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’.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.