July 26, 2016

Just because you work with someone doesn't mean you have to like them

Here's a reality check: Evander Kane has been known to be an elite hockey player destined for the NHL since he was a young boy. He's had all sorts of coaches, tutors, mentors, and role model figures around him, preparing him for the moment, like most star players. He's chosen to ignore it and, for reasons none of us particularly know, act in public like he's allowed to do whatever he wants.

"Well-paid" shouldn't buy him get out of jail free cards. "Talented" only matters on the ice. "Fun-loving" sounds great, until you wonder how much fun all of his accusers were having if what they've all repeatedly been saying holds true. There's no excuse for selfish, and the portrayal of a "boys will be boys" stubbornness is toxic.
You have two camps in fan bases and media.

The first camp is that athletes should be treated just like anyone else. And if someone at work is having legal problems, and it's public, then they tend to not be around work much. Because people don't want to deal with an accused criminal; they find it uncomfortable and creepy. They see the man and the player as one individual.

The other camp is that athletes aren't human, but are instead sports robots who help their teams win. So it doesn't matter what happens off the ice, so long as the guy can contribute to the winning. Because their team winning is all that matters. They separate the man from the player, because it's convenient.

It seems as if players don't seem to mind when a guy acts less than legally. And that can be due to the fact that the guys doing criminal things don't talk about those things with his teammates. So that'd be understandable. And then there's the teammate aspect - you have to play with the guy, so you overlook some things that maybe you don't agree with if you do know some of the stuff that's going on.

On the other hand, teams and / or teammates defending them in public - once certain things are known publicly, that is - seems like poor judgment to fans that believe the guy should be shunned due to his illicit activities. It's turning a blind eye to someone who children and some adults look up to that perhaps they shouldn't. Trying to ignore there's a problem suggests that you don't think there's a problem with someone being an abuser, rapist, assaulting others, or whatever.

Which isn't to say that they have to come out and say what they think in detail. Acknowledging that this player is a teammate and that you're not going to comment on their personal problems is the most graceful way out, and then moving on from that is best. It's the "I support my teammate 100%, and if he says he didn't do anything wrong then I believe him" stuff that's not the best approach public relations-wise.

Ultimately, the problem isn't that someone like Evander Kane is doing this stuff - although, that is a problem. The problem is that no one's helping him realize it's a problem. It's one thing to make a mistake and then learn from it. But when a guy like him or Patrick Kane are saying they did nothing wrong, and they're still getting arrested for things, and the teams and teammates are backing them up...that's not a pretty picture for the rest of humanity.

And maybe that's because NHLers and the former NHLers now running teams don't understand what the problem actually is. Which is a massively huge problem in and of itself. I mean, how do you not know how to treat fellow human beings on the street? And then also thinking that treating them what the majority of people in both Canada and the US consider badly is okay?

The sad part is that this goes so much deeper than the NHL. The prevailing culture of the NHL is the exact same as what's going on in the minor leagues and the junior leagues. Rookies, desperate to fit in, follow the veteran examples of how to treat people in their teens in junior hockey, presumably unlearning the rules set by their parents, and so it becomes a self-perpetuating problem.

Basically, it's a more civilized version of Lord of the Flies. There are various social theories that generally suggest women are the civilizing factor of humanity - and to some extent, that's probably true. But without women around to help men keep themselves in line, as most sports are men-only clubs that shun women as distractions (among other things), they start to think that some things are okay even when they're not.

The bottom line is, just because a guy is a good teammate and / or an athlete of great ability, that doesn't automatically make him a good person. It's a difference that most people realize and understand, and being a good person matters to a whole lot of humanity. However, in hockey, that doesn't seem to often be the case.

While it's totally understandable that teams want the best players they can get - despite any accompanying baggage - the fact is that the baggage matters, too. And that baggage doesn't seem to be properly addressed, probably because there's this ridiculous assumption that people are adults and they can make their own decisions. Well, if they're constantly making bad decisions, then others need to straighten them out, even if they're adults.

Sign who you want, and play who you want, but at least acknowledge the fact that the fans aren't stupid and admit that there are problems - and that they're actually being addressed. Pretending otherwise when there are police reports floating around just makes you look like a clueless ass. And, trust me, there are plenty of fans who will quit the sport for less than that.

After all, the financial bottom line is selling tickets to games. But when you alienate the fan base by acting stupid or treating them like they're stupid, you won't sell as many tickets. It's really rather sad that the NHL hasn't figured this whole connection between respecting fans and selling tickets thing yet, despite being around for almost 100 years.

And to address something Patrick Kane once said about coming back better to shut up the haters - the reason people hate you has nothing to do with how you play, but what kind of person you appear to be.

July 19, 2016

A tale of two defensemen

We’ve finally reached that point in the post-trade dialog where people are finally comparing players. That took long enough. The outrage over Subban being traded (which vastly outweighs the talk about Weber being traded) had died down enough so that people can get down to cases.

Shea Weber versus PK Subban will be one of those trades that will define both Nashville and Montreal for years to come. Books will be written about it, TV shows will be produced about it, and discussions about it will last for potentially decades. And it’s not all about the caliber of the players involved, either, but the team politics in Montreal.

However, purely from a statistical perspective, Weber and Subban are fairly comparable except in one are: possession. Subban last season had much better possession numbers than Weber did, but Weber had more goals. And you also have to take into consideration that Weber was on a better team.

The issue isn’t actually statistics, though. The issue is actually preference in style of play. And that is also colored by what you might think of the players themselves.

Defensemen are weird in that most people tend to ignore the position – at least until someone makes a mistake. So a lot of people don’t have a great grasp as to what makes a great defenseman. They know what makes a great forward (scoring and playmaking), and they know what makes a good goalie (stopping pucks), but defensemen…?

There really are no statistics specifically for defensemen. Plus-minus comes close, but that’s only for even strength. Corsi, supposedly, is an adjusted plus-minus – but I’m not entirely convinced it’s calculated the right way and it was really intended for goaltending, anyways. I could probably come up with something that’s more suitable and specific to defensemen, but I’m not sure I really want to bother.

In regards to touching the puck and / or possession, that’s all guesswork. I’ve tracked sports statistics before, and while most of the time you catch most things, being human you don’t catch everything. So until the NHL institutes some technology changes, that’s not going to be entirely accurate, either. Especially since home team bias creeps into statistics tracking.

So, essentially, there’s no adequate way to determine how good a defenseman is at his position right now. And because of this, people determine how good a defenseman is in three ways: points, hits, and blocked shots. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Because everyone’s so focused on forwards and scoring, points is the biggest determination of what makes a good defenseman. Almost gone from the NHL is the “stay-at-home” defenseman type of player, who only touched the puck to clear it out of their defensive zone or to keep it in the offensive zone. Bottom pairing guys might still play that way, but that’s why they’re bottom pair guys.

So if you can set up plays (including that crucial first pass out of your own zone), rack up the assists, and score a few goals (might want to work on your shot a bit), then you’re considered a top defenseman. Seriously. That’s all there is to it. You don’t even have to be all that great defensively, which is sad but true. You might turnover the puck a lot in the neutral zone, but all can be forgiven if you consistently score or set up goals. (**cough cough** ...Mike Green.... **cough cough**)

This is almost entirely why both Weber and Subban are considered elite defensemen; they’re both scorers and playmakers.

The difference between them, comes down to hits and blocked shots. Subban might throw the occasional big hit, but Weber does that all the time. And that’s a big reason why some people prefer Weber over Subban. They see hitting as being tough, gritty, and being into the game. Which isn’t true at all, but that’s the perception – and is why some think Weber is better than Subban.

In shot blocking, too, Weber has the edge on Subban. Subban’s not afraid to block shots, but Weber does it more often. That might have been due to the teams each played on – we won’t know that for sure until the next season starts – but that adds to the tough-gritty-leadership perception.

(Random note: I really hate the term "eye-test".)

Weber playing that way, though, shortens his hockey career and slows him down faster. The more physical abuse a guy takes, the shorter his career tends to be. It’s not a perfect correlation, of course, since Chris Chelios played for a very long time and he was a physical player. But generally speaking, if you want to lengthen your hockey career, consistent overly physical play isn’t the way to go about doing that.

Partly because of that, but also because of his size and perhaps his age, Weber isn’t as quick as Subban is. In that way, Subban definitely has the edge. And in today’s NHL, the quicker you are the better. The better teams in the league want fast players, no matter what position they play. Going out of your way to make a hit just for the sake of hitting puts you out of position and often out of the play.

The biggest thing to take into consideration between the two is their age and how long they should play. Weber, as mentioned above, being more physical will likely have a shorter career. And as he’ll be 31 years old when the season starts, he’s looking the downside of his NHL career right in the face. His level of play might not decline significantly for another couple of years, or it could decline this year; you just don’t know.

Subban, however, is only 27. In the NHL, that’s just starting the peak performance years. Well, I think so, anyways. A lot of people seem to think defensemen peak earlier, but I don’t agree. Late 20s to early 30s seems to be when defensemen are the most productive to me. Then again, most are also judging them by the standards they have for forwards, too.

Perhaps if this were the NHL before the last lockout, Weber would be better suited for the NHL than Subban overall. But, again, the better teams of the NHL have gotten where they are partly due to very mobile defensemen who are quick on their feet and can make plays, join the rush, and score goals in their own right. (And play defense well in their own end, too.) Weber just isn’t that mobile, and he isn’t that quick. He’s still a very good defenseman who’s very strong positionally, don’t get me wrong, but skating isn’t what he’s known for.

And, ultimately, foot speed is such a priority for the better teams in the NHL, that that's really the determining factor in this trade. (Age would probably be a close second.) If you can't skate, then the top teams in the league aren't going to want you. Weber might be better than Subban in many areas, but he probably couldn't out-skate Subban.

Try to imagine Weber in Pittsburgh or San Jose or Tampa Bay, and then try to imagine Subban on any of those teams, and then get back to me.

July 15, 2016

Decision making tools should be used to make decisions

The problem with analytics….

So much is being made of the whole Subban-Weber trade fiasco for a number of reasons. One of which is the fact that someone apparently lost their job over this trade. The Montreal Canadiens decided not to renew the contract of an analytics guy, and so the numbers people on Hockey Twitter are all up in arms over this.

Long story short – according to the media the guy did his job, crunched the numbers, and reported his findings to his superior. The numbers were in favor of keeping Subban, of course. But since the numbers didn’t agree with the decision already made by upper management, his contract wasn’t renewed.

Now, this is hardly a new or surprising development – especially within the NHL. However, to be fair, things like this happen in corporate America all the time, too. And they’re equally thought of as stupid in much of corporate America as well.

The problem here is two-fold. One, on the analytics side of things, numbers people tend to think the final numbers produced are gospel. They are an absolute truth, and to not automatically go along with them is folly. So their threshold of what they consider appropriate in this situation is set absurdly high, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

The other side of the problem is general hockey thinking. Numbers do serve a purpose – they’re a good decision-making tool to help people decide upon aspects of the game that can be quantified. How people go about getting these numbers might be flawed, but that still doesn’t mean that the results shouldn’t be seriously considered.

But instead, so-called hockey people seem to focus on “intangibles” – which really ought to be renamed “unquantifiables”. And, quite frankly, most of them have little meaning when it comes to the sport. Being "gritty” doesn’t really mean a damned thing, if you stop to think about it. "Mental toughness", on the other hand, does and in a few different ways.

That’s not to say that those unquantifiables don’t exist or don’t have meaning. It's a fact that people perform better at things when they're happy than when they're unhappy, and while you can capture performance, it's difficult to capture mood along with performance. So sports psychology exists for a reason, after all. The thing is, there are few people who are running teams that are being particularly scientific about player assessment. Heck, some basic critical thinking might even be helpful, and they’re seemingly not doing much of that, either.

What it comes down to on the team management side of things for most teams is really that they like a guy, and they’re trying to justify why they like him. It has nothing to do with his “toughness” (in a physical-fighting sense) or his “grittiness”. It’s all about how they want a player, and they feel like they need to have a reason for why they want that player so that it doesn’t seem like it's an arbitrary decision – when it usually is.

So when general managers and coaches start saying words like that, they sound like they’re clueless about the player. They may be trying to sound intelligent and reasonable – and maybe within the sport itself they do – but to the general fan bases and media, they sound like they have no idea what they’re talking about. They come off as just a bunch of crotchety old men tossing around descriptive words to make them look like they know what they’re doing. Or something.

Now, I’m not a numbers person, so I know that some fancy stat isn’t going to be the end-all be-all of player evaluation. However, even I recognize that they’re useful if taken the right way. If you’re evaluating people, then you take whatever tools are available that make sense – or, you create ones of your own if none of the ones available do. And I’ve done that before in my own job.

The thing is, it’s literally my job to give and / or create decision-making tools so that upper management can better manage their assets. So I have some very specialized experience in this area of business – both with government as well as with private industry. And I’m here to tell you that the NHL does things in a very backward and outdated way. From the outside looking in, at least.

And now everyone but them is noticing that.

I’m not even going to get into the whole “yes-man” thing. An intelligent person surrounds themselves with people who have different perspectives that aren’t afraid to share them. The more views you have available to you, the better your decisions will be. Only someone who’s insecure and / or egotistical rejects opinions that contradict their own. I could go on – and on, and on – but that’s the gist of it.

If the NHL and its member teams were run like a real business – and without the rampant and blatant cronyism or the nepotism – they’d be raking in the money and be incredibly successful. They could easily compare to the NFL in many ways if they broke away from their crumbling so-called traditions, in fact. Doing things “as they’ve always been done” is simply a bad business model, no matter what industry you’re talking about.

Yes, hockey is still a business, but it’s really a very poorly run one by just about any standard in North America.

December 18, 2015

The lack of common human decency in hockey

If I remember, I'll add links later on this post.

So the the latest Hockey Twitter outrage is...on-ice trash talking. Which has been around since pretty much forever, really. With competition comes trash talking - it's just human nature.

However, the point of today's outrage isn't that it happened, but what was mentioned. A former NHLer, Patrick O'Sullivan, has written a book and a blog post for The Players' Tribune (a site produced by former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter) detailing the physical abuse that he suffered at the hands of his father while he was growing up. He mentioned on Twitter yesterday how another player - Alexandre Burrows - tried trash talking him during a game by using his childhood abuse and that's why he didn't like Burrows.

Then, of course, Burrows tried to backtrack by saying that he didn't realize it was so bad, and that "if" it was offensive he was sorry. (I'll give it to him, though - at least he owned up to it.) It's doubtful that he's actually sorry for saying it, since he didn't seem to have a problem saying it in the first place. It's far more likely that he's sorry that it created so much bad publicity for himself. Still, "if" it's offensive is a pretty laughable comment.

Which, naturally, set off the fans, bloggers, and some media about how awful that was that Burrows said that to O'Sullivan - no matter what the circumstances were. And then, to add insult to injury, it came out that an anonymous NHLer was quoted in an article that basically the women in other player's lives are "fair game", while children and pets aren't when it comes to trash talking.

So it's basically a consensus among NHLers that children and pets deserve far more respect than women, generally speaking.

Here's the thing for me: I've known for years that there's no honor nor respect among NHLers. I mean, there's a reason why injury reports are so general that it's almost laughable that they even bother distinguishing between "upper" and "lower" body injuries. It's totally because NHL officials know that if they give out the actual injuries, there will be players trying to take advantage of that information on the ice.

Having been an athlete myself, I know that trash talking isn't about being respectful. It's a tactic used to throw a competitor off his or her game. The entire point is to get into their heads so that they're distracted and not playing at their best. It happens all the time, in every sport, and at every level. And it's particularly bad when people don't teach their children about proper sportsmanship and how to lose gracefully.

I do have a problem with people claiming that it's a part of the hockey "code", however. First of all, there is no "code". It's just a term tossed around to make guys feel better about doing unsavory things that they have no real justification for doing. There are players that have individual standards of conduct that they adhere to, but that's about as far as any "code" goes.

Also, I've always thought that trash talking is pretty juvenile. There are better ways to throw someone off their game - like outplaying them, for example. I never found a use for it when I was an athlete, and it never bothered me when someone tried doing it to me. I found it funny more times than not, in fact, because it was so silly that they'd bother.

And, frankly, if you let someone manipulate you with something as obvious as trash talking, then you deserve what you get.

The only times I've ever talked trash was when I was joking around with friends playing a casual game. I've never done it seriously. Why bother? I've got better things to do than to waste my breath on something that probably won't even work. It takes too much time and effort to come up with that kind of crap when I could be thinking about the next play.

Honestly, I've never held NHLers up to some high moral standard, so that part doesn't actually bother me very much. Competition either brings out the best or the worst in people, and that's just human nature. I do think that there are lines that people shouldn't cross, but that comes down to simple human decency rather than putting anyone up on a pedestal.

If you're going to trash talk, then keep it to the person directly in front of you. Don't involve their history of mental illness, any past abuse of any kind, any addictions or suicidal stuff, any family members, or any significant others. Involving others outside of the person your trash talking, or bringing up traumatic stuff, isn't creative. It's contemptible.

If you really need a code of conduct to live by while on the ice during a game, then here's a very simple one for you: Don't be an asshole.

September 17, 2015

There's outrage because what happened was outrageous

NHL supports Blackhawks in Patrick Kane training camp decision
There was some thought that the NHL could step in to suspend Kane if the Blackhawks chose to have him at camp, evoking Section 18-A.5 of the CBA that gives Commissioner Gary Bettman the power to suspend a player that creates “a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”

Obviously that’s something that isn’t happening now, but Daly’s “given the circumstances that exist now” signals that if a grand jury indicts Kane, the NHL’s approach could change. It suspended Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings after he was arrested for domestic assault. The Blackhawks also said they would reevaluate if Kane was indicted.
So here's the thing.

Yes, Patrick Kane is innocent until proven guilty...in a court of law. In the court of public opinion, most of the hockey media - and most female hockey fans across the NHL - are pretty sure that he's guilty. Many of the male fans think so, too. Basically, the only people who don't are the people who think women lie about being raped, and people who think of athletes as things.

Now, I'm sure Kane genuinely believes that he's also not guilty - just as this woman who's pressing charges obviously believes that he is.

However, I've seen time and time again over the years on message boards, on social media, and in comments sections that a lot of men don't always know when they've raped a woman. (Or women don't know they've raped a men, for that matter.) What women think of as rape, a lot of men don't - and a lot of that is based upon assumptions rather than facts. Just because you think something is true, doesn't always mean that it is.

The bottom line there is that, unless the other person specifically says yes, you always assume that the answer is going to be no until you ask and are told directly otherwise. And that means don't be putting hands, fingers, or other things in places without the other person saying yes, it's okay. Rape isn't just intercourse, after all.

Despite that, the entire point of the Chicago Blackhawks press conference, I'm sure, was to announce that training camp was going to be business as usual. That there's nothing to see here, and to just move along. That everything was essentially normal for them.

However, it's definitely not normal, and we all know it. All anyone wants to ask about are the allegations. No one cares about the hockey part of things - they want the details about the controversy. And if no one's going to talk about that, then there's no point in even showing up.

So why go through the motions? Why put on this farce of a press conference in the first place? Why try to ignore the elephant in the room?

Regardless of what Brian Burke says at the end of this post, in the real world, companies will suspend (often without pay) or outright fire employees in legal trouble. It happens all the time. The more high profile the case, the more likely the employee will be fired or suspended, in fact.

And that's where part of the fan outrage is coming from. Fans aren't necessarily jumping to conclusions - though, if asked, most have already made up their minds about this case - and they're not convicting Kane. All they want is for the Blackhawks, or the NHL, to treat Kane like they would be treated if they were in his place by their place of employment.

The other part of the fan outrage are the multitudes of female fans who have either been abused, sexually assaulted, or raped - or have had friends or family that have - that are being told by the actions of the Blackhawks and the NHL that women are liars about that sort of thing.

Men would be surprised by how many women have had something shady happen to them. For example, while I have not personally had anything serious thing happen to me, I have had inappropriate things happen. A friend's father put his hand on my hip while he thought I was sleeping, for instance. I was probably 14 years old at the time. But that's as far as it ever went - and I was never comfortable around that guy ever again.

Every single woman that I know or have ever known has at least one story like that. And there are plenty of men in the same boat as well. Some are the extreme ends where family members sexually molested them as children or being brutally raped by someone they knew, and some are at the less horrific end like me. No one likes to talk about it openly, however, because they're afraid of being made fun of, ridiculed, or worse.

So to have a team that you love, or the sport that you love, defend a guy that's been accused of doing something like that to another woman is beyond appalling. There are women - life-long hockey fans - who are questioning whether they want to watch hockey anymore because of this. And still the team and the league refuse to acknowledge that it's even a possibility that it happened.

And not just the them, but this guy's teammates as well. Everyone's blindly standing by Kane, simply because he's a teammate. Now, I get wanting to get along with your teammates, and how guys spend at least seven months in each other's constant company. But there are teammates that don't get along, and they avoid each other whenever possible. That's just how it is. Frankly, it's just better not to discuss it at all if they're put in that awkward situation.

So you have the NHL and the Blackhawks both trying to sweep this under the rug while the fans want transparency. And that's the disconnect; that's the problem. If you're not going to talk about the problem, and you want to carry on like it's business as usual, then don't call a press conference. It's really just that simple.

Because, obviously, it isn't business as usual if you're calling a press conference about something you refuse to discuss.

September 11, 2015

Doesn't matter who said it, but here's who said it

League moving to educate players, curb off-ice issues

I'm in a particularly blunt sort of mood, so I'm not going to sugar-coat any of this. Most of the morning on Twitter, people have been talking about this article. The first and last quotes in it are why.

The first:
"I think as players we're all aware of it," superstar center Sidney Crosby told ESPN.com this week at the Player Tour event. "The league and Players' Association do a good job of informing us and making us well-aware of certain situations and consequences, things like that. I think it's something that everyone, whether you're a professional hockey player or a professional athlete, in general everyone is trying to educate each other in terms of situations you could be put in and making the right decisions. ..."
And the last:
"You don't like the negative image on the league," said Team USA Olympian Justin Faulk, of the Carolina Hurricanes. "But it is a little bit of a reminder that you need to be careful with everything you do. You don't want to jeopardize something in your life, let alone someone else's. You don't want to hurt your team, the league, or have an affect on someone else's life that can be bad."
Anyone care to take a stab at why one of these is good while the other is bad? No? Maybe they look the same to you? Because to many other people, they look like total ends of the spectrum - one end being how most people think, and the other being completely out of touch with most people's reality.

The difference comes down to this: "in terms of situations you could be put in" versus "or have an affect on someone else's life".

Crosby is the out of touch one here. He obviously believes that things just happen to him - that he's a spectator who has no control over anything that he's around. He gets "put into situations", rather than puts himself into situations. It's extremely passive wording, and it tells you a lot about how he views the world.

He doesn't see himself as a part of the world, so nothing is ever his fault. His own actions have no meaning, as he apparently believes that they don't affect anyone else. He views himself as a victim and takes no responsibility for himself; if bad things happen to him, then it's always someone else's fault. After all, how could it possibly be his fault if he has no control over anything? It's the view a child would take - or someone not very emotionally mature, at least.

Faulk's view is the more common view of people outside of sports - that his actions have consequences and those can hurt others, sometimes severely if he's not careful. He believes that he's at least partly responsible for the bad things that might happen to him. He is not a victim nor emotionally immature, but an adult who knows that what he does impacts himself as well as others around him. His view is one of someone who actively sees himself as a part of the world around him.

The problem is that most of the players in the NHL (as well as professional hockey in other leagues) view life like Crosby does, and not like how Faulk does.

Bad things "just happen" to players; it's not their fault. Even on the ice, you see this victim mentality where, if someone gets hit clean but hard, they think that it's a dirty hit and they were being singled out intentionally to be injured. You almost never hear anyone say, "I was sort of in a bad position when he hit me." Instead it's usually something like, "It was a dirty hit."

So it's no wonder that no one off of the Chicago Blackhawks would say anything bad about Patrick Kane's rape allegations. They supported their teammate because that's what teammates do - but also because they probably don't believe he did anything wrong. But how can a player know how to respect women when players don't even respect each other?

(Incidentally, this Washington Post report suggests that only 35% of rapes that happen are reported, and of those that are reported to the police, only around 7% are false accusations. Therefore, the odds that Kane actually did it are really pretty high. So before doing that classic knee-jerk reaction of "this woman's trying to just get money out of him" rationalization, look up the statistics.

Also, admitting to being raped is a profoundly emotionally painful, intensely shameful, and humiliating experience, and most people who have had that happen to them don't like talking about it in the first place to anyone - which is why most don't report it. So do you really think someone would want to do that in court in front of potentially hundreds of people? Especially in this culture of victim-shaming? And against a high-profile man such as a professional athlete?)

Two things need to happen to help hockey players help themselves, quite frankly.

One, they need to realize that they're a part of the world. They need to know that these situations that they "happen to be put into" are situations that they actually put themselves into. Even if they're just standing there, not saying anything to anyone, they're still a part of the situation. It's their choice, it's their decision, it's their body that they put there.

The Nuremberg Defense - "I was told to do it" - doesn't work in real life, you know. They still have the choice to say "no". They still have the option to walk away. The decision to follow through with something is still theirs, no matter what someone else tells them to do.

The second thing that they need to realize is what respect really is, what it means, and how to respect others. That starts with respecting themselves, and respecting their teammates. Because once they learn how to properly respect themselves and others, chances of them becoming a crime statistic seriously go down. That includes a team's front office and their coaching staff as well, frankly.

Part of the problem as well is that some athletes see women as fans see them - they're things; commodities to use and / or enjoy. So if they don't like being used by others without their express permission, then maybe they ought to not use others without their express permission. Being treated how you want to be treated - and not how you are treated - is almost never a bad rule of thumb.

This isn't hard, but if you're not taught it like most kids are, then it becomes hard. This doesn't start when guys hit the pros. This aspect of hockey culture starts way before then. And maybe they ought to address it when it starts, so that the NHL doesn't have to figure it out after the fact.

July 2, 2015

My professional opinion, for what it's worth

After talking to a few people, we've all pretty much come to the same conclusion. Mark Barberio signing with his hometown team of Montreal has set his career back. Reactions ran from him being stuck in the AHL forever now, to him being stuck in pretty much the same position he was in in Tampa.

He chose comfort, familiarity, and childhood dreams over his NHL career, and that's going to cost him. Probably. Another NHL team may pick him up off of waivers when he gets sent down to St. John's in Newfoundland and save him from himself. But if that doesn't happen, then chances are good that he'll be in the AHL for a large portion of the season.

And the thing is, he's not an AHLer. Right now, he's probably a #4 or #5 defenseman on an NHL team that needed a guy like him, and he'll only get better if he's playing against top competition. He probably would've had to have worked up to that from starting out as #5 or #6, but still. Being in the AHL won't give him that. He may dominate in the minors, sure, but he was doing that three years ago. It's a step backwards, not a step forward.

I don't know what kind of offers he was getting, but the first question he should've asked himself about any of them was if he'd get consistent NHL playing time. And if the answer to that wasn't yes, then he should've passed. There were plenty of NHL teams out there in need of a defenseman like him, and they probably would've given him a good 70 games this year.

Montreal has plenty of defensemen, so chances of him living the dream in his hometown are pretty slim. Especially since the head coach, Michel Therrien, probably won't like how he plays. He would've had a better shot at playing there towards the end of the NHL career instead.

I understand that it probably seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it really wasn't. Montreal's always willing to listen to the agents of good players who are from La Belle Province, and particularly if they're from the town itself. They're pretty infamous for that, in fact. So it wasn't a matter of "if" so much as a matter of "when".

You can't take one aspect of a decision and decide that's all you need to make something work. From the outside looking in, it appears to be an impulsive decision that was entirely based upon family and / or childhood dreams that potentially could end up costing him an NHL career. And he's just too good to be a life-long minor leaguer, which is the tragedy of it all.

Could he make the opening night roster in Montreal? I'd like to think he could, because I know he's a good player, but at the same time I sort of doubt it. They've already got established defensemen that they like and are comfortable with - and he is not one of those. Again, if he's playing with the NHL club, he'll likely be doing some press box time - which is exactly what he was doing in Tampa Bay.

Thankfully, it's only a year contract, he could get picked up off waivers, and he's 25 years old - so it's not a total disaster. That's the one bright side to all of this. But I hope he likes Newfoundland, since he's probably going to be spending some quality time there.