Interview with Down Goes Brown: The Past, Present, and Future of the NHL and Buffalo Sabres

When I first had the idea to interview Sean McIndoe, I knew it would be a longshot that he would respond. When he was open to the idea it was a huge opportunity for me to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who I have enjoyed reading for years. If I could model my writing after one person in the media, Down Goes Brown would be at the top of the list… well besides the whole being a Maple Leafs fan thing. When you are a writer who is embarking on a non-traditional path for getting into the hockey media you imagine opportunities like this. The upcoming book “The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL: The World’s Most Beautiful Sport, the World’s Most Ridiculous League” will be hitting the shelves on October 30th and we dive into this topic as well as the Buffalo Sabres and much more.

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TCB: For anyone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your writing style and tell the readers a bit about how you got into the hockey media?

Down Goes Brown: “My writing, if I would describe it now as one who covers the entire league… I would start by saying I’m not an insider. I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any stretch either. I think I’m someone who covers the league from the fans perspective. That helps set me apart from most writers because most people in this industry when you are writing about the sport are told that you have to be impartial and you have to leave your fandom at the door. I’ve never completely believed in that. When I write I use a lot of humor and I hope that it comes across as my takes are intelligent or at least defensible, but again It’s all done through the lens of you as a fan. As far as how I got started it was sort of a weird road. I got my degree in journalism way back and I started out doing the traditional thing of working for newspapers. Due to a combination of questioning, if this was something I actually wanted to do as well as not having a ton of people lined up asking me to write for them, I decided to go in a different direction. I got away from media and worked for a software company and eventually, blogs started to pop up which got me back into writing. I always loved the writing, but I didn’t always love the reporting where you have to find sources and cold call only to not get called back. I was the guy who would write the 10-page fantasy football preview for my league even though only 8 people would ever see it so when blogs came around it was a chance for me to do some writing and potentially reach a small audience. I started down that road and it took me a while to get to a hundred people, but eventually, I was able to build my following and it gave me a few opportunities to see some doors open. This led me to a spot at Grantland which was stacked, top to bottom with some of the best writing talent out there. I got to learn a ton from sitting back and watching those people do their thing. From there I was able to do some more freelance and worked for a few sites with good, talented people. This all has helped to further build my audience and to help me do this for a living.”

TCB: I knew some of the background surrounding how you got to where you are now, but it is awesome to hear the whole story. Now as your followers know, you are a Maples Leafs fan, so I have to know if you’re getting worried about the Sabres? I’d love to hear some talk about the Sabres trade for Skinner and your overall impression of the team going into next season.

Down Goes Brown: “In the short term, I’m not that worried about the Sabres. I’m more worried about Bruins and the Lightning at this point. I’ve been saying for years that I’ve been ready for the Sabres to make that next step and it’s made me look foolish at times. There’s a part of me that cannot wait for this to happen because as I’ve said if we get to the point where the Leafs and Sabres are both good at the same time then we’ll have one of the best rivalries in the entire league. The energy in the building when the Leafs come down to Buffalo, even when both teams are terrible is still amazing. It’s been so long since both teams have been good that if we get to a point where these two teams are fighting for the division or meeting in the playoffs it’s going to be crazy. It will give any other rivalry in the league a run for its’ money. However, I am backing off on saying that this is the year that happens because I’m tired of being wrong. I still really like the Jeff Skinner trade. Like most people, my reaction when this deal went down was that this was a great deal for Buffalo and maybe not as great for Carolina. Now, in subsequent after taking time to consider the deal what the Hurricanes did is a bit more defendable than many initially considered it. Everyone knew that Skinner had been on the market for a year. This wasn’t a PK Subban/Taylor Hall situation where we found out that some teams didn’t even know those guys were on the block and admitted they would have given up more. We can assume that this was the best offer that Carolina got for Skinner and they took it now rather than going into the season and rolling the dice that they could get more. I’m starting to see it more clearly now from that point of view, but I still really like the deal for the Sabres. I think this is a chance to acquire some talent at a reasonable price. I’m not sold on Skinner being an elite talent, but he is certainly a guy who can help the Sabres now. The gamble of the deal comes down to if he will resign with Buffalo, but you get better in this league by making smart gambles and the Sabres certainly did that.”

TCB: I totally agree on the Sabres/Maple Leafs rivalry because even at the NHL Draft in Buffalo I was being heckled by Maple Leafs fan who said they would be better at tanking than Buffalo. I would much rather be better at winning in the playoffs. Overall, I love the take on Skinner as well, but we have to transition into more talk on the Atlantic division. As your podcast listeners know, you are the number one source of Senators news so how do you think the entire division will shake out this year?

Down Goes Brown: “I think Tampa is clearly the number one team in the division even as a Leafs fan. I don’t think the Leafs are quite in the same ballpark as the Lightning yet. Boston is an interesting case because I’m not sold on them being an elite, 110-point team this season, but they seem to continue to find a way every year. I see them as the team that the Leafs need to pass in order to prove themselves as a true contender who can erase the past. We all saw what happened when they met in the playoffs last year. The one team I have trouble figuring out is the Panthers because they seem to be between a team that could be in the top tier and make the big three into the big four and a potential playoff miss. They have so many pieces there that on paper they should be right with the Leafs and Bruins. Yet every year there seems to be something coming out of Florida that leaves us scratching our heads. After that, we have this four-team train wreck of Ottawa, Detroit, Montreal, and Buffalo. In theory, none of these teams should be very good, but if I had to pick one team to come out of this group and surprise it would be the Sabres. Again, I don’t want to get suckered into Buffalo. The case could be made for Montreal being improved, but I don’t see them as a serious contender. Detroit desperately needs to take a step back and everyone seems to know that besides them. Finally, Ottawa is a total tire-fire and the last couple of months have been such a mess that the team is much worse on paper before they even make the Karlsson trade. There’s suggestion that this deal could be coming soon so we’re looking at a team who was at the bottom of the league last year that should be significantly worse. Although, I do get nervous when people talk about the Senators as a sure thing for being the worst team in the league. Not because I can defend anything that they have done recently, but because if you look at this league, how can anyone say anything is a sure thing? Look what the Golden Knights, Avalanche and Devils did last season. There have been so many surprises lately that I wouldn’t be shocked if they were not dead last or even somewhat close to being in the playoff race. I think it’s unlikely that they make their way up the standings, but every year we are wrong about a handful of teams. So, that’s the closest I can come to optimism for any Senators fans out there.”

TCB: They could absolutely use a bit of optimism right now in this dark, dark time. Let’s shift over to your book now though considering we’re talking about the current landscape of the NHL and your book dives into the entire history. I did listen to the interview you did with Craig Custance so I have a bit of background on it. Obviously, I preordered the book because you’d be an idiot not to and I would love for you to share why anyone reading should also get their hands on it.

Down Goes Brown: “This is a book that I wanted to do for a while, and when my agent came to me and asked if there was anything I wanted to put together and shop around I got really excited. I wanted to do the history of the NHL from 1917 and until 2018, but not the standard history approach because that has been done and been done far better than I could ever do. Again, I wanted to take the approach of the fans perspective and not just focus on the important stuff, but also the small, weird, mostly forgotten stuff. I have always loved those stories that don’t get talked about until it’s the third period of a game and the color commentator goes off on a tangent about some crazy story no one has ever heard before. In the past, I have written stories about some of these scenarios and the reaction was very positive. There was really a time when players wore earmuffs on the bench because the coach didn’t want them to hear the fans. There was a time where someone threw a chicken on the ice while wearing a cape. There was a time that Mr. Rogers was skating around being named the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This stuff isn’t as important as Wayne Gretzky being traded to LA, but on some level, it is as interesting because it could be something you’ve never heard before. The book covers everything, including the big stuff. It is a nice mix of the crazy stories and big events that shaped hockey which I believe people will really enjoy reading. The hardcore hockey fans may learn a few more things they never knew while the new fan to the game can get a wide scope of information and not feel like they are reading a textbook. They can learn something that the know-it-all hockey fan at the cubical over doesn’t know and win an argument with them for once.”

TCB: I am so excited for October 30th when I can get my hands on it. Besides the past, one question I have asked all my guests so far is if there is one thing that they would like to change about the league going forward? It can be a rule change or something that you think would help grow the game around the world.

Down Goes Brown: “I think anyone who has followed me up to this point would know that I have no shortage of ideas to help change the game. I would love to change the “loser point”. I would also love to change the length of overtime to get rid of more shootouts because I don’t love them as a way to determine the outcome of a game. One time at Grantland they made the mistake of asking me this question and I believe I wrote around 3,000 words in a multi-part series. If I could just pick one thing from this list, it would be something that many people don’t agree with. I would just make the nets bigger…a couple of inches all around. As a fan, you would not be able to detect the difference. I think that with the level of skill we have with some of these forwards you would be able to give them just enough room to shoot at that we could increase the level of scoring and scoring chances all around. It would help to get fans on their feet who are anticipating a chance at a goal which otherwise would be taken away under the current net size. These days, if anyone skates over the blueline and rips a shot past a goalie than we blame the goalie and it’s considered a bad goal. The goalies have learned how to cut down the angle perfectly and this has taken away a lot of goals and excitement. Many people hear this idea and have a visceral reaction because they say the nets have to be a certain size because that’s the way it’s always been. I’ve never understood this argument because over the course of history we’ve moved the blue-lines, we’ve moved the goal-lines, we’ve changed the width of the ice surface and many more things that have altered the game. Yet, the 4’x6’ size of the goal seems to be the one dimension that is off the table. Over the course of history, we have gone from giving the shooter a ton of space to put the puck to now where they have almost nothing to shoot at.”

TCB: I know we are running short on time because I know you have another commitment to get to and being as Biscuits: A Hockey Podcast is over, I was really hoping we would get a chance to talk about the Sedin’s and maybe any last sign-off words for those reading who enjoyed the podcast as much as I did.

Down Goes Brown: “You know I had such a great Sedin’s take for you and it does look like we are going to run out of time here. Obviously, I am super thrilled for Dave Lozo (@davelozo) who is moving on to ESPN. I am also super bummed the podcast is not going to continue in the same form, but I do not know what will become of the podcast as that is a Vice Sports decision. Having the chance to do the show with Dave for a couple of years was fantastic and I had a ton of fun, but I can’t believe he left before we had the chance to do our big Sedin’s spectacle that we had worked all those years towards. They were going to fly in, there was going to be music and Dave had to leave before it could get done.”

TCB: It was one of my favorite podcasts and it’s sad to see it go, but I’m sure both of you guys will continue to pump out great content and hopefully we will get a chance to hear that Sedin’s rap someday. The last thing I always ask is if there is any advice you want to give to anyone who is trying to get into the hockey media.

Down Goes Brown: “Anyone who is trying to get into the hockey media in the non-traditional way that I did, my only advice is to make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. No matter what media you are using and no matter what the size of your audience is, as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing then you are all set. If you want to turn that passion into a real job, and I get asked about this often, then I will give you my number one piece of advice which many do not like. From my own experience, the number one thing you have to do is be really, really lucky. You have to be in the right place at the right time not just once, but many times. You have to have people who willing to help you out for no reason other than they are nice people who decided to help. These people have to be willing to give you a boost when they are under no obligation. I look back and can pinpoint a few different places where I was so lucky to have a person mention my name when they had no reason to. If some of those situations had not happened I may not be here now. I wish I could tell you “work hard and it’ll happen”. You do have to work hard, and you do have to have talent, but you also need to be lucky. My advice to everyone is to focus on the fun of writing about hockey and take any opportunities you get.”

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As you can imagine this advice is something that spoke directly to me as well as others at The Charging Buffalo. Some opportunities have already come for some members of the team, while others are hopefully on the horizon. Having a chance to talk to one of those members of the media who is willing to help without any obligation and offer his time is why I respect Sean as much as I do. If you do not currently read his work, then it’s not too late to catch up on the highlights or jump in on his newest book.

Catch up on his greatest hits: The Best of Down Goes Brown: Greatest Hits and Brand New Classics-to-Be from Hockey’s Most Hilarious Blog

Collaboration Work: The 100 Greatest Players In NHL History (And Other Stuff): An Arbitrary Collection of Arbitrary Lists

Pre-order the next book: The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL: The World’s Most Beautiful Sport, the World’s Most Ridiculous League

Where you can find all of his current work: http://www.downgoesbrown.com/

Twitter: @DownGoesBrown

…. And I think he forgot to mention his book titling style of 10 plus words!

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