They’ve managed to get by thus far, but that’s more of an indictment against the general state of the Pacific Division than anything else.
It’s been a grind throughout, there’s no doubt about it, but a couple of factors have kept the team afloat beyond just the aforementioned landscape around them. The goaltending has held up admirably despite the frequency with which they’ve been called upon to bail out the skaters in front of them. The .930 even strength save percentage which Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom have combined for is good for 12th in the league, a noticeable improvement from the 24th ranked .916 they were at in 2014-15.
Up front it’s once again been the Sedins doing much of the heavy lifting. Even though they should in theory already be getting long in the tooth as top of the roster contributors, they’ve managed to continue to defy the odds. In their age-35 season they’ve once again exhibited the uncanny ability of turning everything they touch to gold as soon as it steps on the ice with them.
For much of the season that honour has been bestowed upon Jannik Hansen, who aside from the usual suspects has been one of the more notable bright spots through the first half of the season. Taking full advantage of a regular opportunity to flank them on their right wing, he appears poised to shatter all of the career highs he’d previously set for himself all across the board.
The list of players that have thrived in that particular cushy role over the years has been extensive. From Anson Carter, to Taylor Pyatt, to Alex Burrows and most recently Radim Vrbata, the trademark bump in production which the Sedins have given their linemate has been very real. So while someone like Jannik Hansen drawn the ire of Canucks fans over the years with his perceived struggles as a finisher - particularly on breakaways - it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he too has been exceedingly successful during the occasions in which he’s been bumped up to the top line himself. That predates even this season, going all the way back to the year he broke into the NHL as a regular:
All of those have trends have continued to hold true to form in the roughly 275 minutes they’ve played together so far in 2015-16. In relative terms, when the three of them have been on the ice the Canucks as a team have been in the black in shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals. In the times where he’s been relegated to duty lower on the depth chart playing with less talented players, his rate stats have plummeted across the board. That’s in part due to a more defensively-oriented deployment, though it does suggest that he’s still more of a passenger than a driver.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. A lot of a player’s success in this league is determined by how he responds to the opportunities he’s given. Hansen has surely made the most of his this season, considering he’s currently producing at a rate that would have him topping both the 20 goal mark and 40 point plateau for the first time as an NHLer. While those raw figures may not necessarily seem overwhelmingly impressive on the surface, it’s worth noting that those totals have all exclusively come at even strength without the benefit of any man advantage success. At five-on-five he’s currently tied for 11th in goals with the likes of Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau, and Mike Cammalleri and 19th in points with Jaromir Jagr, Joe Pavelski, and Sean Monahan. Seeing as the Canucks are currently 23rd in five-on-five goals, they’ve needed every single one of those from him.
That’s tremendous company to be in, though the sustainability of it moving forward is worth questioning. To this point 12.2% of the shots his team has taken at five-on-five have found their way to the back of the net, which is due for a regression back into the single digits. Similarly the 16.2% he’s personally shooting himself likely won’t continue based on the 10.4% career rate he had coming into the season. Spikes in both of those categories tend to portray a player in the best light possible, but we know by now that generally speaking it’s a fool’s errand to expect it to continue over the long haul.
With that being said context is king, and if he continues being fed minutes next to the Sedins it seems reasonable to adjust the baseline we can expect from him a notch up from where during previous points of his career. Willie Desjardins has been known to bring out the blender for his forward lines during his tenure behind the bench in Vancouver, meaning it’s anyone’s guess as to how long this run will last for Hansen. Whether it’s Vrbata, Burrows, or someone else, it seems entirely plausible that we see someone else in that seat at some point this season.
When that does happen Hansen’s value will still be there based on his effectiveness as a penalty killer, his versatility as an even strength contributor, and the team-friendly figure he’s locked up at until 2018. But for now, he’s riding this offensive wave placed in front of him towards a career year. His worth these days is unquestionably higher than it’s been at any other point in the past. That provides the team with some potentially intriguing options moving forward, which is a positive development for a Canucks team that’s needed those wherever they can get them this season.