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Photo Credit: Canucks / Twitter

What The Heck Happened To Tim Schaller?

Count this author in as one of the few in the Vancouver fanbase who were actually excited about the signing of Tim Schaller in the summer of 2018. While that opinion has aged about as gracefully as Keith Tkachuk, there was once plenty of reason for optimism.

When he signed with the Canucks, Schaller was coming off a career season in which he put up 22 points in 82 games. While those are respectable numbers for a fourth liner, the real reason this author and a handful of others were overjoyed with the signing of Schaller was the reaction of the online Boston Bruins community to his departure.

To hear Boston fans tell it, Schaller was a heart-and-soul player, a fan favourite, and the driving engine behind their team’s internal motivation. Don’t take our word for it, let’s head to the Twitter archives for the Bostonian reactions to Schaller’s July 1 signing with the Canucks!

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Taking a glance at other social media platforms from around the time of his signing reveal even more positive takes on Schaller’s time with the Bruins, including quotes like “This one hurts more than not getting JT” and the assertion that Schaller was a premium fourth liner—“[he’s] got the speed and talent to play third line minutes but lacks the shot. Willing to play physical all the time. Wish him nothing but the best in Vancouver.”

That all serves as pretty sharp contrast to the kind of opinions being thrown around about the guy by Canuck fans after a half season in Vancouver:

All of which raises the important question of What The Heck Happened To Tim Schaller?

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How exactly does one go from an energetic hustler than fans in Boston couldn’t bear to be without to a nigh-invisible entity that Vancouver fans want to drive to the airport? Below, we’ll see if we can find any answers.

Production

It is possible that Schaller’s breakout of a 2017/18 with the Bruins was an anomaly, but his overall career progression doesn’t really jive with that. It was Schaller’s fourth season in the league—and only his second as a full-time NHLer—but his production didn’t increase all that much from previous outings. In fact, Schaller’s production in 2017/18 was only a smidge higher than it was in his first season with the Bruins, suggesting he didn’t so much “breakout” as receive more of an opportunity.

Tim Schaller 2014/15 (Buffalo) 2015/16 (Buffalo) 2016/17 (Boston) 2017/18 (Boston) 2018/19 (Vancouver
Games 18 17 59 82 34
Points 2 3 14 22 5
Points-Per-Game 0.11 0.18 0.24 0.27 0.15

Perhaps, then, it is Schaller’s lack of opportunity in Vancouver that has caused his offensive output to plummet. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

Opportunity 

Tim Schaller is definitely getting less of an opportunity to play hockey in Vancouver than he did in Boston last year—especially when his numerous healthy scratches are entered into the equation—but not to such a degree that it would explain his poor performance.

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Tim Schaller 2014/15 (Buffalo) 2015/16 (Buffalo) 2016/17 (Boston) 2017/18 (Boston) 2018/19 (Vancouver
Average TOI 10:16 7:08 10:42 11:18 9:31
Average Shift Length 0:42 0:38 0:42 0:43 0:40
Average Shorthanded TOI 1:02 1:11 1:08 1:53 1:46

For the most part, Schaller is playing close to the same amount of minutes in Vancouver—in the same sort of situations—as he did in Boston over the past two seasons.

The numbers look even more damning when broken down on a month-by-month basis.

Tim Schaller First Month In Vancouver Since Then
Games 13 21
Average TOI 11:18 8:25
Average Shift Length 0:39 0:40
Average Shorthanded TOI 2:24 1:22

This chart demonstrates that when Schaller first joined the Canucks, coach Travis Green gave him just as much opportunity on the ice as he was receiving in Boston. It was only after a month of play that Green began to decrease Schaller’s minutes—and by that point, Schaller had certainly given him ample reason to make that decision. 

Quality Of Teammates/Competition 

There’s little doubt that the two Bruins rosters that Tim Schaller played on—both of whom made the playoffs—were better overall hockey teams than the 2018/19 Canucks are.

However, that doesn’t mean that the actual players who Schaller currently lines up with—or against—are of any different quality than what he dealt with in Boston.

Again, the numbers back up this assertion. By measuring the Time on Ice Percentage of Schaller’s linemates and opponents, one can come up with his TOI% Quality of Teammates and TOI% Quality of Competition stats—which are meant to reflect how good the players he shares the ice with are on either side of the puck.

Tim Schaller 2016/17 (Boston) 2017/18 (Boston) 2018/19 (Vancouver)
TOI% QoT 28.95% 28.64% 29.06%
TOI% QoC 28.44% 28.4% 28.67%

These stats seem to indicate that Schaller is currently dealing with teammate and competition quality similar to his assignment in Boston, but he’s still struggling.

Such numbers, however, may be flawed. This statistic being so heavily based on icetime may be a mitigating factor, as a player of lesser quality in Vancouver may receive equal minutes to what a better player might receive on a deeper roster. By looking at the average Corsi For % of Schaller’s linemates, one can finally find a possible answer for his decline in Vancouver.

Tim Schaller 2016/17 (Boston) 2017/18 (Boston) 2018/19 (Vancouver)
Corsi For % QoT 53.4% 51.34% 45.47%

This would seem to indicate that the quality of Schaller’s teammates in Vancouver is holding him back a bit compared to the support he received in Boston. That tracks logically, too, with the Bruins of the past two seasons having objectively deeper rosters than the current Canucks.

However, an actual look at the most frequent linemates of Schaller in Boston—Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, Brian Gionta, Tommy Wingels, Austin Czarnik, and the like—versus those he’s lining up with in Vancouver—Markus Granlund, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Tyler Motte—reveals that the difference isn’t all that pronounced.

Luck 

As a low-volume shooter, it’s tough to use Shooting Percentage to perform any sort of assessment on Tim Schaller. With a whopping zero goals on the season, he’s obviously shooting blanks in 2018/19—but his percentage has traditionally been pretty low anyway, and he’s been shooting at an even lower volume than usual.

Tim Schaller 2016/17 (Boston) 2017/18 (Boston) 2018/19 (Vancouver)
Shots Per Game 1.51 1.61 0.94
Shooting Percentage 7.9% 9% 0%

There’s obviously some bad luck involved in Schaller literally rocking a 0.00% in this category, but sometimes individuals make their own luck. Schaller hasn’t been doing much to help himself in this department.

Intangible Factors And The “Eye Test” 

It’s become quite clear that Schaller had something in Boston that he does not have in Vancouver—his coach’s trust. Both Claude Julien and Bruce Cassidy found enormous value in having Schaller in their lineup, but Travis Green obviously feels differently. There’s no way to know what expectations Green has communicated to Schaller, but he doesn’t appear to be meeting them.

However, proponents of the “eye test” will have a hard time faulting Green in this regard. Whereas Bruins fans decried the loss of a “hustler” with “non-stop energy” in July, that version of Tim Schaller simply hasn’t shown up in Vancouver. Schaller often looks listless on the ice—when he’s even noticeable at all—and certainly hasn’t appeared to play in any manner that could theoretically give his team energy. Instead, Tyler Motte is filling that role this season, and Schaller is nowhere to be found.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that Schaller simply looks like a different player than he was in Boston. While there are many factors that could explain why Schaller is performing so much worse in Vancouver, none of them appear to offer definitive answers.

The best conclusion to the query of “What The Heck Happened To Tim Schaller?” is probably a narrative one. He came to Vancouver, struggled to fit in with his new teammates and system, performed poorly, lost his coach’s trust, and hasn’t been able to right the ship. Schaller has received plenty of opportunity with the Canucks, but he’s done a whole lot less with it than he has in previous NHL seasons—and the results speak for themselves.



  • Fred-65

    I wonder if he’s a “home town” boy. He is from New Hampshire close by Boston. But here’s the funny thing when he first iced for Vcr I quite liked him … he was a possession type player. He often started and finished in the opponents end. He was great along the boards. However his enthusiasm seems to have waned. That role needs energy and enthusiasm and it seems to have left. Maybe he needs some home cooking

      • Fred-65

        Me either, I can’t stand the smell of marijuana and if I need to walk along Abbot street ( as an example ) passed The Pint, frankly I’m embarrassed at the state and conditions within Vancouver. It stinks, is covered with debris and full of druggies. What’s it say on the plates on your car “Beautiful British Columbia ” is not the case any longer, third world for sure

  • Kanuckhotep

    The presence of Tim Schaller reminds me of the long forgotten Marko Sturm signing and how short a tenure he had here. I’m disappointed most of all for the young man himself but perhaps he’s just not a proper fit for this club and basically Motte “took” his job. Maybe he’s was suppose to be mere fill-in until someone like Zac Mac was/is ready to step into the line up. Hopefully the guy can catch on with another team but unfortunately it hasn’t work out for Tim here. Good luck, guy.

  • McDale

    Good take, I too thought he looked like a decent 4th line guy with lots of energy early in the year… For whatever reason that energy just disappeared and instead he appears invisible most shifts. Thank god Motte did take his job though, as he has been a bright spot.

  • Puck Viking

    Dont know what happened and at this point dont care. He isnt working out, if you can move him then do so, if not waive him and send him to Utica and lets see what ZacMac has to offer.

    I did like this signing at the time. Short deal and he brought some grit while scoring the odd goal. He has brought none of that.

  • truthseeker

    As I said back then, I would have liked 2 out of the 3 FA signings and prefered Rousell and Schaller. Beagle has definitely looked much better, and has proved the second half of that prediction very wrong.

    Good article.

  • Mike Bossy

    I also tend to check the twitter reactions or comments from other teams’ fans whenever we trade or sign someone….and yes, the more they lament, the better I feel about said trade or signing! 🙂
    However, I find that sometimes fans over-value their own player and this may have been the case for Schaller. I remember how Canucks fans, though they loved the deal, were sad to see Jannick Hansen go. I’m sure Sharks fans must’ve been had high hopes too if they had read those comments/tweets.
    In Schaller’s case, I think that he just had a great UFA season playing for his hometown team in 2018…his 2019 season might be closer to the type of player he really is.