Dreaming Of The Picture Perfect Third Line

Dimitri Filipovic
September 03 2012 10:19AM

                             

The title of this post was originally set to be ‘All I Want for Christmas Is..’, before a last minute change. I figured it would be just a tad bit too cheesy. But then again, that has never seemed to get in my way in the past. And it would have made sense timing-wise, given the fact that –by the looks of how CBA negotiations are coming along, or more accurately, not coming along - the earliest I’ll be able to see it in action will likely be in December.

The dream is simple. I want to see the Vancouver Canucks deploy a third line consisting of Jannik Hansen, Max Lapierre, and Chris Higgins. That’s a reasonable desire, right?

If you think about it, it makes too much sense for it not to happen. But then again, it can be a cruel world out there, and sometimes you just don’t get what you want. Plus, there are a few things that would need to fall into place to allow it to unfold.

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The Wrecking Crew

Last season, the third line was primarily used as a showcase for Cody Hodgson. I have spent more than enough time discussing the merits, and drawbacks, of that particular venture. This won't be a platform for me to rehash those sentiments. I hope for bigger and better things from that unit this coming season.

Before we get the chance to see the Hansen-Lapierre-Higgins trifecta, though, a few things need to fall into place.

The Canucks need someone to finally step up, and take control of the right wing spot alongside Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Whether it’s Zack Kassian, Mason Raymond, or a player that isn’t even on the team yet – that will likely acquired in a potential Roberto Luongo trade – someone needs to prove that they can hang on that second scoring line.

Higgins filled that role rather admirably last year, but it’s no secret that he was in over his head. He was actually fairly effective there, but ideally, he’s causing havoc for the opposition from your third line. He would be amongst the elite in the entire NHL filling that particular role, too.

A bigger hurdle may be Alain Vigneault’s seeming reluctance to hand the third line center gig over to Max Lapierre. Fellow ‘soldier’  Jeff Angus , and  yours truly , have gone into extensive detail this summer on this very topic.

It’s rather curious that Vigneault chose not to use Lapierre in that role last season, especially considering how tremendous he was in it during the run to the Stanley Cup final. It’s hard to believe that he’ll have any another choice this season, though. With Sami Pahlsson out of the picture, and Manny Malhotra simply not being the player he was as recently as two years ago, there aren’t exactly many other options. Lapierre may win the spot by default – and that's fine. All that matters is that he eventually gets there.

Just the thought of these three playing together makes me giddy. I consider myself a connoisseur of the little things in hockey, which fly under the radar, but remain so fundamentally important to the game. While the stars are scoring all of the pretty goals, and making the highlight reels, it’s the role players that do the necessary dirty work. Without it, you're just not winning games.

Making Life Easier For Others

Ideally, you want your third line to play the role of the ‘enabler’. You stick them against the other team’s best players, opening up offensive roles for your more skilled players.

The biggest winner would unquestionably be Ryan Kesler. Following his 40-goal campaign in 2010-11, he was asked to play a far more defensive role this past season. With that added defensive responsibility, his goal production suffered, and he seemed to have lost his ‘mojo’. Opening the ice up for Kesler could do wonders for the Canucks, not only in the regular season, but moving into the playoffs as well. If they plan on making any sort of noise in the playoffs, they need that Kesler of old - the one oozing of confidence, making things happen all over the ice.

But this lines impact on the game would stretch far past their exploits in their own zone. The three of them combined for 43 goals last season. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. Getting that sort of production from your third line to complement what the Sedins do, and what Kesler’s line does, is a recipe for success.

Other than the obvious fact that they have featured great talent on their roster, one of the main reasons the Canucks have found so much success in recent years has been the way in which they have deployed their players. The coaching staff is well aware of the assets it has, and their strengths and weaknesses. This may sound like the most obvious concept ever, but given how some teams are run, it’s not – the Canucks tailor their gameplan around their players’ individual skillsets. In doing so, they optimize their chances for success, allowing their guys to flourish.

There would be a positive trickle-down effect thanks to the combination of Higgins, Hansen, and Lapierre playing together. Boy, would it make for great television, too.

A boy can dream. And for all we know, this particular dream has a legitimate chance of coming true next season.  

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Dimitri Filipovic writes about hockey on the internet, and is the Managing Editor of Canucks Army. You can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic, and email him at dimitri.filipovic@gmail.com.
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#1 Kris
September 03 2012, 10:32AM
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Good article -- don't wanna be that nitpicky twit, but Kes' 40-gol year was 10-11

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#3 Mack
September 03 2012, 02:00PM
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Bang on, Dimitri. Lapierre is the perfect anchor for the 3rd line. I hope Vigneault realizes it. I think all three of them could hit 30-40 points while making an impact in other areas if they were together consistently.

Besides, if it isn't working they can always add another centre at the deadline. No harm in trying it first.

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#4 Eephus
September 03 2012, 03:30PM
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Until the Canucks luck out, sign Shane Doan and get rid of Raymond, I have no probs with that 3rd line. Tons of speed and none of them are small. It would be nice if Hansen could bury more of the chances he gets, but he's a good player when his feet are moving. Higgins was a very good player for Van last year, especially considering all the health problems he dealt with. A Higgins Hansen forecheck is full on. For me the biggest change we need up front for this season is getting Raymond replaced. He usually plays well, but his marshmallow shot and lack of finish at all times has grown old. That, in addition to a total lack of physical upside is a bad combo. In the event the Canucks were able to land Doan, it's possible the player acquired in getting rid of Raymond may fit in on the 3rd line. I also wonder where Kassian will be playing by playoff time this season. (as long as there is a season.)

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#5 Diehardnuck
September 03 2012, 03:42PM
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"The title of this post was originally set to be ‘All I Want for Christmas Is..’, before a last minute change. I figured it would be just a tad bit too cheesy."

Sadly a better reason not to use that title is the fact that it fits nicely on top of the soon to be written lockout articles.

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#6 KleptoKlown
September 03 2012, 04:25PM
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Assume the Nucks land Doan(I know...)

Sedin/Sedin/Burrows Booth/Kesler/Doan (Doan and Burrows could end up switching places) Higgins/Lapierre/Hansen Weise/Malholtra/Volpatti

Bieska/Hamhius Garrison/Edler Ballard/Tanev

Looks like a good team to me. I doubt many GMs are beating on Mike Gillis' door for Mason Raymond, but the fact he's on a 1 year contract means he could be worth a mid pick/prospect, or could be used as filler in a larger trade involving Luongo.

Ballards contract is still the elephant in the room, but he played well with Tanev. If Luo can be moved without taking salary back (Bjugstad would be sweeeet) then Ballard's contract will fit.

Cup run 2013 could be looking mighty fine.

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#7 Yes
September 03 2012, 08:41PM
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Yes, finally! Thank you!! I've been advocating for this for months now! After Hodgy left and Pahlsson stunk it up, I couldn't understand why Lappy wasn't used there. It was mind blowing.

So I pilfered through Behind the Net in hopes of finding a reason. The only thing I came up with was due to the 4th lines deployment last season. It was 'highly' unusual and extreme. I don't think AV trusted Malhotra alone with say Weise and some other plug to take on that type of responsibility. I think AV trusts Lappy so much he was there to somewhat help Malhotra. We saw both Lappy and Malhotra 'help' Hodgson as wingers for a long time.

But Hodgsons gone - the 4th line doesn't need to compensate for him anymore. The 3rd line next season can take every d-zone start, and the top line opponent every night. The 4th line can maybe house Schroeder (after Kesler comes back), Malhotra and Weise. And for once, they could play regular 4th line minutes.

Bring me Higgy-Happy-HoneyBadger!!

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#8 Bridget
September 04 2012, 02:28PM
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Thaaaaaannnnkkk you!!! This is the 3rd line I've been wanting for SO LONG!

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#9 elvis15
September 04 2012, 03:21PM
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I think Lappy would make a good 3rd line center, but is a better 4th line center. It's an easy comparison to see why, with Malhotra also plying his trade as a bottom six guy for the Canucks. Malhotra has consistently had 30+ point seasons until last year, where Lapierre has been close to the 20 point mark a couple of times but only over it once.

Point production isn't the be all and end all for a 3rd line role, but in today's NHL relative contribution from everyone is necessary to be successful. Dave Bolland fits a lot of people's 3rd line C ideal, and he's had two 37 point seasons plus a 47 point season.

Lapierre could be our 3rd line center, but doesn't quite fit the mold regardless of how well he'd do there. His hitting and agitating style are ideal for the 4th line his point production is less noticeable there. He can still be used as excellent cover for the lines above, but I think at best he'd be considered an alternate look to the 3rd line on a more regular basis.

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