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Is Luca Sbisa Good Now?

The beleaguered Canucks defenceman is third in-line to lift the Cup. What the hell happened?

Calgary Flames v Vegas Golden Knights
Luca Sbisa #47 of the Vegas Golden Knights takes a break during a stop in play in the first period of a game against the Calgary Flames at T-Mobile Arena on February 21, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights won 7-3.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It’s an improbable story buried in a plethora of improbable stories.

When you peel back the layers on this Vegas Golden Knights fairy tale, you’ll find the seldom-told story of Luca Sbisa. He’s one of the lesser-discussed players from the Western Conference champions, but it’s not an invisible story in Vancouver.

It’s no secret that Sbisa wasn’t a fan favourite among most in this market. Sbisa was overused, overmatched, and often ineffective in Vancouver. Thrust into minutes he didn’t deserve, Sbisa cratered under the pressure and delivered up more pizza’s then pizzazz during his tenure with the Canucks.

Now in Vegas, Sbisa struts around with an “A” on his chest as he looks to help the Golden Knights bring home the Stanley Cup.

If someone told you that a year ago, how drunk would you think they were?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Luca Sbisa (47) collides with Winnipeg Jets center Adam Lowry (17) in the third period in the first period in game five of the Western Conference Final of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Centre.
Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sbisa’s Impressive Inclusion

It might seem silly on a team full of cast-offs, but Sbisa was no guarantee to crack the Golden Knights line-up.

Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Deryk Engelland and Colin Miller were the locks to make the team in October. Even though Shea Theodore started the season in the AHL, he was always a safe bet to start contributing to Vegas at some point during the regular season. It didn’t take long for the Langley, B.C. native to start producing for the big club.

That left one spot for the likes of Sbisa, Jon Merrill, Jason Garrison, Griffin Reinhart and Brad Hunt to compete for. Not exactly a murderer’s row on the back end, but would anyone in Vancouver be surprised if Sbisa lost an NHL job to guys like Merrill or Hunt?

Merrill and Sbisa were very similar players prior to the 2017-18 season.

Not only did Sbisa beat Merrill out for a job in the top-six, he jumped right back into a top-four, 20-minutes per night role. Gerard Gallant juggled his lineup throughout the first few games, but Sbisa soon found himself paired with the Golden Knights current number one defenceman, Nate Schmidt.

Sbisa even put up 14 points in 30 regular season games. It was enough to make Canucks fans think, “who the hell is this guy?”

In 82 games for the Canucks the year before, Sbisa had 13 points.

An injury cut his season short, but on the surface Sbisa looked like a completely different player in Vegas. He was putting up points while facing some of the stiffest competition among his teammates.

There was a certain level of luck in Sbisa’s success during the regular season. He had the worst Corsi-against of his career, and his scoring chance differential stats don’t look pretty either. However, he held his head above water in the goals-for department, thanks to a PDO pushing 105.

The point production was surprising considering that he faced tough competition and began the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. The forwards he spent the most time with were William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jon Marchessault, so playing qith guys who drive offence certainly helped. Still, Sbisa does deserve credit for producing, especially because of his usage.

Measuring Sbisa’s Cup Contributions

Even though Sbisa was missing in action for more than 50 games, he still managed to find a way back into the lineup. In the playoffs, Sbisa is being used in his most optimal position: on the bottom pairing.

What’s interesting about Sbisa’s demotion was that he ended up there based on circumstance, not because of his play. Sbisa played reasonably well during the regular season, but the strength of Vegas’s D pushed him down the lineup.

He’s now playing on a third pairing with Miller, no longer facing the opposition’s top lines. Since Vegas drives play so often, none of their defenders have many starts in the defensive zone. However, Sbisa and Miller start in their own end less than the Golden Knights other four defenders.

In similar Sbisa fashion, his possession numbers aren’t great despite the lesser role. Still, he continues to boast a high PDO (above 105). Him and Miller also have the best goal differential (both above 75%) among all Vegas defenceman.

For all the criticism and suffering he endured in Vancouver, Sbisa has surprisingly found a nice home on one of the best bluelines in the league. The key to Sbisa’s play right now, is that he’s positioned to succeed. He was always force-fed tough matchups and hard minutes on the penalty kill. Right now in Vegas, he sees next to no time shorthanded, gets optimal zone starts, and plays with an offensively-inclined defence partner.

Unless the dreaded pizzas come back to haunt the Italian-born defenceman, there’s a solid chance that we see Vancouver’s old whipping boy lift the Cup above his head in due time.