Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Quick Hits: Don't Play Zack Kassian With The Sedins

Well, at least don't have Kassian penciled in as the #1 RW on the Canucks now and in the future. Lines are fluid and guys move around all the time, and I do think that Kassian was deserving with more than the paltry 46:31 he spent at 5v5 with Henrik Sedin last year, so I'm not saying don't ever play him with the Sedins. Although I acknowledge that that's essentially what I wrote here:
But, as always, arguments about anything involve more nuance than bullshit stuff I blurt out over Twitter, so that's why I have a blog. Here, I can qualify the dumb stuff I say with significantly less dumb stuff and overall have not-dumb opinions on things. Well, that's how it's supposed to work anyways.

I digress. This is an article about Zack Kassian.

I admit, the "Zack Kassian is a playmaker" argument is very much one born from *gasp* watching the games. I see Kassian play, and I just see a guy who's more Joe Thornton than Cam Neely. That is to say he's nowhere close to either and never will be, but he just looks more comfortable as a guy with the puck on his stick looking to create offense rather than a guy with the puck off his stick looking to create mayhem and drive to "scoring areas."

I googled Zack Kassian images. It was a fantastic decision.
He'll just be playing the game, then get the puck on his stick, hang on for what feels like a second too long, then find an open passing lane (he likes hitting the weak side D pinching into the slot with a pass from the corner it seems), and you're like "shit where'd that come from?" It just looks like his particular offensive toolkit lends itself better to protecting the puck along the boards and down low and using his hands and plus-level vision to find shooting options other than himself, than it does to barging to the front of the net and hoping to jam in a rebound. I mean, his struggles away from the puck are the part of the game that have so far been maligned by his coaches, so why does it make sense to play away from the puck more often?

Kassian is not known for his shrewd decision making without the puck.
It's also worth noting that Kassian and Henrik Sedin were unusually poor together on the ice last year, posting just a 48.1% Corsi. Barring injuries, the Sedins are still elite possession players and still among the most effective 5v5 players in the NHL, so I doubt that number would remain that low over a larger sample. Still, Henrik has traditionally been better off without Kassian on his RW than with him.

"Oh god Henrik I am so sorry."
It also shouldn't really come as a surprise that Kassian probably found his best success as a Canuck when paired with David Booth. Stylistically, Booth and Kassian couldn't really be more different - Booth is a serious shoot-first play-driving winger who I suspect is dynamite through the neutral zone. Booth is good at freeing up pucks, and he is good at going into high-traffic areas without the puck in hope of hacking and whacking away. Essentially, he's everything that every coach who's ever had Zack Kassian wants Kassian to play like. Chip and chase, go to the net, compete, etc. etc.

"David's gone...? Is he ever coming back?"
The two most important points to make about Zack Kassian last year though are as follows:

  • He was deployed in a very unfavourable role in terms of offensive production. Between Brad Richardson and a 43.3% ZoneStart rate, Kassian's deployment was primarily defensive for some reason, which seems like an odd use of assets to say the least if you're concerned about his D. One would think that Torts would use him like Bruce Boudreau used Pat Maroon if there was a legitimate concern about Kassian's defensive game. Here's Kassian's PUC from last year:
Since Kassian is capable of offence relatively on his own, it may not be the best idea to play him with the Sedins at even strength. There's not really a stylistic fit there as they're all pass-first guys, and Vancouver is kinda shallow in terms of offensive punch up front. I would prefer to see Kassian on a second line with a play-driver like Alex Burrows and hope that Nick Bonino is legit and not a PDO mirage and try someone like Linden Vey at 1RW to try and spread the wealth around a bit.

*goes to proofread post*
*about to hit "Publish"*

Well now, this whole argument is kinda moot. Vrbata is a bona-fide top-line RW who's a shoot-first guy. Since 2011, his Goals/60 is good for 45th in the NHL, nearly identical to Alex Burrows. He wasn't as good this past season, but, much like Burrows, that's largely percentage-related as he shot just 5.11% at ES. His Shots/60 was fairly constant with his career norms this past year, while his individual shot attempts actually saw a jump.

Vrbata's also an elite shot producer and a better PP scorer than Ryan Kesler traditionally has been. This acquisition should insulate Kassian a bit at RW, and provide a better fit for Daniel and Henrik than Kassian would. At the end of the day though, Kassian is likely a legitimate top-6 forward, and deserving of better deployments, more talented linemates, and hopefully, hopefully, some PP time as well.


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