On Saturday against the Ducks, the Canucks looked flat-footed, ill-prepared, and lethargic. They looked, in fact, like they hadn’t played a hockey game in 8 months. Sunday was better, but only slightly, as the Canucks still made numerous uncharacteristic errors.Still, we’re just two games into the season. It feels odd to say that the Canucks have had a slow start; they’ve barely started at all.
With that said, the Canucks certainly haven’t been their usual selves, even taking into account the lack of Ryan Kesler and David Booth. They also had very few players active during the lockout, with only Dale Weise, Jannik Hansen, and Cory Schneider playing in Europe for any significant length of time. Beyond those three, Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev played in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, and Mason Raymond played a grand total of two games for Örebro in the Swedish Elite League.
The rest of the Canucks skated on their own, with the largest group the one that stayed in Vancouver and practised with the UBC Thunderbirds. Is the lack of game action to blame for the Canucks’ lacklustre performance on the weekend?
This explanation makes sense at first glance. After all, Dale Weise has been one of the best Canucks, which seems odd. On the other hand, Jannik Hansen has essentially just been his usual self and Cory Schneider, despite playing 10 games in Europe, allowed 5 goals on just 14 shots on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Sedins have appeared to be just fine without playing any games during the lockout.
It’s tough to answer this question as it forces us to imagine how the Canucks would have performed if more of them had played in Europe, which means we have to consider the possibility of infinite alternate realities, each created by the many different choices that were not made in this reality. This means we have to consider the possibility that there exists a reality where Dale Weise is not the Eric Lindros of the Netherlands and also, in this timeline, everyone has goatees. Clearly, that is the darkest timeline and I refuse to believe that it could exist.
Instead, let’s look at a few other teams around the league and whether having players in Europe or the AHL made a difference to their first couple games. This analysis won’t be perfect, as it’s difficult to find an entirely accurate list of NHLers who played overseas or in the AHL, but I’ll try to get as close as possible.
The Blackhawks are off to the hottest start in the Western Conference, winning all three of their games thus far. They had at least 10 players active during the lockout, including Patrick Kane, who played in Switzerland. It seems like that allowed him to get off to a great start, as he has 5 points in 3 games. On the other hand, Marian Hossa, who also has 5 points, including 4 goals, didn’t play during the lockout. Still, they had a large number of players active, which seems to have helped them.
The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are both 2-0-0 and had 9 and 10 players active during the lockout. Joe Thornton and Logan Couture each have 5 points and Joe Pavelski has 4, with all three playing in Europe during the lockout. Patrick Marleau, however, also has 5 points and didn’t play during the lockout. None of the Ducks leading scorers played during the lockout.
The Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes, and L.A. Kings have each lost their first 2 games. The Flames had just 6 players playing during the lockout, but three of them, Anton Babchuk, Roman Cervenka, and Jiri Hudler, have yet to play a game for the Flames this season. The Kings, likewise, had 6 players active, including backup Jonathan Bernier and the injured Anze Kopitar. The Coyotes, however, had at least 8 players active during the lockout, all of them in the lineup for them already this season, providing a bit of a counterpoint.
Five teams are off to a 2-0-0 start in the Eastern Conference: the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and Boston Bruins. Of those, the Senators, Sabres, and Devils each had approximately 10 players playing in Europe and the AHL. The Devils had 7, while the Penguins had just 5, including backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
The Flyers are off to the worst start in the league, losing their first 3 games. According to the information I could find, they had the most players active in Europe or the AHL of any team in the league, with 13. That includes star players like Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, as well as starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Playing in actual games doesn’t appear to have helped them much to start the season.
Three other teams in the East lost their first two games: the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers had just 5 players active, the Capitals had 8, including Alex Ovechkin, and the Hurricanes had 7, including the recently-traded and waived Anthony Stewart.
It’s hard to parse all of this information into something useful. In general, it seems that the teams that had more players active during the lockout are performing better to start the season, but then there are the Penguins and the Flyers, who flip the script. The Penguins barely had anyone playing during the lockout, but have two authoritative wins, while the Flyers had over half their roster playing and have looked terrible.
Personally, I think the Canucks would be better off if more players had played in Europe during the lockout. David Booth, at least, would have had less time to anger Canucks fans with his twitter account if he had been playing hockey in Russia rather than hunting.
I don’t, however, think it’s a big deal. The Canucks will be back up to game speed shortly, and a bad start is not a death knell, even with all the commentators shouting that “every game counts” and “it’s a sprint, not a marathon.” The Canucks lost 4 of their first 6 games last season and 6 of their first 10, but by game 48, they were firmly ensconced in first place in the Northwest Division.Tags: Lockout