fancy stats

8 Stats The 2011 Canucks Playoff Run Showed Us

The horse for all intents and purposes is dead. We’ve all beat it senseless and yet there always seems to be one or two people who never had a chance to join in. A morbid intro to remembering the 2011 Canucks playoff run? Safe to say that’s a yes. There have been a few reminders lately about how good that 2011 team was and unfortunately how great that Tim Thomas character was as well.

Not one to be left out, I scoured the WWW. to find a handful of stats that either no one bothered to dig up, care about or had deemed beyond useless. If you know me by now, you have a good idea where this could be headed. I will state one thing:

The Canucks still lose the Cup Final so don’t come looking for anything different. This isn’t actually one of the stats.

Raffi Torres Was a Sniper… of sorts

He played in all but two games in the playoffs (suspension or something) and had an astounding 15% SH%. Amazing right? It’s not actually and he only had 20 registered shots on net but he scored on three of them and whoa nelly! were they memorable. He led all Canucks that postseason and everyone remembers they weren’t exactly high scoring affairs. To recap, a 15% shooting percentage led the Canucks. Maybe the rebuild should have started in say, October 2011.

Alex Edler Had Bruised Skin

Edler was a crucial part of the run and his defensive awareness wasn’t overlooked, no sir/mam. Edler blocked 60 shots and the next closest was Dan Hamhuis, with 38, who got injured after Game 1 of the SCF. I can’t imagine that was fun to do and when everyone gets bent out of shape and wants Edler to waive his NTC, based on this statistic, he probably was willing to give his life on the ice for the Canucks. Maybe slow your roll, people.

The Canucks Won Game 5 Anyway

They did.

Tim Thomas Was Frustratingly Good

Something you probably didn’t want to hear again because he won the Cup. Thomas had a crazy good save percentage sporting a .940 and a 1.98 GAA. Power plays, 5v5, it didn’t seem to matter. Tim Thomas was freaking otherworldly. It still hurts so I’ll move on.

Roberto Luongo Wasn’t A Baseball Fan

As you can see in the diagram below, Bobby Lu was pretty susceptible to goals in the dirty/home plate zone. That’s where most playoff goals seem to come from but imagine even a handful of those are just shots… we’d be talking about how Dan Hamhuis sacrificed himself for the greater good. Still too soon?

courtesy of corsica.hockey

Canucks Plus/Minus Sucked, It Sucked Bad

Jannik Hansen, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis were the only three Canucks in the Top 50 for plus/minus in the playoffs. Hansen with 7, Bieksa 6, and Hamhuis 5; 13 of the top 16 were Bruins, just saying. Digging deeper shows the grinders were the only guys staying above the line with a few exceptions. I suppose the top players are just as likely to be scored on as they are to score.

Powerplays Didn’t Have To Be The Story

It all fell apart at the end and Boston took it to Vancouver pretty hard. The talk of the powerplay being non-existent was true but it’s not like the Bruins were scoring a ton with the man-advantage either. Daniel and Kesler led the playoffs with 5 and 4 goals respectively and Mark Recchi was the first Bruin to have his name on the list with 2. There were plenty of opportunities, but as the series wore down the Canucks it didn’t really matter who had the chances.

The Stanchion Goal Was Coming

Kevin Bieksa may only be remembered for two things league-wide when he retires: Bieksa-face and the stanchion goal against the Sharks in the WCF. Everyone was amazed as it played out and I think there is some guy on twitter that legally changed his name to it after said goal (just kidding). Anyway, if you look at the data below, it was only a matter of time before Juice hit his shot. Yes, he’s a defenseman and that’s where most of his shots come from but let me have this, it’s the last stat.

courtesy of corsica.hockey

photo – vancitybuzz.com

Canucks Unlikely To Expose Sbisa In Expansion Draft Because Life Is Cruel

Imagine a scenario where the Canucks are abysmally awful and that it isn’t the worst thing going on. Now, imagine there is an opportunity for the team to expose a dumpster fire of a defenseman in Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft for the new Vegas Golden Knights only to be stopped dead in their tracks because two defensemen on their own team decided to go back to Russia.

This is the actual situation and it’s almost laughable because it is just so Canucks for this to happen.

Just when things couldn’t get any more interesting in Canuckland, both Nikita Tryamkin and Philip Larsen bolt back to Russia and leave the Canucks with a gaping hole on an already porous back end. As of today, the Canucks defense consists of Alex Edler, Alex Biega, Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, and Luca Sbisa.

Including Alex Biega and Andrey Pedan will most likely happen as soon as training camp begins and it would take a season-long case of mono to a current defender for Jordan Subban to crack the lineup, let alone get called up.

Sbisa now becomes an asset to the Canucks and forces them to retain him on circumstance alone. He’s like the Barry Trotz of the Canucks. Whenever there’s a chance to finally rid themselves of his services, something comes up. It’s like you want to get healthy and lose a few pounds but then that new extreme DQ blizzard comes out and it’s basically game over again.

How is this even possible that their defense could get any worse, it’s already the worst! Following the Canucks as long as I have, it’s almost expected that things just don’t go their way. This almost isn’t even news anymore. So is this really real? Is Luca Sbisa going to finish out his contract as a Canuck?

Sure looks that way.

The $4 million final year of Sbisa’s contract will be an albatross that weighs heavy on the rebuild and sadly the team pretty much HAS TO keep him because quite frankly, who else is there? Let’s just say for a second that Olli Juolevi is an absolute rock star and makes the team out of camp. It’s possible. Then, let’s assume Sbisa isn’t claimed in the expansion draft and Trevor Linden and Jim Benning sign Erik Gudbranson, what then?

There now are two players that shouldn’t be on the team and are keeping this rebuild from happening. It helps the team sink further in the standings from day one, sure does, but developing a better system with whatever coach the team hires is still a distant dream because management wants to carry these guys for whatever reason that they sell the public on.

Sbisa tied Tanev and Tryamkin this season with 2 goals, not something to be proud of as Tanev doesn’t score anyways and any Tryamkin related stat is now a point of sadness. It’s really a shame he accumulated the 4th most points on the Canucks back end because he was at or close to the bottom in shifts per game and TOI/game.

Of all the defensemen playing at least 1000 minutes at 5v5 this season, Sbisa ranks 10th worst in CF% with 45.83% and 4th worst in FF% at 44.26%. He is a detriment to the Canucks and with both Tryamkin and Larsen gone this is a monster slap in the face to the process.  The timing couldn’t be worse and it now completely changes the NHL Draft for Vancouver.

What if the Canucks slip to 5th? Do they take a D instead of a forward? There is so much need up front that it is almost going to take a trade either way to attain what the team needs so this offseason is salvageable.

What once was an abundance of riches for Vancouver is now the biggest anchor that is sinking the team. Whatever goalie backstops the Canucks next season will have to be a hair short of perfect for this team to even be relevant by Christmas time. But, it’s early and the draft lottery is still to come.

Somehow, Jim Benning will draft off the board and Rogers Arena will implode. That seems like the only likely possibility now. Mark Messier would even be a goo… JUSSSSST kidding.

photo – vancourier.com

How Willie D Sealed His Fate With Just One Comment

We’ve learned a lot about the Canucks in the last two seasons, well really all three that Willie Desjardins has been the head coach. We found out how to play “really good”, we found out how to show “must” and if you happened to play for Medicine Hat or your name was Jayson Megna, you got some extensive playing time with the Sedins and if it wasn’t the Sedins you just stayed in the lineup.

Believe it or not, those weren’t the defining moments for Willie D. What ultimately sealed his fate, in my opinion, is this comment brought to the public by The Province’s Jason Botchford:

Botch also backed up what he believe Willie meant in the latest “The Pat-Cast” and it wasn’t as blunt as the tweet came off. However, what was alarming was that WD brought that up in the first place. He’s asking a guy that is still ultimately learning the team system and trying to keep his coach happy, to be something he probably hasn’t been asked to be all year.

I think it’s safe to say we all think Nikita Tryamkin has a ton of potential and could be a variation of Zdeno Chara which would be great. He has a booming shot that will take some time to harness and his awareness is getting better. Taking the stats out of this, Tryamkin has progressed leaps and bounds from when he first got here and the Canucks may have a diamond in the rough with him.

So if Willie wanted him to “eliminate” Marchand from THAT game so they could win, how does he explain his deployment of the rest of the team over the past few years? You can’t honestly expect one player to define the game when he isn’t even the game-changer on the team. I hate Brad Marchand, I really do, but it would have taken a lot more than a Tryamkin scare to put him out of that one.

It’s not just one moment or one game that can make a season. He has to have a track record of successful decisions to put his team in a better position to win. He just hasn’t done that in Vancouver.

Willie wanting Tryamkin to decide the Boston game is ironic. Had he put massively better lineups together combined with proper deployments in-game, he wouldn’t have had to ask guys to decide random games. Putting Horvat out for the final minutes instead of Anton Rodin, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, etc. probably would have earned them a few extra wins.

Giving Ryan Miller a rest more than once a month might help them win more games. Richard Bachman and Jacob Markstrom have both just sat there while Miller has been demanded to put the team on his back. We can go on and on with players like Linden Vey as well and you just have to wonder why he would choose now to be frustrated.

Going back to the confusing Anton Rodin saga, it’s mind-boggling as to why he carried out that the way he did. There may be more to all of this than we get to see but the optics were so beyond horrible that it brings his judgment into question. Continuing on with Biega or making random decisions like health-scratching scoring winger Baertschi this year keeps me scratching my head and not because I have dandruff (I mean, sometimes I do but it’s under control now), it just makes no sense as to how he is keeping this team believing in his message.

Willie has asked players that don’t normally have specific roles like “PK specialist or forward” to do that job out of nowhere. Alex Biega isn’t a forward, he’s a defenseman. So why is he getting playing time ahead of callups or healthy forwards? Why is Chris Tanev on the power play? Why did Loui Eriksson not get a longer tryout with the Sedins to start the season?

The answers aren’t going to come overnight and he was helicopter coaching every situation. A good coach will trust the process and if enough time passes, he can adapt. WD didn’t trust that Horvat could be a contributor long term and he gradually gave him responsibility and each time he prospered.

And yet guys like Drew Shore fly overseas and get valuable ice time right away. Same can be said for how Jayson Megna for whatever reason was Willie’s MVP for most of the season. That guy shouldn’t have even been in the lineup most nights. Now he has Michael Chaput with the Twins which makes zero sense. How has Joseph Cramarossa received as much opportunity as he has? His mindset as to how this team should operate is skewed.

I’d suggest having Nikolay Goldobin with them but Brandon Sutter is actually the better option.

You did this to yourself, Willie.

I like you, I really do. It’s been nice to see a different personality behind the bench and he helped put together the Horvat/Baertschi pairing. He also gave Troy Stecher a chance as well as Ben Hutton. Not giving Jordan Subban a chance to play is a sore spot with many but that will happen when it’s time.

What this season has also shown everyone is that the Sedins may need to be separated.  It’s time. Sure, they’ll continue to have moments and maybe you trot them out together occasionally or on the second power play unit but they aren’t getting the results that should be expected from aging players. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane started together but they play on separate lines now and you know what, they still produce.

They aren’t brothers or telepathic twins but they can survive without each other. Henrik and Daniel need to be told to sit on different spots on the bench. If the Canucks and Willie, for the time being, are serious about the rebuild then they have to commit to actually rebuilding.

WD has a few more weeks to make an impact and even though he is essentially out the door he can get things in a better position for the future. Figuring out that Markus Granlund was better than we knew helped his cause and slowly moving along Reid Boucher to a spot where he can succeed may help him by year’s end.

Willie Desjardins has made friends and enemies in Canucks Nation but he’s lost us as believers and I can’t imagine that Canucks management feels different.

He’ll get another opportunity but Vancouver needs someone to bring them to the next level or at the very least keep them from allowing 40+ shots per game.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Loui Eriksson is Better Than You Think

This season has not gone particularly well for Loui Eriksson. He’s 7th in team scoring on an underwhelming lineup, he’s scored 11 goals when it was openly expected he would net around 30 and any chance at rebounding his luck with the Sedins or Bo Horvat or really anybody has disintegrated before our eyes. As bad as he’s looked on the score sheet, Eriksson has actually been a pretty good player for the Canucks.

I’m not saying he’s worth the $6 million per season he’s getting but looking at a few stats suggests he might just be the most unlucky guy on the Canucks this season, maybe the league.

It’s still not known if Eriksson has played with some kind of wrist injury or dual wrist injuries (is that even possible?) because everything that has been sold to us prior to this season was that Loui was a goal scorer and we could expect the goals to come from his stick at the very least. There are only 13 games left to play this season and scoring 30 goals just isn’t going to happen.

Heck, scoring 15 seems unlikely.

Eriksson isn’t entirely at fault, though. Willie Desjardins hasn’t utilized his talent to a point where an appropriate conclusion can be made on his lack of finish. He’s played 318 minutes of 5v5 hockey with the Sedins this season and when he has they’ve combined for a tidy 100.1 PDO and a respectable 55.4 combined CF%.

Advanced stats don’t decide every shift but nothing looks like it’s going wrong when they’re together, it’s not costing the Canucks any more goals than other lines overall and yet he was never given a chance there. That being said, having a 60.9% combined Ozone start in that time doesn’t help things.

So why not keep him with Horvat? They have been above average with a PDO of 106.7, which with this team clearly would not last, but having played just over 120 minutes of even-strength together, they have combined for substantial 83.3 GF%. Whoa, big number alert! Maybe he isn’t terrible, maybe he’s… good?

Willie is aware he has more than one option for each player, right? I know Jayson Megna has infinite possibilities but this isn’t about him right now. I can’t fathom how WD is allowed to strut lines night in and night out that don’t represent what the Canucks actually could look like. Plain and simple, Eriksson is actually a goal scorer, this we know from past stats.

His first season in Vancouver could be labeled a write-off by many but that’s only looking at it on the surface. Eriksson is one of three players on the Canucks this year to play at least 200 minutes at even strength and still, have a CF% above 50. He’s been on the ice for the 8th most Corsi events against on the team and has proven he’s not a defensive liability.

I feel like we’ve said this before about another winger that wasn’t getting proper deployment. I can’t find any “stuff” to readily back that up, though.

Digging even deeper, when the Canucks are trailing Eriksson is 2nd on the team in CF% with a 57.37 mark. The coach obviously trusts him to be out there to keep the game close but giving him proper chances to score doesn’t seem to be part of the agenda. Why not give him the chance to succeed then?

The writing is on the wall that Willie may not coach another season on the Canucks bench and whoever does take over the reigns might have an easier job than the trainwreck shows. Eriksson has regressed this season for various reasons and I doubt Jim Benning is actually that dense to sign a guy thinking he “might” reproduce the same numbers as past years.

He locked him up because even on this sad sack team there is a future and with five more seasons to go, Eriksson may very well be a large part of what that future looks like. The Sedins have hung around and whatever coach takes over will have to realize that either splitting them up or putting them in a lesser role will only help this team succeed.

Horvat and Brandon Sutter have emerged as the top two pivots and should have the appropriate linemates to accommodate them. Henrik and Daniel can still be quite effective when they get less ice time and aren’t asked to carry a power play that has moved on without them. Eriksson should now have the chance to play on the top line with Bo and most likely Sven Baertschi.

It’s unreasonable to think Eriksson will continue to be this unlucky; hockey only punishes for so long. It’s a game of ebbs and flows and unfortunately for Loui, his has lasted an entire year. Giving him top billing to start the year next season should help him rebound to the player that scored 30 goals for the Bruins last season.

There is no Patrice Bergeron or Brad Marchand to help those stats along but the development of Horvat as a progressing top line centre gives me hope that he can get back to that pace once again. Goal scorers don’t just stop scoring goals, even the aging stars like Jaromir Jagr and our favourite, Pavel Bure still scored until it was time to hang them up.

At the very least, Brock Boeser and a handful of up and comers will get Eriksson off the slump and his willingness to be in the dirty areas will eventually result in more goals.

He may not get to set up as much as say, Radim Vrbata did, but Eriksson has a rougher game and can bang around to create more chances. I can’t see him falling any further which means it has to go up from here.

2017 will be a season Loui Eriksson will want to forget but he hasn’t been that bad and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, the score sheet will start seeing his name a whole lot more.

 

photo – cbc.ca

Canucks Swipe Left On Right Handers

This is embarrassing but I had to google how Tinder worked before I wrote that catchy headline. Thankfully, I was correct in my guessing and I could keep writing this without error. Just like the popular dating app, Tinder, the Canucks are also consistently swiping left on right handed players. There are currently only 11 players on the 28 man roster that shoot right.

The results aren’t exactly exciting: Derek Dorsett, recent call-up Alexandre Grenier, Jayson Megna, Drew Shore, Jack Skille, Brandon Sutter, Alex Biega, Erik Gudbranson, Philip Larsen, Troy Stecher, and Chris Tanev.

Anyone stand out as a scoring threat here? If you answered Jayson Megna I’ll assume you’ve never seen a Canucks game before and I also would ask you to leave.

How important is it to have a right-handed shot? Well, it’s not the most important factor in deciding a team’s success but in an article from Corsica.Hockey regarding handedness of defensive pairings, it does play a factor in overall production. Thanks, Jackson McDonald! After reading that article, one could suggest that this translates to having a consistent opposite handed winger would benefit potentially the other wing and the centre on a given line. I’m reaching, potentially.

There has never been a solid answer complimentary player for the Sedins with a right-handed shot aside from Jannik Hansen and Anson Carter. Regardless of the success, they achieved together as well as with Alex Burrows, one can only wonder what a consistent right-handed shot would have done for them.

When Jim Benning went out and locked up Loui Eriksson to a contract of Luongo-like proportions, players like Kyle Okposo and David Perron were available, as was Thomas Vanek. Money talks and despite what the players will tell us, I’m pretty sure they can make a go on any team if the cheddar is right.

Current Canucks prospect, Jake Virtanen, is a righty and I get that he is developing but there has to be a spot for him to work on his NHL game. He doesn’t have to hang around but with the team all but mathematically eliminated from postseason play, let’s see him again. Looking back at the 2014 Draft specifically, William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers (not right-handed but cmon) were both selected after Virtanen and you don’t even have to check their current stats… oh I should?

Nylander has a healthy 18G, 30A, 9PPG and 21PPP. As for Ehlers, 22G, 34A and, 5PPG. Virtanen is working on his stuff when it’s near him, anyway.

Help is coming once NCAA sniper Brock Boeser signs and gets playing time on the big club. As they develop and become available: Lukas Jasek, Adam Gaudette, Jordan Subban and Dmitri Zhukenov will all be right-handed shots available to the Canucks as the team sees fit. It’s naive to think they’ll all be ready at the same time but Boeser, Gaudette and Subban could all be here sooner than later.

With no real finishers having a right handed shot on the Canucks, they have become predictive. Well, to be fair, it isn’t just what hand a player delivers his shot; the drop pass, lack of power play, lack of speed and not getting enough official shots on net, also factor in. The Canucks are almost dead last in many shot-based categories and having 60% or more of the team shooting from the left side will most likely keep those stats steady.

Vancouver is 23rd in 5v5 CF% with 48.20%, 28th in GF with 155 and shots for/game with 27.7.  They also have the 6th worst actual shooting percentage with 8.1%. Predictability has become the name of the game for the Canucks and blaming an aging core or poor line deployment is just part of the problem.

Willie Desjardins has his problems too, but he’s not responsible for attaining players to put on the ice. Jim Benning has slowly started to put together a team worth talking about but he preaches patience and with some of his recent signings/trades, I’m ok with patience.

Setting up the defensive pairings to accommodate the right/left configuration is part of the solution and many teams try and make their back end look this way. I imagine adding Jordan Subban is a good idea in this case and heck, I hear he has a decent shot to boot! This might even start the power play uptick instead of, you know, just not existing.

I don’t think the Canucks should employ a 50/50 split of right and left-handed players because that’s just stupid. But if you look at a team that doesn’t have opposite handed players in key positions, then yes, that should change slightly. I will say that some of the Canucks best line combos have existed with three left-handed players (West Coast Express, Sedins/Burrows, Bure/Adams/Lin…dang), you get my point.

To tie this up with a nice little bow, swiping left too much keeps you lonely, in Tinder and in hockey. Swipe right every now and then and there’s a chance you might score a bit… in hockey. If you know how to Tinder you may find this to be very informative. This is a hockey deal, though, so things may or may not have just got weird.

You watch, I’ll be right eventually. Correct, I mean. I shoot left, too!

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

 

photo – independentsportsnews.com

Gaunce But Not Forgotten – A Semi Retraction

There are a few things in life that sounded great in theory but ended up being a disappointment or an udder disaster such as heelies, 5-minute abs, bike lanes or Brendan Gaunce being a bad option for the Canucks. When I wrote my last piece “Maybe Someone Else Could Be Brendan Gaunce“, I included some advanced stats that I personally, didn’t really take to heart.

I’m not saying I completely disagree with what I said but as the recent injury and most likely concussion to Sven Baertschi have shown, Brendan Gaunce is more valuable than we (more myself than anything) gave him credit. Come to think of it, I’ve been doing 5-minute and 15-minute ab workouts for the last 2 months. There might be something to this.

I still think heelies and bike lanes are a waste of everyone’s time. They’re called bike LANES, not lines, people.

Where did this change of heart come from you ask? Well, for starters, J.D. Burke of Canucks Army wrote a compelling piece on the recent play of Philip Larsen. Everyone has ragged on Larsen for not being the Canucks’ savior on the PP and that his recent giveaways, which have led to a number of goals, are further collapsing Vancouver’s playoff chances by the shift.

Here’s the thing – the Canucks aren’t exactly world beaters right now and haven’t been for a number of years. 2011 is now a distant memory and like it or not, things need to change. It’s time to get out of the dark ages and accept what is happening to this team. Speaking on Larsen for a second, he is going to need some time to adapt to this current Canucks makeup.

Nikita Tryamkin has worked his tail off to get where he is right now and he’s only just becoming relevant in the hockey landscape and not just as a sideshow topic to the uninformed. Tryamkin is a threat on the ice and as he gets more and more comfortable with his defensive partners, goalies and the forwards up ice, he’ll blossom into a great defender.

But now onto Brendan Gaunce; he’s basically on a “conditioning stint” in Utica which, knowing the Canucks, might last until just before Thursday’s game against the Blue Jackets, just in time to not be able to play that night. Gaunce hasn’t exactly been a sexy option on the 4th line, he hasn’t even been mildly attractive, but he’s been reliable and defensively stable.

His advanced stats aren’t an aberration, when he’s on the ice, the team is actually better. It’s been said elsewhere, but I’ll state it again for you: Gaunce has basically the best CF% at 5 v 5 with 52.27 . It’s not anything to write home about (what am I DOING then?) but his next two closest comparisons with the same ballpark of game’s played are Loui Eriksson (51.05%) and Markus Granlund (50.24%). The shots are in the Canucks favor when he’s on the ice.

stats courtesy of corsica.hockey

Gaunce has a CA60 which also is tops on the Canucks at 49.10. If Brendan Gaunce is on the ice, the puck doesn’t see Miller and Markstrom as often. I’m now realizing I did a terrible thing earlier.

OK, OK but his goals are what we want. You’re absolutely right, they are a big reason why any player would be on an NHL team. Gaunce hasn’t exactly translated much offense to the back of the net this season and he may never be a threat to score but his defensive prowess is a big reason the goalies aren’t doing more work than they already are.

We can focus all we want on actual production which ultimately decides wins and losses but looking at players like Manny Malhotra or a defenseman like Willie Mitchell in his Canucks’ heyday and they weren’t exactly the first players asked to put pucks on net. I made a case about Brad Richardson-type players needing to occupy Gaunce’s roster spot, when in fact, the Canucks have that player already: it’s Brendan Gaunce himself.

There are some stats in there that also suggest Jayson Megna is a decent player as well but if you apply the argument I’m making here to what Megna was supposed to be, he’s just not good.

Sven Baertschi’s concussion could keep him out a few games, it could keep him out months; no one really knows how those things work and after seeing the movie “Concussion”, there’s no way I’d rush him back. Safe to say Reid Boucher probably comes into the Canucks plans for at least a game or two and Brendan Gaunce is returned midway through the road trip.

Opportunity has revealed itself to the Canucks the last few seasons as injuries have mounted and because of those injuries Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and even Jack Skille have all found their way as regulars for Vancouver. Hopefully, BG has seen what he needs to do to be more effective when he’s on the ice and that he wasn’t just sent down because of his exempt status on the waiver wire.

Brendan Gaunce isn’t a terrible player and he isn’t a star. He’s a reliable defensive forward for the Vancouver Canucks and like usual, it always seems to be quite clear what is missing when the right player is taken away.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – vancouversun.com

Maybe Someone Else Could Be Brendan Gaunce

I struggled mightily on how to start this post almost as much as the Canucks have struggled with Brendan Gaunce in their lineup. When most people think of a 4th line center, they want a guy that digs in the dirty areas, eats up minutes and brings tangible value to the team.

Basically, he needs to be effective enough to give the other three lines a break and occasionally contribute on the scoreboard. Many of us pined for Brendan Gaunce to get his opportunity on the Canucks 4th line and now that he has it, he’s been pretty dull.

Right now, BG is like that memorable song on the radio from the mid-2000’s that you were pretty impressed with but thinking back, it really wasn’t all that good and you immediately can think of at least 5 songs you’d rather listen to.

Sorta like that.

Gaunce has 5 assists this year and considering that the Canucks don’t score many goals, that should seem like a decent amount. When Brad Richardson/Manny Malhotra were on the Canucks, they produced like a proper 4th liner.

Richardson amassed 8 goals and 13 assists in 45 games in his last season in Vancouver back in 2014/15. In the season prior, he had 2G and 3 points shorthanded for the Canucks that were included in his 11G, 12A campaign.

That’s a lot of points for a guy seeing minimal ice time. Richardson could be used in a variety of situations and was valuable in all of them, he was a true contributor to the cause.

Looking at Brendan Gaunce, he fills minutes, sure, but is he really effective? Not really. I’m about to compare Gaunce to Jayson Megna. I know that’s not fair but they shouldn’t have either of these guys in the lineup and even Megna has a case to stay in the lineup.

Megna, although useless, has a shooting percentage of 7.7% while Gaunce sports a zero. Yikes! Jake Virtanen (who isn’t even ON THE CANUCKS right now) has the same zero but his points per game is only 1/100th less than Gaunce at 0.10/game.

Different positions, I’m aware, but Jake didn’t even have his stuff here and he was contributing about the same. Brendan’s TOI/GM is 28th of all players that have suited up this year for the Canucks, only ahead of Mike Zalewski, Reid Boucher, and Joseph Labate.

It’s pretty obvious Willie D doesn’t trust him a ton and we can go right back to the point of why is he playing regularly for the Canucks? Looking to the farm and calling up Curtis Valk who’s having a great season in Utica or even popcorn aficionado, Reid Boucher with the regular spot in the press box are better options than Gaunce right now.

Looking at Gaunce’s advanced stats may suggest I’m a nut job as his CF% at 5v5 is 1st on the team with 52.01% and his PDO is actually not that bad at 99.05. What I see on the ice is that he doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

Tolerating stale players has become a regularity on the Canucks and Gaunce seems to be the latest one. I’m happy he’s on the team but I think it’s time for a stint with the Comets to get his game back to where it should be at that spot.

 You’re only as good as your weakest link and right now, Brendan Gaunce needs to be a stronger link.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – ottawa citizen

Rockets’ Nick Merkley Turning Heads Again After Surgery

Almost a year ago, Nick Merkley was dealt a pretty devastating blow after being drafted by the Arizona Coyotes that past June and then tearing his ACL in February in a game against the Spokane Chiefs. It was the kind of injury that couldn’t have come at a worse time as his team was gearing up for another run in the playoffs and having been drafted, it was a chance to show what he could be to the Coyotes.

Life throws some interesting curves.

Fast forward to this year and Merkley’s rehab from his injury was slow going. He was getting the proper conditioning and treatment down in Arizona and when it was time to come back to Kelowna, everyone felt he was good to go. The thing is, ACL’s don’t just “heal”. It’s a pretty significant injury that can affect how a player in any sport reacts going forward.

Unless you happen to be Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (a superhuman, basically) you probably will have a longer healing period to get back to the point you were producing, if at all.

Upon returning to Kelowna, Merkley had a slow start which should have been expected. In his first 10 games this season, Nick racked up a paltry goal and 4 assists, with his first goal coming in his 10th game back. Including that 10th game, Merkley went on to score 6 times and added 2 assists in his next 6 games.

It wasn’t just the production on the score sheet, but the way in which he got back to what he did best. Merkley fought the puck a lot to start the year and it was pretty visible that his frustration caused him to clinch the stick a bit tighter and get away from the thinking game he dominated so much. You no doubt have heard me sing his praises since his rookie campaign, and for good reason: he’s amazingly talented.

As this season has gone forward, Nick has put the team on his back many nights and just when opponents tried to get on his, he brought “the swivel” back into his game and quite frankly, there aren’t many players that I’ve watched in any league that can execute that shake like he can.

Maybe not one of his best, but the success rate he has with that move is almost 100%.

Watching Merkley perfect the little things is what excites me the most, his shot seems to be more on point and his passing game is once again becoming a strong suit. He still is a little choosy when dishing the puck but he rarely disappoints when the puck hits his team mate’s stick, maybe you’ve seen this one already?

Despite the losses his Kelowna Rockets team has endured lately, Merkley has put up 8 points in his last 10 and with rookie Nolan Foote being out for an extended amount of time, Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf being away at the World Juniors and now Kole Lind and Cal Foote strutting their stuff at the Top Prospects Game, there have been many nights where Merkley has had to step up and represent the “A” on his shoulder.

Many of these players have been getting more publicity in the media lately as they have their own stories to be told but Nick has been evermore the continual beast on the ice and looks to prove his doubters wrong (if there are even any) that an ACL can’t hold him back. His late first round spot also serves as a chip to show the rest of the NHL what they are missing out on.

In his rookie season, I stated he had the hockey mind of Wayne Gretzky. Super, bold statement, I know. I am not comparing the two as equals as a whole and there will definitely be someone that will want to destroy me for even uttering those words but watching him think out the game in real-time is amazing to watch.

You can tell he knows where the puck will end up because either he’s there shooting it or another Rocket has the puck creating a scoring chance off his pass. It’s a shame that Nick wasn’t able to showcase himself at the World Junior tournament the last two years but it only serves to motivate him in his quest to be an NHLer.

Breaking down his distribution of points, of his 22 assists this year, Merkley’s has 18 primary assists, 1 back of first on the team. He accounts for 7.87% of the Kelowna Rockets’ total team points which ranks 4th on the team and his percentage of total goals created is 4th with 21.94%. As far as the power play goes, 75% of his goals are produced on the man advantage, which is tops on the Rockets this season. Shame to see him out of the lineup, although with the staggering amount of penalties the Rockets take, 812 total PIM and 16.2 PIM/GM (both tops in the WHL), the power play isn’t exactly out that much.

No longer having Rourke Chartier as his linemate, Merkley’s rediscovered how to be self-sufficient and at the same time put his stick in a position to help the rest of his team out. Having Thurkauf on his line is a treat as they just know how to feed off of each other. The open ice hits have come back as well to Merk’s arsenal and he’s proving he isn’t a one-trick pony.

Kelowna will have to get their problems figured out if they’re going to have any kind of success this postseason and Nick Merkley will once again be a major reason they achieve extended success. Surgery hasn’t silenced Merkley, in fact, it’s awoken the beast.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – kelownarockets.com

Kelowna Rockets Pre-Draft Duo Could Take Flight

This isn’t exactly one of the Rockets storied seasons where they lead the WHL in points, have multiple players challenging for the scoring title or a goalie that hasn’t let in a goal since Christmas; but they have a few players that could be the next superstars in the NHL come June. The ISS rankings from January 4th have Callen Foote at 8th overall and Kole Lind at 28th.

Two Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft? Things just got interesting.

The family lineage of Cal Foote makes it easy for him to get noticed, son of Stanley Cup defenseman Adam Foote, but his play on the ice speaks for itself. He’s a rock on the back end for Kelowna, he’s smart in his own zone and has great catch-up speed. Although, he isn’t leading the league in any categories, he is one of the leaders on Kelowna’s blue line.

His shot on the power play gets noticed and it’s hard to see a game where he hasn’t been part of the main story. Rockets defensemen are well known around the NHL as puck movers, impact players and for a handful of them, surefire cornerstone pieces to building a Championship. Stars like Madison Bowey, Shea Weber, Damon Severson, Josh Gorges and Duncan Keith all had great starts in Kelowna and carried their mantle to the NHL.

Not all of those players have hit it big but it’s only a matter of time.

If you look at the comparables to Foote in Jeremy Davis’ pGPS model, you will see that Cal is in some pretty special company:

Callen Foote pGPS graph

Callen Foote pGPS graph

With 48% of his comparables going on to play 200+ games in the NHL, there is a very good chance Foote sticks and becomes a solid contributor in the NHL. There are also lots of WHL comparables which just shows how great the Western league is at producing blue line stars. Notables on the list here include Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Luke Schenn and Jay Bouwmeester; all of which have made their mark in the NHL.

Predicting an average point total of 28.3 per season, Cal can be an everyday defender that NHL teams can rely on. Obviously, these are based on a prediction based model and real life stats could easily exceed this number but for NHL teams looking at Foote, he’s a safe pick with a potentially huge upside.

Based on the graph, Foote would average around 0.72 points/gm and again, that’s a pretty high bar. Considering Shea Weber is averaging 0.58/gm in his career, I take that from Foote all day long.

That part I’m sticking on the name he holds and the Kelowna Rockets program he has been brought up in. I could see Cal Foote developing into a can’t miss defenseman that teams can build around. His younger brother Nolan will have some big shoes to fill.

Up front, Kole Lind is putting together a draft campaign that hasn’t normally gone well for Rockets forwards. As amazing as teammate Nick Merkley was in his draft year, the Arizona Coyotes were allowed to pick him with the last pick in the first round when many thought he’d be taken in the early 20’s.

Lind is currently sitting in 17th in overall scoring in the WHL with 58 points and has 5 GWG. His recent explosion last week against the Portland Winterhawks tore the Hawks apart for 2 goals and 2 assists, dominating play and putting his name back in the spotlight for the Draft. Kole Lind hasn’t had a statistically dominant year but he has been a threat on the ice almost every shift.

(I’ve tried that many times and broken many windows, I’ll stick to not being good at hockey)

His play along the boards, his offensive awareness, and ability to stride down the wing has brought the fans to their feet 22 times this season and as the Rockets get closer to the playoffs, he’ll be a driving force on the score sheet.

Looking at Lind’s pGPS graph, his comparables are pretty impressive as well. Lind’s 44.7% success rate comparables are all around the NHL. Jamie Benn would be the most notable player and surprise, surprise… he was a Rocket too! Joffrey Lupul has been around the block but has 701 games and 420 points speak for themselves.

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Journeyman Shane Doan is on that list and he’s darn near 80 years old! Captain Canada Ryan Smyth is also a solid comparable and if Kole Lind pans out to be anything like either of those two players, he’ll have a heck of a career. Lind’s projected production over 82 games sits at 47.4 points a season which is quite alright.

Not in the top line range but can float around in a top support role. If you take a look at former Blazer and hated opponent, Scottie Upshall, he sits right around where Lind is on the chart. Scrappy but productive and he’s made a name for himself in the NHL. Although Upshall has a career 0.39 pts/gm, he has been a thorn in many teams sides.

Kole Lind will be looked at as a depth forward with a high offensive upside, unfortunately, a first round draft pick is where you want to draft your next stud. He has the weapons but it may take some time before he unleashes the true beast.

Jamie Benn seems to have done just fine so if I’m Kole Lind, I wouldn’t worry about it.

As the Draft approaches, expect to see players like Foote and Lind step their game up to boost their draft stock. The next chance they’ll get to publically show their talents is at the BMO Top Prospects Game in Quebec. This game can send many players up the ranks and get them more publicity as the playoffs carry on.

One thing is for sure, the Kelowna Rockets have it figured out.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – Kelownanow.com

Canucks Taking Advantage Of Weak Division

Pretty much stating the obvious here but for the time being the Canucks would be wise to fool whoever they can while the getting is good. As of right now, the Canucks sit a point back of 8th and four back of 5th place in the West. This is the same Canucks team that earlier this year went winless in 9 games. There are a lot of teams that are worse than they should be and a handful that are playing above their means.

The Canucks are the latter.

I probably should have titled this “You Can’t Spell Canucks Without PDO.” I spent an hour deciding that, believe it or not. This time last year, the Canucks were also a point out of a playoff spot and were stringing together a few wins as well. Is this the point in the season where the good teams get lazy and the bad teams make the headlines?

When the NHL gets back to normal, which I believe they are going through some kind of parallel universe, the way the Canucks and teams like them are playing won’t scratch the surface on getting into the playoff picture.

As Willie Desjardins continually ices a team with line combinations only The Riddler would understand, we all ask ourselves how the heck this team has stayed competitive? They lack depth in the goal scoring department, the defense looks good but in reality, isn’t exactly lighting up the score sheet and as far as goaltending goes the Russian Roulette of starts is pretty confusing.

Goaltending has been a strong suit this season and without Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom holding down the fort, Nolan Patrick or at least his value in a tradeable draft pick would be very possible. It’s relieving to know they can bring Thatcher Demko along more gradually.

What the current Pacific division and to a lesser extent, the Western Conference, is showing us is that speed seems to reward teams. The Canucks are not a speedy team in theory, and their luck will catch up with them eventually and sink them back to the bottom of the standings.

Watching Henrik and Daniel on any given night is frustrating because they have been asked to be the number one line and they really shouldn’t be anymore. If this team was ready to embrace the change on the fly or rebuild or whatever, the Horvat line and the Sutter line would be taking over at this point. There is way more speed on the 2nd and 3rd lines and by giving the Sedins prime ice time, it’s strangling any chance for hope this team might have.

Every team that has a share of a playoff spot has some speed and the Canucks do not. The Sedin hooking penalty will go down in Canucks history but they’ve never been fast enough to out skate the league’s speedsters. Not to knock the Twins but if that is all the Canucks are hanging their hats on, they need to make sure they can stay in every game or get get caught watching the puck go the other way.

Bringing up PDO for a second, the Canucks currently sit 24th in the “luck” category and as they play closer to their actual selves if that’s even possible, they could jump into the top 10 within a week or two. The Pacific division hasn’t made many adjustments to stay competitive so that actually speaks well for the Canucks.

The Kings lost Jonathan Quick in October and haven’t bothered to address their goaltending situation. They aren’t that far ahead of the Canucks on the season, both teams have similar records and not like it would come down to it but I’d actually give the Canucks a fighting chance against LA in a playoff series this year.

Sneaking in this year would mean Vancouver would probably get Chicago and it would be a blood bath. There is nothing wrong with the Blackhawks and they may very well make a deep run this spring. They are exempt from this discussion as everything the Hawks do seems to work out.

Five wins in a row are pretty impressive and for a team that couldn’t string together two wins in a row most of the season, this is quite the run. It’s an outlying performance but we should definitely enjoy it while it lasts.

When you look at what the Blue Jackets are doing you get excited but like all Cinderella stories, the clock will strike 12 and you’ll be stuck with a pumpkin again.

Vancouver can still keep this going and build some faith with the fan base but they have to stop jerking everyone around and start making decisions that are logical. It’s not just management that has made fumbles and it’s not just the head coach; this whole organization has to be on the same page and buy in together to make a difference.

Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins need to stop nickel and diming this team and decide on guys like Anton Rodin, Brendan Gaunce and whatever it is they thought they were going to do with Loui Eriksson and move forward.

Having a perennial 25-30 goal scorer begging to be on the top line after he has shown time and time again he is producing with less than ideal linemates. Eriksson needs to be given the keys to the offense and if it’s not with the Sedins it should be with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi as a top line.

Life is good right now for Canucks fans but don’t hold your breath, the conference will right itself and the Canucks will be the team we thought they’d be.

Thankfully, 65 points now seems like a distant memory now.

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photo – yahoo.com