Canucks team needs: Top-Six Winger

Cam Charron
May 30 2012 12:04PM


David Booth improved the team on paper, but the Canucks still require more goals.

Despite having a sum total of absolutely zero forwards having a career year offensively, the Vancouver Canucks still somehow managed to be fifth in the NHL in goal-scoring, posting 2.94 goals per game. The Sedin twins took a significant step back this season, and their consecutive scoring titles began to fade in the rear-view mirror. David Booth's injury, and lack of power-play time contributed to him not putting up the counting numbers, Ryan Kesler experienced something called "regression to the mean" (and played tougher minutes than the season previous), while Mason Raymond quizzically played  a lot despite rarely threatening to produce much of anything resembling offense.

The Canucks need to jump-start their scoring somehow, especially in the playoffs and frankly, they don't have the prospects to do it. Booth's addition made the team better on paper, but the step back from Mason Raymond, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows cost the teams goals. If the Canucks are going to remain elite, those goals are going to need to be replaced.

This week, your faithful (and cerebral) Canucks Army writers are identifying team needs. On Monday Thom let us know that the Canucks needed a top-four defenceman, and on Tuesday he zeroed in on the clubs need in the middle of their third-line. Today, we look at the top-six winger.

Read past the jump for more!

The Diagnosis

What is a top-six winger? What sort of production can you expect? NHL players in top-six roles produce fewer points than many fans and commentators would like to think. Just six forwards this season were a "point-a-game," and three of them were centres, so perhaps too much pressure is put on guys like Mason Raymond and David Booth to produce more, while their production is pretty well average.

But that's the thing. This is a team that's supposed to be good, not just average. The way to constructing a good lineup is to have several players that you can reasonably expect to produce above the league average, and slowly, over the course of an entire season, that small smattering of extra goals here and there will lead to a few extra wins above the average team. The average team will win 41 hockey games, and the elite hockey team will win 50. Nine wins equals about 50 goals in this low-scoring NHL climate, most of which the Canucks make up in goal. Defensively, the Canucks are average, so it's in the offensive end where this team really needs to produce.

Anyway, I looked at the top 60 NHL players on both left and right wing sorted by time-on-ice per game. Sorting them by goals and points per 82 rate, I think I've come up with a realistic portrayal of what we should expect, reasonably, from these players:

Place Type G/82 Pts/82
Top 15 Elite 1st 34.1 69.7
16-45 1st Liner 28.7 61.2
46-75 Elite 2nd 23.6 54.9
76-105 2nd Liner 18.9 45.4
106-120 3rd Liner 16.7 42.3

Seems reasonable? There are 30 NHL teams, so there can mathematically only be 120 top-six wingers in the league. Here is how the Canucks wingers who made the list ranked in the goals and points categories:

  Goals Points
D. Sedin 17 11
Burrows 39 63
Booth 74 96
Higgins 78 71
Hansen 104 98

Daniel: Elite 1st, 1st Liner
Burrows: 1st Liner, Elite 2nd
Booth: Elite 2nd, 2nd Liner
Higgins: 2nd Liner, Elite 2nd
Hansen: 2nd Liner, 3rd Liner

Raymond didn't make the list in TOI, so we'll rule him out.

Yes, Jannik Hansen is better off as a checker, but Higgins and Booth both placed as reasonably good second liners this past season. But the Canucks don't have the elite wingers unfortunately. They're a team that needs to compete more with depth. If one of those guys gets injured, you bump everybody else up, and maybe Hansen is the only guy who can take over a spot.

One extra quality top-six winger also allows Alain Vigneault to shuffle around the lines, as he often likes doing.

Oh, yeah, since the team has limited capabilities up front, it also means one really good shutdown pairing (Boston) or one dominant forward line (Los Angeles) can beat the tar out of this team in a playoff series. Sure, the Canucks have shot something like 2% in the last two playoff series', but they need to get something going.

Possible in-house solutions

Zack Kassian

You wish, Mike Gillis.

Kassian is about as raw as they come, and he's a couple years away yet from being something that remotely ressembles Milan Lucic. That aside, I spent some time at the Memorial Cup talking with some reporters about his game. They love his hockey ability, but one guy out of London who spent time covering Kitchener and Kassian's Windsor team said that "he's one dumb play away from a huge suspension."

The behemoth has 4 goals in 44 NHL games, so he isn't necessarily a guy that you can expect to contribute right away. I'd rather him hone his skills a little bit with the Chicago Wolves rather than see exclusive fourth line action this season. There is a big body there, and there is a decent amount of skill in that big body, if only Kassian had the sense to translate it to the ice.

Mason Raymond

No. I think that Raymond's usefulness as a Canuck has expired. To qualify him, the Canucks will have to spend $2.6 million, money that the team just can't afford to spend on a player who scored 25 goals... in the last two seasons. We already know what to expect out of Raymond, and while his offensive numbers have never matched his visible skill, his defensive abilities detereorated after he broke his back in Game 6 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals.

The smart money is to move Raymond at the draft so some loving team can adopt him and give him a fresh start.

Jannik Hansen

Maybe, but Hansen's best quality is his checking. It's nice to have some added scoring touch on the third or fourth lines. Hansen can move the puck forward in tough minutes with the right centreman. Since the Canucks may well have a new third line C to work with this upcoming season, it's probably worth it for the team to put the pieces who've proven to be succesfful in those situations present on those lines.

Niklas Jensen / Jordan Schroeder

Nik Jensen took a step back this season. After he was drafted, his expected NHL pts/82 games was 22, but in the latest version of Rob Pettapiece's un-released "Jeff Skinner rankings" he dipped to 21. While he had a good training camp last season, I still don't think he's NHL-ready and may have to go through a couple of years in the AHL at the end of his junior career.

As for Schroeder, if I'm doing NHLe's right, he improved on his output from last season, increasing his expected points/82 from 17 to 21. While we could see him reasonably improving, those are still third line numbers are the NHL level. He's also a natural centre. He ain't the guy.

The open-market

As you're sure to see, the free agent market for wingers of the non totally-old variety is pretty limited.

Zach Parise

Oh, how good would this be.

Unfortunately at Canucks Army, we like to immerse ourselves in the logical rather than the fantastical and while Parise would be a terrific addition to any hockey club, the reality is that the Vancouver Canucks would not be able to fit him under the cap unless they moved Roberto Luongo, Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts and Manny Malhotra. Then you have to out-bid Glen Sather, or somebody who learned his craft under Glen Sather.

PA Parenteau

PA Parenteau is an interesting free agent, and ought to be one of the more sought-after subjects in the offseason. In his last two seasons with the Islanders, Parenteau has 67 and 53 points. On a per-82 rate on his career, Parenteau has 18 goals and 56 points.

More than that, he's the two-way player the Canucks covet, and also stands at a reasonably big 6'0", 193 lbs. This past season, he had a plus-Corsi rate (on the New York Islanders!!!) with the third highest QualCOMP on the team. His performance was a reasonable improvement over his previous season. Those are the two best seasons wherein to judge Parenteau, but they really show a decent hockey player there, one who can move the puck against tough competition (although he did get favourable zone starts).

Now, the caveat is that he did get to pass the puck a lot to John Tavares, so we'll see whether some teams balk based on that fact. I think he's a player you could pick up for a reasonable enough price to do something that the Canucks expect people to do reasonably well.

Daniel Winnik

"Oh, great, Cam, you just spent thirty seconds of my time explaining who PA Parenteau was, and now you expect me to care about Daniel Winnik?" Yes.

Unfortunately, Winnik has never had great scoring success. He's one of those "good by fancy stats looks but his shooting game sucks" type of players. His career high in goals is 11, and his career shooting percentage after 622 shots is 5.9%. He's the player that shooting talent forgot.

However, Winnik would be cheap, and would allow the Canucks to bump up somebody like Hansen as Winnik would fit in well as a checker. His Corsi/ON last year was 4.8. His Corsi Rel QoC was on the tough side of zero (.383) and his zone starts were on the right side of 50 (46.6%). He is a play-driving checker who can get a few assists when paired with the right scorer.

Lee Stempniak

Don't laugh too hard:

Season G/82 Pts/82
2009 15 48
2010 29 49
2011 19 38
2012 19 38
Career 20 44

The guy is reasonably good, and is a solid-enough checker to boot.

Who knows what sort of price he'll command. In 2008, he was sought after enough that Toronto traded Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo (whoops!) for him. Last season, his stock was so low all Calgary needed was Daymond Langkow. His career stats put him into the 2nd Liner camp from above.

David Jones

Jones is a guy who is a reasonable-enough scorer, but with his negative Corsi Rel QoC, negative Corsi, a plus-50 zone starts from last season, he's not the sort of player that Gillis generally looks for when composing this team. Inevitably, there will be times when any player's scoring falls off, and you don't want to lose those goals at the other end of the ice.

I'm giving Jones a "no" but he's worth a look at the right price. He had 20 goals in just 72 games last season.

The trade market

I think that with the big deal the Canucks will make this summer with Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, they'll shore up their defensive needs. Whatever top-six winger they get will be a potentially minor deal. I've been pushing a troubled winger-for-troubled winger deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, sending Raymond to Toronto for a cheaper Nikolay Kulemin.

Other potential targets: Clarke MacArthur and Patric Hornqvist are two guys that I like, that fit the role for the money they're paid, but there just isn't a whole lot of good players out there who are legitimately worth the money. If the Luongo trade indeed goes for a winger, you could assemble it as:

To Other Team:

CONTRACT - Roberto Luongo

To Vancouver:

CONTRACT - Some forward who flamed out
PROSPECT - Some hotshot forward prospect

Unfortunately, I don't see any scenarios like this that are plausible. I guess Vancouver could take on Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur for Luongo from Toronto, but if you deal with Columbus, their selection of young wingers isn't quite as good as their selection of young defencemen.

Conclusion

I'm glad I'm not the one making the call here. There's limited roster spots and funds, but nobody who stands out as a sure thing at the right price. I think the way to go is to trade for one, and to sign one of Winnik/Stempniak/Jones via free agency. You'll at least end up with a third line that keeps the puck at the right end of the ice, even if they don't score that many goals.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 TreeofLife
May 30 2012, 08:39PM
Trash it!
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props

Great read, thanks.

At this point, none of the internal options are appealing to me, lol, nor are the UFA ones. David Jones seems to be a popular option, but you just have to read his twitter feed to see he doesn't exactly like the Canucks (Duco_v2). I remember reading something PA Paranteau wishing to stay w/ Isles. They didn't trade him at deadline cause he said they'd get a deal done.

I think they need to make a trade to acquire one (prob through Lu deal). I think they try to sign Garrison in UFA for gaping hole on back end, and use Lu trade to bring in top 6er, and possible 3rd line center.

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