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Wherever I Wind Up
Author: R.A. Dickey
Category Archives: Hockey
Last week, the City of Seattle and King County announced that Seattle native Christopher Hansen has submitted a proposal to build a new arena to host future NBA and NHL teams. Hansen will raise $290 million privately to pair with $200 million in public funds. Any additional cost overruns will be the responsibility of private investors. Public funding will be accounted for through revenue generated by the new arena, thus avoiding any new tax burden on the public. Importantly, the proposal bypasses the need for any funding at the state level and is essentially paid for by user fees in Seattle only.
The new arena is planned to be built in a region of Seattle near both CenturyLink Field (Seahawks & Sounders) and Safeco Field (Mariners). One of the main concerns about this location revolves around traffic. The arena would be near arteries that supply the Port of Seattle, so some thought must be made about methods to prevent any slowing of commerce. Parking is also an issue with garages at Safeco and CenturyLink fields providing 2000 stalls each. By comparison, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver provides 7000 stalls within a 15 minute walk. Planning will need to minimize the overlap in events among the five teams that play in the area (see schedule below). Avoiding NFL and MLS games should not be difficult due to the low number of home dates for these teams. The Mariners, however, will require a number of home dates that may overlap with the NBA and/or NHL. Since all three typically have night games during the week, there will surely be times when events are happening at both venues. As it stands, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development requires teams at CenturyLink and Safeco to plan a minimum of 4 hours between the end of one event and the start of another. With the addition of two more teams, it would seem difficult to maintain compliance.
Traffic and parking aside, an important question is where exactly would a new NBA/NHL team play until a new arena is built? The most obvious choice is Key Arena (see photo). Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, Key Arena underwent major renovations in 1994. As a basketball facility, a new NBA team should be able to play there temporarily, but NHL hockey might be a different issue. When configured for hockey, Key Arena provides only 9,000 unobstructed seats (and 58 luxury suites). I have played hockey at Key Arena and can confirm that the dressing rooms will require some renovating before they are close to suitable by NHL standards. Although two junior teams, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips play in buildings designed for hockey, both are on the smaller side for NHL crowds (6,500 and 8,300 respectively). The Tacoma dome can accommodate large crowds for hockey, but it is unlikely that the city of Seattle will allow a team to locate outside city limits (Everett is 30 minutes north of Seattle, Tacoma 45 minutes south). No, the Key Arena is almost certainly the venue to be chosen as the city has no major tenant for it now or in the foreseeable future (unless you count the Seattle Storm). Some voices, including Mariners transportation director Susan Ranf even suggest that the Key Arena should be redeveloped as a permanent site for any incoming NBA/NHL teams.
So, can a venue like Key Arena host a NHL team for 1 or 2 years while a modern arena is being constructed? In Quebec City, there are estimates of annual losses in the range of $20 million for a team that stays in the 15,000 seat Colisee with its lack of luxury boxes. However, many teams have made small venues work on a temporary basis. Before the Shark Tank was built, the San Jose Sharks played in the Cow Palace (1991-1993), an arena that seated just over 11,000. Likewise, the Tampa Bay Lightning played their first year (1992) in the 11,000-seat Expo Hall before moving to the much larger Thunderdome. The Carolina Hurricanes played two years (1997-1999) at Greensboro Coliseum (23,000 seats), where they averaged just 8,637 fans. So, there does seem to be a precedent for arenas of this size, but the question depends largely on the magnitude of financial loss that the new owners are willing to absorb while a new venue is built.
And finally, there is the question of whether Seattle has enough fans to support an NHL team. There exists surprisingly little hockey culture in Seattle, especially when one considers how close to the Canadian border we are. The two main recreational leagues (Greater Seattle Hockey League and Cascade Hockey League) together include about 120 teams, though the vast majority are beginners. The Seattle Jr. Totems (“Totems” is my early pick for NHL team name) are the travel team for minor hockey players and the University of Washington has a club team. There are few arenas in Seattle and even those are found almost exclusively on the outskirts of town. Within Seattle itself, there are no hockey arenas to be found (see map).
The two junior teams draw small, but respectable crowds (see table below). Canadian WHL teams draw slightly larger crowds in cities with established NHL teams. The $200 million dollar question is whether Seattle can be a hockey town. The Seattle Sounders Football Club exceeded all expectations when they began play, though it can be argued that there was more soccer tradition in the city given the mild weather year round. The Vancouver Canucks would be a natural rival to be sure, and I have noticed that many Vancouver fans come down for Giants games in Everett and Seattle, so presumably this spillover would help an NHL team as well.
Team 2011-2012 Average Attendance
- Seattle Thunderbirds 4862
- Everett Silvertips 4922
- Calgary Hitmen 6266
- Vancouver Giants 6000
- Edmonton Oil Kings 5007
So, a new movement is afoot to build an arena and entice NBA/NHL teams to come to Seattle. Much work on the arena, NBA and NHL fronts awaits, but the sad Seattle sports scene finally has some positive news. Can a NHL team make Key Arena work? Can they fill Key Arena when they get here? Will Seattle support a professional hockey team long term? These are all important issues to consider for a new NHL team in Seattle, but just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean we can’t score.
Update: Developer Chris Hansen spoke in front of Seattle City Council Wednesday morning and stated,”Renovating KeyArena again is not an option, as the venue is not big enough for NHL hockey games.”
Read more: SeattlePI article.
Future arena location south of Safeco Field.
Read the related article: “The Wayne Gretzky analysis”
Fighting in hockey. They go hand in hand like, well, toothless grins and hockey. Over the years, the NHL has taken steps to reduce fighting in hockey, while still leaving enough wiggle room for the rare enforcers left in the game. Like all sports, hockey culture once considered the concussions that came with fighting merely a minor nuisance. Recent data, however, appears to support the notion that head injuries may contribute to long-term disability. For instance, enforcer Derek Boogaard, who passed in 2011, was found to have developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Data linking CTE to fighting is scarce, but the possibility remains very real. In fact, experts at the recent Ice Hockey Summit on Concussion recommended that fighting be removed from all levels of hockey. Former enforcer Nick Kypreos gives one of the best interviews concerning the role of fighting in hockey, its cultural meaning and the challenges in the life of a fighter, VIDEO: The Code.
An unintended consequence of the loss of fighting is that it could result in liberties being taken against players, especially star players without repercussions. This trend started in the 1990′s when strategies like the “trap” or the left wing lock brought a wave of hooking, holding and interference that almost ground the NHL to halt. The idea that fighting acted as a deterrent to violence against the game’s stars goes back to the days when Wayne Gretzky had enforcers Dave Semenko or Marty McSorely to prevent teams from taking liberties with the Great One. However, the old protections were been swept away and new ones have yet to take hold. If fighting is no longer the deterrent, then referees must fill the void and protect players by strictly enforcing the rules. Whether this is even possible is the million dollar question. This year, ex-power forward Brendan Shanahan is taking the most aggressive approach concerning enforcement ever seen in the NHL. Although concussions are reportedly down this year, head injuries have claimed the likes of NHL point leader Claude Giroux and superstar Sidney Crosby. Only time will tell whether these new rules enforcements are being successful.
Overall, more concussions are being reported in recent years (559 NHL concussions between 1997 and 2004, Benson et al., 2011), due in part to our increasing awareness and abilities to detect such injuries. With all of this information, teams are now keeping their players out longer than ever before (see Fig, 1). For instance defenseman Chris Pronger has been ruled out for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season, including the playoffs. This decision was made in DECEMBER. However, even prolonged rest is not a guarantee of recovery. The hockey world now holds its collective breath as Sidney Crosby is again sidelined after just 8 games back from a year long absence. With all of our testing and protocols, we still appear to lack a reliable method of dealing with concussions.
So how long should players be kept out? Speaking only from my own experience having had two hockey related concussions in one month (and possibly a third), it took two years to recover from my symptoms. After 1 year I was seemingly back to normal without headaches, nausea or memory loss. The only time that I could tell that my head was still not right was any time I was on a boat, even in calm waters, where I was overcome by nausea and felt like I was going to throw up. I’m not sure what exactly was wrong, but some ability to balance was still missing. I thought my head would forever be “fragile” in this sense, but with another year, the symptoms faded. I’ve never heard of any studies on the recovery 1,2 or 3 years after a head injury. It’s a long time for typical research studies to track and for professional teams, it is an extremely long time to wait for a player. But could this be the future of hockey? Take steps to prevent concussions or wait 2+ seasons to get players back on the ice? How often can professional players not named Mario Lemieux make it back after two years away from the game? If true, we won’t just be talking about rule enforcement, we’ll be talking about serious litigation. These are the hard questions that face the NHL.
I don’t remember much, but I know that it happened fast. I was playing a little extra hockey in a rec league. It was full contact, and like so many others, I got caught letting my guard down near some guy who was taking things a little too seriously. Our team was winning, so we put our forwards back on defense and our D-men up on forward. I was playing wing and my D-man made a slow pass up to me and the other the opponent stepped up and made a completely clean hit on me. After being erased, I immediately popped up on my feet. Years of training had drilled into my head not to show any weakness. I made it to the bench, and felt remarkably fine. No coaches or trainers in rec league, so it was really up to me to decide if I was OK. Yup, I’m OK. I played the rest of the game and the only strange thing was that I could not find my upper gear as far as skating. My body felt “loose” and I couldn’t accelerate the way I usually did. Still, I played the rest of the way not really helping or hurting my team in any meaningful way. It wasn’t until the end of the game that I realized the severity of the hit. I was the last one off the ice and lost track of the next last player. I got a few steps away from the ice and realized that I didn’t know which dressing room we were in. In fact, I didn’t know where ANY of the dressing rooms were! I turned back and asked some friends who came to watch which way to go. They showed me the way and made sure I didn’t pass out on the way.
Back on my competitive team, I got my bell rung from a routine hit during the next game. I got up immediately and neither the trainer nor the coaches ever suspected anything was wrong. Inside my helmet though, I was seeing stars. A few games later, I made a big hit and had that funny feeling in my head again. I contemplated whether I should take a break from playing if I couldn’t even throw a good hit, but it was the playoffs and we were eliminated that game. I never had to decide whether I should keep playing or not because I never played competitive hockey again. I estimate that it took some 18-24 months for my head to completely clear. That summer I got motion-sick on completely calm waters about 5 feet from the dock! Something in my head was clearly broken. Time healed me, but I always wonder about these players that play a week after a concussion.
Watching the aftermath of the Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton in game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals was stomach-wrenching. Defensemen have a responsibility to be physical along the blueline, but this particular hit was clearly across the line. Although the contact could not have been avoided entirely, Rome certainly should have pulled up and not finished his check so strongly. The puck had been passed off well in advance, so Horton was vulnerable and not expecting a full bodycheck. A blindside check on an unsuspecting player is not only uncalled for, but potentially career-ending. In an interview with the Toronto Star, former NHLer Keith Primeau indicated that, “the hit reflected the lack of respect among players”.
The incident played out against a larger backdrop of concussion injuries in the NHL, and indeed sports in general. Like football, boxing and even professional wrestling, hockey is coming to terms with the fact that concussions can have profound and long-term effects on athletes. Recent advances in both science and awareness have slowly brought the issue out of the shadows. Several flashpoint events occurred this year in the NHL with the loss of Sidney Crosby and Horton to severe concussions.
Preventing players from getting back on the ice too soon has been a major evolution in the NHL, even in the last 10 years. As recently as 2000, Eric Lindros attempted to come back from a series of concussions only to succumb to further injury from a vicious Scott Stevens hit. At the time, there was much controversy about the role the Philidelphia Flyers played in letting Lindros skate too soon after his previous concussions. In contrast, Sidney Crosby was kept out for the remainder of the 2010-2011 season by the Pittsburgh Penguins after his severe concussion. Clearly, strides have been made in our collective understanding of the significance of these types of injuries.
Just look back at the 2003 playoffs between the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils. Paul Kariya got knocked OUT COLD in game 6 and returned to score later that game. Should he have played? No. Will we ever see a similar performance? Never. And that’s a good thing. We lose amazing feats of courage from the likes of Kariya, but we also avoid losing players by putting them at undue risk. Still, it’s one of the greatest performances that has gone unappreciated because the game involved two teams with little following at a time when the NHL has almost no national audience.
Although medical treatments for concussions have improved, there remain difficult questions about how best to shape NHL rules for player protection. This season, the NHL instituted new rules concerning head shots. In essence, it bans blindside hits where the head is the principle target. In addition, referees can use the “attempt to injure” criteria to cover conduct that doesn’t fall into the previous description and the NHL commissioner can apply “supplementary discipline”. Even with the new rules, however, there are grey areas of interpretation. Hopefully, time will allow for the referees and the NHL to fine tune the application of these rules to protect player safety.
I’m no referee, but I thought I would put up some examples of plays that fall into different categories (like I said, there is a lot of grey area). Some plays are bad luck, some are questionable, some are no-doubters and some make you wonder what the heck was going through their heads. (NOTE: over the past few years, so much has changed with respect to our understanding of concussion. If I was to categorize these hits today, it would be a much different story than it was when I wrote this.)
1. ACTS OF GOD – Clint Malarchuk. Terrible outcome, but really, no rule could ever help avoid this. Some injuries are a result of a fast moving game filled with body contact. Warning, if you are squirmish about blood, don’t watch this video.
2. QUESTIONABLE. Steve Downie hit on Dean McAmmond. The puck was moved only a fraction of a second before the hit, and the elbow wasn’t up, but Downie leaves his feet. It was a preseason game and neither player was probably as sharp as they normally would be during the season.
3. BAD PLAYS – Andy Sutton hit from behind. Sutton is anticipating that Pascal will skate forward and doesn’t let up on the hit when he stops. It happens quickly, but there must be zero tolerance for hits from behind since players can be paralyzed or even killed on such plays.
4. NO ROOM IN HOCKEY FOR THIS – Headshots on Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. These were bad.
The safety of the players is the most important reason for stricter enforecement, but beyond that, imagine how much good hockey we have lost to these injuries. Here are some of the players that lost major time to concussions:
Selanne & Kariya
What to make of the 2011 Canucks and their playoff aspirations? Top to bottom, the team is solid and is perhaps the best Canucks team we’ve seen in years. Offense, defense and goaltending have all, at times this year, been dominant. A month ago, offensive depth might have been the one question mark that required addressing . A trade of Mason Raymond and/or Mikael Samuelsson to upgrade their forward rotation appeared possible. Meanwhile on defense, there was the curious case of Kevin Bieksa. After playing his way out of the rotation, injuries and an improved balance between his offense and defense had made Bieksa prime trade bait. Life was good in Vancity and it appeared that the Canucks needed only to tweek the team a bit to prime themselves for a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And then the train went off the tracks a bit. Injuries hit the team left and right and centre. To date, the Canucks have lost 219 games to injury, which pro-rates to 317 for the season. Although it is nowhere near the record for man games lost (629 by the Los Angeles Kings in 2002-03), the injuries are occurring simultaneously and most are on the blueline. Sami Salo only recently returned from a lengthy injury, and Dan Hamhuis, Lee Sweatt, Alex Edler, Andrew Alberts and Keith Ballard all remain on the shelf with various injuries. Even the resurgent Kevin Bieksa is now out three weeks with a foot fracture. That has pushed the likes of Evan Oberg, Yann Sauve and Chris Tanev into duty filling out a most unlikely defensive rotation. Working with their 12th line d-man, perhaps the team should try “pulling” a defenseman and just play two goalies at a time.
The strange thing is that the Canucks have weathered these injuries remarkably well. The team is 8-2 over the past ten games and managing to keep putting up wins. An example of how good teams find ways to win was on display last week when the Canucks beat the Flames in a much anticipated showdown. Calgary had rebounded from their earl season blahs and were among the hottest teams in the league. However, questions remained about their legitimacy as a playoff contender. The Flames had sustained a few weeks of good play, so perhaps they had finally gotten their house in order and were now ready to play with the big boys. The game was also significant because there is a distinct possibility of a 1 versus 8 matchup between the two teams in the playoffs. The matchup, therefore, took on the feel of a statement game with important implications down the line. The result? A solid win over the Flames on Hockey Day in Canada that made clear of just how far apart two the teams really are. Injuries or not, the team continues to find players that step into the lineup and contribute at a high level.
This type of resilient play has allowed general manager Gillis to state that the Canucks may not make a trade. However, it is hard to believe that the team won’t try to trade some of their forward depth to shore up a defense corp depleted by injuries. Even though options on the farm team are nearly exhausted, the problem is that there aren’t many good options out there for defensive help. Potential targets such as Ian White, Chris Campoli or Sheldon Souray aren’t likely to provide much of an upgrade to the current rotation. Still, I’ll just leave some space here and will fill it in when the Canucks inevitably make a trade for a D-man.
Hockey boxscores have always included goals, assists, points, +/- and penalty minutes. Yet more recently, statistics such as shots, hits, time on ice (TOI) and number of shifts have been recorded as well. How much do these metrics add to our understanding of player performance? Well, hits are a rough, though reasonable proxy for a player’s physicality. Shots seem like a pretty obvious measure of offensive productivity (you can’t score if you don’t shoot). But what about TOI? The best players should be on the ice the most, but that doesn’t mean much if you aren’t winning your shifts. Another issue is whether there exists an upper limit to how long someone can stay on the ice. Players that are in better shape, who are more economical in their energy expenditure, or are just physiological freaks should be able to stay on the ice longer and would have more opportunity to succeed.
“Anchor” defensemen are likely to log more time than forwards. This year Dan Boyle leads the league with over 26 minute per game. In the 1990’s elite defensemen like Chris Chelios and Ray Bourque averaged over 30 minutes a game. Forwards cannot log nearly as much time, but Kovalchuk leads the league this year at just over 22 minutes per game. His 32 points and –26rating are an example of why time on the ice doesn’t necessarily equal productivity, offensively or defensively. On the other hand, points leader Daniel Sedin logs a tidy 18 minutes per game, with 69 points and a +22 rating.
Sidney Crosby” alt=”sciencewitness.com” src=”http://sciencewitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Crosby-183×300.jpg” width=”183″ height=”300″ />
TOI has been recorded for quite some time, but records are not readily available. NHL.com has TOI statistics going back to the 1998-199 season. Which is too bad, because it would be really interesting to see where some of the games great players in history sit. I have always wondered about the case of Wayne Gretzky. I watched many games live between the Oilers and Flames in the 80’s and remembered that Gretzky always looked like he could stay on the ice forever. He was always in control of his body and spent energy in spurts, with little wasted skating motion. It also seemed like Wayne could recover more quickly than other players allowing him to return to the ice faster and that in turn created match-up problems. So the statistic that could shed some light on this notion would be TOI.
So, being a complete geek, I grabbed two Wayne Gretzky game tapes and recorded his TOI. Did Gretzky have some special energy saving technique or freaky physiological mutation? Well, the game tape should help answer those questions. The games were game 5 from the 1984 Stanley cup finals between Edmonton and New York and game 7 of the western conference finals between Los Angeles and Toronto. For comparison, I have listed the top point scorer in the playoffs over the last decade. Did Gretzky log more TOI or shifts than a typical teams top playoff performer?
Table 1. Historical time on ice and number of shifts for leading playoff scorers.
|Danny Briere” href=”http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8464975#&navid=nhl-keymatch”>Danny Briere||Flyers-Hawks 2010||19:37||26.1||0:45|
|Evgeni Malkin||Penguins-Wings 2009||20:57||22.4||0:56|
|Henrik Zetterberg||Wings-Penguins 2008||22:35||28.6||0:47|
|Daniel Alfredsson||Senators-Ducks 2007||23:19||29.2||0:47|
|Eric Staal||Hurricanes-Oilers 2006||19:47||26.3||0:45|
|Brad Richards||Lightning-Flames 2004||23:28||29.1||0:48|
|Jamie Langenbrunner||Devils_Wild 2003||17:33||25.0||0:42|
|Peter Forsberg||(Wings-Hurricanes) 2002||18:09||27.5||0:39|
|Joe Sakic||Avalanche-Devils 2001||21:32||34.1||0:37|
|Brett Hull||Stars-Devils 2000||19:59||25.7||0:46|
|Peter Forsberg||(Stars-Devils) 1999||21:39||30.0||0:43|
|Steve Yzerman||Wings-Capitals 1998||22:41||28.0||0:48|
|Wayne Gretzky||Kings-Leafs Conf. Finals Game 7, 1993||23:54||26||0:55|
|Wayne Gretzky||Oilers-Islanders Stanley Cup Game 5, 1984||23:00||25||0:55|
As it turns out, Wayne did not log some huge number of minutes. His TOI is higher than modern day players, but only by a couple of minutes. Given that this is based only on two games for Gretzky, it is hard to say much either way. However, it doesn’t seem like he was logging a lot more time than your “average” star player. It would also be interesting to know how much ice time players of Wayne’s era typically logged. In the 1993 game against the Leafs, Doug Gilmour logged more ice time than Wayne. So, again, Gretzky’s TOI didn’t seem to be out of the norm. Interestingly, in both games, Wayne logged the most time and scored almost all his points in the first half of each game.
OK, one last little bit of information. It’s always hard to compare players between eras, and almost impossible to do so between sports. However, not many people follow hockey that closely, and fewer still can appreciate just how singular Wayne Gretzky’s records are. So, I calculated Wayne’s equivalent scoring from the other major sports. This is a purely statistical analysis, so you’ll have to debate other differences yourself. Regardless, it provides a starting point to help talk with a non-hockey sports fan.
Table 2. Wayne Gretzky’s equivalent single season scoring based on 2010 statistics.
MLB0.414 batting average
|MLB||33.8 pitching wins|
|NFL||9628 yards passing|
|English Premier League||58.6 goals|
How would Gretzky have looked as a football player? We might just find out: Trevor Gretzky Football
- Mike Nish