Canucks 2012 Review - Scoring Chances (Part 1)

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 22: Dan Hamhuis #2, Manny Malhotra #27 and Chris Tanev #8 of the Vancouver Canucks skate off the ice after losing 2-1 in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena on April 22, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.The Kings eliminated the Canucks after winning the series 4-2. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

6 weeks or so have passed since the Canucks bitter and disappointing early playoff exit. After all, it has been 40+ years and counting! Gm Mike Gillis has made his decision, Coach Alain Vigneault is returning and has been rewarded with an extension. Now it's time to take a cold hard objective look at the team and try to determine,where do we go from here? To start the analysis, let's take a look behind the numbers at last season's team and individual possession & scoring chance stats right after the jump! And, its time for you to vote!

First, a quick reminder one of the theoretical tenants of advanced hockey stats analysis: 'Possession is Everything'.The more a team has puck possession the more likely (over time) they will create more scoring chances. The more scoring chances they create (over time) the more they will score. The more they score (over time) the more games they will win. Simple? Right? And, we use *Pos F (during 5 on 5 close games) or Pos F (during all 5 on 5 play) as a proxy for puck possession. It is calculated as {shots for+misses shots for/ total shots + total missed shots). Team *Pos F ratios range from ~40% to 60%. With elite teams at 54%+ - and average teams obviously at 50%. Lets start, by looking at the Canucks possession numbers over the last 2 years.

*Pos. F League Rnk.
2011-12 51.4% 8th
2010-11 53.4% 4th

As I pointed out back in Feburary, The Canucks 2012 had regressed when compared to Canucks 2011 & could no longer be considered an elite team despite their impressive W/L record and subsequent second straight PT. I pointed out in that article that the underlying numbers pointed to the failure of MIke Gillis to replace C. Ehrhoff as a the major factor for the possession drop. Essentially, the Canucks replaced Ehrhoff, a top 2 D who logged a boat load of tough minutes, with S. Salo/A. Rome/ and later C Tanev, all depth defencemen, who had not show they could play the tough minutes Gillis and the team expected from them. In addition, these obvious facts (at least to me) were not noticed or reported as most media and followers decided to instead accept the company line - "We won't miss Ehrhoff" - as proclaimed so confidently last Sept. by the captain H Sedin.

However, it is good to know that finally others are now realizing the Gm's critical misjudgment. Also, I concluded that the Canucks other top 3 D would be forced to carry the load and could tire as a result . What we knew about the Canucks 2011 is that the team generated a significant amount of offensive pressure and push from their D moving forward. This takes extra energy and puts even more stress on the defence. I feel that we saw this play out this year. Salo couldn't handle the extra minutes and Edler especially looked overwhelmed and tired with the extra load and without Ehrhoff's puck carrying abilities.The Canucks D as a whole, down the stretch stopped their aggressive push forward, instead, playing a more conservative and ultimately less successful style.

From the Sharks terrific blog Fear the Fin, we can look at the Canuck's possession numbers over the season here:

As we can see The Canucks had their major drop mid-season. Possible causes are the emotional crash after 'the Bruins battle' as Gm Gillis suggested. There was also the loss of Salo to a concussion at this time.The team also had to play a grueling schedule in February. The key point is - the team didn't ever regain their previous form & the Ehrhoff absence and its effects as I explained could not be overcome.

Let's now take a look at how the Canucks did in the all-important department - scoring chances.

To review:.A definition of a scoring chance (from the informative Oiler Blog Copper and Blue):

{: a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score}.

Scoring Chances TCF TCA TCF/gm TCA/gm TCD/gm TC%
Even Strength
1029 1012 12.5 12.3 .2
.50.4%

{Chances taken from from the website JetsNation -tabulated by Canucks Army who deserve big credit for tracking them all year!}.

It's clear the Canucks' paid' for their drop in possession and as expected their even strength scoring chances reflected this. In Terms of scoring chances at even strength:

The Canucks were basically an average team creating ~ only one extra scoring chance for every 5 games over the course of the season.

Still The Canucks managed to outperform the percentages on the scoreboard by a substantial amount. They outscored their scoring chance rate by almost 5% posting a 55% GF/GA at even strength.

How did they do this? They ranked 4th in the league in shooting %. There are four possible reasons for this: i)The Canucks players have a better than average skill at converting scoring chances ii) The Canucks generate higher than average" type" of scoring chances( i.e. more rebounds/breakaways two on ones), and/or iii) the Canucks benefited from playing against less skilled goaltending, iv) The Canucks shooters received above average luck this past year.

On the defensive side, the team was 3rd best in save %. Again we have a few possible reasons, i) Canucks Goalies performed very well and were asked to do a lot of heavy work. ii) The Canucks gave up a fewer amount of higher 'type' scoring chances- not a fact confirmed from my observation iii) The Canucks goalies received above average luck.

Now let's turn to individual performances.Let's start with the Forwards:

I will use full Pos. F numbers (during all 5 on 5 situations) so we can directly compare them to scoring chances during all 5 on 5 play.

Forwards Pos. F ( 5 on 5)
Daniel Sedin 57%
Ryan Kesler 56%
Alexandre Burrows
56%
Henrik Sedin 56%
David Booth 56%
Chris Higgins 54%
Jannik Hansen 50%
Mason Raymond 49%
Maxim Lapierre 44%
Dale Weise 44%
Manny Malhotra 39%

{Stats taken from Hockeyanalysis.com}

No surprises here:

  • The top 6 have the best %'s
  • The fourth line guys are at the bottom

As expected we see a strong correlation with individual even strength scoring chance numbers:

Forwards Ch. (%) CF/15 CA/15 CF/shift CA/shift CD/shift (QofC)/Rnk. Ozone
David Booth 56% 4.7 3.8 24% 19% +5% .410 (53rd) 58%
Christopher Higgins 55% 4.6 3.7 23% 19% +4% .960 (16th) 46%
Henrik Sedin 55% 4.4 3.6 22% 18% +4% .330 (62nd) 79%
Daniel Sedin 55% 4.2 3.5 21% 18% +4% .360 (59th) 80%
Ryan Kesler 54% 4.4 3.8 22% 19% +3% .580 (39th) 48%
Alexandre Burrows 53% 4.1 3.7 21% 19% +2% .570 (40th) 74%
Mason Raymond 53% 4.2 3.8 21% 19% +2% .480 (48th) 60%
Cody Hodgson 51% 3.6 3.4 18% 17% +1% ?? 52%
Average Forward 51% 3.9 3.7 19% 18% +1% 51%
Jannik Hansen 49% 3.7 3.8 18% 19% -1% .780 (26th) 40%
Maxim Lapierre 42% 2.8 3.9 14% 20% -6% .000 (77th) 22%
Manny Malhotra 37% 2.4 4.0 12% 20% -8% .490 (47th) 13%
Dale Weise 37% 2.1 3.5 11% 18% -7% -.580 (90th) 21%

  • CF/shift means that David Booth had ~ a 1 in 4 chance of being on the ice for a scoring chance each shift he took.
  • CA/shift - Ryan Kesler was on the ice for ~1 scoring chance against in every 5 shifts.
  • CD/shift - Cody Hodgson's Canuck performance was equivalent to an average team forward as Cody was on the ice for ~ 1 extra chance every 10 games he played in Vancouver.Not bad as a 21 year old.
  • Quality of Competition - Christopher Higgins .966 means he was the Canuck that played against the toughest opposing players (QofC is rated by players possession stats) & the 16th means he was in the top 16% out of the 300 forwards who played 60+ GP in the league last year.
  • Dale Weise played against the easiest opposing competition
  • Again the top forwards chance totals rank as we would expect from top 6 to fourth liners.
  • Chris Higgins season is looking better and better
  • David Booth had a surprisingly strong year in terms of possession and scoring chances.
  • Coach Av might have 'overstated Ryan Kelser's 'bad year' -{more to follow}.
  • Unfortunately, I was not able to separate Cody's QofC for his time in Vancouver but it can be assumed he played against below average competition as is usual with younger players. This would help explain his otherwise impressive low 17% chance against total.

However, to get a truer picture of the scoring chance story we need to adjust the possession and chance numbers based on offensive zone starts.Obviously, if a player starts a large part of his shifts in the offensive zone say like Henrik Sedin at 79%. he will have an inflated Pos. F number and subsequently better scoring chance numbers.

So, there needs to be an adjustment. The first adjustment is ozone starts to higher Pos. F events.It is accepted and agreed to be ~ 1 ozone start =.6 extra Pos F. event {taken from the leagendary Vic Ferrari}. So, Henrik's 423 extra ozone starts means his Pos F totals are inflated by ~250 events. I have made this adjustment to all Canuck forwards and the results are below:

Forwards (*Ozone) Adj. Pos.F Diff. (.Adj. Pos. F /Pos.F)
Ryan Kesler 56% 0%
Chris Higgins 55% +1%
Manny Maholtra*
55% +16%
David Booth 54% -2%
Jannik Hansen 52% +2%
Maxim Lapierre 52% +8%
Dale Weise 50% +6%
Alex Burrows 48% -8%
Daniel Sedin 47% -8%
Henrik Sedin 47% -9%
Mason Raymond 47% -2%

This list is very revealing. It shows clearly which players have the tougher load to carry.and, provides us a truer picture of player performance.

  • Manny Maholtra did an admirable job given his task. His high adj. Pos. F number is not unexpected. As a check, I looked at his last season in San Jose in 2010. Manny only had 45% ozone starts and had a solid 52.5% Pos.F rating and when you make the adj for ozone starts it comes to 55% - the same total as last year. Of course, there is still a question as to if his eye injury is still impacting his his playmaking ability but as far as puck possession for /against he performed above expectations.
  • Kesler and Higgins move to the top and this is even more impressive when you consider Higgins and to a lesser extent Kesler's difficult QofC numbers.
  • By the numbers, there is no other conclusion then to say that the Sedins underperformed this past year. They ought to be generating higher Pos numbers given there extreme ozone advantage. For example, Pavel Datsyuk had a league leading Pos. F rating of 60.5% with only 55% ozone starts which adjusted becomes 59% a full 12 % above the twins!

Our final task is to calculated the expected or adjusted chances totals from the adjusted possession numbers. Precisely, how much of an adjustment to use is a matter that's currrently open to debate in the advanced stats community. On the low side is David Johnson of hockeyanalysis.com. His adjustment would amount to only ~10% less scoring chances (or 4 goals) for the Sedins 80% ozone starts. On the other end there is Derek Zona at Copper and Blue and George Ays of Rangers Banter who suggest a ~ 43% adjustment. My results come down the middle at ~ 23% .

{I decided to use a two-step approach. First, I used the .6 adjustment mentioned above to move from ozone to extra Pos F events. Then, I calculated an expected scoring chance/Pos. F ration as follows: The scoring chance rate of the Canucks team / total Pos F for. - or, 2625/1025 =~ .39. I also checked The Twins individual numbers & came to the same .39 number. So, putting it all together Henrik's +423 extra ozone starts * .6 = 253 extra Pos F events *.39 =~100 extra chances.} And, .6*.39 gives us a .234 adjustment for Ozone starts to scoring chances.

Here are the Canucks adjusted scoring chance numbers.

Forwards Adj.Ch. (%) Adj.CF/15 Adj.CA/15 Adj.CF/shift Adj.ChA/shift Adj.CD/shift
Christopher Higgins 56% 4.6 3.6 23% 18% +5%
Ryan Kesler 54% 4.4 3.7 22% 18% +4%
David Booth
54% 4.4 3.8 22% 19% +3%
Jannik Hansen 52% 3.7 3.5 19% 17% +2%
Maxim Lapierre 51% 2.8 2.7 14% 13% +1%
Mason Raymond 51% 3.9 3.8 19% 19% 0%
Cody Hodgson 50% 3.4 3.4 17% 17% 0%
Henrik Sedin 46% 3.1 3.6 16% 18% -2%
Daniel Sedin 46% 3. 3.5 15% 18% -3%
Alexandre Burrows 45% 3. 3.7 15% 18% -3%
Dale Weise 45% 2 2.5 10% 13% -3%

  • It's official! Chris Higgins had the best season of any Canuck forward at even strength while facing the toughest opposition!
  • Ryan Kesler is close behind in team value and performance. When you also factor in Ryan's strong pk & faceoff % and by the numbers, he actually had a strong year relative to other forwards.

These clear results are in stark contrast to the voiced opinions of both coach's AV and Gm Mike Gillis and their recent Kesler bashing. It's generally accepted that the Canuck Brass is ahead of the curve in knowledge and use of advance stats. From this study, either this 'fact' is grossly overstated or Kesler is being used unfairly as a scapegoat. Further proof can be found in Kelser's box score numbers:

Before his shoulder injury Kelser played 49 games and was on pace for:


30 goals and 33 assists (based on 82 games played)

No! not as good as last year but considering he was coming off a major injury and came back early it can be considered a strong year.

After the injury in 26 games Kesler scored just 4 goals and 11 points. By the numbers, I would say that the injury clearly impacted Kesler's offensive output!

The simple fact is Kesler's goal scoring pace and strong possession numbers don't match in any way with the coach's harsh and unfair criticism of his play. I would gladly take - 30 goals 63 points from a second line center in today's lower scoring NHL environment. In addition, Kesler posted strong possession numbers and contributed to the team with PK and faceoff %. Also Kesler with Selke trophy ability can be matched head to head against the other teams best. For example, Kelser, by my numbers, and even with a injured shoulder, was the only forward in the playoffs able to play the Kings Anze Kopitar even in H 2 H scoring chances.

  • In contrast there has been very little criticism in the media and by fans of the Sedins and Burrows for their poor year. It seems IMO that Vancouver still is a town that has trouble separating great guys and great players placing more emphasis on personality over player performance!
  • Jannik Hansen has the underlying numbers to be a top 6 forward. At the very least, its time to give him more playing time with the Twins, some extra ozone starts, and second line power play.Or, better yet, time to get an offensive -minded third center for him to play with. It is a very thin free agent crop with the best choice by the numbers, and by salary, being possession dynamo Kyle Wellwood although I doubt he would return to play with Av. Still, it is reasonable that Jannik could project to score 20 goals. He is a has a good 52% adjusted possession, with a high Qof C (28th) . This is also why I petitioned for him to play on the top line with Daniel out last year. In the two games he played he performed well - even hitting a goalpost I believe early in game three, which could have change the tide of the low scoring series!

That's it! How did you initial evaluations match up with the underlying numbers? As usual all feedback is welcomed and appreciated! Next up the defence. then the rest of the forwards.

{As an aside, For further interesting study/reading on the importance of Quality of Competition and Ozone starts check out Rob Vollman's excellent recent publication Player Usage Charts the latest edition to the 'cool' advanced stat library.

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