The Vancouver Canucks have the best powerplay in the NHL, but you wouldn’t know it from their last 15 games. The Canucks have gone 9-for-55 in that span for a percentage of 16.4%. That’s including the game against Boston when they went 4-for-11. Take that game out of the equation and you get some ugly-looking math.
While Sami Salo’s injury against Boston hasn’t helped, the Canucks powerplay was struggling even before he got injured. While his victory in the hardest shot competition in the Canucks Superskills on Sunday may be an indication that Salo is close to returning to the lineup, the Canucks need to consider all options to fix the ailing powerplay.
One of those options should be promoting Cody Hodgson to the first unit.
One of the innovations Newell Brown introduced when he was hired as an assistant coach last season was to put Ryan Kesler with the Sedins on the top powerplay unit. This move was treated with some skepticism, as Kesler was the anchor of the second unit the season before and was very successful in that role. Placing him on the top unit left the second unit without a centre and without an identity.
Ultimately, the naysayers were proven wrong. The Canucks went from having a very good powerplay to having the best powerplay in the league. It was actually a pretty simple decision to understand: Brown took the five biggest powerplay producers from the previous season and put them all on one line. It didn’t matter that the second unit was weakened: they rarely got on the ice because the first unit was so effective.
One of those top-five powerplay producers, however, left town during the offseason. Christian Ehrhoff rejected the Canucks’ contract offer and ended up signing a long-term contract with the Buffalo Sabres, removing one piece of the puzzle that had made the Canucks powerplay so effective. While his point production is replaceable, it made the formulation of the top unit on the powerplay a bit more difficult.
When Alex Edler got injured last season, he was replaced by Mikael Samuelsson on the powerplay, but when Samuelsson was traded along with Marco Sturm to Florida in exchange for David Booth and Steven Reinprecht, that option left with him. While both Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis have spent some time on the first unit, Salo has spent the most amount of time as the fifth man on the top powerplay unit.
As much as Salo’s slapshot is a feared weapon on the point, he has not been one of the most productive Canucks on the powerplay. He currently has 8 powerplay points, tied with Kevin Bieksa for 7th on the team. Of Canucks with points on the powerplay, Salo is the least efficient player on the team, scoring 1.83 points per 60 minutes of icetime with the man advantage.
Who is the Canucks’ most efficient powerplay producer? It’s Hodgson, who has scored 6.95 points per 60 minutes. If Brown wants the top-five powerplay producers on one unit, Hodgson is the guy to promote. He is tied with Hamhuis for 5th on the team with 10 powerplay points, but has done so in about 12 fewer minutes of icetime than Hamhuis and 20 minutes less than Salo.
In fact, Hodgson is not just the most efficient powerplay producers on the team; as Thomas Drance pointed out at Canucks Army, he’s one of the most efficient in the NHL. In that article, Drance advocated moving Hodgson to the top unit while Salo is out. I’m going one step further: Hodgson should be on the top unit even when Salo is healthy.
While I have said before that Hodgson gets enough icetime, moving him to the point of the first unit powerplay in place of Salo does not take any icetime away from Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler like giving him more even-strength icetime would. It’s not all that crazy either: like Salo, Hodgson is right-handed and has an accurate and powerful slapshot. Certainly it’s not the howitzer that Salo boasts, but it’s still potent.
It also would give the first unit a versatility that they have lacked since Ehrhoff left. The Canucks used Ehrhoff as a roamer on the powerplay, essentially deploying him as a fourth forward. For all of Salo’s strengths, roaming is not one of them. When on the powerplay, his go-to move is staying at the point and blasting the puck at the net. While he is very good at that, Edler can also play that role and combines it with better passing and skating.
Hodgson, on the other hand, seems a better fit for the role of roamer and adds his own abilities as a playmaker to the mix. Of Hodgson’s 10 powerplay points, 5 are goals and 5 are primary assists. He doesn’t have a single secondary assist on the powerplay, meaning he’s not just picking up points by virtue of being on the ice with good players. He is the primary playmaker on the second unit.
That may be the main argument against promoting Hodgson, as it leaves the second unit without its quarterback. Last season, however, they didn’t hesitate to make the same move with Kesler because they knew it was more effective to overload one unit than to make two balanced units. With players like Hamhuis, Bieksa, Salo, Booth, Higgins, Raymond, and Burrows available to compose a second unit, they’ll still have plenty of firepower, but it’s more important to get the first unit productive again.
When the first unit is scoring, it’s nice to have Hodgson centring a second unit to make the Canucks’ powerplay even more difficult to shut down. When it’s not working, the Canucks should overload the first unit with their most productive players: that includes Hodgson.Tags: Armchair coaching, Cody Hodgson, Hodgson, Ideas, Newell Brown, powerplay, Salo