So You Think You’re Tough
In the early post mortem, there’s been plenty made of the fact that the Canucks are lacking considerable toughness and, as such, are not a true playoff ready team. We find that interesting when you consider that the only team in the league with more penalty minutes this season and still in the playoffs are the Philadelphia Flyers. In fact, in the last 3 regular seasons, the Canucks are among the 3 most penalized teams (along with Anaheim and Philly). But we don’t think you’d find many teams that consider the Canucks a tough opponent to play against from a physical standpoint, which goes to show you that there is a big difference between being tough and being disciplined; something the Alain Vigneault coached Canucks undoubtedly haven’t figured out.
We don’t doubt that team toughness is a key element to a championship team though both the Penguins and Red Wings might say otherwise. Bottom line, there are different ways to win a championship, but being undisciplined is not one of them. Mike Gillis, are you listening?
This got us to thinking about who is the toughest Canuck of all time? Are there any players on the current roster that might qualify for this title? What do you mean by toughness anyway? Well, we’re going to let you, valued reader, decide. Though from our perspective, it’s not just the tendency to drop the gloves and pound someone. We’re thinking about that, of course, but also thinking about the ability to effectively play through injury, delivering devastating, but clean hits and going to the hard places on the ice and paying the commensurate price. And, of course, things like agitating the opposition and sticking up for fallen teammates. Bottom line, we’re looking for the kind of player that is respected by his teammates and physically feared by the opposition.
Remarkably, in the 40 year history of the Canucks, there have been a fair number of these types of guys. In fact, you’d find that the unlikely Cup finalist team of ‘82 was filled with these types of guys. And the ‘94 Cup bridesmaids had plenty more than the current edition.
Like we said, we’re going to let our dedicated subscribers decide this one. Here are the rules:
We’ve determined a short list of 16 players (remarkably this was not that easy to do) and we’re going to run a little playdown (via daily poll questions) from 16 to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1 just like Lord Stanley’s marathon to crown the “toughest Canuck”. If you’re thinking this is a just a lazy way of maintaining readership through the summer hockey doldrums, move to the front of the class. But rest assured, we’ve got plenty more tricks up our sleeve.
Before we roll out out the list of the 16 finalists and honourable mentions, for your reading pleasure, we present the dishonourable mentions:
- Todd Bertuzzi - Okay Todd gets some credit for defending the honour of his bestest buddy and our team captain, Markus Naslund. He also gets our sympathy for the misfortune that turned a stupid, reckless play into the black eye the NHL didn’t need. But the bottom line was he had the opportunity to be the greatest power forward of his generation, but opted for sulking, floating and getting coaches fired instead. Not tough, mentally nor physically.
- Mark Messier - The proclaimed “greatest leader in sport” arrived in Vancouver as the “messiah” and wound up as the “mess”-iah. We could (and will) deliver a lengthy rant about that gloomy era in Canuck history, but suffice is to say from a toughness standpoint we saw none of the Moose’s feared on-ice intimidation tactics. Though off the ice, he had little trouble scaring off Martin Gelinas, Kirk McLean, Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden. And some say Dave Scatchard.
- Jarkko Ruutu - We had the pleasure of meeting Jarkko and he was as advertised, cockily brandishing his 2006 Olympic Silver Medal and hitting on everything in a skirt. While he was an endless agitator, there’s nothing tough about biting people.
- Matt Cooke - If this guy was any kind of fighter, he could have saved two careers - Steve Moore’s and Todd Bertuzzi’s. In the first period of that infamous match-up, Cooke went after Moore for payback on the Naslund hit and promptly got his clock cleaned. Like we said, in our world, a component of toughness is respect of your teammates. We can’t imagine that this guy gets respect from anyone…
- Willie Mitchell - This selection is bound to rankle a few of you. For that, we’re sorry. And don’t get us wrong, Willie was a valuable player here and a great guy in the community. And as reliable as he often was defensively, Sami Salo or Kevin Bieksa or Mattias Ohlund were much more likely to deliver physically. And when it came to dropping the gloves, he left that for Bieksa and Shane O’Brien. A good Canuck, but the on-ice toughness was not as advertised.