Circumstances Mounting Against a Return to the Post-Season

The Vancouver Canucks’ hot start, which saw them competing neck-and-neck with the Anaheim Ducks for the division lead in the earlier parts of the season, seemed enough to all but guarantee a playoff berth. The underlying numbers were far from flattering and Ryan Miller’s play at times abysmal, but the torrid scoring pace of the Canucks three third-lines was enough to mask these deficiencies on a nightly basis. 

It’s been a complete reversal of fortunes since. From about December onward, the Canucks secondary scoring has all but disappeared. In that stretch, the Canucks are 11-12-2. A team that had begun the season winning in spite of their netminder has since relied on him. And when Miller isn’t going, things get ugly. 

I’m becoming less convinced that this club can keep their head above water as the season winds down. Lets take a look at why on the other side of the jump.

So About That Luck Vancouver Enjoyed

When looked at in a vacuum, there are no shortage of circumstances that work against Vancouver’s favour as the season winds down. As Rhys pointed out, much of the horses on which Vancouver’s hopes are planted on in this playoff chase are in the twilight of their careers. The Sedins can’t produce enough to make up for the dearth of scoring throughout the remainder of the Canucks lineup. Miller can’t mask the defensive shortcomings of a team with Luca Sbisa in their top-four. 

If that weren’t enough, the Canucks are finally running out of luck on the injury front. Chris Tanev is out with a suspected concussionFrankie Corrado is suffering from a mystery ailment; Kevin Bieksa had his hand destroyedBrad Richardson’s been out with a suspected foot injury. Today it’s Chris Higgins who is out with a mystery ailment too.

This was an uphill battle from the beginning. Now it’s the Canucks against the world. With the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars hot on the Canucks trail, I’m starting to sweat a little. Of these four teams, I can only say with any certainty that the Canucks are better than the Avalanche. 

A healthy Vancouver lineup, heading into the most difficult portion of their schedule, would be in tough. What’s left of Vancouver’s lineup has quite the challenge ahead. 

Schedule

Vancouver’s playoff hopes always rested on a strong start. The Canucks needed to feast on weak opponents early, as the schedule allowed considerably less opportunities in the final months of the season. To the Canucks’ credit, they did. It may seem like a small feat, but for a club that has a reputation for playing down to their weaker opponents level, that counted for something.

Now, in the home stretch of the 2014-15 regular season, the Canucks mettle will truly be tested. Nearly 70% of their opponents in the home stretch have posted a 50% or higher score-adjusted Corsi%. The Canucks themselves rest at 49.7% score-adjusted Corsi. There’s no free lunch in the coming months.

Strength of Schedule

For the purpose of this article, I charted the eight teams that I feel are in contention for the final four spots in the West. A generous number when one considers the improbability of a team that is out of the playoff chase at this point making it to the show. The way to interpret this graph is that the more yellow and green, the more difficult the table of opponents remaining for that team’s schedule. 

I take solace in the fact that Vancouver doesn’t have a uniquely difficult set of opponents left. What I do find daunting, though, is the level of competition the Kings have remaining. A traditionally greedy team with the puck, the Kings have a score-adjusted Corsi of 53.7%, the 4th best mark in the entire NHL. Close to 40% of their remaining opponents can’t even draw even.

The Canucks have been the eighth “luckiest” team this season. The Kings have been the fourth most “unlucky.” Something is bound to give on both fronts and that spells trouble for Vancouver. 

Luck

The Minnesota Wild, another strong possession team this season, don’t necessarily have an easy run to the finish line. That said, there are more middling-to-bad possession teams on their plate then good ones. The Wild register just ahead of the Kings on HockeyAbstracts “Team Luck” chart and are due for a little good luck to come their way. They’ve also addressed the anchor that weighed down their season, when they traded for traditionally good-to-average netminder, Devan Dubnyk. Since acquiring Dubnyk, the Wild are 6-1-1. 

I feel less threatened by the Stars. Their schedule is equally as imposing as Vancouver’s. That said, they shouldn’t be taken too lightly. They’ve played much of this season without Valeri Nichushkin, an underrated member of the Stars top-line for much of last season. They’ve also had to combat the league’s fourth lowest 5-on-5 sv%. Kari Lehtonen is a traditionally serviceable netminder and should he regress to his usual form, the Stars could be a force down the stretch. 

Concluding Thoughts

The Canucks are a significantly worse possession team than two of the opponents hot on their trail and many of the teams in front of them. They seem destined to ride their goaltender to the finish line in a similar fashion to how they employed Eddie Lack last season; all this despite middling performance for much of the year and well documented complaints about fatigue in the early parts of the season. Their paper-thin defence is being ravaged by injuries. By score-adjusted Corsi they have one of the more difficult schedules of those teams in contention for Wild Card berths. Things aren’t looking good in Vancouver.

I’m not sure whether to be more concerned about the teams on Vancouver’s trail or the Canucks themselves.

The edict from management was to rebuild on the fly, all the while collecting valued playoff revenue – even if it only amounts to two-games worth. These final months could prove that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, lest you settle for humble pie.

  • Fortitude00

    Do the lack of posts mean a lack of interest?

    Was encouraging to hear some cheers and chants at the Jets game….. Unfortunately they were to mask the chants of Go Jets Go. Fun to watch fans support a team

  • Fortitude00

    LA Kings are living proof high corsi doesn’t translate to winning games. It is a crappy stat on its own.
    Canucks won’t make the playoffs because the core is old and running out of gas and the defence is horrible at moving the puck up the ice quickly.

  • J.D. Burke

    At this point, I’m not totally opposed to missing the playoffs. Sure, we’ll miss out on some fanfare and a better-than-usual reason to get tanked and get loud, but with this team, in 2015, the sincerity of my excitement is stronger with long-term expectations rather than the short.

    Trade our vets while they still have some value at the deadline, get a decent draft pick, maybe the lottery will bless us, who knows. My heart’s always going to be with the core of this group for what they’ve accomplished in the past, but I think it’s about time to start thinking with the head.

    That said: if they do switch it around and get in, we can at least look forward to an…eventful first round. And, as always, the aforementioned drinking/yelling.

    • Dirty30

      I still think the Sedins can play at a high level, the real fall off has been with the second line…. Third line
      Bonino Higgins Vey Hanson, those guys scoring fueled the hot start.

      The Sedins aren’t Hart trophy good anymore, but still can be around a point per game. Every night they get the other teams shut down line, so the other guys have to score.

      If Canucks do drop off Higgins Hanson should be traded and bring up Jensen and Shinkaruk to see what they do

    • Ruprecht

      I totally agree and it’s surprising to me how common this sentiment is within the fan base. It seems Canucks fans want a gentle, steady rebuild. Most fanbases are obsessed with short term results and making the play offs (despite the fact that, unless your a freak like the Kings and can turn on the jets in the post season, scraping into the playoffs as a wild card gives you almost no hope anyway).

      Fundamentally, I want to see this team win a cup. We are right now a playoff bubble team and they don’t win Stanley Cups very often. I’d like to see us rebuild.

      It seems that we all pretty much agree that Bieksa, the Sedins, Burrows, Vrbata and maybe even Hamhuis (due to injury) are on or approaching the downward slope of their careers. The practical part of my brain says shop them all now for younger players, prospects and picks but I honestly believe that the Sedins Bieksa and Hamhuis deserve to finish their careers here if they want to.

  • acg5151

    The LA Kings are definitely the last team anyone should count out. I remember a few seasons ago when everyone laughed and said hey “Everyone’s favorite dark horse candidate for the Cup is going to miss the playoffs haha!”

    Then they made the playoffs, and everyone laughed and said “HAHA the Canucks are going to whip the Kings up!”

    Well the Kings have won two cups so I doubt they miss the playoffs.

    The Wild are a stronger team than their record and I have a hard time believing they will miss. Same with Dallas – I feel that Dallas has one of the deepest offenses in the league, and once they get it together they will be capable of making the playoffs.

    The Canucks have a good shot at the playoffs but our paper thin defense is now like what, balsa thin? I don’t know anything thinner than paper. Maybe air thin? That is going to kill us more than anything. I don’t see Calgary making it but Colorado could ahve another fluke push if Varlamov gets hot.

    I won’t give up on the Canucks but it is looking dicey.

  • Dirty30

    The Canucks are right where they should be in the axis of mediocrity.

    All of the “better than Edmonton/Toronto!” rubes should be satiated.

    I much prefer when Canucks fans delusionally convinced themselves to embrace the hate when the team was good enough to be hated…