They say that defence wins championships. It’s a saying that has held true through the years in many different sports.
It also means that without good defence, chances are you don’t have a hope in hell of competing.
That brings us to the 2017-18 incarnation of the Vancouver Canucks.
In what has become another disappointing season for the Canucks, one of the largest disasters has been the play of the defence. Issues are aplenty for this current group, but one of their greatest flaws has to be their leaky play from the blue line.
The Canucks are desperate for someone, anyone to stand out on their blue line.
Every player on the back end, perhaps other than Chris Tanev, has to shoulder some blame for the lack of execution on defence. Whether it’s because of injuries, bad chemistry, or a lack of experience, the group as a whole has struggled at preventing scoring chances and goals.
At even-strength, the Canucks allow the sixth-most shots and the fourth-most scoring chances at even-strength. That’s slightly worse than Willie Desjardins’ team, who ranked 24th and 26th respectively in both shots allowed and scoring chances allowed.
Jim Benning and company didn’t make any significant changes to the Canucks defence following that pitiful performance from last year. They replaced Nikita Tryamkin and Luca Sbisa with Michael Del Zotto and Derrick Pouliot. It hasn’t made much of a difference.
Pouliot has essentially replaced Tryamkin as the young stud on defence with untapped potential. Just like Tryamkin, Pouliot shows flashes of his brilliance, but is prone to mental gaffes which end up being extremely noticeable.
Although Del Zotto hasn’t been criticized as much as Sbisa was, he’s been leaking scoring chances against at even-strength in a similar fashion. No one on the Canucks roster has given up more scoring chances per-60 than Del Zotto. His goals-against per 60 is worst among Canucks defencemen and he trails only Sam Gagner on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The kicker about this current Canucks defence core, is that they’re basically all on board to rejoin the team in 2018-19.
A Bad Sequel?
Benning has had chances to shake up this d-core through trades, but his refusal to do so means more of the same for Canucks fans. There was an opportunity for Benning to cut ties with Gudbranson and trade him for future assets. Instead, he doubled-down and signed the hulking defenceman to a three-year extension.
This means the entire defence core, aside from Troy Stecher and Derrick Pouliot, are signed for next season. With those two near locks to sign with the team, there’s a chance that nothing could change.
Is management really able to stomach this much mediocrity for a third season in a row, with basically the same core?
Other than the possibility of Olli Juolevi joining this team, there probably won’t be any changes unless Benning suddenly decides to start wheeling and dealing. Tanev, Del Zotto, Ben Hutton and Alex Edler could all be potential trade candidates if there’s a change of heart within the organization.
Let’s Get Hopeful...
You could argue that this Canucks blue line isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s lots to harp on, but we can reach for some positives as well.
Troy Stecher did his best to avoid the sophomore slump, and he looks like the real deal in his NHL season. His tenaciousness and crafty playmaking in his own end should allow him to continue thriving. Despite lacking in point production, he’s worked his way back into Travis Green’s good books after starting as the de facto sixth defenceman.
Pouliot cooled down after his impressive start, but he might have the chance to make the greatest impact of any defenceman currently on the roster. He’s the most gifted offensively among this lackluster offensive bunch, but his defensive gaffes are preventing him from getting to that next level.
Despite many people calling for a Gudbranson trade, Benning did sign him for what you could call a reasonable contract. There are many flaws in his game, but he’s going to get his opportunity to sink or swim as a Canuck.
Hutton has been a screaming dissapointment this season, but based on his rookie season, he definitely has the potential to improve. Whether he will ever get the opportunity to reach that under Travis Green is another question.
Of course, Juolevi could crack this roster next year, and the dominant idea is that he would skate alongside Tanev. That has the potential to be a promising pairing, but the spot won’t be gifted to Juolevi.
At this point in the season, the state of the Canucks defence looks mightily underwhelming. There’s a smidgen of promise heading into next season, so that’s what we’re going to have to hold on to until something changes on the back end.