Throughout the past two seasons Cory Schneider has repeatedly proven to be exceptionally skilled with his use of words. When you think about it, this skill has been essential to him, after all he occupies a highly flammable position in the Vancouver sports market. Just one tone-deaf Schneider quote could bring a chorus of boo’s down on already embattled starter Roberto Luongo. Certainly Schneider is popular enough, especially among certain segments of Canucks fans, that if he came out and said something even indirectly referencing the idea that he "should be the starter" all hell would break loose on the Team 1040’s call-in shows.
Schneider is something of a chameleon, really. He’s Boston born, but he plays for the Canucks, and if the alleged actions of his Massachusetts born girlfriend Jill are any indication, he’s very loyal towards his first professional team. He can impersonate any Canucks roster player or coach with aplomb and he can talk politics without hitting a single wrong note. We’ve said it before, but Schneider has a politicians understanding of "messaging" and so it was a surprise to hear that yesterday, he took an all-out, tactless (albeit highly accurate and amusing) shot at one of the Canucks most moribund divisional "rivals": the Edmonton Oilers
Read past the jump for more!
Ed Wiles yesterday wrote a column about how once the postseason begins, the Canucks magically transform into Canada’s chosen Pantomime Villain for the duration of the playoffs. Canadians in markets outside of Vancouver may as well call the team "Demon Dastardly," and using Twitter, participate in the show by giving the Canucks him a hearty chorus of micro-blog boo’s, hisses and jeers every time they appear on stage.
Asked about the constant swirl of negative attention that surrounds the club, Cory Schneider had this to say about the phenomenon:
"What’s frustrating to us is when the national media and people outside the city parachute in and form these opinions. They take things for facts that aren’t really facts. If you talk to us and spend any time with us, you understand we’re good guys. Dan Hamhuis, the twins, Manny [Malhotra], Sami Salo. They play the game the right way and do great things in the community. You look around the league and people don’t like us and Pittsburgh and we’re two of the better teams. You saw Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager in Edmonton. Nobody cares about Edmonton, so nobody hates them. It’s that simple."
While we’re loathe to disagree with any Schneider quote, much less one that defends both Sedin twins and Sami Salo while taking an awesome unprovoked shot at Darcy "the Canucks lost to Boston because they cut me" Hordichuk and the Edmonton Oilers – but there’s more to the reflexive Canucks hate than the club’s winning ways.
In part it’s the diving, which, has reached the point of villainous parody. When Kesler both interfered with Jonathan Quick and threw his head back to try and draw a whistle on the same play Wednesday night, it was hard not to notice. If Kesler had villainous facial hair, I’m sure he’d have twisted it on the bench immediately afterwards.
I also remain convinced that part of Canada’s negative reaction to the Canucks remains based on a latent impulse towards hockey xenophobia. With so many French-Canadian, American and Swedish stars, the Canucks sorely lack that "good Ontario boy" quotient that earns other teams a free pass from the Toronto media. If the Canucks had Rick Nash as opposed to Ryan Kesler – they wouldn’t be as good a team – but I’m stubbornly convinced that the media would like them an awful lot more.
I also think the club’s default strategy plays a role in the way the club is perceived. While Vancouver’s power-play has gone swirling down the toilet the past few months, this is a club that was designed to make their opponents pay with the man-advantage. To that end, they perfected a type of mental warfare that earlier this season Cam Charron named "Jerk-Puck."
The idea of jerk-puck is to goad your opponents into taking stupid penalties through a process of constant agitation, and then bury them when you get your chance on the power-play. With the way the NHL was calling the game when the Canucks first began to build around this strategy, it made a lot of sense and was effective. When the league stopped calling penalties mid-way through this season, however, it sort of went into the toilet. Now, "jerk-puck" just looks to most observers like hollow villainy, and I have to believe that plays a formative role in shaping negative perceptions about the club.
The Canucks are a hated team, that hate has become self-perpetuating and at this point it’s not going away. It isn’t always rational, it fails to take into account the heart that players like Raymond and Malhotra have shown to come back from devastating injuries this season, or the steadfast, class of players like the Sedins and Sami Salo. But it’s there, and it’s based on more than the Canucks habit of winning more games than they lose. Some of what it’s based on is total nonsense (the xenophobia especially) and some of what it’s based on is very understandable, even to most Canucks fans (the diving in particular). But whatever the case is, there’s one thing we can all be sure about: the Oilers definitely do suck.