Should the Canucks Re-sign Luca Sbisa?

On the surface, the answer to the question posed in the headline is a simple “no way,” but our thoughts and opinions on this aren’t the ones that matter. 

As fans, we’ve all seen the pizza deliveries, the blown coverages, and the own goals this year. In addition to the poor play, Luca Sbisa is on an inconveniently back-loaded contract and will be enormously expensive to qualify this summer. Just retaining his restricted free agents rights with a qualifying offer will force the Vancouver Canucks to commit $2.9 million on a one-year deal (that is unless they take him to arbitration and seek to cut back his salary), which should be a non-starter.

Or it would be a non-starter if stuff like “the Canucks like Sbisa” and “the Canucks see Sbisa as a future top-4 guy” wasn’t being floated by those with more insider knowledge than we have. Vancouver, allegedly, believes Sbisa has taken a step forward and media speculation has him coming back next year, pricey RFA deal and all. But are the Canucks wise to think this way? We’ll investigate on the other side of the jump.

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Jason Botchford’s Provies are always good for an interesting nugget or two of information, and after Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers he wrote the following regarding Vancouver’s much maligned rearguard:

Overall, I think the Canucks like Sbisa and like him quite a bit. They are not, however, delusional. They know he has struggled. But they believe he’s in the midst of an improved second half.
Right now, I think he’s coming back next year, and believe he will be tendered as an RFA at $2.9 million.
Just don’t see them turning their backs on a 25-year-old defenceman who they believe is improving, has become a PK contributor and who they’re convinced can grow into a top four blue-liner, as far off as that may seem some nights.
He has size, can be physical, and you don’t see a long line of blue-liners in the organization who provide these particular tools.

There’s a lot to chew on in this short passage, but we’ll begin by looking at the claim that Sbisa is in the midst of an improved second half. We’ll quickly fact check this by looking at Sbisa’s split-season underlying stats to try and find any material improvement:

Sbisa4

Despite a rather significant upswing in offensive zone starts, Sbisa’s Corsi For percentage and ScoringChance percentage have remained close enough to his first half rates that we can say they’re basically the same. Sbisa is still getting routinely out-possessed and, more concerningly, remaining extremely permissive as far as scoring chances against go.

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However, Sbisa’s Goals For percentage has improved significantly over his first 32 games of the season. Unfortunately for him, this very probably has nothing to do with his play. He is just as permissive as he was early in the year in terms of goals against, and has continued to make life miserable for the goaltenders behind him, the only difference is that other Canucks happen to be scoring goals when Sbisa is on the ice so he’s picking up more pluses – something that wasn’t happening early in the year.

Sbisa has also seen rather significant time on the penalty kill, and if Botchford’s opinion is accurate, Vancouver sees this as a positive. They really shouldn’t though, as Sbisa is a well below average penalty killer in a group of elite ones, and not just by relative measures either. Of the 111 NHL D that have seen over 100 minutes of penalty kill time this season, Sbisa is 69th in shots against per minute, and a significantly worse shot suppressor than Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis. Relative to his teammates, Sbisa has the 7th worst shorthanded shots against per minute rate of this same group of 111 regular penalty killing defenders.

There’s really no sugar coating it: right now Sbisa is not good enough to be an NHL regular. He’s been terrible this season, and terrible for every other season of his NHL career. Since 2012, he has been one of the very worst defensemen to receive regular NHL minutes:

Sbisa3

This brings us to the second bit we’ll briefly look at: should Vancouver believe that Sbisa has top-4 NHL potential?

Sbisa turned 25 in January, so I searched Hockey Reference for a similar group of defencemen to see how they grew in their next three seasons. Looking at guys who had a similar scoring rate and played over 1,000 minutes in a season in which they were 25, I found a group of 14 comparable players since the 2007-08 season. Here they are sorted by relative Fenwick% in their 25-year old season:

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Sbisa1

Narrowing down the field to just guys that were a drag on their team’s Fenwick percentage at this point in their careers, I looked at how they progressed in their next handful of NHL seasons:

Sbisa2

On average, this group started below average and did improve. Still, only Josh Gorges managed to post two seasons where his team was better with him on the ice than on the bench, and those just so happened to coincide with being attached to P.K. Subban’s hip. Guys who were below average at 25 tended to remain below average throughout their primes.

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Sbisa’s relative Fenwick percentage is also twice as bad as this group’s average right now, and he’s also already received ample NHL opportunity and development time as a former first-round pick. If he were to take a step forward, you would think that it would have happened already since it doesn’t appear that Sbisa-like players really grow into something more than what they already are at 25. There is improvement to be made for sure, but it’s usually marginal.

If the Canucks are right and Sbisa one day does become a legitimate top-4 guy and not just someone gifted top-4 minutes because of misplaced belief, he’ll have to come an unusually long way from what he is today. It’s not impossible that Sbisa might turn into a credible NHL top-four defender, but that’s mostly because nothing is impossible. His “put-up-or-shut-up” seasons should have been the last couple of years and he simply has not done enough of the ‘putting up’ to warrant a team committing nearly $3 million to him.

I highly doubt that Canucks brass are delusional though, so even if Sbisa is back next season, I can’t see it being for more than one year. Vancouver does have an abyssal drop-off of talent after Alex Edler and an aging Dan Hamhuis on the left side, and Sbisa is probably more attractive alternative to any in-house left-handed replacement, barring Ben Hutton taking training camp by storm. Willie Desjardins will still need warm bodies to dress, and Sbisa is a warm body at the very least.

Re-signing Sbisa for one year is likely akin to lighting money on fire, but it’s not the end of the world. On the other hand, re-signing him to a lucrative multi-year extension would be the first move in constructing a Panzer division to compete with Edmonton’s.



  • WTF2

    Great analysis.

    I wonder how deep the Canucks’ brass go when they analyze a player. Is it as cursory as, `yeah Sbisa gets into the corners first, plays a tough game, has good character and he’s only 25′ so let’s sign him.

    Or do they do the deep statistical dive that this blog does?

    For some reason, it seems like it would be the former.

  • Ruprecht

    Great article. Right off the bat it answered an important question for me – can the team take him to “cut-down” arbitration? Then it went beyond with historical comparisons.

    I think Sbisa at more than $2M and 1 yr is a risk. On the other hand I can see management re-signing him. If they do it signals to me that the team is rebuilding. Sbisa has proven he can help directly with making the team worse, while still providing entertainment (big hits, some fancy offensive plays).

    He’s got tools just not all packaged together properly. What he really needs is a hockey sense transplant so he can make better decisions. Experience is the only cure for this (what’s the old saying about 10,000 hours?), but the Canucks shouldn’t be interested in this approach for money, term, and heartache reasons.

    If they take him to arbitration and get him on a deal 1.7-2.0M for a year (or maybe even 2) – fine. Otherwise I will take Ryan Stanton for $625k.

  • wojohowitz

    It`s all about the money and Sbisa`s contract doesn`t fit. If the Canucks offered him $2m for three years it would work for them but will a pay cut be okay by him. I see an Anson Carter situation – one good season and the player has higher expectations. Sbisa will be cut loose and in the real world will sign somewhere else for $1.5m

  • Ruprecht

    A 2.9 million dollar project doesn’t strike me as what we need on the back end. There’s a point in every project where you either invest to improve it, or cut your losses and walk away. The thing that makes Sbisa difficult to walk away from is that we have already have a Kesler invested. So unless we get something tangible in return, we also have to walk away from a portion of that initial investment.

    I think Sbisa’s 2nd half hasn’t been that much better. Sure he’s benefiting from and uptick in PDO. But nothing I’ve seen suggests he’s driving any part of that uptick. If anything, he hurts save percentage.

    At this point, the way he’s playing and what he adds to the line-up is easily replaced on the cheap. Sign and trade would be the best option. Maybe it’s the cap uncertainty talking, but for some reason I think we might be stuck with him.

    • Chungus

      “The thing that makes Sbisa difficult to walk away from is that we have already have a Kesler invested. So unless we get something tangible in return, we also have to walk away from a portion of that initial investment.”

      I walked away from Kesler a year ago.

      • Dirty30

        Exactly.

        Kessler truly showed his lack of character in his demands and to try and make up for that mess just creates a bigger mess.

        If management is concerned about bad deals they should be looking at Miller’s contract which they walked into of their own volition rather than Kessler’s toxic threats that had them handcuffed.

        I can happily accept Benning got gassed on the Kessler trade but he can at least argue that they aired out the room.

        Millers contract may be stinking up the place for two more years and adding Sbisa at an any price is just beyond words.

        • BrudnySeaby

          Miller’s contract isn’t that bad. It’s relatively short and we’re unlikely to be contenders in the next two years anyway. It also gives Lack an easier transition to the starter job – firstly to adjust to the workload without missing out on the extra training time a backup gets and secondly, Miller is just about average – ‘winning’ the starter job is more or less a formality, especially as Miller declines with age.

          • Canucksfan3322

            Lack will be nearly 30 by the time the Miller contract is up. It’s not like he’s some very young guy who needs a few more years of development to be a starter. His time is now and he’s proven he can provide at least league average goaltending, which is really all you need.

          • BrudnySeaby

            Average goaltending as a backup is different to average goaltending as a starter. This is his first healthy run with a starters workload in the NHL and it’s only been a month or two.

            I don’t like the Miller contract – if Lack proves himself, he’ll be a very expensive backup for the next two years – but having proven reliable goaltending isn’t a bad thing.

      • Ruprecht

        Me too, maybe even sooner than that, but we still have the ripple effect to deal with. I’m not going to bash a player that isn’t here because it just doesn’t matter and it’s a waste of energy.

        In my view what we pulled out of that trade can still effect our future directly. Also, our line-up now and in the future. Like it or not, Kesler leaving changed the look of our team for years to come. Sbisa represents part of that.

        • Vanoxy

          Sure, losing Sbisa will make the Kesler deal sting even worse, but, re-signing Sbisa probably means letting another player, such as Mattthias or Dorsett walk away, due to cap constraints.

          You can’t get caught up in looking back at how players were acquired.
          Every summer the reset button is pressed and you need to look solely at how to build the best possible squad moving forward.

          I happen to like Sbisa, for his physical play and his potential to improve, but he’s just not a guy I would commit $3mil to considering the cap situation.

          • Ruprecht

            True. If I’m GM I’m prepared to walk away at any point. I’m with you, the money is better spent elsewhere. We can already replace what Sbisa brings within our organization. But he’s still too young to walk away from completely, and on the other hand, priced out of his league. I honestly have no idea how management deals with this one in the summer. Even on a one year he is a burden on both cap and line-up.

          • Vanoxy

            I’m afraid he’s a guy we will regret losing, in 3 years, when he settles into a role as a dependable, physical D-man with some offensive flair.

            The fact that the cap will do a minimal jump this year really screws us over on this one.

            If there was a 2-3 mil increase, as projected even a few months ago, then I’d be on-board with signing him. But it looks like he’s a cap casualty… And probably Richardson as well.

            The silver lining is, other teams are going to be hit even harder. Losing a 3rd/4th line C and a 3rd pairing D isn’t too tough to swallow. Especially since Horvat has stepped up and Corrado is waiting in the wings.

            It’s a luxury to finally have guys on their ELC who can step into the lineup, freeing up cap space for re-signing core veterans.

  • peterl

    Good asset management is to retain Sbisa and then flip him at the March 2016 trade deadline. After 2016, Sbisa will be a UFA and the acquiring team has no obligationt to him. Defencemen are a premium. Sekera got a 1st and 2nd (prospect) draft picks alone from LAK. Michalek got a A-prospect from NYR.

    Sbisa is an NHL defenceman, but prone to boneheaded mistakes. Another team at next year’s trade deadline is likely just wanting to add something to fill an injury or gain some depth. Sbisa might not net you a 1st round pick or A prospect, but he will get a decent return just by the fact he is a serviceable defenseman.

    I can’t imagine Sbisa will be asking for much greater than his qualifying offer. If he is to be traded, salary demands don’t weigh into huge consideration. A one year contract around his current price is still flexible enough to trade at the deadline (Canucks can also retain salary to get assets, retention only for 1 year so no major loss).

  • BrudnySeaby

    Generally I like Sbisa but as was noted, he does make some glaring mistakes. Here is a thought, trade Luca for a draft pick or prospect and then sign free agent Cody Franson. A BC boy and former Giant

  • BrudnySeaby

    Stanton is so much better. And cheaper. Forget about Pizza man. If management signs him they are delusional. Then again, they signed average goaltending to $6m per year on too long a contract. But there really is no cap space with all the UFA’s up front and a kliier D-man in Tanev to be resigned.

  • orcasfan

    Agree. Dump Sbisa. And, despite an OK season last year, I am not convinced that Stanton is a reasonable replacement. This year he has not been impressive, and he turns 26 in July. Why not do a similar analysis for him?

    I would give Andersson a good look at training camp (isn’t he only 22?). And probably try to acquire a lefty via trade or UFA.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Sbisa is providing negative value right now. Cutting him loose would make the Kesler deal look better, not worse.

    It really doesn’t matter if he has the tools. He’s an NHL player – they all have tools. What matters is if they can use them consistently enough to be valuable. Sbisa doesn’t.

  • RandomScrub

    Ah, the complete solution comes in combining peterl and Brent’s comments: best asset management solution is to qualify, one year deal, then trade at deadline… to Calgary.

    See if we can get a second round pick back – it’ll effectively be Sbisa for Baertschi, one year removed. 🙂

    If the Flames are in the hunt for a playoff spot then as well? Golden!

    • BrudnySeaby

      It doesn’t. If you give Pizza a contract, and at $2.9m it is really is expensive for a bottom pairing guy, and you can subsequenlty not deal him (and why would there be any takers at that cap hit), the Canucks would be stuck with a “useless” player and contract.

      And then the issue of the 50 contract limit comes into play as well with the recent signings (like Ben Hutton) and qualifying Jordan Subban, plus resigning other UFA’s/RFA’s.

      What Sbisa brings to the table can be had way cheaper so that is how Benning should manage the cap and the number of contracts a team can have.

  • Fred-65

    For Vcr to pass on Sbisa this summer is like Benning standing up and saying I was wrong …. and frankly I don’t see that happening. How will Sbisa play in the future, well I’m no swami but I think his rail lines are starting to kick in ie what you see is what you get. For turn over he and Clendening IMO stand out. The only way to sign and litterally take a gamble on Sbisa is to have an agreement in place that he re-sign after Free Agency to a lesser contract. A contract in the region of $2.9 is a big over pay IMO.

    I like his toughness and style but his turn overs can’t be considered acceptable on an NHL team.

    At this same time the Canucks/Benning are jerking around Corrado, I don’t get it. Mind you I think all scouting staff is going to be turning a close eye to Hutton to see how he plays in Utica and it might well impact on Sbisa

  • Larionov18

    Unless I start seeing some Healthy scratches I believe the Canucks will sign him. If Willie thought Stanton was better he would be playing now. I am on the fence.