Behind the Numbers: Canucks 2012 vs. Canucks 2011?

The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a Wilderness. (H.Ellis)

So what's really wrong with the Canucks? Is this slide just a temporary swoon? More importantly, are the 2012 Canucks as good as last year's team and ready for another long cup run? Over the very long season there are obviously peaks and valleys but we have now reached the 70 game mark, sufficient time for most good/bad bounces to level out. The trading deadline has passed so this is pretty much, 'the team'? Does it have what it takes? Putting our emotions aside, it is time to see what the Advanced Hockey Stats (ADS) say about this year's squad. And, it's time for you to vote. Continue after the jump.

Let's start by comparing the Canucks key *Pos.(F) numbers (during **close games 5 on 5)

*Pos(F) is a key stat in advanced hockey analysis. (F) stands for Fenick numbers, which are the total shots attempted at the net excluding blocked shots (Total Shots + Missed Shots) Pos(F) is a % (Total Shots + Missed Shots)/(Total Shots Against + Missed Shots Against) It correlates very well to winning hockey and winning cups.
Pos.(F) is used as a proxy for possession since the more shot attempts a team has means they have the puck more. This advantage in puck possession leads to more scoring chances which (in time) lead to more goals than your opponent. And, of course more goals means more wins and ultimately a cup win.

**Close games 5 on 5 are games that are tied, or when one team is leading by a goal in the first or second period. We use stats from close games (5 on 5)- because teams change the way they play according to the score and time of the game (called score effects) and hence this change in the way they play distorts the statistical output . 5 on 5 is used because this the state most of the game is played at, and these stats are more repeatable, predictive of wins and of overall team strength and therefore have the most value.

Key Stats 5 on 5 close games

Canucks Pos(F) Shot(D) Goal(D) Sve.%
(last yr.) 54% 53% 55% .904
(this yr.) 52% 50% 52% .918
(dif +/-) -2% -2.7% -3.1% -.014

(stats from: behind the net )

There is a clear and significant downgrade across the board. Most importantly, Pos.(F) is down noticeably. To put these results in perspective lets breakdown the stats further highlighting the offensive and defensive components into F/A and compare the Canucks to league rankings:

Canucks Pos.(F) Shots(F) Shots(A) Goals(F) Goals(A) Sve.%
(last yr.) 4th 7th 13th 8th 6th 6th
(this yr.) 9th 12th 21st 3rd 21st 21st
(Dif.+/-) -5 -5 -8 +5 -15 -15

Ouch! As you can see it's not a pretty sight. The Canucks are no longer a dominant team. Most depressingly, they have fallen to the bottom third of the league in defensive stats.This deteriorating defensive play is the major difference from last year's team. It should be a a great cause of concern for fans and the team's 'Cup Dreams'.

Sometimes, a team plays well defensively but shabby goaltending does them in. However, most fans and media observers feel that the Canucks goalies have both played as well or even better than last year (putting aside the last few games,where Luongo has let in a few Mc'Softies). Although this year's drop in save % doesn't support this view, there are two additional facts to consider:

1. We can safely assume the Canucks are giving up more quality chances than last year. Canuck opponents have the puck more and the team's lower Pos.(F) number confirms this. As well, The Canucks's Shots Against have risen accordingly now directly correlating with Goals Against and Sve%. As a result, the quality and quantity of the scoring chances this year is so high that our strong goaltending can no longer bail the weak defensive play out.

2. The Canucks are not blowing teams out as much, therefore, the goalies play this year has more value to the team, hence they receive more accolades when they play well, and and more blame when they don't. (This was also the case in last year's playoffs when the Canucks played a high number of close games and offered Luongo only 2.30 GF in goal support. By comparison Timmy 'MVP' Thomas received a whopping 3.10)

So, if we can agree that goaltending has not been the main problem this year that leaves the skaters. Let's look at the key players individual Pos(F) stats separated into forwards/ and defencemen (again during close games 5 on 5):

Top 6 Forwards Pos.(F)
10/11 11/12 (+/-)
Kesler 58.5% 56.5% (-2%)
Samuelsson/Booth 56.5% 57% (+.5%)
Raymond/Higgins 56% 58% (+2%)
H.Sedin 53% 55.5% (+2.5%)
D.Sedin 54% 56.5% (+2%)
A.Burrows 52% 53.7% (1.7%)
Total Top 6 ----- ------ (+7.2%)

(stats from : Hockey Analysis)

Here we see that the Canucks Top 6 forwards are definitely not the cause of the this year's downgrade. In fact, collectively, from a possession point of view, they are significantly better than last year. Gillis deserves credit for the upgrade - Higgins is a beast, and may be the most underpaid player in the league (along with Burrows) and would be my MVP on the team if he didn't get sick. In possession terms, the Sedins/Burrows have actually improved. (A small part of this can be attributed to increase Ozone starts(~74% to 79%). However, these numbers are already adjusted and there is an ongoing debate just how much this effect is.

Yes! the Twins production are down, and are slumping from a producing point of view. But, all great scorers go through this. Jarome Ignila has gone through notoriously long periods of not producing yet he is in the 500 club and a first ballot 'Hall of Famer'. In addition, the Sedins PDO numbers this year have come down from three year's unattainable level (~1037) to levels closer to expected levels (~1015). The net result is the Sedins are just fine and controlling the puck as always, and the least of the Canucks problems.(*To A.V. - Please remove Raymond from the 1st line..........)

So, If the key forwards are not responsible, lets look at are key defenders: Reader Warning!!!

Pos.(F) Top 4 10/11 11/12 (+/-)
D.Hamhuis 55% 53% (-2%)
K. Bieska 54% 53% (-1%)
A. Edler 54% 50% (-4%)
C. Ehrhoff/S.Salo 54% 52% (-2%)
Total Top 4 ---- ---- (-10%)

This is very scary! Every player has dipped, with Edler being the most drastic. Newsflash:

The Canucks miss Christian Ehrhoff! - I repeat - The Canucks (especially Edler) really miss Ehrhoff!

Surprisingly, this has not been mentioned much in the media or by fans.The general consensus is that Ehrhoff has not performed well in Buffalo. This assertion is open to debate, however, it is irrelevant when assessing the merits of a trade from Vancouver's point of view:

When a player is traded two things matter most:

  • What value does the player being traded have "to your team" and to other teammates (i.e. the 'synergy 'effect)
  • What is the value of the players you can replace traded player with?

To the first point, its clear that when the Canucks traded Ehrhoff they greatly underestimated the impact this would have on the Top 4, especially Edler, his primary partner. To the second point, the Canucks attempted to replaced a clear Top 2 D-man from within the team and with older depth defencemen (Salo/Rome).

I'm trying to be fair to Canucks management and waited all year for a move which never came. The Canucks ought to have been keenly aware that Edler and the other top 4 d-men have not been able to perform near last year's levels, and in fact have regressed. It is not like Gillis to leave such a critical element exposed. Still now, based on the advanced stats, we can say that Gillis's decision or failure not to sign Ehrhoff (ideally a year earlier, before the K. Ballard trade), or get a quality replacement for him, could turn out to be the biggest mistake of his tenure.

Frankly, I do not understand it. Even if you argue that Tanev could be part of the solution, it is a stretch at the present time as he is a raw rookie going into the playoffs. At the very least Tanev should have been playing with the big club all year to get him ready for the upcoming battle. We can also see the critical loss of Ehrhoff to the defense by looking at the Tough Minutes played (again close games 5 On 5):

Top 3 'Tough Minutes(TM)' 10/11 11/12 (+/-)
D.Hamhuis 605 min. 645 min. (+40)min.
K.Bieska 620 min. 675 min. (+55) min.
A.Edler 480 min. 605 min. (+125 min.)
Total Top 3(TM) ---- --- (+220)min.

As you can see, each of the returning Top 3 have already played more 'Tough Minutes'. This is because each player missed significant time due to injury last year.

Let's also look at the workload of the other defender spot:

"Tough Minutes" (TM) 10/11 11/12 (+/-)
(C.Ehrhoff - S.Salo/A.Rome) 750 min. 560 min. -190 min.

Notice that the Top 3 have also picked up the Tough Minutes that the replacements (Salo/Rome) couldn't play. We can also see that Ehrhoff was a horse. He logged big time minutes with a top rated Pos.(F) number and made his partner better. And, he quarterbacked the power play; need I say more! And all his numbers and possession totals are even more impressive when you consider the demands the Canucks place on their defenseman by playing an up-tempo game where the defense is continually pushing forward.This point also needs to be considered moving ahead as it is asking alot for our D to continue play the up-tempo game for another two months of playoffs (hopefully) with all the Tough Minutes that lie ahead.

One last table that just adds to the growing dark outlook:

"Tough Minutes" (TM) 08/09 09/10 10/11 11/12
S.Salo (in regulation play)
412 min. 455 min. 230 min. 430 min ... and counting!

How much more can we expect of Sammy? Will Tanev as a raw rookie play top 4 minutes? Will Rome move from a fringe 7th defencemen , channel his inner Garth Butcher and play in the top 4?


Sometimes a very good player becomes a great player when he finds a 'perfect fit' for his style of play. Christian Ehrhoff was that player. Keeping him would have been very challenging (cap wise) especially after,"The Keith Ballard Blunder." Still, The Canucks have not replaced his critical value and according to this analysis, the team's dominance has fallen off accordingly as a direct result of his departure.

There is good reasons that winning the cup is the toughest trophy in sports.Traditionally, on the defensive side, a Norris-quailty offensive D-men, or a shutdown stud is necessary to anchor a cup winner: (Stevens, Neidermayer, Pronger, Lidstrom ,Chara). Gm Mike Gillis held a different vision.and decided on a different approach.The plan - Take 4 'B' grade defenders play them equally and play an up-tempo style. Last year with a dominant team, it almost worked (save for key injuries). This year, after losing Ehrhoff he choose not to address this void even while holding, then trading away, a valuable asset in Cody Hodgson. As a result, the Canucks overall record setting dominance has been lost along with their Pos (F) numbers and most glaringly the team's strong defensive numbers and play has plummeted. This has in turn put additional pressure on the goalies. Somehow, in Vancovuer's over saturated hockey market, the loss of Ehrhoff has gone unnoticed or dismissed by most fans and media. Once again showing the value of advanced hockey stats. By the numbers, it appears we are moving farther away from the big prize. In the next post we will see just how far as we take a look at what it takes be a cup winner and also breakdown the ever- present, ever-pending goaltender controversy.

Do you agree/disagree? Tell us what you think?

*All stats from and

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