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Photo Credit: © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

3 ways the Vancouver Canucks can shake up their lineup to find a spark on offence (Sven Baertschi is one of them)

The Vancouver Canucks have simply not been getting enough offence this season.

There aren’t many simple options to change the way this team is trending. Swapping a couple of wingers or bringing in a new sixth defenceman will not make enough of a difference to change this team’s losing ways.

It’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking to make big changes that give this lineup a different feel.

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Since February 1st, they have been one of the worst offensive teams at five-on-five.

There needs to be a shift to the lineup. The bottom-six has been one of the worst offensive producing groups in the NHL this season as demonstrated by this Boy Genius tweet.

This isn’t the first time that Harm has referenced the bottom-six being inefficient offensively. The frustrating thing is, at the core, it’s been relatively the same group for a couple of years now.

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It’s a crushing feeling to see that the Ottawa Senators’ bottom-six is outscoring the Canucks’ bottom six. Not because they are the Ottawa Senators, but because they only have one player in their bottom-six being paid over 1.5 million dollars. Currently, the Canucks have three players making over 1.5 million dollars and that trio has a total of six five-on-five goals this season. That is mostly on the back of Brandon Sutter’s eight crazy nights at the end of January when he looked dangerous every shift.

It was quite the sight to behold.

The Canucks might not make a playoff run this season, but the least they can do is try some new things or a used thing like the first option.

Sven Baertschi in the top-six to spread out the scoring

There’s something that is keeping Sven Baertschi from the NHL and it needs to be dropped.

This season, Baertschi showed up to training camp and you just knew he wasn’t going to make the team. I don’t think I was the only one who was shocked when I heard that Baertschi was not selected for the Taxi Squad. In a lot of folks’ eyes, Baertschi is a borderline NHL player who can contribute to a second power play unit.

He has been a trooper in Utica for the past year and a half. I’ve heard stories of him being a great leader for the young Canucks prospects who have come through the team over the past 12 months. He deserves a chance on this Canucks team with a lineup that is floundering with only three wins in their last 14 games and is being outscored 48-32 over that stretch.

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It’s not time to call up one of the prospects just yet.

Kole Lind is making the transition to centre and Comets head coach Trent Cull is keen on that happening this year. Last weekend, Lukas Jasek was thrown up to the Comets’ first line with Lind and Baertschi. Jasek has been a centre for a couple of years now for Cull but he wanted Lind to get the chance to continue to develop as a centre as that is the plan for him this season.

The man who can offer quite the shakeup to the Canucks’ top-nine is a 14-day quarantine away.

Baertschi’s addition to the top-six creates a balanced three lines with scoring potential in each of them.

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There was once a time when Baertschi played alongside Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. “We’ve been working so hard as a line together and for one of us to get a hat-trick is great,” said Baertschi postgame on a night where Brock Boeser scored a “lucky” hat trick against Matt Murray and the Pittsburgh Penguins. “(Brock) had a great game, his shot is key. We knew going in, once he scored the first goal we knew to just get him the puck somehow and he was going to end up scoring. That’s exactly how it went.”

This is the top nine group I can see with Baertschi sliding into the top six with Horvat and Boeser.

LW C RW
Nils Hoglander Elias Pettersson Adam Gaudette
Sven Baertschi Bo Horvat Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson J.T. Miller Jake Virtanen
Zack MacEwen Jay Beagle Brandon Sutter

There’s a lot of risk with the first line but Hoglander and Pettersson have rarely let down anyone, adding the NHL’s leading individual creator of scoring chances in Gaudette surely fits alongside two players who possess excellent playmaking skills.

The third line can generate some scoring if they funnel the puck towards the net. All three of these players have been able to score off the rush with their shots as well. Pearson has a sneaky good shot, he showed that in the bubble. Virtanen needs to be an up-and-down player. Virtanen needs the puck in space and playing him with centres like Beagle or Sutter doesn’t present many opportunities for him to carry a puck through the neutral zone.

With Miller and Pearson creating breakouts, Virtanen gets the chance to carry the puck through the neutral zone. Both Pearson and Miller can control puck possession in the offensive zone to set up Virtanen. It feels like there is some potential there if Miller and Pearson can find some chemistry.

The fourth line just needs to make things tough on their opponents. Those are three big bodies that can bang on the boards and be very hard to play against in the corners. MacEwen has some sparks of offence and he can do it with anyone. I like his energy on this line with the two vets.

Baertschi is likely not the same player that he was three years ago, but his game still has not completely fallen off. He has proven to be very effective in the AHL and even showed some very promising analytics last season during his six-game stretch in the middle of November.

He finished the season with the highest expected control of goal share and Corsi percentage on the Canucks.

He battled concussions a couple of years ago but I haven’t seen anything that indicates that those are still a problem in the way he has played since joining the Comets. It’s at least worth exploring if Baertschi can add some secondary scoring to this lineup.

If anything, it’s a final shot for Baertschi to play his heart out for an NHL job. That type of player would bring a level of effort that would be entertaining to watch and with his skill, it should create some goals as well.

Gaudette in the top-six

I’ve talked and written about this one a bunch. It just makes a lot of sense.

I wrote about it here.

To simplify, no player in the NHL is creating individual scoring chances at a higher rate than Adam Gaudette. He is head and shoulders above every other NHL player for scoring chances per minute but just can’t buy a goal with his low shooting percentage under 5%.

Playing Gaudette with Nils Hoglander is the best fit for me as it will force the centre to play at a high tempo on every shift. This benefits Horvat, Pettersson and Miller as all three would be playing with wingers who create offence.

It’s a small move that still has not been given a run this season. Gaudette has long been a winger with Brandon Sutter or Jay Beagle this season.

His skill set makes a lot of sense as a scoring winger. Gaudette just needs to lock it in like he’s dropping into a game of Warzone and start paying more attention to where his shot is going. He has proven to be a strong shooter who can typically hit his sports. This season he has been a bit snakebitten but that could turn around with some more offensively gifted linemates and top six minutes.

It could go the other way as well. Gaudette is benefitting from some easier defence pairings and line matches in a division where most teams have lacklustre bottom-six lines.

The tougher competition will make it more difficult to generate scoring chances but the risk is worth the reward in this case.

Gaudette is proving he can generate chances at five-on-five and should get a shot in the top-six sooner, rather than later.

The Hughes & Schmidt super pair

They might end up playing a combined total of 60 minutes if the game goes to overtime. The Canucks’ defence has been questionable at times this season and those questions have been circling around Hughes’ defence. Nate Schmidt has made some big mistakes that have resulted in goals against but lately, he has looked sound defensively and is beginning to create offence of his own.

Both players can move the puck very well. Each of them can break out of the defensive zone by skating the puck or making a pass. Schmidt has shown that he can take one-timers from anywhere on the ice and though he might not hit the net every time, he always gets the shot off.

If they are able to find some chemistry at the point, they could create a dynamic duo to contribute to any forward line in the offensive zone.

Schmidt appears to be better when he plays his off-side. He has found success with Alex Edler and that would likely show more with Hughes as his running-mate on the back end.

The only thing that keeps me hesitant about this pairings change is that Edler and Schmidt have posted some tremendous analytics as a pairing.

The pairing is creating a lot of offence but is being crushed by their miserable on-ice shooting percentage of 2.22% through 25 games. They have been the most consistent pairing for Travis Green this season and I wouldn’t necessarily want to break up a pairing in which Edler is having success.

It might just be time to let Hughes and Schmidt run though. These two have the potential to be a dynamic first pairing in the offensive zone.

It would have one of the best point-producing defencemen in the NHL alongside an offensive support piece from the back end instead of a stay-at-home defender to let Hughes run wild.

It’s a change to the look of the defence corps and it likely comes with some high minutes as well. Hughes and Schmidt should be given a run to see if it is in fact a long-term option.

Schmidt is signed through the 2024-25 season. He isn’t going anywhere and neither is Hughes. These two are going to play together at some point in the next few years.

Why not try it now in a season where things have not gone the way that the organization has hoped for?

It’s time to make changes and these are a few of my ideas to give this team a shake-up.

There are weaknesses with this roster but there are still a lot of options to at least make this team competitive in every game. They have some real talent in the top part of their lineup and if you can squeeze some offence out of a few more players, the wins will start to come.

Will it be enough to start talking about playoffs again?

I don’t know.

According to SportsClubStats, the Canucks only have a 3% chance of making the playoffs and require a 20-7-3 finish to the season just to have a 75% chance of making the playoffs. With that finish to the season, it would give the Canucks 63 points and they would be in the mix for a playoff spot.

It’s possible, but not the way this team has been playing lately.

Changes are needed.

Big changes.