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In the past few years, guys who are bad at hockey but good at fighting have largely been weeded out of the game because someone in a front office somewhere realized that having bad hockey players on your professional hockey team’s roster is perhaps a strategy that’s not conducive to winning hockey games.
The most obvious example of this in the NHL today is noted Buffalo Sabres knuckle-dragger and pylon John Scott, who is extraordinarily adept at beating guys up but rather the opposite when he actually has to skate for more than two seconds at a time without holding onto another player’s shirt. He was brought in to be some sort of critical piece for the Sabres’ attempt at restructuring its lineup to add “grit” and “toughness” — traits with often equate to “losing” and “missing the playoffs” — and indeed, he has done so. He’s been in four fights in 17 games this season (in which he has averaged 3:52 of ice time), and only one scrap was at home. He has otherwise been as useless as you might expect, which you might suspect given the average ice time listed above. Buffalo, meanwhile, currently sits dead last in the Eastern Conference, because of course they do.
The reason teams are still dumb enough to sign and play these oafs every night is because of tradition, rather than reason. Toughness is valued perhaps on a higher level than skill in the world of hockey punditry and team management; you gotta be tough to play against. Especially on the road. You gotta be tough to play against on the road. It seems to enter into people’s minds relatively infrequently that one great way to be tough to play against is to have a lot of skilled players who prevent the other team from having the puck because of how often they have it themselves. It’s really tough to play hockey when you don’t have the puck. Lots of running around in your own zone (so tiring!) and blocking shots (that hurts!) and trying to get a change before you get scored on (no fun!).
Interestingly, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had rather a strange thing going on in their recent games as it relates to both these types of players. On the one hand, you have Nazem Kadri, who is an extremely high-skill player drafted seventh overall in 2009 and is just now becoming an everyday NHLer. How good is he? He has 17 points in 20 games this year, tying him for 24th in the entire NHL. On the other, you have brainless goon Colton Orr, who despite the surname is terrible at hockey and has two points in 17 games. It’s not so much interesting that they would be on the same team, but that coach Randy Carlyle would deign to put them on the same line together (with Clarke MacArthur, whose hockey ability falls somewhere in between the two), very much is.
Orr scored a goal in a real NHL game a few weeks ago, which is notable only because Orr’s previous goal came at the start of the 2011-12 season. But then, when I went back and watched the goal out of pure morbid curiosity, I was not at all surprised to see that his linemates did literally all the work and he was just in front of the net — somehow having shaken free of coverage — and banged in a rebound. That doesn’t exactly validate his role, unless you’re his coach.
“I thought he gave us what we needed,” Carlyle said of Orr’s play (though not the goal specifically) a little more than a week ago. “And it’s amazing how things quiet down when he’s out there.”
How apropos, though, for Carlyle to espouse goals like that above all else.
Like Colton Orr getting almost 10-plus minutes of ice time in his last three games. That’s hilarious.
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