Leadership, Communication, Handshakedness

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I was reading through some of Yost’s posts and found this recent one with quotes and analysis from and about Paul MacLean.

What strikes me about MacLean’s quotes here are 1) he really has no idea what anyone is talking about when they reference the changes he made in the way he communicates with his players, even though his general manager pointed to that communication as one of the primary issues behind the team’s poor performance and 2) not only can he not really change how he communicates if he’s not aware of how his communications have changed, but he views being disingenuous or not true to oneself (meaning, to change his approach at all) as a threat to the team’s performance: “When you’re trying to be something that you’re not, that’s never going to work.”

Let’s forget for a second that fans are left in an infuriating Catch 22-like moment where the GM thinks the best way to move forward is for the coach to change and the coach thinks the worst thing to do is to change at all. What I think is more important is the sense that the organization, or at least the media who have the opportunity to fixate on issues and ask questions of the organization, continue to fixate on more ephemeral, unsatisfying, cultural issues as the driver of the team’s poor play.

When Cory Clouston was head coach, the media and blogs jumped on Spezza’s offhand comments about poor communication and blew it up into the primary reason the team bottomed out. I’m seeing a lot of similarities between that year’s team and this one, in the sense that we’re once-again fixating on either a lack of leadership in the dressing room (whatever that means), which may result in shipping out the team’s most talented forward, or, again, on the coach’s need to be better at or do more communicating.

The point of these terms is that they’re stand-ins that scale conveniently in size according to how much information you have and need. In the absence of information about how a team intends to act next, or how much money they intend to spend on payroll, we’re forced, as fans, to take legitimate but possibly tiny issues and blow them all out of proportion. This pressure, in turn, must surely inform team marketing, which looks at the types of players fans prefer, the kind of merch they buy, etc. Is this how you end up with a team fixated on acquiring or failing to acquire Gary Roberts, possibly firing a GM over it? Is this is how you end up giving Chris Neil and Chris Phillips extensions despite every underlying number speaking to their inefficiency? I don’t know. But I do see a lot of Chris Neil jerseys at games, despite the fact that he’s a terrible hockey player.

What’s strange to me is that I haven’t seen many questions put to the organization about issues that are so thoroughly explained by the evidence as to be non-contentious. Why, for example, did their goaltending regress so badly? It might be the single biggest reason why a bubble team that allows a ton of shots went from the right side of the bubble to the wrong side. Was it injuries, or tactics like player usage and goaltending coaches? Whats the succession planning for the organization? Is it a goaltending thing, or should the underlying approach of being a high-event / shot producing team be re-thought? I don’t have the answers, but I’d prefer that conversation to the one about whether or not Spezza is leader-y enough.

Right now Ottawa is getting the worst of all worlds: placing repeated emphasis on leadership and communication and then failing to articulate what leadership means and putting their poor communication on clear display for all the world to see.

Put another way, and 600 words shorter: if communication is really such a problem that it sank our season, how bad is it that the general manager of this team said one thing about the coach’s abilities, and then the coach himself professed to have no idea what he was talking about?

2 thoughts on “Leadership, Communication, Handshakedness

  1. “The point of these terms is that they’re stand-ins that scale conveniently in size according to how much information you have and need.” BAH. This is so eloquently stated. I think the focus on leadership and its vague adjective friends is a part of the old-fashioned way of doing sports journalism — see all the clichés spouted during, like, every single interview ever — that’s right up there alongside plus/minus being touted as an important stat. So it’s easy to say to ask more important questions as a fan, but maybe not so easy for journalists?

  2. It seems to me that Occam’s Razor is always the first casualty of fan consternation. Maybe there is a communication problem; maybe there isn’t. Either way, why would MacLean discuss it publicly in the media? It wouldn’t be the first time MacLean has played dumb in public. He’s just a fisherman, blah blah blah. Isn’t it more likely that MacLean just doesn’t want to talk about what was said internally? It feels like the expectation these days is that the team just air its dirty laundry so everyone will feel it’s trying to address its issues–despite that being a really bad way to run any franchise.

    There’s no doubt that MacLean got feedback on his performance this year, same as any player. But just like the team doesn’t need to publicly announce that they told Brian Lee to stop eating KFC Double Downs if he wanted to make the team, MacLean doesn’t need to publicly announce that he was told to lighten the eff up by his boss. The guy knows what he was told. That he doesn’t want to discuss it publicly is not an indicator of communication problems, no matter what the optics are.

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