Logical Fallacies, Taylor Hall And Edmonton Fans

In the comments section yesterday, Scott wrote:

I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest Hall will develop better in the NHL than in the CHL (or vice versa). It’s time we all admit that’s an unknown.

Bruce responded:

I would accept GM after GM keeping the #1 overall up in the bigs each year as evidence that they all think he will develop better playing the big boys.

Now, I don't mean to pick on Bruce, because the same argument has been made repeatedly since Tyler breached the subject of sending Taylor Hall back to the OHL, but Bruce made the argument here and made the point stick out like a sore thumb.  The argument is a poor one.  This single sentence manages to invoke two logical fallacies in just thirty-one words.  Not only does the argument invoke an Apppeal to Authority - the previous general managers that have made this decision - it also invokes an Appeal to Antiquity - the notion that it's a good idea because it's always been that way.

The definition of an Appeal to Authority:

An appeal to authority is an argument from the fact that a person judged to be an authority affirms a proposition to the claim that the proposition is true.

Appeals to authority are always deductively fallacious; even a legitimate authority speaking on his area of expertise may affirm a falsehood, so no testimony of any authority is guaranteed to be true.

And the definition of an Appeal to Antiquity:

Appeals to antiquity assume that older ideas are better, that the fact that an idea has been around for a while implies that it is true. This, of course, is not the case; old ideas can be bad ideas, and new ideas can be good ideas. We therefore can’t learn anything about the truth of an idea just by considering how old it is.

Essentially what this means is the argument is not valid simply because an authority says so, or because it's been that way for awhile.  After the jump, I'll explore both.

First, let's explore the Appeal to Antiquity.  Below is a table containing the previous twenty-five first overall picks, the team that drafted each one, and the circumstances of that team at the time:

Year Team #1 Overall Circumstance
1985 Toronto Maple Leafs  Wendel Clark  Team was coming off of two consecutive last-place finishes
1986 Detroit Red Wings  Joe Murphy  Team was coming off of a last-place finish and missed playoffs 16 of previous 20 seasons
1987 Buffalo Sabres  Pierre Turgeon  Team was coming off of two straight last-place finishes
1988 Minnesota North Stars  Mike Modano  Team was coming off of two straight last-place finishes
1989 Quebec Nordiques  Mats Sundin  Team was coming off of two straight last-place finishes and entering financial difficulty
1990 Quebec Nordiques  Owen Nolan  Team was coming off of three last place finishes and entering financial difficulty
1991 Quebec Nordiques  Eric Lindros  Team was coming off of four last place finishes and entering financial difficulty
1992 Tampa Bay Lightning  Roman Hamrlik  Expansion team's first-ever draft pick
1993 Ottawa Senators  Alexandre Daigle  Expansion team's second first-round draft pick
1994 Florida Panthers  Ed Jovanovski  Expansion team's second first-round draft pick
1995 Ottawa Senators  Bryan Berard Expansion franchise finished last three straight seasons
1996 Ottawa Senators  Chris Phillips  Expansion franchise finished last four straight seasons
1997 Boston Bruins  Joe Thornton  Boston was coming off of their first last-place finish since expansion.
1998 Tampa Bay Lightning  Vincent Lecavalier  The struggling Lightning had just one playoff appearance in their first six seasons
1999 Atlanta Thrashers  Patrik Stefan  The first-ever pick of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
2000 New York Islanders  Rick DiPietro  Missed the playoffs six straight seasons and attendance slumped to 9,700 per game
2001 Atlanta Thrashers  Ilya Kovalchuk  Third draft for expansion Atlanta Thrashers
2002 Columbus Blue Jackets  Rick Nash  First marquee pick for expansion team
2003 Pittsburgh Penguins  Marc-Andre Fleury  Bankrupt team was so terrible that even Lemieux's return couldn't save them.
2004 Washington Capitals  Alexander Ovechkin* Ovechkin didn't start in the NHL because of the lockout.
2005 Pittsburgh Penguins  Sidney Crosby  Averaged 11,877 fans year before the lockout.
2006 St. Louis Blues  Erik Johnson  Bottom five in attendance in 2005-2006
2007 Chicago Blackhawks  Patrick Kane Second-worst attendance in league two consecutive years.
2008 Tampa Bay Lightning  Steven Stamkos  Slumping ticket sales following ownership uncertainty.  Poor overall management.
2009 New York Islanders  John Tavares  Bottom five in league in attendance for five consecutive years.  Can't draw enough fans to qualify for full share of revenue sharing
2010 Edmonton Oilers  Taylor Hall  Five consecutive years of sell-outs.  Pays into revenue sharing.

 

Of the previous twenty-four first round picks (Ovechkin's season was erased by the lockout), nine were made by expansion teams, five were made by teams struggling at the gate, and four were made by teams in financial distress.  Of the remaining six, one (Detroit - 1986) was made by a team coming out of what might be the worst period of play for any NHL team since expansion, and another (Tampa - 2008) was made by a group of mad hatters.

In the end, four of these picks (Toronto - 1985, Buffalo - 1987, Minnesota - 1988, Boston - 1997) were made by teams in comparable situations to the current Oilers. 

There is no long and rich history of a profitable, financially stable team with a five year run of sell-outs making first round picks.  Four picks were made by teams in similar, though not exact, situations.  The Appeal to Antiquity on it's face is a fallacy, and digging deeper, there is no historical record to call upon for support in this case.  If the Oilers were an expansion team, needed to be rescued from near-bankruptcy, or needed help in selling tickets, there would be better cases to make an argument with.  The fact is, the Oilers have the luxury of being in a position no team has been in since Boston in 1997.

Now onto the Appeal to Authority.  Below is a table containing the previous twenty-five first overall picks, the team that drafted each one, the GM tasked with making the decision, and how things turned out for that GM:

Year Team General Manager Outcome
1985 Toronto Maple Leafs  Gerry McNamara Fired after six seasons, four playoff appearances, two last-place finishes
1986 Detroit Red Wings  Jim Devellano Resigned after eight seasons, five playoff appearances
1987 Buffalo Sabres  Gerry Meehan Resigned after seven seasons, seven playoff appearances
1988 Minnesota North Stars  Jack Ferreira Fired after one year, fourth place finish
1989 Quebec Nordiques  Martin Madden Fired after one year, last-place finish
1990 Quebec Nordiques  Pierre Page Fired after three years, two last-place finishes
1991 Quebec Nordiques  Pierre Page Fired after three years, two last-place finishes
1992 Tampa Bay Lightning  Phil Esposito Fired after six years in charge, one playoff appearance
1993 Ottawa Senators  Randy Sexton Fired after two years, two last-place finishes
1994 Florida Panthers  Bryan Murray Took team to Stanly Cup Finals
1995 Ottawa Senators  Pierre Gauthier Fired after three years.
1996 Ottawa Senators  Pierre Gauthier Fired after three years.
1997 Boston Bruins  Harry Sinden Oversaw team for 28 years, including five Stanley Cup Finals appearances
1998 Tampa Bay Lightning  Phil Esposito Fired three months later, after six years in charge, one playoff appearance
1999 Atlanta Thrashers  Don Waddell Fired after ten seasons, one playoff appearance
2000 New York Islanders  Mike Milbury Fired after ten seasons, three playoff appearances, five last-place finishes.
2001 Atlanta Thrashers  Don Waddell Fired after ten seasons, one playoff appearance
2002 Columbus Blue Jackets  Doug MacLean Fired after six seasons, no playoff appearances
2003 Pittsburgh Penguins  Craig Patrick Fired after sixteen seasons and two Stanley Cups, but ended career with four consecutive last-place finishes.
2004 Washington Capitals  George McPhee* Lockout season prevented Ovechkin from playing.  Still active.
2005 Pittsburgh Penguins  Craig Patrick Fired after sixteen seasons and two Stanley Cups, but ended career with four consecutive last-place finishes.
2006 St. Louis Blues  Larry Pleau Forced to hand over personnel duties after ten years, presiding over collapse of franchise.
2007 Chicago Blackhawks  Dale Tallon Fired after building Stanley Cup-winning team in a manner that required it immediately be torn apart.
2008 Tampa Bay Lightning  Brian Lawton Fired after two seasons, no playoff appearances
2009 New York Islanders  Garth Snow Still active
2010 Edmonton Oilers  Steve Tambellini Still active

 

The previous twenty-five picks have been made by twenty different GMs.  We can discount George McPhee because the lockout prevented him from making a decision on Ovechkin.  Of the other nineteen, one (Garth Snow) still holds his job, nine of them were fired for what amounts to gross incompetence, two were fired after only one season, two were wildly successful but were fired for gross incompetence , and four can be considered successful (McNamara, Devellano, Meehan, Murray).

So once again, the Appeal to Authority is in and of itself a fallacy, and when the representative data is parsed, there is no basis to recognize that authoritative group as experts.

The Taylor Hall debate has been interesting, if mostly one-sided.  It's unfortunate that those believing Hall should stay in the NHL have argued the point so poorly to this point, but when someone relies on specious claims, logical fallacies and hypocritical litmus tests to prove a point, the argument is destined to be weak.

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