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.