Mercifully the 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks season, which even at the best of times was difficult to watch, came to an end on Sunday night with a lopsided Canucks beat-down of the Calgary Flames. Its been a long time since the Canucks had a season end in the first half of April, without so much as a home playoff date, but that’s where we’re at. At least the overall dissatisfaction in this market, combined with the team’s lack of success, should usher in an interesting offseason (draft lottery Tuesday!).
For the first 38 minutes, or thereabouts, this was a vintage Northwest Division style smack down; the Flames completely outmatched by a Canucks team that was actually generating offense and goals (for once). Then Daniel Sedin took a nasty hit in the numbers from Paul Byron, and appeared to be severely injured as he lay motionless on the ice for several minutes before leaving the game on a stretcher. The reports are that Daniel is in stable condition, was in a good mood, and was able to move his extremities; so that’s excellent news (Update: Daniel has been released from hospital).
We’ll recap the game at length after the jump.
The first period opened with the Vancouver Canucks dictating play and building a lead thanks to a pair of goals from Daniel Sedin, the second of which was an example of some vintage Sedinery:
The Canucks crushed it with the twins on the ice on Sunday, which is legitimately impressive. Though the Flames aren’t good, they do boast a legitimate top-pairing defenseman in Mark Giordano. Giordano played the game with an anchor named Chris Butler tied around his ankle, but let’s still credit Vancouver’s top-line with kicking Giordano’s teeth in all game long.
In the first forty minutes, before Paul Byron boarded Sedin late in the second period, Vancouver’s top-line had managed 15 shot attempts while Calgary managed just two. Meanwhile at even-strength the Canucks managed to outshoot the Flames eight-to-one with their top-line on the ice.
Also in the first period, there was a lovely Zack Kassian pass right on the tape to Shawn Matthias that the big depth forward flubbed. Despite some stubborn deficiencies in the defensive end of the rink, it should be said that Kassian showed pretty well this season and legitimately seemed to progress – something you couldn’t have said at the end of his two previous years with the team.
Still that perfect pass and Matthias flubbing it was a perfect crystallization of how Kassian’s season went, in some ways. The burgeoning powerforward progressed and developed, but very probably spent too much time playing with players who were unable to accentuate or play off of his occasionally impressive offensive skill-set (and his playmaking ability in particular).
Kassian’s line-mate for the majority of the season was Brad Richardson – a nice fourth-line piece and a solid penalty-killer, but a guy who is somewhat out of his depth in the top-nine. When Kassian and Richardson were on the ice together at evens, the Canucks lost the territorial battle too often, and only barely outscored their opponents. It’s a good sign then, that in nearly 400 even-strength minutes with Kassian on the ice without Richardson, the team was a 51.7% Corsi team and outscored their opponents by a much wider margin.
This suggests that if Vancouver can find some useful depth pieces, or just play Kassian in a top-six role occasionally, there’s reason to believe that he could make the leap next season. And, like, actual reason to believe it; not just “look at his raw tools, he’s so toolsy, wow,” reasons to believe it.
Though Vancouver authored a mostly dominant performance against the Flames, defenseman Alex Edler was on the ice for a goal against and zero goals for. That earned Edler a minus and the ignominious – but completely meaningless – distinction of finishing the season with the worst +/- rating of any NHL player.
When a player finishes the season dead last in +/- you can expect a lot of hand-wringing about their defensive abilities – or lack thereof. In Edler’s case it’ll be a theme all summer: “He’s a defensive liability.”
Now, look, if we’re being totally honest that’s probably partly true. It’s a bit histrionic, but there’s at least a kernel of fact there. Certainly the strength of Edler’s game isn’t his defensive play, but throughout his NHL career he’s consistently been able to help the Canucks possess the puck and generate offense at a good enough clip that he’s a net positive at even-strength, even despite his occasional penchant for unforced errors and brain dead defensive positioning.
This year that changed, obviously, and the Canucks were outscored by a wide margin with Edler on the ice. But the thing to keep in mind here is that it wasn’t Edler’s defensive play that changed. It’s not like his effectiveness in his own end is atrophying. Actually most of Edler’s losses in terms of personal on-ice goal differential are the result of brutal luck in the offensive end of the rink
Consider that the Canucks only scored 19 goals with Edler on the ice at five-on-five in over 60 games this season; last year they managed 27 in 45. It’s the lack of goals with Edler on the ice that represents a massive departure from what we’ve come to expect from the maddening Canucks blue-liner; not his defensive abilities. Basically Edler picked up minuses at roughly the rate we’d expect, he just didn’t get any pluses to compensate.
Here’s a table breaking down Edler’s goals against at five-on-five (although the 2010-11 numbers are “even-strength) rated per sixty minutes over the past four years. As you’ll notice, ghastly +/- numbers aside, the Canucks weren’t surrendering goals against at an appreciably higher rate with Edler on the ice at evens this year
|Alex Edler Defense||Goals Against/60|
|2010 – 11||2.06|
|2011 – 12||2.58|
|2012 – 13||2.34|
|2013 – 14||2.42|
Those of you who’ve read Canucks Army loyally over the years (and thank you for sticking around and reading our site this past season, despite the team being, y’know, bad), know how much I hate the misapplication of +/- in hockey journalism and analysis. I’ll complain about +/- absuse with no regard for my own personal dignity, like I’m SA2 and the Rogers Arena scorer just credited David Booth with his 10th on Sunday.
Edler’s case is particularly telling because his “struggles” this season (actually just bad luck) were in the offensive end of the rink, yet his -39 number will be hung around his neck all summer, incontrovertible evidence that he’s a defensive liability.
But I digress. Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau made his NHL debut Sunday and played pretty well, which shouldn’t be the least bit surprising because he’s really good. The Flames out-attempted and out-shot the Canucks with the young Boston College phenom on the ice at five-on-five, and the diminutive sniper managed his first NHL goal for good measure. He also won a lot more puck battles along the wall than a 20-year-old his size has any business winning in the NHL. An auspicious debut for the man they obnoxiously call “Johnny Hockey” (we need to stop with that everybody).
Canucks defender Frank Corrado also scored his first NHL goal, beating Karri Ramo with a high-velocity wrist shot to put Vancouver up 3-0. Corrado had a really impressive game overall, logging over 14 minutes in a third pairing role and showing off excellent poise, speed and hockey sense through the neutral zone. Clean breakouts seem like something the Canucks could’ve used more of this past season, and hopefully Corrado gets an extended look, and some actual third pairing ice-time, at the NHL level next year.
Finally at intermission Trevor “Boston model” Linden appeared with Dan Murphy to talk about his plans and such. I transcribed part of the interview over at theScore if you’re interested. It sure seems like we’ll get an answer on John Tortorella’s future with the team this week. It also seems very likely that Tortorella is surely a goner, and good riddance.
What a mess this season was, from start to finish, and what a relief that it’s finally over.