Random Thoughts - Toughness And Monahan

Kent Wilson
September 16 2013 10:55AM

 

 

Usually my random thoughts missives feature a number of items, but this one is on just two that have cropped up recently: the value of toughness or "grit" in hockey and whether or not Sean Monahan should spend the year with the Flames.

First we'll take on toughness. This issue was brought to my attention by frequent commenter (and antagonist of mine) Clyde when he said this after a Michael Ferland fight during the young stars tournament:

But, you can't measure the impact Ferland's grit made so it isn't useful. Lol

Two things, but I'll be particular first - attributing the Flames resurgence in the Canucks prospect game specifically to the Ferland fight is post hoc ergo propter hoc, or "after this therefore because of this". It's tempting to applaud fights when good things happen after them, but to be honest one should keep a tab of how often that actually happens in order to derive a true effect from fisticuffs.

This has been looked at - from a number of angles - and overall the effect is not quite nothing for winning a fight, but it's as close as nothing as to be generally unimportant.

Which is the reason that most fights in hockey occur when the score is out of reach. To be sure, if fighting guaranteed a significant swing in shots and scoring chances, goons would be some of the most valuable players on any given club, rather than minimum wage, 4th line guys.

Secondly, and more generally, my position in regard to grit overall isn't that it's worthless, but rather, that it's grossly overvalued and weighted incorrectly in traditional hockey terms. Like any other physical tool, grit is a boon if it leads to positive outcomes for the player and team on the ice, but not terribly useful otherwise. Just like skating, shooting and hockey sense, grit is potentially a means to and end but not an end unto itself.

Unfortunately, toughness seems to be the lone ability that can keep a guy in the show, absent any other NHL level qualities. You'll usually see highly skilled but defensively disinterested forwards smeared as "one dimensional", but the truly one dimensional creatures in this league are the guys who are only around to crash and bang or chuck fists; the guys who are gross liabilities under almost any circumstance, who bleed shots and goals against and take more penalties than they draw, because the only NHL level skill they have is to absorb and dish out pain. As a result, they are eaten for breakfast by the actual NHLers they face each and every shift.

There are plenty of good hockey payers who count grit or toughness as a primary tool: Dustin Brown, David Backes, Milan Lucic, etc., etc. And there's not doubt that every potential NHLer needs a certain threshold of "toughness" to make it into the show given the size, strength of the players and the inherent violence in the game. But grit as a stand-alone asset - toughness for toughness sake - is an inherently self-defeating strategy. The point of the game is to score more goals than the other guys, not merely prove you have the biggest balls.

It's interesting to see how this misconception plays out across the league, particularly on bad teams whom convince themselves that at least some portion of their struggles can be attributed to not being gritty enough. This idea has afflicted the Oilers for years during their rebuild, resulting in the fruitless churn of relatively useless players through their bottom-6 rotation (Zack Stortini, Steve MacIntyre, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Mike Brown), ironically making their club worse and extending their stay at the bottom of the league.

A metaphor for that style of management, I think, is making a stew and then adding rocks for texture: while it might be entirely true that your stew is rather mushy and that rocks are indeed "crunchy", the addition does nothing to actually improve the meal.

Send Monahan Back to Junior

As of this writing Sean Monahan has had a strong training camp, which means the number of fans agitating for him to stay with the parent club all season has increased. I've gone on record before about this topic, but it bears repeating: burning a year of Monahan's ELC at this point would be a mistake.

Firstly, because the chances of Monahan actually helping the Flames do anything meaningful this year is almost zero. The kid is too young and the team is too far away from competing for that to be realistic. Since the lock-out, only 29 forwards between the ages of 18-19 have played 65 games or more in their rookie season. Only 10 of them scored more than 50 points.

Secondly, as mentioned, it would be a poor allocation of a precious, limited resource. Entry level contracts are artificially capped by the league and the best potential value deals a team has. Most kids aren't good enough during their first 3 pro years for that to matter much, but when potential stars come along, it makes sense to horde their 3 ELC seasons as long as possible - or least try to position them closer to a time when the team will be competitive in order to leverage those deals as much as possible.

Let's put it this way - would a season of cheap Sean Monahan be more useful to the Flames now? Or to the Flames in 2016-17, which would be the last year of his ELC if Calgary were to send him back to junior this season? Because that's the trade-off you make if Monahan sticks as an 18-19 year old.

It's true that rebuilding clubs have a habit of keeping their recent high draft picks around even as teens, and sometimes it might be warranted on merit, but mostly it seems to be a PR and marketing tool used to mollify a fanbase eager for something to cheer about. And although I'm personally excited to see Monahan strut his stuff in the NHL, it strikes me as short-sighted at best to toss him head first into year 1 of the Flames probably lengthy rebuild effort.

I'm in this for the long haul, the bigger payoff, so I'm willing to suppress the wish for instant gratification so the team has a better chance of winning later.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#101 Iggy pop
September 16 2013, 09:32PM
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FireOnIce wrote:

Boo hoo, we get it, Iginla was your man god. Get over yourself. Don't put words in my mouth.

Are you saying that I'm not allowed to have an opinion until I make millions of dollars and give it all to the City of Calgary? How about I just do things like show up to flood-damaged areas, help people clean their houses, and donate food/clothing/other goods? Or perhaps I could list off a bunch of other volunteering I've done for various groups in the city.

I've had all sorts of praise for him and I wear my Iginla jersey proudly. He looks good playing with Lucic and Krug, and he scored 2 goals. I'm going to be disappointed if he plays awesome this season, because I would prefer him to do that on the Flames.

Buddy you insinuated that Iginila threw in the towel on the flames... Read your post again incase you don't remember. Say something like that and you are bound to get called on it. You lost this one fire better luck next time. And thanks for volunteering:)

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#102 Dr. Philosophy
September 16 2013, 09:45PM
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Pizzaman wrote:

WOW Dropping Latin phrases into a discussion of grit followed by distinctions and clarification of the definition of grit (does not only equal fighting). If UofC wants to save their Philosophy program they should start at Flamesnation! Let me complicate by adding individual grit versus Team grit. Being tough to play against means skill, desire, speed And grit. My only Latin phrase is "Semper ubi sub ubi" which I believe is "non-sequitur".

Yeah, you're right: clear thinking and useful distinctions are such a ridiculous waste of time. Save such fiddle-faddle for the soon to be extinct philosophers. It's like survival of the most fit, right?

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#103 Jack Woman
September 16 2013, 10:23PM
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McGrattan can't skate, can't keep up to the play and has zero Hockey Sense!!!!!! what a waste of a roster spot!!! BRING BACK IGINLA!!!

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#104 EugeneV
September 17 2013, 01:25AM
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@ChinookArch

Skinner played on the wing. Vastly different situation wouldn't you say?

If Monahan is to make the team it should be in the role he should be playing in the NHL from the start.

First or second line center.

No use him playing on the wing. He needs to be playing what he should be.

1st or 2nd line.

NHL or OHL.

Even if he is in the NHL the Flames owe it to him to release him to the WJHC over christmas.

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#105 DoubleDIon
September 17 2013, 02:54AM
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@Iggy pop

I'll more than insinuate. I know it won't be popular, but Iginla completely ignored his defensive responsibilities for his final 2-3 seasons here. He was a pretty big liability defensively. He basically became a better, nicer version of Dany Heatley.

That said, I love Iginla and hate JBo. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll miss JBo on the ice this year a lot more than we'll miss Iginla.

His final few years Iginla was more concerned about his stat line than he was about the overall success of the club.

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#106 DoubleDIon
September 17 2013, 03:02AM
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Parallex wrote:

Y'know what I'd like... I'd like a new agreement between the NHL, NHLPA, AHL and CHL that allows one 18 or 19yo player per AHL team to play in the AHL under a Special Player Contract (with the AHL club) that won't burn a year off their ELC.

I agree, that would be ideal. It comes down to CHL clubs wanting stars to put bums in seats unfortunately. It would be a much better system for player development and you could acclimate important draft picks to your clubs system.

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#107 Danger
September 17 2013, 06:54AM
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DoubleDIon wrote:

I'll more than insinuate. I know it won't be popular, but Iginla completely ignored his defensive responsibilities for his final 2-3 seasons here. He was a pretty big liability defensively. He basically became a better, nicer version of Dany Heatley.

That said, I love Iginla and hate JBo. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll miss JBo on the ice this year a lot more than we'll miss Iginla.

His final few years Iginla was more concerned about his stat line than he was about the overall success of the club.

Maybe Iggy did worry more about his personal stats than the success of the club the last few seasons - let's assume for a moment that this was intentional and not just natural decline with age. Would that have been so wrong? I'm not sure.

The club was fundamentally not good enough the last few years, and a defensively responsible Iggy wouldn't have been the difference between success and failure. He wasn't 26 and able to carry the team on his back anymore.

He was, on the other hand, still able to pot a decent number of points. So if he chose to focus his energy where he could make a difference (his stat line) instead of where he couldn't (the team's fortunes), I can't really fault him for that.

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#108 piscera.infada
September 17 2013, 08:08AM
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Danger wrote:

Maybe Iggy did worry more about his personal stats than the success of the club the last few seasons - let's assume for a moment that this was intentional and not just natural decline with age. Would that have been so wrong? I'm not sure.

The club was fundamentally not good enough the last few years, and a defensively responsible Iggy wouldn't have been the difference between success and failure. He wasn't 26 and able to carry the team on his back anymore.

He was, on the other hand, still able to pot a decent number of points. So if he chose to focus his energy where he could make a difference (his stat line) instead of where he couldn't (the team's fortunes), I can't really fault him for that.

I would say it was more an issue of how the "team" became "Iginla", so not so much Iggy's fault - although yes, he mailed it in defensively. The problem was (at least in my eyes) that everything became about getting Iggy the puck. He was seen as the only guy on this team worthy or able of putting points up on the board. For example, you bring in Jokinen (twice) - when he first came here, the guy was a goal scorer, Sutter as much as said "he's here to help Iggy score". I think that's why you saw some of these moves fail. Instead of putting a team on the ice, it was "Iggy and the Dudes" (an awesome band name, come to think of it).

So no, you can't blame him for cherry-picking and taking needless defensive risk because a) he was told for almost a decade that if this team was going to score, it was on him, and b) he could no longer be responsible for carrying all the mail at his age.

I think as Flames fans we acknowledge all Iggy did for this city and organization, but it's still going to be hard to get over - especially because his decline (if you want to call it that) mirrored the team's decline.

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#109 piscera.infada
September 17 2013, 08:16AM
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EugeneV wrote:

Skinner played on the wing. Vastly different situation wouldn't you say?

If Monahan is to make the team it should be in the role he should be playing in the NHL from the start.

First or second line center.

No use him playing on the wing. He needs to be playing what he should be.

1st or 2nd line.

NHL or OHL.

Even if he is in the NHL the Flames owe it to him to release him to the WJHC over christmas.

Skinner playing the wing is vastly different.

That said, I don't think that because Monahan's a centre you have to start him where you want him to finish. In fact, that's futile and irresponsible. Centre is likely the one position (aside from goalie and 1/2 D) where you would be better served seeing how they stack up in a lower role, and then increasing that.

With a winger, you don't have to be as defensively responsible as you do as a centre. Now, if we factor in Monahan's documented "two-way" style of play, why would you want to throw him to the wolves in his first season (whether it be as an 18 year old or 20 year old)? One of the better up and coming centres in the game today (Couture) developed that way.

So I agree with you on not playing Monahan on the wing, and I agree he needs to play a central role in the WJHC this year - but I don't think that if he does stick, he needs to play 1C or 2C.

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#110 Craig
September 17 2013, 08:45AM
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On the topic of fighting, I think looking at last nights game in Saskatoon puts forth a nice example of the opposite.

In the game against the Canucks in which the Ferland fight sparked the team enough to win, we saw a fight tip the scales and create momentum.

In the game last night we saw four fights, and tons of "Grit" that didn't translate into a win or really into a significant push back.

If these guys need to see a fight every game to get them sparked and excited and ready to go, then that effect will wear off pretty quickly.

It seems like there are a ton of players fighting and being gritty to make this team, but there aren't a lot of guys scoring goals to make this team...

Which one means more.

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#111 McRib
September 17 2013, 08:49AM
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Corbin Knight scored last night.... send Sean Monahan down to the OHL!! Hahaha. Joking aside, I noticed Corbin Knight multiple times last Saturday buzzing around the net and then he gets on the sheet last night. Game is really starting to come around for me. Not to mention he always looked very solid defensively even when he wasn't scoring in the prospect games. Call me crazy, but I wonder if his volunteer efforts in hometown High River took away from his on-ice offseason training focus this summer.... Because he keeps getting better and better the more he has been on the ice.

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#112 Justin Azevedo
September 17 2013, 09:37AM
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good discussion here but keep it out of the realm of personal attacks boys

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#113 the-wolf
September 17 2013, 10:48AM
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This whole Monahan debate is ridiculous. The guy is intended to be a top 2 center at the NHL level. Can he accomplish that this season? Highly doubtful. So unless he shows in 9 games that he can keep his head above water in all 3 zones, handle the physical and mental grind and look he can definitely put up a minimum of 40 points, send him down.

Monahan still needs to get stronger and faster and play tons of minutes in all situations. First pp & pk units, first/last minutes of each period, etc. That's where development comes from, not from being fed to the wolves at 18. The guy is not Crosby. Development comes from playing a lot in all situations, not 3rd line minutes and being sheltered against grown men.

"His mind." What a joke. Btw, I've known 2 extremely gifted academics in my time and both of them went to public schools and in both cases it didn't hold them back in any way whatsoever. You know, because they're brilliant. Instead, it allowed them to mature properly and not become self-entitled snots.

People are such hypocrites. I've read a thousand posts from the exact same people pining for Monahan to stay up this season who have launched a ton of vitriol at the Oilers for bringing up RNH and others too soon. Insult after insult about managing the cap and ELCs, but now that the shoe is on the other foot they go all fanboy.

And being a fanboy is the only argument for keeping Monahan up. Play him against his peers, let him dominate, build his confidence, gain experience on the international stage, get stronger, apply what he's learned over the summer, hopefully experience what it's like to be a winner instead of a loser on the Flames AND save a year on the ELC.

End of story.

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#114 piscera.infada
September 17 2013, 11:09AM
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@the-wolf

Agreed. My point was simply that I don't care about the ELC year. If they send him back it should be based on the need for development only. I'm not going to sit here and say the ELC argument doesn't matter, I personally just don't care about it - I just want all our prospects to develop correctly.

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#115 DoubleDIon
September 17 2013, 12:09PM
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@the-wolf

To compare 6'2" 195 pound 19 year old Monahan with 6'0" 160 pound 18 year old RNH is silly. Monahan is built like Taylor Hall, not RNH. I had no problem with the Oilers keeping Hall as he was big enough and his game was rounded out.

Monahan is big enough and solid defensively. He's NHL ready as far as size and a two-way game are concerned.

I genuinely think anyone who says it makes you a "fanboy" to suggest that Monahan should stick with the big club if he earns it is pretty ignorant. Lots of guys like Monahan have developed just fine at the NHL level in a third line center role to begin with. Take a look at Bergeron, O'Reilly, Staal and Richards to name a few. They all have very similar attributes to Monahan and all have been up at the same age or younger than Monahan. Personally, I'd be delighted if Monahan became that type of player.

People who look at the Detroit model and laud it have never heard Ken Holland speak before. He's said he'd love to have 18/19 year olds who were good enough to step right in. The reason they develop the way they do is because you don't get those guys when you move your 1st rounder or pick 25th every year. They have to develop them because it's difficult to find guys late who can step in.

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#116 Parallex
September 17 2013, 02:13PM
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@DoubleDIon

Just like when Billy Beane stood in front of a blue ribbon committee and told them that the Oakland A's only won by luck. If Detroit has a better way of doing things do you really think they'd encourage the competition to emulate them or do you think they'd tell them something else.

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#117 CitizenFlame
September 18 2013, 01:24AM
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@Parallex

"So in other words he'll do it because he's an idiot?"

No he acts because he is in the heat of the moment. What are you, a Vulcan? Nobody acts solely based on logic, especially when they have the blades laced on, and some dude is chopping you in the calf.

Fighting as a holistic metric probably has little value, but I'd be curious to see if there is better statistical analysis based on situational examples. Fighting in the third period vs. the first; after a goal; after a big hit; staged vs. spontaneous. Does anyone know if that sort of analysis has ever been attempted or published? Maybe Biznasty can do some in his spare time?

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#118 Monaertchi
September 18 2013, 01:34PM
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Christian Roatis wrote:

I'm in the keep him if he's ready, send him if he's not camp. Makes the most sense IMO.

Did you not read the article?

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#119 Monaertchi
September 18 2013, 01:38PM
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icedawg_42 wrote:

If he proves he deserves to be here (and I'm not saying he has - or even that I know how that's defined) and gets sent back to junior just because, business...what does that say about "Meritocracy" - what does that do to his confidence or his trust in the org?

You explain it to him from a business point of view and it will have no adverse effect on his confidence.

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#120 piz
September 18 2013, 10:10PM
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@Dr. Philosophy

Well you sure don't see it in the twitter-verse or the blog-o-sphere. Save the philosophers!!

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#121 Pizzaman
September 18 2013, 10:11PM
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@Dr. Philosophy

Well you sure don't see it in the twitter-verse or the blog-o-sphere. Save the philosophers!!

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#122 Danny Lawson
September 20 2013, 03:39PM
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"It's interesting to see how this misconception plays out across the league, particularly on bad teams whom convince themselves that at least some portion of their struggles can be attributed to not being gritty enough. This idea has afflicted the Oilers for years during their rebuild, resulting in the fruitless churn of relatively useless players through their bottom-6 rotation (Zack Stortini, Steve MacIntyre, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Mike Brown), ironically making their club worse and extending their stay at the bottom of the league."

Hi Kent, based upon the tenor of paragraph it would appear you've awoken from your decade long coma. I've got some bad news for you, it's not 2004. YIKES! Yeah I know its a shock, you better sit down because the news doesn't get any better, .... sorry buddy. The Flames, the red mile, Iggy, Kipper, "in Sutter we trust" all that stuff.....you're right Kent, those were great times and the Flames were a great team. Yeah well Kent, here's the not so great new old buddy. Haha, ..... um, no, no, no Kent I'm not joking ..... we're not the standard all teams seek to equal. Kent, ...... I know its a shock but the Flames are no longer great. Hmmm .... in the 10 years since you've been asleep, ..... Kent, ... if we have been fortunate enough to make the playoffs, bud, .....we haven't won a single playoff series, ..... yeah I know, I know it doesn't seem possible. Yes Kent, .... I know what that means, the Flames have won a playoff series only once in twenty years, ..... yeah I know thats even worse than the much maligned Laffs and Coilers. Hmmmmmmmm ..... Kent ole buddy that is why I thought I might bring to your attention that part of your article that speaks about loser organizations like the Oilers and their feigned attempts at toughness, bringing in all of those useless players ..... Since 2004 when we began slowly circling the bowl ourselves, .....I hate to break it to you Kent, ... the Flames list of ankle skating knuckle draggers is just as long as theirs. I know it seems unimaginable but the Flames brought in the likes of Eric Godard, Guillaume Desbiens, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Adam Pardy, Raitis Ivanans, Akim Aliu and of course, our current mouth-breather Brian McGrattan. Kent, please stop sobbing ....no will call you sanctimonious .... How could you have known and of course our record hasn't been nearly as bad as the Coilers and that's all that really matters isn't it Kent .....? No Kent, .... no one on FlamesNation will remember your chest pounding or you self righteously pointing at the Oilers failures once the season starts ..... How have the Canucks been doin' .....? Kent, you've had enough shocking and bad news for today, let's talk about those bums tomorrow maybe ........

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#123 Neil B
September 20 2013, 11:36PM
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Just lobbing a pork chop into the kennel here, but I seem to recall that Owen Nolan spent his first year in the NHL nailed to the Nords' bench, playing less than 4th line time, yet he turned out OK as a pro.

Now maybe Monahan isn't ready for top-6 minutes; but maybe the reason he isn't relates to his off-ice regimen more than his on-ice skills. In that case, his development would be best served by seeing what it takes, on a day-in, day-out basis, to be a pro. Would Stamkos have turned to Gary Roberts in the off-season if the Lightning sent him back to juniors & he dominated, as opposed to keeping him in the bigs?

There's a lot of factors to look at when deciding whether or not a kid should stick with a team. The stats line (positively or negatively) is only one small piece of the puzzle.

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