I have no use for the Canucks. True story: all of my Canucks analysis consists of the words "eww", "ugh", "why", and "no". So I asked real live hockey blogger Cam Charron (of the Nations Network and "Cam Jam" on Canucks.com) to share some thoughts on the current state of Canucks hockey.
1. What's the deal with John Tortorella? How would you assess his performance as Canucks head coach so far?
Coming into the season, nobody in Vancouver really knew what to expect as far as on-ice changes. Through 18 games, the Torts era has definitely been enjoyed by people in this town, with some worry that perhaps he's leaning far too much on his top players. Ryan Kesler is up about 4:30 in average ice-time over his career average. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are averaging over 20 minutes for the first time in their careers, and they aren't exactly young anymore. Tortorella has earned the most out of his team so far, particularly out of some players that had very limited expectations going into the season. Mike Santorelli, Brad Richardson and Ryan Stanton have played most of their games in the "mildly effective" to "actually kinda good" range. The team as a whole appears to be playing a bit more aggressive to compensate for the fact they aren't the most talented group in the NHL, so a lot of Canuck fans are on board with what Tortorella is doing so far.
2. The Canucks bottom six looks like a tire fire. Do their underlying numbers support this assessment - if so, how would you fix the situation?
The Canucks have struggled with some injuries to Jannik Hansen, David Booth, Jordan Schroeder and (lol) Dale Weise which have somewhat limited their depth, but, unsurprisingly, the Tortorella Canucks don't exactly use a regular fourth line and the third line (currently made up of Brad Richardson centering Zack Kassian and Darren Archibald) plays anywhere between 8 and 15 minutes, almost as if it's determined by feel. But, yeah, a cursory look at the bottom six will tell you why the Canucks are riding the horses in their top six while they can. Richardson's been a very good penalty killer, but his group has been pretty 'meh' at evens. In score close situations, Richardson has just a 43.2% Corsi, per Extra Skater, but he has been given the tough defensive zone starts.
As for how I'd fix it, I think it's a matter of waiting for players to get back from injury. Booth and Hansen are certainly players, although there will be a chance later in the year to grab a good centreman from a middling team to be used once Richardson's PDO starts trending closer to 100. The fourth line is barely worth discussing because they play so little, but at one point last week Tom Sestito had the worst possession numbers in the NHL.
3. Is the window actually closed or do you think the Canucks have the skill and depth to finish as one of the league's best teams again?
Tough question, because simply making the playoffs in the West is probably enough to land a team in the discussion among the league's best teams. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are above 10% on-ice shooting for the first time since the 2010 season, and while they're probably producing points a little above their heads, it appears on the surface that the pair have found some of that form that made the Canucks a top team between the years of 2010 and 2012. I'm bearish on the twins sustaining their current production, but this Mike Santorelli resurgence means that maybe, just maybe, Henrik won't be the only bull in the barn come the spring. Santorelli, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins are absolutely shutting down top competition lately and adding offence. It's really an ice-time thing, and whether everybody playing 20 minutes a night will work in April and May as well as it has through early November.
And, of course, defence and goaltending play a part. Chris Tanev has turned from "undrafted injury call-up" in 2011 to "top-pairing defenceman Chris Tanev" with incredible ease. That's allowed the Canucks to balance out their pairings and as far as I'm concerned, they have one of the top all-around defensive groups in the league even though they lack a clear No. 1 (though I'm certainly an advocate of good B.C. boy Dan Hamhuis to represent Team Canada in February). Roberto Luongo, after the saga last season and through the summer where he didn't wind up being traded, has returned to being Roberto Luongo, and actually had a much better October than he normally does. If he's on his game, the Canucks have a pretty good chance to be among the final mix of teams in the West, but that's a long-ass ways away.
If you have any questions for Cam, you can find him on twitter @camcharron.
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