The Canucks against teams outside the Northwest

The Canucks are an elite team even without beating up on inferior Northwest Division clubs

With all the talk about re-alignment, some of it has focused on the “man, the Canucks are going to be moved to a division with real hockey teams?” It’s been unfair for the last several years that no opponent in hockey’s Northwest Division has really given the Canucks any competition whatsoever for the division crown.

Mike Gillis took over the Canucks for the 2008-2009 campaign. The Canucks won four division titles, by margins of 2, 8, 23 and 21 points. The Canucks are the only team to sweep their division, and they rolled over weak competition in the last two seasons en route to two Presidents’ Trophies.

In the last two seasons, four teams have made the playoffs from the Atlantic division. Four teams have reached from the Northeast, Southeast, and Central as well. Even the terri-bad Southeast division has sent three. The Canucks are the only team to have made the playoffs from the Northwest in two years. 

Have the Canucks been rolling over weak foes, or have the foes been weak because the Canucks are such an overwhelming team they play regularly? This post from James Grayson shows that the Canucks have faced the divisional opponents with the weakest Fenwick Close numbers, and are moving to the division with the highest that include possession powerhouses Los Angeles and San Jose. 

Finally, a little competition, no?

A comment on Pass it to Bulis by a poster going by ‘not Cam Charron’ said:

What might be a fun thing to do is see what the Canucks’ Fenwick record is against the division as opposed to out of the division for the last three years or so.

So I did, to get an indication of how worse off the Canucks have been outside the Northwest as opposed to in it. The results were pretty surprising.

Using the data from these four scripts, I calculated the team’s Fenwick Close:

  Fenwick Close% Close Sh% Close Sv% Close PDO
Against Northwest 54.3 7.94% 0.949 1.028
Against Rest of NHL 52.2 7.66% 0.929 1.005

(For the uninitiated, Fenwick Close is a puck-possession stat using unblocked shots as a proxy. A team’s Fenwick Close is generally better at predicting a team’s record than the team’s record up to that point. It’s very, very useful to determine how good at team is.)

Surprisingly, Canuck goalies have had better luck against shooters from Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota than Canuck shooters have had luck against the terri-bad goalies in that division.

However, the Canucks have a 52.2% Fenwick Close record against the rest of the NHL not including their division. Last season in 58 games “outside” the NW, they had a 51.8% record. The Cup run year, they went 52.6%. So their standing from last year is basically unchanged keeping them at 8th in the league, but dropped them from 4th to 5th in 2011. (Behind the Net and Timeonice, which I used, calculate Fenwick rates somewhat differently: BehindtheNet looks at only 5-on-5, while Timeonice uses 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 as well, leading to some differences in the overall number)

That said, the Canucks are a pretty good puck-possession team both in and inside the Northwest. We can be sure that playing inside the division helped somewhat, but outside it, they were right up with the elite teams.

In the past two years, here’s the team’s record in and outside the division. Numbers grabbed from Hockey Reference:

  GP Wins Losses OTL Pts/82 GF/82 GA/82 GD/82
Against Northwest 48 36 9 3 128 265 164 101
Against Other Divisions 116 69 32 15 108 252 203 49

In 116 games outside the Northwest in two years, the Canucks’ points over 82 games would be pro-rated to 108. That would have won them the Presidents’ Trophy in 2011 but left them one point shy in 2012. The +49 goal differential would have been beaten by three teams: the 2011 Bruins, the 2012 Bruins and the 2012 Penguins. Not bad company right there.

So even outside the Northwest, Vancouver’s been pretty good and that’s sort of surprised me, given how badly they’ve rung up Colorado and Edmonton particularly in the last couple of years. They’ll still be in a division with some of these teams, but also a couple of other real good squads. Rather than worrying about the strength of the division, Canuck fans should instead be worrying that the team is a few years older than a couple of years ago, have no players in their scoring prime years , and have had to rely more on their defence and goaltending over the last calender year.