Senators News: July 13th

Kaspars Daugavins‘ arbitration hearing has been set for July 24th.  Ken Warren writes “If the Senators don’t like the ruling, they can simply walk away from the decision, allowing Daugavins to become an unrestricted free agent. If, on the other hand, Daugavins is awarded another two-way deal, paying him different salaries based on whether he plays in the NHL or the AHL, he could opt to play in the KHL with a team in Riga, Latvia, his home country.”  Warren’s impression that the Sens can walk away is contrary to what Nichols wrote yesterday.

Bryan Murray says he’s going to look for a Chris Neil clone via trade…I wish him the best of luck with that.  Tough players who can also play the game effectively are extremely rare and virtually never available and I don’t see him moving an asset for a one-dimensional heavyweight.  It’s also not clear to me if Murray meant he’d make such a move any time soon, as what does “We have to address that vacancy somehow and we will do that, but (Neil) has still got to play that role for us, hopefully with the assistance of other players” really mean in terms of urgency?  One wonders if the comment was meant to make the Don Brennan’s of the world shut-up about toughness for awhile.

-Speaking of toughness, Ellen Etchingham has a great article about Cam Janssen and similar players that we hear so much about:

Notice how there is no mention whatsoever of helping the team, of protecting stars, of making space for scoring? Nope. It’s all the self-aggrandizing rhetoric of threat. When Janssen talks about his role on the ice, it consists entirely of this: fighting whoever is willing to fight him and head-hunting whoever has the puck. The only person he’s interested in protecting is himself, from people saying mean things to him. Since all the rules restricting fighting came into play, the only way real way erstwhile ‘policemen’ can make themselves useful is by trying to use intimidation tactics, and not the intimidation that comes from fighting, but the intimidation that comes from concussing. So let’s just drop all the crap about ‘protecting stars’ and ‘making space.’ Maybe that’s how it was in the eighties, but that ain’t how it is now.

This is a great point and what does it say about Janssen‘s value that the best he can do in the NHL are back-to-back a two-way deals?

Cam Janssen doesn’t exist to make hockey safer for good players. He exists to make it more dangerous for them. He exists to skate around uselessly until he sees someone get the puck and have to put themselves in a momentarily vulnerable position to make a play and then hurt them. And he’s proud of it. Goons get all the fucking honorifics in hockey. So brave! So tough! So selfless! Bullshit. Where is the fucking honor in that? Where is the courage? What is so selfless and noble about sneaking up behind skill and destroying it? In fact, you know what? If anything, that sounds a bit like cowardice to me, because it’s doing a kind of harm to others that you never have to face yourself. Cam Janssen doesn’t have to worry about somebody leveling him while he’s carrying the puck because in the NHL Cam Janssen couldn’t carry the puck if they let him do it in a fucking Easter basket. Oh sure, he’ll attack people face to face, when he can see punches coming and can hit back. He’ll fight people fairly. But the kind of unfair, non-consensual violence he’s talking about inflicting on others is the sort he doesn’t have to face himself, because he is a terrible hockey player who barely has the puck long enough to be vulnerable with it. He’s not a policeman. He’s a scavenger. If Janssen’s shit actually worked the way he described, the Devils would be playing him fifteen minutes a night on the top line so he could terrify opposing forwards into coughing the puck up for Kovalchuk. Instead, they don’t dress him for half the regular season and not even one playoff game, and when they do let him play, they give him only five of the very softest minutes against the easiest opposition.  Cam Janssen plays the tenderest, juiciest minutes in the game and he still gets roundly crushed in more or less every available metric, including fights lost.  You know what that means? It means Cam Janssen can’t scare anyone out of anything. Maybe opponents are intimidated in some way. Maybe they know exactly what he means to do to them and feel fear. But, evidently, they swallow their fear and make the play anyway, even knowing that he may come in late and high and knock them out.  But usually he doesn’t.  Most of the time, his puck-carrying opponents succeed in their goal and he fails in his, and the only people who are really intimidated are the Devils’ coaching staff, who are patently scared to have Janssen on the ice in any game or situation that actually matters.

This is a fantastic deconstruction of what “tough guys” really are.  They fight staged, irrelevant fights with other players who are just like them (Konopka) and their only success in limited ice time is to blow up a better player.  It’s a predatory role in which they mostly fail.  There’s certainly no metric that illustrates having more tough guys on the roster equals success.

People will tell you that loving tough hockey means loving enforcers. No. Guys like Janssen, Parros, they’re a very recent invention, a product of the last 30 years or so. For most of hockey history, there was no space on rosters for anyone who couldn’t play, and the famous old-time tough guys could carry the puck and throw a hit both. If anything, hockey was tougher when players, star or checker, fought their own battles, rather than downloading the entire team’s violence onto one or two marginal players. Hockey was violent before the designated goon and it will still be violent after. The Boston Bruins, widely considered one of the best and toughest teams of recent years, have not one roster player who registers an average of less than nine minutes of ES time per game, not one who requires the kind of sheltering Janssen does, and not one who gets killed nearly so badly on the shot clock. Call Shawn Thornton a thug if you want, but he can play in the postseason. People will tell you that hockey has always been violence and gore, and that’s true, but it is also true that it’s changed a lot and is changing still. There are things that used to be acceptable- stick violence, bench-clearing brawls- and are now anathema to nearly everyone. Head-hunting is next on the list. Maybe it was cool in the 90s, maybe everyone loved it back then. But we know things now that we didn’t know then, and among the things we’ve learned is this: if we let it, head-hunting will destroy this game. It will cripple our stars and our grinders alike, it will ruin lives and ruin the image of the game. This story doesn’t just end in bloodshed, it ends in dementia and lawsuits. It doesn’t matter if hockey used to be that way for a hundred years. It can’t be that way anymore.

Unfortunately for Etchingham (and everyone else who enjoys the actual game of hockey) the GMs who run the league are older and carry a lot of notions derived from the 70s and 80s when it comes to how they fill out their lineup.  They are also well aware of the inept discipline in the NHL and realise that the once or twice a season their tough guy knocks out another player he’s 1) unlikely to be punished, 2) even if he is, the punishment doesn’t hurt the team.  Change at the NHL level won’t come until there’s a new generation of management and the current generation of hockey writers cheerleading these kinds of players disappear.

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4 Comments

  1. […] Senators News: July 13th […]

  2. I wonder whether the Euro infusion of talent had an effect on the role of fighters in the league. A bunch of skilled guys came in that had no exposure to fighting and needed to be protected. Instead of just having the occasional small or slight star (Gretzky) there were teams with 6+ guys who couldn’t fight.

    • It’s an interesting thought, but I don’t think so. Goons came into the league (1970s) before the main influx of Europeans (1980s) and there were (and are) plenty of North American players who don’t fight. If you look at the research fighting as a strategy has had virtually no impact on game results whatsoever, particularly when it comes to winning the Cup.

  3. […] or how (if) it impacts the outcomes of games (something that has been debunked repeatedly: here, here, here, […]


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