Vancouver Canucks: Season Grades So Far

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The 2014-2015 edition of the Vancouver Canucks have for the most part been a pleasant surprise (the recent 5 game losing streak aside), which can be attributed to, among other things, the return to playing an up tempo brand that better suits the teams identity. And, after 32 games (approximately one third the way through the season), I believe we are now officially way passed the time to start over-thinking the season so far – which is exactly what I’ll be doing below as I attempt to grade certain facets of the Canucks season so far.

The Top Line (the Sedins and Vrbata): Grade: B+
The Sedins and their new line mate Radim Vrbata (signed for 2 years, 10 million dollars this off season) have gotten off to a great start this season.  The Sedins averaged more than a PPG average in the first 20 games of the season and Vrbata had 10 goals by that point, too. Unfortunately, that hot streak to start the season has tapered off a bit over their recent 5 game losing skid (Sedins had combined for 2 assists total in the last 4 games of the losing streak, and Vrbata had zero points over the last 3 games of the losing streak), but that rough stretch just wasn’t enough to give them a grade any lower than a B+, given the scoring numbers before this most recent stretch. Vrbata also appears to be well on his way to supplanting Burrows or Anson Carter as the greatest Sedin line-mate of their careers.

That said, it was around this point last year the Sedin’s started to fade as they headed down the stretch (though Willie Desjardins has them playing over 4 minutes less per game than Tortorella did a year ago), and given their age and their lack of top end athleticism to begin with, it could be tough for the Sedins to replicate the pace they did at the start of the season when they were fresh. Still, given the style of play they are playing this year compared to last, it’s entirely possible for the Sedins to finish with something close to 70 points each, with Vrbata finishing not to far behind that.

Secondary Scoring: Grade A-
Considering Kesler had just been traded, Burrows had just come off a season in which he only scored 5 goals (in 49 games) and they also lost another 10 goals in the form of Mike Santorelli to the Maple Leafs in free agency, it wouldn’t have been unfair at all to have wondered where the extra goals for the Canucks this season were going to come from.  And while the secondary scoring hasn’t been as bountiful as in days gone by,  returning players Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and longtime Canuck veteran Jannik Hansen, plus the newly acquired Nick Bonino (acquired in the Kesler trade) and Linden Vey (trade with the Kings) have been playing well and have chipped in offensively with a combined 35 goals through the first 26 games of the season – before the losing streak.  If you had bet me at the start of the year that those 5 would combine for that many goals to start the year, I’d have taken that bet in a heart beat and also probably wondered if you were a little crazy in the process.

That said, the secondary scoring hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows: young Bo Hovart has only scored once this season and Burrows and Higgins have managed only a combined 11 goals between the two of them so far – those three are going to have to improve on those numbers in the following months, especially the later two.

Goaltending: Grade: C+
There have been some nights where the goaltending has simply let the Canucks  down (recent games against the Red Wings and Rangers come to mind), but Ryan Miller is sporting a perfectly respectable 2.65 goals against average with 17 wins and 3 shutouts in 24 games played on the season. His save percent (.901) is a little on the low side, but all in all it’s been a good first stint for Miller in a Canucks uniform. Lack took a while earning his first win on the year (not his fault), but his stats are better than Miller’s at this point in the season. However, in recent years the Canucks have had a goalie (or two) who would play well enough to steal games on a nightly basis (Luongo had a .917 and .918 save % in his final two years with the Canucks), and Ryan Miller hasn’t played consistently well enough to make people entirely forget about the two goalies he is replacing.

It says here that the final grade for goaltending after 82 games will probably go the longest way in determining whether the Canucks are playing in the postseason this year or not.

Coaching: Grade: B+
It’s tough not to give the new-Willie Desjardins lead-coaching staff a high grade like this, especially when you compare some basic statistics from his edition of the Vancouver Canucks to the John Tortorella-lead Canucks of the season prior:

Goals for average: 2013-14: 2.41 goals per game; 2014-15: 2.81 gpg

Goals against average: 13-14: 2.71 gpg; 14-15: 2.78 gpg

Penalty Kill %: 13-14: 83.2%’ 14-15: 86.5%

Power Play %: 13-14 15.2%; 14-15 17.6%

The biggest and most obvious indicator there that Desjardins is doing well is that Canucks are scoring more goals than they are allowing this season compared to last (albeit barely), but what really is great to see is they are back to scoring more goals, averaging nearly half a goal more per game than last season (with arguably a less talented scoring group this time around). The special teams units are obviously both a few % points better as well. That doesn’t happen by accident – Desjardins and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the focusing on improving special teams, while implementing/returning to the up tempo style better suited towards the Canucks personnel. If it weren’t for the recent 5 game skid those numbers would all be significantly better across the board, too. Bottom line is: given the expectations for the Canucks at the beginning of the season (which were not all that high) have been exceeded to this point, the coaching definitely deserves it’s high rating here.

Defensemen/Team Defense: Grade: B
The Canucks on the back end have been fine this season: Alex Edler is enjoying a bounce back season after a career worst -39 campaign last season; Bieksa brings his typical gnarly attitude to the Canucks on a nightly basis, Tanev’s game has been steady if not unspectactular this year and the trio of Stanton, Sbisa (also acquired in the Kesler deal) and Weber haven’t made it necessarily difficult to forget that local boy Jason Garrison and “fan-favorite” Keith Ballard were moved on in the off season (via trade to the Lightening and amnesty waivers, respectively). Clearly though, the Canucks miss Dan Hamhuis and his 20-25 minutes of calm, smooth play a night. No one on the back end breaks out of the zone better than he does, and the fact that the Canuck have dressed the same 6 defensemen in Hamhuis’s absence (Bieksa, Edler, Tanev, Stanton, Weber and Sbisa) I think says something about how the Canucks feel about their depth at defensemen at this point. Given the recent stretch of play without Hamhuis (even though they admittedly started out with 4 wins after Hamhuis went down) and the uncertainty regarding his return from the injury, it’s not inconceivable that this ranking plummets into the ‘C’ letter grade range by the end of the year.

Overall Grade: B+
Considering how miserable this team was to watch a year ago, it’s absolutely fair to say this years Canucks have been a pleasant surprise, and the return to their up tempo style have made the Canucks relatively fun to watch to watch again this season.  It’s been utterly refreshing to see the team playing well again and the players genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves after a rough go of it a year ago, too. And despite it’s recent struggles, the Canucks appear to have very legitimate shot of at least making it’s division’s wild card spot this year. Given that this was supposed to be a retooling year of sorts, it’s hard not to think of this season for the Canucks and conclude this season has been a relative success so far.


My big thing with writing (or talking) about professional sports is I want the other person to have learned something, statistical or historical. I am passionate about pro sports and have plenty of knowledge that I will try unload on all of you here. Thanks for reading!

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