Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks have to be bringing Kyle Burroughs back, right?
10 months ago
With nothing much left to play for, the Vancouver Canucks are still finding reasons to play hard.
With nothing at all left to fight for, the Canucks are still fighting.
We’re not speaking metaphorically. With four official fighting majors in their last nine games, and a whole lot more scrumming than that, the Canucks are as scrappy as any of their opponents right now, despite the fact that they’re not tuning up for the playoffs.
Instead, the Canucks are coming together as a team in a much more long-term sense. Their sticking up for one another now will, one hopes, lead to more team cohesiveness in the future, and as soon as next season. The Canucks are setting a tone for the from-here-on-out, and it’s one of a squad that will not be intimidated.
Coincidentally enough, all this is happening as the final games tick down on Kyle Burroughs’ current contract. We say ‘current,’ because there’s absolutely no way that the Canucks are going to let the hometown depth defender go via free agency.
On the surface, Burroughs might not be the Canucks’ biggest offseason concern. He gained popularity and praise this season for leading the charge on the increased physicality and truculence described above, but he’s ultimately a depth piece who probably shouldn’t be skating regular minutes on an NHL blueline for too terribly long.
So, why is it so important, and so near-certain, that the Canucks bring him back?
Because of what Burroughs represents. Because what he brings to the table, the Canucks don’t otherwise have in abundance. And because to continue to be the sort of team that coach Rick Tocchet wants them to be, they need players like Burroughs.
Make no mistake, Burroughs had a career season in 2022/23. He’s played 46 games as of this writing, eclipsing his previous high of 42 set last season. If he plays in the team’s final two games, he’ll beat out his previous career total of 47 games. His two goals is also a career high, but he’s two points short of last year’s point high of five.
Points aren’t really the point when it comes to Burroughs, however. He averaged 17:19 in ice-time, often against opponents far more talented than any he was used to facing, and came away with just a -5 rating. Not bad on a team that was -24 overall.
Burroughs’ 81 blocked shots was fourth on the team overall, impressive enough in its own right. But factor in ice-time, and Burroughs actually led the team outright in blocks-per-60 with 6.10. The Canucks as a team only average 13.74 blocks-per-60, 24th overall in the league, so Burroughs’ contributions here really stand out.
Analytics-wise, Burroughs comes off better than anyone should have expected at five-on-five. He stayed relatively close to positive in every category; Corsi (47.11%), shot control (48.73%), xG% (49.43%), and overall scoring chances (49.11%). Burroughs’ on-ice control of high-danger chances (52.27%) deserves special note. That’s a higher success rate than all but two other regular Canucks: Phil Di Giuseppe and Ethan Bear. That’s better than Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
And sure, there’s a quality of ice-time and competition argument to be used against Burroughs when such stats are busted out, but it’s not as strong an argument as one might assume. Burroughs did split his zone-starts almost exactly evenly between the o-zone and the d-zone. And he did it with a competition chart that looks like this…
…meaning that Burroughs faced opponents of a just-slightly-below-league-average quality. It’s a considerable deployment for someone not thought of as an everyday NHLer before this season, and one look at the chart tells you that Burroughs’ quality of teammates affected him just as much, if not more, than the quality of competition.
Either way, Burroughs skates away from the season with far better results than anyone could have reasonably predicted back in October.
But in saying all this, what we’re really doing is dancing around the two primary qualities that make Burroughs such a slam-dunk to return to the Canucks next season, and perhaps for even longer after that.
Those qualities are his relentless physicality, and the sense of pride he instills in the team.
As we hinted at the outset, Burroughs currently leads the team in fighting majors with seven of the Canucks’ 33 total (fifth-most in the league). Take away the ten fights contributed by players no longer with the team, and Burroughs possesses almost a full third of what’s left.
And, sure, the role of fighting in the modern NHL is up for debate, and it’s certainly not what it used to be. But it’s still a part of hockey, and it can still make a positive difference, especially when one does it the way Burroughs does.
Burroughs almost exclusively fights to defend a teammate, or to defend himself after he just annihilated someone else’s teammate with a hit. Most will remember a segment earlier on in 2022/23 where it seemed the Canucks weren’t standing up for one another, and how demoralizing that was for players and fans alike. Once Burroughs started getting into the lineup more regularly, that changed, and the Canucks started standing taller as a result.
But it’s not all about the brawling. Burroughs made a physical impact, one way or another, every time he jumped over the boards.
The Canucks, as a whole, were very physical: tied for seventh overall in the league with 24.44 hits-per-60. That ranking was earned on the backs of a small handful of players, and Burroughs was definitely one of them.
Burroughs’ 159 hits are the fourth-most on the team, despite his only having played in 46 games. His hits-per-60 of 11.97 is only sixth on the team, but three of the players ahead of him have since been traded (William Lockwood, Luke Schenn, Curtis Lazar) and one of them (Noah Juulsen) has only played in 12 games.
In terms of regular Canucks who are still with the team, the physical play really comes down to Dakota Joshua (14.90 hits-per-60) and Burroughs. And when we’re talking about the blueline specifically, it really just comes down to Burroughs. After him, the next highest-ranking Canucks defender on the hit-list is Tyler Myers with a paltry 3.96 hits-per-60. That’s barely more than a third of Burroughs’ rate.
It’s apparent by now that physical play is going to be a trademark of this team for as long as Tocchet is the coach. If that’s the case, then the Canucks really can’t afford to ditch the most physical element remaining on their blueline.
It’s also apparent by now that personal pride is going to be a big thing in the Tocchet Era, and that’s another area in which Burroughs brings an irreplaceable element to the table.
Hey, hometown boys aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. A certain former first round pick is proof enough of that. But Burroughs is definitely the right kind of hometown. He speaks openly about how much it means to him to play in Vancouver. He seems to bring out a little bit extra for home games. He expresses gratitude non-stop, and that can’t help but rub off on his teammates.
That being a Canuck means so much to Burroughs makes being a Canuck more meaningful in general. And that’s a very good thing for the kind of culture that Tocchet is now trying to build in Vancouver.
Keeping Burroughs around should be no issue. It might cost the Canucks a one-way contract, but it won’t cost them a salary over $1 million or a term longer than two years. They’ve got the money and, unless several young defenders take major steps forward in the offseason, they’ve probably got the roster space, too. Burroughs, on the whole, is probably a better fit as an extra defender than someone like Akito Hirose or Filip Johansson, who could still benefit from seasoning in the minors.
Sure, there are whispers of a Schenn comeback in the offseason, but he’s the kind of defender who might get a silly contract offer thrown at him that prices him way out of Vancouver. The same happening with Burroughs seems unlikely. He’s a safe bet to stick with the Canucks, and he’s a safe bet to continue to contribute what he does for at least another season whenever he does get into the lineup, and to sit in the pressbox without complaint for the rest of it.
When a bet is this safe, there’s no reason not to take it.
And that’s why Kyle Burroughs has to be coming back to the team for next season.
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