NHL: Canucks Projections – The Defense

DYNAMIC DUO: Can Bieksa and Hamhuis improve upon their outstanding play together from last season?

BY THOMAS DRANCE

So far this week we’ve looked at the scoring projections for every Canucks forward – the Sedin twins, the second liners, the third liners, the depth forwards and Zack Kassian – and one Canucks defenseman (Chris Tanev). Throughout his tenure as Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis has made having a blue-line that “activates” offensively a priority, a maxim made plain by his oft-stated commitment to icing a blueline that can contribute two-hundred points. In a lockout shortened season, of course, the 200 point plateau is an impossibility but it’s possible that the addition of Jason Garrison will make this version of the Canucks defense the most offensive in the Mike Gillis era (and not just because of their lack of right-side depth).

JASON GARRISON
Let’s start with the new addition, Jason Garrison, since our model forecasts him to lead the team’s defenseman in goals this season. Jason Garrison had a breakout campaign in 2011-12, scoring nine power-play goals for the Panthers (good for second in the league behind only Shea Weber) and sixteen overall. In all likelihood those nine goals will represent an outlier season for Jason Garrison, as opposed to him finding a sustainable level of improved performance but his sample size of past performance just isn’t big enough for me to adjust it with any confidence (like I was able to do with the Sedins). Based on the fact that Garrison has, in all three of his seasons, scored at a higher even-strength rate than one would usually expect from a stay-at-home defenseman, I think his power-play scoring rate will remain well above average going forward even if he never again matches the 16 goals he scored a season ago.

Here’s our goal forecast for Jason Garrison in 2013:

ALEX EDLER
Let’s move along to Alex Edler, who had an all-star season a year ago followed by a nightmare playoff performance against the Los Angeles Kings. While Edler is well regarded as an offensive defenseman, he’s primarily known for his passing ability and speed as opposed to his shooting (though he can certainly rip it) and in fact, his even-strength scoring rate isn’t all that high in comparison with his less productive teammates like Bieksa and Hamhuis in our model. His power-play scoring rate is very strong though, and we expect him to soak up over 60% of the available power-play ice-time on a first unit caddying the Sedin twins. Our model predicts a goal total for Edler in the single digits (pro-rated over an 82 game season), but anyway, as a pending unrestricted free-agent Edler is likely to be judged more on his two-way play than his scoring this season – everyone knows he can put up points:

KEVIN BIEKSA & DAN HAMHUIS
Which brings us, of course, to the ace shutdown pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis. This twosome, along with the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler will do as much as anybody else to dictate just how far this Canucks team can go in 2013. Their contribution tends to be more on the possession and puck-moving side than on “scoring goals” but both players have the ability to contribute some timely offense on occasion – in fact, Kevin Bieksa was second among all NHL defenseman in even-strength points in 2011-12. We’ll cover these two together, and there aren’t any lengthy qualifiers needed really, they’re plugged in for second unit power-play ice-time and are expected to soak up between 38-39% of the club’s even-strength ice-time in games they’re healthy:

ANDREW ALBERTS
And finally we get to the club’s likely seventh defenseman (though he’ll have to beat out Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer for minutes… okay yeah, he’s basically a lock as the team’s seventh defenseman) Andrew Alberts. Alberts is something of a “cooler” at the NHL level in that, the game slows down for both teams when he’s on the ice. Sure opposing clubs are less likely to score on Vancouver, but the Canucks are less likely to score on their opponents as well. This is partly related to the fact that Andrew Alberts mostly plays when the third or fourth Canucks lines are on the ice (usually against their opponents third and fourth lines).

Surprisingly, Andrew Alberts has scored goals at a solidly respectable rate for an NHL defenseman over his career, but he doesn’t really get the minutes necessary to put up gaudy totals. Our model expects that to be the story again this season: