Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The 2022-23 Canucks through ten games: It can’t be worse than last year, right?
1 year ago
On December 5th, 2021, Canucks Sports & Entertainment executives relieved most of its management and coaching staff following a 4-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The loss was their 10th in thirteen games and moved them to 8-15-2 on the season, a dismal record exacerbated by a penalty kill operating at “historically bad” levels.
The scorched earth house-cleaning effort began with the dismissals of general manager Jim Benning, assistant general manager John Weisbrod, head coach Travis Green, and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner, followed by fellow AGM Chris Gear, and senior director of hockey operations and analytics, Johnathan Wall, five days later.
A Boudreau bump, Curtis Lazar, Ilya Mikheyev, and a JT Miller extension later, has this team improved from where they were just one year ago?
Is it possible that they’re worse?
Let’s compare this season’s start to the last, and you be the judge!
First 10 GP Comparison: 2021-22 vs. 2022-23
Through their first ten games of the 2022-23 season, the Vancouver Canucks have performed worse than they did to start their 2021-22 campaign.
Last season’s Canucks were roundly criticized for their lackadaisical efforts, bad habits, poor starts, and absentee penalty-killing IQ that led to their unimpressive 4-5-1 record.
Imagine that, not twelve months later, and this team might wish they were performing at the level they had to start last season!
Much noise was made about the Canucks’ penalty kill then, and rightly so. However, at the ten-game marker, the team’s penalty kill was still operating at a better rate than five other teams.
2021-22 Penalty Killing: Team stats from October 4th to November 2nd, 2021
During games eleven and twelve, the Vancouver Canucks faced the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars, who would finish the season with the league’s 6th and 11th-best power plays. Against those two Central Division teams, the Canucks gave up four goals against six power play opportunities, dropping them into the “historically bad” tier.
2021-22 Penalty Killing: Team stats from October 4th to November 8th, 2021
The Canucks’ new head office invested this past offseason heavily toward bringing in credible penalty-killing forwards Ilya Mikheyev and Curtis Lazar while re-upping with JT Miller, a routine first-shift penalty killer, for seven years after this season at $8 million per season.
What are the early returns on this investment?
2022-23 Penalty Killing: Team stats from October 4th to November 2nd, 2022
The Canucks have reached the “historically bad” tier of penalty killing in two fewer games played than last season. Their special teams have conceded three more power play goals and two more shorthanded goals in the same number of PK and PP opportunities!
Yes, the 2022-23 Canucks have improved their rate of goals scored per game, both at evens and on the power play. However, the alarming stat that sticks out is the sheer number of goals conceded across all situations! The team has conceded 1.3 more goals per game than last season.
Part of that is on Thatcher Demko, who has not looked like himself this season. But the bulk of the goals allowed rest on the lethargic defensive play of the other five skaters on the ice.
Last season’s poor start, which resulted in the dissolving of its front office and half of its coaching staff, saw the team allow thirteen fewer goals than this season’s Vancouver Canucks have through ten games.
This team may end up in a worse state after 25 games than they were through 25 games last season at their current rate.
The current front office group effectively went all-in on the roster left behind by Benning when they prioritized signing UFA Ilya Mikheyev and JT Miller to a lengthy extension ahead of improving its “certainly adequate” defence.
On Hockey Night in Canada’s After Hours with Scott Oake and John Garrett, Jim Rutherford broached the topic of rebuilding.
“But ideally, we’d like to transition this team on the fly,” said Rutherford. “We do have some core players, some young players that are really good. These guys just have to try to work through this at this point, but we will continue to try to add younger players to this team and bring it together here within the next year.”
That “transition on the fly” approach resulted in the second-longest serving GM in Vancouver Canucks history making it to the playoffs just twice in eight seasons. One of those playoff appearances owing thanks to an expanded play-in format that saw the Vancouver Canucks beat the Minnesota Wild in a best-of-six series.
No doubt, Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford have a much longer runway ahead of them than Jim Benning had at the start of the 2021-22 season.
But, should the roster they went all-in on this past offseason continue trending further in a worse direction, that runway might be considerably shorter than expected, especially for a front office group that, from an outsider’s view, is attempting to improve this team through the same “on the fly” approach as the last.
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