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Why Isn’t the NHL Protecting Its Young Players? The Case of the Canucks’ Elias Pettersson

Elias Pettersson is getting bashed, boarded, blindsided, and beat on. What can the NHL do to protect Pettersson and other young stars?

Over the past few games, it seems that I’m watching the Vancouver Canucks star young forward Elias Pettersson playing hurt. Although he played on Saturday night against the Calgary Flames, he had missed the game previously in the loss to the Minnesota Wild. And, in the Flames game, he was highly ineffective.

Really, given the abuse Pettersson’s taken this season at the hands of his opponents, it would be no wonder if he were injured. Most recently, Pettersson was lined up and hit by Bruins’ defenceman Matt Grzelcyk, which prompted Canucks’ head coach Travis Green to sound off about his young star’s poor treatment. Green pulled no punches when he called out NHL officials for not doing enough to protect the game’s best players.

Related: The Vancouver Canucks News & Rumors: Schaller, Ferland, Motte, Miller, Hughes & Markstrom

He’s not alone. I’m certain the Edmonton Oilers’ Dave Tippett feels the same way about his star Connor McDavid who was furious at the Calgary Flames Mark Giordano after being kneed as he tried to go around the flat-footed defenseman. Obviously, as Oilers’ fans know too well, it isn’t the first time McDavid’s been hurt.

I don’t disagree with Green. As I watched the Canucks game on Saturday, it seemed that Pettersson was constantly getting bashed, boarded, blindsided, and beat on. I admit I’m biased, but I kept saying to myself, “Why isn’t that a penalty?”

Why Green Should Be Frustrated

Green was clear. He noted, “I’m so frustrated with it. This guy is one of the best young players in the league. He gets hit and he’s totally defenseless … it’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck. I’ve watched it a couple of times.”

Green added that, because Pettersson didn’t think he would be hit, “He’s in a vulnerable position.” Green added, “Those are hits that the league is trying to get out of the game, especially against top young guys, top players in the league, and I think that Petey’s shown he’s one of those guys.”

Generally, Green added, “it’s frustrating for me as a coach to see some of the abuse he takes, where (it) doesn’t get called and he works through this … I know he’s not the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of a player that’s not ready to be hit. It’s very late. That should have been a penalty all day long.”

Last Season Pettersson Was also the Victim of a Predatory Hit

Green’s been through this before with his young star. In a game in October 2018, Pettersson suffered a concussion when he was recklessly targeted by Florida Panthers’ defenseman Mike Matheson who had just been embarrassed by Pettersson on a deke that completely fooled the Panthers’ player. Matheson responded by following Pettersson behind the goalie and boarding him. The concussion resulted.

Pettersson’s feeling the results of this abuse. Recently, he’s been playing what one commentator has called “quiet hockey.” In other words, he isn’t impacting the game when he’s on the ice. He isn’t scoring much and he’s unable to showcase and utilize all his skills. That’s too bad for the Canucks, but it’s also too bad for hockey fans everywhere.

Although Pettersson has missed only one game with the injury he suffered in the Bruins’ game, he played his second game in a row without scoring. While you cannot fault his season’s scoring – he’s at a point-a-game streak with 55 points in 55 games, it seems to me that he could be doing much better.

Related: Pierre LeBrun Has It Wrong: Canucks’ Contract Talks with Jacob Markstrom Will Be Easy

Count Me In as a Protector of the Stars of the Game

Here’s where that leaves me as a hockey commentator. I don’t like it when the young stars of the game are cheap-shotted. McDavid is worth the price of admission, as is Pettersson and many others.

Actually, to be on record I don’t like it when the goons hit the goons, as is when Matthew Tkachuk blindsides Zack Kassian and then turtles. Furthermore, although I understand it when Kassian rag-dolls Tkachuk, that isn’t a brand of hockey I condone either.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind if such cheap-shots drew both a five-minute major (where the offending team must play short-handed regardless of the number of goals scored) and then a two-minute minor.



  1. Pingback: Connor McDavid Good to Go, Practicing With Oilers on Monday – NHL Trade Talk – Hockey Trades and Rumors

  2. Ron Lepage

    February 12, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    The reffing in the nhl is atrocious. Penalties are called for the most minor hooking infractions while they routinely turn a blind eye to the dirtiest and most dangerous infractions like brutal cross checks, late hits, head shots, slue foots and boarding. The nhl brain trust needs to get some back bone and start coming down hard on this kind of crap. I’m 66 and except for the 70’s, during the broad street Philadelphia Flyers days, the reffing is the worst it’s ever been!

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