— Pass it to Ghoulis (@passittobulis) October 27, 2014
Dibs on using this Henrik Sedin GIF for reaction purposes in the future http://t.co/Aiuq6Q03Lo
— Steph (@myregularface) October 27, 2014
To a certain degree, we all know that the Vancouver Canucks are a one-line team. Sure, the second line of Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino, and Alex Burrows has played some quality hockey to begin the year, but let’s face facts here: without Henrik Sedin, the Canucks are far worse than they are with him.
But how much worse are they? Is it possible that losing their captain turns the Canucks into Connor McDavid sweepstakes contenders? How does their depth compare to the rest of the teams in the NHL? Read past the jump to find out.
I originally brought this up on Twitter yesterday with this observation:
The Canucks are a 62.2% Corsi team with Henrik Sedin on the ice.
The same Canucks are a 45.9% Corsi team with Henrik Sedin on the bench.
— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) October 26, 2014
62.2% Corsi is 2013-2014 L.A. Kings-level good, while 45.9% Corsi is 2013-2014 Calgary Flames-level bad. The problem is that we should expect the Canucks to be significantly better with Henrik on the ice, just as we should expect any team to be better with their #1 centre – and presumably the rest of their top line – on the ice, so this doesn’t tell us much unless we have a reference point to compare to.
We could look at CorsiRel to tell us how much better the Canucks have performed with Henrik than without him and compare this to other #1 centres, but we know Henrik is good so we’re not really concerned about this. Instead, if we use a team’s top centre as a proxy for their top line, we can look at the “Without You” portion of a WOWY to gauge how well each team’s depth players have performed so far this season. Here are the results:
So far in 2014-2015, Vancouver’s bottom-9 group of forwards have been among the 10 worst teams in the NHL, with only Buffalo, Calgary, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Colorado being significantly worse, and San Jose and Dallas hovering around the same level of ineptitude. It’s still too early to say whether or not this is going to be indicative of the rest of 2014-15 for the Canucks, as we can’t infer much about a team’s talent level until roughly the 20-game mark, but it’s enough to conclude that after Henrik Sedin it really hasn’t been pretty.
Adding zone starts into the equation doesn’t do much to make the Canucks look better, as the team sees a 48.4% offensive zone start rate without Henrik on the ice, which is just 0.7% lower than the NHL average for non-top-3 centres.
This raises two questions: can we expect to keep seeing a bottom-10 in the NHL performance from the Canucks non-first line forwards, and if so, which players need to be replaced?
The first question can be answered by looking at career-long trends and what we know about the talent level of particular players. We know, for example, that Derek Dorsett and Jannik Hansen have been possession neutral players through their careers. We also know that Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows are usually in the black when it comes to puck possession too. Burrows and Higgins should be at least average or better 2nd line wingers this season, while Dorsett and Hansen should be well above average 4th liners too. Zack Kassian also proved to be a useful player last season, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be that player again this year too.
This leaves Nick Bonino, Linden Vey, Shawn Matthias, and Brad Richardson. Bonino was a possession black hole until last season, when he was given a shot and broke out with the Ducks. He’s probably better suited to a long-term 3rd line role, but he has played very well to start the year and has looked very good alongside Higgins and Burrows, scoring 7 points in 8 games. He won’t keep this scoring pace up, but if his two wingers are able to help mask some of the defensive deficiencies that have showed up in his game in the past, he could be a good middle-6 centre this year.
We don’t know much about Linden Vey, but his performance to date is along the lines of what you’d expect from a 4th liner at 5v5. He also looks to have significant PP upside though, so I’d rather have a PP specialist taking up a roster spot than a pure fighter.
The outlook isn’t as rosy for Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson on the other hand. Richardson was a 5-on-5 liability last year, and Matthias has been a poor 200-foot player for some time now (he’s never carried a positive CF% or GF% at any time in his career). Neither have gotten off to a good start to the season, but Matthias in particular has been awful. His 37.5% Corsi is dead last on the Canucks, as is his 12.5% Goals For percentage. In terms of Corsi, he ranks 504th out of 523 players, ahead of only a handful of Flames and Sabres.
The Canucks’ 3rd line is definitely an issue, and while we can reasonably expect Matthias to be better, it might be time to scratch either Matthias, Richardson, or both in favour of Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, Hunter Shinkaruk, or even Dustin Jeffrey (who’s currently tied for 3rd in the AHL in goals and has the 4th highest point total too). Regardless of what happens though, Vancouver’s depth is going to have to be better in order to make the playoffs.