How “The Great Dane” can get out of the Doghouse

Where has Hansen’s gumption gone?

Alain Vigneault made a decision Saturday in Denver. Now it’s Jannik Hansen’s turn to make a decision of his own.

In the Canucks 3-2 shootout win over the Avalanche, Vigneault gave Hansen a season-low 8:04 of ice time. It wasn’t just a season low, but a substantial 2:49 lower than the previous low (10:53 on December 1st vs Nashville). The Danish winger hasn’t seen as little of the ice since he played a total of 3:58 in Columbus on February 12, 2010 – the night of the Olympic opening ceremonies nearly two years ago.

So it has been a while since Hansen sat and watched as much hockey from ice level as he did at the Pepsi Center this weekend. He’s a different – and more valuable — player now than he was back then, but Saturday’s move by the coach had better get Hansen’s attention.

In the third period, Hansen played three shifts for a total of 1:16. He had one full shift that lasted 52 seconds, he had one short shift that lasted 20 seconds, and his final shift of the game saw him touch the ice for a grand total of four seconds. That final shift came with 8:43 to go, and the Canucks trailing 2-1. After that final shift, Hansen was relegated to the role of spectator and cheerleader.

Unfortunately it’s hard to argue with the coach in this case, because since Christmas, Jannik Hansen has been extremely quiet. He’s gone eight games since his last goal, and has just two goals in the 17 games since the brief holiday break. In the last 13 games, he has just two assists. While Hansen is still in the midst of a career offensive season, the bulk of his contributions came in a six week stretch between November 6th and December 21st.

Ultimately, it’s not so much the offense as it is any kind of presence that is lacking from the "Great Dane." Jannik Hansen was last year’s Fred J. Hume award winner as the Canucks "unsung hero" because he showed up, hustled, competed and was a pain in the butt to play against on a nightly basis. Not only did the guy not take a night off, he rarely went a shift without doing something to get noticed.

That grit and determination is missing from Hansen’s game these days, so it can hardly come as a surprise that the coach took drastic action on Saturday. Hansen remains a key penalty killer, and his contributions in that area must be noted. But he’s a guy who has worked hard for all of his success, and right now that ‘hard work’ element just isn’t there. Hansen isn’t hounding guys on the forecheck, or tracking pucks on the backcheck and he’s not finishing hits, well, because he’s not even starting hits! He has been credited with just two hits and two shots in the three games since the All-Star break, and has recorded only four shots and three hits in his last five games.

Hansen’s game, however, isn’t about statistics; it’s about using his better than average speed to be bothersome on the ice. It’s about using that quality to take time and space away from opponents and to force turnovers. If offense happens as a result, that is a bonus, and his 10-goals in that six week span were a huge reason the Canucks caught fire and rapidly moved up the Western Conference standings.

The Canucks are a better team when they’re getting contributions from outside the top six forwards, but Hansen doesn’t have to score to be a valuable asset to the club. What he has to do is play hard and compete! He hasn’t been lately, and that’s why he found himself parked at the Pepsi Center.

Alain Vigneault made his decision. Now it’s Hansen’s turn. He has to realize why he lost the chance to play on Saturday, and decide that he’s going to play better than he has been lately. Otherwise he runs the risk of watching others take his ice time. With the trade deadline looming, if Hansen can’t get back to doing the things that got him to the NHL, the Canucks may have no choice but to go out and find someone who will.