August 24 2011 01:08PM
Bieksa and Hamhuis become a formidable defensive pairing.
Canucks fans can expect five more years of their dominance and physicality.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images Files, Vancouver Sun)
Canucks Army continues its series where it looks at the depth at each position for the Vancouver Canucks.
In our fifth installment of our series, we look at the Canucks depth at DEFENCE (Part I).
Last season, the Canucks boasted arguably the strongest top 6 defence in the entire NHL. The problem is that their top 6 defence of Hamhuis, Bieksa, Ballard, Ehrhoff, Salo, and Edler played a grand total of ONE regular season game together. Well, it wasn't really a problem, given that the Canucks finished tops in the NHL in the regular and came within one win of capturing hockey's ultimate prize. But it was the injuries to the blueline that did play a huge role in the Canucks coming up one game short.
With Ehrhoff game to greener pastures, his point production will fall into the hands of the remaining top 6 defencemen, all of whom are capable of making up those points. This year though, it is important that the Canucks defence stay healthy, especially in the playoffs. That won't be hard, as it's impossible to imagine the Canucks having MORE injuries to their top 6 defence than they did last year.
The season ended dramatically and disappointingly for Dan Hamhuis. A huge hip-check on Bruins' Milan Lucic early in the second period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final knocked Hamhuis out of final round permanently. The Canucks suffered as a result, despite winning that game and the next. Hamhuis proved in the playoffs that he is an incredibly valuable and important member of the Canucks defence. He also proved that his partnership with Kevin Bieksa provided one of the best shutdown pairings in the league. With both Bieksa and Hamhuis under contract with the Canucks for five more seasons, they're going to have plenty of time to become a lethal defensive tandem, if they aren't already. The only concern with Hamhuis coming into this season is his recovery from that hip check-endured hernia. There is little reason to suspect that he won't be ready, but sports hernias can be tricky. Staying healthy throughout the playoffs will be a MASSIVE key to the success for the Canucks this year. However, Hamhuis may be too busy helping Haiti or rescuing kittens from trees, or saving appliances from a burning house. Bloody do-gooder.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Want to know how important Dan Hamhuis quickly became to the Canucks. In the 42 games that he played where the Canucks won, Dan Hamhuis was a +40 and notched 29 points. In the 22 games he played where the Canucks lost, Hamhuis scored only 4 points and was -11.
Bieksa signed himself a Juice-y new contract with the Canucks this summer after a stellar regular in 2010-11 and an even better post-season. He also scored one of the biggest goals in Canucks' post-season history, and easily the most bizarre. As I said above, he and Hamhuis took huge strides in solidifying themselves as an elite pairing in the league. One question that I ask myself about Bieksa as the new season approaches is "Will Bieksa have enough motivation to step his game up another level, now that he has that new five-year deal?". Bieksa seems like the type of player that would WANT to prove that he earned that contract, and having Hamhuis as a partner on the blue line seems like a perfect fit for both players. Canucks fans should be very excited about having Bieksa and Hamhuis together for five years. Their play as a tandem during the 2011 playoffs was arguably the biggest reason for the Canucks' success this past Spring. Their immediate chemistry and complementary play allowed the team to lean heavily on them in tough situations and both players seem to thrive in big-minute, high-pressure situations. As well, the Canucks finally have a legitimate defensive pair to effectively match against opponents' top lines. Rumours** have also persisted that Bieksa was petitioning with Canucks management to sign the stanchion to a corresponding five-year deal, but Management was having difficulty finding the stanchion's agent. Most importantly, Bieksa is easily the Canucks' best quote and best interview, and is now the team's go-to guy for any on-camera work. He's become a regular on TSN's Off The Record and has been dynamite on-air during Hockey Night in Canada.
**ed.note - not an actual rumour.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: His impressive stat from last year is that he finished second in the league in plus/minus at +32. His interesting stat from last season is that he scored 6 goals last year, 2 goals in first periods, 2 goals in second periods, 2 goals in third periods.
Much has been written about Ballard's plight over the entirety of last season and through the playoffs. Rather than trying to say it differently, I'm just going to quote Jeff Angus (from The Hockey Writers) from his recent post on Ballard:
"Ballard’s lack of ice time in Vancouver highlights the lack of trust the coaching staff had in him. In his final season with the Panthers, Ballard played 21 minutes or more 53 times. In his first season in Vancouver, he played 21 minutes or more once."
The fact is that Ballard played in completely different situations that he had ever done in his NHL career, and it just didn't work. Hopefully, the Canucks coaching staff and management give Ballard the chance to regain his playing touch, by giving him more ice time, in better situations, and with a steadier partner (barring injury). I am not alone in being impressed with the tandem of Ballard and Tanev when they played together last year. Ballard was able to zip up ice and act as the more offensive counterpart to Tanev's stalwart, solid, stay-at-home style. The Canucks have not yet replaced Christian Ehrhoff, but it doesn't appear that they have any plans to do so. With the stable of defencemen that the Canucks have, it does seem slightly unnecessary. The Canucks are better served spending that salary on a top 6 forward. It means that one of the blueliners that the Canucks already have is going to fill Ehrhoff's power play minutes and his offensive tendencies. Based on the current list of players, Ballard is probably the best suited to take that role. It's up to Canucks coaching staff and management to put Ballard in a position to succeed.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Tuesdays were terrible for Ballard last year. In 10 GP on Tuesdays, Ballard didn't record a single point, and was -4. Maybe that is his key to success this coming year. Ballard should only play Wednesday through Monday. Problem solved.
Salo had a successful, sustained and surprising return from a potentially career ending Achilles tear last summer. In retrospect, Salo's injury allowed the Canucks to carry more expensive defencemen throughout the year, since his cap hit was off the books for most of the season. Salo returns this season with a new 1 year, $2m deal - a deal that is financially sound for the Canucks and gives Salo a chance to stay with an elite team with a real chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final to win the Cup. Salo will be 37 by the time the season starts, and has a lengthy, notable history of injuries. His lower cap number gave the Canucks the ability to keep almost their entire defensive roster in tact. Most Canucks fans will reasonably expect Salo to be injured at some point next season, and probably several times at that. If Salo can act as a 5/6 defenceman when he's healthy, he'll be well worth his one year. It's important that the Canucks staff do all they can to keep Salo away from sharp objects, open drains, storms and anything electrical, lest Salo succumb to some new, bizarre injury. Who are we kidding? No matter what the Canucks do, Salo WILL be hurt. We'll start taking bets on how ... and when.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: In his injury shortened season, Salo scored 6 of his 7 points on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For someone who put up next to nothing on his stat line, Chris Tanev sure made a lot of fans in Vancouver last season. He's become the purist fans' favourite defenceman - a solid, steady, stay-at-home defenceman who looked at cool as a cucumber in every game he played. Let's remember too that in 2009-20, Tanev was playing collegiate hockey for RIT. The year before that, he was playing Junior A in Markham, Ontario. Undrafted and coming seemingly out of nowhere, Tanev made his mark quickly. It's probably unfair, but many Canucks fans are expecting big things from Tanev this season, given how quickly he meshed with the Canucks defence. His pairing with much-maligned Keith Ballard proved beneficial for both, as Tanev steady, calm stalwart style was a great counterbalance to Ballard's fast-skating, risk-taking, more offensive-minded game. That said, Tanev has some chops for the offense, as shown by the RIDIC pass to Tanner Glass in Game 5 in the Stanley Cup Final. Only one problem… he passed it to TANNER GLASS.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Chris Tanev played exactly 400 minutes during the regular season.
Edler has been labeled as the Canucks' next potential Norris candidate for the last couple of seasons. He hasn't yet taken the leap to that elite level of defenceman to really compete as a Norris nominee. Last year, his regular season was cut short by injury and he had his best statistical year on a per-game basis. Edler seemed to hit a wall in the playoffs, where he was utterly dominant through the first 3-4 games of the opening round series against the Blackhawks and then trailing off noticeably as the playoffs progressed. It's possible that he returned too soon from his injury or that he was simply not ready for the rigors of a lengthy playoff run. Whatever the case, the final two series showed disappointing efforts from Edler. With Ehrhoff now in Buffalo, big things are expected out of Edler this season to pick up some of Ehrhoff's offense with his booming point shot and a return to his steady, physical, punishing play. A solid, full season out of Edler is EXACTLY what the Canucks need to propel themselves back to the top of the standings and ready for another long playoff run.
Interesting Stat from 2010-11: January was a MASSIVE month for Edler. Having scored only 2 goals from October to December, Edler potted 6 goals in 13 games played in January.
Next week, we conclude our series with a look at the bottom 6 defencemen, which will include their 4 best blueline prospects.