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One-fifth of the way into the season already, the odds of the Canucks dropping off are sharply decreasing

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
3 months ago
At 82 games per year, the NHL regular season is a lengthy one.
But it only rarely actually takes that long to sort out the hockey wheat from the hockey chaff.
Most of the time, relatively sound conclusions can be drawn from the first month or two of play, and a lot of those conclusions will end up sticking until the end of the season.
Which is great news for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans, who are now approximately one-fifth of the way through the 2023/24 campaign, and would very much like to believe that their current rate of success is both legitimate and sustainable.
What everyone is wondering is “are these Canucks for real?” And there’s ample reason to believe that the answer is “yes.”
Let’s rewind things by exactly a year, to November 16, 2022. At the time, the Canucks were 5-9-3 on the 2022/23 season, a sharp contrast to their current 12-3-1 record. But we’re not really here to talk about the Canucks’ place in the standings, but rather everyone else’s.
On November 16, 2022, the top 16 teams in the NHL were Boston, Vegas, New Jersey, Los Angeles, New York Islanders, Carolina, Toronto, Dallas, Winnipeg, Florida, Tampa Bay, Seattle, New York Rangers, Edmonton, Detroit, and Colorado, in that order.
Now let’s fast-forward to the end of the 2022/23 campaign. The 16 teams that made the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs were Boston, Carolina, New Jersey, Vegas, Toronto, Colorado, Edmonton, Dallas, New York Rangers, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, New York Islanders, and Florida.
It doesn’t take Michael Liu to do the math on this one.
A total of 15 of 16 playoff teams were already in that position at the one-fifth point on the 2022/23 season. Only one team, the Detroit Red Wings, dropped out of the picture during the remaining 4/5rhs of the year, to be replaced by the surging Minnesota Wild.
There was some movement within that top-16, sure, but not even that much, aside from outliers like the Islanders who dropped ten places.
Which is not, of course, to say that the rest of the regular season doesn’t matter, or that by being at the top of the league now means that the Canucks already have 2023/24 in the bag. It’s just to point out that being in a playoff position now means the odds of still being in a playoff position come April are quite high, and even higher on the strength of the Canucks’ current spot.
They could, for example, drop as many spots in the standings as the Islanders did last year and still only find themselves at 11th overall, well within the playoff picture.
The pressure’s not off, but it has decidedly lessened.
And this same basic principle, that what has passed through the first 20% of the season is prologue for the rest of it, can also apply on an individual basis.
The Canucks have, as of this writing, played 16 games on the 2023/24 season. Let’s take a look at where some key Canucks stood at this point last year, and compare that with where they finished up, production-wise.
 Points After 16 Games 2022/23PPG After 16 Games 2022/23Total Points 2022/23Final PPG 2022/23
Elias Pettersson181.131021.28
JT Miller150.94821.01
Quinn Hughes141.17760.97
Andrei Kuzmenko110.73740.91
Ilya Mikheyev80.62280.61
Brock Boeser80.80550.74
Conor Garland80.53460.57
 
Obviously, the performance of the Canucks as an overall team fluctuated wildly in 2022/23. They got off to perhaps the worst start in franchise history, and then ended things with the Tocchet Turnaround.
But as far as individual performances go, there’s a lot less fluctuation to be found between Game 16 and Game 82 on the schedule. Most players continued to produce at roughly the same rate they had through 16 games all the way through to the end of the season.
It’s not quite as static a situation as the standings. The first-year Andrei Kuzmenko saw his PPG leap up from 0.73 to 0.91 as he found his legs in North America. Elias Pettersson steadily rose from 1.13 to 1.28 as he continued his ascendancy into the upper echelons of NHL talent.
But, for the most part, everybody stayed within their pre-established production lane. And, perhaps most importantly, there were no major drop-offs, with Boeser’s “plummet” from 0.80 to 0.74 being the low-water mark.
Again, that has to be seen as decidedly encouraging news for the modern day Canucks, who currently hold the top three spots in the NHL’s scoring race. Everyone seems to be producing right now, and the odds of it just being a series of hot streaks are dwindling by the day.
Every step taken from here toward the end of the 2023/24 season is another step toward proving that this team is for real. And, as we can see here, they’ve already taken a good number of those steps.
One-fifth of the regular season’s total, to be exact.
There’s a lot of road left to traverse. But plenty of ground has already been covered, and that ground means something.

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