Canucks Points Projections: Blue Line

Robert Vollman
October 27 2012 11:07AM

Every year we project how many points each of the players will score using a couple of different statistical methods, and why should a potential lockout season be any different?

If you're just tuning in, we explained our methodology in more detail in our first piece, which covered the top-six forwards.  This time we'll cover the defensemen and then close up in a third and final piece that features the remaining, secondary forwards.

Alexander Edler

It was a monster season offensively from Alexander Edler, who is now 16th among defensemen in combined points over the past four seasons, but we project that he's got some cooling off to do. 

At first glance that seems bizarre, having taken 228 shots last year (his career high by 67), and given that he scored 1.0 points per 60 minutes at even-strength for the third straight season (thanks to generally the most sizable offensive zone boost possible), and has been a top power play guy for years, adding between 4.5-5.3 points per 60 minutes with that man advantage.  Unfortunately a return closer to the 40-point mark seems to be what history foreshadows.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 82   11   38   49
VUKOTA    69.5 10.7 31.6 42.3
Best      82   15.9 39.9 55.8
Worst     82    5.9 19.9 25.8
Average   82    9.2 29.6 38.8

While four of his ten closest matches did indeed score at least 42 points, equally as many were in the 35-38 points range, including his two closest matches Mathieu Schneider and Tomas Kaberle.  See how closely their era-adjusted scoring totals compare with Edler's over the past five seasons, and how they each popped right back down.


Edler   GP  G A PTS
2007-08 75  8 12 20
2008-09 80 10 27 37
2009-10 76  5 37 42
2010-11 51  8 25 33
2011-12 82 11 38 49

Schneider   G A PTS
1991-92 78  6 19 25
1992-93 60 10 23 33
1993-94 75 16 27 43
1994-95 43  7 19 26
1995-96 78 11 36 47
Next    26  4  7 11

Kaberle GP  G A PTS
1998-99 57  4 19 23
1999-00 82  7 32 39
2000-01 82  6 38 44
2001-02 69 10 30 40
2002-03 82 11 36 47
Next    71  3 29 32

Defensively Edler isn't a slouch, killing penalties like everyone else, although he's never been higher than 4th among their defensemen in Quality of Competition.

Kevin Bieksa

At age 30, Kevin Bieksa amazingly returned to the 40 point plateau for the third time in his career, after consecutive 22-point seasons.  He also now has the fourth highest combined plus/minus among defensemen over the past two seasons at +44 (Dan Hamhuis is second).  Unfortunately he too is likely to cool off.

After two years at a strong even-strength scoring rate of 1.0 points per 60 minutes Bieksa jumped to 1.4 last year.  While his power play time has been gradually decreasing due to long stretches of mediocrity, it certainly bounced back this past season.  A continuation of these two trends is the only way his scoring will remain this high.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 78    8   36   44
VUKOTA    70.0  7.5 23.7 31.2
Best      82    8.3 51.1 59.4
Worst     82    8.6 15.1 23.7
Average   82    6.0 26.6 32.5

Of his ten closest historical matches, four scored 26-27 points and four more were between 33 and 37.  An example of someone on pace for the latter is another hard-nose defenseman Steve Smith.  Smith played most of his career with the Oilers but was with the Blackhawks at this stage of his career.  Unfortunately his strong 1992-93 season was his last monster year – in fact he barely outscored that single season in the seven that followed combined.


Bieksa  GP  G  A  PTS
Career 425 42 149 191
2010-11 66  6  16  22
2011-12 78  8  36  44

Smith   GP  G  A  PTS
Career 539 48 179 227
1991-92 76  7  16  23
1992-93 78  7  35  42
Next    57  4  19  23

Even if his scoring drops, the rugged Bieksa is likely to remain just as useful defensively where he kills penalties, is consistently 2nd or 3rd on the Canucks blue line in Quality of Competition, and has had a personal even-strength goals-against average of almost exactly 2.60 in three of his past four seasons.

Jason Garrison

A favourite among the statistical community for how well he handles the tough minutes, Jason Garrison's signing with the Canucks received a 63.0% approval in a recent ESPN survey of such analysts, many of whom were even pushing his name heavily in the 2011 off-season prior to his breakout campaign alongside Florida's Brian Campbell.

Unfortunately his offense isn't what we find so attractive – Garrison's even-strength scoring rate is merely a consistent 0.7-0.8 points per 60 minutes all three seasons, and he's likely to face far more competition for the power play time required to post over 30 points again. 

His 54 points in 113 AHL games work out to about 18 points over a full NHL season, which is the same as his 2010-11 season and the pace of his 2009-10 half-season.  While he'll likely get enough offensive opportunities to break into the mid-20s, he likely won't get beyond that.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 77   16   17   33
VUKOTA    68.3  8.5 20.4 28.9
Best      82    5.0 41.0 46.0
Worst     82    2.9  6.2  9.1
Average   82    8.3 20.7 29.0

Of his ten closest historical matches, three did indeed score 40 points, but another three were under 20.  One such example of the former is Andy Delmore, who got traded from Philadelphia to Nashville (the first of six trades in his seven-season career), worked the power play and scored buckets of points before his NHL career washed up as suddenly as it started.  He's 35, still playing in Europe.

While this won't happen to Garrison, being a defense-specialist instead of a power play specialist like Delmore, it does show the precedent for higher levels of scoring in the unlikely event that he can retains his man advantage minutes in Vancouver.


Garrison GP  G  A PTS
Career  190 23 36 59
2010-11  73  5 13 18
2011-12  77 16 17 33

Delmore  GP  G  A PTS
Career  168 23 37 60
2000-01  66  5  9 14
2001-02  73 16 23 39
Next     71 18 16 34

Remember that Garrison was acquired for his strong defense.  He kills penalties, and has been top-two in Quality of Competition in both of his full seasons in Florida (though with an offensive zone start percentage that jumped from 42.2% to 53.7%). Any scoring over 20 points should be seen as a bonus, not a requirement.

Dan Hamhuis

BC native Dan Hamhuis took a career high 140 shots, added a career high 33 assists (after finishing with fewer than 20 the two preceding seasons), making some people believe that he's more than just a 23-26 point guy.  Unfortunately, those people are probably wrong.

Hamhuis has consistently scored 0.7-1.0 points per 60 minutes at even-strength thoughout his career, which isn't enough to score another 37 points.  While his power play scoring has been an impressive 4.2-4.3 points per 60 minutes since coming to Vancouver, he only gets secondary minutes.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 82    4   33   37
VUKOTA    71.9  5.7 22.9 28.6
Best      82    3.7 29.9 33.6
Worst     82    2.7 12.4 15.1
Average   82    5.4 20.0 25.4

The good news is that three of his ten closest historical matches scored at the 32-34 level, but more realistically, half of them were between 22-26 – including his closest match Shawn Chambers.

Chambers, a disciplined veteran defensive-minded defenseman with comparable scoring levels, was winding up his career where it began, with the Dallas Stars organization.  He won his second Cup, then suffered a career-ending knee injury four games into the following season.


Hamhuis GP  G  A  PTS
Career 629 42 179 221
2010-11 64  6  17  23
2011-12 82  4  33  37

Chambers GP  G  A  PTS
Career  560 38 148 186
1996-97  73  4  16  20
1997-98  57  2  23  25
Next     61  2   9  11

Of course, Hamhuis is best celebrated for his defensive abilities, including elite penalty killing.  He has an amazing +58 in his two seasons in Vancouver, 2nd only to Zdeno Chara, despite consistently facing top competition (ranked 1st among Canucks defensemen last year) and an offensive zone start percentage always below 50%.

Keith Ballard

There are reasons why Keith Ballard has just 94 shots in his 112 games in Vancouver, and has suffered back-to-back 7 point seasons, but they are reasons unlikely to change any time soon.  He stopped getting any power play time, played just 16 minutes a game (despite over 20 the rest of his career), and is barely even used to kill penalties any more.

Despite being used only against depth lines his possession numbers have been truly terrible since coming to town, although in fairness his offensive zone start percentage has been 44.0-44.6% both season.  His plus/minus has been salvaged by on-ice save percentages of .948 and .937.

On the plus side, Ballard does throw a consistent 5.0-5.7 hits per 60 minutes over the years, and actually draws a lot of penalties for a defenseman.  Unfortunately his scoring is likely to remain where it is – half of his ten closest historical matches were on pace for 12-15 points over a full season that Ballard is unlikely to play.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 47   1    6    7
VUKOTA    50.1 1.7  6.1  7.8
Best      82   3.2 18.3 21.6
Worst     82   0.0  3.7  3.7
Average   82   3.7 10.0 13.7

Joe Cirella, another gritty hard-nosed player like Ballard, also had his offensive hey day before settling into a more defensive role, and also played on some highly questionable blue lines (earning the 7th worst career plus/minus of all time).  Expansion kept his career going a little longer in Florida and Ottawa, but at this point it was basically all over.


Ballard  GP  G  A  PTS
Career  509 36 127 163
2010-11  65  2   5   7
2011-12  47  1   6   7

Cirella  GP  G  A  PTS
Career  802 45 153 196
1992-93  55  2   5   7
1993-94  63  1   7   8
Next     20  0   1   1

Chris Tanev

There isn't much to say about Chris Tanev.  He has just 30 shots and 3 points in his 54 NHL games, and his 23 points in 73 AHL games work out to about 11-12 points in a full NHL season. 

He doesn't throw hits, doesn't get much special teams time, ranked fifth among Canucks defensemen in Quality of Competition both years, and is used mostly in the defensive zone (offensive zone start percentage of 42.4% and 44.1%).


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 25    0    2    2
VUKOTA    41.1  1.3  5.1  6.4
Best      82    2.0 19.7 31.7
Worst     82    0.8  1.8  2.7
Average   82    1.7 11.5 13.3

Last year he was +10 in his 25 games, thanks to a .952 save percentage when he was on the ice.

Andrew Alberts

Finally there's Andrew Alberts, with just 12 points and 52 shots in 100 games since coming to Vancouver at the 2010 trade deadline.

His scoring is likely to remain very low due to the absence of power play time, the fact that he's had the lowest offensive zone start percentage among Vancouver defensemen in both his full seasons here (albeit against depth competition), and the fact that he hasn't played particularly well.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 44    2    1    3
VUKOTA    43.0  1.3  4.1  5.3
Best      82   10.3 15.9 26.2
Worst     82    0.0  1.8  1.8
Average   82    1.8  6.7  8.5

Alberts throws a lot of hits, but also takes too many penalties – at least 1.2 per 60 minutes every year.

Next Time

That's it for Vancouver's defensemen.  In our final piece next time we'll look at the remaining, secondary forwards.  Thanks for reading and I hope you found it interesting.

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Rob Vollman of www.HockeyAbstract.com is a regular feature writer on ESPN Insider, co-author of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 and 2011-12, and regular contributor to NHL Numbers, Flames Nation and Arctic Ice Hockey. Innovator of Player Usage Charts, Quality Starts, GVS (Goals Versus Salary), the Snepsts Projection System, and known for work in League Equivalencies (NHLE). Twitter: @robvollmanNHL
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