Duthie: Premature Evaluation: An Embarrassing Problem

James Duthie
10/8/2009 1:01:54 PM
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One week into the NHL season and we residents of Hockeynation are already pretty sure of a few things:

--Colorado and Phoenix are unstoppable and will surely meet in the Western Conference Final.

--San Jose and Detroit suck, are likely headed for the draft lottery, and are frantically sending their scouts to Windsor to watch Taylor Hall.

-Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo are stiffs, and if Team Canada selects them, they will lose 9-3 to Switzerland.

-The much-hyped Leafs defense couldn't stop that skating chimp from the MVP movies.  Even if he was tranquilized.

-Alexander Ovechkin is going to score 90 goals, and 150 points.   By Christmas.

Okay, slight embellishments perhaps. (Though after watching the first three Washington games, the last one might have a shot!)   But chances are, you've already heard similar bold declarations in some form of media, or from your buddies at work, or the local tavern, coffee shop…bathhouse.

San Jose starts 0-2, and players are being asked if "Is it time to panic yet?"  Luongo gives up a couple of softies and they boo him and beg for Andrew Raycroft.  I read somewhere online the other day that Ray Emery was the "early favourite for Comeback Player-of-the-Year."  He'd played TWO GAMES!  

Yes, we sports fans suffer from the embarrassing medical condition known as Premature Evaluation (PE). 

PE is hardly a new problem.  Rushing to judgment is human nature. We hope (Flames fans), or fear (Leaf fans) that what we've seen in one week might just be the reality of the next six months.   If you haven't seen your team play a good game yet, maybe they…never will.   And what excited poolie hasn't projected statistics from three games into a full season—Mike Richards: 135 goals-0 assists!

But PE has now reached full pandemic status.  We live in a bubble of endless blogs, tweets, "longtime listener, first time caller" radio shows, and TV hockey panels that crave instant and definitive analysis.  (Yes, there is a heavy dose of mea-culpa, or at least wea-culpa, in this rant.)    We want judgments handed down NOW, even if we've only seen a tiny fragment of the evidence.

I've dubbed it Premature Evaluation in hopes the American Journal of Medicine will publish this paper, and give me the credibility in the scientific community I've long deserved.  But the truth is, for years my buddies and I had another name for PE:  "Drafting a Larry."

When I was 16, I organized my first baseball fantasy league (It was still just called a "pool" back then).  We did our draft after the season had started, on the day Larry Herndon of the Detroit Tigers hit homeruns in four straight at-bats.  In what was clearly a sign of the early stages of PE, I figured this meant Herndon was good for about 80 HRs on the year. 

So I picked him first overall. 

Larry hit 23 home runs. Not bad, but about half as many as a dozen other guys I should have taken before him.  In a dark, sadistic twist, my sister won the pool, with Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson, and Gorman Thomas on her team.  Larry Herndon still haunts me to this day.  

Ever since, when one of us made a ridiculous statement early in a season, like "The Bengals are 2-1, they're going to the playoffs!"  He would immediately be called out:

"Dude, you just Drafted a Larry!"

Safe to say we've all Drafted a few Larries in our time.

And yet, we all know what's going to happen.  As the season rolls along, reality, and the law of averages takes over.  The hot streaks cool down.  The cool streaks heat up.  Luongo and Brodeur will be great again.  Francois Beauchemin will not be minus-47.  The Avalanche will fall back in the pack, and Sharks will climb back near the top (only to lose in Round One).

So let's save ourselves from ourselves.   From now on, let's impose a ban on all discussion and evaluation of anything that happens in the first…say…five games of the season.  A simple two-week blackout on any dumb PE of NHL teams and players. 

No overdramatic newspaper headlines when a team is 0-1-1.  No panic mongering on hockey chat-sites when your goalie gets yanked in his third start.  No TV panels asking if some free agent signing "looks like a bust" after he gets one assist in his first four games.  (We'll just bring back the monkey to fill our intermissions--let her spin the wheel…maybe ride a unicycle…or do what she usually did: fling her poo at me.)

Five measly games.  Is it really asking too much?  One brief holiday from hysteria?

Personally, I would have pushed for 10 games, but before the season I asked an NHL star if he thought his team was any good.  He texted back, "Gimme the first five games and I'll tell you."

Fine.  Five games it is then.  A collective stint in PE Rehab.

After that, we can all start firing coaches, trading overpaid stars that aren't producing, declaring guys Comeback Player-Of-The-Year candidates…

…And buying Coyotes playoff tickets.  (Make the cheque out to Judge Baum.)

Roberto Luongo (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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