The NHL and the Sharks at the All-Star Break

As I write this, the NHL All-Star Game is on the television, and Brett Burns is playing 3 on 3 hockey in Nashville.

I must admit — I’m liking the 3 on 3 format for the All Star break. It allows the players to show off their skill and removes that pressure that this isn’t “real” hockey, in that nobody is interested or willing to play defense or, like, hit someone. This is a great way to glorify the skill as an exhibition and let everyone just have some fun.

I think it’s awesome, and I hope the league sticks with it.

I’ve been pretty happy with the league and the hockey this year overall. I like four on four for overtime; heck, I like anything that minimizes finishing games with a shootout, although I accept the necessity of them.

One thing I have to remind myself is that for the NHL — and for all of the pro sports — there are media outlets who invariably find a way to spin things negative, and if you pay too much attention to them, you’d end up with the thought that things are pretty screwed up (hint: same is true of tech covered, especially Apple. Good news doesn’t generate pageviews, so everything must be a crisis).

But overall, while nothing as big and complex as the NHL is going to be perfect, it’s pretty darn good. The business and most of the teams are healthy, revenues are good, the game is good and fun to watch. Something to remember when you start reading the coverage about all of the things that aren’t yet perfect. My suggestion: stop reading the people who only complain about the sport and don’t find time to also admit the good parts. It’s easy to figure out who they are (hint: the bigger the media outlet, and the further north they’re based, the more likely….)

One big mistake the league made recently was how they handled the John Scott situation with the All-Star game. Scott chronicles it with grace on the Player’s Tribune. Here’s my take: if you give the fans the vote for who to send to the All Star game, then you accept the players they send. Back in the days when voting was manual (or mostly manual) and the league used paper ballots you could manage it (and we had a run in San Jose of trying to push Andrei Nazarov to the game with the “50,000 votes for Nazarov” folks that was amazingly similar to what we’re seeing with Scott this year, all in good fun — and which the NHL handled by consistently just pretending all of the votes we stuffed into their system didn’t exist — something you can’t do when the systme is now fully automated and online and the counting is automatic).

It looks like Bettman did the right thing and sat down with Scott privately to clear the air here. Good on him. Better that it was done that way and not via public statements that would have come across as attempting to spin things to the fans instead of Scott. But it shouldn’t have gotten to the point where folks were trying to force Scott out of the game — either you accept what the fans do, or you change how you choose All-Stars to prevent these situations. You can’t have it both ways. And by the way, I’ve always been one who wanted other ways for all-stars to be selected, since fan voting turns quickly into “local favorite voting”, rather than those who are best. All selection processes are biased in some way, but I’d suggest that all NHL coaches and GMs are asked to vote for selections within their conference — not allowed to vote for their own team — and that be used as the basis of selection.

The problem of course is you can’t sell sponsorship and advertising around that like you can a fan vote…

Sharks at the mid-season break

I’ve been watching watching a lot of grumbling — not without justification — about this team among the fans and media this season; the Sharks have been inconsistent at times, to put it mildly. That said, I projected this team to be a marginal playoff team (7-8 seed, first round exit at best), which is a big improvement over last season but still, I was expecting about a .500 team who had to fight to get into the playoff’s in a really tough western conference.

At the All-Star break, the Sharks are in the sixth spot in the west and 8 games over .500. By almost any metric I can judge them, they are meeting or beating my expectations for them — except home record, which early on was brutal, but even there, they’ve gotten it almost back to .500 (10-12) recently.

I think a lot of the complaints have been overblown. What I’ve seen is a team with many major changes that was working hard, but still learning how to play as a team. We have a new starting goalie and Martin Jones went through a period where the added workload of being the starter got to him a bit, but he’s adjusted and now he’s playing pretty well again. We lost Couture to two freak injuries for a significant period of time, and that caused the team to struggle as well, because the team doesn’t have the depth to cover a loss of talent like that.

What I liked even through the struggles was that I saw a team that was working hard, was working for each other, had a good attitude, and was clearly working together to find answers and playing with a good attitude.

This is why a season is 80 games and not 20; it’s a long season, and it’s how the team handles the long grind, not what happens in the first month. Right now this team looks very much like a playoff team, perhaps a 2nd round team, although I don’t think you can predict them going deeper than that, and I expect the 2nd half of the season will be a lot stronger than the first half, and this team ahead in the rebuild from where I expected it to be.

With one or two games as exceptions, even when this team loses, it’s fun to watch and it’s working hard and trying.

You know what? I’ll take that. I’ll give the season to date a full ‘B’