Why Are The Greatest So Bad At Evaluating Talent?


By Kyle Bauer

Welcome to a new Sunday column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports. Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email, kylebauerdsn@gmail.com or twitter, @kyle_bauer

Recently, Wayne Gretzky gushed about Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg to NHL.com in late January--and I mean GUSHED. He sounded like how you sounded in high school whenever the person you had a crush on was brought up, "Yeeeeah, she's TOTALLY the best volleyball player!" because yeah, like you really know volleyball. Wayne Gretzky--despite being the best ever to play the game--makes me think, yeah, like you really know Swedish hockey players. He has a mad crush on Zetterberg.

Gretz called Zetterberg "the best Swedish player in NHL history." I mean, did he have to say this as apart of a bet he lost with Rick Tocchet? He also said Z is the best player in the (now) elder age bracket in the NHL. He said that Zetterberg is his favorite player over the past 10 years. OKAY, so that's more plausible to me. "The Great One" is just sounding like a fan-boy.

"My favorite player over the last 10 years has been (Henrik) Zetterberg. I think Zetterberg is the best player in the game (at his age). He's been so physically beat up from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Olympics, all that goes with that, but he's just very special. I think he's the best Swedish player they've ever put into the National Hockey League, and there has been a lot of great ones, from (Borje) Salming to (Nicklas) Lidstrom."

It's more than fair to be a fan-boy of Zetterberg. He's proved to be one of the best penalty-killers and playmakers of the past 10 years. This year's hot start has merited him Hart Trophy consideration at the quarter-poll of this shortened season. Also we cannot forget one of the greatest shifts in Stanley Cup history, when Zetterberg shut down Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa with a two-man advantage in the decisive Game 6 on the 2008 Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But can we all put the fruity punch down for a second and really evaluate what Gretzky said and (with all due respect) what an ass he made himself sound like?

Nick Lidstrom, who hasn't even been retired for six damn months is already being forgotten. TWENTY SEASONS OF NEVER MISSING THE PLAYOFFS, WINNING SEVEN NORRIS TROPHIES, AVERAGING 26 MINUTES OF ICE TIME PER GAME FOR HIS CAREER, SIXTH ALL-TIME IN POINTS SCORED BY A DEFENSEMAN, EIGHTH ALL-TIME IN PLUS-MINUS, ONE CONN-SMYTHE TROPHY (amongst a team with nine other hall of fame players), AND FOUR STANLEY CUPS-- that's all that Lidstrom did and Gretzky gets on the podium to put him beneath a teammate who wouldn't have won his only Cup without him. I find this even more confounding considering Gretzky played a seven-game playoff series against Lidstrom in 1996. I'll not only argue he's the greatest Swede of all-time, but also Euro and second best defenseman to only Bobby Orr.

As much as you The Detroit Sports Nation will not like to read this, Peter Forsberg is also considerably better. Sorry, but two Stanley Cups, two 100-plus point seasons (including 2003, at the height of the "clutch and grab" era) and one Hart Trophy, with defense and physicality to spare.

Now if you want to rank Zetterberg in the class of (fraudulent, Toronto-biased first-ballot Hall of Famer) Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, Bjore Salming (and in Ken Holland's mind, Mikael Samuelsson), fine. Frankly Zetterberg probably only has a couple truly productive seasons left. His back problems are wretched and well-documented. I love Zetterberg as much as you probably do, but really, he's not trending toward Hall of Fame numbers and probably wont end up there.

Gretzky tried to asked Zetterberg to be his Valentine. Zetterberg could not be reached for comment.

So how does the man who was immediately inducted into the Hall upon retirement make such an absurd observation? How was he such a terrible coach in Phoenix?

How has Michael Jordan (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MJ!) been one of the worst executives in NBA history? Would he seriously make another comeback already?! I don't care if he sucks, it'll be cool for like a week and way more interesting than whatever Ben Gordon is doing for his awful Charlotte Bobcats franchise.

It's something I'll never understand, but Gretzky's comments just show you that being the most talented is a completely different skill than evaluating it.

It goes across all the major sports; Matt Millen, four time Super Bowl champion linebacker and formerly beloved analyst....we know the rest. Mike Singletary is considered one of the greatest linebackers of all-time but bombed out as head coach of a San Fransisco 49ers team who's core just played in the Super Bowl. Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter in the history of baseball but aside from a hot debut season, was miserable manager of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers.

If you want to see another example of greatness turning sour in hockey as it unfolds, take a look in Washington where the Capitals are struggling mightily under the shaky hand of new coach Adam Oates. The former Red Wing had a steady hand on the ice, ranking fifth all-time in assists and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year. If things continue as they are, his first NHL head coaching job will be embarrassingly short.

You know who gave Oates his NHL break as an assistant coach a couple seasons ago? Our Steve Yzerman, who's legacy as an executive is already plated in gold from his work with Hockey Canada. Though Yzerman's Tampa Bay GM job maybe in jeopardy if the Lightning have another poor season.

My point is one day Calvin Johnson will retire the day before training camp opens via a faxed statement sent to the Wichita Eagle. When that seemingly apocalyptic day comes in four years, don't look to find solace in the idea of him retiring to the front office. He just might end up managing the Lions to an 0-16 season.

Original source-http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=653065

Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer


  1. They were great because all they cared about was themselves and not making their team mates great, thus they missed out on learning to evaluate the players who were not on their level of play

    1. Haha I wouldnt get upset, I'd appreciate it! Sometimes my eye doesn't catch using "who's" instead of "whose" twice before hitting publish. My eye doesn't catch a lot obviously but I swear my journalism degree is real.

  2. Ha Ha! If I edited them the authors would really get upset! It's just that I happen to notice the little things.

  3. I don't entirely believe this discredits Gretzky's eye for talent, nor do I think all star players can be thrown into such a category.  They have their skill, and they know what it means to be that skilled player, and they see those qualities in players like Zetterberg.  A star player with the ability to notice exceptional talent, worth considering, is Steve Yzerman; what he has done for Tampa Bay is incredible, and the team he is building is one to be threatened by.  The greatest players of the game do not always need to be atop the leader boards, neither should they be judged so adamantly whilst in the middle of their career.  I think it is an insult to put Zetterberg in the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Mikael Samuelsson, when his mindset on the ice is almost unmatchable.  He makes mistakes like every other player on the ice, and every other human being, but I would agree with Gretzky in saying he is one of the best Swedish players to play the game.  Let him finish out his stint as the captain of the greatest sports franchise in history, before we make our hasty remarks on Henrik Zetterberg.

    1. I jokingly threw Samuelsson in there as a shot at Ken Holland for bringing him back. Z is a billion times better than Samuelsson IMO. If you look at Alfredsson there certainly is a comparison in production and style.


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