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October 16, 2011
The Blue Line
Shake Up The Canucks?

by Matthew Coller

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It's far too early in the season to make assessments about any of the NHL's 30 teams. If we did, we would say things like, "who needs Crosby?!" and "Colorado's a lock!" But no matter how young the NHL season is, the unfilled holes in the Vancouver Canucks' lineup are already apparent. So much so that fans have been calling for a trade.

The Canucks' roster is much the same from last year. They still have the household names in the Sedins, Roberto Luongo, Alexandre Burrows, and Kevin Bieksa. There are a couple new faces including the oft-injured Marco Sturm, who played 18 games with the Capitals last season, and young center Cody Hodgson, who spent all but eight games with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL last year.

The most glaring subtraction, of course, is the loss of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. He signed an enormous contract with the Buffalo Sabres this offseason. Raffi Torres also moved on to Phoenix. Those two departures, combined with injuries to Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, and Aaron Rome have left the Canucks looking unsteady on the defensive side of the ice.

In a recent game with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canucks gave up five goals on just 27 shots. At least three of the goals could be attributed directly to defensive failure, probably four. Last year, those types of failures were few and far between. But, without Ehrhoff, Torres, Raymond, Kesler, and Rome, the Canucks seem more vulnerable to high-scoring affairs.

How much would a trade help?

At this point, probably not much. As a whole, the current missing players from the Canucks' lineup add up to a defensive GVT to 11.7. It's difficult to project how much will be mitigated by Sturm and Hodgson because neither has played enough games to say how much of an impact they will have. But the last two times Sturm played a full season (in 2007-08 and 2009-10), he managed defensive GVTs of 4.0 and 3.7.

Here are the defensive GVT's of the five missing Canucks:

Mason Raymond: 2.0
Ryan Kesler: 5.7
Christian Ehrhoff: 2.0
Raffi Torres: 1.0
Aaron Rome: 1.0
Total: 11.7

Notice that Kesler, who is expected back to the lineup soon, makes up more than half of the lost defensive GVT. Ehrhoff is missed more on the offensive than defensive end and both Torres and Rome's defensive impact is replaceable.

If Kesler returns, poof go most of the defensive problems. He ranked sixth last season in most time in the defensive zone for forwards. If he comes back strong, Torres' and Raymond's affect on the defense will be fairly easily replaced by Sturm (if he's healthy) and Hodgson.

Kesler back in the lineup will reduce the need for extended minutes for the Sedins and Burrows. Last season, Kesler led the Canucks playing more than 20 minutes per game, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin were at 18:33 and 19:15 respectively. This season, both Sedins are above 21 minutes per game. Burrows played 17:01 per game last season; he's playing more than 20 minutes this season.

Who would they trade, anyway?

The talk has been about sending backup netminder Cory Schneider packing in exchange for another defenseman or a second-line winger. The problem is that goaltenders just aren't worth as much as they used to be on the trade market. Sure, it only takes one, but what type of defenseman or second-line wing can the Canucks really expect to get that can have a 10.6 GVT as Schneider did for Vancouver last season?

Could they use some depth on defense? Maybe. Clearly we can't count on any team staying healthy all the time. But when Rome returns, he will fill out the six spot that has been somewhat of a revolving door. The top four defenseman are solid: Bieksa, Hamhuis, Salo, and Edler. It seems if the Canucks make a deal, they would have to move Keith Ballard or Rome.

On the forward side, there's certainly an argument to be made for another wing. But again, trading in October isn't smart when there will be out-of-the-race sellers in March.

It's easy to over react when the Cup finalists don't jump out of the gate strong. We naturally start to look for holes in the roster. As of right now, it's far too soon to panic. Even if Kesler doesn't come back as his old self and there are injuries within the top four defensemen, the Canucks will still be in the top eight at the trade deadline when it will be much easier to make a deal.

Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Matthew by clicking here or click here to see Matthew's other articles.

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