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How the Vancouver Canucks stack up in each position against their Western Conference playoff competition

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
Considering where the Vancouver Canucks sat at the halfway point of last season, this season to this point has been nothing short of remarkable.
At the 41-game mark of the 2022-2023 season, the Canucks sat 26th in the league standings with 37 points off of a 17-21-3 record. At the 41-game mark of this season, the Canucks held a 27-11-3 record, sitting comfortably in second place, one point behind the leading Winnipeg Jets. 
Though they’ve struggled to pick up wins lately, the Canucks still maintain a cushy nine-point lead over second-place Edmonton for first place in the Pacific Division.
Making waves in playoffs after a regular season of unexpected success won’t be easy. The Canucks have their work cut out for them, facing a gauntlet Western Conference.
On the Daily Faceoff Run Down show with Frank Seravalli, he ranked the Canucks forward core as third in the Western Conference. The full segment begins at the 30:23 mark below.
The rankings got me thinking. Why not dive into the numbers of each position and see where the Canucks actually rank among their Western Conference opponents. 
For the purposes of this exercise, we only evaluated the seven teams currently sitting in a playoff position as of 

Forwards

Let’s first compare each team by the production of their top six.
Here are the current lines as they’ve been constructed for most of the season (including injured players). Yes, there will be some players on these lists who have recently joined their team (Zach Parise and Victor Arvidsson) who have played minimal games and are skewing their team’s numbers. But they were included for the purpose of this exercise to show how healthy lineups stack up.
Offensively, the Oilers lead the way with the most points, while the Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche are bunched together not that far behind.
While Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid have a sizeable lead in individual points on the rest of the West, it’s the Canucks who have the most players in the top ten of forward scoring in the Western Conference (J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser). Of the top four teams, there are three Canucks, three Oilers, and two Avalanche forwards who are ahead in point of the first Dallas Stars forward on the production charts.
But what does that mean?
This shows that while ranked second in total points, the Stars’ offence appears to be more balanced throughout their top six than the other top-scoring teams of the West. 
While these four teams have separated themselves in their top six production, the production of the Western Conference club’s bottom sixes was much closer.
Only the Stars and Canucks are in the top half of both top and bottom six scoring.
The Stars, Canucks and Jets’ bottom six groups are separated by just five points. The Jets rank low in top-six production but show that even without high-end point producers, they are dangerous rolling all four lines. 
Looking at the bottom six of the Avalanche and Oilers is encouraging for Canucks fans. Teams can’t always rely too heavily on their top-end talent to carry them through playoffs; depth scoring can be the difference between an early exit and another round further. Contributions from the bottom six have shown in years past to be as important, if not more than the production from the top end of the lineup.
Any injury to any player is going to affect the team’s lineup. But some teams have higher-end in-house replacements than others. 
Looking at the point gap that MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have between them and the next-best forward in the lineup is eye-popping. If either of these two were to miss time, Colorado would be significantly more disadvantaged than the rest of their competition. Compare that to the Stars or Jets, who have dealt with significant injuries to the top end of the lineup and have looked no worse for wear. 
Fortunately, the Canucks have escaped major injury issues to their leading producers. Dakota Joshua being the lone exception. The Canucks have shown they can bump depth players like Sam Lafferty and Nils Hoglander up into the top six and have them contribute. Still, given how they’ve performed without Joshua, there’s reason for concern that more depth is necessary moving forward.
Taking into account teams’ top-end talent and depth scoring, this is how I would personally rank the forward cores of the Western Conference.
  1. Edmonton Oilers
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Vancouver Canucks
  4. Winnipeg Jets
  5. Colorado Avalanche
  6. Vegas Golden Knights
  7. Los Angeles Kings
  8. Nashville Predators
I put a heavy emphasis on depth scoring when rounding out this list. While the Edmonton Oilers lack in that area, they obviously make up for it with their high-end top-six talent. It was tough to rank the Stars ahead of the Canucks as Vancouver has more top-heavy point totals, but with the Stars having more points in both the top and bottom six, it felt wrong to do so.
Now, let’s see how the playoff hopefuls’ defensive groups rank.

Defence

Disclaimer: Chris Tanev was traded to the Dallas Stars and will eventually situate in their top four. However, he won’t be included in this comparison because he has yet to dress for a game as a Star.
Surprise, the teams led by Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar are the top two teams in defensive scoring.
But defence is more than just production; it requires more than just the first pairing. So, let’s look into teams’ top pairings and how they stack against each other defensively. 
The top pairing of Thomas Harley and Miro Heiskanen for the Dallas Stars stands out immediately. The Stars hold the highest expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and scoring chances for percentage (SCF%) with that pairing on the ice. Granted, their impressive control of play has come in a much smaller sample size of ice time than other first pairs in the West.
Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek have the two highest individual plus-minus ratings and the highest plus-minus rating as a pairing with the most time on ice spent together of the group. The Canucks’ control of xGF% and SCF% with Hughes and Hronek on the ice ranks middle of the pack and ranks near the bottom by control of high-danger scoring chances for percentage (HDCF%).
It’s surprising to see Makar holding just a plus-6 rating alongside 64 points. Makar and Devon Toews have historically been among the best d-pairing in the entire NHL. So far this season, this duo has a minus-1 plus/minus rating. 
The Oilers pairing of Ekholm-Bouchard ran away with the analytics race. They’ve played the fourth-most minutes together, 52:27 minutes behind the leading Canucks pairing, in five fewer games. 
It’s hard not to rank the Hughes-Hronek as the top defensive pairing thus far this season. Considering their points lead as a duo and their plus/minus rating.
Let’s check out the rest of the defence to see if the Hughes-Hronek dynamic is enough to hold the top spot amongst the West.
It’s the bottom two defensive pairings where we see the Canucks fall far behind most of their Western Conference opponents. 
Vancouver’s bottom four ranks in the bottom three in three major analytical categories, ranking the lowest in control of scoring chances. Second-lowest in control of expected goals and third-lowest in control of high-danger shot attempts. 
Now, this could be a result of the Canucks spending the most time with the lead. It’s a champagne problem, really. Forcing teams to play from behind is good. But it puts your skaters in the position of defending against teams constantly searching for the equalizer. 
This can be fact-checked by looking at the Avalanche’s defensive numbers. Colorado ranks fourth in time spent with the lead this season, and they, too, join the Canucks at the bottom of most major control metrics.
Further into this theory, the Edmonton Oilers look to have the best bottom four analytically, right? 
Well, that could be because they rank lowest among all Western Conference teams currently sitting in the playoffs by time spent with the lead. Their early slump required the Oilers to continuously push the pace and control play at a level that would earn leads, generate scoring chances, and win games.
With the understanding of the importance of having a reliable bottom four to pair with an elite top pairing, here are my personal rankings of the Western Conference defence cores. 
  1. Colorado Avalanche
  2. Vancouver Canucks
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Edmonton Oilers
  5. Vegas Golden Knights
  6. Los Angeles Kings
  7. Winnipeg Jets
  8. Nashville Predators
Again, it was a tough decision to put the Vancouver Canucks defence below the Colorado Avalanche. Ultimately, with both teams matching one another’s star top duo and having comparable bottom two pairings, I had to side with experience. 
Now, and certainly not least, the goaltenders. 

Goaltending

Come playoff time, a hot goalie can put any team on their back and carry them through multiple playoff series. Hockey fans saw this just last season when Sergei Bobrovsky found another gear to take the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals. 
The Canucks and Avalanche are, yet again, neck and neck in another category. Thatcher Demko and Alexander Georgiev are not only tied for the lead in wins in the West but also the entire league with 31 wins this season. 
The Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck is hot on their tail with 28 wins but has a much better goals-against average and save percentage. Adin Hill of the Vegas Golden Knights has similar numbers to Hellebuyck, only with significantly fewer wins; the edge here goes to Hellbuyck, who is entering Hart Trophy territory with his performance.
Here are my rankings for goaltenders based on this year’s performance.
  1. Winnipeg Jets
  2. Vancouver Canucks
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars
  5. Nashville Predators
  6. Edmonton Oilers
  7. Colorado Avalanche
  8. Los Angeles Kings
Now, to Canucks fans, this all looks amazing. But remember: what looks great on paper doesn’t always translate to the on-ice product.
Here is the Canucks record against their toughest Western Conference opposition:
It’s tough to get a clear reading on how the Canucks accurately play against some of these teams. 
Vancouver has a 3-0 record against Edmonton this season, but all games were played at the beginning of the season, and the Oilers are seemingly a different team under Kris Knoblauch.
While yes, the Canucks are winless against the Jets, Golden Knights and Kings, it’s just a one-game sample size. It’s more fair to compare the teams once they’ve had at least two meetings and see if the losing side can overcome their deficiencies.
The end of the regular season will be very telling to see where the Canucks actually rank among this group with 17 of their last 20 games against Western Conference competition. Eleven of those 17 games come against teams currently sitting in a Western Conference playoff position.
So, Canucks fans, where do you rank this team’s forward group, defence core and starting goaltenders when comparing them to the rest of their Western Conference opponents?

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