The Canucks Won’t Collapse This Year (But Not Because They’re Better)


Because we’re nearing the end of the All-Star Break, a time when teams are inactive and reflection is encouraged through sheer boredom, chances are you’ve already seen a lot of comparisons to how the Vancouver Canucks are doing this year compared to last.

Hopefully this doesn’t mean you’re all burnt out on the endless comparisons, though, because instead of coming up with something different to talk about, I’m going to throw my hat into the comparison ring as well–but only because there are several key things that I haven’t seen brought up in the discussion quite yet.

Now, in case you’ve blocked last year’s heart-squashing collapse from memory (and I don’t blame you–repressing severe disappointments caused by sporting events to the point of memory loss is really, completely healthy), you might be surprised to note that last year’s Canucks were in fact, through 45 games, doing a little bit better in most respects than their current 2015 edition.

For comparison, here are their most surface standings stats, side-by side:

2013-14 Canucks (Through 45 games):

Wins         Losses     LPts* Points    ROW          GF                  GA                     Differential


2014-15 Canucks (Through 45 games):

Wins         Losses     LPts* Points    ROW          GF                   GA                    Differential


*LPts=Loser Points

As you can see, there are some frightening things to note right away: not only did last year’s team give up less goals by this point last year, but they also had a higher goal differential–two things you would normally look toward in attempts to predict future success.

Two pros to the current year, however, are that the 2014-15 Canucks have scored a couple more goals–something they struggled mightily to do last year–and they have a higher number of regulation wins, meaning that they’ve been able to close out more games in a convincing fashion.

Still, in neither case are these numbers drastically different from each other, especially not for a team who promised such sweeping changes and turned over such a larger number of their personnel in the off-season.

Of course, we all know where last year’s team ended up, just as we all (hopefully, by this point) know that there are better tools available to us when it comes to determining future results. So, were last year’s team secretly trending downward in terms of possession–doomed to fall off of a points cliff in a Toronto Maple Leafs or Colorado Avalanche (albeit a season too late) type way?

Standings don’t tell the whole story, and we’re definitely better off this year, right?

Actually, in a twist more disturbing still, last year’s Canucks were better in pretty much every underlying metric.

Take a look at this:

2013-14 Canucks (Through 45 games):

PDO        Adjusted CF%          Adjusted FF%   SC For%   Scoring Chance +/-

100           51.8                                 52.6                  50.3             13.8

2014-15 Canucks (Through 45 games):

PDO        Adjusted CF%          Adjusted FF%    SC For%   Scoring Chance +/-

100.2        50.4                               51.2                     48.6           -68.8

Yikes. I don’t think this is something that gets talked about enough, but last year’s Vancouver team really wasn’t that bad. At 45 games, with their PDO completely normalized, they had both Corsi and Fenwick percentages well within the top ten in the league. What’s more, these numbers didn’t actually deteriorate, even as their season fell apart points-wise. In fact, by the end of the season, the Canucks actually improved their CF% to 52, their FF% maintained at 52.3 and they actually ended up out-chancing opponents by a percentage of 50.4 and a differential of 36.

The biggest factor in their collapse, then? Not a decline in play-driving, but rather a complete collapse in PDO: it went from a perfectly normal 100, down all the way to–and I’m going to bold this for effect–98.2

This huge decline was felt both in shooting percentage and in save percentage: in the season’s second half, Canuck shooters failed to score despite driving chances to the net, and after Luongo was dealt, Eddie Lack’s sv% dipped significantly under the extra workload (and an undisclosed back injury).

So, were the Canucks just stupefyingly unlucky in the second half last year? Pretty much, that’s the stance I’m taking, yeah. Fatigue could also explain some of the PDO as well: mainstays like the Sedins and Kesler were relied on a bit too much, as was the inexperienced and injured Lack. However, despite these excuses, the team overall continued to generate chances on the same level they had before things went downhill–so to me, a lot of that reeks of narrative.

We know this but it bears repeating: essentially, underlying stats function as odds-making. The more chances you create, the more you tilt the ice in your favour, the more favourable your odds to win tend to be in the long run. I think the biggest thing that the current hockey community struggles with, though, is that hockey can be a maddeningly luck-driven game–especially because it’s so low-event compared to other sports. Even if just one or two bad bounces go against you in a game, that’s good enough to lose. As we can see, then, sometimes even when you do things right, the breaks break wrong, even over a full-season’s length. Last year, the breaks broke in the worst kind of way for Vancouver, but I’m fully convinced that if you could simulate last year’s seasons with the exact same underlying numbers, the Canucks would make the playoffs in almost every timeline except the one we witnessed as reality. Kind of depressing, huh?

Which brings us to this year’s team, who are flying some pretty serious red flags (which is obviously bad: red is not a current Canuck colour): despite an already inflated PDO, the team has a smaller goal differential than last year. They drive play less than last year’s team, and probably most disheartening is the fact that they’re getting out-chanced to an alarming degree: at last year’s team has an 82.8 scoring chance differential over this year’s model, as this year’s team tends to give up way too many grade-A chances.

Why is this? Well, I’ve already talked about how spreading the ice-time wealth has led to a decrease in possession, because less-elite players are playing more often.

The benefit of this strategy was that it was supposed to ‘rejuvenate’ the Sedins, another narrative that I have a hard time digesting. This is because, this year the Sedins are actually posting some of the lowest possession numbers in their career, despite the idea that less ice-time would lead to more quality domination, which leads me to believe that–just as rumours of their decline were vastly exaggerated last year, so too are this year’s rumours of a bounce-back. The Sedins are still indisputably the stars of the team, but even if the counting stats don’t show it yet this year, the time when they need a much more exceptional supporting staff is drawing nigh.

Additionally, with the injury to Hamhuis, the Canucks’ defensive depth have been challenged to drive play, with the exception of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, who have been justifiably lavished with praise, for being so integral to keeping this season afloat. However, without any substantial depth–I just truly don’t believe that Ryan Stanton is going to turn his abysmal season around–the rest of the D-corps is going to continue to struggle to keep up with the top-pairing, barring a miraculous deadline acquisition.

Does this mean that this season is doomed to end in absolute demise like last year’s? Fortunately (and unfortunately if you like good draft picks) no. There’s just no mathematical way that things can go as bad for the Canucks as they did last year, even though in an ironic twist, their play might actually warrant it.

The positive spin is this: with Hamhuis’ return, with some rest to their top players, and a return to normalized luck, this Canucks team will probably make the playoffs, as per their goal, and then flame out in the first round (unless they get to play the Flames!).

So, instead of a colourfuly tragic finish to the season, what we can mostly likely expect is much more monochrome and banal–an average team to perform averagely. If the Canucks do exactly that, they’re end up in great shape to make at least two games’ worth of extra ticket sales, and earn a lower draft pick that they can use on somebody big, with grit and jam.

The most positive spin? At least there’s probably no chance that Lawson Crouse will fall low enough for the Canucks to draft him.

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