Q and A with Calgary Flames blogger Kent Wilson of FlamesNation

I got Kent Wilson from FlamesNation to participate in the hockey blogger Q and A that I’ve been casually conducting this month. Kent’s one of the strengths of The Nation Network and blogging in general, having his hand in the 2014 “summer of stats”.

What follows is a little insight in how Kent found his way into blogging and his views on the season ahead for the NHL.

 What led you to hockey blogging?

Some friends and I decided we wanted to start a hockey podcast, back when podcasting was a brand new thing. Instead of leaping directly into that, we opted to start a blog first. Even though it was conceived as a “group blog”, eventually I was only one who stuck with it (the podcast never happened).

After the initial few months which were mostly filled with ranting and snark, I started reading blogs like Battle of Alberta, MC79hockey, and Irreverent Oiler Fans, where analysis and level of writing were significantly elevated above anything I’d seen before. That opened a whole new world to me.

 Has there been any particular moment in your time as a blogger that seems surreal to experience (access, meeting someone, seeing an event, etc)? Anything made you proud of what you’re doing?

There are so many over the last 10 years, it’s hard to choose. The first time someone offered to pay me to write, and the couple of times I was offered a managing editor role at other blogs (SBNation and the Nation Network) are good ones.

I think the big one, though, is the “summer of stats” a few years ago, when advanced stats kind of broke through into the mainstream. Many of my contemporaries were hired by major broadcasters or NHL teams that summer. That was incredible, but it was also bizarre to see many of the concepts I’d seen created and argued over in obscure corners of the internet suddenly changing the way teams, decision makers, and the public analyzed the game.

Name one of the articles which you are proudest to have written.  What’s the aspect / detail that makes you proudest of it?

I have two.

The first one is The Limits of Observation. Originally written for a book project that was scrapped, the piece takes a look at common psychological quirks (called “heuristics”) that can work to skew and undermine rational player and team evaluation.

As far as I know, it was the first comprehensive article on this sort of subject in hockey writing. I didn’t know what the reception would be when the article was published (it originally went live on the Score’s Backhand Shelf at the time), so I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response it received at the time (and continues to receive years later). Some readers have told me it’s one of my most influential articles.

The second one is only nominally about hockey, ironically. Called “How To Think Critically About CalgaryNext”, it’s an article I wrote to critique the Calgary Flames ill-fated arena project.

I figured there was a chance the piece would be controversial because it comes out strongly against a new arena proposal on a fan-based site, but to my surprise, the opposite happened – the article blew up almost immediately and the response was almost entirely supportive. It’s probably the only piece I’ve ever had go truly “viral”, with thousands of shares within the first few days. It may actually stand as the most read piece in FlamesNation history.

The other two articles that deserve mention here are “Ditch the Enforcer” (no longer online) and “The Trouble With Drafting Goalies”. Both pieces seem obvious in retrospect, but at the time they both flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

Is there another blog site that’s a routine part of your reading? Is there a particular hockey blog author that stands out for you?

Hockey Graphs is a regular read of mine, as is The Athletic now. Otherwise, I keep an eye out for a number of quality writers, including Tyler Dellow, Dimitri Filipovic, Jonathan Willis, Prashanth Iyer, Ryan Stimson, Travis Yost, Namita Nandakumar, everyone at FlamesNation currently…and that’s just to name a few.

Do you have tips that you can give to up-and-coming bloggers / writers? Something that they should keep in mind with sports coverage or habits?

Usually, my main advice is to find a unique angle/voice and bring as much value to the conversation as possible. It also helps to have thick skin and perseverance. In addition, It’s important not to try to be all things to all people. I think it’s better to find the niche audience that likes what you do, rather than to try to be as bland and as general as possible.

As a fan, do you take issue with the NHL not allowing player participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics?

I don’t have much of an opinion because I’m one of the few people out there who could take or leave the Olympics. The growing corruption of the IOC has kind of sullied the games for me and I can understand why the NHL is reluctant to sacrifice a part of its season (and the potential health of its star players) to participate.

Vegas is franchise #31 and the NHL has to go to 32. Name a market where the league should take interest with expansion other than the commonly cited Quebec City, Quebec or Seattle, Washington.

I’ll go way off board and say put a team in the middle of Saskatchewan. People would drive for hours from miles around to attend the games. The NHL would also sell more Saskatchewan merch than probably every other team aside from Toronto.

 We’re a ways before training camp ever begins, but with the state of your team’s roster as it stands and with how things went in the 2016-17 season, what do you think is the biggest issue facing the Flames going into 2017-18?

Calgary has problems on the right wing, but the biggest question mark is in net. Since Kipper retired, the organization has tried and failed to find a new, quality starting goaltender. The gambit of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack seems like it could also fall into the “failed experiment” bin and could very well prove to be the team’s Achilles heel this year.

As it stands, do you see any particular team on a course for a porous season ahead?

Not sure what you mean by “pourous”. If you mean “bad”, I think Chicago might be in line for a big step back this year. The salary cap is really starting to harm their depth, and some of their cornerstone guys are beginning to age beyond their peak seasons.

At this before-it-begins point where we stand now, who do you believe will be a top contender in the season ahead?

It’s tough to call right now, with some giants potentially falling and new upstarts becoming contenders. I think the Penguins and Capitals will probably continue to be heavy hitters, but it will be interesting to see if one of the Flames, Oilers or Leafs can take big step forward, given how relatively open the west is. I’d also keep an eye on the Lightning and the Jets (Winnipeg HAS to get good at some point don’t they?)

Thank you, Kent. Make sure you’re following him on Twitter.