Who's this guy?
Anywhere he wants Left Wing
Anyway he wants Left
Weight: 205 lbs
Born: June 2, 1983 in Smithfield, NY (not to be confused with the soccer bar in Manhattan where you can kill brain cells with the greatest of ease)
History: Drafted 14th overall (1st Round) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens (a mere nine spots ahead of Ben Eager and now you can feel better about Vancouver's limited drafting prowess knowing they at least didn't waste a top 15 spot on that clown)
What'd he do?
Despite a few bumps and bruises costing him seven games, Higgins was a consistent fixture in the top nine and played with everyone from the Sedins to some guy named Steve Pinizzotto. Primarily seen (or at least starting) on the checking line, his ten goals tied him with Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen for fourth best and his 15 points was good enough for ninth best on the team. Away from the score sheet he logged plenty of TOI on the kill, trailing only Manny Malhotra, Alexandre Burrows and Hansen; his 12 hits was fourth best and his three blocks was (wait for it) fourth best among forwards.
Like the rest of the team, the playoffs weren't very kind to Higgy. He was bounced around the lines again but found some time with Ryan Kesler, none of which helped his stat line: 0 points and a -2 in four games along with a career post season worst five shots on net.
So was he any good?
This isn't a completely fair way to assess a player, but since Gary B wanted half a hockey season damn it I'm using half a season's hockey stats. Here's what the Professor's on-ice product looked like the last two seasons.
|CORSI Rel QoC||0.662||0.956|
|O Zone %||46.0%||46.6%|
The Corsi shows the effect of getting him away from Kesler since RK17 draws the opposition's attention very easily. Instead Higgins (not unlike Hansen) used his increased ice time on the checking line very well, bumping up his even strength production and shooting percentage along the way. If anything the look above emphasizes how badly this team needs to remove the "for rent" sign on that third line pivot and find a quality center who can work with his wingers. Look at the final four playoff teams remaining and you'll see each has a quality checking line that can do damage at both ends of the ice.
What'd we like?
Checking line goals are sort of sexy.
Rebound goals are also sexy.
Wraparound scores make the ladies swoon.
He even made Dale Weise appear quasi-relevant in the sport of hockey.
It's a shame we didn't see more of this in April.
"Have a seat here, let me get a good pen."
Cool. So what did we hate?
You could copy and paste this statement for a lot of Canucks: the problem is consistency. Much of this was from Vigneault's line management and not playing more with the second line. Then again he didn't score his first goal until ten games in, the equivalent of 25% through this locked out season. In March he once again hit the skids, going eight games without a point and that span included an ugly -3 he had during a loss against Detroit. He ended the year on the wrong side of the +/- with a -4, his worst since 2009 when he was with the Rangers/Flames. Once again you can look at the stats above, realize the third line was fractured and largely ineffective and slam your face against a brick wall (note: we don't recommend this practice, but hey, to each their own).
The playoffs also remain a black eye for Higgins: his last goal came against San Jose in game two of the 2011 Western Conference Finals and his last assist in game two of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. That means Higgins has gone pointless in the last 14 playoff games for Vancouver and that won't work at all, especially as teams learn to rely on their third liners for timely production.
So what now?
It's helpful to read Hansen's autopsy when considering Higgins because that's two-thirds of what could and should be an effective checking line for the new coach. Higgins is a universally likable guy, the sort of "put me in coach" type player who is generally responsible in his own end and can often make good on his chances at the other. Perhaps best of all is his versatility: like Hansen, he can be moved around the line-up as required and if he gets more consistent with his offensive chances, it'll make a world of difference. Also, while not huge he's one of the few bigger bodies Vancouver has, so if the Canucks are looking to get bigger as Gillis said after he showed Vigneault the door Higgins is a lock to stick around (his cap-friendly contract extension speaks to that too). I don't see why Gillis would look to move Higgins as he reworks his squad, but if he really wants to he better kick those tires by July 1st which is when Higgin's NTC begins.