How long will the Canucks’ current defence pairings last?

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.

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4 comments

  1. Daniel W.
    February 19, 2013

    If the Canucks get Chris Tanev signed, they might last until 2015!
    Though I’m pretty sure, like you said, Hamhuis-Bieksa will be back at some point, especially come playoff time!

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    February 19, 2013

    The Alex Edler hat trick could be:
    1. Break a stick in a critical situation (maybe make it 2 sticks to up the degree of difficulty)
    2. Make a drop pass to no one on the power play.
    3. Smile awkwardly after delivering a devastating hit on an opponent

    The kid is as enigmatic as he is talented. Would also like to offer some credit to the much maligned Keith Ballard. If you factor out special teams he’s only playing about one shift less per game than the top 4, and has only been on the ice for 3 even strength goals against-in comparison, Edler has been out for 11, albeit likely against stronger opposing players.

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  3. akidd
    February 20, 2013

    tanev and ballard looked just right together two years ago. that they’re good again isn’t that surprising. credit to ballard for not forgetting the good times and playing with confidence again.

    if there is an achilles heel on that d-corps it is the potential for defensive gaffes by either bieksa or edler. meaning that in the past both have been prone to some mental lapses while not forgetting either that both have also demonstrated a ton of top-notch hockey too.

    so hamuis, imho the best defender, was paired to balance out flying kev. and salo or erhoff(maybe erhoff was pretty good after all;) to edler and a balance was struck. at first glance garrison seems to have very solid instincts so i don’t worry about him just yet. it’s just edler on the right side which seems delicate.

    i too, think it’s possible that a tanev/edler pairing will in very least get a good look by season’s end. but there’s a danger in losing some(or a lot) of the bolstering that the new and improved and also much like spring 2011 ballard provides.

    tricky balance. i have no idea tbh. somehow the defensive and the offensive dmen will hopefully cover for each other. lots of great parts to fenangle into a roaring machine if you squiggle them right anyway, that’s for sure.

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  4. Phileo99
    February 21, 2013

    Ballard-Tanev, HamJuice are both proven pairings, so why tinker with something that ain’t broke?
    Why not put Garrison on the right side, and Edler back on the left?

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