The Age of Analytics
has helped us understand the value of players whose boxcars don’t necessarily help them buy cars. Instead, it has helped players turn possessing the puck into possessing a mansion.
But somehow, analytics have cast a negative light on the group who are most vital to winning – character players.
You hear it all the time – “don’t overpay for intangibles! pay for skill!”. But what people don’t understand is that it is technically impossible to overpay for character and grit. Character and grit are known as intangibles. That means they quite literally cannot be measured. Meaning it is literally impossible to overpay for them. Their beauty is in the eye of the be(er)holder in the stands and in front of the TV.
Let’s look at an example.
A lot of people made fun of the Anaheim Ducks – a noted anti-analytics team who also happens to be at the top of the standings every year (kermit sipping tea dot jpeg) – for the deal they signed Ryan Kesler to. It is important to note that everyone who slagged the Ducks for this are people who care more about cells on spreadsheets than celebrations on the ice. And celebrations are something Kesler knows a lot about. He is a winner.
The reason Kesler is a winner isn’t because of the points he puts up – it is from his toughness, character, grit, and leadership. These are the things that win playoff games. They might not win you regular season games, but those don’t matter. The playoffs matter. The regular season is just an 82 game pre-season where coaches get to experiment and Euros actually play well. The playoffs are where legends like Danny Briere (RIP), Darcy Tucker, and Mike Cammalleri are made.
Notice how the three names I chose to list above AND Ryan Kesler are all either Canadians or played for a Canadian team? Makes you think about how hockey is Canada’s game.
In fact, legend has it that Ryan Kesler is who Brian Burke thought he was acquiring in the infamous Seguin-Kessel trade. And if that had gone down the way Burke hoped, it’s obvious who would have won that trade (hint: The Leafs).
Pop quiz: who has been to the playoffs more times – Phil Kessel or Ryan Kesler?
But this isn’t just about Ryan Kesler. This is about Mark Fraser, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Ryan O’Byrne – the kind of guys that might fall down a lot but make sure they get in the way of a shot or a fist. The kind of guys you win with in the playoffs. Look at the Leafs – they almost won a playoff series with those guys. And that’s more than you can say for Phil Kessel (who will fit in perfectly with the Penguins and their underachieving ways) or Nazem Kadri. Yeah those two really showed up when it counted all right. At McDonald’s.
And still, despite all the evidence, people are trying to force the beautiful sport of hockey onto a USB drive instead of appreciating the tenacity of a good net drive. People can keep preaching to only pay for skill, but ever since the Leafs started following that mantra, they’ve been terrible. Proof is in the pudding.
Maybe, just maybe, we should stop trying to discount intangibles. They are worth paying for, just like goals and assists. But how much they are worth is not known. It might never be. That’s what makes them so beautiful.