Chris Higgins has secretly been a playmaker this season

One of the most popular posts I’ve written on Pass it to Bulis was the straight-forwardly titled “Chris Higgins scores goals, has abs.” I assume the abs are still there, but the goalscoring has all but disappeared.

Higgins has gone 15 games without a goal and has just one goal in his last 28 games. Since joining the Canucks, Higgins has regularly scored at or near a pro-rated 20 goals each season, though never quite hitting that mark due to missed games. This season, he has just 7 goals, on pace for a 9-goal season.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to a fair bit of criticism from Canucks fans, with many calling for him to be traded and questioning why he remains in the lineup when other players get scratched for lack of production.

Here’s the thing: despite the lack of goals, Higgins is still tied for fourth on the Canucks in points, behind only Radim Vrbata and the Sedins. While his goalscoring has dried up, Higgins dug a little deeper and found an untapped well of playmaking this season.

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Chris Higgins just cares about defence too much

Chris Higgins is a genius.

The Canuck winger hasn’t scored since December 22nd, and you have to go all the way back to November to find another goal after that. Higgins is on pace for just 11 goals, and for a guy that’s supposed to be a mainstay on the second line, not to mention one who finished second in goals for this team a year ago with 17, that isn’t nearly good enough.

But, as mentioned, Higgins is a genius. Which is why, when asked to explain the massive dip in his production, he’s got this brilliant answer in his back pocket. From The Province:

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The second line’s other winger is a bigger question mark than its centre

Radim Vrbata with the Sedins is looking like it could be magic. Dan Hamhuis has been reunited with Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler looks rejuvenated with Chris Tanev on his right side. The Canucks have a multitude of options for their bottom-six and should be able to create two solid lines that can contribute with scoring, defensive play, or physicality.

The biggest question mark right now is the second line. We knew it would be as soon as Ryan Kesler was traded and the Canucks made it clear that Nick Bonino would replace him as the second line centre. But Bonino has been good all pre-season and currently has four points in his four games, so he’s not the issue right now. Bonino and Alex Burrows have been a consistent pair throughout the pre-season and it seems clear that they’ll be starting the season together on the second line. The most uncertain aspect of that line, amazingly, isn’t the guy in the middle — it’s who will be the other winger, as they have had a different linemate every game so far.

Who will be their linemate at the start of the regular season next Thursday? Let’s run down the five candidates based on who’s played with them (and will play with them) in the pre-season.

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Four battles to watch heading into Canucks training camp

It’s the start of training camp, which means it’s time for rampant speculation. Who will shine in the pre-season? Who will fall flat on their faces? Which player will excel, looking to have a spot sewn up, then get a brutal injury in the final game of the pre-season and never play for the Canucks again?

The truth is that we have no earthly idea what’s going to happen, particularly in this coming training camp and pre-season. Thanks to the off-season shake-up both on and off the ice, my Canucks-branded Magic 8-Ball keeps returning “Reply hazy, try again.” Admittedly, that’s better than when it was telling me, “You know what to do: burn ‘em all!”

Here are four training camp battles to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

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Watch every goal Chris Higgins scored last season (9-17)

Is Chris Higgins a top-six forward? It’s a question I hear asked frequently by Canucks fans and it comes with an implicit assumption: no, he’s not. From what I’ve seen from Canucks fans, they seem to be agreed that the Canucks have a glut of third-line wingers and players like Higgins and Jannik Hansen end up on the second line simply because the team has no one else to put there.

I think this comes from an unrealistic view of the second line. Last year, while looking at David Booth, I estimated that a second-line player should produce between 31-to-51 points in an 82-game season and/or 15-to-25 goals. That was based on points and goals produced by second line forwards in the 2011-12 season and it’s still a pretty good guideline for what we should expect from the second line.

Higgins scored 17 goals and 39 points. While in the lower half of second line players, he still fits in that bracket and it’s important to note that he still produced like a second-line forward when most of the team fell well below expectations and while facing some of the toughest competition of his career. The Sedins both performed like second-line forwards last season, albeit top-tier second line forwards. Complaints about Higgins not belonging on the second line just don’t make any sense.

With that out of the way, let’s look at his last nine goals from last season.

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Canucks photocopy Chris Higgins’ contract, give it to Jannik Hansen

Jannik Hansen has had a pretty good September. In five preseason games, the winger put up four points (2 goals, 2 assists). He also saw quite a bit of time with the Sedins as John Tortorella explored his options with a new roster, and Hansen showed well enough that he’s likely to be deployed there on occasion come the regular season. Furthermore, he somehow managed to take the only good headshot on picture day. And, on Sunday, the Canucks gave him 10 million dollars. As months go, I’d say that’s pretty okay.

Capping off a weirdly busy weekend that also saw the acquisition of forwards Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Walsh from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Kellan Tochkin (the second-best Kellan in Vancouver’s system) and a fourth-round pick, the Canucks announced a four-year contract extension for Hansen that would pay him $2.5 million a season.

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Every Goal, 2012-13: Chris Higgins

There weren’t a lot of bright spots for the Canucks last season, but if I had to put my finger on one, it’d be Chris Higgins beard. And I mean literally put my finger on one. That beard seems downright tuggable, like Kris Kringle’s beard in Miracle on 34th Street. (Sidenote: Did you know Dylan McDermott was in that together? As soon as I pulled up the trailer and saw him sharing the screen with Sarah Paulson lookalike Elizabeth Perkins, I thought I was watching an episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. And when Santa appeared, I was certain I was. But alas.)

Of course, Higgins was fun to watch last season for more reasons than simply having the team’s best beard. He also had a pretty good season, scoring 10 goals and being rewarded for his production — not to mention his strong forecheck and ability to play up and down the lineup — with a four-year contract extension. Here are 10 reasons that extension seems like a pretty good idea.

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Who are the Canucks’ best penalty killers?

While the Canucks have been a mess on the powerplay this season and have been inconsistent defensively at even-strength, the one area that has been a strength all season long has been the penalty kill. The Canucks have allowed more than one powerplay goal in a game just three times this season and haven’t done so since February 24th against the Detroit Red Wings.

Once the Canucks had some actual centres in Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy, the penalty kill got even better, going seven straight games and 25 opportunities without allowing a goal against. As a result, the Canucks finished 8th in the NHL in penalty kill percentage at 84%. It’s been one of the most consistent areas for the Canucks, killing off 86% last season and 85.6% the season before.

It’s sometimes tough to tell who on the Canucks is most responsible for their shorthanded success. Goaltending obviously plays a big role and it’s assumed that coaching is vital, but which defencemen and forwards have been the best on the penalty kill for the Canucks?

It’s harder to figure out than you’d think.

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Canucks sign up for four more years of Chris ‘Kiss Huggins’ Higgins and his famous torso

Early this morning, the Canucks traded a second round pick and defenceman prospect Kevin Connauton for Derek Roy, a pending unrestricted free agent. While this was certainly reasonable value for a scoring centre like Roy, the pending UFA part made some people a little nervous. There’s the possibility that he walks away from the Canucks in the off-season and is little more than a rental.

Of course, some rentals turn out better than others. Perhaps in an effort to qualm these concerns, the Canucks announced that they have re-signed Chris Higgins, another former rental, to a 4-year extension.

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Spitballin’ on who will play, who won’t play, and who misread the play

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few topics that deserve mention.

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You can’t lock out Chris Higgins’ abs

The charity game between Bieksa’s Buddies and the UBC Thunderbirds was a massive hit, raising $100,000 for the Canucks for Kids Fund, Canucks Autism Network, and the Canucks Family Education Centre that was matched by a generous donation from Michael Bublé. It also gave an outlet for Canucks fans desperate to watch their favourite players actually playing hockey.

The game featured many of the elements you would see in a normal Canucks game: wizardous Sedinerie, a terrible second period, and a photograph of Chris Higgins’ remarkable abs. Well, actually, four photos of Chris Higgins’ abs.

So, here they are, I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing.

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Spitballin’ on stolen ice time, charitable giving addict Dan Hamhuis, and snubbing Jan Bulis

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few quick topics.

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Eddie Lack vs Chris Higgins: Ab Off

Earlier today, Chris Higgins took over the Canucks official Twitter account to answer some questions from fans. Apparently, he received a lot of questions about his abs, for which I feel I should take some of the blame. After all, PITB is the internet’s go-to source for Chris Higgins’ abs.

To Higgins’ credit, he’s always been good-natured about the attention. Some of his teammates, and potential future teammates, might not be.

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Who were Ryan Kesler’s best linemates last season?

Sometimes when I get curious enough about something to investigate it, digging up statistics and putting together charts, the answer turns out to be the obvious one. Fortunately, it can also turn up some other interesting information along the way.

Here’s the question I had: which wingers were most effective with Ryan Kesler last season? One of the big questions coming into this season is who should play on the second line with Kesler, once he returns too early? David Booth seems to have his spot all sewn up, but there are many competitors for the opposite wing, including Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Zack Kassian, and Nicklas Jensen. Heck, if Shane Doan signs with the Canucks, you can add him and Alex Burrows to that list.

David Booth and Chris Higgins were Kesler’s most common linemates last season, but were they his most effective linemates? To get the answer, I did some WOWY (With Or Without You) analysis to see how Kesler performed with and without various linemates. In this case, the answer appears to be pretty definitively “yes.”

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Every Goal, 2011-12: Chris Higgins, part two

And so we come to the end of the Every Goal series with the back half of Chris Higgins’s entry, a post that bears a striking similarity to the first half.

If you read yesterday’s post, you got used to nice passes from Jannik Hansen, tips from Dan Hamhuis, and Higgins’s standout tendency to get in behind defences and be the first one on rebounds. Nothing has changed in part two. Higgins was a tried and true opportunist in 2011-12, pouncing on loose pucks, finishing off pretty passes, and cashing in on breakaways galore. It remains to be seen if he’ll get as many fortunate opportunities next season as he did last year, but once you’ve watched all 18 Higgins goals from last year, one thing’s for sure: more often than not, if he gets an opportunity, he’s going to convert.

Here are eight more times he converted.

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Every Goal, 2011-12: Chris Higgins, part one

From a production standpoint, Chris Higgins’s second season in Canucks’ colours was a pleasant surprise. When he wasn’t sitting out with an unpleasant surprise — a staph infection that was obviously a secret zombie bite — he scored 18 goals, won the hearts of many, and was awarded the Fred J. Hume Unsung Hero award for his efforts.

It’s maybe not the most aptly named trophy. Higgins was plenty sung. As perhaps the only Canuck forward to exceed expectations for the year, he won the hearts of nearly everyone. And for those of you whose hearts are not so easily won by goals, his abs were pretty popular too.

But this post isn’t about his abs. It’s about his goals. (Sorry. I recognize that some of you are disheartened, but take solace in the fact that his abs are resting comfortably under his clothes.) Enjoy the first half of Chris Higgins’s 2011-12 goal haul.

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Video: Chris Higgins talks staph infections, Amex line, abs on After Hours

Chris Higgins was the guest on Hockey Night in Canada After Hours Saturday, marking the third consecutive week that a Canuck has occupied the chair to Scott Oake’s right. March has already given us interviews with Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, and Higgins’s turn in Oake’s awkward hot seat falls somewhere between the two, neither as wacky as Bieksa’s mug-and-quip-fest, nor as dry as the Hamhuis interview.

For the most part, the talk covers ground with which the majority of Canuck fans should already be familiar: Higgins’s service family, which includes his police officer brother and his firefighter father, the American Express line being good, and Higgins’s staph infection and subsequent struggles last January. But do not dismay, Canuck fans, because if there’s one thing that sets 10 minutes with Scott Oake apart from your standard hockey interview, it’s that Oake asks the questions you’re typically not supposed to ask. In this case, that means Higgins’s After Hours clip features a solid five minutes on his crazy abs.

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How do the Canucks coaches record scoring chances?

We have known for some time that the Canucks management and coaching staff pay attention to advanced statistics, though it’s generally thought that they have their own internal analysis rather than simply using what is publicly available through Vic Ferrari’s and Gabriel Desjardins’

While Mike Gillis and the rest of his team tend to keep mum on specifics, Gillis talked about the analytical revolution in baseball when he was first hired by the Canucks and about being an unconventional manager, and there have been numerous other hints that indicate that the management team uses some form of advanced statistics. Of course, Gillis has also said that applying sabermetrics to hockey just doesn’t work. How much of that is bluster and how much is true remains to be seen.

On Monday morning, however, we did get a tiny glimpse at one of the numbers that Alain Vigneault uses to judge his players. He was asked a question about Chris Higgins and he briefly talked about scoring chances. While we’ve heard Vigneault mention scoring chances before, he actually got specific in regards to Higgins.

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Chris Higgins has stopped scoring goals (still has abs)

It’s no secret that Ryan Kesler has been struggling lately. He has just 3 points in his last 9 games and the minor foofaraw in the media over his and Alain Vigneault’s comments merely focussed attention on these struggles. To be honest, though, I’m not actually that concerned about Kesler because I am confident he can turn things around. Mike Gillis doesn’t seem concerned either.

I am, however, concerned about Chris Higgins.

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I Find This Photo Odd: Chris Higgins shows no emotion

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this picture of Chris Higgins. At first glance, it’s just a normal shot of a guy, maybe at the end of the shift, maybe just waiting for puck to drop. But on a closer examination, it becomes difficult to determine just what emotion he’s wearing on his face. It could be anything. Hunger? Thirst? Ennui? Disappointment? Jealousy? Zombiism? One simply cannot know.

But I must. And thus, I decided to splice Higgins into a handful of images, just to see if, perhaps, I could find one well-suited to his vacant stare. What follows are my best guesses.

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Chris Higgins loses his new female fanbase with gross swollen foot

Two weeks ago, Chris Higgins thrilled female (and certain male) Canucks fans by wiping his nose. While clearing nostrils of snot is not normally considered sexy – though there’s a fetish for everything I suppose – it was what he used to blow his nose and what he revealed in the process that got people excited. Higgins used the bottom of his jersey, revealing that he doesn’t wear a shirt underneath his jersey.

He also revealed that he works out.

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Chris Higgins scores goals, has abs

If I told you before the season started that, 20 games into the season, Chris Higgins would be tied with a Sedin for the team-lead in goals, you would assume I was joking. If I told you the Sedin was Henrik, you would know I was joking.

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The man they (we) call Kiss Huggins showed enough last season to earn another go-round in Vancouver, as the Canucks paid him $1.9 million to return. It will be interesting to see if he can return, as well, to Ryan Kesler’s wing. Lord knows the spot is wide open at the moment and, while Higgins struggled with his finish at times last year (some of that may have had to do with his sore hand), he showed as much or more chemistry with Kesler as anyone on the roster.

Unfortunately, it only resulted in two goals, and truthfully, I don’t care where he plays in 2012, so long as he can replicate what he does in the clips below, say, 20 more times than that. Here’s every goal Chris Higgins scored (in a Canucks uniform) in 2010-11.

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The Vancouver Canucks forwards present an interesting conundrum. Despite leading the league in goals scored, employing two Art Ross trophy winners, a Selke winner, and should-win-the-Selke-but-won’t-because-the-criteria-are-ill-defined player, the Canucks were let down in the playoffs by a fourth line that couldn’t hold their own and a lack of scoring from their second line. Losing Mikael Samuelsson, their fourth-leading scorer in the regular season, and Manny Malhotra, who would have allowed Maxim Lapierre centre the fourth line instead of the third, to injury heading into the playoffs can, perhaps, be blamed for these two areas, but there is certainly a sense that some improvement is necessary.

So what should Mike Gillis do with his forwards that are heading into unrestricted free agency? PITB is here to tell him. And you.

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Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few topics that deserve mention.

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