A quarter of the 2015-16 National Hockey League season is nothing but history and after 22 games the Vancouver Canucks have some glaring managerial issues that have resulted in just eight wins thus far. Although the play of their netminders has surely put a drag on their potential successes the biggest issue currently distracting the Canucks from winning on a consistent basis is their misuse of their subtly strong defensive depth.
No doubt about it, the team has had to endure the injury bug for sure. They’ve already lost 15 man games to injury/illness just in their top six defenders but in addition to that the Canucks are not doing such a stellar job of maximizing the skill that they do have.
After proving to be an offensive wizard in 2014-15 with eleven goals and 21 points, Yannick Weber has been left out of the lineup other than filling in for injuries and his statistics show it. After 15 games he has just three assists with a defensive worst minus-seven rating. Even though Weber has never been touted for his defensive game, he surely isn’t the worst on the team especially when used to his strengths.
In addition to that, rookie defender Ben Hutton has been given a huge leash which has had some adverse effects on the team’s collective production. Hutton has the second worst plus/minus rating of the team’s defenders with a minus-six. There is no arguing Hutton’s skill level is NHL caliber but he hasn’t yet gotten a feel for consistency in the NHL and one has to wonder if the Canucks management is questioning their surrender of Frank Corrado via waivers in favor of Hutton.
Aside from a surging Alex Edler – who is benefiting from powerplay time with the first unit – there is virtually no offensive production from the blueline. The other five defenseman have tallied just four goals collectively. That is what Edler’s total is alone. Plain and simple it’s just not good enough for the Canucks to remain competitive in a parity ridden Pacific division.
Deciphering the Defense
Besides the injury plague which has hit the blueline in Vancouver the mistakes haunting the defensive unit are all managerial issues. Unfortunately the way out of the funk is not so clear and concise.
One thing that the Canucks should focus on is weaponizing their defenders who have displayed offensive prowess in the past (i.e. Weber, Tanev and Edler). It’s possible that with the struggles of both Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom that the team has asked it’s defenseman to play a more conservative game in order to protect the net.
Giving Weber, Tanev and Edler a bit more leeway to step up into the play might actually benefit both the team’s offense and defense. If the defenders can start chipping in offensively than the Miller/Markstrom duo would see less action in their zone in turn limiting the number of scoring opportunities the other team gets.
Obviously a system like this comes with some serious downside and the Canucks would have to have a well balanced approach to joining the rush and maintaining a strong blueline presence.
Bad Chemistry or Unluckiness?
There hasn’t seemed to be much chemistry on Vancouver’s blueline this year as defenders have had to move all around in order to correct for injuries but if the Canucks can start to regain a healthy roster it could do them wonders to have set pairings that can grow with one another.
With some youth infused into the lineup this year it’s doubtful that Canucks are experiencing locker room issues and there has been nothing from the team to suggest that in even the slightest bit. However flow has been an issue for the team. A struggling offense and dismal goaltending hasn’t left the defensive corps much to work with and if those problems continue it’s doubtful that the defense will see much of a resurrection.
There is one thing the Canucks can take away from this situation should it persist through the entire year – getting their prospects some NHL experience.
Knocking at the Door
Alex Biega, Andrey Pedan and Jordan Subban all have serious upside to their games. Should the team continue to drag there is no reason that the organization should not give these players a handful of NHL games. For Biega his career is in its defining years. At 27 years old Biega still has an outside shot of solidifying a spot in the NHL. He earned himself seven games with the big club last year and General Manager Jim Benning obviously sees some remaining potential since Biega remains with the Canucks NHL roster at this point.
More importantly though are Andrey Pedan and Jordan Subban who offer the Canucks a glimpse of the future. For Pedan it’s all about acclimating his 6-foot-5 frame to the NHL game. Pedan could become a hulking force on the blueline but he’ll need to adjust his skills to the NHL pace. And in regards to Jordan Subban there is no denying his immense potential to become a top-four NHL defender. He’s got offensive senses that some forwards don’t even have and his puck skills are out of this world. Subban just needs to tailor his defensive game to the professional level.
The bottom line is this, the Canucks have options…and plenty of them. For whatever reason the current defensive lineup isn’t meshing well, whether it’s due to injury, coaching or a combination of the two is all speculation but with just two wins in their last ten games and having been outshot in five of the ten games there is an obvious problem that needs addressing.