Behind the Blog: On the Forecheck

Our next installment of Behind the Blog features Dirk, SBN's newest hockey blogger. He runs our Nashville Predators blog, On the Forecheck. Even if he is a Preds fan, it's a fantastic read from the former Michigander and I particularly enjoy his statistical analysis and the fresh perspective it gives me on hockey. Dirk took the time to answer ten questions about himself, his blog and the Nashville Predators for Behind the Blog.

Q.1 - On the Forecheck just came to SBN last week, but you've been blogging since July 2005. Why did you start blogging and how did you find your way to SBN?

Actually I started writing online about hockey back in the mid-1990's, for sites like In The Crease and e-Sports, it's just that back then we didn't call them blogs. We had awkward phrases like "webzine", and such. I took a break for a few years when I moved to Indiana, but in 2005 I relocated to Nashville and decided to take up the hobby once again using the free blogging platforms that had become available. It's all about sharing my view of the game, and enjoying the conversation with with other fans, either directly within the comments of a post, or through a series of pieces at different blogs that all push the same issue forward.

The partnership with SBN came about pretty recently, James Mirtle was looking to round out his coverage and was kind enough to offer me the Predators gig.

Q.2 - According to your SBN profile, you are a fan of all things Michigan except for its NHL team. When did you become a Preds fan and why aren't you a Wings one?
I'm sure this one will touch off a few nerves! I'm a lifelong Red Wings fan, having attended my first game as a kid at the Olympia, and going through the bad pre-Yzerman days all the way through the good times of the Scotty Bowman championships. Since moving to Nashville, however, and particularly since the ownership transfer, I've been nothing but impressed with the Predators organization, and I can now say that I'm a Preds fan first and foremost (as opposed to the infamous Pred Wings, other ex-Michiganders down here who still pull for Detroit first).

There's simply nothing like the spirit around a team that is battling to break new ground and create some history, just as the Wings did in the late 90's to shake off decades of disappointment. This Nashville team is trying to carve out their own niche, under some very trying circumstances. The salary dump that Craig Leipold ordered before selling the team undid years of effort on David Poile's part, but the team has continued to outperform widespread expectations of failure.

Q.3 - You're known for blogging about the Preds, particularly from a stats perspective. What got you interested in analyzing hockey stats and do you see that taking off like Moneyball did for baseball stats?
I'd been interested in this sort of thing for a long time; back in college, one year (1990, maybe) I tried to catalog characteristics of every Red Wings goal scored that year, recording things like where the shot came from, what kind it was, etc. on 3x5 cards. The problem, of course, is how to work with that data (basically, I couldn't do anything useful with it).

Leaping ahead to 2005 when I started getting back into it, by then NHL.com provided lots of raw information that could be downloaded, parsed, and loaded into spreadsheets, which made all of my work possible. I think there's definitely a future for advanced statistical analysis within the league (and I bargain it's already used more than is publicly discussed). The stakes are simply too high to ignore it completely.

Q.4 - What's one change would you like to see the Predators make whether it's on or off the ice?

I'll give you one of each. On the ice, get a proven playmaking center to give the team three lines with some offensive punch. Off the ice, sign David Poile to a new multi-year contract. When Leipold put the team up for sale, he went to working on a one-year deal.

Q.5 - When you're not obsessing over the Predators, what do you like to do in your free time?
Since I've got three kids (6, 6, and 5), and my oldest son just started playing hockey, "free time" is a pretty sparse commodity. My wife and I do like to find the worst possible 70's horror movies streaming on Netflix, however. We're watching "Devil Times Five" as I write this, and it's wonderfully awful.

Q.6 - The future for the Predators seems a bit uncertain, or at least that's the perception for many hockey fans. Where do you see this franchise at in five years?
I think the Preds will be here, continuing to make progress. The new ownership has the right approach towards building the fanbase, by investing in and enrolling the season ticket holders to get the word out, and reaching out to the corporate community with a message of value that they can provide, not one of "support us or we're leaving" as the previous regime used. Combine that with the general trend whereby Nashville is among the faster growing big cities in the country, and I expect that, absent some miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Preds will grow their business at a rate slightly above the NHL overall for the next several years. If the league revenues grow by 2-3%, the Preds might grow by 4-5%, something like that. It'll never be an elite NHL market considering its size, but shooting for 20th-25th in the league is a reasonable target.
Q.7 - Do you attend many Nashville games or do you primarily watch games on TV?
It's about 50/50; I'm a partial season-ticket holder, and I also enjoy media credentials on occasion.
Q.8 - GM David Poile says he now plans on being a buyer before the trade deadline instead of the seller he was anticipating before the All-Star break. What move(s) do you see him making before Wednesday night?

I can't see him doing anything to jeopardize the team heading into next season, so I'd be very surprised to see him deal a player under contract going forward. Given that limitation, I'd expect something like a depth prospect and/or a mid-round pick for a lesser-name rental forward who can help the attack.  

Q.9 - Who is your favorite hockey player (current or retired)? Why?
Current: Probably a tie between Evgeni Malkin (unbelievable on-ice vision) and Alex Ovechkin (the most determined goal-scorer I've ever seen).

Retired: Steve Yzerman; a sensational talent who learned over time that talent alone doesn't cut it, and grew into one of the great all-around players ever.

Q.10 - Is there any hockey blog or website that you look to for inspiration?

There are so many; Hockey Analytics, Irreverent Oiler Fans, Lowetide, etc. I've got about 200 hockey blogs in my RSS feed, and the great thing about today's hockey blogosphere is the diversity of opinion and style that continues to develop. Just when you think all the bases have been covered, new voices keep coming out of nowhere, and that's a very good thing indeed.

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