Obviously fans and coaches alike appreciate grit and the willingness to go into the tough areas of the ice, but what seems to be equally valuable, even if it is at a sub-conscious level, is the ability to curl the upper lip and stare right through a player as though you’re going to rip his heart out.
More than one NHLer has backed away from Kevin Bieksa after realizing that his animal instincts seem to be taking over and even he doesn’t seem to know what is about to happen next. This intensity probably provides him a little extra space in the corners or in front of the net, but does it also help deflect some well deserved criticism?
When describing Kevin Bieksa or Ryan Kesler, traits like determined, hard-working and passionate readily come to mind. However, are we as fans more willing to overlook certain mistakes or deficiencies in these same players because they do in fact wear their hearts on their sleeve? Is a turnover or a missed checking assignment any different for Ryan Kesler as it is for Manny Malhotra?
It’s easy to assume they care more, but do they? Is someone who is so outwardly demonstrative more determined than a team mate whose character is and probably always will be less overt? Do Henrik and Daniel care less about winning; is their time in the gym any less exhausting?
For some people, Ryan Kesler can do no wrong while at the same time Mason Raymond can do nothing right. Point out Kesler’s inability to score in last years finals, or the fact that this Selke winner was on the ice for some of Boston’s biggest goals, and these same people immediately mention his injuries.
The truth is that players with horrendous injuries have been Stanley cup heroes for the last century. The Canucks own Trevor Linden played through broken ribs and torn rib cartilage, and continued to score right up until the 3rd period of game 7. Bobby Baun scored the cup winner on a broken leg. In 2010-11 Kesler scored 41 goals in 82 games, but in 7 finals games he never found the net. Would the Canucks have won the cup if Kesler had scored even 1 big goal in their 4 losses?
Setting perceived character aside and evaluating only the players on ice performance, does Kevin Bieksa get a pass for numerous turnovers and bad decisions leading to goals against in the early part of the 2011 season as compared to Roberto Luongo?
Various color commentators have highlighted the poor play of both Luongo and Bieksa in the early going of the current season on numerous occasions, yet the criticism of Luongo dwarfs that of Bieksa. Both players have had up and down careers with mental lapses being a large part of their problem. Both players have considerable contracts with similar cap implications. So I ask the question, does a player deserve less scrutiny simply because his demeanour seems indicate he cares more, even if it is only on the surface?