Blue & Green Machine: Are the Canucks a contender?

Derek Leung

With just 2 weeks left to go in the regular season, how do the Canucks stack up against the rest of the field?

With the exception of Saturday afternoon's sloppy outing against the Avalanche, the Canucks have been rolling since the trade deadline acquisition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler. As fans we've been treated to a taste of what this group is capable of when healthy. So how optimistic should we be heading into the playoffs?

Time and again, puck possession has proved to be the best metric to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Courtesy of Eric. T at Broad Street Hockey, since it actively started being tracked in 2007-08, the team with the best overall Fenwick rating (the fancy word for possession) has reached the Stanley Cup Finals 4 out of 5 years, and crowned as champions 3 of those times. If you're a visual person, Chris Boyle at Eyes on the Prize created a graphic guide showing a team's Fenwick rating correlating to how far they went in the playoffs.

If you were at all skeptical of the correlation between "fancy stats" like Fenwick and on-ice results, well, those two pieces speak for themselves.

So, looking at the Canucks through the lens of possession and ignoring other areas such as the power play and face-offs (which are both obviously important, but not nearly as much as even strength play), what do we see and what does it mean? Some notes:

  • The Canucks sit 5th in the league in "FenTied", a team's Fenwick rating when the score is tied. A tied game state is an ideal measure because it doesn't include teams playing desperate from behind or sitting on a comfortable lead. The Canucks control 53.26% of the on-ice shot attempts when tied, and anything over 53% is considered elite.

  • The team sitting directly above them in FenTied? The St. Louis Blues. If the Canucks meet them in the first round, it will be the third straight season they've played a dominant possession team in the first round. That's just rotten luck. The Minnesota Wild on the other hand are 23rd in the league in FenTied, making them an infinitely more desirable opponent.

  • When the Canucks are down by a goal, they have a 59.80% Fenwick rating, good for 2nd in the league behind the Chicago Blackhawks. That's exceptional, but the startling thing is that when you flip it and look at their rating when up by a goal, their rating plummets to 46.02%, good for 16th in the league. That discrepancy is shockingly large, and validates the criticism that Alain Vigneault is too conservative with the lead.
  • In Vigneault's defence, he has been dealing with a depleted lineup for much of the season, which often forces a coach to go into a defensive shell with the lead. Since the addition of Roy and Kesler's return, the Canucks have been better at maintaining an uptempo game in all situations.
  • The teams hovering around Vancouver in the possession rankings are a who's who of Stanley Cup contenders: LA, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, and St. Louis. Pittsburgh is a bit lower down, but they're still over 51% in FenTied. LA is on another planet than any other team — if they can get decent goaltending in the playoffs they're going to be very difficult to take down in 7 games.
  • * * *

    In 2011 when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Finals they were 4th in the league during the regular season in FenTied at 53.55%. Right now they're 5th at 53.26%, a negligible difference. Injuries and an ailing power play have hurt them this year, but this is still a very strong even strength team, and those are the teams that have success in the spring.

    I think the numbers give a pretty fair representation of where the Canucks sit as we get close to the playoffs: they're a notch below LA and Chicago, and about even with St. Louis in the West. The team is well-equipped to play just about anyone, but some favourable match-ups unlike the ones they've seen in years past certainly wouldn't hurt.

    Playing the Wild instead of the Blues in the first round would be a great place to start.

    All data pulled from behindthenet.ca.

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