Monday, November 7, 2011

Three Post-Game Blogs from Dater!

Today, Grading Dater will look at three recent post-game All Things Avs blog entries, all by Adrian Dater. The Avalanche lost the the Coyotes last week 4-1, to the Stars 7-6 in OT, and to the Flames last night 2-1.

Starting with the Coyotes game, Dater's blog can be found here, and it starts with what I consider a very promising paragraph:

I know a few of you probably have come here to watch me take this team to the woodshed. Yeah, there will be a little of that, but really I didn’t think the Avs were all that bad today really. I saw a team that put 40 shots on net, hit a couple of posts and skated pretty hard I thought. So I feel it’s a little hard to sit here and bash the whole team tonight, despite yet another home loss.

I often get a weird, confused feeling when Dater and I agree about something hockey-related. There's a dizziness in my head and a numb feeling at the tips of my fingers; I feel like I can hear the footsteps of insects within the wall; bright lights seem particularly sharp and painful; and I typically spend the next fifteen or twenty minutes handling inanimate objects to test their solidity and form, searching for a glitch in the Matrix.

Actually, I just realized that this description sounds a lot like a hangover... perhaps Dater and I agreed because one of us was drunk? At any rate, there's a lot to like about this blog. Only a few days ago, I wrote that I would like to see a loss like this one receive a "games like this happen" reaction from the Post, and whaddaya know, here it is!


Dater reacts to this game the way he should have: sure, there are some issues, and a couple plays here and there go the other way and this could have been an Avs win, but the world is not about to end. Swallow the blue pill, sleep well, see you next game.

Rather than assuming a "the Avs' downward spiral has begun" voice, or falling into the oft-used "there's no passion out there" cliches, Dater here takes a balanced view of this game, and writes that the Avs played pretty well overall. He points out a few problems -- namely Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, and Matt Duchene -- players he refers to as the "TOP guys." And while it's a bit of a kiddie-pool analysis of the team's scoring issues to simply say "the big guys have to produce," that's not to say it's wrong, only simplistic. Those guys DO need to step up, because that's what's expected of any team's best players.

Dater does two good things with this blog: First, although he's definitely sharing his opinion here, he keeps it subdued and serving the story rather than placing it front and center, and instead lets certain facts speak for themselves. Second, he keeps his criticism to the results of the team's play rather than trying to imagine what it's like behind closed doors or to psychoanalyze them in any way. They are skating hard, they are getting lots of shots on net, and they are as frustrated as many of their fans are. By retreating from the tone he often uses on the blog, Dater allows us to see what I feel is a more accurate view of the team and its recent play than we usually get here. That may not be enough to get some of Avs fans to step back from the ledge, but it's a good start.

Next is a blog entry which followed the Avs' wild, 7-6 overtime loss to the Stars in Dallas. This is the game in which Duchene was moved to Stastny's wing, and responded with a four-point, three-goal night, but it wasn't enough. Fans of goaltending were not amused by this game, but it sure was exciting.

With this blog entry, Dater takes a page from Mike Chambers, and keeps it brief and to-the-point. It's not bad... this blog is primarily just a very brief recap of the game, with a couple of Dater's own comments woven in, primarily his observation that the second (Galiardi) line was essentially absent, despite the team's goal output.

Two comments about this one: First, Dater makes no mention of the Avs' atrocious penalty kill, which gave up three goals officially, but was on the ice for a fourth goal precisely as Ryan O'Byrne came out of the box. I know that the blog isn't meant to be an all-inclusive thing, and while I have no problem with AD calling out the Galiardi line for their no-show, I really think that a PK unit that allows four goals (in six opportunities) in a 7-6 loss probably deserved at least a paragraph, too, just so the Galiardi line wouldn't feel so lonely in the All Things Avs doghouse.

The second quibble is that Dater, as he is wont to do, dips pretty deep into the hyperbole barrel when he writes that this was "one of the all-time strangest games." It was a high-scoring, back and forth game, but these are fairly common in the NHL these days. I think it would be hard-pressed to even be one of the strangest games of the week, much less of all time. This isn't a huge deal, and it doesn't really detract from the blog itself, but it's one of those unnecessary flourishes that AD seems to love to throw in to give his work personality, but which in reality just serve to erode his credibility in the long run.

Finally, we come to the Flames' 2-1 victory at Pepsi Center, which Dater blogged about here. In this entry, Dater continues his "let's not get too excited, folks" attitude from the previous two blog entries. Dater starts by saying that he feels bad for the fans who show up at Pepsi Center just to watch the Avs lose, even though their effort was again a fairly good one. He then takes a sharp detour into some dark, scary, Boston-sports-fan corner of his subconscious, and writes a paragraph about how bad the New England Patriots were in the late '70s and how the voices in his head told him to break stuff. I guess it's relevant, and it doesn't really bug me when he wanders off on these tangents, as long as he keeps the hockey parts solid.

When he returns to the hockey game, though, he doesn't really say all that much about it. Dater mainly focuses on how frustrating it is that the Avs can win on the road, but not at home. He hints that a coaching change might help, but doesn't bother to explain why. He dredges up his botched prediction on Stefan Elliot making the team again, writing rather oddly that calling him up to man the point on the PP is "just what the Avs need right now" despite the fact that the top six D are playing well enough that Matt Hunwick has been a healthy scratch all year AND that the Avs' power play is currently ranked first in the NHL. Finally, he questions whether the fact that the Avs have named no captain is a sign that there is nobody that's taken leadership of the team, on the ice or off it. "I think, at this point, it's a fair question," he writes, and I agree... not having a captain is not the issue here, but having no leadership might be. So kind of a mixed bag of things here.

Dater only really steps in it when he includes this bit:

If I’m a big Avs fan – and I’m not, but I try to think like a fan for job purposes (it’s complicated) – I am furious about what’s going on at the Pepsi Center. 

I find something rather condescending about that... I sort of doubt it was meant this way, but there's a "I have to lower myself to your level because it's part of my job" feel here that really hits the wrong note.

Two problems, beyond that: First, I suppose that if you look at it the right way, it does help if a sports journalist can think like a fan, in much the same way it helps a teacher to think like a student... and if that's what Dater meant, he might have got a pass on something like this. But Grading Dater has complained for some time that Dater can't seem to separate his fan side from his journalist side -- that's one of the chief complaints, actually. Even if we concede that it's helpful (if not absolutely necessary) in his job for him to think like a fan, it's an even bigger part of any journalist's job to not write like a fan, and he can't seem to do that at all. So this just ends up coming across like a guy who knows he's a fan, has given up any pretense of not being a fan, and is just trying to find a cover for himself. I don't buy it... he's a fan and everybody knows it, and even when he bashes on the Avalanche, we know it comes from a place of love.

Second, even if his statement about having to think like a fan for his job was totally honest and aligned perfectly with everything we already know about Dater, it's still totally unnecessary to set up this little duck blind the way he claims he's done. If it is Dater's argument that Avs fans must be furious about the way the team is playing, he could just as easily have written something like the following:

"After a game that seemed to be a carbon-copy of any of a number of recent home games – even dating back to last season – Avs fans must be getting furious about the team's play at Pepsi Center."

...and gone from there. Bottom line is that it doesn't matter if Dater is a fan who doesn't care that everybody knows it, or if he's a fan who's trying to convince us he's only pretending to be a fan because it's his job, or if he's not a fan at all but he feels he must think like one just to know what to write about... a good journalist doesn't need to bring any of that to the surface of his or her writing.

So, even in a decent blog entry, Dater still manages to call attention to one of his worst traits as a sportswriter: his inability to extract himself and his emotions from his writing and to focus on the subject. With the first two blog entries, we get a good idea of what things would be like if there was more hockey and less Dater... there is a lot of promise there, and if things continue in this direction, the blog may start moving towards the tone and focus we should expect from a major newspaper and its NHL beat. Unfortunately, AD couldn't make it three in a row, and All Things Dater reared its head again. But overall, props for some decent work on the blog side; it's rare, but it can happen.

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