The Canucks’ third-line centre spot is notably bare. As Thom noted on Twitter, there are a lot of players that fit the third-line centre role very well in expiring deals. While I haven’t checked to see exactly who these players are, a couple of names that come to mind are Jay McClement and Tom Pyatt, reasonable players that could fit a third-line role effectively.
This is all in sort of this attempt to recreate the Manny Malhotra Ideal. Malhotra had an excellent 2011 season and the only time Mike Gillis has made a move at the deadline is to upgrade his team’s primary defensive centreman, in 2012 with Samme Pahlsson and again in 2013 with Derek Roy.
I think there’s a misconception as to what Malhotra did in 2011.
Here are the list of things we talk about for Malhotra:
- He started just 3 shifts in the defensive zone for every 1 shift he started in the offensive zone. This, in turn, allowed the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler to run roughshod in the offensive zone.
- He was a very good defensive centreman.
Here are the list of things that are ignored in that 2011 season:
Malhotra’s PDO was 103.1 according to Behind the Net, third highest on the Canucks of players that took a regular shift.
- Split his PDO into shooting and save percentages, and you’d see most of it came from save percentages. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider stopped .944 of pucks at evens when Malhotra was on the ice.
I think there are two things that are overlooked: he was helped out a lot defensively by his goaltending. Perhaps he got a little lucky. He was in a position to get out-shot, and he did, by a clip of 8.55 to 10.14 according to Hockey Analysis. He still finished at a +9 because the goaltending behind him was so good.
It’s easy to get swept up in how important Malhotra was in 2011, but without the PDO boost, how fondly are we remembering him today? Mainstreamers praise him all the time and “stats guys” like myself and Drance, probably because we view his role as being fairly important, are all too cool to go along with it. I mean, how much have we written about Manny Malhotra in the last two years? He got defensive zone starts!
But Malhotra’s offensive game was limited. Among forwards with 500 minutes in 2011, Malhotra’s even strength points per 60 minutes was 274th out of 336 players. Pahlsson in 2012 was 296th in the same statistical category out of 329. In 2013, the next Canuck to get a shot at that position was Max Lapierre at 299th. Derek Roy was much higher, at 122nd, but he obviously never got going in Vancouver.
I feel like the Canucks need more Roys and fewer Malhotras. There’s no way we can split Roy’s PDO by his time in Dallas and Vancouver last year, but if you have a conceptual understanding of PDO you can accept that it was much lower than it should have been. I have him at 4 even strength points in 167:37 of ice-time, which works out to 1.43 per 60. Higher than Malhotra et al. but ultimately bringing down Roy’s average from Dallas earlier in the season, where his 15 points in 434:09 of even strength time would give him 2.07 overall. (Sorted that out from NHL.com)
Those are the kind of centres the Canucks need to target. Malhotra’s a likeable hockey player and I get the reflex to look back on his 2011 season with reverence and a “what could have been” for the rest of his career as a Canuck had he not got hurt, but can we posit how much of Malhotra’s minus-14 in 2011-2013 was caused by longterm damage to his eye and how much was because, according to Hockey Analysis, in those two years Canuck goalies just saved .910? That mark was the lowest of any regular forward the Canucks iced during that time.
You can’t recreate Malhotra from 2011. All the circumstances worked in his favour. The best solution is to find another second-line centreman and push players down the depth chart, rather than starting with the depth chart and plugging players in as necessary. The Canucks are getting worse offensively at that position, looking for the next Manny.