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 Lordmork
September 16 2013, 11:15AM
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On the topic of toughness, what do we make of Blair Jones' new-found "grit?" Going to help him make the team?

http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/hockey/calgary-flames/Johnson+once+forgettable+Blair+Jones+making/8915529/story.html

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#102 Demetric
September 16 2013, 11:32AM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

everyone keep in mind that blair jones broke his damn leg blocking a shot in ot soooooo

I cannot find any news on this, what is the story? there were post game interviews talking about him but no word on this.

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#103 icedawg_42
September 16 2013, 11:41AM
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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.

That was pretty much my question to Kent - or anyone who has an opinion. What is the criteria to decide if he's ready. Is, Monahan having, as Kent said above "a strong camp" enough?

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#104 Justin Azevedo
September 16 2013, 12:04PM
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@Demetric

nevermind it was his ankle

http://www.calgarysun.com/2012/02/11/flames-blair-jones-out-with-broken-ankle

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#105 Demetric
September 16 2013, 12:09PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

nevermind it was his ankle

http://www.calgarysun.com/2012/02/11/flames-blair-jones-out-with-broken-ankle

thanks, and I thought you meant in Saturdays game originally, lol

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#106 Parallex
September 16 2013, 01:26PM
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@DoubleDIon

No, I'm not. What I said is basically that we can save 5/6M on him if he's an elite player at that point. Because an elite player would be making 6/7Mish. Monahan will make $925,000 the last year of his ELC (the rest is in bonuses which won't count against the cap that year). 6/7M - 925K... you do the math.

Also, people should stop mentioning Kadri. If Sean Monahan is like Kadri not only should he not be playing in the NHL this year, he shouldn't next year, and possibly shouldn't the year after. Nazim Kadri wasn't ready to play in the NHL as a 19yo.

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#107 Parallex
September 16 2013, 01:50PM
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@Purple Hazze

What? Of course it would have an effect on the competitiveness. That dollar amount is probably the difference between being able to have a couple of legit 2nd line guys playing on your 3rd or just having typical middle depth guys (if for just a little while).

That's the kind of difference between being a powerhouse and being a run-of-the-mill club. It's the kind of money that allows you to make a Campbell sized mistake (Which isn't that easy to be rid of... see Lacavalier/Dipetro) and remain competative.

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#108 Parallex
September 16 2013, 03:26PM
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@Jeff Lebowski

Because... "it matters not if you win a fight, it matters that you are willing to compete that way"... if willingness to compete that way is all that's required then by the nature of two participants in the fight would imply that both teams get "what matters".

Regardless, the actual effect is pretty meaningless...

http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=222

... if people want to be entertained by a couple of guys beating on each other in skates more power to them. Lot's of people like fights, the popularity of Boxing and the UFC (not to mention the circle that surrounds a schoolyard brawl) is testiment to that. But facts bare out that any actual benefit in hockey terms is incredably marginal at best (and probably negative after you weed out the opportunity cost of keeping a goon on roster/ice). I have no doubt that guys on the ice/bench do feel different after a fight... I'm sure watching got their adenaline going but the other side get's the same rush so I imagine in terms of "value" it's a wash.

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#109 thymebalm
September 16 2013, 04:39PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

"Can you name 4 better centers playing for the Flames? I can name two."

I expect Corbin Knight will be better if not the same.

Fighting for 3rd or 4th line minutes will not do him any good, playing will. In my view, many young players are ruined by clubs rushing them into the NHL.

Is it rushing him if that's where he fits? I don't think so. Corbin Knight has not been better this preseason. Jooris and Knight have looked like they could be on the 4th line, but that's about it.

This whole concept that if an awesome young kid plays in the NHL it will ruin him is dramatic and I don't believe that it's true. Where is the list of top 10 picks ruined by playing as a teenager?

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#110 Parallex
September 16 2013, 04:55PM
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@DoubleDIon

...and the year before they played 9:30ish and in 08-09 Glencross played 14:40 almost exclusively on the third line. Like everything it varies year to year.

I'm still waiting to hear what people think ought to happen if all three of Knight, Horak, and Monahan all play well enough to credable hold the 3C spot.

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#111 Parallex
September 16 2013, 05:03PM
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@jai kiran

I don't buy it.

If it were that meaningful hockey front offices would have weeded out the "mistake making" fighters (they'd replace the fighter who fights at the wrong time with one that elects to fight at the right time). There would be no "momentum changing" fights because eventually fighting would only be able to exist in a momuntum neutral environment

Strikes me as hokum.

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#112 Parallex
September 16 2013, 05:09PM
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SeanCharles wrote:

Well I would say there are a couple centre spots open and Knight wouldnt be hurt by playing 4th line mins. Throwing Horak into the mix makes it more difficult.

Well your not gonna keep Monahan as an extra forward so either make room for him and Horak or send him back.

I dont see him playing in the NHL this season as a waste so long he gets playing time(If he is indeed ready).

So Monahan would be hurt playing fourth line but nobody else would?

Uh huh, If this arbitrary "#3C or higher" bar applies to Monahan then I don't see why it shouldn't apply to Knight and Horak. Neither of them are muckers (they actually both have the same basic profile as Monahan... 2-way north/south Centers) neither of them strike me as finished products.

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#113 FireOnIce
September 16 2013, 07:48PM
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RE: the game against Ottawa tonight.

OTT just scored short-handed on Berra. Not stoked on that. The Flames just picked up from last season it seems.

Jarmoe has 2 goals for Boston tonight. He's playing with Lucic and Krug. I will be very disappointed if he ends up having a 35-40 goal season. We'll know then that he bombed it in Calgary just to be cut loose.

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#114 calgaryfan
September 16 2013, 08:19PM
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Monahan should go back to junior and dominate the OHL, along with playing at the world junior tournament. Much better to grow his confidence than be a third or fouth liner with the flames. Not a fan of just having a goon on the bench that can only fight.

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#115 FireOnIce
September 16 2013, 08:58PM
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@iggy pop

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.

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#116 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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#117 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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#118 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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#119 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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#120 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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#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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