When Christian Ehrhoff signed his vault-bursting deal with the Buffalo Sabres last offseason, many wondered where that left Vancouver’s blueline point production.
Early into the 2011-2012 campaign, cue Alexander Edler and Sami Salo. They have been the Canucks’ back end offensive backbone in the first eleven matchups, combining for 17 of the 24 total points posted by defencemen – four more than the 20 the team had at this point in the 2010-2011 season.
The duo is on pace for 67 and 60 points respectively, and while it’s more than fair to suggest that Salo will miss that mark due to whatever injury lottery he undoubtedly wins, both d-men have never had a greater opportunity to put up their first fifty-point seasons. This is largely in part to them seeing more time on the powerplay, where their three PP markers (Salo with two, Edler the other) are already half of Ehrhoff’s total for last year.
The departure of number 5 opened a slot for Edler on the top unit, and the trading of PP quarterback Mikael Samuelsson opened up Edler’s right side, where Salo has fit in seamlessly while making room for rookie Cody Hodgson on the alternate unit.
As a result, both Edler and Salo have seen increased powerplay TOI averages over this season, with the former leading all team defencemen in that category as well as all skaters in overall icetime (4:15, 23:34/G), while the latter is the beneficiary of over an additional minute/game on the man advantage with 2:58/G, up from 1:54 last year. The key point behind these stats is that the big Swede and Finn duo’s 100mph cannons have been capitalizing (all too literally for Washington fans) on every opportunity they’ve encountered and show no sign of waning. Good news for Canucks fans, bad news for the NHL’s collective ribcage.
So, with Ehrhoff out of the way, the question now becomes whether or not the Nordic Armada can continue to produce at this pace.
Sami Salo is going to get injured sometime this season, that’s just a hockey axiom. 4.6 & 4.5 million dollar defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis are going to have to increase their offensive totals, and considering that they missed 34 games between them in the last campaign, 30 points apiece shouldn’t be hard to come by. In fact, if Bieksa can lean a little harder on the stay-at-home Hamhuis, a return to a 40-point year is definitely in the mix and will more than cover for Ehrhoff’s absence. General Manager Mike Gillis just needs to somehow convince him that he’s actually due for a new contract next year, and that this year’s signing was just practice.
At this point, Vancouver’s top-four defencemen look like a lock to score at least 140 points, and with the emergence of newcomer Alexander Sulzer as a viable and reliable (and perhaps most importantly, German – but don’t tell that to Marco Sturm) option, anything he and the still-struggling-but-looking-stronger Keith Ballard can add is gravy.
Like Raffi Torres says, the Canucks have 99 problems but defence ain’t one.