Friday, March 5, 2010

Circular Salary Logic & the Blame Game

When things go wrong for any organization and it doesn't meet expectations the blame game will surely follow. In hockey the major players in the blame game are: the GM, the coach, and the players themselves.

It's easy to blame the players. They are the ones playing the game after all. If you pay a top forward $4 million per year and he only scores you 6 goals then he is clearly to blame, right? Toss the bum on his butt (or if he's a Canadian toss the butthead on his bum). Ah, but what if all the forwards are failing to score? Can you really reasonably blame all of them individually? No, that would suggest a systemic problem: either the GM hasn't put the best team on the ice for the money spent or the coach hasn't properly prepared/motivated them.

The current thinking from the majority of the wannabe Bruins GMs of the world is that the problem with the Bruins is the GMs fault. The reasoning goes something like this: the Bruins GM rewarded the good play of many players last season with fat contracts. This season those players are under-performing. Therefore they are not really worth what they were paid; the GM overpaid for them. In overpaying these players the GM had his hands tied by the salary cap when it came time to upgrade. Thus, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the GM.

But I believe there is a major logical fault in that argument, and it goes back to the point I was trying to make in my last post. My counter argument goes like this: every player has a potential. When a player excels he reaches that potential. When he fails to excel he falls short of that potential. So how do you value a player? By his last game, which may have been a poor effort, or by his potential? I claim that the only reasonable answer is to value a player by his potential, at least when it comes to his contract. After all, when we look longingly at some superstar who plays for another team, and imagine him coming to Boston, it his potential we value. Put him with our guys, in our system, and he might not live up to it.

This leads us to the last player in the blame game, the head coach. The coach is responsible for preparing the players both mentally and physically. If one player fails to live up to his potential we can blame the player. But if the whole team fails to do so then perhaps we need to look at the coach instead. The job of the GM is to get the best bang for the buck in terms of player potential, based on previous performance (and in some cases expected performance growth). The job of the coach is to bring the level of play up to the potential that has been purchased by the GM.

If you look at last season we can see the potential of these players. Thomas was only the second Bruins goaltender to win the Vezina in over 60 years. Ryder scored 27 goals. Savvy, Recchi, Krejci and Wheeler each had more than 20. This season not one of these players is on track to score more than 20. Chara, Lucic and Wideman each had more than ten. This season the three of them together are only on track for 17 total.

People claim that Savvy needs a goal scorer to dish the puck to, with the implication that the GM failed to provide one. But wait a minute: that should be Ryder's job. After all he did score 27 last season. Or Sturm's-- the only Bruin currently pushing 20 goals. Hell, last year Savvy spent half the season with PJ Axellson on his wing! No, that argument just doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Come on, we all know what's wrong with this team: inconsistent play, such as not showing up for every shift or even every period. Not playing physically enough. Can you imagine a Bruins/Habs game without a fight? We don't have to... A severely broken breakout that has not been improved--or even changed--since the start of the season. Failure to finish. Two consistently poorly performing power play units.

The players are not performing to their potential the GM is paying for. If you want to play the blame game, then there it is.


Bruce said...

Great post, this is exactly what my colleague and I spoke about on our podcast. Those players are doing their best but there are times there is no plan once the puck gets pushed up the ice. They still use the original six play - the dump and run! Check us out -

Anonymous said...

Savard did not play half the season with Axelsson. PJ played a handful of games on the top-line. He centered Kessel and Lucic, primarily.

How can a team succeed under a coach last year and not this season? He was praised last season but is on the chopping block now? Farce.

number4bobbyorr said...

"Savard did not play half the season with Axelsson."

Well, duh. It's called hyperbole. When used as a literary device it is simply a from of exaggeration for emphasis. I think everyone who watched last season would agree that it sure seemed like PJ was on the top line half the season. A normal person would laugh, or at least snicker a little. Any other subtleties if the language you would like me to explain? Feel free to ask anytime.

And as for a "Farce," do you have a better explanation, one that somehow avoids the exact same response? Last season when things went wrong you could see how they dealt with it immediately afterward, by changing up the PP, or the lines, or the breakout. This year it is completely stagnant. As I said, if you are looking to place the blame, the coach is clearly where to place it.

Anonymous said...

" by changing up the PP, or the lines, or the breakout. This year it is completely stagnant."

Yup! We see the same four lines roll-out everynight, don't we? LOL.

Praise Julien last year, blame him this season.
I bet you hate Wideman, too. Don't you?

number4bobbyorr said...

Hey Anonymous, I'm not going to be trolled on my own blog. If you have something well thought out to contribute I invite you to comment. If you are just going to vent your frustration at me then I will start rejecting them.

And by the way, I think Wideman is an excellent defenseman who plays inconsistently. I would like to see the coaching staff help him with that problem, like they did in the past, but it hasn't happened this year.