Want to play mediocre hockey in Canucky Thompson’s town? Someone has to pay
This is a regular Friday feature combining a healthy mixture of observation, analysis, and foresight on the Vancouver Canucks. If you’d like to get at me about anything covered in this column, follow me on Twitter at @yyjordan and let’s start a textual relationship (wink).
1. Where do we start with this team right now? Despite most vital signs trending in a positive direction, the results aren’t there. The possession data that we rely on so much here at the Army is stellar; at even strength they’re third in the league, a notch above Chicago who remains without a regulation loss over halfway through the season. When trailing, they’re second in the league, this time a notch below Chicago but still controlling over 60% of Corsi events. That said, I think we can all see that there’s something missing. Jeff Angus alluded to it in his great piece on David Booth: there was a cohesion to this team in 2010-11 that we haven’t seen since. It’s not something we can measure, but this just doesn’t feel like the team it was that year, even though in many ways they have a better roster. I’d love for them to prove me wrong.
2. Speaking of Booth, he remains a statistical mystery. He drives play every night, but can’t buy a break. If he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. He needs to make like Kirk Van Houten and borrow a feeling. In some ways, he’s a microcosm for the team as a whole: every indicator says he should be excelling, but something is just a little off.
3. In my mind, much of the uncertainty around the Canucks stems from the fact that they just haven’t been able to score on the power-play lately. The games that they’ve lost over the past two weeks have been close, so sprinkle a couple goals on the man advantage in there and they probably have two more wins. There’s been some great analysis on this issue over the past couple days, starting with this tweet from Jeff Paterson and culminating in this great piece by Drance. If you were to watch the Canucks power-play from above, the endless passing around the perimeter would be reminiscent of a toilet flushing, which is appropriate because they’re pissing away far too many opportunities.
4. I will preach this until the end of time: Jason Garrison has to be on the top power-play unit. We’ve determined that the lack of success stems from a lack of shots, right? So get Jordan Schroeder off the point and give us a little Blackbeard’s Delight. 60% of the time, his shot hits the net every time. It’s science.
5. Another issue aside from special teams? Believe it or not, goaltending. To my eyes, goaltending has cost the team at least a point in two of the last three games and maybe one against Phoenix last week, so this is as good a time as any to start the "should the Canucks trade Schneider and keep Luoongo?" debate. By some stats, Roberto Luongo was the best goalie in the NHL between lockouts, and Pierre LeBrun believes that Mike Gillis is going to get a very tempting offer for Cory Schneider at this year’s deadline. Does Gillis keep the known commodity and take the bigger return for a promising youngster? The question is at least being asked, and it wasn’t before the season.
6. Elliott Friedman wrote an interesting piece on the slow adaptation of advanced statistics in hockey. It centres around the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, of which the Canucks were the first NHL team to attend four years go. There’s a fantastic quote in there from Laurence Gilman: "Believe me when I tell you there are percentage results that allow you to coach and manage your team to hedge bets in certain events." Two things about the Canucks immediately come to mind when I read that: the acquisition of David Booth and their apparent attitude towards shootouts. Booth was a player who by the numbers seemed destined to break out, and I don’t believe the organization puts all that much stock into shootouts. As crazy as it seems to give away points, they expect to win the Northwest Division anyway, and after two straight Presidents’ Trophies, can you really fault their strategy? Both of these things were gambles by the Canucks, but gambles based on strong evidence.
7. There was some epic, epic shapheat on Twitter earlier this week regarding the job security of Mr. Alain Vigneault, with the overwhelming majority wanting him gone. My personal take: this team has done just about everything with AV, whether it was becoming a dominant possession club with killer specialty teams, pushing the evelope with zone deployment, or coaxing career numbers out of the entire core group. That said, there is a case to be made that a lot of that has come at the direction of Mike Gillis, not Alain Vigneault, and I think if the Canucks disappoint in the spring again, Chuckles should be replaced. If you’d like to read and learn about the most popular option to eventually replace AV, check this out.
8. There has been a lot of talk about mandatory visors of late, and since the Canucks are my team and Manny Malhotra is my pal, it’s a topic I have a strong opinion on. I still don’t understand how any player in the league could not be wearing one, especially guys like Kevin Bieksa who have been teammates and friends with Malhotra since his incident and watched his career dwindle over the past two years. If watching a friend nearly go blind doesn’t make the decision to wear a visor easy, then the decision has to be made for you. Sorry.
9. In prospect news, Nicklas Jensen is on his way to join the Chicago Wolves today. According to Tyson Giuriato (who you need to be following if you aren’t already), Jensen can play up to 5 games with the Canucks this season – regular season or playoffs – without burning a year on his contract. The Canucks are overloaded on the wing as it is, but depending on how things shake out down the stretch, it would be an exciting opportunity for Jensen to get a taste of springtime hockey in the NHL. Plus, he’s the most likely candidate to replace David Booth when he gets bought out this summer!!!! (Just kidding… Or am I??)
10. Finally, let’s give it up to Cody Hodgson for scoring the goal of the year against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. First he strips Eric Staal of the puck, gets around the winger with a beautiful toe-drag, then cuts through the defence like a hot knife through butter before finishing glove side. At least Zack Kassian is photogenic, right?