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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sharks Need to Get Stories Straight

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The way the San Jose Sharks have proceeded this summer has been heavy on theory and light on specifics. Their plan has been revealed primarily through  inaction and subtraction. “Giving more responsibility to young players,” for example, sounds like a great idea, but removing the C and the A from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is the first specific step the team has taken in that direction. They also removed some veterans, letting Dan Boyle walk, and buying out Martin Havlat. Beyond that, Doug Wilson has left his plan wide open for interpretation. For those of us who like to think the team will take another run at the playoffs fueled mostly by the angry memory of recent failure, there is fodder enough to think that. But that same fodder, the minimal roster and staff changes, could be used to argue pretty much anything or nothing at all.

The Sharks’ captaincy is the more glitzy story, but the Raffi Torres knee surgery mess is at least as significant. In neither case are the specifics that momentous. Hockey players get hurt and sidelined all the time, and the knee should be a long way from a life-altering injury. The importance of who wears which letter is of debatable importance, but both stories red-flag communication problems with the Sharks. (more…)

NHL: The All-Important Details

From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the NHL’s new Terms of Service agreement, the trick this week has been to sort through volumes of information to find the relevant details.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is certainly the more widely compelling story. It began as an awareness campaign for ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and has spread far and wide. It seems that anyone with a recognizable face or name is fair game for a challenge. In the NHL, the names of hockey players, management, owners, league executives and journalists have all popped up with videos and photos of dousings accompanied by challenges to others to get doused.

Beyond hockey, you can also find Hollywood celebrities posting their videos and challenging each other. Of course you don’t have to be a celebrity to participate, but your tweets and videos will probably get more views. The primary platforms for the challenges are also the most used social network sites: Twitter and Facebook. This is where the details come in. At least one person familiar to Sharks fans challenged someone who had already been challenged:

Actually, joining Twitter would not be enough for Drew Remenda to know who exactly had been challenged. There are so many people involved now that you would have to join and read Twitter for several hours a day to keep track. Even a standard Twitter search only gives you a sampling. Many videos are being posted without a helpful hashtag.

That is excellent news for ALS research. Awareness campaigns take some criticism for creating more noise than progress, but this campaign at least has paid some dividends for the cause. In the first couple weeks of the campaign, the ALS Association received $1.25 million in donations, an enormous jump for the same time period last year. While the challenge does have a donation in lieu of dousing component, it is unlikely that most of that money came from people who preferred not to have a bucket of ice water dumped on them. Even if it did not start out as a fund raiser, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has done an excellent job of raising both awareness and money for a good cause.

It is worth noting that some of the long-term symptoms of brain damage are similar to ALS. Until relatively recently, many people were diagnosed with ALS when in fact they were suffering the long-term results of concussions. While symptoms are similar, the causes are quite different. There is no reason to suppose that this is why the hockey community has supported the cause so enthusiastically, but it is an interesting connection that predates one awareness campaign.

A more hockey-specific bit of news also cropped up this week, with the NHL’s revised Terms of Service Agreement. A section was added explaining that users could not mine NHL sites without permission, either manually or with automated data gathering programs. Not long ago, this little passage might have been considered irrelevant small print. At the moment, it can probably still be regarded as such by most users, but it could pose a problem very quickly for sites that sort and interpret NHL statistics. Sites like Behind the Net could be asked to stop using these stats without getting permission from the NHL. They could even be asked to pay for them.

It is true that this seems to be the Advanced Stats community’s coming out summer. NHL teams are hiring well-regarded hockey statisticians as quickly as Bleacher Report is hiring popular bloggers. Both moves are sensible business decisions, and probably long overdue. Did this acceptance of statistical analysis trigger the NHL’s sudden concern that they were giving their numbers away for free when they should not be?

Maybe the new TOS was overdue as well. Those statistics don’t compile themselves or even get to the website without many eyes and hands working to gather and publish them. Shouldn’t the advertising revenue from the site be enough to cover that? Maybe. Or maybe the recognition that stats are valuable means everyone will put more value on them, including monetary value. I would not say that the NHL is waging war on advanced stats sites, but they have put themselves in a position to claim their share of any value derived from those stats. 

The discussion is very similar to other cases involving Fair Use of copyrighted material. In short, if the use of someone else’s work is deemed “fair” it is okay, you don’t have to sell your house to pay the owner of the material you used. “Fair” use can include non-profit educational purposes, commentary on the material, or use that does no harm to the owner’s rights. The last part is mentioned in the NHL’s TOS, where they talk about harm:

You may not access or use, or attempt to access or use, the Services to take any action that could harm us or any other person or entity

That line covers more than ownership rights, implying that the NHL wants the option to defend against any sort of abuse using their material, but the Fair Use question is the simplest to identify and the most likely to be acted on first.

Fair Use has most conspicuously applied to music, books, and images. The owner of the material usually prevails in a law suit. There are a lot of people using images without permission, but that is only because many industries recognize the value of having their images promoted for free. (The music industry is notorious for their refusal to see it that way.) Even with images, though, you don’t have the right to use just any image any way you want. The same applies to data, so anyone who helps turn that data into a valuable commodity runs the risk that the owner might notice and ask to be compensated. The owners certainly played a part in making NHL statistics valuable, by making them available for free to so many for so long. Was this little take-back part of the plan from the start? Probably. You have to get people hooked before you can make any money as a data-dealer.

Sharks and Kings to Play Outdoors in Santa Clara

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

Next season, Northern California will get its first outdoor NHL game. The Sharks will host the Kings on February 21, 2015, at Santa Clara’s brand spanking new Levi’s Stadium. From the Sharks’ press release:

“We are honored and elated that the NHL has selected the San Jose Sharks to participate in the NHL’s 2015 Coors Light Stadium Series and is bringing this magnificent event to the Bay Area,” said San Jose Sharks Chief Operating Officer John Tortora. “This event celebrates the growth of the great game of hockey in San Jose and recognizes the incredible support and passion of Sharks fans all over Northern California. We know our fans will bring the electrifying atmosphere of SAP Center at San Jose to Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21 and we are looking forward to showcasing Sharks Territory outside and under the lights.”

That sounds grand, and it is very grand, enormous even. The Sharks deserve the attention. They have done a great deal to promote hockey in the Bay Area. On top of that, the size of the venue for outdoor games is a popular selling point, so it is important to have a big stadium. Levi’s has a rough capacity of 70,000. AT&T Park in San Francisco only has room for about 42,000.

Regardless of stadium size, I never thought it was likely that San Francisco would be the location. If there is any suitable competition for a big sporting event, they can usually beat San Francisco in a bidding war. San Francisco thinks too highly of itself to beg for anything. It bothers me that San Francisco doesn’t try harder to host the big parties. Heck, they couldn’t even hang on to their football team. Maybe San Francisco hates contact sports, so they send them to Santa Clara.

And yet… I remember meeting some travelers from Santa Clara and other South Bay cities. I met them here and there, overseas and even as near as the east coast. They had given up trying to tell people where they were from and started saying they were from near San Francisco or even claiming San Franciscanship. I had to press to discover the truth (my duty as a San Franciscan by birth), but they were happy I had heard of their towns. This is why San Francisco thinks it’s all that. No matter how many times it loses out to a less well-known neighbor, it still has the global name recognition that places like Santa Clara envy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like San Francisco. It is a pretty city, it has nice views, good food, liberal views, and interesting geography. But arrogance doesn’t look good on anyone.

Santa Clara is a good location for the outdoor game. It is right where Bay Area folks expect to find hockey. You can park in Santa Clara. Heck, you can hardly drive in SF anymore. Levi’s stadium has gotten great reviews, it will no doubt look good on television. Sharks fans should be glad the NHL didn’t put the game in Southern California. The way Southern California dominates the California hockey story is tedious.

Of course San Jose versus Los Angeles is a great matchup for its back story. Northern California and Southern California love to hate each other, almost as much as they love to bicker with other states.  The Sharks and the Kings have a lovely history of aggravating each other, though Los Angeles might not remember when San Jose was a legitimate threat to them. Even when they were down three games to none, the Kings did not seem worried. Perhaps worry is just not something they do in Los Angeles. By contrast, the over-use of black clothing and gloomy thoughts is still common up here. Or maybe that is just SF.

Of course there is still the possibility that there will be another outdoor game in Northern California, and that might be in San Francisco. San Francisco hockey fans can always hope.


NHL: Subban’s $9 M Deal Top Among Defensemen

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The San Jose Sharks did not make any news this week, apart from new social network software for the corporate offices. That story is kind of interesting in light of the “co-workers, not teammates” comments from come players after last season. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Meanwhile…

The NHL did have some big news, from the Montreal Canadiens and P.K. Subban. After meeting with an arbitrator, the team came to terms with their rising star to the tune of a $9 million cap hit for eight years. (more…)