You may have noticed that the Canucks are all in a pretty good mood lately. Alain Vigneault’s most recent interview on the Team 1040 was a gigglefest shy of the sprightliest I’ve ever seen him. The sometimes surly Ryan Kesler was a downright delight when we spoke with him yesterday over the phone. Cory Schneider spent the entirety of After Hours doing impressions (his Barack Obama was especially sublime) and shadow puppets (Barack Shadow-bama was the highlight).
And frankly, why wouldn’t they be chipper? The Canucks prioritized not getting hurt over winning nearly a month ago — the only wrinkle in this plan being when Daniel Sedin leapt headfirst into Duncan Keith’s elbow like an idiot — and yet, somehow, a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy is within their reach. And, more importantly, it sounds like pretty much everyone from Daniel to Aaron Volpatti will be ready for the playoffs. The outlook is positive.
In fact, the only problem the Canucks face now is determining who among this sudden plethora of healthy bodies will play in Game 1. It’s a good problem to have, of course, but it’s still going to be a tough call, especially on the back end. The Canucks’ defensive depth chart is a hot mess right now.
The Canucks have been toying with alternate pairings and giving core players days off for weeks. Saturday versus the Flames, they iced a defensive top six of Dan Hamhuis with Chris Tanev, Alex Edler with Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Sami Salo with Andrew Alberts.
This was made possible in part by Kevin Bieksa missing his 3rd straight game for maintenance, which is code for: an injury we’d prefer not to disclose, for fear that opponents will slash that area to dust in the playoffs. As Bieksa told Jason Botchford Tuesday, he’s “just going to take it once maintenance day at a time,” but his month of Sundays will come to an end this week. He’ll be back on the top shutdown pairing with Dan Hamhuis by the time the postseason begins.
Additionally, I’d expect to see Sami Salo reunited with Alex Edler on the Canucks’ second unit, at least for game 1. Salo has looked a little slow of late and the Canucks have been experimenting with deploying him in a bottom pairing role recently, but he remains the first option for Edler’s right side. I’d hazard a guess that he starts the playoffs there.
Any way you slice it, those four blueliners — Bieksa, Hamhuis, Salo, and Edler — will be in the lineup when the Canucks open the playoffs at home. But what about the final two slots?
My guess is that Chris Tanev is a lock as well. His play since his recall has been as calm and collected as ever, and the Canucks’ coaching staff appears to have grown to trust him in a top-four role. On Saturday, he played a career-high 23:03 of icetime alongside Dan Hamhuis and didn’t look out of place at all.
This upward mobility, not to mention his right-handedness, should make him indispensable. If either Sami Salo or Kevin Bieksa were to go out with an injury during a game, Tanev could step into their spot in a pinch without the Canucks’ top four taking much of a hit.
And so, like my doctor, we turn our attention to the strange cluster on the left side of the bottom pair.
Marc-Andre Gragnani has been excellent the last two games playing with Alex Edler. The Canucks may have stumbled into a discount Christian Ehrhoff (like, a crazy discount, like $40 million off) in the former Sabre. Will Alain Vigneault be able to justify sitting him if he finishes the regular-season campaign at the same level we saw from him this weekend?
Will Vigneault be able to say no to Aaron Rome, who is as true a number six as the one that seduced Gaius Baltar? Vigneault has shown a weakness for Rome’s steady, low-event play over the past two years. With Rome rumoured to be ready to return to the lineup for game 1 after his knee injury in Colorado, you can never rule out the possibility that Vigneault will let him.
Additionally, Andrew Alberts has been playing well lately and is always an option, although he appears to have become the poor man’s Aaron Rome, which is a hilariously sad nickname. One assumes that, if both he and Rome are healthy, Rome gets the nod.
But let’s not forget Keith Ballard, who looks to be ready to return from his concussion. Will he draw back in, or has he been passed on the depth chart by two of Gragnani, Tanev, Alberts, and Rome? Ballard has struggled to earn the trust of the coaching staff since he arrived in Vancouver — will they be willing to throw him back into the mix after more than a month off? I have my doubts.
So there’s the question, all: who comprises the Canucks’ top-six in game 1 of the playoffs?Tags: DE-FENCE (clap clap), depth, Don't forget Nolan Baumgartner, playoffs