June 06 2013 08:51AM
Dale Weise and Max Lapierre - Wikicommons Media
On Tuesday, we looked at Vancouver's search for a left winger to play on the fourth line. My suggestion was to sign UFA winger Blake Comeau, or to find a player in the AHL (much like the Canucks did a few years ago with Tanner Glass).
The Canucks have absolutely zero organizational depth in terms of checking line left wingers. However, that isn't the case on the right side. Dale Weise and Zack Kassian are both solid fourth line options. Kassian, ideally, will play a bigger role with the club in 2013-14. Is Weise the best possible option for the fourth line?
Let's take a look, shall we?
All line combinations have been pulled from DobberHockey’s Frozen Pool Fantasy Tools. Let’s start with 2008-09, shall we? The first season of the Mike Gillis tenure saw a fourth line of tough guys Darcy Hordichuk and Rick Rypien centered by shot blocker Ryan Johnson (although the trio was put together late in the season). Jannik Hansen also spent time on the fourth line that season, and he has developed into a very effective top-nine winger in the past few years.
Like many young players, Rypien transitioned over from center to wing once he made it to the NHL level. He played in only 12 games that season (and another 10 in the playoffs). Hansen played in 55 games, but over half of his time on ice was spent on a line with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.
Johnson saw a revolving door of wingers - Taylor Pyatt and Mason Raymond also spent time on the fourth line right wing.
|7.54%||EV||36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN|
|7.29%||EV||24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK|
|7.22%||EV||24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 21 RAYMOND,MASON|
|6.42%||EV||24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 9 PYATT,TAYLOR|
Rypien became the primary fourth line right winger in 2009-10, playing in 69 of the 82 regular season games. Because Johnson couldn't stay healthy (that tends to happen when you willingly throw yourself in front of every shot), Rypien played with a variety of linemates:
|17.41%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK|
|15.91%||EV||24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK|
|9.46%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 37 RYPIEN,RICK - 42 WELLWOOD,KYLE|
|6.49%||EV||49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 37 RYPIEN,RICK|
30 players played at least one game for the Canucks in 2009-10, and Rypien faced the 30th toughest competition among them. Vancouver's fourth line wasn't expected to do much more than fight, create a bit of energy, and give the other nine forwards a break. Even with the easy competition, the fourth line was awful from a puck possession standpoint.
This isn't meant to criticize Rypien. He was a fan favourite, a favourite among his teammates, a hell of a fighter, and a guy with a proven track record as a productive player in the WHL. With better linemates, I have no doubts that he would have been a much more effective two-way player.
2010-11 - the revolving door of fourth line right wingers continued. Glass was the only mainstay on the fourth line that season - look at how many different line combinations he was a part of:
|6.62%||EV||49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 54 VOLPATTI,AARON|
|5.91%||EV||49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK|
|4.41%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF|
|4.2%||EV||34 DESBIENS,GUILLAUME - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 18 SCHAEFER,PETER|
|3.42%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 27 MALHOTRA,MANNY|
|3.1%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 38 ORESKOVICH,VICTOR - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF|
|2.88%||EV||15 GLASS,TANNER - 39 HODGSON,CODY - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF|
Glass did slide over to the right wing at times (whith Schaefer, Malhotra, and a few other guys), but he is a left winger by trade. Oreskovich came to town with a lot of hype, and he didn't accomplish much of anything (a lot like other failed fourth line auditions from Steve Pinizzotto and Mike Duco). Tambellini was a good player, but he wasn't what Alain Vigneault wanted out of a fourth liner (size, toughness, and the like).
The Canucks didn't address the need for a fourth line winger that summer (even after their fourth line was overmatched in the Cup Final), but they did scoop up Dale Weise off of waivers from the Rangers in early October. Weise isn't a guy that all Canuck fans are on board with, but he was a great find considering the cost of acquiring him (nothing).
Weise had/has a 28-goal AHL season to his name, and he brought some stability (68 games played) to Vancouver's fourth line right wing spot in 2011-12. And for the first time in a long time, the Canucks had a (somewhat) set trio of players on that unit:
|27.8%||EV||40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 27 MALHOTRA,MANNY - 32 WEISE,DALE|
|23.63%||EV||40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 54 VOLPATTI,AARON - 32 WEISE,DALE|
|4.73%||EV||9 KASSIAN,ZACK - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 32 WEISE,DALE|
Manny Malhotra slid over to the left side, and that unit was given a unique role. They didn't face tough compeition (Weise saw the third "easiest" minutes in terms of quality of competition), but they were buried in the defensive zone. Weise started only 20% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Unsurprisngly, their possession numbers weren't very good. Corsi is a useful stat with context, and Weise's -20.1 Relative Corsi that year can be explained, at least in part, by his ridiculous zone starts. Hard to drive play in the offensive zone when you are never there.
Weise played 40 games in 2013, and continued on in his primary role as Vancouver's fourth line right winger. Kassian also spent time on the line, but he shifted over to the left side. Kassian was ineffective on the left side, especially in the defensive zone, where he struggled to make any outlet plays on his backhand.
Weise did get a promotion to the third line for a few games, too:
|13.38%||EV||21 RAYMOND,MASON - 45 SCHROEDER,JORDAN - 32 WEISE,DALE|
|10.28%||EV||40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 13 PINIZZOTTO,STEVEN - 32 WEISE,DALE|
|8.9%||EV||45 SCHROEDER,JORDAN - 29 SESTITO,TOMMY - 32 WEISE,DALE|
Weise is an RFA this summer, and I'd expect him back on a cap-friendly one or two-year deal. He's a solid enough option, and uses his speed well to draw penalties. Also, unlike Sestito, he can play a regular shift without hurting his team.
Kassian has one year left on his entry level deal, and the Canucks have to be hoping for him to report to camp ready to earn a top-six (or at least a top-nine) spot. Kassian is too talented offensively, and still too raw defenisvely, to be relied upon in a fourth line role. But this also depends on how the new coach will utilize his lines. Will Vigneault's radical zone start strategy, which ensures that the fourth line is buried in the defensive zone, be used? Or will the new coach opt for a more balanced approach?
Weise and Kassian are both right wingers. Neither player is particularly effective on the left side. If Weise is re-signed, he's the likely fourth line right winger option. Kassian needs to take the next step forward, and that won't happen if he is playing 8-10 minutes a night on the fourth line. As I said above, he's way too talented offensively, and the team needs him to be a more consistent contributor (both offenisvely and physically) in 2013-14.
Weise is a good fourth line player as long as he isn't the best player on the line. If Vancouver rolls out a Sestito-Kellan Lain-Weise fourth line, they should expect another season of subpar play from the fourth unit. But if Weise plays with a new left winger and center, he should show himself to be a solid two-way forward with decent offensive abilities and a good head for the game.
Looking at the available UFAs this summer, and a few names immediately jump out. Chad LaRose, Brad Richardson, Brandon Yip, and Chuck Kobasew. Yip has the hometown factor going for him. Richardson may want a regular spot in an NHL lineup after struggling to remain in LA's over the past few years. LaRose has seen time on the top line in Carolina and will probably price himself out of a fourth line role, but he's an effective and versatile winger.
Kobasew has bounced around the Northwest Division after experiencing some early-career success in Boston (back-to-back 20+ goal seasons from 2007 to 2009). Even though he is on the wrong side of 30, Kobasew can still skate. And 2013 was his best season since 2008-09. Oh, and he's from Vancouver.
My suggestion - Bring Weise back, assuming you are going to upgrade the LW and C positions as well. If not, take a look at Kobasew in free agency.