Monday, January 07, 2013

The Higgins-Ebbett-and-Booth effect

Fist pump with my Sunday morning coffee.  It's over.  Cue the angelic chorus... The endless tweets.

Cue the renewed storylines that everyone has an opinion on by now.  When and where will Luongo go?  Is Schneider a capable NHL starter?  What's Kesler timeline?  How many goals will Garrison score?  No doubt, these questions are crucially intertwined with any continued success the Canucks hope to have come glorious puck drop.  With the lockout preventing these storylines from actually playing out, the anticipation has compounded.

But behind every headline are the unsung stories that could ultimately mean just as much for a team.  Case in point: It is unlikely that after acquiring Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne last off-season, Los Angeles fans had any idea that their most important player that year, far and away, would end up being Jonathan Quick.

So while we'll justifiably continue our anticipation of the trade, don't forget these next three storylines (in no particular order) that you may not have given as much consideration thus far.

Andrew Ebbett to the rescue

Last season, Ebbett competed for a job that no one hoped he'd win against Cody Hodgdson.  Indeed, that two-man race ended with him spending the majority of the campaign in a suit and tie.  While Hodgson was an immediate hit, little attention was paid to Ebbett's success when he did figure into the lineup.  Granted, it's not the biggest sample size, but in the 18 games he played last season, he was on pace for 22 goals.  Needless to say, that would be a welcome pace with Kesler out of the lineup.

Barring a significant asset at centre in exchange for Lu, it appears the diminutive forward is a lock for opening night this time around.  Though he'll be competing with yet another rookie hopeful for second line duty, Ebbett's experience seems to give him a clear edge over Jordan Schroeder.  Let the vertically-challenged battle begin.

Chris Higgins' contract year

If you're going to write about a Canuck entering a contract year, most people want to talk about Alex Edler.  But seeing as we're trying to unearth the upcoming season's unsung stories, what better player to start with than 2012 "unsung hero" Chris Higgins.

After playing a supporting role as a deadline acquisition in 2011, the Canucks rewarded him with a two-year, $3.8 million deal.  Higgins returned the favour with a nearly identical points-per-game (0.61) and cap hit ($1.9 million) combination as Burrows' (0.65 at $2 million).  That said, Higgins was literally just as much of a bargain as Burr was last season, which says a lot.  And just as the Picourt, Quebec-native cashed in with a four-year, $18 million deal last September, Higgins is also due for a raise, should he maintain his pace.  (Mind you, I doubt anyone expects Gillis to pattern a similar deal for him.)

For that reason, expect the utility winger to play with the same urgency he showed last year, pre-bacterial infection and all that general unpleasantness.  That's good news for the Canucks, who are a  better team with Higgins, who – when healthy – seems to be their most consistent forward.

David Booth's secondary scoring

Way back in July, when lockouts were not yet part of our daily vocabulary, BTD ran an article about Booth holding the unlikely key to Canucks success in 2012–13.  With Kesler out long-term, the former 40-goal star-in-the-making would be the highest-profile forward not named Sedin or, arguably, Burrows on the team.  As such, he would shoulder the burden of secondary scoring.

Fast forward six months and the story remains unchanged.  Unlike Higgins, Booth is no good to the Canucks in the bottom-six and he is no bargain.  Gillis put him in a Vancouver uniform to score goals and he'll pay him at least $4.5 million for three more years to do so.

While a mediocre Booth isn't absolutely detrimental to the Canucks, a lot more of this will go a long way.  How long?  Put it this way.  The 2010–11 Canucks showed the league that having two elite goal-scorers in front of a stocked back-end is a nearly unstoppable combination.  If/when Kesler returns, imagine what they could do with three 40-goal scorers playing in top form.  That said, there is a lot riding on Booth living up to his cap hit.

Maybe even a Stanley Cup.


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