Replacing Christian Ehrhoff


In the days that followed Vancouver’s heartbreaking Stanley Cup final loss GM Mike Gillis was tasked with maintaining the status-quo on the Canucks’ back-end with an emphasis on re-signing key defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff.

Bieksa quickly re-signed for five years and $23 million, while Ehrhoff walked away from the same offer and signed with the suddenly free-spending Buffalo Sabres for 10 years and $40 million.

While it’s easy to dismiss Ehrhoff as a mere power-play specialist and poor playoff performer, an abysmal -13 in the 2011 post-season, his exodus from the Canucks’ blueline represents a significant loss.

Firstly, Ehrhoff led all Vancouver skaters in total ice-time and even-strength ice-time in 2010-11, in both cases, by considerable margins. Ehrhoff’s expansive minutes logged are a function of his health, no other Canuck defenseman suited-up for more than 66 games, but also head coach Alain Vigneault’s reliance on the 29-year-old in select situations. 

Alexander Edler averaed 24:17 total ice-time per game, Ehrhoff was second on the Canucks with an average of 23:59. Ehrhoff and Edler both averaged a team-high 18:17 even strength ice-time per game. 

It should be noted that the German defender played some of the easiest minutes on the squad, with a sixth-ranked quality of competition rating among Canuck blueliners.

Ehrhoff and Edler were frequently deployed as a five-man unit along with the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows line. As Jonathan Willis pointed out,  Ehrhoff was used in offensive zone situations at a greater rate than any other Vancouver defender.

A full-season of Sami Salo, a pipedream, I know, would go a long way to filling the offensive-zone ice-time void left by Ehrhoff, as the smooth Finnish rearguard was third among Canuck defensemen with a zone-start ratio of 53.5.

Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, who emerged as Vancouver’s shutdown pair, will likely be called upon to log more even-strength ice-time, both of whom averaged nearly 18 minutes per game last season. The duo also played some of the hardest minutes on Vancouver, both earning a top-three quality of competition rating among Vancouver rearguards. 

The emergence of Chris Tanev and a rebound season from Keith Ballard, neither of whom averaged more than 16 minutes per game, are also imperative to the success of Vancouver’s back-end. The latter certainly has the fitness to handle the extra minutes, Ballard averaged more than 20 minutes per game prior to 2010-11, but will first have to regain the trust of Vigneault.

Say what you will about the Hoff’s toughness and compete level, the native of Moers, Germany was a minute-eater on the back-end and in his absence Vancouver will need all six of its defensemen to log much more ice-time.

Ehrhoff’s prowess on the man-advantage will certainly be missed, as the German was an integral component of the Canucks top-ranked power-play. Ehrhoff’s 28 power-play points, 6 goals and 22 assists, were fourth among NHL blueliners.

Vancouver’s first-unit on the power-play, comprised of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler,  Edler and Ehrhoff, contributed 52 of the team’s 72 goals on the man-advantage.

Edler was a distant second with 17 power-play points from the back-end, but the Swede played in just 51 regular-season games. It’s reasonable to expect Edler, should he be healthy, to produce 25 to 30 points on the man-advantage. The 6-foot-3 defenseman’s spot on the first power-play unit is a certainty, though there are several candidates to man the point alongside Edler.

Salo is an obvious front-runner, as he averaged 1:54 power-play ice-time per game and possesses one of the league’s hardest shots. In 27 regular-season games, Salo tallied just three points on the man-advantage. His career-high in power-play points, 20, came in 2005-06. The notoriously injury prone 36-year-old could be used in spot-duty on the first-unit, but is far from a sure thing at this point.

Mikael Samuelsson logged considerable minutes on the power-play last season, sixth most on the team, and found himself on the point on the man-advantage for much of the season due to a myriad of injuries to the Canucks’ blueline. Samuelsson had five goals and 19 points on the power-play last season. The 34-year-old winger is an adequate playmaker from the point but lacks a powerful slap-shot which could lead to opposing defenders overplaying Edler’s booming one-timer.

The wonderfully well-rounded Hamhuis quietly amassed seven points on the power-play while playing exclusively with the second-unit. The Smithers native has terrific hockey sense but has never tallied more than 16 points on the man-advantage and seems destined for second-unit duty.

We’re still waiting for Bieksa to re-discover his 2008-09 form in which the rugged blueliner was a dynamo on the man-advantage notching five goals and 25 points. Bieksa has just one power-play goal in each of the last two seasons, despite his 113 minutes logged on the power-play in 2010-11. If Bieksa can find the net at the same rate as 2008-09, when his shooting percentage was 7.2%, he could find himself as a mainstay on the first-unit.

Ballard will have to escape Vigneault’s doghouse before he’s seriously considered for power-play ice-time, but the much-maligned American does possess puck-moving ability from the back-end. Prior to his disastrous debut season in Canuck blue, Ballard averaged nearly 30 points in his first five NHL seasons.

The Canucks had a league-best 72 goals on the man-advantage in 2010-11, but were a distant seventh in the league in five-on-five goals for. Whether it’s done individually or by committee, replacing Christian Ehrhoff’s power-play production is essential to Vancouver’s bid to repeat as President’s Trophy winners. 

  • Really good overview of the Canucks blueline. A PP specialist is a nice luxury to have. It will be interesting to see who AV tabs to take over the softer minutes with Edler and if they can at least somewhat cover Ehrhoff’s contributions.