The Vancouver Canucks should have saved the slogan “Change Is Coming” for this season, not the one before.
“The Vancouver Canucks have vastly improved their lineup since opening night through the promotions of centre Linden Vey and the acquisition of right wing Emerson Etem, also through the subtractions of left wingers Chris Higgins and Brandon Prust.”
Vastly improved? Yes, I just said that.
To the team placed 23rd overall in the NHL standings, I just said that they have vastly improved. Honestly, who saw this mad season coming? If you asked me after the opening night victory over the Calgary Flames, I would have pointed out how ridiculous I was to initially think that Vey would put up 30 points this season.
"My prediction for Vey for the 2015-16 season: 18 Goals, 12 Assists provided he gets time on the PP. (Part one of the Season Preview X-Factors Series, David Joun)"
That was five months ago, before anyone would have thought that centres Brandon Sutter and Henrik Sedin would get injured, before anyone would have thought that Jared McCann would be playing between Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen.
Would I be incorrect in saying that the Canucks have vastly improved their lineup? Let’s look at the opening day roster and the roster the Canucks bring to start the month of February, and weigh the two substantial changes that have taken place.
Emerson Etem in, Brandon Prust out
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That visual representation says it all. The two got about the same ice time this season. Etem’s production and possession impact this season is far superior to Prust’s.
Substituting Prust with Etem not only adds speed and possession advantage for the Canucks but also recreates the Medicine Hat Tigers tandem between Etem and Linden Vey gives the former Medicine Hat bench boss Willie Desjardins a reliable third line for suited for defensive assignments.
Look at the career post-January splits for Etem and Prust and you will see both producing at an average .25 points per game rate. But also note that Prust played about two more minutes than Etem has per game over his entire career.
Those splits tell us that Etem is more suited for the Canucks’ playoff push than Prust is.
When all is said and done, the Canucks got a one-for-one upgrade from Prust to Etem while also upgrading the efficiency of Vey along the way.
Linden Vey in, Chris Higgins out
Last season was a bit of a strikeout for Vey. Despite playing highly sheltered minutes (he started 52.5 percent of his shifts on the offensive), he recorded a -1.0 percent Corsi For relative. His defensive game was critiqued as he was known as a powerplay specialist.
Chris Higgins had the very opposite 2014-15 season to Vey’s.
Higgins started 52.1 percent of his shifts on the defensive and still recorded 36 points in 78 games. His +0.7 percent Corsi For relative proved that the ex-sniper was still worth his payroll.
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Well, we all know how that turned out. Higgins and Vey essentially traded places.
And roles. Vey’s new-found chemistry with old teammate Etem has formed a great third line for the Canucks. Vey now starts 60.9 percent of his starts in the defensive zone.
Despite this change in deployment, Vey is managing to be a positive possession player, recording +1.4 percent Corsi For relative so far this season.
He is still managing to score (six points in 16 games) at 0.38 points per game. That is more than three times than Higgins’s production (three points in 12 games, 0.12 points per game).
The Lineup Now
With everyone healthy now, the Canucks have stability in the lineup, in time for the playoff push. I believe that this would be the best “skill” lineup.
D. Sedin – H. Sedin – Hansen
Baertschi – Horvat- Vrbata
McCann – Sutter – Virtanen
Burrows – Vey – Etem
For a more gritty lineup, coach Willie could put Dorsett in place of McCann on his planned off-days. Alex Burrows could also take a maintenance day or two and allow Dorsett back in the lineup, recreating the ultimate Medicine Hat line.
Lastly, if the Canucks could play the 23rd-overall’s game with Dan Hamhuis, Sutter, Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Miller out at different phases of the season, it is a no brainer that they will play much better with all of them healthy.
For reminders, this was the lineup that Vancouver iced against Calgary on October 10th, the second game of the season.
This has been a crazy season for Vancouver. The lineup with the additions of Etem and Vey in place for Prust and Higgins has improved dramatically. The current suggested lineup would be more potent to win.
Back to my preseason prediction for Vey. The truth is that Vey is projecting a 31-point season this year. Who would have thought?
What are your thoughts on the change that has come to the Canucks’ lineup? Has it improved the Canucks’ chances of winning? Let us know in the comments below, on Twitter, and on Facebook!
*Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com