imaginary numbers: maple leaf math edition

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“Very proud,” Brendan Shanahan was telling the media at the Air Canada Centre, “very happy today. Happy to introduce Mike as the 30th coach in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history. Thank you, Mike. Welcome.”

Except, of course, that Babcock is the 31st man to coach the Leafs. Dick Duff is the odd man out, relegated to a footnote in the team’s media-guide list of head coaches, untallied in the overall count that runs, now, from Alex Romeril to the pride of Manitouwadge, Ontario (Babcock’s hometown) by way of Saskatoon (where he grew up).

The Leafs, of course, are free to count their coaches in any way they so choose. But the case for leaving Duff out is cloudy, at best; the logic for including him in is at least persuasive as that associated with several other names who are on the list.

Duff’s tenure was brief, just two came in March of 1980, as detailed here. It came on suddenly, overnight, when the incumbent Floyd Smith was injured in a car accident on a Friday night. Smith had a couple of assistants that year, Duff and Johnny Bower, and on the Saturday morning ahead of an evening game, GM Punch Imlach put Duff in charge. “I told the players that Duff had absolute control of the team,” Imlach told reporters, “and I wanted them to do exactly what he told them.”

Still, it was a stopgap measure, no question about that, an emergency measure, a battlefield commission. Much like (minus the highway accident) the situation that the San Jose Sharks found themselves in December of 2002. In that case, GM Dean Lombardi had fired his head coach, Darryl Sutter, and a pair of assistants, named a Shark scout, Cap Raeder, as a temporary replacement. He did the job for precisely one game, a 3-2 overtime win over Phoenix, before Lombardi got a new coach, Ron Wilson, into place. According to the Sharks’ media guide, he was the seventh coach in team history, just as the man who succeeds the eighth (Todd McLellan) will be the ninth — i.e. no bumping about in the footnotes for Cap Raeder.

Brevity shouldn’t sink Duff’s cause. Maybe, then, Leaf management and asterisk lobbyists would argue that everybody knew that Duff wasn’t going to last, he was no more than a placeholder, a bookmark, filling a space behind the Leaf bench until the new, real coach showed up.

On that basis, Alex Romeril shouldn’t count, either — he was only doing the job in the latter days of the 1927 season until Conn Smythe finished up his coaching commitment with the University of Toronto Grads. And what about Peter Horachek, this year? Like Duff, he was an assistant who found himself appointed interim coach when, in his case, GM Dave Nonis fired Randy Carlyle this past January. Nobody expected him be in the job beyond the end of the season. He was, but only for a day or so: Brendan Shanahan fired him and Nonis on the Sunday after the Leafs played their final game.

Ah-ha (as the Leafs might say, and do, in this imaginary debate I’m having with them, whether they know it or not) — ha-ha, but Punch Imlach never spoke the magic word, whatever the GM might have mentioned about absolute control, Dick Duff was never officially anointed with those three all-important syllables: interim.

Is that true, though? On Monday, March 17, 1980, the day Duff coached his second and last game in the NHL, newspapers across the continent published a brief Associated Press notice that included the words Dick and Duff and named and interim coach. The AP would have got their information from some reputable source — maybe the PR people at the NHL? Likewise The Toronto Star, wherein readers of the small print in the sports pages might have seen this:

duff interim

Is that enough to pluck Duff out of the margins and get him properly numbered as the fifteenth coach in Leaf history? I don’t know. Maybe Mike Babcock could put a word in for him. Continue reading

remarks by the president (laughter)

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The Los Angeles Kings play the Capitals tonight in Washington, but yesterday they were at the White House, visiting President Barack Obama, as you do when you’ve won the Stanley Cup. Now’s not the time to wonder why the tradition doesn’t extend to Rideau Hall and the Governor-General, too; would it also be impolitic (or at least not cool) to mention that 14 of 23 2014 Kings to have their names etched into the Cup are Canadian-born to just five Americans? Yes, probably.

The Kings took L.A.’s MLS soccer champions, the Galaxy, along with them. From the hockey players the President received (1) an engraved silver stick and (2) a miniature replica of the Stanley Cup with all those 23 (mostly Canadian) names on it. A full transcript of the President’s remarks is available, including soccer quips and praises. From his hockey narration, including original White-House sound effects:

The Kings needed overtime to win their championship — they needed two of them, in fact. And that was the easy part — just to get to the Finals, the Kings had to win three straight Game 7s — all on the road. They dug themselves out of a 3-0 hole against San José in the first round — they’re laughing because they’re thinking, man, let’s try to do it easier next time. (Laughter.) In the Conference Final, they beat my Blackhawks, which is unfortunate. (Laughter.) I mean, first of all, in L.A., there’s not even any ice really. (Laughter.) So you’d think, like, Chicago, where it’s probably 10 degrees below zero today, at least we’d get some hockey. But we’ve won a couple so I can’t complain.

The Kings have done the unthinkable — they have turned a city with no snow and no ice and no winter into a hockey town — (laughter) — complete with an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium. They have done it with a team that L.A. fans have embraced — guys like goalie Jonathan Quick, playoff MVP Justin Williams. The first line of Brown and Kopitar and Gaborik, and Jeff Carter and his “hockey smile.” And of course, Coach Sutter and his one-liners with the press. (Laughter.) I’ve tried the one-liners, by the way, with the press and it never seems to work. (Laughter.)

 

this week: giggling, sometimes, on the internet, looking at gordie’s numbers

Cherry

Coach, Cornered: Award-winning Victoria, B.C. artist Brandy Saturley is, in her own words, “a prolific painter and guerrilla-style photographer.” Hockey is a subject she returns to again and again on canvas. “Desaturated Cherry” was part of a December, 2013 show in Edmonton, #ICONICCANUCK. “My Dad loves Don Cherry,” she was explaining recently. “As a kid growing up I loathed sitting there listening to him when I could be watching Video Hits. As an adult, Cherry continued to infiltrate my life through the media and with his loud custom-made suits. He was pretty hard to ignore.” Thinking about painting national icons, she read up on his life and career. “I came to find myself respecting a great Canadian and a great businessman, so much a part of the Canadian landscape and hockey heritage. Painting Cherry in black and white against a loud CBC logo allowed me to focus on the serious side of Cherry and the real man behind the persona, with the CBC becoming the loudness in the room.” For more of Brandy Saturley’s arresting work, hockey and otherwise, visit http://www.brandysaturley.com. On Twitter, she’s @artofbrandys.

We learned, this week, that the Toronto Maple Leafs have new slogans adorning the walls of their dressing room this season:

Blue noise

If you are not in you’re in the way

Unite a city

That’s how James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail reported them; as a big fan of punctuation, I’m really hoping that on the wall itself, the middle one has a comma.

Training camp had come and was gone, this week, time for the NHL to drop the puck for its 97th season, though not before the @NHLBruins let the world know that Milan Lucic was looking forward to, quote, “taking a hit, getting in on the forecheck, battling on the wall, knowing where you are in the D zone again.”

From Los Angeles, we heard from @AnzeKopitar:

One of the best thing [sic] about hockey season… Afternoon nap! #boom

King's bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

King’s bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

The Kings handed out rings, too. That was another L.A. thing from the week. “This is pretty special,” tweeted @DustinBrown23. “But my favorite ring…… Is still the next one.”

Which, according to EA Sports, is coming. Possibly. If the simulation they ran on their NHL 15 video game means anything, which it can’t, really, can it, other than as a clever bit of product marketing that the NHL and actual purveyors of news were happy to promote. In EA’s virtual 2014-15 NHL season, the Kings ended up beating the Bruins in six games to win the Stanley Cup again. A story on NHL.com deemed this a “prediction” while explaining:

EA Sports conducts its simulation using artificial intelligence and real-life player data. In an attempt to provide realism to the game, injuries and hot streaks are also thrown into the mix. EA Sports NHL 15 is also the first edition of the popular series to use 12 Player NHL Collision Physics and Real Puck Physics to more authentically replicate the unpredictability of what happens on the ice.

In Toronto, a former King, Matt Frattin, was back with the team that gave him his NHL start. Kevin McGran from The Toronto Star listened to Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle on his disappointing September:

Frattin has had a mediocre camp. He needs to find a way to regenerate some enthusiasm. I feel sorry for him right now. The puck is not his friend. It’s going away from him versus bouncing for him.

Bruce A. Heyman, new U.S. ambassador to Canada/old Chicago Blackhawks fan, tweeted from Ottawa:

Ok… It’s beginning!!! #Hockey season is about to begin. Excited to experience it here in #Canada #myfirstcanadianwinter.

The New York Islanders traded for two defenceman on Puck-Drop Eve, acquiring Nick Leddy from Chicago and Johnny Boychuk from Boston.

@StanFischler thought that boded well:

#Garth Snow’s latest double-dip, Boychuk-Leddy spells playoff-bound. Solid up front and in goal.

Leddy (@ledpipe08) was quick to tweet:

I want to thank the @NHLBlackhawks and all the fans for everything! Excited to start my new adventure with the @NYIslanders

Boychuk had mixed feelings. He told Joe Haggerty from Comcast Sportsnet about his bond with Boston.

It’s tough because this is the place where I started my career. I grew to love Boston. This is a pretty easy place to play. The fans really took me in, and I worked as hard as I could so people would appreciate me. This is the kind of town where they like those types of players.

They liked that I would throw big hits on people, and sacrifice my body to help us win. It’s a working man’s town, and I always felt that love. I think it was just a really good fit for me, and the people are just fucking awesome.

Continue reading

this week: ig-gy and the oilsands, chicken parm and forensic doctors

jarome iToronto defenceman Mark Fraser told Jonas Siegel from TSN.ca about shot-blocking. “In the moment,” he said, “it’s just a reaction, you just do it. It’s hard to explain why, it’s just the ingrained craziness of a hockey player. Honestly. Some kinds literally do it with their face.”

Scotty Bowman talked this week about Gordie Howe, who turns 85 tomorrow. “He was a terrific player — size, strength, offence, defence, toughness, ability to score, ability to make plays. If you were going to make a model of a hockey player for every category, you wouldn’t be able to get a model better than him.”

On Sunday, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman fired his coach, Guy Boucher. “Guy is a good man,” said Yzerman. “He’s a good hockey coach. He’s an intelligent guy. He’s a hard worker. It just isn’t working.”

“It was a bit shocking,” said Lightning forward Teddy Purcell, “but we have to have a short memory and move forward. This was a good character test for us.”

Mark Streit of the New York Islanders told reporters this week that his team would try to take “time and space” away from Sidney Crosby — leaving him, I guess, no dimensions in which to operate.

Turns out Alexei Kovalev didn’t retire so much as the Florida Panthers retired him. Having signed up with the Panthers in January, Kovalev, who’s 40, played 14 games for them. He scored two goals, assisted on three others. Then in February the team told him to stay home. “They never really explained to me.” At a Montreal Canadiens alumni game, he told reporters he hopes to play in Europe next season. “I’m not ready for this kind of event. I feel that I can still play the real game.”

On Monday, the media in Calgary waited to talk to Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla to ask him are you being traded?/where to?/how do you feel?/sad?/is it Los Angeles?/any anger, at all?/do you wish you’d won the Stanley Cup?/probably Chicago, then?/why didn’t you win the Stanley Cup?/are you bitter?/does it sting?/will you miss us?/Boston?/what will you miss the most?/Pittsburgh isn’t out of the question, is it?

“Iginla declines to talk with media after Flames’ morning skate,” tweeted Scott Burnside from ESPN.

Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero traded for Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. “Analytics doesn’t come in to this for me. You can’t measure the heart, the character, the fit on your team you’re looking for.”

“Sad to see Crank go,” San Jose’s Logan Couture twittered about Murray’s departure.

“The more you watch Jake Gardiner,” said former Leafs’ assistant general manager Bill Watters, “the more you see a young Red Kelly.” Continue reading

this week: the good old hockey game

Credit: Brenda Jones and Nimbus Publishing

“We never go away, we never give up, we keep coming at them,” said Chicago’s captain, Jonathan Toews, of his team’s phenomenal start to the season.

From Boston, defenceman Andrew Ference twiddled about a post-prandial affogato, explaining what exactly that might be: gelato with two shots espresso. “Life is good!”

PETA wrote a letter to the Buffalo Sabres to say please would you do away with the fur coat that you guys award in the dressing room after a game to the player who played the best. Because? “People who care about animals don’t want to see their favorite players wearing the pelts of animals who were likely bludgeoned, strangled, electrocuted, and even skinned alive.” Said a PETA vice-president: “There’s nothing less sporting and more grotesque than wearing someone else’s skin. PETA is telling the Sabres that if they want to move forward and leave the past behind, they need to stop draping their top-scoring players in cruel caveman couture.”

The coat, said the Sabres’ Steve Ott, is fake fur.

“We’re going to Florida to win all the games and score 45,000 powerplay goals,” Claude Noel said, the Winnipeg coach with what might have been a smile. Continue reading

the three fs of tt

A home away from hockey: this 1955 oil painting by Jacques Plante himself hung in his home in Sierre, Switzerland, where he moved after his second retirement in 1975 and lived until his death in 1986. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

He was 36 that June when he decided he needed a break from defending a hockey net. He’d seen enough pucks go by him, felt too many of the ones that didn’t. His face was scarred, his body bruised. He was tired of the travel. He told his team’s general manager that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

No, not Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, though he did decide much the same thing in the last few days. This was Jacques Plante, in 1965, a New York Ranger by that point. Here’s The New York Times, the day after Plante gave Rangers’ GM Emile Francis the news:

Throughout his career, Plante has suffered real and imagined injuries. He had asthma attacks, many of them in Toronto (he insisted he was allergic to the city) that he freely admitted were psychosomatic. Last season, he was hobbled with leg injuries. He recently underwent surgery on his right knee in New York.

Said a Rangers spokesman: “Jacques is a funny guy. He could turn around and change his mind. Emile hopes he does.” Continue reading