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Photo Credit: Canucks / Twitter

CanucksArmy Year In Review: Tim Schaller

A few months ago, CanucksArmy took a look at Tim Schaller’s first four months with the Vancouver Canucks in the aptly-titled “What The Heck Happened To Tim Schaller?” As that headline suggested, Schaller’s debut with his third organization had been decidedly less-than-successful.

The numbers were bleak. After a 22-point season with the Boston Bruins, Schaller signed a two-year, $1.9 million deal with the Canucks—and proceeded to flop harder than the “7th Canuck” banner. As of the writing of that January 30 article, Schaller was on pace for just 12 points over a full season and remained a go-to healthy scratch for coach Travis Green. He’d also yet to score a goal in a Canuck uniform.

As of January 30—and indeed for more than a month thereafter—there was no way to spin Schaller’s 2018/19 performance in a positive way. Up until the month of March, he had just four assists to show for his 36 games. Though a drop in the quality of his teammates from Boston to Vancouver was held up as a possible explanation for Schaller’s plummeting performance, that didn’t quite track with the evidence presented by underlying statistics.

And to make matters worse, Schaller failed statistically while simultaneously failing the “eye test”—looking anything but the high-energy hustler that had endeared himself as a fan favourite in Boston.

But then March came around, and the Tim Schaller that Jim Benning thought he was signing in the summer of 2019 finally showed up. The question remains as to whether a few weeks of good play are enough reason to be optimistic moving forward—or if Tim Schaller more accurately represented himself in the first three-quarters of his season.

A Tale Of Two Seasons

After a lackluster preseason, Tim Schaller managed to make the opening night roster of the Vancouver Canucks—but started the season as a healthy scratch. He made his 2018/19 debut on October 9 against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, and stuck in the lineup for quite a while thereafter.

Taken by themselves, Schaller’s earliest returns in Vancouver don’t look awful. After going pointless in his first three, Schaller notched two assists on October 16 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With three points in his first eight games, Schaller was actually on pace to best his career high from the previous season—but then it all came crashing down.

After a single assist performance against the Vegas Golden Knights on October 24, Schaller went 15 games without a point—yet Travis Green inexplicably kept him dressed night-in and night-out. This laid the groundwork for Schaller’s development into a whipping boy for the Vancouver fanbase, as his continual presence in the lineup over younger options like Nikolay Goldobin and Adam Gaudette put his play increasingly under the microscope.

As 2018 turned to 2019, Schaller finally began to spend more and more time in the pressbox. He played five games in December, five more in January, and hit the ice just twice in February. Those 12 games saw him pick up just a single point.

After February 21, Schaller sat in the pressbox until the March 15 matchup against the New Jersey Devils. While he went pointless in that game, he played well enough to stick in the lineup for the trip to Dallas two nights later—a game in which he scored his first two goals as a Vancouver Canuck.

That breakout performance kicked off an 11-game stretch run across late-March and early-April that saw Schaller put up three goals and two assists—a 37-point pace. He was only scratched once more for the remainder of the season, and played with noticeably more energy and purpose. Curiously, his only other goal of the season also came against the Dallas Stars on March 30.

 

The Overall Tim Schaller Story

Taken as a whole, the 2018/19 performance of Tim Schaller still isn’t a pretty picture—but it’s not nearly as bad as some fans might have expected.

With 10 points in 47 games, finished with a full-season pace of 17 points—not too terribly far off his career best of 22.

Schaller’s quarterly breakdowns provide a clear visual of his season’s narrative—particularly when it comes to his time on the ice. It’s a tale of a player losing the trust of his coach, but then regaining it as the year came to a close.

From Dobber’s Frozen Tools 

Meanwhile, Schaller’s quarterly breakdown of linemates makes it clear that he did spend a significant portion of the season stapled to Bo Horvat’s wing—though perhaps not as large a portion as some anti-Schaller commenters have implied. Of note, Schaller’s best period of play came when he was skating exclusively with Jay Beagle.

From Dobber’s Frozen Tools

Schaller’s advanced statline paints a rosier image of his performance than his surface numbers do. His PDO was higher than in either of his seasons with the Bruins, his points-per-60 were consistent—though his possession stats were noticeably worse with Vancouver than they had been in Boston.

 From Hockey-Reference.com

Notably, Schaller received slightly more favourable deployment in Vancouver this season than he did during his breakout 2017/18 campaign.

The quality of Schaller’s competition was a fair degree higher than that of his linemates, but that’s to be expected of a player in Schaller’s role—especially given his time spent alongside the defensive workhorse Horvat.

From Corsica.Hockey

In terms of the average amount of shots thrown on net, the Canucks were a much less dangerous team with Schaller on the ice than they were without him. On the other side of the coin, however, the Canucks were slightly more defensively sound when Schaller was on the ice—but not to a significant degree.

From HockeyViz.com

Intangibles

Tim Schaller’s 22 points as a Boston Bruin in 2017/18 probably had something to do with the $1.9 million salary Jim Benning awarded him in free agency, but Schaller really wasn’t signed to put up points. After two seasons with the Bruins, Schaller had established himself as a fan favourite in large part due to his “intangible” assets—and those intangibles were what he was supposed to bring to the Canucks’ fourth line. Things like physicality, energy, and leadership were supposed to be Schaller’s bread and butter.

While intangible assets are—by their very nature—difficult to track, it really doesn’t look like Schaller brought as many of them to the table as was promised.

After spending a lengthy stint as a healthy scratch in December, Schaller dropped the mitts with Ottawa’s Ben Harpur for his only fight of the season—giving away a lot of size in the matchup and absorbing quite a beating. With only 66 hits across 47 games, Schaller’s physicality wasn’t much of a factor—and while a couple of his checks were of the thundering variety, he ranked 12th on the team in hits per game.

It’s impossible to know how much of an impact Schaller had in the Canucks’ dressing room, but it’s clear that the intangible attributes that he displayed in Boston didn’t make the trip with him to Canada’s west coast. Bruins fans attested that he was the kind of player that busted his hump on every single shift and lent energy to his teammates whenever he hit the ice—but that just wasn’t the case during his first season in Vancouver.

Conclusion

As a new fourth-liner on the team, Tim Schaller’s debut with the Vancouver Canucks wasn’t an abject failure at all—in fact, it was a pretty adequate performance.

The rub, however, is the two-year, $1.9 million contract Jim Benning handed to Schaller in free agency—a contract that makes his 2018/19 season looking significantly more disappointing. If anything, Schaller’s performance in his first year as a Canuck highlighted what an unnecessary signing he was—especially in the same summer that Benning also added Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. Schaller is paid like a premium fourth-liner, but he’s not playing like one.

As it stands, the Canucks have to hope that Schaller’s final ten games of the season are a lot more indicative of his play moving forward than his first few dozen. Currently, it’s hard to imagine there are any suitors around the league for his services in a trade—so the team appears to be stuck with him heading into 2019/20 whether he continues to bounce back or not.