Gallagher: Loyalty is a two-way street in today's NHL
The players get criticized for leaving for greener pastures, but their teams are always making ‘business decisions’ in the organization’s best interest
There seems to be quite a contingent of Vancouver Canucks fans miffed at the way Ryan Kesler left the team — and one would expect that when he returns for his first game back here with Anaheim, there will be some leather lungs going strong in the crowd.
Fair enough, that’s pretty traditional, and Kesler did himself no favours by staring into a camera and claiming that he had not asked for a trade when in fact it was common knowledge that he had, both when Mike Gillis was GM and then when Jim Benning confirmed on the day of his trade that Kesler had approached him as well.
Yes, you can certainly question Kesler’s judgment in this, not to mention the way he conducted himself at times as a member of the team. But when it comes to loyalty, you have to remember it’s a two-way street.
Kesler showed lots of loyalty when he agreed to take less money than the market would bear in order to keep the team together and give them that run at a cup in 2011 and a second President’s Trophy the year after that.
And after making that sacrifice, when he said he saw this team going nowhere and wanted out, he was simply being honest in the same way as hockey clubs are brutally honest with players when they deem it is time for them to make a change.
Kesler simply said out loud what he’s been saying to himself for the last little while. The team isn’t close to winning a cup, and “I want to win a championship and I want to win it now.”
At least he finally told us the truth. And if you think he’s not showing the same loyalty as, say, a Kevin Bieksa, who indicated he was willing to go down with the ship if indeed it was going to go down, you’d probably be right.
But that doesn’t mean Kesler isn’t perfectly entitled to make the choice he did. After all, how often do clubs show loyalty to players when the mood suits them to make moves based on money?
How much loyalty did the Canucks show Jason Garrison after he chose to sign in Vancouver above the other 28 NHL teams two years ago? They came to him and asked him to waive the no-trade clause he had negotiated at that time and sent him packing because it suited them to dump his salary like yesterday’s garbage.
How much loyalty did they show Eddie Lack Tuesday when they signed Ryan Miller over him and drafted Thatcher Demko underneath him as their goalie of the future? And some would say how much loyalty did they show Roberto Luongo, although that situation is a little more nuanced than most people believe. It was Luongo who was asking out after all, and he was demanding for almost all of that time that he go to one team and one team alone, pretty much the same act as Kesler.
And this isn’t to single out the Vancouver Canucks by any means. Take the Montreal Canadiens, the legendary Habs being one of the most honoured and revered organizations in the game and for the most part, with good reason. They always seem to assemble terrific people.
But how much loyalty did they show to Josh Gorges, the Kelowna D who gave his everything to that organization and wanted desperately to stay so as to try to bring them another Stanley Cup championship? He wanted no part of the trade that shuffled him out of town, yet got the message that the team wanted young players to assume the leadership roles and no longer wanted him despite the fact they’d given him a no-trade clause. But showing loyalty to the Habs despite their behaviour, Gorges still agreed to go to Buffalo, the worst team in the league by a wide margin last season, after expanding his list of possible destinations to 15 teams — which might be a record in the modern era.
“It was difficult; he’s a very good person,” Habs GM Marc Bergevin said of Gorges, after claiming how upset he was that the information got out that his defenceman had turned down the Leafs as a destination.
“It wasn’t a popular decision, but I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to make decisions.”
The players also have the right to make decisions. And many Canucks fans would be well served to figure that out.
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