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Fear of Heights

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Examining the importance of height in the National Hockey League

Post-season goal scoring leader Tyler Johnson (5'9") leaps like a child into the arms of a lower scoring, taller teammate
Post-season goal scoring leader Tyler Johnson (5'9") leaps like a child into the arms of a lower scoring, taller teammate
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get started, and as a general reference: according to a post by @Mirtle (http://mirtle.blogspot.ca/2014/10/2014-15-nhl-teams-by-height-weight-and.html) the Avalanche opened the ’14-’15 season with the ~12th tallest roster in the NHL. This puts them behind Ottawa (tallest NHL roster), and Phoenix (2nd tallest), but ahead of teams St Louis (21st tallest), New York Rangers (29th), and Minnesota (26th).

Now, in many hockey circles there is a lot of emphasis on player height and size – with the advantage given almost exclusively to bigger players. Patrick Roy recently made some comments about wanting the Avalanche to be bigger, and implying that the organization would have drafted someone other than Joey Hishon (5’10") had he been in charge the last couple years, with the idea being that Hishon was too small. That is a seemingly innocuous thought with a semi-frightening undertone. It reminds me of a similar idea Greg Sherman and Joe Sacco had a few years ago when the Avalanche traded players like Jean-Michael Liles for players like Ryan O'byrne.

It would be great to have a team full of big guys like Ovechkin (6’3), Victor Hedman (6’6), Jeff Carter (6’4), Ryan Getzlaf (6’4), Joe Thornton (6’4), and Shea Weber (6’4). Skill players with size are fantastic additions. But you know why they're valued so highly? Because large hockey players with equally large amounts of skill are so rare. For every All-Star with size, there are not-All-Stars like: John Scott (6’8), Patrick Bordeleau (6’6), Andrej Sustr (6’8), Nik Antropov (6’6"), and Brian Boyle (6’8).

Roy has mentioned in the past that the Kings (t-4th tallest in the NHL) are a team whose model he wants to follow. Given their success the last couple years, this seems like a reasonable idea. The repeated emphasis on size instead of skill, however, is unsettling. Discounting smaller skill guys like Hishon in favor of taller options does not seem as smart or as simple as implied. Successful teams should look for skill and ability, with height and size being an added bonus – not the other way around. As Maple Leafs Assistant GM Kyle Dubas said recently, "it’s easier to trade small for size, than draft for size and trade for skill."

Though not all hope is lost for Avalanche fans. According to the Avalanche website, in 2014 the Avalanche drafted 7 players. All of them were above 6’ tall, but only one was 6’3 or taller (second round pick D Kyle Wood). In 2013 another 7 players were taken, including 5’11 Will Butcher, also including 6’6 Ben Storm and 6’3 Mason Geertsen. Picking three giants out of fourteen selections isn’t bad. So I could be overreacting to a couple benign comments. This is more an argument against height-fetishists league wide anyways.

My last remaining hockey fear this summer comes in the form of 6’4", 212 pound Kingston Frontenac Lawson "the Sheriff" Crouse. People like him because he’s big and seems to be skilled, but he’s not putting up elite numbers, even given excellent minutes, zone starts, and deployment. Seems like a perfect fit for the Flyers at number 7 overall. I still want Provorov, Werenski, Barzal, Zacha, or Meier. Or hell, trade up and draft Hanifin, Just, for the love of God, please not Lawson Crouse.

Quick Facts:

-Eight of the top ten scorers in the 2014-2015 season were 6’1 or shorter.

-Since 1993, fourteen skaters have won the Conn Smythe. THREE of them have been 6’2 or taller (Toews, Malkin, and Joe Nieuwendyk)

-Three of them have been 5"11 or shorter (Kane, Yzerman, Sakic)

-The below list of players

NHL players 6'1 and Under


Tyler Johnson - 5'8

Martin St. Louis - 5'8

Sidney god damn Crosby 5'11

John Tavares - 6'

Steven Stamkos - 6'

Vlad Tarasenko - 6'

Joe Pavelski - 5'11

Erik Karlsson - 5'11"

Tyson Barrie - 5'10

Kevin Shattenkirk - 5'10

PK Subban - 6'

Kris Letang - 6'

Patrick Kane - 5'10

JOE SAKIC - 5'11

PETER FORSBERG - 5'11

Pavel Datsyuk - 5'11"

Claude Giroux - 5'11

Nathan Mackinnon - 6'

Ryan O'Reilly - 6'

Zach Parise – 5’11

Drew Doughty – 6’1

Ryan Suter – 6’1

Tyler Seguin – 6’1

Duncan Keith – 6’1

Henrik Zetterberg – 6’0"