Vancouver Canucks: “Balanced” Scoring is Overrated

Apr 7, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin (88) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin (88) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks need to score more goals and the pursuit of balanced scoring will probably just get in the way.

The 2015-16 edition of the Vancouver Canucks had numerous issues. One of the most glaring was goal scoring, where the team ranked 29th out of 30 in goals for, and dead last in goal differential.

Everyone — management, coaches, players and fans — wants to change that. However, all their efforts could be wasted if they put those efforts toward achieving “balanced” scoring. This may sound like a good thing, but it should be avoided. Balanced scoring is overrated.

As the thinking goes, a team that has “balanced” scoring will be harder to defend against, since that team will have more than one scoring line for the opposition to worry about. An interesting theory.

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In practice, however, teams who make scoring balance their goal often end up taking their scoring talent and spreading it thin. And when you lack scoring talent to begin with, like the Vancouver Canucks do, this makes things worse, not better.

“Balanced” scoring often just means that no one in the lineup is scoring regularly. That was certainly what it meant for the Canucks last season. In their first 41 games, the Canucks’ top goal scorers were:

  • Daniel Sedin (17 goals)
  • Daniel Sedin’s linemate Jannik Hansen (12 goals)
  • Daniel Sedin’s former linemate Radim Vrbata (10 goals)
  • Daniel Sedin’s other linemate/twin brother Henrik Sedin (9 goals)

Whereas, in their final 41 games, the top scorers were:

  • Daniel Sedin (11 goals)
  • Bo Horvat, who is not Daniel Sedin or one of Daniel Sedin’s linemates (11 goals)
  • Jannik Hansen, who was still Daniel Sedin’s linemate (10 goals)
  • Sven Baertschi, who is also not Daniel Sedin or one of Daniel Sedin’s linemates (9 goals)

In the latter half of the season, the Vancouver Canucks’ offense became more balanced, less Sedin-centric… and less productive.

Sure, the Canucks received more contributions from further down in their lineup; there were more players with at least one goal, more with at least two goals, and so forth. More importantly, though, the players at the top of the list scored less often — and getting one or two extra goals from the players at the bottom of the list could not make up the difference.

The bulk of the scoring will always come from a small group of players at the top.

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Now compare the Vancouver Canucks record in the first half to the last half and you will notice two things:

First, the Canucks scored eight fewer goals in the second half.

Second, while the Canucks won only one extra game in the first half compared to the second, they had nine overtime losses in the first half and zero in the second. That makes 11 points in the standings.

Their record in the first half was only .500, but as the scoring became more balanced their record got worse. Had the Canucks made up those eight extra goals they might have turned a few of their regulation losses into overtime losses and maybe even into wins.

The bottom line is that having one line that can score often is better than having four lines that can score occasionally. Teams who score a lot of goals, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, or the Washington Capitals, don’t truly possess scoring “balance.” They simply have more scoring talent than they can fit on one or two lines. They don’t spread out their talent; they just have more of it.

So, if balanced scoring is not the right approach, how should the Vancouver Canucks assemble their lineup?

Load Up the Sedin Line

It starts at the top. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are the prime scoring threats on this Canucks team — and they will continue to be until someone else outpaces them.

The Sedins’ linemate should be the player with the most offensive chemistry with the twins. It should NOT be the player who is the most defensively responsible, if being defensively responsible means fewer goals are scored.

The Vancouver Canucks need the Sedin line to score goals, not to backcheck. The Sedin line will play great defense if they keep the puck in the other team’s end and score as many goals as possible. It doesn’t matter if they give up the occasional scoring chance to the opposition, as long as they are creating more chances than they give up.

So who is this ideal linemate? It’s probably Loui Eriksson. But it might be Jannik Hansen. How to decide? Whichever player makes the line more effective at scoring goals. If the Sedins aren’t producing, nothing else matters.

Unless Bo Horvat’s line breaks out in a massive way, the Sedins will be the best option for offense again this year. Willie Desjardins needs to squeeze every last point of the Twins if the Vancouver Canucks are going to improve offensively.

Make Bo Horvat the Second-Line Center

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if the job of a second-line center is to score goals, Bo Horvat fills the role better than Brandon Sutter does.

Here is a comparison of the two, courtesy of Own the Puck:


Is Horvat a sure bet to be a productive second line center in his third year? No. But he is clearly a better offensive option than Brandon Sutter, who seems better suited for a more defensive role.

Don’t Deploy Players Out of their Depth Position

Derek Dorsett is not a third-line winger and should not be played there. If you want Jake Virtanen to become a goal scorer, don’t play him on the fourth line. And so forth.

Sometimes putting a player higher in the lineup than usual can pay dividends — Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, both middle-six players, were great fits on the top line with the Sedins — but more often putting a player too high in the lineup will just drag the line down.

The other result of putting a depth player higher in the lineup is that, except in the case of an injury, a more talented player is now playing lower in the lineup, getting fewer minutes with worse players.

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Ultimately, the higher a player’s offensive upside, the higher they should be in the lineup. Exceptions should be made only in exceptional circumstances.

“Balanced” scoring is overrated. Instead, the Vancouver Canucks should take what scoring talent they have available and cluster it as tightly as possible at the top of the lineup. If the talent runs out after the top-six, that just goes to show that the team is still a work in progress.