Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Once Again, The Sports Columnists Forget About the Caps

Hey, remember how after the Nationals made the Denard Span trade last November, Tom Boswell had a whole column about what this trade meant to the Nationals lineup and the lineup possibilities for the upcoming season? And remember less than a week later, when the Nats signed Dan Haren, how Boswell wrote another column examining whether these were smart moves and praising the Nats' self-assurance and quick decision-making on these moves? Or maybe you remember how earlier this summer, Jason Reid wrote a whole column after the Wizards made their big move this summer -- drafting Otto Porter -- and how the Wizards roster looked for next season? Well, if you don't remember those columns, surely you must remember the other day, after the Caps made their big offseason move by signing Mikhail Grabovski, the piece by one of the Post's top columnists analyzing how this improved the Caps' lineup for this upcoming season and what it meant for the Caps' Stanley Cup chances....Oh, I'm sorry, of course you wouldn't remember that. As usual, no Post columnist bothered to write that column.

For some reason, the sports columnists at the Washington Post treat the Caps differently than the three other major sports teams in the area. Whenever the Redskins, Nationals, or Wizards make a trade, sign a key free agent, sign their own player to a contract extension, even send someone down to the minors, at least one--if not multiple--columnists write about the move, adding (hopefully) some perspective and analysis and discussing what it means for the team in the future. Not so for the Caps. The failure of any columnist to write anything about the Grabovski move just continues a long tradition. This spring, when the Caps traded one of their top prospects, Filip Forsberg, for Martin Erat--a trade that was pretty controversial among Caps fans--no columnist wrote a word about it. Last summer, when the team acquired Mike Ribiero in a trade and let go one of the most fascinating and frustrating athletes in the city, Alex Semin, the moves went unremarked on by the columnist crew. I could even go back to 2008, when the Caps signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million contract and not one columnist wrote about it at the time.

And yes, I know that Neil Greenberg wrote a piece about the Grabovski acquisition on Monday. It was an interesting take. It also wasn't by a columnist--it didn't appear in the print edition--and Neil's brand of advanced statistical analysis isn't unique to the Post's Caps coverage. Both Nats Journal and the Redskins Insider blog have stat analytics guys who write regularly there (Harry Pavlidis right now for the Nats and Brian Burke last season for the Skins). That doesn't mean it's not valuable, it's just not what I'm talking about.

Why does this matter? Because a good sports section should be acting as a watchdog over a city's local teams with both reporting and smart analysis that at least puts some pressure on the team to succeed--but with the Caps, serious discussion of the team's flaws and strengths (other than Ovechkin) is rare. It's somewhat amazing how every year, the Post columnists do turn out to slam the Caps after they get eliminated early in the playoffs. This May, for instance, Boswell wrote a column which criticized General Manager George McPhee for building teams that achieve regular season success but aren't built to succeed in the playoffs. It was a fair criticism looking at the team's track record. But when it comes time to actually tracking what the team does to build that roster, Boz is AWOL--that column last May is his only column on the team in the last 15 months. (I actually asked Boz in a chat a couple months ago why he hadn't written a Caps column in so long--his answer, to paraphrase, was basically that he was too busy vacationing and writing columns from spring training on how great the Nats were going to be this year...)

I don't want to give the impression that the Post doesn't have some quality analysis of the Caps. Mike wise had a handful of very good columns last season--both his "Blame Ovechkin, and everybody else" piece in March and his column on the Adam Oates-Ovechkin relationship were excellent--and Barry Svrluga had a few columnesque pieces (called "On Hockey") that were interesting until he disappeared for the last couple months of the season to cover college basketball and the Masters. But as far as serious discussion of the team's offseason, or inseason, roster moves, one has to go to the great Caps blog Japers Rink to find any breakdown of what, for instance, Grabovski's addition means for the Caps' forward lines this year.

Why does this failure by the columnists persist? I don't really know, but it seems to come down to one of two reasons: the columnists don't feel they know enough about the Caps to write intelligently about their roster decisions, lineups, etc. Or they or their editors don't care enough about the Caps to bother writing about those decisions. If it's the first reason, the Caps have been here since 1974--they should know about hockey by now. And I hope it's not the second reason. Whatever the case, though, I do know one thing: they're letting down their readers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. I think you hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph, though. No one at the Post knows enough about hockey to question McPhee even when he's wrong.

8/28/13, 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rarely does anyone in the media ask McPhee the hard questions, showing that some thought and analysis has been done. Rarely does anyone in the media ask why, and when they do, they accept whatever glib answer McPhee offers without any follow up. Rarely does anyone in the media challenge anything McPhee says.

A lot of questions should have been asked about how Semin was (mis)used his last 2 seasons here, because it was suspect. The media here is complicit in this. For the most part, the only media types (bloggers) who ventured forth with analysis and hard questions about the handling of Semin on and off the ice were from other cities, other teams. It's too bad some of the members of the media don't spend a quarter of the time analyzing and learning about the Caps and hockey as they do on how many flavors of Gatorade RGIII drank.

On the issue of Grabovski, saw on Twitter yesterday a report about a conversation with a couple of people at the Olympic event who only knew the bogus narrative that Semin was "lazy" and didn't show up for practice (!!), yet they had no idea who Grabovski was or that the Caps had signed him, much less how some might think he helps the Caps over the hump.

8/28/13, 9:59 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Not surprising. They let Tarik go (who did an incredible job covering the Caps when it was his beat) and hired Katie what's her face, who is absolutely the worst sports writer I've ever encountered. Here pieces are the most boring pieces of @#$! I've ever read. Lazy and lacking in any real reporting. She talks to the same two players (probably the only players who will give her the time of day) and then regurgitates a few quotes from a presser. Wish they'd get rid of her. She's obviously not interested in sports reporting to begin with.

8/29/13, 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Katie is from Pittsburgh, after all...but does a decent job of hiding that in her writing--(such as it is). As for the did gloves with which the local media treats GMGM, well, it's just like politics, baby: Reporters are afraid to ask the tough questions because they are afraid--perhaps rightly so--that such behaviour will cost them their access to the team.

8/29/13, 1:54 PM  
Blogger RY said...

The Washington Post has really started to annoy me. The 'analysis' by 'experts', especially Tracee Hamilton, who as far as I can remember has only written a Caps article to say Alex Ovechkin is washed up and the Nats and Skins are back to ruling DC. It's pathetic, and if the rest of the paper wasn't awesome, I may have dumped it years ago.

8/30/13, 4:39 AM  
Blogger RY said...

I mean, seriously, just search up 'tracee hamilton washington capitals' and what do you get? A whole page full of negative articles and stupid opinions from a terrible 'expert' who does not even have the nerve to pick against Kansas come March Madness. It's sad. The Post should hire Dave Johnson like WTOP did.

8/30/13, 4:44 AM  

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