The Vancouver Canucks have struggled over the past few weeks, but they are not a mediocre hockey team right now.
“We are all Canucks.”
That was one of the mainstay slogans the Vancouver Canucks rallied around for nearly a decade.
It was something that brought together both the team and fans alike. During its long run as a team slogan, it never once dawned on me that Canucks fans could passionately hate each other. Maybe I can chalk it up to being young, naive, or simply using social media a lot less back then. Whatever the case may be, I definitely never witnessed any kind of discourse over its run like I did yesterday.
In a recent article titled ‘The Canucks are Mediocre’, one media member ultimately helped highlight the good, bad, and ugly that currently surrounds this Canucks team. The good being the fiery start the team jumped out to in October, rebounding from two season-opening losses to dominate every major statistical category.
The bad being the November that ultimately ensued, with the team falling back to earth in an eerily similar fashion to last season, and in doing so taking a step back from the elite team some proclaimed them to be.
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Then came the ugly, with heavy backlash from fans coming out to defend the Canucks over Twitter, shooting the messenger with clown emojis all while calling out an entire team of writers whose only goal is to serve a fan base with interesting content.
Suffice to say, no, the Canucks are not a mediocre team. They are in fact a good hockey team. Rather than partake in much of what I saw yesterday, I present my case:
To an extent, the teams play through the first month of the season may have had a shred of luck, yet the team has also had its fair share of bad luck – and then some in its most recent November stretch, that I believe unfairly reflect what the team is today.
It’s important to recognize the Canucks have clearly taken a step forward this season within their own right, and have even more significantly taken steps ahead of the majority of the league. In doing so, they have become a legitimately good team.
The top line
Offensively the Canucks have been elite this season, as the Lotto Line (credit to Jacob Calvert) has given Canucks fans one of the most lethal trios in recent memory. As of Friday afternoon, Elias Pettersson (T-11th), J.T. Miller (17th), and Brock Boeser (T-28th) all rank within the top 30 in league scoring. Only the league-leading Washington Capitals can say the same thing.
A recent article from Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire identified just how dominant the Lotto Line has been across the board, with the trio controlling the vast majority of scoring chances whilst on the ice and holding the highest expected goals-for across the league. Their excellence extends to both sides of the ice, “dominating shot attempts” by a substantial margin.
It’s also no secret the success the powerplay unit has had, with a 27% powerplay conversion rate that ranks fourth in the NHL. The five-man unit of Pettersson, Boeser, Miller, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat have singlehandedly won games for the team, with the Canucks being just one of two teams to score five powerplay goals in a single game, coming in a 6-3 win over Nashville (Nov. 21). As of Friday, their 3.24 goals-for per game ranks second in the Western Conference, and puts them on pace for their most goals in a season since 2009-10.
Further, prior to injuries to centres Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle, the Canucks boasted a top-10 penalty kill in the league. While assuredly taking a step back as of late, the inevitable return of both to the lineup in the coming days will seemingly bring those percentages back up.
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And while the teams Grade-A players have done their fair share, secondary scoring and a valuable bottom six has also been present for a Canucks team that hasn’t had such in recent memory. It appears as though Tanner Pearson has returned to the 45-point player he was in Los Angeles.
His unlucky shooting percentage has quickly risen back to his career clip, as the 27 year-old is now on pace for 51 points. Adam Gaudette has already surpassed last season’s goal and point totals in 37 less games. At times seemingly rejuvenating the second powerplay unit, and in the process looking like a player with a legitimate shot to cross into the 40-point threshold by seasons end.
Josh Leivo has arguably become the most underrated and consistent middle-six forward on the team. All of which comes on the heels of Antoine Roussel’s triumphant return, and eventual returns of Beagle, Sutter, and Micheal Ferland.
Headlined by Hughes, the Canucks defensive core has also been a bright spot and played a heavy role in the team’s success this season. While Hughes leads the Vancouver blueliners in scoring with an astonishing 23 points through 28 games, Alex Edler was also flirting with a 50-point pace on the year prior to his seemingly inevitable injury.
Both he and Hughes were playing at a near 50-point pace, a feat no team saw in the league last season, and the Canucks have yet to see in their 50 year history.
But while the offence has carried on through the back-end, that is, aside from the six million dollar Tyler Myers, it’s also been on the defensive end the Canucks blueliners have been impressive. Hughes leads the group with an astonishing 54.7 CF% at even strength, arguably even more impressive than his point total thus far. And that’s not to take away from the rest of the team’s core, with Edler (51.5), Troy Stecher (50.5), and Myers (50.1) all holding favourable puck possession metrics while on the ice
Finally, the tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have also been above average this season, as the pair sit 13th in total goals-against across the entire league. Good numbers for sure, but even more impressive considering the adversity Markstrom has faced off the ice while playing regularly in the crease this season.
While the pair have by no means claimed elite status, the two are giving the Canucks an opportunity to win every night, and rarely become a talking point to point a loss to (Yes, I acknowledge Oct. 25 did happen).
Wherever you believe this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks stacks up to the rest of the league, you are wholeheartedly entitled to that opinion – just as I am to my belief the team is more than just mediocre, but actually good. If you disagree, instead of spamming a clown emoji and make a mockery of an individual’s passion, present your side of the story and let’s have some respectful discourse.
It’s true, there’s no telling when this team is going to take the next step to elite status and into title contention. For all we know, it may never happen. But the influx of a legitimate top line in hockey, secondary scoring, and impressive defence and goaltending positions give Canucks fans a strong case that their team is, in fact, more than just mediocre.
We are all Canucks, so let’s go back to treating each other like it.