The Canucks have made a bunch of moves as Jim Benning builds his team, and that always will cause a rosterbation frenzy in any hockey mad city, never mind one as adept at that practice as our passionate fanbase. Those moves will remake the team for the next year and going forward, so let's take a look.
We will get to that in just a second, but I just wanted to add my voice to westy in his excellent recent post about advanced stats, as it relates to discourse and whatnot. No sense getting the sticks up and giving each other the stinky glove in the mush, especially in the offseason. In that regard, each post in this series will be brought to you with a musical inspired theme. This one is one of Supertramp's best...
Give a little bit indeed. Although Roger Hodgson might be a a flawed example. The dude broke up with his band of oh so many years, and scrubbed any ( seemingly, as I just found out searching this music. It is still a great song... ;-) and all clips of him playing with the guys he wrote the songs with. Sort of like Kesler after 2011 or '12 and the Canucks...Oh well. Sing along anyhow !!
The First Line
This is an interesting term in Lotusland, strangely enough. In 29 other hockey markets, it is pretty easy to discern which line is the "first line". And this is certainly not to say that the Sedin Twins' line is not worthy of being called "first". They are one of the most obvious first lines in the NHL. No, the term is interesting because, while the Twins are still producing at a first line rate. But ( and I have been saying this for a couple years ) where they are going to make the Canucks very dangerous again is as that ""second line"" that will destroy weaker teams' seconds, while competing well against other top teams dangerous seconds.
The "One / One A " Theory.
But for now, it is a given that 2/3rd of your First Line is made up by the identical twins from Ornskoldsvik. As it should be. Daniel finished 10th overall in scoring, and Henrik was 13th ( and Sedin the Younger actually had 56 assists to 55 for Sedin the Older last year ). They will come to camp and win the fitness tests once again as well. Who is going to man the right side with them ? For me, it is Radim Vrbata over Alexandre Burrows.
Radim the Dream was brought here for that reason. I know that he was also moved from that position last year, to balance out the scoring. But that team is not this one. A whole year of this trio could be a Top Five producing line in the NHL.
The Second Line
This is where the biggest change will occur for the upcoming year. It has pretty well stated that Bo Horvat will get a shot at the second line centre position. His potential as a "matchup guy" ( where he is he guy the coach does not worry about matchups with, because he can literally play against anyone ) as his possible ceiling, and his play last year have earned him the opportunity to take the next step. Where the second line centre position became interesting was in the acquisition of Brandon Sutter.
Sutter is enough of a veteran that the pressure on Bo to take that second line centre position and excel with it has lessened considerably. Depending on the matchups, or how it is going for the sophomore, Willie can now get the whiteboard out and draw a few different combos that can compete. This is not to hamstring, or make the commitment to Horvat any less. The West and Pacific are simply too deep at centre to worry about that. You go with what works.
The right wing of the second line is where I see Alexandre Burrows having a solid season. Like the Twins, or just about everyone who has played with him, Bo Horvat showed some pretty instant chemistry with the Pincourt QC native the few times he got to play with the one time Greensville Grrrowler. Their "game", both of them, is about straight ahead puck pursuit with a good dose of physicality. Add to that the underrated hands that both have, and how they both think the game well, and you can see where I am going here.
The left side of the second line has the name Chris Higgins underlined. That is the way it is on a team where the other guys currently on the roster on that side are Ronalds Kenins, Brandon Prust, and Daniel Sedin.. Such has been the practice for a couple years now. Higgy can score a bit, and plays an honest 200' game.
The problem is, Chris Higgins might be the perfect third line guy in the West. We'll get into that in the next post, but you need a third line that can do a lot of different things to be competitive in the West. Your third line becomes a defacto "2A" line that can produce as well as play as a checking line, especially on the road.
That is where Sven Baertschi comes in. With him, Burr' and Bo, the Canucks have the "potential" at least', to be fast, dynamic, and dangerous "2nd line". That is a lot to put on the Swiss national, and he could just as easily falter as he could flourish with the opportunity. But a fast and skilled shooter who is smart enough offensively to find the holes could compliment the chemistry of Bo and Burr very well. He got himself a "show me" deal, and has he confidence of management. That is enough to get him the opportunity. What he does with it will determine just how dangerous the Top Six is in Vancouver this year.
- The Short Term Fourth Liner Bump Up; We saw this from Willie ( and AV, who was all about duos and moving he third in and out ) last year, and it is a common enough move for NHL coaches. Moving Dorsett or Prust onto a line is going give that duo someone that will bang and give an honest effort. Coaches love sending messages about hard work and the rewards thereof.
- The Third Liner As Top Six Conundrum: This is where, for me, Chris Higgins falls. "Abs" is, for me, a perfect third liner. It is also where Jannik Hansen falls. People in these parts always groan when Beaker gets his time with the Twins, but there has been a reason why multiple coaches have went with that as a secondary option. He has speed, hands, is defensively responsible, and has a "real good" shot. That works on any line.
- "Dad, I Made The Team": Last year it was Bo Horvat. This year ? Well, on the depth chart, in likelihood ( going by feel, a voracious appetite for all stories Canuck, and my degree in Comparative Analysis of GMSpeak, deciphering those comments this year of GMJB ) of doing the same thing, are Jake Virtanen, Alexandre Grenier, Brendan Gaunce, and perhaps Cole Cassels. That does not even presuppose one Hunter Shinkaruk, who has grown in leaps and bounds, but who needs to dominate the AHL next year to take that step the year afterwards. I know placing Cole Cassels above a first rounder like him is a little surprising, but that is because Mr Benning was pretty glowing in his praise of the Memorial Cup winner. Really, only Virtanen and Grenier could make the team this year. I'm hoping it is Jake getting that local call, but I have a soft spot for the 6'5", 200 lb + Grenier. Perhaps that call will be " Père que je fait l'équipe " instead. He is probably more likely to make the bottom six than top six, but it would still be a good step for the new "Big Guy".
- Last Chance At The Jim Benning Corral; Hello Niklas Jensen. Here it is for him. We hear that he is "making strides" from Travis Green, but there seems to be a dearth of silence from the team when it comes to the one time Mike Gillis 1st round pick. He needs to dominate in the AHL next season just to recoup his rep. Special Mention goes to Dane Fox. Netting 30 in the ECHL is cool man, but it is time to show that promise in the AHL for Mr Fox.
Now, there is no Connor McDavid in there. Such is the life of a team that makes the playoffs more often than not. Such will be the case again this year. With apologies to #TeamTank , the Vancouver Canucks will be pursuing, and probably make the playoffs again this year. If not, Jim Benning has set it up so he has maximum options at the deadline to sell off quickly. When they do make the dance once again, there will STILL be some changes.
That is what happens when a team is retooling and "getting younger." I like what Jim Benning has done in this, the second year of his tenure, to give himself the maximum options going forward. With two big names like Hamhuis and Vrbata on the last year of deals, but not getting resigned before the season, the message has been sent. I, for one, hope Hammer stays, at the least. But I trust Jim Benning going forward.