Who's To Blame for the Free Angent Frenzy

Every year we hear hockey fans ask themselves: Why oh why did my team sign this chump for X million bucks? No matter how many middle-tier players have fallen flat on their face trying to live up to the expectations their rich new contract set out for them, there will always be a general manager willing to sign a player for far more than he is worth. Overzealous general managers are part of the problem, but the media should also shoulder some of the blame for the madness of unrestricted free agency.

I admit I am a sucker for what I call "Free Agent Sweepstakes Day". I love the analysis on television and on websites. I love thinking about how a big free agent could help my team win the Cup. Yes, July 1st has become a part of our hockey culture, but we should tell ourselves that what we hear in the media is complete hogwash. If we pay too much attention to the hype, we actually start to believe that Wade Redden, Scott Gomez or David Clarkson is going to lead our team to the Promised Land.

Why do we bother listening to all the hype? It doesn't even make any sense. For one thing, it is impossible to judge who is the best UFA available. It is just as impossible, after the contracts have been signed, to judge who is going to truly earn their money. There are too many X factors that have to be considered. How is the new guy going to mesh with his teammates? How is he going to respond to the coach? How is he going to adapt to the climate? How is he going to react when he falls under the microscope of Canadian fans? Yet that doesn't stop anyone from making bold predictions which, in retrospect, are highly laughable. It's like predicting the Stanley Cup winner before the season has even begun. How many experts are kicking themselves for picking the San Jose Sharks for the eighth year in a row? Then again, how could anyone have predicted the Sharks would end up playing Los Angeles in round one and then defy the odds by blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Kings?

Curiously, players who sign large contracts and remain with their teams seem to do quite alright. Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf all signed lengthy contracts and had excellent seasons with their respective clubs. Brad Richards, on the other hand, signed a nine-year, $60 million deal and saw his points per game average drop from .93 (in 772 games with Tampa Bay and Dallas) to .72 with New York, and is now a candidate to be bought out during the summer. You would think the Rangers had learned their lesson after signing Wade Redden to a ridiculous six-year, $39 million deal, and then shipped him to the minors after just two years. If players want their careers to progress, they should strongly consider sticking with their current clubs.

Over the last few years, the media has grossly distorted the value of more than a few players in the NHL. Richards was the highest profile free agent back in 2011, but he wasn't the first to be grossly overhyped. For example, in 2009, a website called The Bleacher Report rated Martin Havlat the fourth-best player available of all the UFA forwards and defensemen (1). Since then, he has scored 183 points in 278 games, definitely not earning the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with Minnesota (2). The Bleacher Report ranked Jay Bouwmeester sixth and Nik Antropov eighth, neither of whom made much of an impact in their new cities unless you consider eating up cap space a skill (3). Bouwmeester went from .43 PPG in Florida to .35 in Calgary, while Antropov scored a career-high 67 points with Atlanta in 2009, then saw his production drop to 41 points, and then to 35 before bottoming out at 18 in 2013.

Remember when Sergei Gonchar and Anton Volchenkov were hyped as highly sought-after UFAs back in 2010? Seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it? Gonchar played three unspectacular seasons in Ottawa, and produced only .49 points per game there, compared to .69 in his previous 976 games. Volchenkov has spent the last four years in and out of the Devils' infirmary.

Of course, it is one thing to predict a player's desirability, but what about the media's predictions after the contract signing? In 2011, The Hockey News rated each team's off-season performance, including trades, personnel changes, and free agent signings. THN awarded Buffalo an A-, mostly based on their signings of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino. The Sabres haven't seen the playoffs since, and in 2013/14, they finished dead last. Regehr has long since left town, Leino has scored 10 goals in 137 games with the Sabres, and Ehrhoff finished -27 this past season.

In 2011, the New York Rangers earned a B+ for signing Richards, whose career has been on the decline ever since. The Toronto Maple Leafs got a B for signing John-Michael Liles and Tim Connolly, who are both in the "Where are they now" file. On the other hand, the publication rated Phoenix a C- because all they did was sign Mike Smith as their new number one goaltender (4). Those poor Coyotes are probably still ruing the day they stepped on that landmine considering all Smith has accomplished is leading the undertalented team to the Conference Finals in 2012 and keeping them in playoff contention every year despite a lack of offense and persistent relocation rumours. He was also named to the most recent Canadian Olympic hockey team, and has recorded nineteen shutouts the last three years, including three in the playoffs. Hindsight says The Hockey News rankings would be a lot different today

The media not only misfires on NHL free agents, but also those coming out of Europe. For every underhyped Antti Niemi there is a grossly overrated Jonas Gustavsson. I clearly remember how the experts couldn't talk more than 30 seconds without mentioning how "The Monster" was going to lead the Leafs to the Promised Land. With his 2.98 goals-against average, .900 save percentage, and 39-45-15 career record with the Leafs, that was never going to happen. And do you remember how Fabian Brunnstrom was going to teach us all a thing or two about scoring goals? He last played in 2012-13, for Frolunda HC of the Swedish League, where he scored a grand total of 18 points in 51 games.

In short, there is no way of predicting how a player will adapt to his new surroundings, so why does anyone care about the media's opinion of free agents? Dipping into the NHL free agent pool is, at the very least, a crap shoot for general managers. Sometimes teams luck out, and sometimes they pay dearly. Some free agents, no matter their skill, mesh better with their new coach or teammates, while others flounder. More often than not, the high risk brings few, if any rewards.

In many ways, it is best to go the safe route and offer short-term deals to average players who have an upside, and who may surprise you with a better-than-expected performance in the end. Tagging someone as "best available" does not guarantee future success, and if that player falters under the weight of an expensive long-term deal, it can cripple his career and his franchise. A player of lesser skill signed to a reasonable contract can be even more valuable. Just look at Clarke Macarthur, whose 24 goals and 31 assists cost the Ottawa Senators just $6.5 million over two years, or Mason Raymond who scored 45 points for the Leafs and earned just $2.275 million (5). Jarome Iginla signed a one-year deal with Boston and scored 30 goals. When low-risk players succeed, the general manager looks like a genius, and when these players fail, no one seems to notice.

Of course, playing it cool during the free agent frenzy is easier said than done. Fans want their general manager to land an expensive star player, logic be damned, so general managers are under pressure to deliver. Fans should not listen to the media hype, however. There is no guarantee the free agent their team signed will live up to expectations, but we still can't resist all the hype. Making matters worse for general managers is the fact it is difficult to sign a player for what he is actually worth, because there is always another team ready to offer more money and a longer term. Don't forget the rule of supply and demand as well. Sometimes a general manager has to pay a little more to get a free agent just because the talent pool is shallow. For general managers, free agency is like going to prom. Everyone wants to go to the dance with the star quarterback or the head cheerleader, but in the long run, looks aren't everything. Sometimes it's better to go with the person you're most comfortable with and who fits your personality best.

(1) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/194648-2009s-top-20-nhl-free-agents
(2) All salary information found at www.capgeek.com.
(3) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/194648-2009s-top-20-nhl-free-agents
(4) "NHL Team Reports," The Hockey News (August 2011), p. 36-47.
(5) All salary information found at www.capgeek.com.

Dogs, Cats, Cups & Cars

In 1993, the NHL honored the centennial of the Stanley Cup by giving every member of the champion Montreal Canadiens a chance to spend a day with the ultimate prize. During the summer of 1994, members of the New York Rangers gave the trophy such a beating that, starting in 1995, a "Keeper of the Cup" from the Hockey Hall of Fame has always been assigned to chaperone the big mug during its summer vacation. Since then, stories of the Stanley Cup's journeys have tended to focus on the new places it's visited, and the heartwarming ways in which players have chosen to share their moments. On occasion, there have still been reports on unusual incidents, such as during the summer of 2011 when the trophy fell off a table and was dented during Michael Ryder's visit to St. John's, Newfoundland. Still, the stories of the Stanley Cup's adventures these days are pretty tame compared to the legendary moments most hockey history fans can rattle off without much effort.

But how many of those legendary stories are true?

One of the most famous stories of Stanley Cup hijinks is the tale of the Montreal Canadiens leaving the trophy by the side of the road after winning it in 1924. No doubt the story was already well known by 1953, but that's the year that Leo Dandurand's telling of the tale appeared in "The Hockey Book" by longtime hockey writer Bill Roche:

When Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1924 by defeating Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary in the playoffs, we were honoured by the University of Montreal in a public reception at the National Monument in Montreal.

During the ceremonies, the Cup was officially presented to the team, and all the players received mementos from the University. It is the only time in history that a professional hockey club has been so honored by a major seat of learning.

After the reception, the Canadiens went to my home for an informal get-together. Georges Vezina, Sprague Cleghorn, Sylvio Mantha and I, got into a model T Ford to make the trip. The tin lizzy stalled going up Cote St. Antoine Road in Westmount, and we all got out to push.

Cleghorn, who had been jealously carrying the hard-won Stanley Cup in his lap, deposited it on the curb at the roadside before he joined us in shoving the car up the hill. When we reached the top, we hopped back into the car and resumed our hockey chatter as we got going again.

Upon reaching my house, we all started in on a big bowl of punch which my wife had prepared. It wasn't until she asked, "Well... where is this Stanley Cup you've been talking about?" that we realized that Cleghorn had left it on the side of the road. Sprague and I drove hurriedly back to the spot almost an hour after we had pushed the car up the hill. There was the Cup, in all its shining majesty, still sitting on the curb of the busy street!"

Leo Dandurand was certainly not above stretching the truth. He is responsible for the stories (which are NOT true) that Georges Vezina fathered twenty-something children. But this story mostly matches with the historical record. The Canadiens were actually presented with the Stanley Cup at a banquet attended by 450 people at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal on April 1, 1924. However, there was another banquet two nights later hosted by the University of Montreal in which Dandurand, the players, and the Stanley Cup were again in attendance. The Gazette makes no mention of the roadside mishap in the days following its coverage of the either banquet, but perhaps other Montreal newspapers do. If anyone ever finds a report, please pass it on!

Frank Calder, president of the NHL from its inception in 1917 until his death on February 4, 1943, certainly believed this story was true. A Canadian Press report that appeared in newspapers across the country the day after Calder's death said that while many people found him gruff and even curt, once Calder got talking, he "would spin hockey tales by the hour." One of his favourites was the story of the Stanley Cup being left by the side of the road.

Interestingly, the Calder write-up touches on the other most famous tale of misadventure from the early days ... that of an Ottawa player dropping (not drop-kicking) the Stanley Cup into the Rideau Canal. Paul Kitchen, who literally wrote the book on early Ottawa hockey history, states that he has NEVER been able to find a record of this story from that time (usually said to be 1905) in any Ottawa newspaper. "Calder," says the 1943 CP report, "always maintained the story was a fable."

Another early Stanley Cup story has it that a member of the Montreal Wanderers once kept the Cup at his bowling alley, were he loaded it up with gumballs for his patrons. It's usually said that this occurred in 1910 ... but the Wanderers never actually received the trophy that year! Though they did win it, when Sam Lichtenheim took over ownership of the team he was unaware of the requirement of putting up a $1,000 bond for the Cup's safe keeping. He never did, and the team never got the trophy. Still, there might be some truth to this tale ... though it was likely several years later, and definitely a different trophy.

"At one time," says the 1943 CP report of another favourite Calder story, "one of the trophies disappeared for several years. No one seemed to have the slightest idea what happened to it.

"'I found it by luck, in a Montreal bowling alley,' recalled Calder. 'I just happened to drop in and imagine my surprise when I saw this lost NHL trophy being used by the alley owner as a water trough for his dogs.'"

So, which trophy was it?

A story in the Boston Globe, from April 13, 1927, when the Bruins were playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time against the Ottawa Senators, sheds some light. This was the first year that competition for the Stanley Cup was restricted to NHL teams. The Bruins and Senators were actually competing for three trophies, the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales Trophy, and the old O'Brien Trophy, first donated as the championship emblem of the National Hockey Association, by M.J. O'Brien of Renfrew in 1910.

According to the official record, the O'Brien Trophy (which actually has the name "O'Brien Cup" engraved on it) had remained with the Montreal Canadiens after their NHA championship of 1916–17 until Calder found it among the effects of team owner George Kennedy when he passed away in 1921. It was then re-donated to NHL. But according to Bruins owner Charles Adams in the 1927 Globe story, the O'Brien Cup "had been lost in bowling alleys in Montreal during the war [until it was] found by Pres. Calder." In Adams' telling of the tale, it was cats, not dogs that were drinking water from it, but this MUST be the same story. It seems pretty unlike to have happened twice!

In more recent times, Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders (1980) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim (2007) are known to have fed their dogs from the Stanley Cup ... but at least they'd both won the right to do so.

Entering Wally's World

On June 19th, I got to spend a couple of hours with the 95-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf. He is the last surviving member of the 1942 Stanley Cup winning Leafs team. Though I don't know 100%, he is probably the oldest living New York Ranger too.

I'd interviewed Stanowski a few times in the past and was always thrilled with his memory and ability to recall specific events. There have been a few times that I'd met him in person too, at NHL oldtimers luncheons, and he was always pleasant, and so many of the other oldtimers would stop by his seat just to say hello, Godfather-like.

The idea behind the visit to his apartment in a retirement home in Toronto's west end was to video tape him, to capture his memories for a "living library" to benefit future generations, guaranteeing that his story is not lost.

It was all put together through SIHR -- the Society for International Hockey Research -- of which I am a proud member.

Along for the ride were Paul Bruno, the current president of SIHR, and Jim Amodeo, who does the great Hockey Then & Now blog.

Complicating things were the fact that I wrecked my right knee on Saturday, tearing my ACL, MCL and a meniscus while playing goal in a local men's soccer game. Needing to be chauffeured around is new to me, but Paul got me there and, seeing my massive leg brace, Wally immediately started telling stories about his own leg woes through the years -- including the broken leg that ended his playing career.

Interestingly, he is pretty adamant that had he not broken his leg, that he would have continued his career and been eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. We have that comment on tape, including some other gems, like what a dirty player Elmer Lach was, and a hilarious story about the very early days of his marriage to his wife, who only passed a while back.

Chances like this to hang out with hockey greats don't come around a lot. The big, big stars get their stories told again and again, but lesser names like Stanowski don't always get the chance.

As fun as it was to sit down with him and tape it all, the real work is still to come in piecing it all together into a coherent video interview.

At least it's something I can do with a wrecked knee.

The video of the interview can be found here:

Wally Stanowski interview part 1

Wally Stanowski interview part 2

(clockwise from top left Paul Bruno, Jim Amodeo, Wally Stanowski and Greg Oliver)

Lament for the Blockbuster Deal

I realized I was getting older (not "old"; I'm not there yet...) when I started pining for the good old days when there were but 21 teams in the NHL. Sure, it wasn't the glory days of the Original Six, but I am a child of the 80's, and for me, there was a certain stability in seeing the same 21 teams re-emerge from their summer slumber every October.

It seems like a lifetime ago when my Dad would come home from work and ask, "Did you hear about the big trade today?" This was long before the Internet, so I would never hear news about a trade until hours after it had been consummated. I miss the big name transactions and blockbuster deals that used to be commonplace. I miss those six and seven player deals that would completely change a team's fortunes around. Now, when I hear any kind of rumour, I just turn my head to my laptop some 45 degrees to my right and check Tsn.ca to get the latest dirt. While it may be more convenient, it just isn't the same. I miss the excitement and the anticipation of finding out exactly what happened. Trades used to happen seemingly out of the blue. Now, they are rumoured for weeks. When was the last time we were truly flabbergasted by a trade? Go on, think about it...

I remember back in the early nineties when my beloved Habs made a slew of shocking trades that completely transformed the personality of the team. First, on September 20, 1991, general manager Serge Savard sent slick, but enigmatic two-time 50-goal scorer Stéphane Richer and little-used Tom Chorske to New Jersey for the grittier and more dependable Kirk Muller and back-up goaltender Roland Melanson. Richer had upset Montreal management as a result of numerous questionable decisions during his stay. At the 1991 Canada Cup, Richer turned down, for personal reasons, an invitation to join Team Canada, on which Montreal head coach Pat Burns was an assistant coach. Richer was then seen playing in a softball tournament in Vancouver (1). Burns was disappointed Richer didn't want to play for Team Canada because he didn't get to speak with Mark Messier. "That's why I wish Steph had played the Canada Cup – so Mark Messier could have told him to shut up." (2) Richer further ticked off Burns before the 1991 playoffs by openly admitting he wouldn't mind playing for the expansion Ottawa Senators, close to his hometown Ripon, Quebec. Many believed the polarizing Richer could not handle the pressure of playing in a pressure cooker like Montreal. "I got myself into difficult situations sometimes," Richer said. "In Montreal, you can't say just anything because it all comes back on you" (3).

Muller, on the other hand, was a training camp holdout. While he was not as flashy as Richer, he was consistent, usually falling somewhere in the 70-80 point range. He was also tougher and not afraid to go into the corners. Muller did well his first year in Montreal, leading the tight, defensive squad in scoring with 77 points. Unfortunately, the Habs struggled to beat the mediocre Hartford Whalers in the first round and then took it on the chin in a four-game sweep to Boston in round two.

Serge Savard was determined to make amends for the disappointing season and bring firewagon hockey back to Montreal for the first time in years. On August 27, Savard acquired the Edmonton Oilers' leading scorer, 89-point man Vincent Damphousse and a 4th-round pick in exchange for Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek. Damphousse had just separated from his wife, so he turned down a 3-year, $2.1 million offer from GM Glen Sather and asked for a trade. (4)

Just four days after acquiring Damphousse, Savard dealt the speedy Russ Courtnall to Minnesota for former 50-goal scorer Brian Bellows. "Fasten your seat belts because it should be a pretty good ride," exclaimed new coach Jacques Demers, and he wasn't kidding! "Brian Bellows is quite a hockey player," Demers said. "He can play the game physically and he can score goals. Nothing against Russ Courtnall, but Brian has the reputation of coming to play every night, a guy who gives maximum effort." Stars' GM Bob Gainey had a different opinion, stating the team's record during Bellows' tenure "wasn't very good. He has to be held accountable." (5) Gainey made Bellows seem like a selfish player. "Brian tried to direct his career in the way he thought was best for him," said Gainey. Savard made it seem as though he stole Bellows from Minnesota: "It was a delicate situation and sometimes that can force a team to make errors," he said. (6)

These three transactions made a huge impact on the Habs. The 1992-93 Canadiens suddenly had a powerful offense, scoring 326 goals, their most since 1985-86. Damphousse, Muller and Bellows were Montreal's top 3 scorers in both the regular season and playoffs. Damphousse's 97 regular-season and 23 playoff points were both career highs, as were Muller's 94 regular-season and 17 playoff points. Bellows led the team with 40 goals in the regular season, including a team-high 16 on the power play. He also chipped in another 15 points in the playoffs. There was also a certain Patrick Roy who made the occasional save that year, but the impact of Serge Savard's trading savvy should not be overlooked.

Damphousse, Muller and Bellows came up big when the team needed them. During the 1993 playoffs, Damphousse scored one overtime goal and assisted on two others. Muller scored two overtime goals and added another assist. Bellows assisted on three overtime winners (7). None of that would have happened, however, had it not been for Damphousse. It was he who scored the overtime winner in game three of the Adams Division Semi-Final versus Quebec. Had Montreal not won that game, the Nordiques would have led the series 3-0, which would have been an almost insurmountable deficit. Damphousse's overtime goal was the first of ten the Canadiens would score on their amazing Stanley Cup run. It was also the first of 11 straight playoff overtime wins, still an NHL record.

The way in which the Canadiens' overhauled their roster will never be seen again. The day of the blockbuster trade is no more. The way of doing business has drastically changed. Trades used to be a vital means of improving one's team. Free agency in the pre-lockout years was restrictive to everyone; buyers were forced to compensate a player's former team, so players rarely had the opportunity to sign elsewhere. Before that, the reserve clause gave players no other option but to remain with their team until they were traded or sold. To give players a fair shake, it was necessary to change the system. I do miss those blockbuster deals, though. Sure, we still get a flurry of deals at the trade deadline, but these deals mostly involve players with contracts about to expire or contracts so difficult to fit under the salary cap they need to be dumped for draft picks.

Whatever happened to those deals in which general managers had to give up a decent player in order to get a decent player in return? There was a lot of risk involved in a big trade, and that was exciting. Today, there are simply too many factors to consider before two general managers can pull off a huge transaction. Besides, now that players can become unrestricted free agents and switch teams at the drop of a hat, there is less need for a general manager to make a big trade.

Luckily for us, hockey has evolved nicely since the days of the blockbuster deal. Players skate faster, bodychecks are harder, and goaltenders are better. With all of the overtime games and two-goal leads being overcome, the 2014 playoffs have been some of the best ever seen. While I miss the blockbuster deal, I wouldn't trade today's game for the one I grew up watching. There are lots of things we miss from our childhood days; parachute pants, Kris Kross, and Cabbage Patch Kids, but we have to let go of them eventually. For me, the big trade is the childhood memory I've abandoned, but I've since learned that there are other things to appreciate just as much.

(1) "Canadiens trade Richer to New Jersey for Muller," Winnipeg Free Press, September 21, 1991, p. 69.
(2) Canadian Press. "Richer: Dealing with trade," Brandon Sun, September 22, 1991, p. 9.
(3) Canadian Press. "Richer: Dealing with trade," Brandon Sun, September 22, 1991, p. 9.
(4) Cariou, Chris. "Damphousse gets wish through trade to Habs," Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 28, 1992, p. 46.
(5) "Habs deal Courtnall to Stars for Bellows," Lethbridge Herald, September 1, 1992, p. B1.
(6) "Canadiens-Stars swap veterans they both claim made them worse," Medicine Hat News, September 1, 1992, p. A9.
(7) The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit: http://hsp.flyershistory.com or http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/hockey_summary_project/

One Game Wondered

I was recently in Seattle and used some of the time on our trip there to visit the Seattle Central Library. I wanted to look into something that had bothered me for a while.

For a couple of years, I've had my doubts about Jack Walker playing one game for Seattle in the PCHA in 1917/18. I started to wonder about it when I came across newspaper clippings saying he'd been granted an exemption from the Canadian military after the government introduced Conscription earlier in 1917 ... but with a condition of his exemption stating that he remain home and work at his job, which must have been considered an essential service. (He was an employee on a railroad out of his hometown in Port Arthur, Ontario).

I asked SHIR member Ernie Fitzsimmons a while back if his records showed in what game Walker was supposed to have played. He told me it was a game in Seattle against Vancouver on January 30, 1918. It struck me as particularly odd that Walker would risk his exemption to travel the three or so days it would take to go practically across the continent to play in one single game nearly one full month after the season got under way. Walker DOES show up in the lineup as the rover in some Canadian newspapers the following day, so I asked a colleague in Seattle what the records show in the Seattle papers. He said Walker did NOT appear in the Seattle Times lineup for the game, but he hadn't done enough research to say for certain that Walker didn't actually play. I think that I now have.

The Seattle Times only lists the seven starters for both teams [Seattle: G-Fowler; D-Rickey; D-Rowe; R-Foyston; C-Morris; RW-Wilson; LW-Roberts] but the summary lists all the player changes during the game. Walker NEVER substitutes in. More importantly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer lists the full lineup of seven starters and two substitutes [Patrick and Riley], and still Walker does not appear. His name is not mentioned in the game stories in either newspaper, nor does it appear in any stories in the Post-Intelligencer in the days leading up to the game.

In the Canadian papers that list Walker, it appears they have listed him as the starter at rover and omitted Frank Foyston, who both Seattle papers list as the starter for the January 30 game. The Calgary Herald is one of the Canadian papers listing Walker instead of Foyston. No non-starters are shown in the lineup but the Herald does list all the substitutions just as they are listed in the Seattle Times. Walker's name never appears, but Foyston's is all over the summary with a goal, an assist, and several substitutions. (Interestingly, the Seattle papers report that this game was designated Frank Foyston Night in Seattle as he was playing his first home game for the Metropolitans this season after having just recently secured his own temporary military exemption! Foyston would be called up in April of 1918.)

While the game summaries in and of themselves might not be conclusive evidence that Walker didn't play that night, there are stories dating back to as early as September 30 in the Seattle Times noting which members of the team were seeking military exemptions in Canada. Walker (and fellow Port Arthur resident and railway worker Eddie Carpenter) is always among the names mentioned when these stories increased throughout November. Craig Bowlsby, in his detailed history of the PCHA Empire of Ice, cites the Regina Morning Leader on November 29, 1917, as proof that Walker and Carpenter finally received exemptions (though, in fact, newspapers in Seattle and Spokane reported the news the previous day). He then writes that they "dropped out" just before Seattle's first game. The choice to drop out likely wasn't theirs.

On December 7, 1917, the Toronto Star says: "Eddie Carpenter and Jack Walker ... are still at their homes in Port Arthur." The next day, the Star reports: "It was learned that the condition that Jack Walker and Eddie Carpenter received their exemptions at Port Arthur was that they remained on their jobs there. This explains the report that they would not go to the coast this winter." On December 22, 1917, the Manitoba Free Press in Winnipeg states: "Eddie Carpenter and Jack Walker, who are locomotive engineers, were granted exemption provided they remained at their posts in the east." In a column called 'Sports Queries and Answers' in the Seattle Times on February 15, 1918, a writer asks the sports editor of the Times: "What has become of Eddie Carpenter and Jack Walker, the two Seattle players who helped win the world's championship last season." The answer given is: "Both Walker and Carpenter remained in Canada this season, and so far as known, neither is playing hockey. Walker is railroading. Carpenter is an engineer on a railroad also."

Historic records have always shown Carpenter as missing this season, and – as I said previously – it struck me as very unlikely that Walker would travel so far and risk his exemption by playing in a single game midway through the PCHA schedule. Still even Bowlsby (who, admittedly, had much bigger things to research for his book than the fate of one single player in one single game!) includes Walker and his one game in his listing of the season's statistics for 1917/18. So, I looked through the entire 1917/18 season in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on microfilm ... and could not find Walker listed in the lineup for ANY game the Metropolitans played that year. As a result, I am pretty close to 100 percent confident that Walker did NOT play for the Mets this season. As a further piece of evidence, on December 8, 1918, the Seattle Times, in writing about the upcoming 1918/19 season, reports that: "The Seattle fans will welcome Jack Walker back into the game."

Previous to my research, the statistics on the SIHR web site still showed Walker with his one game played for Seattle, but they also show him with eight games played and 22 goals for the Port Arthur Lake City team in the Northern Ontario Senior Hockey Association. It seems MUCH more plausible to me that Walker would have played a handful of amateur games at home this season than that he would have played even one game in Seattle. Currently, that one game in Seattle has been dropped from the SIHR record, and only the amateur stats remain. This same change will more than likely be made in the database maintained by Dan Diamond and Associates, publishers of the NHL Official Guide & Record Book and the two editions of Total Hockey. This information was also sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame ... but changes to the historic hockey record are made slowly, if at all, in that otherwise fine institution.

Conn Smythe Gets One Wrong, Sort Of

All good Toronto Maple Leaf fans should know the name of the last Leaf to lead the NHL in goals scored (although we may share it begrudgingly due to the length of time that has passed since it happened). Gaye Stewart was the top goal scorer with 37 goals in 50 games in the 1945/46 season. That season he had just returned from two years of military service to lead the NHL as a 22 year old. Stewart slipped badly the following season to 19 goals in the newly expanded 60 game schedule and after a terrible start to 1947/48 (1 goal in 7 games) he was shipped to Chicago.

Maple Leafs boss, Conn Smythe dealt Stewart along with four others in exchange for a player he had long coveted in Max Bentley. In the biography of Smythe by Kelly McParland, Smythe explains his souring on Stewart which allowed him to trade for Bentley; "Stewart scored too many goals against teams that weren't a threat or in games that weren't in doubt". Apparently Smythe was able to accurately come to this conclusion with the help of compiling ahead-of-it's-time statistical and film evidence. A fairly harsh statement indeed, but was Smythe's assessment correct? Without access to game films from 1945 (I wish) I will try to prove Smythe's thinking true or false by looking at the only thing available, game by game records. To check the accuracy of Smythe's comment I searched through boxscores of old Montreal Gazette sports pages as my usual go-to site (the hockey summary project) has no individual game records for this time period. It didn't really take long to find the box scores that were needed.

First thing I did was narrow down games that matched Conn Smythe's original statement. He firstly said that Gaye Stewart scored too many goals against teams that weren't a threat. We'll, only one team in Stewart's big year of 1945/46 finished behind Smythe's Leafs, the other four finished with at least a .500 record. The last place New York Rangers are clearly the only squad that can be considered "not a threat" to Toronto or any other team for that matter as they finished with a 13-28-9 record. I found box scores for every game that the Leafs played the Rangers that year and Gaye Stewart counted 7 goals in the 10 games. This means that he had 30 goals in 40 games against the other four "threatening" teams.

Stewart's goal rate was actually slightly less against the putrid Rangers than against the rest of the league. Smythe's other point was that Stewart scored too many of his goals in games that weren't in doubt. For this one I looked for games that were decided by two or more goals. The Leafs played in 15 games that season decided by two or more goals for either team and Stewart scored 11 goals in those games. This goal scoring rate was practically identical than his rate in closer games.

Combined then, in games that were either against New York or of a margin wider than two goals, the Leafs had a total of 23 such games. (only two of the games met both of these criteria). In these 23 games that Smythe insisted Gaye Stewart did too much of his scoring, he scored 17 times. Therefore in his other 27 "close games against better teams" he scored 20 goals. These numbers translate into goals per game of 0.739 in the "Rangers/Blow-out" games and 0.741 in the tighter, more difficult games. Stewart actually scored at a very slightly higher rate in tighter games against tougher teams.

Even if we consider these to be even, Smythe's statement is about as false as can be. Stewart actually re-found his scoring touch after the trade, scoring 26 goals in the 54 games with Chicago. He followed that up with back-to-back 20 goal seasons before being traded to Detroit and the next year, the Rangers. He would play two full years in the AHL with Buffalo before retiring at age 31. Max Bentley of course helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup the year he was acquired and two additional Cups in the next three seasons. Because of this fact, the trade would have to be considered a success for Smythe even if his thinking on Gaye Stewart's production was entirely false.

Kings-Rangers Stanley Cup Final Series at a Glance: Goals and Penalties

One aspect of sports analytics is the use of graphic arts to convey trends at a glance (see examples for various sports here and here). In the present posting, I apply to the recently concluded Kings-Rangers Stanley Cup finals a format I created a year ago for depicting all the goals and penalties in an entire playoff series within a single diagram. I've refined the style a little bit since last year, to make it easier to follow, in my judgment.

For each game, there's a timeline for the Rangers (in light blue) and one for the Kings (in gray). Each little box in the timelines represents one minute of play. Goals are depicted by a goal judge's lamp (featuring the abbreviation of the scoring team) and by a red square in the scoring team's timeline. Penalties are illustrated by a referee's jersey (featuring the offending team's abbreviation) and by a yellow rectangle on the offending team's timeline. As described in the legend below, I've also created symbols for power-play and short-handed goals.

A few major trends jump out to me upon viewing the diagram.

• In none of the five games of the final series did the Rangers score in the third period (or overtime).
• The Rangers experienced a scoring drought of approximately 123 minutes, from 14:50 into the second period of Game 2 (which featured 30:26 of overtime play) until 7:25 into the first period of Game 4 (the only game the New Yorkers won).
• It was not as though the Rangers lacked scoring opportunities during their drought. During the same span of time, the Kings committed nine penalties. New York's power play during the finals was weak generally, producing only two goals in 22 attempts (Los Angeles recorded 24 penalties overall, but two were coincidental with New York penalties).

Statistician Andrew C. Thomas has done extensive research on the frequency of goal-scoring at different points in time during NHL games. We can thus compare the goal-distribution compiled by Thomas over four seasons (2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007) with the temporal distribution of the Kings-Rangers series. Putting aside the advanced mathematics Thomas uses in his analyses (e.g., exponential distribution, Poisson model, and Semi-Markov process), Thomas shows that equal-strength goals are equally likely to occur at any time in a game, with two exceptions. First, there is a lower-than-usual likelihood of goals being scored in the first minute of a period, presumably due to the opening center-ice face-off keeping the teams away from either team's net for a little while. The fastest goal in this year's finals, after the start of a period, was scored 1:46 into the second period of Game 2 by the Kings. Second, scoring goes way up in the final two minutes of a game, due to pulling of the goalie. There were neither any empty-net nor 6-on-5 equalizer goals scored in this year's finals.

Thomas also states that power-play goals are most common in the second-period. Power-play goals were pretty rare in the Kings-Rangers finals, but of the five that were scored, four occurred in the second period. In order for power-play goals to be scored, one needs penalties, and the Kings and Rangers produced more of them in the second periods of their games (20 for all games combined) than in the first (11) and third (9) periods. Why might the second period be so conducive to penalties and thus power-play goals? Players may become extra cautious about committing penalties in the third period (especially in a close game), but I don't have a ready explanation for the relatively low penalty totals in first periods.

Thomas also looked at the "inter-arrival times" or time-intervals between consecutive goals. I also examined the time-intervals between goals in the Kings-Rangers series (in seconds). Note that it didn't matter if both goals of a consecutive pair were scored by the Kings, both by the Rangers, or one by each team. I included all consecutive pairs in the same analysis. Also, all time-intervals were within the same game; I did not include the time between the last goal of one game and the first goal of the next. I found that consecutive goals in this year's Stanley Cup finals occurred an average of 774 seconds (almost 13 minutes) apart. The median time between goals, which removes the influence of outliers due to the overtime games, was 453 seconds (about 7:30). Short inter-arrival times were most common in this year's finals, with seven pairs of goals being separated by 240 seconds (4:00) or less (see the following plot). Thomas's plots generally exhibited the same patterns.

Graphical analyses can be put to many purposes, and I hope I have illustrated some useful ones here.

How likely is it that a series will go to seven games if the teams are evenly matched?

You often hear the prediction: "the teams are of almost equal strength, so this series will probably go to the limit". Certainly, judging from this year's (2014) playoffs, where nearly half the series went to the limit, and where everyone says there is more parity than ever, it is certainly tempting to conclude that the saying is right. But is there any scientific basis to predicting that a best-of-seven series opposing two well-matched teams is more likely to go to the limit of seven games?

Let us assume a situation where the two teams are exactly equal in strength. Say that two friends agree to a best-of-seven series of coin tosses. Assuming that their coin is perfectly balanced and the "flipper" does not cheat, we can probably safely say that both teams are perfectly even in strength.

In such a case, the probability that the best-of-seven series reaches the limit of seven games is 31.25 %, exactly the same as the probability that the series will end in six games. It is also possible that, despite the perfect equality of forces, the series will end after four consecutive wins of one team or the other (probability of 12.5 %) or after five games (25 % probability). So even if the teams ("heads" and "tails") are perfectly equal in strength, the probability that the series will end in less than 7 games is 68.75 %, or more than two thirds. And the probability that it will end in four or five games is higher (37.5 %) than the probability that it will end in seven (31.25 % as mentioned).

Of course, one could argue that even though the teams involved are of equal strength, there is still the home ice advantage. It is generally agreed that the team that plays at home has an advantage over the visiting team, and that could be part of the reason why many believe that the series is more likely to go to the limit of seven games than to end in six or fewer.

That is indeed a good point, which can be demonstrated easily by taking an extreme example: suppose that while the teams are theoretically of equal strength, the home-ice advantage is so important that the team playing at home has a 100 % chance of winning. In this case, the team with the home-ice advantage in a best-of-seven NHL series will always win the series, with wins in games 1, 2, 5 and 7 (and the NHL will have much bigger worries than the fact that there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference but only 14 in the Western Conference). That said, since the 2004/05 NHL lockout, there has only been one series out of 135 in which the home team won all games: the 2013 Conference semi-final series between San Jose and Los Angeles.

Of course, in reality, the probability that the team that plays home will win is not 100 %, far from it. In the playoffs since the lockout of 2004/05, up to and including the 2014 playoffs, the team playing at home has won 56.28 % of its games (to be clear, we are talking about games, not series), with a "peak" of 68.60 % in 2013 and a low just the previous year, in 2012, of 45.35 %. Yes, in the playoffs of 2012, the home team won fewer games overall than the visiting team. Any other year since the lockout had an at home success rate higher than 50 %, but we note that in 2010 it was only 51.69 %.

So what is the probability that a series ends in seven games if the home team has a 56.28 % chance of winning each game, rather than the 50 % used thus far? Rest assured: the probability that the series will end in seven games is indeed higher than the probability that it will end in six games. Here are the odds:

Seven games: 31.55 % (and in that case, the team starting the series at home, such as the 2014 Kings, has a 17.76 % probability of winning the series, while the team that started the series on the road, e.g. the 2014 Rangers, has a 13.79 % probability of winning the series).

Six games: 31.35 % (17.24 % for the 2014 Rangers against 14.10 % for the 2014 Kings – so in fact, if the series ends in 6 games, it is more likely that the winner will be the team that started the series on the road).

Five games: 24.99 % (14.07 % for the Kings against 10.93 % for the Rangers).

Four games: 12.11 % (6.05 % for each team).

The probability that the series ends in seven games is therefore only very slightly higher than the probability that it ends in six: 31.55 % against 31.35 %. If someone favours the team that has home ice advantage for the series, then the probability that it will win is as follows:

• In seven games: 17.76 %
• In six games: 14.10 %
• In five games: 14.07 %
• In four games: 6.05 %

For someone favouring the team that does not have home ice advantage for the series, the probability that it will win is as follows:

• In seven games: 13.79 %
• In six games: 17.24 %
• In five games: 10.93 %
• In four games: 6.05 %

At this point, the reader might say: "This is all very nice, but mathematical probabilities and real life are two different things." However, it looks like real life is siding with mathematical probabilities. Below, the second column shows the probability of winning the series based on a 50-50 chance of winning any given game. The third column shows the probability of winning the series based on a 56.28% chance of the home team winning any game. And the fourth column shows the actual percentage of series won in the given number games since the 2004/05 lockout.

# games Pred. 50% Pred 56.28% Actual
4 games 12.50% 12.11% 12.59%
5 games 25.00% 24.99% 27.41%
6 games 31.25% 31.35% 30.37%
7 games 31.25% 31.55% 29.63%

Not only are the actual figures extremely close to the ones predicted by mathematical probabilities, but the number of 7-game series, despite having had so many in 2014, is still actually slightly lower than the predicted one, while the number of 4-game series is (also very slightly) higher than the predicted one.

We also note with interest that even though the team playing at home has a probability of 56.28 % of winning any given game, this only translates into a 51.98 % probability for the team having the home ice advantage for the entire series to win the series. Pushing the parenthesis even further, if the probability of the home team winning any given game was 75%, this would still only translate into a 59.40% probability of winning the series for the team having home-ice advantage. That said, in this case the reality shows that the team with "overall" home ice advantage fared a little better than its predicted probabilities: 55.56% of all series (against the predicted 51.98%) were won by the team with "overall" home ice advantage.

But what about those cherished game sevens? One might point out the difference between general probabilities and specific probabilities: the "general" likelihood that the home team wins a given game cannot be compared to the "specific" probability that the home team will win game seven of a series.


What were the results since the 2004/05 lockout of playoff game sevens in the NHL?

Home team: 18 wins
Visiting team: 22 wins

Are the Los Angeles Kings on their Way to Becoming the First Dynastic Team of the New Millennium?

It has been 25 years, give or take a year or two since we last saw an honest to goodness Stanley Cup dynasty, but there is a distinct possibility that with the Kings winning their second Stanley Cup in three years, we could be on the verge of a brand new dynasty. But do the Kings qualify as a dynasty? To figure out the answer we should first look at a few of the most recent dynasties to understand what they have in common.

First we will examine the Montreal Canadiens teams that won the Stanley Cup four times between 1976 and 1979. There were fourteen players who were members of all four of those championship teams including star players like Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden, as well as support and role players like Rick Chartraw, Doug Jarvis and Doug Risebrough. In that four-year span Montreal was a dominant team, finishing in first place during the regular season in 1976, 1977 and 1978 and finishing in second place to the up and coming New York Islanders in 1979, over those four years their regular season winning percentage was an incredible .786. The team was equally dominant in the playoffs, winning forty-eight games and losing only ten during their dynastyfor a winning percentage of .828. The Canadiens' main competition during their Cup-winning period were the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, two teams that were consistently near the top of the league standings in the late seventies. Montreal had .711 regular season winning percentage and a .705 playoff winning percentage over Boston in those four years; while the Flyers did no better than Boston as Montreal's winning percentage against Philadelphia was .750 during the regular season and 1.000 in four playoff games. Put quite simply the Montreal Canadiens during this span were a dominant team that was able to maintain a consistent roster, with no realistic rival to challenge them with the possible exception of the 1979 Bruins.

The Canadiens' dynasty of the seventies was followed up by four straight Stanley Cup wins by the New York Islanders from 1980 through 1983. There were an incredible 16 players that played for all four of those Stanley Cup teams, a roster which included the likes of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith supported by role players like Bob Nystrom, Duane Sutter, and Ken Morrow. The Islanders were also a dominant team in the regular season, finishing in first place in 1981 and 1982 and sporting an impressive .648 winning percentage over the four years. During the playoffs they were even more dominant winning 60 of 78 playoff games for a winning percentage of .769 between 1980 and 1983. The Islanders even made it to the final in 1984, setting a NHL record by winning nineteen consecutive playoff series before losing the Stanley Cup to the Oilers in 1984. The Islanders, like Montreal before them, were missing a dominant rival as they played four different teams in the Stanley Cup final series and it wasn't until the Oilers began challenging them in 1983 that they had any real significant competition.

For the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty that followed on the heels of the Islanders', let us examine only the four Stanley Cups won between 1984 and 1988, i.e., "the Gretzky years", and omit the 1990 dynasty extension, won by "Messier's team". The Oilers were a bit different than the Islanders and the Canadiens in that there were only 9 players who played for all four of the cup teams. The holdover players included the goalie: Grant Fuhr; three core defensemen: Kevin Lowe, Randy Gregg and Charlie Huddy; and four star forwards: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. The only support player that stuck with the team through the four Cup wins was Kevin McClelland, the rest were turned over regularly. Like the other teams though the Oilers were dominant during the regular season finishing in first place in 1984, 1986 and 1987, second place in 1985 and third place in 1988, over that span the Oilers had a .691 winning percentage. In the playoffs however their winning percentage jumped to an impressive .815 in the four Stanley Cup years and even when 1986, when they lost in round 2, is included their winning percentage is still .790 in the playoffs. As for competition, the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins were their main rivals from the eastern conference, but to most these were the prime years of the "Battle of Alberta" against the Calgary Flames. Of these rivals the Oilers had a .700 winning percentage against the Flames in the regular season between 1984 and 1988 and .611 in the playoffs. Against the Bruins during the regular season the Oilers winning percentage was .567, but the Oilers won all four playoff games they played against Boston. The Flyers were the one team that seemed to have the Oilers number during the regular season as Edmonton's winning percentage against Philadelphia was a mere .367, but in the playoffs the Oilers dominated, winning 75% of the 12 games they played in two Stanley Cup final series against the Flyers.

The consistent themes in these three dynasties are, first and foremost multiple Stanley Cup wins in a short time frame, but also a stable roster (at least of the key players in the case of the Edmonton Oilers), dominant regular season play and for the most part no team that could realistically compete against them.

Since the end of the Oilers' dynasty the landscape of the NHL has changed considerably. Expansion, dramatic increases in salaries, changes to free agency rules and the introduction of a salary cap have all conspired to make it more difficult to hold a successful team together over the long term. These changes have also led to a greater degree of parity among teams. There is now a level playing field when it comes to how much a team can spend to build their rosters and when the cap is put in place in conjunction with less restrictive free agency rules there is a much more even distribution of star players around the league, as it is more difficult for a team to stock up on star players and still remain under the cap. These are some of the contributing factors which have made it more difficult to have a dynasty in recent years.

The Los Angeles Kings, with Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014, and a Western Conference final loss in 2013, are off to a good start to become the first dynasty of the new millennium, but how do they stack up against the dynasty criteria set by past teams?

Fully sixteen members of the Kings 2012 championship team were also members of the 2014 team, showing remarkable stability. Unlike the earlier dynasties however, the Kings have not been dominant during the regular season, they finished in thirteenth place during 2012, seventh in 2013 and were ninth in 2014, and even in the era of overtime "bonus points" the Kings winning percentage in those three years was only .599. During the playoffs including their non cup year, the Kings had a mere .650 winning percentage which is much lower than the numbers put up by the Canadiens, Islanders and Oilers. The Kings were dominant in the 2012 playoffs, losing only four of twenty games, but in 2013 they won nine and lost nine, beforebeing eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, and in 2014 they had to battle for the championship as their first three series all went to the limit before they managed to beat the Rangers in fave games in the final. As for stiff competition during the regular season, the Kings had a lot, certainly more than the three dynasties examined above. The strength and parity in the Western Conference has been unparalleled in recent history, Anaheim, St. Louis, Chicago and San Jose have all presented strong competition for the championship, while in the Eastern Conference Boston and Pittsburgh have also been strong.

So are the Kings a dynasty in the making? If they can win another Stanley Cup in 2015 they would have won three times in four years which would be the best run any team has put together since the Oilers won five Cups ending in 1990. They also have the roster stability of a dynasty team, in fact of the sixteen players that won with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, thirteen are under contract to the Kings for 2015. The only thing that separates the Kings from the previous dynasties is the fact that they weren't a dominating team, but in a thirty team NHL with remarkable parity, putting together a string of Stanley Cup wins is harder than ever and for that reason I believe that if the Kings can add one more Cup in 2015, they will become the first dynastic team of the twenty-first century.