“I love the physical intangibles he brought to the game.” – Pierre McGuire, explaining why Ed Jovanovski is A MONSTER!
That quote is lifted from this rather amazing Covered in Oil post from April 2008, which does a great breakdown of Pierre McGuire’s 2008 Monsters of the Year list. It’s a good read, and taken in conjunction with this rumour it just makes me smile.
Anyways, Covered in Oil responded with the dictionary definition of intangible: “not tangible; incapable of being perceived by the sense of touch, as incorporeal or immaterial things; impalpable.”
As a guy who likes statistics, I get knocked a lot as not caring about intangibles. That’s not true. Obviously, things like leadership, guts, heart and the like can be important things in team-building. The psychological side of the game exists and undoubtedly influences outcome, but it can’t be measured by us. A coach may have a good grasp of these qualities in his players, but of course that’s biased by his own experience and perception. We can guess at the character of players, but it’s only a guess.
Physicality is not an intangible. Aside from the fact that certain aspects can be measured (size, strength, total hits) physicality is obvious to anyone who watches the game.
Even defensive ability, which isn’t easy to measure, doesn’t qualify as an intangible. A competent observer can grade any player’s positioning after a sufficient period of time; and count battles won and lost. On the statistical end of things, NHL teams have been counting scoring chances for years (and over at mc79hockey.com, Dennis has been tracking scoring chances all year), and other statistics like QualComp, ZoneShift and Corsi are helping us craft a better picture all the time. But I digress.
The point of this article is that intangibles really don’t belong in the conversation. We don’t know them; if we knew them, they wouldn’t be intangible. When someone says, ‘yeah, but he has/doesn’t have intangibles’, they’re arguing from a position of ignorance – effectively saying: ‘well, I think there’s some other, unmeasurable quality that makes X a good or bad hockey player’, and that’s simply wrong. X is a good or bad hockey player based on what he does on the ice. Saying something to the effect of “X doesn’t win puck battles” or “X doesn’t go into traffic areas” may be accurate or not, but a competent observer can watch the game and confirm or deny the statement – and that makes all the difference.