When I asked how long the current Canucks’ defence pairings would last on Tuesday, I didn’t expect the answer to be “less than a day.” But I did suggest that at the first sign of trouble, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa would be immediately reunited, and Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks was trouble (with a capital T, which rhymes with D and that stands for Defence).
The sheer number of breakaways and odd-man rushes given up by the Canucks ensured that something would change on the backend and, sure enough, word came out of practice Wednesday morning that all three defence pairings had been switched up.
As expected, Hamhuis and Bieksa were reunited — tearfully, probably — but the Canucks didn’t just reset everything back to the way it was at the start of the season. Jason Garrison, the Canucks’ biggest free agent acquisition, was moved down to the third pairing with Keith Ballard, while Chris Tanev was promoted to the second pairing with Alex Edler.
Since Garrison is being paid a lot of money, seeing him on the third pairing is causing some consternation in Canucks nation. Has he joined Keith Ballard in a lavish, $8 million doghouse, a dog mansion, if you will? Not exactly. His demotion isn’t just about how he’s been playing, but how the entire defence corps has been playing.
While I have liked Garrison’s overall game, it’s certainly true that he has struggled at times to start the season. Personally, I don’t think those struggles are anything to worry about just yet. We’ve talked about players acquired from Florida needing to be deprogrammed in the past, but that’s just a way of saying that the Canucks tend to play a very different system from the Panthers and it’s a system that takes some adjusting.
Kevin Woodley spoke to Garrison before the Canucks headed out on their current road trip, and he expressed that exact thought: Garrison is still thinking too much about adhering to the new system rather than playing by instinct. This should be completely understandable, as there was barely any training camp and no pre-season, making it difficult to make a quick adjustment.
Adapting to a new powerplay scheme is also tremendously difficult, so it’s no surprise that Garrison didn’t last long on the top unit. With more time in practice, he should be able to find his way back onto the powerplay, but the Canucks don’t have a lot of practice time with the condensed schedule. Luckily, he’s signed here for several years!
Interestingly, moving to the third pairing means that one of Garrison or Ballard will need to play on the right side and it appears that it’s going to be Ballard. When Garrison was signed, we expected him to play on Edler’s right side, but he is evidently far more comfortable on the left. It’s disappointing that Garrison hasn’t been flexible on this — although it would be a lot to ask him to play his off-side in a system he’s not fully comfortable with — but it’s encouraging to see Ballard being more flexible about playing on the right.
One of my theories as to why Ballard found his way into Alain Vigneault’s doghouse is that he wasn’t flexible with shifting to his right, making it difficult for Vigneault to juggle the lineup without juggling him right out of it. With Ballard’s improved play this season and, now, perhaps, a newfound flexibility, it makes it a lot easier for Vigneault to experiment.
One of those experiments is moving Tanev into the top-four. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Tanev and one that makes sense. It allows Edler to move back to the left side, even temporarily, which should settle down his defensive game. While the Canucks likely want Edler to get comfortable on the right side long-term, particularly with the number of left-side defencemen that they have signed to big contracts, returning him to the left side when he is struggling seems reasonable.
Finally, reuniting Hamhuis and Bieksa should go a long way towards settling down Bieksa’s game. Bieksa has arguably been the defenceman struggling the most so far this season, and the advanced statistics bear this out. Thomas Drance over at Canucks Army did a great job covering most of the angles of the line juggling on defence, including the advanced statistics of the top-six, which show Bieksa at the bottom of the Canucks’ ranks in terms of puck possession.
Drance theorizes that Garrison’s demotion is less about Garrison and more about stabilizing Bieksa, which is exactly what I was thinking. That terrifies me, because if Drance has developed psychic powers, we are all doomed.Tags: D-fence *clap clap*, Defence, Jason Garrison