Vancouver Canucks: Skilled players can just as easily mentor too

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 27: Right Wing Thomas Vanek (26) is congratulated by Center Henrik Sedin (33) and Vancouver Canucks Left Wing Daniel Sedin (22) after scoring a goal during their NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena on March 27, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 27: Right Wing Thomas Vanek (26) is congratulated by Center Henrik Sedin (33) and Vancouver Canucks Left Wing Daniel Sedin (22) after scoring a goal during their NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena on March 27, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Once again, Travis Green believes his younger players need to learn to love winning from veteran players. I don’t know why he thinks grinders can only do this when skilled players can easily accomplish the same.

Alright. Let me be upfront. I know I rant a lot, especially about how dumb hockey culture is in its resistance to change. However, this may open the door to an interesting conversation. Before I begin, I will float this question out to you. Do you think someone would have to teach you to like winning?

If it sounds like a stupid question to you, then you likely fall into my camp. On the other hand, maybe people feel directionless if nobody tells them what to do. That’s a rather sad view on life, but if you need to be told what to do instead of thinking for yourself, I can’t stop you.

Which brings me to the latest gold nugget from Vancouver Canucks coach, Travis Green. Now, it may seem like I’m picking on Green on a personal level. However, I’m exploring the odd fallacies that exist in hockey. Under this framework, Green gives us a Canucks-focused context.

In his latest interview with Jason Botchford of The Province, Green spoke about previous leaders like the Sedin twins and the void left behind. One thing he continued to reference was this desire to whatever it took to win since they loved it so much.

Green further applies how important this desire is when discussing Antoine Roussel and emphasizing the value of being on a Stanley Cup-winning team with Jay Beagle. On the surface it sounds nice, but as we get into this, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Rubbing shoulders with the vets

Green begins to describe Roussel, comparing him to Alex Burrows. Paraphrasing him, Green say’s Roussel’s desire to win will help the team a lot because he wants to do well. News flash, every single player in this league wants to do well; even more so for those trying to break in. That trait does not separate you from the average player.

Alex Burrows was not average. He was a cerebral player that completed the deadliest line in Canucks’ franchise history. Burrows was so much more than a pest and his story is so incredible since people never gave him a chance. That chance came at age 24. Roussel is 28. I’m a fan of Roussel’s game, but let’s speak about him realistically and not this ridiculous idea.

The comments on Beagle just made me laugh. Have a read.

"“I have a lot of respect for guys who win the Stanley Cup because it is hard,” Green said. “You look at Beagle and you see a player who nothing has been given to him. He’s had to earn everything. He’s a hard worker.”"

For starters, there is nothing wrong with appreciating hard work. I have time for the argument of learning hard work from a dedicated veteran. In fact, I agree with it. However, I think you can add that to your lineup for league minimum if that player offers little else. When you have to go these lengths to defend your new signings, it’s not a great sign. The fact that you have to rely on intangible qualities to prop up a player is a red flag on their value. It’s even worse when you can’t support your claims with any fact-based (quantitative) evidence.

It’s funny how being on a team that wins the Cup changes things. If Washington lost, Beagle would be the exact same player, except the “choker” label on his team would stick. I don’t think Vancouver pursues Beagle if they don’t win. Why? Because hockey culture is dumb. You don’t suddenly become a different player after winning. The Cup is the ultimate reward for winning the war of attrition and having just that little bit of luck to reach the top.

Perception is a funny thing

Alex Ovechkin was labelled as this selfish player that radically changed his game to start winning. The Great Eight didn’t change anything. He was always this good and didn’t alter too much. However, the mainstream narrative that his flashy style didn’t work because good ol’ Canadian boy Sidney Crosby won when Ovechkin didn’t.

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If Washington lost, they would still accuse Ovechkin for not having what it took to win. The most satisfying thing about the Capitals winning was seeing all those self-serving members of the Eastern media eat the crow that they deserve. They know exactly who they are.

Why bring up Ovie? Because Green uses him as an example of skill players performing to his expectations.

"“Skilled guys can be hard on the puck. The good ones battle, they compete and they’re fast. They back-check just as hard as they forecheck,” Green said.“You watch (Alex) Ovechkin in the playoffs and he was impressive. He did whatever it took to win.”"

I find it funny that Phil Kessel won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and does not play defensively. Ideally you want these two-way players, but you have to accept when a player specializes in scoring goals, you let them loose. This is why managers manage and coaches coach. Although in Vancouver, it’s hard to tell who is really doing what anymore.

Skilled mentors

Which brings me to the biggest part of all of this. Tell me. What exactly will this year’s new free agent group teach Elias Pettersson? Seriously. Is it that bottom six forwards will be generously rewarded because there will always be stupid general managers? How could anybody think Pettersson does not know how to love winning? Jason Hamilton from CanucksArmy summarizes this best:

Do you know who was the most valuable mentor last year outside of the Sedins? Thomas Vanek. Brock Boeser looked up to Vanek growing up and he trained with the Austrian winger during the summer. His knowledge on the ice and career as a skill player was infinitely more valuable to Boeser than the contributions of say Brandon Sutter or Derek Dorsett.

Every time a player is signed to act as a mentor, they are objectively awful. Whether it’s Brandon Prust or Michael Del Zotto, these players don’t provide a whole lot of wisdom. NHL coaches think that skill players can’t mentor, yet the greatest mentors on this team just retired at the end of last season.

I know we complained how expensive someone like Tyler Bozak would have been, but given what the Canucks actually did, I would have welcomed him with open arms. We saw Riley Nash sign for dirt cheap in Columbus. These are the guys who are suitable mentors for Elias Pettersson. Well, maybe not Bozak given his age, but I still see him as a better alternative than Beagle.

The idea that skilled players can’t be leaders is an old and antiquated view. It’s another lazy excuse to protect mediocre players and further defends rightfully criticized decisions. And for the players pushed out of the lineup because of these veterans, I don’t know how much they will learn from them in Utica.

Next: Brock Boeser not worried about his contract

Players who are stylistically similar to Beagle and Roussel could be beneficial in the AHL. I don’t mean them specifically, I mean veterans and journeymen. These players understand the amount of work put in at the AHL level to claw their way into the league. However, when an almost 20-year-old future star is entering the lineup, there is next to nothing for these veterans to teach. I feel these mentors are grossly overrated and they need to contribute something tangible to command the money and term we are seeing. Being a mentor doesn’t excuse being a burden in the future.