What ails Chris Higgins?

Chris Higgins is playing a lot of defence. That’s not bad, but he’s being paid to do more. 
(Rich Lam/Getty Images photo)

A month ago, Chris HIggins re-upped with the green and blue for four years. At the time, it looked like a solid deal for both the soon-to-be-30-year-old and the Canucks. Brought in two years ago as a trade deadline depth player, Higgins exceeded expetations and has filled a swingman role on the wing since then.

But in the first three games of the playoffs, he, like many others, has been invisible. What’s happened?

On the day he signed, Thomas Drance had this to say

Chris Higgins has been a fancy-stats darling for much of his career, and has generally looked particularly good in terms of "zone-start adjusted Corsi." Basically Chris Higgins is elite in puck battles and while he’s not the flashiest skilled player or the most dominant physical presence, he does the little things that help a good team win hockey games. That’s where Chris Higgins is a particularly valuable piece: his two-way excellence makes him an ideal complimentary forward in a top-nine role.

As a bonus, his shooting percentage has rebounded over the past couple of seasons in Vancouver (after three seasons spent shooting the puck at a rate well below his career average), which have given him some offensive value.

Higgins is a super-useful player. He’s the kind of player who does many things well but who doesn’t always get noticed. But he also does plenty that does get noticed. Early in his career, he was a reliable goal scorer for Montreal. Then he lost his way. But playing in Vancouver rejuvenated career, and everyone noticed. His 18 goals and 43 points were a feel-good story in the midst of last year’s overall disappointment. 

April 1st, the night before Higgins signed his new contract, he scored a goal and added an assist. The next game, two days after signing, he scored again.

The opponent on April 1st? The San Jose Sharks.

The Canucks lost to the Sharks 3-2 that night, in San Jose.  They generated eight chances at even strength in the game; Chris Higgins, on a line with Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, was on ice for six of those.

It was a good night for Higgins, in a season where his possession numbers had taken a dip. Drance pointed out in the article quoted above that Higgins had played some of the toughest minutes on the season, while mostly paired with Jannik Hansen. Adding Derek Roy, and the return of Ryan Kesler would be a massive improvement over the likes of Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder, the undersized centres who had spent much of the season skating between Higgins and Hansen.

Dimitri Fililpovic wrote in a similar vein in March, pondering Higgins’ struggles in the absence of Kesler and David Booth.

I’ve updated his chart to show where Higgins finished up the year. 

  Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi % Offensive Zone Start % Penalties Drawn/60
2011-12 0.956 2.2 54.8% 46.6% 0.8
This season, to Mar 20 0.695 -18.3 46.0% 46.7% 0.3
By end of season 0.662 -11.5 48.8% 46.0% 0.4

And in the playoffs:

  Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi % Offensive Zone Start % Penalties Drawn/60
Through 3 games 6.404 -31.4 don’t bother 33.0% 0.0

We can see that Higgins’ season turned around late in the year.  A lot of that has to do with Derek Roy’s arrival. More on that in a moment.

But what about his murderous playoff numbers?

Game one it was Higgins-Kesler-Kassian.

Game two it was Higgins-Kesler-and…somewhat Hansen but also a cast of thousands.

Game three it was almost entirely Higgins-Kesler-Hansen

In all three games, Higgins and Kesler have seen tons of the Sharks’s big players. As we can in the above numbers, it’s been an ugly scene, with lots of defensive work. Higgins isn’t getting buried in his own end – in the three games against the Sharks, he’s managed to finish 42.3% of his shifts in the Sharks end. He’s doing a fine job of getting out of his end, but not making much happen offensively.

Chris Higgins had 24 shots in the final 6 games of the regular season. He’s had three in the playoffs. A lot of that is down to his defensive assignments, but that’s not a good thing either.

One last thing to consider – the Derek Roy influence. It’s a small sample size, but it would seem to be real. Just as Higgins does indeed do better with Ryan Kesler, he does even better with Derek Roy. In 90:35 of ice time with Kesler this season,  Higgins’ Corsi percentage was 51.7. With Roy, in 67:04, it’s 61 percent.

It should be noted that the Roy-Higgins partnership hasn’t been seen in the playoffs.

  • Vancouver has been inconsistent all year long, only thing consistent was goaltending.

    You really can’t expect much from this team. They had their chance for the cup for 2 years. Unfortunately they played a very talented Chicago team and then lost Kesler and played a good team in Boston.

    It’s over for the potential to win a cup for a while.

  • AV has given Kesler the toughest minutes – Higgins and Hansen are our best defensive wingers (other than Burrows). This article prompted me to look at the player usage charts:- Amazing how bad Bieksa has been by the numbers given his deployment, and equally, how well Garrison has done in his mins. Kassian and Corrado have both done well in sheltered mins (Corrado in terms of comp; Kassian in zone start %). Wiese has also done well, in his role. Higgns/Kesler not handled their minutes well, but Hansen has done OK in similar minutes.

    Can’t say I have a problem with AV’s deployment – Sedins/Edler/Bieksa all sheltered and haven’t produced. I might’ve given Roy the tough minutes, given his usage in Dallas and the lack of offence his line has created, and give Kesler a chance to be a scoring threat.

  • Hahahahahaha, well look who got blown out in 4 game to the Sharks? And how fitting, Sedin was in the box while the goal was scored. So i guess sedin found his usefulness after all. LOFL.

    What’s even more funny is how AV has that look of “disbelief ” on his face after the game. The man is truly delusional if he actually thought that this weak team could compete even for a hard game in the playoffs. Av must really live in some dream world, where teams play the same way in the post season as they do in the regular season.

    I read a day ago that AV said to this effct, that ” someday, you guys will look back and realize how special this team was..” Really? I guess all those years of yanking their fans chains and one flukey run to the finals where boston raped them is something people should look back with delight and fondness.

    Yes, someday, when fans look back, they can all recall such found memories of his team..memories like how he kept putting leaky luo in every final game even though he showed the world what a weak basket case he was.
    The fond memories of seeing their captain punch marchands glove with his face…or get bowled over by Thomas after another feeble attempt at a goal.

    Oh, how about the fond memories of Edler playing for the other teams with his typical bush league mistakes? Then there’s “streaky” burrows. They call him streaky because it’s a nice way to say that most of the time, he’s useless.

    But man, when I look back, the fondest memory has to be AV putting luongo in the 7th game, after witnessing the most obvious and brutal meltdowns of any goaltender in Boston in the history of the nhl. After all, when your over rated goalie gets mauled in boston in 3 games, there’s no way he could choke in the 7th game…noooo way.

    I hope AV and Gillis looks back someday at the wonderful memories of their over rated average team playing the way they were built..over rated and average..at best.
    Well….there’s always next year, I’m sure all the canucks fansters cant wait for their team to win in the regular season! LOL