It’s going to be hard to remove Yannick Weber from the Canucks lineup

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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

Since returning to the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup four games ago, and staying out of the press box all week partly as a result of Dan Hamhuis’ lower-body injury, depth defender Yannick Weber has been crushing it. 

The 27-year-old blueliner has been dynamic at 5-on-5 and particularly effective on a pairing with Ben Hutton. He’s opened things up on the power play and, lo and behold, the first unit is suddenly humming with Weber manning the right point. 

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Throughout his NHL career, Weber has managed more auspicious on-ice results than the meagre opportunities generally afforded him. And once again he’s taking full advantage of a defensive injury, and establishing himself as a useful blueliner. Once Hamhuis is back to full health, you have to think it’ll be extremely hard to remove Weber from the lineup.

The samples are small, but here’s a quick sampling of why Weber should stay in the lineup even once Hamhuis is ready to return.

Power-play calibration

Early on in the season the Canucks’ first power-play unit was generating a tonne of shots and scoring chances with their initial four forward layout (which included the Sedin twins and Brandon Sutter, with Radim Vrbata joining Alex Edler on the point), but the goals weren’t coming. They were snake bit.

Now the floodgates have opened and the fact is: having a right-handed shot from the point is just so crucial for the Sedin twins. It just opens up so many options, and the dual threat of the Sedin’s cycle game with Weber’s heavy point shot – which he can get off quickly when receiving passes from the right-side half wall where the twins work best from – pulls opposition penalty killers way off kilter. 

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Looking at the power-play shot rate, the Canucks’ first unit was actually generating more looks when Sutter was playing with Vrbata, Edler and the twins in early October. Since Weber bumped Sutter to the second unit, though, the first unit has scored three goals in four games.

Not all of that is Weber. The goal Daniel Sedin scored on the rush against Anders Lindback on Friday night was just a smart sniper taking advantage of a sub-par NHL goaltender. The goal Radim Vrbata scored to ice the game against the Montreal Canadiens was just an example of a veteran scorer with excellent hand-eye coordination taking advantage of Montreal’s ridiculously aggressive penalty-killing system.

The one that sticks out to me though is this Edler power-play goal against the Dallas Stars:

(Courtesy: NHL.com)

Weber picked up a primary assist on this play, but what I want to focus on is what Weber’s very presence on the power play did to Dallas’ penalty-killing structure long before the goal was manufactured.

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Essentially the Stars’ forwards – Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin – were so preoccupied with the possibility of the Weber point shot from the middle of the ice that they remained in the high slot and repeatedly cheated to deny passes from the right-side half wall to Weber. 

You can see what I’m talking about with the Stars forwards staying high and in the slot – more concerned about being burned by a Weber point shot than whatever damage Edler might do – in the screenshot below. Here’s what Edler was looking at after receiving a pass from Weber:

Edler with space

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(Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Time and space for days, with the Stars’ forwards trying to deny a cross-seam pass to Henrik, and two deflection options in the slot. Edler tried a slap pass that Vrbata deflected just wide.

Here’s another example just seconds later. After Vrbata’s deflection attempt missed far side, Henrik Sedin recovered the puck. Benn comes in with an opportunity to check Henrik, but look at how he keeps his stick in the potential to-Weber passing lane, rather than just taking the man. This provided Henrik with the space and time to executive a slick, but simple stop-and-go deke and reset:

Henrik-Benn

(Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Shortly thereafter the puck comes back to Weber, who again swings it out to Edler, who again is looking at a Stars penalty kill that have picked their poison and have opted to allow the Swedish defenseman to beat them:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 4.41.03 PM

(Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You can see that the Stars are so preoccupied with denying the Weber point shot that they’re willing to give Edler all of the time and space he needs. Edler is staring down the barrel at a man unguarded at the net front AND a softly checked forward higher in the slot looking for a deflection. I suspect on his eventual shot Edler was once again looking for a deflection, but no one gets a stick on it, and the shot attempt misses far side.

Now here’s where Dallas’ cheating gets a bit ridiculous. Henrik recovers the puck, and look at the lengths to which Eakin will go to deny the pass to Weber. Literally almost all the way out to the blue line…

EdlergoalEakin

(Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Despite Eakin’s solid work denying the pass – he did a good job, partially deflecting Daniel’s attempted to feed to Weber at the end of the above .gif – the puck gets to Weber, who feeds Edler. Edler is once again looking at a glorious chance with all of the time and space in the world. He gets a good screen from Vrbata and especially Daniel, and Niemi had no chance.

Edlergoal

(Courtesy: Fox Sports)

Scoring on the power play is about more than just shot volume. Weber’s presence on the point, even if he’s just a decoy and the club opts to run a number of consecutive looks through Edler as they did on the sequence broken down above, just creates so much havoc. If you’ve forced your opposition into making a choice like ‘we’ll let Edler and Vrbata beat us!’, that’s nearly half the battle. 

And the numbers back it up. The Canucks are scoring goals more efficiently with Weber on the ice than they are with any other power-play regular this season except for, oddly, Chris Tanev. The first unit has now scored in three consecutive games and the Canucks are five-for-12 on the power-play since Weber re-entered the lineup (though, obviously, we shouldn’t credit him for the two goals the second unit has chipped in).

Weber hasn’t scored a power-play goal yet this season, and it doesn’t even matter. Even if Weber weren’t playing very well at 5-on-5, the Canucks need his point shot on the power play.

Improved 5-on-5 play

There’s something about the idea of Weber as a top-four defenseman that makes hockey people sneer skeptically. He’s never been used that way with any consistency in his career, and the prevailing wisdom is that he’s best suited to a third-pairing role. He’s widely considered to be a power-play specialist in need of sheltering.

I generally defer to the opinion of coaches and executives when it comes to player deployment. By the underlying numbers though, Weber has had the sort of impact on his team’s shot attempt differential that we might expect from a low-end second-pairing D. 

In my opinion: you’re probably not going to ever see Weber playing top-four minutes on a Stanley Cup contender, but I suspect he could do it for a playoff team.

Since being reinserted into the Canucks lineup, for example, Weber’s 5-on-5 impact has been mammoth. The sample is still really small, but the Canucks are generating way more shot attempts for with Weber on the ice than they are with any other defenseman. And while no one will ever confuse Weber’s defensive abilities with Tanev’s, he’s been the best shot attempt suppressing defenseman not named Tanev or Edler on the club in his short stint.

Most interestingly, Weber has seemed a really good fit with both Dan Hamhuis and Ben Hutton at even-strength. With Hutton and Weber on the ice together for about 40 minutes at evens over the past three games, the Canucks have controlled over 55 percent of shot attempts and haven’t surrendered a goal against. In comparison, when Hutton has played with Sbisa, Vancouver controlled 45 percent of shot attempts and was outscored two-to-one.

I thought Weber and Hamhuis had decent chemistry last season, and they had a nice game against the Detroit Red Wings last weekend before Hamhuis went down with injury. I’d be tempted to give Hutton and Weber some serious run though when Hamhuis gets back. The early returns have been excellent, and that pair would give the club a defensive duo that could theoretically be quite productive offensively.

Conclusion

Weber is one of Vancouver’s six best defencemen. He makes the power play tick. He’s found an intriguing and instant level of chemistry on a pair with Vancouver’s youngest blueliner. 

The Canucks’ coaching staff will face a tough decision about who to remove from the lineup when Hamhuis is ready to return. Whatever they decide, Weber should stay in the lineup. 



  • Spiel

    Weber should stay in based on performance. Sbisa should come out based on performance but that’s obviously not going to happen. So…Bartkowski it is (and really he hasn’t looked great in decision-making and the combination with Sbisa is disastrous).

  • Spiel

    So… I wonder if it’s the Aquilinis and the Italian thing. Lots of people said that’s how Torts got the job. Are they reluctant to part with Sbisa for the same reason?

    ‘Cause I think we have enough depth in D. Especially since we’ll have to trade him and possibly a forward away now that the kids are staying. It would be easy to parlay them into a couple of D prospects who can slot in at Utica and come up if needed.

    • Dirty30

      I think its more that JB bet on Sbisa and while he is fine with dumping other people’s mistakes, he is reluctant to admit and correct his own.

      As well, between Sbisa’s play and his salary, its going to be difficult to get rid of him, let alone get anything in value in return.

      The result maty be that team performance suffers until such time as a trade makes sense (probably closer to the deadline) and then something may happen.

      Prediction: Weber sits or gets sent down. Sbisa and Bart rotate in and out of the press box.

      • pheenster

        Don’t agree that Benning isn’t willing to admit to his own mistakes. He cut bait on Clendening fast enough after it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to replicate his AHL success at the NHL level.

        I think he doesn’t see Sbisa as a problem. Given his success elsewhere and Sbisa’s improvement this season I’m not going to call the guy wrong.

        • Dirty30

          Sbisa has improved? More like, Hutton is propping up his stats because Sbisa gives Hutton the puck. Sbisa still looks horrid on the goals where he was the key defender who got beat on opposition goals.

      • pheenster

        Hey, Mark— I assume that was tongue in cheek re the Italian thing?

        Sbisa is Italian born but Swiss as i recall and if that WAS the case we would still be carrying Frankie Corrado.

        Still call “trademark” on that one, Mark because if we get some new players this year with Italian roots you can start the conspiracy theory machine up….with Nux carrying on as per last year and Alberta teams still not looking like champs, it is way too quiet on the blogs……lol

  • Spiel

    This ongoing Sbisa story is puzzling and I’ve given up on it. Maybe JB is waiting to put something together and throw in Sbisa. I don’t know, there is no real strength there.
    To sit Weber over him is pretty outrageous.
    Maybe it is the Italian thing, there is a history. Something has to give.

  • Larionov18

    Hutton – Edler

    Hamhuis – Weber

    Tanev – Sbisa

    Bartkowski – Pedan

    We have good defencemen, but the pairings don’t seem to work as well as I like. Maybe Tanev can help with Sbisa. (He is Swiss not Italian). Putting Hutton on the first pairing may be too much for the young man, but he could surprise, just like he has so far.

  • “In my opinion: you’re probably not going to ever see Weber playing top-four minutes on a Stanley Cup contender, but I suspect he could do it for a playoff team.”

    Sure. He did it for half a season on the Canucks last year.

  • pheenster

    The real question will be, is performance the only thing that matters?

    Weber played well with Hammer last year and helped the PP big time. This year Bartman was signed and Sibsa was resigned… Who will be the odd man out. If Weber goes back to the press box and the PP falters will Willie change his mind?

  • pheenster

    I really enjoyed this article. The blend of analytical analysis and visual, play-by-play dissection is top notch and reminiscent of Tyler Dellow’s former public work.

    Would particularly like to see more of the latter type of breakdowns. The visual aids help soften the text-heavy nature of your analysis in addition to providing tangible evidence of the points you’re making.

  • pheenster

    Weber is another showing of Desjardins incompetance! He was the main reason the struggling powerplay improved late last yr,and so wille decides to sit him early in favour of Bartkowski and Sbisa,lol

    Seems one reason the pp has always had trouble with the 1st unit is losing offensive zone faceoffs and lack of a booming point shot to create rebounds and open up room down low for the twins. That and the fact management can not seem to remind Daniel his best attribute and history has been to be a goal scorer not play maker,defer to others, Play Weber he is our best pointman !

  • Dirty30

    Excellent anakysis, it is nice to see again some good work, without the rabid anti linden Benjing tinge of recent months. I think the reality is we have 7 NHL quality defensemen, and I think Hutton surprised everyone. I predict a rotation once they are all healthy of all but Edler and Tanev. Weber is not large and I think would be more effective if he rested once every five games. Hutton has never played a truly long season or travel schedule so a rest every five would be good. Sbisa tends to try to do too much and makes mistakes, I think watching every fifth game from the press box would calm him, the same is true if Bartkowski who played in Boston with a much lighter travel schedule. Finally some rest every week and a half might preserve the skills in Hamhuis aging body. I think if Willie D. Talked to them as a group and explained the benefits they would buy it. In addition when as is inevitable one is injured, none of them will be rusty. I would also consider doing the same with the bottom 11 forwards when Higgins and Prust get back, till they trade them