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On Realignment February 27, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I saw the NHL’s proposal for realignment. If you haven’t seen it, the gist of it is, instead of 6 divisions of 5, the NHL goes to two divisions of 8 in the East, and two divisions of 7 in the West.  Top four teams from each division play down to division champion; division teams battle it out for the conference; conference winners play for the Stanley Cup.

It would be an elegant format, if only the league had 32 teams.  As it stands, it would be easier to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference, and harder to make it in for the East.

Frankly, I think that’s overcooking that particular casserole.  You could keep the 6-division alignment by putting Winnipeg into the Northwest (keeping the Canadian teams together), Minnesota into the Central (since it’s just up the pike from Chicago), and Columbus into the Southeast.

Wait…Columbus, in the Southeast?  Actually, if you look, Columbus is closer to Raleigh and Washington than Nashville; and even though it’s further from Florida, the Jackets could hit both the Panthers and Lightning on the same road swing and call it done.  Columbus is also on Eastern time; Nashville, on Central.

I know the Red Wings won’t like it, but Columbus is further east.  Outside the NFL, which puts more emphasis on history than on geography, Columbus to Pittsburgh may be one of the shortest distances between two conferences in all of professional sports.

And no, that does not mean Columbus to the Atlantic.  With the Hudson Valley Three, and the Keystone Rivalry, the Atlantic is as good as it could be (without Washington being in it, that is.)  What, do you put the Flyers in the Southeast?  Um…no.  There’s just too much history along I-76 to just split it up like that.  The Southeast is enough of a hodgepodge already, so that’s the easiest place to put the Jackets.

That would be the best way to do it:  move Winnipeg into a Canada-heavy division, shift a team on the cusp (Minnesota) into the next division over, and from there, move an Ohio team into–wait for it–the Eastern Conference.  I would guess that, given a choice, Jets fans would rather travel more if it meant a more Canada-heavy schedule:  ergo, Northwest.  But the Avalanche have to stay put in that scenario, so Minnesota would move into the same division as Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis (oh, hi there, Nashville.)  That would put the Jackets into the East, and in the interest of keeping the Atlantic together, Columbus would then go into the Southeast.

Now, if they really did end up going with four divisions only, they really would need to have some way for Eastern Conference teams to not have to beat four division teams instead of three.  Here’s one way to do it:

*Top THREE teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs.
*Top Eastern wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Second highest Eastern Wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the East, regardless of division.
*Top Western wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Next highest AT LARGE wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the West.

That’s less than ideal–travel under that arrangement would be horrendous–but you could conceivably end up seeing teams win cross-division, or even cross-conference, titles, which might make for some interesting rafters in years to come.  You might also end up seeing two Eastern rivals duking it out for the Stanley Cup.  

(Memo to the NHL:  that means you might end up with Ovechkin vs. Crosby for all the marbles.  IMAGINE THE RATINGS!)

That’s complicated, yes.  But I’m not entirely sold on the idea of teams having a 4:3 chance in favor of making the postseason out West, while Eastern teams are reduced to a coin flip.  Putting an at-large wild card in play could make things slightly easier on the East, and slightly tougher on the West, which could help balance out the idea of “two divisions of 8, one of 7.”

How does it look mathematically?  Well, Eastern teams have a minimum chance of 8/16 at the playoffs, which is 50%.  If the at-large wild card is from the East, the East would end up with a 56.25% chance of making the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the West would be guaranteed 7 spots out of 14 teams–the same 50% as the East–and would have about a 57.14% chance at the playoffs if the at-large spot went to the West.  I’m not quite sure how those work together, but they look awfully darn close, in my view.  Both conferences would begin with a 50-50 chance at the playoffs:  it would not start at 50% in the East, and 57% in the West.  Looked at strictly from the math side, 8 spots guaranteed in the East, 7 spots guaranteed in the West, and the last spot in the West going to the best remaining team league-wide, is the best way to make the math work out.

The logistics of an Eastern 9 would be horrendous, but Detroit’s won one or two Stanley Cups from out West, so it can be done.

And an at-large wild card could result in some already historic rivalries in the East becoming battles for the ages.  Think what would happen if Boston won the East, while Montreal survived the West as the at-large.  Imagine the Rangers winning the East, and the Flyers coming out of the West off the at-large.  And, I’ll try this scenario again:  Penguins win the East, Capitals survive the West from the at-large, and you end up with the CAPITALS AND PENGUINS DUKING IT OUT FOR THE STANLEY CUP.

That 7-7-8-8 alignment looks like a lemon right now, but with an at-large playing in the West…that’s not just lemonade, that’s HARD lemonade.

Now, then…Caps and Flyers tonight, on Rivalry Wednesday.  I’m stoked.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
MY, WHAT CRUNCHY NUMBERS

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From Grave Concern To Wait And See February 27, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I wrote in my last post that I was no longer in panic mode, but that I remained gravely concerned about where the Capitals are heading this season.

Well, time to upgrade the condition again, this time to Wait And See. The Caps were–let’s be honest–kinda sorta stinkeroo to start the season, but they seem to have been playing markedly better the last few games. Housing the reigning Eastern Conference Champions 5-1, and then shutting out the current leader of the Southeast Division, would seem to bode well for the Caps.

And yet, I cannot so easily dismiss the team’s early struggles. They do have some convincing wins as of late; but a 7-10-1 record and 5-5-0 Last 10 are still nothing to write home about.

Wednesday night’s game against the Flyers is going to be huge. If the Caps win that, they would climb up to 12th in the East. No small feat, that, especially for a team that not so long ago looked like it was dead, buried, and playing for ping pong balls. A win Wednesday night, and the Capitals’ season would suddenly get much, much more interesting. No, it’s not “must win.” But it is definitely a “really, really should win,” especially given the national stage the Caps will be on.

So, let’s look at the math. I normally don’t publish playoff math charts that I know up front need a lot of work, so take the below chart as a point of discussion only.

Rough chart: Guidance Only

Team Max
Pts
Curr
Pts
Magic
Nums
Which
Does
What?
Clinch Elim
BOS 90 26 +45
BUF
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
   
MTL 85 27 +44
BUF
-59
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
OTT 84 26 +45
BUF
-58
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
PIT 82 26 +45
BUF
-56
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NJD 82 24 +47
BUF
-56
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
TOR 80 24 +47
BUF
-54
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
CAR 79 19 +52
BUF
-53
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NYR 78 18 +53
BUF
-52
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
TBL 77 19 +52
BUF
-51
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
WPG 77 19 +52
BUF
-51
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
WSH 75 15 +56
BUF
-49
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
FLA 74 16 +55
BUF
-48
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
PHI 73 19 +52
BUF
-47
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NYI 73 17 +54
BUF
-47
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
BUF 71 15 -45
BOS
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   

Rough chart: Guidance Only

NOTES

  • This is a ROUGH CHART. Tie breaks are NOT being considered.
  • President’s Trophy and Top 5 Draft are NOT being considered.
  • This chart is for discussion purposes ONLY, and should not be construed as official.
  • Elimination from a Division 1 spot automatically eliminates a team from the Conference 3 spot.

I know what you’re going to ask: how are the Caps up in the 11 spot on this chart, when they’re 14th overall in the standings? To begin with, this chart ranks teams by how many points they have available, and THEN looks at how many points they have right now. The Caps have had a comparatively light schedule compared to the rest of the East: only Boston has played fewer games, which is part of the reason why the B’s top end number is so gaudy. The Caps still have another 60 points available to them; meanwhile, some of the teams just a few points ahead of them in the standings have bled a few more points off their top end, which means they have fewer total points available than the Caps do.

So based on that, there may actually be grounds for some extremely guarded optimism. But there is a “however” on that: the Capitals have to keep winning to hang on to those top end points. One loss here, one overtime there, and pretty soon that top end could be in tatters. The Capitals still need to win a lot of games, right now. The teams ahead of them are not likely to slow down, and any help the Caps get from the teams behind them is going to come at the expense of the trailing team gaining ground on the Caps. I would even go so far as to say that the Capitals can make the playoffs from where they are right now. However–there’s that word again–that will only happen if the Capitals take care of business on their own end. Too much “coulda, woulda, shoulda” in March may ultimately lead to “this out of town game hurts us either way” in April, and that usually spells trouble for a team’s playoff hopes.

The Caps aren’t quite at the point where they need to treat every game like a playoff game. At this point, one or two bad nights at the office won’t kill them; but the emphasis is on one or two. The Caps need to win, a lot, right away.

So why am I taking a wait and see attitude about that? Frankly, despite the Caps’ dominating performance in their last two games–and here I will praise with faint damns–I’m still not quite sure that they’re as good a hockey team as they can possibly be. Two home romps, however satisfying, do not a comeback make. The Caps need to win, consistently. They need to play all 200 feet for all 60 minutes, every single night they get on the ice. The $64,000 question is, can they do that, and will they?

Granted, the Caps looked like a well-oiled machine Tuesday night against the Hurricanes. Excellent job, to be sure; and plaudits up and down the roster for a job well done. But that’s just one game. And several of the players on this team were there for Game 7 against the Rangers last spring, a winner-take-all game in which they arguably got out-everythinged. So, what team is this? Is it the no-nonsense bunch that surgically shut down the Hurricanes Tuesday night? Or is it the gang that couldn’t shoot straight on Broadway when the stakes were win or go home?

So that’s what I’m waiting to see. I want to make sure these two most recent romps are the new normal for this Capitals team, and not merely an oasis of satisfaction in a heartbreaking desert of a losing season.

The rest of the season begins Wednesday night, in Philadelphia, on the national stage. How the Capitals perform under this coast to coast microscope may ultimately define where the rest of their season goes from here.

I hope to see more of what I saw on Tuesday, but given the history of some of the men on the roster, “wait and see” is the best I can manage at this time. I do not expect any certain outcome, but paradoxically, I do expect that I will not be surprised regardless of what happens.

I want to wish the Capitals all the best in Philadelphia. It’s a tough place to play, and the stakes are higher than they should be at this point in the season. If any team can rise to the challenge, it’s these Capitals. However–and there I go with that word again–if any team can royally disappoint, it’s these same Capitals.

We’ll find out which Capitals team this really is when the puck drops at 7:30 Wednesday night.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NONCOMMITTAL

From Panic to Grave Concern February 14, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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And yes, I do mean that as an upgrade.

The Caps are on a modest 2-game streak, and are heading into Thursday night’s bout with the Bolts with a bit of momentum on their side.  The Caps just came out on the good end of an overtime game Tuesday night; the Lightning, by contrast, are on a 5-game winless streak, most recently finding themselves on the wrong end of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Habs.  The Caps are heading in the right direction; the Lightning are getting close to two weeks without a win.

Yes, I know it’s a division game; yes, I know anything can happen; yes, I know this is pretty much the same club that clobbered us on Opening Night.

But the Caps are starting to look like they’re figuring out everything they didn’t get a preseason to learn.  Saturday night’s romp at Verizon Center was a welcome relief, to be sure.  But Tuesday night’s win may have been more important, because the Caps finally figured out how to throw the kitchen sink late in a game and actually score a hit.  Down by a couple with time getting short, they fought back, and skated out with two points.  Any win is a good win at this point, and a character win on top of two points is most welcome indeed.

But the Caps aren’t out of the woods yet.  They are still in last place:  not tied for last place; last place outright, due to tie breaks.  They can’t stop at a 2-game streak:  it needs to become a sustained run of wins.  4-5-1 in the L10 column is still losing hockey, and they need to get working on turning that 4 into a 5, 6, 7, or better.  They simply HAVE to claw their way out of the cellar.

It’s more than just the ignominy of being in last place.  That’s bad enough.  But when you look at it from the playoff math side of it, last place is the last place you want to be, especially this season.  If you have one team ahead of you, and another one safely behind you, and the lower seed beats the higher seed, you have a chance to make up a lot of ground on the higher seed.  But when EVERYONE is ahead of you, you can lose ground no matter who wins any particular game.  If the higher seed wins, they’re that much closer to getting out of your reach for good; if the lower seed wins, you now have to make up ground on them, too.  And with no inter-conference help possible this year, every single game matters.  The short version:  upsets won’t help unless the Caps are out in front of the team that’s doing the upset.

So they’ve GOT to win, win several games, and do it now.  I know I sound like a broken record on that point, but if they’ve really figured out how to claw their way back from a bad night (a la Tuesday night), and they also know how to win going away (remember Saturday?), then all the ingredients should be there for a charge up the standings.  I don’t want to say it’s must-win at this point, but we’re definitely closing in on put-up-or-shut-up time.

The Caps have done well in their last two; but they need many, many more wins if they’re going to have a shot at the playoffs.

Now, if you look at the standings, you’ll see the Caps a scant 6 points out of the division lead.  That’s not impossible; but it’s also not as easy as it would be under an 82-game schedule, especially with no help possible from the West.  I don’t want to say that one more bad skid means you can stick a fork in the season.  I DO want to say that the Caps have got to win.  A lot.  And now.

They’ve shown they can do it in their last two outings, and now it’s time to prove those weren’t flukes.  A win Thursday night in Tampa might get them an upgrade to Very Concerned.

Hey, you have to start somewhere.  Good luck, gentlemen.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
OUR CHARGE CONTINUES AGAINST THE BOLTS