Mainstream sports media: Don’t blame them if they don’t get the whole story; blame the system

I don’t think I could work in mainstream sports media today.

Oh, I could write in MSM. I would love to write in MSM again. But I couldn’t work in it. Too many inconveniences. Too much protocol. Too many 140-character bites that say nothing. Too much in-house video. Too many scribes tweeting and texting instead of telling it like it is. Too much thin skin. Too much distance between scribe and subject. Too little respect.

I suppose this might come across as the banal bleatings of an old bag burrowed in a time warp, but that simply isn’t so. Yes, I’m old school. Cripes, man, I’m so old school they should name a wing of the old school after me. That, however, does not mean I’m the anti-Steve Jobs. More to the point, I’m all for the new-fangled gadgetry. It just isn’t for me.

Give me a notebook, a pen, a tape recorder and a keyboard and I’ll get ‘er done, as Matt Dunigan is wont to say.

I find myself in ponder of such matters this day due to a recent pilgrimmage to Winnipeg, which, thankfully, fell shy of living up to its slanderous nickname of Winter-peg. It was warm, welcoming and, much to my delight, several springlike celcius above zero upon my arrival, thank you. That made for rather slushy snow-shoeing, but nary a discouraging word shall be heard during a January thaw.

At any rate, during my three-day escape to good, ol’ Hometown in the middle of nowhere, I had occasion to chin-wag with numerous MSM sports scribes and talking heads, each of whom I hold in great regard. They are talented, clever, humorous, witty and oh…so…cynical. (After one gum-flapping session, I retreated to my hotel room and wondered aloud if I had been as derisive during a three-decade stretch as a jock journalist. The answer, of course, was “yes,” although I like to think my 15 years removed from that biz has served to mellow myself and my musings.)

There is, of course, very good reason why sports scribes are cynical—they work on Planet Pinnochio. That is to say, people are always lying to them. Every minute of every hour of every day, an athlete or coach or manager or team owner is telling a news scavenger a big, fat fib and his/her nose grows longer than a Winnipeg winter. This breeds cynicism and leads to spillage, like mistrust.

Here’s something else that sports scribes are up against: Access that really isn’t access.

I have often wondered why there is a dearth of personality pieces in our sports pages. You know, feature articles to remind us that we’re dealing with people first and athletes second. Time was (sorry, I’m going old school on you again) when we would write about the people who played the games, not simply the score, the goal collectors and division standings. We hadn’t even heard of Corsi or Fenwick. We got to know the players, coaches and managers. I had John Ferguson’s home phone number. And Chris Walby’s. And Cal Murphy’s. I could call them and let them tell fibs day or night.

Well, we don’t read personality pieces because the scribes aren’t granted the time. It isn’t their editors holding them back. It’s the system.

Yes, news scavengers have access to team personnel. Very limited access. Some players actually monitor the number of times they face the press. They document the number of questions. The minutes. Players do it in Winnipeg. They do it in Toronto. They do it in Vancouver and Calgary and Edmonton and Montreal and Ottawa. A one-on-one chin-wag is as rare as a Grey Cup parade on the downtown streets of River City. It’s all so structured and team dictated now. And if a player doesn’t appreciate the tone of a question, sorry, time’s up. Gotta go. That’s why we’ve seen and read about those unfortunate Phil Kessel-reporter scenarios in the Republic of Tranna.

Why do you think you hear so many dumb questions? It isn’t because the scribes and talking heads are dumb. It’s because they don’t have the time to sink their teeth into meaty subject matter. Hence, you get dumb questions and even dumber answers.

Bottom line: Don’t blame mainstream sports scribes for any absence of what I call “people pieces” in our news sheets. How do you write about people if you can’t get to know them?

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

The numbers game: My eyes and ears still tell me more about a hockey player than Corsi or Fenwick

When I watch Dustin Byfuglien play hockey, I see a combination of power and dominance, dash and daring. I also see a man marching to his own drum, which is to say a player prone to mental escapes and going rogue. I see mistakes, major gaffes that too often result in the puck finding its way into the back of his own net.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

When I watch Andrew Ladd play hockey, I see determination and intensity. I see a night of honest, earnest toil. I also see a tendency toward brain cramps that too often result in petty penalties, particularly in the offensive end of the rink.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

When I watch Evander Kane play hockey, I see speed and strength and I see gravel in his guts. I see a reservoir of raw skill and an unyielding will to succeed. I see boundless, youthful enthusiasm. I also see the erraticism and cheek of youth.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

That doesn’t mean I walk in lockstep with Steve Simmons, Dave Shoalts and other card-carrying members of hockey’s Flat Earth Society who engage in unseemly squabbling and sandbox-style name-calling with those who promote new-wave analytics.

More to the point, I distance myself from them. I find them to be dismissive, full of disdain and full of themselves.

I mean, in a discussion about the numbers nerds who have infiltrated the National Hockey League and populate the blogosphere, Sun Media’s Simmons unfurls plumage with 50 shades of pomposity, saying, “They think I’m a moron, to be honest. Not someone who’s covered the NHL for 34 years, not someone who coached hockey for 25 and is a level 3 instructor, not someone who ran hockey schools. I’m a moron.”

Shoalts, meanwhile, confesses to a deep-dish dislike for “Most hockey analytics geeks. Aside from having no sense of humor, they all act like they are the true sages of hockey simply because they came up with a few equations to state the obvious. The team that has the puck most usually wins. No kidding, Sherlock. That’s been true since Lord Stanley was talked into spending 35 bucks to buy a certain cup.”

The Globe and Mail scribe also catalogues stats-savvy types under the descriptive “kind of annoying.

The temptation, of course, is to lob grenades in their direction, because the stats discourse shouldn’t be a personal tit-for-tat tally of how many hockey games you’ve witnessed from the press box or which group possesses a healthier sense of humor. It should be about the degree of merit and value of numbers, when placed against the merit and value of intangibles.

In one sense, I am onside with the Flat Earthers, in that I use my eyes first and foremost in any evaluation of a hockey player. I look at Winnipeg Jets‘ prospect Nikolaj Ehlers, for example, and I don’t need Corsi and Fenwick to tell me there is a lengthy, productive NHL career in the dynamic Dane’s future. The skills are obvious. So here’s what I need to know about Ehlers: What is his compete level? What are his work habits? What fuels his engine? What is his intelligence level? Is he a team guy or a me guy? Does he come undone in dire circumstance?

Stats can’t answer those questions. Ice time will.

Having said that, once there is enough of a sample size, the numbers will tell me if I want Ehlers on the ice for a faceoff in the defensive zone when the Jets are protecting a one-goal lead. That’s the value of numbers.

The idea is to play to your strengths and to your opponent’s weaknesses. In many instances, numbers can tell us this. But so do intangibles. Unlimited talent is wasted on a player who doesn’t give a damn or who is a cancer in the changing room. A player of lesser skill can be of equal, or greater, value to a team due to his work ethic.

Personally, I place higher worth on the intangibles. What my eyes tell me. What I hear from people who know. Let me put it this way: Bobby Orr was the best hockey player I’ve ever seen and I don’t have a clue what Corsi and Fenwick would say about his game. I just know I want him on my team.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets: From Big Buff to boffo biffies, these two ladies have the scoop

what if lady answer lady2

It’s a Triple H day because we have two Hens in the Hockey House—The What If Lady and The Answer Lady. 

Naturally, our favorite go-to girls have their pulse on all that matters in Jets Nation, including the uber significant issue of shorter beer lines and more potties at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Oh, yes, if there’s a point of discussion involving your Winnipeg Jets, the two ladies are—pardon the bad pun—flush with information about the National Hockey League outfit.


Take it away, ladies…

What If Lady: There are reports that Ondrej Pavelec showed up at training camp with a new body. What if his new body is as bad as his old body?

Answer Lady: Can you say Connor McDavid?

What If Lady: What if the Jets traded Pavelec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for James Reimer, even up?

Answer Lady: Toronto GM Dave Nonis would be out of a job, head coach Randy Carlyle would be out of a job and the Leafs would be drafting Connor McDavid next summer.

What If Lady: I really liked what I saw of that Nikolaj Ehlers kid at the rookie tournament in Penticton. He’s so fast. So skilled. He’s the Great Dane! What if he plays that well in the main camp?

Answer Lady: There’s only one thing preventing Ehlers from starting this season with the Jets—food. I mean, the kid’s a twig. Fear not, though. He’s a keeper. Not this year, but most likely next October after a year of mom’s home cooking has kicked in.

What If Lady: It sounds like Teemu Selanne really wanted to play another season. He said in his biography that he even considered signing with the Jets a year ago. What if Teemu had played for the Jets last season?

Answer Lady: He’d be Poh’d at Claude Noel and Paul Maurice instead of Bruce Boudreau, because they would have given all Teemu’s minutes to Chris Thorburn.

What If Lady: ESPN The Magazine ranks the Jets No. 97 out of the 122 major pro sports franchises in North America for fan experience. I think that really sucks. I doubt it if anyone from ESPN has ever been to a game in Winnipeg? What if someone from ESPN actually attended a game at the MTS Centre? Would our ranking go up?

Answer Lady: No, it would plummet to the bottom because the battery in the poor guy’s rental car would freeze during the game and he’d he’d get mugged by one of our charming citizen’s of no-fixed address while waiting for a tow truck.

What If Lady: Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba had really good rookie seasons. I don’t believe in a so-called Sophomore Jinx, but what if one or both of them regresses?

Answer Lady: I have spoken with my personal analytics department and the propeller heads assure me that there are Corsi reasons and Fenwick reasons why this will never happen. After crunching numbers, they say the % of probability is approximately = to the ratio of TOI divided by ESG + a certain % of salary cap against the balance of $ owed. It’s all Greek to me, but I believe the probability of both Scheifele and Trouba going into the tank is remote, but the possibility of one hitting the skids is high.

What If Lady: A lot of NHL teams created an analytics department or hired fancy-stats people this past summer. I didn’t hear anything about it from the Jets, though. What if they’ve missed the boat in this growing and increasingly important area of the business?

Answer Lady: I’m told Craig Heisinger is analyzing the analytics and Zinger will present his analysis of analytics to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff as soon as he wakes up from his summer nap.

What If Lady: There’s been so much talk about the young players at camp this year. Guys like Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Nik Ehlers and Adam Lowry would give the Jets a whole new look if they make the big club. But what if youth isn’t served?

Answer Lady: Youth shall be served. His name is Adam Lowry. He’s a Western Conference forward—big and skilled. Get used to seeing him. You’ll like him.

What If Lady: Five teams from the Central Division made the playoffs last season—Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota. I can’t see the Jets overhauling any of those clubs, so it looks like another non-playoff year in River City. What if they’re out of contention by the trade deadline?

Answer Lady: Say adios to Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd or Toby Enstrom. Take your pick.

What If Lady: Evander Kane sure seems to get in a lot of hot water over saying and doing the silliest, little things and he always seems to be the subject of trade rumors because of it. I have a personal theory that he does it just to provoke the media. So what if the media wise up to his shenanigans and stop writing and talking about the goofy stuff? What if they write and talk about his on-ice efforts only?

Answer Lady: Environment Canada will issue an emergency weather warning—hell has frozen over.

What If Lady: Evander has been bragging about scoring 50 goals in a season. I’m a big Kane fan, so I think that would be brilliant. But what if he only scores 19 again?

Answer Lady: Can you say Jack Eichel?

What If Lady: True North spent $6 million this summer for renovations to the MTS Centre, and that included a whack of new toilets. I hear they’re boffo biffies, but what a waste (pardon the bad pun). What if they had spent that money on another player or two instead?

Answer Lady: You want to talk about spending money on crap? Try $19.5 million on crappy goaltending. Try $3.6 million on a crappy fourth-line forward who belongs in the AHL. What’s another $6 million for a bunch of biffies when you’ve already tossed more than $20 million down the crapper on two players?

What If Lady: That’s kind of harsh. True but harsh.

Answer Lady: Okay, our work is done here for today. Let’s go check out those new toilets on the 300 Level. I’ve got some beer to get rid of.

What If Lady: Me too. Those shorter beer queues are simply marvy.


fish wrap


We now interrupt our regularly scheduled cheekiness to bring you this important weather alert: Hell hath frozen over.

That’s right, kids, at least one local news scavenger has discovered what some of us have known for quite some time—Evander Kane likes to yank the media’s chain.

Gary (La La) Lawless, who oft serves up heaping helpings of Kane-imosity, recently offered a fresh take on the Winnipeg Jets polorizing left winger, and he has decided to play nice. For now.

Kane spends the working portion of his life in Winnipeg,” girthsome Gary writes in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “When he’s here, he visits hospitals and donates time and money to helping others less fortunate than he. What else do we want from him? A signed affidavit he likes it here? Enough already.

Early on, Kane’s act caught some of us off guard and rubbed the wrong way at times. Over time, it’s become apparent that Kane is comfortable in the spotlight and not afraid to stir the pot with his well-followed Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The kid is cheeky. Give me his looks, youth, talent and money and the resulting sideshow would make Evander look like a wallflower.

Some of us, this writer included, need to offer up a bit of a mea culpa.

Kane is no villain, even if he sometimes likes to play one. And if you think he doesn’t know what he’s up to and isn’t aware of the reaction he’s about to produce, you haven’t been paying close attention. Kane is smart and calculating.”

As far as mea culpas go, I’d say that’s a good start. Well done, La La.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Corsi and Fenwick: What the *%&$#* are QoC eTOI% and QoT TOI% F rel supposed to mean?

So, who are Corsi and Fenwick? Do they have first names? Or are they like Brazilian soccer players and Madonna?

rooftop riting biz card back sideI have a confession to make: I’m old school.

I’m so old school that I sometimes think I was on the work crew that helped Don Cherry build the old school.

I mean, I still call a chalk board a black board. To me, the word “hip” means something other than one of my many body parts that requires replacing. I don’t listen to music unless it includes a turntable, a needle and a thin slab of round vinyl. I’m still having difficulty with the notion that the Cubs play night games, that the 1970s are over and that Hedberg and Nilsson left Winnipeg for Gotham.

That doesn’t mean I live in the past. Nor does the past live in me. It isn’t that I’m anti-progress or anti-change (lord knows I fully embrace change). It’s just that I’m a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to new-fangled thingamajigs.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m having difficulty with these Corsi and Fenwick dudes.

For the longest time, I was quite curious about Corsi and Fenwick. It was a curiosity that bordered on fascination. I’d never seen them. I just kept reading and hearing about them. All…the…time.

I figured Corsi and Fenwick were finalists for the Hart Trophy and every other significant National Hockey League award. After all, they’d been mentioned in every shinny story written in the past half dozen years. I kept waiting for them to arrive on the red carpet at the NHL awards gala last month in Vegas, but they were no-shows. I was quite disappointed because I wanted to see what their dates were wearing.

That was quite presumptuous of me, though. Why would I assume that they had dates? Female dates. For all I knew, Corsi and Fenwick were a couple of gay dudes. Perhaps partners.

Naw. Couldn’t be that. We all know there aren’t any gay dudes in hockey (even though we all know there are gay dudes in hockey).

So, who were Corsi and Fenwick? Did they have first names? Or were they like Brazilian soccer players and Madonna and Shakira?

Hockey people and media types have long been in constant debate about Corsi and Fenwick. Take Steve Simmons of Sun Media (please, take him). He scoffs at, and heaps scorn upon, anyone who suggests Corsi and Fenwick are what hockey is all about today. My friends at Arctic Ice Hockey, on the other hand, are convinced that Corsi and Fenwick are the be-all, end all. Corsi and Fenwick do it all.

I figure if Corsi and Fenwick are that bloody good, the Winnipeg Jets should make a play for them. Give me Corsi, Fenwick and a first-round draft pick and I’ll give you Evander Kane. I’ll even toss in a player to be named later, as long as that player’s name is Ondrej Pavelec.

Well, we can’t make that trade because it turns out that Corsi and Fenwick aren’t hockey players. They don’t even have a pulse. (You know, much like Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.)

Corsi and Fenwick are fancy numbers. They are advanced stats. They are analytics. I’m supposed to look at Corsi and Fenwick and they’ll tell me everything from how often Jacob Trouba has the puck to how often and when Dustin Byfuglien takes a lunch break.

When I look at Corsi and Fenwick, though, it’s all Greek to me. It looks like something out of the Wall Street Journal, not The Hockey News.

Seriously. QoC eTOI% and QoT TOI% F rel are supposed to mean something to me? An old school girl who was weaned on plus/minus numbers?

I suppose QoC ETOI% and QoT TOI%F rel would make sense if I followed the stock markets.

“QoC eTOI% shares were up .25 at closing, but QoT TOI% F rel dipped .50 and is in free fall. Meanwhile, NZShr, DZS% and TMSh% made significant gains on both the TSE and on Wall Street.”

Quite frankly, I liked it a whole lot better when I thought Corsi and Fenwick were hockey players.

But that doesn’t mean I pooh-pooh fancy stats and the people who endorse and use them. I salute the numbers nerds who devised the stats, and I’m quite certain they have merit.

Let’s put it this way: All I need to know about fancy stats is that Steve Simmons thinks they’re stupid. That convinces me they’re brilliant.

(FOOTNOTE: I invite your comments. I do not, however, welcome some of your comments. If you believe what I’ve written is the natterings of a nincompoop and belongs at the bottom of a bird cage, let ‘er rip. Tell me why. I enjoy healthy debate. That can be fun. If, on the other hand, your idea of a critique is to attack/insult me about my gender or sexual orientation, then we aren’t going to get along. Let’s put it this way: It is permissible to question the size of my IQ, but not the size of my boobs. Bottom line: I don’t get paid to write this crap, so play nice, kids.)