Canucks can look to the 2011-12 Kings for inspiration

This is not where the Canucks expected to be in December — 9th in the West with a sputtering offence and a lacklustre power play — but things just got a little worse with the news that Alex Burrows will be out indefinitely with a broken jaw. There’s currently lots of ammunition for the Canucks’ detractors and the more cynical members of the Canucks fanbase.

Perhaps a comparison with a team that was even worse off after 29 games might help: the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings. You know, the ones that went on to win the Stanley Cup? The Canucks can look to the 2011-12 Kings both to put their current struggles in context and to draw some inspiration for the rest of the season.

While the Kings made the playoffs as the 8th seed, they were actually a lot better than their record indicated, as illustrated by their playoff run, where they lost just 4 games en route to the Cup. This may have surprised many of the mainstream pundits, but the advanced stats community was touting them as seriously underrated well before the playoffs began.

The Kings’ Fenwick Close — the current most reliable predictor for future success — for the season was 4th in the NHL, indicating that they were far stronger than the typical 8th seed and should have been considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Combine that with a goaltender getting hot at the right time and some good fortune in avoiding injuries and the Kings became a juggernaut in the postseason.

But prior to all of that, the Kings were a struggling team sitting outside the playoffs.

After 29 games, the Kings had a 13-12-4 record, giving them 30 points. That was good enough for 12th place in the Western Conference, behind both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Kings were in the middle of a 5-game losing streak, as well as a streak that saw them fail to score more than 2 goals in 14 straight games. At that point in the season, they had been outscored 87-85.

The Canucks, on the other hand, are currently 14-10-5 with 33 points. They’re currently 9th in the West, with their own 5-game losing streak in the rearview mirror. They have an even goal differential and have seen their fortunes turn around slightly with the man advantage, with power play goals in 5 straight games. They’re in a tough position, certainly, but are in a better position than the Kings were in their Cup-winning season.

That does not mean the Canucks should rest on their laurels or grow complacent, of course. The 2011-12 Kings made two significant moves after their slow start that helped improve their team and position them for the playoffs. They fired head coach Terry Murray and brought in Darryl Sutter in mid-December, and they traded for Jeff Carter before the trade deadline.

These moves took the Kings from a team that was better than their record indicated to one of the best teams in the league. The Kings were a positive possession team under Murray, but improved immensely after Sutter was hired and improved even more after Carter was brought in.

To a certain extent, this provides a model for what the Canucks should do with the rest of this season. Like the 2011-12 Kings, the Canucks are a positive possession team (currently 6th in the NHL in Fenwick Close) that is struggling to score goals and have a mediocre record. The Canucks could look to make similar moves as the season progresses.

They don’t need to make the coaching change that the Kings did, as they are playing well under Tortorella, whereas firing Murray and hiring Sutter seemed to be truly necessary in Los Angeles. But a similar type of wake up call might be necessary. Perhaps even a surprise long-term injury like the one suffered by Burrows might stoke the Canucks’ competitive fires. Tortorella’s tendency to send a struggling player to the press box may also serve the same purpose.

The more interesting change was the addition of Jeff Carter and, simultaneously, the subtraction of Jack Johnson, who went to Columbus in the trade. Johnson is a poor puck possession player, while Carter is a strong two-way forward. More importantly to the Kings at the time, he scores goals, with three 30+ goal campaigns and a 46-goal season under his belt at the time of the trade.

While that was a unique situation for the Kings in that Carter wanted out of Columbus and they could spare Johnson, who was and is severely overrated, I think the Canucks can learn from that trade. While rumours of the Canucks acquiring the likes of Martin Erat or Shawn Matthias have been rumbling, a more significant move seems smarter. Instead of adding a third-line forward to improve depth, adding a top-six forward that forces someone like Jannik Hansen or Chris Higgins down to the third line would be a bigger improvement.

Of course, that pretty much goes without saying. The problem is in the execution. The Canucks have a little over $2 million in cap space currently, though with careful use of long-term injured reserve, they could have more by the trade deadline. There is also the possibility of a team retaining some of the contract in a trade. The issue, then, is finding a willing trade partner.

The key to Carter was that he was a sniper who was also a positive puck possession player and wasn’t just a rental. There are a few players on teams that are likely to miss the playoffs that might fit the bill.

Non-rental targets might be Mike Cammalleri, Evander Kane, who has been the subject of trade rumours recently, or even Michael Grabner, who might be better in his second stint in Vancouver after proving himself in New York. Rentals could include Jaromir Jagr (if the Devils slip down the standings), Thomas Vanek, or Matt Moulson. All of these players have 30+ goal seasons on their resumes.

The Canucks might not trade for any of these players, but if the 2011-12 Kings are any model to go by, this is the type of impact player they should be targeting. Thanks to their early struggles this season, the Canucks may be under pressure to make exactly this kind of impact move.

None of this is to say that the Canucks will win the Stanley Cup if they make a big trade or that there’s nothing to worry about. For people saying the Canucks’ chances are nil or that the team is hopeless, though, even without a trade for a star sniper, the Canucks are not in bad shape. They are just one point back of Phoenix, two back of Minnesota, and three back of Los Angeles. But a significant move or two could put them in position to be a real contender again.

11 comments

  1. Lemming
    December 3, 2013

    but youre forgetting that the Canucks have lost a lot of games. They are clearly doomed, doomed!

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  2. Doop
    December 3, 2013

    do want Evander Kane

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  3. Naturalmystic
    December 3, 2013

    Daniel Wagner = Iraqi information minister

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    Rating: -3 (from 11 votes)
    • shoes
      December 4, 2013

      naturalmystic = no information mini-stir, the pot.

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  4. madwag
    December 3, 2013

    danielson

    an intelligent and persuasive post. ignore trolls with nothing to add to the conversation. some folks are just genetically ignorant.

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    Rating: +8 (from 10 votes)
  5. Snepsts
    December 3, 2013

    Cammalleri. Cammalleri. Cammalleri. When he went to Montreal, I fumed. He went back to Calgary. I fumed. He is the natural Sedin cohort. I have been saying this for years (not here, just to people who roll their eyes a lot and don’t care about hockey).

    Could you imagine Sedin-Sedin-Cammalleri…??? And Burrows-Kesler-Anyone (Hansen, obvs, or Booth, or Higgins…)

    Yeah. Trade the farm for Cammalleri, or Kassian and Booth or something. I feel like this team just needs a nudge.

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  6. Bookie
    December 4, 2013

    Hey Daniel (or anyone else) – so what’s an easy way to look up where a team was at at a specific point in time in a previous season? It’s one of the those things I’ve wanted to access in the past, but I’ve had no idea where to go.

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  7. jenny wren
    December 4, 2013

    John Garrett has too much to say
    about the calls that are not made
    the refs content to let them play
    worth ev’ry cent that they are paid
    he’s such a need to criticize
    he wins my Biggest Whiner prize

    the game itself is quite alright
    Bobby Lu being tested most
    against the Preds on Tuesday night
    Canucks a crossbar and a post
    at last Vancouver takes the lead
    it proves to be short-lived indeed

    so to the third a one-one tie
    way down in Nashville Tennessee
    we watch the Chicken Hawk and I
    two ‘dirty’ goals is what we see
    the Second Star the Hawk insists
    is Garrison with two assists

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  8. Mb13
    December 4, 2013

    The major difference between the Kings of 2011-12 and the current Canucks is goaltending – full stop. Luongo has not proven that he is capable of being anything more than an average goalie whereas Quick is top 3 in the game.

    Otherwise, the above post is a valid argument, although the Kings did part with a significant asset to get Carter – who had a history with Richards already.

    Which asset do the Canucks part with? Johnson was a former 3rd overall pick.

    And if Mike Gillis had anything greater than zero success at the trade deadline acquiring significant-difference-making assets (Higgins does not equal Carter), then I’d say the Canucks might be similar to the Kings.

    Either way – until the Canucks (or their fans or bloggers) stop trying to copy the rest of the league, they will not win. First it’s the Detroit model. Then they need to get bigger and badder in the new NHL – but Chicago wins with skill-skill-skill. Now, “see , the Canucks are following the Kings blueprint the year they won the Cup.”.

    It’s funny – I can’t get a read on this team at all. Are they the Cup finalist from 3 years ago or are they on overrated bunch that was propped up by a weak division and that was a Patrick Sharpe shot to Luongo’s crest away from going out in the first round 3 years in a row?

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  9. DanD
    December 4, 2013

    Well said Daniel. I don’t know if you guys have done this already, but I’d be interested to see a companion piece highlighting some players you think could go the other way in a trade. It would be great to get a big name player. My question is who could we safely give up? Are there any overrated players like Johnson hanging around, or even if properly valued, guys we could be okay with losing?

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