Lias Andersson Problem With Rangers Should Drive Better Player Development In All Sports
In 2017, in a somewhat surprising move, the New York Rangers made Lias Andersson the seventh overall selection in the draft. He was supposed to be the first big move in a Rangers rebuild, and to some he was touted as a future Captain of the Rangers who could led the team to their first Stanley Cup since 1995.
So far, it hasn’t panned out that way, and worse yet, things only seem to get worse and worse.
Andersson struggled in his first year, but he seemed to learn some lessons from it. During training camp, he seemed to prove himself and earned a spot on the roster to open the 2019-2020 season. The optimism quickly soured with him not producing and the ensuing debate/drama over his being on the fourth line.
This entire situation led to Andersson being demoted to the AHL, where he again struggled. Eventually, Andersson demanded a trade and all together up and left the Rangers. Since that time, there was an active debate over handling of him and other prospects as well as Andersson on how he handled the situation.
Recently, Andersson opened up about what has transpired. In an interview translated by Blueshirt Banter, Andersson talked about how he is struggling:
There has been many incidents, but I can’t divulge everything, I will do that at a later stage. There has been many incidents that has hurt me on a personal level, things that has made me struggle mentally. In regards to hockey this might be an idiotic decision but I have to think about my private life too.”, Lias falls silent, “I feel like I have lost the hunger and drive for [hockey] at the moment – and all these incidents has affected me. I feel like I have to get this under control first and foremost.
Since the interview, we have learned more about the situation. Andersson was apparently skating on two injured feet, and there have been unspoken incidents which have troubled him. Another important note here is Andersson’s father has been clear this is not some temper tantrum about his demotion to the AHL.
Andersson is struggling with something, is dealing with injuries, and he is not yet ready to talk about it.
With hockey uncovering some bullying issues, especially from coaches, there has been some speculation as to what happened with Andersson with some of it being irresponsible. Still without quite knowing what happened with Andersson, there is a lesson to be learned here about how teams handle prospects.
Before going further, there is an interesting baseball parallel here with Dominic Smith of the Mets.
Smith was drafted by the Mets with the 11th overall pick of the 2013 draft. Since that time, we saw Smith show the tools to be a good Major League player, but there was a narrative emerging about his being overweight and lazy. In terms of his being overweight, you could see it despite his spending much of his offseasons dedicated to getting into shape.
As for the lazy part, aside from it being a byproduct of how some view overweight people, Smith would oversleep and report late to the first Spring Training game of the 2018 season. That seemed to be the final nail in his coffin as the Mets first baseman of the future.
After that point, the Mets went forward with Adrian Gonzalez to start the 2018 season. After they moved on from Gonzalez, the Mets looked to Wilmer Flores, a player they would non-tender after the season, at first base. All-in-all, they never gave Smith a chance to succeed, and eventually without a real direct competition, Smith was passed on the depth chart by Pete Alonso.
After the 2018 season, we discovered Smith had been battling sleep apnea. With it finally being properly diagnosed and treated, we not only saw Smith stay in shape for the entirety of the 2019 season, but we would also see him become an impactful player with a 133 wRC+.
With Smith, you are really left wondering how things would have been different had the team handled his development differently. It is the same exact situation with Andersson.
In recent years, it is becoming increasingly clear teams are not devoting enough time and resources to the actual development of players. While we see teams increasingly looking towards analytics and conditioning to help develop and improve their players, we are not hearing enough about teams looking to help players develop mentally, and/or learn to better handle themselves as professionals.
Many times, we hear about how this manager, coach, or veteran is going to take a certain player under their wing and help them fulfill their full potential. Looking at the Mets, we actually heard Edwin Diaz speak about his problems handling New York, and he was looking forward to new manager Carlos Beltran helping him better handle the city in 2020.
While a manager is supposed to be there to help, players need more, especially when a manager has to handle a roster of 25 players, a full coaching staff, speak with the media, and deal with the front office. It’s too much for any manager to handle players like a Smith or Andersson who are clearly struggling and need the help the team is ill equipped to provide.
The help can come in the form of a mental skills or life coach for the team. Perhaps every team should have a form of a stipend to help players seek the personal help they need but really cannot afford as prospects. Perhaps leagues need to have an ombudsman of sorts to visit minor leaguers to investigate how teams are being run and why they aren’t meeting their goals.
Point is, the Rangers have effectively lost a very talented hockey player in Andersson to something which might have been avoidable. The Mets almost missed out on Smith having a productive career for trying to turn what was a physical ailment into a mental problem. Clearly, these organizations and others are very ill-equipped to handle the mental and life skills issues of players, and as a result, we are seeing players not even be allowed to be put in a good position to reach their full potential.
That is a very real and significant problem. What makes it worse is it is avoidable, and it is time someone starts focusing on how to help these players instead of trying to tell them and everyone else what is wrong with them because clearly, they have no idea.