Hockey legend Igor Larionov captured the hockey news cycle on Monday with a provocative article in the Players Tribune. Larionov’s thesis is that coaches are so stuck on hockey orthodoxy or so fearful of risk that they stifle and select against “creative” players.
The pullquote: “There’s a reason why Pavel Datsyuk went undrafted in 1996 and 1997.”
I’m skeptical about that example, but I think Larionov is spot-on about conservative coaching in general. We see it in all sports, but hockey seems to have a particularly pernicious strain of Goodoldboysclubitis, wherein exciting, finesse players are considered too “European” and risky, and safe and pedestrian players are wildly overvalued. I suspect that disease is behind symptoms like Top-line Beagle.
It’s a chronic infection that takes the form of valuing of a player’s characteristics over his actual effectiveness. Adding hard-working, “spark”-y Jay Beagle to the Capitals scoring line despite an embarrassingly convincing body of evidence that he actually hinders scoring– that’s an acute case.
If the point of hockey is to win games, why do so many people care more about a player’s description than a player’s production? The only answer is Goodoldboysclubitis.
We’ve seen it create necrotized flesh on the Philadelphia blue line after an injection of Andrew MacDonald, and in coming years we will see similar morbidity with the addition of Brooks Orpik in Washington.
“The effect is not going to be in goals and assists,” Brian MacLellan said in July. “It’s going to be in culture and winning and attitude, and that’s what Brooks Orpik does.”
That quote, likely uttered in the throes of a Goodoldboysclubitis fever, sums up the affliction perfectly. It’s like the brain is not able to separate the ways we talk about players (“gritty,” “hard-working,” “last name is also a breed of dog”) from the things those players do to actually help win games.
The teams who can rid themselves of the disease are the ones who do best in this league.
The only cure is information. Let’s do the snapshot.