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Hockey writer and analytics specialist Neil Greenberg on The Tony Kornheiser Show

Hockey writer Neil Greenberg was a guest today on The Tony Kornheiser Show. Kornheiser has referenced Greenberg’s writing recently on-air, appearing to become somewhat of a fan of the advanced hockey stats expert and Washington Post, ESPN contributor. Here are some highlights from today’s appearance, Greenberg’s first ever on the show:

Greenberg on drinking from the Stanley Cup after the Rangers won it in 1994:

“I was frequenting some of the bars in Nassau County…there were people taking pictures with the Cup outside of one of the bars, so we stood in line. As soon as I turned the corner to enter the bar, someone said, ‘Do you want to drink from the Stanley Cup’ and I said ‘Absolutely.'”

On Alex Ovechkin’s decline:

“He’s getting older. There’s two things that are happening. One is just your general age progression. People have a misconception as to when hockey players, especially goalscorers, peak. It’s typically between the ages of 22 and 24 and then you start to see a down-slope at age 27. Ovechkin has pretty much been in that exact pattern.”

“If you look at how Ovechkin scored his goal early on in his career when he entered the league it was by a volume of shots. It was more quantity than it was quality. He led the league with 425 shots when he came in. He was just a completely dynamic player that tossed rubber at the [net] from ever angle. And as those shots per game decreased, it took the goal scoring along with it. And what we’re seeing now is a player who’s putting up 300 shots on goals as opposed to 500 and 400 shots on goal. So, the goal scoring numbers are going to come down. Now, to his credit those shots on goal have up-ticked a little this year but a lot of goal scoring is also luck. You have a clank of the pipe here, it goes through the wickets there. He hasn’t been seeing a whole lot of puck luck as maybe he’s had in the past. He’s just going to be the 50 goal scorer that he was probably ever again.”

On if Ovechkin is an assist guy, a set-up guy like Gretzky or Lemiuex, with room to elevate his game:

“Ovechkin is a good passer. I think that’s actually one of the most underrated parts of his game. However, he’s not Gretzky, he’s not Lemieux. He’s not going to tally a whole bunch of points from… [Kornheiser jumps in and says, “He’s not Crosby.”] He’s certainly not Crosby. So, he’s not going to be getting points that way. The switch to right wing was an effort to get him away from that overpowering move he had down the left side where he would go down the left wall and try to cut in and score the goal that way, because that just wasn’t working anymore. The defenses have caught up to that. So, you’re right. His points are going to come from goals and, unless he starts to adapt his game a little bit more on the right wing, we’re going to see some 25 to 30 goal seasons.”

On Ovechkin making “a lot of money”

“That’s where people’s expectations, I think, are coming unglued because they see on paper this 65, 50 goal scorer that’s making $10 million and they think that’s going to happen in perpetuity. But, look, the Ovechkin contract was a bad contract. When they signed Ovechkin to that contract, for that period of time, it was a bad deal. And you can never expect a goal scorer to score 60, 50, 60 goals a year for ten years. It’s just not reality.”

On if the Caps know what Greenberg knows about Ovechkin

“I think so. Hockey analytics has definitely become bigger in the past couple years, however you still have, and I’m not speaking specifically about the Caps, but in the NHL in general, there are some teams that are embracing it. I know that Tampa Bay has a hockey analytics guy on staff, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Calgary, some other teams are embracing it. But, as far as the Capitals are concerned, they seem to trust the coaches more than the numbers. An I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. However, I think that there’s room for both, especially when you’re looking at player evaluation.

[I’m going to interrupt this transcription, as I’ve just read on Twitter that Russian Machine has sent out a transcription of the entire interview. So, rather than duplicate work, check the Russian Machine Never Breaks transcript of Neil Greenberg on the Tony Kornheiser Show by Peter Hassett and I’ll go write something else.]


Past words of lockout wisdom from The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell

The Washington Post’s sports columnists may be failing to write about the current NHL lockout, but they’ve had plenty to say about past collective bargaining agreement battles. In looking through some old Post pieces on the subject, I came across one from March 2011, written by Thomas Boswell on the NFL labor dispute.

Much of Boswell’s column, which suggested that the NFL learn from baseball’s 1994-95 strike and the damage it did to that sport, applies to the current NHL situation as well. Hockey fans might enjoy this part in particular:

There’s another side of the coin: our side. Fans of the NFL, even the most ardent, should also learn something from baseball’s misery: Don’t care. Or care as little as you can. Don’t live and die with the latest twist in talks. If the current 24-hour extension leads to progress, that’s great. But if this moment of hope leads to nothing, be prepared to mock both sides and, when you can, try to laugh. That’s the only pleasure we’re going to get.

Because there is one certainty when labor fights get this intense: Neither side cares about you. If you pick a favorite and scream your opinion, then you’re probably the sucker. The owners will only listen to those who back them. The same goes for the players.

The sound that really worries them is silence. Try to provide it.

Perhaps the scariest parallel between baseball then and football now is the idea that the healthier the sport, the less likely a disaster. That’s backward. Lots of money on the table brings out the worst in people, seldom the best.

I’m not ready to go silent yet, but I’m certainly not taking sides either. I place blame for hockey’s current situation on both the owners—whose side includes three-time lockout commissioner Gary Bettman—and the players.

Now’s a fine time to make noise that you don’t appreciate what any of the parties involved in this lockout are doing to the fans. But more importantly, the time when people can really make an impact is when the games finally start-up again. That’s when silence could speak volumes or perhaps millions is a better word, as in millions of dollars in lost revenue.

As I wrote in a lockout-related post earlier this week, “Having waited out a few of these NHL dramas before, I wouldn’t mind seeing the league struggle to draw spectators before things return to normal. Considering the two sides had years to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that could have prevented the cancellation of games and satisfied all parties—including the seemingly forgotten customers—Bettman, the owners and the players deserve it, especially when they’ve behaved as if they learned little, if anything at all, about fan frustration from the 2004-05 lockout.”

Make noise now or go about your business quietly. But when hockey returns, that’s when it’s time for the fans to impose their own lockout, rather than going rushing back to games as if nothing ever happened. Sparse attendance, lackluster merchandise sales and poor television ratings are ways the public can send some well-earned frustration back in the direction of the owners and players.

Perhaps the NHL will never learn, but I’m willing to take a chance that they might by taking my entertainment dollars elsewhere for a bit.

Where are the Washington Post sports columnists on the NHL lockout?

The NHL is now one month into a lockout that has delayed the start of the 2012-13 season. Games have been canceled and the league and the players association are engaged in back and forth that fans and local business owners hope will soon lead to some hockey.

Here in D.C., the Caps would have opened their season at home last Friday night against the Stanley Cup runner-up New Jersey Devils and, while Washington Post Caps beat reporter Katie Carrera continues to cover the sport, there’s been almost no mention of the NHL work stoppage by any of the paper’s sports columnists. Save for one piece which featured the fake diary of league commissioner Gary Bettman, I’ve yet to see a Post Sports opinion item on a topic that seems worth at least a column or two by now.

I realize that the Nats’ playoff run and the excitement around RG3 and the Redskins have been the main focus for sports pundits in this town lately, as they should be. But a major team in Washington is currently season-less and that deserves some ink from the columnists with the city’s largest newspaper.

Full audio of Laich interview provides context on playoff comments

In an interview Wednesday morning with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich was asked, “This is worst case scenario, but if the Caps do wind up missing the playoffs, is there one game from the past month or so that you’re going to look back on and say that’s the one that cost us a playoff spot?” Laich responded, “We’re making the playoffs. We’re not talking worst-case scenario. We’re making the playoffs.”


Laich (Photo credit: clydeorama)

As Dan Steinberg wrote in a D.C. Sports Bog post about the interview, “…it was pointed out to Laich [by the Junkies] that he had just guaranteed a playoff berth. He sort of laughed, but didn’t respond.” Laich never actually used the word “guarantee” himself.

To me, it sounded like Laich didn’t quite know what to say when he ‘sort of laughed,’ as the Junkies joked that he’d just made a “guarantee.” As one of The Junkies pointed out once Laich was no longer on the line, “I think Brooks is probably saying, ‘Holy shoot, what did I just say. That’s gonna be all over the papers.'”

Laich did not back down from his comments later in the day at Caps practice, as The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reported on the Capitals Insider blog: “I have a belief we’re going to be in the playoffs and that’s it,” Laich said. “I don’t want to discuss any scenario that we’re not. My belief is that we’re going to be in the playoffs.”

Some media outlets and Twitter users have labeled Laich’s comments a “guarantee,” like in the headline of Carrera’s Capitals Insider article that’s linked to in the previous paragraph. (Caps radio guy John Walton wasn’t a fan of that approach). Other have compared him to Mark Messier, who guaranteed a Rangers victory during the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It seems to me that Laich is just looking at things in a confident, positive way—somewhat like Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was with statements he made this week about his quarterback skills—and, like Flacco, perhaps Laich should have chosen his words differently…or maybe not.

These two situations with Laich and Flacco are examples of how the media often chooses to focus on the sound bite that generates attention, produces web hits and causes reactions like the one from the Buffalo Sabre’s goaltender Ryan Miller about Laich’s comments. The press will pick that one statement and run with it, sometimes without providing context or the rest of the story. When the full interview is taken in, Laich’s words seem more about a mindset than a guarantee.

As for Flacco, on Tuesday he said he thinks he’s the NFL’s “best” quarterback—or at least that’s how his comments came across to some.

On in a post titled “What Joe really said”, John Eisenberg wrote about Flacco’s comments:

Numerous national experts weighed in with a range of opinions, many either mocking him or daring him to prove it.

My response? Yeah, yeah, big deal. Let me know when he says something interesting.

If you actually listen to the interview, which took place on WNST 1570, he merely responded to a question about whether he thought he was a “top five” quarterback by suggesting all NFL quarterbacks should believe in themselves along those lines.

“Without a doubt [I’m in the top 5],” he said. “What do you expect me to say? I would assume everybody thinks they’re a top-5 quarterback. I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m the top 5, I think I’m the best. I wouldn’t be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way. That doesn’t mean that things are going to work out that way. It just means that’s the way it is – that’s the way I feel that it is and that’s the way I feel it should be.”

Going back to Laich’s comments, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff commented to the Buffalo News, when told about them: “Those are all predictions that you live with, you die with, you hope to motivate your team with. He probably believes sincerely they’re gonna make it. They probably like their schedule, their chances of playing Florida in their building. We got our work cut out for us, they got theirs. Our thoughts are making the playoffs too.”

Is that a guarantee, Lindy? Quick! Somebody better go ask the Caps what they think of that.

Ward is the Hurricanes’ only true star?

Before tonight’s Caps game against the Carolina Hurricanes starts, let’s try to remember that Cam Ward is their only true star. Wait…what??? I don’t agree with that, but it’s what Washington Post columnist Jason Reid wrote in a recent column:

“A 5-0 loss against Carolina on Monday was the low point of the season — the Capitals at least hope it doesn’t get any worse. Carolina is last in the East. Goalie Cam Ward is the Hurricanes’ only true star — and he sat out because of an injury.”

Something tells me that Carolina Hurricanes fans would disagree with that statement. In fact, most anyone following the Caps and their Southeast Division opponents on a regular basis or any big hockey fan would likely say that Ward isn’t the only “true star” on the Hurricanes.

For starters, Carolina’s captain Eric Staal is a two-time 40 goal scorer and an Olympic gold medalist. He captained an NHL All Star team last season called “Team Staal.” He has scored 245 NHL goals over the course of eight seasons with the Hurricanes. Staal also racked up two goals and an assist in that 5-0 game against the Caps that Reid referenced in that column.

Jeff Skinner, who scored over 30 goals last season and was named NHL Rookie of the Year, is another example of a Hurricanes player that would be viewed as a star in many people’s eyes. Maybe he’s too new to be considered a “true star,” but the media was all over that guy last season and it hard not to hear about him if you were following the sport—he had a goal that game against the Caps too.

I’m not sure what Reid meant when he typed that about Ward and the Hurricanes, but it strikes me as another example of a Post sports columnist somewhat out of touch with hockey, yet writing about the sport. I’m not sure where the sports editor was on this one either.

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