“That’s basically for the preseason, you always have in your mind where guys might fit in. But it changes, how the chemistry works. That’s what your preseason is for. So we’ll get a look at guys in different situations and we’ll get some real good combinations coming out of it.”
That was Willie Desjardins during Thursday’s media day, responding to a question about the process of forming satisfactory lineup combinations, and when it all starts to take shape. It’s still early yet in said process, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few talking points stemming from the team’s first session of full practices in Whistler.
The Line Combinations
As was anticipated from the moment the team inked him to a contract this summer, Radim Vrbata slid right into a spot on the top line next to the Sedins. That bumped Alex Burrows, who seemed content with that realization during the previous media session, to a 2nd unit with Zack Kassian and Second Line Center Nick Bonino.
The Kassian/Burrows duo has only spent a combined 46 or so minutes together at 5v5 over the course of the past 3 seasons, so there’s not much to gleen from past play with regards to how they’ll fit on the same line. With that being said, you’d figure that Burrows’ desire to shoot the puck will mesh nicely with Kassian’s propensity of distributing it; that’s assuming Burrows doesn’t keep shooting the 7.4% he has shot over the past two seasons.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Brad Richardson is able to hang onto that 3C gig nuzzled between Higgins and Hansen. While he was continually relied upon in a more defensive capacity – which you figure would be the primary deployment should he be playing routinely with Corsi Rel QoChris Higgins – last season, it’s worth noting that the current coaching staff has no real preordained allegiances to him.
Regardless, he’ll be in tough to fight off the likes of Horvat (who was afforded 2 NHL linemates in practice, as opposed to fellow prospects Shinkaruk and Gaunce who had no such luck), Matthias, and Vey for that spot. While there’s very little arguing that Richardson was asked to handle too big a role for a player with his skillset last season, keeping him with Higgins and Hansen on a 3rd unit that eats a boatload of tough, defensive minutes may not be the worst idea in the world. Presuming, of course, that it was done to allow Linden Vey to succeed in a softer role next to players that could legitimately help provide the team with the sort of quaternary production it so very sorely lacked in ’13-’14 (think more Nicklas Jensen, less Top Sixtito).
As for the defense pairings, it was noteworthy seeing Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa reunited after having been on a break. Should that continue, it would leave Alex Edler to play with Chris Tanev; for whatever it’s worth, the two have controlled in excess of 56% of 5v5 shot attempts when on the ice together over the past seasons (in 200+ minutes of work).
Benning considering keeping three goalies
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) September 19, 2014
As classic as that is, it’s hardly reason for the type of hysteria that it’ll probably elicit should nothing change on that front as time progresses here.
Realistically, the Canucks weren’t just going to give away a young asset and get nothing in return for it; which is what they’d essentially be doing by attempting to send Markstrom down to the AHL, with at least one team out there almost guaranteed to snatch him up.
More than anything else, it’s most probably posturing by the Canucks until they’re able to find a suitor. Nothing has materialized yet, but it doesn’t mean that it never will. While Markstrom has been nothing short of a massive disappointment thus far in his NHL career, it’s worth remembering that he’s still quite young relative to the position that he plays.
With all of that being said, rolling into the season with 3 goalies on the active roster is hardly an optimal situation. That’s an additional $1.2 million that’s tied up against the cap for a player that’ll have a difficult time doing much else other than sitting next to myself in a press box with his snazzy suit on. Taking it one step further, his inclusion on the 23-man roster would mean that any of the prospects we’ve been talking about this summer – Horvat, Corrado, Jensen, Shinkaruk, Gaunce, etc. – would more than likely have to wait their turn as casualties of the numbers game.
It’s just September 20th, but it’s a storyline worth monitoring nonetheless.
This was an interesting little nugget by Metro News’ Cam Tucker, who pointed out that the Canucks were doing something on the first day of practices that they did very little of throughout all of last year — honing their shootout skills.
Willie Desjardins: “I do place emphasis on the shootout. We have to try to be good in that area. It’s like anything. Some teams are better in certain areas and we have to become good at the shootout, so we have to work at it a little bit.”
What a novel concept, really, working on something you’re not good at is. Beyond just actually actively striving to be better at it collectively, the Canucks figure to see an uptick in that facet of the game this coming season. While Radim Vrbata will be relied upon to contribute at both 5v5 and on the power play, he’ll also surely provide a boost in the shootout; only 12 players scored more times than his 5 individual conversions last season, and his 35 tallies are tied for 4th most all-time since the shootout was instituted back in ’05.
As for the Canucks as a whole, their success rate last season was amongst the worst ever since that time, and if history is any indicator there’s some positive regression looming.