Things aren’t exactly looking great for the Vancouver Canucks. They’re coming off a 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, and have been on a slide for the about a month now. Their goal scoring has all but evaporated, leading to concerns that 2014-2015 is following an eerily similar script to the year from hell under John Tortorella. Being the chronic pessimists that we are at Canucks Army, we’re just waiting for the inevitable worst-case scenario to happen.
So without further adieu, read past the jump for five reasons why the Canucks will fall out of the playoffs in the second half of the season.
The Record in One Goal Games Will Regress
On January 1st, the Canucks had their first regulation loss by one goal. Before that, they were one of two teams that hadn’t lost a one-goal game in regulation so far this season, going 9-0-3 for an 0.875 points percentage. Last year? They had a 0.488 points percentage in one-goal games, while the President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins had a 0.485 points percentage. Chicago and Los Angeles – both of whom were quite good – were both also below-0.500 in one-goal games.
Ability to win close games isn’t really an indicator of team quality, and more significantly, it tends to not be a repeatable skill either. We shouldn’t expect the Canucks to keep winning or getting points out of every one-goal game, meaning their record in the 2015 portion of this season will likely be worse than in the 2014 portion if nothing else changes. And in the tightly-contested Pacific division, every lost point is huge.
Ryan Miller is Not a Good Goalie
We’ve given Ryan Miller his fair share of heat here, and for good reason: he’s 34 years old, his ability is likely declining, he’s in the first year of a deal that will pay him $18 million between now and 2016-2017, and he’s struggled mightily this season. In 2014, he was among the least effective starting goaltenders in the NHL, ranking 31st in 5-on-5 save percentage (0.913), 35th in adjusted 5-on-5 save percentage (0.910), 31st in all-situations save percentage (0.910), and 34th in adjusted all-situations save percentage (0.908).
Unfortunately, this is more or less what we expected from Miller at the beginning of the season. Despite his lofty reputation, Miller never really was an elite goalie apart from one season, and at 34 years old, he’s very likely in decline. We expected Ryan Miller to give the Canucks between 0.908 and 0.909 goaltending over the course of his contract, so this may very well be as good as he gets.
Vancouver’s Depth is Terrible
After a white-hot start to his tenure, Nick Bonino has completely, and somewhat predictably, vanished. He has three points since December 1st, and just two of those are goals. Still, he’s leading Vancouver in even strength scoring rate, but that’s thanks almost entirely his early season hot streak.
The bigger problem is that the bottom-6 just simply isn’t good enough. Brad Richardson, while a high-end penalty killer, is a weak 5-on-5 player. Shawn Matthias has never been a strong puck possession guy and had his season derailed by a head injury, and both Linden Vey and Bo Horvat have proven totally incapable of keeping their heads above water while playing centre on the 4th line with traditionally strong two-way wingers.
The play of Horvat and Vey in particular suggests that while they are both still promising young players with bright futures ahead of them, they’re both likely below replacement level NHLers at this point. Jannik Hansen, Derek Dorsett, and Alex Burrows are all traditionally strong puck possession guys for their roles, but they’ve been uncharacteristically buried when playing with one of Vancouver’s rookie forwards.
The Core Has Lost Their Fastball
When the Canucks were at their peak, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were among the most prolific scorers in the entire NHL. Between 2009 and 2013, the twins were 2nd and 3rd in the NHL in even strength points per 60 minutes, trailing only Sidney Crosby. This season? Daniel is 154th and Henrik is 155th among skaters with 200 or more minutes played at even strength, as both are posting scoring efficiency numbers that are below average for 2nd line NHLers.
Both twins are also having their worst seasons in terms of raw Fenwick% since the beginning of the BehindTheNet era, so it’s not insane to conclude that their elite puck possession game has eroded too. Hamhuis and Bieksa also don’t appear to be the rock-solid top-4 defensemen they once were either, meaning that all of the cornerstones of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals run have either been traded (Luongo, Ehrhoff, Kesler), or simply grown old.
Minnesota (And Dallas!) Are Due For More Wins
The Minnesota Wild started off the 2014-2015 season as an elite puck possession squad, but were crippled by goaltending, injuries, and the mumps. Even through all that, and despite going cold of late, they have remained a top-15 team in score adjusted Fenwick. Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom combined to give the Wild a league-low 0.896 save percentage at 5-on-5, but yesterday’s addition of Devan Dubnyk finally gives them an adequate backstop. Look for them to make a run at the second wild card spot that Vancouver currently occupies in the second half of the season.
The Dallas Stars have also vaulted themselves back in to the playoff hunt with a hot run of play. They have points in 7 of their last 10 games, and are also one of the league’s 10 best puck possession teams in the last 20 games. They’re just four points back of Vancouver for the second Wild Card spot and look poised to climb back into the playoff picture as well.
Now, while this reasoning paints a fairly bleak outcome of the second half of the 2014-2015 season, there’s still a variety of very strong arguments to be made that the Vancouver Canucks are indeed a playoff team, especially in the Pacific division. If you’re in need of some optimism, keep an eye out tomorrow for the follow up to this article: Five Reasons Why the Canucks Will Make the Playoffs in 2015.