On Scapegoating

For people that don't play hockey, we sure are good at knowing who sucks.

pleeeease keep regin off the ice
Really regin bombed the coverage
Regin was just lying there


And yet, those are real comments from a Game Day Thread. Peter Regin slipped on a play--something that happens to literally every hockey player who has ever played--and suddenly not only can he not cover guys, but he's so incompetent he shouldn't even be playing, and so lazy that he didn't even try to get up. The derision was heaped on him for nothing more than an accident. There are more comments of a similar nature that can be easily found in any recent GDT where Regin is mentioned.

But a few years earlier, you'd find a much different sentiment.

Someone is going to be a first liner next year!

You just can't bump Peter Regin off the top line right now as he has been way too hot. He has developed more chemistry with Jason Spezza in the last 6 games or so than Michalek has all season.

Regin at 1M is a fantastic deal.

Maybe we can trade him for Penner, Cogliano, and Smid.
-I'd rather have Regin than any of them

Who else here is pumped about this? I really didn’t want them to go to arbitration.

That last statement, of course, is by yours truly. Did Peter Regin suddenly forget everything about hockey that made him the apple of our eyes, like Charlie Gordon? Why did we want Regin on the top line at the expense of Milan Michalek only to later want him off the ice completely? After all, learning is generally a process of forward momentum. Erik Karlsson, for example, hasn't appreciably increased in talent since he was drafted. He has, however, been coached well, leading to a better use of his existing talent--he's learned.

We refer to this process as "development" or "gaining experience." Players build up their bodies physically to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season, but only a select few have an innate ability to understand the game. The rest must build up a knowledge bank of experience--the same as learning any other task. This process is merely a complex pattern recognition game: A player sees an arrangement of other players on the ice--a so-called "look"--compares it to other similar looks he has seen in the past, recalls the different outcomes of decisions made when facing similar looks, and makes a decision he judges most likely to have a positive result based on past information, including what he's been told to do by coaches. And this all happens in a split second. The more experience a player has, the less time he spends on the whole process--until the decision is merely a reaction rather than a thought process.

That entire process is extremely difficult to unlearn, and knowledge loss doesn't really happen without some kind of brain damage or onset of dementia or similar neurological roadblocks. We know Regin didn't suffer any of those things, so it's highly unlikely his understanding of the game of hockey somehow decreased, yet towards the end of his tenure here, some fans had decided he was completely incompetent in his chosen career.


Scapegoating is just an example of confirmation bias at work. Confirmation bias, of course, is the act of looking for examples that support our existing views while ignoring examples that do not. It is an innate human trait, and nearly impossible to prevent.

So, when Regin was performing well, we looked for reasons to believe he would perform well. As his career was derailed by multiple season-ending injuries, our views started to change. As Regin worked his way back to health, he didn't put up the same offensive numbers he did before, and we began instead to look for proof that his mere existence was a complete affront to the purity and glory of the sport of hockey. We found exactly that in even the slightest accidents that happened to him--because we were intent on noticing them. When Erik Karlsson slips and falls, we laugh about it. When Peter Regin slips and falls, he should never play hockey again.

We do this over and over. We're doing it to Matt Kassian already, for example.

Kassian is a member of a group of individuals with very specialized skills: NHL players. There are currently around seven billion people alive on the planet. Of those, approximately 1500 are members of the NHLPA, and of those, approximately 690 are currently playing in the NHL. As an NHL player, Kassian is part of .000000009% of the population capable of playing hockey at its highest skill level.

But, no, he sucks.

In criticizing a player like Kassian, it's easy to forget he's one of only around 690 people in the world who can do what he does, because our opinions of what his skill level is are completely warped by comparing him to his peers. Is Matt Kassian as skilled with a puck on his stick as, say, Mark Stone? No, probably not. Could Matt Kassian join your beer league and literally score at will every single shift he took? Yes, without any doubt whatsoever.

This past January, Brian Scalabrine, a just-retired NBA player, threw out a challenge to his critics: Face him in a game of one-on-one. See, Scalabrine wasn't a top NBA player. He was a depth player who rarely saw game time and rarely came off the bench. He played for three different teams over an 11-year career, but played so little that his critics had begun to suggest he was collecting millions of dollars and championship rings for merely showing up; that they could do what he was doing.

That annoyed him, so after retiring, he issued an open challenge and played four opponents, including a former NCAA player. The results were predictable: He utterly annihilated them.

This is a completely predictable result, because like Kassian, Scalabrine is part of a very select group with very specialized skills. And though he proved this beyond any shadow of a doubt, just a quick glance through comments on the video shows that people don't understand what they've just seen.

This guy is a scrub in the NBA, but he would beat 99% of us regular joes

The top comment on the video suggests that despite just watching him destroy 100% of the regular joes he faces, there is somehow a segment (1%) of the non-NBA population that would have a chance of winning. There is not.

this can't be the best players in boston.... they all look completly out of shape, no handles, ridicilous moves, strange shooting form... I'm from vienna/austria, not really known for basketball but I can tell you the would not have chance at a lot of playgrounds over here

This person would rather believe that it's the quality of competition that is the problem; that there are people on the playgrounds of Austria who could beat an NBA player. There are not.

And so it goes. Confirmation bias at work. With indisputable proof staring them right in the face, people continue to believe that Scalabrine is a scrub that can be beaten. Rather than accept the truth, they look for evidence that supports their beliefs--that 1% of regular joes would have a chance, that the quality of competition was poor, etc.

And so it goes.

It's true that compared to his peers, Matt Kassian (or Joe Corvo, or Eric Gryba, or Cory Conacher, or Jared Cowen, or Z. Smith, or Colin Greening, or whomever you pick) might not be the most talented player on the ice. But there's another truth you have to face: You're not qualified to make that judgement. Sure, you can sit there and claim that you're totally capable of making an objective value judgement, because it's obvious to anyone with eyes that Bobby Ryan is a more skilled player than Matt Kassian--but you're lying to yourself. After all, Kassian is not in competition with Ryan for the same job.

The value judgments you make are a reflection of your confirmation biases. Jean-Gabriel Pageau's position on the team is a more salient example than Matt Kassian's. There are many among the Sens fanbase who would like to see Pageau playing at the expense of Z. Smith, and who will stand ready to criticize any perceived mistake by the latter should that not occur. Perhaps hat tricks are your preferred measuring stick. Perhaps you prefer something you feel is more concrete, like advanced statistics. The fact remains: You're seeking out the information that supports your opinion, and ignoring the information that doesn't--Pageau's .52 points per game pace is better than Z. Smith's .31. Just don't mention that Pageau's sample size last season was 19 games, while Z. Smith's was 58. Just focus on the point totals and not the parts of the sum. Wouldn't want to mention that outside of three good games, Pageau's production is an abysmal .18 points per game. Just sing loudly to drown out anything you don't want to hear. Pageauuuuuuuuuuu, PageauPeageauPageau, Pageauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, Pageauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

No matter what you might think, people with more experience and more information than you will ever have are the ones making roster decisions. If Paul MacLean and Bryan Murray decide that Z. Smith should be playing over Pageau, there's probably a good reason for it. That's not to say coaches are infallible, of course. The Toronto Maple Leafs' Randy Carlyle's insistence on dressing enforcers over skill players doesn't make much sense. But it's also unfair to burden MacLean--twice a Jack Adams nominee in two years and once a winner--with another coach's track record merely to prove the possibility of fallibility. So far, MacLean has a solid record of making good decisions. Arguing that he can make mistakes because no one is perfect, while undeniably true, is merely another form of confirmation bias rearing its ugly head--you ignore the overwhelming evidence that he's not likely to make a mistake in favor of the possibility that he could.

Pageau played 19 games and scored 10 points. Seven of those points came in just three games. It took 16 games to get the remaining three. In 2009-10, Peter Regin played 81 games and put up 33P (16G, 17A). From March 22nd through April 24th (a span of 16 games), he put up 12P (7G, 5A).

Peter Regin will be AMAZING for the Senators along side Jason Spezza !

What Peter Regin turned out to be was a scapegoat. Right now Pageau is the new hotness. In three years, will he be a defensive liability, too small to win board battles or forecheck, just lying there when he bombs the coverage?

The next time you feel like complaining about someone this season, stop and think first. There's nothing more cynical and disgusting than piling on a player simply because you've decided not to like him.

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