and goalie's best friend), Chris Tanev, to a five year..."/> and goalie's best friend), Chris Tanev, to a five year..."/>

With Tanev Locked Up, Canucks Should Look to Re-Sign Weber

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Now that the Vancouver Canucks have locked up former RFA (and goalie’s best friend), Chris Tanev, to a five year deal, now seems as good of a time as any to look into who they should consider re-upping next. We already know that they are going to try their hardest to reach a deal with draft pick, and OHL defenceman of the year nominee Jordan Subban, which is definitely a worthwhile priority. It also seems as though the team is firmly locked into “wait-and-see” mode when it comes to the club’s current UFA’s, so expecting any action on that front before the season’s end isn’t the best thing to hold one’s breath on (assuming you like breathing).

However, there is one RFA that has received little fanfare or contract discussion, despite some consistently solid, yet underrated play the past couple of seasons: Yannick Weber. Now, maybe the fact that Weber currently has four points (2-2) in his last three games–including key goals in the last two against Winnipeg and Arizona–will get people talking about him more. But the truth is, these recent games aside, Weber has consistently been a reliable depth defenseman who provides not only versatility up and down the blueline (with even a brief foray into forward during last year’s disaster campaign if people care to remember), but also a great shot, puck moving offensive upside, and decent possession numbers with a wide range of partners. And all this on a near-basement-level $850,000 contract, too!

So, while he doesn’t get nearly the kind of positive media that the Tanevs, Edlers and Hamhuis’s of the club do, (or the negative media of your Sbisas, or Bieksas either, for that matter), here are some great reasons why the Canucks should be more than neutral when deciding to re-up with everybody’s favourite Swiss defender (apologies to Luca Sbisa, and for that joke).

1. Versatility:

Coming into the season, Yannick Weber slotted in seventh on the Canuck’s defensive depth chart, as a fill-in for injury, or to spell defenders on off days. However, especially in the second half of the season, with injuries striking the Canuck’s back end heavily, Weber has been asked to play pretty much everywhere–even as half of the team’s top shutdown pairing with Dan Hamhuis during a key roadtrip at the end of February and in early March. Rather than being a disaster in such an increased role, Weber excelled, with the team posting unlikely wins against some of the league’s top teams during this time. As the blueline has slowly returned to health, Weber has earned his way into being a mainstay in the top four, currently continuing his partnership with Hamhuis, but in a somewhat more limited top-4 role. Additionally, as the team has moved away from its earlier four forward, one defenseman set-up on the power-play, to a two defenseman attack, Weber has shown great chemistry with Edler on the points, assisting on Edler’s PPG against Arizona, and scoring one of his own against Winnipeg (assisted by Edler).

Possession-wise, despite the constant fluctuations to his role and usage, Weber has managed to post a very respectable Score Adjusted CF% of 51.4 while averaging almost 17 minutes of ice-time per game throughout the entire season. Additionally, in nearly 300 5v5 minutes with Dan Hamhuis, the pair have posted a CF% of 52.6, which is nearly as good as the Edler/Tanev CF% of 53.3. In other words, if they continue their run of play and stay with this current configuration, Vancouver could have found themselves a very valuable (and cost efficient) play-driving second pairing.

2. Offensive Upside:

When Tanev signed his $4.45 million contract, a lot of talk centered around how much the team values his defensive contributions, despite his lack of offense. While I agree that Tanev’s contract is worth every bit of its value, and that Tanev’s lack of offense is greatly offset by his possession and shot-limiting abilities, there is still the simple fact that offense has to come from somewhere if a team wants to score more goals than the opposition.

This is another area where Yannick Weber is perhaps more valuable to the Canucks than people might think. While Weber is nowhere near the defensive defenseman that Chris Tanev is, he is still a good play-driving defenseman who has possibly the best point shot on the team, and who is easily the most efficient at generating points despite his limited usage. In fact, of all Canucks defensemen to play this season, you might be surprised to note that he leads them all with 0.83 Points/60 at Even Strength, and 1.15 Points-60 in all situations. (Ahead of Hamhuis (0.78 EV/0.97 All) and Edler (0.48 EV/0.84 All) by a not insignificant margin. This, while maintaining a consistent shooting percentage of 7% over the past two seasons, and sporting an only slightly elevated personal PDO. And, if the coaching staff continues to give him a chance on the first unit PP, it’s not unreasonable to think that these totals might rise.

3. A Fancy Chart!

Okay, so this doesn’t add anything I haven’t already mentioned, but it is a great visual representation of the points I’ve made so far. This HERO Chart, made by the great Domenic Galamini (@MimicoHero), collects all of Weber’s usage-adjusted underlying numbers from 2012 to this February. What we see from this chart, is the picture of a consistently effective, yet almost criminally underused player. Despite receiving time on ice that is even below average for a bottom pairing player, Weber has managed to post nearly top-4 numbers in almost every other category. Weber is good at stifling chances against, even better at producing points, and comes close to holding his own in overall CF, while struggling somewhat to create chances for. Overall, this makes complete sense as to why Weber has been a great fill-in in top four minutes this year: despite not being treated like one, Weber is in almost all respects a serviceable top-4 defenseman. While he won’t be blowing anyone in the league away, the Canucks have been lucky to have the luxury of having a backup defender who is probably better than half their blueline anyway. In fact, if they continue to pair him with the defensively responsible Hamhuis at even strength, and with the more offensively gifted Edler on the powerplay–effectively masking his deficiencies while playing to his strengths–Weber could be a really valuable asset going forward.

Conclusion:

If the Canucks are smart, they should be eager to lock Weber up to a new deal that keeps him with the club much longer. At 25, Weber still has time to grow and develop, and could be a key part to the team as they grow in the future. There are only a couple things I can think of that might prevent them from doing so: they have a log-jam of younger, developing defensemen behind Weber on the depth chart, and it’s conceivable that they decide to make room for them by letting Weber walk. There is also the possibility that Weber will use his growing point totals to leverage a higher contract than the Canucks want to spend. However, with Sbisa a much more expensive RFA, and Bieksa aging poorly and on the books for only one more year, I think it would be better for the Canucks to part with one or both of them, and hold onto Weber, even at a slightly elevated cost. He’d still likely be cheaper than either of them, and he’s proven this year that he’s subtly more effective. Overall, Weber is the kind of sneaky-good player, whose abilities might go under the radar for a while, that the best organizations recognize and lock-up, before they’re snatched up by somebody else.

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