Mark Spector’s piece on Sportsnet ripping into Canucks fans for their heinous treatment of Roberto Luongo was flawed on many levels. Aside from the obvious and basic problem – that Spector takes an entire fan-base, melds them into one, and then explains why he and the rest of the country are laughing at them is obviously flawed – I was struck by Spector’s wildly inaccurate and vaguely racist implication that Vancouver’s problems are the result of drafting too many Europeans.
Here’s the money quote:
What about Mike Gillis, the general manager who signed Luongo to that gold-watch, retirement package? Or a management team that keeps drafting Danes and Swedes, while the team that pushed you out of the Stanley Cup final has a local kid by the name of Lucic on its roster?
It’s the second point that’s of interest. First, let’s look at the factual inaccuracy – the reality is that the Canucks don’t actually draft a high percentage of Danes and Swedes. Let’s look at the team’s selections at the NHL draft under the current general manager:
- Canada: Cody Hodgson, Yann Sauve, Prabh Rai, Morgan Clark, Kevin Connauton, Jeremy Price, Steven Anthony, Alex Friesen, Sawyer Hannay, David Honzik, Alexandre Grenier, Frankie Corrado (12 total)
- Sweden: Anton Rodin, Peter Andersson, Ludwig Blomstrand, Pathrik Westerholm, Henrik Tommernes (5 total)
- United States: Jordan Schroeder, Joe Cannata, Patrick McNally, Joseph Labate (4 total)
- Czech Republic: Adam Polasek (1 total)
- Finland: Jonathan Iilahti (1 total)
- Denmark: Nicklas Jensen (1 total)
- Norway: Mats Froshaug (1 total)
Well, maybe the bias is that the Canucks spend all their early picks on Swedes and Danes. Let’s go back 10 seasons and see where those players have come from.
- United States: Jordan Schroeder, Patrick White, Cory Schneider, Ryan Kesler, R.J. Umberger (5 total)
- Canada: Cody Hodgson, Luc Bourdon, Nathan Smith (3 total)
- Denmark: Nicklas Jensen (1 total)
- Austria: Michael Grabner (1 total)
In short: the Canucks don’t suffer from a lack of North American picks, either overall or among the top selections.
Even the current team, while featuring prominent Europeans, has an overwhelmingly North American makeup. Fourteen of the 21 skaters to play for Vancouver this year hail from either Canada or the United States; that compares to five Europeans. Both goaltenders come from North America.
Still, that isn’t the disturbing part of Spector’s commentary. It’s the implication that Milan Lucic is a superior hockey player by virtue of his Vancouver birth, and that the Canucks would be a better team if they employed more local talent and fewer foreigners.
It’s a bizarre statement. Leaving aside Spector’s comments about the Sedin twins, does anybody imagine the Canucks would be better off had they snagged the top North American talent in 1999 instead of them? There were some good Canadian boys available early – goaltender Brian Finley went sixth overall and physical forward Kris Beech, from Salmon Arm, B.C., went seventh. Does he imagine the team regrets drafting Alexander Edler with a third round pick in 2004, or that Canucks fans feel ripped off because management chose to take Jannik Hansen with a ninth round pick that same year?
The only other player from Denmark or Sweden currently on the roster is Mikael Samuelsson, a Swedish winger the Canucks acquired as a free agent. Samuelsson, of course, is a member of the Triple Gold club – he’s won not only a Stanley Cup but also gold medals for Sweden at the Olympics and World Championships. His rate of playoff scoring far exceeds his regular season numbers.
An argument that could be made is that the Canucks could use more players who exemplify Lucic’s style – talented but physical. Of course, the problem with that comparison is that Lucic didn’t have a very good playoffs – he disappeared for long stretches (stats line from the Bruins seven-game opening series against Montreal, another team often accused of being too small and soft: 7GP – 0G – 2A – even).
That isn’t what Spector said, though. Instead, he implied that the Canucks affinity for Swedes and Danes was a big part of the reason they lost in the finals last year, and that drafting more local kids would lead to better results. It’s possible to imagine him clucking sadly as the Canucks wasted a draft pick on Pavel Bure in 1989, while agitating local product Dallas Drake remained on the board. It’s as if Spector just stepped fully formed out of the 1970’s, oblivious to the fact that European players are every bit as good at winning as North American players (as the Detroit Red Wings have demonstrated so well).
It’s a little disappointing that a commentator for one of Canada’s biggest networks feels free to stereotype an entire group of fans and cast judgement on them. It’s more disappointing that talented players like the Sedins, Samuelsson, Edler and Hansen can be so easily dismissed by the same based on the fact that they were born and trained on the other side of the Atlantic.