Every Goal, 2012-13: Maxim Lapierre

It wasn’t the best of seasons for Maxim Lapierre. The third line centreman’s job was his to lose from the moment the club shut down Manny Malhotra, and while he never formally lost it, he did little to show the Canucks he should have it. He just seemed a little off all season, and he wound up bouncing back and forth between lines three and four without ever really cementing a role.

Still, he scored four goals. (and a half, reminds Jason Brough, since his shootout winner versus Columbus was the closest thing we got to a goal on that night.)

Lapierre may be gone, now a member of the St. Louis Blues, but he’s not forgotten. He can’t be, because we have yet to do his entry in the Every Goal series. So let’s get to that.

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Canucks need Lapierre to channel his inner Malhotra

Judging by their lines at practice on Thursday, the Canucks will be loading up their second line, bumping Ryan Kesler to the wing and moving Derek Roy up to second line centre, with Chris Higgins rounding out the trio.

It’s easy to understand why: the Canucks struggled to create any sustained offensive pressure in the first game of the series. Creating a stacked top-six is a simple solution, though it remains to be seen how effective it will be. Kesler, Roy, and Higgins certainly had their moments when they were matched up during the regular season and it creates some difficult decisions for the Sharks defensively.

The only problem is what it does to the bottom half of the Canucks’ lineup. Without Roy centring the third line, that duty falls to Maxim Lapierre, who will be joined by Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond. In theory, that should be a speedy, defensively responsible line that can create problems on the forecheck, but Lapierre is coming off a fairly mediocre season.

The Canucks need more from Lapierre if they’re going to succeed in the playoffs. They need him to be an enabler. They need him to be Manny Malhotra.

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Lapierre might want to start mouthing off again; looking at the Canucks’ penalty plus/minus

Prior to the start of this season, Maxim Lapierre suggested that he was going to be chirping opponents a lot less when he was on the ice. For the most part, it seems like he’s followed through so far. He’s been avoiding most of the scrums and has only gotten yappy a few times at the bench.

It’s been important for Lapierre to stay focussed on his play: with Ryan Kesler out of the lineup and the announcement that Manny Malhotra is done for the season, Lapierre has been relied upon more at centre than ever before. He’s had to take a lot of faceoffs, particularly in the defensive zone. He’s currently second on the Canucks in total faceoffs, behind Henrik Sedin.

Shutting his mouth has seemed to have an unintended negative consequence: he’s not drawing anywhere near as many penalties. Unfortunately, he’s still taking his share of penalties so, overall, is putting the Canucks on the penalty kill more often than he’s putting them on the powerplay.

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Five options for Vancouver’s third-line centre vacancy

For a brief, fleeting moment, centre was a position of strength for the Canucks. With the acquisition of Maxim Lapierre at the 2011 trade deadline, the Canucks were perfectly structured down the middle of the ice: Henrik Sedin, the super-skilled all-star Art Ross winner, on the top line; Ryan Kesler, the two-way power forward coming into his own as a sniper, on the second line; Manny Malhotra, the defence-first enabler, on the third line; Lapierre, the defensively-responsible agitator, on the fourth.

The Canucks even had Cody Hodgson, full of promise, waiting in the wings. Life was good in Centresville.

That’s when a malfeasant puck made a beeline for Malhotra’s eye, ruined everything, then went on to a starring role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Malhotra returned in the playoffs, he wasn’t the same player and that continued in the 2011-12 season. While he still played a vital defensive role, Malhotra’s ice time was much-diminished and it was apparent that he simply wasn’t as effective as he had been prior to the injury.

Hodgson, for his part, made good on several elements of his promise, but left Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis wanting on the defensive side of the puck (and the patriarchal side of Hodgson’s family), leading to a trade out of town. In his place came Samme Pahlsson, who came with defensive acclaim, but didn’t live up it. Now he’s gone back to Sweden, leaving the position unoccupied.

When you add the fact that Ryan Kesler is definitely, totally injured and absolutely still recovering, no question about it, to the mix, the middle of the ice looks positively capacious for the Canucks. Utility forward Andrew Ebbett might be a stopgap, but what are the Canucks’ options for a season-long solution? Here are 5 of them:

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Every Goal, 2011-12: Maxim Lapierre

Maxim Lapierre was a different player for the Canucks last season than the one they acquired at the trade deadline the year prior. It was partially his doing, as he committed to fighting his own battles more often and bringing more energy. But it was also partially due to his usage, as the Canucks deployed him primarily as a winger.

It was a bit of a head-scratcher, as Lapierre acquitted himself quite well as the third line centre during the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. You’d have thought he proved himself as a centre in Vigneault’s system. But with a handful of other centres to accomodate, it wasn’t hard to see why Vigneault moved him to wing.

It wasn’t hard to see why Vigneault liked him at wing either. He was effective, causing turnovers, creating scoring chances, and succeeding regardless of what line he landed on. At one point, Lapierre was on pace for 10 fights and 10 goals. He didn’t quite get there, but 8 fights and 9 goals is nothing to sneeze at.

Come to think of it, it’s rude to sneeze at pretty much anything. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Anyway, here’s every goal Maxim Lapierre scored last season.

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Maxim Lapierre totally lied to Vigneault to get in the shootout

While Maxim Lapierre picks up a few goals every season, he isn’t exactly known for his scoring. So it may have seemed odd to see him come out as the first shooter in Saturday’s shootout against the Colorado Avalanche. After all, scoring in the shootout had already been a struggle for the Canucks; how was sending out a fourth-line energy forward going to make things better?

So why did Alain Vigneault choose Lapierre? Simple. Lapierre lied to him.

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With free agency looming on July 1st, Mike Gillis still has some work ahead of him before he can take a brief vacation. We have already taken a look at the unrestricted free agent defensemen and forwards from the Canucks roster, and they will certainly be his first priority, but there are a few restricted free agents that will need to receive qualifying offers or raises. While the danger of losing any of these RFAs to another team in free agency is minimal as the team can match any offer sheet, such offer sheets can drive up the price of these players, making it more difficult to work within the salary cap.

Two of the Canucks’ RFAs were important contributors to their playoff run and will certainly require some attention prior to July 1st: Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.

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So what kind of Canucks’ blog goes two days between posts with a Stanley Cup hanging in the balance?  Well, this one.  And for that we apologize.  But these are almost unprecedented times, and Friday’s game left us a little speechless.  And our weekend at Hockey Night in Canada’s “Play-On 4 on 4″ street hockey tourney had [...]

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