Photo Credit: Jake Roth - USA TODAY Sports

The Weirdest Stats Of The Season Thus Far, And How They Came To Be

Mark Twain once wrote that “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable,” and he very well could have been writing about hockey analytics, had they been invented in the 19th century. If there’s one thing that the advent of advanced stats and their proliferation in the hockey zeitgeist has demonstrated over the past decade, it’s that statistical evidence can point to any number of conclusions when taken out of context—and sometimes those conclusions don’t jive with reality.

Don’t get us wrong—we’re not coming out anti-analytics here. Nuanced knowledge of modern statistics can only enhance one’s understanding and enjoyment of the game, but context is everything. Just looking at some of the different advanced numbers available on an individual basis can lead one in some pretty strange directions. To prove it, we’ve gathered up some of the weirdest Vancouver Canucks stats of the season thus far, and we’ll attempt to pair them with some of that vital context to explain why they look so out-of-whack. 

Brendan Gaunce Has More Than Double The P/60 Of Elias Pettersson 

Player Points/60 Minutes
Brendan Gaunce 7.88
Elias Pettersson 3.68

There’s a young centerman on the Canucks this season who has taken the league by storm, and his offensive performance has been so dominant that it seems like he’s involved in a scoring play every time he touches the ice. To back that up, we point to the P/60 stat, which measures how many points an individual averages per 60 minutes of icetime. In this category, the player ranks highest not just on the Vancouver roster, but in the entire NHL.

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We’re talking, of course, about Brendan Gaunce.

Not only is Gaunce pacing the Canucks in P/60, he’s scoring at more than double the rate of that other supposed young superstar, Elias Pettersson. Gaunce has been on the ice for less than 23 minutes in total this season, but he’s chipped in a goal and two assists in that time.

That tiny sample size and inordinate burst of production from Gaunce resulted in this eye-popping stat, but it’s far from a true indication of his talent level. He’s in the AHL for a reason—he did pass through waivers unclaimed, after all—and all that his P/60 proves is that it’s never a good idea to draw definitive conclusions from a limited sample of hockey. 

The Corsi Leaderboard Makes Absolutely No Sense 

Player SAT %
Sam Gagner 58.21%
Josh Leivo 55.88%
Reid Boucher 54.55%
Alex Biega 54.35%
Brendan Gaunce 54.05%
Michael Del Zotto 51.78%

Corsi For Percentage—or Shot Attempt Percentage, as the NHL calls it—measures the share of total shot attempts, including blocked and missed shots, that a team makes versus their opponent. It’s meant to gauge how well a team controls possession of the puck, but it’s far from a perfect stat—as the leaderboard above clearly demonstrates.

None of the individuals listed pass the “eye test” as dominant possession players, yet their individual Corsi rates are significantly above that of the team as a whole, so what gives? In the cases of Sam Gagner, Reid Boucher, and the aforementioned Gaunce, the dreaded small sample size is the likely culprit. But the other names on the list are a bit harder to parse.

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Josh Leivo has been the beneficiary of some plum minutes aside Pettersson and Boeser, and he hasn’t been asked to take on much of a defensive load. As a result, he’s generally been on the ice in far more offensive situations than he has defensive—and thus, he’s been on for far more shot attempts for his team than shot attempts against.

Sheltered minutes are also the explanation behind Alex Biega and Michael Del Zotto’s presence on the Corsi leaderboard. When coach Travis Green has the option, he doesn’t dress Biega or Del Zotto, so he’s obviously going to avoid difficult matchups for them when they do hit the ice. Through this limited role, Biega and Del Zotto avoid icetime against the sort of opponents that can control the play—and thus, their Corsi rates soar in comparison to the defenders who play tougher minutes.

Antoine Roussel Has Drawn More Penalties Than He’s Taken 

Player PIM Minors Taken Minors Drawn
Antoine Roussel 90 19 20

This is the point at which this article becomes an Antoine Roussel Booster Club piece. Roussel currently leads the Canucks and the NHL in penalty minutes with 90, yet somehow he’s still drawn more minor penalties than he has taken.

It may seem like Roussel is constantly putting the team shorthanded—and he has done that 19 times in 40 games—but he’s also gained them 20 powerplays during that time. The Canucks definitely come out ahead on the exchange, and Roussel’s penalty-drawing abilities are actually even more impressive when one digs into them further.

Antoine Roussel Draws Penalties Nearly As Frequently As Elias Pettersson 

Player Minor Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes
Elias Pettersson 1.75
Antoine Roussel 1.62
Adam Gaudette 1.33

The dynamic offense of Elias Pettersson means that he’s a threat to either score a goal or draw a penalty every time he’s on the ice, and he does in fact lead Vancouver in penalties drawn per 60 minutes—but only barely. Roussel draws penalties at nearly the same rate, and he does it in a very different fashion.

Whereas Pettersson draws penalties based on the disparity between his skill level versus his opponents, Roussel gets the job done through sheer truculence. He’s so bothersome on the ice that most opposing players want nothing more than to ruin his day, and that translates into a lot of late hits, facewashes, and retaliatory slashes over a season of hockey—and a bunch of drawn penalties as a result.

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So while Roussel’s lofty place in this statistical category may have looked wonky at first, it’s actually a perfect demonstration of how even the most basic of advanced stats can measure the sort of on-ice value that was once considered “intangible.”


Antoine Roussel Is Second On The Team In Primary Assists

Player Primary Assists Secondary Assists
Elias Pettersson 13 7
Antoine Roussel 11 2
Nikolay Goldobin 9 9

While we’re on the Roussel Express, we should also mention that he’s currently second on the team in primary assists—trailing Pettersson by a scant 13-11 margin. Roussel has just two secondary assists on the year.

Playing ample minutes with Bo Horvat undoubtedly plays a major role in Roussel’s impressive assist ratio, but Roussel deserves plenty of credit himself. He’s clearly been making the most of his time in the top-six, setting up goals or earning powerplays whenever he hits the ice. In fact, maybe Roussel’s high ranking in so many statistical categories isn’t all that weird after all—maybe he’s just a good player having a great season.

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The Canucks Shoot From Really Far Away On Average 

Player Average Shot Length
Los Angeles Kings 38.3
Florida Panthers 37.8
Vancouver Canucks 37.8
Philadelphia Flyers 37.5

It’s hard to know what to make of this stat, but the Canucks shoot from the second-furthest away from the net, on average, in the entire NHL.

It bears mentioning that Vancouver is accompanied at the bottom of this category by some rather woeful teams, whereas the other end of the spectrum features powerhouses like Tampa Bay, Calgary, and Toronto shooting from an average of more than three feet closer to the net.

Does this mean that the Canucks are too reliant on shots from the blueline? That they lack a true net-front presence? That they’re collectively afraid of goaltenders?

The answer, most likely, is none of the above. This particular statistical category features a lot of parity—with a distance of just four average feet separating the farthest-shooting team from the closest—and there’s no real correlation between it and a team’s offensive success. In the end, some stats are relatively meaningless, and this is probably one of them.

  • Good, amusing article.

    One thing to note though – Biega has actually been among the Canucks possession leaders for the past couple of seasons. Daniel Wagner at Pass It To Bulis did a really interesting deep dive into Biega’s numbers and came to the conclusion that Biega is probably a significantly better defenseman, particularly when paired with the right partner, than he’s given credit for.

    • Gampbler

      The Biega numbers actually might be a counter argument that possession numbers are overrated to a degree. Just because he winds it up inside his blueline and tells Pettersson to hold his beer, doesn’t translate to high quality scoring chances and in fact he would be a much better d-man if he played a more conservative style and passed rather than carried the puck. It’s one thing to have possession and it’s another to have a player that probably shouldn’t have possession over another more skilled player on the ice at the same time. I’m sure we have all had that teammate that wanted the puck or the ball all the time that shouldn’t have had it at all. Biega is that NHL player.

  • Killer Marmot

    As the season progresses and the sample size grows, we can probably expect to see Baertschi’s shooting percentage drop down to a more normal number

    Dropped the ball on that one. That is Baertschi’s normal number over the last few years. His shooting percentage last year was 17.1% over 51 games, and the year before that 15.8% over 68 games.

    Thus it’s not that strange that he’s beating Boeser in that category. He’s got a good shot. But he gets about half the shots per game that Brock does.

  • Defenceman Factory

    thanks, that was an interesting read.

    The average shot distance is particularly interesting. As you say you probably don’t want to draw a specific conclusion from that stat alone but with a cluster of poor teams at the bottom of the list probably more to it than just nothing.

    Here are some assumptions that might be worth looking into. The PP does not get enough shots from dangerous areas. Virtanen, Pouliot and probably some others waste puck possession far too often with low percentage shots. Jake’s playmaking looks markedly better this year but his point production has stalled and his tendency to through pucks at the net and do a drive by has returned during the last few weeks. I care less about Pouliot’s shots. If he takes any shot it means he wasn’t buried in his own end and didn’t give the puck away in the offensive blue line with an ill advised pass.

  • Killer Marmot

    The different average shot distances from team to team might indicate the number of power forwards each team has, players who are willing to muck it up in front of the opponent’s net ready to pounce on rebounds.

    • More likely it’s just a difference in coaching and systems. The Kings remain one of the heaviest teams in the league and the Panthers and Flyers are both up there as well. That the Flyers are up there despite having Wayne Simmonds and Van Riemsdyk, two players who score tonnes of goals by sitting in front of the net banging in rebounds, is pretty surprising.

      • Killer Marmot

        The Kings have got some big centers like Kopitar (225 lbs) and Carter (219 lbs) which skews their average, but those guys are also getting old and probably not fond of getting cross-checked in front of the opponent’s net.

  • Rodeobill

    Im not surprised about the rooster. I am pretty sure he thinks it his role to dig pucks out of corners and put them in front of the net. He’s actually not a bad set up man, I think Green knows that too, and even had him on the EP line for part of one game.

  • Kanuckhotep

    It would seem that Corsi, Fenwick, Analytics et all were designed for the modern assessment of the thousands of guys hoping to make it into the NHL, and in the NHL itself. It is useful information and a guide but does not address intangibles that occur beyond statistical interpretation. In 1970-71, addressing +/- for example Bobby Orr was plus-124 while Dallas Smith his defence partner was plus-94 playing for BOS. Does this mean Dallas Smith was that good or did it help him playing with the greatest D man in history? Shot share, zone entry and the like certainly are important but it helps to have great players on your squad I’d say.

    • rediiis

      That is a big problem between junior leagues and competition against. Analytics don’t hold merit. At youth ages, skating and stick handling are more important than some other fundamentals. This is the reason why I like trades involving AHL players or stagnant NHL’ers. Sutter isn’t going to get better this year. The 2 plus months of re-hab will not bring out his offensive game. Loui is another that has a ceiling sitting on the floor. I am all for a full tear-down this year and the next few years will reap dividends. Believe in a tried and true method, not some illusion.

  • Laxbruh15

    Lying with statistics covers this topic as well. It’s kind of the point that’s been ignored and it has tangible impacts on player negotiations as well as perception. It’s the difference between using analytics as a tool to understand the game vs using the game to understand the analytics.