The Tryamkin Saga

If Tryamkin was just a buddy of yours who moved west to try his hand at working for a construction company in Vancouver before deciding it wasn’t for him, this situation would be rather bland. It would be a story of someone trying out a job in a new country, deciding he didn’t quite understand what the hell the foreman with the twitching mustache was always talking about, and heading back home to a more comfortable, happier situation.

You’d give him a bro hug, give him a bro hand shake, and tell him “You do you bro, text me when you have your Xbox set up and we’ll play some Fifa.”, and you’d take a selfie together to commemorate the moment. That would be the end of it.

Except this story took place in the world of pro sports, where nothing is as simple as that. Instead we have two camps starting to form. Camp Happy and Camp Give Your Balls a Tug.

Camp Happy wants Tryamkin to just live life, and enjoy it, you know? Whatever makes him happy. In his interview given after he decided to sign back in Russia, Google Translate painted a picture of a man who had a hard time understanding why hockey decisions were made. He didn’t know why his ice time fluctuated the way it did. He didn’t know why he didn’t start the season with the Canucks. Hell, he almost went home to the KHL in November, after the Canucks tried to convince him to go to the AHL, despite having a clause in his contract that prevented such a thing. Going back to the KHL makes life much easier for Tryamkin, who also suggested, via our favorite translator Google, that ice time wouldn’t be an issue back home.

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And it’s also probably safe to say culture shock played a part in the decision. Vancouver has had an interesting history with Russian players (Bure, we’re talking about Bure, you all knew that), and not very many Russians have played on the team as of late (shout out to Shirokov). It’s easy to wonder how prepared the Canucks were to help acclimate Tryamkin to North America. Do you bring Pedan up even to be a healthy scratch just so there is someone who can speak Russian with Tryamkin? Maybe Pedan can help talk Tryamkin through the transition into North American life. Of course, we don’t know what the Canucks did behind closed curtains, but the speculation will be there that “more could have been done” to help ease Tryamkin into Vancouver.

Then there is the hockey itself. Nikita found himself in the NHL, where “HACK THE BONE!!!” is more likely to be screamed then “nice job on that poke check”. This was put clearly on display when he was surprised as to why Jamie Benn would want to fight him after a clean hit:

Doug Lidster talked about how Tryamkin would apologize after taking a penalty, and you could see it on his face any time he was in the penalty box. Nobody looked more ashamed of himself than Tryamkin when he put his team down a man. While we pretend to celebrate that mindset with the Lady Byng trophy (“I’ll take what trophy does Alex Mogilny hate the most for $500, please”), if you’re a big defenseman, the NHL wants you to play mean. We’ve seen it with Marek Malik in Vancouver. When you’re a tall dude, people get confused why you aren’t crushing skulls out on the ice. “But dude, you’re tall. You were lucky enough to be tall. Use that size to your advantage, damn it!”

Even worse, Nikita was SO good at it when he did get physical. He was smart about when he laid out his hits, he wouldn’t often put his team in a bad position chasing a hit (hey Gudbranson). His super human strength rag dolled people left and right without him even trying. It was like watching Andre the Giant on ice, you just want to see him body slam people into the ice. Except Nikita probably just wanted to know if anybody wanted a peanut, instead. It was hard not to get caught up in the thought process of “But what if Nikita was mean every game?” It was easy to day dream of having an angry giant on your team.

Yes, the team sat Tryamkin down and tried to make him emulate Chris Pronger. Which was done I am sure with good intentions, but you know when the video showed Pronger stomping on Kesler’s leg or ending Dean McAmmond’s career, he was probably weeping asking “why would you wish that on anyone?” That’s also ignoring the absurdity of showing someone a unique generational talent on defense and telling them “be more like that”. It would be like showing a local indie wrestler a picture of Brock Lesnar and telling them “be more like that.”

Especially when juxtaposed to the helpful caring Tryamkin we saw most of the season. He was the first to lend a helping hand to a fallen teammate. This is a guy who hit Horvat with a shot and was the first on the scene to apologize. Or was on the bench patting Edler’s knee after Alex was bent over in pain. Or was helping slide an injured Sutter to the bench. It truly felt like “being mean” wasn’t really a huge part of Nikita’s makeup.

Then there is the infamous “step up” quote Coach Willie dropped on Nikita.

I know in media we can overreact to things, but that does seem particularly over the top from the coach to lay a loss at the feet of Tryamkin. Needless to say, you can envision a season of a team hammering away at him to play a style he just wasn’t comfortable with wearing down on Tryamkin.

Then you add in family concerns (his wife is from Russia), and you can easily see how Nikita found the KHL a more appetizing place to ply his trade.

On the other side, you have Team Give Your Balls a Tug (Sutter is a full time member I’m pretty sure, Goldobin’s membership is pending).

This is the side that will put the onus on Nikita to gut it out. To get over the hardships of adjusting to life in the NHL. To put the team first and do what they ask of him. To make it his life goal to be the best teammate he can be, and that includes doing whatever they ask of him (like, in sports. If they ask him to kill someone off the ice, he can say no.) “Team first!” is a big issue people have with the Tryamkin situation because hockey is a team sport, and again, hockey has historically been very very very punishing to people who stand out and do things that are seen as “bigger than the team”. It’s a culture that shut down PK Subban for doing triple handshakes with Carey Price. Hockey can be weird sometimes.

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Then there is the Cup. The Stanley Cup is the best trophy in sports, don’t @ me. Winning that Cup and getting to hoist it over your head is the ultimate dream for many a hockey fan. It’s ingrained in our North American hockey culture that you do everything in your god damn power to achieve that goal. You’ll play on crutches, you’ll play on broken legs, you’ll play with a missing face, you’ll do whatever it takes to win that Cup. There is nothing quite as fun as getting swept up in the wartime metaphors used to describe a team willing themselves to a Cup win. It’s the most romantic aspect of hockey and one I admittedly quite enjoy. There is a reason one of the most famous pictures in Canucks history is a beaten down Trevor Linden and Kirk McLean.

Image result for trevor linden kirk mclean

You get a hockey boner just looking at that.

So when a player isn’t actively doing everything in his power to win the Cup, it can be hard to take. “But I don’t understand, why wouldn’t you want to win the Cup. Because it’s the Cup. That’s the god damn slogan man. ‘Why’d you murder that dude? Because it’s the Cup’ is probably a viable legal defense in Canada. Many people would give their left nut (or half their….labia?) to play for the Stanley Cup, so when you perceive someone not going all in for that dream it’s almost an affront to you as a person.

There is also the Russian factor. Again, we are diving deep into “hockey culture”, and I am not trying to bag on it too hard, because I grew up in it and participated in a lot of it so I understand it, but there is some shortsightedness to it. I mean, Don Cherry as a kid? That guy was the best. Rock Em Sock Em videos? Amazing. Those videos were YouTube before there was YouTube for hockey fans. When you got older though, you began to realize he had a very xenophobic approach to things, and you can see a lot of that in hockey culture in regards to Russian players.

From not bothering to learn how to pronounce European names (and to be fair, Bieska), to disliking “Euros” for not playing physical (it took the most illegal elbow of all time from Pavel Bure before Don Cherry gave him the time of day), it all resulted in talk of Russian’s being these mysterious enigmas. “They dance in the shadows, they eat babies at night, they cover themselves in blood, what else do these enigmatic Russians do???” Anytime Crosby has a scoring slump he’s “gripping the stick too hard”, anytime Ovechkin struggles, “he’s an enigmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” sort of deal.

An easy example of this bias is Shane Doan. Shane Doan plays in the NHL’s version of the KHL. It’s a different lifestyle in Arizona. You go to the rink in shorts year round. Nobody really cares about your career when you’re over there. And you’re never going to win a Cup there. Yet year after year, Shane Doan refuses to leave there, because he’s….happy there. You’ll see a bit of pushback from some fans questioning his desire to win, but for the most part Shane Doan is seen as this noble creature, a guy who puts family life before hockey, and god damn, what a hero for sticking it out in the desert even if we witness his soul actually collapsing in on itself when Hanzal gets traded.

But because there is the slightest (tiniest) chance he can win the Cup, and probably because he’s Canadian and thus not legally allowed to be labelled an enigma, nobody really questions his choices on choosing life happiness over career aspirations. There is also the romanticism of playing for one team his entire career to drizzle over top of it as well, and he’s the Captain, so “team first!” is easy to apply to him. Yet realistically, both Doan and Tryamkin chose situations they were most comfortable in, with family being a driving force, both of which significantly reduced their chances of winning a Cup.

What’s the end point, you ask? There is no real person or thing to blame in the Tryamkin situation. There is truth to be had from both camps. Honestly, Tryamkin has leverage a lot of players don’t have; an alternative to the NHL that they are happy with accepting. It would be foolhardy to think more players wouldn’t choose an option over the NHL if they felt it was on par or better than what they currently get. One only has to look back at the WHA entering the hockey world to see that players are, at the end of the day, independent contractors who will chase down the best path for them (Frankie Corrado would kill for a WHA league).

The NHL has a history of being the big dog in the yard (“This is my yard now” exclaimed Gary Roman Reigns Bettman amidst a shower of boos), and will do anything they can to flex their muscle. Look at the lockouts, look at the NHL emails that get released during court cases, or simply look at that absurd “reserve clause” which basically stated “fuck you for trying to have options”. I mean, think about that clause. It’s insane to think that existed. “When your contract runs out, it doesn’t really run out? Like, when the contract dies it kind turns into a ghost, and that ghost keeps you for a year, then the next year, that ghost has a ghost, and it keeps you for a year, and it keeps doing this until you die. UNTIL YOU DIE.”

The NHL has done a very good job of not only indoctrinating the idea of “Cup or nothing” but also “NHL or nothing”. Make no mistake about it, Gary Bettman probably pulls out lotion and kleenex at night when he reads the “reserve clause”. The NHL would go back to that time in an instant.

So yes, at the end of the day, Russian players will always be risky acquisitions. They have the KHL option that many other players don’t have. There is a legitimate concern over investing time and money in them. But it’s not because they’re enigmas, it’s because they have options.

Tryamkin simply chose to exercise that option.

So I say to Tryamkin, “You do you bro, text me when you have your Xbox set up and we’ll play some Fifa.”

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Hunter Shinkaruk trade

BENNING

Let’s start this off with one caveat: Anything can happen in the NHL.

Yes, that might seem like a “get out of jail free card” used by GMs and fans alike who stumble into success (or manage to avoid it, as it were).

But it’s true. Good luck, bad luck, the ever infamous “intangibles”, however you want to define it, things happen in the NHL that we can’t account for. It’s why people have made jobs out of trying to tell people they know what can happen in the future. If you are able to show a talent for recognizing future trends, that’s a huge commodity. It’s why “old school scouts” got jobs (“I played the game, I can recognize the signs of great talent!”) and why advanced stats guys are starting to get hired now (“I wrote an excel sheet formula, it can recognize the signs of great talent!”).

At the end of the day, though, we are still far removed from a future when we all get scanned with a barcode and get tossed into the NHL reject or accept pile before we ever even hit the ice with skates strapped to our feet.

So yes, Markus Granlund could end up being a better player than Hunter Shinkaruk. Yes, Hunter Shinkaruk could still end up being a flop, 100%.

The reason people are getting a bit upset about the trade, is about what it represents. Here is a break down of why people are a bit on edge about the trade:

  • The Canucks are a team that struggles to score, yet they traded away one of their better scoring young players. Many people would rather roll the dice on a high risk high reward type of offensive player over a player that on the surface, looks like his ceiling is limited to a bottom six role.
  • The idea that Shinkaruk couldn’t be here anymore because Baertschi is here feels like a) they’ve already decided Baertschi will forever be better, and b) makes it seem like there is only room for so much skill on a team, which seems quite limiting in scope.
  • Shinkaruk never got a real good look in the NHL. One game, under 10 minutes? Hard to see that as a “fair shot.”
  • Granlund is waiver eligible next year, Shinkaruk is still on his ELC, which means he would not be waiver eligible the next two seasons. If anything, this forces a much tighter timeline on an asset to see if they can make the team.
  • It also means the team has a variety of low end assets who are open to waivers (Vey, Etem). Now, not a lot of people get poached on waivers, but it still seems like adding a problem you didn’t need in the first place.
  • It goes against the idea of a longer rebuild. Getting a player who can “play now” treads dangerously close to the idea that the Canucks feel they can turn things around really quickly, instead of taking their time with younger assets. Not saying this is right or wrong, but just pointing out that people who are fine waiting on a patient rebuild won’t enjoy today’s trade.
  • The Canucks center depth for next season is Henrik, Horvat, Sutter, McCann, Vey, Granlund…Yes, you can plop some of these guys on the wings, which is what they’ll have to do if they want them all to play.
  • If assets are going to be traded, people would rather see defenseman coming back in return. Of course that is easier said than done, and Benning apparently tried looking for d-men. It’s just, living right beside the Edmonton Nightmare rebuild for so many years is a constant reminder of what a rebuild without defense can end up looking like.
  • You have a similar deal that took place with Forsling and Clendening (selling high on Forsling after his World Jr performance) that ended up with an older asset who did nothing of value for the organization. Not every trade is the same (and again, the caveat “anything can happen” applies), but the situation is close enough to bring up memories of a previous trade that seems like a bit of a bust.
  • It’s a team that didn’t manage Corrado as an asset very well, so it does make one lose trust in the team being fully aware of all of the factors surrounding players age, contract status, etc. It basically makes you question if they fully understand all of the options available to them, fair or not.
  • Never underestimate the emotional side of things. You spend two or three years following a draft pick rise through the ranks, only to see him being dealt away during a hot stretch for an unknown? That can be hard to take. It would be like if your Dad finally figured out how to put on the perfect birthday for you, except halfway through the night your mom told you she was divorcing him and then asked you to take a picture with “Uncle Ted” instead.

There are some silver linings if you want to look for them, though. Granlund did have an equivalent season to Shinkaruk during his AHL career at one point (46 points in 52 games in front of all 10 fans during the Abbotsford Heat days). Corey Pronman feels the Canucks came out with a slight win on the trade due to Granlund’s higher defensive awareness.

A lot of it comes down to “would you roll the dice on a higher skill set, riskier chance of making NHL” prospect in Shinkaruk, and “Would you rather have higher roster maneuverability with an ELC player” in Shinkaruk. On my end, I still feel like this is a trade that in no way needed to happen this season. The only reason you do this deal now is if you REALLY wanted Granlund (which doesn’t sound like it from the Canucks end) or if you REALLY think Shinkaruk is just a turd of a player.

I think today’s reaction, if anything, mostly shows a lack of faith in management from many Canucks fans. In a day and age where stats are being recognized more and more, Benning’s “meat and potato” approach is met with many an arched eyebrow.

You have a management squad who claims they “looked at the WAY” Shinkaruk was scoring goals, and came away wondering if that would translate into the NHL, and are looking at underlying factors.

Which at face value, is great. They aren’t just looking at raw numbers, they are digging deeper to make sure this isn’t a Tom Sestito 42 goal situation. But this is also the same team that keeps playing Bartkwoski, who has awful underlying numbers, and is only kind of good if you go based off of raw numbers. So it’s hard to tell what’s spin and what’s actual team philosophy. We end up hearing a lot more about “compete” and “scrum ability” then “great goal scorer” and “high end skill”, which is worrisome for people wanting a skilled team being iced.

Add in a losing season, with rumors of ownership being overly meddlesome, and a team whose direction is really hard to gauge, all taking place in a Canadian market?

You’re going to have some heated discussions about pretty much every decision made.

Again, Benning might be the smartest man in the room. Maybe his vaunted scouting background will pay off. Maybe he was dead on about about Shinkaruk being a flop and Granlund will end up being a player. Maybe it’s just over-reactions from people heavily invested in the team.

It’s just going to take several years before we can figure that out. And in hockey mad Vancouver? That’s a lifetime.