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Photo Credit: Hockey Night In Canada/CBC

Matheson/Pettersson Hit Reveals the Futility of Overpaying for Grit

By now, we’ve all seen the play by Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson. It was definitely ugly, likely  injurious, and arguably suspendable.

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.

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?

  • Gampbler

    I’m not sure why there is so much anger directed to anyone other than Matheson or the referee? As far as retribution, it bears repeating that the play continued out of the zone and that Matheson only had three shifts the rest of the game. The lesson learned here by Pettersson is that he can’t trust that players won’t hit him outside of the usual boundaries. He was very effective in avoiding guys finishing their checks or trying to hit him with the puck before then and should continue to do so. It was an unfortunate injury and hopefully he’ll be back in 7-10 days.

    • Bud Poile

      Once your brain is injured there is no going back to mending it.
      Now that Petey has been unceremoniously dumped on his head and suffered a concussion his brain and processing is in jeopardy for the rest of his life.

      • Kid Canuck

        This is ignorant, over dramatic and wrong. “You can recover from a concussion in as little as 24 hours or you can spend weeks reeling from the effects. However, most people recover from concussion symptoms within three weeks, especially those who are young who usually fully recover.” American Journal of Medicine

        Petterssen is out 7-10 days and is still with the team. Sidney Crosby is a 3 time cup winner and still one of the very best in the game, despite three concussions. Take your drama elsewhere and show some respect.

        • Bud Poile

          Pasting a hand selected quote as though you are a neurological specialist only illustrates your ignorance.
          I’ve suffered three concussions in my life.They’re cumulative and destroy lives.
          Petey schooled an inferior opponent and the result was he had his head bashed up against glass with a hit from behind and thereafter had his body lifted up and his head smashed into the ice.
          Yeah,let’s all show respect for that wonderful act and lovely drama.
          The kid is 19 years old and had played five NHL games and now his brain is injured for the rest of his life.
          At his age and slight stature suffering future brain injuries is a given and future damage is cumulative.
          Crosby should have told the NHL to shove their game until the NHL/NHLPA protected his future.
          The Matheson/Messier/Stevens/Bobby Clarke mentalities will never disappear into the past.
          This is accepted human behavior,as you justify.
          This is on Green,Benning and his team mates to provide a deterrent to protect not only the future of the franchise but most importantly.the kid’s life.
          Crosby’s concussions mean his past was compromised and his future is in peril.
          Ignorance and lack of respect will never protect a brain or a life.

          • Kid Canuck

            Yes you are correct, I think you have permanent brain damage, please seek help asap.

            … Sid says hi, he is doing just fine with full clearance and support from the best medical experts in the world who continue to back his past and future career endeavours as a worldclass athlete.

            Oh, and btw, ‘Petey’ sounds ridiculous. Kindly use his proper name and show some respect! Your ignorance and arrogance is truly pathetic.

  • Captain Video

    It’s sad that the team lacks the leadership both on and off the bench for so much as a single player to stand up for EP.

    If other teams know that taking a run at Elias means 100% certainty of a fight with Gudbranson and a risk of a broken face (ask Hamonic), they will knock it off. Sadly, the lack of any pushback means it’s open season on Pettersson until he packs on enough pounds to fight his own battles.

    Maybe we have to bury EP in the AHL until he bulks up a bit more or until the team can sign a coach and some real leaders who will protect a rookie star like him.

  • rediiis

    Kid got a lesson. Gotta keep your head up (sic). I hate slew foot and those actions. I still think the Nucks can make the play offs. Okay, I don’t but will enjoy the rest of the year.