Tomas Hertl: Todd McLellan’s Little Boy Lost

San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl’s four goal performance against the New York Rangers Tuesday night was quite a spectacle. His fourth goal was especially flashy- dropping it between his skates on a left to right breakaway and roofing it from behind.

Tomas Hertl Celebrates (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
Tomas Hertl Celebrates (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

He made veterans Michael del Zotto and Martin Biron look like fools on that play. The Rangers were indeed awful all night, and Hertl made sure to illuminate the point with the kind of highly skilled goal only seen on rare occasion in Major Juniors, by star players like Nathan MacKinnon.

Of course, Hertl never would have had the opportunity to showcase those chops had he not been cherry picking when his team held a 7-2 lead.

Post-game, players like Joe Pavelski praised Hertl and said they had no problem with him humiliating the Rangers. Of course, no one involved in hockey for any length of time believes that Pavelski is actually OK with that. But in public you support your teammate and you scramble together a way to justify his hot-dogging because it’s what you do.

The post-game comments from coach Todd McLellan are particularly telling:

He’s a passionate young man and I’m not even sure if he realizes where he is. He’s innocent out there. He scores the fourth goal and when it’s 8-2 or 9-2 or whatever it was, it’s probably not a real good celebrating time. But he’s so innocent that he’s excited about doing it and sometimes that passion is a good thing to have in our game.

And again:

Our game needs a little bit of that. And again, it’s that innocence that he has. He doesn’t completely understand where he is and he’s playing free. 

So according to McLellan, the game of hockey is short on passion. Does he really think this?

Of course not. After all, twice the coach felt obligated to excuse Hertl with the amorphous claim that the young man doesn’t understand where he is. By this he means Hertl doesn’t understand that you don’t pad your stats and get flashy and humiliate your opponents late in the game when you’re already destroying them. Not in the NHL you don’t. And you don’t celebrate like you just won the Stanley Cup either, not on goal 8 of the game. This is one of those things that separates hockey from other sports. Hertl can take a page from teammate Justin Braun, whose subdued reaction to scoring goal 9 of the game was in line with hockey etiquette.

In hockey you don’t intentionally run up a score.  It’s unsportsmanlike. This isn’t college football, where every other week some conference powerhouse clobbers a liberal arts college 72-0, and the culture of the league says that this is somehow a meaningful sporting event.

Here is how McLellan really felt about Hertl’s fourth goal and subsequent celebration: after Hertl’s final goal, with about eight minutes left in the third period, Hertl didn’t take another shift despite playing on a line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. McClellan wasn’t punishing Hertl for his antics, he was sparing him from the ire of the Rangers. 

Too bad, since the young Czech has no clue where he is, and he could have used a friendly reminder.