Ian Cole is still playing better for the Canucks than most think

Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
22 days ago
Ian Cole, come on down!
You’re the next contestant on Fans of the Vancouver Canucks have become oddly focused on the quality of your play.
Cole’s performance has definitely become a topic of conversation in recent weeks. And not without reason.
Since February 1, Cole has been on the ice for 17 even-strength goals for and 18 against, which doesn’t sound all that bad. However, it does give Cole the worst EV goal-share of any defender on the team during that same stretch of time.
From October to February, on the other hand, Cole had the best EV goal-share of any Vancouver defender at 56.1%, with 37 on-ice goals for and 29 against.
Worst still have been a handful of obvious gaffes and giveaways that seem to make Cole solely responsible for some of those goals against.
Suffice it to say, then, that Cole has perhaps not been playing as well lately as he was at the start of the year.
There have been consequences. He sat two games for “load management” against Montreal and Calgary in late March. More recently, he was one of seven defenders dressed against Arizona. He’s seen his ice-time become a fair bit more inconsistent. It was always around 20 minutes per night at the start of the year, but has started to fluctuate: 15:54 against Anaheim, then 21:02 against Vegas, then 16:42 against Arizona.
There’s even been further talk of removing Cole from the lineup outright, including a recent chit-chat on our beloved Canucks Conversation.
You’ll find fans in the replies stating that Cole is “done” or “cooked.”
And this all really came to a head for that April 2 game against Vegas. Sure, Cole played an impressive 21:02. He was also on the ice for the first five goals against the Canucks.
And people definitely noticed.
Now, we’re not here to make the argument that that was a great performance. It obviously wasn’t. Nor are we here to argue that Cole hasn’t seen a dip in the quality of his play as the season has worn on. That’s perhaps to be expected from someone who is both the team’s oldest player and one of its busiest.
But we are here to make the argument that the concerns over Cole are overblown, and that he’s still absolutely someone that the Canucks should be dressing for every game of the playoffs that he is healthy.
Though, as we noted, his ice-time has become a bit more inconsistent, Cole is still fourth on the blueline at an average of 18:45, just twelve seconds behind Tyler Myers’ average. And in the sport of hockey, where not all minutes are created equal, Cole’s definitely stand out as more difficult than most.
The qual-comp chart on HockeyViz will tell you that Cole is playing essentially league-average competition with a below-league-average quality of linemates…
From HockeyViz.com
But that’s not a complete picture. To get that, we need to go back and look at some individual game records. We’ll use the last four games as our example.
On March 28 against Dallas, Cole played 13:55 of 5v5 ice. His most frequent on-ice opponent? Young star centre Wyatt Johnston for 6:18 of those minutes. Another 5:49 went to rookie sensation Logan Stankoven, and another 5:25 to Jamie Benn.
Cole only played 10:16 of 5v5 against Anaheim on March 31. But of those ten minutes, 5:43 came against Ryan Strome, 5:31 against Trevor Zegras, and 5:16 against Mason McTavish. That’s not just the best offensive talent that the Ducks had to offer, that’s all the offensive talent they had, and Cole matched up dedicatedly against it, allowing just one goal against.
The April 2 game against Vegas, as we mentioned already, was another story. Cole was on the ice for 15:45 of 5v5 ice-time, during which time he surrendered three goals against (and was on for two goals for.) That’s not awful, it’s not ideal. But consider that of those minutes, 6;16 came against deadline power forward pickup Anthony Mantha, 5:48 came against William Karlsson, and 4:01 came against Jack Eichel (along with two of those goals against.)
Another best example of what we’re talking about came on March 3 against Arizona. Cole played 13:37 of 5v5 ice-time (despite sharing it with six other defenders) and spent most of it matched up against young hot-hands in Josh Doan (5:45) and Matias Maccelli (5:40).
We cannot make the statement that Cole is being hard-matched against top opposition. The sheer number of minutes played by Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek prevents that, with that pairing sopping up their fair share of the tough deployments.
But Cole is playing an awful lot against the opposition’s top offensive players on a night-in, night-out basis. And he’s doing so while starting a team-high 63.4% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
So, does Cole go out there for every shift against top opposition? No.
But does he go out there for most shifts against top opposition that start in the Canucks’ own end?
And with that in mind, the value that Cole continues to bring to the table should become more apparent. The fact that he still maintains a nearly-even on-ice goal differential, even through this last difficult stretch, remains impressive.
That the Canucks are a demonstrably stingier team with Cole on the ice, despite the circumstances of his deployment, might cross the threshold into truly remarkable.
From HockeyViz.com
What we’re really saying here is that Cole should absolutely be considered a guaranteed dress for Game One of the playoffs, and probably every game thereafter for which he is fully healthy. We’ve gone this far without mentioning that Cole is both someone with a lot of playoff experience, some of it highly successful, and the kind of defender best described as “built for the postseason.”
Does he need to clean up the gaffes? Sure. The tactic of load management is probably a good one on this front through the final remaining games of the regular season.
But does that change the fact that Cole is an important part of the blueline and someone who makes the Canucks a better team and gives them a better chance to win by being on the ice?

Check out these posts...