Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers are bleeding even-strength goals at a preposterous rate, and something must be done
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
We won’t be winning any journalistic awards for publishing an article with a thesis that states that the Vancouver Canucks’ blueline is struggling. At this point, it’s the equivalent of publishing an article about how the team’s logo sort of looks like a ‘C.’
But the ongoing trials and tribulations of the D corps in Vancouver are so varied and multifaceted that there’s still ample material to talk about when it comes to how and why the Vancouver blue line is struggling. The Canucks’ defence is like the opposite of those magic pictures: the more closely one looks at the problem, the more troubling it appears.
And when one looks closely at the problems on the blue line, it’s hard to look past Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers.
Again, we’re not covering any new ground here in suggesting that either of Ekman-Larsson or Myers are having a bad season, or that they’re not quite earning their massive salaries, or that they’ve been seriously lacking in their own end in particular.
It’s the specifics that really stand out here, and while it’s an ongoing issue, the further implosion of their collective ability to play defence is also a recently-intensified phenomenon.
Consider, for example, the Canucks’ performance since December 1, 2022.
During that time, the Canucks have played 17 games, scored 44 even-strength goals, and had 49 scored against them.
Honestly? That’s probably a far better ratio than most would have expected at first blush. It sure does seem like the Canucks have been outscored by a lot more than five goals at evens over the past month and a half, doesn’t it?
Part of that is definitely special teams. The Canucks’ overall goal differential since December 1 is 56-70, an indication of just how poorly the penalty kill has performed.
The rest is probably because of Ekman-Larsson and Myers.
Of those 49 even-strength goals against, care to take a guess as to how many occurred when one of Ekman-Larsson or Myers was one the ice?
Go ahead and write down your answer, and then scroll further on in the article.
You might want to be sitting down for this.
Remember that number that one of the Sedins used to wear?
No, not 22. The other one.
Yeah, that’s right. 33. The number is 33.
As in, one of Ekman-Larsson and/or Myers has been on the ice for 33 of the 49 EV goals scored against the Canucks since December 1, 2022.
Just let that sink in.
That means that all of the non-OEL and non-Myers pairings combined for a grand total of 16 EV goals against during that same period, a rate of fewer than one per game.
In other words, the rest of the Vancouver blueline has actually been keeping pucks out of their net at a very reasonable pace. It’s just that, when OEL and/or Myers are on the ice, opponents are scoring goals at MORE THAN DOUBLE that rate.
And, really, what’s a team to do?
When Ekman-Larsson and Myers are paired together, things are perhaps at their worst. The two have been partnered more than any other pairing, save for Quinn Hughes and Ethan Bear, since December 1, and a full ten EV goals against have been scored when they’re on the ice together.
Clearly, sticking with what was once a quality shutdown pairing in OEL and Myers is not the solution moving forward.
But splitting them up isn’t ideal, either.
The dirty secret here is that the rest of the blueline isn’t struggling nearly as badly as OEL and Myers are. Hughes and Bear have proven to be a strong pairing from the get-go. Travis Dermott is rounding into form after a lengthy absence. Luke Schenn might have slowed down a touch, but he’s still reliable as ever. Kyle Burroughs makes an impact whenever he gets into the lineup. The less said about Riley Stillman the better, but you get our point.
Whenever one of Ekman-Larsson or Myers gets paired with any of the above defenders, it has a demonstrably negative effect on that other player. Goals for go down, goals against go up. Scoring chances against rise, possession falls apart.
So, if the Canucks can’t pair these two together, and they shouldn’t pair them with other people, what’s left to do?
The obvious option here is to start occasionally, and maybe even regularly, healthy scratching one or both of them. But that comes with its own complications.
Combined, Ekman-Larsson and Myers are on the books for $13.26 million in collective cap hit this season and next, and even more actual salary than that. Unfortunately, that’s an awful lot of money to have sitting in the pressbox.
The Canucks probably also have designs on moving Myers at some point between now and the upcoming offseason. In order to do that, they’ll want to do something to increase his perceived value, but every time he steps on the ice this season, he’s doing the opposite.
Maybe that’s the best path for the Canucks to take: find a way to insulate Myers in this blueline and try to squeeze some good performances out of him, even if that means taking Ekman-Larsson out of the lineup for a while. Myers has had fine results next to Burroughs in limited minutes, so maybe make a swap there.
Everyone knows that OEL isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so scratching him now has a lesser impact. Deal with the Myers problem first, and then worry about making Ekman-Larsson work for the remaining four(!) years on his contract.
But, really, that might just be the best possible solution here. There aren’t any good solutions to be found when a team has two veterans playing this poorly and being paid as much as they are for said poor performance.
Of all the on-ice problems plaguing the Canucks right now, it’s probably the biggest. The numbers would agree, the eye-test would agree, and we’ve got a feeling that the majority of those reading this will agree, as well.
Update: OEL took line rushes as the healthy scratch ahead of the Canucks’ Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to Postmedia’s Patrick Johnston.
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