December 8, 2006

Personnel, Coach or GM?

There’s been a lot of discussion of the lack of scoring by the Canucks this season. Averaging 2.07 goals per game, just isn’t good enough in the new NHL. The Canucks defense have managed to pull off 13 wins a number of which were luck early season come backs, that the Canucks have been unable to repeat in the last few weeks. If you calculate the Pythagorean prediction with the Canucks goals for and against you get an estimated 40% record or 75 points over the course of season. The real question is: Who on earth is responsible for the Canucks lack of scoring? To answer this question we need to look at scoring per situation: Well the Canucks are ranked 2nd last in power play scoring, 3rd last in even strength scoring and they’re the only team without a shorthanded goal. Interestingly the Canucks have the largest difference of 22 in the NHL in expected goals (80) and goals of (58). If you were considering the possibly of “luck” then this result is 2.46 standard deviations away from expected or the 0.7% of possible “pathetic-ness”. Since about one third of the season is over then we can say that there will be 1 team every two years who sees this sort of random variation in one of the three thirds of the season (games: 0-27,28-55,56-82). Watching the Canucks I know that this probably isn’t the case, rather the team is having some major scoring problems that go far beyond luck.

GM: Nonis

Let’s first look at the GM. He signed and traded a number of players away [Bracket goals are approximate historical averages]. Including the loss of Jovanovski (15 goals), Bertuzzi (30 goals) and the gain of Bulis (15 goals), Choinard (10 goals) and Pyatt (10 goals). Nonis has also signed three new backups, four if you include Auld, in less than two years: Sabourin, Ouellet, Noronen, none have stellar or even average NHL histories. I would be more than happy to argue Nonis’ ability to determine talent is certainly lacking. The forwards he chooses to keep aren’t exactly great scorers either: Kesler (10 goals), Cooke (15 goals), Morrison (20 goals). If you add up the expected goals (based on historical averages) of our forwards and defense it works out to something like [arrows represent how they’re doing this year compared to their average]:

Naslund: 40
D. Sedin: 20
Morrison: 20
H. Sedin: 15
Salo: 15
Cooke: 15
Bulis: 15
Choinard: 10
Pyatt: 10
Green: 10
Kesler: 10
Ohlund: 10
Bieksa: 5
Linden: 5
Burrows: 5
Krajicek: 3
Fitzpatrick: 3
Mitchell: 2

Total: 213 goals or 2.6 goals per game, if the Canucks had gotten 2.6 goals per game they’d have 73 goals so far this season, which is perfectly reasonable. They’ve lost around 15 goals (3 wins) as a result of whatever is causing these players to not score.

Coach: Vigneault

Who couldn’t run a competitive defensive system with such a great goaltender as Luongo? The Canucks are only slightly better (2.4 g/hr) than average (2.6 g/hr) at even strength at preventing good shots against at even strength. And ranked 27th in terms of expected goals on the penalty kill, Luongo’s performance allows the Canucks to be ranked 6th in terms of actual goals against. So Luongo is making the Canucks porous defense look good. But that’s not the problem, the problem is scoring: here’s what the Vancouver Sun writer: Elliott Pap has to say about the Canucks offense: “Obviously there is a crisis of confidence and a dearth of proven marksmen but, please, don’t blame coach Alain Vigneault for stifling the offense with his system.” He explains further that: “You take 66 shots [directed at the net] and don’t score on any, blame the shooters.” Considering the above arrows for the forwards above I have to wonder how you can’t blame the coach when all the scorers aren’t scoring, Bieksa being the lone exception largely due to the fact that he’s seen twice as much power play time this season in 28 games this compared to all 39 games last season. Considering the expected vs. actual we know the Canucks are getting what appear statistically good chances, but haven’t seemed to go in. I certainly will say that there is a possibility that the shoot first ask questions later approach to scoring isn’t working out too well.

If you’re familiar with the Canucks you would know it’s uncommon to see the same two players skating together two games in a row, unless the Canucks win or they have the same last name. 28 games into the season, Vigneault still hasn’t figured out what line combinations maximize scoring. He choose to send down Coulombe, who was significantly leading the power play in terms of expected and actual goals, however his 7 goals against per hour at even strength was too much for Vigneault, although I would argue he had some tough luck due to the fact he has some of the best expected goals against statistics on the team. Either way, Vigneault isn’t letting players play together long enough to figure out if they’re effective together, so every game different players have to try to adapt to new combinations and score at the same time. As a result goal scoring is lower. Most combinations of players can play together defensively, which is what we are seeing, but scoring takes time and patience, which it appears Vigneault is lacking and it’s hurting the team in terms of confidence, this confidence can be heard in this quote by Ryan Kesler: “I must have had a bad practice or something, I don’t know…I was pretty excited to get the chance to play with [the Sedin twins], but I;m still playing with a couple of good guys on my line…who knows what’s going on.” There’s not much more to say, but many of the players are frustrated with how this line juggling has worked. Bulis, who was promised top line minutes, is getting opportunity to try out on the top line with the Sedins (they’ll play their 3rd shift of the season together tonight). Either way, every player’s scoring is lower with Vigneault. It would appear all those shots aren’t helping Vigneault, maybe he’s disrupting some sort of chemistry or it’s just extraordinary bad luck, but either way the Canucks can’t score with Vigneault.

Can we still blame the Players?

The argument provided from the Vancouver Sun was that if players aren’t scoring on a lot of shots then their confidence is gone and this is somehow their fault. Now if you ask me, if there’s a problem with one player you look at that one player, when there’s a problem with all the players, you look to the guy in charge. There’s still a few things to see in terms of individuals that are worth noting. Last season Naslund had 98 shots in the first 28 games and 15 goals, this season he has 93 and 12 goals, well within reasonable random variations. Interestingly the shots this year produced more expected goals. If you look at shots as a percent though, Naslund had 11.4% last year in the first 28 games and this season he’s getting 10.6%, certainly not statistically significant, but still worth noting. Daniel Sedin went from 5.6% to 8.5%, which is no surprise as his ice time also improved. Problem is, while Sedin’s shots increased his shooting percentage fell. In fact with the extra 19 shot he scored one fewer goal. Of course none of these results are statistically significant the sample sizes are way too small, but many are disturbing indicators. Of course scorers, need good passes and if the Canucks aren’t getting those it would certainly make their shooting worse, of course since the NHL only prints the passes that result in a goal and not those that result in a shot that is stopped it almost impossible to analyze whether some passers help the shooting percentage more than others.


Still a god chuck of this variation could be randomness; we’ll see if the Canucks can eventually pick up their scoring, but 28 games in it appears the Canucks we’ll struggle to score goals all season.

*I wanted to post something this week, but due to exams I lack time so I wrote this quick article about the Canucks. I'll have a lot more time when my last exam is finished on the 13th, otherwise there'll be little new material here.

1 comment:

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