On Closed Windows, Playoff Bounces and Coin Flips

Thomas Drance
May 06 2013 10:53AM


Photo Credit: Christian Petersen , Getty Images

When the Canucks ultimately lose this first round series against the San Jose Sharks - and the guillotine might fall mercifully on Tuesday, or perhaps the Canucks can fruitlessly extend the series the way they did a year ago against the Los Angeles Kings - the calls for wholesale change out of Vancouver will be fierce and constant. Trade the Sedins, trade Edler, fire Mike Gillis, or at least fire the coach, as if that does anything beyond putting lipstick on a pig...

The Canucks are now 4-11 in their last fifteen playoff games going back to the start of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Over that fifteen game sample they've managed just twenty-one total goals and only seventeen tallies at even-strength. They've been outscored twenty-six to seventeen at even-strength, but nineteen to four on special teams and forty-seven to twenty-one overall. Yep, it's been an ugly stretch for the Canucks and one that's easy to overreact too.

Read past the jump.

The key is not to overreact, I think, to performance over a fifteen game sample. Watching Canucks playoff games the past couple of seasons has been about as fun as sticking needles in ones eye for Canucks fans. So I understand why people are tired of it and reacting emotionally on Monday morning. Hell, we're tired of it too. 

But the negative suck-hole crowd jumping up and down about how inevitable Vancouver's demise in this series was, are missing the point. Games one and two against the Sharks were coin flip contests, and coin flips in which Vancouver rather handily carried play. Game three was a bit different in that the Canucks were outmatched throughout - which most of us expected to happen on the road in this series anyway - but even that contest was close until a flurry of soft goals sunk Vancouver's hopes of making this series interesting. This series was a coin flip from the outset, but the thing about flipping coins is that 13% of the time it'll land on tails three times in a row...

The Canucks haven't been able to get it done the past couple of seasons in the first round. For some that's enough to think that Mike Gillis should completely dismantle this club (ignoring the fact that pretty much every key player is on a no-trade clause, so that's much easier said than done). But looking over the data, I'd argue that the Canucks have been absurdly unlucky the past few years in the playoffs.

Consider even-strength play. The Canucks have taken four-hundred and fifteen shots at even-strength since game one of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. They've scored only seventeen goals on those shots for a shooting percentage that sits just a tick above 4.1%. Sounds sustainable.

Canucks opponents meanwhile have taken three-hundred and forty three even-strength shots over that same sample and have scored on 7.6% of their shots. In other words, at least some of Vancouver's woeful performance over the past handful of playoff games has been percentage based.

For the "shot quality" crowd, I'd mention that the scoring chances corroborates this analysis to some extent. In other words it doesn't appear to be that the Canucks have spent the past fifteen games shooting from the perimeter because they lack the gumption to go to the "dirty areas" where playoff goals are scored. Since game one of the Boston series the Canucks have been narrowly out-chanced (despite outshooting the opposition) 166 to 155. So the Canucks have controlled 48.2% of quality looks at even-strength in their last fifteen playoff games, 54.7% of the total shots on goal at evens, and 39.5% of the even-strength goals. That's the bounces for you.

Over the coming few weeks and month we're going to hear and read a lot about Vancouver's "window being closed" and how this team just isn't very good anymore. Well looking at Vancouver's playoff record the past three seasons and believing it to be more trustworthy than their consistent and much longer record of regular season success, just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Since the Boston series the Canucks have racked up a 77-36-17 regular season record and yeah I understand how that doesn't mean a lot to fans of a team in a Stanley Cup starved market when the club has amassed a 1-7 record in the postseason the past two years. 

But it's worth keeping in mind that despite what we've seen the past week, the Canucks are a good team, and dismantling the club in a serious way would be a massive overreaction.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#51 Dmac in TO
May 07 2013, 11:50AM
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@Oilers21

Fair comment. Someone said that since the Boston series they have lost their identity. I hate when they try to show their toughness in the scrums, or make the mega hit. This was their undoing in the Cup finals - the Burrows bite came off a stupid, end of period scrum, and their defense disintegrated after Hamhuis was injured on a big check to Lucic and Rome was tossed for the infamous hit in game 3.

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#52 Cam Charron
May 07 2013, 12:15PM
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Mantastic wrote:

clearly they should stick with better fenwick/corsi number players, worked out so well for them in the playoffs!!! sample size is way to small for regression to affect unsustainable percentages in the playoffs.

sample size is too small in the playoffs for us to really be able to say anything either worked or didn't work

every team that's won the stanley cup in the "possession era" since it's been tracked has been a pretty good possession team, with the exception of the '09 penguins who fired their coach and then became a good possession team

the canucks are a good possession team. so are the sharks. so are about a half dozen other teams all with about equal shots to win.

people act like there's two different outcomes, either the canucks win or lose, while there's really eight. either the canucks win, kings win, bruins win, penguins win, habs win, sharks win, blues win...

and the fact that the team never won between 1970 and when gillis and AV showed up shouldn't reflect negatively on AV or gillis. there's no added incentive to win more because the team didn't win in its past. the goal in any year, whether you're the canadiens, red wings or blue jackets is to give yourself a chance to win the stanley cup regardless of history

it's not a question of intangibles or heart. it's a question of odds, and they aren't at 50-50 in any given year.

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#53 Nucksfan4ever
May 07 2013, 03:28PM
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"But it's worth keeping in mind that despite what we've seen the past week, the Canucks are a good team, and dismantling the club in a serious way would be a massive overreaction."

Said the Flames blog writer 5 years ago about the Flames...

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#54 Cynthia
May 09 2013, 03:12PM
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I can't breath right now... :'( all I wanted was for the Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup... It's always been a dream... This is just too much... I feel lost... I'm going to keep feeling that emptiness in my heart... :'( it just hurts right now... :'( I don't know what to do... I just don't... All those long years... Still nothing... I just can't believe it... It's over... It's all over... :'( I guess our window is closed after all for some reason... :'(

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