Back when Vancouver was an NHL powerhouse, there were times fans would leave games feeling guilty about winning.
Luongo or Schneider would carry them through most of the game, then the Sedins or Kesler would show up for a power play or two, and Vancouver would walk away with a tidy two points.
You knew they didn’t deserve the win, but they were by far the more skilled team, so in a strange way they did deserve it.
Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes was something like that, but really nothing at all like that.
See, Arizona outplayed Vancouver – they led even strength scoring attempts 63-37. Worse, not a single Canuck had a positive shot attempt differential (corsi-for) at the end of the game.
Yet Vancouver managed a 4-1 win.
The difference is, as I write this post-game article about the Canucks win, I don’t feel guilt. Instead, I find myself suspicious.
A team with a young, new, analytics focused GM, just started their backup goalie – Mike Smith – and he allowed 4 goals on 17 shots. With a win, they’d have been tied with Vancouver for last in the league, but by losing, they find themselves four points back.
Just look at this goal that made it 4-1 Canucks in the second.
While those against tanking love to say you can’t tell a team to go out and lose games, one thing a GM/coach can do to push losses is have a goalie who doesn’t stop the puck.
So here’s the question: did Vancouver just get gamed in the tank wars?
1. The winners
Not to take too much away from the Canucks win – let’s give some credit to those who won it.
First, Ryan Miller deserved most of the credit. He allowed one goal on 36 shots and he was doing stuff like this all night to stop Arizona’s quick young players from scoring.
Second, Horvat’s line was on fire, NBA Jam style. You already saw Burr’s goal above that showed they were scoring on every shot, but here’s how they heated up.
(For those of you who don’t know what NBA Jam is: a. you missed out on a bad-ass game; b. you had to hit three shots in a row before you were on fire and could score whenever you touched the ball)
Here, Burrows forechecked like it was 2011, leading to a quick Horvat pass to Baerstchi for the finish.
Next, Burr laid the table for an easy Horvat finish.
Then, the announcer yelled “They’re on fire!” and Burrows knew he could shoot from anywhere, so he shot from the sideboards and scored that goal above.
2. The goat
And now, thanks to technology, I’m changing my goat of the game on the fly.
Having watched the goal a few times when it was scored, I originally blamed Edler for leaving Duclair alone in front of Miller – causing a screen on the lone goal scored against Vancouver.
But watching it again (and again and again and again because of the gif on infinite loop), you’ll see Chaput on Duclair behind the net to start while Edler directs Stecher to cover Dvorak using his stick to point.
Then Edler skates out towards Martinook, only to find that Chaput’s switched to covering him… leaving Duclair all alone in front and a bunch of confusion and a goal.
In case you didn’t follow – Chaput was at fault on this one.
3. Jake update
If you thought being sent to Utica would stop Vancouver from talking about Virtanen, you were dead wrong.
Listening to the pre-game show on TSN 1040 today, you might have thought he was the only player on the team – at least half of the two-hour show was dedicated to him.
So… remember how Willie said Virtanen had to come back to Vancouver after two games in Utica because he didn’t have his “stuff”?
Chatted with Michael Garteig after Comets win.
Said he arrived in Utica only with stuff he had on road trip w Alaska.
Went to mall w/ Demko
— Ben Birnell (@OD_Birnell) November 24, 2016
Turns out there’s a mall in Utica. Who’d’ve guessed?
Anyway, Trevor Linden spoke with Moj on the radio about Virtanen on Monday.
“We were hoping Jake would be able to take the next step this year and become a consistent day-to-day player but that’s a big step. We’re still talking about a 20-year-old kid here…
For Jake, I think last year was a great learning year for him. He’s come a long way, but there’s a level of understanding of that day to day expectation on the ice, off the ice and where he needs to be. I think Travis and Baumer and Jason King are perfect guys to work through that.
He’s going to understand that the level of expectation, whether it’s Willie, whether it’s Travis is a constant. He’s going to make some strides this year and the one thing about Jake is he’s a good kid, he wants to do the right things, he’s just got to be taught what that is and the consistency.”
So how’s Virtanen doing?
Jeremy Davis, a writer for Canucks Army, watched Utica’s game against Syracuse Wednesday, and he gave me this scouting report on Virtanen.
— Jeremy Davis (@jeremydavis89) November 24, 2016
Well, it’s a start, but let’s not be in any rush to get him back to the Canucks.
4. The Canucks haven’t been horrible
After Jim Benning said the Canucks were only three wins back of first place in the division on the radio on Friday, Linden followed up with this on Monday:
“Coming in, we knew if we saw some performances from some guys from a goalscoring perspective, we could compete for a playoff spot. Obviously we haven’t seen that consistently. We think it’s there and we’re going to get it.”
It was another massive-spin quote that made you think he and Benning are living in a fantasy world where the Canucks are competitive.
But this morning I published an article that shows their statements are not off base.
In fact, the Canucks have played better than the results show, and one key measurement – expected goals – shows that based on play, they deserved to be 10-8 rather than 7-10-1 prior to Wednesday’s game.
If that was their record, they would have been sitting in the final playoff spot before Wednesday’s game, by the way.
5. More on direction
I included that to set up this quote from Linden.
The President spoke on the radio with Moj on Monday and he was asked if their results so far this season could alter the team’s plan.
We recognized the challenge when we started – to build a new core group. We have depth at goal, we have 2 rookies on D plus Hutton and up front “we’ve got some young players. We’ve got to continue to build on that.”
We knew this would be a tough transition. We didn’t come into this thinking it would be an easy transition. We knew there would be some criticism, but we’ll stick to the path.
Each year we’ve tried to get younger, we’ve tried to introduce young players, we tried to build a prospect list and I think we’ve done that. Perhaps not as quick or as dramatic as some people would like, but we feel we’re going in the right direction we’re going to stick to the plan.
With Linden saying the team would stay the course, I thought it’d be a good time to ask if fans are happy with the direction – and yes, I admit it was a leading question.
@omarcanuck not even a little.
— I love hipchecks (@ilovehipchecks) November 24, 2016
@omarcanuck No but yes. Striving for playoffs, no. Bottom of the leagues, yes.
— Cody Lajeunesse (@CFL88) November 24, 2016
— nikki (@Rad_Nikki_17) November 24, 2016
@omarcanuck Ownership and management wanting to make the playoffs NOW? No. Unintentionally tanking? Yes.
— Tambo (@DinoTambo) November 24, 2016
In journalism school we were taught to provide both sides of an argument, so I include this lone tweet.
@omarcanuck I strongly believe that they are heading in the right direction.They already have a few really nice prospects and will add more.
— WeS🍄 (@_Fenner19) November 24, 2016
Commendable positivity, Wes.
6. Front office shakeup coming?
Good direction? Ben Kuzma isn’t convinced.
Kuz went off this morning (on TSN 1040) when asked about Willie’s future with the Canucks:
“We always talk about Willie. Let’s talk about the whole hockey ops department, guys. I think we’re going to see a shakeup next summer … Where are they going as an organization, who’s making the hard calls, what are we really doing in terms of player assessment and making the hard calls on players?
I think this is beyond Willie now. He’s coaching what he has guys, let’s be honest. Why do you think they have this structured system where they’re trying to win one goal hockey games? That’s all they can do …
This is a team that can’t score, they love their wingers, they love guys that can get to the net, and Tkachuk’s got five goals for the Flames already. He’s got the pedigree, he gets there, he’s nasty …
Juolevi is a skilled defenceman. He’s probably going to need two-three years and the Canucks can’t score now and they can’t draw fans now. Right now, Tkachuk would be number two on the Canucks with five goals. Some of the stuff I don’t understand, and that’s not coaching.”
Scathing. And eye opening on what might be going on behind the scenes.
BONUS: What kind of GM do you want?
During the first intermission of Wednesday’s game, Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy interviewed Arizona’s GM, John Chayka. Murph did a great job asking Chayka to explain the lens he looks at the game through.
Here are a couple of Chayka’s answers.
Murph asked what he’d replace plus-minus on the media’s stats sheet with:
“There’s certainly a flawed stat in plus/minus, so there’s a lot of things I’d put in its place. Probably the one that’s most commonly used is some sort of metric in scoring chance data, just looking at plus/minuses in scoring chance data, who’s generating them, who’s suppressing them.
That kind of gives you a more in depth understanding of the game as opposed to a plus minus with is unfair.”
Then he asked when Chayka finds it useful to use the “eye test”:
“Right now there is some limitation to the data set itself certainly. My job is just to use all the information available to me to make the best call on what we want to do. The eye test for us is used on a lot of amateur stuff … (including scouting)
The system in which a player plays in is very important. It’s also tough to quantify what the impact is.”
With Kuz and others thinking there may be a front office shakeup coming for the Canucks, some decision makers are probably thinking about what direction they’ll want to go in.
A few things they’d be wise to consider:
- The days when calling players “hard to play against” sufficed as a scouting report are probably over.
- If the new GM isn’t always considering cap implications, he’ll waste a lot of his owner’s money.
- The Leafs have pretty much perfected the blueprint on what a good rebuild looks like.
- Having a GM who understands analytics and can articulate his thoughts like the GM above has to be a baseline requirement.
Note: Thanks to Ryan Biech for the beautiful artwork he contributed to this post