PLAYER SELECTION

During and after the fireworks in Vancouver on Saturday night, many people wanted to get on Canucks head coach John Tortorella for being so mad. Claiming that if he didn’t want or expect that to happen, he should have put out a more skilled line.

I disagree.

He shouldn’t have made his way to the Calgary Flames dressing room but that doesnt mean he can’t be upset about the start to the game.

MCGRATTAN & WESTGARTH

Yes, every once in a while a team starts their fourth line and it doesn’t always result in a line brawl but Torterella couldn’t risk putting his skill guys out there. I don’t think if they countered Calgary’s fourth line with the Sedin line, the twins would have gotten mauled but how do you really know?

You don’t start that line with Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, two of the toughest in the game, without the intention of a big physical start. Whether it’s running around to set a physical tone or actually fighting someone.

It’s hard to know what was said between Westgarth who was playing center for some reason and Kevin Bieksa but it sure looked like Westgarth was more than ready to do something dumb and it didn’t matter who was taking the draw. Westgarth did immediately jump an unwilling guy and then grabbed Kellen Lain and made him fight 2 seconds into his first NHL game.

If things were different and a skilled Canuck player was injured or beat up badly because they didn’t respond with the right line, who is everyone blaming today?

The head coach of course.

It happened to Randy Carlyle in pre-season this year, when he put out Phil Kessel with John Scott. His best player was put in a bad spot because he didn’t expect it to happen. “I never believed in my wildest dreams that the attack would come directed at that type of player from the opposition, but I was wrong.” He said.

BOB HARTLEY

A very memorable game I was playing in 2006 had a similar situation as far as player selection. The game was in Washington versus the Atlanta Thrashers who were coached at that time by none other than Bob Hartley.  His teams were always pretty tough and we had some good battles with them.

It was late in the game and six foot five Andy Sutton took a big run at one of our young defenseman Mike Green. This wasn’t a little run; this was a take your head off and hurt you type run. The third or fourth time he had done this late in a hockey game against us. Green thankfully avoided it, but the intent was absolutely there to hurt someone once again.

After the hit, a small melee ensued. This left each team playing 3 on 3.  Our bench was irate. Many four letter words were exchanged before the next faceoff. What happened next is, Hartley either misread the situation or he intended to diffuse it with the players he put out.

WRONG MOVE

We were at home and had last change. Hartley sent out Greg DeVries, Vitaly Vishnevskiy and Marian Hossa of all guys. Our head coach Glen Hanlon answered with Donald Brashear, John Erskine and Matt Bradley. Everyone knew what was going to happen whether you like it or not. We were not going to be pushed around again.

Brashear beat the snot out of Vishnevskiy, Erskine gave Hossa a rough ride and DeVries and Bradley paired off.

Now this incident in 2006 happened at the end of an extremely heated game with rules in place to prevent instigating and shenanigans in the last 5 minutes so perhaps there was a sense of protection the Thrashers bench felt?

Either way, the end result was players that shouldn’t have been out there for Atlanta were and Hartley made a huge mistake. Andy Sutton and Bob Hartley have to feel terrible for getting their guys pummelled.

COACHING CALL

The situation in the Flames-Canucks game was different. There wasn’t a heated incident immediately before, but as a coach I don’t think you can take that chance, especially if you have last change.

Torterella is vilified more today if Daniel Sedin is mugged or their team is completely taken advantage of.  He protected his team, which is what a coach is supposed to do. He had no choice but to put out a comparable line of grit and toughness. That doesn’t mean he has to be happy with what unfolded next.

No one knows what might have happened had Tortorella put out a skilled line. This game is unpredictable and rules don’t often matter in the heat of the moment. Assuming nothing, could have been very costly for him, more than the fine or suspension he will likely receive and deserve for his intermission antics. He could have lost his best players or that dressing room.

Has Bob Hartley ever tried to diffuse a situation again, when put in Tortorella’s spot?

I doubt it. 

  • RexLibris

    Tortorella made a mistake in going to the Flames dressing room in the intermission and for that he should be suspended.

    I have no love for him or the Canucks organization, but you are absolutely right that he is going to be vilified for this when Hartley shares responsibility.

    Hartley’s lineup to start the game was clearly meant to incite and he, and the Flames, deserve to be called out by the league for this as well.

  • elvis15

    I don’t get how Hartley is to blame here.

    The Canucks have been going on for the last 2 weeks about how they are going to be tough to play against. How’s that working for ya?

    Hartley has every right to throw out the big boys. Like has already been said, if the Flames had their 4th line out for an icing call and couldn’t change, Torts would have had the Sedins out in an instant.

    Did Hartley bait Torts? You bet he did. Did Torts take the bait? Right again.

    Torts trip to the dressing room is where he crossed the line. About a 2 game suspension seems appropriate to me.

  • vetinari

    What I can’t understand is why Torts got so mad– he had last change and elected to go with his toughies… fine… just don’t bark at the other side because you accepted the challenge.

    If Torts wanted to throw the Sedin line on the ice instead, he could have called over one of the refs before the faceoff, told them of his concerns and his expectations that if the Flames guys try to jump his guys, his guys were unwilling combatants and he’d hold the ref’s responsible for player safety. I presume that the refs would have then skated over to the Flames bench and had a little conversation with Hartley about what would happen if his guys tried something (ejections for all of them, including the coach).

    Clearly, Torts was out of line trying to go after Hartley and the Flames in their dressing room. What would have happened if Torts disappeared into their dressing room and the door closed behind him? He would have got the beat down of his life. Stupid. Suspend him for at least one game to send a message.

    • Brian Sutherby

      The rules will not always protect your teams players and a coach cannot trust that.

      In that 2006 game I mentioned and linked, the last 5 minute rule was in place. It’s an automatic game misconduct, an automatic one game suspension and the coach gets a 10k fine for every instigator penalty in the last 5 minutes.

      Everyone knew that before hoping over the boards and it still happened.

      Glen Hanlon was fined 30k and 3 players were suspended.

      It does not take back what occurred on the ice. Hartley put his players in a terrible spot.

      No way can Tortorella trust the rules to protect his guys in that instance.

  • elvis15

    Disagree Brian. Coaches fight all game to get a match up like knuckle drag-er 4th line vs your top line. If you get that during a game, you take it, and you don’t worry osmething stupid will happen. You wanna make the Flames look bad, score a goal 21 seconds into the game. The 4th line looks terrible, the coach looks even dumber, and you’re winning. Yes, it’s just a regular season game against a team they probably beat anyways, but I think the odds of the Flames trying anything against the Sedins are pretty low. If im Torts, I play the Sedins, and let it be know to MY ENTIRE TEAM to be ready off the faceoff. IF something happens and they DO try something crazy, then every man jumps off the bench like lightening and 21 guys pound those 5 idiots for 5 seconds before the rest of the Flames bench clears and then the real fireworks begin. If there is a dog pile on a few of these guys you can even get a couple “accidental kicks” in for pay back.

  • mk

    What I don’t get is the sudden change in attitude from everyone. I definitely don’t like having Westgarth and McGrattan playing as much as they do, nor do I think teams need a “tough-guy” line.

    However:

    whenever a team’s top line scores against another team’s 4th line, EVERYONE congratulates the scoring-team’s coach for getting line-up match that dramatically favours his team.

    If Torts were smart, he’d start Burrows-Kesler-Booth (or someone) as the forwards. Burrows and Kesler actively practice running away from fights and the line is skilled enough to scare Hartley into changing his forwards PDQ when the puck is dropped. Stupid lineup by Hartley, stupid response by Tortorella.

    • elvis15

      Here’s the problem with that: all it takes is for one guy to get grabbed by a goon and the rest of his linemates will have to come help. It’s easier said than done to maintain possession of the puck and stay away from getting punched.

      The other important point is Henrik Sedin was questionable to even play and left later due to injury so Torts couldn’t start them and risk even getting Henrik hit by a 4th liner. Starting the Kesler line and having this kind of result plus having Henrik unable to play the full game would leave the Canucks with basically only the 3rd and 4th lines for the rest of the game – not a good idea if you actually want to win the game since the Canucks need the points to stay in the playoff hunt.

  • Czar

    How many times have we seen Torts go off in a press conference or game in the past few years? The guys a tool who does more harm to the hockey with his BS and tirades than any fight, staged or otherwise has. I’d like to see him get 3-5 games but a good beating in the hallway would have been even better.

  • piscera.infada

    This is why skilled tough guys like Lucic, Clarkson and Phaneuf are important to successful hockey teams. Even Kadri is pretty tough and gritty and can throw down a fight.

  • SmellOfVictory

    This is something I don’t understand: what is the requirement for “protection”? If one guy tries to fight another guy and second guy refuses, the refs will prevent a fight and instigator will get a penalty.

    It’s not like either Westgarth or McGrattan are good enough hockey players to be able to hurt people while playing; all they can do is punch dudes if the other dudes agree to fight them. I could see an issue if it was lining the Sedins up against a line of Lucics, but it’s not even close to that.

  • elvis15

    One other point I don’t think has been brought up is Hartley tries to sell them being the starters by saying they scored in the last game. While McGrattan and Westgarth were on the ice for the Bouma goal in the previous game (at the end when the game was out of reach) none of that line has had a single point in some time. The last point of any kind for that forward group was Dec 12, when McGrattan had an assist, and Dec 21 for the defence, when Butler had an assist.

  • elvis15

    The heart, energy, desire that the Flames are showing despite that it’s early in their rebuild and the team has very little talent is exciting. This identity is a critical element of a successful rebuild.

    Unlike the Oilers who have had 3 consecutive 1st overall’s (soon a 4th) and much more talent they are listless, lifeless, heartless, and most important they have developed a culture of no accountability and losing that will be very difficult to change!

    • D-Unit

      The Oilers have held coaches, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, and GM Steve Tambellini accountable.

      It has taught the players, it is not their problem, the coach will get fired, and we never have fault. Win or lose, the pay cheque goes in the bank.

    • piscera.infada

      For sure. We can argue the actions to the death – I’m not too sure the answer is as easy as ‘x’ coach is wrong. The nice thing about the whole pinata from a Flames perspective is that there’s a pulse. You can say whatever you want about the skill (or lack thereof), but to me, that game proves they aren’t going down without a fight. I like that, and see it as a crucial component of a successful “rebuild”.

  • beloch

    First of all, I take issue with using “player selection” in the title of your article, which strongly suggests a comparison between Hartley and Ron Rolston, who was fined for “player selection” in the pre-season. That was a completely different situation. It wasn’t the first faceoff. He sent a goon out to attack one of his opponents stars because he wanted revenge for a fight that occurred previously in the game.

    I’m not going to pretend Hartley wasn’t spoiling for a goon-fight. You don’t start the game with your goon-squad if you aren’t. However, Torts wanted it too. If he didn’t want a fight, he had numerous options. He had four bloody lines to choose from, and three of them could have outplayed what Hartley put on the ice. He choose his goons. He could have instructed his goons that they were, under no circumstances, to accept a challenge to fight. They’d have looked like pussies but the Flames would have started the game with a penalty. Torts did no such thing. He sent his goons out there with implicit orders to do what goons do. Fight. He also sent out a rookie, which suggests he doesn’t like that rookie very much, but whatever.

    He clearly wasn’t expecting a full line-brawl, and that’s why he was probably so incensed after it happened. He must have thought Hartley sent his goon squad out with orders to not just start one fight, but five of them! If you ignore 20/20 hindsight and consider what’s likely to happen if you send a line out with orders to start a 10 player brawl, you’ll rapidly realize Torts assumption was utterly idiotic. One goon fight was intended by both sides. The brawl was spontaneous.

    Now, no matter how angry you are, NHL coaches are generally expected to be above charging into their opponents dressing room looking for a physical confrontation. Torts owes a lot to McGrattan, one of the very goons he professes to despise, for first keeping him out of the dressing room (where he would have been gang-pummeled) and then stopping Clint Malarchuk from going after him. Malarchuk might not be a man-mountain, but he is one tough SOB. The goons had more class than Torts that day!