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Photo Credit: Canucks / Twitter

Comparing The Team’s Statistical Performance Thus Far With That Of Seasons Past

The last edition of this column showed up at the end of October, when the glittering Vancouver Canucks topped the Pacific Division and the spirit of the fanbase was similarly lofty—though the stats seemed to indicate that all was not quite so golden as it seemed. While some were setting aside their savings for playoff tickets four weeks ago, circumstances have changed since then—to put it mildly—and the current snapshot of the team more closely resembles that of the cellar-dwelling squads of the last few seasons.

As November draws to a close, we once again take a close look at the hard numbers—comparing the 2018 Canucks’ team statistics through October and November with those of the previous four years. Those four versions of the Vancouver Canucks featured three basement finishes and a short-lived playoff run, and through two months it’s starting to become perfectly clear in which of those directions the Canucks are currently trending. Statistically speaking, the team is a lot closer to a ticket in the Jack Hughes lottery than they are to a playoff spot.

First, a quick refresher on how the previous four seasons ended to add a bit of context to the comparisons.

Final Results

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
101 POINTS (2ND IN THE PACIFIC, LOST IN FIRST ROUND)            75 POINTS (6TH IN THE PACIFIC)            69 POINTS (7TH IN THE PACIFIC)            73 POINTS (7TH IN THE PACIFIC)            TO BE DETERMINED!

 

Points

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
16-6-1 (33 POINTS) 9-8-7 (25 POINTS) 10-11-2 (22 POINTS) 11-10-4 (26 POINTS) 11-14-3 (25 POINTS)

The 2018/19 Canucks ended November ranked sixth in the Pacific Division, with the only things keeping them out of last place being a dreadful start for Los Angeles and a low amount of games played for Arizona. Suffice to say that this version of the Canucks doesn’t look promising to finish any higher in the standings that the last three editions, all of whom concluded November with point totals in the mid-20s.

 

Point Percentage

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
.717 .521 .478 .520 .446

The Canucks have played more games thus far than any other team, and consequently their point percentage—a measurement of the amount of available points the team has actually picked up—is even more damning than their raw point total. By this measure, the Canucks are off to their worst start in a long time, with a lower percentage as of November than even the dismal 2016/17 Canucks. At .446, Vancouver has the fourth-worst point percentage in the league, ahead of just Chicago, St. Louis, and the aforementioned Los Angeles.

 

Goal Differential

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
+10 +4 -17 -3 -18

This stat, too, shows that the current edition of the team is performing at a rate that is pretty much in line—albeit slightly worse—with the 2016/17 roster. The Canucks have let in 18 more goals than they’ve scored, and that’s with offensive leaders Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser playing at or above expectations. It’s not unheard of for a team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential, but having one in the double-digits this early in the season is never a good sign.

 

Powerplay

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
17.8% 20.4% 14.9% 20.6% 18.9%

The powerplay is the one area in which the Canucks are statistically up to snuff, and it’s hard not to lay most of the credit at Elias Pettersson’s fancy feet. Though the team’s powerplay percentage is actually down from where it was at this point last season, it’s actually clipping along at a higher rate than that of the 2014/15 Canucks—the last edition of the roster to make the playoffs.

 

Penalty Kill

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
85.9% 77.6% 85.7% 79.5% 76.2%

The team’s penalty kill has been spiraling of late, and that’s definitely made its mark on the stats columns. Rarely have the Canucks had a PK rate this bad and, although injuries have played a role in their shorthanded woes, it should be noted that injuries are always a factor in Vancouver—and thus, not a great excuse when comparing stats with previous years’ teams. Only six teams in the NHL have penalty killing percentages lower than the Canucks’.

 

Faceoff Percentage

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
48.9% 47.7% 51.3% 50.3% 47.8%

At this point, the Canucks’ faceoff percentage is practically an individual stat, and that individual is one Bo Horvat. Horvat has taken 708 of the team’s 1692 total faceoffs and remains at an impressive 54.52%—which makes the overall team score of 47.8% especially damning for the rest of the centers. Clearly, the Manny Malhotra Effect has yet to kick in for anyone other than Bo.

 

Shot Attempt Percentage (Corsi For %)

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
50.80% 49.45% 50.20% 48.57% 47.27%

Check out last month’s edition of this column for a full explanation of this statistic, but what NHL.com refers to as “Shot Attempt Percentage” is more commonly referred to as “Corsi For Percentage.” In short, it’s a measure of a team’s share of the shot attempts (shots, blocked shots, and missed shots) versus that of their opponents. It’s meant to measure how well a team controls possession and dictates the flow of the game—both vital components to winning in the modern NHL.

That’s unfortunate for the 2018/19 Canucks, because their SAT% is yet another category in which they trail the last four editions of the roster as of November’s end. In essence, this relatively unadvanced advanced stat illustrates why the team is struggling to win games—they don’t control the puck enough, nor do they generate enough offensive pressure against their opponents to consistently outscore them.

Players like Pettersson, Horvat, and Boeser are scoring as much as they can, but the Canucks’ lowly SAT% demonstrates pretty plainly that the rest of the team just isn’t providing the secondary offensive push that a roster needs to compete in the modern NHL.

Speaking of the rest of the league, this is yet another statistical category in which Vancouver is among the NHL’s worst—only five teams have a lower SAT% than the Canucks.

Conclusions

There aren’t many positive conclusions that can be drawn out of this. Few would contend that the Canucks have been playing well, but those cold hard statistics allow us to actually put a number on the team’s performance and gain some context to help determine just how poorly they’ve been doing.

And when it comes to the Canucks’ performance as of November 30, 2018, the clear answer to the question of how the team is playing is—

—“Like a team that’s going to finish with a lottery pick in the next NHL Entry Draft.”

  • Mellowyellow

    comparing raw statistical numbers with zero frame of reference is kinda baseless.. why don’t you compare canucks reference to the league average and also compare the league average from last year to this year.. This gives more of a clear fairer comparison from year to year..

    • Peachy

      Average goal differential is 0, every year, by definition.

      It takes about the same number of points to make the playoffs every year.

      The average Corsi is 50% by definition.

      The author’s conclusions wouldn’t change, so adding league reference points is a red herring.

      • Chris the Curmudgeon

        What you’ve said is mostly true, though the way the other teams is distributed could be informative. This year, it appears that there are a few really dominant teams (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Nashville, etc), and that there is far less separation among all of the rest so far, though that’s partly eye test. So, it would be interesting to know if a small number of teams are way ahead in the zero-sum stats with a larger number clustered slightly in the negative, or whether you have a Gaussian-like spread and the Canucks are on the unhappy side of it.

        • Peachy

          Fair enough. I was in a grumpy mood.

          I’m generally all for more insightful analysis (if we could find a way to throw linear programming and xgboost in here as well, that’d be fantastic), I just don’t think it is required given the scope of the author’s argument: the 18-19 Canucks have much more in common with a lottery team than with a playoff team, nevermind a dominant team.

          It’s an important argument given recent FA decisions, and rumblings that ownership expects a quick turn around.

  • myshkin

    last year people were screaming bloody murder but our love for sneaky pete and shotgun jake is keeping us quiet so far this year. we’ll be haunted by slideshow jim’s free agent follies for the next few years and much longer if for some inexplicable reason aquilini extends him again.

    • Freud

      Petterson is special.

      All the more reason to clean house and get a management team that knows how to make progressive, informed decisions. This team can’t afford to blow the next 5 years of a special player like Petterson, like Edmonton is doing.

      I am worried this isn’t even on Aquilini’s radar as it’s pretty clear Aquilini prefers weak, dim, yes men to strong, independent, informed managers.

      • Puck Viking

        Agree they need to start rebuilding and think to the future. Previous terrible moves have lead to the holes we now have and ignoring this will not fix the problem.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Statistical comparisons to past seasons are informative but have nothing to do with where the Canucks finish this season and where they’ll draft. Certainly their results through the end of Nov are disappointing but not surprising. If you accept that Bo, Brock and Petey as the true leadership group now and in the future they average 21 y.o. and BB#6 and EP#40 have 99 NHL games played combined. Not sure if this is the youngest team in the league but if they are fans must live with it for now. The work ethic can’t be minimalized which is the best part of these guys.

    • Puck Viking

      Keep the young guys coming. Ship off anyone 25 or older this year get the picks in the system and let the young guys do what they can. The team will determine when the rebuild is over, not a manager or owner. Unless of course we want the oilers…

      • Reality Man

        What the… ‘get rid of anyone over 25 he squeaks, we don’t want to be like the Oilers’… who did exactly that and still sucked! Beat it creep you are a joke.

  • The most important statistic is missing: man-games lost to injury (raw count and weighted by salary cap hit). Their impact isn’t just limited to the penalty kill since we’re missing both of our bottom 6 centres and one of our top 6 scoring wingers.

    According to NHL Injury Viz, this season (2018/2019) we are currently 3rd in overall man-games lost by cap hit. I had to eyeball the chart but we’ve lost nearly twice the man-games by cap hit compared to the league average. Last year (2017/2018), we were 3rd again with nearly twice the league average. In 2016/2017, again we are 3rd with nearly twice the league average. In 2015/2016, again, we are 3rd with what looks like a little less than twice the league average. (I’ve excluded retired salaries to account for Dorsett’s cap hit, didn’t check to see if his cap hit is distorted in the year he got injured).

    The 2014/2015 season was depicted differently but looking at it, we were middle of the pack and look to have lost an average number of man-games by cap hit.

    TL;DR – One of the main reasons why we are performing so badly is because we’ve been in the Top 3 in man-games lost for the last 5 years (half decade!), virtually the entire time Benning has been GM. We’ve sustained injuries that have had twice the impact (assuming cap=competitiveness) compared to other teams. The only year we had real success was the year we did not have significant injuries.

    • This is just hand-wringing. Good teams have the depth to perform when injured.

      The Canucks were near the top of the league in games lost to injury in 2010, 2011, and 2012 as well but those were excellent teams with enviable depth, and they powered through it.

      • Where are you getting your data from, Goon? If you look at NHL Injury Viz, you can see that the Canucks were average in injuries from 2010/2011 to 2013/2014 for the most part. 2012/2013 was higher than normal but that’s because Kesler only play 17 of 48 games (35%), his cap hit and the shortened season probably skewed the numbers for that season. The NHL Injury Viz data, for the most part, contradicts your statement about injury rates for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

        What the data tells me is that there is a direct correlation between injuries and success for the Canucks. When the Canucks sustain injuries at a league average rate, we have success. When we are injured, our standings suffer. It doesn’t explain everything but there is 9 years of data to back up the correlation.

        http://nhlinjuryviz.blogspot.com/p/index-page.html

        • I’m going by memory, as the constant injuries particularly to the Canucks d-core were a constant topic of discussion, and because most advanced injury data is locked behind paywall sites.

          But consider: In both 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, every single Canucks defenceman missed time with injury. In the team’s best season, Salo missed 55 games, Edler missed 31 games, Hamhuis missed 18 games, Ballard missed 17 games, Bieksa missed 16 games, and Ehrhoff came closest to playing a full season, only missing three games, while their “7th defencemen” Alberts and Rome both missed time with injuries as well.

          The forward group was mostly healthy, with the Sedins and Kesler playing a full 82 in 2011 (though Daniel missed significant time in 2010). But Burrows missed ten games, Raymond missed 12 games, Malhotra missed 10 games with what was effectively a career-ending injury and Samuelsson missed 7 games.

          You can’t tell me injuries suffered over the past few years have been more significant than that. Every one of those defencemen who missed significant time is better than any current defenceman on the Canucks. They had the depth to overcome it.

          The injuries you’re talking about are the difference between a 30th place team and a 22nd place team. Who cares.

          • Well, I can’t comment on pre-2010 stats because NHL Injury Viz doesn’t go that far back. I agree that depth is important but the injuries mask the actual status of the team. The Canucks are better than what the standings show but that’s obscured because they keep getting injured in freak accidents. We’re not talking chronic injuries but broken bones from blocked shots, falling awkwardly into boards, getting pucks in the face, illegal hits on our best players. Look at last year until Horvat got injured. Look at how the team does until Pettersson or Boeser gets injured or we lose a guy like Baertschi. When we’re healthy, we’re competitive and way better than 22nd. Not saying that we’re where we should be (2011 or better) but looking at the stats without appropriate context is incorrect.

    • Reality Man

      Absolute nonsense – Pittsburgh are the second most injured team since 2011 and have won two Stanley Cups in that time.

      Vancouver is just a cr@p team from top to bottom the past four seasons and injuries are just another poor excuse by those in denial.

  • Hockey Bunker

    The difference is this team has the potential for great improvement and it’s style is finally modern and entertaining. It’s running about 8 points below where it needs to be to get in a playoff race because it’s played more games so it’s actually further behind than points indicate. However in a long season things tend to balance out. At some point this team will go in a winning streak and get back in it. Maybe a Christmas miracle!!!!!!!!

  • Me

    I’d be more interested in some of the ‘under the hood’ numbers. Like how’s their goals for per game compare to previous seasons? For that matter, does an uptick in goals for predict future success? Because it seems like that might be the first step in rebuilding a team like this, bring in young guys who can score, then work on tightening D, better goalkeeping, and getting more consistent results offensively.

  • truthseeker

    Out of curiosity I ran a scatter point graph with a linear regression trend line comparing corsi 5v5 % vs points in the standings for the 2017/2018 season. The result I got was an r2 number of 0.124 which, if I’m not mistaken, means a correlation of 12%.

    I ran it again with “corsi 5v5 close” because some people were complaining before that using all situations was “wrong”. With “close” I got and r2 number of 0.159 So a 16% correlation.

    Corsi is not helpful in predicting team success in the NHL.