Monday, July 4, 2011


There has been a lot of activity on the Denver Post's Avalanche web page recently. After the NHL Entry draft, the free agency signing period began, and as expected, the Avalanche made some noise there, too... but not the noise that Dater expected. This will be short reviews of a number of articles and blog entries, so it will be fairly long... if you read to the end you get a gold star.

First up is an All Things Avs blog entry about the Avalanche goalie situation. The Avalanche entered the free agency period with no NHL goalies signed to their roster. In many opinions, the Avs had no NHL goalies signed to their roster in 2010-2011, either, so just about everybody believed the team needed to make a big splashy goalie signing on July 1.

In this blog entry, Dater predicts about as emphatically as one can that the Avalanche would sign Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun to a large, multi-year deal:

 If I were walking into a Vegas sports book right now and they had a list of NHL free agents and their likelihood to sign with certain teams, I would probably empty out whatever meager amount was in my wallet and put most or all of it on “Tomas Vokoun to the Avalanche.”

Regular readers of Dater's blog will recognize this as a sign to bet heavily the other way: Dater has an absolutely awful track record on predictions like these. For Dater's sake, I hope he realizes he should never walk into a Vegas sportsbook... but a person could do pretty well betting against Dater's lock-of-the-century predictions.

Tomas Vokoun plays dead to avoid the gaze of Avalanche GM Greg Sherman.
I'm not sure why Dater sees the need to make predictions like this in the first place. Just report what is happening... guessing what might happen is not really a reporter's job, is it? In fairness to Dater, he's hardly the only reporter that falls into the "I'm a fortune teller" trap, but he may be one of the worst at it. Yet, he continues to put what is left of his reputation on the line with bold predictions like this, and not surprisingly to anybody who follows his blog, he was dead wrong.

In this blog entry, Dater lists a number of reasons the Avs would be interested in Vokoun, one of the league's best goaltenders. He does not, however, really take a good hard look at if/why Vokoun would want to play here, nor does he expand the scope of his thought to question whether there are other, better options the Avs might look at. It is a very one-sided, tunnel-vision sort of thing;  Dater has decided that it will be Vokoun, and then goes off to collect reasons to support his conclusion.

Vokoun never seemed like a good fit to me for two main reasons: one, he's not exactly young and he's never been on a solid playoff team, and from his point of view, it didn't make a lot of sense for him to come to yet another struggling team just to make a few bucks at the end of his career. Two, the Avalanche got burned the last time they signed a goalie to a long-term, high-dollar contract, and nothing in their recent history convinced me they were willing to do that again unless the goalie is the one piece they need to push them over the top. Dater didn't look into those angles at all, though... he just focused on the things that he focused on, and apparently ignored the rest.

The problem with this blog is not that Dater fell victim to the lure of prediction-making, nor that he once again lost his imaginary bank account betting on the wrong horse, nor really even that he just made up his mind what would happen and then plowed ahead, ignoring other facts, to prove his point. The problem with this blog entry will be come evident later when the Avs end up going with Varlamov instead... his all-in guess of Vokoun ends up having a significant effect on his coverage of what actually happened.

In this article, Dater touches on a few areas of need for the Avs in the upcoming free agency period, with the primary focus being goaltender. Here, he repeats much of what he included in the above blog, throwing in (almost as an afterthought) the names of a few older, semi-washed-up goalies like Osgood and Turco, just in case the Avs lose a bidding war over Vokoun. It's kinda like when you're shopping for a car, and the guy is talking up the car he wants to sell you, and when you ask what else he has he scrunches up his nose like you just farted, and reluctantly marches over to a row of rustbuckets he makes clear he wouldn't be caught dead in.

The Avs' second option after Vokoun.
Dater has not really considered the notion that the Avs could sign anybody other than Vokoun and still consider their free agency day a success. He seems to believe 100% that Vokoun is who the Avs want, and that they have the money to outbid anybody else for his services. Dater has no backup plan here, no parachute. It's Vokoun or it's nothing.

Dater adds a bit about some other needs the Avs might address, and at the end of the article is a list of five players the Avalanche might consider, with Vokoun again being at the top of the list. Of interest is the fact that not one of the players mentioned in this article were signed by the Avalanche... but the key here once again (and yeah, I'm building up to something) is that Dater does not appear to be prepared even a little bit for the possibility that the Avs might not get Vokoun.

Here, we have the blog entry immediately after the Avalanche traded a first-round pick (and a conditional 2nd rounder) to the Caps for Semyon Varlamov, a supremely talented yet oft-injured young goalie. He opens with this:

Well, as always the Avalanche do something off-the-wall unexpected. Today, they essentially placed the near-term future of the franchise on a 23-year-old goalie who didn’t even start for the Washington Capitals in the playoffs and who has a history of groin problems. Oh, and they parted with what could be a first-round lottery pick next year, plus a second-rounder in either of the next two years to get him. Happy, Avalanche fans?

Here (especially with the supercilious final line), Dater sounds more like he's trying to convince his reader from the get-go that this was a bad move, rather than simply presenting the facts and letting the reader draw his or her own conclusion. The Varlamov trade was unexpected, yes, but hardly as shocking as Dater says, except to Dater himself and all those who read his stuff as if it came from an expert insider. Dater spends at least as much time here talking about Vokoun as he does about Varlamov, which tells me that he's focused on the wrong thing.

Now is where we see how much his earlier blog entries have damaged his ability to report what happened: Dater is reacting more to his surprise at being wrong than to what the Avalanche actually did, which was pretty exciting to tell the truth. They made a big splash in free agency, it just wasn't the splash Dater expected, and because of that, he seems unable to report on it from a balanced, unbiased position.

Contrast this blog with this next blog entry, by Terry Frei:

Not surprisingly, Frei offers a much more even-handed take on the Varlamov trade. He implies that he has his doubts as well, but his blog comes not from a place of surprise and shock at Vokoun, but of skepticism of Varlamov's ability to shoulder the load the Avs have placed on him. Once the Avs signed Giguere (the "veteran who can be a short-term No. 1 or co- No. 1" he mentioned), Frei edited his blog to reflect the entire goalie situation, and at that point concludes that the Avalanche goalie moves, while not without some risk, could pay off both short- and long-term.

Because Frei was wise enough to not make any sort of prediction beforehand, he doesn't have to write about how surprising and unconventional the Avs' passing on Vokoum was just to save face... he simply analyzes the Varlamov trade, without even mentioning Vokoun once. While I think Frei could have delved a bit deeper into the reasons why Varlamov never nailed down the Caps starting job, it's just a blog, and as such seems to be a decent recap of the deal.

Dater: D Frei: B-

This is the news article recapping the Avalanche's free agency moves, with the Varlamov trade understandably the main focus. While Dater still uses subjective and sensational phrasing such as "gamble" and "risk" to describe the Varlamov trade, this is (as is usual with his real-news articles) quite a bit better than his earlier blog reaction.

As he did in his blog, Dater (or his headline writer) calls the Varlamov trade a "gamble." Well, Dater was ready for the Avs to sign a 35-year-old with an injury history of his own, who had appeared in but two playoff series in a twelve-year career, to a big-money, long-term contract... would he have portrayed that as a "gamble" as well?

This is another example of how Dater's blog does harm to his "actual reporting:" because we already know that Dater did not see this coming, he reacted to it from a place of shock and surprise at not getting Vokoun, rather than asking questions and getting analysis about the Varlamov move on its own merits. Although he has tempered that quite a bit here, having moved from his blog to his article, his blog readers already know his feelings about it, which makes it very difficult to read his article without hearing his whiny, defensive blog-voice in the background.

Again for comparison, here is a similar article by Frei:

While Dater's article is a large improvement over his blog entry, Frei's article is an improvement over Dater's. Here, Frei gets right down to business, explaining the Capitals' perspective on Varlamov as a player who must prove he is worthy of a starting job (and the contract that goes with it), comparing that to the Avalanche's view that he has already proven that he is good enough to be a starter. Frei does great work here, telling his reader a great deal about Varlamov's time in Washington, explaining some of the factors that prevented him from nail down the #1 job over Neuvirth, and making great use of quotes throughout, including a couple from former Caps teammates who speak very highly of Varlamov.

He concludes by boiling it down to a question of faith: do the Avs have too much faith in Varlamov, or did the Caps have too little? Great work by Frei, remaining focused on the topic at hand rather than the superfluous stuff that Dater was unable to completely eliminate from his article, as well as offering a bit more in the way of in-depth information and details than Dater did.

Dater: B Frei: A+

Last one, I promise! This blog entry sees Dater sitting back and taking a fresh look at the Vokoun/Varlamov thing. Frankly, this is the attitude he should have had before the free agency day started... he should have been ready to respond to whatever the Avs did, without letting his preconceived notions into it. Why? Because that's what reporters do. Fans are the ones who get all worked up for a certain outcome, and then argue over why it didn't happen the way they wanted it to. But as I've said for a while now, one of Dater's biggest flaws is when he forgets he's a reporter and not a fan.

At any rate, Dater seems to have calmed down and looked at this again, and he sees some of the drawbacks to Vokoun as an Av that I mentioned earlier, as well as some of the advantages to Varlamov that he seemed unable to recognize right after it went down. Although he often comes across as if he's now trying to convince himself of certain things, such as with

 Vokoun would have felt too much like a hired guy who only came for the money. Right?

he at least is admitting to (or at least hinting at) the shortsightedness which made the Vokoun thing such a surprise to him. He gives the Avalanche some props for being bold and going for the young guy, rather than going the safe way with the "mercenary route."

While still pretty much totally based on Dater's own though process rather than a desire to bring facts to the table, I have to give him a high-five for eventually coming around to see the other point of view, which is admirable. While I am not (and will likely never be) a fan of this blog, at least here we have an example of him bringing some balance to things, better late than never.

In a comment on the DP web site, I said as much about this blog entry. I pointed out that earlier entries smacked of Dater's surprise and embarrassment from being wrong and that the Varlamov trade deserved a more balanced coverage, and that this blog was exactly the sort of coverage I meant. Dater (if it really was Dater, that is) responded in a slightly less-than-cordial way to what was a sincere compliment.

In another spot, a different poster commented on what she considered shoddy sentence structure and proofreading. Yet another poster repsonded with the "hey, it's a blog, what do you expect" argument, and I responded to that comment that a professional writer should submit professional writing, blog or not. I wasn't the person who had the problem with this blog (again, I liked this one, and little typo-type stuff I tend to overlook unless I'm feeling particularly crabby); I was only commenting on what I consider the wrong-minded notion that blog writing should be held to a different standard. Adrian responded sharply to that comment as well, which leads me to believe he is aware of Grading Dater and is looking to get his shots in at me wherever he can. So welcome, Adrian! I hope you'll understand that if ever I bump into you in Vegas, I will be watching how you bet very carefully.

No comments:

Post a Comment