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
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.
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
|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.
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|
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|
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.
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|
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.
The Canucks Shoot From Really Far Away On Average
|Player||Average Shot Length|
|Los Angeles Kings||38.3|
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.