Wait, what are Ballard and Hamhuis doing on the ice together? That’s never right.
Alain Vigneault has the tendency to shuffle his forward lines like a magician shuffles cards: most of it is sleight-of-hand and nothing really changes in the end. He and Rick Bowness have frequently done the same with defence pairings in the past over the last couple seasons, but certain pairings tended to stick together and avoid the juggling.
When Christian Ehrhoff was with the Canucks, he was all-but-inseparable from Alex Edler. At one point, Kevin Bieksa only hit the ice when Willie Mitchell was at his side. Over the last couple seasons, it’s been Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis who have been attached at the hip. Other pairings were malleable, but those pairings were, at the very least, semi-permanent.
Heading into this season, the pairing of Bieksa and Hamhuis, affectionately and disgustingly known as HamJuice, were a given. Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev, who performed well when paired together in the previous season, were assumed to be the bottom pairing. That left the newly-arrive Jason Garrison to play with Edler, something I had been anticipating ever since he signed with the Canucks.
It looked like the defence pairings were about as set in stone as they could possibly be. But it took just 5 games for those stones to be thrown to the ground and broken up like the Ten Commandments.
During the Canucks game against the San Jose Sharks on January 27th, they split the inseparable Bieksa and Hamhuis, placing Bieksa on Garrison’s right side and Hamhuis on Edler’s left. It wasn’t hard to figure out why the change was made. Both Edler and Garrison had giveaways that led directly to goals for the Sharks, with Edler’s being the more egregious of the two.
I assumed that this would be a temporary change. Bieksa and Hamhuis have been so effective over the last two seasons that it didn’t make sense to keep them apart for any significant length of time. But Vigneault came back with the new pairings the next night against the Kings and they have kept steady ever since.
I certainly didn’t expect Tanev and Ballard to be the most permanent pairing in the lineup.
For the most part, the new pairings have worked out well, though they’ve had the benefit of unreal goaltending behind them. Garrison is playing a similar role to Hamhuis on Bieksa’s left side, simply being a steady defensive presence and allowing Bieksa to jump up in the rush when the opportunity presents itself.
Hamhuis, on the other hand, is getting a chance to show the offensive side in his game. So far this season, Hamhuis has started in the offensive zone on 57.1% of his shifts. Last season, that number was 46.8%. He’s also seeing a lot more ice time with the Sedins now that he’s paired with Edler. Hamhuis is taking advantage, with 7 points in 14 games, a 41-point pace over an 82-game season, which would be a career high.
The question is, then, how long will this last? I have a feeling that at the first sight of trouble, Bieksa and Hamhuis would immediately be reunited, but having Hamhuis with Edler has seemed to provide some much-needed stability to the sleepy Swede’s game. And with Ballard and Tanev continuing to play solid minutes in a somewhat-sheltered role, it’s possible that these could be the new permanent pairings.
I had thought that we would see the Canucks experiment with Garrison on the right side, play Tanev with Edler, or switching in one of Andrew Alberts or Cam Barker, before we ever saw Bieksa and Hamhuis permanently split up.
So far, the new pairings have lasted 9 games, including a 6-game winning streak. The Canucks have allowed just 15 goals against in those 9 games, but 7 of those have come in the last two. If that two-game trend continues, look for the defence pairings to get shuffled once again.Tags: alex edler, Dan Hamhuis, Defence, Jason Garrison, Kevin Bieksa