Canucks’ best shot blocker is heading to the press box

The Canucks announced some great news today: Aaron Rome will be back in the lineup against the St. Louis Blues after missing 12 games with a broken thumb. With Sami Salo still faking it out with a concussion, Rome’s return alleviates some of the concerns regarding the Canucks defensive depth.

Here’s the odd thing: he won’t be replacing Alex Sulzer, who would seem to be the obvious choice. Instead, he’s replacing Keith Ballard. Alain Vigneault has even said that he’ll be playing on the second unit on the powerplay.

While this seems like an odd choice at first, Sulzer has showed some versatility in being able to play on the right side, which allowed him to step up alongside Alex Edler against the Lightning on Tuesday. He acquitted himself quite well, playing 18:05 and finishing plus-1 with an assist. While his work on the penalty kill was uninspiring, Sulzer’s ability to move the puck alongside an All-Star like Edler makes him worth keeping in the lineup.

Ballard, on the other hand, isn’t as versatile: we have talked about his difficulties in playing on the right side in the past. In order to keep Ballard in the lineup, Vigneault would need to pair Rome with Edler, which would limit Edler’s offensive potential. Instead, he chose to pair Rome and Alberts, giving the Canucks a tough, dependable bottom pairing against a very physical  Blues team.

The one area that Ballard excels in, however, is blocking shots.

I wrote a post on Backhand Shelf a week ago about a different way of measuring a player’s ability to block shots. One of the difficulties in just counting totals of blocked shots is that players who allow a large number of shots against by virtue of being unable to get the puck out of their own zone end up with a higher number of blocked shots simply because there are more shots to block. There’s no skill in just being in the way a higher number of times.

Instead, we should measure blocked shots by percentage. What percentage of shots taken by the opposition does a player block?

What I discovered is that some of the players who were in the top 10 in total blocked shots plummeted down the list when it came to measuring their blocked shot percentage. The biggest drop came from Dan Girardi, who was fifth in the league in total shots blocked but fell all the way to 86th in percentage. He blocks a lot of shots because he’s on the ice for a lot of shots, not because he’s particularly good at blocking them.

Alex Edler is first on the team in total blocked shots, with Kevin Bieksa right behind. They are also, however, first and third in time on ice, so they’re on the ice for a larger number of shots against. Keith Ballard is third in total blocked shots, but when it comes to the percentage of blocked shots, he’s first.

NAME POS TEAM GP ES Shot Attempts Against ES Blocked Shots ESBS%
1 Keith Ballard D VAN 36 457 43 9.40%
2 Alexander Edler D VAN 41 527 46 8.72%
3 Aaron Rome D VAN 15 153 13 8.50%
4 Kevin Bieksa D VAN 41 615 49 7.97%
5 Andrew Ebbett C VAN 13 102 8 7.85%
6 Andrew Alberts D VAN 27 325 25 7.70%
7 Sami Salo D VAN 37 423 25 5.91%
8 Ryan Kesler C VAN 36 384 20 5.21%
9 Dale Weise C VAN 41 297 15 5.06%
10 Dan Hamhuis D VAN 41 578 27 4.67%
11 Cody Hodgson C VAN 41 336 15 4.47%
12 Aaron Volpatti LW VAN 23 193 8 4.14%
13 Manny Malhotra C VAN 41 436 12 2.75%
14 Jannik Hansen RW VAN 41 452 11 2.43%
15 Maxim Lapierre C VAN 41 372 9 2.42%
16 Christopher Higgins LW VAN 36 364 8 2.20%
17 David Booth LW VAN 25 228 5 2.19%
18 Mason Raymond LW VAN 16 170 3 1.77%
19 Alex Burrows RW VAN 39 423 7 1.66%
20 Daniel Sedin LW VAN 40 426 7 1.64%
21 Henrik Sedin C VAN 41 461 6 1.30%


All the data comes from and is a week old, so it’s missing the last few games. I only included even-strength situations to remove any inequalities in time on the penalty kill, where a player is more likely to be in a shooting lane for a shot against and is therefore likely to have a higher blocked shot percentage.

It’s interesting to note that Rome also blocks a fairly high percentage of shots, so replacing Ballard with Rome fortunately won’t lead to a huge drop-off. Also interesting is how few shots Dan Hamhuis blocks. The style of play between Hamhuis and Bieksa is so completely different that it is truly fascinating to see how well they work together.

One aspect of Andrew Ebbett’s game that will be missed as he recovers from his broken collarbone is his willingness to block shots, though the sample size is a little too small to declare him the best shot blocker amongst Canucks forwards. That honour should go to Ryan Kesler, who blocks 5.21% of shots at even-strength, good for 48th amongst forwards in the NHL.

Ballard is 60th amongst NHL defencemen in blocked shot percentage, but he is first on the Canucks by a wide margin, blocking 9.40% compared to Edler’s 8.72%. Whether this mitigates his poor Corsi numbers, which include blocked shots as negatives in terms of possession, is up for debate.

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  1. Zach Morris
    January 12, 2012

    would I be crazy if I said we should give Ballard a shot with Tanev?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 12, 2012

      Tanev struggled to start the season, but I do think a pairing of him and Ballard is ideal. That said, Rome and Alberts have the physical edge that those two don’t.

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      Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  2. Amor de Cosmos
    January 12, 2012

    I’m glad AV’s moved away from Rome and Alberts as an either/or proposition. It’ll be interesting to see how they work as a tandem, not a lot of speed or creativity but not too many mistakes either I’d guess.

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    • piker
      January 14, 2012

      It’s like Dana Murzyn playing with Dave Babytch.

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      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  3. Hips
    January 12, 2012

    i feel sorry for balllard, i feel like hes been playing great lately.

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    Rating: +14 (from 14 votes)
  4. Eric Blacha
    January 12, 2012

    I don’t think this is the right move right now.

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    Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  5. J21
    January 13, 2012

    A lot of people on HFBoards saw this benching as the other shoe finally dropping for Ballard. While I think your explanation makes a lot of sense (i.e. there are strategic reasons for keeping Sulzer in that depend on Salo’s absence, rather than “Vigneault doesn’t like Ballard”), it probably doesn’t make too much difference for Ballard’s future on the team, since the implication is that he’s just way too far down the depth chart for his salary.

    The problem is that “freeing up his cap space” doesn’t give the Canucks all that much mid-season. They’re going to have to surrender assets if they actually want to fill in Ballard’s spot with something other than Sulzer. And I don’t like this. Both because it could have been handled differently when there were free agents around, and also because I don’t think you’re realistically going to get that much of an upgrade by making a trade that brings in another bottom-half defenseman. i.e. I think the Canucks would be better off keeping, and playing, Keith Ballard than freeing up his cap space, giving up a player or draft pick to do so, and getting some lateral replacement as a result.

    Because lord knows they’re not going to be getting any value back for him. I know Vigneault’s job isn’t asset management, but he’s not doing Gillis any favors by basically showcasing Ballard as a really undesirable asset.

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    • Frank Nelissen
      January 13, 2012

      I feel for Ballard because he plays well when given the opportunity and a good lines mate and his skating rivals the best out there.

      However, since he is not playing all the time and we could use another shut down defence man, why not try to trade him to Nashville for Weber. We could add Booth to the package. That would free up enough cap space to take Weber on board as well as someone like Travis Moen, who is an actual power right-winger.

      As it stands, we have too many left-wingers on the team (Raymond, Higgins and Booth) and not enough right-wingers. Besides, Booth never really impressed on the ice and both coaches seem somewhat underimpressed (and impatient) with his recovery or his lack of urgency to return to the team.

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  6. JDM
    January 13, 2012

    Ballard has generally been good this season, and though he’s a guy prone to defensive miscues… well did you watch Kevin Bieksa last night at all? Bieksa just has more capital with Vigneault.

    That said the real question is why Sulzer appears to anyone to be less of a defensive liability. The guy almost lost us the game with a brutal giveaway in the 3rd, one inch further in and it’s off the post and in the net rather than across the crease. Seems to happen once a game with this guy.

    I agree with the guy up top. If anyone should get a chance to prove themselves again out of our depth D, it’s Chris Tanev.

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  7. shoes
    January 13, 2012

    Once a player gets in AV’s bad books………he has a lot of work cut out for him to get into the good books. Ballard so far in his Vancouver career handled it very well, but he must be a tad frustrated. I do not think that Ballard has had a good run in Vancouver. He started off injured and AV choose to bench him often and it doesn’t seem to get better. People think he is not tradeable……Ha……in a heartbeat…there is far worse out there and some teams need D more than anything in the planet.

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