Why The Hate For Zach Hyman?

Photo: Kevin Neufeld | Inside The Rink

Has there ever been a player who stirred up controversy just because he played a 50 goal season? Probably not until now. Zach Hyman reached the 50 goal milestone last weekend in a road game against the Ottawa Senators. He became the first free agent signee to do it since Jacques Richard scored 52 for the Quebec Nordiques in the 1980/1981 season. His teammates and fans couldn’t have been happier for him. But complaints on social media about how he got to 50 goals is why we can’t have nice things.

Remember when people kept calling the Oilers “Powerplay merchants?” They invented a new saying, “Tap-In merchant.” The word “merchant” on its own has started becoming my least favorite word. Whatever happened to “just play the game and win?” Yes, the vast majority of Hyman’s goals are scored on the blue paint when he looks for deflections and rebounds. So what? Is there anything wrong with a player having his signature skill set? Ryan Smyth made his whole career out of garbage goals, and he was a franchise hero. If it were that easy to score 50 goals anyway, then every NHL forward would be a 50 goal scorer. “He plays with McDavid.” So did Milan Lucic, Ty Rattie, Jesse Puljujarvi, Alex Chiasson, and others. Why didn’t they score as much as Hyman does?

If you want to try tapping pucks in, you also have to expect to get your body checked and abused by opposing defensemen around you. You have to watch that you don’t get a puck in the face when someone fires a heavy slapshot from the point. Don’t put your stick over the crossbar, don’t bump into the goalie. Do you think going through all that potential punishment and masochism in the dirty areas is child’s play? It’s especially hard when this style of play also leads to a lot of goals getting disallowed, we lost count a long time ago. It takes a special kind of hockey IQ to know how elite linemates operate and how to catch up with them on the ice.

One hockey commentator posted a video on Twitter a couple of days ago, questioning the “media narrative” that Hyman worked hard to get to where he is in the league. Because his parents had lots of money and owned a junior league, he was more privileged than other young players to get started in hockey. Okay? It’s a true fact, but that player still has to be good. And how about players whose fathers were NHLers? Didn’t they have some privileges, too? Zach probably didn’t feel privileged after a hockey parent, also a psychologist, suggested that his father shouldn’t say he’d play in the NHL. When he met his idol, NHL legend Gordie Howe, and asked what he needed to do, Howe said to him “One-hundred percent is all we ask, see you in the NHL.” We have seen him in the NHL, a player who gives 100 % every game, never quitting on a play or taking a shift off. How many players drafted in the 5th round turn into 50 goal scorers?

Last season, I saw the Oilers play the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. I would’ve liked a different outcome, but I still saw Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander score goals live in person. Can’t we just watch good players play good hockey and enjoy it? We used to crave more offense in the game a decade ago, but now it’s a problem.

It’s a real headscratcher why a player who is one of the nicest people on Earth, who would never say a bad thing and even writes children’s books, gets criticized for simply doing his job. I alluded to this more than once in my articles, but goals are goals, and wins are wins. At the end of the day, they don’t ask how; they ask how many. You wanna keep tossing around the tap-in merchant nickname or any other sort of merchant rubbish, be my guest. Oilers fans will continue to love seeing the players on their team compete and contribute every night.

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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