Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Around the Rink: Numerology Edition

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

So, the never-ending carousel of ex-Flyers eventually coming home to roost took another full turn yesterday when Simon Gagne was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for a conditional pick in the upcoming draft.

Thousands squealed with delight across the Delaware Valley to know the hero of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston would be returning to his "home" team. Even better, a minor-league scrub who was awarded his former #12 gave it up in a magnanimous gesture so that Gagne's ardent fans, who have been clutching pearls in hopeful expectancy, can drag that jersey from out of the moth balls and fully bask in the glory that was 1999 through three years ago.

While we can applaud Paul Holmgren for once again filling a gap in the roster while his "hands were tied" with the sudden eye injury to Tye McGinn, and the hurts which will keep Matt Read out for five more weeks and Andrej Meszaros probably another two, here's another case of a general manager of a supposed playoff contender snagging low-hanging fruit.

And not only that, it's low-hanging fruit with a former connection to the franchise, an epidemic which seems to have swept the remainder of his grey matter which might have otherwise put up a fight.

Speculation arose on social media yesterday in the wake of Gagne's return, that this might be a stopgap move, with his pro-rated $3.5 million cap hit, a precursor to a bigger move as we draw nearer to the April trade deadline.

I say chances are, it is not. It is a case of a GM almost wholly incapable of navigating a salary-cap system that those who at least hold a bachelor's degree from a North American college could figure out at some point. It's also a case of a man who, under the guise of doing what is best for the organization, will only make a safe move for a bargain when another alternative is available for an actual price.

There was the Ruslan Fedotenko signing in the Summer which stoked fires that the Ukrainian forward could bring his two Stanley Cup rings and 11 years experience to catfish a young roster. He's being called a healthy-scratch-in-waiting. Then, there was the plucking of Mike Knuble out of the ether after no other NHL team decided to take a chance on him after finishing his three-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Amidst questions about his production and penalty-taking with 15 minutes a night, he's a healthy scratch this evening.

Now Gagne, who may or may not be fully recovered from a devastating concussion and offseason neck surgery and certainly not a top-six guy after being buried beneath the Kings' depth, about to turn 33, who may or may not contribute in a meaningful way given the manner in which Peter Laviolette swaps out bodies across all four lines period-to-period.

All is not well in the kingdom, and if Holmgren can't "bite the bullet" once to make a viable deal to boost his 9-11-1 team, by the time the deadline rolls around, nobody on the other end of the phone will be willing to listen to how he wants to fleece them to ensure a playoff berth.

Danny Briere doesn't want to leave. And that's great that he considers Philadelphia home, but he is the Flyers' biggest and best trade asset now and forever. Whether it's Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or whoever else has expressed interest, with a shrinking cap next season and little assurance that this current crop of players can shake loose of the doldrums and gain a firm foothold on a playoff berth, a hard choice must be made.

Is Holmgren that afraid of a high-risk, high-reward deal? Has he been trained all too well in the Keith Allen-Bob Clarke method of transactions, where if it's not robbing another club blind it's not worth anything? Or is the entire front office nothing more than a relic of the old days, surpassed by guys with an actual formal education in business or economics -- not just the Hockey School of Hard Knocks -- who can out-think and anticipate events better given a league bounded by the rules of advanced math? 

If the last year of dealings is any indication, all armchair GMs should be checking into which clubs possess valuable ex-Flyers and lay their money on a deal being made with whomever that may be.

When Numbers Get Serious

The National Hockey League isn't giving up on realignment for next season, coming up Tuesday with a slightly altered plan from the one that was introduced in January of 2012, shot down by the NHLPA and then tabled in favor of all the nonsense from the lockout. 

Per the inestimable Bob McKenzie: "Top 3 teams in each of two 7-team West conferences make playoffs. Two wild cards from remaining 8 West teams also make the playoffs. Playoff format remains old divisional style, 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 though it remains to be seen how the wild cards are slotted for first-round."

And from multiple sources, here is the proposed "conference breakdown" in graphic form:

Notice how, of all teams, the ones left out in the cold are the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers -- both of whom will be roughly 1,000 miles from their closes competition inside their respective divisions. (side note: up until yesterday, the idea of "conferences A-D" was still in play before it was announced the idea would be dropped). For Winter road trips, that's a flu bug waiting to happen due to the radical climate shifts. Still, isn't it kinda cute that the Northeast grouping is shaped like a stick blade to include the Florida teams?

The alignment as suggested here is a failure, and needs to be tweaked one more time, so that there are no geographic orphans.

To preserve the 8-8-7-7 alignment, how about the following:

Northeast Division: Bruins-Canadiens-Senators-Maple Leafs-Sabres-Penguins-Red Wings-Blue Jackets

Atlantic Division: Devils-Islanders-Rangers-Flyers-Capitals-Hurricanes-Lightning-Panthers

The Central and Pacific Divisions will remain unchanged from above.

So Detroit no longer has to complain about being the Eastern-most team in the West, and though the Flyers-Penguins rivalry will be reduced, the two Florida clubs aren't just hanging out there with other teams from the colder Northeast. Even though the Philly-Pittsburgh pairing is the hottest the league has NOW, in five years that might not be the case. Familiarity always breeds contempt and who knows? The Blue Jackets may have a war with the Red Wings.

It's a redux of the 1993-95 breakdown, when the Eastern Conference featured 14 teams (seven per division) and the Western had 12 (six per division) and something most average fans could fashion with little thought and 20 minutes on their hands. I wonder if the BOG and the union realizes that?

When Numbers Get Stupid

I'm not taking away what the Chicago Blackhawks have done to the Western Conference since this season began back on January 19. Their magical run of 19 games from the start of the schedule with a point in every single game is one of the more impressive streaks I've seen in 28 years following hockey.

But it is far from a bona-fide NHL record, no matter what you, or you, or the esteemed trivia master of North America, Liam Maguire, might have argued with me late last week.

Put an asterisk next to it, call it a record with a qualifier denoting that the fundamental point structure of the NHL changed since 2005, but the Blackhawks do not own the most impressive run from the beginning of any season.

That distinction belongs to the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers, who went 15 games from the start of that year (12 wins 3 ties), defending their first Stanley Cup title, without a loss. Get it? No losses.

The only way it can be topped with ties written out of the rulebook is if some team in the future wins 16 straight games to begin a year. The Blackhawks have, let's count ' defeats on the season, albeit beyond regulation, but they're still losses with that crutch point that didn't exist until eight years ago. The win-loss scenario is simple: Pittsburgh holds the record with 17 in a row in March-April of 1993 and for another team to break it, they must win 18 in succession. End of story.

Let's recap: Oilers zero losses, Blackhawks three. Therefore, it's not Chicago's record no matter how far they get into the schedule without losing in regulation, they have lost games and have been rewarded with a point for losing, while Edmonton's streak existed in a time when it was simply two points for a win, and ZERO points for a loss in either regulation or overtime.

At best, I will concede two separate records with the Blackhawks and 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks as the bellwethers for the lesser "most consecutive games from the start of the regular season with at least a point," and the Oilers maintaining the loftier perch of "most games from the start of a year without a loss."

Same goes for ESPN's John Buccigross on Tuesday morning, who added his tune to the echo chamber with his tweet that the record for "Most Consecutive Games With A Point In NHL History" (who knows why he had to capitalize the first letter in every word) as the 1979-80 Flyers at 35, and the 1977-78 Canadiens second at 28.

Wrong. The equivocation and the combination of those records is wrong. The Philadelphia Flyers hold the North American professional sports record of 35 consecutive games without a loss -- a mark which may never come close to being equaled let alone broken. To speak of it in terms less than its own greatness reduces the accomplishment and insults those who helped create it, with the added side-effect of giving some wannabes the tools to sound educated on the subject.

And since when is ESPN or any of its anchors to be respected in hockey matters, anyway?

Something Completely Different

Heading into their primetime matchup on South Broad Street, the Flyers hold a record of 191-100-6 with 19 ties all-time against the Caps. At home, it's a 59-30-2-6 mark but only 4-6-2 since the start of the 2006-07 season.

We all know the early days of the Washington franchise was historically ugly, but did you know the Flyers put the Capitals firmly in their place during the Mike Keenan era?

The Caps, under Bryan (older brother of Terry) Murray were supposed to be the successors to the Islanders dynasty in the Patrick Division, having won 48 games and eclipsed the 100-point plateau for the first time in 1983-84.

But Keenan led Philadelphia in total domination of the DC denizens, going 17-8-3 from 1984-88 which includes a Spectrum record of 9-2-3 and kicking the Red, White and Blue into second place for the first three seasons of that period.

Only Fred Shero (1974-78) at 13-0-3 holds a better overall record against Washington in Flyers history for a coach lasting at least three seasons.

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