Morning Free Association: Jan. 24 – On Player-Only Meetings

With the Bruins being under a ton of pressure to make the playoffs after two seasons of just missing the postseason and undergoing the present turmoil of this current losing skid, one thing that I find alarming is the lack of any player-only meetings. If any have happened, the media is not reporting it.

While doing some research, it was difficult to find much information on the effectiveness of these meetings but it wasn’t too hard to find a source to explain what happens in these meetings. Apparently, Ben Clymer was a former Bruins draft pick some 20 years ago who decided to not play for the team. But, he did manage to play over 400 NHL games before going to the KHL, so he does have some experience in these matters. Clymer gives a brief explanantion of why these meetings can help a team through open and honest communication about accountability.

This leader would normally start by colorfully reflecting on the recent loss and likely others that have preceded it. From that point the player would talk about things he felt needed to be changed to stop slide and get the team on track.

As you might assume these discussions are fully open to constructive and non-constructive criticism. The sole goal of the initial part of this discussion is to be brutally honestly and identify the problems, regardless of who you might offend in the process…I think by throwing thoughts out in an extremely honest fashion, all parties can come together much quicker than they would by beating around the bush and worrying about hurt feelings.

Clymer goes into some detail about the proceedings. One of the things that I found fascinating is that he referred to coaching as words of advice. He might just be referring to what the coach suggests to end the slump or he might be talking about what makes up coaching. Regardless, if your team is having this meeting, they’re probably beyond needing advice. Shit done got real!

Players participate regardless of leadership role and experience level.

One of my favorite things about these discussions is the fact young players and guys you don’t read about in the newspapers every day are free to speak their mind regardless of how many zeros they have in their contract.

It’s important to note that everyone is accountable for contributions to the team. Everyone. So it’s wise to get the younger players involved and heard to ensure every one buys in.

These meetings are not all that rare an event, and even winning teams sometimes have them. On December 7, 2016 immediately after an overtime win over the Bruins, the Washington Capitals held a player only meeting. Apparently, they felt they underplayed to a worse team. Deeper examination shows that they had recently been beaten by the Islanders, lost to the Bolts in a shootout, and barely pulled out two OT wins against the Sabres and the Bruins. That wasn’t good enough. Since then they have a record of 16-2-3. The Winnipeg Jets held the most recent players only meeting on January 13 because after two losses they felt everything was beginning to spiral. After two games.

Of course, just because a team has one of these meetings does not necessarily mean that it will be effective. Some of you may have seen this Zetterberg lecture from Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics.
Not very inspiring. And the Red Wings continued to lose more games than they won. Somehow I don’t think that having one of these meetings with cameras in the room is conducive to working through a team’s issues. As a rule, what happens in a closed door meeting, stays in the closed door meeting. It is worth noting that this particular one was more a case of a captain griping at his teammates than it was a players-only meeting. If only one or two guys are talking, it isn’t going to be very effective.
The thing is, the existence of such a pow-wow is an indication that the team actually has internalized the fact that there is a problem, and that they are a part of it, and that they are not ok with that. So what does it mean when a team has not had such a meeting?

It feels like such a long time since the last Bruins win on the 14th of January, when the offense worked well and the defense, including Tuukka worked well enough. They have lost 4 straight games, and 8 of the last 11. So why hasn’t the team had one of these meetings? Do they not think their leadership is strong enough? Do they see no value in airing their grievances? Do they not want to rock the boat? Or is it that at the core this group just doesn’t care anymore, after battling numerous injuries and a compressed schedule in which they have seemingly played 4-5 games more than other Atlantic Division teams? At the heart of it all is the leadership of the team and I wonder why they aren’t stepping up.

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