Canucks Wrong To Bench Kenins, Should Sit Dorsett Instead


In advance of the Vancouver Canucks’ pending match-up against the Sharks tonight in San Jose, news is coming out, via The Province, that head coach Willie Desjardins is planning some line-up changes. It’s tough to argue with the need to shake things up, after the team’s lackluster performance against Arizona on Thursday night.

And some of the planned changes make a lot of sense: Shawn Matthias, a player most seem to agree has performed better on the wing than at center this year, will shift back to wing, but remain on the second line with Nick Bonino and Radim Vrbata. Against Arizona, Bonino and Vrbata were two of the best forwards, driving play and creating the most chances out of any line. Putting the hard-driving Matthias on that line is a tantalizing idea.

With Kassian continuing his run with the Sedins, this also frees the team to ice a strong looking third line as well, with Higgins and Burrows flanking Vey. Vey has come under fire lately for being too easily pushed off the puck, and not handling duties well in his own zone, so having two of the team’s best play driving veterans on his sides should help shelter Vey’s weaknesses and hopefully allow his offensive instincts room to shine. No complaints about that line here.

However, the main adjustment that has me scratching my head is what Desjardins has done with the so-called “fourth line” of Horvat, Hansen and Kenins–scratching Kenins in favour Derek Dorsett instead.

Now, I understand that Kenins didn’t have a great game against Arizona. I also understand that no spot should be safe, and that sitting him out for one game isn’t the end of the world. However, in a time when the Canucks are demanding more energy, more drive and compete out of players, it seems strange that they would bench the player who seems to demonstrate these traits the best.

Intangibles aside, I also think the underlying numbers bear out the fact that playing Kenins over Dorsett on that line is the best option for the team to ice their best possible lineup. Overall, Kenins and Dorsett are very similar players; however, not only does Kenins have far better point production totals in comparable minutes–yes, a lot of that is luck driven, but in February, Kenins actually has a lower PDO (102) than Dorsett (104)– but his underlying stats show that he drives play better than Dorsett, and–this is the most important part–his effect on the play of Bo Horvat can’t be understated.

Looking at Horvat’s 5v5 CF% WOWYs (With or Without You), we see that with Dorsett on the wing, Horvat’s CF% is a meager 41.3%. With Kenins in Dorsett’s place, though, Horvat’s play driving has seen a significant uptick: the two together have a 53% CF in similar minutes. Overall, then, while Kenins hasn’t performed at peak level over the past couple games, neither have many of the Canucks. Over a longer sample size, it certainly seems like Kenins has earned more of a chance to hold on to a spot in the lineup, over someone like Dorsett, whose play has been quietly cratering as his younger teammates continue to develop.

One important thing to keep in mind, as a counter-argument, is that when we’re discussing young players like Horvat and Kenins, we’re not only talking about a small sample size–Kenins career isn’t even 20 games old, and some people are already basically planning his jersey retirement ceremony–but we’re also talking about players whose consistency in the league is still in a state of development and flux. So, while Horvat’s improvement with Kenins could be interpreted as Kenins’ influence, it could just as easily be that Horvat is coming into his own, and driving up Kenins’ play. It’s quite possible that Dorsett slots back in and the two see more success than they showed earlier in the year, based on Horvat’s improved play.

Overall, though, I think this is a case of punishing a player for one or two off-games, when that player should be allowed to develop, and compete–especially when the evidence suggests that Kenins’ play is superior to that of Dorsett’s. It also, on a team supposedly trying to value the development of youth, seems strangely preferential to a veteran whose play has markedly dropped, and who is likely on the way out in the off-season. So, if this is a hockey move, it hurts the team, and if it’s a “message” move, it seems to be a mixed message at best.

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