Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where The Meek Shall Overrun the Strong

Earlier today on one of the social media outlets in which I post, I stated that an increasing lack of passion amongst professional sports analysts means that the day will eventually come when they'll be overrun by bloggers who will do the same work (often more work), the same research (often more research), and they'll do it all without the promise of a paycheck.

Maybe that will come to pass, maybe it won't, but you can see where I'm coming from as I pour hour after hour into my Vulgar Stats column and Phil works diligently on his analyses and recaps and we come away with a better grasp of hockey than a lot of people who are paid to do it.  However, there are still a few shortcomings to bloggers gaining any sort of a foothold, those being trust and access.

A lot of professional sports personalities are former players and coaches, Matt Barnaby, Keith Jones, Mike Milbury, and Pierre McGuire are a few examples.  The public trusts those guys more because of the amount of time they've spent within, and in close proximity to the game of hockey.  Of course, much of the public also hates those guys, and in spite of those hours spent with hockey, the public thinks those analysts are talking completely out of their asses much of the time.  Who can blame them really?  They know they have virtually no chance of being fired (that Pierre McGuire is still employed is a perfect example), and almost everyone wants to get paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible.  These guys are used to being spoon-fed millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals.  Stand, hold a shoe, smile, make bank from Nike.  It's only natural that they would want to do the same thing as analysts.  Sit, smile, use old stereotypes and cliches that never seem to get challenged and make bank from NBC, Versus, Yahoo, and company.

Too many analysts are just lazy.  Take Justin Bourne who writes for Yahoo's Puck Daddy who had this exchange with me on twitter. 

ryanwhitney6 (retweeted by Bourne) - NHL playoffs are amazing. Van runs through regular season and first three games and boom they lose 2 in a row and all hell breaks loose.

Me - @ryanwhitney6 @jtbourne Didn't a lot of Vancouver's wins come against bottom feeders? Pretty sure VS. showed a graphic that said they had the fewest wins against playoff teams of anyone in the west.  (The graphic may have been for regulation wins, I honestly don't remember.)

Bourne (who I'm pretty sure only read the first sentence of my tweet) - @CriminallyVu1ga If Chicago's a bottom feeder, than yes.

Me - @jtbourne Vancouver was 17-13-7 against playoff teams this season. That isn't exactly running through regular season. That makes their record 37-6-2 against non playoff teams, exactly what I the point I was making.

(Unsurprisingly Bourne had no answer.)

Maybe Bourne has something going on today that's occupying his mind, but in his initial comment, and reply to me, he was just flat out lazy.  Lazy for not reading my entire tweet, and lazy for not looking at the records of the teams in the playoffs and wondering what they really mean.  Too many analysts look at the win loss column and trot out old stereotypes.  (That Philly's goaltending woes continue to be relevant in no way excuses this.)  I mean come on, it took me a split second to wonder if Vancouver was as good as their record indicated, almost no motivation to click over to ESPN.com's schedule page, and maybe three minutes to scroll through and tally up their games against playoff teams in my head.  And I'm not even getting paid.

Another problem with national media is that we generally expect them to be less biased than the general public, which often isn't the case.  Count how many times you hear a former hockey personality excuse a dangerous hit as a "hockey play."  Another exchange I had on Twitter was with head editor Greg Wyshynski, also of Yahoo's Puck Daddy.

Me - @wyshynski your take on a possible suspension to mike richards?

Wyshynski - @kbojedla @CriminallyVu1ga Suspending Richards would be suspending to injury. I've seen it a bunch of times. Maybe a major; not a suspension

Me - @wyshynski so where do you fall on hits to the head? Penalize, suspend? That's two dangerous hits that Richards has thrown in this series to/around a player's head.

(Unsurprisingly, Wyshynski had no answer, but other twitter users had some good ones.)

UPDATE:
Wyshynski - @CriminallyVu1ga RE: Richards, Don't believe in tallying incidents. Elbow earned 5; boarding 2; if he does smthing worthy of it, suspend him

(I disagree with this, but that's a different issue entirely.)

@CriminallyVu1ga Although I must say I appreciated being treated as a dispassionate, establishment suit on your blog. As did my butler ;)

(And I laughed at this.  One thing positive to say about folks that do this for a living, is that they're far more used to dealing with criticism, and typically better at addressing it than the aforementioned bloggers.)

At least Wyshynski is remaining consistent with a March 9th column in which he wrote: "A two-minute penalty for a previously legal check that involves the head is a green light for Generation Lindros: a League full of players that skate with their heads down, knowing they're untouchable because any contact with their noggin has been legislated out of the game."


This is another instance in which passionate fans far outstrip paid professionals.  The professionals are worried about tinkering with the game they grew up with.  The local fans, while they will wish torture, death, and STDs on opposing players a bit too often, are mostly concerned with their guys getting hurt, exactly where the concern should lie.

I think that the term "legal check that involves the head" is an oxymoron. What kind of contact to the head should be legal? An elbow? A shoulder? This makes absolutely no sense to my (admittedly unpaid) mind. Is it REALLY too much to ask a player to duck down a little and shoulder a guy in the chest when he's laying a hit? I think I could pull that off (Brian Campbell got about 80% of the way), and comparatively I suck at hockey (though my ducking skills are second to none). Are we REALLY telling forwards that it's their job to look up and get out of the way of a projectile aimed at their head rather than the hitter's job to not aim a body part at someone's head?

And the assertion that it will fundamentally change the game is questionable at best. For starters there isn't much open ice hitting in the game anyways. Additionally (and I will use a favorite comparison of mine), we don't judge intent for high sticks, but that certainly hasn't led to a decrease in intensity in fights for the puck. Why do we think that removing any judgment of intent from head shots will lead to a decrease in hockey intensity.

It's baffling that these former players and analysts who have been so close to the game for so long think ANYTHING is going to decrease the intensity of those guys. Look at other sports, the number of guys simply collecting a paycheck is orders of magnitude higher than it is in the NHL. NOTHING is going to get rid of those guys' intensity short of banning physical contact altogether.

So why do we read these guys anyways if their analysis is often superficial at best and their intentions are almost always so thoroughly misplaced?  For starters, they have the name behind their writing (ESPN, NHL, Yahoo, etc.) that suggests an increase objectivity and accuracy.  (You know, except for Linda Cohn.)  They're also easier to find and access (name one sports blog that doesn't cover your own team).  They get data from the Elias Sports Bureau, (something I'd like to bring to BBG if I can, even if it costs some change).  But those things are changing.  More and more fans are turning inward for info, networking across blogs and message boards, and viewing the same for their opponents rather than reading what bland opinion Johnny Box Score and AP Reader over at ESPN is rolling out.  And the bloggers are making up ground in the one area they're lacking, access.  Both Phil and myself have been able to obtain press credentials for professional and amateur sports alike, and we'll continue to make up ground.  Why?  The same reason the Sabres are in their series with Philadelphia.

We want it more.

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