The end of fandom

So am I not a fan anymore? I know my daughter is not going to understand most of what happens at the game, but I want to give her the chance to be near it, and become enmeshed in it. After all, we don’t fall in love with live basketball, at least not at first, because of beautiful down screens or crisp defensive rotations or true shooting percentages. It’s the atmosphere that does it, the feeling of being gathered into something bigger and stronger than oneself. It’s something I almost can’t even see anymore, except through her.

The Start of Something - Steve McPherson

The news of Donald Sterling in Los Angeles, as Sean Newell from Deadspin put it: "But it's not just basketball, it's a disgusting spectacle. An unapologetic racist sits entrenched, as other rich white men try to figure out how best to mitigate his disgraceful conduct, while men he thinks of as property amuse him, because that's all they can do. This isn't basketball at all."

It all has me thinking a lot about what's important in sport and life and business and games.

Even if we forget it sometimes, there’s more to basketball than the basketball. There are millions of things, all teeming and lit up with various vibrations, resonances that reach back into the places where the game first took hold. It may be that my daughter will never love basketball, but I hope she loves the world. I hope she never stops wanting to learn about it without ever completely forgetting how it feels at the very beginning.

Filed under: basketball, fan, sports No Comments

How a rogue PR man in Buffalo shook up sports

"If [sports are] not fun," he says as we're finishing breakfast, "what the hell are they?"

From Sabre Rattler

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Will there be a World Cup?

Hospitals and schools are falling down while stadiums are rising up. The government in Rio tried to demolish one of the best elementary schools in the country to make room for a parking lot near the Maracanã Stadium, where the World Cup final will be played.

Generation June, ESPN.com



Like any good basketball story, this one begins with the Israeli military’s ability to track and shoot down missiles

From Can cutting edge data analytics help the San Antonio Spurs stop the Miami Heat?


The snafu that was the coverage of the Iginla trade

I've always been interested in the process of reporting, at times more interested in that then in actually doing reporting myself. Of particular interest has been "breaking news" and the balance between being first and being right. In fact, I've already written about that once in the context of the trade deadline with media outlets competing for each other when breaking trades. That post can be found here.

And because there's no real lesson here and nothing can change, we're at it again with the Iginla trade. A healthy scratch for Wednesdays game, Iginla was originally reported as heading to Boston as originally broke by Aaron Ward from TSN. Many others later jumped on this train, but when the dust finally settled, Iginla was actually dealt to Pittsburgh.

Now smarter people then me can analyze the goods and the bads of the deal itself, and if Pittsburgh wins the Cup or if this signals a rebuild for Calgary or whatever. But how the deal was reported has caught my eye, because it appears to be, once again, that battle between being first and being right.

Someone at TSN, at some point in time, made the choice to run with Ward's report. It made sense, because Ward used to play for Boston and presumably still has connections in the organization, in addition to the other connections he would have around the league.

Just before Ward's report, TSN's Bob McKenzie was reporting that Iginla to Boston wasn't done, while playing an interesting game of wordplay that invites people to read between the lines. He talked about things like: does "not done" actually mean "not done" or does it mean "not done yet", while also bringing up the "wouldn't it be funny if Bouwmeester was dealt", which sometimes (not always) means that a deal like that might be closer but he can't confirm it.

In any case, McKenzie began toeing the company line shortly after the Ward report (this isn't a shot at McKenzie, because as he mentions in his own email from last year, these things are normally done by working as a team, so let's assume Ward's report didn't just occur in a bubble), but their colleague with RDS, Renaud Lavoie did not and as reports continued to filter out, he stood firm that he was getting information that there was no deal happening tonight. Lavoie really shone during the CBA negotiations in the fall, proving that he was not only first a lot of the time, but also (more importantly) right.

I originally wanted to put together a timeline of how this all went down, but some of the tweets from the night have been removed to prevent confusion (or maybe to cut back on embarrassment).

In any case, the decision was made to run with the story. I have to wonder if the fact that both Boston and Calgary were on TSN played anything to do with that decision. I have to wonder if the deal was done between Boston and Calgary and then Iginla nixed it.

Last fall, I went to a symposium at the University of King's College here in Halifax about journalism and new media. I got the opportunity to ask the question about that battle of first versus right. The immediacy of coverage and the competition.

The answer given was that you need to establish a proper process and standards to verify the source and verify the story and then as you work within those standards, speed will come.

So equally as frustrating as Ward's report going to market is that a number of other media or media-pretenders/hangers-on ran with that story without having their own rules to verify the story (or ignoring those rules). A lot more reporters should have independently verified this, instead of blindly repeating.

Unfortunately we won't learn, because it's a marketplace and a business. TSN makes a big deal off their trade deadline coverage because they get viewers. They compete with other providers to break news and fight for an ever larger viewer-share, to sell advertising and so on. The viewers demand that everything is delivered immediately and will quickly flock to who is quickest, as opposed to who is most accurate.

Sure, we can harp on the snafu by TSN and how they should be more accurate, but we need to understand that they are simply playing the game that we demanded of them.


HF: QMJHL Goaltenders – additional content

This is a bit delayed but I wanted to follow up on this article on QMJHL goaltenders who have their rights owned by NHL teams.

Here's a quick look at the list:

  1. Francois Brassard, Quebec - Ottawa Senators
  2. Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville - Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Chris Gibson, Chicoutimi - Los Angeles Kings
  4. Francois Tremblay, Val d'Or - St. Louis Blues
  5. Maxime Lagace, PEI - Dallas Stars
  6. David Honzik, Cape Breton - Vancouver Canucks

This list was a hard one to put together, because there wasn't a clear standout and every player has some ups and downs about them.

It was recently suggested to me that I take a second look at David Honzik and where I ranked him. When talking about Honzik, first let me talk about Maxime Lagace. Lagace actually finished the season with poorer stats than Honzik, despite playing for a team that earned 50 (!) more points than Honzik's hapless Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. I originally had Lagace last on this list and for good reason: Lagace had a difficult year and lost his starting position pretty early on, never to regain them. I was surprised when he got an NHL deal from the Dallas Stars and when he was named to Hockey Canada's roster for the Summer Challenge against Russia. But I also have to respect that (acknowledge that people who are smarter than me saw something I didn't see in him) and in a list of six goaltenders, Lagace is the only one right now with an NHL contract.

That said, Lagace's play rightfully should put him on the bottom of this list.

As I mentioned in the article, Honzik has been in a rough situation for the past two years. He battled for time in Victoriaville and ended the season with the team turning to Brandon Whitney when the wheels fell off in the playoffs. But that was a case of the wheels falling off for the entire team, rather than just Honzik alone. Team captain Philip Danault made mention of that enough when I interviewed him in the summer, talking about team chemistry.

The decision to move Honzik was made for a few reasons by Victoriaville, not just because they had two goaltenders capable of being starters, but I also believe Honzik's age (Whitney will return to the Q next year) and the fact that Honzik is an Import played into it (the Tigres added forward Dominik Rehak, who just turned 18, again a move for a younger team in Victoriaville as they plan for the future).  Finally, Honzik was scheduled to miss the beginning of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, which possibly was also a factor in the Tigres choice to send him away.

The shoulder is important, because it was an injury that Honzik suffered during last season in Victoriaville and played through. So that also might help explain his struggles in the playoffs and the poor numbers he put up in January and February of 2012 (a 6-2-1 record, but a .869 save percentage and a 4.04 GAA).

Which then brings us to this year. Much can be said about the problems that plagued the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. They finished with 36 points this season and just 14 wins. My error here was attributing too much of the team situation to the situation with the player.

Honzik appeared in 32 games for the Eagles, the most out of the 3 goaltenders they used this year. But more importantly, he played the majority of those games after any hope that Cape Breton had was already breathing its last breath. Because of the rehab for the shoulder surgery, Honzik did not return to the ice until November.

Honzik rejoined the team after missing the first 19 games of the year. In those 19 games, Cape Breton had a record of 5-10-2-2. Considering their final standings, 38% of their points came in the first 28% of the season. For a team like Cape Breton, who at this point had already fired their GM and would soon fire their coach, things were about to go from bad to worse.

Honzik joined a team in disarray and one that was on the cusp of being hit by numerous significant injuries. By the end of December/early January, William Carrier, Kyle Farrell, Jakub Culek and Loic Leduc would all be out of the lineup with injuries and they would not return for the rest of the year. Furthermore, top scorer Alexandre Lavoie would request a trade in late December and sat out until he was accommodated.

For Honzik, the period of December and January was his best. After needing a few games to get his feet back under himself (a 6.24/.771 November over 6 games in November), those two months were very strong. Cape Breton fired their coach at the beginning of December and that seemed to spur on the Czech goaltender.  Honzik appeared in 14 games over those two months and although his record was 2-10-0-1, his save percentage was .909 and his GAA was 3.09. Strong stats for any goaltender in the league, let alone one on a team in freefall.

So that's the story on David Honzik. In retrospect, I was incorrect in placing him last among the six. I did not look as close into the situation as I should have when doing my original research for the article.

Those numbers from that period of time in December and January, where Cape Breton was playing at the closest they came to full strength are no doubt a better reflection of the player than the situation he found himself in and place him comparable to Francois Tremblay, Chris Gibson and his former teammate Brandon Whitney.


Advanced stats in basketball and the new direction of sports writing

Another great article that isn't directly correlating with hockey, but still really interested me.

This feature on Grantland's Zach Lowe:

I work a lot as anyone in the NBA does, as anyone in sports does. I always tell people I have one of those jobs that sounds amazing when you go to parties, and you do, but anyone that covers sports knows there's sort of a de facto "it happens at night and on the weekends when other people are resting" deal. Though I guess every industry is a 24/7 industry.

That article led me to this article about John Hollinger's predictions on the Raptors' season. Hollinger predicted that the Raptors would finish 12th overall with a .402 winning percentage (33-49). Right now at the 50 game mark, the Raptors are 11th overall with a .360 winning percentage (18-32).

Interesting stuff.


Match-Fixing in Soccer

You can still have sports if players are cheating. You can still have sports if fans are fighting in the parking lot. Those are problems, big problems, but they can be addressed without threatening the basic concept of the game. When the outcomes of matches are being dictated from the outside, though? You no longer have a game at that point. You have something else, a weird simulacrum, pro wrestling without the feather boas. (And, almost as crucially, without the fun.) The essential idea of athletic competition — let's both show up and try to win — is no longer operating. This is why the Black Sox scandal is still the biggest in the history of American sports, and it's also why the NFL, the NBA, MLB, the NHL, and the NCAA are all currently suing to stop New Jersey from legalizing sports betting.

Match-Fixing in Soccer by Brian Phillips, Grantland.com

Great article. I really love the point about how we turn to sports to combat the unfairness in life, because sport is fair and the rules are defined.


HF: QMJHL Emergence – additional content

The culmination of my CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game coverage was a brief interview with QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau, which led to me writing this article about the league's strong draft class in 2013 and some improvements that I've seen in the league over the past few years.

Here's some additional thoughts:

  • The idea behind this article started taking root a number of years ago, perhaps even as far back as 2008 when there wasn't a QMJHL player selected in the first round. I've always been interested in draft trends over time.
  • One particular narrative is Atlantic Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads were the first team in these provinces back in 1994-95, so players like Nathan MacKinnon have grown up going to Moosehead games. There's now six teams across three provinces (and there used to be a team in Newfoundland).
  • Besides the players simply growing up as QMJHL fans, I wonder how much language and being able to play close to home factors in for young Atlantic Canadians entering in to the QMJHL.
  • I didn't run all the numbers, but I feel like the QMJHL also has a higher number of Import players drafted per quota. Last year, I wrote about the Import Draft in this article.
  • One demographic that I didn't mention was the Americans. Right off the top of my head, I'm not sure if there has been a top level American draft eligible in the QMJHL (maybe Ryan Bourque or Adam Pineault?)
  • That all might change with the QMJHL mandating that their teams must draft two American players each year.
  • One thing that I think hurts the QMJHL compared to the other CHL leagues is population base. Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces is the smallest population and even when pulling from the US, the states they have rights too are New England, with a heavy college influence to compete against.
  • The OHL has access to Michigan and New York, while the WHL has done great work with areas like California.
  • Like attracting Atlantic Canadians, I wonder how much language and culture has an effect on American players choosing to come to the QMJHL.
  • I'm interested in how draft classes relate to one another. For example, the last 10 years, a talented year from the QMJHL (4-5 first rounders) was often followed with a slower year (0-2 first rounders). The 2014 draft class doesn't look particularly incredible at this point.
  • When it comes to draft picks from particular positions, it's worth noting that although QMJHL goaltenders aren't as favoured as they were 15-20 years ago, there's also a reluctance to drafting goalies in the top rounds as a whole.
  • Also I mentioned the rise of defensemen coming out of the QMJHL, but looking ahead, I'm wondering if that might be short lived. The league has gone from Gormley & Beaulieu to Ouellet & Sergeev and next up is Culkin & Fournier with Morin & Murphy in the pipeline. Nothing against any of those players, but the Q isn't challenging the OHL & the WHL for developing blue liners anytime soon.
  • With that said, the development time for most defensemen is a bit longer as well, so it will be a few years before accurate assessments can be made.
  • I'll be looking at the NHL drafted defensemen in the QMJHL a bit closer in my next article for Hockey's Future (shameless plug).

Top Prospects Game – by the numbers

The 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, by the numbers:

  • # of Articles written: 9
  • # of Words written: 10,389
  • Capacity of the Halifax Metro Centre: 10,595
  • Longest article: 1748 words
  • Shortest article: 871 words
  • # of times I've been told I'm long-winded: countless
  • # of Days of coverage: 3
  • # of Trips to the rink: 4
  • Total hours of sleep (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday): 17
  • # of Cups of tea drank: 16
  • # of Cups of coffee drank: 4
  • # of Lattes drank: 1
  • # of Players interviewed: 14 (+2 coaches + 1 commissioner)
  • Psalm number on the back of goaltender Spencer Martin's helmet: 118:8
  • Height of Samuel Morin (tallest player): 6'6.25
  • Weight of Nikita Zadorov (biggest player): 221 pounds
  • Height and weight of Nicolas Petan (smallest player): 5'8.25 and 166 pounds
  • # of Participating players who were in Halifax for the 2011 Canada Winter Games: 21
  • # of Stanley Cups won by Kevin Lowe: 6
  • # of Funny looks I gave Kevin Lowe for his hat (some sort of poorboy cap): 3
  • # of Goals in the game: 3
  • # of Fights: 2
  • # of Carlin's Seven Dirty Words that losing coach Don Cherry used in post-game press conference: 3