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.