I want you to picture the fairway on a perfectly-maintained golf course. It is a beautiful bentgrass, cut low and properly irrigated. It is also completely and unequivocally green.
Only, it's not. It's actually grue. “Grue” is a philosophical concept introduced by Nelson Goodman as a problem with inductive reasoning. Something that is grue appears to be green up until a certain date, but appears to be blue thereafter. The upshot is that we have no idea whether something that currently appears to be green is actually green or if it's actually grue and will unexpectedly change colours at some point in the future. Imagine you're standing at the tee box on, say, March 17th, 2034 and the fairway suddenly and inexplicably changes from green to blue. Turns out that fairway was grue all along.
Advanced statistics say that Luca Sbisa is green. But it's entirely possible that he's grue.
Sbisa has been in the NHL since 2008, when he joined the Philadelphia Flyers as an 18-year-old immediately after he was drafted. Advanced statistics haven't been kind to Sbisa in his 7 seasons in the NHL: not once has he had positive puck possession statistics. By almost every conceivable measure, Sbisa isn't just bad, but one of the worst defencemen to get regular minutes in the NHL.
Advanced stat aficionados aren't the only ones with a distaste for Sbisa, but they're certainly the most vocal about it. Every way you look at the statistics, it seems clear: Sbisa is a sub-bottom pairing defenceman, and it is extremely improbable that he'll ever progress to becoming a useful NHL player, let alone a top-four defenceman.
That is to say, Luca Sbisa is green, which means he'll always be green.
But with Sbisa's three-year, $10.8 million contract extension, Jim Benning put all his money on grue.
Benning and the Canucks are convinced that Sbisa has the potential to put everything together and become a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman, capable of soaking up top-four minutes. They like his physicality and skill and seem to think the mental mistakes that have plagued his career thus far won't define his future.
According to the Canucks, Sbisa “wants to get better; he's the guy watching video of his shifts all the time.” Personally, watching video of Sbisa's shifts sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, but what if Sbisa's determination to get better actually pays off? What if Sbisa actually gets better?
There's no denying it: Sbisa was terrible last season, leaking scoring chances against, committing horrible turnovers, and failing to adequately clear the crease like a physical, stay-at-home defenceman is meant to do. He looks greener than if you were looking at a gamma radiation-soaked Kermit the Frog through novelty green St. Patrick's Day sunglasses.
But maybe, just maybe, he's grue.