January 17 2014 03:28PM
The Canucks wrapped up a road trip in which they scored just once in three games last night. I actively work to not listen to the alarmists anymore, but it's tough to ignore scoring woes of this magnitude. The Canucks did only get out-Corsi'd in close situations 59-55 in a three-game road trip that included one back-to-back and a game against one of the top possession teams in the NHL, so it's not awful. The 9-1 loss is, but the 1-0 losses that bookened the trip could have been worse. They played well and couldn't finish. That will happen.
The Canucks have 89 shots in the last three games and just one goal. The obvious inference is that a 1.1% shooting rate is unsustainable, and things will pick up, but you'd have to be braindead to think the Canucks will play out the year scoring fewer goals per game than [//checks Premiership table] Crystal Palace FC, but there is a problem brewing here, one that's been visible for years now: the Sedin twins are no longer young pups eager to destroy the league. They are hockey players, and like all hockey players, do not age like fine wine.
Daniel Sedin has just four points in eight games since the new year. Henrik Sedin has just five. That's not really my worry. My worry is that over the last two (half) seasons, Henrik is on pace for 67 points over 82 games.
That's not a knock on Henrik Sedin, nor Canucks management or coaching. The visible problem is that hockey players age, and as they age, they fade. I went to Hockey Reference to find players that had point-a-game seasons in at least 70 games, and graphed out the raw number of point-a-game seasons by age:
Most PPG seasons, as you can see, are stacked between about age 24 and age 30. That's somewhat consistent with the findings of Gabriel Desjardins, who found years ago that the peak age for hockey players, including those that weren't point-a-game is "slightly more than 25". I'd assume the reason some of the elite players stay productive into their late 20s is that as established stars, they get more chances. Henrik's points peak was at age 28, and Daniel's was at age 29.
However, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby both peaked in points-per-game at 23. I remember being used to thinking a player in his prime was between the ages of 28 and 32, but a player's scoring peak is definitely a few years younger.
Earlier in the season, the Sedins were rolling and parlayed a pretty hot start into twin four-year contracts. That's not to say that those are bad deals. At the time, we were aware that the twins production was unsustainable and presumably Laurence Gilman did as well. To me, there's some value in holding onto the twins through their twilight years (for one, only 13 players have ever scored 1000 points and played their entire career for one team. I'd love to see Henrik Sedin become the 14th) and I don't think anybody is under the illusion that the twins are going to be the best players on the Canucks come 2017-2018.
Maybe some fans might have been under the impression that all the twins needed to get back to their peak scoring rates was to be separated from Alain Vigneault. Henrik had 18 points in 15 games in October (right before the contract was signed November 1) and Daniel had 15-in-15. Since then, Henrik has 22 in 34 and Daniel has 24. However it's important to note the on-ice conversion percentages. This is like on-ice shooting percentage, but in its player game logs, ExtraSkater only gives on-ice Corsi For (not shots for, as on-ice sh% is traditional calculated with) so this is the scoring percentage of all Canucks on-ice shot attempts with those players on the ice, progressing through the year:
The two static lines are how the same player's converstion rates looked between 2009 and 2013. There's probably some slight room to move up. Remember the contracts were signed after Game 15, when the Canucks were probably getting more than they could reasonably expect from the twins. While their conversion percentage regressed one way, it's obviously not manageable (both are around 3% since Game 15). The NHL average for Corsi conversion percentage is typically 4%-4.5% and for a few years, the twins were much higher than that. Indicative of talent? Perhaps, but the Sedins were also incredible Corsi players during their peak years and while they've maintained a fierce 54%+ grip on shot attempts, they're taking fewer attempts at the net, and allowing fewer.
It's weird to see Henrik go from being a viable scoring race candidate to a viable Selke Trophy candidate, but that's just the way things go sometimes. Again, the Sedins failure to score is not a knock on them, or management or coaching, but just an unfortunate reality. It's hard to find players like the Sedins in the NHL, and they mostly come from the high end of the draft unless a team flukes into a player like Martin St. Louis or makes a trade for Phil Kessel before he's grown up.
So the problem will remain, even once regression has taken hold. The Canucks lack gamebreakers, and gamebreakers are difficult to find unless you bottom out in the standings. The Canucks have not had a Top 5 pick in the draft on their own merit since the Sedins, and some of the other teams that haven't had one in a while (Calgary, Dallas, Detroit, NY Rangers) are struggling for offence as well. The two that are doing okay, Ottawa and San Jose, were able to acquire young players before they reached their value, which does involve a bit of risk, and also hit on some late-round selections.
Will the Canucks bottom out? Maybe? Two or three years from now I think this team looks fundamentally different than it does today, and with the team needing high shooting or save percentages to play like an elite team in the NHL, I think fans should adjust expectations accordingly. There was a long period of sustained success in Vancouver that's coming to an end, and with it, some of the most annoying fan anger/angst in the history of sports.
Hockey is a cyclical game by nature and we're beginning to realize that with the Sedins. Don't expect them to produce like they have, points-wise, between now and the end of the season, but keep in mind they are hockey players, they are in their 30s, and the Canucks have to find a way to make the last juicy productive years out of them meaningful in some way.