Ryan Kesler’s wingers are polar opposites. It’s like a sitcom on ice.

Early in Sunday’s game versus the Calgary Flames, Canucks’ winger Mikael Samuelsson turned the puck over in his own zone, allowing Flames’ center Michael Backlund to walk in, uncontested, and score the game’s first goal. It was painful. For this ill-timed and completely avoidable mistake, Samuelsson was summarily benched, and wouldn’t return from fourth-line exile until much, much later in the game.

It was a kneejerk benching, albeit deserved, but it warranted an interesting observation from a few: Mason Raymond, Samuelsson’s linemate, has a tendency to make similar mistakes, yet he’s rarely benched in such a reactive fashion. Granted, Samuelsson’s error was pretty terrible, and most certainly a valid reason to bench a guy, but the observation remains valid. Alain Vigneault does appear quicker to bench Mikael Samuelsson than Mason Raymond. Why?

Because they’re very different, and one has an abundance of the selfsame confidence the other lacks.

Mason Raymond is a young prospect. He’s still learning and developing both his skillset and his mental fortitude. He’s open to coaching, introspective to a fault, and still emotionally shakeable. And, like a lot of young players, he has a tendency to lose confidence when things aren’t going his way. In many cases, the worst thing for him is to get stapled to the benched, as he gets down on himself, and winds up holding his stick too tight and trying to overcompensate. If he gets himself stuck in a rut, it’s better to let him play through his issues than to feed them. We’ve seen this all year. He’s had a spotty season, but Alain Vigneault has exercised a lot of patience with Raymond, knowing that, often, a benching would merely exacerbate his struggles.

Mikael Samuelsson, on the other hand, is an aged veteran. He’s not as teachable, and he’s not nearly as emotional. He’s an even-keeled player, and he’s got the mental fortitude to take a benching without taking a hit to his confidence. He’s also downright robotic at times, but he can drift too far down that path, often forgetting to invest emotion into his play. Thankfully, Samuelsson’s got temper issues. What to do if you catch him drifting to sleep? Offend him. His reaction to a personal slight is to thumb his nose at the perpetrator, then go out to prove him wrong.

Here’s Mikael Samuelsson, from an article by Brad Zeimer, on using his snub from the Swedish olympic team last year as motivation:

“It’s not only a coincidence,” Samuelsson said Tuesday, acknowledging for the first time that he has been motivated by the Swedish snub. “I was pissed and I’m still like, not upset, but I said what I think and I still think that. Obviously, I had something to prove, I guess. . . I want to play good hockey and I want to prove to guys that I can.”

And here he is, after a benching earlier this month, from an article again by Brad Zeimer, (who apparently works nights as Samuelsson’s psychologist):

“I don’t want to say anything, but I got pissed off, for sure,” said Samuelsson, who was dropped down to skate with Maxim Lapierre and Tanner Glass, while Jeff Tambellini was moved up to skate with Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler on Vancouver’s second line.

You’d think Samuelsson was quoting himself.

In that same article, Alain Vigneault admits that the decision to demote Samuelsson came after the Swedish forward took a couple shifts off. Effectively, Sammy was benched to wake him up, a strategy that simply wouldn’t work for Mason Raymond, whose confidence would be damaged by the same tactic.

“It was a simple decision of reading your team,” Vigneault explained. But it’s not so simple. It takes a watchful eye and an attention to detail to properly decipher and manage the wide array of personalities in any dressing room, and Vigneault has these guys figured out. As a result, when benched, Mason Raymond powers down, but Mikael Samuelsson gets fired up.

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7 comments

  1. The Belgian Canucks Fan
    March 18, 2011

    An interesting read… the day AV announces Mayray back on 4th…
    Not clear yet if it's on the wing or in center.
    Well, the last time he was on that line he scored a pretty one, let's cross our fingers!

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  2. Anonymous
    March 18, 2011

    Reminds me of something I read earlier in the season, from this:

    Gillis and Vigneault, both former NHL players, were asked how coaches motivate players and how the approach has changed since their playing days.

    Said Vigneault: "I think part of coaching is getting the most you can out of the personnel and that's getting to know your personnel both on and off the ice and how to handle individuals. You can't treat everybody the same way but you can treat them fairly. Some guys need to be handled with a little bit of cuddling sometimes and some have to be harped on sometimes. That's what they want. Give a player a plan where they're going to succeed and they're going to follow it."

    It's like he was talking about Raymond (cuddling) and Sammy (harped on).

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  3. Harrison Mooney
    March 18, 2011

    @Anonymous I agree. I wish I could have found that quote earlier; it would have strengthened my argument.

    I remember, too. hearing about Vigneault's struggles with Torres. He had a hard time figuring out which approach to take with him, so he called up Craig McTavish, Torres's former coach, for some advice.

    I find the fine line between individual player management and fairness really interesting.

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  4. Anonymous
    March 18, 2011

    My friend and I often yell at AV to bench Sammy with hopes that his awesome swedish rage will take over. It's good to know this is a well known and accepted method by all parties involved.

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  5. RhadLife
    March 18, 2011

    Thank you for this perspective… It is good to know that it is not a Crawford Doghouse thing. I actually feel like I get the whole Raymond thing for once! I guess I should have figured this out earlier. I would really like to know how Kes feels about all of this because he seems to be the one who suffers offensively unless both of these guys are firing on all cylinders.

    I love that we are so far out in front and about to tie our best win streak of the year and still have a tonne of injuries to key pieces and the chemistry is still being refined. I really hope it all comes together in April for the best 16 post season wins in our history. My wardrobe for at least a full calendar year will be Stanley Cup Champion hats and tees.

    Get well soon Manny, Juice & Eddie. The fun ride is just getting started.

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  6. Diehardnuck
    March 18, 2011

    Sorry for the off-topic but you NEED to check out this anti-Ott video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWVl-gNsuho

    "Steve Ott: The New Voice of Reason (Cry Me A River)"

    Keslurking begins at 3:40

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  7. Anonymous
    March 19, 2011

    Starting to understand the whole Raymond thing now. thanks!

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