Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Is Women’s International Hockey Competitive?

September 9, 2022

So, the Women’s World Hockey Championships have been running for the past couple of weeks, and ended on Sunday with the finals.  I’m not going to talk about the final because I was barely paying attention to it (I had Canada’s semi-final on while eating because nothing else was on and I didn’t feel like putting a movie on), except to note that as per usual it ends up being Canada vs USA in the final.  In women’s international hockey, it’s pretty much always Canada vs USA, but the hope was that the other countries would catch up.  For the longest time, Finland and Sweden were the second tier, which meant that in general they could topple one of these teams if they didn’t pay attention but that that rarely happened, so they pretty much always played for third and fourth place.  With Czechia and Switzerland in the bronze medal match, you might think that things are getting more competitive, even though Canada and the USA are still the class of field.

Or, at least, you might think that until you look at the semi-final scores, where Canada won 8 – 1 and the USA won 10 -1.  Canada outshot Switzerland 56 – 6 and the USA outshot Czechia 39 – 10.  Even given that there are more teams with a shot at playing for bronze, it doesn’t look like there’s more parity.  The teams still can’t touch Canada and the US, and so no other team has anything like a reasonable shot at winning any international competition.  Heck, given these scores, even getting back to a final seems like a pipe dream.

Now, this has been the case for a long time, and there have been a lot of arguments saying that women’s hockey should not be in the Olympics because it is simply not competitive, and so all it does is provide an extra medal for those two countries.  It can be countered that it’s worth having there anyway to encourage women’s sports, but the issue for the Olympics is that it’s difficult to dedicate time and resources to an event where the only really quality, competitive games are the two that you get between Canada and the US.  Even if the games between the “also-rans” are competitive in the sense that the teams are at the same level, they won’t be high quality games compared to the games between Canada and the US … and anyone following the games is going to be able to see that quite easily.  So the argument that has been made for the past several years is that keeping these events going is the only way to make things competitive, as having these sorts of events and having Olympic medals up for grabs will encourage other countries to invest in the sport in the hopes of getting them.  The fact that there is such a distance between the top teams and the third place teams actually helps with this because it means that there’s a decent chance of getting a bronze medal, which can be used to request funding.  Given that the bronze medal game features newish teams to the bronze medal game, it can be argued that it’s working and the sport is getting more competitive.

This would only be true, of course, if the reason this is happening is primarily because the lower teams are getting better instead of primarily because Finland and Sweden are regressing.  Obviously, the lower teams are improving as they build formal teams and get more international exposure and games, but it doesn’t look like Finland and Sweden are getting better given where they finished.  Finland is now a perennial threat and contender in men’s hockey, but here they had to play against Japan for position.  Sweden made it to the quarters and had to play Canada which meant that they weren’t going any further, but Canada was disappointing that they only won 4 – 1, especially given that they also badly outshot them.  It doesn’t seem, then, like Finland and Sweden are improving to be in the same tier as Canada and the US, but are instead collapsing their tier by falling back to the same level as the up-and-coming teams.  If this is true, then it doesn’t look like the teams are going to catch up to Canada and the US any time soon.

Now, in my opinion, I think that these sorts of international competitions might, in fact, be responsible for this, at least in part.  The first thing to note is that one of the arguments is that this builds a fan base in these countries and so gets more girls interested in playing the game, and so increases the talent base that can be recruited, which increases competition and so improves the overall quality of the team.  However, the problem here is that the fans can be energized when the sport starts up and can be energized when the team has notable successes — like a bronze medal or a shocking win over the established teams — but fans don’t like watching sports where their teams get slaughtered every time they play and when they have no chance of winning.  In short, if fans feel that their team is nothing more than an also-ran then their interest will fall off a bit and so it won’t get the prestige that it needs to spawn that recruitment drive.  Losing close games where the teams are underdogs but feel that on a really good day they might win is tolerable, but getting slaughtered every game is not at all fun to watch or cheer for.

Second, I also think that it’s bad for the players and for those potential players that they’re trying to recruit.  If fans don’t like it when the teams get slaughtered, just think of how the players feel.  Players that are already on the team aren’t going to quit over it — especially if they might get bronze medals out of it — and players that find and love the sport itself are going to join, but you aren’t going to get those really competitive players who are good and the game and desperately want to win.  If they have a choice between a sport where they get slaughtered and might have a shot at third or a sport where they might be able to win, or at least be competitive.  So it’s going to hurt recruitment for the sport as well.

And it arguably hurts the sport overall.  Sure, Canada and the US find it fun to watch their teams blow away the other teams and then fight it out for gold, but any neutral observer is going to find everything except the gold medal game boring and uninteresting.  It would make the sport look, well, like a joke, with only two good teams with the rest, well, being teams that I guess play the game.  If everyone was at the same level — and people will argue that compared to the men’s game the women’s game is indeed that inferior — then at least we’d get the competitive mix to work with, as everyone is roughly at the same level.  But when two teams are so far ahead of everyone else you get a tournament of a couple of good teams and a bunch of also-rans, and that isn’t something that fans of the sport itself find fun or credible.  So keeping events like this that aren’t credible obviously doesn’t help the sport.

Now, one issue that follows on from this is that because it’s women’s sport and there are a lot of issues with women’s hockey itself at the moment, it’s getting a lot of attention.  You can justify giving these sorts of things that much attention if they are at least competitive (women’s soccer is more competitive, as even though the US dominates there are a lot closer teams and closer games and it really is the case that there are a number of teams that can beat the US on any given day, and not just a really good day), but if the sport isn’t competitive it doesn’t work.  We don’t see any reason why we should take women’s hockey seriously on the international level when there are only two good teams, which is only made worse by constant reminders that women’s sports, in general, aren’t close in terms of overall skill level and quality to the men’s teams (basically, the idea that if you took those dominant women’s teams and had them play against men’s teams the outcome would be as lopsided as it is when the dominant women’s teams play the weaker teams).  So it’s not the highest quality version of the sport and it’s not even a very competitive version of the sport, which means that the tournaments themselves aren’t very credible.  And since those are supposed to be the top examples of the sport, that means that women’s hockey itself isn’t very credible.  And then we wonder why, other than the fact that it’s women’s hockey, it’s getting so much attention and is seen as being that important.

The thing is, we’ve seen sports actually rise from relatively being non-competitive where a couple of countries dominate to ones where a lot more teams are at the same level without degrading the performance of the top countries, partly inspired by Olympic participation.  Curling, for example, was dominated by a couple of countries — including Canada — but when it got Olympic participation a number of countries started to ramp up their programs and have become teams that you have to watch out for, but the teams from the other countries and particularly from Canada have not dropped in quality.  Some of the best teams on the Grand Slam of Curling are the teams that Canada sends to the Olympics and the other international tournaments and they are still in tough and still have a difficult time winning, even against non-standard teams like China and Japan.  I think the fact that curling never had one team or country that was that dominant and quite quickly ended up with a competitive field is what helped it move to being a credible international sport.  Women’s hockey isn’t there yet, but with the morale crushing Canada and US in the field I wonder if it will, indeed, ever get there.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Summary

June 27, 2022

So, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last night — and immediately dented it — in six games, preventing the three-peat for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  I had predicted that Colorado’s goaltending would be an issue, but it didn’t turn out that way, and some weak moments by Tampa Bay’s goaltending likely was the difference in the series.  That left my final record for these playoffs at 8 – 7, which is better that .500 and so was at least a moderate success.  However, since Colorado was the team with home ice advantage and pulled it off, it left home ice advantage at 9 – 6, which meant that I would have been better off picking all the home ice advantage teams than actually trying to choose what teams would win.  At any rate, that’s it for hockey for this year, and so it’s pretty much baseball for me until curling starts up again in the fall.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Finals

June 12, 2022

I noted before the semi-finals that I needed to go at least 2 – 1 over the last three series to go over .500 for the playoffs.  Well, I had a really good semi-finals, going 2 – 0 which leaves my overall record at 8 – 6.  Since I did that by predicting that Tampa Bay would win their series against the Rangers and since the Rangers were the team with home ice advantage there, that meant that home ice advantage went 1 – 1 and so is also at 8 – 6 for the playoffs.  So, for the most part here, I’m playing with house money to go over .500, but I of course want to do as well as I can.

Finals:

Tampa Bay vs Colorado:  This decision is actually a really tough one.  Tampa Bay is going to have to lose sometime, and over the past few decades — since the Islanders’ run of four straight — teams haven’t managed to win three in a row.  In large part, that’s because you have to play a lot of hockey to win each year and that ultimately wears teams down.  However, Tampa Bay has a bit of an advantage in that over the past couple of seasons they haven’t had to play full seasons, which would help with that a bit.  Still, they have to lose sometime, and so the only question is whether Colorado is the team, right now, that can do that.  And the biggest question for Colorado is their goaltending.  Yes, their rookie backup goaltender did well enough against what was probably the most dynamic offense left, but the Oilers were vulnerable defensively and with their goaltending which meant that they could be outscored.  Tampa Bay has been playing a lot better defensively and so will be a bigger challenge, and so that one extra save might make all the difference … and their goaltender has overcome some slow starts to seemingly return to form.  Also, being off for so long might cause Colorado to come out flat in the first game while Tampa shouldn’t be that tired from their various series to make fatigue be a factor, and one extra game win might make all the difference.  So I’m going to go with Tampa Bay for this one.

Summary:

Tampa Bay vs Colorado Incorrect

Overall Record:  8 – 6
Home Ice Advantage Record:  8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Semifinals

May 31, 2022

The second round was the round to go for upsets, as home ice advantage went 1 – 3 in that round.  Since I had already known that I picked all the home teams in the second round, that meant that I also went 1 – 3.  This leaves my overall record at 6 – 6, with home ice advantage staying at 7 – 5.  So I need to go 2 – 1 over the last couple of rounds to stay over .500 for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Rangers:  This is a tough series to pick, as while Tampa Bay swept Florida in the second round they didn’t look that great in the first round, but then the Rangers have had to fight back in their series as well.  On the one hand, Tampa Bay got a lot more rest after their sweep than the Rangers did, but on the other hand sometimes that causes rust and teams to come out slowly.  The Rangers having fought back from being down in series are never going to give up and are going to believe they can win no matter what, but Tampa Bay are the defending champions and so know how to win in the playoffs.  I’ll go with Tampa Bay this time.

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Colorado:  Edmonton’s stars are playing really well and they have gotten good goaltending, at least at times, but Colorado’s stars are also playing well and they seem to have the better team.  I’m going to stick with Colorado this time.

Summary:

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Rangers Correct

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Colorado Correct

Overall Record: 6 – 6
Home Ice Advantage Record: 7 – 5

Wild World of Sports

May 30, 2022

Yeah, I said that I wasn’t going to post this week, but it turns out that there are a couple of sports posts that I want to make.  The other one is my predictions for the next round of the NHL playoffs, and this one is talking about the wild weekend in sports, or at least in the sports events that I happened to watch yesterday.

It started off in the morning after I got back from the grocery store.  I was looking to see what was on and say that the Monaco Grand Prix was on, and since I somewhat follow Formula 1 I figured I’d catch the end of it while getting ready and doing other things.  Except that when I tuned in it turned out that the race hadn’t even started yet, because they had a major rain shower pretty much right before the start of the race which forced them to delay it.  When they restarted, the track was still wet and so most cars were on full wet tires — from what the commentators said, they’re required to do that if they start behind a safety car, which they did — but then the track started to dry out and teams started changing to intermediate tires that have a bit less grip but are also faster.  Ferrari managed to kinda screw that up for Charles Leclerc, putting him a bit behind the eight ball in the race, but things could have been okay except that soon after they started going to slicks and Ferrari screwed it up again, bringing Leclerc in at the same time — and slightly behind — his teammate Sainz while Red Bull also brought their two drivers in at the same time but it seems were ready for it, and so Perez got out ahead of Sainz and Verstappen got out ahead of Leclerc, meaning that if things stayed that way Red Bull would get more points than Ferrari and Verstappen would increase his lead over Leclerc in the driver’s standings.  But then there was a major accident on the track which caused them to have to stop it again.  Knowing that this meant that the race would time out before the total number of laps, Red Bull went with medium tires which wear faster but at least start a bit quicker, and yet didn’t get much advantage from that and so things stayed the same until closer to the end, where Ferrari having less worn tires seemed to give Sainz an advantage over Perez for a while, but after Sainz almost ran into Perez a couple of times that advantage seemed to slip away and it ended as related above, which was a historic win for Perez.  But, yeah, lots of odd things happened and the commentators noted that if you could think of something that hadn’t happened you should watch to see if it would happen.

After that, I watched the Canada-Finland final of the World Hockey Championships.  For the first two periods, things seemed pretty normal, but then in the third Canada took a bunch of penalties including one 5 – 3, but Finland hadn’t scored on them … but then got another 5 – 3 from a high sticking penalty where the Finnish player actually hit himself with his own stick and soon after scored to tie the game at 1.  And then it turns out that the Canadian goaltender — who was already their second string goaltender — was injured trying to make the save, and had to pull himself out of the game, meaning that they had to put their third string goaltender in.  Finland then scored on the remaining power play to take the lead.  They then later scored again to take a 3 – 1 lead and looked in control.  But Canada pulled the goaltender with a couple of minutes left and scored, although it went to a review that it was announced was a challenge by Finland — which would mean that they’d take a penalty if it failed — but it turns out that they hadn’t requested it and so didn’t get a penalty when it failed.  So the goal counted and Canada didn’t get a power play, but still pulled the goaltender.  And wouldn’t you know it, they scored again to tie the game, which they had also done against Sweden in the quarterfinals.  So it went to overtime, and it was a pretty cautious initial 3 – 3 session but then Canada again took a penalty and Finland (the home team, BTW) scored to win the game in overtime.  Another game where pretty much everything that could happen happened.

And then I watched the Blue Jays take on the Angels in baseball, which was a game that encouraged me to skip watching “Party of Five” and watch the end of the game instead.  The Angels opened up the scoring in the first, while the Blue Jays came back with 2 in the second before the Angels scored 1 in the second to tie it.  The Blue Jays then scored 4 in the third and the Angels came back with 4 in their half of the third to keep it tied, chasing both starting pitchers.  The Angels kept scoring and took a 9 – 6 lead, but then the Blue Jays came back with 3 in the seventh to tie it, before the Angels took 1 in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead again.  The Blue Jays scored two in the eighth to take the lead, and managed to hold the Angels off the scoreboard for an 11 – 10 victory.  This, of course, was pretty wild in and of itself, but the way the runs were scored was also wild.  The Angels walked in at least three runs and kept walking the bases loaded, while the Blue Jays gave up a lot of home runs to the Angels, more than they have given up in any game so far this season and in one case one relief pitcher gave up a home run after only having given up one other home run the entire season … and that one was in the first game he pitched in of the season, or thereabouts.  So a wild and uncharacteristic game.

So, yeah, that was a wild day in sports, that I managed to watch most of.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

May 16, 2022

In general and especially in the recent past, the one thing that was going to be certain about the NHL playoffs was that there would be upsets and the key was to pick the right teams to be upset.  That’s why in general I started comparing my success rate to that if you simply picked all the teams with home ice advantage because recent history said that someone picking teams would have a shot at outpicking them.  In the first round, however, home ice advantage went 6 – 2, while I ended up going 5 – 3.  And it looks like I’m not going to outdo home ice advantage in the second round either.

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Florida:  It’s hard to choose against the defending Stanley Cup champions, especially for a team that hasn’t had that much success.  However, Tampa Bay was a bit vulnerable against the Leafs in the first round and one of the reasons it’s difficult to achieve the sort of dynasties that we had in the past is that teams that win have to play a lot of hockey with ultimately wears on them.  Tampa Bay will probably have to lose sometime this playoffs, so it might as well be here.

Rangers vs Carolina:  The Rangers almost lost out in the first round to Pittsburgh, who admittedly have a history of playoff success and so of being a tough out.  Still, even though the Rangers ultimately prevailed that might be an indication that they need a bit more seasoning to go on a run.  Sure, Carolina might need that as well but they are probably the better team on paper, at least, so I’ll go with them.

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Colorado:  Other than having had a long time off due to sweeping their opponents in the first round, Colorado seems to be a very solid team this year and seem ready to take a long run this season.  St. Louis just managed to get past Minnesota.  Colorado probably should win this one.

Edmonton vs Calgary:  Edmonton has Connor McDavid actually going, and they got the goaltending they needed in the first round.  One could choose the superstar player, but even though Mike Smith played well for most of the series I think that Jakob Markstrom is the more reliable goaltender.  Given that, I don’t think that McDavid will outscore the Flames, and the Oilers lack of depth is still an issue.

Summary:

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Florida Incorrect
Rangers vs Carolina Incorrect

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Colorado Correct
Edmonton vs Calgary Incorrect

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Record:  6 – 2

Thoughts on the Champions Cup and the End of the Olympic Cycle

May 9, 2022

The last event in the Grand Slam of Curling, the Champions Cup, ended over the weekend, which ends the curling season for this year.  I watched a bit of it and even managed to watch a bit of the men’s final, with two of my favourite men’s teams playing, and Brad Gushue managed to cap off his excellent season with another win over Kevin Koe before both teams make some significant changes in the off-season, with Gushue losing Brett Gallant as he’s moving out west with his soon-to-be wife Jocelyn Peterman, and Koe’s team making far more significant changes.  I only watched part of the game because due to some missed shots by Koe’s team Gushue had an 8 – 2 lead at which point I figured it was over, but it ended closer than I would have expected at 8 – 5.  The women’s final featured Kerri Einarson’s team against a team from Korea in Eun-Ji Gim’s team.  This seemed like a repeat of the men’s game when Einarson scored a 4 to go up 7 – 2, but Gim stormed back to make it 7 – 6 before Einarson made a hit for 3 in the final end to win 10 – 6.

That final was interesting, since unlike the men’s final it featured two teams that are likely to remain intact for next season, as Einarson’s team has confirmed that they are staying together and Gim’s team is likely to after the success they had here.  Thus, on the women’s side, none of the teams that were splitting up at the end of the season made it to the finals.  I did manage to watch the last game for Jennifer Jones’ team — as Dawn McEwen is stepping away from the game, Jennifer Jones is joining to I presume mostly skip Mackenzie Zacharias’ team, and Kaitlyn Lawes and Peterman are joining Selena Njegovin and Kristin MacCuish from Tracey Fleury’s old team — and it went pretty much like the team’s games had been going the past couple of years:  some brilliant shots combined with some staggering misses that resulted in a loss and them not even making the playoffs.  As already mentioned, Tracy Fleury’s team is splitting up and lost in the playoffs.  Rachel Homan’s team is taking on Fleury but losing Joanne Courtney, and they also lost in the playoffs.  Silvana Tirinzoni’s team is also splitting up — this was a surprise to me — and also lost in the playoffs.  So a lot of changes happening, on both sides.

The reason for this, of course, is the importance of the Olympics in curling.  Teams are working towards a potential spot in the Olympics, and so tend to build around a four-year cycle of getting a team together, getting used to playing together, taking a run at an Olympic spot, and then reassessing after that.  This season has seen far more and far earlier changes than we’d normally see, which has spawned some discussion from players about how it might not be great for the players that was outlined in this article.  Now, the biggest and most controversial early change was Brendan Bottcher’s team, and quite honestly he’s always been a bit of a jerk and that wasn’t handled all that well regardless.  But the point made in the article that most of the decisions were made before the end of the season which created a bit of a scramble for people to find a team before all the spots were taken and that being a distraction to the players is valid, although I don’t think it necessarily reflects a change in thinking or something that any kind of organization can do something about.  After all, a number of the changes were caused by lifestyle changes that, yeah, the players would know before the end of the season, with McEwen and Courtney stepping away and Gallant getting married and moving to be with his new wife (and Gushue’s team already having one import meaning that Gallant couldn’t just be converted to an import and stay with the team even though he moved out of province).  You can’t say to teams that when such life changes are known to happen that you have to wait until the end of the season to decide what you are going to be doing.  And since the Olympic trials are, by necessity pretty early in the season — and some players are saying that they want them to be earlier — once that ends teams that don’t make it are likely going to find the rest of the season — including the Scotties — a bit underwhelming and so are going to have planning for the next Olympics on their minds, and so not being able to plan for that would be a distraction as well.  So due to the necessities that cause that four year cycle and team turnover there doesn’t seem to be a good way to deal with this.

Besides, announcing these things in advance does allow for the emotional farewells as the teams play their last games together, which seems to be good for both the players and the fans, and in line with other sports does seem to provide some of the greatest moments in seasons and for teams.  I’m sure that there are a number of teams in the past that fans would have liked to have had a chance to cheer off the ice in their final games.

In watching this last event, one thing struck me about some of the teams that will be forming next year and that sort of thing in general.  Tracy Fleury’s team had great success this season and probably more success than the overall skill level and experience of their team would predict, but in general and especially in this event I noticed that they were always a pretty loose team, making jokes when things went well or poorly and seeming to have fun, in line with Dana Ferguson and her front-end partner (whose name, sadly, escapes me at the moment), which served to lighten things up and relieve the pressure on the teams.  I think that Njegovin and MacCuish will probably be able to keep that up with Lawes and Peterman, even though they were part of Jennifer Jones’ team which was much more serious, especially given that Jones could be very intense, often barking out orders.  I’m not sure that approach will work that well with the young team she’s joining, as they may take such things personally from someone who is their idol.  And Fleury will almost certainly miss that with Homan, who is very intense and most often doesn’t seem to leave any room for that kind of fun.  I wonder, though, if that intensity that Homan and Jones has doesn’t end up hurting them at times, and might be partly responsible for Homan’s lack of success at the Olympics.  Yes, they are great teams and being intense has certainly helped them win, but when a team is in tough against as team as good as you that’s playing as well if not better than you it doesn’t really help to keep that intensity instead of finding a way to take things as they come.  I still remember the time when Val Sweeting — who as a skip was hard on herself but also could be more positive in games — won her first championship by missing pretty much all of her shots in the first few ends but making a joking “Yay, I made one!” when she made a shot and then rode that positivity to the win.  As another note, Einarson’s team is a bit balanced between that sort of intensity and lightness, and Einarson at times will stand over her sweepers imploring them to sweep harder — which I imagine could be pretty annoying — but also will joke around a bit with Sweeting in-between shots, even when things are going well.  Perhaps the best way to keep the pressure from being overwhelming, especially against tough competition is to find a way to lighten things up and save the intensity for when it really matters in a game.

Anyway, that’s it for curling for the season.  Curling returns in October, which pretty much leaves me baseball to watch until then.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

May 2, 2022

In the past I’ve jokingly commented that I do better with these predictions the less I follow hockey.  If that’s true, then this year I should have a banner year, since I think I’ve watched less than ten games the entire season, and most of those were games that I had on for noise while doing other things.  This is because hockey games tend to be on at times that I can’t watch and there were other things on to watch other than watching a couple of teams that I don’t care about play.  At any rate, yeah, I haven’t really been paying attention this year, which may be a boon for my predictions.  Then again, I went 6 – 9 last year and wasn’t paying much attention, so maybe my lack of attention isn’t going to help.

Eastern Conference:

Washington vs Florida:  It’s always risky picking the top seed, especially one that hasn’t done that well in the past, because they manage to get upset a significant amount of the time in the modern NHL.  Favourites quite often falter, and often do so quite early.  However, Florida had a great season and seems to have a good team, and Ovechkin might have injury problems and Washington can’t really get anywhere without him.  So I’m going to go with the “favourite” here.

Boston vs Carolina:  Boston has had a bit of an up-and-down season this year, which might suggest that they have some weaknesses that can be exploited.  Carolina has had a pretty good season but hasn’t had the same success in the playoffs that their seasons would suggest, and so might still need to learn how to play in the playoffs.  This is a close one, so I’ll give Carolina the nod since they do seem to be a team that has the work ethic, at least, to match Boston’s.

Tampa Bay vs Toronto:  Given their shocking lack of success over their last few playoff runs, it’s pretty easy to think that Toronto is not going to do much this year either, and it doesn’t help that they are playing a team that has had great playoff success over the past couple of seasons and so clearly knows how to win in the playoffs.  On the other hand, one of the reasons for the lack of dynasties in the NHL is that teams that win the Cup have to play a lot of hockey late in the year and so eventually end up running out of gas, and Toronto has had a great season from a lot of their stars.  However, it doesn’t look like Toronto has really fixed their main issues, such as reliable, proven goaltending, defense, and worse a lack of depth.  You need depth in the playoffs and Toronto’s depth isn’t all that deep, so I’ll go with Tampa Bay.

Pittsburgh vs Rangers:  The Rangers have had a good season and seem like they have a good team, but you can’t count out the experience of Pittsburgh, and the Rangers are a developing team that might need to learn how to win in the playoffs.  This could be close, but I’ll give the nod to Pittsburgh here.

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Colorado:  Colorado faces the same issues as the other top teams:  a great regular season and a great one last season as well but they haven’t yet have the playoff success that proves that they can play in the playoffs.  That being said, the talent is indeed clearly there in Colorado and Nashville didn’t have a good season, so the talent should win out.  But given NHL history it might not, but I’ll go with the talent here.

Dallas vs Calgary:  This is getting a bit repetitive, but Calgary had a great season but hasn’t proven that they can win in the playoffs.  They probably won’t get outcoached, however, given Darryl Sutter is back behind the bench, and I imagine that he can motivate them enough to get them one series win, at least.  Sure, again, unproven teams with great seasons often don’t go very far, but I’ll give the coach the nod here and go with Calgary.

St. Louis vs Minnesota:  This might be the closest of all the series, as they were fighting it out for home ice advantage until pretty much the last day.  Given that, and that the teams haven’t been terribly impressive in the playoffs over the past few seasons, I think I’ll just go with home ice advantage here.

Los Angeles vs Edmonton:  Edmonton has the same problem that Toronto has:  a lack of playoff success and a lack of depth.  Eventually, teams learn how to play in the playoffs and so have success, but I don’t think that Edmonton has learned that yet and also don’t think they have the depth to go deep and possibly to even win a series.

Summary:

Eastern Conference:

Washington vs Florida Correct
Boston vs Carolina Correct
Tampa Bay vs Toronto Correct
Pittsburgh vs Rangers Incorrect

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Colorado Correct
Dallas vs Calgary Correct
St. Louis vs Minnesota Incorrect
Los Angeles vs Edmonton Incorrect

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Record:  6 – 2

Thoughts on “The Players’ Championship”

April 18, 2022

The Grand Slam of Curling tour continued, with the first of the last two events of the season.  This event follows the “triple knockout” format, where instead of a round robin teams are instead loosely bracketed and the goal is to win three games before you lose three games, which leaves three “sides” that a team can qualify through:  the “A” side with no losses, the “B” side with one loss, and the “C” side with 2 losses.  Which of course always reminds me of this song, which is one reason why the format somewhat bemuses me.  From what I hear, the teams like the format, mostly because it’s more in line with what they encounter in the other, smaller events they play in and also because they feel it best allows the teams that are playing best in that event to make the final, but I’m not that fond of it myself, and I’m not sure that it’s all that great for television.  While you can get some surprise match-ups early on that you wouldn’t get otherwise, the round robin format is also easier for both fans and schedulers to get a handle on what each team wants to do and what games are likely to be interesting or important.  That being said, overall it probably works out either way.

On the women’s side — the one I follow — Anna Hasselborg beat Kerri Einarson in the final, coming back from giving up an early 3 to squeak out a win scoring 2 in the eighth.  Hasselborg had also had to come back in her previous three games from significant deficits, but I found it disappointing because I’m not really a fan of her team.  She also became the first woman to win all of the Grand Slam events.

Of course, this is one of the last two major events of the curling season, and so there was much discussion of the teams that are splitting up or reforming.  Although she lost in the semi-finals, the performance of Tracy Fleury added to the mystery of why they were splitting up, since they played very well together and seemed to be having fun playing together.  That being said, the team that Njegovin and MacCuish are going to will be an all Manitoba team — everyone there will live in Manitoba — and Fleury is moving to Rachel Homan’s team, which had most of the team actually live in Alberta but who could all play as an Ontario team with one import and one birthright and one student.  Now, from what I heard Sara Wilkes is moving back to Ontario and I know that Homan keeps a residence in Ottawa and so might be moving back, so they move from being a team that might have made a move to being an Alberta team to being a team where everyone lives in Ontario.  That being said, while the talent level might be higher on Homan’s team I’m not sure the personalities and roles will work out there as well as it might on Lawes’ team, although the move to bring in another skip and at this point have two players who primarily played skip, one player who primarily played third, and one who has played third might be an attempt to reproduce Einarson’s success, although that didn’t come easy and did indeed rely on the personalities aligning.

Anyway, one more event and then the curling season will be ended.

Women’s World Championships and Curling Free Agency Period

March 28, 2022

At the time of writing, team Canada has just won the bronze medal at the Women’s World Championships, a disappointment for those who wanted them to do better and win it all but a pretty good result considering that it’s been a few years since Canada has won any medal at the Worlds.  Reading some comments after they lost the semi-final, people have been talking about how the team perhaps can’t handle pressure, and there was a bit of talk even among the commentators about what it means for Canada to not be on the top anymore, but in the graphic they constantly showed since 2010 the team that dominated the World Championships has been Switzerland, who is going to play for a third straight gold against Korea, so it’s not like Canada has been dominating and suddenly isn’t anymore.  It’s long been the case that the world has caught up and Canada is seen as a medal favourite but it’s not really surprising when they don’t win it all, or even fall short of winning a medal.  The thing to worry about is that Canada might fall to being a team that’s a tough beat and can make some noise, but isn’t expected to be there when it comes to the medals.  In the most recent Olympics, only the men’s team made it to the medal round — they won bronze — and in the Olympics before that only the men’s and mixed team made it to the medal round, with the mixed team winning gold and the men’s team falling short.  Given that and given that after winning two straight golds — Homan and Jones — they hadn’t won a medal, there’s be some concern that the women’s teams are falling to a spot where they might hit the top six and might, if they play really well, make a medal round, but that’s it, while teams like Switzerland, Sweden, Korea, Japan and Scotland are the teams that can always be counted on to make a run for a medal.  The win here should make people feel a bit better about that, but it still has to be a concern.

I wonder if part of the issue is a failure to properly adapt to the new rules and strategies required in the modern game of curling.  While I don’t see too many obvious consistent strategic errors, the one thing that concerns me is that Canada as a whole fail big time at one of the most recent additions:  the draw to the button at the start of the game to determine who gets hammer and is used in lieu of tiebreakers to determine who finishes in which position at the end of the round robin.  Their lack of success at that is one reason the Canadian mixed doubles team didn’t make the medal round, and the men and women constantly started behind the eight-ball as they fairly rarely managed to win that draw to the button to start with the hammer.  Here, Einarson’s team struggled with it again, and so needed to win to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs and advantages in the playoffs.  Considering that Canadian teams quite often make wonderful draws to the button during games, that they consistently struggle with it before the game is a bit puzzling.  I’m not sure how to fix that, but it’s something that they definitely need to fix to give themselves the best chance of winning international events.

This event also tried out the new rule where if a rock touches the centre line it cannot be moved and so cannot be “ticked” to the side during the entire time where guards cannot be removed, and I’m not sure I like it.  My biggest problem with it from the start is that they still have the free guard zone and so corner guards cannot be removed but now centre guards as well cannot be moved.  This seems to be putting too many restrictions on what players can do, which to me is never a good sign.  I’d say that maybe if you put that rule in play you allow corner guards to be removed, but my concern there would be that then no one would ever put up corner guards because they’d just be removed, meaning that everyone would put up centre guards and there’d be only one strategy.  Which led to me deciding what my biggest problem with all of these rule changes are:  they are about restricting what players can do and so are about eliminating options, which tends to force teams to follow the same strategies.  What I’d be looking for are rules that promote a wide range of strategies and make them viable, but what the rules seem to be designed to do is promote rocks being in play and so more scoring.  I’m not against more scoring, but I want that to follow from good strategies and good shots, not the same strategies and depending on your opponents missing their shots, which seems to be how big ends happen these days.  It’ll be interesting to see if this rule is adopted and what will happen to the game if it is.

So, that’s the Women’s Worlds.  If you were expecting me to tell you who ultimately won it, I would normally do that but that game runs too late for me to watch it and write a post about it, and since Canada isn’t in it I’m not as inclined to do that, especially since I’d have to write that post in the morning while working and writing posts while working makes my manager cry.  So I’ll leave it for now and anyone really interested can look it up for themselves.  I will note that I am neutral about who wins because I kinda like but ultimately don’t care that much about either team, which is what makes it easier for me to just ignore that game here.

Given that, let me move on to talking a bit about what’s happened so far in the traditional roster shuffle that happens after every Olympics.  We knew going in that some teams were going to have to change due to various personal considerations, but there have been some big surprises, especially on the women’s side.  Dawn McEwen, the lead for Jennifer Jones’ team, decided to retire to spend more time with her family, and since long-time lead Lisa Weagle had been with the team since moving from Rachel Homan’s team it would seem like the obvious move would have been for her to simply take Dawn’s spot and so the team would continue as it was.  Well, that’s not what happened.  Jennifer Jones moved on to skip Mackenzie Zacharias’ team, which should certainly help their development, and Kaitlyn Lawes took Jocelyn Peterman from her old team and combined that with … Selena Njegovin and Kristin MacCuish from Tracy Fleury’s old team.  Yes, that team broke up as well, which was a big surprise since they were doing incredibly well on both the Grand Slam and national circuits, and seemingly only needed a bit more experience to be able to make it to Worlds and to the Olympics.  Also, in an unrelated move, Casey Scheidegger’s team also broke up, and even though they struggled a bit this year due to a lack of playing time they seemed to be getting back on track, so again that’s another team that could have done great things if they had stayed together.

But the biggest surprise — so far — is probably the latest:  Tracy Fleury joined Rachel Homan’s team after Joanne Courtney stepped aside to focus on her family.  Fleury’s probably going to be a third or a skip, but they haven’t said which yet.  This is puzzling since Emma Miskew is a perfectly fine third and is probably ready to skip a team herself, and I had wondering if she was planning on forming her own team given that Homan’s team was a more Alberta-oriented team and Emma could have picked up some players — including their own alternate who never seems to get a chance to break in with actual team — to make an Ontario-oriented team.  If that was the case, then Fleury joining Miskew’s team would have made a lot of sense.  But here I’m not sure how it will work.  I don’t think Miskew will have too much trouble playing second, but it does take time to adjust to a new position and now three players will have to do that for certain.  Also, Homan before had forced Courtney to adjust how she throws so that everyone would have the same release — making ice reading easier — and now she’ll either have to force Fleury to do that or else have to learn to read different releases.  Either way, it’s going to be tough and something that neither Homan nor Fleury would probably really want to do.  I’m also not really sure that Fleury will fit on the team personality-wise, as being a long-time skip she has a set way of thinking and doing things and Homan herself can be pretty intense which seems like it’s more likely to lead to clashes than it is to the sort of thing that team Einarson has:  Val Sweeting is competitive but would certainly be more willing to let Einarson take over than Fleury seemed to, especially given how when she came back to the team during the Scotties she reinstated her way of playing even though what Njegovin had been doing was incredibly successful.  Miskew has played with Homan forever and so the two of them can work together, but I’m not sure that Fleury can work with Homan as easily.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see what happens, but it won’t take effective until next season.

Which means that outside of the Men’s Worlds, all that’s left are a couple of Grand Slam events that, given the already stated changes, should be very interesting to watch.