Drance Numbers: Investigating the Canucks’ prospects

Today is May 11th, the day on which the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. It was seen as a date of bad omen during last year’s playoff run as well, although they managed to survive it. This season, however, the team is long since eliminated and we’re already looking to the future.

Heading into this June’s NHL draft and the offseason, the Canucks are poised to make major changes to their roster. One of their goaltenders will likely be moved, and that trade should net the club significant assets. The team is likely to pursue much-hyped NCAA prospect (and West Kelowna native) Justin Schultz in the offseason, and certainly adding a player of that caliber would give the prospect pool a massive boost. Meanwhile Gillis has the 26th, 57th, 147th, 177th and 207th picks in the 2012 NHL draft to work with.

With all of the uncertainty, I figured we’d take stock of where the prospect pool is at for the moment. What are the clubs areas of strength, what are its needs and what players in the system are likely to play a major role with the team going forward?

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Drance Numbers: Did the Canucks really change after the Boston game?

There were plenty of interesting statements in Mike Gillis’s epic season wrapup press conference Tuesday morning, but one of the most jarring came in response to the very first question posed to him by the press. To kick things off, David Ebner of The Globe & Mail asked Gillis when the “issues” that ultimately led to the Canucks’ early exit first began to surface.

As a disciple of the extremist “Church of Hockey Math” (trademark, Blake Price), I’m always skeptical of a statement that lends this much power to an “intangible” force like “collective team emotion.” It’s a pretty dubious claim when you stop to think about it: a veteran team, one of the league’s best over the past two seasons, saw their season derailed by a regular-season win in early January?

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Drance Numbers: Kesler and Booth have chemistry

Advanced statistics and quantitative analysis have consistently proven useful in hockey, but any honest hockey math nerd will admit that there are factors the numbers can’t quite measure. Some things operate on the U.S. Supreme Court’s “I know it when I see it” principle. Supposedly, one such unmeasurable factor is chemistry, which has been a major talking point among Canuck nation of late.

During the regular season, David Booth played roughly 35 total even-strength minutes with the Sedin twins. He played more with former Florida Panthers teammate Tomas Kopecky. Yet, with the team facing elimination in Game 4 of the Canucks’ first round series with the Los Angeles Kings, Alain Vigneault modified his lines, bumping Booth up to the top line to skate with the twins. That alteration to the team’s forward lines separated Booth from Ryan Kesler, his linemate all season.

Despite being somewhat bemused by Booth’s move to the Sedins’ right wing, many cheered the split from Kesler, as the two apparently have “no chemistry.” Oh, but they do.

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Drance Numbers: Don’t trust playoff AV; stopping the Kopitar line is job one

Watching Wednesday night’s series opener between the Kings and the Canucks, I was wildly impressed with the play of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. They were a pack of hyenas right from puck drop, testing Luongo with quality chances four times in the opening minute. They caused turnovers with their forechecking, pinned the Canucks in the defensive end regularly, and worked together flawlessly.

It was Kopitar’s line who set the tone for the Kings in game one, muzzled the Rogers Arena crowd, and so handily won their matchup that, in twelve and a half minutes of five-on-five ice-time, they changed the entire arithmetic of this series.

But all the chatter the next day was about the impact of Dustin Penner and the matchup between Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards. Even Alain Vigneault glossed over the Kopitar line Thursday, spending more time on Penner and Richards than what appeared to be the real problem.

Magicians call this misdirection.

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Drance Numbers: I was eerily correct about the Canucks’ goal totals

It’s odd to be writing the final “Drance Numbers” post of the regular season. It feels like only just yesterday I was writing the first, a detailed post projecting the Canucks’ likely offensive output back on October 6th, 2011. Looking back on that post, it seems uncannily prescient now:

With one game to play, the Canucks are sitting at 246 goals. So, barring an offensive explosion in game 82 (like we saw from the Canucks in 2009), my 247 projection is likely to be very close to the team’s actual total.

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Drance Numbers: How does Henrik Sedin’s game change without Daniel?

It’s been about ten days since Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion. The bad news is that concussions are extremely unpredictable, and while Mike Gillis has hinted that Daniel should be ready to play in time for the postseason, it’s nigh impossible to set a “recovery timeline” for a player dealing with concussion symptoms. The good news, however, is that the Canucks have rallied, winning four in a row while playing a suffocating, defensive style of hockey.

You could eat a thousand KFC double-downs in one sitting, and your arteries would still be significantly less clogged up than the Canucks have left the neutral-zone for their opponents over the past four games. Players and teams adjust, and the Canucks have dealt with the loss of their best goal scorer by playing more conservatively. It may not be the most entertaining brand of hockey (personally, I love hard-fought, tightly contested defensive games), but it has certainly been effective.

Speaking of adjustments, with Daniel on the shelf for the immediate future, I figured I’d look into how his brother has performed without him going back three seasons. An immediate qualifier: we’ll be dealing with a pretty miniscule sample size here (24 games), so much of this analysis is shrouded in relative uncertainty. Nonetheless, the topic of “how Henrik’s game changes without Daniel in the lineup” is fascinating to me, and pertinent to the club at the moment, so let’s proceed.

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Drance Numbers: The Official PITB Advanced Stat Glossary

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance defines some terms.

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Drance Numbers: Which Canucks’ defender suppresses shots most effectively?

Earlier this week, Alain Vigneault talked about Chris Higgins’ plus-5 scoring chance differential over the Canucks’ losses to the Sabres and Stars. The two-game sample Vigneault referred to isn’t much to go on, but it was enough to make plain that the Canucks use a different methodology in their in-house tracking of scoring chances than what we use to track scoring chance data over at Canucks Army. What Vigneault’s number did correlate exactly with, however, was Higgins’ personal Fenwick +/- number.

This isn’t the first time that the Canucks seemed to be paying close attention to a players’ Fenwick number. At about this time last season, when everyone was confused as to why Vigneault seemed to prefer the unremarkable Aaron Rome over the more visibly skilled Keith Ballard, Cam Charron pointed out that Rome’s Fenwick events against rate was significantly lower than Ballard’s. We theorized that, for a third pairing defenseman, Vigneault preferred Rome’s “safe minutes” to Ballard’s more adventurous (albeit exciting) style of play.

Because I’m increasingly convinced that the Canucks place importance on a players’ individual “fenwick number,” I figured it would be worthwhile to break down the Canucks’ blue-line in this manner. Let’s see if we can get a handle on which defencemen have been the “best” defensively from a shot suppression standpoint.

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Drance Numbers: How much do the Sedins miss Christian Ehrhoff?

With Daniel Sedin on pace for 81 points this season and Henrik Sedin on pace for 83, it looks like the twins will be returning to the point-per game level of production they put up in the four years prior to their consecutive Art Ross championships. And, at 13 and 15 points behind Evgeni Malkin in the points race, it seems likely that they won’t be able to keep the Art Ross in the family this June.

With Buffalo in town for a much anticipated tilt this Saturday night, I figured we’d look into the impact old friend Christian Ehrhoff had in fueling the Sedins’ Art Ross Trophy wins during his two seasons with the Canucks. When Henrik declared in the preseason that the Canucks didn’t lose anything when the speedy German defenseman signed for an absurd 40 million in Buffalo this offseason, was he wrong? Is is possible, in fact, that Christian Ehrhoff’s absence this season is a major reason for the Twins’ regression from 100-point producers back to point-per-game players?

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Drance Numbers: Harry Potter plays soft minutes; the Sedins play optimized minutes

The Canucks blogosphere (lovingly called the Smylosphere by those working within it) has been talking about zone-starts and what they tell us about this team for well over a year now. Lately, however, the conversation has gone mainstream, and articles and broadcast segments about this topic are beginning to appear in places like Hockey Night in Canada and the Vancouver Province. Between the team’s sustained run of success, the uniqueness of their zone-start deployment patterns and, hopefully, several well argued blog-posts on the subject, more people are coming around to the idea that this stuff matters.

But the data remains somewhat problematic, especially for Corsi skeptics. Where shifts begin has a demonstrable impact on possession stats, sure, but what about production? Gabe Desjardins, who runs Behindthenet.ca, suggested that the Sedins benefit from being sheltered to the tune of 7-9 points per season, but that figure was questioned elsewhere.

One of the key things I use zone-starts for when writing about the Canucks is that, if nothing else, they tell a story. If a head coach is relying heavily on a particular skater to start more shifts in his own end when the team is on the road, that’s a pretty good indicator that the coach has a lot of trust in that player’s two-way game.

To put it most simply, zone-starts and quality of competition metrics have improved our understanding of “how NHL players are deployed.” As a result, hockey math nerds have come up with labels over the years to more accurately qualify and describe the roles of certain players. I figured it might be instructive to go through them.

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Drance Numbers: What’s behind the Canucks’ powerplay power outage?

Vancouver’s hockey fans have high and often unreasonable expectations for this version of the Canucks. Over the past month, the team has struggled to dominate opponents with their usual zest, and as a result, they’re compared to the living dead in the press.

This is despite being undefeated over their last ten games.

Frankly, the Vancouver Canucks don’t have real problems (besides a minority quasi-criminal element in the fan-base). What they have are the NHL equivalent of “first world problems,” or, “division wrapped up in mid-January problems.” Among these: the recent “power-outage” that has caused their league leading power-play unit to slump over the past 15 games.

The Canucks haven’t scored two powerplay goals in a game since they scored four (in eleven opportunities) against the Boston Bruins in early January. Following the game in Boston, the Canucks had scored 39 times on the power-play in 42 games. In the fifteen games since, they’ve only managed to add 7 powerplay goals to their cumulative total. What’s going on?

The most important point is that they’ve received significantly fewer powerplay chances over the past six weeks. Since their 11 opportunities against Boston, the Canucks have seen only 40 man advantage situations. That’s their lowest total over a 15-game stretch since the lockout (the next closest was a stretch from February 1st to March 3rd last season, where they only received 43 powerplay opportunities). In part, the decrease in opportunities received corresponds with a general, league-wide trend, but I’d suggest to you that there are other, unique factors at play as well.

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Drance Numbers: Does Luongo’s mileage matter more than his age?

Despite his recent run of incredible play, the Vancouver market remains habitually critical of Roberto Luongo. The chronic frustration with the team’s incumbent starter has led to numerous suggestions that the team keep young blue-chip netminder Cory Schneider, who’s still got that new car smell, and trade Luongo instead.

By now, the goalie controversy is old hat, so let’s give credit to Ed Willes for putting a novel spin on it yesterday, with an extremely interesting take in the Province. Willes’s column doesn’t rely on any hackneyed arguments about Luongo’s lack of “mental toughness,” but rather, suggests Luongo has accrued too much mileage, and that Gillis might be best served by sticking with the fresher legs in Cory Schneider.

Out of curiosity, I figured I’d test Willes’s central assumption: does the performance of an NHL goaltender fall off sharply after they eclipse the 20,000 shots-against mark?

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Drance Numbers: Investigating Cody Hodgson’s monster January

I don’t need to tell you that Cody Hodgson’s performance in the month of January was incredible. Cody Franchise picked up 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points and an “NHL Rookie of the Month” Award, catapulting himself into the Calder trophy discussion, something I considered a longshot as recently as 10 days ago.

It was also revealed yesterday on Twitter, that Chicago Wolves captain Nolan Baumgartner has a nickname for Hodgson. That nickname is Dr. Headson. Apparently “the Franchise” always knows what’s up with his teammate’s injuries.

It makes sense that a nerd like Hodgson would fancy himself a doctor: it fits in well with his poorly dressed, chess-master persona. Also, considering many Canuck fan’s summer obsession with finding “Vancouver’s answer to Mark Recchi,” it’s nice to finally have a doctor on the team.

The last four weeks of Hodgson’s rookie season have been an unmitigated, high-profile success. But looking at the underlying numbers, there is some pretty interesting stuff going on with Hodgson’s deployment, possession and on-ice percentages. I figured we’d delve into them, and look at what exactly happened with Hodgson in the first month of 2012.

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Drance Numbers: Does Mike Gillis think Travis Moen can suppress shooting percentage?

Since the Canucks’ defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals at the hands of the rough and tumble Boston Bruins, the acquisition of size and grit has become an obsession within the Canucks fanbase. (Obsession might even be under-selling it; the word “fetish” may well be more accurate). According to many, the team needs more of both, especially in the bottom six.

To this end, Travis Moen, who made up one third of the best checking line in recent memory alongside Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson on the 2007 Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, has become a favoured object of desire for fans of the team.

Yesterday morning on the team 1040, TSN’s Pierre Lebrun indicated that the Canucks were likely to take a long, hard look at the winger, now with the Montreal Canadiens. “When I look at the Canucks,” Lebrun said, “I think they’d like to add some grit in their bottom-six forward group. I look at a guy like Travis Moen… that’s the kind of guy they have their eye on. He’s a UFA July 1, so he’s your typical rental. A lot of teams like him. But I think Vancouver will be in that mix.”

Canuck fans got excited. As I’ve taken to saying, the Vancouver fanbase at the moment has a raging collective Moener.

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Drance Numbers: Chris Tanev’s demonic possession

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Chris Tanev’s legion-like possession skills.

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Drance Numbers: Alex Edler deserves the All-Star nod, but Dan Hamhuis deserves the Babe Pratt

When Alex Edler first came into the league, he quickly endeared himself to Canuck fans and management team with his calmness and ability to make smart passes in both zones. His development has accelerated over the past couple of seasons, and while he continues to struggle with his consistency at times, he’s become a top defenceman in the NHL. On Thursday morning, the league noticed, naming Edler to the 2011-12 NHL All-Star roster.

Edler has more tools than Inspector Gadget: at 6’4″, 210, he’s big, and when he has a mind to, he can hit like it; his shot is lethal, whether it’s a quick, accurate wrister or a high-velocity slapper; and his puck control occasionally causes me to drop my jaw, as if my jaw were hot. The 26 year old Swedish defenceman has channeled all these tools into a fabulous first half of the season. Edler is fourth in scoring, both on the Canucks and among all NHL defensemen, on pace to notch 13 goals and pile-up 55 points this season.

He’s emerged as an excellent defenseman and a deserving All-Star, but I’d suggest to you that he’s not the team’s most valuable blueliner. As Harrison Mooney wrote yesterday in his discussion of whether or not Alexander Edler was “the right choice” for the All-Star game, “Dan Hamhuis… has been the steadiest Canucks’ defenceman for well over a year now.” I tend to agree.

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Drance Numbers: Who is Alain Vigneault really sheltering?

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Alain Vigneault’s quickly zone start schemes.

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Drance Numbers: Andrew Ebbett’s better than you think

Andrew Ebbett is kind of a badass.

Every summer, Mike Gillis manages to find value in the unlikeliest of places on the free agent market. Whether he’s signing a diminutive offensive defenseman who provides the team with a game-winning goal (then promptly retires), a lanky, undrafted goalie who now looks poised to develop into an NHL regular, or a power-play ace like Aaron Rome, Gillis tends to the scrap heap efficiently and with care.

He’s become the NHL’s Wall-E.

Chris Tanev, Aaron Rome, Lee Sweatt, Eddie Lack, Jeff Tambellini, Alexander Sulzer and Aaron Volpatti are all names on the list of unheralded, seemingly undesirable Gillis recruits who have morphed into productive members of the team or into tantalizing prospects. This week, another castoff had his coming-out party, as the team was propelled to two big wins over the Sharks and the Oilers thanks in part to the contributions of Andrew Ebbett.

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Drance Numbers: Has Mason Raymond’s game changed since his injury?

About this there is no doubt: Mason Raymond has guts, and twice the testicular fortitude of Johnny Knoxville.

Even if you hold the schmaltz, it’s fair and accurate to describe his recovery and his performance following his return as inspiring. He’s filling in on nearly every forward line, dominating possession and generating a boatload of chances and offense.

But that’s all stuff that Raymond was doing during the last campaign as well, yet he was disappointing to the majority of Canucks fans. What’s different so far this year is that he’s scoring goals at a much higher rate than he did the season previous. So is he scoring goals because his game has “changed” since his return from injury? Now that is a more contentious issue.

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Drance Numbers: Bolland is hardly Sedin kryptonite

When Chicago Blackhawks’ defensive ace Dave Bolland referred to the Sedins with the hackneyed “Sisters” moniker this week, he set off a new wave of feeble trash-talk between the Vancouver and the original six club, who are something of a perpetual thorn in the Canucks side.

It was the latest chapter in an increasingly heated rivalry, not just between the two teams, but on an individual level between the Sedin brothers and Dave Bolland as well.

Every protagonist must have a foil, and the Sedins’ foil is undoubtedly Bolland. He’s the Rommel to their Patton, the Prince Joffrey to their Rob Stark. If you listen to Blackhawks fans (which, for the record, I don’t recommend doing), they’ll tell you a tale of how Dave Bolland “has the Sedins’ number” and how the twins “just can’t figure him out.”

Many in the media will probably tell you the same thing.

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Drance Numbers: What do we know about NHL goalies after fifty games?

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at what Cory Schneider’s first 50 games tell us about his future in the NHL.

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Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at the Canucks’ play versus the Blue Jackets, and whether the shot totals were indicative of lackadaisical defensive play.

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Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Mason Raymond’s reputation as a “perimeter player”.

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Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at the situations in which the Canucks are most likely to drop the gloves.

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Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Ryan Kesler’s remarkable special teams contributions.

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