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So You're Saying There's A Chance?

On the eve of a new season unlike any one in years, with a coaching change, new players, a new "old" player on a "redemption mission", and a sense of excitement unseen on the Left Coast Of Hockey in a while, you'll have to excuse the pundits, talking heads, and ex players and old GM's and coaches that now pass for "experts" for their wildly differing views of how the Canucks will do this year. I kind of like the team being a "dark horse" this year, how about you?

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Rich Lam

Of course, as a fan and lifetime follower of said team, you always hope that the ultimate goal for your team is the one that ends with a Shiny Silver Thing and wildly fun looking parades and whatnot.  That goes without saying.  Why else would you be following said team, right? Is there a chance? Well, that depends on who you ask.

We all know that the media in most of the markets, for sure in the Canadian markets, and almost definitely the major US ones as well ( see Boston, 2011 ), all have their share of "cheerleaders" or "sage voices of reason". ( and a third category of "wind charms", where the message, positive or negative, varies according to whim, pique,emotion, or maybe just some imagined slight from a coach to some reporter, who knows!? ) who will tell you both what you want to know, and what you might not.

It is like the yin and yang of sports coverage in general, and, just like political coverage, you sort of know what you are getting by where you are getting it from. Part of the fun, right?  In such a passionate sport as hockey,( all of The Big Four are similar, of course, but hockey has a particularly pure strain ), stats, logic, and just plain "screw that guy" pontificating have produced a Golden Age of following and reading about your team.  Add in blogs, like ours and others, and the venues are seemingly endless, as are the outlooks on any particular team in ant particular year.

But in this year, for sure, I cannot remember such a wildly varying degree of punditry as it relates to the Vancouver Canucks.  Whether it is the National Writers and Networks ( the experts, cheerleader or otherwise ) basically ignoring or reacting to all the many changes in Vancouver with their own bias ( again, imagined or otherwise ), and looking at the folks involved and writing them off, for whatever reason.  The most popular position for the Canucks seems to be 3rd in the Pacific, or, in some places, battling with the Oilers for that last couple spots in the playoffs. Most TV talking heads I have watched recently give the Canucks not much chance of that and a fairly quick exit in the playoffs. Those same talking heads seem to be saying more positive things about the Oilers this year instead.

The Oilers.  ( and here is one of their more homer-iffic writers ( and one of the more homery type papers in the Oil capital ) quoting a "survey" of NHL players themselves saying they will be a "powerhouse" in three years. So what do I know, right?

There is a lot of talent that comes with long time suckage in the NHL. It is the "Hawks" model, and the "Penguins" model too. Now, there is no Sidney Crosby in Edmonton at the moment, and a great many players who could lay claim to being a "Johnny Toews" type player on other teams before you would get to the Oil ( Taylor Hall could be that, but he just isn't, you know? At least to me ).  They are a good young team, sure. Until and when they actually win on the ice, so are the Avs, Panthers, Lightning.

I would humbly remind everyone that not every team has made it on this route, and the Panthers, for instance, have a helluva lot of young talent coming as well. The Avs could lay claim to the "scary young team" title before the Oilers as well.  But none of them seem to be getting that ink.  Maybe they just need a better press agent, or a Canadian address! There are many in the Maple Leaf Puck Media Union that have a similar opinion of their own Canadian "young" team, for what that is worth.

A team of, yes, young stars perhaps one day reaching team critical mass and taking off.  I am not writing this to slag said team in comparison to the proven "best team in Canada" ( That IS the Canucks, no matter how many articles, and talking head spots are devoted to the "window closing in Vancouver, at least until they no longer are proven to be so on the ice ) in the past five years. I would also point to the relative records would not bear out such rosy assertions being hailed as inevitable.  One team was the best record wise, and the other, not.  By a wide margin!

Youth and it's charms are not without merits and belief, but let's at least try to be circumspect, alright? One only need to look at where they finished the last three to five years with a modicum of reality. Or at how they did against the teams they have to beat to reach those lofty heights.  Results are supposed to matter.

One place that always seems to ignore the prevailing winds is Las Vegas and the gaming industry. ( only play with what you can spare, please gamble responsibly, if you do at all! ;-)  For instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs are, according to Bodog ( who does a fair amount of biz in Canada, if their ad buys are to be trusted! ) an 18 to 1 shot to win the Cup this year, narrowly behind the Canucks, Canada's best pick according to them, at 16 to 1, and just ahead of the team in the Oil Patch at 20 to 1( going to get a lot of those Fort Mac dollars with that enticement, eh Bodog? ) .

But a more mercenary odds setter(, is just one example of those myriad of companies with addresses in offshore places places like Antigua. ) has the Canucks as a 14 to 1 favorite for the Big Shiny Thing, with the Leafs only matching the Oilers at 30 to 1.

Check this one, a list of Britain's ( and let's face it, they've been doing this "fleecing us of our money by betting on sports" for quite some time! ) 24 bookmakers, for even more perspective.  The Canucks are anywhere from a 14 to 1 to 18 to 1 favorite, again Canada's best.  Montreal ( only a 28 to 1 shot according to Bodog, but a 20 to 1 at Sportsbook ) are anything from an 18 to 1 to a 25 to 1 in the eyes of the oldest bookmaking companies on the planet, who feel similarly about the Leafs, who vary anywhere from 16 to 1 to 25 to 1 according to the "shops" of the United Kingdom.  Those "shops" most sunny prediction is a 21 to 1 for a bet on the Oilers, but the vast majority are in the 25-35 range, and three will give you 40 to 1 for a wager on the youth thing finally working out this year in Edmonchuck.

Again, they want your money. But they are not stupid either. Their very survival is contingent on winning the bet from you more often than you win against them  Click around those links, and you'll see that the Canucks are about the 4th favorite in the West for the Stanley Cup.  That is not bad considering the "window is closing", or the doom and gloomers on how the goaltending in Vancouver is so "dramatic", or something.  Certainly, they are more optimistic about the teams based on "results" and less on "drama". I do think that a 4th favorite is certainly plausible. Hell, the Kings were a longer shot than that when they won, and they are now an overwhelming fave this year over the defending Cup champion Hawks, who are a far bigger favorite in bookies' minds in comparison to what the "experts" are prognosticating on the league's own website! ( See immediately below )

Let's see how the folks at the mothership went. itself. Their "experts"  include most the staff of the NHL Tonight NHL Network bunch, as well as the usual writers at the website. Some of those do time as writers and NHL Network team talking heads, and have varying degrees of punditry "cred". ( Hell, Melrose also works for ESPN, and one of their guys has the Coyotes over the Penguins this year! At least Melrose is no Scott Burnside! ) All of them, but for one writer and one analyst picking the Ducks, have the Kings or Sharks winning the Pacific, and if a Cup Winner comes from the West, it is the Kings, Sharks, Blues, or ( surprising as hell to me, with only one vote of all of them for repeating ) Hawks.

That's fine. We know that the Canucks sometimes don't get a lot of love from folks with mostly New York area codes. And we already know they are only a 3rd or 4th fave in the bookies' eyes )  That's OK, they're all Eastern buggers that just don't get us, right?  Surely the Eastern Canadian types have a bit more rosy outlook...maybe?

Well, not really. The QMI folks ( basically the Sun papers back East in Canada ) all have a varying degree of belief in the West winning a Cup, and if they do, those same noted suspects are the winners, although Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun thinks that Torts can lead the Canucks to another President's Trophy, but then he also has Douin winning the Calder ( maybe that pick was before he got sent down? ). No matter. A bit more respect for the team, right? ( Sidenote, the Oilers are by far the most popular pick for "most improved, or "team that makes a leap this year" from all of them. Ahhhh...youth! )

The Globe and Mail. The very name reeks of august opinion. ( #lol ) Of their six chosen "experts" for this exercise, all have the Kings of Los Angeles as the winner in the Pacific.  David Ebner has the Canucks losing out to said Kings in the West Final, at least, though he is the only one with such a positive outlook for the team.  ( interestingly enough, all six have a West coach as COTY, with James Mirtle high on the Oilers coach Dallas Eakins for that award.

The local writers have weighed in as the season nears, with the Province and Sun both taking the varied and often entertaining variety of opinion from the "pound for pound" most ravenous hockey media market in the NHL.  Such is life in the big city, and that is what comes with playing in Vancouver, as they say. From Mr Gallagher using that oily charm while using one line in that article, and a finely honed sense of disdain to dismiss the home team before a puck has been dropped, to PITB giving FTF the perfectly fine opportunity to dismiss, troll, and even, yes, laugh a little as we jump into the Pacific Division. For the record, I loved the meta of it myself, and did not take it as seriously as I am sure the commenters in the story must have!

I imagine if you asked them, they'd be somewhere in the 3rd in the West that seems to be the relative consensus. Going safe is never a bad thing.  The Sharks and Kings are certainly good looking teams, and the Blues and maybe Ducks are all great picks, even if some are dismissing the Cup winner Hawks far more than the bookies this year. That is before you even get to the Coyotes, Wild, Predators et al that are all making their own bid to make the Oilers, Avalanche and other up and comers wait one more year.

No one really knows with your team this year Canuck fans. Sure. They are one of the best teams over a fair amount of time stats wise. So what?  They've lost two straight first round series when expectations coming out of 2011 were sky high.  Does it matter that in the last in the three and roughly a half years of hockey in the NHL, your team has been one of the best in the regular season? Perhaps. How about against their Conference?

In the West, it breaks down as the Canucks being, yes, excellent against the Northwest at 62-22-6.  Now, that might be gaudy, but the Canucks' record against the "Big Boy Hockey" ( pat pending ) Pacific Division in that same time period is 41-24-10.  Seventeen games over ".500" aint chicken feed either, and it compares even better when you look at how the Canucks did against what was, arguably, a more powerful division during that time in the Central at an almost identical 42-22-11.

Now, I am the first of Canuck observers to say that they were not good enough in the playoffs those last two go arounds. The result speaks for itself, and it certainly was not the desired one. That is why there is a new coach,right? There is definitely a new attitude to playing that comes with this particular coach, one that cannot  ( but seemingly is every day, as the media seems to be playing the "when will Torts blow up" as they play the one tidbit he gave them about cellphones ad nauseam ) really be quantified until it happens. That is where the excitement is. But looking at the recent past, Torts has a pretty good team to mold...

Look at those numbers above. In the three and a half years against the West, the Canucks are 145 - 68 - 27.  That period of time is important, as it is the pretty well the same amount of time that the vast majority of the line up has performed.  Age catches up with us all ( though, I would remind everyone jumping in that boat that the Canucks top two Twin Powered players every year in that period have always been the most physically fit of the team, as they once again were this year.  Although 28 year old local boy Mike Santorelli beat them in the two miles in 12 minutes test! Young punk...), but really, the Canucks are not that old. There are plenty of successful teams in the NHL with guys in the late twenties and early thirties anyhow. Yes, Roberto Luongo is at that 33-34 year age, but I am OK with that, with no doubts, and feel goaltending is not a serious question going into the season.  For a variety of reasons. Career .919 save %'s over 13-14 years don't just come from "luck". For a perfect example of the imagination that passes for "expert punditry" I am talking about, check out Turco, Kypreos, McSorley and MacLean all yelling at each other while babbling like brooks about some hysterically overwrought "Luongo drama".. about 4 minutes into what was, until the "Strategy Room", a pretty good piece on the team from the "local guys". Funny how that goes eh?

So, all that shit aside, they are kinda but not really that old, and mainly only "old" when compared to those teams that have had prolonged periods of suckage to get the best of the new young talent, and are playing it out of need, desire, or just because that does sometimes work.  It is hardly some sage wisdom to "play the kids" in any sport, anyhow.  But to posit that the Canucks window is closing is a bit simplistic. Most the core has been here a lot of years, and it certainly has shown by the numbers above that they have some talent themselves!  Add to that Luongo's positive motivations ( regardless of how Kypreos potrays them above ) to have a great season, and you have to wonder of they do higher math in the "Strategy Room."

Now, I am not saying they will lift the chalice this year, because that all depends on extraneous factors like injuries and a bit of plain old puck luck at times, but you have a very good to excellent team that is going to do what it has for a little while more, one would hope! ( I know...HOMER! I'll let myself out )  It is going to be competitive and exciting, simply because while sometimes a team does fall off a cliff, they are not going to suddenly go "kaboom" because a core are 28-30( welll, Burrows is MR Everything, and he is 31 now, but honestly, does his play look "old" for instance? )  instead of 23-25, ( and especially not in the day and age of super fit, nutritionally science induced athletic excellence that permeates sports. It is a simple fact that older players are playing longer than they did a generation ago ).

Certainly, there was a need for a new message, and a new "kick in the ass" approach is a tactic that has worked across the sports world too many times to count. ( A reminder about "the youth", BTW. Your Canuck prospects are all going to star on the WJC team, there is youth in the AHL, like Frank Corrado, for example, who will be up sooner than you think, and there is a rookie on the team in goal, another on the blue line in newly acquired Stanton, another ( at least for the start for both newcomers ) in Zac Dalpe, and several 2nd year players in Jordan Schroeder, Chrisopher Tanev, and really, let's remember, Zack Kassian. Youth IS being served, and that will increase as the WJC stars push harder next year. "Too old" my ass! ) There are plenty of reasons for hope and positivity, and with Torts squeezing every ounce out, perhaps we'll find they have even more to give. That is what he does, every where he has been.

Lastly, and sorry, but if you got to 2500 words or so and are still here, a few more aint going to kill you.  A couple more sets of numbers about results to make you think.  One of the team that has "done it" , and the other about those new Young Guns" in the hinterland.

- In the same three and a half or so seasons, the Canucks have a record of 35-16-3 against the teams of the Eastern Conference.  While I won't be simplistic and extrapolate past success with future gains, in a season where there will be more like 32 games instead of the 18 games a season the last 3 years ( no play against the East for the Canucks last year, of course ), it does give one a feeling of confidence.

- The Oilers have, since the '10 season, had only 2 divisional records over .500. That was in the '12 season against the Central at 11-9-1, and last year against the Northwest with a 10-7-1.  That's it. The rest is as woeful as the finishes those years would imply, but consider these digits : The Canucks were the class of the NW, and it showed, with the Canucks powering the Oilers' suckage there with a thirteen game under even 32-45-13.  Interestingly enough against a division with a couple recent Cup winners, the Central, they were marginally better at ten games under, with a 29-39-8. Even with the slight inflation that the shootout gives won / loss records ( the last number was always losses that could have been in the win column because of a skills competition ), the Oilers are, by far, the worst against their new division, at 19-45-11. That is a ridiculous 26 games under .500! Every year, it was the worst interdivisional record for them ( OK, not quite, they were 6-13-1 against the Central in '10, while 6-11-3 against the Pacific! )

Now they enter a division where they have only lost a couple of weaker sisters ( Av's went Central with the Wild, and Dallas left the Pacific for the Central as well ), only a soft touch like the Flames is around, and where math certainly does not support the "rosy assertions" when it comes to their new division.  The Oilers can be a very good team. The Canucks already are.  Of course we never know in sports, and nothing is certain. But I am guessing those numbers above all meant more to the guys that make money off of folks betting on teams than the ones that make money by just talking about them...





Thanks for sticking with it to the end. ( I probably could have got in around the 2500 w/o all the bracketed comments. Think of  them as "cheeky context enhancers" if it helps! ;-)  Until next time...