Are Vancouver Canucks players being ordered to go out and fight by their coach, Alain Vigneault?

That question was sparked by comments made to Star Tribune reporter Michael Russo by Minnesota Wild bruiser Derek Boogaard. Boogaard mentioned to Russo after his team’s game against the Canucks that his fight with Darcy Hordichuk came about directly as a result of an order from Vigneualt. Boogaard quoted Hordichuk as saying “The coach is making us fight you guys.”

I’ve yet to see video of the Hordichuk/Boogaard fight, but apparently Hordichuk lunged at Boogaard and they went to the ice quickly. Less fortunate was Alexandre Bolduc who was apparently the second part of the “us”; he went after John Scott and was demolished in a one-sided contest.

A third event, between Tanner Glass and Shane Hnidy was a bit closer.

The report above is obviously circumstantial, and the lengthy chain of communication (from Vigneault to Russo) makes it somewhat suspect. The possible weak link is between Hordichuk and Boogaard (because we can trust that Boogaard told Russo, and if Hordichuk said those things to Boogaard we can be relatively certain he was being honest about Vigneault’s orders); did Hordichuk tell Boogaard the coach had sent him out with orders? Boogaard would seem to have little motive for lying, but regardless this is still only hearsay.

The biggest issue with this story is simply where it’s happening. Fresh of the Alex Burrows/Stephane Auger, Vancouver has already had plenty of controversy. Matt Sekeres did a nice job of summarizing the relevant history for the Globe and Mail:

But with the Canucks, more so than any other NHL franchise, the issue of a coaching ordering players to fight is a sensitive topic.

You might remember the events in March 2004, when Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi attacked Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore from behind, sucker-punched him and ended his career. Four years later, Bertuzzi’s lawyers filed court papers claiming that then Canucks coach Marc Crawford had to share in the blame because he allegedly told his players that Moore had to “pay the price.”

Last year, Canucks defenceman Shane O’Brien said that Canucks general manager Mike Gillis asked him to fight more during a series of meetings between players and management. Gillis, a lawyer, vehemently denied O’Brien’s claim, and said the player misunderstood.

(More on O’Brien’s allegations here.)

I don’t know if the Boogaard report is true. I do know that the league won’t do anything about it, both because of the difficulty in verifying the report and because communication between a player and coach is a difficult thing for the league to infringe on.

I also know that in the shoes of Mike Gillis I’d be taking the players involved aside and finding out what happened. Because if Vigneault did in fact order those players into battle, it was his actions that led to Bolduc’s injury (he has at least a shoulder injury and needed help leaving the ice) – all in the name of sending a message.