After Wednesday’s loss against the Anaheim Ducks, the prevailing opinion amongst Canuck fandom was that the Canucks got outmuscled. This opinion could be heard from callers on the Team 1040, read on threads posted on Canucks.com, and absorbed by osmosis from articles written by Brad Ziemer (you wouldn’t want to actually read them). This sudden outcry was simultaneously baffling and expected. Baffling, because the goals scored against the Canucks were largely due to breakdowns in defensive coverage and not being outmuscled along the boards or in front of the net. Expected, as Dan Hamhuis left the game after a borderline hit from Ryan Getzlaf and no one stepped up to fight him.
Never mind that none of the Canucks actually saw the hit happen. Never mind that it looks like a perfectly innocent hit until Hamhuis crumples to the ice. Never mind that there honestly wouldn’t have been any point in fighting Getzlaf. The lack of response from the Canucks in that moment is apparently indicative of a team-wide lack of toughness.
Fine. Let’s say I agree.
Fastforward a couple days: Cody Hodgson gets sent down to the Manitoba Moose. Victor Oreskovich gets called up. A skilled young rookie who may not be ready for the physical play of the NHL goes down to the AHL to play more minutes and further seasoning. A big body who has played NHL-level hockey before is brought up. He’s a physical presence, a guy who can crash and bang and occasionally drop the mitts. Oreskovich can be summed up in a word: tough. Clearly, this is the kind of move that the fans were calling for.
The response: callers on the Team 1040 complaining about Hodgson not getting a chance. Posters on Canucks.com crying foul. Random fan bloggers on the Vancouver Sun website shocked.
On one day, Canucks fans and media are bemoaning the lack of toughness on the Canuck roster. A couple days later, a move is made that increases the Canucks’ overall team toughness, and Canucks fans and media bemoan the move. And all this after the Canucks’ first loss in seven games. What do you want, Canucks fans? Do you even know what you want?
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Harrison had it mostly right when he described the purpose of the fourth line as prospect development. But it’s not necessarily about getting on the ice during the games. It’s not even necessarily about evaluating their ability to play at the NHL level. It’s about familiarity with the team, the routine, and the practice regimen. It’s about knowing what it is to be a Canuck. It’s about creating familiarity, so that when these players need to step into the lineup in high-pressure situations (ie. the playoffs), they are facing only one challenge instead of two.
In the end, this move isn’t about increasing team toughness or disrespecting a top prospect: it’s about acquainting each of the Canucks’ prospects with the NHL experience so it’s not a shock later on. This makes complaints in the wake of Hodgson being sent down to the Moose even more ludicrous. Hodgson will be back in the NHL before too long; in the meantime, he’ll get first-line minutes with the Moose while playing 6 games in 9 nights. But 20 games from now, as injuries crop up, I don’t want Oreskovich to be facing his first NHL action of the season as the playoffs approach. I don’t want him to be trying to figure out the Canucks’ morning routine or the practice schedule with the weight of playoff hockey on his mind.
And seriously, people calling into the Team 1040: chill out.
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