Photo Credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images

Is Darren Archibald A Viable NHL Option?

The promotion of Travis Green as the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks is sure to change a few things about the way the Canucks play next season. Green’s style is noticeably distinct from his predecessor’s: he demands a lot from his players, be they rookies or veterans, and in return, those that earn his favour are willing to run through the end boards for him.

Green prefers his teams to play with speed, and to attack, but he also likes them to play with some grit. There aren’t a whole lot of players on the team that fit that bill right now, and Green certainly won’t be forcing unfit options into the lineup just to meet a grit quotient. For some players that are teetering on the edge however, playing to Green’s preferences may be a underrated advantage.

PTO players Scottie Upshall and Ryan White checked some of those boxes, but the former is heading back to the St. Louis Blues and the latter is currently out with a concussion. Besides that, after spending four seasons as the coach of the Utica Comets, Green may want to bring someone in with whom he is more familiar. That could be Jake Virtanen, who’s made a very strong case, but it could also be the only player left in training camp on an AHL deal: Darren Archibald.

Archibald already has a storied history with the Canucks. He was signed as a CHL free agent by Mike Gillis back in December of 2010, playing out his Entry Level deal between the OHL, ECHL and AHL. Re-signed to a two-way deal prior to the 2013-14 season, he got a cup of coffee in the NHL that year, spending 16 games with the John Tortorella coached Canucks. The team re-upped him for the 2014-15, but he hasn’t seen another game of regular season NHL action. Instead, he’s stayed within the Comets organization, signing AHL contracts and splitting time between Utica and Kalamazoo of the ECHL.

Source: HockeyDB

Reliably a 25-point pace guy at the minor league level, Archibald’s offence exploded last season, as he led the Comets in both goals (23) and points (47). He edged out Curtis Valk and Alex Grenier only narrowly, but had a markedly lower estimated average 5-on-5 ice time than the other two did, and considerably less power play time, though he did establish himself on the top unit in the second half of the season.

Archibald’s average ice time measured a little lower because Travis Green deployed him as a jack-of-all-trades. He got plenty of time on Utica’s top line, but also spent many games on the second, third, or fourth lines, depending on how healthy the roster was, and how well everyone else was playing. He made appearances with everyone from Cole Cassels to Wacey Hamilton to Phil DeSimone, though unsurprisingly it was with Valk and Grenier (the two players he ended up sharing the ice the most with) that he had the most success. The trio were, at one point, the AHL’s hottest line.

Finishing first in scoring on an admittedly inept offensive team is nice, but it’s hardly an indication on its own that Archibald can survive at the NHL level. Don’t forget though, as mentioned earlier, that he’s already been there before. His three points in 16 games in 2013-14 won’t jump off the page, but they certainly get better with the context of deployment.

Tortorella had a particular affinity for riding his stars and using his role players very sparingly. Archibald averaged 7:32 that season at 5-on-5, firmly in fourth line territory. Archibald’s three points came at a rate of 1.49 points per hour, just below Daniel Sedin, and above the likes of Ryan Kesler, David Booth, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Burrows. Had Archibald scored at that rate last season, he’d have been just shy of Henrik, and above Daniel, Markus Granlund, and even Brock Boeser.

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Archibald’s Corsi-for percentage of 47.5% isn’t great either, but it is fairly standard for a fourth line player. It’s also better than the vast majority of bottom six players that the Canucks have acquired and slotted in since the last time Archibald played in the NHL, including Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett, Brandon McMillan, Adam Cracknell, Emerson Etem, Brandon Prust, Michael Chaput, Jayson Megna, Griffen Molino, Drew Shore, and Joseph Cramarossa. It’s also better than many of the Canucks’ middle or top six players in that time frame, including the likes of Bo Horvat, Brandon Sutter, and Sven Baertschi. Again, a sub-50% shot share isn’t ideal, but the Canucks could, and have been doing worse.

Archibald achieved these stats in just 120 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time at the NHL level, so there are some sample size warnings. His numbers could be worse, but they could just as easily be better. Over the course of four preseason games with Vancouver so far in 2017, he’s sporting a Corsi-for percentage of 56.5%, which is third among Canuck forwards with at least 10 5-on-5 minutes. It’s not likely that he’d continue at anywhere near that rate, but it is a testament to how strong a showing he’s had so far.

Last night he also showed that he can put the puck past an NHL goaltender. Well, past Mike Smith at least.

Archibald would be able to do the job that Derek Dorsett has supposedly been doing over the past few years. He can play with pace, he can kill penalties, and he can contribute a little bit of offence here and there. Perhaps more significantly, he hits opponents like an 18-wheeler.

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Hits are an odd statistic, and the way they are counted rarely captures their value. Dorsett, for example, has thrown 328 hits as a Canuck, but far too few of them are actually useful. Finishing checks, as much as coaches love it, do precious little to help a team either score or not get scored on – which are the two most important aspects of hockey. Taking oneself out of position to land a meaningless hit on a player that has already passed the puck away adds nothing, and those are the types of hits we see too often from Dorsett. Not to mention his tendency to get into scuffles behind the play when the puck is being moved up ice.

When someone hits the way Archibald does though, there’s a tangible benefit. First, he gets to players faster, increasing the likelihood of the hit forcing a turnover. Second, he doesn’t rub his targets out against the boards, he obliterates them (cleanly, I might add), effectively taking opponents out of the play, or at least giving them something to think about the next time the puck in on their stick and Archibald is on the ice.

He’d also be able to do it for considerably cheaper. His last two NHL contracts were one-year pacts worth $660,000 and $600,000. Contrast that with the $2.65 million that Dorsett is making, and it seems like a no brainer. Unfortunately, the Canucks are saddled with Dorsett and his cap hit for two more seasons, meaning that they can’t truly benefit financially from swapping the two. Even if they buried Dorsett in the minors, they’d only save a couple hundred thousand.

With the injury to Brendan Gaunce, the demotion of Reid Boucher, and the uninspiring performances of a post-major-surgery Dorsett, I think that there’s some room here for Archibald to make a little noise. At 27-years of age, he’s far removed from prospect territory and I doubt they’d have to worry about the effect a few healthy scratches will have on him, making him an ideal extra forward. Archibald may have taken an unorthodox path to get here, but I do believe that he could indeed be a viable option on the NHL squad this season.

All NHL statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

  • apr

    If it were down to Dorsett and Archibald, I would take Archibald. I think he has better offensive upside, perhaps be a net presence on the PP. Most importantly, I see him pummelling pukes like Kadri who are just waiting for a Sedin to be in a vulnerable position to injure.

  • valleycanuck

    I wonder if Tortorella’s bromance with Dorsett could help facilitate a trade to Columbus. Dorsett + for Anderson would open up a spot on the wing. Great points on Archibald in this article too. Familiarity with Green and his system, a skill set suited to a 4th line role and affordability should go a long way for him.

    • Neil B

      Don’t want Anderson back in that trade. He’d just take ice time away from Arch and/or Jake. Take a mid-round pick (a 4th?) for him, to get the roster spot. That’s enough in return.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    I mean, there’s a bit of a small sample size factor in evaluating Archibald’s NHL numbers. If Kellan Lain’s fighting frequency had continued the way it did for his first one, he’d be getting in 1800 fights/60 minutes.

    However, it’s hard not to pull for Archibald, he’s the epitome of the hard-working good soldier for the team. I don’t know if I want to see him start the year with the team, but definitely do want to see him in the NHL again.

  • TD

    Hitting has more of an effect than JD considers. They are more like body blows in a boxing match. They may not have an initial effect, but over the course of a game they can wear down an opponent and cause mistakes or rushed plays. Boxers don’t throw body blows for an immediate knockout, but rather to wear the opponent for the later rounds.

    • Rodeobill

      Not only that but when the tone of the game changes in that direction, it divides the attention and focus of the other team’s players (who at the time might be “in the zone” or carrying the momentum) from passing and scoring to self preservation. That’s the value of a good checking line, they might not always have great corsi, but if they are effective, should at least take the wind out of the other team’s sails.

      • kablebike

        Amen TD and Rodeobill! Players play larger and bolder when they play without fear of being physically punished. That is why a couple of solid hitters on a team are gold. It prevents fancy dancing on the ice. It’s a small part of the reason why it is difficult to win the Cup from the Western division. Heavy hitting and the physical toll from it combined with long travel and time zone changes are a killer. The Eastern teams barely moves a timezone and often are riding the bus an hour or two and back in their own beds the same night. A Western team that gets pummeled a round or two by hard or heavy collisions pays for it later.

        • truthseeker

          Yeah but the canucks don’t have the luxury on the top lines to carry guys on the lower lines who can only hit and can’t put the puck in the net with some frequency.

          If the choice is a “grit line” that doesn’t produce or a fourth line that can contribute offensively with some regularity, the canucks have to choose the scoring. And then keep around even more scoring potential in Utica or as the scratches for when the injuries occur.

          Ideally you’d like to have lines with guys like Jake, who can do a little of both.

  • Bert Diesel

    I’m all for demoting Dorsett in favor of Archibald. Dorsett’s contract means there is almost zero chance he gets picked up on waivers. Good asset management to send him down rather than risk losing Rodin. I don’t s see this team having a traditional fourth line. More like 4 2nd/3rd lines. A defensive line centered by Sutter with Granlund or Eriksonn and a little sandpaper. A more offensive line with Gagner and Virtanen who looked like they had instant chemistry last night. The Sedin’s who should have their ice time limited at this stage, and a top line with Horvat.
    Baertchsi Horvat Boeser
    Sedin Sedin Errikson/Granlund
    Virtanen Gagner Vanek
    Archibald/Rodin Sutter Granlund/ Erikson
    In Utica: Goldobin, Dorsett, Megna, Chaput

    • Doodly Doot

      Yes! Well said Bert. Rodin is way too valuable to risk losing. Dorsett is not. The fact that asset management is complex and challenging speaks to the emergence of a new level of vitality for the organization. We now have functional NHL call-ups in Utica. Who’d a thunk?

  • UKCanuck

    I know you guys think you know better but finishing checks might lead to a player rushing his pass next time round. It also makes your team hard to play against and physically wears a team down.

    • truthseeker

      yes, that’s true….but not at the expense of scoring. The canucks don’t have the top line production to justify wasting roster spots on the lower lines for guys who can’t score.

      • Cageyvet

        Maybe……I’m hearing truth on both sides of this discussion. I’m in favour of a scoring 4th line if you don’t have the horses to add some actual toughness into the mix. I don’t want a 4th bereft of talent altogether, but to grab a name out of a hat, I’d be OK with Archibald’s game and 6 goals versus Burmistrov at maybe 10?

        There is value in the intimidation factor and how much scoring do you really think this team will get on their 4th? If Jake or any of the others who might start there have any true offensive success, up the lineup they go. This isn’t exactly the Oilers of the 80’s, passing the many offensive turtles in this squad is eminently achievable.

        • truthseeker

          They need to get as much as they can. Because the top lines aren’t going to be lighting it up. I want 15 to 20 goal scorers on each line. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable if you balance playing time with the best offensive players you have up and down the line up. This team needs to try and beat other team’s 3rd and 4th lines with offense…because our top lines are not going to out produce almost any of the other teams in the league.

  • SJ

    I thought I read somewhere in an interview with Archibald that he struggled through some injuries following the 2013-14 season. Definitely would explain why he didn’t progress much until this last season, and why he’s never stood out at a Canucks camp.

  • Gregthehockeynut

    Archibald has been a durable player for most of his career, for a travel weary west coast team that’s a plus. A fourth line of Archibald-Gaunce-Virtanen deployed at times during the long season would be intriguing.

  • sloth

    I don’t think there’s any question Archibald offers a more dynamic option in the bottom 6 than Dorsett, especially to start this season, as he’s coming off a career year in the AHL and a healthy off-season, and Dorsett is coming off a potential career-ending injury and major surgery. But it really seems like Archibald is just bigger and faster and younger anyways, with better hands and more effective “grit,” has clearly shown ability to play multiple roles in the AHL, and performed decently in his brief time at the NHL level. It will be very interesting to see how management deal with some of these tough decisions, because as much as any team talks about meritocracy, we all know that contracts and waivers and egos and reputations play into these things.

    I also really don’t want to see Dorsett back in the hospital 10 games into the season, which I think is a very distinct likelihood given his temperament and playing style in the intensity and chaos of the early-season NHL. Put him in the AHL and see if he can play middle-6 minutes against journeymen and youngsters before sending him out to toil against the Ducks or Kings elite goons. But he’s a 30-year-old career grinder, a “heart-and-soul guy” coming off spinal surgery – he might be a better asset to the club and have a longer career for himself if he stays in the AHL for good.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    You gotta send Archibald down. I know he is not in prospect territory, but he is far more valuable in Utica than in Vancouver. Give him ice time and call him up when Dorsett inevitably gets injured. Dorsett is a better 13th forward.

    Rodin will likely clear waivers, and if he doesn’t then good for him. I hate the asset management line, which equates players to cattle. These are humans who should be given every chance to play where they belong. If they can’t make the roster, then waivers is a fair way to ensure they get a chance. While I swore that I would not mention Frank Corrado again, he is the poster child for why a strict asset management approach is problematic when it comes to the player.

    • Bert Diesel

      Yes, but if one player is not playing as well as another (Archie vs. Virtanen), why not send down the more expensive option. It’s both good asset management and sends the right message to players at all levels of the organization. If a guy on an AHL contract can outplay an overpaid veteran (who will easily clear waivers) then why not reward him and show all the guys in the minors that the big club isn’t blinded by bias towards their signings/trades/draft picks.

        • Billy Pilgrim

          All things being equal, you keep the overpaid veteran if you don’t have salary cap problems. Sending him down creates other problems when it comes to asset management — like your team is seen as not being player friendly. As a result, you end up on no-trade lists and can’t get free agents. I know if does not fit the analytics, but if he is good in the dressing room (as we keep hearing) that adds value. The coaches want guys like Dorsett. Archibald is likely a career 4th liner at best. No need to rock the boat on his behalf.

  • wojohowitz

    Don`t discount Dorsett. He brings attitude. Whenever there is a scrum Dorsett is usually in middle of it. His message is; You mess with my team mates you mess with me. Sometime this season we might see Dorsett, Archibald, LaBate and Pedan in the line up especially against teams like Calgary. Watch for players like Granlund or Boeser to get mugged and who steps in. Talent wins but grit always shows up.

    • Rodeobill

      He definitely is a firey guy, he always has that look in his eyes like he’s on the edge of a beserker rage. I would just really hate for him to be one of those sad sports stories where injuries really bugger him up. Seems like the kind of guy who will never quit even when he should. I’n no doctor, but spine and neck stuff doesn’t sound like something to muck about with for someone who plays any hockey, never mind his style of it.

    • Pedan and Archibald are also like that, and given their size, they’re considerably more threatening. I know Dorsett will fight against any weight class and he’s got a mean case of crazy eyes, but don’t discount Pedan’s crazy eyes either! They’re truly disconcerting.

  • Ronning4ever

    I’ve been wondering if they’ve left him on so long purely as a favour to showcase him for another team. Upshall joined the Nucks to showcase himself. If Green wanted to give him the best chance you leave him on until the last possible moment with the hope some team picks him up.

    At least I hope for this. It would not burn a contract on this guy.

  • Ronning4ever

    “Archibald’s Corsi-for percentage of 47.5% isn’t great either, but it is fairly standard for a fourth line player. It’s also better than the vast majority of bottom six players that the Canucks have acquired and slotted in since the last time Archibald played in the NHL, including Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett…”

    Dorsett lead the entire team last year in Corsi and Fenwick.

    • Derek Dorsett only played 14 games last year. If we being straight, Alex Grenier and Borna Rendulic actually had better Corsi and Fenwick numbers in even tinier samples. If we filter for players that have played 10 or more games, then you’d be right.

      However, over the course of three seasons (164 games) with the Canucks, Derek Dorsett has a CF% of 45.1, which means that I am also right. 🙂

  • Jamie E

    Why do I think that if this were any other NHL organization, Dorsett would be consigned to “LITR” forever to get his cap off the books and make way for younger, more effective players? Why aren’t we doing that?

  • Holly Wood

    Clearly, you folks underestimate what 6’3″ crusher brings to your lineup or have never played hockey above beer league. Dorset comes in after the whistle to deal with players like Archibald who has laid out a teammate. Archibald can provide both roles, keep Arch waive Dorsett.