Reactions to the NHL's confirmed changes to locker room access policies for bloggers

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(Just throwing up this disclaimer once again: this is all about blogging and access, so it might not be of much interest to many of you. Fair warning.)

We discussed the NHL’s plans to allow visiting teams to ban bloggers from their locker rooms in late August, and now it sounds like that rumor is turning into a reality. Adam Gretz of NHL Fanhouse posted the news.

Starting this season, “bloggers” will only have access to the home locker room unless they make prior arrangements with the visiting team (and considering some of the positions taken by teams like Edmonton and the New York Rangers, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an easy proposition in some cases). Blogger credentials are clearly labeled with a different color from that of the “mainstream” media (of which websites like FanHouse and Yahoo! Sports appear to be considered).

As you might expect from an opinionated and passionate group, this announcement generated some angry responses from bloggers. On Frozen Blog is one of the most artful and interesting blogs in the rich sea of Washington Capitals blogs, so it’s not very surprising that they responded to the situation with verve and an authoritative stance.

In the debate over media access as envisioned by Ted Leonsis versus that of Glen Sather, the league has sided with Slats. Really, you just have to chuckle at the idiocy.

You might argue: what has worked in Washington isn’t necessarily appropriate in all other markets. Indeed. Member teams need flexibility in branding strategies. And some are going to be on the move soon because that branding ain’t working so well. The NHL’s new new media policy strikes a blow at such flexibility. It’s a one size fits all blanket policy on access. Moreover, in its spirit, it’s malignant.

That’s the real travesty with this decision: What’s so harmful – pernicious, really – with this decision is that it casts a suspicious eye on a benign entity.

The overwhelming majority of new media product is constructed in quality, by volunteers, and now the thankless NHL wants to give the creators a good smack in the face for their efforts.

It’s one thing for a blogger to respond to the situation in a dismissive way, but outside sources are criticizing the league’s stance too. One of the most interesting stories generated on the subject came from Poynter Online, one of the best sources for introspective looks at the journalism industry as a whole.

“There’s a fear of the unknown,” said Franklin, the Indiana University professor. “There’s deep concern with bloggers that there’s less accountability or no accountability.”

Still, Franklin is among many observers who believe NHL teams would be wise to accommodate bloggers, even if that entails some risk or occasionally makes a player or team official uncomfortable.

“The NHL doesn’t get the same kind of mainstream coverage that the NFL does, and in most big cities, not the same level of coverage that the baseball or NBA teams get,” Franklin said. “So in some ways, bloggers in hockey are even more important to a team’s fan base than they would be in another sport.”

It’s understandable that teams want a way to tell the difference between a serious blogger and a fan who maintains a cursory website as a means to score credentials and hobnob with players. But rather than judging a site on the number of full-time journalists it employs (or its writers’ feelings about the general manager), teams could try to gauge the size of the site’s audience, how often it’s updated, and its reputation among other fans. (A survey of season ticket holders likely would reveal which blogs are most popular and influential.)

Of course, denying credentials isn’t likely to keep bloggers from writing about hockey anyway. Many people who maintain prolific blogs pay their own way into stadiums or simply watch games on television — forgoing press box and locker room access even in arenas where they’re allowed.

Many people are quick to say that bloggers could use their lack of access/media credentials to their advantage. After all, if you shot a sports reporter with truth serum, he or she would probably admit that they sit on a ton of huge stories merely to maintain a relationship with their sources. That perceived “lack of accountability” can be a plus when it means that you can write critical pieces without worrying about filling your quota of quotes the next day.

Still, the root of the concern is that blogs cover a wide array of purposes. Some blogs aim to cover their teams objectively and more or less fill the void left by a lack of newspaper coverage. By stripping them of that opportunity, it’s hard to deny that the NHL is stripping itself of extended coverage.

Sure, a tougher-to-identify chain of command can make allowing bloggers access an unnerving process, but the NHL isn’t exactly feasting on front page coverage (although I’ll have something on that later). In other words, the league might be mistaken in thinking that beggars can be choosers.

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%