Hockey’s Most Coveted Intangibles Rely on Perspective

It’s a sacrifice that’s often overlooked, and under-appreciated, because it’s one of those intangibles that’s hard to spot and easy to criticize.

The ability to produce points is a highly sought-after skill among players in both the amateur and professional leagues, and so it should be. In fact, at face value, it’s arguably the most impressive skill a player can have — we all know where Jim Rutherford would be if it weren’t for his newest sniper, Phil Kessel.

Obviously, scoring goals are imperative in winning Stanley Cups and sometimes saving jobs, but there’s a whole slew of other contributing factors at play here, many of which are intangible.

General managers, coaches, and scouts know what to look for when selecting their team’s roster and corresponding lineups. Furthermore, having an ‘eye’ for a player is equally important and there’s no debating that. When a player is evaluated, his point production isn’t the only thing taken into consideration; so is his willingness to make sacrifices in order to serve the greater good of the team.

“The Cup’s Half Full” Mentality

As the 2015-16 regular season came to an end, there were some players in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) who had doubled their point production compared to the season prior, while others cut theirs in half. The players who doubled (and tripled) their total points were praised by all, while the one’s who didn’t, were labeled as having a poor season, not performing as projected, suffering from injury, and the list goes on.

Here’s the thing, though. Some of these guys didn’t have a bad season at all.

They did exactly what they were supposed to, which was to focus on a different aspect of their game that needed it. For example, a left winger was asked by his coach to work on his defensive side of the puck and that season his point production was cut in half because of it.

Elsewhere, a right winger with a higher-than-average body mass index (BMI), went to a showcase tournament and felt there was a need to body-check more because his linemates were avoiding it. He voluntarily took on the role of enforcer more times than he wanted to but did it because he saw there was a need. As a result, his point production for the tournament suffered, but his team ended up winning the tournament.

At first glance, it seems as though the left winger was having a bad season and the right winger could have played better at the tournament. In reality, their plus/minus ratings improved and they played pivotal roles in the team’s overall success.

Tangibles & Intangibles Are Worth Just as Much

What does it say about someone who’s willing to do the right thing, even though the right thing might make them look bad?  It says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. It says he’s coachable and humble enough to know he doesn’t know everything. These are the highly sought after intangibles that general managers look for, and coaches crave. They’re the characteristics of players who make their linemates better and they’re the characteristics of real winners.