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Weekes: Keep open mind when judging players, teams

by Kevin Weekes /
Sometimes our preconceived notions about players and teams can hurt us when it comes to enjoying the game and seeing who the best players and teams truly are. This was something I first learned about as a teenager, working my way into the NHL.

It's about performance vs. perception.

The biggest thing I had to learn once I started skating in the NHL was the gap between performance and perception. By that, what I mean is there are so many unheralded players. I had to get adjusted. The guys who received all the hoopla -- guys like Doug Gilmour, Eric Lindros and Curtis Joseph -- are completely unbelievably great players.

Then there was a guy like Steve Thomas, who was an unbelievable player, excellent player. I thought he was just as dangerous as those other guys, yet no one ever talked about how great he was or mentioned him in the same breath as the other guys.

Why does that happen? The average person that covers the game or a fan won't see how good a player like that is, or if they see it, they won't accept it. Part of that stems from hero worship. Someone will see a guy like Steve Thomas and think, "He can't be as good as these other guys."

When I ran track in high school, the fastest guy always ran the anchor leg. There were no opinions leading to the decision. It wasn't about where someone was from or their pedigree. It was about who was the fastest, and that person ran the anchor leg. That's how it went every time.

But that's not the case in sports. I had to learn to adjust to that.

The extension of that is, when we watch teams play, we let our perceptions influence us. We watch teams that we've already decided aren't good and think, "This team can't be a good team from here. No way the Wild or Panthers can win. Why? Because we're from Toronto or New York and that shouldn't happen." Who cares if the Wild have the best record in the NHL or the Panthers have been leading the Southeast Division for almost three months?

When people judge players or evaluate teams based on what they want them to be rather than what they are, it hurts them and it hurts fans.

All the while, you end up missing some pretty good things just because it's not what you want it to be. You can't appreciate the performance. Forget players and teams. The same thing can happen with cities, too.

Last year's All-Star Game in Raleigh is a great example. People went into it thinking it was going to be a bad time because it wasn't a traditional hockey city. Yet you had so many people who were out in Raleigh saying, "This is unbelievable, they know the game, they know how to party, they did it right." People got blown away. People were pleasantly surprised.

If they came in with an open mind, there wouldn't have been any unwarranted negativity toward going to Raleigh.

About 15 years ago, people were asking, "Who is this Dominik Hasek guy? I don't like his style or how he looks in the net." I'll tell you right now -- he's the best goalie I've ever played against. He's the most dominant goalie of all time in terms of being able to influence a game by himself.  Yet, no one wanted to accept that for a long time.

How does it happen? It's coaches and GMs saying things like, "Well we didn't we earmark him, we earmarked someone else. I can't relate to where he comes from, so that's why I'm not open to accepting that guy has talent. I didn't draft him. A friend from his hometown played with him and recommended him and it wasn't my call." That's why a lot of those guys are like that. They're so resistant. "We got Jack Campbell in the first round. Who's this Richard Bachman guy?" That's not how Joe Nieuwendyk thinks. He's cerebral, open-minded, a Cornell guy. I have lots of respect for him. But oftentimes, that's how people think. It impacts the thought process when judging performance.

It's the same thing with college players, or how people still say Europeans will disappear in the playoffs. Has anyone ever watched Marian Hossa? Nicklas Lidstrom? Johan Franzen?

Size to this day also influences how a player is judged even if he's performing well. Martin St. Louis is begging for ice time as a fourth-liner in Calgary, now he's an NHL MVP and wins the Stanley Cup and now he's playing nationally for Team Canada, for the same guys who said he was too small, his legs were too short, and he played in college.

Same thing with Tim Thomas, who went to Vermont with Martin St. Louis. "I don't like how he makes saves, he doesn't play like that guy, he's from Michigan." I love when people say he's a journeyman. Aren't we all on journeys? Quite often, that's said in a condescending way. But if it's a guy they like, they change the terminology. "Mike Sillinger, he's a guy everybody wants in their room. He's well-respected, he plays hard, a heart-and-soul type guy. Dean McAmmond, Prince Albert Raiders, high-character guy."

But if it's Mark Parrish, he's a vagabond. Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Paul Coffey all played for a lot of teams. So did Mark Recchi.

I just don't understand how so many people come in closed-minded when it comes time to judge talent. Far too often that happens when the performance is there. That's why they say perception is reality.
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