I was going to write something in the comments section, but it got way too long. I did not watch the Sharks vs NYR game live, so you can imagine my spit-take when reading the Extra Skater box score (can we nominate an annual best new site?). At the time, I didn't think much of that 4th goal other than "I gotta go change my pants," but I did think that somebody out there would not appreciate it.
Then came a number of reports, tweets, etc. about the 4th goal, the celebration, and the Code. In all, I thought it was fairly predictable. However, it seems like this debate is divided into two sides: people for the Code and people for skilled, entertaining, and evolving hockey. I might be over-generalizing the latter population, but I think one key concept has been overlooked: the Team. I think this does a lot of explaining when you take the perspective of everyone who has had something to say.
Let me try to be clear here. My central argument: every report of a hockey person taking a position on whether Hertl was right or wrong to score that 4th goal the way he did (above-average risk between the legs shot) was also communicating something to his/her team (I'll handle media folks separately at the end).
I can't go through every single interview here, so I'll open myself up to selection bias and pick a couple that stood out. Let me also say that I looked fairly hard for hockey players and coaches that spoke out against Hertl, and I did not see many. So let me start with Adam Oates and Brooks Laich.
Since I have lived in D.C. since 2006, and just love watching live hockey, I also follow the Washington Capitals. There's a lot to like about that team. My wife and I once shared an elevator with a Caps media relations guy and Bruce Boudreau after a Saturday practice. Of course, she went to school around where Boudreau is from, and mentioned all the Saskatchewan guys on the team (at the time, Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Quintin Laing). He quipped, "yeah, they all go straight home to watch the Beverly Hillbillies." Guy's hilarious. He was carrying his own bag and sticks and walked straight to his vehicle.
Anyway, the Caps are trying to fine-tune their identity, and Oates is the guy who is to bring offensive innovation with defensive responsibility. In addition, the Caps have been criticized as not being emotionally invested enough, not enough fire, not enough commitment (e.g. here on Alex Ovechkin). In addition, the Caps have been known to be turnover prone, too eager to rush, not a great back-checking team.
I read Oates' comments (here) as talking to his team. He says he's "upset". He mentions the timing of it, "would he have done it on his first goal?" He mentions the coach's role. I almost feel as if the "don't disrespect the league" is the throwaway line; a cliche in between sentences. Oates wants his players to be upset if someone were to do this against them and respond. He wants his players to veer toward the safer play and to know the situation.
Brooks Laich's comments say the same thing. He refers to the situation and to the safer play. The segment where he believes the coach's reaction to a failed high-risk shot attempt would be to shoot the puck "like a man does," I take to be just the testosterone talking (not saying that's a good thing, just saying what it is). Again, to his team: no cute plays, boys.
Consider the other coaches who felt nothing wrong with what Hertl did: Bob Hartley (here) and Claude Julien. Hartley, first:
You have to live with your acts but at the same time, this league is getting younger and younger... There’s nothing wrong with being cocky. Maybe there is a lack of maturity but if the kid has the skills to do it and has the confidence to do it, hey, why not? If next game, he gets a visitor close to him, you’ll probably know why. But that’s how you learn. This league is a tough league.
To steal a line from Crash Davis, the key is to play with fear and arrogance. Why is he giving this advice? Because he is managing a very talented young player in Sean Monahan. Another snippet from Hartley: "We saw the kid score four yesterday but by no means that will have any influence on the way we play Sean Monahan or if we keep him or return him back."
If you want to develop young talent to reach their potential, to some degree, you have to let them express themselves in some way. That's their creative talent. In making his comments, he's talking to Sean Monahan, a talented player on his Calgary Flames team.
Claude Julien (here) actually only said it was a "pretty nice goal" and took the conversation in a completely different direction:
I was just saying this morning that it’s pretty unfortunate when there’s a good hit in hockey, there seems to be players wanting revenge for a nice, clean hit. When a player scores a nice, pretty goal, the first thing that comes out of people’s mouth is ‘Was he hot-dogging it?’ ... It was a nice goal that he scored, so let’s accept it.
His team, the Boston Bruins, are known to be a physical team. Just as we saw a great skill play and should accept it, we should also accept clean hard hits. In a subtle way, he is saying that everybody needs to clam down when his boys lay out somebody cleanly.
I mean, if I score a goal it is incredible how much more confident you are with the puck, how much the plays slows down for you," Nystrom said. "If you have the ability to make that move you're just feeling it for some reason. If you have a hat trick already, that feeling is multiplied by 100. He just came in and it presented itself to him. ... I wouldn't even think of doing that because I can't do it.
I think the Predators are trying to open it up more with Seth Jones (who's played a ton, and will play a ton with Roman Josi out) and Filip Forsberg. I think Nystrom is telling those guys that if they can do those things and score, he and the team will back them 100%. (I also think Nystrom best describes what's going on in the mind of a player.)
Sedin (here) is talking to his team and his coach John Tortorella.
"I don't know what we're talking about," Sedin said. "He scored a beautiful goal. It was fun to watch. If I were a fan of the game — which I am — I loved it. Is hockey the only sport where if you do something nice, you talk about showboating?"
"I mean, what should he have done?" he continued. "Come in and shoot off his pads? I don't get it."
Regardless of Tortorella's demands, his captain has spoken: we have to play fast and creatively.
Finally, consider those on Hertl's own team. Doug Wilson (a bit later), Joe Thornton, and Todd McLellan on down. The Team concept is a powerful one, and this was the essence of Doug Wilson's retort: worry about your own team.