These new Canucks are starting to look a lot like the old Canucks.
They’ve scored a few more goals, and they have a potential superstar in their lineup now, which makes everything look a lot brighter; but their record is startlingly similar to the one they had on this date last year. The Canucks are currently sitting at a game above .500, with a record of 10-92. At this time last year, they were 9-8-2.
The underlying numbers tell a similar story. The Canucks currently boast a 46.5% shot share. In mid November of last year, the number was a fair bit better at 49.3%.
You don’t need me to tell you that this year’s team looks quicker, more aggressive, and more talented. You definitely don’t need me to tell you why.
Elias Pettersson has made a huge difference in how this team has been perceived through the first quarter of the season. This team isn’t a punchline anymore. But for all the fanfare, the results haven’t been all that different.
One player can change a lot, but the Canucks still need a lot more than just one guy to be competitive on most nights.
1. The Blackhawks elected to cut ties with Joel Quenneville last week after just over ten years as the team’s bench boss. Not many coaches last that long. The Canucks are on their fourth coach since Quenneville was promoted at the start of the 2008-2009 season.
For many, including myself, the Blackhawks were the gold standard for building a cup contender in the salary cap era. Watching their recent struggles has been a painful reminder of how much you have to grind to stay at the top.
The Canucks could use to take a few lessons from the Quenneville era, since they’re in a similar place to the one the Blackhawks found themselves in just before he was promoted. They drafted Jonathan Toews in 2006, Patrick Kane in 2007, made it to the Western Conference Final in 2009, and won their first cup in 2010. Both players were on their ELCs.
Life comes at you fast.
Toews was just 22 when the Hawks won their first cup. Kane was 21. They were 27 and 26 respectively when they won their third cup in 2015. Players peak earlier than you’d think. Toews is still one of the better centres the league has to offer, but he hasn’t eclipsed 60 points since 2014-15 and at 30 it’s possible he may never get there again.
Part of the reason the Blackhawks were so successful was that they were willing to go for it early. Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson probably aren’t Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but when you see the way they’ve played at times this season, you could make an argument that they will be ready to lead a team sooner than you might think.
It seemed crazy to mention at the time, when Pettersson had yet to play an NHL game, but this is why the Canucks’ recent free agency stumbles matter. Elias Pettersson looks like he could be a high-end first-line centre as early as next season, but the Canucks are going to be significantly overpaying players like Loui Eriksson and Jay Beagle (among others) through his entire first contract. It’s not crazy to suggest it may shave a year or two off of their window to be truly competitive.
If there’s another thing the Blackhawks taught us, it’s that every dollar counts.
2. It’s time to take out the ol’ back-patting machine.
In a controversially-titled piece from midway through last season, Darryl Keeping argued that Ben Hutton deserved a spot in the Canucks top-six over recent free agent signing Michael Del Zotto.
It took some time, but it would appear that Travis Green agrees. Del Zotto was a consistent healthy scratch for much of the season before injury woes made dressing him a necessity. Meanwhile, Hutton has dressed for 19 of the Canucks’ 21 games this season.
He’s far from a perfect player, but most fans would agree he’s beginning to look more and more like the player that flashed so much potential in his rookie season.
This reminded me of a post I came across at some point last year in my favourite online community dedicated to the Canucks, Reddit’s /r/canucks. It was titled Poor Statistics Might be Supporting Hutton Over MDZ, courtesy of Reddit user CorsiContrarian.
The crux of his argument was that it was unfair to compare how Ben Hutton and Michael Del Zotto fared in their time spent with Chris Tanev because of the different circumstances under which the players were deployed together:
“Like most, I’m of the opinion that Tanev is one of our best defenders… if you are on a pairing with him and get more time playing as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman and aren’t crushing your easier matchups, something is wrong. Tanev is not a player who loses against weaker competition. In other words, even based only on what we know about Hutton and Tanev’s deployment as a pair, we would expect them to be succeeding by shot attempt metrics.
When CanucksArmy compares the [Tanev-Del Zotto] pairing to the [Tanev-Hutton] pairing, they are comparing apples and Apple computers. TMdZ are dealing with top quality competition almost exclusively… Hutton playing with our best defenceman against weaker competition…
As for the overall shot based metrics (Corsi, Fenwick etc), the same phenomenon might be in play. Overall in the season, it appears that MDZ has faced tougher competition with less quality teammates than Hutton has. So again, based only on what we know about their deployment, we’d expect MDZ to have worse results than Hutton on shot based metrics.
Appealing statistics that appear thorough can distort or mask what’s actually causing success on the ice. The most recent CanucksArmy position on MDZ and Hutton may be a demonstration of that.”
At first glance, it seems like a compelling argument. Hutton did face easier than average competition last season:
This season, things have been different. Hutton’s quality of teammates is lower and he’s been seeing much more ice time against the opponent’s best forwards:
Despite the large swings in deployment, Hutton’s underlying numbers in the month of November have been almost identical to last season’s. What’s more impressive is, he’s done most of that away from Chris Tanev (who’s rocking a sub-45% Corsi in November, for comparison), mainly with Erik Gudbranson, with whom he’d struggled mightily in the past.
By all accounts, Ben Hutton is performing better by the eye-test than we’ve seen in some time. He looks stronger, faster, and more confident with and without the puck. But he’s also confirming what many of us believed last season: that he would shine in an expanded role.
It would seem that Darryl, like many great minds, was simply ahead of his time.
3. I can’t be the only one looking forward to this.
This will be, to the best of my knowledge, the first time Botch will be forced to acknowledge the existence of the online community that has negged him lo these many years.
The AMA was set up by former CanucksArmy contributor and current Athletties fill-in author Wyatt Arndt, who many /r/canucks users have asserted produces better Athletties than their creator. In fact, they have a colourful nickname for him over there that I can’t repeat. I’ll have my popcorn ready.
Here’s hoping /u/CorsiContrarian makes an appearance.
4. There continues to be debate about who Elias Pettersson should play with long-term. Jake Virtanen’s been able to stick there over the past few games, and kudos to him. He’s earned it.
The fit makes sense. Pettersson and Virtanen are both known for creating chances off the rush, albeit in very different ways.
It will come as no surprise that both players are in the top five on the team in shot attempts off the rush, as is a common linemate, Nikolay Goldobin. But would you be surprised to hear Loui Eriksson makes an appearance on that list as well? Maybe you can just chock that up to his appearances alongside Pettersson.
The biggest surprise is the player that tops the list. That would be Markus Granlund, who’s played just ten minutes with Pettersson at even-strength this season. He’s quietly off to a strong start, with 10 points in 21 games so far this season.
Granlund played the best hockey of his career at right wing, riding shotgun with two superior players in Henrik and Daniel Sedin. I’m starting to think he deserves a look on that line while Boeser is out.
5. John Garrett turned a couple of heads the other night when he made a comment about how so-called “advanced stats guys” love open-ice dekes.
This is, to the best of my knowledge, not a publicly tracked stat.
In spite of that fact, I cannot spend even one second being upset at anything the man says. That sounds like a joyless existence.
John Garrett might occasionally say something misguided about advanced stats but he also makes jokes about getting choomed up and how much he loves junk food so he's better than literally 100% of nhl colour commentators
— Jackson McDonald (@failsonmcdonald) November 16, 2018
6. While we’re on the subject of the Canucks broadcast, I just want to reflect on the fact that it’s retained its personality in an era where sports programming is becoming increasingly cookie-cutter. I imagine that goes a long way towards explaining why they caught the attention of a journalist with an international platform in Keith Olbermann.
Not to mention, how many colour commentators can moonlight as a food blogger?
Minnesota mini donuts pic.twitter.com/uQjXqm7Mz7
— john garrett (@SNJohnGarrett) November 16, 2018
St. Paul Timmy’s pic.twitter.com/kxqw3GBAD9
— john garrett (@SNJohnGarrett) November 14, 2018