“…Nothing of him does fade,
But it doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange…”
Ariel, in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
With just over two weeks to go to the EIHL season, recruitment announcements for those teams that haven’t yet completed their rosters are beginning to come thick and fast. Yesterday alone we saw Fife, Braehead, Sheffield and Edinburgh make announcements, today Cardiff and Braehead again, tomorrow Sheffield and Belfast as teams race to complete their rosters before the start of the season.
But what is more noticeable than ever this off-season is not so much the names of the players being signed (although some of them have been very impressive indeed) but the types of players-and more importantly the types of players teams aren’t signing.
Player types like Jade Galbraith.
Two seasons ago or even as late as last season Galbraith would have been one of the hottest properties of the off-season, the gaudy-numbered forward who you’d expect every team in the EIHL to go after. This off-season? He couldn’t get a contract. More to the point, it seemed most teams, even the Braehead Clan, weren’t really interested in offering him one.
But he’s not the only forward with gaudy numbers but no real interest from EIHL coaches.
Another player who’s had gaudy numbers in the EIHL but can’t even get a job there any more? Greg Chambers, who despite scoring over a point a game in the Elite League over 300+ games for Basingstoke and Coventry, and in the prime of his career at age 30, is now once again in the “lower level” English Premier League this season. Now, arguably this is because he can actually command higher wages in the supposed “second tier” of UK hockey but also because simply put, the EIHL teams don’t really want him.
Jereme Tendler has scored an average of 70 points a season for Hull during his time in the EIHL-a few seasons ago the offers would have been flying in from the “top” clubs in the league, Now? He’s still on Humberside. Now, again this might have a lot to do with Tendler becoming settled in the North East, but then again…it might not. Surely, with British hockey being the small, parochial society it is rumours of offers would have leaked out?
David Beauregard is another one-not re-signed by Nottingham despite ridiculously high points numbers.
These players, skilled though they are, all have one thing in common-they’re notoriously “one-way” players. If they’re not scoring, then they’re not really contributing. Chambers and Galbraith in particular have been dogged by accusations of patchy form and inconsistent workrate throughout their EIHL careers. Tendler is a supremely effective sniper but he often needs someone else to do the grunt work. David Beauregard, too, is similar…many who watched him in Manchester took the view that his success was mainly due to having Tony Hand and Luke Fulghum on his line to do the grunt work.
(while we’re at it-there’s another “numbers but not wanted” ex-EIHLer-Fulghum took himself back to the Denver Cutthroats last offseason after he wasn’t re-signed by Sheffield or indeed any other EIHL team).
The language of EIHL PRs has changed. A few years ago every EIHL team seemed to have a gaudy-numbered guy who maybe wasn’t the greatest defensively, as coaches and fans emphasised the “gamewinning” qualities of players like Galbraith and Chambers, praising their “matchwinning” skills in publicity and then alternately gnawing their nails in frustration at their inconsistency and rejoicing in their mercurial skills. Paul Deniset, Sean McAslan, Dan Tessier, Curtis Huppe, Johan Molin, Barrie Moore…the more you think about it the more players you can come up with in the EIHL who, if they weren’t scoring, were almost invisible to most fans and yet were still viewed as superstars.
This offseason more than any other, we’re seeing a switch in emphasis in what coaches are emphasising in their recruitment announcements. Teams are quick to point out the “defensive responsiblity” and “great play in both zones” of their forwards, and fans are looking more at the whole picture when judging players, as noted by people being less receptive than they might have been on signings like Ryan Menei.
Corey Neilson, more than any other, has led this charge-or more to the point his Nottingham Panthers team has. After traditionally putting together squads made more of a collection of talented individuals than an actual team, last season Neilson recruited very much with a plan in mind, ditching the likes of Beauregard and focusing on creating a team with forwards and defence who were almost to a man capable at either end of the ice, and boy did it pay dividends.
This off-season more teams are looking to follow his template, with capable two-way forwards-signings like Brian McMillin, Matt Ryan and Mac Faulkner to name but three in the Erhardt Conference-being prized over the traditional “game winners” like Galbraith. Coaches are more than ever looking to fill an entire team with players who can contribute across the board-as the EIHL standard has risen the role of “superstars” like Galbraith in winning games and by extension their importance has diminished and the emphasis has risen on having not a matchwinning player or line but overwhelming opponents with quality in depth.
In this world, the value of gifted but inconsistent stars like those mentioned above is dropping heavily. Gone are the days when an EIHL player’s worth was measured solely by his offensive output and the bright light of scoring stardom was sufficient to obscure a multitude of sins. Over the past couple of seasons coaches in the EIHL have noticeably been looking more and more at the complete package when signing a player and workrate and the ability to play in any situation are trumping pure scoring talent.
It’s just not been quite so obvious a trend as it has this offseason, perhaps because it’s not been quite so widespread. Others have argued that Jade Galbraith is one of the clearest examples in EIHL history of a player who could have been so much more than he was. I would go further, and say that as Galbraith departs the EIHL, his departure signals not only the loss of a mercurial player who could have been so much better, but it’s also the clearest manifestation yet of a major shift in the recruitment philosophy of the entire EIHL.
The times, they are a-changing.