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 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: defense, Edler, featured, spotlight, Wild Speculation