Heart is Good, But Skill is Better

If hockey analysts aren’t arguing about Corsi and analytics, they are arguing about the value certain players bring to the locker room of their team. Many times these are players who are coined as having heart and grit, but their actual hockey skill is lacking.

Take a look across the league. There are players like Derek Dorsett, Matt Martin, Derek Engelland and more who are believed to have an immeasurable impact in the dressing room.

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For the Jets specifically, they are frequently icing a lineup with Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart in it. I am not in the dressing room, so I cannot see or quantify the impact they are making to the players around them but they are wasting a valuable roster spot if you are looking at what they bring skill wise.

Even though the NHL is about entertainment, it is still a results based business. The better on ice product that can be produced, the more wins that are likely. If a team is winning, this is going to garner more fan support. More fan support means more revenue. More revenue means the ability to provide better supports for the team.

But, leadership matters! We need leadership in the locker room and I want to emphasize this.

If there is conflict in the locker room, it is not going to magically be resolved. You have over 20 guys in stressful situations, this is going to bring up conflict. Teams need people who can facilitate conflict resolution. 

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Look at what happened with Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. There was more going on in the locker room than someone complaining about a track suit. Which is why we need leadership and character in the dressing room.

As well, high stress situations also will bring up other severe and important issues such as mental health concerns. 

Teammates need people they can confide in; that they can look to for support when their stress level produces anxiety. When the game goes poorly and a player is beating their self up over a play that could have changed the game and this player copes through self-harming, who is going to come along side and recognize this player’s patterns?

1 in 5 people suffer from mental illness. Hockey players need support too.

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So, we need heart and character on hockey teams. We need different people that players gravitate to. Think about yourself, you gravitate to different people in your own life, think about how it is for a hockey team on the road, especially for young players.

How, then, shall we proceed?

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NHL teams have limited number of roster spots and 50 contracts allowed. When you have a player like Chris Thorburn on the roster, you are essentially wasting money by icing a sub-par line up. 

However, what if you spend money on non-roster people to be a presence in the locker room? 

What if teams looked at different ways to provide supports to players, to provide heart, soul and grit for the locker room without using a roster spot?

I have referenced omgitsdomi’s article on the 2% and making every roster spot count before and I think the principles are relevant here.

Teams should look at bringing in more support people for  the team into the locker room. I recognize that already there are some of these intentional supports, but unofficial supports such as the equipment manager that everyone likes. 

But, if teams value character players so much, they should have people around their players, especially young players, who can develop character of these players. Sometimes, you will be lucky to have high skilled players who are already doing this. For example, Blake Wheeler is an example of a high skilled player already doing this, Jacob Stoller outlined this a couple of weeks ago.

However, the Jets and other hockey teams should be surrounding the locker room with sports psychologists, counselors and chaplains who can push the character development of hockey players. They can help show these players what they do off the ice matters as much as what they do on the ice. 

As well, teams can hire players who have been in professional hockey action, who can sit beside young players and teach them more about the game, but really see how these young players are doing outside of the game.

More importantly, they can catch players who need help. If 1 in 5 people are facing a form of mental illness, most likely there are players on all NHL teams facing mental illness. I can’t help but think of Rick Rypien as I type this.

I recognize that some teams have aspects of this in place, but what I’m saying is there needs to be more. More, because teams will be able to save roster spots for bargain players like Sam Gagner and Jonathan Marchessault. As well, it will be even cheaper for teams to provide these character people for their locker room and not give a contract to a guy who is below replacement level.

Every roster spot matters, but more importantly, every player matters and should get all the help they can get to develop on the ice and off the ice. 

If players are able to have their potential maximized, they will play better and the team will produce better results. So, it is beneficial for a team to invest more into their players because the team will eventually produce more money for the owner.

(I recognize that I have touched on some mental health issues without going deep into them. My role as Residence Director at Redeemer University College has trained me to recognize the factors that produce mental illness. However, I have also been trained to assess people who need help. If you read this and need someone to talk to or someone to help provide resources please send me a DM on Twitter, my handle is @canadiankyian. You are not alone and I would be more than willing to talk with you.)