The Vancouver Canucks have gotten off to a surprising 6-4-1 start on the season. But is this the sign of a potential playoff team, or a complete mirage? Staff members of The Canuck Way discuss.
A lot can happen over the next 70 games, but the Vancouver Canucks have to be pleased with their 6-4-2 start — one that currently has them placed as the first wild card team in the Western Conference.
But we’ve seen this hot start many times, only for the season to end in miserable fashion. We saw the Canucks win their first four games last season, only to finish second-last in the NHL. Vancouver also started out 2015-16 with a 3-0-1 record, but they wound up finishing 28th overall.
So if history is an indication of anything, the Canucks are simply toying with us.
They’re off to a strong start, but they could also wind up finishing among the NHL’s worst teams at season’s end.
However, things feel a bit different in 2017-18. A new head coach in Travis Green, the promotions of Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen to the NHL roster, plus newcomers Sam Gagner, Thomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto. Oh, and the surprisingly strong performances from Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson in goal thus far.
It’s impossible to know just where the Canucks will wind up next April.
In the playoff race? In the Western Conference basement? Somewhere in between? Our staff at The Canuck Way sat down to answer the following question: The Vancouver Canucks have a tendency for starting off hot, then unraveling and finishing in the bottom of the league standings. Do you buy the hot start this time around? Why or why not?
Though I don’t see the Canucks finishing in the bottom-five this upcoming season, I don’t believe they’re capable of holding on to stick around in the playoff race for the next 70 games. There are multiple reasons why.
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For one, I just don’t see Markstrom and Nilsson sustaining hot starts. These are two 27-year-old backups who aren’t accustomed to playing 40-plus games a season.
Given the injuries on Vancouver’s blue line, you can say the goalies are overachieving a bit. It’s not as though the defencemen are giving them great support. Expect regression in the crease.
Also, some of the top teams in the West haven’t gotten off to good starts. Are the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks going to be this mediocre by seasons end? Not a chance. At least four of those teams will get hot and climb back into the playoff picture.
I still see the Canucks getting in that 80-85 point range, but it won’t be enough for the playoffs. They won’t be terrible, but they won’t be in the playoff race near season’s end. So no, I’m not buying the hot start.
I do and I don’t. I buy it in the sense that qualitatively the Canucks have been much better this season than last. Green’s promise of a higher tempo has mostly been fulfilled, several young players appear to have taken steps up, and most of the free agent signings have contributed.
I don’t, however, believe for one second that this is a playoff-bound team. Even without injuries, this is a team that will not be able to beat the best teams on their good days. There will be losses and it will be less fun, but they will still feel better than last season because, at the very least, it feels like the young core of this team has purpose.
Since we are only ten games into the season, I will conservatively say I don’t buy this hot start. Based on data from Sean Tierney, the Canucks are a moderately lucky team, benefiting from a high shooting percentage and slightly above average save percentage.
The shutdown line of Brandon Sutter, Derek Dorsett and Markus Granlund has kept the Canucks’ goals against low, while the Horvat line is leaned on for offence. Dorsett has been very productive, but has an unsustainable 35.7 shooting percentage.
Dorsett and Sutter have PDO values greater than 107, indicating that they are lucky as normal values hover around 100.
The team’s 56.6 GF% is about 5% higher than they’re expected production, meaning there should be more goals against. The rest of this season will be a grind, but the good news is Brock Boeser has been unlucky based on shooting percentage and PDO, leaving even more room for his production to improve.