Tales of regression: the 2008 Vancouver Canucks

Canucks Army didn’t exist in 2008. I’m not sure how much of a market there was for a math-themed Vancouver Canucks blog. I certainly wasn’t reading one, and while Vic Ferrari was pumping out terrific stuff like this about player luck over a short-term period of hockey games, I was a regular poster on Canucks.com, using the numbers I had available to me to prove my points, but none of the wealth of data available online to regular readers of Puck Prospectus or Irreverent Oilers Fans.

I was parsing through Behind The Net and something caught my eye: when we talk about the Minnesota Wild this season, or the Dallas Stars last season, or the Colorado Avalanche from 2010, we’re talking about teams that had dominant first halves of the season but collapsed from January-on. Surely, there has to have been a team like that almost every year in recent history that had a good first half and a lousy second half.

Enter the 2008 Vancouver Canucks, let’s look month-to-month at just how they did. Using timeonice scripts from 2008, I looked month-to-month at how this team fared…


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
October 41.7% 40.7% 100.0%

Vancouver didn’t start the 2007-08 campaign too successfully. In the first seven games of the season, the Canucks won just thrice before heading out on the road for a four-game trip. It ended in Washington with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. Roberto Luongo summed up the game and their struggles like so:

“We just have to find ways to win and I thought we did that tonight. I thought we played really well in the first 50 minutes and then got into a little penalty trouble. Bottom line is we got the two points and now we can move on.”

You can see that the team had a real rough start to the season in the shot department, but that isn’t indicative of much. The important thing is that the Canucks learn how to win games.


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
November 56.0% 50.7% 102.8%

The Canucks dominated November, winning nine out of 13 games, but more importantly, they were winning big, out-scoring their opposition 36-23 in the month. As noted by Luongo, again:

“It’s nice, but I think right now we’ve got to look at the way we’re winning games and the type of hockey we’re playing and I think the whole group should feel good about themselves,” said Luongo, insisting his play is a result of vastly improved team defence in November.

Obviously the Canucks are an improved team, but not by much. Their overall win percentage doesn’t sync up with their score-tied shooting rate, so there’s a sizeable chance that maybe this team that Luongo sees in front of him isn’t the one he thinks it is.


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
December 55.0% 48.2% 103.0%

The Canucks slowed a little in December, winning 8-of-15, but they maintained a slim lead on the Northwest Division, and were fourth overall in the NHL. The secret to their success?

“Other people may not pay much attention to us, but that’s OK,” Trevor Linden told the Vancouver Province newspaper. “We’re not the flashiest team but we understand what makes us tick, and it starts with Roberto.”

Roberto Luongo’s even strength save percentage is .943 at this point. Combined with the Canucks’ marginally-talented offensive unit shooting 9.2%, the team has an overall PDO of 103 after December despite a sub-50% Fenwick Tied. We know how this story ends.


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
January 50.0% 48.7% 101.6%

The Canucks won 4-of-12 in January and scaled back to a .500 win percentage, having won 26 of their first 52 games. The culprit? Injuries, but the team won’t make excuses:

“You know what?” Aaron Miller said before the Canucks left for Tampa, Fla., and today’s date with the Lightning. “I’ve been on losing teams and losing teams talk about the guys who are hurt. As soon as we start doing that, we’re going to kill ourselves.”

The Canucks’ shooting percentage took a significant hit in January, scaling back to 8.5% on the year after going 6.8% on the month. Roberto Luongo stopped just .906 shots at even strength. Overall, the Canucks’ PDO began to turn downwards, ending the month at 101.6%.


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
February 50.0% 49.0% 101.4%

In February, Vancouver managed to halt the bleeding, winning six of 12 games, but just thrice in regulation. The big story, however, was the Canucks failing to secure another forward, as Dave Nonis refused to pull the trigger on a deal that would have apparently seen Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Cory Schneider and Luc Bourdon sent to Tampa Bay for Brad Richards. Instead, he settled on a minor deal, picking up Matt Pettinger for fan-favourite agitator Matt Cooke:

“I wasn’t about to take significant, young roster players off our team at this point in order to land a player,” said Nonis. “I think it would have set us back. For me, I don’t think it was a situation that at the end made sense for us.”

The Canucks scored just 21 goals in 12 games at even strength this month. Luongo held tight, with a .927 save percentage. Overall, the team was fighting for a playoff spot with Nashville, Minnesota and Columbus, who came back from a 2-0 third period deficit on the road to beat the Canucks on the last of the month.


Month Win% FenTied% PDO
March/April 47.6% 48.7% 100.5%

Things fell apart, here. After winning three of the first seven of the month (ugly games, as well). Here we are midway through the month:

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Vancouver to get into a position where they can contend for the post-season. In January they were battling for the division lead and third seed in the Western Conference. Earlier this month they were ninth in the West.

They’ve won their last two games with blue-collar scoring in the dirty areas around the net and have pushed back in more ways than one when challenged physically.”

The Canucks would win just two out of their last nine games. According to Luongo:

“You work so hard for an entire season to have a chance to play for the Cup and it’s tough to take when you’re not rewarded at the end,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo after wiping away tears and taking some time outside the locker room to gather himself before speaking to the media.


Well, aside from that Luongo was always a big crybaby, when you look at it from month-to-month via a stretch of games rather than stacking everything up in perspective against a full season, it sort of blinds you. At no point when the Canucks were a top team in the league was there any indication, except for underlying numbers, that the team was going to start losing.

We can look at it now and say “oh, well of course you predicted the Canucks’ collapse, it happened four years ago” but at that point, I recall the problem being injuries and not enough dynamic offensive talent. In actuality, the Canucks’ score tied numbers didn’t drop at all in the absence of guys like Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund and Brendan Morrison. Other than Ohlund, none of those guys were good possession players at this point in their careers.

Trevor Linden would retire. Markus Naslund would sign with the New York Rangers and Dave Nonis would find himself fired. Stack up the Canucks’ goal rates with their shot rates and compare the two. You can just imagine how ugly the final bit of the season must have been: 

  • NuckfiSh

    The most important number from that season was the $300 Million The Aquilini Group paid to finally take control of the team. If I remember correctly – that’s when the slide began.

  • Oh goodness, aren’t we glad we didn’t trade Kes, Mase, or Schneids?… it’s paid off since then multi-fold. Good decision by the management on that one. They kept the players that have become vital parts of the the Canucks team. Except Luc of course 🙁

    Also, as a side note, I think that what you said about Luongo being a ‘big crybaby’ is just a little unfair. Regardless of how he plays (which for the most of his career has been a heck of a lot better than many goaltenders). Yes, Lu takes things more emotionally than some players (like the Sedins for example) but that doesn’t give license for calling him a perennial crybaby.

  • NuckfiSh

    Nice work. Wasn’t the year before the one where Luongo was nominated for Vezina and Hart, and they won a million games by one goal? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a high PDO to make the post-season, especially goaltending strength.

    Gotta agree that I’m glad they didn’t make that Richards trade, which would have been a disaster.

  • Danthestatman1

    Good article, strong analytical as usual.
    However,you included and were duped by a ‘myth’

    “Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Cory Schneider and Luc Bourdon sent to Tampa Bay for Brad Richards.”

    This was a plant by Vancouver management to TSN Darren Dreger who reported it in a futile and very desperate attempt to save wannabe gm D.Nonnis’s job( Of course he hasn’t been hired in that capacity since, despite Vancouver’s MMM insistence at the time how it qualified he was:),
    where is fabin the great anyways?)
    The NHL is still very much an old boys club so this stuff happens all the time.
    Anyone with any hockey IQ (especially with your
    pedigree would see through this absurd trade).
    It was clearly in Nonis’s best interest to cover his butt why he couldn’t improve the trade.We are only taking ‘his word for it’.
    Unfortuntely, Most of Vancouver’s MMM save for TG and now JB aren’t able to do the dirty work to actually get to the story behind the story..
    remember Cam Cole front page story OSGOOD for the HAll of Fame (with all time worse even strength sve %
    – the first rule in meaningful journalisim..
    Hopefully you can learn from this faux paux and
    not fall into the trap.
    Secondly, …you did it again? Luongo Crybaby?
    you did it again…the MMM and now yourself…show your jealousy of LUONGO by attacking his personality?? I’ll be watching for your next appearance on Oprah? again unworthy of your obvious analytical talent

  • Danthestatman1

    Noted..just tired of attacks against his personality…Matt Z. on Team 1040 actually said” Luongo suffered from Patrick Roy disease”
    in that he used to not take responsibility for his play..and he is better now that he does…” duh?! All goalies ought to be lucky to have Roy disease (one of the stupidest comment s by a media member ever) ..one of the top two goalies in the last 30 years…Luongo was actually a better goalie before Vancovuer media forced him to change his personality …This town just doesnt understand what it take sto win..? Not a just team full of ‘nice guys’ who go to hospitals (although of course that’s great!)..the media is constantly evaluating players/coaches on whether they like them. or are easy to talk too..not what they do on the ice..its like they are teenage girls in highschool..The media helped run Matt Cooke out of town..then wonder why we get intimidated by rats in Chicago and boston..Yet Cooke is somehow good enough to win a cup and play on the same line with one of the best hockey players in the league??