A plea for Sam Carchidi to become a better hockey writer

We don't make it our business to routinely rip on other writers. After all, we're not perfect. We make mistakes, and we understand when others who write about this team make them too.

But we also understand that in running this site, part of our role is to hold people accountable for how they do their very public jobs, whether it's a general manager, a player, a coach or another writer.

And when a writer covers this team for the largest daily publication in Philadelphia, effectively making him the most-read Flyers voice in the media, it becomes almost necessary for certain issues to be pointed out. Consider it peer review, if you will (although many of the mainstream types wouldn't consider us their peers, that's a topic for another day).

We're talking about Philadelphia Inquirer Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi, of course. He's been the Flyers writer at that paper for the last two seasons after taking over for Tim Panaccio, who left the paper for CSN Philly.

Over the course of the last year or so, we've obviously read just about all of Carchidi's work. From a simply reporting the facts standpoint, he does his job and he does it pretty well. He's able to do what a reporter does -- report news surrounding the Flyers. Quite honestly, if you have a journalism degree, it's pretty hard to mess that up.

But there have been several instances when Carchidi has displayed unprofessional conduct and, perhaps even worse, flat out ignorance about the game of hockey. For a beat writer covering an NHL team at one of the largest papers in the country, some of Carchidi's conduct is absolutely unacceptable.

The easy criticism dates back to the whole Mike Richards versus the media mess that flared up back in January.

There's no doubt that a rift between the captain and the media is an issue that should be hashed out between these two parties. Carchidi, in my opinion, was right to have brought up Richards' comments in a Hockey News article that called out the local media.

But when Richards was asked, and when he subsequently gave his reasoning for why he made those comments, Carchidi didn't like his response. He acted like a child, interrupting Richards in mid-sentence, saying things like "you're making that up." It was all very junior high. Very personal. Very inappropriate.

It became even worse when Carchidi, acting like a child once again, titled a blog post "Captain whine rips the media." His editors later changed that title, but the damage was already done. In it, he outlined how Richards "went on the offensive" during the media scrum in question, despite the fact that one glimpse at the transcript shows the Flyers captain clearly on the defensive.

The next day, Carchidi would inexplicably bring the episode up again, calling it "Captaingate" in a completely unrelated story about Ray Emery. More immaturity and more bias from a supposedly-objective news man.

Our own Geoff Detweiler criticized Carchidi's handling of that feud, pointing out how obvious it was that Carchidi has a bit of a personal vendetta against the Flyers captain.

Carchidi's article was written very defensively, mostly sounding like a ten-year old explaining to their mom why the new pair of jeans they just got were already ripped and stained - something out of his control happened and he just had to step in to defend a young maid's honor.

He injected himself into the story, essentially making himself part of the topic at hand. If there's one cardinal sin in journalism besides plagiarism, it's that you should never make yourself the story. Carchidi did just that back in January.

This sort of behavior is expected of immature writers who don't understand journalism, like those at Bleacher Report, for example. Then again, with Philly.com's new-found partnership with that site, blurring the lines between supposed real journalists and childish, irresponsible ones doesn't seem like such a big deal.

But we don't bring this subject up in the dog days of summer because we feel like hashing up a six month old issue. Instead, we've been set off by more recent issues we've had with Carchidi that have boiled over.

I'm going on vacation next week. Actually, starting tomorrow I'll be gone for seven days, effectively putting myself as far off the grid as a Blackberry owner can be. My point in mentioning this is that it's fine for someone who makes their living writing about hockey to go on vacation. It's fine for anybody to go on vacation, of course, for that matter. Panaccio has been on vacation lately, Bob McKenzie is taking a month off last I read, etc. 

But I, nor any of these writers, would think of taking a day off on one of the biggest hockey news days of the year. Carchidi did just that this July 1, spending the height of free agency on the beach in Ocean City.

Just getting back from long walk on OC beach and see Jody Shelley has signed 3-yr deal w #Flyers.3:18 PM, Jul 1 via UberTwitter

 

Carchidi was on Twitter throughout the day and he did write a story for the July 2 paper, so it's not as if he was actually on vacation. But I'll tell you this, as a guy who does this for a living and gets paid a hell of a lot less than the beat writer from the Inquirer: I didn't leave my desk from about 11 AM to about 8 PM on July 1. I don't say that for self-congratulations, either, because it should be expected that every hockey writer on the continent is bogged down to a desk on July 1.

It was non-stop mayhem that day, as it is every year. And Sam Carchidi spent it strolling the sand at the Jersey Shore. How that's possibly acceptable is beyond understanding.

But ultimately, I guess, if his editors are fine with it and he gets his story written, it doesn't matter where he writes it. It doesn't matter if he put himself seriously behind the news cycle because of his mini-vacation, and it doesn't matter if as a result, his sense of the way the story broke and went down is clouded.

The most egregious error a hockey writer can make, though, is simply not understanding the sport. I don't admit to being an expert on every advanced hockey statistic on the planet, but I do try my hardest to understand them all and incorporate them into my writing. When it comes to basic stats, though, I do understand those, as does every hockey writer worth his or her salt. 

Carchidi, however, doesn't understand the basic flaws around the overused plus/minus stat. Timo Seppa at Puck Prospectus outlined them well in a February 2009 article. It's a lengthy piece that isn't done justice by block quoting, so I'd urge you to click over and read it if you haven't in the past.

But if you don't want to, all you have to do is look at the Flyers stat sheet from this past season to show that plus/minus is a pretty bad stat. First off, as a team, the Flyers had a negative 5-on-5 goal differential this year. They went to the Cup Finals, if you recall. Also: Jeff Carter? A plus-two. Dan Carcillo? A plus-five. You get the point.

Despite these numbers and the "six reasons plus/minus is fatally flawed" that Seppa outlines, Carchidi still insists on making blanket claims like this:

Zherdev said today he is a better defensive player now than in his earlier NHL stint. The proof will be in his plus/minus numbers. #Flyers4:11 PM, Jul 14 via UberTwitter

 

We're not talking about an average hockey fan being deceived by the overuse of the plus/minus stat here. We're talking about the beat writer who covers the team at the largest paper in the city. It's his journalistic responsibility to at least attempt to understand the flaws in the statistics he's citing, as other writers covering this team have done.

It gets worse, though, and Carchidi inadvertently wound up bringing this whole thing full circle. Dustin Leed, a writer over at The Hockey Guys, tried subtly pointing out to Carchidi the flaws in plus/minus by citing Mike Richards' numbers from last season. Richards, of course, is regarded as one of the best defensive forwards in the league and was a finalist for the Selke Trophy just a year ago.

Carchidi's response framed his hardheadedness on this topic, and it also reared the ugly head of his apparent disdain for the Flyers captain.

@HockeyGuy_DLEED Richards didn't exactly have an all-star season.4:34 PM, Jul 14 via UberTwitter

 

And there they are: all the reasons why Sam Carchidi needs to improve as a hockey writer summed up into one, simple tweet.

We try to be as fair as possible in what we write around here, and we also try to give people -- whether it be a player, an executive, a fan or a member of the media -- the benefit of the doubt when warranted. We've certainly criticized writers before and we'll probably wind up doing it again in the future, but we always want to give those criticized a chance to respond. 

Ask Anthony SanFilippo or Sarah Baicker how fair we are in our interactions with members of the mainstream media who cover this team (granted, we've never harshly criticized either of them, but nevertheless). If Carchidi feels he was treated unfairly in this article, he knows where to reach us and we'll be sure to give him a forum to voice his own defense.

Our writing this isn't because we personally dislike Sam Carchidi. He's probably a great guy and a real pleasure to go out and have a beer with, or something. We're writing this because as the beat writer at the largest paper in the city, he simply needs to be better.

He needs to understand that when he cites a stat like plus/minus, he's automatically leading people to the wrong information. He needs to be able to let go of personal issues he may have with a player, because otherwise his judgment becomes a lot less than objective. He needs to know that July 1 is a day that his readers need him in front of a computer screen and a cell phone, not the counter at Mack & Manco's.

If Carchidi can improve, then the 300,000 people who read the Inquirer in print and the thousands more who read it online every day will be sufficiently served when it comes to hockey coverage.

Until then, that just isn't happening.

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