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):
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.
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: