At the beginning of the season I decided to take a look at the Flames’ chances for the year in contrast to their two Pacific division rivals, the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
Today we begin the final analysis, or to be more precise for these teams, the end-of-season autopsy.
We’re beginning with the Canucks, who’s disastrous season is likely to usher in some significant changes this summer. Or at the very least set the stage for major changes to come should they falter again next season.
This season I tracked not only the individual progress of each player but also tracked the team save percentage, possession metrics, goal differential, and individual goalie performances based on save percentages.
Once More, From the Top…
I’ll start with the player performances. At the beginning of the year I wrote the following on myriad topics –
- On the Sedins – 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…
- · On forward depth – 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…
- · On defense – 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. 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…
- · On Goaltending – 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 that bright…
- · And on the season overall – I’ve estimated the Canucks could score 196 goals for this season, down 40 goals from last season. 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 and 28th. I’d estimate 5th in the Pacific Division, perhaps somewhere around 10th in the West and maybe as low as 23rd overall.
Now here are the results –
- The Sedins posted a decent but not amazing season, by their standards. Vrbata must have stepped on Desjardins’ designer wingtips because the team’s treatment of him this season just seems bizarre. Either way, he is injured now and I expect will explore his options this summer. The Canucks did move Burrows around this year, but appear to have invested in Jannik Hansen as the Sedin’s third wheel with Burrows spending the majority of his ice time with Vey, McCann, Horvat and Etem.
- On the surface Horvat looks to have had a decent season, his ppg pace rose from 0.38 ppg in his rookie season to 0.48. His underlying numbers look promising as well, as he seems to be able to move the puck forward against the opposition. The Canucks will need to see another step forward from him next season as they begin to transition into the post-Sedin era.
- Tanev and Edler led the team in ice-time and Edler is the clear franchise cornerstone on the blueline. Meanwhile Hamhuis spent the majority of his time paired first with Bartkowski, secondly with Yannick Weber.
- Goaltending was the one bright spot for the Canucks this season. Both Miller and Markstrom, whom Desjardins eventually deployed in an alternating rotation starting at the trade deadline, gave the Canucks league average goaltending over the course of the season, with some significant performance peaks thrown in to actually counter the nights when they were getting no help on offense. Both players deserve a hand this season for the work they put in on this team. But for them the Canucks would be in 30th place overall and it wouldn’t be close, no matter how hard Edmonton and Toronto tried.
- The Canucks finished with fewer than 196 goals, the team save percentage was league average at 0.916 and thus higher than my estimates by a fair margin, and the team finished 6th in the division, 13th in the conference, and 27th overall in the league. Far below what I had anticipated.
Here are the player predictions and their actual performances. I’ve highlighted the point per game predictions that were off the mark by a margin greater than 0.1.
The point-per-game production this year was off by 0.09 points per game from the roster’s historical average. To put that into perspective, the Canucks scored 191 goals. Had they been closer to the 196 goals for predicted in the original article they still would have finished dead last in the league in goal production, two back of Toronto (198).
Their goals against (243) had them finish 24th in the league overall. Missing Hamhuis to long term injury no doubt hampered their ability in this regard, but would he have made enough of a difference to both the defense and offense to move them into the top 16 teams in the league? I don’t believe so.
My opinion, based on the table above, is that the roster players are a mix of declining talents and emerging prospects, neither of whom are capable at this time of carrying an NHL team to a high level. This weakness was exposed this season and I suspect that, in addition to some significant roster changes, an adjustment in deployment strategies and schemes is required.
Essentially, the Canucks are a team at a crossroads and they need to figure out which way they are going to go and then make the moves required.
Looking Into the Numbers
Below are some graphs of the various data points I had been tracking for the Canucks all season long. Pay attention to the thin black trend line as it relates the general direction of each performance over time and helps to eliminate game to game outliers.
Miller and Markstrom held up quite well here, holding themselves to league average save percentages, but the team overall couldn’t score enough and lost the possession battle more nights than not, and gradually by a wider margin.
Save percentages and shooting percentages have a very low repeatability factor from season to season, however possession rates, absent significant roster and/or coaching changes, do tend to follow through the seasons. So if there is anything to take from this information it is that the Canucks were a bad team this year and, unless they bolster their roster and alter some of their deployment schemes, we could expect, within a reasonable range of likelihood, for them to struggle again next season.
One could argue that but for these two the Canucks may have had the unrivaled position of 30th overall and best draft odds for picking Auston Matthews this June.
NHL top 10 man-games lost
1 TOR 448
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) April 9, 2016
The Canucks were among the teams in the league with a greater share of man games lost to injury, specifically Dan Hamhuis and Brandon Sutter. That many of the bottom ten teams in the league are in the top ten of total man games lost this season is no coincidence. Nathan Currier of ManGamesLost has recently moved his, in my opinion, extremely valuable information into a pay structure. If you have an interest in analytics in sports, not limited to the NHL, I would recommend looking into his service.
Hero of the Season
I’m going to go with a tandem here of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks finished the season with the fewest wins in the NHL, but because of the ever-popular Bettman point they finished above several other teams in the standings. The men responsible for getting them that far at least are the two goaltenders who played the role of King Cnut trying to hold back the tide on many nights when the team was getting their collective heads bashed in on the possession metrics.
Story for the Off-season
Their building blocks for next season are the defensive pairing of Tanev and Edler and having Miller and Markstrom, who appears to perhaps be rounding into a more consistent NHL goaltender, as a netminding tandem. However, we’ve said that before about this team.
All of that aside, the Canucks need to decide which direction they are going and stick with it. This year there was some talk from upper management that they knew they were not close to the playoffs while the coaching staff seemed to imply that the playoffs were always a goal. That’s not a fireable offense by any means, but it suggests something of disconnect there.
Add to that Benning’s inability to acquire assets in return for Vrbata and Hamhuis, which is only partially his own doing as the players have a say in this regard, and the very curious decision to acquire Markus Granlund in exchange for Hunter Shinkaruk and I think the focus this summer needs to begin and end with management and their plan.
If it is to be more of the same then woe betide the fans of the Vancouver Canucks.
Why This Song?
I’d picked Tom Petty as the herald for this year’s Canucks team. Beginning with Free Fallin’, moving to Running Down a Dream, and then to Yer So Bad.
This song is not just about failure and hitting rock bottom, but about departures and heartbreak.
But not me baby, I’ve got you to save me
Oh yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad
The Canucks sent away Kesler, Bieksa, Luongo, Schneider, Kassian, Schroeder and Shinkaruk all within the last three years. Five years ago they were celebrating a President’s Trophy and headed on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Since then the past and future have all disappeared in front of their eyes and the hope today rests with a young man who’s name we don’t yet know.