mike brown

intangible |inˈtanjəbəl|

adjective

unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence: my companions do not care about cyberspace or anything else so intangible.

• difficult or impossible to define or understand; vague and abstract: the rose symbolized something intangible about their relationship.

• (of an asset or benefit) not constituting or represented by a physical object and of a value not precisely measurable: intangible business property like trademarks and patents.

noun (usu. intangibles)

an intangible thing: intangibles like self-confidence and responsibility.

There’s our official Apple dictionary on the word “intangible” which gets thrown an awful lot around hockey conversation. Google “intangible NHL” and you get about 23 million results, compared with 15 million for the NBA, 843,000 for the NFL and 412,000 for MLB.

In hockey I guess we love our players who bring things that are tough to define. The top Google result for “intangible NHL” comes from Scott Cullen at TSN who used several different statistical categories to come up with an “Ingangibles rating” at the conclusion of the 2011 NHL season. Greg Zanon led the NHL in intangibles and Ryan Callahan was second.

I like Cullen. He spent the weekend at the Sloan Sport Analytics Conference and wrote a very good column about the state of analytics in the minds of fans. His column from two years ago is funny because he’s not the first, and won’t be the last, to attempt to quantify ‘intangibles’, which is something that, again, can’t be defined. It’s the old “I know it when I see it” argument, and affixing a number or a rating on a player for his work ethic in certain areas ignores the parts of the game the model isn’t designed to pick out.

I’ve written before how CBC has used a crude “hits plus blocked shots” statistic to estimate how gritty certain teams are, particularly into the playoffs when we’re led to believe grit matters more than talent. Putting these numbers together and coming up with rankings takes away from the beauty of intangibles, the idea that there is some aspect of hockey and sports that is so human it can’t be measured on anything but reflex. There is something in the back of my mind preventing me from accepting that Ed Jovanovski was merely a good offensive defenceman for his time. Emotionally, Jovanovski meant so much more than what his statistics show, and that sort of blind loyalty and attachment, whether it’s as a fan to a player or a teammate to a teammate is what makes sports what it is.

Does that emotional addition have a monetary value? No. Realistically, no intangible quality can be bought or sold like a tangible commodity. A general manager can go out onto the free agent market and buy goals. He can go out into the trade market and purchase a player who allows fewer shots against. I’ve never thought of a situation where a manager could actually buy “grit”. Even things like “size” or “speed” are difficult to measure. A player who is 6’4″ can play a more skilled game than a player who is 5’10″, and if I learned anything from Rick Rypien’s brief, yet exciting and memorable National Hockey League career it’s that the toughest player on the team can be one of its most physically unassuming.

Here is what fourth liner Mike Brown said after being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Edmonton Oilers:

“I’m going to play the way I do. I’m not going to change anything,” he continued. “Obviously, that’s why they’re bringing me here. I’m going to add that grit, that little bit of toughness, and energy.”

You can’t “add” intangibles anymore than you can create a definite “intangibles rating”. What Brown is talking about, grit, toughness and energy, are three separate qualities that can’t be measured as they pertain to hockey. There’s no way of being able to objectively assess the Oilers and suggest that the problem is “too few intangibles” and where the proper response is “add more of these things that don’t exist”.

The popular example of a gritty fourth liner who stands up for his teammates is Shawn Thornton. Thornton has played with a single NHL organization since the time Mike Brown entered the NHL. Brown has played for three teams, soon to be four, while Thornton has been a Bruin. Thornton has been a Bruin through a period of rebuild where the team transitioned from the post-Joe Thornton era, where the leading scorers were Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. Thornton has been with the team, played games with them and won with them. Brown is a hired goon brought in to be something reminiscent of a final piece (Jim Matheson wrote a column in the Edmonton Journal that I reached by clicking on a link “Edmonton Oilers need to add more grit“).

If solutions to hockey’s problems were as easy as adding more salt to a recipe, more teams would win Stanley Cups. But hockey is not like cooking, where you need the right mix of ingredients. It’s more like a bank, where you’re better off putting as much valuable stuff in the vault as you can and letting it appreciate over time.

Steve Tambellini suggests that Brown is “a tough kid who plays hard every night” which is something I could do. If I were in the NHL, I doubt I’d take a shift off. Qualifier: I’m also not good at hockey—I need to look at the puck when I stickhandle and have trouble crossing over to my right when I turn. I would try very hard though.

“When you need to get in on the forecheck and get to that first hit, he can do that. He can play that abrasive type of hockey that we’re looking for.” Edmonton are currently 25th in the NHL in goal-scoring. Mike Brown has scored 14 career goals in 254 career games. It’s not the abrasive type of hockey that Edmonton needs, it’s breaking the curse on their first line. Last season, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored goals on 15.2% of their shots. This season, they’re down to 6.2% combined. Is that because an intangible element was removed from their lineup?

Depth signings are mostly over-analyzed. Even the best forwards who play on fourth lines don’t positively help their teams by more than a goal or two a year. These are mostly players who play five or six minutes a night, usually against the other team’s fourth line, and it’s only a notable occurrence when a player will bring up a skilled rookie onto their fourth line for one of his first NHL games. For most teams, though, the fourth line will end up as a unique combination of a good centreman and two guys who have been on waivers at some point over the last season.

You won’t find intangibles begging door-to-door or trading away picks. That’s just a way to find replacement players. Somehow, “replacement player” has made it’s way into the definition above when it’s put into a hockey context. You can’t “add” intangibles to your hockey team any more than you can “add” to your lucky hat collection with the first thing you see at Lids. It takes a year or two to break it in.

Comments (18)

  1. really sorry I wasted 2 minutes reading this crap.
    go back to your knitting class.

  2. Are you capable of analyzing hockey in any other way than with stats? Do you watch hockey? Have you watched Brown play?

  3. Maybe fourth-liners should be analyzed in how many times they get the puck into the opponent`s end so the first line gets a better chance at scoring. If a fourth line is constantly pinned in their own zone, then they suck. But an effective fourth line who can get the puck into and keep it in the opponent`s end should have some value. The first line can`t play all night so using those 6-8 minutes effectively should contain some value.

    • Zone entries can be tracked, or creating offensive zone faceoffs, like any other stat. Grit and energy can’t.

    • Mike Brown is awful at this too. 40.8% of his shifts this year end in the offensive zone, even though 61.9% start there. That said, he was better in that regard last year (49.5 ended, 41.4 started) so that may be an artifact of not really having had much ice time this year or playing with lousy linemates.

  4. and those hits are useful, you tellin me everytime a fourth liner pops one of the other teams d man, they arent sore on their next shift, or gives their teammates a boost of energy on the bench… go back to watching moneyball chump

  5. To me, Mike Ricci will always be the definition of intangibles. That guy put it all out there every single night.

    Do you trade just for intangibles? No…but you certainly take the 15 goal scorer with intangibles over the 17 goal scorer with none.

  6. Maybe the Oilers have someone that tracks mustaches. And they needed to bring in a guy who can mentor all their young players.

    • Why, are Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Whitney, Fistric, Khabibulin and Belanger not good enough for the job? How many mentors do you need?

  7. Reading the comments here and on other sites, it surprises me how many people need a reminder: Mike Brown is a plug. He always has been, and always will be. As mentioned, there’s a reason this guy has been bounced around the league.

    The Oilers should be concerned with their defence and goaltending, they’re not losing because they’re not tough enough. Leadership? Mentoring? If Ryan Smith can’t provide that, then Mike Brown certainly isn’t going to contribute. And for those that think he’s going to somehow ‘protect the younger players’, no one is going to think twice about hitting RNH when they have a chance because Mike Brown might come after them in his 4:00 minutes of ice time. This is why Toronto could only fetch a conditional fourth rounder for him, and why he’ll probably be traded for another in two years.

  8. they could easily be losing because they arent tough enough

    • Oilers fans and management have always thought this, yet tough guys from Zack Stortini to Darcy Hordichuk never seem to have an impact (a positive one that is). I think you’ve watched one too many coaches corner, soon you’re going to be telling me they don’t have enough Ontarians.

      • they could also be easily losing because eberle, hall and the nuge are shooting something stupid like 7% combined.. also mike brown can skate and hit, where hordichuk fuckin blew.. i watched him for years in vancouver.. the highlight of his career was he trained with chuck liddell and john hackleman in the offseason once…. also, read my other comments, i hate coaches corner.. guys a crazy old out of touch russian hatin jew

  9. More teams would win Stanley Cups? They only award one per year…

    Oh wait, you meant, different teams would win it more often? We’ve had a different champion every year since 1998, and no team has one more than one cup since the first lockout.

    • “We’ve had a different champion every year since 1998″
      Um, no. You’re forgetting that Detroit won the cup in both 2002 and 2008.

      Also, if the first lockout you’re referring to is the 1994-95 one, then again, Detroit’s won the cup 4 times since then, New Jersey’s won it twice (not counting the ’95 win), and the Avalanche have won it twice.

      What Cam was saying, I believe, is that teams like Edmonton and Calgary and so on – the teams who are currently bad and believe that they are lacking the intangible grit and energy that will catapult them into the playoffs – those are the kind of teams that would win the cup more often.

      • preeeeeetty sure he meant 05-06 jackass, or else he would have mentioned colorado and new jersey as repeat champions… if you wanna sound or look smart, shut up and turn off your computer and stop writing

        • …There wasn’t a lockout in 2005-06, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Also, he did say the *first* lockout, and the first lockout was the 1994-95 one, so he should have specified what he considered to be the “first” lockout in his book (ie, the 2004-05 lockout).

          Also, I suggest that if you want to look or sound smart, you should probably check your facts before commenting, no?

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