Sunday, December 20, 2020

Canucks Preview: Todd Bertuzzi Jersey Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Two more caveats: at this point, the NHL has not even confirmed the division make-ups yet despite the season being set to start a month from now, and several impact players such as 25-to-30-goal scorer Mike Hoffman and 20-goal journeyman forward Anthony Duclair, among others, haven't found a team yet. And quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

That being said, let's start with the one division we're pretty sure is going to happen if only because of the border situation, the Canadian Division, and the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks are deep and ba;lanced, but furthermore, they also have cornerstone superstars in every aspect of the game, from Elias Pettersson up front to Quinn Hughes on defense and Thatcher Demko between the pipes. There is a possibility that Hughes will hit his sophomore slump and that the Demko from the regular season shows up more often than the Conn Smythe-caliber playoof one, but that's why Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby were acquired in the off-season: as support staff rather than go-to guys, they can still flourish, particularly Schmidt, who was the Vegas Golden Knights' second-best blueliner.

What makes their odds look good:
The forwards: behind the elite greatness of Pettersson lies an array of well-developed draft picks who have become key contributors, including captain Bo Horvat, oft-injured Brock Boeser, and the ever-improving Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen, but also acquisitions Tanner Pearson, Brandon Sutter, Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel, though some fans balk at their cap hits.

The blue line is also solid with Alexander Edler in a prominent role, Tyler Myers handling the middle and Jordie Benn in a depth role, allowing the likes of Hughes, Schmidt, and potential rookies Jack Rathbone and Brogan Rafferty to fill in proper roles at their own pace.

Question marks:
From their age alone, Hughes and Demko remain question marks, but they have shown their upside to be high enough to want to prepare for a step back but not bank on it. Instead, it'll be about how many games Holtby can step into and keep his team in the game, how many games Boeser will lose to injury and how much ice time vs cap space ratio Loui Eriksson will take.

Maybe the post-season has me sold on Vancouver higher than they should be, but they were damn impressive and worth a gamble. They have no glaring weaknesses - even their coach (Travis Green) and GM (Jim Benning) look very good at this point, something I did not envision myself writing as early as two years ago.

First in the Canadian/North Division.

There was a time at the turn of the millennium when the Canucks were the best team in the West and boasted the top line in the NHL, whose physical play rivaled the Philadelphia Flyers' Legion Of Doom, but with more speed, with the most-feared man on ice towering above linemated Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison, Todd Bertuzzi.

As for most power forwards, it took a while for Bertuzzi to earn a regular spot in the lineup, not scoring 25 goals until the age of 24, the New York Islanders - who had selected him 23rd overall in 1993 - throwing in the towel the year before. It took until his age 26 season to become a point-per-game player (actually posting 85 in 72 games, 36 of them goals) in 2001-02, which was also his first season in the plusses (+21). For three seasons, Naslund and Bertuzzi would garner end-of-season All-Star Team nods as the pre-eminent wingers of the time with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla... until Bertuzzi snapped and sucker-punched Steve Moore in the incident that now bears its victim's name.

Twenty years later, the details can be hazy, so here's the gist of it: in mid-February, Moore, of the Colorado Avalanche, delivered a dangerous hit to the head of Naslund, then the NHL's leading scorer, which went unpunished by the referees. Tempers flared, and the following members of the Canucks organization had this tosay after the game:

Bertuzzi: "Moore is a pice of shit."

Head coach Marc Crawford: "The referees need to show more respect to one of the league's stars."

General Manager Brian Burke, whose previous job was as the NHL's executive vice president and director of hockey operations, menaing he was in charge of handling suspensions: "It was a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit".

Resident tough guy Brad May also put a "bounty" on Moore's head.

When the teams met again two weeks later, the Avs dominated the Canucks in a manner where the NHL code usually dictates the losing side will play more physically (usually dirty) and the winning side should start resting its best players to avoid useless injuries; Crawford, in full knowledge of Bertuzzi's comments about the affair and friendship with Naslund, deliberately sent him on the ice to go after Moore, with May's bounty still active, in a losinbg cause, in the third period of a now-meaningless game. Bertuzzi tried to get Moore to agree to a fight, which Morore delclined, having previously answered the bell against Matt Cooke in the first period. I'll let Wikipedia finish this one:
With Colorado leading 8–2 midway through the third period, Bertuzzi began following Moore around the ice, attempting to provoke him into another fight. With Moore ignoring him, Bertuzzi grabbed Moore's jersey from behind and punched him in the jaw, then deliberately slammed Moore's head into the ice as the pair fell. Bertuzzi, as well as several other players from both teams, landed atop Moore after he fell to the ice.
Bertuzzi eventually plead guilty to assault charges.

My take on this is everythig was handled the way it usually is in the NHL and it was one of the rare instances where dumb luck doesn't save the day, everything goes down like it should and a terrible accident/situation occurs. Moore's dirty hit was a "hockey play", the Canucks' overreaction self-escalation was a "hockey habit", Crawford's decision was "hockey code" and Bertuzzi's own headhunting of Moore was also a "hockey play" - all situations that never should have been in the game in the first place but that was brought into the league in the 1970s by the Broad Street Bullies and Big Bad Bruins and rose to prominence again as a means to counter the New Jersey Devils' trap with intimidation in the mid-1990s.

Moore never played pro hockey again. Bertuzzi was never the same player, falling to 15-to-20 goals and 40-some points per season as fans in all arenas booed him, the media labelled him an agressor for doing the same moves he had previously be applauded for and sticking up for his friend and teammate. He later apologized to the media for acting like a steroid-rager with them for years and admitted he broke down mentally. Here he is on card #M-TB from Upper Deck's 2005-06 MVP collection and MVP Materials sub-set:
It shows him wearing the team's white (then-home) uniform with the first orca logo and features a black game-worn jersey swatch.

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