This year we’re going to start
by looking at two Pacific Division rivals before we get to the Flames,
particularly two teams the Flames may well end up battling to try and secure a
playoff position in addition to being old and bitter rivals.
We’ll begin with an objective review of the Canucks to see
where they might land this coming season.
For those new to this
series my method is this: Using at least three seasons (improvising when
necessary) I extrapolate a number of games played, shooting percentage and
points per game adjusted for age, deployment, strength of team and development
curve of player. From that I will estimate points and compare that with the
previous season to act as a control measure against runaway numbers. I will
then use Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammate to determine how a
player may be best used and their expected deployment and use that information
to adjust production numbers accordingly. In the cases of rookies I will
establish an approximate level of games played, use the applicable NHLE formula
to determine a ppg pace and go from there.
For goaltenders I use
the same method above to determine a rough estimate of save percentage, then
determine the expected number of shots a team may relinquish per game and use
that to calculate an estimate on a goals-against average.
This method does not
adjust for powerplay points but neither does it account for cold streaks and
droughts, the two opposing results ought to cancel each other out. There are
always outliers, unexpected results, and this process isn’t about predicting
those but rather about using the numbers to strip away the hype and the press
clippings and try to draw a fair line forward by which we can later say a team
is performing either above or below.
The point of it all
is that the numbers do as much of the talking as possible, leaving as little
room as possible for personal bias.
For the sake of brevity (insert laugh track here) I’ll
include the entire Canucks roster in this article rather than cover the
forwards and defense in separate pieces.
I’ve also invited an old friend to provide some feedback as
we go along. Those of you familiar with Lowetide’s RE series will find this
familiar and with his generous permission I’ve adopted the same approach.
Howdy. That’s him.
Think of him as my own personal Flaming C-jersey wearing
devil sitting on my shoulder and keeping me from my well-earned rest at night.
Are we starting now? Soon. First we look at the changes from
last season’s Canucks roster.
Added: Brandon Sutter, Brandon Prust, Matt Bartkowski,
Taylor Fedun, Blair Jones, Richard Bachman
Subtracted: Kevin Bieksa, Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, Zack
Kassian, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, Bobby Sanguinetti, Tom Sestito
That’s a lot of bodies. Surprisingly, from a team that made the
playoffs. But Linden has his sights set on a Stanley and thinks that he can get
there, or at least closer to it, with this group.
Now can we get started? Now we do the numbers.
Of course. Why do something to interest the reader when you can be a
pedantic bore instead. You’ve read my press clippings!
We’ll start with a general overview of the Canucks’ roster
and point projections based on estimated games played and their potential
points per game rate.
(stat data taken from NHL.com)
What’s with you and numbers? They tell a story. I’m no math
geek by any stretch, but my discomfort with numbers means when I come around to
seeing what they represent I respect it all the more.
Okay, so what are we looking at here, then? We see the Sedins and Vrbata are in a class by themselves on this
roster with clear delineation as we move down. Higgins and Vey are the only two
who really straddle the line between this side of the dirt and Hades while
those above are clearly better and those below clearly much worse off.
Those twins, eh? The Sedins have remarkably consistent numbers
so betting on them to cover is wise. Desjardins liked to hard match them last
season and I expect the same this coming year. Vrbata rode shotgun and did well
facing the toughs so unless they change tack and put Dorsett up on the 1st
line, Vrbata struggles or is injured, or they try to rejuvenate Burrows in that
role I think we’ll see the big three all in the same spot again.
I’ve probably got Sutter a little too high on the ppg pace,
but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt right now. I expect the
Canucks will mis-deploy him as their shiny new toy and should realize their
mistake halfway through the season when he could recover playing deeper down
the order, but he could also get slaughtered by the Western Conference
competition. I’ve taken a moderate approach and we’ll see where he lands in
They got him for what, again? They got him and a 2016 3rd
rounder for Bonino, Clendening and a 2nd rounder.
You forgot something? What’s that?
Their dignity. Can’t trade what you don’t have.
Zing! Yeah, I thought you’d like that. Play to your audience.
It was a bad trade because they gave away youth and talent
twice over for experience, position, and less skill. They traded down in a
pending draft year too when that 2nd rounder could easily be in the
40th overall range when all is said and done. I’m not a big fan of
Rutherford as a GM but he did well for himself there and now has a 2nd
rounder he can move at the deadline for more help (and the Penguins are a good
bet to need it) without taking his team out of that round entirely.
But Sutter’s a 2nd line center, so it isn’t all bad.
He isn’t really. When it comes to QualComp, the Pens were able to shelter him
behind Crosby and Malkin. After all of that he still bled scoring chances
Yeah, but the Penguins did the same thing before with Staal. First
off, Sutter is off from Jordan Staal by more than a bit. Secondly, the Canucks
don’t have Crosby and Malkin and I’m not sure Benning is aware of this fact.
So what about the rest of the forwards? I’m expecting Burrows,
Higgins, and Vey to be more or less consistent this coming year to where they
were last season and have tagged Horvat to have a bit of a rise as he continues
to adapt to the NHL. Depending on how things break with Sutter, the Canucks may
or may not be able to afford them the same shelter as last season.
So who has the pressure on them? Of this group I’d point the
finger at Burrows because he has to show his old self and become the agitating
difference maker he was in years past in order to help cover the development of
Horvat and Vey.
Point the finger? That was terrible. If you came here for my
humour then you’re the one with issues.
The only significant drop amongst forwards is Dorsett who
had something of a surprise campaign last year (and cashed in on it). I’m
expecting a return to something closer to the norm for him this coming season
as, again, the Canucks may be tempted to think he is capable of more than his
history would suggest and send him out in ill-fated matchups.
He was a beauty 4th liner in Columbus wasn’t he?
Cost Taylor Hall the end of his rookie season and a shot at the Calder. Oiler
fans hated him before and have ever since. That he found a home in Vancouver
just seems like a natural fit in some ways. They’ve employed these guys since
forever: Hordichuk, Odjick, Ruuttu, May, Cooke, Tiger Williams. It’s in their
Can he play? He was sheltered against the easiest competition
to the same extent that Ronalds Kenins was in his rookie season, and Dorsett
has several seasons under his belt now. This is a bad sign and a poor signing
for the Canucks.
So the lines would be? Vrbata will likely feature on the Sedin
line again this year, meaning the 2nd line is where the roster predictions
really begin. My guess would be Higgins, Sutter and Burrows based on the
deployment last year and the words coming out of the Canucks’ office when they
acquired and extended Sutter. They are ideally suited as a 3rd line
but the roster can’t support that so they’ll face tougher competition than they
may be able to manage on many nights.
A Vey, Hansen, Horvat 3rd line has some nice
things in it, but will need to get some favourable matchups to survive as
Higgins was the only one of the three who posted positive possession numbers
last season. Suspect they do better at home when Desjardins gets last change.
If that trio had some more experience I’d argue they could easily supplant the
Higgins-Sutter-Burrows line based on skill, but unless they emerge as a group
this season, we’ll wait.
This leaves Dorsett, Kenins, and Prust to round out the 4th
line ($5.25 million cap hit in total for those keeping score at home). This
line has some appeal for coaches (because veterans) and fans (because hits and face-punching),
but the Canucks will manage if Desjardins can keep their minutes down as it
will mean having the more offensively impactful players on the ice. It’ll be
telling to see how he works this line, whether it is as a shutdown option
(unadvisable), or an energy line when his team is down on the scoreboard
(again, unadvisable, but a common error).
That’s a lot of money sitting on the bench for 50 minutes a night.
Oilers have about $5 million or thereabouts locked up in the same part of the
roster. The Flames are looking at a little north of that if Stajan gets bumped
down. All three are mediocre to bad teams so they pay heavily for veterans to
prop up the roster. You’d love to run a veteran at less than $4 million with a
couple of wet-behind-the-ears AHL kids coming on gangbusters but that isn’t the
way the league works most of the time and coaches love players who are old
enough to remember Kasey Kasem.
So that’s their forward group, then? Seems a little light. The
Canucks are likely to bring in a few other forwards during camp, rookies,
farmhands, free-agents and the like as they are currently listing just 12
forwards whom I’ve estimated to play just shy of 900 of the potential 1148
forward man games this coming season. There’s also the chance that Sven
Baertschi, Jake Virtanen or some other farm hand impresses enough in training
camp to make the cut. But that doesn’t really impact the offensive total to a
great deal. Neither of those two could be expected to chip in more than 20
points in the NHL unless they played somewhere north of 60 games and hit the
league like a ton bricks.
This looks like the line for now.
What does this mean for their offense? When facing teams with
reasonable forward depth and a solid defense corps, the Canucks are likely to
struggle as they simply lack the firepower to overcome sustained opposition or
stand and trade scoring punches.
The Canucks’ defense contributed just a shade below the
league average in terms of offense at 14% of goals scored but has some nice things about it. Outside of a
bounce-back season from Alex Edler I don’t see the offense changing much this coming year.
The Canucks only have one 1st pairing blueliner and I’ve
almost never heard of him! That’s your fault for going to bed early
when the Canucks play. Edler and Tanev make up the Canucks’ best defensemen and
their top-pairing blueliners and they have a good case to make for the role.
Last season they faced the toughest competition and played the most 5v5 minutes
of the D corps. The significant change to the D corps this off-season, the
trading of Kevin Bieksa, will only emphasize this point this coming season.
Behind them I expect Willie Desjardins to try to find a
suitable partner for Dan Hamhuis while also sheltering Yannick Weber at even
strength. I think it comes down to one of Corrado or Bartkowski and the latter
has some more experience than the latter.
I’d forgotten about Hamhuis. How long has he been around? Well,
he was drafted in 2001 so in NHL years that means he’s older than the dirt he
Ouch! For an NHL defenseman that’s a compliment.
So do they have a good defence or not? The good news is that
the Canucks arguably have three decent top-pairing defenders in Hamhuis, Edler
And the bad news? The bad news is the other half of that
How so? Weber received Yandle-like shelter and Corrado and
Sbisa aren’t necessarily suited to the role of 2nd pairing.
Bartkowski is still a young defenseman and is growing into
the position. Last year with Boston he played middling to easy competition and
was just behind 50% in Zone Starts. Pairing him with Hamhuis is probably the
answer as the veteran can mentor the young player and cover his mistakes, but
playing him ahead of Weber, Corrado and Sbisa means there’s not a lot of ground
the team can afford to give up behind the 2nd pairing.
Didn’t they trade away a young defender for Sutter? Clendening. He’s not a match for
Bartkowski who is further along in his development and has faced tougher competition
with relative success so it wasn’t a huge loss, but it represents the Canucks
giving up more youth when my reckoning is they can’t really afford it.
Why not? Quickly, who is the Canucks’ best junior prospect on
But if Clendening isn’t all that great, why bemoan his loss? It
isn’t that they traded him at all. It’s that they moved him AND a good young
forward AND traded down for a player who, with all due respect, is more famous
for his surname and his former team than anything he has actually accomplished.
The simple truth is that the Canucks are dancing on a
razor’s edge and when the bottom falls out they are going to have very little
left with which to recover.
Balderdash. They have Gaunce, Cassels, Demko, Virtanen, McCann,
Shinkaruk. That’s a stocked cupboard. No, it isn’t. Demko is a
goaltending prospect so we can remove him from the equation right now because
goalies are voodoo. Gaunce, Cassels and McCann are all decent center prospects
but none has a projected ceiling higher than 2nd line and that is
being generous. Virtanen and Shinkaruk are 2nd line wingers if
things break right and you still haven’t given me a defensive prospect.
Corrado? He’ll be in the NHL sometime this season making him no
longer a prospect. Try again.
Subban. Yeah, he looks good and has the famous bloodlines that
people love to cite. But in either case, he’s a longshot to make an impact on
the NHL roster this year or next.
Alright then, so trading Clendening was a bad move because?
Because while he may be “replacement level” it leaves one asking “who do they
have to replace him”?
So what’s the play here with this defense group? I think Edler
and Tanev are on the ice with the Sedin line against the toughest competition
the Canucks will face. Hamhuis and Bartkowski will get the next tier and
Desjardins will do his damnedest to keep Weber and Sbisa off the ice against
the toughs. When it works, it’ll work well, when it fails, it’ll be in the back
of net more often than not.
The defense will have some time made up this season with
injury call-ups and auditions as I’ve estimated 498 games played amongst the
starting seven out of the potential 574 defense man games this season.
Things don’ look all that bad from here. Offense is a little shy, but
the D looks like they could manage a fair day’s work, provided they don’t get
hit with injuries. That’s a big “if” for defensemen. But alright, maybe
that wasn’t all of the bad news because next we’re going to discuss
Canucks and goaltending. Sounds like a joke I heard once about a man
and a donkey walking into a bar… This is a family-friendly website so
let’s put that one aside for the time being.
(shot data taken from War on Ice Hextally)
The Canucks gave up fewer shots against than both Edmonton
and Calgary, yet both Miller and Markstrom had worse save percentages relative
to the league in the medium and high danger areas.
So how did they manage to make the playoffs if they’re goaltending
sucks so badly? Well, there are a few reasons. First, nobody predicted the
disaster that was the 2014-2015 seasons of the Oilers and Coyotes. That coupled
with San Jose taking a step back and LA missing the playoffs meant there were
some openings and in walked the Flames and Canucks.
Yeah, those Oilers had a pretty bad year, huh? You’re picking
at scabs now and this article isn’t about the Oilers unless you want it to be.
Let’s move on.
Where do these numbers come from? The estimated games played is
based on an approximation of Miller’s workload from his previous seasons. The
shots per game and sv%s are averaged from previous seasons with small increases
in the shots per game against calculated because of the departure of Kevin
Bieksa. The goals against/game is calculated using the estimated shots/game
against the estimated sv%. A 0.902sv%, a rough average of those estimates for
Miller and Markstrom, would rank the Canucks 26th to 28th
overall in the league last year, on par with Arizona and Carolina and ahead of
only Dallas and Edmonton.
Team sv% is a very difficult thing to predict and has little
carryover year-to-year, so there is every chance the Canucks defy these
numbers, but what I’ve tried to do here is draw a line into the season using
the previous years’ data. It sets a standard where we can then say they are
either over or underachieving.
My take on it based on these numbers is that the goaltending
isn’t going to bail out the Canucks very often.
So then what are you trying to say? If the goaltending isn’t
always there and the scoring looks to be below average and the defense, while
capable, can’t build Fort Knox 82 nights a year then things aren’t looking all
If Miller/Markstrom is so bad, why’d they trade Lack? Heck, why did
they trade Luongo or Schneider? What the Canucks have done to their
goaltending over the last seven years is breathtaking.
From a tandem of Luongo and Schneider they have moved out
Luongo (with salary
cap retained), Schneider , and Lack and replaced those two (possibly three,
we’ll see how Lack does) starting goaltenders with one who has been a shadow of
himself the past three years and a backup who had fallen from high-end prospect
to struggling reclamation project.
Schneider was a strategic move from a position of weakness
because Luongo’s contract was toxic. What happened after was throwing good
money after bad, though, and they haven’t stopped to take a breath since.
Why’d they move Lack, then, if Markstrom is so bad? My guess is
waivers. They were afraid they’d lose Markstrom for nothing. And while the only
two teams I can see claiming him would be the Sabres and Oilers that’s damning
with faint praise.
They moved Lack because management had signed Miller and
even though Lack looked to be a better bet, pride meant they had to double-down
on their mistakes. Organizations and managers do this all the time. They can’t
lose face or risk getting fired by admitting to a mistake so they make a poor
decision and keep the wrong man. It usually costs the manager their job in the
end, or at least contributes to it.
Based on my work, Miller and Markstrom aren’t predicted to
have strong seasons this coming year. Miller is another year older with a
weaker defense in front of him than last year and Markstrom has yet to develop
into that starting goaltender that convinced the Panthers to select him 31st
I suspect Desjardins will have to weigh going with a veteran
goalie whose body may not be up to the workload against the backup who may not
yet have his confidence.
Between a rock and a hard place, then? Yes, that’s more or less
it. It helps to illustrate why when a coach finds a goalie he can trust he’ll
ride him into the ground.
The Kiprusoff effect. Exactly. If the NHL had overtime pay
Kipper’d still be receiving Murray Edward’s paycheques in the mail. Except I
don’t see Desjardins having Kiprusoff results playing Miller.
So in the end we have the Canucks where? A lack of offensive
production, a capable defense that may be able to stem the tide but only just
over the long season, and goaltending that is below average could all conspire
to make this another lost season for the Canucks and the Sedins.
I’ve estimated the Canucks could score 196 goals for this
season, down 40 goals from last season. That would place them 26th
in the league last year, three ahead of the Oilers and two back of the
Woah, wait a second there. How do you explain them dropping 40 goals
from last year? That stretches all credibility! I agree. I was
surprised. The Canucks haven’t needed for goals in a very long time and I don’t
think this drop off is solely the result of losing Bonino and Bieksa. Instead,
I just found what looked like reasonable bets for the productivity of all the
team members and ran the numbers ahead in a best-fit line.
This is where I ended up.
Now, I did say the Canucks are shy some forwards and could
use an extra veteran winger or two to add to the depth chart. I don’t know that
they can add 40 goals worth between now and opening night, but there is some
ground there to make up. Also, we shouldn’t entirely dismiss the idea that
another young player emerges this year to pad his point totals. Maybe Dorsett
stays closer to his 25 pts than the 14 I have projected for him. Maybe Kenins
nets 20, or Tanev and Weber get 30 pts apiece. It could happen, but I try not
to bank on the maybes and go with as many conservative estimates as possible.
Still, that is one heck of a drop. Yes, but it isn’t outside
the realm of possibility. Look at it this way, what teams in the Pacific
division, or even the Western Conference, would you say have gotten worse this
off-season? Then compare that list and those changes to what the Canucks have
done this summer. It isn’t so much that they have gotten worse as the rest of
the field has likely gotten just a little bit better. Jonathan
Willis once used the Red Queen hypothesis
in reference to this effect in the NHL and it applies here.
And the blueline and goaltending? The defense is probably about
league-average, let’s put them around 17th, with a strong top three
hampered by a substandard bottom three.
The estimated sv% of 0.902 ranks somewhere between 26th
Based on projections, the Canucks are bound for a bad
season, finishing in the bottom ten of the league and jousting with San Jose
for the bottom of the Pacific Division ahead of the Coyotes. I’d estimate 5th
in the Pacific Division, perhaps somewhere around 10th in the West
and maybe as low as 23rd overall. The Canucks are in a race against
the Sharks, Flames and Oilers. The Sharks have better veterans and a better
blueline while the Flames have better offense and defense and the Oilers a
How the hell does that work out, Mr. Math? I don’t know. It
isn’t exact. I’m just trying to ballpark a few reasonable spots they are likely
to finish at. I don’t see them climbing the Pacific division but there are
likely to be some teams that are worse this year. And when you factor in the
Eastern Conference they could float a little higher by season’s end.
23rd overall means drafting 8th, correct?
Could be. New lottery rules kick in this year meaning all 14 non-playoff teams
have a shot at 1st, then 13 teams have a shot at 2nd,
then 12 at 3rd. The Canucks could finish 23rd, pick 1st,
2nd, 3rd, or could get bumped three times and pick 11th.
Those draft odds are pretty uncertain. All courtesy of your
friendly neighbourhood Edmonton Oilers.
You think you can defend these guesses? I’m surprised by what
the numbers are suggesting here. While I’m no fan of the Canucks, I hadn’t
expected a particularly bad 2015-2016 season of them when I went into this
project. Obviously there’s nothing to suggest that this is a certainty, and the
estimates above work out to a PDO of 978, definitely on the low side but
possible if a team is sunk by poor goaltending which is well within the realm
of possibility in the Canucks’ case.
Okay, so then why this song? Petty wrote Free Fallin’ kind of
on a whim off a guitar that one of his roadies had bought him. He had the tune
but hadn’t written any lyrics. When he sat down with Jeff Lynne to record Full
Moon Fever he began playing and Lynne liked it so much he pushed him to
continue. The first lines were a joke to make Jeff laugh and Petty took it from
The Canucks have been riffing off of what Brian Burke did
all those years ago on draft day. They’ve had some fantastic success up until a
short while ago and are now well down the road from where they began with only
the rhythm remaining.
Bieksa and Kesler have moved on. The Sedins and Burrows are
the last recognizable pieces of that Stanley Cup Final team and they’ve changed
everything else but the hubcaps on the team bus. They’re on their own now.
Maybe they rise, maybe they fall, but the past and its regrets are behind them
and they have to move on. Melancholy and the adrenaline of optimism in
Anything else? It’s a West Coast song that uses local street
and community names like a brand for an audience anywhere else in the world to
relate to. That’s a very Vancouver thing to do.
Gawd, I hate the Left Coast! Most people do until they retire
Next up, the Edmonton Oilers.