Ben Kuzma: Would scratching a veteran send best message to Canucks’ room?

 

 
 
 
 
The Blackhawks sat veteran Brent Seabrook earlier this season. Would the Canucks consider doing the same to one of theirs?
 
 

The Blackhawks sat veteran Brent Seabrook earlier this season. Would the Canucks consider doing the same to one of theirs?

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

To scratch or not to scratch? That is quite the lineup question.

When the Vancouver Canucks open a four-game trip Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla., their rookie head coach will ice a lineup that gives his transitioning club the best chance to win. That could mean Travis Green will play a veteran ahead of a younger player like Ben Hutton, who needs more minutes to get his game and his head in the right place.

And if Hutton is part of the franchise’s future, it’s of paramount importance that he plays. Especially with the Canucks once again out of playoff contention and willing to finally fully flip the development switch.

That in itself raises an interesting dilemma.

For Green to exact the most from his younger players — and not let a sense of entitlement or bad habits creep into their games — he has to keep them on a short leash. He has to know when to give it a yank, because the best motivational tool can be watching rather than playing.

Then again, if the younger core is adhering to all the directives, how can you continue to play a veteran who’s not pulling his weight structurally or statistically? Green has said he’s not afraid to scratch a vet. He has had those conversations, but has yet to play that trump card because it can turn into a joker.

Do you risk losing a veteran mentally to send the right message to everyone that there is just one set of rules?

The best example of how to rattle a room is to be bold and nobody has bigger stones than long-serving Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

On Jan. 9 at Ottawa, he scratched veteran defenceman Brent Seabrook to send a message to a club that was last in the Central Division. You can argue that the intent was to shake up the player and the room.

“One can say that,” said Green. “It just depends on the situation … It depends on the individual and the team. It changes everywhere you go. You don’t know the dynamics that are going on inside the room. It definitely was an eye-opener and got everybody’s attention — not just Seabrook’s.”

The Richmond native was as stunned as his teammates, yet understood what was at play.

The Blackhawks were on a 3-1-1 spurt, but that was preceded by a three-game losing streak. And Seabrook’s game had slipped from the top pairing to the point where a minus-2 effort in a Jan. 5, home-ice loss to expansion Las Vegas rubbed Quenneville the wrong way.

“We felt other guys were deserving of playing,” Quenneville said. “We think it’s a very limited experience for him. We expect him to get back in there.”

The ‘Hawks won 8-2 that night in Ottawa and Seabrook, who hadn’t scored since the season-opener, scored upon his return in the club’s next game.

Still, it wasn’t easy for the 32-year-old Seabrook to watch rather than play. He has logged 974 career games with the Blackhawks since being the 14th overall pick in 2004.

“It was tough and a tough day,” said Seabrook, who’s in the second year of an eight-year, US$55-million contract extension, said here last week before facing the Canucks. “I know I have to be better and for whatever reason — I didn’t really look into that — but I was disappointed and had to get back to playing my game and playing better and not let that ever happen again.

“It could have been a wake-up call for everybody, myself included, and just because I’ve been here forever it doesn’t mean I’m different from anybody else.”

The scratch was a stunner for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who has to sell Quenneville’s message to the room — especially to the vets.

“It was a shock for him and a shock to the rest of us,” Toews said of the scratch. “And maybe for some of the veteran guys — myself included — we can’t just take our opportunities and our ice time for granted. We have to earn it every single day and we have to lead this team the way it needs to be led.”

What does all this mean for the Canucks? We might find out some day.

The current captain and future captain concur on what has to take place every day. And with the club once again in an all-to-familiar place, it’s a measuring stick of how bad everyone wants to improve and not just the kids.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Henrik Sedin. “Everybody in here has something to play for — whether you’re us (twins) or a young guy. We have to put ourselves in a position where we can at least fight for a playoff position.”

And if that fight wanes, should anybody be spared?

The best players in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday were Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Troy Stecher, who are part of the next emerging core. And if Green is true to his word and a vet could sit one day, you can understand how that would resonate with those still building their games.

“It would show that everybody is accountable in the room,” said Horvat. “There are no free passes and you can’t take a night off.”

Sam Gagner has been scratched. He has played in tough environments, especially in Edmonton, where the Oilers were routinely beaten by the Canucks. And with two more years left on his Canucks contract — and just seven goals in 51 games — the 28-year-old is no different than other vets. He could be playing better.

“Nobody wants to be scratched,” said the injured Gagner. “One thing you pride yourself on when you play in the league a long time (747 games) is bringing it every night and being consistent with it. And it’s a hard thing to do over 82 games.

“It’s actually impossible to bring it every night. You pride yourself on professionalism and when you don’t get that chance, it’s tough. It (scratching) sends a message, but you’re playing to win. Sometimes it’s hurt feelings, but that’s just the way it goes.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/@benkuzma

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The Blackhawks sat veteran Brent Seabrook earlier this season. Would the Canucks consider doing the same to one of theirs?
 

The Blackhawks sat veteran Brent Seabrook earlier this season. Would the Canucks consider doing the same to one of theirs?

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

 
The Blackhawks sat veteran Brent Seabrook earlier this season. Would the Canucks consider doing the same to one of theirs?
Ben Hutton has been scratched seven times this season. Is that best for his development?
Veteran Sam Gagner has been scratched during his NHL career.
Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser have set a competitive tone for veterans and rookies.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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