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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

The Flying Take: Broadcasting, The Ben Hutton Wars, and Markus Granlund the Rush King

These new Canucks are starting to look a lot like the old Canucks.

They’ve scored a few more goals, and they have a potential superstar in their lineup now, which makes everything look a lot brighter; but their record is startlingly similar to the one they had on this date last year. The Canucks are currently sitting at a game above .500, with a record of 10-92. At this time last year, they were 9-8-2.

The underlying numbers tell a similar story. The Canucks currently boast a 46.5% shot share. In mid November of last year, the number was a fair bit better at 49.3%.

You don’t need me to tell you that this year’s team looks quicker, more aggressive, and more talented. You definitely don’t need me to tell you why.

Elias Pettersson has made a huge difference in how this team has been perceived through the first quarter of the season. This team isn’t a punchline anymore. But for all the fanfare, the results haven’t been all that different.

One player can change a lot, but the Canucks still need a lot more than just one guy to be competitive on most nights.

1. The Blackhawks elected to cut ties with Joel Quenneville last week after just over ten years as the team’s bench boss. Not many coaches last that long. The Canucks are on their fourth coach since Quenneville was promoted at the start of the 2008-2009 season.

For many, including myself, the Blackhawks were the gold standard for building a cup contender in the salary cap era. Watching their recent struggles has been a painful reminder of how much you have to grind to stay at the top.

The Canucks could use to take a few lessons from the Quenneville era, since they’re in a similar place to the one the Blackhawks found themselves in just before he was promoted. They drafted Jonathan Toews in 2006, Patrick Kane in 2007, made it to the Western Conference Final in 2009, and won their first cup in 2010. Both players were on their ELCs.

Life comes at you fast.

Toews was just 22 when the Hawks won their first cup. Kane was 21. They were 27 and 26 respectively when they won their third cup in 2015. Players peak earlier than you’d think. Toews is still one of the better centres the league has to offer, but he hasn’t eclipsed 60 points since 2014-15 and at 30 it’s possible he may never get there again.

Part of the reason the Blackhawks were so successful was that they were willing to go for it early. Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson probably aren’t Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but when you see the way they’ve played at times this season, you could make an argument that they will be ready to lead a team sooner than you might think.

It seemed crazy to mention at the time, when Pettersson had yet to play an NHL game, but this is why the Canucks’ recent free agency stumbles matter. Elias Pettersson looks like he could be a high-end first-line centre as early as next season, but the Canucks are going to be significantly overpaying players like Loui Eriksson and Jay Beagle (among others) through his entire first contract. It’s not crazy to suggest it may shave a year or two off of their window to be truly competitive.

If there’s another thing the Blackhawks taught us, it’s that every dollar counts.

2. It’s time to take out the ol’ back-patting machine.

In a controversially-titled piece from midway through last season, Darryl Keeping argued that Ben Hutton deserved a spot in the Canucks top-six over recent free agent signing Michael Del Zotto.

It took some time, but it would appear that Travis Green agrees. Del Zotto was a consistent healthy scratch for much of the season before injury woes made dressing him a necessity.  Meanwhile, Hutton has dressed for 19 of the Canucks’ 21 games this season.

He’s far from a perfect player, but most fans would agree he’s beginning to look more and more like the player that flashed so much potential in his rookie season.

This reminded me of a post I came across at some point last year in my favourite online community dedicated to the Canucks, Reddit’s /r/canucks. It was titled Poor Statistics Might be Supporting Hutton Over MDZ, courtesy of Reddit user CorsiContrarian.

The crux of his argument was that it was unfair to compare how Ben Hutton and Michael Del Zotto fared in their time spent with Chris Tanev because of the different circumstances under which the players were deployed together:

“Like most, I’m of the opinion that Tanev is one of our best defenders… if you are on a pairing with him and get more time playing as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman and aren’t crushing your easier matchups, something is wrong. Tanev is not a player who loses against weaker competition. In other words, even based only on what we know about Hutton and Tanev’s deployment as a pair, we would expect them to be succeeding by shot attempt metrics.

When CanucksArmy compares the [Tanev-Del Zotto] pairing to the [Tanev-Hutton] pairing, they are comparing apples and Apple computers. TMdZ are dealing with top quality competition almost exclusively… Hutton playing with our best defenceman against weaker competition…

As for the overall shot based metrics (Corsi, Fenwick etc), the same phenomenon might be in play. Overall in the season, it appears that MDZ has faced tougher competition with less quality teammates than Hutton has. So again, based only on what we know about their deployment, we’d expect MDZ to have worse results than Hutton on shot based metrics.

Appealing statistics that appear thorough can distort or mask what’s actually causing success on the ice. The most recent CanucksArmy position on MDZ and Hutton may be a demonstration of that.”

At first glance, it seems like a compelling argument. Hutton did face easier than average competition last season:

This season, things have been different. Hutton’s quality of teammates is lower and he’s been seeing much more ice time against the opponent’s best forwards:

Despite the large swings in deployment, Hutton’s underlying numbers in the month of November have been almost identical to last season’s. What’s more impressive is, he’s done most of that away from Chris Tanev (who’s rocking a sub-45% Corsi in November, for comparison), mainly with Erik Gudbranson, with whom he’d struggled mightily in the past.

By all accounts, Ben Hutton is performing better by the eye-test than we’ve seen in some time. He looks stronger, faster, and more confident with and without the puck. But he’s also confirming what many of us believed last season: that he would shine in an expanded role.

It would seem that Darryl, like many great minds, was simply ahead of his time.

3. I can’t be the only one looking forward to this.

This will be, to the best of my knowledge, the first time Botch will be forced to acknowledge the existence of the online community that has negged him lo these many years.

The AMA was set up by former CanucksArmy contributor and current Athletties fill-in author Wyatt Arndt, who many /r/canucks users have asserted produces better Athletties than their creator. In fact, they have a colourful nickname for him over there that I can’t repeat. I’ll have my popcorn ready.

Here’s hoping /u/CorsiContrarian makes an appearance.

4. There continues to be debate about who Elias Pettersson should play with long-term. Jake Virtanen’s been able to stick there over the past few games, and kudos to him. He’s earned it.

The fit makes sense. Pettersson and Virtanen are both known for creating chances off the rush, albeit in very different ways.

It will come as no surprise that both players are in the top five on the team in shot attempts off the rush, as is a common linemate, Nikolay Goldobin. But would you be surprised to hear Loui Eriksson makes an appearance on that list as well? Maybe you can just chock that up to his appearances alongside Pettersson.

The biggest surprise is the player that tops the list. That would be Markus Granlund, who’s played just ten minutes with Pettersson at even-strength this season. He’s quietly off to a strong start, with 10 points in 21 games so far this season.

Granlund played the best hockey of his career at right wing, riding shotgun with two superior players in Henrik and Daniel Sedin. I’m starting to think he deserves a look on that line while Boeser is out.

5. John Garrett turned a couple of heads the other night when he made a comment about how so-called “advanced stats guys” love open-ice dekes.

This is, to the best of my knowledge, not a publicly tracked stat.

In spite of that fact, I cannot spend even one second being upset at anything the man says. That sounds like a joyless existence.

6. While we’re on the subject of the Canucks broadcast, I just want to reflect on the fact that it’s retained its personality in an era where sports programming is becoming increasingly cookie-cutter. I imagine that goes a long way towards explaining why they caught the attention of a journalist with an international platform in Keith Olbermann.

Not to mention, how many colour commentators can moonlight as a food blogger?

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Canucks have been blessed with great broadcasters ever since I was a kid listening to Hall of Famer Jim Robson call WHL games on the radio. Hughson was a worthy successor, and Shorty even better. And Larscheid and Cheech are/were both enormously entertaining.We are lucky.

    • Larionov18

      I miss Larcheid as he used to really rip the team (and individual players) when they played poorly but you knew it cam from a place of loving the team so you were not offended. Shorty and Cheech are very good though.

    • truthseeker

      They have been. Nothing needs to be said about Robson. The guy was pretty much the greatest. I don’t get why Hughson seems to get such a hard time from people. When he took over I thought he was fantastic. He very much kept it going in Robson’s style without sounding just like a copy. Both of them were the perfect amount of neutrality. I like Shorthouse too. His “scores” is one of the best…lol, but he’ll always be “sports page” to me…haha. Robson and Hughson have a certain flow to their call that sets them apart. It’s easy to listen to. Shorty’s a bit more….choppy?…for lack of a better word. But him and Garret do have a great banter. Indeed canucks fans have been very lucky for their play by play.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Agree. Jim Robson on CKWX 1130 calling the play when the Canucks in the WHL would play the Denver Invaders, Victoria Maple Leafs, LA Blades, SF Seals and of course Guyle Fielder and the Totems and Art Jones and the Bucaroos was memorable and educational for us very young kids then. We were spoiled because Jim Robson was as well prepared a play by play hockey broadcaster as there ever had been but didn’t know it at the time. I like Shorty and Garrett though because they are somewhat eccentric which is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise generic world of sound alike commentators. Just get rid of Cherry AND Ron MacLean.

  • Sandpaper

    So, Elias has been out for 6 games and somewhat invisible these past 4 games, yet he gets all the credit for this team looking more entertaining this season…ok.
    That was not a knock on him, by any means, but the style of play, the improvement of Jake and of course, Bo the beast have been big contributing factors to the entertainment factor.

  • TD

    Then one difference between this year and last year is the injuries. Last year the team played well until December when Horvat and Baertschi got hurt. This year they got off to a good start despite a bunch of key injuries. They may not keep it up and have faltered lately, but they may surprise us and keep playing well once healthy.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      They deserve full credit for their performance so far, especially given the patchwork line up, but don’t discount the impact of quality of opposition on the record. Yes they’ve beaten good teams but not teams that have been necessarily playing “good” (WD). As the season progresses they’ll be surprising fewer teams.

  • kermit

    Jim Robson was great. I was worried when he retired, but Hughson was just as good. Shorty put too much emotion into his voice the first year but he figured it out and is one of the best now. Garrett is good because he’s exactly what you want in a colour commentator, he’s played the game, so his input is insightful, especially wrt to goaltenders. Him and Shorty are great together, you can tell how much they like each other. I know a lot of people liked Larscheid, but he was a football guy and I found his hockey comments were little more than cheerleading.

    • Funny story with Jim Robson and his emotions. He was called out for being too subdued during the 1994 playoffs so when Greg Adams scored his goal, Robson’s call was upped specifically to address the criticism.

    • Cageyvet

      To his credit, Larscheid learned a lot about the game and brought a little more to the airwaves, but you’re not wrong. Part of the charm was his unapologetic style as a “homer”, probably in part because he didn’t know the game as well as others. If you accepted that, it was kind of fun to have a fellow fan in the game booth, even if sometimes he was as biased as the rest of us. I have nothing bad to say about Tom.

  • North Van Halen

    I’m in awe Jackson would say Keeping and CA were ‘ahead of their time in regards to Hutton and an expanded role.
    Had Green expanded fat Ben’s role last year he would have been crushed. CA kept wondering, over and over why Chubby Ben was sitting. Those of us that actually watch games instead of quoting stats without context kept saying, Chubby Ben needs to become a professional, he’s sitting behind Del Zotto to learn to be professional like Del Zotto. When he does he will start.
    Frickin amazing that JM ad pretty much the entire blogger community was completely out to lunch on this, yet somehow he’s claiming a victory.
    The difference isn’t the expanded role. The difference is Fit Ben is able to handle responsibilities that would have crushed Chubby Ben. But ya, take the ‘information completely out of context victory lap’. It’s great to be right for all the wrong reasons..

  • speering major

    The comparisons the the Hawks are absurd. Yes Toews and Kane were young….. but uh look around? They also had Keith, Seabrook, Buff, Campbell, Sharp, Hossa, Ladd, and Brouwer. They were so stacked they had to ship a guy out every year. All those guys are older than Toews and Kane. The Canucks have literally zero guys older than Horvat that will help the team win a cup. Campbell and Hossa had been brought in after the team was stacked. The Canucks actually have plenty of cap space and every single contract except Horvat will be off the books while this seasons #1 pick and Q Hughes will end their ELC’s.

    Cap space is not an issue and organization depth compared to Chicago at that time is laughable

  • East Sooke Park

    Excellent and well informed read as usual Jackson.

    I think it’s rather ridiculous to even compare Vancouver to a gold star organisation like Chicago and in regard to Towes/Kane, I think you have to remember that once you have climbed Everest three times and cashed in for doing so, the incentive to do it again really isn’t as urgent, despite what fans and owners expect. Their work is done, as it is in Pitts and LA.

    I would personally like to see Joel Quinneville and the Bowman’s bring their expertise to Vancouver though, after all, anything is better than this current groundhog day nightmare. Just ONE cup… just one.

    • Jackson McDonald

      My point wasn’t that they’re similar teams in any meaningful way, they obviously aren’t. My point was just that people underestimate how early players peak, how quickly a team can go from missing the playoffs to going on a run, and how valuable it is to have an MVP-calibre player on an ELC.

      The Canucks aren’t a playoff team and might not be next year either, but I think it’s fair to expect a playoff berth by 2022. Unfortunately, I think some of their bad contracts will probably hinder their ability to try to get back in the playoff picture while Pettersson and Hughes are on their ELCs.

      • Defenceman Factory

        You know it’s a troll when…

        a commenter calls your article “excellent and well informed” then immediately demonstrates they have no clue what you were talking about. Oh and when they use multiple user ids to post inflammatory comments.

      • truthseeker

        You’re putting way too much importance on the 20 to 24 range of that chart that shows a slight decline from the age of around 24 to 30. As a counter example that is just as illogical as yours, Crosby and Malkin have been winning cups well past the age you’re concerned about. In fact…they’ve been even more consistent in their playoff success in their later years than they were when they were younger.

        It’s not the age of your “superstars” that matters….it’s the supporting cast.

          • truthseeker

            Which is why I don’t want the canucks to follow any other team’s “model”. I want them to make their own. I want them to sign their best young players for as long as possible as cheaply as possible, to the point of having to explain to them that in order to win a cup they will probably be paid less than they are worth. No players over 7 million per. The rest of that money goes to build a third line that could rival a second line, and a 4th line that is a defensive rock that can also burn another team’s 4th line with scoring. Same concept on D.

            I’d also trade my young talent right before free agency. So I would trade Horvat around the 21 season. (that’s assuming of course, that he continues his trend of improvement and ends up becoming a 7 + million dollar player. Something I think is very possible).

            Flip all that expensive young talent at their peaks for new young talent and a crazy amount of draft picks. It won’t be popular, but it will be necessary in a cap league like this so you don’t end up like we did after 11, or like many teams are now. Hawks, Kings etc…

            You surround your young talent with quality veterans at the tail ends of their careers on rental or short term deals.

            Unfortunately I don’t think Benning will do this. I don’t think any NHL GM would follow this plan. Too much “loyalty” and “comparison” contracts in the NHL.

            It is true that teams are evenly matched…but you still need your stars to be stars.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            I wouldn’t mind ending up like the Hawks or the Kings, with 5 Stanley Cups between them in the last 8 years. Hell, we can suck for the rest of my life if I get to see the Canucks win the Cup just once!

          • truthseeker

            Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a cup as well. But you’re probably going to see those teams, just like the canucks did, suffer for a long time to pay for it. Sure the team can do it that way if they want, but why not try to figure out a new way where you remain competitive year after year? To me that means tough decisions and cycling through young talent at a much faster rate.

            I guess I just don’t put that much importance on the cup. I want to see the canucks win one for sure but I most certainly don’t want to see them suck for the rest of my life either. It’s been miserable being a Jays fan for the past 25 years. Yes, those two world series were some of the greatest things ever, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s been a struggle to retain any interest at all. It’s getting to the point now where they’re so long in the past that they simply don’t matter in the here and now. Pretty sure it’s been much more fun to have been a Yankee fan over the same period.

  • Bud Poile

    This team doesn’t resemble last year’s team but letting Granlund play with Petey makes sense.
    Before you pat yourself into a frenzy you might want to take some time to actually attend to your blog.

    • Matty T

      ”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

      slither away again snake, concussed, dazed and VERY confused…