Price of a 30-Goal Season:  David Clarkson’s Cross to Bear

View image |   On July 5th, 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a major splash, signing rugged free agent winger, and Toronto native, David Clarkson to a 7-year, $36.75 million contract.  The signing brought a glimmer of hope to the sagging morale of Leafs Nation.  “Great signing!  Clarkson is going to be our next Wendel Clark,” some said. Others celebrated the idea of the missing element—a cultural upgrade, bringing an element of fearlessness, heart and toughness.  Two years removed from a 30-goal season and Stanley Cup final appearance, there was something to be excited about. Fast forward two seasons, Leafs Nation is once again in shambles.  A recently fired coach, a disgruntled core group, mopey superstar, horrendous advanced statistics numbers, and so on, and so on, yada, yada, yada.  It’s like a dysfunctional household where mommy and daddy are constantly fighting.  Amid the carnage sits David Clarkson, the overpaid, knuckle-dragging disappointment—the whipping boy for all that is wrong in hockey-crazed Toronto. Is the criticism fair?  Is David Clarkson underachieving?  According to his paystub, the answer is, yes.  However, when you examine his career averages, David Clarkson is doing exactly what he’s capable of:  Play third line minutes and produce third line results.   Regular Season Season Team Games Goals Assists Points PIMs +/- 2007-08 New Jersey Devils 81 9 13 22 183 1 2008-09 New Jersey Devils 82 17 15 32 164 -1 2009-10 New Jersey Devils 46 11 13 24 85 3 2010-11 New Jersey Devils 82 Continue Reading →

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Building Success “Through the Middle”

View image |   In hockey, there is a lot of chatter referring to “the middle”.  Coaches love to preach about “Backchecking hard through the middle of the ice.”  Defencemen are told to “force plays to the outside and play through the dots.”  The shots that goalies worry most about are “Grade A” chances—shots that come from the area of the ice known as “The House” (from the high slot down toward the goal-mouth).  Obviously, the middle of the ice is an important piece of real estate in hockey.  Knowing this, it is important that when you’re looking to build success, you need to build a team through the middle of the ice, and the most important pieces are the centermen. Saying that the most important position on the ice is the centerman is not exactly a very popular opinion, especially in the modern “defence wins championships” mindset.  Most will argue that great teams are built from strong goaltending out and/or teams with the best defense core will win championships.  I agree that you are hard-pressed to win a Stanley Cup without strong goaltending and a solid top-4 on the backend, but without marquee talent at the center position, you simply won’t win. Before you load up on tomatoes to throw at me, consider this.  Hockey is made up of a series of one-on-one battles.  From a defensive standpoint, the centerman has the ability to create an out-manned situation.  They provide the added defensive factor. Defensively speaking, wingers provide Continue Reading →

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Does Birth Month Affect Success in Hockey?

View image |   The debate about whether being born in the first few months of the calendar year poses a significant advantage for a hockey player over being born in the latter months of the year isn’t new.  The argument that a player born in January of a particular calendar year will have a distinct developmental advantage over a player born in December of the same year isn’t even really something that can be debated; at least not in the “on average” sense, and especially not in the early years of physical development.  The fact is kids born in January are typically bigger, stronger and more advanced than kids born in December of the same birth year, during the early years of development. The most polarizing, in-depth research into this trend is found in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book: “Outliers: The Story of Success”.  In his book, Gladwell argues “extraordinary success requires hard work, talent, ambition – and being born at the right time.”   He states that there is “an iron law of Canadian hockey: in any elite group of hockey players – the very best of the best – 40 per cent of the players will have been born between January and March.”  His findings are consistent with some of hockey’s greatest heros:   Wayne Gretzky – Jan 26, 1961 Bobby Orr – March 20, 1948 Gordie Howe – March 31, 1928   Counter-arguments that aim to dispel Gladwell’s claim state that these findings are subjective and not Continue Reading →

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IntelliGym:  Revolutionizing “Hockey Sense” Training

  Talk to any hockey scout, GM, or coach and they will all say the same thing.  Beyond any physical skill in hockey, the one thing that determines the longevity and sustained success of a player is “Hockey Sense”.  It’s what made Wayne Gretzky the greatest player to ever play the game.  Gretzky wasn’t big (Listed as a very generous 6 feet, 185 pounds), he wasn’t a tremendous skater (he had that hunched over, laborious stride), and didn’t have a particularly hard shot, but what he did have was an off-the-charts, insanely high level of mental acuity.  The reason he was so much better than everyone was that he could read the game three steps ahead of the play.  Wayne Gretzky was the gold standard for hockey sense. Knowing that hockey sense is paramount to the success of a hockey player, why can’t we figure out how to develop this skill?  The answer has always been that it’s too complicated, and in hockey, like most sports, when something is too complicated, the default, all-encompassing answer is: “You either have it, or you don’t”.  It’s easier to say Gretzky was a gift from the Hockey Gods, born with Einstein-esque hockey sense then to begin to fathom that there is a way to train hockey players to think the game at elite levels. From a development standpoint we need verifiable correlations.  Want to score more goals?  No problem, we can count those and if we work on your shot, we can see before Continue Reading →

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Leadership: The Most Overused and Misrepresented Term in Hockey

#482423391 /   The term “Leadership” is grossly overused and misrepresented in hockey.  It’s a cute buzzword for the media to use to oversimplify complicated situations and place blame.  “The Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling.  It’s time for a change in leadership.”  See how easy that is?  You can take a complicated situation and just throw a generic term at it and everyone just nods their heads. The concept of leadership isn’t ridiculous or without importance in the game.  Leadership is one of the key driving forces to success in any venture, sport or industry—hockey chief among them.  But, where does leadership come from?  Can we tap someone on the shoulder and say, “You are THE leader of this team”, and just stand around and wait to be inspired and led into the breach?  No. Leadership in sports has always been ahead of the game, in comparison to other industries.  True leadership in sports comes from within.  It’s a culture, a “leadership-based culture”.  Within that leadership-based culture, everyone has a particular role as a leader.  Coaches contribute by providing structure and accountability and players each play their specific role, collectively contributing to the culture. The key to leadership-based culture is that everyone plays a key role in developing the culture and driving success.  This promotes empowerment and engagement.  This fosters the “buy-in”.  Based on popular opinion, supported by the media, most people think that coaches bark out orders and the captain says, “Ya guys. Do it”, and everything snaps Continue Reading →

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Guest Post: “The Hockey World Changing: Jersey Talk”

#2812356 / Guest Blogger Josh Smith drops in to provide some innovative information on the custom apparel and jersey industry About Josh: I grew up in Detroit, MI and played AAA for multiple teams (Honey baked, little Cesar’s, Ice Dogs)  growing up. After multiple trips to high school state championships and winters filled with tournaments, a few tough injuries pushed my role to management, organizing and officiating. Seeing so many angles of the game has given me a helpful perspective for players, parents, and coaches around the Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Windsor area. My main job and favorite role to play is parent and father. I don’t have any NHL or OHL experience but I sure feel like what ever knowledge I have can help give young players longevity and fun times on and off the ice!   The Hockey World Changing: Jersey Talk Running an apparel sale for your Hockey team has come a long way in a very short amount of time.  In the good old days, to run a sale you had to leave your house, go into town, and find a local screen printing shop. Once you got there you could use their computer system to design your logo or graphic.  You had to pay up-front for your order (that required a 24 piece minimum per/design), wait a few weeks for it to be produced, pick up the gear, and finally distribute it to the team members.  When you are a Hockey coach or a Continue Reading →

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7-Factor Analysis: Simple Analytics for Any Level of Hockey

For decades, hockey has been a statistically simple sport.  Players who score lots of goals and get lots of points are really good.  Goalies who let in lots of goals and have low save percentages are usually not very good.  Hockey isn’t baseball.  It’s not a series of one-on-one matchups with isolated incidences.  It’s a free-flowing game with a wide variety of variables. Beyond the obvious black and white statistics, everything has always been up for debate.  Hockey fans for years have debated Gretzky vs. Lemieux and Crosby vs. Ovechkin or Toews.  Words like character, toughness and leadership get thrown around.  There is banter about two-way play and clutch performances.  These debates are what make being a hockey fan fun.  It’s the endless comparison and argument over differing situations and variables. For the scientific-minded fans, enough is enough.  No more “ya, buts” and “in my opinions”.  They want to know once and for all how to truly define a player’s worth.  Baseball has its WAR (Wins Above Replacement), why can’t hockey have its all-in-one determiner? From the perspective of the franchises, who invest millions a year into extensive scouting blankets and video analysis efforts, why not try and find a way to gain an edge.  Maybe there is a formula or two out there that can more closely measure the true, overall value of a hockey player.  Everyone laughed at Bill James when he dabbled in sabremetrics, producing otherworldly statistical concoctions in his annual Baseball Abstracts.  Decades later, James is Continue Reading →

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The McDavid Injury: Fueling the Fighting Debate

#457720190 /   A second period scrap between uber-prospect Connor McDavid (Erie Otters) and Mississauga Steelheads forward, Bryson Cianfrone, revved the never-ending debate about fighting in hockey into the redline.  The fight started in the fashion that typical fights in hockey do, Player A delivers a hit on Player B and Player B takes exception and engages Player A in a fight.  On most nights, this is business as usual. This type of non-staged, heat of the moment fight is the type of fight that most anti-fighting lobbyists are willing to accept, for now, in the battle to clean up the game. So why are people so mad?  Two things elevated this run-of-the-mill fight into a full-blow, headline story.  No. 1, Player B just happened to be Connor McDavid—the biggest prospect to come along since Sidney Crosby.  No. 2, McDavid broke his hand in the fight and speculation is swirling that he could miss the World Junior Championships. So now, the real question is, does Connor McDavid’s unfortunate injury provide further proof that fighting is severely detrimental to the game, or does it provide proof that enforcers actually help limit these types of injuries to star players? From the anti-fighting camp, in the red corner, it’s a simple argument:  Fighting is bad.  Want proof?  Connor McDavid is the most marketable player outside of the NHL and he got injured in a fight.  Therefore, fighting is costing the hockey industry money. Across the ring, in the blue corner, fighting supporters Continue Reading →

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Misogyny a “Hockey Problem”, not an “OHL Problem”

#457330786 /   The Ontario Hockey League made negative headlines recently when misogynistic Tinder rants by Belleville Bulls forward Jake Marchment and Peterborough Petes forward Greg Betzold became public.  The OHL responded quickly, handing out matching 15-game suspensions and making statements about the incidents, re-iterating that misogyny is an unacceptable practice amongst its league members and will not be tolerated. When the news broke, there were a lot of people that were utterly shocked.  An overwhelming reaction to the language used by these players was disgust and disbelief.  The real problem, however, is that these aren’t isolated events.  Sadly, this type of behavior is actually very common in hockey (As well as other sports/entertainment industries) and in a way, the fact that this has come to light now is a blessing in disguise. The fact that this story broke with explicit language and was attached to names has brought the issue to the surface, but the reality is, the misogynistic culture of hockey, or as Neate Sager of Yahoo’s “Buzzing the Net” eloquently put it, “Toxic Masculinity” or “Bro Culture”, celebrates this type of behavior in plain sight.  You can’t remove blame from Marchment and Betzold in this situation, but there is a much bigger issue at play here, and it’s cultural and deep-rooted. I mentioned that the celebration of misogynist behavior is evident in hockey and here are some subtle and not so subtle examples.  Most people who are fans of hockey or involved in hockey have heard Continue Reading →

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Contrasting Styles:  North American vs. European

    There is a plethora of differences between the North American and European style of playing the game of hockey.  The most obvious difference, when comparing the two styles is ice surface dimensions.  North American standard rinks are 200 x 85 feet, while European ice sheets are “Olympic-sized” at 200 x 100 feet.  It may not seem like much of a difference, but when you consider square-footage, we’re talking about a 3000 square-foot difference!  That’s a nice chunk of extra real estate to dangle around in. With extra space, we see a lot of relative differences in the style of play.  More room breeds differing strategies on both, how to attack and how to defend.  While North American hockey systems—on the offensive side—focus on “staying in lanes” and “playing in traffic”, the European game focuses on maintaining puck possession and generating speed and momentum, especially through the neutral zone. On the defensive side of the puck, the North American game is a science.  Every piece of real estate is tracked and sectioned off.  The infusion of hi-tech video analysis allows teams to find effective ways to “cut the ice” and force opponents into smaller, low-risk areas.  The most prominent example of North American defensive strategy is the “Neutral-Zone Trap”, first employed by the Montreal Canadiens during the 1970s, but made infamous by the New Jersey Devils during the mid-90s.  The “Trap” focuses on using manpower to angle and force attacking players into highly-congested areas of the ice, forcing a Continue Reading →

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