Five Reasons Why Vancouver Will Miss the Playoffs in 2015

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.

  • Mantastic

    I applaud you for keeping the list to just five reasons. I can think of several more.

    We might be at the end of the season even worse than last year, but I’m not sure that’s all bad. Finally reloading through the draft seems a good strategy — not tanking but leaving things as they are so that we end up with a top ten pick. The single worst thing we could do is to make a push to make the playoffs by mortgaging what little we have as prospects in a deluded belief we’ll do well in the postseason. The biggest anchor we have (as many on this blog have stated before) remains Miller; personally I’d bury him in the minors or buy him out and bring up Markstrom. It’s not our money.

  • Mantastic

    Yeah, all valid points. The Sedins may improve if they had a young, high end talent alongside them. Vrbata is still a sniper but he isn’t going to win many puck battles and neither are the Sedins.

    The Miller signing wasn’t horrid but it wasn’t good. Most agreed when he was signed. I think I would still prefer Hiller who signed for less and does not have a limited NTC. I have no idea how Miller got one and signed for so much money. Poor move.

    The Kes trade did not yield anything the fans hoped for. I thought it would get us a top 6 player and a top 4 d-man along with a round 1 pick. Well, I don’t think Bonino is a top 6 guy and Sbisa might turn into a second pairing guy. Hopefully McCann develops into a top 6 player.

    We have some potential in the system but they’re years away from being the go-to guys and leaders on this team.

    Benning really should deal away the vets and maybe even Matthias and Richardson as they can be decent depth guys for a Cup run.

  • Mantastic

    I predicted at the beginning of the season that the Canucks would struggle against strong competition and ultimately miss the playoffs this year. Their white hot start seduced me into thinking differently. I now realize that my first instincts were probably correct.

    There are many ups and downs in a long season – and we are about the get our best defenceman back after a long absence. That will help stabilize our back-end and improve our middle and bottom pairings. This team may still make the playoffs. But it is inarguable that the on-ice results and all the underlying numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

    However, better D, more consistent goaltending (which we have gotten over the last five weeks from Miller) and a few of the boys breaking slumps could result in a more consistent return to the win column. We’ll see. That’s what the games are for.

  • Mantastic

    If the most realistic blogger on here is writing the sobering piece, it only makes sense that the most delusional blogger on here write the companion fluff piece.

    I vote for Drance…

    • Mantastic

      Too funny, you used “realistic” and “blogger” in the same sentence. Never thought I’d see that on CA.

      I expected a piece like this before Christmas. Especially with how popular you’ve become around here, need to keep the NM00 fed.

      I second the vote for Drance.

  • Mantastic

    Sedins at 53% ozone starts and Dorsett at 57%???

    Sedins on the PK….

    Why is Horvat stil here

    Not enough Jannik Hansen

    Willie, Medicine Hat, Bennington, meat, potatoes.

  • Mantastic

    #6 bottom 3rd in the league point support from the Defence. If there is one thing thats stands out when comparing the current Canucks to the President Trophy/cup run years is the horrible lack of production from the Canucks blueline now.

    Vancouver has 56 points total from it’s blueline. Nashville 106. Montreal 98 Chicago 76 LA 97

    The only goals scored now when Vancouver’s D pinches is from a 2 on 1 the other way….

    • Mantastic

      Yes. I’ve been harping about how lame our back end is for a couple of months. We don’t magically get scoring back when Hamhuis returns either, he’s not that type of D. We need a legit threat back there to pull some of the pressure off of the forwards.

    • Mantastic

      Sorry, did I say bottom third? I should have said bottom 3 teams. Only the two teams fighting it out for the Conner McDavid sweepstakes, Buffalo and Edmonton have lower point production from their bluelines.

  • acg5151

    It seems to me that this website pointed out that Bonino could be a decent functional 2C, but that he couldn’t drive the bus, possession-wise. His cold streak bears that out. That said, the real issue is the dreadful 2nd unit PP, and not Bonino’s 5-on-5 performance. Finding some way to make the second unit work–at this point, being a *bad* PP unit would be a step up for the second team–would cure much of what ails the middle-6 forwards.

    If the Sedins are no longer capable of winning puck battles, as Ted points out, then isn’t it time the Canucks returned to having Hansen on their RW? He is all speed & puck retention, after all.

    I still think that this team has a good chance of being a playoff team (the sites I’ve seen list them at 80-85% likelihood of making the playoffs, based on the season to date), but even we of the “delusional” ilk don’t want to mortgage any of the team’s future to get there. Let this team find it’s level, and if we make the playoffs (as I am roughly 80% confident we should), then let’s enjoy the ride.

    • Mantastic

      a 2nd PP unit should never be a problem unless they are leaking shorthanded goals against. good teams don’t have great 2nd unit PP. and the only way to fix the 2nd unit PP is just to get deeper with skilled players. which would help more at 5v5 than on the PP.

  • Mantastic

    “Ryan Miller is Not a Good Goalie”

    I was disappointed by the Miller signing and have defended Lack’s play compared with Miller in the early season, but it’s now Miller Time (by definition, time for me to defend Miller.)

    Doesn’t every goalie go through a rough start when working with Melanson, then get better? I’ve been expecting that from Miller since he was signed, so his inconsistent play the first part of the season wasn’t a surprise.

    His last 7 games he has a save % of .943. Game by game it’s been:

    Dec 20 Calgary .929
    Dec 22 Arizona .974
    Dec 28 Anaheim .935
    Dec 30 S Jose .969
    Jan 1 LA .925
    Jan 3 Det .967
    Jan 8 Fl .900

    That is a level of play that isn’t sustainable, but an improvement in Miller’s play as he neared half a season working with Melanson should be no surprise.

    I think he IS a good goalie and don’t expect poor play on his part to cause the Canucks not to make the playoffs.

    • Mantastic

      I couldn’t agree more. A lot of nonsense gets heaped on our goalies. Plenty around here. People seem to forget we missed the playoffs with Luongo last year.

      Goaltending is not the problem, nor will it be the cause of us missing the playoffs. If anything it will be the opposite.

  • acg5151

    I am afraid I disagree with your premise, not because I am delusional about the quality of the Canucks, but because of the other teams in the West. Who are the elite in the West: Chicago (definitely); Nashville (yes, although injury to Rinne will test this); St. Louis, (for sure, great young team); Anaheim (know how to win, but a little thin). But the rest, let’s look at them. LA is old, slow on defense and not the team they were, if they get in maybe they will do well, but they miss Mitchell and Voynov, Minnesota, what a mess, Dubnyk is going to be their saviour in goal, what about the d in front of him and Vanek has been a waste of space. Colorado, well when your goalie is not playing like a superstar, then a young team with a young d, makes mistakes and that is Colorado. Calgary, great rebuild but they have fallen off faster than the Canucks and are just not good enough, yet. Arizona and Edmonton are a joke, so they are out for sure. Winnipeg is a high wire act, if the goalie stays hot they are in, if he goes cold or even normal they are one or two forwards away from being a contender. That leaves Dallas and San Jose. San Jose looks older than Vancouver and is not good at the back with questionable goalkeeping. Dallas, does not have a defense, and a goalie who appears lost at times. So what does this mean: We have 4 for sures and what about the other 10. Ariz, Edm and I would say Colorado are out for sure. Dallas shows no signs of improvement and neither does Minnesota. So that leaves 5 for 4 spots. I think Calgary is odd man out, so on the basis of elimination Vancouver was in, but will still need to make changes next year, (goodbye Bieksa, Higgins, and a few of the fringe guys)

  • acg5151

    I have to disagree on some of these points.

    1) Even if it is unreasonably high right now, as long as they don’t regress to ridiculously low percentages in one goal games they should probably be fine.

    2) Ryan Miller may not be a great goalie. He is a league average goalie. He may be overpaid but as long as he can keep his save percentage around league average he won’t be the reason that we lose games, and that’s sort of the job of the goalie – not to steal games, but to keep us in games. I would rather have a better goalie right now (Schneider, Luongo) but we could do a lot worse than Miller.

    3) I don’t feel that our depth is a strong point. We need another top 6 forward to ideally bump someone down to the bottom six and maybe bump Horvat back down. Horvat has had a rough time but he is learning and he will get better. Linden Vey, same way. I feel like Richardson and Dorsett are both solid 4th liners though and I think if we can bump them down to the 4th line and keep them there we should be able to have a reasonable chance at winning hockey games.

    As for Bonino, according to Behind the Net, he actually has a PDO right around 998 as of right now which to me suggests that he will fall somewhere between his hot start and his cool stretch he has been on. His offensive zone starts are around 46 percent and finishing in 50 percent so he is driving play a little bit. He is doing fine.

    5) Where we fall shouldn’t depend on lesser teams than us in the standings, it should depend mostly on how the Canucks do. WE will see!

    4)

  • acg5151

    Are you sane?

    If you only compare goalies by looking at numbers such as GA and SP, then you know nothing about hockey!

    The teams play very differently and therefore the goalies are not just comparable thru these numbers.

    You gotta look at the way they play, bot more importantly, the way the goalies amke the team play. Are they playing calm and relax in front of him etc…

    Sure, Miller’s have had some really awful games, for sure, but hey, he’s started 31 games this season, and he’s winning 68%! Did you notice that? 68 fu**ing %!!

    Lack is winning 27% of his 11 starts…

    Without Miller we would have lost so many more games…

    Stop whining about Miller not being a good goalie!

    I would like to see the stats (since you guys here love numbers) of the goalies who has started at least 20 games, for how many has won more than 68% of their games?

  • acg5151

    According to Hockey Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report, Vancouver has a 85.7% chance of making the playoffs, and has a slightly higher chance of winning their division (16.4%) vs. falling to a wildcard position (15.0%). http://www.hockey-reference.com/friv/playoff_prob.cgi

    According to Sports Club Stats, Vancouver has an 89% chance to make the playoffs, with the likeliest seeds being 4th (32%) or 6th (21%). (Oddly, they project only a 2% chance of being seeded 5th, which is where they are now.) http://www.sportsclubstats.com/NHL/Western.html

    In both models, Calgary & LA are the bubble teams.

    • acg5151

      I’m sure that will be acknowledged in the follow up post.

      I don’t see many (or any) people around here suggesting this is a basement team.

      But the most likely scenario is a fourth year in a row without winning a playoff series…

      • acg5151

        Using Sports Club Stats, if the Canucks finish 4th, their likeliest opponent is St Louis; if they finish 6th, it’s most likely Chi-town. I’d have to say, I’d prefer Chicago as a match-up. But you’re right; without shoring up the 3rd D-pairing & adding another top-6 guy, we’re in tough.

        I wish I knew why Willie D was so obsessed with keeping d-men on their strong side. Sanguinetti on his weak side has to be better than Stanton has shown for much of the season.

        • acg5151

          “I wish I knew why Willie D was so obsessed with keeping d-men on their strong side. Sanguinetti on his weak side has to be better than Stanton has shown for much of the season.”

          I think it has to do with our D being aggressive pinching. It’s much easier and more natural to pinch on the strong side as opposed to having to go across your body to try to retrieve the puck on your backhand.