The Canucks’ post-holiday schedule sets them up perfectly as masters of their own fate

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks are not quite at the halfway point in their 2023/24 campaign, but on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers they played the last game in the “2023” portion of the schedule.
The Philadelphia matchup marked the Canucks’ 36th game on the season, and while it didn’t go exactly as planned, the Canucks should still end the calendar year in either first place in the NHL or within a point or two thereof.
New Year’s is a time of reflection, which makes it a perfect time to look back at that amazing record and bask in the glory of its sheer unexpectedness.
But it’s also a time to look forward, and to wonder what’s next, and on that front we’ve actually got some relevant information.
Vancouver will play 46 more games in the regular season following the flip from 2023 to 2024. Digging into that schedule allows us to see a lot about the next four months or so, and how the shape of them is going to impact the Canucks and their ongoing success.
First, let’s talk density.
Prior to the break, the Canucks had played 35 games in the 74 calendar days between October 11’s season-opening stomping of the Oilers and December 23’s filleting of the Sharks. Those are two nice bookends, sure, but they also represent the outermost bounds of some truly compact hockey.
That’s very nearly a rate of a game every other night.
It’s worth noting too that the Canucks had a five-game road-trip in early October, and that November was just chock full of travel. It’s also worth noting that those three months also featured five back-to-back situations, from which the Canucks pulled five of their 12 cumulative losses on the season.
In other words, it has been a grueling stretch of schedule, with little time for rest and even less time for practice.
It’s just been less noticeable than it usually is because the Canucks have been winning throughout it.
So what comes next?
From the Philadelphia game onward, the Canucks will play 47 games from December 28 to April 18, a span of 112 days.
The previous schedule of 35 games in 74 days works out to one game per every 2.11 days. The upcoming 47 games in 112 days works out to a game per every 2.38 days. That might not sound like a huge discrepancy, but think of it this way: the Canucks played on 47.3% of their days in the first chunk of the schedule, and they’ll be playing on only 42% of their days from here on out.
That’s an extra 5% of days that have now been freed up for practice and rest. Really, when you think about it, it’s remarkable that head coach Rick Tocchet has been able to achieve such concrete buy-in to his system under these circumstances, with such limited practice time. A 5% increase in on-ice time with the coaches can’t help but be an exciting prospect to the fans that have loved what they’ve seen so far.
Speaking of Tocchet, let’s get on to Strength of Schedule, known colloquially as SOS. It’s a stat based on the estimated strength of all the opponents a team still has to face on their remaining schedule. Most will remember that last season’s Tocchet Turnaround came at the same time as the Canucks enjoyed a late-year schedule featuring a very low SOS. This resulted in many advising caution, and a “wait and see” approach as to whether the impact of Tocchet was the real deal.
This season has proven that the deal was, indeed, real. But since we’re all familiar with SOS as a concept now, let’s look at how it will impact the ’24 Canucks.
When Tocchet took over in late January last year, his Canucks spent the remainder of the season fluctuating around the bottom-end of the SOS charts.
This time around, Tocchet heads into January with a much more difficult task ahead of him, at least as this stat measures it.
According to the folks over at Tankathon, the Canucks have a remaining strength of schedule score of .563, which can be vaguely understood (but not exactly) as the average record of their remaining opponents. That’s tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the 11th most difficult SOS in the league.
Which doesn’t sound so bad. It’s on the high side of middle-of-the-pack. But that comes with some caveats:
  • The Canucks are only .006 away from being in the top-four of the SOS chart, and it’s tight up at the top.
  • The Canucks have the highest remaining SOS of any Pacific Division team.
  • Two of the teams most likely to challenge the Canucks for a playoff spot, Los Angeles and Edmonton, are in the bottom-five for remaining strength of schedule.
  • The Canucks play Ottawa, St. Louis, Buffalo, Columbus, and Chicago within the first three weeks of January. As of that January 22 mark, the point at which Tocchet took over last year, the SOS gets decidedly more difficult.
So, the Canucks’ remaining strength of schedule is a lot harder than it was at this point last year, and it’s only going to get harder from here on out.
Which is not to say that the Canucks are doomed, or set to regress, or likely to slide in the standings. All it really means is that no one is going to be able to point to an “easy” schedule as the reason for their success. Whatever they achieve from this point onward, the Canucks will have earned, the hard way.
And where one sees difficulty, another might see opportunity. Because there’s one more secret hiding in the remaining schedule, and it’s one that will allow the Canucks to become masters of their own 2023/24 destiny.
The Canucks are about to enter a long stretch of interdivisional play. They won’t play another opponent from the Pacific until February 22 against the Seattle Kraken. From that point on, however? It’s divisional city.
A full 13 of the Canucks’ final 24 games on the regular season are against Pacific Division rivals. Of those 13 games, seven are against the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings, the two teams closest to the Canucks in the standings.
So, yes, the rest of the 2023/24 schedule does present the Canucks with some difficulties, at least in terms of the quality of competition they’re about to face. But it also grants them a lot more breathing room than they’ve become accustomed to in the early going, and it gifts them with a real opportunity to take a direct hand in their final place in the standings.
Based on what we’ve seen from this team and its coach so far, we don’t think that’s an opportunity the Canucks will shy away from.
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