Canucks Season Preview Series: Is Defense Deep Enough?

[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]

Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Remember how we lauded the Canucks depth on defense at the start of last season?

The Canucks started the 2009/2010 season with 8 NHL defensemen (Willie Mitchell, Salo, Edler, Ehrhoff, Bieksa, O’Brien, Rome and Mathieu Schneider); they finished the postseason. During the season, the Canucks traded Schneider and traded for Alberts, Mitchell suffered an injury in February, and Edler, Rome and Salo all suffered injuries in the playoffs. In fact, if the Canucks had somehow pushed the series to 7 games, it’s possible Evan Oberg and Nolan Baumgartner could have drawn in the lineup.

As such, Mike Gillis’ biggest priority this summer was to rebuild the Canucks defense. And boy, did he ever rebuild them.

At the draft, he sent Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the Canucks’ 1st round pick at the NHL Entry Draft for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. In the first few hours of free agency, he signed Dan Hamhuis to a 6-year/$27 million contract. He signed Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev, and while both will start on the Moose (along with Kevin Connauton), both show some NHL promise. Yesterday, he traded Shane O’Brien for Ryan Parent; and if Parent clears waivers, should be assigned to the Moose.

Are the Canucks deeper on defense today than it was a year ago? Are they deep enough to withstand the rigours of a long season and an extended postseason?

J.J.: In terms of the number of NHL-caliber defensemen, I don’t think the Canucks are deeper in the back end. Like in 2008/2009, they’ll enter the season with 7 NHL defensemen on the roster and 1 more (Salo) on LTIR. They do have promising prospects in the system, but at this point, that’s all they are – prospects.

What they are, though, is more durable. Hamhuis has missed a total of 5 games in the last 5 seasons. Ballard missed 13 games in 2006/2007, but has otherwise played every game in his NHL career. Compare that with Salo, who’s missed an average of 19 games per season in the last 5 seasons, and Mitchell, whose concussion concerns are common knowledge now.

When healthy, the Canucks’ defense is as deep as any other teams’ in the league. However, a couple of injuries to key players and they can be back in the same position as they were last year.

Richard: Barring another Mathieu Schneider situation I think the Canucks’ defense is already deeper than last year’s. It was unfortunate to sometimes have to play Alberts in the top-four, but as bad as he looked in that role, he is a solid bottom-pairing blue liner. He may not be to handle the responsibility of being a top-four guy, but is pretty effective as a sixth or seventh d-man.

Chris: This is one area I’m not too worried about. The Canucks are starting the season with depth, and will only see that depth increase should Salo return over the course of the season. Although one could say that the team is in a similar position as last year with Salo being this year’s version of Mathieu Schneider, it’s hard to believe that Sami will have the same problems that Schneider did.

Mike from Nucks Misconduct: I don’t know if there’s such a thing as deep enough. The clear lack of a #1 defenseman is the bigger issue. If Vancouver had landed Mitchell along with Hamhuis and Ballard, no one would be complaining; we’d have a ridiculous top four. Now consider an injury to Hamhuis and things are going to get ugly very quickly. Ballard has played himself down to the third line, Bieksa remains an enigma, Edler is still adjusting to the limelight, Ehrhoff isn’t shutting anyone down and Salo is…oh nevermind. And where is the Lukowich-type back-up for this season? Rome is serviceable, but who else? Parent if he clears waivers? Oberg again?

The Canucks should be solid until a guy like Hamhuis, Edler or Ballard get injured (in that order of importance). Then they could be right back to where they were in the playoffs. So the bottom line: everyone stay away from Salo.

J.J. Guerrero

Founder and Executive Editor of Canucks Hockey Blog. Proud Canadian, hardcore Canucks fan. I would like nothing more than watching the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Against the Leafs.

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