Archive for January, 2011

Explaining Tampa Bay

When you’re analyzing a hockey team’s success and trying to predict if it’s sustainable, one of the first things most people point to – rightfully so – is goal differential. Goal differential is a very quick, easy, and effective way to assess a hockey team’s fortunes. Honestly, it’s about as close to an ideal stat as you can get when you’re evaluating a team solely with numbers. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have pitfalls.

 

I believe, though I’m not sure and don’t care to research it, that goal differential came about after run differential rose to prominence in baseball. Since “statheads” are much more prevalent in baseball than they are in hockey – this is mostly because it’s much easier to dissect baseball than it is hockey – you much more frequently hear a team deemed a fluke if their run differential doesn’t quite add up to their record. So you’ll hear how a team that has a, say, +20 run differential at the halfway point yet only a .500 record is about to break out. More often than that, you’ll hear how teams overachieve.

 

The Angels (both from Los Angeles and Anaheim at various points) were frequent victims of this assault on our intelligence. As I said, run/goal differential is an extremely quick and dirty way to analyze a team, but it is definitely dirty. Where it fails is in teams that sit at extreme ends of the style spectrum. The Angels were a team that relied heavily on pitching and, stupidly, on small ball. They did not generate offense and did not allow other teams to generate offense. Since they could not generate offense and pitching is inherently volatile, there were nights when they would get blown out, but they frequently could win games by small margins because they just didn’t give up much. Their success was sustainable, it just didn’t give them lots of big wins.

 

The Lightning sit at the other extreme. They are terrible defensively and they don’t have great goaltending – though Roloson was a deft addition. One of their top defensive pairs has both Randy Jones and Pavel Kubina. That’s horrifying. This isn’t really an affront to them, it’s just what they are and it’s what they had to work with. On the other hand, they are tremendously talented offensively. All of their players can contribute. Even fuckin’ Randy Jones. They have exceptional top end talent (one can even argue that their top end talent has underachieved – LOOKING AT YOU VINNY LECAVALIER AND SIMON GAGNE – thus far). They have very good depth on top of that. This basically means their games generally meet a fork in the road and have two roads to travel:

 

High-octane, high-action games like the thriller against Philly. Generally when they play as well as they can, against teams that can bring similar offensive talents – enhanced by playing against a terrible defense – they will get these enormously entertaining games. They rarely dominate games, though. Even when they control the flow and pace of the game and keep the puck in the opposing team’s zone, they don’t — or weren’t — getting the stops they needed to blow teams out. So even in games that saw them bring their ‘A’ game, they weren’t blowing teams out and helping that goal differential in a positive direction.

 

Basically, the Lightning can beat any team on a given night. I mean, any team can beat any other on a given night, but the Lightning aren’t less likely to beat a good team like Philly or Pittsburgh than, say, Detroit. They can stack up.

 

The other path their games take are games like the 8-1 loss against Pittsburgh, although that was obviously an extreme. Even though they are tremendous offensively, there are nights when they either just won’t have it or will come up against a hot goalie or will play against a dominant goalie and so on. Teams with a good forecheck can definitely hem the Bolts in their own zone. Because they are so bad defensively, they have trouble taking the puck away from a dominant offense. There are also nights when they get stuck in their own zone and just can’t get the critical save to settle the game down. Nights like these affect their goal differential in an extremely adverse fashion, but they aren’t necessarily indicative of the kind of team Tampa is.

 

Think of it this way:  when they’re good, they’re just good. However, when they’re bad, they’re all kinds of awful. Most of this is a result of shoddy goaltending. Yzerman took steps toward correcting this by acquiring Dwayne Roloson, but it certainly doesn’t solve their issues. I mean, come on, he’s like 874 years old. He’s good, but he’s gonna have some really bad nights. Tampa Bay, like Washington the last few years, can win in spite of their goaltending and defense. They bring SO MUCH firepower, that they will win on some nights even when their goaltending just isn’t there. Most teams cannot boast this. However, their goaltending can also lose games on nights that their offense is firing away.

 

Even though they CAN beat any team on a given night, their porous defense makes them susceptible to losing to any team on a given night by a lot. Offense, like pitching in baseball, is volatile. There are stretches when even the best offensive teams just aren’t going to put pucks in the net for whatever reason. There’s much less system and structure relied on in offense, so players can’t just “go back to the system” like they can with defense.

 

This does not make them an inherently bad team. It just means that they’re a different kind of successful. Their wins are legitimate. Their offense is capable of winning games on its own. Their defense is also capable of losing games on its own. They’re definitely a bipolar team, but their success is legitimate (in my opinion anyway). They won’t blow you away, they will give up lots of goals, but they’ll be able to outscore you on a pretty regular basis, even if it’s only by a goal.

http://www.sportsoverdose.com/thumbs/jonathan-quick-32-nhl.jpg 

Explaining Tampa Bay

 

When you’re analyzing hockey team’s success and trying to predict if it’s sustainable, one of the first things most people point to – rightfully so – is goal differential. Goal differential is a very quick, easy, and effective way to assess a hockey team’s fortunes. Honestly, it’s about as close to an ideal stat as you can get when you’re evaluating a team solely with numbers. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have pitfalls.

 

I believe, though I’m not sure and don’t care to research it, that goal differential came about after run differential rose to prominence in baseball. Since “statheads” are much more prevalent in baseball than they are in hockey – this is mostly because it’s much easier to dissect baseball than it is hockey – you much more frequently hear a team deemed a fluke if their run differential doesn’t quite add up to their record. So you’ll hear how a team that has a, say, +20 run differential at the halfway point yet only a .500 record is about to break out. More often than that, you’ll hear how teams overachieve.

 

The Angels (both from Los Angeles and Anaheim at various points) were frequent victims of this assault on our intelligence. As I said, run/goal differential is an extremely quick and dirty way to analyze a team, but it is definitely dirty. Where it fails is in teams that sit at extreme ends of the style spectrum. The Angels were a team that relied heavily on pitching and, stupidly, on small ball. They did not generate offense and did not allow other teams to generate offense. Since they could not generate offense and pitching is inherently volatile, there were nights when they would get blown out, but they frequently could win games by small margins because they just didn’t give up much. Their success was sustainable, it just didn’t give them lots of big wins.

 

The Lightning sit at the other extreme. They are terrible defensively and they don’t have great goaltending – though Roloson was a deft addition. One of their best defensive pairs has both Randy Jones and Pavel Kubina. That’s horrifying. This isn’t really an affront to them, it’s just what they are and it’s what they had to work with. On the other hand, they are tremendously talented offensively. All of their players can contribute. Even fuckin’ Randy Jones. They have exceptional top end talent (one can even argue that their top end talent has underachieved – LOOKING AT YOU VINNY LECAVALIER AND SIMON GAGNE – thus far). They have very good depth on top of that. This basically means their games generally have two courses of action:

 

High-octane, high-action games like the thriller against Philly. Generally when they play as well as they can, against teams that can bring similar offensive talents – enhanced by playing against a terrible defense – they will get these enormously entertaining games. They rarely dominate games, though. Even when they control the flow and pace of the game and keep the puck in the opposing team’s zone, they don’t, or weren’t, getting the stops they needed to blow teams out. So even in games that saw them bring their ‘A’ game, they weren’t blowing teams out and helping that goal differential in a positive direction.

 

Basically, the Lightning can beat any team on a given night. I mean, any team can, but the Lightning aren’t less likely to beat a good team like Philly or Pittsburgh than, say, Detroit. They can stack up.

 

The other path their games take are games like the 8-1 loss against Pittsburgh, although that was obviously an extreme. Even though they are tremendous offensively, there are nights when they either just won’t have it or will come up against a hot goalie or will play against a dominant goalie and so on. Teams with a good forecheck can definitely hem the Bolts in their own zone. Because they are so bad defensively, they have trouble taking the puck away. There are also nights when they get stuck in their own zone and just can’t get the critical save to settle the game down. Nights like these affect their goal differential in an extremely adverse fashion, but they aren’t necessarily indicative of the kind of team Tampa is.

 

Think of it this way. When they’re good, they’re just good. However, when they’re bad, they’re all kinds of awful. Most of this is a result of shoddy goaltending. Yzerman took steps toward correcting this by acquiring Dwayne Roloson, but it certainly doesn’t solve their issues. I mean, come on, he’s like 874 years old. He’s good, but he’s gonna have some really bad nights. Tampa Bay, like Washington the last few years, can win in spite of their goaltending and defense. They bring SO MUCH firepower, that they will win on some nights even when their goaltending just isn’t there. Most teams cannot boast this. However, their goaltending can also lose games on nights that their offense is firing away.

 

Even though they CAN beat any team on a given night, their porous defense makes them susceptible to losing to any team on a given night by a lot. Offense, like pitching in baseball, is volatile. There are stretches when even the best offensive teams just aren’t going to put pucks in the net for whatever reason. There’s much less system and structure relied on in offense, so players can’t just “go back to the system” like they can with defense.

 

This does not make them an inherently bad team. It just means that they’re a different kind of successful. Their wins are legitimate. Their offense is capable of winning games on its own. Their defense is also capable of losing games on its own. They’re definitely a bipolar team, but their success is legitimate (in my opinion anyway). They won’t blow you away, they will give up lots of goals, but they’ll be able to outscore you on a pretty regular basis, even if it’s only by a goal.

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A Burgeoning Market

The evolution of storytelling is an interesting process to follow. Seemingly every new advancement in technology has included a new way to tell a story. In days long gone, men drew crude drawings on walls to represent myths and stories and rules to live by. Before cameras existed, plays and dramas captured the collective imagination of an audience and transported it to a place it could hardly dream of. Men like Shakespeare and Marlowe shaped the minds of generations to come. This is starting to read like a Brit Lit essay, so I’ll try and get to the point.

In the 19th century, many writers (including Wilkie Collins whose novel, Moonstone, I’m on the verge of finishing) released bits of their stories in magazines to engross readers on a weekly basis. It may not seem huge, but the framework for the current mode of storytelling was set.

After serialized novels, there were movies, radio programs, TV shows, and video games among others. Obviously some people have told stories (albeit small ones) on Youtube. I’m disappointed that I didn’t act on the idea when I had it myself, but there have even been stories told on Twitter. I may still have to act on this at some point. Perhaps I should come up with a story first. Crawl before you walk, right?

When I was growing up, it was pretty easy to point to novels as the most respected form of fictional communication. Movies were an increasingly close second. Video games and TV shows rarely received respect in this regard, although they’re clearly two of the more prominent modes of narrative. Now, probably thanks to the advent of films like Date Movie and the like, aspersions have been cast on a lot of movies.  The increasing cost of film — rather, the increasing cost of getting the full experience of a film — has also helped drive people toward other outlets.  At the same time, shows like The Sopranos and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Mad Men have helped provide life to a medium that has not even begun to reach its full potential.

Television started out with popcorn shows like I Love Lucy and the like, rarely daring to dream or achieve very much. Although shows like Seinfeld had some fun, they didn’t really break any new ground or even attempt to. Perhaps the first great attempt at a true, meaningful narrative in the medium was Roots in 1977. M*A*S*H was another solid foray in this regard, actually. In fact, it seems from my limited research that writers had ambition, but the networks themselves were afraid. Since, at the time, writers could not turn to cable television, they were pretty much forced to submit to the will of network heads.

While it is easy to criticize a TV head for not wanting to try something daring, it’s hard to blame them when the public is so slow to accept the medium as a viable means of communication. When you look at the shows on broadcast TV that really try to do something, they rarely draw ratings. The current case would be Fringe on FOX. When it premiered, it was much ballyhooed as the first JJ Abrams show after LOST. It did not initially hook the viewer. A slow start may have ultimately sunk this show, despite the fact that it has evolved into one of the best shows currently going on the networks.  Even cable channels simply cannot commit to a show for an extended period to begin with, so it’s hard — nearly impossible — to plot out a show beyond a season.  Then, if a show is successful, frequently they can’t work to an end that they really want.  They have to keep stuffing new plot points and filler into a show because it makes money.  As such, the artistic integrity of a show is frequently compromised, whether the writers want to help it or not.

Thankfully, in recent years, cable networks like AMC, HBO, and FX have stepped up to grab grittier, better shows to give them a chance. Largely, this has resulted in an explosion in the quality of TV on cable AND on broadcast. FX has been home to some of the better comedies in recent years. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may not always be a beacon of social relevance or importance, but it’s still fucking hilarious. Archer debuted last year and received largely positive critical reviews despite being a somewhat crudely animated cartoon about a perverted, stupid spy and his like-minded peers.

AMC has given birth to two of the most critically acclaimed genres in the history of television with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. HBO may have paved the way with The Sopranos, but they continue to churn out quality serials like Boardwalk Empire and the late series, The Wire.

The success of these popular shows has led several higher-profile actors to pursue new careers in television.  Steve Buscemi wasn’t exactly hurting for work in film, but the popular character actor went to Boardwalk Empire. Elijah Wood recently expressed this same opinion after signing up to star in the new FX show Wilfred.  More and more, you’ll see popular actors gravitate toward a career in TV, as the negative connotation normally associated with television continues to dissipate. 

Why does TV have an advantage over other mediums? Basically, it comes down to the episodes themselves. TV can present a chapter a week (much like the old serial novels released in magazines), and continually hook the viewer. This ultimately lets a skilled writer draw in the viewer for much longer than a movie or even most novels.

So while TV is definitely a flourishing medium for narrative, it has flaws that have not quite been overcome yet. The Wire came close, but the 5th season was not quite up to the standard set by the first four (especially the 4th). It, perhaps, would have benefited from having another season so as to not rush the last new storyline it introduced.

There will be, maybe soon, a perfect show, that is strong for an extended run. The seeds have been planted for television to flourish.  Only time will tell if writers can truly achieve the possibilities the medium presents.

The Widening Gyre

I come bearing gifts.  I own, in my possession, the rare ability to think without clarity, realize it, and act on it anyway.  My gift to you, ideally you actually exist, is the ability to express my lack of clarity articulately and with alacrity.  I also like hockey, and will talk about that when the situation calls for it (probably more often than my alarmingly unalarming life, actually).

 

As a gift to me, I give myself this blog.  I need to broaden my horizons, and more importantly I need to write.  At one time, in the long long ago (5 years ago), in the far far away (the bedroom down the hall that used to be mine), I wanted to be a writer.  I even wrote somewhat regularly.  I don’t know if I wrote well, but I wrote.  Now, I write about as often as the Chicago Cubs win playoff games.  P.S. I used to be a Cubs fan.  Now I hate baseball.  Weird, right?

 

As I said, ideally you are actually out there, existing, enjoying my blog, sharing my mind, and much more faux-poetic nonsense that I have to save for another time.  One can’t waste all of one’s F-material on an introduction post.  Hopefully, the general population of yous will grow over time and I will enjoy this writing thing and keep at it.  Occasionally, I have something worthwhile to say.  So stick around.  Or don’t.  Other blogs might have blackjack and hookers.