Photo Credit: @AcctBrnr on Twitter

A Look at How Canucks Defenders Have Fared at Moving the Puck

Who among us does not love to post? The libidinal thrill of thoughtless tweeting calls to the extremely online like a siren’s song. Many of us have been driven more than a little insane in the pursuit of likes and retweets, so with that in mind, it is perhaps unfair to judge those of us who get a little carried away.

Still, this was something else:


It’s difficult to ascertain to what degree this sentiment is shared among Canucks fans, but it’s still worth exploring how the Canucks defence has fared in the puck-moving department.

“Puck moving” is a nebulous term at best, and could refer to a few different elements that make up a defender’s game.

One is shot contributions. A player register a shot contribution by either a) taking a shot, or b) making a pass that leads to a shot, also known as a shot assist. Put simply, a player’s shot contributions are the sum total of their shots and shot assists. They aren’t the best measure of puck movement by any means, but they do give us an idea of which defenders are contributing to their team’s offence.

Perhaps even more important are controlled zone entries and exits. The ability to exit the defensive zone or enter the offensive zone with control of the puck is an important element of a team’s offensive and defensive play. Shots generated off of a controlled entry are more likely to result in a scoring chance. By the same token, a defenseman’s primary role is to move the puck out of danger and activate a team’s breakout, both of which are most easily attained by exiting the defensive zone with control. Most importantly for this exercise, a player’s controlled exit and entry percentages are indicative of their propensity for moving the puck out of the d-zone and into the o-zone (either by carrying the puck or passing it) vs. taking the glass-and-out or dump-in approach.

CJ Turtoro’s visualizations are an excellent tool for visualizing microdata, so we’ll take a look at them here. The data is reflected in percentiles, so the higher the number, the more elite company that player is in.

(All data is from the 2017-18 season.)

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Alex Biega, along with Troy Stecher, was the team’s best player at generating controlled entries by both rate and percentage, but was among the league’s worst at generating controlled exits. Del Zotto’s numbers were middling, although he did generate a decent amount of controlled exits per 60. In terms of shot contributions, Del Zotto produced a fair amount of shot assists, but a low number of shots in contrast to Biega, who produced an obscenely high level shots but few shot assists.

Alex Edler’s underlying numbers have taken a hit across the board as he’s aged, and his entry and exit rates are no different: a bit above average on the breakout, a bit below when entering the offensive zone; with his raw per 60 totals looking better than his exit and entry percentages. He still finished the season above league-average in shot contributions, but his status as far and away the team’s most utilized defender likely isn’t helping him at this stage in his career.

As one might expect, Gudbranson’s totals are low across the board.

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Hutton’s puck-moving skills look pretty respectable here, although the percentage of controlled entries and exits lags behind his per 60 totals. In contrast, Derrick Pouliot has shown a preference for entering and exiting with control, but his per 60 totals were lower than one might expect from a player of his reputation.

(As a side note, Ben Hutton’s numbers indicate that he’s an extremely misunderstood player. Despite being billed as an offensive defenseman, Hutton was a below-average defender in terms of shot assists, but was the team’s most adept defender with regards to preventing controlled zone entries.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stecher looks great by these metrics no matter which way you slice it. He was a high-end shot contributor last season, and was also one of the league’s best defensemen by both controlled exits and entries, and did so largely without turning the puck over.

Chris Tanev had previously been one of the league’s more adept defenders at exiting the zone with control, but his numbers took a dip last season in every area other than his controlled entry percentage. This was likely due to changes in the Canucks’ system under Travis Green, as well as his struggles with injury.

If we use these metrics as an indicator of puck movement, it appears that the Canucks’ only player to consistently move the puck at a high level across the board was Troy Stecher. Alex Edler, Alex Biega, Ben Hutton, Derrick Pouliot, and Michael Del Zotto did well in some areas but struggled in others, while Erik Gudbranson and Chris Tanev looked like below average defenders in most categories connected to puck movement. Interestingly, the Canucks worst defenders at moving the puck last season were also their worst at blocking opponents from entering their zone, which throws cold water on the notion that puck movement somehow contributes negatively to defensive play.

It’s difficult to know how much the players’ zone exit and entry numbers are influenced by the Canucks system, but one thing should be clear: moving the puck is far from a strength for this defence. Sure, they’ve had more than their fare share of trouble shutting down their opposition’s best forwards, but being a shutdown defender and being a puck-moving defender aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, an inability to skate or pass the puck out of the zone makes playing a shutdown role that much more difficult. The Canucks don’t need less puck movers. They just need better ones. There’s a distinct difference.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      Was he resigned and given a raise purely based on the eye test then? Cause he looks atrocious by all measuring sticks. Outside of the 1st period of game 1 of the season, he’s looked awful (and takes 1 bad penalty per game).

      • Beer Can Boyd

        Watch the TB goal last night. No player has ever been given an easier lane to centre the puck than Guddy gave Johnson. The he stood there and watched until the puck dropped at Points feet and he banged it in, when he should have been knocked flat on his back. Zero positional awareness.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            Yeah, good one. Point is 5 feet from the net, and Guddy is standing 2 feet away from him staring at the puck. But I guess thats ok if the guy scores untouched, because “it wasn’t Guddys guy”….

          • Ser Jaime Lannister

            It was Mottes guy, Guddy holds the angle on Johnson driving the net and Point is open in slot, Motte has to pick him up there. The biggest gaffe there was Hutton getting out muscled by 5’9 Yannie Gourde…

            Stecher, Hutton, Pouliot were getting out muscled by Tampas small forwards all game it was embarrassing to watch.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Really good information presented in a easily understood manner.

    I think people understand Hutton perfectly. He is generally a good defender as his stats indicate. Unfortunately once or twice a game he makes a big mistake, completely blows an assignment and too often has cost the team a goal. These errors become the focal point when evaluating Hutton by the eye test. It doesn’t matter how good your underlying stats are if you routinely cost the team by your mistakes. Hopefully by improving his fitness and focus Hutton reduces his mistakes this season and his stats start to reflect his actual performance.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      “Unfortunately once or twice a game he makes a big mistake, completely blows an assignment and too often has cost the team a goal” This analysis applies to Guddy even more so, yet he almost never sits and is never in the coaches doghouse….

      • Defenceman Factory

        The author stated Hutton is a misunderstood player:

        “(As a side note, Ben Hutton’s numbers indicate that he’s an extremely misunderstood player. Despite being billed as an offensive defenseman, Hutton was a below-average defender in terms of shot assists, but was the team’s most adept defender with regards to preventing controlled zone entries.)”

        Everybody understands Guddy. He might not be an upgrade on other RHD options (none are that great) but if anyone cheap shots Pettersson Guddy will punch them in the face. I’m not defending his play or the decision to play him but I do believe it is that simple.

        • Cageyvet

          You nailed it, I gave up on Guddy some time last season, but he’s here because he has an element of size and toughness, and plays right side D. If the team wasn’t so thin in those departments already, he’d likely be gone. In defense of his acquisition, albeit a poor move in hindsight, the hope was that he would fill the void, we were even crappier in those areas without him.

          I have no problem watching the Canucks (after the 1st and 2nd rounds where I think it’s critical to go best player available regardless of position, etc.) lean toward finding some big bodied RHD over all else. Yeah, maybe just keep sending Tryamkin Christmas and birthday cards….

  • Ben Hutton – the Canucks’ Martin Marincin?

    I’d be really curious to see a comparison of these players and a few other defenders around the league who consistently post solid underlying numbers, but frequently fail the “eye-test” and have trouble getting into their coach’s good graces. Why do they appear genuinely effective by the numbers, but look so ugly when you actually watch them play?

    • Gampbler

      The best example is Biega and Stecher zone entry metrics. Even with the high shot contribution stat, the eyeball test tells us that they are both not a threat offensively, with the puck in the other teams end at all. The same can be said for the rest of the defense, save Edler or Pouliot who have moments. Hence why most of us are excited about Hughes. Someone who can skate the puck into the zone and generate a chance.

  • Jabs

    I notice that the defense seem to be dumping the puck out a lot more this year, more than I have seen for quite a while actually. They tend to flip it out or put it off the boards. I assume this is by design, it is what the coaches want and the speedy forwards can catch up to it then, hopefully catch up that is.

    My question is, does this style of defense count in the stats listed above? I wouldn’t call it a controlled exit since the other team ends up with the puck more often than not and I am not sure what to think of this style of play or if others have noticed it as well.

  • speering major

    Is there a worse D group in the league? Serious question

    The good news is this could turn around quickly with the prospects in the pipeline and MDZ, Pouliot, and Hutton contracts expiring. They will have the cap space and roster space to make multiple upgrades. Hughes could come in and make as big or even bigger contribution than guys like Sergachev and McAvoy. Adding Hughes and another top 4 guy could make a night and day difference. Giving guys like Hutton, Gudbranson, Pouliot, or whoever’s on the bottom pair limited ice time would also make a big difference

    • Ottawa and Montreal have pretty terrible D corps all-round. Edmonton is borderline, they have some good players that have more untapped potential but they’re offset by a couple of anchors (i.e. Russell, Sekera, Garrison).

      I’m looking forward to blowing up the LHD corp next offseason and bringing in Hughes, Juolevi, and Brisebois. Keep Edler as veteran depth.

    • Cageyvet

      If Tanev and Edler were our 2nd pairing, we’d have an NHL playoff defense, almost anybody could be on the 3rd pairing. I didn’t say cup defense, just playoff qualifying defense…..man we have a long ways to go…

  • East van canuck

    What’s the point in asking the laughers on here about puck moving D… Tanev is apparently one of the best in the league, Quinn Hughes is Bobby Orr 2.0 while the likes of Doughty, Seabrook, Keith, Letang and Schultz are washed up… with EIGHT cups between them in the last ten years lol.

  • Smyl and Snepsts

    I want to see stats on the players ability to seperate the other teams players from the puck when they have it in our end. To me that is where a defenseman earns his money. Pretty easy to skate back and grab a dump in and go for a skate which is the strength of Hutton and Pouliot but a lot different when it takes the heavy sledding and dirty work. The guys who are good at that seldom get the easy skates out of the zone. Instead they get the puck back and to the forwards who are waiting in that circumstance. That is where i have a lot more respect for the talents of Edler Tanev and Gudbranson.

    • jaybird43

      It’s hard to separate a player from the puck in the offensive zone. That’s why it’s important to be able to force turnovers or break plays up at the blue line. Some defenders are better than others at this.
      Secondly, uncontrolled exits often result in re-entries, and that’s why that part is so important.

      Anyway, as you can see today, separating the man from the puck is a tough job and that’s why most systems focus on reducing quality shot locations, and reducing quality passing lanes.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Green made an interesting comment during pre season addressing his D core. He said in effect that because of all the injuries last year on the blue line made it hard to properly assess this group. If they can reasonably stay off the IRL it might be a little different story this season. Stecher and Hutton do move the puck REASONABLY well and Edler and Tanev stay at home VERY WELL IMHO, but there’ll still be some long nights back there no doubt. All one can ask for is that the Canucks compete hard, entertain and make the opposition earn the “W” and not hand it to them.

  • Fortitude00

    Look at teams like Calgary and Carolina they have much better defensive corps and have struggled to compete in the playoffs. Canucks basically have to completely overhaul their top 6D. Hughes, Juolevi and hopefully Try(2years) will revamp the left side but they will need to find a top RHD in next years draft and hope Woo turns into a top 4 in years to come. I wouldn’t keep anyone off this defense except Guds until they find toughness through the draft.

    • Fortitude00

      Also, if Karlsson hits Free agency I bet Benning goes after him this off season. usually this wouldn’t happen but I don’t think San Jose has cap to sign him. Canucks are 9.7mill under the cap right now and lose (11.9Mill) Edler, Del Zotto, Hutton and Pouliot’s salaries off their defense if the choose not to sign any of them.