Has Ryan Stanton Been Vancouver’s Worst Player?

In his first season with the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Stanton could be counted on for a predictably uneventful 15-minutes of ice time per game, and leave in the black for possession more often than not. It was the breakout campaign needed to launch Stanton from stud AHL defenceman to NHL regular.

I can count the Canucks who thrived under John Tortorella on one hand and Stanton is among them. Nothing was asked of Stanton offensively and even less was delivered. No qualms were to be had with this, as Stanton’s value was always measured in the offense kept from his net. All substance, no flash. 

It’s been a precipitous fall from third-pairing grace since then and many are left wondering why. Injuries might be a likely suspect, if not for the fact that Stanton’s return from his most recent ailment was delayed due to his desire to not rush it. Had he been more hasty in his return, there might be some validity to this.

So if injuries aren’t to blame, then what has gone wrong for Stanton and what can we reasonably expect going forward? Well, you know the drill…

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Before we delve into Stanton’s brief NHL career, a little context is needed to find out what exactly the Canucks were getting when using their waiver claim on him just one season ago. With the help of hero, family and visionary, Josh Weissbock, I was able to compile some of Stanton’s underlying numbers from his last campaign with the Rockford IceHogs. 

ES On-Ice GF% ES Off-Ice GF% ES GF% Diff
Ryan Stanton 52.68% 48.62% +4.06%

It’s not hard to see why the Canucks jumped on the opportunity to grab Stanton. The Ice Hogs outscored their opponents when Stanton was on the ice, but couldn’t break even when he was on the bench. A case can easily be made for Stanton having been Rockford’s best defenceman during that season – Nick Leddy, who was only there for 31-games, withstanding. 

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This AHL success translated quickly to the NHL. Now that said, while there was no shortage of boosters for Stanton last season, there was a growing community of fans who remained cautious in their appreciation. This stemmed from the knowledge that much of what he was accomplishing was against peewee level competition, in favorable settings. Of Canucks players who appeared in 42-games or more last season, only Yannick Weber had a lower Corsi QoC. I imagine much of that is muddied by Weber’s time on the fourth-line, too. 

Stanton 2013-14

For those less initiated in the world of #FancyStats, the bottom-right corner would indicate “easier” minutes, while the top-left more difficult ones. Nothing to see here. It’s more or less what one might expect from a third-pairing NHL defenceman. His carefully managed minutes were spent mostly against the bottom-half of opposing lineups, but Stanton wasn’t so sheltered that this was of big concern. All in all, his deployment was fairly neutral. 

Stanton 2014-15

Things get really ugly this season, though. While the ToI Competition% chart on this graph doesn’t indicate a steep incline in competition, his Corsi QoC rises dramatically while he gets bumped into the mid-60’s in offensive zone start percentage. In 2013-14, Stanton’s Corsi Rel. QoC is -0.573; in 2014-15, it’s fourth on the team at 1.417. It seems too much is being asked of Stanton, and it shows. That red is ugly.

Stanton 10-Game Rolling Corsi%

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At the 67 mark in games is where this season starts. It’s difficult to remember at times, but Stanton’s played only 13-games this year. Some of what we’re seeing might be related to Stanton struggling with the new system. I feel it’s safe to say that Willie Desjardins asks considerably more of his defensemen offensively and this is especially true of breakouts from their own zone.

I might even be a little optimistic that this is short-term variance and not indicative of Stanton’s ability on the whole. Judging defencemen on 12-game spans is wholly cruel and maybe a little unfair when applied solely to Stanton – Dan Hamhuis was doing terribly before his injury, too.

As bad as the underlying numbers are, the tape on Stanton is considerably more disconcerting. Foot speed has never been his strong point, but positioning made up for that last season. This year he’s several feet behind every play and doesn’t seem to be able to make a breakout pass to save his life. 

There have been small improvements in recent games. Baby steps, if you will. But much of this is due to Stanton’s rise in zone-start%. The last handful of games have all seen Stanton start in the offensive zone far more than the average Canuck. Willie Desjardins seems to be doing his best to shelter the hell out of the struggling defender.

The Canucks are going to need more from Stanton going forward. Dan Hamhuis appears to be out for the long haul, and if the Canucks passing on an opportunity to acquire another defender such as ex-Medicine Hat Tiger David Schlemko on waivers indicates anything, it’s that Desjardins will have to work with what he’s got. And of course, Ryan Stanton will have to be much better.

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  • bossram

    Great article. I think Stanton is struggling in a system where the defensemen are way more involved in breakouts. With Torts, the defense basically just had to get it up the wall, and the forwards would overload the one side with short passes to get out.

    Under Willie, the defense have to actively engage to receive breakout outlet passes and actually carry it up the ice. I’ve noticed guys like Edler making way way more controlled entries than under Torts as well. Maybe Stanton is struggling with having to do more at a faster pace. Might be outside his skillset. Or injured. Or just random dip in play as you said.

  • everton fc

    I honestly think Stanton is injured and has been the whole season. They’re playing him because they’re scared of exposing Frankie Corrado, but if they could I think they’d be letting him rest.

  • everton fc

    Kind of a kick in the nuts for him if Stanton reads that headline.

    I don’t remember his salary, but imagine it is not that much… since we have a salary cap, performance vs cost is also something to take into account, right? Dude is probably playing through some injuries too.

    Seems as though overall team leadership is important, just need to compare this/last year. Desjardins style seems very much driven by positive motivation, so quickly changing personnel at the first sign of poor performance probably isn’t the best reinforcement of that philosophy.

    • everton fc

      I’m with you Gored. Maybe try to write something positive for a team that has done nothing but exceed expectations this year. Not here though. We’re doomed for bad luck, our 4th line is slumping, the numbers will catch up with us in the 2nd half….anything but the reality that we’ve been sticking with the NHL’s elite teams and holding our own all year.

      Give Stanton a break, he got hurt in training camp, then again during the season while learning his 3rd system in 3 years. Yet he’s still a serviceable NHL calibre defenceman. Probably still playing hurt as he had to be examined after laying out Hornqvist. Probably has the respect of his coach and teammates for battling through them and not being a complete liability. But then, I’m watching hockey games.

      Maybe the writers here need to learn a little about how the game is actually played on the ice, by human beings, and not the computer or calculator.

  • bossram

    I agree that the article was lazy and really uncalled for…. Douchey is in the eyes of the beholder.

    In journalism today Contrarianism rules the blogs/airwaves and cable shows. An insightful article might have been to compare and contrast the hot start of last years team to the hot start of this years team. Another might be Lou and Lack versus Miller and Lack , Kesler Who? or just What is behind the Canucks Success so far.

    Instead, it’s Is Stanton the Canucks worse player…. maybe a numbers look at the best and the worst, but to single out one guy having a tough “Start” to a season on a Successful team is the unnecessary part.

    Last year, a potentially dominant defenseman in Alex Edler having such a down year was a story, but Stanton is not Edler. He was picked up on waivers and filled in nicely last year for a team that needed help because of injuries.

    Making the NHL is almost impossible and Stanton wasn’t a high Canuck Draftee or FA signing. Schroeder Booth and Ballard were guys that deserved the scrutiny .
    Canucks army can do better. Trying to dig up controversy or flash were there need be none is needless and again lazy.

  • C’mon guys, this isn’t really fair at all. There have been lots of positive articles about the Canucks all around the smylosphere lately. This is an article about an important issue for the team: Defensive Depth.

    JD’s done a good job at looking at Stanton’s underlying numbers and impressions of him from watching recent games, and offered some possibilities for why he may have struggled. “Is Stanton a legit NHL defenceman” is a reasonable question to ask, and we don’t have a solid answer at this point. The headline might be a bit inflammatory, but the article certainly isn’t.

    If you don’t keep trying to address your flaws when you’re on top, you won’t be on top for long.

    • This isn’t the only article of it’s kind. There have been pieces recently looking at why Tyler Myers is putting up numbers that no one should be comfortable with, and asking if the Boston Bruins can rely on anyone beyond Zdeno Chara.

      Title’s not necessarily the nicest, but it’s all accurate information. You can praise a team into the sunset for ‘exceeding expectations’, but better than ‘out of the playoffs’ doesn’t exactly win you a Stanley Cup. You got better this season! Great coaching, a much-needed personnel change in the departure of Kesler… but you’ve got a defenseman that isn’t putting up the kind of numbers one would expect him to. And if you’re trying to build a good, long-term Vancouver team, it’s beyond necessary to look at that — the team can’t count on a large chunk of the players for too much longer.

    • Yes, then write an article about defensive depth. The kid has played in a total of 16 games and missed 10 due to injury. So let’s hit him while he’s down. JD even suggests 12 games is a bit unfair to base analysis around. At that point, why not wait before you bring about the negative analysis and a scorching headline. I mean, he’s been developing just fine until this last patch.

      It’s think it’s just way too early to even address him as a flaw or a weakness, and we’re a long way from the top. So give him room to grow and a little support and see what happens. There are too many examples to mention of players who got buried by negativity within an organization then went on to flourish elsewhere, even get their name on the cup. I’m sure even you can name a few. Let’s not become that kind of fan base.

  • Dzake

    Not sure why there is so much hate towards the writer. It’s a fair piece when something needs to get written.

    Stanton hasnt been amazing, that said the worst player on a team thats preforming in the top 5 in the league is still gonna be at least average which stanton probably is.

  • andyg

    ryan stanton creamed hornqvist in pittsburgh. ryan stanton was a blackhawk but, the canucks stole him from them. ryan stanton really wants to get married and have little stantons. i like ryan stanton.

  • andyg

    Hey to the previous posters up there.

    If you guys can’t take a critical piece of writing based on objective evidence, written by a good writer, why don’t you go back and read your Main Stream Media, or read the crap written about how Edmonton’s about to turn the corner.

    The Canucks are certainly exceeding expectations, but that doesn’t preclude Stanton from playing poorly, and it doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for improvement. If you’re interested only in mindless “yes-sir” commentary, you’re just being ignorant of the complete picture.

    Good piece, JD. Your work’s appreciated.

    • andyg

      If you can’t take reading criticism based on the objectivity of the article, you should just stop reading and writing because you’ve completely missed the point. Not sure where the Oilers or main stream media work their way into the discussion’s point. I will say this, at least most of the writers on other pages hang around to defend or clarify their views in the subsequent threads. Here, not so much.

      PS. If you’re interested in “Yes-Sir” responses perhaps you might look elsewhere yourself.

      • J.D. Burke

        I’m not necessarily sure what I have to defend. I speak glowingly of his play last season. I highlight why he might be struggling this season. I even go so far as to bring his AHL numbers into account, which shine a very positive light on Stanton. He’s been kind of bad this year and I kind of suggested such. So, again, what am I defending?

        • J.D. Burke

          “I might even be a little optimistic that this is short-term variance and not indicative of Stanton’s ability on the whole. Judging defencemen on 12-game spans is wholly cruel and maybe a little unfair when applied solely to Stanton – Dan Hamhuis was doing terribly before his injury, too.”

          Things like this, suggest you know you aren’t being objective. Couple this with not mentioning his 2 injuries in 3 months and how that would have an effect on his timing, or any D-man for that matter, and it might be considered as introducing bias to support cherry picked stats.

          The headline, well it could be kinder, like “Who is the Canucks Worst Player This Year?” Then you could have introduced Stanton as your pick in the piece for the reasons you stated. Better for discussion and opinion, less biased, and less of an implication on one player who is fighting through some untimely injuries.

          Thanks for taking the time to come out and ask. I appreciate that and I’m sure I don’t speak for everybody, but I think you could have taken a little more time with this and made it a much better article.

          • J.D. Burke

            I appreciate feedback, so no problem there. If I suck, go ahead and tell me such. What I might not have expressed accurately was that I feel his play was dipping towards the end of last season as well. Hence, the article. You’ll note that Stanton’s tailspin in the rolling Corsi chart happens maybe even before this season. It’s a 10-game rolling average, so yeah, it kind of backs up that stance.

          • J.D. Burke

            Cool enough. A lot of guys went into a tailspin at the end of last year. It was like a team wide vortex, or if I’m being funny, a Tortex. Just be fair enough to point it out when it goes in the other direction for Stants. The kid is still young and has decent upside should this prove to be just a little bit of an injury related downturn.

            Again, I appreciate the time you take here. I doubt you’d write something like this, with a heavy headline, without expecting some lively discussion and that’s why I come here.

  • J.D. Burke

    You come across more as someone utilizing a fan blog site as a podium to gain visibility as an advanced stats guru, you don’t come across as a real Canucks fan. You are kicking a heart and soul player with your inflammatory title when he is down, and your tone from your comment is whiney and lacks introspection.

    So maybe just frame things more positively and remember the name of the site you write for.

  • J.D. Burke

    Re: Ruprecht,

    I’m not understanding your comments at all. I was praising the fact that JD wrote a critical piece on Stanton, and that I agreed with his viewpoints.

    My issue was not with the article at all, but rather at some reader’s defensiveness about the original writer’s opinions. All this stuff about “kicking a player when he’s down” or this article “bringing the readers down” despite the team doing well is why I took the time to respond.

    Just because the team’s doing well does not mean the players are playing at a standard that we have seen of them.

    I don’t understand where you’re coming from.

  • everton fc

    I’ve been following Ryan’s career for quite some time now. I’m not worried about his recent play at all. He’s a warrior and steady as they come. He’ll be just fine and the numbers will correct themselves by the Seasons end.

    Regarding breakout passes, I guess you missed the pass to send Vrbata for his sweet goal the other night.

    What does bother me is seeing the media trash players. Take a minute and imagine if you were getting called out publicly regarding your own job JD Burke. The title of this article is brutal and to focus your negativity on just one guy is just poor. It’s a team game JD.

    You are a negative guy and it shows.

    Just like a teacher on holidays……no class.