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A Defense of the Streak

It’s been making rounds through the hockey and sports communities. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s SportsCenter went on the air and ranted against the Chicago Blackhawks and their streak, comparing it to the Miami Heat’s win streak. Not only was Smith taking shots at the Blackhawks, but at the entire sport of hockey as well.

I’m not the only one to have an opposing opinion. But I am lucky enough to write for a medium where I can express a counter-argument to a mass audience.

So I will.

If Chicago wins Tuesday and Wednesday, they will have gone half of their season with a zero in the regulation-loss column.

As far as comparing the Blackhawks to the Heat, it’s almost impossible. Both teams are professionals in two completely different sports. But Smith tried to compare them, so let’s follow suit.

This streak has set an NHL record, and expanded on it. Comparing the Blackhawks to the Miami Heat means comparing all aspects. Has the Heat’s winning streak set an NBA record? No. Simple as that. It hasn’t.

The NBA record for most consecutive wins is 33 set by the Los Angeles Lakers back in 1971-1972. What the Heat have done is they have tied a franchise record with 14 wins. Much different than setting a new league record.

Even Chicago’s opponents have commented on how impressive Chicago’s streak is.

“It’s amazing. In a competitive league, they’re not making it competitive…They find a way to win,” said Detroit Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock

“What they have done is phenomenal,” said Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile. “If you ever thought something like this could happen, it wouldn’t be in a condensed, 48-game schedule. With all due respect to other teams that have had long streaks, I think this current era in the NHL has the most parity the league has ever had. There are no nights off. On any given night, anyone can beat anyone else.”

The streak isn’t just impressive as far as hockey is concerned. Winning this much is impressive on all levels. Let’s look at some numbers.

According to Richard Cleary, professor of Mathematical Sciences at Bentley University in Walttham, Mass., the probability of the Blackhawks 22-game point streak occurring is once every 700 years.

Cleary, who teaches a math and sports course, based his probability on the notion that the winning team must earn a point in about 75 percent of their games. He claims the math shows that the chances of that happening are once or twice every 1,000 years.

Jeffrey Bergen, a mathematics professor at DePaul University, listed some numbers as well.

Bergen claims that the odds of an NHL team going undefeated in regulation for its first 22 games are 1 in 30,000. There is a better chance of being dealt a four-of-a-kind after being dealt only four cards.

A defense of the streak
DETROIT, MI – MARCH 03: Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks acknowleges the crowd for his 1,000th NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on March 3, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The odds of an asteroid hitting, and devastating, the Earth in the next 100 years is 1 in 10,000 according to NASA. Those are still better odds than the Blackhawks going undefeated in regulation in their first 22 games.

To be clear, the Earth is three times more likely to be hit and destroyed by an asteroid than the Blackhawks are of taking a point in their first 22 games. Chicago has already done it. Heads up.

The odds of an amateur golfer making a hole-in-one on a par-3 hole is 1 in 12,500, according to U.S. Hole in One, an insurance provider. That’s more than twice as better odds at sinking a hole-in-one than watching the Blackhawks start the season the way they already have.

But it’s no secret that this season is a little different than a typical NHL season.

Normally, an NHL team has an 82-game schedule, giving any team 60 opportunities to start a 22-game streak of not losing in regulation. Any team has only one chance to begin the season that way. Even if the lockout has changed the schedule up a bit, it hasn’t lessened Chicago’s feat.

After the most recent lockout, this season in which the Blackhawks have set the NHL record contains less time off, tougher travel commitments, and a greater chance of ending up on injured reserve. From March 5 to March 16, Chicago is playing seven games in 11 days.

Let’s also remember that the lockout caused the Blackhawks to have only a week of training camp before the season started.

The lockout that the Blackhawks, and every other NHL team, are coming out of has forced a more competitive and tougher season. Which makes setting a new NHL record even more impressive.

One key to the streak lies in Chicago’s depth. The game-winners aren’t only coming from the same superstars every night, but have come from twelve different Blackhawks players so far this season.

“What makes it fun is that it has been a different guy every night,” said Patrick Kane, who isn’t a stranger to game-winners (See: Stanley Cup, 2010). Meaning the Blackhawks’ success isn’t coming from a handful of guys, but rather the entire roster working together to get the win.

Back to Smith, who put down not only the Blackhawks, but also the entire sport of hockey. Instead of assessing hockey statistics and facts, he focused on ties and points.

Smith said he wasn’t “buying” ties. What he doesn’t realize is that the NHL hasn’t had official ties since 2005. That was eight years and two lockouts ago. He also went on to say that ties aren’t a part of sports by saying, “You either win or lose in sports.”

Except in soccer, the most popular sport in the world (one occasionally covered by ESPN), which sees the majority of its games end in ties, and ESPN’s most favored sport to cover: football.

Just this past NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers tied the St. Louis Rams in a game, giving them a record of 11-4-1 at the end of the regular season as compared to their division rivals, the Seahawks who finished at 11-5-0, making the 49ers the clear division winners. The same 49ers that were one game removed from an NFL championship. The 49ers would have won the division even if they lost the game they tied because of other tiebreakers, but what if it hadn’t worked that way?

Let’s take a look at the 2008 NFL season. The Philadelphia Eagles finished with a record of 9-6-1 and grabbed a wild card spot, the #6 seed. The Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers each finished 9-7-0. Had the Eagles lost that game, the Buccaneers would have grabbed the #6 seed (owned the tiebreaker due to a better in-conference record) and the Eagles would have been out.

There have been 274 ties in the history of the NFL, although only 18 since 1973. Since that time, 20 of the 32 NFL teams have been involved in at least one tie. There have been two ties in the past 10 years and five in the last 15.

But we aren’t hearing Smith talk about how ridiculous ties are in those sports. Instead, we’re hearing him comment on the silliness of ties in the NHL.

As a side-note, is that what Smith wants young athletes to see on SportsCenter? A professional analyst essentially saying that it’s all about winning and losing, not how you play the game?

“When a Stanley Cup Champion is crowned, is it because of ties?” Smith questioned.

In fact, yes, yes it is.

Ties can help put a team in the playoffs. If a team isn’t in the playoffs, they can’t compete for the ultimate prize. That’s a sentiment that can be felt in all sports with a playoff system, i.e. football, baseball, and even basketball. So, yes, ties can help win Cups.

Smith also wasn’t aware that Columbus (Ohio, by the way) had a professional hockey team. Not only did Ohio have a pro hockey team in the 1970s (the Cleveland Barons were in the NHL from 1976-1978), but the Blue Jackets have been in the NHL for the last 13 years. The Blue Jackets were established in 2000 and even made the Stanley Cup Playoffs just four years ago in 2009.

Smith was a professional sports analyst with Fox Sports Radio and ESPN in 2009.

I understand that Smith isn’t a hockey guy’ and instead a basketball guy, but these are simple Wikipedia facts that a professional televised sports analyst should have at hand before going on the air. Or at the very least, skimmed over.

Smith went on to say that “Hockey is about points,” in a way that suggests that all other sports aren’t. All sports use point systems to determine the victors of individual games as well as, ultimately, championships, including basketball. In fact, doesn’t basketball have varying degrees of points, where a player can score either one, two or three points for his team depending on where his feet are? Hypothetically, it’s possible for a basketball team to actually sink more baskets than their opponent and still lose the game. If the opponent drains more three-pointers, they can win the game, while shooting fewer baskets.

The point system in basketball works for basketball. Even though that determines individual games and the point system in hockey determines standings, the concepts are the same.

But more aggravating than Smith’s comments themselves is the way he presented them. The complete lack of respect for the sport left a much more bitter taste than the uninformed suggestions that went along with it.

“It’s hockey we’re talking about here,” said Smith. “I respect the sport, but give me a break.” Clearly he doesn’t respect the sport if he surrounds that statement with two comments blatantly showing disrespect, in addition to disregarding the existence of a team entirely.

“I respect the hockey guys,” Smith re-stated, hoping to convince his viewers. “I’m just not into ties,” he continued. Because, of course, he couldn’t just let the statement stand on “I respect hockey,” but had to quantify his comment.

Also in the rant, Smith commented to Barry Melrose, hockey analyst. Smith made a tongue-in-cheek joke about Melrose’s suits looking better, again suggesting a lack of respect for the sport. Smith was showing that he has no hesitation in making fun of a former player, professional analyst (like himself) and representative of hockey.

Certainly Melrose knows that Columbus has a team.

In Smith’s eyes, hockey, and the culture and community that associates with the sport, is beneath him.

Which makes us wonder exactly why a basketball analyst was chosen to comment on the streak alone? Rather than having Melrose, or any other hockey professional, sitting next to him? I can’t speak for certain, but I’m sure Melrose would have brought up some points on how truly special the Blackhawks’ streak really is.

But to give credit to Smith, he did make waves through the sports community with his comments. He caused some controversy and stirred the pot, which is what sports commentators are supposed to do. So, to that, great job Mr. Smith.

Here’s a cookie.



David Schauer is an award-winning, professional writer who has been involved in organized hockey for over twenty years. He has been published hundreds of times; about the same number of times he has been checked into the boards.

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