Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor with The Hockey News. He brought his philosophy and journalism graduate degrees to THN in 2011 and has been living the dream since. By day he mans his desk, crushing copy and weaving yarns for the magazine. By night he’s either at home or in the press box watching dump-truck loads of hockey.
Gary Roberts had a surprise for his players when they started training with him again this past summer. It wasn’t a sleek new machine, a powerful new superfood or a funky new core exercise. It was far more scientific.
As his NHL clients returned to his gym in Toronto – Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid and James Neal among them – Roberts had each player’s DNA tested. An ex-NHLer himself, he understands players’ mindset when it comes to training and knows they prefer to be shown, not told, what to do.
“What I like is that a player is going to see his own DNA,” Roberts said. “You can tell them something, and they won’t clue in, but if they actually see their results, they say, ‘S—, my DNA doesn’t lie.’ ”
If some gym bro said he works out for half an hour but it takes him almost three hours to do it, you’d probably laugh him off. And you’d be perfectly justified in doing so.
Why, then, is it any different for an NHL player?
Throughout the playoffs, a ton of talk surrounded Duncan Keith and the minutes he logged: 31:06 per game. Fans know that’s a dump-truck load of hockey, but most would be hard-pressed to prove why. After all, numbers-wise, it’s no more than what our gym bro does.
Consider this: Most NHLers average 10 to 20 minutes per game. Only the best play more than 20, while some play fewer than 10. The average shift lasts merely 45 seconds, and players clear the boards 20 to 30 times. All of this occurs over as much as three hours to play an NHL game. Endurance athletes like runners, cyclists and swimmers can go for much longer and do it without pause.
Everyone in the hockey world knows this is one of the most demanding sports to play. Yet few understand what players endure physiologically that makes what they do so difficult.
Imagine four weeks of acupuncture, saunas and hot tubs. There are yoga, Pilates, meditation and tai chi sessions, too. And don’t forget the massage therapists, stretch therapists and chiropractors at your disposal. Oh yeah, and sleep, lots of sleep. It’s mandatory.
Sounds like a blissful all-inclusive vacation, doesn’t it? Except there’s no mile-long white-sand beach or five-star hotel. No sun tanning, sipping margaritas or napping on lounge chairs. Just a gym and a long summer of training ahead.
When NHLers start training in the off-season, they don’t begin by pounding out squats, deadlifts and bench presses. Heck, they usually won’t lift anything for three or four weeks. After eight months or more of hockey, they’re so beat up that strength and conditioning coaches like Matt Nichol and Ben Prentiss spend up to a month just rebuilding their bodies. All those massages, yoga sessions and therapists are just part of the initial process of taking these broken-down jalopies and turning them into finely tuned machines again.
Well, that post-season was underwhelming. Come to think of it, so was the regular season. At 5.03 and 5.32 goals per game, respectively, the two parts of 2014-15 combined to create another low-scoring season for goal-starved fans.
Immediately after that dud of a Stanley Cup final, in which just 23 goals (3.83 per game) were scored, suggestions started flying on ways to fix the dearth of goals and the downtick in excitement. TSN’s Dave Naylor threw his support behind making the nets bigger, a move the NHL should embrace.
Failing that, however, perhaps there’s another way to boost scoring.
Prior to the playoffs, this editor floated an idea by Kris King, vice-president of hockey operations, and Stephen Walkom, senior vice-president and director of officiating, at the NHL. Neither offered any feedback, but at least they were willing to hear it out.
“We have a lot of ‘interesting’ GMs,” King said. “So your idea might not be as crazy as you think.”
That crazy idea targets the suffocating defensive strategies of coaches – the real culprits behind low-scoring games – by making this rule change:
Fighting is better suited for the ring, not the rink, and that’s where it’ll be tonight, when boxing’s two biggest superstars, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, face off in the biggest fight in, well, all of human history.
Two boxers of this stature rarely step in the ring together, but it’s a significantly more frequent occurrence among the NHL’s elite players.
Here are the top 10 fights between NHL superstars since the 2004-05 lockout*:
The great thing about working at The Hockey News is that dissenting opinions aren’t only allowed, they’re encouraged. Just like there’s a wonderland of differing takes on the game among fans, there are a kaleidoscope of views within THN. And few things are better than a good old-fashioned back-and-forth debate about hockey.
This editor is currently engaged in a barnstormer with the majority of his colleagues over THN’s Stanley Cup prediction. When they assembled to make the selection, he was in Thailand eating delicious food and enjoying the delightful weather, so imagine his surprise when he returned to find out his colleagues had chosen…
…the Tampa Bay Lightning?
On the surface, Tampa Bay is a sexy pick, especially in Corsi and Fenwick, but dig deeper and even the analytics, along with some other salient points, make their Stanley Cup chances look slim.
Here are five points that weigh heavily against the Lightning being able to win the East, much less defeat whoever comes out of the West.
Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?
After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)
The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.
Question: Have you ever read an analytics article that turned your brain into mashed potatoes? You’re not alone.
They bring to mind this quote from the German philosopher Walter Kaufmann:
“There is nothing like obscurity to make shallowness look profound.”