The Myth of Character and Winning

Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
Checked out the Globe this morning and made the mistake of clicking on an article about Connor Bedard and the idea of a generational player where the author argued that if you do not win Stanley Cups then you are not in that conversation, ergo if Connor McDavid does not win a Cup then he cannot be considered as such …
If you talk about the lineage of the all-time greats (non-goaltending division) … Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, McDavid … I think that this is the pantheon, maybe your mileage varies, then indeed Cups abound. A PLETHORA OF STANLEY CUPS!!! But this argument has always made me nuts. It is not just a hockey argument either … Dan Marino is considered by many to be an inferior player because he did not win a Super Bowl (and John Elway, until he won, suffered the same slings and arrows) … but hockey especially seems to live and die with the CUPZZZ argument. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who you would not spend 10$ to go watch play ( I mean Kevin Lowe was a good defenceman but if he played for the Minnesota North Stars none of you young ones would even know who he was) but because they were lucky enough to land on a dynasty team they got in. It’s true and you know it.
Now not everyone won a Cup in the old six-team league, certainly if you were unfortunate to be a Bruin, Hawk or Ranger you barely stood a chance, but most of the great players of that era played in Detroit, Toronto or Montreal. Now that the league is, what, 32 teams? — I can’t even keep track — well, do the math. There are going to be so many great players who may never get a sniff. It is a difficult trophy to win anyhow, what with the randomness of the game itself, bounces and hot goalies and madness, oh my, and remember first of all the tale of Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin played for a number of wonderful teams over his career but they always fell short and the reason, the media SHOUTED, was all about character. Well, the lack thereof, which especially seems to be an issue with Europeans, according to some (why is that …) and is the most favourite theme of all for many writers. Because it’s easy!
Steve Simmons once went on a diatribe about analytics and how it was ruining sports writing because there was no story to be told (This from the guy who literally made up a story about Phil Kessel to try and sell the ass rag he writes for) but of course, this is what, apparently, the people want. Players do not win because they don’t have the character, they never learned the lessons, they need to go through the meat grinder to BECOME MEN although it always makes me wonder … why did Chicago not win more CUPZZZ after 2015 with all of the character in the room … oh right, the team got old and bad.
My favourite of all time was the writer who ripped Crosby in the spring of 2016. The Pens were down 2-1 in the Conference Finals and this guy took aim at Crosby, basically saying that he lacked the courage and guts to win, that he had gotten fat and happy. NO CHARACTER and then three weeks later Sid was taking the Cup from Boo Boo Bettman, the first of two consecutive.
Anyhow, I am digressing, back to Ovie. In the spring of 2018 the Caps were down 2-0 in the opening round to the BJs (lol) and game three went to overtime. Cam Atkinson, if I recall, rang one off the post and in the counter-attack the puck bounced in off of Lars Eller. An inch either way and the Caps are down 3-0 and probably done. Instead, they go all the way and Ovie, whipping boy for a decade of playoff failures, was suddenly a champion, because he finally wanted it badly enough …
I can’t even stand it.
Atkinson scores and Ovie’s career is considered, while not a failure, certainly lacking. He doesn’t and now the guy is George Washington fording the Delaware River.
So you have the luck factor but on top of that … there is the whole randomness of the team that you play for. You end up in a strong cohort with a management team that knows what they are doing (or at the very least doesn’t get in the way) and you are Stamkos or Toews, Crosby or Kopitar. You end up with a management team who is washed up and hey look there is Connor McDavid and Claude Giroux …
I once got in an argument (it wasn’t much of an argument, to be honest) with a guy who claimed that Jonathan Toews was a better player than Stan MIkita because of you know what (CUPZZZZ). Never mind that Mikita could not only do all of the dirty work that makes Toews a very good hockey player but he was also a guy who won the Art Ross four times. Best centre of his era and he didn’t have Marian Hossa on his wing by the way. If Mikita is a Hab he wins Cups in double figures most likely. He was a Hawk and the Hawks had some good teams but not good enough except in 1961.
If Connor McDavid does not win a Stanley Cup it will be massively disappointing for him personally and for fans of the Oilers but it won’t be because he is not the greatest player of his generation or because he does not care enough. It will be because of bad luck or, even worse, because of a massive failure of Oilers’ management.
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