Canucks Year in Review: Nick Bonino

The hockey season may be over and done with, but the wound that is this last season as a Vancouver Canucks fan is still relatively fresh. There’s plenty of meat left on these bones and with the draft and the opening of free agency now in the rear view mirror, it’s time we got cookin’. 


The process starts with a series of player-by-player reviews for the season that was. Today’s will be centered on the main return in the Ryan Kesler trade – and the main piece let go in the Brandon Sutter deal – Nick Bonino.

Let’s break it all down on the other side of the jump.

(Canucks goal of the year? Canucks goal of the year.)

(Editor’s note: this post was already written up and scheduled to run yesterday around lunch time, however some stuff happened that you probably heard about, pushing the publishing date back. Still, since J.D. already went through all the work of researching and writing this piece and Bonino should be in the news for a while, it’s been revised a bit in light of the deal, and is still relevant today. Enjoy!)

It’s not easy being the centerpiece of a return package for the best two-way center the Vancouver Canucks have ever iced. Given the expectations that came with that though, it’s safe to say Nick Bonino alleviated the pain of parting with Ryan Kesler this season for most Canucks fans. Having spent much of his NHL career bouncing between forward positions and lines, Bonino found himself a home at center, anchoring the Canucks’ second to relative success in his first season with Vancouver.

It didn’t take long for Bonino to endear himself to the Canucks faithful. With a sneaky release on his deadly accurate wrist shot, Bonino provided the Canucks with something remiss of their secondary offense for years – a “one-shot scorer”, as coined by Jason Botchford of The Province. 

These traits lent themselves remarkably well to a scorching pace at the season’s inception. They say a good first impression makes all the difference in the world. With 19-points in the first two months of the year, Bonino did his best to solidify a world of good will. Unfortunately, the favourable bounces had to stop eventually and considering the season Bonino had prior, he was well overdue. In the next three months combined, Bonino had just seven points – although, he did miss some time to injury. Regression is a cruel mistress and Bonino’s contract was prenup free, clearly. 

Bonino PDO

Interestingly enough, the deeper I dig in that three month stretch the more telling the decline is. There is virtually no positives to be found in the underlying data during that three month malaise. I suppose one could choose any number of ways to interpret that, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the decline wasn’t an aberration and the previously high sh% was more telling. Bonino’s carried a high individual Sh% for the entirety of his career at this point, so there might be a degree of sustainability there – it’s rare, but high percentage shooters do exist. 

What came as a surprise to most Canucks fans this season, though, was the defensive ability of Bonino. The circumspect center possesses one of the more bizarre skating strides in the league and lacks any explosiveness in his first step. These traits don’t generally lend themselves well to a solid two-way game, but Bonino was able to more than compensate for this with his plus ability to think the game. His positioning was always top-notch and it made for a less than exciting game from the Canucks zone – a good thing, trust me. 

Here’s Canucks Army’s own, Thomas Drance, on Bonino’s improved defensive game…

The 26-year-old American has started the lowest ratio of shifts in the offensive zone compared to starts in the defensive end among regular Canucks forwards and he’s also faced the toughest competition, according to the Corsi-relative quality of competition metric found at behindthenet.ca.
That he’s been tasked with battling significantly tougher competition this year is corroborated by the head-to-head ice-time. Among the 10 forwards Bonino most frequently matched up against at 5-on-5 last season, you’ll find the likes of David Moss, Ryan Kesler, Brad Richardson, Anze Kopitar and James Sheppard. This year you’ll find names like Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, Marian Gaborik, Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf – a testament to his being used as an occasional matchup centre by Canucks coaches.

These assertions are backed up by Bonino’s dCorsi score – dCorsi being a metric that takes into account the players usage, team effects, linemates, etc. to come up with a composite score, against expected results. On the total, Bonino’s dCorsi on the last campaign was an impressive +37.36 – the dCorsi Againt Impact was a sterling +17.98. 

Given that Bonino was the most efficient rate scorer on the Canucks by a sizable margin, it’s safe to say that extended droughts and all, his first season with the Canucks was a massive success. Were Bonino not hobbled by injury, it seems feasible that the American pivot might have eclipsed some of his previously set career highs from last campaign. 

One of his less desirable stretches of play came when it mattered most, though, in the first round of the playoffs against the Calgary Flames. Bonino’s sluggish stride became more of an issue against the young, upstart Flames. To the naked eye, Bonino was invisible at best. Considering his P/60 dropped a solid .5 from his regular season mark and Bonino was rocking a 46.2% Corsi For, this assertion seems backed up by the data. By that same token, three points is hardly anything to balk at – especially in a six-game series.

Crunching Numbers

Boxcars:

Bonino Boxcars

These numbers fall short of the career high 49-points that Bonino tallied last season, but are impressive all the same. The increase in even-strength scoring is especially encouraging. The thing to remember here, is that Bonino’s rate production actually exceeds his point rate from last season. That’s what should really matter.

Corsi:

Bonino Corsi

One of my primary concerns related to Bonino’s game when he joined the Canucks was his poor possession play. Prior to the 14-15 season, Bonino had never broke even by Corsi For – his CF%Rel traditionally indicated that his team did considerably better with Bonino off the ice, to boot. This season, though, Bonino was a solid possession player by all accounts. 

Goal-based:

Bonino Goal

Traditionally, the goal-based underlying data has shined a more favourable light on Bonino. Last season, for example, Bonino was well over 60% by Goals For percentage. This campaign was especially impressive, though. Bonino had an impressive Goals For of 52.8% to go along with his amazing GF%Rel of 6.7%. 

Scoring Chances:

Bonino Scoring Chance

Another good look for Bonino. A positive raw and relative showing means the Canucks were better off by scoring chances with Bonino, than without. Something one certainly hopes for from their second-line pivot. 

Bonino HSC

The high-danger scoring chance data is maybe a little less positive, but again, Bonino proved a more than competent player by this measure. Certainly a positive force for the Canucks, when on the ice.

Shot-based:

Bonino Shots

The Canucks as a team look good by shot-based metrics. Bonino contributed positively in this regard, posting a positive raw and relative showing. The undersized pivot did it at both ends, landing in the top-five among Canucks regulars by shot generation, with an impressive SF60 of 31.8. Defensively, his 28.08 SA60 also ranks highly among Canucks full-timers.

Going Forward

I had drafted a sizable chunk of writing for this post, but that became irrelevant as of yesterday morning. As you may or may not have heard, the Canucks traded Bonino, along with Adam Clendening and a second-round pick, in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a conditional third-round pick. As such, there really isn’t a “going forward” for Bonino in Vancouver, unfortunately.

Brandon Sutter is coming back the other way though, and you can read Rhys’ scorching hot take on Sutter and the deal by clicking here.

  • andyg

    This is typical of this site. Lets post an article about a player we just traded.

    The main return for Kess is now Sutter and McCann. Why do you guys always miss McCann? Are you worried he might become better than Kess? Or as good.

    That would make that trade a good one right. Can’t have that because you seem to think that negativity is what will get you noticed.

    • Dirty30

      I think every Canuck fan hopes McCann turns out to be our 2C of the future. By all accounts he had a fantastic prospects camp this summer and has come along way. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a 2PPG on the GreyHounds this year in the OHL.

      What that has to do with Bonino filling in better than most expected is beyond me. I think what the author was alluding to was Bonino, despite seemingly a huge drop at 2C from Kesler was a pleasant surprise for most.

      • andyg

        To be honest I don’t even read the entire articles any more. I look at the first bit and move on. The site is full of so much negative crap. I see it as a site dominated by eastern writers that have no interest in the Canucks short of dissing them.

        This is not a Canucks site so why the name?

        Try “againstcanucksarmy”

  • andyg

    @andyg:

    Just out of curiosity: then why do you keep coming back? And why post here? Lots of other places where you can have read what you want to hear. Why bring your “negative crap” here?

      • andyg

        This article was pretty much exclusively positive regarding Bonino’s play last season, so maybe you should read the article before complaining about negativity. Because really the most negative one here is you, and it’s not close.

        • andyg

          You do realize that Bonino is no longer a Canuck right?

          By putting this article out they are saying that he was as good as Sutter. It is a subtle way of saying Benning made a mistake.

          Thanks for the compliment as I was trying to be negative. I just wanted to try it out and see how it feels. Besides we don’t have to just sit back and take the crap. It is our team.

      • andyg

        This article was pretty much exclusively positive regarding Bonino’s play last season, so maybe you should read the article before complaining about negativity. Because really the most negative one here is you, and it’s not close.

      • J.D. Burke

        I’m a fan, and my perspective is that we should trust more the people who get paid to analyze this stuff for a living, than an armchair expert. But since I’m one of those so called ‘fans’ you talk about with a ‘better perspective,’ than I suppose, by your own justification, you’ll have to agree. Trolls like you don’t like to be caught as being as ignorant as they truly are, but oops! Here we are! ;p Find dumber people to pick fights with Andy ole pal.

  • J.D. Burke

    Look I have posted many times the fact this blog and the general analytics community thinks with their side flaps on rather than taking a more liberal objective view of their field…

    There is plenty of bad statistics on Sutter being brandied about as being less of a player with the modern stats than Bonino.

    What people forget is that Statistics ARE NOT A PREDICTOR OF FUTURE SUCCESS.The reason being is that there are too many factors for our human brain to monitor and analyse into some secret formula.

    EveEven this article says it (but I’m sure the author didn’t even think that he admitted it when he wrote it)

    Author “…Prior to the 14-15 season, Bonino had never broke even by Corsi For – his CF%Rel traditionally indicated that his team did considerably better with Bonino off the ice, to boot. This season, though, Bonino was a solid possession player by all accounts”

    Let see what this says. In13/14 Bonuno had a negative Corsi For, which if looked at the end of 13/14 one would think Bonino as dead weight, why did we even acquire him!!. But then low and behold, he moves teams, has a different coach, a different system,.different line mates and then in 14/15.his stats changed for the better…..

    Look stats provide an interwting angle, and provide an alternative perspective but it is not the “be all end all”