Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Gotta keep it simple

In the ongoing search for mature, responsible off-season hobbies, I was sure decrypting the math that goes into the plus/minus rating would keep me busy for several days. I envisioned a complicated formula devised by MIT graduates that used a top secret combination of morse code, algebra and calculus like multiplying the number of games played by the number of goals scored minus the number of goals allowed plus the number of players on the full roster, minus the number of players on the ice at the time the goal was scored. Imagine my surprise and delight when, at last, I discovered an NHL rule that is exactly what it sounds like: a statistic that measures goal differential, it awards a plus to players on the ice at the time their team scored a goal, and a minus to players on the ice at the time their team allowed a goal. Genius. Now that I know what goes into the on-ice math, it occurred to me that there isn’t a rule for the things that can’t be calculated with math, like heart, soul, character and other intangibles that make a player who he is. But what if there was?

The math according to Sam: I have devised a system that awards a plus or minus to measure the following criteria: responsible spending of outrageous NHL salary, proper conduct in all public relations encounters, including post-playoff losing game interviews and Twitter, respect and courtesy towards the fans who pay your salary, participation in and donation to the community where you are privileged enough to live and play hockey, and loyalty to team/putting team first. It would go like this:

No, you don’t need 17 Ferraris, a $16,000 umbrella stand or 900 pairs of Air Jordans: Plus one for devoting a set amount of your annual salary to charitable causes, such as a foundation that bears your name, the building of a new library or hospital wing or endeavors that advance the sport of hockey. Minus one for doing none of the above because you are too busy spending it on bar tabs, cars that it costs more to insure than own because you drive them too fast in a school zone, or homes so big you need a GPS to navigate all the rooms.

One cliche, two cliche, three cliche, done!: When I first met Ryan Johansen at a local community event for fans, I told him no more than three cliches in one interview. Now I just jokingly tell him after games to give me his best cliche, knowing that I’ll get at least one before it’s all said and done. But I also know that behind the great playmaker is a great player and person with more of a competitive edge than his easygoing demeanor might imply. In keeping with my own advice to the NHL’s future, I would award plus one for demonstrating courtesy and respect to reporters during interviews whilst limiting cliches like “gotta keep it simple,” “you just have to do the little things” or my personal favorite “I can’t really describe it, it’s surreal.”  Minus one if all answers are a cliche, you do stupid things that even junior hockey players know better than to do like storm out of press conferences in a huff or drinking-and-Tweeting, or you have no idea what the little things are.

Do I know you?: Under the current collective bargaining agreement, one of the principal sources of hockey-related revenue is ticket sales. Which means that fans contribute to the salary of our favorite teams. I would award plus one for players who know this, understand it and respond to it appropriately with proper courtesy, and and by giving back to fans year round. Minus one for players who walk right by the kids who want to touch their hands as they walk out of the rink without so much as a nod of acknowledgement. It only takes a second to be cool and that kid remembers it forever. One moment of direspect lasts a lifetime and thanks to social media it can last a lot longer.

The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back: Plus one for that cool play that you make to the teammate so he can score the highlight reel goal or for blocking that could-have-cost-us-the-game shot. Minus one for attempting an impossible highlight reel goal so you can watch yourself the next morning on YouTube instead of passing to the teammate who was waiting right next to a wide open net.

If I were queen of the plus/minus world: The Portland Winterhawks would have one of the best plus/minus ratings in the world. Ryan would be plus 500 for his selfless, pretty playmaking, patience with fans who dole out advice he will never listen to and blowing the minds of everyone in his path en route to being drafted fourth overall by Columbus. Sven Bartschi and Nino Niederreiter would be plus 400 for their 100 percent sincerity in all interviews, which are also the source of vintage soundbites. But the best plus/minus score for 100 percent cliche free, sincere media responses goes to Joe Morrow. In one of his post-draft interviews, he talked about how cool it was to have his family with him that day, including, and I quote, his “auntie.” I haven’t called anyone auntie since I was in kindergarten. That is without question the most sincere, heartfelt thing I heard in the post-draft media blitz and it’s the perfect example of how close he is with his family. Portland fans will appreciate it when I say that even I wanted to go buy a warm and fuzzy kitten when I heard that.

Up next: It’s only 28 shopping days until Winterhawks training camp. Look for a few kibbles and bits about our up and coming players who are eligible for the 2012 draft, notably Derrick Pouliot and Brendan Leipsic.

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com