After the disappointing loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night, Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the performance of Ryan Kesler, who has been struggling of late. With just 3 points in his last 8 games, Kesler has not looked like his dominant self.
Part of Vigneault’s response was that Kesler needs “to use the players around him a little bit more so he can get into open space.”
Understandably, the media wanted to get Kesler’s take on the issue, so they cherry-picked the statement and brought it to the Canucks’ centre to see what he had to say. He was a little miffed:
“Me utilize my players?” Kesler said, before adding: “Obviously, I don’t know what he means by that and if he wants to say that he can come to me and talk to me about it.
“I am going to play my game, the things that have made me successful. I know what that is and if he wants to come talk to me he is more than welcome.”
The slightly confrontational words and marginally more aggravated tone from the perpetually-aggravated Kesler led to a light drizzle of activity on Twitter and the Team 1040, debating over whether this was something worth debating. Was it worth asking if Vigneault had lost the room? Should we consider the possibility that Vigneault and Kesler have communication issues? Can we drag these two quotes out into 10 more minutes of airtime?
When I heard the quotes, I was initially excited: we don’t often get to use our infrequent “This is not a story” feature that gives us a chance to feel like real bloggers and rail against the mainstream media. Ever since PITB joined the Vancouver Sun we have been constantly accused of selling out (Tru Fakt), and this was going to be a chance to show that we are still an alternative voice in Canucks coverage.
But the stories blowing the situation out of proportion never emerged. Instead, the media was disappointingly rational.
The most inflammatory article came from Brad Ziemer and it was about as incendiary as a soaking wet match. Ziemer described Kesler as “displeased” and that he “bristled” at Vigneault’s quote, which is such a soft-sell that my computer automatically opened the music video for “Tainted Love.” He then tossed in some quotes from Vigneault about how Kesler wasn’t the only player struggling, quashing any potential to develop the feud.
Ed Willes at the Province got as far as the headline before declaring his own story a non-story: “Kesler flap much ado about almost nothing.” After a quick recap of the non-issue-at-hand, Willes made a great point about Canucks coverage in general:
Look, we understand we’re contributing to that cycle by reacting to a reaction. But this isn’t about Kesler and Vigneault so much as it’s about this market and the way the Canucks are covered.
The issue, of course, isn’t quantity. The issue is the coverage is a mile wide and an inch deep.
There are any number of reasons for that and we don’t have the space to explore them all. But whatever used to pass for a thoughtful discourse on the team and the league has been replaced by an immature, knee-jerk reaction to anything that occurs outside the carefully managed team bubble.
In this environment, non-stories become stories and the unimportant becomes important. In this environment, meaningful responses to legitimate questions are discouraged because players have seen what awaits if they go off-script.
I completely agree. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem like many people actually were treating this as a story. At most, Vigneault’s comments were interpreted as trying to light a fire under Kesler’s firmly sculpted buttocks and Kesler’s response being a good sign that he may indeed have flammable buns.
Sure, a few fans overreacted, the sports talk radio hosts rejoiced in something to talk about, and Jason Brough (formerly of the Kurtenblog) encouraged a fight, but from what I saw, most people didn’t seem to think it was a story.
Gordon McIntyre completely doused the flames of the feud by pointing out the context of Vigneault’s quote, showing that he specifically said ”I don’t think tonight, pointing a finger at Ryan Kesler – the way the group played – is the right thing to do.” Damn it, McIntyre, that’s not how you sell newspapers! Don’t you know you’re supposed to editorialize about what’s happening in the Canucks locker room despite having no evidence to back up your opinions?
It turns out the media in Vancouver actually has integrity. How dull.
What’s being lost a little in all the hubbub over the non-story is that it’s a fair critique. Vigneault does actually have a point. And Kesler’s response is intriguing for reasons beyond the non-existent feud between him and his coach.
One of the most difficult things to do in the modern NHL is find open space. The size of the players and the systems introduced by coaches are designed to reduce time and space with the puck. In the past, Kesler has created his own space with his speed and ability to go through other players to get to the open ice. His 41 goals last season, however, have brought a little extra attention, which means that defencemen are coached on his tendencies and how to limit his strengths.
Where he would previously come flying over the blue line and unleash his wicked wristshot, defencemen are matching his speed into the zone and getting into his shooting lane more effectively, leading to his wristshots deflecting off shin pads and away from the dangerous areas of the ice.
What the Sedins do more effectively than pretty much any other player in the league is use the give-and-go to create space. Vigneault’s comments indicate that this is what he wants to see from Kesler. He’s not interested in Kesler getting more assists, as some people erroneously assume. Instead, he wants to see Kesler get more scoring chances by using his linemates to open up the ice.
Here’s what I find interesting about Kesler’s response. He specifically says that he doesn’t know what Vigneault means by using his linemates. Kesler obviously knows what others might mean when they say he needs to use his linemates more: it has been a common criticism of his game for the last year-and-a-half. But Kesler mulled over the question and said that he didn’t know what Vigneault meant and that if Vigneault wanted to talk about he could speak to him in person.
This can easily be interpreted as anger at the coach for saying something in the media rather than to his face, particularly since Kesler is rarely seen smiling in interviews (unless they’re someone else’s), but what if Kesler is instead just curious? What if he legitimately wants to talk to Vigneault and clarify what he meant by the comment?
The person most interested in reversing his downward trend is likely Kesler himself, so his response showed irritation with the question, but also a grudging interest in knowing the full context directly from Vigneault. At least, that’s one admittedly charitable read of what he said.
Even if this isn’t the case and Kesler was just plain ol’ angry, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is, after all, the guy who snapped his stick over his knee in response to getting tripped. He has a tendency towards letting eros take over from logos in his soul.
Fortunately, Kesler tends to play like a beast when provoked. However inadvertent, Vigneault may have done just that.Tags: Alain Vigneault, Kesler, Ryan Kesler, This is Not a Story, Vigneault