October 24 2011 10:34AM
Now that the Canucks have acquired the much coveted second line power forward to play with Ryan Kesler, some of the team's lines and special team deployments will surely be thrown into flux. How does the acquisition of David Booth impact Vigneault's options going forward? Let's take a look.
It's well known that Alain Vigneault likes to operate with "pairs" at even strength as opposed to set three man units. Generally, this means that a left-winger and a centerman will always play together, while Vigneault moves the team's right-wingers up and down the lineup. Last season the three major pairs were: "Daniel and Henrik", "Kesler and Raymond" and "Torres and Malhotra" while Samuelsson, Burrows and Hansen jumped up and down the lineup as the team required.
This season, it's too early to really get a handle on Vigneault's "pairs" because we haven't seen enough games. We know for sure that the twins remain the top "pair" and I think we can reasonably expect that Booth-Kesler will go steady as the team's second pair. The third pair is a bit trickier. I'd expected Chris Higgins to be deployed as a straight up Raffi Torres replacement this season, however, so far that hasn't been the case - Higgins has been used as a top six forward.
It seems to me that there are two likely scenarios. The most likely would be that, until Raymond returns, Higgins plays on the second line and becomes a "rover" who could theoretically see time with all three lines. In this scenario the "third forward pairing" becomes Hodgson and Malhotra, both technically centerman. In practice Malhotra would take the draws then play the left wing (which he has done throughout his career) while Hodgson plays center. In this scenario the roving right-wingers would be: Burrows, Higgins, Hansen and Wiese.
The other scenario, which, seems less likely considering the way Hodgson was benched in the final forty minutes of Saturday's OT win over the Minnesota Wild, is that Alain Vigneault keeps Hodgson with the Kesler/Booth pairing. In this scenario the third "pair" would be Higgins and Malhotra who would skate mostly with Hansen to form a more traditional checking unit. In this case the "roving" right-wingers would be: Burrows, Hodgson, Hansen and Wiese.
Dale Wiese has impressed more with his play than his fists.
Will he continue to get the post-PK Sedin shift with Booth in the mix?
This brings us to the one consistent variation in the Canucks even-strength deployment: who plays the wing with the twins after a successful penalty kill. As any close observer of the Canucks will tell you: the Sedins always get the first shift after a successful penalty kill, and they never take it with Alex Burrows who tends to average over two minutes of short-handed ice-time per game. Over the past few years they've skated with Mikael Samuelsson in this situation, and that tended to be pretty effective. Last season when Samuelsson was hurt, the twins regularly took this shift with Victor Oreskovich, which, was not effective at all. So far this year when Samuelsson had been out, Vigneault has tapped Dale Wiese on the shoulder for the "beneficiary" role.
The first time Vigneault put Wiese out with the Sedin's he apparently couldn't believe it. The question now is, will he continue to get those opportunities post-trade? David Booth hasn't been used to kill penalties in a few years, so presumably he would provide AV with another, significantly more attractive option to skate with the twins after the penalty kill. Vigneault may, however, be loathe to break up his 2nd line "pair", but I wouldn't be surprised to see AV test it out, and give Booth a couple of shifts with the twins following the PK in the first few games of his Canucks tenure. Also, if the less likely second even-strength scenario I explored above comes to fruition, Hodgson would be the "rover" on the second line, while continuing to sit on the bench while the Canucks are short-handed. Could he get a chance after the penalty kill to benefit from Sedinery? No, probably not, because AV clearly "hates" him.
The loss of Samuelsson and the ushering in of David Booth will lead to a couple of major changes on the power-play. First of all, trigger man Sami Salo will move up the first unit to replace Samuelsson. Samuelsson was fourth on the team in power-play minutes per game so far this season, so expect Salo to get nearly two minutes more per game with the man-advantage. In terms of the way the first unit umbrella deploys, Edler was the "designated shooter" on the first unit with Samuelsson, however, with Sami Salo replacing Samuelsson that will change. Edler will now shift to playing the "fourth forward" role, which, he occupied last season. This should give him more opportunities to create havoc with his size, deploy his sweet array of dangles and generally make plays.
On the second unit, Kevin Bieksa will get more ice-time as he becomes a full-time member of the second power-play unit with Dan Hamhuis. David Booth will also surely join the second unit with Cody Hodgson and one of either Alex Burrows or Chris Higgins. Higgins has averaged 2 PP minutes per game so far this season, but I'd expect him to be the odd-man out with the addition of David Booth.
UPDATE: it appears to my surprise that Higgins is retaining his position on the second PP unit at the Canucks first team practice with David Booth. Looks like it is Burrows, in fact, who is the odd-man out.
Mikael Samuelsson never killed penalties in his time with the Canucks and I'd expect that David Booth won't be relied on when the team is short-handed either. Marco Sturm was being deployed as a penalty-killing forward this season, but his loss isn't a major one for the PK unit, which, with the return of Ryan Kesler has six solid forward options for the PK. The trade has basically no impact on the team's deployment and the six forwards who will see the most time short-handed will continue to be: Lapierre, Kesler, Malhotra, Hansen, Burrows and Higgins.