By Dan Charlton (@Dan_Charlton48)
For many years, NHL teams have been paying top dollar for ‘experience’ to add to their rosters. The belief is experience allows teams to go deeper into the playoffs and perhaps lift the Stanley Cup. But is it really this experience? Or is it just a facade?
Before I get into my personal beliefs, let’s take a look at some examples of when experience hasn’t paid off for teams. First, I’m going to delve into one of the more intriguing matchups of this past year’s playoffs: the Toronto Maple Leafs vs the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals, with the league’s best regular-season record, against the Maple Leafs who barely squeaked in with the Philadelphia Flyers and a few others on their tail. The Caps were touting their usual stars: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J Oshie, Brayden Holtby. The Leafs, a young inexperienced team with rookies galore featured 2016 first-overall pick Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and the widely loved Mitch Marner, just to name a few.
The Capitals were being picked to absolutely obliterate the young Leafs, but when the first round began, a different narrative was beginning to take shape. The Leafs weren’t just putting up a fight, they were threatening to dethrone the Capitals in the Capitals’ year.
The Maple Leafs led the series at 2-1 at one point, but after a loss in Game 6, the Capitals ultimately dispatched their younger rivals. The youngest team in the NHL, though, almost overcame one of the more experienced teams in the NHL.
So why is experience so touted? It’s mostly due to these constant sayings:
“(Insert team here) is more experienced than (Insert other team here”
“They lost because of their inexperience”
These sayings are hammered into the heads of everyone come playoff time. Experience does not equate to skill by any means. Take a look at Ivan Provorov, he was a rookie and he stepped into a number one defenseman role and flourished. Now by no means should a team have all rookies, but there is absolutely zero reason to go out and spend top dollar for players who have “been there”.
This idea of veterans being vital to championship teams should begin to fade away. The game is changing, its getting younger, faster, more competitive. These young players that are coming up quickly grasp what this league is like, and while it helps to have players there to talk to about what’s ahead, but by no means is it as important as it’s made out to be.
The Oilers have a 19-year-old as their captain.
Auston Matthews led the Leafs to the playoffs.
Ivan Provorov carried a weak defense all season.
Shayne Gostisbehere did the same a year prior.
Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny were polarizing players from the start.
These players were all rookies, or had little experience in the league. And if you try to say “Well the Flyers were a first round exit with Ghost, and missed the playoffs this year, the Leafs were also first round exits.” McDavid and Draisaitl carried an Oilers team to Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, also both the Flyers and the Leafs took the Capitals to 6 games in each of their respective series.
The fact that these experienced players will get priority over young players in a lineup can harm players. Look at what happened to Jordan Weal after being acquired by the Flyers. Weal was repeatedly scratched while players like R.J Umberger got to continue not contributing to the lineup. This year, Weal was sent down to the AHL for most of the year when multiple veteran players could have been sent down and Weal would’ve been able to show his skills even more to the Flyers fan base. When he got his shot, he played very well offensively, quickly became a fan favorite, and people are clamoring for the young speedy forward to be resigned by Hextall.
This is the problem with the obsession with experienced players. Young guys get buried underneath them in the depth chart, despite being more skilled and faster than these veterans on the team. As the league continues to shift to more younger stars, hopefully this idea of experience equals success will begin to dissipate. Just because someone has more games under their belt doesn’t make them better. Young players should be allowed to own bigger roles, be able to learn themselves, not have to lean on a veteran who can get away with making the same mistake as them. When veterans who are 4th line grinders are getting played over dynamic young offensive players, it’s going to make them think, “If I want more ice time, I guess I have to play more like that.” This can drastically hurt their confidence as well as their development. Young guys should be able to play, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. Just because there’s a guy whose played more playoff games isn’t going to prevent young players from making mistake.
It’s time to stop pushing this “experience-first” mindset, it’s time to let the kids play.
Picture via Philly.com