June 11, 2017

Just to give you an idea....

(Click on the picture to make it bigger.)

This is what it looks like to have an ice rink in the Tacoma Dome. I think this is for an international exhibition game - probably the Goodwill Games in 1990. The ice is a bit bigger than normal for a regular rink in there. Also, the rubber walkways going back around behind the bleachers are missing, so they must've just had them at one end of the rink for both teams.

And I say that, because the regular seating wouldn't have gone all the way to rinkside. For a normal NHL-sized rink, they used to have two rows right on the glass, then a walkway on the concrete, then the regular bleachers. And they'd also have smaller seating sections at both ends of the rink that are right up on the glass as well.

I was sitting in one of those end sections once, and had two different pucks hit off the back of my seat in one game. I saw them coming so I casually leaned to one side, otherwise, they would've both hit me. This was before they put up the protective netting that's in the ends of most rinks now.

Needless to say, the players started shooting much lower the rest of that game.

Anyways, this is what everyone gets to look forward to after Seattle gets awarded an NHL team. Not just the huge empty space, but also the horrible sightlines. Like I've said, it's a lot like watching one of those outdoor games, just inside.

June 8, 2017

Location, location, location

So...the Tacoma Dome.

If KeyArena's going to be in some form of demolition or construction, then an NHL expansion team is going to have to play somewhere, right? There aren't many options, and each has its flaws. Basically, they're going to have to choose between number of seats or accommodations, because they won't be able to do both.

ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington, is the smallest choice of the lot, seating just 6500 for hockey. This is where the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds play. It opened in 2009, so it's the newest arena of the lot.

Xfinity Arena in Everett, Washington, has potential but it's still just too small - even for a temporary NHL home. It seats 8149 for hockey, and is the home of the WHL Everett Silvertips. It opened in 2003.

The Tacoma Dome is really the only choice, so far as the number of seats is concerned. I think for hockey, it seats around 21,000. There are no numbers for that, however, since there hasn't been any sort of hockey team in Tacoma since 2002, and the last NHL exhibition game that was played there was in 1996, from what I can find.

The problems with the Tacoma Dome are many. One, it's just one big open space with a bare concrete floor under a wood dome. Literally. It's a serious hike from the dressing rooms to the ice when it's all set up.

So no luxury boxes - no boxes at all, actually - and not much in way of concessions, either. I'm not even sure where the press box is in that building, since the last time I saw hockey there I wasn't all that interested in that sort of thing. But it's probably really, really far away from the ice.

Because of that, the seating can be arranged in any way they like. However, there has never been hockey-specific seating - they usually have football or basketball in there, so the seating is at a very shallow angle. To put it plainly, the sight lines seriously suck for the fans, pretty much no matter where you sit.

It's sort of like watching hockey in a football stadium - like one of those outdoor games - only it's smaller and indoors.

And I don't even know the last time the building had any updates done to it anywhere. Could be that the locker rooms are exactly as they have been since 1983 (when it was built), for all I know. The City of Tacoma, which owns the building, approved of a 2-year $21 million renovation last fall. But I'm not sure when that's supposed to start...or finish.

As for practice rinks, they'd probably end up at the rink I used to play hockey at on the Tacoma Tideflats. It's nothing fancy, but it's close. Otherwise, they'd have to go out to Parkland (which is south of Tacoma, in the opposite direction of Seattle) or up to Kent.

The other issue is logistics for the team itself. SeaTac Airport is actually in the middle between Seattle and Tacoma - hence the name "SeaTac", so that's not really the issue. Although, they'd probably charter out of Boeing Field once they move to Seattle after KeyArena is done and likely renamed. But that's not what I'm talking about.

You see, Tacoma's way cheaper to live in than Seattle is - by far. It's smaller and a bit more laid back, too. So people with families would love Tacoma, but the commute to and from Seattle would kill any reasonable person. It's only 34 miles from downtown to downtown, but it's an awful commute at just about any time of day.

What I'm getting at is for a team to set up shop in Tacoma, they'd have to pick up and move that shop to Seattle, at some point. That means relocating employees and players, which is not going to be a fun time for anyone. Especially not when it's getting difficult - and expensive - to get a house in Seattle right now. In like five years, it'll probably be impossible.

I'm not so worried about the fans coming to Tacoma for hockey. They already come down for concerts, so they've mostly got that figured out. There's a train station about half a mile from the Tacoma Dome, so people from Seattle will just take that.

Most expansion teams suck for the first 10-15 years, anyways, so after the initial three-year period of excitement, the crowds will naturally shrink because of that. But they'll probably move into their new home around then, so that will help maintain interest. For a little while, at least. Expansion teams have it rough for a long while, for the most part.

But traffic there isn't like traffic anywhere else. Where there's stop and go traffic on the freeways in other places, it's a literal parking lot there. You. Don't. Move. I know, because I've been in it. Your typical 15-minute commute just isn't going to take 15 minutes there, no matter how you slice it. And those kinds of logistics - to and from Seattle from Tacoma - is what's going to screw people who aren't familiar with the area up.

June 7, 2017

Don't try to make sense of the politics - just know that it'll almost certainly happen

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Celtics minority owner David Bonderman to join KeyArena renovation group
The addition of Bonderman and Bruckheimer, to be announced at a news conference at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at KeyArena, provides the strongest signal yet that OVG intends to bring an NHL team to Seattle near-term and an NBA team further down the road. Bonderman has been a minority owner of the Boston Celtics for more than a decade, and Bruckheimer is a close acquaintance of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and has long expressed a desire to become a franchise owner.
So let me explain why this KeyArena deal will work over the SoDo arena proposal.

First off, KeyArena is owned outright by the City of Seattle, while the SoDo Arena would've been a three-way joint venture between Seattle, King County, and the ownership group. This is the biggie, really. Not because they wouldn't have gotten money off of the SoDo Arena, but because KeyArena would've become a white elephant for them. Seattle's first choice has always been to renovate KeyArena, but there were never any takers - and they certainly didn't want to pay for it - which is how the SoDo Arena turned into a thing.

And a lot of this is also a popularity contest. Seattle's had two mayors in a row who wanted to be "the guy" who brought back an NBA team. This is about egos, people, not money. The best way one of them can live forever in the history of Seattle is to become the guy who resurrects the SuperSonics.

Mayor Michael McGinn kicked this whole thing off with trying to get an arena built in SoDo, just south of Safeco Field. He was unsuccessful, mostly because the Port of Seattle sabotaged his efforts. So current mayor, Ed Murray, is trying to do the same. He just happened to have gotten lucky, and some group of investors offered the revamp of KeyArena to him on a silver platter.

It's much easier - and cost effective for the city, in the long run - to gut KeyArena for a second time than it is to build another arena elsewhere. Not only will they have a revitalized Seattle Center, but they'll also not have an outdated building that will become less relevant over time sitting on their hands.

Mayor Murray is desperately trying to push this KeyArena deal through, because his term is almost up and his re-election looms. At this point, he doesn't really care if it's SoDo or the Seattle Center. All he really cares about is that it gets done before election time.

The KeyArena option is easy, convenient, and it works out way better for the city than having an arena in SoDo would have. Which is why this will likely happen. It's what the city has wanted for years, so they're not going to turn it down. And when the time comes to vote on the street vacation (street closure) for the SoDo Arena, the city council will likely turn them down again because of their preference for KeyArena.

The things that are going to slow this down, however, are:

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). I took a class in college about how to specifically write one of these, and let me tell you, they can drag on forever. Not to mention the fact that they tend to get people riled up as you're trying to get the information that you need. They can't break a window to start tearing things down unless they have one of these, and it's required by state law. Doesn't matter what the City of Seattle has to say about it; it's a necessary evil that can take a year or more to complete. And it has to be completed before they even know if they can do it or not.

The non-profit group, Historic Seattle. While KeyArena isn't on the National Historic Register, it is eligible to be, as it's over 50 years old. Because of this, the building's renovation must conform to the laws and regulations as if it were on the National Historic Register. And Historic Seattle will try to ensure that. Which means, the plans for reconstruction need include a way to maintain the integrity of the structure so that it basically appears as it has for the past 57 years, and counting.

The Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Have you seen how much Washington State has been sticking it to the current presidential administration over a number of laws? This is not a state-level thing, but a local thing. Everyone in the state has a strong sense of propriety, and most are not afraid to do something about it, if necessary. It's at its worst within the Seattle city limits, and the people in those neighborhoods are not going to like the additional traffic for sporting events. They could make city hall's lives miserable over thing - and they probably will.

The Duwamish could probably make a stink about this, if they wanted. I wouldn't expect them to, but you never know. They're not a federally recognized tribe - they got lumped in with the Suquamish, because Chief Si'ahl (or Sealth, or Seattle), but that's another story for another time. The entirety of Seattle are the ancestral lands of the Duwamish, and they'll be consulted about this because of federal and state law.

Also, the group that was going to build the SoDo Arena could sue - for a variety of reasons. Not sure that they will, but I also wouldn't put it past them. Litigation could drag things along for a while as well.

So unless an EIS is already in the works, and it has been for a while, getting to the point where they can start tearing things down is going to take a while. Then again, there's no requirement that an EIS has to be a well-written document. I've seen some truly awful EISs and Environmental Assessments (EAs), and getting by with the bare minimum might be what they do. They could be more easily sued for that, but that'll be after the fact.

I also wouldn't be surprised if they flat-out ignored the residents of the Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union neighborhoods. I mean, they already are ignoring the complaints that it could happen, so why start caring now? Oh, they'd likely go through the motions to make it look good, eventually, but that's all it'd be.

The Mayor wants this done yesterday, so he'll probably cut all kinds of corners just to get it started as soon as physically possible. He won't skimp on the facility itself, just on all of the paperwork to get it done. And I'm sure the city council will let him, too, because it'll make them look great to the voters as well.

So breaking ground / tearing down in spring of 2019? At this point, you can practically guarantee it. Now it's really just a matter of when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners will graciously allow a team to be put there.

And then, in the meantime, there's the Tacoma Dome....

March 20, 2017

Something brief on champions and contemptible human beings

People like teams and players for a variety of reasons - as well as dislike teams and players for a variety of reasons. Usually, all it takes is for one player that is liked / disliked for a person to like / dislike a team. We humans are strange like that.

However, there seems to be something of a schism between how men and women see sports. To most women, a player's character matters. To many men, the only thing that matters is how well they play the game.

There are a number of players and former players that most women - as well as many men - find contemptible for their off-ice actions: Patrick Kane (sexual assault charges and regular assault charges), Evander Kane (repeated sexual assault charges), Mike Robeiro (charged with sexually assaulting his nanny), Semyon Varlamov (domestic violence charges), Slava Voynov (domestic violence charges), Martin Brodeur (marrying his sister-in-law), Patrick Roy (domestic violence charges), and so on.

Of course, these are just the ones that get into the news, and not the only things that happen. And naturally, none of these led to convictions (not that Brodeur's situation was a criminal offense, of course), because they're professional athletes. Teams and lawyers have ways to make this sort of stuff disappear.

I don't actually hold athletes up to a higher standard than everyone else. We're all human, and we all muddle through the middle ground of trying to do good and still making mistakes - and that's fine. Athletes are no exception to this rule.

However, there's a big difference between making a mistake and owning up to it and regretting it (which is forgivable), and making a mistake and believing you did nothing wrong - even if you keep making similar mistakes.

So I was watching the Colorado Avalanche at the Chicago Blackhawks last night, and trying to ignore the one player on Chicago's team to the best of my ability. Because that one player is most of why I dislike Chicago these days - although, team management, in supporting this player, isn't high on my list right now, either. And it doesn't matter how good this guy is at playing hockey, or even that he's on American national teams, since I still see him as being a contemptible human being.

And why do I think he's a contemptible human being? Because of things he did off-ice that he claims were misunderstandings. He really thinks he did nothing wrong, despite the fact that the police have been brought into more than one incident. If you have a history of police intervention in your life, then that should be a big warning to you that maybe you're not as good a person as you think you are.

It doesn't matter how great you play the game of hockey, it doesn't matter if you're a champion, it doesn't matter how many medals and awards you've earned. If you're a jerk off the ice, then you're still a jerk off the ice...and that stuff matters to many fans. No one is required to like you, even if you happen to be the best player in the world - and this guy isn't, but still.

Being a so-called "winner" in a sport does not automatically equal being a good person.

December 1, 2016

It is what it is, even if I don't agree with it

Almost two whole minutes dedicated to Mark Barberio's mustache...and then someone actually cared enough to bother putting it on YouTube and Twitter.

Nothing against Mark - unless he's holding me against him, but that's another story entirely - but this is ridiculous. This is exactly why people outside of Montreal consider the media that follow the Canadiens to be something of a joke.

Seriously? Talking about any guy's mustache for almost two entire minutes? Isn't there soomething better to discuss, like injuries and whatnot? And I know it wasn't a slow news day in the NHL, either.

They are the most gossipy media of all of the NHL. Toronto doesn't even come close. And as someone who has always hated people knowing my business from growing up in a small town, it makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.

It's one thing to report on a sport, and the people whose jobs are to work within that sport. But it's entirely another to report about personal things. Like Carey Price and his wife last season, where they didn't have control over their own personal information about their pregnancy.

There are some media types that I respect, but honestly, there aren't that many and they tend to be more bloggers rather than traditional media. There's an air of sleaze about the whole media scene because of those who can't leave unnecessary personal information out of their reporting. I don't think the team itself is any better or worse than any other NHL team in that regard, but the media is easily the worst about that stuff.

And the fans, too, are part of the problem. Hockey such an institution there, and the fan base is so fanatic (no pun intended), that they can't separate out the sport from the reality TV-type stuff. If there wasn't a demand for that kind of "reporting", then they wouldn't do it, after all.

Not only do players need a thick skin to play there, but so do their girlfriends and wives to live with them. Frankly, I'm almost surprised that the media doesn't get on the significant others more than they do. I'm sure their fans do, and are probably pretty harsh about it - I just try to avoid that side of stuff with any and all teams. I know when I'm better off not doing Google searches for stuff that I mostly don't want to know about, anyways.

If I were involved in that, I'd have to live in a gated community where there was strict limited access, and I probably wouldn't go out much except to games and get groceries. Not that I'd mind all that much about hanging out at home all day, but still. No one needs to be following me around with a camera, but I'd never quite be sure that they wouldn't be, considering.

If the media were just doing their jobs, and covering the team and its sport - even excessively - that'd be one thing. But some of this stuff crosses a line. Mustaches might seem harmless enough, but it's still talking about personal choices that have nothing to do with his actual job. It's not about hockey, but about him, and that's a bit over the top to me.

Now, granted, I might be more straight-laced about this sort of thing than some, but it just doesn't seem at all appropriate to me.

I mean, I was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning media for six or eight years, depending on how you want to define that, and there were plenty of lines that I wouldn't have crossed no matter how much someone paid me to. I firmly believe that all people have a right to their privacy, and I tried my best to respect that with my writing. Stick to hockey, unless the player or coach brings up another topic, and it's all okay.

Manufacturing stories out of personal information that wasn't volunteered to get website hits and / or to fill air time isn't right, and I don't support that sort of behavior - not even in the things I choose to read online.

To be clear, I don't hate the Canadiens - I never have. I just don't agree with the casual discrimination that the team's coaching staff / front office and its fans have historically and currently promoted, and I certainly don't respect how gossipy their hockey media is. I see what could be a great place to play that's ruined by people being petty. And maybe that's just how they are there, I don't know, but I've never been able take the hockey scene there - the team, the media, and the fans - very seriously.

September 5, 2016

Taking "best available by position" one step too far

Babcock explains importance of left-handed defensemen
On Monday during a press conference, Babcock finally revealed why having a defenseman with a left-handed shot is so important.

So, in case it wasn't clear before, Babcock has clearly thought this through.
I understand why coaches think this. I have always gotten it, in fact. And it makes total sense, from a technical and a "looks good on paper" point of view.

However, from an available talent perspective, it makes little sense.

There's this on-going argument that happens periodically, and it usually happens around fantasy hockey time when people are picking their teams. And it often comes up when someone picks a guy no one else expected them to take in the fantasy league draft. And that argument is whether someone ought to pick the best available player, regardless of position, or the best available player by their position.

And that's what this argument comes down to. Are coaches picking the best available defensemen? Or, are they picking the best available defenseman by what side they happen to shoot?

Obviously, for some coaches like Mike Babcock, it's pretty clear that when he's able to, he'll take best available player at the position he's looking for - at least for defense.

Because, clearly, Canada didn't taking the best player by position when it came to for forwards. Not when there's an overwhelming number of centers on that team. What I'd be interested in - and I wasn't able to find this in a quick Google search - is whether those centers who are playing right wing also shoot right or not. I'm betting they all don't.

If that's the case, and not all of the players put at right wing shoot right, then that makes me question why he's so adamant about doing that with the defense.

(Knowing Babcock's reputation, I'm going to guess that all of the right wingers shoot right. Because he's an attention to detail sort of a guy like that. But until I see a roster that confirms that - and at this point I'd have to reconstruct the roster on my own so that it includes NHL position and what side they shoot - I'm not going to entirely believe it until it's confirmed.)

It's interesting that they decided to parse out the defensemen, but not the forwards. It shows that the decision makers are more comfortable with one group (the forwards) than with the other (the defense). Which is sort of strange, since back in the day, Babcock was a defenseman himself.

All the same, if you're going to be consistent, and handed-ness actually matters to you, then choosing by best available player by position makes sense.

But if they were going to be as particular about it with the forwards as they were the defensemen, then they should've picked four right-shooting right wingers, four left-shooting left wingers, two left-shooting centers, and two right-shooting centers. (Two of each with the centers means you can mix and match with wingers as necessary.) I mean, if symmetry of handed-ness really matters, then it should matter throughout the roster, right? Including with the goaltenders?

Apparently the argument of symmetry only matters with the defensemen, for some unknown reason, since the forward corps are mostly centermen.

The other part of this problem is simply one of numbers - not statistics, although they can play into this mentality, but just shear numbers. In Canada, most hockey players shoot left - that's just a fact of life. If you were to count up the number of right-shooting players in Canada, they'd probably be a bit more than the average percentage of left-handed people within their general population.

To help put that into perspective, roughly 12% of the world's population is left-handed, and 30% show some sort of ambidextrousness - although, they still tend to favor one hand over the other, all the same.

So let's say that 15% of all Canadian hockey players shoot right. Seems to be a fair sort of number, I think. In any given population, that percentage will vary, but the average will stick around that number.

If you're looking for defensemen to play the right side who shoot right, then you're picking out of a pool of 12-18% of all of the Canadian defensemen in the National Hockey League. I want you to think about that for a second. It matters because the smaller the group, the less likely you're going to find an exceptional individual out of it.

Because of that basic population issue, you might find a generational talent who happens to shoot right in Canadian hockey, but they likely won't be playing defense - simply due to the larger number of forwards there are versus the number of defensemen.

Again, it goes back to best available versus best available at position. You might pick the best available right-shooting defenseman, but they'll likely be of a lesser ability than simply the best defensemen available. And that's just because of how general populations are set up - standard deviations and all of that, you know.

What it all boils down to is this: Any team's coach that doesn't buy into this notion of symmetry may eventually realize that the easiest way to exploit that decision made by Team Canada is to take their best forwards, and send them down the right side of the ice in the neutral zone.

If you buy into Babcock's explanation, then making sure you have a righty with a lefty at the blue line matters primarily due to maintaining puck possession at the blue line while in the offensive zone. But, it's at the expense of general ability on the right side in the neutral zone and in the defensive zone. It's one-dimensional thinking; he's only accounting for one zone on the entire sheet of ice.

The game isn't always about offense, but also defense - there's balance between the two - which is something a former defenseman such as himself ought to be taking into account. "A good defense is having a great offense" works some of the time, but it also leads to horrific defensive breakdowns in front of your own goalie. I personally have a problem with relying on goaltending too much and letting goalies fend for themselves, but I guess most NHL coaches don't.

September 4, 2016

You might want to brush up on your Latin

I think it was football that started this whole silly sports equals war thing. To be fair, football is the sport that's run most like a military company. All the same, it's not even close.

Which most fans kind of hate, actually. Most of us collectively roll our eyes whenever some coach or athlete starts using military terminology when talking about the game they're involved in. It makes them look like they have such an inflated notion of where they see themselves and the job that they do in the grand scheme of things.

The fact of the matter is, athletes are gladiators, not soldier or a warrior. They're paid to entertain the masses through competition. Soldiers are paid to risk their lives in a literal battlefield, where they might not come home in one piece or at all as a matter of national or international security.

Now, admittedly "preparing for gladiatorial combat" may not have that same romantic connotations as "preparing for war", but at least it's a lot more accurate. You're going out into an arena with fans cheering - a field of play of some kind - and not a battlefield. Think the Roman Coliseum rather than being stuck in a trench somewhere.

I've worked with people who have literally gone to war. They've been shot at, seen fellow soldiers die, and have killed people on the opposing side. And they're often patronizing of those athletes and coaches that talk about a game being some kind of a military battle. For good reason, since they've actually lived that, while sports tends to romanticize it.

You do get the small number of fans who love the whole comparison of sport being war, though. They tend to be the types who romanticize the military, though. They're typically the ones who would love to be a soldier, but don't have the courage to actually sign up for it.

Regardless, overhauling sports terminology has been long overdue. And not just when it comes to military stuff, either, but that's still a part of it. Just because veterans say things doesn't mean a younger guy coming into the league has to say the same things. It's be nice if thought for themselves, for once, and did what they think is right instead of mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing just to fit in.

They don't have to all think alike or even like each other in order to play well together. They just have to know what everyone else is doing and where they fit into the system. Why every team has to be some kind of group-think commune thing has never made any sense to me. If they're all professionals, then why can't they work in a professional environment instead of essentially being brainwashed to conform?

But perhaps that's a blog for another time - how the very idea of "team" is outdated and coaches deal with their players.