Yesterday, Dave Feschuk published a bad article in the Toronto Star. That isn’t anything new. He does that a lot. And nothing I say in rebuttal to his bad article will be as insightful or as funny as the time Phil Kessel called him an idiot. But since Steve Simmons’ understudy decided to take a shot at Steven Stamkos, I’m obligated to try to follow in Phil’s footsteps.
Feschuk’s article is a masterclass in hot takery. The headline is Nobel caliber click bait. The first several paragraphs establish a premise so absurd that I was incredulously staring at my laptop wondering how the rest of the article could deliver on the opening’s promise. And predictably, the second half is a weak retreat into hedging and qualifying as the hot take whimpers to a cold unsatisfying finish.
Listen, if you’re gonna write hot take click bait, finish the job. Have the courage to see your nonsensical “idea” through to its illogical conclusion. Don’t start me off with a small plate of gourmet ghost pepper wings and then finish with a sloppy pile of mild Chili’s.
Let’s start with the headline: “Missing out on Steven Stamkos wasn’t a bad thing for Maple Leafs.” Yeah, sure dude. The Leafs certainly have no use for an 86 point player with positive shot impacts. Stamkos scores like a first liner at 5v5 and like one of the best players in the game on the power play. But absolutely, the Leafs are better off without that.
The first two paragraphs are hot.
“There was a time when people questioned Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper for lacking faith in Steven Stamkos.
The 2015 Stanley Cup final comes to mind. Cooper kept Stamkos on the bench in some crucial situations in that series. And from some angles — when you considered Stamkos’s status as the most prolific goal scorer in the game not named Alex Ovechkin — it seemed like folly. A few years later, maybe it’s understandable. Ten years into one of the greatest regular-season careers in recent memory, captain Stamkos hasn’t exactly proven himself a playoff kingpin.”
Somebody please remind Dave that the Lightning had the best line in the world in 2015. Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson were one of the best lines in recent NHL history. That was the key line for the Lightning in that run and that’s why Stamkos wasn’t getting all the high leverage minutes. Not some imaginary “lack of faith” in Stamkos.
But ol’ Fezzy is just getting warmed up.
The pre-Game 7 narrative focused of Washington’s long history of Game 7 failure. Now it’s the Lightning, and especially their Markham-bred No. 91, who find themselves doused in the unflattering light of in-the-clutch underperformance. Tally up the damage — that’s six career Game 7s for Stamkos and still zero Game 7 points. Stamkos has compiled a measly nine shots on goal in those half-dozen crucibles. And in this particular instance — in a series in which the Lightning led 3-2 — it’s worth noting he had zero points and one shot on goal in a crucial Game 6 loss, too.
This is great stuff. Finding a stat like zero points in six career game sevens for a star player is porn to writers like Feschuk. They know they can turn that small sample anomaly into 1200 words and thousands of clicks. Never mind that six games is a meaningless sample in hockey. Never mind that one of those games was Stamkos’ first game in months after recovering from surgery to relieve a blood clot. Just. Get. Those. Clicks.
The next paragraph is the peak of the article. I can just imagine him hammering out these three sentences in ecstasy. Raptured by his muse. Lost in the effervescent love of an infinitely creative universe.
Maybe it’s fitting his nickname is “Stammer.” Synonyms include “Falter,” “Wobble” and “Repeat.” This is the same player who emerged from his only trip to the Stanley Cup final with zero goals and one assist in six games.
You know the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is imagining his teacher’s reaction to his Christmas theme? That’s Feschuk imagining how his editor would react to this little play on words. The man is a literary brain genius. Corollary: What’s a good synonym for “Feschuk?” Think on that for a moment.
From there, our intrepid author delves into a comparison of Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin. Parsing his (Playmobil) train of thought is a challenge but I think he’s trying to say that if Ovechkin is perceived as a playoff choker, then look at Stamkos!
The problem here of course is that Ovi has been great in the playoffs and while Stamkos hasn’t been on Ovi’s level, he has been perfectly fine. Feschuk acknowledges this fact eventually, rendering the point he was trying to make moot until he drops this nugget of enlightenment:
But if we’re intent on fetishizing athletes who bring the heat in the Stanley Cup cauldron, [Stamkos’ production is] not exactly special.
I wonder who’s responsible for fetishizing athletes who perform in the playoffs. Could it be writers like him? Writers who latch on to easy narratives because real analysis is hard? Writers who deal in amorphous intangibles where opinions can’t be proven wrong or right? Could be, man. Could be.
At the midway point of the article, Feschuk finally addresses his headline with another humdinger of a passage.
For Toronto, it turned out to be a masterstroke of a whiff. In obvious decline at age 28, there remain six long years on Stamkos’ contract. And Toronto would have been paying him something considerably north of his Tampa cap hit of $8.5 million (U.S.).
That second sentence...just...what? Stamkos just had his best season in years. That’s an indisputable fact. Maybe Feschuk doesn’t know what the word “decline” means? That’s the only conclusion I can reach here. Whatever the case, that sentence is a masterstroke of a whiff.
This is the point in the article where Feschuk starts to backpedal. For most of the next six paragraphs, he hedges against his own absurd take. He talks about Stamkos’ injuries. He talks about the small sample size. He talks about Stamkos taking ownership when the team loses games.
Even amidst the hedging, he still manages to throw a few haymakers.
[Stamkos] had just 12 even-strength goals in 78 games this season. There were 160 NHLers who scored more. Toronto’s Zach Hyman, oft-maligned for a pair of hands not befitting Toronto’s first line, scored 14.
This is really playing to his audience. He’s found the perfect stat to cherry pick. Zach Hyman had two more 5v5 goals than Steven Stamkos is Toronto sports fan catnip. Who cares that Stamkos had sixteen more assists. Who cares that Stamkos is one of the best power play weapons in the game. Not the cherry picker, that’s for sure.
Confident that he’s made his point, Feschuk finishes strong. Not quite as strong as he opened. But strong.
And so it’s worth asking: If Stamkos has so far proven himself incapable of carrying his squad when it counts, how long before his cap hit is considered a burden too heavy for a Cup contender to haul around?
The Maple Leafs can only thank the hockey gods it’s not their question to answer.
Again, yeah, great point. The Leafs should be so thankful they don’t have Stamkos. 86 point players who drive play are worthless if their team doesn’t win a Cup.
Let’s hope the hockey gods shine on Toronto again this summer and they find a way to trade Auston Matthews before he becomes burden too heavy for a Cup contender to haul around.