Training camp notes: 3 goalies on the roster, line combinations, the shootout

hkn_canucks_training_camp_20140918

Wait, wait?

“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

Forwards:

Sedin-Sedin-Vrbata

Burrows-Bonino-Kassian

Higgins-Richardson-Hansen

Matthias-Horvat-Dorsett

Sestito-Vey-Jensen

Defense:

Hamhuis-Bieksa

Edler-Tanev

Sbisa-Stanton

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). 

The Goalies

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.

The Shootout

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.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Good analysis. I’m a little worried about their overall toughness. Aside from Top Sextito, only Fox and Dorsett have 100+ PIMs among forwards, and only Bieksa on D, of those projected to make the team.
    On a different subject, not a lot of ink was spilled in Dave Babych being let go by the organization. Kind of puts paid to the ‘We Are all Canucks’ mantra, doesn’t it? Might be worth a column, as he played w. Linden and Lidster.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Does their shootout practice involve watching video of the Devils shootouts and simply doing the opposite of whatever the New Jersey skaters tried?

  • BrudnySeaby

    As much fun as it would be to see one of the top prospects make the team out of camp, I think it is an extreme long shot (other than Jensen).

    Horvat will need to dazzle and outplay 2-3 guys ahead of him. Even then, coach & management will have to be convinced that he could keep that up for a whole, long, very long season of 82 games. Because once he stays with the team he can’t be send down to junior.

    So I don’t think it’s going to happen. Because it will impede his development and because they have options with Bonino, Vey, Matthias and Richardson.

    And yay for finally practicing shoot outs. It’s worth it because it can give you a point. And every point counts!

  • BrudnySeaby

    It looks like coaching has adopted the same philosophy as management. Right out of the gate no fancy stuff. We are getting a look at what will most likely be our top three lines, barring injury. Horvat as a 4th line center is interesting. It is possible he will be a better hockey player than Vey. I like that they are, at the very least, giving him an honest chance to prove himself. Defense is a little thin, but if you rely on the top two pairings for most of the hard minutes they should hold their own. I want to see Sbisa in the regular season before I’m terrified every time the puck is in our end of the rink. It would be nice to have a cannon on the back end for the power play too. All in all I think we have enough depth to play hard and make opponents earn everything goal they get. And that’s all you can ask from any team. That and some scoring, hahaha

  • BrudnySeaby

    Regarding the shootout situation, the Canucks have gotten rid of half that problem to Florida.

    The other half unfortunately are still here and Torts is no longer around to be the next scapegoat part deux.

  • BrudnySeaby

    They’re clearly trying out Horvat but god I hope he doesn’t stick, certainly not as our fourth line center. I’d prefer to see Vey on the wing on the second line though then you’d be lacking a trigger man since both he and Kassian are distributors and I don’t really see Bonino as that much of a trigger man. Richardson should be on the fourth with Dorsett and Hansen for a pretty decent energy plus defensive line. Burrows, Matthias and Higgins would seem to be a solid third line.

    The bottom pairing is clearly Sbisa’s to lose (especially after Corrado’s underwhelming youngstars tournament and Webers underwhelming career). I am sure Stanton will make him look better; he made just about everyone he played with last year better.

    For the love of god let’s stop the toughness idiocy. It’s thinking like that which continues to give John Scott a job in this league.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Nice article, and I agree 100% that the shoot out should have been practiced more since it was adopted. The Canucks always seem to be on the short end of the SO. Hopefully Edler or any Dmen will be sent out there this year. The West is way too jammed to give away points. Maybe Coach Willie will do another crazy thing and practice the PP?! Sounds crazy, right Torts, but it just might work??

    The lines up will change over the course of camp, since the Coaching staff has no allegiance to any certain players. I just hope Richardson is not counted on to take over the 3rd line center position. If they are going to have a defensive player at that spot, why not give Horvat a chance. We all know what Brad can do, at least Horvat has a high upside and could develope over the season.

    As for the goalie situation. I’m much happier with three goalies, than I would be with only Lack and Markstrom in camp! I could see the team hold onto 3 goalies for a while, but injuries will happen, then they will try and trade or put Markstrom through waivers. his 1.2 mil could come in handy deeper into the season and we already have a young goalie in college that will take over in 5 years or so.would be nice to get something, but no great loss if he just goes somewhere else.

    Keep up the good work reporting from camp. Should be the most competative in quite a while.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Very good article. First issue, 3 goalies is temporary till the first injury of a goalie on another team, and then Markstrom is gone for a draft choice (4th or 5th round).
    Second issue, shootout. I expect Vrbata, Burrows and Bonino will be the three usual choices.
    Third issue: Lines: Sedin/Sedin/Vrbata; Burrows/Bonino/Kassian; Higgins/Vey/Matthias; Dorsett/Richardson/Hansen spare: Jensen and Sestito. D pairs: Hamhuis/Bieksa; Edler/Tanev; Sbisa/Weber, sub Stanton. Goal: Miller (50-55 games/Lack (27-32 games).
    I think first two lines are clear. Vrbata is the gun set up by the bros. Burrows and Bonino shooting with Kassian as passer and corner man. Third and fourth line are largely interchangeable pieces, although I think Sestito is odd man out. Average straight ahead speed, but changes direction poorly. Ultimately they want Vey in 3 spot more offense than Richardson, but this may take a few months to happen. I think Hansen will be demoted to 4th line instead of Matthias. H&B played well together in past, and Tanev lets Edler gamble more than Garrison and Bieksa did last year. Sbisa more offense than Stanton and I think they go with Weber for the second unit power play gun. Corrado back to AHL for seasoning.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Some good points Kevin M and other guys/gals, I stand corrected. Your guestimate of the lines is most probable. I agree Richards is better suited to the fourth line and Vey or Horvat will more than likely slot in somewhere on the third line. I wonder with Vey’s size if they are thinking about keeping Matthias at center and moving him to the wing. Whereas if Horvat sticks, which it’s to early to tell, would end up playing center if what I heard Benning say holds true. It’s interesting to speculate on the defensives upgrade that Dorset will bring to the club. Everything I read about him leads me to believe he will be out for a lot of defensive zone face-offs. And that he could be a catalyst to some fourth line rushes and much needed secondary scoring. Dimitri, I enjoy your articles. I can see you put some research and hard work into it. Much appreciated, keep it up!

  • BrudnySeaby

    well this is how I want the line up

    sedin-sedin-vrbata
    burrows-bonino-kassian
    higgins-horvat-vey
    matthias-richardson-dorsett/hansen

    personly thats not that strong besides the sedins and vrbata but there is more depth compared to last year so productivity should increase since there will be less tired players unlike last year where we played good the 1st half and in the 2nd just get blown out but i dont know if horvat should be there but its worth a 9 game tryout also i want to see shinkaruk get a 9 game on the left side of the 2nd line it would be very dynamic.

  • BrudnySeaby

    well this is how I want the line up

    sedin-sedin-vrbata
    burrows-bonino-kassian
    higgins-horvat-vey
    matthias-richardson-dorsett/hansen

    personly thats not that strong besides the sedins and vrbata but there is more depth compared to last year so productivity should increase since there will be less tired players unlike last year where we played good the 1st half and in the 2nd just get blown out but i dont know if horvat should be there but its worth a 9 game tryout also i want to see shinkaruk get a 9 game on the left side of the 2nd line it would be very dynamic.

  • BrudnySeaby

    well this is how I want the line up

    sedin-sedin-vrbata
    burrows-bonino-kassian
    higgins-horvat-vey
    matthias-richardson-dorsett/hansen

    personly thats not that strong besides the sedins and vrbata but there is more depth compared to last year so productivity should increase since there will be less tired players unlike last year where we played good the 1st half and in the 2nd just get blown out but i dont know if horvat should be there but its worth a 9 game tryout also i want to see shinkaruk get a 9 game on the left side of the 2nd line it would be very dynamic.