As Usual, AV’s Lineup Purée Makes Sense

Sticktap to bitter rival Harrison Mooney for the image.

On the heels of two losses (although one was a functional tie, with a gimmick tacked on), the Canucks coaching staff has decided to reconfigure their forwards lines. Jason Botchford describes the new forward combinations as "radical," and he’s not far off.

Here are the new lines the Canucks are using at practice today (per Jim Jamieson):





There’s this perception that when Alain Vigneault modifies his lineup, it’s done haphazardly and at random. But I prefer to think of Alain Vigneault as an exceedingly well compensated Jugo Juice employee. Though it seems odd at first glance, there’s a method of this apparent madness.

We’ll break it all down after the jump

Rusty Legs

The first thing I notice about this new forward configuration, is that each of the top-three lines will consist of at least one player who was active and playing competitive hockey in a European league or in the AHL during the lockout. The first line will have Zack Kassian who has played nearly thirty AHL contests this season, the second line will have Hansen who lit up the SM-Liga during the lockout and the "third-line" will have Jordan Schroeder and Dutch League MVP Dale Weise who’ve been playing competitive hockey for months. I really have to think that the "rusty legs" factor is a major motivation behind splitting up the twins, and their signature triggerman Alex Burrows. 

When a usually polished team like the Canucks allows a goal late in a period (like they did on Sunday) and then allow their opponent to carry play in the third period (like the Canucks also did on Sunday), you can pretty safely assume that fatigue and a lack of game readiness is, if not a primary culprit, then at least a factor. And I’d guess that part of the idea behind these new scrambled egg line combinations is to try more evenly distribute "game-ready" legs throughout the lineup.

Young Players

Is that 21 year old winger Zack Kassian lining up to play big minutes on Vancouver’s top forward line? How does that make sense, when Alain Vigneault hates young players forever and ever, and sucks at developing talent because of that mistrust-y hatred? 

Before the season Tony Gallagher, Dan Murphy and Bob McKenzie, three guys who know a few people in the business, all suspected that Zack Kassian would get a serious look with the Sedin twins in the early-going this season. The Canucks however, started Zack Kassian on a quickly dismantled line with Andrew Ebbett and Mason Raymond. Rather than play too many shifts with those line-mates, however, Zack Kassian bounced around the lineup a bit and looked fast, tough and dangerous in the offensive zone in the team’s first two games of 2013.

Am I crazy then, or did the Canucks just make Zack Kassian – who has battled with consistency throughout his career, and again this season in Chicago – earn a spot on the top-line? He capitalized on some lovely Sedin passing on Sunday, and fought and injured a pretty tough guy in Ben Eager. The result: Kassian gets a shot in the top-line. Well doesn’t that make a whole lot of sense.

Jordan Schroeder meanwhile, will play with Weise and Raymond on what is, at first glance, a pretty odd looking line. I’d expect that line to be sheltered situationally (why else would Lapierre and Malhotra play together if not to soak up defensive zone draws), and to play maybe a bit over ten minutes at even-strength on Wednesday against the Flames (assuming the game is competitive). It’s really not a second line, that would be Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, but it’s very probably a Cody Hodgson-era type third-line. Anyway a top-nine shot still represents a pretty big opportunity for Jordan Schroeder and it will probably come with a good long look on the power-play as well.

One more note I’d make is that in addition to his "game-ready" legs, Dale Weise will bring some much needed size to the Raymond-Schroeder line. I still think I’d rather see Schroeder play with say Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows, but this makes sense to me, especially when you consider that Raymond and Schroeder displayed some chemistry in training camp scrimmages a week ago.


While the forward lines appear to be radically altered, the defensive pairings are exactly the same: Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will stay together, Edler will continue to adjust to playing the right-side on a pairing with Jason Garrison, and Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev will round out the d-corps. If the Canucks wood with that lineup on Wednesday night, that means Alain Vigneault will have allowed Keith Ballard to have a turnover prone game on Sunday, without stapling him immediately to the bench. 

Ballard has never looked comfortable in Vancouver’s system and the writing is probably already on the wall in terms of his future with the club. But he can still be useful for this season if he can figure out how to stay on the ice. Paradoxically he’ll need some rope from the coaching staff to do that…

  • DCR

    I think the problem many people have with AV’s line choices is that they often want to match strength to strength while ignoring everything else and he’s basing his lines on a combination of factors.

  • DCR

    Ballard is giving Tanev a great opportunity to learn how to cover for his defensive partner – other than showcasing him for a trade (lol, ya right) I can see no other benefit from him being out there.

    • DCR

      I dont know… Ballard wasnt really THAT great. He showed signs that he could get better.

      Also theres a video on derek morris and ballard mistakes that you should watch. poor ballard has screwed up so many times in his career…

  • I can see the reasoning behind these lines. They have potential to work out, I just hope they do.

    Weise with Raymond and Schroeder does make sense if AV is trying to recreate their line from the 2nd scrimmage. Those two with someone big to make space for them provides that line with something a little more than sticking Higgins or Burrows with them.

    Really no reason to break-up Higgins and Hansen right now, and maybe with Burrows that line gets some offense going. Lappy sadly isn’t bringing what he’s capable of bringing to the table at the moment.

    Maybe Lapierre’s bulking up wasn’t really what we needed right now? But it shouldn’t hurt him on the 4th.

    At least with these lineups we know what we have in the 1st and 4th lines with some potential in our 2nd/3rd, rather than an underperforming 2rd/3rd from the last two games.

    Here’s hoping for a great game for “The Dutch One”!

    (…crazier things have happened.)

  • Mantastic

    stop complaining about shoutouts. they’ve been apart of the NHL for 8 years! if your team was good at them, you sure as hell wouldn’t be complaining about them.

  • @Mantastic I hate the shootout, always have, always will and has nothing to do with the Canucks. The Canucks aren’t good at them, but they’re not bad either really, they’re about league average (got 8 bonus points from them last year).

    • Mantastic

      then just accept it as being part of the game! it’s been apart of the NHL for 8 seasons!!! constantly complaining about it here isn’t going to change the rules. just put it in your bio or signature and stop writing about it.

  • Mantastic

    Stop complaining about the complaining. Complaining about “shoutouts” has been a part of blogging for over 8 years!!! Constantly complaining about it isn’t going to change the rules.. just put it in your bio you’ve got a transparent Oilers agenda.

    Thom – can I send a quick shoutout to my buddy in the hospital, he’s got a hernia.

  • @mantastic in the context where I complained about it here, I was qualifying that I didn’t consider the shootout loss a real “loss” from an analytical perspective. That’s really all I was saying, and I’ll continue to say it (after shootout wins too for that matter).

  • DCR

    Winning in the shootout does give more points in the standings, but does not indicate in any way shape or form which was the better hockey team.

    It is no more possible to determine which team played better hockey by looking at shootout results than it is possible to determine which team plays better hockey by looking at their scrabble results – or how much sushi they eat.

  • DCR

    Ya, gotta agree I like the look of those lines on paper. You can see how AV’s going to use them. Sedin line and Schroeder line will eat easy mins, Burrows and Malhotra line will have a heavy dose of d-zone starts and tough competition I’m guessing.

    The Raymond-Schroeds-Weise line is a very quick line, should be intersting.

  • DCR

    For a blogger that purports to use adv. stats it certainly doesn’t look like you considered them in this case?

    {Burrows with Twins ~56.5% Possession without ~51%}

    Using goals or Poss #’s, it’s been one of the top producing lines IN THE LEAGUE.It is a know commodity. Your team is most likely going to struggle to score without Kes & Booth, yet, you support that it is broken up? LOL

    And, putting a player (Burrows) in a position he’s never played? (center)entails significant risk!
    It is made by a coach you are convinced understands adv. stats analysis? LOL He’s the guy who used a ‘shooter tutor’ early on when team couldn’t score? LOL

    This is also the same coach who is quoted a week ago saying ‘familiarity’ is such an important key because of the layoff etc. Now it isn’t? Typical AV contradictions? You are supporting this fuzzy logic?

    If rusty legs are the problem, short shifts & rolling four lines addresses/solves the ‘physiological’ issue. The rest is a stretch by you to support your untenable position.

    The most valuable part of the revolution of adv. stat analysis in hockey is the change in the depth & objectivity of thinking that is behind it. Hockey is full of old school myths/& subjective emotional bias.

    And, many decisions by coaches/GMs continue to be made based on & irrational beliefs, such as the one you referenced? (i.e.young players must’earn’ their ice time). Or, what did the player show us in preseason?( a 5 or 6 ‘game’ sample that are not even close to ‘reg’ games in intensity, & Q of C or Q of T)

    In this way,your article supports AV & his evaluation of Kassian over part of 2!! games & magically determined he earned a promotion.
    What is the margin of error involved here?

    Hmm? Doesn’t adv. stat analysis show us ‘sample size’ is very important & ‘luck’ can
    play huge factor over a few games?
    Ha! It looks like AV is just ‘rolling the dice’ again – (a term he loves) however, you fail to recognize this & support it?
    AV’s history is full of these examples that fly in the face of the notion he has ability to think analytically & make decisions accordingly. (EX. No Plan B for D. Sedin)

    It seems it is time to reconsider your M.O. & the bias you have?

  • @dan I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.

    For example, that the best way to address the rusty legs issue is to roll 4 lines. But I think splitting up Burrows and the twins is precisely calculated to try and fix this issue. Faceoffs aside, Burrows at center gives the “second” line another +possession player, and puts Lapierre on the fourth (strengthening the checking line as well).

    Obviously the Canucks are desperate to fatten up their lineup without their two best 5on5 players, and so this is a worthwhile gamble (considering their desperate situation).

    In terms of young players earning ice-time, it’s a team culture issue. It’s an intangible, sure, and I’m not saying it really matters, I just think the Canucks take it into account (and it makes some sense to me). AV plays his hunches, and some of them look silly at first blush (like say, when he first put Burrows with the twins three years ago) but he has an okay record with them, no?

    As for Kassian “earning his TOI in a two game sample” obviously his performance hasn’t necessarily been analytically meaningful, but he’s had jump (where his teammates have looked sluggish). With VAN’s lack of forward depth being exploited by the matchups Boudreau and Krueger were able to draw it makes sense to make the Canucks (or try to make the Canucks) more than a one-line team.

    • Thanks for your response.

      “…it makes sense to make the Canucks(or try to make the Canucks) more than a one-line team…”

      The risk you are failing to take into account is that the move could make the ‘Nucks a “No-line team”.

      #’s show that Canucks CAN be competitive with One great line, a productive PP. strong d & great goaltending.

      As for putting Burrows on the Sedin line. Let’s look at ALL the facts. AV took ~3 years to do this? IMO it was a move of desperation just like Sedin (Ozone starts) not a sign of a guy ahead of the curve.

      Most coaches don’t get 3 years to figure things out.IMO he got this primarily because he has had outstanding & consistent goaltending & his teams have played in the powder puff division.

      Yes, he deserves some credit for doing it.
      However, the SPEED at which one can come up with successful creative solutions is also important.& instills confidence in your team.

      Like I said if you roll the dice enough sometimes you get lucky!

      And, I repeat, AV acknowledged the need for familiarity. His moves strike as a ‘panic move’. And, by my numbers he is not giving his team the best chance to win.

      The Canucks are a fair weather front-running team. AV has a history of not dealing with adversity & making successful adjustments when things go wrong.

      08 collapse
      9 Roughed up by Chi
      11 Torched by Chi
      11 Injuries,Roughed up,torched by BOS
      12. Team flat after Bos game
      12. Sedin injury

      However, this season IS the ultimate test for a coach. As he said its uncharted waters, and, the team faces significant adversity. IF AV gets team near top of Conference, and to conference final he deserves ALL the credit. It will truly be a “great” coaching achievement.If he doesn’t, look for the media to rush in with more excuses…

      The clock should be tickin” on his firing…

      If/when it comes it will be three years too late..and the window will most likely be shut!