Five Potential Areas for Concern in Canuck-Land

Jeff Angus
April 28 2013 01:20PM

Be afraid Canucks fans, be very afraid.

The Canucks enter the postseason as the Northwest Division champs for the fifth consecutive year, and the current core has been through a lot together over those five years – lots of highs (San Jose Game 5, Chicago Game 7), and lots of lows (Boston Game 7, the first two Chicago matchups).

They know what it takes to win in the playoffs. Structured defense, discipline*, goaltending, and some luck.

The Canucks haven’t been the same electric offensive team in 2013 as they have been in the past few years, due in large part to personnel changes and injuries. However, they have tweaked the system and turned in some impressive defensive performances. The Chris Tanev high ankle sprain is a worrisome injury, and the team will be in tough to balance three pairings without him.

Let’s take a look at five possible areas of concern heading into the 2013 postseason.

1) Lack of a true fourth line

As Thom Drance alluded to yesterday, the Canucks don’t really have a fourth line right now. And this worries me a lot. Their fourth line of Hordichuk-Johnson-Rypien used to get routinely dominated by the Blackhawks, a team that iced a solid two-way fourth unit. The Blues and Kings both have the depth to put together quality fourth lines. The Canucks… don’t.

Steve Pinizzotto hasn’t been very good (he hasn’t really been much of anything). Tom Sestito won’t give you anything positive outside of a hit or two, and even Max Lapierre needs some help on the wing. Dale Weise is the wild card – he has, at times, looked like a player with top nine upside. However, at other times you would need a game program just to know he was playing.

The Canucks don’t really have a ton of depth, either. Bill Sweatt stopped developing two years ago. I like Jordan Schroeder a lot, but asking him to carry a line (especially against the Kings or Blues) would be an impossible task.

This is an issue with no real solution or answer. The Canucks better hope their top nine delivers in spades, as they don’t have a fourth trio capable of playing eight or nine minutes of safe, low-event hockey right now.

The Canucks didn’t really have a fourth line in the 2011 postseason, if that makes you feel any better. Max Lapierre slid up to the third line to replace Manny Malhotra, and he did a fantastic job in that role. I imagine he will see increased minutes this spring as well. He’s big and strong and quick enough to match up against top six forwards.

Tanner Glass played 20 games during that postseason run (the team played 25), and he saw a revolving door of linemates. Alex Bolduc, Cody Hodgson, Lapierre, and Manny Malhotra all saw spot duty on the fourth line at center.

Courtesy of DobberHockey's Frozen Tools:

Frequency Line Combination
13.48% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 38 ORESKOVICH,VICTOR
9.39% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 27 MALHOTRA,MANNY - 38 ORESKOVICH,VICTOR
9.24% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 38 ORESKOVICH,VICTOR - 13 TORRES,RAFFI
7.73% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM
7.12% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 13 TORRES,RAFFI
6.97% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 39 HODGSON,CODY
5.91% 15 GLASS,TANNER - 39 HODGSON,CODY - 26 SAMUELSSON,MIKAEL

This is why I’d call up Jordan Schroeder, plug him in on line three, and give Lapierre the fourth line role. My game one lineup:

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows

Higgins-Roy-Kesler

Raymond-Schroeder-Hansen/Kassian

Weise-Lapierre-Kassian/Hansen

If the Canucks end up playing the Sharks, they may regret not offering up a third round pick (or better) for Raffi Torres.

2) Cam Barker

If Cam Barker sees any ice time during the postseason, the Canucks are in trouble. No other way around this one.

3) Scoring

Boston beat the Canucks because:

  1. They were healthier

  2. They scored more goals

  3. They were bigger and tougher

  4. The referees all developed whistle-it is

If you answered all of the above, you would be correct. However, the goal scoring thing was the most important (and it is a story that gets lost in the tough/physical narrative that the media nicely wrote for us).

Vancouver lost to the Kings last season because they couldn’t score, either. Offense wins games (defense may win championships, but you need to win games to get there). The Canucks, simply put, need to find a way to generate offense from more than one line at five-on-five if they have any hopes of winning even a round this spring. And that should lead them to stack a second scoring unit with Kesler and Roy.

Playoff hockey is tighter checking and there is less open ice. The Canucks need to find a way to use their strengths (speed and skill) to generate offense. The Derek Roy acquisition could be a huge difference-maker, as Roy gives the Canucks a legitimate secondary scoring threat and he is easily the fourth most skilled forward on the team (and easily the third best playmaker).

Jason Garrison's shot will be a huge weapon - Sami Salo used his slapper to great effectiveness in the postseason (teams collapse, and that opens up the point), but Sami wasn't a guy who could be counted on to stay healthy. Heck, he tore his glute muscle taking a slap shot.

4) Burning a Year off of Frankie Corrado's Rookie Contract

Mike Gillis said he would "absolutely" burn a year of Corrado's entry-level contract if he helped the Canucks win. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your take), he is already a better #6 option than some of the veterans in the organizaton. Good NHL organizations, for the most part, don't rush players to the show. The Rangers happily burned a year of Chris Kreider's rookie deal after he stepped in and made an immediate impact last spring, but the value of having rookies in the lineup is their low cap hit.

If Corrado continues to develop at this pace, he could be a regular by next season (while making only $600k). It sure would be nice to have him at that cap hit for three seasons instead of two.

5) Injuries

I realize it is kind of pointless to have this as an area for concern, as all teams have to be concerned with injuries. But it seems as if the Canucks always tend to have a few more injuries than their competition at this time of year, especially on the back end. If the Canucks lose a top four defenseman for any length of time, they will be in very tough to do much of anything.

Is Kevin Bieksa's groin/unrelated injury 100%? Probably not, and he is a significant part of anything the Canucks do (unless the Hamhuis-Garrison pairing is ready to log upwards of 25 minutes a night with regularity).

Injuries were a reason for the 2011 defeat to Boston - Hamhuis was out, Bieksa had a banged up knee, Edler had broken fingers, Ehrhoff had a separated shoulder, and Ballard had Vigneault-itis. And look at Los Angeles last season - they didn't even have to play a seventh defenseman for a single game.

Give Jeff a follow on Twitter @AngusCertified

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 JI123
April 28 2013, 03:43PM
Trash it!
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Cam Barker is so bad, he has his own worry section. For those who have followed Barker's career for longer then me, where did it go wrong? Was he always this bad or did he just not develop?

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#2 GrogZilla
April 28 2013, 07:06PM
Trash it!
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I've been wondering if Andrew Gordon might not be a better 4th line option then Sestito or Pinizzotto

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