It might be only pre-season but some of Ottawa's beat writers are already in prime form.
The mainstream media writers take a lot of flak from new-media writers (aka bloggers), partly because the newspaper format is somewhat rigid, and by nature, has to appeal to a wide swath of readers whereas bloggers can basically pick and choose their niche audience by obsessing over details, whether it be uniform styles, certain players, or, as some have had success at, criticising established beat writers.
Blogging can be more fluid and inventive but nothing can really beat a good writer with real access to the team. They are held accountable for their facts and must live up to a higher standard in all areas than any wannabe, such as myself, has to.
Last season it seemed that the vast majority of the Ottawa beat writers were on an extended vacation. They wallowed on the oily surface of a franchise that had just been to the Stanley Cup final and didn't feel the need to investigate closely the actual systems being instituted by the new coach John Paddock.
In fact, the team was already past their expiration date when the writers began questioning the practice of playing the big line over 25 minutes some nights and decided to simply point fingers at players like Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros instead of offering true analysis of the Senators defensive scheme under Paddock.
When Paddock was fired by GM Bryan Murray, many writers actually seemed surprised because they had spent all their time watching to see when Ray Emery left the practice ice. Did he leave before the other goalie? Did his body language indicate he was being lazy? Did he have bloodshot eyes?
It was an easy article to write, a total gimme, but no one wanted to write the article that questioned Paddock's hockey philosophies and systems, perhaps because they all liked him so much personally.
The post-mortem articles all focused on how nice of a guy he was and how his players had let him down, especially Ray Emery.
Bryan Murray was the one who said flat-out that Paddock burnt out his top line and didn't give roles to anybody else on the team. Yes, Emery was a distraction and needed to be purged, but Paddock only had himself to blame for his mistakes. Murray said it before any writer floated the idea.
Now the journalistic machine seems to be lurching back to at least medium power. In today's Ottawa Citizen there are two insightful articles on the systems of coach Craig Hartsburg, detailing his philosophies and systems in a way that even the most casual hockey fan could understand.
Ken Warren's article breaks down how the players have to expect their roles to change from game to game and Wayne Scanlan goes into some detail about the new defensive outlook on a team that seems to be crying out for structure:
"Changes in personnel dictate a more conservative style, though Murray insists he and new coach Craig Hartsburg are not turning the team into the New Jersey Devils. Murray believes fans will appreciate the blue-collar approach to the game.
"I don't think we're going to be a sit-back team at all," Murray says. "It's just when the other team has the puck, defensively we're not going to gamble as much, and I hope the structure will allow us to have more forward support in the defensive zone than we've had, at times.
"They're not going to get the long pass off because that's not the kind of game we'll play, and we don't have the defencemen that will be looking for the breakaway pass or taking off with the puck, whatever the case may be."
Ottawa has some of the best hockey writers in the newspaper business. I think if you give the criticism, you also have to hand out the plaudits when they deserve it.
As a fan, a well functioning and questioning hockey press is essential to understanding your team and its character. They are the people with access to the players and hockey executives across the league.
So far this season, the Ottawa writers are ahead of the game.