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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • 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.

  • camdog

    Hartley got called out by Burke for the team not playing tough enough. Burke still has a bad vibe with Canucks since he left the organization.

    I know we in Edmonton like to pretend that the president of hockey operations doesn’t effect day to day operations of the team, I on the other hand disagree.

  • acg5151

    Torts shouldn’t have gone to the dressing room but he was pissed off and I might have made the same mistake as a coach.

    Icing the fourth line with his toughest defensemen, however?

    Not a mistake.

    I for sure would have done the same thing – especially with the Kessel/Scott incident fresh in my mind. Believe it or not, this game is still violent people!

  • beloch

    Off topic but on the same situation. I don’t get why Everyone (Cherry PJStock VanMedia)was so high on commending Bieksa for his leadership in the situation in protecting the rookie Lain.

    Are you freaking kidding me???!!!???

    Bieksa heroes up to take the draw.Then when the puck is dropped he refuses to engage with Westgarth. Instead, Bieksa beelines it to Smid and decides that who he wants to fight. Guess who Lain partners up with anyways without “Big Bro Bieksa” lookin out for him — Yup Westgarth.

  • acg5151

    As a fan of the oilers! I ask that Calgary please don’t hurt our players when we play against your team we are small and fragile just making good money skating in circles for 40min the other 20min is to embrace what a difficult life they have.
    And I also asked that Vancouver when we play against your team can you ask your coach to not scream and yell!!! Because our coach is the the weak and quiet type.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • pkam

    Didn’t Torts do the same in Mar 19th 2012 when they visited the Devils?

    Didn’t he send his tough guys out in the first shift and start a line brawl when Deboer responded by sending his tough guys out.

    So if Torts could send out his tough guy out in the first shift, why can’t Bob Hartley?

    Funny it was also Torts that yelled at Deboer. So he yelled at Deboer for responding to his challenge, and now he yelled at Hartley for starting it? So it is okay if he does it but not for anyone else?

    what an embarrassment to the league. Hope the league not just fine him, but suspend him for a long time.

  • Czar

    Coaches have started their 4th lines in games before…

    This is not a foriegn concept.

    Torterella could have started his 2nd line and wouldnt have to worry about the Sedins being out there or a scrappy line..

    There is no rules against who you start in a game.

    Torterella made a mistake by going to our dressing room and got what he should have expected by throwing his 4th line out to match.

    I dont mind Torterella as much as most but he screwed up because he’s a hot head and let his emotions get the best of him.

    That was a great game, I love when this stuff happens.

    Truculent it up! I miss when teams feared coming here because they knew Iggy, Regehr and Phaneuf would hit and fight anyone.

    Size and grittiness does create offensive chances because you own the boards and cycle the puck around by winning battles. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as the players can also play.

    This is what people fail to see in Burkes vision. He doesn’t want a team of 4th liners. He want guys who can fight and skate on the 4th line. Guys who can skate and hit and have skill on the 3rd line and a mix of high end skill and grit in the top 6.

    Players like Baertschi and Gaudreau have spots on the team, if they continue to improve… But they will be surrounded by players who have a physical presence which is what I miss out of the Flames lately.

    • piscera.infada

      “…But they will be surrounded by players who have a physical presence which is what I miss out of the Flames lately.

      Exactly. The reason I take little to no issue with everything that went on to start the game was the fact that the Flames didn’t get completely outclassed by a team that is (admittedly) far more skilled and for all intents and purposes, should be outclassing them nine time out of ten. The beginning of the game likely changed the way that game was played. It was intense, and I loved it.

      My biggest problem with the Flames play of late is that there’s simply no push-back at all – player runs Ramo/Berra, all good, continue on. The only thing worse than having to watch your team get outskilled by a better team (on a nightly basis), is having to watch a little dweeb like Burrows skate around flapping his jibs while it happens.

  • billythebullet

    Good read.

    I’ve never respected Hartley as a coach going back to his days in Denver. He was and still a goon coach who liked his players sending messages when games were pretty much decided.

  • Kodiak

    Totally disagree, Brian. All of the “incidents” you referred to were late in the game, score out of hand situations. I don’t think there is any history of something like that happening on the opening faceoff. The chances of something like Westgarth mugging Sedin then were 1 in a million.

    If those concerns were real, if the Flames 4th line iced the puck the Canucks would never throw their top line on then but we know they’d be licking their chops to get them out there in that matchup.

    • Brian Sutherby

      They don’t have to mug someone to cross a line.

      The timing of the game, right at the start where they were out there on the road to have a big physical start and impose themselves by fighting or running around and you think Torts should put out the Twins?

      When the last game they played Mcgrattan Ko’d a Canuck with an elbow and Westgarth has already been suspended for a recklass hit from behind this season?

      I acknowledged these incidents were different but this also wasn’t a tight zero-zero game late in the second when a coach tries to sneak out a sleepy fourth line that hasn’t played in 10 minutes and you matchup your first line to try and score.

      I don’t think they mug the twins, I already said that. But you don’t really know and if one of them is hurt because one of these big donkeys is fired up to start their first game in likely forever then how is it any better?

      Torts had to respond with that line.

      • elvis15

        Absolutely agreed, especially considering it doesn’t have to be a fight right off the draw but rather it could be McGrattan or anyone else taking a run at one of the Sedins (or Burrows, who was wearing a full face guard in his first game back from a broken jaw) and causing injury that way.

        Alberts still isn’t healthy from the concussion he got from McGrattan in that Dec 29 game.

      • elvis15

        Mcgrattan didn’t Ko a canuck with an elbow. You should probably go back and review that video. That was one of the weirdest KO’s I’ve ever seen. it was shoulder to shoulder and Mcgratts hands came up and that was it. Didn’t appear to be any significant contact to the head. What contact there was, was secondary. He got the “elbow pit” (inside of the arm) in the face.

        More likely it was just a unexpected impact for Alberts that stunned him

        • elvis15

          His hands and stick were up in the hit and contacted Alberts. Regardless, if you want to look at that as a legal play it’s further evidence of what could happen if the Sedins were put out on that faceoff.

          • elvis15

            His hands came up after initial contact. Have a close look at the video again.

            Either way what you are saying is never ever put the sedins out against somebody’s fourth line? I mean yeah they are little babies but that sounds kind of stupid to me.

            If you think Mcgrattan is such a goon maybe you should look at the penalties he gets. He rarely ever takes a stupid penalty, he doesn’t run around like an idiot trying to hurt people. His minutes are usually fighting and that’s it.

          • elvis15

            They still come up as a part of the contact and he almost clotheslines Alberts with the way he goes in with his arms.

            I get that McGratton isn’t really a dirty player (he’s not a Ben Eager for sure) so I have some respect for him there, but there is also Westgarth on the ice – particularly at center. The intent is fairly obvious to either fight right away or set a very physical tone (more so than any other time of the game).

            It’s not a match up you choose as the Canucks with a neutral zone faceoff at the start of the game. After an icing or something, sure, but as the home team with last change you don’t pick that most of the time.

            I’m glad you can argue a point without name calling or insults though… wait, what was that “little babies” comment? You might as well just call them sisters, something else that’s derogatory but absolutely false considering the physical abuse they take while playing the cycle and still keep going.

          • piscera.infada

            Ok, fair enough. Can we at least call Burrows “a joke”? No one’s going to argue that one. Face protector or not, he deserves to have his jaw bashed in at any point. It would definitely stop him from his little sqwak-and-run-away routine.

          • piscera.infada

            I’m glad you take offense at that(ummm why?). At least I’m not calling you names. Besides what should you care what I call players. Vancouver Canucks Diving team probably upsets you too.

            Anyway I can’t respect players like the sedin sisters or kesler, burrows and kassian. Their actions are often disgusting, like the drinking motions burrows was directing at our bench (maybe at SOB) I don’t know, but a bunch of gutter trash that I would be disgusted to have on my team.

            I can’t stand the soccer style dives those guys attempt time and again. Or the bitting or the idiotic locker room charges. It’s a joke. There is space for a little embellishment but it’s just so bad on that team.

          • elvis15

            Offence at those kind of comments? Not so much, actually kinda happy to think that’s the only argument people can come up with against the Sedins. It’s pretty sad though that people still resort to that after all these years of the Sedins playing tough minutes.

            If that’s your stance that you can’t respect someone like the Sedins even, but you want people to respect McGrattan, then there’s not much point in debating any of this with you.

          • piscera.infada

            haha tough minutes all you want about the sisters but I have yet to see them stand up and fight for a win (playoffs????) Sure they can score but when the going gets tough they get diving. That doesn’t win you hockey games. So yes I don’t respect them nor do I want them on my team.

            Comparing them to Mcgrattan is idiotic he’s not supposed to carry a team. He plays a role and does what is asked of him. He doesn’t dive or act like an idiot. He goes out and tries his best, he may not be very good but at least he tries.

            The sisters disappear the moment things get physical. Also keeping your consecutive games streak going by going out for a 15 second shift to start the game and calling it quits after that is also extremely idiotic and hurts the teams chances at winning.

          • piscera.infada

            I actually disagree. I think the Sedins get a pretty raw deal when it comes to their actual, instead of perceived work ethic, strength, and toughness – those guys are actually pretty tough competitors. They don’t mix it up after the whistle, but that’s not really necessary, and usually leads to some pretty funny hi-jinx. For example, this hilarious turn of events. As was pointed out during the game in question, the style of game the Sedins play (low cycle in the corner) is some of the most physically taxing play in hockey. I’ll agree with you on some of the other suspects past and present, although I happen to like Bieksa as well (heresy, I know).

            I also agree on the “ironman” streak bit too. That kind of crap is periphery – it certainly isn’t gospel, or important in any way.

          • elvis15

            Pretty terrible, wasn’t it? I at first thought Kassian must have had his stick up past Giordano’s waist and Giordano just chicken winged it, but it’s pretty clear from the reply that Kassian’s stick was down at Giordano’s knees/thighs and Giordano grabs it, pulls it up, then flops backwards to draw the call.

  • 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.

  • andyg

    There is nothing wrong with icing the line up you want (both Calgary and Vancouver).

    There is nothing wrong with challenging someone to a fight at a face off and if BOTH agree there is nothing wrong with the ensuing fight.

    There is nothing wrong with extracting retribution on an opponent at the faceoff for a previous cheap shot (whether or not the cheap shot artist wants to fight or not). I wish our tough guys did more of this.

    What was wrong as sending Westgarth out to center ice with seeminly the sole purpose to start a fight right off the get go with an unwilling participant. (This assumes that Westgarth would have tried to start something with the rookie originally slated to take the face off which I suspect would have been the case.)

    Not knowing who Torts would have put on the ice it is clear to me that Westgarth wasn’t out to extract retribution for a previous cheap shot.

    If Westgarth hadn’t started the fight and McGratten or Jones found a WILLING partner I would have had no problem with the fight but Westgarth immediately dropping the gloves on an unwilling participant was wrong.

    I like Hartley but if he gave orders to Westgarth he should be fined. I suspect that may have been the case. If that was the case Hartley was wrong and Westgarth was wrong although being in Westgarths position I don’t see that he had any alternative and suspect he was pumped as well because he finally was able to contribute to a game in the manner his coach wanted.

    • Brian Sutherby

      Dec. 20, 2011 Rangers vs. Devils. Torts being away started his 4th line and devils responded with the same. no line brawl but still Torts never accepts the blame for anything.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy5iX4eCj_k

      then later devils did it right back to them.

      Then devils coach DeBoer

      “I guess in John’s world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can’t do the same in here,” DeBoer said. “He’s either got short-term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite. So it’s one of the other.”

  • ThatGuy

    I was at the NYR-NJ game at MSG in 2012. It was an awful game in the end except for the opening face off. It was clearly staged and the fights were duds. It didn’t set the tone at all. I them got really really pissed and offended a Spanish tourist sitting next to me. What kind of Spanish guy has a shaggy red beard?!?