Canucks Defensive Game Will Improve With Shaw Behind the Bench

On Wednesday the Vancouver Canucks made a critical addition to their coaching staff by hiring veteran assistant coach and former NHL defensive defenceman Brad Shaw. Previously employed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and recently departed head coach John Tortorella, he spent the last five seasons crafting the games of Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard, and many others into top-flight defencemen. Now he has the chance to do the same with Quinn Hughes, Jack Rathbone, and Olli Juolevi.

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Brought in to be head coach Travis Green‘s right-hand man, Shaw will have his hands in everything save for the goaltending which will be, of course, goaltending coach Ian Clark’s department. Basically, he will work in tandem with the other assistant coaches to improve every facet of the team. He will be in essence, an associate coach, even though his title remains as an assistant. Nolan Baumgartner will continue to work with the defence, but will have Shaw in his ear every step of the way.

He (Green) is looking for new ideas, a voice, something a little different and I understand that. For me, it’s kind of a new type of job. I was kind of running the defence and penalty kill for the last 15 years. It’s a little departure from that but I think it suits my skills very well. Basically, I’m kind of like an assistant to Travis, an associate coach without the title. I’m hoping to help out in every facet possible, five on five, power play, penalty kill…might leave Ian Clark alone and let him run the goalies.

Brad Shaw on his new role with the Canucks
Brad Shaw assistant coach, Columbus Blue Jackets
Brad Shaw, seen here behind the bench with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The addition of Shaw to the coaching staff will no doubt improve the Canucks’ poor defensive structure that has plagued the team over the last few seasons. Ranked 26th, 19th, and 18th in goals against in the past three campaigns, they have needed a shake-up in that department for a long time. For the team to make the playoffs and be a formidable force when they get there, that had to change. Adding Shaw’s vast knowledge of the game will help make that happen.

Shaw’s Experience Runs Deep

Shaw has been around the game of hockey for a very long time. Starting in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s where he recorded 232 points in 199 games, he went on to have an impressive NHL career that spanned 11 years and four teams. He spent most of his time with the Hartford Whalers and Ottawa Senators, but also had stops with the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues. He may not have been the offensive dynamo he was in junior, but ended up becoming a valuable defensive defenceman who could kill penalties and supplement the game of a purely offensive blueliner.

Brad Shaw Hartford Whalers
Brad Shaw, Hartford Whalers (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

After retiring as an NHL player in 1999 at the age of 34, Shaw dove right into coaching with the Tampa Bay Lightning as an assistant coach. Then after one season as head coach of the Detroit Vipers and assistant coach of the Springfield Falcons, he spent three seasons at the helm of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks where he coached future stars Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Joffrey Lupul, and Ilya Bryzgalov. That led to a short stint with the New York Islanders before he made his way to the St. Louis Blues where he spent 10 seasons. Finally, he joined Tortorella and the Blue Jackets in 2016, where he lasted five campaigns before leaving to join the Canucks.

All in all, Shaw has 11 years of experience as a player and over 20 years as a coach in either the AHL or NHL. That’s 12 more years than Green and 10 more years than Baumgartner. To say they are going to benefit from his knowledge and experience would be a massive understatement.

Shaw’s Resume Speaks for Itself

Shaw has worked with and developed a plethora of defensive talent in the NHL. From Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko in St. Louis to Jones and Werenski in Columbus, he has many elite defencemen on his resume. In fact, he’s been credited as being a major influence on who they are today. His teams have also been near the top in defence and penalty killing, which should be music to everyone’s ears.

Particularly when Shaw was an associate coach with the Blues from 2012-2016, they never dropped out of the top ten in both penalty killing (PK) and goals against per game (GA/GP). In fact, in two of those seasons, their PK unit finished in the top three. On average, his units have killed at an 84.2 percent success rate, which ranked second in the entire NHL during the ten seasons he was with the team. The Blues also ranked seventh in GA/GP over that same span. So clearly, his strategies for killing penalties and playing defence are more than on point, they’re bordering on elite.

When Shaw moved his talents over to the Blue Jackets, the penalty killing success didn’t stay consistent as his team only ever finished in the top ten once. However, his team’s defensive game remained dominant as they finished in the top three in GA/GP twice.

Hughes Will Become a Norris Trophy Winner Under Shaw

The Canucks have two young stars on defence in Rathbone and Hughes who will benefit greatly from Shaw and his experience. They both need to develop their defensive game to supplement their natural offensive talent, something Shaw is very well versed in.

Particularly Hughes, who has been criticized in the past for his defensive game. Shaw has plenty of experience with young, up-and-coming defencemen having coached Pietrangelo, Werenski, and Jones. When questioned about him and his potential, Shaw was very optimistic that he could turn that part of Hughes’ game around fairly quickly.

Quinn Hughes Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes’ two-way game will improve under Shaw (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

He has to learn how to win one-on-ones quicker or be patient in one-on-ones that you can’t win until the puck is exposed. He’s such a great skater and looks like he has a great head on his shoulders as far as seeing the ice. All those things help him out offensively, his passing ability, being a step ahead on the offensive side, these are things you can translate to the defensive side as well. Body position is huge and stick position. Once Quinn learns to get a little better and then put the package together, now he becomes a real transition threat as well.

Shaw on Hughes’ development into a two-way defenceman

All in all, Hughes will benefit the most from Shaw being added to the Canucks’ coaching staff. With his attention to detail and deep knowledge of how to defend, Hughes will become a Norris Trophy caliber defender in no time.

Canucks Will Make the Playoffs With Shaw Behind the Bench

Overall, Shaw has made the playoffs ten times in his tenure as an assistant/associate coach. He has never won a Stanley Cup, but definitely knows what it takes to make it to the show. He is also an elite defensive coach and has proven over the years that his systems work. He even shut down the likes of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, two of the very best the NHL has to offer in terms of offensive firepower.

In a league that has eaten the Canucks alive in recent seasons, they have needed a coach like him for a very long time. With him running the show alongside Baumgartner, they should become a defensive juggernaut capable of keeping the shots and high danger chances to a minimum, which should also lead to easier nights for Thatcher Demko.

The penalty kill also stands to improve under his leadership, especially with all the strong penalty killers the Canucks already employ. With a better system of attack, they should be able to kill them more efficiently and may be even score some goals in the process. Considering what Shaw said about how he wants to kill penalties, we may see Elias Pettersson and Nils Hoglander deployed as a unit one day.

In any case, his presence should lead to more wins and more playoff appearances. As we all know from the Montreal Canadiens, anything can happen once you’re in, and that’s all fans have wanted since the glory days of the 2010s when the Canucks were a lock to make the playoffs each and every season.

All stats were taken from and Elite Prospects

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