The Vancouver Canucks’ luck on the infirmary front has run out in recent weeks, as the club has been ravaged by injuries down the middle of their forward group and along their blue-line.
A funny thing happened on the club’s way to an injury-related tailspin – the team kept playing really good – even ‘real good’ – hockey. With the exception of a solid stretch in late November, the Canucks have been at their absolute best since the NHL All-Star break.
From Zack Kassian’s hot-streak to the continued stellar play of Shawn Matthias. From Jannik Hansen’s continued excellent two-way play, to Linden Vey’s progression and the emergence Ronalds Kenins as an exciting and maybe even effective energy guy – we don’t envy the difficult choices that await Willie Desjardins once Nick Bonino and Brad Richardson convalesce and are ready to return to the lineup.
So for this edition of What Would You Do Wednesday we’d like to know: if you were Vancouver’s coaches who would come out and who would stay in? Let’s discuss further (and perhaps refrain from imitating a certain irascible, but beloved CanucksArmy comment section troll) after the jump.
Keep Bonino and Richardson in the press box
Here’s the first option. Maybe Vancouver’s forward group, as it’s currently composed, is playing well enough that the club shouldn’t make any changes at all.
Since Brad Richardson went down with injury, the Canucks have been a 51.1 percent score-adjusted Corsi For club over 13 games. It’s a small sample, but at least when it comes to even-strength play, it seems that he’s not exactly being missed.
Shawn Matthias has been beasting in the middle, while Vey has managed four points in his past six games and appears to be finding his groove centring Radim Vrbata and Chris Higgins on a very intriguing secondary scoring line.
So where does that leave Bonino and Richardson? It still leaves them in “definitely still getting back into the lineup the moment they’re healthy enough to play without the risk of re-injury – duh!” territory.
For Richardson it’s all about the penalty kill. Vancouver’s penalty-killing has been elite all season, but since he left the lineup in mid-January the club has permitted nine power-play goals against in just 13 games. In the previous 43 games, they allowed 18 in total.
The club’s short-handed shot suppression game has also fallen off significantly. Over the last 13 games Canucks opponents are generating power-play shots for at rate almost nearly 25 percent higher than they were prior to Richardson’s injury.
Richardson is apparently too valuable to the Canucks penalty-kill to be kept out of the lineup.
As for Bonino, well, he still leads the team in even-strength scoring rate. Though I’d probably still describe his two-way game as below average for a second-line centre, he’s coming out way ahead by shot attempt differential in regular top-six minutes. That’ll play.
And, of course, though Vey is capable of creating some offense here and there, his two-way game remains problematic at 5-on-5. After showing signs of improvement in January, he’s currently experiencing another negative dip in his shot attempt differential trend-line (10 game rolling average):
As well as Vancouver’s centreman have stepped up in Bonino’s and Richardsons’ absence, Vancouver’s two most regular middle-six pivots are too valuable to keep in the press box when they’re healthy.
The overwhelming favourite to come out of the lineup is Kassian. Heck, he’s apparently already coming out of the lineup this week, and Richardson and Bonino aren’t healthy yet!
Matthias skating with McMillan and dorsett. Kassian looks to be odd man out
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) February 18, 2015
Kassian is a decent player, but his defensive play is still too permissive and his lack of discipline has the potential to hurt the team – especially with Richardson on the shelf. I still think he’s probably one of Vancouver’s nine best forwards, but frankly it’s getting harder to criticize the coaching staff’s lack of trust in him as the season goes on…
Vey is better on the wing than at centre, but does he really make sense as the fourth-line right wing ahead of one of Hansen and Kenins (or Kassian for that matter)? The answer, surely, is no. Vey has had a reasonably good rookie season, but the numbers dictate that he’ll be a candidate to come out of the lineup once Bonino and Richardson heal up.
Kenins has been a borderline revelation in his short stint with the team. Though he’s been fortunate in achieving this mark, he’s currently tied for Rick Nash for first among all NHL forwards in 5-on-5 goal scoring rate on the season. Yes, yes, we know that’s completely meaningless, but it’s good fun nonetheless!
What matters more is that the young Latvian energy forward has improved the play of Vancouver’s fourth-line by the underlying numbers, and is in the black by shot attempt differential. Considering the way Vancouver’s fourth-line has been routinely buried this season, that’s a massive improvement.
We’re talking about a minuscule sample here, but Kenins has legitimately been really impressive. With the way his physical style fits the mold of what NHL teams generally look for in a fourth-line energy player, Kenins should probably be given every opportunity to remain in the lineup.
Hansen’s high scoring fall seems like a distant memory based on his complete lack of offensive output over the past 30 games or so. Of course, counting on Hansen for, or criticizing him over goal scoring is preposterous. Doubly so when he’s playing a fourth-line role.
If you’re thinking you’d most like to see Hansen be a healthy scratch, just go back and watch how he disrupted the MInnesota Wild in the neutral zone on Monday. There’s a good reason he was Desjardins’ fourth most utilized forward in that game, and it’s the same reason he’s not coming out of the lineup.
So what would you do?
Tell us dear readers on this lovely mid-February edition of What Would You Do Wednesday: who are you taking out of the lineup when Bonino and Richardson are ready to return?
Have your say in the comment section, and make your vote count by participating in our latest poll question (you can find it on the right side of the blog!).