Should Cody Hodgson be on the first unit powerplay?

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: , , , , , ,

18 comments

  1. yobbei
    January 23, 2012

    Keep in mind that Hodgson being so effective on the powerplay is partly because he is facing the other teams’ second PK unit.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +11 (from 13 votes)
    • Douglas
      January 23, 2012

      Good point, but it’s also true that he’s playing with the second unit so doesn’t benefit from the smart passes that everyone playing with the Sedins gets.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +2 (from 4 votes)
      • yobbei
        January 24, 2012

        Very true.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  2. Anonymous
    January 23, 2012

    Hmm, being on the point would bring up the question of if he can get back to prevent short handed chances

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
    • Dylan
      January 23, 2012

      He would be the roamer, Edler would be the point man. Ehrhoff was pretty much never the last man back, and neither would Cody.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
      • FrancoL
        January 23, 2012

        I wonder if Ballard would be a good roamer? He’s a left-handed shot, though he is fast enough to recover in the event of a turnover.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Harrison Mooney
      January 23, 2012

      Yeah, that’d be my biggest concern.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • The Bookie
        January 23, 2012

        well, we’d need someone to center the line, so why not Malhotra? Very responsible defensively.

        As long as we’re speculating, my proposal for a second unit PP would be Malhotra, Higgins and Booth up front with Salo and Ballard on defense.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: -2 (from 2 votes)
  3. RG
    January 23, 2012

    yobbei makes an excellent point. However, props to the PITB folks for once again providing insightful tips and information.

    If #9 is on a successful first PP unit tomorrow, AV better thank Daniel (not Sedin…ok maybe Sedin, but Wagner too).

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  4. JDM
    January 23, 2012

    I’ve been thinking the opposite – namely, try moving Kesler back to PP2 in exchange for Burrows. Kesler hasn’t been as effective this year, and having him on the 2nd unit gives that unit a sniper, which neither Booth nor Higgins really qualifies as. While Kesler has had issues getting room to shoot 5 on 5, the power play may give him that room – assuming he’s not planted in the crease as he is in the current setup. Meanwhile, we know Burrows is effective in front of the net and has plenty of chemistry with the twins.

    The issue with moving Salo to PP2 is that it makes PP2 all about getting Salo a shot. When he’s on the top unit it’s tough for the opposition to know whether to deal with down-low play by the Sedins by collapsing in front of the net, or the bombs from the point. If they deal with the Sedins, Salo has all the time in the world to load up. If they pressure the point, hey look, passing lanes for the twins. Salo on unit 2 makes the whole game about him shooting and then Higgins and Booth looking for a rebound. It’s not a terrible setup, teams have used it frequently in the past, but it doesn’t create the defensive dilemma that the usual number 1 unit does.

    Of course, the imminent acquisition of Shea Weber will solve all of these problems immediately.

    In all seriousness, we know the PP is capable of scoring. Cold streaks are part of the business. Tinkering is fine, particularly from the perspective of fan curiosity as to how it will work out, but probably unnecessary.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  5. tom selleck's moustache
    January 23, 2012

    That’s an interesting case that you make, Daniel. I certainly don’t see the harm in at least experimenting with having Cody in Salo’s place, especially against a team like the Oilers.

    The other important point is that, not unlike the Tanev situation, even if Hodgeson would be returned to the 2nd unit when Salo returns, the Canucks need to see what options they have available come playoff time in the (very possible) scenario that Salo goes down with injury again or if (another possibility) the power play hits another dry spell (a la the Finals). This at least allows them to make a more informed decision should such situations arise.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  6. Chris
    January 23, 2012

    Can’t say I entirely agree with Yobbei personally. PK shifts don’t necessarily line up with PP shifts, as penalty killers usually change whenever they can clear the puck and take short shifts, while each power play unit typically takes a long shift, so while I don’t have stats to back it up, I think CoHo ends up facing good PKers most of the time. Also, most teams can ice 2 very good penalty kill units, as most have a defensive top 4 capable of handling PK duty and most can come up with 4 strong defensive forwards too, and at least 2 centres capable of winning faceoffs.

    Keep in mind too, that while the Salmon may, on balance, face slightly lower opposition on the second unit, he’s also not playing with the Sedins and Kesler, so the two factors even out.

    Agree with Daniel on this, give him a look for a couple of games, and a second unit of Burrows, Booth, Higgins, Bieksa and Hamhuis might be fine save for a lack of a natural centre, though Higgins is decent in the faceoff circle, certainly no worse than the Salmon.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  7. Amor de Cosmos
    January 23, 2012

    So go Hank and Dan so goes the PP. They’ve been a tad off their usual high standards since the Boston game and probably need the emotional, if not physical break, more than most. I tend to think that’s why PP numbers are down, and why the second unit has been getting a bit more time than usual. I’d say see how it’s working for the first couple of games back, and if it’s not up to snuff try some moves then.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  8. akidd
    January 23, 2012

    some good comments here. i agree with amor de cosmos that the success of the pp is mostly dependent on the sedins.

    what is also obvious to me is that the #1pp started dipping(just like the rest of the canuck game) the moment salo got hurt. burrows is not the guy to have on the point. definitely not. no shot and he’s not used to seeing the ice from there.

    before coho i’d like to see tanev given a try back there. that’s his natural spot on the right side and while he hasn’t been known as an offensive guy i think that’s because that isn’t the role he’s been given. he took one shot vs. the sharks and it had some velocity and just missed. given the green light he might discover a new facet to his game. but mostly why he should be given a shot is because of his passing and experience holding the line. forwards just don’t have the expertise from that part of the ice.

    i like coho on the second unit. he gets to be the mastermind and he makes the #2 unit work. on the first unit he would be more or less an intern(learning is good still). but still it’s all good. this time of year (with the division lead looking pretty solid)is for tweaking and trying new things. see what happens…but my instincts tell me that tanev would be the most likely to succeed in that spot.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Daniel Wagner
      January 23, 2012

      The Canucks’ powerplay was 2-for-23 prior to the Boston game, so it seems like it was struggling before he got injured too. His injury definitely makes things worse and I completely agree that Burrows doesn’t fit on the point in his place.

      I’d be in favour of trying Tanev on the powerplay, but probably not on the first unit right away. Unfortunately, he got sent back down to the Wolves today. Actually, that’s fortunate because it means Salo is ready to play again.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
      • akidd
        January 23, 2012

        hey daniel, ya i just read about salo coming back and tanev being sent down and was about to leave a note but you got there first. i really think salo should’ve taken his all-star break. strange call. in this doldrum part of the season i was looking forward to the next game mostly just to watch tanev. oh well.

        in response to the pp question. the pp wasn’t getting much practise for awhile due to reffing choices. and 4 pp goals vs the bruins. it’ll be just fine with salo back i imagine.

        too bad about tanev though…geez. how long is mg going to keep this depth strategy going? it handcuffs him from icing the best team. i understand it but still find it frustrating. can’t protect rome, alberts, and sulzer forever.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  9. foobarbear
    January 23, 2012

    i think hodgson at the point would certainly be an upgrade to burrows…

    but hodgson wouldn’t touch the puck nearly as often on the 1st unit than when he’s on the 2nd unit. the cost-benefit is not obvious, except for 1) experimenting (which is what was mentioned) and 2) jump-starting the 1st unit.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
  10. Aaron
    January 25, 2012

    I like the idea of trying out CoHo. The move I think would be good would to be to replace Kes with CoHo. I like this because it has the potential with Salo back to see what CoHo can do with the PK, It would also be a ok for Kes as we know what he can do on the second PP unit. If the PP is lagging it may be the thing to pick it up. Try it for a few games. If it works great if not go back. I agree better to see what you can do now than try something out that may or may not work in the SC finals

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