Lost in the excitement of the Canucks’ compelling, dizzying lack of action on trade deadline day was the one roster move they did make, recalling Zack Kassian from their AHL affiliate in Chicago and sending down Bill “The Jet” Sweatt in his place.
The move brought to a close what appears to have been some sort of punishment for off-ice shenanigans, something that Kassian corroborated upon his return, saying that management had stressed “being a professional away from the rink.”
Granted, this somewhat contradicted Alain Vigneault’s earlier explanation that Kassian “went to Chicago basically to play hockey,” but only somewhat. After all, Kassian did go to Chicago to play hockey. That’s what he did while he was there. He even scored a goal. Of course, the reason he had to go to Chicago to play hockey is because whatever he was up to in Vancouver was enough for him to be grounded from playing hockey here.
Here’s hoping this is the last we hear of Kassian’s proclivities (unless the Canucks hire Andrew W.K. as a party counsellor, of sorts, to teach Kassian how to party hard but smart. That would be awesome.)
Now, while I don’t feel like talking about what Kassian is rumoured to be into (hint: it wasn’t infringing on Matt Kassian’s “Kassassin” trademark), I do want to use this small ado as a jumping off point for a discussion about the unending criticism over Vigneault’s treatment of young players. It seems clear that, while conditioning may have been a secondary reason, the primary point of the demotion was to remind Kassian that he can’t take his spot in the lineup for granted.
Thing is, that’s the point of most of AV’s roster decisions involving young players.
Even before Kassian found himself back in Wolves’ white and burgundy, Canuck fans have been up in arms about Vigneault’s reluctance to put him back with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, where he had so much success earlier in the year.
It’s another example of the outrage that accompanies the deployment of almost any Vancouver prospect on a line that isn’t commensurate to his scouting report. Apart from the grinders who fit the role, I think we’re all aware that the fourth line isn’t where many of these guys should be. But that’s on them as much as it’s on Vigneault. It’s their responsibility to earn better deployment with consistent two-way play.
You can play on the fourth line and still stand out. When you do, you’ll get promoted. Just look at a guy like Dale Weise, who upsets almost everybody whenever he earns a brief stint on another line.
These guys have to earn their minutes, just like anybody else. To give them the best assignments, ignoring their defensive shortcomings, their occasionally spotty decision-making, or their struggles with consistency is to spoil them. Do that and you’re doing a terrible job developing your prospects.
Ben Kuzma didn’t agree with Kassian’s demotion to Chicago. From the Province:
What can Zack Kassian learn in Chicago on his current “seasoning” stint in the AHL? Probably nothing. If the hulking winger has fallen out of favour with the Canucks for his lack of professionalism on and off the ice, deal with it and move on and get him out of there. The Canucks need Kassian in the postseason. They need him back on the top line with the Sedins where he scored five goals in his first seven games this season.
But if you’re trying to remind the guy that he has to earn his spot in the lineup, giving him its absolute best spot seems counterintuitive.
A lot of this criticism began last year with Cody Hodgson, who people claimed was being mistreated by Vigneault. But if the goal was to make sure Hodgson became the same sort of reliable, all-situation, two-way player he was in junior rather than just an offensive specialist, it was understandable.
Especially since Hodgson’s struggles haven’t changed. He’s gotten a lot of offensive minutes in Buffalo, but he’s a defensive liability. Sunday night versus the Bruins, Hodgson found himself on the Sabres’ fourth line when coach Ron Rolston swapped him with Jochen Hecht. From a Buffalo News article titled “Hodgson must improve his defensive play”:
That meant Hodgson was centering John Scott and Patrick Kaleta against the Boston Bruins, two players with a combined zero points on the season.
“He’s got to be better on the defensive side of things right now, period,” Rolston said of why he dropped Hodgson, who remains second on the team with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) after Sunday’s 2-0 loss at First Niagara Center.
Rolston’s other option was leaving Hodgson where he was and pretending that his defensive play wasn’t hurting the club. But that’s bad coaching and it’s bad prospect development. It also doesn’t lead to winning.
Many of the same fans that criticize Vigneault’s treatment of prospects also like to talk about the Canucks’ “window.” With the Sedins getting older, they say, the Canucks need to win now. Complaining, then, about Vigneault not giving inexperienced prospects plum positions in the lineup and demoting them when they play poorly is a contradiction. Laurence Gilman touched on this as well when he said the Canucks couldn’t afford to have Kassian getting back up to game speed in the NHL when they need to win games now.
We’ve talked, in the past, about how many players have graduated to larger roles under Vigneault. Guys like Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen, and even Chris Higgins started on the fourth line in AV’s system. Now they’re staples of the Canucks’ forward corps because they’ve earned it.
Kassian, Schroeder and any other prospect that comes up the pipe in Vancouver will have to earn it too.Tags: Zack Kassian