The most heavily debated topic in hockey today is “Analytics”. Some love it. Others hate it. Personally, I think any additional statistic we can extract that can possibly help us analyze aspects of the game or a player’s impact, is beneficial. I just don’t think we can solely rely on statistical analysis to capture the whole picture. As much of a great compliment that analytics provides, there is still one invaluable attribute that you can’t put a number on—character.
Character, in hockey, is a combination of a lot of different things. A player with strong character is a player with a strong will to compete. Can we statistically capture a player’s compete level? Sure we can, to an extent. We can analyze and collate the amount of puck battles a player wins or how many loose pucks they recover. We can accumulate puck possession time after contact and the percentage a defenseman turns a recovered dump-in into a successful breakout. All of these things contribute to measuring the compete level and skill a player has beyond traditional statistics, but there are still some extremely important aspects of a player’s character you simply can’t quantify. In other words, there are some important attributes that make players good teammates, which in turn, contributes immensely to successful teams.
Here are five immeasurable aspects to winning hockey that can’t be “Corsi-fied”:
I’ve had discussions with analytics fans before about the immeasurable importance of camaraderie to winning clubs and I am always met with eye-rolls and groans. Some will say, “You don’t have to like the guys you play with to be successful,” which is true to an extent. There were lots of teams that I have played on that were good teams and we didn’t always get along. However, the best teams and most successful teams that I have ever been a part of were very, very close-knit. These teams weren’t always the most talented teams, but everyone loved playing with one another. There is a lot to be said about brotherhood in hockey. It’s not just a cliché. If you have an uber-talented team that just can’t seem to put it together, more times than not you have a problem with camaraderie.
There is a lot to be said about players with compassion for others. When you spend 9 months out of the year, living elbow to elbow with 22 other guys, you share everything from shampoo to your deepest troubles. Living the life of a hockey player—especially a junior, college or professional hockey player—you are going to go through some dark, troublesome times. Whether it’s trouble on the home front, slumps, a death in the family or feelings of uselessness, it is important to have people to turn to and lean on. Good teammates provide this stability and support. Compassion is a big contributor to character.
We’ve all seen the big, public battles between some players and their coaches. It’s not always the player’s fault, you can get some real prick coaches out there, believe me. But, sometimes you get players who are just not coachable. They are constantly defiant and want to push their own agendas. They are the guys who slam their stick or mope when they don’t get to soak up the full two minutes on a power play. These are players who just simply will not “Buy-In”, and no matter how talented they are, they are absolute killers of team success.
From an outsiders vantage point, these players aren’t always easy to spot. From time to time, the media gets a whiff of these in-house squabbles, but more often than not, these scenarios stay under the radar. Once again, these players may be statistical wunderkinds, but are destroying the teams they play for. Uncoachable players challenge accountability and throw everything into disarray.
Leadership is a very broad category that takes a lot of things into account. True leaders inspire others around them to perform at their best and promote and instill values consistent with the culture of the team. From an outsider’s point of view, each leader wears a letter on their jersey. In reality, great teams are built upon a leadership-based culture where every team member contributes. Leadership is made up of 10% on-ice and 90% off-ice influence. This priceless, unquantifiable attribute is worth more than any one player’s Fenwick rating.
- Douchebag Factor
We’ve all heard the term “Cancer” as it pertains to a particular player on a team. A cancer in hockey is essentially a “douchebag”. He’s the player that nobody wants on their team. He rats on guys to the coaching staff and hits on other players’ wives or girlfriends at the team parties. He’s the guy who acts like a jackass at public events and gives everyone a bad name. He’s narcissistic, selfish and will never go to bat for a teammate. The problem is, from a perspective standpoint, sometimes these guys are the most talented players on the team. From a statistical standpoint, these guys are often golden boys. Outsiders will say, “Be a pro and put your differences aside for the betterment of the team.” In theory that sounds good, but in reality, when you spend every waking moment together as a team, it’s nearly impossible for one bad apple not to spoil a bushel.