Watershed moment or empty act?
Throwdown at Yaletown: 'In-your-face' hockey can bring the team together, but is toughness for real?
At least some of the questions have been answered from the Throwdown in Yaletown. Canucks head coach John Tortorella, a serial offender in the eyes of the NHL, was suspended 15 days (six games) on Monday for his aborted charge to the Calgary Flames' dressing room. Flames coach Bob Hartley, for his part, was allowed to skate - which was more than you could say for three-fifths of the players he started against the Canucks - but was still fined $25,000 by the league for his transparent lineup selection.
As for Kellan Lain, we will find out on Tuesday night in Edmonton if his second NHL game lasts longer than two seconds. By then, we might even know if the Canucks seize on a golden marketing opportunity and unveil a line of Boxing Hobos sporting apparel.
Other than that, the NHL would like to see this case closed and the conversation about the Canucks-Flames goon show come to an end.
But there is one issue that is unresolved from Saturday night and for Canucks fans, it's a doozy. The other stuff is amusing, even halfway entertaining, but for the faithful the big question is this: Where do the Canucks go from here? Was Saturday night at the fights a galvanizing moment for this team, a tipping point in the creation of a new identity, or was it simply an empty act of machismo that served no real purpose? On Monday, as the team prepared to fly to Edmonton, the Canucks players opined it is a big moment for this team, that the Canucks of Tortorella have served notice and, henceforth, they will be a mean piece of business.
We'll know soon enough if that's the case. In the meantime, it seems the Canucks are at a crossroads in their season. If Saturday night really was a game-changer, they picked a good time to turn things around.
"We want to play in-your-face hockey," said Ryan Kesler. "I personally like what went on Saturday night."
"We'll rally behind it," said Tom Sestito, who's had a busy time of it the last week. "When Torts came in he wanted to change the identity. He didn't want to be the team that other teams walk all over. The last four games showed that's not going to happen anymore.
"I think it brought us closer together, whether we win the next game or not. It's more of a long term thing."
Ah yes. Winning the next game.
There's always that catch.
While the Canucks have made headlines for their new, more Darwinian approach to the game, they also find themselves in the worst stretch of the season. Before Saturday night, they'd gone 1-5-3 over their previous nine games and while the 3-2 shootout win on Saturday night was hailed as a significant achievement, come on, it was the Flames.
The larger impression created by the Canucks, in fact, is a team that still struggles mightily to produce offence, which appears to be undermanned at several key positions and which isn't good enough to hang with the best teams in the Western Conference. They now have 10 games before the Olympic break to change that perception - six without their head coach - and when that stretch is concluded we'll have a better idea if the brawl with the Flames had the desired effect.
"We were planning on playing hockey (Saturday night) and we went back to playing hockey after everything happened," Kevin Bieksa said. "We made a stand and everyone knows we're going to stick up for each other. We're going to try to win games now."
As for Tortorella's role in all this, that's another one of those questions that still hangs in the air.
Since his arrival in Vancouver, the coach has talked about changing the makeup of this team. There have been moments when it looks like the Canucks are being remade in his image. But, for the most part, they still look like the team that relies on great goaltending, team defence and scoring by the Sedin twins and Kesler, which is what they've been, more or less, for the last two seasons.
It's been suggested in this space and elsewhere that Tortorel -la used Saturday night to accelerate that change, to create a watershed moment that would spark the Canucks. Alex Burrows was asked about that on Monday.
"Maybe, maybe not." Burrows said with a laugh. "I still don't have a grasp on what he's thinking. I was around (Alain Vigneault) for seven years and you knew what he was feeling and what he was thinking. But I still haven't figured out Torts. Not even close. Have you?" Hell no. Burr, what we think isn't important. It's what the Canucks players think and, more importantly, if they're buying what Tortorella is selling.
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