Among the many, many salient (and dare I say mind-blowingly accurate) points in our most recent game recap was an observation on Dale Weise playing on Derek Roy’s wing. “He’s basically the gremlin in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” I wrote. ”He shouldn’t be on that wing.”
At this point, I sat smugly and waited for my comedy award. It never came, perhaps because referencing specific episodes titles from a program that went off the air in 1964 is a good way to alienate your audience.
But Alain Vigneault got it, and over the weekend, he decided it was time to upgrade Derek Roy’s linemates in a big way. Dale Weise was removed from the line. In his place came the former Selke winner, Ryan Kesler.
“We’re loading up in the top six,” associate coach Rick Bowness told the Vancouver Sun in explaining the move, and no kidding. The addition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler was supposed to finally give the Canucks enough depth through the middle for three good lines. Instead, they’ve decided to go for two really good ones.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. The Canucks have been toying with this idea for years, ever since Kesler first broke out as a scorer alongside Mats Sundin in 2009. Shortly after acquiring Derek Roy, both Laurence Gilman and Mike Gillis brought it up again, independent of one another.
Still, the move drew criticism for Vigneault, which is nothing new. Any attempt to run the Canucks draws a negative reaction from those who think he shouldn’t be running the Canucks. Still, this argument had some merit beyond the AV hatred, especially considering the timing. What’s Vigneault doing having a lark with seven games remaining in the season? It seems pretty unlikely that Kesler will be on the wing to open the playoffs, so why play around with his deployment now?
A couple things to consider, however: first, I’m sure that Vigneault also feels it might have been optimal to run this chemistry experiment earlier on. But he’s had Roy and Kesler at his disposal for a grand total of three games — he hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands here. Second, it is, ostensibly, part of the coach’s job to understand who plays well with whom, and which combinations might be able to give him a spark here and there. It behooves him to know what Kesler and Roy look like prior to the postseason.
Truthfully, if he doesn’t, he isn’t doing his due diligence. While I doubt that Kesler starts on the wing in the playoffs, it’s wholly possible that he and Roy show some serious flash together, in which case, heck, maybe they do. Sure, that would force the Canucks to make some big decisions about a bottom six that would be severely diminished without one of Kesler and Roy in it, but if the duo really makes a strong case to stay together, that’s a good problem to have.
Worst-case scenario: they try it for one or two games, decide it doesn’t work, and have five games to get their playoff lines in order. Best-case scenario: it works, at which point the Canucks’ top six becomes very, very dangerous.
Keep in mind, Roy was the Buffalo Sabres’ first-line centre for five seasons and was their leading scorer in three of those seasons, so he’s well-suited to playing in a top-six with talented players. Both he and Kesler are, at minimum, second-line players, so putting them both on the second-line is just putting them where they belong. The biggest question mark is, then, whether the wing is where Kesler belongs, which is a harder argument to make.
Kesler certainly experienced success playing on the wing with Mats Sundin in 2008-09, but there’s a big difference between playing with a Hall-of-Famer like Sundin and a borderline first-liner like Roy. There’s also a question of how much better offensively Kesler really was on the wing with Sundin, as raised by Thomas Drance:
…the notion that Ryan Kesler is a more productive offensive player when he plays the wing is only partially corroborated by the underlying data. On the one hand, the Canucks scored goals at a slightly higher rate with Kesler playing on the wing at even-strength, but the difference between the team’s offensive output with Kesler overall and with Kesler on the wing is in the hundredths. It’s negligible.
The other issue with playing Kesler on the wing is that it creates a hole at centre on the third line. At this point, that hole will be filled by Andrew Ebbett, which is less than ideal. Ebbett is an excellent 13th forward, able to step in almost anywhere in the lineup in a pinch. He’s not a guy that you want permanently centring the third line. Fortunately, the Canucks do have a player in Chicago who is perfectly capable of centring the third line and has already demonstrated chemistry with Mason Raymond: Jordan Schroeder.
If the best-case scenario plays out and Kesler and Roy immediately provide an offensive boost that necessitates keeping them together as the Canucks head into the playoffs, expect Schroeder to get called up post-haste to replace Ebbett.
Before any of that happens, however, the Canucks need to find out if loading up the top-six is a good idea, and now is the right time for finding out. At the very least, it’s better than waiting until the Canucks have lost a few games in the playoffs.Tags: Derek Roy, Ryan Kesler