Why do Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev look like the Canucks best pairing early on?

Cam Charron
January 29 2013 06:44PM

A hypothesis: the rumours concerning the Canucks' defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Looking through my time-line on Twitter, I've read that Alex Edler isn't deserving of his contract, that Kevin Bieksa is the worst No. 1 in the league, that Dan Hamhuis looks terrible this season, and I've also read people calling for Jason Garrison's head just six games into a new contract. Rest assured, all of that is mostly over-wrought pablum.

Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev get a pass online, though, and as much as I'd like to say that Chris Tanev's minutes should be upped to include prime powerplay and penalty kill time, as well as thrust the young, undrafted defenceman into a shutdown role at even strength, now is really not the time.

It's a long season. People may try to tell you differently, but don't listen to them. The playoff picture after 48 games last season was about equal to what it was after 82. If the Canucks are in trouble after 30 games, then there's time to hit the panic button. But we're only six games into the season and thanks to Gary Bettman's moronic point system - introduced as a way to create artificial parity - the Canucks are tied for sixth in the conference despite a horrendous start.

So, so often, I like to talk about process when looking at games in a small sample. 19 times during the Stanley Cup season did the Canucks have a six-game stretch where they recorded 6 or fewer points. That's about a quarter of the season. Of course, Vancouver was a much better team after six games in the 2011 season. After those six games, the Canucks had a 54.1% Fenwick Tied rate, according to timeonice. Those scripts haven't been updated for this season yet, but Behind the Net tells us that after six games, the Canucks are an awful 52.9% Fenwick Tied team, tied for just fifth in the Western Conference. Fifth!

That number is without arguably Vancouver's two best play drivers at even strength in Ryan Kesler and David Booth.

So naturally, the attention gets turned to the defence. It's hard for me to critique the defence, first of all, because I don't think the team is in rough shape. One of the risks you take with having Alex Edler in the lineup is that he makes a lot of plays, but sometimes those plays turn into giveaways. This season, the needle is leaning towards the "giveaway" portion of the meter more predominantly, but it's more often on the other side.

Here are the stats so far on the Canucks' defence, via Behind the Net:

NAME TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi On Off Zone Start % PDO
KEITHBALLARD 15.85 -3.433 15.90 50.0 1022
KEVINBIEKSA 15.52 0.337 -17.78 50.0 976
JASONGARRISON 15.33 2.780 5.48 65.6 1041
CHRISTANEV 15.24 -3.584 17.33 52.3 1026
ALEXANDEREDLER 15.14 2.818 7.13 69.6 1008
DANHAMHUIS 14.66 0.712 -16.37 55.8 980

The thing that strikes me here is that Keith Ballard is actually leading the team in EV ice-time, as Alain Vigneault has found him and Tanev every possible shift against a weaker opponent. Last night against the Kings, that pairing probably looked better than the top-four because they got to play against Jarret Stoll, Jordan Nolan and Trevor Lewis predominantly while the other pairings saw time against Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, depending on how the Kings were using them.

Tanev's top two opponents this year, (for forwards on different teams) are Nick Bonino and Matt Stajan. Bieksa's are Ryan Getzlaf and Sam Gagner. Garrison's are Daniel Winnik and Taylor Hall. I'll let you figure out which ones are the easier opponents to play against.

Here's what I suspect is going on here. In an effort to have more defencemen play above 17 minutes this season, Alain Vigneault is intensifying the minutes given out to his top two pairings while relaxing the quality of competition the third pairing faces. Doing so takes away precious minutes against weak competition that top-four would otherwise use to accent their own offensive numbers. So the top-four is facing a concentrated dose of tough minutes, while the third line gobbles up all of the available "softer" minutes against the opposition's bottom-six forwards.

I don't know where I stand on what's a preferable method, but the Canucks and their homeopathic, sleep therapeutic ways would rather trend, presumably, on evening out the minutes played. It just so happens that the fact that Ballard and Tanev haven't played against "toughs" yet this season enhances the appearance of success from the Canucks' third pairing. Any good NHLer can rack up a good Corsi rate against weak competition, and Tanev and Ballard are good NHLers.

The other notable thing from that BTN chart? The Canucks haven't had to give out a lot of defensive zone draws this season. Every single defenceman is in 50%+ territory, starting more shifts in the offensive side of the ice than the defensive. That's an interesting, if probably unsustainable, trend that has given Manny Malhotra a 45.8% offensive zone start rate. The last two years he was 25% and 13.2%.

63811cbf517d2d685ea09e103488ea3a
Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
Avatar
#1 Taman
January 29 2013, 07:02PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Ya, that's interesting - I noticed that as well. Wondering how accurate BTN stats are since they were just recalibrated. The other day I noticed a discrepancy for GAon and GFon re: Tanev and Garrison.

Here's what I'd like to see: Toughest mins - Bieksa/Hamhuis Tanev/Ballard eating tougher mins than Garrison/Edler (although they'd somewhat split the tough mins left). In 10/11 it worked well.

According to BTN, Edler/Garry are currently eating the toughest mins - which is the least ideal situation IMO. A guy who is newly put on his offside shouldn't be eating that tough of mins, esp since he's not really a grade A defensive d-man. Hamhuis/Bieksa struggled at beginning of last season - they'll work it out.

If Edler/Garry don't pan out, put Tanev with Garrison and form a 2nd shutdown pairing - which would let Edler/Ballard eat the easiest mins possible. Worth a shot.

Avatar
#2 Jordan_Clarke
January 29 2013, 07:08PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Basically, AV is doing with his 3rd pairing what he was doing with Hodgson last season, when he sheltered his minutes to up his trade value.

Is the goal here to make Ballard tradable?

Avatar
#3 Unknown Comic
January 29 2013, 07:53PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

That fenwick tied chart is interesting. Are we to assume SJ and Chicago are due for a correction soon, especially with their goaltending?

Avatar
#4 Josh
January 29 2013, 08:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Is it possible they are sheltering Tanev or Ballard, possibly to increase their trade value? Last time we saw the Canucks do something similar was when they sheltered Hodgson, gave him a lot of offensive starts and easy minutes so they could help his trade value.

Avatar
#5 Jordan_Clarke
January 29 2013, 08:20PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I like the way you think Josh. See above ;)

The more I think about that, though, the more it seems ludicrous. Hodgson was a unique situation. Why would AV really care about Ballard's trade value (I single out Ballard because Tanev is not going anywhere), and why would he conduct such an experiment when the team is already scrambling to cover two massive holes in the lineup? I think, as Cam said, AV is just trying to even out the minutes.

Avatar
#6 JCDavies
January 29 2013, 10:20PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

"Here's what I suspect is going on here. In an effort to have more defencemen play above 17 minutes this season, Alain Vigneault is intensifying the minutes given out to his top two pairings while relaxing the quality of competition the third pairing faces. Doing so takes away precious minutes against weak competition that top-four would otherwise use to accent their own offensive numbers. So the top-four is facing a concentrated dose of tough minutes, while the third line gobbles up all of the available "softer" minutes against the opposition's bottom-six forwards."

I agree with all of this.

"Basically, AV is doing with his 3rd pairing what he was doing with Hodgson last season"

And this.

But I think it has more to do with managing the compressed schedule than increasing Ballard's trade value (which would be a nice side effect). I think AV expects this to pay dividends later on in the season.

Avatar
#8 Thomas Drance
January 29 2013, 10:57PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

For what it's worth I disagree with Cam's hypothesis (my "hot sports take": Vancouver's defense has been shoddy in the early going this season - with the Bieksa and Hamhuis pairing struggling in comparison with their dominance the past couple of years, Edler making too many unforced errors and Garrison adjusting very slowly to the power-play system), but do agree that Tanev/Ballard's usage is playing a major role in the perception of their early season performance.

Also, the observation that AV is massaging matchups and trying to get the third pairing to do a lot of heavy lifting at the moment is very interesting to me. Ballard/Tanev's zone-start rate is too. Fascinating stuff and I'll be curious to see if the trend continues as Vancouver's "schedule density" calms down a bit this month.

Avatar
#9 Josh
January 30 2013, 07:30AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I am still going with the 'trying to increase Ballard's trade value' theory. They paid a lot for him and he didn't work out here (but at the time the deal made sense). Instead of letting him walk or trying to buy him out for nothing may as well try and trade him for something useful.

Look last season and within a month of starting the Canucks made the big trade to get Booth. I think it's possible they are trying to do the same, maybe to get that extra offence they need to help without Kesler/Booth or a 2Lc.

Avatar
#10 J21 (@Jyrki21)
January 30 2013, 01:09PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props
Josh wrote:

I am still going with the 'trying to increase Ballard's trade value' theory. They paid a lot for him and he didn't work out here (but at the time the deal made sense). Instead of letting him walk or trying to buy him out for nothing may as well try and trade him for something useful.

Look last season and within a month of starting the Canucks made the big trade to get Booth. I think it's possible they are trying to do the same, maybe to get that extra offence they need to help without Kesler/Booth or a 2Lc.

Except, realistically, the most they can expect to get for Ballard is a draft pick, I'd think. Maybe a middling forward, but not an impact player. (Booth was only procured for role players -- with all due respect to Samuelsson -- because he was too expensive for Florida's tastes).

Avatar
#11 elvis15
January 30 2013, 03:55PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props
Unknown Comic wrote:

That fenwick tied chart is interesting. Are we to assume SJ and Chicago are due for a correction soon, especially with their goaltending?

Absolutely. Both are negative in Corsi overall, positive in PDO and under 50% as a team in both O-zone start and finish rates. They can't keep that up for long and are due to regress, just like their records will (Chicago clearly isn't going to go 48-0-0 for instance).

I agree with Cam that it isn't a showcase, just an effort to spread the minutes in a shortened season. Certainly the minutes won't get much easier for our top 4 by playing them more minutes, so why not have them play less? As a result, Ballard and Tanev have acquitted themselves pretty well.

Having said that, cap is probably an issue going into next season and we might be able to move Ballard for something after the playoffs rather than be forced to buy him out.

Looking at the numbers for the rest of the D, Hamhuis and Bieksa are struggling a bit for sure, but we know they're good enough to overcome that long term. What's surprising to me is that Edler and Garrison look pretty decent (decent Corsi due to their high O-zone start rates but hardest QoC of our D) by the numbers, even if they've made some key gaffes resulting in goals this year.

Avatar
#12 elvis15
January 30 2013, 06:52PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Now with the Loktionov rumour of having asked for a trade from the Kings, how many proposals will we see involving Ballard to LA?

Comments are closed for this article.