19 December 2013

Losses are losses; are words just words?

Coaches don't say what they're thinking. Paul MacLean seems to have perfected the art of sounding sincere and earnest while also not giving away exactly what he means, using a blend of clichés, long, detailed sentences and well-placed I'm-a-fisherman-from-Antigonish-NS humour. It's almost a certain guarantee that what he says to the media is not precisely what he says to the team. Under this presumption, do the words he gives to the media even matter?

The clichés exist for a reason; they help build image, they save players brainpower and patience and they go some ways toward aiding traditional journalists in thrashing out workable storylines to present. At this point, with pre-game and post-game interviews saturating the web, does the content of the words delivered matter anymore, or do the right clichés in the right circumstances suffice? (In the offseason, when we're all a little farther removed from hockey, I marvel at the fact that players and the coach give interviews after every. game. But once we're in the season's midst, I internalize it and thus no longer question it.)

The reason why the importance of the content matters is that it is currently being sold to us, the fans, like it does. Hockey team accounts live-tweet post-game interviews; the poor Sens media staff has to transcribe every one of MacLean's words; and people furiously retweet direct quotes from journalists' Twitter accounts. Value is placed on the words tripping from the players' and coaches' mouths, even as we seem to hear the same things over and again. And as sports fans, we're eager to extrapolate meaning and make conclusions about our beloved team.

This topic, obviously, is more relevant directly after a loss, and last night's loss to the New Jersey Devils in particular because of the words uttered by Coach MacLean—harsh in comparison to the words said before. He said some things he hadn't said yet in the season, and they seemed overwhelmingly different. Sharp. Perhaps this signified that he was saying something closer to the truth this time?

But there are clichés for losses, too, and statements like "We are not an elite team" don't mean much when, technically, half of the league is not an elite team. "A lack of leadership" and "a lack of focus" is more of the same harping-on-intangibles, and more importantly, they only give us a mere reflection of what MacLean's really saying to the players and how he's saying it, which I believe is the truly important part. Thus because it's impossible to tell how much of what he tells us is honesty and how much is generic fill-in-the-blank-for-a-loss statements, we can't make assumptions about his communication skills, the way he feels about losing or what he really thinks of Jason Spezza's leadership just from his words.

This shouldn't be a great tragedy. There are many, many aspects of hockey to hyper-analyze, and at the same time, no harm comes from drawing meaning out of a cliché, either. It's just a good idea to remember, while you're doing it, that what you hear is most likely not what you get.


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