Why Apple doesn’t have a blogging policy (it ain’t what you think….) (Apple Post-mortem, part 4 of some number….)

Here’s my view of why Apple never implemented a blog policy. It’s not what you think, either….

But first, a digression through Sun:

ongoing · Oh My Goodness Gracious:

In a recent piece on the new Project Blackbox, I used some coarse language, in an idiomatic way, not giving it much thought. The consequences were surprising.

NearWalden » Tim’s Bomb:

Last night I got back from Pop!Tech and found that I had 110 new emails. While I always get a lot of email, this was a surprise since I’d just checked it 4 hours earlier. The trigger for this email was a posting by Tim Bray on his Ongoing blog where he dropped the F-Bomb, and which had been picked up and written about by the Inquirer citing Tim as a Sun employee.

Since Sun one of the most open companies from a blogging point of view, these discussions are critical. We’re in new territory, and the best way to sort through these issues is through open dialogue, which was taking place on the bloggers email list inside the company.

Instead of being the 198th email, I thought I’d just post my thoughts here. First a disclosure: I’m a Sun VP and a private blogger, so I’m writing this from both of those perspectives. It’s also important to understand that Tim has on blog which he uses for everything. Given the overlap in his personal and professional interests, there’s some sensibility to this. Others of us at Sun keep personal and Sun blogging separate in two blogs

This, in essence, is why Apple has no blog policy. Sort of.

People who knew me at Apple knew I had a couple of catch phrases I used a lot. One was “it’s all my fault”, which was how I and my team described the project we worked on the last few years. That actually tied back to a project review early on where I did a presentation to upper management where I introduced all of the team members in a dilbertesque org chart (Michelle was She Who Must be Obeyed, Jason was Boy Wonder, and my director — who fortunately has a sense of humor — was the pointy-haired boss and the person in charge of saying “no”.). Me — I described my role as “it’s all my fault”, which, like the project code name (“Chatterbox”), took on a life of its own.

The second catch phrase was a bit less positive; it was “if they’re not trying to fire my butt at least once a year, I’m not working hard enough”. That, like “It’s all my fault” also had some basis in truth, and only partially because I insisted on blogging without hiding my employment identity. Doing so would have been rather difficult, given that I’d been blogging, or doing equivalent public discourse, since before I actually worked at Apple, and in a number of situations (like my work for lists.apple.com) was the public face of the project and primary contact. It was generally realized that this genie wasn’t going back in that bottle, and I didn’t particularly want it to. And, of course, every so often I’d say something that would piss someone off and create a fire drill, although I never really got more than a good talking to about watching my butt. (the other reason I tended to almost get fired is that I had this tendency to every so often call bullshit on something — usually correctly, but not necessarily in a politically safe way, and usually to someone rather high up on the food chain. usually when I was on deadline and exhausted and not being quite careful enough. Fortunately, I’ve never been afraid to loudly apologize for being a twit, either, and we always found a way to turn these into learning experiences — and usually got the damn project fixed to boot.

(digression: a basic reality of being willing to speak your mind: you are going to put your foot in your mouth. that’s a given. It’s how you extract it that matters — and one thing that many bloggers do poorly, or pretend is unnecessary. People have long memories, and I believe we should strive that those memories be pleasant ones. A well-placed and EARNEST apology does wonders to undo a nasty situation, especially when you realize that they’re right and you were a jerk. We all are at times, folks. Smart people admit it and do something about it. Trust me, flowers help — a lot. So does walking office to office to talk to folks; email apologies suck, unless you have no other choice due to distance. Try the phone….)

Anyway, back to now. There have been various discussions about Apple, blogging, and policies (and lack of). There have been any number of discussions about Apple and its blogging policy (or lack of one), both external and internal. I spent a fair amount of time at one point talking to people and trying to see what was possible, what made sense, and the question finally was taken to Apple Legal informally for their thought. And they thought about it for a while, and came back with “we already have one that governs employee communication — why should we need a special one for blogging?”

And that’s true, of most companies, not just Apple. In Apple’s case, it governs email, IM, blogging, public speaking, pretty much anything. There’s no corporate “no blogging” policy. there IS a corporate “don’t act as a spokesman” policy, but it applies equally to all communications, not just blogging. And in my discussions with the people involved, the only argument that could be made (or, at least, that I could figure out to make) in favor of a formal blogging policy, other than it’d be good PR, is that it would override some manager’s decisions to put their own policies in place for their group (especially out in the retail stores area). To be honest? I frankly DON’T have much problem with giving a manager discretion here to manage this kind of policy a bit, but a few managers around the company overdid it (IMHO), but it was rare enough that I don’t think anyone felt it was worth putting the time and energy into formalizing a policy when existing policies covered it. It wasn’t broke, we all had better things to do. end of story.

So, now we have the Masked Blogger. I have some ideas who it might be, actually. And I honestly think there’s a fair chance it’s sanctioned and designed to generate feedback on topics in a way that a non-anonymous blog from Apple couldn’t. that’s the joy of non-transparency, you don’t know who’s pimping who.

And, of course, Scoble chimes in with the same old, same old.

Anonymous Apple blogger starts up « Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger:

I don’t like anonymous blogs, but Apple deserves a raft of them. Apple’s PR department has employees freaked out about having conversations with customers in public.

Robert, that’s bullshit. And you should know it.

The reality is, Apple employees can blog, and do. I know a few dozen. Most of them simply don’t telegraph their affiliation. Not because they can’t, not because they’re afraid to, but because they’ve seen what happens to people who DO (like me). They don’t WANT to be Apple bloggers. In my discussions with various ones over the years, if Apple DID in fact “legalize” blogging, I’d say 90% of them would continue to fly under the radar and do things the way they are today. Very few of them WANT to come out of this particular closet.

Why should they? putting an apple on their breast simply makes them a target to every anti-mac pc-bigot or customer with a problem looking for someone to solve it for them. These folks don’t WANT that sort of fun.

Here’s the fun part: while Scoble talks about blogging as if there is no way to communicate without it being on a blog, he completely misses the bigger picture.

IT AIN’T ABOUT BLOGGING. It’s about communication. it’s about sharing information. It’s about solving problems. And while Scoble loves to babble about blogs (because he is, ultimately, a blogger, not a communicator), Apple employees have been out there working with the customer base.

Wander through any of the lists.apple.com mailing lists, one of Apple’s core communication tools with their developers. On EVERY list, you’ll come to realize there are Apple engineers on them, answering questions, helping people, doing things. Same with the online forums (Apple’s and others). There are people out there, doing ad-hoc tech support on a regular basis. Some of them actually have it as part of their job description, some of them do it because they feel they should. I’d guess there are 100 Apple employees active on lists.apple.com alone, and likely that many on the Apple support boards.

They just don’t advertise who they are, or use apple.com addresses. But if you follow the conversations going on, you’ll start recognizing names that keep popping up. And this tradition of Apple employees getting involved in communities predates blogging, predates Scoble — it ties back to Apple’s early attachment to USENET and MUGs and mailing lists and forums going back into the Apple II days, and it continues today. Dozens of Apple employees committing hundreds of man hours a week.

The difference between them and someone like Scoble? Apple people do it to solve problems. Scoble seems to believe the purpose is to get credit for doing it. Scoble believes that the future is in blogging. Apple long ago figured out that the REAL need is communication, and blogging is ONE tool that can be used for some aspects of communicating with customers. Scoble only has a hammer in his toolbox, so all of us look like nails.

And THAT is why Apple has no blogging policy. Because, frankly, it’d just get in the way of what is already going on: working with and communicating with Apple’s customers. Apple and its employees long ago figured out it was better to get the job done and not worry so much about taking credit for it.

One need only look at what happens on lists.apple.com to see how well that model works. To say that it has to be blogging, or it isn’t real or isn’t useful, is really to admit that you don’t understand the internet, or what this is all about online.

it’s not about blogging. It’s about communication, and it’s about solving problems. And Apple doesn’t NEED employee blogs to do that. It’s been doing that all along.

(to me, the difference is like giving to charities: do you do it to solve problems? Or because you want to be known as a humanitarian? It’s obvious which answer Scoble’s bought into….)

Posted in Computers and Technology

Jobs I wish I could have taken at Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 2 of some number….)

(more discussion about Apple now that I’m no longer an employee and no longer having to worry about what I say quite as much…. see part 1 of this ongoing series here)

If things have worked out, I would have stayed at Apple. I felt there were any number of ways I could have helped the company, and (of course) I had various ideas of places where Apple could be improved and I might be a person who could make that happen.

Of course, as it turns out, it didn’t happen, but that’s okay. I felt, however, that it might be interesting (or at least fun) to talk about some of the jobs I wish I could have accepted at Apple, had they existed…

1) Apple Games Evangelist: I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want this job? But one of the things I noticed over the years is that whoever took the job lasted about a year, then went and did something else. Personally, though, I now think the future of gaming is really the platforms (I just bought my Xbox 360) — but I sure am hoping that once Neverwinter Nights 2 ships on the PC, they’ll announce a port to the Mac (because dammit, I’d hate to run windows on my intel mac just to run a game…. but I might).

2) Community architect for iTunes. This is one I actually had some discussions about. Maybe you’re familiar with Pandora or last.fm? One of the questions I’ve had since the start of iTunes (and the Clear-Channel-ification of broadcast radio) was how people found out about new and interesting music. It’s sure not on broadcast radio any more, especially here in Silicon Valley. Pandora and last.fm are heading in that area — but what if you could turn the iTunes community into a real recommendation service? And how would you do it? there are some very simplistic tools in iTunes today that are “very Amazon” and not “very community” — and they’re nice, as far as they go. I felt that there was a lot of opportunity to build something really sharp and best of show. There was definitely interest among some folks inside iTunes, too. It may well happen — it just won’t be something I did. ohwell. Here’s hoping, though. There’s such opportunity here.

3) Community architect for .Mac. Although honestly, .Mac needs a lot more than community building. Allow me to defer detailed discussion of .Mac for later (remind me if I forget….), but while I think it’s good for many things, there are lots of things Apple really ought to do with .Mac (they should have bought Flickr, dammit, to name just one), and Mac Groups are barely adequate for organizing a church picnic. But there are some decent bones here to build from, if they’d just commit to doing so. Unfortunately, I just never got the feeling they would.

4) Customer Ombudsman (aka Chief Privacy Office, aka the Royal Avatar of the Customer). This is actually another job I talked to a number of folks about. Some understood what I was trying to do and agreed it was a necesssary thing, nobody could ever quite figure out who it should report to or how to bell this particular cat. Is this in Marketing? Legal? Applecare? Engineering? Probably Applecare, but I always suggested Legal, because Applecare is the primary support provider for Apple, and reporting into that structure creates a potential conflict of interest for a true Ombudsman. Now, let me make it clear — I feel Apple does a very good job at managing customer privacy and also a very good job at support and customer relations in general. But it’s not perfect (no company larger than about 1 person is, if ever), and so I felt having a person that was outside the system and could deal with situations where the systems failed or didn’t apply, or simply help people understand how to get into the system and take advantage of it (because from my view of Apple from the inside but not directly in the loop, most “Apple failures” were people who didn’t know the right way to use the system or people with unrealistic expectations, not true Apple screwups. But Apple screwups did occur, too, and when they did, people had a real tough time finding someone who can help them unscrew things…. Another aspect of the job, I felt, was being involved in system design and anything customer facing to speak for the customer, and to ask difficult questions like “how does this benefit the customer instead of just Apple?” a lot.

Many parts of Apple are very aware of the need for keeping the customer in mind, but having someone who’s job it is to “think like the customer” would be a very good thing, especially if they were part of a design/approval process that worked cross-functionally, so that people couldn’t, well, forget to ask those questions. It would also help coordinate and standardize these systems to make it easier for the customer… at least, in theory.

5) Town Crier, or official distributor of information. An even better job than Games Evangelist; but a lot less likely. If there’s a single key “problem” within Apple (and I use the term “problem” carefully, given how well things are going on at Apple…), it’s that there’s very little exchange of information among groups. that leads to some duplication of effort, but more importantly (to me), there’s a lack of consistency and standardization that could be tightened up, and the cross-fertilization that goes on when someone sees something and says “hey, what if you did…..” or “you know, we did something similar, let me show you….”. That just doesn’t happen enough. A lot of that is because (a) Apple is very careful about distributing information because of the history of leaks and the problems they cause, and (b) nobody really feels like figuring out what is and isn’t safe to talk about, even internally — so stuff just doesn’t get passed around enough. The Town Crier’s job is simple (and EVERY company ought to have one): their job is to talk to everyone in the company and find out what they’re doing, and then if they think it has more general interest within the company, to go to management and get approval to allow it to be talked about and distributed; he is the Baron of brown bags as well as the Deacon of Engineering docs. By making it one person’s job to help foster the cross-fertilization, you build a body of knowledge about what can and can’t be discussed, taking that off the shoulders of engineers and their managers who already have too much to do. And if it’s done right, the key information that needs to be kept sensitive is kept sensitive and private, but the stuff that can be leveraged around the company gets visibility and discussion. The idea here is to encourage people to learn from each other, while still having someone involved who’s sensitive to the need of “need to know” — and authorized to help determine which is which. Since no line engineer or manager has that knowledge, or the time to figure it out, it just doesn’t happen. By careful investing in a headcount of two, I think there’s an opportunity for huge synergies within Apple. Or, for that matter, any decent sized engineering organization. I just never had the chance to try to find the right person to convince of this before I left…. ohwell.

Posted in Computers and Technology

My new job..

Apologies for not posting this sooner (as I’d said I would), had some things come up this weekend that needed my attention: a bit of a firedrill, now under control.

So, I’m happy to announce that I’ve accepted a position with StrongMail, as their new Professional Services Architect. I’ll be working both pre- and post-sales on helping design solutions connecting customer data systems and processes to take advantage of StrongMail technologies, and also working with customers on how to improve and update their email communications strategies and systems. It really is a rare opportunity, I think, for me to help companies understand that e-mail is an important part of a customer relationship, and not just a tool for blasting marketing messages at eyeballs. I’m going to be reporting into the VP of Customer Services there, and working throughout the company on things as needed.

Strongmail is a company that’s working on Email backend systems. You very likely receive email sent via StrongMail on a regular basis — their customer list includes Netflix, Fox Sports, Ticketmaster, WebEx, Univision and Williams Sonoma. Strongmail’s primary funder is Sequoia Capital, along with Evercore and Globespan Capital.

I had a couple of other job offers pending, which I hated to turn down, but when given an option of “London? Or Madrid for dinner?” you can’t be in both places. For me, what finally made the decision was the chance to work with external customers and help solve problems across a range of companies, as well as a chance to really help influence how this all moves forward in the e-mail space.

I’ll start 11/6, and I gotta say, I’m truly jazzed.

Posted in About Chuq

Why I left Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 1 of some number)

(hold that thought….)

It’s been enough time and life is settling down a bit that I feel ready to start this thread of postings. I plan on, more or less, to take a look at Apple from the outside and comment on some of the aspects of the company that I felt deserved some discussion.

And before you all start drooling, there’s going to be very little dirty laundry, since I was very happy there before I left, and the fact that I left shouldn’t mean I’m now pissed at them. And no, I’m not going to disclose anything or talk about unannounced products or any other secrets, so the rumor sites can go back to sleep. There will be, I repeat, will be no mentions of the iPhone, especially not that third configuration the rumor sites haven’t caught on to yet.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t discussion points. I think the first one, just to clear the air on some stuff, has to be why I left.

When a company announces that an executive has left the firm “to pursue other interests” or “to spend more time with their family”, I know what I think; and I bet most of you assume the same — because the reality is, that’s code for “we took away the key to the executive washroom and wished him a fond farewell, and then pushed him off the roof.”

Similarly, when an employee announces their leaving a company, and no, they don’t have a job, the natural assumption is that things really suck and that the employee cut and run, or that there was some big fight — but basically, people look at the company and wonder what’s up.

I know in my talks with folks, and in many of my interviews, the point came up, and I just want to bring this out in the open and make it clear what really happened here.

There really IS a lot less here than you might think, too.

Take the wayback machine back to last spring, when I got sick. To me, it was a hint I had to start taking a real close look at what I was doing; I couldn’t go on pretending that the hours and stress were manageable. My management and groups we dealt with were for the most part understandable about things had to change. If you look at my flickr photos, you’ll also see a big uptick in my photography, because when I got over this, I started scheduling time out during office hours to make up for the evenings and weekends.

Around the same time, I had the discussion with my doctor about me weight that ended with “we aren’t even going to talk about weight loss until you get the stress under control. It won’t happen.

Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum. There were empty spots in my calendar. People started trying to fill them up, of course, even though they were blocked. Some of the people who told me to make sure I took care of myself and took it easy started coming back to remind me that I was still expected to make the original dates on various projects (or else). One project I was dealing with that was having all sorts of problems, when I refused to commit to dates (because we had no way to evaluate what it’d take to finish the project) simply committed the team to dates without telling me, which my management then started holding me to.

So the message I was getting back was mutating into “do what you need to do, as long as the dates don’t change”. From a business standpoint, I see the reality of this — from my standpoint, all I did was start getting more and more pissed.

And in reality, things weren’t in bad shape. The team stepped up and was making things happen, and then we hit one of those project perfect storms: first, my dev lead’s wife got ill and he had to go on leave for a while, costing us a key player, and then we had a disk failure on the master database machine — that created a bit of a, well, the best way to explain it was that it was not a demo-reel day for anyone, anywhere in IS (starting with me), and our system was down for 13 hours.

So, prior to this little downtime, things weren’t doing badly; I’d actually lost four pounds, I felt things were more or less under control on the projects, I felt like I was balancing life and the stress better. And suddenly, that four pounds I lost was gone, and so were four more, and I shot past 375 and 380 and hit 384, and I could see 400 pounds down the street in the taxi, and headed my way. Over the next few weeks, I talked to my director multiple times about trying to get my situation under control; 12 pounds later, all I was getting back was “work harder, it’ll get better eventually”.

I didn’t like that answer. I really, really didn’t like it (it wasn’t until after the dust settled that I really understood that we were locked in and there really wasn’t any other answer; at the time, I was pissed because as I saw it, I’d put so much into Apple, and when I finally asked Apple to step up for me, it wouldn’t. In reality — it wasn’t that simple. of course).

My conflicts were starting to leak out onto the team, people knew I was stressed. I didn’t want my situations to screw things up worse, so I finally realized that I had to make a decision: I could (a) continue fighting for changes to my situation where it seemed that wasn’t in the cards, (b) I could go back down the rabbit hole and do the “work harder for now” thing, or (c) I could leave the project.

So, here I was, staring going back to the Good Old Days in the face, staring at another crazy holiday season in the face, staring at 400 pounds in the face. What only a few folks knew at that time (including my director) was that I had started exploring a few things within Apple, looking towards transitioning to a new opportunity sometime in the next few months. That’s one reason we were locked in here — it really is hard to justify making significant staffing changes when there’s an even bigger one coming to deal with.

I decided that I simply wasn’t going back down the rabbit hole. I didn’t feel I’d succeed, perhaps not survive (seriously). And I didn’t think it was good for the team to try. Neither was trying to restructure things to make it more livable for me; it was beyond that. So that made the decision easy. I went to LA for the weekend to visit my family and think it over, came back, and handed in my resignation. Effectively, I decided it was better to leave NOW than stick around and then leave in a few months anyway, where that time in between was going to be painful for myself and probably for people around me as things played out.

We ended up agreeing on an 8 week term period, which allowed me to work more or less on my terms and focus on training and transition rather than other things, and it made the business happy (well, happier), because I’d be around for one last product announcement where things were going to get crazy — our volume that one final week (the week he announced the iTV) matched our volume for all of December the previous holiday, and December was always the insane month. And I’m happy to say that week was almost painless, once we got there, and things worked out quite well. I also ended up doing almost 60 hours of training, and the week before I left, my dev lead returned from lead and stepped in and started taking over things again, so we got continuity there, so all in all it ended a lot better than it started.

My goal for Apple in leaving was for two things to happen: the project to continue successfully without me, and my team to be able to carry it forward without major problems. I’m happy that, five weeks later, that seems to have happened, and that the fall release of the project was supposed to have gone live this weekend (and seems to have) — with a nifty new ajaxy user interface redesign and some interesting new stuff under the hood. By making the decision to leave, it forced a deadline on all of us to make the training happen, bring on the new teams that needed to get involved on the support side, and get the documentation and other stuff that we needed done finished.

My goal for me in leaving was to simply to get a clean break, make a fresh start, get away and figure out what I wanted to do next, and start focussing on the changes I needed to make for myself; it was a “stay around and be miserable for a while for the project, or get it over with”. After years of the first option and putting Apple’s interests ahead of mine (willingly!), I chose the latter. What that choice cost me, ultimately, was any real chance at staying at Apple, since the timing of my leaving really precluded any ability to go find or work to have a new situation for me created. That was, ultimately, a tradeoff I made willingly.

In the eight weeks I was doing the final transition, I went back down the rabbit hole, at least a bit, and put in some more serious hours, but I also lost four pounds along the way. On the last day, I handed in my badge (a weird feeling), then two days later, laurie and I piled into the car and drove north for two weeks of getting away from it all, my first true vacation in a decade without some kind of pager attached. We had a great time on that trip (more on that later, as I catch up on my blog-writing and photos) — and I lost another six pounds. And I’m happy to note that I’ve continued to lose; five weeks after I left Apple, I’m down right around ten pounds, or about 14 pounds from my high.

With two weeks before I start my next opportunity, I’m hoping to make that 20. Of course, I have a ways to go.

At 384 and age 48, I had 100 pounds to take off to get back to what I weighed at 30. My best guess is that the weight I need to shoot for is between 220 and 250; with my build, that won’t be buff, but it’ll be at least a good first approximation (as a sophomore in high school, I wrestled (badly) at a “make weight” around 145, and I left high school in decent shape around 170-180, and I’ve been putting on weight ever since….). At 48, I’ve been lucky: no sign of diabetes, no sign of heart disease, no sign of high blood pressure (until the last year, when my doctor started “tsk”ing at me) — mostly just the discomfort of hauling a couple of five year old’s around all the time and sore, grumpy knees. I am not stupid, though, and I can read the stats as well as anyone. That I’ve been avoiding problems to date doesn’t make me believe I always will.

Catching pneumonia was, to me, my “two minute warning” — and a rather mild one at that. I’m one of those people who at least once a year sits down and tries to figure out things like “what are my priorities for the next year” and “where do I want to be in 3 years, and 5″ — and so as I was recovering from this, I was doing some serious thought on the whole “what now?” thing.

And I kept coming back to this meme: What do I want to be in five years? 100 pounds lighter, or none of the rest matters. I kept having the discussion that if I didn’t get my ass in gear, five years from now, I’d be diabetic, or in a scooter, or in a hospital, or I’d be dead. There’s not a lot of personal upside to ANY of those options — and there aren’t a lot of options (other than being really damn lucky) that avoids all of them. I just didn’t want to depend on luck any more.

So once I make THAT decision, everything else becomes easy. I tried to make it work at Apple — but Apple needed to go in specific directions, and I couldn’t. The worst I’ll ever say about it was that it was an amicable divorce. And now, of course, I have no excuses — which is fine by me. I know what I need to do, I believe I’ve got a new opportunity that is compatible with that, and it’s with people that understand where I’m coming from there.

So ultimately, it really was about it being time for a change. Do I wish I could have done this AND stay at Apple? Yes.

Do I think Apple should have done more to create a situation that would have let me stay with the company? In all honesty, yes — my existing management did what they could, but I was honestly a little disappointed that when my intention to leave went public internally, there wasn’t much interest (that I ever saw) of the “let’s find a place for you” around the company, especially given my tenure and various contributions over the year to the company and it’s bottom line. however,

Does that bother me? Not at all; I honestly think a completely fresh start is the best possible option for me now, and I’m glad I made the choice; I am also still very much a fan of the company, a user of their products and a believer in what they’re doing.

But it was time to join the real world, and see how it works.

The one big change I’m going to have to make is get an iPod interface installed in the car, since I’m now going to have a bit of a commute. time to get used to listening to audiobooks….

But you know? I can live with that.

Posted in Computers and Technology

Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Sharkspage – San Jose Sharks, Hockey, NHL sports blog:

Going into training camp the San Jose Sharks did not expect 19-year old defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to make the NHL this year, let alone play a prominent role 5-on-5 and on special teams. This was evidenced by the fact signings of veteran defenseman Scott Ferguson, Mathieu Biron, and Patrick Traverse. After leading the Sharks prospects in scoring at the Pacific Division Rookie Tournament, and impressing the coaching staff during the pre-season, Vlasic was rewarded with an opening night roster spot.

Now that Vlasic has played in several regular season games, and has earned ice time in all situations, his role with the team is starting to be defined. The coaches are steadily increasing his ice time. Vlasic only trails behind veterans Kyle McLaren, and Scott Hannan for the team lead in total time on ice. Coach Ron Wilson has not been afraid to use Vlasic on the power play, or the penalty kill. He has been one of the go-to guys if the Sharks are down 5-on-3. This has not been blind faith, as Vlasic has looked superb in every game so far, showing maturity and poise beyond his years.

I’ve been very impressed with Vlasic. I decided a couple of games ago that he was going to stick with the team. So, evidently, did the Sharks — they started the season with 8 defensemen, but sent Doug Murray to Worcester a couple of games ago for conditioning (meaning he stays on the 23 man roster for now). That was the Sharks safety net, which they evidently decided they’d rather have skating than watching.

Here’s how impressive Vlasic is: Last night, against Detroit, he had an absolutely horrid first shift. Draper and the Draper line just overwhelmed him, although nothing bad happened. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the kid look nervous or rush a pass or panic a little bit. His second shift was better, but he still seemed to be struggling a bit. Not surprising, Draper’s done that to far more experienced guys

After that, I more or less stopped seeing Vlasic on the ice. I noticed him on the occasional shift, but basically, he dropped from sight. I assumed that the coaches noticed what I did and cut back his time.

Imagine my surprise when I checked the game stats to see the kid logged > 20 minutes (again). He didn’t get his time pulled, instead he did what many veterans can’t do: he settled down, he simplified his game, and he ended up playing a very good, solid, mostly invisible game. For me, defensemen are at their best when you don’t notice them; it means they’re doing their job well. Anytime you notice them doing something GOOD (scoring goals, big hits) that’s a bonus. Mostly fans notice defensemen when bad things happen, or when they recover from a horrible play (theirs or someone else’s) with a defensive move to avert disaster – but that’s not necessarily good, given you’d hope they’d never make the initial mistake in the first place.

That Vlasic was able to adjust his game that successfully that quickly at his age just astounded me.

The kid is a keeper.

Posted in Sports - Hockey