On May 8, 2019, the Vancouver Canucks made it official—they would not be making a qualifying offer to retain Derrick Pouliot’s services, and he would be set loose to join the unrestricted free agency market.
It’s a move that almost certainly marks the end of Pouliot’s tenure with the organization, and in many ways it felt like an inevitable occurrence after Pouliot spent much of the 2018/19 season as the fanbase’s official whipping boy—in a franchise full of whippable boys, no less.
As such, this Year In Review will probably read more like a post-mortem than a post-season recap, and tell the story of how Pouliot punched his ticket out of town—and possibly out of the NHL altogether.
On The Surface
Production-wise, Derrick Pouliot had the second-worst season of his five-year NHL career—trailing just his 11 game, zero point performance in 2016/17.
Pouliot played 62 games for the Canucks after playing 71 in 2017/18, but his point total dropped from 22 points to just 12. Some of his surface stats—like his plus/minus and his shooting percentage—saw significant upticks, but nothing could hide the flagging offensive numbers from a supposedly offensive defenseman.
The backslide had little to do with opportunity, as Pouliot’s ice-time was more-or-less the same this season as it was last. Pouliot ranked 6th among regular Canucks’ defensemen in minutes, and fourth in powerplay time—until he played his way out of the lineup, that is.
Aside from a few sporadic healthy scratches—and a brief injury in late January—Pouliot stayed in the lineup for the Canucks until mid-March, when coach Travis Green finally pulled the plug on his former junior star. After March 9, Pouliot sat in the pressbox for all but a single game.
Speaking of game logs, it bears mentioning that Pouliot’s production was relatively consistent throughout the year—with no hot streaks of note whatsoever. His 12 points came one at a time, spaced more-or-less evenly throughout the season, and his quarterly breakdown reflects that.
It’s clear that Green lost confidence in Pouliot throughout the season, culminating in his removal from the lineup in late March—a move that many fans felt was far too long in coming. However, to determine exactly what changed Green’s mind about Pouliot, we need to dig deeper.
A Perfect Picture Of Imperfection
As a bottom-pairing defenseman, one might assume that Pouliot’s D partners dragged him down to some degree—but that’s not really true.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
While the Pouliot-Erik Gudbranson pairing was an abject disaster—and the less said about it the better—Pouliot spent much of the rest of the season alternating between stints with Troy Stecher and Chris Tanev, two of the Canucks steadiest defenseman. He also spent a large portion of the year with Alex Biega—who had a career-defining season. Clearly, Pouliot’s partners were not the problem.
But maybe Pouliot himself wasn’t the problem either—as some of his advanced stats actually look pretty sharp. The 25-year-old defenseman had positive Corsi and Fenwick stats relative to his teammates—including some aptitude at the possession side of the game. That means that the Canucks directed more shots at their opponents’ net—and allowed less at their own—with Pouliot on the ice than without him.
Pouliot’s PDO—which combines a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage when a certain player is on the ice—was tied for third-highest on the team behind Chris Tanev and the legendary Brendan Gaunce.
Those weighty fancy stats—along with a few others—reflect pretty well on Pouliot, and they also combine to give him an impressive Point Share of 2.7, good for 9th on the Canucks. This means that Pouliot contributed more to Vancouver’s success than players like Josh Leivo, Jake Virtanen, and Nikolay Goldobin—at least, according to this measure.
Any fan who operates primarily on the “eye test” is probably rolling said eyes right now, because the above slate of stats does not exactly correlate with the real-life Derrick Pouliot making regular appearances at Rogers Arena in 2018/19. Before we throw the fancy numbers out with the bathwater, however, we should mention a few analytical items that actually hew a little closer to the eye-tested Pouliot.
First and foremost is Pouliot’s deployment, which could best be described as generous. In addition to his ample powerplay time, Pouliot started more of his shifts in the offensive zone than any regular Canucks defenseman not named Michael Del Zotto—and yet his points-per-game remained an abysmal 0.19.
That could be explained in part by Pouliot’s weak shot—which got through to the net less than 40% of the time. His Thru % is second-worst on the entire team behind—you guessed it—Michael Del Zotto.
An image is starting to form of a player that plays in a lot of offensive situations, but might not drive too much of that offense themselves—and may actually be a bit of a detriment. Directing shots at the net is great, but Pouliot is not the guy you want doing it.
Pouliot’s quality of competition backs up the narrative of a sheltered defenseman, indicating that he didn’t hit the ice often against top-flight opponents—and really, should anyone have expected him to, given his defensive reputation?
Those aforementioned defensive struggles are hard to pin down without relying on the eye test, but there are a few apparent signs that something is rotten in the state of his defense-work.
The folks over at Corsica can do all sorts of things with a player’s possession stats, including efforts to breakdown one’s individual contributions to their team’s Corsi For %. On that front, Pouliot ranks among the Canucks’ worst—down there with the defensive specialists of the team. Unlike those defenders, however, Pouliot can’t blame his low score on his deployment—and he can probably blame his own offensive and defensive shortcomings.
Also unlike those defenders, Pouliot frequently demonstrated a nasty habit of taking bad penalties. It’s not exactly a winning combination, despite what Pouliot’s Point Share might say.
Overall, the statistical story of Derrick Pouliot’s 2018/19 season jives quite well with the narrative that most fans seemed to form as the year wore on. As an ex-Winterhawk, Pouliot was obviously a favourite of coach Travis Green—and that probably led to him receiving more opportunity than his skill warranted.
As the season continued, however, even Green started to see the flaws in Pouliot’s game that had been apparent to most observers from October onward—leading to Pouliot’s eventual pressbox exodus in late March and his subsequent release to free agency.
As a 25-year-old former 8th overall pick, Pouliot will almost certainly receive at least a training camp invite from another NHL franchise—and probably a contract offer or two. Any team expecting him to serve as anything other than a spare defenseman will be sorely disappointed, but Pouliot could still shine in the right situation. It’s just not that likely.