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First in the Pacific? Analytical models predict the Canucks’ 2022-23 season

Most in the mainstream media expect the Vancouver Canucks to just miss the playoffs but some analytics-based predictions are a lot higher on their chances.
thatcher demko at canucks training caamp
Can Thatcher Demko carry the Vancouver Canucks back to the playoffs?

How good are the Vancouver Canucks going to be this season?

The Canucks themselves have been pretty clear — they feel strongly that they’re a playoff team and head coach Bruce Boudreau went as far as saying that missing the playoffs would be a “big disaster.”

“Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” said J.T. Miller. “I don’t think the goal should ever be less than that.”

Generally speaking, those outside of Vancouver don’t believe in the Canucks as much as they believe in themselves. The Hockey News, for instance, projects the Canucks to finish fifth in the Pacific Division and gave them 41/1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup. 

ESPN also projects a fifth-place finish in the Pacific, as does The Athletic, with just 38.5% of The Athletic’s staff seeing the Canucks as a playoff team.  

“The team feels like it's trying to clean up old messes, contend in the present and set up for the future at the same time, and the result is disorienting,” said ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

But what do the numbers say? After all, numbers don’t lie.  

Analytics and models are all over the place

I looked at ten different 2022-23 predictions for the NHL season that were based on an analytical model or were at least analytics-adjacent — you’ll see. Perhaps surprisingly, some models were a lot higher on the Canucks than the mainstream media, with one picking the Canucks to win the Pacific Division.

Canucks 2022-23 predictions

On average, these predictions suggest the Canucks will end the season with around 93 points and finish in fourth place in the Pacific Division, with a 57% chance of making the playoffs. That’s a bit better than a coin flip. The individual models, however, have a pretty wide range of results.

Let’s start with the least analytical of the predictions — the official simmed season from EA Sports’ NHL 23, which predicted the Canucks would finish fourth in the Pacific Division and make the playoffs. 

Is this based on an analytical model? Not exactly, but there are a lot of numbers involved — over a dozen numbers in every individual player rating multiplied by hundreds of players. EA Sports sims the season once, whereas some models simulate the season thousands of times, so there’s likely some noise to the prediction, but still — the Canucks will make the playoffs according to a video game.

FiveThirtyEight had the Canucks at a 55% chance of making the playoffs, though their predictions are constantly updating throughout the season — they currently have the Canucks at 56% after the Los Angeles Kings lost to the Vegas Golden Knights, giving up 51 shots on goal in the process.

The Kings finished third in the Pacific last season and have a young team slated to improve, but they also are still partially dependent on some aging veterans — if the Kings falter, the Canucks will benefit.

Evolving-Hockey’s model places the Canucks right around where the mainstream media pundits have them: fifth in the Pacific Division. They see the Pacific Division as one of the toughest in the league.

“Compared to last year, we see the biggest change overall in the Pacific, which now challenges the Atlantic as arguably the best division in the league with the ascension of Calgary and Edmonton into the top-10,” reads their season preview.

Below 50% chance of making the playoffs?

Dom Luszczyszyn’s model is published with The Athletic and it is a lot lower on the Canucks than average. Luszczyszyn’s model is bearish on the Canucks’ defence, identifying Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman as the “weak links,” but Luszczyszyn does suggest a reason for optimism.

“The Boudreau Effect is very real and we saw it firsthand once again with a new team. Boudreau knows how to get the most out of his guys and a full year at the helm should mean a big step forward for the Canucks,” reads the article. “The model does not account for coaching effects explicitly, only implicitly with results during his tenure.”

They also note that there’s potential for the team’s young core to break out in a big way — as much as the model is iffy on the Canucks’ playoff chances, they could outperform the model.

Luszczyszyn’s model doesn’t predict the lowest point total for the Canucks — that prediction belongs to MoneyPuck, which projects just 88.6 points for the Canucks. That’s just a few points ahead of the Seattle Kraken. That would definitely be the "big disaster" that Boudreau talked about.

"Very good goaltending"

On the flip side of these Debbie Downers is Micah Blake McCurdy’s model at HockeyViz. It’s not that McCurdy’s model projects an incredibly high point total — 95.7 points is just a few points higher than they had last season — but it’s a lot lower on the Canucks’ divisional rivals, putting the Canucks first place in the Pacific.

Contrary to Evolving-Hockey’s model, the HockeyViz model projects the Pacific Division to be one of the weaker divisions in the NHL, with Thatcher Demko cited as a key reason why the Canucks could take advantage.

“By far the most interesting division (to me) is the Pacific, where upheaval (Calgary) or persistent management confusion (Edmonton) or both (Vegas) have opened up the division,” said McCurdy. “Vancouver's strengths lie primarily in their very good goaltending combined with their recent upgrade in coaching; the division on the whole is fairly weak.”

TopDownHockey and JFreshHockey are similarly high on the Canucks, with their predictions based on essentially the same model used in different ways. TopDownHockey has the Canucks third in the Pacific with 95.9 points, while JFreshHockey has the highest point projection for the Canucks at 98 points and 2nd in the division.  

JFreshHockey also ran a fan survey with hundreds of respondents projecting what they believe will be the final point totals and standings. On the whole, those hockey fans are low on the Canucks, predicting them to finish outside the playoffs with 90 points.

The Canucks are betting on themselves (but not literally)

Then there are the gambling odds, which have a financial incentive to being as accurate as possible. If you put stock in those odds, that’s a concern for the Canucks, as they project a lower-than-average result for the Canucks, with the over-under ahead of the season set at 92.5 points and a fifth-place finish in the Pacific. 

On the plus side, the decimal odds for making the playoffs are 1.82 for the Canucks, which translates roughly to a 54.9% probability — better than 50/50. 

It’s fascinating to see the wide range of projections for the Canucks, from 88.6 points to 98 points, fifth in the Pacific Division to first. Not even the numbers can agree about how good the Canucks will be this season.