On the "Luxury of Experimentation," and how much more conventional will the Canucks be this season?

Thomas Drance
January 07 2013 12:28PM


Not pictured: test tubes and lab coats.

In a conference call with the media on Sunday Afternoon, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis gave an intriguing answer to a question regarding the impact a shortened season will have on his team:

"It's different in that you don't have the luxury of a full season to experiment.

You know, we were planning on introducing a number of young players, now I'm not sure how that's going to work out with a shortened schedule. We'll have to see what the conditioning level is of our players, we're confident it's going to be high because of the standards that are set here. And injuries.

Obviously with a 48 game schedule you don't have any room for experimentation or introduction unless a player is ready to play and ready to contribute. That's going to change the dynamic not only for us, but for every team in the league.

We're going to have to go with our best players every night no matter what to make sure we get into the playoffs."

In the context of the way Cody Hodgson's deployment changed over the course of his time with Vancouver last season, how the Canucks manipulated their understanding of matchups and territorial deployment to inflate his stats and trade value, and bragged over the summer about their ability to "design success" for young players; I figure this quote deserves a bit of rumination. 

Click past the jump for more.

Granted, a lot of what you can read into the above quote depends on how you interpret it. Was Mike Gillis talking specifically about experimenting with the team's young, unproven assets (which is how the Metro's Cam Tucker heard it)? Or was he speaking more generally about in-season experimentation, and then discussing "introducing" young players to regular NHL action as an example? Personally I lean towards the latter interpretation, but regardless there's some gristle for us to chew on here. 

First, lets define what in-season "experiments" the Canucks exhibited at times last season. Off the top of my head, I can think of five major ones that were unqiue to the 2011-12 season: the Hodgson showcase, Marc-Andre Gragnani's weird Canucks tenure, splitting up Bieksa and Hamhuis, Malhotra's absurd (maybe too absurd) zone-start deployment, and the way Mason Raymond continued to get plum minutes even when he wasn't producing (likely in a transparent effort to rebuild his confidence). You might also add: "giving Cory Schneider the start in "big" regular season contests."

While I tend to be a big fan of Alain Vigneault's coaching and the Canucks' cutting-edge tactical deployments, taken together I'd argue that some of the Canucks' experimentation last season was too cute by half.

I liked the idea behind trying out Ballard and Bieksa as a sheltered offensive pairing in October, or pumping up Hodgson's trade value in January, for example. But some of the "experiments" that continued late into the season, like when the Canucks should've been gearing up down the stretch as opposed to getting Gragnani into enough games so that he'd qualify as a restricted free-agent, were probably superfluous. Other experiments, like splitting up the team's ace shutdown pairing or Malhotra's historically unique five-on-five usage - arguably hurt the team.

In other words, if the Canucks pare down some of that nonsense in order to maximize their victories in a shortened season, that would be fine by me - even if it eats into some of our material.

Of course, maybe I'm reading way too much into a throw away line, and Mike Gillis was just talking about how it'll be tougher for the likes of Jordan Schroeder to crack the roster since the team won't have the luxury of taking their lumps while bringing him along slowly.

But I suspect that there's more meaning here than that, and I'd guess that we see Manny Malhotra start a more balanced percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone, and that a struggling player (like Mason Raymond last season) will be given significantly less rope and time to "find his game" this upcoming campaign. 

After the Canucks showed up an undisciplined, unfocussed club in the first couple of games of their first round series against the Kings in the 2012 playoffs, I'm not so sure that an enhanced focus on the here and now is such a bad thing.  

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Kaybee
January 07 2013, 01:14PM
Trash it!
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Maybe I'll think differently later, but I for one am looking forward to seeing a little consistency in the lines and roster.

But who knows how it plays out.

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