Monday, February 14, 2011

Dr. Dater Examines Avs' Slump

In this article, Adrian Dater takes a look at the Avalanche's fall from playoff contention two months ago to being 14th in the conference today.

The article starts by reminding us that right before Christmas, the Avalanche were tied for first in the Northwest Division and riding a six-game win streak. Dater quickly shatters that fond memory, however, by rudely bringing us back to the present:

Like roses still on the coffee table six months after Valentine's Day, everything has wilted for the Avalanche. The team that will take the Pepsi Center ice tonight against the Calgary Flames is in 14th place in the Western Conference and on a seven-game losing streak — the longest since the team moved from Quebec to Denver in 1995.

Intros often seem like they give Dater trouble. He's always trying to do something clever, but he rarely succeeds. Here, he gets off to a very promising start by connecting the joy and hope of Christmas to the optimism surrounding the Avs at the time, but then in the second paragraph, he switches rather abruptly to Valentine's Day flowers. I realize they're dead flowers, and I suppose some cranky people may associate Valentine's Day with some pretty negative emotions to begin with, but it really derailed what had the potential to be a solid introduction. Why not have simply carried the Christmas theme through to the present, and compared the Avs' season at this point to the Christmas tree still up a month and a half later... brown, dry, and brittle, should have been taken to the curb a while ago? Nice try, I guess, but it could have been so much better. 

Dater then goes through a laundry-list of causes for the Avs' rapid fall from grace: Injuries (including those to Anderson and Stewart), questionable personnel decisions (primarily the benching of certain players, which he addressed more thoroughly in a blog entry), the falloff in Stastny and Duchene's play, and poor (to be kind) defense... correctly noting that while the goaltending has been pretty bad, the goalies didn't have much of a chance behind the defense the team has been playing. 

It's all pretty good, actually. This is the sort of article I'd like to see more of when Dater's in an anylitical mood... he keeps it simple, straightforward, and free of the editorializing of which he's often guilty. One quibble is that I would like to see a bit more statistical analysis to back up some of these claims; for example, Dater states that after Stewart went down with his broken hand, "the team started to really struggle offensively without him." It sounds like a good observation, but the team actually fared pretty well without Stewart in the lineup; it wasn't until the loss of Fleischmann that the Avs' offensive struggles really started to hit hard. A look at the numbers would have revealed this, and it would have made for a much stronger article.

Really, the only complaint is that Dater falls into the "Stastny makes a lot of money" trap, which always annoys me. Who cares if he makes a lot of money? They ALL make a lot of money, but it's a team sport... the fact that Stastny makes more doesn't mean he should be singled out when the entire team fails. Stastny's contract is not hurting this team, they are barely spending any money at all on players as it is. Complaining about player salaries is an easy way out... it's the sort of thing a casual fan does, but a professional journalist should not.

And again, some statistical analysis would really help this argument that Stastny and Duchene aren't pulling their own weight. Stastny in particular is a playmaker, not a goal-scorer... after just getting done explaining that the team struggled offensively after losing their leading goal-scorer in Stewart, it could have led into a good exploration into the possibility that Stastny's struggles were due to losing one of the best targets for his passes. Looking into the numbers may have provided some insight into WHY Stastny and Duchene have been struggling, but Dater doesn't seem to want to take it that far.

Overall, though, this is the sort of article Dater should keep on writing. Clearly, he's expressing his opinions on what's going on, but he does it in a way that remains well within the bounds of responsible and ethical journalism. A bit more facts to boost his assertions would have made it a pretty good article, but then again, Dater was wise not to go too far beyond wading-pool-depth analysis, as the nuts-and-bolts of hockey isn't his strong point.

Grade: A-

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