• Men plan, the hockey gods laugh

    by Tyler Dellow • April 28, 2010 • Uncategorized • 47 Comments

    The Caps’ loss makes me awfully happy. While I’m sad to lose a team that’s awfully fun to watch, the fanbase is, uh, a little obnoxious. It might just be that their ranks of fans have been swollen with newbies (I’ve never really been irritated by a lot of their bloggers like Eric McErlain and Japers) but I like my fanbases to have an irrational fear of the hockey gods and an expectation that disaster lurks. Leonsis lacks this and his fanbase, by and large, follows it.

    Leonsis took some shots at RJ Umberger earlier this year in a blog post after Umberger said that the Caps couldn’t win the Cup with their style of play. I thought that Umberger was wrong then (and I still think that he is now) but I just can’t get enough of Leonsis’ response:

    I think this player should be talking to his ownership and coaching staff about their rebuild plan to compete for a Stanley Cup NOT to our fan base and players about ours.

    And then I think this player should stand up and communicate to his team’s fan base about their plan to compete for a Cup and how they will qualify for the playoffs year after year. And then back it up. It is a simple formula: Outline a plan – communicate it – back it up.

    As I have noted, the best way to compete for a Cup is to qualify for the playoffs which Columbus has done exactly how many times to date?

    Why are we even giving this guy airtime?

    Let us move on.

    This is a pet peeve of mine, guys who have enjoyed extraordinary success and don’t acknowledge the extent to which good fortune played a role in it all. It’s worth pointing out that the Capitals, according to a summary in Wikipedia were tenth in payroll in 2003-04. It appears that they went through a season in which everybody got hurt and they ended up finishing second last. They had finished with 92, 85, 96 and 102 points in the years preceding that. If the plan was to tank and get a shot at Alexander Ovechkin, Leonsis spent a lot of money on guys who weren’t part of Washington’s future.

    Even then, it wasn’t quite good enough. Pittsburgh finished a point worse than the Caps and the Caps went into the lottery with 18.8% chance of picking first, a 42% chance of picking second and a 39.2% chance of picking third. Their chances of ending up with one of Cam Barker, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler or Al Montoya were more than twice as good as their chances of ending up with Ovechkin. The hockey gods smiled on Washington, their number came up and they ended up with Alexander Ovechkin. I don’t begrudge the Capitals their good fortune at all, but it’s a little galling to see Leonsis taunt people about his plan (and he does it a lot) when the Caps sucking in 2003-04 was (from their perspective) almost certainly unplanned for and then they got lucky and won the lottery. The biggest piece of the Capitals’ rebuild fell into their lap in a season where they weren’t intending to rebuild. And he talks about his plan.

    Tonight, he and his fans got a lesson from the hockey gods. If there’s a little humility in the future, a little acknowledgment of the outrageous good fortune that permitted the Caps to assemble a team like this, it’ll be a lot easier to cheer for them in the future (and I’d love to, because I have no real rooting interest in the East and there isn’t a more fun player, in every sense of the word, than Ovechkin). For the time being though, this is pretty enjoyable. (Particularly because I bet the field to win the Eastern Conference at what seemed to be outrageously good odds.)

    About Tyler Dellow

    47 Responses to Men plan, the hockey gods laugh

    1. April 28, 2010 at

      Well said.

    2. April 28, 2010 at

      Wow. What a thoughtful, insightful, and well-reasoned post. As a Caps fan, I’m reading a lot of hateful ranting, but you make points that my fellow Caps fans seem to ignore. Ted is a great owner, and very fan-friendly. But as an owner, he made a colossal mistake in signing Jagr to an extended contract before he had proven anything (and he never did). Was it really part of his “plan” to overpay an underperforming prima donna, forcing him to dismantle the team and strike it rich in the lottery?

      The key word you use is humility. I’m a HUGE Caps fan and have been for more than 30 years. But this team, from the owner to the players, could use some humility. If there is any silver lining to this year’s epic failure, maybe they will learn that. Stop boasting, taunting, and being defensive. And win on the ice. In the playoffs. When it matters.

    3. April 28, 2010 at

      Home. Run.

    4. April 28, 2010 at

      nicely done. basically any fan base is going to have the people who are rational, and the people who are irrational homers who will never see anything with a non-biased eye. what’s kinda pathetic, in my view, is when the people in charge are acting like the latter.

    5. April 28, 2010 at

      Just saw Mark’s comment. Jagr had 2 Stanley Cups and at least a Hart on his resume when he was traded from Pittsburgh (and, oh yeah, 4 scoring titles). He was, if not the best player in the game, in the top 5. He had proven a lot before he came to WSH.

    6. April 29, 2010 at

      Nice post, Tyler.

      I assume you look at the the Hockey Gods the same way I do (blind chance) and it’s always a pleasure to hear a viewpoint that acknowledges chance as not only a contributing factor but often even a decisive factor in hockey.

      It’s a point a lot of people have an instinctive dislike of, but that doesn’t make it matter any less.

    7. R O
      April 29, 2010 at

      It’s just so damn weird how bad Montreal was in the regular season anyway. They got some good players in the offseason for their top-end. And obviously Washington was never as good as their goal differential implied.

      Still, Montreal was spectacularly bad in Game 7 and generally bad in the series. I think it was Derek that said that if Halak had a 0.960 SV% they would have been laughed out of the series. Which is damning. The Hockey Gods fucked every Caps player and their mom to boot.

      Both were kinda douchey teams to begin with though, there’s just no solid choice between them. I would rather have backed Colorado than either of these squads, despite the terrible-ness of the Avs they just don’t have douchebags on the level of Ovechkin or Plekanec or Price.

    8. dawgbone
      April 29, 2010 at

      JW, the general hockey fan doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of the hockey gods because no one in the media talks about it.

      Hal Gill was Pierre’s monster of the game because of shot blocking. That ignores the fact that almost 75% of the shots he blocked were necessary because he couldn’t get the puck out of his own end.

      According to everyone, Semin “disappeared” in the playoffs. The guy had 44 shots on goal, of which I’d say at least 20 of those were very good scoring chances. That doesn’t even include the missed shots. Sometimes you get beat by a goaltender who is playing awesome.

      Halak is the only thing they are getting right.

    9. JeffJ
      April 29, 2010 at

      So there is a playoff series won by Montreal, and the fans of the *team that lost* are the ones with an obnoxious sense of entitlement??

      What strange times we live in.

    10. Tyler Dellow
      April 29, 2010 at

      I’ve got my issues with Habs fans too Jeff, although because of the language divide, they maybe seem less obnoxious. If Molson starts writing a blog and brags about how this was all the result of a plan, I’d hammer him too.

    11. David Staples
      April 29, 2010 at

      It’s safe to say that all fanbases have their obnoxious and illogical elements, and that is multiplied by a factor of 1,000 at playoff time, when folks get more than a litte crazy.

      If you had written the same posts three months ago or three months from now, I suspect the hard facts about Backstrom would have invited a more measured response.

    12. David Staples
      April 29, 2010 at

      Foprtuna just got back at Leonsis for his hubris, and Fourtuna did it big time.

      He should be a humbled man today.

      Luck got him Ovechkin. But luck (and Halak) also brought him the 2010 playoff season.

    13. David Staples
      April 29, 2010 at

      Sorry for the typos — Fortuna, of course.

    14. R O
      April 29, 2010 at

      Off topic but: even though most reasonable people would concede that Halak was smiled upon by Lady Luck, I still think he’s being given way too much credit in the Habs’ victory.

      Halak’s arrows point upward, no question, he’s probably a good goalie. But his performance in the playoffs to date is, what, twice the spread that separates the best and worst goalies?

      I think as far as I’m concerned, luck has to regarded as the dominant and overriding factor in the kind of small samples and obscene numbers involved. It’s tempting even for me to say something like “you have to have some skill to pull this off, even if luck is helping you out”, but it’s not necessarily the case. Osgood posted Hasek-like save percentages two playoffs in a row despite being one of the worst goaltenders in the league.

    15. April 29, 2010 at

      Dawgbone: Yeah, I’ve got a piece scheduled on Semin either later today or early tomorrow (I forget which). He fired pucks at twice his career rate in that series; 24 shots in the last three games alone.

    16. dawgbone
      April 29, 2010 at

      For sure R O… I mean he was very good, but was probably rather lucky to do so.

      He’s not going to play like that for 15 games in a row and can’t possibly maintain it over a season.

      But that being said, sometimes goalies just are that good on one specific night and sometimes you get a few in a row. They are usually followed by some games where you get a few goals that go off your defenceman and in and really pull you back down.

    17. April 29, 2010 at

      R O/Dawgbone:

      I look at it the same way as shooting eprcentage, albeit on a bigger scale. Peaks and valleys average out and the median is true talent.

      Semin, for instance, doesn’t go 0-for-44 very often, but at some point he’ll shoot 30.0% for a stretch and make up for it. Neither is indicative of his true ability, neither is repeatable, but he deserves credit for the aggregate.

    18. April 29, 2010 at

      @R O: I would also suggest that a big part of his save percentage was the fact that the Caps seemed to take so many shots from bad scoring areas. If you give him nothing but shots from the outside and let him see most of them, he’s going to have a field day. When the Caps did crash the crease or get into the middle of the ice, Halak had trouble, and got saved by his bar a time or two (and his D about five more).

    19. tn
      April 29, 2010 at

      i’m sorry, no acknowledgment of the astounding good fortune of the penguins franchise, which was both terrible on the ice and last in attendance before the lockout? who are now playing with Crosby (#1) Malkin (#2 overall) and Fleury (#1 overall).

      The caps’ doubters were right this year, no doubt – and they’ll need to rethink the team and the staff. But give me a break about this undeserved or unappreciative nonsense. A team like the penguins, with its recent history of dominance and great players, couldn’t even get 12000 into that sad little arena until they got to draft Crosby.

    20. sharkattack
      April 29, 2010 at

      I buy into the hockey gods concept usually, but but it was pretty surprising the Habs won a game in which they got tagged for three dives (and Lapierre, who had two of them, scored the knockout goal) and then won the game after (Lapierre again playing a major role in the game-winner) makes me question it a bit.

    21. Tyler Dellow
      April 29, 2010 at

      You’re right, I probably shouldn’t have titled this post “An Exhaustive Compendium of the Relative Degrees of Good Fortune Experienced by Every NHL Franchise, Normalized by the Extent to Which their Fanbase Deserves Good Things.”

    22. Tyler Dellow
      April 29, 2010 at

      @sharkattack

      The hockey gods are fickle and one never knows what will catch their eye. Like the Christian God (who plays a bigger role with football), they sometimes face circumstances in which there are competing demands for their attentions. They had to choose between punishing Montreal and Washington. Evidently, in their eyes, the hubris of Leonsis outweighed the diving of Lapierre.

    23. billy
      April 29, 2010 at

      “I like my fanbases to have an irrational fear of the hockey gods and an expectation that disaster lurks.”

      I’m really curious where you get the impression that Caps fans expect anything less than complete and utter disappointment from their team.

      Every longtime Caps fan I know, myself included, is fairly convinced that the hockey gods are quite fond of crapping all over us (the Penguins being their preferred buttholes).

    24. Quain
      April 29, 2010 at

      The caps’ doubters were right this year, no doubt – and they’ll need to rethink the team and the staff.

      I think the best part of this is Tyler mostly taking a tongue-in-cheek shot at the Caps owner while saying they’re a pretty good team regardless of the outcome. Whereas (many) Cap fans were livid when people didn’t recognize the true greatness of the Capitals team, until the Habs won, and now it’s time to blow the whole thing up.

      Maybe Ted Leonsis will introduce a new plan to acquire a few more franchise players by intentionally injuring half the team. That, or talk Kevin Lowe into offer sheeting Backstrom. I guarantee he’ll pull a lottery pick or two out of that haul.

      I’m also not entirely convinced that we won’t hear Tambellini, at some point, say, “Well, Bruce Boudreau told me how great his center was in matching up against, and shutting down, the Habs top line in the playoffs so we decided to go after him through trade. The Caps accepted and we’re excited to announce that Michael Nylander will be joining the Oilers for the 10-11 season. It cost us Taylor Hall, but it was worth it.”

    25. R O
      April 29, 2010 at

      @Doogie

      Sorry man, but you’re just making shit up after the fact.

      http://enattendantlesnordiques.blogspot.com/

      The Habs got dominated in even-strength scoring chances. The Caps had little trouble penetrating the scoring area and directing the puck to Halak. He got stone-cold lucky.

    26. April 29, 2010 at

      Maybe the Johnny-come-latelyies of the Caps fanbase don’t fear any reapers but the ones who know their history know how many 3-1 series leads they’ve blown so there must be some of them who are always waiting for the load to bricks to fall on them.

      What I find odd is that once upon a time Habs fans would mock Leaves fans taking to the streets to celebrate winning a simple playoff round and yet last night Cuntreal fans did the same thing.

      So this is what it’s come down to for Habs fans: you are the ones you’ve always mocked.

      I’m watching more and more NBA and MLB so I didn’t watch much of these series – unless I was betting on it – but one thing I was reminded of in my scant viewings was how Pierre McGuire – when given the chance – is first and foremost a Habs fan.

      And he’s also a joke.

    27. Lindsay
      April 29, 2010 at

      What would sports be without obnoxious fans? I think every fan of every team is obnoxious when their team is doing well. A team like Washington who has never won it all (or have they) has to take what they can get and if that’s Ovechkin and regular season dominance so be it. Just like Cleveland and LeBron. Let them have their moment. As for hockey gods I feel bad for Ryan Miller… On the other hand, lets just pretend Pittsburgh wins it all again. It seems like Crosby should be due for some bad luck right so if he manages to get another Cup well his title as the best can’t even be debated any more since it would be like the hockey gods have no effect on him other than the talent bestowed on him at birth. Because that would be ridiculous, that kind of winning success. Fingers crossed! I’ve been a Pens fan for almost three years now. Proud bandwagon jumper right here!

    28. speeds
      April 29, 2010 at

      Quain wrote:

      Maybe Ted Leonsis will introduce a new plan to acquire a few more franchise players by intentionally injuring half the team. That, or talk Kevin Lowe into offer sheeting Backstrom. I guarantee he’ll pull a lottery pick or two out of that haul.

      Here’s a question for anyone interested in taking a wild stab at it:

      What sort of contract would you, as Edm’s GM, need to be able to sign Backstrom to for it to be worth trading the #1 OV pick to Washington for him? Ignore that WSH would probably just sign Backstrom himself at that theoretical price.

    29. speeds
      April 29, 2010 at

      also ignore the quality of the sentence construction.

    30. DSF
      April 29, 2010 at

      Speeds.

      Sentences normally start with a capital letter.

      Just saying.

    31. Vic Ferrari
      April 30, 2010 at

      Frick, I just coined the term Corsi Number because Ruff Number would have sounded terrible and Regier Number would have put people in mind of the wildly abstract and complicated math of French mathemeticians like LaPlace and Dirichlet.

      Jim Corsi … just sounds like the name of an honest and straightforward guy. The kind of guy who’d still be your friend even if you puked in his car.

      I think we should all make a concentrated effort to shift to Fenwick numbers now. Partly because it is very nearly as effective as corsi in terms of predictive value, and a smidge better mesh with scoring chances, but mostly because Matt Fenwick should be more famous.

      If we can’t get Matt interviewed by the NY Times inside the year, well that means we just never tried, people.

    32. DSF
      April 30, 2010 at

      Does Fenwick have a house and a passport?

    33. Tyler Dellow
      April 30, 2010 at

      I know he’s got a house. He’s a pretty small government guy though. Might not have a passport.

    34. E
      April 30, 2010 at

      just a little late addition to the pile-on…

      i thought it was curious that boudreau said something like ‘i never thought we would lose three games in a row to them’. as a coach, isn’t it your job to think about that possibility, especially when your team has just lost two should-have-been-elimination games? in general, the level of shock from the caps themselves seems disproportionate for a favorite that was forced all the way to a game seven. i don’t like to buy into concepts like arrogance and lack of respect as reasons for losing, but this time… i dunno, it’s suggestive.

    35. Grunthos
      April 30, 2010 at

      E, I don’t know that arrogance and lack of respect are the right words here. I would say that the Caps’ faith in themselves was based on their talent, while the Habs’ was based on their will. Up 3-1, the Caps were feeling like their self-belief was soundly justified by the evidence. Down 1-3, the Habs were feeling like they could still take the series if they just hung in there. The shock in Washington’s dressing room was, in this interpretation, much more about having the rug ripped out from under their belief structure than about losing a game 7.

      Those of us who follow team sports know, intellectually, that the Habs’ approach is better, but it’s another issue when you’re trying to internalize that lesson and live it on the ice. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it. Lots of people get deeply unbalanced when they have to really confront that fact for the first time.

    36. April 30, 2010 at

      Sorry man, but you’re just making shit up after the fact.

      Or if you wanted to be a bit less of an asshole, there’s a bit of confirmation bias in what caught my attention in Game 7. Whatever.

      Interesting how, in Game 6, it appears that the Habs were full marks for their 2-0 lead (chances were 9-4 MTL at the time of the second goal, all but one at EV), then tried to sit on the lead from the ten-minute mark of the game onward (chances 32-11 WSH for the final 50). That’s not a very sound strategy if you ask me.

    37. JoshC
      April 30, 2010 at

      As an ex-Northern Virginia resident, I think you’re discounting a major element of Washington’s offensiveness to the hockey gods. When you spend multiple games behind a guy and his friends who all think his “JIZZ/28″ sweater is the height of wit, the character of the Caps fanbase shows through. Wyshynski started the Jersey Foul segment living in the DC area for a reason.

    38. April 30, 2010 at

      I have a house, a passport, and “dependants”, which for a sterile term that comes from the tax world is pretty damn on the nose.

      And I have no desire to be famous, however, I don’t mind my name being used as the shorthand. mainly because I feel like I explained myself pretty well at the time and can stand behind it. Summed up in 3 parts:
      Comment at IOF (11/01/2007 9:04PM)
      then
      Post at BoA (halfway down or so)
      then
      Comment at IOF (11/22/2007 11:15AM)

    39. Vic Ferrari
      April 30, 2010 at

      Matt,

      Yeah, I think you may have a point. Though I was uncharacteristically agnostic on the issue at the time.

      A while ago I saw someone from an NHL arena looking at the comments on the subject in an IOF thread (driven by yourself and RiversQ), it was an arena whose name had since changed, but shortly thereafter a visitor from mail.teamname.com was reading the same stuff. That lead me to revisit the issue.

      Scorer bias issues are huge here, as JLikens and Sunny have shown us. And with just 30 teams … the assumptions implied by Gabe and Tom Awad are genuinely dodgy. We just don’t know. Not to diss either, hell Gabe’s treatment of goalie save% wrt aging, and his English language expression of what is occurring … it is frighteningly similar to what we see with almost every baseball measure. They need some Gabes over there, methinks.

    40. Hawerchuk
      May 1, 2010 at

      Incidentally, here’s some quantification (is that a word) of whether Washington didn’t get the puck in the slot (post facto) or had bad luck smile upon them:

      http://www.behindthenethockey.com/2010/5/1/1453721/washington-and-first-round-playoff

      I have no problem switching to Fenwick, though I’m not convinced he’d still be your friend if you puked in his car. Queen’s engineers price themselves on holding their liquor.

      Incidentally, Matt, I’m going to Rob Harvey’s bachelor party next weekend in Vegas and I assume there will be plenty of puking.

    41. Hawerchuk
      May 1, 2010 at

      Pride. not price. I have become a walking fucking type.

    42. Hawerchuk
      May 1, 2010 at

      typo. fuck. what a disaster

    43. kinger
      May 1, 2010 at

      I read “pride” without even thinking about it.

      Interesting how the mind fills in words as it reads.

    44. lowetide
      May 1, 2010 at

      Ironically, Fenwick does in fact price himself on holding his liquor. Incredible.

    45. DSF
      May 1, 2010 at

      Apparently, Fenwick, when faced with the reality of having a house, a passport and “dependants”, reverts to using a Danish keyboard.

      The mantle of fame weighs heavily.

    46. May 4, 2010 at

      I’ll reproduce here what I stated at Tom’s site, because I’m interested in hearing your response, Tyler. I don’t understand how Leonsis carries enough importance to affect any opinions on a set of hockey players:

      Leonsis is a blowhard and an idiot. And obviously all of his public statements are self serving sales pitches devoid of any insight. But how is he different than any other NHL owner? I guess because he has a blog and uses it. That would seem to be a pretty unimportant distinction to me, and probably offset by the fact that he, at least, really enjoys watching hockey and rooting for his team. Is he any dumber or more annoying or more deserving of comeuppance than Jacobs or Anschutz or Hicks or Snider or any other owner? Thinking Leonsis is an annoying fool seems obvious to me, but letting that poison your view of a team that is arguably the most interesting collection of players both on-ice and off-ice is pure madness. There are so many more interesting and noteworthy, and ultimately relevant, things about the Capitals than Ted Leonsis.

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