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Vancouver GM: Keep running the Canucks, pay the price on the scoreboard

Dec 12, 2011, 1:07 PM EDT

Sedins Getty Images

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis kept banging the “we don’t need a tough guy” drum yesterday, telling the Vancouver Province that the team’s recent success is proof his philosophy is working.

The Canucks are 9-1-0 in their last 10, a stretch that’s seen their opponents try to rough them up Boston Bruins style.

“You can’t argue with the results,” he said. “We had very good results last season and we’re starting to do it again.

“There are some players who want to run around and hit guys from behind and that’s a league issue and it’s something the league is getting out of the game. If officials do their jobs, we will win games.”

But as the article’s author, Jason Botchford, points out, it’s hard to keep winning games when your players keep getting hurt. David Booth is out for an extended period after taking a knee-on-knee hit. Cody Hodgson is day-to-day after being run over Saturday.

Gillis seems to relish the fact that teams are running around against the Canucks, because it means more opportunities for the league’s best power play.

Unfortunately, a referee can’t do anything to bring Booth back.

It begs the question, is Vancouver at risk of winning a bunch of little battles at the cost of losing the war? After all, referees only have so much power. Ditto for the league. Say a marginal player takes out Henrik Sedin in Game 1 of a playoff series. Even if he gets a major penalty and receives a lengthy suspension, who wins that trade off?

But would that marginal player take out Henrik Sedin in the first place if he knew it would mean his team’s best player would be visiting the hospital next?

It may sound barbaric, but in hockey, the good guy doesn’t always win. Canada’s greatest international hockey victory was predicated on a brutal attack on its opponent’s best player. The game might’ve changed since 1972, but it’s not figure skating quite yet.

  1. imleftcoast - Dec 12, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    Botchford writes in the Province that they don’t need a Chris Neil. Do they absolute need a guy like that to win games? No. Do they need a guy like that to win the Cup? Probably.

    • govtminion - Dec 12, 2011 at 6:12 PM

      Couldn’t agree more. If anything sticks with me that spoke of the Canucks flaws in last years Finals, it wasn’t the bite, it wasn’t Rome’s stupid hit on Horton, it wasn’t the diving or Luongo’s flakiness- it was watching Marchand keep punching Daniel Sedin (wasn’t it Daniel?) in the face repeatedly, and having a group of Canucks just watch. Same knock we’ve been making on Buffalo for a few weeks now- if you’re willing to let your star players get pounded on like that and not lift a finger in their defense, how are you ever going to win a Cup with that kind of heart?

      Could anyone on the Canucks beat up on the Bruins? We answered that with the Sabres- probably not. The Bruins have built a big, mean group, and few teams could hope to play that kind of game with them and get anywhere. I’m not saying the Canucks need to do that. But they do need to develop the ability to keep their opponents from being able to take a run at their stars without consequence- and right now, I don’t see anyone on their roster who legitimately can do that, even against teams like Colorado or Columbus.

      They’ll win in the regular season with this style. They might even win a playoff round with it. But when it really matters, this team has the same flaw as the Capitals keep showing- all speed and bling, no heart.

      • peanutflower - Dec 12, 2011 at 11:46 PM

        What the hell is this “no heart” crap? That’s about as idiotic a statement as I’ve heard. And you said it more than once! Seriously, that’s just not true. The Canucks don’t play the same kind of game as the Sens chose to play the other night. So what? They won. The Canucks didn’t lose the SCF because of reffing (although that was suspect at times) or because Marchand chose to be a complete prick, they lost because more than half of the team either was not playing or was playing hurt. Higgins, Edler, Kesler, Ehrhoff, Henrik, Hamhuis, Malhotra, Hansen, Raymond and probably more. That’s just an impossible amount of attrition to handle and still win. Don’t forget the number of games the Canucks had to play just to get to the finals. I just don’t get this beef that the Canucks are a weak team just because they a) don’t have a goon (and really, who needs a waste of space on the bench anyway), and b) they don’t retaliate with nonsensical penalties. People just don’t get that they play a different style and because they don’t get it they don’t like it. Just like you didn’t like the weird guy at school because he was different. I’ll take the Canucks style any day. It’s skilled hockey, great to watch, and worth waiting 42 years for.

  2. comeonnowguys - Dec 12, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    This team had Rafi Torres on their bench last year. Where’d this high-road come from all of a sudden?

    • davebabychreturns - Dec 12, 2011 at 3:56 PM

      Raffi Torres isn’t an enforcer, and this isn’t about the high road per se – it’s about a valid deterrent to excessive force.

      The Canucks keep teams honest by taking it to them on the powerplay (a perfect example is the San Jose series, where Ben Eager took several stupid penalties and the Canucks went on to a 7-3 win and a 2-0 series lead).

      Of course that doesn’t always work but neither does having an enforcer – Bruins players are still subjected to cheap shots and in the Canucks/Senators game that prompted this whole discussion the Sens dressed Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Matt Carkner but that didn’t stop the Canucks from giving Daniel Alfredsson a rough ride.. in fact Alfie looked to be experiencing some pain after Jannik Hansen gave him a little cross check behind the play. Somehow a handful of tough guys did nothing to prevent it.

      As for Mr. Torres, the Canucks excellent penalty kill means they can afford to have players who play on the edge like he did. Ironically enough perhaps his biggest hit – blowing up Brent Seabrook with enforcer John Scott in the lineup – seemed to do more harm than good as it woke up a Blackhawks team that seemed largely disinterested up to that point.

  3. haterzgonahate - Dec 12, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    ya Gillis that theory may work in the regular season… come playoff time the “blind eye” will be turned upon every foul against the Nucks.

    can’t help but think what we’d be talking about today had that been Crosby or Malking or Giroux or anybody not wearing a Canucks jersey when Foligno steamrolled through Hodgson’s head. don’t get me wrong, thought it was a good hockey hit but didn;t we just spend all summer telling our players that you have to let up when a player put’s himself in “a vulnerable position”? doesn’t get much more vulnerable than that…

    and we’ll just turn a blind eye to Foligno stomping on Burrows leg or Neil elbowing him blindsided to the head.

    that Sens Nucks game was everything tthat hey’re preaching is wrong with the game today

  4. F4S Leigh - Dec 12, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    I agree, the Canucks need to reconsider what they need. I think the Canucks are going to have to add something, but I don’t think it’s a traditional enforcer. A traditional enforcer would go fight Foligno and/or Neil – which Weise did. Unfortunately, Weise lost badly, and that fight had no impact on the game – didn’t bring Hodgson back, didn’t deter Foligno (or Neil for that matter). These staged fights never have an impact on the game the way they used to when Probert/Semenko etc. etc. were in the league.

    I hate to say it, but they should consider adding an “expendable” player(s) who is a specialist in late hits, sticking, spearing, dirty play – suspensions be damned. Target the other team’s skill players. That’s the only deterrent available these days, it seems. It’s sad to say – but it might be the only thing that works.

    We know what’s going to happen in the playoffs. That stuff always gets let go. Happened againt Chi the last 3 years, happened in the finals against Boston. What makes any of us (including GMMG) think it will be different in the future? We can legitimately complain about the officiating, but, if those “unwritten” playoff rules are going to remain, we need to play by them.

    And Haterz – I agree – that game WAS everything that they are preaching is wrong. Of course, the league’s actions don’t match their words.

    Read more on the Sens game and how that went down: Canucks/Sens – Do Canucks Need More Toughness?

    • davebabychreturns - Dec 12, 2011 at 4:37 PM

      “I hate to say it, but they should consider adding … a specialist in late hits, sticking, spearing, dirty play – suspensions be damned. Target the other team’s skill players. That’s the only deterrent available these days, it seems. It’s sad to say – but it might be the only thing that works.”

      You mean like Raffi Torres?

      • F4S Leigh - Dec 12, 2011 at 6:32 PM

        Well, not quite. The part of my quote you deleted was that the player should be “expendable” – i.e. the Canucks don’t miss him if he gets suspended. I think we would have missed Torres if he wasn’t in the lineup – he did a great job of getting on the forecheck and delivering those patented crunching hits, MOST of which were clean, with a few borderline ones (and I think we’re missing that this season as well).

        I think they need someone that’s willing to go over the line – suspension, or not. That’s my point. As Jason pointed out in his original blog, “nice guys don’t always win”. He’s right. So, let’s get someone fearsome in the lineup and let them do their thing – what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. And if that player gets suspended, then hopefully there’s another player lined up right behind them to do the same thing.

        Unfortunately, that’s what the NHL has come to. When you continually allow teams like the Bruins and Flyers to do what they do, it becomes the lowest common denominator.

  5. sonofsamiam - Dec 12, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    “run Henrik Sedin in game 1 of a playoff series”?

    Seems like a good deal for the Canucks. Unless they’re concerned about losing out on the 1 point he produced in the finals last year. What a playoff dynamo!

    • davebabychreturns - Dec 12, 2011 at 5:55 PM

      He played through a significant back injury in that series – not that you are interested in any kind of serious discussion, of course.

  6. taytay099 - Dec 12, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Canucks don’t need dirty players or tough guys. Mike Gillis has modeled this team after the Red Wings. They won the cup in 08 relying on their skilled players to also be tough. Cleary, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom and Kronwall all were gritty and skilled throughout their playoff run all while playing honest. I think Gillis wants a similar team.

    • F4S Leigh - Dec 12, 2011 at 5:39 PM

      But the issue is that our skill players (Sedins, Kesler, Raymond, Higgins, Burrows) aren’t tough!

      • taytay099 - Dec 12, 2011 at 6:39 PM

        True, but I think Kesler’s pretty tough. He blocks a hell of a lot of shots and refuses to miss a shift after limping off the ice. Higgins and Burrows can both play a good two-way game and battle along the boards for pucks. None of the guys you mentioned can throw big hits, but as long as they can take a few hits to make a good play I’d consider them tough. Henrik is pretty tough considering he has quite the iron man streak going. That’s what it takes to win championships. That’s what I mean by tough. (Hope they can continue to play like this if they make the playoffs and avoid injuries.)

      • F4S Leigh - Dec 12, 2011 at 6:47 PM

        OK I get where you’re going. Yes, those players are “tough” from that perspective. But, they can’t keep the other team honest. That’s what we’re talking about here. And as Haterz states up above, typically the Canucks get the short end of the stick on the penalty situation – at least it very much seems that way. In the Ottawa game, each team took the same number of those “tough” kinds of penalties (roughing, hi sticking, cross checking, boarding etc.) – 4 minors apiece. Is that the game that you saw on the ice? Not me….

      • taytay099 - Dec 12, 2011 at 7:39 PM

        I think the Canucks seem to be on the bad end of a lot of calls or non calls because we have three guys who are notorious for diving or yapping at the refs too much. Especially Kesler. He is my favourite player on the team, but he really needs to go back to keeping his mouth shut like he did for most of last season. If he can just play a little more honest and stop complaining to the refs maybe the calls would be a little less one sided.

        Right now the Canucks have a good thing going with their lethal powerplay. It doesn’t matter if we have more tough guys, Booth would still be injured and other teams will still take their cheap shots. As long as it draws penalties we can win games.

  7. danphipps01 - Dec 12, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Strangely enough, I think the Pens have a good approach to this. When you discount the injuries to known prone players and the shit-happens kind of things, they’re a team that doesn’t suffer a lot of losses to runs and cheapshots. Why? Because they’ve got some thoroughly unpleasant players to contend with if you want to play that game. Guys like Asham, Engelland, MacIntyre, guys who’ll punish the offender in a fight, hit hard, get right in opponents’ faces in scrums and are good for their positions and ice time. Well-rounded “pocket enforcer” kind of guys who are good for more than just dropping the gloves. The Canucks don’t really have anyone like that. Lapierre’s pretty much the only one who really approaches this. They need a couple more guys capable of that – having several such guys tends to dissuade other teams from getting too cocky.

    On the flip side, they could always try to sign a top-six winger who’s huge, dirty and seems to have a “get out of suspensions free” card. Milan’s a local, too! It’s win-win!

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