Contemplating the Canucks’ Corsi Conundrum


Uh oh. Don’t look now, but we’re almost twenty games in, and the Canucks are (barely) controlling play at 50.67 CF%, good for 14th in the league, or about middle-of-the-pack–a far cry from their place in the standings. While it’s still early, and there are some major blips on the radar, it should be cause for concern, or at least pause, that the Canucks’ fundamental underlying numbers are so far off from their current points totals.

So, I’m going to do exactly that, and take a pause to look at some possible reasons why the Canucks don’t seem to be controlling possession as well as they have in years past, despite their pretty flashy looking record overall. And, in an attempt to be even and level-headed, I’m going to split them into both cynical reasons and optimistic reasons–you know, taking those soaring highs and manic lows that come with being a Canucks fan, to try to find that sweet, sweet middle ground I’ve heard so much about.

Cynical Reason #1: The Canucks miss Ryan Kesler more than we might have hoped.

Sure, after Vancouver’s win over Anaheim, the Canucks officially, indisputably won the Bonino/Kesler trade from now until infinity. However, that still doesn’t negate the fact that Vancouver lost a player who posted an elite 56 CF% last year in a large amount of hard minutes (lots of D-Zone starts, lots of PK time). His counterpart in Bonino? Well, he might be leading the two in counting stats, but as of today, Bonino has actually been a slightly negative possession player at 49.31 CF%.

Sure, their roles have been different, and it’s great to have Bonino’s accurate wrist-shot and playmaking abilities (not to mention lower salary/lower age), but unless Bonino can step into the elite possession role occupied by Kesler, it looks like the Canucks are going to have a harder time driving play going forward.

Optimistic Reason #1: The Canucks’ D has yet to settle in.

I’ve talked about Dan Hamhuis and the perception around his slow starts before, but so far this year, he might be having an actual slow start. His Corsi For% is still sitting below 50% at 48.28%, below his career 51.5% by quite a bit. I think it’s fair to expect that over the balance of the season he’ll turn this around, which, given the amount of minutes he logs, should go a long way to rectifying the Canucks’ possession issues overall. The same can be said for Bieksa, who, while slightly less reliable, is starting to find his game, and has pulled his season totals back up over the 50% mark over the past couple games.

Heck, there’s also no reason to believe that Ryan Stanton, who has been secretly horrendous with a 39% Corsi, won’t eventually work his way up closer to the 51% he posted last year.

Cynical Reason #2: Desjardins’ strategy to role 4 lines, while saving legs, is costing corsi.

I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t love, or at least admire, the idea of spreading more even playing time across 4 lines capable of playing actual hockey. And, for the first time in a while, it looked like the Canucks were going to be able to do just that. However, so far this season, the top two lines have been carrying way more of possession than the bottom lines.

For example: when the Sedins and Vrbata are on the ice, they’re controlling an insane 62% of events, good for around a 15% Corsi Rel (meaning the team controls possession 15% better than when they’re off the ice.) By comparison, of the bottom-line wingers, only Zack Kassian and Linden Vey are positive possession players, and Vey’s is mostly due to his time on the power play with the top line. Additionally, even the second line, which has seemed so great offensively so far, is only barely drawing even, with around 50.5% for Burrows and Higgins, and the aforementioned 49% for Bonino.

Now, there are a bunch of caveats to this info. The first is that evenly spreading the minutes is probably one of the reasons the Sedin line is so fresh, and able to put up great numbers every time they hop over the boards. Caveat number two: traditionally bottom lines tend to struggle in possession because they draw more D-Zone deployments and tough defensive match-ups. So there is some room for excuse–but the bottom six especially are going to need to be better if they want to help save the top line from overplaying, so we don’t get what happened last year: the Canucks were a top-ten possession team because the Sedins and Kesler played all the time. But in doing so, they got ground into dusty, sanded-down versions of their early-season selves, leaving the offense to dry up.

Optimistic Reason #2: There have been way too many “weird” games so far to gauge the team’s true talent level, and the Canucks have actually out-chanced their opponents in more games than they’ve been out-chanced.

As mentioned at the beginning, it’s still early on in the year, and the Canucks have played some strange games, to say the least. Obvious blowouts and losses in back-to-backs aside, the Canucks have had only about four games when they’ve been blown-out possession-wise. (St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose and Los Angeles).

These weird blips, where the team’s metrics were just abominable, have served to drag down the Canucks’ overall possession total, and might not reflect how well the team controls play in a majority of the games so far.

To prove this point, if you look at the games the Canucks have played this year, they have actually beaten the other team in corsi attempts 11 games out of 18, and often by a large margin. That means that, while their overall possession numbers look average, if they outscored their opponents every time they out-chanced them and vice-versa, they would only have one less win than they do now.

This, to me more than anything, is the most important takeaway from all of this information–that even if there are some legitimate reasons for concern, (lack of a true number two centre, and an under-performing Defense and Bottom-6), the Canucks have managed to prevail in possession on most nights.

Finally, I think that all told, it’s not unreasonable to look at all this info and conclude that, if left to their process, the Canucks will eventually (hopefully) iron out the wrinkles in their game and start to climb towards the NHL leaders in possession (while staying high up in the standings as well, preferably).