Photo credit: CTV.ca
John Tortorella has lived and died by his top two lines this season with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler easily on pace to destroy their career averages in ice-time. While this is perfectly fine for now, I can’t see the Canucks’ top six forwards being able to stay at the top of their game at the tail end of the season if Tortorella is going to continue to ride them so hard, especially when you factor in that Daniel, Henrik and Kesler are certain to be traveling to Russia to compete in the Olympics.
I decided to take a look at just how reliable the third line has been this season and see if Tortorella is riding his top guys too hard, or if he really doesn’t have a competent third line to work with to take some pressure off the top-six.
Part of the problem with this is that the Canucks have had so many injuries that the third line hasn’t been very constant with players moving around and players like Dale Weise and Tom Sestito playing up when they obviously aren’t top-nine forwards. For the sake of this argument I made the assumption that the Sedins, Kesler, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins are all entrenched on the top two lines and that David Booth, Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian are all guys who are likely to see time on the third line either now or in the future
One final prelude is what I actually think the Canucks’ third line should be capable of. It is not realistic to expect these guys to be scoring a goal a night, but what they should be able to do is eat up some minutes while keeping the puck out of their own net and hopefully driving play with a Corsi percentage of 50%. I’m sure Tortorella would appreciate a low event third line as long as more time is spent in the opponent’s end than their own, you know if he paid attention to advanced stats.
Of the guys I mentioned above, Booth, Santorelli, and Hansen are players who are great at driving possession. At 5-on-5, the Canucks have controlled 57.4% of shot attempts with Hansen on the ice, 53.3% with Booth on the ice, and 53.5% with Santorelli on the ice. Santorelli has benefitted the most from injuries and playing with Higgins but still, he appears to be a reliable player at this point. As we head further down the depth chart the results are less encouraging with Kassian at 48.1%, and Richardson at 42.2%, even with his 5 goals. To put that in perspective, Richardson’s Corsi is in Weise and Sestito territory.
To take it a bit further, I took a look at how each player has played when teamed up with Kassian over the last 3 seasons (since he was traded to Vancouver) to see how they performed as a unit to try to minimize the effect of playing with other players. Why Kassian as the constant? I figured he isn’t likely to move up or down the lineup much this season as Tortorella has used him almost exclusively on the third line. There isn’t much “with you” data for some players but I included them anyway.
|Zack Kassian’s With You Stats (2011-2014)|
When teamed up with Kassian guys are more than less playing at the same level as they are with other players based on their Corsi percentage. As a unit they’ve given up too many goals but in such a small sample size it’s probably not a huge concern. In an unrelated note, one thing that did surprise me was how little Hansen and Kassian have played together at 5-on-5 since “the trade”. You’d think those two would have played more than three minutes together.
So, what does all this really mean? I think that the Canucks have a third line that is capable of eating up minutes without being a liability when you have Booth and Kassian on the ice. One of the reasons I didn’t agree with the “conditioning” assignment or scratching of Booth was that the team desperately needs him to play to take pressure off the top-six. Yes, the Canucks would prefer he score goals at the price they’re paying him, but the team hasn’t been scored on with him on the ice this year which is pretty valuable too. As more players return from injury, I’d feel pretty comfortable with a Booth-Santrorelli-Kassian line, and Richardson moving back down to the fourth line while being a valuable penalty killer. My hope is that Tortorella will too and allow the Sedins and Kesler to go back to around 18-21 minutes a game.