What the Canucks’ hot starts of the past tell us about this year’s team
Photo credit:Arlen Redekop / Postmedia Archives
29 days ago
The Canucks are off to their best ten-game start in nine seasons thanks to last night’s 10-1 shellacking of the San Jose Sharks. As CanucksArmy’s resident historian, I thought I’d take a look at the other times the Canucks have won seven (or more) of their first ten games to start the season to see if the past can give us any clues as to what the team’s future might hold.
Overview: The 1991-92 season marked the beginning of a new era for the Canucks, as Trevor Linden was named captain and Stan Smyl retired and took a position behind the bench as an assistant coach. Smyl would eventually have his number retired on November 3, 1991 and was presented with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a pre-game ceremony.
The Canucks got off to what still stands as of 2023 as the best ten-game start in franchise history (tied with 2005-06), recording eight wins and only one regulation loss, a 7-6 barnburner against the Chicago Blackhawks. Kirk McLean went undefeated in his nine starts as the Canucks outscored their opponents 30-23. Perhaps most impressive is that they managed all of this without rookie phenom Pavel Bure, whose release from the Central Red Army would not be negotiated until the following month.
Aftermath: The Canucks continued to play at an elite level for the remainder of the season, winning the Smythe division by a whopping 12 points over the Los Angeles Kings. The 91-92 team broke several franchise records, both individually and at the team level. They set a club record for points with 96, as well as wins with 42. They also recorded the most lopsided win in team history, dummying the Calgary Flames 11-0 on March 1, 1992. Pavel Bure set a new record for rookie scoring despite playing only 65 games, surpassing the previous record held by Ivan Hlinka. Gino Odjick also broke Tiger Williams’ penalty minute record despite also only playing 65 games. Kirk McLean also set a new club record with 38 wins, and finished as the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.
The Canucks began a playoff series at home for the first time in team history against the Winnipeg Jets. They went down three games to one in the first round, but came back to win the series in seven. They failed to make it past the Oilers in round two, but Pavel Bure won the Calder and Pat Quinn took home the Jack Adams, so it was ultimately an incredibly successful season.
Overview: Does anyone remember what happened in 1993-94? I’m drawing a blank.
Overview: After the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to the lockout, the Canucks entered the 2005-06 season as favourites to win the Northwest Division for the second consecutive time. While many players had gone to Europe during the lockout, Todd Bertuzzi remained professionally inactive for entirety of the 2004-05 season as a result of his suspension from the IIHF as a result of the Steve Moore incident. Bertuzzi was also suspended indefinitely by the NHL, missing the remainder of the 2003-04 season and playoffs, but was eventually reinstated on August 8th, 2005. As a result, the West Coast Express were back together again, and with the Sedin twins beginning to emerge, the Canucks seemed like a good bet to be at least as good as they were before the lockout.
The 2005-06 season also saw the emergence of many other players who would eventually make up the core of the next great Canucks team, with Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Kelser all lacing up for significant stretches of the season.
The Canucks went 2-2 in their first four games of the season before rattling off six straight wins and tying the 1991-92 team for the best start in franchise history, albeit with a shootout loss instead of a tie. (Is that the same? Better? Worse? Philosophical arguments of that nature are beyond the scope of this discussion.)
Aftermath: While Markus Naslund led the team in scoring once again and the remaining members of the West Coast Express both finished in the top five, 2005-06 will always be remembered as the breakout season for the Sedin twins. Marquee free agent signing Anson Carter led the team in goals, mostly playing alongside Henrik and Daniel. Buoyed by their new linemate, the Twins shattered their career-highs as each cracked the 70-point barrier for the first time.
Unfortunately, despite having arguably the best top-six of the entire West Coast Express era, the Canucks missed the playoffs by just three points. They kept up with a remarkably strong Northwest Division for most of the season but injuries mounted on the back end and they lost steam over the course of the year, eventually losing six of their last 8 games. As a result, head coach Marc Crawford was fired and eventually replaced by Alain Vigneault. To give you an idea of how banged up the defence was that season, Nolan Baumgartner led the back-end in points.
It was also Alex Auld’s lone season as Canucks starter, thanks to a torn ACL that kept Dan Cloutier out of commission from December onward. Five different goalies suited up for the Canucks that season, including my personal favourite: Rob McVicar, who played 2:44 against the Edmonton Oilers in his lone NHL appearance on December 1st, 2005. McVicar faced zero shots, and as a result, his career save percentage is listed as either .000, 1.000, or not available, depending on the source.
Overview: The 2014-15 season was the first for new team President Trevor Linden and General Manager Jim Benning after Mike Gillis was fired on April 8, 2014. The Canucks lost a number of key players prior to the start of the season, with both Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kelser each requesting trades out of Vancouver, albeit from different GMs. Jason Garrison was also traded and David Booth’s contract was bought out as the Canucks looked to revamp their lineup. Jim Benning added several new players to the lineup via trade and free agency, the most notable of which were goaltender Ryan Miller, winger Radim Vrbata, and centre Nick Bonino. It was also the first season behind the bench for new head coach Willie Desjardins after John Tortorella was fired after the first year of a five-year contract.
Finally, 2014-15 is also notable for being future Canucks captain Bo Horvat’s rookie season, as well as the only time he would play postseason hockey in front of fans in a Canucks uniform. I’ll tell you that for free.
2014-15 was the only other time in team history that the Canucks won exactly seven of their first ten games. Six of those seven wins came with multi-goal deficits, with Ryan Miller recording the win. Despite finishing the previous season as the starter, Eddie Lack started only one of the Canucks first ten games.
Aftermath: If 2005-06 will be remembered as the beginning of the era of Sedin dominance, 2014-15 will almost certainly be remembered as the end. The season was something of a dead cat bounce for the Canucks, who finished the season with 101 points thanks in large part to bounce-back seasons from the twins and a fantastic 35-goal campaign from new linemate Radim Vrbata, but it would be the last time any of those players appeared in the postseason.
The Canucks entered the 2015 playoffs as heavy favourites over the Calgary Flames, but lost in just 6 games thanks to some legendarily poor coaching by Willie Desjardins. Desjardins was picked apart by the fans and media for a series of questionable decisions that included starting the injured Ryan Miller over a red-hot Eddie Lack, removing Vrbata from the Sedin line, and continuing to roll his lines out in a 1-2-3-4 order even in high-leverage situations.
What, if anything, can be learned from the Canucks other hot starts?
Only four other teams in Canucks history have mustered at least seven wins in their first ten games, but the sample produced mixed results over the course of their respective seasons.
The 91-92 team was a legitimate powerhouse, finishing second in the Western Conference and fourth in the league, with three members of the organization eventually taking home individual hardware at that year’s NHL awards. They also won their first playoff series in a decade. If the modern edition of the Canucks could replicate their performance, it would be considered a massive success.
The 2005-06 season is remembered more fondly in hindsight thanks to the breakout of the Sedin twins and the emergence of Kesler, Burrows, and Bieksa. That team probably should have qualified for the postseason, but close is only good in horseshoes, and it was seen as a stunning disappointment at the time. One would expect that after the considerable investment the organization made into this year’s team, a similar result would also be met with disappointment. Unless Nils Hoglander goes off for 70 points, the 2023-24 Canucks don’t have a ton of breakout candidates, so it’s basically playoffs or bust for this group.
The 2014-15 Canucks are the most difficult of the three to pin down. They’re almost the inverse of the 2005-06 team: viewed positively at the time, but seen as a bit of a paper tiger in hindsight. They eventually lost a first-round series against a cupcake opponent, closing their competitive window in the process. A first round-exit would likely be seen as a success for this group, but one would certainly hope it would lead to more future success than the Canucks following the 2014-15 season.
Astute observers will notice that neither of the back-to-back President’s Trophy-winning Canucks managed to win seven of their first ten, nor did the 2006-07 team that set a new standard for regular season success. As one might expect, a hot start is preferable to a cold one, but not necessarily predictive of long-term success.
Ultimately, the 2023-24 Canucks don’t really bear a strong resemblance to any of the other seven-of-ten teams in team history. They’re too established to be the 1991-92 team, not established enough to be the 2014-15 team, and not nearly transitory enough to be the 2005-06 team. In other words, they’re in uncharted territory, as you might expect for a team that basically hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in almost nine years. (If the crowd noise is fake, so are the playoffs.)
So… uh, I guess that means that the 2023-24 Canucks are the closest to… the 1993-94 Canucks. Same number of wins, roughly the same stage in their life cycle, a season-ending with the number 4. The similarities are endless.
That means anything less than game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final will be a disappointment. Expecting a cup would obviously be unfair. Expectations should be set, reasonably, at what the most similar team with the most similar record achieved.
Look, I don’t make the rules. You wanna get mad at someone, blame Rick Tocchet.
Only another 72 regular season games to go, plus another 19 playoff games, assuming they go 12-0 in the first three rounds. They’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Better get crackin’.
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