Sep 4, 2011, 11:20 AM EDT
Not too long ago, hockey wasn’t necessarily high on the list of sports that required hard-bodied combatants. That’s not to say that the NHL stars were all George Costanzas on skates, but when you look back at a young Mario Lemieux’s viewpoint on off-season training (not getting fries with his club sandwich starting on August 1), it’s clear that times have changed.
Part of it’s probably due to sheer hockey-free boredom, but there have been four notable issues when it comes to players and their weight. We’ve already addressed how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be allowed to play at whatever level is comfortable for him, even if it means playing at a sprite-like size. But what about the players who might not exactly fit into the bronze statue-type mold?
Three players have made waves (sometimes literally we imagine, when they jump into swimming pools) for getting Super-sized this summer, whether those assumptions are fair or not. First it was Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who appeared to have a beer gut in a photo that didn’t exactly catch him at a flattering angle. Secondly, Los Angeles Kings whipping boy Dustin Penner became the source of niche mockery when an embarrassing photo of his bare beer belly surfaced. Finally, Dustin Byfuglien became a meme magnet after his already troubling arrest revealed that he weighed in at a whopping 286 lbs.
When teams hand out millions to hockey players, they want them to look like statuesque humans and/or underwear models. Yet deep down, if general managers really want to win, they should merely focus on how a player’s weight affects their on-ice play. If the book “Moneyball” teaches us anything, it’s that results should matter more than perceptions even though that doesn’t always happen. Let’s take a look at each case to see why the players’ teams should (and shouldn’t) be worried.
The general consensus was Ovechkin’s belly was more about generating laughs than genuine concern that the Russian star wouldn’t be in shape to begin the 2011-12 season. The most important factor to remember is time: that unflattering photo surfaced in July, giving him plenty of time to work off whatever belly he might have developed during the off-season.
My only concern is that his long-term contract might make him fat and happy (more figuratively than literally). After all, it might be tougher to push that tire up a hill if you know you’re going to make almost $10 million in salary alone for the next decade or so either way.
Luckily, Ovechkin seems like he’s driven to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington, so everyone can be excused for having a little fun while ignoring their own bellies in the mirror when it comes to Ovi’s food baby.
Greg Thomson made an astute – and hilarious – comparison between that Penner photo and “The Bare Midriff” episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Here’s the thing, though: Penner’s gut will be obstructed when he’s going to work, unlike Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s wardrobe-challenged secretary. Much like Byfuglien, Penner has always been a big guy, so it’s reasonable to wonder if he has had a bit of a gut even during the highest points of his career (like when he won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks).
Ultimately, the Kings can look the other way when the four-time 20+ goal scorer takes his shirt off because he should have every motivation to play at the weight that works for him since he’s in a contract year. Los Angeles should get what they can out of Penner in this situation, even if they need to dangle a bucket of gravy instead of a carrot in front of the power forward to get him going.
Big Byfuglien’s weight worries might be the most troubling of the three.
For one thing, his troubles emerged closer to training camp than Penner or Ovechkin. Much like Ovechkin, Byfuglien has his financial future secure for quite some time, so the worry is that the Winnipeg Jets might get burned by a small window of focus for an unusual specimen who developed a reputation for inconsistency in Chicago. Deadspin also posits the possibility that Byfuglien might even need a little help with his partying ways.
Overall, I don’t think teams should freak out about their players weight, although training camp is a good time to give them a push in the right direction. While Byfuglien’s situation is a little troubling, the overall takeaway is that we can all have our fun and feel a little better about our physiques when seeing these players in a more human light, but it’s unlikely that these issues will mean much during the 2011-12 season.
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