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There’s a problem in how we judge NHL players

It’s all about looks.

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Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I am going to made it really clear, before anything else is said, that I am not a professional scout, or even someone that evaluates hockey players on a serious level. I wouldn’t take my opinion of a player and run with it, making it the concrete fact or something to base your opinion on. Even still, there’s a clear problem with how people and those people that are in power to make organizational decisions, evaluate and judge hockey players on the ice.

Everyone has experienced this before. Whether you’re at school or at your mind-numbingly desolate desk job, there are moments where your superior comes around and you panic. Your heart starts racing because you simply do not have anything to do. Maybe you have already finished your work and you’re just killing time until the clock strikes five, coming up with your own games in your mind or just reading some Buzzfeed quiz because the work computer actually gets you access to that site.

In this state of panic you switch to your already-done piece of work, staring at it so damn hard, looking like you’re trying your hardest to concentrate on the task at hand. Being one of the team and a supreme cog in the office machine. Typing gibberish as fast as you can, just looking like you’re the hardest worker possible and hoping to leave a solid impression, even though you’ve already finished your work for the day hours ago. In reality, you’re even more productive than you appear to your boss, but they obviously wouldn’t think that if you were just trying to perfect that really cool pen trick where it spins around your thumb, that one you saw your friend in eighth grade do and it resulted in you just flicking your one good pencil all the way across the room.

This try-hard appearance is all you’re judged upon but it really is a whole bunch of nothing when it comes to actual work. If a task is too easy for you, as in you’re just really good at it and it doesn’t visually appear as a challenge for you, then it might not get as much credit compared to the product that resulted in someone busting their ass for. This sense of effort has been woven through the ideological fabric of labor for quite some time and it feels backwards.

If someone possesses the skills to do the job more efficiently, without any visual effort given, then maybe they should be rewarded for that. Even if it’s a reward of recognition and adoration for their pure abilities, producing the same (or better) outcome compared to their competition that appears to be trying so damn hard — they should be given more credit than they currently are.

Anyways, I’m talking about Dougie Hamilton.

Scott Burnside mentions in his latest mailbag at The Athletic that he has reached out to some sources around the league to get a sense of what the interest is in the pending free agent. He came to the conclusion that “there is healthy skepticism that Hamilton represents that cornerstone defender around whom you can build a Cup winner.”

It simply blows my mind that there are teams — namely the damn Philadelphia Flyers — that have bowed out the competition to sign Hamilton. Right here, just out in the open, with no strings attached to his name, no players or picks needed to be sacrificed on the NHL’s altar to acquire, is a very fucking good blueliner. Arguably one of the best right-handed defensemen in the whole damn league and there are teams worrying about his ability to be a “cornerstone” guy on a contending team.

Do people think Shea Weber or Jeff Petry is that guy? Is Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock? Like damn, there are teams right now just one simple small gutsy win away from appearing in the Stanley Cup Final built upon a blueline led by very-good-but-not-great defensemen. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a stellar regular season (and only had the abnormal 2021 Montreal Canadiens stop them from making a stellar Cup run) that had Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie as their top defensemen. Three guys that fit that exact mold of “useful but not going to win the Norris Trophy anytime soon.”

Hamilton has simply been remarkable during his time in Carolina. Over the last three seasons, no defenseman that has played significant minutes has had more quality chances end up going for his team at 5-on-5 (57.73 xGF%) or even just simply shot attempts be in favor of his team (57.79 CF%) and that even comes with true real-life goals in his pocket as he has the 11th-highest goals for percentage at that same game state.

Even if you don’t like the percentages and underlying metrics, Hamilton has earned the 14th-most points at 5-on-5 during those three seasons among any defenseman and has the most goals scored with 29 (which he earns because he has the second-highest individual expected goals with 19.01 xG). Dougie is simply an offensive powerhouse that will dominate opponents no matter what — completely bully their defense into the ground from the back, punishing them for any mistake made and I just think that’s someone you can depend on.

The problem is, to many people that analyze this game of ice hockey professionally, is that Hamilton doesn’t look like he’s producing.

Whether they say it out loud or quiet, they would much rather praise a guy like Zach Bogosian during the Tampa Bay Lightning championship run than Hamilton scoring a ton of goals. An obsession of nose-to-the-grindstone defensemen that just look like they’re trying so damn hard to keep up with the forwards that they are defending — it’s nauseating for how much praise they get over the more skilled players that can lap them in terms of production.

Even going away from the media personalities, NHL organizations would rather pay the likes of Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot — looking at you, Marc Bergevin, specifically — than acquire a free agent that just doesn’t look as hardworking on the ice.

From an outside perspective — like, really outside — it doesn’t make sense at all. If a player is appearing to really work hard, and honestly appear to be struggling on the ice, then why reward them? It’s all about the end product at the end of the day and a player like Hamilton might not look like they’re trying at points, but they simply are just so damn good. Maybe it’s an obsession with seeing a reflection of a sedulous character in the entertainment you tune into. The on-ice theatrics of a player pumping away at choppy skating to try and recover from a blown coverage in the neutral zone. Wouldn’t it just be better if that coverage was successful and the work was never put into place?

Supporting the underdog is human nature, but when it comes to professional sports, sometimes it’s not the underdog but the alien talent of a player that should be respected and paid for. It’s certainly not a straightforward process — things are inherently easier to enjoy and a player appearing to bust their ass on a desperation play is entertaining. But entertainment shouldn’t be considered a true factor when it comes to making a team better and win more games in the future.

Dougie Hamilton makes any team — and especially the Flyers — better and can no doubt be the best defenseman on a team that makes a deep run into the playoffs. Roster construction is certainly not just slotting in dudes and shuffling around puzzle pieces, but with a player of his talents, every team should be clamoring for his attention right now. But instead, some no-name guy that skates like he’s in a wind tunnel will get signed to a cheaper, but still shitty contract and can be the downfall of some blue lines.

There’s a problem with how we judge players and sadly appearance on the ice plays a massive role in swaying opinions.

I don’t have the answers and I don’t know what is going to happen next, but I just think it’s stupid so I decided to write an incomplete blog about it.

All stats via Evolving Hockey

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