February 11, 2012

Maple Leafs get ready to honour Mats Sundin

The Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadiens is always a crowd pleaser in Eastern Canada.  Tonight's clash at the Air Canada center is no different.  The Leafs have been skidding towards the playoffs and the Habs are doing their best to not finish at the bottom of their division so both teams have a lot at stake tonight.

The game however will be overshadowed by the special ceremony honouring Mats Sundin.  Sundin is a hockey god in Canada's Queen City and the Maple Leafs are paying their respects to his years of service by retiring his jersey.  Sundin was respected by everyone during his career and the Habs will continue that tradition of respect by coming to their bench while the ceremony is held in Toronto.

We like Montreal's chances in this clash.  They are red hot and naysayers are still counting them out of the playoffs.  They seem to doing all the right things right now and could surprise with a 4th straight win.  When no expects anything good; everything not bad is good and that is where the Habs are at.  All the pressure is on the Leafs and it might show in the way they play.  The Buds have dropped two in a row and we think a third lost could be in the cards. Either way it will be a good game so enjoy the action and catch the game recap on our site by Coach Nye.

February 10, 2012

GetRealHockey , thehockeywriters.com, and Grant Robinson - What a team !!!

We want to send a shout out to thehockeywriters.com for the mention of our article on Evgeni Malkin.  Thehockeywriters.com is a must read for all hockey fans and we were real pleased to see that they posted a link to our story.

The story in question can be found on our blog at this link.  It is an in depth look at the Pens star. 

The author of that article is none other than our resident hockey guru (nut); Grant Robinson.  Grant loves the Maple Leafs, the NHL, and his hot new girlfriend (probably in a different order, LOL).

Grant covers all kinds of teams and players for GetRealHockey and he will be one of our featured writers once the new GetRealHockey.com site is launched.

In the meantime enjoy Grant's podcast @

and his article on the Ilya Kovalchuk and the NJDevils @

Leafs Fall to the Flyers

The Leafs got off to a start that no team wishes to start with but I tell ya it wasn't pretty. When you dig yourself a hole to deep, especially against a team like the Flyers, it's going to be a long night.

Though the score was close and the Leafs showed some grit and determination to get the score back to a respectable show it was that minute and 14 seconds in the 2nd period when the Flyers stormed ahead by two, breaking a 2-2 tie that the hole seemed to hard to dig out of.

Had the Leafs been as determined for the full 60 minutes as they were in the 3rd then it would have been a different story. But the Flyers came out in the first with a tremendous fore check scheme that baffled the Leafs and as the Leaf captain said," We let them dictate the pace of the game in the first" that my Leafs fans, says it all.

Opening the scoring in the 1st for the Flyers was Scot Hartnell with a quick snap shot that seemed to catch Reimer off guard.

In the 2nd is where all the fun began and then in a certain way it shows us all where the Leafs have some growing to do.  Bozak  scored his 1st of two this evening at just the :54 second mark but shortly after the Flyers went up again. On a power play goal at the 5:57 mark Jeffery Lupul fired home his 22nd to tie things up. Then that 1:14 seconds of a whirl wind happened where Giroux and Schenn scored to really put the game away as then the Flyers turned on the defence just allowing the Leafs to score (Bozak's 2nd) once and go into the third for the shut down.

Some additional notes with this game: Lupul hadn't scored 20 goals in a season since getting 25 for the Flyers in the 2008-09 season.

Kessel has nine points in four games.

The Leafs have killed four penalties and each of the last 28 power plays against them.

They haven't allowed a man advantage goal in 17 games.

The Leafs are back home on Saturday night to face the 3 game winning streak Canadians on what happens to be Matt Sundin Night where the Leafs are honouring their former captain, should be a fun evening of hockey.

See you after the game,

Coach Nye

More Facts and Less Emotion

Check out any comment section of an online article or a team discussion forum where the topic is the elimination of fighting from hockey and invariably the pro-fighting fans display an emotional response.   The standard arguments get trotted out; players need to be held accountable, the cheap shot artists will take over, injuries will increase and players need to fight to relieve the stress of competition.    And feel free to offer a differing opinion, as long as you enjoy being told you know nothing about the game and should go watch ice dancing or badminton.

For the pro-fighting fan it quickly becomes a personal attack on the anti-fighting side and emotions tend to flare.     Instead of emotional responses we need a rational discussion around the available facts, and less speculation on what people think is happening.   So let’s provide some solid evidence about the impact of fighting in hockey, based on studies and statistics compiled by experts on the game.  My research is in no way exhaustive and the data provided here is the result of a few internet searches and saved articles over the past few weeks.   That means this information is available to anyone who is willing to look for it, and I’ll provide links where available.
Part of the Game?  Not Really

I’m providing this stats based study even though it is a decade old because I think it is still relevant.   It was written by Iain Fyffe, a web journalist well known amongst hockey statisticians, and in it he analyzes playing time by the tough guys in the game.  I encourage you to read the entire article, available here.

There are lots of good points made in this piece, but two stand out:
  • Enforcers (called Knuckle-Draggers by Fyffe) are almost never defencemen.   This is because defence is too valuable a position to waste on a guy who’s going to play less than 10 minutes a game.   Even rarer is an enforcer who plays centre (zero in the data provided).   Why?  Because the centre position is reserved for the really good players.
  • The Knuckle-Draggers typically play in 68% of the games but in the playoffs, when teams really need to win in order to survive, their playing time drops to 23%.   If fighting is part of the game, and when the games really count, why are these guys left in the press box?

As I mentioned this report was first published in 2002 but I cross checked some of the data to ensure it was still relevant.    Looking at the top 15 enforcers today, based on PIM and number of fighting majors, the average time on the ice (TOI) is around 7:10, less than it was 10 years ago.   And how did the teams that employed these enforcers fare in the 2011 playoffs?   12 out of the 15 teams either didn’t make it beyond the regular season or were eliminated in the 1st round.   Maybe those teams were one more skilled player away from going deep into the playoffs.   
Skill Knocks Out Fighting

Last week the NY Times published some interesting facts about how fighting can affect team standings and impact a game.   It cites several sources, experts who make a living studying hockey and providing consulting for NHL teams.   You can check out the full article here.

Here is a summary of the most interesting parts of the NY Times story:
  • Since 1979-80, teams that finished among the bottom three in fighting majors have wound up atop the regular-season standings 10 times and won the Stanley Cup 11 times.
  • On average, teams that won the regular-season title since 1980 finished the equivalent of 21st in fighting majors in a 30-team N.H.L. Teams that won the Stanley Cup in that period finished the equivalent of 20th in fighting majors.
  • Fighting as a tactic within games has been statistically shown to be so small as to be inconsequential.  Studies show that there is a small lift after a fight but goals for and against are almost evenly divided, meaning no advantage.  
  • One study showed that it would take 30 to 60 fights to generate a single victory.
That last point was taken from research done by PowerScout Hockey and the full report is available here.

It’s interesting to note that when the PowerScout Hockey report was first released, a number of hockey sites, including The Hockey News, jumped on one of the report’s findings that “76% of the time one or both teams increased their momentum”.     They played up the fact that fighting has a positive impact on a team and is used strategically in order to win games.   However the report concludes that there is no significant impact because the goals scored are almost equally for and against, and power play goals were not netted out.   Either those publications didn’t read the entire report, didn’t understand it or only took the information that they required for their view of the issue.  The analysis is clear; as a strategy, fighting does not work.

The Rats Are Taking Over The Game!

The rallying cry for fighting fans – the rats will take over the game.   Lately that has been loud and pervasive but it has been around ever since the instigator penalty was put in the rule book in the 1991-1992 season.  If players cannot fight and police the game, then the cheap shot artists will come out of the dark and injuries will increase.    Once the instigator rule was brought in, the comment you will see on multiple sites is that it has led to players losing respect for each other as players are not worried about being held accountable. 

So the instigator rule led to less fights and, if the argument above holds true, there should have been a resulting increase in non-fighting penalty minutes – all those rats running around slashing and tripping and hooking and ….you get the idea.   And if there are less fights you should expect the same results – more penalties.

So I have done a few web searches over the past few weeks and have not found any studies or research that could support the emergence of the rat – so I took a shot at it myself.   Now I admit that I am no statistician and I would love to have a hockey expert with better access to data provide their efforts and compare them to what I have found.    Below is a chart that shows adjusted PIM per team for each season, the top line in Red, and the number of NHL fights, the line in Blue.    The adjusted PIM takes the total of all PIM for the season, averaged to allow for different number of games played in each year and removes the fighting majors – leaving just the regular penalties.  The number of fights is provided by one of the more popular sites dedicated to showcasing NHL bouts.

After the instigator rule was brought in, fighting numbers dipped in ’91-’92 season but held steady for about 5 years, but non-fighting penalty minutes dropped. So enforcers had to keep their gloves on but overall infractions dropped. No sign of the rodents yet. After the ’97-’98 fighting starts to decline and non-fighting penalties keep pace with the trend. Less fighting and no resulting increase in cheap shots. After the lock-out in ’04-’05 we get the results that supports the pro-fighting crowd, a major drop in fights and penalties also increase. But within a couple of years the trend is back on track for less whistle calls as fights get less and less. Either the referees are not doing their jobs or the rats didn’t read the script. There is no link that I can see between a reduction in fighting and an increase in other penalties. I would love to see an expert take a shot at this analysis and see if the results are the same.

Perception Is Not Reality

NHL officials, coaches and players need to step back from all the rhetoric about this issue and study its real impact on the game, not something that they perceive to be true based gut feeling and historical anecdotes. I will admit that I started this blog based on my gut feeling, that it was just wrong for the league to tolerate fighting and it should be eliminated. The difference was I was willing to study and follow the research being done and build a more informed opinion. Fighting is a poor strategy for influencing the game, it is usually employed by less successful teams and, based on my look at the statistics, there is no resulting increase in other penalties when fights are reduced.

- Paul Busch



February 9, 2012

Joining The Rush. Episode 26 - From our friends @ http://allhockey.ru

Check out Grant Robinson and his take on Gagner, Malkin, Kovalchuk, and more

Cant get enough NHL? Check out our writer Grant Robinson's podcast in which he discusses what is going on around the NHL! Click the link below!
This week’s episode of Going Deep is focused solely on the NHL. In the intro Grant comments on what has been going on around the league, and which players and teams are hot and cold. Grant has got some great insight that you have to check out. The 5 main subjects of the show are:

1) The record-breaking performance of Sam Gagner (Starts 16 minutes in)
2) Evgeni Malkin being the front-runner for the Hart trophy thus far (24)
3) Ilya Kovalchuk & how he has made the Devils the league’s hottest team (29)
4) Potential trade deadline targets: Grabovski & Nabokov (36)
5) The playoff chances/odds of the Habs & Leafs (45)

Hope you enjoyed the podcast, if you have any comments, suggestions, or topics you would like covered next week, feel free to leave a comment or tweet Grant @TheSportsGrind

February 8, 2012

The Get Real Guide to English Premier League Ice Hockey

Founded: 1997
Teams: Basingstoke Bison
            Bracknell Bees
            Guildford Flames
            Milton Keynes Lightning
            Manchester Phoenix
            Peterborough Phantoms
            Slough Jets
            Sheffield Steeldogs
            Swindon Wildcats
            Telford Tigers

The English Premier League is in ice hockey, the regarded as the second tier of the sport in the UK. Its teams are still on the whole professional however the arenas are a lot smaller than those of the EIHL and the teams are limited to 4 non-British trained (referred to as import) players although teams do carry a spare from time to time.

The EPL was founded in 1997 to provide a lower but still professional level for clubs to compete in below the British National League and the then Superleague and later Elite League. However following the collapse of the BNL in 2005 the EPL gained around half of those sides changing the dynamic of the league and introducing a greater level of professionalism as the new teams had more money. This is did lead to teams dropping out of the league though and the EPL is rather unique in that none of the current teams were founder members of the league.

The league format in the EPL is very similar to that of the EIHL. The ten teams play each other 3 times at home and 3 times away for a 54 game season. The league champion is then taken as the league leader after the 54 games. At the end of the season the top 8 teams compete for the playoff title with a home and away quarter final in seeded order followed by a semi final and final weekend at the Skydome Arena in Coventry.

The EPL also runs a cup competition. This is built into the season with the first two meetings home and away between clubs counting towards the cup. The top four then meet in a two-legged semi final and final. Due to an almost constantly changing roster of teams with varying levels of financial backing it has been hard to for one team to dominate. However in 2009 the Peterborough Phantoms were EPL Grand Slam winners, winning the league, cup and playoff titles. Milton Keynes Lightning has also enjoyed plenty of success winning the league title 3 teams and playoff title for 4 consecutive years between 2003 and 2006. The Guildford Flames have also enjoyed many successful seasons however have only won the league title twice but have been runners up twice as well.

The EPL does create some exciting rivalries with most of its teams now based on the outskirts of London. Guildford, Bracknell and Slough enjoy a derby between each other whilst Manchester and Sheffield face each other in what is known as the roses games.

The future for the EPL is as uncertain as ever with speculation around clubs like Manchester and Guildford joining the EIHL and money woes in Telford, Peterborough and Slough. What is certain though is that the EPL will carry on as it always as but perhaps with the inclusion of some Scottish clubs such as Solway who have been admitted to the lower English National League which is also ran by English Ice Hockey Association.


Neil Tucker

Lil John and Habs Fans Love Rene Bourque

Looks like the newest Hab is fitting in well with the Montreal Canadiens.  The new guy on the block came to the Habs from the Calgary Flames in a trade for Mike Cammalleri.  Cammalleri made all kind of news in Montreal and the vibe was pretty negative when he was shipped out.

We can easily say that 99% of Habs fans were happy to see "Magic" Mike hit the bricks.  Rene Bourque has been a phenomenal improvement to the Habs line up.  He is big, fast, and he can put the puck in the net. 

On top of that Bourque has a skill that Cammalleri could learn.  Bourque keeps his mouth shut and plays his game.  As for PR and photo ops;  Bourque hangs with Lil John instead of complaining about his ice time.

The end result is more goals, more happy fans and some serious street cred for the boy for the hockey star from Northern, Alberta. I guess this is just a glowing example of karma.  Eat your heart out Mike Cammalleri and rock on Rene Bourque.

A Lost Cause for the Leafs in the 'Peg

Nothing like home ice advantage for some teams such as the Winnipeg Jets this season. It has been a up and down time for the Jets but being home has had their benefits.

The home town Jets took down the winning ways of the Leafs last night with a score of 2-1 in front of a energetic crowd, splashed with Maple Leaf jerseys as much as the Jets.

The Leafs opened the scoring in the 1st with a beauty goal from Phil Kessel, his 30th of the year and his fourth year completing that goal mark. At the 14 minute mark the Jets tied it up from Chris Thorburn who slid in a nice backhand pass the sprawling Gustavsson.

Going into the second period the Leafs seem to be waiting for their opportunity to break the game open but Jets goalie Pavelec kept shutting the door on them. Then at 9:47 of the second Bryan Little slammed home a rebound from a great rush from Wheeler to have the Jets go up 2-1.

The third period was a fast pace back and forth play interrupted by a unenthusiastic fight between the Jets Johnny Oduya and the Leafs Joey Crabb. No scoring was a result of the relative clean third period as it looked like the Leafs just could not mustard anything of a good scoring attack. The Jets played a tight checking third and were satisfied with the 2-1 score.

Just a couple of notes on this game, the Leafs finally drew a penalty in the 2nd period by Kessel. This was one of the few times where the Leafs went back to a old way, retaliating from a play, as Kessel got hooked up and slashed the Jets player.

Also both teams failed to score on their PP chances.

The Toronto Maple Leafs head off to Philadelphia to play the Flyers on Thursday night, game time is at 7pm on TSN. The Leafs will need to bring their 'A' game for this one to get back to the winning ways.

Until Next Time,

See you after the Game!

Coach Nye

February 7, 2012

Ilya’s Devils contract no longer looking like a contract from hell!

All I have heard since Ilya Kovalchuk was signed, was that the Devils mortgaged the future by signing him to a 15 year/100 million$ contract. After his 1st season with the Devils, many said that he wasn’t worth 6.6 million a year, let alone having him under contract until he is 42 years old. Kovalchuk still managed to score 30+ goals last season, so if fans were upset with his performance even when he scored 31 goals it shows just how much of a superstar he really is. But nonetheless, fans weren’t happy with Ilya’s performance, and they weren’t shy about letting him know. I guess he read the headlines and took all of the criticism to heart, because he has been playing with a HUGE chip on his shoulder this year. So far this season in 47 games, Kovalchuk has scored 22 goals and put up 50 points! Well over a point per game, and reminding us more and more of the player who has twice scored 50 goals in a season and reached 90 points. What’s makes his season so far even more impressive is that he averages nearly 25 minutes per game! He averages the 16th most time on ice (TOI) in the NHL for all skaters. What makes that so impressive is that he is the only forward in the top 60, as he averages nearly 2 and a half minutes more than any other forward in the NHL! A large reason for that is that Ilya contributes in all aspects of the game, he is dominant at even strength, lethal on the powerplay, and very dangerous shorthanded (which he has shown with his 3 shorthanded goals and 5 SH points). All of that has reminded us all why he got the contract in the first place and that he is worth every single penny of that 100 million $ contract!

However, despite having a great season all year, Kovalchuk has managed to elevate his game to an even higher level lately. The Devils have been on fire and it is largely due to Ilya who has 10 goals in his last 13 games leading the Devils to a 9-3-1 record over that span. But the last 3 games Kovalchuk has been flat out unstoppable, as he has posted 3 straight games with at least 3 points, and has played an incredibly key factor in each of those games. If those stats don’t prove to you that Kovalchuk is playing his absolute hardest, and putting everything he has on the line for the Devils, than look no further than his fight with B. Schenn. Kovalchuk came to the defense of teammate Z. Parise after he was give a slewfoot from a Flyers player after the whistle. Ilya Kovalchuk hit Schenn with one of the best right hooks I have seen outside of the UFC or boxing in a very long time, and helped send the message that Kovalchuk is and will continue to be an absolute force to be reckoned with for the Devils! And as long as he plays at this level, the Devils will continue to be a tough opponent night in and night out, and will continue to climb the standings. Not only that, but that 100 million $ contract will begin to look like a bargain if he keeps this up! In the case of Ilya Kovalchuk, the saying “making a deal with the Devil(s)” may have just turned out to be the start of something great.

Grant Robinson (@thesportsgrind)

MVP: Most Valuable Penguin?

In a season where the Penguins have been absolutely decimated by injuries, with key players missing significant time such as Crosby (45 games), Letang (23 games) and Staal (19 games) respectfully; you wouldn’t expect much from the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, they currently sit in 5th place in the Eastern Conference standings, and are 1 of the NHL’s hottest teams recently. How is that possible without not only the NHL’s best player but the world’s best player in Sidney Crosby, and the answer is simple…Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin has been an absolute force this season, and at this point he is the league’s most valuable player at this point in the season! He has 29 goals and 61 points in only 46 games played this season, if you pro-rate that to an 82 game season, he would be on pace for 52 goals and 109 points! Malkin has been the epitome of consistency all season long, not being held off the scoresheet for more than 2 games in a row yet. But his play as of late is what has really had him running away with the Hart trophy, as he has been on fire! In Malkin’s last 14 games he has scored 14 goals! Scoring at least 1 goal in 11 of the last 14, he has been contributing every single game, and is one of the biggest reasons that the Penguins are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games, after losing 6 games in a row.

The Penguins were plummeting in the standings, as during a 6 game losing streak they managed to score only 6 goals! But don’t blame those losses on Geno, as he had 3 goals and 4 points on those 6 goals. However, with the season hanging in the balance, Malkin put the Penguins on his back and dominated each and every single game since getting the Penguins all the way back up to 5th place in the East. During the 9-1 Penguins run, they managed to score 4 or more goals in 6 out of 10 games, in large part due to the all-star forward. But it’s not only the amount of goals and points Malkin put up during the winning streak, it’s the timing of his goals that impressed me even more. In those 10 games, he scored 3 Game Winning Goals; one vs Fla, one in OT vs the Capitals and one of which included a natural hat trick in the 3rd period vs TB. But the key goals didn’t stop there, during those 10 games Malkin also scored 3 game winning goals in the shootout that didn’t count on the scoresheet. He scored the exact same goal in 3 straight shootouts, which is a perfectly placed shot 8 inches off the ice blocker side in off the post. He seems to have perfected it, and that kind of shot is a goalie’s worst nightmare, which is largely why he went 3/3 with that move! So in total Malkin’s goals were the difference in 6 out of 10 games. And that’s not even counting the fact that he scored a late 3rd period goal to get to overtime against Montreal, and scored with 6 seconds left to go to overtime vs the Leafs. Malkin has been without a doubt the most clutch and dominant performer in the NHL over the past few weeks! In fact, Malkin has been so good that the question isn’t “is he the best player playing right now”, it’s “will he be the league’s best player even when Crosby comes back”? Malkin, when healthy, has played without Sidney Crosby for a significant amount of time twice in his career now. The first time was in 2007-08 when Crosby missed 22 games. During those games, Malkin scored 14 goals and had 36 points! That is almost 2 points per game! This season, in 8 games with Crosby, Malkin had 10 points. But without him in 38 games he has 25 goals and 51 points. It seems as if Malkin produces more when Crosby is out. The reason for this is because when Crosby is out, Malkin is given true #1 center opportunities, and he seems to respond extremely well to the pressure. 1 year ago, if anybody asked hypothetically if the Penguins had to choose between Malkin and Crosby, who would they keep? It would have been no-contest Sidney Crosby, but now if you combine the level Malkin is playing at with Crosby’s injury issues; I think you would get a very different answer.

For those of you who will argue and say that a few good months from Malkin, doesn’t erase what Crosby has done, you are completely right. But Malkin hasn’t only had a few great months. He has been great his entire career! He started off by winning the Calder trophy in his rookie season, he then was the runner up for the Hart trophy 2 seasons in a row, won the Art Ross in 1 of those 2, and also won the Conn Smythe trophy on his way to becoming a Stanley Cup champion. Well on his way to winning his 1st Hart trophy this year, there isn’t much more Evgeni Malkin could accomplish in the NHL. The only reason he hasn’t been fully noticed, is because he was playing in the shadow of Crosby. Malkin is no longer in the shadows, he is front row center, and in the spotlight for all the right reasons. The Penguins will only get better when Crosby returns, but even without him they are a force to be reckoned with, because even when the Penguins are missing the best player in the world (Crosby) to injury, they still have the best player in the world (Malkin) playing for them! One thing is for certain, Geno is here to stay, and the questions of whether or not he was a true #1, have subsided, as he has went above and beyond what was expected of him when he was drafted 2nd overall behind fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin; who is another NHL superstar who has taken a backseat to Evgeni Malkin this season! Get used to it

Grant Robinson (@thesportsgrind)
Check out my podcast www.grantrobinson.podbean.com