If these painfully early positional projections started with the goaltenders, which they did, then the next logical step would have to be an in-depth look at the defense.
Or at the very least, what we know about the defense to this point.
What to Make of Last Season…
As you may have heard from Mike Gillis, last season was a strange one. The oddity of that 48 game season could be exemplified with no better positional group than the Vancouver Canucks blue-liners.
Out with the old guard of Sami Salo and Aaron Rome, and in with the new-er guard of Jason Garrison and Chris Tanev — sure, Tanev played a few games here and there with the club before last season, but that was his first in a top-six role.
With a newer than usual group to work with, the Canucks really outdid themselves. You know the old mantra about working smart, rather than hard? Apparently Rick Bowness and Alain Vigneault don’t.
For the better part of last season they had the Canucks blue-line in a constant state of flux with no real rhyme or reason to who was paired with who, and how to spread the ice-time among these odd pairings.
According to the stats-nerd site BehindtheNet.ca the Canucks pairings for the majority of the season were as follows:
So, like I said, these pairings don’t make all that much in the way of sense.
The Hamhuis-Garrison one is great, sure, but it leaves the Canucks rather top heavy with their quality of pairings; something that doesn’t bode well for a club that lacks that elite defenseman and tries to get by with a committee approach.
Even more baffling is the fact that Bowness had that pairing playing significantly less minutes than the defensively blonde duo of Bieksa and Edler throughout the playoffs five-on-five.
While the Bieksa and Edler pairing, that had me pulling hair throughout the playoffs and season alike, were given roughly 84:30 each in five-on-five ice time, their vastly better counterparts (at least where the sum of its part is concerned) were given nearly 70 minutes (Garrison) and 76 minutes (Hamhuis).
Somebody, please, try and make sense of this for me?
So, if anything can be taken out of last season it’s that Edler and Bieksa shouldn’t be together.
Their combined Corsi-Relative (which is an advanced stat that tracks shot-differential with or without said players on the ice as a means of figuring out their value comparably to the rest of the team) for the playoffs was a ghastly -22.
That’s not good.
Also, Garrison needs more power play time with the first unit. One of the more annoying myths about last season was that Garrison didn’t get any playing time on the power play.
Not true. He actually had the second most minutes of any Canucks defensemen, with about 104. He just needs more minutes with the first unit.
Also, Edler cannot play the left side. Notice I opted for “can not” instead of can’t. Oh, the emphasis, I hope you caught on to.
So, What About This Season?
Well, the cast is pretty much the same for this season.
The depth pieces are all different, but as for the top six the only real change is Frankie Corrado taking Keith Ballard‘s spot on the bottom pairing. Well, that’s still not guaranteed for next season, but… they might as well.
So far this offseason they’ve added the likes of Yannick Weber and the plan is to add another veteran defenseman, likely in a depth role, after they get Chris Tanev signed to a new deal. So, that leaves the depth chart looking a little something like this… Dan Hamhuis – Jason Garrison, Kevin Bieksa – Alexander Edler, Frankie Corrado – Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber/Assumed Veteran Signing
How to Get the Most Out of the Defense
Or better yet, how to not pull a last-season.
If Bieksa and Edler don’t work together, which we most certainly know they don’t, then that has to be the first remnant of the old regime to bite the dust.
The Hamhuis and Garrison pairing is remarkably solid, but leaves this committee driven defense group a little top heavy; it also leaves the Canucks two most defensively sound d-men on the same pairing.
And about that Tanev guy, otherwise known as “Joe Cool” by myself, and hopefully soon enough others… Yeah, you can put him just about anywhere and he’ll surely raise the play of his partner. Hell, there were parts of last season where he practically had Keith Ballard looking comfortable.
My thinking is that the first priority with Vancouver’s d-men has to be getting Hamhuis and Bieksa back together.
They had otherworldly chemistry together back in 2010-11, and as such I am still baffled to this day by the Canucks breaking that pairing up. Why mess with a good thing?
Now, the negative with that pairing is it essentially means that one of either Garrison, or Edler, will have to be on the third pairing, as a means of maximizing the value of either player.
Edler can’t (can not) play the left side and Garrison’s none too comfortable there either.
This means that Tanev most likely slides into a top four role, presumably playing alongside Alexander Edler. That leaves Garrison with one of either Corrado or Yannick Weber.
Think of it this way, the Canucks will have one great shutdown pairing in Bieksa and Hamhuis and a more offensive pairing with Garrison and Weber or Corrado.
Somewhere in the middle lies Tanev and Edler. Ideally, of course.
Here’s the more visually appealing version of the last paragraph… Kevin Bieksa – Dan Hamhuis, Chris Tanev – Alexander Edler, Frankie Corrado/Yannick Weber – Jason Garrison
And that folks, was all she wrote.
Add some comments down below! Agree? Disagree? Let me know how you see Vancouver’s defensive pairings panning out!