Fight more, or not? Quite the tizzy between O'Brien, Canucks

February, 3, 2009
Quite the tizzy in Vancouver during the past 24 hours, huh?

Canucks defenseman Shane O'Brien, apparently angry that he was made a healthy scratch this past weekend, came out Monday and told the local media he was told by the team to fight more. The inference was that because he hasn't been in a fight since Dec. 14, he was being shown a lesson by not dressing.

These are the kinds of melodramas you get when your team is reeling as the Canucks have been.

We contacted Canucks GM Michael Gillis on Tuesday, and he vehemently denied ever telling O'Brien to fight more during a closed-door meeting last week.

"Absolutely not," Gillis told "What we said to him was that we wanted him to be more physical and be more aggressive with and without the puck.

"In fact, he said to us, 'Do you guys just want me to fight?' And we said, 'No, we want you to be a better player.' So I don't know how he got to there."

Every Canucks player was brought in individually for closed-door meetings with Gillis and other front-office staff last week. O'Brien apparently got the wrong message.

"He [Gillis] just said fight more and be more physical," the 6-foot-3, 225-pound O'Brien was quoted as saying to the local Vancouver media after Monday's practice.

"I'm not happy about it," O'Brien told reporters. "I'm at the point in my career where I need to play to improve, and if they don't think I'm worth playing to see if I can develop -- and they just want me to be a fighter -- maybe it's not the right situation.

"I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to sit here and say all the right things that I'm just happy to be a part of the team. I want to improve as a player and stay in the league as long as I can. You can't do that from the press box."

Gillis reiterated to "He was the one who suggested, 'Do we want him to fight?' and we said, 'Absolutely not.' We went over it with him three times. I don't know how he could think that. Maybe he was just upset at being a healthy scratch, who knows."

O'Brien, earning $1.025 million in 2008-09, will be a free agent at season's end. We're not too sure how much of a future he has in Vancouver. Showing up your GM never seems like a great career choice.

For the record, O'Brien has five fighting majors this season after posting six last season. He had 14 in his NHL rookie year of 2006-07.

Caps lose captain
It is the kind of news nugget that sometimes gets lost, especially on a team with bigger names. But don't underestimate the loss of captain Chris Clark for the Washington Capitals, a 30-goal scorer just two seasons ago.

The gritty, two-way player oozes character and will be missed. He's slated for wrist surgery Thursday and could be lost for up to three months, Caps GM George McPhee told Tuesday.

The reality, as McPhee tells it, is the Caps really have been without their captain all season long. Clark played hurt all year, and the injury affected his play, as underlined by his one goal in 32 games.

"It would have been nice to have him," McPhee said. "We think he would have been good for another 25 goals this year. But right from training camp, this thing was bothering him."

The Caps shut him down in November and hoped a soft cast would help the wrist settle down. But when he returned, it was the same problem.

"He wore a splint to play. He just has no dexterity. He can't make a play," said McPhee, who added Clark has had a hard time making a pass or taking a shot.

Feeling that enough was enough, McPhee sat down with Clark on Friday and suggested it was time for surgery.

"I had to have that meeting with him and say, 'Chris, I admire how tough you are, I admire that you're playing through this. And you're not complaining at all. But you're not just playing well enough -- this isn't the Chris Clark we know,'" McPhee said. "'When you can't shoot the puck, you're just wasting time out there.'"

McPhee said he doesn't particularly feel the need at this point to replace Clark with a trade. He said the team had been carrying 14 forwards already.

"We think Eric Fehr can do the job," McPhee said. "It's his time, and we'll see what he can do. He played well over the weekend."

Sbisa sent down
Paul Holmgren had mulled over the decision ... and mulled, and mulled, and mulled. Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers GM announced Monday he was sending 19-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa back to junior with the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Given that Sbisa had dressed only once since Jan. 10, a numbers victim on the Flyers' blue line, it was the only decision to make in our mind.

"He needs to play, and he hasn't been," Holmgren told on Tuesday. "I've kind of been dragging my feet, thinking that it might change, but it's hard to argue with the coaches and the guys that are playing. This was the best-case scenario for Luca and for the team."

Sbisa showed tremendous poise after breaking camp with the team at age 18 in October. But the return of healthy veterans, notably Randy Jones, pushed him down the pecking order. He'll be back next season for good.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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