Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The five statistics that have sunken the Vancouver Canucks’ ship this season
1 year ago
Hello, this is your captain speaking. We regret to inform you that this vessel is going down. For those of you, staff included, that couldn’t tell by the massive puncture in the side of the boat from the iceberg we hit miles ago, the ship will finally sink when Bo Horvat is traded to the Boston Bruins (time pending). Thank you for travelling with us; join our doomed adventure next year, if we can ever make it to shore.
You don’t need to remind me that the Canucks’ season isn’t over yet. I’m counting down the games. “But how can the Canucks’ ship be sunken with 36 games remaining?” you may ask. To that question, I say: seven game losing streak to start the season. But even then, I’d argue the Canucks were in it. After all, they had an experienced coach to steer them back on course.
During the 2007–08 season, Bruce Boudreau, hired by the Washington Capitals in November, as he more or less was by the Canucks in 2021, was tasked with making the 6–14–1 Capitals playoff bound. At the helm of the team, Boudreau made good on his promise. He led the Capitals to a 43–31–8 finish, salvaging what was the team’s worst start to a season since 1981–82. The team’s memorable seven-game winning streak to cap off the season rightfully earned him the Jack Adams trophy.
Does any of that ring a bell?
Dec 2021: Boudreau starts his tenure with the Canucks on a seven-game winning streak, snapped in a shootout loss to the Ducks.
January 2023: Boudreau is fired by the Canucks. The team’s worst losing streak? A seven-game stretch to open the season.
It doesn’t take Tyler Myers to tell you that “the mindset and the mood” has players feeling down this season. From all the rumors about Boudreau’s departure before a puck even dropped; to J.T. Miller’s long-time contract which barred an eerie resemblance to the Loui Eriksson hole old management dug themselves into; and the latest installment to the Canucks’ disastrous season: losing captain Bo Horvat.
By this point, fans are used to the epic highs and lows that have riddled the Canucks following the liquidation of the 2011 Stanley Cup roster. But the indifference of players this season, the shortcomings of management, and the utter mishandling of players and staff is a new low point in the organization’s history. But amongst the noise, if we had to pick five critical mistakes that marked the beginning of the end for the Canucks on-ice, we could start with:
The on-pace-to-be worst penalty kill in NHL history
It’s not the first time the Canucks have made an appearance on this list, but it’s their worst. Operating at a suboptimal 65.9%, the penalty kill is historically worse than the Canucks’ penalty kills during the 1984–85 and 1977–78 seasons. At its all-time low, the Canucks’ penalty kill ran at 60.3% last season, and finished tied with the inaugural Seattle Kraken for the second worst in the league.
The mismanagement of the penalty kill is not hard to miss. Too often, the Canucks are missing assignments, puck-watching, and leaving players unprotected at the side of the net. There is little to no anticipation of plays. Instead, the Canucks look like they’re playing the inverse of pig in the middle, sending multiple defenders to converge on one player with the puck, all while subsequently being down a man.
While the puck finds its way into the back of the net on the penalty kill, the Canucks are among the third-least short-handed team per game, and yet, they have the highest high danger chances against per 60. Hand-in-hand with that stat is the worst penalty kill save percentage at 76.19.
Difficulties closing out games
If the worst penalty kill in the league doesn’t come to fruition, the Canucks have a chance to beat the league record for most multi-goal blown leads (13). This month, the Canucks claimed the record for most multi-goal blown leads through 40 games, besting the 2018–2019 Rangers, after dropping their eighth multi-goal lead in a 5–4 game to the Pittsburgh Penguins, after leading 3–0 in the first period.
Protecting a lead for the Canucks seems to be a punishment, and things don’t look much better when they’re chasing a lead, either.
When trailing, the Canucks struggle to find an equalizer late in games. Vancouver has lost 19 games this season by a one goal margin. Last road trip, the Canucks dropped three games in a row by a single goal, which sparked fans to question why Andrei Kuzmenko wasn’t an extra attacker in the dying moments of play. The same Andrei Kuzmenko who set up the tying goal to send the Canucks to overtime and onto an eventual win against the Carolina Hurricanes a day later.
Lack of spread-out scoring
While the Canucks are scoring a respectable 3.28 goals per game, it’s the same players time and time again doing so. Which works, until the number one leading scorer, Bo Horvat, is on his way out the door. With one 30-goal scorer on the team in Horvat as of right now, points are being accumulated by a tiny handful of players.
There’s too much of a discrepancy in point totals from the bottom to the top of the lineup. The most noticeable is a 14-point drop-off between fifth-placed scorer, J.T. Miller, and sixth-placed scorer, Brock Boeser. Having defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson round out the top-10 in scoring on the team, all while Ekman-Larsson has the worst plus-minus on the team, and the eighth-worst plus-minus amongst defencemen in the league, is one heck of a stat line.
Miller is expected to be 26 points shy of his career-high 99 points last season. Miller’s projected 73 point total this season is one point more than what he produced in his first year as a Canuck. However, it only took him 69 games to reach that mark, due to a shortened COVID-19 season.
While Miller’s reduced point total was anticipated, the Canucks would have liked to see more production from a recently extended Boeser, the free agency signing of Ilya Mikheyev, and the revamped fourth line of Curtis Lazar, Dakota Joshua and Nils Ȧman.
The restructuring of the bottom six saw first-round Canucks draft pick Vasily Podkolzin and second-rounder Nils Höglander regress to the AHL Abbotsford Canucks for the first time in their career. Given the proximity from Abbotsford to Vancouver, it seemed to be the right move for the duo who are getting the much-needed confidence booster while being a matter of an hour away from the team if need be.
The Canucks are only hoping that the same surge of confidence will find Boeser, who needs to have at least a 20-goal season this year to rebound from what now looks like a good scoring season for him last year.
In the same predicament is Mikheyev, who is in an elevated role from the one he had with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mikheyev is one point behind Boeser’s 26 on the season and has had challenges finishing in front of the net, which has demoted him down the lineup. More secondary scoring would make the Canucks more of a reliant offensive threat, which on paper, they have the manpower to do.
Down-and-out early on (at home)
The duality of the Canucks: coughing up leads or biting the dust too early in a game.
In the last four games, three of which have been at home, the Canucks have surrendered nine goals in the first period. Versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver gave up two nearly identical cross-ice goals in less than 10 minutes.
It’s bad enough that mistakes aren’t being corrected. It’s worse that the team relies too much on mounting comeback performances game after game, which isn’t sustainable and hasn’t worked for them all season long.
Once the first goal goes in, the Canucks press the panic button, and they don’t play well under pressure. Goal after goal, watching the Canucks play feels like trying to patch together a porcelain vase with duct tape before your parents come home. It’s a failed mission from the start. Coming off the back of a dreaded five-game road trip, you’d expect the Canucks to find some comfort at home, even against some difficult opponents. Instead, what do the Canucks have to show for it? A worse winning percentage at home than the Arizona Coyotes, who play out of a college arena.
The two most famous culprits on the blueline
The Canucks’ blueline situation is in such a dire state that I don’t have to explicitly say who this duo is. Show, don’t tell, they say. But tell us how you can pour nearly $15 million into a second-line defensive pair who are the faces of a nightmarish penalty kill? With an asset as valuable as Quinn Hughes, it’s a shame that the Canucks have filled out their defensive core with one too many defencemen past their prime, which has undoubtedly affected the 23-year-old, who has had lapses on the blueline as well. The cherry on top, of course, was Ekman-Larsson’s scratch in the team’s losing effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 12. I too would sit my $66 million defencemen.
The on-ice stats are as bleak for Tyler Myers and Ekman-Larsson. They lead all active Canucks defencemen 5v5 in shots against per 60, goals against per 60, high danger goals against per 60, and have one of the worst on-ice save percentages.
The Canucks are no strangers to running a majority veteran defence corps, surrounded by talented youth. But the ways in which the Canucks have handcuffed themselves by overpaying players on long-term contracts and watching their return on investment be majorly devalued, is nothing short of astonishing. The lack of up-and-coming viable defencemen in the Canucks’ system to even out this dilemma only means that the Canucks are going to be stuck with the consequences of their actions for the long run.
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