It’s time to pour your drink of choice, and not just because Erik Gudbranson got traded.
There’s no question that the Canucks defence has been slaughtered by the opposition in recent matchups. Pretty much any forward unit (aside from the Anaheim Ducks) have been carving the Canucks like an angry Aldo Raine wielding his knife against the Nazi’s in Inglorious Bastards.
Despite the deficiencies on the back-end, there’s a couple of reasons why you should be optimistic about the Canucks defence.
1. Hutton and Stecher have filled in admirably on the top pairing. On a good team they aren’t playing 25+ minutes per game, but they’ve been huge in keeping the Canucks afloat in the standings.
2. Alex “Bulldog” Biega has been low-key killing it for the Canucks of late.
Let’s get drunk on Biega
There’s always a bad stigma about guys over the age of 30. Most statistics will tell you that players start to decline before they hit 30, and their production takes a sharp nosedive around 34 years old.
None of this applies to Biega. To coin an old Pierre McGuire term, the guy plays like a monster, and he’s only getting better.
Despite playing in only 26 games, this has statistically been Biega’s best season to date. He’s already set a new career-high in points with 11. Ten of his points have come at even-strength, besting his career high of 7.
Perhaps it’s just a hot streak, but Biega does have five points in his last six games. There are reasons to believe, however, that Biega’s offensive production isn’t just a mirage.
For one, he shoots the puck a hell of a lot more than any other Canucks defenceman. He has more shots than both Chris Tanev (no surprise) and Derrick Pouliot (kind of surprising), despite playing in less than half of the games that Tanev and Pouliot have appeared in. He has 9.11 shots per-60 at even-strength, which is more than double the Canucks next defender, Alex Edler (4.54 shots/60).
Whether you believe in Biega’s production continuing or not, his 1.54 points-per-60 is easily best among Canucks defenders. Stecher is next at 1.02 points-per-60, while no other Canucks is above 0.76. Even for defencemen, that’s a pretty low number.
Biega Boosting Team
If there’s a telling visual about Biega’s impact to the Canucks, this is it.
Literally, every Canucks defenceman suffers when playing without Biega. While Biega does have higher offensive zone starts that most other Canucks defencemen, he has taken on more responsibility in recent games — a stretch of games where he’s also put up five points in six games.
At the very least, Biega has shown that he’s competent in his own end. His top-speed is high-end (hence the drunk on Biega moments), and he’s built like a brick at 5’10” and 200 pounds.
Just ask Tanner Pearson.
Of course, Biega does come with his weaknesses. He has a tendency to be over-aggressive, and he’s been burned for it a couple of times this season. Sometimes it also seems like Biega is getting “drunk on Biega,” when he skates the puck into the offensive zone at top-speed. However, he has a tendency to turn it over or simply skate into the corner when that occurs.
Still, this is a guy who knows how to play hockey. All that time in the press box has given him time to study the game, and it looks like his game might be starting to turn a corner.
“Continuous improvement and not being content is my philosophy on life,” Biega said to The Province back in November. I’ve learned to enjoy every day in the NHL and there’s really not a better job.”
With a blue line in need of a makeover, Biega is playing like a guy who wants to stick around. If he keeps playing at this rate, why wouldn’t he be a good third-pairing defenceman? Even if he does get the sheltered offensive zone starts, that might be a good thing for the Canucks. It’s not like anybody else is producing offence anyways.
Perhaps the Biega hot streak is a mirage, but one thing is for sure: this is the best stretch of hockey in his career. If you take anything away from this analysis of Biega, it’s that you shouldn’t count out The Bulldog.