Gallagher: Weight of ‘the little things’ burying the NHL

 

Legions of grinders and defensively sound players are taking away the flash and glamour of the game

 
 
 
 
Take away Shea Weber’s big, blurringly powerful slapshot, and the Nashville Predators are left with a whole lot of “little things,” none of which are particularly entertaining.
 

Take away Shea Weber’s big, blurringly powerful slapshot, and the Nashville Predators are left with a whole lot of “little things,” none of which are particularly entertaining.

Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images

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If you heard it once, you’ve heard it well over a thousand times if you follow the NHL and listen to comments made by those who participate.

We speak here of one of the latest creeping clichés in hockey speak, the dreaded phrase: “the little things.”

When asked to describe a player, no matter who it might happen to be, you can be sure he does the little things well.

You can’t get away from it, win or lose, whether it’s a positive night or a negative.

Here’s Caps coach Adam Oates after his team lost earlier this week: “We tried to make plays we shouldn’t be making. You overcheck because you want to make sure you snuff out any chance that they get. It’s the little things, but it’s correctable.”

Any time little things are not done, it’s always correctable if it’s a coach speaking.

Now the players have caught coach-speak, win or lose.

Ryan O’Reilly after the Avs’ comeback win over Nashville this week: “Just little things, the hard work was missing in the first, but it’s a good character win coming back like that and sticking with it.”

Ben Scrivens after Edmonton’s 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Flames last weekend: “You focus on the process. [‘Process’ is another cliché, but don’t get me started.] It sounds boring, it sounds cliché, but it’s all the little things.”

Well yes, Ben, it sounds boring all right, but come on. “Little things?” You lost eight to bleeping one.

Enough already about little things. That’s a huge part of why the game can be so boring these days. Everyone can do the little things. Every team has legions of guys in uniform and in their minor league system that can do the little things.

You don’t get out of junior hockey without being an accomplished doer of little things.

The Don Hays of the world teach little things from the time they get their hands on a 15- or 16-year-old. In fact, in Canada it starts much earlier than that, which is why everyone can do them.

The problem with the league, in the Western Conference at least, is there aren’t enough players that can do the big things. The NHL and every other league in the world is screaming for guys who can do the things with creativity and offensive instincts that bring people out of their seats.

Everyone does the little things, and little things prevent lesser players from doing the big things. And big things are what makes the game worth watching.

If you break down “little things” in coach-speak it almost always means defensive ability and improving same. The only time it’s generally applied offensively is when it’s used to describe a player either going to the net or not going to the net, and all that does is create boring goals if said little thing should lead to a happy conclusion.

Why can’t we find some coaches that will talk about how they value and encourage the big things, the end-to-end rush or the rocket shot or making a great saucer pass to put somebody in cold?

Better yet, why can’t we get somebody to find a way to teach and encourage those skills or if they can’t, leave kids alone to teach themselves?

Why can’t those players who have potential for big things get the promotions from bantam, midget or junior and be encouraged to keep going?

Why can’t those players, if they somehow make it through junior, be encouraged instead of benched or sent down to learn the little things, never to be seen again.

We’ve seen a whole lot of little things done well and done poorly this year at Canucks games, and there have been a lot of nights when you’ve wanted to hurl yourself out of the press box you’re so damn bored.

And Vancouver is hardly alone. In Nashville, take away Shea Weber’s slapshot and all they ever get is little things. It’s been that way since they’ve had a franchise. Phoenix, L.A., Columbus, St. Louis are the same, on and on.

Perhaps this explains why, outside Canada on the world stage, hockey is pretty much considered by most to be a little thing.

tgallagher@theprovince.com

twitter.com/tg_gman

 
 
 
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Take away Shea Weber’s big, blurringly powerful slapshot, and the Nashville Predators are left with a whole lot of “little things,” none of which are particularly entertaining.
 

Take away Shea Weber’s big, blurringly powerful slapshot, and the Nashville Predators are left with a whole lot of “little things,” none of which are particularly entertaining.

Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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