A (Very Early) Look at the 2013-14 Canucks Lineup: The Forwards

Zack Kassian – Wikimedia Commons

The dog days of summer won’t set in for a few more weeks, but the craziness of the past few weeks (heck, since January) has finally started to slow down. We will be rolling out a lot of prospect content in the coming weeks, too. The Canucks have had a pretty bare prospect cupboard since… ever, but thanks to the Cory Schneider trade and a highly-touted prospect falling into their lap, the future looks a bit brighter.

But how about the present? Let’s take a look at some potential line combinations for opening night.

As expected, Mike Gillis was quiet on July 5th. And after seeing the ridiculous money and term given out to a very mediocre free agent class, teams who didn’t dip their toe in the water will be counting their lucky stars over the next seven or eight years. Limited supply and crazy demand equals overpayment. It always has, and it always will.

That isn’t meant to exonerate Gillis for showing shrewdness or patience relative to his peers, though – he simply didn’t have money to spend. Assuming there are no more significant changes on the way for the Canucks, let’s take a look at a potential roster.

Tortorella in Charge

According to Jason Botchford, John Tortorella wants to reunite Kesler and Burrows on the second line. This will work out if Zack Kassian can play like a top six forward for more than eight or nine games in a row. He has a ton of talent and is still young, but the Canucks simply need more consistency from him. Tortorella is a lot more hands-on with his young players than Alain Vigneault is/was, and Glen Gulutzan is known as a great teacher of the game, too.

The Canucks have high expectations for Kassian, and this move would only reinforce that.

Tortorella does employ a zone start strategy, although not as radical as the one the Canucks have used under Vigneault over the past four or five years. Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Vinny Prospal – under Tortorella they all saw offensive zone start rates close to or above 60%.

And at the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko – these players did a lot of the heavy lifting for Tortorella’s Rangers.

Tortorella’s final few seasons in New York featured a team that pretty much collapsed around Henrik Lundqvist and blocked as many shots as possible. Coaches do what they can with what they are given, and Tortorella wasn’t given a team capable of scoring goals compared to the Lightning team he led to the Stanley Cup back in 2004.

Here is a closer look at some of his coaching strategies (he did a brief series of videos with MSG Network – Behind the Bench.

The Roster

We will have many more months to dissect Vancouver’s potential defensive pairings and forward line combinations. But here are some quick thoughts:

Line 1: Sedin-Sedin-Kassian

Burrows will still very likely see time with the twins, as expecting Kassian to perform at a high level for 82 games (or even close to it) would be foolish. However, this line has played well together in the past, and Kassian can open up a lot of ice for the twins with his physical presence and ability to rag the puck down low.

Line 2: Higgins-Kesler-Burrows

Burrows seamlessly transitioned over to the right wing to play on the top line, but does he move back to the left side with Kesler?  Vancouver doesn’t have many right-shooting forwards, and Dale Weise isn’t a top six forward in any league outside of the Netherlands.

The options: Chris Higgins, David Booth, Nicklas Jensen, Mike Santorelli, Jannik Hansen.

Right now, Higgins or Booth make the most sense here. Both have played top-six roles in the past, and both bring an element of speed and tenacity to this line. The Canucks would love Jensen to come into camp and earn a top six spot, and I don’t think it would be a huge reach to see that happen. He’s ready.

However, due to a lack of a proven checking center, Tortorella may want to create a tough two-way line with Burrows and Kesler as the key cogs. Throw Higgins on there and you have a line capable of playing in all situations while chipping in with consistent offense.

Line 3: Booth-Schroeder-Hansen

The all-question line. Line three is a complete unknown right now. On the left wing, Booth and Higgins will battle for ice time on lines two and three. Booth is probably a more talented player, although he has yet to show it in Vancouver (although the numbers still back up the whole ‘bad luck’ thing).

While looking over large sample even-strength scoring rates the other day, I noticed that David Booth fell comfortably in the top-100 among all NHL forwards over the past six seasons. Essentailly, even though Booth has had four consecutive disappointing and injury plauged seasons, his scoring clip would still suggest that he’s a fringe first liner in this league…

Things are wide open at center. Brad Richardson will get a shot there. I like Richardson’s game – not sure he is strong enough defensively to be a checking center, but I think he has more offensive upside than he has shown as a 13th/14th forward in Los Angeles. Don’t discount Jordan Schroeder – he has beaten the odds at every step along the way, and he showed last season that he can hold his own in this league. His lack of height is always going to be an issue, but Schroeder seems like a nice fit (on paper, at least) with speedy/gritty wingers like Booth and Hansen

Line 4: Richardson-Lain-Weise

The only guarantee in the bottom six – Dale Weise on the right wing of line four. And I guess that isn’t even a guarantee right now, as Weise is still a restricted free agent. Tom Sestito signed a two-year deal and will see some time here, but he isn’t an everyday player. Bill Sweatt has signed to play in Sweden this season. Lain probably has the advantage over Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce for a roster spot. For one, he is older. For two, he is bigger, and for three, he is cheaper.

Richardson’s veratility will come in handy as the Canucks will of course have to battle through injuries throughout the course of the season. He’s probably the favourite for the line three spot, but I’d like to see Schroeder get a look there.

Assuming the depth forwards all sign their qualifying offers (or similar amounts):

Far from perfect, and the Canucks would need a lot of things to turn up aces for this forward group to be as productive and effective as we have seen in recent years. Kesler and Booth need to stay healthy. Kassian needs to show more consistency. One of the young centers needs to emerge as a bona fide NHLer, at the very least. But there is promise.

Previous Posts from Jeff (@AngusCertified)

  • JI123

    Well thought out man. I could definitely see all these scenarios come to real life. But Schroeder as 3C still scares the hell outta me. He’s not big, struggles at faceoffs and while he “held his own” last season it wasn’t against good competition. Hopefully he takes another step forward tho. We’ll see but my bet is also on Richardson in that spot.

  • Mantastic

    I’ve watched most of that forward group for so long that I am bored with them. Same goes for the rest of the team.

    It seems like they have peaked and that peak is not anywhere near the top of the league.

    Why keep going for it with a good but not great core?

    Blow it up now before they go the way of the Flames and rebuild. I’d totally support that.

    • JI123

      “Why keep going for it with a good but not great core?”

      Because job one for a GM is self-preservation.

      Gillis has entered job saving and moral hazard territory.

      “Blow it up now before they go the way of the Flames and rebuild. I’d totally support that.”

      By the end of this season it will be clear that this is the best course of action for the organization.

      But, again, job one for a GM is self-preservation.

      Gillis will keep trying until the owner takes away his keys.

      • JCDavies

        “Why keep going for it with a good but not great core?”

        Because job one for a GM is self-preservation

        The Vancouver Canucks have been on self preservation mode since it came into the league. Self preservation from their GM’s, their coaches and especially their players. Anyone remember the Linden Pat Quinn era? When that core got dismantled they all with the exception of Bure sucked on other teams. You can never win championships with country clubs. Neidermyer wanted to play here once but the Canucks apparently do not like to spend money on winners. So he went to the Ducks and won one more SC. The Canucks are exactly like BestBuy stores, where BB does everything but sell things, the Canucks have done everything it takes not to win. Surprise, almost 50 years and still counting. Looks like old time fans had better pray for a miracle life extender serum cause chances are the Canucks will never host the cup before we all croak.

  • JI123

    Agreed on Schroeder. The fact that he was used as little as he was toward the end last year was mystifying, given how well he played. I doubt he’s ready for a Malhotra-level heavy lifting job, but with two fast, aggressive, play-driving forwards on his wings he might not get completely buried given that kind of assignment.

  • JI123

    “David Booth fell comfortably in the top-100 among all NHL forwards over the past six seasons.”

    Just out of curiosity, why would you use a 6 year sample? That’s an awfully long time…

    Based on the currrent options, I’d like to see Schroeder get a shot at the 3LC spot. Might as well figure out what he is on this team one way or another.

    • JI123

      I am guessing the six year sample was used to base off of his consistency. There are a lot of forwards in this league that have one 50-70 point season and then drop off into mediocrity (or close to it) for the rest of their career.

      • JI123

        A 6 year sample is an arbitrary starting point.

        And very misleading considering Booth’s last 4 years in particular.

        He’s had a season marred by concussions and another injury prone season this past year.

        A 3 year (weighted) sample would be far more appropriate.

        • JI123

          Booth became a regular NHLer 6 years ago. I don’t know how that’s arbitrary.

          If you want the clearest picture, take the biggest sample possible.

          I assume the writer assumes most of us understand Booth’s history and would apply it when reading this piece.

          • JI123

            “If you want the clearest picture, take the biggest sample possible.”

            False.

            Samples need to be weighted. The most recent data is most useful in predicting future performance.

            It’s why the 50/30/20 method is often used as a quick and dirty tool in baseball.

            For example, Jagr’s 20+ year sample means little for how he will perform next year. I sure as heck don’t care what he did in 1995.

            And with Booth, those concussions and recent injury history should temper projections.

            There really isn’t a point using more than a 3 year sample with Booth. Aside from misdirection.

          • JI123

            Good gawd. The writer is talking generalities here and not predicting the future. He’s roughing out possible forward combos according to who is under contract. I don’t understand the need to nit-pick minor stuff.

          • JI123

            “Essentailly, even though Booth has had four consecutive disappointing and injury plauged seasons, his scoring clip would still suggest that he’s a fringe first liner in this league”

            Emphasis on ‘STILL’.

          • JI123

            Hypothetical: I have a batter who, in the last three years, hit .300, .290, and .180. The number of at bats for each of those years is 500, 480, 60. What do you predict he will hit next year?

            If you really think that the year of .180 hitting is the most important data despite the small sample size, then you’re going to have to agree to disagree with a lot of people here, because for a lot of people, the signal-to-noise ratio of that most recent season is practically nil.

          • JI123

            Putting aside the fact that batting average and ABs tell a very small part of the picture…

            For starters, I’d need to know why the batter only had 60 ABs (preferably plate appearances) in the most recent season.

            If it is because of a major injury, then the expected number of plate appearances (and projected WAR) would be significantly lower.

            If your point is that the smaller sample of last year’s regular season needs to be taken with a grain of salt, I don’t disagree.

            However, it is still the most recent data. And aside from the fact it was a shortened season, the most recent data should be given the highest weight when projecting future performance.

            For example, it’s mostly meaningless (in terms of expected future performance) what Justin Morneau did prior to his concussion in 2010.

            He has since suffered a major injury and shows zero signs of becoming an above average to elite level player again.

            Hence, a 6 year sample on him misses the point.

  • JI123

    Re: Lain

    “For one, he is older. For two, he is bigger, and for three, he is cheaper.”

    Also, for four, by choosing Lain you don’t lose a year of entry level contract on Gaunce or Horvat.