Vancouver Canucks: We need to sit down and talk about culture

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 20: Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena December 20, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 20: Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena December 20, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

Team culture is a rather nebulous concept. Once again, the Vancouver Canucks’ star player was injured on a questionable play and a tepid response followed. We have a controversy over misplaced anger when it is more than justified.

Being a Vancouver Canucks fans can be an emotional roller coaster. The fanbase has had its collective heart captured by a 20-year-old kid from Sundsvall, Sweden. Immediately, we were smitten. Mesmerized. People were adopting Elias Pettersson and he had a church started because of his incredible play.

There is no easy definition for team culture. Honestly, I can’t think of a good way to talk about it since the definition isn’t easy to find. I’ll give my best crack at it, but you may have a different interpretation and that’s fine. To me, a team’s culture represents who and what they are. As a team, that’s exactly what they are. A unit, some say a family, a band of siblings. Whatever you want to call it, the best ones are tight-knit groups. They care about each other. I think that’s what separates a team from a group of random individuals.

You may think it’s odd to hear this from me because we can’t quantify this. There’s no way to really prove its effectiveness, but every time I see someone on the Canucks get hurt (even the players I don’t like) two instincts come to mind. First, I hope that they are okay. Second, don’t let whoever hit them get away with that. Respond. Do something.

And that’s the key here. I can’t speak for all fans, but personally, I don’t want the rest of the Canucks to fight in this situation. All it takes is a clean, open ice hit. It’s a good way to shift the momentum on the ice without taking a penalty. You can cleanly hit Jesperi Kotkaniemi. If he’s out there during play, carrying the puck, you have every right to do that.

While I don’t think fighting changes anything, the response is the most important thing of all. Laurence Gilman said it best when he did radio spots for TSN 1040. He spoke about having a little sandpaper in your lineup, but really hammered home accountability. When someone does something bad to your teammate, respond. Show your teammate that you care.

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That’s a united team; one willing to look after each other. We got a glimpse of that at home against Tampa Bay. But as the season moves on, that game is an outlier. It’s not just the Mike Matheson incident. Mark Borowiecki tried to take Pettersson’s head off in Ottawa with no response. It goes beyond Pettersson. Brock Boeser has been hit, slashed and clipped all season with no response. Sven Baertschi had his head taken off earlier this season and not a peep. I’m probably forgetting others as well.

The team selectively stands up for its players. And yes, it’s an older way of thinking, but when you turn the other cheek, let’s see how that plays out. They say punish them on the power play. How do you do that when there is no penalty called on the play? You need that game-shifting spark.

I know that what Kotkaniemi did was an accident. He wasn’t trying to hurt Pettersson, just tie him up. But it was still a penalty. You can’t rely on the zebras to get everything right and you also can’t count on the league to protect its own players. They only have each other, which is the whole idea behind team culture.

Star players will get harassed on the ice. That won’t change. And I’m not saying the Canucks have to trade for a goon. Or go to the AHL and find an enforcer. They don’t have to do anything. The onus is on the current players. Accountability. It’s the most important word in this matter and I think it’s an important distinction from bloodlust. I don’t think it’s crazy to ask this team to be accountable, especially when we have players on the roster who brag about it.

And when the team is working on their next excuse, they should really consider this.

"That’s what people want to know. You can’t have it both ways. The Canucks can’t say every time they respond is the right way to go and every time they don’t respond, well that’s the right way too."

Botch hits the nail on the head in The Athletties. Pick one. Although, I’m of the opinion that two points towards missing the playoffs means a whole lot less than protecting the guy who will give the team the best chance at winning a Stanley Cup. That’s something few players on this roster can contribute. What they can do is respond when players take liberties on their teammates. If this is game 82 with a playoff spot on the line, then fine. They have no choice. But that isn’t the scenario, is it?

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As the usual suspects prepare the next excuse, think a little next time. Read the temperature of the room. Because telling people to not be angry when they have a good reason to be is just dumping gasoline on the raging fire. And unfortunately, the incident in Montreal is not the first; it certainly won’t be the last. Be accountable. Not just to the fans, but most of all: your teammates.