Canucks’ blue line ready for prime time
Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler and newcomer Jason Garrison make up experienced, goal-scoring top four
VANCOUVER — Kevin Bieksa, elder statesman. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Bieksa isn’t so sure.
“I’m still a young guy, though,” protests Bieksa, who turns 32 in June. “I haven’t really thought about that. But I guess with Sami (Salo) gone I am the oldest guy. Dan (Hamhuis) is not too far behind me, though. He just turned 30 last month and he acts a little bit older than I do, too.”
All kidding aside, the Canucks do appear to have a seriously good defensive corps. With the addition of free agent Jason Garrison, their top four are all in their prime and all have strong two-way games.
There may not be a top four in the NHL that will pile up more points this season than the Canuck foursome of Bieksa, Garrison, Hamhuis and Alex Edler. And with some significant holes up front due to injuries to forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth, that offensive contribution from the defence will be most welcome.
“I think on any given night any one of us can contribute offensively,” says Garrison, the White Rock native who scored 16 goals last season with the Florida Panthers. “That is key. Last year, I know a lot of offence came from their point and continuing on it has to be the same thing, We have to get up in the play and get shots to the net. I think everyone on the back end is capable of doing that.”
Edler, Bieksa and Hamhuis all proved that last year. Edler potted 49 points, Bieksa added 44 and Hamhuis chipped in 37.
“I think our top three were the highest scoring defencemen in the league combined, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” Bieksa says. “I think your defence has to contribute these days because it is so hard to score goals and there is such an awareness around the league for teams to be responsible defensively. You need that second, third wave coming. We did it last year and we will be looking to do again without sacrificing in our end.”
Depth is another reason the Canucks are high on their defence this season. Besides their top four, the Canucks have five other defencemen with NHL experience.
“I think we a have a very well-rounded group of defencemen,” says Hamhuis. “You can go all the way down our top nine right now and all the guys can play on both sides of the puck, are very responsible defensively and every guy has unique gifts offensively, too, whether it’s puck-moving or skating well with the puck or shooting the puck well. There are a lot of tools, qualities and skills that our defence has.”
The key to this shortened season will be keeping everyone healthy. The Canucks added free agent veterans Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer as insurance earlier this week and seem well stocked at the position.
“We’re confident,” Bieksa says. “We know that injuries are going to be a huge part of the season and if guys happen to go down we have confidence in a number of guys, three or four guys, to step in and fill that void.
“We’re not a group that relies on one or two guys, I think we rely on all six that are in the lineup at any given time. Everyone has got their roles and they do them well. Probably the biggest thing is everyone is versatile and can fill different roles.”
Garrison replaces Sami Salo, who signed last summer with the Tampa Bay Lightning. As reliable a performer as Salo was in his nine seasons with the Canucks, Garrison may in fact be an upgrade. For starters, he is 10 years younger than Salo and should still be getting better.
Coach Alain Vigneault certainly likes what he has seen so far from Garrison.
“He is a player that I didn’t have a read on because we didn’t see Florida very much,” Vigneault says. “I had heard a tremendous amount of great things from people who knew him personally, people who had played with him and he got nothing but great reviews from our players who were practising here before the start of the training camp. And I can honestly say he has lived up to the billing. He’s got a real good stick, real good work ethic and he’s got a cannon for a shot. I really think we’ve got someone real solid there.”
“I think it just solidifies the pairings,” Bieksa says of the addition of Garrison. “Sometimes you have to switch up the pairings, but it’s also good to keep them the same and develop some chemistry. If he and Alex can find some chemistry it just solidifies a lot of things.”
Edler is being moved over to the right side to make room for his new partner, Garrison.
“It is a combination we would like to stick with and if it plays up to what we believe it will it is going to be a real solid duo,” Vigneault said.
The Canucks clearly hope their defence continues to get better with age, even if some of the key components are now north of 30.
“I’m still young to be the oldest guy on the defence,” Bieksa says with a laugh. “Luckily there are a lot of old forwards like Manny (Malhotra) and the (Sedin) twins and Louie (Roberto Luongo) is still here. He’s a lot older than I am.”
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