Thoughts after the NHL lockout

Over on BrooksLaichyear.com, I have a couple of posts about the NHL lockout now that it has finally come to an end. As a long time fan, this is the fourth NHL work stoppage I’ve sat through in the last two decades and the third lockout under league commissioner Gary Bettman.

But I feel most for all the businesses and employees who were affected by the lockout. Those who suffered financially because of the NHL and the NHLPA’s inability to get a deal done faster are the ones I’m most happy for at the moment. And as I explain in the first of the two BrooksLaichyear posts below, my excitement for the NHL’s return currently stops there.

In the second post, I talk about the “Hockey is back” slogan and some signs that maybe the NHL leadership, owners and players still don’t understand what it is that has some hockey fans feeling so uninspired about their brand of the sport.

Uninspired to watch: The NHL is back and I don’t care

With new slogan and simple apologies, NHL still doesn’t seem to get it

On BLY: 90.7% increase in price of these Caps season tickets over five years

With the new season ticket prices the Caps have announced for next season, two 400 level Caps season tickets that went for $1713 total in 2008-09 will now go for $3266 next season. That’s a 90.7% increase in 5 years.

It’s a business and the team needs to capitalize while they are hot, but raising the prices every year for five years and to this extent feels like a little much. Meanwhile, the Ravens announced their ticket prices will remain the same for the third straight year, with their president saying, “We know that our fans are continuing to be stretched financially to pay for season tickets. While the economy is improving, it’s still not strong.”

Why aren’t the Caps rewarding their plan holders a bit for their loyalty? Maybe take a year off with the price hikes? The Ravens have taken three.

Read more about it here: BrooksLaichyear.com: “Looking at the bigger picture and the dollars of the Caps continued season ticket price increases

On BLY: Looking at Caps tickets prices

Over on BrooksLaichyear.com, the Caps blog that my brother and I just started, I took a look at Caps ticket prices on StubHub and some upcoming games that might end up being fairly inexpensive. I got five tickets in the 400 level to last Thursday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets for $8.99 each late that afternoon on StubHub. Looking at the schedule and the StubHub prices and inventory, there could be some more opportunities for Caps ticket bargains coming up.

In other Caps news, for those who followed this blog for CSN/CSN+ related information, check out this post over on the DC Sports Bog, which explains that DirecTV has added CSN+ in HD. That took awhile—it’s only been 17 months since CSNWashington announced they’d start broadcasting all Caps and Wizards games in HD.

Delivering the ‘Please do not lean forward’ message better

"Be considerate, do not lean forward"

Photo by Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22)

Corey Masisak with NHL.com tweeted the picture above from Vancouver’s Rogers Center tonight, pointing out that this Boston Bruins fan might be “in for an interesting evening” as an away fan at Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

What jumps out at me in the photo, as a Washington Capitals fan, are all the postings on the railings there in Vancouver that read: “Be considerate, do not lean forward.”

Though the set-up is different and doesn’t feature a railing between each row, people leaning forward in their seats and blocking the views of others is an issue during Caps games at Verizon Center (I’m guessing it’s a problem in many other arenas too and not only for hockey). Someone actually started a website called Verizon Center Leaners a little while back and people would send in pictures of fans leaning forward at Caps games and obstructing their view.

A video is shown before Caps games, where players go through some guidelines for fans, and it includes a request for people to not lean forward in their seats. The only problem is, many fans aren’t in their seats yet to see this message. I’ve heard the message is now shown between periods too—if so, you still have a lot of people not in their seats at that time.

I’d love to see the Caps add some sort of signage like the Canucks have encouraging fans not to lean forward. Perhaps they could place them on the back of the seats, on the floor or on the armrests. Or there might be some other creative way to get more people on the same page about it. The message isn’t getting through to some fans and I’ve seen some really awkward (and in some cases ugly) situations when one fan asks another to sit back in their seat so they can see.

I think the Caps do a great job at keeping people from returning to their seats when a puck is in play, with the ushers holding up “Stop” signs and not letting people through until a break in the action. If the team could do something equally as effective with the ‘please don’t lean’ communication, I know I’m not the only one who’d appreciate it.

Looking beyond a playoff W-L record

The Stanley Cup.

The Stanley Cup (Image via Wikipedia)

Mike Wise began his May 6 Washington Post column by referencing three legendary hockey coaches and their playoff winning percentages early in their careers, as he defended Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau following the team’s second round exit from the playoffs. Wise wrote:

“Bruce Boudreau’s below-average playoff record of 17-20 (.459) keeps being used as evidence for his firing as the Washington Capitals’ coach, which makes perfect sense when you learn Scotty Bowman started 28-30 (.483), Al Arbour began 12-15 (.444) and Glen Sather was a lousy 12-25 (.324) to begin in Edmonton.”

“Why their respective teams hung on to those bums made no sense, putting aside the combined 17 Stanley Cups they won.”

Wise goes on to say that “The Capitals’ problem is not the coach” and that “the problem is the nucleus.” “The Caps’ flameout is an indictment on the Ovechkin era, not the Boudreau era,” states Wise at the close of the column.

I honestly haven’t spoken with any Caps fans or read any articles yet that have leaned on Boudreau’s playoff winning percentage when debating whether he should stay or go—the discussion usually dives deeper into things like coaching style, power play performance and the ability to make adjustments, for example.

But Wise’s column did get me thinking: Does playoff winning percentage really tell the story of what Bowman, Arbour and Sather did early in their playoff coaching careers? (Hint: It doesn’t even come close.)

A coach that wins a first round series 4 games to 1 and then loses in the second round 4 games to 3 leaves those playoffs with a winning percentage above .500. On the other hand, a coach that takes his team a round further, or all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and gets swept there, could exit with a record below .500 for those playoffs. In general, I’d take a deeper playoff run over a higher playoff winning percentage any season.

As Wise said, Scotty Bowman went 28-30 in the playoffs to begin his NHL career behind the bench, for a winning percentage of .483. But for the first three of those five playoff runs that got him to 28-30, Bowman took the Blues to the third round of the playoffs—which was then the Stanley Cup finals—all three times! His first three years behind the bench, three appearances in the finals.

Bowman’s Blues lost in all three of those finals and the next year the Blues exited the playoffs in the first round (Bowman was only coaching the team for the last 28 games of that season and the playoffs—see the sidenote at the bottom for more on that). At that point, four seasons in, Bowman was 26-26 in the playoffs, with three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s a bit different than Boudreau at 17-20 after four playoffs, having exited twice in the first round and twice in the second. But it also doesn’t mean Boudreau won’t go on to win a bunch of Stanley Cups too.

With Al Arbour, Wise says he started off 12-15. I’m actually not sure where he got those numbers—I can’t find any point where his playoff record stood at 12-15. But if you look at his first four trips to the playoffs, Arbour went 20-21.

But the more critical information is that in those first four playoff appearances that got him to 20-21, Arbour took a team to the second round (which was the conference finals at that time) once and then to the third round (then the conference finals in the expanded playoff format) three times.

Like with the Bowman example, Arbour’s initial playoff record of 20-21 is a bit different than the 17-20 record of Boudreau when you look beyond those numbers; winning percentage in the playoffs doesn’t tell how deep the teams went.

Wise says Glen Sather was “a lousy 12-25 (.324)” but I’m not sure where he got those numbers from either. Even when I include Sather’s numbers via HockeyReference.com from when Edmonton was playing in the WHA, I can’t figure out when his record was 12-25 in the playoffs.

But let’s just look at Sather’s first four playoffs coaching in the NHL, since Boudreau now has four of those under his belt. Sather went 18-15 with Edmonton in those first four NHL playoffs. He lost in the first round, lost in the second round and lost in the first round in the first three of those four—that’s exactly what Boudreau did with the Caps during his first three playoffs.

And then during their fourth NHL playoffs behind the bench, both Sather and Boudreau saw their teams get swept.

The difference: Boudreau’s Caps lost four straight in the second round to Tampa Bay, who are no doubt a very good hockey team this season that new GM Steve Yzerman put together after the franchise failed to make the playoffs for three straight seasons. Sather’s Oilers fell in their sweep two rounds later than Boudreau’s Caps, to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Islander dynasty won its 4th consecutive championship. Again, winning percentages don’t tell the whole story.

Something else worth mentioning, Wise says Bowman, Arbour and Sather’s “respective teams hung on to those bums” after they started their playoff careers this way. That’s actually only true with one of the three.

Bowman left St. Louis after four seasons. He won the first five of his Cups with his second team, the Montreal Canadiens. Arbour’s first playoff appearance was also with St. Louis and he later coached the Islanders where he won his Cups. Sather is the only one of these “bums” who was actually kept by, and won cups with, the first team he took to the playoffs.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t use playoff winning percentage to measure a coach’s playoff success—there’s more to the story when you look beyond those numbers. I’m more interested in things like how deep a coach can take team in the playoffs and what a coach’s squad looks like during their playoff run, even in years when they fall short of winning the Cup.

That gets me back to Boudreau. Do I think he should be fired? Maybe. But I think it should absolutely be on the table for discussion. And even if he sticks around and wins the Cup(s), I’d look back at this time and say it is right to be asking questions about whether he should be behind the bench next season.

This has nothing to do with the fact that the Caps have not yet won a Cup under him or what his winning percentage has been in the playoffs. And it has almost everything to do with the uninspiring, lacking-in-urgency way I’ve watched his teams exit the playoffs for three straight seasons.

First there was a Game 7 at home against Pittsburgh in the second round of the ’08-’09 playoffs that the Caps failed to show up for. The Caps lost 6-2 and I remember leaving Verizon Center, not so much feeling bummed that my team had lost but perplexed and wondering how you don’t get-up for a 2nd round Game 7 against a huge rival.

Caps forward Brooks Laich said afterward, “It’s very disappointing and upsetting, because the team out there tonight, that wasn’t our team. That’s not what we call ‘Caps hockey.’ It just came at a really bad time for us. I don’t know what it was. Maybe we were just afraid to take charge and get it done. Winning is a science. You have to learn how to do it.”

That same quote from Laich would have been appropriate after some games during the recent sweep of the Caps by Tampa Bay or maybe even in ’09-’10 when they faced the Montreal Canadiens. (You could actually play a fun little game by going through quotes from the last three Caps playoff exits and guessing which one it’s from—sometimes it’s hard to tell, given the consistent not-hungry-looking-enough style in which they’ve been eliminated).

In ’09-’10, the Caps were up 3 games to 1 on the Canadiens. Montreal was the 8th seed while Washington was the 1st seed, though seedings often don’t mean much to me once the NHL playoffs start.

I thought Montreal could make for a tough first round series given the way they’d played the Caps during the ’09-’10 regular season, but I expected the Caps to win. And I certainly felt they should take the series once they were up 3-1. But they blew three straight chances to close out Montreal, two of them at home.

The title of column by ESPN’s Scott Burnside on that blown 3-1 series lead read, “This wasn’t a loss; this was a collapse”. Burnside wrote, “Call it heart or soul or character or whatever you want, but the Capitals don’t seem to have it. And until they find it, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be more of these shocking conclusions in the nation’s capital.”

This same “don’t seem to have it” type text from Burnside could have been used this year as the Caps were swept in the second round by the Lightning. I didn’t expect an easy series against Tampa Bay or to necessarily even win the series—they are a good hockey team and only finished four points behind the Caps in the regular season. But to be swept? There’s no way a team as talented as the Caps should have lost four straight to the Lightning.

Mike Wise was right to place blame on “the nucleus” of the Caps team—Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green—for the team’s playoff failures.

But that does not mean the coach should be free of blame. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; both the players (the core ones and beyond) and the coaches can be at fault when things aren’t going well. And when the players repeatedly aren’t performing the way they should, there are multiple options: Finding a new coach or trading away key players are two of those the Caps organization has not yet tried in the Boudreau era.

As J.P. on Japers’ Rink put it: “Bruce Boudreau could be the most brilliant hockey general to stand behind an NHL bench since Scotty Bowman, but if his charges are unable to process and execute his orders, the results won’t reflect that acumen. But there’s no way of knowing if that’s the case without seeing how these players – most of whom have only played for Boudreau at the NHL level, at least since there were expectations heaped upon the team – respond to another voice…”

If I were the one making the decision on whether to keep Boudreau, I might be willing to give him one more season. And I wouldn’t need him to win the Cup next year in order for him to keep his job. But I would need to see a playoff team consistently showing they had grown and to not find the Caps doing post game interviews after their next exit from the playoffs that are hard to distinguish from the ones of the past three seasons.

There’s also a part of me that thinks weak exits in three straight years is enough and that doesn’t want to take the chance we’ll be sitting in this same place next year, with another Boudreau-coached team that was unable to get motivated enough to put in a postseason effort they can at least be proud of.

The Capitals organization undoubtedly has some interesting risks to weigh.

Sidenote: If you want to read something nuts, check out this Sports Illustrated vault article from 1972 and an era when Bowman and Arbour had both been with the St. Louis Blues. The Blues owner makes it worth the read alone. And there’s a great story about Arbour and an incident in Philadelphia that fired up the Blues. It’s old time hockey.

Looks like tonight’s CSN+ Caps broadcast will be on a different channel…

If you can’t find the CSN+ broadcast of tonight’s Caps game vs. the Florida Panthers in its usual spot on your cable system, it may have moved due to what looks to be MASN overflow baseball. Check the channel look-up guide on the Comcast SportsNet site to find out what channel it’s on for you. For many people it looks like it’s going to be channel 8.

If time allows, I might have more later on this.

Thanks to Curtis in Centreville for emailing me and bringing it to my attention that strange things were happening with the channels for tonight’s game.

Will the Washington Capitals’ home sellout streak end anytime soon?

"Rock The Red (Wide) at Verizon Center" by clydeorama -- image via flickr

"Rock The Red (Wide) at Verizon Center" by clydeorama -- image via flickr

The Washington Capitals‘ streak of selling out Verizon Center reached 74 games this past Sunday when they faced the Carolina Hurricanes. But fans shouldn’t take that to mean tickets are not available for upcoming games. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, tickets are available for Caps games on the resale market, but you can also get tickets directly from the team for most games.

“One of the misconceptions we’re battling is the idea that every game is sold out,” said Nate Ewell, Washington Capitals Vice President of Communications, in an email. “We actually have some tickets for all of our games coming up except December 23 vs. Pittsburgh. The numbers are fairly low for each game, but there are seats available.”

The Caps have a waiting list for season tickets but made the decision to leave some seats available for purchase every game, rather than sellout the entire arena on season ticket sales alone.

As Washington owner Ted Leonsis explained on his blog back in October, “I want to be fair and reasonable with everyone. I know that season tickets aren’t for everyone. The price is high; the commitment level is high; and if we sold out all of our tickets the only way a casual fan would have access to tickets would be through resellers at a very high price.”

With just a small number of seats available for many of the upcoming games, it appears unlikely the sellout streak will end anytime soon. “The numbers are low enough for each game that our typical walk-up crowd should keep the sellout streak intact through the season,” said Ewell.

That would take the streak to 101 games. And how does that stack up against the NHL record for consecutive sellouts? That depends on who you ask.

Ice hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens...

"Ice hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs" -- March 6, 1938 -- Image via Wikipedia

Wikipedia says, “The Colorado Avalanche have the NHL record for the longest consecutive attendance sell outs with 487.” Over on Yahoo Answers someones said (three years ago), “The last game in Toronto that wasn’t sold out was in 1933 (2nd game ever at Maple Leaf Gardens didn’t sell out).” Answers.com gives it to the Maple Leafs: “The Toronto Maple Leafs have sold out every regular season game since 1946, including games from 1946 – 1999 at Maple Leaf Gardens, and every single game so far at their new home , the Air Canada Centre from 1999 to 2010.”

I have an email into the league office asking who can truly be crowned “NHL Consecutive Sellouts Champion” and will post an update if I hear anything back from them. But I imagine they’re pretty busy right now looking over my previous post and trying to figure out how to dynamite Civic Arena before a national TV audience on January 1.

And if the Caps ever do set any records for NHL attendance, I wouldn’t expect any banners to be raised celebrating it — “Leonsis removes Mystics attendance banners”.