Should Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis be reunited this coming season?

J.D. Burke
July 23 2014 11:45AM

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There have been plenty of occasions over the years where Kevin Bieksa's name popped up in trade rumours, and it seemed like a realistic possibility that he could be on his way out of town. One of those times came back in 2010, with the team fresh off of bringing in the likes of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard and Bieksa set to hit the last year of his contract with the Canucks.

Then a crazy thing happened: Bieksa was paired with the newcomer Hamhuis during his first season with the team, and the two made sweet music together. In essence they became the de-facto first pairing, logging heavy minutes against the opposition's best and making it all look very easy. 

It was nothing new for Hamhuis, who has as we now know made a career of propping up his partners with the unique ability to make those around him look just that much better. In this case though, it resurrected Bieksa's career. 

But after the team dipped its toes into the free agent market and signed Jason Garrison in the summer of '12, Alain Vigneault figured a better allocation of resources was to split the dominant pairing up. Apparently he wasn't alone, because John Tortorella felt the same way last season. 

It'll be interesting to see how Willie Desjardins approaches the matter, but there's ample reason to believe that it would behoove both himself, the team, and the two players in question themselves to put the them back together this coming season. 

The Precedent 

A Bieksa-Hamhuis combination may not necessarily produce the type of offense that is often associated with top-flight defensemen, but what they can do is handle the opposition's very best and still manage to move the needle in the right direction. A convenient byproduct is that it allows someone like Alex Edler to play softer minutes than he did this past year (when he was tasked with the toughest ones of his career), and potentially flourish on the offensive end.

The two seasons that Bieksa and Hamhuis were predominantly paired up were in '10-'11 and '11-'12, and the success was startling. They posted zone-start adjusted possession rates of 54% and 55.3% respectively, and goals for rates of 65.2% and 62.9%. 

Diving even deeper into the numbers from that first season together, here's a look at who they were matched up against most frequently during that time and how they fared against them. In short, they were facing a venerable murderer's row of opposing forwards.

Bieksa 2011-AGAINST

Hamhuis 2011-AGAINST

What you'll notice here is that Dan Hamhuis was relied upon more heavily than Bieksa that season. After all, it seems rather intuitive that then-coach Alain Vigneault would've been slightly more aggressive about matching Hamhuis up against the opposition's best than he was with Bieksa.

In an effort to set the table for how the pairing of Bieksa and Hamhuis fared against other team's top defensive pairing, I charted the Corsi For & Against of every team's top line. What I essentially did was look at who played the highest percentage of even-strength minutes on each team in 2010-11, and looked who they played the majority of their minutes with. It's not exactly perfect, but it seemed to me like the most effective and readily available way of finding out each team's top pairing. The results are every bit as good as I had thought they would be when I embarked on this project.

Bieksa-Hamhuis 2011 Comparables

As you can see, only about five pairings came out better than Bieksa and Hamhuis; most of them were from the ever-so-cushy Eastern Conference. The following season they actually went on to play against slightly tougher quality of competition, and still managed to drop their Corsi Against/20 when together from 18.58 to 16.58 (admittedly with a slight dip in their Corsi For/20, as well). In layman's terms: they were putting in work.

Looking Ahead

I've always felt that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts with these two, and to some extent the data backs that up. I know chemistry isn't something you hear about often on this blog, but let me go out on a limb and suggest that there's something there in this regard.

One almost always knows where the other is and as far as I can remember, their breakouts from 2010-12 - when they were paired together most frequently - were bordering on sublime. From an eye-test perspective, it makes sense; Bieksa is prone to his bone-headed moments, while Hamhuis on the other hand is the personification of reliability. Hamhuis is seemingly always in the right position and this can make up for the sometimes mind-numbing decisions Bieksa is prone to making with the puck.

I'm not blind here. Bieksa needs Hamhuis more than Hamhuis does Bieksa, as we've seen over the past two years with Hamhuis propping up both Jason Garrison and Chris Tanev. That said, the fact that a pairing that was so successful together was just casually moved away from has irked me over the past two years. Maybe, just maybe, reuniting them this coming season could open some more doors for others while giving the Canucks a legitimate top pairing that benefits from its symbiotic relationship. 

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J.D. Burke is a hockey and football writer/blogger, that can be found on several different sites, including this one. Enjoys long walks on the beach and sushi. Can be followed on Twitter @JDylanBurke
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#1 NM00
July 23 2014, 12:32PM
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Assuming the top 4 is Hamhuis, Bieksa, Edler & Tanev, it better be Hamhuis with Bieksa.

Bieksa & Edler should only be paired together if the season goes to hell and the Canucks enter the McDavid sweepstakes...

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#2 JDM
July 23 2014, 12:53PM
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Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa were tremendous together from 2010-2012!

Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison were tremendous together in 2013!

Dan Hamhuis and Chris Tanev were tremendous together last year!

... Wait I'm sensing a pattern here.

Short answer? No. Kevin Bieksa was also outstanding last year with Ryan Stanton, to the point where Ryan Stanton was up there with the top pairing for best possession and goals-for stats on the team. Keep that magic going if at all possible because it creates three good pairings.

Hamhuis should play with Tanev. Although it'd be funny if, just for the hell of it, they put Sbisa with him just to see if Dan can just make literally anyone look like a world-beater.

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#3 Char Richo
July 23 2014, 12:24PM
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I'm on board with this. Not only do I just love these two together, but I think the numbers back up how effective they are together.

Allowing Edler to play softer minutes is a bonus, plus, put Tanev on with Edler, and not only do you probably protect his breakable body a litte, but also prop up Tanev's offensive numbers potentially making his trade value pretty high (in case the Canucks want, or have to go that route with him).

Not sure what this would mean for the third pairing, but I figure with these top 4, the third pairing will see limited/protected minutes anyway.

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#4 PB
July 23 2014, 01:30PM
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@NM00

Amen to that. The only pairing that's looked worse in the last number of years was Corrado and Sauve. I am confident that even David Booth could have scored against that combo.

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#5 Kevin M
July 24 2014, 12:21AM
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I think this coming year the pairings should be: Hamhuis/Bieksa; Edler/Tanev' Sbisa/Weber, with Weber mostly being used on PP. I would keep Stanton as the number 7, he has no real offensive upside and I think this team needs offense from the back hence Weber. I think the article makes clear why H/B, but I also think the second pair works, Edler against tier 2 offensive talent, with a partner who though a bit pedestrian doesn't gamble and will stay back if Edler goes forward. Sbisa has more upside than Stanton and I think Weber deserves a shot as the third righty, over Corrado who could use another good year in AHL. Also Weber has a great shot and could do what Garrison did not do on the power play.

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#6 Lemming
July 23 2014, 05:28PM
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If Bieksa was paired with Stanton, then Tanev would be paired with either Hamhuis or Edler. If he was paired with Edler, we've seen that work OK. It would also mean that someone gets paired with Hamhuis, and that would be either Weber or Sbisa, which I don't think would happen. If Tanev is paired with Hamhuis, I think Edler and Weber would be a bit of a tire fire.

I would rather have Bieksa with Hamhuis, Tanev with Edler, and then give Stanton with Weber some softer minutes. Unfortunately for Sbisa, I think there are 3 lefties ahead of him on the depth chart, so he's the odd man out.

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#7 van
July 23 2014, 12:34PM
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Who were the 5 pairings who did better?

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#8 Wetcoaster
July 24 2014, 01:07AM
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@JDM

Hamhuis should play with Tanev... on the PK. I believe there was a Canucks Army article last off-season on the Canucks various 2012-2013 pairings and the takeaway was that the Hamhuis and Tanev pairing just killed opposition shot attempts.

Unfortunately, I seem to recall the biggest hurdle for the Canucks last season was their own offense.

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#9 JFR
July 24 2014, 01:39PM
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Canucks D pairings along with a good goaltending pair and the GAA should be much better as well as the PP numbers should be higher.

Last year the D corps looked confused and out of place in Torts Zone style. I believe A MHammy/Bieska and Edler/Tanev top two pairings should be quite successful. Chasing offensive numbers from your D is not intelligent hockey. Stop goals first and offense second!

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#10 JDM
July 24 2014, 09:58AM
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Wetcoaster wrote:

Hamhuis should play with Tanev... on the PK. I believe there was a Canucks Army article last off-season on the Canucks various 2012-2013 pairings and the takeaway was that the Hamhuis and Tanev pairing just killed opposition shot attempts.

Unfortunately, I seem to recall the biggest hurdle for the Canucks last season was their own offense.

This is not a reason to break up successful defensive pairings. The result would simply be slightly more offense (maybe, if the experiment worked) at the expense of defense, which is a bad trade-off, even if you would find it more entertaining.

The team is the team, it isn't going to be somehow transformed into an offensive juggernaut by tinkering with defense pairings. It's incumbent upon management and coaching to assemble it in a manner that produces the best possible goal differential. In the case of the Canucks as currently constituted, that probably depends more on suppressing opposition goal totals than running up the score. It would be window-licking retarded to abandon the concept of sound defensive structure in the hopes of scoring a couple more goals - at the end of the day, it's not any better to lose 5-3 than 2-1.

Hamhuis and Tanev were extremely successful last year. Stanton and Bieksa were absurdly successful, albeit in somewhat easier minutes. Edler was very good in terms of possession, but totally unsuccessful in translating that possession into results. Garrison was a tire fire on skates. If Edler bounces back, and Sbisa at least holds his own (i.e. doesn't get buried in his own end), we should see a reasonably significant improvement from our defense.

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#11 bozo
July 25 2014, 01:46AM
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It irked a lot of people those 2 were split. But when ur gm lets Ehrhoff walk in favour of 2 Florida refugees in Ballard & Garrison, it leaves Edler in no mans land and u end up trading the best goalie combo on the planet.

Let's hope WD starts fresh by going back to what works!

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