Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
The hockey season may be over and done with, but the wound that is this last season as a Vancouver Canucks fan is still relatively fresh. There’s plenty of meat left on these bones and with the draft and the opening of free agency now in the rear view mirror, it’s time we got cookin’.
The process starts with a series of player-by-player reviews for the season that was. Today’s will be centered on the first half of the Canucks-Swiss equation, Yannick Weber. Otherwise known as, the consolation Weber.
Let’s break it all down on the other side of the jump.
(The Sam Bennett love fest is real, as evidenced by this very objective video title)
The 2014-15 campaign was another great step forward for Yannick Weber, who went from relevant depth defender to legitimate top-four option in the span of a few months. As has become a persistent theme during his brief stay with the Canucks, Weber earned his growth with this club through every incremental step up the lineup. This, after joining the Canucks following the absence of a qualifying offer from the Habs just over a season earlier and a brief trip to Utica thereafter.
Brought in to help alleviate the departure of Sami Salo in free agency, Weber was first sought out for his hard shot to operate as a power play specialist in spot duty. By the end of his first campaign, he’d lost then regained his spot doing just that. This season, though, Weber added another wrinkle to his game, developing the ability to play within the confines of his own zone as well. This turned Weber from a carefully guarded secret, sheltered at evens, to a legitimate 5-on-5 option.
Coaches can, generally speaking, be relied upon as a relatively good gauge for a players strengths and weaknesses, as described within the players usage. That Weber’s ice-time and defensive responsibility increased over the campaign to the extent it did is telling – even given that injuries helped to facilitate this growth. And while this article aims to make observations based on last season, it helps to paint a clearer picture of the players growth when put into the context of expanded usage and responsibility across two different coaching staffs.
By the end of the last campaign, Weber had become a regular alongside Dan Hamhuis as the Canucks second pairing. This made it easy for some to dismiss his development, what with the time honoured tradition of evoking the “babysat by Hamhuis” narrative. The numbers, though, paint a picture that indicates neither player was propped up by the other, but rather, both benefited from the assignment. As does Weber’s HERO chart, which shows a positive impact on the entirety of his partners throughout last season.
Most encouragingly, though, Weber’s growth from his own end didn’t come at the expense of his more natural abilities, as a trigger man with the man advantage. Among all NHL defencemen last season, Weber was 16th in PP P/60 with a whopping 5.09. That’s more than a point higher than the rate at which the second most prolific Canuck with the man advantage, Alex Edler, was producing. The Canucks were also in control of 10% more of the shot share with Weber on the ice in this state of play than without. If nothing else, this displays his ability to help operate a finely tuned offensive setup regardless of whether it is from his stick or otherwise.
I’ve heard it argued before (in reference to defenders like Anton Stralman and Jeff Petry) that there are certain defenders who transcend points as the sole mean of adjudicating offensive worth. The Canucks got lucky with their Weber find, as he passes both tests with flying colours.
In nearly every respect, the 2014-15 campaign was one of career highs for Weber. In goals, his 11 on the season nearly doubled his previous high of six, set in the previous season. With 21-points in total, Weber set eclipsed his previously set high of 18-points from 2011-12. Frankly, it would have been almost more appropriate to note that the only column in which a new high wasn’t set was the assist bracket. What’s more impressive is that this seasons number can’t be written off as being buoyed by extended play on the wing – frankly, I think that experiment is done for good.
Weber has always been a relatively strong territorial asset. Having spent much of his career in the peripheries though and being heavily sheltered when called upon, it was relatively difficult to surmise much from this information with any degree of certainty. Shedding both qualifiers this season, it’s become increasingly clear that Weber can in fact move the river in the right direction. Unsurprisingly, the shifty Swiss uses a high event game to push play forward, as he had the fourth highest Corsi events per 60.
The goal-based underlying data shines an especially favourable light on Weber. Among regular Canuck defenders only Ryan Stanton and Edler posted better relative numbers than Weber, who enjoyed a GF%Rel of 5.7%. In a not-so-surprising development, it was Weber’s offense which droves these results. His 2.6 GF60 was the highest mark of his career and the highest among Canucks defenders that saw the ice with any sort of regularity.
The scoring chance data for Weber doesn’t illicit the strongest of reactions in either direction. With a SCF%Rel of 0.1%, the team did just marginally better with Weber on the ice than without – although, realistically, the difference is negligible. The balance is tilted strongly in neither direction, but rather the product of middling results in both generation and suppression.
Chances of the ten-bell reflect slightly better on Weber. He’s in the black, both by relative and raw measures. Then again, so are most Canuck defenders not named Luca Sbisa.
Weber is the fourth best defender on the Canucks by SF%, which makes sense given his recent development into a top-four defender. Knowing that Weber is a high-event defender, it shouldn’t be overly enlightening that shots are equally as frequent with Weber on the ice. His particular strength, driving them towards the oppositions nets.
The Canucks blue line is absolutely stacked. Not necessarily with top-end pieces, but just warm bodies in general – many of which, have yet to prove themselves at the NHL level. In this group, the 27-year old Weber will appear a grizzled vet, with his 229 games played in the NHL. And while this may bode well for the diminutive Swiss defender, I’m not necessarily sure it’s the most positive of signs for a team that intends to compete for a playoff spot as recently as now, next year and the year after.
In this group, Weber seems primed to rejoin Hamhuis for at least the better part of next season, forming a middle of the pack second pairing. The two did yeoman’s work towards the end of last season in that role and it appeared as though there might be chemistry there. I can’t imagine why the Canucks wouldn’t go back to that well, at the very least, to start next season.
It will be interesting to see what kind of job security Weber will have from that spot. The Canucks may have traded Kevin Bieksa, but they also added Matt Bartkowski. This says nothing of the fact that Adam Clendenning and Frankie Corrado are both waiver eligible next season and likely to stick with the club as a result. Weber is on a one-year contract and set to hit unrestricted free agency the following off-season. It’s a situation that will be interesting to follow as the season goes on. Then again, the way things are going “interesting” is about as high a hope as we can set.