When I first heard that Kyle Wellwood signed with the Winnipeg Jets - making him teammates with the (apparently) recently inflated Dustin Byfuglien - my first thought was "oh man, Down Goes Brown (Sean McIndoe) is going to have a field day with this."
My second was to write a column on playing at different weights.
At a scosh under 6-2, I played at anywhere from 183 to 196 pounds, depending on my summer training regimen. You don't always know what's best for you as a player — all I knew was that I couldn't put on weight for the life of me when I was in my junior days, so any time the numbers went up, I was happy. (Sadly, those days couldn't last. I miss the days of shoveling cream-heavy linguine into my face right before bed and chasing it with an Ensure.)
I was at my biggest during my junior year of college. My numbers plummeted from the previous season.
Since physical play was a very small part of my game (read: nonexistent), getting too big too fast hindered what I did best, which was create offense. My cardio suffered, and I felt a quarter-step slower.
The thing is, when you're playing at a weight above ideal, you don't really feel those things at the time. It's sort of a retroactive realization, a "hey…you know what the problem might have been that year?" At the time, you just notice yourself not winning races to pucks and making excuses for it. There are a lot of nights where you find yourself thinking that you must not have prepared properly, so tonight's a short-shift game.
Until you get out of it — I played at a lighter, leaner weight the next year — it's not easy to self-analyze and figure out what's going wrong in the middle of the season.
There's an ideal number that varies for everyone - for me, the year I played at 183 (freshman year) was on the light side of that.
While obviously there's no comparison skill-wise (I'm way better, trust me), think of the Sedin twins during their first few seasons in the NHL. The skill was there, they were just so slight they were unable to properly utilize their tools. The "take a drink every time a Sedin gets knocked off the puck" game could've gotten a guy killed when they were rookies.
I could fly at that weight, but I was useless beyond that. I remember my coach "suggesting" I "battle harder," but it was hopeless — the second I got so much as shoved, the fight for the puck was all but lost. It's no good being able to skate fast and take long shifts when the second an opponent gets near you you're putting your line back on defense. The only way I was getting to the net for a rebound was if the d-man wasn't paying attention to me, or he skated into a well-placed Bond proximity mine.
Today's version of the perfect hockey body is long and lean, with core strength being the number one most important thing. Steven Stamkos is the poster boy for the ideal build.
Poor Wellwood — dude would need to be stretched on a rack to get anywhere near that. (By all accounts, that guy is very fit and one of the lightest players in the NHL at this point … but that's no fun, so, carry on with the fat jokes I guess.)
Finding your ideal weight in the NHL isn't such a problem. You have teams of trainers and doctors to design the perfect off-season (and in-season) training program for you. They can essentially build you. Coaches can tell that staff, "We'd like this guy to get stronger legs and gain five pounds," and boom, their wish is granted in a matter of months.
For guys in the minor leagues, the battle wages on. Using the good 'ol guess and test method, you have to find out what works best for you as an individual.
This year, it sounds like we may have the privilege or watching The Dustin Byfuglien Experiment, where an NHLer has taken on the burden of showing us what it's like to play above his ideal weight, so we can all learn together.
I'm not sure how that'll pan out for him over the course of the season, but for the rest of us, I have a hunch it could end up being a whole ton o' fun.