Vigneault/Kesler tiff falls short of a spat or quarrel

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.

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7 comments

  1. tj
    January 17, 2012

    Perhaps the BB media v. Van media changed things, or altered the universe in some small way. Linking to Haggerty’s blog, though, is a bit like stirring the proverbial pot, and I fear what may follow… (Btw, lots of dead links in this post, something else that’s unusual :) ) But I agree: Angry Ryan is always promising…

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  2. Warpstone
    January 17, 2012

    Both a Softcell and eros and logos reference. Very nice.

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  3. Zukuss
    January 17, 2012

    How long have you been hanging on to that Soft Cell joke? It was golden, I tells ya!

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  4. akidd
    January 17, 2012

    kesler has a wristshot?!? that stirs a distant memory but it’s cloudy. what exactly does he do with this wristshot again?

    kidding aside this is looking like a recovery year for kes. that’s how it goes with injuries to elite players. sure he’ll probably giver tonight but it’s not for a lack of trying that he’s not looking like the player he was last year. the player he was last year looked like the league mvp for long stretches and the conn smythe winner for 2 rounds. 41 goals is a ton for a 2nd-line selke winner.

    he’s lost a step with the injury and that’s frustrating which makes him force his game. he’s shooting the puck when he doesn’t have the right look. and playing with booth is not the answer. from what i’ve seen if booth does manage to touch the puck he’ll just shoot it from anywhere. i think that’s more than anything why kesler asked for clarification for what AV meant by using the players around him. how does booth step from infirmary to the 2nd line? because he’s being handled. kes is expected to babysit this guy and look good doing it.

    yes,yes he was dragging without booth but playing with such a fragile, insecure winger certainly doesn’t help.it’s a very understandable recovery year. that’s how she goes with injuries. let’s just hope he’s ready to go by season’s end. either that or trade him for weber straight up;)…kidding…kinda…no kidding really…i think.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 17, 2012

      Booth has been back for one game. Kesler’s struggles and issues using his linemates has been going on for a lot longer than that. So it’s not just babysitting Booth.

      Kesler, Higgins, and Booth have looked good together in the past before both Higgins and Booth missed time with injuries/weird infections. I think it’s worth seeing if they can recover what they had before.

      You’re definitely right that he’s forcing his game, though. Constantly trying to make plays that he has no business making.

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      • akidd
        January 18, 2012

        hey daniel, i don’t think that booth compliments kesler’s game. and AV might be starting to think so too. booth so far looks like a great skater with an average shot. yet he shoots almost every time he touches the puck .and stays mostly on the perimeter. his brain isn’t as fast as his legs and he doesn’t work hard on the derfensive side. nowhere near a 4.25 million dollar player imo. he also seems pretty fargile mentally from what i can glean from interviews. maybe a hockey-mad market is not for him.

        if he was brought over to play with kesler on the 2nd line then i think that mg miscalculated.he’s too expensive for a 3rd-liner and not about to bump burrows from the top line so if he doesn’t fit with kes then he doesn’t fit i understand the ‘work in progress’ idea but the window for the canucks is now. booth looks like a guy who’s gonna need a lot of time to be an effective canuck. too much time i think.

        and ya, keler is forcing it. he was a great player last year and his ego thinks so too. so he’s not happy with the step back this year. he needs to be patient, give it some time. not try to do it all himself. that could be said of most of the team during this ugly stretch. i’m pretty sure kes will come around in time for the dance.

        btw, my jousting with you on your site here is in my own mind good-natured but i realize it may not come across that way on the page sometimes. i agree with a lot of what you say actually even though it seems like i’m always disagreeing in the comments. cheers.

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  5. Zach Morris
    January 17, 2012

    I prefer the term “argy-bargy”

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