By now, we’ve all seen the play by Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson. It was definitely ugly, likely injurious, and arguably suspendable.
Here is a slow motion of the Matheson/Pettersson hit as it will be the most talked about clip of the game. pic.twitter.com/5HTGEVVpED
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 14, 2018
One thing it wasn’t? Preventable. At least, not by any of the players on the ice, other than Matheson.
If the league wants to protect it’s star players and prevent plays like this from happening in the future, they may decide to dole out supplemental discipline. Retribution and deterrence are the job of the Player Safety department, not the players themselves. Travis Green was correct in his assessment after the game:
“You gotta keep composure. It’s a 3-2 hockey game, there’s 12 minutes left. You’re talking about a guy that has 1 fight in his career. I don’t think he’s known as a dirty player. You’re in a hockey game, you don’t start chasing people around the rink. It’s not the way it is.”
Still, that may be a bitter pill for fans of this team to swallow given how much emphasis this team has placed on things like grit and toughness, often at the expense of other more important elements of the game.
The rationale behind so many of the decisions made over the past year, from the free agency signings to the Gudbranson extension, was that Elias Pettersson needed to be surrounded by players who could insulate him, protect him, and teach him how to be an NHLer. So far, over his brief career, he’s already proven he has much more to teach most of this roster about being a pro than they have to teach him. For all the talk of needing insulation, he’s been the team’s most consistent player, most dedicated backchecker, and among their best forwards defensively. The only thing he hasn’t been is immune to the type of unfortunate (or malicious, depending on who you ask) play we saw last night; and astonishingly, icing a couple of players who are ostensibly willing to get their hands dirty did nothing to prevent.
Some people are going to take away the wrong lesson from what happened. They’ll say the team is too soft, that it needs to get tougher. The truth is, the team has spent far too much time and money chasing players who could dish out hits and throw hands, all in service of finishing with the league’s worst record over the past three seasons. What the lesson should be is that any attempt to protect your star players from injury outside of increased investment in the sports science department is futile.
The argument in favour of icing an enforcer is an inherently reactionary one. Your designated knuckle-chucker fights an opposing player after a questionable hit so he’ll think twice before doing so next time; but the hit has already occurred, there’s no preventing it. Sometimes your best players are going to get hurt. Sometimes they’ll even get hurt because of a dirty play. There’s no avoiding that reality. What you can do is invest in players who are capable of stepping into an offensive role in the absence of that player. The Canucks have made no such investments.
It's almost as if having tough guys on your team doesn't prevent star players from being injured or targeted. You know, the thing we all said over and over again when that argument kept getting put forth by management and the local shills.
— FAQ.gif.pdf (@HockeyDipshit) October 14, 2018
Instead, they’ve invested in players who were supposed to keep this from happening, or at the very least answer the bell when it did. Those players failed to deliver. That would be fine if the organization had decided it was above those type of extracurricular activities, but their actions have indicated for years now that that isn’t the case.
So that leaves just one question: If the so-called “tough” players on this roster aren’t being paid to prevent this from happening, and aren’t being paid to respond when it does, what are they being paid to do?