We have reached the point in the off-season where there is very little hockey news to cover. While some have resorted to going outside and enjoying their summer, I continue to press on with my series of interviews. One of my favorite Twitter follows is Pete Blackburn who seems to send out NHL gifs faster than they occur. He is not afraid to speak his mind and poke-fun at the expense of all 31 NHL fanbases. His feelings towards the 716 were talked about in our interview which may be the highlight of the piece.
Pete is currently writing for CBS Sports where he does more than just hockey writing. He also is a host of the hilarious Brunch Podcast which has eclipsed the 250-episode mark. Keeping his podcasting background in mind, our conversation was done podcast-style in a live interview so without further introduction let’s dive in!
TCB: I’ll open the floor to you, anything you want to mention about how you got into hockey media, your style of writing, and the Brunch podcast?
Pete: “Well first off, I wouldn’t say I’m in hockey media. I feel I’m more general, but with a focus on hockey as my passion. I wouldn’t put myself in the likes of Bob McKenzie or Greg Wyshynski who are totally in that hockey sphere. I’m more in the hockey community rather than the hockey media. I started by doing a blog while I was in college and I kept up with it every day while I was in college which led to my first job after college running a start-up blog, and then I got a job with Uproxx.
I would say that every job I’ve gotten came because of Twitter or people I met on Twitter or just people who liked my stuff on Twitter. It is the most valuable tool I have, but in the past couple of years I’ve taken a focus on not just being the ‘Twitter guy’ and rather building my work off of it.”
TCB: I’ve always wondered about how Brunch got started. Had you always known D.J. Bean, how did the podcast get started?
Pete: “Speaking of every opportunity I had coming from Twitter, D.J. got a radio show on WEEI in Boston about the Bruins and hockey and he was looking for a co-host. Initially, I was brought on as the digital correspondent and would run the live chat during the weekend shows. It was a really cool opportunity and he offered it to me in part because he liked my Twitter and the way I live-tweeted Bruins games and stuff like that.
Once we started doing that show we got to know each other more and I became the third host of the show which led to us finding out we have similar interests outside of hockey. We would be texting on a daily basis about all of that stuff and one day he said, “alright we should turn this text chain into a podcast.” I was already doing a podcast with Jared Carrabis of Barstool Sports, we were doing a Red Sox podcast, so I was comfortable with them. Now it’s the only one I do, and I have so much fun with it. It’s an absolute mess and I love it. It’s all over the place, but it’s basically all of our common interests outside of sports and hockey.”
TCB: When I first started to listen I didn’t know what to expect. You would be talking about movies I’d never heard of, but it was always hilarious.
Pete: “The biggest feedback that both of us get from Brunch is ‘Oh, you’re both hockey writers or sports writers and I assumed it would be a sports podcast’ and either say “I couldn’t be happier to be wrong” or “thought it was sports tuned in, not for me” and both of those are completely fair takeaways”
TCB: Speaking of your Twitter fame leading you to many places the next topic I wanted to touch on was some comments you have made throwing hate at Buffalo. The first one I have here is “I would tell Buffalo to go to hell but, well, you know” which is an expression I have heard used elsewhere for sure, such as on Biscuits: a Hockey Podcast, but still would love to hear more about what inspired this tweet.
Pete: “There are so many hockey markets that could be considered “Hell” though. We can talk about Canadian markets like fucking Winnipeg and I’m not convinced that Winnipeg is any better than Buffalo as far as a place to live or things like that. I mean we talked before we even started about how much I hate Tampa and that area. I think that area stinks.
I love messing with Buffalo because people from Buffalo are proud to be from Buffalo and they love the city. They will go to war for the city and that’s something that I respect. But, I also love to troll so anytime I say anything about Buffalo being a shitty market or a shitty place to live I fully expect the city of Buffalo to get pissed and come back at me and I think that’s half the fun. That’s why I mess with them so much.”
TCB: The second one was way more of people coming back at you and I thought it was really, really, funny. The tweet was “Just saw a “Make Buffalo Great Again” sign, which is funny because it suggests Buffalo once was great” and people were bringing back stuff from the ‘20’s.
Pete: “Oh, that was the funniest thing. So that was an NHL Draft tweet and I sent it during the NHL Draft and it was a 100% hockey related tweet or at least sports related, and all of these people came back with completely non-sports related Buffalo accolated like “You ever heard of the great Buffalo trade market of the 1920’s?”. I was like actually fucking no because I’m not a nerd and that was not what I was referring to at all. I actually really like the people of Buffalo whenever something like that happens because they won’t get nasty. They’ll get defensive but be polite about it and say things like “Come to Buffalo, it’s gotten so much better over the past five years” and I will say I haven’t been to Buffalo in probably a decade and I’ve heard it’s gotten a lot nicer.
Nothing I say about Buffalo should be taken as gospel or as a legitimate insult because I haven’t been there. It’s mainly just to mess with people and I do the same thing to Canada during international tournaments. Every World Juniors Tournament if USA beats Canada I’ll tweet that Canada sucks at hockey now and get replies like “Well why don’t you beat us in a real tournament?”
TCB: And they are the ones who care the most about the World Juniors.
Pete: When they lose it’s “Beat us in a real tournament” and when they win it’s “Canada is amazing, and the future of Canadian hockey is so bright”
TCB: It’s always one of my favorite times to be on Twitter.
Pete: “Another thing about Buffalo that’s cool is you see all the TV ratings for playoff games that NBCSN will tweet and Buffalo is always in the top two or three regardless of the Sabres having an absolute dogshit team. Which is a credit to the fans because they love hockey and I appreciate that.”
TCB: Yeah, well there’s really not a ton to do in Buffalo so that also could be why. But let’s get into the Sabres more. How do you rate the off-season moves, we can start with the Sheary trade?
Pete: “I thought it was a pretty good acquisition I mean neither one of the guys they got in the deal will blow the doors off, but it’s a solid pickup for now while they are trying to build and improve the roster without having to give up much. The Penguins basically did this deal as a cap dump and turned around to use the money on Jack Johnson which was an unbelievably stupid move. So, I thought it was fine, Sheary is a guy who benefited from playing with Sidney Crosby, but I don’t think he’s a bad player. Anytime you can get a guy like that on the cheap in terms of what assets you’re sending back I think it’s a good move.”
TCB: Do you have any thoughts on the Carter Hutton signing?
Pete: “I guess I haven’t watched enough Carter Hutton to form a strong opinion on him, but he’s one of those guys I’m sceptical of until he proves himself over a longer period of time. I’m very, very sceptical of goalies. But the contract is not the biggest risk in the world and I don’t think the Sabres are going to be true contenders in that time frame. I like how they project for the future, but in the next three years I don’t see them as contenders.”
TCB: Lastly, the big offseason move the Sabres made by trading Ryan O’Reilly. I feel like I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum on the deal. From the Sabres won big time to they are so stupid for taking this deal and moving ROR.
Pete: “I don’t think that they’re stupid. Could O’Reilly help them now? Sure, but you’re already set down the middle with Eichel and Mittelstadt. That’s your future. If you can flip him and save the money while acquiring future assets than I think that they did okay in terms of what was coming back. You took on a couple of bad contracts, but again it’s a team that can afford to take these deals because they are not going to be true contenders these next couple of years.
I don’t have a problem taking a couple problem contracts if it means that you get valuable assets in addition to that. You’re probably getting a late 1st rounder and a late 2nd rounder and first and second round picks no matter where they are, have the potential to bring pretty high value. Getting two of those is a nice haul along with Tage Thompson. I like him and he’s a big body who maybe didn’t have the best first year. He’s still young enough and I haven’t seen enough to say he’s a bust. I think a change of scenery could benefit him. Anytime you can get all of these pieces for a guy who is somewhat expendable in the organization it makes for a good deal for both sides.”
TCB: It will differently depend on how the contract for O’Reilly ends up. He’s at $7.5million for the next 5 seasons which would bring him to 32-33 years old when it ends. It’s not terrible, but it will be interesting to see how the ageing curve will work with him and his style of play which lends itself to a faster decline.
Pete: “That is a lot of money and a lot of term still left on the deal. There are two ways to look at that, one being there is a lot of term so the Sabres could be competitive with O’Reilly still under contract. But do you want to hold on to him through the entirety of that deal when you can get future assets in bulk for him at a position where the Sabres have others on the rise at center?”
TCB: With these off-season deals in mind, where do you see the Sabres fitting in your early predictions for the 2018-2019 season. I still see the potential for trades to be made with so many fringe NHL defenders, but as of now where do they sit in your standings?
Pete: When you look at the Atlantic it is very top heavy and there are maybe three of the top five teams in the league heading into next year. Which God bless every other team in the division having the play the Bruins, Lightning, and Leafs all those times next year. I really don’t think the Sabres are ready and the next couple of years are going to be super important in terms of developing that roster and those stars. I think you can see the core take shape with Eichel, Mittelstadt, and Dahlin and it will be important for them to build together.
We saw this with the Leafs where they turned it around pretty quickly with a young core. It was a lot faster than we expected them too. I think that over the next couple of years I don’t expect the Sabres to make a ton of noise, but I do think that they can sort of fast track into being better than we expected without being a true contender.
TCB: I agree, and some people think with the bottom of the division being so bad it can counteract how top heavy the division is. But I really don’t think the Sabres are any better than Florida at this point.
Pete: “I would say the Sabres are ahead of Ottawa and Montreal. I like the team going forward more than the Red Wings. They have a chance to make a little bit of a statement without making too much noise.”
TCB: Alright well next we can shift to the entire league. If you were set in charge of growing the NHL brand what changes would you make to the league?
Pete: “It feels like this league stands in its’ way so much. Even in terms of playoff scheduling where they don’t stager games and how the channel situation has been so weird. They don’t make themselves visible enough and another big part of that and something I have been saying for a long time is how they don’t market individual stars enough. They do not encourage individuality enough and I think that really holds the game back. Especially when you look at the NBA and there are massive stars who play a sizable percentage of the game. Even the best players in the NHL only play a quarter or one-third of the game.
There are defiantly different dynamics in the sport, but the fact that a casual sports fan couldn’t name or identify a handful of hockey stars when right now we are living in a time where there are so many stars in the NHL is a problem. There are guys on the older side like Crosby or Ovechkin or Kane who have name and face recognition, but also there is a very young wave of guys coming right now like McDavid and Matthews. The fact that casual fans don’t know those guys is a disappointment and a waste. I would like to see the league market one to one matchups more. I would like to see them put players in front of the spotlight more and allow them to be individuals and creative. I know that the culture of the sport doesn’t really lend itself to that. These guys are bred to be team first and “it’s not about me but the whole” and I like that about hockey. It is the best team sport of the four major sports.
That being said I like rooting for individuals and guys like P.K. Subban who knows how to be a team player, but also grow his own brand and be his own superstar. There is room for both and I wish the league would help facilitate and encourage that more than they do because it would help grow the game.”
TCB: I agree with that. It feels like the league does not know how to cater to the younger fans. A lot of their marketing efforts have a very old school mentality.
Pete: “I think one of the things that is giving a bit of promise is Adidas and how they are snatching up a lot of stars. I’ve talked to a couple of Adidas’s executives and one thing that they consistently have told me is that they are putting an emphasis on trying to grow the individual brand of these players which makes sense for both sides.”
TCB: Before we move on is there anyone other rule change you would make to the league in general?
Pete: “I would change the offsides reviews, they drive me crazy. I like getting the call right and think that the NHL should be trying to get the call right, but when it comes down to lengthy reviews where we are analyzing an off-sides call frame by frame it doesn’t work. The off-sides rule should be used to prevent cherry-picking or illegal advantages on the rush so I don’t like it when they make it this microscopic investigation using things that don’t affect the outcome of the play.
The ones that drive me nuts are the ones where there is a slight infraction on the zone entry and play has been established for maybe 15 seconds and then the goal is scored. There needs to be an adjustment where we eliminate these frame by frame analysis and calls where we have already established possession in the zone for a certain amount of time. Once in the zone for maybe 10 seconds the situation of how the team entered is null and void. It can kill the momentum of the game and I really hate seeing goals taken away by a miniscule infraction.”
TCB: I agree and as Robin Lehner would tell you, all the calls go against the Sabres. But alright, let’s get to the last talking point now. Do you have any advice for those entering into sports media which I know you touched on already and just plug yourself and where people can find your work?
Pete: “One piece of advice I give to anyone in sports media is getting hands-on experience. There is no excuse for an aspiring writer who is passionate about a subject to say “I don’t have a place to showcase my work”. It is so easy to start a blog or website and there are so many tools online to help get you started. You don’t have to be an expert if you want to write and it can be for a small audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s for an audience of none. I wrote for a tiny ass audience of maybe 10 people and my mom and getting that experience from those reps helped me grow as a writer and find my voice. Those first years of me working on finding myself as a writer would not have been possible if I wrote for an established outlet. Being able to have my own creative freedom was huge for me so if you want to be a writer or a podcaster just go out and do it.”
There is a bit more of the conversation, but I felt this was the perfect line to end on. Pete was incredibly generous with his time giving me over 40 minutes of the recorded interview as well as a lengthy conversation before we started and some side-tangents which were not included. If you do not follow Pete Blackburn yet than I strongly encourage it.
I also will give a personal recommendation for Brunch. With many hockey podcasts taking a summer vacation you should fill the void with Brunch! I have been a listener since the start of Season 3 and I make time for it every Monday and Thursday when new episodes generally go live. The “Bad Boys of Podcasting” never disappoint to give hilarious takes and great pop-culture recommendations.