Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grantland: Which coaches and GMs are on the hot seat?

It would appear that the NHL’s firing season is upon us. We’ve already seen two GMs relieved of their duties since the lockout ended — Brian Burke’s oddly timed dismissal in Toronto, followed by Scott Howson finally being put out of his misery in Columbus. Last week, we got our first coaching casualty.

And it was a big one. Lindy Ruff had held the distinction of being the NHL’s longest-serving head coach but this month got the pink slip after more than 15 years on the job in Buffalo. If Lindy Ruff can be fired, anyone can.

So who’s next? Let’s take a look around the league at some of the coaches and GMs who find themselves on the hot seat.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Grantland: 10 things the NHL could try to boost scoring (and which ones would actually work)

As the NHL season approaches the halfway mark, a few trends have emerged. And one of them is discouraging: Despite some hope for another post-lockout bump in scoring, the goals per game rate so far this year is virtually unchanged from last season. And the rate of even-strength scoring is on pace to be among the lowest since before the 2005 lockout.

That’s disappointing for fans of offensive-minded hockey, and it’s led to renewed calls for the league to take some sort of action to increase scoring. Although it’s true that more offense doesn’t automatically mean a more entertaining product, and a 1-0 game can be far more exciting than a sloppy blowout, there does seem to be a consensus that the league could use more scoring. But how? While other leagues have responded quickly to dips in offense, Gary Bettman’s NHL has always struggled with exactly what to do about it.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the more common suggestions for increasing NHL scoring and consider whether they could actually work.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A hockey fan's guide to NASCAR

The vehicle was allowed to finish the race, then
listed as day-to-day with "car crash like symptoms".

Hockey fans may not have paid much attention, but one of the biggest sporting events in North American was held over the weekend. That would be the annual running of the Daytona 500, the signature event NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.

While there may not seem to be much overlap between the two fan bases, the NHL and NASCAR actually share more than a few characteristics. They both began as largely regional attractions, both have seen significant revenue growth over the past 20 years, and both have struggled with trying to expand their appeal without alienating diehard fans.

So if you're a hockey fan who's interested in learning more about one of America's most popular sports, here's a guide to some of the other similarities and differences between NASCAR and the NHL.

NASCAR: Fans of other sports cannot understand why anyone would want to watch someone just repeat the exact same thing over and over again 200 times in a row.
The NHL: Fans of other sports cannot understand why anyone would want to watch Sidney Crosby be interviewed.

NASCAR: A "green-white-checker finish" is a rule that allows a race to be completed with two full laps of racing instead of ending under a caution flag.
The NHL: A "green-white-checker finish" is currently being applied to Don Cherry's jacket.

NASCAR: A vehicle known as the "pace car" starts out in the lead and sets the pace before everyone leaves it in the dust and it's never heard from again.
The NHL: There's a similar concept, but it's called "the 2013 San Jose Sharks".

NASCAR: According to stereotypes, is a sport populated entirely by toothless Southern beer-guzzlers with ridiculous mullets.
The NHL: Has never been accused of appealing to Southern people.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Featuring more shots than Kurt Waldheim

In this week's grab bag: a visit to JD's famous goalie school, a look back at the Takko-Bell deal, and a complaint about complaints about staged fights.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Other letters that NHL teams have recently sent to their fans

It would be fair to say that last week was a rough one for the Ottawa Senators. In addition to Erik Karlsson’s injury, the Senators became the butt of jokes around the league when it was revealed that they’d sent a letter to their fans asking them not to offer their tickets to Maple Leaf supporters.

But while the Senators were rightfully criticized for appearing thin-skinned, it’s worth pointing out that a team sending a letter out to its fan base isn’t unusual. In fact, it happens all the time. It’s just that the rest of us don’t usually get to see a copy.

Luckily, I long ago made sure I was on the mailing list for every NHL team. Here’s a random sampling of some of the mail that hockey fans have been receiving just over the past few weeks.

For example, this one showed up as part of a package last week.

Grantland: Seven shades of dirty hockey

The hockey world is still buzzing over Erik Karlsson's horrific injury, with the debate raging on about whether the awkward hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke should be considered dirty.

Well, maybe “debate” isn’t the right word; outside of Ottawa, the play is mostly seen an unfortunate accident. But “raging” probably still fits, at least when it comes to minority opinions like the tirade from Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

But the bigger problem here is that we often don’t even know what “dirty” means. The term can describe different things to different fans, and these days it casts a wide enough net that it is often meaningless.

We need more than just “dirty” or “not dirty." So I’ve taken a crack at breaking down the seven levels of dirty. I’ve also included some examples — a list that, unfortunately for hockey fans, is far from definitive — a well as the short- and long-term consequences. It won’t settle all the arguments, of course, but at least it might help us figure out what we’re arguing about.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Monday, February 18, 2013

Grantland: Ranking the Top Tournaments in Olympic Hockey History

The NHL players' association, the league, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the International Olympic Committee met last week in an attempt to decide whether professional players will be competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And while no deal was announced, the NHL is expected to once again end up sending its players to the Games. That would allow the league’s many Russian superstars to compete in their home country in what could end up being the greatest Olympic men’s hockey tournament of all time.

But which tournament would it have to beat out for the honor? And which tournaments were bad enough that Sochi can already be penciled in ahead of them by default?

I think we need to rank them. Let’s do this.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Friday, February 15, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Have another donut, but just don't bite

In this week's Grantland grab bag, I take a look at the Erik Karlsson outrage, whether it's ever OK to bite, Don Cherry's twitter, and the infamous "Have Another Donut" incident.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A look through the NHL's injury report

"I haven't seen one of those since I've worked here."
"What, a strained MCL?"
"No, a save."

Maple Leafs' goalie James Reimer was hurt in last night's win over the Flyers. And while early reports are that the injury may not be serious, it does seem to fit an early pattern. Thanks to an unusual offseason and shortened training camp, we were told to expect injuries to play a big role in the season. So far, it looks like the experts were right.

Here's a look at some of the big names that have found themselves on the injured list in the season's first few weeks.

Miikka Kiprusoff - The veteran suffered an injury to his MCL that has team doctors concerned about the possibility that his knee will have to be rebuilt, since nobody in the Flames front office seems to know what that word means.

Joffrey Lupul - Has spent his time recuperating from a broken arm by fielding texts from various NHL goalies asking "Hit by a Dion Phaneuf slapshot? Weird, what's that like?"

Ryan Murray - The second overall pick will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that certainly has nothing to do with this crowbar I'm holding right now, says the smirking league employee in charge of making sure Blue Jackets fans will never be happy ever.

Scott Hartnell - Will miss two months with a broken foot that was diagnosed by team doctors when they noticed he was falling down slightly less often than usual.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Grantand: Ten players who've been early season disappointments

We already looked at 10 players who’ve been pleasant surprises as we reach the quarter mark of the 2013 season. Today it’s time to shine a spotlight on the busts.

We’ll use the same format as we did earlier this week — expectations, reality, and whether it will continue — but add a special fourth category to deal with the possible fallout if the player continues to struggle.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Monday, February 11, 2013

Grantand: Ten players who've been early season surprises

We’re about a quarter of the way through this truncated NHL season, and that seems like a good time to have a look at some of the players who are putting up impressive numbers so far.

But while it’s not exactly a shock to see names like Stamkos, Crosby, and Rinne near the top of various categories, some of this year’s other leaders are less predictable. Granted, we’re dealing with a dozen games or so in most cases, so your “small sample size” warning light should be blinking rapidly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to recognize some early season surprises.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Oh god what did Don Cherry do to his dog?

In the weekly grab bag, I defend P.K Subban, look at whether the two-goal lead is really the worst in hockey, and break down Don Cherry's foray into the world of techno music.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Five years of Down Goes Brown

Dion Phaneuf owns a similar button,
except his includes the word "minus".

Today marks the five year anniversary of this site. Five years ago today, I sat down and wrote a few quick paragraphs about the previous night's Leaf game, and gave it the creative title "Leafs 4, Habs 2". The post doesn't bear much resemblance to what you usually find on the site these days, although it did include a Kyle Wellwood fat joke and a reference to terrible Leafs goaltending.

Over the next few months I wrote a variety of posts, most of them attempts at serious analysis. My audience consisted of roughly seven people. Eventually those seven people held an intervention and told me "Dude, enough complaining about the Mats Sundin up, lighten up", and so I did.

In the years since, the site has grown, I've had a chance to do some pretty neat things (have I ever mentioned the book? I have? OK, just checking), and I still haven't got over the Mats Sundin thing. To mark the anniversary, here are some five-packs from the first half decade of Down Goes Brown.

Five posts from the site's first few months that, in hindsight, weren't completely terrible.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Grantland: An NFL fan's guide to the NHL

Football season is over, which means NFL fans are now facing the depressing prospect of going months without their favorite sport.

But there’s good news — another professional sports league is perfectly suited to fill that void, and its season just started! I’ve prepared this handy NHL FAQ for football fans in withdrawal, who are wondering what else the sports world might have to offer.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ways Phil Kessel is dealing with his nine-game scoring slump

But seriously Zdeno, the game ended
three days ago, you can let me go now.

Phil Kessel has zero goals so far this season. You're probably well aware of this fact if you're a Maple Leafs fan, or have watched a few seconds of a Maple Leafs game, or walked by a newsstand that included any Toronto newspaper.

But while everyone's seen what Kessel's been doing (and not doing) when he's on the ice, we haven't heard much about what's happening off of it. The notoriously private winger hasn't said much about how he's dealing with the cold streak heard 'round the NHL.

According to well-placed Maple Leafs sources, here's how Phil Kessel has been spending his time during his season-opening slump.

  • Repeatedly sneaking into the room of a sleeping Joffrey Lupul with duct tape and a UHU stick and trying to put his arm back together.

  • Getting the sinking feeling that when Randy Carlyle showed the team clips of Nail Yakupov's various goal celebrations and sternly warned them all never to do that, he may have just meant the celebration part.

  • Waking up in a cold sweat from that recurring nightmare of Zdeno Chara following him everywhere; calmly reminding himself that it was only a dream; rolling over to find Zdeno Chara standing over his bed cracking his knuckles.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Grantland: This Week in NHL Goalie Controversies

In my latest post at Grantland, I take a look at some of the high-profile goaltending battles around the league: Luongo vs. Schneider, Fleury vs. Vokoun, and, just because it's my post and I can get away with it, Hextall vs. Potvin.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Friday, February 1, 2013

Grantland weekly grab bag: Tie Domi fights a Flyers fan

In this week's grab bag, I tackle pressing issues like Don Cherry's pants, Tie Domi fighting a Flyer fan, and the great Bob Cole debate.

>> Read the full post at Grantland