Canada’s Olympic picks: Why Hamhuis and Vlasic?

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I guess your acceptance of the Canadian Olympic roster came down to how long it’s been since you’d come to peace with the fact that Chris Kunitz was going to make it no matter what. Otherwise, you have to be happy with no checking line, or centremen purely taken for faceoff prowess (if you think that that’s all Patrice Bergeron can do, you’re plenty wrong) and the defence was built about as well as any keyboard expert on Twitter could do it.

There isn’t too much to do with the forward corps in terms of analysis. Claude Giroux, Logan Couture and Martin St. Louis aren’t on the team, but those are, in a short tournament, just salt-to-taste omissions against everybody except maybe Kunitz. But from judging my own Twitter feed, the most confusing selections seem to be those of Vancouver Canuck Dan Hamhuis and San Jose Shark Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Hamhuis is a Canuck, so it makes sense to present his case on this website, and for all you visitors, maybe you’ll find something of use in my argument in favour of Vlasic. We see the Sharks a lot out here. Too much, in fact.

The best case for Hamhuis is that he’s continued to be a steady puck possession defenceman on a team that has become worse at puck possession over the last three seasons. His surface numbers so far this year are outstanding: He’s managed a +7.3 Relative Corsi with a 1.224 Corsi Rel QoC and a 47.3% offensive zone start rate. One of the things I like is how few minor penalties he takes, meaning he not only helps move the puck out of his zone and going the right way, but rarely takes penalties in recovering the puck in his own end.

Since the start of the 2011-2012 season, Hamhuis has 18 minor penalties at 5-on-5, per Behind the Net. That doesn’t separate him from players like Kristopher Letang, Marc Staal or Brent Seabrook, whom he was fighting for a final spot, but, there’s a portion of the people frustrated with the selections that are haggling over cents instead of dollars, at the snubs that can’t reasonably be expected to be worth a goal over a seven-game tournament.

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While Vancouver has fallen to a bit of a possession-neutral team, Hamhuis and the top players on the Canucks remain good when he’s out with them. For three years, Henrik Sedin was better on the ice with Dan Hamhuis (that has stopped this year, but Hamhuis and Henrik are still Corsi’ing 55.4% together) but some of the depth players really see their numbers shoot up when they get to play with Hamhuis as opposed to the rest of their defensive corps, which includes just two other Olympians.

Jannik Hansen is a percentage point better, David Booth is nine points better, Kevin Bieksa is four points better, Zack Kassian is six… I guess the primary thing to say about Hamhuis is he faces tough minutes, good players stay good with him and not-as-good players become decent with him.

For Vlasic, the main complaint seems to be offence. I think a few people that look at the list of top competition defencemen might be surprised to see Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s name at the top. He leads defencemen in Relative Corsi, faces tougher minutes than P.K. Subban, starts just as much in the offensive zone and takes about 1/10th the penalties Subban does. Yet Subban was going to be the make-or-break point of a frustrating omission for many and Vlasic’s name was barely mentioned.

Part of it, for sure, has to do with Vlasic’s offence. He’s 27th in points among Canadian-born defencemen since the start of the 2011-12 season with 46 in 173 games. That ties him with Chris Phillips and puts him just ahead of Grant Clitsome.

Still, he plays on San Jose, and the problem with playing on the Sharks is that there’s only one puck to go around. While Dan Boyle has made a healthy living in his NHL twilight years on the Sharks powerplay, Vlasic doesn’t. Boyle has long been the lone defenceman on a four-forward powerplay. Not playing in a certain situation shouldn’t disqualify anybody from Olympic contention. His even strength numbers, though not as good as Boyle’s, are still fine when it comes to offence, and every regular Sharks player he’s played with is on the ice for more goals per 20 minutes with Vlasic than without:

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The chart would be the same thing for Boyle, but again, this is arguing “cents and not dollars”. I think Vlasic is a bit more reliable on defence. He plays shutdown minutes on one of the top possession teams in the league, comes out overwhelmingly ahead, and is as good of a pick for Team Canada as anybody, really.

Sorry to find the defence of a San Jose Shark up here on a Canucks blog, but we also have a foothold on hockey’s West Coast community, a community of lot of people forget exists because the games start after The Daily Show or whatever has started. The point is there’s no stressing the Canadian defence. The difference between gold and silver isn’t the difference between Hamhuis and Seabrook, or Vlasic and Letang, but the fact that Canada has the riches to snub seven or eight just as worthy players and other countries have one or two notable snubs at best.

Speaking of those other selections, well, we should note here that Friend of the Army Roberto Luongo made Team Canada along with Carey Price and Mike Smith. Probably no overthinking it there, with Steve Yzerman taking the three guys that people were talking up the most. I don’t mind those picks.

Some other Canucks found their ways onto Olympic rosters. I mentioned above two defencemen. One was Alexander Edler landing on Team Sweden. The other defenceman, I was a little facetious about bringing up in the same light, and that’s Yannick Weber playing for Team Switzerland.

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Not surprising that Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin also made Team Sweden on a pretty stacked looking forward group.

Healthy Ryan Kesler, of course, made Team USA thanks to his excellent “don’t call it a comeback” season. That’s sort of missed out because the big storyline was the addition of Blake Wheeler over notable snub Tom Sestito.

Last, but certainly, certainly not least, Canuck prospect Ronalds Ķēniņš made Team Latvia. Kenins has 16 points in 25 games with Zurich of the Swiss-A league, and was signed as a free agent back on draft day.

  • Just One Cup

    Hammy being add to the roster is great. He is an under rated Dman…. In that he actually plays Defense. Way too many people get caught up in high scoring defense men and forget preventing goals is as good as scoring. Let’s hope that Hammy and the rest of the Canucks play with some pride tonight! They have been awful the last two games but almost found a way to win. Pitt and St Louis are tough….. Let’s see some pride out there boys,

  • Just One Cup

    I guess we can stop complaining about Hamhuis being underrated and undervalued by the rest of the league/hockeydom now.

    The Canucks were at 52.7% corsi close halfway through the season, putting them 7th in the league. Does that really make them a “neutral” and “trending down” team? Isn’t that roughly the same possession numbers they’ve been posting since the start of the 2011-2012 season?

    • Just One Cup

      18th in the NHL at 5v5 Corsi (50.0)

      13th in the NHL at 5v5 Fenwick (50.9)

      13th in the NHL at 5v5 Corsi Tied (50.7)

      15th in the NHL at 5v5 Fenwick Tied (51.0)

      The 2012 Kings these are not…

      • Just One Cup

        The non-score adjusted Corsi and Fenwick are useless, why even bother listing them? The tied numbers are pretty mediocre, but are probably less informative than the close numbers due to sample size at this point in the season. Anyway, who said they were the 2012 Kings? Matt’s debating the “trending downward” characterization, and that’s pretty fair. Yeah, the 10/11 Canucks were better possession-wise, but the 11/12 and 12/13 editions actually were a little worse.

  • Just One Cup

    Also, the Canucks possession numbers have dropped a full percent over the past couple of days which I think is an aberration (two terrible and uncharacteristic [from a possession standpoint at least] games in a row), which is why I said “at the halfway mark of the season”. Two dominant puck-possession games in a row and they’re back up to ~52/53%.

    • Just One Cup

      Two poor possession games in a row and they’re sub 50%.

      Not sure why the last two games should be ignored.

      Or the next two games against PIT & STL…

  • Just One Cup

    I would have taken Seabrook,and paired him with Kieth.That`s no knock on Hamuis, or Vlasic,who are both quality defencemen.I`m just thinking of chemistry.