Sunday, February 28, 2010

Say Something Nice About Time Warner!

I want to point out that Time Warner Cable did a good thing when they offered their customers free telephone calls to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of January 2010. I cannot guess how much that cost them; however much or little it is, it's a very nice gesture to a community that could use all the help they can get at this terrible time.

These are very difficult economic times for many people. Businesses are cutting costs, laying off employees, and cutting services, all to eke out better profits. Again, I have no idea how much this cost Time Warner, but to me, and probably to the people this action helped, it was immeasurable.

Congratulations to Time Warner for doing the right thing. Wow - did I just say that?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm Not Impressed That Team USA Men Beat Finland in Semifinals.

Yes, of course I'm glad they won but I'm not impressed. I just don't think they deserve all the accolades they received from the NBC broadcast team of Roenick, Milbury, and Bill Patrick for 'ruthlessly' beating Finland in the Semifinals on Friday, February 26, 2010. They talked about speed and transition. Team Canada is faster than the Finns, and they're not going to cough up the puck as much either.

I don't think the team did all they could. It was a 6-1 final score, but all 6 US goals happened in the first 12 or 13 minutes of the first period. They did nothing after that. Were they just defending their lead? Did they just come off the gas? Finland is no pushover on the ice, and they showed the occasional burst of life against the stingy defense of Team USA, but this was not a very consistently offensive game by the Stars and Stripes. New York Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Drury were inspired in their penalty kills - I was proud of my Rangers, but aren't they forwards?

If the USA Men's Hockey Team thinks they're going to beat Team Canada playing like that, they have a big surprise coming. They will need to keep the pressure on throughout all 60 minutes, or they will come up very short.

Friday, February 19, 2010

NHL Scheduling

So the NHL contacts me by email once or twice a month in order to participate in their "Fan Face Off" surveys. The one I filled out today asked questions about my XXII Olympic and NHL ice hockey viewing habits. They wanted to know what Olympic teams and players I follow, how many games I watch, and what drives my viewing choices. The choices are easy: there's only one game on at a time. Some start at 12:30AM EST, but I record those to watch later. I catch them all. (well, almost all.)

They then inquired about my NHL viewing habits, and those who know me know I watch a lot of games. It occurred to me that my viewing habits have changed over the past years. It used to be that I could catch the Islander games on Saturdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while the Ranger games were on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Of course there were overlaps on some weekends, but mostly, they were evenly spread across the week, so the did not conflict with each other. For some reason, the last few seasons have had both of my teams play on the same nights, and if there's another show that I watch on TV at the same time, I have a problem. I have occasionally had to catch a game later on replay, watch bits and pieces of both games, or find the condensed version (Rangers in 60) when possible.

Another scheduling issue that could be better happens when neither of my teams are playing on a given night: I scan the league schedule for the best game to watch on my NHL Center Ice package. This 'best game' to me, is usually one that showcases a rivalry or two top teams meeting. What I've found this year, especially, is some nights have boring looking games (read: non-divisional or non-conference), like the Panthers against the Canucks, the Coyotes against the Devils, while the very next night will boast Boston v Montreal, Sharks v Ducks, Washington v Pittsburgh, Blackhawks v Detroit, AND 'the Battle of Alberta,' all on the same night. Of course any fan of a team would be happy to watch their team in a game. For the avid hockey fan, though, a more evenly spread selection of games like these would be far more enjoyable than trying to choose from great games one night and fishing for a good game the next.

The last issue I would like to point out is the fact that I've seen numerous instances where one night boasts 13 games, while the next night has only one or two. There have even been days when the league was entirely dark, and I don't mean holidays. This season has dealt with a condensed schedule in order to accommodate the Olympic break, and if that sounds like a reason, I don't get it - it sounds like that would create the opposite effect, making the league fill every day with some game or other.

I understand that making a schedule for 30 teams in 6 divisions within two conferences is no small mathematical feat, especially given the required number of meetings between teams within and outside of divisions. I also would like to see each team visit the other 29 at least once every year. I believe that it's important to the game that every fan who wants to, has the opportunity to see every other team skate on their home rink.

I know I'm thinking out loud here, but bear with me - I am figuring this out. The math shows that this policy of seeing every team in every building every year would reduce the number of intradivisional, most-heated rivalry games that are so important to the fans and to my earlier argument.

A team's regular season consists of 82 games. Each team plays the other four teams in their division six times (reduced recently from eight). That's 24 games. Then, each team plays the remaining 10 teams in their conference 4 times, that's another 40. That's 64 games within the conference, leaving only 18 for the other 15 teams in the league, and I say twice. Playing each team in the other conference twice (once home, once away) is 30 more. To facilitate this ideal would take a regular season of 94 games. That's 'only' 12 more, but the NHL already plays in every month except July and August. The NBA also lasts 82 games, Major League Baseball plays a 162 game season, and the NFL plays 19 games. This is not the place for me to argue that 82 NHL games are far more intense and grueling than any of these aforementioned seasons. I'll just say that even though I could watch this sport for a 12 month season, these players deserve an off-season. Fairness dictates that within the conference, and especially within the divisions, games must be played in even numbers so that each has the same number of home-ice advantages. Suggesting that the number of intradivision or intraconference games be reduced from six to four and from four to two is ridiculous and will hurt the game's growth, perhaps reduce its popularity even further.

This game can ill afford to give up any existing or potential viewers and fans. The NHL has a history of alienating fans, when they should be trying to increase the fan base and grow the sport. NBC lost the opportunity, however, by not widely broadcast the big USA v Canada men's game on Sunday, February 22, 2010, showing the general disdain held by US broadcasters and the American public in general for the game of hockey, and that's just a shame.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Goalie Rules

I'm all for opening up the ice in NHL games, and in ice hockey, as in life, the fewer rules, the better. My target of discussion in this case, is NHL ice hockey Rule 69 - Interference on the Goalkeeper (listed in full and linked below).

This rule was instituted, presumably, to protect the Goaltender from injury due to intentional or accidental contact with an opposing player. It also allows a puck handling goaltender free travel to get back to his position in goal to defend his net. The league rules set a 'trapezoid' in place behind the goal line, not allowing the goalie into the corners to handle the puck - handling the puck behind the goal line and outside of this trapezoid results in a two minute delay of game penalty.

This rule has resulted in what I consider to be 'free ice' for the goaltender. When the goalie leaves the crease to play the puck, he is protected by the rule that allows him to skate around nearly untouched. This is what bothers me: any other player on the ice, the 'skaters,' both forwards and defenders, are legally allowed to check another player when the other player has the puck, or at least within a second after handling said puck. If a player checks another while the puck is not there, he can be called for a two-minute 'interference' penalty. When the skater is carrying the puck, he knows that he might get 'drilled' at any time, and he needs to be aware of the possibility of an incoming check. He plays accordingly. When a goalie comes out of his crease to play the puck, he can do so with impunity, firm in the knowledge that he will not get checked into the boards or otherwise impeded. This gives him the aforementioned 'free ice.' 'Back in the day,' goalies did not handle the puck, other than making a save and clearing the area. Now that puck-handling goalies have become fairly common, the league had to institute this rule to address this situation.

To me, this is like a form of regulation, similar to disrupting the balance between supply and demand. The rule interferes with the normal flow, creating an unfair advantage.

Following is the entire rule #69 regarding Interference of the Goaltender. The rule basically states that the goaltender cannot be impeded from playing the puck in his crease. It also mandates that no contact should be made by an attacking player, except for 'incidental contact.' That is, of course, a judgement call by the official, made more often than not, but not always. My point here is that this provides the goaltender an unfair advantage. If the goaltender was made to be not off-limits outside the crease, he would need to be sure that he would not put himself in a position to be legally checked, impeding his ability to defend his goal. The cost of this action would force him to be more diligent to protect himself. I have witnessed countless examples of a goalie controlling the puck and spinning around, while the forward skips past him in an effort not to bump him and draw a penalty, usually allowing the goaltender a free out.

The crux of my argument is that the trapezoid should be removed and the goalie should be fair game while handling the puck outside of his crease. I'm not anxious to see a goalie get nailed, rather, this action would level the ice, and force the goaltender to seriously consider whether it is worth the risk of leaving the safety of his crease.

Along this line, the goalie must be protected in the blue paint of his crease - in fact, I think the officials should crack down on 'incidental contact' when the goalie is standing his ground in his rightful position. Too many goalies have been paying the price of standing his ground, playing the puck in the paint. This action has been chalked up to 'driving the net.' Many goalies have been run into by an attacking forward under the pretense of driving the net, knowing full well that the defender might help his cause by giving him a last-minute push. I would say that nine times out of ten, the forward could avoid contact if he knew he would be penalized for it. The rule should be that any contact with the goalie in his crease, even when 'pushed in' by the goalie's own teammate will result in a penalty. That would ensure that the attacking forward would give the goalie a wide berth. Maybe that's too much, but some firm action must need to be taken to protect a goalie in his proper position. But that's a topic for another day.

Rule 69 - Interference on the Goalkeeper

Rule 69 - Interference on the Goalkeeper
69.1 Interference on the Goalkeeper - This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.
For purposes of this rule, “contact,” whether incidental or otherwise, shall mean any contact that is made between or among a goalkeeper and attacking player(s), whether by means of a stick or any part of the body.
The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
69.2 Penalty - In all cases in which an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, whether or not the goalkeeper is inside or outside the goal crease, and whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a penalty (minor or major, as the Referee deems appropriate). In all cases where the infraction being imposed is to the attacking player for hindering the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely in his goal crease, the penalty to be assessed is for goalkeeper interference.
In exercising his judgment, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.
69.3 Contact Inside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
If a goalkeeper, in the act of establishing his position within his goal crease, initiates contact with an attacking player who is in the goal crease, and this results in an impairment of the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
If, after any contact by a goalkeeper who is attempting to establish position in his goal crease, the attacking player does not immediately vacate his current position in the goal crease (i.e. give ground to the goalkeeper), and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. In all such cases, whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a minor penalty for goalkeeper interference.
If an attacking player establishes a significant position within the goal crease, so as to obstruct the goalkeeper’s vision and impair his ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
For this purpose, a player “establishes a significant position within the crease” when, in the Referee’s judgment, his body, or a substantial portion thereof, is within the goal crease for more than an instantaneous period of time.
Refer also to Reference Tables – Table 18 – Interference on the Goalkeeper Situations.
69.4 Contact Outside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.
When a goalkeeper has played the puck outside of his crease and is then prevented from returning to his crease area due to the deliberate actions of an attacking player, such player may be penalized for goalkeeper interference. Similarly, the goalkeeper may be penalized, if by his actions outside of his crease he deliberately interferes with an attacking player who is attempting to play the puck or an opponent.
Refer also to Reference Tables – Table 18 – Interference on the Goalkeeper Situations.
69.5 Face-off Location – Whenever the Referee stops play to disallow a goal as a result of contact with the goalkeeper (incidental or otherwise), the resulting face-off shall take place at the nearest neutral zone face-off spot outside the attacking zone of the offending team.
69.6 Rebounds and Loose Pucks - In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.
In the event that a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck by an attacking player after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed. If applicable, appropriate penalties will be assessed.
In the event that the puck is under a player in or around the crease area (deliberately or otherwise), a goal cannot be scored by pushing this player together with the puck into the goal. If applicable, the appropriate penalties will be assessed, including a penalty shot if deemed to be covered in the crease deliberately (see Rule 63 – Delaying the Game).
69.7 Fines and Suspensions - An attacking player who, in the judgment of the Referee, initiates contact with the goalkeeper, whether inside or outside the crease, in a fashion that would otherwise warrant a penalty, will be assessed an appropriate penalty (minor or major and/or game misconduct) and will be subject to additional sanctions as appropriate pursuant to Rule 29 – Supplementary Discipline.