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Is Quinn Hughes having the best season in Canucks history?

Quinn Hughes' incredible 2023-24 season compares favourably to the greatest seasons by other Vancouver Canucks legends.
Quinn Hughes' 2023-24 season has been easily the best ever by a Vancouver Canucks defenceman but how does it compare to the likes of Pavel Bure, Markus Näslund, and the Sedins?

Sports fans love a good comparison. 

Has LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time? Is Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher the best F1 driver in history? Can anyone compare to John Gochnaur to be the worst baseball player ever?

The comparisons continue in hockey. Even the seemingly incomparable Wayne Gretzky still draws comparisons, with some suggesting that Mario Lemieux or Bobby Orr have an argument to be the actual greatest player in NHL history.

This Vancouver Canucks season, we’re seeing some of the best players in franchise history in Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Thatcher Demko. By the end of their careers, we’ll have a better idea of where they stand among the Canucks’ all-time greats and whether they deserve to have their numbers retired or names enshrined in the team’s Ring of Honour.

Quinn Hughes is already the best Canucks defenceman ever

With one of those star players, we don’t really have to wait.

With 322 points in 355 career regular season games, Quinn Hughes is already third in scoring among Canucks defencemen and will surely pass Mattias Öhlund to move into second before the season is done. Next season, he’ll likely pass Alex Edler to move into first in about half the number of games. Hughes already possesses the three best single seasons for a Canucks defenceman and might have four if not for a global pandemic shortening the 2019-20 season.

So yeah, Hughes is already pretty clearly the best defenceman to ever play for the Canucks.

With 81 points in 72 games so far this season, the 24-year-old Hughes leads all NHL defencemen in scoring and is the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy. Beyond that, Hughes is dominating in puck possession, leading all Canucks with a 58.1% corsi percentage despite playing more minutes against elite competition than any other Canucks skater, and he’s only gotten better as the games have gotten harder. 

It’s pretty clear that this is the best season ever by a Canucks defenceman. But is it the best season by any Canuck ever?

Best Canucks seasons of all time by era-adjusted points

Figuring out if Hughes's 2023-24 season is the best in Canucks history is a little bit harder to determine as he's got more competition than he did in his own position. Figuring that out requires comparing across positions, which is tough to do on its own, and also across eras, which only increases the challenge.

Fortunately, the website Hockey Reference gives us a couple of useful, if imperfect, tools to help: era-adjusted points and Point Shares.  

Era-adjusted points are easy enough to understand. It was easier to score goals in some eras of the NHL than in others. In the high-flying eighties, NHL games saw an average of 7.4-8.0 goals per game, while the trap-em-up early 2000’s before the crackdown on hooking and holding saw that average fall to 5.1 in the 2003-04 season.

Hockey Reference applies an adjustment to points based on an average of six goals per game, so a player who racked up points in the eighties would be adjusted down, while a player in a lower-scoring season would see their totals adjusted up.

Here are the 15 best seasons ever by a Canuck — not including this current season — by era-adjusted points.

The table is led by award-winning seasons for Henrik Sedin, Markus Näslund, and Daniel Sedin, which seems about right. Two seasons by current Canucks show up on this list: J.T. Miller in 2021-22 and Elias Pettersson in 2022-23. In a moment, we’ll look at how current seasons from the Canucks compare.

Best Canucks seasons of all time by Point Shares

Point Shares are a little more esoteric but the idea is to assess how much of a team’s total points in the standings can be attributed to an individual player, making it similar to Win Shares in baseball. It’s far from perfect — it still uses plus/minus for some of its calculations, for instance — but it’s at least a starting point.

So, what are the best seasons ever by a Canucks skater according to Point Shares, not including this season? Here are all the seasons where a Canucks skater has recorded greater than 10 Point Shares.

The best season ever by a Canucks skater is evidently Daniel Sedin’s 2010-11 season, at least by Point Shares. His 14.3 Point Shares out-paces his brother’s 2009-10 season by a wide margin.

Unsurprisingly, the Point Shares table shares many of the same seasons from the era-adjusted points table, though we a couple of defencemen also get some recognition, albeit on the second page: two seasons from Christian Ehrhoff and 2022-23 Quinn Hughes, with seasons by Jyrki Lumme, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, and Sami Salo just missing the cut.

How do the 2023-24 Canucks compare?

The stars of the Canucks' 2023-24 season compare pretty favourably to the all-time best seasons ever in franchise history.

The era-adjusted points also includes a games adjustment, so J.T. Miller’s excellent seasons already sees him slide into the top-ten above Pavel Bure’s 1993-94 season. Elias Pettersson also gets his second season above 90 era-adjusted points, while Quinn Hughes comes just short at 89 era-adjusted points, which is still wildly impressive as a defenceman.

Hughes, however, gets his due in Point Shares, where he’s projected to finish the season with the highest Point Shares in Canucks history, just ahead of Daniel Sedin’s 2010-11 season.

Miller and Pettersson also show well by Point Shares and even Brock Boeser’s impressive season sees him nearly sneak above 10 Point Shares himself.

Quinn Hughes is the best Canuck ever...

So, assuming Quinn Hughes passes Daniel Sedin in Point Shares over the final ten games of the season, does this make his 2023-24 season the best ever by a Canuck? 

Leaving aside Point Shares for a moment, Hughes would still have a strong argument. Like Daniel, he’ll likely have a major award to his name in the Norris and would have the equivalent of the Art Ross Trophy for a defenceman if such an award existed. More than that, Hughes plays a ton of minutes in all situations, including the penalty kill and when defending the lead. On top of that, Hughes has captained the Canucks to an incredible turnaround from last season.

Still, it’s tough to judge the two seasons qualitatively, and when you bring in subjective opinion, some might instead want to point to Pavel Bure’s 60-goal seasons or some other performance. Maybe it’s best to leave it to an ostensibly objective statistic like Point Shares.

So, shall we crown Quinn Hughes? long as we're not missing something important

Of course, there’s one other obstacle to declaring this season by Quinn Hughes as the best season ever by a Canuck: we haven’t included the goaltenders.

Hockey Reference included goaltenders in their Point Shares calculations and workhorse goaltenders understandably get a lot of credit for their team’s points in the standings. Here are the 15 best seasons by a Canucks goaltender by Point Shares.

While 14.6 Point Shares for Quinn Hughes this season would get him into second in Canucks history, it wouldn’t surpass Roberto Luongo’s incredible 2006-07 season.

Luongo was incredible that season, his first in Vancouver. He posted a .921 save percentage across a whopping 76 games for the Canucks, and almost single-handedly carried them to first in the Northwest Division. He even finished second behind Sidney Crosby in Hart Trophy voting but was robbed of the Vezina Trophy by Martin Brodeur.  

After the Canucks had missed the playoffs the previous season, Luongo returned the Canucks to relevancy, and earned his first ever berth in the playoffs. He was even better in the postseason than in the regular season but for a single lapse in concentration against the Anaheim Ducks. Luongo had an incredible .941 save percentage for the Canucks, the 12th-best in playoff history among goaltenders with at least 10 games played.

With all that in mind, there’s absolutely no shame in finishing second behind 2006-07 Luongo. He was simply on another level that year.

That said, if we include postseason performances in the equation, perhaps there’s still room for Hughes to be the best. He just needs to carry the Canucks to a longer playoff run.