All I want for Christmas are consistent pairings to emerge from a healthy Canucks blueline

Photo credit:© Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
Folks, if you’re reading this, it means you’ve spent yet another year with us at CanucksArmy, and what more could we ask for than that?
Well, plenty, actually. Enough to fill out a short Christmas-themed series of our staff’s wants and wishes heading into the holidays and onto the year 2024.
For this author, who’s been writing about the Vancouver Canucks’ blueline struggles for the past half-decade running, there was always a good chance that this piece was going to be backend related. But while previous years’ wishlists might have been centered more around improving the blueline and plucking quality defenders out of the aether, this season, things are a little bit different.
That’s because, for the first time in a long time, the Canucks have all the pieces on hand of what certainly appears to be an adequate defense corps.
Now, the challenge comes in putting it all together.
It’s a veteran tactic when asking for gifts at this time of year to make compound requests. One can’t ask for a Playstation without a set of controllers, right? The wise collector asks Santa for Spider-Man in the Spider-Mobile.
With that in mind, we’ll start our request with a simple and yet often-impossible-to-achieve one: for the Canucks’ blueline to become completely healthy in the near future.
We’ve already been pretty fortunate on this front. The Canucks are compiling injuries at a much lower rate this season than they typically do, and that’s something well worth being grateful for. The only defender to miss significant time this season, excepting Tucker Poolman and Guillaume Brisebois, is Carson Soucy.
But because Soucy’s most recent injury came before GM Patrik Allvin acquired Nikita Zadorov, it means that the Canucks have yet to be able to put their best six defenders on the active roster at any one time.
As soon as they can, however, it instantly becomes the best group of six they’ve put together in at least a decade.
Quinn Hughes. Filip Hronek. Ian Cole. Nikita Zadorov. Carson Soucy. Tyler Myers.
Individually, it’s a fine collection. But this season is already proving that the sum of this unit can be greater than its parts, and thus there’s a real desire here to see the full equation play out on the ice.
Which brings us to the second part of our request: for consistent pairings to emerge from that healthy blueline.
Lines change all the time in hockey, as do defense pairings, but the best contending bluelines are usually built on at least a couple of consistent pairings, if not three of them. The Vegas Golden Knights’ pairings spent approximately 90% of their on-ice time together on route to the Stanley Cup last year, and that’s how it usual goes on a championship roster. Good thing, then, that it certainly seems like the Canucks have the potential to construct some semi-permanent duos out of what they currently have on hand.
First and foremost, this is going to require head coach Rick Tocchet to get over his whole “left-handed, right-handed” thing, but that’s almost a given. Fully healthy, the Canucks have all of Hughes, Cole, Zadorov, and Soucy on the left side. To see any of those players sit in lieu of Noah Juulsen or Mark Friedman for anything other than a stray game would be both frustrating and unexpected. So, at least one of those players is going to have to start frequently lining up on their off-side, and that’s perfectly alright.
Most would agree that Hughes and Hronek should stay together in the long run, though there are some other options available that we will get to in a moment.
The rest of the decision-making, as strange as it sounds, relies heavily on Myers.
Many noted that what appeared to be the best hockey of Myers’ Vancouver career occurred when he was partnered with Soucy earlier in the year. But maybe the correct phrasing there was “best hockey yet,” because Myers has performed just as good, if not better, when paired with Zadorov post-trade.
The math works itself out from there. One of Soucy or Zadorov becomes Myers’ co-pilot on the left, and the other joins Cole on a pairing that will no doubt receive a shutdown-focused deployment. Whether that be Soucy or Zadorov, chances are good that it will be Cole who switches over to the right side, as he has greater experience there.
So, under that scenario, we’re left with a blueline that looks like:
And that really does look workable, especially for the Canucks’ 2023/24 purposes of making the playoffs and then making some noise there, but not necessarily competing in any sort of “all-in”-type arrangement.
There are, of course, other options, one of which involves splitting up that Hughes/Hronek pairing. If that’s to be done, it should probably be done soon, so as to provide as much time as possible for new chemistry to build. But making this change does carry with it the potential for a more balanced blueline.
Should Hronek be moved down a pairing, we still think the best candidate to become Hughes’ new partner is Cole, who has plenty of experiencing skating on the right side of a star defender. That leaves Hronek to form perhaps a stronger second pairing with either of Soucy and Zadorov (probably Soucy), and then you’ve got 13 feet of defender left over for the third pairing.
That scenario looks like:
Honestly, we still like the Hughes/Hronek arrangement better, of the two. But the key points here are both that the Canucks have options, and that it behooves them to settle into one of those options sooner rather than later.
It’s long been said that great hockey teams are built from the backend out. The Canucks have their goaltending rotation locked in tightly for this season, at least. Next comes the building and then rolling out of some consistent defense pairings, and from there, who really knows?
If this is not unprecedented territory for the Canucks, it’s at least territory that hasn’t been precedented in quite some time.

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