The truth about character

Jason Strudwick
June 27 2013 11:18AM

With the draft coming up on Sunday there has been a lot of talk about the type of players the Oilers should draft. Rookie general manager Craig MacTavish has said he is very interested in acquiring more skill through the draft. I wonder if that is the best approach to build a winning team.

I can't argue that the most important asset a hockey player can have is skill. Without it he will not be able to play at a high level even if he possesses all the other requirements of a NHL player.

In my opinion a very, very close second is character. Skill without character is useless. I would rather have a player with character and less skill then the other way around. I think there is misconception of what character means in a hockey player.

Too often I hear that a team can "just pick a character player up on waivers when they need one". I love it. It makes it sounds like they are going down to the mall to pick up a black pair of shoes that will make a whole outfit work! Makes zero sense to me.

Yes there are players who are referred to as "character players". It seems to me that these are players that do some of the dirtier tasks for a team. Blocking shots, finishing checks, killing penalties and fighting are examples of what people who are "character players" do for teams.

These are important elements to have on a winning club. However, if a team is hoping that these types of players are enough character for a whole team they are kidding themselves.

Players with character vs. character players

Photo: Resolute/Wikimedia Commons

Players with character are required throughout the line-up.

Unfortunately it is pretty hard to quantify character with stats. I guess you could look at blocked shots and hits but to me that just points at the types of players that are often referred to as "character players". How do you figure out if the rest of your players have character who aren't big on those two stats?

We just saw a perfect example in this Stanley Cup Final. Jonathan Toews put on a clinic on what character is all about. The Hawks were having trouble getting to the net with the Bruins line-up of bigger defensemen and centers.

They were having trouble with it because they didn't want to pay the price in the first few games of the series. Would you want to try and go to the net when a mountain of a nasty man is standing between you and the net? You could literally see the change in the Hawks mindset in the last few games of the series.

Toews led the charge by going right at the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara. No longer was Toews going to let Chara dictate how he or his team was going to play. How many times did you see the smaller Toews battling with the much bigger Chara for loose pucks in the corners and front of the net in the last two games of the series? All the time!

He didn't do it because he was trying to get on the stat sheet with hits, he did it because he knew that in order to win he had to battle the biggest and best the Bruins had to offer. He couldn't avoid it. His character shined through.

He did what was needed to win even though he knew the effort and pain that were required.

That is character. He isn't a "character player.” He is a player with character.

Skilled players go through highs and lows of scoring goals. No NHL players score every night. If a skilled player is having an off night or is struggling scoring what are they contributing to the team's success?

Skilled players with character find ways of helping the team during the lows of a season. They are very solid defensively at those times. Skate and attack the net to create opportunities for others. They become a part of the team's overall success even when they are not having individual success.

At the Draft

Photo: Alexander Laney/Wikimedia Commons

It is clear to me that the Oilers need to add more players with character to their line-up this off season. The first chance they get is this weekend at the draft in New Jersey. Drafting players solely based on skill is not a recipe for success in my opinion.

It is not easy to identify character in draft eligible players. These guys are very young and their games are in full development mode but that is the challenge for scouting staffs across the NHL.

I know many teams look at players away from the rink. What is their lifestyle? How do they treat their billets (for junior-aged players) and teachers (for college players)? Do they put forth effort in off-ice training? Are they responsive to coaching? These are all questions that scouts try to get answered when they are pushing for their team to draft a specific player.

I think a great question to have answered would be this... what does the player do when no one is watching?

I want to know if he does extra after practice on the ice. Is he a guy that is working on his game without being asked? Is he a guy that watches video to improve? Is he a guy that goes to the gym without being asked or prodded?

These are the attributes I saw during my career in players that not only played in the NHL but contributed in a meaningful way to the success of a team on and off the ice.

Don't ever underestimate the value of character in a player. It is a hair under skill in my opinion.

5cf6b487166aced0cd781e41bfef915e
Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
Avatar
#101 David S
June 28 2013, 12:12AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

The time between when the Oilers gloriously flame out and draft day.

That's the worst. It's like a bunch of drunk guys arguing over the one hot chick in the bar.

You just know the cops are going to show up right after last call.

Avatar
#102 Time Travelling Sean
June 28 2013, 12:13AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@Next up, is Connor McJesus.

Winning is not all that matters.

If the Oilers were a team full of gangsters who said "I don't care about the fans, I just care about my paycheck and winning games" I wouldn't even bother going to games or even watching them on TV.

Corson was such an awful captain they took it off him and then let him walk.

Avatar
#103 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:14AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

We need something more important than just character and skill , we need the fans favorite characteristic above all the rest -PERSONALITY . Now that's something we don't have enough of , and all winning clubs do . The Hall of Fame is filled with Personalities !

Avatar
#104 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:17AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

The next D.Potvin could very well be Risto .

Avatar
#105 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:46AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

One has to wonder if MacT.'s strategy to put up or chastise Hemsky , Horcoff and several others he's not too pleased to keep by the sounds of it . is keeping others away from wanting to sign here . Has his strategy blown up in his face ? I know if I was a player they were wanting i'd be dubvious of coming here not knowing what the rest of squad beyond top six might look like .

I think if he had some signings he should have announced them by now , and thus alleviate that prospect from others contemplating a move here .

Avatar
#106 madjam
June 28 2013, 06:23AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Should the Oilers go after Coburn as Stauffer projects they might ? Well if they like Nurse , then Coburns already developed and usable now . Nurse is projected to be no more better than Coburn down the line . Book it , and toss a coin to see if we draft Monohan or Risto .

Avatar
#107 crobar
June 28 2013, 07:28AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers
Smokey wrote:

Character is subjective. Saying Hemsky has high skill low character is just that. I know all the reasons why people say this and its being used to ship the guy outta town.

My arguement is against you is this. Guy chose Edmonton and all the media spotlight for 12 years, and has never said a disconcerting word even though hes been scapegoated, called soft and selfish. Guy played here with whatever inadaquate teamates they put on his line, went into the corners against Rhegier ever shift. I remember not only did he take hits you or I could not take, he delivered shots to Rhegier. Wonder why his shoulder are made of "glass." He endured media and coaches questioning his work ethic saying he could be better, while he battled injuries. He sign not one but two contracts to live in Edmonton. One he was underpaid for 6 years. Took countless insults for getting what he was due on the last contract to make up for years of being underpaid. He chose to sign the second ocontract during a rebuild, cause he wanted to be part of the solution. Last season he was the one of the best players during the first half, scoring game winners. Played the second half on a broken foot no less while taking more criticism from the media and fans. Watched his team tank after he left, was no coincidence, the team struggles always in his absence. and predictably fell out of the hunt.

On my 2014 he stays. I'll take his quiet shy demeanour any day. He did not get that good because he is lazy. Maybe you could argue he could be a better leader, I argue let him be what he is a quiet deternined guy.

two things to look at when assessing character. 1--- ask former (not current) team mates. the same names will come up all the time. 2---- does he draw alot of penalties and then sit on the bench for his teammates to bulge the twine.

2 outta two here is a keeper. and hey struds, you know who these guys are. call it out!!

Avatar
#108 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 28 2013, 08:08AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers
David S wrote:

The time between when the Oilers gloriously flame out and draft day.

That's the worst. It's like a bunch of drunk guys arguing over the one hot chick in the bar.

You just know the cops are going to show up right after last call.

To carry on that analogy....

The way I remember it.....by last call ALL the chicks in the bar are looking hot...

Avatar
#109 NewAgeSys
June 28 2013, 08:29AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers
Dangilitis wrote:

Jason, I respect your points, but I don't think they apply to the Oilers. If you look at last year's line-up at forward, for example, who lacks character?

Hall, Eberle, RNH? No f'in way I'd agree Paajarvi? Has been mishandled by team and fought his way back to the NHL, takes character. Hemsky? Debate has already raged on but I don't think he lacks character, he lacks purpose and confidence after years of fans and media ragging on him and his personality without evidence. If you take the Toews example you used, then he must have BOATLOADS of character (watch some Regehr and Hemmer highlights) Yak? Did you ever kiss the Oilers logo on your jersey after scoring, Jason? Smytty? Don't even go there. Jones? Tough spot to be in Horcs? Is there something I should know about the captain's character, which is essentially featured in the media as his biggest upside? Gagner? Also hard to believe him after picking fight with Beauchemin and standing up for his teammates time and time again

That's 10 regular forwards there, all of whom can be said to have character. Perhaps not if you are comparing to Toews, but that's not really fair because he's one of the best in the league.

Saying the Oilers didn't get it done last year because they lacked character makes no sense to me, personally. It's also offensive, and I am surprised a former Oiler would make that kind of presumption unless you are going to back it up with specifics. Who, Jason, was the problem? Who lacked character?

I think most agree that the Oilers didn't get it done last year because many were miscast to fill the roles assigned, and frustration crept into a young line up and to the veterans who were miscast in ridiculous roles (e.g. 37 y/o Smyth asked to play center between two 4th line grinders).

I got a Java re-fill reading the OPs article and then I get this well done post. Excellent job and well worth the read. Thanks for the well outlined and supported post.

I believe we have a superior roster to the last two Cup winners , we had and have a Playoff capable roster.

We were ready to make the playoffs two years ago even before LA adopted NHS tactics to their Hybrid system when the Oilers managed to execute the exact same NHS influenced Adjusted-Hybrid system presentation that Chicago won this year Cup with, loooong before the Hawks adopted "OUR" NHS influences into their own Adjusted-Hybrid base.

We had the correct data and adjustments before the Hawks did, our coaches couldnt maintain the adjustments because they didnt understand them, just couldnt or wouldnt listen to the NHS just a handfull of Oilers players were consistantly tuning in, while for example the Hawks bought all-in as a team and implemented everything EXACTLY as the NHS says. While other teams were investigating and implementing the New Age Hockey System the Oilers were battling its creator and trying to snuff out its budding influences with all of their might to spite the hand that fed them.

LAs coaches 25 or so games before their Cup run started to feel the players changing things system-wise as they began to experiment with the NHS and Sutter let it ride and felt his way through things as a coach he didnt snuff the creativity, as long as he was winning he didnt mess things up.

Oilers coaches who were getting the exact same data fed to their players, felt things being changed system-wise by the players they crushed nuts, they had a knee-jerk reaction and fumbled the ball. They blackballed anyone trying to do anything that didnt adhere to their exact mantra. Player or poster it mattered not they busted balls to stop any groth in its tracks.

I believe we made some critical managerial errors early last year and couldnt recover from them.

We didnt correctly valuate the causality of our above average games so we could reliable reproduce those dynamics, and we didnt accurately valuate the causality of our below avarage games.

Instead of finding the technical reasons we were both successfull and inconsistant we began to finger players as being the causality of the disconnect.

The problems we had in the room stemmed from players feeling powerless to control their own destinys. Such a low degree of input that they tuned out and decided to let themselves be judged based on their merits as valued by the Union/Contract/Status Quo level of performance that is the bottom of the curve.

Keep sending soldiers into a crossfire to die and after enough time the men watching and then walking into hell will not even be shooting back anymore, this is what happened to the Oilers room last year, they kept marching into the hail of fire but stopped shooting back because they felt hopeless as they watched other teams running with the NHS what they knew was their ball.

It wasnt a lack of character it was a lack of Intuitive Dynamic Managment of what we had.

We didnt follow a results based lead in our evolution whatsoever, every time we found the right results we consistantly abandoned them.

We had it dialed in right repeatedly and couldnt understand how the hell we were doing it, because someone refused to ask for help, pride was more important than the team and we have yet to see if thst has changed impactfully or not.

If you look closely you can identify all of the reasons last season went the ways it did, it is all there in rock solid documented proof all around us.

Avatar
#110 NewAgeSy
June 28 2013, 10:26AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers
PaperDesigner wrote:

I'm sorry, but I missed the team that had no character players at all.

The problem with this argument is that it's a narrative predicated on success. When does a player have his character questioned? When he performs below expectations, reasonable or not. When does a player have his character praised? When he performs above expectations. There's also a bias towards gritty players, and players who succeed despite less size, because that seems to lower expectations.

Why does San Jose have its character questioned constantly? It's simply because the line-up seems to suggest they should have one cup in the past eight seasons. Detroit and Chicago? Consistent success, cup victories in the past decade, and those are teams that have better "character".

I guarantee, if San Jose had somehow won in 2010 and 2013 instead of Chicago, we'd all be questioning Chicago's character right now.

I'm not saying character has no value--what I am saying is that our assessment is so hopelessly subjective, that it ultimately doesn't help to chase after it. Steve Tambellini made character, however he assessed that, a priority, and that backfired badly. Probably because you have to, as a GM, look at end results, and not worry so much about how much is natural talent versus the result of having great character.

Granted, because you're dealing with such unproven kids at the draft, you have to do background work on the kids... But even the, I think you're just looking for major red flags. Like if a kid was abused by his father, or something, you might rank him a little lower than you would otherwise.

"Granted, because you're dealing with such unproven kids at the draft, you have to do background work on the kids... But even the, I think you're just looking for major red flags. Like if a kid was abused by his father, or something, you might rank him a little lower than you would otherwise."

Come on you are better than this comment.

What an insensiive, politiclly incorrect things to say, as inaccurate as old hell, have you by chance heard of a Man named Fluery? A Pro Athlete who faced monumentel challenges and turned that painfull past into curative actions on the ice and became an NHL Superstar against all concievable odds?

A man who has managed to get to any Professional level sport while facing challenges of this magnitude would obviously be ranked higher than a man who hasnt shown his mettle.

I once heard a rumor that high level Columbian Cocain dealers in the 70s ran tight ships and if you hadnt already been hooked on coke and then re-habbed sucessfully to prove you were the Master of it they COULD NOT and would not hire you. You were to great a risk. I adhere to that philosophy, a man who has already been tempered by life earlier than his peers is made of a different metal entirely. You have no gaurantee that ANY other un-tempered blade sharp as it may be wont break under pressure, a tempered blade will outperfom everything else.

Avatar
#111 hatrock
June 28 2013, 12:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Hemsky does not fit on this team anymore.

At practices and warmups, Hemsky is the last one on the ice and the first one off the ice.

Low character.

Yakupov on the other hand, first on the ice, last one off.

High character.

Avatar
#112 NewAgeSys
June 28 2013, 04:59PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
2
cheers
Crispy wrote:

Glad you've been watching your character count. You've definitely had a lot more characters in the past.

I guess the Oilers want character players, but ON needs posters with a bit less characters some times.

I dont feel the need to expand as much these days. Some things grow wings of their own.

I was at a southdise Tims the other day and i head the words NewAge Hockey System Guy.

End of transmission.

Avatar
#113 OilLeak
June 28 2013, 07:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers
2004Z06 wrote:

Love the stats geeks....Corsi, Fenwick....crap! If they can't quantify it, they can't understand it. Here are the stats that matter in the NHL to a player, not a stats geek. Goals, Points, Wins, PIMS, Cups PERIOD!

Get off your laptop and get on the ice!

If character amounts to an increased output of a given player, it shows up in the stats. The Oilers have had a lot of "character" players over the years, but usually the players known for their high "character" are usually lacking in other areas.

Is Patrick Kane considered to be a "character" guy? Most would argue no, kind of a douche and makes bad real world decisions. Guess what though? He helps your team win hockey games.

Comments are closed for this article.