Canucks Pre-Season Wrap-up: My Opening Day Lineup
With the final pre-season game in the books with a nice 5-0 win over former coach Alain Vigneault's New York Rangers everyone's attention will not turn toward the opening day lineup. It seems as if the team has settled in on the following roster, at least to start the season while Zach Kassian is suspended and Jordan Schroeder is out with an injured foot(hopefully not the first of many casualties this season).
Jordan Schroeder(IR - Out 3 Weeks)
My And Lineup And Thoughts
Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack
First of all, it's nice to at least have the goalie depth chart nicely settled for once. Expect Luongo to be a workhorse in net again and start 60-65 games this season. The only cause for concern is Eddie's lack of NHL experience(sorry, I just had to). But I think he'll be just fine in Torts' goalie friendly system(read last blog for more on that). It's hard not to expect a bounceback season from Luongo, he simply plays better when given more work, meaning more starts and more shots faced. Since the 2010-2011 season(including playoffs) he has a .926% save percentage when facing 30 or more shots in a game that he started. This tells me that he's the type of goalie who thrives on a big workload, not just on a game by game basis, but by a season workload basis as well. It also explains his declining numbers as he's been starting less and less over the years as Cory Schneider got more and more work. Another thought could be that maybe he doesn't need a shot block-happy coach after all?
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Chris Tanev
Jason Garrison - Yannick Weber(Frankie Corrado)
First of all, I think the one surprising cut that cut quite a few off guard, including myself was Frankie Corrado being sent down to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. Not only did he outplay Yannick Weber and significantly outplay Andrew Alberts, who was God awful all pre-season long, but Canuck fans were expecting the young players on this team to be given every chance to make the team and arguably the most consistent player out of the non-regulars was sent down. This has to be simply a the numbers game and waiver eligibility rules working against Corrado here, but to me the GM and coaches job should be to ice the best team possible from day one. Was the worry that 32 year old Andrew Alberts, who was a UFA until late August this past summer would get claimed off of waivers? One thing that worries me about this situation is that many Rangers fans last year were complaining about a similar defensemen, Stu Bickel getting playing time or being dressed for games ahead of other more deserving defensemen for John Tortorella. Canuck fans can only hope that this is just a temporary move and that Frankie is back up again soon. I don't buy that playing 20-25 mins in the AHL will suddenly make him much a better d-man than playing 15-18 minutes in the NHL would have. I would understand if this was a young forward being sent down, but even bottom pairing defensemen in the NHL typically play quite a decent amount of minutes.
As for the two first pairings, I've always liked the Hamhuis-Bieksa pairing quite a bit over the past 2 seasons. They play well off of each other, Hamhuis benefits from Bieksa's toughness and good all-around play(when he's on his game) and when he's not on his game and making mental errors than Hamhuis is always there to bail him out and cover for him. Hamhuis might be one of the more underrated defensemen in the NHL, rarely will he ever make mistake or get beat by a forward, he plays in all situations, is durable, and is a good skater and decent puck mover. The real key to the Canucks blue line this season will Alex Edler, and similar to Bieksa he's at his best when he's paired with a consistent partner that can provide a steady presence when Edler is having a bad game or period of hockey. Which is exactly why I believe that Chris Tanev is a great partner for him, he's very similar to Hamhuis except not as strong and a bit more limited offensively. By the way, when averaging out Edler's last 3 seasons(178 games) at an 82 game pace he's averaged: 12 Goals, 35 Assists, 47 Points, 140 Hits, 144 Blocked Shots, and 22.5 PP Points. How many defensemen at or around the age of 27 are capable of putting up that kind of numbers at a 5 million dollar cap hit? Not too many.
And for my third pairing, I have Jason Garrison paired with Yannick Weber. I see Garrison as the steady defensive presence on this pairing, and Weber provides the speed and puck moving ability and both have big shots that they can fire and load up. Again, in a perfect world I'd have Frankie Corrado in the lineup over Weber. And no, Garrison will not be 5th in ice time on this team, he's still going to eat up his typical top 4 minute son the first PP unit and PK. Tanev doesn't play on the PP so I'd definitely expect to see Hamhuis, Bieksa, Edler and Garrison end up with the top 4 highest minutes played. Another reason why I hate the Corrado/Alberts decision is that I don't see any defesemen on this team that fit in well with Alberts, he'd need a fast, right-handed puck-moving d-man to play with him and this team doesn't have that type on the roster. I'm betting that whatever pairing he plays on in games that he's dressed for this year will look pretty bad.
Now for the forwards, this is where I suspect that no two Canuck fans will be able to agree on every line and every player's position on each line. There's way more uncertainty this season with the rookies, new coaching staff, Kassian suspension, lack of secondary scoring, and a major hole at third line center. Also keep in mind that I'm one of those people that's strongly against having a 4th line that's just supposed to go out there and hit and dump the puck in and just hope and pray that the other team doesn't score for 5-8 minutes a night. I'd prefer rolling 4 lines and having hem all play 10+ minutes every night. Here's what I'd roll with:
D.Sedin - H.Sedin - Burrows
I now people want to see Kassian play here, or even Hansen. But the first line has never been the issue with this team so I see no reason to break them up. Burrows supposed chemistry with Kesler is overrated IMO, I don't see much chemistry between them two except for when they're killing penalties. Hansen brings the same hustle and forechecking ability of Burrows, but Burrows has better patience and hockey IQ than him so he gets the nod over the speedy Dane for me. I have zero worries or concerns about this line, they'll dominate puck possession regularly as usual. Daniel Sedin's shooting percentage should rebound(8.7% last year compared to 12.3% career average).
Higgins - Kesler - Hansen
This might be called a second line that supposed to score goals, but I have my doubts that they'll provide consistent secondary scoring and would rather just use this line to play against other team's top lines. If they can come out winning or even then I like the Canucks chances to outscore the other team with the Sedins plus the other 2 lines against the other team's bottom 3 lines.
Shinkaruk - Santorelli - Booth
This line is going to get some soft matchups if you thnk about it, the Sedins will get the other team's shutdown pairings and t=shutdown lines. Kesler's line would handle the other team's top lines. Freeing up this speedy line to score against lesser defensive players. Booth and Santorelli both played in Florida a few years ago, I believe they played on the same line for a decent amount of time that year and both were able to score 20 goals. I like what I saw from this line last game, lots of speed and some creativity off f the rush gives other teams a different look from the Sedin and Kesler lines usually only creating chances off of the cycle. Again, this is not your typical shutdown third line and will not be used in that way. What I'd ask for them to do is use that great speed to forecheck hard, force turnovers and create offense off of the rush to limit the reliance on Kesler's line to provide secondary scoring. I've been totally impressed with Hunter Shinkaruk and think he has better than a 50% chance of actually making this team.
Richardson - Horvat - Weise(Kassian over Weise when back from Shanaban)
Again, this line IMO is capable of handling some decent minutes and even chipping in with some offense once in awhile. Shinkaruk has impressed me more so than Horvat has, but if the rookie is staying then I'd like to see this line being given 10 minutes to see what they can do. Once Kassian is back then I see some potential here for sure, but until then it will probably be more of a dump and chase, conservative line. I just couldn't find another role for Horvat in the top 9 and I'd expect him to be returned to London in the Ontario Hockey League after his 9 games or less. Once/If he gets sent down then I'd move Richardson to center, and play Kassian and Weise on his wings. Sestito to me is pretty much useless. It boggles my mind that Gillis didn't offer a contract or a tryout to a guy like Peter Mueller to try and help this team's forward group and provide some more competition.
D.Sedin - H.Sedin - Kesler
Edler - Garrison
Would prefer a right-handed shot at the point but I love the potential of this 5 man unit. The team's 3 best forwards and two best shooting defensemen. Let the opposition pick their poison, either they leave too much room for the Twins and Kesler down low or Edler and Garrison up top who can both load up bombs from the point. When the PP needs a change up from time to time I'd replace one of two defensemen with Yannick Weber and move the other one down to the second unit paired with Kevin Bieksa or Chris Tanev.
Shinkaruk - Horvat - Burrows
Hamhuis - Weber
Yup, call me crazy but I'd have both kids out on the PP. The Canucks have lacked a legit second unit for years and if both of these kids are going to be in the lineup then they need to be given Powerplay time to develop their offensive game at the pro level. If I was Torts I'd also have a "2B" unit as well depending on who's been playing well offensive on a game by game basis. Basically the same unit, except Booth and Santorelli in for the kids.
Sedin - Sedin - Burrows
Higgins - Kesler - Hansen
Shinkaruk - Santorelli - Booth
Richardson - Horvat - Kassian/Weise
Hamhuis - Bieksa
Edler - Tanev
Garrison - Weber(Corrado)
Note: If Horvat sticks with the big club for this season then I'd re-arrange the lineup like this:
Sedin - Sedin - Burrows
Booth - Kesler - Shinkaruk
Higgins - Horvat - Hansen
Richardson- Santorelli - Weise(Kassian)
This team could clearly has two major holes. A solid, proven, skill second line winger and a proven, solid third line center. Those kinds of holes aren't easy to fill and you have to either spend the big bucks in July or pull of a trade where your likely creating a new hole. This team is going to need some role player or young guys to really step up for this forward group to be good enough. I think the goaltending and defense is good enough, but the clear weaknesses lye up front.
Thanks again for reading. What are your thoughts on the Canucks roster, cuts and my lineup? What would you change and do differently and why?