Five Thoughts on the Canucks and Hockey

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It may be a surprise to many people, despite the fact that I am active in hockey analytics, I don’t focus only on the spreadsheets.  I am often thinking about the game, thinking about the teams as a whole, thinking about management of the team and paying attention to all the news and semantics of words the team’s public relations have coached them to say.

With that, here’s five recent thoughts, related to the Vancouver Canucks, that I have been pondering.

1) Bo Horvat

I am strongly in the camp that Bo Horvat should have not played in the NHL this season, but that ship has long sailed.  A big reason the Vancouver Canucks were determined to keep Horvat with the big club is because of his success at faceoffs.  This was initially true as he was posting a faceoff win rate of well over 60% and even challenged Manny Malhotra, known faceoff specialist, for the league lead.  But that dominance in the faceoff has not lasted; had he qualified to be ranked among the NHL’s faceoff leaders, he would currently be ranked as 40th out of 82 with an efficiency of 51.5%.  His early on success might have been the result of a small sample size and he is currently regressing to his true 19 year-old NHL talent.

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Here’s the kicker: faceoff wins and losses mean little in the grand scheme of things.  By the time you need to fine-tune your faceoff abilities, you should be quite comfortable with the possession and scoring abilities of your players. Providing the faceoff reasoning seemed like a stretch for the Canucks to keep Horvat with the big club – it appears to be more a PR move to say to the fans, “We may not be elite anymore, but our first round picks are developing!” 

Game 40 for Horvat is soon approaching (he has played 34 games) and the Canucks will have to decide if they wish to keep him past that deadline and burn up a year towards being a UFA, or if they want to return him to the London Knights.  We have already seen both the New York Rangers (Anthony Duclair) and the Edmonton Oilers (Leon Draisaitl) keep a junior-aged player past the first games played limit only to return them later to avoid burn a year towards their UFA eligibility.  I am still firmly in the camp that Horvat should have been returned to London, though arguably he isn’t even the best centre on that team either with the emergence of Christian Dvorak.

2) Zack Kassian

The situation with Zack Kassian is an interesting one, and one we at Canucks Army have spilled much digital ink analyzing.  Ultimately it appears that Canucks management do not understand what they have in this player and are expecting him to play in a very specific style.  Kassian has been a healthy scratch many times this year over worse possession drivers such as Linden Vey, and you can tell by Kassian’s comments to the media that he is not the happiest player on currently on the roster.

It comes as no surprise that Jim Benning is willing to trade Zack Kassian if in their opinion it will make the team better.  What is most frightening about that statement is that management appears to have little interest in Kassian’s skill set and is likely we will see any type of return in a trade for him that will improve the team.  Remember, Benning was one of the men who was wanted to trade 21 year-old Tyler Seguin, already an elite scorer in this league, because he didn’t want to have to babysit him over extra-curricular activities.

3) Trade Deadline

The previous thought surrounding Zack Kassian touches on the next point.  The trade deadline is coming up shortly and the Canucks have stated they will use the next handful of games to determine if they are buyers or sellers.  They have also said they want to return to the post-season, seemingly regardless of long term success, and will be buyers at the deadline.  Almost contradicting this train of thought, Benning has said the Canucks are not in a position to get rid of draft picks (which is a good thing) – but then how can they be buyers when they have little to give in return? 

The Canucks wish to be active but they do not have much of anything of value to give up.  Anything the Canucks have of value they are not likely willing to give up so it seems their only remaining option is a “hockey trade”.  Hockey trades where one team is able to drastically improve rarely happen since the very idea of a “hockey trade” is based on equal value going each way.  I would guess the largest move on the horizon would be a Zack Kassian in exchange for spare parts at best.

4) Hot Hand

Playing the hot hand in goaltenders is an issue that appears to not be only Canucks related, but hockey-wide.  Mathematical-based thinking has taken a long time to propagate in NHL decision makers, but one issue that seems to be the hardest to fight is to not play the same goalie in back-to-back games.  This has been shown time and time again that playing your starter in the second game of a back-to-back is akin to playing a replacement level goaltender – they’re still going to perform at a level indistinguishable from an NHL starter in that one-game sample, but will be worse in the long run.  Yet coaches keep doing this, most likely an issue of cognitive bias, but I cannot figure out why they are so resistant to change.

The Canucks did this recently playing Ryan Miller in back-to-back games where he luckily posted a shutout (even a replacement level goaltender can do that in a single game).  Eddie Lack does not seem to be given the same rope; when he posted a shutout against Pittsburgh in December, Willie Desjardins did not opt to play Lack again.  We even see this issue at the AHL level with the Utica Comets where Travis Green has shown a number of times he is willing to play the same goaltender in back-to-back situations despite all the advice suggesting he should not.

5) Backup

Eddie Lack seems to be a very upbeat and happy person based on what he presents to the world on his Twitter account and in the media.  He’s a very fun goalie and quite a great character.  But I imagine that he can’t be too happy with the situation right now in Vancouver – it should have been his year to finally shown he is an NHL capable level goaltender.  Instead, the Canucks management do not seem to be trusting of Lack, starting Ryan Miller in almost 80% of Vancouver’s games in 2014-2015.

The Canucks have some interesting goaltending options upcoming this summer.  Ryan Miller has two more years on his contract at $6M a year and will decline in skill as he ages.  Eddie Lack is going to become an Unrestricted Free Agent and Jacob Markstrom, who only 18 AHL games ago who was thought of as a bust, is a Restricted Free Agent.  I can see a situation where Lack is traded (but don’t expect high returns – given that Devan Dubnyk had a longer track record and the Recency effect looks on him more favourably, it seems like Lack wouldn’t fetch much more than a 4th round pick) while Markstrom is brought up to be the back up for the next year or two.  It will be an interesting situation to watch how it plays out.

One final thought to touch on; it’s not really worth it’s own spot since it was covered very well by Face Off Circle.  A few weeks ago, Reto Berra scored a goal in an AHL game and then went to celebrate by high-fiving everyone on his bench.  Unsurprisingly, the outrage that followed was a predictable old argument: this celebration was classless and players shouldn’t be involved in that type of behaviour, especially in their opponents building.  Face Off Circle covers why this old hockey mentality needs to change and why it is coddling of players.

  • acg5151

    Nothing new here.

    Canucks really should deal most of the vets if the return is fair. Higgins and Hansen should definitely go. Richardson is another guy that can move along. You won’t get a ton for those guys but we’re not going anywhere with them so get something while you can. Moving them may also open up room for some youth to move up.

    I also thought Horvat should have stayed in junior but now that he’s here, so be it. He is learning the game and the development has started. Look at any NHL star – most of them didn’t light it up soon after their debut. Also, it seems like coach D, and the Canucks, slowly develop their players. Look at how many times they brought up Corrado and Sanguenetti just to have them practice and be emergency replacements.

    Slow development is fine but they should give Bo some prime minutes soon. It’d be great to see some moves happen.

    The final hope is to see management convince Hamhuis and Burrows to allow for a trade. Hammer can get you a big return and Burr would get you something decent (even better return if the Nucks ate some of that contract).

  • Fred-65

    Here’s the problem with cherry picking players Vcr don’t want to trade….neither does any one else !

    With the arrival of Clendenning Vcr now has a surplus of RH defesemen….5 on the roster. That may have some value. I think they want to see what this kid has and then maybe trade a surplus D and if you really want some thing good back you best be ready to give up a good player, maybe a one that has trouble reaching an agreement the last 2 season with management. As much I like Tanev, Clendenning pans out it might be the end of Tanev’s day here. When you think about it he is a great defensive player but he adds zero to offense It’s a no loose situation if they keep tanev most will give a sigh of relief if they trade him they should be bringing in a quality forward for him. Maybe Tanev has the same agent as TO’s Fransen who I heard was asking to US$7 million per season.

    Any one else heard any thing about Dorsett wanting to retrun to Columbus ( I believe his wifes home town ) that would be a big loss IMO.

    I understand Kassian is eratic to say the least but it’s hard not notice Canuck management are maybe as much to blame for the current situation. If they do move him it’s hard to imagine what he’ll bring as a eratic young player or as a potential power forward. All in the eyes of the beholder I guess.

    I know stats and analytics are the new God of hockey now and this site does a lot of it. But it’s hard not to watch Matthius play the game like he has recently and show nothing for it stats wise without realizing stats may be good but they don’t tell the whole story

  • Fred-65

    So you think Clendenning (replacement-level player) will make Tanev (top-pairing defenseman) expendable? Sorry, but you just discredited the whole rest of your post.

    Tanev now is basically the player Hamhuis was in Nashville. We made a mistake by not locking him up longterm and forcing him to endure 2 different “1 year audition” contracts under 2 sets of management.

    Tanev is actually an elite top pairing defensive defenseman in the league, as proven by fancy stats on this site and elsewhere.