In the final Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy of 2015, Dan Murphy and Thomas Drance examine an intriguing question: Can the Vancouver Canucks still realistically make the playoffs?
Naked Eye: Alright, even I have to dip into the numbers to help break down this topic. But first I will answer the question above.
Yes, the Canucks still have a realistic chance of making the playoffs.
I don’t believe they will. But, you know, Pacific Division and all.
It’s crazy that yes is even a possible answer to the question. Because with the way things have gone for the Canucks the past couple of months, the choices should be:
Can the Canucks still realistically make the playoffs?
B) Did you forget to take your meds?
Even in Gary Bettman’s NHL where it seems like almost every team is in the hunt come February, The Canucks should be long gone and buried. And yet they aren’t. It’s staggering.
Now these aren’t fancy numbers but they should help tell the story of how bleak things are and have been.
The Canucks have 8 wins in their last 26 games.
Only six teams in the NHL score fewer goals per game than Vancouver.
Their power play is ranked 25th, and their penalty kill is not much better at 20th.
Until recently the Canucks were 0-for-7 in overtime games.
Jannik Hansen is the team’s second leading goal scorer. Which is great for Jannik Hansen but, well, you know the rest.
Three of their regular defencemen at this moment have combined to play 54 career NHL games.
I could go on but you get the point. It’s ugly. The Columbus Blue Jackets are dead last in the NHL with 31 Points. The Canucks are only six points clear of Tortorella’s crew. And yet the Canucks are just two points from being second alone in their division.
The Pacific (aside from the Kings, I know) is horrible. Like Martin Shkreli awful. And the Canucks still have 19 divisional games left. Throw in the fact that Luca Sbisa, Chris Tanev and Brandon Sutter are all expected back reasonably soon and you can’t just toss the Canucks chances of making the playoffs out the window.
Listen, I think most sane people know what would be best for the Canucks on ice product in the long run. Lose a bunch more games between now and the trade deadline. Sell and collect some draft picks. Finish dead last and welcome Auston Matthews with open arms.
But ownership is anti-tank. And the Sedins won’t quit. And the Canucks will continue to find themselves in games and fairly competitive.
Think about it Canucks fans, you’re in a pretty good spot this season. Cheer the wins because the playoffs aren’t out of the question. Cheer the losses because the bottom of the Conference isn’t off the table either.
Nerdy Guy: The Vancouver Canucks have been outscored by 16 goals, they’ve won just 14 games in 38 tries and they’ve been raked over by injuries. And yet, somehow, the club still sits just a single point outside a playoff spot in the stunningly weak Pacific Division.
With the 2015 portion of their season at an end for the Canucks, Vancouver is still looking like a team that could go either way.
It’s not out of the question for the Canucks to manage to qualify for the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, and even perhaps earn home-ice advantage. It also wouldn’t be shocking were the club to fall off a cliff and finish near the bottom of the table.
Most publicly available projection systems now suggest that the Canucks are something a playoff long shot. As of December 30, Sportsclubstats.com gave Vancouver only a 29 percent chance of earning a playoff spot, better than only Edmonton and Anaheim in the Pacific. Meanwhile hockeyviz.com’s projection system – which more rigorously accounts for the underlying numbers – gave the Canucks just a 30 percent chance, better than only Edmonton in the Pacific.
Projection systems provide us with an interesting snap shot. In a division this close and in a sport like hockey where results are often shaped by variables other than true talent though, they’re not much more valuable than that.
Looking at the remainder of the schedule, it’s clear that the Pacific Division is essentially a pure toss up. The Canucks face most of their Pacific Division rivals three more times, and the club’s performance in those games will go a long way in determining their fate.
While there are some reasons for optimism – reasons that will become even more compelling if injured players like Tanev, Dan Hamhuis, and Sutter can return from injury in short order – there are more compelling reasons to be pessimistic. In particular, the Canucks have the worst scoring chance differential in the NHL this season, according to war-on-ice.com.
When you’re bleeding 10-bell chances against while generating relatively few, it’s tough to win games in bunches against NHL competition.
Because of the all-encompassing meekness of the Pacific Division, the Canucks could conceivably battle their way into a playoff berth this season. It has become apparent though that, injuries or not, this club has some structural issues that are compounded by a deficit of high-end talent.
Making the playoffs in a historically weak division is one thing, but it’s a distinct concept from being a true playoff caliber team. Even if the Canucks do qualify for the postseason, it seems probable that they can’t satisfy that latter condition.