An Interview with Greg Logan

An Interview with Greg Logan

An Interview with Greg Logan

“But basically I am the only one with the Islanders on a daily basis. Even though you would think that would be an ideal situation for a beat writer…In some ways there’s an even greater pressure on me – I have to ask all the tough questions. I don’t get to share that with anybody…”

“I never played the game, so I take extra care talking to people about strategy and what they’re trying to accomplish and really listen to what they’re saying and their opinions. I normally value athletes’ opinions over writers’ opinions in any sport because they are playing but even more so in hockey.”

“Scoops are important. But is it a scoop if it’s wrong? If you’re going to have a scoop you better be right about it. If somebody can prove it’s wrong then all you’ve done is get a headline and stir up discussion and controversy but ultimately you were wrong.

“There’s a guy on the Flyers named Afanasenkov. Afinogenov in Buffalo is fine. But Afanasenkov in Philly throws me…Always use their first name. In this case – Dmitry.”

Greg Logan: Interviewed on January 24, 2007

Position: Islanders beat reporter, Newsday

Born: 1951, Albuquerque

Education: Missouri, 1973, Journalism

Career: Norman Transcript 1973-74; Arizona Republic 1974-77; Trenton Times, 1977-79; Bergen Record 1979-82; Newsday 1982 –

Personal: married, three daughters

Favorite restaurants (home): Paula Jean’s Supper Club, East Setauket, NY “good Cajun food and live rhythm and blues to match”

Favorite restaurant (road): Sweet Georgia Brown’s, Washington DC “down home southern style cooking – superb”; Wild Ginger, Seattle “late night gourmet Chinese”; Nick and Sam’s, Dallas “great steak” : Ojeda’s, Dallas “authentic Tex-Mex with great pour-your-own salsa on the tables”; Columbia Seafood Restaurant, Tampa “seafood with a Latin flavor and I love the ambience of the original restaurant in Ybor City”; Sassafraz, Toronto “a jazz lounge in the Bloor-Yorkville area for music and cocktails”

Favorite hotel: The Renaissance Seattle, “the personal treatment you received there was high-end luxury treatment for a bargain price and beautiful city”;

Greg Logan’s “15-Year Concept” excerpted from Newsday.com, November 6, 2006:

There’s no mistaking the concern of Islanders fans about the 15-year contract signed by goaltender Rick DiPietro this season, and it came through loud and clear Saturday night when the Nassau Coliseum crowd called for backup Mike Dunham after DiPietro gave up three first-period goals in a 4-1 loss to Atlanta.

Every goaltender has off nights, but it’s as though signing that landmark deal has raised the bar of expectations for DiPietro. As he said after the game, the contract didn’t gift him with “superpowers,” and if the fans are looking for nightly perfection, “It isn’t going to happen.”

Excuse DiPietro if he was agitated after a rough outing. He simply was saying that he’s human and mistakes are inevitable.

And that’s at the root of the problems a 15-year deal creates. Anyone would have signed for the security represented by such a $67.5 million deal. But athletes are human, and their performance is subject to fluctuations on a daily basis, never mind over a 15-year term.

Take DiPietro out of the equation. It would have been a huge risk to sign Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth to a 15-year deal (Okay, maybe not Wayne Gretzky, whose 21-year deal with former Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington was a personal services contract that obviously didn’t make it impossible for the Oilers to trade him).

Too much is subject to chance. Isles owner Charles Wang might have fixed the price of his top goaltender at $4.5 million per year, but a goalie is not an inanimate commodity like porkbellies whose value can be fixed forever at point of purchase.

Hot streaks alternate with rough spells and bouts of confidence on a regular basis. You need look no further for proof than the early travails this season of the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who has given way lately to Kevin Weekes as the starter. No doubt, Lundqvist will regain his touch and his job at some point.

But that speaks to the other major problem posed by a 15-year deal. How does it handcuff a coach in the decision-making process?

If his top goaltender had just signed, say, a five-year deal, would Ted Nolan have hesitated to pull him after a bad first period? Hard to say. Maybe, as Nolan said after the game, it was best to allow the goaltender to fight through a tough situation. There’s plenty of merit to that argument, and Nolan’s decision turned out well.

But did it cross the coach’s mind that he might be viewed as showing up the owner if he pulled the goaltender in that spot? It’s a fair question.

… you wonder if a coach’s control is undermined by a deal of that length in the sense that he has little leverage with a player destined to be around much longer than he is. The same goes for a general manager. If a top goaltending prospect is available in the draft, does Garth Snow take a pass because the franchise only has room for backup types?

The list of “what ifs” goes on and on. Even DiPietro is affected in the sense that he’s keenly aware of the reaction to his contract and, as a competitor, is likely to feel more internal pressure to perform and justify the deal.

There’s simply no escaping the fact that every move the Islanders’ goaltender makes this season — and maybe for many to come – will be judged in the context of his 15-year contract. It’s going to take some getting used for everyone, fans included.

Q. Any touchy moments this season?

A. Rick DiPietro signed a landmark 15-year contract and that’s been a sensitive issue because of some of the negative fan reaction to that kind of long-term obligation by the club. I tried to divorce contract issues from personalities by writing a blog – entitled “The 15 Year Concept” – in which I questioned the whole idea of a 15-year contract for anyone in sports, whether it’s Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron or Rick DiPietro. It creates so many difficult situations for coaches and managers that don’t seem to make sense to me. But because it’s Rick’s contract and fans reacted negatively to him early in the year he took it very personally.

We talked about it and things have been ironed out since then and we’re getting along just fine.

Q. Who can you go to in the lockerroom?

A. Everybody I talk to is highly cooperative. That seems to be the nature of hockey players. Some are a bit more outspoken than others – obviously the captains and alternate captains are very good. Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt are the alternate captains and Alexei Yashin is the captain – he’s been very cooperative – he sought me out at training camp to ask about my background. Jason Blake and Rick DiPietro are some of the better talkers in the lockerroom and a lot of guys up and down the roster beyond them.

Q. How would you describe the Islanders beat?

A. Like any other beat – it’s covering games and practices and all the news generated by the beat. It has a couple of differences. One, because the profile of the team and the team’s attendance has gone way down since the Stanley Cup years in the early 80s I am the only beat writer who travels with the team on the road. Newsday and the Daily News both staff home games, and occasionally the Post and Times will send someone to cover home games.

But basically I am the only one with the Islanders on a daily basis. Even though you would think that would be an ideal situation for a beat writer to have a minimal amount of competition only at home I still feel the responsibility to cover the news in the same competitive way I would on another beat with several competing reporters. I’m still always trying to focus on the heart of the story and any controversial angles that might come up.

In some ways there’s an even greater pressure on me – I have to ask all the tough questions. I don’t get to share that with anybody – even the radio and TV people wait for me to ask the questions, and they feed off those because they don’t want to be in a position of challenging anyone.

Q. What’s the upside to being the only full-time reporter on the beat?

A. Obviously it’s very important to the club to get their side of the story out, so naturally you have a lot of access at almost all times to people you need to talk to in the organization. Also the players – you’re their source of news, so I think it actually helps the relationships because you both need each other equally to get the message out.

Q. Has access in the NHL improved after the lockout?

A. The NHL has always been good for access and cooperation. Even at the height of its popularity in the 80s and into the 90s it was still at best No. 4 among the major sports in America. It’s always been very media friendly and accessible. I don’t know if the lockout has helped that or not. If they’re not desperate for coverage they should be. You see it in attendance problems all over – particularly in the U.S. teams – and the traditionally strong teams are way down. They have to do whatever they can to raise their profiles.

Q. How would you describe Newsday’s hockey readership?

A. A very vocal group of hard-core Islanders fans who care intensely about the team and are upset about they consider years of mismanagement under a variety of owners since John O. Pickett sold the club 15 years ago or so. They’ve been upset with the decline in performance and the increase in ticket prices so you hear a lot from them. However, the numbers on our website show it goes well beyond that and the Islanders are actually very competitive with other winter sports – primarily with the Knicks – readership runs fairly even with basketball during the winter. So there’s widespread readership and because it’s the only pro franchise on Long Island – unless you count Jets training camp – there’s very strong interest here.

Q. What’s your history covering hockey?

A. When I first moved from Phoenix, my first East Coast job was with the Trenton Times, and my first beat was the Philadelphia Flyers – I covered them for two seasons from 1977 to 1979. When I moved to the Bergen Record in the spring of 1979 I found myself covering a number of Islander games and all through the early stages of their first run to the Stanley Cup because they were a big story at that time. Even though we didn’t staff Islander games we attended a lot of them, and covered all the home games on their playoff runs. I traveled to Boston in 80 and saw Clark Gillies pummel Terry O’Reilly, which was a signature moment of their first Cup run. After covering the NFL for 10 years I covered the New York Rangers in 92-93 when they finished last one year before winning the Cup, and then again in 2000-2001 in the middle of a long seven-year absence from the playoffs.

Q. Some American-born writers are not comfortable with the game – what about you?

A. Yes. Surprisingly so in terms of being comfortable recognizing who is doing well and what’s working and what’s not working. I don’t consider myself an absolute expert because I never played the game, so I take extra care talking to people about strategy and what they’re trying to accomplish and really listen to what they’re saying and their opinions. I normally value athletes’ opinions over writers’ opinions in any sport because they are playing but even more so in hockey.

Q. Where do you go for hockey information?

A. I subscribe to TSN hockey report. Every day I go to the headlinehockey.com website for a compilation of hockey stories around the country. Occasionally I like to go to some of the Canadian websites.

Because he’s been around for so long and he’s the gray eminence of hockey writers, I’ve always checked out what Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette has to say. I’ve always loved reading Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated. Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun is an excellent writer I’d forgotten about until recently when I cam across one of his columns – because he left Toronto. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been around forever and probably knows more than any U.S.-based hockey writer and is a very helpful and nice guy. I also read Eric Duhatschek of the Toronto Globe & Mail and E.J. Hradek of espn.com.

Q. Favorite hockey cities on the road?

A. All the Canadian cities. I love being there because it’s the one place a hockey writer can go and be immersed in hockey as the number one sport and nothing else comes first. But some American cities are fun to cover hockey in, including Pittsburgh, and people really care about it in Buffalo. And San Jose, the Shark Tank, is a raucous place. I haven’t been to Detroit this season and won’t get there, but in the past obviously Hockeytown was a good place to see a game. Those are the ones that stick out – and Minnesota – the Wild arena in St. Paul – is a fun place to cover hockey.

Q. What’s more important – being first or being right?

A. Scoops are important. But is it a scoop if it’s wrong? If you’re going to have a scoop you better be right about it. If somebody can prove it’s wrong then all you’ve done is get a headline and stir up discussion and controversy but ultimately you were wrong.

This generally comes up at trade time because general managers have hundreds of conversations with one another and a few of them get out. Sometimes you might be right about a conversation taking place – so I consider that a scoop even if the trade doesn’t go through, because you’re on the right track and have the right principals. But I’ve also been in a situation talking to opposing club officials who knew for certain a particular deal wasn’t going to happen and I wrote it, and that doesn’t get as much attention as the original story saying something might happen. That’s what generate most of the talk – saying something might happen – and why there’s such an emphasis on getting that story. When you get one shooting it down it doesn’t generate as much attention even though it’s correct. I’ve been in situations where I had it correctly before others got off the trade and it just didn’t generate as much attention.

Q. Advice to youngsters trying to break into the business?

A. Any technological expertise you can bring to the business and incorporate into your blogging undoubtedly will help with your exposure. And speaking Spanish would be an excellent tool to have if you want to be a baseball writer. But don’t expect the kind of long careers that my generation has enjoyed because the field is changing at an accelerating pace into something unrecognizable from when I began.

Q. Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin?

A. The one time the Islanders played Washington I took off – so I haven’t seen Ovechkin. But I can’t imagine anyone better than Crosby. In all the years I’ve covered hockey he may be the best skater I’ve ever seen – not a pure scorer but a skater – and creative and clearly the best in the game right now from my perspective.

Q. Toughest NHL player’s name to pronounce?

A. (lol) There’s a guy on the Flyers named Afanasenkov. Afinogenov in Buffalo is fine. But Afanasenkov in Philly throws me.

Q. What do you do in that case?

A. I know their first name. Always use their first name. In this case – Dmitry.

Q. Is Miroslav Satan evil?

A. It’s Sa-TAN. (rhymes with baton). Like Franken-STEEN!

He’s very nice.

Greg Logan excerpted from Newsday.com, January 9. 2007:

GOALTENDER FOR LIFE: As much as Rick DiPietro might argue otherwise, it appeared to take some time for him to get used to the attention generated by his 15-year contract. Two of his three starts were rough on the opening road trip as he tried to play through a groin injury, and he was booed at home for a series of giveaways in a home loss to Atlanta. But he has gotten better and better, and for the most part, the communication between DiPietro and the defense has improved. His back-to-back shutouts against Columbus and the Rangers around Christmas were the high point, and he pretty much got robbed in the shutout losses that followed at Ottawa and home against the Devils.

When DiPietro minimizes the distractions – that is to say, when he doesn’t get caught fighting for the puck behind the net, doesn’t get caught up arguing with the referees and doesn’t get upset with the defensive breakdowns in front of him – he’s tough to beat. If his emotions sometimes get the best of him, they also are the source of the resilience he’s shown on a number of occasions this season.

But just as backup goaltender Mike Dunham stole two points at Anaheim on that opening trip and steadied the ship until DiPietro recovered from his injury, the Islanders need DiPietro to steady them now and maybe steal a game or two until they start finding the net again. If DiPietro maintains the same consistency he’s achieved lately and Snow can add a little more scoring to the lineup, they may yet finish this season in surprising fashion.

(SMG thanks Greg Logan for his cooperation)

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