Reshuffling The NHL

The reincarnation of the Atlanta Thrashers as the Winnipeg Jets (complete with the classiest uniforms in the league) has drawn into stark relief the need for the National Hockey League to reorganize their 30 franchises and alter their scheduling policy, to better market the league and to avoid imposing starkly disproportionate travel demands (and corresponding game-time/marketing penalties) on certain affiliates. Commissioner Gary Bettman seems to understand this--but certain franchises (primarily established North/East Coast teams, grandfathered into the most favorable travel impositions and most ideal game schedules) seem opposed to 'taking one for the league' if it means their perfect situation is impacted.

Hockey has to stop thinking so parochially, if they hope for their sport--and League--to more broadly prosper.

If the NHL were to realign to four Divisions--an East and Central in the Eastern Conference, a Midwest and West in the Western Conference--it would preserve existing rivalries and unburden certain centrally-located franchises (Winnipeg and Dallas the most) of grueling travel miles (and away-game start times that rob the teams of home media audiences); it might look something like:

•NHL Eastern Conference•
East Division:
New Jersey
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
Tampa Bay Lightning
Washington Capitals

Central Division:

•NHL Western Conference•
Midwest Division:
St Louis

West Division:
Los Angeles
San Jose

If there was a desire to split the two New York and two Pennsylvania teams into opposite divisions, one of each could be switched (say Philadelphia into the East and the Islanders into the Central); Nashville and Columbus could be interchanged (this alignment makes sense time-zone-wise but with the other Central teams clustered in the north-mid-east, the marketing possibilities of games against the Predators and vice versa might make fiscal/promotional sense). And as configured the East Division doesn't have a Canadian team--one with an east-coast-time-zone could easily be shuffled in if desired, though there isn't a good candidate to shuffle out. And this could need adjusting if Phoenix loses their team (especially if Quebec lands it).

Fortunately, it would not make quite as much difference which Division a team was in under this proposal, as with only two Divisions--and thus only two Division winners--the other teams will be fighting every other franchise in their conference for the remaining six playoff spots.

Restructuring of schedules would first prioritize home-and-away games for every NHL team with every other NHL team--it is healthy for the League to give every fan a chance to see a given superstar in their own arena at least once every year. That accounts for the first 58 of a season's games; adding a second set of home-and-aways with the other 14 teams in a franchise's conference would push the regular season schedule to 86 games, but would be the fairest way to achieve a balanced schedule (and with the greater variety of opponents, would probably *feel* shorter and provide an attendance boost, as well); as a season extension would have to be negotiated with players (though now's the time to do that), 82 games could be retained by having teams play home-and aways with the other six (or seven) teams in their Division, then an alternating home-or-away third game against the seven (or eight) teams in the other Division in their Conference, then fill their remaining three (or four) games out against other Division opponents they were comparable to the prior season (East One versus East Two, Central One and East Three, a weighted schedule a la the NFL) until the schedule balanced. This would mean most teams would see every team twice, the teams in their own Division at least four times and some five, and the teams in the other Division in their Conference at least three times and some four (see above why 86 games would be preferable :).

Rivalries would be preserved, the entire continent would see the entire League every season, travel would be more balanced (Midwest teams will still travel the most, Dallas and Winnipeg still probably most of all--but it would be north-south, same time-zone) and the only crazy out-of-time-zone games any team would have to face would be rare--once or twice a season--and potentially interesting enough for fans to want to stay up late.

The NHL needs a move like this. The opportunity to make it happen is right now.

Dallas Stars Management Want To See As Empty an AAC as Possible...

It is no secret that the Dallas Stars are a franchise operating with one arm tied behind their back until they find a real owner. Their management, however, is still responsible for the decisions they make--and need be held accountable when those decisions insult the faithful.

The management has made the decision to treat all pre-season games as 'full price admissions' this year--even for those fans who had already bought a game package with some...hope, if not expectation, of a pre-season game promotion to be included, as in years past.

When dealing from a position of strength, any retailer can dictate terms: car dealers can charge above sticker for in-demand models, clothing stores for hot designer labels--and winning sports franchises for the glorified practices call 'pre-season games.' The emphases there should be on 'position of strength' and especially 'winning'--because it has been too long since the Stars dealt from either.

Let's recap: their sport and it's professional league, the NHL, still hasn't recovered from a lost season, lacks a real US national television presence, and struggles to remain the fourth of the 'big four' against such interests as soccer and mixed martial arts; the team has, in consecutive seasons, dispatched the only two recognizable faces they still boasted in the broader DFW community then failed to retain their only real star player; and when last seen on the ice, was blowing a gift opportunity to redeem a late season collapse and make the playoffs (playoffs they haven't otherwise sniffed in years). That ain't strength.

So their plan to try to address this negativity and build some buzz and momentum for 2011-2012 is to see how empty they can make the American Airlines Center in pre-season? And then--what? Hope all those empty seats generate phantom enthusiasm from MIA fans to come back for the real games?

One of the problems with sales tactics like jacking up prices for hot cars, designer clothes and pre-season games even when dealing from strength is that it is classic 'short term gain at long term cost:' even the buyers who pay it know they are being had, and may not be so interested when time to make a routine purchase from that same seller comes along again--and those who are sufficiently put off or offended not to pay it in the first place get turned, in a moment, from ally to adversary.

If even the short-term gain isn't being had by such management decisions...

The Stars need an owner. Yesterday.

One hopes one of the first things that still-imaginary person does is take whomever is making these management decisions to the woodshed, for the willful devaluing of his hockey team...

Thanks for killing the buzz before game one for a team everyone expects to struggle even if everything goes well, management. I suppose that's why they call it 'management' instead of 'leadership.'

I will still be cheering my Stars. Just from home, where they can't hear me. And from where I am unlikely to get sufficiently caught up in the experience that I make returning a priority. Which, of course, is why they call such courtesies as free pre-season games extended to ticket-package buyers 'promotions'...

'Super' Miniatures from Reaper/Pathfinder

As a comics fan long before I was a wargamer, and a wargamer now most of my life, I am an irredeemably dedicated fan of the SuperSystem superhero/supervillain miniatures skirmish game, and of the game-specific line of Superfigs miniatures which accompanies it (the dedicated SuperSystem website seems to be down presently; information--as well as a tremendous variety of play-aids--can be had at the SuperSystem Annex and award-winning miniatures painter Agis Neugebauer has a showcase of his Superfigs work.

Great as Superfigs are, one can never have too many four-colour hero and villain models. Reaper Miniatures has some dedicated candidates in their wonderful--and wonderfully diverse--Chronoscope line (how I would love a shot at developing a coherent miniatures skirmish game out of *this* collection of models!), but it is their more recent Pathfinder Fantasy series which has my current attention: ostensibly Paizo's 'D&D 3.5+' fantasy system, the Pathfinder world must have a great deal more than traditional dungeon-delving going on, if these epic good guys and bad guys are wandering around in it! I have used links to Paizo's site as I have used them often through the years (and they offer a discounted price on most of the miniatures in question); if you want to see more and/or order directly from the source, Reaper has a great reputation for customer service, as well, and you can start at

Grey Maiden

Grey Gardener (a pulp masked hero if ever one walked down a shadowy alley)

Red Mantis Assassins (male and female)



Plague Doctor (especially suitable for a pulp campaign)

Skinsaw Man

Skinspawn (a perfect henchman for the above)

Stag Lord


The Scribbler

Whispering Tyrant (the figure which of them all just radiates 'master villain')

I hope some of this piques curiousity about SuperSystem--I know I could use more opponents, and more Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) willing to carry the line!

Butcher Bird Flies Again

An authentic WWII Focke Wulf Fw 190 has flown again--in Arizona and Washington.

A JG54 Fw 190A-5, crashed outside Leningrad in 1943, has been resurrected by billionaire Paul Allen's Flying Heritage Collection; the frame is original, the engine rebuilt from remaining BMW 801 salvage. Much of the reconstruction was overseen by JME Aviation in the UK before completion at Casa Grande, Arizona, where the Fw 190 was test-flown in December 2010--the first genuine 'Butcher Bird' to get airborne in over half a century.

The Fw 190 will homebase at Everett, Washington, where efforts to reskin it in it's original JG54 paint scheme are underway.

Restored Butcher Bird first flight

Fw 190A-5

Pigs Fly No More

Though it would be difficult to find an aircraft with a past more fraught with political interference, the General Dynamics F-111 overcame all to render decades of service to NATO air forces, from Cold War stand-off strike capability to surgical missions into the modern era of asymmetrical conflict, the F-111's unique combination of near-fighter speed and maneuver capability, bomber payload delivery, and nose-to-the-earth terrain-hugging radar effectiveness providing a mission effectiveness and flexibility that remains difficult to equal.

Some combination of aircraft will have to, however...for with the formal retirement of the Royal Australian Air Force's strike fleet, all F-111s are retired.

Known to it's US crews (fondly) as the Aardvark (reportedly for it's pronounced snout), to the RAAF it was a contraction of aardvark's literal translation, 'earth pig'--simply, the Pig.

An RAAF pilot with the second-most flight hours in type, squadron leader Steve Clarke with some 3400, was a pilot for the Pigs' final sortie. The type leader, Captain Brad Insley (United States Air Force, retired) was present for the final flight and got one last Pig ride, as well: in the cockpit of an F-111 he had flown to Vietnam in 1972, as it was towed to permanent static display.

With it's distinctive cockpit pod and variable-geometry 'swing wings,' the F-11, like the Navy's F-14, was an obvious artifact of it's era...and it may be that era has passed. Not without challenge, however, or trial. All of us still alive and free owe some measure of gratitude for the fact to Pigs that flew--and the men who made that so.

Despatch: Hail Caesar!

Warlord Games follows up their Black Powder ruleset with a hardcover set of Ancients rules, now available for pre-order from the Warlord website with an incentive of an exclusive, otherwise unavailable pewter miniature of a quintessentially Roman legionnaire adorning the rulebook's cover:

Of particular interest, 'Hail Caesar's' authors: Rick Priestley, abetted by Alessio Cavatore...