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Is this year’s Canucks team better than the bubble team?

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Photo credit:Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
Noah Strang
9 months ago
The Canucks head into this season with the expectation that they’re going to contend for a playoff spot. The last time that they made the postseason was back during the COVID bubble in 2020. That team managed to beat the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round and the St. Louis Blues in the first round before falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games.
Since then, the roster has gone through plenty of turnover. Key contributors from that bubble team like Bo Horvat, Tyler Toffoli, Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and more have moved on. In their place, the Canucks have brought in Andrei Kuzmenko, Conor Garland, Filip Hronek and more.
But have all of these changes made a positive difference? Is this team better than that of the magical bubble run?
To test these hypotheses, I loaded both teams into WhatIfSports, a website that lets you simulate games between different teams in NHL history. I put the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks up against the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks in a seven game series. The rules are as follows.
  • All games will be played at a neutral site yet I will still move the teams from home to away following the playoff format
  • All games will go to continuous overtime instead of a shootout
  • The 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks will be referred to as the Tocchet Canucks
  • If a goalie gets pulled two games in a row, I will give the backup a start
While WhatIfSports is far from perfect, it does make for an interesting thought experiment. Every player is assigned a dollar amount that is supposed to represent their value last season and their effectiveness in the simulation engine. Because of this, players who had down years last season will perform poorly in this series, while players like Kuzmenko who had great years will be some of the best skaters.
Since the 2o23-24 Canucks team is not yet in the database, I used the 2022-23 roster and manually added the new additions made since the last day of last year. Once that was all done, it was time for the series to get started.

Starting lineups

Here are the starting lineups for each of the two teams.
Without further ado, let’s get into the action.

Game 1: Tocchet Canucks 5, Bubble Canucks 3

Game 1 results
The Bubble Canucks got off to a great start in this game as Alex Edler scored just 1:31 into the first period. They would double that lead in the second period when J.T. Miller found the back of the net on a rebound off an initial shot by Tyler Toffoli. Each team would add one more before the frame was finished as Andrei Kuzmenko got the Tocchet Canucks on the board before Brock Boeser re-established the two goal lead.
After Tyler Toffoli was sent to the penalty box for roughing just eleven seconds into the third period, the Tocchet Canucks would make quick work and bring themselves within one. This then led to a three minute stretch where they scored three more goals — including markers from Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Anthony Beauvillier —that completely changed the flow of the game. This flurry of scoring led to Jacob Markstrom being switched out for Bubble Thatcher Demko. Bubble Demko stopped all ten shots he faced in the third.
It was a big comeback win for the Tocchet Canucks who took the game by a score of 5-2, although it was much closer than the scoreboard suggests. Kuzmenko won first star, scoring two goals including one at 5-on-5 and one on the powerplay.
Series: Tocchet Canucks 1 – Bubble Canucks 0

Game 2: Tocchet Canucks 5, Bubble Canucks 3

Jacob Markstrom would get a chance to redeem himself in Game 2 but he couldn’t do it.
Game 2 results
While it was a back and forth affair, the Tocchet Canucks would eventually pull out a 5-3 victory. The two teams each scored two goals in the first period. It was Quinn Hughes and Tanner Pearson scoring for the Bubble Canucks while Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko found the back of the net for the Tocchet Canucks. The top line of Mikheyev, Kuzmenko, and Pettersson continues to give the Bubble Canucks a lot of trouble.
The second period was much quieter as the only goal came from Elias Pettersson for the Tocchet Canucks. However, Kuzmenko would get on the board again to start the third period before 2023-24 Brock Boeser added to the lead. These two goals in quick succession led to Jacob Markstrom being replaced by Thatcher Demko once again. Demko would stop all 16 shots he faced in his backup appearance. He will be getting the start next game.
Bubble J.T. Miller would get a powerplay goal but it was much too little too late. Kuzmenko would get first start, Mikheyev second start, and Tocchet Pettersson would get third star as that line propelled their team to victory.
Series: Tocchet Canucks 2 – Bubble Canucks 0

Game 3: Bubble Canucks 6, Tocchet Canucks 4

Game 3 Results
Thatcher Demko got the nod in this game for the Bubble Canucks. Down 2-0, they were going to need a big performance to stay alive in this series. As it turns out, they didn’t need Demko to stand on his head as they scored six goals, providing plenty of run support.
The goals came early and often for the Bubble Canucks. Tyler Toffoli scored twice in the first period while J.T. Miller and Alex Edler each added one. Ilya Mikheyev provided the only resistance from the Tocchet Canucks, scoring halfway through the first frame.
When Elias Pettersson added another goal for the Bubble Canucks in the second period, that marked the end of Thatcher Demko’s night as Spencer Martin took over. Even Martin would somewhat struggle as J.T. Miler scored 46 seconds into the third period to make it 6-1 for the Bubble Canucks.
While a few late third period goals made this one appear closer than it was, the Bubble Canucks have now closed the series deficit to 2-1.
Series: Tocchet Canucks 2 – Bubble Canucks 1

Game 4: Tocchet Canucks 4, Bubble Canucks 3

Game 4 results
A crucial Game 4 goes down to the wire with the Tocchet Canucks pulling out a slim victory by the thinnest of margins. After his victory in Game 3, Thatcher Demko got the start for the Bubble Canucks once again. He made 35 saves yet was outplayed by the 2022-23 Thatcher Demko that managed to make an astounding 40 saves in the 4-3 victory.
Each team scored once in the first period. J.T. Miller found the back of the net for the Bubble Canucks and Anthony Beauvillier did the same for the Tocchet Canucks. It was a similar story in the second period as the Tocchet Canucks took a lead on a goal from Pius Suter with just over a minute left in the frame. However, Bo Horvat would equalize about 30 seconds later, ensuring that things remained tied heading into the third period.
Jake Virtanen broke the 2-2 deadlock, scoring a little over a minute into the third period. However, the Tocchet Canucks would pull off yet another comeback, getting two goals from Andrei Kuzmenko to win this game in regulation. He has now won first star in three of the four games.
Heading into Game 5, the Tocchet Canucks need just one more win to end the series.
Series: Tocchet Canucks 3 – Bubble Canucks 1

Game 5: Bubble Canucks 4, Tocchet Canucks 3

Game 5 results
With their backs against the wall, the Bubble Canucks proved that they weren’t ready for this series to be over yet. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Jake Virtanen and Elias Pettersson in the first period. The Tocchet Canucks would tie the game at 2-2 with seven minutes left in the second period after getting goals from J.T. Miller and (who else but) Andrei Kuzmenko. It was Jake Virtanen once again scoring to make it 3-2 Bubble Canucks before the second frame was done.
The third period was a duel of the Elias Petterssons. The Tocchet Pettersson would score on a rebound to tie the game at 3-3 with six minutes left. However, the Bubble Elias Pettersson was not to be outdone and broke the tie with just over one minute to go on a goal that was assisted by J.T. Miller.
The Bubble Elias Pettersson finished the game with 12 shots and two goals as well as the second star in this crucial game that kept his team alive. The series was now 3-2 heading into Game 6 for the Tocchet Canucks.
Series: Tocchet Canucks 3 – Bubble Canucks 2

Game 6: Tocchet Canucks 8, Bubble Canucks 6

Game 6 Results
Wow. The Tocchet Canucks manage to pull out this final game of the series by scoring a total of eight goals, chasing Bubble Demko in the second period. The highlight of the game was a hectic second period that featured eight total goals between the two teams. The two goal scorers for the Bubble Canucks were Jake Virtanen and Bo Horvat while Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, Nils Höglander, Teddy Blueger, Pius Suter, and Suter once more scored for the Tocchet Canucks.
This gave the Tocchet Canucks a 6-2 lead heading into the third but that gap shrunk quickly. The Bubble Canucks scored three times to open the final frame, making it 6-5 behind efforts from Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Adam Gaudette. With fifty seconds left and down by one, the Bubble Canucks pulled their goalie and Filip Hronek found the empty net to make it 7-5.
However, this game wasn’t over yet as Tyler Toffoli added one with 20 seconds left to bring the game back to a one-goal deficit. This led to the Bubble Canucks pulling their goalie again and Pius Suter completing his hat-trick on the empty net. Suter won first star for this game, scoring three goals on four total shots.

Series: Tocchet Canucks 4 – Bubble Canucks 2

The Tocchet Canucks do manage to pull out this series in six games. While it doesn’t mean much, it was a fun experiment to see how these two teams matched up against each other. Perhaps the Tocchet Canucks can replicate some of that magic and do better than the Bubble Canucks ever did.

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