Do the Canucks Have A Second Line?

The Canucks’ lack of secondary offence was a hot topic last season, and with good reason. In spite of a vintage offensive performance from Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen’s emergence as a 20-goal scorer, the club finished with the league’s second-worst offence in 2015-16. 

Secondary scoring’s been elusive for a few seasons now, though. Fans are at a point where they have a difficult time remembering the club’s last authentic second line. A reality they confront more often than not with the tongue in cheek description of the Canucks, as a team with “three third lines“.

Acquiring Loui Eriksson is bound to alleviate concerns about goal-scoring, but he’s also likely to play alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Such a development leaves the future of the Canucks middle-six shrouded in mystery. Satiar Shah explored the possibility of moving Eriksson down the lineup in favour of Jannik Hansen, but that addresses just one of the many questions facing that section of the lineup.

A trade or signing may still be to come, but as of right now the question remains: can the Canucks expect to have a true second line next season? 

WHAT IS SECOND-LINE PRODUCTION?

The definition of a second line is fairly nebulous. For many teams, the bottom-nine is fairly interchangeable, with pieces being mixed and matched at different points throughout the season. Some teams spread their most potent offensive contributors over their top two (or, if you’re the Pittsburgh Penguins, three) lines. Other teams load up their second line with two-way players that can play primarily in a shutdown role. As a general rule, there are two ways to number your lines: by ice-time, and by offensive output. 

In Vancouver’s case, defining the team’s second line by ice-time would be an exercise in futility. Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins has been known to use questionable deployment strategies and the line that gets the second-most ice time is likely to change from night to night. With that in mind, we’ll define the Canucks potential second-line players by their offensive production. 

By definition, if there are 30 teams in the league, there should be 30 first line centres, left wingers, and right wingers in the league. So, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll define first-line players as the players at each position that fall in the 1-30 range, second players will fall in the 31-60 range, and so on. Some teams have more than one player that falls within each range, but the purpose of this exercise isn’t to have a philosophical discussion of what makes a second-line player. The purpose is simply to devise a set of reasonable performance tiers for a player based on their line. Andrew Berkshire wrote a similar article last year that served as the inspiration for applying this line of thinking to the Canucks’ roster.

Line Position All-Situations Point Range ES Point Range Canucks Players That Fell Within This Range in 2015-16
1st Centre 85-55 30-51 Henrik Sedin 
1st LW 43-89 28-48 Daniel Sedin
1st RW 41-106 29-57 Loui Eriksson, Jannik Hansen (ES)
2nd Centre 42-54 24-30 Bo Horvat (ES)
2nd LW 24-42 20-28 Sven Baertschi
2nd RW 25-40 20-29 Jannik Hansen (AS)
3rd Centre 30-42 14-24 Bo Horvat (AS)
3rd LW 11-24 11-20 Alex Burrows
3rd RW 11-24 11-20 Jake Virtanen, Derek Dorsett, Emerson Etem

After establishing these performance tiers, there are a few things that stand out: 

  • The offensive expectations placed on second-line forwards are often unrealistic. We’re many years removed from the days of 60 or 70 point second line players. If you have a winger on your second line that can produce around 40 points, you have a very good second line winger. 
  • At even strength, the Canucks have may have two legitimate options at first-line RW, and Jannik Hansen’s performance last season has likely earned him a look on the powerplay.
  • Sven Baerstchi’s 28-point campaign placed him at the bottom-end of the 31-60 range used to define second-line left wingers, in spite of missing 13 games. 
  • Outside of Henrik Sedin, the Canucks do not have a centre that has produced at a second-line rate at any point in their career.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

At right wing, the Canucks are basically set. Eriksson and Hansen are both viable options in the top six, and Emerson Etem, Jake Virtanen, Alex Burrows, etc., are all capable of holding down jobs at the bottom of the lineup. Unfortunately, they don’t have quite the same amount of depth at the other two forward positions.

In all likelihood, if the Canucks are going to get second line production out of one of their centres, it will be Bo Horvat. Brandon Sutter has failed to ever produce points at the level that would be expected from a second line centre and is years removed from the career-high of 40 points he achieved in his sophomore season. Horvat struggled mightily at the commencement of the 2015-16 season, but he scored at a torrid pace towards the end of the year, and it seems entirely reasonable that he could find himself in the 45-50 point range should the percentages normalize. 

The left side is where things get really interesting. We can assume based on his performance last season that Sven Baertschi should be able to produce offence at a high-end rate for a third line winger. The real question is whether or not he takes a step forward. The Canucks also have 2015-16 SHL MVP Anton Rodin waiting in the wings, and he also happens to be a left-handed shot who appears to play a similar game to Baertschi, at least on a superficial level. Rodin has yet to play an NHL game, however, and we won’t really know what he’s capable of until we see him play. 

With this in mind, the Rodin-Sutter-Hansen line that some have pencilled in at the #2 slot on the depth chart doesn’t seem like a great bet to produce offense. When Jannik Hansen is the most proven offensive commodity on your second line, you’re going to have a problem scoring goals.

CONCLUSION

If the Canucks want to return to the realm of respectability in terms of secondary offence next season, they will need to rely on their young players. Expecting 27-year old Sutter to suddenly find a new gear offensively isn’t a good idea, especially given his well-established defensive acumen. Rodin remains a complete wild card.

The good news is, the Canucks will have one thing they didn’t have much of last season: options. So much so that they could probably justify staying put with their roster. The mix of established veterans and improving young players that are eager to prove they belong will make for an interesting dynamic in the Canucks’ middle-six this fall. Whether any of those players can become fixtures in the top six remains to be seen.

  • Hockey Warrior

    YES JD and Canucks fairweather plastics, the nuks DO have a second line… the 103 year old SEDIIN SEDIN ERIKSSON triumvirate! The PROBLEM is they DON’T have a FIRST LINE and that’s WHY they will not make the playoffs this coming season folks.

    Now, how about a story on the hiring of GEORGE McPHEE as GM in LAS VEGAS (yep it’s true)

    and also here’s another one for yas… how LONG can the Canucks org hold onto TRAVIS GREEN now he has admitted it went right to the wire with regard to him joining ANAHEIM as head coach… can we really afford to LOSE Green to keep Real Sh*t Willy in a gig?

    Plenty of stories to tell out there CA get on it

    Over and Out

    • Mac_robson

      Such a sad post. Really, the Sedin’s, second line? One assumes that your highest scoring line is you first line and will continue to be that until they’re unseated. My guess is that the reduced ice tme year went unnoticed. Did you have a new first line that you would suggest that had more points? And as for George, good for him. Another good old boy hiring.. Wonder? Does he have a smart phone. As for Travis, we got lucky not to lose him, but management wanted Willie for one more season with the team. That is a known fact so limited options there. Oh and sh#&%%+*g someone who you not speaking to directly is juvenile. Thanks for listening.

  • JuiceBox

    As the article pointed out – second line scoring isnt what it used to be. If Horvat, Baer, Etem, and Virtanen all take another step forward, if Hansen continues his excellent play, and if Sutter can play to his normal level and not get injured the Canucks could realistically have two lines that produce at a second line level.

    But determining lines isn’t just as simple as looking at point totals. At this point, there are too many question marks. Can Rodin transfer his elite play to the NHL? Can the young guys take another step forward in their development? Was Hansen’s season a one-and-done? Will WD continue to roll 4 lines or will he start line-matching and situational deployment? Will the Sedins & Eriksson produce at a 1st line level?

    The Canucks certainly have the pieces to have a legitimate second line, the question becomes – will it coalesce? Only time will tell.

  • Bj

    i agree with hockey warrior. the sedins are or should be a second line and the canucks will not be a truly competitive team until the sedins are not the first line. they might make it into the playoffs based on sedinery and the defence clicking (and several other teams having troubles), but they won’t have any potential to compete if they get there.

    to me the canucks really either need three second lines, or a first line that clearly supplants the sedins. i suppose either is feasible if the stars align but both are pretty unlikely.

    i don’t hold out hope for a first line without fresh blood. but i like that both horvat and baertschi aspire to be first liners, and i think if they clicked with erickson or somebody else took a step then two second lines is possible.

    as for three second lines, you’d need to have rodin be a gem plus 5 or 6 players make major breakthroughs in one season. if wishes were horses…

  • detox

    Speaking about dropping Erik down to balance offense is absurd….

    Hanson scored 22 goals while not getting PP minutes. Erik next to the Twins should get 30-40 and the Teins, health permitting, in the point per game category.

    We ALL need to stop talking about last year, since Sutter basically didn’t play! It’s like we have acquired Sutter and Erik.

    Now who to play with which center?? One thing that has been proven the last two years is that Bo has gained chemistry with different wingers fairly easily. The Latvian Locomotive then Sven the Bear! I say try Rodin and Hanson on either side of Bo and move Sven up with Sutter. If Jake comes into camp in shape and plays well, stick him next to Sutter also. Two big bodies and Faceoff wins will help clear room for Sven’s offensive flare.

    There are a lot of guys with a lot to prove this year, so don’t listen to all the Sky is Falling Chicken Littles. The back end is younger, bigger and harder to play against. That will make a huge difference in the win column.

    • Mac_robson

      I think the argument is that Eriksson will produce well no matter where he plays but that Hansen only produces well with the Sedins. Therefore you’ll get more total offence by playing Hansen with the twins and Eriksson with say Horvat and Baertschi.

  • Bj

    There are some wild cards here without doubt. It remains to be seen how well the present defensive core will be at getting pucks up-ice and creating opportunities for all of our forwards, in spite of where they pencil in with regard to which line they’re on. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that the departure of players like Salo and Erhart, that were replaced by lesser offensive talents, has had an impact on the twin’s point totals.Our #1 pick can’t develop fast enough for my liking.

    • mgg

      Exactly correct….

      Forwards are only half the equation, how the defense controls play in their own zone can inhibit or create offense. Ollie will be a big part, but there will be improvement in the Dcorps, which means spending less time pinned in our own Zone.

      Add in improved faceoffs numbers with Sutter and things should look better right there.

  • Olands

    I think the real question is with Sutter back can Horvat be a plus player. personally I’d keep Hansen with the sedins, put erikkson with horvat and baer. That way you’re basically doing the opposite of last year. Set horvat up for success, bury sutter with burrows and whomever.

    To me that’d be your best chance at achieving a 1st and 2nd line. but what it comes down to is deployment, not just counting points.

    • acg5151

      one of the main problems last year was that Sutter got injured and Horvat had to play above his level and was not able to keep up. We were actually doing not so bad before Sutter went down. He is our 2nd line centre without a doubt

  • @jfr

    erikkson playing away from the sedins is absurd? what are you, 8? the only thing more pathetic than anticipating which line combinations will work best next season is insulting people if they raise the mere possibility of a different combo. line combo bingo is the worst form of hockey fanboi mental masturbation.

    exhibit a: mogilny was brought in by the canucks to be reunited with bure after they had played together for years in russia.

    it didn’t work out. mogilny consistently played on a different line from bure.

    • krutov

      I’m actually 9 and you are an idiot…

      How many years ago was that and I’m pretty sure Bure wasn’t his own line. Erik will play with the Twins because he will be the best combo of Offense and Defense on the team.

      We have a bunch of forwards that have a lot to prove. We need a consistent line that will put up numbers until the 2nd and 3rd lines shake out.

      Contraians are so boring.

    • Olands

      Feel like this is a slight misrepresentation of my point.

      I don’t believe Horvat’s +/- is an indication of a poor defensive game as much as it is representative of his deployment — which was my point. Sutter has shown, over a much larger sample, less offensive upside and to be more of a shutdown style. Whether his line gets 2nd or 3rd line minutes, those minutes should be against the better players on the other team. Freeing up bottom six match ups for Horvat — unlike last year.

      I’d also put virtanen and burr on Sutter’s wings as they’ve shown an ability to play sound 200 foot games.

      Plus Erickson and Horvat would get extra minutes on the PK and PP, should they not be getting top 6 minutes at even.

  • andyg

    There seems to be a real lack of things to write about. Someone should look at all the draft picks that Benning has given up since taking over and go through the potential players that would have been available.

    The concept seems to be that the Canucks would have been farther ahead by keeping the few picks that he has traded away. So give us a list of the players that would be making our organization better then it is right now. NHL and in our system.

    • Jackson McDonald

      There would be an awful amount of conjecture involved in such an exercise. We could look at what players were available, but trying to determine who the Canucks would have picked would just be pure guessing. That being said, I don’t hate the idea. We could take a look at the picks involved and their expected value and try to determine how much value they’ve lost out on.

      If there’s really interest in that I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot.

      • andyg

        I would say that you look at the best case scenario for who would have been available and then compare that to what we now have at both levels. I think we will find that there will be very little that would have made a huge difference.

  • I notice CA writers like to play wingers on their off wing. Rodin is often mentioned on the left wing, and Etem on the right. They can probably play both wings, but having guys break into the NHL would be easier for them on their natural side. Asking Burrows or Eriksson to do this is ok.

    As for our 2nd line, I see a defensive shutdown line of Burrows – Sutter – Hansen. Call this 2A, and 2B is our young scoring line Baertschi – Horvat – Rodin. Willie can ice these combinations as needed.

    I think Alex Burrows has a bounce back season. He may stay beyond this season.

    • mgg

      I hope burtows signs an extension for a year or two at a reduced rate and retires a canuck. He may not be 2011 burrows any more but he still has the beart of a warrior and leadership up the wazzoo.

    • detox

      Last season, Bo had a strong second half of the season and Sven did too. They are likely to face some struggles with offensive consistency but both should still improve on last seasons point totals.

      and with Rodin, he might be an option to try on the second line.

      If the opposition takes our second line lightly, maybe the second line can take advantage of this?

      I hope WD can be a bit more creative with his lines this season if it is a struggle to find secondary scoring.

      • mgg

        Last season, Bo had a strong second half of the season and Sven did too. They are likely to face some struggles with offensive consistency but both should still improve on last seasons point totals.

        I’m not sure what you’re arguing here. Are you saying Horvat should be considered a true 2nd-line centre?

        Until he improves his defensive play, I don’t think we can say that. He has to prove himself on the ice by getting his +/- down. Until he does so, he should be considered a young, exciting third-line centre.

        I would be delighted if by Christmas he has forced us reassess his defensive skills.

        • detox

          “I’m not sure what you’re arguing here. Are you saying Horvat should be considered a true 2nd-line centre?”

          I’m saying Bo has more offensive upside than Sutter. You can number the lines whatever you want, Bo will get more points than Sutter.

          Whatever line Bo is on will likely be considered the second scoring line after the Sedins.

          you want his line to be more defensive, put Hansen or Sutter on his wing.

          • detox

            I’m saying Bo has more offensive upside than Sutter. You can number the lines whatever you want, Bo will get more points than Sutter.

            Hockey is about outscoring your opponents, which means that preventing the other team from putting the puck in your net is as important as putting the puck in theirs.

            And by that measure, Sutter is currently a better player than Horvat. Yes, Horvat has more potential, and when he improves his defensive play I expect to become a fine 2nd-line centre, and maybe more.

            But he is not there now.

  • detox

    It’s not clear what Sutter’s offensive potential is. At Pittsburgh he was the third-line centre behind
    Crosby and Malkin. Last year he was injured most of the time.

    Obviously he is no Markus Naslund, but give him a full season with 2nd-line minutes and two bona fide 2nd-line wingers, and a 50-point season may be possible.

  • acg5151

    The Sedins are a first line but for how much longer – I love them both but they are getting old. I think if Horvat can solidify his position as a second line we can get away with having a couple second lines for a while if the bottom six can contribute and our defense and goaltending can keep pucks out of the net but I don’t know if this is a playoff team even with help.

  • mgg

    What is the average ice time for a 2nd liner? Baertschi player under 13:30 over the season. That was 11th among forwards with 20 games or more.

    WIllieD was asked last week if Horvat would be the 2nd line centre and he said it will be Sutter. As for Rodin, when he signed Benning said he would be on the 3rd line.

    WillieD has also said that Baertschi is not a fit with Horvat, because he’s taking Horvat away from his game and it’s better for Horvat to play with defensive wingers (post-game Colorado 16 March / also after the Anaheim game in April – Horvat is better in a defensive role (for now)). So Baertschi will either be on the 4th line with Granlund or on the 2nd line with Sutter. They stopped playing together at the end of February, it’s only injuries that had them briefly reunited.

  • Mac_robson

    It seems to me that this whole exercise is fraught with assumptions and simplifications but what the heck, I’ll play along.

    I’d first note that since the Canucks had only two players that dressed for all 82 games (Daniel Sedin and Bo Horvat) all of the Canucks rankings will be depressed. It’s hard to put up first line numbers when you only play half the games.

    If you’re going to rate players position in the line-up by offensive output it would probably be appropriate to use the even strength numbers. Given that power play deployment often doesn’t match the regular line-up it seems that adding those numbers just muddies the water. Note that using the ES numbers probably improves the Canucks rankings because their power play was so bad.

    If you use the ES ranking then the Canucks had six third line players (Burrows, Dorsett, Vrbata, Virtanen, Etem and McCann) and two that were just outside (Cracknell, Vey). It seems that the criticism of the Canucks having three third lines was at least somewhat apt.

    Again using the ES ranking, Horvat gets rated as a second line center. If you project Sutter’s production across a full 82 game schedule he also would get rated as a second line center. Sutter has hit the ES mark for second line center multiple times in his career. So saying, “the Canucks do not have a centre that has produced at a second-line rate at any point in their career” slightly overstates the matter.

    Baertschi’s 28 points (21 ES) put him pretty clearly in your ranges for a second line LW. I’m not sure why the article text wants to rank him as “able to produce offence at a high-end rate for a third line winger”. I’ll be generous and assume that this was an error introduced in editing.

    So it would appear that by offensive output the Canucks have a solid first line (Sedin/Sedin/Eriksson) and a second line with low-end first line potential (Baertschi/Horvat/Hansen). The third line should be anchored by a second line quality center (Sutter), options on the right (Rodin/Virtanen/Etem) and question marks on the left (does Burrows have one more year in him? will Rodin play left wing? can Gaunce move into 3rd line LW?) Fourth line is probably Granlund/Dorsett and a warm body on the left.

    As the article says, lots of options and no clear answers at this point.

  • detox

    If we can generate more offense from our backend, we’ll be ok. We’re relying on Hutton to take the next step and Edler to elevate his offense, that’s why we brought in Gudbranson, cuz he can hold the fort while the other dman pinches.

    I think Boeser might be playing one more year in juniors and Juolevi needs more physical strength, so we’re at least 1-2yrs away from having those guys in the lineup.

  • mgg

    The canucks do have pieces in their line up for a competent “2nd line” its just the matter of fact if WD executes it or not. I think that the canucks lineup should be as follows

    sedin sedin hansen
    gaunce sutter eriksonn
    baer horvat rodin
    etem grandlund dorsett

    edler tanev
    hutton gudbranson
    sbisa tryamkin
    larsen

    Markstrom
    Miller

    Now i know this artricle pertains to just the 2nd line but i felt by placing the entire lineup i can better justify my placements. By having sutter and erikson together rather than erikison with the sedin better utilises his ability in amore defensive along with offensive role. Also hansen found his calling with the sedins and he averages 5th best 5v5 goals per 60 mins in the league. I think placing bo with sven on the 3rd line eases pressure of him and allows him to go out and play any role. Also this could mean he could play more powerplay and get more offensive starts.

    • Dirty30

      Slight changes

      Sedin Sedin Hansen

      Baer Bo Erickson

      Rodin Sutter Virtanen/Burrows

      Etem Granlund Gaunce/Dorsett

      Edler/Tanev

      Gunbranson/Larsson

      Hutton/Tryamkin/Sbisa

      Markstrom Miller

      There is a possibility that Virtanen starts in Utica until they know what they have in Rodin. It might be that Virtanen beats out Gaunce. Burrows and Dorsett will likely swap in and out depending on play and the opposition.

  • Mac_robson

    Sutter did pretty good on the wing so could either trade for a center or have one of the Utica guys move up.
    Nuck Nation your lines look good but would like to see Burrows in the lineup as he does so well on the penalty kill.
    I have a feeling one of the top two defencemen will be traded for that winger Benning is wanting. I hope that they stay below the salary cap so if an oppertunity came up we would easily have the room to make that trade as other teams will be looking to make moves based on their money situation.

  • Mac_robson

    It is pretty obvious hockey warrier is an Oilers fan, which I think could be pretty frustrating to have to keep saying over and over just wait until we have finished our rebuild, much like the Leafs. I cannot understand why so many people are saying that the leafs have done the right thing and are doing a proper rebuild. Do people not remember that the leafs were in the same place the last few years, not in the playoffs and bad. They were hoping to sign a super star to take them out of the basement, but that didn’t work out, now what is the plan to be terrible again. Only thing that changed was they told their fans it was going to be bad for awhile,nothing changed they have been bad for quite awhile now be ready for more bad.They didn’t blow up the team they just moved out bad pieces for and replaced them with the same calliber, bad pieces. So leafs are in the same position couple prospects nothing else.
    Oilers will need to score a lot of goals, which they will with their lineup or at least should but will have to win 7-6 as their defence is no better than last year.
    So be ready for more from hockey warrier as he will be even more frustrated and will lash out. He may not be very complimentary of Canucks but it has been awhile since his team has been higher than Canucks in standings heis just frustrated.

  • detox

    When you say Horvat isn’t there now, I’d agree, his defensive play isn’t where Sutter is at.

    But offensively, I think Bo has shown more creativity than Sutter. and the role Bo was pushed into last season was a lot for a second year pro who struggled to start the season and then had a solid second half.

    When it comes to numbering lines, you can number a Sven- Bo-_____ line as the 3rd line, but I would expect more offensive production from them, in less toi than a ___(Burrows) -Sutter- Hansen line.

    If you are worried about Bo’s defense not being there, give him some help on the other wing with a Hansen or Sutter.

    Bo had a terrible +/- last season, -30 to end the season, and I think he was -30 at the midpoint so really it was a terrible start and he was even for the second half. I think his overall game is getting better.

    Anyway, looking forward to training camp to see if Bo earns the job.