NHL Realignment: Thinking Geographically about Divisions

With the NHL once again fleeing Atlanta for the Canadian prairie, a question has emerged:

How long until the NHL returns to Hartford?

Okay, maybe not that question, but with the Thrashers now the Winnipeg Jets, the divisions of the NHL are a geographically unbalanced; as if a random U.S.ian off the street drew up the divisions.  The new era of the Jets will play their games not only within the Eastern Conference, but also in the South Division.  Certainly being in the Central Time Zone is not a disadvantage, but having to travel over 1200 miles (or 2000 kilometers, if you prefer) to play your divisional “rivals” can be fairly taxing.

But the strange geography of the NHL divisions extends beyond Winnipeg’s placement.  The Detroit Red Wings, a team in the Eastern Time Zone, plays in the Western Conference.  While the other teams within their division, including the Columbus Blue Jackets (also located in the Eastern Time Zone), are within 500 miles of one another, they still must regularly travel to the Pacific Time Zone, something that is exponentially stressful for the Red Wings and Blue Jackets.

Here is the average distance traveled by division and conference:

  • Atlantic Division: 154 miles
  • Northeast Division: 262.7 miles
  • Southeast Division: 954.9 miles (565.3 miles without the Jets)
  • Central Division: 324.7 miles
  • Northwest Division: 841.6 miles
  • Pacific Division: 673.7 miles
  • EASTERN CONFERENCE: 603.6 miles
  • WESTERN CONFERENCE: 1146.2 miles

In terms of distance, the most isolated teams in the NHL are the Edmonton Oilers — the northernmost city in the NHL (53.5° North) — and the Vancouver Canucks.  Both teams have only three teams within 1000 miles of their arena, with each being within that radius.  The San Jose Sharks, which have five teams within 1000 miles of the HP Pavilion, has the largest average distance from other teams (1788.5 miles), just eight miles more than Vancouver.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are actually the most centralized team, with 21 of the 29 other teams falling within 1000 miles of Columbus (72.4 percent); the average distance is just over 800 miles.

However, if you decrease the radius, the teams with the highest concentration of other teams tends to be in the megalopolis of the Northeast U.S. and Southeast Canada.  The New York teams (Rangers and Islanders), the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals are within 250 miles of at least five other teams, as is Detroit.  Moving to 500 miles, those teams along with the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Columbus, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have at least ten teams within that radius.

Nevertheless, in an age where team owners are looking to cut operating costs, and where the costs of traveling are increasing, geography matters when it comes to the smallest of the four major North American sports — hockey.  What follows below are a few suggestions that I anticipate will never be viewed the powers that be in the NHL…but I can at least pretend it would be.  The suggested divisions are, of course, hypothetical but in general use geography as is basis.  Some maintain the East-West divide in terms of Conferences, while others do not.  Some are balanced while others are more radical.

Of course, there is one problem: the NHL is heavily concentrated in the Eastern Time Zone.  Thus, as I quickly learned, it is not east to slot teams in the West without there being at least a couple of teams from that time zone.

First, a note on distance.  With these teams, geography is less important because they can be slotted into a division and still be geographically “accurate.”  Thus, history pulls a bit harder here with my divisions, although geography will still matter.

Now, the alignments!

  • EAST-WEST ALIGNMENTS

Four Divisions

In this case, the teams are still very much like the NHL’s current structure, with the exception, of course, of the four divisions.  I considered going to an unbalanced divisional format, with 14 teams in the West and 16 teams in the East.  This would allow for Detroit and Columbus to both remain in the East.  However, I opted against this format as Chicago would be the only “Original Six” in the West, losing its rivalry with Detroit.  Thus, I opted not to be too radical here.

Therefore, I chose to place Detroit in the West rather than Columbus.  The structure would look as follows:

WESTERN

EASTERN

Pacific

Midwest

Central

Atlantic

Anaheim Chicago Buffalo Carolina
Calgary Dallas Columbus Florida
Colorado Detroit Montreal New Jersey
Edmonton Minnesota Ottawa NY Islanders
Los Angeles Nashville Pittsburgh NY Rangers
Phoenix St. Louis Tampa Bay Philadelphia
San Jose Winnipeg Toronto Washington
Vancouver Boston

The issue that arises here is that Edmonton’s average distance of travel is over 1000 miles, as is the same for the Florida Panthers.  The Pacific Division would have the greatest amount of travel (837.21 miles), while despite Florida’s distance the Atlantic would have the shortest distance (421.17 miles).

  • Pacific Division: 837.2 miles
  • Midwest Division: 619.5 miles
  • Central Division: 307.8 miles
  • Atlantic Division: 556.7 miles
  • WESTERN CONFERENCE: 1122.1 miles
  • EASTERN CONFERENCE: 499.8 miles

Certainly the distances in each division will become larger because there are more teams.  And while the Eastern Conference becomes more compact, it is primarily due to the “trade” of Winnipeg and Columbus; the distance in the West only decreases slightly.  So, what about six divisions in the East-West alignment?

Six Divisions

Keeping with the six-division format, I ran through a few tests.  And initially, I came to have the Colorado Avalanche in a division with Jets, Oilers, Flames, and Canucks, nearly replicating the current Northwest Division.  This scenario would have Minnesota in the Central and Dallas in the Pacific.  But, to me, Dallas is more Central while a Colorado-Phoenix rivalry makes geographic sense.  And while Minnesota could be in the Central, someone else needed to be with those Canadian teams…sorry, Wild!

So, I played with those three teams and came up with the following:

WESTERN

EASTERN

Prairie Pacific Midwest Central Northeast South
Calgary Anaheim Chicago Buffalo Boston Carolina
Minnesota Colorado Columbus Montreal New Jersey Florida
Edmonton Los Angeles Dallas Ottawa NY Islanders Nashville
Vancouver Phoenix Detroit Pittsburgh NY Rangers Tampa Bay
Winnipeg San Jose St. Louis Toronto Philadelphia Washington

In this case, I considered moving Boston to the Central division in order to maintain the rivalry with Montreal, but since they are still in the same Conference, I opted to keep with the geography.  Columbus remains in the West while it is Nashville that moves, essentially flip-flopping with Winnipeg.

  • Prairie Division: 771.5 miles
  • Pacific Division: 510.2 miles
  • Midwest Division: 505.2 miles
  • Central Division: 320.3 miles
  • Atlantic Division: 149.2 miles
  • Southeast Division: 582 miles
  • WESTERN CONFERENCE: 1128.5 miles
  • EASTERN CONFERENCE: 528.2 miles

While there is a scenario where the averages for the Central and the Prairie could be smaller — with the former being much more compact — I went with a scenario where there is more balance in terms of the average distance.  Beyond the Winnipeg-Nashville swap, the teams in the Eastern Conference divisions are essentially the same, with only Pittsburgh and Boston swapping divisions.

So, while not a seismic shift in alignment, this appears to be the best set-up using the current structure.  But is it optimal?  The divisions are tight, but there is great imbalance in the Conference distances.  How about something a bit different?

  • NORTH-SOUTH ALIGNMENTS

Now, given that it seems impossible to create a conference format where at least one Eastern Time Zone team is not in the West (at least not without going radically unbalanced), why not try to go really radical and try a North-South alignment?

Four Divisions

With a four-division format, the only way for some semblance of geographic balance was to make uneven conferences, with the Northern Conference carrying 16 teams and the Southern Conference carrying 14 teams.  Of course, this format reflects the traditional geography of ice hockey, but ended up with teams like Pittsburgh and Columbus in the Southern Conference.

NORTHERN

SOUTHERN

Northwest

Northeast

Southwest

Southeast

Calgary Boston Anaheim Carolina
Chicago Buffalo Colorado Columbus
Detroit Montreal Dallas Florida
Edmonton New Jersey Los Angeles Nashville
Minnesota NY Islanders Phoenix Pittsburgh
Toronto NY Rangers San Jose Tampa Bay
Vancouver Ottawa St. Louis Washington
Winnipeg Philadelphia

Much like the four-division format for the East-West alignment, the distances are going to be high.

  • Northwest Division: 994.6 miles
  • Northeast Division: 239.2 miles
  • Southwest Division: 860.3 miles
  • Southeast Division: 555.5 miles
  • NORTHERN CONFERENCE: 943.5 miles
  • SOUTHERN CONFERENCE: 1197.5 miles

Thus, no real advantage here.  Yet, in terms of Conference travel, it is the most balanced.  If only the divisions were tighter.  So how about six divisions?

Six Divisions

Again, I went with an unbalanced conference format.  Debated making it balanced and placing the Flyers in the Southern Conference [they are technically further south than Pittsburgh], but opted not to do that.

NORTHERN

SOUTHERN

Prairie Central Northeast Pacific Midwest Southeast
Calgary Chicago Boston Anaheim Columbus Carolina
Edmonton Detroit Buffalo Colorado Dallas Florida
Minnesota Montreal New Jersey Los Angeles Nashville Pittsburgh
Vancouver Ottawa NY Islanders Phoenix St. Louis Tampa Bay
Winnipeg Toronto NY Rangers San Jose Washington
Philadelphia

Again…sorry, Minnesota.  But in order to keep the North-South alignment proper, Colorado had to be in the South.  But, at least the Prairie Division sounds cool.

  • Prairie Division: 771.5 miles
  • Central Division: 382.7 miles
  • Northeast Division: 181.5 miles
  • Pacific Division: 510.5 miles
  • Midwest Division: 510 miles
  • Southeast Division: 577.2 miles
  • NORTHERN CONFERENCE: 943.5 miles
  • SOUTHERN CONFERENCE: 1197.5 miles

The teams out west are really the ones that throw everything off.  Yet, in general, this is the best option in terms of distance.  Five of the six divisions have an average of less than 600 miles, and the average of the two conferences are fairly close, albeit nearly in the neighborhood of 1000 miles.

Still, is there a better solution?  Perhaps one that is a bit…radical?  Ah, I’ll save that for another blog entry.

Advertisements

Push-Pull Factors: Roberto Luongo and Rebounding from Being Pulled

As a goaltender, the worst feeling in the world is getting pulled from a game.  Well, maybe second worst after allowing a bouncing puck shot from mid-ice to trickle in for a game winning goal.  Nevertheless, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo feels like ass after getting pulled for the fourth time in the 2010-11 playoffs — twice against Chicago in the first round and twice in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins.  Nothing builds confidence like getting chased…twice…in the same series!

But it is not like Luongo has never been chased before in his career.  And therefore, he knows what it is like to have to rebound from getting the hook.  So how has he performed?  Glad I asked, because the one person reading this probably was not going to ask.

I did a quick overview of Luongo’s career game stats and isolated starts where he played less than 60 minutes.  After accounting for games where he was pulled late for an extra attacker (empty net), I was able to come up with how many times Luongo has been pulled from games he started.  Now, in order to get this out in time for Game 7, I did not check the context of the pulls (i.e., was he injured or was he simply playing Swiss cheese in net?).

In 652 starts, Luongo has been pulled 59 times, or in 9.05 percent of his games.  In those games, he averaged 31.2 minutes, has a goals against average (GAA) of 6.78 and an 80.3% save percentage!

In the 58 games following being pulled (the 59th game is Game 7 tonight), Luongo is 34-20 (57.6 winning percentage), with one overtime loss, one time, and two no decisions (more on that in a second).  His GAA is 2.29 and his save percentage is 92.82.  He also has five shutouts in his rebound games.  There were 12 times where he did not start in his next appearance, in which case I took into account the next time he started.  And three times he was pulled in his very next start, which explains the two no decisions.

Now, that is for his career.  What about with Vancouver?  Well, Luongo has been pulled 27 times in 328 starts (8.21 percent).  Five times he did not start in his next appearance and twice he was pulled again in his next start (including the Chicago series).  He averaged 32.5 minutes with a 7.5 GAA and 77.27 save percentage in those pulled games.

His Vancouver rebound games?  A record of 17-8-1 (62.96 win percentage) with a 2.19 GAA and a 92.6 save percentage.  He also has two shutouts, including once already against the Boston Bruins (Game 5).

Now, so far in the playoffs he is 2-1 in rebound games.  He has a 2.05 GAA and a 93.3 save percentage.  He was pulled in one of his rebound games, but was superb in the other two (0.48 GAA and a 98.4 save percentage).

So what does that mean for Game 7?  Well, Luongo does fairly well in rebound games, but it is not a lock that he will bounce back and bring the Cup to Canada.  He has played well at home, but with a Game 7 anything can happen.

TODAY at Uncle Popov…

Hi all, Jubbo here furiously pecking away deep within Uncle Popov Towers and with so much going on in the big wide world of sport, who can blame me? YOU certainly can’t, that much I do know.

Where to begin? How about with the World Cup? Nah, fuck it. Conference realignment is apparently underway in the NCAA and it is all honestly unbelievable. Someone also won a major sports trophy last night which has made me scared to go out in public. And all joking aside, the inarguably biggest and arguably best sporting event in the world kicks off tomorrow, pitting Mexico and their off-putting national anthem salute against the host country, who I honestly didn’t even know played soccer. And we can always talk about baseball, though I’m honestly about done with it for this season.

And so it will be a (hopefully) very active time around here at Uncle Popov… in the coming weeks. Here are some things I’ll personally be drunkenly ranting about:

– My increasingly negative attitude towards college athletics.
– A look back at entries I was going to write but never got around to. I am, after all, a deadbeat blogger.
– I’m also considering live-blaggin’ a World Cup match or two, blatantly copying The Guardian’s awesome minute-by-minute reports from years past.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter. Our aggressive marketing campaign has us with a projected double digit following by 2011.

Champions

What Happened!? Champions Missing the Playoffs

Last night, the North Carolina Tar Heels fell to the Dayton Flyers in the NIT championship game, 79-68.  UNC had a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back championships.  That is, win the NCAA championship and then win the NIT championship.

Wow! What a difference a year (and the NBA Draft) makes!

North Carolina had this opportunity because they struggled mightily to adjust to life after Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and finished 16-16 in the regular season.  The Tar Heels placed tenth in the ACC (5-11; technically tied for ninth with NC State and Virginia) and was bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament by Georgia Tech.

But, the Tar Heels also joined an “elite” group — teams that failed to make the playoffs the season following a title.  In college basketball, because there are so many teams, it does not happen that often.  Since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985, only four champions have failed to return to defend their crown — Louisville (1986 champion), Kansas (1988; on probation in 1989), Florida (2007) and North Carolina (2009).

But how often does this occur in other sports?  Due to the nature of baseball’s playoffs, it would be obvious that it occurs often in Major League Baseball.  So, let’s look at other playoffs.

In the NBA, this has only happened two times.  Following their 1968-69 title, the Boston Celtics fell hard, going 34-48 in the 1969-70 season and finishing sixth in the seven-team Eastern Conference.  The loss of many key players hurt the Celtics.  Similarly, the loss of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and head coach Phil Jackson decimated the Chicago Bulls.  The Bulls went from celebrating a second three-peat in June of 1998 (and a 62-20 regular season record) to winning just 13 games in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.

Since the NHL took full control of the Stanley Cup, this scenario has occurred seven times.  Interesting to note that it happened three times prior to the 1967 expansion — the Detroit Red Wings (1936-37 champs); Chicago Blackhawks (1937-38); and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1944-45).  This is noteworthy because with fewer teams, there was a higher chance of making the playoffs.

Since expansion, champions have failed to make the playoffs four times, including the first post-expansion year (1967-68) when the Toronto Maple Leafs once again failed to find the post-season.  The next season, the Montreal Canadiens did the same thing, missing the playoffs due to tie-breakers and the Red Wings throwing the final regular season game (well, Habs fans believe that).  The other two champions to miss the next season’s playoffs are the New Jersey Devils (1995 Stanley Cup Champions) and the Carolina Hurricanes (2006).

Football has seen its champion miss the playoffs a lot — 13 times in the Super Bowl era.  Most teams do not miss the playoffs by too many games, in some cases only missing it because of tiebreakers.  The “worst” champions have been Super Bowl XXI winner New York Giants (6-9 in 1987) and Super Bowl XXXIII winner Denver Broncos sans John Elway (6-10 in 1999).  The San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XVI champs, went 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Here is the list of Super Bowl champs that failed to make the playoffs the following season:

  • Super Bowl II: Green Bay Packers
  • Super Bowl IV: Kansas City Chiefs
  • Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders
  • Super Bowl XVI: San Francisco 49ers
  • Super Bowl XXI: New York Giants
  • Super Bowl XXII: Washington Redskins
  • Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants
  • Super Bowl XXXIII: Denver Broncos
  • Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots
  • Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Steelers

While the FBS does not have a playoff, the FCS tier does.  Since the playoffs were implemented for what was then known as Division 1-AA in 1978, there have been ten champions not return the following year.  It should be noted that four of those ten occurred prior to expansion to current 16-team format, including Florida A&M, which won the 1978 title in a four-team format that existed until 1980.

Idaho State won the title in 1981 — the only year with an eight-team format — and did not return the following post-season, while Southern Illinois (1983) and Montana State (1984) won it in a twelve-team bracket.

Since the 1986 expansion to the current format, Northeast Louisiana (now UL-Monroe) in 1987, Georgia Southern in 1990, Youngstown State in 1994 and 1997, and most recently James Madison in 2004 have not returned to the playoffs the following season.  The Dukes missed the D-I playoffs after finishing second in the Atlantic 10 South division (fifth overall) with a 7-4 record (5-3 in conference).

The other champion not to return to the playoffs is the 1996 Marshall team, which went 15-0 on its way to its second title.  Marshall moved up to D-1A in 1997 and continued its dominant play in the MAC, winning the conference title.  It helped to have Chad Pennington and some guy named Randy Moss.

So while in general it is unusual for a champion to follow up their title by missing the playoffs, it has happened.  The year 1970 was especially brutal as the previous champions in the NBA (Celtics – 1968-69), NHL (Canadiens – 1968-69) and NFL (Chiefs – 1969) all missed the playoffs.

It seems much more common in the NFL, the FCS and NHL than in other sports, although not as common in hockey since expansion.  It is rarer in the NBA.

So, chin up Tar Heel fans!  Some of the most successful teams in their sport — the Canadiens and Maple Leafs; the Celtics and the Bulls; the Steelers, 49ers and Packers — have missed the playoffs following a title.  That is mighty fine company!

Martin Brodeur…need I write more?

I first started following hockey a bit late — 1993-94 season.  Now, I knew that the Penguins had won two straight and then the Canadiens beat the Kings, but I knew nothing before that.  To sum up my knowledge of hockey entering that season, I equated Wayne Gretzky with the Kings and Mark Messier with the Rangers, not the Oilers.

But I had a friend who had NHLPA 93 for the Sega Genesis, which did not have the real team names (remember “Long Island”?).  And the got into NHL 94.  And since we finally had cable at my house, I started to catch games.

Brodeur thinks it is funny that I liked Quebec!

I followed the playoffs because of the freshness of hockey.  I attached to Quebec and Ottawa because of NHL 94 (once I became good at that game, I started playing with the worse teams in the game and those ended up being my favorite).  But since both missed the playoffs, I had to watch what was being shown.

And ESPN loved the New York Rangers and the curse of 1940.  I quickly tired of the Rangers and they became a hated team (that hatred would increase when they eliminated the Nordiques the next year).  So, when the Rangers met the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, the Devils became my surrogate team.

And that was when I really started to follow Martin Brodeur.  It was his first full season in the NHL and he was superb.  I did not realize it at the time that I was watching one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time.

Now, I will probably always hold Patrick Roy as the best net-minder ever, but that is probably my Colorado Avalanche bias (still like them even though they left Quebec; Ottawa is my favorite team, though).  But with Brodeur’s newest record, shutout record, he is definitely challenging for the best goalie of all-time.

Just look at his stats (as of 22 December).

  • 1032 games played
  • 60,962 minutes logged
  • 580 wins
  • 105 shutouts
  • 25,988 saves
  • .914 save percentage
  • 2.20 goals allowed average

And some of those are records:

  • Most wins all-time
  • Most shutouts all-time
  • Most minutes by a goaltender
  • Most game appearances
  • Most minutes in a season (4696)
  • Most wins in one season (48)
  • Most consecutive 30-win seasons (12)
  • Most consecutive 35-win seasons (11)
  • Most consecutive 40-win seasons (3)
  • Most 40-win seasons (7)
  • Most overtime wins (45)
  • Tied [with Roy] for most playoff wins (23)

Oh, and for good measure, he is tied with Ron Hextall for most goals by a goaltender (2).

And, let’s not forget the awards.

  • Calder Trophy (1994)
  • Four Vezina Trophies (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008)
  • Four Jennings Trophies (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004)
  • Three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003)
  • Ten-time All-Star
  • And an Olympic Gold Medal for good measure

And keep in mind, he has done all of this with the same team — the Devils.  Unlike my erroneous equation of Gretzky with the Kings, Martin Brodeur is synonymous with the Devils (just look at the logo on his personal website).

Furthermore, it does not appear he is slowing down.  The consecutive 30-win, 35-win, and 40-win records ended in 2008!  Injuries stalled him last season, but he returned from elbow surgery to win four straight, including two shutouts!

So far this season he is 23-8-1 with three shutouts, a .921 save percentage while sporting a 2.10 goals allowed average.  All these stats are among the best among goaltenders, with the 23 wins being tops in the NHL.  He is also second in games played and minutes logged.

Thus, he is still producing at a high level and showing durability and stamina.

Brodeur tells youngster Ovechkin to "Get Some!!!"

I am not one to claim someone the greatest of all-time in any sport if that athlete is still playing.  But, once he hangs it up, it will be difficult to argue against Martin Brodeur as the greatest goaltender of all-time.

Certainly, some will try.  They will claim it is the Devils’ system that has bred Brodeur’s success.  Or that the equipment has given goaltenders a greater advantage than their predecessors.

But all of these can be countered — he still has to make the stops; the skill and athleticism of scorers offsets equipment advantages; etc.  And it just delays the obvious and attempts to besmirch the accomplishments of Brodeur.

There will come a day when someone other than Brodeur will be the number one goaltender for New Jersey.  It will be strange because Brodeur as the Devils goalie is all that I have ever known.

But I also think that due to Brodeur’s illustrious career with just one team, I am not the only one to make that association.  It seems that he has always been in net for the Devils and when he steps away it will be strange for all of us.

Ovechkin and his Shots on Goal: Is A.O. the new A.I.?

Can being too good be bad for your team?

Perhaps that is the case with the Washington Capitals and their charismatic left winger Alexander Ovechkin.

While the Caps did manage to win Game Three in the Garden, but they are now down 3-1 and Ovechkin has managed one goal.  But it is not for lack of trying as Ovechkin has fired 35 shots on goal; more than anyone else in the playoffs.

Some Sixers fans wish they could do this to Iverson

Some Sixers fans wish they could do this to Iverson

A friend made the comment that Ovechkin, with all of his shooting, is like the Allen Iverson of the NHL.  The comparison suggested that all of AI’s shooting actually hurt his team, much like Ovechkin’s trigger-happy left wing extremism is ultimately hurting the Capitals.

However, I do believe it is a bit unfair to point out The Answer’s shooting is something unusual.

He certainly shot a ridiculous amount of shots during his years with the Sixers.  But since the 2000-01 season, he has only led the league in field goal attempts oncein thehe 2002-03 season when he edged Kobe Bryant by 16 shots (1940 to 1924).

However, that is also one of two times in his career that Iverson played in all 82 games.

From 2000-01 until 2005-06, Iverson ranked either first or second in shots per game.  In the 2003-04 season, he finished with 1125 shotsgood enough for 31st among FGA.  He only played in 48 games with a FGA of 23.4, which tied him for first with Tracy McGrady.

What is also telling is the percentage of the team’s shots that Iverson takes.  During his final four full seasons in Philadelphia (before being traded), he averaged 25.6 percent of his team’s shots.  To be fair, Kobe has accounted for just as many of the Lakers’ shots since the 2004-05 season.

However, the last six NBA champions have all had their leading scorer average less than 22.2 percent of their team’s total shots (Dwayne Wade was the high man in 2005-06).  Four of those title winnersBoston, Detroit and the two most recent San Antonio teams to win itwere below 20 percent.

While not necessarily indicative of a team’s ability to win the title, the recent trend is that the shots be spread around.  Hence, the argument is that while Iverson can get his team to the playoffseven to the NBA Finalsbeing trigger happy will inevitably doom him and his team.

So, enter Alexander Ovechkin.

When he is not busy pushing local auto dealers, he is taking shots on goallots of them.

Since Ovechkin entered the NHL in the 2005-06 season, he has led the league in shots on goal in each of those four seasons. In fact, the gap between Ovechkin and the second place shooter is becoming increasingly larger.

  • 2005-06: Ovechkin 425; Jaromir Jagr 368
  • 2006-07: Ovechkin 392; Olli Jokinen 351
  • 2007-08: Ovechkin 446; Henrik Zetterberg 358
  • 2008-09: Ovechkin 528; Eric Staal 372

Those are incredible numbers!

To give it some gravity, Ovechkin set the record for most shots by a left winger last season!  His 528 shots this season, obviously breaking his own record, came within 22 of Phil Esposito’s NHL record for shots on goal in a season.

It is also important to look at the percentage of the Capitals’ shots for which Ovechkin is accounting, as well as how many more shots he had compared to the second most shots taken.

  • 2005-06: 17.4%; 240 shots more than RW Brian Willsie
  • 2006-07: 17.1%; 149 shots more than RW Alexander Semin
  • 2007-08: 17.6%; 212 shots more than D Mike Green
  • 2008-09: 19.2%; 285 shots more than D Mike Green…more than double Green’s total

Compare that to Staal (13%), Zetterberg (12.4%), Jokinen (12.9%), and Jagr (15%) and Ovechkin is taking a ridiculous number of shots compared to his teammates.

Now, obviously Ovechkin is a great player and can score lots of goals.  But how does that translate into playoff success?

Ovechkin does not like those Canadians, with their flapping heads!

Ovechkin does not like those Canadians, with their flapping heads!

Well, that is difficult to gauge with Ovechkin as he has only led the Caps to the playoffs in the last two seasons.  However, last season, his third-seeded Capitals were eliminated in seven games by the Philadelphia Flyers.  So far this season, the second-seeded Caps are on the brink of elimination. And it does not look like he will make it past the first round again.  Maybe Tracy McGrady is a good comparison, too.

As with Iverson and recent NBA champions, I think it is necessary to look at recent Stanley Cup champs to gauge the distribution of shots among the champions.

  • 2002-03: New Jersey – Patrick Elias: 9.8%; 48 shots more than John Madden
  • 2003-04: Tampa Bay – Brad Richards: 9.91%; two more shots than Vincent Lecavalier
  • 2005-06: Carolina – Eric Staal: 10.9%; 24 more shots than Justin Williams
  • 2006-07: Anaheim – Teemu Selanne: 9.95%; five more shots than Andy McDonald
  • 2007-08: Detroit – Zetterberg: 12.7%; 94 shots more than Pavel Datsyuk

What does this all mean?  Well, simply based on trends, teams that have one player take an exorbitant number of shots, whether it be basketball or hockey, do not win championships.  Even the runner-ups in the Stanley Cup followed a pattern similar to the champion.

However, this does not mean that teams who share the shots are definitely going to be champions.  Even the Colorado Avalanche and New York Islandersbottom feeders this season in their respective conferencesfollowed a pattern of sharing shots.  But, it could mean good things for Detroit again.  Montreal, on the other hand, looks doomed.

So is Alexander Ovechkin the A.I. of the NHL?

Well, first, it is not a measure of disrespect in terms of the abilities of both athletes.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Allen Iverson, especially his play on the 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic team. Yet I also like Ovechkin’s celebrations and exuberance, even if it does look like “those goofy soccer guys” (right Mr. Cherry?).

But in terms of being a me-first player and failing to lead his team to a title, it appears to be shaping up that way.  Granted, it is early in Ovechkin’s career and he will likely have plenty of chances to lead his team through to the Finals.

But as of right now, the comparison fits.

This article first appeared on The Bleacher Report on 21 April 2009.

Revamping All-Star Games: a lesson from Russia

This weekend is the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.  Tonight is the young stars and skills competition and tomorrow [Sunday] is the actual game itself.  In a couple of weeks [8 February] the NFL will play its all-star game — the Pro Bowl.  A week later, Phoenix will host the NBA’s annual all-star extravaganza.

BORING!

Personally, I have not watched an all-star game in its entirety in…well, ever.  I probably watch at least some of the baseball all-star game every now and then.  I do not think that I have ever watched an NBA all-star game and have rarely caught any part of the Pro Bowl or the NHL all-star game.  There is really no interest.  Even when I have players that I like in those games, I still do not watch.  There is no appeal — nothing special.

But what are all-star games?  They are essentially gimmicks.  So why not make them more gimmicky?  You could let players play out of position from time to time.  Imagine allowing Kevin Mawae lining up under center or Ray Lewis in the backfield.  Perhaps Ichiro can pitch an inning or Sidney Crosby can be in net.  Basketball?  Well…  does not work as well.  BUT, players could easily get hurt [Ichiro throws out his arm, for example] and Crosby might not like the idea of being in net.  Maybe tweaking the rules a bit.  The NHL’s YoungStars game is a 3-on-3 competition with a running clock and no face-offs after the beginning of the period.  While 3-on-3 is a bit much, why not do that with 5-on-5 for the all-star game?  Or basketball can have “line shifts” and a continuous play; perhaps borrowing a bit from soccer and allowing the players to just get an out-of-bounds ball and throw it back in.  But perhaps that is too gimmicky.  The one thing that was tried before and I thought was an interesting twist was what the NHL did a few years ago — the two all-star teams were set-up by country.  It was North America versus the World and an interesting set-up that had teammates going against one another.  It could work in other sports, with football perhaps doing it by states — East versus West or North versus South.  Or maybe an NBA all-star team taking on a European all-star team [similar to the MLS all-star v. Premier team format with Major League Soccer].  However, both baseball and football seems to have more conference/league loyalty than hockey and basketball [geographic].

Perhaps a lesson can be learned from the Russian hockey league — Kontinental Hockey League.  On 10 January, the KHL played their all-star game outdoors in Moscow at Red Square.  It also utilized the all-star by country format, in this case Russia versus the World.  While the turnout was unspectacular, this is something that could work well in North America.

Obviously this applies to the NHL and NBA as the other two sports — NFL and MLB — already play outdoors at most of its facilities.  The NHL has hosted three different outdoor games during the regular season — 2003 game at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium [Oilers v. Canadiens], the 2008 Winter Classic at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium [Sabres v. Penguins], and this year’s Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago [Blackhawks v. Red Wings].  All three were tremendously successful for the NHL however they league will eventually run out of new places to host its now annual event.  And the NBA just recently held an exhibition game between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets outdoors in Indian Wells, California.  So both leagues are willing to hold a game outside.  So why not apply this to the all-star game in order to spark interest?

Now, obviously this idea would be geographically restrictive.  Attempting to hold an outdoor hockey game in Tampa or Dallas makes about as much sense as holding an outdoor basketball game in New York City or Chicago —  especially in February!  But there is nothing wrong with that restriction.  Keep in mind that the Super Bowl is generally held in warm weather climates, with the exception of dome games in Detroit or Minnesota.  So this could work.  And while many NBA players did not likely play much on the streets, it is likely that many NHL players have played on “real” frozen ponds.  So returning to an outdoor game is likely something that the players can appreciate and enjoy.  Plus, if there happens to be a snowstorm [like the 2008 NHL Winter Classic] or a stiff wind to throw off the projectory of three-pointers, then the game becomes all the more intriguing.  And again, just the novelty of this type of game coupled with the best players in their respective sports would add to the novelty of it…at least for a few years.

This will not likely happen.  There were some that complained about the wind and the temperature in the outdoor basketball game.  And I am sure cities like Atlanta or Phoenix would complain about not being able to feasibly host an outdoor hockey game.  But it is an interesting concept that the NHL and NBA can learn from our comrades.

As for the Pro Bowl and MLB’s all-star game?  Well, I think baseball’s mid-summer classic draws well on its own.  The Pro Bowl?  Not even the players themself seem to care to play in that one so why even have it!