On Hockey Writing: Does Old Blood Keep Coverage of the Game From Advancing?

Note: It’s Summer, and we feel the need to write something, anything that doesn’t involve Pierre McGuire.  Consider this the first in a series of semi-serious essays about our thoughts on the hockey media.  Hey, it’s Saturday, so might as well…

There’s the face of mainstream hockey-writing in America, and for that matter, North America.  Sorry, Kevin Allen.  Think about it.  When at least the faces of writers who cover football and baseball (Chris Mortensen, Ken Rosenthal, Jay Glazer) look fairly youthful (Though that’s debatable with Mort) the men (and it’s 95% men if I or you ventured a guess) who cover this sport are mostly Larry Brooks-types.  Look at the Hotstove segment of Hockey Night in Canada.  It’s Al Strachan, Pierre LeBrun, and Scott Morrison if Mike Milbury decides he’s too bored to give Strachan wet willies all day.  Morrison’s the youngest looking of the three, and he’s gotta be in his mid-40’s. 

The question were roundaboutly getting to is: Are hockey writers too old for us to take any notice of what they say?

Now, we think we’re pretty upfront with the fact that we’re merely a 20-year old with a love of hockey that goes back to his father bringing him to a Devils game at the Meadowlands when he was 6 and Sportschannel and Mike Emrick and yada yada yada.  But we like to think that our readers know that the voice behind the material is one of youthful, if for the most part mature, exuberance.  

The idea we want you to have is that this a different voice you’re getting from hockey writers and even hockey bloggers.  Hell, the only ones we know that are within a couple years of our age are Schultz and Wrap.  If anyone else wants to correct us, comment on it.  But we’ve been doing this for three years and have yet to encounter someone near how young we are, besides those two.  The fact that there’s a disconnect between myself and say, Wyshynski (who is 31.  He loves being reminded of it.  Make sure you mention it to him sometime) is what makes us hope that we’re a little fresher and maybe less jaded with the sport than others.  Maybe we’re completely wrong, but who knows.

Let’s get on to the original question.  Do you find that reading guys like Brooks, Strachan, Don Brennan, Bruce Garrioch, Jim Kelley, Mike Brophy and countless other sportswriters affects how you feel about the game.  Some of their screeds against the game are just so pointlessly negative.  Take Brooks’ swipe at VERSUS from last week:

Television industry functionaries can attempt to spin it anyway they like, but the decision by Versus to delay the Game 3 postgame show by a half-hour in order to show an episode of “Sports Soup” was a slap across the face to every hockey fan who had been watching. Commitment to hockey, indeed.

Doesn’t that just sounds so… bitter and mean and unnecessary?  Granted, this is coming from someone who openly was okay about the move, but we can understand where some of you were mad.  But shouldn’t Larry Brooks sound a little classier than a comment on a blog run by a 20-year old kid?

The point is, these guys have been at it so long, it’s become uninteresting for them to delve into anything that isn’t endless what-ifs and trade rumors.  Take a look, the rest of Brooks’ column speculated on Marian Gaborik-to the Rangers possibilities and making fun of the league’s TV deal with NBC.  It all sounds so horribly stale from the man who’s writing about hockey in one of the nation’s (for better or worse) most-read newspapers.

What about Strachan?  Not only is he a bitter crank, but he’s one who rips off… gasp!  Bloggers!  Take this column from October of 2008 on FOX Sports called “Five things Bettman needs to change”.  Gee, that sounds real original.  Or at least it would be if Wyshynski hadn’t run them for like, a month during the Summer last year.  Plus, the people doing it were people who actually mattered.  Like the occasional player, Deadspin founder Will Leitch, Steven Ovadia and Tom Benjamin, who manage to be critical of the league and still seem to have an unbridled love for the game.  Imagine that!

On to Strachan’s actual column.  Let’s start with the cheapshotting, lame opener:

In the process of selling his soul to get his salary cap — and we all know how much good that did — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had to cede some power to the NHL Players’ Association.

So there are now limits to what he can do to improve the game. That’s assuming, of course, that he knows what needs to be done, and that in itself is a dubious proposition. So in order to help out the commissioner and point him in the right direction, here are five things that need to be fixed in his league.

Dear Lord, Al!  Way to make us interested in your column.  Two solid paragraphs making us hate everything about the goddamn sport.  We feel like there are grey hairs developing just reading that.

We don’t feel like we need to go on, but we could.  Let’s not forget some writers who do come at the game from that perspective.  George Richards and Tom Gulitti and Rich Hammond manage to show love for the game without showing any sign of age (We’ve seen Gulitti in person, so it’s not just a facade).  But there’s just such a nattering nabob of neanderthalian negativity in our sport.  How do we get it out, and what do we replace it with?

So let’s just pose the question to you: Does mainstream hockey writing need some fresh blood?  Does it need to come from former bloggers?  Or can it come from some combo of the two.  We’d pay a lot of money to see James Mirtle or Wyshynski or Eric McErlain become more of a force in the MSM hockey world.  The fact is, anyone who comes up now is going to be affected by blogging somehow.  But we can’t let the Brookses and the LeBruns and especially the Strachans continue to take their opinions of the game to the masses and let them believe it represents the feelings of true hockey fans.  Because there’s no way in Hell that it represents me.

9 Responses to On Hockey Writing: Does Old Blood Keep Coverage of the Game From Advancing?

  1. Spot says:

    “Does mainstream hockey writing need some fresh blood?” Well, duh. But! f by “mainstream” you mean employed and paid by traditional old-school sports news “outlets” like ESPN, the Washington Post, Canoe Slam Sports, the Globe&Mail, The Hockey News, and so on, then don’t hold your breath. The men you mention are not going to step aside until shoved and the “outlets” are not hiring new faces. It’s a constricting, consolidating, shrinking industry.

    Solution: Expand “mainstream” to include all your young dudes who “still seem to have an unbridled love for the game”.

    I actually find Wyshynski (a) pretty young at 31 [shrug], (b) quite unbridled most of time, and (c) damn entertaining.

  2. jg says:

    In a number of American NHL cities, coverage of the NHL is used as a training beat a way to work up to the NFL, NBA, or MLB team. Jason LaCanfora, who recently left Washington Post, started as Capitals writer then went to Redskins beat. Granted he covered the Red Wings in Detroit, but I dont hear many hockey writers say they grew up loving game the way writers that are considered experts in other sports have said. A lot of them are forced to watch the game and seem to have no real passion for it.

    Pat Forde, who covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com said in a column last year that covering a sport can kill the fan in a person. (not an exact quote, dont remember exactly what he said but thats what he meant). Maybe that is the problem with some of these writers. I happen to enjoy Forde’s columns, check out his Forde yard Dash column when college football season rolls around. He seems to still have passion. Barry Melrose is older and he has obvious passion for what he does.

  3. Josh says:

    The thing is, you don’t start off at 20 or 25 at the head of the class in hockey writing – or in any career in general. You have guys like (as you mention) James Mirtle working at the Globe and Mail, or James Gordon who’s a beat writer for the Senators at the Ottawa Citizen, and they’re young – they just don’t get to be columnists carrying a lot of heft right away. You know, like how you don’t get to be an NHL captain until you pay your du- oh, wait, bad example.

    But seriously, in industries apart from the fantasy world of professional sports, you don’t get to step right into the dream job. You need to work your way up the ladder. Welcome to the working world, son.

    • Sean says:

      I agree 100% with Josh. As a former reporter (I left the tattered rags of journalism after 6 years), its all about tenure. A mainstream outlet is not going to give anyone under 30, maybe even 35 or 40, a column. Especially for hockey, which has been the first beat axed by many newspapers.

      It doesn’t matter. Eventually, it will be all online newspapers, web sites and blogs anyway. The old guard is driving people away, more of a reason for the decline of newspapers than the Internet. The market will cast them aside eventually.

  4. James says:

    My opinion isn’t completely scientific, but from my experience a lot of the mid-level bloggers are quite young. Probably more than there are older bloggers.

    I’m 25. Joe (from Sacrifice the Body) is 22. The Puck Huffers are both under the drinking age. Elise from 18568 Reasons Why is 18 (!) and Rudy Kelly is a little younger than I am.

    There are many reasons people blog, but it’s definitely alluring to college-age people in particular.

    Now, obviously, there are more older bloggers in the MSM but some of the other commenters laid that out pretty clearly. All that being said, your blog is certainly impressive, regardless of your age.

  5. stevelepore says:

    Just to point out an example of age not temporing enthusiasm, Paul Kukla. He’s been a fan for longer than I’ve been alive, yet I don’t doubt his passion for hockey for a milosecond.

  6. Kevin says:

    It’s less of a problem with age than it’s a problem with people with a lack of enthusiasm. I don’t think Kara Yorio is old (I don’t know her age) but when she wrote about hockey, you could tell she didn’t care. I think Bob McKenzie is great regardless of his age because he loves the game. I have one main problems with most young bloggers. Too many spend too much time focusing on themselves and less on the game. Sharing stories about your first game is great but when you write a post about how cool you are because you played Halo with dudes in college, it’s kind of ridiculous.

  7. Thomas Pratt says:

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to set up an older person/younger person duality or a MSM vs blogger contest. Puck Daddy is so good not because Greg W is young or a blogger, but because he writes about interesting topics and he is neither hypercritical of the NHL or excessively adoring. When something needs to be questioned he certainly seems to, but fairly and not with the ‘stupid NHL’ attitude that taints Brooks, Strachan or a dozen others and, if blog commenting is an even remotely useful barometer, extends pretty widely and deeply among fans. I think it does hold the game back a bit. I think that sort of attitude would repel casual fans who would never address MLB or the NFL with nearly the same level of disrespect.

    The NYT hockey blog, Slap Shot, is terrific and I think Stu Hackel is a hockey writing elder statesman who also questions when needed.

    One big thing I see undermining hockey writing is the tendency to rely on unnamed sources to report preposterous trade rumors. Bruce Garrioch and Larry Brooks, are two of the worst. But of course there are bad hoigh profile bloogers, like Eklund, who appears to just make things up. Negativity coupled with a lack of credibility is toxic to their reputations which must reinforce their overall negative attitudes.

    • stevelepore says:

      All of your comments on this have been really appreciated, and are a surefire way to keep me writing about some more serious issues than what hairgel Eddie Olczyk uses.

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