The Vancouver Canucks currently sit atop the Northwest Division standings with a likely insurmountable 15-point lead over second place Minnesota as of Tuesday afternoon. More importantly, the team sits atop the Western Conference and is one of the "it" teams many pundits are picking to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Canucks are no fluke; the team has the highest goal differential in the NHL (+58), so looking for the team's Achilles heel is not exactly an easy task.
While the Canucks are dominant when it comes to allowing goals against (best goals per game against in NHL) that does not necessarily mean there are not any needs to address on the backend. Therein lies the issue with the Canucks' decision to add to strength on NHL deadline daythey addressed other needs rather than focusing on their actual weakness on defense.
The Canucks have a strong one-through-six defense corps, led by the likes of Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis
when healthy. That is the keyhealth. Edler is currently out with a back injury and Kevin Bieksa is nursing an ankle injury. Sure, both players are expected back before the playoffs, but the Canucks have not exactly been lucky when it comes to defensemen injuries over the past few seasons.
Vancouver hopes to ice a defensive lineup of Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Keith Ballard, Sami Salo, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa. This group can skate pretty well, move the puck and be a tough physical group. While there is a variety of talent here, this defense does not line up wellaccording to the measure of Defensive Goals Versus Thresholdwith the likes of Nashville, Los Angeles and Chicago. Players like Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome are depth defenders, but with so many injuries this season and the long injury history of Salo, Canucks management had the opportunity to shore up the team's back end on trade deadline day.
Instead, the Canucks acquired two forwards: Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins.
In Lapierre, the Canucks acquire a player in his fifth NHL season in the prime of his career at age 25. Lapierre has proven able to contribute to a team's efforts in the past. The Quebec native tallied 15 goals in 2008-09 and had three goals in last year's playoffs. The former Montreal Canadiens forward has been traded twice this season however, meaning that two organizations have given up on him.
Here is how Lapierre has fared at even strength and on faceoffs over the past three seasons:
Seasons ESP per 60 minutes Faceoff percentage
2009-10 0.97 48.9%
2008-09 1.45 53.2%
2007-08 1.61 49.2%
So, Lapierre has taken steps backwards in terms of his efficiency on offense, while staying about the same in the faceoff circle. Many fans also recognize Lapierre as an agitator, a player who gets under an opposing player's skin, as well as that of their fans.
How has Lapierre performed when it comes to drawing penalties?
Season Penalties drawn per 60 minutes
2009-10 1.2 (6th on Habs)
2008-09 2.0 (3rd on Habs)
2007-08 1.2 (10th on Habs)
So, as you can probably tell, Lapierre is limited in his effectiveness. He has also seen his penalty killing responsibility drop off over the past three seasons. If he is not being used to kill penalties, is not drawing penalties as successfully as the likes of Patrick Kaleta and is not much of a scorer, you can probably see why he was traded for Joel Perreault and a third round pick this Monday.
Is Lapierre a difference maker? Is he going to provide anything better than someone like Cody Hodgson would in the same spot? The answer to both is probably not, but the Canucks like his swagger, right handed shot and playoff experience. Based on the price, the Canucks felt the risk was low enough (third round pick) and the reward was sufficient (Lapierre's 2008-09 performance) for a team trying to win the Holy Grail.
What about Christopher Higgins?
Higgins struggled recently in New York and Calgary but has had a quietly respectable season in Florida in 2010-11.
Here's Higgins' performance at even strength over the past three seasons:
Season ESP per 60 minutes
As you can see, the even strength performance of the former Hab has tailed off over the past three seasons. However, Higgins has performed at a level above 2.00 even strength points per 60 minutes this season in Florida while averaging 16:38 minutes per game. Higgins is not the biggest player but he is strong on his skates and moves around the ice pretty well. He is also only 27, has registered a 4.4 GVT this season and is a pending unrestricted free agentso the risk is low.
Is Higgins that much of an upgrade over Jeff Tambellini and/or Raffi Torres? Those players carry GVTs of 3.9 and 3.2 respectively. Again, probably not. But with Vancouver looking to build upon a strength and not give up much in the way of future value, the Canucks brass figured this addition was worth the limited cost.
The Canucks have added proven NHL players to their fourth line. But was adding depth up front more likely to ensure postseason success than adding depth on the back end? Not in this writer's opinion.