Worst. Champion. Ever?

There was an engrossing post made at PSH on Tuesday. One of the points made was that the '06 Stanley Cup champion might be the worst in recent memory.

That point prompted me to make this handy chart:

The rank is the team's placement in the overall standings. The %rank is the percentage of teams below this team in the standings (included because 6th place in a 21 team league is not as impressive as 6th in a 30 team league). The p-rank is the team's Pythagorean standings rank, and the p-%rank is the % of teams below them in this regard.

It seems obvious that any of the four remaining teams would be below average Cup winners. However, a win by Buffalo and Carolina could not be considered anomalous. Anaheim or Edmonton, should they pull off a win, would clearly be the worst Cup winner (by this measure) since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams.

It's easy to allow one's preseason expectations to cloud one's judgement of Buffalo and Carolina. You have to remember that the '03-04 season was a long time ago. It's not just the New NHL that made these clubs winners. Had there been an '04-05 season, we might have seen these teams make headway toward joining the elite. If we had seen some measure of progress between '04 and '06, (i.e. an intermediate season between 30- and 100-point efforts by Eric Staal) the Sabres & 'Canes success would be less jarring.

As for the suggestion that there 'are no elite teams,' the '06 Red Wings and Senators had the #3 and #4 best Pythagorean win% over the last 10 years. #1 was the '01 Devils and #2 was the '00 Blues. Neither of those clubs won the Cup either.

So, who is the worst Cup winner in recent memory? By the numbers, it's the '95 Lockout Devils. If you only consider teams that played a full season prior to the playoffs, the '91 or '92 Pens or the '93 Habs might be the one.

Noteworthy: Despite the advantages conferred by placing higher in the standings (home ice, matchups with lower seeds), the Pythagorean placement is still a slightly better predictor of Stanley Cup success.



Who do we appreciate?

The Hurricanes (2), Sabres (4), Ducks (6), and Oilers (8).

After round one, we had #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 seeds surviving. People talk about just how random the playoffs are these days, but this weird uniformity is uncanny. You wouldn't have to look too hard to find expert pre-season predictions stating that this quartet would miss the playoffs. Now, it's an all-Cinderella Battle Royale.

The story lately has been
The Flu. I don't think this will harm the Oilers' chances. The way these things operate, the problem has probably already spread to the Ducks' dressing room and should peak in time for game 4 or 5. I could have sworn I saw Jason Smith deliberately coughing on Anaheim forwards in the 3rd period Sunday night.

Do these flu epidemics take place in any other team sport? I'm tempted to think they occur in hockey because of the extreme fatigue the players suffer. Football is a rough sport and all, but there is no way one NFL football game per week is anywhere near as taxing as 3.5 NHL playoff games per week.

And what's up with Hemsky's neck? Is he growing gills? Or dating a vampiress?

Much ink has been spilled in detailing the similarities between these clubs. Their surprisingly successful regular season, the rookie goalies, the no-name defenses, the speedy New NHL forwards. However, the teams are not quite carbon copies up front.

The Buffalo forwards follow a theme: skill and skating before size. Usually by this point in the playoffs, I can identify players on TV just by how they look/skate/behave on the ice. There are at least a half a dozen Sabres who are all pretty much plug & play. When Briere, Connolly, Afinogenov, Drury, Pominville and Roy are on the ice, I have to look for their numbers to tell them apart (although Afinogenov's and Briere's puck-on-a-string displays often make them stand out). The Sabres also have a more accomplished group of divers. Derek Roy-who-cried-wolf is a standout in this regard. Carolina has more veteran forwards, they are a more diverse bunch and appear to have more size.

I'm not sure how these differences should play out in the series, but the discussion helped flesh out this blog post.


The NHL player profiles on the ESPN website contain a unique ID number in the URL. It appears the database admins had a little bit of fun with these numbers:

Mario is #66 (of course).
Paul Coffey is #77, and Eric Lindros is #88.

Following this pattern, it should be obvious that
Sidney Crosby is... #3737. And #99? Unused.

Here's a list, conveniently sorted in numerical order for all the other OCD-types out there:

1 = blank
2 = Kevin Stevens
3 = Brett Hull
4 = Jeremy Roenick
5 = Yzerman
6 = blank
7 = Sakic
8 = Luc Robitaille
9 = Gary Roberts
10 = Mark Messier
11 = Recchi
12 = Turgeon
13 = Leetch
14 = blank
15 = Oates
16 = blank
17 = blank
18 = Housley
19 = Ray Bourque
20 = Larry Murphy
21 = MacInnis
22 = Scott Stevens
23 = Andreychuk
24 = Damphousse
25 = Mogilny
26 = Owen Nolan
27 (to 1) = Tocchet
28 = blank
29 = Gilmour
30 = blank
31 = Olczyk
32 = blank
33 = Sergei Fedorov
55 = Amonte
66 = Mario
77 = Coffey
87 = blank (reserved for future use?)
88 = Lindros
98 = Bob Bassen
99 = blank
100 = Belfour


My apologies for the ridiculously long stretch without updates. No, the demise of the Canadiens has not plunged me too far into the depths of despair to post. Rather, I've been busier than a sack of cats. Who would have thought that changing jobs, buying a house, wedding planning duties, and watching three different tournaments at once (NHL playoffs, WHCs and the Memorial Cup) would take up so much time?


The Show Must Go On

Just because Radek Bonk has already put in 36 holes doesn't mean I'm off to do the same. Updates might be a little leaner as I put slightly more time into doing what I get paid to do rather than obsessing over the health of Steve Begin's left knee. Onto last night's game...

That was no ordinary waxing. That was a Brazilian. Game 7's are supposed to be fun. Watching that was worse than suffering through the latest Drew Barrymore tripe to appease Ms. Sisu.

I'm quite disappointed that we won't be treated to the spectacle of a Battle of Alberta, but something tells me I'm nowhere near as disappointed as Calgary's mob of teenage pervs with digital cameras. Also on the downside: it will be at least one more round before we can finally dispense the 'Mighty' Ducks of Anaheim to the Disney Vault for good. It's nothing personal, Ducks fans - it's just the name. The day the words Mighty Ducks are engraved on the Stanley Cup will be the last day I pay any attention to the NHL. Either that or I'll sneak into the HHOF and have at the Cup with a bottle of liquid paper.

Round 2 Picks

Ottawa over Buffalo. This is not an easy pick to make. Buffalo has a distinct edge in goaltending. Plus, I think something is wrong with Chara. I mean, other than all the Chernobyl fallout he obviously absorbed in his youth. He was knocked over more times in the Ott-TB series than he was all year. On the back of their thumping of the defending champs, I gotta go with the Sens.

New Jersey over Carolina. Another one that's close to a tossup. The Devils are clearly in the silverback phase of their Cup contender arc. If the Calgary-Anaheim game 7 is any indication, New NHL hockey is endangered. That plays into the hands of Cap'n Lou.

Edmonton over San Jose. As any Habs fan will tell you, Thornton can be shut down. Edmonton has the edge in goal for now, but the Sharks can try Nabokov if Toskala doesn't perform. It worked for Carolina/Anaheim with Ward/Bryzgalov. Flip a coin, really.

Colorado over Anaheim. I want to say Ducks, but the Avs won in 5 and Anaheim went to 7.


Game 6

Of course, the one guy on the 'Canes I bash incessantly scores the series winning goal just to spite me. Frig. I bash Mike Ribeiro all the time! Why couldn't *he* step up and prove me wrong! Argh! Fisher's account of the evening is here.

First off - Craig Rivet. Cherry and everyone else has been piling on, saying Rivet should not have put his stick in front of Stillman's shot, that it was an egregious error, that he shall never be forgiven etc. From 60' out, I think Rivet made the right play. Almost every time, he would have deflected the shot away from the net. If he doesn't challenge Stillman, he opens up the possibility of a fake shot or a shot with a big rebound. Or even a goal.

The rest of the series - There were three things that changed the course: the loss of Koivu, the Cam Ward coming out party, and Carolina's adjustments, particularly on special teams.

The Koivu story has been done to death, so I won't bore you further.

Bob MacKenzie describes Ward as a
Cinderella story. There is no question he outplayed Huet, this season's previous Cinderella story. While Ward was as cool as a penguin's ass, Huet at times looked like a deer in the headlights, caught staring straight ahead while the puck bounced dangerously around his periphery. Ward was not a one-man show, but all other things being equal (and other things were remarkably equal in the last few games) the hotter goalie can make a big difference. Huet played great, Ward played greater.

Finally, Laviolette made some significant adjustments on the PP/PK. Cullen's goal in game 5 really stands out, when the 'Canes tried a higher formation (umbrella?). In game 6, the Habs adjusted for it. Unfortunately, I didn't see a similar adaptation by the Habs on their PP. Two Carolina PKers were very aggressive on points, and it worked like a charm. The Habs should have tried something like the 'Canes' umbrella with 3 shooters high. In the end, the Habs were still trying to catch up to the opponents' special teams.

Playoff Overtime - This creates a dilemma on weeknights. If you plan your beer consumption carefully, you can time it so you're finished when the game is over. Overtime introduces some uncertainty. Out here on the East coast, games can finish pretty late. By having another pint, you're committing to being up for another hour for a full beer rental cycle. It's not usually a problem, but if the game ends abruptly you're missing out on shuteye that could be crucial for the next evening's games. And you're wasting a beer. I hesitate to use the word "wasting" because a consumed pint is never wasted... it just could be more fully enjoyed with a game on the telly.

Congrats to the Carolina Hurricanes, and best of luck with the Devils. Please check out the wicked awesome 'Canes bloggers as they continue their playoff run:

Acid Queen
Red and Black Hockey


Now or Never

From Colby Cosh, on the Oilers:
"I still don't think the team has really confronted anything resembling adversity in these playoffs, and I don't for one second trust in their collective psychological ability to rebound from it."
Well, the Habs have been confronted with adversity, in both the playoffs and regular season.

The loss of Kovalev for a knee tune-up coincided nicely with an early season tailspin. The team is 3-10 when Andrei Markov is out of the lineup. We all know what happened when the Jose Theodore foofoorah came to a crescendo. It took the Olympic break for the team to collect themselves, after which they went on a solid run to earn a playoff spot.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in this series, the Habs haven't won since Koivu left the ice in game 3. We don't have the luxury of a three week holiday to regroup. It's now or never October, boys.


Some links:

Handshake time? Kuya's not saying kumbaya.

Here's the Habsblog preview of game 6.

Al Strachan, has been covering the Habs off and on all season.


After kicking around the tomato cans of the Central division (Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis) all season, Nashville and Detroit were given a rude awakening in the playoffs.

The standings boost that these two teams received from their creampuff schedule is one thing. One very, very often-mentioned thing. Unmentioned is a possible advantage this gave these two teams against stronger opponents in the regular season. More games facing inferior opponents means more opportunities to rest your stars or start your backup.

I'd be interested to see a breakdown of the icetime of the Wings' and Preds' top players by opponent. Maybe I'll do it in the offseason.


Game 6 last night was one for the ages. Some notes:

- The energy in the building was huge. I'm not a fan of doing the anthems, but I admit they pumped me up. Paul Lorieau sings the anthems the way they're meant to be sung, unlike pop tarts who prefer to 'interpret' them.

- Zetterberg had his way with
Sissy Spacek on the Wings 1st goal. The camera found a scary-hardcore Wings fan who looked like Tom Clancy jacked up on military grade amphetamines.

- What a well coordinated booing effort on Chelios! It's on as soon as the puck' on his tape, and off the instant he passes. Do they hand out instruction cards to fans as they enter the building?

- A colour guy (I believe it was Garrett) says Roloson is 'literally' on a roll in the 2nd.

- Speaking of colour guys... Everyone's been in this situation before. You know when one of your buddies has a few beers and just keeps running his mouth, and everyone else goes silent hoping he'll shut up and stop embarrassing himself, but he doesn't, and soon enough you're embarrassed for him? That guy is Greg Millen.

- The Rexall centre staff are missing out on a huge opportunity by not playing Abba's Fernando after a Pisani goal.

- Hemsky's first: For all the insistence of the broadcast crew that the goal would have been approved by the review, I'm willing to bet that the War Room replied, "Inconclusive." I still haven't seen a clear view of what happened.

- Moreau's block in the last minute, just like Horcoff's in game 5, is this series in a nutshell.

- You have to feel for Manny. After seeing both ends of the spectrum while caddying for a carousel of goalies (Osgood, Cujo, Hasek), he knows all about the pressure. He must have had mixed emotions after finally earning the starting job.


Former Habs' property
Francois Beauchemin laid a lickin' on Iggy in the 1st period last night. This guy has turned into a fantastic player for Anaheim. So, how'd the Habs lose him? He was nabbed off waivers by Columbus in Sept. '04. Sound familiar?


Todd Rants

Montreal Gazette columnist and known snarkalec Jack Todd uncorked some pent up rage this morning. [Attn: Caniacs. Jack Todd's views do not necessarily represent those of Sisu Hockey.]

First on his list is "Thunderstix." I don't really get the point of bringing noise enhancement devices to the rink - be they Thunderstix, the more traditional cowbells, or whatever. By handing these things out, is the organization suggesting that the role of the fan is to deliberately make as much noise as possible? And here I am, thinking the crowd noise was merely a by-product of enthusiasm for the game.

I wonder how far this could be allowed to go? Would the NHL step in if a team handed out air horns? How about standard-issue referee whistles? Now that would be a fun game to watch.

Todd should be careful, lest he be forced to eat some crow. Seems to me he wrote a similar rant a few years ago about Leafs fans and their tin foil Stanley Cups. Maybe they were rare in Montreal at the time, but they abound at the Bell Centre now. The same may yet happen with the Thunderstix plague.

Other stuff on Todd's mind: Jim Hughson's play-by-play is A-OK (agreed) and composite sticks ought to be banned (agreed).


In other links...

- Martin Brodeur wasn't too busy sweeping the Rangers to write his regular column. This week he sticks up for the masked men of the league (gee, what a surprise).
"Defenseman Niclas Wallin clearly prevented Huet from doing his job by positioning himself in the crease, while placing his stick between Huet's pads. We don't need those kind of goals."
- A big 'ol raspberry to the Montreal paparazzi for blowing flashbulbs in Koivu's eye.