Gambling on Booth Hasn’t Paid off for the Canucks

David Booth has no trouble beating defenders. Beating goalies on the other hand…
(Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

David Booth’s tenure with the Canucks has been largely forgettable to date. He has sustained a few injuries, gone through a revolving door of linemates, and suffered from a lack of offensive production.

His underlying numbers (advanced stats) have been pretty good, for the most part, but they have yet to translate into any sustained tangible success (he has a single assist in seven games in 2013). Will Booth break out soon or is he just a shooting% outlier with below average skills for a top-six forward? Is he trade bait? What will the Canucks do with him this summer as they look to cut some salary to fit under the reduced cap?

There are a lot of questions surrounding Booth right now, and not a lot of answers. We’ll get into it further after the jump.

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Booth’s production in 2011-12 – 16 goals in 58 games with the Canucks – was adequate for a top six winger, especially one who received little power play time. Booth played just just 1:46 per game last season with the man-advantage, and a measly 28 seconds per game this season. To expand on that a bit further, Booth averaged less than 15 minutes of ice time per game with the Canucks in 2011-12. Ice time isn’t the only precursor to production (giving Dale Weise 20 minutes a night won’t allow him to score like he did in the Netherlands during the lockout), but it is an important factor. It is hard to put points on the board while sitting on the bench – though Ryane Clowe has tried!

In Booth’s best offensive season in the NHL (2008-09 – 31 goals and 60 points in 70 games), he averaged close to 17 minutes of ice time per game including 2:46 per game on the man advantage).

However, Booth was largely invisible down the stretch and in the first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. In that series against the Kings, he looked like a deer in the headlights. The increased pace of the game seemed to be a step or two ahead of him. The Canucks acquired Booth for his scoring prowess, but also for his size, too. Booth isn’t “tough” in the sense that he will go out of his way to look for hits or fights, but he plays in traffic, takes the puck to the net hard, and doesn’t back away from battles along the boards.

The team lacked a “big” winger before getting Booth. They have since acquired Zack Kassian, but he has a few years to go before finding the consistency to be a top six forward in the NHL. And fans should have every reason to be excited about the arrival of Nicklas Jensen, who should get a long look at a roster spot this fall. Jensen plays a similar game to Booth (big, powerful), but he is more well-rounded offensively (and a lot younger and cheaper, too). The downside with relying on prospects to produce is that development is often nonlinear (look at Edmonton).

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The Canucks aren’t a team that gives young players ice time that they don’t earn (and even then, they like to “over develop” their prospects, something that Gillis has borrowed from Ken Holland in Detroit).

As mentioned above, Booth’s underlying numbers have been good. He drives possession forward, and he’s good in his own zone. Patrick Johnson took a more in-depth look at Booth’s performance back in February (you can read that here).

But stats only tell part of the story. Booth has yet to really “fit in” with the Canucks.. This is of course my opinion, and I am sure it is not shared by everyone out there including potentially a few other Army writers. Booth has looked pretty good as of late (I didn’t get to watch the San Jose game, but it sounds like Booth had a solid performance).  Still, the cohesion that the team had during the 2010-11 season won’t be reached again any time soon and as time goes on, we will really reflect on how special a season that really was.

To my eyes Booth often looks like he is trying to do too much, and that leads to not much getting done. Hockey sense has never been his strongest suit (not a knock, but he relies more on power and speed to create offensively). The Canucks were expecting more goals and more points from him, though and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name surfaces in trade rumours (likely in the summer – I don’t see Vancouver moving him at the deadline this year).

So is Booth a buy out candidate? His cap hit isn’t awful for a second line winger (it is probably the going rate for one on the open market), but for a team that needs to clear some salary, he is right up there with Keith Ballard as a player to be moved or bought out if necessary.

Did Dale Tallon know something that the Canucks didn’t back in 2011? It took Booth a while to get back to playing his aggressive, tenacious style after the brutal concussion he suffered from a late Mike Richards hit. Florida didn’t think he could get back his 30-goal form, so the moved him. At the time, they were criticized for trading a young forward for two veterans (Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm), but Tallon was and is operating on a budget and he did clear Booth’s salary off of the books.

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With a creative linemate, I have no doubts that Booth can score 20 goals. And with a regular power play shift, I could see that number closer to 25. But that won’t come in Vancouver, or at least not with the current roster makeup. Kesler is a shoot-first center. And Newell Brown (who runs the power play) tends to load up the top unit and give them the bulk of the ice time, which limits man advantage opportunities for Vancouver’s other skill players.

Perhaps Jordan Schroeder could one day be a good fit for Booth, but is he ready to fill that roll now? And is Vancouver prepared to pay Booth to play on the third line? Perhaps the team toys with the idea of Ryan Kesler on the right side with those two? Schroeder has a lot of work to do before he could be considered a second line center, and Kesler is still out for a while with his broken foot, so that idea is at best extremely optimistic.

The next few weeks and months are very important for Booth. He is playing pretty well (his game in Calgary last Sunday was his best of the season by far), but he has little to show for it. Sadly that’s become something of a trend for Booth who is staring at his fifth straight season with a sub-100 PDO.

At some point Vancouver will have a decision to make with him. Do they wait it out and hope he gets on track? Does the puck start to bounce his way, like the underlying numbers indicate? Do the Canucks look t acquire a playmaking winger or center to pair with him? Or do they look to trade him or buy him out?

  • booth only needs about 20/20 to be a good deal at his contract. his pace exceeded that and at this point he’s rocking a 2.33% while playing extremely well. his sh% has been low for a forward for his career but 2.33% is “beer leaguer mysteriously transported to the NHL” level and we know he’s better than that

    dollars to donuts says that the canucks don’t buy him out and act offended when someone asks if they ever considered it (as they should!)

  • Great article as usual.

    I haven’t been a fan since he arrived. He lacks basic common hockey sense IMO. He can’t make a pass if his life depended on it, he doesn’t have the ability to read his linemates. And the most scary, he played with the Sedins for a few games last yr and produced NOTHING. How is this possible? Well its’ not. Byron Bitz was producing with them.

    His underlying number are ok, though I still debate that he’s good defensivly. The problem is it’s not translating on ice. Guy hasn’t scored a good in 11 games, 1 in last 22 games. He was invisible in the playoffs.

    I hope they can find a way to offload him this offseason. I’d rather see Jensen in that spot, or a UFA they sign this summer. As you mentioned, there’s a consistency problem with rookies. But with Booth there is also a consistency problem – and he’s eating $4.2M of cap space. I’d rather take the risk on a rookie who you can start to mold.

  • You lost me at “But stats only tell part of the story. Booth has yet to really “fit in” with the Canucks..”

    If stats aren’t telling the story then what is? Booth seems to get along with his teammates and they all stand up for him. I think he dropped the gloves early in his tenure here and was kind of accepted after that…

    I’m confident that with Booth that the longer he plays with this group of Canucks (Sedins Bieksa Hamhuis Burrows Kesler) the more prolific his role will become.

    • Um, Canucks nation has been saying this about Keith Ballard for 3 years now. He’s very popular in the dressing room, drops the gloves – but still isn’t worth the cap space he eats.

      With the cap going down, Canucks can’t wait till Booths contract expires to see if he ‘fits’.

      Booth doesn’t kill penalties, doesn’t eat tough mins like Higgins, doesn’t run a PP. His only value is scoring goals. That’s why they brought him in. He hasn’t scored this season, or last playoffs. He’s scored 1 goal in last 22 games. I don’t care if he’s best friends with Daniel Sedin, Gillis needs to think long and hard about Booths value in Van.

      I think they need to try and trade him for a 3C. Not sure if possible, but worth a shot. Jensen would be able to play in Van in a 3 line winger or 4th line winger role and bring just as much value as Booth – with a much smaller cap hit.