How Bill Weld Could Shake Up The 2020 Republican Primary

Here’s a blast from the past: Bill Weld is running for president. Speaking in New Hampshire on Friday, the former Massachusetts governor announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to seek the Republican nomination for president. Weld ran for vice president in 2016 on the Libertarian Party ticket, but he’s working within the two-party system this time. That’s smart in one sense — it’s extremely hard to win as a third-party candidate in the United States — but Weld also faces steep odds in challenging the sitting president in a GOP primary.

In all likelihood, President Trump would crush any Republican who tries to primary him. An incumbent president has not lost a bid for renomination since Chester A. Arthur at the GOP convention in 1884 — meaning that it’s never happened in the modern era of presidential primaries. And Trump enjoys a higher approval rating among members of his own party even than recent presidents who cruised to renomination, like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. (In a recent Fox News poll, 87 percent of Republicans approved of his job performance.) And in early, hypothetical polls of the Republican presidential primary in 2020, Trump has massive leads on even well-known opponents such as Mitt Romney, though Romney has given no indication he’s considering a run. No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld.

Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. Pretty much ever since he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 and re-elected by a record margin in 1994, Weld has been the poster child for patrician, moderate, New England Republicanism. Once roasted for having ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower, Weld quipped, “Actually they weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready.”5 Both as governor and in the two decades since he left office, Weld has supported gay rights and legal abortion alongside spending and tax cuts. According to his issue matrix at OnTheIssues, which assigns an ideological grade to politicians’ statements and votes, Weld is a progressive-leaning libertarian:

The problem for Weld is that there is no longer a demand for his type of Republican, especially at the federal level: 14 Republicans represented New England during the 104th Congress (1995-96), but only one (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine) does so today.

Even current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — a popular New England Republican and a former Weld protégé — is having trouble connecting with the national party these days: Although Baker won re-election last year by a 33-point margin, in a poll taken days after the election, Bay State Republicans sided with Trump over their governor in a theoretical 2020 primary faceoff, and Baker has grappled for control of the state party with the pro-Trump faction of the GOP. Nowadays, Baker’s base is as much Democrats and independents as it is Republicans.

As the national GOP has moved to the right in recent decades, liberal Republican voters who share Weld’s ethos have left the party behind. Many of the cities and towns where Weld performed best in his 1990s races are now solidly Democratic. Indeed, the last time Weld ran a successful election was 1994. That’s a lot of rust to shake off. And there is some evidence that candidates are less successful when they try to jump back into politics after a long hiatus. (Discounting his vice-presidential run, the last time Weld ran for office was 2006, when he ran for governor of New York but dropped out after a poor showing at the Republican convention.)

I’m skeptical that Weld will make any kind of splash in the Republican presidential primary. But if he does, it will probably be in New Hampshire. Eighty-four percent of New Hampshire residents live in the Boston media market, as Weld has for most of his life. And candidates from neighboring states tend to do well in the New Hampshire primary — just ask former winners Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Moderate Republicans or “mavericks” have also historically found support in New Hampshire, where independent voters (who might identify more with Weld’s party-switching) often make up more than 40 percent of the GOP primary electorate. By contrast, the GOP contests in Iowa and South Carolina are more dominated by evangelicals — definitely not Weld’s speed.

But Trump is also pretty mavericky, and his support among New Hampshire Republicans remains strong according to both polls and activists on the ground. The smart bet is still that he wins New Hampshire again.

Weld’s performance in the Granite State, however — does he win 10 percent of the vote there? 30 percent? — will provide a hint about the feelings of a group of voters that Trump will need behind him in the 2020 general election: independent voters who previously cast a ballot for him. Trump carried independent voters by 4 percentage points in 2016, helping him to eke out an Electoral College victory. If Weld finds a foothold in New Hampshire, that could suggest that Trump is struggling with those voters. That might not hand Bill Weld the GOP nomination, but it could foreshadow trouble for Trump in the general. Remember: All three incumbent presidents to face serious primary challenges during the modern primary era went on to lose in the fall.



Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.

Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall

Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border

Pollster Dates Approve/ Support/ Should Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
CNN/SSRS Jan. 30-Feb. 2 31% 66%
Quinnipiac University Jan. 25-28 31 66
Monmouth University Jan. 25-27 34 64
Quinnipiac University Jan. 9-13 32 65
ABC News/Washington Post Jan. 8-11 31 66
Average 32 65

Source: POLLINGREPORT.COM

The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.

And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.

The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.

Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown

Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown

Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Dates Republicans Independents Democrats
Feb. 1-10 89% 38% 5%
Jan. 21-27 88 32 5
Jan. 2-10, 2019 88 31 6
Dec. 17-22 89 39 8
Dec. 10-16 86 37 7
Dec. 3-9 89 38 7
Nov. 26-Dec. 2 89 39 6
Nov. 19-25 86 34 9
Nov. 12-18, 2018 90 37 6

Polls in the shaded rows were conducted mostly or entirely during the government shutdown.

Source: Gallup

Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.

Or things could get a lot worse than that for Trump, and he could lose independents by a wider margin. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost independents by 12 percentage points, contributing to a 40-seat loss in the House. The key facet about the midterms is that turnout was very high, including among the Republican base. But it was also high among the Democratic base, and Republicans badly lost independents. The base alone isn’t enough to win national elections, especially for Republicans, since fewer voters identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

There’s just not a lot more to say about this. If Trump didn’t learn he needs to reach beyond his base from either the midterms or from the shutdown, he probably won’t figure it out in time for 2020.

Public Opinion Of The Mueller Investigation Has Become More Partisan

It’s rare for Americans to agree on anything these days, particularly when it comes to a politically charged issue like special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But a CNN poll released last Thursday found that a whopping 87 percent of Americans (including 92 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) believe that once the Mueller investigation ends, there should be a full public report on the findings, whatever they may be.

There is no guarantee that the findings of the investigation will ever be made public, and in the meantime, Mueller has remained famously silent about what he’s found. But even the dribbles of information that have come out through court filings have slowly driven Democrats and Republicans further apart. As you can see in the chart below, which tracks polls of Mueller’s favorability over the past two years,1 there has been a small increase in how favorably Americans overall view Robert Mueller (the purple line),2 but when you break it down by party, it’s clear that opinions about the special counsel have become more polarized.

Americans can’t even agree on what the investigation has shown so far. According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll published on Tuesday, people are roughly split on whether the investigation has proven that Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election (it has charged a number of Russians with interference) and about whether people affiliated with President Trump’s 2016 campaign lied about contacts with Russians (several people who worked for the campaign have pleaded guilty to lying about Russian connections).

Since Mueller himself has not been forthcoming, the media and commentators have filled the informational void with prognostications about what is happening and what the investigation might reveal, but this has often sowed confusion. The special counsel’s silence has also given Trump an opportunity to repeatedly claim that the investigation is a politically motivated “witch hunt,” a phrase he has used many times since the investigation first began. During his recent State of the Union address, Trump even warned Democrats against what he called “ridiculous partisan investigations,” which appeared to be a dig at both the Mueller probe and the House Democrats’ investigations of his personal finances.

And it seems that Trump’s strategy is working. Over time, more and more Republicans have come to agree with Trump that the Mueller investigation is unfair.3 But the results of the investigation itself may still change people’s minds. In late 2018, for example, amid a spate of indictments, the percentage of Republicans who thought the investigation was fair ticked up a bit.

In July 2018, Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign. In September, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy as part of a deal to escape an array of other charges, including money laundering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. And in November, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his work on a Trump Tower project in Moscow after he had already pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign finance violations in August.

If Mueller’s report finds that Trump directed his campaign staff to coordinate with the Russian government, 61 percent of Americans, including 29 percent of Republicans, said they would support Congress’s efforts to impeach the president, according to the Washington Post-Schar School poll. But the Senate Intelligence Committee has said it didn’t uncover direct evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia during the 2016 election, so unless there’s a real bombshell in whatever report comes out of the special counsel’s office, the end of the investigation may not bring sweeping changes of opinion. Instead, we may just see the public dig in their heels and retreat to their partisan corners.

Derek Shan contributed to the data collection process for this story.

One Way James Harden’s Scoring Streak Is More Impressive Than Wilt’s

Houston Rockets guard James Harden has been busy this season redefining just how much offense a single player can create. As we near the NBA All-Star break, Harden has scored at least 30 points in an absurd 30 consecutive games and counting, which, according to Basketball-Reference.com, is the second-longest streak in league history. Harden’s streak trails only Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game run from the 1961-62 season — a season in which Wilt happened to set the NBA record by scoring 50.4 points per game. The way Harden has been filling up the scoresheet, Chamberlain comes up as a frequent comparison, continually amazing for those of us who never thought we’d get to see numbers like Wilt’s in today’s game. But what might be most remarkable about Harden is the way he’s different from Chamberlain — specifically, how his one-man show has changed his team’s offense.

A big reason that Chamberlain keeps popping up is that it’s difficult to find a modern analogue for what Harden is doing. Harden currently has a usage rate of 40.2 percent, meaning he has taken a shot (or turned the ball over) on roughly two out of every five Houston plays when he’s on the court. And when he isn’t trying to score himself, Harden has also assisted on 40.3 percent of teammate baskets. The only other qualified season in NBA history to break those 40/40 thresholds belonged to Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 — and Westbrook was much less efficient that season than Harden has been this year, averaging 6.8 fewer points per 100 possessions on plays he had a hand in ending.

To get a sense of just how far Harden is pushing the boundaries of productivity, here’s a breakdown of all qualified seasons since 1976-77 by possession rate1 versus offensive efficiency. (The outermost points up and to the right are the best combinations of workload and efficiency.)

With 118.6 points produced per 100 possessions on a possession rate of 40.5 percent, Harden is currently having the greatest high-usage offensive season in modern history. From a team perspective, those numbers mean that Houston is funneling nearly half of its possessions through a player who is personally averaging nearly 2 more points per 100 possessions than the league’s most efficient team (the Warriors, at 117.0). So in theory, this should be a very good thing for his team’s scoring rate, which in turn should lead to more and more wins.

And in Harden’s case, that appears to be true. Since Harden’s streak began, he is averaging 122 points per 100 possessions with a usage rate of 42.8 percent, both numbers up from the 114 and 37.3 percent marks he had before the streak, respectively. And over the same span, Houston’s teamwide offensive efficiency has zoomed up from 111.2 points per 100 before the streak (sixth-best in the NBA) to 116.9 (second-best) ever since, with his Rockets’ on/off-court offensive efficiency split (+5.8 points per 100) staying roughly the same before the streak and after. Houston is also 21-9 over the streak, after starting the season 12-14. Of course, the recent return of former All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who missed 18 games during Harden’s streak, has buoyed the Rockets as well — but in general it’s safe to say that Harden’s tear has had a very positive effect on Houston’s efficiency and overall record.

Why is that notable, though? Isn’t that simply the logical result of having a highly efficient player dominate his team’s possessions? You might think so, but in a dynamic sport such as basketball, things are often more complicated than they may appear. And the best example of this could be Chamberlain.

Chamberlain’s career was unwittingly one of history’s most fascinating laboratories for basketball experimentation, in large part because he was the NBA’s most extreme statistical outlier ever. Wilt led the league in scoring in each of his first six seasons, with a staggering scoring average of 40.6 points per game over that span; he also led the league in field goal percentage in three of those campaigns, making 50.7 percent of his shots in total (at a time when the NBA average was around 42 percent). With such a high volume of efficient shots, you might expect that Wilt was like Harden, leading his teams to tremendously efficient offensive performances.

But you’d be wrong. Shockingly, Chamberlain’s Warriors struggled to even break league average in efficiency during his seasons with the club, despite the enormous amount of high-percentage scoring Chamberlain did by himself. It wasn’t until Chamberlain switched teams and started scoring less — passing to his teammates more — that his clubs began breaking offensive records.

To better understand the sometimes-counterintuitive effect a single scorer can have on his team’s offense, I reached out to Ben Taylor, author of the book “Thinking Basketball,” who was one of the first researchers to notice this phenomenon in Chamberlain’s numbers. “The arc of [Wilt’s] career is very, very unique,” he said. “Not only do some people consider him the best player ever precisely because of these raw stats, but he goes through many different coaches, they put him in many different situations, and specifically Alex Hannum comes along with this great idea — like, ‘Hey, Wilt, what if you just didn’t shoot that much anymore?’ — and he does this, and the team becomes incredible.”

Chamberlain’s 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons with Philadelphia present the most fascinating test case. According to Taylor’s research, Chamberlain’s own personal scoring attempts in 1966 were much more efficient (averaging about 1.09 points per possession) than those of his teammates when they tried to score (0.94), and the 76ers had a mediocre offense with Chamberlain scoring 33.5 points per game. If anything, that makes it sound like Chamberlain should have shot the ball even more — but instead, Hannum persuaded Chamberlain to spread the ball around the following season. His teammates, basically the same cast of characters, averaged more points per attempt (1.01) on more shots per game, while Wilt himself was far more efficient (1.27 points per attempt!) when scoring “only” 24.1 points per game. The result was a championship for Philadelphia and one of history’s greatest offenses.

Chamberlain’s less-is-more experience is indicative of other one-man shows from throughout NBA history, Taylor said. “You can see it with other high-usage players in a modern setting. I think the classic examples are 1987 [Michael] Jordan, 2006 Kobe [Bryant], guys like that — they’re doing a similar thing, and again you don’t have anywhere near a top-shelf offense.”

But Harden has been able to break that mold by playing differently than other one-man offenses from the past. “Harden’s not the best example of one of these high-usage all time scorers,” Taylor said. “He’s a little weird in that he’s more like Steve Nash — he’s passing and dominating the offense to also set up teammates, and so you have a huge ‘creation’ player. … The stark difference between [Harden and Wilt] is that Wilt, when he was scoring, was more like a black hole, and Harden is just running everything.”

The idea that Harden is what Taylor called a “Scoring Nash” is eye-opening. Playing in a similar (if not exactly identical) system to the one Nash orchestrated for four years under coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden has evolved the role of distributor to include an even greater level of player choice. If one of Nash’s great strengths was drawing defensive attention as a means of setting others up for easy shots, Harden can also use the threat of the pass as a means of giving himself more space to shoot. As a result, Harden has an “offensive load” — Taylor’s metric for measuring direct involvement via scoring or passing within an offense — of 66 percent, compared with Nash’s single-season high of 51 percent under D’Antoni in 2007.

Pass-heavy initiators like Harden don’t always elevate otherwise mediocre offenses to greatness. For instance, Westbrook — who in 2017 set the NBA record for single-season usage rate (just ahead of Harden’s rate this year) — was the centerpiece of a barely average scoring attack that year, despite his record offensive load of 74 percent. But a disproportionate share of history’s greatest offenses were led by players such as Harden, Nash, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and even Golden State’s Stephen Curry — players who stretched defenses into oblivion with the interplay between their passing and scoring.

That’s why Harden’s admittedly impressive scoring streak is only one part of the puzzle that has helped vault the Rockets back near the top of the Western Conference’s contender list. By playing more like the Chamberlain of 1967 than 1962, Harden isn’t just helping the team with his own statistics — he’s also making the players around him better.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

How Amy Klobuchar Could Win The 2020 Democratic Nomination

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy for president at a rally in Minneapolis on Sunday, becoming the fifth Democratic senator1 to launch a campaign. In contrast to some of the big names — Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren — who had been expected to run for president for years, Klobuchar is a little bit more of a homespun, independent-label candidate.

But being on an indie label has its upsides and downsides. On the one hand, there’s perceived authenticity and the ability to build momentum from modest expectations. On the other hand, there’s the question of whether your product can get into the hands of consumers without having major-label marketing muscle behind it — and, if so, whether it can expand beyond a niche audience.

So this article is meant to provide a relatively comprehensive assessment of Klobuchar’s strengths and weaknesses — rather than being either a “devil’s advocate” argument or a best-case scenario. It’s informed by conversations with Klobuchar’s campaign as well as with unaffiliated Democrats, but the opinions and analysis are my own. As you’ll see, I think Klobuchar’s upsides outweigh her downsides, but there’s plenty of material in both columns.

Four potential advantages

1. Electability. Democrats really, really want to beat President Trump. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 56 percent of Democrats “prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues,” compared with just 33 percent who held the opposite view.

What it means to be “electable” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder — the term sometimes seems to be a euphemism for a good-looking white guy who isn’t too liberal (hello, Beto).

But Klobuchar can make some good, data-driven arguments for her electability. One of them is simply the overall electoral importance of the Midwest — particularly the Upper Midwestern states of Minnesota (which Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of winning), Wisconsin and Michigan (which Trump won). Winning those three states plus Pennsylvania (or Ohio, or Florida, or North Carolina) would have given Hillary Clinton the presidency. And if the midterm elections were any guide, they still probably represent the path of least resistance for Democrats to retake the White House.

There’s also Klobuchar’s strong performances in Minnesota to consider. She was first elected in 2006 by a 20-point margin and then re-elected in 2012 by 35 points and in 2018 by 24 points. In each case, she performed well statewide and not just in the Twin Cities, winning 79 of 87 counties in 2006 and 85 of 87 in 2012. That declined to 51 of 87 counties in 2018, but given the massive swing toward Trump and Republicans in rural counties elsewhere in the Midwest, Klobuchar still did better than many Democrats.

Class I Democratic senators such as Klobuchar have been blessed not to face election or re-election in a “red wave” cycle — 2006, 2012 and 2018 have all been blue years. Nonetheless, Klobuchar has performed strongly relative to other Democrats in the same elections. Below, for example, is the output from a regression analysis that calculates an expected result in each 2018 Senate race based on every state’s partisan lean (how much more Republican or Democratic it is than the country as a whole2) and whether either party had an elected incumbent running. According to this analysis, you’d have expected Klobuchar — a Democratic incumbent in a blue year, but in a purple state — to win re-election by 14 percentage points. Instead, she was re-elected by 24 points, beating the model’s expectations by 10 points:

Klobuchar was one of the strongest Democrats in 2018

Margins of victory or defeat for Democratic Senate candidates vs. their forecasted margins based on incumbency and the state’s partisan lean

Margin of Victory or Defeat
State Dem. Candidate Actual Expected Actual less expected
West Virginia Manchin D+3.3 R+10.5 D+13.8
Vermont* Sanders D+44.4 D+31.1 D+13.3
Minnesota Klobuchar D+24.1 D+14.3 D+9.8
Texas O’Rourke R+2.6 R+12.2 D+9.6
New Mexico Heinrich D+23.6 D+18.2 D+5.4
Nevada Rosen D+5.0 R+0.3 D+5.3
Maryland Cardin D+34.5 D+29.9 D+4.7
New York Gillibrand D+34.0 D+29.4 D+4.5
Montana Tester D+3.6 R+0.8 D+4.3
Tennessee Bredesen R+10.8 R+14.7 D+3.9
Virginia Kaine D+16.0 D+12.8 D+3.2
Arizona Sinema D+2.3 R+0.4 D+2.7
Maine* King D+19.1 D+16.5 D+2.6
Minnesota special* Smith D+10.6 D+8.3 D+2.3
Hawaii Hirono D+42.3 D+40.1 D+2.2
North Dakota Heitkamp R+10.8 R+12.5 D+1.7
Pennsylvania Casey D+13.1 D+11.8 D+1.4
California* Feinstein/others D+30.2 D+29.0 D+1.3
Ohio Brown D+6.8 D+7.1 R+0.3
Connecticut Murphy D+20.2 D+20.9 R+0.7
Wisconsin Baldwin D+10.8 D+11.6 R+0.8
Delaware Carper D+22.1 D+23.0 R+0.9
Nebraska Raybould R+19.1 R+17.6 R+1.5
Wyoming Trauner R+36.9 R+35.3 R+1.5
Mississippi special* Espy R+7.3 R+5.0 R+2.3
Missouri McCaskill R+5.8 R+1.7 R+4.1
Washington Cantwell D+16.9 D+21.6 R+4.7
Indiana Donnelly R+5.9 R+0.9 R+5.0
Michigan Stabenow D+6.5 D+13.7 R+7.2
Mississippi Baria R+19.0 R+11.0 R+8.0
Florida Nelson R+0.1 D+8.6 R+8.7
Rhode Island Whitehouse D+23.1 D+32.3 R+9.2
Massachusetts Warren D+24.2 D+35.1 R+10.9
New Jersey Menendez D+11.2 D+22.8 R+11.7
Utah Wilson R+31.7 R+17.1 R+14.6

Potential presidential candidates are in bold

* In Vermont and Maine, the independent is treated as the Democrat. In California, the aggregate results for all Democratic candidates in the June 5, 2018, primary is used, since two Democrats advanced to the general election. However, in the Mississippi special election, the result of the Nov. 27 runoff is used since that race featured a Democrat against a Republican. Races with appointed incumbents — namely, the Minnesota and Mississippi special elections — are treated as open seats rather than as equivalent to races with elected incumbents.

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

That rates as the third-strongest performance for a Democratic candidate for Senate last year, slightly behind West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders3 and just ahead of Texas’s Beto O’Rourke. Among other actual or potential Democratic candidates who ran Senate races in 2018, New York’s Kirsten GIllibrand also performs relatively well by this metric, whereas Ohio’s Sherrod Brown gets an average rating, and Massachusetts’s Warren a poor one.

That’s not to say you should expect Klobuchar to tout her own electability on the campaign trail, which can seem uncouth. (The first rule of electability is: Don’t talk about electability.) But it’s an argument we’re liable to hear a lot from her surrogates.

2. Potential strength in Iowa, and in the debates. As compared to candidates such as Harris and O’Rourke, who might hope to blitz their way to victory on the basis of strong fundraising and early delegate accumulation in California and Texas, Klobuchar is probably playing a long game. But doing so requires hitting two important mile markers. First, success in the debates. And then a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses.

Klobuchar’s team believes she should have two advantages in the debates. First, like Harris, Klobuchar is a former prosecutor — having been county attorney in Minneapolis’s Hennepin County — a skill that should translate well into the sharp-elbowed stage of the debates. And second, she can be candid and funny, potentially allowing her to surpass expectations among voters who expect Midwestern blandness or “Minnesota nice.” It’s a credible-enough case, but Klobuchar, who starts out with name recognition well below 50 percent, will need some big moments in the debates.

Her potential to succeed in Iowa is more obvious. She will probably be the only major candidate in the race from a state that borders Iowa and one of relatively few Midwesterners in the field. And in her statewide races in Minnesota, she relied heavily on a retail approach to politics, something that should translate well to Iowa. Looking at past results from the Iowa caucuses makes it pretty clear that there’s a regional advantage in this contest, although other politicians who are not from the region but have strong retail skills (a description that might fit Booker and O’Rourke, for example) can also perform well there.

Beyond Iowa, Klobuchar’s path is less clear. In New Hampshire’s open primary, voters typically favor liberal New Englanders such as Sanders and Warren.4 And the electorates get much less white after Iowa and New Hampshire, whereas Klobuchar’s strengths with nonwhite voters are less than obvious. So she’d be hoping for a polling bounce out of Iowa, something that used to occur regularly but has been more fleeting in recent years.

3. The beer track … without the baggage? Klobuchar’s campaign is likely to emphasize her working-class Midwestern roots, her staff said; you’ll hear stuff about how her grandfather worked as an iron-ore miner, for instance. It will also pitch her to voters on candor, honesty, pragmatism, an ability to “get stuff done,” work ethic and so forth. It’s going to lean pretty heavily into her Midwesternness, in other words.

The idea is to draw a contrast — probably softly at first, and maybe more explicitly if the campaign grows more combative — between Klobuchar and more left-wing candidates from the coasts, particularly Harris, Warren, Sanders and perhaps Booker. In some ways, this will recall the old distinction between “beer-track” (“flyover-state” moderates) and “wine-track” (coastal liberals) Democrats. However, Klobuchar isn’t likely to have the beer track to herself; Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown could be playing in the same lane, and, more significantly, so could former Vice President Joe Biden. There’s also what you might call a “craft-beer track,” consistenting of candidates who are from the middle of the country but whose appeal might be stronger among college-educated voters, such as O’Rourke and (craft brewery founder!) John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado.

Does that mean Klobuchar is liable to run explicitly as a moderate — campaigning, for instance, against policies such as “Medicare-for-all”? Her campaign wouldn’t quite say as much, instead describing her as a pragmatist and a realist — but that’s a fussy distinction at best.

But there is an interesting twist to Klobuchar’s triangulation: Although she has a relatively moderate voting record, it’s fairly liberal relative to Minnesota, which (despite its reputation as a bastion of liberalism) is a purple state. Of the 13 Democrats who are either already running for president or are clearly telegraphing a run and who served in Congress during President Trump’s tenure, Klobuchar has the 12th-highest Trump score, meaning she’s voted with Trump comparatively often (31.5 percent of the time, trailing only former Maryland Rep. John Delaney among the presidential contenders). But she has the 10th-lowest Trump plus-minus rating, meaning that she’s voted with Trump much less often than you’d expect from someone from a purple state or district. Only Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, and Brown and Rep. Tim Ryan from increasingly red Ohio have a lower Trump plus-minus among the potential presidential candidates. By contrast, O’Rourke, although he voted with Trump slightly less often than Klobuchar, has the highest Trump plus-minus in the field because he represents an extremely blue district in El Paso.

All of that is to say: Klobuchar may well try to finesse the distinction between being a moderate and a realist, however meaningful that distinction might or might not be to Democratic voters. And she’s likely to express support for at least some decidedly liberal goals, having signaled support for the Green New Deal, for instance.5

Klobuchar looks moderate in the Democratic primary field

Trump score, predicted Trump score and Trump plus-minus for likely and declared Democratic candidates for president who have served in Congress under Trump. Klobuchar’s voting record is moderate relative to other Demoratic candidates for president but liberal relative to a purple state.

Trump score
Member Actual Predicted Trump Plus-Minus
Sherrod Brown 29.5% 67.7% -38.2
Tim Ryan 20.6 49.6 -29.0
Jeff Merkley 13.5 34.9 -21.4
Amy Klobuchar 31.5 50.0 -18.5
Cory Booker 15.7 31.4 -15.7
Michael Bennet 29.2 43.9 -14.7
Kirsten Gillibrand 12.4 25.1 -12.8
Elizabeth Warren 13.5 22.8 -9.3
Bernie Sanders 14.8 23.4 -8.6
John Delaney 34.4 38.5 -4.1
Kamala Harris 18.0 21.7 -3.7
Tulsi Gabbard 22.8 20.5 +2.3
Beto O’Rourke 30.1 18.8 +11.3

Trump score indicates the share of votes for which the member voted in line with Trump’s position. The predicted score is what we expect that member’s score would be based on Trump’s 2016 margin in that member’s state or district. The Trump plus-minus is the difference between the actual and expected scores.

Klobuchar also has some other arguments to make against the rest of the beer-track candidates. Or at least, she arguably has less baggage than the rest of them. Her credentials — 20 years in public office — are sound by presidential standards (unlike O’Rourke’s). She isn’t 76 years old, as Biden is, and she doesn’t represent a state that is heavily invested in the financial industry, which is a problem for Biden and for all of the New York and New Jersey Democrats. The beer track will likely also be dominated by men — including possible candidates Biden, O’Rourke, Brown, Hickenlooper, Ryan and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — so Klobuchar could have a lot of strength with working-class women, an overlooked and important part of the Democratic base.

Of course, it’s also possible that the beer track is a road to nowhere. Democratic delegate allocations are based on the number of Democratic votes for president in each state, which means they’re deliberately biased toward blue states. And an increasing number of Democrats view themselves as liberal rather than moderate.

4. A reasonably clear contrast to Trump. Before I started researching and reporting out this story, I thought one Klobuchar strength was that she could formulate one of the clearest contrasts to Trump. It’s almost always helpful for candidates in the primaries to draw stylistic and substantive contrasts against the other party’s president, as Trump did against Barack Obama, as Obama did against George W. Bush, and as Bill Clinton did against George H.W. Bush. My thinking was that Klobuchar’s mild-mannered Minnesota-niceness and long career as a public servant — and the fact that she’s a woman — would look to Democratic voters like the antidote to Trump’s bombast and braggadocio.

I still think that theory is mostly true and that Klobuchar is an above-average Democrat in her degree of not-Trumpness. But I want to hedge against it a little bit. The version of Klobuchar we see in debates and on the campaign trail may be scrappier, blunter, more sarcastic and more emotive than people are expecting (and reports of angry and abusive behavior toward staffers may facilitate those perceptions). Moreover, to the extent that her campaign is drawing distinctions between her beer-track persona and the wine-track elites from the coasts, she’ll in some ways be echoing arguments that Trump might make about Democrats.

Overall, this is an impressive list of strengths, even if some of them are quite hedged. They’re why Klobuchar has a considerably better chance of winning the nomination than you might guess given her relatively low profile. But she also has a couple of significant weaknesses.

Two potential problems

1. Lack of a clear path with nonwhite voters. Minnesota is not quite as white as you might think. It’s home to several immigrant groups, including some relatively smaller ones such as Somalians and Laotians. And its nonwhite population has grown significantly since 2000. Nonetheless, as of 2017, about 80 percent of Minnesota’s population was non-Hispanic white, compared with 61 percent for the U.S. as a whole. And since many of those nonwhite Minnesotans are recent immigrants, the share of whites among the electorate is even higher, at about 89 percent.

That’s not to say that white politicians can never find appeal with nonwhite voters. John Kerry did quite well with African-Americans, for instance, and O’Rourke was elected to Congress three times from one of the most Hispanic congressional districts in the country. This year’s Democratic field features several people of color, however, and Klobuchar doesn’t have any obvious strategy to appeal to black, Hispanic and Asian voters, which together will make up around 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. Instead, several of her likely strategic choices — running on the beer track, heavily investing in Iowa and (perhaps) New Hampshire — would emphasize trying to capture as much of the white vote as possible before turning to minorities.

Klobuchar also isn’t likely to have a lot of initial appeal to the left. She may subtly and selectively push back against some left-wing policy proposals while embracing others — or she may run more explicitly toward the center, depending on who else enters the race. (Biden’s decision about whether to run could significantly affect her calculus.) But either way, the left will have candidates such as Sanders, Warren and Brown as their first choices. That means Klobuchar doesn’t perform well according to our “five corners” heuristic, which regards black voters, Hispanics and The Left as three of the five major constituencies within the Democratic Party:

The five corners don’t capture everything. In particular, they don’t account for voters’ gender, even though around three-fifths of the Democratic electorate will be women.

But it does mean that Klobuchar’s campaign will need to proceed in stages, without necessarily having a lot of margin for error. First, she’ll have to perform well in debates and town halls to boost her name recognition. Second, she’ll need to win Iowa — or at least beat expectations there — to vault herself ahead of the other beer-track candidates. Third, she’ll need to heavily emphasize electability to win the slugfest against the wine-track candidates. Each stage holds risks for Klobuchar, and she doesn’t have a lot of shortcuts or detours at any point along the route if she gets knocked off track.

2. Staffing a campaign and building support among insiders. Articles published by HuffPost and BuzzFeed News have included allegations of abusive behavior by Klobuchar toward her staff, citing both statistics showing her high turnover and heretofore largely anonymous accounts of bad behavior from former staffers.

These rumors have been widespread for a long time. (To insert myself as a barometer here, as someone who doesn’t live in Washington and who is sort of ambivalent to political gossip, I’d heard about them several times.) In some ways, the HuffPost and BuzzFeed stories are relatively gentle in that they don’t contain that many details and are largely anonymous. Furthermore, this criticism can be gendered: A woman who exhibits the same behavior as “tough” or “demanding” male boss might be typecast as as “b—-.”

They also reek of inside-baseballness. Having a reputation as a bad boss can be problematic within your industry. But without salacious details, it’s not the sort of scandal that voters are liable to care all that much about.

At the same time, the nomination process is to some extent an inside game. If, as the HuffPost story claims, Klobuchar has trouble recruiting the layers of highly talented staffers that the other candidates have because of a reputation (well-earned or not) for being an abusive boss, that will hurt her. It will hurt her more if it signifies a general wariness about Klobuchar among Washington insiders, which could yield fewer endorsements and less willingness by “party elites” to rally around her if the field has been winnowed down to two or three candidates.

So I’ll be looking to whether Klobuchar is able to gather a few endorsements in the early stages of her campaign, especially from outside of Minnesota. There’s an extent to which a measured amount of pushback from Beltway elites could play into Klobuchar’s brand as a tough, no-BS outsider. But it’s really hard to go it completely alone in the primary, especially when your strategy involves winning over one faction of the party first (the beer track) and then building bridges to the other factions later on.


From ABC News:

We Put Bryce Harper And Manny Machado On A Bunch Of Different Teams

We are now less than a week away from almost all pitchers and catchers reporting, and the two biggest free agents on the market — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper — have yet to sign. The rumor mill around them continues to swirl, but we’re tired of not knowing for sure where these two will play this year. So we thought we’d take matters into our own hands, instead of simply waiting around for the latest hot-stove updates.

To that end, we called on our friends at Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP), a strategic simulation game that allows players to put on their general manager hats and run their own teams. We asked them to simulate out the careers of Harper and Machado a bunch of times under scenarios where they sign with a bunch of different teams. Think of it as the multiverse of MLB possibilities that still could play out, depending on where these two superstars end up signing.

It’s important to note that this is all guided by the game’s artificial intelligence, so it’s based on a simulation engine primarily intended for fun gameplay.1 Having said all that, in the true spirit of J. Henry Waugh’s Universal Baseball Association, what if …

… Machado signs with the White Sox?

Frequency: 80 percent of simulations2
Average contract: Eight years for $198 million
Six-year team wins: 78.7 per season
Six-year WAR: 6.0 per season
Best playoff result: Loses divisional series in 2021

Machado is one of the brightest stars in the OOTP universe, with an overall rating of 77 out of 80 (using the traditional 20-80 scouting scale). If he were to sign with the White Sox, one of his most frequently rumored suitors in real life, OOTP sees him having a tremendous individual debut in Chicago, putting together an All-Star season worth 6.5 wins above replacement. But the White Sox would have to wait until 2020 to improve as a team, leaping from 63 wins in 2019 to 92 in 2020, with Machado once again having a strong 5.8-WAR season. Chicago would average 92 wins per season in 2020 and ’21, making the playoffs both years, but they would top out with a tough five-game loss in the American League Division Series in 2021, then drop down to 80 wins in 2022 as Machado’s teammates regress.

He would average 5.7 WAR per season over the next two years, but the Sox would miss the playoffs both seasons, with Machado opting out of his contract to join the New York Mets on a five-year, $197.5 million deal before the 2025 season. (Chicago would be fine without him, making the American League Championship Series in 2025 and 2026.) In New York, Machado’s individual numbers would decline to an average of 4.1 WAR per season, but he would help the 2028 Mets reach the World Series — where, in classic Mets fashion, they would lose to the Astros in seven games. After bouncing to the Nationals and Rockies in the early 2030s, Machado would retire in October 2032 with a JAWS score of 63.4, which should easily earn him a place in the Hall of Fame.

… Machado signs with the Padres?

Frequency: 20 percent of simulations
Average contract: Eight years for $212 million
Six-year team wins: 83.3 per season
Six-year WAR: 5.0 per season
Best playoff result: Loses league championship series in 2024

If Machado were to sign with San Diego, OOTP’s AI thinks that he would make about $14 million more over an eight-year contract than he would with the White Sox. But how would his Padres do on the field? In this universe, Machado would have an incredible initial campaign in Southern California, putting up 7.5 WAR and winning the National League’s MVP in 2019. His team, though, would only improve from 66 to 76 wins, good for third place in the NL West, and Machado would later struggle to repeat his amazing debut season. The simulations have him averaging just 4.1 WAR per season in 2020-21, with the Padres winning only 71 games a year. But in 2022, Machado would bounce back with 5.2 WAR, and San Diego would win 95 games, making the divisional series. It’s part of a three-year playoff surge for the Padres, peaking with 100 wins in 2024 — but that team is projected to crash out of the playoffs with a disappointing five-game NLCS loss to the Dodgers.

That offseason, Machado would opt out of his initial contract and sign a five-year, $157.5 million deal with the expansion Memphis Scouts — which are a thing in this universe! — where he would spend the next five seasons playing reasonably well (4.2 WAR per year), but losing so many ballgames would surely give him flashbacks to the horrid 2018 Orioles. The best season of Machado’s final years is forecast to be an out-of-nowhere 4.3-WAR season with the 101-win Cincinnati Reds in 2032, but that team would ultimately lose in the divisional series. In September 2035, Machado would retire from pro baseball as a probable Hall of Famer.

… Machado signs somewhere else?

While OOTP’s AI thinks Chicago and San Diego are the destinations most likely for Machado, it also forced him onto the Phillies, Yankees and Twins for the sake of the full multiverse. The first two outcomes are about a wash individually, with Machado nearing 7 WAR in his best simulated season for each team and producing roughly the same total WAR (33.9 in New York, 32.6 in Philly). He would also stay longer in each city: seven years with the Phillies before opting out to join the Giants and the full eight-year contract span with the Yankees. But in terms of team performance, Machado wouldn’t win a World Series in either Philadelphia or New York, coming closest with a seven-game ALCS loss in 2022 as part of his Yankees timeline. It’s kind of a sad set of outcomes for a pair of teams that you’d think would offer Machado the greatest chance of team success. As for the Twins, they would be very successful with Machado, winning 90.2 games per season in his five years in Minnesota, including a World Series berth in 2021. But he would also opt out of that contract as early as possible, moving on to sign a massive deal with the Giants. Such is the way of Minnesota sports.


Let’s move on to Harper, whose future is more difficult to read than Machado’s. OOTP’s AI predicted that he’d sign with any of four teams — the Giants (64 percent), Cardinals (20 percent), Padres (12 percent) and Dodgers (4 percent) — and that’s not even the full spate of his commonly rumored options. But let’s peer into OOTP’s crystal ball anyway. What if …

… Harper signs with the Giants?

Frequency: 64 percent of simulations
Average contract: Seven years for $175 million
Six-year team wins: 82.1 per season
Six-year WAR: 3.3 per season
Best playoff result: No playoffs

The Giants are a weird team that won 73 games last season despite trying to contend, and they do have the need for a corner outfielder like Harper if they want to try it again in 2019. According to OOTP, San Francisco would pay about $15 million to $20 million more over a seven-year deal than Harper’s other potential suitors, and they wouldn’t get much postseason success out of it. They are projected to average 85.5 wins per season over the first four years of Harper’s deal, finishing second in the NL West (and out of the playoffs) each year. They would also get classic inconsistent Bryce: 5.7 WAR in Year 1, followed by 2.2 and 2.9 WAR (both seasons riddled with injuries), then 4.4, and then 0.6 in a terrible 2023 season during which Harper would hit .209, with the Giants crashing to 74 wins.

After six up-and-down seasons by the Bay, Harper would sign a four-year, $116.8 million deal with the Brewers. He is projected for a strong season on a playoff-bound Milwaukee team in 2025 but then just 2.1 WAR per year over the next two seasons before opting out early yet again to join … yes, the Yankees. During his inevitable run in pinstripes, Harper would boast an .821 OPS as his Yanks make (and lose) the ALCS in 2028, but he would put up negative WAR over the next two seasons. He would retire at age 38 after being released by New York (and briefly rejoining the Giants). Harper’s final JAWS score of 49.9 would put him right on the edge of the Hall of Fame relative to other right fielders.

… Harper signs with the Cardinals?

Frequency: 20 percent of simulations
Average contract: Seven years for $151 million
Six-year team wins: 87.2 per season
Six-year WAR: 4.9 per season
Best playoff result: Loses World Series in 2027 and 2030

This is one of the most successful universes either star free agent had in our OOTP simulations. In this world, the Cardinals would grab Harper for the bargain-bin price of $151 million, and he would stay with them for a total of 12 seasons thanks to another midcareer contract extension. St. Louis would be mostly competitive throughout Harper’s dozen seasons there, averaging 87 wins per year and making the playoffs nine times, including two pennant-winning runs. Harper is projected for 53.4 total WAR in a Cardinals uniform (which would actually rank him just below Ozzie Smith for fifth on the franchise’s all-time leaderboard), winning the 2023 NL MVP with a 1.033 OPS and 7.4 WAR. In Harper’s final season as a Cardinal at age 37, OOTP sees St. Louis losing the 2030 World Series to (Machado’s?) White Sox in a heartbreaking seventh game.

After leaving St. Louis, Harper would sign a three-year, $62 million deal with the Mets, but a fractured knee would cost him 88 games in his first New York season, and he wouldn’t be the same player afterward, averaging just 1.1 WAR/year in 2032-33. Following an ineffective 51-game stint with the Giants in 2034, Harper would retire as a surefire Hall of Famer with a JAWS score of 69.2.

… Harper signs somewhere else?

Harper has been linked to so many teams, it’s tough to keep track sometimes. So we asked OOTP to look at the other teams its own AI saw Harper signing with (the Padres and Dodgers), plus the Phillies, White Sox and Harper’s erstwhile team, the Nationals. Of those, the Dodgers easily offer the greatest amount of team glory — in fact, they would basically become a dynasty with Bryce on board, winning the 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2024 World Series and losing it in 2025 (as Harper would put up 44.3 WAR during seven seasons in L.A.).3 Individually, Harper would finish with 98.3 WAR in that universe, edging out his 93.2 WAR in the Cardinals simulation for the best of the options we looked at. The rest offer varying degrees of lesser success from both a team and personal perspective, with the Phillies, Nats and Padres projected to make the playoffs a few times on Harper’s first contract (he would re-up with the Padres and Nationals for the long-term in those simulations) and Harper accumulating just shy of 80 career WAR in each universe.


So where should each star sign? If these OOTP simulations are any indication, it looks like Harper and the Cardinals would be best off with him playing right field in St. Louis, and Machado should lean toward manning the hot corner for the Padres. But those are but two options in the multiverse of possible outcomes. The only thing that we are 100 percent certain about is that at least one of these teams should sign these guys now. Stars like Machado and Harper shouldn’t still be going into spring training without a deal in place — for their own sake and for the sake of fan bases whose teams can use them to compete this season.

Special thanks to Richard Grisham and Out of the Park Developments for their help with this story.

Lindsey Vonn Is The Greatest American Skier — And It’s Not Even Close

One of the great careers in international sport is coming to a close this weekend. Ski racer Lindsey Vonn’s final run will be Sunday, at the 2019 Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden — and in typical Vonn fashion, she’ll be bouncing back from a nasty crash to make her farewell race. Some of Vonn’s legacy will involve that toughness and perseverance, fighting back from injury after injury to make it down the mountain one more time. But Vonn’s career will also be remembered for her unparalleled speed and success, as well as the effect that success had on America’s surging ski program — an impact that will probably be felt many years after Vonn’s retirement.

To survey the career of Lindsey Vonn is to watch the golden era of United States Alpine skiing take shape. Before Vonn won the FIS World Cup overall championship in 2008, only one American woman (Tamara McKinney) — and three Americans, period (McKinney, Phil Mahre and Bode Miller) — had ever pulled off the feat. Vonn would go on to do it a total of four times as part of a resume that includes a record 82 World Cup event victories, 20 more than any other woman in history.

Statistically, Vonn is the most decorated American skier in history, as well as the greatest women’s skier ever. At least, that’s according to the Ski-DB.com “super ranking,” a system that awards points for finishes in World Cup races, the World Championships and the Winter Olympics (since 1966, when the World Cup circuit was originally launched). The ranking puts heavy emphasis on World Cup performance — where Vonn has been at her most dominant, relative to the other competitions tracked — probably because that is the area that has carried the most weight in evaluations of champion skiers and their legacies.

Occupying the second spot, behind Vonn, in the women’s super ranking is Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell. And there are arguments to be made that the positions should be reversed, or that other skiers are more deserving: Moser-Proell supporters can point to her six World Cup overall titles, versus Vonn’s four, and other skiers have enjoyed more Olympic and World Championship success than either Vonn or Moser-Proell. (It’s true that Vonn has only one Olympic gold medal to her name. But then again, the Olympics come around so infrequently that, depending on the timing, missing an entire Olympics — like Vonn did in 2014 — can dramatically curtail a skier’s lifetime medal count.)

What might be most striking about Vonn’s placement atop the list, though, is the standard she has set for American racers. The closest American woman to Vonn is the great Mikaela Shiffrin, at No. 7 overall. The highest-ranking American man is Miller, who checks in at No. 9.

Vonn is the American GOAT

Best Alpine skiing careers since 1966, according to Ski-DB.com’s “super ranking,” which awards points for results in the FIS World Cup, Olympics and World Championships

Women’s Ranking Men’s Ranking
Racer Points Racer Points
1 Lindsey Vonn USA 295.5 1 Marcel Hirscher AUT 321.7
2 A. Moser-Proell AUT 272.5 2 Ingemar Stenmark SWE 290.1
3 Vreni Schneider SUI 255.1 3 Hermann Maier AUT 252.1
4 Anja Paerson SWE 217.1 4 Marc Girardelli LUX 227.5
5 Janica Kostelic CRO 202.2 5 Aksel Lund Svindal NOR 220.7
6 Katja Seizinger GER 194.4 6 Pirmin Zurbriggen SUI 211.2
7 Mikaela Shiffrin USA 191.8 7 Kjetil Andre Aamodt NOR 201.2
8 Tina Maze SLO 166.6 8 Alberto Tomba ITA 195.6
9 Maria Hoefl-Riesch GER 164.8 9 Bode Miller USA 175.9
10 Renate Goetschl AUT 160.1 10 Gustav Thoeni ITA 173.7
11 Hanni Wenzel LIE 150.8 11 Benjamin Raich AUT 173.3
12 Erika Hess SUI 147.6 12 Stephan Eberharter AUT 157.5
13 M. Dorfmeister AUT 143.7 13 Lasse Kjus NOR 149.6
14 Maria Walliser SUI 129.9 14 Ted Ligety USA 135.5
15 Pernilla Wiberg SWE 127.0 15 Jean-Claude Killy FRA 130.8
16 Anna Veith AUT 126.1 16 Phil Mahre USA 123.1
17 Michela Figini SUI 125.4 17 Ivica Kostelic CRO 112.3
18 Marlies Schild AUT 109.7 18 Didier Cuche SUI 99.6
19 Petra Kronberger AUT 109.5 19 Kjetil Jansrud NOR 97.4
20 D. Compagnoni ITA 107.9 20 Karl Schranz AUT 94.8

As of Feb. 6, 2019

Source: Ski-DB.com

Vonn built her No. 1 ranking by dominating two specific disciplines: the downhill and the super-G. She occupies the top spot in the super rankings for both. They are the fastest events — speeds regularly exceed 80 mph — and they require a particular mix of balance, speed and — most especially — courage in order to excel.

Nathaniel Vinton is the author of a book about the U.S. ski team’s sudden rise to dominance. The title, “The Fall Line,” refers to the path a skier would take straight down a hill if gravity were the only factor. “The fall line is the fastest way down a mountain, but because race courses require athletes to move sideways across the hill between gates, they repeatedly pass in and out of it,” he writes. “Much of the art and technique of ski racing involves channeling the power of the fall line while diverging from it, maneuvering body and skis in a way that transfers gravity into an energized traverse.”

In other words, world-class skiers naturally find paths that balance the pull of the fall line against the gates they have to clear. So beating them the way Vonn has done so often over the years requires riding on the ragged edge between speed and madness: “Only the best racers have the strength and self-control to cut inside [the paths of other competitors] and go even straighter, even faster, and even closer to the fall line and all its promise of glory and destruction.”

Vonn has a special knack for pushing away the fear and finding that perfect path. As Vinton writes: “Vonn seems to possess an internal gyroscope that allows her to find the fall line and embrace gravity whenever possible.” Vonn was so quick in the prime of her career that she posted speeds comparable to those of the top male racers, and she expressed the desire to race against men several times over the years.

Vonn’s take-no-prisoners approach to racing has led to numerous wins, but it has also led to numerous crashes. She missed the 2014 Winter Olympics and parts of a half-dozen World Cup seasons with injuries that ranged from broken bones to torn ligaments. The cumulative toll on her body — not including Tuesday’s crash — is what convinced Vonn to retire. But she probably would not have been as great without pushing herself past the limits of safety in the name of speed.

“I never think about what if I crash,” Vonn told Vinton. “While I’m skiing, I try to make the next gate. I’ll still try to not crash while I’m crashing into the net. I try to save myself until the last second. There’s no time for me to change my mindset. I’m still fighting.”

It’s no coincidence that the U.S. put up a much tougher fight in Alpine during Vonn’s career. Between men and women, American skiers have won nearly twice as many World Cup races since Vonn’s first full season (2001-02) as they had in the U.S. ski program’s entire previous history combined.

The golden age of American skiing has been about more than Vonn, of course. Miller and Ted Ligety emerged around the same time as Vonn, and Vonn credits her friendly rivalry with Julia Mancuso for spurring her to work harder when the two were a promising pair of up-and-coming junior skiers.

And it may be only a matter of time before Shiffrin passes Vonn as America’s greatest-ever alpiner. Eleven years Vonn’s junior, Shiffrin has far more wins and World Cup points than Vonn had at the same age, and she is already zooming up lists like the career super ranking at an unbelievable pace. And unlike Vonn, whose signature events are in the dangerous downhill, Shiffrin picks up the majority of her World Cup points in the technically demanding but comparatively safer slalom and giant slalom disciplines, so she might be able to avoid the kinds of injuries that ended Vonn’s career.4 As great as Vonn has been, her days as the GOAT are probably numbered.

But that kind of torch-passing is at the essence of the American skiing renaissance. When Vonn was a young girl, an encounter with American gold-medalist Picabo Street at an autograph session changed the course of her life, setting her down a path toward skiing glory. Now that her career is coming to its end, Vonn is leaving U.S. skiing in the hands of a new generation, one spearheaded by Shiffrin. That legacy will last even if the records are broken and the rankings surpassed.

525,600 Minutes Of Math

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,23 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint or have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Gary Anwyl, some Broadway math:

The song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” states that a year has 525,600 minutes. And, indeed, 365×24×60 = 525,600.

This, naturally, raises an abstract mathematical question: Given any three random integers — X, Y and Z — what are the chances that their product is divisible by 100?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From John Hanna, a different kind of “card” game:

You and I are playing a game. It’s a simple one: Spread out on a table in front of us, face up, are nine index cards with the numbers 1 through 9 on them. We take turns picking up cards and putting them in our hands. There is no discarding.

The game ends in one of two ways. If we run out of cards to pick up, the game is a draw. But if one player has a set of three cards in his or her hand that add up to exactly 15 before we run out of cards, that player wins. (For example, if you had 2, 4, 6 and 7, you would win with the 2, 6 and 7. However, if you had 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8, you haven’t won because no set of three cards adds up to 15.)

Let’s say you go first. With perfect play, who wins and why?

Submit your answer

Solution to the last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Gwen Katz 👏 of Altadena, California, winner of last week’s Riddler Express!

Last week, the pesky enemies of Riddler Nation sent you into a maze. You had to reach the “☺” to escape. The maze looked like this:

You were, however, allowed to enter the maze anywhere on its perimeter. You could travel in straight lines up, down, left and right, but never diagonally. The letters in the boxes indicated your next move, relative to your direction of travel: “L” meant you turned left, “R” you turned right, “S” you continued straight and “?” you could choose any direction. If you hit an “X” or exited the maze, you lost. Could you reach the “☺,” and if so, how many moves did it take?

Yes, indeed you could. There was more than one way to solve the maze, but the quickest path took 34 moves.

Here’s that path, from this week’s winner, Gwen:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Here’s a slightly longer, 42-move path from solver Ken Marley, entering the maze at a different spot.

One useful way to solve the puzzle is to work backwards. That way, for example, we know that we’ll need to arrive in the “L” below the smiley face — none of the other squares will work. We also know then that we’ll need to arrive in the “L” below that “L,” and therefore the “S” to the left of that “L,” and so on, eventually leading us to one of the squares around the perimeter.

This navigational puzzle also generated some lovely visualizations. Solver Chris Clements, inspired by his fond memories of the text-based adventure game Hunt the Wumpus, redrew the maze into something a bit more intuitive for us human travelers.

And solver Dan Larremore recast this puzzle as an exercise in network visualization. Each square in the maze is a node in a network, and each node is connected to other nodes as a result of the letter in that square. In this approach, a solution looks like this:

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Grant Alpert 👏 of Ann Arbor, Michigan, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic!

Last week, after escaping that maze, you found yourself on the street corner talking to a man who said his name was Three Deck Monte. On a table in front of him were three decks of cards, which you were allowed to inspect.

  • Red Deck: four aces, four 9s, four 7s
  • Blue Deck: four kings, four jacks, four 6s
  • Black Deck: four queens, four 10s, four 8s

Monte offered you a bet: You pick any one of the decks, and he then picks a different one. You both shuffle your decks and compete in a short game similar to War. You each turn over cards one at a time, the one with a higher card wins that turn, and the first to win five turns wins the bet.

Should you take it? What are your chances of winning if you do?

No, you probably shouldn’t take this bet, and not just because his name is Three Deck Monte. Monte will win this game about 70 percent of the time — 1,274/1,815 to be exact.

This game is sort of like rock-paper-scissors in disguise. While it’s true that you can pick any deck you want, Monte will observe your choice, and there will always be a deck that Monte can pick that has the advantage over yours. Just as rock beats scissors beats paper beats rock, so too does the Red Deck have the edge over the Blue Deck, which has the edge over the Black Deck, which has the edge over the Red Deck.

Once we’ve noticed this fact about the game, all that’s left is to calculate our chances of winning given our choices of deck. A little computer program is helpful here. Our winner Grant explained what his program did for each deck matchup:

  1. Reset the deck and loop 12 times over the following:
    1. Pick a random number, from one to the number of cards remaining.
    2. Remove that card from the deck.
    3. Compare the cards and add to the win total of the winning player.
    4. Check the win totals for each player; if either is five, go back to Step 1.

Solvers Aaron Rudkin, Ed Tang and Zach Bogart were also kind enough to share their code.

Finally, solver Josh Starkey shared the visual results of his simulations, showing the advantages that accrue with each set of decks.

It’s a trap!

Want more riddles?

Well, aren’t you lucky? There’s a whole book full of the best puzzles from this column and some never-before-seen head-scratchers. It’s called “The Riddler,” and it’s in stores now!

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at [email protected]

The Eastern Conference Battle Just Escalated Quickly

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): While there wasn’t the blockbuster deal that some thought might come at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, there were plenty of moves — and non-moves — that affected each of the top teams in the East and will factor heavily in the playoff race from here on out.

And on the flipside, there are a handful of teams that aren’t in contention that made trades I liked for their future. (And one that did almost nothing, which confuses me.)

This is insane, by the way:

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Chris, this has to be up there with the most active deadlines ever.

chris.herring: So what stood out to you all as the deadline came and went? The trades themselves are over, but a number of teams seem likely to keep an eye on the waiver wire for big names that could become available via buyout.

I have to be honest: I loved Milwaukee’s trade for Nikola Mirotic.

neil: Yes, a week ago, the Bucks were third-best in the East in our ratings. Now they are No. 1. (At least, in terms of full-strength rating.)

chris.herring: They took four second-rounders and the spare parts they got in deals from the past couple of days to get a stretch big who fits their offense perfectly.

Tobias Harris is a more complete player than Mirotic, but the fact that they could get the deal done without giving up much on the personnel side was really impressive.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): What stood out to me is that the biggest losers of the whole trade deadline period were the Lakers and the Celtics, even though they didn’t make any moves. (Well, the Lakers traded for Mike Muscala, but I’m not sure that counts.)

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): It doesn’t.

chris.herring: The Sixers could have benefited from a deal like Milwaukee’s.

neil: Yes, the Sixers gave up a ton in that Harris deal.

tchow: The thing that stood out to me is it seemed like Toronto, Milwaukee AND Philadelphia all made moves with the assumption that their time is NOW. They all seem to believe they can win, if not the NBA Finals, then at least the East. Now, obviously, all three of them (four if you include Boston) can’t make it out on top, so it’ll be interesting to see who, if any, regrets these moves at the end of the season.

natesilver: The Celtics were the biggest losers because all three of the other Eastern contenders made trades that make them much tougher outs. Obviously Philly gave up a lot more to do it than Toronto or Milwaukee did, and I agree that the Mirotic trade is the best of the three.

chris.herring: That’s interesting, Nate.

natesilver: The opportunity cost of not making a move is pretty high if you’re Boston.

Especially if they’re now underdogs to make it out of the second round, which won’t help their case for keeping Kyrie Irving.

chris.herring: I actually didn’t feel like Boston was a massive loser here. On the one hand, yeah, they didn’t change the roster. But they also seem to have played a role in Anthony Davis not being moved, which is a win in some ways, no? I guess it depends on whether you’re looking at short-term (which you probably have to, since the Celtics are a contender) vs. long-term/summer.

neil: Certainly Davis staying in play for the summer is a win for Boston, although Davis’s agent and his father have said he’s not interested in signing long-term in Boston.

natesilver: My thing is like: Kyrie has very openly flirted with the idea of leaving. And both the Knicks and the Clippers, two of the most attractive destinations, have totally cleared their books in way that make them very plausible fits for him.

chris.herring: That’s certainly true

natesilver: The Celtics have to fade a lot of risks: AD openly griping about going there, Kyrie not leaving, the Knicks getting the No. 1 (or maybe the No. 2?) pick — in which case their offer for AD could be pretty darn attractive — and maybe none of the Lakers players having a breakout in the playoffs, which would make them more attractive trade assets, too.

chris.herring: All completely fair.

tchow: Yea, if the Celtics get knocked out in the first round or even the second round of the playoffs this year, I feel like they’re going to really regret not making any moves before this deadline.

natesilver: Like, what if the Celtics had traded for Tobias Harris as a rental?

chris.herring: Maybe I’m just of the opinion that the Celtics doing nothing AND watching AD get dealt to the Lakers would’ve been worse for them.

natesilver: The weird thing about Boston is that they don’t have any obvious weaknesses, so they’re a little hard to improve unless you’re actually getting a star. But still…

chris.herring: I don’t know if I would have liked them dealing for Harris, who is kind of a taller Jayson Tatum with less upside, given their difference in age.

neil: Are the Lakers even going to MAKE the playoffs?

tchow: Maybe? Right now, we project them to be a 9 seed.

chris.herring: That’s a good question, Neil.

natesilver: We have them as 2-to-1 underdogs, although they’re going to benefit from the Clippers semi-tanking. And maybe our numbers don’t account for motivation, as much.

tchow:

neil: Hard as it is to believe a LeBron James team misses the playoffs.

chris.herring: The Clippers are interesting because even after dealing Harris, they aren’t by any means in a bad spot.

natesilver: Yeah, the Clippers have a lot of guys on expiring contracts, so they have incentive to play hard.

In the abstract, the Kings are not tanking, but our numbers hate Harrison Barnes, so that trade didn’t help their chances at all.

chris.herring: I didn’t like that deal for the Kings.

I like that they’re going for it. But I didn’t love trading Justin Jackson.

The Bulls’ deal for Otto Porter was better, IMO.

neil: But it also felt like the Lakers and AD overplayed their hand a little here. It felt like an orchestrated effort to bully the Pelicans into trading a generational player for less than attractive prospects. And the Pelicans didn’t blink.

To hear some tell it, out of spite.

chris.herring: There were a handful of things that played out today that I didn’t understand.

tchow: Fellow Justin Jackson fan here, checking in.

chris.herring: Toronto’s deal for Marc Gasol was interesting. He’s a former defensive player of the year but has slowed down. You deal Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a second-rounder for him. I don’t know how much better that makes the Raptors. Maybe Gasol is less of a defensive liability, but Valanciunas could beat up on second-string bigs pretty well. And I like Wright’s versatility at times.

What did our projections have on that one? The way the Raps handled deadline was interesting. You kept hearing Lowry’s name floated around, etc.

neil: Our projections still like Gasol quite a bit. Mainly for his defense.

chris.herring: Also, to Nate and Neil’s question about the Lakers, at this point, I’m more interested in how the youngsters play from now on. Many of them had never been through this, with it being public that they’re all for sale. How they respond, how hard LeBron pushes himself and how much the Lakers push him will say a lot about whether they’re in the playoffs. It may not be totally worth it for LeBron to push himself to the limit, given how old he is and how slim a chance they have of taking out the West’s contenders.

natesilver: I think literally every player on the roster other than LeBron was rumored to be going to New Orleans at some point, which can’t have helped with morale.

chris.herring: Exactly.

neil: Probably no coincidence they lost by 40+ on Tuesday.

chris.herring: YUP.

natesilver: Plus, the Lakers’ plan B isn’t that bad. Sign Klay Thompson or something this summer, give the young guys more chance to develop, and be opportunistic; there are still several ways you could end up with AD, and if you do, you’re going to have a lot more assets to surround him and LBJ with.

chris.herring: Some teams surprised me by not making a deal today. I thought Atlanta — with guys like Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin — could have dealt away a vet to get something in return. Utah seemed to want Mike Conley, yet Memphis decided not to trade him just yet.

But I love Orlando getting Markelle Fultz. They badly need someone at point guard. So I like the first-round pick as a gamble there.

tchow: But our projections HATE Fultz, Chris.

chris.herring: Of course. He hasn’t been good yet!

neil: I don’t think anybody’s projections know what to do with Fultz.

natesilver: Fultz isn’t a guy that projection systems are set up to deal with.

neil: Right.

chris.herring: One team that continues to confuse me some is Houston. They kind of cheaped out. Moved James Ennis for very little. Picked up Iman Shumpert, but also dealt away Nik Stauskas right after landing him in a trade. All seemingly to stay beneath the luxury tax. Those guys could’ve been useful. Maybe not great, but useful. On a team with a ton of injuries and little depth.

It would be interesting to know how James Harden views that sort of thing as he’s doing everything by himself, damn-near.

natesilver: Shumpert with good coaching/management could be an interesting fit. But yeah, Daryl Morey is sort of a home run hitter, and this felt like him fouling off a few pitches instead.

chris.herring: True. They’ve always been bold, when it comes to certain things, that boldness pays off. They washed their hands of Carmelo Anthony a lot earlier than some would have, but they turned things around shortly after. Now the Lakers are interested in picking Melo up off the waiver wire, apparently.

tchow: Speaking of Melo, Chris, in the beginning of the chat, you mentioned something about buyouts, and I keep hearing NBA circles talking about a robust or much coveted buyout market this time around. Who are some of the players that are being circled right now? I have no idea why it’s “robust.”

chris.herring:

Not everybody has been bought out yet. But there are a few key ones, Tony. Among them: Robin Lopez, who’s thought to be headed to the Warriors. Wesley Matthews, who sounds set on Indiana.

natesilver: What if Houston traded Chris Paul for the Lakers’ young guys this summer?

Not that crazy if AD goes elsewhere, right?

chris.herring: I don’t think the young Lakers shoot well enough to put them around Harden.

But that idea is still kind of fascinating. I don’t trust CP3 health-wise beyond this year — especially not with that money he’s making. So they would be smart to get something for him if someone is willing to give them a king’s ransom.

natesilver: The 76ers really need a buyout guy. The drop-off from their starting five to their bench is about as steep as you’ll ever see.

tchow: Scouring on NBA Twitter right now, and Wayne Ellington (Tar Heel!!) is another name that is being mentioned a lot.

chris.herring: Yeah. Ellington def isn’t playing with Phoenix, so he’s another — maybe to the Rockets, even. He waived a no-trade clause to leave Miami, so he’d probably only join a contender.

natesilver: Speaking of Philly, the Fultz move actually opens up some cap space, so they could decide to keep Harris and target another max guy if Jimmy Butler leaves.

chris.herring: That Harris deal was such a big, interesting move for them.

Being able to keep him as insurance depending on what happens with Butler — who isn’t my favorite long-term max option anyway — is huge. Harris is also a lot younger than people realize because Philadelphia is already his fifth team at age 26.

tchow: He’s only 26???

natesilver: I like it more for the Sixers than a lot of people do, in part because it gives them several different options going forward.

chris.herring: Yep.

natesilver: Also, if Ben Simmons is your point guard, you need forwards who can make a 3.

chris.herring: I was tough on them last year, but can we circle back to the Pistons right quick? Because they are seemingly punting on this season. They gave up Stanley Johnson for Thon Maker, which I don’t mind on its own. Thon could be good. But they dealt away a very decent/good player in Reggie Bullock to the Lakers.

neil: And according to our projections, Detroit has a 56 percent chance of making the playoffs!

chris.herring: THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT UNDERSTANDING

neil: Same.

chris.herring: Like, there’s a possibility they could be trading themselves out of the playoffs.

Now, maybe that risk isn’t terrible — especially now, with what happened with the Wizards.

neil: Making the playoffs is a pretty low bar, especially in the East. But Detroit has only done it once since 2009.

natesilver: Top to bottom, Detroit has to be in one of the worst situations in the league. They’re stuck in that in-between zone, but without very many young assets to pull them out of it.

chris.herring: As it stands, they still wouldn’t be in. And I feel like they hurt their chances, if anything

tchow: Yea, I was about to say. Detroit making the playoffs might be surprising, but if you look at the East, who else would be the 7 or 8 seed that seems more probable? 56 percent seems about right to me.

neil: The Wizards basically blew everything up. (Although I was a little surprised Bradley Beal wasn’t on the move.)

chris.herring: Miami. I trust Erik Spoelstra and that group more than Blake Griffin and the Blakettes.

natesilver: If the Pistons decide they want to blow things up, then I wonder if they’d consider moving Blake this summer.

chris.herring: I guess they probably want to build around him going forward. But yeah, Blake probably should be moved. He could make several teams really interesting.

tchow: Man, I feel so bad for Wizards fans.

chris.herring: Yeah. Speaking of the Wizards, I liked the Bulls jumping in on the Otto Porter situation. Some Bulls’ fans didn’t like it. But Chicago has done literally nothing to make itself more appealing to free agents this summer. So they sacrifice that space by getting Porter, who’s young. But they at least have a young vet who is decent on both ends to put around that young core.

natesilver: There are so many teams with max cap slots open that some of these “bad” contracts, e.g. Blake or CP3 or maybe Kevin Love, could start to look like assets.

All of those guys can still play obviously, but they get very expensive in the back half of their contracts.

tchow: Aren’t all those teams waiting for the summer though, Nate?

natesilver: Yeah, I think the summer is going to be totally wild. Dallas also cleared a max slot, or close to it.

chris.herring: Yeah! The Dallas situation was big. Last week, when we discussed them, we talked about how they didn’t have space. By moving Barnes now, they do. Accelerates the timeline quite a bit, which you obviously want to do now that you have Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis together.

chris.herring: LOL

The way the Pelicans handled this whole scenario is ridiculous.

neil: So petty.

tchow: The NBA is the pettiest league. But that’s also what makes it the best league.

chris.herring: Although the Lakers’ core wouldn’t have had me excited to make a deal, either.

neil: No, and I think part of it was New Orleans feeling like planting a flag for the small-market teams of the league. The Lakers can’t just have anyone they want whenever they want.

natesilver: If Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram had played, like, 20 percent better this season, everything would be so much easier.

neil: That’s definitely true.

chris.herring: I think the Pelicans’ social media team just called the Lakers’ offer the equivalent of the Fyre Festival.

neil: I didn’t realize FuckJerry was referring to Jerry Buss.

Lol

tchow: LOL

natesilver: But maybe the Lakers deserve some blame for that. The chemistry around the team is really weird and there are a lot of mixed messages about what their objectives are.

chris.herring: Completely. I don’t think it was ever fair to assume they could get the deal done. But I do understand L.A.’s frustration if, as reported, they weren’t even getting counteroffers back from the Pelicans.

natesilver: A lot of the better deals of the past few years, like Paul George or Kawhi Leonard or on a smaller scale Mirotic today, are just about teams being opportunistic.

Instead of trying to call their shots.

chris.herring: Yeah. It would’ve been something had Milwaukee or Toronto been able to land Davis. Probably too big of a gamble for Toronto, and maybe Milwaukee didn’t have enough outside of Giannis.

But the gamble for PG paid off; especially considering OKC generally isn’t in play for the biggest free agents because of location.

natesilver: It was sorta funny that AD’s list included the Lakers plus three teams that didn’t really have pieces that fit.

neil: Yeah, there was another conspiracy theory floating around that that was to provide cover when eventually talks circled “back” to the Lakers.

chris.herring: Yeah. It was Lakers or bust this whole time.

natesilver: If the Knicks get the No. 1 pick, what are the odds they flip it for Davis? Gotta be at least 50/50, no? It just feels like a very clean transaction.

chris.herring: Nate, I think the Knicks would be very well-positioned if they win the lottery. They would have the No. 1 pick (Zion Williamson), two recent lottery guys — in Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox — AND the future first-round picks they just got from Dallas.

I don’t think too many teams can touch that. Not a whole lot in the way of players who can make a big, immediate impact. But Zion alone is something you can sell to your fans, as well as a boatload of future picks. And now that the Davis saga is being pushed out to the offseason — and with Boston perhaps being put in a weakened situation, given the lack of clarity around Kyrie — the team that wins the lotto could be best position to make NOLA an offer.

tchow: Circling back to things that did happen, outside of the AD saga, the story of these trades seems to be about the moves the top Eastern Conference teams made. FWIW, this is how the top of the East looked a week ago, compared to now:

neil: I love the East horse race this season! I think the favorite changed hands, like, three times in the last few days. Everyone is making their move now that LeBron is out of the picture.

chris.herring: As they should!

tchow: The King is gone — the throne is wide-open. It’s like “Game of Thrones” in the Eastern Conference.

chris.herring: I really do like the Mirotic trade for Milwaukee. When I tweeted about it, someone said, “Yeah, but how does he help them against Golden State?” Milwaukee hasn’t gotten out of the first round since 2000. They have a real chance to make the finals now, with an elite player, offense and defense and an explosive scheme that allows them to rain threes.

tchow: So. Many. Shooters.

neil: Right, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell were Bucks the last time they were in a spot like this.

chris.herring: Mirotic isn’t perfect. But he really helped AD and the Pelicans down the stretch last year. Can certainly help Milwaukee.

tchow: All right, enough about the trade deadline. Who’s ready for the All-Star draft?

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Goodbye, Dead Puck Era

Players in the NHL are scoring at a prodigious pace. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is on pace to score 125 points, which would be tied for the highest point tally of the new millennium. If they keep up their current clip, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid would score 122 points, Chicago’s Patrick Kane 119 points and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen 117 points. All of these point totals would smash each player’s previous career high. This makes sense given the climate of the NHL this season — it’s the highest-scoring season since the one that took place immediately after the lockout of 2004-05. There are currently 40 players scoring at least a point per game.1 If the season ended today, it would be the highest number since 1995-96, when 42 finished the season with a point per game or better. This is excellent news for a league that’s constantly tinkering with its rulebook to increase scoring.

For the first time in more than a decade, the average goals scored per NHL game has surpassed 6. But unlike previous spikes in scoring, there weren’t any sweeping changes made to the rulebook before the season,2 so what exactly is going on?

An obvious stat to look at is the average number of power-play opportunities teams are getting each game. More man advantages, it would seem, might lead to more quality scoring opportunities. But power-play opportunities per game have actually decreased steadily since the lockout of 2004-05 and are static when compared with last season, when the average goals scored per game was below 6.

Shooters do appear to be taking better shots in five-on-five scenarios. The average for the league in expected goals per 60 minutes per team3 is 2.38, according to data from Corsica Hockey — up from 2.19 in 2015-16. And shooters are actually performing better than the expected goals model suggests they should be: The league average goals per 60 minutes per team is 2.49. A 10th of a goal may not seem like a lot, but it translates to about 254 more goals scored per season. Shots against per game have remained fairly stable since the lockout of 2004-05, which makes it somewhat difficult to explain the sudden glut.

It could be that the ongoing analytics boom in hockey has affected a change in the old “get the puck to the net however possible” evangelism that once was pre-eminent. It’s true that the puck won’t go into the net unless it’s guided toward the net, but not all shots are created equal: An unimpeded shot from between the dots has a much better chance of hitting the twine than a shot taken from the blue line and directed toward a bunch of traffic in front of the net, for example. If expected goals are any indication, players are taking smarter shots — not more shots — than they did in the past, and that’s leading to more goals.

We might expect that slumping goaltending could also provide part of the answer. The average save percentage (.908) across the NHL is the lowest it’s been in a decade. But if we isolate goaltenders who were roughly in their prime (between the ages 25 and 31) in both 2015-16 and 2018-19 — presumably a group whose inherent skills haven’t changed very much even as the NHL’s goals-per-game average has — their average save percentage has dipped by an astounding 12 points over that span.

By comparison, the overall league average in save percentage is down by only 7 points, which indicates that goaltenders who were not in the goalie population in 2015-16 are having a better time adjusting to the league than goalies who were already around — even ones still in their primes. It’s fair to conclude, then, that goaltending has gotten demonstrably more difficult in a short period of time, and veteran goalies appear to have had a hard time adapting to shooters who have figured out how to take smarter and more dangerous shots.

This is all in sharp contrast to the amount of scoring that occurred in the past decade-plus. In the past, changes to the NHL rulebook have had a bubble effect: Scoring increases immediately but regresses within a season or two. That was certainly the case in 2005-06, which was defined by a spate of rule changes and a cadre of whistle-happy referees. That season, the size of goaltender equipment was reduced; the two-line offsides rule was abolished; the neutral zone was reduced by 4 feet, expanding the space each team had to mount an offensive zone attack; and goaltenders were no longer allowed to play the puck anywhere they wanted behind the goal line, instead restricted to a trapezoid behind their own net. Power-play opportunities skyrocketed to 5.85 per team per game, up by 1.61 from 2003-04.

This all meant that scoring jumped from 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04 to 6.16 goals per game in 2005-06. The boost was short-lived, however. Scoring dipped beneath 6 goals per game the following season, and as the decade post-lockout progressed, scoring continued to suffer. Power-play opportunities declined drastically, goaltenders got better, and the average goals scored per game stayed below 6 for a dozen seasons. Until this season.

Whether the scoring uptick can be attributed to a culmination of rule changes, smarter shot selection, worse goaltending or evolved tactics — or some combination of all of that — one thing is certain: The NHL is a scorer’s league again, and the 2018-19 iteration is the most entertaining in nearly three decades.