Edmonton's latest in a long line of extremely talented but troubled defensemen, (Sheldon Souray's injury and personal issues, Joni Pitkanen's perceived effort and locker room issues) Ryan Whitney, has been getting a bit of a mixed reaction in the Edmonton press since his arrival. I'll start with the bad. Robin Brownlee of Oilers nation wrote an article on Whitney's foot injuries the other day. I link to it out of common courtesy as I'll reference it, but I don't recommend reading it. Brownlee wades into the world of Yellow Journalism by writing all kinds of overtures about Whitney's health and purposefully throwing a scare into Oiler fans over what is essentially, not news.
The money quote from the article came from Whitney when asked about his feet or his health we can presume, though Brownlee never gives specific context to the answer:
"The left foot is just great, the one I had surgery on. I'm just kind of battling a little bit with the right one right now. It's just kind of about figuring out what's going to work and what's best for me and how to feel healthy again. That's half the battle of playing well. I think it's just something I was kind of born with."
Even though Brownlee writes that Whitney never said he's going to need surgery or that he will miss playing time, Brownlee says that this statement "sent a shiver down my spine" it made him "nervous", it "gave him pause" and is "something to keep an eye on". The nervous shivers weren't enough for Brownlee to check into the situation, no, he had to run home and put a post at Oilers Nation about it. Brownlee writes:
I haven't asked the Oilers medical staff about that. Likewise, I don't know if the Oilers shipped Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim for Whitney knowing about the condition or not.
So a guy that prides himself on access rather than any sort of analysis at all has what he thinks is a hot story and...doesn't use the access for anything. For a guy that continually bashes the Oilogosphere for their lack of access to the Oilers, you would think that the guy that's neck deep in that access would ask the question.
Even though the problem's not bad enough to consider surgery or even miss a game and he never followed up with anyone to figure out what's actually going on, Brownlee decides to play scaremonger with this non-statement, the very definition of Yellow Journalism. Well, at least Oiler fans can count on a shivering, nervous Brownlee to pause and keep an eye on the situation from afar via speculation.
In an actual piece of real and impactful journalism, The Battle of California's Earl Sleek looked into Whitney's struggles this year and found something really interesting. I'll throw it over to Sleek:
For a one month stretch, from December 29 through January 27, Whitney played 16 games, had zero points, and was a minus-13. If you can find a way to explain away those 16 games, Whitney's numbers suddenly look very impressive: 46 games played, 28 points (13 on the power play), and a plus-seven.
Sleek searches for answers and has a microstat breakdown as well. It's an excellent piece and a fantastic bit of stats work that we've come to expect from digital journalism. Read the whole piece, it's well worth it, but unfortunately doesn't find an answer for what happened in January.
For a less statistically intensive look at Whitney, David Staples at the Cult of Hockey took to the phones and found a couple of scouting reports on Ryan Whitney from Willian DePaoli, writer for Inside Pittsburgh Sports.com and with Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. DePaoli, on Whitney's weaknesses:
He's not very strong in his own end. Has good positioning, uses poke check well but is not physical and struggles clearing the front of the net despite his size. His best season defensively came in 2006-2007 when he was paired with Brooks Orpik, who is a physical presence. He needs to play with a physical defenseman.
Anderson on Whitney's strengths:
Ryan Whitney is mobile with good skating and puck-handling skills, someone who can work the point on the power play. He's a smart guy who plays best when his confidence is high. In the locker room, he is a sports nut who can get interesting and lively discussions going.
Again, this is just a great piece and excellent legwork by Staples and a must-read. These two pieces give a very complete picture of Whitney.