Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Is Not About Hockey

...although the necessary background I'm going to give is very much about hockey, I hope the non-hockey fans can get through it for the sake of what comes after.

NECESSARY BACKGROUND (hockey hockey hockey -- sorry)

This blog entry concerns two people who happen to be professional hockey players. Their names are Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, and they work for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Most would say they play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I'd like to draw attention to the fact that this is their profession.)

As NHL hockey players, they are among the most talented practitioners of their trade in the world. Phil Kessel is in the upper echelon of even that rarefied company. Over the last three seasons, there have been all of three people among 700-plus NHL hockey players who have more points than Phil Kessel. 

Tyler Bozak is Kessel's  line mate, for reasons many Leaf fans fail to comprehend. He is nowhere near as talented as fact, statistically he is inferior to every other player at his position (known in hockey vernacular as 1C, or first line center) in the league. He's even statistically inferior to about a third of the 2Cs.  But he is and remains Toronto's 1C, 
Tyler Bozak's biggest drawback is Phil Kessel. His line mate is so much better than he is...and Tyler knows his first instinct is ALWAYS to pass the puck to Phil. He could be facing an open net and he'd pass to Phil instead of shooting. The damnedest thing is that Bozak, while certainly not on Kessel's level, is not a terrible hockey player by any means. He has exhibited an ability to score goals one on one (in "shootouts") with the goaltender, using nifty moves you wish you'd see more of in game situations. But in game situations, Phil is riding shotgun, and he gets to fire the shotgun. 

The line itself produces in spite of Bozak, largely because Phil Kessel is just that good. But many, perhaps most, Leaf fans do not like Tyler Bozak in the IC role and think he'd be better suited to a career as a 3C. 

Now, Bozak's work contract came up for review this year, and Toronto management saw fit not just to retain his services, but to give him a hefty raise. He is now not just playing on a line he statistically does not belong on, but being paid quite a bit more than he probably deserves, relative to other players at his level.  This has enraged a sizeable portion of the fan base.

It perturbed me a little, I'll admit. I try to keep an even keel about the Toronto Maple Leafs, inasmuch as a hockey fan (some would say fanatic) can. It occurred to me that there just might be some stuff going on behind the scenes, because

MAIN BODY OF POST (which is NOT about hockey)

Tyler and Phil are best friends.

Really good friends, as in, despite the fact they make what can reasonably be defined as a metric shit-tonne of money between them, they live together. They're practically inseparable not just at work, but outside of work as well.
This close friendship has led me to speculate that perhaps, just perhaps, Kessel might leave some money on the table when it comes time to negotiate his next contract.  He might do this for two reasons. One, because he genuinely loves working with his best friend; two, because that best friend makes a little more than he maybe should, perhaps Phil will choose to make a little less than he probably should...for the sake of the team. 

I have advanced this theory online in several places, and each time I do it I get flamed to a crisp. The overwhelming consensus is that if this is Phil's mindset at all, he's a child. C'mon, I'm told. Get real. This guy makes millions of dollars. You think friends matter when you make that much coin?

Yeah, I do.

It always comes down to the money, doesn't it? Hockey players are millionaires many times over, ergo they are no longer human. Unlike every other employer in Canada, theirs has made no effort whatsoever to minimize injuries in the workplace. And the injuries associated with their line of work are not just severe, often, but also distressingly common. But so what, they're rich. 
It's not enough that hockey players hardly see their families during the season. We also insist they and their families be uprooted every few years, Maybe the wives are understanding (not always, though)...but the kids? How do you explain to an eight year old that he's got to leave all his friends and go be somewhere strange? You think it matters that Daddy makes a lot of money? I don't.
Now I'm led to believe that well, maybe hockey players are permitted friends, but those friends should cast no influence whatsoever on their professional decisions..

I disagree. Strongly.

I would accept less money in exchange for working with friends. I know quite a few people who have done just that. Money isn't everything even at peon level; when you make as much money as these hockey players do, it's even less of a thing. So you pick your environment, and working with your BFF is surely a consideration.

Actually, when you're rich, friends matter even more in some ways. Especially if those friends are rich, too. You know it's you and not your money, for one thing. For another, you know your friend understands the trials and tribulations of your life, trials and tribulations that strangers think shouldn't be an issue because $$$$$$$. 

You know, if I ever meet Phil Kessel -- or Tyler Bozak, for that matter -- I'd make a point not to talk to them about hockey at all, at least at first. I don't expect people to be terribly interested in the esoterica of the retail grocery industry and I bet fawning adulation gets really old after a while. There's more to life than work, just like there's more to work than money.

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