Pipeline #2

This is the gang from the Pipeline Show. The trio (Guy Flaming, Dean Millard and the legendary Sports Doctor) have created what many radio people believe is the best show in the business of tracking hockey prospects. High praise, but they’ve earned it.

Earlier in the fall, I had a chance to talk to Mr. Flaming about his show, the prospect analysis game and some of the things he’s obvserved over the years he’s been involved with the Pipeline Show. The first edition is here, and the rest of the interview is below.

  • Is there one Oiler prospect you were sure would make it, and didn’t? 

I’m trying to think back to all the Top 20 rankings that I had to do for HF and if there was a guy that I continual ranked high that never made it. I guess the most glaring one is Rob Schremp but in my defence, I always made a point of saying that he was a boom/bust player – if he stuck in the NHL he’d be an impact guy but there was a very high chance that he wouldn’t. So far it’s been the latter but he got some time with the Islanders last season.

Colin McDonald was a personal favorite of mine too and still is to a degree. I think he stayed 2 years too long at Providence but that was also at a time when the Oilers didn’t have their own farm team so I think they share in the blame for stagnating his development.

  • Is there one Oiler prospect you were surprised that made it? 

I’ve never been a big believer in Liam Reddox and I don’t know that we can really say that he’s “made it”. In fact, I think what I’ve always said to be his ceiling is what he is right now – a NHL/AHL “tweener”. But I’ll give him a ton of credit for the way he’s saved his career since that first pro year where he did zip until the final month of the season in Stockton. The next year he was a nearing stardom for Springfield and he’s earned his opportunities because of his relentless off-ice work ethic and preparation. He almost didn’t get an entry level contract out of junior, had a horrible pro rookie year in the ECHL and yet here he is battling for a NHL spot 4 years later. Credit where it’s due.

I think another guy who deserves some recognition is Troy Bodie. Here’s a 9th round pick in 2003 that epitomizes the term “project pick”. He could barely skate in junior, was tall and gangly during his entry level contract and yet now he’s taking a regular shift and playing about 10:00 a night in Anaheim.

  • How you do and Dean decide on the content for your show? You seem to be spending more time on NCAA, is that due to increased levels of interest?

 The 2-hour show has 6 segments roughly 15-17 minutes in length. In our first segment Dean and I set up the show and cover some current events or hot topics of the day.

We’ve committed one segment to the next NHL Draft and usual that results in a player in his draft year but it might mean E.J. McGuire from Central Scouting or someone like that but it’s dedicated to that subject. 

We want at least one segment each week to come from one of the CHL leagues whether it’s a player, coach, GM or a media guy. Sometimes we’ll have someone from the OHL and then another segment with someone from the WHL but we want at least one CHL segment every show.

We also want a NCAA segment too. Why? When you consider that about 25% of the NCAA’s players are Canadian and a large percentage of them are from the AJHL or BCHL, that’s a lot of people from Western Canada with an interest in what is happening down there. And unlike most local shows, our audience is largely an internet based one as opposed to just radio – we have as many listeners from Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota as we do from Manitoba or the Maritimes. Our archives (every interview from every show since 2006!) get a lot of traffic from people who miss the live show or that are from out of our local radio market. It’s funny because at first, a lot of Canadian people (mostly media) thought it was a mistake talking as much NCAA as we do and by contrast, Americans would criticize us as typical Canadians looking down on the college game and promoting the CHL. It’s been really rewarding to get emails or see message boards from both sides of the boarder that appreciate our NCAA content and our views that the CHL and NCAA are both valid options and neither are right for every young player.

This season the daily shows on the TEAM 1260 have all added NHL Insiders – some of the biggest media names across the continent and it has become must-listen to radio. We’ve followed suit for our two shows a week. Tuesdays we are joined by one of our long time favorite guests, Sam Cosentino who is the colour analyst for CHL games on Rogers Sportsnet. Sam’s got a real passion for the CHL, like we do, and is as connected as they come. The Memorial Cup is on Sportsnet too which makes Sam a natural for our show.

On Saturdays we have Daren Millard as our NHL Insider. He’s on the panel at Sportsnet and helps us look at the rookies and sophomores stories in the NHL as well as some of the big stories of the day in the league. It’s a fun segment too because he’s obviously Dean’s brother so the verbal barbs can get pretty colorful.

Lastly, we’ve started using the last segment to recap the show, take calls, play some quick scrums from Rexall or if need be, fit in another live guest.

Since we’ve added the Saturday morning show to our schedule (9-11 AM), we’ve really noticed that it’s taken on a different feel. It’s much more of a “Game Day” show as we recap the night before and look ahead to that evening’s games. Every league is active on Fridays and Saturdays so there is always a lot to talk about.

  • I know your radio show (and web site) are well read by the hockey industry. Do you find a lot of people in the CHL and NCAA pay attention to what you’re covering? Do you ever get “angry emails” based on something you’ve said?  

Yes and I can give you some easy examples. Dean and I have both received emails from agents asking us to get players they represent on as guest. I’ve had emails from parents angry about something they’ve heard me say about their kid or that a guest has said about him.

Probably the best example came just before Christmas last season. We had Paul Kelly from College Hockey Inc. on the show to discuss his newly founded group and its mandate to promote NCAA hockey. While he was on, his comments about CHL clubs paying players under the table to get them to de-commit from their NCAA choices drew an immediate response. The next day we were contacted by the WHL hoping to have Commissioner Ron Robison on the next week “to respond to Kelly’s accusations”. At the same time, the Alberta Junior Hockey League took exception to some things Kelly had said about the quality of Jr. A leagues in Canada and “could President Craig Cripps come on the show to address those statements?”.

Just last month we were talking about Jeremie Blain and how he’s missed so much time in the early QMJHL season. Was he hurt? What’s the injury? How long until he’s back? It was right at the end of the show and as we said goodbye, I got a text from Stu MacGregor. He was listening to the show while he was driving between Calgary and Medicine Hat and wanted to update us on Blain’s situation.

It’s rare now that I’ll go to an Oil Kings game where a NHL scout or executive doesn’t mention something they’d heard on the program or just offer a kind word or two about the show. A few scouts have told me that our interviews with draft eligible players are talked about at their team meetings and some, knowing a certain player was soon to be a guest, have asked me to direct a specific question on their behalf.

Some of our regular media contributors from places like Moncton or Halifax in the QMJHL or Boston and New York in the NCAA have told us that players and coaches or other media guys are aware of the show too which is pretty flattering.

  • Is your working relationship with the Edmonton Oilers as smooth as it was a couple of years ago? 

I would say NO but don’t take that to mean that it’s “bad” or there is a sense of animosity – we’re more like acquaintances now. Where once I felt that I needed to be on hand every time a prospect got recalled or I was at every second of prospect camp, now I’m far less Oiler-centric.

I mentioned before that it’s tougher (at least for me) to pry information from the organization now. I know that where once it wasn’t an issue to call directly to the people I talk to, now there are more protocols involved. Instead of calling 4 or 5 of the scouts, now it’s supposed to be MacGregor and only he for all things scouting related. That way they can better control what information is coming from the organization and I understand that and respect that. It makes my job harder but that’s not their problem.

The fact that I’m not around the rink following the Oilers anywhere close to what I was back when I was covering the team for HF hasn’t helped. The organization has never really laid out the welcome mat for online or internet based publications but the Oilers have always been fair with me. However, now when I call or email in a request for Stu MacGregor or a player I inevitably get the question “Is this for the show or for a website?” (One is fine, the other… not so much) and that wasn’t always the case.

Because I haven’t been around Rexall for the Oilers as much as in previous years, and with old contacts like Kevin Prendergast and Scott Howson out of the picture, my stronger relationships with the organization are almost entirely with people employed by the team but not located in Edmonton. Not all though, which is nice.

I once wrote a criticism of the Oilers and Patrick Laforge for the way the Edmonton Road Runners stay in the city came to an end. He took exception to that and mentioned it on the show and although I doubt he holds a grudge against a minor media guy like me, I still have the sense that he’s never forgotten it either.

  • What are your favorite blogs and websites? 

For my NHL Oiler fix I get almost everything I need from Oilers Nation and I think the guys at The Copper & Blue do great work when it comes to the prospects. I know I wish I’d had a team of guys helping me when I was doing all that research and writing for HF!

I find that I listen as much or more than I read, so the TEAM 1260 is almost always on for me. Where else can you get Gregor, Stauffer, Millard, Nielson & Chase, Graham, Dreger, McKenzie, Milbury, Marek, Friedman, Hrudey, McLean, Brownlee, Rishaug, Barnes, Spector, loads of NHL beat reporters and NHL GMs all in one place at pretty much any time throughout the day?

Other essential reading for me includes Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News who has a weekly Prospect Hot List, USCHO.com provides unparalleled NCAA reporting (and a bunch of regular contributors to The Pipeline Show), Chris Dilk’s Western College Hockey Blog is a key one, and Yahoo Sports has a couple of really solid CHL guys covering Major Junior now in Neate Sager and Nathan White (both are TPS regulars). The WHL is littered with quality blogs, usually done by the play-by-play guys for each team, Rod Pedersen in Regina and Calgary based fan Alan Caldwell (Small Thoughts At Large) being exceptions to that rule.  For Euros I haven’t found a better site than Elite Prospects.

Other than that, the usual TSN, Sportsnet and all the league websites.

Judging by the amount of comments he gets, that Lowetide guy seems to already have more than his fair share of readers so… screw him.  

  • Why didn’t you interview Mikhail Zhukov? It might have made a difference to his development, you know. 

After interviewing Dragan Umicevic and seeing no positive result for him in his development, I decided Zhukov was best left alone. That or because I was looking him up in the Russian phone book under the name “Misha Joukov”.

The final question was an inside joke that dates back to Guy’s time as HF’s writer. Their archives contain his work there and frankly those pages are an entertaining read many years later. I hope you enjoyed this two part series, and if there’s anyone else you’d like interviewed in a similar fashion let me know.

  • Great to see those guys carving a bigger and bigger niche for themselves. They have earned every kudos sent their way.

    This is priceless:

    . However, now when I call or email in a request for Stu MacGregor or a player I inevitably get the question “Is this for the show or for a website?” (One is fine, the other… not so much) and that wasn’t always the case.

    Allan Watt = Internet bad!

    Hey Allan, I’m starting show to be broadcast via teletype and carrier pigeon, can I get some Oiler guests, or is that still too progressive for you?

    I’ll mimeograph my request and send it over to you on the pony express.

    • It definitely seems as though the Oilers organization is taking bigger and bigger steps backwards in how they market the organization. I don’t know anything about Allan Watt, but suspect that it’s a bit of a culture there and I’m sure the likes of JJ Hebert, Pat Laforge and Aquilla/Metz all contribute.

      Their first season’s only a month old and I’m already almost getting sick of the propaganda on the rookies. Remember the hype they created around Cogliano and Gagner? Three years from now we’ll all be sick of Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle.

      I’m not sure when they’ll learn that a tightly controlled, tightly packaged message trotted out by the likes of Tencer, Principe, Stauffer and Aquilla is completely the wrong way to generate buzz. In most ways it’s damaging.

      I understand they have a job to do, but they are completely going about it the wrong way.

  • With the way the Oilogosphere is exploding, you’d think business trained suits would recognize a trend (for the past 10 years) and capitalize on the potential. I think, as Comrie once put it, the “Communist” mentality of the Oilers brass wants to control the propoganda eminating from them, so they create their own blog, and their own message boards. Problem is, no one uses them or cares.
    There is no negative information about the team that is allowed to be disseminated.

  • I’m so glad that I can now purchase “replica watches” in the comments section of Oilersnation now, lol.

    “…so the TEAM 1260 is almost always on for me. “

    I’m with Flaming on that one — the Team 1260 is amazing radio, and even more so now since they overhauled their formats along with extending Gregor’s show. I listen to way too much AM radio (mostly via the net) now that it actually outweighs watching TV.