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Is the Media (Including Us) Too Critical of Players?

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After reading a recent ESPN hockey article featuring quotes from Taylor Hall about his time in Edmonton, I look today to see if maybe there are better ways we can do our job as hockey writers.

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I recently read ESPN’s interview/article with New Jersey Devils star forward Taylor Hall, where he spoke of how the negative media culture in Edmonton was affecting certain players. Hall was talking specifically about the Edmonton media in this article (as was New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle, who had some quotes mentioned as well), but one thing that he said stood out to me as possibly being true of all hockey media:

"I think that if the media in Edmonton think that they don't impact players, just a little bit, then they're crazy. Everyone's human. No one wants to read crappy stuff about them, no matter how good of a player you are."

I was reflective for quite a while after reading this quote and the entirety of the article. While I don’t think we’ve ever gone to the extent that Mark Spector did (as seen in the article) of calling players “mentally weak” and saying that teams “can’t win with those players” we here at AAtJ have been critical of a number of players to play for the Devils, especially the past few seasons where the on-ice product has not been successful.

It made me wonder if we were really being unfair to a lot of good soldiers who have come through this organization; I think it goes without saying that winning comes first for most, if not all NHLers, and that all teams are trying to win (minus the Edmonton/Buffalo/Arizona tank-a-thon season of 2014-15) at all times, regardless of who is on the ice. Some players will always be better than other players as well; that’s just a fact of life. Is it fair of us to be so critical of players if they are giving their best effort night in and night out?

I have to call myself out on this before anyone else, as in the past I have been very critical of a number of players that have worn the red and black. Specifically, I have written about defenders perceived by myself, the fans, or in some cases by both, as underachieving on the ice. Without even going back through the archives, I know I’ve said some negative stuff about Bryce Salvador, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and probably Jon Merrill when he was here too. Maybe it’s the fact that I was spoiled by the Devils of the 90s and early 2000s with Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko, Brian Rafalski among others on the back end. Maybe I expected a player like Sal to have more left in the tank after the 2012 playoffs, or that Lovejoy would adjust to Hynes’ system quicker than he did in his first season with the team.

I think some writers publish negative thoughts for the sake of negative thoughts; I’d like to think that what we do here at AAtJ is always about constructive criticism or wanting what is best for the team. It’s a difficult line to tow, and I think many writers would agree with me on this. That being said at the same time, the ESPN article was a sobering reminder that while hockey players are being criticized for the amount they make, the amount they produce, and their general play on the ice, at the end of the day, they’re still human beings just like you and I. Again, I don’t think I’ve ever gone so far as to call a player “mentally weak” but I’m sure I’ve said that a player sucked or something similar that could have been better worded to be about specific improvements. At the end of the day, all of these men are in this league for a reason and that is that they are some of the best hockey players in the world; I may have a right as a writer to analyze their play, but nothing gives me (or any other writer) the right to critique them as human beings. If I have ever done that (and if there is any Devils player that I’ve done that to in a previous article who winds up reading this), then I am truly sorry for my words.

I have to go back to the idea that it is a fine line that we walk when write about player performance. I think we at AAtJ are passionate about our team, and passionate about management rebuilding the Devils into the powerhouse they used to be, and trying to get the best 20 hockey players that we can to play for this team. I think there are certainly media markets that are more critical of players than we are, and are way more unfair in their criticisms as well. Again, if I have ever overstepped my bounds in commentating on an NHLer’s play, I do apologize; it is always my intent to analyze a player’s on ice capabilities, and not question their mental toughness or anything else that has no relevance to them playing the game.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this article and the hockey media as well; do you think there are too many writers that overstep their bounds? Is most NHL coverage/criticism fair to the players? Is it all just part of the league? Should players let the words of writers/analysts affect their confidence? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!