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.

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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?

  • NastyNate

    This article is a steaming pile of trash. I understand that so many CA writers want to continue to push the narrative that this management team is completely incompetent but taking what happened to Pettersson last night and using it to somehow show that management made the wrong investment in players is crap.

    Roussell was busy scoring the gtg and is in his first game as a Canuck after a head injury. Beagle was busy breaking his wrist blocking shots. Schaller was out there but I wouldn’t call him an investment at just over one million per year.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      100% agree. All three of those players had strong games last night. The Beagle/Schaller , Sutter/Granlund PK units have given the Canucks the best penalty killing they’ve seen since Kesler left, and Roussel scored a goal in his first game. Wtf more could you possibly be expecting them to do? McDonald is the biggest troll on this entire site.

  • Canuck4Life20

    The Canucks best player gets injured and all you and your troll buddies can do is pat yourself on the back. The issue should be with the ref who didn’t call the blatant attempt to injure and with the league that doesn’t protect it’s star players. The outrage should be directed at the player who stuck his stick between Pettersson’s legs to take his feet out before blatantly body slamming him down. You and your troll buddies are a bunch of self-loathing fools who would rather take this oppurtunity to point out you were right than to show any concern for Pettersson or question why the NHL continues to allow this type of garbage to happen on the ice. Pathetic article from a pathetic writer on a pathetic site.

  • Killer Marmot

    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.<

    Toughness has a number of meanings. There’s “enforcer”, but also the player who throws body checks, doesn’t mind going in the corners or setting up camp in front of the opponents’ net, and gives every shift his utmost. McDonald should define his terms a little better.

    In regards to enforcers, the Canucks have not emphasized this to any appreciable extent. There’s Roussel and before him Dorsett, and … well that’s about it in recent years. But even these two players are/were competent on the ice. You might make the case that Gudbranson should be included, but when the Canucks traded for him, Gudbranson was no longer the firebrand that he was in 2013. He rarely fights anymore.

  • bobdaley44

    They never invested in players who were supposed to keep this from happening. They invested in players who can grind, play good D and forecheck hard which they are doing. Didn’t see Calgary chasing Gudbranson around when he crushed Dube. Next game I’m sure there’ll be some retribution. My issue is where was the call? The ref was right there.

    • Settlebower

      Every player has his “welcome to the N H L moment”, but I agree. Where was the call? Matheson was clearly frustrated and embarrassed by EP. The hit was OK. The body slam was intent to injure imho. There’s nothing anyone can do on July 1 or any other day of the year to prevent that. The league and the officials have to be the ones. When are they going to realise that Alex Burrows has retired. Jackson has it right.

      • Canuck4Life20

        Jackson has it right? Nowhere does he mention anything about the failure of the refs or the league to protect their star players. In fact he called the play ‘arguably suspendable’.The only thing Jackson is interested is taking more shots at Benning and Gudbranson.

        • Settlebower

          JB has earned his share of criticism. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone at CA say that Beagle, Shaller, or Rouselle aren’t decent players? It’s $ and term that’s been criticized and that’s not just fair, its accurate. As for Gudbranson, he’s a bottom pair defensman at best and the $ is questionable. This is on display every time he plays. He works hard, by all reports he’s a good teamate, and he cares. That doesn’t entitle him to be free from criticism.

        • Freud

          Siss boom bah. Wave those angry Pom poms. Make weak rationalizations to justify the results are always the opposite of managements stated goals.

          I laid out the cheerleader playbook and they are too dim to realize they replied in the exact way I said they would.

          Not surprised.

          • Canuck4Life20

            And I’m not surprised to see an inexperienced lightweight who has nothing more to offer than name-calling and whining about everything that Benning says and does make this incident about Benning instead of seeing the real issue – the lack of respect that players have for each other and the failure of refs and the league to hold those players accountable.

            And do you think that implying that anyone who disagrees with your self-loathing viewpoint is a cheerleader somehow makes you smart? Your constant need to name-call and divide everyone into cheerleaders and haters is just another example of your weak intellect. Most posters on here can acknowledge the good Benning has done along with admitting the bad. It’s a shame that you’re not bright enough to do the same, but go-ahead and call me a cheerleader for pointing out your weak line of thinking. You certainly don’t have anything else.

    • Gino's 3rd Cousin

      This post basically sums up how I feel. I was upset to see him go down as well, but reading some of the reactions on here makes me think a lot of these fans are actually trolls in disguise.

  • RIP

    Toughness is not about reactions you are eluding to above. Toughness is about making it hard for other teams to be in front of our net or Make them second guess going into a corner board battle or need to look over their shoulder before dishing to the slot. That is what hockey minds are talking about when they say toughness. To be hard to play against, not to have goons chasing people around that hit our players. It is ridiculous that you are using this sad event to push a point that is not even on base. We need to be tough to play against. We don’t need goons chasing people around.

    • Giant-Nation

      *we have seen Greens Colors the lack of response was the Coaches direction to the team. If he said take care of business the team would have obviously pushed back. This is solely on the Coach and what type of team he wants to have.

      • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

        I firmly disagree. Your response only applies to the rest of the game after the play. Where were the other 4 Canucks THE SECOND the play was whistled down? NOWHERE to be found. Seeing their teammate down on the ice and seriously struggling to get up made absolutely no difference to the 4 of them. That’s what pisses me off. I don’t give a crap what their names were and what type of player they are and how much propensity (or lack thereof) they have for getting their hands dirty….you see your teammate get slammed, you get the that guys face at the VERY least and show some damn emotion. This team has ZERO heart and has no “team spirit” whatsover.

        • Gino's 3rd Cousin

          It happened away from the play. The team was focused on where the puck was going. Garrett alerted the viewer well after the puck and camera had moved out of the zone. Do you know if any of his teamates saw the play happen? The two turds are Matheson and the ref for missing the obvious roughing/interference call.

        • Chalister Court Canuck

          Agree. Reminds me of the time Ryan Miller had to step in and stick up for Troy Stecher against Matt Martin because no one else would. The more things change…

          • DJ_44

            that is revisionist history at its finest. The play was already up the ice, Martin jumped Stecher, and he was the closest to the play (everyone else was two zones away). Are you suggesting players leave the bench when Pettersson gets hit?

  • Doodly Doot

    “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?”

    Let me help you out with this one Jackson. They’re being paid to play a heavier more physical ‘game’ to compliment and create space for the less-heavy more-skilled players who are the vanguard for points. The Canucks record for assembling and deploying these players is debatable in the last several years, especially when factoring-in injuries and different coaches (Torts!, Willie D!, Green!, oh my!) but the three grit signings this summer also arrive with some speed and skill. These players are well-paid (over-paid?) precisely because they are way beyond the simplistic prototypical meathead knuckle-draggers used for retribution. Hmm… Roussel was a nuisance to the Panthers all night (in his first game of the season) and along with some not unexpected penalty minutes, managed to score a pretty sweet penalty shot goal playing a “tough” style of hockey. I think he was doing exactly what he’s being paid to do. Green seemed pleased. Hope that helps clarify things for you!

    • Rodeobill

      I agree, but he would probably feel good if they had at least shown some discontent or said something on his behalf. I don’t think headhunting is ok, nor do I want to see some obligatory hug fest after the whistle, but the Sedins are gone now, and this team is on track to finding itself again. Standing up and taking care of each other is part of that, but I feel like we fanned on that shot. Its not about killing someone in return, its the gesture of saying “we won’t stand for that” or “we’re not gonna take it!” for those twisted sister fans. Hockey is rough, I actually don’t think the hit was that bad, but he did hit the ice bad. Matheson did cross a line out of frustration and desperation, he isn’t the devil. A good “team” should have at least made a point of calling him out on that in some way or other. I live in the fantasy that the people on the team are like a band of brothers, and you stick up for brothers.

  • Puck Viking

    When a player injuries another player the player should be suspended for length the other player is out +5 games first time, +10 the 2nd, +20 the 3rd, etc.. that player who was suspended should also have his pay cheques given to the injured player.

    • LiborPolasek

      A rule like this if implemented will do alot to enforce player safety but sadly such a rule will not even be considered unless the leadership changes to someone that really cares about player safety. Writing rules is always ALOT easier than implementation due to human nature. As a long time hockey fan it is frustrating because it never changes despite the posturing about player safety. With such a rule perhaps even the rats will THINK first….. smh.

    • Nuck16

      fringe players could selectively decide on a certain dirty play to make the injury seem worse than it was in hopes of getting super long payout if the event he’s forced to retire. Think Burt’s hit on Moore…Moore did not act in good faith when making his comeback…he wanted to go to court before he ever laced them up again in the NHL. He was to both ruin Burtuzzi and also hit a home run financial since he was bound for a short, low paying career. All medical experts deemed him 100% fit to play.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      So when a player twists a knee trying to avoid a big hit and is out 3 games the guys delivering the hit should miss games? Player pay is covered with insurance, so there doesn’t need to be a financial incentive to encourage players to feign injury.

      • Puck Viking

        Oh and the players pay being sent to the injured player is to make them think twice before trying to injured player. Everyone knows injuries are covered by insurance. So again what does any of this have to do with my comment.???

    • Nuck16

      Canucks played the Matheson situation perfectly. On his first shift back, they burned him bad and scored a goal. Nothing is going to hurt him more than that play plus hopefully a 5 game suspension. One they got that GWG with Matheson the goat, the only way that form a revenge was going to stick was if they locked down that lead and no more goals. Perfect, so now Matheson cost them that game because he was scared and unfocused on that critical shift. Plus, they have one more game against Fla and he will have that on this mind leading up to the next one, so we stretching it out on him as he will not have closure until his fight. Guaranteed something will happen in that game, especially have everyone say replays of it after.

  • TD

    I completely agree that grit won’t prevent this type of play, but Jackson missed the point of why you sign grit. It’s there to make your team hard to play against. Anyone who has played hockey knows the cumulative effect of being hit throughout a game. You get sore and over time you are a little slower and love the puck quicker because you are hurt. Look at the NFL and how they need a week off between games. Physicality takes a toll, but it won’t prevent idiotic or predatory plays. It also can’t be assessed under the current advanced statistics. The players that throw the hit may not be on the ice later in the game when their teammates benefit from their earlier hits.

    The Eberle/Hall/Nugent-Hopkins years of the Oilers were a holiday for opposing teams cause they knew they didn’t have to worry about being hit. That’s why you sign some grit, to make life harder on the opposition and force mistakes later in the game.