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 Parallex
September 16 2013, 05:39PM
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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.

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#102 piscera.infada
September 16 2013, 05:40PM
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jai kiran wrote:

Yeah, there's a difference between the way you develop a 6th overall pick and the way you develop two 5th rounders.

I don't really agree with this. If Knight and/or Horak beat Monahan out for 3C and Monahan is "ready", but not "as ready", you send Monahan back. The point is that we're trying to properly develop as many prospects as possible - not one at the behest of all the others.

Oh, and Parallex, the opportunity to send Monahan to the AHL would be music to my ears.

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#103 Pizzaman
September 16 2013, 06:07PM
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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".

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#104 piscera.infada
September 16 2013, 06:08PM
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@exsanguinator

They can't give him an AHL contract. It's CHL or NHL for the kid. Thus, the issue (if he could play in the AHL we probably wouldn't be having this conversation).

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#105 kittensandcookies
September 16 2013, 07:05PM
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I'm just happy we have some prospects that actually seem to have some real potential so that questions about them playing in the NHL aren't just fantasy.

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#106 Kevin R
September 16 2013, 07:31PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

Skinner earned and played top 6 minutes all season long, in his rookie year. Monahan will be a 4th liner behind Backlund, Stajan and Knight. Calgary isn't winning anything but a lottery pick this year. Let him develop with more playing time.

Well if his play is that, that garners 4th line, I totally agree & send him down. I don't think Knight has been playing better than him & I would rather put him on the #2 line & Stajan on the 3rd line. But only if he plays better than Knight, Horak or Reinhart. I'm not advocating keeping him up just because, he needs to play well enough. Skinner did earned & played top 6 minutes that year, why couldn't Monahan do the same?

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#107 iggy pop
September 16 2013, 07:55PM
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FireOnIce wrote:

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.

Yeah like he did with the Penguins too... All he ever wanted was to play with the Bruins right... Give up on the iggy bashing already. Done more for calgary and the flames than anyone on this board ever will... sheesh

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#108 Jeff Lebowski
September 16 2013, 08:08PM
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Danger wrote:

Great post. Now I finally get your point, wasn't quite following you before. So you're saying that fighting has an effect but it's a smaller effect - we'd need much more fine-grained statistics to be able to observe it. I don't know if your theory is right, but is interesting and it sounds like the sort of thing that could be tested (at least in principle).

Yes. So off the top of my head, teams practice battle drills. One on one board battles or other effort plays. If you tracked individual and team winning percentages ie board battle winning percentage, like with faceoffs, you could see if those change after a fight.

Moreover, it seems the analysis was to find a difference in shot rate. The analysis presumably shows no change in shot rate. The key being what constitutes a shot.

What I mean is, a team's rate or raw number might not change, say it's 15. However, the quality of the shots that make that number might be vastly different. A fight makes your team play harder, you get to the 'dirty' areas more and shoot higher percentage shots (scoring chances). Their goalie still stops those shots so it doesn't affect goals. Your shot rate is still 15 but it's composed of high percentage shots compared to low percentage shots.

So 2 identical shot rates: 15. One with high percentage or scoring chance shots and the other with low percentage. Can you say both games were played the same? You may not score, you may still lose but how you played is night and day.

A digression about fighting and an illumination about discerning nuance from aggregate stats: A memorable goal in Flames history is the Steve Smith scoring into his own net. Some player X on Calgary got credited with the goal. Looking back at the data and having no knowledge of what happened it would be rational to think player X made a great play, I mean he got credited with a shot and goal. The stats don't describe what Steve Smith did.

If that is how you are going to look for something (effect after a fight) you will never see its signal because your method is not discerning enough.

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#109 exsanguinator
September 16 2013, 08:18PM
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piscera.infada wrote:

They can't give him an AHL contract. It's CHL or NHL for the kid. Thus, the issue (if he could play in the AHL we probably wouldn't be having this conversation).

I was not aware of this. Thank you.

Is he not old enough or something?

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#110 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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#111 Baalzamon
September 16 2013, 09:20PM
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@FireOnIce

Krug is a dman... is it possible you're thinking of Krejci?

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#112 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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#113 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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#114 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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#115 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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#116 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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#117 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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#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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