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Picking Up The Pieces: The 2009-2010 Canucks Defense

It's been exactly one week since we all woke up - perhaps in a bit of a whiskey-induced daze - to another long summer ahead.

I've been contributing my inane diatribes for this team coming up on four years and this elimination has been the most frustrating. Anaheim was too deep a few seasons ago and our team was too slow and defensive-minded last year.

Yet with so many positives from the regular season hoping to carry them a bit further, a few familiar enemies did them in again: an overall lack of discipline, a lack of execution and the numerous and often hilarious breakdowns in front of our curious netminder. If you don't look at this and get pissed, you're not a fan of this team.

But a week has passed, I think my hangover is gone and I'm already cranked up for the draft and this summer (also watching Byfuglien piss off another team....hooray it's not just us!). We need to see a lot of things change, particularly where the Vancouver Canucks are the weakest: defense. So that seems like the best place to start picking up the pieces.

After the jump, a look at who did what this season on our blueline.

Alexander Edler

#23 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Apr 21, 1986

2009 - Alexander Edler 76 5 37 42 0 40 2 0 0 0 161 3.1

What he did: Many wondered what the departure of Ohlund would have on little-Ohlie. I don't think it's fair to credit Edler's erratic play to that, but it had to have played a part. 42 points was a career best - and 37 assists is 10 better than last season - but disconcerting is he finished negative for the first time in his career and his shooting was poor (shot percentage sank from 6.1% to 3.1%). AV used Edler fairly liberally all over the ice in any situation; along with almost a 90 second increase in ATOI (22:38 this year) you could argue maybe it was a bit too much for the 23 year old. He was OK in the post season (2G, 4A, +9) but got exposed against Chicago, especially in game three where Byfuglien made him his bitch (well him and the team in general).

For The Record: E-train lead all the blueliners in offensive and defensive zone starts as well as in blocked shots.

Summer Assignment: Remember a few seasons when the Sedins were slammed for being scrawny and easy to knock off the puck? They went home that summer and came back chiseled, spending much of the summer in the old country running up hills while juggling horses, maybe pulling a wooden wagon carrying boulders with their teeth. Edler needs the same sexy Swedish summer. Besides just working on the fundamentals, he needs to bulk up. Remember him in game one against the Kings? We need a lot more of that. 2010-2011 will be very telling if Edler deserves the franchise accolades that have been bantered around for the past few years.


Sami Salo

#6 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Sep 02, 1974

2009 - Sami Salo 68 9 19 28 14 18 6 0 3 0 119 7.6

What he did: Without Ohlund around, this could have been Salo's coming out party as a #1 defenseman. But probably what will stick out more for us (zing!) is his testicular fortitude; seriously only Salo could use a horrific debilitating injury to make himself look patently indestructible. If you're a parent wanting to warn your kiddies about the dangers of this sport, just show them Sami's injury list. At any rate, his numbers were slightly better than last season (actually his 28 points was his fourth best in his seven seasons as a Canuck). When the injuries rolled in, AV did a good job dispersing the minutes amongst the other guys and not overloading Salo; his 20:30 ATOI, slightly higher than last season, is still far off from his almost 25 minutes four seasons ago. Along with Edler, he remained a fixture in both offensive and defensive starts and remains one of Vancouver's more responsible blueliners.

For The Record: No joke: Salo's 68 games this season was his best showing since 2003-2004. For those keeping track at home, his injuries this season included a sprained MCL, groin, eye and leg injuries. Go big dog!

Summer Assignment: Rest, heal, pray and sit in a dark room away from sharp objects and electrical outlets. You know, his normal routine. Salo is another pending UFA heading into next season. He'll be back of course, but he's got risky rental written all over him if Vancouver falters and opts to become a seller at the deadline. He could be extended too, but how much cap value can a questionably durable defenseman over 35 years old demand?


Kevin Bieksa

#3 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Jun 16, 1981

2009 - Kevin Bieksa 55 3 19 22 -5 85 1 0 0 0 95 3.2

What he did: Juice followed up a strong 2009 campaign with another let down. In October he was averaging a point every other game but that tailed off badly in the next two months before his leg laceration at the end of December. On the defensive side he was better (being paired with a healthy Mitchell does that) and though he got into his typical PIM trouble in November (40 minutes in 12 games) he was decent. He struggled in his return and his mental vacations continued unabated, but the defense was a mess so we tried to ignore the cons and focus on the pros. In the end if you want a microcosm of what having Bieksa on your team is like, you need only look at the two games of Vancouver's season: even though he wasn't a standout defensively in game five, he popped in two goals to force another game. 48 hours later he did this (3:23 mark) and finished with -2 and no SOG. High risk/high reward? Thy name is Kevin.

For The Record: Bieksa lead the blueline in PIMs this year. You're likely not shocked by this and nor should you: in his five seasons with Vancouver, he's never finished less than third in PIMs for defenseman and in three of his five years he's been #1 (only Bryan Allen and SOB had the nerve to top him). On the positive side, he recorded the second best Corsi on the blueline.

Summer Assignment: Does anyone know what to do with Bieksa anymore? He's topped 40 points twice and yet followed those efforts up with wildly off the mark totals the next year. His PIMs remain high, questions will dog him about his defensive instincts and - though not his fault - he has suffered some really bizarre injuries. You'd be hard pressed to find a player who represents more of a coin toss than Bieksa which is why his future (UFA next summer) will be debated greatly. He'll remain on the second pairing, but because of his age and production, he's the best defenseman not named Ehrhoff Vancouver could trade and expect some quality in return.


Christian Ehrhoff

#5 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Jul 06, 1982

2009 - Christian Ehrhoff 80 14 30 44 36 42 6 0 3 0 181 7.7

What he did: Ehrhoff represents the only MG trade that has paid off. We didn't know what we were getting with him originally; FTF was quick to pass along the 'error-hoff' moniker the day of the money-dump trade. But few suspected he would pot 14 goals (career best), 44 points (career best) and finish with a +35 (good enough for 3rd best for defensemen and 6th best in the NHL). He tied Salo for the most blueline PPGs and GWGs; in a way, it was like having a smaller but healthier and more accurate Salo along for the campaign. Seven points in 12 post season games is decent for a blueliner, putting him in the same family as Chara and Keith (at the moment). The Hoff grew to be the guy we could trust when the game was on the line even if he remains as error prone as billed. For a defensive core with few bright spots, none burnt brighter.

For The Record: Not surprisingly AV used Edler and Ehrhoff liberally in offensive zone starts and kept him sheltered at others (qualcomp). I haven't seen enough stats for other high scoring defensemen to know if their coaches used them similarly. He finished with the highest Corsi for Vancouver's defensemen and his 44 points was the highest blueliner total since Ed Jovanovski tallied 46 in 2002-03.

Summer Assignment: Once MG gets done fishing for talent, he'll need to lock the Hoff up since he'll be a UFA this time next season. Could he be better defensively? Sure. Did he ring more shots wide and high than we could comfortably stomach? Oh hells yes. Lose him? No no no. If you go by the adage that he's only going to get better, he and his slapshot should be out on the point for the next few seasons.


Shane O`Brien

#55 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Aug 09, 1983

2009 - Shane O`Brien 65 2 6 8 15 79 0 0 0 0 37 5.4

What he did: Raise your hand if you could have guessed SOB would have been more valuable than MG's prized acquisition of Mathieu Schneider? SOB entered this season as the biggest lighting rod for criticism not named Steve Bernier. When he signed last summer it was done with management very much saying "get your ass in gear." It's hard to argue he didn't deliver: his eight points were a career low, but his +/- 15 was a career best, his 79 PIMs was a career low (though still second highest on the team) and his ATOI jumped by over three minutes (again, injuries). I think most of us just wanted to see the mindless penalties stop, but he generally became harder to play against and you could tell his instincts improved. Like others on the back end, he had an up and down post season and played the goat more than once against Chicago.

For The Record: Despite the better total numbers, he lead the team with the most penalties for per 60 mins. SOB also lived up to his initials by doling out the most blueline hits

Summer Assignment: Do the pros outweigh the cons is the biggest question for SOB now. He was more disciplined and better in his own zone during the regular season, but then the Roxy fun, a few mover verbal spats and a poor round against the Hawks made much of that a distant memory. SOB's future will depend on how Gillis fixes the top pairing and where SOB fits in from there.

At some point someone in a suit and tie needs to ask: does the backend truly need SOB, Bieksa and Alberts together?


Andrew Alberts

#41 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Jun 30, 1981

2009 - Andrew Alberts 76 3 9 12 6 87 0 0 0 0 50 6.0

What he did: Alberts was the last deadline deal Gillis made as Mitchell insurance but he became the defacto facepalm in the first round, getting tossed in game one against Los Angeles and then adding six more PIMs in game two. He would sit the next two games and return to play a far better game five (finishing with an assist and a +2) and didn't take any calls either. He played every game against Chicago and, while still better than he was in the first round, was still exposed by Chicago's speed and couldn't make the big play when it mattered.

For The Record: He hasn't taken a penalty in 13 days, but he's still second in post season PIMs for a blueliner (good news, he has company in the third slot). AV kept Alberts very sheltered in his brief regular season stint, something we alluded to in the GDT's that the pace of Western play was quicker than what he experienced in Carolina. We also knew at the deadline Alberts is a hitter; it only took him 14 games to jump to sixth on the blueline.

Summer Assignment: It was easy to point at Alberts for life's problems against the Kings, but once he settled down he was serviceable and, in some moments, provided quite a strong presence. He's Vancouver property for another season at $1 million and he'll remain slotted somewhere in the 5-6 pairing for the start of next year. However, his post season was forgettable so he'd also be an easy person to package in a number of deals sent MG's way.


Willie Mitchell

#8 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Apr 23, 1977

2009 - Willie Mitchell 48 4 8 12 13 48 0 0 1 0 47 8.5

What he did: With Ohlund departing for Tampa, the blueline bedrock was clearly passed over to Mitchell. What he did was start the season off on a scoring tear, sent Toews into the atmosphere and by all accounts looked to be the calming force they needed, especially with the Schneider drama and Bieksa's injury. Then this. To the best of our knowledge, it's been about 17 or 18 weeks since Mitchell has been on the ice. After the playoffs, he called out Campbell and the NHL, something he'll no doubt be fined for.

For The Record: Mitchell lead the blueline in qualcomp and TOI in only 48 games played. Third in takeaways, fourth in blocked shots...starts to explain some of the problems we saw in the post season. You take away the concussion and there isn't a chance in hell Mitchell would be fourth in defense zone starts. He also added a career-high four goals.

If I'm wrong (I hope I am), many would love to have the B.C.-native back but he'll need to eat a pay cut to stick around. This next contract could be his last, so if he opts to leave for the bigger money, we wish him the best. He was a warrior for Vancouver and one need only look here or here (that's Iginla under there) for a reminder.


Aaron Rome

#29 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Sep 27, 1983

2009 - Aaron Rome 49 0 4 4 -2 24 0 0 0 0 49 0.0

What he did: Quietly, Rome was one of the better stories this season. He signed for nothing ($550,000) and injuries granted him 49 games played (the most he every played before that was 17 games two seasons ago with Columbus). With his increase in games came increased responsibility on the PK, especially as the season progressed and the top guys fell to various ailments. He added some toughness and some dependable coverage in front of Luongo.

For The Record: Surprisingly, Rome was fifth in SOG and tied for second in fights (both of which were higher than SOB for comparison). He saw stronger competition than Bieksa, SOB or Ehrhoff and his Corsi was decent considering how AV used him.


Brad Lukowich



Aug 12, 1976

What he did: Not much. Arriving as part of the SJ salary dump for Heatley, Lukowich only played 13 games at the NHL level this season and spent the majority of it with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. Right before the Olympic break he had season-ending shoulder surgery and has been on the shelf since. He probably would have been more of a component had the team (a) not been close to the cap limit and (b) had a belief that Matty Schneider was worth their time.

For The Record: Only Oberg and Baumer played fewer games than Luko, however Luko ranked second in Qualcomp and in PFON/60 so he was responsible when needed, a trait few others on the squad shared with him unfortunately. And then there was this. Pretty, oh so pretty...

Nolan Baumgartner

#44 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Mar 23, 1976

2009 - Nolan Baumgartner 12 1 1 2 7 2 0 0 0 0 12 8.3

What he did: This is the first time Baumgartner has slotted in for a NHL team since 2006-2007. He played primarily alongside Edler and occasionally with SOB, but his stay-at-home type play was necessary. Vancouver won 9 of the 12 games he appeared in and his +7 was the second highest for his career. He played 37 games with the Moose and ended with 12 pts and a -9.

For The Record: Curious who had the worst Corsi for our blueliners this year? Look no further. Though it's hardly a shock if you're going to plug and play a guy far past his prime into potential first pairing situations.

Summer Assignment: Baumgartner still has one year left on his deal and will be back with the Moose unless all goes to shit again. With the Moose he can continue to mentor guys like Oberg or perhaps Sauve and Connauton. Just like this year, he'll only make an impact at the NHL level if the injury parade returns.

Evan Oberg

#64 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks



Feb 16, 1988

2009 - Evan Oberg 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0

What he did: Admit it, you had no idea what Oberg looked liked did you? Signed right out of NCAA, Oberg spent all season with the Moose (and finished as their top scoring blueliner) and got the call up twice. The stat line is black and white, but the 22 year old took 9 shifts for 13 minutes combined.

For The Record: He was used primarily in the offensive and neutral zones; makes sense for the rookie, but also speaks to the scouting reports that he's a decent puck mover and obviously he can score from his AHL stats.

Summer Assignment: Management must see a lot in him to have given him the nod over some others (to speak nothing about plucking him right out of college, a trend MG has repeated a few times now). He's on a three year deal and, with the defensive pairings up in the air, he can take a step forward towards being a permanent fixture with a big camp in September.


Mathieu Schneider

#23 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes



Jun 12, 1969

2009 - Mathieu Schneider 25 2 7 9 5 16 1 0 0 0 37 5.4

What he did: Fuck you.

For The Record: I hope Sean Zimmerman becomes the second coming of Bobby Orr and celebrates by sleeping with Schneider's wife.