Let’s talk about FoxTrax

I know, I know.  It’s a dirty word for long time NHL fans, but as much as we would like to pretend it didn’t happen, FoxTrax was a thing.  Not only was it a thing – a poorly executed thing – it was very innovative in the world of sports.  Granted, hockey itself has pretty much stuck to a score and time overlay that’s expandable to include a power play timer, but things you see in other sports are direct decedents of FOX’s glowing abomination on ice.  Now, over 20 years later, there is talk about similar technology returning to the National Hockey League.

Sports broadcasting innovation

The year is 1996.  FOX had the broadcasting rights to the NHL in the United States, and aimed to come up with a solution for a common complaint about hockey back in the days of fuzzy old standard definition televisions.  The complaint?  Casual viewers couldn’t keep track of the puck.  I mean, I’m sure anyone can miss a black dot on a white sheet of ice, right?  I digress.  People apparently couldn’t follow the action, and FOX, along with a company called Etak, set out to solve that problem.

Splitting a puck directly in half (as one would slice a bagel), an array of infrared emitters, a shock sensor, and a circuit board and battery were placed inside, the two halves of the puck then glued back together with an epoxy.  Carefully considered were the weight and balance of the puck, as NHL Chief Engineer Rick Cavallaro stated that the players could tell if it was even off by a slight amount.  Specialized cameras picked up the infrared emissions from the puck. FOX’s “Puck Truck” overlaid appropriate (for lack of a better term) on-screen graphics based on data from the cameras.   The result was a blue hue around the puck at all times, along with a blue tail to track passes, and a red comet tail on shots 70MPH or higher.

It was a technological breakthrough, and a monumental moment in the eventual history of televised sports.  Hockey fans hated it.

Reactions to the innovation

Sure, casual fans were better able to follow the action.  In fact, 7 out of 10 FOX viewers surveyed said they liked the addition of the glowing puck.  Hell, 14 year old me thought it was “cool.”  35 year old me, not so much.  Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski wasn’t a big fan either.  “Imagine if you were watching the Super Bowl and every time the running back disappeared in a pile of tacklers he started glowing like a blueberry from Chernobyl.”

“The inference being that (Americans are) too hockey-stupid to follow the play or that we need to be distracted by shiny new toys in order to watch the sport.”

The future of NHL Broadcasts

FoxTrax died a quiet death at the end of the 1997-98 season as ABC took over NHL broadcasts in the United States.  Oddly enough, it’s an article from ABC-owned ESPN that inspired this post.  The article notes that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “While it was the subject of much discussion, and some derision, in 1996, the technology of Fox Sports’ glowing puck was the precursor of the first-down line that has become standard practice for any football broadcast, and any number of innovations.  Actually, we are working on a dramatically updated version of that technology, and we have plans to roll out updated player and puck tracking. We are literally going back to the future.”

Before reading the article, I’d responded to the link shared on Facebook with essentially the same sentiments as Gary Bettman.  I know, I feel dirty.  I referenced the on-field overlays used in football, and the strike zone overlay used in FOX’s coverage of Major League Baseball as technology that was not only created, but actually done well in the wake of FoxTrax.  The most interesting takeaway from Bettman’s quote, however, is that they “have plans to roll out updated player and puck tracking.”

Say what?

Bettman likely isn’t referring to bringing back FoxTrax in it’s original form, with modified puck and red-glowing shot trails.  I feel it’s more akin to things we’ve already seen from the league.  Showing player statistics such as ice time, skating speed, shot speed, and things of that nature.  Personally, I found it helpful (though not absolutely necessary) when the FoxTrax puck would glow along the near boards, rendering it visible for fans at home who don’t have x-ray vision to see through wooden boards on their television.

Overall, I don’t hate the idea of implementing new old technical innovations into an NHL broadcast.  However, taking a minimally invasive approach may be the key to doing it correctly.

General, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs

Oh, Canada: How A Nation’s Two Banner Franchises, On Opposite Ends of the Standings, Can BOTH Be In Trouble Already

On the eve of their first meeting of the 2017/2018 regular season, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs are both in trouble. Period. That the trouble doesn’t make itself smack-you-in-the-lips apparent, does not mean that the trouble isn’t there.

Let’s start with Montreal, where the problem IS smack-you-in-the-lips apparent: the Habs can’t score. They’ve generated four goals (aside from a Jonathan Drouin shootout winner) in four games — good for last in the NHL. For a short time, they shared that mark with San Jose; perhaps the worst thing about that being that San Jose had only played two games at the time. They would have needed to be shut out in back-to-back games for those numbers to remain the way they were.

Carey Price — in seasons past, playing well enough to mostly mask the Canadiens’ offensive struggles — has played more than a few steps behind by the numbers. In facing around 27 shots per game, Price has allowed 11 goals, sporting a 3.30 GAA and a save percentage of sub-.900. A markedly slow start for an all-world goaltender with a career GAA nearly a full point below where it currently sits.

What is painfully clear to Habs fans is this: when Price doesn’t play perfect hockey, the offense has not only not been able to bail them out. The offensive output thusfar has DEMANDED that Price play perfect hockey, which he has not done. As a result, Montreal is off to a 1-3 start and sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

On the other side, there are the young, run-and-gun Toronto Maple Leafs: 3-1, out to the early Atlantic division lead, and scoring at an incredible pace.

How can this team also be in trouble?

“Run-and-gun” was not a randomly-chosen phrase; the Leafs are nearly atop the league in goal-scoring, having netted 22 in four games (four more than the nearest Eastern Conference opponent). They are also tied for fourth place in terms of most goals allowed. It adds up to an AVERAGE of four goals allowed per game; indeed, the Leafs have played only one game where they have allowed fewer than three. On an offense that has already generated games of 8- and 7-goals, this may seem like less of a problem than Montreal’s inability to score. But what happens when the goals *aren’t* there?

When they aren’t there, the New Jersey game happens: a 6-3 loss to a team that they should beat, where they allowed twice as many goals as they scored, despite nearly doubling their opponent in shots.

Since the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season, teams that lead the league in goal scoring have averaged 3.29 goals per game. The 16/17 Penguins were the outlier, having averaged 3.43 last season. Toronto is currently averaging a ridiculous 5.5 goals per game — a pace that we know from empirical evidence is not sustainable. Not since the 2009/10 Capitals has a team even topped 3.5 over an entire season, and even that team did not come close to even a full 4.

If we are overly-friendly to this year’s Leafs, and meet in the middle between their current pace of 5.5 and the 2009/10 Capitals pace of 3.87, the Leafs would average 4.69 goals per game. If we reduce that number to the scoring leader’s average since the Lockout, it still sits at 4.4. Those paces would meet or exceed the highest in modern history — again, paces which we know are not sustainable in the modern NHL. While that may put a smile on the faces of Leafs Nation, don’t forget: Toronto is ALLOWING four per game. Therein lies the problem: the Leafs can’t keep the puck out of their own net; a persistent problem dating back well beyond this season.

Freddie Andersen has been, in a word, awful this season. Facing 31 shots a game (therefore getting little help from the team in front of him), Andersen has allowed all 16 of Toronto’s goals against, sitting with a GAA just under 4 and a save percentage barely north of .870. While the offensive players have enjoyed a banner year to this point, the defense has at times looked completely lost and hung their goaltender out to dry. By the same token, at times, the defense has mostly done their job, and Andersen has simply not been able to come up with saves. The Leafs are allowing far too many shots on their goaltender, and their goaltender is allowing far too many to light the lamp behind him.

So, the question is begged: which problem would you rather have?
Would you rather struggle to score goals, or score plenty and struggle to keep other teams from scoring as well?
More to the point: would you rather be Montreal or Toronto, RIGHT NOW?

My answer came in digging a little deeper.

As we have mentioned, Andersen (who has played every second of the Leafs season so far) has faced just over 31 shots per game, where Price has faced 27 (and if you add in the short amount of work for Montoya, the team allows 29 shots per game total so far). That’s not a big difference — but any good armchair GM would take the lesser of those two numbers.

Three of Toronto’s four games have seen them allow 30 shots — two of those, allowing at least 35. After allowing a ridiculous 45 shots in their opening game, Montreal has yet to allow another opponent to get to 26.

It may seem foolish to compare the two teams on any level offensively, but would it surprise you to learn that Toronto is only outshooting Montreal by less than three shots per game? While the Leafs average 41.5 shots per game, Montreal is within striking distance at 38.8. In this light, Montreal’s problem is less about generating offense, and more about finishing their opportunities. Montreal is shooting at a ridiculously-low 2.58% — lower than any roster player to score a goal for them last season aside from one (Alexei Emelin). Bringing their shooting percentage up to last season’s 9%, a pace of 38.8 shots/game results in 3.5 goals/game. Even halving that percentage would be an upgrade that could be worked with.

There are a few points to be made here. Neither team is as good or as bad as they seem, as we’ve traversed less than 5% of the regular season. The Leafs are not going to finish with 60 wins any more than the Habs will finish with 60 losses. And both teams have significant reason to be concerned, no matter what the early standings say.

As far as which problem I would rather have and which team I would rather be? I can say a few things for sure. Having a +6 goal differential after four games would be nice to have — except if it took me 22 goals to get there. I’d rather have to focus on finishing my own chances, than to worry about whether my goaltender is going to make the next save. I’d rather give up the fewest shots against that I possibly can, and I’d rather have nowhere but up to go, than nowhere but down.

Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, NHL

Free John Scott

John Scott:  NHL All Star Captain.

John Scott: NHL All Star Captain.

In 2012, John Scott became a Buffalo Sabre.  As a Sabres fan who sat through a team with a distinct lack of goals the previous season, the first question on my mind was of course, “why?”  Scott had been up and down between the NHL and AHL since 2008 and had one goal in the big league to show for it.  His signing, I believe, was an overreaction to a hit by then-Bruin Milan Lucic on then-Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller the previous season, an attempt to “toughen up” the Buffalo Sabres.

To say that Scott’s tenure in Buffalo was less than stellar is an understatement.  With one goal and 194 penalty minutes across two seasons, the highlight of John Scott the Sabre was being ripped to shreds by Mike Milbury following a nationally televised game against the Boston Bruins for a hit on a defenseless Loui Eriksson.

Needless to say, I’ve never been the biggest fan of John Scott.  However, when you leave the people on the internet to their own devices, things happen. The National Hockey League opened up all star voting to the fans, and allowed them to vote for any player they chose as a captain for the player’s respective divisions in the new 3-on-3 tournament format.  That opened the door for fans to find the most ridiculous choice and vote him in.  Believe me, I was one of the people voting on a daily basis for John Scott, along with Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

So what happens?  John Scott wins the all-star voting.  Not just for the Pacific Division – he was the number one vote getter in all of the NHL.  Those of us who voted for him felt a sense of pride.  Suddenly, despite the fact we were initially voting for him as a joke, we had a sense of pride.  John Scott was our all-star.  We made that happen, and we were not only proud of that fact, we were proud of him.  Sure, he’s not the best hockey player, and yes, maybe Mike Milbury had a point in calling him a goon, but John Scott is a good guy, taking it all with good humor, and humbly accepting the honor bestowed upon him by the NHL fans.

People are often critical of the National Football League, referring to the NFL as the “No Fun League.”  I propose we start calling the NHL the “No Humor League,” because while we’re having fun putting guys like John Scott where they don’t necessarily belong, the league steps in and conveniently convinces the Arizona Coyotes to send Scott to the Montreal Canadiens, which throws a wrench into our plans.  Here’s what they don’t tell you.  Scott’s wife is pregnant with twins and due to give birth All-Star weekend.  Now, this poor woman, 9 months pregnant, has to go through the ordeal of her husband being traded to a team 2600 miles away, being uprooted from their home in Arizona, and for what?  So John Scott can’t play in the NHL All Star Game?

This ordeal is a bigger embarassment to the National Hockey League than John Scott could ever be.  I wish he were on Twitter, because I’d like to personally apologize for him for the way this has affected him and his family.  I voted for John Scott ten times a day every day.  I was looking forward to seeing him get his moment in the spotlight.  Now it’s all been taken away from him – and us.


Press Release: Kraft Hockeyville USA


One U.S. Community Will Win Opportunity to Host NHL® Pre-Season Game Televised on NBCSN, $150,000 in Arena Upgrades and Coveted Title as First-Ever “Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA”

NORTHFIELD, Ill. – January 1, 2015 – Announced today, at the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® featuring the Chicago Blackhawks® and Washington Capitals® broadcast on NBC, the puck officially dropped for Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA – the search for America’s most passionate hockey community. Uniting an all-star roster of partners including the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), National Hockey League (NHL®), NBC Sports Group, and USA Hockey, Kraft’s award-winning, Canadian-born HockeyvilleTM program has expanded into the U.S. for the first time to help build better hockey communities across the country. Beginning today, hockey communities across the U.S. can vie for the esteemed title of “Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA” and enter for a chance to win the grand prize of hosting an NHL® Pre-Season game televised live on NBCSN and $150,000 in arena upgrades.

“Seeing all these passionate hockey fans cheering on their team in the brisk winter air reminds me of the way so many of us fell in love with the sport,” said Dino Bianco, Executive Vice President and President, Kraft Beverages. “Fans like this coming together for their shared love of hockey is what inspired us to launch Kraft Hockeyville in the U.S. and celebrate the unity that hockey brings to communities across the country.”

Kraft also drafted a friend – NHL® legend and NBC Sports analyst, Jeremy Roenick – to help spread the word across the country. “Growing up in Boston, hockey was a way of life for children and families, and it brought together my community in a way that nothing else could. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the lessons I learned and the experiences I gained at Pilgrim Arena from coaches like my dad, Wally Roenick, Paul Kramer, and Arthur Valicenti. Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA will help communities keep these traditions alive, and that is something I am excited to be a part of working with Kraft.”

How Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA Works

Like a hockey game, Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA has three periods. In the first period, communities across the country are encouraged to enter by sharing unique stories about their local rink, teams, hockey spirit and passion and submitting their nominations now through March 18, 2015, at www.KraftHockeyville.com, where complete contest rules and nomination applications are available.

Ten community finalists will be chosen to kick off the second action-packed period, which includes three rounds of public voting:

· Round 1 (April 14-16, 2015) – Top four communities chosen to move on to the next round; remaining six each receive $20,000 toward arena upgrades.

· Round 2 (April 21-22, 2015) – Top two finalists selected; remaining two each receive $40,000 toward arena upgrades.

· Round 3 (April 27-29, 2015) – One community will emerge as the first-ever “Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA”; runner-up will receive $75,000 toward arena upgrades.

In the final period, the winning community will be announced – on May 2, 2015 – and receive the grand prize of the chance to host an NHL® Pre-Season game televised on NBCSN and receive $150,000 in arena upgrades from Kraft.

Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA is meant to not only ignite a passion for hockey in America, but also bring a renewed sense of pride to communities. Since launching in Canada in 2006, Kraft HockeyvilleTM has positively impacted 43 communities with more than $1.6 million donated in arena upgrades. Kraft also hopes that its diverse portfolio of products will help unite hockey fans in their celebrations of the sport and their communities. The campaign will celebrate consumers’ excitement around a variety of iconic Kraft brands, including A1, Bulls-Eye BBQ Sauce, Cracker Barrel, Jell-O, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Kraft Mayo, Kraft Natural Cheese, Kraft Salad Dressings, Kraft Singles, Maxwell House, Miracle Whip, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia, Planters, Stove Top and Velveeta.

For contest rules, information on nominating your community and complete program details, visit www.KraftHockeyville.com. Kraft HockeyvilleTM USA can also be found at Facebook.com/KraftHockeyvilleUSA and on Twitter (@HockeyvilleUSA). You can join the conversation using #HockeyvilleUSA.


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