Travis Green and the Canucks have been without Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle since November 12 and November 21, respectively. They have missed a combined 17 games and while neither player is necessarily a key component to the success of the team, losing two centers at the same time is going to take a toll on any team’s lineup.
Sutter is making progress with his strained groin and Jay Beagle seems to be improving based on his ability to skate, although his injury is much more ambiguous. Despite the progress, neither has yet to take part in a full-contact practice or morning line rushes prior to a game.
With the Canucks light schedule this week, the next opportunity to return from injury is on Saturday against the Sabres. Of the two, Sutter seems closer to returning based on the fact that Green wouldn’t rule Sutter out of Sunday’s game against the Oilers when he was asked earlier this week.
Every team battles injuries and while it’s preferred that it’s not your core players who miss time, it still hurts to lose depth pieces at the same position.
Sutter and Beagle are two players who are more like it to be appreciated inside the locker room than outside. Travis Green’s post-game remarks touched on the fact that younger players in his lineup were rattled by the Penguins’ surge, causing him to take a timeout to settle down. He also mentioned that the team has been lacking veteran leadership over the last stretch of games. Although he never mentioned Sutter or Beagle by name, the implication was clear and their significance to Travis Green was apparent.
The Canucks couldn’t hold on to a rather sizeable lead in Pittsburgh the other night, and Green likely would have leaned on the two veteran centres heavily in the third period. Situations like that one are going to arise again, and when it comes to closing out leads, the return of Beagle and/or Sutter is likely to help their efforts.
Evolving-Hockey’s RAPM statistic, which accounts for zone starts, quality of opponents, quality of teammates and more, is arguably the best way to measure a player’s isolated impact on play.
Sutter and Beagle’s RAPM charts prior to their injuries indicate that they were playing reasonably well for third and fourth liners.
They aren’t blowing the lights out by any means, but when you consider that league average is the 0 mark and that you would expect bottom-six centers to be below it, it’s clear both centres have held their own so far at even-strength.
The slightly more important statistics here are the xGF/60 (expected goals for per 60) and xGA/60 (expected goals against per 60). This is because expected goals statistics do a better job of incorporating the quality of shots they are taking and giving up and are the best predictors of future performance. We can see that both players are doing well enough in the expected goals department.
Those numbers are certainly an improvement over the last three seasons, as you can see below.
If they can manage to come back from injury and pick up where they left off, it will be a welcome sight for Green and his staff. Keeping up that level of play may prove to be a difficult task, however, as both centres were playing above their heads to start the year. Returning from an injury is also always difficult, especially when it’s a strained groin.
We also have to consider that in the absence of Sutter and Beagle, the Canucks have mostly used Adam Gaudette and Tyler Graovac as their third and fourth line centers respectively.
Their results in a small sample have been better than one might expect, considering their histories. Since Sutter’s injury, Gaudette has hit the scoresheet with 4 goals and 3 assists in 10 games while averaging 13:23 TOI. Graovac has 2 goals in his 8 games while averaging 6:16 TOI.
Gaudette has filled in very well on the scoresheet and Graovac has done a commendable job considering expectations, but they haven’t been fully trusted by Green replace the 27:08 combined minutes per game that Sutter and Beagle logged.
The time spent killing penalties may be the biggest void left by Sutter and Beagle, and one that Gaudette and Graovac haven’t able to fill. Neither of the two stepped in to play shorthanded minutes, which is certainly something Green will look forward to getting back upon the return of the two veterans.
Their return will also mean more of a manageable load for Bo Horvat, who admirably picks up the slack whenever there’s an injury in the bottom-six. It’s not something that’s new for Horvat, but it undoubtedly wears on any player.
He has seen a dramatic increase in faceoffs, PK time and overall TOI. Prior to the Sutter injury, Horvat average 19:01 minutes per game. Following the injury, he saw that increase to 23:05 and has eclipsed the 27-minute mark once as well.
If the Canucks are able to insert a healthy Sutter and Beagle into the lineup when they play the Sabres on Saturday, it will come as a relief to Horvat and the coaching staff, who have missed their veteran leadership, ability to eat up shorthanded minutes and sound defensive play.