The 2023-24 Maple Leafs

There are about 10 or 11 teams in the very competitive NHL that could make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this year:

Winnipeg Jets
Vancouver Canucks
Boston Bruins
Colorado Avalanche
New York Rangers
Florida Panthers
Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights
Toronto Maple Leafs
Carolina Hurricanes
Los Angeles Kings

Several teams are not far behind this cluster and could easily make a run at the playoffs if they get hot.  It is a very competitive league and, as has been observed, winning the NHL championship is likely the most difficult challenge of any major team sport.  It is long, hard, and grueling.

I have been a Toronto Maple Leaf fan since about 1967– I am so old that I actually saw the Leafs win a Stanley Cup (in 1967).  I remember that at that time, they were close behind the Canadiens for the total number of championships: it was 13 to 11.  Since then, it has become 24 (!) to 11.

The Leafs have a notoriously bad record in recent years in the playoffs.  They actually have a good record of making the playoffs, each of the past seven years, but, with the exception of last year in which they eliminated Tampa Bay, they have not won a single series.  It is a stain on the careers of Austin Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly, none of whom have performed particularly well in the playoffs.  It is an even bigger stain on their goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Frederick Andersen, neither of which have been able to “come up big” in decisive playoff games.

This obscures the fact that the Leafs do have a very good team.  They can score goals but their defense is suspect.  Their No. 1 goalie, Ilya Samsonov, is a wreck and has been demoted and their next most auspicious candidate, Joseph Woll, is injured.   Matt Murray– last I heard– was hurt and will not return (I think he was moved to Pittsburgh, last I heard).   Martin Jones has stepped in and is currently performing exceptionally well.

No Leaf fan can forget how they led the decisive game 7 against Boston 4-3 in the third period a few years ago only to see Frederick Andersen allow three highly questionable goals, including the egregious one through the five-hole that gave up the lead.  The Leafs lost 7-4 (one empty net goal).

The Leafs have lately looked pretty good, with Martin Jones in net.  But so has Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, New York Rangers, and Boston.

I am optimistic– I always am, this time of year, recently– about the playoffs.  The Leaf “core four” (Nylander, Matthews, Marner, Tavares) are a year older.  Tavares in not getting more effective, but the other three are entering the years in which most athletes are in their prime.  They also have the bitter experience of losing in the first round in six of the last seven playoffs (and the second round last year) to teams that appeared to be inferior to them.   They should know now how much grit, consistency, and determination is required to win a seven-game series.   They should be tougher, more resilient.  Matthews in particular seems to have stepped up his game.

I am suspicious of Nylander– he can be brilliant but he also gives the puck away far too often and sometimes seems to be coasting outside the blueline waiting for a pass.  Both he and Marner make risky passes and it’s hard to assess whether the pretty goals they generate outweigh the ugly goals they give up.  One immediately remembers overtime in a game against Boston this year in which Nylander turned back with the puck– a thing he likes to do too often– and fell.  He just fell, giving up the puck to the two deadliest forwards on Boston (and the game-winning goal).  The other night, he was coasting to the bench while Colorado was in full press mode towards the Leaf net.  They scored.

There is also hope in regard to the Leafs 3rd and 4th lines, and other secondary players like Matthew Knies who is improving in every game.   Jarnkrok in particular has become more effective, Domi is showing some determination and more skill, and Robertson occasionally threatens.

On defense, Rielly is actually playing better than he did last year when he seemed to be struggling at times and lost his instincts for contributing on offense.  Brodie and Giordano or good– not excellent– Liljegren seems to be improving.  McCabe can be forceful.  Timmins and Lagesson strike me as filler material.  They could use another good pick-handling defenseman.  The need a good defensive defenseman even more:  they often mishandle the puck in their own corners and end up running around chasing while the opposition sets up.

The Leafs made what I consider a major blunder is allowing Justin Holl to walk– I thought he had improved significantly over the past few years and  he is playing pretty well for Detroit– and an even bigger blunder is signing forward Ryan Reaves (thank goodness he’s out right now) and an incomprehensible blunder in signing John Klingberg (out for the season, I believe), who has a career -40 rating.

When Woll returns, will he be as effective as he was at the beginning of the season?  Will Jones continue his solid performances?  We haven’t seen Dennis Hildeby in action yet– he is a great unknown, a large (for goalie– for anybody) player at 6′ 7″ and 200 lbs.  The Leafs will almost surely start him at some point in the near future, for there is a perception out there that the Leafs have overworked their #1 goalies the last few years perhaps contributing to their disappointing performances in the playoffs.

So, as usual, I will expect the Leafs to finally advance further than the first round this year.  I expect Matthews, Marner, and Nylander– with their increased experience– to contribute more.  Matthews in particular seems more able than ever before to summon his formidable talents into a gritty two-way game that can actually redirect the teams momentum at crucial moments.   I hope the Leafs do pick up a solid defenseman somewhere for the playoff run.   And then we have to hope that Jones and Hildeby or Woll perform well.

Tavares?  Tonight, against Detroit, he was worse than ineffective.  He gave the puck way, lost almost every battle for the puck along the boards, and seemed slow and lethargic.  He was so awful I wonder if he is hurt.

The NHL is a very tough league.  The Leafs have shown this year that they can beat any team on a any given night.  Perhaps this is the year they finally show that they can win a seven-game series against a tough opponent.  If they do, they need the “core four” to perform well but I expect they will win only if they get unexpected contributions from players like Knies, Jarnkrok, and Domi.  The impact of sensational players like Matthews is generally not as great as most people think it is.  (I thought the Blue Jays were deluded in their vain attempt to sign Ohtani in the off-season: for the same money, they could have improved themselves at four or five other positions and that would have had a bigger impact on their overall success.)

Look at the winning teams for the past decades: they are comprised of a star or two, yes, but more importantly an assembly of strong secondary talents, reliable goal-tenders who don’t allow soft goals at crucial moments of the game, and defensemen who, once they have the puck, can smoothly move it out of the defensive zone to forwards who have positioned themselves to receive it and advance into the other team’s zone.  Justin Holl’s major fault, until last year, was the frequency with which he blindly shot the puck along the boards to the opposition point man, or passed the puck to players who were either being checked or didn’t exist.  Jake Gardiner, before him, was even worse at that.  This is the play before the play that results in cheap goals against.   Teams don’t win championships with great saves by their goalie (though Montreal, with Carey Price, came close a few years ago).  They win by preventing those chances in the first place.

The Leafs appear to me to have improved in this area.  Until recently.  They have recently looked weak and disorganized.  Both the power play and the penalty kill have been atrocious.

Given the level of talent on the club, you have to look elsewhere.  I believe it’s time to fire coach Sheldon Keefe.



Sports Oppression

The essential dynamic of most national sports teams is this: there is an administrative infrastructure of privileged coaches and managers and administrators who have the power to decide who plays and who doesn’t and why and when, and then there is the talent who actually achieves (or not) the desired results and provides the real “value” of sport: the entertainment of watching a competition.

When Canada decided to play Christine Sinclair and America decided to play Megan Rapinoe at the 2023 World Cup, it was the administrative side in action, deciding that certain players were “owed” the right to take the field in critical games even if their talents have largely faded and there were better players on the bench.  Look at the best players on the winning teams:  they are invariably young.

When Spanish players protested the ridiculous regimen coach Jorge Vilda imposed on the team during training (checking their rooms at night to see if they were there, searching bags for purchases, taking the bus instead of a plane to matches), management refused to hear them and demanded that they apologize before they could be considered for the national team.  Think about it: we do not play, we do not have the skills, we do not train, we do not diet, we do not sweat, but how dare you question our decisions of what you must do.  It’s obscene.  Bend your knee.

And then there was the kiss.   I note that most news outlets conspicuously did not broadcast the video of the horrible, shocking, terrible, disgusting, misogynistic, patriarchal buss.  I think it’s obvious why.  It was incredibly brief, and we see Jenni Hermosa embrace Rubiales as part of the transaction.  That doesn’t alter the fact that it was inappropriate and unwanted, but the context makes it less clear that this was some kind of monstrous gesture that must be punished with dismissal.

The Inevitable Double Standard!

I am not exaggerating.  But I have to stop a minute and insist here loudly that there is a monumental effect going on in which everyone must be swept up into and compelled to join the stampede and denounce the incident as a terrible act of sexual aggression.  It is not that.  It is trivial.  It is incredibly transient.  It is a stray impulse, a clumsy gesture.  It does not deserve the attention it is getting and I refuse to kowtow to the hoards on it.  And I am getting more and more disgusted by the movement behind it by the minute.

Many are calling it a “sexual assault”.  Oh, that’s smart: the next time someone hears the term “sexual assault” they will think it might refer to a kiss that lasted less than a second.   Or it could be rape.  Or forced sodomy.  Who knows?  It’s all sexual assault.

And now, it has ridiculously, absurdly, comically made the FRONT PAGE of the NEW YORK TIMES.  Yes, it has.  A fucking kiss that lasted less than one second.

Jenni Hermosa has released a statement.  I cannot confirm it but I would be willing to bet a pocketful of change that it was written by a feminist probably connected with the player’s union, and not by Hermosa.

A video has surfaced of the women’s team on the bus after the game making light of the incident, joking about it, shouting “kiss, kiss” when another man enters the bus, and looking at video of a female journalist kissing a member of the Spanish men’s team after a victory a few years ago.

There was a time when some anti-communists cited concerns about Santa Claus being a pernicious red influence on our children.  They should have stuck to Stalin.  The Santa Claus reference is remembered for ever as an exemplar of an overwrought movement that lost it’s mind getting hysterical about imagined insidious elements everywhere.  The feminists should learn from them and stick to real sexual violence.

It has become about something else.  It has become something Megan Rapinoe can seize upon as evidence of how horrible her life is because she is bullied and oppressed by the patriarchy even though by any objective standard Rapinoe lives an incredibly privileged life and even gets invited to play in a critical game when she is well past her prime (check out her performances at the 2023 World Cup: she was distinctly terrible– she couldn’t even lift corners into the box.)  To witness Rapinoe trying to leverage this incident into just how much she personally has suffered is more than obscene.

The kiss has become the Trump of the World Cup: sucking all the oxygen out of the room when it should be better spent on describing how remarkably exciting and beautiful the games were: the final games of the tournament were simply outstanding: thrilling passing, great shots, passionate defense, and compelling narratives.  You idiots– yes, I mean it– are obsessing over a trivial incident that is robbing the tournament of distinctive achievements.  You make this trivial gesture a monumental issue and then complain that it is Rubiales who distracted everyone from your glorious championship.

If the argument is that the entire regimen, the control and power exercised by the administrative parasites who plague all major sports should be deposed, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, I am enthusiastically on side.  Let’s dismantle it.  Fuck the coaches and managers: give the power to the players.  Let them elect the coaches and managers, or dismiss them, as is their wont; let’s please, please, please dump the vast array of parasitical support staff that accompany athletes to tournaments, get the best seats, stay at the best hotels, take away their medals if they smoked marijuana, and are never really kissed by anybody.

National Review’s writer Charles C. W. Cooke claimed that the women’s game is substandard.  As he recently put it, “It’s not good sports.” The final had exactly what he accused the women’s game of lacking: a fascinating clash of tactics played with speed and mesmeric flow, tense and fierce.  Atlantic

I hope activists fuck off with their hysteria about a kiss and take on the real enemy, the structure of international sports organizations, the fascistic culture of FIFA and the International Olympics Committee, the parasitical coaches who are as often as not women, and the flag-waving rabble of rabid nationalists who only care about a sport if their team wins the medals.

But they won’t.  Rubiales will resign and most of the world will breathe a sign of relief and act as if the crisis is over and the real powers of Spanish Football will remain untouched and unharmed and will all be sitting in the best box seats again at the next tournament.  You fools.  You have been gaslighted again.  And you will be again and again and again.

Incidentally, I have been unable to determine if the short video of “the kiss” that I found online is sourced from ESPN, FIFA, or what.  I don’t know if the medal ceremonies are as protected as the game itself.  Maybe it is.  Either way, one wonders how much taxpayers contribute to the costs of training, transportation, game facilities, and so on, and then, why the hell should they be denied the right to see video of the games, at least after the live broadcast?  I have not seen CBS, PBS, NBC, the New York Times, or anyone else post video of the kiss or of any part of the game.

Just how many parasites are there?

May be an image of 3 people, people playing soccer and people playing football

When the Beatles dropped by to see Elvis in the mid 1960’s, they were astonished that he had about 11 assistants living with him to take care of his every whim and need.  The Beatles at the time had 3 for all of them.

Elvis was a shallow, credulous, fat, drug-addled pop star by then.  The Beatles went on to create some of the most remarkable music of the 1960’s.

No coincidence.

Celebrating Incidental Achievements: the Home Run Jacket and the Blue Jays

I always felt that Cal Ripken’s “ironman” streak of consecutive games hurt the Orioles’ chances of winning the division. It put the focus on individual achievement at the expense of team success. In the same way, I don’t believe the Blue Jays will go anywhere until they ditch the home-run jacket. It’s not what you’re there for. It’s a distraction. It celebrates incidental success rather than game-winning performances, like Hernandez’s single in today’s game or Garcia’s terrific two innings of work. It’s like, “look at us, we hit home runs!” instead of “we had the bases loaded with nobody out in a one-run game and actually drove in a couple of runs” or “we put in a pinch runner for our best hitter and he didn’t get picked off” (Zimmer did get picked off at a critical moment in the game) which they haven’t done a lot of lately.

“Because of the Thoroughness With Which the Accuser Was Discredited”

Paul Takakjian, a criminal defense lawyer who is not involved in Bauer’s case but previously served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, said he saw Thursday’s ruling as “a harbinger of maybe good news” for [Trevor] Bauer in his criminal investigation “because of the thoroughness with which the accuser was discredited in the judge’s eyes.”  NY Times [2022-04-30]

I post this link with no pleasure, but because we are all continually confronted with advocates for women insisting that women never lie about sexual assault.

It appears that the woman let slip that she hoped to extract a large sum of money from Bauer as a result of her allegations, and in spite of lavish evidence that she consented to his actions in the bedroom.  In fact, the woman initiated contact with Bauer and requested “rough sex” and, apparently, even specifically asked for actions by Bauer that she later alleged were abusive.

I am disappointed– but not surprised– that Major League Baseball suspended Bauer for 2 years regardless of the facts.  It is not logical.  Either the woman has been discredited or she has not.  If she was discredited– and she certainly was after a “thorough” investigation– then Bauer’s behavior may have been distasteful and offensive to the more mainstream (public) preferences of Commissioner Rob Manfred and his colleagues, but it should not be grounds for a suspension, and I would not be surprised if Bauer wins his appeal.

I repeat that– it was a thorough investigation.  No judge would be eager to dismiss charges in an explosive case like this but the judge,  Dianna Gould-Saltman — yes, a woman– had no choice.  The evidence was clear and convincing.

This reminds me of the Jian Ghomeshi case in which several women also lied about the incident– to the police and in court– and then coordinated their stories.  Ghomeshi’s lawyer provided the court with convincing proof that the women had lied and the case was dismissed.  Yet the feminist establishment continued to behave as if he had been found guilty.

They will behave the same way in the case of Trevor Bauer and that is why MLB suspended him in spite of the court case collapse.  If they had let him resume his career, they would have been relentlessly savaged in the media and nobody wants to have defend someone whose taste runs to rough sex, and nobody wants to even mention the fact that the woman requested it because feminist orthodoxy is that the woman never asks for it.

Another case of a woman lying about sexual assault.


The 2021-2022 Maple Leafs

It seems incredible that a Canadian NHL team has not won the Stanley Cup since Montreal did it in 1993.

Yes, 1993.  29 years ago.

I said last year that the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens were probably the least talented team to ever make the Stanley Cup Finals.  I seem to have been vindicated in my opinion by their performance this year: they are nowhere near the level they seemed to reach in the 2021 playoffs.   Really good teams rarely fail to perform well in the years just before and after a championship appearance.   Even after the loss of a star player, most great teams will have a core of solid talents that carry them through the early rounds.  My theory was that their progress then was largely due to Carey Price and sheer determination and hustle and a bit of luck (the Leafs were very close to eliminating them in the first round).  This year, the Canadiens lost Price to personal issues and collapsed as a team.  It will be a while before they return to a competitive level, though perhaps not as long as we used to think.  NHL teams lately have shown a remarkable ability to rebuild quickly.

The Leafs have what is probably the best team they have ever put on the ice, with the exception of goal-tending.  Austin Matthews may well be the best over-all player in the NHL this year; Mitch Marner is not far behind– if he is behind.  Marner’s incredible vision on the ice is remarkable.  In a game tonight against the Islanders, he made a back-handed pass right onto the tape of Nylander’s stick that seemed jarringly unlikely given his position, headed into the corner.  He has an uncanny awareness of where the spaces are, where his team-mates are, and who is a position to shoot.  He does this a lot.  How many goals would Matthews have if he were playing with someone else?  But then, how many assists would Marner have?  Last night, in the absence of Matthews,  Marner set up Nylander several other times but Nylander missed all except one, and that one squiggled through the goalie.

One commentator tonight (April 23) mentioned, in an off-hand manner, that Marner might be “underrated”.  I think he’s right.  They showed a list of the top five candidates for the Hart trophy:  the leading scorer of the past 3 months was not on the list.  Yes, that’s Mitch Marner.

Michael Bunting is supposed to be the gritty line-mate to compliment Marner and Matthew’s finesse but it would be useful if he receive passes with a bit more dexterity and cash in on some of the golden opportunities his line-mates give him.   Why do other teams hate him?  Sure, he draws a lot of penalties, but he’s not really a “dirty” player.   But other teams tend to go after him for some unknown reason.

In addition to Marner and Matthews, the Leafs have several pretty good secondary offensive threats, particularly in Nylander, a mysterious player who often seems to be punching the clock, until you notice that he has 6 goals in the last 8 games.  Where did they come from?  He often misses the net, because he always tries for the corners, usually the upper corners, but his shots are crisp and quick, he’s a great puck handler, and he is very fast.  He may score 50 some day.  John Tavares should be providing more of a threat from the 2nd line than he currently does.  He’s just not as sharp as Marner or Matthews but I give him credit for grit and determination for a good player past his prime.

Ilya Mikheyev is also impressive.  The Leafs have had speedy forwards before but often without a deft touch at the net (Russ Courtnall, Kasperi Kapanen): Mikheyev shows signs of figuring out how to actually get it past the goaltender once he has broken free of the defense, which he does a lot.  Alex Kerfoot is a threat– like Tavares, gritty and persistent, and he’s also pretty fast.  Pierre Engvall has good nights and may end up being a key part of the team if it advances.  He is big but also quick and a threat on the penalty kill.

Jason Spezza should really sit down.  He’s just not that quick anymore.  When is the last time he got a goal?  Filler.  He seems like a likeable guy but, sheesh, the Leafs are gunning for playoff success here and I really believe a younger talented player like Blackwell would be more helpful than Spezza at this point.

On defense, I believe Reilly may be over-rated.  Yes, he’s a good skater and gets a lot of assists, but he also occasionally rushes to the net and shoots right at the goalie’s midsection, or he rushes down the ice, blowing past players to the left and the right, then he dumps the puck in.  Tonight, he broke in alone on goal and couldn’t manage to do anything except fall down in front of the goalie as the puck slid away.  Still, it’s very hard to measure the defensive impact of a player who, through good skating and puck handling, minimizes the time the other team spends in possession of the puck.   It’s one thing for a defenseman to block a shot; it’s even better if the other team never got the shot in the first place.

Mark Giordano is not bad.  He seems reliable.  Ilya Lyubushkin is a question mark: he often just fumbles around with the puck, unsure of where to go or what to do.  Jake Muzzin is okay and a balance to the more offensive-minded partners on defense.   Brodie makes a lot of mistakes lately.  Justin Holl made a lot of mistakes earlier in the season but has improved though he still makes bad decisions in his own zone– turning around and going back and getting trapped in the corner, or passing to someone who is about to be checked.   Actually, he does that a lot.  Timothy Liljegren has been playing well lately, going to the net when the opportunity presents itself.  Rasmus Sandin makes mistakes but also looks promising.

The Leaf’s biggest 5 on 5 weakness is their inability to break up the play when trapped in their own zone: the puck seems to ricochet around the boards from one attacking defenseman to another until they can force a scramble in front of the net or a one-timer from the side.  Buffalo, for some reason, seemed adept at breaking up that kind of zone trap against the Leafs,  but the Leafs seem flummoxed by that kind of action in their own end.  They chase and  scramble along the boards and then give up the puck.

The real problem– and Leafs’ management knows it — is that, aside from a spell earlier in the season, Jack Campbell has not been reliable in goal, and Petr Mrazek has been awful.  Erik Kallgren showed some promise but has also had disastrous nights.  At one point, it appears that Kyle Dubas was involved in secret negotiations for Fleury from Chicago but they fell through, and it’s Campbell, probably, for the playoffs, and I shudder to think the Leafs might be involved in some close games.

In the last few years, Frederick Anderson fooled fans by making a brilliant save or two and then losing sight of a shot from the point, or losing track of the puck in a scramble in front of the net and giving up a cheap goal.  Fans tend to judge goalies generously if they make a spectacular save or two, but the really great playoff goalies are consistent.  Nothing is more depressing than to see a team make a gritty, determined effort to tie the game only to see a fluke shot go in at the other end, something that happened regularly with Frederick Anderson, memorably against Boston two years ago.   And nothing gives a team more confidence to make daring attacks than a spectacular save by their goalie after one of those daring attacks goes wrong, as Price did last year for Montreal.

Any of about a half-dozen teams or more could win the Stanley Cup this year:

  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Florida Panthers
  • Tampa Bay Lightening
  • St. Louis Blues
  • New York Rangers
  • Minnesota Wild
  • Carolina Hurricanes

Another half-dozen, including Boston and Pittsburgh, have an outside chance of pulling a few upsets in the  first or second rounds of the playoffs.

There is no magic formula to determining who is most likely to win.  There are always surprises and disappointments.  On paper, the Panthers and Avalanche would be favorites, but both are beatable– any team is– on a good night for the other team  (the Panthers, at home tonight, just barely escaped with an overtime victory against the Leafs who had the better chances in the 3rd period).  Over a best of seven series, good luck, great goal-tending, and that intangible, random, thing we sometimes call “focus” or “inspiration” or “grit” can play a huge role in determining the outcome.  We’ve all seen teams with amazing scoring prowess suddenly totally smothered by disciplined defensive team with great goal-tending.   It happened to Toronto, Vegas,  Pittsburgh, and Colorado in 2021.   It could happen to any of the great offensive teams this year, Florida, Toronto, and Colorado.

The Leafs have gone 17 seasons without winning a single playoff series, and are 0-8 in potential series winning games over that stretch.  That may sound really, really awful, but keep in mind that it’s a big league and those numbers are not all that unusual.  There are teams that have done even worse.

What the Leafs have going for them is, firstly, that they have the best winning percentage in the NHL against playoff opponents (and the worst against teams that are not going to make the playoffs), and, secondly, Matthews and Marner both have a year of additional experience and a painful awareness of how awful they were last year in seven games against Montreal (Matthews: 1 goal, 4 assists; Marner:  0 goals, 4 assists).   Matthews in particular seems determined to add more grit and aggression to his performance and seems, at times, more capable of willing himself into a more dominant role against even formidable opposition.

We’ll see.

Tonight (April 24, 2022) the Leafs beat Washington in a shoot-out despite being badly outplayed through most of the game.  The Leafs’ performance was not reassuring in reference to their playoff prospects.  My impression is that teams that are capable of tight defense tend to prevail over teams that emphasize offense.  The Leaf defense tonight was often terrible, leaving players uncovered, allowing breakaways, giving the puck away, and endless chasing in their own zone.  Quite often, Washington simply pushed Leaf players aside and took the puck.

And yet, the Leafs scored two goals in the later stages of the 3rd period, by Mikeyev and Spezza(!), including one with the net empty, to overcome a 3-1 Washington lead and take it to overtime– where they took a penalty.  In the shootout, almost everybody missed until Kerfoot managed to tuck one in to win the game.

Erik Kallgren, it must be said, did marvelously well in the shoot-out, stopping every attempt except the very first one.

I don’t get why it isn’t obvious to the Leafs that they need a different strategy for breaking up plays along the boards in their own zone.

I also can’t comprehend why anyone in the Leafs’ brain trust actually believes the back-pass on the powerplay is even remotely useful.  I’ve been watching them do this forever and it mostly fails.  Why does anyone think it is working?





Just so You Know

While the American National women’s soccer team is suing for equal pay and bragging about their victories over other women and just how smackingly clever and talented they are, let’s just keep one minor corrective in mind:  the Australian National Women’s Team once challenged a team of 15-year-old boys.

They were easily, effortlessly, crushed 7-0.

The Americans are probably a bit better than the Australians but not by much.

So yes, you American women often beat other national women’s teams, but not nearly as many people care about your performance as much as you do, and you don’t play on the same grand scale as the men do, and no, you don’t deserve the same pay, not remotely, not by any standard that usually applies in the world of professional sports.  You can’t go into Italy or Brazil or even Iceland and play their national women’s team in front of 60,000 fans.

Anyone who watched your game right after, say, a men’s game of France vs. Spain, would know the truth.  In terms of skill and speed and power, you aren’t even close.  Not even close.

So who did you ask for more money?  From the fans, who would pay to see you?  From the owners of the club teams that run the league that you play in?  From the sponsors who pay for advertising during the games?  From the makers of sporting apparel and bling who dress you and market you?  But then you would have to prove that you actually generate the same income-driving passion as the men.  You don’t.  You too would lose to a bunch of 15-year-old boys if you played them.

So you went to the government.  That’s right.  Give us more money or we’ll cancel you.


The 2021 Montreal Canadiens

I don’t think a less-skilled hockey team has ever made the Stanley Cup Finals than the 2021 Montreal Canadiens.    The fact that they even reached the semi-finals is remarkable.

They do have a remarkable goaltender in Carey Price and he has kept them alive through most of the games until now.   Without a doubt, he saved them in the first series against a superior Leafs team.   As I watched that series unfold, I kept wondering what it was that Montreal actually had that gave them the victories in the last three games.  Determination.  Aggressive, smart, forward-looking offensive zone attitude, even when killing penalties.  And Carey Price.  And it was enough because Matthews and Marner didn’t perform, John Tavares was absent, and the Leafs still don’t have a playoff-caliber goaltender.  Jake Campbell might have been adequate, had all other things been equal, but they were not.

The 2021 Canadiens are a team of nobodies.  Whoever heard of Caufield?  Petry?  Kotkaniemi?  Suzuki?  Danault?  Kehkonen?  Well, guess what?  The 1993 Canadiens, the last Canadian or Canadien team to win the Stanley Cup, were also a team of nobodies:  Brisebois.  Daigneault.  Desjardins.   Brashear.  Brunet.  Di Pietro.

Until the Tampa Bay Lightening came along, Montreal was able to disguise it’s lack of raw talent through utter diligence,  frantic commitment, and Carey Price.  But by Game 3 of the finals, the naked truth emerged: the Canadiens blundered around making bad passes, missing their checks, passing to players about to be checked, getting shouldered aside in the corners, and Tampa Bay simply out-skilled, out-muscled, and even out-hustled them.  The turnovers finally killed Montreal, and Price had an uncharacteristically bad night.  Montreal just doesn’t score more than 3 goals in any game– at least, almost never– so when Tampa Bay racked up 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, there was no chance.

Can Montreal come back from a 3-0 deficit?




The Photographer Was Ready

This horrific ski accident.

There is something about the dynamic between the media and sports and young athletes that has always worried me. You must eternally go faster, harder, bigger, to set records, to win medals, to give speeches for big money, to become a scandal, to run a school, and so on. All of this push to increase the risk of injuries like this, for our entertainment. I note the photographer on the left focusing on the skier in agony before help has even arrived.

And is her performance really more interesting to watch because it’s faster than was possible years ago, before the optimized equipment and slopes? Do the young competitors really understand the risks they are pushed to accept, for the thrill of the tv audience?

I say slow the whole thing down, on purpose.  Why should I care if the hill can be descended 10 seconds faster than it was five years ago?  If they are all skiing on the same hill and same general equipment, we have a competition.

The only thing missing would be the braying headline: record shattered.

And bones.

You won’t pay $100 to have dinner while listening to a former athlete describe how her life was ruined by an accident on the slopes, or the chute, or cliff, or the race track.

Janet Jackson Gets Her “Due”

According to the New York Times, Janet Jackson has been unjustly deprived of accolades and esteem because of the scandalous event known as “nipplegate” in which a piece of her wardrobe fell away from her breast while Justin Timberlake was trying to put it back during a performance at the Superbowl in 2004.

No– the act was Justin Timberlake pulling the wardrobe away from her breast.  But what was supposed to happen– after the audience got their titillation out of the way– was that the pulled away fabric would just reveal more fabric.

The Superbowl is already a triviality, a monument to nothingness, a mammoth orgy of absurdly boring sport and vulgarity.   The half-time performances are already obscene: most artists lip-sync and gyrate to inane pop inanities while tanned boobie commentators ravish them with praise.

The song Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake was performing was about getting somebody naked.  Why was that acceptable but the real thing was not?  Because there is nothing in the world more appealing to hypocrites than titillation– literally!  The enjoyment of things they believe to be taboo without the actual thing.  Janet Jackson’s sin was that for a brief moment she dispelled the illusion that millions of viewers thinking deeply about tits would be exposed as actually thinking deeply about tits.  The secret about “nipplegate” is that the real offense was exposing just how dirty America’s minds really are.  Someone will have to be crucified in order to expunge this dirty secret and restore middle-America’s sense of respect and decency!  I will not tolerate a naked breast on tv!  I am a moral person!  But, go ahead and dance and wiggle your clothed hips and sing about getting naked– I love it– but I am a decent, moral person who will only vote for non-outed political candidates.

Was there “blame”?  What are you talking about?  They were doing exactly what the audience wanted.  The costumes, the lyrics, the gyrations, the rhythm– all were aimed at creating the largest sense of arousal possible while pretending to be enjoying the music and the artistry– and the sport– instead.

Shunned because of “nipplegate”?  I am astonished that anyone really cares about the wardrobe malfunction, for many reasons:

  • it was trivial– there is nothing horrifying about the human body, to children or adults;
  • Janet Jackson is trivial: there is not, among her products, not a single performance of anything, that matters in any sense: she is merely a pop artist of no particular originality or insight;
  • attributing indifference to an artist who is a woman and black can’t always be blamed on the fact that she is a woman and black: for heaven’s sake, she never was or is anything other than a pop artist of mediocre achievements;
  • how did she get to be an artist in the first place?  Did someone in the music industry notice this very talented singer somewhere and decide she should be a star?  Or, could she have had some privileged connections?  Do you need to ask?
  • Even Janet Jackson, or mediocre artistic achievement, deserves better than to be treated like that for a trivial indiscretion, even if it was intentional or her fault.

The Bush Administration tried to punish CBS for not preventing the mishap.  Last I heard, the courts had thrown out the case.

Pull Both Goalies

Here are the problems with this research.

  1. There is no baseline.  There won’t be until one or more teams decides to challenge orthodoxy and try not pulling their goalie when trailing by one or two goals near the end of the game.
  2. The study assumes that opposing teams will not change their behavior if teams start pulling their goalie early.  The most obvious anomaly will be teams that smartly decide to start taking potshots at the empty net rather than just clearing the puck out of their zone.
  3. The study assumes that the chances of scoring a tying goal in the last few minutes of a game are the same as they are for the rest of the game (see 1).  It is more likely that teams trying to tie a close game will intensify effort as the game draws to a close and generate more scoring chances regardless of whether they have pulled the goalie or not.  Teams defending a lead tend to give up opportunities to score (pinching at the blue line, for example) in favor of a tighter defense.  Perversely, this allows the trailing team to play more aggressively (eg. pinching at the blue line).  (My impression this year is that more and more teams are actually continuing to attack during these periods– which, I think, is smart.)
  4. The study almost idiotically asserts that you should pull your goalie by the middle of the 2nd period if you are trailing by 4 goals or more.  I would love to see a team try this so we can settle this absurdity for once and for all.  Please.
  5. In reference to point 4, the flaw here should have been obvious to all concerned.  Defending teams score into an empty net 3 times as often as the trailing team scores the tying goal.  That is in a period of 90 seconds or less.  If you extend that period to 30 minutes, as this study suggests, the defending team is not thereby still 3 times as likely to score one goal as the other team is to score one goal: it is as likely to score about 20-30 goals.  So this idea only works if the trailing team not only scores first, but continues to score, several times, before the other team can score.  And most of those goals will be scored before the trailing team, of course, can tie it.

Okay, it’s not all that complicated.  If pulling the goalie gives you an advantage, why wouldn’t both teams do it?  Yes, I mean at the same time.

And to the rabble who go, “of course the team with the lead wouldn’t pull the goalie– why would they?  They have the lead, you moron.”

There– feel better?  Got that off your chest?  Now let’s proceed.

In every sport, in every aspect, something that is a real advantage for one team is a real advantage for the other: a heavier bat, a bigger goalie pad, height, size.  (In football, for comparison’s sake, we’re talking about the defensive or offensive alignments being comparable: not one team’s offense vs. another team’s defense.)

So why wouldn’t both teams pull their goalie for the last 3 minutes of a close game?  The naive answer is, because only the team that is trailing would benefit.  That is sheer absurdity: an advantage is an advantage no matter what the score is.   The naive fan, however, decides that the trailing team will never score in the last minutes of a game if they don’t pull their goalie.  Meantime, the defending team would obviously benefit by putting the game out of reach, even though, I will concede, that doesn’t increase the value of the win.  But increasing your chance of winning does have a real value.  Obviously.

That is not a dispensable piece of information: it is indisputably true– there is no factor that makes it more advantageous for one team to pull their goalie than the other.  Either you increase your chances of winning or you don’t.  Unless– and here’s the fly in the ointment of those who argue for pulling your goalie early– unless you assert that no team can score in the last few minutes of a game if they have not pulled their goalie.  That is plainly nonsense, but it hasn’t been proven because not a single coach in the NHL will not pull their goalie in the last minute of a game in which they have a one-goal deficit.   Not one.  If a coach, using his head, decided to not do it, he would face hysteria on the level of the Salem witch trials.

And the same with a coach with a one-goal lead who pulled his goalie with  a face-off in his opponents end with three minutes left.  If this is such a freakin’ advantage, why wouldn’t he?  Because, you admit, it would be stupid.

And if it is an advantage because teams only do it if they have a face-off, or possession, in the other team’s end, then obviously the team with the lead will occasionally also have a faceoff or possession in the other team’s end.

Yes, it would be stupid.  Because he will have increased the chances of his opponent tying the game with an easy shot into the empty net.

So why is this not stupid for the team that is trailing by one goal?

So team “A” has a one goal lead and a faceoff in their defensive zone.  Team “B” pulls their goalie.  Suppose Team “A” gets the puck– a not unlikely development — and gets it out to centre ice.  (I leave aside the point to be made that a team may begin to adopt the strategy of actively shooting for the empty net; in fact, many teams have clearly already begun to adopt this strategy, which I believe, will kill this entire movement relatively quickly.)

Back to my hypothetical: Team “A” shoots it deep into Team “B”‘s zone and pulls their goalie.  So now we have both teams with six skaters and empty nets.

What do you think would happen?  Do you begin to understand why this is an absurd strategy?  Or, if Team “B” scores to tie the game, do you really think they will leave their goalie out so they can try to win it in regulation time?

Here’s a scenario that, I will concede, makes some sense.  A little.  A preposterous amount, but some:  pull your goalie whenever you have a face-off in your opponents end of the rink.

Well, nobody does that either.  For reasons I would think were obvious.

The fundamental problem with this entire discussion is that nobody– not a single coach– will test the theory that not pulling your goalie works better.  Not one.  Not a single fricken coach.  Because the team’s fans would raise hell and every commentator and sports-writer would call him an idiot.

I have noticed that many baseball commentators continue to act baffled when teams don’t automatically sacrifice bunt when trailing late in the game with a runner on first and nobody out, 20 years after this strategy was clearly proven to be worthless.

Note on another factor not measured: it is obvious that a team that is trailing plays differently in the last few minutes of a game– they see time running out.  They expend more energy and effort because they know there is an approaching deadline after which they can rest.  The know that if they expended that much effort and energy earlier in the game, they would not have much of it left for the finish.  This is a bit ritual, and a bit practical.  And this is why I would argue that pulling your goalie may actually be counter productive, but here’s the bottom line:  we can never know what the chances of scoring without pulling your goalie are, because nobody does it.

(Actually, somebody does: apparently, pulling the goalie is rarely done in the Russian professional leagues.  They don’t believe in it.  It would be really interesting to get their data.)

To “prove” that pulling your goalie is a smart strategy you must have a baseline to compare it to, just as Bill James had a baseline of teams not sacrificing to compare the strategy to.  (It’s easy in baseball: most teams don’t normally sacrifice early in the game, and it’s easy to measure if there is a improvement in the success of the strategy later in the game.)  That’s why his conclusions are reliable, and yours, empty-net enthusiasts, are not.

But even without this kind of baseline, listen to yourselves:

Since the best teams in hockey win about twice as often at the worst teams, they are likely behind near the end of the game roughly half as often, and therefore would get only about half the benefit from optimal pulling. If the average benefit is 0.02, we might guess that the benefit is 0.0133 for the best teams….


(From SSRN_Pulling_the_goalie_hockey_and_investment_implications.pdf)

In other words, even if it did have a demonstrated benefit, it would be tiny.  None of these studies seem to factor in the possibility of increased intensity of effort in the last few minutes resulting in a normalized base scoring potential that would be higher– which seems likely– than the baseline used to calculate the pulling the goalie conveys an advantage.  And, more importantly, none of these studies factor in the possibility that defending teams will behave differently if teams pull their goalie earlier.   

We are, in fact, already seeing teams take pot-shots at the empty net.  They seem to be more than happy to accept a few icing calls as the expense of this strategy.  Think about it: if this happens in the first few seconds after a face-off– precisely when it is most likely that you might have possession of the puck– the risk is substantially minimized.

After suggesting that a team should pull their goalie in the first period if down by 4 or 5 goals or more — seriously?

Though we’d admit the assumptions and simplifications of our model are probably being pushed much harder for this “losing by a ton early” analysis.

Ah– the writer begins to realize just how absurd his premise is.