7 biggest surprises about the Canucks this season, both good and bad

Jan 14 2023, 12:59 am

Are you surprised? The Vancouver Canucks entered the season as a playoff contender.

But now precisely halfway through their 2022-23 campaign, the tank for Connor Bedard seems more realistic than a postseason berth.

So, what happened?

Here are the seven biggest surprises about the Canucks so far this season.

1. Demko is human

A hot goalie can make all the difference in the world, especially for a team like the Canucks.

Throughout his young NHL career, Thatcher Demko proved that he could be a game-changer.

The 2020 playoffs, where he stepped in for Jacob Markstrom, was just the beginning. Last season, he was the primary reason why the Canucks gave up the fewest goals against at even strength.

Well, Demko went from superhuman, to merely human.

Before suffering an injury on December 1, Demko’s record was an ugly 3-10-2. He also had an .883 save percentage, which was fourth-worst among starting netminders at the time.

2. Disaster on defence

While this might be the least surprising surprise on the list, the ineptitude of this group is still a shocker.

Last season, the Canucks were narrowly in the bottom half of the league in terms of expected goals against (19th) and high-danger chances against (18th) at even strength.

This season? It’s been a disaster.

The Canucks have the third-worst expected goals-against (2.92 per 60) in the NHL. They also have allowed the second-most high-danger chances-against (13.55 per 60).

A huge reason for this is the regression of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers. They both were surprisingly solid on defence last season, but both players are now replacement-level defenders who are too slow and turnover prone.

3. Horvat is a goal-scoring king

Okay, no one saw this coming.

We’re at the midway point of the NHL season and Bo Horvat is on pace for 58 goals.

His goal-scoring rate has consistently trended upward. Horvat was on pace for 36 goals last season after scoring 31 in 70 games.

Still, to go from a 36-goal pace to a 58-goal pace is an unbelievable accomplishment. Only Tage Thompson (31), David Pastrnak (32), and Connor McDavid (35) have scored more goals this season.

4. Miller’s value plummets

Although most Canucks fans weren’t pleased with the J.T. Miller extension, that had more to do with the fact that his deal was seven years long. Most still expected Miller to be a first-line play driver for at least the next couple of seasons.

I don’t think many predicted that his credibility as a first-liner would come into question before his new contract even kicked in.

Miller has been porous defensively this season, especially when he plays centre. However, his 5-on-5 scoring has dried up as well. He currently had 1.36 points per 60, which is a middling third-line rate.

Last season, Miller’s market value based on The Athletic’s analytics model was $10.4 million.

This season, it’s $5.8 million.

Miller’s seven-year extension worth $8 million per season kicks in at the beginning of 2023-24.

5. Rutherford publicly rips his head coach

The criticisms of Bruce Boudreau began after the conclusion of last season — and that was after the Canucks played at a 106-point pace under their newest bench boss.

But, after a slow start, President Jim Rutherford publicly called out his head coach on multiple occasions, leading to speculation that Boudreau is likely on his way out. Still, he remains at the helm behind the Canucks’ bench.

6. Historically bad penalty kill

While this started as a surprise, it’s so predictable now that you can only laugh (or cry) when a Canuck heads to the penalty box.

We saw hints of this last year under Travis Green, when the Canucks PK was on pace to be the worst in NHL history. However, after Boudreau was hired, it seemed like the porous PK was a thing of the past.

Not so far.

As of writing, the Canucks have the worst PK in the league, and they’re on pace for the worst penalty kill in NHL history.


7. Kuzmania

Andrei Kuzmenko entered the 2022-23 season as a complete wild card. Despite success in the KHL, history has shown that KHL stars can have wildly varying degrees of success in the NHL.

Well, Kuzmenko has been better than almost anyone expected.

The 26-year-old has looked dynamite offensively and has 17 goals and 36 points in 40 games. Both of those totals lead all first-year NHL players, even though he’s too old to be eligible for rookie of the year.

The Canucks now need to make a decision on whether they want to re-sign or trade a player who’s been one of the better stories for the team so far this season.

Trevor BeggsTrevor Beggs

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