• “Discrimination is absolute against the frogs.”

    by Tyler Dellow • October 19, 2009 • Uncategorized • 29 Comments

    There’s a fascinating story on the National Post’s website right now about a new book coming out in Quebec by a fellow by the name of Bob Sirois, called “Québec mis en échec.” It apparently deals with Sirois’ findings that the NHL systemically discriminates against Quebec hockey players. The National Post story I read about the book makes mention of the following findings:

    *Francophone Quebecers were less likely to get drafted than anglophone Quebecers;

    *Francophones are generally selected lower in the draft;

    *10% of all NHL players were completely passed over in the draft but managed to break into the league; the rate among players from Quebec, 19%, is almost twice as high

    *One in 334 anglophone midget players was drafted by the NHL compared with one in 618 francophones

    *Of the 176 francophone Quebecers who played three or more seasons in the NHL, 42% won an NHL trophy or were named to the all-star team during their careers

    *Discrimination is not uniform across the league. A few teams outside Quebec have been very open to drafting French-Canadians, usually because management had some connection to the province. Of the 763 francophones picked since 1970, nearly one-third went to the Canadiens, the defunct Quebec Nordiques, the Buffalo Sabres or the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Now, I don’t know whether any of this is true, although the book looks to have been exhaustively researched. The unfortunate thing about any story of this type is that it tends to catch the eye of the crazy fringe of the Quebec media. Rejean Tremblay at La Presse is all over this story (translation by Google, edited by me; probably worthless), writing:

    In a few weeks, Robert Sirois, former player for the Washington Capitals, who became a successful businessman, will publish a bomb. Sirois has spent thousands of hours of work a monk. He listed all the statistics, all positions, all the French players in the National League since 1970. And conclusions to be drawn from these mountains of numbers send a chill down the spine.

    Discrimination is absolutele against the frogs. The worst thing is that this discrimination begins at Midget AAA. And in recent years, the Canadiens have foolishly turned their back on Quebec.

    Go check. How many French players did Bob Gainey draft during his years in Dallas? Another coincidence, obviously.

    And then I remember that Robert “Bob” Sirois is neither a politician nor an evil separatist. It is just an intelligent man who was passionate about a situation that seemed abnormal.

    I’m not entirely sure, even accepting that Sirois’ numbers are accurate, that Tremblay has a point here that’s in discrimination in the bad sense of the word, as opposed to discrimination in the same way that I don’t have a job playing hockey in the NHL. I did a quick look at the pts/game of Quebec and RoC players for 2008-09; as I guessed, Quebec players scored more, coming in at .53 P/G to .45 P/G for RoC players. I didn’t control for ice time or anything but I’d bet that more of the guys filling out the bottom of the forward ranks are RoC types.

    Where Tremblay kind of loses me is with the idea that this is because of stereotypes about players from Quebec. I would guess that it’s as much about teams perceiving the players towards the bottom end of their roster as being interchangeable and then filling those spots with players who come from the same culture as the people making the decisions come from. My sense has always been that European players tend to disproportionately be on the top two lines as well. It seems to me to be an arguable point whether, from the perspective of building the best team, it makes sense to limit cultural issues by filling in the team with players from the dominant hockey culture. I don’t think that I would buy it but it seems arguable enough that expending organizational resources on dealing with cultural issues is a waste when reasonably comparable alternatives are available elsewhere.

    Sirois seems to think that the problem would be reduced if Quebec had its own WJC team, so that Quebec players would be spotlighted. Again, I have some difficulty with this. If I’m right, the problem probably isn’t that teams aren’t aware of players who come from Quebec; it’s that they prefer to fill out spots on the back end of the roster with players who come from the dominant culture. I don’t see how that would be addressed by entering a separate team from Quebec.

    From the perspective of running a hockey team, the interesting idea here is that Quebec is not being adequately mined of hockey talent. Michel Ouellet is playing in Switzerland this year, for reasons that I don’t understand. If I was a guy running a team, I’d be picking up a copy of Sirois’ book in order to see what he has to say and assess whether or not my team could be doing better by spending some money and draft picks on players from Quebec.

    About Tyler Dellow

    29 Responses to “Discrimination is absolute against the frogs.”

    1. Hawerchuk
      October 19, 2009 at

      Without checking, I think you’re right about star Francophone players being no less likely to get their shots. And I think you’re right about the filler on the roster – that was where Gladwell’s January birthdays were over-represented, and it’s probably where Anglos are over-represented too. Just like the 25th man on an MLB roster is usually white.

      The filler could be anybody, but the coach and the GM want to pick a good guy, and there’s more filler born in January than December, and there’s more filler who speaks the same language as the coach.

    2. October 19, 2009 at

      I think that this is less an issue of discrimination and more an issue of language barriers.

      All else being equal on the ice, I would guess that teams tend to gravitate towards players that have impressed them in pre-draft interviews or in conversations with scouts. And I would also think that it’s a lot more likely for ‘all else’ to be equal on the ice when we’re talking about players to fill the lower roster spots versus the top performers.

    3. October 19, 2009 at

      Tyler:

      One of my college essays was on the economic framework of the NHL, and in researching it I came across a circa late-90′s paper that showed – fairly conclusively, IIRC – that French players typically are paid less for similar performances points-wise.

      I’m going to try and dig it up when I get home; but I’d be surprised if the pattern has shifted dramatically.

    4. October 19, 2009 at

      totally uneducated opinion here, but the Q has a reputation as being a worse/less tough league than the OHL/WHL, and throw in alex daigle and a few other high profile Q busts and i see why it got the rep it did (although not why simon gagne fell as far as he did).

      i agree that the comparison to european players is apt, as quebecois players have typically gotten a rep for being soft, lazy, prima donnas, etc.

      but yeah, ask martin biron or alex tanguay if there’s any bias.

    5. Hawerchuk
      October 19, 2009 at

      Triumph – interesting points – if teams stock up their grinders and goons with Anglos, then the average Francophone or Euro in the NHL will indeed be “softer” than the average Anglo.

    6. mc79hockey
      October 19, 2009 at

      The really weird thing is that, as far as I can tell, Quebec isn’t hurting for really tough guys. They seem to have two solitudes – the soft and the hard.

    7. October 19, 2009 at

      hawerchuk:

      well, yeah, i see what you’re saying. i’m sure everyone remembers the overage european draft trend after daniel alfredsson was such a smash hit that every team wanted their own lasse pirjeta or andreas salomonsson. it’s hard to say whether a lot of those guys left because they weren’t good enough to play in the nhl, because they wanted to return to their home countries, or they were good enough but no one wanted to play them in a fourth line/13th forward sort of role.

      with the Q it’s odd because these players don’t exist much either; i still don’t see where the Q produces guys like a turner stevenson, who can kind of hit, kind of skate, and kind of fight, and who does all three well enough to stay on nhl rosters for a long time.

    8. October 19, 2009 at

      I think that this is less an issue of discrimination and more an issue of language barriers.

      Wait, can’t it be both?

    9. October 19, 2009 at

      Cosh:

      Sure it can. It could be any number of things, and is probably a combination of many. Maybe it’s based on a deep-seeded belief that french-speaking Quebecois hockey players are inferior due to their steady diet of tortiere and maple syrup.

      It just seems to me that in professional hockey circles where plenty of Anglophone coaches and GMs grew up cheering for Richard, Lafleur, Lemieux, Roy and the like, it’s more likely to be an issue of communication than it is to be widespread cultural discrimination.

      From a bilingual Oilers fan’s perspective, I remember it being pretty jarring to realize that Georges Laraque is actually quite well spoken in his native language.

    10. mclea
      October 19, 2009 at

      On one hand, I’m sympathetic to this argument since I live in a city where the head coach insists on only signing Western Canadian players.

      But on the other hand, a really hate the very socialist view point that all segments of the population should be represented in each profession in exact proportion to their percentage of the general population. Are women excluded from the NHL because of discrimination? Is the NBA 70% black because of racism?

      If French players are disadvantaged because of some sort of prejudice, then this would create a very lucrative opportunity for some GM in the NHL because French players would be valued at a price lower than their intrinsic value, allowing you to exploit the bigotry of your competitors by stocking up on undervalued assets. In other words, in a simple world (where cultural or linguistic difference don’t matter), problems like this tend to get arbitraged away.

    11. Mr DeBakey
      October 19, 2009 at

      The Oilers have used 8% of their draft picks on Q grads since joining the NHL.

      But, during the KL, that number has been 13% – not necessarily Francophones, but Q grads [hello Mr Hemsky].

      Previously, San Cabos Barry was not a fan of the Q, and we all knew it then,
      and the numbers show it.

      The Q had a rep as a soft, run’n'gun league whose players had trouble adapting to the NHL style.

      I don’t think it does now.

    12. Hawerchuk
      October 19, 2009 at

      McLea – socialist?

      Manitoba, for a long time, was under-represented at the NHL level. No surprise – Manitoba doesn’t have the same player development process as other provinces. Winnipeg is by far the largest city in Canada without a Tier I junior team, and it’s certainly the big city that’s the furthest from a Tier I team (150 kms) aside from Victoria and St. John’s. Focus on player development, and you’ll have more players.

      But then French guys from Quebec are less likely to play in the NHL or get drafted. I think everyone first asked if there was a problem with the Q – caliber was too low, guys couldn’t make the jump to the AHL, etc…

      But maybe it’s something else. Hardly socialist to ask if it’s that NHL coaches don’t like French players.

    13. October 19, 2009 at

      totally uneducated opinion here, but the Q has a reputation as being a worse/less tough league than the OHL/WHL

      The Q had a rep as a soft, run’n’gun league

      What’s a reputation of a large group (like an entire league for goodness sake) if not a stereotype? We all heard the anecdotes and “conventional wisdom” over the years, but how much is the Q’s reputation based on facts?

    14. RiversQ
      October 19, 2009 at

      Good question Bruce.

      If anyone can answer that reasonably conclusively it would be Gabriel “Hawerchuk” Desjardins. Actually, that’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the articles this morning. I’m sure the relevant data is at his fingertips.

      Anyway, despite the large number of meatheads still in NHL management circles, I think the league is probably getting more and more pragmatic every year. This is true of all pro sports but maybe accelerated a little bit by the salary cap and its all encompassing pull to the median of mediocrity. If this is a problem, it certainly will be decreasing every year for reasons that Tyler and McLea have already hinted at.

      Of course the NFL still seems to have some issues with black quarterbacks and coaches and there is all kinds of parity in that league.

    15. Hawerchuk
      October 19, 2009 at

      I didn’t want to fully wade into the debate without verifying Sirois’ claims. But I never noticed a difference between the Q and the O and W. If you scored 100 points in the Q, it had the same predictive value for the next season in the A or the NHL as if you’d done it in one of the other leagues.

    16. October 19, 2009 at

      Thanks Gabe (and Rivers). That doesn’t directly answer the “question” about role players, but it’s suggestive of the Q being just as tough as the other leagues.

      I use a simpler measuring stick. There was a time in the 1980s where the Q reps performed poorly at the Mem Cup, but in the last 15 Mem Cups:

      League: MC champs / runners-up

      WHL: 7 / 4
      QMJHL: 4 / 6
      OHL: 4 / 5

      … which suggests those leagues are pretty even, at least the two based in central Canada.

      BTW, another area to search for bias would be in the selection of World Junior teams. By my recollection (not researched) the Q has had relatively few skaters but a disproportionately large number of goaltenders, which are both reflective of conventional wisdom a.k.a. stereotypes. Which (if true) puts a pin in the “anti-French” balloon, at least in that setting. But a selection bias nonetheless.

    17. Inked
      October 19, 2009 at

      “I think that this is less an issue of discrimination and more an issue of language barriers.”

      Laaaazy and ignorant. Tell me how it’s easier to communicated with Swede/Russian in english compared to a francophone? Clearly if you’re playing that card it would be for Euros. 9/10 times the franco’s english will be miles better than a euros.

      Hockey Canada needs to stop the bs and put more french guys on the roster. I’m not saying to make a quota out of it, but for the love of god, they should make an effort because it’s getting so obvious.

      I will be picking up this book. The stats look legit

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    18. Hawerchuk
      October 19, 2009 at

      Inked: you’ve never heard Keith Tkachuk give an interview. You don’t need to be ESL to mangle the English language.

    19. October 19, 2009 at

      Inked: Lazy and ignorant? I think you’re missing the point. Nobody said it was easier to communicate with Swedes/Russians versus French speakers. As Tyler alluded to in the post, a lot of the things being said about French players are equally true about Europeans. But that’s not really relevant to the conversation since those countries, to my knowledge, don’t have two distinct linguistic groups to compare.

    20. Phil Birnbaum
      October 20, 2009 at

      Can you tell us the raw numbers of players from Quebec and RoC? I’m curious about whether Quebeckers are over- or underrepresented overall.

    21. October 20, 2009 at

      Maybe there’s just a shortage of Quebec players who can prattle on and on about heart and grit and how the team needs to just start crashing the crease more. Do they not teach ‘Generic Bottom Sixer Interview Cliches’ in francophone schools?

    22. Hawerchuk
      October 20, 2009 at

      Phil @ 20 – Of games played by Canadians, Ontarians account for 40% and Quebec is about 18%. Saskatchewan is the province most likely to produce an NHL player, by a wide margin.

    23. Phil Birnbaum
      October 20, 2009 at

      Hawerchuk: thanks!

    24. Hawerchuk
      October 20, 2009 at

      Tyler, I can’t speak for the Midget AAA issue, but “star” francophones are just as likely to make it in the NHL. 3rd- and 4th-liners are much less likely.

    25. October 21, 2009 at

      There was a time in the 1980s where the Q reps performed poorly at the Mem Cup

      Maybe that’s part of your answer: the current generation of NHL gms, coaches, head scouts, etc. remember the Q getting spanked against the other leagues’ best in “their day” (many of them probably played junior in the late 70s and early 80s), so they steer clear. Sort of like a long-term “saw him bad” argument.

    26. October 21, 2009 at

      And because it’s late, I failed to capitalize “GMs.”

    27. October 22, 2009 at

      re: 4th line guys.

      I recently looked at the North America/European born splits by Average Time on Ice. There is a fairly linear progression, the fewer minutes played the less likely to be European born.

      But is this a language issue? Or is it a matter of Swedish guy would rather play in SEL than be a bubble player in the NHL who might end up in the AHL? Hard to say.

    28. October 22, 2009 at

      re: Distribution of Quebec Borns.
      I happened to have the 2006-07 NHL bio file handy for the entire league that year. Limiting analysis to player who started 41 games. I broke them down into average time on ice quintiles for forards, thirds for defense, starter and backup for goalies (using games played for G)

      Here is the % born in Quebec in 2006-07
      5.0% 1st D pairing TOI(3/60)
      1.7% 2nd D pairing TOI (1/60)
      6.8% 3rd D pairing TOI (3/73)

      16.7% Starting Goalie (41+GP) (5/30)
      24.2% Backup Goalie (>41 GP) (8/33)

      6.7% 1st line forward TOI (6/90)
      11.1% 2nd line forward TOI (10/90)
      10.0% 3rd line forward TOI (9/90)
      7.6% 4th line forward TOI (8/105)

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