The Rome-Sulzer conundrum

-“The finger biting thing is getting kinda old already, guys”

It’s only usually when he’s in the lineup that Aaron Rome becomes the de-facto “topique du jour” and not when he’s sitting out injured as a potentially replacement for whomever the eighth defenseman is right now.

For readers that are fans of visiting teams, while the Vancouver Canucks may not have a lot of high-end defensemen, they have some depth: Alexander Sulzer, Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, and even Chris Tanev, who finds himself in Chicago for some reason, are going to be joined by Aaron Rome in the very near future.

So this gives rise to speculation as to what the Canucks really want to do with their d-corps. Speculation, because, despite having press credentials, Dan Murphy’s column about Aaron Rome doesn’t include any quotes from Alain Vigneault, the man who will be making the decision, so it’s completely void of anything otherwise useful.

Therefore, let’s speculate!

With Brad Ziemer from the Vancouver Sun reporting that the Canucks are a little higher on Alexander Sulzer than I am right now, it creates a bit of a log-jam from defense. While I was a fan of the acquisition in the summer for a cheap depth player who could play the right side, provide some powerplay depth and is otherwise pretty un-noticeable at even strength, Sulzer has had a rough beginning to his Canuck career.

Vigneault won’t mention publicly that Sulzer has been on the ice for 7 chances for and 15 against at even strength. That minus-8 number is more crushing than Tanev offered in his three games with the big club and worse than Alberts, whom Sulzer’s replaced. Sulzer has more tools to work with and takes fewer penalties, but the third pairing is out the Canucks shouldn’t have guys on the ice who make fans bite their nails like Sulzer and Ballard.

This is why the return of Aaron Rome is so crucial. Rome is a low-event player who does nothing fancy. He chips the puck off the glass rather than look for an outlet, doesn’t pinch at the blueline to prolong an offensive chance, and I dont think he’s ever gone for a skate longer than two stride lengths on the puck. Rome typically subbed in and out for Ballard last season but Ballard, I believe, has earned a full-time place on the roster this season thanks to his ability to create offense. It’s a good replacement for Christian Ehrhoff to have that fourth forward out there and keeping the opposing team honest.

Thom has written on this blog before about defensive pairings and I’ve been persuaded to believe that Bieksa and Ballard should play together. Alexander Edler has seen some time with Dan Hamhuis this season and that pair could also work as a two-way threat. That leaves, in your depth spot, when available, Rome with Sami Salo, which would work very well as a pairing since you the top four guys could soak up some minutes. I think you want to restrict the minutes of your lower-end guys, particularly guys at high injury risk like Salo, but you want to not give up much. Salo is a little underrated as a defensive defenseman and isn’t likely to take risks when he’s out at even strength. He’s better off creating offense as a powerplay guy with his shot.

Vigneault likes to keep his defensemen to certain sides of the ice, and Murphy notes that Ballard and Alberts typically play on the left side, but that restricts the Canucks’ ability to switch guys in and out of the lineup, so either Vigneault should showcase a little more desire to be flexible with his defensemen, or, more simply, tell Alberts and Sulzer that “you guys are there in case of injuries” and not change up his units every second game.

  • Too many defenceman… It’s definitely a nice problem to have! We saw the benefit of this down the stretch last year. There had been many points in the 2-3 playoff runs before last that we have been shallow on the back-end, and it has cost us dearly (especially with fragile Sammy on the backend.

    Rome should probably slot back in, as I think he has more than proven his worthiness of a top 6 position. Having some competition for the spot never hurts though…..