44
Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau / Getty Images

Canucks’ Free Agent Additions Shouldn’t Move the Needle in Terms of Playoff Competiveness – Or the Draft Lottery

The Canucks made a big splash in free agency this year, and not in comes-back-to-bite-you-in-the-ass kind of way (you know, like they did in 2016). Rather, they went for depth and volume, plugging holes that needed plugging without giving too much away in either term or annual value.

In other words, they did a pretty good job, which is why Jackson gave them the reasonably high grade of a B+.

But as you may have noticed (or you can see in the article linked above), many others are not as pleased with Benning’s additions. I won’t rehash the objections that were mentioned in Jackson’s article, since, as he said, they’ve come mostly from national outlets who don’t pay close enough attention to understand the difference between plugging holes and trying to make the playoffs.

But that type of reaction hasn’t been strictly from the outside. Some of our local, more level-headed media members have pondered the same thing.

There exists a portion that here are concerned that the Canuck’s free agent additions would push them into hockey’s version of purgatory, where a team isn’t good enough to make the playoffs or bad enough to guarantee a top five pick. (Heck, in this day and age, unless you’re good enough to get out of the first round, you’re basically considered to be stuck in that boat as well).

We know that Canucks aren’t a real playoff team, and the worry now is that they’ll be too good and will work themselves out of a decent lottery position, which is especially damning in a year with some real top end talent in the draft, including a defencemen who objectively could be the best to come along since Erik Karlsson. The Canucks could use a player like that. Anyone could really, so I get the objection about getting “too good”.

What I don’t think these people understand is a) just how bad the Canucks were in the second half of last season, and b) how devoid their lineup was of NHL talent.

The Canucks may have finished as the second worst team in the league on the back of an atrocious second half, but that doesn’t mean they were any good to start with. On January 1st, their 37 points ranked sixth worst in the NHL. They were already 38 games into the season, possessing a minus-20 goal differential, long before Markus Granlund or Brendan Gaunce ended their seasons for surgery, and having Erik Gudbranson for three-quarters of their games. By mid-February, they’d dropped a spot in the standings, and by the time the trade deadline rolled around, they’d dropped another. Only then did the team deal Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen (who, in fairness, had missed a lot of the season anyway) and the Canucks really began to plummet.

By the end of the season, the Canucks’ roster was a disaster, missing eight of the 18 players that they dressed on opening night. Now five of those were due to injury, and one was simply in the minors (Jake Virtanen), meaning the Canucks will have most of those players back next year. But they’ll also be without three of player that did play in that game, as Nikita Tryamkin and Philip Larsen left for Russia after the season and Luca Sbisa was claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft.

I’ve taken the liberty of fishing up the values of the incoming and outgoing players, to see how the prospective 2017-18 squad compares against the one that was quite accurately projected (by some outlets) to tally 65-70 standings points last season.

Skaters

Using DTMAboutHeart’s Goals Above Replacement metric, I’ve plotted the approximate value above replacement that the Canucks have lost from their roster since last season. As a heads up, these are the 2016-17 accumulated GAR values for each player, rather than per game rates.

Alex Burrows leads the way, with a value of 4.3 Goals Above Replacement. Burrows had the ninth highest GAR among players that suited up for the Canucks last season, making his exit a pretty significant blow. Ditto for Jannik Hansen, whose 2.9 GAR ranked 13th on the Canucks. Luca Sbisa and Nikita Tryamkin also make noticeable losses.

Of interest here is Sbisa and Tryamkin’s GAR relative to each other: while Tryamkin’s even strength offence and defence is vastly superior to Sbisa’s, Tryamkin was sunk for how many penalties he took, while Sbisa’s discipline was a large boon for him.

Altogether, the outgoing Canucks listed here add up to 9.8 Goals Above Replacement.

Now let’s take a look at the players that the Canucks brought it as free agents.

We’ve heard plenty about Gagner’s struggles defensively, and GAR has certainly picked up on that. Luckily, Gagner’s power play prowess last year saved him and turned him into a valuable asset. Still, no one here brings the value that Burrows did, though Del Zotto and Gagner are both just about on par with Hansen’s value.

The incoming Canucks players listed here have a total GAR of 7.4, which is noticeably lower than the outgoing value. Here they are compared against one another:

From this perspective, it seems as though the Canucks have taken a big hit to their even strength defence in exchange for power play offence and discipline. The overarching point is though that the incoming value, according to this particular metric, doesn’t even cover the value that was lost.

Goalies

We haven’t even mentioned yet the loss of Ryan Miller and addition of Anders Nilsson. GAR doesn’t evaluate goaltenders, but we’ll touch on that quickly using Ian Fleming’s SAVE chart, this one plotting their numbers of the previous three seasons.

A couple of takeaways: Miller has played a whole lot more, which isn’t surprising – he’s been a number one goaltender for all three seasons, while Nilsson has been a backup and only played in the last two – although he had a more prominent role last season in Buffalo with Robin Lehner battling injuries.

Nilsson’s High Danger Save Percentage has been higher than Miller’s, but his Low-Danger and Medium-Danger Sv%’s have been below league average. However, they were much better in 2016-17 than they were in 2015-16, and Nilsson is at the age where we can feel comfortable with year-to-year improvements being termed as development rather than anomalies.

All in all, we’d expect Nilsson to be a decent replacement for Miller, as he’s put up comparable numbers, albeit with a lighter workload. Of course, one could make the argument that Markstrom is replacing Miller and Nilsson is actually replacing Markstrom. In that case, it’s difficult to predict how each will perform. Data compiled for a save rate versus workload analysis I did on Ryan Miller during the season suggested that Markstrom’s save rates increased when his workload increased (the opposite of Miller’s). If that proved to be the case, he may prove to be as good as Miller was for the Canucks last season.

Confounding Factors

As objective as we’re trying to be, this article is still fairly simplistic in its analysis, as we’re only taking into account the value of incoming and outgoing players. For the most part we haven’t concerned ourselves with the change in value provided for returning players who roles with increase or decrease, such as Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna, who I’d expect to be waived and sent to Utica, or full seasons of Brock Boeser, Reid Boucher, and Anton Rodin. There’s also the returns of Derek Dorsett and Erik Gudbranson to consider, and given their past values, increased ice time may be more of a detriment than a benefit.

And of course there are injuries. Every year, the Canucks are hampered by a multitude of injuries that destroy value by taken players out of the lineup, or diminish value by having players play through injuries (e.g, 2015-16 Henrik Sedin or 2016-17 Chris Tanev). The last couple of seasons have been particular bad for this, and next season could end up being very similar.

Conclusion

Individual and team success in sports is incredibly difficult to predict with any high degree of certainty. We know which teams are in the upper, middle, and lower echelons, but pinpointing positions in the standings well before seasons get underway is often a fruitless endeavor. Evaluating historical results can give us a little bit of perspective, but for the most part there is a lot of guess work, and a whole lot of factors that are well beyond our control.

What we know is that this is still not a particularly good team. This is a team that not only finished 29th in the NHL last season, but they did so in extravagant fashion by plummeting downwards in the second half of the season. What has happened here in the off season hasn’t remade this into a bubble team. It’s plugged some holes in the lineup and restored it to a roster that is similar to the one that the Canucks began the 2016-17 season with – back when they were expected to finish at the bottom of the league anyway. They’ve plastered some duct tape over the hole in the hull of the Titanic and rearranged the deck chairs up top, but the expected result shouldn’t be all that different.

And that’s okay!

This is what many of us in this market wanted. This is a team that is going to go into the year with low expectations, finish low in the standings, and come away with another high draft pick – draft lottery Gods willing, most likely in the top five again. What’s more is that the Canucks aren’t selling it as anything more than that. Sure, they won’t tell you they’re shooting for a bottom five finish, but you won’t hear anything about shooting for the playoffs either. They want to stay “competitive”, a necessarily ambiguous word that really means a desire to not be blown out in games. Losing games 4-2 or 7-1 means the same thing in the standings, but they mean very different things psychologically, especially to younger players (of which there should be plenty in the lineup).

The Canucks are definitely different than last off season, but in no certain terms are they better. The most likely outcome is one similar to last year, but it will of course be highly subject to luck and chance. Worries that they’ll fall out of the draft lottery picture and too far into hockey purgatory are, in my opinion, entirely premature. The Rebuild (with a capital ‘R’!) is still chugging along.

  • Killer Marmot

    The Canucks began last year with a semi-reasonable roster of forwards. The problem is that they had no depth, so that when the inevitable injuries occurred, there were only marginal players to plug the gaps, producing bizarre lineups like Sedin-Sedin-Megna.

    This year’s a little different. There’s a bunch of decent young players that Green can call up. They’ll be raw, but they won’t be untalented. At a minimum, that’ll make the year more interesting. At a maximum, the Canucks will annoy the “tankers” by making a run at the playoffs.

  • Burnabybob

    I bet the Canucks have two more high draft lottery selections ahead of them before they start to turn things around.

    They already (almost) have the makings of a good team in their pipeline. Hopefully they get some luck in the draft lottery for a change. Dahlin would be an amazing addition to their blueline.

  • Dirty30

    So maybe the Canucks got a little better — that’s only helpful if all the teams around them either stayed the same or declined in talent. Many teams took significant and substantial steps toward improving their rosters, competitiveness and likelihood of making a surge up the standings. Even if the Canucks end up being a better team than last year by a wide margin, it may still not be sufficient to keep up or overcome changes made by other teams.

    I think the Canucks look more interesting, show promise and could be a surprise for some teams some nights. But even if they end up finishing 23rd, the lottery could accidentally gift them a better pick (cf. NJ and Philly) than their past two season finishes actually obtained them.

    They also have some picks, prospects and players who could be packaged in various iterations to move up for one solid pick as well.

  • neal

    Call it what you will “Rebuild” “Retool”.
    As a fan, all you can ask for is an effort. Even though short of talent last year there weren’t a lot of floaters.
    Things will not change much until the Sedins retire, and that is not a knock against the Twins. It’s just a fact of the business. Canucks get younger, Utica gets younger. Be Patient.

  • Rodeobill

    Now the bandwagoners have probably gone for a few years, the media needs to sell the team as in a good place to the non–hardcore fans so the fanbase doesn’t start throwing jerseys on the ice (yuk, yuk. we cant even part with our hats on a hat trick) and turn it’s back on the team. The narrative has gotta change for a bit to speak more to promising and exciting elements (“yeah we suck right now, but man that Boeser”). I worry about the pressures that a fickle and impatient fanbase will have on our rebuild.

  • Chadallac

    Does anybody else notice what a completely biased HOMER network TSN is for the Leafs? I always go on the tsn app looking for Canucks stories and am continually disgusted by how much Toronto Maple Leafs stories there are. Such as today they have stories about Connor Brown, Timothy Liljegren, another about Brown, Joseph Woll(WHO????), Martins Dzierkals(WHOOOOO?), Adam Brooks(WHOOOO?), Auston Matthews contract situation, Leafs open development camp(blah blah blah what about my Canucks development camp GRRRRR), another about Liljgren comparing himself to Erik Karlsson, for casting Leafs 2017-18 lineup, Jeremy Branco, Hyman signing contract. Like OMG that’s 14 goddam stories on the Leafs. I have no problem with the Leafs. I actually like them. What I don’t like is a network that calls itself the sports network and it has 14 stories on one team, and 2 on the Canucks. Just to be fair to all of Canada here are the numbers. 14 on Leafs, 2 on Canucks, 4 on Oilers,2 on Sens, & 2 on Hab, 1 on Flames. Nothing on the Jets. Like OMG so goddam annoying if you ask me. I realize TSN & Leafs owned by same people but it’s so dam obvious how much more they love their beloved Leafs than any other team in Canada. This is on the TSN app I’m talking about, I realize the website has much more than the app but come on this is bloody ridiculous. Like why can’t TSN cover the Canucks development camp too? I just don’t get it.

  • Chadallac

    GMJB did an awesome job on my Canucks future since the deadline on in my opinion. Getting Dahlen & Gholdobin & a fourth for Burrows & Hansen(who I think will resign here next summer), ditching Sbisa in the expansion draft, the NHL draft (I’m so happy with our draft except I wish we could have added that second from Vegas. Poker face JB work on it please), our 5 signings on July 1 (who all could be turned into draft picks or prospects in the future DUH). The only bummer was losing BFG back to Russia (thanks Willie you selfish MORON). Seriously I have zero respect for Willie Desjardins now. I think he was so selfish in his time here. It was all about him and nothing about the future. Dumass. Can’t believe he is going to be coach for the Olympics. What a joke. He needs to retire he’s a dinosaur. So out of touch with reality. Yes GMJB talks too much to the vultures in the media. But he’s done a dam good job. And I can’t believe these people who are questioning what the Canucks did. Such as that Leafs Homer Jeff O’Neill. I wanted to reach through my tv screen and choke him out when I saw he picked the Canucks as his biggest loser of July1. That guy has no idea what is going on outside of LeafsLand. And even there he has no idea. I can’t believe someone gave him a job as an analyst. He’s such a MORON. Anyways keep up your work GMJB you got my confidence in you man. 👍👊

    • Killer Marmot

      I see no problem with the way Tryamkin was treated. He showed up at camp out of shape. He was given reduced minutes. He got in shape. He was given increased minutes. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

      In the end Tryamkin just didn’t want to be here. Not everything’s the coach’s fault.

  • FireGillis

    Best case scenario if everyone stays healthy and boeser puts up 30 goals 20 assists horvat 60 points, sedins both 60 points and juolevi 40 points we could fall short of a wild card by like 5-10 points

  • Break The Canuck's Curse

    I wish people would get over the lottery. As good as it can be, it never seems to be good for the Canucks. Benning’s ability to sniff out talent is looking a lot better than any lottery picks we might lose at this point

    • Fortitude00

      Can’t get over it the rebuild won’t be complete until we get at least 2 top 3 picks. Longer it takes the longer we sit at the bottom. Benning has down a good job at drafting it appears but Canucks still need a couple premier centres or a D man to resurface.

        • Fortitude00

          Only one team in last 15 years has won the cup without a top 3 pick in their lineup. That’s Detroit and only Detroit. You can go back further another 15 years and find the same results. So if this city wants to ever win a cup we need at least one top 3 pick in our lineup and most likely 2.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    One wild card will be the coaching strategies of Green compared to Willie. By the end of last season WD seemed to be losing on purpose, even though we know he wasn’t, with his bizarre deployment and asinine power play tactics. Green might improve the team a little just by fixing those things.

  • BBoone

    Well they just replaced or upgraded a few pieces . This way no prospect has an easy road and a reasonably hard working professional core will hold the fort. They are on short contracts which leads to motivation . Rebuild means patiently working with prospects in the minors , overseas or junior / college while having a functional NHL team to maintain the work ethic . They are easily traded . No they probably won’t make the playoffs but a low teens pick is fine .

  • wojohowitz

    I break down injuries like this; 33.3% is just bad luck. 33.3% is not having the puck and getting hit by the puck – that`s lack of talent and 33.3% is getting mugged by goon squads which you counter by having your own goon squad. I see Calgary let Bouma go – he was getting soft – and replaced him with Gadzic…and the Canucks? Dorsett.

    • Pat Quinn Way

      Fans in Chicago (Kane/Toews), Pittsburgh (Crosby/Malkin) and Toronto (Matthews) are laughing at you backup… Connor and Oiler fans are now chuckling too. Wake up fool, you can’t win ‘every game’ with a dog and pony show like Vancouver has under the clown Benning!

      • Fortitude00

        You know you might make some valid points if it weren’t for the attacks on Benning all the time. I suspect you ignore the team Benning took over and all the NTC’s he had to wait for expiration. We are finally passed that so now Benning can rebuild the team. It was quite difficult for him to do so with all the restrictions he had.

        • Pat Quinn Way

          Forti, your lazy ill-informed excuses may work with Neil B and the other half dozen posters on SBN but not on here mate.

          I will continue to hold Benning accountable after years of regression under his awful leadership that have seen us become an NHL bottomfeeder laughing stock until the day he is fired, and I can assure you I will be at the airport to carry his bags and party hard in celebration.

          Fickle fans seem to forget that those same NTC players were good enough to get the Canucks 101 points when Benning took on GMMG’s team… it has been downhill in a hurry since.

          Fickle fans like you also seem to forget that those clauses were the price Gillis had to pay in order to keep our most successful team ever intact and under the cap by getting hometown discounts from core players in their prime that practically every team in the league wanted!

          In comparison, the NTCs that Benning absurdly handed out to non contending Miller, Sutter and 7 year/7 mill per albatross Loui Eriksson are far worse than any GMMG gave out purely to keep us a CONTENDER year after year. Get me?

          • BBoone

            Feb 1 Canucks army ; Jeremy Davis . Sums up Gillis draft and development record accurately as one of the worst in the NHL . So this question has been asked and answered . Therefore Linden et al took over a total train wreck just waiting to happen . Have they made some mistakes ? Yes of course , which Team hasn’t ? Now the decks have been essentially cleared and the normal development of an eventual cup contender by 2020-2021can begin starting from the 2016 trade deadline . You will see over the next three seasons excellent drafting and , I hope , a strong development program ( my hobby horse ) that young players both drafted and free agents want to be a part of . The Canucks should want to be known as an NHL development factory and good young prospects who are NHL ready can be moved for experienced prices , transitioned in for cap management or traded for top 15 first rounders that could then go back into the development process . This way you always have a good to great team and the years you get sone puck and injury luck you can win a cup . Regardless you always have a competitive entertaining team . I think Linden et al can bring this about . We shall see .

          • Braindead Benning

            Lol dude… I am still shaking my head with that Eriksson signing… what a F-ing disaster that has/and will turn out be… and the assets given up for the likes of Sutter and Gudbranslug again, another head shaker…

        • Pat Quinn Way

          What’s the problem Bud Bud… you can dish it but you can’t take it eh
          I’m here talking Vancouver Canucks hockey in a clear, concise manner without the heinous verbal abuse and personal attacks we have all seen from you mate…
          Pi$$ off you jerk. – Bud
          shove your act up your arse. I don’t drink ,dick. – Bud
          obnoxious, dickheaded twat. Get your f’n history right. You are incredibly ignorant. – Bud

          pot-kettle-black?! bud hypocrite?! bud

        • Freud

          Bud, the somebodies who run this site invited you to leave this winter.

          But, you’re still here.

          The fact you’re complaining to the same somebodies is more bizarre.

        • Psych Major

          ‘JD, Jackson, petbugs, help meee, make the nasty man go away for speaking the truth, he scares me wah wah’………….

          “Bud has generally served to make the comment section an unwelcoming place not just for the authors but also for a lot of the commenters as well. ” – Jackson McDonald

          ”the least I could do is occasionally remind Bud that CA’s readership is constantly growing and if all he is going to do is be rude to other readers he doesn’t need to come back especially because this isn’t Tim Hortons and I don’t get brownie points for smiling and being polite while someone makes the work area a nuisance to be in for staff + customers. ” – Jackson McDonald

        • Braindead Benning

          Hey “Special”…isn’t it quite obvious by now that people who run their FREE site for you to post on actually do NOT give a flying $hit about YOU… they are probably more concerned that your helmet it properly tightened and adjusted before you post.

          To be quite honest YOU should be grateful that they allow inbread whining retards such as yourself to post in a regular basis. Lol

    • Fortitude00

      God you people that use the term tanking. In the 80’s Canucks were just bad and they had lots of top 10 picks. Reason is when you don’t get that #1 pick you usually get the other guy and not the superstar.

  • Fred-65

    Basically the Canucks are treading water this coming season, IMO. They have to balance business interest and preservation with development and it look to me like they threaded the needle. They’ll still be a lottery team but won’t roll over such as the Avs did. I hope they can offer some entertainment to those that spend wads of money to buy tickets ( that’s me…selfish maybe) but will give time to those that need development. If Vcr gets a top 5 finish the odds for winning a lottery has to be building…. hasn’t it 🙂

    • BBoone

      Well the odds of winning stay the same unfortunately . If you flip a fair coin it is .5 for heads . If you just flipped 10 tails it is still .5 for heads . However if heads was what you needed you have definitely been unlucky . Canucks have definitely been unlucky three of their last 4 drafts .

  • jaybird43

    The writer says the Canucks are basically the same as the start of last season. I think this is incorrect. They might be very slightly weaker on the ice, but the they’ve got some real prospects finally, thank goodness. I just watched Patterson’s play here and the kid is sickk. https://youtu.be/XEgf__zwVPk . I was worried we didn’t take Cody Glass and now I totally understand why. The team finallt has a future. By the way, if I hear one one writer say to trade Tanev for a high draft pick or two, I’m personally gonna come over to his house and like on him. Outside of the top four choices, the chance of a prospect even playing 100 NHL games is less than 50%. And being a number 2 (average team) or 3 defenceman (on an elite team) lije Tanev is rare. Go Canucks!