A letter to the NHL: do away with the shootout

After the 2005-2006 NHL season, which was cancelled due to a labor dispute between the Players Association and the NHL, the NHL adopted the shootout. On July 22nd, 2005 in New York, as part of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the League instituted the shootout. Based on the rulebook, the shootout is to begin if two teams are tied after regulation and the five minute overtime period.

Regardless of a shootout loss, the losing shootout team still earns one point, affecting their points within the conference standings. The rule hasn’t changed since then.

In the 11 and a half years since then, the shootout still exists, a strange way to end a hockey game. It’s almost as bad as former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig making the MLB All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series (which has since been abolished.” A lot of people may be opposed to the NHL ending a game in a tie, but can it be much worse, or equal, to a shootout ending a game?

If 100 random die-hard hockey fans were polled on their opinion of the shootout, perhaps more than half would be against it.

According to current commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey fans “love the shootout.” Is his claim pure fiction, based on a small sample size, or possibly truthful? Bettman’s been the NHL commissioner since 1993, and has taken some hits from fans, for all the lockouts that cancelled games, as well as for his different approach for the game.

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Flyers’ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beating Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask in a shootout win on November 29th vs. Boston. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

It’s worth to note, more recently the NHL has created a category in each Conference’s standings (East and West), called ROW, which is a combination of the amount of regulation plus overtime wins a team has. Thus, the stat eliminates any shootout win a team may have. It basically serves as an incentive for teams to win the game as fast as possible.

So far this year, through 75 games, Washington leads the NHL in that category, with a ROW mark of 48, slightly above second-place Columbus (47). In addition to that, perhaps the stat is an indication of how fast some teams are- i.e. slower teams may have fewer ROW wins, due to a slower lineup, who’s aiming to get at least one point from each game.

Is the NHL shootout rule the equivalent, or worse than, to the NFL postseason rule that says teams can win any playoff game, including the Super Bowl (which occurred this past season), on a touchdown, without the opponent having the ball? It brings up a strong debate about odd rules in each sport, and how fair or unfair they are.

Every off-season NHL players are working hard, improving their strength and conditioning, aiming to be a better player, to contribute to their team’s success. Hockey, like any other pro sport, is a team sport above all else. So if I were a hockey player, GM or head coach, I would be furious at the idea that after 65 minutes my players weren’t playing 5×5, but rather leaving a goalie vulnerable. Defenseless is the best way to put it.

For debate’s sake, let’s say Hall of Fame goalie, and perhaps the greatest one in NHL history, Dominik Hasek played this season. Back when he was between the pipes (1990-2008), the game was different, more physical, and fun to watch, because it was less controlled by referees and not written as a possible shootout game. While he did play briefly during the shootout era (2005-2008), if he were unsuccessful during 1×1, it would perhaps prove even more so that the shootout was extremely flawed.

While we all love playing one on one in a practice rink or growing up in a school hockey league, it’s different when it’s at the pro level; in other words, when meaningful games are at stake.

As for the Flyers, through midway October of 2014, they were statistically the worst team ever in the history of the shootout era. Also within that timespan, out of 260 opponent shootout attempts, Flyers’ goalies only had a 57.3 save percentage. Despite that, out of those nine seasons (from the start of the shootout era till after the 2014 season), they made the playoffs on seven occasions.

They had the talent on paper to have success within the shootout, but for whatever reason they didn’t.

During the shootout, a goalie is the most vulnerable and, if I had to guess, I’m sure at least a fair amount would be opposed to it. Perhaps the shootout will occur less and less now that, thankfully, the NHL board of governors approved a rule for the overtime period to be 3 on 3, opening up the overtime more and creating odd-man rushes. This rule was signed almost two years ago, on June 24th of 2015.

Above all else, the shootout is more of a skills competition than a team sport, with one offensive player versus the net-minder, and nothing more. It’s reminiscent of past NHL All-Star Games. Midway through this season the NHL announced that from now on, the All-Star Game skills competition will no longer include the Breakaway Challenge- which was essentially the same concept as shootouts.

For the NHL, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the All-Star Game breakaway scenario, yet keep shootouts in each game. All-Star Games are no bearing within the standings, unlike games that end in a shootout. Thus, it’s time to abolish it and stick to the 3 on 3, five minute, overtime period.

Phillies continue towards rebuild mode after another tough season

For any diehard Phillies’ fan, last season was extremely tough to watch.

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The Phillies only won 71 games, finished fourth out of fifth in the National League East division and they ended up 24 games back of division-leader Washington. For the fifth consecutive year they finished a season without a winning record, over the past two seasons they’ve averaged only 67 wins.

After being hired as the team’s newest general manager on October 26th of last year, Matt Klentak has been steadily trying to put the pieces back together after his predecessor Ruben Amaro, Jr. shook things up.

This past season the Phillies’ starting pitching came to be their worse rotation the team has put together in quite some time, as their five starters had an earned-run average of 3.95 and a 43.8 winning percentage. 26-year-old Adam Morgan has struggled mightily since his 2015 mid-season call-up. This past season he lost 11 out of his 13 starts, had a very high ERA (6.04) and was a poor fielder (with four errors, he ranked second in the league among pitchers). Only Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson had more (five).

From his minor-league debut in 2011 until his 2015 mid-season call-up Morgan wasn’t any better during his various stints within the Phillies’ minor-league teams. In 2013, between the Gulf Coast League Phillies and triple-a Lehigh Valley, he went 2-8 and allowed over 10 hits (10.3) per game.

As for this season, only a couple bright spots occurred. Centerfielder Odubel Herrera made the National League All-Star team (going 0-1), was consistent all-year long — and a good fielder, too. Among centerfielders, Herrera ranked first in putouts (372), covering a lot of ground, and stole 25 bases. Among the team’s nine position players, only second baseman Cesar Hernandez at least .280 (Hernandez hit .294, while Herrera hit .286).

The team lacks power and plate discipline. And now with slugger Ryan Howard gone and off the books, it remains to be seen as to whether or not they’ll improve in that area (Howard hit 25 home runs last season); most likely it won’t. They ranked dead last in the National League (out of 15 teams) in walks (424). In 2015 they were even worse, with 387.

Although skipper Pete Mackanin isn’t even close to being a shell of Charlie Manuel, Mackanin is faced with a tough task to turn this ship around. For starters, there’s the inconsistent starting rotation, the over-the-hill bullpen, the hollowed-out lineup, and the lack of experience (mostly due to veterans like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins departing). After playing second base for the Phillies from 1978-79, on April 3rd at Cincinnati Mackanin will continue into his third season as manager.

Contending

The big-picture question here is when will the team contend for a division title again? They haven’t made the playoffs/won the NL East since 2011, when they set the team record for wins (102). Over the past three to four years, the team’s gone through drastic changes.

Almost three-years ago (on December 9th), then-ace Roy Halladay announced his retirement after winning 40 total games (and winning a Cy Young Award in 2010) from 2010 till 2011. From 2012 till 2013, Halladay struggled to stay healthy, making 38 total starts- including 13 in his last season. On July 31st of 2014, fellow ace Cliff Lee made his last career appearance, pitching 2.2 innings in a 10-4 win at Washington. Losing both aces (who won a combined three career Cy Young Awards) within a year was crushing.

The team went from 102 wins in 2011 to 81 the next season, over a 20 percent drop. During the 2011 off-season, on November 14th they signed all-star, controversial closer Jonathan Papelbon. Ruben Amaro must have deduced that after losing closer Brad Lidge the team needed to continue to contend by replacing Lidge with another talented closer. Papelbon ended up clashing with management and the media, and ended up being suspended during the season.

Since 2011 and 2012 the team has spiraled way out of control. Since then, albeit most were aging veterans, they’ve lost three aces, two all-star closers, five all-star infielders, three all-star outfielders and a respectable middle reliever (in Ryan Madson).

Rebuilding

From 2012 until this past season Howard hit only .226 and averaged 189 strikeouts a year. He was a lot more than a shell of his former self, since he hit .313 and drove in 149 runs in his 2006 MVP season. This year, he split time at first base with catcher/first baseman Tommy Joseph, who hit 21 home runs. Considering Howard’s age (36), former Achilles’ Heal injury in 2011, poor fielding and strikeout rate, it’s to no surprise Mackinin benched him throughout the season. Howard only hit .196  this season, the worst of his pro career.

Almost exactly a year ago (on December 15th), the Phillies acquired Houston starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, who was a 2010 second-round pick. Along with Velasquez, the Phillies also acquired former number-one-overall pick Mark Appel, who’s struggled so far throughout his minor-league career (19-14, 5.08 ERA). This season, Velasquez had a promising season, as he struck out 10.4 batters per game and fanned 16 Padres’ hitters in a April 14th 2-0 win.

Overall, he had 10 or more punch-outs in three of his 24 starts. Although he got off to a promising start (he went 2-0 and struck out 25 in his first-two starts), his final 22 starts were less-than mediocre. From April 19th until September 3rd, he went 6-6, had a 4.66 ERA and opposing batters hit .280 off of him. Despite his early struggles, his strikeout ratio, effective fastball, strong changeup and curveball prove that he could be an all-star-caliber pitcher down the line.

The Phillies’ 2015 team only won 63 games, after winning their season finale to avoid a 100-loss season. The 63 wins became the first time that the team won 63 or fewer games in a season since the infamous 1972 team (which won only 59 games). Unlike the ’72 team, which had  future-Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton, the Phillies are without an ace.

Draft Picks

The past-three years the team has drafted a player number 10 overall or higher, including the drafting of number-one-overall pick Mickey Moniak last season. This past season with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, despite limited playing time, Moniak had a solid season, hitting .284 and fielding a .986 fielding percentage at centerfield.

2014 seventh-overall pick Aaron Nola, who began his professional career in 2015, had a respectable rookie year, going 6-2 and striking out 68 batters in 77.2 innings. Fast forward to this past season, perhaps due to more playing time, he had a huge setback, with a 4.78 ERA and almost 9.5 hits allowed per game. His inning total from 2015 till this year increased by 30 percent (77.2 to 111). If he can become a solid number one or two starter, perhaps paired atop the rotation with Velasquez, the team will be in great shape moving forward.

2015 10th-overall pick Cornelius Randolph has been a little-used left-fielder during his only two minor-league seasons. In a solid 2015 season with the Gulf League Phillies, in 172 at-bats he hit .302 and was on base for 42.5 percent of the time, a huge debut and eye opener.

If Nola, Velasquez, Randolph, 2013 first-rounder J.P. Crawford, minor-league centerfielder Nick Williams, starting pitcher Jake Thompson, and 23-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro can continue to improve and play out their potential, the team will be set for the future. Maybe their success won’t be attained within the next-few years, but it’s eminent that they won’t continue to struggle for too much longer.

On June 15th Bleacher Report featured columnist Joel Reuter, in ranking baseball teams with the best farm system to the worse, ranked the Phillies’ prospects as the fifth best, above where they were last year (eighth overall).

Will they contend for the division within the next five seasons? Who knows. The great thing, despite all of the losing, is that they field one of the best minor-league systems in the entire league. The message here: stay tuned folks.

Flyers-Stars Recap

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AP Photo

This afternoon the Flyers capped off their three-game home stand with a 4-2 win over Dallas.

After a 2-1 deficit halfway through the third period, Philadelphia scored three unanswered goals and won their eighth-consecutive game. Six of those eight wins were at home. Today’s win marks the first time that they’ve won eight or more consecutive games in a season since 2001-02, when they won eight straight from January 6th-19th.

In today’s game, second-line center Brayden Schenn recorded a hat trick, his second career one and his first one since February 29th of this year vs. Calgary. First-line winger Jakub Voracek recorded four points (1 goal and 3 assists), his second four-point game in the span of three days (after a Flyers’ 6-5 win over Edmonton on December 8th).

After a rocky start to the season, starting goalie Steve Mason has rebounded very strongly. Last week he was the NHL’s first star of the week (with a 1.71 goals against average). He lost his first three starts of the season and since Michal Neuvirth’s left knee injury on November 12th (which has him placed on the team’s long-term injury-reserved list) Mason’s gone 9-3-1 and has a 0.921 save percentage.

All-time, the Flyers are 74-42-32 against Dallas, and 3-4 over the past five seasons. Philadelphia’s now 10-3-4 this season vs. the Western Conference.

The scoring started 07:30 into the first period, when the Stars started a strong forecheck and center Devin Shore chipped the puck past Flyers’ defenseman Mark Streit and backhanded it short side past Steve Mason. Almost 10 minutes later, after Stars’ left-winger Curtis McKenzie boarded Nick Cousins and was penalized, Brayden Schenn scored on the power play.

After the penalty, Claude Giroux won a offensive-zone face-off against Radek Faksa, Shayne Gostisbehere threw it on net, leading to a double deflection and a Schenn redirection. Despite being tied after the first period, the Flyers have been a poor first-period team this year, having been outscored 29-20.

The scoring didn’t resume until midway through the third period, when Shore was wide open and scored again, flipping it to the left of Mason. Three Flyers were posted to the middle and center of Mason, and completely forgot about Shore, who scored his third and fourth goals of the season. Schenn led the charge again for the Flyers, tipping it in and tying the score with only 3 and a half minutes left.

After the second Schenn goal, a minute and thirty three seconds later Schenn netted his third goal — and third power-play goal — on a Wayne Simmonds’ slap shot from right near the right face-off circle. On the rebound, Schenn wristed it past Dallas’ goalie Kari Lehtonen’s right side. A minute and six-seconds later, Voracek backhanded a neutral-zone shot into the Stars’ empty net, sealing the game.

Remarkably, in the last 3:48 of the game, the Flyers scored three goals, after having only scored one goal in the previous 56:12 minutes of play. In the last 3:48 minutes of play, Dallas had only one shot on net and zero of them in the last 3:20 minutes. Shore and center Tyler Seguin combined for eight shots and eight blocked shots, while Schenn won 88 percent of his face-off attempts (7/8) and had four shots on net.

Flyers’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto sat out his second-consecutive game, with Radko Gudas back in the lineup. Center Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup, he was a healthy scratch on Thursday night vs. Edmonton, while 22-year-old winger Taylor Leier was also a healthy scratch, having been called up from Lehigh Valley last week. For Dallas, center Jiri Hudler and defenseman Patrik Nemeth were healthy scratches.

The Flyers went 3-4 on the man advantage, they’re ranked second best in the league this year in power-play efficiency (23.6 percent). They’ve scored on the power play in four-straight games (7/18, 39 percent). With his assist on Brayden Schenn’s final goal, Wayne Simmonds has had five points in his last four games. Schenn had his first multi-point game since November 22nd at Florida.

With the Flyers currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot and riding a recent hot streak, the big question is will they continue to improve and end up making the playoffs? Last season, under rookie head coach Dave Hakstol, they made some improvements defensively, while still standing as a respectable offensive-minded team.

Philadelphia’s recent string of injuries could hamper the team long term, with star center Sean Couturier being out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL. Couturier’s injury is a huge loss. Meanwhile, goalie Michal Neuvirth (as mentioned) is out four to six weeks with a groin injury. The team’s also without improved right-winger Matt Read, who’s out four weeks with an oblique pull.

The East is arguably stronger than the West, with the Metropolitan Division leading the way. The division is occupying five out of the eight total playoff spots (the Rangers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Capitals). With 52 games to go, it remains to be seen what will happen come mid April.

The 2016 World Series, the home field factor, and a Game Two preview

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The 2016 MLB World Series is officially underway.

Chicago was heavily favored coming into last night’s game one, which resulted in a 6-0 home victory for Cleveland. Despite having home-field advantage, Cleveland had nine-fewer total wins this season than Chicago did (94-103). That fact not only raises critics and fans’ eyebrows but questions about how fair baseball’s rules are.

Fairness

To me, winning over 100 games and having the best record warrants a team to have the home-field advantage. However, that’s not the case here. At home this year, Chicago was 57-24 (.704), while Cleveland was 53-28 (.654). The amount of effort they put in towards not only making the postseason and winning the division but winning over 100 games almost seems meaningless. The Wrigley Field fans are passionate, loyal and knowledgeable people, who deserve to start the series at home.

We can thank that lack of fairness to former commissioner Bug Selig, who, for whatever logical reason, decided that the Fall Classic’s home-field advantage should not be decided by who had the better record but by what League won that year’s All-Star Game. This has occurred ever since the 2002 season. Tell me how two teams playing in one non-regular season game with nothing to do with either team playing in the World Series should decide who has more World Series home games than the other?

A friend of mine and a fellow Philadelphia sports enthusiast Matt Froonjian had this to say about the series and the fairness of home-field advantages.

“I still think that the Cubs will win, they have a much deeper lineup and rotation and Andrew Miller looks beatable. As for home field advantage, it’s absurd that a 103 win team doesn’t have home field advantage against a 94 win team. And when I watch the All Star Game I don’t know who to root for until three months after the game. Take last year for example; I rooted for the NL during the game but then when the Mets made the World Series I was thinking, “thank God the NL lost.”
Background

Chicago’s 103 wins this season were the most they’ve had since 1935 (100-54) and the fourth-most wins they’ve ever had in a single season. Meanwhile, after beating Toronto four games to one in the American League Championship Series, Cleveland made their third World Series appearance since 1995. They haven’t won a title since 1948, while Chicago’s drought dates back to 108- before the Indians even existed. Yesterday was Chicago’s first World Series game since 1945.

This year, Chicago fielded three pitchers with 16 or more wins, with game one pitcher (who allowed three runs last night in a 6-0 loss) Jon Lester having won 19 games this year.

Cubs

Talk Sports Philly creator Chris Leomporra had this to say about the Cubs and the series’ outcome.

“Well i want the cubs to win, so I think the series will go six or seven games, with the Cubs winning in an upset and breaking the drought since 1945. But with that monkey on their back it is a big feat to overcome so i think in a sense they are the underdog (despite winning 103 games).”

Chicago’s lineup bolsters two star, MVP-caliber infielders, in third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. This season, Bryant had a .292 average, a .385 on-base percentage, 39 home runs and 102 RBIs. Rizzo also hit .292, while putting up 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. Center fielder Dexter Fowler led the team with a .393 on-base percentage. Bryant and Rizzo are not only two of the best sluggers in the league but a formidable tandem.

Former Rays’ manager, in his second World Series appearance and season with Chicago, Joe Maddon led Chicago to its first NL Central division title since 2008. Ironically, Maddon made his first World Series appearance that season, losing with Tampa Bay to the Phillies in five games.

Cleveland

Probables

Chicago will go with right-hand 18-game-winner Jake Arrieta, while, attempting to go up 2 games to none, Cleveland will counter with Trevor Bauer, w ho went 12-8 with a 4.26 this season.

Lineups

Chicago

Dexter Fowler, CF
Kris Bryant, 3B
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Ben Zobrist, LF
Kyle Schwarber, DH
Javier Baez, 2B
Willson Contreras, C
Jorge Soler, RF
Addison Russell, SS

Jake Arrieta, P

Cleveland

Carlos Santana, DH
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Francisco Lindor, SS
Mike Napoli, 1B
Jose Ramirez, 3B
Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
Coco Crisp, LF
Tyler Naquin, CF
Roberto Perez, C

Trevor Bauer, P

Predictions

Fairness and backgrounds aside, I see Chicago furthering the series to at least six games, and winning the decisive game in Cleveland in game six. Tonight, considering how poor Bauer was this season, Chicago could significantly benefit from that, and should win the game in a close one.