The Canucks made two very notable signings this past week, leaving them with roughly $7 million left in cap space to lock up their four restricted free agents. They got one of those done on Thursday evening when they agreed to a 2-year deal with Zack Kassian.
Kassian’s time in Vancouver has been a rather bumpy one thus far – having been traded for a polarizing young player like Cody Hodgson, then being asked to live up to expectations ranging anywhere from Milan Lucic to Todd Bertuzzi – but despite all of that, he’s trending in the right direction. He may never wind up reaching the lofty goals some people have built up for him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to grow into a fine player over these next two seasons.
To be fair, a good chunk of the angst about Zack Kassian’s development to-date has been self inflicted by the player himself. The two sizeable suspensions he incurred last season, which were both totally avoidable, certainly didn’t help his cause.
But they did play into my theory that he’s some sort of robot who has an internal on/off switch that’s controlled by the hockey puck and whether or not it’s on his stick. When it’s not, he roams around like something of a comatose nomad, and that’s where he gets himself into trouble. Then the puck reaches him, and suddenly he turns into a legitimately slick, talented playmaker that you wouldn’t have been able to guess was in the body of that guy stumbling around the ice prior. The two extremes couldn’t be more different.
So ideally, the linemates he’d be matched up with would be ones that: a) were able to retrieve the puck as efficiently as possible, and b) were willing shoot-first types. It’s why I’ve never been a member of the crowd that has vocally wanted to see him add some meat to the top line next to the Sedins.
That’s at least part of what made him so successful with someone like David Booth last season; whenever the duo was on the ice at the same time, the Canucks controlled 53.8% of all 5v5 shot attempts. Unfortunately, as we came to learn with more and more visual evidence bluntly hitting us across the head — David Booth can’t really shoot anymore. Neither can Brad Richardson, which meant that while the line was controlling their fair share of territorial play, Kassian’s talents were being somewhat wasted.
Despite that, Kassian was still a productive player for the Canucks last season. While his 15.4 shooting percentage is a red flag, the fact of the matter is that he ultimately led the team in points/60 at 5v5 despite starting just 43.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone. I imagine his counting stats would look even more favourable if he hadn’t been the 17th most readily used player on the team whenever they had the man advantage.
But back to his prospective spot in the lineup next season. I think this was actually another hidden added benefit of the Radim Vrbata signing from a few days ago. With a proven scorer like Vrbata now in-tow, maybe Willie Desjardins and the Canucks won’t feel the need to bump Kassian up with the Sedins. He’s probably far more well suited to playing on a second line with someone like Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins, whose games would in theory mesh quite nicely with what Kassian is trying to accomplish out there.
Zack Kassian’s size is both a blessing and a curse. He’s listed at 6’3”, 214 lbs and because of that he has been miscast as a rugged player that should be finishing around the net. But in reality, he’s probably best served continuing to work as a playmaker, like he’s shown he’s predisposed to do.
Shortly after posting, news broke that the Canucks came to terms with both Yannick Weber and Joe Cannata on one-year deals. There would have to be an ungodly sequence of events for Cannata to even sniff the NHL next season; he’ll serve as the back-up to Joacim Eriksson down in Utica one would think.
Weber on the other hand, should fill a similar role to the one he did last year as a depth, 7th or 8th defenseman that can slot into the lineup if there are injuries to the guys ahead of him. Injuries happen over the course of an 82-game season, and it’s good to have someone that can fill in and not look horribly out of place. We saw that last year with Weber, where he definitely had some moments.
You’d think the team envisioned a lot more of those sorts of sequences from him when they initially signed him last season, but he oddly enough wound up receiving quite limited power play ice time despite the unit’s sustained struggles (he finished 12th in PP TOI/game, but that figure was boosted by the final stretch of the season after it was already lost).
Anyways, his underlying numbers aren’t all that great, but it is worth noting that they were all probably suppressed by the time he spent filling a hole on the 4th line during the most condensed stretch of injuries.
With the $2.6 million spent on Kassian and Weber combined, the Canucks are now left with just over $4 million in cap space to lock up Chris Tanev and Linden Vey, their two remaining restricted free agents.