Canucks and Beyond
by Alanah McGinley on 03/11/08 at 10:47 PM ET
There was an Iain MacIntyre article in the Vancouver Sun this morning which brought up some serious issues about Dan Cloutier’s experience since his trade to the Los Angeles Kings. In it, MacIntyre addressed issues about Cloutier’s recent career that hadn’t been publicized before.
But harder than stopping the puck was the feeling Cloutier had—has—that the Kings weren’t doing much to help him.
The team insisted he shed his birdcage wire mask and helmet, citing insurance issues. Cloutier was never comfortable in a traditional mask, and a few games into last season he was feeling physical discomfort.
He was having hip pain. He volunteered to keep playing because the Kings’ other goalie, Mathieu Garon, had a broken finger. Cloutier’s pain got worse, but the team insisted initially there was little wrong with him.
Knowing his body, Cloutier pushed the issue. Only after a specialist said his career could be in jeopardy, the Kings sent him to Vail for season-ending surgery. In pain, Cloutier flew to Colorado in a middle economy-class seat and was lodged by the Kings at a Super-8 Motel about 50 kilometres from the clinic where he was treated daily.
Insurance issues with the mask? $3.1 million a year to pay the guy’s salary and they’re not interested in forking out the premium rate so he’s at his best??
Or are birdcage wire masks actually not permitted in California?
(I’m not trying to be a smartass—I honestly don’t know what could possibly explain messing with a goalie’s equipment besides enforcement of rules in the NHL rulebook.)
As for the implication that—at some point—Cloutier was pushed to play despite awareness of an injury that was getting increasingly serious, I’d be very interested in what the NHLPA has to say about that. (*and so I’m waiting to hear back from them with my request for a comment on the issue. I’ll add their response later, when I have it.)
Meanwhile, Rich Hammond at Inside the Kings asked Dean Lombardi for a response today, to that Vancouver Sun article. Lombardi declined the interview request, but the team issued the following statements to clarify their position on the issues. Namely:
“The Kings take the utmost pride in how our organization treats its players and its staff. Not only do we treat everyone fairly and top-shelf, it is a priority for our organization.’‘
A team official also sought to clarify some of the accusations made by Cloutier. Specifically…
—The Vancouver Sun describes the lead-up to Cloutier’s hip surgery last year by reporting, “In pain, Cloutier flew to Colorado in a middle economy-class seat and was lodged by the Kings at a Super-8 Motel about 50 kilometres from the clinic where he was treated daily.”
According to the Kings, Cloutier insisted upon having the surgery as soon as possible, which meant booking flights and a hotel on Jan. 11, 2007 for a Jan. 12, 2007 surgery. That was a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and there was only one available flight to Vail, Colo. According to the Kings, that was OK with Cloutier. The Comfort Inn in Vail, located 10 miles from the clinic, was the only hotel to have rooms available on three consecutive nights, and the Kings decided to book that rather than have Cloutier change hotels mid-trip. The clinic later found a different hotel for Cloutier and his wife, and the Kings paid for all five nights.
—The Vancouver Sun describes Cloutier’s time in Manchester by reporting, ``Cloutier’s wife, Nikki, accompanied her husband to the American League, where they lived in a hotel. They were expecting their first baby in December. As the due date neared, Cloutier asked the Kings to move them into an apartment. The team balked and said the Cloutiers should stay in their hotel. I said: ‘I can’t, we’re expecting a baby here. I don’t know if it’s a big thing to you guys, but to me it’s the most important thing,’” Cloutier said. “Finally, I called the [Players’ Association] and they said after 28 days you’re entitled to get a place.”’’
According to the Kings, the Cloutiers stayed in the team-provided hotel room for 28 days, after which the Kings asked Cloutier ``to continue in that situation’’—meaning to stay in the hotel rather than get him an apartment. The team says Cloutier had the right to ask for an apartment after 28 days, and that one was provided.
When Hammond then asked Jeff Moeller (the Kings’ senior director of communications) if the team had ever encouraged Cloutier to play hurt, Moeller responded “We would never put a player’s long-term health at risk.”
So it’s a matter of He Said, He Said, to some extent.
But here’s the thing… for all Dan Cloutier’s public relations problems in Vancouver, there are two things I don’t ever remember being an issue:
One, no one ever doubted the veracity of his hip injury. It was an increasing problem over his time with the Canucks, and a fairly obvious one, at that.
Secondly, I also don’t recall Cloutier ever whining about how he was treated. And while he was treated quite well by the Canucks organization itself (or so it appeared), he could probably have been forgiven for blowing off steam about his bad press during some of the bad days. But he never did.
Vancouver may be a goalie graveyard, but I can’t think of any example where Cloutier made excuses. For anything.
But while this whole situation is important to Cloutier on a personal level, and perhaps the NHLPA in general, it’s not only about them—it’s about the LA Kings’ fans, those supporting this franchise.
Which reminds me of this article by Steve Dilbeck of the LA Daily News just last week, which questioned the state of the Kings, specifically the commitment of ownership.
It’s not like it can’t be done. The Kings need someone less fractured and more involved, need an owner whose connection goes beyond some weekly report and approval of expenditures.
Kings fans are among the most loyal in all of L.A. sports. Their overall numbers don’t compare to Lakers and Dodgers fans, but their devotion is unquestioned.
Actually, it’s incredible.
Despite the Kings owning the worst point total in the NHL, fans continue to flock to Staples. Continue to show up at the rate of more than 16,000 per game. Continue to support the NHL’s most feeble brand of hockey.
There’s nothing about the Cloutier situation to suggest that owner Philip Anschutz’s lack of interest in the team is somehow related, but perhaps it’s worth noting that there are a few things being aired out in LA lately.
Whether there’s anything to it—to any of the accusations flying around—I guess we’ll have to see.
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About Canucks and Beyond
Alanah McGinley has been blogging hockey since 2003 (with a notable gap in time through 2010, kicking it with new baby Lucy while living knee-deep in chaos while reading "parenting for complete idiots" during every spare minute) sharing opinions, rants and not-so-deep thoughts with anyone who will listen.
In addition to writing Canucks & Beyond and helping manage Kukla's Korner, Alanah was one of the founders and co-hosts of The Crazy Canucks Podcast. She has contributed pieces to FoxSports.com and the New York Times Slapshot blog, as well as other stray destinations in cyberspace.
So that's me. Who the hell are you?
Alanah's Twitter: [@alanah1]