Is a lack of lockout activity to blame for the Canucks’ slow start?

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.

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12 comments

  1. tj
    January 23, 2013

    PITB, always with the right-siding of the flipped pool…

    Thanks for this analysis.

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  2. Sara
    January 23, 2013

    Your reference to Community seriously made me adore this blog even more.
    Bravo

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  3. Rituro
    January 23, 2013

    2010-11: Canucks off to slow start. President’s Trophy.
    2011-12: Canucks off to slow start. President’s Trophy.
    2012-13: Canucks off to slow start.

    I can wait.

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    • naturalmystic
      January 23, 2013

      2010-11 : Canucks choke in the Stanley cup finals. The city burns.
      2011-12 : Canucks choke in the first round of the playoffs. The city yawns.
      2012-13 : Canucks choke in the regular season. Playoffs denied.

      I can’t wait!

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  4. akidd
    January 23, 2013

    the rest will pay off later. older players nursing injuries needed to recuperate. a slow start is how she goes out here. the only way the lockout could have worked out better for the canucks is if it had happened last year.

    it may be a tough season regardless. some good teams out there. kings, blues, sharks, hawks, etc. at least the wings look like they might give everyone a break for a change.

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  5. Kenji
    January 23, 2013

    Maybe they are literally taking it slowly, thinking about not ripping the groin or putting the back out, and not quite moving at full game intensity — which is fine if it leads to a win streak later on.

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  6. Charles Knox
    January 23, 2013

    At some point we have to realize that playoff-seeding, as sort-of important as it is, is not in fact that important. This is not to say that we don’t want to try and wrap up the division but Hockey is not Basketball. The extra-home game helps, but it helped little against those malicious SOB Bruins a couple of years back. The key thing is to have an in-form, defensively sound, offensively diverse and adroit team by game one of the playoffs. Three-peat President Trophy or no, there’s only one Cup that any of us care about at this point anyway. Other than the Masterson, can Weise get any love!?!?!

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  7. JDM
    January 23, 2013

    Daniel, I don’t know if you’ve been watching the Flyers games but I have actually thought they looked pretty good for the most part and probably deserve a better fate than 0-3. Last night, for example, they went down 3-0 despite carrying the balance of the play against the Devils. The Buffalo game was relatively even outside of a breakdown on the Vanek breakaway. I don’t think they’ve been bad at all. Also note you mentioned Briere, who hasn’t even played yet. Giroux hasn’t missed a beat.

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  8. Amor de Cosmos
    January 23, 2013

    It’s tough to evaluate, lack of competitive play isn’t the only reason for staleness of course. But winning early this season is more important than usual. Losing your first two games is inconsequential normally, but in a truncated season, it’s almost the equivalent of losing the first four. If a team loses say six of the first ten, almost a quarter of the season has gone and it becomes much harder to claw the lost points back. Basically the NHL is playing a soccer season’s schedule in half the time, a slow start with a key injury or two and it could be over pretty quickly. I do think, by around last November, teams should have anticipated this and planned for it better than some appear to have.

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  9. TeeJay
    January 24, 2013

    The Vancouver Canucks always starts under the bridge and would hit something,guess we just cleared that BRIDGE. Now let’s proceed through the JOURNEY.

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    • TeeJay
      January 24, 2013

      And for the last time,can somebody put a VANCOUVER CANUCKS SCARF on the RICK HANSEN STATUE and don’t let any other Teams put theirs on it.,Damn Ducks!!

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  10. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    January 24, 2013

    A guy picking up points despite not playing during the lockout isn’t as much of an anomaly if he is playing with teammates who were active, it should be noted.

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