Paterson’s Point: Canucks should consider load management for veteran defenders

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
5 months ago
A nagging injury to Nikita Zadorov made the decision easy for Rick Tocchet. Zadorov came out of the lineup last night in New Jersey, paving the way for Carson Soucy to suit up for the first time since the middle of November. The Canucks say whatever is ailing Zadorov isn’t serious, which means Tocchet and his coaching staff will have something to ponder whenever the club has its full complement of blueliners.
For weeks now, the prevailing belief was that Noah Juulsen would be the easy choice and the first guy to sit. But should it be such a simple decision?
Juulsen has given the Canucks everything they could hope for from a bottom pair defender. He’s been a fearless shotblocker and a key part of an improving penalty kill and isn’t shy when it comes to stepping up the physical side of his game.
Consider this: Tyler Myers is weeks away from his 34th birthday (February 1st). A few weeks after that Ian Cole turns 35 (February 21st). These are aging veterans playing every day roles in a young man’s league. Maybe, just maybe, the Canucks should take the long view here and do what’s best for their two oldest players – and for the hockey club. Forget the badge of honour that comes with appearing in all 82 games over the course of a gruelling National Hockey League season. With a 25-11-3 record, the Canucks are heading to the playoffs and from this point forward all organizational decisions ought to be made through a post-season lens.
Why not give Cole and Myers select nights off to save the wear and tear on their bodies while also allowing Juulsen the opportunity to stay sharp by continuing to see NHL game action? Tocchet and the Canucks coaching staff could easily handpick the nights they want to use their optimal line-up, but also find spots in the schedule to sit either of the veterans down. It would give the coaches the opportunity to see other pairings in the event their hands are forced to make changes due to injury.
Both Cole and Myers have appeared in all 39 games to this point. Cole ranks fifth on the team in average ice time at 19:22 with Myers next in line at 19:06. They are two of the three leading short-handed ice time guys – eating hard minutes on a regular basis. 
Other sports have embraced the notion of load management and yet, for whatever reasons, hockey has been slow to come around on the idea. Teams invest heavily in their players. Why not maximize the return on that investment and find ways to keep players – particularly veterans – fresh and ready for the playoff payoff? At this stage of the schedule and at this point in their careers, Cole and Myers don’t need to play back to backs, three games in four nights or four in six. As an organization, the Canucks have depth on defence when fully healthy, so it would serve them well to do the right thing and put that depth to the best use possible.
It would obviously be a tough sell to the players. There’s no doubt about that. The idea of sitting out likely wouldn’t sit well with guys who want to suit up and go to battle with their teammates on a nightly basis. But, hockey culture be damned, some long term thinking here could go a long way to helping both the players and the hockey club down the road.
This wouldn’t be a long term play. But over the course of the next few months, the Canucks could surely find 10 or 12 nights where one of Cole or Myers could come out of the line-up and Juulsen could surely and capably slot in. Follow this plan and then go with your optimal line-up for the final 10 or 15 games of the regular season to ensure your six chosen d-men are in lockstep ahead of the post-season.
The Canucks have managed to get by for two months without Carson Soucy. They could surely manage on a couple of nights without Cole or Myers.
And maybe, just maybe, the team would be better off in the long run by giving the veteran defenders a handful of nights off now so that they’re fresh and ready for the games that, ultimately, will matter most.

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