21 May 2010

How to improve the Stanley Cup

I love watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's hard to predict what will happen from from one game to the next, or even from one series to the next.  This year, I'm enjoying the bonus of seeing my two favorite NHL teams, the Blackhawks and Sharks, play for a spot in this year's Final.  Unfortunately, based on TV ratings, I would seem to be in the minority. There are a couple of good reasons for this:
  1. The playoffs run too long.  Anyone else think that it's wrong to have a winter-sport season running almost up to the summer solstice?  The NHL does itself no favors by having its marquee event run directly against the the NBA Finals -- and on even-numbered years, possibly the FIFA World Cup or the Summer Olympics.
  2. Results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs bear little resemblance to the regular season on which it depends.  Since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1999, 11 teams have reached the semi-final stage as a 6 seed or lower.  Four of those 11 teams went on to the Finals.  [By contrast, in the same period, only four teams seeded worse than 3 have reached the NBA semi-final stage.  One of those is this year's Suns, a 4 seed.  The other, 1999 Knicks, reached the Finals as an 8 seed... as a result of that year's lockout.]
Happily there's an easy way to fix these, and it takes only one step.

The NHL should get rid of the postseason.

Qualifying can stay the same: the top eight teams in each conference would still go the the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Instead of late April, however, the tournament whouldn't start until October.  Yes, the next regular season will be underway, but that's actually the point.  The first round can run from October through December; the second, in January and February; and the semifinals, in March and April.

To make room for the extra games, the NHL should extend the regular season.  Instead of the third weekend of April, have the regular season run until the second weekend in May.  By that time, the Stanley Cup Final series would be underway.  The whole thing, regular season and Cup Final, can wrap up well before Memorial Day.

For the NHL, I see only benefits:
  • Fans will like the shorter season.
  • They can enjoy the Stanley Cup without the increasingly irrelevant distraction that seeding currently presents.
  • The President's Cup, presented to the team with the best regular-season record, becomes meaningful.
  • Best of all, instead of the NBA Finals, the World Cup and possibly the Summer Olympics, the Stanley Cup Final won't have to compete with anything more serious than the (single-day) Champions League Final.  (Interleage baseball?  Brother, please!)
Keep the Stanley Cup -- but dump the postseason!

18 May 2010

Tuesday Football: Two quick impressions

Not loving el Tri's chances

Thanks to the Telemundo network, I caught most of the three friendly matches Mexico played in the U.S..  Well, I'm not impressed.  If the opponents were tougher, I wouldn't be so worried.  But scores of 0-0, 1-0 and 1-0 against Ecuador, Senegal and Angola?  If the Tricolores play like that next month, they'll crash out, hard, from Group A and the knockout stages.

Henry crossing over?

I'm not sure what to make of the reports that French national team striker Thierry Henry will leave Barcelona.  (Henry is pictured below and to the right, from his prime at Arsenal.)  If they're to be believed -- and Henry's word not -- he will be playing for the New York Red Bulls after the FIFA World Cup ends in July.  In that case, the soccer media will probably register him as just the latest aging star to "retire" to Major League Soccer.

The word "retirement" may be too strong for MLS:  it suggests that stars who come to the U.S. (and, increasingly, Canadian) league are at the end of their careers.  That was probably true when MLS started play in 1996, but the experiences of David Beckham and CuauhtĂ©moc Blanco in the last few years indicate otherwise.  Both men were past their prime when they started play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire, respectively, but neither was at his end.  Blanco will be taking the field for Mexico in South Africa next month, while Beckham lasted almost long enough to play again for England.  If that holds form, and Henry does come Stateside, I expect that he'll have a couple of very good seasons in New York.

08 May 2010

Scooter Blogging: (1) Hey! A toy she likes!


This is my cat Scooter.  When she was younger, her favorite toy was a sort of fishing pole.  When I moved the pole at its handle end, it would pull a long piece of string.  Scooter then chased after the fake mouse at the other end of the string.  Alas, she's gotten bored with this toy more quickly over the years, so I searched for a new toy that she would like.

And then, I found something like this:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

While replenishing her treat supply at a pet store, I ran across a $2 laser toy.  It couldn't hurt, I reasoned.  (Especially not with a power rating of 5 mW.)  The cat might actually like it.  Well, that proved to be an understatement!  Scooter chases the little red dot everywhere, even on the walls.  She has even learned to beg me -- not for food, but for that little red dot!  She even recognizes the laser pointer when I pick it up off a table.  It's high-tech catnip.

The laser, it seems, has now gone the way of the flying car, another device that hasn't materialized the way science fiction once said it would.  Lasers were for killing and destroying, not useful functions like complimenting rulers, cutting metal or protecting homes from thieves.  They certainly weren't envisioned as pet toys that even little kids can safely wield.

But there you have it.  Scooter sure doesn't mind!

02 May 2010

Belated May Day greetings

Okay, quickly:  who here's heard of "Law Day?"  That's right, none of you.  Such a day does exist here in the U.S., and it falls on 1 May.  We observe Law Day with about the same passion as, say, National Pet Dental Month.  Small wonder. The American Bar Association had Law Day created specifically as an alternative to the Communist-associated May Day.  Back in 1974, the ABA even put out a radio spot calling of Americans to celebrate Law Day:

1974 May Law Day ad

When I first heard this as a kid, in between acts of a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode, I found the tone of the ad pretty condescending.  I knew then that some of us observed May Day as a minor equinox holiday, complete with maypoles and homemade baskets of flowers.  Apparently, the ABA feared that, if we didn't celebrate Law Day, we'd all turn into little communists.  If the ABA of the day were really more interested in promoting public service than mindless anti-Communism, it would've run a version of this ad all year long, not just ahead of 1 May.