The offseason signings of Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller have put Brendan Gaunce firmly behind the eight ball as it pertains to an NHL roster spot.
Others have already highlighted how these additions exacerbated a roster logjam and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gaunce as one of the first casualties of the numbers game. The outlook is especially grave for the 24-year-old when considering the redundancy of the skillset that he and the offseason acquisitions share.
Regardless, let’s take a look at the value Gaunce provided this season and whether there’s still room for him on an NHL roster.
Both to the naked eye and basic counting stats, it’s evident that Gaunce has very limited offensive upside. In fact, his measly four goals and six points were enough to set a career-high.
Ultimately, this isn’t a huge deal as Gaunce isn’t relied upon to score goals, but rather to use his defensive chops to drive a fourth-line that keeps its head above the water by shot and goal differentials alike.
In 2016-17, he accomplished that goal with flying colours on a line with Michael Chaput and Jack Skille, but this season the success didn’t quite carry over.
The difference this year was the lack of offence the Canucks produced with Gaunce on the ice.
It may come as a surprise, but in 2016-17 Gaunce posted the third and seventh best on-ice rates among Canucks’ forwards for shots and scoring chances generated respectively.
Gaunce’s offensive shortcomings reflected more transparently this season, where the team struggled to create meaningful scoring chances.
What remained constant year over year was the versatile forward’s sterling defensive play. Here, his second-best goals against rate would have surely been influenced by the .942 on-ice five-on-five save percentage he was blessed with, though there’s ample evidence to suggest he performed decent defensively nevertheless.
Gaunce finished among the top-6 Canucks’ forwards for suppressing unblocked shot attempts(FA/60), scoring chances(SCA/60) and expected goals(xGA/60) while deployed. Figures of this calibre would normally imply a job well done for most players, but it’s not enough to make up for the offensive price the team pays with Gaunce on the ice.
It’s an assertion that holds up under further scrutiny as well, as he was one of a handful of the team’s players to own a sub 45% expected goals share.
Unfortunately, there are too many variables at play to pinpoint the exact cause of Gaunce’s mediocrity this season. Most likely it’s a combination of adjusting to new linemates, coaches and systems that conspired to undermine his play. Couple those factors with tough injury luck and no apparent signs of an offensive breakout and it’s no wonder that the Canucks are fine with the possibility of moving on from the former first-round pick.
Gaunce’s positional utility and sound play off the puck should give him some attraction as a depth piece, but with the Canucks facing a roster crunch it doesn’t look likely he’ll get another opportunity to prove that in Vancouver.