On Closed Windows, Playoff Bounces and Coin Flips

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen , Getty Images

When the Canucks ultimately lose this first round series against the San Jose Sharks – and the guillotine might fall mercifully on Tuesday, or perhaps the Canucks can fruitlessly extend the series the way they did a year ago against the Los Angeles Kings – the calls for wholesale change out of Vancouver will be fierce and constant. Trade the Sedins, trade Edler, fire Mike Gillis, or at least fire the coach, as if that does anything beyond putting lipstick on a pig…

The Canucks are now 4-11 in their last fifteen playoff games going back to the start of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Over that fifteen game sample they’ve managed just twenty-one total goals and only seventeen tallies at even-strength. They’ve been outscored twenty-six to seventeen at even-strength, but nineteen to four on special teams and forty-seven to twenty-one overall. Yep, it’s been an ugly stretch for the Canucks and one that’s easy to overreact too.

Read past the jump.

The key is not to overreact, I think, to performance over a fifteen game sample. Watching Canucks playoff games the past couple of seasons has been about as fun as sticking needles in ones eye for Canucks fans. So I understand why people are tired of it and reacting emotionally on Monday morning. Hell, we’re tired of it too. 

But the negative suck-hole crowd jumping up and down about how inevitable Vancouver’s demise in this series was, are missing the point. Games one and two against the Sharks were coin flip contests, and coin flips in which Vancouver rather handily carried play. Game three was a bit different in that the Canucks were outmatched throughout – which most of us expected to happen on the road in this series anyway – but even that contest was close until a flurry of soft goals sunk Vancouver’s hopes of making this series interesting. This series was a coin flip from the outset, but the thing about flipping coins is that 13% of the time it’ll land on tails three times in a row…

The Canucks haven’t been able to get it done the past couple of seasons in the first round. For some that’s enough to think that Mike Gillis should completely dismantle this club (ignoring the fact that pretty much every key player is on a no-trade clause, so that’s much easier said than done). But looking over the data, I’d argue that the Canucks have been absurdly unlucky the past few years in the playoffs.

Consider even-strength play. The Canucks have taken four-hundred and fifteen shots at even-strength since game one of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. They’ve scored only seventeen goals on those shots for a shooting percentage that sits just a tick above 4.1%. Sounds sustainable.

Canucks opponents meanwhile have taken three-hundred and forty three even-strength shots over that same sample and have scored on 7.6% of their shots. In other words, at least some of Vancouver’s woeful performance over the past handful of playoff games has been percentage based.

For the "shot quality" crowd, I’d mention that the scoring chances corroborates this analysis to some extent. In other words it doesn’t appear to be that the Canucks have spent the past fifteen games shooting from the perimeter because they lack the gumption to go to the "dirty areas" where playoff goals are scored. Since game one of the Boston series the Canucks have been narrowly out-chanced (despite outshooting the opposition) 166 to 155. So the Canucks have controlled 48.2% of quality looks at even-strength in their last fifteen playoff games, 54.7% of the total shots on goal at evens, and 39.5% of the even-strength goals. That’s the bounces for you.

Over the coming few weeks and month we’re going to hear and read a lot about Vancouver’s "window being closed" and how this team just isn’t very good anymore. Well looking at Vancouver’s playoff record the past three seasons and believing it to be more trustworthy than their consistent and much longer record of regular season success, just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Since the Boston series the Canucks have racked up a 77-36-17 regular season record and yeah I understand how that doesn’t mean a lot to fans of a team in a Stanley Cup starved market when the club has amassed a 1-7 record in the postseason the past two years. 

But it’s worth keeping in mind that despite what we’ve seen the past week, the Canucks are a good team, and dismantling the club in a serious way would be a massive overreaction.

  • KleptoKlown

    Not sure why everyone is blaming AV. Everyone rests at the feet of Gillis. His ego got in the way and it cost this team the season.

    I feel bad for AV. You can’t make wine from lemons, and he was given a big bag of lemons to deal with.

    Gillis refused to admit he made a mistake with Lou’s monster contract. He refused to trade him for anything short of a king’s ransom. And that is the #1 and only reason why the Nucks are 1 and done again. Imagine if they didn’t have the goalie circus clouding them all year. AND imagine if they had Kadri & Bozak or whatever was offered. I mean, Kadri OR Bozak would be better than nothing.

    Having 10+ million in a backup goalie and Ballard. Epic fail. Gillis is 100% to blame. Oh, and did I mention the cupboard is bone dry…. Lou could have at LEAST fetched some prospects. FAIL.

    • KleptoKlown

      Well maybe both should share the blame. Is it Gilles fault that they can’t score? In part yes because he hasn’t drafted well, or made good trades (see Booth trade). But did he draw up that 4 on 3 powerplay last night? Both had a hand in picking Schneider over Luongo – and while many agreed with their assessment, they could have more easily traded Schneider for depth or draft picks for the future. Look at the defense – who is responsible for Edler not developing well? Of course part of it is Edler, but it may be time to give another coach a chance to work with him. I have no problem if the team gets rid of both the coach and GM – what is needed is an objective assessment, of the goalies, of the forwards and the defense, to determine who stays and who goes.

  • KleptoKlown

    Just how wide open are other these windows, anyways? We have a tendency to idealize other team’s playoff performances a little bit.

    How did the Blackhawks do after their Cup?
    2009–10: Stanley Cup Champions, 4-2 (Flyers)
    2010–11: Lost in Conference Quarterfinals, 3-4 (Canucks)
    2011–12: Lost in Conference Quarterfinals, 2-4 (Coyotes)

    What about the Penguins?
    2008-09: Won in Stanley Cup Finals vs Detroit Red Wings, 4–3
    2009–10: Lost in Conference Semifinals vs Montreal Canadiens, 3–4
    2010–11: Lost in Conference Quarterfinals vs Tampa Bay Lightning, 3–4
    2011–12: Lost in Conference Quarterfinals vs Philadelphia Flyers, 2–4

    2010–11: Stanley Cup Champions, 4–3 (Canucks)
    2011–12: Lost in Conference Quarterfinals, 3–4 (Capitals)

    Anaheim, if anyone even remembers?
    2006–07: Stanley Cup Champions, 4–1 (Senators)
    2007–08: Lost Conference Quarterfinals, 2–4 (Stars)
    2008–09: Lost Conference Semifinals, 3–4
    2009–10: Did not qualify

    Speaking of Anaheim, Ottawa just seems to be recovering from their failed Cup run.

    Did Philadelphia really make it to Finals?

    Granted, it seems like these “elite” teams put up a bit more of a fight than the Canucks, or were at least rewarded by a couple more playoff wins (or even goals, at this point I’d take goals).

    But winning is the exception in this league, so how you lose comes to define who you are a lot more than how you win. And for some teams, maybe that perception keeps the window open just a bit longer.

    Maybe we just need to make changes to refocus and re-energize our guys.

    • KleptoKlown

      I get what you are saying, but those teams didn’t have the same pattern or degree of scoring futilty as Canucks – 1 and 7 since losing the cup final (2-11 since being up 2-0 in cup final). Boston lost in 7 last year; are probably going to advance to round 2 this year. BlackHawks won 6 games over those two years you mentioned – and they shed a lot of their team after winning the cup due to salary cap reasons. Flyers won a round in 2011. Penguins won 7 games the year after winning cup. If Canucks lost this series in 6 – it is still a fairly plausible outcome – that might be different. Right now they look headed to being swept.

  • orcasfan

    Should AV or Gillis go? In a perfect world, I would say both…they certainly have both had enough fails in the areas of their responsibilities. Problem is, who would replace them? Unfortunately, good GM’s and coaches don’t grow on trees! I do think we need a GM who has more knowledge and experience of putting all the pieces together to create a great team. No doubt, Gillis has been lucky to inherit a good core, young enough to still grow and develop. But after 5 years, that core is starting to age, and there’s not a whole lot waiting in the wings. I don’t have much faith anymore in Gillis’ ability to judge talent, both at the junior and pro level. But he’ll probably be given one more chance.

    Unfortunately, AV will shoulder most of the blame (typical of the NHL). But the assistants should also go. Again, who will replace him? I can only hope that it’s not Arniel!

    Obviously, retooling this team will not happen in one off-season. So don’t get your hopes up that everything will be “all better” next year! Obviously they need top 6 scoring wingers, as well as a real 3rd C.

    I would like to see Bieksa traded. The balance between his gaffs and his positives are tipping too far in one direction. Plus he’s not getting any younger! Ballard must go. Keepers – Hammhuis, Garrison, Tanev, Alberts, and maybe Edler. Not sure about Edler. Will a new coach make a difference? He’s young enough to learn. Playing on the left side with a steady right D (like Tanev) would probably help too. Is one bad 1/2 season, plus bad playoff run last year enough to give up on him?

    Guys to say “sayonara” to: Booth, Ballard, Raymond, Bieksa, and lesser lights like Sestito (is he on a 1 year contract?). And those guys who just signed for a year. I’d also trade Schroeder, by the way. We need more from a C, than what he can provide.

    We need at least 2 new wingers who can score (top 6). A good, young 3rd C who can contribute at both ends. Kassian is a project that may take a few years to bear fruit! So, I imagine he will continue his learning curve traveling up and down the top 9 next year. Maybe Jensen can shine enough at training camp to make the roster? There may be one or two more from the farm who get tryouts. Even if all this pans out, will it be enough (to regain the status as a contender)?

  • orcasfan

    If you’re talking about tough first rounds, I think it’s a mistake to leave out 2011’s near-loss to the Blackhawks. The Canucks almost didn’t get it done that round either.

    • orcasfan

      Here’s another signature Canuck mentality.
      After every post game loss you can here Sedin always saying the same thing with a smile on his face. ” we have to do this, we have to do that…” or ” we played well enough to win..”

      Ah…WRONG, you dont play “well” when you lose Sedin. don’t TALK about what you should do about your non-existent scoring, go out there and DO IT, Sedin.

      Yet the fansters never get tired of hearing the same old excuses. If Sedin were really honest he’d say” Look, my brother and I are completely useless when it counts. We dont check, we dont hit, we cant score when we are not given any room on the ice, we are only good in the regular season when it doesnt count”

      There are no captains on that ship, only passengers. The Sedins or one of them wears the C, yet the only thing I can see that it may stand for is complacency, or chicken, or Can’t or CRAP. If the fansters ever do wake up, all that’s going to happen is empty seats and the owner moving this garbage of a team to another city. Anyone ever hear of a team called the Nordiques? The Whalers? People in Quebec back then had enough of the koolaid and the losing. The canucks are no different tot he Nords, accept that the new owners, now the Avs, actually got winners in their organization who got winners to play and won a couple of cups. What have the Canucks ever done?

      All that support is doing nothing but putting the worse team on the ice. Id rather see them miss the playoffs then waste TIME with their eventually mandatory choking.The Canucks are like the one tennis player in the group who always sucks, never gets better, but always seem to jump on the court whenever you got a good doubles match going with better players. ..a total competitive boner buster. Theyre like the guys who think theyre tough around weaklings but get the living snot slapped out of them when the alpha male appears.

      They aint fooling no one except their delusional fansters. Note how the best player Bure was treated. And yes, without Bure beating mike Vernon on that breakaway, they would have never gone to the finals..hear that Linden? At least Bure didnt make Vernon look like an allstar by shooting it into his glove.
      this is what a REAL great player does, they break games wide open.They stick up for themselves, like Bures elbow on Chura. the Sedins couldnt stand up for a Taco. You dont think the players see that? They sat there and watched their captain punch marchands glove with his face and enjoy it. No wonder the ppl rioted. It was a disgrace, how can anyone playing for a Canadian city have a captain like that? Is anyone here PROUD to be a Vancouverite after seeing that?

      The curse of Bure continues.

      • orcasfan

        So do you feel better now? All that spewing you have been doing must have relieved some pressure in you. Hopefully for you the Canucks will win tonight so you will be able to come back and launch your venom again.

  • orcasfan

    While I generally agree with this article, I wonder at what point we can say ‘this deficit in shot % is a result of a particular systemic issue, rather than simply random chance’?

    Objectively, we couldn’t. But the possibility of a systemic issue affecting S% (bearing in mind that scoring chance data brings about its own subjectivity problems) can’t be easily discounted.

    It would be interesting to see the numbers on the PP (as I think we’re definitely seeing a coaching effect there) over this period. Another point would be to compare the playoff S% of all teams over this period, and further ask ‘what is the S% of teams against the Canucks vs. against other opponents?’.

  • Oilers21

    You guys can correct me if I’m wrong but as an outsider, it really seems to me as if the Canucks get exposed when they try to match another team’s physical style. When they play a team like Edmonton they’re fine because we don’t pressure the puck well or hit much and as a consequence the Sedins and others are free to cycle the puck around indefinitely waiting for that perfect pass. Against a high-tempo puck possession team, that time and space isn’t there and they’re rushed into making quicker decisions and playing more of a north-south grinding style. That’s when they get exposed because certain players are taken out of their comfort zone and either give the puck away, make bad decisions, or take retaliatory-type penalties. That’s just what I see; there’s obviously lots of talent on the roster but (like us) they seem to have real difficulty against teams that forecheck aggressively and initiate lots of contact

    • Oilers21

      Fair comment. Someone said that since the Boston series they have lost their identity. I hate when they try to show their toughness in the scrums, or make the mega hit. This was their undoing in the Cup finals – the Burrows bite came off a stupid, end of period scrum, and their defense disintegrated after Hamhuis was injured on a big check to Lucic and Rome was tossed for the infamous hit in game 3.

  • Nucksfan4ever

    “But it’s worth keeping in mind that despite what we’ve seen the past week, the Canucks are a good team, and dismantling the club in a serious way would be a massive overreaction.”

    Said the Flames blog writer 5 years ago about the Flames…

  • Nucksfan4ever

    I can’t breath right now… :'( all I wanted was for the Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup… It’s always been a dream… This is just too much… I feel lost… I’m going to keep feeling that emptiness in my heart… :'( it just hurts right now… :'( I don’t know what to do… I just don’t… All those long years… Still nothing… I just can’t believe it… It’s over… It’s all over… :'( I guess our window is closed after all for some reason… :'(