Evan Rodrigues would be a slick pickup for the Canucks, but only if they trade a forward or two
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
By now, you know how we like to do things around these CanucksArmy parts. We don’t create the rumours, we just report on and assess them.
Last week, we covered one half of the two remaining UFAs whose names have been attached to the Vancouver Canucks in recent weeks, and found Calvin de Haan to be a potentially sensible addition.
This week, we’re back to talk about the other half of that speculation, but the prospect of fitting Evan Rodrigues into the Canucks’ current depth chart is decidedly more complicated.
Before we get too far into the direct implications of the Rodrigues rumour to the Canucks, let’s talk about Rodrigues the hockey player. Specifically, let’s address the myth that he’s a one-hit wonder coming off a hot streak.
Vital Stats: 29, C/W, Shoots Right, 5’11”, 184lb
|Games||Goals||Assists||Points||+/-||Avg. TOI||Faceoff||Hits||Blocked Shots|
It is true that the 29-year-old centre more than doubled his previous career-high in goals for the Penguins last season with 19, to go along with 43 points. And it is true that Rodrigues spent more than a quarter of his even-strength time with no less than Sidney Crosby as his linemate.
One can see why it’s tempting to label Rodrigues as a flash-in-the-pan. But a deeper dive into his numbers reveals something else.
In terms of points-per-game, Rodrigues’ 2021/22 pace only tied his career best, set back in his sophomore season with Buffalo. The 0.52 he registered last year was a tick up from the 0.40 of 2020/21, but not an excessively dramatic one.
The jump is even less noticeable when talking about his points-per-60. In that column, 2021/22 doesn’t even match the pace of 2017/18, and is more or less in line with his career average.
Then there’s shooting percentage, which is usually the harbinger of a forward on a lucky run, as opposed to someone producing at their natural rate. Here, Rodrigues’ 7.8% is right in line with his usual performance, and actually a significant drop from his 2020/21 accuracy.
Then there’s the whole Crosby narrative.
Sure, Crosby was Rodrigues’ most frequent linemate last year, but Rodrigues also spent a significant amount of time with the likes of Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Zucker, Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, and Brock McGinn.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
In terms of with whom he actually produced points, it’s worth noting that only eight of Rodrigues’ 35 even-strength points came while he was on the ice with Crosby (and Jake Guentzel). A whopping 15 EV points came alongside Kapanen, with nine each for Zucker and Heinen.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
The notion that Rodrigues benefitted from Crosby’s presence an outsized amount is simply a faulty one. If anything, Rodrigues’ success in 2021/22 had a lot more to do with Evgeni Malkin, as the superstar’s lengthy absence from the lineup opened up more ice-time and opportunity for Rodrigues as a centre.
Really, that should be the book on Rodrigues so far, someone who steps up when given a chance, not someone playing over his head.
So, if the 43-point Rodrigues of last year is pretty close to the real deal, what does that make Rodrigues?
We sort of glossed over the fact that 35 of his 43 points came at even-strength. That’s a notable ratio and a very good amount for his position on the Pittsburgh depth chart.
It paints the picture of an effective, middle-six centre who can fit in anywhere in a team’s top-nine, but is probably at his best floating between 2C and 3C roles on a deep forward corps.
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From NaturalStatTrick.com, 5v5 play
Rodrigues’ analytics all support that idea, too. His possession numbers and control of scoring chances were fantastic, regardless of who he played with, and he wasn’t handed a boatload of offensive zone starts, either.
Rodrigues’ deployment chart states that he faced off with top-six competition about as often as he received top-six linemates, and with relatively equal results.
Evan “Evaning” Rodrigues. A middle-six forward, through and through, but a quality one capable of borderline second-line production and above-average defensive results.
All of which sounds pretty great, right? Like the sort of player than any team, including the Vancouver Canucks, could probably use — especially this late in the summer, when Rodrigues’ contract expectations have to have dropped, at least a little.
There’s just one problem. Well, actually, there are 13 of them. The Canucks already have Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, Ilya Mikheyev, Andrey Kuzmenko, Tanner Pearson, Curtis Lazar, Nils Höglander, Dakota Joshua, and Jason Dickinson to fit into the lineup (to say nothing of the NHL-ready Will Lockwood).
That doesn’t leave any room for Rodrigues. Nor is there any room under the salary cap for the assumed $2-3 million+ AAV that Rodrigues would be seeking, nor would it be wise to spend that money on another forward if it were available — not with the blue line in the state that it is.
So, as it stands now, it doesn’t make much sense for the Canucks to be kicking any tires related to Rodrigues. But as it stands now is not necessarily the way that it will always be.
Speaking of rumours, they continue to swirl around the Canucks and their ongoing plans to trade at least one forward between now and the outset of the 2022/23 season.
Miller’s name is the one most frequently bandied about, but Pearson, Garland, Dickinson, and even Boeser and Höglander have also been mentioned as potential departures.
Trade one of those forwards (especially Miller) and, suddenly, the addition of Rodrigues makes a lot more sense. The Canucks could feel pretty confident running Pettersson/Horvat/Rodrigues down the middle, and certainly more than they would with Dickinson or Lazar in that 3C spot.
Trade TWO of those forwards, however, and that’s when things get really interesting. If the Canucks were to send, say, Miller and Pearson or Garland and Dickinson elsewhere, they’d definitely want to set aside some of the cap space gained for the blue line. But they’d also probably want at least one replacement forward, and that’s where Rodrigues fits in beautifully.
In fact, one might go as far as to say that, if the Canucks are truly interested in Rodrigues’ services, it’s outright evidence of their intention to trade someone.
Obviously, a team-friendly contract of some sort is also key to the fit. Here, the Canucks will have to trust in the shrinking summer UFA market — and perhaps in Rodrigues’ past relationship with Rutherford. As Pittsburgh GM, Rutherford traded for Rodrigues, then traded him away, and then signed him as a UFA.
At a reasonable salary and only a couple of years of term, Rodrigues could allow the Canucks to cash in on some tradeable assets while still icing a competitive forward corps. He could be the pathway to building toward the future without getting in the way of that future.
Or, he could be the subject of yet another summer-time rumour that won’t come to pass.
We’ll find out within the next month or so.
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