Why health has been the Vancouver Canucks’ secret MVP in 2023/24

Photo credit:© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
With apologies and all due respect to the quintet of Quinn Hughes, JT Miller, Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, and Brock Boeser, there’s a genuine argument to be made that none of the five deserves the distinction of being named the Vancouver Canucks’ MVP thus far in 2023/24.
But only if we’re allowing ourselves to get a little abstract with it.
What we’re talking about, of course, is “health.” Staying healthy has been the Canucks’ secret MVP through 30 games on the 2023/24 regular season, and that’s not something that has traditionally been the case in Vancouver.
It’s not news to the Canucks faithful that their home team has a longstanding habit of being among the most-injured teams in the NHL on a year-in, year-out basis.
The reasons for this are simple enough. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the NHL map, the Canucks usually travel the most out of any team, and thus have fewer days for practice, rest, and recuperation built into their schedule. The Canucks also play out of the Western Conference and the Pacific Division, each generally considered to be host to a more physical brand of hockey.
Then there’s plain ol’ Canucks luck.
Any way you slice it, it’s not an imaginary phenomenon. You know, every team’s fans think that the refs are biased against them, or that injuries impact them more than the other teams. With the Canucks, at least, the latter is absolutely, demonstrably true.
Thanks to NHLInjuryViz, we have the historical evidence. Let’s start our look at the issue a good seven years back in the past.
Hockey usually tracks injuries via the archaically-titled “man-games lost,” which each “man-game lost” representing one regular season game missed due to injury or illness by one individual hockey player. (One individual hockey-playing MAN, that is.) NHLInjuryViz takes it a step further by measuring the “CHIP” or “(average) cap hit of injured players” to give some indication as to how important the missing injured players were.
In the 2015/16 season, the Canucks finished third in the NHL for CHIP with 315 man-games lost, trailing just the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s good for almost four man-games lost per actual game!
For the 2016/17 campaign, the Canucks again found themselves in third place but drastically increased their totals with 459 man-games lost, representing more than 5.5 man-games lost per actual game. This time around, the Canucks trailed just the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets.
Slide it over to 2017/18, and the Canucks finished in…you guessed it, third place! This season, the Canucks “only” suffered 364 man-games lost, just one short of one per day on the calendar year. It was the Anaheim Ducks who led the way in 2017/18, followed again by the Canadiens, and then again by the Canucks for the LTIR bronze.
The 2018/19 season was the first in three that the Canucks did not finish in the top-three for leaguewide CHIP. Instead, they placed fourth with 319 man-games lost, behind Anaheim, Dallas, and New Jersey. For the Canucks, this had to be considered a light year, and it would mark a bit of a break in the trend moving forward.
The 2019/20 campaign saw the Canucks slip all the way down to ninth place in the injury-impact “race” with just 271 man-games lost, though it should be remembered that this was a truncated season of just 69 games. Still, the Canucks rode their relatively healthy roster into their first playoff victories in quite some time during the extended postseason bubble run.
The 2020/21 season (really, just the ‘2021’ season) was shortened even further to 56 games, and the Canucks subsequently had their healthiest season in a good long while with 278 man-games lost. The number 11 might not be a welcome one in Vancouver, but finishing in 11th place for injury impact, almost at the middle of the pack, for injuries was definitely a welcome change.
It should also start being noted at this point when some of those man-games lost are represented by a player no longer in the team’s plans. In this case, a full 56 of those 278 man-games were accumulated by the LTIRetired Micheal Ferland.
The healthy times kept rolling in 2021/22, with the Canucks back on a full 82-game schedule but slipping even further down the injury charts. This time around, it was 348 man-games lost, which sounds like a lot, but put the Canucks in the middle of the pack for raw totals and all the way back in 22nd place for CHIP.
The 2022/23 season, then, was a bit of a return to form. The Canucks of last year racked up 437 man-games lost and the seventh-highest CHIP in the league. As far as man-games lost went, it was their highest total since 2016/17.
Again, however, context is key here. Another 82 of those MGLs belonged to Ferland, and another 79 of them went to Tucker Poolman, who is now considered about as LTIRetired as Ferland was.
Still, it was a lot.
Which is part of what makes the contrast in 2023/24 so stark.
This season, the Canucks have suffered just 109 man-games lost through 32 games on the schedule. That puts them right around the middle of the pack for raw totals, but their CHIP is quite low at 19th place.
What’s more, 64 of those man-games lost belong to Poolman and Guillaume Brisebois, who has been injured since the preseason and who would probably be in Abbotsford by now if not for that.
Take those two out of the equation, and the Canucks are down to just 45 man-games lost, one of the lowest totals in the league, cobbled together primarily from Carson Soucy, Ilya Mikheyev, Teddy Blueger, and Pius Suter. That’s just 1.5 legitimate man-games lost per actual game, and that’s in a season that has already seen its fair share of travel.
All those other potential MVPs we mentioned at the outset? They’ve all stayed healthy all year, and so have the vast majority of other contributing Canucks.
Which is not to take anything away from the team’s ongoing success, or those players’ role in that success. It’s just to say that the Canucks typically face a huge, extra barrier to their success in the form of an abundance of injuries, and this season, for whatever reason and perhaps for the time being only, that barrier is significantly less of a factor.
Being far healthier than usual isn’t the only reason the Canucks are winning.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
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