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Tantric Negotiating
December 5, 2012 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday was Day 80 of the NHL lockout, with the situation looking pretty grim after a failed intervention by US federal mediators. Then on Monday, WBZ-TV Boston's Steve Burton surprised everyone by leading off his segment with this bombshell. Tuesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Union Director Don Fehr took the unusual tactic of stepping back to allow owners and players to negotiate directly. With the annual Board of Governors meeting happening Wednesday and a press conference scheduled afterwards, NHL insiders across twitter are expressing cautious optimism that the puck will soon be dropped.
posted by mannequito (65 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I went to a hockey game and a contract dispute broke out.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:27 AM on December 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Because, you know, a bunch of players with NHLPA handlers and owners with NHL handlers should be able to crack this thing in a way that a third-party federal mediator couldn't."
posted by three blind mice at 2:41 AM on December 5, 2012


Even Gary Bettman thinks that the NHL would run more smoothly if Gary Bettman wasn't involved.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:27 AM on December 5, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm kind of through with hockey CBA optimism. I'll believe they're "close to a deal" when the puck drops.

It's nice that they finally kicked Bettman from the meetings, but let's not forget that it only takes EIGHT owners (out of 30) to keep the lockout going. And Bettman is pretty much one of those owners.
posted by specialagentwebb at 3:49 AM on December 5, 2012


World juniors starts on Christmas week so at least we have that to look forward to.
posted by arcticseal at 4:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will be super-excited if we get even part of a season back. I've not yet resorted to watching football, but I did snag really good seats tomorrow night at the Verizon Center in DC - Hershey Bears vs. the Norfolk Admirals.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:16 AM on December 5, 2012


[Some comments deleted. It's okay for people interested in hockey to talk about hockey. If you'd rather talk about something else, maybe make a post about that.]
posted by taz at 4:29 AM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't really count myself a hockey fan, although I like to watch a couple games each year on TV.

I moved to the Raleigh area last year from Detroit and have been half-hoping that I could finally see an NHL game in person (Carolina Hurricanes!) without having to pay scalper's prices.

But at this point it kind of doesn't matter. College basketball is the big thing hereabouts - maybe I'll start paying attention to that instead. University administrators and students have been failing to get along for generations and the lockouts have been rare-to-nonexistent.
posted by ardgedee at 4:42 AM on December 5, 2012


I'm amazed by how forgiving many hockey fans seem to be over all of this. It might be because I'm in Canada, but... I remember the 1994 baseball strike. Everyone seemed so livid with baseball—the owners, the players, everyone. It took baseball a long time, and a historic (if tainted, now) home run race to bring a lot of people back to the game. But this will be the second NHL play stoppage in less than ten years, and fans seem above all just hopeful that hockey will return. And this is a game where I couldn't even afford a cheap seat in many of the arenas.

What gives? I know that a lot of fans are mad, but they seem more mad at the absence of hockey than any of the parties involved in the dispute. I'm genuinely puzzled.
posted by synecdoche at 4:54 AM on December 5, 2012


I like the title - "Tantric Negotiating" - because it makes the connection with Tantrism, the practice of engaging in meditation in order to sublimate relative reality, in contradistinction to the opposition of relative reality, which leads, by continual practice, to an enlightened "no-mind" of absorption into the unnameable oneness, which is the seed of the universal flower of compassion and within-knowingness.

Hockey is similar. And it has penalty shots.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:02 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most people I've talked to:

(a) agree with the players that the NHL's demand for a league-wide pay cut is nuts; and

(b) couldn't drop their opinion of Bettman any lower no matter what he did, reducing the potential for outrage.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:40 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What gives? I know that a lot of fans are mad, but they seem more mad at the absence of hockey than any of the parties involved in the dispute. I'm genuinely puzzled.

Everyone feels a resigned hatred of Bettman, not anger. But otherwise -- I don't know, labour dispute, lockout, it's the same as any other strike, just at a higher pay scale.

I am however one of those dreaded fans who mostly watches in the post-season.
posted by jeather at 5:56 AM on December 5, 2012


What gives? I know that a lot of fans are mad, but they seem more mad at the absence of hockey than any of the parties involved in the dispute. I'm genuinely puzzled.

My sense is that neither of the parties are all that sympathetic in their demands, so there's no ideological fight to latch onto. Both sides want a bigger share of my money? And they're already insanely more richer than I am? Boo hoo.

I think it's the loss of seasonal habit more than anything else. If you've been watching for years and years every Saturday night, what are you doing now? The amuseument of reruns wears off pretty fast, probably lasts only until one of your smart-aleck kids Wikis the score for you.

Interest in minor-league is up among those in my circle, and they're finding it a very attractive option. Some are not missing the NHL at all.

I am however one of those dreaded fans who mostly watches in the post-season.

Me too, so I haven't felt the loss just yet. Talk to me in April.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like Fox Mulder about each new, positive-ish sounding development: "I Want to Believe!"

Then I shake my head, recalibrate my expectations to "Less Than None" and try to content myself with catching the occasional peewee hockey game at my local rink and snippets of games on Youtube or dodgy international feeds linked from reddit/r/hockey.

*grump, grump, grump* and while they're at it they should get off my lawn, too.
posted by skye.dancer at 6:28 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


@ardgedee If the season ever returns there are plenty of options to get Hurricanes tickets fairly cheap. On weeknights they had a special you can get $9.99 upper level seats. (You have to pick them up at the box office and they go very quick.)

If you have a .edu email address you can sign up for the Canes College Night Promotion. On certain nights during the season they offer students discounted (last year was $25 behind the nets lower level, $15 along the boards upper level, and $40 along the boards lower level.)

They also have a few night where you can BOGO (Buy One Get One Free), or donate cans of food to the food bank for tickets as well.

Otherwise it's pretty easy to get tickets for retail (or even below via a scalper for a weeknight game vs. a non rival). Only exceptions usually are the Detroit, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Rangers, Flyers, Toronto, Buffalo (lots of folks from those areas live here now) and Friday/Saturday Night games.

If the Canes ever get back into the playoffs again, it is worth spending a little more to go to a game. The atmosphere in the arena is great, the players step it up several notches and the fans get VERY LOUD.

Welcome to Raleigh!
posted by remo at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2012


My sense is that neither of the parties are all that sympathetic in their demands, so there's no ideological fight to latch onto. Both sides want a bigger share of my money? And they're already insanely more richer than I am? Boo hoo.

I concur wholeheartedly. I also bristle whenever I hear folks compare situations like this to labor/management disputes in the real world. It may be cliche', but pissing matches between millionaires and billionaires are the epitome of First World Problems.

As a strictly academic exercise, I would be interested to see what happens when a professional sports league fails because they couldn't settle stuff like this.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:41 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hockey's still around? I thought it folded and turned into the World Series of Poker in 2004.
posted by incandissonance at 6:42 AM on December 5, 2012


I hadn't thought about it, but I think Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish has it right: it's not that I'm not missing hockey, I just am out of disappointment. I tend to back the players in CBA negotiations anyway, but the NHL makes it easy. The only real problem is that shitheel Jeremy Jacobs is apparently behind it all. He'd actually generated some good karma by splashing enough cash to put together a good Bruins team that won a Cup; now it's all gone again and I'm not sure I can root for the sweater when hockey does come back.

WBZ-TV Boston's Steve Burton surprised everyone

Well, everyone outside of Boston anyway. I had this Twitter conversation with the Boston Globe's sports media reporter. Burton is one of those guys who really should have stayed away from sports radio. It's easy enough to deliver scores at 11pm, but asked to provide real thoughts in reply to callers on WEEI, he long ago revealed himself to be a complete dunce who's one talent was having a father who played for the Patriots.
posted by yerfatma at 6:44 AM on December 5, 2012


It is a labour/management dispute, and it is the real world, just a small group of it. And I believe that when we think that these kind of disputes are okay for rich people, we will also think that they are okay for other people also -- normalizing unions and union activities.
posted by jeather at 6:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


My sense is that neither of the parties are all that sympathetic in their demands

Again, I'm in the tank for athletes in these disputes, but I don't think that's true. Hockey owners are nuts. They look around and see the NBA and NFL gaining concessions from players recently and don't realize they're not in the same situation. The pie to be cut up in the NHL is much smaller and the product is way more elastic, as evidenced by much of this thread: fans just don't care enough outside of Canada (e.g., Montreal, where the Gazette is covering a season of EA Sports' NHL 2013). There's minor league hockey to attend and other sports to watch.

Furthermore, the owners are completely disingenuous and not even slick about it. A couple of months ago they made a big show of offering to divide revenues 50/50 with players so they could grab a headline. What the headline didn't say was that the 50% from the players' side would cover all players from the NHL down to the lowest minor league. I think it's a sign of how poor the owner leadership is that you don't see many sports journalists defending them. Heck, even worse a number of journalists are happy to break with neutrality and just say the owners are crap.
posted by yerfatma at 6:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would be interested to see what happens when a professional sports league fails because they couldn't settle stuff like this.

Not to be a nit-picker, but failing sports leagues don't have revenues to fight over. While the NHL isn't close to the size of other North American sports, they still have millions of people watching and attending games.
posted by yerfatma at 7:27 AM on December 5, 2012


Assuming there are any games to attend. The premier league of a popular sport damn sure shouldn't go bankrupt, but the NHL seems intent on cutting off its nose to spite its face.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2012


I'm curious to see the impact this will have on the shabbier expansions and what it would take for the league to drop Bettman and the process that would entail; I didn't realize that he was the first commissioner, or that he was preceded by basically 3(!) league presidents over a 75-year period(!!). The owners/Board of Governors probably don't give a shit how reviled the guy is as long as they're making money, but how much is enough?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2012


The best outcome of this would be highlighting some of the NHL's gross deficiencies in product and forcing the league to address them due to post-lockout fan apathy. The season is too long. The level of play from the regular season to the playoffs is wildly different. The unbalanced scheduling is dull and repetitive. The playing surface is too small. There are too many teams.

None of this will ever be addressed.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:03 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The NHL is the closest thing to an international premiere league as exists in North America, even if the owners seem hell-bent on shipping all the Canadian teams off to the southern States. A lot of the collective yawning Stateside is disregarding the significance this has in Canada and the northern part of the U.S.
posted by ardgedee at 8:05 AM on December 5, 2012


If this is the breakthrough, I would love to be a fly on the wall when Bettman and Fehr are asked by their stakeholders, why it got fixed as soon as they left the room. This whole exercise appears to me to be a huge failure of leadership.

That being said, if this keeps progressing, at some point Bettman and Fehr will have to be involved. If the wheels don't fall off at that point, there is probably a chance for a season. Then I think both sides need to do some serious talking about the fans and how to woo them back; I live in Canada and have to say the level of apathy is large. There are still the rabid fans, but a lot of us have found better things to do.

And to put a cap on this, I've long been saying the fans should engage in a general boycott of the first several games back. Don't go, don't watch, don't buy. Because the only way we're going to avoid this again in a few years time is if both sides believe that the fans won't come back.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Excuse me, I'm sorry but the authorities have told me that the only acceptable sports story this week is who will start for The Jets on Sunday. Please focus on that.


Kidding...I miss hockey desperately.
posted by spicynuts at 8:29 AM on December 5, 2012


Tell me about it. Last week I broke down and dug out NHL '94. It's a little blurry on HDTV. Might have been the tears.
posted by yerfatma at 8:36 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


What gives? I know that a lot of fans are mad, but they seem more mad at the absence of hockey than any of the parties involved in the dispute. I'm genuinely puzzled.

Their called hockey fans which distinguishes them from sports news fans.
posted by srboisvert at 8:47 AM on December 5, 2012


God, I want to see Bettman get shirted. He's such a terrible, terrible, awful commish, and the owners are generally sacks of shit. (Except you, Mr. I!)
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


... and Terry Pegula)
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2012


... and Terry Pegula)

How did you know I was about to comment about Pegula? He's running a Sabres University for team employees while the lockout is on. The Sabres haven't had an owner who actually gave a hoot about the team (or the city) in a looooong time.

I'm really interested to hear what comes out from/about him once this lockout is over. In my head he's acting as a force for good but who actually knows, right?
posted by troika at 9:18 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was hoping the SU would be videotaped and youtubed,
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2012


He's running a Sabres University for team employees while the lockout is on

Don't tell me these things. I've actually been casting about for another team to root for (even though my heart is black (and a little bit gold) and I'll never follow through) and I can't possibly choose Buffalo. I was thinking something way out of the Adams Division, like, God help me, Edmonton.

I'm still not over the power outage game.
posted by yerfatma at 9:52 AM on December 5, 2012


Generally in the tank for the players' union myself on this one just because of the egregiousness of the owners who are basically asking the players to take the hit for their inability to resist trying to short-circuit the last CBA. I'd like to see my Canucks play this season, but I also hate strike/lockout shortened seasons. Once you get within range of the All-Star break, it's time to just call things off.

My Junior A team started the season 10 - 0 - 0 and last weekend delivered an utter shellacking to their rivals--a team I own season tickets for thanks to geography. Granted the NHL skill level isn't there, but they have everything else that makes hockey the sport I love to watch.

I suppose having this distraction is why I'm not openly irate about this stoppage. I remember being a lot more miffed at the last one and I'm still not over the '94 MLB strike even though I've gone back to watching games and actively rooting for a team. Hopefully they can get this one sorted before my attitude changes.

One interesting take I've heard from some corners is that this is supposed to be the wedge with which the owners attempt to break the unions. Something along the lines of if they can work this out with the players individually then the owners can demonstrate that the union is working against the players' collective interests in future negotiations.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2012


I miss hockey desperately, and my hockey loving friends do too. But I'm kind of resigned to the lockout lasting a long while still. I'm mad, but mostly just sad that they can't get over their differences, and sadder at how they are treating us, the fans, so poorly. Most of the people I know are following the AHL or overseas hockey instead (with Dynamo in the KHL being the #1 team of interest, given how well Nicky and Ovie are doing over there).

I'm super looking forward to seeing Hershey Bears vs. the Norfolk Admirals tomorrow as well!
posted by gemmy at 10:10 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The NHLPA hired Fehr because they got tired of getting rolled by the owners. Fehr's strategey seems to be, "public opinion be damned, if Bettman & the the NHL want to play Chicken, let's see what they're REALLY made of." Seven years ago the NHL basically scared the players into thinking that the NHL would collapse without significant concessions and give backs. Now that they just had the most profitable season in their history, they trot out THE SAME ARGUMENT from seven years ago.

Good luck with that: Fehr was Marvin Miller's protege at the MLBPA and was responsible for the MLB owners opting for a Luxury Tax system rather than imposing a salary cap during the last baseball strike in the 90's. This guy knows from Chicken.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:59 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ridiculous but true: a small part of what makes the whole squabble so galling is that the owners' grasp for more of the pie is just so goddamned inelegant. I want my soulless plutocrats to be Magnificent Bastards, evil titans of finance who employ fiendish tricks to hide their greed. Sons of bitches who you hate but respect for their skill. Preferably sons of bitches with amazing goatees. Instead, we get these guys. They're just assholes. Not particularly clever assholes.

If you're going to be a greedy titan out to crush all in your path and grind every cent from the world, at least do it with panache and intellect, fuckers. Don't assume that we're all stupid and you can play us. Work at your deceptions and bamboozling! Make 'em good!

This shit's just sad.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:38 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm amazed by how forgiving many hockey fans seem to be over all of this. It might be because I'm in Canada,

As a hockey fan in the USA, this is what makes me nuts. In Canada, hockey is practically a religion and nobody has to worry that people aren't going to tune in to HNIC as long as it's on. Here, hockey is always on relatively shaky ground and this isn't helping.

Maybe Bettman doesn't give a shit about the American market, but if that's the case why has the NHL put so many teams down here.

The only positive I take from this is that it might be pushing Nashville to give up and move to Seattle. But probably, it's just pushing the stadium project here to give up on considering the NHL.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:08 PM on December 5, 2012


The NHL is the closest thing to an international premiere league as exists in North America, even if the owners seem hell-bent on shipping all the Canadian teams off to the southern States.

I'm all for NHL-bashing, but this hasn't been true for years. The only Canadian city that lost a team to the southern U.S. just took a team back from the South last year.

NHL teams in Canada are punching way above their weight, revenue-wise. The strong maplebuck plus fervent fan interest makes Canadian teams makers, not takers. Even Winnipeg, with its tiny arena and small population, contributed money to the NHL's revenue-sharing plan last year.

God, I want to see Bettman get shirted. He's such a terrible, terrible, awful commish, and the owners are generally sacks of shit. (Except you, Mr. I!)

As a steward of the game, yeah, I agree, he's a shitbird. But he doesn't work for me. I think his employers adore him. Total revenues of NHL teams have doubled in the past nine years.

Speaking of revenue expansion, here's a prediction: if Bettman can keep the league's weak sisters propped up for another couple of years in their present cities, Quebec City and Seattle will not get transplanted teams. They will get expansion teams. NHL expansion fees are ludicrous, and they are money for nothing.

The only cost for expansion is the quality of hockey in the NHL, as two more slices are cut out of the talent pie. There's that stewardship of the game thing again...
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:34 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: if I'm wrong and the Nashville Predators become the Seattle Metropolitans, I hope that they move on from those gawdawful yellow and grey unis and adopt something fantastic and classic like this
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:36 PM on December 5, 2012


This may actually be a problem for the CBC, as Hockey Night in Canada is a major ratings (and revenue) driver for them. Of course, now with TSN having some broadcasts, the pain is being spread around a bit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:45 PM on December 5, 2012


Keith Talent: "The best outcome of this would be highlighting some of the NHL's gross deficiencies in product and forcing the league to address them due to post-lockout fan apathy. The season is too long. The level of play from the regular season to the playoffs is wildly different. The unbalanced scheduling is dull and repetitive. The playing surface is too small. There are too many teams. "

Of these gripes, I think only "too many teams" has any merit. With "unbalanced scheduling", it sounds like you're appealing for fewer games with in-division rivals and more with non-division intra-conference and inter-conference games, which I think is a bad idea.

Fans like rivalries. They like seeing the same team six times a year, and would probably like to see them even more. This is true in every major sport in the country. Even in the NFL with only 16 games a year, you play in-division rivals twice, some other teams once, and other teams you don't play but every few years. In baseball you play inside your division a lot, inside your league a ton, and until interleague play started 15 years ago, that was it unless you made it to the World Series. Plus, because NHL conferences are roughly assigned on geography, you get more chances for road trips.

I don't know how you would propose changing the balance, but if you're still talking about more in-conference games but fewer in-division games, we had that a while back, and I think the fan response was such that they decided to increase the number of in-division games for these very reasons. As a Flyers fan, I don't care much about a game versus the Panthers, and seeing them four times a year instead of two isn't going to create as much of a rivalry as you can get with six versus teams that you have existing rivalries with.

Regarding the level of play, that's the case in every sport that has playoffs. I don't know how you solve the problem of "players play at a higher level when the stakes are higher."

Finally, with the ice surface, we've gotten to see teams full of American and Canadian all-star caliber players play in the Olympics on the big ice, and though the sample size is small and it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, I don't think the level of play wasn't appreciably higher than any random NHL playoff game. If cramped, defensive play is a problem for you, there are plenty of rule changes they could make to create more open ice on the existing surface. This argument is moot anyway, because there's zero chance they'll reduce seating capacity to enlarge the ice.

Regarding this kumbaya going on with players and management, I honestly don't want them to come to an agreement, because I think it will be too skewed in favor of the ownership who have created this mess by not solving their own problems with the big team versus small team factions. For the good of the sport, I hope the 2012-2013 doesn't happen, and the players get a fair deal in the spring/summer timeframe.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only gripe I have about unbalanced schedules is how jetlag obviously fucks teams from the midwest coming to the west on the regular. You can argue that the season is too long and has too many games — casual fans and playoff fans don't care about regular season games, especially since every decent team makes the playoffs in most years — but in general, it's the same beef I have with baseball scheduling.
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 PM on December 5, 2012


"Regarding the level of play, that's the case in every sport that has playoffs. I don't know how you solve the problem of "players play at a higher level when the stakes are higher.""

Not baseball! It's pretty much a crapshoot whether the best team will win the WS.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on December 5, 2012


klangklangston: "The only gripe I have about unbalanced schedules is how jetlag obviously fucks teams from the midwest coming to the west on the regular."

Can we define balanced and unbalanced? I was taking "unbalanced" to mean "you play more in your division, so you make fewer long road trips." So in my mind, a truly balanced schedule would be round robin where the conferences (if they exist) are just used for playoff matchup purposes.

The reason I ask is that, by my definition, the "unbalanced" schedule (with the geography-based divisions/conferences in the NHL) should lead to less jetlag because you're not bouncing around all over the place. But you seem to be making the opposite point.

klangklangston: " Not baseball! It's pretty much a crapshoot whether the best team will win the WS."

Have any non-anecdotal evidence on this? Certainly, the fact that you only need to rely on 3 starting pitchers in the playoffs gives some teams an advantage, but I think the "better team" wins each matchup on average about the same amount as in other leagues -- probably much more than the NFL where single-elimination can mean a hot team runs the table quite easily.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:12 PM on December 5, 2012


I honestly don't want them to come to an agreement, because I think it will be too skewed in favor of the ownership who have created this mess by not solving their own problems with the big team versus small team factions.

This. The real problem is not an Owners vs. Players conflict, it an Owners vs. Owners conflict. The players are just the victims here, as Bettman is unable/unwilling to get tough on the problem owners.
posted by KingEdRa at 2:13 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Can we define balanced and unbalanced? I was taking "unbalanced" to mean "you play more in your division, so you make fewer long road trips." So in my mind, a truly balanced schedule would be round robin where the conferences (if they exist) are just used for playoff matchup purposes."

I thought he meant the relative strengths of teams. And playing more in a division doesn't guarantee fewer road trips if the division is the Western one.

"Have any non-anecdotal evidence on this? Certainly, the fact that you only need to rely on 3 starting pitchers in the playoffs gives some teams an advantage, but I think the "better team" wins each matchup on average about the same amount as in other leagues -- probably much more than the NFL where single-elimination can mean a hot team runs the table quite easily."

Here's a decent Freakonomics roundup. This has long been a general truth about the baseball playoffs — baseball teams are built for seasons, have (in general) a low relative difference in quality and baseball involves a lot of chance, so playing a lot of games is the only way to determine who's actually best.
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on December 5, 2012


klangklangston: "I thought he meant the relative strengths of teams. And playing more in a division doesn't guarantee fewer road trips if the division is the Western one."

In practice, it should. Traveling to the other coast is always going to be problematic, but with more in-division and in-conference games, you can make the long trip to the other coast a once or twice a season thing. The more games you put outside your division and conference, the harder it is to string those together into one or two long trips.

klangklangston: "Here's a decent Freakonomics roundup."

OK, but all of the same principles apply to the other sports, and it's not really a "crap shoot" if the best team still wins nearly a third of the time. It's a tall order to expect any system to have the single best team win two or three rounds of playoffs, what you want is for the best team to win more than the second-best, the second-best to win more than the third-best, etc.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:37 PM on December 5, 2012


"In practice, it should. Traveling to the other coast is always going to be problematic, but with more in-division and in-conference games, you can make the long trip to the other coast a once or twice a season thing. The more games you put outside your division and conference, the harder it is to string those together into one or two long trips."

Long roadtrips also take a toll on the teams, and for Wings or Hawks fans, playing Eastern teams more often would both mean shorter road trips and less long coast trips.

"OK, but all of the same principles apply to the other sports, and it's not really a "crap shoot" if the best team still wins nearly a third of the time. It's a tall order to expect any system to have the single best team win two or three rounds of playoffs, what you want is for the best team to win more than the second-best, the second-best to win more than the third-best, etc."

Nearly a third? 3 out of 18 the last years isn't nearly a third, it's 1 in 6 (the odds went down significantly with the expanded playoffs). That's worse than hockey (assuming you're OK with his curves), worse than a platonic NFL season, worse than the NCAA. That's, in fact, significantly worse than a pass bet in craps.

And baseball is worse than the other sports because more luck is generally involved — statistics take longer to stabilize in baseball than they do in most other sports. It's much streakier.
posted by klangklangston at 3:17 PM on December 5, 2012


I love hockey. I've had pro season hockey tickets. An easy choice when your option is to watch Lemieux-Jagr-Francis skate on a line together!

And I'll be the first to say the season is too long. The lock-out is frustrating, but what I'd really love is if the hockey regular season started in November and ended in March with a total of about 60 games. And I'd knock both of the first two rounds of the playoffs back to five games. It'll never happen because - revenues. But, that is really what would be best for the sport.
posted by meinvt at 4:34 PM on December 5, 2012


klangklangston: " Long roadtrips also take a toll on the teams, and for Wings or Hawks fans, playing Eastern teams more often would both mean shorter road trips and less long coast trips. "

I think we're arguing past each other a bit on this. I'm a proponent of the current unbalanced style of scheduling, with 6 games per in-division opponent, fewer out-of-division but in-conference, and even fewer out-of-conference. The original argument was in favor of more balance, which I interpreted as more in the direction of round-robin style, e.g. play each team in the NHL 2-3 times, or maybe in-conference 4 times and out-of-conference two times. This would mean more frequent and grueling road trips for everyone.

Nearly a third? 3 out of 18 the last years isn't nearly a third, it's 1 in 6 (the odds went down significantly with the expanded playoffs).

One of the calculations was 5 out of 18 (close to 1/3), and the authors said the best team fails to win the championship "more than two thirds of the time." Obviously I was using the colloquial definition of "crap shoot" (a.k.a rolling the dice and not having much control over the outcome) and not any particular style of bet in craps, but I'll cede the point that the best team probably doesn't win as often as it should. Of course that's why we watch -- if they were so good, why did they lose to a lesser team? Unless we abandon the playoffs and crown the team with the most wins the winner at the end of the season, you'll never solve this problem.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:08 PM on December 5, 2012


meinvt: "And I'll be the first to say the season is too long. The lock-out is frustrating, but what I'd really love is if the hockey regular season started in November and ended in March with a total of about 60 games. And I'd knock both of the first two rounds of the playoffs back to five games. It'll never happen because - revenues."

I would keep the regular season at 82 games, but I'd eliminate the first round of the playoffs entirely. 8 out of 15 teams from each conference having a chance to win the cup is far too generous, and if the league dropped some teams as it should, 8 teams getting in would be even sillier.

My fantasy scenario is something like the current 82 game season, then the top 6 from each conference get in, with the top 2 getting first round byes as the NFL does. I agree that these changes would never happen because of lost revenue, but perhaps there could be a revenue sharing arrangement with the 3rd through 6th teams giving some of their revenue to the teams who finish 1-2. Imagine the stretch runs when you're looking at giving away a big chunk of your gate receipts to some other team!
posted by tonycpsu at 5:19 PM on December 5, 2012


about an hour ago they started setting up an NHL podium.

check out #podiumwatch for some comic relief and the occasional bit of real news.
posted by mannequito at 7:16 PM on December 5, 2012


I'll cede the point that the best team probably doesn't win as often as it should.

I don't know about that -- it's not like the second or third best teams are total garbage. The football numbers from klangklangston's post show about 25% odds for the best team, and 25% for the next two.


My fantasy scenario is something like the current 82 game season, then the top 6 from each conference get in, with the top 2 getting first round byes as the NFL does. I agree that these changes would never happen because of lost revenue, but perhaps there could be a revenue sharing arrangement with the 3rd through 6th teams giving some of their revenue to the teams who finish 1-2. Imagine the stretch runs when you're looking at giving away a big chunk of your gate receipts to some other team!

I'm baffled that your fantasy scenario involves halving the number of hard-fought, crucial games and doubling the number of meaningless games played between mediocre or worse teams.

A lot of teams are already out of meaningful contention early on in the season; last year, at the 1/3 mark of the season, there were already 7 teams essentially knocked out of contention. (ie. less than 10% chance of making the playoffs.) Under your scenario, probably half or more of the league would reach the 1/3 point of the season with nothing more to play for. So the number of totally pointless games would skyrocket. Last season at Christmas, the worst team who ultimately finished top 6 was Nashville, #14. The season before, it was #10 San Jose. Dropping the first round of the playoffs may slightly heighten the importance of games for that top quarter of the teams, but it makes the games for the bottom half totally meaningless. It also reduces the benefit for doing really well - going from playing a #5 seed to a #8 seed is a much bigger difference than going from playing a #3 seed to a #4 seed.

I'm also not sure that players signed to fixed contracts give two shits about how much gate revenue their team makes. Sure, there might be more billionaires in suits yelling at jocks in the locker room, but it's not going to have any impact on the ice -- a team in the top 6 is already playing about as well as they can. Nobody's going to put their bodies on the line just to get the rich guy who owns them an extra 0.1% income for the year. The bye would be nice, but I think giving a club two weeks to rest and recover while their opponent plays punishing playoff hockey is way too much of an advantage.


To counter with my own, 180 degree different proposal:
* Regular season reduced to roughly 60 games; starts mid-October and ends mid-March. Olympic years, it starts a week earlier and ends a week later. There is no need for so many games, and no need for hockey in June.
* A fair amount of intra-division and intra-conference play; let's say you play the teams in your division 5x, the teams in the same conference twice, the teams in the other conference once or something along those lines.
* The kicker: EVERY TEAM MAKES THE PLAYOFFS.

The top 7 teams (including the division winners) make the playoffs as per usual. But the other teams (the ones who finished #8 through #15 in their conference) have a tournament for that 8th spot in the playoffs. One game, sudden death, winner moves on. Home ice advantage to the team with the best record. All of a sudden, there's three rounds of complete do-or-die games, and totally crazy shit is guaranteed to happen. But the winner of the play-in tournament winds up in a tough position (against the rested #1 team, playing away), so it's not like the real playoffs are going to be turned around. And lots of those late season games get additional importance -- all of a sudden, Carolina vs. Tampa Bay in March is a game with playoff implications, not a reason to string Gary Bettman up by his toes.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:44 PM on December 5, 2012


check out #podiumwatch for some comic relief and the occasional bit of real news.

Also follow @NHLPodium for some cheap laughs.

Homeboy - did you check out this proposal? I have to admit, I like yours better, but something needs to be done.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:57 PM on December 5, 2012


I don't know about that -- it's not like the second or third best teams are total garbage. The football numbers from klangklangston's post show about 25% odds for the best team, and 25% for the next two.

Yeah, I didn't mean "should" as in "the other teams should have no chance." Obviously great teams have a bad series on occasion, have key injuries during the series, or just don't match up well against their opponent. I still don't know what to make of baseball differing so much from the other sports. I mentioned the shortened postseason rotations earlier, and wonder if that might have something to do with it. But it is an interesting result.

I'm baffled that your fantasy scenario involves halving the number of hard-fought, crucial games and doubling the number of meaningless games played between mediocre or worse teams.

I didn't suggest doubling the regular season -- don't know where you got that impression. As for getting rid of the first round and letting fewer teams into the playoffs, it's quite simple -- I think the regular season should mean something. Yes, some teams would be out of contention by the all-star break, but the solution to that is to win your damn regular season games.

The problem with your "everyone gets a chance in the playoffs" system is that the regular season is the truest test of a team's performance, not only due to the sample size, but due to the diversity of competition. Even with 4 rounds of playoffs, a shitty team that happens to catch fire can knock out teams that actually earned their right to play for the cup. Is the worst team in each conference going to make it to the finals? Probably not, but they shouldn't even have the right to knock the top team out because they had 82 games to prove they deserved it.

MLB has an even more selective playoff structure, and it's not like you give up if you're buried in the standings. My beloved Phillies were 37-50 at the All Star break this year, and they went 44-31 in the second half to finish at 0.500, in sniffing distance of the Wild Card spot until the very last week. I know not every team that's in the cellar has this kind of streak, and obviously the more playoff spots you have, the more there's a chance to snag one if you're not doing well, but should we really reward a terrible season with even a chance to win it all? I say no.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:15 PM on December 5, 2012


Homeboy - did you check out this proposal? I have to admit, I like yours better, but something needs to be done.

I've seen it before; it's interesting, but like most proposals that try to fight a team tanking, it's hard to determine the difference between a genuinely terrible team, a team that is tanking deliberately, and a team that is, shall we say, playing with perspective. Calling up players from the minors to test them out, giving bench warmers more experience, and resting stars.


I didn't suggest doubling the regular season -- don't know where you got that impression.

Let's say at the halfway point in the season, there are three tiers of teams, Good (G), Mediocre (M) and Awful (A). In the second half of the season, with a small set of playoff teams, G-G games have significant playoff repercussions, G-M and M-G have moderate importance, G-A and A-G will typically be of limited import; there will be the occasional upset, but people will not likely watch for that chance. M-M, M-A, A-M and A-A games are entirely unimportant from a neutral perspective. (A dedicated fan of a team will obviously be interested in most of their teams' games, no matter who they play.) So a little over half of the games have some playoff repercussions. With a large set of playoff teams, everything but the A-A games will be important; the mediocre teams will be jockeying to make it in, and the good teams will be jockeying for position. Instead of 4/9 of the games being truly meaningless, only 1 in 9 are. That's what I was getting at.

Some of where we differ is based on our goals; I don't think the point of playoffs is to select the best team. If that was the goal, just play more regular season and base it on that. I personally think that a good playoff system produces as much entertaining sport as possible, while also producing a credible champion. I don't think it has to be the platonic best -- that would get boring -- but it shouldn't be totally at random.

Here's a system that would be more likely to pick the platonic best team, given 82 regular season games and a couple rounds of playoffs:

* Each team plays home-and-home against every other team; 58 games. This happens before the All-Star break.
* After the All-Star break, the league is divided into three tranches of 10 teams, A, B and C, based on record to date. Each team plays home-and-home against the other teams in their tranche; another 18 games.
* A second set of groups is prepared; teams 3, 4, 5 and 6 from tranche A form a group, teams 1 and 2 in A get two weeks off. The other groups don't matter. Each team plays home-and-home against the teams in their group; that's 6 more games, 82 total.
* The playoffs are the two teams ranked 1 and 2, and the top two from the 3-6 group based on whole season record. Each series ends when a team leads 3-0, 4-1, 4-2, 5-3, or 5-4. (The same number of games on average, but higher probability of the better team progressing - Alternate World Series from an old Slate column.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:37 PM on December 5, 2012


And I'll be the first to say the season is too long.

Amen. It's ridiculous to be playing for the Stanley Cup in June.
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:54 AM on December 6, 2012


Homeboy Trouble: "Instead of 4/9 of the games being truly meaningless, only 1 in 9 are. That's what I was getting at."

I think you're significantly overestimating how much intrigue "mediocre team playing mediocre or perhaps awful team for a one-in-seven chance at getting whacked in the first round by the best team in the conference" adds. I'm sure teams 61 through 68 in the NCAA basketball tournament feel good about making it to the play-in game, but I don't think their fans think for a second they're going to make it to the first weekend, and certainly not to the second.

Your tranche / alternate series ideas have more merit, though I do think eliminating geographical divisions would have a negative impact on fan interest. It does lead to a more equitable system, but there's no real chance to develop intense rivalries if you're only guaranteed to play each team a couple times a year. Every change to the status quo will involve tradeoffs, and I think that's one I would not make.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:41 AM on December 6, 2012


That was an unbelievable farce this evening.

I think Fehr was basically lying through his teeth during his presser, trying to convince everyone that the deal was practically done, just as a means of attempting to paint the league into a corner and make them into the bad guys.

Bettman, even at the best of times, comes across as an arrogant, condescending jerk, so a press conference in which he is angry isn't going to make him look good either. And the fact that they informed the PA via voice mail about the end of the process just makes them look stupid - how hard is it to ask for a call back? And the amazingly rapid, coordinated release of statements from four of the owners involved in the past couple of days of negotiations lets me know that the league end of this was just as much kabuki as Fehr's little song and dance. Both sides knew exactly what was going to happen tonight if the PA did anything other than accept the league's last proposal.

My message to both sides would be: stop with the PR War, you've both lost it.

My wish for the next few days: Fans in all NHL cities cancel their seasons tickets (or their spot on the waiting list); start attending juniour league games, which are often more fun. League sponsors end their deals; players stop getting any outside advertising.

My thoughts on what will actually happen: Fans will howl in outrage on social media; the media has lots of juicy crap to keep reporting on; the PA will begin the decertification process; owners will cancel another chunk of games, if not the whole season.

It's a sad day when the CFL is a better managed league than the NHL.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:50 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I missed the farce, but I'm glad the players aren't folding. At this point, everyone should just go home for the holidays and focus on getting something done for 2013-2014. The compressed schedule they're talking about is just going to get players hurt, or force coaches to rest their stars who just came back from the international leagues and can't be playing another 60 or whatever games in 3 months. They might as well just print an asterisk next to the team name of whoever wins with that kind of ridiculous schedule.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:43 PM on December 6, 2012


Bettman looked close to a nervous breakdown on television earlier.

Didn't see this one coming, but at least this lockout continues to be a lot more entertaining than 04-05.
posted by mannequito at 8:37 PM on December 6, 2012


I've seen it before; it's interesting, but like most proposals that try to fight a team tanking,

I'm not sure why you would want to do that. I actually like it when teams tank, even ones I'm rooting for. The Bruins barely making the playoffs after taking the cup was a very Boston moment. And I always hated the Devils for the trap until they started eating it so hard that I felt bad for them.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:27 AM on December 7, 2012


The NHL is a bad boyfriend

Hockey world dazed and confused

NHL's sorry game takes a downward turn

posted by never used baby shoes at 8:08 AM on December 7, 2012


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