“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
–Hunter S. Thompson
For the Vancouver Canucks, “weird” is usually an epithet for unlucky bounces, identical twins, or the occasional goaltender. As the NHL comes back from the season’s break, it’s worth looking at some of the Vancouver Canucks season weird numbers, events, or just coincidences that would make even Raoul Duke carefully inspect what he was ingesting.
Vancouver Canucks Season Has Been Weird
Loui Eriksson hasn’t had the easiest time of it during his Canucks’ tenure. Given a $36 million deal, it’s no surprise that far more is expected of him than has been delivered. He has always had some ability as a defensive forward, so he’s found plenty of ice time. Unfortunately for him, the team’s increased depth has left Loui sitting as often than not this year.
He’s managed just two goals in his 19 games this season – as many as current AHLer Tyler Graovac. And one of those two was into an empty net. In fact, since he’s trusted defensively, he’s often out there to protect leads. Five of his 34 goals with Vancouver are empty-netters. But you only get those chances when your team is in the lead. Which means…
The Vancouver Canucks season is undefeated in regulation when Loui Eriksson scores: 26-0-4. It doesn’t even matter which empty net he scores in. Yet only three of his 34 goals are game-winners.
Not all the Vancouver Canucks season stats are negative. For instance, 20-year-old rookie Quinn Hughes has been living up to his billing, which is great news. But by how much is a little alarming. He’s taken 1D minutes ever since veteran Alexander Edler‘s injury, passing the 24-minute mark six times in December alone. He’s on pace to easily blow past 50 points, something Vancouver hasn’t had a defender do in literal decades.
The most points scored by a rookie defenceman for the Canucks was established in Year One by Dale Tallon. That no one has managed to beat 56 points in 50 years speaks volumes about not only Tallon’s ability but the team’s drafting. Then again, how often was a talent like Hughes available?
First Rate Fourth Liner
According to Money Puck the Canucks’ top line of Brock Boeser – Elias Pettersson – J.T. Miller has been excellent. Well, them and anyone else with eyes. They’re controlling over 60% of shot attempts while they’re on the ice, and a bit of a nightmare to play against. Heck, in terms of expected goals, they are also over 60%… but not the best on the team.
No, that honour comes with the return of sparkplug Tyler Motte. Injuries have limited him to just 11 games so far this season, where he’s been missed. The shut-down line of Motte – Jay Beagle – Tim Schaller has an expected goal share of 63.3%. Which is ridiculous. It’s obviously not going to last, but does highlight his value to the team.
Around The Team
Make Room! Make Room!
In predictions, there were supposed to be three teams easily topping the Pacific Division. The rest would be scraps for everyone else to fight over, trying to wrest a playoff spot from those meanies in the Central.
So far? Not that.
The Canucks were the only team in their division to go into the break on a winning note, tightening the standings up considerably. The top five teams are all within four points of each other right now. By way of comparison, the Boston Bruins currently have a nine-point lead on second-place Toronto Maple Leafs. The Washington Capitals are eight points over the New York Islanders, and the St. Louis Blues are five points up on the Colorado Avalanche.
In short, you could jam all five of the front-running Pacific teams in the gap between first and second in every other division. And you get the feeling they’re going to be fighting for one of the three guaranteed playoff spots right to the wire. As for who ends up fourth? Well…
From Russia With Whatever
If you ask who Vancouver’s top prospect is, you’ll quickly hear Vasili Podkolzin‘s name. While casual fans were divided on the Russian national who wouldn’t be available for another two years, that changed quickly. To be completely fair, that may just have been confusion about who the heck Stan Smyl was trying to draft.
Podkolzin isn’t your classical high-drafted Russian, though. Sure, he has skills, but the best thing about him was how much he takes it as a personal affront when the other team has the puck.
That being said, a quick look at his stats from the KHL shows… nothing. Zero goals, zero assists, AND he’s a dash-two? This from a top-ten pick?! Jeeze, the guy’s getting eight shifts a game and five and a half minutes! How’s he supposed to learn anything there?
Then you take a look at how much ice time most 18-year-olds get in the NHL. And then at what Podkolzin gets at the World Juniors. And realize that he’s on track. Deep breath. Everything’s fine. He’s got another year in the KHL to go, where he will be relied on more as a veteran.
That Other Defender
Of the Canucks weird surprises so far, the biggest has been in Utica, spending the year with the Comets. While Sven Baertschi has been showing he’s too good for the league, Brogan Rafferty has taken advantage.
The rookie defenceman has racked up nearly a point-per-game, including seven in the three games leading to the break. It’s a pace he’s never managed in any other league. He’s opened a five-point gap on former Canuck Derrick Pouliot, surprising pretty much everyone.
It’s undoubtedly an artifact of playing with a couple NHL-quality forwards, and being a bit older than the usual rookie. But for now, it’s going to be one of those stories that no one discusses too much in case it vanishes. That and not calling him up as insurance because who wants him cooling on a bench?
All Or Nothing
And we have to touch on the strangest phenomenon so far: team scoring. Not just that they are scoring, which is a refreshing change for them, but how.
The Canucks are scoring at a good clip – top-ten all year – so hitting some big numbers is no surprise. They’ve scored five or more goals 14 times so far which is pretty darned good. But they are only at .500 for the year. Normally, that would mean they’ve let in a large number of goals as well. As it happens, they’ve only let in five or more goals seven times, just half as often as they score it.
So what gives?
The Vancouver Canucks season, despite getting 19 wins in 38 games, refuse to be average. Their high scoring games are matched by 17 times where they didn’t manage three goals. In a season where the average is just over three goals a game, Vancouver has scored either three or four goals just seven times. And that includes the last two games before the break. The New Jersey Devils have done it ten times, and every other team at least a dozen, most more than that.
Unless Santa brought the Vancouver Canucks consistency for Christmas, the roller coaster will continue into the New Year. Until the team gets to ‘good’, ‘weird’ will have to do.