Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The "NFL Mentality" of the Hockey Fan

Recently, maybe the last two or three years, I have noticed an increasing trend in Philadelphia Flyers fans and American hockey fans in general. It seems every year they know more stats and less about hockey. Instead of talking hockey, they rattle off numbers like accountants (I assume some of them are). I blame fantasy sports and the NFL .

Fantasy sports relies on a group of individual's numbers (mostly offense) to compile a "team" result. Unfortunately that is not how sports work. Little plays, plays that do not show up on a score sheet, are sometimes more important than any goal or assist. But since these plays do not impact fantasy win/loss records, fans today are less likely to acknowledge them or take them into account when critiquing a player's performance. Fans usually just look in the goal or assist column instead.

What bothers me more than the overlooking of what I call "hockey plays" is the short-sightedness that fans use when evaluating players. I coined this as the "NFL mentality." In the NFL there are only 16 games, therefore every game means so much more than one game in the NHL. Hockey fans seem to fit the 82 schedule into 16 weeks, and one or two bad games spells catastrophe. Compounded with the fantasy sports, the "NFL mentality" leads for fans to quickly jump on players who slump for a few games, not realizing there are 70+ games more in the season.

One of these such players is sophomore Philadelphia Flyer James van Riemsdyk. JVR has 4 assists in 14 games but has been in the press box the last two games. He's struggling to find the back of the net this year and fans have been quick to label the 2nd overall pick of 2007 a bust, despite a great pre-season.  JVR however has made progress adding muscle, tightening up his defensive game and working on passing.

JVR was on fire this time last year, to only fizzle out at the end as he played more games last year than he has ever played before. Moreover, JVR is a power forward and adjusting from being physical in the NCAA to the NHL is quite a leap. Power forwards tend to have a longer development than guys like Patrick Kane. Just ask Bobby Ryan, a fellow New Jersey native and 2nd overall draft pick. Ryan bounced back and forth from the AHL to the NHL for three years until he was able to adjust to the size difference. Now he is considered one of the best, young power forwards in the game.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="James van Riemsdyk looks to prove critics wrong"][/caption]

Though JVR has not scored yet, and is probably a bust in the fantasy hockey leagues across the country, he has definitely improved. His development will surely translate into more goals one day. It is way too early to call the young man a bust. But in the time of the instant gratification world we live in, the "NFL mentality" is hard to shake for a lot of fans.

Though you should never expect superstar output from this guy. Power forwards rarely ever put up numbers like Kane, Toews, Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, and the Sedins. Bobby Ryan put up 64 points last year, which is the ceiling I would give a power forward in this league. And JVR definitely still has time to get his points up there. I would not be surprised with 5o points from him this year, which would be very good.

So while fantasy team managers are dropping and adding players weekly, speaking in absolutes about players' performances in the first month and a half of a long NHL season, I ask you to look beyond the points column. Hockey fans should spend more time watching "hockey plays" and not just highlight reel goals. The greatness of hockey lies in the team contributions and unsung plays. Unfortunately not many fans see that anymore.

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