How the Canucks are being beaten by a lack of speed

I mentioned in the stats collection post that speed is an issue for this Canucks squad, particularly when it comes to counter-attacking.

As any of my subscribers would know, the Canucks frequently get out-chanced by the opposition, mainly due to the fact that they’re poor at both attacking and defending off the rush and in transition, which is the part of the game that is within 6 seconds of a controlled entry or controlled exit.

A few weeks ago, I started looking at ways to quantify team speed, and I think I stumbled upon one. There’s a moment towards the beginning of the HBO series Winning Time where new head coach Jack McKinney makes the distinction to his new Lakers team about slow, methodical offence versus one running off speed and fast breaks.

Now, forget the creative liberties the series took for a second. This is one of my favourite scenes in any sports show or movie. It breaks down the weaknesses of a methodical offence, but McKinney also pushes back on the idea that exciting plays can only happen following an opponents’ mistake. That brings us back to the Canucks.

Tracking events in sequence and with time stamps is an onerous process. I do believe, though, that this will give me a better collection of data about the Vancouver Canucks than anybody else, allowing me to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the team in a way others can’t. This isn’t patting myself on the back, but it’s a reality of the hours of work I put in cultivating this dataset.

So, let’s look at the concept of a “fast break” in hockey. It’s very common that rush plays start with a turnover high in the zone, and less common that they occur after the opponent has taken a shot. Normally if a team is hemmed in and give up a good shot or scoring chance, they’ll hold onto the puck, wait for the danger to clear, and THEN move the puck forward. I believe this doesn’t entirely respect the reality that it’s difficult to create offence in this league, and teams need to take advantage of those small breakdowns and potentials for rushes.

After an opposition shot attempt, the Canucks have broken the puck out with control 263 times this season at 5v5. More than half of those exits have come after 3 seconds has passed since the shot attempt.

Let’s break down why that’s a problem.

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