One of the key narratives heading into the off-season for the Vancouver Canucks was the apparent need to get tougher. While the team espoused the benefits of things like “team toughness” and “mental strength” and things of that ilk, all the while pointing to the Detroit Red Wings – a team that got by just fine on finesse and puck control – the masses cried out for big, tough, truculent enforcer-types to fill the bottom six forward spots on the roster.
Such views were only amplified further when, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Boston’s Brad Marchand used Daniel Sedin as a punching bag because he “felt like it.”
And while GM Mike Gillis didn’t exactly spend his summer trying to trade the Sedin Twins for the Hanson Brothers, he did fill out of training camp roster with gritty, fourth-line types: Steve Pinnizotto, Byron Bitz, Mike Duco, Todd Fedoruk, Steve Begin and Owen Nolan (the latter three were released after tryout deals) to go along with similar players already in the system, such as Victor Oreskovich and Aaron Volpatti.
And then just a few days before the start of the regular season, the team picked up forward Dale Weise on waivers from the New York Rangers.
In short, they had – and still have – plenty of options.
Which brings us to Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Jackets’ defenceman Mark Methot’s hit-from-behind on Henrik Sedin, who was not seriously hurt on the play (though he did miss a few shifts and Tuesday morning was allowed to skip an on-ice workout).
After the play, Methot was not challenged – or at least did not appear to be challenged – by any Canuck, which surely brought back memories of Marchand’s actions last June, which also went unpunished. Almost instantly on Twitter, fans were calling for blood, or at the very least, calling for the summoning of Mike Duco – who, in preseason showed a willingness to hit and/or fight just about anyone – from Chicago of the AHL.
After the game, Kevin Bieksa insisted both he and Volpatti tried to get Methot to drop the gloves, but to no avail, and in such a tight game neither could afford to take a stupid penalty. Fair enough.
But such an explanation, though it makes complete sense, is not likely enough to quell the fan’s desire for payback. The memory of Marchand and other situations like it is just too fresh.
But Bieksa is right in that they couldn’t afford to take unnecessarily penalties – especially because Sedin did appear to be OK, all things considered. Had he been seriously hurt, maybe players’ mindsets would be different, and they’d throw out all reason en route to exacting their pound of flesh. But for now, they’re playing it cool, level-headed and calm.
And even though it might drives blood-thirsty fans batty, it’s the right play more often that not. Becoming an undiscplined, reactionary team is not going to help them win the Stanley Cup.
At least this year, with the likes of Weise and Volpatti on the roster, it’s nice to know the toughness is there if need be. It’s a stark change from last year, where Tanner Glass was often forced to step up beyond his weight class, and Oreskovich often seemed to play smaller than his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame.