Is Jim Benning feeling the pressure?
As the Vancouver Canucks’ general manager enters his eighth season in charge of the club, the stakes have never been higher.
After taking the Vegas Golden Knights all the way to Game 7 of the second round back in 2020, the Canucks were expected to take a step forward. Instead, they crashed and burned, finishing last in the North Division.
Now, Benning has retooled the roster and quite literally, 10 players on the 20-man opening night lineup could be made up of new players.
Oh yeah, and with a new backup in Halak, make that 10 of 20…
— Trevor Beggs (@TrevBeggs) October 7, 2021
It’s clear that on paper, the Canucks are better than the team that played at a 73-point pace last season. However, according to every major analytics model, they haven’t improved enough to make the playoffs.
Four of the most well-known and respected analytics-based prediction models out there are all bearish on the Canucks. Their predictions are below.
- Canucks finish 5th in Pacific Division (12th in West, 24th in NHL) with 83.5 points, behind Vegas, Seattle, Edmonton, and Calgary.
- They have a 21.9% chance of making the playoffs.
2. The Athletic
- Canucks finish 5th in Pacific Division (11th in West, 23rd in NHL) with 87.1 points, behind Vegas, Edmonton, Seattle, and Calgary.
- They have a 31% chance of making the playoffs.
3. Money Puck
- Canucks finish 6th in Pacific Division (12th in West, 23rd in NHL) with 87.4 points, behind Vegas, Calgary, Seattle, Edmonton, and San Jose.
- They have a 37.7% chance of making the playoffs.
- Canucks finish 6th in Pacific Division (10th in West, 19th in NHL) with 89 points, behind Vegas, Calgary, Seattle, Edmonton, and Los Angeles.
- They have a 42% chance of making the playoffs.
Why is every model so low on the Canucks?
1. They were terrible last season
Most analytics models include data from the past couple of seasons (usually the last three). Of course, the most recent seasons receive the heaviest weight, which doesn’t bode well for the Canucks.
2. They’ve been horrid defensively for years
Over the last three seasons, here’s where the Canucks rank in a number of defensive categories at five-on-five:
- 30th in shot attempts against (31st last season)
- 27th in goals against (28th last season)
- 29th in expected goals against (31st last season)
- 31st in scoring chances against (31st last season)
When you’re consistently one of the worst teams in hockey defensively, winning is going to be a challenge. There’s just too much talent in the NHL — even on bad teams — to continuously be this permissive on defence.
3. The new additions haven’t moved the needle
It’s no secret that analytics aren’t kind to some of the Canucks newcomers… with the stats vilifying Oliver Ekman-Larsson in particular.
Here’s an interesting chart from Micah Black McCurdy’s preview, which shows how each current Canucks fares against league averages for expected goals for and expected goals against.
Most Canucks above have a negative impact in terms of goals-for at even strength.
What’s noteworthy here is that every single defenceman is in the negative except for Jack Rathbone. Ekman-Larsson and Myers, which could be the Canucks’ shutdown pairing, are firmly in the “bad” box.
What analytics often can’t predict
Over the last 10 seasons, no team has had more man games lost than the Canucks.
Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, and the Anaheim Ducks have the greatest number of injuries since the 2010-11 season https://t.co/Vqmne8nuQ2 pic.twitter.com/GkQyTA3Hb9
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) July 5, 2021
Eventually, luck has to turn in the Canucks favour… right?
The impact of injuries is a hard thing to quantify. In the case of the Canucks, missing a star like Elias Pettersson for half the season created a trickle-down effect that negatively impacted the entire roster.
Having nearly every player getting COVID-19 last season also didn’t help matters.
Still, the Canucks aren’t off to a great start here with Travis Hamonic, Brandon Sutter, and Tyler Motte missing the start of the season. However, if this club can avoid long-term injuries to their core players, they’ll automatically be in better shape to succeed.
While this can be quantified to an extent, chemistry between certain players is often random.
I mean, remember when everyone thought Loui Eriksson and the Sedins were going to have success? Heck, even the supposed chemistry between J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat was cut short before it even started.
It could take some time for a team with nine new skaters to gel, which is an issue since the Canucks begin the season on a six-game road trip. However, on paper, this is the best forward group the Canucks have had in nearly a decade.
While stats like goals saved above average help understand goaltenders’ performances a bit better, predicting future outcomes for netminders is still tricky.
Thatcher Demko was a stud for the Canucks last season, and he could arguably be the most important player on the roster for the 2021-22 campaign.
If Demko can continue playing at a near-Vezina level, coupled with even an average performance by backup Jaroslav Halak in spot duty, it will go a long way towards improving the Canucks playoff odds.