Pahlsson Doesn’t Displace Malhotra or Hodgson


New Canuck Sami Pahlsson battles Daniel Sedin for the puck.

There’s a lot of confusion about what the acquisition of Sami Pahlsson means for the Canucks. Does the trade signal that the Canucks have lost faith in Manny Malhotra? Will Pahlsson cut into Cody Hodgson’s precious ice-time? Did the Canucks really need another centre? The answer to those questions in order is: no, no and yes. 

The big implications of the Pahlsson acquisition, from a deployment perspective, is that the trade suggests that the Canucks are planning on doubling down on their "D-zone start specialist" approach to the fourth line. 

Read past the jump for more analysis on the trade.

If you’re not paying attention to things like zone-start rate, it’s easy to miss this sort of thing, but suffice it to say that the Canucks are not "rolling four lines" in a traditional way this season. Vancouver’s 4th line is a specialized defensive zone start unit – and they’ve been deployed in a unique and radical way. Every time the opposition earns a defensive zone face-off against the Canucks, Malhotra and Lapierre skate onto the ice, and are tasked with getting the puck out of the zone. They then take extremely short shifts and quickly change. This approach has been a success defensively, and has also allowed the Canucks to "situationally shelter" or "optimize" the minutes of two of their other forward lines. What’s more, this approach has radicalized even further since the calender turned to 2012.

Basically: Vigneault feeds his fourth line every possible defensive zone-start, which, allows the guys with offensive talent on the team (specifically: Cody Hodgson and the Sedin twins) to start nearly every shift in the offensive zone. This approach to forward deployment makes an awful lot of logical sense, and is in-line with the Canucks usual modus operandi of exploiting every available mathematical edge. 

So where does Pahlsson fit in? He fits in on the fourth line, probably in place of Bitz or Weise. Yes, I fully expect the Canucks to roll a total helicopter fourth line. Pahlsson is already used to starting a disproportionate number of shifts in the defensive zone, and coming out ahead from a possession stand-point. By the numbers, he’s having a solid season despite the horrendous goaltending in Columbus. Pahlsson’s presence on the team’s fourth line (with Lapierre and Malhotra) gives the team three face-off winners, and winning the face-off in your own zone is half the battle when you’re trying to prevent goals against.

Knowing his habit of sneaking deals in at the last minute on deadline day, Mike Gillis is probably not done. But if he is, he’s filled out the team’s forward depth with a player who increases the versatility of the bottom-6, and will reliably win possession battles in uniquely difficult minutes.

While Pahlsson may superficially look like the sort of player who "replaces" either Hodgson or Malhotra, I’d wager that Pahlsson’s presence turns out to be a complimentary one. More than anything, this trade signals to me that the Canucks fourth line may never start in the offensive zone ever again.