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The Canucks showed off their rebuilt and fully-balanced blueline in game one of the 2024 Playoffs

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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Game One of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a resounding success for the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite falling behind twice, the home team rallied to a 4-2 victory that somehow still felt dominant. The Canucks outhit the Predators, annihilated them in the faceoff circle, killed key penalties, and iced the whole affair with timely clutch scoring.
An intrepid sportswriter is left in an almost awkward spot the morning after, wondering how many different ways one can really say, “That was awesome.”
But as one looks over the various gamecentres and boxscores early on Monday morning, there are a few things that stand out as worthy of special notice. And chief among them is some clear-cut evidence that the Canucks have finally achieved something they’ve been chasing for more than a decade: a fully-balanced breakfast.
Now, balance can mean different things to different people, and it does feel a little weird to call a D corps headed by the NHL’s best blueliner – to whom none of his teammates can even hold a candle – “balanced.”
But when we say balanced, we don’t mean “all belonging to the same skill tier.” We mean a blueline that is capable of each taking on a relatively equal share in the team’s ice-time and a equal role in their success.
Hughes, naturally, led the way with 22:20 of ice-time. But that’s a fairly light night for him, and that’s because everyone else fell within the bandwidth between 17:30 and 19:31.
Filip Hronek came next with 19:31, and almost certainly would have crossed 20 minutes without having to serve the full two minutes of a minor. Nikita Zadorov and Ian Cole came next with a matching 19:21 in ice-time. Tyler Myers had a strong 19:08, and then Carson Soucy brought up the rear with 17:37, also partly a result of having served an entire minor penalty.
Having any good defenders isn’t exactly new in Vancouver. But what is definitely new – and what definitely hasn’t been seen over the past decade – is a blueliner with a full complement of six defenders capable of skating these kinds of minutes in a hotly-contested playoff game.
Not only is it something that the Canucks couldn’t ever count on previously, it’s not all that common around the league. The Predators, in contrast, handed 26:51 to Roman Josi but just 11:44 to Luke Schenn.
In fact, of the 12 teams that have played their Game Ones as of this writing, none have had their ostensible “#6 D” play more minutes than Soucy’s 17:37, with only Jalen Chatfield of the legendarily-deep Carolina blueline coming close.
Thus, the Canucks may not be sporting the best blueline in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But like we said at the outset, there’s an argument for both deepest and most-balanced from 1-6, and that’s something that seems likely to lend itself to success in the postseason.
Heck, we keep saying things like “This is the most balanced blueline in over a decade,” but let’s address the 2011 comparison straight-up right now. That blueline was good enough to take that year’s Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals. By one definition of “balanced,” the 2011 lineup was perhaps a better fit, with the level of difference in the performance of the top-five – Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo – relatively negligible. Each of them could be the Canucks’ best D on any given night.
But the 6D role on that run was shared by a combination of Keith Ballard and Aaron Rome, and they averaged 14:14 and 13:02 of ice-time on that run, respectively.
Neither proved capable of holding down the kind of minutes that every Canuck defender did in Game One.
If we were to contrast the two bluelines, we’d admit that the 1-5 D on the 2011 team could definitely be construed as stronger than whatever the Canucks’ top-five is at the present moment. But we’d counter that the current Canucks are both stronger at 1D and at 6D, regardless of what’s in between.
As for which blueline is overall stronger? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and until more time passes, 2011 will always have the historical argument on their side.
But just the sheer fact that the Canucks are skating into the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs with one of the deepest and most well-balanced bluelines in the NHL – after years and years of rebuilding that looked more like thrifting – is truly remarkable, and one well worth pausing to consider and appreciate.
Hughes and Myers arrived in 2019. The next longest-tenured top-six defender is Hronek, who was acquired little more than a year ago. Cole and Soucy were signed as free agents in July. Zadorov was picked up in December.
In other words, it has taken GM Patrik Allvin and Co. little more than a calendar year to completely restructure their blueline, and they’ve done so with enough success that now each of their top-six defenders is capable of skating at least 18 minutes a night in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – an en route to at least one victory, no less.
For a while there, it felt like this day would never come.
This day when we could look at the Canucks’ current set of D, and think that it truly belongs in this, the ultimate contest for hockey’s greatest glory.
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