The Vancouver Canucks are diving, just in a different way than we’re used to

Image via Jeff Gross / Getty Images

After a wildly successful month of December in the Win/Loss column, January has been far less forgiving to the Canucks thus far. They’re 0-2-3 in their past 5, and have already given up just 5 fewer goals in January than they did in the entire previous month. The thing about winning is that, while obviously being the ultimate goal, it can also prove to be somewhat of a fool’s gold by thinly veiling larger underlying issues.

While getting the two points from a game is nice, ideally you’d like to do it in a way that’ll lend itself to future success. A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, a broken clock is right twice a day, and hockey teams run into stretches of play where fortunate bounces string together a winning streak. It’s not something you should bank on, though. Just ask the ’11-’12 Minnesota Wild, and the Randy Carlyle Era Toronto Maple Leafs.

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This is why we constantly preach the importance of puck possession on this platform; while it should make intuitive sense that having the puck more often than your opponent is a good thing, some people still choose to overlook its importance, despite ample evidence proving that its the best predictor we have for future success.

All of which brings us to the recent woes for the Vancouver Canucks; they’ve failed to register a win over the past 5 games now, and there are some worrying trends. Their ability to drive play has been sinking faster than Alex Burrows’ bid for Sochi. Anyways, this is something I’ve been following this for a while, and I figured that with an extra day off between games this was as good a time as any to explore the negative trend further.

You probably saw that image in Rhys’ recap of the shootout loss to the Penguins, but it was so nice that I figured we’d show it twice. He put things into perspective very elegantly, I thought: 

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"Since Alex Burrows and Alex Edler have left due to injuries, the Canucks have been in an absolute nosedive. With both Burrows and Edler, they were among the elite play-driving teams in the NHL, and a player or two away from a legitimate Stanley Cup threat in my estimation. Now? Below average and probably not a playoff team."

According to Extra Skater, the Canucks peaked back on November 22nd, after a 6-2 thrashing of the Blue Jackets had them as a 54.6% Fenwick team in score close situations. To put that into perspective, they’d be 3rd in the league – just slightly behind the Kings and Blackhawks, and ahead of the Sharks and Bruins – were they to still be driving play at that clip. 

Unfortunately, they’ve been nosediving for a while now. Travis Yost recently went through some of the grunt work so that we wouldn’t have to, and he has the Canucks as a 50.82% Corsi Close squad in the "second leg of the season" (spanning from game 21 to 44, meaning the data from the Penguins game wasn’t included).

As he’s one to do, he dug further into the data, comparing every team’s Score-Adjusted Fenwick – here’s a guide on SAF, in case you were curious – to their Fenwick Close, and what you’ll notice is that it doesn’t show the Canucks in a good light when comparing the two. This probably has to do with their absurdly astronomical possession data when down by 1 goal (things begin to look far less positive when looking at their "tied" data, for example). 

The Canucks have had a really weird year. At the start of the season, they weren’t really winning as many games as fans in these parts hoped they would, so people started to get down on them. But their underlying data was terrific, and it’s because of this that I remained quite bullish on them at the 30-game mark (right as they started that impressive 10-1-1 stretch). 

The script soon flipped on them, though, as the (positive) regression in net carried them in a big way through December. Despite not playing nearly as well at 5v5 as they had been earlier in the year, they were enjoying by far their most successful stretch of the year, so it was difficult to complain. But there’s no doubt that the writing was on the wall. Maybe it hasn’t been as weird as it has been ironic, I guess.

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Things truly have been bleak lately. In the last 3 games, they’ve attempted 149 shots as a team at 5v5 in score close situations, while their opponents have fired 226 of their own. Those figures would even make Randy Carlyle double-take. It’s also not overly surprising given some of the names that are currently in the lineup. Yannick Weber, Frankie Corrado, Benn Ferreiro, Darren Archibald, Tom ‘Hot Shot Scorer and Friend of the Blog’ Sestito. It’s not exactly a group of names that instill fear into their opponents, nor is it a group that we expected to see playing prominent roles at the start of the year.

With all of that being said I think it would be awfully premature to be panicking about all of this. It’s far more of an indication that this recent 0-2-3 stretch was forseeable based on what know about goaltending (that it’s super random, and was due to hit a rough patch), than a reason to think that they’re doomed for failure in the coming weeks and months. 

The Canucks are still about 4 games or so away from getting out of the proverbial woods, but after that, the schedule really turns in their favour. Five of their final 7 games in January will come against the 4 worst teams in the Western Conference, and then they’ll head into the Olympic break with 4 games against the LEastern Conference. More importantly, it sounds like reinforcements are on the way as Burrows, Edler, and Luongo could all be back soon enough. Think of it as reverse-jenga; the pieces are being put back together where they initially were, and the reestablished foundation is solidfying the previously crumpled tower.

Over the course of an 82-game season teams go through injuries, but it’s just unfortunate for the Canucks that all of their’s had to happen at once. Just think about it this way: Andrew Alberts, an injury replacement himself, is unable to play because of injury, and there are rumblings that Henrik Sedin is playing through an injury of his own (which given his play lately, he should but resting, but can’t because of what’s going on around him). Once some of the familiar faces return to action – and as a byproduct, role players return to positions they’re far better suited for – I’d expect some of the possession data to normalize to what we saw in the earlier stage of the season. 

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We’re used to the Vancouver Canucks diving, just not in this manner.

  • JCDavies

    “I’d expect some of the possession data to normalize to what we saw in the earlier stage of the season.”

    But which possession numbers? FenClose and FenTied lead to different conclusions about future performance and SAF appears to align much more closely with FenTied (and FenTied has been poor for the majority of the season).

  • JCDavies

    If I disagree with you using pretentious opinion instead of fact, suggest I would be a more capable NHL GM using only hind sight, throw out a bunch of tired catch phrases without any context while misunderstanding it’s not what I say but I how I say it, would I convince you I have a large penis?

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    You say that the good news is that we are going to face some weaker opponents in the latter half of January…. great…. but how is that useful come playoff time when we’ll be facing teams that we haven’t proven we can beat (LA, San Jose, Anaheim etc).

    I don’t get how being able to beat a weaker opponent or a team from the east is good news, or helpful.

        • Dimitri Filipovic

          Aquillini will have a little more money that, in all likelihood, will not be reinvested to improve the product as the salary cap allows him to pad his wallet.

          We are all Canucks.

          • JCDavies

            “Aquillini will have a little more money that, in all likelihood, will not be reinvested to improve the product as the salary cap allows him to pad his wallet.”

            The man just bought an AHL team. He clearly isn’t interested in reinvesting money to improve the hockey team.

          • JCDavies

            And how has owning and operating an AHL team improved the Canucks?

            I suppose it has created a straight line from prospect failure to this management team so that’s something…

          • Marsh

            Wow…just wow…I love it! You can’t seriously be THIS stupid?! Really?! Just…wow. I am laughing out loud. How do you manage to turn on a computer?!?!

            Oh, no, I am not going to rebut this stupidity. Every other person here likely knows the answer. I suspect the troll is out in full force and wants to be fed…allow me!

          • Marsh

            The results are not there, obviously, but you can’t seriously be questioning why an NHL franchise would want to control its own minor league affiliate can you? In theory having a place to give your own prospects ice time (as opposed to what happened with the Wolves) is the best way to develop them. I’m not sure why the team is so terrible — a combination of middling prospects (with most of the Canucks’ top ones still in junior) and the injury bug on the big club pulling away the few fringe NHLers probably contributes to it. But perhaps it takes more than a season to establish an AHL franchise from scratch.

          • Marsh

            It’s another revenue stream and/or tax benefit that has yet to show it will improve the NHL product.

            Aquillini has another business venture. Good for him.

            With the salary cap putting a ceiling on worker costs, it’s not as though Aquillini has ever run the Canucks at a loss…

        • JCDavies

          Kinda on the same page here. I don’t see them taking out many of the top dogs in the West. Sadly, I wouldn’t be upset with missing the playoffs. It would accomplish a few things:

          1) May get Gillis canned.
          2) Some players with NTCs may OK a trade to select teams (Edler, Hamhuis and Bieksa would bring solid returns as would Lu).
          3) Provide the organization and fans with a bit of a reality check. We’re not contenders right now but a couple of pieces may put us back into the conversation).

          Anyway, cheer ’em on and enjoy the ride!

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    “This probably has to do with their absurdly astronomical possession data when down by 1 goal (things begin to look far less positive when looking at their “tied” data, for example).”

    Gee it’s not like someone didn’t mention that weeks ago while the silver lining brigade cherrypicked the statistic that made them feel all warm and fuzzy.

    “Once some of the familiar faces return to action – and as a byproduct, role players return to positions they’re far better suited for – I’d expect some of the possession data to normalize to what we saw in the earlier stage of the season.”

    But what if Henrik, Daniel, Kesler & Bieksa all hit the infirmary just as Burrows & Edler make it back on the ice?

    There’s nothing surprising going on here.

    An old core isn’t going to magically get better by simply resetting.

    If this team explores trading Luongo in the offseason and opening itself up to the mercy of the save percentage gods, that’s basically the end of pretending this team is a “contender”.

    Hopefully fans can still get their phallic quota and satiate their psychological needs…

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      I don’t think the issue is whether the Sedins or Kesler get injured (especially since Henrik already appears to be); it’s more that the amount that they’ve already leaned on them this season means that they’re getting worn down without adequate support.

      I am trying not to get too down on the team despite this miserable stretch of games — I know LA and SJ have had pretty bad stretches too — but the lack of depth is beginning to show. Having injured players return will make a difference, but I’m not sure how much at this point.

      Trading Luongo is a nonstarter for the same reason it was last season or the shortened one. I also don’t see Lack as ready for the full primetime. Last game was the first one with what looked like softer goals.

      • Dimitri Filipovic

        With Luongo playing well, the salary cap going up, one less big money year on his contract and the amount of money teams are paying starting (or fringe starting) goalies these days, his value is presumably up.

        But there’s been little indication that Luongo wants to finish out his career in Vancouver.

        If the organization is as player friendly as it claims to be, trading him should be considered.

        Even though it would be terrible for Gillis’ job security…

  • Marsh

    The fact is this has been a streaky team for quite a while that rides ways of high highs and low lows. The difference of late is their mental collapses with leads, like they are just waiting for something bad to happen. The silver lining is that as bi-polar as this team has played, they have had opportunities to win most of the games. Getting Back key players will help but injuries are not an excuse for allowing your goalies to be pelted by 50 shots on a nightly basis. They have to start looking at facing the tough teams as an opportunity to prove to the league they can go toe to toe, seems they are just trying to hold on to a point. Toughen up guys!

  • Marsh

    I would hope Henrik would rest up. I’d like him healthy for trade deadline day…

    But seriously, stop it with the ironman streak, I hope he rests his ass and doesn’t even think about going to the Olympics. His country and his pro team wouldn’t like having him there if you can’t play hockey.

    Neither would the fans.

  • Marsh

    Buying an AHL team was to ie it into the greater Canucks brand.

    I guarantee it’ll be in the lower mainland sooner rather than later. Aquillini could’ve made a killing if he could’ve convinced the Flames to leave their sweet deal with Abbotsford.

    If he had a team in that city it would sell out every might, be a hero in the city, and would help his club with a nearby farm team for call ups.

    In other words, you’re all right so stop fighting like pigeons over a piece of moldy bread.