Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brett Hull Gets His Due and Brenden Shanahan is a Beast

The last two hockey weeks have triggered some feelings of nostalgia for me. First, one of my all-time favorite players, and one of three members of the Dallas stars who were so influential on me growing up that I have used their numbers in some fashion for every pin and password that I have, was rightfully inducted into the hall of fame. Brett Hull - the current Dallas Stars Ambassador of Fun - is in the hall alongside his pops and other great players across time.

When Brett came to the Dallas Stars I was around 12 years old and was about to start my first year of pee-wee hockey. I was going to play for the Dallas Jr. Stars that year, but had to make a very important decision on the number that I would wear. I had a lot of idols to choose from, but once Golden Brett announced his signing to my favorite team, his #16 was a no brainer choice. Yes, the "Little Ball of Hate" Pat Verbeek was already #16 on the Stars so Hull had to wear #22, but that didn't matter to me, because as a Hull fan he was always going to be seen as #16 to me(after Verbeek left the Stars Hull did reclaim his famed number - though he did win the cup as #22 and lost as #16 but that's a whole new discussion).

Brett did not disappoint on the ice in his time in Dallas between winning the Cup in Buffalo, delivering an unbelievable opening to the new millenium, netting his 600th and 601st goals on New Year's eve and ushering in the Hullenium, and many others before and after. Off the ice, Brett was funny and engaging and was simply likable. Hull said recently "I got to play with wonderful players, and I made sure when I played I was just having fun. I figured if I was having fun, then the game was going to go the right way for me." That kind of attitude is what made Hull a special player and a special guy.

The second piece of news that interested me this week was the retirement of Brendan Shanahan. As a guy that I always had to watch as an opponent to my teams (as a native Coloradan I have hoped on the Avs bandwagon when the Stars were out of contention) I was a bit scared when he was on the ice. He seemed to always make something happen, with either a big hit or just occupying space in front of the net, but he also had the ability, much like Brett, to get lost on the ice and then reappear as he was following through on a one-time that ended up in the back of the net. In addition to his undeniable knack to score goals, Shanahan was one tough S.O.B.

When I heard Shanny was retiring I immediately went to hockeydb to look at his career stats to think about whether he will be a hall of fame inductee. In my estimation, and likely anyone who follows hockey, he will be a shoe in. The most striking statistics that Shanahan put together were that while he amassed a total 656 goals, he also managed to spend 2,489 minutes in the penalty box. No other NHL player has gained entry into the 600/2000 club, which means Brendan Shanahan is a BEAST. The 600/2000 club, or for now "Club Shanny" has become a fascinating idea of study for me. Considering that I label myself as a fan of the economics of the game, I though I would turn this fascination into something quantitative. The question that I wanted answered was, controlling for games played, who else should, would, or is likely to join Club Shanny. Below is a table listing the career stats of every NHL player who has scored at least 600 goals, and a few other players who on my own intuition I thought may be on pace to make the 600/2000 mark.

The blue shading shows players who at their per game pace of scoring and sitting in the penalty box would or will join Club Shanny if they do or had played in the same 1,524 games as Brendan (The names in red signify active players). Cam Neely was really no surprise to me for goal scoring or shenanigans, but I really let it creep out of my mind what an offensive talent that Tkachuk had. The two other guys that I think should get mentioned for the offensive might, and general ruggedness are Pat Verbeek and Rick Tocchet. Had each of them made it to play 1500+ games, they were dangerously close to being on pace for 600 goals and yes, 3000 penalty minutes! That's the equivalent of spending 50 entire games in the penalty box. I guess you don't end up looking like Tocchet or being called the Little Ball of Hate for nothing. Impressive stuff guys.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wild Bill Wednesday: Hockey Bears

(eds. note, this post is dated 11/04/09)

The hockey season is 14 games old. I know that some teams have played more than 14, some less, but I don’t care. The Bruins have played 14 games, and the B’s are my B-arometer (see what I did there?) as to how the season is progressing. After middling through the first 2 weeks with just 13 points, it looks like the B’s will be hard pressed to put up the absurd 116 points as last year’s President’s Trophy runners up. The loss of Savard and Looch have certainly not helped the scoring, as the B’s have mustered just three goals in their last four games (1-3).

As a casual (gasp!) hockey fan, one of the aspects of the game I find most endearing is violence. By violence, I mean cheap shots and fights. By cheap shots, I mean Marty McSorely (little known fact: Marty McSorely appeared opposite recently bankrupt Nic Cage in the 1997 epic Con Air!) and by fights I mean Milan “Looch” Lucic.

With McSorely last seen on Spike TV’s Pros vs Joes and Looch out 3-5 more weeks with a broken finger, it’s been tough to get my B’s violence fix. Luckily, other members of the Ursus genus have been more than picking up the slack…with that, we head to outer space.

If you are confused by that transition, I don’t blame you. Or you don’t watch enough youtube, in which case it is entirely your fault. Either way, you would be remiss if you have not seen the 2007-2008 pre-game video for the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks.

The video captures rare footage of a Space Bear, and the bear is SUPER pissed. He must have had the premonition that the B’s would get out to such a shitty start in ’09, and he decides that the only place to make sure the B’s know how he feels is, you guessed it, Alaska! Over the course of his journey from deep space to Alaska, he/she manages to destroy the Hubble Telescope ($6.0 billion); the city of Anchorage (which had not seen such a disaster since the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964); the Port of Anchorage (which receives 95% of all Alaskan imports); and the roof of the Carlson Center (which hosts, among others, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks hockey team and the Larry the Cable Guy comedy tour). Conservative estimates put total damage inflicted at $56,600,450,965. An intergalactic menace hasn’t had this big an effect on Alaska since Sarah Palin!

Not to be outdone, Earth Bears are also wreaking havoc.

If you step out onto the Palin’s porch and glance across the Bering Strait, you might catch a glimpse of one of our planets most dangerous creatures. I write, obviously, of the Grizzly Bear on Hockey Skates. Russians, with their flair for the dramatic, asked the question that was on the rest of the worlds mind, but were just a little non-Communist to ask: “If humans can play hockey, why can’t we have bears play hockey?” Unlike in America, Russia is completely covered in ice. For this reason, they host their circuses on ice. I use the term “their” because it is in fact a Russian State Circus company who puts on these shows. While training for an upcoming performance of the impeccably titled “Bears on Ice”, 25 year old Dmitry Potapov was killed by a 5-year old Grizzly bear. Though the Krygyztan Ministry of Culture and Information stated that it was unclear why the bear attacked, nearly severing one of Potapov’s legs while dragging him across the ice by his neck, I think it is fairly obvious. Potapov had to have been a Canadiens fan, amirite!?!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ahhhh...The Return of Captain Blood

I know this post is a bit late in timing, but I wanted to drop my two cents on the issue of the low bridge hit. First off we saw two prime examples recently of well executed hip checks by Steve Ott and Rob Scuderi. Unfortunately both the Ott and Scuderi hits have been removed from you tube, so I will just have to verbally describe them.

The Ott hit was an open ice hip check directed at the thigh region of Carlo Colaiacovo, which was inflicted about one second after the puck was gone, and resulted in Colaiacovo flipping over Ott's back and landing on the ice. Carlo got up pretty gingerly after the hit and has been out since with an "upper-body injury."

The Scuderi hit was a well-timed hip check on Jason Chimera that happened along the boards near the attacking blueline. Scuderi, to gain the most leverage, got very low and hit Chimera right below the knee, sending him over top of him and landing face first into the ice. Chimera was cut, but was not injured on the play.

My thoughts were that both of these hits were good old-fashioned hip checks that have been a part of the game of hockey as long it has been around, and is a crucial part of the physical aspect of the sport. I understand that the league has a clipping penalty for delivering a hit at or below the knees of an opposing player, but in the split second that Scuderi had to deliver the hit, his training as a hockey player tells him that unless he wants to get trucked over by a forward coming in at full speed, he had better get himself low to the ice. Is that a dirty play? I really don't think so.

Ott's hit was a little bit of a different story. He was skating towards Colaiacovo and delivered the hit about a second after the puck had been moved. After watching the video a few times through, it was clear to me that Ott went into a hitting motion prior to the puck leaving Colaiacovo's stick, and there was really no way that Ott could have pulled back. Furthermore, even if Ott had the ability to pull back in that one second, I don't really think that he should have. Part of playing an aggressive style of hockey, which Marc Crawford certainly promotes, is for your attacking forwards to be as physical as possible with the opposing defensemen, so that they not only have less time and space, but so they are slower mentally because they have to think about taking a hit. If Ott does not finish his check there, and let's be honest, players finish checks all over the ice seconds after the puck has been moved, it's what you are taught the second you are allowed to hit in youth hockey, than he is giving up on his team's system and is diminishing his value on the ice.

The aftermath of these two scenarios left Ott with a two game suspension and Scuderi with just a fine. I can more or less understand Ott's suspension as he is a repeat offender, but Scuderi really is as well (See his hit last year on Keith Ballard) and so the inconsistency between the punishments is both puzzling and frustrating, but that inconsistency is the consistency with NHL discipline. I don't really like getting into that debate, but Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy does, and has something to say in this circumstance.

All in all, I hope that the suspension and fine for Ott and Scuderi do not creep into their hockey playing minds the next time they are going to deliver a hit, because this type of physicality is a traditional part of hockey, a fun part of hockey (for players and fans) and with out a doubt belong in the game.