Analyzing the Canucks Defence Corps

Every month, our friend MoneyPuck runs a deep dive on how the Canucks
have been performing, and he has been doing quite an excellent and detailed job
on it.  When you are running a team you
need to often analyze your talent and more importantly you need to put them in
the context of the league to see how they are performing to see where your
holes are.

Read past the jump as we analyze the Canucks defence corps
relative to the league to see how they are performing.

People often look at players and remember how good they were
rather than acknowledging how they are currently performing.  This is an error when you have an aging core
that is only going to degrade as time goes on. 
This is a key motivation to why we want to analyze Vancouver’s defence.

To do this, we ran a similar experiment to Domenic Galamini’s HERO charts looking at 6 key
statistics for NHL defencemen.  These
statistics are: Time on Ice per Game (TOI), Corsi For per 60 (CF/60), Corsi
Against per 60 (CA/60), Corsi For % (CF%), how your most common teammates perform
with you vs without you (CF%relTM) and Points per 60 (Points/60).  We look at all NHL defencemen who have played
at least 300 minutes this season.  We
then group them in 60s to look at the minimum value required in each statistic
so we can label how the Canucks perform relative to the league this season.

Our baseline is as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 9.42.25 PM

And here’s the quick summary of each Canuck:

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.36.06 PM

1st Pairing

  • Chris Tanev is a very good Corsi suppressor, as he cuts shot attempts against when he is on the ice.  Thomas Drance looked at this in greater detail yesterday.  The biggest knock against Tanev is that he is not an offensive producer. 
    His Points/60 are low despite a normal PDO, and isn’t helped by his
    Corsi-For/60.  He gets top pairing ice
    time compared to the Canucks, but is just 2 seconds per game shy of the 1st
    pairing bin.  Essentially, this can be considered 1st pairing TOI though.  In short handed situations Tanev is in the top 10 of Corsi Against/60, showing his defensive prowess.
  • Alex Edler is the other Canucks defencemen who qualifies as
    a 1st pairing D.  He
    is 1st pairing quality across the board except in Points/60 and Corsi-For
    /60.  Given than his PDO is normal and his
    personal shot generation is high, this is likely a result of playing with Tanev and other forwards who have struggled to generate points at a good rate for their TOI.

2nd Pairing

  • Dan Hamhuis is a surprise to see performing as a 2nd
    pairing defencemen this year, given it was only last year he was considered one
    of the NHL’s top defencemen and even made team Canada.  He is being deployed on the Canucks’ 2nd
    pairing, has a normal PDO and adequate point generation, while his biggest flaw is the Corsi generation with him
    on the ice.
  • Frank Corrado is a bit tricky to classify as he has such
    limited time on ice with the Canucks this year. 
    Willie Desjardins has trusted him enough to play him often on the Canucks’ second
    pairing, but relative to the league he doesn’t see a lot of ice time.  With a PDO of 95.0 it’s no surprise to see
    his Points/60 so low, especially combined with a low Corsi-For/60.  He has been excellent at preventing shots
    against, which is great to see from such a young
    player, as we know he can improve from here.
  • Adam Clendening does not yet appear to have the trust of the coach as
    he has bottom pairing (relative to the Canucks) ice time.  Despite a 103.9 PDO, his Points/60 also has
    been very low, which could point to his teammates as well.  Still in nearly every facet of the game, he
    has been performing like a top pairing defencemen, and like Corrado will still
    improve from here.  He does only have 12 NHL games this season so we need to watch how he performs at the end of the
    year to see if this is his true talent or not.

3rd Pairing

  • Kevin Bieksa is going to surprise most people.  People worry about the Sedins degrading, but
    this 33 year old has had it the worst.  He’s
    played on the 2nd pairing most frequently with Dan Hamhuis, but despite
    that, he is performing as well as the bottom tier of NHL defencemen.  He should be the D that the Canucks try and move, and given his past history he could likely still fetch a
    high price until people realize he is no longer the first-pairing guy he once was.  It is unlikely that he will be moved or can be
    moved though.
  • Luca Sbisa is no surprise – we’ve all seen the pizza deliveries.  He’s a third pairing-D in nearly every way this season and
    with a low PDO that isn’t out of line with his career averages, you see his Points/60 drop to replacement level.  Hopefully he is not signed by the Canucks
    this summer for his price tag, but given he was acquired in the Kesler trade I
    could see management trying to hold on to him.
  • Yannick Weber is a mixed bag.  He has played on the Canucks third pairing, but
    has replacement level TOI relative to the league.  He’s a third pairing defencemen with some
    second pairing offensive upside.  You
    can’t ask too much from him.

The Replacements

  • Ryan Stanton is a weird case study, as his play has fallen apart based on what we expected at the start of the year.  Last year, his underlying metrics were excellent and he was considered a steal from Chicago.  This year, he has turned the
    opposite.  It is common for players to
    ride high or low scoring percentages, but I’ve never heard of players riding
    high or low possession percentages for full seasons.  Ryan Stanton was considered a first pairing / fringe second pairing defencemen last year in all of these statistics, but he is clearly not fitting in well with Willie Desjardins’
    systems.  He is hurting everyone he plays
    with, he is bad at preventing shot attempts, and he is doing that in very
    limited ice time.  Given his performance
    the season before I would think it’s worth keeping him for another year to give
    him another chance (salary cap dependent).  His league minimum cap hit is of no concern to the Canucks though.

Conclusion

For a team that wishes to be competitive in the playoffs, the
defence corps of the Canucks is their best asset.  They have a good spread of players across all
pairings, including a few young
defencemen who are looking to be excellent additions in their limited
action.  The biggest flaw across the
board is the general limited ability for offence generation from the
blueline, which hurts when the weaker forward group cannot score as it is. 

The defence corps should be at the bottom of the Canucks
worries, as they should focus on the forward group and try to implement an acquisition
plan to acquire more high-end talent.  The
biggest changes I would try to make would be to move Kevin Bieksa while he has value,
to not re-sign Luca Sbisa, and to make sure that Chris Tanev gets a new contract and is here for the next few years.  Of course, acquiring an 18-year-old blue chip
defence prospect would not be bad either, but that will have to wait for the draft.

  • Ruprecht

    The problem isn’t with the main d men. Bieksa, Hamhuis, great serviceable big minute defencemen. Sure, stats, PDO, aggghhhh.

    Few nux get it.

    Where are our Murzyns? Our Lummes? Our O’Briens?

    If we forget our past, we ignore our future.

  • Ruprecht

    So is the middling GF/60 of our entire top 9 forward group over the last few seasons down to an average defence or poor forwards? It seems unlikely that all our forwards would be in such a narrow range solely based on their own talent. Almost all the variation in gf% among the forwards seems to be in goals conceded. Or is there just nothing resembling top line offensive talent in Vancouver?

  • I think there’s some lack of context in this analysis. No one will deny that Bieksa’s play has dropped off somewhat, but he’s spent most of his season playing with 3rd pairing guys like Sbisa and Stanton, which has dragged his numbers down considerably.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something in Desjardins’ systems that is suppressing point production among defencemen – guys like Edler, Bieksa, and Hamhuis have all produced at a good clip in the past and have seen their production drop significantly this year, and no Canucks D is producing at a first pairing rate.

  • Fred-65

    On Hamhuis, didn’t he have a slow start last season as well? Then he rounded into 1st pairing form after new year. This season he started poorly and got injured. He’s also been a ~53% corsi guy without Sbisa, his most common partner. Probably still a good bet to provide first line quality play till his contract expires.

    Also tough to be too hard on Bieksa when he’s spent two thirds of his time with Stanton and Sbisa. (Every D partner who’s been on then ice with Sbisa for more than 30 mins has been in the red for possession and Clandenning’s the only d man to drag Stanton into the black). Smart move is probably to trade him, but I wouldn’t, mostly for sentimental reasons.

    (Looking at Sbisa’s WOWYs, not only is he a terrible possession player, but his GF% has been lower than his CF% for 5 straight years. He’s the nightmare Edler haters have.)

  • Ruprecht

    Not shocking. We’ve lacked a legitimate offensive threat from the back end all year. I have to think an offensive puck moving D-man would help the entire group. (I know, they don’t grow on trees.) Let’s face it, without one we’re forced to look for it out of guys who aren’t that type pf player, or haven’t fully developed that part of their game. Injuries have also forced guys into roles they might not normally play.

    All considered, why do you really need both Sbisa and Bieksa around? That’s a lot of cap for what is easily replaced.

    Thanks for the numbers.

      • Ruprecht

        You’re not going to troll me to oblivion if I don’t agree with you, are you?

        Yeah, we can hope. It certainly would help if Clendening developed in to one of those type of guys. He’s quick with his decisions and his reads have been great so far. He gets the puck out quickly and doesn’t F with it in his own zone, aside from a few nervous burps.

        I also tend to think having a more experienced guy of that ilk could be the ticket to help him along. It’s a lot to expect him to learn and take on everything all at once. Then maintain. A vet would help smooth out the bumps. There’s a reason people miss Salo.

  • WTF

    One thing for sure is the Canucks have become younger and deeper with Corrado and Clandening showing they can play in the NHL.

    As long as Clandening can take the beating a smaller guy does. His puck passing skills and cool demeanor with the puck is impressive. Sure wish Sbisa had half his skill

  • Fred-65

    Few teams go far without an above average defensive corp. We’re average.

    Sbisa will be interesting decission in the summer is he judged on merit or does Bennins pride cap rationality. Remember JB went on record stating he viewed Sbisa as a top 4 D. Hard to climb down from that pulpit

  • Fred-65

    From watching them, Sbisa and Stanton seem to have 3rd-pairing talent, but their stats scream AHL career career.
    AHL careerist to date Clendening does seem to have pure offensive skill.