A past-his-prime Scott Gomez. Tom Pyatt. Michael Busto. An over-the-hill Olli Jokinen. Brandon Prust. Evan Oberg. A third round draft pick. Those are all of the assets that Chris Higgins was traded for over the span of two years, as he transitioned from being a former lottery pick to a journeyman who couldn’t find a place to stick.
As the story goes, the Canucks weren’t even all that interested in Higgins in February of 2011, when they acquired him from the Panthers at the trade deadline. They had their sights set on another player, but wound up making a deal for Higgins – who was on the shelf with a hand injury at the time – in the final minutes before the deadline in an attempt to bolster themselves on the wing for a long playoff run.
Once he arrived in Vancouver, Higgins was able to lay claim to something that not many others could: he had called five different cities "home" over the course of the previous 20 months. Since then, he has proven to be an exceptionally valuable commodity for the Canucks, and a darling of the advanced stats community. But still, I feel that there are far too many hockey fans out there who don’t appreciate what he brings to the table, and it’s time that we change that.
Read Past the Jump for More on Chris Higgins.
It’s not hard to see why Chris Higgins doesn’t get the recognition that lesser players than himself get. He isn’t a big goal scorer – while he does have three 20-goal seasons to his name, they all came from ’05-’08 in La Belle Province – and isn’t all that flashy out on the ice. But as we’ve come to learn, there’s far more to hockey than making SportsCentre. Higgins contributes to winning in other ways that are best highlighted by taking a look at his underlying numbers from the previous three seasons:
As you can see, he has been fairly consistent across the board in recent years. While he has usually played against relatively strong competition, he took a big step up in that department last season, playing against the very best. Nevertheless, he continued to have a positive corsi rating. Even with the "heavy lifting" that he did for the Canucks, Higgins was still able to drive play for the team, often leaving them in a desireable position in the offensive zone despite having started the shift back in his own end.
Back in June, Cam Charron took a look at the season long scoring chance totals for the Canucks (that Thom Drance and himself had dilligently recorded throughout the year). What stood out was the fact that
Victor Oreskovich isn’t good at hockey the second line of Booth, Higgins and Kesler were pretty darn good, despite all the flack that they caught from Canucks fans over the course of the season. If your second line is that productive, you’re probably doing pretty good. Maybe even good enough to be two time (say it with me: TWO TIME) Presidents’ Trophy winners.
Higgins had the 2nd highest scoring chance rate/60 amongst Canucks forwards last season, behind only David Booth. When the chance rate was adjusted for zone starts, Higgins leapfrogged the team’s resident hunter for the top honour. For the Canucks, moreso than any other team really, this fact is so very important. The ability of the secondary forwards to play against stiff competition, while not giving any ground, allows Alain Vigneault to send the Sedins out to the offensive zone nearly 80% of the time.
Higgins – The Gestalt Player
In an ideal world, Higgins is causing havoc on your third line; a role in which he’d be the cream of the crop. That said, as we saw last year, he’s able to hang on a second scoring line, without looking too out of place. Why is he so versatile? Because he has a little bit of everything. Higgins is the perfect example of a player whose whole is greater than the sum of the parts. No one individual skill will overwhelm you, but it all adds up.
I mentioned that Higgins’ game isn’t necessarily all that pretty, but what it is, is effective. For the hockey fan that appreciates the little things, Higgins is a delight to watch as he battles for the puck along the boards. He’s a downright monster when it comes to puck battles, which is the biggest reason for his impressive possession numbers. He creates plenty an opportunity for his teammates with his tenacity in close quarters.
He has one year left on his contract with the Canucks, at a bargain price of $1.9 million. Unless he gets Tomas Vokoun’d by his agent, he should see that figure rise in free agency, to the tune of a handsome multi-year deal. And he deserves it, because wingers with his particular skillset don’t grow on trees. It would behoove the Canucks to extend him before he hits the open market, especially given their dearth of talent on the wing.
I know that some of you out there – particularly the female crowd – enjoy Chris Higgins mostly for his abdominal muscles. But you should marvel at what does on the ice as well, because he’s ripping it up there, too.