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Showing posts from June, 2007

Free Agency Mania Starts Sunday

So that means you don't have much hockey news to worry about on Saturday. If you've got kids, take 'em to see "Ratatouille". The Little Forecheckers (ages 5, 5, and 4) gave it three thumbs up Thursday night...

Canadian Baloney, starring James Mirtle

A tireless refrain from the Canadian media is that Nashville is an absolute failure as a hockey market, and failing to move the team north of the border is an exercise in folly by the NHL. Our latest exhibit comes from James Mirtle , usually one of the more thoughtful hockey bloggers extant: But Nashville, quite simply, has proven it cannot sustain an NHL hockey team. Even with the lowest ticket prices in the entire league (I know: I've looked into flying there for a game or two) and a ridiculously forgiving arena lease, the team has had attendance issues despite having one of the best records in the league. It's not a matter of Canadians not wanting teams in the southern U.S.; I've argued time and again in favour of teams like Dallas and Tampa Bay that have supported their teams and really brought something to the table in terms of bringing news fans and new energy to the game. That's a good thing. The Predators, however, are not that, not in the beginning and certa

Moose leads 2007 class into Hall of Fame

You can't argue too much with the inductions of Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis this year into Hockey's Hall of Fame. With only four players being inducted each year, it's inevitable that some worthies get left out, most notably Igor Larionov this time. What is especially impressive about this class is that none of them would really be considered borderline candidates - Messier was part of the Oilers dynasty of the 80's and carried it forward after Gretzky left, and cemented his place in history with the Cup win in 1994 for the Rangers. Scott Stevens terrorized opposing forwards manning the New Jersey blue line, while MacInnis broke more than one goalie's catching hand with perhaps the wickedest slap shot the game has ever seen. Francis was the quiet professional, always just outside the limelight but year after year standing alongside the game's greatest players. One side effect of the 2004-5 lockout is that there will be catch-up

Balls Out, Bags In?

Word is coming this morning that Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold is calling off his deal with Jim Balsillie, and is instead prepared to sell the team to "Boots" DelBiaggio, who has a contract in place to run an NHL team in Kansas City. As I wrote back in March , however, I still don't understand why Kansas City is such an attractive market for the NHL. Yes, they have a new arena that's waiting for a full-time permanent tenant, and the city is willing to bend over backwards to lure a team. But that market is already saturated with two major-league teams (the NFL Chiefs and MLB Royals), as pointed out by last year. The Chiefs are well supported but the Royals are nothing more than a AAA feeder team for the rest of Major League Baseball, due to their minimal payroll and tepid fan support. In that analysis, KC ranked as the 5th-most overextended sports market, and was the most overextended market that doesn't already have an NHL team (t

Hottest and Coldest Shooters

As we enjoy these calm few days before the frenzy of free-agent mania hits, I thought I'd provide an update on the hottest and coldest shooters of the season just passed. Our guide here is the concept of Shot Quality, pioneered by Alan Ryder and (as implemented here) used to express the probability that a given shot is going to result in a goal, based on distance from the net, shot type (slap, wrist, etc.) and situation (power play, even-strength, shorthanded). Basically, 200 shots from a defenseman firing from the point aren't going to produce as many goals as 200 shots from a winger who fires more often from the slot. It's important to remember that the accuracy of the information recorded during NHL games is often less than we'd desire, and while I'm not (in this post) going to the extreme of introducing rink-by-rink effects to try and somehow "correct" the data, Alan's latest piece regarding these problems is well worth a read. I'll utili

Updating the Balsilliemeter

Back when the sale of the Predators was first announced, I introduced the Balsilliemeter, a highly technical and scientifically advanced gauge to monitor the level of goodwill that a Nashville Predators fan should feel towards the prospective new owner. At that point, Balsillie began with a 4.5 rating on a scale of 1 to 10, based on the buzz that surrounded the possibility of a New Economy billionaire joining the NHL, and initial statements that GM David Poile would have a budget restrained only by the salary cap when it came to assembling a winner. Needless to say, quite a bit has changed since then, and the Balsilliemeter has steadily declined over time, standing currently at 1.5. His intention to move the team out of Nashville as quickly as possible couldn't be any more plain, and his bull-headed tactics may end up costing him the deal. The Old Boys Club doesn't like to be pushed around, and Balsillie seems unwilling to slow things down to the pace that they would prefer

I like it, I love it...

Two huge developments broke just within the last few hours: #1: Boots DelBiaggio, who had been in the bidding for the Predators (and would presumably have them relocate to Kansas City) indicated that he's no longer interested in pursuing the team. #2: Current owner Craig Leipold has informed the NHL that his deal with Jim Balsillie is OFF . That's right, Mr. Blackberry is NOT getting his hands on the Nashville Predators. That's right, Hamiltonians, emphasize that "maybe".* I wonder if the local money that's been building will enter into a minority ownership agreement with Leipold at this point. If so, that would make two eerily prescient posts for me in one week, so I guess the next step would be to head to a casino... Now, I do feel sorry for the hockey fans in Hamilton, who have gotten jilted once again - frankly, southern Ontario would seem to be an ideal expansion market (in my mind, after Hartford and Vegas). But, I don't feel sorry for the m

Allow me to pat myself on the back...

Nashville Predators GM David Poile seems to be following my plans perfectly so far. On Tuesday I wrote that in order to assemble the best squad possible for the league minimum salary of roughly $33 million, he'd need to concentrate on re-signing his role players for minimal sums and trade Tomas Vokoun and his $5.3 million salary in order to clear up room to either retain Paul Kariya or add another difference-maker up front via free agency. Step One: Jerred Smithson retained for $1 million over 2 years, CHECK Step Two: Qualifying offers made to an assortment of Restricted Free Agents , CHECK Step Three: Tomas Vokoun traded to Florida for draft picks, CHECK You're completely relaxed, Mr. Poile, now listen closely... Now let's focus on the remaining steps: Step Four: Make an offer to Paul Kariya for somewhere close to what he made last year ($4.5 million) Step Five: Hire a stats-savvy blogger as a consultant to the team for future endeavors such as this. I t

The Great One sounds off on the Predators

In their never-ending series of articles trying to make the Nashville Predators' relocation to Hamilton seem like a done deal, today's Globe & Mail has an article citing an interview with Wayne Gretzky, in which he lauds the support for hockey in Hamilton and tells the fans in Nashville, "that's business, that's life." You'd look like this too after two straight years in the Pacific Division basement. Well, you have to give them some credit. If there's anybody in the league who's an expert on disastrous hockey failures in the southern US, it's gotta be Coach Gretzky .

Saruman didn't have to worry about free agency

The one guy you have to feel for over the next few weeks is Nashville Predators GM David Poile. After rolling the dice on Peter Forsberg and seeing his team falter in the first round against San Jose, he's been given immediate orders to slash the payroll by current owner Craig Leipold, and faces an uncertain future if the sale of the team goes through, which often carries with it a thorough changeover in the front office. His immediate focus, then, is to assemble the best team he can while taking roughly $7 million off last year's payroll figure of nearly $40 million . Oh, and he has to overcome the obstacle of signing players who might be concerned about where they'll be playing in future years. When Saruman got his orders to build an army "worthy of Mordor", he certainly didn't have to deal with austerity budgets and hesitant free agents. He just started ripping trees down and cranked out the troops. Unfortunately for Mr. Poile, no such options are availabl

Set the Wayback Machine to January...

In light of the recent news that a local group is mobilizing to form a bid for the Nashville Predators in the event that Jim Balsillie's attempt fails (the letter of intent has a current expiration date of June 30), I was reminded of the scene just a few short months ago, when current owner Craig Leipold made an effort to sell minority ownership in the team to local business interests. When that didn't pan out, Leipold came out in May with the announcement that was selling the whole thing to Balsillie, and was clearly frustrated at not being able to make things work here in Music City. Is it too late to close the door on that possibility, however? I think not. Things have changed dramatically over the last few weeks, and I wonder if the stage might be set for just such a transaction now. If the local group is indeed able to muster around $100 million, perhaps a way forward would be to have that group work with Leipold on a shared ownership proposal, that would let Leipol

Nashville's Poile starts trimming

TSN is reporting that the Nashville Predators have traded the rights to captain Kimmo Timonen and winger Scott Hartnell, both upcoming free agents, to the Philadelphia Flyers for a first-round pick (the one they sent to Philly for renting Peter Forsberg this spring). With the ownership picture still cloudy, GM David Poile apparently knew he wouldn't be able to re-sign either of these players, considered by most to be two of the most attractive free agents on the market. Instead, Poile gets a 1st-round draft pick back, and the Flyers lock up two quality players (both agreed to six-year deals worth a combined $10.5 million/year with Philly). While of course, the initial reaction is that this is a sign of a " Major League "-style dismantling of the club in order to break the lease and move the team out of town, it is worth considering the possiblity that this is a case of Poile getting something out of a situation he wasn't going to successfully work through anyway.

Send in the economists!

One of the frustrating aspects of this whole scenario with Jim Balsillie buying the Nashville Predators is that fundamentally this is a business story, and when sports columnists get involved, they quickly wade out of their depth and start spinning nonsense as if it were informed analysis. Perhaps the most egregious example of that is the oft-repeated saying that by offering a purchase price far in excess of what Forbes magazine stated for the value of the team ( $134 million almost a year ago ), Balsillie must have some super-savvy motivation for doing so, specifically that by overspending for the Preds he somehow instantly inflates the franchise valuation for all the other owners in the league. Having majored in Economics at Michigan, there is a specific term we scholars use for that line of reasoning: Bu!!$hit NHL franchises aren't commodities that can be freely substituted for one another. Each is a unique business, subject to local market conditions, an arena lease,

Your morning Preds update

The news is coming fast & furious this morning on the Predators front, so here's your quick recap: Jim Balsillie has rapidly escalated his relocation efforts by launching a season-ticket drive in Hamilton, alongside his agreement to move the team to Copps Coliseum in the event of Nashville's lease expiring. This has gone far beyond the mere setup of a contingency plan, and by launching this drive now, Balsillie clearly aims to undermine the effort in Nashville to support the team. As Damien Cox notes, Balsillie's tactics are becoming increasingly more aggressive , and are basically setting up a legal battle with the NHL to assert his will to buy the team and move it wherever he likes. This ill-will has already bumped Balsillie off the NHL Board of Governors agenda for June 20, meaning the sale is extremely unlikely to close before the end of June. Meanwhile, in Nashville, the prospect of this issue lingering into July and beyond has implications for the Predator

My Letter To Gary

Dear Mr. Bettman, When the announcement was made a few weeks ago that Jim Balsillie had entered into an agreement to purchase the Nashville Predators, speculation immediately began that a relocation to South Ontario would come in short order, and many hockey fans in the Nashville area jumped to the conclusion that we'd see a "Major League" scenario, whereby the new owner would deliberately undermine local support of the team so as to trigger the escape clause in the team's arena lease. As for myself, I decided to give Mr. Balsillie the benefit of the doubt - surely as a lifelong hockey fan and player, he wouldn't do such a thing after acquiring one of the best young teams in the game, with the Stanley Cup potentially within reach. I've waited and watched over recent weeks, and was initially encouraged by Balsillie's promise to field a competitive team, giving GM David Poile an ample budget to put together the best team possible. His legal representativ

The NY Islanders roll out the welcome mat for bloggers

The NHL continues to be out in front of other pro sports leagues when it comes to dealing with new media. As seen over at Kukla's Korner , the New York Islanders have announced a " Blog Box ", which appears to be a segregated version of the press box for selected bloggers to have the opportunity to cover Islanders games and practices: From the Islanders' press release: We're setting up a BLOG BOX in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – sort of like a press box, but away from the scribes and broadcasters because we know you want to cheer, shout, have a pretzel and enjoy the game experience on your own terms. We will provide you with a media pass for a few games next season and a seat in the NYI BLOG BOX. You will also receive your own set of Game Notes when you enter the Coliseum Press Gate. All you have to do is bring your note pad and/or voice recorder and cheer as loudly as you want. After the game you attend, we will set up an area where you can toss a fe

Data Quality Alert! Data Quality Alert!

There's a new piece over at Hockey Analytics which I heartily recommend to those interested in furthering the use of statistics related to NHL hockey. Alan Ryder pioneered the investigation of Shot Quality, which attempts to measure the characteristics of shots (distance, type, situation) to provide a more finely detailed view of offensive and defensive performance. I use a slightly simplified version of Alan's SQ techniques in my analysis here quite often, so when the article entitled " Product Recall Notice for Shot Quality " was posted, it definitely caught my eye. While it is obvious to anyone who has read through the NHL's play-by-play files that data quality problems exist, the presumption has been that these errors are basically random and cancel each other out over the course of 70,000+ shots in an NHL season. By looking at arena-by-arena details, however, Alan has raised some pretty serious issues with the data, basically demonstrating that scorers

The Suggestion Box is Open...

Heading into the summer months, I would like to get your input as to the things you'd like to see more or less of here at On the Forecheck. I've got some plans for what's coming up, but I'd really enjoy getting the My own personal list of to-do's for the site include: Unrestricted Free Agency analysis - who are the best bargains and most overpriced UFA's Recapping the playoff prediction tool I used this spring, and seeing how it might be improved An analysis on how, in statistical terms, playoff hockey differs from the regular season A look at how differing pre-NHL action (major junior vs. NCAA vs. Europe) translates into NHL success Constant updates and thoughts on the ownership situation here in Nashville A cosmetic redesign of the site, to enhance the navigation within and provide better access to past posts So please provide your thoughts in the comments, and let me know where you'd like to see this research vessel headed. Give me the right direction,

You think you're tough enough to handle EA's NHL 08?

We all know how tough hockey players are. Aaron Ward, for example, kept himself in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals despite a concussion , knowing that heading to the dressing room would have meant sitting out the next game as well on doctor's orders. Then there's the legendary Bob Baun, who scored an overtime winner in the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals on a broken foot . Hockey players have a team-first ethic that stands out among professional athletes for the dedication that's demonstrated on a continuing basis. Now it's time for this hockey blogger to rise to just such a challenge. It's been announced that Eric Staal has been named the cover boy for Electronic Art's NHL '08 video game. And yes, despite a recent diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my left index finger, I plan on numbing it up and hitting the digital ice... Last year's Ovechkin cover: And now, for 2008:

The Mouth of Balsillie speaks to Nashville

Jim Balsillie's legal representative, Richard Rodier, discussed the impending sale of the Nashville Predators on 104.5's Sports Zone today. Don't be fooled, he sounds a lot smoother on the radio... When asked why Balsillie is purchasing the Preds, the answer was, "this is a tremendous team with a tremendous front office", focusing solely on the on-ice product, and not a word about the local market. One thing that was notable was Rodier's well-informed discussion of the Predators deep stock of talent, both at the NHL and minor-league level. When it comes to the on-ice aspects of this deal, you could hear the enthusiasm coming through around acquiring such a talented, young team. According to Rodier, Balsillie's silence up to this point is due to the constraints of a Non-Disclosure Agreement as part of the sale. As initially stated, it sounded like the Predators had requested that silence of Balsillie, but when pressed on the topic, Rodier characteri

Nashville stands up for "Our Team"

A diverse group of leaders in the Nashville community (the Our Team coalition) held a press conference this afternoon at the Sommet Center, emphasizing their support for NHL hockey and their commitment in raising attendance to keep the team here permanently. Since the May 24th announcement of the Predators' sale to Jim Balsillie, numerous initiatives have already gotten underway to mobilize support for the team. Their stated goal is to increase Predators season ticket sales by 3,000, through a number of committees that are targeting various segments of the greater Nashville area. It's encouraging to see that their goal isn't just to squeak above the minimum level to maintain the arena lease, but are instead aiming to achieve a level that can consistently support a profitable NHL operation. The group is led by prominent Music City businessman Ron Samuels , who was involved in the effort to bring both the Predators and the NFL's Titans to Nashville in the first place

Balsillie's attorney to appear on Nashville radio today

Richard Rodier, the attorney representing Jim Balsillie will make an appearance on Nashville radio this afternoon, to hopefully shed some light on the prospects for NHL hockey here in Middle Tennessee. He'll be on 104.5's Sports Zone at 5:05 Central time (streaming broadcast available via the link). There will also be a press conference at 3:30 (also carried on 104.5) featuring a local group of business leaders expressing their support of the team. To say the least, mixed signals are in the air. While there have been plenty of assertions from Rodier and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that as long as there's a lease in place, the Predators are staying in Nashville, the activity around setting up a lease in Hamilton *, combined with renewed governmental interest in the NHL's franchise relocation policy seems to indicate that there's much more going on than Balsillie merely lining up options in the event that the opt-out clause becomes available after next season. He

Balsillie to open the wallet in Nashville

Hot of the presses of the Tennessean comes a report that soon-to-be Nashville Predators owner Jim Balsillie "wants to take a run at the Stanley Cup in the coming season and that Balsillie plans to give general manager David Poile the payroll to do so." This comes shortly after this morning's paper featured an article by beat writer John Glennon portraying the front office as basically adrift heading into the July free agency period, since Poile wasn't sure how much of a payroll he could plan on when resigning current Preds or shopping around for difference-makers. The sale of the team is hoped to conclude by the end of this month, but things are never certain in such matters, and the lack of clear direction was becoming a distraction to Poile and his team. The following quote from Balsillie's attorney Richard Rodier is about as direct a statement as you'll ever hear: "We want to give David Poile a very generous budget to build the team however he want

Slingin' pucks to make a few bucks

Once again, the NHL seems to be pushing ahead in the business of digital media much more boldly than its professional peers. This morning's LA Times has an opinion piece heaping praise on the NHL's new partnership with Sling Media , the folks behind the Slingbox you hear hyped so much by Jim Rome . The basic idea is that you'll be able to have NHL games sent from your TV to your internet connection (say while you're travling, or *gasp* at work), and be able to select clips for upload and distribution to friends through Sling Media's website. I could definitely see doing this while visiting the in-laws in Indiana, and certainly anyone who travels much would be able to catch their team's games while on the road. Understand, the savvy part about moves like this isn't so much about buckets of money that are going to pile up in the NHL coffers. The fact of the matter is that with enough effort, the young tech-savvy generation can do much of this stuff already

Coming soon to a city near you... NHL Hockey!

The fate of the Nashville Predators might well be impacted by two new developments which have been reported today. First, Canada's Competition Bureau is looking into the legality of the NHL's franchise relocation policy, which sets up the 50-mile zone-of-control around current teams, and presents a huge cost barrier to Jim Balsillie's presumed desire to move the Predators to Hamilton, which would require a costly payout to the Toronto Maple Leafs for taking up residence in their backyward (the fee for the Ducks to do the same to the L.A. Kings was $50 million a decade ago, so you can imagine what 10 years and the world's hottest hockey market would do to that figure). Secondly, the word "expansion" is spreading like wildfire, with the current speculation being that Las Vegas and Kansas City might be added to the NHL as expansion cities very soon, with Jerry Bruckheimer called the front-runner for ownership in Sin City. All I know is, they should have o

Back to the Bad Old Days?

After basking in the glow of the high-octane "New NHL" for a couple seasons, the grousing has begun once again, declaring that defense is regaining the upper hand, and another set of adjustments needs to be made to the NHL rulebook to keep fans entertained. James Mirtle recently posted a piece claiming that removing the two-line offside pass has somehow been a " contributing factor in the decline in scoring ", and there was some discussion recently about expanding the size of nets to produce more goals. Others want to see 4-on-4 play become the standard, just as it is in regular season overtime. But is it really true that we've already returned to the "clutch & grab" 1990's? While there seems to be a cottage industry of commentators putting forth their list of ways to improve the on-ice NHL product, all too often those suggestions are made based on subjective assumptions about how the game is playing out, rather than the cold hard facts. Sure

Stanley Cup Finals: A few thoughts

One intermission appearance by Don Cherry won't do anything to build a nation-wide American TV audience for hockey. Versus and NBC need to figure out a way to get Cherry on a more regular basis, like a "Coach's Corner" on their Monday night game, for example. While it's common practice to describe Ottawa as the skating team and Anaheim as the more physical squad, the bottom line is that you can't lay the body on the puck carrier as often as Anaheim does without skating your butt off in hot pursuit. The tempo at which the Ducks play can be very impressive. No, Daniel Alfredsson didn't kick that puck in during Game Three . He was in the midst of making a hockey stop with a defenseman all over him, leaving little room to make such a play. I don't agree with those who think kicking the puck in should be legal - can you imagine the chaos on a goal-mouth scramble? You'd have defensemen going down to block, and forwards kicking those skate blades arou