Who is he?
Born: Smithtown, New York. USA
Higgins became a Canuck in one of Mike Gillis' wiliest moves in his GM tenure, which saw him send Evan Oberg and a third round pick for the veteran winger. Originally it appeared Higgins was a rental player for a team primed for a deep playoff run, but he was re-signed after an impressive playoffs which saw the Canucks go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals (which, if I remember correctly, ended in a draw). Higgins was originally drafted in the 2002 draft 14th overall by the Montreal Canadiens.
What did he Do?
Chris Higgins had a very up-and-down season. Playing primarily with Nick Bonino on the second line, he put up 12 goals and 36 points in 77 games. Similar to Bonino, he's playing a role for which he is not suited. Higgins, on a team with better offensive depth than the Canucks, would be a bottom six player, specializing in tremendous defensive play and receiving lots of PK time. But the Canucks don't have the luxury of dynamic offensive players aside from the Sedins and Vrbata, so Higgins took the second line role.
Higgins has always been known as something of a fancy stats darling, consistently contributing solid defensive work and generating possession throughout his career despite lacking dynamic offensive skill. This season, Higgins remained a positive possession player (barely) while contributing 1.76 P/60.
So was he any good?
Higgins had a decidedly average year. His point totals were similar to last year's, despite an increase in both powerplay time and zone starts, and he had a tendency to become invisible during long stretches of games. To say he had a good season would be too lenient, but to say he had a poor one would be exaggerated. As mentioned before, Higgins is most effective in a bottom six role, and putting him on a the second line which is expected to score produced the expected result. Higgins' numbers would be fantastic if he was on the team's third line, but for a second line player on a team that struggled generating substantial offense from forwards not on its first line, Higgins did not display the necessary skillset required of a top-six forward.
What did we like?
Higgins' best attribute throughout his career has been his defensive play, and he delivered another strong defensive season for the Canucks this year. Even when he went weeks without scoring, his presence in the lineup was assured because of how reliable he was in his own zone. He played heavy minutes on the team's penalty kill and made smart decisions in terms of getting the puck out of the defensive area. These traits combined with his relatively good cap hit at $2.5 million make him a valuable commodity as a depth player to a competing team.
What didn't we like?
Higgins was constantly grilled by fans and media for his lack of finish. Offensively, Higgins struggled, putting up his lowest 5v5 goal total since his days in Florida (including a pro-rated lockout season). But the biggest cause of concern regarding Higgins' game is his personal shooting percentage. Higgins shot for 6.6% at 5v5 this season, a dramatic drop from his average with the Canucks, which was in the high 8 percentages. His offensive game didn't fare any better when evaluating him under the eye-test, either, as Higgins went long stretches of games without scoring goals and barely being noticeable. Of course, not being noticeable doesn't mean you're an ineffective player, but that trait, combined with Higgins' statistics, indicate (as I have iterated multiple times in this post) that Higgins is a bottom-six player unfit for the second line role he played this year.
Higgins benefited this season from more offensive zone starts than he received under previous coaches and being playing with some of Vancouver's better offensive players, which makes his lackluster offensive season even more concerning. If Higgins returns to the team next season, expect him to be playing less prominent role, as younger players like Sven Baertschi look to take his place.
So what now?
Higgins is one of the players rumored to be traded at the draft this year as Jim Benning looks to regain some mid-round draft picks. His cap hit combined with his decent possession numbers make him a very attractive pickup for a team hoping to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2016, so acquiring a second round pick is definitely realistic. The Canucks are looking to get younger and offer opportunities to their prospects, like Baertschi, Jake Virtanen and Hunter Shinkaruk, so that makes Higgins a tradeable asset to Benning. If I had to guess, I would say there is a very good chance that Higgins has already played his last Canucks game.
Player grade: C+