Canucks Roster Depth: Defence (Part II)

Andrew Alberts has a lot of improvement ahead of him if he expects to play full time with the Canucks.
Either that, or he’s praying for Injurypalooza again in 2011-12.
(Photo courtesy Darpan Magazine)

Canucks Army concludes its series where it looks at the depth at each position for the Vancouver Canucks.
In our sixth and final installment of our series, we look at the Canucks depth at DEFENCE (Part II).

Last season, the Vancouver Canucks blue line was absolutely decimated by injuries. The Canucks dressed 13 different defencemen last season, and 9 of them played 27 games or more. No single Canucks defenceman played the entire season (the only one who was close was the now-departed Christian Ehrhoff, with 79 GP). It’s clear that the Canucks depth on defence saved their season and was arguably the biggest factor in them reaching the Stanley Cup final. With much of the defence still in tact, will the depth become a factor again this season? If so, the Canucks have some returning veterans, some young up-and-comers and some free agent signings looking to make their mark.

Aaron Rome

Rome’s season was a bit of a strange one. The last time we saw Aaron Rome on the ice happened to be the last time we saw Nathan Horton on the ice too. The devastating hit knocked Horton out of the playoffs and earned Rome a suspension for the remainder of the playoffs. I’m sure that Rom is eager to erase that memory from the minds of hockey fans. His regular season was interesting as well. The best way to describe his year is that he was probably the "best of the bad Canucks defencemen" during the regular season. Of the top 9 defencemen based on ice time, Rome, Alberts, Ballard and Salo were the worst of the bunch. By A LOT too. Looking at relative CORSI numbers from Behind The Net, there is a distinct line between the top 5 and the bottom 4. Rome was marginally the best of the bottom 4. Rome proved that be could be a serviceable 7th defenceman and an adequate replacement. There is no doubt that Rome saw the amount of ice time that he did because the Canucks blue line became an infirmary and that Keith Ballard had an atrocious season. This coming year, given that the Canucks defence will almost assuredly be more healthy than last year and given Ballard is likely to have a bounce back year (assuming Alain Vigneault works things out with Ballard), Rome should see a lot less ice time this year.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: It was a night and day for Rome when comparing the two halves of the season last year. Between October and January, Rome played 26 games, had 2 assists and was -5 with 8 PIMs. Between February and April, he played 29 games, had 1 goal and 3 assists, was +6 and had 45 PIMs.

Andrew Alberts

Alberts was the worst Canucks defenceman last year. Whether you want to use the "eye-test" or look at the empirical evidence, he was the worst defenceman. Worst among CORSI and a variety of other stats (here, here and here). Worst at being an effective defender. Worst at taking dumb penalties. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he was rewarded with a new two-year contract at $1.225m per year. It wasn’t as though Alberts was awarded that money because he was an RFA. He was unrestricted. The Canucks could have signed him at a much more reasonable rate. In the grand scheme of things, he’s probably being paid about 300-400K more than he warrants. Not a big deal, in terms of the cap. Regardless, Alberts is certainly effective when he is playing to his strengths, which is being brawny and surly. But given how well Tanev played last year, and Rome’s improvement, Alberts is no better than 8th in the depth chart. With a surge from other young defenceman, he may slip even further. It seems pretty clear that Andrew Alberts has some serious improvements to make if he wants to climb the D-man depth ladder.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Alberts had nearly identical home and away stats last year, except for one big difference. In 22 home games, he had 1G 3A 4 Pts. In 20 road games, he had 0G 3A 3Pts. The difference? At home, Alberts was +3 while he was -3 on the road.

Yann Sauve

Yann Sauve had quite the 2010-11 campaign. He was invited to Canucks’ training and things were looking good for the 20 year old. He was then hit by a car in downtown Vancouver and suffered a concussion, sidelining him for two months. Once healthy enough to play, the Canucks sent him to Manitoba. The Moose then assigned him to play with the Victoria Salmon Kings in the ECHL, mostly for conditioning. After 8 games with Victoria, he was back with the Moose. He played the rest of the year with Manitoba, and had two brief callups with the Canucks. He played 3 games in February and 2 games in April before returning to the Moose for the Calder Cup playoffs. A tumultuous year, to be sure, and one that will serve as a HUGE learn experience for the bright prospect. He’s got good size and he uses it – something that the Canucks will certainly keep in mind this season. However, Sauve (who will turn 22 in February) needs a full, uninterrupted season in the AHL to grow his skills more. His size and physicality certainly make him a target for call-ups but he needs some seasoning still in the AHL before he’s really ready for the big leagues. Look for Sauve’s big push into the NHL to happen next summer. This year, he just needs to stay healthy, stay focused and stay away from Vancouver traffic.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Sauve was playing with the Canucks in his February call-up when he celebrated his 21st birthday.

Alexander Sulzer

Last season, Sulzer played in his 11th year of professional hockey. Pretty amazing when you realize he’s 27. Starting out in Germany’s third division as a 16 year old, Sulzer has climbed his way, slowly but surely into the ranks of the NHL. He signed a two-way with the Canucks as a free agent this summer, and is another product of the Nashville defensive system (along with Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Parent). The two-way deal is a pretty clear indication that the club intends to play him predominantly with the Chicago Wolves, but he has proved to be a competent defenceman at the NHL level and will be an adequate call-up for the Canucks if needed. If Sulzer really lights it up at training camp, there is a chance that he could knock Rome or Alberts out of their perch in the 7/8 hole in the Canucks depth chart. Sulzer would have to really impress Canucks brass to make that jump. Given his two-way deal and his 60+ games of NHL experience, I would venture to say that Sulzer will likely be the Canucks first choice for call-up this season. With the Canucks history of injuries on the blueline, that could mean some significant NHL time for the German defenceman.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: He scored his first NHL goal last season against the Edmonton Oilers. Sulzer had just finished serving a penalty when he scored the game’s first goal. He also added an assist and was named the game’s third star.

Ryan Parent

May 29th, 2010. As a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ryan Parent played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. He played a mere 41 seconds and was minus-1. A very disappointing end to a decent playoff run for the young defenceman. Since then, he’s played on 4 NHL games, while fighting injuries and toiling away in minors. At only 24, Parent has plenty of hockey left in him, but he’s already been traded 3 times (all involving the Nashville Predators). If he used his most valuable asset more effectively (his size) he could probably break through and stick with a club full time. He COULD be an Alberts-type, only more responsible and smarter with the puck. He was a modest cap hit and experience playing on the NHL’s biggest stage. He’s just having a difficult time cracking the Canucks depth, mostly because he would have had to clear waivers and if claimed, the Canucks would be on the hook for half his cap hit. That’s not a good fit for a team that operated so perilously close to the cap ceiling last season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Parent traded this season as part of a big bundle to bring in that elusive power winger the Canucks need on the second line. It seems unlikely, with his one-way contract, waiver eligibility and the Canucks depth, that he’ll play more than a handful of games for the Canucks again. Hopefully, a team looking for a big young defenceman will find use for Parent and the Canucks can get trade value for him.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Ryan Parent was tied in team scoring for the Moose with Eddie Lack, the team’s #1 goaltender. They both had 2 points.

Sebastian Erixon

Sebastian Erixon has been playing a man’s game in a man’s league for the past 3 years… And he’s just about to celebrate his 22nd birthday. Not bad, kid. Erixon completed his third season in the Swedish Elite League this spring and led his club, Timra, in scoring among defencemen. Not bad, kid. He’s a talented offensive defenceman who handles the puck very well and has a decent shot. Not bad, kid. His glaring drawback… is that he’s small. Very small for an NHL defenceman at only 5’7". NOT good, kid. Some sites have him listed at 5’10" but that’s quite generous. Even if he was 5’10", that’s still fairly small for an NHL defenceman. There are very few small blueliners in the NHL and it’s not a model that Gillis and the Canucks have employed. And, at almost 22, Erixon isn’t going to magically sprout up 4-6 inches in a year. Erixon has a tall order in front of him in trying to crack the Canucks roster, but his offensive abilities might make him an interesting call-up for a few games. But you have to expect that Erixon will play full time with the Wolves next year and will probably light up the AHL.

Interesting Stat from 2010-11: Erixon led his Timra Red Eagles of the SEL in assists (15) and points (20) for defencemen. His 5 goals was second-best to Mattias Karlsson (6).