July 26 2013 12:22PM
If they weren't comfortable with travel by now, they will be after this season.
Image via Canucks.com [Jeff Vinnick].
The Vancouver Canucks have been enjoying the perks of being in possession of the NHL's golden ticket over the past four seasons. No, I'm not talking about the one that gets them into to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory (although now that I give it some thought, I'm sure they all wouldn't have minded if that were the case). I'm actually referring to the one that had them situated in the deplorable Northwest Division, which had them facing cake competition on many a night.
That all changed once the league decided to implement its divisional realignment, which will be in place until at least 2016 (hey, maybe there is some credence to the theory that the league really does hate the Canucks?). The NHL released its schedule roughly two weeks ago, and we took a look at some of the more notable dates on the docket. We also went through a rudimentary breakdown of the new format, which has the Canucks in the revamped Pacific Division (which now features the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Coyotes, Flames, Oilers).
I've decided that now would be as good a time as any to take a closer look at some of the quirks of the schedule, and what it has in store for the Canucks. What's in store for them?
Read on past the jump for some thoughts on the schedule.
There are a few things that got my mind churning on this particular topic, but the one that hit closest to home came on Tuesday evening, when John Tortorella - during the team's summer summit - had the following exchange with a season ticket holder during the Q & A portion of the event:
Q: I know you've primarily coached on the East Coast. On the West, there's a lot more travel. How do you plan to manage their ice-time to keep them (Sedins, Kesler) ready for the postseason, so that our scorers can continue.. scoring.
A: I'm going to lean on Mike (Gillis) with the travel. That's something that really concerns me, because I don't have enough knowledge on it.. as far as how it takes a toll on the athletes. I believe this team here has some of the worst travel you could possibly have in the league, whereas in the East, you'e just on the bus. We have a group of people here, and we're going to spend some time talking about that to find out what's best for the athlete. I truly believe that if you're going to demand a lot from the athletes when you have them, you need to give them the time off when you have the opportunity. I really believe in the time away.
Torts is right, actually. The esteemed Nashville Predators blog "On the Forecheck" recently published an ever so useful article compiling the number of miles each team has had to travel in years past, and the number of miles that they'll be forced to travel this coming season. As you'll notice, the Canucks are set to be the 6th most well travelled team, just behind the Ducks (who will cover a measly 58 miles more).
The "Schedule Loss"
What's the big deal? This is nothing new for the Canucks, who were 9th in '11-'12, and 3rd in '10-'11 - two seasons in which they did just fine, if you'll recall. Well, this travel is compounded by the fact that there are only 4 teams in the league who will face more back-to-backs than them (17).
This matters. I do believe that there's such a thing as a "schedule loss", and the fact of the matter is that you can easily look like you're skating in quicksand when you're playing in Carolina the night after you were in New York, while your opposition was sleeping in their own beds the night before. While the team did travel a ton in previous years, that was somewhat evened out by the fact that they only had 11 back-to-backs in each of those seasons (which were good for 2nd fewest, and the fewest, respectively).
All the way back in April, Tyler Dellow did some research, and wrote about this phenomenon on his blog. Just for the sake of making things easier to visualize, here's Dellow's table on the winning percentages based on the number of days between games for both the home and road team:
I went through all of Vancouver's 17 back-to-backs, and found that 11 of them see the second game come on the road. In terms of the number of days between games for the team that would be hosting them on those occasions, there is only 1 time the team will also be partaking in the second of a back-to-back, 7 times where the team had 1 day off, 2 times where the team had 2 days off, and 1 time where the team had more than 2 days off (with that being the Blues on October 25th, who will have had 6!! days off by the time the Canucks roll into the Scottrade Center).
Here's something else to keep in mind: the Canucks will be kicking their season off with 9 of their first 13 games on the road, including a 7-game road trip out East. While these things tend to even out in the long run (6 of their final 7 games will be played at Rogers Arena), you can sort of sniff out the trouble that looms ahead. To make matters worse, 14 of their first 21 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. It's because of this that I've already written up a post that's set to run November 1st; its purpose is to attempt to talk you off the ledge following the inevitable 6-8-1 start, and the Tortorella blow-up in the media that follows.
Listen, Eric T. essentially dismissed the idea that a particular schedule for any given team can be pinpointed as the reason for their misfortunes. However, when the competition becomes stiffer and you come back down to the pack in terms of talent (which realistically, the Canucks have over the past calendar year), every little thing matters; the travel, the back-to-backs, and the tougher competition. It all adds up, and this is just another factor to consider in the grand scheme of things when analyzing the team's chances. And for the Canucks, their schedule certainly isn't doing them any favours.