Tuesday, May 29, 2007



If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

-- Jimmy Soul, "If You Wanna Be Happy" (1963)

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

-- old proverb

The NHL should be on ESPN, with maybe a few winter games and some of the Finals moved to ABC... naturally hockey highlights would be prominent on SportsCenter through the whole season... let's have the Disney Corp. use their mighty marketing power to vault the NHL back up to the first tier of American sports, while of course ensuring that Canadian fans aren't boned with things like Saturday afternoon games involving Canadian teams... then, once they're hooked, they'll really be ready to finally shell out the big bucks... etc.

-- Typical hockey pundit/blogger

Well, I'd like a pony that poops PS2 games, but I think everyone's out of luck here...

-- Evan Kirchhoff

Everyone likes to pile on the NHL's Ad WizardsTM for their media savvy. We like to be snotty about Versus/OLN/the Bull Riding Channel, and then also be horrified and outraged when NBC cuts off Sens/Sabres after regulation to go to other more lucrative programming.

We -- and when I say we, of course I mean you, although probably not you specifically, unless you are a sports talk guy on The FAN960 -- really need to think hard about this issue and acknowledge that there are trade-offs to be made, and then pick one.

I'm not defending the NHL here; they really haven't settled on a strategy yet either, and there probably is a 3rd (or 4th, or 5th) way to go -- I may do a piece on this over the summer. But at the very least for the time being: if you're embarrassed at the NHL's ongoing contortions to gain a national footprint in the USA, whether in a media context (see Erin Nicks' good piece here) or in a rules-of-the-game context (Mike W says it well here), you really ought to shut the hell up rather than sniff at the US network that is willing to both make the NHL its flagship property and pay good money to do so. That is all.

[Postscript: er, almost all! Ironically, pace Jimmy Soul, marriage is the one area where you really can have your cake and eat it too, and find someone both lovely and devoted. Hi Dear!]

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Visual aids can be so helpful!

The Al-Jaffee-influenced cartoonist Peter Bagge has a wonderful piece in Reason magazine, titled, "Let's All Give Money To The Rich Man: Billionaire Sports Team Owners And Their Corporate Welfare Scam", complete with copious and appropriate use of scare quotes.

Whole thing here.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007




Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Caught in the Cookie Jar

I don't want to get in the way of Matt's excellent post below, so I'll keep this short. Here is an extraordinary story from The Village Voice on Rudolph Giuliani's questionable dealings with the New York Yankees during his time as mayor of New York City. I feel that it serves as a warning to those civic officials who might confuse their own predilections with the public good, as well as a reminder to myself that good journalism actually does exist in the world. There's certainly lots in the article to talk about, but I'll leave that for the comments.



Law 010: Principles of Sentencing (for Dilettantes)

"It is not a matter of fairness, it's a matter of correctness," said Stu Jackson, NBA executive vice president, "and this is the right decision at this point of time."

And thus, even though the Spurs' Robert Horry was the only one who actually committed violence, it will be the Phoenix Suns whose roster will be seriously harmed for Game 5, and the Spurs came out ahead.

I certainly won't be the only one looking at NBA and NHL discipline side-by-side today; it's appropriate. My main take is that while justice administered arbitrarily is hardly worthy of its name -- the Colin Campbell Wheel of JusticeTM ain't a term of endearment -- neither is justice administered by formula.

My objection to the Wheel has never been that seemingly similar transgressions have been punished differently, but rather how difficult it is to glean what criteria are used and how they are weighed. If that seems a little fuzzy, read on.

Since criminal law has thousands of years of history on supplementary discipline in pro sports, and about infinity times more scholarship, I think it's instructive to look at theories of criminal punishment if we're trying to voice an intelligent objection to the way the NHL and NBA go about their businesses. From everybody's 2nd-favourite website (behind imdb.com), Wikipedia:
There are five main goals of criminal justice: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restitution. Jurisdictions differ on the value to be placed on each, if any at all.

So let's look at the jurisdiction that is the NHL, shall we?

Incapacitation: setting aside other factors, a serial killer needs to be locked up so that he can't kill more innocent people. There's not really an NHL analogue to this. I know that every so often in Junior B or minor pro leagues, a player is "banned" in part for this reason. However, I know of no NHL precedent where a player was given a long or indefinite suspension expressly for the protection of other players.

Rehabilitation: likewise. Sending a hockey player to anger management classes or some such thing just isn't analogous to the objective -- however effective it might be -- of transforming a criminal into a productive member of society, via education/therapy/whatever.

Deterrence: this is an obvious aim of NHL Supplementary Discipline, both individual deterrence ("maybe this'll make you think twice before you crosscheck someone in the face again") and general deterrence ("any of you other clowns want to try something similar, be aware that this is what'll happen to you"). The rough consensus among fans and media seems to be that the NHL doesn't do enough in this regard. I don't really want to get into it, but I will note this sentence from the Wikipedia article, which is consistent with everything else I've read on the subject of general(e.g. death penalty scholarship): "While of useful rhetoric value, studies do not generally suggest increasing penalties for a specific offence reduces the commission of that offence."

Retribution: this is the other primary aim of NHL S.D., and please don't confuse it with revenge. It's simply the idea that, regardless of other considerations, offenders ought to suffer consequences for their misdeeds. It appeals to our general sense of right and wrong (fairness), as thinking humans.

Clearly these two factors -- deterrence and retribution -- are what is weighed when the NHL considers supplementary discipline. And for the record, I think (conceptually) it is entirely appropriate and just. I strongly disagree with the segment of the fans/media who argue -- generally in the aftermath of a suspension that seems too short -- that there ought to be specific penalties for specific acts, period. (In other words, that sentencing should be all or mostly about deterrence: you get 10 games for doing X, 3 games for doing Y, etc.)

Mandatory minimums and zero tolerance can sound great in theory, but they have less than illustrious histories, and too often result in situations that are patently unjust. You get a schoolkid being expelled for bringing a butter knife in this lunch to put cream cheese on his bagel, or suspended for popping a Tylenol. And you get the NBA VP admitting that, "Hey, it's brutally unfair, but rules are rules."

The other problem with this is that when you give the act (e.g. hitting someone from behind) more weight, you necessarily give the consequences (e.g. whether the victim is injured, and how badly) less weight. That to me is unjust.

Take Jordin Tootoo, Scott Nichol, and Todd Bertuzzi. All were guilty recently of comparable (if not identical) offenses: sucker punching a guy in the back of the head. Tootoo got no suspension; Nichol got 9 games; and Bertuzzi got the most severe suspension in the history of the NHL.

I will listen to arguments that the exact length of any of these suspensions was inappropriate. However, you will never convince me that enraging Ryan Clowe (and receiving a proper beating in return) deserves the same punishment as breaking Steve Moore's neck. It is proper and just that Todd Bertuzzi was made to pay a higher price than Scott Nichol (Jaro Spacek was back the next game).

The other end of this spectrum is "eye-for-an-eye", which is also unjust. While (per the previous few paragraphs) I think it's fair for a backchecker who breaks another player's wrist with a slash to suffer greater consequences than someone who does not cause an injury, it stretches the bounds of justice too far to punish 99 versions of a bad act with a two-minute minor and the 100th with a two-month suspension.

This segues somewhat into the 5th principle, which is Restitution. Generally speaking (e.g. in the regular season), it is impractical to impossible to make restitution an element of NHL discipline. If Andrew Ference breaks Ryan Smyth's ankle with a slash, there is nothing the NHL can do -- or force the Bruins to do -- to compensate the Islanders for their loss. Suspending Ference doesn't really help the Islanders -- no more than the rest of the Eastern Conference, anyway.

Even in the playoffs, what are you going to do? Brad May dropped Kim Johnsson like a bag of dirt in G4 of Ducks/Wild, and was suspended for the rest of the series, but as everyone noted, this was not a fair trade-off. It seems like there should be something that the NHL could do to balance things out better, but I don't know what. (Suggestions?) You can't suspend Innocent 3rd-Party Scott Niedermayer; while it would better balance out the Wild's loss of Johnsson, he didn't do anything. (And further, that wouldn't just affect the balance of that series; it could have implications on Niedermayer's future earnings and legacy.)

Apparently, the NHL will be conducting a hearing on Chris Pronger this afternoon. I'm guessing that he'll receive a 1-game suspension, mainly on the basis of deterrence (in short: you just can't go around smashing people's heads from behind into the boards, particularly when you're pissed off because you're getting your ass handed to you). The need for retribution and restitution is (thankfully) minimal, as Holmstrom was not seriously injured (and has also apparently shrugged it off already).

I realize this post has been long and windy, so I hope there's something of interest in here for everyone. I think Colin Campbell could be better at his job, but I wouldn't want it myself, and don't envy him. If there's two things I hope readers take away, these are them:
  1. It is just and proper that NHL supplementary discipline is evaluated case-by-case and takes everything into account: the act, the injury (if any), the situation. While the NHL VP's best judgement seems crappy sometimes, the alternatives are worse.
  2. Next time you're reacting to a light suspension for a dangerous hit, and are tempted to say, "It shouldn't matter that the guy wasn't injured", ask yourself if you honestly believe that (say) paralyzing someone isn't grounds for more severe punishment.
I suspect this whole piece will need a coda or follow-up; we'll see.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Final Four

Hello all! I'm back from the basement. While I haven't been posting, I have been ruminating; I'll try to touch on as much as possible here within a reasonable word count.

First of all, notwithstanding the absence of the Flames, I'm tickled as to how the first two rounds have played out. There's a bit of room for argument, but it sure looks to me like the two best teams in each conference are playing off for a spot in the SCF. All four are good organizations, in the sense that they haven't (recently) done stupid or shameful things. I've had the odd problem with Bryan Murray over the years, but those are four excellent coaches. And none of the four has any obvious fatal weakness. They can all score and defend.

More generally, it's somewhat of a relief (satisfying?) to see the best teams continue to do what made them successful in the regular season and get results. Like Tom B. wrote in March, I fume at references to the "meaningless regular season":
The regular season is about the race for the playoffs and entertainment, the opportunity to watch a great game being played by the best players in the world. It is no more - or less - than that. By itself that has meaning.

To my mind, it is actually a bit more: it's about preparation, and a constant effort to make improvements at the margin. Bolster this strength a bit, address that weakness a bit, try a few different things and see what works -- all so that maybe in that 1st round matchup you can be a 65/35 favourite instead of 55/45. Or so that when you reach the conference finals, you're in a coin flip situation instead of a 40/60 underdog. There is no guarantee of success, but it's all a team can do, and it's nice (for me) to see these marginal advantages translate into series wins.

Conference Finals: I predicted before Round 2 that Ottawa would win the East, and I'm certainly sticking with that; I would have even if they got thumped last night. It's pretty remarkable just how closely this situation mirrors the one last year. Then, the Sabres were the nominal underdog, even though Ottawa's lead in the final standings was due entirely to a screaming-hot 1st 20 games, and the Sabres were the measurably better team thereafter. If Ottawa plays well, Buffalo plays well, and the breaks are roughly even, Ottawa will win convincingly.

Detroit v. Anaheim: it's really, really tough to pick against Anaheim here. The Ducks were by far the best team in the West vs. other good teams, and their only real slump coincided with injuries to Pronger, Giguere, and Beauchemin. Carlyle has been playing Pronger & Niedermayer huge minutes, and line-matching ferociously hard, since October. Back then, it was a source of amusement, but now, it seems wise: if that's the way he envisioned beating the Red Wings in the conference finals back then, why not prepare to play that way from the get-go. Even before Schneider got hurt, the Wings were going to have a bugger of a time cracking the Pahlsson-led PK; now, a single-digit PP% seems more likely than not.

If I were to use past performance (large sample) to predict future results -- which is nowhere near infallible, but quite a lot better than most other methods -- I'd have to pick the Ducks. Further, if both teams were to play the way that brought them great success in the regular season, I'd have to pick the Ducks.

But, I'm not going to. I'm going to flirt with the fallacy known as The Playoffs Are A Different Game.

For the most part, They're not. Great goalies are still great goalies; even great players make occasional mistakes; teams are breaking out, and trapping in the neutral zone, and setting up the PP, etc. etc. in the same manner as they did in the regular season.

The difference is that you have a whole bunch of games in a row in which to induce the other team to change what they do well. There are some things a team can do that just don't pay dividends in a single regular season game, but pay substantial dividends in a long playoff series.

The idea of physically punishing one or more specific players on the opposition is one of these. Regardless of whether this is a wise strategy for a particular player (let's use Dion Phaneuf as an example), clearly it's a pretty useless one in a single game. For a game, Phaneuf will willingly (if not happily) take punishment in order to make the correct play. Next game they're probably playing someone else who will try different things; it's no big deal.

In a playoff series, though, Phaneuf has got to deal with (A) the physical strain of the constant punishment, and (B) the knowledge that "this is how it's gonna be". Both A and B can, and often do, eventually induce Phaneuf to alter the way he normally plays and the decisions he normally makes. And 90+% of the time, when a player adjusts, it's not for the better in the big picture (otherwise, they would have been playing that way already, no?).

A hard, determined forecheck is kind of the same; yes, it can create turnovers in any given game, but over the course of several games, it can cause a team and its players to entirely revisit how they get out of their own zone.

I'm going to be light on specifics here, but I really think that the Wings are much less likely to alter what they do best in the face of Ducks challenges than the Ducks are to (eventually) change their game in reaction to the Wings. Put another way, like I said before Wings/Sharks, I trust the Wings to play their best hockey more than I do the Ducks.

Fun Fact #1: in Games 5 & 6 of their first two series, the Wings outscored the Flames/Sharks 13-3.
Fun Fact #2: Chris Chelios turned 14 two days before Rhett Warrener was born.

The Ducks may win this series, but it's utterly impossible that they'll do it by "wearing down the Red Wings". In both previous series, they got stronger and stronger as play went on. Not to mention last year against the "young Oilers":
What surprises me is that they continue to promote it [the CBC and the Young Team Myth] when the indisputable evidence before their eyes, from Games 1 and 3, is that the Oilers wear down more dramatically in overtime than the Wings. Until the Oilers caught a break in front of Manny Legace, Detroit had all the good chances in the 5th period tonight. And even leaving age aside, Chris Chelios, who once played the "rover" position for the Ottawa Silver Seven, arguably appears better-conditioned than some of the younger Edmontonians.

If you can forget about some of the birthdates on the roster and just watch them, you'll notice that Detroit is as fit and as tough a team as there is in the league. I fully expect the Ducks to win one of the first two in Detroit; I wouldn't even be shocked if the Ducks have 2-1 or even 3-2 series leads; but I think the Wings are going to emerge in the end. Detroit in 7.

And I'll be cheering for them, too. No need for the Oil to pick up a bonus 1st-rounder in 2008 by having Pronger make the Finals. Plus, while I admire Brian Burke in some ways, I certainly don't like him, and I can't even fathom how much more of an obnoxious know-it-all he'd be if he had "built Stanley Cup winner in 2 years" on his resume.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I Want A New Drug

Edmonton billionaire (we have billionaires?) Daryl Katz is looking to buy the Oilers. From defender-of the-impoverished Gary Lamphier:

It's unknown why Katz made his move now. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel recently struck a committee to explore the idea of building a new downtown arena to replace aging Rexall Place where the team plays, but it has barely begun its work. The Oilers' existing lease at Rexall doesn't expire until 2014.

This strikes me as hilarious. Is Lamphier unable to see the connection here, or is he just being coy? The value of the team would go up as soon as an arena deal was announced, let alone built. It makes sense to get in beforehand, especially if he has his own ideas on what should be done concerning the arena.

I'm fine with this, although I can't see some of the current owners, Nichols in particular, walking away from it all. My early guess is Katz would become majority owner at best. We'll see. I'd be interested in knowing his thoughts on ownership, management, metrics, arena financing etc., too. Thanks to Alex for the link. Tyler has a post up on it as well.

***Bonus House Design Critique***

Lamphier has some good info on Katz himself in the story, including the fact that it is Katz who is building that monstrosity of a mansion overlooking Hawrelak Park.

Where does he live? Last year, contractors were busily constructing a massive mansion for Katz on the west bank of the North Saskatchewan River, facing Hawrelak Park. The value of the champagne titanium-clad home with its two swimming pools and 11 bathrooms is estimated at $20 million. It is approximately 25,000 square feet in size. The ice surface of Rexall Place, named after Katz's flagship drugstore chain, measures 17,000 square feet.

Put that down as a strike against Katz. That thing is a blight on the landscape. You are worth $1.9 billion, and you can't afford something that isn't ugly and totally invasive? Ever hear of red brick? Yeesh. It looks like something Donald Trump would build. Gaudyyyyyy...

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Friday, May 04, 2007



Dr. Smyth and His Merry Men Save Little Johnny Edmonton - An Allegorical Passion Play

Hall of Fame, Pat. Hall of Fame.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Allan Maki Gets Feisty

And so he should.

"It's almost vomit-inducing to think that with all the problems confronting our nation, with our troops dying in Afghanistan and sick people waiting for hours to be treated at hospitals, Shane Doan's captaincy is a hot-topic issue for a bunch of politicos who should know better . . . That's sad; that's sick."

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