07 December 2013
When the injured Jan Hejda was replaced on the top pair with Nate Guenin I was initially boggled at how very smart hockey people, such as Patrick Roy and his staff, can be so wrong about a player or players as he continues to undervalue the contributions of Tyson Barrie. I was listening to my favorite podcast on the internet, You are not so Smart, when the host talked about Argumentum ad Antiquitatem, or Appeal to Tradition a logical fallacy. Basically something gets valued as true because it's always been valued.
In hockey there seems to be no more greater overvalued ability than toughness, physicality and size. This isn't bad coaches or stupid people, this is an industry wide overvaluation of one attribute an instituitional bias. Nate Guenin, Ryan O'Byrne, Greg Zanon, Scott Hannan are all recent Avs whom coaching staffs seem to have overvalued because they are tough defensive defensemen. It's certainly not just the Avs - Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins, a very smart organization, just recently traded a second round pick for a washed up Douglas Murray because he's big. Hal Gill had a career that extended well beyond his usefulness because he's big.
Then there's a player like Tom Gilbert, now in Florida. A smooth puck moving fluid defenseman who doesn't hit very much and was never very good at moving bodies. The guy has been a very effective NHL defenseman for years, but he wasn't signed until extremely late for the bargain of $900k. He's been the best bargain of the season. It's not just Gilbert, Tyson Barrie is of the same mold and continues to be underappreciated, both by coaching staff's (Roy's and Sacco's) and by smart fans.
Maybe, in a bygone era, toughness and gritty play was as important as many hockey people think it is now. There was an era where the skating wasn't as good and maybe the more half-court style play led to an increased importance of that toughness. But in today's game, it's less important than being able to move the puck effectively especially in your own zone, a place where Barrie excels and Guenin struggles.Here's an example of how Guenin's play gets over-valued and Barrie's gets undervalued, both from the Calgary game last week:
Guenin goes back into his own zone and is pressured by a CGY player. Instead of passing to Erik Johnson, who is open a short distance away, Guenin skates the puck towards him allowing the Calgary player to cover both players effectively, eliminating his best passing option. Guenin also eliminates his own pass to the wing on the far boards by putting the net between him and the wing. He now has no choice but to try a low percentage chip off the boards. Calgary keeps the chip in the zone and gets at least 4 shots at net including a good scoring chance. You could watch that shift and think Guenin had a good shift. He had a hit, and he effectively tied up his man in front of the net. He blocked a shot. But he wouldn't have had to do any of it with a more effective pass out of his end. (He screwed up a pass the next game against Vancouver which directly led to a back breaking goal)
To me, it appeared as if Guenin didn't make a decision on what to do with the puck until after he got it.
Later in the game Barrie was headed back into his own zone, being pressured heavily on the forecheck. Before getting the puck he looked his options, Holden on his right who had a CGY man coming to try and force a Holden turnover, but he also had Landeskog (maybe O'Reilly) on his left slightly up the boards. He gives a small fake to Holden (the traditional classic play) and chips the puck over the forecheckers stick to Landy, who then skates it harmlessly out of the zone. No blocked shots, no checks, no shots against and no scoring chances. A much more effective play
Michael Lewis' baseball book, Moneyball, is often mistakingly referred too as a book about statistics. It's not. It's a book about identifying and exploiting institutional biases in a professional sport (which are also called market inefficiencies). Statistics was nothing more than the tool he used to identify those biases. Those biases that infest us, all of us, are hard to identify. Physicality is still an important trait for a hockey player, but the importance of it is a bit antiquated. Hockey is slowly shaking that bias, but the Argumentum ad Antiquitatem is still much too common.