Are people being too critical of the Canucks, or not critical enough?

Trevor Linden joins Hockey Central to talk about the 2019 NHL Entry Draft being in Vancouver and why he wanted to have the draft the same year the Canucks celebrate their 50th year.

As the playoff race heats up and teams jockey for a spot in the post-season, the bottom of the standings also always seem to attract a certain level of morbid attention around this time of year.

Even though the NHL has recently made an effort to decrease the impetus for teams out of playoff contention to tank for a better draft position, the incentive is still there. Especially in a year like this one, where there’s a crown jewel atop the draft class, the pain and suffering could be worth it for the lucky team that pulls the right combination of ping pong balls at the lottery. And if you finish last, you still have the best odds of those balls drawing your way.

The Canucks are certainly doing their part to make things interesting for tanking enthusiasts. With Brock Boeser out for the year, their games have become a downright slog and there doesn’t appear to be anything redeemable about watching them play out the string. Vancouver is now running on 200-plus consecutive minutes (212:09 to be exact) without scoring a goal. The only interesting thing left about this year’s team is seeing how far they actually fall.

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Thanks to this recent stretch of (enhanced) ineptitude – which has conveniently coincided with the Sabres and Coyotes rattling off wins – there’s suddenly a very real possibility that they could tumble all the way down to 31st place.

Team Rank Games Remaining Point Percentage
EDM 25th 12 .464
MTL 26th 12 .457
DET 27th 12 .450
OTT 28th 13 .442
VAN 29th 11 .415
ARI 30th 12 .407
BUF 31st 12 .400

The good news is this looks like the year to do it. Unlike last season, where there were two good but not great prospects at the top of the board, the 2018 class features a potentially generational talent in Rasmus Dahlin. Even if finishing last doesn’t guarantee anything, increasing your chances by even an incremental couple of percentage points is still the smart play.

The bad news is this type of sobering discussion around the Canucks extends well beyond just this one year. We’re now on Year 3 of them not only being one of the worst teams in the league, but arguably the worst team in the league.

Here’s a look at the worst handful of teams since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, and how they’ve fared in the most important categories. It’s worth noting that Vegas was excluded from this exercise since this is their first season in the league, so 30th is the absolute basement here.

League Rank Team Point % Shots % Goals % Expected Goals %
25th DET .502 23rd 25th 24th
26th NJD .500 27th 24th 25th
27th BUF .459 26th 28th 27th
28th COL .457 28th 27th 28th
29th ARI .438 30th 30th 29th
30th VAN .432 29th 29th 30th

The data above was pulled from Corsica, and accounts for play across all situations. In their games spanning that stretch of time the Canucks have controlled just 46.5 per cent of the overall shots registered, 43.9 per cent of the goals scored, and were expected to score just 45.3 per cent of the goals with all things being equal. As the chart shows, their only real peers have been the Arizona Coyotes, and in the case of something like actual wins and losses no one has been more feeble.

Nobody is surprised to see Vancouver has been bad, but if you haven’t been paying close attention to what’s been going on there it might be a bit of a shock to see just how far down they rank. Because, for whatever reason, they’ve been associated with something closer resembling mediocrity as opposed to the futility their on-ice product more closely aligns with.

Why is that? Why have they gotten away with that kind of rampant losing and not drawn nearly the same level of ire or criticism or mockery that other teams with similar profiles have?

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There’s a strange disconnect between the way people view and talk about the Canucks, and the reality of their situation. It’s as if the national discourse hasn’t caught up to capture the gravity of how bad things have been (and will continue to be unless something fundamentally changes).

Presumably a lot of that has to do with optics, and the way the organization has tried to control the narrative.

They haven’t come out and rubbed their intentions in peoples’ faces. Rather than acknowledge that the most logical way to rebuild a team is to blow it up and rebuild from scratch, they’ve instead gone the route of puffing their chests out, putting on a brave face, and preaching they’re going to do it “the right way.”

They’ve managed to sell fans on what ultimately amounts to a batch of snake oil and passing it off as a plan for how to build a successful hockey team. Many of the things they’ve said over the years have come back to blow up in their faces and look worse as the losses pile up.

It’s tough to know how much of what’s been said is for the cameras, and how much they truly believe in behind the scenes. All we can really do from the outside is connect the dots by assessing their plans and intentions based on their actions which, for the most part, would suggest they mean what they say about retooling rather than rebuilding.

Dimitri Filipovic provides entertaining and thoughtful dialogue about the game of hockey with an analytical edge. Not as nerdy as it sounds.

In this sense, it’s equally impressive and alarming they’ve managed to be worse than teams that haven’t pretended they’re actively trying to be bad to get a high draft pick. You may not know it from watching the Canucks play or from taking a cursory look at the standings, but we’re talking about a team that for all intents and purposes really has been trying to remain competitive and relevant throughout it all.

This summer they went out and signed a bunch of relatively established players to step right into the lineup. In lieu of stockpiling draft picks, they’ve instead opted to target other teams’ discarded prospects, presumably because they’re further along the developmental track and closer to contributing. You can’t even accuse the Canucks or their owners of being cheap, because they’ve actually been throwing money around and spending up to the cap as well. What they’ve gotten back in terms of value for that spending is an entirely different discussion.

Another part of the equation for why they’ve managed to fly under the radar is because they’ve yet to be rewarded in the lottery process for posting up at the bottom of the standings. Despite finishing third- and second-last in 2016 and 2017, they picked fifth overall both years.

If they do wind up falling all the way to 31st this season, that’ll be a needed catalyst for change. It’ll guarantee a pick inside the top four this June for the first time since they took the Sedins second and third overall in 1999. It may also open some eyes and finally bring a belatedly sobering reflection that gets more people asking questions about what’s going on in Vancouver.

There was a conversation a couple of weeks ago about whether or not people were being overly negative about the Canucks. I’d argue the opposite – for a variety of reasons people have actually gone too easy on them, and it’s played a role in why things have deteriorated to this point.

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