The Canucks addressed their PK woes in a big way on day one of free agency
Photo credit:© Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
Let’s not dwell on the painful past, but let’s revisit it for just a brief moment.
In 2022/23, the Vancouver Canucks finished with a penalty kill rate of 71.6%, having allowed 69 power play goals against in just 243 times shorthanded.
Not so nice.
Not so nice.
It was, infamously, the worst penalty kill in the entire league. And it was almost worse.
Through the first 46 games of the season under head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks posted a PK rate of 65.9%, not just worst in the league, but one of the worst all-time.
In the remaining 36 games after head coach Rick Tocchet took over, the Canucks’ PK rebounded…a little. The team went 78.4% under Tocchet, a fair sight better than 65.9%, but still only good enough for 21st place in the league during that same span. Tocchet’s penchant for letting his skilled players take risks while penalty-killing did allow Elias Pettersson and JT Miller to put up some serious shorthanded goals and vastly improve the team’s net penalty kill, but it all had the feel of rearranging deck chairs on a famous ship we probably shouldn’t mention right now.
There’s only so much that a coach can do. With no de facto “penalty killers” on the roster, save perhaps in the past tense when it came to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, what the Canucks plainly have is a PK personnel issue.
Or, should we say, had.
The Canucks made a handful of signings on the first day of FREE AGENT FRENZY 2023, and it was obvious that shorthanded ability was at the forefront of their shopping list.
|Games Played||Avg. PK TOI||PP Goals Against /60||% of Team’s Shorthanded Time||Shorthanded Points|
New additions via free agency
We’ll start our whirlwind tour of the new PKers with Carson Soucy, a LHD that proved to be the Canucks’ most expensive contract of the day, coming in at three years with a $3.5 million AAV.
Soucy was not a first unit penalty killer for the Seattle Kraken — that honour went to the duo of Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson. But the pairing of Soucy and Will Borgen were almost always the next-in-line, and Soucy wound up playing almost two minutes of shorthanded ice per game for the 21st ranked PK in the NHL.
Soucy allowed power play goals against at a much lower rate than Oleksiak and Larsson, but that’s probably largely due to him facing off against second units more frequently.
As the playoffs came around, the Kraken leaned more heavily on their first unit, reducing Soucy’s minutes, but he still managed more than a minute of shorthanded hockey through 14 postseason games.
Of note are Soucy’s 96 blocked shots on the season, which ranked third on the Kraken behind Larsson and Oleksiak. Had he done the same on the Canucks, Soucy would have ranked second behind only Tyler Myers.
Next, we move on to Ian Cole, the Canucks’ second-most expensive contract of the day but their most experienced penalty killer, by far.
The 34-year-old Cole has been killing penalties at the NHL level for a while now, and he hasn’t slowed down much at it, if at all. Cole killed nearly three full minutes of penalties per game for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022/23, coming in a few seconds behind Erik Cernak in average shorthanded TOI, but leading the team in total shorthanded minutes with 225:24.
That meant that Cole was very frequently out there against the top power play units in the Eastern Conference. Which is notable, because his rate of power play goals against was also the lowest of any regular Lightning PKer on the blueline.
That’s just remarkable, with Tampa’s overall PK rate of 79.7% finishing a respectable 15th in the NHL.
Believe it or not, Cole played even more shorthanded minutes in the playoffs, posting a ridiculous 3:56 of average PK time through six playoff games. He allowed just four goals against during that time.
Cole’s 123 blocks during the 2022/23 campaign were third on the Lightning, but also would have been second on the Canucks.
Then we have center Teddy Blueger, who split the season between Pittsburgh and Vegas after being traded at the deadline.
While his ice-time was drastically reduced in Vegas and Blueger wound up being a spare part on a championship roster, he was much more important to the Penguins.
In fact, Blueger was the Penguins’ second-most frequent penalty killer with an average of 2:37 in shorthanded ice-time per game. That’s an unusual distinction for a forward, with the first two slots in that column almost always going to defenders.
During that time, Blueger allowed just 5.62 power play goals against per 60 shorthanded minutes, which is the best rate of any regular Pittsburgh penalty killer, and downright astounding for someone facing top units on a nightly basis.
That puts Blueger well within the top-50 of most effective PKers in the entire league.
Blueger’s shorthanded faceoff percentage of 44.3% leaves a little to be desired, but remember that teams on the power play get to choose which side to face off from, leaving the shorthanded center at a disadvantage.
And, really, that’s the only strike against Blueger, who is otherwise the very definition of a premier penalty killer.
Even Matt Irwin, the Canucks’ most unheralded signing of the day, deserves mention here. Through 61 quiet games for the Washington Capitals, the 35-year-old average 54 seconds of shorthanded time.
Irwin was more of a fill-in guy than anything, which is also the role he can expect to play in Vancouver. But of particular note is the 2.17 power play goals against per 60 rate that Irwin posted.
That’s the single lowest rate of any penalty killer who played as many or more shorthanded minutes than Irwin. That’s right, the lowest. Period.
That Oliver Ekman-Larsson comes in with the highest rate on the same stat-chart really says it all about the drastic difference the Canucks can expect from their PK in 2023/24.
They may have only added two shorthanded points to the roster, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But they’ve still got Pettersson and Miller on hand for that.
What the Canucks have added to their PK units is effectiveness and efficiency, and those are precisely the two things they needed most.
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