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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Deep Dive: How Have the Canucks Fared in the Immediate Aftermath of the Trade Deadline?

It’s only been three games in my dataset since the deadline, but a lot has changed. Canucks head coach Travis Green formed a new top line, plugging in the newly acquired Brandon Leipsic to play with the best two forwards this organization has to offer in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

The line was performing incredibly well until a scary injury to Boeser on Monday cut his season short. As a result, Green’s forced to create yet another new top line. The combo of Leipsic and Horvat will remain intact with the improving speedster, Jake Virtanen, joining them on the newly vacated right wing.

Additionally, with Sven Baertschi and Loui Eriksson’s seasons also over due to injury, even more opportunities will open up for the young players on this squad to display exactly what they can add to this team in what has become a 15 game audition for next season.

Nikolay Goldobin is seemingly hanging on by a thread, averaging the least amount of ice-time among qualified players. These injuries are a blessing in disguise for the creative distributor; he merely has to take advantage of this opportunity.

The post-deadline defensive pairings of, Alexander Edler and Erik Gudbranson, Michael Del Zotto and Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot, Remained consistent up until an abysmal first period on Monday night while hosting the New York Islanders. Green shuffled pairs one and three, opting to try the Hutton – Gudbranson experiment again while reuniting Edler with Pouliot who have performed well offensively when paired.

Since the deadline, the Canucks have hosted the New York Rangers (6-5 OTL), Nashville Predators (4-3 OTL), and the New York Islanders (4-3 OTW) at the time of my writing this, producing four points in three games while avoiding losing in regulation time.

Without any further adieu, let’s take a closer look at how the team is performing, using data and some micro-stats I’ve been tracking.

Forwards

First, let’s take a look at 5v5 Primary Shot Contributions and Zone Entries

Brandon Leipsic – The Toronto Maple Leaf and Vegas Golden Knight castoff is reunited with former Portland Winterhawks head coach, Travis Green. Green immediately awarded Leipsic with a spot on the top line with Horvat and Boeser and the early vote of confidence paid off. Not only is Leipsic tied with Horvat for the team lead in points since his arrival with five, but he’s also leading the team with 11 controlled zone entries and is second on the team with 19 primary shot contributions.

Below is a clip of a Leipsic controlled zone entry followed by a “royal road” shot assist, setting up Jake Virtanen for the third goal on Monday night against the New York Islanders.

It’s encouraging that Leipsic has been so heavily involved in generating offensive opportunities early on with the Canucks. His early showings display he’s not just a passenger along for the ride on the top line, but he’s capable of creating offence himself. Let’s hope this trend continues when JV18 takes Boeser’s spot on the first line.

Another interesting note on Leipsic — it appears he had a fan in Toronto who likely wasn’t happy about opting to protect Matt Martin over the speedy winger in the expansion draft. Check out these recently liked tweets by current Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager, Kyle Dubas.

Perhaps Dubas saw something in Leipsic’s games that others didn’t? Analytics that!

One last note on Leipsic — after three penalties taken versus the Islanders, I became concerned this was a potential characteristic of the often overlooked winger, so I checked it out. No need to worry Canucks fans, he’s not a penalty-taking machine. In fact, he’s drawn one more penalty than he’s taken this year. Consider Monday’s penalty differential a blip on the radar rather than a triple bogey.

Bo Horvat – He’s been in beast mode over the three-game sample I’ve analyzed, leading the team in total zone entries with 18, and primary shot assists with ten. Entering the zone has never been a problem for Bo, but he’s never really viewed as a natural distributor. Horvat’s at his best when he’s not only creating offensive opportunities off the rush but when he’s generating offence off the cycle and possession game in the offensive zone. That’s precisely what he’s been doing lately and has been improving upon all season. I look forward to seeing if he can continue to do this without Boeser by his side. We saw Boeser produce without Horvat earlier in the season; now we’ll see what Bo can do without Brock, a good test for the team’s number one centre.

Brock Boeser – Quite simply, Boeser was being Boeser on the newly formed first line until the unfortunate injury to his back. He’s tied for first on the team with 13 shots while continuing to distribute when necessary. I have to admit; I was really looking forward to tracking that line for the remainder of the season. Get well soon, Brock.

I’ll just leave this Boeser magic here. Shoutout to Leipsic for the backhand, behind the goal line, royal road shot assist — dang!

Daniel Sedin – Daniel continues to impress with his limited ice-time, taking ten shots at 5-on-5 which is three more than Horvat in just under 16 minutes less of time on ice. He’s continued to produce with four points in three games since the deadline all while having a 58.33% share of shots. As the season goes on, the twins continue to prove there’s still plenty of game left in the tank.

Henrik Sedin – The three-game primary shot contribution chart doesn’t exactly do Henrik any favours. We know he doesn’t shoot and for whatever reason, he hasn’t been setting up many opportunities at 5-on-5 since the deadline. I don’t expect this recent dry spell to continue. On the season, Hank is leading the team, setting up just under 16 shots/60; the closest to him is Goldobin setting up 13.39 per hour.

These two are clearly capable of contributing to the team on the ice. Not only as offensive zone specialists at 5-on-5, but they are still primary options depended on to gain the zone on the powerplay. Once they do gain the zone, it’s still Hank’s PP to run. If the Sedin’s want to come back while taking a pay-cut, I have plenty of room and time for them in my lineup.

Nikolay Goldonbin – Goldobin must approach every shift from now until the end of the season as an opportunity to earn Green’s trust. This is a critical time in his career to prove that he has progressed and won’t be a liability without the puck. If Goldy’s compete level can match his skill-set, the Canucks have a player here; if not, I’m not sure how much longer this management team keeps him around.

Green is doing his best to help Goldobin succeed; he’s being deployed over 86% of the time in the offensive zone with offensively minded players. This deployment has undoubtedly aided his over 60% share of shots, and the PSC chart shows he’s been productive at creating offensive opportunities when given a chance.

Jake Virtanen – Virtanen has been playing some of the best hockey of his career recently, and it’s showing on the primary shot contribution chart over the last three games. He’s tied with Boeser for the team lead with 13 shots, but what’s more encouraging is Virtanen’s been distributing the puck lately and showing signs of improvement in his 5-on-5 game. His eight primary shot assists tie him with Leipsic for second on the team, and he’s had a positive share of shots with a Corsi rating of 51.9%.

Darren Archibald – A feel-good story this year, Archie has produced more on the scoresheet than anyone expected with five points in 12 games and two in three since the deadline. The counting stats are a nice bonus, and man, does it feel good when Archibald scores.

That said, there’s room for improvement in his underlying metrics. The Canucks are only controlling 39.84% of the shots at 5-on-5 in the limited sample of his season, which is a definite red flag. Whether you believe in Corsi as a predictor or a measurement of a players ability is irrelevant — when you’re out-shot that badly, you’re not going to survive in the NHL for long. He’s being deployed heavily in the defensive zone with a measly 21.05% offensive zone start percentage which isn’t helping. Furthermore, playing primarily with the defensive zone specialist Brandon Sutter isn’t doing him any favours either. However, with all that considered, he still must find a way to do more to either drive possession, or prevent shots against if he hopes to be part of the solution in Vancouver.

Tyler Motte – Newcomer Tyler Motte has found himself flanking Sutter, which isn’t an ideal situation for the offensive-minded winger. His shot-share and zone starts are similar to Archibald’s, but Motte has shown signs of life as he’s tied for third on the team in individual zone entries. Motte is a shooter, and you can see that as he hasn’t produced a 5-on-5 shot assist yet with the Canucks. Furthermore, Motte hasn’t provided more assists than goals since 2014-15 with the University of Michigan. I don’t view Motte as a fourth-line shutdown or even prevent defensive winger, so until he’s out of that role, it’s difficult to evaluate his game. With the recent injuries, we’ll see if Green gives Motte a few more offensive opportunities.

Defencemen

Erik Gudbranson – A slim rise in his controlled exit rate and he’s been setting up shots more often than usual. There have been small improvements in Gudbranson’s game but not enough to alter his shot share of 42.70% since the deadline. To his credit, once he was taken off of the top pairing, he performed well in two periods of play alongside Ben Hutton. The third pairing is where Gudbranson belongs, so let’s hope he stays there.

Ben Hutton – It appears Hutton has put in the work off the ice to get rewarded on the ice. His offensive zone starts are near 75% which are playing a factor in his team-leading 62.65% shot share. Hutton’s been making the most of his time in the offensive zone as he’s generated 15 primary shot contributions in three games, leading all defenders and good for sixth on the team.

Derrick Pouliot – Pouliot has been performing well recently, and he appears to have more poise and confidence with the puck. His shot share of 62.24% is good for second on the team since the deadline. His 12 primary shot contributions are good for second among defenders.

Well, that’s enough micro-stats and data for now. Once we hit the ten game mark for the new players, I’ll start putting some per 60 charts together so we’ll have some data to compare their production to the other wingers on the team.

I wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update on a massive project I’ve been working on. I’m building a database on the top eligible defencemen for the upcoming 2018 entry draft which will include over 50 individual and on-ice contributions. My next Canucks Army article will be a preview of the project where I compare two defenders using the data I’ve collected. Looking forward to it!

  • Green seems to like to have a dedicated shut-down line. That’s how he operates. If Motte can show that he can play both the shut-down line and the penalty kill then he has an excellent chance of making next year’s roster.

  • Green deploys Sutter, Archibald and Motte in defensive roles, but they do not shut down anyone. There is a reason this team is 27th on the PK and 27th in goals against.

    Here’s a list of other team’s “shut down” centres that share 25% or less Ozone starts like Sutter and have played at least 300 5on5 minutes. The common theme is they are all paid less and all but one is better. There’s an argument to be made Gaunce or Granlund could be deployed in Sutter’s role next year at a fraction of the cost while providing similar, if not better results. But what do I know, Benning told me “You win with players like Brandon Sutter”

    Beagle 39%
    Sutter 42%
    Cizikas 44%
    Soderberg 47%
    Brodziak 47%
    Paquette 48%
    Moore 49%
    Sissons 51%
    Kuraly 51%
    Faksa 51%

    • Sutter has a plus / minus of +3.

      That’s remarkable given that his even-strength defensive-zone start percentage is 75.7%, and given the lines he’s matched up against.

      • Yeah, truly remarkable… clearly the Canuks are a playoff team as Mamutt told us again and again pre season and early days.

        LOOK at the standings you f…king ignorant imbecile – they simply never lie!

        • It turns out that sound play by a single player isn’t enough to carry an entire team into the playoffs. Go figure.

          And you call me an imbecile…

        • Why is this level of ignorance and total lack of class tolerated? Probably another cowardly persona created by the minority, those who can’t tie their shoes, much less form a credible opinion.

      • what are Horvat’s and Henrik’s numbers? what would they be if they routinely matched against top lines? At some point actual goal differential has to be more important than projected goal differential.

        It is a valid question Freud raises, could using Gaunce over Sutter generate the same or better results for far less money?

      • His even-strength differential is -1, which looks good on the surface, but if you dig a bit you’ll see he’s benefitting from massively elevated on-ice save percentage (.938 vs. .912 last year and .924 the year before – he’s a full percentage point above his career average). He’s bleeding shots against when on the ice – yes, his defensive zone starts forgive some of this, but not nearly all of it.

        Last year, in almost twice as many minutes, with a below-average on-ice save percentage, better puck possession numbers (-3.5 corsi rel vs. -8.5 corsi rel this year) and a much less dramatic zone start percentage (43/57), he was a -18 even strength goal differential and a -20 +/-, since you want to fetishize useless stats.

        Sutter is playing worse this year than last year, he’s just been getting better goaltending.

        • This suggests that Sutter is forcing the other team to take poor-quality shots — e.g., forcing shots from the perimeter when the goalie has a clear view.

          • It doesn’t, at all. If he were, he’d have an elevated on-ice save percentage in previous seasons, which he did not.

            This is an issue that’s been looked into pretty extensively, and very few players have the ability to consistently influence even-strength save percentage.

          • You can basically draw two conclusions from the data:

            1. This year Sutter’s doing a great job limiting high-danger shots, last year he was terrible at it, the year before he was average, the year before that he was slightly above-average, etc. There’s no consistency at all in his defensive game – some seasons he’s fantastic and other seasons he’s terrible.

            2. He’s not impacting on ice save percentage and the elevated number this year (and depressed number last year) are the result of having only been on the ice for 20-30 goals against, so a couple of lucky bounces or bad bounces can push that number up or down significantly.

            I know which one seems more likely.

          • You seem to be arguing that Sutter is simply lucky in his even-strength differential. He’s getting good goal tending at his end, and perhaps poor goal tending at the other.

            Could it be, though, that he is playing differently this year, perhaps in response to Green’s instruction? Perhaps Green has a clear idea how shut-down hockey should be played. You say few players can consistently affect save percentage. But you didn’t say none.

          • I’ll phrase it differently, for kicks:

            Either Sutter has completely transformed his game after ten years in the NHL and become one of the rare mythical beasts who elevates on-ice save percentage OR the goalies have gotten a bit of luck and made *three* additional saves above average on 340 shots against when Sutter was on the ice.

            One of these things is a lot more likely than the other.

          • It might not take a huge transformation; maybe just some small changes that force shots towards the perimeter. Or perhaps better cleaning up of rebounds.

          • I went into Corsica, and they say that Sutter’s expected plus / minus is -4.75, roughly what his actual plus / minus is.

            “Expected plus / minus” takes into consideration shot quality, not just quantity. Thus I think you can make the case that Sutter has allowed the opposition poorer shots.

          • Arguing Sutter’s numbers are skewed because of better goaltending does seem like a reach. Sutter played a lot of minutes last year in a different role. It was Green who locked him into a shut down role.

        • Im sensing something a little fishy here my friend. How many times has are goaltending been called the worst part of our team….yet here you stand telling us that are goal tending is so good that it can elevate a player whom you would love to convince us is a usless player here that could easily be replaced and bested by a career 4th line player. Which is it? Good or bad goaltending? Maybe you will try and convince us that the goalies only show up for Sutter this year which may support your save percentages for Sutter….but than completely falls flat in the face of the overal evidence of our goaltending situation.
          Not telling you your wrong about Sutter, but your certainly wrong using this sort of means to prove your point.

          On a similar note though pertaining to the idea of a shutdown player/line. Do you think it to be possible that a coach or team labelling a player/line as such might indirectly affect his scoring mentality. Which is to say that if Green tells Sutter, Gaunce, Grandlund etc that they need to go out and play defence that they put the biggest effort in when they are in there own zone and than instead of breaking out and going for a rush they chip it out and go onto the forecheck and attempt to create offence that way. On the opposite end when we tell Horvat and Boeser to produce goals they obviously wanna be reliable defencively but dont worry about taking chances on the breakout. Guess im trying to relate this to Sutters shot differencial in that he knows he wont feel heat for not scoring but gets the spotlight from the coach when scored upon so to speak. Just wondering if theres any support to this idea?

        • I recall Sutter playing a different role under Willie last year. He spent quite a while on the wing with the twins and that didn’t go well, but it might help explain the difference in defensive zone starts.

    • Your list is wrong. There are only two centres who have played over 300 minutes and have an offensive-zone start percentage of 25 or under: Sutter and Cizikas.

      Cedric Pacquette, as just one example, has an OZs of 40.8%.

      And I don’t know what those percentages are that accompany your names.

      • Incorrect. From Corsica.ca
        Paquette 420min 5on5
        0zone faceoffs 102
        Dzone faceoffs 146
        Nzone faceoffs 186
        Ozone faceoff %23.5

        You’re obviously looking at ozone/dzone splits only.

        Laughing at the dim responders who are too dim to check themselves.

        • The most common definition for percentage of offensive zone starts is:

          100 * offensive zone starts / (offensive + defensive zone starts)

          If you’re going to use something different you should mention that. I also recommend you learn to debate without insulting people.

  • Can we just talk about Elias Petersen for a second…. wow. Breaks the Jr scoring record and takes the SHL scoring lead. going to be the first Jr. Player to take the SHL scoring title in over 40 years. this kid is specail and combined with brock… teams are going to be paralyzed by fear/amazement when these 2 kids are on the ice at the same time.

    • I am excited about Petersen but think this thread will now say it wasn’t his talent that got him there it was the fact the opposition goalies were worse when he was on the ice. Can’t wait until September when he comes to Vancouver to challenge for a spot on the team.
      Sutter can’t catch a break on here for anything. He plays his role well but then the stat guys say he isn’t the shutdown guy as it is the goalies who make him look good. Perhaps Sutter should be on the ice the whole game so that the save percentage goes up which means less goals against that means we would likely be in the hunt for a playoff spot.