Monday, October 10, 2016

Ligue Nationale de Hockey

The National Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league composed of 30 member clubs: 23 in the United States and 7 in Canada. Headquartered in New York City, the NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.

To most of our readers’ hockey is a sport where all they do is fight and you can never follow the puck. But to this writer it is the best sport in the world.

When the season begins Wednesday, the NHL will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding and the 50th anniversary of its first major expansion, which doubled the league’s size from six teams to 12 for the 1967-68 campaign. The men who gathered at a Montreal hotel in November, 1917 to form the NHL from the ashes of the National Hockey Assn. couldn’t have envisioned what the league looks like now, with teams based in California, Florida and Texas and another to launch in Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season.

Issues like the NHL’s participation in the upcoming the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the so, so television ratings of the most recent World Cup in Toronto (lack of competitive balance and poor U.S. ESPN television ratings, so what else is new) are separate from the upcoming season, one which features relative stability for the NHL’s business operations (aside from the fall of the Canadian dollar) and the assurance of labor peace through the 2019-20 season. While it’s logical for the NHL to look beyond its geographic borders for new revenues and audiences, it’s imperative that it addresses a number of nagging issues at home.

The most prominent of those issues is the stagnation of scoring, which has remained low despite the introduction of rule changes and tweaks intended to boost goal production. Teams combined last season to score an average of 5.337 goals per game, down from 6.051 in the 2005-06 season (The numbers exclude shootout goals.). A plan to streamline goaltenders’ equipment by limiting the dimensions of their pants and chest protectors this season had to be delayed because manufacturers were late in delivering prototypes to be tested, but those changes alone, when implemented, probably won’t make much difference.

Goalies, once the worst athletes on their teams, are now among the best, and there’s no rolling back the years of specialized coaching they’ve received and still get. Playing on the wider, international-size ice isn’t the answer, either.   Because there’s not enough scoring talent to go around, it’s easier for coaches to try to neutralize opponents’ skilled players than to ask their own players to raise their games.

There are no easy answers, but maybe the recent league-wide trend toward speed over muscle will continue and will lead to more scoring. Pittsburgh, San Jose, Tampa Bay and others thrived by emphasizing speed, and it’s likely that other teams will try to copy that formula as much as they can.

The promise of seeing more speed is among the reasons to look forward to the new season. There will be four outdoor games (Winnipeg, Toronto, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh), the Detroit Red Wings will bid farewell to Joe Louis Arena — which will be replaced by Little Caesars Arena — the Edmonton Oilers will inaugurate gleaming, new Rogers Place, and the league will celebrate its centennial season with events that evoke the past while its teams introduce the stars of the future, notable, the All-Star game in Los Angeles on January 29, 2017.

NBC’s NHL FORMULA TO INCREASE RATINGS - NHL fans are notoriously sensitive about the sport they love, and particularly why it isn’t a major television draw. This past postseason, the formula should have produced success. Most of the teams NBC loves were in the 16 team draw, there were no Canadian teams to sap ratings (which may never going to happen again), and plenty of the teams that create buzz had the potential to go deep. But, the overall ratings for the playoffs were down 14% from last year and 15% from 2014. NBC and the NHL looked long and hard to see what had happened to their momentum from previous years as it seemed that momentum was unstoppable. Then you see what they do in the regular season…

Instead of promoting teams such as Nashville, Tampa Bay, and others who made deep playoff runs this past season (and likely will do so again), NBC decides to ride and die with the teams that have made its ratings bed over the past eight years: the Blackhawks are on national TV 21 times, the Flyers 20, the Bruins 17, and the Rangers 15. Three of those teams went out in the first round of the playoffs last year, and one of them didn’t make them at all (sorry, Boston). The last two #1 overall draft picks, including a player from Arizona, will be on US national TV once this season combined. NBC’s plan to fix ratings woes not only in the regular season but the playoffs seems to be: more of the same, and cross your fingers.

This formula has worked in the past eight years because those teams, plus others like the Penguins, Red Wings, Kings, and Capitals, have all been league powerhouses. Recent Stanley Cup Finals have been Red Wings-Penguins (twice), Blackhawks-Flyers, Blackhawks-Bruins, and Kings-Rangers, all of which are appealing to fans both diehard and casual and consist of big markets, big teams, and big hockey fan bases.

But as the NHL’s ever-present parity takes its toll on all of those teams, none of them seem to be major Stanley Cup contenders next season outside of the Penguins, and their presence didn’t do much to help ratings against the Sharks last year. It does make sense for NBC to use this formula because it has worked, though largely out of convenience and because the teams in question were really good. And after teams make 11 national TV appearances, any national games beyond that are blacked out locally, bringing forward diminishing ratings returns.

Three of last year’s division winners, Dallas, Anaheim, and Florida, are on national TV a combined seven times. Seven! In what other sport would that even be possible? Two of them are legitimate contenders again this season, and that they won’t be on a third as much as the Blackhawks is insanity. At a point, it doesn’t matter who you put them on against, just that you put them on at all. It seems fairly routine and simple to show up-and-coming teams more, but NBC never seems to actually do it, and it ends up biting them come playoff time. Also, NBC needs a Don Cherry, Mike Milbury is not the answer. Someone the average fan can watch as different, entertaining.

While going back in time and changing the NHL’s now monolithic TV contract with NBC isn’t possible, the Peacock Network and the league can fix some of their ratings woes with simple tweaks to their schedule and programming that seem obvious, yet so far out of the realm of possibility that it’s a bit sad.

Unless changes are made, the story for NBC will continue to be the same when it comes to sagging NHL ratings. And they only have themselves to blame.

WHAT’S ON THE iPOD? – five songs we are listening to this week:

1). “Teacher”, 1970 – Jethro Tull

2). “Work To Do”, 1972 – The Isley Brothers

3). “The Fez”, 1976 – Steely Dan

4). “Clair de Lune”, 1890 – Claude Debussy

5). “Mack the Knife”, 1955 – Louis Armstrong

WHILE ALL EYES WERE ON THE CANDIDATES - News emerged that Samsung is temporarily suspending production of its Galaxy Note 7 phones amid numerous reports that its replacement models are overheating and catching fire. According to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, Samsung worked in coordination with authorities in China and the U.S. in making the decision. AT&T and T-Mobile both said on Sunday that they are halting sales of the Galaxy Note 7 due to customer safety concerns, with five reports about phones igniting in this past week alone.

MORE PROBLEMS IN THE LAND OF LINCOLN -  Illinois' budget problems have been well documented, and now uncovered another issue. The state collects about $2.3 billion a year in unemployment insurance tax. But Illinois also only clawed back $264 million out of $714 million worth of overpayments of unemployment insurance between 2012 and 2016 - a 37 percent recovery rate. (National average: 66 percent.)

OUT AND ABOUT – Rink Rats reader and old friend Tom Playford reports from his new home in Durham, North Carolina this week on Hurricane Matthew. Tom is good, no problems just plenty of rain.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to Jeff Bracken …famous world golfer;  Angie Dickinson (85) Beverly Hills, CA.; Karla Hasse …famous fashion consultant; Brian Lamb (75) Bethesda, MD.; Desmond Tutu (85) Paris, France.

OUCH!! -- Not since the tap dancing George Murphy and the tam o'shanter-styling S.I. Hayakawa squatted in California's seats in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body have there been two Mickey Mouse lightweights as insubstantial as 2016 Senate wannabes Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez. So we guess it was appropriate that the one and only faceoff between the Democratic dynamic duo last Wednesday night was the lamest so-called debate in memory. Or at least since the 2016 vice-presidential contenders parleyed the night before.

-- Memorable, for the wrong reasons - The way that the debate room was lit made me wondered if they'd booked a Halloween haunted house. The lighting was off. The room seemed too dark, and there were all kinds of strange and distracting shadows, created by the moderator and the candidates.

FIFTY YEARS - Black Panthers celebrate 50th anniversary: It was 50 years ago this month, against a similar a backdrop of civil unrest, that Oakland junior college students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale penned the Ten-Point Program of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a manifesto demanding respect, justice and basic human rights for African-Americans.

IRWIN ALLEN - Scientists say they've discovered a new fault line running along the eastern edge of the Salton Sea parallel to the San Andreas Fault. The announcement, published this week in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, follows a recent rash of almost 200 small earthquakes at the Southern California inland sea and heightened concerns about the 'Big One.'

Earthquakes in California are discovered more than 15 miles deep, heightening seismic worries: Scientists in California have found that earthquakes can occur much deeper below the Earth's surface than originally believed, a discovery that alters their understanding of seismic behavior and potential risks.

-- Here is what you need to do to prepare if you're in earthquake country. And if you're in California, head on over to the Great California ShakeOut's website to learn more about California's specific risks, and steps to take that are specific to California. It's okay. You've got this. Even if the big one does come, you can be prepared to survive it.


WEST-             Pacific: 1. San Jose, 2. LA Kings, 3). Calgary

                        Central: 1. Nashville, 2. Dallas, 3. Chicago

                        Wild Card: 1. Anaheim Ducks, 2. St. Louis

                        Conference Champs: Nashville Predators

EAST -             Atlantic: 1. Tampa Bay, 2. Florida, 3. Montreal

                        Metropolitan: 1. Pittsburgh, 2. N.Y. Rangers, 3. Washngton

                        Wild Card: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Boston

                        Conference Champs: Tampa Bay Lightning

                        Stanley Cup Champs: Tampa Bay Lightning

Note: Detroit Red Wings will miss the playoffs for the first time in twenty six years.

NFL GAME OF THE WEEK – Sunday 10/16, 1:25 PM ET, Fox; Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at Green Bay Packers (3-1), Tony Romo who??? Dallas beats the Pack at Lambeau, 24 – 20. Season to date (4-1)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 10/15, 8:00 PM ET, ABC; #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) vs. #11 Wisconsin Badgers (4-1). Camp Randall will be loud and cheesy for this one, Bucks win 35 – 28.  Season to date (5-1)

SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 10/15, 1:00 PM ET, HGTV: Cortland Red Dragons (3-3) at #25 Alfred Saxons (5-0), E8 Conference at its best, Saxons win big 32 – 14.  Season to date (3-3)

COLLEGE HOCKEY PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 10/15, 8:00 PM ET: #4 Boston University Terriers (1-0) vs. # 3 University of Denver Pioneers (0-2), BU visits the mile high city and wins 6 – 3. Season to date (1-0)


(NFL, Oct. 16) Los Angeles Rams (3-2) vs. Detroit Lions (2-3), battle of the wanna b’s; Lions win 24 – 17.

(NCAA-MWC, Oct. 15) Lake Forest Foresters (4-2) vs. Macalester Scots (5-1); the Scots rule 20 – 17.

(NCAA BCS, Oct. 15) Western Michigan Broncos (6-0) vs. Akron Zips (4-2), Broncos are for real, beware Zips; 45 – 30.

(NHL, Oct. 15) Detroit Red Wings (0-0) at Florida Panthers (0-0), early Atlantic battle, Panthers win 4 – 2.

Season to date (73 - 65)

MARKET WEEK - The U.S. stock market trades normally today, but the bond market is closed for the Columbus Day holiday today. Overnight, the stock markets in Japan and Hong Kong were also closed for public holidays.

There are no economic reports due today, but investors look for clues on the economy from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who appears in Sydney while the U.S. markets are open today.

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said on Sunday the central bank's decision to hold interest rates steady at its September meeting was a "close call," done largely to allow further progress on jobs.

Earnings season kicks into high gear later this week, with Friday ushering in the quarterly results from big financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Citigroup.

Twilio (TWLO) filed for a follow-on offering, with most of the shares expected to be sold by existing stockholders. The cloud computing company won't receive any proceeds from those share sales.

Next week: Educating the unbanked and words of the month.

Congrats to all our Canadian friends on the Blue Jays series win last night, The Swami was wrong on this one. Also, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving Day!

Until Next Time, Adios.

Claremont, CA

October 10, 2016



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