Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009-2010 Season Preview: The Northwest Division

As we count down the final days leading up to the 2009-10 regular season, let's take a look at each of the 30 teams with the official DGB Season Preview. Today, we look at the Northwest Division.

Edmonton Oilers

The good: At last count there were still at least 20 players in the NHL who don't have no-trade clauses, meaning Oilers can still field a complete roster.
The bad: The leaking of the names involves in the Heatley trade negotiations left guys like Dustin Penner twisting in the wind, or would have if it were physically possible to lift him off the ground.
Biggest question mark: Will injury-prone Nikolai Khabibulin respond well to a lighter workload in Edmonton, given that he won't have to ever play in the playoffs?
Fearless forecast: A frustrated Pat Quinn becomes the most popular coach in Oilers history when he extinguishes his cigar in Mike Comrie's eye.

Minnesota Wild

The good: Finally abandoned the trap and committed to playing a more free-flowing offensive system, meaning now the only member of the Wild who consistently puts people to sleep will be Derek Boogaard.
The bad: The loss of superstar Marion Gaborik could prove devastating to the hundreds of local health care workers who relied on him for full-time employment.
Biggest question mark: Will Niklas Backstrom's numbers take a hit now that he may be asked to occasionally face a shot on net?
Fearless forecast: You will accidentally refer to them as the "North Stars" every time you talk about them all year, which will be twice.

Calgary Flames

The good: Spent off-season conducting exhaustive search for the best possible head coach, who in incredibly bizarre coincidence ended up being the GM's brother.
The bad: It's going to be awkward when they finish first in the division, only to find out that Jay Bouwmeester packed up and went home the day the season ended out of force of habit.
Biggest question mark: Will Dion Phaneuf's play be negatively affected around the time of a full moon when he is visited by the ghostly corpse of Kyle Okposo?
Fearless forecast: The team should be a strong Cup contender except in the extremely unlikely event that Miikka Kiprusoff's play deteriorates, the way it has every single year since the lockout.

Colorado Avalanche

The good: Had the brilliant idea of hiring universally beloved former player Joe Sakic to coach the team.
The bad: Probably should have proofread that job offer a little more carefully before sending it out.
Biggest question mark: Seriously, why is every single person from the front office and coaching staff a former Maple Leaf fourth liner?
Fearless forecast: During a brawl-filled game against the Red Wings Chris Osgood skates the length of the ice for the traditional goalie fight, only to be disappointed to learn that the Avs haven't had an NHL goaltender in three years.

Vancouver Canucks

The good: Size up front. The forwards weigh in at an average of 220 lbs.
The bad: That drops to 175 lbs on nights Kyle Wellwood isn't playing.
Biggest question mark: How injured would Roberto Luongo have to be for it to actually makes sense to use backup goalie Andrew Raycroft instead? Two missing limbs? Three?
Fearless forecast: At long last, Vancouver hockey fans get to watch a championship hockey team. Then the Olympics end, and the Canucks resume their march to a second round elimination.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009-2010 Season Preview: The Atlantic Division

As we count down the final days leading up to the 2009-10 regular season, let's take a look at each of the 30 teams with the official DGB Season Preview. Today, we look at the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers

The good: There's a better-than-average chance that Donald Brashear will cripple Chris Drury in practice, saving the team valuable cap space.
The bad: Wade Redden reported to camp still alive.
Biggest question mark: Aren't you kind of hoping Sean Avery knocks out Kyle Okposo this year just so we can all make "sloppy seconds" jokes?
Fearless forecast: Marion Gaborik will bring the sort of dynamic offensive threat that the team hasn't had since... wait, why is he limping off the ice?

New Jersey Devils

The good: Wisely maintained team chemistry by not bringing in any big name off-season acquisitions, even though almost half their good players left.
The bad: Sure, Jacques Lemaire's offense will be fun to watch at first, but can the Devils maintain that sort of breakneck page all season long?
Biggest question mark: Everyone makes such a big deal about oversized shoulder pads, but why doesn't anybody ever complain about the ever-growing stomach padding Martin Brodeur is apparently using?
Fearless forecast: You won't watch a single one of their games all season.

Philadelphia Flyers

The good: If 35-year old Chris Pronger can't lead team to a Stanley Cup this year, no problem -- they still have him for another six years after that!
The bad: Continuing a proud tradition of tough guy Flyers goalies, Ray Emery has already been beaten into a bloody pulp by Felix Potvin.
Biggest question mark: Will one of the Flyers commit a horrifying act of violence that ruins the Winter Classic, or will it be more than one?
Fearless forecast: Will almost certainly be one of the top two teams in the entire state.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The good: Aren't scheduled for another blatant tank job for another three or four years.
The bad: Are at a tremendous disadvantage in an Olympic year in terms of fatigue, given that every single player on the roster is good enough to make an Olympic team.
Biggest question mark: Given that they're almost a sure thing to make the post-season, wouldn't it be a good idea for Sidney Crosby to start growing his playoff beard now?
Fearless forecast: I will continue to receive ten breathless e-mails a week that contain shocking photos of the Penguin players sitting around holding a trophy.

New York Islanders

The good: Franchise reputation is already dead and buried, which is a nice change since it marks the first ever case of this ownership group being able to get a shovel into the ground.
The bad: Have six or seven good players, all of whom are goalies.
Biggest question mark: Which line will Taylor Hall play on?
Fearless forecast: Scott Gordon eventually throws a rock through the poster of Raquel Welch in John Tavares' locker, revealing a tunnel to Toronto hidden behind it.

2009-2010 Season Preview: The Southeast Division

As we count down the final days leading up to the 2009-10 regular season, let's take a look at each of the 30 teams with the official DGB Season Preview. Today, we look at the Southeast Division.

Atlanta Thrashers

The good: The team does, in the strictest technical sense, still exist.
The bad: Their plan to finally make it back to the post-season seems to involve building around former Maple Leafs.
Biggest question mark: How will the team react to the absence of Garnett Exelby, which will force them to play with two defencemen in proper position?
Fearless forecast: A frustrated Ilya Kovalchuk decides to stop passing, hang out at the red line instead of playing defence, and take eight-minute shifts, making him the first player to ever play exactly like you do in NHL 10 "Be A Pro" mode.

Washington Capitals

The good: Alexander Ovechkin seems to finally be coming out of his shell, and may even be willing to participate in occasional off-ice promotional activity.
The bad: I entered "Semyon Varlamov" into a Russian-to-English dictionary, and it came back "Steve Penney".
Biggest question mark: Why does every photograph of Mike Green look like it was taken three seconds after somebody woke him up?
Fearless forecast: The Capitals win 50 games, or more than the Nationals, Wizards and Redskins combined.

Florida Panthers

The good: Recently named Bryan McCabe captain.
The bad: Oops, that last one was supposed to be listed under "the bad". I guess Bryan's not the only one who gets confused about which side things are supposed to go in.
Biggest question mark: With Jay Bouwmeester's departure, which veteran will step up and teach the younger players what it takes to miss the playoffs every single year?
Fearless forecast: A guy who looks oddly like Jim Balsillie starts spending a lot of time in South Florida.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The good: Vincent Lecavlier appears poised for the sort of big year the team had in mind when they signed him to an $80M extension.
The bad: That apparently makes him the only person associated with this franchise who has any actual money.
Biggest question mark: Wouldn't it be better if we all just agreed that the lockout actually started in May of 2004?
Fearless forecast: The Montreal Canadiens make an aggressive deadline push to trade for Martin St. Louis in an attempt to add size.

Carolina Hurricanes

The good: Cam Ward's stellar play continues to indicate that he hasn't yet realized that he's Cam Ward.
The bad: While Ric Flair may be a native South Carolinian, having a crazy old white-haired man scream maniacally is really just an uncreative ripoff of Don Cherry.
Biggest question mark: Does Aaron Ward get one free sucker punch on Scott Walker to use whenever he wants? (Answer: Yes.)
Fearless forecast: The free agent signing of Tom Kostopolous forces coach Paul Maurice to slightly modify his famous quote to "There was a lot of purse stealing out there."

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009-2010 Season Preview: The Pacific Division

As we count down the final days leading up to the 2009-10 regular season, let's take a look at each of the 30 teams with the official DGB Season Preview. Today, we look at the Pacific Division.

San Jose Sharks

The good: Finally addressed that longstanding "locker room cancer" void.
The bad: Attempted to address a history of playoff failure by acquiring an Ottawa Senator. Let that sink in for a minute.
Biggest question mark: Will it be an upper body or a lower body injury that Dany Heatley fakes to get out of the first game in Edmonton?
Fearless forecast: The Sharks record 145 regular season points, then manage to lose their first round playoff series in three games.

Anaheim Ducks

The good: Feature starting goaltender Jonas Hiller, whose outstanding play in the post-season showed that he is without question the second best European free agent goalie named "Jonas" that Brian Burke has ever signed.
The bad: Ex-Hab Saku Koivu may have a difficult time adjusting to the lack of pompous ceremonial wankfests at the start of every single game.
Biggest question mark: Ryan Getzlaf is going to get it over with and shave his head, isn't he? He knows we can see him, right?
Fearless forecast: As per league rules, will at some point trade Joffrey Lupul for Chris Pronger.

Dallas Stars

The good: This.
The bad: Every one of those girls probably has Sean Avery cooties.
Biggest question mark: When Joe Nieuwendyk was reading Marc Crawford's resume, did the page listing everything from 1998-2009 fall out?
Fearless forecast: The team is much-improved thanks to the unveiling of a clever new trick play known as "Marty Turco actually make a save".

Los Angeles Kings

The good: Drafted Brayden "Owen" Schenn, who will inspire teammates with stories of how awesome his big brother is.
The bad: Front office made Brian Burke angry, and as such will probably all be dead by November.
Biggest question mark: Most terrifying Hunter for a Los Angeles King to run into in a dark alley: Tim, Dale, or Rachel?
Fearless forecast: The young team will no doubt benefit from the leadership of Ryan Smyth, who has been a winner everywhere he's ever played with the exception of Colorado, Long Island, and every year in Edmonton except one.

Phoenix Coyotes

The good: Thanks to an aggressive marketing push, experts are now predicting higher-than-expected ticket sales in the 14,000 to 16,000 range.
The bad: That's not an average.
Biggest question mark: Will the team still be able to travel to road games with Wayne Gretzky stuck under the team bus?
Fearless forecast: Calls for "The Whiteout" will once again be heard in April, as employees look for corrective fluid to remove the word "Phoenix" from their business cards.

Google knows all

Got to hand it to those Google guys. They're very wise.

Jonas Gustavsson

Friday, September 25, 2009

Toronto media stops figuratively beating up Leaf fans, moves on to literally beating them up

Why the Leafs SuckMove over, Leafs Abomination. There's a new contender in the lucrative "Bitter reporter does a hatchet job on the Maple Leafs" book market.

Why The Leafs Suck, by Al Strachan, apparently went on sale this week even though nobody I know has ever heard of it. The book will feature Strachan's insight into what's wrong with the Leafs, which no doubt means it will be an attempted evisceration of Pat Quinn.

But here's the fun part: As part of the marketing for the book, the promotion team has created a youtube channel with several videos that have been viewed literally dozens of times.

And you have to give Strachan credit here. While he's obviously not the first member of the Toronto media to fantasize about acts of random, brutal violence against Leaf fans, he is the first to actually put it on film.


How did the meeting go where they decided to film this?

Executive: OK, what's the pitch here?
Marketing guy: I'm thinking we start off with footage of a Leaf fan being randomly beaten up, with absolutely no context or explanation of what's happening.
Executive: Can we use loud sound effects, and constantly vary the film speed for no reason?
Marketing guy: Of course!
Executive: OK, good start. Then what?
Marketing guy: Then we cut to a closeup of Al Strachan.
Executive: Great idea, the camera loves the guy. How do we bring it all home?
Marketing guy: I'm thinking we do interviews with homeless people.
Executive: Perfect! Get out there and film this!
Marketing guy: What's my budget?
Executive: Seven dollars.
Marketing guy: More than enough. Let's roll!

In all seriousness, this book could be a worthwhile read. Strachan has just the right mix of experience, insight, bitterness and good old-fashioned crazy to come up with something entertaining. Whether you love Al or hate him, you'd have to agree that he's not exactly shy about sticking the knife into an enemy, real or perceived. A full book of finger-pointing could be a lot of fun.

And if the whole author thing doesn't work out for him, it looks like he can always turn to a career in snuff films.

(Glove tap to DGB reader Lowell for letting me know about the videos.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Top 10 Toronto Maple Leaf fights of all-time

As you may have noticed, the Maple Leafs have finally entered the Brian Burke era. Sure, he's been around since last November, but only now are we seeing a team that plays the sort of game Burke wants. And as you may have noticed, that means the occasional scrap.

So this seems like as good a time as any to take a look back on some of the great fights in the Leafs history. (As always on DGB, "Leafs history" is defined as "from the time I started watching". So we're talking the mid-80s on.)

Let's start the countdown...

10. Wendel Clark vs. Viacheslav Fetisov

So let me get this straight: this fight is going to feature a cowardly Russian who rarely fights, and Wendel Clark. And also, Clark is angry. Hm. Can't imagine how this one will turn out.

Well, look on the bright side Slava. You did better than Cam Neely.

Years later, historians would credit this fight with ending the cold war.
9. Darcy Tucker vs. the Ottawa Senators

When it comes to players on the team you cheer for, there are five stages of crazy:
  1. Hey, I like this guy, he seems a little crazy.
  2. Wow, this guy is completely insane, he's awesome.
  3. You know, this whole "crazy" thing is wearing a little thin.
  4. I'm tired of this guy, he's dangerous and unhinged and I don't enjoy cheering for him.

Seriously, the 2003 era Darcy Tucker probably should have been medicated.
8. Wendel Clark vs. Bob Brooke/Wendel Clark vs. David Mackey (tie)

Sorry, it's difficult to choose just one fight for the "Wendel Clark completely killing a Minnesota North Star" category.

Dear god, I miss the Norris division.

7. Mark Bell vs. the Ottawa Senators after the Alfredsson hit.

Oh wait, sorry, that was meant for my upcoming list of "10 Greatest Purse-Swingings".

Instead, let's go with:

7. Wade Belak vs. Cam Janssen

This fight was the much anticipated payback for Janssen's late hit that injured Tomas Kaberle and caused every Leaf on the ice to become intensely interested in their skates. Or, as we now refer to it, "the least truculent moment of all time".

This was also Belak's last great moment as an NHL heavyweight. He now plays for a team called the Nashville Predators, who I can only assume are in the KHL.

6. John Kordic vs. Basil McRae

By my count, Kordic and McRae fought about 700 times during Kordic's time in Toronto, and just about every one looked exactly like this.

(And yes, the entertainment value of fights like this alone should be enough to convince you that Kordic for Courtnall was a good trade. Don't pretend you didn't know I was bringing that up.)

5. Wendel Clark vs. Bob Probert

I always liked Bob Probert. He had his demons, but he seemed like an honorable guy on the ice. This fight was from the famous night when Probert returned to Canada for the first time after resolving his legal problems.

Thankfully, Probert eventually put an end to his personal cycle of self-destructive behaviour. Oh, he kept doing drugs and drinking for a few more years, but he stopped fighting Wendel.

4. Sylvain Lefebvre vs Rob Brown

Here's a tip: if you play for a team that wears black and red, and you wear #44, don't try to fight in Toronto. Isn't that right, Mike Peluso, Patrick Eaves, and especially Rob Brown?

Hm, that was a great clip but I can't help but feel like something was missing. Hmmm...

Much better!

3. Tie Domi vs a fat Flyers fan

Here's an actual transcript of what's going through this fan's mind. "Hey, Domi just sprayed water on me, which technically ends my month-long streak of not bathing! I think I'll bang on the glass and try to look tough when I know he can't reach me. Hm, I wonder if this glass can support 300 lbs of cheesesteak and loneliness? No, apparently it can not. Oh god, I'm going to die. Also, I just soiled myself on national television. Go Flyers!"

Side note: Before this happened, if I told you that an NHL player would have a chance to speed bag a loudmouthed fan but it would be ruined at the last second by an over-eager linesman, you would have just assumed it was Kevin Collins, wouldn't you? Yes you would have.

2. Felix Potvin vs. Ron Hextall

You really had to be a Leafs fan in the mid-90s to understand how ridiculous this fight was. Ron Hextall was the scariest goaltender the league had seen since Billy Smith. Felix Potvin was a mild-mannered kid who, as far as we know, never spoke. When Hextall made his mad dash down the ice, every single Leaf fan was convinced that Potvin was about to die.

And then...

By the way, 1:35 might be my favorite Tie Domi moments of all-time.

Side note: If you're a Leafs fan and you want to feel the urge to slam your head through a windshield, watch this version of the same fight as called by the Flyers play-by-play team who are convinced Hextall has won handily even as he's squirting blood all over the first three rows.

And that brings us to the top spot on our list.

1. Tie Domi vs. Chris Neil

This may seem like a surprising choice, but when you factor in the circumstances I think you'll have to agree that it's deserving of ...

Oh, who am I kidding ...

1. Wendel Clark vs. Marty McSorley

Regular readers will know this was coming. I love this fight so much that I've not only written about it in detail, but I've also written about everything that happened right after it.

I don't have much to add, so I'll just say that if I ever have a son I'm going to name him That-Time-Wendel-Clark-Fought-Marty-McSorley Goes Brown.

That wraps up the list. Join me next week, when I'll be presenting a new list: The Top 100 Fights of the Maple Leafs 2009-10 Pre-Season. (Note: this one may be posted late, it will take some time to narrow it down.)

Honorable Mentions

Friday, September 18, 2009

Point/counterpoint: The Phil Kessel trade

News is breaking tonight that the Leafs have acquired Phil Kessel from the Bruins and signed him to a 5-year, $27M deal. The trade will apparently cost the Leafs two first round picks and a second rounder.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure how to feel about this one. Good deal? Bad deal? There are some good arguments on either side.

So in an effort to work it out, I've invited my optimistic side and my pessimistic side to debate the issue in this special guest post.

Optimism: Well, clearly that's a lot to give up. The Leafs are rebuidling, and dealing three high picks for one player is a very risky strategy. But Phil Kessel isn't just any player -- he's a potential franchise guy. He's a stud, he's immediately the best player on the team, and he's still only 21 years old. What's not to like?


Optimism: Dude, take a deep breath. Count to ten.

Pessimism: (Rocking in fetal position.)

Optimism: OK, let's look at the draft picks. Sure, two first round picks seems like a lot. But if Burke is right and the Leafs are a borderline playoff team, those picks will be in the teens. And the next two drafts are supposed to be weak. Are two firsts in bad drafts really that much to give up?

Pessimism: Maybe not... if the picks are in the teens. What if they end up being higher? Burke can talk playoffs all he wants, but this team still isn't all that good.

Optimism: The chances of the picks ending up being high are pretty slim. Rememeber, the Leafs never finished with a higher pick than seventh even when the teams were built by JFJ. With a guy like Kessel, not to mention the new blue line and various improving prospects, what are the odds that these picks will end up being top five?

Pessimism: Slim. But they could be, if they end up being lottery picks. It all depends on how the balls bounce around.

Optimism: But think of it this way: Kessel looks like a 40-goal man for the next decade. How many first round picks actually amount to that?

Pessimism: If the Maple Leafs draft them? None.

Optimism: Exactly. Aren't you always complaining about how bad the Leafs draft record is? So who cares about trading picks away? The Leafs would have wasted them anyways.

Pessimism: You're using my powers against me.

Optimism: Just remember: 40 goals.

Pessimism: Here's another stat: six hits. That's how many Kessel had all last year. Do you have any idea how hard it is to go through a whole year with only six hits? That's only six more than me, and I didn't even play.

Optimism: Sure, but the Leafs have a dozen guys who can hit. That's why they're there, to make room for skill guys like Kessel.

Pessimism: Glub glub glub...

Optimism: What the... are you drinking again?

Pessimism: No shir.

Optimism: Put that down. You promised mom you wouldn't do that anymore.

Pessimism: (belch)

Optimism: Look, this trade is a risk. There's no question. But every trade is. Do you want a GM who always takes the easy way out and never takes a chance? Who doesn't have the guts to ever roll the dice? Because if so, you should ask Senator fans how they're enjoying Bryan Murray.

Pessimism: Ouch.

Optimism: This is Brian Burke we're talking about. He knows what he's doing. Have some faith.

Pessimism: Faith...

Optimism: You can do this.

Pessimism: I can do this.

Optimism: You believe in Brian Burke.

Pessimism: I believe in Brian Burke.

Optimism: You believe in Phil Kessel.

Pessimism: I believe in Phil Kessel.

Optimism: The future 40-goal man.

Pessimism: The future 40-goal man... with a huge contract, a bad shoulder, zero toughness, no defence, and a terrible attitude.

Optimism: ...

Pessimism: But he does have one good year to his name.

Optimism: Pass the bottle.

Pessimism: Bottoms up, my friend.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NHL 10: An early review

NHL 2010 reviewTuesday is one of the biggest days on an NHL fan's calendar: the release of NHL 10, the latest version of EA Sports' NHL series.

It goes without saying that a blogger as important and popular as I am would be sent an advance reviewer's copy. I had a chance to give it a try over the weekend, and the results were mixed.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. I'm not sure if this game was rushed onto shelves without enough time for testing, but there are a ton of bugs that simply should have been caught.

  • Simming ahead several years in franchise mode can lead to unrealistic results. For example, I simmed ahead to 2011, and the game listed one of the teams as playing in "Phoenix".

  • In Front Office mode, the "fire general manager" option is permanently greyed out for the New York Rangers.

  • Somebody at EA needs to seriously prune the roster file to clear out guys who haven't even been in skates for years. This year's game still has guys like Jason Allison and Theo Fleury kicking around.

  • While the post-whistle scrums are a nice addition, they don't feel realistic because announcer Jim Hughson fails to break into an overwrought lecture about how terrible they are.

  • The financial AI is just terrible. Teams like Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia kept signing players to contracts that would clearly ruin their long-term salary cap situation.

  • AI-controlled teams occasionally make roster moves they'd never make in real life. For example, in one sim I noticed the Leafs had signed another team's RFA, which of course is ridiculous since Brian Burke hates when teams do that.

  • While experimenting with the GM mode, I attempted to trade a star player to Edmonton. The deal was accepted, but when I checked the Oilers roster immediately afterwards, the star player was there.
What major video game release these days doesn't come with a few cheats and easter eggs? Sure enough, NHL 2010 has its share.

  • When you're prompted to enter your name on the opening screen, type in "Jim Balsillie" to unlock an extended slideshow of Gary Bettman giving you the finger.

  • If you manage to win the Stanley Cup, hit "exit" before the handshake line finishes. When you enter the off-season, the game's musical soundtrack will be replaced by the sound of Red Wings fans crying. (Note: there is apparently no undo for this feature.)

  • Enter your name as "Howard Berger" on the opening screen, and then sim a season. All 82 of your games will be scheduled during the month of November.

  • Inspired by the legendary NBA Jam series, NHL 10 includes a hilarious "tiny mode" in which all the regular players on a team are comically shrunk down to a fraction of their normal size. To enable this mode, go to the Team Select screen and choose "Montreal Canadiens".
New features
Now for the good stuff. As fans have come to expect, this year's version comes packed with new and enhanced features.
  • The much-hyped "first person fighting" mode is every bit as good as advertised. When you throw a perfectly timed uppercut that connects with your unsuspecting opponent's face, you can actually see the blood splatter onto the cab's dashboard.

  • The game includes an interesting new feature called "Ask Burkie". You can type in any hockey question, and a simulated Brian Burke will provide an answer. Unfortunately, due to an apparent programming error the screen lacks an "exit" button, and Burke just keeps talking and talking non-stop. Even removing the CD and unplugging the system doesn't help. I eventually had to burn my Xbox and bury the ashes in the backyard to get him to be quiet.

  • In a neat bit of crossover promotion, the game will check your hard drive for any Resident Evil saved game files. If it finds any, it will replace the final zombie boss with Chris Chelios.

  • The "Be A Player" mode is super realistic. In my first game against Toronto I lightly nudged one of the Leafs' skill players, and the game immediately cut to a full-motion video montage of my funeral.

  • The all new board play is great fun. You can get a puck to an open teammate by using the new "kick-pass" button. In addition, when controlling Martin Havlat you can also use the "kick-groin" button.

  • Players can now snatch a puck out of the air with their glove hand (note: feature does not apply to Andrew Raycroft).

  • Finally, the game features an intriguing new mode in which two teams can play each other up to seven consecutive times, with the first team to win four games advancing on to play a different team. As a Leaf fan I thought this was really unqiue and creative, and hope the real NHL implements something similar in the future.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Accurate NHL predictions: Hard, but not impossible.

There's been some confusion over my recent post about NHL predictions that I'd like to clarify. While I argued that the endless predictions by so-called experts were generally pointless and almost always laughably wrong, I wasn't trying to imply that hockey predictions are never accurate.

In fact, some experts really do seem able to predict the future with an almost creepy degree of accuracy. It's rare, yes, but it does happen.

Here are three examples, chosen completely at random.

Source: Behind the scenes: the Leafs deadline day war room (March 2009)
Prediction: "A confused Pavel Kubina phones to ask why the guy in charge putting together the Atlanta Thrashers 2009 media guide just showed up to take his picture."
Reality: Four months later, Pavel Kubina is traded to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Source: 10 Random Leafs predictions (October 2008)
Prediction: "...this year, Blake looks sharp. Whether he's come to grips with his medical issues or just decided to refocus after a tough year he's looked good in the pre-season. Here's betting that he puts together a decent year -- let's say 25 goals."
Reality: Jason Blake puts together a decent year, and scores 25 goals.

Source: Five games in... (October 2008)
Prediction: "Dominic Moore is playing so well that I'm going to give him a new nickname: Dominic 'Second Round Pick at the 2009 Deadline' Moore."
Reality: Six months later, Moore is traded for a second round pick at the 2009 deadline.

So as you can see, it's not impossible to make amazingly accurate predictions. It's just that you need to be really, really smart. And witty. And also handsome.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

DGB and PPP vs. two drunk Hawks fans: The podcast

Bloggers are cool
PPP (left) and DGB pose for
a pre-podcast publicity photo
Last night I made my third appearance on the Hockeenight podcast. And while the first two were fun, this one featured a special appearance by Pension Plan Puppets to even out the odds.

Topics covered included:
  • Kyle Wellwood is fat
  • Whether a bear could beat a man in a hot dog eating contest
  • The recent Leafs/Hawks draft pick swap
  • Leafs Abomi-Nation, and why it will be terrible.
  • No, seriously, Kyle Wellwood is fat.
  • Jonas Gustavsson conspiracy theories
  • Suggested tourism slogans for Hamilton
  • Why Team USA is going to finish 12th at the Olympics
  • Chat heckling from Bitter Leaf Fan and Odin Mercer
  • Todd Gill: Awesome, or super-awesome?
  • No, we don't care if you want to cover serious hockey topics, PPP and I are just going to keep talking about how Kyle Wellwood is fat.
  • And a hilarious observation about the Gartner-for-Anderson trade...
You can download the podcast for free from itunes, or listen to it online below:

(Side note: Yes, PPP really is on the podcast. He doesn't say anything for the first 20 minutes, but he's there. He's just building the dramatic tension.)

A few other things:
  • I was invited to participate in the DC Cheap Seats' hockey survey. You can read my answers here.
  • This is a few weeks old, but I also had an entry in Puck Daddy's Five Reasons I Love Hockey series. And if you're thinking that I used the opportunity to go on about Wendel Clark and Kerry Fraser, you would be right.
So as you can see, I've been busy. In fact, I think I've made an appearance on every hockey blog except... this one. But we'll get that fixed in September. Double figure posts this month, guaranteed!

Probably. Maybe.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bad hockey predictions: Black swans, hindsight bias, and why the Leafs could win the Cup.

(Editor's note: This is one of those annoying serious posts, but if you stick with it I promise to slip in a "Kyle Wellwood is fat" joke somewhere. If not, I'll be back with some fun stuff later in the week.)

The new season is almost here, and that means it's time for one of hockey's annual traditions -- terrible, terrible predictions.

One example: Inspired by a recent brilliant post on Puck Daddy, the folks over at Mile High Hockey spent some time digging through ESPN's hockey archives, and found out that, predictably, ESPN is awful at making predictions.

None of their small army of so-called experts successfully picked the Penguins as Cup winners, and most ended up picking champs who didn't even end up winning a single round.

The experts: Not just wrong, but lazy too
This isn't a surprise. Hockey predictions are always awful. Ask a typical hockey expert to predict the coming season and chances are they'll take last year's standings, move a few teams up or down one spot, and call that "analysis".

And they'll be wrong. Not just a little bit wrong, but terribly, hilariously, "not even in the ballpark" wrong.

This time last year, everyone agreed that the Habs would win the Stanley Cup. The Stars and Avs would contend in the West, the Blues would challenge for last place overall, and the Bruins would struggle to make the playoffs.

Everybody agreed on this. Everybody was wrong. And this happens every single year.

It would be tempting to point at this as evidence that so-called hockey experts are really just frauds who know as much (or less) as you or I. But there's actually more to it than that. Hockey experts aren't frauds. They're just human.

Human are terrible at making predictions
Find any prediction from any time on any subject -- sports, politics, economics -- and it's likely that it turned out to wrong.

A year before the US election, most experts were arguing over whether Hillary Clinton would beat Rudy Guliani. Find any resource that does financial analysis and you'll find plenty of experts who swore the economy could never tank, right up until the economy tanked. Find any prediction ever made about what the world would be like in the future, then look outside your window and count how many flying cars you see.

We love to make predictions about the future. And when we do, we're almost always wrong. What's going on?

There's just some basic math at play here that's hard to overcome. Take any system with even the slightest bit of complexity, start predicting the possible states, and you pretty quickly find that you're dealing with some pretty large numbers -- large enough that predicting anything with much accuracy becomes near impossible.

Now nobody looks at a set of sports predictions and expects the expert to be exactly right. But there are so many unknowns and moving parts that even being vaguely, sort-of, quasi-right ends up being incredibly unlikely.

So it's not that we're bad at predicting complex things because we're dumb. We're bad at it because, mathematically, it's almost impossible. But we don't seem to know that. Plenty of psychological experiments have shown that when you ask people to make predictions, and then ask them to rate their confidence in their predictions, they always miss by a mile.

Put another way: we're not just bad at making predictions, we're bad at predicting how bad our predictions will be. No matter how many times we're wrong, we always think we're going to be right next time. And we never are.

Excuse me sure, I think your bias is showing
Here's the good news: We're terrible at predicting, but we're great at rationalizing.

There's a well known psychological phenomenon called the hindsight bias. Basically, even though we're terrible at predicting what will happen, we're great at fooling ourselves after the fact. We have a built-in ability to pretend that things were predictable all along.

Of course the Habs crashed and burned last year -- look at all the holes in their lineup! Of course the Bruins challenged for first overall -- look at all that young talent! Of course the Stars missed the playoffs -- everyone knew Avery would destroy that dressing room!

Those same experts who couldn't predict the future are more than willing to accurately predict that past.

And it gets worse.

Black swans
In probability, the "black swan" theory was presented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. (The book, by the way, is highly recommended if you're really interested in mathematical probability, economics, and authors going on and on about how wonderful they are until you want to hunt them down and slap them.)

Taleb's "black swans" are events that have enormous impact, were unpredictable, and are considered incredibly rare. Examples include 9/11, the rise of the internet, and various stock market meltdowns. Nobody sees them coming, even though everyone agrees that, in hindsight, we should have (there's that bias again).

While not on the same level of importance as world wars and global catastrophes, the sports world is filled with black swans. Kurt Warner. Len Bias. Tom Brady. Mark Prior. All were black swans of the sports world, good and bad.

Hockey has plenty of examples. An undrafted and unwanted Martin St. Louis winning an MVP, Art Ross and Stanley Cup? Black swan. The Red Wings drafting future hall-of-famers in the final rounds of back-to-back drafts? Black swan. Leeman for Gilmour? Black swan. Kyle Wellwood doing a situp? Big time black swan.

What will this year's black swans be? Maybe Jonas Gustavsson wins the Vezina. Maybe Luke Schenn regresses and gets sent to the minors. Maybe Jason Blake works in a pass or two.

Nobody knows. But those black swans are out there, for more than a few teams. They're going to change everything, and they'll throw all the expert analysis right out the window.

So what does all this have to do with anything?
Nobody's arguing that it's impossible to predict anything about the sports world, or that the results we'll see will be determined solely by random chance. Some players and teams are better than others, and they'll probably have better results. That's common sense. Sometimes, things really do work out the way you'd expect.

But there will be surprises. There will be injuries, and blockbuster trades, and guys who come out of nowhere to become stars, and hot shot prospects that turn out to be duds. Virtually every team will have a few black swans of its own that will throw all the conventional wisdom out the window.

All of us -- experts, bloggers, the guy next to you in the bar -- are going to be wrong. By a mile. This season is going to end up looking nothing like what any of us predict.

And when it's all over, we're going to look back and pretend we knew it all along. After all, we're only human.

So here's the bottom line: Ignore the predictions. Sit back and enjoy the ride. And if every expert in the world is predicting that your team will come in dead last this year, don't worry.

They may be right. But don't bet on it.