Examples in Bad Sportswriting: The Illustrious Dan Barnes


Most of the blogs that cover the Oilers have definite opinions on the various mainstream journalists who cover the team. Terry Jones is invariably disliked, while someone like Robin Brownlee, despite the amount of flack he’s taken since signing up to write at OilersNation is regarded with respect. Dan Barnes is over at the Brownlee end of the spectrum.

That’s probably why his latest offering bothers me so much. Let’s go through it line by line, Fire Joe Morgan-style.

Liam Reddox doesn’t have to please you or me, the leather- lungs in the nosebleeds, the corporate suits in the golds, the talking heads on TV and radio, faceless, pajama-clad bloggers or know-it-all message board posters.

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Liam Reddox: Not a pleaser. Not worth the risk. Anyways, if you were wondering how Dan Barnes viewed the Oilers fanbase, he’s conveniently divided it up for us:

  1. Him
  2. Loud people who sit up high in the arena
  3. Rich people who sit low in the arena (note on the last two: we here at OilersNation don’t’ judge you by your seat location)
  4. Pundits
  5. Bloggers – strange creatures without faces who invariably wear their pajamas day and night, and likely live in their mothers’ respective basements. They’re pictured above (and no, that isn’t me – it’s from Wikipedia).
  6. Smug, self-important types who chime in here or at HFBoards

And the 23-year-old sure as heck doesn’t have to apologize to anyone for living his unlikely National Hockey League dream, be that as a first-line left winger, fourth-line centre or any point in-between.

So all of you demanding an apology retract your demand forthwith! He’s just living his dream, guys, leave him in peace.

So while his very presence in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room seems to offend the loud, predictable and tireless backers of Rob Schremp, and those are people who really need a new idea, Reddox’s solid though unspectacular play on the ice continues to impress the only critic whose opinion matters in this case, Craig MacTavish.

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Strawman (noun): a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted.

Also, since I’m indulging myself in petty criticism, I’m fairly sure that the GM’s opinion is somewhat important as well. Moving on.

“He executes. He’s a foot soldier and he executes. He makes the right play,” said the head coach. “He’s bought himself a lot of rope in the way he plays. He’s reliable. I can play him in the last minute of games. I’m completely comfortable.”

That has been obvious, even painfully so at times. Reddox has played 25 games and contributed five points on three goals and two assists. They are numbers that rightly suggest he’s at best a third-liner at this point in his development. So, too, does his 10:30 average ice time.

In point of fact, among NHL forwards with more than 20 games played, Reddox’s offensive numbers (1.22 PTS/60 minutes EV icetime) rank 328th overall, and his point total (5) ranks 12th among Oilers forwards. That would suggest he’s actually a fourth liner. Ditto for his average ice-time, which ranks 13th among Oilers forwards and 393rd overall among league forwards. Fourth liner.

But that apparent synergy doesn’t appease the anti-Reddox movement, whose members erupt with venomous references to Marty Reasoner or Toby Peterson (sic) every time MacTavish does the unthinkable and elevates their whipping boy to the first or second line.

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Synergy (noun): the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects. What synergy is Barnes referring to here? Is it the synergy between Reddox being a foot soldier and Reddox executing? Feel free to chime in below with your suggestions.

As for references to Reasoner and Petersen, maybe and yes. Some folks out there remain convinced that Reasoner was a problem, but I think blogs and pundits on the whole have been fairly consistent in evaluating Reasoner as a useful veteran player. Still, at least he’s right in suggesting Toby Petersen as a comparable.

It happened again Friday when Dustin Penner was benched against Minnesota and Reddox jumped into his left wing slot on the top line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. He is, in fact, MacTavish’s default position player.

I can’t argue with that – MacTavish does play him at any position. Still, maybe I’m off track here but does it seem odd that the guy Barnes listed as “ at best a third-liner” (actually a 4th-liner) is MacTavish’s default fill-in?

Though Reddox claims he hasn’t heard any of the vitriol, it wouldn’t bother him if he did.

“It’s understandable,” he said after Saturday’s practice.

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After all, he’s been stung with variations of the criticism forever, and the constant assault contributed to lowered expectations on his draft weekend in Raleigh, N.C.

Liam Reddox: Immune to your disdain.

“I’d had a pretty good year in junior, led my team in scoring. But I was told I was too small and wouldn’t be able to play that way at the next level. Edmonton took a chance. They took me in the fourth round.”

That was five years ago and he is just now making good on their modest investment. He is doing it wisely too, playing safe, sound hockey that will get him another game, adopting a defence-first approach and attention to detail that doesn’t change even when his line assignment does. He won’t win the Oilers many games, but he won’t lose any.

Since Reddox won’t win games, and won’t lose games, is he playing for the tie? Because, if that’s the case, someone should let him know that the NHL no longer allows games to end in a tie. Again, perhaps I’m on the wrong track here, but does it sound like Reddox is a non-factor, albeit a wise non-factor?

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He has also scored three times, against Minnesota, Colorado and Ottawa. Despite the fact he’s only five foot 11, 180 pounds, he wins enough physical battles down low to whack home a loose puck now and then. He’s had chances for several more, but there are obvious limitations to his game.

Given that Reddox has been on the ice for seven goals for and eleven goals against, it’s probably a fair argument that he loses enough physical battles to have a goal scored against now and then. The fact that he’s one of the worst Oilers on the team by shots for/shots against would seem to indicate that his opposition has had chances for several more goals as well.

He will kill penalties, see the truly odd shift on the power play, and survive because of his versatility and reliability. While Schremp has to digest harsh and unnecessary comments from MacTavish about his lack of foot speed and Gilbert Brule seems victimized by the fact he’s a few games away from needing to clear waivers the next time he comes up, Reddox sits in the catbird seat. If that means he’s a target for fans who don’t like his game or abhor MacTavish’s fondness for grinders, fire away.

It’s actually quite sad how rarely the phrase “catbird seat” is used in modern writing. The National Association of Words Not Commonly Used (NAWNCU) commends you for your efforts, Dan.
By the way, the best point in this whole article is that Reddox comes out ahead of Brule by virtue of waiver eligibility. It’s just a shame that the strongest argument in Barnes’ article is an off-hand reference 15 or so paragraphs in.

He knows what and who he is and how hard he had to work in Peterborough, Stockton and Springfield to get here. He’s a 23-year-old rookie who has played 26 games, including one last season, and he doesn’t think it’s fair to suggest he’ll never get any better.

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I’m sure that Reddox knowing who and what he is will come in handy down the line. I mean, it has for me – just watch:

Who: Liam Reddox

What: 4th line forward

Out of curiosity, has anyone suggested that Reddox has peaked as a player, or does this fall into the category of strawmen again?

Oh yes, he’ll get more time. Because MacTavish doesn’t have to please you or me, the leather-lungs, the suits, the bloggers, the posters or the critics. He has to make the playoffs. And he thinks Reddox will help him do exactly that.

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Two notes:

  1. The now openly recognized goal of the team is a playoff spot.
  2. Liam Reddox, who rather improbably neither wins nor loses games, will help MacTavish get this team to the playoffs.

The ironic thing here is that if the premise is that Liam Reddox is a decent call-up, I’d agree. I might argue the following points:

  1. Gilbert Brule is running out of waiver eligibility.
  2. Liam Reddox is averaging just over ten minutes a game, so despite some of the odd situational use, on average he really isn’t being run out there more than a garden variety fourth-line hockey player.
  3. Because the first line of Penner, Hemsky and Horcoff faces tough opponents, when Hemsky was injured they needed a defensively reliable forward at RW. It didn’t make sense to put Cole there, because of his chemistry with Gagner, and Pisani was hurt which limited the coach’s options.
  4. Liam Reddox was a goal-scorer in junior and has been close to a point per game pace in the minors, despite being used against the opposing team’s best players. Based on his play in Springfield, he’s clearly ahead of everyone other than Ryan Potulny and Gilbert Brule, and is likely better suited to a defensive role than either of those two.
    Then again, I am a pajama-clad faceless monster, so what do I know?

  • Hippy

    Tyler wrote:

    For those suggesting that Dennis is anonymous, he’s been around Oilers forums in one way or another for about ten years. To the extent that he’s anonymous, he’s not very anonmyous. He also doesn’t run away from fights with people about points so I would assume that he’ll come back to this post at some point and defend his position.

    I guess we all see things a little differently. Having been aware of Dennis for a fair amount of time on the forums and blogs it is also easy to see the pattern that has emerged with him. A pattern that runs counter to what you suggest.

    There is a home turf mentality that's been developed on the internet as it applies to the Oilers. It used to be Oilfans VS HFBoards and then more so the blogs vs the forums and now even the blogs seem to be carving out their own territory. Dennis has always, atleast as far back as I can recall, taken on the more confrontational stuff under his own terms (no one said he wasn't clever). That generally means that he will do a drive by style posting somewhere maybe stick around for a few more until the fire is stoked nice and hot and instead of explain or see through to the end what he is getting at he retreats back to whatever online community he feels most comfortable with and has the most like minded thinking.

    When he does that he will start to espouse some diatribe about how the rubes at what ever site he just came from are beneath him and no one can understand just how bloody brilliant he is when it comes to the game of hockey.

    So your right, he isn't anonymous in terms of his online persona but he is anonymous in the sense that he clearly has no interest showing any kind of accountability with the stuff he churns up.

  • Hippy

    @ Tyler:
    Pretty reasonable post. It's a bit late, though.

    Here's my bottom line. I'm not wasting any more words after this comment explaining myself to Dennis or you or anybody else.
    Guess what? I don't have to. I don't get paid to. I'll write what I write and if Dennis, you or anybody else doesn't like it or doesn't agree with it, I can live with that.
    If my refusal to waste hours and hours defending what I write makes it less credible to you, so be it. The numbers here at ON, which you can relate to, tell me, and in no uncertain terms, people are reading me. That's why I'm here.
    I've already dedicated way too much time to the comments section and, in doing so, given Dennis the impression what he thinks actually matters to me. That's my fault. So it's going to stop.

    Personally, I think it's BS that somebody like Dennis, who is affiliated with another website, spends so much time and energy here trying to discredit me. I see that, as an extension, as trying to discredit this website. Why? Looks like there's an agenda. Dennis goes way, way beyond just asking "tough" questions.

    If Dennis wants to gather his like-minded pals around and have at me, as he has on your website, fine. Free speech. Internet 101 and all that. But I won't engage him any more. There's nothing in it for me.

  • Hippy

    Dennis wrote:

    Rick: I really don’t know what it is you want from me; a personal text message;)? What do I need to give you in order to be accountable and what do I need to be accountable for?

    You offered up a pretty lofty opinion of yourself by saying you know the team better than Brownlee.

    I asked you if you would expand on that. Not because Brownlee needs my defending but because I have seen you drop this impressive insight about yourself elsewhere many times with out you actually ever following up to explain it. I didn't think that I needed to expand on why I was asking though.

    You never did. Maybe you posted something that should have shown up at #40 but obviously it didn't so I don't know why it should satisfy me that you say otherwise.

    As I wrote in response to Tyler, I recognize a pattern with you and that pattern seemed to repeat itself again here. You stir the pot and then go back to where people will pat you on the back for doing so.

  • Hippy

    @ Rick:

    "it rings a little hollow for that same guy to continually try to hold a member of the media to an even stricter standard."

    Wow, that's really incorrect.

    Suppose I wrote an open letter to the New York Times criticizing a journalist's, say Judith Miller's, work shilling for the U.S. administration on WMD. Should Judith Miller turn around and complain "Who are you to hold me to such a strict standard? Do you know how hard it is to have to deal with the people you're critical of? I didn't write the whole truth because I would've lost my access! How would you feel, if I wrote an article about how you do a poor job as an accountant?"

    All this bluster about accountability, anonymity, going "eye to eye," is all bunk. Yeah, I said "bunk."


    And, as Tyler says, If RB wants to read Dennis' comments and analysis, he can, and he can critique it all day. I imagine Dennis would appreciate the discussion.


    At this point, I'm surprised Brownlee hasn't said more forcefully that he does speak his mind in his articles and that he thinks Lowe is good. That would have made Dennis' comments moot.


    Anyway, this is my last post. I've used up way too much time here today. (I've written as much as that Deep Oil fool.)

    Good luck Dennis, but go easy on RB, he's not so bad. You guys should meet, have a beer. I think you'd end up being friends. Maybe you could even do a blog together, a sort of Odd Couple thing.

  • Hippy

    @ RobinB:

    "If Dennis wants to gather his like-minded pals around and have at me, as he has on your website, fine… But I won’t engage him any more. There’s nothing in it for me."

    Okay, last post, really:

    If you exchange "Dennis" for "Socrates" that quote sounds like the end of every Platonic dialogue, where the person Socrates has shown to not know what they claimed to know storms off in a huff.

  • Hippy

    Pretty reasonable post. It’s a bit late, though.

    I've got no idea what this means. While I'm well aware that you profess not to care – although you seem to be curiously well informed as to the contents of LT's game thread from last night (Ed Koch!) – I've said the same things about you as a writer forever. I suspect that if Dennis was drawing up his list of preferred EDM writers, you'd be in a medal position too.

    The numbers here at ON, which you can relate to, tell me, and in no uncertain terms, people are reading me. That’s why I’m here.

    Don't judge yourself by the numbers Robin. Terry Jones probably gets 10-50 times the readership daily. We all know, as between the two of you, who has the more relevant and insightful commentary on the Oilers. 😉

    Personally, I think it’s BS that somebody like Dennis, who is affiliated with another website, spends so much time and energy here trying to discredit me. I see that, as an extension, as trying to discredit this website. Why? Looks like there’s an agenda. Dennis goes way, way beyond just asking “tough” questions.

    "Affiliated with another website"? Good lord. This isn't the Journal and Sun, fighting for subscriptions and advertising dollars. The only Oiler blog of consequence with any ads is this one, as far as I know. You guys have the commercial Oilers blog field to yourselves and more power to you.

    Again, I don't want to speak for Dennis, but as far as "discrediting this website" goes, there's no competition between this site and the other Oilers blogs, because the other Oilers blogs aren't competing with you. Outside of you and Willis, this site isn't really my cup of tea; it's kind of a less erudite, clunkier version of Covered in Oil but who cares? You guys are aiming for something different here, trying to appeal to a broader market and make a few bucks and that's fine.

  • Hippy

    At this point, I’m surprised Brownlee hasn’t said more forcefully that he does speak his mind in his articles and that he thinks Lowe is good. That would have made Dennis’ comments moot.

    Yeah. Maybe it's the limitations of the medium, but this comment from RB wasn't really a ringing rejection of that premise:

    I’m not functioning within the textbook version of how you think “it should be.” I’ve got better things to do than to try to change that.

    FWIW, I had a similar debate on a different point with Robin before, about how game stories suck by and large, he told me that his job was to provide information within the context of a certain format (ie. including the usual crap quotes from players, crap being my modifier, not his) and that seemed reasonable to me. I've been clear that I don't really agree with Dennis that Brownlee pulls his punches on Lowe and he seems willing to give it to the Oilers a bit but that is somewhat strange.

    Good luck Dennis, but go easy on RB, he’s not so bad. You guys should meet, have a beer. I think you’d end up being friends. Maybe you could even do a blog together, a sort of Odd Couple thing.

    I think some sort of streaming video show, featuring 30 minutes of impassioned and reasoned discussion, followed by Dennis insulting RB and RB violently assaulting him would be even better.

  • Hippy

    Rick: I came back and asked what you needed from me in order to be accountable; so there goes your theory about me running away:)

    And I think the latter idea came that I stopped posting at HF and that happened for two reasons:

    1: I had to always email the admin to retrieve my password

    2: on the occasions that i did do that, I came to the idea that while I don't go to the cinema to catch up on that wacky Paul Blart – even though I did watch king of queens;) – I also won't go to HF to discuss the oilers.

  • Hippy

    Dennis wrote:

    Rick: I came back and asked what you needed from me in order to be accountable; so there goes your theory about me running away:)

    Yup you would make a good politician.

    Well, you would atleast live up to the expectations most people have of politicians anyways.

  • Hippy

    Tencer's Brain Cell wrote:

    Get other writers and some editors on your side, get some non-sports reporters to do stories on the Oil suppressing stories. You’ll win this fight because the Oil need good PR with the impending arena.

    You know this is a contradictory statement, right? 😉

    Hey TBC – I had a feeling my Plato reference would go sideways. It appears I used a reference without checking my source from anything other than memory (no duh!). I knew I was in trouble when I went to check this morning and noticed how much dust was on my book. Good on you for being able to point this out as not many people read those old relics any more – my hat is off to you.

    My error was in mixing Plato's discussions on knowledge and sophistry. Sorry about that. And that's the end of those quips.

    I think I should clarify that my bone is with the comment rather than the person, who I don't know from jack. I still assert that no fan, no matter how much he studies or reads or infers can truly say he "knows the team" better than somebody who is intimately engaged with said team. Just the fact that guys like Brownlee (who I bet know the game pretty well to begin with – I mean, he's been doing this for how long?) have the added insight of personal interaction with the team should be plain enough to understand. They have the added advantage of context – pure and simple.

    As far as sharing that context with us fans, well as much as we'd wish they'd tell us every juicy detail – it will never happen. And you guys know that. So arguing for something that will never happen is safe because the outcome will always be the same "us against the man" crap. It makes you look good for carrying the torch but is ultimately pointless. While I appreciate idealism, it has limited appeal in the real world. Sometimes you have to say WTF and move onto something where you can make a real difference.

    Fave it – pro sports is more about entertainment than sport. It sells a product wrapped in myth and idealism. Anything you propose that challenges that srtuctre will be soundly ignored. The Oilers Facebook fan site has 130,000 fans. They're not looking for truth – they want the myth. They're kids and grown-up kids. And that's who pro sports is selling to. I hate to say it but the very small group of "hardcore fans" who rant on internet forums about not knowing the back story to Garon's trade don't mean jack in the big scheme of things.

    It's about PR and optics and consensus and all the other things idealists hate. I get that. But to waste your time trying arguing against it is either self-defeating or sadistic. In the end, what's the point? A few internet pats on the back? Kinda weak man.

    But enough with this stuff. Time to do some real life stuff. Thanks all for the responses. It was a pretty decent thread.

  • Hippy

    David: I wasn't looking for pats on the back and because you assumed I was, I'll just finish my thoughts on this by saying that if you accept everything, you deserve little:)

    Hey, I'm not trying to change the world here:) but if you can't see the the forest through the trees of Lowe declaring he didn't know the cap was gonna rise – and that's just one thing – well then you don't care about the idea of a critical press and you're fine and dandy with propaganda.

    So, in that respect, you are well more suited for politics than I'd ever be:)

  • Hippy

    Dennis: I get where you're coming from. And although it may not have appeared as much from what I wrote, I do agree with what you're saying in regards to the idea of critical press. The thing of it is, at some point maybe we have to stop banging our heads against the wall and expecting guys like Brownlee to do things things they freely admit are beyond their scope.

    Tambellini faced some pretty blunt questions last week and deflected them like a Jedi master. So at what point can we expect media people to keep pounding away before they get their credentials revoked? I dare say no internet poster tells you how to do your job. And you're sure not going to jeopardize that job just because that guy tells you to do so.

    From what I've seen, both Brownlee and Gregor have done more than most in putting forth articles that weren't towing the company line. But I can accept that they have limits. They go too far and what ground they've gained will be lost completely.

    I know that's not good enough for some. It's not a perfect world, but it's the one we have to work with.

    You, Tyler, LT, Bruce and the others do great work. Heck, I stop by your sites almost every day to see what you've come up with. LT's game-day threads are epic and MC79 really gets into it too. Why not make that the focus of your energy instead of pounding away at something (and someone) you know won't (or can't) change?

  • Hippy

    David: I guess we'll never see eye to eye on this but that's fine. I'm a pretty chill guy anyway and never more than when I'm listening to Bermuda Highway by My Morning Jacket so I'm currently as laid back as possible:)

    You know, maybe it's way too blanketing to say if you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem but I look at the Edm media and I see guys who worship sacred cows and that would be just a little more tolerable if the org was a winner but it isn't. So, I see all these moves that have never been questioned and I wonder why.

    Hey, maybe I came at Brownlee from the wrong angle right off the bat – in hindsight i almost certainly did – but either the guys in edm are afraid to question Lowe's moves or they think he's done a good enough job that he doesn't need to be questioned.

    The latter possibility blows my mind.