Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Site!!!

Follow me as I follow the Kings:

Thanks friends!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Learning Hockey From An Idiot

Check out my post at Sports Talk Buzz:

Learning Hockey From An Idiot



Friday, January 22, 2010

A Letter to my Readers

Hello Family, Friends, and Fans,

As some of you know, I have been offered a great opportunity to be the featured blogger on the Los Angeles Kings for the site  Although I won't stop blogging here at Great Ice-Pectations, it will certainly leave me less time to post on here.  I have accepted the offer and look forward to what lies ahead of me as a hockey-writer with great anticipation.

A special thank you to everyone that has helped, commented, complimented, and encouraged me as I try to turn this obsessive hobby into an actual job.  Your words keep me going and I greatly appreciate them.

I hope you will all continue to follow my new blog, titled Royal Subjects.  As always, let me know what you have to say about hockey and remember; the fans make hockey what it is.

All the best,


Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Tale of Two (Non-Traditional Hockey Market) Cities

I have an admission to make.  I've been leading a double-life.  Of course, when it comes down to it my heart and my loyalties will always lie with Carolina, but that's not what this post is about.  My insatiable hockey addiction is not on trial here.

I've been afforded a very unique opportunity in that I am acquainted with two "non-traditional hockey market" teams.  First we have Carolina, known for its delicious BBQ and not its frigid winters.  Then there is L.A., where everyone knows intimate details of Lindsay Lohan's personal life, but if you asked someone about Anze Kopitar they'd say they take theirs medium-rare.

What am I getting at?  Well, I read a post by Puck Daddy a little while ago that pointed out the fact that the L.A. Kings are winning, but still not attracting attention in the area.  One specific portion of the article cited that you can't find Kings gear in the usual places, namely the airport.  It seemed like an odd notion because you can find everything at the airport.  Seriously, why do I need a foot bath for my cat from Brookstone before a flight?

I took it upon myself to investigate this on my trip home for the holidays.  As it turns out, I couldn't find a scrap of Kings gear at the airport.  Not a hat, shirt, key chain, or anything else.  Later, I went to a chain department store and it was the same story.  I found a ton of Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, Chargers, and even St. Louis Rams gear for some reason, but no Kings stuff.

Then I got off the plane in Raleigh and found a Hurricanes Lovefest.  Seriously.  Every time I was on the road in North Carolina I saw Hurricanes bumper stickers.  There was Hurricanes memorabilia in every bar and people wearing Hurricanes gear to boot.  You know a true fan when he/she is willing to don the logo of a 30th place team.

I was lucky enough to get some pretty good seats to the Dec. 26th game against Philadelphia (thanks Murray's!) and it was the same story.  35 degrees outside and people are tailgating!  Not only that but the house was pretty full.  87% attendance on the day after Christmas, with the Eastern Conference's 14th place team taking on the 15th place team.

Don't get confused though, the Kings have averaged around 90% attendance this season and the Hurricanes about 78%.  However, also take this into consideration; the Kings have been performing better than they have in years.  And there's the small fact that Raleigh boasts a population of about 10% of Los Angeles.  Raleigh is nearing 400,000 residents while L.A. is nearing 4 million. 

We often compare non-traditional market teams with more hockey-centric areas, pointing out the glaring differences in popularity, profit, and overall success.  I'm going to do something a little different.  I'm going to take a look at two non-traditional teams and try to examine what makes one boom, Carolina, and the other simply tick, Los Angeles.

You would think that Los Angeles would have quite a jump on Carolina in establishing a fanbase, 30 years to be exact.  To be perfectly clear, the Kings faithful do exist here in L.A., but it's not the hockey hotbed it could be.  Carolina has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.  Since my week long trip to N.C. hardly makes me an expert on the area after a 2 1/2 year absence, I've employed the help of Canes Country faithful "CaniacGirl" to help me fill in some blanks on the 'Canes:
For the most part, the team had to teach them the fundamentals of the game which is not an easy task, especially for a team that is struggling as the Canes were when they arrived in NC. People didn’t know hockey and therefore weren’t going to go out of their way to support hockey which I think everyone saw in the Greensboro days. Chances are the people that showed up for those games were relocated Northerners who had been exposed earlier in their lives; very few native North Carolinians jumped on the zamboni so to speak right from the get go. But on the other hand, this situation could be considered almost ideal. As the team grew, its fanbase grew along with it. More traditional markets may have life-long fans, but it would be hard to find fans who had been with the team from the start of it all. That’s something you can do with relative ease in North Carolina. These “lifers” stuck with the team through it all and I think the organization does a great job of recognizing that.
So in that way, the Hurricanes have sort of an advantage.  The clean slate allowed a wealth of fans to join the team from its inception and therefore feel more like a part of it.   Maybe it would behoove Los Angeles to play up the idea of a rebirth, attract some new fans who want to be there from "the beginning"?

Both of these teams encounter the same problems on a national scale in that they will always lose out to the Pittsburghs and the Washingtons of the league.  What about competition within their own area?  Los Angeles might have it tougher than Carolina in that regard.  They have to compete with the Lakers' astronomical popularity (and coinciding season), the Dodgers (which is basically a religion in Los Angeles), not to mention USC football (again, the Rose Bowl is like the Vatican around here).

Hold that phone though.  CaniacGirl has some interesting insights:
I don’t think I have to tell you that ACC sports are king in NC and no other sport is going to come close to matching them in terms of public and media attention. In the fall you have football and in the winter/spring you have basketball (both at the pro and collegiate level). For example, last night’s game got bumped in the Raleigh area in favor of the UNC men’s basketball game. You can always tell when a big basketball game is on or when the Panthers are playing because the crowds at the RBC Center are much smaller.
It seems that both teams have the same obstacles when it comes to local competition.  U.N.C./Duke/N.C. State are the equivalent of the Lakers/Dodgers/Trojans in the minds of local fans.  Is there a point where the Kings and 'Canes can join that juggernaut of local sports, or will it forever be an uphill battle?

It's a tough thing to do, garnering popularity outside of a certain radius.  I always find it curious when I come across a 'Canes fan in Calgary, or a Kings fan in Kelowna.  Somehow these fans have felt a connection to the team and taken them as their own.  The credit in these cases is more likely to lie with an obscure point of interest rather than a successful marketing campaign.  As Puck Daddy stated in the aforementioned article, the Kings marketing campaigns haven't exactly lit the town ablaze with excitement.  I don't doubt the job is tough, after all the Lakers basically sell themselves, even despite the NBA's woeful attendance issues.  The Kings are a tougher sell.  If only they could get Jack Nicholson rink side...

As per CaniacGirl, the 'Canes aren't faring much better:
The team does an absolutely horrid job marketing to almost anyone outside the Triangle. You lose 99.9 the Fan (the flagship station of the team mind you) once you get past (interstate) 40 and they do very little promotional stuff outside the area. I think the first Cool Bars ever is coming to Wilmington this year. Most promotional events are held in the Triangle and for a team that supposedly belongs to the whole state (SC too or so I’ve been told), that’s really unacceptable.
We may have the support of Stephen Colbert, but I'll bet it's tough to find a 'Canes hat on many South Carolinians.

But what about the really important stuff, the community?  In this regard I think the 'Canes have a huge advantage on the Kings.  This is where size does matter, but not in the way you would think.  First let's hear from CaniacGirl one last time:
The team has very much ingrained itself in the community because it is a community-oriented team. The Kids-and-Community foundation is a perfect example of this in terms of public relations, but it goes deeper than that. I can’t speak to the situation in other cities, but having such “normal” players really helps the team become part of the community. Wallin’s sons play on a local youth hockey team (and he brings them to and from games when he’s home) and his family takes part in their neighborhood’s block party. Jeff Daniels used to bring his daughter to story time at the library where I worked. Cole and A. Ward shop at Target. Scott Walker’s family volunteers at the local food pantry. The majority of them live in Raleigh during the off-season. That’s something special about this group of guys, but has been the case with all of their predecessors. The fact that they are willing to embrace the community makes the community want to embrace them.
This part I can personally vouch for as well.  I've seen Glen Wesley at the local grocery store several times.  Arturs Irbe, in his heyday, lived right around the corner from me.  It all adds to that feeling that you're a part of something and not just a spectator to it.

The Kings have a much tougher time with this.  About 10 times tougher, if we are speaking in terms of population.  When it comes down to it, the Kings do just as much as the 'Canes in terms of community involvement and charity work.  Unfortunately for them it's not as visible within this vast community.  The fans of the team certainly take note of it, but I see nary a word about it elsewhere.

So what's the big difference here?  What exactly am I driving at?  The Kings and the 'Canes are the same soul, but in two different communities.  In this way, the 'Canes are kind of masters of their domain.  They've embraced the area they're in, taken advantage of what they know about the community, and become a part of that culture.

What can the Kings do?  For starters, the team is in the media capital of the world.  Sure, the Kings were in The Love Guru (which grossed about $20 million LESS than their budget, worldwide), but take advantage of where you are!  Get Kopi on Conan.  Get Brown on Leno.  Put 5 of the guys on Family Feud.  I've seen a dozen episodes of How I Met Your Mother where hockey is mentioned, get in there!  This is a team that deserves to be seen, so show them to the good people of L.A. and the rest of the nation.

And of course, the winning helps too.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Which Winter Classic Jersey is the Best?

I have been a huge fan of the Winter Classic since its inception New Year's Day 2008.  I've watched all three games and plan to keep up the tradition and pass it onto my family someday under the threat of death.  Kidding...

My favorite part of the Classic?  Those awesome retro jerseys!  Each year the league has stepped it up and come out with a set of jerseys better than the last.  So, without further ado, check out all six sweaters and place your vote using the poll on the sidebar.  (Poll has closed, results at the bottom of this post)










If you feel so impassioned, make your argument in the comments section.  (Results: Chicago - 9 votes, Pittsburgh - 4, Buffalo - 2, Boston - 1, Detroit & Philadelphia - 0)

Monday, December 14, 2009

30 Teams, 30 Christmas Wishes

If each team could make a wish this Christmas season, what would it be?  I'm not talking about Ovechkin asking for his two front teeth, I'm talking about what would most benefit each individual team in the NHL.  Here's what I have come up with:

Atlanta - A New Contract for Ilya Kovalchuk.  The guy is a franchise player and although that may not mean much to the people of Atlanta, winning does.  Without Kovalchuk the Thrashers are going to have a big hole to fill.  This team is in desperate need of good news, and signing Kovalchuk would be a big boost for their play and morale.

Carolina - Youth.  They're the oldest team in the NHL and they look it.  Honestly the best thing for the 'Canes might be to keep losing.  Don't get me wrong, it stings every time Carolina loses, but knowing there might be a game-breaking prospect waiting for them at the end of the season does ease the blow.  It would be a great addition to the likes of Sutter, who is already showing he is NHL material, and Boychuk and Bowman who may not be far off.

Florida - A trip to the playoffs.  The last time Florida was in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.  That's currently the longest playoff drought of any NHL team.  Nothing would be a bigger boost to this franchise than a visit to the playoffs, especially since some think Florida will be the next Phoenix.  Who knows, maybe since another democrat is in office it might be Florida's year.

Tampa Bay - Lecavalier to find his game.  Tampa greatly benefited from 2 consecutive poor seasons and picked up Stamkos and Hedman.  The team is flirting with the playoffs but likely won't make it unless Vincent Lecavalier emerges as the franchise player he's supposed to be.  Two years ago he was in "Best Player in the World" conversations.  Now he's 4th in team scoring behind Ryan Malone.  Ouch.

Washington - Nylander's Departure.  Washington has really found its stride this season.  They are at the top of the conference, Varlamov has been a revelation in goal, and they are looking dominant once again.  With Nylander off the books, they could really find a player to put themselves over the top.  (Second wish: Ovechkin to control his game.  Now that he will be considered a "repeat offender" he can't go running around like he used to.)

New Jersey - A Fountain of Youth for Brodeur.  Martin Brodeur has been the New Jersey Devils since the early 90's.  Up until now he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down either.  Each day he is one step closer to a Thanos-like grip on the mantle "Greatest Goaltender of All-Time".  However, it is also lingering over every Devils fan that Marty is 37.  In hockey-years that is getting up there.  We'll just have to see how long #30's ride can go.

New York Islanders - The Lighthouse Project to go through.  The addition of John Tavares has certainly boosted the Isles and they are exceeding expectations this season.  Yet, it doesn't look great for the Isles if they can't lock up a new building.  The promise of a new arena is looking up as of late, but nothing is in stone yet.  It would be terrible to see such a storied franchise move.

New York Rangers - Scoring Support.  This was a tough one.  I was thinking of "Gaborik to stay healthy" but by all accounts, he has been.  I also considered "a solid backup for Lundqvist".  However, it is a glaring stat to see the Rangers only have 2 players with 20 or more points as of Dec. 14.  Ales Kotalik is the next nearest with 19 points, but he has an awful minus-13.  Unless some other guys can step up, Gaborik might end up injuring his back from carrying this team on it. 

Philadelphia - Ability to play at potential.  Since their awful post lock-out year, Philly has emerged as a seasonal contender.  Yet their recent slump spurred a coaching change, and one that has yet to make a real difference.  Many are scratching their heads wondering, what has happened to arguably the deepest team in the league?

Pittsburgh - Scoring Wingers.  Even without support, Malkin and Crosby can carry this team all the way into the playoffs.  The down side?  Their best winger is 39 year-old Bill Guerin, and after him the next winger in team scoring is Pascal Dupuis; 7th place with 14 points in 33 games.  As long as Pittsburgh remains uber-deep at center with Jordan Staal, you will continue to hear rumors of Jordan getting shopped for a talented scoring winger for Crosby and Malkin to play with. 

Boston - Krejci, Ryder, Lucic, and Wheeler to step it up offensively.  Many pegged the Bruins to be top dogs in the east, but these four players are following up their strong 08-09 seasons with a terrible encore.  Thankfully Patrice Bergeron has found his game again after a series of concussions, but with Savard out of the lineup, these four should have stepped it up as well. 

Buffalo - A Competent Backup.  Buffalo is in playoff contention once again.  However, they're running their goalie Ryan Miller ragged.  He has 18 of the teams 19 wins and has started 26 of their 30 games played.  If Buffalo can't get some wins from their backups, Miller might be worn out come playoff time.

Montreal - Consistency from the top down.  In the off-season Bob Gainey made some interesting decisions.  The signing of Mike Cammalleri is turning out quite well, but picking up Scott Gomez's monster salary and mediocre play looks awful on him.  Then on the ice, Carey Price looks like Jesus one night, then "Brian" on others.  They have a .500 record right now, but without some consistency, they'll miss the playoffs. 

Ottawa - Leclaire to be healthy.  Ottawa is another team that is looking up, even with the subtraction of star player Dany Heatley.  They need a #1 goaltender though, and one as oft-injured as Leclaire is cause for concern.  Leclaire is out of the lineup yet again, but this time due to an errant puck hitting him in the face when he had the night off.  If he can rejoin the lineup and stay healthy, Ottawa looks good to dance in May.

Toronto - Offense.  It's a double-edged sword to have a defenseman leading your team in points.  On the one hand Toronto has an elite offensive D-man in Tomas Kaberle.  On the other hand, their offense whomps.  Brian Burke has compiled a plethora of defense, but unless this team can supply the offense on a nightly basis, the only thing they'll be competing for is the #1 Overall pick in the draft, which is no good to them since they traded it to Boston.  Woops. 

Chicago - Cap relief.  The Blackhawks somehow managed to lock up three young stars in Kane, Toews, and Keith recently.  However, they are still razor close to the salary cap and will need to look for ways to trim expenses.  Unfortunately it could cost them a talented young player like Patrick Sharp or Dave Bolland.

Columbus - Mason to regain Calder form.  All signs pointed to Columbus being a contender again this year, but rookie sensation Steve Mason has slipped into the Sophomore slump.  Columbus isn't out of the hunt yet, but unless Mason can start playing like an All-Star again, Nash is more likely to see his name next to a tee-time rather than on a score sheet. 

Detroit - Injury-Bug Repellent.  Detroit has lost some serious man-games due to injury this season and it is showing.  They sit just out of a playoff spot and it is due in large part to the losses of Franzen, Kronwall, Filppula, Cleary, Lilja, and Williams.  If those guys can get back into the lineup then Detroit should be all right, but they might be looking at their lowest playoff seed in a long time.

Nashville - Bottled Barry Trotz.  Probably the most under-appreciated coach in the league and due, no doubt, to the fact that he coaches Nashville.  Trotz has managed to coach his team to overachieving almost on a yearly basis.  Nashville loses key players, everyone counts them out, yet they make the playoffs.  It's almost becoming routine.  If Nashville ever gets high expectations, I'd love to see how far Trotz can take them. 

St. Louis - A No. 1 Goaltender.  Chris Mason has gone from stud to schlub once again, just as he followed his strong 06-07 season up with a disappointing 07-08.  The Blues visited the playoffs for the first time in several years this past spring and unless Mason, Conklin, or someone else can take the reins, they'll be on the outside looking in yet again.  They are currently 14th in the West. 

Calgary - A Competent Backup.  My wish for Calgary is the same as it was for Buffalo.  Yes, Calgary has been on a slide recently but I'm more worried about where they are come April.  They play Kiprusoff far too often, then come playoff time he flames out.  If they can find a backup to play 10 more games than they'll get out of McElhinney, they might have a far fresher Kipper in the spring. 

Colorado - More of this Mojo.  This is a team that was nearly unanimously slotted to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference.  They are currently 2nd in the West and 1st in the Northwest Division, which is generally regarded as the league's toughest division.  In their first season sans-Sakic the Avs are seriously exceeding expectations.  They have Craig Anderson to thank for this, who is finally getting his due as a starting keeper, and newcomers Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene are contributing as well. 

Edmonton - Young talent to step it up.  Edmonton has a glut of talented young players in Gagner, Cogliano, and O'Sullivan, but if they continue to underachieve then the Oilers will be spring golfers yet again.  Cogliano knows he is on the hot-seat after it was leaked he was set to be traded in a package for Dany Heatley.  If that doesn't light a fire under him, I don't know what will.

Minnesota - Havlat to be a star.  Pegged as a replacement to Gaborik this past summer, Havlat has yet to make a positive impact.  In 26 games with the Wild, Havlat has 16 points and a gaudy minus-12.  That's a far cry from his nearly point per game season last year coupled with a plus-29.  He's currently on pace for 11 goals in 76 games.  

Vancouver - Stop underachieving.  Every year I hear it's the 'Nucks turn for a crack at the Cup, but they're turning out to be just as playoff-cursed as the Sharks.  They won't even get to worry about their performance in the playoffs if they can't pick up their game now.  Vancouver is currently 10th in the West. 

Anaheim - Offensive Depth.  Another tough call, but Anaheim has a terrific first line in Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan.  Even Selanne is having a decent season, but beyond that their offense is sorely underachieving.  Of their meager 89 goals this season, 50 of them were potted by the 4 players I named above.  Even Getzlaf is a bit of an enigma.  He is on pace for a whopping 92 points, but just 15 goals.  (Second wish: Hiller to officially supplant Giguere in net.)

Dallas - The Ability to win in OT.  Dallas has gone to extra time 14 times in 32 games this season.  Unfortunately they have only won on 4 of those occasions.  That means they've come within a hair's breadth of winning 10 more games!  If those overtime W's and L's were simply reversed, Dallas would be 20-8-4 with 44 points, good enough for 5th in the West and challenging LA and San Jose for the division lead.  Instead, they are 14-8-10 with 38 points, barely clinging to 8th in the West. 

Los Angeles - The Quick boat to stay afloat.  In the past few years the nets in LA have been guarded by LaBarbera, Bernier, Cloutier, Fukufuji, and Ersberg.  Last season, Quick made an argument for himself and this year has taken a firm grip as LA's starter.  His numbers aren't magnificent, but he has that ability to "make the big save when it counts".  As long as Quick keeps this up, LA's playoff hopes look bright.

Phoenix - Fans and an Arena in Phoenix to seat them.  Phoenix's play on the ice this season may be Story of the Year.  Everyone, including myself, counted the Desert Dogs out this season.  No one saw Phoenix being 8 games over .500 or even close to challenging for a playoff spot.  The bad news is they are still trapped in a lease for 26 years to an arena placed awkwardly outside Phoenix.  Worse, they have had an average attendance of 9,825 through 17 home games.  That's nearly 3,000 less than the next lowest team.  Even with new potential owners, Phoenix looks like a black hole for money.

San Jose - Shed their Playoff Demons.  San Jose has a spiffy new player in Dany Heatley.  Joe Thornton is on top of the league in scoring once again.  Patrick Marleau is a new man with the weight of the 'C' off his chest.  Yet, this is how every season goes until the playoffs come and the Sharks inexplicably bury their heads in the sand.  More than anything the Sharks need to break the mental-block down.  Anything less than playing in the Stanley Cup Final would be disappointing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Blown-Call-O-Meter

Remember Mick McGeough?  He was that referee that everyone wanted to throw their shoes at.  Why?  Because he had a tendency to make terrible calls.  Fans would joke that McGeough had a "Penalty of the Night" because he would whistle every infraction as "interference" or "hooking", even if it was a high stick.  At least in those cases he was calling a penalty, despite it being the wrong one.  

I hate bad calls as much as the next guy or gal.  They sour the experience for both sides.  Yet it's hard to say what makes some calls easier to swallow than others.  So to aid in this process, I've made a simple rating system to score blown calls.  In the spirit of the Carolina Hurricanes, I've adopted the hurricane rating system.

Category 1 Blown Call: Assorted Negligence

Now that might sound like a vague description but these are calls that even we armchair referees don't catch (and we see everything, right?).  A player barely offsides goes unnoticed.  A center unjustly thrown from a faceoff.  A razor close icing call.  These are calls that could be very serious if they led to a goal.  However, these calls are of a less severe nature.

Category 2 Blown Call: Missed Penalties

I'm a firm believer in the two referee system.  There is so much going on at all times that it is impossible for one referee to catch everything.  Granted, if a penalty happens it should be seen and called, but realistically penalties will go unnoticed.  Players are always holding, hooking, roughing, and jockeying for position.  An unnoticed penalty costs a team a power-play that could sway the game, but since both teams are usually guilty it all comes out in the wash.

Category 3 Blown Call: Incorrect Penalties

There's little worse than a ref with his eyes firmly planted on an infraction, then making the wrong call.  A golden example of this happened in a recent game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple LeafsIan White happened to be standing next to Tom Kostopoulos as Tom's teammate Stephane Yelle clipped him with a high stick.  White was called for high sticking and to make matters worse, Kostopoulos was bleeding, making it a double minor.

You can see the phantom-infraction at around 1:25 of this clip:

That call led to a Hurricanes goal which was no doubt maddening for the Leafs and their fans.

Category 4 Blown Call: Goals/No Goals

To get the call on a goal wrong is unacceptable.  If you've ever have the displeasure of witnessing a goal counted that shouldn't have been, or a goal disallowed that should have counted then you know what I mean.  It goes without saying, the tilt such an egregious error puts on the game.  I'll save my words and show some examples.

From earlier this season:

One of the worst calls ever:

Category 5 Blown Call: Incorrect Playoff Calls

The NHL season is long and one can argue that every second of every game is as important as the next.  Yet, when it comes to the playoffs making the right call holds a whole new importance.  The unofficial standard is "the players should decide the game, not the officials."  This is probably why the refs are so hesitant to pick up the whistle in playoff overtimes.  If you blow a call in the regular season you might make a player or maybe his team mad at you.  You blow a call in the playoffs and you'll have tens of thousands of irate fans.

I'm not saying I agree or disagree with this call, but imagine how Buffalo must feel:

So you feel like your team just got screwed?  Decide how angry you should be with the Blown-Call-O-Meter!