Brendan Gaunce may find it tough to hold a roster spot this fall with the addition of three new defensive forwards. Regardless of what happens in October, let’s see how Gaunce stacks up against the new members of the Canucks.
Defence wins championships. I don’t believe that’s entirely true, but NHL coaches certainly do. With the July 1st additions to the roster, the Vancouver Canucks have a lot of defensive forwards. This crowding at forward has already been discussed, so I wanted to look at this differently.
The newest additions to Vancouver are lauded for their defensive abilities (among some other intangible things). So, if Brendan Gaunce will be on the roster bubble at training camp, let’s compare him to the competition.
First, Gaunce is not going to produce much in terms of offence. It doesn’t seem fair to focus on that, especially when the free agents brought in were not meant to score. Although, Jim Benning may not fully understand that. Regardless, he signed three defensive forwards.
What am I going to compare? Familiar metrics like Corsi and Fenwick, but since everybody played different amounts of minutes, we’re going to use rates against per hour. I also want to look at goal metrics (GA/60), zone starts (OZS%) and PDO for context. As usual, we will use data at 5v5, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Upon first inspection, it’s not very ideal to have a CF% below 50. The common argument for defensive players is that when this happens, you need to look at their deployment. And Brendan Gaunce had some extreme deployment, only starting in the offensive zone 15% of the time.
That deployment is often used to defend Jay Beagle‘s poor play, but when you compare stat to stat, it appears Beagle isn’t too good at his job. More on that in the next section.
Ideally, he would surrender fewer shot attempts, but if we consider shot blocking a skill under the lens of Fenwick, Gaunce is not too shabby. When we look at his goal metrics, they are second best among Canucks forwards last season (over 400 minutes played). For a team bleeding goals against, that’s pretty good. For those curious, Brandon Sutter was on for the fewest goals against per hour (5v5).
Lastly, with a PDO so close to 100, Gaunce was not affected much by luck. The Canucks’ on ice shooting percentage and save percentage with him fall within the normal range, so his numbers aren’t suspect. Factor in his deployment on a terrible team, and those shot metrics are pretty good.
So, here is the elephant in the room. Let’s ignore his contract for today. Jay Beagle comparatively is not in the same class as Gaunce. His deployment was not as steep and benefited from some bounces and solid goaltending. Despite that, his shot and goal metrics are not great.
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When Beagle is on the ice, the opposition have a field day, sending shot attempt after shot attempt. There is a significant drop when we factor in blocking shots, but that rate against is still uncomfortably high.
The scary part from Beagle is that it will get worse from here. Gaunce is 24 and will maintain his level of defensive ability at the very least. However, Beagle turns 33 in October and is going to continue declining. He better hope his luck in Washington stuck with him or it could be a rude awakening next season.
This is why I originally wanted to target Antoine Roussel on the cheap. Jim Benning could not do that, but when we look at the stats, Roussel is quite effective in suppressing shots and limiting goals against.
A normal PDO once again indicates that what we are seeing is what we get. And unlike Beagle, Roussel probably has at least one more decent defensive season before the decline hits hard. Those shot metrics are better than what Gaunce or Beagle can offer, although I wouldn’t assume that offence is a key strength for Roussel.
I was surprised that his offensive zone starts were so higher than the others. It will be interesting to see how he does once Travis Green adjusts Roussel’s deployment.
Last, but not least was the one budget signing of that day, Tim Schaller. This is where numbers pique my curiosity. Schaller has great underlying shot metrics, possessing the lowest rate of shot attempts against among these four.
I’m not too thrilled with his goal metric, but his PDO may explain that. At a value of 97, Schaller was rather unlucky, but still scored 12 goals. I can’t promise that he will get better goaltending next season, but maybe a few more pucks bounce the right way. I know I wanted to strictly focus on defence, but this was something I could not ignore.
As with Roussel, I do wonder how these metrics will shift when Green gives him more defensive matchups. Seasons are fluid, but I have a feeling the Canucks will have to rely more on tight checking to keep even with the opposition. It would be nice to see a more possession-focused style of play and I do think Schaller would thrive in that, but he will have to adjust, just like everyone else.
So, how did Gaunce do? From the numbers alone, I think he could secure a spot in the bottom six. I’m going to assume that the other three won’t be moved even if I believe Beagle could use time in the press box during parts of the season. Although, the other bottom of the roster players should watch their backs. Travis Green is going to put a premium on defensive play and Brendan Gaunce may hit the opportunity jackpot because of it.