Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is 'Good In The Room' A Recursive Problem?

Ken Holland has been largely dormant on the trade and free agency front these last few years - the aftershocks of inking Mike Green and Frans Nielsen are nothing compared to the eruptions that were Brett Hull and Marian Hossa - and so he's gone native, making sure to re-up his own players.  This summer he's re-signed Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and now Luke Glendening to extensions of 7, 5, and 4 years respectively.  

Luke Glendening is a glue guy, a guy you can win with.  Of course his territorial numbers are mediocre at best and his penalty killing skills are marginal at best and he doesn't score, but the Wings are going to pay him $1.8M a season for the next 4 years to play his version of tough hockey.

Googling 'Luke Glendening good in the room' gives me no result, but he has to be 'good in the room' - he's a bottom-liner with limited skills who also plays hard every night and is willing to sacrifice his body.  Why wouldn't he be beloved by his teammates?  

We see this phenomenon leaguewide.  We see it even in front offices who we think are smart, like Chicago.  They re-signed Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger to contracts beyond their NHL accomplishments.  Was that to keep a championship team together, or did they truly feel that Kruger is a $3M a year player?  In addition, they recently traded Teuvo Teravainen (with Bickell), claiming that Teravainen's refusal to spend the summer in Chicago is evidence that he's unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to become a better hockey player.

We know that 'good in the room' 'willing to sell out' and phrases like this are waiting at the front of a hockey player or executive's brain to be spouted to a waiting tape recorder or camera.  We know that the concept of team is relentlessly emphasized.  Playing as one.  We've seen boardroom videos of executives talking about 'the way we play' and how certain players fit into that team concept.  This must filter down to the player level, right?  Coaches must emphasize this sort of thing constantly.  It's a limited sample but HBO's 24/7 on the outdoor game appears to confirm this.

What I wonder is:  We assume that executives value grit and toughness and fitting in with the locker room culture over goals and assists when it comes to certain players.  What if, in addition to that valuation, they know the players have been so indoctrinated about the important of grit and glue guys and whatnot that the executive knows it will have a large psychological impact if e.g. 'Bicker' or 'Glenner' were let go?   We sometimes hear GMs speak this way about certain players, that a team was 'never the same' once a certain player left.  And what are GMs but (mostly) former players themselves?

I know this account doesn't exactly adhere to Occam's Razor.  It's much more likely that GMs merely consider the perceived impact on the team and just think these guys are worth keeping around rather than considering that not signing a certain guy will throw their squad into an existential funk.  I just don't see any GMs who don't consider 'team chemistry' at all when making decisions, and so until that happens we'll never see a team decided presumably on merit rather than a Luke Glendening chancing to be the exact size of the perceived missing piece on the team.