Every hockey trade involves a few goodbye handshakes, a frantic packing job and, you have to believe, a couple internal “good riddance” thoughts based on the bruised ego of those dealt.
The other element I’m convinced clings to every single swap? Commentary, whether from someone who’s paid to offer it or simply a fan contributing their thoughts to some hockey talk, which goes something along the lines of, “all this guy needs is a change of scenery.”
Put me at the top of the list of people who’ve reached for this easy notion in the past. There have been a number of occasions where I found myself thinking a simple shift in geography is all that’s required for Underachiever X to get things going.
Sometimes it’s sound logic, which Benoit Pouliot and Guillaume Latendresse would likely attest to. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder how often “he just needs a change” is an enabling blanket statement that smothers the fact that “he” isn’t doing nearly enough to change his situation as it presently exists.
There are far too many examples of players jump-starting their careers after swapping sweaters to not give some serious credibility to the benefits-of-change theory. But how often is it really just about a move?
If Chris Higgins suddenly finds his form in Calgary, is it really because his game is more suited to the mountains than Manhattan? You know that’s what we’d hear, but lost in those discussions is any talk of how the player may have prematurely thrown in the towel in his previous stop, using the “I just need a new team” notion as an excuse for apathy.
If a player truly isn’t getting the ice time he deserves in a certain spot or is stuck in a system that completely stifles his abilities, there are blatant advantages to a trade.
Still, I swear some guys develop selective memory about their past experiences when they land on a new team. More than once, we’ve seen them lay blame at the feet of their past organization, making claims about how they were a scorer in junior, but for whatever reason their old team was bent on turning them into a grinder.
Sometimes teams do determine a former junior scorer might be more suited to a checking role, but my guess is, based on the scarcity of talent league-wide, that only happens after said player gets several chances to show he can produce at the NHL level. Funny thing about teams; they rarely select high-end offensive talent with the mandate of molding them into fourth-liners.
But let’s not allow management completely off the hook here, something I’m sure more than one front office member around the league has done to himself after seeing a former soldier take off on new turf.
Just as it’s a little too convenient for players to claim circumstance was the only thing standing between them and glory, GMs who watch a former player blossom somewhere else can’t shirk all responsibility by throwing their hands up and stating that talent or work ethic was never fully revealed to them. Maybe they didn’t take the right steps to cultivate it. Or, maybe, they just weren’t looking close enough.
Most of us live in a world packed with flimsy excuses, from the sniffles that stop you from going to the gym, to the terrible headache that prevented you from turning in that term paper on time. Sometimes the alibi is legit. But often, as is the case with teams and players claiming a trade was the only path to improvement, you’re just looking to exonerate yourself from simply putting in the work.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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