Retooling Without Rypien

With Rick Rypien having left the team indefinitely to take care of personal issues we’ve had several games to see if his presence has really been missed. Has it really? I wouldn’t say so.

Before we go any further, let’s make it clear that I feel for the guy and hope he can get back on track as soon as possible. He’s not in a good place and no one deserves to be there. That said, can the Canucks afford to keep a guy like him in the dressing room? Do they have to afford keeping him? I can’t even imagine what’s going on with him but we all know that what makes the media is just the tip of the iceberg.

I love Rick Rypien’s energy and David-vs-Goliath-like mentality as much as the next guy, but since his leave of absence from the team, it’s become clear that that aspect he brought to the team isn’t key to the Canucks’ fourth line. We already knew that of course, and since his absence, the likes of Jonas Andersson, Joel Perrault, and now Aaron Volpatti have been able to hold the fort just fine. If anything, the logjam of forwards and the chemistry the Canucks have had lately has only served to make management’s decisions even harder – a good problem to have.

With Rypien gone, the onus on fighting seems to have disappeared. Or when it’s been necessary, guys like Volpatti and Tanner Glass have stepped up. Even Kevin Bieksa seems to have remembered his mean streak and is starting to get grizzly in games. We wanted Bieksa to get a little more fired up, we wanted him to get physical be it with his hits or his fists and it seems like the exodus of Rypien has created that. It’s likely a coincidence that the two were best friends and that this turn in Bieksa’s play is unrelated altogether, but Bieksa’s been playing some of his best hockey since Rypien left the team.

One thing Rypien’s absence has done, however, is push this team to take another step towards being a skilled team through four lines. Darcy Hordichuk was brought in by Gillis because he wasn’t just a one dimensional goon. As Gillis said at the time, Hordichuck could skate and had hands on top of his knuckle chucking abilities. That turned out to be far from the case (at least it was last season), but Gillis has worked to create a fourth line that is responsible in their own end, can handle the heavy duty assignments, but can also contribute offensively. This season the Canucks’ fourth line has already chipped in with 8 goals; last season, they combined for only 6 goals. The Canucks have managed to test their depth by rolling through the likes of Andersson, Schaefer, Perrault, Desbiens and Volpatti. Meanwhile, Tanner Glass, who has been able to contribute in different ways (he already has 3 goals, 8 points and also gets regular shifts on the PK), has made himself a mainstay on the fourth line.

In Rypien’s absence, Gillis and Vigneault have worked to create four lines that are more multi-dimensional and not easy to shut down. The Canucks can play a finesse game, but just as easily, they can go to the gritty areas and can crash and bang with the best of the league without sacrificing skill. The best example of this is Jannik Hansen. While Mason Raymond was injured, Hansen fit in comfortably on the 2nd line; however, with Raymond’s return it looks like he’s heading back to the fourth line. While Raymond played his first game back on the fourth line, if you swap those two out you still have a very talented checking winger that can provide offense playing on your fourth line.

The Canucks are on a roll right now, there’s no doubt about that. What’s impressive is they’re managing to win games in all shapes and forms. They came back against Edmonton, they blew out Columbus, they can win the tight games as they did against Colorado. As a team confidence is at an all time high, but they’re also built so that every line is a threat. Colorado saw first hand that even the Canucks fourth line can burn you as it was the fourth line that earned the Canucks two points. The Canucks logjam at forward and the depth they have created only serves as an advantage come the postseason.

As much as I love Rick Rypien, his leave of absence may have helped shape the Canucks into a deeper, more balanced and more versatile team.

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