Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nichol, Spacek, Collins, and Anthony

Everyone's heard about the NBA brawl that happened last weekend in New York, right? Players fighting, a cheap shot by Carmelo Anthony on Collins, and a resulting 15 game suspension. I watch PTI religiously for some reason, even though they rarely talk about hockey. They spent a good portion of Monday's show talking about the brawl. And inevitably, the racial component comes up. Mike Wilbon made the good point that there have been NBA fights since the 50's, and no one complained then about the violence in the sport, and the "thuggish" behavior. No argument here. He also mentioned that the fighting is worse in hockey and football, and no one complains about that. I have a bit of an issue with that, but read on.

So I wouldn't even be blogging about this if there wasn't a similar incident in the NHL just a few days ago. Scott Nichol of the Preds gets driven into the net by Joseph Spacek of the Sabres, the net comes off it's moorings and Nichol goes down. With Spacek's back to him, Nichol drops one glove, comes up behind him, and hits him in the jaw from behind. Spacek goes down like a sack of bricks, but has no long term injury. Nichol gets 9 games for the cheap shot.

This is patently outrageous. If you saw the Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore a couple of years ago and the Nichol hit side by side, without knowing the aftermath of the hits, you would think the Nichol hit was much much worse. Bertuzzi had his glove on when he hit Moore, and the hit came partially to his helmet. Nichol hit Spacek flush in the face with his fist. The only reason Nichol got only 9 games is because Spacek wasn't hurt.

Maybe Spacek's drive of Nichol into the post was cheap. I doubt it. I've watched it a few times, and I think if Nichol wanted to bail out on the play, he could have easily avoided the post. Nichol was ahead of Spacek, and he wasn't being held, although his stick was tied up. Hockey is full of plays like this- two players struggling against each other, and someone gets rammed into something or someone.

The reason hockey isn't "worse" in the fighting department than the NBA is because there a set of written and unwritten rules about it. If Nichol turned Spacek around, dropped the gloves, and went after him, then it's a fair fight. No problem. The problem with the NBA is no one knows how to fight worth a damn, and there all this crap with players swinging wildly, refs not knowing what to do, people falling into the stands, etc. Carmelo's punch was about as cheap as Nichol's but he's a little punkass. He threw the shot at an unsuspecting Collins, then ran away. Classy. Nichol at least kept going while all the Sabres piled on.

But Nichol should have gotten 25 games. It actually worse when stuff like this happens in hockey, precisely because there's a semi-legal way for these conflicts to be resolved. If Spacek refuses to fight in that situation, then he gets hit at every possible opportunity for the rest of the game, and maybe beyond. He puts his head down in the neutral zone, and he'll wish he fought Nichol.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More OPPGATT and other madness

You may recall in a previous post I invented a new statistic, called Opponents' Points Per Game At The Time, or OPPGATT. This is an attempt to measure how good a team is when the target team (in this case, the Sharks) plays them. Specifically I was using it to try and evaluate the difficulty of Nabokov's starts vs. Toskala's, and I came to the conclusion that Nabokov has faced much tougher opposition. Purely by the luck of the draw, since they have played in alternate games every time this season.

Aren't there other factors we can use to evaluate how tough an opponent is? What I'm trying to avoid is specific game-type decisions and team status, stuff like injuries, scratches, and starting goalies. Then we get into the minutia of individual match ups, scheduling issues, and other stuff. What I'm looking for now is more macro-level type stuff.

Isn't home vs. away such an indicator? As of today, this season, teams are on average getting 1.17 points per game at home, and 1.02 points per game on the road. By my count, there are only 5 teams in the NHL (the Rangers, Penguins, Sabres, Senators, Bruins, and Lightning) that have better records on the road than at home. Some teams, like the Wild, are dominating at home (13-3-1) but are just godawful on the road (4-11-1).

The thesis is this, and not that controversial - road games are harder to win than home games. But the real question is, how much harder? One more useful number: the overall average of points awarded per game is 1.099. That means an away game is a 0.07 point handicap, and a home game is a 0.07 point advantage.

We can apply this modifier to my OPPGATT number directly, since they are also in the units of points/game. All of Nabby's toughest games were at home, so they weren't quite as tough using just OPPGATT. However, two of Toskala's toughest three games were away, so those games were a hair tougher than we thought.

Overall, it closes the gap a bit in terms of toughest games, but the outcome is the same, mostly because the discrepancy was so large to begin with.

I might try to use these number to evaluate the quality of starts in a future post. Shouldn't losses against bad teams hurt a goalie's (or team's) respectability (for lack of a better term) more than a loss to good opposition? More to come...

Monday, December 18, 2006


I didn't get to start watching the Sharks game until midnight on Saturday. But I sure wasn't going to bed until I knew what happened. At the holiday party that evening, all my friends were giving me shit, pretending to announce the status after checking the score on their cell phones. I even had "DON'T TALK ABOUT THE SHARKS GAME' on my drink glass for the night.

I'm not going to do a whole recap, because I'm sure the Mercury News or ESPN has a better summary than what I will be able to produce. All I can say is that the Ducks are a fearsome team, especially on special teams. One thing I noticed in particular is they didn't hesitate to collapse on Joe when he was behind the net on the PP, but they would give him space on the half-boards. Haven't seen other teams take that tactic. Joe usually finds the open man when he gets challenged like that.

And my pessimistic side showed in the 3rd period, when the Ducks took the lead 3-2. I think there was about 8 minutes left in the game, and my heart sank. I said, "that's it", and was immediately admonished by Doug. He told me to take it back. All I could think about were the Sharks of years past, and maybe the NHL of years past, when a late go-ahead goal meant doom for the other team. But those years are past- the Sharks don't use it as an excuse to lose. They suck it up and go back to work. Cheech scored only seconds later, and I was forced to say "I take it back, and I have no reason to criticize." Then Joe put one in with 3 minutes left to give the Sharks their only lead, and the only one that matters.

Wow! At that moment, it was hard to remember it's just a regular season game in December. Beating the unquestioned class of the NHL is a big time statement. After that bad loss a month ago, I started to wonder if the Sharks would even have a chance. This game really showed for the first time in their history that the Sharks can beat anyone in the NHL, and even come from behind against a team with two Norris winners. As a long time Sharks fan, that feeling is new and exhilarating.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Trap Game

One of my favorite sports columnists, King Kaufman, uses a phrase that applies perfectly to the debacle last night. For instance, this is what he said about Washington playing the Saints this Sunday (the caps means he's picking Washington to win):

WASHINGTON (4-9) at New Orleans (9-4): Trap game! Trap! Trap! Trap! The Saints routed the Cowboys in a huge national TV game in Dallas Sunday night, they're in -- OK, near -- the Big Apple and the Giants circus next week. This week they get Washington, which can't get out of its own way. Trap! I'm picking it.
This is what happened to the Sharks last night. The Ducks are coming! The Ducks are coming! After a 5-0 drubbing on November 21st that even casual Sharks fans still have nightmares about, I can imagine that the players and coaches might have been a bit preoccupied. And with four games in six days, a letdown isn't unexpected. Especially when you are about to play a team with three friggin' losses in 34 games.

Does it suck that they lost to a bad team that didn't have their #1 D-man and their starting goaltender? Sure. But it's part of the learning experience for this young team. Actually the coaches might be secretly glad. If the Sharks were riding a 4 game winning streak into Saturday, there could be a lack of hunger against Anaheim. As coaches say, the hardest time to get players motivated is when they're winning. Ron Wilson can crack the whip today; the players will be listening.

WTF is going on here?

So I read this today, because I check ESPN's NHL page like Dr. House takes Vicodin. Then something in my wee little brain says, hey, I've heard this guy's name before vis-a-vis the Sharks. So I do a bit of searching, and find Traverse's player card on TSN, the Canadian sports channel.

28-Sep-06: Montreal Canadiens claimed Patrick Traverse
off waivers from the San Jose Sharks.
10-Jul-06: Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the
San Jose Sharks.
09-Sep-04: Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the
Dallas Stars.
21-Feb-01: Montreal Canadiens traded Eric Weinrich to
the Boston Bruins for Patrick Traverse.
18-Nov-00: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim traded Patrick
Traverse and Andrei
Nazarov to the Boston Bruins for Sami
12-Jun-00: Ottawa Senators traded Patrick Traverse
to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for Joel
20-Jun-92: Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 3rd
round (50th overall) in 1992.
First of all, how dumb are the Habs to trade Eric Weinrich, a solid NHL defenseman, for Traverse, who was 27 at the time with about a hundred NHL games played? But I digress.

So lemme get this straight. The Sharks sign Traverse in June as an unrestricted free agent. He gets no playing time. He gets sent down to the minors. In the process, he has to clear waivers. Montreal claims him off of waivers. But he doesn't play for Montreal either. So the Sharks trade one player they never use, Martin Biron, for a different player they never used, Patrick Traverse.

McLaren is nursing some injury or another, but we have Carle, Ehrhoff, Hannan, Vlasic, Gorges, Davison, and Murray. Do we really need a 9th defenseman? A 32-year-old who last had anything approaching a full NHL season in 2002-2003? Who has 279 career NHL games, and 65 career NHL points? This makes zero sense to me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Toskala is better than Nabby this year, right?

Not so fast. BoC is a good hockey blog for us west-coasters, and Mike Chen, who writes about the Sharks, has a good post on the Nabby vs. Tosk debate. As the post shows, one can make the case that Nabby has faced much tougher opponents than Toskala. In terms of the "pushover" set, Nabby has faced the Islanders (who aren't really a pushover now at 15-11-3) and Phoenix once. Toskala has faced St. Louis twice, Columbus, Philly, and the Kings three times. Their stats are basically identical, and Nabby has one more shutout.

But read the comments of the post too- In the 'tough' starts, Tosk has fared better.

Here's my own analysis. You have to factor in the strength of the team's record when you face them. There may not be that many swings now, but to use one example, the Penguins were 7-3-0 when we faced them in November. Now they are 13-11-5. It might be interesting to use the opponent's record for the previous ten games, but I already did the analysis based on the "at the time" (ATT) record, so too bad. Maybe in a future post.

The ATT record Nabokov has faced so far this season is 132-91-17, where Toskala's is 90-108-29. But since the most recent games will be more heavily weighted (the most recent game against the Kings had their record 11-16-4, but the first time it was 5-9-3), we should use points per game instead. The average Opponents Points Per Game At the Time (OPPGAAT, hehe) is 1.13 for Nabokov, 0.908 for Toskala. That's a big difference. Extrapolate that points per game for a season, and Nabokov is facing a 92-point team vs Toskala facing a 74-point team.

In the comments thread, they talk about tough games, but using OPPGAAT, Nabby's 4 toughest games are the toughest of the season thus far. Those were the first Minnesota game (loss), the second Minnesota game (win), the Anaheim game (loss), and the most recent Nashville game (win). All those had an OPPGAAT of 1.39 and higher. Toskala's toughest game (using OPPGAAT) was a win against Detroit, with an OPPGAAT of 1.33.

So Nabby has a worse record against "tough" opponents, but Nabby's "toughest" opponents were "tougher" than Toskala's "toughest" opponents. By a lot. That may be the most time the root "tough" has ever been used in a sentence. Comparing Toskala's most difficult starts against Nabokov's is not a level playing field. Nabokov has faced tougher starts, and more of them.

Nabby has clearly had the better season, in my opinion.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Great Goal

You don't see this move that often, at least not since Denis Savard and Guy LaFleur:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New scheduling scheme

The NHL governors are meeting about the cap, but they are also talking about tweaking the schedule. Apparently they want to cut the number of interdivision games (currently 8) and increase the interconference games. Since the Sharks are in the Pacific division, it would seem reducing the number of interdivision games would benefit them, but I kind of like playing the Ducks 8 times, the games should be great. Certain scheduling tweaks can have two teams playing each other several times in a short period of time, but so what? That's what a series is all about, when the memories are fresh.

But what I don't like about the NHL schedule is that each team doesn't play an entire division each year. This year for the Sharks, it's the Atlantic. No Canadiens, Senators, Bruins, Maple Leafs, or Sabres this year. I like the symmetry of each team playing every other. Rumors are some teams are pissed about not getting butts in the seats to see Ovechkin or Crosby because some teams never play 'em, but I don't care about that. With 82 games in a season and 30 teams, every team should play every other at least once.

So here's my proposed schedule, which will never fly. Mostly because it reduces the number of games in a season, and as I may have mentioned before, I don't think there's a single time in history when a financially stable league reduced the number of games. Games mean revenue. More games mean more revenue. Anyway, I would reduce the number of interdivision games from 8 to 5. One benefit is less games, the other is that with an odd number of games, there will generally be a demonstrable 'series winner'. Then I would include one game against the 'missing' division. This would reduce the overall schedule by 7 games, from 82 to 75, a nice round number. So what about it, NHL? Maybe this will keep the playoff from going into June.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Yesterday was a holiday

Thanks for reminding me, Battle of California, one year ago yesterday the destiny of the Sharks franchise changed. It shall be dubbed Joe Thornton day. On November 30, 2005, the Sharks were on a 10-game losing streak. That night, before a game against the Stars (which they lost), it was revealed that Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart were late scratches for the game. Doug and I frantically dialed each other, madly contemplating what this meant. We were sure a trade was on. Given some horrible signings and deals the Sharks have made in the past (see Belfour, Ed), I was very worried. We speculated on Martin St. Louis, a player that one the MVP, but was having a bad year.

Neither of us ever dreamed it would be Joe Thornton. I still remember the excitement I felt when I realized we were getting one of the premier players in the game. I was worried about what I like to call "Ray Sheppard" disease, when a player comes to the Sharks and immediately sucks, only to regain past glory the instant they move to another team. Those worries were allayed within a month. Joe was on fire, and his nuclear explosion of points irradiated Jonathan Cheechoo to light up brighter than ever before. Ok, a tortured analogy. Joe went on to win the Hart and the Ross; Cheechoo won the Richard. And now the Sharks have the 3rd best record in the NHL.

Ahhh, good times. I hope to celebrate Joe Thornton day for many years to come.