Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Vacation

See you in a couple weeks, few thousand km, and several dozen beer.

"Who's the grumpy guy in the photos?"

"He's a JP who hates gays, but we made him perform our ceremony anyway to keep his job, after we threatened human rights action. Good times!"

Good one Ginna.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Aldini Official Prediction: 20-team NHL Playoffs in '06/'07

[Updated]

[Note: this post is not a long complaint, for a change. It's merely interesting.]


As part of Colby Cosh's initial pass at the "New NHL" on Saturday, he laments the continued existence of the "3-point game". Since the NHL went to 4-on-4 OT, the losing team has been awarded one point, same as a tie. The intent was to encourage wide open play and excitement in the OT; whether it has achieved its purpose, and whether the unintended consequences of the 3-point policy have been damaging, is another argument for another day.

What is not arguable is that any problem you would care to associate with the 3-point game, will be much, much worse next year.

There are 30 NHL teams who each play 82 games
  • If every game were worth 2 points, there would be:
  • 2460 points awarded in the standings every season
  • Avg. number of points per team would be 82.0
OK, so what about last season, as the most recent example?
  • A total of 2605 points were awarded in the standings
  • The "extra" 145 points corresponds exactly to the total of 145 OT losses between the 30 teams
  • Avg. number of points per team was 86.8
So one of the effects of the 3-point game policy, for the '03/'04 season, was that the mean team had 87 points, or put another way, was about 5 games above .500.

Attentive fans should not be surprised to read this. The median team in each 15-team conference is team #8, aka the last team in the playoffs. This team has generally had 90+ points over the past several years. The mathematical cause of this is that the bottom 5 teams in the conference are generally further below the mean than the top 5 teams are above the mean; I have no good argument for the actual cause.

Anyway, in the 2005/06 season, there will be no ties. What that means in terms of this discussion is that every game tied at the end of regulation will be a 3-point game.

In 03/04, there were 170 tie games, where 340 points were awarded in the standings, one to each tied team. This upcoming season would award 510 points for these same 170 games, because someone is going to win.
  • 170 new points out of the ether = avg. 5.67 new points per team
  • Now the average total # of points per team is 92.5
Once you consider again that the median (Team #8 in each conference) will continue to be a few points ahead of the mean, then it's clear: 95 points often won't be good enough to make the playoffs, even though it nominally represents a record of 13 games over .500.

This is the root of my prediction off the top. I think the fan & media outcry from these teams who look great in the standings except for that pesky "Rank" will provide the NHL a good excuse to add a prelim round to the playoffs (I've heard Best-of-3, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9 in each conference).

There's also a separate but no less important point to be made here. Most teams will win approximately half of their overtime (incl. shootout) games. Yes, a few will win more, or less, but especially with the sample size more than doubling (no ties!), most teams will win roughly half of their OT/SO games and lose roughly half.

You are Oilers coach Craig Mactavish, tied playing in Philadelphia with 15 minutes left in the 3rd period. A win in regulation is worth 2 points, a loss zero. A tie at the end of regulation is worth 1.5 points, because half the time you'll get 1 point, and half the time you'll get 2.

Under the previous system, you could assign a value to Tie At End Of Regulation as about 1.2 - 40% or so of OT games ended with a goal, and you could expect that to be your team's goal about half the time.

The new system makes "surviving regulation time" that much more lucrative - instead of winning the 2nd point about one in five times, now you'll win it about one in two times.

So, Coach MacTavish, you gonna open things up in the 3rd? Take a few risks?

I think the shootout will be fun, and I've always liked 4-on-4 OT. But I'm pretty worried about what the incentive to get to OT will do to the quality of play in regulation. It would be a shame if the shootout turned out to be massively popular, but only because the 3rd period is always so dull.

UPDATE: As I noted, I don't like to be a complainer, so I have a proposed solution.

The NHL has decided that they don't care if every game is worth the same number of points (e.g. 2). So instead of making OT/SO games 3-point games, make them 1-point games.

Then there is a genuine incentive to win in regulation, since if it's tied, you are guaranteed nothing, and 1 point vanishes permanently into the ether. There's still only a 1-point difference between winning the OT/SO and losing, so you can't argue that this punishes teams that are generally good, but specifically poor at "gimmick hockey" (for lack of a better word; I'm referring to 4-on-4 OT and the shootout).

You could argue that this punishes good, close-checking defensive teams who tend to be tied after regulation more than average. Based on the stated objectives of the NHL revitalization, the response to this ought to be, "Perfect!", oughtn't it?

The more compelling objection to this scheme is that the average NHL team would be below .500; basically you'd have the opposite problem to all the math noted above. Based on 315 of 1230 games in '03/'04 being tied after regulation, the average NHL team would have 71.5 points. There is nothing objectively wrong about this; it's just bad for the warm and fuzzy feelings of NHL fans who prefer to see their teams as "winning", and thus probably detrimental to overall NHL interest.

Friday, July 22, 2005

This must be made up

Gene Healy on his vacation in Scotland:
Quite by accident (visiting the city museum) we stumbled upon Adam Smith's grave at the church across the street. Appropriately, there was a crumpled McDonald's wrapper on top of it.

Bleh

I generally have a tough time getting too worked up media bias (or about anything, for that matter). But could the folks at Yahoo! really not think of a third answer for this poll?

Screenshot of Yahoo! Sports poll Posted by Picasa

This was a lockout, right, not a strike? So basically the question might as well be worded, "Why did it take the players so long to do exactly what the owners wanted?"

For the record, my answer is, "Because they were right, but you can't eat, wear, or live in that."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Calgary's 2005 Man of the Year

Gary Bettman? Uh, sure.


"Save our small-market hockey team!!!" Posted by Picasa

Cap chat

So, I hear there's going to be NHL hockey next season! For this I am glad. I suspect I'll be getting back to my old routines as a Flames fan, although I can't be sure. I think the new CBA is bad for just about everyone, but it was a voluntary agreement, so they can live with it.

My respect for (Flames prez) Ken King and Darryl Sutter has gone down considerably as a result of their rhetoric during the lockout. Mercifully, they declined to demean the city of Calgary and its fans in the same fashion as (to state the obvious example) Cal Nichols and the gang up in Edmonchuk. The flip side of this is that it left them without any real argument, valid or not, as to why Flames fans should be happy about the whole lockout chain of events.

The day after the agreement was announced, I saw Ken King on TV saying that now it was up to the team to show the fans that the lost year was "worth the wait". I'm not sure what that means, because I don't know what possible future scenario could prove this. Seriously, anyone?

As the best commentators have noted, we can't really know how things will play out from here, in a number of ways. Will it improve the "competitive balance"? No idea, especially since I have yet to see an attempt anywhere to empirically define or measure what that means. If it does produce more "parity", will that be a good or a bad thing overall? I'm leaning towards "Bad", but I can't be sure.

Say the Senators win the Cup this season, then lose their 1st and 5th scorers, and 2nd and 4th defensemen, to free agency (i.e. cap considerations). Ottawa fans enthusiastic about competitive balance should in theory applaud this: "That's what's great about this league - talent is evenly distributed, everybody has a chance every year." In the immortal words of Edith Prickley, "ppp-HAH!" I've also yet to hear anyone argue that the fact that the Red Wings have been one of the Top 5 teams in the league for 10 straight years has been bad for the league.

Parity and other issues aside, there are some things that we KNOW will result from the new CBA.

1) The cap and revenue sharing will be bad for league growth.

Every innovation in the past 50 years of the NHL has been initiated by a team, not by the league as a whole. (I use innovation not in the sense of "new technology", but rather "new idea designed to extract money from fans voluntarily".) Many of these innovations have been widely adopted, or even uniformly adopted as NHL policy, but the fact remains that they all came from businesses seeking to grow, improve, and gain profit.

Third jerseys, seat licenses, Pizza Hut in the concourse, game packs, coaches' radio shows, reserved parking lots, etc. etc. etc...none of these things came as a result of a partnership committee in the NHL offices. Individual teams initiated these things to grow revenue, improve their teams, and/or make more profit.

Both a salary cap and revenue sharing act as disincentives for this kind of innovation. In the case of (say) the Leafs, it's a powerful one. Proponents of revenue sharing seem to take the pile of league revenues as a given, as if redistributing them won't change anyone's behaviour. This is economically illiterate. Here's Chris Selley from back in February:
The economic situation also means that revenue sharing makes no sense for the NHL. With no league-wide source of revenue independent of individual teams and their fans (that is, a television contract) to share, such a system would amount simply to redistributing money from the rich teams' fans to the poor teams' players. You'll need one hell of a PR firm to spin that to positive.

Add the fact that many of the will-be recipients of these redistributions (say Nashville) are playing in arenas built by the government, and paying less tax. Suddenly the Leafs are in a situation where their revenues far exceed what they are allowed to spend on players. What will they do?

- At the one extreme, they could maintain or raise ticket prices, and continue to take risks to develop new revenue streams, all so that a good portion of their excess revenue can be mailed to Nashville and Pittsburgh.

- At the other extreme, they could drop ticket and beer prices to a level where they spend the full cap, cover their other expenses, and make a tidy but not gaudy profit. Obviously much less, if any, revenue is available to redistribute in this case.

The reality will no doubt fall somewhere between these two extremes. But note that the first extreme is pleasing to people in Nashville, whereas the second is pleasing to people in Toronto. I'll leave it to you to determine how that might affect the Toronto Maple Leafs' planning.

When a team like the Leafs isn't even sure that they want to grab all the revenues that they know are available, they will absolutely not be risking anything on ventures where they don't know that money is available. This means zero growth.

2) The middle-class will be hollowed out of the player salary structure.

The superstars and the journeymen won't be much affected by the salary cap. It will be fantastic for the not-quite-superstars, and awful for the average to slightly-above-average players.

I posted (with research!) about this in January. The institution of a team cap, and an individual cap hurts average players. The superstars get paid the max. The near-superstars get paid the max. The players with expiring contracts (or one year remaining) who look like they are developing into superstars get the max. It just doesn't leave money for a healthy middle class.

Quiz: what do NBA players Allan Houston, Michael Finley, Keith Van Horn, Penny Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Shawn Marion, and Antawn Jamison have in common?

Answer: For the most part, they're nice players, comfortably above-average in talent, occasional All-Stars. They're also all signed to long-term contracts for the league maximum. Tom Benjamin argues here that NHL teams won't get into the same messes, because one top NHL player just can't have the same impact as one top NBA player.

Even setting aside goaltenders, my reaction to this is, "Wanna bet?" Take the Oilers (please..heheh). When they gave up Doug Weight a few years ago, they could plausibly argue to their fans that they simply could not afford to pay one player $7M USD (exact figure eludes me). (Also, whether it would have been wise to do so, especially with the benefit of hindsight, is another matter).

Under the same scenario today, Oiler fans would look around the league and see every other team with roughly the same amount of money to spend, many or most of which have a top player making the maximum. How could they say that they can't afford to sign their own best player, with the same resources everyone else has? It would look to fans like the Oilers are unwilling to seriously compete (or uninterested).

The Hawks' Bill Wirtz is the only owner I can think of who genuinely doesn't care if his fans think he's trying to win. Everyone else is going to feel the pressure to show that they are doing what they can. If you're an NHL GM, and you have (say) the 10th-best skater in the league, you'll be signing him to a max contract. Then you'll run around hoping that you can offer your 4th defenseman and 3rd line wingers fifty grand more than the other guy.

In 3 years, there will be 25-40 players making the maximum. That's my prediction. I'm not at all worried it'll come back to haunt. This post is too long to continue.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

ee's not dead, ee's resting...

Well, working, actually, although that's never stopped me from posting before. Two weeks of nothing! Shame on me. Thanks for all your cards and letters asking me to return, by the way. Jerks. I'll have comments on the NHL resolution shortly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

"He won."

Some quick housekeeping - I've added a few more excellent sites to the blogroll. Welcome to Billy Beck and to the Bear & Friends. I snicker at bloggers who describe themselves as libertarian, but Mr. Beck is quite obviously the real deal. The folks at Blank Out Times are both prolific and interesting.

Mathew Ingram's A Complete Waste of Time is filled with absolutely fascinating bits of tech and art. Macduff et al manage at times to defend various bits of statism in a way that doesn't make me want to have Telus cancel my internet connection, so kudos to them.

Last but certainly not least, I've added Tom Benjamin's NHL Weblog. It is a travesty that not a single media outlet in North America employs a commentator with Tom's interest in challenging the Bettman/owner "vision" for the NHL, let alone his skill.

Tom had a terrific post on Canada Day that will save me the trouble of writing my own. Here's the nuts:
"We're not prepared to live with the current system. We think the current system is fatally flawed. We want it fixed. We know what the problems are, and we know how to fix it... We have a fundamentally different vision for the future of this game. I think we speak for the game because the types of concerns that the fans have are the very types of concerns that we're trying to address with getting a new system... we're asking people, our fans, to be patient with us with the assurance that we will make things right." - Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman won and it's time to deliver on those assurances. Bettman made promises to the fans if they supported him through this fight. They did, and he won. They supported him because they believed in his vision, a vision that supposedly assured the health of the league for the long term. The players offered a band-aid, a short term fix. Bettman rejected it and blew off the year to fix the game for all time, or at least for the next ten or fifteen years.

No apologies are required. All Gary has to do is deliver on the promised utopia. He said he knew how to fix all the game's ills and promised to make everything right. He proved he has the power to get his own way. It's time to shut up and put up the Gary Bettman hockey league. It had better be great.

I've been contemplating things along the same lines for the past few weeks, ever since it became clear that the players were conceding. My biggest frustration with the analysis of the NHL contract dispute is that there is never mention of how we ought to judge whether the new system works. Hell, beyond the odd cliche about competitive balance and a "level playing field", I'm not even that clear what most pundits want!

It would make me very happy if every member of the Hockey Writers was made to answer this brief questionnaire, especially since most of them claim to speak for "the fan". It'd be pretty meaningless right now, but I think that in 5 or 6 years we might find it useful to have some of this down on paper.

(1). How do you plan on judging whether the new NHL CBA is an improvement over the old one? Is there at least one objective standard that should be met?

(2). Regardless of how things shake out over the next 5 years, at this point, the commissioner and the owners have gotten what they wanted, and the players have not. If the NHL fails to meet expectations over the next several years, are you prepared to hold the commissioner and the owners accountable as the ones responsible for this failure?

(3). If the NHL does in fact fail to meet your expectations over the next several years, and it is reasonable to hold the commissioner and the owners responsible: What level of skepticism would it be appropriate to cast on the owners' proposed solution next time?

If I could hear a few hockey pundits answer even just Question #1, I would be thrilled.

Frontrunner for Sportsman of the Year

I haven't thought too deeply about all possible contenders, but what Roger Clemens is doing right now, 4 weeks shy of his 43rd birthday, is nothing short of astounding.

His road ERA right now is a that-must-be-a-typo 0.20. He's pitched 46 innings away from home, and has allowed a grand total of ONE EARNED RUN: a 2-out, solo homer to Colorado's Preston Wilson, in a game he left after 7 innings with a 4-run lead.

His 2.22 ERA at his home Minute Maid Park is tremendous as well; recall that in its previous incarnation as Enron Field, the park was affectionately nicknamed Ten-Run Field.

Here in 2005, we're mostly over the shock of having athletes perform well past their 40th birthdays. The top athletes take great care of themselves. But to see a guy having a career year at age 42, when you could plausibly argue he's already had two Hall-of-Fame careers, is inspirational to this sports fan.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

"If you weren't my son, I'd hug you"

"The only place you can find a Main Street these days is in Disneyland," Hank once said. "And just try to buy a gun there."

I threw a lotta love at Mike Judge and King of the Hill back in February, so I was fascinated, and a little bit proud, to read this story in the New York Times about "King of the Hill Democrats".
North Carolina's two-term Democratic governor, Mike Easley, is so obsessed with the show that he instructs his pollster to separate the state's voters into those who watch King of the Hill and those who don't so he can find out whether his arguments on social and economic issues are making sense to the sitcom's fans.

I'm pointing to this story not to assert that this is genius political strategy, but because both the writer and Gov. Easley understand the show and have affection for it. Says the Governor:
"This is only the second show that's a comedy about the South -- this and Andy Griffith -- that doesn't make fun of Southerners"

Here's writer Matt Bai's best graf:
...despite decent ratings, Fox has been buying fewer episodes and shifting its time slot, and there are rumors that the network may want to substitute yet another new reality show in its place. This is odd: after all, there is more reality about American life in five minutes of ''King of the Hill'' than in a full season of watching Paris Hilton prance around a farm in high heels.

Bingo! And here's the best classic show line shared in the article:
When Peggy tells him he'll look like a racist for snubbing his Laotian neighbor, Hank replies, "What the hell kind of country is this where I can only hate a man if he's white?"

Anyway, read the whole article. By the way, my aforementioned "Unnamed Mike Judge Comedy" film due out this year now has a name: Idiocracy. It is apparently slated for release August 5th. Enjoy.