Looking Ahead to the Postseason: Forward Deployment

How will Alain Vigneault deploy his forwards in the postseason? Assuming Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Derek Roy, and Max Lapierre are all healthy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect Lapierre to bear the brunt of the heavy lifting (from a defensive zone start perspective), while the Roy line (with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen) would be another defensive/two-way line to lean on.

Roy isn’t as strong at faceoffs as either Kesler or Sedin, and this also assumes that Zack Kassian is able to contribute on a line with Kesler (which may be a stretch).

Let’s look a little further at this, shall we?

Looking back at the 2010-11 postseason (last year’s five game defeat to the Los Angeles Kings isn’t a large enough sample size), Lapierre, Sedin, and Kesler managed to suit up for all 25 games.

NAME GP Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Off Zone Start %
HENRIKSEDIN 25 -0.641 19.8 65
RYANKESLER 25 0.565 5.1 47.6
CODYHODGSON 12 0.692 -4.7 47.4
ALEXANDREBOLDUC 3 2.899 -55.2 33.3
MAXIMLAPIERRE 25 0.655 -20.5 29.1
MANNYMALHOTRA 6 -1.746 -30.1 11.6

Sedin saw the most offensive zone starts, by far. And that trend should continue this season. Kesler was second, although he was below the 50% mark (more indicative of Vancouver’s lack of possession in the playoffs relative to the regular season).

Lapierre’s contributions on that postseason run cannot be overstated. His possession numbers were terrible, but he was buried in his own zone against tough competition. He outdueled Joe Pavelski in the Sharks series, and did a great job against strong teams from Nashville and Chicago as well. And his goal in Game 5 against the Bruins is one of the biggest in the organization’s history.

Zone starts are useful to compare players on the same team, but they aren’t as useful across teams (without context). The order of them can be used, though. As an example, if the Canucks had better possession numbers from that postseason run, Kesler’s zone starts would be closer to 50 or 55% (and I assume he will find himself closer to this number thanks to the Roy acquisition).

And looking at this season:

NAME TEAM GP Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Off Zone Start %
HENRIKSEDIN VAN 38 1.326 28.5 63.5
RYANKESLER VAN 7 -0.16 -17.3 49.3
DEREKROY VAN 32 0.777 6.3 42.4
ANDREWEBBETT VAN 18 -0.023 -20.2 40.2
MAXIMLAPIERRE VAN 38 -0.219 -20.4 24.8

Roy’s numbers include his games with Dallas. He was playing a two-way role there (again, the Stars aren’t a great possession team, but they were able to give more offensive zone starts to both Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin thanks to Roy’s solid defensive work. Kesler’s seven game sample is a small one, but it reflects how the club will likely use him in the playoffs. I could even see a Raymond-Kesler-Kassian line getting a zone start percentage close to 55 or 60%. Kesler is good enough defensively to cover for Kassian, who chases the play too much in his own zone (he is fine in coverage off of the rush, for the most part).

And because of the Kesler injury, the Sedin line has seen the toughest opposing lines (by far). The Canucks just haven’t had another center they could depend on to match up against top opposing players (no slight to Lapierre, who could probably hold his own, but his wingers couldn’t).

With Roy (and soon Kesler), Vigneault has three really good two-way centers who he can put out in any situation. That should free up the Sedins a bit more.

LW C RW O Zone Start % Tough Mins
Sedin Sedin Burrows 1 2
Raymond Kesler Kassian 2 4
Higgins Roy Hansen 3 1
Ebbett/Pinizzotto Lapierre Weise 4 3

The above table is just speculation, but it is a realistic example of how the forward lines will be deployed. The Roy unit will see more defensive zone starts than either of the top two lines, and they will probably be given the toughest opponent matchups, too. Again, this depends on who the Canucks play. Roy isn’t a big center (5-9), and if the Canucks are up against the LA Kings, they may want Kesler to check Kopitar (or at least to attempt to slow him down).

Raymond is also a sound defensive forward, and his speed would open up a lot of ice for Kesler and Kassian to make plays. Again, the lines only work if Kassian is able to step up and play 15-16 minutes of largely mistake-free hockey. If he isn’t, I’d imagine Higgins slots in there, and then that creates a hole alongside Roy and Hansen.

Beyond the numbers/stats, the Roy acquisition slots the Canuck forwards into appropriate roles. Kassian as a second line winger is a bit of a stretch right now, but the rest of the team looks solid on paper. Roy is a proven two-way forward, and he’s fantastic and making smart passes in transition and in the offensive zone. Higgins and Hansen are both adept at getting open (I liken Higgins to a football receiver at how he can "skate" routes to shake his check), and through a few games Roy has been able to find him with great regularity.

We know what to expect from Lapierre. He’s about as dependable as they come. He will start a lot of situations in the defensive zone, along with his wingers (Dale Weise and someone else, likely Ebbett or Pinizzotto depending on the opponent).

None of this mentions David Booth. With a severe ankle sprain, it is very difficult to peg a time frame for a return. To his credit, Booth is in phenomenal shape, and that should help immensely with the recovery and rehab process. And if he does come back (which wouldn’t be until round two at the earliest, it sounds like), that would allow Kassian to slide down to line four. At the very least, it would give Vigneault a lot more options to work with.

The fact that the Canucks aggressively pursued both Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson on deadline day tells me that they don’t expect Booth back any time soon, though.

Previous Posts from Jeff (@anguscertified):

  • I hope Kassian can do it. He doesn’t even need to make an impact yet. Like you said, he just needs to play 15-16 minutes of competent hockey at least until Booth’s return. If he can do that and Kesler can get a fraction of his ’11 play back, this team could do some damage.

    • BrudnySeaby

      Has nothing to do with the Wolves, he plays with the big club if the big club would be better with him on the roster. However, for the playoffs the centre position appears set (pending further injuries). Simply put, Roy is a better version of Jordan Schroeder.

      With respect to line combinations, I would much prefer to see a 2nd line of Raymond / Roy / Hansen iced in offensive situations, with Kesler and Higgins assigned to similar duty as in the Chicago series in 2011 – play the other team’s best players to a standstill. Ideally they would have Booth on their wing, but absent him, Weise may be the best option.

      I essentially want one of either the Sedins or the Canucks’ speed players playing against the juicy succulent meat of the other team’s roster. Either is a recipe for significant offense.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Great post, I am most interested in deployment patterns now that they have Roy and Kes is back.

    The Sedins deployment this yr is unlike any other. They’ve never played this role in a Canucks uniform. Lower o-zone starts, and facing the toughest comp of any Canucks players. And you know what…. they excelled. Their underlying #’s are bordering on Selke like (esp Hanks), I was really surprised to see how well they adapted – and still put up pts. Really proud of them, I think they’ve worked really hard on their defensive game and it should bde well for the playoffs.

    Really curious where this leaves Schroeder. I don’t think he sees the lineup this yr, but what about next yr? Do they see him as their 3C next yr? I don’t think Roy is resigned next yr (apparently wants to much $$ and appears he wants to place out east closer to parents?). But seriously, who is their 3C next yr?

  • BrudnySeaby

    I would hope AV takes a long hard look at Raymond-Roy-Kassian as a line before the play-offs, while Higgins-Kesler-Hansen could then do the heavy lifting during the play-offs of playing the opposing team’s top line (à la play-offs 2011). Even though I have a lot of faith in Lapierre, I don’t as much in his wingers.

    Really too bad the Canucks couldn’t land a Clowe, Torres or Clarkson. That would have made the team instantly much harder to play against.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Now I KNOW Burrows should be with the Sedins. But Kassian did have some success early on with them, and Burrows and Kesler are basically made for each other.

    I’d support trying Kassian out with the Sedins before breaking up that Higgins-Roy-Hansen line.

  • BrudnySeaby

    I’d love to see a pure speed third line composed on Hansen, Raymond and Schroeder. Move Kesler to the wing (unless it’s a Kopitar type situation) with Roy and Higgins and play Kassian with Lapierre and Weise for “grit” or whatever.