Photo Credit: Jake Roth - USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year in Review: Luca Sbisa

The hope was that we could enter this season and not have to entertain the notion of Luca Sbisa as a top four defenceman.

With the influx of young defensive talent and the reality that Sbisa had done nothing in the previous two seasons to indicate he was capable of filling that role, that only seemed sensible. If that wasn’t enough, Sbisa’s usage (or lack thereof) on Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey as a seventh defenceman should’ve driven the message home.

Yet here we are recounting another of his seasons as a Canuck, and his role only seems larger than when we last met.

While I’d like to be able to tell you that Sbisa got to that point with a significant step forward in his development — the type that would reward the Canucks’ for their boundless faith in the player — that really isn’t the case. Injuries played a role in Sbisa reentrance into the Canucks’ top four and bad habits kept him there with an unshakeable conviction.

By season’s end, Ryan Miller was the only Canuck to play more even strength minutes than Sbisa’s 1334. The next closest Canucks skater was Alex Edler at 1258 minutes of even strength ice-time.

In the Canucks’ defense, it’s entirely possible that they were fooled, as so many of us were, by Sbisa’s newfound semi-competence that he flashed as a third pair defenceman to begin the season. Playing just over 14-minutes a night at even strength, Sbisa led the team’s blue line in scoring and was the best Canucks regular at control the team’s run of expected goals by November’s end.

Even I bought in. Here’s a clip from an article I wrote December 3rd about Sbisa’s improved play this season:

Sbisa’s playing the best hockey of his career, every bit invigorated by the offensive freedoms of a newly minted system and supported by the defensive patience their coaches preach.

From the time I wrote that article to the end of the season, Sbisa’s ratio of expected goals controlled at even strength shrivelled to a horrific 42.26%. The Canucks didn’t fare any better at controlling shot attempts at even strength with Sbisa on the ice either, owning a ratio of shot attempts just barely over 43%.

I tend to think that if there’s a Mendoza line of base competency in any underlying shot-based metric, whether it takes into account shot quality or not, it’s probably somewhere around the 45% line. And that’s generous. Sbisa is significantly below in the two chief predictive metrics at our disposal.

It’s not something you can write off based on his defensive partners, either. This shouldn’t come as any surprise given Sbisa’s rise to the top of the pecking order, but he was playing with the best that the Canucks had to offer defensively, such as they are. And each of those defencemen fared considerably better without Sbisa compared to with him.

The aggregate impact Sbisa had on his teammate’s ability to control shot attempts at even strength is a -3.3% — the lowest mark among regular Canucks defencemen.

If this all feels familiar, there’s a good reason for that. The Sbisa I’m describing to you now is more or less the same one that you suffered through three seasons ago in his first campaign as a Canuck. He is what he is, and that’s a semi-competent third pair defenceman with a degree of utility based on his ability to play as poorly on his off-side as his preferred side. Put another way: the perfect seventh defenceman.

If there’s any consolation, it’s that the Canucks won’t be able to extend Sbisa far beyond his ability for a fourth season. Barring any significant changes to the Canucks’ blue line, he’s the odd man out for the Expansion Draft and more likely than not headed to the Vegas Golden Knights with one year and $3.6-million in tow.

  • Bud Poile

    Sbisa played in all 82 games,the only Canuck d-man to do so.
    He also contributed a career high 13 points.
    With Hutton’s +/- of -22,Edler’s -20 and Stetcher’ -16 the -1 that Sbisa finished with was exceptional in comparison.

      • Killer Marmot

        This would be reassuring if plus/mins was a reliable stat for player evaluation. Which it’s not.

        There isn’t any statistic that is perfectly reliable. Each one tells only a part of the story.

        The +/- isn’t a perfect measure of a player, but it’s not useless either.

        • TD

          I agree KM, over a short sample size, +/- can be affected by poor play by teammates and other factors, but over a full season it can be telling. At it’s base level it records how many times the team were scored against compared to how many times the team scored while the player was on the ice. His Corsi numbers suck, demonstrating that the Canucks do not control the play when Spisa is on the ice. But Corsi is a predictive tool allowing a look at what should happen. If you have the puck more, you should score more. Over 82 games, his +/- showed that while they didn’t control the play, the puck didn’t end up in their net because of it. You can’t blame deployment either, because he played top 4 minutes against the other team’s best players. I’m not a fan of +/- over a small sample size, and it doesn’t count for deployment, but over 82 games knowing he played more minutes than anyone other than Miller, Spisa was only -1 on a team that posted an -61 goal differential (although poor special teams counts for part of that horrific goal differential).

          I can buy into the advanced stats to some degree, but I would like JD or one of the others to explain this. All stats are flawed in some way. Advanced stats are supposed to predict future success. But over the course of 82 games you can see the success, or lack thereof. The advanced stats predicted Spisa goal differential should be huge, worst on the team. But his actual goal differential was the best of any Canucks defence man. Why?

          Could this have something to do with those intangibles that are supposed to mean nothing. Does Spisa’s lack of talent cause the Canucks to be stuck in his own end, but he clears the front of the net well so Miller isn’t screened and there are no high quality second chances? I don’t know the answer and the eye test doesn’t favour Spisa in a huge way either. But why was his actual 5v5 goal differential the best of any defender?

        • tyhee

          Nitpicking, I know, but the NHL wasn’t keeping +/- 75 years ago.

          Still, it’s use for 50 years doesn’t make it a reliable nor meaningful stat. Marty McSorley went from first in the NHL in 1990-91 with +48 to 35th ON HIS OWN TEAM (and it was the same team as the previous season) in 1991-92 with -13. He wasn’t that he was THAT much better one season over the next.

          +/- isn’t completely meaningless, but it isn’t a very good stat for determining a player’s usefulness over a single season.

    • Pat Quinn Way

      “All that matters is the playoffs” – Bud the Dud

      Well, under 3 years of Benning it’s a one and done (humiliated by Calgary0 – NO playoffs – NO playoffs

      Overpaid slugs like Sbisa are the main reason why… meanwhile, Kesler is still a Selke and Cup contending beast.

      Wake up fool because ‘you’ clearly don’t want playoff hockey or a Stanley Cup in Vancouver, do you!

        • Pat Quinn Way

          All that matters is the playoffs” – Bud the Dud

          Let’s see Dud – Kesler – Selke and playoff beast and Bonino – playoff beast and cup winner for Sbisa, McCann, Gudbranson, Sutter and Tryamkin… ALL Benning busts/

          That’s not a ‘rebuild ffs, that’s a ruination of epic proportions. Wake up troll!


      • LTFan

        Whether you agree with someone or not – you add little to the discussion by a put down of the other person’s opinion including his/her moniker. You will receive greater respect by sticking to commenting on the blog.

  • Locust

    “He is what he is, and that’s a semi-competent third pair defenceman with a degree of utility based on his ability to play as poorly on his off-side as his preferred side. Put another way: the perfect seventh defenceman.”

    Classless. So many ways to say something and you choose the ‘douche’ way.

    Congrats JD. You must be awesome at dinner table conversation……

    • Canuck4Life20

      Yes if only everyone could come up with such brilliance like your analogy comparing Benning to a deadbeat dad. Have you ever contributed anything of substance to this forum?

  • Fred-65

    It’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater when. The question you must ask before dumping Sbisa ( no favourite of mine ) is what do you replace him with. I question if Juolevi joins the roster next season. You loose Tryamkin to the KHL and some want to trade Tanev … where are all the improvements coming from ? I assume most want a better team next season, more entertaining, less embarrassing and yet apparently that is to be achieved by throwing out half the defense. So before any crucifixions let’s assess what you’re left with

  • Ronning4ever

    Here’s the only problem I have with any evaluation of the Canucks D-core: who else does the team have and who can they realistically get? D men seem like prized possessions in the NHL and it’s not like the Canucks have riches on the back end or a host of solid trade options. Gudbranson is the market price for a young dman, like it or not.

    Sbisa is a terrible option on the back end, but importantly he’s also one of the ONLY options for this team that got hammered by injuries. You can argue that Subban, Pedan, Billins or McEneny would be better options – but by how much? Not enough for management by the looks of things.

    I didn’t like the Sbisa signing when they did it, but when I saw how difficult it is to get a defenceman in the league and how weak the team is at the position all around, I didn’t mind it as much. If the team gets to keep Gaunce as a result, I’ll actually probably think it was a good move long term…unless someone knows of another option they passed up.

  • Holly Wood

    OK, I am fairly new on here so can somebody help me out with this. Who is JD Burke and what are his or her credentials? If some one is making cuts around here that is where I would start. JD Burke writes a lot of garbage as far as I can tell

    • Bud Poile

      JD is the managing editor of CA.
      For the most part he’s a solid contributor.
      When he is ranting on about Sutter and Gudbranson insinuating Benning is a disaster is when I part ways.
      Sbisa has been another JD /Benning staple over the last few years but as Ronning4ever illustrates,Benning has taken gambles on former first-round d-men in Sbisa and Guddy.
      NHL d men are coveted and as Benning played 610 games as an NHL defender he isn’t shooting in the dark like,say,certain bloggers are.

      • Holly Wood

        Thanks Bud. I was thinking some of his stuff is a little over the top. Personally, I think Sutter is over rated and some people can’t get past his surname. He can skate and shoot but can’t think the game at the NHL level. Gudbranson’s injury didn’t give us a long enough look, but I think he will be solid when healthy. He won’t be a point producer and will have bad Corsi stats but will be hard to play against and you have to have that on a roster. Lack of depth and injuries to those higher on the depth chart forced Sbisa higher up than he can handle, but I guess he is a little expensive for a 6/7.

      • TheRealPB

        Can you honestly say, though, that Sbisa passes even the eye test? I think this is a completely fair article. I often find CA to be too full of snark and nitpicking on marginal decisions or ones clearly meant to stock the AHL team or whatever, but in the case of Sbisa he has at best moved from a 7/8 to a 5/6 d. I don’t really mind the contract in the sense that there wasn’t anyone else at the time but I think there are several players I’d rather see them try out at this point (Pedan mostly and definitely Juolevi) than another go-round of Sbisa. At this point we know what he is — I am still hoping that Gudbranson has more than he has showed at this point. Getting mad at JD for this article is as reflexive as he (and others) rehashing some of the earlier little moves.

        • truthseeker

          Give him a little credit. He cut down the terrible giveaways by quite a bit. And while the team was terrible this year I believe the were better than last year with the “eye test”. This applies to the whole team but in particular the D over all and also Sbisa: There were way less “fire drills” in their own end this year. Sbisa in particular was much more poised. It was very noticeable in my opinion.

          Sure…I don’t want a team where Sbisa is in my top 4. But give the kid some time. It’s really only his 3rd full NHL year. If we lose him we lose him. I won’t be upset. But if he somehow manages to stay, I think he can keep making progress.

  • Double U Tee Eff

    Spisa was better than a lot of the underperfoming veterans. He was just one of a cast of many in a disaster vet year. Having said that i think (believe it or not) was his best season as a canuck.

    • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

      Being better than the flaming pile of ___ he’s been for a couple years isn’t saying much. He went from complete liability is just regular bad 3rd pairing guy getting paid too much without toughness or offensive pressure. Playing a full season may be nice, but if he’s not doing much of anything (like Bartkowski) what’s the point?

  • krutov

    sbisa is an honest, likable, hardworking mobile dman who can chew up minutes and play hard.

    we will miss him badly when he’s gone, and andre pedan is trying to fill his role.


  • RoCkFaThEr

    Being a good solid dependable defenceman is his upside.
    Giving up on him or even Sutter at this point is saddening considering both of said players deployment of late.
    My opinion is to wait and see how TG deploys them and then let the sky fall down.
    Big solid hard-hitting defenseman and solid third line Center Faceoff specialists don’t grow on trees.
    Remember…You reap what you sow

  • Dirty30

    All things considered, it seemed the worse this team got the better Sbisa got. He did cut down on errors but when he made them they were typically spectacular. He is one of the few D who will throw hits and fight even if it’s like a pizza delivery driver.

    Build a team around him? Yeah, no thanks. But given the choice between losing him and losing Sutter I’d throw the latter under the bus to Vegas any day.