Site Update: Regime Change for On The Forecheck

After nearly 9 years and over 5,000 posts, it's time for me to step down from running On The Forecheck.

Developing this site has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I've ever had, but all good things must come to an end, and going forward Jason Zito & Jon Garcia will take over as your OTF ringmasters. They bring fresh energy and some wonderful ideas to their new role, and I feel confident that this site will rise to another level under their leadership. While I've got your attention, make sure to give the new official site Twitter feed a follow:

As to why I'm walking away, I'm simply out of gas, having written online about hockey since the mid-90's. It's been a feeling of obligation rather than desire which has compelled me to post articles here lately, and when this becomes more like a chore than a hobby that's not good for anybody. If I'm not motivated, the quality of the material dips, and I know I've slacked off in a number of areas over the last couple years, which has allowed our standards to slip a bit. You have my apologies for that, because you deserve better.

Thankfully, there are lots of folks around town who are meeting the information needs of Predators fans for these days, far more than there used to be. I initially threw myself into developing this site because I wanted to help grow an informed, meaningful conversation around hockey here in Middle Tennessee, and I take some satisfaction knowing that I have assisted that growth to some extent. Have I rubbed some people the wrong way at times? Certainly, but when that's happened I've tried to support more independent, thoughtfully critical hockey conversation here in town, which means reacting and responding to material written on other sites, not always in a positive manner. In my opinion we don't see nearly enough cross-site conversation or debate here in Nashville, and that's a pity.

A contributing factor to this fatigue is the aftertaste from the 2012-13 NHL Lockout, which still taints the experience of being a fan for me. I can't help but view most of the moves the Predators make through the lens of a business which is simply trying to squeeze more money out of its customers, whether by pushing partial season-ticket holders from 12-game Flex Packs to 15-game packages a year ago, or the relentless stream of propaganda (err... PR) selling the public on the team's prospects for greatness. I know the folks at 501 Broadway are decent people with a job to do, but the lockout laid bare the commercial reality of the situation and led me to question whether this is really worth all the effort. You might remember that during the lockout I launched a short-lived experiment called the Nashville Sports Hub, and when the NHL came back I nearly decided to leave OTF aside and focus on the Hub instead. Unfortunately, we couldn't crank out enough content to get that rocket off the ground, and I pulled the plug, returning to OTF. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if that was the wrong move.

With all that said, I'm stepping back from regular duties here. I reserve the right to post here now & again if the mood strikes and I have something worth sharing, but don't expect to see me around very often, if at all. I'll still come to a few games and follow the action, just not as closely as I have for the last several years. I can't devote the time it takes to properly run this site any more, as it comes at the expense of my family and career. As a middle-aged husband and father of three, I simply don't have the luxury to indulge hour after hour watching all the games, keeping an eye on the social media conversation around the team, and developing my own analysis of what's really going on in Smashville. I'll probably still hawk hockey gear and write at my personal site, but without any set plan or regularity for the time being.

There are so many people to thank for my experience that I know I'm going to miss somebody, but I'll at least give it a shot:

  • First of all, my wife Amy and our kids Haines, Hillary and Harrison, who have had to deal with my "present but absent" status for far too long while I'm watching a game or paying attention to the hockey conversation online.
  • James Mirtle, for inviting me to join the SB Nation network so many years ago, and Paul Kukla for bringing me aboard his site just a few months before. Their validation gave me the motivation to try and make OTF into something worthwhile.
  • Tyler Blezinksi, Travis Hughes and the rest of the SB Nation crew, for crafting the best damn blogging platform on the interwebs, for both creators and readers alike. Both the technical assets and the people who make up SB Nation are world-class, especially the collection of die-hards who run the NHL sites.
  • The long list of writers and moderators we've had on staff here over the years, such as Sam Page, Chris Burton, Marc Torrence, Jason Zito, Jon Garcia, George Scoville, Caroline Davis, Chris Link, Jack Goods, Jeremy Sargent and Bryant Fair. Each of you have made a unique contribution to the coverage and discussion of Nashville Predators hockey in recent years.
  • My fellows in the Preds blogging & social media community, such as Buddy Oakes, Mark Willoughby, AJ in Nashville, Jeremy Gover & Codey Holland, Patten Fuqua, Ryan Porth, Robby Stanley, Amanda DiPaolo, Kris Martel, David Singleton, Paul Nicholson and many, many more. The Predators should bow down and kiss the feet of these people, who have spent countless hours building the local fan base here in a way that the mainstream media simply cannot.
  • The tremendous number of hockey bloggers around the league who have inspired me to elevate our game here over the years, by broadening and deepening what hockey writing can become online. While this list is woefully incomplete, blogs & bloggers who made a particular impact on me include Lowetide, Black Dog Hates Skunks, Tyler Dellow, Kent Wilson, Matt Fenwick, Gabriel Desjardins, Vic Ferrari, Eric Tulsky, Jo Innes, Ellen Etchingham, Jes Golbez, the gang at The Committed Indian, Javageek, Greg Wyshynski, James Gralian, Justine Galo, Gus Katseros, Earl Sleek, Alec Brownscombe, Joe Pelletier, Alan Ryder, Jon Swenson, Lyle Richardson, Eric McErlain and Tom Benjamin. Many of these people have played pivotal roles in advancing the theory and application of hockey analytics, which is currently transforming the management of teams around the NHL.
  • Members of Nashville's professional media who have proven helpful in all manner of different ways over the years, such as Josh Cooper, Jim Diamond, John Glennon, J.R. Lind, Willy Daunic, Jeremy Bennefield, Brent Dougherty, Blaine Bishop, Marc Howard, Paul McCann, Thom Abraham and Matt Segal.
  • Pete Weber, who despite being a Notre Dame grad is about the finest person you could ever hope to meet.
  • Past and present employees of the Nashville Predators who have recognized the value and influence that our community of readers can have, such as Gerry Helper, Sean Henry, Jeff Cogen, Chris Parker, Jessica Jones, Alexis Whitman, and Kevin Wilson.
  • Lastly of course, you the OTF readers, for the amazing, enriching dialogue you've created here. So long, and thanks for all the GIFs./

I'll leave you with a few final thoughts:

If you're a blogger with credentialed access, please try to do something useful and creative with it. Every "[insert Predator here] says [something complimentary] about [teammate/opponent]" banality kills brain cells in both the writer and reader. Do better.

As a fan, enjoy this team on your own terms - some folks are just glad to have a hockey team to cheer for, which is perfectly OK. Others want to see the Predators aspire to win a Stanley Cup, and that's OK, too. The hard part is not letting those disparate attitudes lead to "you're not a real fan" dogfights that serve no positive purpose.

To members of the professional media, it's time to raise the bar a bit, and expect more from both your audience and the team. Go ahead and offer up criticism where it's warranted, and don't take the Predators' self-assessments at face value. Take that next step and dig a level deeper into the details when interviewing coaches and players, just as you would with football. You never know, people might learn something!

For the Nashville Predators, I'll simply ask this - are you just happy to be in the NHL, or do you really want to matter in this league? It's long past time to play the expansion team excuse, and I still don't see any banners hanging at Bridgestone Arena. Yes, you're in a tough division of a tough league, but others have achieved success under similar circumstances. The fans here in Nashville have waited long enough and it's time to deliver some results. Hopefully the Peter Laviolette hiring represents a step in the right direction.

I can think of no better way to wrap things up than with a word from Bilbo Baggins:

Thank you, one and all.