Offseason Transactions Deep Dive: What’s Next?

If it feels like it has been quite some time since the frenzy of moves the Vancouver Canucks made in that hectic stretch bridging the end of June and beginning of July, it’s because it has been. With the summer now officially having been put in the rearview mirror as training camps are set to begin across the league, we’re running a 5-part series reviewing what the Canucks did this summer, and what it means for them moving forward.

This deep dive was executed by the excellent MoneyPuck_ on Twitter, who has contributed content for us in the past.

This has assuredly been the Summer of Analytics, but Corsi can be a fickle mistress. In most cases, the teams that consistently outshoot their opponents do better in the standings. Nevertheless, every year you get teams that are consistently outshot – like the ’13-’14 Avalanche as a most recent example – who still manage to find the bounces they need to overachieve while teams like the ’13-’14 Canucks can’t buy a break. 

The 5v5 corsi close differential versus team points from ’07 to ’14 are shown below (with the caveat being that the ’12-’13 lockout shortened season was excluded):

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.35.48 PM

If the Canucks’ 5v5 corsi differential had followed the trendline they would’ve ended up with between 93-95 points, which would’ve conveniently enough just edged out the Dallas Stars for the last wild card spot in the West. 

A wild card spot is probably around where last year’s team deserved to end up, based on talent alone. However, due to bad luck, worse coaching, and uncharacteristic lulls in production by nearly everyone on the team that mattered, the Canucks ended up in the lottery race instead of the playoff race.

Likely one of the most impactful changes this summer will be the one behind the bench, as Willie Desjardins promises to bring a return to an uptempo, puck possession style. Some of you may be aware of the zone-entry project which Corey Sznajder has been working on this summer (where he has tasked himself with tracking zone entries for every game from this past season). The impetus for this project was previous research which showed that controlled offensive zone entries generated twice as many shots as dump ins.

Corey’s data seems to have confirmed the importance of entering the offensive zone with control, as 12 of the 15 teams that carried the puck with control more than their opposition made the playoffs. Meanwhile, 11 of the 15 teams that carried the puck in with control less than their opposition failed to make the playoffs.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.40.22 PM

It should come as no surprise that the Canucks had one of the worst controlled zone entry differentials in the year last year because of Tortorella’s dump-and-chase strategy, and we are beginning to see the impact effectively entering the offensive zone with control can have on results. With that in mind, there are reasons for optimism surrounding the Desjardins hiring in that respect alone.

I also think there’s reason to be excited about the changes made to the forward core. Unlike most, I was a fan of the Kesler trade; not necessarily because I’m delusional about Bonino’s abilities, but rather because over the past three seasons Kesler’s play has deteriorated to a point where the difference between him and Bonino isn’t nearly as significant as many believe. 

Similarly, I think the Vrbata acquisition was one of the summer’s best signings, despite what I think are legitimate questions around him being the right fit for the twins. In trading for Vey the Canucks added a high skill young prospect who should be able to contribute in the top nine. When you consider that the Sedins, Hansen, and Burrows are all a year older, and missed a combined 65 games to injury last year, the depth additions of Vey, Bonino, and Vrbata to the top nine will likely be critical.

Like last year, I expect the defense and goaltending to be solid. Despite shipping off Jason Garrison, their defense shouldn’t take too much of a hit with players like Tanev, Stanton, Corrado, and Sbisa ready and able to eat up more minutes. And while I don’t think signing Miller was the right move, I don’t see why a Miller/Lack tandem can’t improve on the team’s ’13-’14 save percentage of .907.

There was a flurry of activity this summer, and a lot of positive steps in the right direction. Thanks to two drafts in a row with multiple first round picks, the Canucks prospect depth has improved from bottom third in the league to top ten, although I don’t think they boast much in the way of potential elite talent.

For all the trumpeting of change coming, it’s hard to envision this squad doing better than being in a dog fight for a wild card spot, which at best would likely lead to a first round playoff exit at the hands of one of the West’s super powers.

With a realistic look at the likelihood of playoff success with this, it will be interesting to see what direction management takes if this incarnation of the team struggles out of the gate. For all the change this summer, the core is pretty much intact. As a result, it can’t be overly surprising that they’re at 15-2 odds of winning their division (and a whopping 40-1 of ultimately winning it all).

They’re a year older, and they will likely break down at times this season just as they did last season. This is something to keep in mind should the team be just treading water around the trade deadline, particularly as a potentially great entry draft – which appears to contain quite an impressive collection of young talent – looms on the horizon.

Previously in this series:

    • RandomScrub

      Curse of Bure? What, because of Quinn’s cheeky selection of him when his draft eligibility was a bit muddled?

      I was under the impression the curse went right back to Clarence Campbell spinning the wheel back in 1970 and mistakenly saying “Vancouver” before realizing his mistake and handing the first pick (Gilbert Perrault) to the Sabres…

  • Lowetide

    > “As a result, it can’t be overly surprising that they’re at 15-2 odds of winning their division (and a whopping 40-1 of ultimately winning it all)”

    Whopping? There are 7 teams in the division and then are 7.5 to one dogs to win it. There are 30 teams in the league and they are 40-1 to win the cup.

    Basically just below average in both cases. I.e. the odds makers are really screwing over their customers.

  • Fred-65

    Great article, I find myself in agreement with your analysis. I actually think the Canucks could be third in the Pacific. Edmonton is a little better, but far from playoffs, Calgary is drifting and seems dependent on two undersized players for their future. Arizona is I think weaker than last year. So that leaves Anaheim, LA and San Jose. LA will coast through the regular season but clearly make the playoffs. San Jose is a question mark, other than Vlasic who do they have on defense and how solid is their goaltending? I think they needed to make changes but they didn’t. I also have questions about Anaheim. A solid but not spectacular d and I think some questions in goal damage a good set of forwards, although I feel Kesler may be a net negative as he is not what he was three years ago and he is very selfish on the ice and from all I have heard a whiner in the dressing room. I see issues between him and Perry as to who is alpha dog. I like what Canucks have done and I think they will get in and improve year to year. I predict that within 2 years, Burrows, Higgins, Hansen, Sestito, Richardson, Bieksa and possibly Kassian will be gone and the replacements will be much younger. Sedins and Hamhuis will grow old with team. Edler will either get confidence back and become a beast or he will move on as well.

  • RandomScrub

    I for one believe that last years super down year may bring more benefits than ever expected.

    1. Torts had a long deal and Gillis had signed an extension. If we just made the playoffs or just missed, we would be gearing up for Round 2. The new regime is worth the down year to have hard workers that bring dignity and hard work every day and expect the same from their players. Torts only met once w Burrows??

    2. 4 #1 draft picks in the last 2 years. That in itself brings in a new era that should bridge the 30 something’s with the 20 something’s. Our last 2 # 1 picks will be good ones in McCann and Jake V. Only a complete collapse after New Years brought that out.

    3. True character was shown. Getting rid of front running jackasses was needed, especially Kesler and his diminishing skills. If the Ducks don’t win the Cup in the next 2 years, the Canucks fleeced them in this trade. Better chance he ends up in training room than hoisting the Cup.

    This team had a face lift and a heart transplant. Jim Benning and Coach Willie never skipped a rung on the ladder of success. At heart Benning is a Scout and Willie is a teacher. They work hard and expect their players to do the same. I believe this team will have a new respect league wide because of changes top down.

    If it only took one bad year, it’s worth it. Go Canucks Go

  • RandomScrub

    It seems likely that the benefits of controlled zone entries come down to whether or not you can pull it off successfully. Do you want Tom Sestito to be constantly trying to dangle into the opposing zone? No, it’s probably better if he dumps it. Patrick Kane? Go right ahead and carry the puck in.

    So it begs the question: are the good teams getting more points on the scoreboard BECAUSE they are using more controlled zone entries, or are they using more controlled zone entries because they have highly skilled personnel?

    Either way, whatever Tortorella was coaching, it didn’t work for the personnel on the team.

  • RandomScrub

    That is some seriously fascinating work re: zone entries. Must have been A LOT Of work tracking that ll. I’m curious if NHL teams are doing the same (I bet the leafs do now).

    I love the optimism Dmitri has re: the summer changes. I however, was not a fan of most of it. Mainly cause I saw a Kesler trade as an ‘opportunity’ to either compete for the Cup, or rebuild. They could continue to compete if they got the right package in return. Or, they could get the wrong return (which they did IMO) and require a rebuild.

    I don’t understand the logic of this new management team. This fan base wants a Cup. It’s been 40+ years. They don’t want to fight for playoff spot with zee chance of winning a Cup. Hockey fans aren’t stupid. I wince read a study saying hockey fans are the most intelligent of all sports. We know this team isn’t good enough to get near the Cup, but not horrible enough o get Connor McDavid. So they’re an ‘in between’ team and that’s not appealing to a 40+ yr drought of a fan base.

    It would explain seasons tickets still being available. Fans selling preseason tickets for pennies on the dollar and general lack of optimism about the current season. You can’t a bag of rocks and pretend it’s gold. You can however sell a clear direction. Give an accurate statement of current events, and set an appropriate new path. Changing a few faces isn’t setting an appropriate new path. It’s delaying the inevitable, which is this team isn’t winning a Cup now. And they certainly aren’t winning a Cup without the Sedins. So it’s time to rebuild.

    As much as it pains me to say this, I hope the team dives again this season. Perhaprs, once and for all, it will kickstart this money hungry owner into seeing what most of us do. This team ain’t wining a CUp. And all the fans want is a Cup. So build us a team that eventually will get us there.

    • RandomScrub

      This team ain’t wining a CUp. And all the fans want is a Cup. So build us a team that eventually will get us there”

      Haha. You really think a team that prides itself on BS marketing and almost 50 years of losing will finally try to win the cup when they’ve been making money from the yearly dumb-dumbs who attend their games and buy their stuff?

      That’s like trying to tell the boneheads in government that skytrain, icbc, bike lanes and everything else is one big money pit.

      Good luck with that. LOL

    • RandomScrub

      Tanking doesn’t guarantee anything in the NHL anymore since the draft rules have changed. Buffalo isn’t too happy about the new rules and they have two potentially high picks. Losing on purpose is cowardly and the Canucks have too much veteran talent to end up dead last.

      Ridiculous notion.

  • RandomScrub

    I really like the offseason additions, although I am going to miss Santorelli. I also think taking the twins off the PK will help their games a ton. And yeah, I’m always surprised at how negative our fan base is about the Canucks, even the “positive” fans. The reason they made it to the cup final is because they were working their asses off every game of the season. If they get back to that mentality anything is possible.

    • RandomScrub

      Were talking about the Canucks here. With them, NOTHING is possible. Fifty years will come just as fast as forty, as fast as 30, 20, 10.

      Let’s hope they make 100 years of loserdom. No other fans deserve such a fate

      I wonder what BS they will use once 50 empty years comes up. Probably another jersey lifted in the halls of mediocrity.

  • Fred-65

    Well I’ve been buying tickets for a long time and frankly this teams strikes me as good as any of it’s predecessors. I agree Kesler better days are passed, his style of play didn’t inspire longevity and it’s starting to show. I believe that Vey is going to be a good 3rd line centre ( from the reports I’ve read ), who if paired with a shooter, can and will give three lines…better than we have had for a long time. The Sedins have for the first time in their careers been given a genuine RH scorer There’s competition on defense. Games are going to be won in the third period and if the Sedins don’t have a good night but draw the oppositions checkers we do have some finish on lines 2 & 3. This is IMO a better balanced team than we’ve seen for a couple of years. Kesler was a one man show for a second line. Miller and Lack provide maybe as good a tandem as many teams have. AND here’s the kicker other teams can and will suffer injuries. It’s an unknown that can’t be graphed!!! Think Ducks without Getzlaf, LA without Doughty etc.

    And for those that want to throw the towel in and look for future draft picks I assume you don’t buy tickets and you’re not exactly a competitive sportsman your self. Atheletes do not throw in the towel…..they’d never get another contract and it’s not in their dictionary

    • RandomScrub

      You seem like a nice enough guy Fred.

      However, you are certifiably delusional if you believe THIS team is as good as any of its predecessors.

      But I guess one has to be delusional to justify the cost of tickets…

      • RandomScrub

        “However, you are certifiably delusional if you believe THIS team is as good as any of its predecessors.”

        One man’s good is another man’s garbage.

        • Fred-65

          2010-2011 before Manny Malhotra was struck in the face. Top 3 centres were Sedin, Kesler, Malhotra. He was a consistent 30pt pivot up till the accident, and was considered a legitimate 3rd line ctr.