A memorable All Star weekend, at last

To say I was really into the All Star Game when I was a kid is an understatement. Dominik Hasek had established himself as a bonafide superstar and other things like glowing pucks typically catch the eyes of ten year olds more than, say, adults.

My interest in the event, like most fans, has waned in recent years. As the event itself stagnated there were few things that brought any sort of genuine interest on a yearly basis. This year’s event, however, really brought back an entertaining showcase of the game’s stars in a format that I’m hoping sticks around for years to come. Continue reading

Sabres’ Murray Could use Cap to his Advantage

There will deservedly be a lot of coverage over the course of the next six weeks involving all sorts of trade rumors and possibilities as general managers work the phones in an effort to either position their team for a playoff run or plan for the future. All of that coverage is obviously merited, but there is a story getting a bit less air time that will play a major role in deciding who goes where in February and July: the salary cap.

The salary cap for the 2016-17 season has yet to be set, and the Canadian dollar’s dropping value has many around the league concerned; the Loonie is currently below 70 cents on the dollar for the first time in over ten years. This is bad news for a league with seven Canadian franchises that account for roughly 30 to 35 percent of hockey related revenue, according to The Globe and Mail. According to Steven Burtch of SportsNet, if the Canadian dollar remained at around 69 cents the salary cap would drop around $3.9 million next year, and that includes the escalator. Continue reading

Offside review has become a detriment, not a benefit to the NHL

The clamor over adding a coach’s challenge to the NHL game wasn’t necessarily deafening, but it wasn’t silent either. Over the past few seasons various occurrences (looking at you Matt Duchene) led to a stronger case for teams to have the ability to review certain plays on the ice. Beginning this season the league obliged and provided coaches the ability to challenge one play per game.

It’s become a disaster.

Instituting a coach’s review for goalie interference or offside plays was brilliant, in principle. Mounting examples of each play made for a strong case to give coaches this option and the league was wise to research it and ultimately institute it. The negative impact continues to mount, however and it would seem wise of the league to backtrack on the offside rule at the very least.

Okay, now show me where Angry Birds is again.

The length of the reviews and the size of the tablets used by officials have been the focal point of the new system’s naysayers. That coaches have managed to use the new system as a loophole for much longer timeouts has been another unexpected consequence. The flaws are really coming to the forefront as more and more plays are flagged for review.

I will add that while I am a Sabres fan, my view on the rule does not reflect that Buffalo has been victimized four different times on offside reviews. While that sad bit of irony likely irritates many in the Buffalo fanbase, my criticism rest solely on the flaws I see in reviewing offside plays.

In fact, I’ve grown so tired of the offside review that it upsets me to hear and read the narrative bemoaning the tablets and length of the reviews. While those two features are certainly giant red flags, nothing outweighs the fact that a goal starved league created a rule which removes goals which would otherwise be perfectly legal. There are many out there crying to change the size of the nets – a fundamental alteration of the fabric of the game – while there’s a brand new rule stripping goals off the board. Continue reading

New All-Star Game Format will be a Win for the NHL

Clearly the NHL’s big decision makers are following me on Twitter and reading this blog as they announced a brilliant and awesome change for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game this week.

At one point last winter I penned my thoughts on altering the All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 tournament format although upon review I don’t seem to have ever posted what I had written. There’s a chance that I had originally wrote it for my duties with Great Skate and then swapped it out for another piece. So unfortunately my takes on the All-Star Game didn’t grace the internet which is probably for the best.

Whether or not I had published my thoughts on the potential changes to the game, know that the decision to move to a 3-on-3 tournament format is a masterstroke for the league.

Perhaps it was simply because of my age, but I remember a time when the All-Star Game was actually fun to watch. Owen Nolan calling his shot over Dominik Hasek’s glove remains a favorite hockey memory. Now the game is stale, filled with apathetic play and bloated scores. Amazingly, all this extra scoring didn’t seem to increase the entertainment value of the game.

Adding to the novelty of the game can’t do anything but help the product. Copying the MLB and awarding home-ice advantage to the winning conference would be foolhardy and aside from simply putting a cash prize on the line (which they happen to be doing) it doesn’t seem as if there were too many logical solutions to get the players to play harder. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast Episode 44 – Sabres Starting to Roll

Tyler and Chris are back after their European hiatus to chat about the improving fortunes of the Buffalo Sabres and the hot button issue of goalie equipment and NHL net sizes.

The Instigator Podcast Episode 44 - Sabres Starting to Roll by The Instigator Podcast on Mixcloud

Upcoming Equipment Changes are a Step in the Right Direction

Change is coming once again for National Hockey League goaltenders as this week’s GM meetings indicated that equipment will be scaled down after this season.

The apparent focus on chest protectors and pants is long overdue as the two units have managed to escape much of the focus of past equipment changes. They’re also the only two units that haven’t been altered since the 2004-05 lockout, as pads, gloves and blockers underwent the most change.

All of this is being done to hopefully inject more offense into the game. As goal scoring continues to dip, addressing oversized goal equipment is both an easy and obvious change to make. Oversized shoulder floaters will likely go the way of the Dodo along with other size-related changes.

As a goaltender myself you might think I’d be staunchly against these changes, but I think they’re necessary at this time. Chest protectors and pants are still quite beefy and can stand to be tapered more to the shape of the player wearing them. I’m speaking specifically to the current construction of the shoulder floaters on chest pads today. This is a good example of the type of height you see from these units that not all companies fall in line with (here’s a unit with a more tapered look). Continue reading

Deal with MLBAM Should Improve NHL’s Digital Media

The end of July and early August are usually the quietest few weeks on the NHL calendar and, for the most part, this year has been no different. Besides a few minor free agent signings and the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid not much else has really transpired. With that being the case it’s understandable if you missed the news that the NHL has reached a digital media agreement with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM).

For those that aren’t baseball fans (and those that are) the name MLBAM may be pretty unfamiliar. Besides running the various MLB media platforms such as mlb.com, the various team websites, MLB Network, MLB Extra Innings, MLB TV, and the mobile app MLB At Bat, the company is also in charge of several other entities. As per Sportsnet, MLBAM is already the streaming video provider for ESPN, HBO, and WWE among others. Forbes called the company “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of.”

With the six year, $1.2 billion deal MLBAM will take over control of nhl.com and the team sites, Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice, and (perhaps most importantly) the NHL Network. If you’ve ever watched the MLB Network on a day or night with a full slate of games, the fact that the MLBAM is taking over the underwhelming NHL Network can only be seen as good news.

Having watched my fair share of the NHL Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, and even NBA TV, I can confidently say the MLB Network blows the other three out of the water. Baseball’s flagship station sports a huge, modern studio, live programming usually from 10 am to after midnight, and an impressive arsenal of studio analysts that includes 14 former players, a former team executive, and several well respected baseball lifers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal.

So how will (or how could) the new deal impact hockey fans and how they use the NHL’s media outlets? It’s a safe bet that the NHL Network is going to get a nice upgrade. As part of the agreement, the NHL Network will have a new headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, where a new set will be built. There may also be a few new faces in front of the camera. As already mentioned MLB Network has a huge amount of analysts and hosts, while the NHL Network only has ten listed on its website. Not only could NHL Network expand the amount of analysts at their disposal, the move down to New Jersey may impact a few of its current hosts. The likes of Andi Petrillo, Craig Button, and others live in the Toronto area and have been based their for many years. It will be interesting to see if Petrillo (who was previously with CBC) and Button (who also does work with TSN) make the trip to the states. If MLBAM opts to run the channel in a similar way as it’s MLB cousin, there’s a solid chance of more live programming (and less condensed reruns from 2-4 in the afternoon). Among the additions I’d love to see is a live, well run, morning show. MLB Central airs live at 10am on MLB Network after its version of NHL on the Fly, and is a great alternative to Sportscenter.

Statheads will also be pleased with MLBAM. The company has a series of “Statcast” videos that go into detail on various advanced stats in regards to everything from pitch velocity to an individual player’s advantage when it comes to stealing bases. This video on which player covers the most distance in center field is a great example of the work they do. When focused on things like zone entries, shot speed, or where players are shooting from on the ice, these videos could be a huge hit.

When it comes to the individual team sites and the league site, MLBAM will begin to implement its changes in January. It’s not clear what changes will be made but if the MLB team sites and the league site are any indication, there will likely be more information available on the team homepages. By taking a look at a baseball team’s website (I glanced at the Yankees’ and Brewers’ sites) as compared to an NHL team’s (I looked at the Sabres’ site) there are a few noticeable differences. First of those is that the team’s social media is embedded and easily veiwable on the baseball sites. “What’s trending” is also a feature on the baseball sites. Overall, the baseball sites are significantly more interactive and provide a huge amount of video content when compared to their hockey counterparts. When it comes to the league site, video content and trending topics is also prevalent. MLB’s website also has a feature called “Cut 4,” which is a video channel dedicated to offbeat and funny baseball related videos that some times aren’t even related to any major league team. Among the videos currently available are a minor league team unveiling an Arnold Schwarzenegger bobbehead and a softball player hitting a home run with a behind the back swing. It is features like this that draw people to the site and provide entertainment; it is also features like this that nhl.com is currently lacking.

MLBAM will also be coming out with an NHL version of the MLB At Bat app. At Bat is baseball’s in game app that provides live scores, pitch tracking, and live statistics. There’s also a premium version that allows subscribers to watch certain games and listen to any game via the home or away radio broadcast. An NHL app that provides those features would be of great value to many fans, especially expats who can’t see or listen to their hometown team on a regular basis.

The NHL has botched a lot of things in the past, but it appears they’ve found a company willing and able to significantly improve some ways fans get their hockey fix and revolutionize others. While drastic changes likely won’t be hugely noticeable when the puck drops on the season in about two months, my bet is by the end of the year there will be a change for the positive.