There have been no shortage of bold moves with the Canucks team this season.
Surprisingly, it was a less-than-dramatic announcement when the team said on Tuesday that they plan to keep blueliner Alex Biega with the big club for the rest of the season, rather than send him back down to the AHL. The uncertainty arose when Luca Sbisa recently returned from a broken hand injury, but Biega appears to have solidified his worth on the team’s blue line.
Linden says Alex Biega is a Canuck for the season. No more Utica. That’s good news for Biega, bad news for Weber.
— Blake Price (@BlakePriceTSN) January 19, 2016
Amidst the major transition period in Vancouver and a slew of injuries, the 27 year-old Biega has become one of the more constant contributors of the Canucks defensive group – this in his first full NHL season.
Coach Willie Desjardins even had some hard-earned praise for the “bulldog” Biega a few weeks after his call-up, as Ben Kuzma quoted from The Province:
“[Biega] has impressed me… You don’t have to be the biggest guy. It’s how hard you want to play and he won’t be coming out of the lineup – he won’t.” – Willie Desjardins on December 28th, 2015.
But as Biega is seeing the ice more often with the Canucks, Yannick Weber continues to be the odd man out on the blueline. Weber watched Tuesday night’s 3-2 road loss in overtime to the New York Rangers from the press box, which was his third consecutive game as a healthy scratch.
With free agency looming for Weber and the trade deadline approaching, it only makes sense for the Canucks to shop him based on his uncertainty in the lineup. Weber has been a healthy scratch 12 times through the team’s first 47 games; in 35 games played, the Swiss blueliner has only five assists – none coming at even strength – and a career-worst minus-13 rating. There’s lots of factors for why the 27 year-old Weber has underachieved this year, and also lots to consider for why now is a good time to get a return on him.
The Trials of Weber
Weber proved to be a valuable shooting threat on the Canucks’ back end in 2014-15; he notably tallied a career high 11 goals and 21 points in 65 games. His five powerplay goals and 117 shots were also career-bests. Thanks to this performance, Weber earned a one year, one way “show-me” contract worth $1.5 million for the Canucks. But with his poor numbers and inconsistent play, it’s turned into a “show-me-less” situation for the Canucks with Weber at this point.
Weber’s career-year a season ago came primarily with veteran Dan Hamhuis as his defense partner, but to start this season Weber was inexplicably moved out of this role in favor of newcomer Matt Bartkowski. Weber watched game number one of the season as a healthy scratch, losing out on a third-pairing spot to Luca Sbisa and rookie Ben Hutton. And his status on the team’s depth chart hasn’t much changed since, as the likes of Biega and most recently Taylor Fedun have been trusted in the lineup ahead of a healthy Weber.
Like Weber, Biega is also a pending-UFA following this season. Biega, who is on the last year of a deal worth $600,000, is currently far and away the favorite of the two to earn a contract in the offseason. On the year he has an even plus-minus rating through 22 games, and has averaged 1.09 blocked shots/game and 2.45 hits/game, compared to Weber’s averages of 0.86 blocked shots/game and 0.94 hits per game.
Do Canucks Trade Weber Before Deadline?
Assuming he may not have a future in Vancouver past this season, GM Jim Benning certainly wouldn’t to wait for Weber to walk in the offseason; swinging a deadline-deal would mean the Canucks get at least some asset for Weber.
With failing to produce as expected offensively thus far and having below-average defensive numbers, Weber hasn’t quite bolstered the team’s blue line this year. The Canucks’ defense group has been average at best this season while heavily riding Chris Tanev and Alex Edler, and lately have been one of the poorest groups in the league.
Shots now 40-17 for the Rangers. Fourth straight game Canucks have allowed at least 40 shots.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) January 20, 2016
And if Weber were to be moved, who could step up when needed? Biega has filled a solid depth role for almost two months, playing 18-plus minutes in 13 of his 22 games thus far. 27 year-old Fedun or 22 year-old rookie Andrey Pedan are two minor-league defenseman able to fill a depth role and step into the lineup, as Vancouver has had them do at different times this season.
What’s become somewhat of a battle for a roster spot between two 27 year-old’s in a contract-year, Biega looks to have played his way into a home in the lineup, while Weber has played his way out of one.