In defense of ‘JerkPuck’

Aaron Rome demonstrates JerkPuck.

After every inch of data began to be mined by Major League Baseball teams, an undervalued player today isn’t what it was even seven years ago. It used to be that you could pick up a player who was thrown onto the scrap heap, but due to his ability to not get “out” (we’re still talking baseball), was far more valuable than perceived.

A similar revolution is about to happen in hockey. Already certain teams are placing a high value on players who generate possession rather than those who possess traditional tools that a General Manager values. San Jose, Nashville, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are teams who, in some capacity, value modernized theories that emphasize possession and shooting ability rather than conventional aspects. This is apparent from the sort of players that these teams sign and trade for.

But the Vancouver Canucks have diverged even further from this “money puck” route. The addition of Maxim Lapierre, as well as the maturation of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows leads to a newly constructed term. It’s not so much ‘MoneyPuck’ because we’re talking about something larger than merely winning hockey games by finding undervalued players. More accurate, I’d describe it as: ‘JerkPuck,’ defined as a method of winning games by frustrating the opposition, trolling them, and baiting them into taking dumb penalties.

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The Canucks are vilified for this. Things that opposing fans and media (if you can classify Barry Rozner and Joe Haggerty as legitimate media) despise about the Canucks include, but are not limited to: biting, diving, scratching, eye-gouging, slashing, turtling, shoving, fish-hooking, snow showering, bribing referees, mugging the family members of their opposition in parking lots, late-night prank calling, and brake-cutting.

In defense of these tactics, the Canucks win games when they throw opponents off their game. The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins of the 1970s are still celebrated for their thuggery that “set hockey back 20 years,” by employing brawny, illiterate messes who took every opportunity to fight opposing star players (overlooked is that the skillful Montreal Canadiens won more Stanley Cups than those two teams combined in the 70s). But, history looks upon the tactics of the Bruins and Flyers fondly—because they won Stanley Cups.

Whatever it takes to win. Sunday night in Chicago, the Canucks drew three post-whistle penalties on Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell and Dan Carcillo, and scored each time. These penalty were drawn by the Canucks being generally tough to play against, and by their avoidance of post-whistle retaliatory nonsense. Henrik Sedin snowed Chicago goalie Corey Crawford at every opportunity, and kept being assaulted for it by Blackhawk players. Eventually, one was called for it, and the Canucks took a powerplay.

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Kane said after the game:

“But I felt they were kind of doing that to me, so I didn’t really expect to be called on that one, to be honest with you. Guys like [Ryan] Kesler are following you around the ice slashing you and cross-checking you for about a minute, and I get a penalty for that. So that was a little disappointing.

“At the end of the day, I have to keep my composure a little bit and make sure you don’t take those penalties, especially at the end of periods.”

Damn straight, Patrick. There was a moment when the Hawks snowed Luongo, but, rather than make a fuss at the scene, Andrew Alberts and Chris Higgins simply stood in between the Blackhawk player and their goaltender, not giving an inch or the extra shove.

Every team employs pests to some degree, but what the Canucks truly need to do is embrace their role as the villain, not lose their composure, and keep their methods inside the rulebook. You can have your pest fight Jarome Iginla, like Nick Johnson did the other night, but what you also need to take into consideration is that once you’ve forced Iginla to drop the gloves, you’ve already taken him off the ice for five minutes. How much pain you inflict doesn’t matter at that point. If you head-butt him, you put the Flames on the powerplay.

It’s all about restraint, and understanding how valuable these powerplays are. The Canucks have two players: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who were designed to play with a little more open space. Their ability on the powerplay is phenomenal, and the Canucks need to do whatever it takes to maximize their offensive availability in these situations. Whether the tactics they choose to use are against the conventional, unwritten and arbitrary code, so long as they aren’t against the NHL rulebook, these tactics will give the team an advantage.

Canuck fans are learning to Embrace the Hate this season. The team may as well.