Ethan Bear demonstrably made his Canucks teammates better throughout 2022/23
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
3 months ago
“For sale: Top-four right-handed defender.”
“Fifth round pick or best offer.”
“Bonus: Trial edition of Lane Pederson.”
Sounds like a scam, right? A little too good to be true. And if this were Kijiji, then sure, we’d look at the above advertisement with some serious skepticism. But this is not Kijiji, this is CanucksArmy, and specifically, it’s another CanucksArmy Year-in-Review article.
And it’s not an advertisement, it’s just the real, actual price that the team paid to acquire Ethan Bear.
The Counting Stats
We were at first a little worried about how we were going to split the stats in our analysis of Bear’s 2022/23 season, given that he started the season in Carolina.
Fortunately for us, and for the price the Canucks wound up paying for him, Bear did not dress for a single game with the Hurricanes this season prior to the trade.
Thus, all of his actual games came in a Canucks uniform.
At this level, there’s really nothing to write home about on Bear’s numbers. Offensively, he’s contributing right around the league average. That he was out there for more goals for than goals against on a team with a negative goal-differential is notable.
It’s the ice-time that really stands out here. Bear’s average of 16:37 is the fifth-highest on the team, but only when Filip Hronek and his four games are included in the mix. In other words, there wasn’t a point during this season at which Bear was not playing somewhere in the Canucks’ top-four.
His 1:47 in average shorthanded time per game trailed just Tyler Myers, Guillaume Brisebois, and the departed Luke Schenn, and that’s not something that one hears Bear credited with very often.
So, the question becomes: was Bear a top-four defender just on the quantity of his minutes, or is there something to be said about the quality of his play, as well?
For that, we’re going to have to dive a little deeper into the stats.
The Fancy Stats
It is in the advanced statline that one can really start to see the positive impact that Bear was able to have whenever he hit the ice for the Canucks.
|Corsi%||Shot Control||Expected Goals||Scoring Chance Control||High-Danger Chance Control|
From NaturalStatTrick.com, for even-strength play
Not only were Bear’s on-ice results consistently in the positive, they were consistently among the best on the Vancouver blueline.
His Corsi ranked second among Canucks defenders, trailing just Quinn Hughes (and Noah Juulsen, if you count him). Same goes for shot control. But Bear actually beat Hughes out (though not Juulsen) when it comes to his ratio of expected goals. In fact, the only Canuck to play an entire season and wind up with a higher expected goals ratio than Bear was Elias Pettersson.
Also worthy of praise is Bear’s 52.54% control of high-danger chances specifically, which ranked fifth-highest on the team and trailed just part-time defenders Juulsen and Christian Wolanin.
Which is actually something we’d also like to draw attention to. When it comes to players like Juulsen and/or Wolanin, we have to note that their stints with Vancouver came later on in the season, when the Tocchet Turnaround was in full effect and the Canucks were winning with regularity.
Bear, meanwhile, was with the Canucks since late October, which means he was there for the absolute worst of 2022/23, along with the eventual return to form. That his fancy stats still stayed in the positive, despite being part of a defensively porous team for much of the season, speaks volumes about Bear’s individual quality of play.
We shouldn’t go too much further without noting that Bear was not exactly used in a shutdown role by any stretch of the imagination.
On the right side, Myers and Schenn (when still there) tended to take on tougher matchups on an average basis. Which is not to say that Bear was sheltered. But he did face a deployment that is best described as “about league-average,” and that probably helped his stats to look so good, as did a fairly even split between his zone-starts.
Then again, injury trouble probably conspired to hold his stats back the other way a little, too.
To get a clearer picture of what Bear truly contributed to the Canucks, we have to look beyond his statistics entirely, and into the numbers of his teammates.
The Story Behind the Numbers
The real story of Bear’s 2022/23 season with the Canucks is one that sounds dangerously close to a hockey cliché: he made the players around him better.
Bear spent about a third of his ice-time paired with Hughes, another quarter of it with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and then split the rest between a wide swath of partners, with Myers at the head of the pack.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
And once all that ice-time is parsed out in a “with you, without you” sense, Bear’s impact becomes undeniable.
Virtually every defender who shared the ice with him saw their statline increase significantly.
|Corsi without Bear||Corsi with Bear||Expected Goals without Bear||Expected Goals with Bear||Scoring Chances without Bear||Scoring Chances with Bear|
From NaturalStatTrick.com, For even-strength play
Just look at that chart!
Some said that Ekman-Larsson pretty much only looked passable this past season while partnered with Bear, and these stats would support it. Without Bear, OEL floundered, and with Bear, he…almost broke even.
The impact on Myers is just bonkers. Without Bear, Myers bled expected goals. With Bear, he looked like an expected goal-producing machine.
But it’s the Hughes stuff that has us most convinced that Bear really, truly performed as a quality top-four defender for Vancouver in 2022/23.
Hughes is already an enormously talented player. But that partnering with Bear could effect a jump of up to 5% in a stat like expected goals is really something. For all the accolades Schenn got for effectively partnering with Hughes, the stats really pale in comparison. Bear is the one who actually, demonstrably helped Hughes play better.
The Canucks have been looking for someone to elevate Hughes game since they drafted him. And if these stats are any indication, they may have found one in Bear.
All for the low, low price of a fifth round pick.
Now, the trick becomes having Bear continue on the team without actually paying him like a top-four defender. He remains an unsigned RFA as of this writing, and will need a qualifying offer of $2.2 million for the Canucks to retain his rights.
Based on the above, we think it’ll cost a little more than that to keep him around. And based on the above, we think he’s well worth it.
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