Vancouver Canucks Have the ‘Wrong Kind’ of Defensive Depth

Sep 25, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Yannick Weber (6) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Yannick Weber (6) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

Talking about the Vancouver Canucks’ defense, depth is not a frequently used word. Still, the club does possess something of that kind.

The Vancouver Canucks currently have nine defencemen who have seen NHL ice time at some point this season. All of them want to keep their spot, but only seven can — that’s what depth means, right?

Well, kind of, I guess. In the simplest definition, depth means being able to replace an injured player with one of almost equal quality or simply being able to maintain the team’s quality as a whole. Luca Sbisa gets injured, Alex Biega comes in. Uh, great.

Vancouver’s defensive depth chart looks something like this:

  1. Alex Edler
  2. Chris Tanev
  3. Dan Hamhuis
  4. Ben Hutton
  5. Luca Sbisa
  6. Matt Bartkowski
  7. Yannick Weber
  8. Alex Biega
  9. Andrey Pedan

With all players healthy — which admittedly does not happen often, but it does happen — the Canucks must cut at least one D-man who gets sent to the Utica Comets. At the beginning of the season, it was Biega and Andrey Pedan who found themselves in the American Hockey League.

That left the defensive line combinations as follows.

Edler – Tanev
Hamhuis – Bartkowski
Hutton – Sbisa

What jumps right out to me is the fact that Bartkowski is not a top-four calibre player. But yet, the Canucks had no choice but to leave him in that spot.

Related: Dan Hamhuis Is Totally Underrated

Three months and 41 games later, things have changed a bit. Hamhuis and Sbisa are injured, giving Pedan and especially Biega a chance to prove themselves. Biega took the chance and ran with it — while having some struggles defensively, the 27-year-old leads all Canucks defencemen with 5.71 shots and .71 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. He also works hard defensively and has a physical side to his game.

Biega only has three assists and no goals in his 16 appearances, but it is clear that he can help the club offensively whenever he is on the ice.

Back to the original issue.

On Thursday, the Colorado Avalanche put defenceman Brandon Gormley, a former first-round selection in the NHL Draft, on waivers.

My immediate reaction: the Canucks must place a claim. On the above depth chart, Gormley would probably slot right in at No. 4. Once Hamhuis is back in the lineup, a Hamhuis-Gormley pairing would be better than what Vancouver has without him.

As I was about to pound out a “why the Canucks should claim Gormley” article, I came to realize: there is no room for him on this club.

Gormley would technically be a great addition to the roster. He is a solid two-way defenceman already, and at age 23, he still has a lot of time to develop. From The Hockey News:

"SCOUTING REPORTAssets:Plays a mature game from behind the blueline. He’s a solid puck mover with good mobility and sound defensive instincts. Can also provide some offense.Flaws:Lacks game-to-game consistency. Will need to get physically stronger and add more toughness to his game in order to maximize his National Hockey League potential.Career Potential:Talented, stabilizing defenseman."

So, assuming the Canucks had claimed Gormley and he would slot in as the Canucks’ No. 4 blueliner, what would happen with the rest once Sbisa and Hamhuis are back?

This is where NHL GMs have to take contracts into consideration. Judging by recent performance, the Canucks’ new defence should be made up of Edler, Hamhuis, Tanev, Gormley, Hutton, Bartkowski, Biega.

The odd ones out: Weber, Sbisa and Pedan.

Pedan is no problem, he can be sent down easily, as he is on a two-way contract and waiver exempt. The other two, however, are more of a problem.

Sbisa’s three-year $10.8 million extension was one of Benning’s worst moves of the past off-season. It is basically impossible to send him to minors with his $3.6 million cap hit. And just like that, Sbisa is back in — and Biega is out.

Related: 3 Contracts That Can Hurt the Franchise

There are some people who like Sbisa for his physicality. But overall, he’s been absolutely terrible lately.

Thanks to his contract, Biega is the one who would have to go back down to minors despite playing more than decent hockey for the Canucks. Wait, there is another issue here. Biega will have to clear waivers before returning to Utica.

Even then, Vancouver would still have to deal with Weber, who is probably the second-worst player currently on the NHL roster. His $1.5 million contract is much better than Sbisa’s, but it is still more than clubs would like to bury in their AHL affiliates.

All of a sudden, the Canucks have eight D-men in the NHL, two of which don’t deserve to be there, and two D-men in the AHL who deserve some more NHL time.

Next: Canucks Trade Deadline Primer

It is not an easy situation for the Canucks, but it looks like they will have to sit out the contracts of Weber and perhaps Bartkowski — both will expire at the end of the season — before they can take any action trying to improve their blue line.

The Canucks have defensive depth — but it is certainly not the good kind.

*Stats from, contract data from