On Jason Garrison, AV’s dog mansion, and why the defence pairs saw the blender

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.

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How long will the Canucks’ current defence pairings last?

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.

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Drance Numbers: Did the Canucks really change after the Boston game?

There were plenty of interesting statements in Mike Gillis’s epic season wrapup press conference Tuesday morning, but one of the most jarring came in response to the very first question posed to him by the press. To kick things off, David Ebner of The Globe & Mail asked Gillis when the “issues” that ultimately led to the Canucks’ early exit first began to surface.

As a disciple of the extremist “Church of Hockey Math” (trademark, Blake Price), I’m always skeptical of a statement that lends this much power to an “intangible” force like “collective team emotion.” It’s a pretty dubious claim when you stop to think about it: a veteran team, one of the league’s best over the past two seasons, saw their season derailed by a regular-season win in early January?

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So how’s that Cody Hodgson trade working out for Vancouver?

While the swap of two high-end rookies isn’t exactly the sort of thing that can be assessed in a month, the early returns in the shocking trade deadline deal that sent Cody “Dr. Headson” Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack “Mama” Kassian don’t flatter the Canucks.

On the surface, there’s enough there for Sabres blog Sabre Noise to take a cursory glance at the production of the two men since the trade and call it — brace yourselves — a fleecing for Buffalo. Kassian’s been toothless (both figuratively and literally) since arriving in Vancouver. Until his assist on March 30 bumped his point total to 3, his production since the trade matched Cory Schneider’s. Meanwhile, Hodgson has a much sexier 8 points, all of which have come since being promoted to a line with Thomas Vanek 8 games ago.

But the Canucks were well aware that Cody was light years ahead of Kassian offensively. At the end of February, Cody had 33 points to Kassian’s 7. Coaching and management’s concern was that, without some serious sheltering, Hodgson’s defensive deficiencies would undermine his production and make Vancouver easier to play against in the playoffs.

It would appear that these concerns were justified.

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Vancouver fans are flying high after last night’s 6-2 shellacking of the hated (and objectively evil) Chicago Blackhawks, and understandably so. While the Canucks have alternated hot or cold like they’ve been treating a sinus headache (or stimulating a nipple) for the first month and a half of the season, they put in a hot sixty minutes in Chicago, where cold performances are infuriating and common.

Still, while almost everything was coming up roses for the Canucks, it’s tough to miss that, in a 6-2 win, former Floridians David Booth and Keith Ballard both somehow managed to finish at minus-2.

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It’s very easy to look at the Canucks’ 2-3-1 start and place a large portion of blame on their goaltender, Roberto Luongo. After all, his 3.70 GAA and .856 SV% places him near the bottom of the league. This is one of those cases, however, where the stats don’t tell the whole story. The defensive breakdowns in front of the Canucks’ goaltenders have been a major contributor to the Canucks’ struggles so far and it’s clear that the coaching staff is thinking the same thing.

The juggling of defence pairings has begun in earnest, as even last season’s stalwart duo of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, or HamJuice as they’re affectionately known, have been split up. The reasoning is simple: the Canucks just don’t have enough right side defencemen.

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