The Canucks’ blue line depth is bound to be tested in the next few weeks.
With regular’s Luca Sbisa (broken hand) and most notably Dan Hamhuis (broken jaw) out of the lineup, Vancouver’s blue line looks thin past their top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. For the Canucks who have dropped to 22nd in the NHL with 85 goals-against through 31 games (2.74 GAA), losing two veteran blueliners who have been among the team’s best defensively is a noticeable setback. These key injuries force the Canucks to put more pressure on their new bottom-four defensemen, and puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of Edler and Tanev to be steady in all parts of their game.
At one point prior to the 2015-16 season, the Canucks seemed poised to have sufficient defensive depth; that was before the team traded away Adam Clendening and lost Frank Corrado on waivers. Vancouver may be wishing some transactions had gone differently, as despite having a plethora of defensemen in junior and the minors, the Canucks don’t have much of a plan-B for NHL-ready players to step in and fill this current void.
It’s concerning if the team’s blue line is deep enough to survive without the services of Sbisa and Hamhuis.
How Does Canucks’ Top-Four D-Men Round Out?
With Yannick Weber, Matt Bartkowski, Ben Hutton and Alex Biega expected to be regulars on the Canucks blue line moving forward, the team seems to have four bottom-pairing defensemen as opposed to a top-four.
Hutton and Bartkowski are expected to play together on what is hardly a second line pairing, while Biega and Weber round out the defense. Together, these four players have 449 career NHL games under their belt as of December 14th. The likes of Edler, Tanev and the injured Hamhuis and Sbisa have all played more games than these players – a combined 2,054.
It’s no secret the Canucks may be looking to bring in a defenseman who can help bridge the gap.
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) December 10, 2015
All of Bartkowski (minus-two), Hutton (minus-nine) and Weber (minus-13) have minus ratings through the Canucks first 31 games. Biega has an exceptional plus-four rating in only six games, but for a player with only 13 career games to his name, it’s unclear if the 27 year-old will continue to be a plus-player as an NHL regular for the first time.
Prior to his scary injury, Hamhuis had four assists in 27 games, and despite many shaky games on a pairing with Bartkowski, he had the second best plus-minus rating on the Canucks at plus-seven. Hamhuis also was averaging 19:40 in ice time – third on the team behind only Edler (24:26) and Tanev (21:29). Sbisa, meanwhile, had an even plus-minus rating through 18 games, and averaged the second-most hits-per-game of all Canucks’ defensemen (1.7).
Poor Asset Management the Reason for Thin Blue Line
What may hurt the Canucks more than injuries to their defense, is that the team doesn’t have many sufficient options at this point to replace Hamhuis and Sbisa.
Dating back to the end of last season, the Canucks defense had Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Stanton, Clendening and Corrado in their arsenal – four players who are all gone. Of course trading Bieksa to the Ducks was justified, as Bieksa’s production began to dip with the Canucks, and the team wanted to make room for younger and less expensive players.
But that was before the team’s defensive options began to be depleted.
The departure of Stanton was anticipated, but the 26 year-old would’ve been a great insurance player to have on the blue line. Stanton was the team’s seventh defenseman in 2014-15, but got into 54 games, totaling three goals, 11 points and a plus-nine rating. In his two years in Vancouver as a depth defenseman, Stanton got into 118 games and recorded 27 points and a plus-15 rating.
Now with the Washington Capitals, Stanton hasn’t gotten into any NHL games this year, as the Caps have a deep blue line, but he’s still had an exceptional season thus far with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. And Washington signed Stanton to only a one year deal at $575,000 – the salary cap minimum. It makes you think the Canucks could’ve pushed a little more to hold on to his services.
And all other factors aside, the Canucks knew they made a mistake in handling Frank Corrado, who was regrettably put on waivers and picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Benning on Corrado: We’ll see what happens in Toronto. I’ve been keeping an eye. If something was to happen, we’ll look at things
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) December 12, 2015
It’s no surprise the Canucks would want to pursue re-acquiring Corrado, as he was lost for nothing in early October. The former fifth round pick in 2011 had yet to break out in the NHL, but had always been a good role player during his time in Vancouver. Now more than ever, the Canucks are feeling the effects of the 22 year-old’s absence.
Clendening, meanwhile, is the most expensive option of these players with (only) a $761,000 cap-hit; he was one of the many assets traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins when the Canucks acquired forward Brandon Sutter.
Not Enough NHL Ready Options for Vancouver
You can give Benning credit for defensemen in the system that he’s acquired. In the 2015 NHL draft, Benning picked up Guillaume Brisebois, a promising player who was recently signed by the Canucks, as well as the likes of Carl Neill and Tate Olson, who have had strong seasons thus far in the QMJHL and the WHL, respectively. Throw in Nikita Tryamkin, Mackenzie Stewart and Andrey Pedan as Benning blueliner pickups.
The problem, however, is none of these players are anywhere close to having an impact in the Canucks lineup. Now with injuries to veteran players, the Canucks don’t have many capable options. Sbisa and Bartkowski are the only defensemen Benning has acquired who have been steady NHL players, though neither would be considered a top-four defender on any team.
With this significant void in their lineup, it may be time for Vancouver to try and add on some defensive depth, either by trade or by waivers, or else it may be a disastrous time dealing with these key injuries on the Canucks’ blue line.
Canucks contributor for The Hockey Writers. Maple Ridge, BC native. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @ColtonnDavies on Twitter.