Author Archives: Savannah Malnar

About Savannah Malnar

Savannah Malnar is a freshman in the Sport Management program at Bowling Green State University. She is aspiring to work in the National Hockey League but enjoys watching all sports and analyzing them, especially statistically.

Hockey: A Numbers Game?

By Savannah Malnar

February 2, 2015

Statistics play a large role in sports. People are hired just to analyze stats and make team and player predictions based on simply numbers. For a long time, baseball has been the frontrunner in using more advanced statistics as a part of the game. Whenever a player is up to bat, dozens of numbers appear on your television screen; combinations and decimals all formed from a few swings of a bat. While baseball has embraced this sort of statistical nature, other sports have been slow to adopt it. One of these sports is hockey.

When it comes to hockey, most fans have only wanted to know three things on a player-to-player basis: goals, assists, and penalty minutes. As for teams, they just want the points and maybe some fact mentioned by their Fox Sports announcer about a winning or losing streak. But that has been slowly changing over the past few years.

Analysts have emerged themselves in the sport of hockey taking advantage of and perfecting some of the more “fancy” stats that have always existed. The most predominant being corsi and its variations. For being an advanced stat, corsi is extremely simple (and maybe that’s why it’s become attractive to the hockey community): blocked shots + missed shots + shots on goal. Usually shown as a percentage or a decimal compared to total shots in a game and is the best available statistic to measure puck possession. Mess around with the numbers a little and you can calculate individual corsi, team corsi, and see how it changes in different stages of the game.

Now with that sliver of context, it’s time to ask: why does it matter? And the answer is an honest one, it hasn’t, at least to the league. Until now, these stats have been calculated and distributed by fans. Some coaches and players have said they pay attention and use them, some had no idea what they meant. But fans have a growing desire of a better understanding of the game past the “score goals and maim the other team” mentality, and the NHL has decided to cater to that. The league has promised a revamp to their website’s stat page, and it will include corsi and many other statistics that seem ridiculous to the casual fan but craved by the diehard fan.

This news isn’t getting much coverage. Yahoo! Sports and NBC Sports both featured a short article about it, but that was it. No local media from any team picked up on the fact that the NHL is finally accepting that the game is moving towards a more statistical standpoint thanks to a fan-based push for it. This should be a much bigger deal, it shows just how powerful the fans of any sport can be in determining how it is analyzed and, eventually, coached and played across professional leagues.

Redefining the “Time” in Our Nation’s Pastime

By Savannah Malnar

Baseball has a reputation as a relatively relaxing sport, the kind of sport that one enjoys on a summer day with a cold drink. Unfortunately, many people now feel that relaxed pace is boring. Games stretch to three hours long, compared to the classic days when games were roughly two and a half hours long. To counter this growing trend of long games, the owners of MLB teams have one bright idea: make the pitches come faster.

Pitch clocks were first introduced in the Arizona Fall League (an offseason league owned by the MLB where high level prospects play) in 2014 and the average game time dropped almost a full half an hour. These clocks gave the pitcher 20 seconds to get set to get the pitch off after they receive the ball from the catcher, and if they don’t, a ball is added to the batter’s count. With fast-paced culture we live in now, even that reduced game length is a good amount of time for escapism. In fact, a poll of 1,500 people conducted by a blogger for SB Nation showed that more than half of them thought the perfect length of a baseball game would be between 2:30 and 2:45 which aligns perfectly to the average produced by these pitch clocks.

So, perfect, right? Not quite. Unfortunately, MLB pitchers are not used to being rushed at the mound. While this is the case, many sport media outlets highlighted the fact that the MLB actually already has a rule in place for how quickly a pitch should be thrown. Rule 8.04 gives the umpire the right to add a ball to the batter’s count if the pitcher doesn’t pitch within 12 seconds. That’s not even accomplished by even the fastest pitcher (according to Baseball Prospectus), Mark Buehrle of Toronto, who on average gets his pitches flying within 15-16 seconds. Even farther from this official rule are many closers (which makes the end of games drag even longer) and pitchers like Cy Young winner David Price who’s pace is an average 24 seconds, longer than the proposed pitch clock allows.

A concern among the media is that this pitch clock will throw off pitchers like Price. Baseball is an extremely mental game, and these highly trained athletes all have their own routines; some just take longer than others. But it may be time to phase out the waiting game some pitchers play.

The pitch clock will be implemented in Double-A and Single-A minor league games this coming season as a trial run. If the MLB observes a reduce in game time without much sacrifice in game quality, I think we can expect to see the 20 second rule implemented in the Major leagues as soon as 2016.

The Crashing Toronto Maple Leafs: Is it Really the Coaching?

By Savannah Malnar

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a great history as an Original Six hockey team in the NHL. Unfortunately lately they have had more downs than ups and have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967. With this drought has come a multitude of personnel changes. Toronto fans are used to coaches being temporary, so it was no shock to them when coach Randy Carlyle, coach of only roughly two and a half seasons, was terminated.

His success with the Anaheim Ducks (who he led to a Stanley Cup) did not transfer to the Leafs. Fans and management hoped his defensive mind would bring a new perspective to the Leafs’ locker room, but instead the team only made the playoffs once under his coaching and then in the 2013-2014 season went 2-12 to end the season and fall out of what looked like to be a clinched playoff spot.

This was when management and fans really began to look at Carlyle’s effectiveness. The decision to fire Carlyle followed a barely winning record of 21-16-3 that left the Leafs grasping onto a wild card playoff spot to start the 2014-2015 season; it was most likely heavily influenced by recently hired (as of the end of the 2013-2014 season) President of the team, hall of fame player and previous Director of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan.

Prominent hockey writer Greg Wyshynski for Yahoo! Sports authored an article titled: “Randy Carlyle fired by Toronto Maple Leafs, finally.” A writer for CBS Sports says this shows the Leafs have “learned from their mistakes.” So it seems the national media agrees with the call. A different view comes from an article from a more local source, the Toronto Star. Rosie DiManno instead goes straight to the top, calling out Brendan Shanahan for not doing enough in his first season as President. She stated she believes General Manager Dave Nonis could be the next piece to go if Shanahan really wants to turn Toronto around. In her words, “And Carlyle, for his sins, was miscast as the old-style coach who could reach deep inside this lineup and come up with a fistful of guts. That’s on management, those who’ve departed and those still here.”

DiManno appears to be among the loyal Toronto fans and media who are desperate for a turnaround for a team with such a strong past. Perhaps Carlyle being sacked will be the beginning of that, or maybe they just have to wait for something bigger.

Did the 2015 Winter Classic Get the Attention it Deserved?

By Savannah Malnar

Outdoor games used to be a rare occurrence in the NHL, which produced only the annual Winter Classic and the occasional Heritage Classic which traditionally showcases Canadian teams only. The 2013-2014 NHL season brought the induction of the Stadium Series, a set of outdoor games meant to be set in varying cities across the league.

Perhaps this new stadium series can explain the lack of hype and attention surrounding the 2015 Winter Classic. The Washington Capitals hosted the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and despite the fact that this was a game between two playoff contenders in our nation’s capital, there was not a lot of attention surrounding it.

The national media lacked enthusiasm leading up to the game. Even local outlets did not cover it as much as previous Winter Classics have been covered. The game itself ended up being a close game, tied until seconds left in the third when Capital’s forward Troy Brouwer scored the game winning goal allowing the Caps to leave the game with a final score of 3-2. Yahoo! Sports published a short summary of the game, but said it was, “maybe the most quality game between two teams in the annual event,” which is interesting to hear about such a low-key “major” event.

There are a few reasons this Winter Classic in specific was not as well publicized. The first may be, as mentioned before, the induction of the Stadium Series. Perhaps the novelty of an outdoor game has run out. Or, it could have been the location and teams playing. In past years the annual game has frequently pitted rival teams together in larger venues. This calls for more attention from both fans of the sport and the media. The Capitals and the Blackhawks are far from rivals; they have never been in the same conference and have ever competed in the playoffs against each other. They only meet twice per season under the new collective bargaining agreement.

While this game may not have been as big of a deal as past Classics, it still was a beautiful day to be a Caps fan. D.C. weather was mild but chilly enough to maintain good ice quality for the teams, and everyone in attendance got to witness a great display of talent and a home team win.

Harbaugh Set to Return to Michigan

By Savannah Malnar

University of Michigan has been a powerhouse in college football for ages, so when they fell to 5-7 this season it was a shock to everyone. The fans were upset. Both the Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, and head coach, Brady Hoke, were fired before the season even concluded. The situation interim AD, Kim Hackett, had to take over was abysmal. But what he reportedly managed to do has brought hope into the hearts of many Michigan fans.

According to reports on Monday, Hackett had successfully hired famed coach Jim Harbaugh to take over the head coaching job. Harbaugh boasts an impressive resume: he earned a record of 29-6 in the three years he spent at University of San Diego, he brought back the Stanford football program and coached Heisman candidates Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart there, and then went on to take a pro coaching job in San Francisco and brought the 49ers to three NFC title games and one Super Bowl (loss), finishing his time with the team with a record of 44-19-1.

While Harbaugh’s numbers look impressive, he has a habit of almost burning out after a few seasons in whatever job he is occupied with. Most recently he ended the season with the 49ers 8-8. There is speculation as to whether he quit, or if he was fired; San Francisco’s management said it was “mutual.”

Whatever the case may be there, Harbaugh appears ready to return to the college game and hopefully revive the Michigan football program. The media is speculating he chose Michigan over other possible NFL jobs because it is his alma mater; he played quarterback there under the prominent coach Bo Schembechler.

Sport media members and Michigan fans in general are convinced Harbaugh is the key to turning their program into a threat once again. Eric Bakhtiari, who played for Harbaugh at both University of San Diego and the 49ers, said this about his coach: “He takes losers and makes them winners. It’s as simple as that.”

That’s something any fan would want to hear. According to the media and an anonymous source, Harbaugh is going to be introduced to the student body as head coach at the U of M basketball game on Tuesday. That game is now sold out and tickets for it have gone up six times the average price online.

I think Harbaugh will like being a Wolverine again.

Mumps Affecting Not Only the NHL

By Savannah Malnar

Flu outbreaks aren’t uncommon around this time of the year in professional sports leagues. What is uncommon is the appearance of the mumps in the NHL. Professional athletes are forced to spend an excessive amount of time together in close contact, between sharing rooms on road trips and water bottles in the locker rooms. So when a contagious illness hits one player, it’s likely to spread throughout the team. The interesting aspect about these illnesses is that in the NHL they can spread pretty easily to other teams as well, with all the hard hits and the fighting bringing rival players into physical contact.

The outbreak of the disease started in Anaheim with the defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Clayton Stoner, along with star forward Corey Perry. Other teams that have since reported cases include the Minnesota Wild, the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL is doing everything in its power to bring awareness to the disease and ensure that the players have access to booster shots or the initial mumps immunization if they did not receive it as a child.

The media’s primary concern right now seems to be the quality of the game with a disease like this going around. What will the Penguins do without Sidney Crosby while he recovers? Did the Ducks lose games they could have won if Perry wasn’t ill?

One ESPN article brought attention to a less talked about side of the epidemic; the American Hockey League. The AHL is a development league for the NHL, and players move up and down between the leagues on daily basis. Two players and one head coach in the AHL have come down with this sickness. The total amount of hockey players affected is up to 18.

Dr. Gregory Poland, the director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group, believes that this outbreak is not actually all that uncommon. “To be very frank with you, if 13 students at a junior college in rural Arizona had mumps, you and I wouldn’t be talking. It gets hyped because it’s in (professional athletes),” Poland said. Poland also stressed making sure all players receive the immunization they need; from there it’s just a waiting game. There are no cures or antibiotics available for the disease, so hockey players will just have to do what they do best: tough it out.

Chicago’s Quarterback Woes

By Savannah Malnar

As the NFL season winds down, teams are willing to make more chances with their starting lineups. This is the case for the Chicago Bears, who have decided to bench quarterback Jay Cutler who just signed on with the team for another seven years for a total of roughly $126 million after the end of last season.

The decision stems from a season of less than impressive performance from the Bears’ quarterback, leading the team to their current 5-9 record. Fans and media are questioning this choice, especially with the backup, Jimmy Clausen, who went 1-9 in his rookie season in Carolina and has only three career touchdowns.

Cutler was told Wednesday about the team’s decision and was obviously disappointed about being benched; already rumors are spreading that he has played his last game in Chicago. Many media outlets are publishing articles about the possible landing spots for Cutler along with analyzing the possibility of Bears’ coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery being fired after this season.

A more objective source, Sports Illustrated, published an article with the headline “By Benching Cutler, Bears Make Statement About Franchise’s Future.” It stated that Trestman’s fate as coach is “all but sealed,” but he could possibly make a strong argument for himself if he can pull off a win against the 10-4 Detroit Lions while starting Clausen.

Sports writer David Haugh for the Chicago Tribune is convinced that this move by the Bears definitely marks the end of Cutler’s reign as quarterback in Chicago. Haugh said, “Starting Clausen against the Lions accomplishes nothing other than make everyone wonder who decided after nine losses to hold Cutler accountable for leading the league in turnovers.”

Obviously there is a lot of pent-up frustration in Chicago about the quarterback and coaching situation. On one hand, the team does not want to put the waste the massive contract that they just entered in with the quarterback; on the other, they don’t want to be stuck with a “has-been” quarterback. The team will have to observe Clausen’s performance and make a decision on how they will end the season. If Clausen finishes the season against the Vikings, I thoroughly believe we won’t be seeing Cutler in Chicago next season.