Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Great, The Unfortunate, And The Stupid

Tonight's hockey action saw a lot of good, some bad, and definitely some ugly. The three men in the image above don't really represent those three sentiments, but they do represent the three traits in the title of this article. Alexander Ovechkin, Dennis Wideman, and Willie Mitchell - three veteran players - will demonstrate the great plays, the unfortunate plays, and the downright stupid plays from last night.

We'll start with a great play, and it was pulled off by The Great Eight as he made two New Jersey defencemen look like pylons.
Jon Merrill one-on-one with Alexander Ovechkin is a mismatch in talent from the start. However, Travis Zajac should have recognized who had the puck and who he was looking to victimize as he was back-checking. Instead, Ovechkin now has a "Goal of the Year" video to submit, Jon Merrill has a video to suppress on his free agency resumé, and the rest of the planet can salivate over Ovechkin finding a little of his mojo once more.

From the great play, we move to a most unfortunate play. Dennis Wideman is a solid defenceman on a Falmes team that is reeling right now, and his play with Jonas Hiller on the bench during a delayed penalty didn't help the Flames break out of their funk last night against Vancouver.
Yannick Weber of the Canucks was credited with the goal, but Wideman's 200-foot bank shot was hard to watch. Wideman was clearly looking to send the puck back to Mason Raymond, but the two didn't connect whatsoever. Instead, the Flames went to the powerplay down 1-0 on Wideman's and Raymond's miscues. In the end, the Flames would fall in overtime to the Canucks by a 3-2 score. That goal would come back to haunt the Flames on this night.

Finally, Willie Mitchell has played 826 NHL games, including tonight's game, and he's always been a respectable defenceman. He was brought in by Florida this season to be a veteran leader for the young kids on the Panthers' blue line, but I'm not sure anyone should follow his utterly stupid lead from tonight.
Willie Mitchell might be looking at a suspension for his use of Kris Letang's helmet as a weapon. Letang's extra poke at Luongo was probably warranting a talking-to and maybe a facewash, but both Mitchell and Letang were given five minutes each for their tussle. However, it appeared the referees missed the helmet swing that Mitchell attempted, and we already know that the league doesn't take lightly to idiotic moves like Mitchell's attempt to use the helmet for anything but protecting a skull.
Expect a fine, but don't be surprised by a suspension for Florida's captain.

I also want to express some relief that Jannik Hansen of the Canucks seems to be fine after collapsing on the Vancouver bench. Hansen was hit by the aforementioned Dennis Wideman in tonight's game at 1:27 of the second period, and it appeared that Hansen was winded or in some pain as he skated back to the Vancouver bench. Moments later, the Canucks' bench was calling for team doctors.

The good news is that Hansen walked down the tunnel to the Canucks' dressing room under his own power, and he seemed to be moving without any noticeable struggle. Let's hope that everything turns out ok for the Vancouver forward. We don't need anything awful to report during this festive season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Good In Both Zones

The Jets and Bruins tangled tonight, and it was a solid effort by a depleted roster that helped the Jets to the 2-1 win. As seen to the left, newest Jet Jay Harrison will wear #23 for the foreseeable future, and he had an impact already as he picked up an assist. On whose goal, you ask? Evander Kane's first period goal, and that brings us to tonight's topic: Kane's play as of late. While there's some concern about his projected totals this season, his play in the final minute of tonight's game is proof that he might be maturing as a player, and the results are encouraging.

We'll start with Kane's goal because he finally did what fans have been crying for since he rolled into town: he went to the net! Grant Clitsome's point shot was stopped by Tuukka Rask, but Kane beat his man to the net and was able to sweep the rebound into the net. For a guy who is known to be a power forward more than a finesse forward, he finally showed that he's willing to go to the high-traffic area to earn himself a point. Let's hope this continues.

However, it was his play in the final minute that really caught my attention. Kane, who had been out for the previous 45 seconds, was dead-tired as the Bruins pressed for the tying goal with six attackers. Kane, who is supposed to cover the point, never left his zone despite him running on fumes, and was the man who finally cleared the puck out of the zone thanks to him staying where he's supposed to be. In other words, he did his job defensively. And did it well!

Paul Maurice's confidence in his young star has never wavered from what he says, but there are definitely times in the past where Kane wouldn't be on the ice in that final minute. Kane has shown a penchant for back-checking in the last few months - along wit his teammates - and the commitment to defence has put Winnipeg into a playoff spot.

This writer won't lie when I suggested at the beginning of the season that the Jets would miss the playoffs if Kane wasn't a factor, but I was suggesting that he needed to be more of an offensive threat. Instead, Paul Maurice has him playing confident hockey in the defensive zone - something not seen from Kane since the Jets moved back from Atlanta!

Tonight, the Jets got the effort they needed from Kane on both ends of the ice, and it provides hope that his game is finally maturing into the complete package that Claude Noel was always trying to get out of him. This is the Evander Kane that can be considered one of the best wingers in the game of he brings this kind of effort nightly. This is the Evander Kane who can lead the Jets to the playoffs as long as he's putting this kind of game together every night.

The pat on the helmet from head coach Paul Maurice and the jostling from Chris Thorburn show the appreciation from both men when it comes to Kane's effort tonight. I'm quite certain that the curtain call for Kane when he was named as one of the three stars was the loudest cheer he's received from the Winnipeg fans to date. The fans here aren't dumb; they appreciate the effort that goes into winning. Blue-collar efforts like Kane gave tonight will win back his detractors in spades!

Tonight was one of Evander Kane's best games, and I'm happy to have witnessed it. All he has to do is follow it up with another game like tonight!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Hockey Show - Episode 119

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, is opening the doors for the extended hockey family tonight! With Beans off vacationing in warmer climates and Columbus at home in the Twin Cities, I was feeling a little lonesome in the booth, so I decided to do something dramatic! Straight Ahead with Aaron Sabasch, a fantastic little jazz show, is on holiday hiatus as well, so I sent the boss a memo, made an executive decision, and I'm taking his timeslot! With the extra time, I'm inviting back two of The Hockey Show's favorite guests, and we'll welcome a brand-new friend to the show as Extended Hockey Family Episode takes shape!

The show will open at 4:00pm CT, so mark your calendars! This two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza will open with our good friend Isabelle Germain joining me from 4:00pm until 4:45pm! I've been trying to get Isabelle on for a while as we want to talk about a pile of things. We'll discuss the CWHL All-Star Game and the emergence of the women's game as not only a great sport, but as an alternative hockey source for many families. We'll talk about the success of Shannon Szabados in Columbus, Georgia with the SPHL's Cottonmouths, and the recent game where referees Erin Blair and Katie Guay called the game. We'll talk about the CIS teams out east as well with the co-host of East Coast Sport Show on Bell Aliant Community One TV, Miss Isabelle Germain!

The guests dropping by don't stop there, though. From 4:45pm to 5:30pm, I am honoured to welcome back one of Canada's best actors, in this guy's opinion, in Mr. Jared Keeso! We're going to talk to Jared about his work on 19-2 and the upcoming second season starting in January! We'll discuss his favorite team in the Calgary Flames, and how they've proved all the pundits wrong thus far. We'll discuss the hockey scene in Montreal as that's where he was filming 19-2, we'll talk about him starring in a new Heritage Moment commercial, and we may even get some insight on upcoming projects that Jared is involved in! It's been a while since we've had Jared on, so this truly does feel like a family reunion!

Yet we're still not done as we have an hour left in the show! So who else could be dropping by? If you recognize the smiling face to the left, you already know that The Hockey Show is honoured, privileged, and proud to welcome former NHL star, former Manitoba Moose centerman, and author Sean Pronger to the program from 5:30pm to 6:30pm! Sean and I will discuss a lot of stuff in his book, we'll chat some fun hockey stuff, and we might even work in a few questions about his lesser-known brother, Chris. I'm really excited to be able to talk to Mr. Pronger because he was a great player when he suited up for the Moose, and his book is hilarious so I'm sure he'll bring a lot of fun and laughter to the show!

Tonight is going to a jam-packed show, so I'm going to let everyone know that the phones will be closed. You can hear all the interviews on 101.5 UMFM on your radio dial in the Winnipeg region or you can listen live between 4:00pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! You can tweet me anytime you like by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show. There are lots of ways for you to interact with The Hockey Show, so tune in tonight and hear from three amazing people as we bring together the extended hockey family for a night of fun and laughs!

FULL PODCAST: DECEMBER 18, 2014: Episode 119
Isabelle Germain interview
Jared Keeso interview
Sean Pronger interview

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Correctly Coding Color

Occasionally, programmers and coders run into a little problem of color. Colors in the coding world are based on what are called "hex codes" based on hexidecimal values in mixing the primary colors of blue, green, and red. Most are written in the format #000000 (that would be black) in order to achieve the color needed. Because it's written in hexidecimal format, you can have over 16 million colors to choose from when looking for a specific shade! Needless to say, there's a color for every programmer out there.

Graphic designers require specific shades of color for logos and designs, so they are extremely picky when it comes to eggshell versus white. Relating this to hockey, there are a ton of specific colors that are used for logos and jerseys in the NHL, and finding the right hexidecimal code on the internet for your team could be a bit of a chore.

Until today as I'd like to present Team Hex Codes! Big stick tap to my friend Tessa V. for finding this site and sharing it. Suddenly, finding the right shade of light blue for the Jets is no longer a guessing game!

The site has the hex codes for NFL, MLB, and MLS teams as well, but no NBA teams at this time. What's cool about the Team Hex Code is that if you are an aspiring coder, you can grab the source code over at GitHub and make changes or add teams or even add a league! Personally, I'd like to see alternate and throwback colors added for the NHL teams. Obviously, the Winter Classic jerseys for the Capitals aren't included, but the alternate colors for the Penguins and Islanders are also missing.

If that's the only complaint with this site, though, most coders are going to love it! I do caution that some of the colors seem slightly off - Phoenix's Coyote logo is more brown than what is shown on the image, but the hex code matches the picture. Therein lies the rub, and it might be a good idea to do a little research if you're planning to design a site off these colors. You can never go wrong with a second opinion!

This is a great site to begin working with hex codes for colors, though, and you might find that you can find one of the 16 million colors that works a little better than what the site has when you're coding your NHL colors. Maybe you'll discover you have an eye for this graphic design thing!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Who's Next Permanently?

It's been a while since all the Whos in Whoville have been happy and dancing joyously. Oilers fans have known heartbreak and disappointment for way too long, and they'll have to be buoyed by the fact that Todd Nelson might be able to squeeze out the remaining life in this Oilers squad. But where hope fails, disappointment lives. It's for this reason that a new coach who employs a new system that maximizes the talents of the Oilers could bring back some hope to the Alberta capital. Hope springs eternal, and if the Oilers show life under a new coach, there may be just enough of a heartbeat to rescue this franchise from the cellar of the NHL where they seemed to be trapped.

Of course, the question of who will lead them into light is a massive one. Today, HBIC is proud to welcome back Neal L. with his thoughts on how the Oilers can make a turn-around with a new man behind the bench. This new coach will require some criteria that will be laid out by Neal, but I think he may be onto something here. I'll discuss below, but here's who Oilers GM Neal is looking for in his search for the next head coach of the Oilers!
So by now, unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard that the Edmonton Oilers have axed coach Dallas Eakins. It was a move that many pundits have been discussing should have happened for some time. While people have speculated who should replace Eakins behind the bench, I'm here to tell you that the perfect solution may have landed right into the Oilers laps.

Before I get to who the Oilers should hire, I'd like to explain some of my reasoning on who the club should get. Most people seem to think that the Oilers need a defensive coach who will plug up some of their holes in their defense and give the goalies a better chance at stopping the puck. You can simply hear the collective voices of all the experts: if the Oilers could just shut people down their superior talent should win them many games. That's the missing link a coach that will teach them how to play team defense and that winning will follow.

My response is that all of those opinions are simply poppycock. For me there are several reasons why this is the case. My first reason is that you need to tailor a system to the players on your roster. While you may think that Nail Yakupov is a waste of space and you would like to have him off your roster, you should make the most of his abilities while he is on your roster. I don't think Yakupov will ever be an effective defender, so put him in position for what he does best: scoring goals on the offensive side of the ice. That goes for several of the other talented forwards out there as well. I don't want Taylor Hall locking down a winger; I want Hall causing a rush for the Oilers.

I don't want to make it seem like I feel like defense isn't important because it most certainly is. My opinion is that players work best when they are asked to do roles that favors them the best. The Oilers could cause havoc with an aggressive forecheck using what should be their superior skill to hem opposing teams in their own zone. With youth on their side, they could wear teams down over the course of the game. It is a battle they can win.

On the flip side, playing defense is a battle I don't see the team winning. Other than guys like Benoit Pouliot, their roster isn't equipped to play a shut down type of game. In some ways, it is just a losing proposition. Part of coaching is putting your players in a position to succeed. The most effective coaches throughout history don't necessarily stray from their system, but tweak it so their players can succeed. Putting a defense-first coach behind the bench goes against that in my opinion. Another one of my reasons is that the Oilers defense isn't that bad to begin with!

The Oilers defense has been a punch-line over the course of several seasons. Multiple highlights show blown or just lazy coverage leading to a slam dunk goal for the other team. The Oilers are second-to-last in goals-against-per-game giving up well over three goals a game. The solution for a defensive coach seems so easy. How can I possibly defend this unit? As I am about to tell you, the stats seem to indicate the Oilers are about an average NHL defensive team.

The first stat is the Oilers are almost exactly mid-pack in terms of shots-against-per-game. Some people may counter that this stat is deceiving. First, they will point that those shots the other team are getting are higher quality which isn't captured in the stat. In addition, the other argument is that teams with the lead may stop pressuring as much opting instead just to get pucks deep and keep it away from their own end. There are stats that dispute these counters.

According to advanced stats, the Oilers are tenth-best in Corsi against in five-on-five situations. In other words, they are better-than-average in keeping the other team from possessing the puck. For those who think this stat is padded by blowouts, they are actually only 19th in five-on-five situations when down two or more goals. In terms of Fenwick percentage, they are 15th in Fenwick-against. Nothing spectacular, but a sign of at least a competent unit.

The real problem is goaltending. Scrivens and Fasth have proven to be quite a screen door when it comes to stopping the puck. Both sport save percentage in the .800-range when the NHL average is about .915. Some of these goals could be caused by bad defense, but a lot of them are not. I would argue most teams have lapses in coverage during games, but good NHL goaltenders make the save. Replacing them with a statistical average goalie would have already yielded almost 30 fewer goals. Even replacing them with a .900 save percentage yields 25 fewer goals. The goaltending is the main problem, not the defense. This leads me to who I think should be coach. There was an interesting turn of events last week across the country that could answer Edmonton's prayers.

Last week the Ottawa Senators made their own coaching move, they fired Paul MacLean - a coach with a measure of some success the past few years. This is exactly the coach that Edmonton needs. Paul MacLean brings an up-tempo style that would mesh well with this roster. A lot of Edmonton's problems lie with their surprisingly anemic offense. They rank near the bottom in Fenwick and Corsi for the season. What should be the mighty Edmonton Oilers offense is scoring under two goals per game. During the past three seasons. Maclean’s Senators were top-three in Corsi for all three seasons, and were top-three in Fenwick over the past two. Ottawa's defense also hovered just outside the top-ten in Corsi- and Fenwick-against, suggesting that his defenses didn't struggle because of the increased tempo.

MacLean also eased out every ounce of talent in some pretty underwhelming teams. While no one is going to suggest guys like Jason Spezza and an aging Daniel Alfredsson were stiffs, but, in comparison, the Oilers skilled players would represent a world of riches. The offense could cover up for a defense while guys like Darnell Nurse are developing and until maybe a key free agent or two comes into the organization to round out the team. More importantly, it would give the team a distinct identity and make them one of the best watches in the whole league. "The Walrus" is just a gift from the heavens to the Oilers - one they would be foolish to pass up. This guy led a team who perennially rank near the bottom of the NHL in salary to the playoffs during his time there.

Yet despite this, Edmonton will fumble this away like they do everything else. The ownership group is clueless and the popular PR route would be to hire the defensive coach. While I'm sure my argument will never be the popular conception of the situation, I feel that it is the right one and, honestly, it isn't even close. So I beg you Craig MacTavish, for the overall betterment of your team, hire Paul MacLean. It will be a move you will not regret.
There you go, MacT - a passionate plea to buck the trend and go with an offensively-minded coach. I'm not sure what the analytics have to say about that, but Neal worked in some solid statistical numbers that help support his plea as well. He identifies the horrific goaltending that Edmonton is getting, but I'm going to go against Neal on this one based on some history, some player information, and a couple of key statistics.

First, Ottawa has this pretty solid offensive defenceman in Erik Karlsson that is responsible for a lot of that Ottawa offence. He controls the game for the Senators much like Paul Coffey did for the Oilers of the 1980s. He's an excellent first-pass defenceman as well, and this led to many opportunities for the Ottawa offence. Edmonton doesn't have a player like this. Justin Schultz would be the closest, but there's a wide distance between his skill level and Karlsson's skill level. You could make a case for there being some similarities between Jeff Petry and Patrick Wiercioch, but the Oilers have no answer for players like Cody Cici and Jared Cowen. At least Andrew Ference and Chris Phillips kind of cancel one another out. The defence, in this case, is heavily-stacked in favour of the Senators.

Goaltending has been the Achilles' heel for both of these franchises. Ottawa's Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner turn in some spectacular performances, but they are too few and too far between starts to give Ottawa a legitimate shot at being a playoff threat. If you're an Oilers fan, that sounds pretty familiar when it comes to Scrivens and Fasth. Both goalies have the ability to play at an incredibly high-level, but they rarely get an opportunity to steal a game because they're already down a goal or two. That's not entirely their fault as team defence has never been a priority in Edmonton when you look at the personnel they've employed year after year.

Speaking of personnel, Neal wanted to see an offensive coach behind the Edmonton bench. The problem is that they had one, and he failed. Pat Quinn, a man who was opposed to any sort of neutral zone trap or outright defensive system, went 27-47-8 in 2009-10 with the Oilers, and they finished a mile from the playoff race. Paul MacLean, for all the offensive talent that the Senators boasted at one point, never saw any improvement in the standings after his first full season behind the bench in Ottawa. The Senators won 41, 43 (pro-rated), and 37 games in his three full seasons, and was on-track to win just 33 games this season. In fact, that 43-win season was the lock-out shortened season, so there's no guarantee the Senators would have been two games better than they were in the previous season. The team had virtually similar records through 48 games, so there was no discernible improvement in Ottawa at any time under MacLean!

Neal speaks of MacLean as the next innovator in offensive hockey, but the numbers for the Senators show an entirely different story. In MacLean's first season in 2011-12, the Senators scored 249 goals-for and surrendered 240 against. Those 249 goals-for would stand as the highest total the Senators scored under MacLean in any of his seasons, pro-rated or not. If we use 82 games for all seasons, Ottawa would have scored 240, 198, 236, and 213 goals-for versus 240, 178, 265, and 225 goals-against, respectively. Again, if we take out the 48-game shortened season, the differentials in the two full seasons he coached 82 games would be +9 and -29. Sure, there's offence, but aren't we looking at the same problem that Edmonton has now - they can score, but the puck's always in their zone and/or net?

No, offence isn't Edmonton's problem. Like Ottawa, they are in the same boat where they can't seem to keep the puck out of their zone or net. This year, it's been magnified in Edmonton because of the myriad of problems the team seems to have both on and off the ice, but the projected 172 goals-for and 280 goals-against won't solve the last-place finish they're destined for by adding more offence. No team has given up more goals than the Oilers this season, and that's where the hemorrhaging needs to be stopped.

After all, if you're always fishing the puck out of your own net, it's hard to score on your opposition. Neal makes an appealing case for Paul MacLean, but the numbers simply don't back up the claim that the best defence is a good offence for the Oilers.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!