Deadline days are bedlam enough tracking all the leads (and retweeting the bogus ones...ahem) that sometimes you miss the devil in the details.
Earlier, when I recapped the two deadline deals, I made some obvious comments about Chris Higgins lack of consistency and delicate fall from grace over the past two seasons. However poking around a bit more at his past two seasons and I think we got a bit more than meets the eye.
...Do you have the Transformers theme in your head now? You're welcome.
Higgins has moved around so frequently the past two years it required some digging around to get a good read on him. It wasn't too far in the rearview that Higgins was one of the best wingers on Montreal, scoring at will while dragging around some anchor linemates.
When he was moved to the Rangers, Sather thought he had a budding winger who could build off his 2007-08 52 point campaign while with Montreal. At the time, Habs Eyes On The Prize described him as:
In Higgins, you guys are getting a tireless worker, whose worse habit is trying to do too much in one shift. He has a tendency to wear himself down physically by hitting everything all the time, whether necessary or not. He's a injury prone busybody, and his strength is puck cycling and putting shots on net. He's far from a sharpshooter, but he's solid when it comes to creating scoring chances. It's not uncommon to see him fire between five and eight shots on net on a good night, but come up empty handed
Obviously it didn't work in NY. Perhaps part of the issue was that injuries shifted him from wing to center. Maybe it was confusion over his exact role (top six winger vs grinder). But despite generous time with Gaborik and Prospal in addition to ample PP opportunities, he simply wasn't finishing. This wasn't to say the effort wasn't there, far from it. In fact that seems to be the best NY fans could say about the guy. But results are expected out of big ticket wingers (Mason Raymond knows this quite well) and Higgins was ushered out of town.
In Calgary he landed on the second line with Langkow and Kotalik, benefiting from a shift back to wing and developed almost instant chemistry with Langkow. He silently became one of the Flames best ES players and the stats after a short while allowed Kent Wilson to describe Higgins a bit differently than Rangers fans could:
...Higgins is playing against very good players, but the puck spends a lot of time travelling north with him on the ice anyways. That's helpful to the team for a variety of reasons (more o-zone time, more shifts ending at the right end of the ice, less time spent in the defensive end). A strong corsi number, particular in forwards, is usually an indication of one of two things: a player that is highly sheltered or a player that is rather dominant. Higgins hasn't been the former for Calgary.
Though he was one of the better Flames eating the tougher minutes, his shooting percentage was still horrifically low and he remained dogged by injuries. That, coupled with cap considerations, soured the Flames on him in the offseason who didn't need to add another plugger with a pricetag.
As a Panther he's played primarily with Weiss and Frolik (and more recently Skille) but he's also bounced around all the lines almost from the drop of the puck in October. Despite that his shooting % has crept back up near 10% while playing the tougher starts on a bad team and doing fairly well in the process. Then the injuries crept back in (foot, lower body, hamstring and hand ailments just this season alone) and though his point production has been stronger than it was in the fall, he fell out of favor as the Panthers went into seller mode.
How Higgins is used when he returns from injury is the question. It's a shot across the bow at Raymond for sure that he can be demoted and replaced by Higgins who is familiar with top six duties. Then again, Raymond is far more of a sniper whose value is obvious when he isn't snake-bitten. Plus, as Higgins showed in NY, increased responsibilities isn't a sure thing for him; he remains a shadow of his Montreal years and to think it'll magically appear in Vancouver is quite the leap.
Higgins may fit best on the third line, but then you're messing with one of the better stretches Vancouver has had from Manny/Torres/Hansen. If AV wants to emulate the limited success he had in Calgary, chaining him to Malhotra is the most logical and may give the Canucks an even more formidable shutdown line. Torres/Glass/LaPierre sounds like a nasty fourth line in and of itself.
Could he be a fourth liner? Sure; anyone not named Sedin or Kesler could end up on the fourth line. But as Gillis said on his media call today, if he plays well, why bury him?
Higgins is an interesting pick-up. If we get the Ranger version, it'll be a hard worker sans results that can serve the bottom six needs when healthy. If we get a stronger version of his time in Calgary, he may provide AV with a crucial two-way player capable of top six minutes. If we get the Panthers version, he can go anywhere from the third Sedin to a four minute a game player along with Glass. That's remarkable versatility for a quiet deadline acquisition all for the price of third rounder and a prospect.
Let's just hope the kid stay's healthy; we're his fourth shot at redemption and it couldn't come at a more crucial time. The deadline is over, the best in the west - if not the league - is the next challenge. What part will Higgins play?