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When do you fire a former Stanley Cup winning coach? PDF Print
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Tuesday, 27 May 2014 15:58

By Rob Ficiur
Two weeks ago the Pittsburgh Penguins surprised the hockey world by firing General Manager Ray Shero and by not firing head coach Dan Bylsma (yet).  Shero and Bylsma won a Stanley Cup for the Penguins in 2009. The new Penguins GM will decide whether to fire Dan Bylsma or not.
In the 13 season from 1976-1988 only three teams and four coaches won the Stanley Cup. The 1988 trade of Wayne Gretzky ended the Dynasty Era in the NHL and began what I call the Ultra-Modern NHL era. The NHL has changed since the Dynasty Eras. Free agency, expansion and salary cap are factors that have led to sixteen different teams winning at least on Stanley Cup in the last 24 years. 
In the 24 seasons of the Ultra-Modern NHL, 19 different head coaches have won the Stanley Cup. The followings are some of the interesting trends and numbers I found in looking at the past and future of these nineteen Stanley Cup coaches in this
1. Since 1989 (The Ultra-Modern NHL era) Only two coaches have won multiple Stanley Cups: Scotty Bowman (Detroit 3 and Pittsburgh 1) and Joel Quenville (Chicago – 2). 
2. In this, the 2013-2014 season, five NHL teams were coached by the same coach who had led that team to a Stanley Cup championship. Five other teams were coached by coaches who won Stanley Cup championships for another team. Once a Stanley Cup coach; always a Stanley Cup coach (or so teams hope).
How long had coaches been with their team before winning?
3. Three Stanley Cup coaches were hired mid-season and went on the win the championship that year. These were Larry Robinson (New Jersey 2000); Dan Bylsma (2009) and Daryl Sutter (2012). Robinson had it the toughest, taking over with only eight games left in the regular season. 
4. Six coaches won the Stanley Cup in their first full season with their new team. These include: John Muckler (Edmonton 1990); Bob Johnson (Pittsburgh 1991); Scotty Bowman (Pittsburgh 1992); Jacques Demers (Montreal 1993); Mike Kennan (New York Rangers 1994) and Pat Burns (New Jersey 2003). 
5. Longest time without a first Stanley Cup – Of the 19 Stanley Cup coaches, the longest any coach went before winning his first Stanley Cup is four years. The following four coaches were in their fourth year with the team before they won their first championship [with that team]; Scott Bowman (Detroit 1998); Ken Hitchcock (Dallas 2000); John Tortorella (Tampa Bay 2004) and Claude Julien (Boston 2011). 
When were coaches fired?
How long did the nineteen Stanley Cup winning coaches stay with their team after they won the Stanley Cup (before they were fired?) 
-Five coaches are still with their teams.
-Two coaches quit due to failing health (Bob Johnson died of cancer less than a year after Pittsburgh won the 1991 Stanley Cup. Pat Burns coached one year after leading New Jersey to the 2003 championship; after he developed cancer he never coached again)
-One coach – Scotty Bowman retired after winning the 2002 Stanley Cup. Then and there he announced he was retiring on top.
-Two coaches moved to other teams to become General Managers (or assistant General Managers): Scotty Bowman (Pittsburgh 2002) and John Muckler (Edmonton 1990).
-Mike Keenan never coached again for the New York Rangers after he won the 1994 Stanley Cup. Keenan had a dispute with management and resigned before the next season. (Not quite fired, but the team didn’t want him back)
-Calgary Flames fired Stanley Cup championship coach Terry Crisp one year after they won the championship. Barely had these coaches won the Stanley Cup and they were fired by their teams: The following were fired within two years of their championship: Mark Crawford (Colorado); Larry Robinson (New Jersey); Bob Harley (Colorado). The following were fired three years after being on top of the hockey world: John Tortorella (Tampa); Peter Laviolette (Carolina); Jacques Demers (Montreal); Jacques Lemaire (New Jersey); and Ken Hitchcock (Dallas)
-Four years is the longest a team has stuck with a Stanley Cup champion coach after the Cup year. Randy Carlyle, the winner of the 2007 Stanley Cup (the last Stanley Cup coach to be fired); coached Anaheim for parts of four more years before he was fired.
Coaching is about winning, and winning now. Five years ago is ancient history when teams are trying to maintain a winning culture and tradition. Once a Stanley Cup coach is fired, he is at the top of the list for another team who is looking to tap into his experience so that they can win. 
What about the General Managers who win Stanley Cups? What about the coach of the team who lost in the Stanley cup finals? How long did these men stay in their jobs before they were let go? Their stories will be the topic of a sports column in a week (or two).

Impossible comebacks Part 2 - Baseball and basketball PDF Print
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Wednesday, 21 May 2014 15:37

By Rob Ficiur
Last week I wrote about the four NHL teams completed the Impossible Comeback; fall behind 3-0 in a series and comeback to win the next four games. In NHL playoff history 178 teams have been down three games to zero. Only four of those 178 teams (2.2% of the trailing teams) came back to win the series. Mathematically the chances of winning four consecutive games are ? x ? x ? x ? = 6.25%. This week’s column will look at the teams in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association that have made the Impossible Playoff Comeback.
1. Basketball – In NBA history zero teams have come back from being down 3-0 in a series to win. Three teams came close. The 1951 New York Nicks, 1994 Denver Nuggets and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers fell behind 3-0 and won the next three games forcing a Game 7.  None of these teams were able to complete the Impossible Comeback. (Which is why I termed it the Impossible Comeback). 
In NBA history there have been 81 times when a team has fallen behind in a series 3-0, and yet 0% have made the comeback.  (Remember that mathematically speaking 6.25%, or about 5 of those series should have had a team rally and comeback.) Why is hockey at 2.25% and basketball at 0%? I believe that there is one major reason why no basketball team has come back. 
In playoff basketball the margin of victory is often less than three points. When two teams are scoring 200 points (combined) in one night, this is around 1% of the points. It appears that winning four close games has proven to be impossible because a bounce here or there and a different team wins. Even one hockey goal games; the margin of one goal is about 12% if there are six goals in a game. 
2. Baseball – In Major League Baseball only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Those Red Sox are also the only Major League baseball team to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0.
Why are there so few comebacks in baseball? I believe there are two factors that make Impossible Comebacks in Baseball…almost impossible. First, baseball has only two playoff rounds with seven game playoff series, while hockey and basketball have four.  During one playoff year the NHL and NBA have 15 seven game playoff series; baseball has 3 series that can last seven games. With one-fifth as many series means there are only three series not fifteen that can have a comeback an Impossible Comeback.
Second is pitching. In baseball starting pitching is everything. A team expects their ace to throw two games in a series. As weaker pitchers are used a comeback (or stopping a comeback) is less likely. In basketball and hockey the team’s best players can put in as many minutes as needed, but starting pitchers play one out of four games.
Baseball’s only Impossible Comeback team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox are an interesting team to look back on. The 2004 American League Championship Series pitted two evenly matched teams; the New York Yankees with 101 wins and the Boston Red Sox with 98 wins. 
When the Red Sox lost Game #3, at home 19-8, an Impossible Comeback was only on the minds of the most faithful Red Sox fans. Prior to 2004, the Yankees had won the been in five of the last eight World Series’ and were champions four times. The champs wouldn’t blow that big a lead…no they couldn’t!??
Game #4 in Boston went into extra innings. When David Ortiz (then 28 years old) hit a home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning something changed. Boston won Game #5 in 14 innings. They trailed Game #5 for seven innings before tying it in the 8th. After the teams returned to New York for Games Six and Seven, the Red Sox never trailed again. When the Sox won Game #7 (in New York) 10-3 they completed baseball’s only Impossible Comeback with an exclamation mark.
The Red Sox set another Major League Baseball record. With their four game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Red Sox set a baseball record by winning eight consecutive playoff games in a row. (The Red Sox who were so close to elimination never trailed in their last six games.
From 2004 to 2013 the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series titles. David Ortiz is the only to be part of all three Boston championships. Their Impossible Comeback in 2004 began with his home run.
Impossible Comebacks, in all their different circumstances, is what makes sports so entertaining (and nerve racking) to watch; and memorable to relive down the road.

The impossible playoff comeback happens again PDF Print
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Tuesday, 13 May 2014 16:12

By Rob Ficiur
Unlikely (impossible) playoff comebacks is why fans follow sports. Even though it can be done, usually comebacks fall short. This year the Los Angeles Kings became just the fourth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after trailing three games to zero. 
In NHL playoff history, a team has been down three games to zero 178 times. The four teams that made the comeback represent 2.2% of the trailing teams. Mathematically the chances of winning four consecutive games are ? x ? x ? x ? = 6.25%. The success rate of the “Impossible Comeback” is about one third of what the math tells us it should be. There are at least three simple explanations why so few teams make this comeback. First, the team that is ahead 3-0 is probably a better team. Second, after falling behind three games in a row the losing team has lost confidence and momentum. While they will say all the right things, in their mind they know the chances of winning are slim. Third, every great comeback takes some luck; a bounce here or there and a game is lost. Who were the four teams that made these comebacks? What had they done in the past? What did they do years later?
1 - Toronto Maple Leafs 1942 - were the first team in North American pro-sports to complete the Impossible Comeback. The Leafs finished second in the seven team NHL, three points behind the first place New York Rangers. Teams three through six played each other in the next two rounds of the playoffs. From these four teams, the two winners played off in round 2, with that winner going to the Stanley Cup final. The top seated Rangers and Leafs played each other in round 1, the winning team going to the Stanley Cup championship.
The 1942 Stanley Cup victory was Toronto’s first championship since 1931. However, the Maple Leafs won five of the next ten Stanley Cups after their 1942 comeback.
2 - New York Islanders 1975 – It took thirty three years for another team to make the Impossible Comeback. In 1975 the New York Islanders (88 points) were evenly matched with the Pittsburgh Penguins (89 points). The Islanders were in the third year of their existence and this was their first ever playoff year. The Penguins were another mediocre expansion team. 
The 1975 New York Islanders had some young players who would become household names in the next decade. Leading that comeback team were Dennis Potvin (20), Clark Gilles (20), Bob Nystrom (22) and Billy Smith age 24. These four players were part of the Islanders teams that four Stanley Cups in a row starting in 1980.
The amazing 1975 New York Islanders almost repeated the feat in the next round. Fresh off of their comeback against Pittsburgh, New York played the defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. After losing the first three games with the Flyers, the Islanders won three in a row. Their run for two Impossible Comebacks in a row felt short in game #7 against the eventual Stanley Cup wining Flyers.
3 - Philadelphia Flyers 2010 – Thirty five years later it was the Flyers who did the nearly impossible. The Flyers (88 points) and the Boston Bruins (91 points.) met in the second round.  Down three games to zero, the Flyers won Game 4 in overtime to prolong the series. 
Unlike the 1942 Leafs and the 1975 Islanders these Flyers have not built on their Impossible comeback. In 2011 and 2012 the Flyers were eliminated in the second and missed the playoffs in 2013.
4 - LA Kings 2014 – After the 2011 Flyers were eliminated in the second round management made some changes. They traded Captain Mike Richards top scoring winger Jeff Carter to Columbus. By the end of the 2012 playoffs Richards and Carter were together again leading LA to a Stanley Cup championship.
When the 2014 Kings fell 3-0 down to the San Jose Sharks in Round 1, the former Flyers were barraged with questions. Mike Richards got the bulk of the questions. When the Kings came back and defeated the San Jose Sharks Mike Richards became the first player in NHL history to play on two teams that made the “Impossible Comeback.” When asked to explain why he was able to do it – twice – Richards replied “Maybe I am a loser who falls behind too often.”
The Kings comeback this year is different than the other four Impossible Comebacks. Fourteen members of the 2014 Kings had won a championship with the team two years earlier. As a championship team, they learned how to win when they should not. Experience, not youthful potential won the series for this year’s Kings.
Impossible Comebacks are even less common in baseball and basketball – more on them in a future column.

Peter Maher Calgary's Mr. Hockey PDF Print
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Tuesday, 06 May 2014 14:33

By Rob Ficiur
After 3162 consecutive games the first (and only) radio voice of the Calgary Flames has retired this week. Sixty four year old Peter Maher originally wanted to be an NHL goalie, but soon realized her could talk faster than he could skate.
He is the only person with the Calgary Flames for every one of their games. Not missing work for 34 years in a row is a great feat. But that is only the beginning of what made Peter Maher a fan favorite.
As I have read and listened to Peter Maher stories this week, five things stand out about Calgary’s Mr. Hockey.
1. Respect
In his farewell news conference Maher gave some advice to whoever will take over his role as the play by play commentator. “Treat every game and every broadcast with respect and reverence, remember it is an honor to be a broadcaster in the best league in the world.” After more than three decades on the job, he still had respect for the league and the team. 
2. Professional – When Maher first began broadcasting with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Harold Ballard gave him one piece of advice.  “Remember there are two teams playing the game.” In the past 3126 games, if the Flames opponent scored a goal, Maher would announce it with some enthusiasm. Some “homer” announcers barely whisper it out loud when the other team scores.
Lanny McDonald (of the Toronto Maple Leafs) scored the first goal that Maher announced in the NHL. Later Maher called Lanny’s 500th goal; and Lanny’s final goal the day the Flames won their 1989 Stanley Cup. Twenty five years later, Lanny was at the Peter’s farewell press conference, a tribute to Maher’s professionalism.
3. Stories
As I have listened to Maher in the Morning for the last ten years, Peter could add stories from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago about what the Flames players and events. Sports fans can tell stories, but Peter Maher was there.
This week Maher was asked about his weirdest interview. His response was the morning before a Oilers Flames game, Peter asked Wayne Gretzky for an interview for the pre-game show. Wayne replied shyly “The Oilers have asked me not to do game day interviews.”  With Wayne being the focus of so much media attention, it is understandable why Edmonton would want to limit distractions. Wayne said to Peter, “Meet me over there in fifteen minutes.”  
4. Humility
There will be no farewell game or season for Peter Maher – though fans would have liked it.  Maher did not seek publicity for himself, it is not about him.
Two years ago, I wrote an article entitled 3000 consecutive games, Yah Baby!”  When I Googled “Peter Maher” my column was the 13th article to come up. Two of the other twelve have nothing to do with the Flames announcer – so there are only 10 articles ahead of mine. I don’t know how search engines work – but what this tells me is that Peter Maher was not in the news very much. It was not about him; his goal was to tell the world about the Flames and entertain.
When Maher handed in his resignation, he suggested that all that was left was to send out a press release. It was suggested that there should be a press conference. Peter was uncertain about a press conference. His worry was “What if no one comes?” No worry, the room was packed to overflowing with Calgary media, Calgary Flames from the past and present. Their tribute to him. 
5. Yeah Baby!
Was a phrase Peter first used in the 1986 playoffs. He was coming home from a game and listening to the radio when these words came on in a song. During the 2004 Stanley Cup playoff run, Maher’s "Yeah Baby’s" got shared across an internet that did not exist in 1986. Peter got to call the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal game, with a "Yeah Baby!" as Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winning goal.
As he gave his farewell press conference, Peter Maher did not give a farewell “Yeah Baby!” for those in attendance. He said that would have been about him and the game is not about him.
For the rest of our lives, when we will think of Peter at those high points in our lives when we exclaim: “Yeah Baby! Yeah Baby!”

Economic slaves want rules changed PDF Print
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Tuesday, 29 April 2014 16:39

By Rob Ficiur
During the European Industrial revolution people flooded to the cities to get factory jobs in terrible working conditions. Workers put in long hours and received minimal pay with no benefits. Factory owners knew that the workers could easily be replaced if they demanded more money. 
In recent weeks two “Economic Slaves” in the world wide sporting community have come to a cross roads and hope that changes can be made to ensure their workers are compensated properly.
NCAA sports is big business in the United States; bringing in about $71 billion colleges. While there are expenses in their programs, the NCAA avoid the largest expense that haunt professional sports because the NCAA pays their athletes zero ($0) dollars for playing. Athletes compete with the hope that once they will sign professional contracts and make more in a year than most of us will in several life times.
In the meantime NCAA athletes must find other ways to make money while in college. NCAA rules do not allow special gifts of money or merchandising opportunities to increase athlete’s income. During their college years, the average NCAA “Slave Athlete” bring in $375 000 for basketball and $178 000 per athlete for football. 
Changes are coming that will help NCAA athletes get through the school years. Rules passed in 2009 allowed schools to provide snacks such as bagels, fruits and nuts to athletes. However, schools were prohibited to buy meals for their players. Now that has changed. NCAA teams can now provide meals for their underpaid athletes. Next year athletes can have the previously forbidden cream cheese with their bagel. Cream cheese is not a code word for an illegal substance. Cream cheese was considered to be have moved a bagel from the snack category into a meal. Now that teams can pay for player’s meals, athletes can go all out and eat a full meal at the team’s expense.
The NCAA is light years away from paying College Athletes for their services. Nor are the masses demanding millions in salaries for these college athletes. For the majority of college players who never make big money in the pros, cream cheese on their bagel may be the only improvement to their basic needs they will see in their college career.
Across the world the Sherpas of Tibet have gone on an impromptu strike that has crippled the country’s $100 million Mt. Everest Tourism industry. After the death of sixteen Sherpa guides in an avalanche, the remaining 400 climbing guides walked away from the 2014 Everest Hiking Season. The Sherpas are not like professional referees who can be replaced minor league referees. These natives of Tibet are the seasoned guides who carry the bulk of climber’s supplies to the base of Mt. Everest. In the month before the 2014 climbing season, no one on Earth can train their bodies and acclimatize their system to the high altitude of the world’s largest mountain.
The average climber pays about $75,000 to attempt to hike to the top of Mt. Everest. The average Sherpa makes about $5000 per year helping the elite get to the top of the world. While $5000 a year is ten times the average wage of most people in Nepal ($500 per year). The final straw came when families of the dead were offered about $415 in a life insurance type death benefit.
Unlike most strikes labor disputes a simple solution could (and may yet be) found to this before the Sherpas took their packs and went home. One report said that the Sherpas were asking for 30% of all climbers’ fees be put into a fund that will go towards supporting those injured. They are also calling for insurance pay-outs of $20,000 dollars for every Sherpa that dies on the mountain. At some point a re-negotiated wage and life insurance contract will be worked out for the Sherpas.
Deaths on Mt. Everest are not staggering by numbers. In the last sixty years about 250 people have died trying to summit Mt. Everest. Of this number 83 have been Nepalese Sherpas. In 2012 and 2013 seven of the eighteen deaths on Everest were Nepalese Sherpas. At one level the Sherpas are asking for is compensation to the families of those who lost a loved one. While money won’t bring them back, the rich of the world could provide money to replace the income that the families will have lost with the deaths.
If elite climbers of the world are willing to pay $75,000 per year to climb Everest, then charging them 10% more to help better compensate those who risk life and limb seems both reasonable and affordable. If a deal is not reached within a week, 2014 might be the first year since 1987 when no one summits Mt. Everest, because the guides who know the trails the best, have put their life ahead of their need for money.
Had the Sherpa strike been a premeditated job action by unionized workers, labor negotiators from around the globe would have provided mediation in exchange for a free trip to the top of the world; and the Sherpa walkout would have been averted. This walk out was inspired by grief and loss, not dollars.

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