This past weekend I decided to run a survey involving five of my more knowledgeable hockey friends, with the caveat being that they all cheer for different teams. I sent each of them a message with one simple question attached - "what do you think of Max Lapierre?"
While the five people involved don't share the same favourite team, they managed to be on the same page in their opinion on Lapierre. I'm not going to divulge what they said, specifically, but let's just say there weren't too many positive things involved.
None of this comes as any sort of surprise to me. Lapierre is the type of player that makes you fall in love with him, as long as he's on your team. If he's playing against you, though, you probably think that he's one of the worst people alive.
Ask any Canucks fan, and chances are they'll rant and rave about him. But what is Max Lapierre worth to the Vancouver Canucks?
His skillset isn't necessarily 'sexy', and the casual fan will probably never truly appreciate all of the little things that he does for the team. And that's okay, because I'm sure both management and the coaching staff do. There are four things that he brings to the table, which need to be taken into account when discussing his importance to the team (in no particular order):
A. He plays tough minutes.
According to 'Behind The Net', Lapierre started only 22.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone last season, which was the third fewest in the entire NHL. The two players ahead of him? Teammates Manny Malhotra and Dale Weise.
Those figures shouldn't come as a surprise, but still, they are impressively low. Alain Vigneault trusted a player like Lapierre to be responsible in his own zone, in high leverage situations. That allowed the Sedins to do what they do best on the other end of the ice.
B. He takes the opposition off their game by getting under their skin.
Perhaps Lapierre's best trait is his extremely punchable face. He's constantly yapping - hence 'Yappy Lappy' - and using everything possible to rattle his opponents. It helps that he's constantly sporting a fecal-matter-eating grin on his face.
Last season, he led the Canucks in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (1.1), and took fewer penalties per 60 minutes (0.8) than the likes of Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, and Alex Burrows. In fact, he brought his penalty rate down under 1 for the first time since '09.
Is that a sign that he matured as a player? More on that below.
Amongst Canuck forwards, only Malhotra, Hansen, Kesler, and Burrows logged more time on the penalty kill this past season. His style of play is perfectly suited for killing a penalty - he's tenacious, wins puck battles, is willing to get in the way of a slapper from the point, and there's always the potential that he winds up baiting the opposition into taking a penalty to make it 4-on-4.
D. He holds his own in the circle.
Lapierre played a large role in making the Canucks the third best team in overall faceoff percentage this past season (behind Boston, and San Jose). He was 52.1% overall in the circle, which placed him in the top-35 in the entire NHL. Where he really stood out though was in the defensive zone, where he won 55% of his draws.
Let's get back to the topic of whether he matured as a player last season. It's impossible to know for sure whether he actually did, or whether last season was just a case of him being on his best behaviour. Even the people in the Canucks lockerrroom likely don't know what's truly going on in his head.
With that said, I'd like to bring up his fight totals at this time. I'm not going to sit here and further reinforce the media-driven narrative that fighting changes momentum, or influences games in any substantial way. Don't get me wrong, because I thoroughly enjoy seeing a good fight in the heat of the battle. But I also recognize its marginal value to the actual game of hockey.
Lapierre participated in 12 fights from 2007-2011. Last season alone, he had 7. That doesn't necessarily tell us anything all that significant, except for the fact that - as Jason Botchford wrote back in November - he has gone about changing the perception that fans, and players alike, had of him.
As a quick aside, I'd like to bring up my favourite Max Lapierre moment. We all remember him taunting Patrice Bergeron in the Stanley Cup Final. The best part of the following video, though, is Chris Cuthbert's analysis near the end - "Hard not to punch that, isn't it?" Hard indeed, Chris.
.With all of this in mind, what is Lapierre worth next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent?
Currently, the Canucks have five centres according to Cap Geek - Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler (out to start the year), Manny Malhotra, Andrew Ebbett, and Lapierre. It should be noted that Malhotra's contract is coming off of the books next summer, as well.
Based on contracts handed out in the recent past, Lapierre's best comparables are Jim Slater (cap hit of $1.6 million), Max Talbot ($1.75 million), Travis Moen ($1.85 million), and Adam Burish ($1.85 million). Honestly, I like Lapierre better than every single one of those guys.
Ideally, you don't want to commit to a player like Lapierre long-term. While I made the argument for his potential maturity as a player, he's still a loose cannon. Two or three years are fine, but anything longer than that is cause for concern.
If Mike Gillis could take a few moments away from fishing to sign Lapierre to something along the lines of a 3-year, $7 million deal, I'd be thrilled. He's going to help whichever team he's on, and cause havoc for the other 29 squads. Let's hope that he can continue doing the dirty work for the 'good guys' beyond next season.