Is hockey slowly becoming an aristocracy? (Need help answering this question)

Discussion in 'National Hockey League Talk' started by kerrabria, Jun 9, 2021.

  1. kerrabria Registered User

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    For context:
    I'm involved in public policy, and there's a phenomenon that social scientists and economists have noticed in the past 30 years: a consolidation of opportunity, resources, social capital, and institutional knowledge by ~10% - 20% of the population. A class Richard Reeves calls the "dream hoarders." I'd be happy to speak more broadly about this in my DMs if you are interested, but I'm making this post because I think it applies to the hockey world as well. Basically, I don't think it's true anymore that hockey is just a rich, white guy's sport. It has become controlled by a select, shrinking number of families.

    I remember 10 years ago how big a deal the Staal and Sutter families were for being so ingrained in hockey. And everybody could name the handful of brothers who played in the league simultaneously. Now, it seems like every other NHLer (and every high end prospect) has a family member who was a professional athlete either in the NHL or in Europe. I.e. the likelihood of a boy making it to the NHL is becoming more and more dependent on whether or not he was born to a family who has already made it.

    The little project I'm undertaking is trying to figure out how much more common it has become over time for any given NHLer to have professional sports ties. What I am currently doing is looking at the Florida Panthers rosters in 2021, 2016, and 2011, and going through the players to see if they have any of these familial connections. EliteProspects has a great feature that helps with this.

    Obviously I'm not going to do this for all teams, but if you are interested in answering this posts' titular question, look up your favorite team's roster in 2021, 2016, and 2011, and let's see if there are any trends that can be found.

    Florida Panthers 2021.....33% (11/33) have a family connection
    • Spencer Knight (cousin is a female pro)
    • Kevin Connauton (brother was an NCAA Division I)
    • Gustav Forsling (brother was a pro in Sweden)
    • Radko Gudas (father was drafted by the Flames, sister was a Czech Olympian, brother-in-law is Michael Neuvirth)
    • Mackenzie Weegar (uncle played in NHL)
    • Keith Yandle (uncle worked in NHL front offices, brother played in ECHL)
    • Aleksander Barkov (uncle was a pro in Finland and Russia)
    • Grigori Denisenko (brother is a pro in Russia)
    • Mason Marchment (father played in NHL, cousin played in AHL, cousin is a female pro)
    • Owen Tippett (cousin is Mitchell Stephens)
    • Alex Wennberg (cousin is a pro in Sweden)
    Florida Panthers 2016.....35% (13/37) have a family connection
    • Roberto Luongo (brother is an AHL goaltending coach)
    • Brian Campbell (brother played in ECHL)
    • Erik Gudbranson (brother played in AHL)
    • Jakub Kindl (brother is a pro in Czechia)
    • Dylan Olsen (uncle was a pro in Germany)
    • Aleksander Barkov (uncle was a pro in Finland and Russia)
    • Nick Bjugstad (uncle played in NHL)
    • Connor Brickley (father drafted by Kings, cousins played in AHL)
    • Jiri Hudler (father was a pro in Czechia)
    • Jussi Jokinen (brother was a pro in Finland)
    • Greg McKegg (uncle played in NHL)
    • Kyle Rau (brother played in NHL)
    • Reilly Smith (brother is Brendan Smith)
    Florida Panthers 2011.....18% (7/40) have a family connection
    • Tyler Plante (father and brother played in NHL)
    • Keaton Ellbergy (cousins are Shane Doan and Carey Price)
    • Niclas Bergfors (brother was a pro in Sweden)
    • Michael Frolik (brother was a pro in Czechia)
    • Mike Santorelli (brother played in the AHL)
    • Cory Stillman (son is Riley Stillman, father played in the NHL)
    • Stephen Weiss (uncle is NHL coach)
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2021
  2. WarriorofTime Registered User

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    Elite level hockey player is drawing from an extremely limited talent pool. It's not surprising that players who have similar genetics and come from similar/identical backgrounds as each other are filtering up to the top levels.
     
  3. 66871 Registered User

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    I just noticed the other day that Mike Sillinger's kid is ranked 12th among this year's draft prospects. Given his pedigree there's probably a 50% chance he plays for the Panthers at some point.
     
  4. kerrabria Registered User

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    Agreed, but hockey is more widespread and more popular than ever. The number of NHL teams (and thus roster spots) have increased significantly since the early 1990s. Is there something different, or worthwhile examining, that changed recently and can explain the sharp increase in percentage of players who have a family connection?
     
  5. WarriorofTime Registered User

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    Gonna need a bit more evidence than a couple of Florida Panthers rosters to determine that there has been a "sharp increase". During the 80s, there were 6 Sutter brothers all in the NHL. Would be interested in seeing how it compares in Hockey to Baseball, Basketball, Football, Soccer and any other sports as well.
     
  6. kerrabria Registered User

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    I agree we need more evidence (hence the thread), and I think it'd be equally interesting to do with other sports.
     
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  7. Hatfield Registered User

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    It’s also one of the few fields where merit is pretty much the single deciding factor in determining who “makes it”, at least when it comes to players. No doubt there is some nepotism off ice, but I don’t think you can really read anything into the fact that Radko Gudas has a sister who played in the Olympics, for example.
     
  8. Mikeshane Registered User

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    My buddy that I played hockey with used a thin blade on his stick because he wore it down from using it so much and couldn't afford to buy a new stick. I should have told him he was rich apparently because he played hockey.
     
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  9. kerrabria Registered User

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    It's not about nepotism.
    It's about Radko Gudas' father having the hockey experience and genes that he passed down to his children.
    His daughter then married an NHL player, which means that child will have two parents (and an uncle, and a grandparent) immersed in the hockey world. Sure, that kid might have the genes and merit to become an NHLer, but you can't ignore his lineage. Somebody with that much support is of course going to have a massive leg up on a regular kid.

    I'm not making a moral or value judgement on this. I'm just pointing out that it's happening, and I think it's accelerating.
     
  10. allhaildraisaitl Registered User

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    They are exposed to the game very early on and get the best possible training and guidance available in order to excel at the game throughout their entire development. No doubt their name opens doors along the way as well.
     
  11. WarriorofTime Registered User

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    Guessing your buddy didn't make the NHL?
     
  12. Mikeshane Registered User

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    There is more to hockey than the NHL.
     
  13. WarriorofTime Registered User

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    Right but your buddy playing in a low level youth league with a worn out stick doesn't really address the topic of the thread.
     
  14. RandV It's a wolf v2.0

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    I wonder if that doesn't make it easier for kids born into pro families to make it. It's extremely expensive to put your kids on the top teams in city leagues, so rather than competing against the broader population they're limited to competing against kids who's parents can afford to put them there.

    Rather than looking at a single teams roster though I think the entry draft is a much better indicator. There's a definite trend of seeing kids of former pro players being drafted going back 10 or so years, the William Nylander types, but I wouldn't say it's overwhelming.
     
  15. 95snipes Registered User

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    It's almost as if someone who has the genetic make up to make it to the NHL's relative would have a similar genetic make up...
     
  16. Hatfield Registered User

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    I don’t see how it could be accelerating, based on the sport’s expanding popularity. If it’s increased at all over the years, that’s probably a reflection of NHL expansion, proliferation and growth of minor and European leagues,women’s hockey, etc.

    For example, Walter Gretzky was considered a talented player in his youth but being small and having health setbacks he never made the 6-team NHL. In the modern day he’d have had more opportunities and we might have counted Wayne as the son of a pro. 20-30 years ago, a lot of the family members you mention might have had no hope of working in hockey due to the fact that there were simply fewer job openings available.
     
  17. blankall Registered User

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    The hockey development programs are very exclusionary. Basically, if you can be the best 5 year old, you get to play in the best leagues age 6-10. Unless you are the best 11-12 year old, you're more or less written off. It's pretty nuts.

    People with parents who have a hockey background are getting their kids coached at young ages (and participating with them too). It gives them a massive edge, in combination with a genetic affinity. Meanwhile, although hockey is becoming more widespread, in areas where hockey is already established fewer parents are enrolling their kids, as hockey is expensive and time consuming.
     
  18. kaiser matias Registered User

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    This is arguably a bigger reason. It costs a fortune to develop a kid into an NHL player. The Hockey News had a profile on it years ago and estimate it costs around $100,000 to do, and that number is only going up. Then consider that tuition to an elite prep school like Shattuck-St. Mary's is about $60,000 per year (similar for other schools, but that's the top hockey one), and consider that the type of people to both have the money and interest to do that are likely former players, it's only going to have a compounding effect.
     
  19. krutovsdonut eeyore

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    keep digging before you make any assumptions about the connections you are finding. they sound like typical pretty tenuous family connections on which to imply some kind of privileged hoarding of opportunity. if you hang around rinks in small hockey towns in canada many of the kids have something similar in their background. i bet if you go to texas and check out the footballers, or go to england and check out the soccer players, and you will find the same. doesn't mean shit.

    in my experience, most of those "hoarders" whose cousin played in the ahl and who make good come from pretty humble origins and their family support have no status in hockey. it's more a case of someone seeing an opportunity and pursuing it doggedly with a little support from a knowledgeable guiding hand in the background that helps them. think every sports cliche movie you have ever seen.

    there's absolutely exceptions like the tkachuks, but there's also lots and lots of kids of nhlers who never make it but go much further than they should in denial. if i was picking a kid to work with it would not be the son of a pro hockey player. in my opinion those kids do a lot to subsidize hockey programs.
     
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  20. Confused Turnip Registered User

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    Hockey is about both genetics and opportunity to play hockey, it's also a sport where extra coaching and camps and so on go a lot further than in many other sports. That means that NHLers will tend to be people who have both the right genes, access to the right equipment and access to NHLers to train them, either because their parents can pay for those $20k summer camps or because they have elite players close to them. It's not surprising that you'll see a lot of whole families in the game, and if anything I'm guessing this is less than it used to be, back in the day it seemed like half the players were related to one another.
     
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  21. tarheelhockey Offside Review Specialist

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    You're on to something very similar to what I was looking for in this thread:

    Family relations as a measure of talent pool


    At the end of the day, I didn't follow through with the project because I couldn't find a reasonable way to crunch the data for 100+ years of hockey. Key takeaways from the above which might be useful to you at some point:

    - IMO, the percentage of the NHL which consists of siblings is a reasonable measure of the scale of the talent pool, for reasons described in detail above. Therefore, we can take the increase/decrease of siblings over time as a proxy for the progression/regression of the talent development system. From there, we can make further hypotheses about the general state of the game.

    - Bear in mind that non-sibling family relations (dads, uncles, etc) open doors of opportunity in a way that is simply not quantifiable or escapable. This can undermine the process of identifying and developing true talent, but it can also produce additional high-performing players (both in terms of genetics and simply being very well coached), so it's really sticky to try and judge the cause-and-effect relationships.

    - On the other hand, if you focus only on siblings, you can get a truer sense of how competitive the environment is for players raised in near-identical circumstances. A significant rise in the % of siblings in the league would suggest that certain families are almost "buying success" in the development system, because logically there is no reason why households should produce multiple NHL-level talents on anything approaching a routine basis, if the odds of making it are actually as remote as we usually presume they are.
     
  22. Del Preston Registered User

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    ...The Aristocrats!
     
  23. tarheelhockey Offside Review Specialist

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    And in the expanding markets, there are very light talent development pipelines. Virtually nonexistent for families who aren't affluent.

    This article tells the real story. Auston Matthews, sunbelt success story! Had to fly from Arizona to New Jersey for a tryout as a 12 year old so he could join a Ukrainian team so he could play in a tournament in Quebec and this is all somehow supposed to be inspiring for ordinary people?

    How a young Matthews was discovered playing for a Ukrainian team - Sportsnet.ca

    Problem is, nobody is responsible for building a proper development pipeline to mitigate this kind of absurdity. Lots of token efforts that generate photo ops, but actual on-the-ground progress is happening at a snail's pace.
     
  24. skinnyFAT91 Registered User

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    You need a lot of money to be an ice hockey player. There is a lot less poor people than middle class/rich in the NHL. Smaller pool= more connections.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2021
  25. Boo Boo Registered User

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    It probably helps when you dad / brother/ cousin is more skilled and available than the skills coaches who would otherwise cost thousands of dollars for training.
     

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