NHL Update, Part 2

Chemistry is a huge, huge thing in hockey. A great pitcher is a great pitcher. And a QB needs some chemistry but he's got a lot of options. And even the NBA has become one-on-one. But in hockey you don't know what's going to click.

“The Rangers don’t lose. They just score less goals.”

Interview with hockey expert Steven Ovadia, proprietor of puckupdate.com.

n+1: Steve! Game-time.

Steven: Let’s go!

n+1: Steven Ovadia, thanks for coming on the internet with us today. What happened during the off-season?

Steven: With the new CBA [collective bargaining agreement], teams can’t afford to hang on to their best players—because paying them what they deserve will putthose teams over the cap—so we saw a lot of movement.

Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, two of the best players in the Eastern Conference, going to the Rangers was probably the biggest splash. Interestingly, since the Rangers weren’t weighed down with huge superstars and their contracts the waythey used to be, they actually had the money to make a run at Gomez and Drury.

n+1: When you say we saw it, was it written about in the papers? Do papers write about hockey?

Steven: Certain papers. The New York Post, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer. And all of the Canadian papers. I think it’s usually more of a note item, like where they put the WNBA stuff.

n+1: Which is the best?

Steven: I love Larry Brooks in the Post and Tim Panaccio in the Philly Inq. They’re both really on top of things.

n+1: I like Brooks too.

Steven: Brooks always had a reputation as a rumor-monger until the internet exploded.

Suddenly, he seemed conservative in his reporting. I think he’s seen as more mainstream and less of a loose cannon.

n+1: So what’s going to happen in the East?

Steven: If the Rangers can get their lines clicking, that’s the team to beat. Solid defense, and three offensive lines. A lot of versatility. Coach Tom Renney talks about different looks to the lines, which a lot of coaches don’t mess with. He has the Jagr line, which is east-west, passing and finesse. And the Shanahan line, which is much more go-to-the-net-and-whack-something-in. Most teams are one or the other.

n+1: Renney’s like a college professor.

Steven: Yeah. He’s like a sane, articulate Freddy Shero to me.

n+1: Who’s that? I guess I can Google it.

Steven: He coached the Flyers and the Rangers. He was cryptic. He would put up these mysterious phrases on the board and not explain what they meant.

n+1: Ah, see, Google doesn’t say anything about that.

Steven: He’d have players spend entire practices practicing going over the boards.

n+1: Why?

Steven: No one knows. Maybe to demean them. Maybe to get them to focus on the little things and not worry so much about scoring.

n+1: Back to the Rangers. How old is Jagr?

Steven: I think he’s like 58. He’s definitely reaching diminishing returns. His whole game is his strength, how strong he is. As he loses that, he loses his game.

n+1: Last year everyone picked the Rangers too. I don’t want to get hurt again.

Steven: You have to fail to get close, though. I think losing on that Drury goal [against Buffalo] is going to make them a better third-period team.

n+1: So who else is good in the East?

Steven: I like Pittsburgh. I know some people feel they’re a little too vet-heavy, but I love Sykora and Crosby. I love Jordan Staal.

n+1: They’re all 15 years old!

Steven: Super-young teams are more dangerous because they don’t know any better and have no frame of reference to weigh them down. They might think teams are supposed to go to the playoffs every year. Older teams know how hard it is. Andhow luck plays a role.

n+1: We know how hard it is.

Steven: Even a great player like Nylander hasn’t won a Cup or even made a huge dent inthe playoffs. I think it gets harder and harder until you’re Ray Borque and it’s really your last chance. And then it’s not so hard.

n+1: Do you think hockey’s harder to predict than other sports?

Steven: Yeah. I do.

n+1: It seems there are so many variables, and players age so quickly.

Steven: Chemistry is a huge, huge thing in hockey. A great pitcher is a great pitcher. And a QB needs some chemistry but he’s got a lot of options. And even the NBA has become one-on-one. But in hockey you don’t know what’s going to click.

n+1: When hockey players don’t have this … chemistry, do they get depressed?

Steven: I don’t know if they get depressed, but they press. They take bad shots or passup good shots. It’s like a bad date that won’t end.

n+1: The hockey season? That’s terrible. So what about the [defending Stanley Cupchampions Anaheim] Ducks?

Steven: I watched them last night and thought they looked pretty good. Very physical still. They just flood the front of the net in both ends.

n+1: They picked up Bertuzzi. The guy’s like a war criminal.

Steven: I was really against Bertuzzi and now I’m rooting for him. There just aren’t a lot of pure power forwards left in the NHL.

n+1: Iginla.

Steven: My favorite NHLer.

n+1: Cam Neely?

Steven: Another great. Today’s NHL guys are either big or talented, but rarely both.

n+1: Is this because of the rules change? There’s like a specialization?

Steven: I think it’s more genetics. It’s hard to be big and fast with great hands.

n+1: But it used to be less hard?

Steven: Well, when everyone was smaller it was easier to be bigger.

n+1: Do you ever watch those old Rangers games on MSG? They look like they’re inslow motion.

Steven: Yeah. And tiny.

n+1: And bald.

Steven: And grainy.

n+1: OK, but the Ducks. They used to be the Mighty Ducks, right? Like in the movie?

Steven: Yeah. The Ducks were the project of Disney synergy and overexpansion.

n+1: And then they got sold? Disney didn’t want a hockey team?

Steven: I think during the ’90s, the NHL made it seem like everyone could own a hockey team in any market and make a lot of money. And then Disney kind of realized it’s more complex.

n+1: They had a PowerPoint presentation.

Steven: There was actually an infomercial. “I own two NHL franchises and the only time I get up is to get my checks from the mail.”

n+1: But now the Ducks—are they the most violent team in the NHL?

Steven: Probably. Philly is right there. Rangers-Islanders is right there.

n+1: The Flyers have always been violent. Who’d they pick up in the off-season, the Flyers?

Steven: Briere is the big one. From Buffalo.

n+1: Ah. Briere’s not violent. Although he did once punch [Ranger defenseman Darius] Kaspar[aitis] in the back of the head after Mike Grier had smashed him into theboards and broken his nose.

Steven: K-man was talking smack, no doubt.

n+1: He was just standing there!

n+1: Who do you like in the West?

Steven: I love Calgary with Mike Keenan. I think they’re at their best when they’re playing an old-school defense where they’re basically like an NFL defensive line challenging people to try and break through. And back when Sutter wascoaching they had a beautiful penalty kill.

n+1: How so?

Steven: Most PKs have two guys static in the slot area but some movement at the top, to challenge the points. Calgary used to move all four spots at the same time, so as the points were being pressured, the guys down low were pushing in the same direction, so everything was moving to the boards. I think it was like a triangle defense. They moved like synchronized swimmers.

n+1: I think they would find that a very touching comparison

Steven: I hope so.

n+1: What about the Red Wings?

Steven: They looked great last night. Hasek is a big question mark for me.

n+1: He’s old!

Steven: He’s like way too old to scramble like that.

n+1: Does he wear a helmet?

Steven: It’s leather.

n+1: Was Mactavish the last guy not to wear a helmet?

Steven: I think so. Although his hair looked fake Like a hair helmet.

n+1: Now, the Rangers—they got all those Czechs a while ago, to keep Jagr company.They’re still the most Czech team in the league, I think. Are there other teams like that with a lot of foreigners?

Steven: I think Dallas is pretty Scandanavian-heavy.

n+1: Is there a reason?

Steven: Honestly, I think it’s more a variable of where your scouts are and word of mouth. If you’re Swedish, you probably get good tips and you’ll share them with the GM. So teams get a bit Swede-heavy.

n+1: Swedes know English.

Steven: And some teams, like the Devils, are kind of pro-North American.

n+1: Ideologically?

Steven:They seem that way to me. You have Elias and Brylin but for the most part, they’re North American guys. Lou [Lamouriello, the GM] was a big college hockey guy so maybe he wants to lead by example.

n+1: Is Montreal still very French-Canadian?

Steven: I think that’s what they prefer. They have that goalie Huet. Teams used to beable to scout by proximity, meaning French-Canadian prospects belonged to Montreal. You were born into it. As the league expanded into the US, they had to go with a draft model.

n+1: Is Lundquist a good goalie? All the goalies seem so alike.

Steven: I like him. Solid. Not a lot of rebounds. Good position. For me a great goalie is about conservation of movement. Brodeur barely moves half the time because he can read the play.

n+1: But a goalie has to balance this with actually saving shots.

Steven: Yeah. That’s the other part. But if you can save the 90% of the saveable shots, just with position, if you save just half of the rest, you’ve got a .950 save percentage.

n+1: Wow. You’re like the Bill James of hockey. [Pause.] Sorry, that sounded sarcastic.

Steven: I was kind of being tongue-in-cheek. I’m not a big hockey stats guy.

n+1: Ok. g-chat, you know, it’s not always clear.

Steven: I should have changed the font.

n+1: Has the NHL done anything stupid lately?

Steven: Like playing a game in England during World Cup?

n+1: For example. What else?

Steven: Hmmm. The jerseys are kind of weird, but that’s not super stupid.

n+1: They’re tighter?

Steven: Yeah. Although it seems guys are just ordering larger sizes.

n+1: Heh-heh. Adaptability.

The idea was to stop guys from pulling each other’s jerseys over their heads? I mean, the nhl had a meeting about this?

Steven: I don’t know if that was deliberate, though.

n+1: In Toronto or whevever?

Steven: I once exchanged emails with some guy in the NHL and he said there were like three things fan love. One was fighting. I forget the other two.

n+1: Why were you emailing with a guy from the NHL?

Steven: I was pitching them my blog for the NHL site.

n+1: That’s respect. Email is respect.

Steven: And eventually I was routed to middle management.

n+1: Really? You wanted to be an official NHL blogger? That would have been odd. No offense.

Steven: I thought it would be cool if they had like a dissenting voice on the site. This was like back in ’03. Now it’s kind of a corporate BS thing.

n+1: What would you dissent from?

Steven: Well instead of just being like “the shootout is great,” I would belike “they should use guns in the shootout if they’re going to call it a shootout.”

n+1: And they said?

Steven: I think they said they were pretty set. Or maybe they said fans don’t want commentary. I don’t remember.

n+1: “Thanks, Steve, but we’re all set.”

Steven: Blogs? Is that like an STD?

n+1: You were like, You guys should do a PowerPoint presentation.

Steven: “You’re a little too ‘New York’ for us.”

n+1: They said that?

Steven: No. I just like to pretend it’s that.

n+1: It was an anti-Jewish thing?

Steven: In my head, everything is.

n+1: Is the NHL anti-Semitic?

Steven: Except for Bob Nystrom. And a Buffalo goalie, I think.

n+1: There was that guy, on the Capitals.

Steven: I know who you mean. He’s in Dallas now.

n+1: He wouldn’t play on Yom Kippur. He should move to Brooklyn, he could shake the ittle plant they’ve been making me shake all week …

Steven: I do think it wouldn’t kill the NHL to go hipper and stop trying to get everyone in America to watch hockey.

n+1: … with the lemon.

Steven: I get very offended by that.

n+1: Why?

Steven: I don’t think of us as a missionary people. Judaism sells itself.

n+1: You’re saying, like the NHL, it should just be for people who like the NHL

Steven: Yeah. Like if you compare [the sports network that now shows hockey] Versus to the local telecasts.

n+1: Uh-huh.

Steven: The local games talk a lot more strategy. Versus is just Doc Emerick kind of modulating his voice. I think they kind of want to catch people flipping. Like Doc announces someone shot the puck and the person flipping is like “What happened? Oh. Someone shot the puck!” Let’s keep watching. This exposition is riveting.

n+1: How else might the NHL become more of a niche market, keeping its base happy?

Steven: I don’t know why Versus doesn’t show Hockey Night in Canada. Just the preshow. People would love that.

n+1: What’s on it? I’ve never seen it.

Steven: It’s just Don Cherry being racist and controversial. Oh. And HNIC After Hours. That’s great, too. A player and the host just take questions.

n+1: From Canadians.

Steven: Very low-key.

n+1: Is the NHL considering any more rules changes?

Steven: I don’t think so.

n+1: It’s a little bit like during the Napoleonic wars, when people would come to the generals and be like, I’ve come up with a plan. We’ll use hot air balloons.

Steven: Yeah. I think they’re starting to realize most conventional sports don’t change the rules once a season. I think they’re going to stand pat.

n+1: I should let you go. What was the thing about the Rangers and their website?

Steven: Apparently the league has one version and the team has its own. The Rangers don’t want their site in the NHL template.

n+1: Is it very different? I find it odd that the Rangers have their own site and post, like, press releases about the games, post-game. It’s Rangers propaganda, but it’s a game description.

Steven: I think everyone does that. I love them.

Nothing bad ever happens.

The Rangers don’t lose, they just score less goals.

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