Friday, September 12, 2008

Central Division Interview - On The Forecheck

Up next in this here weekly series of blog interviews is Dirk from On The Forecheck. Dirk follows the Predators with great analysis of stats and numbers and overall pretty much the best writing you'll see following the Preds. I sent him these questions earlier this week and some recent developments have kinda fucked up one of the questions - but that happens.

Who actually thought it would be a great idea to give a franchise over to a guy with the nickname "boots"? How big of a fuckup is this and will it effect(affect?) the Predators this season?

Well, if you ask anyone around Nashville, "Boots" was preferable to "Balls" at the time! Yeah, he turned out to be a complete fraud, but at least the local group is in a position to buy him out, once the bankruptcy proceedings go through. As to an impact on the hockey team this season, I don't think there will be any, but the sooner this is over with the better.

How big of a blow is the Radulov mess to the Predators future? Is there anyone else in the system you can hope to shift a focus onto now that it seems Radulov won't come back? Do you hate him for the decision, or are you just disappointed?

Radulov was certainly the team's best offensive prospect, and the Preds will miss what they hoped to get out of him this year; something around 35 goals. It'll likely be up to the duo of Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones to replace that production. The guy to get excited about just might be Jones, lately the captain of the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, who should be much more of a team-first guy than the mercurial Radulov, and is the type of exciting, hard-working plugger that fans adore.

As to Radulov, you just have to shake your head and wonder what makes a guy who came over here, invested four years in working his way through Junior Hockey and with Nashville to develop himself into an NHL star, then throw it all away when he would have been eligible for a huge contract next summer. If he pots 35 goals in 2008-9, you can bet he'd be looking at a $30-40 million dollar contract either from Nashville or someone else with deeper pockets. For his sake, the Russian economy had better hold together for the next few years.

(So just yesterday Puck Daddy wrote that Radulov actually might want back into the NHL after only a few games in the KHL. I can't say anyone else in the Central should really be happy about that news, and while many fans I'm sure are pissed at him about this Dirk likens the situation to Fedorov's holdout with the Wings back in '97 and seems ready to welcome him back.)

With the exception of Radulov, what were the Predators biggest moves in the off-season, either in addition or subtraction?

The big trade sent Marek Zidlicky, a good powerplay QB, to Minnesota for Jones and a draft pick. Personally, I thought the Preds should have packaged Zidlicky along with picks or prospects to land a major talent that could help the team win right away, because after Brian Campbell signed at $7.1 million per year and Dan Boyle got $6.7 million per, Zidlicky's $3.3 million pricetag (which runs through 2009-10) looks awfully affordable for a legit offensive blueliner.

Everyone gives places like Nashville shit for not being a "real hockey town", how do you respond - what's the scene like in Nashville for hockey fans?

I'd encourage anyone laboring under that delusion to just come on down; the atmosphere is great, and the energy in the arena is much like a college game. Opposing goalies are taunted, there's crowd interaction with Paul McCann, the PA announcer, and the fans are genuinely behind this team. I've seen some pretty amazing NHL moments in person (the massive McCarty/Lemieux brawl, Wings winning the Cup in '97), and the Sommet Center gets as loud as anywhere else in the league.

Now, it is true that hockey will never be #1 in Nashville; football is king south of the Mason-Dixon line, and many in the local sports media still talk like they've just come out of "Hockey 101". Building the broader base of people with at least a decent understanding of the game will take time, but that's the way it works.

Your site focuses a lot on the numbers and statistics which has always been more of a baseball thing, I've always loved hockey more for the action, speed and athleticism, but what drew you to hockey rather than baseball? Which stats do you enjoy watching for the most?

I used to be a pretty big baseball fan, but having lived away from an MLB city for over 10 years now, that's pretty much worn off. As to hockey, growing up we had an ideal pond across the street that would freeze nice and solid for a few weeks every winter, but it wasn't until college that I tried actually playing in beer leagues. There's definitely nothing like the combination of speed, power, and fluidity that hockey brings, relative to the other major sports.

As far as stats go, the neat thing about all of this relative to the NHL is that it's still wide-open territory. How can we succinctly summarize the impact of a given player, and evaluate him against the performance of some guy from the other conference? Are there ways to determine what type of player (sniper, playmaker, mucker) might make the most effective addition to a given lineup? There are a zillion questions to be answered like that, and the toolbox available for that work, while limited, is growing more sophisticated with each passing year.

The one stat I enjoyed watching last year was the
Penalty Plus/Minus; finally, the NHL started noting in the Play By Play files which player drew a given penalty, allowing us to quantify what everyone knows to be a game-changing effect of great players; the ability to take a defender out of position and force them into a hook, hold, or trip. Generating a power play opportunity for your team is, outside of scoring an actual goal, one of the most useful things a player can do for his team in a given game. For the record, Dustin Brown of L.A. led with a +43 (he drew 43 penalties more than he took), although Sid Crosby was not far behind at +39 despite missing time due to injury.

Every team needs a good rivalry, right? Do the Predators have one team in the division that you love to hate? Is it the standard Detroit, because we all pretty much hate them? I think Columbus would be a great rival for Nashville - is there anything going on there? If not, care to start something now? Go ahead - feel free to insult Rick Nash's mother or maybe just the Buckeyes in general (they hate that shit).

I think there's a Big Fish, Small Fish thing going on here; Predators fans absolutely hate Detroit above all others, because, as an up-and-coming team, obviously the team on top is the one to target. Also, there a ton of ex-Detroiters (like myself) that live in the area, and for years, matches against the Red Wings looked and sounded more like a Detroit home game. That's no longer the case.

With Columbus, they definitely have it in for the Preds, but Nashville has historically owned them. According to, the Predators enjoy a .756 lifetime winning percentage against the Blue Jackets, who roll over easier than the Bulgarian women's team. As to how easily Rich Nash's mother rolls over, hey, I try to keep mine a family-friendly blog...

Finally, how do you see the division playing out? Who makes the playoffs and what will the final record be between the Preds and the Hawks?

The easy part here is that the Wings should cruise away with their 47th consecutive Central Division title, and Columbus and St. Louis will come in 4th and 5th, respectively. Over the course of the season, I think the Preds will still keep ahead of the Blackhawks, because they've already got a deep lineup that's perfecting a well understood, consistent team philosophy. Basically, they'll be ready to go right from Day One. With Chicago, there are some depth questions behind those exciting stars, a two-headed goaltending situation that could become a real distraction, and I wonder how Denis Savard will handle the pressure of coaching a team that actually has expectations of success this year. I'll call the Preds for a 3-2-1 record against the Hawks in the regular season, with both teams making the playoffs.

Thanks again to Dirk

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