Much has been made of the negative sentiment surrounding the Canucks in the local market ever since Elliotte Friedman brought it up after the trade deadline. And in the swirl that followed, there was plenty finger-pointing about who was to blame.
If you believe the Vancouver hockey market is too negative around the Canucks, who is to blame?
— James Cybulski (@JamesCybulski) February 28, 2018
Strangely, though, the most likely source of the negativity seems to have been largely overlooked. Given that oversight, and the fact that it was largely house radio leading the charge against all that negativity, it’s no wonder many thought it was the Canucks organization pushing back at what they perceived as unfair media coverage. (Ron Howard voice: they were.)
But just because you don’t like the fallout, doesn’t mean you aren’t the ones responsible for the tire garbage reactor fire.
I mean, the idea that Canucks fans should in any way take the fall for the negative sentiment around a team that has gone from the fifth-best record over the course of Mike Gillis’ tenure with the team, to the fifth-worst under Benning, is utterly ridiculous:
In fact, I’m astounded at how much some of the media has been pushing back about how negative the fans on twitter are. I’m not sure what else you should expect from rational fans, to be honest. I suppose if you’re stuck on semantics and say ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’, you might have an argument. Yes, you clearly still have those fans out there that see nothing but a bright future for this team, despite the history of unmet expectations. And I guess there’s something to be said for that:
Unfortunately for the rest of us, reality has a well-known negative bias.
But for all this focus on negativity, it’s interesting that some negatives get a pass from the organization’s media defenders:
But I digress.
The point is that this team is ungood, and they’ve been ungood for years with no indication that the management team knows how to turn things around. The reason for the sudden surge in “negativity” is that with each passing season of unmet expectations, and these are expectations that are unnecessarily set by management, more and more fans are forced to face reality. It is a truism in any business setting that you should under-promise and over-deliver. This management team has done the exact opposite for the last three years, and it’s starting to take a toll on the remaining blissful holdouts.
It’s been almost three years since I wrote this about unmet expectations in this market:
This team is slowly getting worse. The core is aging and/or being shipped off one piece at a time. Yes, there are some potential younger pieces coming along, but not nearly enough to fill the holes. The fans, as a whole, see this and if there’s one thing this market has had enough of, it’s mediocrity.
But if the expectation is that the team will continue to get worse for years, the bleeding of season ticket holder support will continue until such a time as those expectations turn positive.
So with all due respect to Linden, I believe this current course of action will actually make the business side of the franchise worse in both the short and long-term than if you let it bottom out quickly and got fans excited about an upward trajectory.
If you’ve been following along, I thought they had turned that corner last year at this time, but recent decisions have made me rethink that optimism.
And if you think I’m just some nobody banging away at a keyboard on the internet, you are right. But it just so happens that there are real live hockey people who feel the same way about how best to take a team through a necessary overhaul:
A Message from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton. pic.twitter.com/Q56CXS8vDc
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 8, 2018
Trevor Linden, meanwhile, sent out his own letter to ticket holders, and while the Canucks finally appear to see the benefits of selling hope for the future, they still can’t help but make excuses about the present:
In the shorter term we have faced some challenges with injuries and inconsistency. That being said, I think fans can see hope for the future, especially through young stars like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
Setting aside the fact that Linden apparently has forgotten about a draft pick they made in between Horvat and Boeser, the idea that injuries have anything to do with where this team is in the standings is ridiculous. I covered this already back in December, but this team has been playing at its natural level since early November. And that level is about 46% of shot attempts and expected goals at 5-on-5:
Sure, actual goals for has swung much more wildly over the season, but that’s what it does. Call it luck, bounces, whatever, but the fact is goals are much more random in nature than the underlying shot-based metrics. As I explained in that December post, the difference between actual goals and expected goals is directly related to PDO, which accounts for the fluctuations in shooting and save percentages. Looking at the underlying metrics is very much like economists and policymakers looking at core inflation, instead of headline inflation, which is heavily influenced by the volatile price fluctuations in food and energy.
So if we focus on those more stable numbers, injuries have had little impact on the underlying performance. Sure there have been some minor fluctuations, and the expected goals drop has come down with the loss of Boeser and Baertschi, but they’re down to the same 46% level they’ve been at most of the season even with those two in the lineup. Where you can really see that the Canucks are missing those two is on the powerplay, but in terms of team performance as a whole, injuries have little to do with where they find themselves. This, again, from December, still hold true today:
Yes, there was a dip when Tanev first went down, and also with the loss of Horvat and Baertschi, but the team appears to have found its level at the 45-48% mark in terms of expected goals for. And if you look at the final standings from last year, you’ll see that at level, they would finish the season 20-25th overall, and well out of the playoffs.
If anything, that outlook wasn’t negative enough.
It turns out that N is also for nobody saw it coming.