Conor Garland’s 2023/24 season is a statistical anomaly that proves fans understand underlying numbers better than most realize

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
3 months ago
Is Vancouver Canucks hockey really all about the vibes?
In this line of work, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. So know going in that the origin of this particular article was a text from a dear friend of the author that read “Isn’t it strange that Conor Garland has become a fan favourite again in what is going to wind up being his worst statistical season as a Canuck?”
But if that were a true statement-question, it definitely didn’t feel true.
The first part isn’t really in dispute. Anyone who had jumped off the Garland bandwagon in prior years hopped back on the second he became the centrepiece of the best third line in hockey alongside Dakota Joshua and Teddy Blueger, a union that contributed way more to the Canucks’ success in 2023/24 than it reasonably should have.
If Garland’s uncharacteristically positive appearance on After Hours was any indication, he’s as happy in Vancouver as he’s ever been, and Vancouver is as happy as its ever been with him in return.
But then what about the second part of the statement. Is it really true that this is Garland’s worst season as a Canuck?
By most basic measures, that would appear to be the case.
As of this writing, Garland has 15 goals and 21 assists through 72 games for a total of 36 points, a nice round 0.5 PPG average. Should he maintain the same pace over the final ten games of the season, he’ll add another five points for a final total of 41.
Given that Garland’s overall career average is 0.58, we begin to see the earliest signs of this not being Garland’s best year.
But his worst as a Canuck?
It’s easy enough to check. As much as it feels like he’s been around longer, the 2023/24 season is only Garland’s third with the Canucks. In his 2021/22 debut campaign, he notched 19 goals and 33 assists for 52 points in 77 games, high-water marks in each category that he’s yet to replicate. This season, he’s likely to finish with more than ten fewer points in five more games played.
Garland’s 2022/23 season was a slight step down from there. He played in 81 games, scored 17 goals, and added 29 assists for a total of 46 points.
On the one hand, someone could look at the Garland trend and declare him a depreciating asset. His points-per-game average has slipped from 0.8 during is final (partial) season in Arizona, to 0.68 during his first season with the Canucks, to 0.57 last season, and now down to 0.50 right now.
And yet…no one is talking about Garland like he’s a depreciating asset. Much the opposite.
Before anyone goes making the argument that Garland’s lesser scoring is a result of his being on a better team overall and thus receiving less ice-time and opportunity, know that his points-per-60 is also the lowest it’s been at any point since Garland’s rookie season. Last year, Garland put up 2.3 points-per-60, and this year it’s down to 2.1 points-per-60.
By any measure, Garland is producing less.
And yet…
This offseason, trade rumours abounded and most were of the opinion that Garland was an asset of negative value that would require a sweetener to move. Now, the idea of trading him is about as unpopular as it gets.
How did this sea-change occur? Why is Garland now a fan favourite again in the midst of his worst statistical season as a Canuck? How has he won them over with a performance that any boxscore reader would describe as decidedly “mid?”
The two-fold answer is that the 2023/24 campaign is only Garland’s worst season statistically on the surface, and that there are other measures of success that are available – measures that perhaps fans understand far more inherently and intuitively than they and their “eye tests” are typically given credit for.
In short, you can pick any measure that doesn’t involve raw goals and assists, and you’ll find Garland having the best year of his career in that category.
Corsi, the most classic of the fancy stats? He’s got a 55.75% 5v5 Corsi rating, the highest of his career and the second-highest on the Canucks after Quinn Hughes.
Expected goals? Garland is currently rocking a 59.75% rating, more than five percentage points higher than his previous best achievement, and number one on the team ahead of former and future linemates Blueger and Joshua.
Scoring chance control has Garland at a somewhat-staggering 58.07% rate, miles ahead of any previous Garland season. Only Pius Suter and (a limited showing of) Vasily Podkolzin control at a better rate.
It’s those high-danger scoring chances and the control thereof where Garland really, really shines, however. He’s up to a rate of 61.49% as of this writing, which is almost eight percentage points higher than his previous career average.
And while that’s technically an advanced stat, it’s also something that fans have clearly been able to perceive out there on the ice. Which makes sense, really.
When Garland is out there, even when the Canucks aren’t scoring, they’re coming close consistently…and the other team isn’t, just as consistently. It’s where the eye-test and the advanced statline can’t help but meet.
The fans “get it,” without having to necessarily track it in the same way the stats gurus do. True high-quality play tends to get noticed by both the folks watching and the numbers that get compiled thereafter.
Another way in which both the fans and the statisticians could each tell that Garland is playing well is in the impact he’s had on his teammates.
For fans, it’s as simple as seeing how well the Garland-Blueger-Joshua line clicked, or how Garland has sparked a recent resurgence in the play of Elias Pettersson on the top line.
Again, that’s measurable through stats. Pettersson’s averaged an expected goals rate of 49.53% in all his minutes without Garland, but a 60.01% rate with Garland. That’s a considerable jump, but again, it’s a big enough swing that the numbers aren’t needed to see it in the first place. They’re more of a confirmation after the fact.
Canucks fans know that Garland has been good for Pettersson because they can tell just by watching the two play together.
Is this because Vancouver Canucks hockey is all about the vibes, and thus its local fanbase is well-practiced and attuned to the reading thereof?
Or is it that the so-called “fancy” stats aren’t really all that advanced beyond good ol’ fan intuition and the “eye-test” as some might consider them to be?
Regardless, the conclusion is the same. This is Conor Garland’s least productive season as a Canuck, and it’s also his best – and everyone knows it, one way or another.

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