July 11 2013 12:47PM
Ryan McDonagh, who flourished under John Tortorella - WikiCommons
The Canucks still possess a solid team, especially on the back end. There is a lot of negativity surrounding the team right now though. The Canucks were swept in round one, they fired head coach Alain Vigneault this summer, and the inaction from the front office has removed a lot of the optimism that was once ever-present surrounding this team.
Much to the surprise of absolutely no one, the Canucks bought out defenseman Keith Ballard last week. And to the surprise of a few, they shopped Alex Edler at the draft. Moving Edler would have taken a very, very nice return, and I think the team just wanted to get a feel for the trade market.
Assuming the team goes forth with the defensive group they have now, how are things shaping up for this coming season?
Hamhuis is one of the best two-way defensemen in hockey. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get some Sochi attention (hear me out). Hamhuis plays the left side, unlike most of Canada’s top defensemen (Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, Kris Letang, Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, PK Subban, Mike Green, and Dan Boyle, among others).
He’s a great skater, and can pretty much play any role asked of him. With more power play time, I don’t doubt that he becomes a 40+ point defenseman.
But the Canucks aren’t concerned with Hamhuis’s chances for making the Sochi roster. They need him to continue his high level of play from the past few seasons. His play did falter a bit down the stretch and in the playoffs, but the same could be said for any Canucks defenseman not named Jason.
Much like Willie Mitchell used to, Hamhuis makes whoever he is playing with better. For a while that has been Kevin Bieksa, and then Garrison took over that role last season. Who plays on the top pairing with him this season? Let’s look at the pros and cons of Bieksa/Garrison playing with Hamhuis:
Natural right side defenseman
Sometimes struggles with defensive play
Has established chemistry with Hamhuis
Means that one of Garrison/Edler will be on pairing three
No one else on roster covers his mistakes like Hamhuis
The one problem with pairing Bieksa and Hamhuis is that Garrison hasn’t shown the ability to play on the right side with any defenseman aside from Hamhuis. Is Chris Tanev (assuming he re-signs) ready to play on the second pairing?
Bigger, stronger, better defensively than Bieksa
Natural left side defenseman
More opportunity to unleash his slapper
Put’s Vancouver’s defensive “eggs” in one basket
A potential Edler-Bieksa pairing…
That last con is enough to suggest that Hamhuis-Bieksa makes the most sense. Whenever they have been tried together in the past, Bieksa and Edler have struggled. A lot. It’s a shame that almost $10 million can’t buy you a solid two-way defensive pairing, isn’t it?
And the rest of Vancouver’s depth chart features right-shooting defensemen (Frank Corrado, Yannick Weber – although the team will definitely bring in another veteran at some point this summer). If Garrison moves to the right side, one of the right side defensemen may have to move to the left.
Tanev still needs to ink a new deal with the team. My guess on the pact they eventually agree upon – a two-year deal worth in the neighbourhood of $1.8-$2.2 million per season. Is he ready to take the next step as a player? We all know his confidence, poise, and defensive acumen, but the Canucks would like to see a bit more from him in other areas, too. It will be interesting to see how John Tortorella handles him. He deserves credit for how he helped to develop New York's young defensemen.
Corrado was really good after coming in last season, but the team won’t be promising him anything at camp this year. If he plays well he will be on the team, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see that happen.
Weber is a bit of a wildcard – a lot of Habs fans were sad to see him go, which is generally a good sign when bringing a player in. He wasn’t really given a fair shake in Montreal, mostly because his talents (skating, shooting) were a bit redundant there.
The biggest change in Vancouver this offseason is behind the bench, and we don’t know how that will affect many Canucks who have spent most of their entire professional careers playing for Alain Vigneault. How will John Tortorella and his staff give the minutes to his defensemen? Unlike Rick Bowness, who liked to balance minutes across his top three or four defensemen, Tortorella tends to pick one or two and play them a lot. I have a feeling that this will be Hamhuis and Garrison, even if they end up on different pairings.
Bowness was predictable with how he handled the defensemen (I don't mean that as a bad thing). Defensemen rarely saw over 24 or 25 minutes in a game. Vancouver relied on its depth more than most teams did/do.
Let’s look at the ice time given to the top six defensemen in Vancouver and New York over the past three seasons for a quick comparison:
|1||Dan Girardi||25.24||Alexander Edler||23:50|
|2||Marc Staal||24:27||Dan Hamhuis||23:23|
|3||Ryan McDonagh||24:21||Kevin Bieksa||21:56|
|4||Michael Del Zotto||23:10||Jason Garrison||21:41|
|5||Anton Stralman||18:02||Christopher Tanev||17:17|
|6||Steve Eminger||13:02||Keith Ballard||15:28|
|1||Dan Girardi||26:14||Alexander Edler||23:51|
|2||Ryan McDonagh||24:44||Kevin Bieksa||23:38|
|3||Michael Del Zotto||22:26||Dan Hamhuis||23:25|
|4||Marc Staal||19:53||Sami Salo||20:26|
|5||Michael Sauer||18:43||Christopher Tanev||16:43|
|6||Anton Stralman||17:05||Alexander Sulzer||15:58|
|1||Marc Staal||25:44||Alexander Edler||24:17|
|2||Dan Girardi||24:34||Christian Ehrhoff||23:59|
|3||Michal Rozsival||22:02||Dan Hamhuis||22:40|
|4||Michael Del Zotto||19:29||Kevin Bieksa||22:28|
|5||Ryan McDonagh||18:44||Sami Salo||20:20|
|6||Michael Sauer||17:31||Aaron Rome||17:24|
It's pretty apparent that Tortorella likes to ride two defensemen above the rest of the pack. And I don't think we will see that change much in Vancouver (it will be interesting to see if the increased travel that the Canucks face compared with the Rangers changes how Tortorella handles ice time).
If you had asked me in February or March if I would have ever wanted John Tortorella to coach the Canucks, my answer would have been an emphatic "no." However, after it was reported that the Canucks were interested in Tortorella, the move started to make some more sense. In a way, it's kind of a no lose situation for fans of the team. Tortorella is a guy who has a limited shelf life as coach. I'm not sure this current core is even capable of winning the Cup without almost everything breaking right, but Tortorella is one of the best options if you want to win a Cup within the next few years.
He played a major role in the development of several young Ranger players - particularly Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh. He changed New York from a place where old free agents went to make a bunch of money into a team that was built on grit, tenacity, two-way play, and great goaltending (the last was more Lundqvist's doing than his own).
Vancouver is a different team than the Rangers were when Tortorella came in. Most of the good players are established. But for the Canucks to get back into contention, they need several young players to develop into good NHL players - and quickly. Alain Vigneault is a great coach, but he isn't going to help speed along the development of young players. That's not his MO. Tortorella will. And he will be very hands-on with the Sedins, Bieksa, Kesler, Burrows, and the rest of the veterans - the players can get back to focusing all of their attention on playing.
There are a lot of "ifs" surrounding this team. Luongo. Kesler's health. Booth's... everything. And on the back end, I think the key to this season could be one of Tanev or Corrado. If one of them (likely Tanev) can really emerge as a viable NHL defenseman, it would give Tortorella at least two pairings he can lean on in all situations.
- Hamhuis - top penalty killing responsibilities, 25-26 minutes a night, some time on the second PP unit.
- Bieksa - penalty killing responsibilities, 22-23 minutes a night, some time on the second PP unit.
- Edler - 22-23 minutes a night in an offensively-oriented role
- Garrison - 25-26 minutes a night, top PP and PK responsibilities
- Tanev - 18-19 minutes a night, PK and EV mostly
Corrado would see more of a defensive role than Weber, but both of them would probably see minutes in the 14-16 minute range. Would Corrado be better off playing 20+ minutes a night for Utica?
What are your thoughts on the defense in general, and the pairings in particular?
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