Tuesday night, just after the Edmonton Oilers scored three goals in the opening half of the second period, Alain Vigneault abandoned the defense pairings with which he had begun the game in favour of two familiar duos.

Kevin Bieksa, who had started the game alongside Keith Ballard, was returned to last season’s standout pairing with Dan Hamhuis. Alex Edler, who had begun the game with Dan Hamhuis, was reunited with Sami Salo, the blueliner with whom Edler played in the Canucks’ top pairing two seasons ago.

Immediately, the Canuck defense improved. It was a noticeable enough difference to make one wonder why the Canucks hadn’t stuck with these pairings before. The past two seasons have provided ample evidence that each worked, and yet, for whatever reason, the Canucks were averse to sticking with them. Early in the Canucks’ contest with the Blues, even, Edler saw a few shifts with Kevin Bieksa. What are the Canucks up to?

Blame Alex Edler.

Edler is the most talented all-around defenseman the Canucks employ. He can hit, pass, shoot, and score with aplomb, he leads the team in minutes, and he can play in all situations. But he’s proving a notoriously difficult defender for which to find a running mate.

Thus far, the only guy that’s meshed with him in any meaningful way is the abovementioned Sami Salo, but  this is a problem. While the two play well together and will share the point on the Canucks’ top powerplay unit going forward, the Canucks’ coaching staff clearly aren’t comfortable with Salo seeing Edler’s heavy icetime. Fragile as Salo is, the last thing they want is to fatigue him. That’s a recipe for injury.

This is why, a week ago, the Canucks began experimenting with other partners. (That sounds dirty. It wasn’t meant to be. Take a moment to giggle, compose yourself, and come back.)

The first stab in the dark was the pairing Edler and Keith Ballard, which debuted October 15th versus the Oilers. After only one game, the coaches were positive it didn’t work, and it didn’t.

The Canucks were so determined to get Edler his man, they then broke up their most dependable pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis in order to give Hamhuis a shot with Edler. It made sense on paper. Their two most trustworthy defensemen playing together? Yes please. The problem was that it banished Edler to his his off side and it left Kevin Bieksa and Keith Ballard to play with one another.

While these pairings lasted longer than a game, they were abandoned Tuesday night in an apparent admission that they didn’t work either. On Wednesday night, Edler remained with Salo.

Now Alain Vigneault he may be out of options. None of the other defenders in the Canucks’ organization can handle Edler’s big minutes. Short of trying Bieksa with Edler some more — an ideal match, especially with Bieksa’s recent struggles — the Canucks are stuck with either reincorporating Salo into the top four or admitting that Edler’s partner isn’t in the organization right now.

And if that’s the case, you wonder how long the Canucks will wait to bring in another piece.

Tags: , , , ,

21 comments

  1. SteveB
    October 27, 2011

    Obviously, Mike Gillis needs to trade Alex Edler for Vincent Lecavalier.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  2. Dave
    October 27, 2011

    No, the obvious move is to trade Alex Edler for Roberto Luongo.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  3. The Bookie
    October 27, 2011

    If only we had some kind of perfectly bland safe defenseman on his way back from injury that Vigneault were willing to try! Alas!

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  4. hips
    October 27, 2011

    Thank Aaron Rome for Aaron Rome.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. Frank Nelissen
    October 27, 2011

    A certain your man named Chris Tanev comes to mind. Waive somebody and bring him up. Put him next to Edler and give him/them time to improve/get accustomed. He certainly showed last year that he can play big minutes and big games.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  6. Frank
    October 27, 2011

    What the other Frank said. Except, do we actually need to waive anyone? The reason Tanev was sent down in the first place was that we had too many contracts, but then we traded two contracts to Florida for one. What’s stopping the ‘Nucks from placing Raymond on LTIR and bringing up Tanev?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  7. JDM
    October 27, 2011

    I think it’s time to admit that we were wrong about the impact of losing Ehrhoff. No, it’s not a massive blow to the power play; overall it looks arguably more dangerous than last year because there’s a legitimate threat from the second unit since CoHo was put on it, and potentially Booth. No, we won’t miss his 50 points overmuch – perhaps somewhat, but Ballard playing night in night out and playing reasonably well (that is, better than last year) will absorb much of the blow, and as has been said all summer, those 50 points came with defensive errors.

    What we all failed to focus on in this conversation was the ripple effect. It is identical to the havok that was wrought in the finals when Hamhuis was absent (and to a lesser degree, Rome). Having to re-arrange the pairings to try to find something that makes sense is exceedingly difficult. Our pairings seem to have the wonder-twin-power effect of putting Hank and Dank together – the right combinations are far greater than the sum of their parts.

    Rome’s return to the lineup, consequently, has the potential to make a big difference. Granted, he’s not a high-impact player who’ll win a game for you, but that’s exactly the point here. His return will provide some additional stability to the defensive pairings. It wouldn’t hurt to have another second pairing right-side defenseman (the “other piece” mentioned in your post) but we couldn’t fit one of those under the cap. Bringing back Tanev might actually be the solution.

    The Canucks aren’t missing star power, they’re missing glue – if only we hadn’t traded that bottle of glue for a unicorn. No not really, that trade was awesome.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • J21
      October 28, 2011

      Yeah, I think the disappearance of Ehrhoff is kind of the elephant in the room here.

      The jury’s still out on whether Good Bieksa has gone back to Grimsby and left us with his evil twin who has actually had the larger part of their shared career — but you have to admit it’s a concern that becomes magnified when you don’t have a good, German blueliner lying around.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  8. Paul
    October 27, 2011

    The law of averages being what it is this could be the year Salo doesn’t get hurt. In unrelated news there’s also a chance me and Angleia Jolie might bump into each other and fall maddly in love. There is always a slim chances in life…. people do win the lotto from time to time.

    My theory on the situation? They play Schnieder a whole bunch before the trade deadline. He’ll proove his worth and he’s the one card GMMG has to play in order to grab a top three style D man.

    While this isn’t a forum for rosterbating, this is a move Gillis might make. He’s prety shrewd in such matters.

    Or maybe I’m just think out loud. That’s been known to happen.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  9. MJT
    October 27, 2011

    Well, the Canucks have two players right now they are having trouble finding partners for. The answer is obvious – put Alex Edler with Cody Hodgson.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  10. Mike
    October 27, 2011

    Here is the skinny. I agree Edler could use a more consistent partner and I agree Rome will make a difference however the problem is, as an entire team, our defensive (and overall play) is brutal (more often than not.) The two greatest defenseman of all time will always get their butts whipped by five opposing players. Our problem is (for some reason) it looks like we think we can win by talent and reputation alone. Rarely have we paid the the price (i.e block shots, go to hard areas consistently etc.) We play hard but on the perimeter. Until we realize talent usually only wins out when all other things are equal we will struggle. Having said that, when good/great teams struggle they play .500 hockey which is what we are playing. Hopefully we figure it out soon.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  11. Mike (different Mike)
    October 27, 2011

    I agree with Mike. he sounds very intelligent.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  12. Frank Nelissen
    October 27, 2011

    re: Other Frank; I think the problem is not the number of contracts (as you are right about the number of players on our roster) but the Cap space is. So maybe the Canucks don’t have to waive anybody, just send them down to the minors. Except, we don’t want to get stuck with a residual cap hit if and when that player would get claimed of off waivers. But I don’t know how this works exactly.

    But more than anything, I think everybody needs to relax.

    What is really at play here is a number of things:
    - We won the President’s Trophy last year and went to the SCF. So we are 1 of the 2 teams in the NHL everybody wants to beat.
    - Short summer because of SCF and little to no pre-season for core
    - Team needs some time to re-adjust to the new players
    - It’s October
    - Fans have crazy expectations.

    On a side not though, I would love to see Cody Hodgson centre the 2nd line. With Both (LW) and Kesler (RW) on the wings. I know Kesler is a star centre. But he could use a playmaker instead of having to do everything himself. Also, Kesler would provide enough back-checking insurance for Hodgson until he gets the hang of it (even though he is not bad to begin with).

    That way, we could also leave our 3rd and 4th line intact as there seemed to be quite some chemistry.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      October 27, 2011

      Just a quick clarification: in order to send someone down to the minors, you have to waive them, unless they are exempt from waivers. I believe the only player on the roster who is currently exempt from waivers is Hodgson.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • The Bookie
        October 27, 2011

        Volpatti should be exempt from waivers, no?

        Also – I realized they haven’t tried Bieksa-Edler pairing. Wonder why.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
        • Harrison Mooney
          October 27, 2011

          Maybe they will on Halloween? Because that would be terrifying.

          VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
        • Daniel Wagner
          October 27, 2011

          Unless I’m reading the CBA incorrectly, Volpatti is subject to waivers because of his age. I could be wrong.

          VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Frank
      October 27, 2011

      Yeah, I agree – but can’t the Canucks find the cap space by putting Raymond on LTIR? He’s still on their regular roster (only Rome & Bitz are on LTIR) – and unless there’s a really good reason for not putting him on LTIR, his contract could easily make room for Tanev or some other player.

      But, like I said, I could be missing some crucial points here. Cap calculation is anything but my strong suit.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  13. invisibleairwaves
    October 27, 2011

    Sami Salo has been the best Canuck defenseman so far this season, and I’m not totally convinced that he should be bumped down the depth chart solely on the basis of his propensity for getting hurt. I doubt it reduces his odds of injury significantly (given the numbers of bottom-pairing injuries the Canucks have suffered in the past), and it wastes his talents in the process. If (when?) he does get hurt, I agree with the suggestion of bringing up Tanev.

    I think Edler just needs to find his game again. Much of his problems were individual mistakes that can’t really be attributed to pairing issues, like when he jumped out of the penalty box and failed to take his man last night. Once he works out his own game, I think we’ll be doing a lot less hand-wringing about who he gets paired with.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  14. CanuckFan
    October 27, 2011

    Shea. Weber. Book it.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Jim
      October 28, 2011

      It sounds like he won’t stay in Nashville when he’s a UFA, so assuming cap moves can be made, he could get signed in the off season. As for a trade, the only thing Nashville has no need for is the only ting we have spare parts for – goaltending.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)