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The Blue Line

As the preseason comes to an end on Saturday, with moves still to be made, the one place where there is only competition at the bottom is the Canucks blue line. And even there, the team is pretty set. I'll take a look at the Top 6, the depth, and the pairings. The last part of my assignment will include any concerns. The goal is 2500 words or less....strap in.

Rich Lam

When you talk about the blue line in Vancouver ( and really, the whole team, but this is just about the defensemen ) , it is important to view the core of that group over the last 3-4 years.  How exactly did they do ?

While there is the deeper analytics that I may touch on here and there, I will leave that deep vein for Nick to mine.  The links are there for those that want them. I use StasHockeyAnalysis,com.  There is so much info available there.

As for the pairings, I do think that Willie Desjardins should be given every chance to create his own pairings, and that he and Doug Lidster will have a few different things going on.  In the preseason, they did seem to go with the traditional HamJuice, and although injury has precluded Edler showing much until the last game as far as points go, he seems to be partnered with Christopher Tanev .

Tanev has shown his savvy in the preseason, as well as showing some offensive flair in his chances on the power play.  He makes the most logical partner for Edler, in my mind.

If that is your Top Four, that is not bad.

Let's take a look at what we have on the blue line :

Top 4

3 - Kevin Bieksa.

The one time Bowling Green Falcon ( and All Academic honorable mention in 2003 and 2004, something folks forget with Juice ), has been a part of the defensive core since 2005-06.

Take a look at his page.  The very first number that jumps right out is the even strength TOI. Kevin Bieksa was on the ice almost as much as he was in 2011-12, when he was able to put in 8 goals, and have 44 points.  Not to compare a President's Trophy edition of the team to the Lost Season one, but even though he had 11 more shots than the 122 he had in 11/12, and only managed 4 goals and 20 points. ( the other numbers have some obvious gaps, but are pretty consistent ).

Of course, there is more to Bieksa's game than just that, and he seems to have grown in the more subtle parts of the game, as a leader and all around player.  The jumping up that Torts demanded may have been thought perfect for the swashbuckling defender, but it was not. Early preseason indications ( along with the fact that he was in Sedin territory as far as fitness this year, according to Roger Takahashi ) point toward a solid year for Juice, as does the idea of he and Hamhuis getting the chance to play together. Willie looks to like that pair, as it was almost standard every time both started.

Me too.

23 -Alexander Edler

You read a lot of things when researching a story like this. With Edler, not all of it is good this year, though the folks that edit Wiki articles still like him. On his Wikipedia page, he is "noted" for his calm demeanour and strong slaphsot in the second paragraph. No one has put the Green Jacket winning - 39 there as of yet.

His SHA page shows a similar drop off as Bieksa, with minutes and shots comparable to that more successful year, and points lacking.  With Edler, he still maintained his goal scoring production.  With him it is all about the mental game, and being comfortable.  The numbers reflect last season's decline, of course, but of all the guys on the team, Edler is one who should not even ask about the numbers, and just play.

While he had a season that was probably his worst, he just has to forget it, tune out the white noise of the fans ( a certain segment that will be howling with any mistake, no matter how good a game he might be having at the time... ), and just play.  The preseason game in Edmonton had two heartening examples of the Alexander Edler we know and love. A shift where Jonensu tried all shift to hit and harass, and twice hit the ice when trying to run Eddy.  And the goal, of course. Filling the hole and jumping up at the "right" time, as opposed to almost every time, is something this blue line once excelled at, and it is something Edler is very good at.

He has shown that calm demeanour when he has gotten to play in the preseason.  Now that, and the booming slapshot ( especially on the PP.  Get it on net Eddy ! ) need to come to the fore from October 8th onwards.  For what it is worth, I do have confidence in Edler still.  He may have been the one whose game was most affected by the previous bench boss.  Instead of a finger poke and Mike Sulivan scowling, he will have Willie and Doug Lidster to respond to. I do think he has a bounce back year.  He can definitely score.  I believe the rest of his game will be built up by the new coaches, and we see the guy we remember.

2 - Dan Hamhuis

The one time ( 2002 ) CHL Top Defensman was one player who produced in a down year.  He almost matched his 2011-12 production and minutes, and had more shots than he has ever had before for the Canucks.  Check his SHA page here, but click on the link up top for the interesting part.  Dan Hamhuis substantially better numbers with Christopher Tanev than with Bieksa.  Now, different guys bring different things to a pairing, but maybe Tanev can do for Edler what he did for Hammer.  Or, conversely, what Dan Hamhuis does for Kevin Bieksa.

Sometimes the skills mesh better than they do when the pairings are all over the place.  With what Hammer brings to the table, he makes Kevin Bieksa better by allowing him the chance to make any rush an odd manned one.  It is an underrated and oh so valuable skill, the execution of all the little things that make a defenseman a complete player.

Dan Hamhuis is pretty much what he was purported to be in 2011.  ( and he is a Canuck, not a "one time Predator" now.  He is entering his 5th year with the team, the same amount of time as he spent with the team that drafted him ) A very good, solid all around defenseman.  He seems to have chemistry with Bieksa, and that pairing certainly has some bonafides.  Where Dan Hamhuis will be a beast again this year is where he is every year, playing mucho minutes on the PK.  If he can bring the production, you would then have three guys that can and should hit 5 + goals and 20 + assists.  Hammer, especially if he is paired with Bieksa, will be on the ice with the Sedins or the Bonino line.

Either way, points have a way of just finding their way onto the scoresheet with the Top 6.  That is a good thing.

8 - Christopher Tanev

The Canucks are lucky to not only have a guy like Hamhuis, but another player like Christopher Tanev.  Two players that make those they play with better.  Check Tanev's SHA. page here.  ( you can spend a while clicking around on his numbers. Try the "visualize this table" option and get lost in all the pretty bubble graphs... )  With him, I am not even going to try with any numbers. Other than this one. In a season where he got tons of ice time, and was almost "teacher's pet" with Torts for all the praise he got, Chris Tanev got 6 goals and 17 points.  In the three years previous, he had 2 goals ( both in 2012/13 ) and 8 assists ( 5 of those in that same year ).  He can produce a little if given the chance.

That, in addition to the almost eerily calm nature with the puck under pressure, a Gumby like ability to slip, absorb, or otherwise deal with hits to make the play ( a high percentage of the time the right play ), as well as his great head for the game, all make him my pick for the other side with Edler.

The Canucks gave Tanev a one year deal, but I have little doubt he will become this coach's fave sooner than later, just like the other two.  There is something about the one time Rochester Institute of Technology Tiger ( his story, for those that don't know is accurate on his Wiki page, is unique and another example of draft rankings, where you were picked, etc.. Thanks Dave Gagner and Mike Gillis ! ) that may be hard to quantify, but when you play the game as consistently as Tanev does, very easy to see. Making the right play a high percentage of the time is a very good thing.

Third Pairing, 7th Defenseman, and Depth Here and There

Lucas Sbisa

I vacillated on this one, as we could very well see the Luca SbisaSHA page here ) get some minutes in some situations with any one of the guys above.  He has shown flashes of that kind of ability, ( mostly the first game ), but has struggled in the preseason.  Coming to a team where the guys ( above ) have all played together for at least 3 years ( more like 5 + for the Big Three ), it will be his job number one to just find his place, and play a simple game.  While our fanbase is not known for patience, it might be needed here, as he may even make a mistake or two more into the regular season.

We should remember that he was a first rounder as recently as 2008 ( 19th by Philly ), and there was a reason for that.  He is still young enough to flourish in the right opportunity.  I have confidence in the coaching staff to fine tune his game.  Besides he is Italian ( Swiss Italian, but still ! ) , and Big Frank needs at least one of those on the team, right ? ;-)

If he keeps it simple at the beginning of the year, throws around the body like he can, there is still a lot to like in the 26 year old's game.

18 - Ryan Stanton

Now, wouldn't it be nice if a guy like Stanton was to do for Sbisa what Tanev and Hammer do for their partners ? ( and there really is very few relationships like a defensive pairing in sports.  Hockey defenders have to take in so much and make the "right" choice so quickly, and then another choice split seconds later. Maybe cornerbacks and safeties in football come close, but then they take a break after every play ) . Consistency, for him ,will be his mantra.

One thing I have noticed with Ryan Stanton is how he has gotten better.  When you visualize his performance on his SHA page, you can see the progression.  As a player that Mike Gillis brought in ( and no draft pedigree at all either ), Ryan Stanton has to prove himself to a whole new group of bosses.  The preseason may not be the best harbinger with him ( or Sbisa for that matter ), though struggling on home ice is different than struggling in Edmonton.  Both guys had enough time together that you know the management is at least thinking about that as their third pairing.

With Ryan Stanton, I just like how he has gotten better every year, and I like his toughness.  This 3rd pairing, if that is it, could be pretty tough to play against.  Keep your head up...on both sides.

26 - Frank Corrado

When you look at his page, it reflects what, for all his skill, hype, ( most of it warranted ), Frankie C' is.  A very good prospect. One that will be an NHLer soon. ( His production in Utica sure looks decent though ! ) I love a lot about his game, but he is just 21.  It is more likely that he gets the top pair minutes in the AHL.  Frank Corrado is going to be a very good defenseman, and sooner than later, but I do think he is one more year away.  Go to upstate NY and kicks some ass Frankie, and you are the first call up if there is an injury in favour of...

6 - Yannick Weber

In 49 games last year, Yannick Weber had 6 goals and 10 points.  ( SHA page ) He has a deeper pedigree than Frankie Corrado at this point, and a right handed shot that has shown to be effective.  He has shown, at least in the preseason, improvement in his own end, and you can see he is comfortable in this system over the one last year.  When you watch his game, there is a bit of the swashbuckler in him, and that may or may not be a problem.  I am not the coach.  Maybe Willie wants him to be a rover ! ( that is a final clincher for Yannick as well.  He was a decent option as an emergency forward last year as well. )

Concerns, Hopes, and Final Thoughts.

Concern : I would be concerned if more than one of the Top 4 has an injury of any severity.  There are options in the current lineup to move up, and maybe even cover the spot for a while.  But, while the pipeline has some exciting names ( Ben Hutton, Anton Cerderholm, and that Gustav Forsling kid sounds interesting... ), Peter Andersson, Alex Biega and Henrik Tommernes may be a stretch if they have to take the next step.

Hope : There is every reason to hope, and maybe even expect, a bounce back from this team, and it can and should be lead from the back end.  When the Canucks were outscoring and overrunning teams, it was because they had blue lines that had scoring from all 6 to some degree.  They were in the Top Tier of scoring blue lines in the NHL not so long ago.  With a new system that seems to give everyone the opportunity to contribute ( within a structure...I like what I have seen from Willie's system so far.  It is entertaining. ), there is definite hope for this blue line.

Final Thoughts : Like any new season, we just won't have a true idea until they start playing for real.  While the intensity should be ramped up for the Oilers ( they seem to want to be the Flames this year, bigger and all truculent and stuff ) here on Saturday, until they play for points, we won't know.  I have confidence in this group of defenders.  I know that the wags often say that the Canucks need that " #1 blue liner".  Now, of course, it would be awesome to have a a Shea Weber type of player.  But they cost a bunch of your Cap as well.   The Canucks have a lot of guys on contracts that are fair, and fairly close in value.  Take Edler, for instance.  He is just starting his long term deal at 5 milion - ish per.   If he can be who we all know he can be, that will be a steal in today's dollars.  He could be that #1, or maybe not.  But he can play up to that number, and perhaps come close to that " #1" status. He has that kind of ability still.

But if not, he is definitely a Top 4 stud, and that HamJuice pairing was been known to slay the numbers against top competition anyhow.

All that in 2675 words.  Here's your cookie below for having hanging in there.  I mean. 2500 + is, like, six Buzzfeed articles, and they call themselves news !