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What We Talk About When We Talk About “Grit”

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When we signed Steve Ott, I was not happy with the signing, to put it mildly. Since then, I and many others have been using the word “grit” sarcastically when discussion him. Some might wonder, “why is grit a bad thing?” It’s not, but it is when it is not accompanied by other things such as: “being good at playing hockey at the NHL level.”

At the quarter point of the season, I wanted to take a moment to look back on how Ott’s play thus far has only served to cement my view that it was a bad signing, regardless of how some of Detroit’s local media outlets continue to tell us that he’s a good addition to the team.

The reasoning behind the signing

The stated reasons for his signing was that he is a good player in the locker room and he will bring energy to the team on the ice. In the media and from the team, we continually heard that he will bring “grit.”

Grit and team toughness are very important qualities, especially in the playoffs. Skill normally wins the day, but in the playoffs, skill alone doesn’t typically get the job done in a seven game series. Locker room leadership is vital as well to a team’s success, especially when fighting through adversity like a losing streak or the loss of a key player.

Why Ott’s signing has hurt the team

Even if all of the above were true (and I will argue below that it’s not), Ott’s signing was a bad one in terms of opportunity cost. His position on the fourth line means that another player cannot play there. Even if you want to buy into the argument that Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou only have value if they are in a top 9 or top 6 role, Tyler Bertuzzi would have been a better choice than Ott from the beginning of the season. And if Mantha and Athanasiou had been in the NHL from game one, like they should have been, would you rather have Sheahan - Helm - Bertuzzi over the OMG line? I can’t see how that would have been worse.

I can’t argue against Ott’s value in the locker room, as I don’t have the information to have an informed opinion. As we all do on this topic, all I have is logical speculation. It’s reasonable to believe that when a team kills a penalty in a close game, then a player takes a ridiculously unnecessary penalty shortly after, the other players may not be too happy. Ott’s penalty in the NJ game was selfish and bush league. From my seat, I couldn’t see if he slashed the NJ player or it was more of a spear, but he hit him in the back of the leg from behind. If someone did that to a Red Wing, you would be livid.

Even if you disagree about the nature of the play, I don’t see how you can argue against it being pretty much the absolute worst time to do something that can easily lead to your team being shorthanded.

After that, he tried to start a fight which ended in one of the more embarrassing moments I can remember for a player since the Alex Semin “bongo playing fight.”

To be fair, maybe Steve Ott is a good locker room presence. Even if that is true, my argument remains that the negative aspects he has brought to the team outweigh the positives.

For example, this is at least the second time this year Ott has done something ridiculous. As much as you might have viscerally loved him speaking Chara earlier in the year, he could have easily caused his teammates to play with 11 forwards for almost an entire game (since he should have been ejected.)

Not to mention plays like that endanger your teammates because it makes the other team want to retaliate. Remember how you felt last game when Emelin injured two Red Wings in addition to punching Nielsen in the face with no repercussion from the officals? You wanted a Red Wing to hurt Emelin or another Canadien player. It’s not the greatest way to think, but most people have that immediate reaction. Players do too.

I’m sure some will say that if Ott was in the lineup, Emelin wouldn’t have done what he did. We have other players who could have stepped up. Abdelkader can throw big hits. He and Ericsson can hold their own in a fight if it’s not against a top fighter. If you only have one player who will stand up for his teammates in a situation like that, that’s a huge problem.

Ott did a good job against Cedric Paquette. He laid a big clean hit in reaction to an earlier questionable hit before by Paquette on Marchenko. But plays like that are too few and far between to say that he provides a net positive to the team.

We’ve discussed his individual and the OMG line’s collectively poor possession stats, so I’m not going to rehash that, except to say that with that side of his game being poor, he must do other things to justify a roster spot.

So what is the justification? If “grit” is the answer, it’s not enough.