Oh, Luca Sbisa.
You came via trade to Vancouver with so much hope. We were all ready to embrace a fresh, promising, young face on the blue line.
Wait, we didn’t get Sami Vatanen? How about Hampus Lindholm?
Instead of trading Ryan Kesler for a prime rib dinner, Jim Benning traded for the NHL’s version of a Hungry Man meal instead. Sbisa, you sure should have been hungry to play for Vancouver. It’s not often that defencemen who are drafted in the first round get traded before the age of 24, never mind twice.
There was hope when you came to Vancouver. You were only 22 years old when you put up 24 points in 2011-12, a career-high. If you asked fans from any team, they would be thrilled to have a 22-year-old physical defender who can put up 20+ points per season.
It turned out to be just a tease. Maybe it was injuries, maybe it was Kevin Bieksa, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
Wouldn’t you know, the Kesler-less Canucks made the playoffs with you on their roster. Despite some ups and downs, you made it there as the Canucks finished eighth overall in the NHL. Unfortunately, it was those playoffs that left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
We wouldn’t be surprised that you blamed Bieksa. I would be looking for someone to blame too, and it’s not like Bieksa was any help. Still, you were a weak link on the Canucks roster throughout your first year, and the playoffs exemplified that.
Against a collapsing, shot-blocking, defensive Calgary Flames lead, both you and Bieksa were shelled at five-on-five. The stats showed that you were the anchor. Your Corsi Close of 46.4% was worst among all Canucks defenders. Bieksa’s was 48.6%, and most of the team was above 50%. This happened despite that only Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata had a higher percentage of offensive zone faceoffs.
Benning was expecting a physical, shutdown defender with some offensive upside when he acquired you. Perhaps Benning isn’t the talent evaluator that fans envisioned when he traded for you, but you sure didn’t do him any favours.
The Good Times
Despite the playoff follies and constant turnovers, there’s no reason to frown! There were some good times in Vancouver. Hey, you earned your first big contract here. A $3.6 million a year deal isn’t a bad paycheck to take home by any means.
There was some up and down play in Vancouver (let’s not kid ourselves, there were struggles), but you were always applauded as a team-first, approachable guy. Not every guy who makes millions in the NHL is able to stay humble, and you were able to do so.
Your dedication to your teammates was evident, and you had no problem being the team’s de-facto tough guy. There wasn’t anyone else to do it, but you were able to step in when the team needed you.
How about in December of this season, when Ron Hainsey delivered a heavy headshot to Loui Eriksson’s noggin? You stepped in and delivered a few shots to Hainsey. This Canucks team was one of the softest in the League while you were on the roster. It would have been baby-food soft without you.
Even in an NHL that’s moving away from the physicality it once boasted, I still enjoy seeing a good, clean body check. It gets the crowd into it and it shows an emotion for the game that’s sometimes lacking. Today’s stats-heavy league may not be your best friend, but there’s still a place in the game for defencemen that can hit.
Despite being a scapegoat in Vancouver, there’s a clean slate waiting for you in Las Vegas. You can put your struggles behind you and remember that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Except when you’re on live TV, I suppose.
You should also remember that this was your best season as a Canuck. For most of 2016-17, fans were applauding you for your strong play. You were one of only three Canucks to make it through all 82 games. Some might say you turned a corner, others might say you were propped by Chris Tanev. No matter which one is true, this is your time to prove yourself.
Most might not remember, but there were times when you were a hero in Vancouver. I was lucky enough to take my father to a Canucks game in February 2015 against his hometown Winnipeg Jets. Remember that one?
No one expects the Vegas Golden Knights to be very good, so there’s an opportunity for you to be a hero once again.
I want to congratulate you on becoming a father this week. It’s the greatest gift one can receive in life. And who knows, maybe Vegas will be the second-best thing to ever happen to you.