The last edition of this column showed up at the end of October, when the glittering Vancouver Canucks topped the Pacific Division and the spirit of the fanbase was similarly lofty—though the stats seemed to indicate that all was not quite so golden as it seemed. While some were setting aside their savings for playoff tickets four weeks ago, circumstances have changed since then—to put it mildly—and the current snapshot of the team more closely resembles that of the cellar-dwelling squads of the last few seasons.
As November draws to a close, we once again take a close look at the hard numbers—comparing the 2018 Canucks’ team statistics through October and November with those of the previous four years. Those four versions of the Vancouver Canucks featured three basement finishes and a short-lived playoff run, and through two months it’s starting to become perfectly clear in which of those directions the Canucks are currently trending. Statistically speaking, the team is a lot closer to a ticket in the Jack Hughes lottery than they are to a playoff spot.
First, a quick refresher on how the previous four seasons ended to add a bit of context to the comparisons.
|101 POINTS (2ND IN THE PACIFIC, LOST IN FIRST ROUND)||75 POINTS (6TH IN THE PACIFIC)||69 POINTS (7TH IN THE PACIFIC)||73 POINTS (7TH IN THE PACIFIC)||TO BE DETERMINED!|
|16-6-1 (33 POINTS)||9-8-7 (25 POINTS)||10-11-2 (22 POINTS)||11-10-4 (26 POINTS)||11-14-3 (25 POINTS)|
The 2018/19 Canucks ended November ranked sixth in the Pacific Division, with the only things keeping them out of last place being a dreadful start for Los Angeles and a low amount of games played for Arizona. Suffice to say that this version of the Canucks doesn’t look promising to finish any higher in the standings that the last three editions, all of whom concluded November with point totals in the mid-20s.
The Canucks have played more games thus far than any other team, and consequently their point percentage—a measurement of the amount of available points the team has actually picked up—is even more damning than their raw point total. By this measure, the Canucks are off to their worst start in a long time, with a lower percentage as of November than even the dismal 2016/17 Canucks. At .446, Vancouver has the fourth-worst point percentage in the league, ahead of just Chicago, St. Louis, and the aforementioned Los Angeles.
This stat, too, shows that the current edition of the team is performing at a rate that is pretty much in line—albeit slightly worse—with the 2016/17 roster. The Canucks have let in 18 more goals than they’ve scored, and that’s with offensive leaders Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser playing at or above expectations. It’s not unheard of for a team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential, but having one in the double-digits this early in the season is never a good sign.
The powerplay is the one area in which the Canucks are statistically up to snuff, and it’s hard not to lay most of the credit at Elias Pettersson’s fancy feet. Though the team’s powerplay percentage is actually down from where it was at this point last season, it’s actually clipping along at a higher rate than that of the 2014/15 Canucks—the last edition of the roster to make the playoffs.
The team’s penalty kill has been spiraling of late, and that’s definitely made its mark on the stats columns. Rarely have the Canucks had a PK rate this bad and, although injuries have played a role in their shorthanded woes, it should be noted that injuries are always a factor in Vancouver—and thus, not a great excuse when comparing stats with previous years’ teams. Only six teams in the NHL have penalty killing percentages lower than the Canucks’.
At this point, the Canucks’ faceoff percentage is practically an individual stat, and that individual is one Bo Horvat. Horvat has taken 708 of the team’s 1692 total faceoffs and remains at an impressive 54.52%—which makes the overall team score of 47.8% especially damning for the rest of the centers. Clearly, the Manny Malhotra Effect has yet to kick in for anyone other than Bo.
Shot Attempt Percentage (Corsi For %)
Check out last month’s edition of this column for a full explanation of this statistic, but what NHL.com refers to as “Shot Attempt Percentage” is more commonly referred to as “Corsi For Percentage.” In short, it’s a measure of a team’s share of the shot attempts (shots, blocked shots, and missed shots) versus that of their opponents. It’s meant to measure how well a team controls possession and dictates the flow of the game—both vital components to winning in the modern NHL.
That’s unfortunate for the 2018/19 Canucks, because their SAT% is yet another category in which they trail the last four editions of the roster as of November’s end. In essence, this relatively unadvanced advanced stat illustrates why the team is struggling to win games—they don’t control the puck enough, nor do they generate enough offensive pressure against their opponents to consistently outscore them.
Players like Pettersson, Horvat, and Boeser are scoring as much as they can, but the Canucks’ lowly SAT% demonstrates pretty plainly that the rest of the team just isn’t providing the secondary offensive push that a roster needs to compete in the modern NHL.
Speaking of the rest of the league, this is yet another statistical category in which Vancouver is among the NHL’s worst—only five teams have a lower SAT% than the Canucks.
There aren’t many positive conclusions that can be drawn out of this. Few would contend that the Canucks have been playing well, but those cold hard statistics allow us to actually put a number on the team’s performance and gain some context to help determine just how poorly they’ve been doing.
And when it comes to the Canucks’ performance as of November 30, 2018, the clear answer to the question of how the team is playing is—
—“Like a team that’s going to finish with a lottery pick in the next NHL Entry Draft.”