Predictions Round-Up: No one believes in the Canucks

The expectations have been set incredibly low for the Canucks this year.

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, where just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. According to the predictions for the 2016-17 season, it’s about to get even worse.

The experts, pundits, and prognosticators don’t just expect the Canucks to be bad in the coming season; they expect them to be monumentally bad. Practically every publication has the Canucks in last place in the Western Conference, with many putting them in last place in the entire NHL.

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The point-projections that caught people’s attention last week came courtesy of the USA Today and EA Sports, who see the Canucks falling well short of last season where they had 75 points. No, they predict the worst season for the Canucks since 1998-99.

USA Today sees the Canucks finishing with 65 points. That is according to their “semi-scientific guess,” in their own words. EA Sports, on the other hand, simmed the season with NHL17: the Canucks ended up with 63 points.

I’ll be honest, that doesn’t make me want to buy NHL17, as I generally like to play as the Canucks and this outcome suggests it won’t be very fun to do so.

In any case, I can’t and don’t buy those predictions. The Canucks suffered some key injuries and fell apart completely at times last season and still managed to finish with 75 points. At the very least, the Canucks have competent goaltending; that alone will prevent them from falling below 70 points.

The Score suggests a more reasonable, but still worse than last season, 74 points. They also suggest that the Sedins and Loui Eriksson could be one of the best forward lines in the NHL and that they’ll need to be for the Canucks to make the playoffs. Heck, if they're even a league-average first line, the Canucks will exceed 74 points and be on the edge of the playoff picture.

I’m not so certain that the Canucks even need Eriksson to stick with the Sedins to get back to the playoffs; they have a greater need for balanced scoring throughout their lineup than to have the Sedins dominate, which would be unlikely in any case at this stage of their careers. Eriksson may do more good elsewhere in the lineup, helping to provide secondary scoring. We’ll see.

The Hockey News didn’t have a specific point projection in their 2016-17 yearbook, but they did predict that the Canucks finish in last place in the NHL. They suggest the Canucks have the worst forward group in the NHL, which seems extremely harsh, if understandable.

The Sedins are aging and so many of their other forwards are untested, but there are reasons for optimism within that. The Canucks are banking a lot on their young forwards to come through and the outcome of the season depends more on them than on the Sedins, in my mind. Will Bo Horvat build off a 40-point season? Can Brandon Sutter score 20 goals? Can Sven Baertschi produce offence consistently enough to be a legit second liner? Is Jake Virtanen NHL-ready? Can Anton Rodin import his SHL MVP-winning skill and creativity to the Canucks?

Those are the questions that need to be answered in regards to the Canucks forwards. To me, it’s too early to call them the worst forward group in the NHL: there are too many ways that the Canucks could surprise the doubters.

The Canucks show up just once in Sportsnet’s predictions from NHL Insiders: Christine Simpson names them as the team most likely to disappoint. Just how high do you think our expectations are, Christine, that the Canucks will somehow fail to clear the bar?

What about the analytical approach? Micah Blake McCurdy’s predictive model, named Cordelia, essentially simulates the season a million times using a wide array of factors. It isn’t particularly friendly to the Canucks, but it projects a mean point value of 85.6, far better than 65 or 63 projected by USA Today and EA Sports. 

The model gives the Canucks a 27% chance of making the playoffs, lowest in the Pacific Division. McCurdy notes the Canucks difficult schedule, where they face a rested team while tired (ie. playing on the second half of back-to-backs) 13 times, while playing a tired team while rested just 6 times.

McCurdy admits to some of the weaknesses of his model, with the one potentially impacting the Canucks being age. It’s hard to account for the improvements of a player under 24; similarly, it’s hard to predict how a player will decline as he gets older. Both of those will factor heavily into how the Canucks perform this season.

Dom Luszczyszyn, who writes for The Hockey News and Hockey Graphs, has the Canucks second last with an 8% chance at making the playoffs. He projects they get 79 points.

What about the betting odds? A couple oddsmakers emailed us with their betting lines for the NHL season and both have the Canucks at the bottom of the league.

Bookmaker.eu has the over/under for points set at 74.5, basically right at where they finished last season. They also have the Canucks at the worst odds to win the Stanley Cup at +10000. They’re at the same long odds just to win the Pacific Division. So, if you happen to have $100 to throw away, you could walk away with $10,000 at the end of the season!

Sports Betting Dime has the Canucks at 150/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, the longest odds of any team. Oddly enough, they also have Loui Eriksson with the best odds, 7/3, to score the most goals among free agents on new teams. The Canucks biggest issue last season was goalscoring, so if Eriksson starts racking up goals, the Canucks will surprise a lot of people.

Sidenote: Sports Betting Dime has Willie Desjardins as the fourth most likely coach to be the first fired of the season at 7/1 odds.

Suffice it to say, nobody thinks the Canucks will be good this season. In fact, pretty much everyone thinks the Canucks will be the worst team in the league. Maybe I’m just a blind, naive optimist, but I honestly don’t think the Canucks will be that bad. They have at least league-average goaltending, a decent first line, and a solid top pairing, with lots of room for young players to fill in the depth needed to hang around the edge of the playoff picture.

Frankly, these projections of doom steel my resolve as a fan. I like cheering for underdogs. I enjoy it when the team I cheer for exceeds expectations. So go ahead: set those expectations as low as possible, if only to make them easier and easier to exceed.

The bar for a successful season has just been set incredibly low.

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