Should Alex Burrows Drop to the Second Line?

Blake Murphy
July 16 2013 12:25PM

 

Last week in this space, Jeff Angus broke down the current forward crop. Obviously it’s early, and he said as much, but something caught my eye when he drew up the potential top-six:

LINE 1: SEDIN-SEDIN-KASSIAN … LINE 2: HIGGINS-KESLER-BURROWS

Putting Zack Kassian with the Sedins rather than Alex Burrows is a pretty major change. After all, Burrows played over 400 even strength minutes with the twins this past season while Kassian played just north of 100.

I wanted to take a look and see how this may impact the top two lines if Angus’ intuition is correct. Angus’ descriptions for why the switch could be made are logical and make good hockey sense. Jeff’s pretty good, after all.

Burrows will still very likely see time with the twins, as expecting Kassian to perform at a high level for 82 games (or even close to it) would be foolish. However, this line has played well together in the past, and Kassian can open up a lot of ice for the twins with his physical presence and ability to rag the puck down low.

The physical presence notion makes sense, and there’s also the potential argument that Kassian has a higher upside moving forward, if he can reach it, given that he is 10 years Burrows’ junior.

We’re dealing with a pretty small sample size given the shortened season last year, but let’s take a look at the WOWY numbers for Kassian and Burrows with the Sedins from last season:

Comparing Kassian and Burrows        
  With Sedins (Lower of 2)   Without Sedins  
  GF20 CF% GF20 CF%
Kassian 0.86 60.0 0.749 44.1
Burrows 1.21 63.8 0.816 47.4

*GF20=team goals per 20min, CF%=team Corsi%, per hockeyanalysis.com.

What this table shows us is that both players, unsurprisingly, were less effective playing away from the Sedins. Part of this may be due to zone starts but the biggest factor is likely the drop-off in linemate quality.

Maximizing the production of the Sedins is perhaps as important than getting the most out of Kassian or Burrows, so it’s worth looking at how they performed with each winger as well.

Comparing the Sedins with Different Linemates                
  With Burrows   Without Burrows   With Kassian   Without Kassian  
  GF20 CF% GF20 CF% GF20 CF% GF20 CF%
D Sedin 1.210 63.8 0.491 58.6 0.860 60.0 0.968 62.1
H Sedin 1.214 62.0 0.703 59.3 0.983 60.0 1.036 61.2

To my surprise, the Sedins see a drop-off in performance when Burrows leaves their line. I had assumed this would have some impact given how strong a player Burrows has been but I didn’t expect the difference to be so extreme. They performed slightly better without Kassian, though this is essentially saying the same thing since these two were their most common third linemate.

In 2011-12, a larger sample, the Burrows effect was far more muted, only showing up on the Corsi side (scoring remained largely unchanged). Kassian’s sample that year was just 46 minutes but it showed the same pattern as 2012-13.

Over the entire 2010-13 span, Burrows has played with the Sedins (using Henrik’s WOWY data as the barometer) two thirds of the time, about 2000 minutes, and has had a generally positive impact on both the line’s scoring and their possession play. Since Burrows has played such a large chunk of the time with them (nobody else has more than 230 minutes), it’s difficult to say if the Sedins could be as successful with another winger.

On one hand, perhaps the WOWY data only really shows that the Sedins haven’t been given the time to build up chemistry with any other linemate. But it’s also possible Burrows is just a great fit, and then taking him off the line could be troublesome.

But Angus pointed out another reason to consider Burrows on the second unit:

Burrows seamlessly transitioned over to the right wing to play on the top line, but does he move back to the left side with Kesler? Vancouver doesn’t have many right-shooting forwards, and Dale Weise isn’t a top six forward in any league outside of the Netherlands. … However, due to a lack of a proven checking center, Tortorella may want to create a tough two-way line with Burrows and Kesler as the key cogs. Throw Higgins on there and you have a line capable of playing in all situations while chipping in with consistent offense.

What Jeff is getting at, I think, is that maximizing one line’s production may not maximize the production of the entire team. If Tortorella believes the Sedins can be successful regardless of their third linemate, and by all accounts they’ve still been quite strong without Burrows, then it makes sense to have Burrows help another line out.

Burrows hasn’t shown a strong chemistry with Kesler in the past, but like with Kassian and the Sedins the sample is quite small (less than 300 minutes). Kesler and Burrows have been far better apart than together. Burrows has shown some scoring chemistry with Chris Higgins, though their possession numbers have been better apart (in less than a 200 minute sample).

All of this is to say, basically, that the Canucks have done some experimenting with the placement of Burrows in the past but never for long enough to really evaluate the impact of those experiments. There is obviously more to on-ice performance than just the WOWYs, and perhaps in those small samples there were red flags or positive signs. Tortorella will do his homework and will probably do more experimenting in training camp, though whether or not that's enough time to make a proper judgement is better left to someone who has been in a training camp before.

My personal opinion is that I’d like to see the top-six that Angus outlined be given a shot. The Sedins are likely to perform well with any winger and Burrows dropping down could solidify the top-six without actually making an addition. The concern would be Kassian’s inconsistency and whether his development would be hampered if he were to be bumped around the line-up after a period of struggling rather than being given time to find chemistry with one set of linemates.

But a team near the cap has to get creative in maximizing the assets they have in-house. If the sum of the top-six with Burrows on the second line is greater than with him on the top line, that’s the move.

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Blake is a news editor at The Score and also writes basketball for Raptors Republic and baseball at Fangraphs/Rotographs. As such, he doesn't write at TLN nearly as much as he should. Give him a follow @BlakeMurphyODC.
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#1 JCDavies
July 16 2013, 12:47PM
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@Blake

*broken link

Unable to check right now, those are all ES numbers, correct?

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#2 Kaybee
July 16 2013, 12:52PM
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"Should Alex Burrows drop the second line?"

Yes, yes a million times yes. Him and Kesler tread all-over Toews line and the 2012 and came out ahead.

Get Kassian with the Sedins, right-hand shot, big body that's much harder to knock off the puck than Burrows. Let him learn on the job.

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#3 kaybee
July 16 2013, 12:53PM
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@Kaybee

...And by 2012, I meant the 2011 playoffs.

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#4 Collin
July 16 2013, 12:54PM
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What happened to Booth? Won't it be more like:

Sedin/Sedin/Kassian Burrows/Kesler/Booth

Higgins remains on the 3rd line with Hansen and whoever ends up centering that line.

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#6 Fred-65
July 16 2013, 01:30PM
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One of the constant topic of conversation is Vcr lacks scoring, so the idea is to take the leading scorer last season and the #2 goal scorer from the previous season, the solution is put him in a checking role. Never mind Corsi or whatever why not a little common sense occasionally. We're crying out for scoring and people are thinking hey I know the solution :-) yeah right

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#7 argoleas
July 16 2013, 01:44PM
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Fred-65 wrote:

One of the constant topic of conversation is Vcr lacks scoring, so the idea is to take the leading scorer last season and the #2 goal scorer from the previous season, the solution is put him in a checking role. Never mind Corsi or whatever why not a little common sense occasionally. We're crying out for scoring and people are thinking hey I know the solution :-) yeah right

If the goal is to make Kesler's line into the primary checking line, then a Higgins-Kessler-Burrows/Hansen could make sense. But as you point out, we need more offense, and I think then pairing Kessler with Schroeder may make more sense, so we would have a Higgins-Kessler-Schroeder line (with Kessler and Schroeder alternating in their positions as needs require). That combination may give Kessler the setup man he needs.

So ultimately, this discussion must begin and end with what the expectations are for Kessler's role, and the reality that he is very injury-prone.

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#8 Peachy
July 16 2013, 01:49PM
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There may be a marginal advantage in having Kassian with the Sedins to deter some of the abuse that the twins take on a regular basis. This might be more valuable given that next year is an Olympic year.

(For what it's worth anyways.)

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#9 Bob
July 16 2013, 01:50PM
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I'd like to see

Sedins/Kassian Burr/Kes/Booth Hansen/ ? / Higgins Weise/Lain/Richardson

I am guessing Schroeder in to centre line 3...maybe. He has the ability to do it but seemed to run out of gas.

I want to see Horvat, Gaunce and Jensen develop. Same goes for Shinkaruk. Lain is older and could make the jump.

Canucks also have some young guys that could be very good bottom six candidates. I think the only piece the team needs is a true #1 centre prospect. Henrik won't be effective for too much longer so they need to develop someone. Maybe a trade or something during the season.

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#10 Spot on mate,
July 16 2013, 01:54PM
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As usual, Canucks Army rocks it.

I love WOWYs. I get excited.

The problem with WOWYS comparing Kassian and Burrows is experience/age IMO. I think it can account for at least some of the disparity. Also, Daniel had a year from hell last yr. Ever since his concussion, he hasn't looked the same. Perhaps Torts will move Dank down to the 2nd line if he sturggles again next yr. Leaving perhaps Kass-Hank-Burr?

I don't know, I just hope Torts isn't afraid to break up the twins. Seemed AV was. We know, as a general rule they're better together than apart. Going forward, I'm not sure that will be the case if Dank continutes to struggle with after effects from concussion.

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#11 JCDavies
July 16 2013, 02:15PM
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@Blake Murphy

Thought so, wanted to be sure.

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#12 The Funky Chicken Has Left The Building
July 16 2013, 03:36PM
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Sorry I'm so late to the party...but the draft day Corey Schieder trade made me laugh so long and hard that I ruptured some internal organ stuff....just got out of the hospital today....giggle...ouch.

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#13 jFR
July 16 2013, 03:43PM
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Collin wrote:

What happened to Booth? Won't it be more like:

Sedin/Sedin/Kassian Burrows/Kesler/Booth

Higgins remains on the 3rd line with Hansen and whoever ends up centering that line.

I believe that Booth should be given a shot on the third line with either Santorelli or Gaunce. Booth and Santorelli had chemistry in Fla where Sant scored 20 goals and last year he won 61% of his face offs. He could be great reclamation project and Higgins has earned a shot at 2nd line.

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#14 JFR
July 16 2013, 04:18PM
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I like the drop of Burr to the second line. Torts has a good track record of developing young players and Kassian has a tremendous upside. He is big fast and has a great passing touch for a big man. Clearing space and discouraging shots at the twins will be needed as the league starts to grab and hold more. Burr Kess and Higgins will be a great two way line that can skate score and play shut down D the third line will be a question mark with Hanson Booth Gaunce Horvat and Santorelli in the mix. I like Hanson Santorelli and Booth to start. Sant scored 20 goals playing w Booth and one 61% of his face offs last year. His career is at a crossroads and playing in his hometown should light a big fire. Hanson can get back to being Hanson and stay away from the top line. Having young guys like Gaunce Jensen and Horvat gives Torts some young guys to play or to just keep the vets on their toes, which never happened with AV. Unless your last name started with Ballard.....

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#15 Sanoterlli
July 16 2013, 06:24PM
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People penciling in Santorelli into the 3C spot = caman man. This is a guy who couldn't even stick the lineup with the Florida Panthers. Suddenly he's gonna be a 3C on a contending team? Uh no. He's a 4th line guy, 13th forward.

Gillis still, for the 3rd straight yr, does not have a 3C. Richardson is not defensivly responsible enough to play tough mins as a 3C. If Gilis doesn't pick up a quality 3C (for the 3rd straight summer), Canucks fans can look forward to another 1st round exit. I'm certain of it.

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#16 Jon
July 16 2013, 07:46PM
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Why not have an audition to play with the Sedins, dont you guys think Jensen has more skill then Kassian and Burrows? That line needs a new element, lets develop a young player to gain confidence and become a big time scorer with the Sedins. I see Lui Eriksson potential with Jensen. I dont see Kassian as a top 6 forward, 3rd line at most, or spot duty top 6.

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#17 Ruprecht
July 16 2013, 07:50PM
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If we're going to be a more aggressive forechecking team it makes sense. Having Kassian with them adds an element that can create space and get the opposing D looking in a different direction. Having a heavy hitter is something our first line has lacked. Burr is great, but he doesn't exactly punish anybody physically, neither do the Sedins. It's overdue and needed if we want to go up against some of the tougher D Men. At the very least, it has to be an option come playoff time. Thus I think it's almost a no brainer. Can't wait.

I'm also kind of curious how Burr did earlier with the Sedins with these stats. At the same count as Kassian. Not for any reason but I'm curious if there was an adjustment period after Carter left.

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#18 Bohdog
July 16 2013, 08:17PM
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I hate to repeat myself from other strings, but I am not sold on Kassian as having any chemistry with the Sedins and am unsure whether he is anywhere near top line potential.

Kassian played reasonablywell with the Sedins at the start of the season against teams that were out of game shape and showing pre-season timing problems following the lockout. After that, he showed very few glimpses of promise and no real chemistry with the twins. The problem is his 'game sense' is not up to first-line NHL speed yet. Watch the shifts in the playoffs -- in the cycle, Kassian persistently held onto the puck too long coming up the side boards before dumping the puck back -- allowing defenders to anticipate and casually step in to intercept. The other issue when they had the puck, Kassian periodically stopped playing to watch his pass or what the Sedins were doing instead of getting into position. When he was on the ice without the puck, going back through the neutral zone, he seemed to be frequently pointing to some opposing player that he hoped someone else would cover instead of aggressively moving into position himself! Finally, I've never seen anyone slower in coasting off the ice with his hand in the air.

Now, I think Tortorella will not tolerate that nonsense, so if he can get Kassian's head (and feet) into the game and keep it there, we could start to see Kassian to produce. If Kassian is to immature and sensitive, he'll be lower down the line-up or in the AHL.

I truly hope Torts can show him how to be a top 6 player, but I couldn't plan for it to start the season just yet.

Having said that, I agree with putting Kesler with Burrows to start the season.

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#19 dawn
July 16 2013, 11:12PM
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Sedin-Sedin-Kassian Raymond-Kesler-Hansen Higgins-Richardson-Burrows

i'm looking forward to seeing some of the young power in the rotation soon !!MALLET!! ...this might be the season to fluff Jensen? ...oopsdiditypethatoutloud ;) if booth gets time its to make him look good so Calgary doesn't freak out when we make them take him...lol everybody has a place they belong, right?

I believe that Coach Torts has a minimum standard of absolute surety individually&collectively from his forward players&their lines. Right fits, eh.

:)

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#20 bob
July 17 2013, 09:50AM
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is Sedin-Sedin-Booth too far fetched (i.e. is their styles too different to work?), and then do a Burr-Kess-Kass line 2? Just thinking maybe a run and gun style actually works better for Kassian than playing wingman for the Sedins

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#21 Tom
July 17 2013, 09:53AM
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Why are we pretending that Kassian can replace Burr?

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#22 BrudnySeaby
July 17 2013, 11:04AM
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I think there should also be a different angle of approach here. In my mind, the crucial question for this team is not whether Burrows or Kassian will play with the Sedins, but who will play with Kesler and in what role.

Will Kesler's line have the "do it all" duty or does he get a more offensive or defensive role. This in turn will also depend on who can manage a 3C effectively. Ideally you would have Kesler attack the lower quality players of your opponents and this should be the starting point from a coaching and management standpoint. But as others pointed out, Gillis has not acquired (for 2nd-3rd year in a row) a legitimate 3C. If they give that spot to a rookie, we can expect Kesler to play more defensively. And that will probably dictate who will play with who.

Regarding the discussion who plays with the Sedins, I will say that I think that Burrows with the Sedins fills a role of finisher (and agitator) and he battles hard in front of the crease. Kassian is not so much a pure finisher like Burrows (yet?) and seems to be more of a playmaking winger. He has a big body, but is he willing to battle as hard as Burrows in front of the crease? That is an important question. And yes, his handling speed will need to go up to match the Sedins' handling speed but he is still young and would need some time for that. Now, with his playmaking skills and how he sees the ice, I think he could become a very effective partner for Kesler. But again, he would need some time and a lot of work for that to develop. Hopefully Torts can give him that, along with a healthy dose of confidence.

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#23 Ruprecht
July 17 2013, 12:15PM
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Tom wrote:

Why are we pretending that Kassian can replace Burr?

Contingency. Certain parts need to interchange in the event of injuries or if the need to adapt arises.

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#24 Lookin2Pass
July 17 2013, 02:03PM
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@JFR

Great input! Hope Torts is reading your sage advice about our young guns! What you've mentioned here regarding Santorelli and Booth is key to the season. If Hanson gels with them too then this will be an incredible year and finally a Third line! The Third line has always been lousy and will make or break us again.

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#25 JFR
July 17 2013, 05:13PM
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Sanoterlli wrote:

People penciling in Santorelli into the 3C spot = caman man. This is a guy who couldn't even stick the lineup with the Florida Panthers. Suddenly he's gonna be a 3C on a contending team? Uh no. He's a 4th line guy, 13th forward.

Gillis still, for the 3rd straight yr, does not have a 3C. Richardson is not defensivly responsible enough to play tough mins as a 3C. If Gilis doesn't pick up a quality 3C (for the 3rd straight summer), Canucks fans can look forward to another 1st round exit. I'm certain of it.

No one is penciling Santorelli in the 3rd center spot. He is just an option along w Gaunce or Horvat. The fact he has scored 20 goals with Booth as a winger counts for something. Also winning 61% of face offs is a big deal, since the Canucks were awful last year in the circle. Canucks don't have many options.... Giving Morrow a low base salary with incentives, or Gilbert Brule off the scrap heap or Gaunce??

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#26 Locky
July 18 2013, 09:45AM
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Maybe look at Burrows' QoC and Ozone% without Sedins? My impression was that off that line was to do with utilisation of his skills on the defensive end rather than anything else.

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