pts. From 2nd to 3rd overall 3 pts. Then 4 pts, 4 pts, 11 pts, 11 pts and 14 pts.

In the West the difference between 1st and 2nd overall was 12 pts. From 2nd to third overall 1 pt. Then 5 pts, 0 pts, 0 pts, 0 pts, 1 pt, 1 pt.

And, looking at the overall league standings 8 of the top 15 teams in the league were in the West. So that's split, with a slight skew towards the West being more competitive.

So, I guess the point is: it's not like the West is significantly tighter or more competitive than the East. They're pretty even. There are good teams in both conferences and there are bad teams in both conferences.

Maybe we can cool it on the spicy rhetoric a bit, hmm?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bigotry Relativity Is Still Bigotry

by NiNY

First, go read Ms. Conduct's latest blog. I mean, I assume you already did because you should because she's awesome. But, on the off chance that it's backwards day in your house and you stopped here before going over to her place then here's your chance to rectify that oversight right now.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, welcome back.

See, I'm conflicted.

On the one hand, I totally hear and get what she's saying. Hockey may be the last bastion of the rapscallion. There is an undeniable vein in the game that provides sanctuary, indeed opportunities to thrive, for the ill-mannered. To the guys who ran their mouth on the schoolyard playground, and then backed it up. To the guys who don't have the straight up skills to be able to get into a professional sports league on skill alone, so their path of least resistance (nicely provided for them by the aggressive expansion of the NHL over the last fortyear - that included the birth of the Minnesota Wild (for which I am grateful don't get me wrong)) includes re-connecting with that schoolyard yapper/scrapper mentality.

Some of these players enjoyed a position of higher grandeur (read: scoring) in junior and the minors, but just couldn't crack the NHL as a top-two line player. Sometimes those players can't or won't reinvent themselves and they end up bouncing around the minors or Europe for the rest of their careers - certainly no shame in that. But other times they find a Rabbi who shows them the light and teaches them the value of aggressive forechecking and the art of running your mouth on the ice.

The art of running your mouth. Show me a person who presents himself as hockey cognoscenti who doesn't know that what is actually said is much lower brow than the word "art" in that last sentence would imply and I'll show you a person who's never spent any time around hockey players. Hell, even in my beer league the language is salty enough to get a respectful nod from the saltiest Marine drill instructor. And the only thing we're playing for is the 30-pack of Miller Lite - that we buy - after the game.

So, I absolutely get what Ms. Conduct is saying. It IS part of the culture of hockey for players to say disgusting, egregious, blue, offensive things to one another. So, expecting hockey players to change....well maybe that's not very realistic.

But, on the other hand, does that mean we shouldn't try?

Is political correctness reasonable? Or does wrapping this kind of thing up in the banner of political correctness itself indicate a lack of concern for the degradation of societal values that acceptance of such intolerance suggests?

While it would be nice and even sort of cathartic to tell someone to relax when they get offended by something I say (sticks and stones, and all that) I admit it would be hard to reconcile that against what I agree is an ugly and dangerous trend of bullying in our schools, for example, today. Does using offensive and demeaning language as a professional hockey player set or perpetuate an example for would-be schoolyard bullies to follow? I think it's naive to assume it doesn't, regardless of what Charles Barkley thinks. Think of it this way: for every stupid homophobic slur you utter, Nancy Grace's career is extended by a day. Who really wants that?

The reality is that young hockey players do look up to their professional idols and try to emulate them. To an extent, all aspiring (insert industry)-ists look up to their industry's professionals and do the same thing. And I submit that it's a lot harder for a young adult or child to make the distinction between "do as I do, not as I say" than it is (or should be) for an adult to accept that his or her actions do potentially have consequences one of which might be that they are used as an example to be emulated by kids. I think that difference is part of what separates the definition of adult and child in the first place.

I like to swear. I think the notion that using swear words indicates you are possessed of a lesser intelligence is bullshit. But I go out of my way to tone it down in front of kids. Does that make me a hypocrite? Am I a wimp (afraid that my kids will pick up that language and use it in what society deems is an inappropriate time and place and reflect poorly on me as a parent and them as a human)? Or does that make me a realist? Am I simply trying to instill some respect in my kids and not put them in that position until I'm more confident that they can make the determination of when and when not to use those words? I don't know. But I'm not taking the chance that they can't, yet.

I'm generally against bigotry and intolerance. I think it's ridiculous and stupid to act as though you dislike someone or think less of them simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, their hair color, the toothpaste they use or the store they shop in. I think, frankly, that people who exercise such intolerance are actually just insecure in their own choices. You want to castigate him for his religion? That tells me your God is a pussy. Shouldn't a being purporting to be worthy of being called God be strong enough to withstand the followers of some other being who thinks HE'S worthy of being called God? Isn't that why he calls himself God instead of, like, Eddie?

What the hell does this have to do with hockey? Oh yeah...

Hockey players make split second decisions all the time. Pass left or right. Pass or shoot. Skate or stop. Deke or shoot. Check him from behind or let up. Drop into the butterfly or stay up and kick it out. Against the backdrop of the potential to perpetuate unnecessary and ugly stereotypes, I don't think asking hockey players to make yet another split second decision - about what comes out of their mouth when they're talking trash - is unreasonable.

And the one thing I simply can not accept is any kind of bigotry relativity. Wayne Simmonds was generally lauded for how he handled the banana throwing incident last week. He took the high road, even though he did acknowledge concern that it was a racially-based incident. And good on him for doing so.

Everyone who saw the video knows what Simmonds called Sean Avery. Well, everyone other than Colin Campbell, apparently. But everyone else.

Simmonds is a coward for not owning up to his actions. Not only that, but he hurts the cause of other people who share his skin color and are mistreated because of it. He completely wastes all the goodwill he garnered for taking the high road before, by his lack of integrity when the shoe is on his foot. Why is intolerance of people of other races bad but intolerance of people of other sexual orientation okay? It's not.

Bigotry relativity is still bigotry. Whether that be in one person's mind or at an institutional level (as in the NHL).

So I think it's okay to expect hockey players to engage their brain when they open their mouths. There's plenty of subjects for one to draw from when trying to get under another player's skin.

Does that represent a change in the mentality of the hockey player - that has been accepted for generations of hockey players before the current batch? Yes. Does that mean we can expect all hockey players to not make any mistakes? No. Does that mean we should just give them a pass when they do? No.

Let's elevate our society.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Shanny and Legitimacy

by NiNY

Legitimacy, like respect, must be earned.

I mean, duh.

Legitimacy is granted, not taken.

The NHL has suffered from a legitimacy deficiency for years. That deficiency exists in the eyes of the American football, baseball and basketball-loving sports communities. It exists in the eyes of the major media outlets. It exists even to an extent in hockey's own fans, who tolerate a year-long lockout and then return to the game grateful that they deigned to start playing again.

One of the areas in which the NHL really hurt its own cause in its heretofore Sysophusian task of garnering legitimacy was in the area of supplemental discipline.

Hockey, as a sport, tip-toes the very thin line between legal and illegal play as defined by the rules of the game or by society itself. In some ways, it blurs that line. You can legally conduct yourself in a boorish manner (bodychecking, for example), and you can illegally conduct yourself in a much less-violent manner (holding, for example).

And, to an American non-hockey fan, learning to appreciate the nuances that differentiate holding in, say, the NFL versus holding in the NHL might not be the easiest thing to do. Some of that has to do with the average intelligence of American NFL fans, but hockey fans would be kidding themselves if they tried to say theirs is an easy game to jump right in and grasp.

So when the sport does something that alienates any part of its fan base, but especially a part that represents new fans, it's not good. I suppose you could say that about any sport, but MLB, NFL and, to an extent, the NBA are more entrenched than the NHL in America, and as such they are afforded more grace. They also have larger fan bases so they can better absorb potentially losing some newer fans.

Baseball and football are also more a part of the American culture than hockey. How many people do you know who claim they're not really sports fans, yet they know what the World Series and the Super Bowl are, go to the parties, watch the commercials, whatever, and also cheer at (most of) the right times? "Oh, I'm not really a baseball fan. I just have this Yankees hat that I wear the one time I go to a baseball game each year." "Do you have a Rangers hat?" "Who?" "Exactly."

My point is that, with those sports, you just acclimate to a certain level of acceptance of them. If you're not a sports fan, but you're from New York, you probably have it in your mind that you're a Giants fan but not a Jets fan (or vice versa) because that's who your dad liked or whatever. I'm saying baseball and football stand a much better chance of just catching fans in their nets than hockey. You have to become a hockey fan. It's just not as widely accepted as a part of our culture here in America.

Back to the topic of supplemental discipline. The NFL is frankly ridiculous with how it metes out supplemental discipline. A fine for a touchdown celebration just seems overly restrictive and Grinchy. But the NFL can get away with it because it's so incredibly popular and well marketed. The NHL does not enjoy the benefit of those luxuries.

And the former head of supplemental discipline, Colin Campbell, didn't help things.

To be fair, that's got to be a shitty job. You can never make all parties happy. Either you suspend too harshly, in which case the team of the offending player gets upset, or you suspend too lightly in which case the team of the aggrieved player gets upset.

But Campbell failed at the most basic level: he failed because he was opaque and inconsistent. Intentional or not, his rulings gave the impression of being totally isolated to each specific incident, with no precedent taken from prior rulings for similar actions, if not from the same player. His unwillingness to offer any rationale for his decisions only served to perpetuate and grow that impression of inconsistency. It was "Here's the rule he broke, here's the suspension. Peace, out." And it was in a press release.

I, like many hockey fans I assume, personally had to answer for these decisions when non-hockey fans questioned them. It's a vicious cycle for hockey. It only gets on ESPN when it stubs its toe. And so then people have Bertuzzi or Downie in their mind. Then, they ask their buddy the hockey fan about it, and we had to say "Yeah he only got a couple games suspension." Their reaction was typically "That's it? Your sport is messed up, man." Then they dumped hockey back into their mental junk drawer until ESPN showed some Flyer crushing some guy the next time...

Obviously Campbell's apparent insouciance drove us hockey fans nuts. The whole "Colie's Wheel O'Justice" thing is surprisingly widely used according to my Twitter feed. I don't believe Campbell was actually trying to mess things up. Like I said, tough job, that. But the result was still unacceptable.

Because it also hurt the league from a general acceptance perspective. Especially here in the States. And if you don't think gaining acceptance in America is important to the NHL then ask yourself why, between when San Jose started in '91-92 and this year, thirteen franchises were started or moved, and only two of them (Ottawa and Winnipeg) were to Canadian cities. In fact, Canada lost a franchise during that time when Quebec moved to Denver. (We'll count Winnipeg as a wash as they moved and now returned.)

Like it or not, the NHL looks at America as the fertile grounds of its manifest destiny.

So this kind of confusion, this level of casual arrogance in the way Campbell handed down supplementary discipline was hurting the cause.

Exit Colie. Enter Shanny.

Shanny had spent his first months on the job looking at new stanchions and shallower nets and such. But, once the (preseason) games started, everyone knew his major tests were about to start: supplemental discipline.

Sure enough, we've had two in two days now. Calgary's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond Jacob-Jingleheimerschmidt and (who else?) Philadelphia's Jody Shelley provided Shanny the stage.

And he's knocked it out of the park. The actual suspensions are one thing. But the way they're being presented is everything. Shanny has released videos of him taking responsibility for the suspensions, showing video of the hits, quoting the rule(s) in question and explaining his rationale for his actions.

This isn't just a departure from the Campbell regime, this is like going from a state of cryogenic freeze to parachuting out of an airplane in one second.

Suddenly everything that made Campbell inapproachable and aloof has been reversed: there's clarity. There's explanation. There's one specific person taking ownership of the situation. There's video with specific examples.

Yeah, there's some post-production stuff on the videos themselves that's a little cheesy. But the meat of these things - the transparency of it all if nothing else - is such a breath of fresh air that it's almost stunning.

Now, when your meathead football fan sees a dirty hit on ESPN and asks you about it, you can say "Come on over to my house where we have electricity and I'll show you what the league did to this guy on this whiz bang computer device I have." It's so easy, a football fan can do it.

This doesn't automatically mean hockey will be embraced by America. But it takes away one way in which the NHL alienated Americans who maybe just didn't want to put forth all the effort required to become a fan.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Heatley's History, Numbers Are Encouraging

by NiNY

Ask a Sharks fan and they won the trade.

Ask a Wild fan and they won the trade.

Something's got to give, eh?

I don't know what will come out of this season for Dany Heatley and the Minnesota Wild, but I do know this: Dany Heatley thrives after a trade.

Just look at his splits from the last year with one team to the first year with a new team:

03-04 Atlanta
31 GP
13 G
12 A
25 Pts
0.80 pts/gm

05-06* Ottawa (*Lockout)
82 GP
50 G
53 A
103 Pts
1.25 pts/gm

*** *** ***

08-09 Ottawa
82 GP
39 G
33 A
79 Pts
0.87 pts/gm

09-10 San Jose
82 GP
39 G
43 A
82 Pts
1.00 pts/gm

Gaborik had 77-42-41-83 (1.07) in 07-08.
Rolston had 82-32-45-77 (0.93) in 05-06.
Gaborik had 65-38-28-66 (1.01) in 05-06.

For his career Heatley is 669-325-364-689. Dany's a 1.02 pts/gm player for his career in the NHL. Per 82 games, Dany has averaged 39.87-44.66-84.53

The closest Wild player to that is Gaborik who totaled 502-219-218-437 (0.87). Per 82 games that's 35.78-35.62-71.40 for Gaby (raise your hand if, like me, you didn't realize Gaby had as many apples as he had grapes.)

Rolston is pretty close with a career 241-96-106-202 (0.83) with the Wild. Per 82 that's 32.76-36.17-68.93 for Brian.

I like that Dany has something to prove after getting traded by San Jose. I like that he's the most-prolific scorer the Wild has ever had, without having played a single game in Iron Range Red yet. I like a lot about Dany Heatley. I just hope I continue to like him after the games start.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Huge Year For Mikko


Okay, Mikko, all eyes on you now.

You got the big money. You got rid of the coach. You got rid of Havlat. You had your BFF taken away from you, and your other perma-linemate is also gone. Your reputation preceded you to the point that the new coach decided it was prudent to travel to Finland to meet you (pretty sure he didn't travel to Welland to meet Cal). You are squarely in the epicenter of this team. And I'm done fucking around with you.

It's always been something.

Too young. Still acclimating to life away from Finland. It's hard playing under the shadow of your big brother. Under-skilled linemates holding you back. Injuries (okay, I'll give you those. It's not like you've missed time with a sore leg...), or trying to do too much, or asked to do too much...

Wild fans have had to defend you while at the same time trying to convince other fans that you were underrated on a league-wide scale. I've hated that. I've had you down as a 2nd tier top line center in the league for a while now. I managed my own expectations of you. You haven't disappointed me. But you have left me wanting more.

But now that blue cross from your country's flag is centered right on your back.

A Flames fan asked me earlier this summer what my expectations for you were for this season. His point was: what is holding back my expectations? You are our Iginla. You need to start playing and acting like our Iginla. You know what? He's right.

Yesterday, in Russo's chat, someone pointed out that you had failed to develop any chemistry with the previous most-talent players the Wild has had. And then asked Russo what it would say about you if you fail to do so with Setoguchi or Heatley. Russo's answer spoke volumes: "That's a terrific question."

I think a Selke is possible for you. And that is my expectation for you this season. We all know your passion for three-zone play and that's awesome. But a top line center, making top line money, surrounded by top line wingers, needs to also put up top line points.

That's a lot to ask, for sure.

But it's your job to prove to us that it's too much to ask.

This is a huge, huge season for you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


by NiNY

This post has nothing to do with hockey.*

On September eleventh, two thousand one, my fiance and I lived in Tuckahoe, NY. Our apartment was literally right next to the train station where commuters go into and out of NYC. That morning I, being out of work, was getting ready to go into The City (as locals refer to New York City) to attend a job fair at Madison Square Garden.

Later that afternoon we had a meeting at the Tarrytown House with, I believe, our florist. We were to be married in a few short weeks, on 10/6/01.

Due to budget constraints (my fiance was in graduate school and I was looking for a job) we did not have cable at that time.

We did, however, have the internet. And that's how we first found out that a small plane, according to the initial reports, had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. I'm pretty sure that my initial reaction to that news, referring to the pilot of that plane, was "What an asshole." Ignorance truly is bliss.

There are many stories about what transpired over the rest of that day, week, months and the ten years since then. Most are sad. Some are heroic. Still others are inspiring. Mine is, thankfully, fairly banal.

We knew people in The City. My fiance's father and stepfather were both there. Many college and even high school friends were there, too.

You have to understand that, as big and vast as NYC seems from afar - and even when you're in it at times - the lack of clarity and chaos during those first hours effectively shrunk New York City to Mayberry-size. If someone was in the city, and you weren't, the entire city was on fire and collapsing - or so it seemed. Nonetheless no one that we knew died on, or as a direct result of, 9/11. We're lucky.

They shut down the trains and, I believe, subways for a while. When we heard that the first train was going to run out of Grand Central stopping, among other places, at our station, we looked out our window and saw hundreds of people who had gathered at the station in an eerie silence. Waiting to see if their husband, wife, son, daughter, brother or sister would somehow, please God, be on that train. That was one of the moments I really felt afraid. It was so visceral, so real, at that moment.

Taking away modern personal communications (cell phones, land lines, email) and transportation drops NYC back a hundred years. At that point, it's just a mountain range on an island.

We eventually made our way over to the Tarrytown House for that meeting. On the way we were overflown by at least one formation of choppers. That was another moment where I felt scared. It was like being on the approach route to some forward operating base in a movie, except that it wasn't a movie.

A week or so later my buddies and I would get together in NYC for my bachelor party. I remember a lot of fun things about that night. I also remember the stink from the pit, the glow from the lights in the general direction of the site as they were still conducting around the clock search and rescue, and the feeling that the grime that was a normal part of breathing in NYC felt instead like sacred ashes that night.

Ironically, the firm I would eventually get a job with was located in the South Tower. Our firm holds the distinction of being the largest tenant of either building not to lose a single person on 9/11. The firm would relocate first to Hartford, CT and then to midtown Manhattan (where they were located when I was hired in February 2002) in two temporary stops. We would return to lower Manhattan (to the World Financial Center) by the end of 2002 - where we remain and will stay for the forseeable future.

Hearing the stories of my colleagues is chilling. There was the time when a woman in my department got a call from some 9/11 commission that had found, amidst the rubble that was carted away, her old building ID card and if she wanted to claim it she had to go to X location and present a current ID. She demurred, hung up and then, visibly shaken, told us all about the call. My first boss talked about getting out and onto the street on 9/11, and dodging refrigerator-size pieces of building as he was making his escape.

Even today those who were there can fall under the spell of it all and go very quiet and adopt that thousand yard stare on occasion. I don't pretend to relate to their memories, and, to be fair, they don't ostracize me for not having been there.

I was close enough, thank you very much, for my own comfort.

And yet there is a sort of a demarcation between the first and second standard deviations of those who were there and those who were not but were still close enough to be touched by it. And, for those of us in that second standard deviation, there's yet another demarcation between us and those of you in the third standard deviation - people who only experienced it via CNN. Which is not intended in the pejorative in any way.

It's just, even though the idea of the Nazi concentration camps terrifies and disgusts me, can I relate to the old Jewish lady who was actually IN Treblinka? Of course not. But I can't even relate to her cousin who was already Stateside when the war broke out, either.

And, lest I offend anyone, ask yourself this: would you really want to know, first hand, the terror those people felt running down the stairs in either of the towers? Desperately trying to get out. That primal "flight" instinct in overdrive, pushing you forward at the same time a voice in your rational mind is screaming "WHATTHEFUCKISGOINGON?!" Do you really want to have those memories, or wake up in the middle of the night after those nightmares? I don't.

In the months after 9/11 New Yorkers were different. They were at the same time more fatalistic and more compassionate. Certainly more patriotic. Let me put it this way: W was on hand for the World Series to throw out the first pitch, and he didn't receive a single Bronx cheer from the fans. I don't even think it was a concious thing on behalf of New Yorkers. They just....did it.

But now some of that has receded. And, where it has receded, it's been mostly replaced with an unslakable sense of entitlement. It's sad. And those New Yorkers don't see it. They're a subset - likely those in that second standard deviation where I live - who act like spoiled jerks most of the time and only wear their sensitive shirt once a year: on September eleventh. And I think they only do that so they can continue to fly that flag when it suits them. "Oh yeah, well fuck you, I'm a New Yorker. You know, nine eleven?"

If that's you, then you shame the memory of those who died, those who died trying to save others and you shame those who fight to protect you and the rest of us in this country.

But, for at least an equally large subset, life is more precious now. The sky is bluer, the stars are brighter. On balance, more people will hold a door open, or stand up on the subway to offer an older woman a seat than before. There's a temptation to call that outdated chivalry or even chauvenism when seen through a more jaded lens. I hope we would resist that temptation. Because I see that - and maybe because I want to, I'll admit - as a positive by-product of 9/11.

I don't know if America is better, or stronger, or smarter, or wiser, or kinder - if less innocent - than it was before those men drove those planes into those buildings and that field. How can anyone know that?

Yes, part of our society is using 9/11 as currency to pay for their own vices and that's too bad. But I think letting those people into the club is just part of the cost of freedom.

And that same freedom hopefully affords those who use 9/11 as an excuse simply to look up and see how blue the sky is, or how bright the moon and the stars are, with more opportunities to do so, and with more loved ones around them while they're looking.

God bless America. Land that I love.

*Editor's note: after re-reading this, it apparently has nothing to do with coherent form, either!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Hockey Needs Right Now Is Hockey

by NiNY

What a horrible summer.

The start of the season simply can't come fast enough right now.

How do you begin to reconcile sadness at this level? One was bad enough. Two was shocking. Three was almost too much to bear. Adding 30+ more to that list is unfathomable.

I don't think I can reconcile that in my mind.

It occurs to me that what I need right now is some hockey.

Hockey is a beautiful woman with a missing front tooth. Hockey is a majestic triumph of architecture with a window blown out. Hockey is a Bugatti Veyron with bird shit on the hood. Hockey celebrates its beauty in full sight of its harsher, more feral side like no other sport in the world. It accepts its warts better than any other sport in the world. It's a sport that brings tears of joy to your eyes at the same time you're inhaling its stink. There's no expectation of perfection without paying the price of imperfection first with hockey. Hockey is brutally honest and quite true.

For those of you who play, think about those first steps onto the ice. The bright lights hitting off the glassy ice. Is there a freer feeling in your life?

A hockey game is about taking a pure tableau and sullying it - all in the sometimes-vain effort to achieve the pear-shaped tone of perfection. It's like surfing to try to catch the perfect edge, but without the sharks or the sand in your crotch. A hockey game literally starts out with a clean slate - pristine, glowing and beautiful. Then hockey takes that crystalline perfection and slices through it in an inherently violent manner with razor-sharp blades that scuff, scar and mar that surface.

It's a perfect vehicle for celebrating the good in life as well as venting the frustrations from an incredibly difficult summer.

Your smash your body into another player's body at full speed - in the hopes that you will spring your teammate for an exquisitely graceful deke, shot and goal. You lay out your body to receive an impact from a piece of rubber shot at you like a flat, black, dead projectile (like the eyes of a shark) - so that your off winger might skip around his mark and break away on the goalie in that silent, intense pas-de-deux.

As a spectator, you are treated to these acts in a contest-long exercise of waxing and waning emotions. It's hard to worry about your mortgage payment when two men are bare-knuckle brawling on skates on ice in front of you.

And then the horn blows and the Zamboni comes out to cleanse the ice of the violence of the preceding period, and prepare it for another onslaught. Atonement, salvation, rebirth. It's as if they'd fought a day during the Civil War and then cleared the dead and left the field for forty or fifty years until the field had been repaired, regrown and restored to the level of natural beauty that it was at the day before the armies had arrived - before conducting the next day's warring. Only, in hockey, this takes 20 minutes and you get to take a leak and buy a beer while you wait.

Many of us players and spectators find solace and redemption in playing and watching hockey. We find inspiration and solidarity on that ice.

That's what we need now. That's what hockey needs now.

I don't know why that plane went down. I don't care who's to blame. It's still going to be an incredibly sad thing even after we find out - assuming we do.

If it was up to me I'd have every team start camp early. Schedule additional pre-season games. Lengthen prospect tournaments. Just get the boys back on the ice. There may not be answers in the sound of pucks thwacking off the glass and whistles shrilly echoing through empty arenas, but there might be peace and there will definitely be release. And for us fans, just getting into those buildings, the proximity of other grieving fans, giving and taking support during each other's weak moments. Hockey is brutally honest and quite true.

Let hockey heal itself by being itself.

That's what hockey needs right now.

Anti-Fantasy Hockey League

by NiNY

I used to play a lot of fantasy sports. Hockey, football, baseball, sim leagues, Madden, EA Sports NHL....

Then I stopped. I just wasn't into it any more. Maybe I was over it. Whatever.

That was a few years back. Can't really say I've missed them at all since.

Then the other day I got to thinking: what about a hockey fantasy league where you want to get players who DON'T score? Or goalies who give up LOTS of goals? Sort of an anti-fantasy league.

I'm not talking about players who get scratched. I'm talking about deadbeats: players who dress and play, but don't score. Think about it: that's not as easy as it sounds.

Eric Nystrom last season would have been MONEY. Nyzer played in all 82 for the Wild, but put up only 4 grapes and 8 apples. But his 0.14 pts/gm last season were actually WORSE than his career 0.17 pts/gm (including last season.) And, taking out last season, his career points per game is 0.19. That kind of non-production is worth celebrating, no?

And lo, the Anti-Fantasy Hockey League was born!

You'll draft 10 players (minimum 2 G, 2 D and 3 F) and then field a team of 6 every week. You want skaters who play but don't score, and goalies who play and let in a lot of goals. You get a bonus for TOI (the higher the TOI the higher the bonus) and salary cap hit (the higher the cap hit, the higher the bonus). So you have an incentive to go after the players who arguably SHOULD be producing (e.g. because they get payed and/or played more) but aren't.

The AFHL is located over at GTRCMBSHP. It's free to sign up for the message board, and free to play in the league. GTRCMBSHP also happens to be a nice little hangout spot for Wild fans and hockey fans in general.

Come check it out and let me know if you're interested in playing as the draft will take place before the regular season starts.

HTP Marks Four Years

by NiNY

Four years ago today I wrote the first post on this blog.

In it, I described myself as a hockey fan first, and a Wild fan second. I sincerely hope I've been able to remain true to that mantra over the past four years.

It's been a great ride. USA Hockey magazine voted us one of the top 10 hockey blogs at one point. That was an honor.

We interviewed a guy who did a big story on Norm Green. That was fun.

We had Wild Road Tripper lending his unique view of seeing hockey as an opposing fan.

Kevin in PA has been a terrific partner with his keen eye and excellent writing.

And we've made a lot of friends.

The Minnesota Wild community is diverse and interesting. A trip down the Wild blogroll gives you a perfect sample. You've got the inimitable Mike Russo at the top of the food chain. If there's a better beat writer in the league I haven't read him or her yet. There's the transcendent Ms. Conduct. You've got the indefatigable Hockey Wilderness crew. And everyone in between - the First Round Bust guys, Roy over at Wild Puck Banter, Blake at Wild Nation - makes for a rowdy, fun family.

Over the years I've also sub-branded myself at several places. I've taken self-imposed breaks. I've become sick of writing (mostly due to becoming frustrated with the Wild.) But I've always come back around to HTP.

Writing here is still cathartic for me. I'm still the same guy - watching Wild games in the isolation of upstate New York - looking for people to discuss stuff with. I don't watch as many non-Wild games as I used to (when I started the blog I had a 2.5 year old and a six-month old. Now I've got a 6.5 year old and a 4.5 year old. They keep me pretty busy.) So I don't comment on as much non-Wild stuff as I used to.

But my love of the game hasn't diminished.

I've got new side projects (Seoul Goalie 18), but somehow I suspect HTP will continue to be my favorite garden.

At worst, HTP is just another hockey blog. We try very hard not to regurgitate stuff that you can (and likely do) read elsewhere. We try to have a unique opinion, or at least to share it instead of simply rehashing what's already extant. At best, HTP is a place where you can read and discuss what is, if not the only point of view, one that is interesting and stimulating. That's our goal.

Thanks to Kevin in PA and WRT for being my partners.

And thank you for reading over the last four years. Here's to four more!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lowest Common Denominator

by NiNY

The sad news of Wade Belak's death yesterday has sent the NHL community into another tail spin - sadly similar to the two that we've already endured this ill-fated summer.

And, by in large, I've seen grace and respect emerge from the potential for poor taste and ugliness in people's responses.

But, among that grace and respect, comes a new round of the How Do We Qualify And Quantify This? exercise that is both a predictable and frankly not even an unreasonable by-product of going through a death (much less a series of them) like NHL fans have.

And I'm not trying to say that we shouldn't do...that.

But I do want to say that such an exercise makes it easy to standardize and, once standardized, view the deaths of these three men through a lens that is sufficiently academic as to mitigate the human factor in them and their deaths. And that would be a shame.

The lowest common denominator here is that three men are no longer with us. The means of their death, indeed the factors in their lives that may or may not have accrued to cause those means to be attractive to them, are immaterial against the backdrop of that baseline: that three men are dead.

People die all the time. According to NIMH, in 2007 suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death among Americans, with an overall rate of 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people. With an additional 11 attempted suicides for every suicide death.

Wikipedia tells me that in 2005 there were 22,000 Americans killed due to accidental overdoses.

These are real numbers of real Americans and the common theme - maybe the only common theme - is that they all died.

All I want to say is that sometimes the fact that someone has died is all we need to focus on.

There isn't an epidemic of NHL players - fighters or otherwise - dying. That does not make three, or two, or even one death acceptable. I'm absolutely not saying that it does. Could it be the tip of an iceberg that will continue to expose itself as we go along, presenting as an actual issue? Sure. But you can bet it will be dealt with if that happens.

I don't think I'm somehow a better fan for trying to light that fire now, if my trying to light it is at the expense of simply recognizing it and experiencing it for the simple sadness that it represents. It's okay to just be sad.

Maybe engaging in the exercise is a way of coping. And, if so, I'm not trying to take anyone's coping mechanism away. But that seems like an odd action to try to fit into the Kubler-Ross model. To be honest, if anything, it seems like an obfuscatory action - the pro-academic-thus-de-humanizing mentality - which would suggest the Denial stage. "I don't want to face the pain and sadness of this, so I'm going to hold those things at an arm's length by studying it instead." Again, that's not wrong; it's just....

I'm saying, let's just mourn and celebrate these three men. That's hard enough, given the alternative of celebrating without having to mourn them.

Sure, let's find out - to the fullest extent possible - why each of them came to their ultimate decision. And, if there's something to be gleaned from it - for the protection of others, great. I'm all for that.

Tragedy can exist in a vacuum. And we can treat it in a vacuum, too.

And that's okay.

I'm sad that Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak are dead. I can't begin to comprehend what their families are going through. My daughters are Belak's daughters' ages - and that's added an element of sadness to his death that I didn't experience with Boogaard and Rypien.

But I don't need to make the process harder by going through the self-flogging exercise of analysis of the game of hockey, or aspects of the game of hockey, or specific roles created by those aspects of the game of hockey to be sad..

I just want to be sad about it for a while.

So, that's what I'm going to do.