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.

  • antro

    Not to forget, the last two teams the Canucks couldn’t beat in the playoffs won the cup as nobody else could beat them either.

    This time the Sharks likely won’t win the cup, but they were predicted by most to be vastly superior to their playoff ranking, as were the Kings last year.

  • antro

    AV needs to go. His decisions have been clearly outmatched by opposing coaches, and he does not seem to put players in positions to succeed.

    The difference between regular season and playoff hockey is that systems are used much more in playoffs (this includes line matching, style of game, scouting reports) and it is clear AV’s decisions are the reason this team does not do well during the playoffs, especially on the road.

    This was evident in 2011 vs. Chicago when they almost blew a 3-0 series lead. The only reason they went far is because they had so much talent, and Luongo was lights out. And last year Sutter schooled AV in the coaching department, and this year he is getting schooled again.

  • Dman

    Team needs some balance. Roy was a good gamble, but hasn’t worked out at all. He hasn’t freed up Kesler to attack 3rd lines or provided secondary scoring. It’s not a hard fix. If Corrado is ready for the top 6, then we just need to add a 3rd line C (Boyd Gordon?) and a 4th line LW (Torres?) from the UFA market – without trading anybody. Just have to move Ballard and Luongo.

  • Dman

    I’m on the “FireAV” bandwagon. But probably not for the same reasons as most fans.

    While I don’t think he should be fired yet, I personally feel Mike Gillis only deserves one more year to show he can make better player acquisitions.

    Because, to date, he has lived and died with the core and prospects he inherited from Burke/Nonis & Nonis. MGs attempts to supplement the core he inherited have been a series of middling moves for the most part.

    His “good” moves involve acquiring BC born defenseman Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. That is not a skill. That is a geographical advantage.

    His other good (impactful) move was acquiring Christian Ehrhoff for spare parts. Great value for two years, but that was a while ago now.

    MG’s drafting, trading and free agent signings leave a lot to be desired, in my opinion. It’s not so much that he’s been completely terrible. But he certainly hasn’t been any better than average. And an average GM isn’t adding value to a big market cap team.

    And, yes, I acknowledge that MG has had low draft picks other than Hodgson. But his draft picks have added more value to other teams (Hodgson and the number of draft picks he has traded over the years) than to the Canucks.

    Five years is a relatively large enough sample to evaluate a GM. While I like that Gillis comes off as logical and progressive, if he isn’t a good talent evaluator I don’t want him as the GM of my hockey team.

    In conclusion, I want AV fired so Gillis has nowhere else to hide. He either starts making better transactions or the owner fires him next. Because based on past performance, I don’t see any evidence to believe Gillis won’t take Vancouver down the Calgary path of mediocrity.

  • orcasfan

    For there to be NO mention of the coaching performance in this post is IMO laughable.

    The Nux were again undisciplined – that’s coaching.

    The Nux special teams have been a disaster (that’s coaching)

    JG on 1st PP unit. No JS? Starting CS when he hasn’t been on ice in 8 out of last 13 days.
    that’s a coaching decision.

    You fail to mention that the Nux have been badly outchanced this year over 48 gme sample.

    {FWIW Aaron Ward said they are being ‘out-systsemed’ that’s coaching }.

    In 2008 The Penguins changed from Therrien to Bylsma. With virtually the same roster they substantially changed their system & style of play and there chance diff and Corsi dramatically increased.

    They won the Cup.
    And have been a high chance & shot diff tm ever since.
    So Coaching systems due matter.

    AND we know AV changed the teams system to be much more defensively responsible this year. This was a fatal flaw. They don’t have the players to play this way Edler/Twins etc.

    You change the coach first (One yr too late)
    Then see the results – an proceed from there.

    Of course luck is PART of the issue, BUT not as much as you suggest. The difference between the shooting % in reg. season & in playoffs is simply to large to explain it by luck alone.

  • Dman

    It’s true somewhat we have bad luck. I try to look at it objectivly but there something’s that have happened that truly make no sence other than bad luck.
    I look down ourline up and there is no true sniper type player except maybe Daniel who hasn’t been that player in a couple of years now.
    The “fix” I believe will involve the sacrificing of maidens in to volcanos and various rituals with chickens and what not.

    ~shrug at least the weather is nice.

  • islander

    I think the team still has two very lines plus one good player for the third line, Hansen. They need to come up with grinding, physical 3rd and 4th lines which would not include plugs like Sestito. As far as defence goes they have two real finds in Tanev and Corrado but they require some more sandpaper there which to me could involve the trading of somebody like Edler. For the goaltending drama I would even trade Schneider if the return could make an immediate impact next year. One thing that has always bothered me is why the team continually overlooks players in the WHL? Bizarre.

  • antro

    I mostly agree with the sentiment here, although I see Mantastic’s (and others’) points about the trickiness of saying this is a straight up coin flip each time. However, I also think that if you take a longer view and look at playoff games since MG was hired, the record of the current core also looks different.

    One other thing is the call for a new coach, which TD has tended to support based on questionable personnel decisions. I realize that it’s probably time for a new coach, but the problems the Canucks are facing right now would seem to be the GM’s. There’s a list of things Mike Gillis hasn’t got done which everyone who writes about the Canucks has been saying since last spring: a 3rd line checking center; trading Luongo and finding another back-up; not finding balance b/w right and left side D, and not finding balance b/w puck-moving and defensive D; doing something with Ballard; signing or developing depth dmen more reliable than Barker and Joslin; and there’s probably a couple more. Nobody could predict the specific circumstances: a salary cap about to go down, and long injuries to Booth, Kesler, and Bieksa, then late season injuries to Tanev and Schneider. But Doug Wilson did a nice job finding usable parts and trading away parts he didn’t want anymore. AV hasn’t been able to find good balance in his line up all season, and part of that is injuries, and part of that is not having the pieces. And it’s showing now in the playoffs.

    This isn’t to say that the GM should be fired (not at all), but GMMG’s famous patience is starting to have Tambellini-like proportions.

    • orcasfan

      I tend to agree about a fair deal of the issues this yr were in the GM’s hands.

      On the Canucks Army podcast, I remember one of the people mentioned the possibility that Gillis wasn’t prepared for this season. I agree. Granted there were unusual external variables this yr, mainly the lockout. But there’s no excuse to go into the season knowing there’s a 90% chance Manny won’t ever play again, Kesler is injured and the only other option is a rookie whose never played in the NHL. They were lacking centres before the season started and he doesn’t pick up a single centre? Quite frankly, it’s ludicrous and unacceptable.

      Add onto that the lack of righty d-men, 2 wingers (Booth/Raymond) who were unreliable the year previous, a $4.2M bottom pairing d-man and two #1 goalies. I think AV did what he could with what he had. He couldn’t draw from the farm team, cause there’s very little down there in the forward dept. Gillis has provided little in the drafting dept.

      I’m not calling for the firing of anyone. I think there’s blame to go around for everyone – GM, coach, players. But I feel the busload falls on the GM’s shoulders.

  • Mantastic

    3rd game wasn’t close to being a coin flip so your 13% of getting 3 tails in a row is a bad analogy

    playoffs it really comes down to the entangibles. block shots in the reg season reflects negatively on your fenwick but in the playoffs, it’s an asset to have people putting your body on the line to block the shots towards the net. you really rely too much on metrics on playoff hockey drance

    also series by series the metrics change, you can’t just clump all the playoff data and say that the percentages are unsustainable. and playoffs is all about unsustainable percentages and small sample sizes.

  • Mantastic

    I think you’re trusting in underlying data a little too much. Call Games 1 and 2 coin flips all you want, but the Sharks wanted it more and found a way to win.

    This is where “clutch” comes in. I know you guys don’t believe in it, but look at games 1 and 2. Two evenly matches teams. One has been clutch, the other not so much.

    15 games may not seem like much….but I’d say 3 play-off series being completely destroyed is a large enough sample size. A team this could not being able to get past the 1st round in two consecutive seasons has some issues that need addressing.

    Obviously the core was good enough for back-to-back presidents trophy’s and a trip to the Finals. Dismantling it to start over would be silly. It’s the role players that need adjusting. A real 3rd line centre who can win face-offs is a MUST need. As are some wingers with some grit to their game who can score.

    Mike Gillis has done a respectable job and deserves a chance to right the ship.

    I’m on the Fire AV bandwagon myself. His style is just not effective anymore. The team needs a fire-starter more than an x’s and o’s guy right now. The time is right with Lindy Ruff on the market..

    • orcasfan

      if you think Lindy Ruff is a “firestarter” you must be high. Buffalo tuned him out, how fast do you think Vancouver would? One thing Vancouver doesnt need is another coach who cant coach defense.

    • JCDavies

      “the Sharks wanted it more and found a way to win.”

      This is just such an absurd, vague statement. It’s meaningless. You really think the boys are going out there on a shift and thinking “meh, I can take it or leave it.” Ridiculous. You’re making stuff up to justify the ignorant conclusions you’ve already drawn. Give me a break.

      • orcasfan

        Here’s a prime example of canucks mentality.

        “I believe we can win one game,” Vigneault said. “We haven’t beaten the Sharks once this year. I believe we can do it tomorrow.”

        So , by that logic, I were to take get into a ring and fight Floyd Mayweather and lose miserably 3 times in a row, then maybe on the fourth fight I could win. LOL

        This is why the canucks will NEVER win the cup…ever. Delusional fans to delusional coaches and management, and a greedy useless owner, from the cheap grffiths family to the aqullinis…the curse of Bure continues.

        The boys are out there looking at the uselessness of the sedin sisters, and burrows, and raymond, and edler and so on and wondering to themselves..what the hell have i gotten myself into? Bet your ass the Sedin sisters have talked amongst themselves to hang it up this or next year and go back to playing in the swedish league because there’s no hitting allowed there. LOL What team in the NHL wouldnt want a pair of icetime eater doing nothing in the play offs?

        43 years of sucking. The facts speak for themselves. Cased closed.

      • KleptoKlown

        From GRR’s comment –

        “A team this good not being able to get past the 1st round in two consecutive seasons has some issues that need addressing.”

        “Obviously the core was good enough for back-to-back presidents trophy’s and a trip to the Finals. Dismantling it to start over would be silly. It’s the role players that need adjusting. A real 3rd line centre who can win face-offs is a MUST need. As are some wingers with some grit to their game who can score. ”

        Your reply –

        “Ridiculous. You’re making stuff up to justify the ignorant conclusions you’ve already drawn. Give me a break.”

        What exactly is he fabricating? Did Vancouver make it past the first round the last two years? Nope. Do they lack wingers with size and grit and a bit of skill? Yup. Do they miss Malhotra? Yes.

        Those are the facts.

        You of course are not in any way obligated to like them, but to accuse GRR of making stuff up is demonstrative of major denial on your part, matt. The only person who appears to be ignorant about the (current) state of the Canucks is you, and intentionally so.