The air gets a bit colder, people get a bit nicer, the best players leave to represent their countries and each of the CHL’s three leagues go on their Christmas hiatus. While most players will go home to their families for the holidays, a select few will travel over to the Czech Republic to represent their nations at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
Christmas time also serves as a bookmark in the season and for the Vancouver Giants, they find themselves in a lesser spot then they would have hoped for back when the puck hit the ice in September. They do sit in a playoff spot though, so the hopes of a spring championship run are still very much alive.
Holding the first place in the wild card standings, we check in with the Giants to see exactly how they’ve experienced the first part of the season and what they will need to do heading forward.
The biggest problem currently plaguing the Langley-based club is their disappointing power play. Currently, they sit second-last in the entire WHL, not exactly a winning recipe. Literally, as select fans are awarded a free meal by one of the team’s restaurant sponsors each time they score on a power play.
Last year, when the Giants finished atop their division, their power play was operating at a clip of nearly one goal very four opportunities. Seeing as the average amount of penalties per game falls between 2-5 per team, the likelihood of a Giants goal from the man advantage was high. Although, that’s not the case this year where the special team unit is bumbling around at 11.4%.
The table below shows the power play efficiency of the lowest-seeded team in the playoffs over the last four years. For example, if team “X” finished as the conferences eighth seed and their power play percentage was above the Giants current one through each section represented, then the trend would suggest that Vancouver is not lined up for the playoffs.
Last Placed Playoff Team’s PP%
2018- 2019 Seattle Thunderbirds 20.6%
2017-2018 Seattle Thunderbirds 22.9%
2016-2017 Victoria Royals 20.3%
2015-2016 Spokane Chiefs 17.3%
From this observation, it is clear that playoff calibre teams need somewhere in the realm of 20% efficiency, far away from Vancouver’s 11.4%. If the Giants keep up their current trend, they are likely to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture come to the conclusion of the regular season.
So what can they do to improve their power play do to improve? First off, it will mean getting more out of their best players. One of those players is Bowen Byram who has been away from the team recently due to his international duties with the Canadian junior squad. He led the WHL last year in power play points by a defensemen and that’s the reason why he was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 NHL draft. Once he is back walking the blueline at the Langley Events Centre on a regular basis, things will begin to improve. Whether his efforts alone will be enough to lift the Giants above 20% is the question we all have to wait for.
“We have a plan on paper, but some of our guys are already on Christmas break mentally,” said head coach Michael Dyck after his team failed to score on three opportunities in their loss to the Prince George Cougars, a team they should have beaten.
Another problem that the Giants face is that they have no outright offensive leader. Their leading scorer is Tristen Nielsen, a late-season acquisition last year who sits 32nd in league scoring at the time of writing. While not every team needs a leader, having someone who can come in clutch with a goal when times are tough is invaluable to any team hoping for success.
Of these two issues, the power play one is easier to fix. With Byram back and some time off to think about power play strategies, the Giants can see a probable light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. As for the goal scorer problem, the solution lies in the hands of general manager Barclay Parneta who may pull yet another trade to improve his squad ahead of the season’s final push.
Although there are problems on offence, there is not such a thing between the pipes. David Tendeck, a prospect of the Arizona Coyotes, is currently fourth in the league in save percentage of starting netminders with a .916 stat line. That is certainly a much-needed thing to a team that has been struggling to score.
It’s not all sad for the Giants, however, as despite all this, they do find themselves in a playoff spot at Christmas, but it’s holding onto this which is going to be the key for Vancouver when they reconvene after the break. “We are finding ways to lose games that we shouldn’t be doing,” said Dyck, suggesting that the time off will be much needed for his players to find the right headspace ahead of their playoff push. There are still two games to go until that point however, but all signs point to the team needing the break as soon as possible.
All data collected from Elite Prospects and official WHL records