Year End Review of the Vancouver Canucks

At the beginning of the season I decided to take a look at the Flames’ chances for the year in contrast to their two Pacific division rivals, the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

I followed this up mid-year with some updates to see how each team was coming along (Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary).

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Today we begin the final analysis, or to be more precise for these teams, the end-of-season autopsy.

We’re beginning with the Canucks, who’s disastrous season is likely to usher in some significant changes this summer. Or at the very least set the stage for major changes to come should they falter again next season.

This season I tracked not only the individual progress of each player but also tracked the team save percentage, possession metrics, goal differential, and individual goalie performances based on save percentages.

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Once More, From the Top…

I’ll start with the player performances. At the beginning of the year I wrote the following on myriad topics –

  1.          On the Sedins – The Sedins have remarkably consistent numbers so betting on them to cover is wise. Desjardins liked to hard match them last season and I expect the same this coming year. Vrbata rode shotgun and did well facing the toughs so unless they change tack and put Dorsett up on the 1st line, Vrbata struggles or is injured, or they try to rejuvenate Burrows in that role I think we’ll see the big three all in the same spot again…
  2. ·         On forward depth – I’m expecting Burrows, Higgins, and Vey to be more or less consistent this coming year to where they were last season and have tagged Horvat to have a bit of a rise as he continues to adapt to the NHL…
  3. ·         On defense – Edler and Tanev make up the Canucks’ best defensemen and their top-pairing blueliners and they have a good case to make for the role. Behind them I expect Willie Desjardins to try to find a suitable partner for Dan Hamhuis while also sheltering Yannick Weber at even strength. I think it comes down to one of Corrado or Bartkowski…
  4. ·         On Goaltending – If the goaltending isn’t always there and the scoring looks to be below average and the defense, while capable, can’t build Fort Knox 82 nights a year then things aren’t looking all that bright…
  5. ·         And on the season overall – I’ve estimated the Canucks could score 196 goals for this season, down 40 goals from last season. The defense is probably about league-average, let’s put them around 17th, with a strong top three hampered by a substandard bottom three. The estimated sv% of 0.902 ranks somewhere between 26th and 28th. I’d estimate 5th in the Pacific Division, perhaps somewhere around 10th in the West and maybe as low as 23rd overall.

Now here are the results –

  1. The Sedins posted a decent but not amazing season, by their standards. Vrbata must have stepped on Desjardins’ designer wingtips because the team’s treatment of him this season just seems bizarre. Either way, he is injured now and I expect will explore his options this summer. The Canucks did move Burrows around this year, but appear to have invested in Jannik Hansen as the Sedin’s third wheel with Burrows spending the majority of his ice time with Vey, McCann, Horvat and Etem.
  2. On the surface Horvat looks to have had a decent season, his ppg pace rose from 0.38 ppg in his rookie season to 0.48. His underlying numbers look promising as well, as he seems to be able to move the puck forward against the opposition. The Canucks will need to see another step forward from him next season as they begin to transition into the post-Sedin era.
  3. Tanev and Edler led the team in ice-time and Edler is the clear franchise cornerstone on the blueline. Meanwhile Hamhuis spent the majority of his time paired first with Bartkowski, secondly with Yannick Weber.
  4. Goaltending was the one bright spot for the Canucks this season. Both Miller and Markstrom, whom Desjardins eventually deployed in an alternating rotation starting at the trade deadline, gave the Canucks league average goaltending over the course of the season, with some significant performance peaks thrown in to actually counter the nights when they were getting no help on offense. Both players deserve a hand this season for the work they put in on this team. But for them the Canucks would be in 30th place overall and it wouldn’t be close, no matter how hard Edmonton and Toronto tried.
  5. The Canucks finished with fewer than 196 goals, the team save percentage was league average at 0.916 and thus higher than my estimates by a fair margin, and the team finished 6th in the division, 13th in the conference, and 27th overall in the league. Far below what I had anticipated.

Here are the player predictions and their actual performances. I’ve highlighted the point per game predictions that were off the mark by a margin greater than 0.1. 

Canucks Final Player Performance-Flames RE series - Excel

The point-per-game production this year was off by 0.09 points per game from the roster’s historical average. To put that into perspective, the Canucks scored 191 goals. Had they been closer to the 196 goals for predicted in the original article they still would have finished dead last in the league in goal production, two back of Toronto (198). 

Their goals against (243) had them finish 24th in the league overall. Missing Hamhuis to long term injury no doubt hampered their ability in this regard, but would he have made enough of a difference to both the defense and offense to move them into the top 16 teams in the league? I don’t believe so.

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My opinion, based on the table above, is that the roster players are a mix of declining talents and emerging prospects, neither of whom are capable at this time of carrying an NHL team to a high level. This weakness was exposed this season and I suspect that, in addition to some significant roster changes, an adjustment in deployment strategies and schemes is required.

Essentially, the Canucks are a team at a crossroads and they need to figure out which way they are going to go and then make the moves required.

Looking Into the Numbers

Below are some graphs of the various data points I had been tracking for the Canucks all season long. Pay attention to the thin black trend line as it relates the general direction of each performance over time and helps to eliminate game to game outliers.

Canucks Final GoalDifferential-RE Differentials - Excel

Canucks Final ScAdjFF-RE Differentials - Excel

Canucks Final Team SvPerc-RE Differentials - Excel

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Canucks Final Miller SvPerc-RE Differentials - Excel

Canucks Final MarkstromSvPerc-RE Differentials - Excel

Miller and Markstrom held up quite well here, holding themselves to league average save percentages, but the team overall couldn’t score enough and lost the possession battle more nights than not, and gradually by a wider margin.

Save percentages and shooting percentages have a very low repeatability factor from season to season, however possession rates, absent significant roster and/or coaching changes, do tend to follow through the seasons. So if there is anything to take from this information it is that the Canucks were a bad team this year and, unless they bolster their roster and alter some of their deployment schemes, we could expect, within a reasonable range of likelihood, for them to struggle again next season.

One could argue that but for these two the Canucks may have had the unrivaled position of 30th overall and best draft odds for picking Auston Matthews this June.

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The Canucks were among the teams in the league with a greater share of man games lost to injury, specifically Dan Hamhuis and Brandon Sutter. That many of the bottom ten teams in the league are in the top ten of total man games lost this season is no coincidence. Nathan Currier of ManGamesLost has recently moved his, in my opinion, extremely valuable information into a pay structure. If you have an interest in analytics in sports, not limited to the NHL, I would recommend looking into his service.

Hero of the Season

I’m going to go with a tandem here of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks finished the season with the fewest wins in the NHL, but because of the ever-popular Bettman point they finished above several other teams in the standings. The men responsible for getting them that far at least are the two goaltenders who played the role of King Cnut trying to hold back the tide on many nights when the team was getting their collective heads bashed in on the possession metrics.

Story for the Off-season

Their building blocks for next season are the defensive pairing of Tanev and Edler and having Miller and Markstrom, who appears to perhaps be rounding into a more consistent NHL goaltender, as a netminding tandem. However, we’ve said that before about this team.

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All of that aside, the Canucks need to decide which direction they are going and stick with it. This year there was some talk from upper management that they knew they were not close to the playoffs while the coaching staff seemed to imply that the playoffs were always a goal. That’s not a fireable offense by any means, but it suggests something of disconnect there.

Add to that Benning’s inability to acquire assets in return for Vrbata and Hamhuis, which is only partially his own doing as the players have a say in this regard, and the very curious decision to acquire Markus Granlund in exchange for Hunter Shinkaruk and I think the focus this summer needs to begin and end with management and their plan.

If it is to be more of the same then woe betide the fans of the Vancouver Canucks.

Why This Song?

I’d picked Tom Petty as the herald for this year’s Canucks team. Beginning with Free Fallin’, moving to Running Down a Dream, and then to Yer So Bad.

This song is not just about failure and hitting rock bottom, but about departures and heartbreak.

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But not me baby, I’ve got you to save me
Oh yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad

The Canucks sent away Kesler, Bieksa, Luongo, Schneider, Kassian, Schroeder and Shinkaruk all within the last three years. Five years ago they were celebrating a President’s Trophy and headed on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Since then the past and future have all disappeared in front of their eyes and the hope today rests with a young man who’s name we don’t yet know.

  • 51Geezer

    The Vrbata situation is really bizarre:

    -he claims he was told when he signed that he gets to play with the Sedins.
    -he has a great season then gets put on the 2nd line. The move could have been sold to him as a way of being a mentor, earning a contract extension, etc. but the team doesn’t tell their $5M asset squat, so he spends the season fuming.
    -in his place management plays the 3rd line center they picked up from Pittsburgh and extended even before he had played a game. Sutter may be a foundation piece but there is no reason to play him on the first line if the team’s goal is to make the playoffs.
    -Sutter gets injured, and another career 3rd liner gets moved up. The decision isn’t sold to Vrby, not that it needs to be, but then they shouldn’t be surprised that he doesn’t play ball at the trade deadline.

  • The Last Big Bear

    You know, a bit stronger of a mea culpa for your awful pre-season predictions might have been warranted.

    Case in point: Willie did NOT hard match the Sedins, he rolls four lines to an infuriating extent, and Vrbata saw almost no time on the first line, even when he was going. Burrows, Higgins and Vey were all fringe players as a different set of players stepped into depth roles. Corrado didn’t make the team, and Hutton came out as the big up-and-comer. Miller and Markstrom were far better than you gave them credit for. And scoring WAS down, but more because the defence was massively subpar (and injured) than because of any deficiency among the forwards.

    If you’re going to do analysis, and you screw up, what you really need to do is explain why you got it so wrong.

    • RexLibris

      That is fair, and I really appreciate when people who have more first-hand viewings can offer up some of the details that I would otherwise miss.

      I had written a section on “things we learn from our mistakes” but cut it due to article length.

      Next time I do something like this I’m going to try to take into account things like roster depth to ballpark potential injury impacts, but readability and length are always a concern in items like this.

      With regards to Desjardins’ deployment, I was relying on some broader data points like QualComp and Zonestarts which, while still useful, I feel need to be re-defined in terms of the weight given by the stats community. I’ll be reviewing that next fall.

      In short, there is no shortage of things I got wrong in the finer details of the predictions. But this was never intended to be ironclad, only give readers a rough idea of what might constitute a reasonable and fair expectation of this team for the season just past.

      What surprised me is that my predictions, while initially believed to be somewhat pessimistic, in the end look optimistic.

      The causes usually differ during the season from what we may expect going in, but if the end result is close, year over year, then at least we know we’ve got something worth fine-tuning.

      That being said, I’ve got a lot of work to do on these to get them where I’d like them to be.

      • wot96

        OK, I appreciate your reply and that you tried. I don’t question that this was an all around weird season, but clearly not in the ways one would have expected. In Canuckland we’re all hoping it was a perfect storm of suckiness that represented a nadir rather than just a turn down a longer spiral.

        • wot96

          Not trying to be cruel but it seems like your team is circling the bowl and, hard as it may be to believe, is not as close to the bottom as one would have thought. I rarely say this to Canucks fans, but you deserve better.

          • 51Geezer

            I’m not so sure about that. This year was marked by key injuries and major growing pains, which masked a number of positives that fans can get excited about. The team did get a lot younger (and with a group of actually decent prospects, not just younger for the sake of it), and there are a few more gems in the pipeline. Not to mention a high draft pick in a good year coming up. Next year isn’t going to be a contending year, but I don’t think challenging for the playoffs will be out of the question either. Of course, there’s a very good chance Benning will screw it up, but I’m cautiously hopeful.

        • Greg

          I wouldn’t bet on that not being a long downward spiral. But on the bright side, unlike with the flames, when your wheels fell off, at least they really fell off! That’s what you’d want!

          You aren’t heading into your first year of playoff drought without a single pick in the first two rounds. And waiting 2 more years just to finally get a single top 10 pick. Not to mention the cupboards aren’t completely bare as you’ve got a few young bright spots already on the roster.

          So I’d buckle up because I doubt this gets any better for next year. But I’d also keep your chin up because unlike the Flames, you don’t necessarily have to face 5 years of complete bleakness to turn this back around.

          Although, you do have that whole Benning thing going on so…

          • Dirty30

            Except the wheels started to come loose after the game 7 loss.

            It might not have been really clear, but Lu had lost the team, and yada-yada Lu should have been traded for whatever and start rebuilding-rebooting-re-something with Schneider on out.

            Instead it was a goalie gong-show, we got Marco Sturm and then Loonie-tunes Torturella.

            Now we got JB-weld and WD-4 lines and Captain Fantastic all singing different tunes depending on which way FA’s wind is breaking.

            If this team climbs out of this hole in five years it will be a miracle. I don’t see this team in the bottom of the standings, but climbing to middling and getting stuck there is a sickening possibility.

            Two more years of Sedinery and you have to hope something has happened to make this team take a big jump forward.

  • We had no second line this season, that was the #1 problem.

    Sutter was out, Burrows couldn’t train and get ready for the season, which caused him to be a step behind. Vrbata had a BAD year. Young guys like Horvat and Baertschi had to step into roles they were not ready for.

    How many teams can compete in today’s NHL without a second line?

  • RexLibris

    By the end of the season Hutton is challenging Edler as “the franchise cornerstone of the blueline”. As others have noted, surprised there was no mention of him. He looks to be more effective on the power play and may take over Edler’s role on the first unit next year
    Is Toronto atop the man-days lost to injury on account of Nathan Horton’s pre-season write-off?

    • RexLibris

      I really liked Hutton’s game from what little I saw of it.

      He may emerge as another of Vancouver’s blueline who seem to show up unexpectedly (Bieksa, Edler, Tanev).

      I’m not entirely certain of the nature of each team’s MGL ranking because Nathan has gone to a paywall system (he’s got great stuff, so I don’t begrudge him at all), but that could be one part of it.

      More important than the games lost themselves is MGL’s Impact Measure for those games. Detroit and Edmonton led the league for a long time in that area by way of losing Datsyuk and McDavid/Klefbom for extended periods.

      If you are curious I would happily recommend you follow him on twitter and look into his site.

      • The Last Big Bear

        “He may emerge as another Vancouver’s blueline who seem to who up unexpectedly”

        Is it unexpected or just historically good at picking the underrated or undrafted outliers (Tanev, Edler, Bieksa) who all end up being top2/4 Dmen?

        Or have we just never seen an elite level D-men in Vancouver? (ie. Weber/doughty/suter/alfredson/lidstrom etc?

        Has anybody looked at this?

        From memory Salo was considered elite but was frequently injured. Erhoff played elite for 2 seasons.

        Perhaps JOVO was the last true elite D-man in Vancouver…

  • wot96

    I think the Canucks actually have worse management than the hated Oilers. Which is condemnation of the highest order given what the Oilers have failed to do with their unprecedented level of good luck at the draft lottery.

  • Parallex

    I think the big problem with the Canucks moving forward are the Sedins.

    Not their play (which is still pretty good) but the fact that they carry 7M cap hits (each) and both have NMC and neither will accept a trade unless the other goes with. Can anyone name a team that both has the money, the cap space, the roster spots to take on both of them, that they’ll consent to be traded to, and that has the optimal assets to acquire them? They’re in a hard spot to start a “tear it down” rebuild from the ground up (which is most certainly what they should do).

    They’ve got some good young pieces (Boeser & Horvat) and then a lot of talent I’d top out at calling “complementary”. Gotta figure they probably have at least 5 more years of pain coming.

    • EddyC

      I would take the Sedins and Hansen as a second line when their contracts run out and they resign for less. For the next couple of years they have to bring along another line that can usurp them and swap salaries.

  • Parallex

    Really interesting article, but I’d add to above complaint that it was the injuries to Tanev and Edler which hurt the blueline, more than Hamhuis.Hamhuis didn’t have a particularly inspiring start to.the season. Then also the injuries to Henrik Sedin, and probably general wear amd tear on the Sedins late in the season,probably played a role in those declining possession numbers. Maybe Sutter’s injury also hurt, but that’s harder to evaluate, since he played so little.

    I completely agree that management strategy isn’t clear, and included many questionable decisions.

    • RexLibris

      This plays into what I mentioned regarding injuries.

      Every team has them, to some extent. And I try to factor them in based on player history, but this is always a moving target and subject to luck.

      That is where depth comes in and, to the Canucks’ credit, they did appear to have some reasonable depth at that position this year for a team with that range of blueline challenges.

      If I were to pinpoint a concern for next season it would begin with the off-ice roster. I’m not confident that Desjardins is the right coach for where the team needs to go, nor do I believe Benning and Linden know what direction they are heading down.

  • wojohowitz

    Vrbata played this season like he did not want to get injured and wondering where he would get a new contract next year but Willie kept putting him out there with Horvat which dragged them both down. It was obvious at Christmas he was not committed but Willie just could not see it. Vrbata and Vey are obvious problems to everyone but Willie.

  • 51Geezer

    The Shinkaruk trade was a “very curious decision” indeed. I still have faith in the Canucks brass who apparently think that Shinkaruk might be one of those rare players who can set the AHL on fire but can’t crack an NHL lineup.
    But…this deal could be a real disaster.

    • Almo89

      Where would Shinkaruk play? Management decided to invest in McCann and Gaunce. Both are being groomed as LWs and both were further up the depth chart than Shinkaruk. Behind D.Sedin, Baertschi, Burrows, Higgins, and Etem where does that leave Hunter?

      • piscera.infada

        Even if one were to agree with that depth chart (which I don’t, for the record), that doesn’t mean you trade him for a player who has proven nothing of substance with many NHL opportunities, who is now waiver eligible.

    • RexLibris

      One need only look at his relative success in a Flames Jersey to see that this could be looking very bad in the end.

      I don’t mind that they traded Shink, (though I was pulling for him). It always seemed like that was they way they were heading. But I sure thought we could have gotten a better return than we did.

      Granlund + a 3rd, maybe?

  • The Fall

    The twins declining numbers over the course of the year should be a huge concern. They are not as robust as they once were, and they carry that team.

    One of the twins’ exit interview included a remark about picking up more talent to make a run for next year. Like adding a winger is the ‘last missing piece’. I know their careers are winding down, and they want to compete. It’s just not going to happen for them again in vancouver

    I don’t think they’ve hit bottom yet; they are still my pick for 30th next year.

  • RexLibris

    So my question after reading this review is….Is this team better than last years team? You know the one that made the playoffs then lost miserably to the Flames in 6. In that series the Canucks looked old and slow and a mile behind the Flames. My take is yes its a much better Canucks team now. The improvometer is trending the right way. This years’ Canuck team is younger,faster,more skilled and better stocked for the future than a year ago. The new guys have a year of adjustment to the NHL game and now have experience to draw on for the future. Add the pending first round pick and ya….much better. I think also that the weaknesses that need addressing are much clearer. (in my view that would be a high scoring winger and 2 quality D men). And ya we sent away Luongo and Kesler (they asked to be traded), Bieksa (best days are gone), Kassian (addiction issues), Schroeder (who?) Sneider (ouch) and Shinkaruk (who knows). I’m not singin the blues over these exits.

  • RexLibris


    Completely agree about Canucks’ management. And don’t forget Weisbrod, who apparently vouched for Granlund in the Shinkaruk trade. *sigh* We shudder to think Subban and McCann may also be traded, and Bartkowski may be brought back. (Of course, it could be that Bartkowski’s real role is to make the Sbisa extension look better.)

  • The Last Big Bear

    rather than compare to the oilers, how about comparing current management to the canucks of the 70s and 80s? try one .500 season in 21 years.

    those were years of bad management the oilers cannot touch. no comparison to benning either (other than that he played on some of those teams).

    and we’ve also seen some bad management from good managers. drafting herter, stojanov and polasek in 4 years was bad management. letting larionov go so as not to give the soviets $375,000 and leaving bure to be raised by wolves was bad management. peca, wilson and a 1st rounder for mogilny was bad management.

    trading shinkaruk just doesn’t touch those moves even if he becomes a 30 goal scorer and granlund goes to sweden.

    and the same guy that made those moves also robbed the blues and built the team that took us to a game 7 and changed the culture of the club.

  • The Fall

    From Sportsnet a couple weeks back:

    It’s difficult to separate how much of this is because of the injury Henrik has been playing through, how much is the effect of age — the twins turned 35 years old in September — and how much is the impact of the team itself struggling. It’s likely a combination of factors.

    The splits are pronounced though. The Canucks went from controlling 63 per cent of shot attempts when Henrik was on the ice at even strength in their first 25 games, to 47.2 per cent thereafter. The Canucks captain managed 23 points in his first 25 games, but has scored just 31 in 47 games since. His faceoff percentage – always the first statistical indicator one should look at when evaluating the health of a centreman – dropped from 50.7 per cent in his first 25, to 42.8 per cent in his 47 games since.

    Seems like their numbers get rather pedestrian when not at the top of their game. Starting the season next year at 36 is not going to help.

  • 51Geezer

    Sad to say, the most excitement Canuck fans can likely hope for the next year or two will be the draft lottery. We can only hope that they at least luck out and win a top pick, or find a hidden gem or two in later rounds.

    It absolutely could get worse before it gets better, though. Calgary and Winnipeg are both further along in their rebuild than the Canucks, and it’s hard to see the Oilers continuing to be so inept. And for Vancouver, the cavalry is nowhere in sight. Keep your fingers crossed on April 30. This franchise needs some luck.

  • RexLibris

    By the end of the season Hutton is challenging Edler as “the franchise cornerstone of the blueline”. As others have noted, surprised there was no mention of him. He looks to be more effective on the power play and may take over Edler’s role on the first unit next year

    Is Toronto atop the man-days lost to injury on account of Nathan Horton’s pre-season write-off?

  • EddyC

    I think that we need to get rid of Edlers salary, keep Hamhuis. Work with Pedan and Tryamkin ( these guys could make it a little more dangerous for the other teams forecheck. Keep the Sedins with Hansen and if we get the first pick choose Patrik Laine.