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Canucks are first in the Pacific: how the heck did that happen?

This feels wrong. Is this wrong?
Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks

With their come-from-behind victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, the Canucks did something thoroughly unexpected: they took over first place in the Pacific Division.

Did that catch anyone else off-guard?

The Canucks haven’t instilled much confidence with their performance this season, particularly with the way they’ve given up third period leads, so finding out that the Canucks are currently the top team in the Pacific gave my brain whiplash. This has been a truly weird start to the season.

Let’s start with that record: if you judge strictly from a win-loss record, the Canucks are below .500. They’ve won just seven of their first 16 games. Only nine teams in the entire NHL have fewer wins.

And they’ve looked like a sub-.500 team a lot this season, which makes sense. The Canucks are still on a stealth-rebuild and have had four different rookies in the lineup as well as fellow young’uns Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. Aging veteran leaders and a bunch of kids? Of course they’re a below-.500 team.

The Canucks, however, have lost only four games in regulation and have the most overtime losses of any team in the NHL. By waiting to lose until overtime, the Canucks have amassed enough loser points to build a winner.

Only 5 other NHL teams have fewer regulation losses and those teams are either also first in their respective divisions or they are in the brutal Central. In fact, if the Canucks were in the Central, they would be 5th in the division. The Pacific, as we’ve pointed out previously here at PITB, is a pile of putrescence and the Canucks practically look like a powerhouse in comparison.

The Canucks lead the Pacific in goal differential at plus-9. The only other team in the Pacific with a positive goal differential is the second-place Los Angeles Kings at plus-5. The Calgary Flames, who knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs last season, have a league-worst minus-23.

So, fans shouldn’t be too exultant about being first in a division composed almost entirely of trash -- the king of a trash heap is still living in a trash heap -- but there’s an upside: it’s a lot easier to make the playoffs in a crappy division.

Three teams from the Pacific Division are guaranteed to make the playoffs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that 6 of the 7 teams in the Central Division will finish with more points than any team in the Pacific, but three teams from the Pacific will still make the playoffs.

Some fancy stat aficionados might be concerned about the Canucks underlying possession statistics and they are thoroughly mediocre, but even mediocrity makes them one of the best teams in their division.

The Canucks’ score-adjusted corsi% is 49.7%, placing them 14th in the NHL, about as average as you can get, but only two teams in the Pacific are better: the Kings, who have the best score-adjusted corsi% in the NHL at 56.3%, and the Sharks, who are at 49.9%, just ahead of the Canucks.

If the Canucks can fix their 25th-ranked power play, and they have the personnel to do so, they should be in good shape to stay in the top half of the Pacific.

*all stats from