Canucks Army is preparing for the playoffs in a way only Canucks Army can: by preparing an exhaustive list of profiles of potential general manager candidates, and by preparing an exhaustive list of profiles of potential new coaching candidates, just in case.
Twas I who had the misfortune of writing the profile for John Tortorella back in June. I’m going to share a few key passages from that profile:
Torts, unfortunately, is a coach that also shares Mike Gillis’ philosophy about size over talent in the Bottom Six. In the game that saw the Rangers eliminated, Brad Richards sat in favour of Derek Dorsett, Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley. He seems like a natural fit for a team that re-upped Tom Sestito for two years, presumably with the interest of having him play live hockey games with the organization.
It seems like an odd match at first. Both the Canucks and Torts are drifting, with another year or two before an eventual fall from grace. Torts does share lots in common with Gillis, however. Not only are they committed to the (false) ideal that size and not skill wins hockey games, but neither Gillis nor Torts are in this business to make friends.
“Another year or two” seems generous. Should have written “Both have until January before an eventual fall from grace”.
Generally, Torts knows which of his players can score and how to get them into those positions. I prefer zone matching to line matching except in rare situations, but it still takes a keen eye for the game to note when an offensive zone faceoff is coming, or how to not burn both of your scoring lines during an extended period of game time.
“Zone matching? Line matching? Just let me know when Ryan Kesler’s heart rate drops below 170 and we’ll send him right back out there!”
I think the scary thing is that I wasn’t too far off from reality, although arriving at that conclusion completely by accident. The big disappointment for me is how Tortorella has used his defence. During Dan Hamhuis first two years in Vancouver, him and Kevin Bieksa had a hell of a time as the primary first pairing, racking up a 54.6% Corsi rate together while sharing top pairing duties. Given Torts’ reliance on the Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi pairing that’s had some success in recent years and one of the best defensive units in the NHL when considering that unit’s ability to move the needle despite tough circumstances, many of us hoped that Torts’ hiring meant a reunification of Bieksa-Hamhuis as the No. 1 pairing.
Bieksa was this year, paired for the most part with Alexander Edler, who had a notable season thanks to the Canucks’ 3.7% shooting percentage when he was on the ice. Consequently, Edler had the 2nd lowest PDO amongst all regular defenceman, ahead of just Seth Jones. That’s a kick in the tits right there, for Edler, Edler’s trade value, and Bieksa. Both defencemen have accumulated a share of the blame for things outside their control.
A new coach is probably going to walk through that door at some point in June and is, for the most part, getting in on a pretty good situation. The Canucks still have some good defensive pieces and were one of the better puck-possession teams in the NHL all season. Some coach is going to find himself with a team that was 9th in score-close Corsi this season, 19th in PDO and, most egregiously, shot just 8.4% in 5-on-4 situations.
Here are a list of teams who have shot less than 10% in 5-on-4 situations (via HockeyAnalysis) and how they fared the next season:
It’s still a bit lower than the NHL average of about 12.5%, but it’s also much closer to even, and the difference could be just noise considering there are so many teams (like the 2012 Montreal Canadiens, who are the 2014 Vancouver Canucks’ analogue in this situation) who managed a season above average the next year. Powerplay shooting percentage, it has been found, is highly regressive, and I wouldn’t spend too much time in the summer worrying about the powerplay. An extra 2% shooting gives the Canucks about 8 extra goals on the powerplay, worth 1 or maybe 2 wins. I thought the Canucks powerplay was about to pop off at any time this season and it didn’t, but I’m still keeping those chips on the table for the fall when a new coach has magically fixed the Canucks powerplay.
Had the Canucks had normalized percentages this year, we’re talking about a playoff team. Maybe not one that’s going to win a playoff round, but probably one that hasn’t just fired its general manager and about to fire everybody else.
WEEKEND WATCHABILITY INDEX
The Canucks are out of it, as are six other Canadian teams, which is going to make Hockey Night in Canada awful to watch Saturday night. Worse yet, already seven of the playoff teams cannot move up or down in their seeding, so a few star players may be resting this season. Worse yet, the Art Ross race has been won by Sidney Crosby and the Rocket Richard Race has been won by Alex Ovechkin. Even the races for individual awards are duds this week.
Still, here are four games you could watch:
Dallas vs. Phoenix – Sunday @ 6:00 p.m. Pacific
The hook: This is on the exact same time as the Canucks-Flames game. There’s a small chance that the Canucks and Flames could be tanking for sixth last in the NHL and a slightly better draft choice and slightly better odds at the No. 1, but a win by Vancouver against Edmonton or any loss by Calgary to Winnipeg renders that possibility moot.
So we have Dallas and Phoenix, and unless Dallas win at home against St. Louis tonight, then this game will be for the final playoff spot in the West. Two teams with questionable goaltending in a do-or-die game is always a fun possibility, and at Canucks Army we’re obviously pulling for the Stars and Jamie Benn, and also because we decided to arbitrarily hate the Coyotes a while back. Dallas, a good possession team, could also upset either Anaheim or Colorado in the first round and vindicate a stat geek or two. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
Colorado vs. Anaheim – Sunday @ 5:00 p.m. Pacific
The hook: Should Colorado pick up points against the Sharks, who are playing for nothing, tonight, then this game could determine the Presidents’ Trophy race. Colorado, with their unconscious goaltending, questionable D and bevy of young forwards were a favourite of mine to watch this season and even if I don’t think they’re in that top tier of Western teams that should compete for the Cup, they were fun to watch and have tons of potential. Anaheim is, well, Anaheim, and I think their mission this postseason is to start John Gibson for three rounds and see if anybody notices.
Watch it on mute, however. Colorado and Anaheim may have the two worst local broadcast crews in NHL GameCentre-land.
Dallas vs. St. Louis – Friday @ 5:30 p.m. Pacific
The hook: I wanted an opportunity to point out that since ‘The Trade’, Ryan Miller has a .903 save percentage with the Blues, Jaroslav Halak has a .923 with the Capitals, and Sabres goalies rose up from a collective .914 to a .917.
Honestly, one of the best things about this job is pointing out where trading for goalies just wound up being disastrous for the team acquiring the “bigger name”.
Also, a win by Dallas means they’re in the playoffs. Tyler Seguin must score four times to hit 40 on the year, which is possible to achieve in his final two games. Should he accomplish the feat, we should all chip in for Seguin’s neck tattoo commemorating his season.
San Jose vs. Phoenix – Saturday @ 6:00 p.m. Pacific
The hook: We all need something to watch Saturday night, and even though this game is rendered completely meaningless should the Stars win and take a four-point lead (the Stars also have the all-important ROW tie-breaker, so Phoenix needs to finish a point ahead of Dallas to get into the postseason) this is, unfortunately, the best game on an absolutely brutal Saturday night stretch of games.
The Yotes have, regrettably, been in a bit of a scoring funk lately, scoring four or more goals just twice since the Olympic break, so the high-wire act we saw at the start of the season has taken a turn for the worse under Dave Tippett’s “lock it down” defence in front of Thomas Greiss. Nobody likes teams whose top defenceman is the leading scorer on the team, man. Nobody likes them.