The Sedins have a right to look tired, considering the load they carried for the Canucks last season.
Image via Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck.
Over at NHL Numbers, Travis Yost published a fascinating research piece today, which I figured merited some discussion on this platform. Essentially, he took each Western Conference team’s most regularly used 12 forwards (based on even-strength time on ice), and broke them into 4 tiers. After doing so, he took into account each individual’s corsi (a proxy for possession, but you already knew that), before adjusting it for zone starts. You’ll note that the strength of competition was not factored into this assessment.
But why tiers? Given the amount of line tinkering that goes on over the course of a season – due to injuries, lack of production, or Alain Vigneault simply mistaking his lineup card for a blender – I like the idea of separating the top 12 into tiers, rather than strictly labelling lines 1, 2, 3, and 4. At least for these purposes. Most of the time, the two will line (pun intended) up anyways.
Past the jump we’ll take a closer look at what Mr. Yost found when compiling the numbers for the Canucks, and what it means. I’ll give you a little hint for what to expect: thank your lucky stars that the Sedins are a thing.
When thinking about this analysis, just keep in mind that this is just another way of reviewing what took place last season. It’s not the be-all, end-all, and it’s not necessarily something that we can use to predict future performance. But I do think that it still has value.
Anyways, based on total even-strength time on-ice for the season, the tiers for the Canucks were as follows:
Tier 1: Henrik Sedin (749:48), Daniel Sedin (718:06), Alex Burrows (663:19)
Tier 2: Jannik Hansen (644:30), Mason Raymond (579:59), Chris Higgins (559:34)
Tier 3: Max Lapierre (521:44), Zack Kassian (468:19), Jordan Schroeder (348:24)
Tier 4: Dale Weise (344:02), Andrew Ebbett (308:20), Ryan Kesler (234:43)
Missed the cut: Derek Roy (167:37), Tom Sestito (152:27), David Booth (148:21).
Here’s how things shook out for the Canucks:
There’s three things that stand out right off the bat:
a) It’s reasonable to expect that your top unit would have the most success, but the way things fall apart for the Canucks as you move down their depth chart is rather staggering. What you’ll quickly notice when you scan the numbers for the other teams in the West, is that the best teams – Kings, Blackhawks, Blues, and Sharks – have a level of consistency throughout their lineup. And this makes sense, because after all, having a bunch of players that can play hockey effectively is important.
b) Yet the Canucks were able to stay afloat last season, thanks in large part to their sterling goaltending, and the Sedins, who were once again marvelous. I’ll be the first to admit that I had my concerns about a potential decline heading into the year, and – despite the fact that their point totals (due to various extenuating circumstances) dropped – I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. They did everything you could possibly want from your top guys. The chart below shows that they were not only the cream of the crop last year, but that LA’s top line of Williams-Kopitar-Brown was the only one in their stratosphere.
c) The issue for the Canucks is that their support was for the most part non-existent. Obviously things would look drastically different were it not for the fact that 2/3 of their ideal "2nd tier" missed a combined 67 (out of a potential 96) games. That hurts. But so does the fact that Chris Higgins fell off of a cliff. For the team to make any sort of waves this coming season, they’ll need their AMEX line to round back into form, which will require them to actually stay on the ice. A risky proposition, but one that the Canucks appear to be banking on.
Otherwise, you get what happened last season: guys being asked to move up the depth chart, and play in roles they’re not suited for (the Tier 2 listed above is a fine 3rd line, but if you’re bumping them up like that, you’re just asking for trouble). The Canucks weren’t prepared for injuries last year, and as things stand right now, they’re still just as vulnerable.
I did want to end on a positive note, so I included the graph for Tier 4, just to show that things could always be worse – you could be cheering for the Edmonton Oilers.