Friday, July 10, 2015

Thank you

Bob McKenzie is already long at the cottage. The other insiders, too.

Sorry to say but I'm also leaving you for a while.

This was a crazy, difficult year. The Leafs obviously had a crazy, difficult season, what with their hot start, implosion, coach firing, further implosion and the beginning of the deconstruction of the roster. They won 11 of their last 51 games (!) which even the biggest cynics didn't see coming. It was a long, depressing slog for everyone involved: players, staffers, fans and even media.

Just trying to make sense of the mess was, at times, a mess.

In the midst of that, I started doing a little TV for the first time. (A wonderful introduction to insulting tweets about your hair/face/expression/etc. before games!) Trouble was I had health problems. Meanwhile my wife was very pregnant, and there were concerns over the baby, so double up on the hospital visits. Then my son was born near midseason – 10 days late in the middle of a snowstorm – and he was so colicky there wasn't a lot of sleep had at Chez Mirtle.

Still isn't.

Like I said: crazy. It felt like permanent survival mode there for months, getting from day to day, game to practice to firing to game.

Every new parent complains about lack of sleep. We've all heard it. The thing you don't realize is that the worst of it is cumulative. You can go without sleep for two months just fine. You cope. You nap. But once you get past three months and into four, your brain turns against you. There's a revolt. It turns into mush.

Try making sense of an analytics article at that point... 

Anyway, that's not what this is about. This is a quick thank you to those who followed along, whether that was on Twitter or in the paper or whatever this season. I appreciate it. Even with the team in the toilet and the media going bananers and players feeling under attack and my life in chaos, it seemed there was intelligent conversation being had and people were generally appreciative of a level-headed take. 

This is a great job. I enjoy being able to go to an NHL rink all winter and tell stories from the sport I grew up loving on a fundamental level. The only thing that facilitates that is the fact there are folks clicking on links and tweeting and engaging with what I'm doing. 

The way the Leafs are covered doesn't have to be all adversarial. It doesn't have to be all hot takes and click bait. I think there's a desire for more than that, especially in a market this big and this intense. I hope I'm one of the people that is able to deliver more than that, more often than not. 

So thanks for your support. Thanks for believing there is a place for reasonable, critical coverage of a franchise that has desperately needed this type of Shanaplan overhaul for all six seasons I've been on the beat. Thanks for hanging in even through some awful hockey and corny tweets. 

There's more to come.  

Have a good summer everyone... I'm headed off to be a Dad for a while.

Maybe a nap, too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Matthew Wuest (1979-2015)

I never met Matt Wuest in person, but we had intended to at some point. We had talked on email starting back in 2009 and, later, on Twitter DMs all the time. Probably at least once every week or two.

After a while of doing that, you feel like you know someone.

Getting the news of his death on Thursday was tough, as he was a young, talented and decent man.

We also had a lot in common.

Matt was also, like me, a young sportswriter, one who loved junior hockey and who did some scouting in the QMJHL for McKeen's Hockey (one of my first jobs was doing the same in the WHL). He was also a freelancer with The Hockey News, something I also did early in my career.

Often my emails to him over the years were simply requests for obscure information. One year I did a story on Jamie McGinn getting sent down and recalled over and over and over again, and Matt provided a list of the players recalled the most that season (McGinn was first, with 14 recalls by mid-March).

No one else had that kind of data, that fast. No one else was as prompt or willing to help, either.

And if Matt ever needed to clarify something, especially with the Leafs, he would often touch base, and I was happy to help.

On an under-reported story like this, on how much the Blackhawks exceeded the cap due to bonuses, we worked together to try and nail down as many details as possible. I got a decent story out of it, and Matt got accurate info for his site, which was what he always wanted.

In August last year, he talked about wanting to build an analytics-based replacement for when it went dark, and I provided him with what I knew about scraping data from and how things like quality of competition were calculated.

I know he put some serious groundwork into that potential new wing of the site, and had it launched, it would have been another terrific resource.

"It won't be anywhere close to as good as ES, but it will help fill the void for a while," he said at one point. "And maybe can grow into more over time."

"I believe in you!" I joked.

I always felt bad Matt was never rewarded more for what CapGeek became, especially after learning of his illness. He may have made a little money off of it from the ads on the site, but given the time he invested, it wasn't nearly enough.

And there were big companies interested in buying it. He always resisted, even when he couldn't run it anymore.

I think that he took pride that it was something he had built from scratch, including all of the sources he had for the data, and didn't want to just hand it over to a major media company to meddle with and ruin.

The last time I talked to Matt was in January, after news of his illness came out publicly. I gave him my cell number and told him to touch base anytime. I wanted to help him out, perhaps even to pass the site on to a buyer, so that he and his family could benefit. I also thought (foolishly) about maybe trying to maintain it myself, somehow, until he was well.

But this was how he wanted it, and I respect that. We all should.

As an aside, there's no making sense of someone dying like this. People will try, but at his age, it's simply a tragedy that couldn't be avoided. He didn't miss a test. He didn't deserve this. My family lived through something similar when my mother got cancer when she was only 39, and I was still in grade school. Thankfully, she beat it (twice) and was here to meet her grandson last week.

Matt deserved an ending like that. His family did, too.

Here's hoping that, at some point, when a new site launches with similar info, it'll be dedicated in his honour. Maybe even the league will start it?

I hope so.

RIP my friend. Thanks for your help. We didn't meet, but I know you were a gem.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On blocking, muting and life on Twitter as a sportswriter

I end up spending an awful lot of time on Twitter these days.

I've said this before, but it's simply essential to our job -- or at least the way I interpret our job. It not only helps promote stories; it helps promote good ideas, debate and the thought process that creates better work.

Having a lot of interaction with readers is a good thing. It was when I ran this blog (2004-2008). It still is now.

The hard part now is with 64,300 followers and that rising by 50+ a day, there are a lot of people weighing in and there's a lot of noise. As someone who appreciates the good that comes with Twitter, I'm unfortunately left dealing with the bad on a daily basis, and some of it's very bad.

This is why I don't have a problem blocking you. I don't do it that often, but I've got a pretty basic set of guidelines that get you blocked: Tweet insults at me and goodbye.

The thing I've learned after more than six years on Twitter is that a very small group of people ruin it for everyone. It's only a couple hundred of true miscreants that are driving other members of the media away from their mentions entirely, and it's a real shame.

Inevitable but a shame.

So blocking is cut and dry. I've got no problem if you want to disagree with me or debate something I've written. I do that every day. Have for 10 years if you look through the comments here. It's only the petty attacks and garbage that are auto-bans and frankly there's probably not a lot of reasoning with most of the people that do it.

Idiots going to idiot.

But this year I've had a lot of people email me to get unblocked and that's fair enough. Last season was pretty crazy with all of the regression talk around the Leafs, some fans lost their heads and, yes, I will unblock if you can obey that pretty simple rule above.

Now, a separate issue is the mute button. Muting is different than blocking. One of the things that facilitates me not losing my mind while spending hours on Twitter each week is I mute the most nuisance followers, and there are a lot more of these than the insulters.

Endless nitpicking, terrible jokes, repeated goading about things like analytics or things I wrote years ago -- you end up seeing it all, often on a daily basis.

In the end, between blocking and muting, we're still talking about a very small group of people. Maybe 500. Maybe more. If you're reading this it's probably not you. But it might be.

I'm writing this because I do want to keep an open line of communication with everyone -- even as the followers grow and grow -- and more and more I'm having to silence some of the silliness.

Let's have a debate. Let's be civil. We all like hockey. We all like being on Twitter. There's a way it can work.

That's it. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

2014-15 NHL season predictions

Here goes nothing.

I'm not predicting who wins shootouts or not, so this is regulation points only. Add in six points to every team if you want to give them all an average number of shootout wins.

Since coaching and goalie changes are typically the biggest wild cards (i.e. Bishop/Cooper in Tampa and Roy in Colorado last year) when it comes to predictions, figured I'd note those as well.

And yes I know the playoff format changed. That's easy enough to figure out from the point totals here, right? I have faith in all of you.

East Team Goalie change? Coach change? RegPts Prediction
1 Boston No No 105
2 Pittsburgh No Johnston 104
3 Tampa Bay No No 99
4 Montreal No No 97
5 NY Rangers No No 88
6 New Jersey No Brodeur No 88
7 Detroit No No 87
8 Columbus No No 85
9 Washington No Trotz 83
10 NY Islanders Halak No 83
11 Toronto No No 81
12 Ottawa No No 80
13 Philadelphia No No 78
14 Carolina Khudobin Peters 68
15 Florida Luongo Gallant 68
16 Buffalo Neuvirth No 50

West Team Goalie change? Coach change? RegPts Prediction
1 Chicago No No 107
2 St. Louis No Miller No 100
3 San Jose No No 100
4 Los Angeles No No 100
5 Anaheim No Hiller No 98
6 Dallas No No 94
7 Colorado No No 89
8 Minnesota ? No 86
9 Vancouver Miller Desjardins 86
10 Nashville Rinne Laviolette 83
11 Phoenix No No 83
12 Winnipeg No Maurice 79
13 Edmonton No Dubnyk No 77
14 Calgary Hiller No 64

2014-15 NHL teams by height, weight and age

The usual annual stats compilation. These are based on opening night rosters.

Teams Weight WRk Height HRk Age ARk
Anaheim 210.1 1 73.5 9 27.0 24
Arizona 206.1 8 73.9 2 28.3 8
Boston 200.7 20 73.2 15 27.6 17
Buffalo 202.2 17 73.2 15 26.3 29
Calgary 196.3 30 72.7 27 28.2 10
Carolina 202.1 18 72.6 29 27.3 19
Chicago 196.7 29 73.0 21 28.1 12
Colorado 205.8 10 73.3 12 28.4 5
Columbus 202.5 15 73.0 21 26.2 30
Dallas 206.5 5 73.7 4 28.2 10
Detroit 202.4 16 73.3 12 28.4 5
Edmonton 197.4 28 73.1 19 26.4 28
Florida 203.3 12 73.7 4 28.3 8
Los Angeles 208.3 2 73.7 4 27.3 19
Minnesota 199.8 24 72.8 26 27.3 19
Montreal 203.3 12 72.7 27 27.9 14
Nashville 199.9 23 73.2 15 27.9 14
New Jersey 203.0 14 73.0 21 31.0 1
NY Islanders 205.0 11 72.9 25 27.2 22
NY Rangers 198.8 26 72.6 29 28.6 3
Ottawa 206.4 7 74.2 1 26.8 26
Philadelphia 201.3 19 73.5 9 28.4 5
Pittsburgh 199.6 25 73.2 15 28.5 4
San Jose 206.0 9 73.6 7 27.8 16
St. Louis 206.5 5 73.0 21 28.1 12
Tampa Bay 200.0 21 73.3 12 27.1 23
Toronto 200.0 21 73.1 19 27.0 24
Vancouver 197.8 27 73.6 7 28.8 2
Washington 207.4 3 73.5 9 27.4 18
Winnipeg 206.7 4 73.9 2 26.7 27
Average 202.7 73.3 27.8

Sunday, October 05, 2014

2014-15 Leafs preseason stats

I haven't been able to find these posted anywhere so I'll just stick them here. Sorry that the formatting is not ideal, but it is what it is.

Please don't send me requests for the other 29 teams. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

A word on our words

Well, it's almost time to get back at it so... a couple thoughts.

First off, I love Twitter. It's been a great addition to the hockey community the last few years, and it's opened doors for a lot of good writers, bloggers and fans to find an audience. For all the bad that you run into on there  and sure there's a lot of nonsense  there's been plenty of good.

Good ideas. Good people. Good debate.

Unfortunately, there's this misconception from some Leafs fans that that's not how it is. That I'm elitist – or biased or whatever – and have no interest in interacting on social media in a meaningful way.

Frankly, the opposite is true. I think the only reason I've got an absurd number of tweets (100k yikes) is because I'm in the middle of these conversations every day during the season, defending my ideas, challenging others' and generally enjoying talking about hockey.

I hear from colleagues all the time who brag about not only never responding to fans but also never even reading what they have to say, and I can't imagine doing this job that way.

There's far more positive that comes out of those connections than negative.

I also know for a fact that new additions to the landscape like Twitter have done a lot for my career.

Ten years ago, I was finishing j-school and started this (crappy) website to write about the NHL, back when doing so for a living was still a pipe dream. The support that this site, then the one at SB Nation, then the Twitter account, and then now the stories at The Globe and Mail got has meant a great deal, personally and professionally.

Working in the media in general has changed dramatically in the last two or three years, let alone the last 10. One of the biggest shifts is the audience now has a direct impact on content and who's providing it. By that I mean, increasingly, media outlets need to listen to their readers, embrace social media and adapt to a changing landscape, and I personally believe that's why people like Sean McIndoe and Tyler Dellow (and myself) have been successful.

That's a roundabout way of saying that I respect my audience a great deal. On a basic level, they're why we're here doing what we're doing, and I feel like at least some of them have been along for this ride for years.

There are a lot of problems in how the NHL is covered. Too many are too heavily indebted to sources, offering coverage favourable to friends and that vilifies enemies. Too many are only interested in how their stories can further their agendas or careers and don't mind bending the truth to accomplish that.

Some in the industry may hate me saying that, but it's true. I see it all the time.

But the thing is the audience is getting a bigger say than ever in who and what succeeds and fails, and it's an audience that is increasingly media savvy. They can see what I'm talking about. And they can decide what kind of sports coverage they want by following those worth following and reading those worth reading.

It'll have an impact. It already is.

It has with me. And that's why, as I said off the top, I love Twitter. It's a great tool, and it's a great connector, one that's helped shake the media from the "we speak, you listen" mentality it was mired in for too long.

That's where I'm coming from, even if you don't always agree with what I write.

So if you've had a bad experience with me on social media, it could have just been a bad day, for one or both of us. Or maybe it was the hundredth mocking tweet of the night. (It's hard to explain what it's like being barraged during games sometimes.)

But I'll keep trying to be as accommodating as possible, reading and responding to as many of them as possible, because, to me, this is a vital part of what we do.


And thankfully it's almost time for hockey.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My most-read stories of 2013

I'm obviously a little late on this – it's almost June  but I wanted to start saving some links to decent stories I've done throughout the years, giving a reference point for me and anyone else to look back to. This doesn't happen on The Globe's site so I'll archive them here.

Here were the 10 most-read stories from last year, which included a lot of drama with the Leafs and around the league in the wake of the lockout:

1. The inside story of Crosby’s gruesome facial injury

Sid always moves the needle on the interweb. This story reminded me a lot of one I'd done a couple years earlier on extreme dental injuries in hockey, about as gruesome a subject as I've covered. (I stopped wearing only a visor when I play after writing it.) 

It's difficult getting medical information on a player like Crosby, who the Penguins were very careful about protecting from all the requests, but I thought this story did a decent job of breaking down how severe the damage really was. And my thanks to Marc Methot, who gave a great interview over the phone on short notice. It's amazing these injuries are considered routine in hockey. 

2. How Canadian hockey is becoming a game strictly for the rich

This was part of a large series about the income gap in Canada that The Globe did last year, one that has been nominated under the 'Project of the Year' category at the National Newspaper Awards. 

The hockey part of it was such a dense topic, you could easily write a book on it, and I had tons and tons of interviews and material I wasn't able to use. The cost of hockey is a much bigger problem than we think these days.

It was great to work with Karl Subban, who's a pretty remarkable man considering career as a principal in some of Toronto's troubled neighbourhoods and now on the charity side.  

3. Net losses: Why the world is passing Canada in goal

I worked off and on on this story for about three months, so it's near and dear to my heart. Going to Stockholm for four days was also a real thrill for a guy who's been a hockey nerd his entire life. Again, you could write a book on how goaltending is changing in hockey, and I had so much material that didn't ultimately get into the story. 

It's unfortunate this piece didn't get more consideration from the NNAs, but judging by the reader response, it was very well received. (A couple months after it came out, I was out for lunch one day with a high ranking sports exec who didn't otherwise know me. He said it was the best sports story he'd read in quite a while and that he had saved it to read again and again.) 

One of the problems I think with this piece making a bigger impact than it did was the fact that people still see Canadian goalies like Carey Price succeeding in the NHL, which is really besides the point. This is a story about development systems not Vezina trophies, and there's no question Canada's needs work in goal. After publication, I heard from a lot of goalies, including several former pros, who applauded us for writing it. 

The thing to keep in mind is that Sweden's improvements are very recent and haven't really hit North America yet. The concern over here should be that that's coming.  

4. New Leafs owners said to dislike Burke from get-go

One of the big questions when Brian Burke was let go suddenly at the beginning of last season was "why did it happen?" Working with Grant Robertson, from our business section, we tried to answer that as accurately as we could. 

In the end, it wasn't much more complicated than the fact new ownership really didn't like the guy or how he operated. Burke didn't impress them in meetings and didn't even appear to try to impress them.  

5. KHL declares war on NHL contracts

At a time when everyone was growing tired of hearing about the business side of the game, a little spat between the KHL and NHL was big news. Especially with Ilya Kovalchuk's situation. 

6. Leafs’ Nazem Kadri: One lucky man

This was one of the most controversial stories I've written to be honest. My editor had wanted an analytics-based take on an issue with the Leafs, and Kadri was such an obvious choice at the time. His on-ice shooting percentage was in the stratosphere, and he was one of the league's leading scorers in large part due to randomness. Without a doubt, you could predict he would fall off dramatically from his point-a-game pace the following season. 

I received a ton of hate mail when it was published, but the reality was, the numbers were right. The day this came out, Kadri had 17 goals and 40 points in 40 games. Since then, including the playoffs, he has 22 goals and 58 points in 93 games, or a 51-point pace in an 82-game season. And that's despite playing with Kessel at times and getting more minutes than when he had a point-a-game.

The lesson here is that point production is not 100 per cent skill based. Sometimes there's a lot of luck involved and that's what happened with Kadri. He's a good player; he's not that good.  

7. Burke out, Nonis in as Leafs GM

What started out as a normal day at practice turned into anything but back in January of 2013. I was pulling into the parking lot in my car when word started to filter out on sports radio that Burke had been fired, which made for a hectic couple of hours writing this piece quickly as we waited near players' cars for them to come out and speak. Then it was to the ACC to hear from Dave Nonis, who looked as shocked as the rest of us.

8. The problem with David Clarkson’s new contract

Again, this story was very controversial. The Leafs received almost universal praise in the press for their off-season, including for the Clarkson contract, which from an analytics perspective was a complete disaster. 

In hindsight, I wish I had been more negative about the signing from the beginning, but this piece does a good job of outlining how close to a decline Clarkson was. Even I didn't expect it to start happening immediately, however. 

9. Who’s on the block? The NHL’s top trade candidates

Everyone loves a trade story. It's why guys like Eklund are able to thrive (?). The fact most of these players have been moved shows that often the real, MSM-driven rumours out there have something to them. 

10. Could the Leafs really trade Jake Gardiner?

What happens with Jake Gardiner continues to be a huge story in Toronto – and that's with good reason. Do they finally work through the growing pains with their young players or continue to search for the quick fix? It's not so much about the one player as an organizational philosophy.  


Monday, January 13, 2014

We get letters...

Subject: Numbers Geek Go Away 
From: Gus Tserotas
To: James Mirtle

Any chance you could jump off a bridge and spare us your never-ending, totally boring, totally useless numbers crap?

Aside from some other numbers-geeks in the media, do you really think anyone who is a real hockey fan gives a damn about your fraudulent numbers?

First of all, even if the formulas you are using are sound, the data you are inputting is completely fraudulent. There is a HUGE variance of stat interpretation throughout the NHL, to the point of being a joke.

Just recently Joe Bowen gave three or four examples of how incredibly inaccurate these numbers coming in are. We watched a Leaf/St. Louis game filled with giveaways only to learn the stats guy in that town could only account for 1 giveaway the entire game. One NHL team is at the top of the list in takeaways at home, and near the bottom on the road. Yeah, sure.

Aside from the fact that your never-ending numbers tweets and columns are totally boring for anyone not in the geek family, they are also complete after-the-fact, Monday morning quarterback, piles of meaningless nonsense. Wins and losses aren't the result of your stupid numbers. Your stupid numbers are the results of wins and losses. Analytics are for people who went to school and learned how to punctuate. Somehow they get a job in some newspaper's sports department because they don't mind working for a laughable salary. A suddenly they are hockey experts?

If your laughable theories were as good at predicting outcomes in advance as you constantly tell everyone they are, why aren't you down in Las Vegas making tons of money off your inside knowledge? In fact, why have a NHL season at all? Why don't you just tell us right now who will win it all?

I look forward to your answer on that, so I can invest my time watching something else.

Your analytic tweets are soooooo boring, and your non-analytic tweets are juvenile. I laughed so hard at your proof that you "didn't make up the Kadri and Gardner trade talks." So I checked out your proof.....Bob Mackenzie says he "thinks the Leafs might do a trade." Oh well then, if Bob thinks they might, the deal can only be hours away.

If your punctuation degree prevents you from knowing the game of hockey by simply watching it, can you spare us your "throw enough crap at the wall and some of it will stick" approach to reporting?

Tweeting fraudulent numbers all day long makes you a fraud as well. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

2013-14 NHL teams by height, weight and age

The usual annual stats compilation. These are based on opening night rosters.

I'll likely have more analysis on at some point, too.

Teams Height Hrank Weight Wrank Age Arank
1 Anaheim 73.2 20 204.4 13 27.4 20
2 Boston 73.6 6 202.7 17 28.4 7
3 Buffalo 73.6 6 200.2 27 26.3 29
4 Calgary 72.7 28 199.9 28 27.8 13
5 Carolina 73.0 24 205.1 10 26.9 26
6 Chicago 73.4 13 203.0 16 28.2 8
7 Colorado 73.2 20 204.1 14 27.6 17
8 Columbus 73.3 16 206.2 7 26.3 29
9 Dallas 73.1 22 201.6 23 28.6 5
10 Detroit 72.9 26 202.0 20 29.5 2
11 Edmonton 73.4 13 203.6 15 27.8 13
12 Florida 73.6 6 200.3 26 28.9 3
13 Los Angeles 73.8 5 209.8 1 27.6 17
14 Minnesota 72.8 27 199.8 29 27.6 17
15 Montreal 72.2 30 201.7 22 28.1 9
16 Nashville 73.3 16 202.6 18 27.1 23
17 New Jersey 73.3 16 204.6 12 30.3 1
18 NY Islanders 73.0 24 199.3 30 27.1 23
19 NY Rangers 73.4 13 201.8 21 27.7 15
20 Ottawa 73.6 6 205.2 9 27.2 21
21 Philadelphia 73.5 10 201.3 24 28.1 9
22 Phoenix 73.9 4 206.8 6 28.1 9
23 Pittsburgh 73.1 22 202.1 19 28.9 3
24 San Jose 73.3 16 205.8 8 28.5 6
25 St. Louis 72.7 28 208.5 2 27.1 23
26 Tampa Bay 74.2 1 207.4 4 27.7 15
27 Toronto 74.0 2 205.1 10 26.7 27
28 Vancouver 73.5 10 201.2 25 27.9 12
29 Washington 73.5 10 207.7 3 27.2 21
30 Winnipeg 74.0 2 207.2 5 26.5 28
Averages 73.3 203.7 27.8

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013-14 NHL standings predictions

Well, these are always tough.

Doubly so when the league has a realignment that substantially changes how teams will make the playoffs.

But here are my best guesses as to how the NHL standings will shake out this year. Hate mail can be directed to the comments... which are moderated by the way.

1 Los Angeles 104 Playoffs!
2 San Jose 99 Playoffs!
3 Vancouver 95 Playoffs!
4 Phoenix 92 Playoffs!
5 Edmonton 92 Playoffs!
6 Anaheim 90
7 Calgary 70
1 St. Louis 100 Playoffs!
2 Chicago 100 Playoffs!
3 Dallas 93 Playoffs!
4 Nashville 91
5 Winnipeg 89
6 Minnesota 87
7 Colorado 85
1 Detroit 104 Playoffs!
2 Ottawa 98 Playoffs!
3 Boston 97 Playoffs!
4 Montreal 96 Playoffs!
5 Toronto 89
6 Tampa Bay 85
7 Florida 81
8 Buffalo 72
1 Washington 98 Playoffs!
2 Pittsburgh 98 Playoffs!
3 NY Rangers 96 Playoffs!
4 New Jersey 90 Playoffs!
5 NY Islanders 89
6 Philadelphia 87
7 Carolina 87
8 Columbus 83

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

We get letters...

Subject: Wuss
To: James Mirtle

Go back and play with your Barbie dolls- Watch another sport where you will quit wetting yourself every time there is any action-Do you know how Belak died-really know? Or just conjecture-Rypien was a fighter not an enforcer you worm who sadly had pre-existing mental health issues- and who hasn’t OD on pills and booze accidentally. 

Nobody got hurt and you bonehead bloggers got allot to write up/make up as a result instead of your boring crap. 

Saps like you are just jealous as you have never been in a fight or stood up for what is right-by yourself and most surely and not a man. 

Dave Mercer

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 NHL Awards picks

Putting together an awards ballot is always difficult, but with only the 48-game sample size, things were made much tougher this year.

How big is a big enough sample size? What do you do with Crosby and other players like Letang who were outstanding but injured for a few weeks?

After a few hours of consideration, here's what I ultimately came up with. Complaints can be directed to Dave Shoalts at The Globe and Mail:

(1) NHL Trophies

HART TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team") 

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
5. John Tavares, NY Islanders

NORRIS TROPHY ("to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position") 

1. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh
3. PK Subban, Montreal
4. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix
5. Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver

CALDER TROPHY ("to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition") 

(Note: An eligible player cannot have played more than 25 NHL games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons. A player must not have attained his 26th birthday by Sept. 15 of the season in which he is eligible.)

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
2. Brandon Saad, Chicago
3. Jonas Brodin, Minnesota
4. Brenden Dillon, Dallas
5. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal 

LADY BYNG TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability") 

1. Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles
2. Cody Franson, Toronto
3. Frans Nielsen, NY Islanders
4. Joe Pavelski, San Jose
5. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh

SELKE TROPHY ("to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game") 

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston.
2. David Backes, St. Louis.
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles.
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
5. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit

(2) NHL All-Star Team

CENTER -- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. Jonathan Toews, Chicago. John Tavares, NY Islanders.

RIGHT WING -- Alex Ovechkin, Washington. Phil Kessel, Toronto. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay.

LEFT WING -- Taylor Hall, Edmonton. Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg. Zach Parise, Minnesota.

DEFENSE -- Ryan Suter, Minnesota. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh. Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver.  Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix. PK Subban, Montreal. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis.

GOALTENDER -- Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus. Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers. Jimmy Howard, Detroit.

(3) NHL All-Rookie Team

FORWARD -- Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida. Brandon Saad, Chicago. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal.

DEFENSE -- Brenden Dillon, Dallas.  Jonas Brodin, Minnesota. 

GOAL -- Jacob Markstrom, Florida. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Cats love the snow? I guess so. 
" try and pour your heart into it because of what he is. You try and tell his story. There is no way to write something entirely true because how can you write in words what he meant to you? You cannot but you try because he deserves nothing less."
A nice ode to the black dog by Pat there. I'll leave this here in memory of my cat, who died at 17 recently and remains the only pet I've ever had.

Monday, April 08, 2013

No, I'm not a Leafs fan

Where to begin. 

Well, let's just say that the last thing on my mind when I set out to try and write about hockey for a living was being accused of being a fan or a homer or any of these various things. 

Let alone - as a guy from small town B.C. - a Leafs fan. 

But, here we are, what feels like a lifetime later, with Twitter allowing instant feedback on anything and everything you write and you end up getting the same nonsense again and again. 

I think part of it is just that the audience on social media is so young right now, and there's not an appreciation for the objective viewpoint that someone like Eric Duhatschek can bring on a team he has covered for decades like the Flames. 

Look at it from my perspective, though. For me, when I first thought about trying to do something as crazy as being a hockey writer - which I wasn't really sure was even possible, in the beginning - I tried to be realistic and set my expectations relatively low. 

Writing about hockey, any hockey, anywhere, sounded pretty good. 

Maybe I'd cover a junior team and ride on the bus from town to town? (After all, most of the sportswriting I grew up reading was the local beat guy in the Kamloops Daily News, the lifeline to the WHL team for anyone in the city.)  

Maybe I could go to the U.S. somewhere and cover the minor leagues? Or the next NHL expansion team in Kansas City? 

Maybe I'd just work my way up from there? 


When you get to journalism school, you quickly realize that only a small fraction of graduates actually get work in the field, and becoming a sports-only writer seems like a bit of a pipe dream. You learn about how few papers there actually are across the country and how few writers are ever hired to cover anything, let alone with a focus on "fun" beats like hockey or movies or fashion or whatever. 

There were really only maybe a dozen English language papers covering the NHL for a long time in this country (the Jets have since added a couple more in Winnipeg) and each only has a few writers in its stable. 

Getting into that group of 40 or 45 guys seemed like such a remote possibility that, like most people, I was trying just to land any job coming out of school. That meant spending most of my time either interning or at the student paper trying to cover as many things as possible, even if writing about hockey was the goal. 

Without question, at that point, I would have taken any hockey-related job, anywhere, and I applied to dozens of different cities hoping to do so. 

Ultimately, the first place I was actually a sort of beat guy was in Bonnyville, Alberta, a thankless summer job that led me (with help from the world's most supportive mother) to buy a beat up K-car in Kamloops for $1,000, drive 12 hours straight and cover the Junior A team's off-season and training camp for a few months. 

After that, going to Columbus was hardly going to scare me off. 

Or anywhere else. 

It's funny (and obviously very fortunate) how it all worked out, as I was hired at The Globe as a part-time writer/editor working in both the news and sports departments, a four-to-midnight job that gave me a lot of spare time to work on this blog (and later for SB Nation) during the day. 

Over the years, the paper would hire more senior people for sportswriting jobs in Vancouver and Montreal, leading up to when the Leafs job came open about four years ago when Tim Wharnsby was hired by CBC. 

Any of those three gigs would have been dream jobs, obviously. 

A step up from Bonnyville, anyway. 

That it worked out to be Toronto was really a matter of timing more than anything, as by that point, I had enough experience (and was getting attention from elsewhere) that I was a much better candidate than previously. 

And what team I rooted for was obviously never one of the questions asked in the job interview. 


That's probably a good thing, too, because that would have been a complicated one to answer. 

Other than the Blazers, at one point, it was actually the Sabres, as I wore this ratty old Buffalo hat for a few years and put up a Darren Puppa poster in my room during his brief heyday. (Yes, he had a heyday.)  

Before that, it was the Devils in the Sean Burke era, although I couldn't really tell you why. 

After that point, it was just easiest to join my old man and be a woebegone Canucks fan, as by far, they had the greatest number of games being televised once Hockey Night in Canada started having double headers every week beginning in 1995.  

That we could drive a few hours and go to an affordable NHL game didn't hurt, either, and when Vancouver began making the playoffs after an ugly four-year drought, we began going down for those games. 

(We paid what seemed like an ungodly sum of $185 each for single tickets scattered around the arena for one game of that particularly awful Canucks-Wild second round series.) 

But the thing was I was always happy to be able to watch as many teams as possible. The playoffs were always the best time of year, with game after game televised, beginning at 4 p.m. Pacific Time and stretching into late night overtimes, meaning there was a solid seven or eight hours of hockey every night. 

No matter who was playing (or winning), that was heaven. 


So I think the most accurate thing to say is that I was always just a fan of the NHL and the game, going way back to when we were collecting stacks of beat up hockey cards and playing games with them at recess. 

As a kid in a small town in what felt like the middle of nowhere, it always seemed as though the NHL was this amazing faraway fantasy world, a league where the best of the Blazers would graduate to and get their faces on their own cards for us to collect. 

One day Mark Recchi was right in front of us, in the frigid, 2,000-seat barn where they always won, a local kid scoring goals and having his name announced overhead. 

The next he was playing with Mario Lemieux. 

Some of the other kids were reading comic books by that point, but these were the superheroes for my group of friends, and we'd play street hockey while pretending to be the most obscure-but-good players we could think of. 

"I'm Todd Elik! I'm Russ Courtnall! Here comes Patrik Sundstrom!" 

Just like in the NHL, there'd be a random hero every game. 


It never seemed to matter what team you cheered for. That was just fluid, changing by the day, depending on the players, the rivalries and what was at stake in the games going on inside on TV and in the backyard. 

In some strange way, the small-market, underdog teams were always more fascinating than the favourites, too. 

Maybe that's not how most hockey fans grew up. But I think when you live in a true junior hockey city, there's a lot more of that than people think, with the local team being everyone's obvious "favourite" and the big leagues an entirely different animal that you can watch on Saturday nights on TV. 

Even among the kids that did have an NHL team, it was usually a wide spread who they went with, with the Red Wings, Oilers and Penguins earning a lot of converts at the expense of the Canucks simply because of their success. 

So, now, all these years later, when you're getting these insults from fans over being biased for certain teams over others, they seem pretty darn silly. None of the reporters I know well on the beat are ever rooting for more than the chance to write a good story, to do the job properly and give their readers (and their boss) something worthwhile. 

Many would have a similar reaction to the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup tomorrow as if the Blue Jackets did. 

Now, sure, those lines may be more blurred for those working more closely with the league or teams, but hockey writers in general aren't "fans." Many, like me, are from other cities, or have favourite teams in other sports, or any number of different outlets. 

Others who did grow up rooting for the team they now cover have long since left that behind, in part because once you walk around behind the curtain for a while, being a fan makes less and less sense. 

(This is an aside, but if we're really going to talk about bias and the media, tie it to those who are too indebted to their sources and trading favourable coverage for information. Not fandom.)  


In any event, this is all just a really long-winded way of saying, "no, I'm not a Leafs fan." In fact, I don't really have a favourite team at all, and I haven't for a long time. 

I'm just glad there are games on every night, and I get to watch and write about them as part of what I do.


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