The Sedins, The Canucks, And Consistency In The Unpredictable Nhl...
Have the Canucks and the Sedins been "figured" out, or has their production simply been so consistent that it has become predictable? We witness predictions all the time in hockey-talk; who doesn't love to make predictions? Hockey fans sure do, but one thing is certain - the NHL is not a terribly predictable entity, and if there is one thing that is consistent in the NHL as a whole, it is change. By contrast, if there is one thing Canucks fans have come to count on, it is a consistent effort that consistently produces results. While the Canucks may not have impressed of late, it is worth keeping things in context.
If you look back at the NHL a few months ago, the top four teams at the time have not fared that well lately - Boston has taken a shocking nosedive; they are scrambling to hold off the Ottawa Senators for the lead in the Northeast and avoid falling to the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Likewise, Detroit also looked practically unbeatable earlier in the season, but have fallen to fifth in the Western Conference (and many people appear to be forgetting to consider them contenders). The Rangers have followed suit, coasting along at a less than .500 clip and have seen the Penguins close the gap by ten points to draw within striking distance of the Eastern Conference's top seed. Meanwhile the Canucks have also idled along, maintaining their second seed, but ceding first to the St Louis Blues who have replaced Detroit at the top of the Western Conference.
If we look back further, at the four teams that went to the Conference finals last season, the results are even more dramatic. Aside from what's been noted about the Canucks and Boston, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves two points out of the Eastern Conference basement, while the San Jose Sharks have plummeted to the 10th spot in the West and are looking like a shadow of the team that finished 2nd in the Conference last season. Likewise, the Washington Capitals, who finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, are clinging to a playoff spot.
On the other hand, there are a number of eventual Stanley Cup winners who faced significant struggles and slumps prior to the playoffs yet managed to amp up their game when it really mattered and pull off a successful Cup run.
There has been a great deal of speculation about the Sedins recently - (there always is) - but this time it seems to have gone further, and into questions whether their careers are starting to tail off. Not many people take those suggestions seriously - and likewise, that the rest of the league has "figured them out" is an idea that has done its' rounds without gaining much credibility. Some of it is rather amusing, and the expectations that many people express is reflective of the fact that the Sedins are remarkably talented and their consistency second to none - not to mention the irony of all the doubts about their toughness, in the context of Henrik's tremendous iron-man streak. In the spirit of keeping things in perspective, and in light of how quickly things change in the NHL, if we consider the Sedins and the other top scorers in the NHL, something surprisingly similar to the inconsistent results in NHL standings that teams experience (as noted above) also emerges where individual players are concerned...
The top ten scorers at the end of last season were:
1 Daniel Sedin VAN L 82 41 63 104 +30 32 18 0 10 0 266 15.4 18:33 24.3 23.5
2 Martin St Louis TBL R 82 31 68 99 +0 12 4 0 7 1 254 12.2 20:58 24.3 38.2
3 Corey Perry ANA R 82 50 48 98 +9 104 14 4 11 2 290 17.2 22:18 26.5 40.9
4 Henrik Sedin VAN C 82 19 75 94 +26 40 8 0 4 0 157 12.1 19:15 24.6 52.0
5 Steven StamkosTBL C 82 45 46 91 +3 74 17 0 8 1 272 16.5 20:11 23.7 46.5
6 Jarome Iginla CGY R 82 43 43 86 +0 40 14 0 6 1 289 14.9 20:56 23.2 54.0
7 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 79 32 53 85 +24 41 7 0 11 3 367 8.7 21:21 21.7 33.3
8 Teemu Selanne ANA R 73 31 49 80 +6 49 16 0 5 0 213 14.6 17:56 22.7 44.5
9 Henrik ZetterbergDET L 80 24 56 80 -1 40 10 0 3 2 306 7.8 19:35 23.6 52.4
10 Brad Richards DAL C 72 28 49 77 +1 24 7 0 3 0 272 10.3 21:43 23.3 50.6
The top ten scorers at this point this season are:
1 Evgeni Malkin PIT C 64 41 47 88 +15 58 11 0 8 1 293 14.0 21:12 22.1 47.0
2 Steven StamkosTBL C 72 50 34 84 +3 66 10 0 10 4 251 19.9 21:43 24.4 45.5
3 Claude Giroux PHI R 68 26 58 84 +5 27 6 0 5 2 209 12.4 21:39 25.6 52.6
4 Phil Kessel TOR R 73 35 40 75 -7 20 9 0 6 0 262 13.4 19:53 22.6 32.1
5 Jason Spezza OTT C 73 29 46 75 +9 30 10 0 2 0 209 13.9 19:51 26.1 53.6
6 Ilya Kovalchuk NJD L 68 30 43 73 -6 29 8 3 4 0 275 10.9 24:39 25.3 33.3
7 Erik Karlsson OTT D 72 19 53 72 +16 42 3 0 5 0 232 8.2 25:16 27.1 0.0
8 Marian Hossa CHI R 72 28 43 71 +23 16 8 2 4 0 219 12.8 19:59 26.0 25.0
9 Jordan Eberle EDM R 68 32 38 70 +6 8 9 0 4 0 165 19.4 17:24 21.5 40.0
10 John Tavares NYI C 72 31 39 70 -1 24 7 0 8 1 263 11.8 20:42 21.9 51.5
Steven Stamkos is the only player who has managed to repeat his top-ten performance from a season ago. If you consider that the Sedins succeeded each other as the NHL's leading scorers the last two seasons, and until recently were once again in the mix (in fact Henrik is tied for 10th with 70 points but not shown as a result of goals/assists ratio while Daniel is 3 points off the pace) - the cause for so much concern regarding the Sedins might be seen in a different light. Of course, there are many people who have yet to push the panic button, but for those who have, where the NHL and consistency are concerned, the Vancouver Canucks and the Sedins remain the high water mark, along with the Lightning's all-world talent Steven Stamkos, who despite his team's inability to sustain results, has established himself amongst a small handful of relatively virtual 'sure-things'. Honourable mention here should probably go to Jarome Iginla, who has once again hit the 30 goal mark. On the other hand, where the NHL and the unpredictable are concerned, unfortunately NHL officiating is in the class of the highly inconsistent - whether it is justifiable (as with the highly competitive teams and players) is another issue entirely - but if anyone had earned the right to say so, it was Henrik Sedin.
So what might explain this recent uncharacteristic stretch of inconsistency for the Canucks? First of all, Tony Gallagher;s recent take on things is probably not going to contribute any substance to our hockey insight. Second, apologies to all the Hodgson devotees, but I am going to dismiss the Hodgson trade out of hand - while the changes in the lineup could account for it's part of the inconsistency, the loss of Hodgson's contributions are nowhere near as significant as many people suggest, and the inconsistency is certainly not related to his absence. I'm not going to engage too deeply in the overdone debate about the Cody-effect, other than suggest that the idea that he alone could put a team over the top was extremely premature and borderline ridiculous, as is the idea that the Canucks Cup hopes were significantly and negatively effected when they traded him. With the injury to Keith Ballard and his absence in the lineup, and the shuffling of the defensive pairings to experiment with and acclimate the young puck moving Gragnani, there is an inevitable effect upon the team's consistency on the blueline. In addition, the regular changes to the forward lines, from trying to kickstart the Amex line, to shuffling the third forward on the Sedin line, to changing the nature of the third line with the addition of the shut down role played by Pahlsson, to the addition of the versatile young power forward Zack Kassian and rehabilitation of Mason Raymond, and experimenting with the makeup of the fourth line - clearly there has been a significant amount of work to do in piecing together the different potential looks that Alain Vigneault will be able to deploy once the games really start to matter.
For all those who are dumbfounded by the changes, and clamoring for Alain Vigneault to be fired...
"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new." Albert Einstein
Speaking of the dumbfounded, this just in from Tony Gallagher:
'Vigneault’s time with this team is surely drawing very near the end because management owes it to the group to give them another coach next year, so as to have a fresh approach before the Sedins get too old to even talk about getting something done five-on-five."
Gallagher's latest article is another one of his patented hack and squirt gigs - according to his ability to foretell the future, apparently this post-season is a predictable foregone conclusion of failure... while Gallagher has graduated himself from telling Alain Vigneault how to do his job, to instructing Mike Gillis when his coach's tenure will end. Gallagher's consistent negativity, unfortunately, falls on the predictable side of things. I can't help but wonder whether Mike Gillis is taking notes, having been informed that Vigneault's days are numbered, or whether Gallagher in fact doesn't "know" what he is talking about? (Of course, I suggest the latter) Is Gallagher a journalist, a lobbyist, a fortune teller...? Does he really "know" that AV is 'perilously close' to that type of situation? Is he certain that AV is 'playing with fire' here? I suspect that once Gallagher realizes Mike Gillis doesn't take instructions from him, he will climb even higher on his ladder of pretension, and tell us all that Gillis' days are also numbered. Gallagher may eventually have to get around to firing Canucks ownership himself. Recommendation - don't pay too much attention to Gallagher - 25 years from now he still will not have gotten over the Hodgson trade.
The reality in addition to the changes recently, is that the Canucks played a great deal of hockey in the past 16 months, face a gruelling travel reality year after year, have won a President's trophy, are not making that priority number one, are somewhat locked into, at the very minimum, the second seed in the Western Conference, and have been to the SCF, realizing what it takes to survive and persevere through the playoffs... when you consider all the factors together, the idea that the Canucks currently appear as though coasting is certainly not inexplicable... For some people reality just won't do - they expect, demand and somehow feel they deserve results - constant results... There also seems to be a tendency (on the part of fans and sidechair Gallaghers) to underestimate the lesser teams in the NHL - on any given night, any team can step up and take two points from anyone, particularly when they are fighting for their playoff lives, or are out of the race, playing with nothing to lose and under no pressure.
On the other hand, when the puck drops on the playoffs, no team in the NHL has a better chance of winning than the Canucks.
Despite all the experimentation recently, the truth remains that the core of the team is a very well know quality and quantity, and the Canucks have a group of players who for the most part have a very good idea of how to play with each other... The 'risks' they are taking may be overestimated. It never ceases to amuse how quickly and how many people can lose faith or get the impression that Alain Vigneault does not know what he is doing. He has had the luxury lately of making changes, trying new things, and preparing for contingencies that may emerge if/when the health of the roster or the matchups of different opponents dictate changes. There may be a measure of confidence behind the the willingness to make changes, but the Canucks have earned this luxury by virtue of a level of consistency from their skaters and goaltending that has bought them this grace period, while not costing them significantly in terms of their seeding in the playoffs. People may feel that they have not been consistent enough in the last month, but when it has come to big games, they have stepped up to their stiffest challenges and defeated both Detroit and St. Louis. It will be interesting to see their response to a visit to Chicago tomorrow. I highly doubt you will see an uninspired Vancouver Canucks performance, even if they do not organize their roster as they would if it were a playoff game.
Some people are wondering if Mike Gillis was too confident when he made the changes he did at the trade deadline, and feel that the recent results indicate that he made the mistake of messing with a good thing. I disagree - I don't think their fate hinges on these recent decisions, and I think there is an ironic amount of short-sighted thinking that informs such panic. Is the Canucks ability to regroup and compete as fragile as suspected? I have a lot of faith that the short-term consistency that has been placed slightly in the balance - in favour of the longer term production (the playoffs) - is a strategic move that will pay off. I also consider Alain Vigneault to be one of the best coaches in the NHL. There certainly are no guarantees, particularly in the NHL - but I like the risks that have been taken - I think they were very well calculated. I also think Alain Vigneault has a lot better idea of what he is up to than the general perception of the nervous wrecks amongst Canucks' fans.
It is generally a safe bet to predict playoff failure - 15 out of 16 teams will fail to win the Cup - and all the 'authoritative' predictions of doom (hello Tony Gallagher et al) never really strike me as having as stiff a backbone as their negative posturing would suggest. The theory in some parts seems to be that the lineup that the Canucks had before the trade deadline (with "secondary scoring" = Cody Hodgson) was better equipped to win in the playoffs than the lineup now in place after the trade deadline changes that were made. Another theory goes along the lines of Vigneault having 'lost' the players because he is too "disengaged". Again, I am more apt to think that it is Gallagher who has completely lost touch. But who doesn't like to speculate and make predictions? I personally like the chances of the post-deadline Canucks better, and as angry as many people are regarding their recent results, I'd prefer the changes and experimenting over the previous, more predictable order of things. There would also have been risks involved in keeping things as they were - the downside of those seem to have been somewhat drowned out by attention-seeking doomsdayers. The Canucks took some excellent risks at the trade deadline. The facts are that changes are inevitable in the NHL - even if you are as consistent as the Vancouver Canucks have been - and change isn't necessarily a bad thing... But predicting that failure in the playoffs is a foregone conclusion, or that Alain Vigneault's days in Vancouver are "very near the end" - those are just negative expectations - informed by nothing - nothing more and nothing less.
"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts" Albert Einstein