The future of blogging is… blogging.

About a month ago (that’s forever in internet years) Marco posted the note Google and blogs: “Shit.” where the general thought was that his blog traffic was flat and starting to decline over the last year or so. There are a lot of reasons for this and Marco does a good job starting to explain it, but you can also point to the death of Google Reader as a big factor.

At the time this got posted I got into a conversation with Glenn Fleishman about all of this and noted that while my readership levels have to a good degree stagnated, I’ve also seen a significant improvement in engaged readership and more importantly (well, to me), a huge improvement in incoming revenue. Glenn encouraged me to write about what I’ve been doing which, of course, I never found time to do (sorry!).

Now Glenn’s posted a bit of a follow-on to all of this over on Six Colors (my favorite of the “post Macworld era” sites that sprung up after that Diaspora, although iMore comes close) talking about the Post Blog Era and how newsletters and podcasts are going to take over the blog space.

I think Glenn is partially correct, but partially mixing up a few things, so I think now is a good time to explain my view and hopefully clarify and not muddle the situation. I don’t think blogs are dying — I’m not even convinced they’ve hit “peak blog” as Glenn has called it, but I do believe we’re seeing some significant shifts in the expectations of readers and those of us who create content need to understand and adapt to those.

Over the last year — almost 18 months — I have been revamping my web presence to update it to my view of web sites like this should look and operate. In that time, my overall pageviews have dropped by about 10%, but my Amazon affiliate advertising, which is the only revenue generating aspect of the site, has gone from about $2/month to averaging almost $110/month. That means it’s now paying my hosting bills for my sites, which is a huge improvement for me. That number is consistent even if I get busy and can’t post new material reliably.

This is one of those places where I think Marco and Glenn are seeing the shift slightly sideways. it’s not that blogging has his “peak blog” and is fading, it’s that the era of the high-volume high-churn dated diary style of blogging has. What’s happened instead is that we’ve been seeing this big upsurge of interest in long-form content again — just look at Medium and what it’s accomplishing and trying to accomplish as one example.

This isn’t the point of “peak blog”, it’s the return of well-written and detailed (and/or thoughtful) content being favored over churn bait. About 80% of my page views on a given day are driven by organic search, and 99% of those are from Google. Organic search isn’t dead, but it’s been tweaked to give preference to (I think) longer pieces and to pieces that are better received by the readers — my guess is a factor they’re considering more strongly is how long someone is spending viewing a page. 10,000 pageviews where the average length of stay is 15 seconds (the “digg” model) used to be what people were chasing. Today, I think what the search engines are looking for is material where the readers are staying longer and clicking through off the pages.

This experimentation led to three big insights I’ve been using to guide my reworking of my sites:

The first big insight: Long Content wins

My most popular page on my sites is my Fuji page. It started out as about ten separate blog posts, which quickly got out of sync with reality. One insight I took when analyzing how users were viewing things was that multi-part series and links to updates in the blog failed miserably: people rarely if ever followed the links. They showed up, they looked at what was there and they rang off. Various experiments to try to encourage them to stay and browse or to explore related content mostly failed miserably.

In evaluating analytics on my site, I noticed that one specific piece that I’d long back rewritten as a single longer page (vs a series of dated blog posts) was being fondly thought of by Google and had significantly longer average reading time. That led to my first big insight: If I couldn’t convince people to explore around the site, STOP TRYING.

So I did. I use the blog to create content and make it easy for interested people to see new content and keep up with what I’m doing as a journal-style commentary, but the reality is that a blog entry sees 90% of its views in the first ten days and then it sinks into oblivion. even if one part of a multi-part series catches longer-term interest, it doesn’t drive much to the rest of the series. So the simple answer is: pull it all together onto a single page, polish that page, keep that page updated over time, and make it easy for people (and search engines) to find that content.

So when I updated my site, I threw out a lot of crap content generated in the “you must update daily or you’ll be forgotten” era, dropping the site from > 1,100 entries to under 400. Over a couple of months I took the best of the content and compiled it into a few key topic pages, rewrote the material so it worked together well, updated it as needed, and then deleted all of the original blog entries and added redirects to the new topic page.

The end result? Where any one of ten blog pages (all of them cross-linked to each other as part of a multi-piece series) might have seen a few hits, and if I was lucky 5% of the viewers would check out one extra page and be gone in under a minute, these new pages have staying power: the average time spent on these pages is over six minutes and the longest average visit is over ten. Ten minutes. One page. I have found that visitors to these pages, after having spent six or seven minutes on this page, are a lot more likely to do some poking around the site — front page, about page.

I think this is one reason why sites like Daring Fireball work as well as they do. They aren’t trying to churn you into visiting constantly, but when they do post content, it tends to be content that you settle into and read. It has depth and complexity to it, and it’s not there to simply try to get your eyeballs around some piece of advertising that pays mili-pennies per view or click.  And that was my second insight…

The Second Big Insight: Users are blind to advertising.

I’ve had this long-term, experiment I’ve been playing with I call For Your Consideration. Back in the 1980’s I published a science fiction fanzine called OtherRealms which was, at its core, a review-zine. I also spent some time as Amazing Stories SF/Fantasy book reviewer back in the days when TSR owned the magazine. Reviewing is a writing form I enjoy, and I’ve been exploring ways to make it worth my time to do more of it, or even turn it into a revenue stream — with mostly negative results.

One of the things I did as part of those experimentation was throw out the standard Amazon Affiliate widgets  — because they are frankly butt-ugly — and instead tried building some affiliate advertising blocks that were designed to look good within the design of the site. In other words, part of the content rather than grafted on generic widgets.

Much to my surprise, the clickthrough rate of my customized affiliate blocks skyrocketed, and so did buying through them. That’s when I realized that people quickly tune out the bits of a web site that scream ADVERTISING even if that advertising is relevant to them. So much of the web today is festooned with increasingly invasive, obnoxious, irrelevant and bluntly ugly advertising that most users simply stop seeing it. They’ve become conditioned to ignore it.

I tried a couple of tests. I took a couple of my long-form pages and put Amazon ads on it. I took a couple of others and put the affiliate blocks with my custom design on them. In one case I put the custom blocks with affiliate items that weren’t related to the content of the page.

The results were clear: the standard Amazon widgets did very poorly. The custom blocks with non-related items did somewhat better but not great. And the custom blocks with items directly related to the content saw very strong responses. The custom blocks don’t hide that they’re amazon affiliate links, I try to keep the disclosure open, and of course, once you get to Amazon the situation is obvious.

But the result to me was crystal clear: people’s web experience has been so abused by aggressive advertising that they’ve been conditioned to avoid it, even if the material is relevant and of interest to them. I call it being “snow blind” to the advertising. So if you want a good response, you have to keep it low-key, you have to keep it relevant, and you have to make it part of the content itself — without hiding it’s relationship to what it is, which is affiliate advertising.

From what I’ve seen, if you do that, people are cool with it and will follow the links and some percentage of them will use them. But even something as relatively un-intrusive (if butt ugly) as an Amazon widget box is enough to keep people from clicking over and using the affiliate link.

Insight the third: Social is a conversation, not a push channel

So, when Google killed off Google Reader, I figured that a lot of people following my site via RSS would disappear. I believe that in fact happened, and I probably lost about 50%. The other 50% seem to still be hiding out on my RSS feed using other tools, whether personal readers, sites like NewBlur, or whatever. I don’t do RSS analytics so I’m guessing, but I can interpret things via indirect means like watching image views on posted material, etc.

I felt a lot of the subscription population would replace RSS with social, especially Twitter, and so I decided to try to do it as well so I could understand whether and how well it worked. In fact, I was able to shift about 95% of my feed following to twitter just fine, with small outposts of material that showed up primarily on Facebook or Tumblr or Google+. I do use Newsblur for a few feeds today for convenience, but I’m primarily following people by their social presence.

I’ve done some experimentation with what works best for my sites, and I’ve found a couple of interesting insights. One is that it doesn’t really matter WHEN I publish a blog post, where in the RSS days things posted early in the day and on weekdays did a lot better than late afternoon or evening or on weekends. What does matter though, is that the social stream notices of content need to be there when a person goes looking for them. Generally not a problem on Google+ or Facebook or Linkedin (to a degree) because those sites seem to do a decent job of flowing new material to users (except when it  doesn’t, and Facebook is notoriiously unreliable about being reliable about what it does, so you never know when it’ll bury thing you send or expect to see). Twitter, it turns out, has a half-life for a tweet around 4-6 hours, so if I post a link to a new blog items in the morning and you show up three timezones over in the afternoon, chances are you’ll never see it.

So with Twitter, I now use Hootsuite to schedule in repeating posts on new content; typically 4-5 times 4-6 hours apart so there’s about 30 hours of coverage. I’ll typically make sure material posted on a weekend gets some coverage on monday as well. While I typically post things early in the morning (pacific time) and then manually schedule in the extra tweets (because I’m too lazy to build a script to do it yet), it’s often the third tweet, which I normally schedule early afternoon pacific and early early eastern time that sees the biggest response.

I think it’s crucial that you don’t be too automated on social channels, especially on twitter. I know too many people who have little tolerance for what is clearly robots blaring out loudspeakers onto twitter. I try to make sure that when I do multiple tweets they’re far enough apart to not overlap in a typical user’s feed but instead try to cover the range of geographic time zone regions my readers live in: Pacific time, Eastern time, EMEA, and Asia/Australia.

That coverage seems to work best, and I get almost zero complaints. when I experimented with more frequent postings, I got noodged, so I backed off again. If I went less frequently, overall readership dropped off, so this seems to be optimal for making sure people see what I’m doing without pissing them off by blatting stuff at them too often. So that’s what I do.

What’s all this mean?

Here’s my view of life in the content world today:

  1. Stop worrying about pageviews. it’s a stupid stat. Worry about engagement. I’m a lot more interested in average time on a page and whether they click to other pages (or affiliate links) than I am how many people hit a page.
  2. Long content rocks. Use the journalistic aspect of a blog to generate the content over time, but make sure you pull it all together into fewer, longer, well-written topic specific pages over time. If you can do that IN the blog, okay. but I think the model of “short blog posts” -> “longer rewritten blog page” -> “ebook of pages” is the model most of us should be thinking about (and yes, ebooks is the next phase of life for that content, whether given away as part of other promotions or moved to Kindle/iBook or some form of paid published content. if nothing else, thinking like this will help you focus on writing quality content and away from the kind of “blog filler” crap that wastes time and generates no real value…
  3. Users are blind to advertising. So stop wasting time and page real estate on advertising that pisses off your users and doesn’t really work well anyway. If your business model is dependent on that, start building a new business model, because payback rates for that stuff is only going to get worse.
  4. But users aren’t against low-key stuff like affiliate advertising, if it’s done well, compatible with the site and relevant to the content their viewing.
  5. Make it easy for people to find other stuff; most won’t, but some will, and you want to encourage them to like you. You don’t need hundreds of pages of stuff — pick out your ten best pieces, polish the hell out of them and focus your visitors on them. Then try to make the rest of your content that good and interesting.
  6. You really are better off with a dozen really good pages than a hundred mediocre ones. Focus on good, not lots. That is the exact opposite of what people have been telling bloggers for years, but the most valuable content on your site is the content that’s valued by organic search, and that content is the longer, more detailed and thoughtfully written pieces, not the chatter.

The funny thing is, that’s pretty much what Google’s been telling us all along. Good content wins, but you aren’t going to generate good content at 400 word chunks daily — unless you pull it all together and build it into a few longer, better pages.

Where I’m headed

I’ve been in an experimentation/study and redesign phase on and off for about 18 months. For the last couple I’ve been implementing some plans that came out of it, and part of that was to split the photography content off to its own site, and now I’m mired in a redesign of this site — delayed because I’ve been working on “my real job” projects instead.

But the goal is to implement the above. I made the decision to split out the photography content onto its own site for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s now mature enough with enough of an audience to stand alone
  2. It lets me add on new photography-related projects on the side more easily.
  3. It frees me to  open up this site to explore new content areas again, giving me potentially new content areas I can build out the way I did the photography stuff.

I’m in process of doing the edit down and focus on this site the way I did the photography. It’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s going to involve more of the review material, more tech industry talk, and a return to my sports writing on a more regular basis. I have no idea which, if any, may build into a big enough area to warrant it’s own site, but we’ll see what happens.

Over on the photography side, I’m working on a podcast to reboot the Before and After series I was doing for a while, and there will be a Patreon aspect to that (if for no other reason than it’s time to start experimenting with that model). More on this soon, part of my time when I went and hid in Fort Bragg was giving myself some focus time to do some planning on this project.

And I agree with Glenn that both Podcasts and Newsletters have a key role to play in content distribution moving forward, but I see this less about replacing blogs as about bringing forward content into the way people are starting to consume it. Text will continue to be a prominent piece of that equation, but Podcasts are content for times when text is inconvenient or impossible, especially commute and exercise time. And video (i.e. Youtube and/or Vimeo and/or etc) is increasingly about casual research and browsing — tablet couch time — and isn’t so much about replacing text as about making it possible to cover material for which text is a lousy way to deal with it. Such as my before and after series, where I found doing it as text mostly failed, but where I think a video component backed up by a textual part will make it a persuasive and interesting series.

Online video is both content sensitive (some things just need video to be interesting) and generational (younger people are conditioned to find it on Youtube and expect it to be in video form). This and audio podcasting such as what Jason and Relay.FM are doing don’t replace blogging so much as open up areas that are increasingly important to users given the technology they have and who are looking for content to fill those times in that form.

Ultimately, it’ll all work together and if done well, leverage each other.

At least, that’s my hope.. And where I’m headed…

 

 

Posted in Computers and Technology, The Internet, The Writing Life, Working on Web Sites

Three dot Lounge for March 17, 2015

Three dot lounge is a recurring collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Cash crunch forces tech website Gigaom to shut down

Cash crunch forces tech website Gigaom to shut down

I was as surprised as everyone else when GigaOM suddenly shut down, but when you look behind the curtain, the signs were there, and it looks to be more about management struggles and the challenge of scaling to keep your VC funders happy than about the business or the industry it was in itself. I always worry when I see companies jumping into “research” as a financial model, because to me, that indicates their existing models aren’t and they’re trying to find a quick fix repurposing content using different terms. Unfortunately, in the case of GigaOM, the “research” part couldn’t get the traction it needed and pulled the journalism part down with it.

The Watch

With Apple’s latest event, we know pricing and timing for delivery of the watches. The commentary has shifted from speculation about what we don’t know into punditry about what we think we do.

My view? I think most of the commentary on the watch is guessing, and much of it wrong-headed, because we don’t know what the watch will really be useful for yet. Anyone who sees it as a watch and comments on its as such is an idiot and will be proven one, as this is really a thing that sits on the wrist and does notifications and other things TBD and happens to tell time as well. it’s those things TBD that I find fascinating and will define the success of the watch and they won’t appear until people start really using it.

I expect to buy one, probably a sport with the addition of a Milanese Loop band for fancier settings. I’m a former watch fan, having at various times worn both wrist and pocket watches (including a mickey mouse pocket watch, because I could), and in my drawer is a dusty Festina that I stopped wearing years ago when the phone took over time duty. I expect my primary use will be for fitness and walking, taking over for my fitbit (wherever it is…), since I’ve found I tend not to carry my phone constantly around the house and so my numbers aren’t accurate — but I will, I think, wear the watch.

There are two issues I think need to be called out here:

First, I think people who are thinking of the watch as having the same upgrade cycle as a phone or an iPad are looking at it wrong. The vast majority of the “guts” of the watch are in fact in the phone, and the watch is basically a remote display. That limits the need for ram or CPU upgrades in phone, and I expect even first gen watches will be “good enough” for a number of years because of this. They don’t NEED to be upgraded, they’ll just need new batteries once in a while, just like all good non-hand-wound-watches.

Second, I worry that we’re creating the next big wave of robberies. Remember that phones (those $600 computers in your pocket) became a huge theft problem in urban areas to the point companies were forced to build kill switches into them, which has seriously dampened the theft problem. Now we’re going to be putting $500 devices on our wrists instead, and those devices don’t have kill switches in them — and forever god, why not? So now expect people to start getting their watches taken by force the way phones were, since repurposing them is as simple as re-pairing…

And as far as I can tell, nobody’s called Apple on this for not making these hard to steal? Why not?

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Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Dear Doug Wilson: WTF? — Teal Sunglasses for March 15, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Dear Doug Wilson: WTF?

If you check down in the quicklinks area you’ll find the links to the current brouhaha, but in quick summary, in the last ten days or so, Doug Wilson went in front of the season ticket holders like he does every year, and this year, for reasons that nobody can explain rationally, he decided to throw Joe Thornton under a very big bus driving by at full speed.

Wilson explained that the reason Thornton had the ‘C’ removed was that at times he cared too much and not everyone in the locker room appreciated his commentary. Okay, I can see that. Thornton’s sense of humor is pretty legendary (and R rated) and if it’s aimed at you, it can be tough. This actually sounds like a good, rational explanation, especially if Wilson and Thornton had sat down and hashed everything out and both sides were cool about it being talked about.

Unfortunately, Wilson was. Thornton wasn’t, and his response was to tell his GM in no uncertain terms to shut up.

Oops. Double oops: Wilson’s initial response was to say — through the press — that Thornton knew where to find him if he wanted to talk, and basically to put his big boy pants on and live with it.

And this threatened to spin seriously out of control, but saner (or at least quieter) views prevailed, and Hasso Blatner, the owner of the team stepped in and talked to everyone, got Wilson and Thorton talking to each other instead of the press, and it looks like, at least in public, that this spat has settled down.

Reading between the lines

Here’s how I view this. To nobody’s surprise, there are some raw emotions left over after last summer’s comments by Wilson, the public discussion about possibly trading Thornton and Marleau, both of them refusing to waive their no trade clauses, and going into this season with both on the roster but nobody named captain. There has been a lot of speculation about why a captain’s never been named (including my own) but at least part of it is pretty clearly to limit the embarrassment to Joe for losing the C.

Here’s the thing about the Sharks organization. it doesn’t leak. You get very few rumors. The team is always very careful what it says and how it says it, to the point that the team is almost boring to follow — which in a way is good, because it limits controversies and fights in the press. This organization has a strong commitment to “what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room” and I respect that.

So when Wilson goes before the season ticket holders and says something like this about Joe Thornton, the first assumption has to be that Thornton knows and is cool with it being said. And then Thornton comes out and makes it clear he’s not cool with it, and…

Doug, really? How did a brain cramp this big and smelly come out of a brain that is typically so composed and calculated? You’re smarter than this. Or are you?

Look, I’ve been a strong supporter of Wilson since he was a player. But after last season’s collapse he lashed out at the team in public, and he clearly let his emotions take charge for a while, a very non-Wilson-like reaction, no matter how much we as fans agreed with him (and how correct he was…). That led to the rift with Thornton and Marleau and that rift indirectly has contributed to some of the challenges we’ve seen this year, because as much as they’ve kept it in the locker room, it’s pretty clear this year’s locker room hasn’t been the happiest.

And you can tie that back to what Wilson said and did at the end of last season and over the summer.

Looking back in time

Let’s remember that the reason that Doug Wilson is the GM of the Sharks is because Dean Lombardi is not. The reasons Dean Lombardi was ultimately fired was over a locker room split that blew up  when it wasn’t handled well. Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter named Owen Nolan captain. Nolan could be — abrupt — to others in the room, which wasn’t always appreciated — and ultimately the locker room broke into a couple of factions that didn’t like each other, and that ultimately tore the team apart, leading to a surprising and sudden collapse.

Sound vaguely familiar? Back in the Lombardi day, Lombardi assumed Sutter would handle it, Sutter assumed the locker room would figure it out, nobody did, and that led to the 2002-2003 season where Darryl Sutter was fired, Dean Lombardi was fired, Owen Nolan was traded to Toronto, and the Sharks missed the playoffs (the last time that’s happened until, maybe, this season)

So I can see where Wilson looked at the collapse last season and saw in it an echo of the problems that led up to the 2002-3 collapse. I can see him making changes to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and over-reacting in another direction that creates instead a new set of painful problems.

What bothers me

What bothers me about all of this is that Wilson seems to have lost his perspective. This has gotten emotional. It’s gotten personal. It makes me call into question his ability to make judgements about the situation, just as Lombardi in that last season ended up making decisions that were driven by stress and emotion as opposed to more rational judgment. By the accounts given to me at the time, the atmosphere around Lombardi in the team offices were described with words like “bunker” and “hostile”.

Are we seeing that same situation build now with Wilson? Has he lost his perspective? Has the stress of building this team finally gotten to him?

If so, the Sharks have a big problem they need to deal with. The signs I see, frankly, are worrisome. I’ve been a strong backer of Wilson, but I’ve also said that if a change needs to be made, it needs to be made with Wilson before any thought of replacing the coach is made — but where I was considering booting Wilson upstairs and bringing in a new GM to work under him. Now I’m not so sure.

Dean Lombardi got fired, had to step back and spent time working with other teams and learning from his mistakes before ending up in LA where he and Sutter have won some cups. Is Wilson at that point where he needs to take that step away and then circle back through another organization before another try? it’s hard to think of many GMs who’ve won cups in their first GM gig. Perhaps we’re at that point with the Sharks.

I’m not well plugged into the back office or locker room these days, so I can’t judge what’s happening behind the scenes as well as a decade ago. Until this latest faceplant by Wilson I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it is time for a change in the organization.

I wondered after last season if Wilson had let his emotions take over — much as I mostly agreed with his view that some changes were needed (and I still feel that way — this team has missed its window for the run).  But we’re almost a full season past that point, and I’m now unconvinced he’d gotten past that emotional break point, and if I’m correct, that’s a very dangerous position for the GM to be in for the organization.

However you want to view it, what he said at the season ticket holder’s meeting was unacceptable and unprofessional, and that the owner had to step in to defuse the situation also is a bad sign. Wilson’s response to Thornton’s “shut up” bothers me more, I think, than the initial comments.

However you look at it, this was a huge mistake by Wilson and an indication that there are bigger problems within the organization than we’ve really seen this season — and that one of them might be Doug Wilson himself.

For now, consider my support of Wilson downgrade from “strongly supportive” to “not so sure”. We’ll see how things go from here, but right now, I have to admit to being worried about what I’ve seen the last two weeks.

 

 

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Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

My view for the next couple of days

Here is my view for the next couple of days. Laurie was kind enough to give me a weekend pass, and I’m currently holed up in Fort Bragg decompressing.

I apologize for the silence, but I’ve been buried in a large video editing project for work, and I literally uploaded the last piece of that Midnight thursday and hit the road for the weekend about noon Friday. Putting together 25+ hours of video from Milan while doing the first bits of planning for San Diego just ate all my time for a bit.

Fort Bragg yesterday was foggy and misty and I woke up to softbox grey skies and sprinkles. This is my first visit here (which is why I’m here) so right now I’ve been exploring and seeing what’s here. And going to bed early and sleeping in and generally just not being on the clock.

My goal for this trip is to not have goals for the trip, so I may or amy not come back with pictures. I also may or may not put time into project planning on a couple of things needing my attention. I may or may not take a nap. We’ll see.

But with the video work done, I should be back on the blog again in a day or so…. But until then, it looks like the sun is breaking through….

Posted in About Chuq

Put a fork in it (and other topics) — Teal Sunglasses for March 1, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Put a fork in it

So the Sharks came off the loss at the outdoor game with a few days off to rest and regroup, looking like a team that desperately needed both. The team gave the players a couple of days off, then went back into practice with what Coach McClellan called a “mini training camp” to reintroduce and reinforce some of the fundamental details of the way the coaches want the team to play and to get everyone’s head reset back into playing Sharks hockey.

The early results against the Red Wings were impressive and encouraging. Unfortunately, hockey is still a 60 minute game, and the Sharks still seem unable to keep their heads straight for a full 60 minutes. After almost blowing the Wings out of the building early, Detroit kept grinding away, tied up the game, and the Sharks panicked and started losing their fundamentals and almost made it easy for Detroit to take the lead and put them away.

Then Ottawa came in two nights later and we saw the same thing happen. End result, two losses. Most estimates show the Sharks need to win about 2/3 of their games to have a hope of making the playoffs, and honestly, it just isn’t going to happen.

Today (Sunday) the players asked for practice to be cancelled so they could go off somewhere privately and hash this out. My take: it’s never good when you hear a coach use the phrase “mini training camp” in late February or March. It’s never good when the team is still trying to figure out how to play together as a team this time of year.

That said, the last two games had a lot of positives to them, although it’s a lousy time of year for moral victories. The team has shown that when it does play to McClellan’s system and play hard, it can play some quite interesting and good hockey. It just can’t do it for 60 minutes in a stretch.

Other good things: this is not a team that’s tuned McClellan and the coaches out. It’s trying. The work ethic is there. This team is trying and it wants to succeed. So where’s the problem?

To me, it’s two problems: Fatigue and Confidence.

Fatigue: The veteran players are playing too many minutes because the coaches can’t trust too many of the younger roster players in critical moments, and so those players get tired as the game goes along, and when you get tired, your reactions slow down and you make mental mistakes. The only younger player averaging more than 18 minutes a game is Brendon Dillon — but Brett Burns is over 24, Vlasic over 22, Pavelski and Marleau almost 20, Couture over 19. Scott Hannan, bless him, is playing over 16 minutes a game (and is +3 doing it) — somehow.

Players hit a long-term fatigue problem that isn’t solved by sleeping in the day after a game, or by two or three days off. Legs slow down, lactic acid builds up, you don’t make decisions as quickly and you don’t make decisions as well. Hannan should be 12-14 minutes max. I think Marleau would be more effective at 16 minute a game, and I’d love to cut a minute or two a game off of all of these players. But who on this team is ready to take on those minutes?

This is the challenge of a team attempting to rebuild around younger players and still win at the same time. Not all of the players are ready to take on big minutes — so the veterans take on more of the load. throw too much of that load on the veterans, and they’ll try, but end up faltering when the legs won’t move or the brain misfires. It’s not lack of hard work, it’s lack of precise work, and in the NHL, that’ll killl you. That the Sharks are consistently losing it later in games is a strong indication to me this is a primary issue, and there’s simply no real solution other than reducing workloads. Which you can’t do when your roster has players like Mirco Mueller (who is at 17 minutes a night but really should be around 12), and Barclay Goodrow (12 minutes) on it. Those are both really good young kids iwth potential, but the Sharks won’t win more games if the team starts playing Goodrow and Tierney 15 minutes a night to reduce some of the loads on the veterans. They’re not ready for it.

That’s the challenge with a roster transitioning to youth while still being committed to making the playoffs. The kids need to be on the roster and played to help them develop, but it’s hard to win if the kids are playing too many minutes, and it’s really hard on the veterans when they have to take up the slack. I give this set of players credit for trying more than I criticize them for failing. I think Wilson was right in the offseason when he indicated he wasn’t sure this team was playoff bound, and I think his later backtracking from that was because of pressure from his bosses more than a real change of mind on his part.

As another aspect of fatigue, look at Niemi. he had a couple of days off and then had a couple of strong games. I expected more out of Staylock this year, and his relative poor play has put a big load on Niemi, and that’s hurt his overall play. Niemi’s stats are in the bottom third of the league, and you aren’t a playoff team with that kind of goaltending — but Staylock is buried below that, so the Sharks don’t have a lot of options (Troy Grosenick, who came up for a  few days and played well, is hurt and not an option — this year).

Laurie and I have been wondering if Staylock is hurt; when you see him on the bench, one of this wrists is wrapped in a bandage. Is that just a support wrap, or is his really dinged up more than the Sharks have let us know? Is one reason we’re seeing so much Niemi is because they have to limit playing Staylock to avoid a more serious injury — and given they’re very thing on goal in the minors with Grosenick hurt, are they keeping Staylock active and not playing because they can’t afford to strip another body out of their farm clubs?

I don’t know, I can only speculate. But it seems to me Staylock should be playing more often, and that there’s a really good reason why he’s not — we just haven’t heard what it is from the team and aren’t likely to until after the season is over (if at all). And the lack of playing time for Staylock is impacting Niemi’s play, which is impacting the team’s play, and the team has limited options to fix this. And every time a soft goal or a bad bounce goes in, the Sharks as a team tend to get the vapors and then bad things happen. Because…

Confidence. And then there’s confidence. The mental state of this team is fragile. A mistake, a bad penalty, a bad bounce and a fluke goal, and this team tends to fall apart. It doesn’t give up, but players start trying to do more and they end up getting out of position or trying to make risky plays to make up for earlier mistakes, and that’s when pucks get turned over and end up in our own net. It’s not a fluke that we seem to see two or three goals scored against us in a short period of time. This team loses composure and detail when something bad happens — and that leads to more bad things happening. No easy solution for this, either: except winning. And you do that by winning ugly a few times, which right now, the Sharks can’t figure out how to make happen.

To me, the biggest problem with the Sharks is that they finally hit the point where they had to admit they missed the window with the old team and needed to rebuild for the next try — and we’re in the middle of that rebuild.

I’m tired of hearing about the Red Wings (revisited)

Can the Sharks rebuild and win? People keep pointing to the Detroit Red Wings and ask why the Sharks can’t do what they did? Let’s look at the playoff histories of two teams:

Team A

  • Lost quarterfinal in 5
  • Lost semifinal in 7
  • Lost quarterfinal in 5
  • Lost semifinal in 7
  • Lost semifinal in 5

Team B

  • Lost quarterfinal in 7
  • Lost semifinal in 7
  • Lost quarterfinal in 5
  • Lost conference final in 5
  • Lost conference final in 4

Team A is of course the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in the last five years (and in fact, since 1989, longer than the Sharks have existed), but lost in the first round twice and the second round three tiemes.

Team B is the Sharks, who have made the playoffs five times (and have since 2002-2003 and only missed it once since 1997). The lost in the first round twice, the second round once, and the third round twice. They did, in fact, go head to head against the wings twice in those five years and beat them both times.

The thing is, if you look at the last few years, the Sharks have been better than the Wings and gone deeper in the playoffs, and beaten them head to head when they meet.

What the critics do is take a point back in time when the Red Wings did win their cups — a time when the Wings had Scotty Bowman on board, but one the Wings in fact haven’t seen either for seven years. Bowman, of course, is now with the Blackhawks, who have won two of the last four Stanley Cups.

The Sharks, for what it’s worth, have been ejected from the playoffs twice in the last five years by the eventual cup winner. The Wings have been ejected from the playoffs twice by the Sharks.

There are two lessons to be learned from this:

  • First, stop comparing the Sharks to the 2007 Red Wings. That’s now a historical comparison and the current Red Wings would lose to that team as well. The Sharks don’t stand up to the 1977 Montreal Canadiens, either, but then no team would, including today’s Canadiens.
  • Second, it seems the argument we should be having isn’t “Why don’t the Sharks act like the Red Wings?” but should instead be “How much would it cost to hire Scotty Bowman?” — just follow the cups, folks.

Other Resources — The Gackle Report

Other Resources — The Gackle Report

One of the interesting things about how the internet has changed things over time is that it’s both destroyed (or reshaped) traditional media forms like newspapers and at the same time allowed new ones to spring forth. It gives us a wider and hopefully more interesting set of opinions and information than we had back in the day when the only real access to your favorite team was through the beat writer of your local newspaper.

These sites and publications run the gamut from flamboyantly fannish to varying degrees of trying to sound and act professional to the math-filled, opaque (and to me, mostly unreadable) sites of the enthusiastic statheads. Since I decided to reboot my writing about the team, I’ve been doing some exploring to see who’s covering the team that I didn’t already know about and this week I ran into a site that’s new to me, the Gackle Report. It’s run by two Canadians relocated here to California who are trying to do serious and thoughtful coverage. I don’t mention the sites I check out often but I wanted to mention this one because it reminds me of something.  It looks a lot like the site I wanted to build but didn’t.

A decade — almost 15 years now! —  ago when Laurie and I were retiring from the mailing lists I took a serious look at whether there was an opportunity to build our an online site as an independent beat reporter covering the Sharks and hockey in general.

Ultimately I decided not to do it. At the time, advertising opportunities were limited, sponsorships were still in the future, and I was 40ish, married, had a good carrier and a job I liked and a mortgage. While I felt there was a possibility, it seemed to risky to me. If I’d been 25 and single I probably would have done it. If I was 25 today instead of in my 50’s, I’d definitely do it because a lot of the pieces needed to build and support this kind of operation now exist — not just advertising networks and sponsorship opportunities, but things like Kickstarter and Patreon.

For me, it’s fun to watch people figure out these new business models and try to make them work. Having spent a few hours working through the Gackle Report website and listening to a couple of their podcasts, I have to say I’m impressed. I have little tolerance for most Sports Talk — radio or online or podcast — these days because so much of it is two people attempting to out loud each other and so little of it is reasoned and informed discussion.

So while I’ve only known about this site for a few days, I can give it this recommendation: it’s the kind of site I’d build if I were building a site like that, and I think if you like the kind of writing I’m trying to put out here, it’s probably a site you ought to check out and see if you agree.

(footnote: before all the statheads start firing off angry emails at me, let me explain: I’m not anti-stats. They’re useful and I’ve been fascinated watching the NHL come to grips with understanding, using and now publishing advance stats like Corsi. Where I stop being interested is where the people start acting like the stats are more important than actually playing the game and when people grab a specific stat out of its larger context and try to prove some point with it that the stat can’t actually support [hello, plus-minus numbers].  Stats are a way for me to get perspective about what goes on on ice and while I love arguing stats as much as any sports fan, excuse me if I beg off when it turns into either fantasy talk or when the talk shifts to arguing about stats for stats sake…)

And that seems to be enough for one rant.. See you next time!

 

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports