Monday, December 28, 2015

Playing Right Now: WJC 2016

If you have the NHL Network in the United States, get your TV tuned to it for the World Junior Championships, which are taking place in Finland this holiday season. The United States opened on Saturday with a 4-2 victory over Canada in pool play. This morning, Sweden blanked the Americans, 1-0, to take the lead in Group A with a 2-0-0-0 record. (Yes, you will see in the standings that all of these columns are necessary.)

Canada rebounded with a 6-1 victory over Denmark, with Switzerland (Dec. 29) and Sweden (Dec. 31) left in group play. The U.S. have Switzerland (Dec. 30) and Denmark (Dec. 31) left in group play. The top four teams in each group advance to the playoff or medal rounds. The fifth place teams in each group will meet in a relegation round to determine who gets bounced and who stays with the big boys for 2017.

And I do mean boys, as the WJC is the Candy Mountain tournament. You can't be 20 in Candy Mountain, and the same is true in this tournament. But the size of some of these players might require a double-take by the doorman checking the IDs.

For those of you sans cable (like me) or with a modest cable package in the U.S. that does not include the NHL Network, you'll have to rely on YouTube for your video highlights and apps like The Score for timely game updates and recaps. Also the official website provides live tracks games and provides recaps and full statistical breakdowns as well.

As always, Canadians have TSN pumping the tournament into their homes. Yet another reason to wonder why the NHL website does not do more, like live streaming of the games, for example. After all, the future of the game is playing here right now. Oh well, one can always hope that as more cord-cutters emerge, the league will have to adjust their views on how to reach all of their audience.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My One Point on 3, 2 or 1 Point in the Standings

"I was trying to do my best because I was caught out of position."

The quote of the day, via The Orange County Register, comes from the lips of Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who was called for holding the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh in overtime Tuesday night.

Given the extra skater, the Rangers won the game with a power-play goal by Mats Zuccarello, 3-2. A nice gift by the overgenerous Anaheim squad this season.

The whole idea of the 3-on-3 overtime format was designed with this in mind. Create man advantages with quick passes and strong skating. OK, so Vancouver players said this week that they had found a way to save their season by playing keep-away for the extra session in order to get to the shootout.

That is another way to avoid being out of position.

All of it is garbage. We continue to see writers ask for a standings format where a victory in regulation time would be worth 3 points, a victory in overtime would be worth 2 points and, here is where the logic dies, the loser in overtime gets a point? Or if the score remains tied after the extra session, the game ends and each team gets a point?

Again, hot garbage.

The Ducks deserved nothing after last night's game. They lost, go home and stew in it. Or, you might say, they deserve a point because they at least tried to win in OT while the Canucks would have been (and are) content to skate around like zombies, much like they did Sunday against Florida. Ryan Miller was the left to pretty much his own extra large glove and XXXXL pads in the extra session.

Fix the system. Force the teams to play for the win in regulation. Game ends in a tie, fine, but no points for either team. In fact, drop the points for a winning team. Employ the winning is the only team approach and your standings would still say W-L-T, but the W is the only thing that would get you ahead in the game. Ties count the same as a loss. The winning percentage would be a simple computation, and that number would separate those who make the playoffs from those who get to watch. Yes, more coaches would be forced to go for it -- and perhaps be fired for failing to win -- but that is the point, so to speak, of the game.

Win, and you enjoy the glory. Lose, and you must try again. Lose too often, and you must find a new job. Thanks for trying, Ducks, but no soup for you.

Very simple, and much more entertaining.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Quick Listening List for Hockey

Got up early, for a change, a few Saturdays ago. Needed to do some things and thought I might put sports radio on for my drive around the greater New York area.

What was on the radio? Giant/Jets predictions, for starters, followed with calls and studio commentary on the Yankees' rotation, the Mets' infield, the Knicks and Rutgers football.

Click. I quickly synced my phone to the car radio to get the hockey conversation flowing.

For those who live in areas where hockey talk is not quickly found on the radio or TV, which is to mean all of the United States, for starters, here are a few standards to go with drive or commute. (Or if you are seated in or near the Lounge, your noonish bourbon and ginger.)

The Hockey PDOCast quickly gets down the the basics of analytics and put them in context of the day's events and actual games. In other words, no wasted time spent hearing about good guys and the assorted garbage basically presented in most American newspapers today. Dimitri Filipovic and Travis Yost are your hosts, and the production value of the podcast is studio quality, which surprisingly a challenge for many podcasts in this day and age. Your view of the game will be challenged and you may even have more than a few disagreements with their conclusions. Regardless, these two turn in a solid shift on the ice.

TSN Hockey Analytics is another show that does a good job of using numbers to explain what you are seeing and also negate some of the garbage that you may be reading in newspapers today. Yost can be heard on this show as well, along with TSN staff members and James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail.

Hockey Central at Noon, or what I often disgustedly call Maple Leafs Central at noon, remains a part of my evening commute during the week. The show, which is a radio simulcast of Rogers Sportsnet's TV show, covers the news of the day and can often take a direct-opposite point of view of the analytics community, but it is a nice pairing with the analytics show. Daren Millard, Nick Kypreos and Doug Maclean compose the panel on three of the days, with John Shannon and Scott Morrison playing the role of the more-informed fill-ins on the day Maclean or Kypreos give their shouting voices a rest. You can also see the show on the NHL Network, but save your eyes and listen to the show, which runs at noon Eastern five days a week, live on your computer. It drops in podcast form around 1:30 to 2 pm Eastern.

Tape II Tape is a weekly podcast from Sportsnet, with Rory Boylen and Ryan Dixon taking a look at the NHL as well as what might be topical that week in Sportsnet Magazine, which is available on your phone or tablet and is a better read than Sports Illustrated or the profoundly unsatisfying ESPN The Magazine.

Sensing a bit of a trend here? Well you are right, Sportsnet and Canada have helped challenge the capacity of my phone and or tablet with media content.

Junior is an podcast that covers the top source of NHL talent, the Canadian Hockey League (the umbrella organization that covers the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League). Jeff Marek is your host.

The Pipeline Show will cover much of the same territory, but with perhaps a tone much closer to that of a pro scout. In addition to the CHL, the Pipeline show will also have reports on the NCAA, CIS, USHL and the junior-A level Alberta Junior Hockey League, which helps stock NCAA rosters as well as those in the CHL. Over all, this two-hour show, broken up in five or six segments, give you more than you might imagine about scouting the next generation of NHL players. Best of all, the shows run year-round. Guy Flaming, Dean Millard and Taylor Medak are your hosts.

From here, the podcasts dip in production quality from studio level to bedroom-down-the-hallway quality, in some cases. And yet, I still consider them more than worthy of a listen.

USCHO Live is a podcast from the college hockey website, Your hosts are Jim Connelly and Ed Trefzger, who bring in a number of good guests to compile a solid weekly report on NCAA Division I men's hockey.

Marek vs. Wyshynski is a podcast that shares talent in Jeff Marek of Sportsnet with Greg Wyshynski, the editor of the Puck Daddy blog from Yahoo! Sports. The podcast can be irreverent to the point of slipping into deep analysis of Star Wars, movies based on comic book heros or childish jokes. And yet, they can also follow that up with some of the most challenging thoughts about the game. It is, in a sense, similar to the great discussions you had in college, with these particular sessions covering hockey. (Yes, some of the conversations you had in college were down right insane, but others were so insightful that you probably wish you had recorded them to play today.) Production quality his hit or miss, with some guests' phone calls coming in as good night whispers from your grandparents. In other words, far from perfect, but so am I. That being said, the show is worth a regular listen.

Hockey Prospectus Radio is an extension of the analytics website and the producers of the essential Hockey Prospectus annual guidebooks. Another show with a average to poor sound quality. But the information is top notch.

Hockey Today is ESPN's somewhat regular NHL podcast. The writer Scott Burnside is the ring leader for this podcast, which sounds like it was recorded in his bathroom. Many times, audio from an interview done with a player or coach at an arena is unintelligible. But the thoughts of reporters like Craig Custance, Pierre LeBrun and Sean McIndoe make the effort worth a trip to Burnside's cozy home.

Give a listen if you want to keep in the hockey conversation, or you can go back to the radio for thoughts on whom the Jets or Giants should take in the first round of the next NFL draft, who should bat eighth on the Yankees or why the Knicks need a new (pick a position here). I think you know what Killer sounds the Lounge will have coming through the speakers.

Binge-Watching and Hangovers in the Lounge

I'm back behind the bar, so to speak, having finally caught up with the games of this season.

Taking an extended trip across southern Europe two weeks into the new NHL season is not the best way to drop the puck. When I left, the Kings had lost their first three games, prompting concerned Lounge patrons to ask in person or write me about the reasons for the deep dive: Darryl Sutter's message not getting through, age catching up and passing many of the Kings, lack of talent, gravity (what was once up must come way down).

When I returned, the Rangers had come back to the pack along with the Canadiens. The Ducks and much of the Pacific Division were engaged in an extended slumber and the Kings, well, they were in the lead of the conference and playing a style of game that had them causing others to look at them with some amount of respect rather than disgust.

Quite a turnaround. But for me, being away from the game and the continent for almost a month, this meant I had to get back in the game with extended shifts.

And just to mix things up a bit more, I cut the cable cord. (More on that later).

With a renewed commitment to the game and a superior Internet speed plan, I went through a lot of games in one sitting. (The great thing about Game Center Live is that the day(s)-old games come without commercials. And the between-period nonsense can be sped through easily. Hence, block out some time and three games are done.)

And, here is a nice little nugget in all of this, I have rediscovered my love for hockey on the radio, or at least, a radio broadcast delivered over the Internet. Game Center Live does not have blackouts for radio casts, which means I can listen to any game live. And I can listen to them as described by either team's announcer. And in the case of Ottawa and Montreal, I can listen in French, should I choose. (One last parenthetical item, I hope. Nothing beat a playoff broadcast last season on Montreal's English radio cast. An ad for the pharmacy chain Jean Coutu is delivered with the proper amount French inflections for the the store name, the street names and cities that surround Montreal. All fine, in my book. More power to the English speakers who can dip into another language with some ease. But after the ad runs, the intro to the between-periods show, sponsored by Jean Coutu, lets you know that Chris Nilan would be give his thoughts on the period. From there, you get mangled French names and, for that matter, English names and terms properly mangled to suit those who grew up in New England. What a treat.)

There is a lot to listen to out there. And for the rest of the season, I will give you some tips on what to listen to. No quarters needed.

And here's one final tip. Trader Joes' Triple Ginger Brew and Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon is a fine, cost-conscious bourbon and ginger combination for the winter. Just make sure that you refrigerate the heck out of the Triple Ginger Brew, perhaps to help avoid some issues with bursting bottles.

To be safe, I wore what could be described as a modified bomb disposal outfit -- for those of a certain age, recall Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners" with a makeshift spacesuit made of pots, oven mitts, chest protector, etc. -- and opened three bottles with no problems.

Yes, I'm going that extra mile to bring hockey, and an endless pour of bourbon and ginger, to you this season.

The Lounge is open.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Lounge Adds a Touch of Class

That's right. Your local bartender was treated like a king for Father's Day. My daughters gave me plenty of snacks, clothes and a great BBQ meal. And to top it off, I was the happy recipient of a Budweiser Red Light, which is now available in the United States.

It's has been placed in the perfect spot, near the big screen, in the Lounge. The light, which can be synced to the Internet via WiFi, allows the user to set it to mark the goals of his or her favorite team. I have set mine to the Kings. Good thing I did not have this during last season, when the Kings most definitely did not light the lamp too many times. I hope for better this season.

A word of warning to those of you living near the Lounge, the Kings play more than half their games between the times of 10:30 pm and 1:30 am Eastern time. So it could get quite noisy for a few seconds next season. But who doesn't like ringing in the morning with one last goal.

Next on the Lounge's wish list?

Why the Red Zeppelin, of course.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Season Ends, a New One Begins

A few second after the final horn sounded last night for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, I walked to my library and begin to fashion a reading list for the summer.

Hockey books, mixed with the fiction, theater and film sections of The New Yorker, will get me to mid-September, when the Canadian junior leagues and the KHL begin regular-season play and the NHL opens training camps.

Summer, which begins Sunday, is the time to check the work of the analytics writers, whose books attempt to project a possible outcome based on mathematical models and some keen observations. They are much more fun to read once a season is done rather than before them. Ditto the forecasts for the past season from several websites. The least valuable are most of the newspaper forecasts, which traffic in the usual cliches (clutch players, good guys, veterans, etc.) and which give a reader very little in the way of depth.

I am not much of a swimmer (I cannot) nor am I a math wizard, but I know enough to say I will not drown in facts when it comes to a newspaper projection or any article from a dead-tree edition, for that matter. But with the analytics books and websites, as well as the work done on,, and, I am getting a thorough report.

Wondering why I am not writing more? (At least I hope some of you are.) It is because I am drowning in the deep end with all the good information online. I hope to do better with my writing production this offseason and during the 2015-16 NHL season.

The draft is coming and the above websites, along with, is providing more information than any newspaper or that of The Hockey News (sadly) could hope to do. And these sites are producing content all the time. No complaints about early deadlines or production problems on presses. Writers write, editors edit and the button is pushed to post this material at whatever time. Late is not a problem with the web. Those quotes and a deeper dive into the statistics will be there when you wake up. Just sign on, log in and breathe in the information.

The younger readers know that the old sports pages, stale game reports, tired columnists and abbreviated box scores can be dropped in the bin. One season is over. It is time to be born again, fresh, alive and ready for 2015-16. This is what keeps me going.

I have moved from snotty nosed kid, to annoying teenager to young punk, young father, wiser not-so-young father and, lately, a much wiser old man (in his 50s, at least). While I now move as slow as I write, I move with the emotion, passion and intention of a man who will go right through you if it means I can see another year of with my family, my dogs, the game of hockey and all that can be written online about it. A few slices of pie would be good, too.

Time to mix up a batch of Jack Honey Lemonade and clean both the drink and reading glasses. Starting right now, I'll first toast the Chicago Blackhawks on their victory. Then I'll savor the possibilities for next season. No time like the present.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Finding Joy in Lost Days and Nights

By now, you and I have lost 12 nights or full days to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not that I am complaining, but things quickly become important the more you push them into the background.

Parents' birthdays, Easter, the opening weeks of baseball season? All gone. My team did not make the playoffs, so I have nothing but time on my hands to enjoy the games, and I have watched all but 3 of the 44 playoff games so far. I have been frustrated by none of them.

No late night walks with Jax the Lucky Dog to either wind down from a big Kings victory or soothe my frayed nerves after a crushing Kings loss. (Note, little Petunia Puck does not do walks late at night. She barely does hockey, and never a post-game walk.) No matter, the Kings did not win, did not get in. Done and done. I have dealt with it and accept the failing grade. Must do better next season.

So, having said that, I consider this spring to be the big wind down from the season, and I am loving every minute of it. (Having had a miserable close to the ninth grade, I spent that late spring of 1976 watching the Habs crush the Flyers to win the Cup. Then I slept late all that summer, got up in time to play a lot of road hockey, tennis, Wiffle ball and baseball; ride my bike all over the earth; read great books from the college library that the junior high librarians said were smut; chase -- with a small sample size of success -- the girls of my small town; eat a ton burgers and fries; wash it all down with jugs of root beer; and have a summer worthy of a champion. I looked at the bitter side of life, flipped it over and found the sweet consolation prize.) I would have liked to see the Kings in the playoffs, but lessons learned over time have taught me to take my punishment and move on. There are always good things waiting for me.

And the first consolation prize I received this spring was watching the Vancouver Canucks once again choke on their own inflated sense of self.

No collapse in hockey brings about more joy in the Lounge, and the flowing of great whine in British Columbia, than the turfing of the Canucks. No sooner do the Canucks lose than writers like Ed Willes of The Province in Vancouver set up a comfy pile of excuses to ease the landing after the usual premature jackknife dive to conclude the postseason.

Don't want to read too far down? Well, here is the little nugget of sugar for a bitter lose, right at the end of the first page of the report on the web:

We’re not going to unload on the officiating here because they weren’t the reason the Canucks lost. No, we’re going to save that for later in the playoffs.

But consider this:

The issue isn’t that there’s a conspiracy against the Canucks or any other team that feels they’ve been jobbed by the zebras. The issue is the calls are so inconsistent, so random, so disconnected that any hockey fan can reasonably look at the games and conclude their team got the shaft.

I'm not going to say we were jobbed, because we are all getting jobbed by the referees, but we got jobbed by them more/less/etc. Yawn.

The loser's flow of sad rat's tears begin. I love it. Love the playoffs. The old Smythe Division rules. Just not the Canucks.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Two Cents on Hockey Standings

I've always admired the bartender who would bide his time until the right moment to enter the discussion at the bar and shut the whole thing down.

He would stand in the corner, either making the motions of rubbing a poorly rinsed glass or bent over the bar, pencil in hand, marking seemingly random things on the agate pages of the sports section. Then, after having heard enough, he would set the rag or pencil down on the bar and cooly render his verdict. When the man or woman who makes your drink makes a call, you listen and you accept it. Or you find another place to drink.

Enter Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog. (Hmm, that is about the time I move on from the afternoon drinking practice of a beer and a glass of water to an evening regimen of Jack and water. Maybe this is why I am fascinated with the blog. Could be. By the way, the best beer for an afternoon is No. 7 on this list. By the way, Minneapolis City Pages is always a fun read.)

Silver comes over from his corner and shuts down the conversation about urging the NHL to award 3 points for a regulation victory to solve what some see as a problem with standings point system.

But I have something more radical in mind. Here’s the idea: You keep playing hockey until someone wins. You know, like in the NBA and Major League Baseball and pretty much every other sport but soccer — and like the NHL itself during the playoffs.

I slam down my hand on the bar as an amen in support of Silver, wondering why we give points for anything other than a victory. Tradition? Tradition is the enemy of progress and hockey needs to move forward on this now. Silver offers what I consider to be a very good start.

Now I know some good people, and some Canadians, who would take issue with the idea of changing the very fabric of the game by removing a point for what they call "a well-played tie."

I don't like ties (get ready for the rimshot). I don't even wear them.

So please do not bring up the three-point plan in the Lounge. I would argue, instead, that we do away with overtime. If you don't win in regulation, then you both lose. Only victories count when it comes to figuring a winning percentage. Losses and ties go in the same box of unwanted stuff that you wish you didn't have and cannot get rid of until spring cleaning.

But that would shake the traditionalists to the core, so I offer a modified plan by allowing for overtime. But if you do not win there, you then still lose.

We must be strong about this because there are plenty of backsliders and points-panhandlers among those who coach or who have coached the game still out there. We will hear how the points system is wrong and then, on Sportsnet's "Hockey Central at Noon," Doug MacLean, a former coach and now a cranky if not well-meaning analyst on the show, will say, "with six minutes left in the game, you have to tighten up and play for the point and get to overtime." From there, as he said Wednesday afternoon, one can consider playing a more offensive-minded game to go for a second point. What is unsaid is that, you don't exactly have to go all-out for a goal in overtime, thanks to that point you banked after three periods.

Until that kind of thinking changes, no new point system will keep a coach from playing for a safe result when the game matters: in the first 60 minutes. Last night -- highlights above -- no shootouts or OT. Maybe somebody likes my ruling in the Lounge.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a pencil and an agate page to get back to in the corner of the bar.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fresh Paint for the Playoffs

The Lounge is back for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And just to be certain everything is working before the first patron comes in, we showed up a little early, cleaned under the stools, washed some glasses, checked the taps and even made sure the toilets worked.

We opened the windows to see what the place looks like in the light of day, and then we closed the blinds to preserve the mood. We like things dark in the Lounge. That's a tradition that will never change. Now sit down and get ready for hockey.

Here's a fresh pour for the working man. Thanks for coming in.