Wayne and Mario and Mats and Prats

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It was Wayne Gretzky's birthday on Monday. I know, I didn't get him anything either. I'm sure he got something great from Kerry Fraser, though. Anyways, I heard Ray Ferraro being interviewed about Wayner. When asked about playing against him, he was quick to stress that the Great One had the 'intangibles', the will to win and be his best that was as important to his success as his awareness, passing, and vision. In fact Ferraro contended that intangibles were what separated Gretzky from other talented players who didn't achieve their full potential.

Like Mario Lemieux.

Yeah, that guy. Three Harts, two Conn Smythes, six Art Ross, 199 points in a year, 2002 gold, 1723 career points. Mario DONKEYBLANKING LEMIEUX.

All baseball fans are familiar with the Scrappiness Fallacy. Fans and reporters love the Johnny McGlovins and Willie Bloomquists of the world because they hustle, have grit, are gamers, all the synonyms for 'undersized white guy I like who's not really talented enough to start'. Hell, paeans to scrappiness must have provided the late Fire Joe Morgan with about 65% of its content.

Hockey fans also love their grinders. Hell, I used to own a Bill Berg jersey and wish I still had it. But the scrappiness fallacy isn't as pronounced in hockey, because hockey is a contact sport with specialized roles. If you're bringing hustle, intensity, and smart play without putting numbers on the board in hockey, you are Kirk Maltby. You're an important complementary player on a championship team. If you're doing the same in baseball, you're Joe McEwing, and you shouldn't be in the lineup.

Nevertheless, sportswriters love to write about all these intangibles, no matter what the sport, perhaps because they are more easily understood, or perhaps cause it's easier to talk out your ass when discussing something that is by its very nature indefinable. When trying to discuss the incandescent peak of Wayne Gretzky, you can break down how great he was with statistics, you can speak of passing lanes, wing play, and the how the Oilers set up their power play or forecheck, or you can spout some cliches about "wanting it more." Which one gets you down to the bar before deadline?

So the discourse of intangibles, attaches itself to hockey's superstars. Gretzky,  being small and English Canadian, represents humility and hard work, even if he did have untouchable skills. Mario, on the other hand, is 6''4. Obviously, he didn't have to work as hard, or care as much. Even though he put up a staggering amount of points, captained the Pens to two Cups, and led the league in scoring the same season he took time off to undergo chemotherapy.

It reminds me of how Yzerman and Modano transitioned from one-dimensional scorers to 'complete' players who now worked hard in all three zones and led their teams. This transformation occurred right around the time their teams started contending for the Cup.

Leafs fans, take Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin. Sure, Gilmour's peak was higher, but no one has scored as many goals for the Leafs as the Big Dither. But Dougie was small and scrappy, so while he didn't play in Toronto nearly as long, never took the team any further than Mats did, and whined his way out of town when the team hit tough times, he was and is far more beloved by Leaf fans. But as Mats and Mario demonstrate, being great and being loved can be two different things.

And it's not just Toronto. One month into his Canucks career, Mats is being ripped regularly in Vancouver for not having enough fire, or showing enough emotion. Fuck, if the Canucks really wanted that they could have promoted any number of AHLers. Unlike in Toronto, though, where such criticisms were usually without merit, Mats hasn't helped his case at all by taking tons of team killing penalties, looking sluggish, and worst of all, not scoring. He's also taking much flak for going to Whistler over the break instead of staying in town to work out. Because doing drills in an empty rink is gonna be huge for a guy whose biggest problem is readapting to the speed of the NHL game.

So far, an apt nickname for Mats would be... well, comes over at the end of his career from another organization, big rep, makes a lot of money, is basically invisible, doesn't seem that motivated - Mats "The Consultant" Sundin!

And if you'll forgive this long meandering coda (that kind of mirrors Mats in Vancouver), the Canucks freefall that has been happening simultaneously has provided a perfect storm of nonsense here in Vancouver. The highlight was undoubtedly yesterday, when a caller interrupted Dave Pratt's ripping of Sundin by suggesting that maybe Mats knows how to handle his training and that it was a bit rich that Mats' work ethic was being questioned by a guy who worked four hours a day, four or five days a week. Cue Pratt blowing a headpipe and cutting a self-righteous promo about how no one in the business outworked him, he sweated blood for the show, etc. Remember, this is the same guy who got canned by the Province for plagiarizing a column cause "he wanted to get out of the office before noon on a Saturday." Maybe he's scrappy.




Raymond Kubina said:

The Canucks missing the playoffs with Sundin would be almost as great as when Marcus Naslund sat out the Olympics to rest up for the playoffs. And then Sweden won the Gold and Vancouver missed the playoffs.

Nice post.

Someone needs to make up a mathematical forumla that explains how it is guys like Berg, Franchescetti and Tucker generate more fan support than the players that are often the real game changers.

As for Gretzky, scrappiniess would likely be the 23rd or 24th item on the list of things that made him the best or second best player in the history of the NHL.

Baroque said:

You forgot the patron saint of scrappy, David Eckstein. :)

1967ers said:

Big guys who are good skaters always look like they're dogging it simply because it doesn't take them as many strides to get anywhere.

If you can make something look effortless, people assume it actually is.

Call it the Frank Mahovlich syndrome.

Kim Jorn said:

Is that some sort of shot at Kim "The Consultant" Jorn?

I was pretty pissed at Dougie when he left, but those feelings have faded (it helps having Leafs TV and being able to see at least a game a week from the 93 run). I wonder what the feelings towards Mats Sundin will be when they're raising his number in a token gesture ten years from now.

BTW, Pratt's straight man was on McCown's show the other night, and talked a lot about his love for Toronto. Funny, I didn't hear much of that when I was in Vancouver.

Speaking of radio guys, Mike Toth has made several comments about global warming this week, often mentioning how you don't hear much from Suzuki and Gore when it gets cold out like it has been lately. Toth should really stick to the subjects that he gets paid to be ignorant about...

Karina said:

Oh goodness me I hate Pratt. Can you rip into him more though? He and Taylor have one of the worst shows I've ever had the mispleasure of listening to. They have 30 second memories. Last year, they loved ripping the Leafs and our then-beloved Captin, but come July 1, they were salivating over the prospect of him signing with the Canucks. And in December, when he did sign, they trumpeted how they had been right all along, and now Mats would save them all.
Though, I would've highly enjoyed hearing that caller. Pratt and Taylor are such arrogant SOB's that I'm probably glad I missed it, since whenever someone calls in who disagrees with them, they go off on some unrelated tangent to prove how they're right. And don't even get me started on Taylor's hatred of Toronto.
I'd rather listen to Cox & McGuire than these two.

Godd Till said:

Bitter - I loved all three of those guys!

Baroque - As a Tigers fan, I wish I could forget David Eckstein, or Scrappy-Doo Satan, as I've referred to him before.

Karina - I could do a whole blog ripping on Pratt and Taylor, but reading the CAPS LUNACY of Pratt's series of ransom notes he calls a 'blog' Kim and I are too scared.

I do have enough courage to share this message board thread that relates tales of seeing Pratt wrecked at the Roxy, sporting his leather pants. Lock up your daughters!


Wohn Jensink said:

Dave Pratt is a racist.

Rill Boot (formerly dan daoust with the subscripts) said:

Nice post.

I think it's high time that a scrappiness coefficient be created in order to determine, no predict, which players will be tucked under the collective arm of masses and hailed as their own. I think the factors considered should be:

a. Place of development:
-If said player hails from a small city/town/village/yurt, then it is a plus.
-If said player comes from a large metropolis or capitol city, then it is a minus.

You could probably determine a coefficient

b. Size below average of sport:
-Football, that is soccer is the exception, where a dwarfish shrew like Diego Maradona can thrive, where Leo Messi still thrives, so it doesn't apply to football as different leagues allow the shrews of the football world to make a living.

Still, I'd say for every inch under average you add a point as a multiplier, for every inch over, subtract. Zdeno Chara on this metric would be, in a word, fucked, in this category.

c. Ability to defend:

Surely scrappiness is manifest in those who make up for their lack of offensive talent by preventing those who have it from using it. One way offensive centres shouldn't be held up as the pinnacles of scrappiness incarnate.

d. The overcoming of some personal obstacles:
Surely Domi's ability to play in the NHL despite an oversized cranium that wreaked havoc with his centre of gravity should be some measure of 'scrap'. I guess some kind of range would need to be determined on how you allocate this. Russians defecting to play in the NHL during Socialist Russia is some amount of scrap, surely, but how would it rank. If no value is available, it should not be applied.

Okay, let's try it on, say, Borje Salming:

a. Let the number equal 1 million minus town population: 1 mill minus 18154= 981846. Take the first two numbers and convert it into a percentage, 98

b. 6 foot 1 is average now....I'd give him a 0 anyway.

c. Ability to defend? Well he was a defender, and a good two way one at that. I'd say this stat would need a scale that goes from -3 to plus 3, - being a liability to plus a defensive gem. I'd give Borje a 2, mainly because the offensive aspects seem to slightly curtail his defensive prowess.

d. A swede who played during the Ballard years, a plus 2.

I'd say the equation would like something like:

a + b x c + d, which means Salming had a scrap coefficient of .98 + 0 x 2 + 2 = 3.96.

I'm not sure what that exactly means, but it does attest to some degree of scrap.

Let's see with Gretz=

.90 + 1 x -2.5 - 2 (he did after all play in the pre trap days, so there wasn't the same hindrance to scoring as there is today) = -6.75. Not really a lot of scrap.

Godd Till said:

daoust, standing O. That may be the best comment in Cox Bloc history.

Now you need to do Mario, Mats and Dougie to make this post scientific.

Wohn, you say that about Pratt every time. Details?

Manny Darkov (aka. bkblades) said:

Timely post.

Despite the much ballyhooed, but admittedly much needed, calls for a rebuild in Toronto, what's the new criticisms about the Leafs nowadays during the rebuild?

That this team isn't fun to watch (thus, not going anywhere) because we don't have guys who throw the haymakers and show that same "will" to go down without a fight in every loss. Never mind that I may or may not have said the same things, but hey, rebuilds aren't made on the backs of Bob McGill. Baumgartner, on the other hand...

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This page contains a single entry by Godd Till published on January 29, 2009 4:29 PM.

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