Thursday, January 03, 2008

The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments
by Bob McCown and David Naylor

Given a good portion of the audience here is American, an introduction to our author might be necessary.

In Toronto, Bob McCown is the radio personality, the gruff host of the Fan 590's wildly popular Prime Time Sports program. Recently, he's been getting more and more recognition nationally, as Sportsnet broadcasts the radio show across the country an hour each day.

That's right, radio on TV.

A few months ago, McCown was even named North America's on-air talent of 2007 at the Sports Radio Conference.

In any event, whether you know his show or not, this isn't a post about McCown — and I hope it won't turn into a debate about him. Whether or not you like McCown, "the personality," won't affect whether or not you like the book because, on a basic level, it's really just an extended discussion of issues in the game.

And a lot of the arguments he takes up are pretty good ones. (There are also a number that, in McCown's words, would be known as "dogs.")

Where the book succeeds is in the volume of research put into arguing McCown's side of the story, a lot of which fell to co-author David Naylor (The Globe and Mail's Ottawa-based sportswriter) and the rest of the research team.

Here's an example I enjoyed from Argument #11: Why kids shouldn't be pushed into summer hockey in order to make the NHL. McCown and Naylor use a study of Ontario minor hockey players born in 1975 to highlight just how implausible it is that Little Johnny will ever play pro hockey, summer workouts or not:
Of those 30,000 [Ontario players], just 232 were eventually drafted by an OHL team in their mid-teens, the first major cutoff for players hoping to stream towards the NHL. Less than half of those players, 105, actually played in an OHL game. Another 42 played in the top tier of U.S. college, which is another viable route to the NHL.

Overall, just 47 wound up with NHL contracts after being drafted in 1993 or 1994, or signing later as a free agent.
Ultimately, the sum total of players with more than one NHL season ends up being just 15, and only six had played 400 NHL games nine years later. Jason Allison and Todd Bertuzzi were the only names of note among the 30,000.

Summer hockey or not, McCown argues, the chances your kid makes the NHL are akin to buying a lottery ticket.

For me, it was more an informative resource than a book to settle barroom arguments, but your mileage may vary. A few other arguments I liked included that European players are just as valuable as North Americans at playoff time, regular season overtime should be longer, the league needs bigger nets to increase scoring, Canadian university hockey is of a higher quality than major junior, and that the rejected NHL transfer agreement was "downright disrespectful of Russian hockey."

The argument that fewer 18 year olds should be taken in the entry draft also rings true.

There's certainly a lot of goofy stuff in there, like calling for a four-point win (a 4-3-2-1 system), but that's probably too be expected given they're trying to push the envelope a little bit.

It was one of the more engaging hockey books I read over the holiday season, and it's been on the bestseller list here in Canada for a month now.

You can check it out here.



At 12:11 a.m., January 04, 2008, Anonymous dave said...

Ugh. I can't stand McCown. And not in one of those 'I hate him but still listen' ways. I don't listen. The only reason he's on tv is because it's cheap programming for a crappy sports station run by Rogers.

If you're in the Toronto area during McCown's timeslot (4-7), tune in to WGR 550 out of Buffalo. Mike Schopp and the Bulldog are far, far, far more entertaining and informative than McCown.

At 1:23 a.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

McCown was even named North America's on-air talent of 2007 at the Sports Radio Conference.
Did someone redefine the word "talent" in 2007 or were voters predominantly the deaf?

At 1:56 a.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger sager said...

Weird... haven't been able to get the 4-3-2-1 points system out of my head since reading the book.

Obviously, it would never happen in a million years, but it's made me look at the standings in a different way.

Long and short of the McCown/Naylor book is that it's a hell of a read, and you'll get a ton out of it. I got it as a gift, but it would have been cheap at twice the price. There's a lot of food for thought.

(Did you guys miss where James expressed hope that this wouldn't be a debate about McCown?)

At 3:02 a.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

"Canadian university hockey is of a higher quality than major junior"

Can someone elaborate on this? Isn't Mathieu Darche the biggest CIAU success story of the last 20 years? Don't most of these 24 year-old guys move on the ECHL at best?

At 3:29 a.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't want to remake all of Bob's arguments in the comments, but in essence: The majority of CIS players are major junior grads, and the best teams are entirely good CHL grads. These players are several years older, more experienced and some have spent time as pros.

Compare that to your average 18-year-old major junior kid, especially now that there are 60+ teams, and the CIS teams should wipe the floor with them. CIS programs routinely beat NHL rookie teams at training camps, specifically when it comes to UBC/Canucks and Alberta/Oilers.

I think the day will come with the CIS is more represented at the NHL level, but right now it's just not scouting and most of the kids aren't given a chance.

At 10:30 a.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

Ok, I see his point. I think I'd rather watch younger high-ceiling players even if the effective overall level of play is lower.

Extending McCown's argument, you might say that the ECHL is the third-best league in North America.

At 4:20 p.m., January 04, 2008, Anonymous R.D. said...

I'm thrilled to hear I'm not the only one who thinks regular season overtime should be longer. I might have get the book.

At 6:42 p.m., January 04, 2008, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

I really don't get the McCown hate, although I admit I don't listen to sports radio all that much.

My g/f bought me the book for Xmas and I've enjoyed it. McCown makes some very good and convincing arguments for the points he is covering. One point I've made for years, to deaf ears, is how dumb it is to value high PIM totals.

Obviously, McCown does not like fighting and makes no bones about it, but I found myself agreeing with many points and reading a new viewpoint on many topics. There are certain bones to pick, but it's a good read, overall.

At 11:34 p.m., January 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my cousin was in that 1975 Ontario cohort. a great hockey player, I remember watching him when he was around 12 years old in a tournament with alot of the best kids in the province, and he was the best kid on the ice the day I watched. he ultimately had a good OHL and CIAU career, but still fell short, never drafted. I guess he made the top .5% but no higher. drove home to me how unlikely getting drafted and or playing in the AHL let alone the NHL is.

as for the rest of the book , got it as a stocking stuffer. ok so far


At 5:16 p.m., January 08, 2008, Anonymous different anonymous guy said...

Re: CIAU better than Major Jr.... Yep, I know that some CIAU teams have challenged Major Jr. teams to games but the Jr's (or rather, their managment/owners) declined.

In many cities in Canada, Major Jr. is relatively big business... how can an owner get 4,000+ fans for approx. 35 home games per year to come see the 2nd best team in town?

The bottom half (e.g. 2nd-4th stringers) of any Major Jr. team wouldn't even make a CIAU roster.


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