NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks finished the season with 73 points. The team was entering a transition phase and now that the Sedin’s have announced their retirement the team will be able to fully transition to the future. The focus now shifts to their young talent and some of the players that played well in Utica in the AHL.
The Canucks were among the worst possession teams despite having the Sedin twins who are typically very strong players in terms of Corsi. With the Sedin’s out of the picture the team will be looking to fill the void not only on the ice but in the locker room as well.
The Sedin twins’ retirement and final home game will be the highlight of the season for the Canucks, but they did have young talent who produced all season as well. Bo Horvat has been a solid NHL player since his debut at age 19 in 2014. Horvat missed games to start the season but was able to register 44 points in 64 games. Horvat had a 50.1% CorsiFor and was able to drive possession on a team that struggled possessing the puck. Another bright spot in Horvat’s game was his power play production. He generated 3.5 shots from the inner slot per 20 minutes of power play time. The inner slot shot is a high percentage shot and the fact that Horvat was consistently able to find time and space in the slot bodes well for the Canucks powerplay in the future. Horvat is already signed to a long-term contract with a reasonable cap hit, he figures to be a key component of the Canucks moving forward.
The Canucks had another young forward make an impact as well but unfortunately his season was cut short by injury. Brock Boeser was selected to the All-Star team and was well above a 30-goal pace prior to his injury. Boeser showed that he is more than capable of scoring at the NHL level and his shot ranks among the best in the game. Boeser was among the teams most creative offensive players, but he is a natural goal scorer and that is reflected in his statistics. Boeser was able to generate more than 1.5 shots from the slot per 20 minutes of ice time. The Canucks ran their powerplay through Boeser, much like Washington does with Alexander Ovechkin. Boeser averaged 4.82 one timers per 20 minutes on the powerplay. Look for that number to grow as Boeser continues to develop as a player. Boeser is the future face of the Canucks and is a player Canucks fans can be excited about moving forward.
Lastly, the Canucks traded for Derrick Pouliot from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pouliot was a top 10 pick in 2012 and spent time with Coach Travis Green in Portland. Pouliot showed signs of developing into the puck moving defenseman that warranted a top ten draft selection. He was among the best passers from the back end, 75.4% of his stretch passes were successful, something that is very important in today’s game. Pouliot was able drive possession by making close to 10 outlet passes from the defensive zone per 20 minutes. Pouliot looks like a player who could be signed for a small cap hit and has the potential to be one of the most important players on the roster moving forward.
The Canucks were not close to qualifying for the playoffs, so it is safe to assume that there were many disappointing aspects to their season. However, the expectations were not very high, and the team finished close to where many expected. The most obvious disappointment is Loui Eriksson, when he was acquired the team expect a prolific scoring forward and he has failed to meet the grand expectations. Eriksson has developed nicely into a two-way player, but his point production is simply not on par with where it needs to be for a player with such a large cap hit. It does not look like the Canucks will be able to move Eriksson because he has a no move clause and there is not likely to even be a market for a forward of his age and play style.
The back end is where the Canucks are hurting the most. Alex Edler is a solid player but players like Chris Tanev and Erik Gundbranson have failed to live up to expectations in Vancouver. Gundbranson is an interesting case, the Canucks management was dead set on resigning the defenseman and many fans were wondering why. Gundbranson has a Corsi For of 44% which is, in the simplest of terms, not good. He was expected to play a physical, stay at home type game but he is not doing a good enough job in his own end. He was only winning contested loose puck battles 35.5% of the time in his own end, a percentage way too low for a player of his style.
Lastly, the goaltending situation might not be considered a full-fledged disappointment, but Jacob Markstrom failed to truly claim the starting job. Anders Nilsson did not challenge Markstrom for the job and the young goaltender was able to play in 60 games. Markstrom ranked in the middle of the pack in nearly all the key goaltending statistics and it will be interesting to see if Thatcher Demko will challenge for games in 2019.
The Sedin twins retiring means the Canucks will head into the offseason with money to burn. The team will have more than $23M in cap space to use. Lets first look at their own pending UFA’s and RFA’s. Players like Pouliot, Nic Dowd, and Darren Archibald should be cheap to sign if the team chooses to do so. That still leaves plenty of space. Naturally, the focus shifts to the big name free agents. John Tavares is the biggest name and the question figures to be whether he is willing to play in Vancouver. The Canucks must keep Boeser and his potential contract in mind when negotiating with free agents, but the team would be able to fit Tavares easily. If Tavares is not an option, the team can shift the focus to other top-tier free agents but as I would say to any GM, be wary of giving out big money deals on July 1st.
Teams are typically built through the draft and the Canucks do not have any additional picks in any of the next three drafts. If the 2019 season starts poorly, the Canucks might be best off moving some of their veteran players to acquire more picks.
With that being said, the team does have one of the best prospect pools in the league. Elias Pettersson is projected to develop into a top line forward and is showing no signs of slowing down. He has dominated the SHL as a 19-year-old and figures to compete for NHL time next year. Goaltender Thatcher Demko also figures to compete for NHL time after a strong AHL campaign. Other prospects such as Tyler Motte, Johnathan Dahlen, Reid Boucher and Kole Lind figure to compete for NHL time in the not so distant future.
In conclusion, the decisions the front office makes this offseason has the potential to alter the course of the franchise. The prospect pool is exciting but teams with so many elite prospects must avoid handcuffing themselves and becoming a cap team before the young players are even up for their second contracts (looking at you Detroit). The Canucks figure to be a middle of the pack team next season that could possibly contend for a playoff spot but asking young players to immediately step in and fill the void left by the Sedin’s seems like a lot to ask.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the Chicago Blackhawks If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics based projects.