What should Michel Therrien do with Thomas Vanek?

Bruce Bennett

When Thomas Vanek was acquired at the deadline by the Montreal Canadiens, the last thing people thought was that the coaching staff would run out of ways to use him, but here we are.

If you look at point totals, like most fans do, you would see that Thomas Vanek is tied for fourth on the Canadiens in points, and first for goals. You could reasonably conclude that he has had a good playoffs. You'd be wrong.

Vanek has struggled mightily in these playoffs since about Game 2 against Tampa Bay in the first round, leading to constant speculation that he's injured, though head coach Michel Therrien insists that he's healthy, whatever that's worth.

The problem has been that Vanek just hasn't been there. According to Chris Boucher at Boucher Scouting, Thomas Vanek's ratio of successful to unsuccessful plays has dropped consistently from the regular season, to the first round, to the second round, to the third round. In fact, his numbers in the first two games of the third round are the worst among all Habs forwards.

Ratios

We all know that Vanek is one-dimensional in terms of his skillset though, so if we ignore defensive responsibility, maybe he's still doing okay at the stuff he's paid to do? Well according to Boucher, nope.

Scoring_plays

Over the first two games against the Rangers, only Dale Weise has produced fewer scoring plays per minute played than Thomas Vanek. We all like Dale Weise, but he's had a brutal two games, which tells you a lot about how bad Vanek has been.

A lot of fans are getting on Michel Therrien for practice lines today that saw Vanek rotating in and out of the fourth line, but Vanek's level of play has forced Therrien's hand. He clearly can't handle the tough minutes he's playing with Plekanec, forcing that line to get stuck in their own zone consistently with bad defensive reads and not being engaged, but there's no way on earth Therrien should break up the exploitation line of Max Pacioretty with David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, who have collectively put up a 77% Corsi rating through two games against the Rangers.

The only option Therrien has left, then, is to use Vanek on the fourth line and powerplay. This allows Therrien to get Vanek away from New York's best checkers, and ice him with a shifty, creative center in Daniel Briere, on a line that has very little defensive responsibility.

An argument could be made that Therrien should have been playing Vanek on the left side this entire time, but Vanek is struggling to a point where he needs to own it, and he needs to wake up. 22 shots in 13 games isn't near enough for a player of his calibre. Rene Bourque has 44 and plays fewer minutes, far fewer on the powerplay. When you can't match Rene Bourque's intensity, something is wrong.

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