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Who Should be Skating with the Sedins?

Vancouver sucks right now. That much is painfully obvious as I write this, watching them grind out a 1-0 win over Nashville. Boring, uninspired hockey appears to have become their trademark, interspersed with the occasional offensive push from newcomers Bo Horvat and Markus Granlund. They lack any offensive punch and are saddled with a mediocre blueline led by an aging, fragile Swede whose best days are almost definitely behind him. In fact that statement could be generally applied to the team as a whole. Much as I have loved watching the Sedins play over the years, it's fast approaching time that they were pensioned off. Of course they won't be - they're going to retire here, as well they should if that's what they want to do. Entering the final year of their contracts, it's more about squeezing as many points out of them as possible next season. In order to do that, the puzzle of who to play on the right wing with them needs to be solved.

The Loui Eriksson acquisition was framed as the perfect solution to this problem. A mobile Swede who found moderate success in Boston when paired with fellow countryman Carl Soderberg, it just seemed to make sense. Unfortunately, the chemistry simply hasn't been there so far and this line hasn't been nearly as effective as many had hoped. Certainly, Willie's sometimes strange matchups and juggling of lines may have contributed to this lack of offensive punch, but still the fact remains - the Sedins still haven't found that third wheel that actually works.

This got me thinking: who <b>should</b> be playing with the twins? Which player could actually make this work? Which also got me thinking: who <b>has</b> made this work in the past? Then I remembered the playoff run in 2010-11, where Alex Burrows played lights-out with the Sedins, propelling the team to within sniffing distance of the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately today's Burrows is a shadow if 2010 Alex Burrows - we are all human after all, and age wearies the best of us. So I thought I'd take a look at his numbers in 2010-11, and see if I could generate a list of rough comparables over the last few seasons.

First I jumped on over to puckalytics to grab some goals and corsi numbers. I got Burrows for 2010-11, then I grabbed the average values for all forwards over the last 3 years (2014-2016). I only included players with more than 500 minutes of ice-time in this extract. I also only considered 5v5 stats, as considering more complex game situations was a rabbit-hole I didn't want to fall down. My reasoning was that I'd compute a simple distance metric for all current forwards against Burrows in 2010-2011, and the closest players would have the best chance of finding success with the Sedins. Not exactly scientific, and doesn't account for quality of opposition or quality of linemates, but let's see who shows up - just for fun. I also grabbed each players current salary data from capfriendly, just to see how much Vancouver would have to spend to get someone useful. The results were very interesting. I've included the top 25 likely candidates below.

The first thing that struck me? The elite company that 2010 Burrows keeps. Being compared to current-day Brandon Saad, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Tarasenko in terms of goals and corsi is fairly impressive. Not to mention being within spitting distance of Toews, Malkin and Crosby. 2010 Burrows was good. In order to snare any of the top three on the list you'd have to give up an embarrassment of riches. Young talent like this doesn't come cheap and the rebuilding Canucks would understandably be loathe to part with any of their developing core. The other thing that struck me is that Loui actually nearly cracked the top 20. This speaks to the fact that maybe it's the way in which Willie has been deploying the 31-year-old Swede that is the issue, rather than a lack of talent or chemistry with the twins.

In terms of who the Canucks could or should acquire from this list, realistically the pickings are slim. Per capfriendly, the Canucks are projected to have approximately zero cap space next year, based on players currently under contract - plus they're still flushing $1.6M per year down the toilet in the form of retained salary on the abhorrent Luongo deal and the Higgins demotion (and potential buyout). Someone like a Patrick Eaves or Michael Raffl might be a low-cost, low-risk move, but beyond that, the ask will likely be far too high. If anything, this simple analysis convinced me that the Eriksson acquisition was a prudent move - one that Willie seems to seems to be undermining with some strange roster decisions.

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