The estates of the realm and USA Hockey

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I watched the Winter Classic to see the naming of the US Men's Olympic Team. I didn't need to do that because something much more interesting was coming out once the team was named. Two reporters had been granted an all-access pass into the selection process for the team and the two articles that resulted were insightful pieces full of quotes that made many hockey fans cringe (or cheer if they were Canadian).

We are fans of a sport where access can be expanded by writing pieces that make people look good. Criticism is is part of holding people responsible for what they do. If you know about the Estates of the Realm from the French Revolution you would know that the First Estate was the clergy, the Second Estate was the nobility, with the exclusion of the King, and the Third Estate was everyone else. Over time the Fourth Estate emerged, comprised of institutions independent of the original estates. To some this meant print journalists, to others it meant lawyers etc. Later on the Fifth Estate emerged, a group who functioned outside of the normal rules of the other four established estates. To some the Fifth Estate includes blogs and social media as they do not compromise their position to gain access. CBC's program "The Fifth Estate" also fits the definition of this type of coverage because the search for answers is uncompromising and can lead to creating more enemies than friends.

Why does this matter?

It matters because under the role of the Fourth Estate to inform the masses Allen and Burnside did their jobs really well. They took all the praise and criticism directed at players and used it to write fascinating pieces that are still being talked about two days after they were published. They took their role as journalists seriously and did not cede editorial control, like their job demands of them. Writing the truth of what they heard while in the war room or listening in on conference calls about the formation of the team.

What precedence would it set if editorial control was ceded?

This is a tricky subject to broach as there is at least one show about a team where the team holds the final say on what is exposed to public viewing, 24CH, an all-access documentary about the Montreal Canadiens. Even though the Habs hold final editorial control over what is released for public consumption they have still allowed for juicy moments like Subban being yelled at or Louis Leblanc being sent down to be seen by those outside of the inner sanctum of the organization. It made for great TV because not everything if butterflies and roses within a team.

Print media is different than television media though and this is where the problem lies. Print media is rightfully trained to stand behind their message. They are supposed to write unbiased accounts of what they see/hear. If they write opinion pieces they are supposed to put their own thoughts into what they have seen/heard. As long as they are not telling blatant lies there should be no complaints about what they write. I asked one writer what they would do if they were asked to cede editorial control over a piece they were writing. They answered "I've never had that kind of situation, but I wouldn't agree to it in the first place. And if it came up later, that's a deal-breaker. That would set a very bad precedent." This answer lines up with the role of the Fourth Estate and keeping credibility with print media.

This brings us to the outcry from Nick Kypreos on a Toronto radio station. He felt as though the juiciest quotes from the selection meetings, the ones where Lombardi's leg work on Yandle and the comments that got the most attention, Brian Burke on Bobby Ryan. Brian Burke has a reputation for being bombastic and not speaking in even tones to get his point across. Everything has to be a hyperbole with Burke, even when reporters are in the room with the US Hockey brain trust, ready to write about all the interesting parts of these conversations that were had between the brain trust.

So whose fault is it anyways?

In a nutshell, no ones. Burke was being Burke and Allen and Burnside were reporting on that. In a broader context, Poile and the other members of the brain trust who did not speak up and tell Burke to tone it down. If you are worried about how you are perceived you control how people can perceive you. You do not censor them, instead you censor yourself. When you open up your war room to outsiders you make sure that you do not say anything in public that you would only otherwise say at an arbitration hearing. It isn't as if the NSA rigged the war room and listened in on all the conference calls; US Hockey knowingly allowed Burnside and Allen into the selection process and felt like they got burned when Allen and Burnside did their jobs like they were supposed to. Now Poile is trying to blame Allen and Burnside when they did nothing wrong. We have all done things that we regret and I hope Poile regrets not controlling Burke's comments more because all comments were being made on the record.

What happens now?

In a perfect world nothing. In the real world it is obvious that a country will never open themselves up like that again. Though the Bobby Ryan comments got the most attention there were plenty other parts that had analytic using fans of hockey who were aghast at the decision making process in general. Beyond the Bobby Ryan comments, there were many comments surrounding Jack Johnson that were worth a read to help show how players are viewed by those who make decisions. All of these comments were brought to us by two journalists simply reporting what they heard when given unprecedented access; sadly that access will most likely never be given again because some (like Poile) felt as though Allen and Burnside abused their access by publishing those juicy quotes.

Personal Thoughts:

I will include the two articles at the end because they are really interesting, but there a few things besides the Bobby Ryan quotes that stood out to me.

1. How US Hockey was only going to take one of Max Pacioretty or Bobby Ryan. Both are high scoring, positive possession players who would make any country better up front, especially in a short tournament where scoring slumps are magnified.

2. The dismissal of Dean Lombardi's work on Keith Yandle. Lombardi's LA Kings have played in the same division as Yandle's Phoenix Coyotes forever and clearly knows the guy. Even if the analytics show that Byfuglien should have been a bigger part of the conversation, Yandle should have been there over Orpik, who is equal to Jared Cowen.

3. The over-reliance on simple stats like plus/minus. I have lurked on Eyes on the Prize, Arctic Ice Hockey, and Twiter long before joining them and during that lurking time I learned about how useless plus/minus is without context and even then can be misleading.

4. Some players were considered locks when their play didn't warrant it. Both Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown struggled this year. Callahan has the same points/60 (points per 60 minutes) as Scott Gomez did in 2012-2013 (thanks to Painkiller and Maximatus on this site) while starting 60% of his non-neutral zone face-offs in the offensive zone. That is some major sheltering that is usually only reserved for rookies, bad players, or one-way players.

5. The emphasis on taking players that were "hot". Scorers are a streaky crew outside of the top ten guys. To take a player because he is putting up good boxcar numbers in a small time frame could be a recipe for disaster if that player goes cold at the Olympics. More consistent players could also go cold, but when you take a player based on a one month hot streak (see Blake Wheeler), the chances of getting burned are magnified because there isn't a large sample size.

6. The goalies. I wish I was Jonathan Quick, a goalie who is riding the coattails of two good months of goaltending when he played behind his teams top six defence for the LA Kings entire Stanley Cup run. Poor Ryan Miller wasn't even seen as a top three goalie after winning his country a silver medal in Vancouver.

7. Lastly, I am amazed the Don Waddell is still allowed to have an input in creating a hockey team, never mind one for a best on best tournament.

Here are the links to the two stories. Read them and share your reaction in the comments.

Kevin Allen: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2014/01/01/how-olympic-hockey-team-was-picked/4279829/

and his reflection on the process: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/columnist/allen/2014/01/02/lessons-learned-from-usa-olympic-team-selection-process/4296863/

Scott Burnside: http://espn.go.com/olympics/hockey/story/_/id/10195703/how-us-hockey-team-bound-sochi-olympics-was-named

End Note: via @Wham_City on twitter Elliotte Friedman had this to say on Bobby Ryan and Brian Burke: https://twitter.com/Wham_City/status/419192446241619968/photo/1

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