Meltzer's Musings: A Serious Look At Silly Season
Silly Season is the time of year when people get in a needless tizzy over rumors that spring up and then die quick deaths. Here is a more constructive way to get to the essence of the offseason and filter out the noise.
A) Where did the rumored trade originate? No one is infallible but if it came from someone of stature in the national hockey media who deals regularly with potential trades and signings and has unquestionable sources at or very near the top of most or every NHL organization (Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Elliotte Friedman, Pierre LeBrun, Ren Lavoie, etc.), it has credibility. If the rumor was "broken" by a beat writer specific to the market where he or she works, it is probably credible in most cases.
B) If it originated from "niche" media outlets, it may or may not be credibly sourced. However, if none of the big names subsequently report it after doing their due diligence, there is probably nothing to it.
C) If it originated solely from a random person on social media, be extremely skeptical.
D) Put yourself in the shoes of both GMs and ask yourself these questions: Does this rumored trade align with any of the team's specific needs or would it create redundancies barring additional moves? If so, would making the trade solve one need but tear open a hole elsewhere (or is there enough depth on the roster to replace the departing player's typical minutes and situational usage)? Would it be a lateral move? What are the financial implications: How much cap/contract flexibility is being gained or lost? How much term is left on the respective contracts? What intangibles might be part of the consideration (e.g., is a team captain or respected veteran alternate captain involved?). How old/ healthy are the players? Do any have potential red-flag issues such as recent concussions or surgeries that could affect trade value?
E) Keep this in mind: GMs constantly inquire about availability of certain players, and often circle back again at a later date if told initially the player is unavailable. If there is an open mind to listen to ideas (which is generally the case), scores of trades are proposed each year but the vast majority either never get off the ground or fizzle out when things move past the exploratory stage. Even if things progress during the serious talks phase and something gets close to happening, there is a not-insignificant chance that the deal does not get consummated (which can happen for many different reasons, sometimes as simple as one of two sides getting cold feet or an agent remaining noncommittal about negotiating an extension for a key player in the deal who is a season away from UFA status).
F) Lastly, even if something is credibly sourced, keep in mind that there may be erroneous conclusions drawn by reporters on legit information. A reporter may have accurate info that Team A is interested in a player from another club and they've talked. Simultaneously, Team B may have interest in a certain player from that other club. While all of this may be true, it does NOT necessarily mean that the trade proposals have been for a direct swap of those particular players. In fact, it very well could be two separate ideas being bandied between the clubs.
I'll speak personally here: I have what I consider reliable sources within the Flyers organization on the hockey side as well as other departments. However, it's certainly not like the GM -- whether Chuck Fletcher or, before him, Ron Hextall or Paul Holmgren -- would ever say to me, "Hey, Bill, we're talking with Team X about this deal and here's what we might do." I don't have that level of access to the general manager or assistant GM.
I do have periodic access that's separate from the rest of the media when I specifically need it for something for the Flyers website (such as the recent hybrid of a Brent Flahr profile and 2019 Draft class overview that I wrote for the site ahead of Brent and Chuck's pre-Draft press conference on Monday). But it's not a relationship where I'd call or text the GM or assistant GM out of the blue and press them for information on information that's within their inner circle.
My direct daily internal access is with the Flyers PR/media/content staff across various platforms. They hear things internally, as do I. But gone are the old days when "the need-to-know basis" within or on the periphery of an NHL organization was extended beyond a very small circle and shop was talked in mixed company at the same bar. Nowadays, even when you have a good relationship with someone within that circle, you may be trusted enough to be pointed in the right direction but rarely will be told anything outright. Trust, in fact, is typically gained initially by NOT asking direct questions and if something is ever shared off the record, it has to stay there.
How, then, can the information be useful to your work? It can be quite useful in terms of projecting in general terms where things are/ aren't likely to go in the weeks or months to come. That doesn't mean things can't change in a hurry, because that's hardly uncommon. As such, it should be couched as speculation.
For example, a year ago in the days leading up to Hextall's Exit Day media availability, I blogged on what I believed to be key directional areas that would be expressed by the then-GM as questions were asked about last off-season's plan: The GM was happy with Dave Hakstol as head coach, they were not in a rush to trade Wayne Simmonds but not close to an extension agreement, Jori Lehterä would not be bought out, they were likely to not re-sign Brandon Manning, re-siging Val Filppula was not out of the question but wasn't Plan A, the team planned to keep both of its first-round Draft picks barring some offer that blew them away.
These were not a series of random lucky guesses. Everything had internal sources, although not given to me by Hexy himself. My view is it if doesn't come directly from the decision-maker, you are still writing a speculative piece, albeit educated speculation if you've done your homework.
Finally, be very wary of anyone who claims they know specifics about contract negotiations unless it's from one of the "almost beyond reproach" folks who have strong ties both to certain agents and to front office sources. Hockey writers who are never around the rink before/during/after practice days, morning skates, middays on game days, at press box meals, etc., and have limited or no press box access cannot develop even mid-level contacts within an organization unless you otherwise know them personally. Otherwise, you don't get to develop the sort of relationships with them where more than the most generic of information is exchanged. As for agents, some are more forthcoming and approachable than others, but there are relationships to be developed there, too.
That is how things actually work within this business. I've done it now for 23 years, and the one things I've discovered above all is that the closer you inch toward the inside, the more you realize how little you actually knew before of what goes on. You also realize that you STILL only know of a fraction of what goes on within the next, smaller circle and even less than that at the epicenter.
Quick Hits: June 12, 2019
1) Best of luck to Craig Berube, Brayden Schenn and the rest of the St. Louis Blues as they attempt to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and capture the first Stanley Cup championship in the Blues' 52-season franchise history. Along the way, the team has had squads that have had sufficient talent to go all the way (or at least to reach the Finals between their 1970 and 2019 appearances) but it just never all came together at the right time of the year: right matchups, avoiding too much injury attrition in key spots, goalie play in synch with team play, etc.
You would be hard-pressed to meet a finer human being than Craig Berube. He's is genuine and honest to a fault, extremely hard-working, modest and unselfish, and is a bright hockey mind as well. He also has a great dry sense of humor that doesn't really get displayed on camera very often but is very much there (much like Paul Holmgren, by the way). Berube is old-school in a lot of ways but not hopelessly old school or out of touch with how the game has changed strategically along with ways for coaches to communicate with players.
I'll share a Chief story that illustrates something I expressed in the main section of today's blog: the further removed one is from a team on a day-to-day basis, the easier it is to form erroneous beliefs. When Berube was the Flyers coach, I thought that he walked the line between old-school and current-day approaches about as well as can be done.
Back then, it was still common on game days for the coach to have a 4:45 p.m. media availability on home game nights as well as after the morning skate. The gathering for the latter availability was usually fairly small (That practice has since been eliminated, barring something unexpected happening during the day that needs to be addressed ahead of the game). With the cameras and microphones turned on, Berube would give minimalist sound bites. Once turned off, if he trusted everyone there and if there was time, he might give additional information that, by mutual unspoken understanding, was not intended for publication.
For example, one time, he mentioned how he'd looked at a specific proprietary analytic the team kept and made a lineup adjustment partially based on it. Mind you, this was at the same time that much of the fan base that cares deeply about analytics were skewering Chief as a "hockey dinosaur". Another time, he explained a deeper context of his much-criticized comments about Sean Couturier needing to be more like Patrice Bergeron; explaining that he wanted to see more of a scorer's mentality from Couturier when in the offensive zone before the coach would feel comfortable expanding his offensive zone starts. Berube mentioned some things he'd noticed when Couturier was on PP2.
One needn't agree with every decision and public statement. But there was always a line of reasoning and context behind Berube's decisions based on lots of video study, things he'd noticed at multiple practice, and some applied analytics as well. The coach wasn't some knuckle dragger or fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type who was dressed up in a fancy suit. Berube was a bonafide NHL head coach, then and now. Although he's perhaps tweaked a few things in his approach, he really isn't all that different now than he was then.
Offseason 411 Series
A couple weeks ago, Flyers PR director Joe Siville suggested that we do a series of "411" articles this month on the team's official website, looking at a variety of topics that come up this time of year. Basically, it's a review of the CBA-mandated rules, common strategies that teams employ and Flyers-related examples of how the rules work. The topics covered:
1)Offer sheets for restricted free agents
2)Key dates and rules for unrestricted free agents and arbitration-eligible restricted free agents
3)NHL Draft: Rules, Drafting Rights, Entry-Level Contracts, Rookie Free Agents
4) NHL Expansion Draft rules and exemptions