Fourth Line Help

Volpatti’s toughness has been lost for the year, and the team still needs to replace his planking ability.

Following a season ending injury to Aaron Volpatti and recent injuries to "skill players" David Booth and Cody Hodgson: the Smylosphere is preoccupied with the Canucks "team toughness", and the personnel on the fourth line. This preoccupation gained added steam following a physical, dirty game against the Ottawa Senators in, which, several Canucks (including Kesler and Edler) were dealt cheap-shots while in vulnerable positions.

With what happened in the Stanley Cup Final fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems the Canucks are being "challenged physically" by teams on a more regular basis. Certainly the last week of games, which, included rough, cheap-shot filled affairs against Colorado and Ottawa, would indicate that there is some truth to that. So would the rate at which the Canucks are fighting this season. After fighting only 29 times all of last season, the Canucks have fought 18 times in 29 games this year, which, puts them on pace for 51 fights. I love conventional thinking in the NHL, as if the fact that the Bruins dressed Shawn Thornton (toughness!) was the decisive factor in the Stanley Cup Finals, as opposed to Bergeron and Chara’s handling of the Sedins and Tim Thomas’ general impregnability.

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Talking to the Province’s Jason Botchford, Mike Gillis addressed the team’s "lack of an enforcer" today, saying:

“It doesn’t seem to be working. You can’t argue with the results. We had very good results last season and we’re starting to do it again. There are some players who want to run around and hit guys from behind and that’s a league issue and it’s something the league is getting out of the game. If officials do their jobs, we will win games.”

Gillis of course was even more explicit during a Team1040 interview with Scott Rintoul on December 8th, in which he said, "I don’t want a player who is one-dimensional and can’t contribute, those guys don’t play down the stretch," and added: "The game is evolving into a more highly skilled game, you’ve seen more team’s rid themselves of enforcers." That sounds good to me.

Jason Brough of Pro-Hockey Talk, however, remains skeptical. He paraphrased Don Cherry (and invoked the ghost of Kharlamov) in a take on the issue today:

"Gillis seems to relish the fact that teams are running around against the Canucks, because it means more opportunities for the league’s best power play.

Unfortunately, a referee can’t do anything to bring Booth back.

It begs the question, is Vancouver at risk of winning a bunch of little battles at the cost of losing the war? After all, referees only have so much power. Ditto for the league. Say a marginal player takes out Henrik Sedin in Game 1 of a playoff series. Even if gets a major penalty and receives a lengthy suspension, who wins that trade off?

Obviously the team that injured Henrik Sedin wins that trade-off. Though, of course, it’s the Canucks and Aaron Rome who can best speak to the utility of having a marginal player take out a top-line forward from the opposing team in a playoff series…

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It’s never made sense to me that a guy who plays seven minutes per night, can prevent injuries to your star players. If Henrik Sedin gets hurt by a cheap-hit and enforcer x (acquired in a panic move to stabilize the team’s lacking "toughness quotient") is on the bench – what help is that enforcer? In fact, the evidence suggests that this concept is dubious. The presence of an enforcer in a team’s lineup has absolutely zero correlation with winning, or preventing injuries.

That said, there’s a reason the Canucks signed a whole stable of big, fight-y, fourth line forwards this offseason. While the idea that the Canucks "lacked an enforcer" in the Stanley Cup Finals is silly, the Bruins ability to roll four lines at even-strength was a legitimate advantage in the series. Before Volpatti went out, the Canucks fourth line, buoyed by the stellar play of Maxim Lapierre, was playing reasonably effective, low-event hockey, and finishing only slightly below-water in somewhat tough minutes.

That said, with Volpatti and Pinozzotto out, and Victor Oreskovich and Andrew Alberts clearly not the answer, the Canucks do have a need on the fourth line. There is, supposedly, Byron Bitz in the pipeline, but he’s had four surgeries in the last two years, so there’s a legitimate chance that he’ll remain a quesiton mark in perpetuity. There’s also Mike Duco, but he’s more of an undersized agitator (albeit one with some legitimate hockey skill) than he is the sort of "imposing physical force" that Canucks fans seem to be clamouring for…

I figured, I’d take a quick look at bottom six forwards, on reasonable deals, with limited term, who are currently playing for teams likely to be "sellers" between now and the trade deadline. I figure it’ll be fun for the purposes of discussion, and for helping us understand what bottom-six type forwards may be on the market over the next couple of months.

I’ve picked "seller" teams based on two criteria: the team’s are more than five points out of a playoff spot at the moment, or they fall within the bottom-8 teams in terms of overall payroll. I considered including the Panthers just because of the frequency with which they trade players with the Canucks, but I decided against it. With those parameters, we’re left with 12 teams, who I’ll describe as "likely sellers" over the balance of the regular season: Phoenix, Winnipeg, Dallas, Nashville, Colorado, Anaheim, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders and Carolina.

From there, I’ve gone through the respective team’s Capgeek Salary Chart and picked players on affordable, short-term deals only. Mike Gillis has a particular and predictable modus operandi at the trade deadline: he waits until the last minute, he only trades away marginal prospects (and 2nd and 3rd round picks) and tends to look for guys who will stay with the team for longer than just the stretch and the postseason. In the case of bottom-6 forwards, I decided not to include the "pure enforcers" since Gillis has stated time and time again that he only wants to acquire guy who can legitimately play hockey.

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Here’s the list I’ve churned out using this criteria:

  • Phoenix: Boyd Gordon
  • Ottawa: Zenon Konopka, Zac Smith
  • Winnipeg: Jim Slater, Keenan McCardle
  • Dallas: Adam Burish, Radek Dvorak
  • Carolina: Anthony Stewart
  • New York Islanders: Matt Martin
  • Nashville: Jordin Tootoo
  • Colordado: Daniel Winnick, Brandon Yip
  • Anaheim: Andrew Gordon
  • Tampa: Adam Hall, Nate Thompson

A quick look at BTN’s underlying numbers would lead me to favour, among the forwards listed: Dvorak, Burish, Smith, Winnick and either of Thompson or Hall. In terms twitter hilarity, I favour Anthony Stewart, just because his beef with Pass it to Bulis would be amplified ten-fold if he played in Vancouver.

What are your thoughts? Who would you like to see the Canucks target for the team’s bottom-six at the trade deadline?

  • VBS6935

    I thought Nate Thompson played really well in the play offs last year. Here are the stats as far as I can see.

    Adam Burish, R, 16 games, 8 points, -3
    Corsi Rel -7.1, CorsiQoC 0.973, CorsiRelQoC 0.916, CorsiQoT -0.979, Corsi RelQoT -5.153

    Adam Hall, R, 27 games, 2 points, -4
    Corsi Rel -13.9, CorsiQoC 0.938, CorsiRelQoC 0.321, CorsiQoT -2.193, Corsi RelQoT 2.957

    Andrew Gordon, R, 27 games, 3 points, -8
    Corsi Rel -7.0, CorsiQoC 0.248, CorsiRelQoC 0.39, CorsiQoT -2.807, Corsi RelQoT 0.425

    Anthony Stewart, R, 27 games, 5 points, 0
    Corsi Rel -9.1, CorsiQoC 0.402, CorsiRelQoC 0.492, CorsiQoT 0.652, Corsi RelQoT -2.057

    Boyd Gordon, C, 29 games, 11 points, +9
    Corsi Rel -15.2, CorsiQoC 0.682, CorsiRelQoC 0.202, CorsiQoT -2.834, Corsi RelQoT 0.415

    Brandon Yip, R, 9 games, 0 points, +1
    Corsi Rel -13.1, CorsiQoC -0.046, CorsiRelQoC -0.006, CorsiQoT 0.724, Corsi RelQoT -4.037

    Daniel Winnick, L, 30 games, 10 points, -5
    Corsi Rel 7.2, CorsiQoC 0.266, CorsiRelQoC 0.16, CorsiQoT 0.305, Corsi RelQoT -4.236

    Jim Slater, C, 27 games, 8 points, -3
    Corsi Rel -23.4, CorsiQoC -0.418, CorsiRelQoC 0.8, CorsiQoT -2.94, Corsi RelQoT -5.905

    Jordin Tootoo, R, 27 gmes, 11 points, 0
    Corsi Rel ?, CorsiQoC 0.306, CorsiRelQoC 0.648, CorsiQoT -2.291, Corsi RelQoT -3.604

    Kenndal McCardle, L, 9 games, 0 points, -3
    Corsi Rel -42.1, CorsiQoC 1.302, CorsiRelQoC 1.929, CorsiQoT 0.38, Corsi RelQoT 0.279

    Matt Martin, L, 27 games, 7 points, -5
    Corsi Rel -1.9, CorsiQoC -0.047, CorsiRelQoC 0.156, CorsiQoT -4.69, Corsi RelQoT -11.907

    Nate Thompson, C, 28 games, 5 points, -8
    Corsi Rel -14.4, CorsiQoC 0.973, CorsiRelQoC 0.182, CorsiQoT -2.511, Corsi RelQoT 2.383

    Radek Dvorak, R, 28 games, 13 points, -2
    Corsi Rel -20.1, CorsiQoC 0.548, CorsiRelQoC 0.056, CorsiQoT -1.181, Corsi RelQoT -0.747

    Zac Smith, C, 30 games, 16 points, +6
    Corsi Rel -8.4, CorsiQoC -0.346, CorsiRelQoC -0.187, CorsiQoT 1.457, Corsi RelQoT 0.812

    Zenon Konopka, C, 23 games, 4 points, +1
    Corsi Rel -5.1, CorsiQoC 0.02, CorsiRelQoC 0.388, CorsiQoT -6.087, Corsi RelQoT -13.12