Who Should the Canucks Play Alongside the Sedins?

Updated: December 28, 2016 at 11:00 am by J.D. Burke


Photo Credit: Anthony Grupposo – USA TODAY Sports

If the Canucks are going to make a surge to save their season, they’ll be doing it without Jannik Hansen.

Speaking to the media after Tuesday’s practice, Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins revealed Hansen suffered a severe knee injury on December 22nd, and it will keep him from Vancouver’s lineup for four-to-six weeks. This after Hansen just returned to the Canucks two weeks prior from a broken collarbone.

The Canucks’ first line was supposed to be an area of relative strength. At the very least, one couldn’t count it among the multitude question marks hanging over the roster. Whether Loui Eriksson worked out or not, the Sedins moulded Hansen as a safety blanket in their image for the club’s cover.

Desjardins has been hesitant to play Eriksson with the twins since October, and Hansen’s injury has forced him from the trios refuge for much of the time since. Generally, the club’s leaned on Brandon Sutter to fill the void whenever necessary, and suffered that decision accordingly.

The hope in mid-December was Hansen’s health would keep Desjardins from having to tussle with this question again. Here we are two weeks later, and it’s paramount on the embattled coach’s mind as he prepares to face the Los Angeles Kings.

History tells us Desjardins is likely to return to the Sutter well. Whether that’s in the club’s best interests or not, the coach isn’t shy about his affection for Sutter and that shouldn’t be discounted. He even went so far at one point as to suggest he’s an “all-around player” — the exact kind he leans on in any situation or role. Sutter’s perch among the NHL’s ice-time leaders suggests Desjardins is going a step past paying lip service to that conviction, too.

The Canucks control roughly 45% of shot attempts when Sutter is playing with the Sedins, though. It’s not just that Sutter is a significant downgrade on Hansen. He actively makes the Canucks first line a liability by his addition.

To Desjardins credit, he strayed from that mismatch on Friday night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The Sedins played with Eriksson, and controlled 50% of shot attempts on the evening. That may not seem like a glowing endorsement of their play, and I would add the caveat that they weren’t especially threatening at any point, but it’s positive relative to their teammates’.

That’s more or less consistent with how the three have played together all season. As a trio, the Sedins and Eriksson have controlled north of 53% of shot attempts at even strength. Their expected goal share of 46% suggests they’ve not been especially dangerous though.

I find it unlikely that they’ll control shot share at a rate commensurate with the league’s best teams; similarly, I’m unconvinced that they’re a significantly poor at finishing as a group.

You’d hope that this is something that’s going to flesh out over time. Over a prolonged sample, I’d suggest their expected goal share corrects itself. At the very least, this is a group that should control 50% of the on-ice goals or expected goals as a trio.

Worst case scenario, Eriksson’s addition makes the first line a defensive force among the league’s best. That’s something Eriksson’s shown himself exceedingly capable of bringing to any of the Canucks’ lines on a nightly basis. The only line Eriksson’s played on for 50 or more minutes that’s been a net negative by shot share is one centred by Micael Chaput. That line was a 49%.

Alternatively, the Canucks can take a trip down memory line. Alex Burrows is in the midst of a renaissance season, playing a starring role in the Canucks’ middle six alongside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi.

In Desjardins three years behind the Canucks bench, they’ve been hesitant about going that route. Burrows is the third most common right winger on the Canucks’ top line in that span. Looking at their underlying data, they haven’t necessarily hurt the Canucks when paired.

The Sedins control about 53% of shot attempts with Burrows on their flank, using that most recent sample. If we break that sample down further, we find they were a 55% group in 14-15. Considering where Burrows was in that year compared to the one that followed, and how this season compares to the two, I probably take the over on 53% as a group.

I wonder, though, about what kind of impact that has throughout the Canucks’ lineup. Specifically, I wonder if you damage Burrows’ season by messing with a good thing.

The Canucks are producing about .73 goals every hour with Burrows on the ice when he’s not on Horvat’s line. Concurrently, Horvat is producing 1.32 goals per hour and Baertschi 1.89 when they’re not a part of that trio. It’s clear which of the three benefits most from that relationship.

Alternatively, the Canucks could get creative. I don’t think playing Anton Rodin with the Sedins is that outlandish given the club’s expectations of the Swedish import, and his skill set. I’ve seen less obvious combinations work with the twins. Perhaps the Canucks can catch lightning there?

Realistically, they’re probably best served running a similar lineup to the one they iced Friday against the Flames. Sometimes the obvious answer is obvious for a reason.

The Canucks signed Eriksson to play with the Sedins. That didn’t work according to plan early, and they went to what they know would work best as a result. I don’t think they were necessarily wrong to stray from them as a group, but I’d think them foolish to keep straying from that without an appreciably better option in the wings.

You can’t find such a player in the Canucks’ lineup. Sometimes you have to circle back to square-one. This is one such occasion.