The second set of ‘games’ for the Canes and Coffee Summer Event 2015 will go live late Friday morning. If you missed the kickoff on Monday, the event is basically an NCAA tourney-like bracket that pits Canes greats against each other to determine the greatest or favorites in Hurricanes hockey history. More so than an objective evaluation and ranking, the goal is to celebrate and enjoy Canes history during the slow days of August.
With my mini-advertisement aside, I wanted to tackle something a bit fuzzier than the usual individual player analysis and similar.
In today’s digital world teams and their executives are mic’ed up all the time. There are TV interviews, written publication interviews, team events and web site content and even social media. General managers like Ron Francis basically have an assortment of channels to broadcast whatever they want and also sometimes the challenge to be careful how they broadcast information and what not to broadcast at all.
Ron Francis has an early track record as playing things pretty close to the vest. He does his share of interviews, but very often leans heavily on clichés and generalities thereby limiting the ability to read into his strategy or plans. We get a lot of things like (IMPORTANT: THESE ARE EXAMPLES NOT DIRECT QUOTES) “We will do what is best for his long-term development” in a situation like Noah Hanifin. We get things like, “We are happy with our current roster but will consider adding players if they can improve our team” about the possibility of signing more free agents. We get “we are in discussions but there is no required timeframe” on Eric Staal’s contract situation when he is pressed for a status on discussions.
Big news Canes things for which I feel like I have virtually no hint from Ron Francis include:
–Eric Staal’s contract situation.
–Whether the team will look to add another forward or two.
–Whether there is an internal salary budget for 2015-16 and what it is.
Ron Francis’ tight-lipped approach is challenging for media (and “pretend media” as my wife calls me) because in a reporting role, they are left with a bunch of quotes and sound bites that really say very little and few clues for trying to figure out what it really means. Personally, I like Francis’ approach for two reasons. First, I think it puts him in a better position to do deals and build his team. Second, one of my favorite things to do over the years is to play armchair GM both writing up what I would do and also what I think the GM will actually do. So in a world where the reported facts are minimal and fuzzy, what I enjoy doing becomes the best game in town Canes coverage-wise.
But I digress…
I think the interesting dichotomy of Francis’ approach is this. While he seems incredibly tight-lipped about roster and NHL stuff, there seems to be more information coming out of PNC Arena these days in terms of prospects. The team has been raving much of the summer or how thrilled it is with the defensemen in the system. One day there is chatter about how thrilled management is with Trevor Carrick’s play in his first year in the NHL. The next day the team is head over heels about the rapid progress of Jaccob Slavin. There were comments about how improved Haydn Fleury looked in rookie camp. And so on.
So how do you explain this? Does Ron Francis have multiple personalities with one assigned each to NHL stuff and another to prospect stuff? Sort of. In this new digital media world of the NHL, I think the smart teams are using the indirect channels to basically market their players. You never know when. You never know which team. And you never know what they will be shopping for. But at some point as a GM you will be engaged in a trade conversation with another team that involves futures including draft picks but also prospects. A primary source of information when making these deals will be scouting obviously. But scouting is imperfect and does not cover everything at 100%. With the volume of leagues and players within them it is impossible to have a detailed read incorporating every bit of ice time for every player in the league. And in assessing players, there will be an element of how a player ranks and slots for their current team. Like right now, Jaccob Slavin rates as high as #3 on the Carolina Hurricanes depth chart for defenseman despite never playing a game above the college level. Is some of this ranking earned and completely legitimate? Sure. Am I saying that the Hurricanes organization completely controls where independent media sources rank him? No. But with much of the media rankings heavy on research and unable to do the pure version of rankings driven soley by watching games and catching absolutely all of them, is it possible to seed and influence the research with some marketing spin. I think it is. But does this marketing rhetoric actually have any impact on other teams’ rankings of players? I do not mean to say that teams are relying on media analysis for their scouting. But they hear and read things too, and I have to believe there is some influence on their rankings. When they hear repeatedly how the Canes are high on Slavin, that Slavin is progressing well and then see his is put in a first pair in the AHL, I do think that boosts the ‘want’ for that player.
I also think crafty teams could play some games with this. Let’s take Roland McKeown as an example. The Los Angeles Kings were deep on defense in their system. The team had 3-5 players who were on decent tracks toward the NHL. Obviously the Kings track all of these players very closely and should have the best information out of anyone as to what their prospects are, how they rank amongst each other, etc. For sake of argument, let’s say that somewhere along the way, the team’s scouts become less high on McKeown such that he maybe falls from 2nd to 6th on the team’s internal prospect rankings. Would the team be well-served to put even the tiniest hint of this out publicly? Or would they be better served to keep this information quiet? ……….Or better yet, why not pump McKeown and see if you can get people to buy it – literally. If he is playing completely miserable hockey in the juniors a quick phone call to someone who scouts the league would ferret that out quickly. But most things are more shades of gray than black and white. So if I am the Kings last winter and knowing that I might need to toss in a prospect or two at the trade deadline, I play him up and then protest bitterly (for pretend) when someone puts his name into a deal. And then I chuckle to myself when I pretend to begrudgingly include him instead of four other players that I value more highly. To be clear, I have not seen enough of Roland McKeown to suggest that he is actually a real example. I just used him for illustration.
We have yet to really ramp up discussion here (which IS a goal at some point fairly soon), but I would love to hear others’ thoughts on a couple things related to this:
1) Does anyone else see Francis and the organization as seemingly more open on discussion of prospects relative to other stuff?
2) Does anyone else get the sense that this marketing game is increasingly going on in the NHL?
3) To what degree do you think it is possible to persuade teams whose primary and preferred source of information is their own scouting departments?
4) Who thinks this is crazy conspiracy theory stuff from someone who needs a bit more sleep and is also just fabricating Canes stuff in the middle of a news-less August?