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.  



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