Analyzing the Canucks’ defense acquisitions

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Editorials,San Jose Sharks,Vancouver Canucks on August 30, 2009 — 1 Comment

The recent moves by the Vancouver Canucks to add defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich via trade and Mathieu Schneider via free agency stole the NHL spotlight at the end of last week.

First off, I’m thankful that something hockey–not law–related was actually at the forefront of all hockey webpages around the world.  For the first time in a while, an NHL story can actually be analyzed for its on-ice merits. 

With that said, let’s analyze the Canucks’ recent acquisitions.  Before analyzing each player, let’s set forth their respective contracts. (The figures are courtesy of NHLnumbers.com)

Mathieu Schneider: 1 year on his contract at $1.55 million.

Christian Ehrhoff: 2 years remaining on his contract;  2009/10–$3.15 and 2010/2011–$3.4.

Brad Lukowich: 1 year remaining on his contract at $1.8 million.

It certainly says something about the current free agent market when Brad Lukowich is actually going to make more money than Mathieu Schneider.  That aside, the three acquistions didn’t really cost the Canucks much–aside from money cap room and two lower-tier prospects.

In Schneider, the Canucks get a player who has obviously seen his best days; however, that does not mean that Schneider cannot be a helpful player on the Canucks’ back-end.  Schneider brings tremendous puck-moving skills, specifically an ability to effectively quarterback the power play.  In 23 games with Montreal last season, the veteran American blueliner tallied an impressive 17 points (14 of which were on the power play).  Additionally, he logged over 20 minutes of action per night. 

While he doesn’t possess the defensive ability he once did–nor the mobility–his smarts, along with the number of Canucks’ defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart (Mitchell, Bieksa, Edler) who can eat up the tough minutes against the opposition’s more talented and challenging offensive players, makes this a very astute signing.

In Ehrhoff, the Canucks have added a two-way defenseman who possesses solid offensive skills and sometimes questionable defensive skills.  His 42 points in 77 games was an impressive total for the 27 year old defenseman.  Unfortunately, Ehrhoff was -12 for the Sharks last season, which was 15 +/- points lower than the next worst Sharks defenseman (Alexei Semenov +3).  So while his offense took a step forward last season, his defense took a step back.  In Vancouver he’ll be counted on to help the team’s speed and size on the back-end, but if he continues to struggle in his own zone, his playing time will be limited to less time than he saw in San Jose.  If that is the case, he’ll prove to be overpaid.

As for Lukowich, the Canucks are getting a smooth skating veteran defenseman who knows his role and can adequately fill in if need be.  On the Canucks, Lukowich figures to slot in behind Salo, Bieksa, Edler, Schneider, Mitchell and Ehrhoff on the depth chart.  Additionally, the team has Aaron Rowe and Shane O’Brien on the back-end, so Lukowich should see himself as the 7th/8th defenseman on the team.  Luckily, the 33 year old B.C. native is a profesional player and should be a solid addition to the locker room.  His skating is his biggest asset and his defensive awareness is solid, but he won’t be counted on by the Canucks who boast a deep defense corps.

All in all, the Canucks have done well to shore up the team’s defensive depth.  Clearly GM Mike Gillis figured he could not count on Sami Salo to play a whole season and saw the opportunity to create team competition for defensive playing time, as well as an ability to get younger (Ehrhoff) and more skilled (Ehrhoff and Schneider) on the back-end.  Obviously helping the team’s middle-of-the-road power play (17th in the NHL) was a factor too.

Give Gillis a thumbs-up for these moves; however, something tells me the move for Schneider will be more significant than the move for Ehrhoff and Lukowich.