Friday, March 31, 2017

Canucks' Hot Takes: The Injury Fallacy, Don't Fear the Rebuild, Next Year's Lineup

Man... having two kids sure cuts into your time.  Back in the saddle to talk some Canucks, and what better way than covering three topics that have been on my mind the past week.  Would like to make this a semi-regular column.  Don't know if you're allowed to call your own takes 'hot', but let's do it anyways.

1) The Canucks Injury Fallacy
Earlier today, Canucks' General Manager Jim Benning appeared on TSN1040 and suggested it's difficult to evaluate Head Coach Willie Desjardins this season due to the injuries to their 'best players'.

It's a narrative raised by some members of the media of late, but how much merit is there to this?

The Canucks do lead the NHL in man games lost this year, and their depth has certainly been tested, but you can't evaluate Willie D because of this?  Get real.

Up front, the Sedins, Horvat and Sutter have all been healthy.  The only top 9 players to miss any time are Baertschi, Granlund and Eriksson, who have missed a combined 29 games. I suppose you can include Hansen there as well, but these are not perennial all-stars missing time here.

Most man games lost up front for the team come from Dorsett, Rodin, Gaunce and Megna.  Is the absence of these guys really holding back the Canucks potent 29th ranked offence?

How about on defense, where yes - Tanev has missed about 30 games, and Edler and Hutton 10 each.  But realistically, Gudbranson and Larsen have missed about 75.

The Canucks most potent offensive weapons have been healthy, their starting goaltender has been healthy, and their 'replacement' defenders - Troy Stecher, leads the team in points from the back end.

How on earth can you use injuries as an excuse here for an anemic offence and impotent power play?

2) Don't Fear the Reaper Rebuild
Another frequent narrative out there is how Canucks fans can't handle a rebuild.  Again, I call bullshit.  This team has been going nowhere since 2012, and any smart hockey fan knew that.  Teams like Edmonton and Toronto took awhile to get traction, but they sold hope.

I don't speak for all fans, but I speak for myself.  So, if any Canucks' brass ever wander over to read this, here's my resume, and my take on the team.

I've been a fan since I was 10 years old, which takes me back to the days of the early 90's.  I remember listening to the games on radio long after I was supposed to be sleeping.  I'd call into SportsTalk radio when I was 12 years old, urging the city to give Jim Dowd a chance!

I have watched live or PVRd every single Vancouver Canucks game on TV over the past 25 years, and was a 12 game Ice Pack holder from 2001-2012.

I've been through the awkward post-Quinn era with Keenan and seen the depths to which a franchise can go.

So why did I drop my season tickets?
The franchise nickle and dimes their fans.  I used to get 12 regular season games.  Each year, they bump up the price.  Then they took a regular season game and made it a pre-season game.  When times were good, they wouldn't allow our family to add a seat for my fiancĂ©.  In 2011, I lucked out with playoffs tickets. I saw Game 7 against the Hawks, Game 5 vs the Sharks (Bieksa/Stanchion), Games 2 and 5 against the Bruins (Burrows OT and Lapierre).  Short of a Game 7 OT win on home ice in the Cup Finals, I'd seen the most amazing games I was ever going to see.  Why would I continue to pay thousands of dollars a year to see Columbus swing into town on a rainy Tuesday night in February?  All that money was better spent with my fiancĂ© on a week long Hawaiian vacation every year.

That said, I still watch every game.  Do you know why?  To watch Horvat.  And Baerstchi, and Stecher, and Tryamkin.  I want to watch the fucking kids.

I'm not going to get into the ice time debate here, but I am all in on watching a team of kids improve year over year.  I don't care if we lose 5-3 if I see EFFORT, some DANGLES, and an exciting goal or two.

What Goldobin did in his first game is EXACTLY what I want to see.  Play to win, blow the zone once in a while.  Don't play not to lose.  That's a surefire disaster, and boring as hell.

That leads me to my third point

3) Next Year's Lineup
I don't trust Benning and Willie.  They'll never play ALL the kids.  You just know that one of Chaput, Megna, Shore, Cramarossa and Skille will creep into the lineup next year.  But even if NONE of them come back, and youth is served, there's not enough seats to go around!

Baertschi - Horvat - Boeser
Sedin - Sedin - Granlund
Goldobin - Sutter - Eriksson
Dorsett - Gaunce - Labate

Missing: Rodin, Virtanen, Boucher, 2017 1st Rd Pick.

But let's be honest... Goldobin and Labate are likely in the AHL, along with Virtanen. That line up also looks pretty darn soft to play against.

How about the defence?
Edler, Tanev, Stecher, Tryamkin, Gudbranson, Hutton.  If Sbisa goes to Vegas, we're still never seeing Subban, and likely not Juolevi either any time soon. Biega all day long!

Food for thought...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Canucks Core Collapsing Again

Despite a fortuitous playoff draw against an over-achieving bunch of Flames, the Canucks now find themselves down 3-1 in their opening round series after a 3-1 loss in front of the 'C of red' tonight.

The most appalling sight for Canucks' fans was the complete lack of passion and will against a modestly talented and inexperienced Flames team.  The Sedin twins appeared to bring their 'A' game, dominating possession and scoring the team's only goal, but where has the rest of the group gone?

Radim Vrbata? Chris Higgins? Nick Bonino?  Shawn Matthias? Completely invisible.
It's a sad sight when Jannik Hansen, Derek Dorsett and Bo Horvat are the team's best forwards after the top line.

Let's not even get into the horrendous coaching decisions to sit Sven Baertschi over Brendan MacMillan.

This is an all too familiar scenario for this Canucks core.  The Canucks now have just 32 goals in their past 20 playoff games.  Want more trivia?  They're 2-13 in their last 15 playoff games.

The past four series for this team has seen them as the higher seed and the favourite, yet they've imploded each and every time.

Nine players have been involved in all of those series, and it hasn't been pretty. Check out these stats from the core 9 since Game 3 vs Boston:

Henrik Sedin 18 4 7 11 -7
Daniel Sedin 15 1 8 9 -7
Alex Burrows 17 3 3 6 -4
Chris Higgins 18 1 1 -6
Jannik Hansen 18 3 2 5 0
Dan Hamhuis 13 1 4 5 -3
Kevin Bieksa 18 2 1 3 -5
Alexander Edler 18 3 2 5 -6
Chris Tanev 11 2 2 3
146 18 29 47 -35

So many interesting things here.  
  • Henrik Sedin is the team's leading goal scorer in that span.
  • Chris Higgins has ONE POINT in his last 18 games
  • Collectively, the group is -35 over 18 games, with only 18 goals.
Let's be honest.  The Sedin twins are two of the greatest players the Canucks have ever had, and they'll retire Canucks - as they should.  Too many Canucks greats (Linden, Naslund, Luongo, Bure) end up playing elsewhere to either close out their career or go away for a few years.

That being said, the core is clearly stale.  The team must seriously look at moving on from some of the older members of the core: Chris Higgins, Kevin Bieksa, and potentially Alex Burrows.  Their best years are behind them, and they've been brutal in the playoffs.

If you add in players like Bonino, Sbisa, and Matthias, there's lots of no-shows this year in the post-season and potential to re-shape this team going forward.

Personally, I'd love to see the Canucks move Horvat up to a #2-3 center role next year - heck, he's already the de facto number two center -  and inject some additional youth into the lineup next season, be it Baertschi, Virtanen or Jensen, and hopefully Shinkaruk and McCann can follow a year or two after that.

What else is there left to say?  This team needs to come out and win Game 5.  However, in an extremely important Game 4 tonight with Alex Burrows in the hospital and all the motivation in the world, they laid an egg.  Who's to think that will change for Game 5?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vancouver Canucks' Draft Record

These past few weeks, the draft record of the Vancouver Canucks has come into greater focus.  The Ron Delorme era has taken a beating and the guys over at Canucks Army completed an exercise comparing the Canucks selections to a very simple 'scouting for dummies' model of selecting the highest scoring CHL forward remaining on the board (more or less).  Not to put words in their mouths, but the exercise seemingly was a tongue in cheek attempt to shed light on the poor draft results the Canucks have had.

It contains a lot of good work but left me with a few questions.

1) Did the Canucks have as many picks as other teams?

2) How did the quality of those picks (draft position) compare to other teams?

3) Depending on the answers to those questions, did the Canucks get value for their picks?

4) How many quality NHLers did the Canucks draft, compared to other teams in the 'Delorme era' (since 2000)?

The answers to these questions should prove if the Canucks' drafting woes are legitimate, and determine if the  team is a victim of their regular season success (low draft positioning), a victim of poor management (lack of picks), or poor scouting (bad draft selections).  Of course, a poor draft selection may not be the scout's fault, if Brian Burke an overbearing GM overrules the scouts and picks guys who can 'spell intensity'.  Let's get into it.

1) Draft Pick Breakdown by Team: Did the Canucks have as many picks as other teams?

Now, for reasons I'll explain later on, I chose to limit the analysis to the 2000-2008 Entry Drafts, as analyzing 2009-2013 involved far too much speculation.

Turns out, between 2000-2008, the Vancouver Canucks had fewer draft picks (63) than anyone in the entire NHL except for Carolina (62).  The Chicago Blackhawks led the NHL with 99 draft picks over that time, with the NHL average being 77.  Here's a breakdown of how many picks each team had, and where.

Team Top 5 Top 10 1st Rd 2nd Rd 3rd Rd 4th Rd + Total
Chicago 3 3 5 15 9 64 99
Columbus 3 6         -    12 10 60 91
Los Angeles 2          -    12 11 12 50 87
Tampa Bay 2 1 3 8 8 64 86
Washington 3          -    12 13 7 48 83
Edmonton  -    1 10 12 8 51 82
St. Louis 2          -    8 12 14 46 82
Colorado -            -    5 18 12 46 81
NY Islanders 2 2 4 9 9 55 81
NY Rangers -    2 6 13 11 49 81
Calgary -   3 6 7 10 53 79
Nashville -    4 5 10 12 48 79
New Jersey -             -    7 15 14 43 79
Dallas -             -    6 14 12 46 78
Winnipeg 4 2 4 7 5 56 78
Florida 3 4 3 11 9 47 77
Pittsburgh 5          -    3 9 12 48 77
Ottawa 1 1 8 7 12 47 76
Buffalo 1          -    9 12 7 46 75
Philadelphia 2          -    7 4 13 48 74
Phoenix 2 2 8 10 9 43 74
Montreal 1 2 8 9 9 43 72
Detroit -             -    4 9 6 52 71
Toronto 1          -    5 6 11 48 71
Anaheim 2 2 6 10 12 38 70
Boston 1 2 6 12 6 43 70
Minnesota 2 3 4 8 9 44 70
San Jose -    3 6 6 4 50 69
Vancouver -    2 6 6 7 42 63
Carolina 3          -    4 7 7 41 62
45 45 180 302 286 1,459 2,317

As you can see, the GM's in Vancouver over this time (Brian Burke & Dave Nonis) clearly did not care much for the draft.  They drafted 36 fewer players than the Blackhawks, and Chicago had six (6) Top 10 picks.  That'll help you land a Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

The Blackhawks were a terrible team over most of this time, so amassing 99 draft picks was smart, and clearly paid off down the road.

One might assume that cup contenders that traded their picks away would be low on this list, but cup winning teams of that era like Colorado, New Jersey, Dallas and Detroit fared well despite not having any top 10 picks over these years.  They managed to uncover some gems by stockpiling picks in later rounds and drafting smart.  These powerful teams managed to dominate the standings without mortgaging their future.

Anyways, based on the table above, the Canucks management groups clearly put themselves at a disadvantage at the draft table by keeping very few draft picks.  But, how much does a draft pick matter?  How likely is it to turn into a quality NHL player?

2) How did the quality of those picks (draft position) compare to other teams?
For the sake of this project, I followed Scott Cullen's lead at TSN, and defined a quality NHLer as a player who plays 100 games.  This number proved to be really helpful, and Cullen's research provides a great baseline for comparison.  Cullen discovered that draft position  really does matter, especially in the early rounds.  This shouldn't be TOO surprising, but it's helpful for our evaluation of the Canucks, and any other team.  According to Cullen, here's how often a draft pick turns into a quality NHLer:

#1-5 OV96%
#6-10 OV74%
#11-30 OV58%
2nd Round28%
3rd Round24%
4th Round +12%

These numbers show that a top 5 pick is virtually a guaranteed NHLer, whereas a 2nd or 3rd round pick has a one in four chance.  This allows us to apply a value to each pick a team has within each bracket, and determine how many quality NHLers we should expect to see them draft.

Cullen's numbers really worked well, and made it easy to rule out 2009-2013 from my research because they're simply too early to evaluate.  Because we're defining a quality NHLer as someone who has played 100+ NHL games, many of those recent draftees haven't had an opportunity to be full-time NHLers for a prolonged period of time... especially with a lockout shortened season.

Expected versus Actual Quality NHLers Drafted


As you can see, Cullen's numbers suggest that 61 Quality NHLers should surface from the nine round drafts early in the decade, and 51 from the seven round drafts we know today.  The actual numbers confirm that 2003 was the deep draft everyone knows it to be, and also shows what I described earlier - that as of 2009, the 'draft quality' starts to fade dramatically due to the lack of time for players to mature and play 100 NHL games.  

Therefore, even though the Ron Delorme era covers 2000-2013, I'm only going to look at 2000-2008, because I feel it's too speculative to cover the Mike Gillis years at this point.

So, how many Quality NHLers should each team have drafted over that span?

Rank Team Proj. NHLers
1 Chicago 22.04
2 Washington 20.92
3 Los Angeles 20.84
4 Columbus 20.28
5 St. Louis 18.80
6 Florida 18.46
7 Phoenix 18.16
8 Edmonton 17.94
9 Pittsburgh 17.70
10 Winnipeg 17.52
11 Nashville 17.30
12 NY Rangers 17.12
13 Anaheim 17.12
14 NY Islanders 17.00
15 Montreal 16.92
16 Ottawa 16.82
17 New Jersey 16.78
18 Buffalo 16.74
19 Calgary 16.42
20 Colorado 16.34
21 Tampa Bay 16.24
22 Minnesota 16.14
23 Philadelphia 15.98
24 Boston 15.88
25 Dallas 15.80
26 San Jose 14.34
27 Toronto 13.94
28 Carolina 13.76
29 Vancouver 13.36
30 Detroit 12.52

This table presents a lot of great information.  First, you can see how many Quality NHLers 'should' have been produced by each team in the NHL from 2000-2008 based on the number of picks and the quality of their position in the draft.  You'll notice in the Projected NHLer column that the Canucks were projected to only find 13 quality NHLers over that nine year period.  This amount is not doing them any favours.  Detroit also suffers here.  Despite having a decent number of picks overall, they never had any top 10 picks
and only four (4) first rounders.

So, now that we know how many quality NHLers each team should produce over that period, how did each team stack up against their expectation?

Draft Performance: Projected Quality NHLers vs Actual Quality NHLers Drafted Per Team - 2000-2008

Rank Team Proj. NHLers Actual NHLers Difference
1 Columbus 20.28 27 6.72
2 Montreal 16.92 23 6.08
3 Toronto 13.94 20 6.06
4 Detroit 12.52 18 5.48
5 Nashville 17.30 22 4.70
6 Pittsburgh 17.70 22 4.30
7 Ottawa 16.82 21 4.18
8 NY Rangers 17.12 21 3.88
9 San Jose 14.34 18 3.66
10 Buffalo 16.74 20 3.26
11 Edmonton 17.94 21 3.06
12 Anaheim 17.12 20 2.88
13 Minnesota 16.14 19 2.86
14 Dallas 15.80 17 1.20
15 Los Angeles 20.84 22 1.16
16 Philadelphia 15.98 17 1.02
17 Colorado 16.34 17 0.66
18 Chicago 22.04 22 -0.04
19 Calgary 16.42 16 -0.42
20 Carolina 13.76 13 -0.76
21 Boston 15.88 15 -0.88
22 Washington 20.92 20 -0.92
23 NY Islanders 17.00 16 -1.00
24 Tampa Bay 16.24 15 -1.24
25 New Jersey 16.78 15 -1.78
26 St. Louis 18.80 17 -1.80
27 Phoenix 18.16 15 -3.16
28 Vancouver 13.36 10 -3.36
29 Florida 18.46 13 -5.46
30 Winnipeg 17.52 12 -5.52

3) Depending on the answers to those questions, did the Canucks get value for their picks?
Yikes,  the Canucks only produced 10 quality NHLers out of 63 draft picks, good for dead last in the NHL over that span.  Of course, expectations should have been low since they should have produced only 13, but they still managed to draft below expectations by the third worst margin in the NHL.  Talk about a perfect storm.  Bad draft position, fewer picks, and horrible selections?  Yikes!

Aside from the Canucks, it's interesting to note how close each team is to their expectation, and there are some really cool numbers here.  

First, you'll recall that Carolina had even fewer choices than Vancouver, but they were able to produce 13 quality NHLers - right on their expected output given the quality of their draft position.  

Low budget teams and those lacking depth did quite well, as they injected youth into their lineup regularly (Columbus), while other teams like Detroit earned their reputation as strong talent evaluators with their deft draft selections.  Detroit frequently selected near the bottom of every round, but managed to uncover some hidden gems.  Despite having only four (4) first round picks (and none in the top 10), the Red Wings managed to produce 18 quality NHLers when they were only expected to produce 12.5.

That's just salt in the wound for Canucks fans, who produced a league low 10 quality NHLers.

4) How many quality NHLers did the Canucks draft, compared to other teams in the 'Delorme era' (since 2000)?
Just to recap the 2000-2008 years in Vancouver:
1) The Canucks had very few draft picks (63, good for 29th in NHL)
2) The Canucks draft position was quite low, good for 29th overall (ahead of only Detroit).  
3) Even measured against low expectations, the Canucks draft selection performance was 28th over that time.

Interestingly, it was predominantly the Brian Burke years that were a complete tire fire.  From 2000-2003, Brian Burke's score was -3.54 quality NHLers - Worst in the entire NHL over that four year span.  Dave Nonis had a very strong 2004 draft, and was actually +1.06 from 2004-2007, and that didn't include Luc Bourdon, who appeared destined for a decent career before his passing.

That may be a small sample size, but it may give Delorme an out, as GM's may overrule scouts and vote for truculence over common sense at the draft table.

Making matters worse for Canucks fans over these seasons is the optics of player management and development.  Of the 10 players who became 'quality NHLers', only four are still with the team (Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler and Jannik Hansen).

The rest all hit prominence elsewhere and/or left in bad trades (RJ Umberger, Cory Schneider, Mike Brown, Mason Raymond, Michael Grabner, Cody Hodgson).

Sufficed to say, Ron Delorme has not performed well as head of scouting, but as these numbers show, Canucks management also deserves their share of the blame.

The Burke years in Vancouver were so bad for the draft that I charted his work in Anaheim and Toronto as well.  Despite Toronto having a decent draft record in preceding years, Burke was -.38 in Anaheim and a staggering -5.94 in Toronto, giving him a total of -9.86 quality NHLers compared to NHL averages over these nine drafts.  Yikes.  Collectively, that would be far worse than any team over that span.

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