The Sea-to-Sky Boner Report: Dec 2nd 2013

Carter Popoff leads a resurgent Giants team in scoring.
Carter Popoff leads a resurgent Giants team in scoring.

After a week long hiatus, the Sea-to-Sky Boner Report is back!

Since we last left them, things have been going well for the Giants. They haven’t lost a game in regulation since November 9th, and that was against the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings. They’re 5-1-3-1 in their past 10 games, and now sit 4 points up on the 9th place Prince George Cougars for the final playoff spot in the WHL’s Western conference. They took 3 of 4 points this past weekend from the Cougars too, and with two games in hand look to be solidifying their grip on a playoff spot.

Carter Popoff and Brett Kulak continue to lead the team in scoring with 31 and 29 points in 29 games respectively. Cain Franson is starting to heat up after a slow start too, with 12 points in his last 8 games. Jackson Houck leads the team in goals with 13. Goaltending though is still an issue, as team save percentage continues to be brutal. Jared Rathjen has been mediocre with a 0.898 save percentage on the year, but Payton Lee‘s struggles have persisted. He hasn’t really shown any signs of improvement , as he’s only stopped 87.1% of shots this season, the worst among all WHL starters.

To get a sense of just how much goaltending is killing the Giants, a WHL-average team save percentage (about 0.900) would have meant that the opposition scored 17 fewer goals on the year. This alone would move their goal differential from -10 to +7 and boost their expected wins to 16. That’s an 8 point swing, which is enough to leapfrog Victoria, Spokane, Seattle and Tri-City and move to 4th place in the Western Conference. It would also put them just two points behind the Kelowna Rockets for the B.C. Division lead.

The thought exercise is even more fun when you put probable Team Canada World Junior starter Eric Comrie and his 0.925 save percentage on the Giants. Assuming he played the same number of games as Payton Lee, and Jared Rathjen’s numbers were constant, the Giants would have allowed an astonishing 30 fewer goals so far this year. That would make Vancouver the 5th stingiest team in the WHL and boost their expected wins to 18. Those 12 extra points would put the Giants 1st in the B.C. Division, just a single win away from the Everett Silvertips and 1st place in the entire WHL.

Further evidence for the "Vancouver is secretly a really good team" theory is that our own Josh Weissbock put his coding skills to good use and scraped together score effect-neutral possession estimates for the WHL. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying "shots-for percentage in only the 1st and 2nd periods." It correlates pretty well with Fenwick Close over a large enough sample size, so it can help us shed some light on which teams are for real and which are playing above their heads. Here are the numbers, as of November 30th:

 

The Giants trail only the Silvertips, the Winterhawks and the Rockets in their conference, which convieniently is the same position we’d expect them to be in if they had average goaltending. Maybe GM Scott Bonner should give the struggling Red Deer Rebels a call and see if he can pry overage Patrik Bartosak away. His career 0.926 save percentage would look really nice in Giants burgundy.

Bonner has an extra import spot to fill too, as German forward Andreas Eder was sent home after never finding his stride in North America, despite a strong training camp and preseason performance. Eder had 2 goals and 1 assist in 19 games. The Giants also traded abrasive forward Scott Cooke to Moose Jaw for a 6th round draft pick.

Vancouver travels to Kelowna to take on the 19-3-0-2 Rockets on Tuesday before hosting potential 1st overall pick Sam Reinhart and the Kootenay Ice on Wednesday. The youngest Reinhart sits 5th in WHL scoring, and this will be the only time he’ll meet the Giants this season.

Around the B.C. Division

Kamloops Blazers: Traded F Aaron Macklin to Prince George in exchange for F Carson Bolduc…Acquired F Luke Harrison from Victoria in exchance for a 6th round draft pick…Are a league worst 0-8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

Kelowna Rockets: With a 9-1-0-0 record in their past 10 games, were named to the CHL’s top-10 teams list in 3rd spot…Swedish F Henrik Nyberg decided to leave the Rockets and return to Sweden for the balance of the season…F Ryan Olsen served a one game suspension for a game misconduct against Prince George…D Madison Bowey and D Damon Severson helped team WHL capture the CHL Super Series with a 4-2 victory over Russia.

Prince George Cougars: Acquired F Aaron Macklin from Kamloops for F Carson Bolduc…F Troy Bourke was suspended for 3 games for a kneeing incident against the Red Deer Rebels…Acquired F Todd Fiddler from Moose Jaw in exchange for a 5th round pick…Traded F Peter Quenneville to Brandon in exchange for a 3rd round pick.

Victoria Royals: Traded F Luke Harrison to Kamloops in exchange for a 6th round pick…Acquired F Axel Blomqvist from Lethbridge in exchange for a 4th and an 8th round pick…Acquired F Jack Palmer from Brandon in exchange for two 5th round picks…Top scoring D Joe Hicketts is out indefinitely with an upper body injury…Are red hot of late, with an 8-2-0-0 record in their last 10 games…Signed prospect Keith Anderson to a WHL standard player agreement…G Patrik Polivka was named CHL goalie of the week.

Other News and Notes:

  • League-worst Lethbridge continued their systematic tear-down, trading F Axel Blomqvist to Victoria, G Christopher Tai, D Ryan Pilon, and F Colt Conrad to Brandon for Taylor Cooper, Nick Walters, Tanner Browne and an 8th round pick, and acquiring Teagan Sacher from Regina for a 5th round pick.
  • Edmonton traded D Stephen Shmoorkoff to Swift Current for Alec Dillon and a 4th round pick.
  • Team WHL went 1-1 against Russia to clinch the CHL Super Series for the CHL. Hunter Shinkaruk scored the series-winning goal.
  • Since his hip injury, Shinkaruk has just 1 goal and 5 assists in 11 games. Before his injury, he scored 4 goals and 6 assists in just 6 games. (Side note: I’d probably prefer if Shinkaruk was left off team Canada and could just get this hip thing sorted out as soon as possible. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a 100-point in 60 games pace from a healthy Shinkaruk, but he’s clearly injured. He’s doing no one any favours by playing. Get him off the ice.)
  • WHL plays of the week are here. Enjoy.