This season has not gone exactly as planned for the Vancouver Canucks – but it may be going as expected. A quarter-season in, the 2021-22 Canucks defence is leading the team in breakdowns instead of breakouts.
No In Between For Vancouver
The trade that brought Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver was a reverse-blockbuster. Instead of swapping stars to potentially improve both teams, the Canucks and Arizona Coyotes traded problems. In Vancouver’s case, it also cost a first-, second-, and seventh-round pick. All to compensate for previous mistakes this general manager made so he could salv- Okay, wait. Staying semi-positive here. Already covered that ground, so staying on the ice.
The Pleasant Surprise
The judgement on Ekman-Larsson was mostly that he would be positive in Vancouver for at least this season. And that’s been true, even in this disastrous start. Yes, there are a lot of years to go in that deal, but he’s been fine this year. While he obviously isn’t relied on as heavily as Quinn Hughes is, he’s still played top-pair minutes. He hasn’t been – as Jim Benning promised – the “number one defenceman” but that’s fine. No one actually expected that, and he’s lived up to it. And, true to their word – the Canucks have used him to take heat off of Hughes.
It won’t surprise anyone to know that the combination of Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers give up the most expected goals against of any regular pair for Vancouver. Ekman-Larsson is used as a match-up defender, so Myers is in there, too. It may surprise fans to see that the pair also leads the team in expected goals for. They have a 53.9% Corsi in 180 minutes on the ice together. Ekman-Larsson’s second most popular partner is Tucker Poolman, and the expected goals are even higher at 55%. Using him this way has cut down on his offence, but he does have two power-play goals – as many as anyone else on the Canucks.
One thing the 2021-22 Canucks defence can rely on is Hughes getting points. The other is Myers being a Force for Chaos on the ice. He’s Anarchy in Van, ‘kay? Last season’s late-game pair of Hughes and Myers is back this year, and as erratic as ever! When the Canucks are behind, that’s the duo coming onto the ice with results as mixed as you’d expect: six goals for, five against in nearly 100 minutes. Unlike most of the team, Myers has no qualms about using his size in his end. His issues mostly stem from an unbounded enthusiasm which makes him a blast/nightmare to watch. For fans of both teams. Though one play early has earned him a lot of patience with Canucks fans:
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) October 14, 2021
Travis Hamonic has only played seven games so far and missed training camp completely. The team obviously hopes he’ll get up to speed soon, resuming a regular spot beside Hughes. But he is, for now, “assigned” to the Abbotsford Canucks while Vancouver crosses the border on another road trip. That’s in quotation marks because he’s played one game for Abbotsford despite being “assigned” there for six home games. The team is saving money, but what they need is the player to reach his NHL level again. His absence isn’t helping.
The Gods of the Gaps
Speaking of AHL players, the 2021-22 Canucks defence. Luke Schenn is an emergency-access player, the guy who can pinch in on either side as needed. He has three primary assists – which is nice for six games – but he also has a 41% Corsi in six games. Jack Rathbone shows great imagination but is just not ready for the NHL yet. And while Kyle Burroughs is a gamer, and having the local guy make the team is a nice story, he’s not everything they need, either. He’s been a little unlucky this year, but he’s in the position Poolman should be.
Which, frankly, sums it up. The Canucks have played too many of their games with three NHL-level defencemen. As a result, the puck isn’t getting to their forwards. The forwards, in turn, can’t trust that the defence will take care of business in their own end. This should be a team that pushes the puck forward and it simply doesn’t. At least partially as a result, they have hesitant offence and an insufficient defence.
At least they have goaltending they can rely on. Fans just wish they had to rely on it less.