Photo Credit: Sergei Belski – USA TODAY Sports
The Vancouver Canucks are getting healthier, and as players return to the lineup, it comes at the expense of teammates who’ve stepped up in their stead. Today that came to a head, as the Canucks were forced to reassign Brendan Gaunce to the Utica Comets to bring their roster to the 23 man limit.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 6, 2017
In this case, specifically, it’s Ben Hutton’s return that’s forced their hand. Hutton’s returning to the Canucks lineup after suffering a hand injury blocking a shot in a January 6th game against the Calgary Flames.
Before we dive into the specifics of this decision, we should note Ryan Biech predicted a roster predicament of this sort hours before it developed. Therein, he indicated the Canucks might choose Gaunce for demotion to the Utica Comets if for no other reason than he doesn’t require waivers.
Lastly, that fourth line isn’t going to get broken up UNLESS the Canucks want to avoid waiving anyone and send Gaunce down until someone gets injured. Which is almost inevitable.
If Biech sounds concerned about the Canucks desire to break up the fourth line, that’s entirely reasonable. They have the single highest Corsi For% among Canucks lines, with Vancouver controlling a gaudy 58% of shot attempts when Gaunce is playing with Jack Skille and Michael Chaput. To suggest they’re one of, if not the best fourth line in the NHL isn’t a stretch — no matter how unlikely it may seem.
The further one dives, the clearer it becomes who’s driving that line’s success. Gaunce currently leads the Canucks by CF%Rel. Tm with a 7.2% impact on his linemates’ ability to control shot attempts at even strength. By raw Corsi For%, Gaunce’s 52.3% is bested only by Derek Dorsett’s 53.3% mark in 13 games.
Of course, one can’t broach Gaunce’s season without invoking the ugly doughnut in the goals column. As Canucks Army’s own Jeff Paterson pointed out, Gaunce is one of three forwards this season to register 400+ minutes and leave goalless.
When Gaunce is playing on the Canucks fourth line, though, they’re garnering a 55% expected goals ratio. Which is to say, while not a lot is happening, the majority of it should be happening in the Canucks favour. Whether Gaunce is scoring the goals himself or not, he’s putting in the work to create an environment where his team should control desirable goal results at even strength.
The Canucks are worse off for this decision, if only so slightly. And for a team that will need everything to go their way down the home stretch for a playoff push, losing value on the margins like they so willingly did with this decision matters.