Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The wonderful circles of life … in goal

As promised, today I am going to reply to Pam's questions the best I can.
First, it must be understood that some of my information might be out of date slightly. Life is trying really hard to rip me apart from the object of my undying love : goaltending. I am not as up to date with trends, rising stars etc, as I once have been but I do have a somewhat working knowledge of the world in the crease, past what the regular fan sees in the NHL.
With that in mind: let's get to work.
What country has the best up and coming goalies … About 5 of them :)
Not a straight answer , right?
That's because it is not so easy. Short term, there are a couple of great prospects from Finland, Sweden and Canada but there's a ton of potential in a few US kids as well as some bad arse Ruskies.
Looking strictly at raw numbers Canada has the most up and coming kids however the top cream of the crop from Canada is a bit out-staged by the Scandinavian kids. To get a better feeling about what is going on we have to take a look at a bit of history:
There was a time when , if you wanted a goalie, you only had to look at the swarm of schools in Quebec and just pick your poison. Other than that you had a few other sources in Europe, mainly Russia, and a couple of US schools. Back then ( 80's 90's) Canadian goalies dominated the league to the tune of 70% or so.
In the last decade however, that percentage dropped dramatically, the reason being : Finland. Sometime in the mid-late 80's they decided they needed a standardization of the goalie coaching, among other things. As I understand, every goalie coach/school had to pass a sort of “exam” with very well established criteria. It meant that for every level , coaches had an established list of items to adhere to, which mean that every kid, got the same sort of coaching weather he was playing in Turcu or Tampere. That also meant that coaches who got new kids had a pretty solid idea of what the kid was taught already. And that was very solid fundamentals. Another thing they did was implement that system at a very young age (7-8) and they made it mandatory , at “pro” levels, that each goalie had to have a goalie coach.
Another thing the Fins did was stay relatively close to the NHL game. While other countries worked hard to get their own “identity” , it seemed like the Fins wanted to copy the game in North America but with some touches of their own. Like , when the whole NHL went exclusively almost to standard B-fly, the Fins did exactly the same but while in Canada, they allowed the kids to be a bit flamboyant and show their individuality, in Finland they were a lot more strict and urged the kids to always stick to the basics. They also adopted elements from Russia Czech republic etc. Long story short, what you see now is the result of about 30 some years of a continuous and rigorous evolution of the school of thought implemented in the late 80's. If people are interested in finding more about the Finnish school do a Google search for Jukka Ropponen, one of the finish innovators, he actually ran the Goalie coaching national program for a while. There are many articles with and about him and others related to him and the Finnish schools and he even has a website and a twitter page where he posts videos worth watching.
Anyway, sometime in the last 10-15 yrs the Sweeties liked what they saw in Finland and they started copying them and even hiring Fins who find themselves more than happy to go work for the Sweeties since in Finland they weren't exactly paid to do the coaching work.
However, the rest of the world took notice now.. including Canada and US and more and more, these days you see coaches at all levels, from all over Europe, Canada and US going to Finland, working with their system and learning from their people ( thought things like GoaliePro program) . Even coaches who work with NHL goalies ( like Korn, Heinz, Elkin , Janosz )have adopted the Finish system or part of it. Schools all over the world are altering their philosophies to catch up.
Bottom line is, in the long run , if Canada continues to be the country to with most registered active players they will have the most top end goalies. Because, while they fell behind in the goaltending department, they are working hard to catch up.
Boy I think I confused even myself. In that part.
Going to the up and coming NHL goalie coaches question, it's hard to tell. It depends on who wants to come up to this level. I know of many good coaches who will work with NHL goalies but only in summer camps or as consultants but they do not wish to become full time NHL coaches because they want to stick with bringing up new talent. The NHL job just isn't for everyone and that is why I think some of the best coaches never come up to this level. Working with eager kids with bright eys and open minds can be a lot more rewarding than catering to the needs of a spoiled millionaire star :) .. and that is exactly what I was told by someone who has worked in NHL shortly but went back to Europe to bring up the future spoiled stars because he believes that is what he is meant to do :).
So I could give you some names I heard are making the rounds, like Healey, Danielsson, McCaig , Welby ,Frantz and so on but while some have already been involved with NHL goalies , I have no idea if they even want to become full time NHL G coaches.

And on to the last question: will KHL growth and stability pull some of the players from NHL. Well, yes and no. KHL isn't really that stable to start with, they have major issues even with just the logistics of day to day operations, payrolls etc. However they are growing and they are and will attract player who can't find work in NHL or are willing to go there to revive their career and so on as we have seen in the past. And of course , there will be the odd crazy Russian who could be a good player in NHL but chooses to be a rock star in Russia. You know .. the big fish in the small pond syndrome.
But no, in the long run I do not see KHL threatening to steal the thunder from the NHL, and neither do I see any other European league doing so. The lure of the CUP and living/playing in North America is still very strong. Not to mention the payroll is better. Yes the Russians have thrown big money to a handful of former/present NHL stars but they can only do that in limited numbers and do not go ask some of those players how and when they got paid :). That doesn't mean they will ever stop trying to bring their Russian stars home … and maybe once in a while they will succeed but it won't be the norm and that would only affect a limited number of players in the NHL.
There are also the “agreements” between the leagues, the international rules and the Quota system implemented in most of the European leagues, where only a limited number of players coming from NHL or in some cases,“foreigners”in general are allowed to play. They simply do not want your spoiled North American cocky arses over there ruining their kids and their development :)
Juuust kidding.

Anybody still awake after reading this?If you are, since I am too lazy to proofread this thing please excuse my typos etc. 
I hope I did not confuse you too much but if I did .. get over it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let's all hold hands and sing Kumbaya ... a prayer to the powers of hockey

Look at that: I got a bunch of views and some of them are not even my own nor the ones I paid for either.
And what is that ... a comment … a NICE comment? Well of course it is .. 'cause it's from my dear friend Pam.
I also got a couple of direct emails asking questions and making suggestions and you will all get your answers soon. However, while I appreciate the emails, I would strongly suggest in the future go to the comments section .. let your hair down and go to bat with me in public .. I won't bite. . unless you want me to.
While Pam's questions are quite interesting, and I promise I will answer them in the next entry, today I want to focus on something else:

 The CBA negotiations.

Yes, I know, boring subject, everybody is covering it , not much to say about it that hasn't already been said in a thousand +1 places all over the interwebs and printed media ( well in Canada that is, cause in US there is no such thing as printed Hockey media in most places).
What does this CBA stand for? Collective Bargaining Agreement some would say.. right? Well … I think they got the “Collective” part covered , now with Fehr involving as many players as he can and the great Commish doing his thing with the owners club but …. umm where is the bargaining? They keep meeting for a coffee and scones and then they break off “negotiations” to run tell the “Collective” how there is no progress and the gulf between them is filled with rocks, nuclear submarines with death dealing torpedoes and Megalodons and there's no way on crossing it.
We have all been involved in “bargaining” one way or another. A Farmer's market, a fake Rolex vendor, a car dealer. It can be a lengthy process. Bargaining with the car dealer can take many consecutive hours and that is just ONE item to settle: the car price. These people have dozens of things to settle on yet they can't seem to sit at a table together longer than it takes some people to get a smoke break at the office. What exactly do they plan to accomplish in a coffee break? And why do they spend more time doing the silly PR war with the media than they do actually negotiating?
Today they met for 45 mins already..then they ran away to chat it out with the “collective”. There is no consensus on what has been discussed but I doubt they managed to hash out a lot more than what creamer is best to use on a bourbon toffee flavored coffee. The good news is they said they will be back to the negotiating table today .. probably just in time for the 5 o'clock tea and biscuits.
Shall we take a look at what people think at the major issues they can't agree on? If my understanding of the economics involved ( and I am horrible at it so if I am wrong please do point out to me where I am mistaken) is correct, one of the issues is something to do with who pays who for the money lost by the teams with financial problems .. more or less. Well .. my first question would be: why are there teams with financial problems? Is it that some cities can't sustain a hockey team, as some ancient alien theorist suggest? Well why are there teams in cities than can't sustain hockey, you ask? Because NHL expanded. And how did it expand? Well they voted on it .. who voted on it you ask? The existing owners.
AHA .. so there you are . This is who should pay for the teams that lose money: the teams who make money. Or do the sensible thing and cut the teams that lose money and cry for it. Problem solved .. next item on the agenda …
oh wait .. what is that .. owners still crying about cap being too high and salaries being exorbitant ? Well you wanted a cap , you set the amount, you set the annual increase limit on that cap .. what's the problem? And don't get me into the whole high salaries thing .. who gave away those contracts? Was it Jesus?
Other items in dispute are contract lengths, duration till UFA etc. I guess the owners are crying that they need more return for their “investment” in their draftees. I guess they have a point .. I mean think about all the investment that went into sucking balls for a year or two so that you get the best chance of winning the draft lottery and pick whoever the draft central considers the top graduate of that year's prospect class . Hard work I tell ya.
But .. how about that “prospect” who dreamed of being a Wing or a Ranger, or even a Shark .. only to be drafted by … the Islanders? Or the Oilers? I mean I am 18 yr' old , better than all other teenagers in the draft and I worked really hard at it and now you tell me I have to move to Edmonton out of all places, for the entire length of my effective youth? That is Alberta! What is there to do for a vibrant 18 yr old in that place?

And the list of issue goes on. It's a hard list, I do admit .. but ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, let's look at the facts: hockey has never been as popular in US and the world as it is now. The NHL as a league is growing, the players , well some of them anyway, are seeing more money than at any time ever in the history of the league. Why ruin it now with a lockout?
Well because we, the fans, proved we are suckers and will come back in drones making the owners and the players richer in the process while our pockets are getting emptier and ( now I am getting into another sore issues I have) the actual hockey product is getting worse ( but that is for another day).
Our great Commish put it publicly : we are the best fans in the world. And while it was a PR stunt .. he is right. We forgive and forget and they can afford to take smoke breaks instead of negotiation sessions. We close our eyes and hug them blindly, that is why they can screw around for a year of lockout. They have the time cause we give them our patience, they have the money cause.. well we gave them that, so for the most part neither owners nor players are really motivated to get anything done in time for the season.
Now some will say: how about the bottom end players, the ones that do not make a gazillion just to sign a piece of papers because their last name is Parise? Well I don't know how to put this but even they make enough to be able to save for rainy days plus they have the PA for which they payed monthly .. right? Trust me .. they will all survive.
And so will I .. I am a hockey fan first and foremost. And there is a lot of hockey around. AHL season will go on and you can go watch your local team if you have it or find web streams on top of whatever they will show on NHL network. There are also links, if you know where to look, with excellent European hockey ( SEL, KHL etc). In Canada they are covered for live hockey as well but even in US there's hockey to be seen live. For example San Francisco just got a brand new ECHL team: The Bulls ( . There's also college hockey and various other minor leagues. Great hockey everywhere you look.
What does that mean?
If the fools at the negotiating table don't get their panties straighten out, I will be sad the Sharks are locked out and I can't watch Marleau blinking wildly while shying away from contact but I will get my hockey fix one way or another.
So bring it on NHL and NHLPA .. lock yourself out .. I will be said but I won't cry.

Now I was suggested to end my blogs with some witty one-liner the way some bloggers do but I have a problem with that .. see Camelia Gore , the Sharks “blogger” for hockeybuzz ends his rants with something along the lines of “keep your stick on the ice”, Well I prefer to keep mine in my pants cause I am sure nobody wants to see it .. and no offense Cammer .. but the ice is damn cold .. not good for stick size.

Here's to hoping they find common ground and the season is saved .. 


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Day Has Come

The End Is Nigh

 I have always maintained I am not going to do this because I would be horrible at it. I do not have the patience, the writing skills or even enough grasp on the basics of English grammar, to write a blog. 
However due to immense peer pressure (3 people asked) and the newly discovered secret desire to become a world renowned blogger like TheNeutral @fearthefin, since it's such a pimp life to be one, and since I needed a new hobby, I broke my word and ... well, here we are.

Anyway, what to expect out of this thing:
  • As those who know me (and probably the only people to read this "blog" ) already figured out, this is going to be mainly centered on hockey in general, NHL and the San Jose Sharks in particular but , since I also am a nerd, techie, gear head and overall a knowledgeable chap ... and a genius to boot ... I will sprinkle this "chef d'oeuvre" with other ingredients from various fields.
  •  This is not a daily blog. I might post three times in one day or once in an entire month
  •  As far hockey goes, this will reflect my own personal opinions backed by years of experience sitting around on chairs and in couches watching this sport played at various levels, and occasionally actually playing at it myself , covered in a thick tampon of protection designed to stop as many pucks from entering the net ... cause see .. I played goal .. since I suck at skating .. among other things.
  • This will not be a "links from around the web" type of blog, although I will provide links from blogs I use in my "work" or to bloggers I disagree with or simply choose to bash.
  • While stats will be used, do not expect to be bathed in yet another rehash of the whole "sabermetrics" debacle. I am of the opinion that "advanced" stats are very useful but they are just a complement to the observable hockey. A validation of sorts, if used properly, a valuable tool to examine results in system, roster, philosophy changes, yet not a valuable "predictor" as some number-hungry-yet-hockey-clueless bloggers would like you to believe. More on it in a future blog.
  • Comments, negative especially, are highly recommended. There are no rules for them other than whatever Google has already set in place but if, for whatever reason, I fell like you crossed whatever line I decide appropriate for the day, I will delete your comments, ban you, track you down and tell all your co-workers you eat children :).
  •   If I decide I can keep this as a regular blog and if it gets enough positive reaction (calculated in number of hate comments and death threats .. the more the better) , I might move it to a website of mine where others can blog at their own will .. again .. if I allow it ( I do like to be bossy :) )
 Oh and don't bash the layout  ... I will work on making it purrrdy soon.

So watcha think, folks? Should I really do it and what would be the first "real" blog you'd like to see from me?