Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy: Who is the real Derek Dorsett?

Derek Dorsett fills a major role for the Vancouver Canucks, and the scoring is just a bonus, but he’s gaining more and more confidence as his ice-time continues to increase.

Naked Eye (Dan Murphy):

It’s been a better than expected start for the Vancouver Canucks. Sure, it’s early but did anyone believe the Canucks would have points in eight of their first 12 games (including six regulation wins)? To celebrate, my nerdy counterpart Filipovic has suggested we keep the good times going by writing about a positive development the team has provided us with thus far.

And not only that, but he even wanted me to pick the topic!

Great, right?

Listen, I’ve watched enough Narcos and Peaky Blinders lately to know when I’m being set up. And Filipovic is smart enough to realize that Derek Dorsett is the most logical answer. I can just picture him sitting there at his keyboard, cracking his knuckles and smirking, waiting to tear apart my half of the project. So you know what I’m going to do Dimitri? I’m going to dive right into your trap, head-first.

Dorsett may be the easy answer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also the right answer. Just the fact he is playing in the league after what he went through last December would qualify him as the biggest positive development for the Canucks this season. Cervical fusion surgery is no joke – they moved his vocal chords aside to pull a disk out of his neck and then used a portion of his hipbone along with a washer, plate and four screws to fuse the vertebrae together. Eight weeks in a neckbrace had Dorsett wondering about the quality of his life, let alone the quality of his hockey.

Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett.

Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett recovering in hospital after surgery.

Before the season, when most Canucks fans were fantasy booking the team’s lineup they either had Dorsett in the press box or the minors. But new head coach Travis Green had other plans for a player who had always assumed the tough guy/energy role. Green envisioned Dorsett in a far more prominent shutdown role. And right from Game 1 against Connor McDavid and the Oilers, Dorsett relished his new responsibilities and the challenge the coach has provided him.

His ice time is up. Way up. In the 14 games he played last season Dorsett averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game. This season that’s shot all the way up to 15:27, including 19:30 (!) against the Stars on Monday night. Nobody saw that coming.

As for the scoring? Well, that has to be considered a huge bonus. Dorsett is already up to six goals on the season. I’m not sure how many he’ll finish with, but if he can match his career best of 12 set back in 2011-12 while he was in Columbus, there isn’t a Canucks fan out there who wouldn’t have taken that number from him with a big smile before the season started.

Especially if you would’ve told them that he was going to do it while logging major minutes against the toughest competition. I should also mention that with 44 penalty minutes, second in the league as I type this, Dorsett hasn’t forgotten about the roots that sometimes make him the fan favourite either.

Now I haven’t taken a deep dive into the numbers, but you can bet Filipovic has. So like Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith versus Papa Doc in 8-Mile, let me get his argument out of the way.

Yes, he is playing too much at even strength.

Yes, his shooting percentage of 92 per cent or whatever it’s at right now is unsustainable.

And yes, he’s probably getting buried in shot attempts.

So Filipovic, f-ck this battle, I don’t wanna win, I’m outtie.

Here, tell these people something they don’t know about Double-D…

Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith vesus Papa Doc in 8-Mile.

Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith vesus Papa Doc in 8-Mile.

Nerdy Guy (Dimitri Filipovic):

Don’t think I don’t see what you’re trying to do here, Murph. You paint this beautiful picture of resiliency, and determination, overcoming life’s many trials and tribulations. It’s one that everyone reading can surely either personally relate to, or aspire to. It’s one that really does warm the heart.

In doing so, you’re also accomplishing your desired goal of positioning me as the bad guy that now has to follow that act by coming out here and throwing cold water on everything. Analytics already get such a bad rap as a killjoy that’s sucking the fun out of the sport and I imagine that the following won’t do anything to stop the perpetuation of that belief.

That said, let’s just do our due diligence here by getting some facts out of the way and then go from there.

Season Dorsett’s Shooting %
2008-2009 6.8
2009-2010 7.0
2010-2011 3.6
2011-2012 8.8
2012-2013 7.9
2013-2014 6.0
2014-2015 7.9
2015-2016 5.5
2016-2017 4.2
2017-2018 31.6

The early season is made for comically unsustainable production, when the sample is still small enough for us to get stat lines like this one that are so out of left field from what we’d typically expect.

Few have taken advantage of that wave more than Dorsett early this season, using it to pot four five-on-five goals – a total he’s topped just twice in his 10 seasons in the league (he had nine in 2011-12, and five in 2014-15). Unless you believe that a 30-year old with nearly 500 games and 700 shots on goal to his name suddenly reworked his game at this point of his career to suddenly become an offensive dynamo, then we should be looking at the longer term track record as an indicator of what to expect moving forward.

If he’d been converting 6.5 per cent of his shots on target into goals, like he’d been good for on average throughout his career prior to this season, he’d currently have just a single goal to show for his efforts and we’d be looking at him entirely differently right now.

Those goals are now banked however and there’s no taking them away. The Canucks will gladly take them and run, knowing full well that anything they get from Dorsett from this point forward is just gravy.

But what happens when those fortunes inevitably reverse, and the offence dries up?

You obviously want to get into the habit of rewarding good results if you’re coach Travis Green, but at the same time you also need to take a bigger picture view of things and be prepared for what’s to come.

My opinion on Dorsett’s individual production thus far neatly mirrors the one I have about the Vancouver Canucks as a whole. It’s certainly unexpected, and it makes for a fun story. It’s also wholly unsustainable. There’s ultimately no harm in that, unless it deludes people – especially the ones in charge – into thinking that there’s more to it than that, and the team is actually better than it is in reality.

Despite the success they’ve been stumbling into, the mandate prior to the season shouldn’t change. The attention should still be firmly fixed on the future, using this season to a.) give young players much needed reps at the NHL level, and b.) figure out who’s going to be around when the team is once again ready to enjoy sustainable success.

Which is a perfect segue to my pick for the most positive development in Vancouver thus far: Brock Boeser is totally legit. It’s slightly cheating because it’s not necessarily a surprise after what he did last year and all the draft hype that preceded it, but let’s go with it because it’s the one worth discussing the most.

Despite the fact that he was inexplicably left out of the opening night lineup, and is now nursing a foot injury, Boeser’s managed to be wildly productive whenever he’s on the ice.

Following up on his brief cameo at the end of last season, he’s once again generating a healthy volume of shots. As a team, the Canucks are controlling 52.6 per cent of unblocked shot attempts, and 60.7 per cent of the shots on goal with Boeser on the ice at five-on-five. Amongst the forwards, only the Sedins have a higher expected goals-for rate than Boeser’s sparkling 58.2 per cent. And he already has nine points to his name in just nine games played.

If it weren’t for the way in which Clayton Keller is lapping the rest of the competition, Boeser’s performance would be generating some real Calder Trophy buzz.

See, Dan. I’m not a total wet blanket! Sometimes numbers can be fun too!

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