Uber Sens

Image result for ottawa senators uber video

When the uber video came out (the Sens are a proud sponsor of Uber), I was undecided if I should write about it. The hesitation wasn’t because I lacked an opinion, but simply because there wasn’t much that was shocking about it (albeit it’s amusing). The prevailing sentiment I’ve seen from the local media is that it’s much ado about nothing–these kinds of conversations go on with most teams in candid moments, but we simply don’t see/hear them. Others, such as Nichols, took a slightly different approach:

For some reason, they were stupid enough to put their team on blast while riding in an Uber.

Is this stupid? While there seems to be no law in Arizona preventing Uber drivers from recording their passengers in this fashion, I think its at least somewhat understandable that the players assumed privacy (although you should tip your drivers)–after all, we’ve had plenty of years go by without videos like this featuring NHL players. The org attempting to get the video taken down was a hilariously misguided move, but one I expected given how it handles things. Castigating the players for speaking their minds in this context is a bit much as far as I’m concerned, as I’ll get into below.

What did the players say that’s so inflammatory? There’s not much to it, really:

Marty Raymond, the only coach in NHL history to have the worst power-play and the worst PK within a calendar year

This is just a fact–an uncomfortable fact for Raymond and the couching staff, and he should be fired for that accomplishment–but it’s not something unknown to the public.

Here’s the other thing, too. We don’t change anything, ever. So why do we even have a meeting?

Inflexible coaching is a historic problem for the org and, again, not something that’s private–publicly we can watch Guy Boucher (and all coaches) use their systems and adapt (or not) on the ice.

More was said, but these are the ‘spiciest’ parts of it. My takeaway? At least the players care. These are not guys just happy to collect a paycheque–they recognize the team’s flaws and want them to be improved. I’d be far more concerned if they weren’t upset. The narrative about how all of this should be internal doesn’t move the needle for me–they are a terrible team in the midst of a rebuild, so if things aren’t changing internally then making statements publicly isn’t a bad idea.

The result of all this was entirely predictable: the players apologized; Marty Raymond was embarrassed but will keep his job; there was finger-wagging at both the Uber driver and the players; and in a week or two the story will slip away as yet another in the bizarre saga of the Melnykian regime.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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Belleville Loses Back-to-Back Games Against Syracuse

Coming into the games against the Crunch the BSens were .500 and seemed to be fixing some of their systemic issues (PK and goals against). Positive trends came to a screaming halt as Syracuse won both penalty filled games, getting Filip Gustavsson pulled in each of them (a feat that didn’t happen last year to any BSen goaltender–the closest was Marcus Hogberg being pulled in consecutive starts back in January). The 6-1 defeat is also the most lopsided of the season (apparently Troy Mann screaming at his players mid-game was not the solution).

Belleville 4, Syracuse 5
Shots: 32-16
PP: 2-9
PK: 4-7
Goaltenders: Gustavsson (8-13); Paterson (3-3)
Sturtz (LaBate, Leier)
Tambellini (Murray, Percy) (pp)
Tambellini (Carey, Murray) (pp)
Batherson (Balcers, Sieloff)

Belleville 1, Syracuse 6
Shots: 27-21
PP: 0-3
PK: 5-6
Goaltenders: Gustavsson (9-13); Paterson (6-8)
Englund (Balisy, Sturtz)

Context
The Crunch arrived with just a 2-5-0 record, sitting at the bottom of the North Division. Both goaltenders played (having split the season thus far). Former Sen Cory Conacher plays for the team and had four points in the second game.

Lines
Both Filip Chlapik and Andrew Sturtz returned from injury; the former took his usual place on the top line while the latter bumped Scarfo off the fourth. On defense Wolanin replaced the recalled Burgdoerfer on the top-pairing. In the second game alterations were more radical as Percy was out of the lineup (he took a crosscheck to the back of the head, but I don’t definitively know if that’s why) and inexplicably the team decided Jonathan Racine was worth a PTO (my thoughts on him here, but in brief he does not help them move or possess the puck). This meant the blueline looked like this:
Sieloff-Wolanin
Racine-Murray
Englund-Bergman

Mann gave TOI to an ECHL PTO over Julius Bergman. The arrangement in general is pretty bizarre. There was uncustomary tinkering with the forward group as well by Mann, with Beauchemin out (I’m assuming sickness/injury), LaBate moved up to center the third line and the rightwing of all lines save the first (I’ve highlighted the moving parts) were changed:
Balcers-Chlapik-Batherson
Carey-Balisy-Sturtz
Tambellini-LaBateSexton
Leier-ScarfoGagne

I don’t think the forward changes were the primary issue with the second game (you can blame that on the blueline and goaltending), but it’s a curious juggle given a loss by a single goal previously.

Special Teams
In the first game Mann took Murray off the top unit and replaced him with Balisy; otherwise nothing changed (besides the absence of the recalled Nick Paul, replaced by Chlapik). Both goals scored were about Tambellini’s shot rather than something his unit was doing. In the second game Balisy returned to the second unit and Sexton was moved to the first.

The PK in game one was pretty similar to the previous game, except that Sturtz was added to the mix. The Balisy-Sexton duo was on the ice for all three PP-goals against so they were split up in the following game. The other changes made in game two is that Balcers returned to the PK, playing the final part of kills, and on defense Racine essentially took Percy’s usual rotations.

Other Notes
-Gustavsson had back-to-back poor performances, showing a weakness of being beat high (a problem most BSens goaltenders had last season–something I feel is related at least tangentially to the coaching they are getting)
-Problems from the blueline continue–Sieloff had a turnover that directly lead to a goal in the first game; I lost track of Murray’s turnovers in the second game, etc
-Englund got what I expect will be his only goal for the year
-Sturtz has looked good in his return, not just because of the goal and the assist but his play overall (although I’d rather see him on the powerplay than the PK)
-Gagne has gone back to sleep–he only has one 5-on-5 point this season and has been largely been invisible
-For those who missed it I did a full review of the season through October for the BSens

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville Senators: October Review

Image result for troy mann belleville

The first month of the Belleville Senators under Troy Mann’s regime is in the books (thankfully without the interference of former BSen GM Randy Lee), and it’s time to look at it in its entirety. You can read my predictions prior to the season. Let’s begin with the roster.

Roster Volatility

The initial surprise was Max Lajoie making the NHL roster (and not simply for a game or two); veteran Paul Carey joined him initially. Prior to the season Jim O’Brien was knocked out of the lineup long term–he’ll miss months. Ben Sexton and Aaron Luchuk also missed the start of the season (the latter surprisingly sent to ECHL Brampton). This state of affairs was compounded when Logan BrownMarcus Hogberg, and Andrew Sturtz were all hurt in the first game; the team also lost Christian Jaros and Nick Paul to call-ups (temporarily for Nick). All these changes meant many of the players initially sent to Brampton were recalled (Filip Gustavsson, Francois BeaucheminRyan Scarfo, and the late-signee Daniel Ciampini).

Stats

The Team (last October shown in red)

5-5-0 (3rd division, 7th conference) 4-4-1
GF 30/3.00 (t-7th conference) 27/3.00
GA 27/2.70 (t-6th conference) 31/3.44
PP 10-43/23.2% (5th conference) 6-49/12.2
PK 33-41/80.4% (8th conference) 39-47/82.9
Shots 27.1 28.4
Shot Differential -6.1 -7.5

Comparing Kurt Kleinendorst’s team last year to this one is an interesting process because on the surface many of the numbers are similar. The team is winning at roughly the same rate, scoring the same number of goals-per-game, and killing penalties at a commensurate rate (each gave up eight powerplay goals, albeit this year’s team is taking fewer penalties). The biggest differences are the powerplay (not just the percentage, but goals and opportunities) and the goals against–the difference between 2.7 per game and 3.44 is massive. The defensive difference, I believe, is largely due to goaltending: the previous October Andrew Hammond enjoyed a very respectable .929 save percentage, but he only played in three games and Danny Taylor was a miserable .903. Starter Mike McKenna‘s number isn’t massively different (.914), but it is better, and Filip Gustavsson‘s is much higher (.931) and he’s played more. Both iterations of the team gave up a ton of shots and I think if that continues this season they won’t be able to continue to score themselves out of the problem.

The BSens are slightly above .500 (3-2) within the North Division. The five games they’ve played outside the North is actually a significant percentage of that total (22% versus just 9% within the division), meaning the focus will be the local teams. I don’t think the playoffs are likely, but if there’s any hope it has to be via this route.

Players

(Arranged by points-per-game; rookies in green, ELCs in blue, AHL-contracts in italics; previous AHL-season, where applicable, in brackets)
Batherson 10-4-8-12 1.20 5 PPP
Chlapik 5-1-5-6 1.20 2 PPP (0.61)
Paul 6-2-4-6 1.00 3 PPP (0.50)
Rodewald 8-3-4-7 0.88 3 PPP 1 SHP (0.40)
Balcers 10-4-4-8 0.80 3 PPP (0.71)
Carey 4-0-3-3 0.75 1 PPP
Balisy 10-4-2-6 0.60 1 PPP 1 SHP (0.53)
Tambellini 10-3-3-6 0.60 3 PPP (0.46)
Murray 9-1-4-5 0.56 2 PPP 1 SHP (0.39)
Percy 10-1-4-5 0.50 2 PPP (0.38)
Sexton 4-0-2-2 0.50 1 SHP (0.70)
Wolanin 7-1-2-3 0.43 1 PPP
Gagne 10-1-3-4 0.40 3 PPP (0.36)
Beauchemin 8-2-1-3 0.38 (0.29)
Sieloff 9-1-2-3 0.33 1 SHP (0.17)
Bergman 10-0-2-2 0.20 (0.30)
Burgdoerfer 10-1-1-2 0.20 (0.25)
LaBate 10-1-1-2 0.20 1 SHP (0.28)
Leier 9-0-1-1 0.11
Englund 8-0-0-0 (0.14)
Ciampini 5-0-0-0/ECHL 3-2-0-2 (0.32)
Scarfo 5-0-0-0
Brown 1-0-0-0
Jaros 1-0-0-0 (0.36)
Sturtz 1-0-0-0
Erkamps ECHL 7-1-2-3
Luchuk ECHL 5-2-0-2
O’Brien INJ

Gustavsson 2-2-0 .931 2.54
McKenna 3-3-0 .914 2.72
Paterson ECHL .912 3.34
Hogberg INJ

Player Usage

What about lines/pairings? How is Mann utilizing the players at his disposal? We’ll separate forwards from defensemen, but generally he doesn’t adjust during games nor does he play around with the lineup much between games. The lineup has shifted more around player moves (injuries, call-ups) than coaching decisions (at least for 5-on-5).

Forwards

(Notations in brackets are when the player was on a different line than assigned when they registered the point–most of these are during the 7 D games when the fourth pairing was joined by someone else; players are arranged by line-playing frequency)

First Line (7 goals)
Balcers (10-10) 2 Goals, 2 Assists (Assist)
Chlapik (5-5) 4 Assists
Batherson (9-10) 4 Goals, 2 Assists (Assist)
Paul (5-6) 3 Assists
Rodewald (1-8)
The story here is very simple: in the opening game Paul centered the second line (with Batherson) and Rodewald played the wing on the first line; since then it’s been Balcers/Batherson with Chlapik (when healthy) or Paul.

Second line (4 goals)
Carey (4-4) 2 Assists
Sexton (4-4) 2 Assists
Brown (1-1)
Balisy (8-10) 3 Goals, Assist
Tambellini (5-10) (Assist)
Gagne (4-10)
Paul (1-6)
Rodewald (1-8) Goal
Batherson (1-10)
LaBate (1-10)
Mann transitioned from Balisy with Tambellini/Gagne (which was not very effective) to Carey/Sexton when they returned to the lineup (a much more effective trio).

Third line (3 goals)
Rodewald (6-8) Assist (Assist)
Leier (6-9)
Tambellini (5-10) Goal, Assist
LaBate (5-10)
Beauchemin (3-8) Assist
Balisy (2-10)
Gagne (2-10)
Early in the season the line was LaBate centering Leier/Rodewald, but it’s evolved to Beauchemin-Tambellini with a variable third (the move down the lineup helped the latter). Until recently this was the least productive line on the team.

Fourth line (4 goals)
Scarfo (5-5)
Ciampini (5-5)
Beauchemin (5-8) 2 Goals
LaBate (4-10) Goal
Gagne (4-10) Goal
Leier (3-9) Assist
There were four straight games early in the season when the team dressed seven defensemen, such that the fourth line was Ciampini plus one. The line currently is LaBate/Scarfo plus another. Due to the injury/call-up situation this has been the most talent-starved trio.

Defense

(Notes in brackets are points when not on the ice with the usual partner for that game)

Top-pairing (2 goals)
Burgdoerfer (10-10) Goal, Assist
Wolanin (7-7) Goal, Assist
Murray (3-10) Assist
This unit has been very stable, with the switch on Burgdoerfer’s left side only coming when Wolanin was recalled to Ottawa. It hasn’t been a particularly productive duo and that’s due to Burgdoerfer’s offensive limitations–for whatever reason Mann doesn’t want to utilize Bergman’s abilities and besides him there are no other offensive options on the right side (Percy could play here, as he often plays his offside, but there seems to be no desire to do that).

Second-pairing (1 goal)
Percy (10-10) Goal, Assist (Assist)
Murray (6-9) (Assist)
Sieloff (3-10)
Jaros (1-1)
After Jaros’ recall Percy cleaned up Murray’s messes until Wolanin was also called-up and Sieloff was elevated to the line. Neither Murray nor Sieloff have been helpful in generating offense.

Third-pairing (0 goals)
Bergman (10-10) Assist (Assist)
Englund (8-8)
Sieloff (6-9) Assist (Assist)
Mann went with 7 D in four games which meant this became a threesome (Sieloff being used primarily to kill penalties with very limited 5-on-5 time). Despite the limitations of TOI and Englund it’s been reasonably productive thanks to Bergman.

Goaltending

I have to wonder if injury and circumstances (Condon‘s demotion) will conspire to rob Marcus Hogberg of his chance to rebound with the BSens. Time will tell, but for the moment Gustavsson has been fantastic and McKenna solid. Among AHL goaltenders with at least 4 games played Gus is 4th in the league with McKenna 12th (amusing side note: Chris Driedger is 2-0-1 with a .923 playing for Springfield, granting that’s a very good team). The BSens are getting their best goaltending since 2012-13 (albeit not quite at that exalted level).

Special Teams – The Powerplay

Overall the powerplay has been both good and balanced (the first line has six goals, the second four). It’s important to note, however, that eight of those ten goals came in a four-game span (October 13th-20th). In the other six games the team is 2-20 (10%), so it’s quite possible for the production to flatline to some degree. These are the raw scoring numbers:
Batherson 5
Balcers/Paul/Rodewald/Gagne/Tambellini 3
Chlapik/Murray/Percy 2
Wolanin/Balisy/Carey 1

Scoring by specific lines (shift count included; arranged by goals/effectiveness):
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Rodewald/Wolanin-Batherson 3-19
2nd: Tambellini-Balisy-Gagne/Percy-Murray 3-21
1st: Balcers-Paul-Rodewald/Wolanin-Batherson 2-6
1st: Balcers-Paul-Rodewald/Percy-Batherson 1-2
2nd: Carey-Balisy-Gagne/Percy-Tambellini 1-5
Combinations with no goals:
1st: Balcers-Paul-Sexton/Murray-Batherson 0-5
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Leier/Wolanin-Batherson 0-5
2nd: Tambellini-Chlapik-Gagne/Percy-Balisy 0-4
2nd: Paul-Brown-Batherson/Balcers-Wolanin 0-4
2nd: Carey-Balisy-Gagne/Murray-Tambellini 0-1
2nd: Leier-LaBate-Sturtz/Bergman-Jaros 0-1
2nd: Tambellini-Balisy-Gagne/Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 0-1

Individual percentages (ignoring those with single shifts):
Rodewald 6-27 22.2%
Paul 3-17 17.6%
Carey 1-6 16.6%
Percy 5-32 15.6%
Wolanin 5-34 14.7%
Balcers 6-41 14.6%
Batherson 6-41 14.6%
Chlapik 3-24 12.5%
Tambellini 4-32 12.5%
Gagne 4-32 12.5%
Balisy 4-32 12.5%
Murray 3-27 11.1%
Sexton 0-5
Leier 0-5
Brown 0-4

Your eyes do not deceive you: Leier was on the top PP unit for a game. Something else that stands out is Percy’s effectiveness (his pairing contributing to half the team’s powerplay goals), yet somehow he’s almost never on the first unit (yielding to Murray of all people–the org’s love affair with Murray remains inexplicable to me). Don’t let Rodewald’s numbers at the top fool you–he’s benefiting from a small sample size and a bit of luck (something very evident in his season numbers from last year). Paul’s are also a bit inflated (as the season winds on he should drift down to Balisy/Tambellini territory). And what does Bergman have to do to be given an opportunity to play? He has 9 career PPG’s and 20 assists–apparently that’s not enough to earn him a look (Tim Heed clearly contributed to his production in San Jose to some extent, but still).

Special Teams – The Penalty Kill

The BSens PK has been awful for quite some time, due to a mix of poor defense, middling goaltending, and inflexible coaching. The overall numbers this season aren’t that different from Kleinendorst’s, but the big picture hides nuance so let’s dig into it. Here are the various forward line combinations we’ve seen (arranged by volume):

LaBate-Rodewald 18-20*
Balisy-Sexton 17
Carey-LaBate 10-11
Tambellini-Balisy 10
Balisy-Rodewald 7
Beauchemin-Rodewald 5
Rodewald 3-4
Beauchemin-Balisy 3
Tambellini-Paul 2
Tambellini-Rodewald 2
Carey-Balisy 2
Tambellini-Beauchemin 1
Paul-Balisy 1
LaBate-Chlapik 1
Ciampini-Beauchemin 1
Chlapik-Rodewald 1
Beauchemin-Leier 1
Leier-Rodewald 1
Carey-Beauchemin 1
LaBate-Sexton 1
Carey-Sexton 1
Paul-Beauchemin 1
LaBate-Beauchemin 1
LaBate 1
Balcers-Chlapik 0-1
Ciampini-Chlapik 0-1
Paul-Rodewald 0-1
Paul-Balisy 0-1
*One of these goals LaBate had just left the ice (Bergman on) when scored upon

This is a bewildering number of combinations, but one thing that’s clear is how quickly Mann abandons them early if they don’t work–four of the eight goals were against one-and-done forward pairings, which is pretty remarkable. I’ll get into the individual stuff below, but he does have a pretty good eye for what’s working on the PK at forward.

Arranged by individual shift count:
Balisy: 40-41 97.5%
Rodewald: 37-41 90.2%
LaBate: 33-35 94.2%
Sexton: 19-19
Tambellini: 15-15
Carey: 14-15 93.3%
Beauchemin: 14-14
Paul: 4-6 66.6%
Chlapik: 2-4 50.0%
Leier: 2-2
Ciampini: 1-2 50.5%
Balcers: 0-1

There are some puzzling decisions here: Daniel Ciampini is a lot of things, but a penalty killer he’s not–the same can be said for Balcers. Paul (and Chlapik) can’t really be judged with so little usage, but the latter is not usually a penalty killer and the former had at least decent numbers the previous year. Rodewald’s numbers are a bit better than last year, but despite the high shift-count he’s only seventh best among the forwards. Sexton, who was excellent last season, and Balisy (excellent this year) typically start PK situations. It’s clear that Mann wants players on the PK who can threaten offensively and this is in sharp contrast to Kleinendorst who simply wanted the puck down the ice. Moving on to the blueline (arranged by volume).

Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 31-33
Englund-Bergman 12-14
Sieloff-Percy 11
Englund-Percy 7-8
Murray-Percy 6-7
Englund-Burgdoerfer 4
Sieloff-Bergman 3
Murray-Bergman 2
Percy-Burgdoerfer 2
Murray-Burgdoerfer 0-1
Percy-Jaros 0-1

Kleinendorst’s most frequent PK pairing continues with Mann and it’s not a bad choice as Sieloff-Burgdoerfer were the most effective remaining players from that season. The combinations are a little less random than at forward, but there’s continuing experimentation by Mann on the second-pairing. While it’s not clear above, the Englund-Bergman combo never starts a kill–they are always either ending it or serving through the middle of it. The initial unit always includes one of Sieloff, Burgdoerfer, or Percy.

Arranged by individual shift counts:
Sieloff 45-47 95.7%
Burgdoerfer 37-40 92.5%
Percy 26-29 89.6%
Englund 16-18 88.8%
Bergman 17-20 85.0%*
Murray 8-10 80.0%
Jaros 0-1
*The extra goal is due to the aforementioned LaBate-Rodewald goal above

Last season Englund was the kryptonite to all his partners and he’s continuing that trend here (granting the small sample size). It’s entirely expected for Sieloff to have the best numbers, something he would have had last year were it not for an extended period where he was playing with the aforementioned Englund. I have no idea what Murray is doing killing penalties–the guy has his uses, but defensive play isn’t one of them. Not much has changed in how Mann has handled the pairings, but he does tend to lean on the main pairing more now than when the season started.

I mentioned some nuance to the numbers above and what I want to point out is that the PK is improving. After giving up a PP goal for eight straight games the team has gone two straight without one and the overall trend is better (the team is 27-32, 84.3%, over the last seven games). The return of Sexton has greatly helped solidify the forward rotation.

So there we have it, a look at the team ten games into the season. The BSens have been more entertaining than last few seasons and there’s more talent to watch (Batherson is a joy to watch). If the general health of the roster is better and there’s less fiddling from Ottawa we have much more excitement to come.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 2, Laval 1

Filip Gustavsson was a surprise starter as the Sens are recycling the Andrew Hammond drama with Mike Condon (something I saw as inevitable when they signed him to that silly three-year contract). The Swede stood on his head as the BSens continue to be woeful defensively and the top line continues to miss Chlapik.

Belleville 2, Laval 1
Shots: 19-35
PP: 0-2
PK: 4-4
Goaltender: Filip Gustavsson (34-35)
Batherson (Bergman, Balcers)
Balisy (Carey, Murray)

Context
The Rocket arrived with just a 3-5-1 record and riding a four game winless streak. Usual starter Charlie Lindgren was between the pipes.

Lines
Only one change was made, as Boston Leier was demoted to the fourth line and Gagne was moved up. It’s the right decision as the former has been the least impressive forward among those dressed for the game (while Scarfo has been irrelevant, he hasn’t made any defensive goofs lately).

Special Teams
The units were unchanged and the PP failed to score on its two opportunities (despite some chances). I’m still not a fan of Murray playing with the first unit.

The PK enjoyed its second straight game without giving up a goal (the only two on the season), but at least some of that is attributable to Gustavsson‘s fantastic play.

Other Notes
Murray‘s turnovers are heavily slanted towards first periods for whatever reason; he’s not incapable of making defensive plays (he made a great sliding block on a 2-on-1 in the first), they are simply few and far between
-Both od Belleville goals via beautiful one-timers in high percentage areas (one pass from the under utilized Bergman the other from Carey)
Englund continues to be Englund
-Late in the third Nick Paul was pulled off the top-line (replaced with LaBate); my guess is that was purely for defensive reasons, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on it

My monthly review of the season will be coming out tomorrow. Should be fun as there’s lot’s to explore.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 1, Grand Rapids 3

The second game against Grand Rapids wasn’t as entertaining as the first, although Gustavsson was excellent between the pipes. In the absence of Filip Chlapik the BSens are generating fewer shots (averaging 24 the last three games) and that’s impacting their offense, having scored just one goal in two of those three games.

Belleville 1, Grand Rapids 3
Shots: 22-31
PP: 1-4
PK: 5-5
Goaltender: Filip Gustavsson (28-31)
Tambellini (Gagne, Carey) (pp)

Context
Given that they’d played the night before there were only two changes made by the Griffins: rookie backup Patrik Rybar started (his previous start was a disastrous loss to Chicago) and former BSen Carter Camper played instead of Dylan McIlrath.

Lines
With Jack Rodewald getting called up to Ottawa Boston Leier slid into his spot on the third line, otherwise there were no changes. However, for the first time this season Troy Mann did some line/pairing juggling, all in the third period. He moved Sexton up to the first line and slid Batherson down to the second; he also put Bergman on the second pairing with Percy while pushing Sieloff down to the third.

Special Teams
The powerplay provided another goal, this time from the second unit. For the final two powerplays the second unit actually became the first.

For the first time this season the team did not give up a powerplay goal. The rotation was identical to the previous game, so until its repeated we can’t really draw conclusions other than to celebrate the fact.

Other Notes
-It was an ugly game for Jordan Murray, who had five turnovers (most unforced) in the first period (the last of which lead to the Griffins first goal)
-Patrick Sieloff was run from behind in the first (he remained in the game)
-Stuart Percy saved a goal in the second
-Gustavsson stopped a penalty shot in the second
-Mann cut into the first lines TOI, with less Batherson and Balcers than has been typical (the Carey line was the primary beneficiary)

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 5, Grand Rapids 3

It was another entertaining game last night as the BSens continue to outscore opponents to win. One of the concerns I had for the team coming into the season was their soft defense (especially given call-ups), but scoring at this pace means they can overcome that weakness.

Belleville 5, Grand Rapids 3
Shots: 27-34
PP: 1-3
PK: 4-5
Goaltender: Mike McKenna (31-34)
Paul (Rodewald, Batherson) (pp)
Tambellini (Beauchemin, Percy)
Percy (Tambellini, Rodewald)
Sieloff (Balisy, Sexton) (sh)
Balisy (Sexton, Sieloff)

Context
The Griffins arrived with a 2-4-0 record, but were coming off a win over Chicago. Regular starter Harri Sateri was in net (as he has been for all but one game), and he’s struggled all season, with just one game at a .900 save percentage. The team features former BSen (and first-round pick) Matt Puempel as well as failed first-rounder Dylan McIlrath.

Lines
The second line was fixed (Balisy moved up, LaBate moved to the fourth line, and Beauchemin moved up to the third), we also saw Leier scratched for the little used Scarfo.
Balcers-Paul-Batherson
Carey-Balisy-Sexton
Tambellini-Beauchemin-Rodewald
Scarfo-LaBate-Gagne

The downgrade between Chlapik to Paul remains apparent, because while the first line had chances they didn’t dominate possession the same way they normally do. The aforementioned changes, however, really helped the second and third lines and that shows up on the score sheet.

With Wolanin called up to Ottawa Murray was moved up to the first-pairing (!) and Sieloff came off the bottom rotation to play on the second.
Murray-Burgdoerfer
Sieloff-Percy
Englund-Bergman

I mentioned on Twitter prior to the game that I thought the top-pairing was going to struggle defensively and, indeed, they were on-ice for two of the three goals against (and largely responsible for both of them). I’m more than a little lost on the obvious solution with this kind of lineup: move Percy up to the top unit, shift Bergman to the second, and rotate Englund and Murray as a bottom or mixed pair.

Special Teams
After not scoring on the PP in the previous game the unit produced again. Sexton remains off the powerplay and I see no reason for him not to be on the second unit (at least). In terms of changes, the absence of Wolanin saw Percy move up to the top unit while Carey was added to the second.

The PK continues its horrendous streak of giving up a powerplay goal every single game. These are the current forward rotations:
Carey-LaBate
Balisy-Sexton
Beauchemin-Rodewald

Sexton was a very good penalty killer last season, so his addition makes a lot of sense, but Carey‘s inclusion seems to follow what Mann was doing with Chlapik and Balcers earlier in the season (more ice time for top players). This change seems to have hurt Rodewald the most, as he used to be part of the top duo.

On defense the norm remains Sieloff-Burgdoerfer, but the latter took a lot of penalties and was replaced by Percy. Oddly, the second pairing now seems to be Englund-Bergman (rather than having Percy play when there isn’t a penalty to one of the top two). Englund is an atrocious penalty killer (link above), so removing him would help the PK quite a bit (he was, indeed, on-ice for the goal against).

Other Notes
-Harri Sateri gave up a couple of genuinely bad goals (Sieloff‘s comes to mind)
Balisy was stopped on a penalty shot
Murray was guilty of a horrible turnover late in the first, but was fortunate not to pay for it
Rodewald badly flubbed a 2-on-1 in the second (no shot and couldn’t complete the pass); I’ve mentioned repeatedly that he’s not a playmaker and in scenarios like that he should simply shoot the puck
-I’ve been impressed with Beauchemin, who is gradually outplaying the other extraneous forwards (already ahead of CiampiniScarfo, and Leier)
-For general interest I posted an article yesterday looking at the struggles of sport in the current day and what might be behind that

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Hockey’s Declining Popularity

Image result for decline

It has been a couple of years since I looked at the ailing popularity of traditional sports (with apologies to soccer) and compared it to the rise of esports (for those unfamiliar with the term, it means competitive video games). The exchange between the two mediums isn’t one-for-one, but I do think the latter is eating up potential fans of the former at an ever accelerating pace. This isn’t intended as a deep dive on the subject, but it is an update and refresher of what I think the issues are.

First let’s establish our parameters: for hockey I’m specifically looking at the American audience (the more casual fanbase and the one with the most growth potential). Overall TV viewership is down (this presents combined TV and stream numbers). As the article notes, these numbers are the lowest since 2010-11 and a 17% drop from just two years ago. Even within the comfy confines of the Stanley Cup views are not safe. The 2010 Cup had the highest ratings in eight years (coming on the heels of game seven in 2009 having the highest ratings since 1973), but the key point is the lower ratings previously. Those twin peak events, boosted by the 2010 Winter Olympics, were the cornerstones of the 10-year contract the league signed with NBC (you can read the other factors here). This brief moment of positive growth came rapidly back to earth in the 2012 final which barely edged out the 2007 final as the lowest of all time.

Talking about numbers is less effective than seeing them, so for the sake of visualizing I put together the NBCSN numbers and NBC national broadcast network numbers into a couple of graphs (finding the former was easier than the latter, sources for which are here and here). The point is the general trend:

This gradual downward trend, as I pointed out two years ago, is not unique to hockey as traditional sports in North America are all amidst the same trend (with the NFL as an exception of sorts, although it too is aging while benefiting from the buffer of gambling interests–it can’t get too comfortable). This trend is not something that has gone unnoticed, but generally the theories proposed (for example) focus on inter-league competition rather than a changing medium or something outside the avenue of sport (the inherent idea seems to be only traditional sport can compete with itself, ie, only competitiveness within the bottle of what’s typically defined as sport can work against itself). My theory remains that many younger viewers are gravitating to esports and I want to go through why that is.esports viewership through June 2018.1

When I looked at the esports numbers previously, Fortune (in 2015) estimated the number of fans at around 226 million (a number surely already higher than overall interest in hockey at the time). The graph above shows just viewership achieving that number this year, indicating the number of fans continues to increase exponentially. The rate of growth is staggering as can be seen through the growth of Twitch (the streaming service primarily devoted to gameplay) since 2012:

Twitch Growth

Back in 2011 the then most popular esport (Starcraft 2) and Twitch joined forces and popular esports pressed on. Specific to hockey one might argue that it’s current decline is simply a dip in what is a relatively stable overall number, but that doesn’t address the aging fanbase and what that means going forward.

One of hockey’s primary problems is the cost of entry (equipment, rink time, etc), making it far less available to a general audience. There are secondary issues as well with the violence of the sport (such things as Don Sanderson’s death in 2008 or the general awareness of the impact of concussions)–something kids playing soccer or basketball don’t typically have to worry about (they are also the two least expensive sports and the ones whose fanbase is aging the least). The other issues are akin to what all traditional sports suffer from:
1) the games are long (2.5 hours is what I expect, punctuated by long intermissions–how anyone watches a baseball game is beyond me)
2) the content has limitations (off-seasons with no on-ice content whatsoever)
3) repetitive (there’s a limited variety in what you’ll see on the field of play–to a casual fan the game is basically unchanged since 2005)

Conversely, there’s almost no barrier to entry for video games–not only are they relatively cheap and accessible, but there’s almost no limitation for playing them (gender, age, physical fitness, and some disabilities become completely irrelevant). The games themselves are short, such that almost any schedule can accommodate putting time into playing or watching. In addition there is content–so much content. Even though all esports have an annual championship (just like traditional sports), they are peppered with other major tournaments along the way and in addition there are innumerable smaller competitions–whatever game you enjoy it’s a virtually guarantee to have something competitive to watch every week. In addition to this is a mountain of general content (streaming) that’s available 24/7. The players themselves are much more accessible–if you’re a fan of uber Fortnite player Ninja you can go watch his stream and potentially interact with him. A streamer might invite fans to play with them and a fan who is good enough might simply compete against them on the ladder–these are things that are impossible with a pro athlete outside very rare arranged activities.

Hockey (and sport in general) are also very resistant to change, whereas esports have to adapt and change all the time. I used to blog about StarCraft (something that had five to ten times the readership of what I do for hockey, despite a much smaller fanbase), and each year the game was quite different–even within a year patches would alter the meta. This kind of variety is impossible for normal sport to compete with–they simply can’t adapt this quickly–not only is it more complicated to change the game (given the resonance down to development leagues along with getting the owners and the union to agree), but fans themselves can be very resistant. If Valve wants to change CS:GO there’s no impediment for them to do so save potential backlash from the community–if there is backlash the change can be reverted almost immediately. There’s really no parallel to this in sport, as hockey’s major changes occur extremely rarely and are usually separated by decades.

While I think the product of hockey is in better shape than it was in 2003, the league itself continues to fail to make any serious gains in popularity. My feeling has long been that that the lack of offence is the primary problem for the NHL. You only have to look at its main competitor, the NBA (whose season overlaps it), to see how focusing on offense helps create excitement. Casual fans come to see goals and they want to see records challenged–that’s been impossible in the league for the last 25 years (look at the top-50 best seasons of all time, only the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons had anyone come close to the bottom of that list).

Do I think the NHL will make major changes? No. They won’t go down that road until there’s a dramatic collapse in views (think of how long the issue with goaltender equipment has lingered), but I do think it’s the only way the sport can go if it truly wants to anchor itself into the future. While I don’t think hockey is in the same death-spiral of the baseball audience, that will be their fate in a generation if things don’t change.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)