It’s about time the Vancouver Canucks were hateable again
Photo credit:© John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Over the past days, weeks, and months, the Vancouver Canucks have added quite a bit to their NHL roster. And we don’t just mean the players themselves, but those players’ qualities and attributes, too.
Penalty killing. Defensive acumen. Speed. Physicality.
There’s a lot that the Canucks have now that they didn’t have before. Including one trait that won’t show up in a stat column, or a post-game recap, or most scouting reports. A truly intangible characteristic that might not even technically be a word in the English language:
It’s about time that the Canucks were hateable again. And thanks to a handful of those recent-ish additions, they are.
But before we look at the current roster’s ability to make the blood of their opponents boil, let’s take a look at the past. Because being “hateable” is usual not considered a positive thing, but it has traditionally been a big component of the best moments in franchise history.
The 2011 Era is the high-water mark in Canucks hockey for many fans, and that team was absolutely loaded up with agitators, troublemakers, and straight-up pricks.
There was Ryan Kesler. Alex Burrows. Maxim Lapierre. Tanner Glass. Raffi Torres. Keith Ballard. Even Kevin Bieksa used to be despised by plenty of the same folks around the league that now cheer him on as a SportsNet analyst.
This abhorredness wasn’t just a sideshow, coincidence, or indirect result of playstyle, either, and it certainly wasn’t a detriment. It was at the center of Canucks hockey at the time, and it made the team incredibly difficult to play against on a nightly basis. On many occasions, opposing teams wanted to beat the Canucks up more than they wanted to beat them, and it showed on the scoreboard.
Speaking of which, long-term Vancouverite fans know the score. The rest of Canada, and even many American fans, are going to hate on the Canucks, anyway. For whatever reason, this is just a franchise that sticks under the saddle of other organizations like a burr (pun intended.) So, if the Canucks are going to be hated leaguewide no matter what they do, why not lean into it a little bit. It worked in 2011, and it can work again.
The list of celebrated shift disturbers goes back far longer than twelve years ago, too. Names like Jarkko Ruutu, Matt Cooke, Antoine Roussel, Esa Tikkanen, Dave “Tiger” Williams, Hilliard Graves. Heck, even Gino Odjick was as much an agitator as he was an enforcer, he was just of the rare variety that can both start stuff and finish it.
The list is a long one, but one that stops short a few years ago. For a while there, other teams really didn’t seem to hate the Canucks in the same way they had before. Several consecutive Canucks rosters chock-full of personality-less JAGs (just a guy) didn’t raise up much ill will at all, and, if anything, opponents mostly seemed to pity the Canucks.
Nobody wants to be pitied, and especially not in the sport of hockey. Being hated is much more desirable.
And now, thanks to a good chunk of the recent additions, the Canucks are well on their way to being hateable again.
That starts with Sam Lafferty, who arrived in town for the low price of a fifth rounder and a reputation for getting under the skin of the opposition. So far, that reputation seems to be an apt one, as not a game has gone by on the young 2023/24 season in which Lafferty hasn’t been at the center of a major scrum.
That includes this memorable moment in the Philadelphia game in which Lafferty deked the puck into the net post-whistle, and then got to hear all about how little the Flyers enjoyed that:
In the end, the obvious attempt to spark something didn’t quite work, and the Canucks fell 2-0. But credit where credit is due, this was still the most emotion generated by Vancouver in that entire afternoon, and that’s got to count for something.
The trend definitely continues with waiver pickup Mark Friedman, who might just be considered the league’s foremost agitator on the blueline if only he got into more games. We’ve mentioned it before, but Friedman is so easy to despise that when he was last picked up on waivers by the Penguins, his former Philly teammates then spent the rest of the season trying to knock his head off. There’s a fun YouTube compilation titled “Mark Friedman vs Flyers 2021” that is just five straight minutes of Friedman very successfully bothering a group of players he’d shared a dressing room with just weeks prior.
Now that’s a firebrand with dedication to the craft.
It didn’t take Friedman much longer than a period as a Canuck to start his first fight. And, sure, it didn’t exactly go in his favour:
But throwing punches isn’t really the point of being an agitator. It’s making it so that your opponents are more interested in punching you than they are at punching pucks into the back of your net, and that’s something that Friedman does with aplomb.
It’s not just limited to Lafferty and Friedman, the two de facto incendiaries, either.
Both Ian Cole and Carson Soucy have a habit of starting stuff with their massive mid-ice bodychecks.
Meanwhile, Nils Höglander spent his time down in Abbotsford developing a serious troublemaking edge to his game. Not that he wasn’t already on his way to that role during his previous NHL stints…
Even the most marquee of recent additions, Filip Hronek, has a real agitatorial streak to him. Enough so that he got under the skin of Brad Marchand in a wonderful role reversal that every Vancouver fan can enjoy.
This trend probably extends all the way to the coaching staff, too. Rick Tocchet is one of the head coaches most willing to get involved in the action verbally and, we’re sure, physically if he were allowed. Tocchet’s style has all the Canucks throwing their weight around more, and it definitely allows plenty of room to those sandpapery types to fully ply their trades.
The net result is just what we said at the outset: the Vancouver Canucks are finally hateable again. And, given that their previous heights of hateability have coincided with the best of franchise history, that almost has to be seen as a positive.
This is the Canucks we’re talking about here. The haters are indeed gonna hate. Might as well give them good reason to.
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