Murphy’s Mailbag: Are the Canucks better defensively with Sutter, Ferland?

Iain MacIntyre and Dan Murphy discuss the Canucks’ win over the Wild and why it was so important to them.

When the Canucks gave up nine goals to the Lightning last week, it got me thinking about the last time the Canucks gave up nine goals in a game. The date was Jan. 15, 2014 and the game was in Anaheim. That was a crazy time for the Canucks and to relive it we reached out to a guy who was smack dab in the middle of it all, Tom Sestito, who told me: “what a great week that was!”

Kings defeat Canucks 1-0. Sestito played one second and racked up 27 PIMs.

Sestito: (Jordan) Nolan took a run at one of the twins. I hadn’t even been on the ice yet, but then there was an icing call. I got sent out, so I’m like alright. I told Nolan that we’re fighting. And he told me, “No I’m not fighting.” So I told him, “you better get ready then, because I’m jumping you.” I don’t think he thought I was serious, but obviously I was.

Ducks defeat Canucks 9-1

At the 12:49 mark of the third period Sestito and Jannik Hansen each got two, five and 10 for instigating and fighting while Tim Jackman and Sami Vatanen (the two Ducks players involved) received no penalties. The end result was a seven-minute 5-on-3!

The fracas starts at the 4:35 mark.

Sestito: I jumped Jackman and got kicked out. So Hansen and I are in the dressing room and only a couple of minutes later Kevin Bieksa joined us after taking a misconduct of his own. I’m sure I remember Juice (Bieksa) going back out to the bench from the locker room and saying, “There better not be anybody left on this (expletive) bench at the end of the game.”

Canucks defeat Flames 3-2 (SO)

But let’s be honest, the score doesn’t really matter. This was the game that started with a line-brawl and saw John Tortorella go down the Flames’ hallway towards the dressing room to try and get at Bob Hartley.

“Torts told us they were starting their idiots over there, so we had to match that,” Sestito said.

Sestito: First off, I called myself an idiot. Great. Anyway, we were warming up and I don’t know what I ever did to McGrattan, but every game he wanted to fight me. So I’m stretching at the red line and he says, “are you starting tonight?” And I’m like, “starting? No. When do I ever start?” It got me thinking, and then Torts came in with the line-up and then I got it. So the Flames obviously knew before the game what was going to happen. And then it came out that Kellan Lain took a run at one of their prospects in the minors in Abbotsford. So I guess all of us had to pay for that.

Murphy: So that’s what it was all about?

Sestito: I guess. They wanted retribution for Kellan Lain taking one of their kids out. It was Lain’s first NHL game and his parents flew in. And naturally the only people who didn’t get kicked out after the line-brawl were me and McGrattan because the refs said our fight started first. They should have said it was Lain because the poor kid played just two seconds in his first NHL game. When we came in after the first period, Lain had the biggest smile on his face. I mean what a story to tell his kids, or anyone, that he got kicked out of his first NHL game right after the draw for fighting Kevin Westgarth. I mean that’s something I would love, maybe he doesn’t like it.

(Murphy: Since I had never heard about Lain being the reason for the line brawl, I did a little digging. Lain was no wilting flower. He had 129 PIMs in 63 AHL games that season. The Utica Comets did play the Abbotsford Heat four times early in the 2013-2014 season, prior to Lain’s call up with Vancouver.

October 30, 2013 in Utica: Lain got 2-5-10 for instigating a fight with Blair Jones, who just so happens to be one of the guys who was involved in the line brawl at Rogers Arena. Two nights later Lain was assessed a roughing penalty against the Heat. And then on November 30 in Abbotsford, Lain is listed as taking a slashing penalty. Obviously whatever he did may not have drawn a penalty, but those are the calls against him in the season series with the Heat.

I asked Kevin Bieksa if he had heard the Lain angle and Bieksa said no. He just remembers Tortorella coming into the room saying the Flames were starting their fourth line so the Canucks couldn’t match with the Sedin line. I reached out to Shane O’Brien, who was a member of the Flames that night and he doesn’t remember Hartley mentioning Lain. But he added that no one hardly ever talked to him in Calgary that whole year. Sestito is adamant, though, saying he is nearly 100 per cent certain about his recollection about the Lain tidbit.

If so, then it stands to reason Hartley started his fourth line in the hopes that the Canucks would do the same. Coaches are almost always aware of the opposition’s lines. So odds are Hartley knew Lain was centreing Vancouver’s fourth line that night.

I’ve never been able to get in touch with Lain. It would be nice to see if he could shine some light on the subject. That’s as far as my investigative journalism goes.)

Murphy: When did you catch wind of what Torts was doing in the hallway?

Sestito: Obviously there was a big commotion and we peeked out through a training room door and the first person I see is McGrattan at the door and I’m like ‘oh my god this guy is going to fight me again.’ But someone got Torts and we went back. It was a wild event. And I really respect what Torts did because he’s a guy that has your back and what they did was (expletive). There is no reason to have an all-out fight for something that happened in the AHL.

“It probably killed my career when he got fired. We got along great. I knew what to expect from him and he knew exactly what I was going to give and I think it would have extended my career a bit if he would have stayed one more year. He even put me on the power play with the Sedins. He told me “Tommy, if you think they need your help in the corner, they don’t. Stand in front and don’t move.”

“It has to be McGrattan after he hit Alberts there (the hit actually ended Alberts’ career and he is still dealing with concussion issues to this day). No suspension for him there either. If I did that I would have been arrested.

“I can’t remember the exact details now, but they paid one of my fines. I mean I didn’t make a ton of money so it would have been a big chunk for me to pay. So when they paid it I was really appreciative.”

I asked the twins if they remembered this and, sure enough, Henrik does. Well kind of…

Henrik Sedin: “It was in San Jose. Intermission on the way across the ice. I half started something with one of their players. Tom stepped in and got fined by the league. Probably because it happened after the period was done. I’m not sure.”

Alright, let’s move on to the mailbag!

Jim Benning spoke to reporters in Florida and was asked about the injuries to Sutter and Ferland. He had this to say:

“For me, I’d like to see what our full team looks like, I haven’t really had a chance this year. Those are two top-nine forwards in the league and to add those guys to our group, it would be nice to have a healthy team and see what our group looks like.”

It seems like every season around this time Benning is talking about injuries to his team. After all, no team lost more man games to injury last decade than Vancouver. And while, yes, the Canucks have struggled to remain healthy every year Benning has been at the helm, this season is not nearly as bad as seasons past.

Would Travis Green like to have Sutter and Ferland at his disposal? Without question. Ferland was signed to be a top-six forward and Sutter is one of Green’s match-up centres and top penalty killers. But it has to be said that injuries really have not been a big storyline with this club so far.

Now as for the question. Vancouver’s fancy stats were really good in October. Shot share, expected goals for and on and on. Sutter and Ferland were both healthy for that month. Since the start of November, however, the Canucks’ underlying metrics have cratered somewhat. Ferland has played just two games since the start of November and Sutter is not much better with 10 games played. Coincidence? Or would having those two healthy help the Canucks steady the ship defensively?

To help answer this I turned to Sean Tierney (@chartinghockey), someone far more intelligent in these matter than I.

This is every Vancouver player ranked by their defensive impact (it includes their influence on defence at 5-on-5 and shorthanded too). It’s ultimately based on the skater’s ability to influence goals independent of his linemates. The impact is per 60 minutes to account for the fact that players have played varying amounts.

So, as you can see, Sutter has had a positive impact defensively, albeit minimal. Ferland, conversely, has been very negatively impactful on defence in the time he’s played.

I’ve said many times that I travel with five-year-olds when it comes to diet. This was the conversation literally a day ago at a restaurant with Shorthouse and Garrett. And it was not a fast food joint.

Shorty: “If I order chicken strips, will you guys make fun of me?”

Garrett: “No, because that’s what I’m getting too.”

There is very little Cheech will not put ketchup on. He will dip nachos in it. And his greatest crime is pizza and ketchup.

I have turned from a serial packer into one who doesn’t pack nearly enough. So, naturally I didn’t worry about the cold portion of this trip. Sure, I checked what the weather was supposed to be like in Buffalo, Minnesota and Winnipeg. But I ultimately decided not to pack a big winter jacket. And there was some method to this madness.

First off, we got lucky in Buffalo. It was like 16 degrees Celsius. Then I knew that if I was to go outside in Minnesota, it would be for a maximum of like one minute. There are two really good restaurants across the street from our hotel. Plus there is a great one in the hotel. As it turns out, we didn’t leave the hotel once we checked in. As for Winnipeg? Well, you can walk from our hotel underground all the way to the MTS Place. You literally do not need to go outside. So I was comfortable in my choice to not pack a big jacket. And it worked out just fine.

“I’m going to cheat a little with this question as I’m a little behind the times. So, the album I listened the most to in 2019 actually came out in 2015. Let The Ocean Take Me, by The Amity Affliction. However, if I need to pick one from 2019, let’s go with Dayseeker’s Sleeptalk. Not as heavy as I usually partake in, but very solid. I didn’t put the new Tool album into rotation until late in the year.

The only movies I saw in the theatre in 2019 were kids’ shows with my daughter. So my favourite was on Netflix: Hold the Dark (2018). I know a lot of people who don’t share my view on this film, but for some reason (a handful of shocking scenes for one) it caught my attention. I also led me to Green Room by the same director, which I loved.

For the TV show, I’m again going to Netflix. I really enjoyed some subtitled dramas. Fauda definitely didn’t come out in 2019, but it was fantastic. I would also recommend Borderliner (Norwegian), Top Boy, The Last Kingdom, Deadwind (Finnish) and Warrior (Danish).

I will definitely live GIF Canucks locker room music when I get a chance.

As for who controls the music in the room now that Michael Del Zotto is gone? Well, I heard it was Jake Virtanen and J.T. Miller. So I texted Tunes (Jake) about the…tunes. And I heard right.

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