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The 15 greatest Canucks of the decade

Yes, the decade ends in 2020, and it's time to rank the Canucks' best players.
Bulis.Pre.2019.Hughs.8424 (1)
Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Jacob Markstrom all land on the top-15 players of the last decade. photo: Dan Toulgoet / Glacier Media

With everyone wrapped up in the end of the hell year that has been 2020, it’s easy to forget that this is also the end of a decade. Perhaps that’s because of the way people usually refer to decades: the 90’s are clearly from 1990 to 1999, right? Therefore, the 10’s are from 2010 to 2019.

Only, that’s not quite right. There’s no year zero in the modern calendar, so the decade goes from 1 to 10, or from 2011 to 2020 for our purposes. The National Research Council of Canada, keepers of Canada’s atomic clocks, pointing out at the turn of the millennium, “The 3rd Millennium and the 21st Century began at the same moment, namely zero hours on January 1st, 2001.”

The Farmer’s Almanac and the US Naval Observatory, keepers of time for the United States, agree that decades end on the tens, not on the nines.

With that resolved, let’s look back at the last decade and name the 15 best Canucks in that time. The last ten years have been full of delirious highs and crushing lows, featuring the best Canucks team of all time in 2011 and arguably their worst, when they set a new franchise low for fewest goals in a season in 2016-17.

For now, let’s celebrate the truly great players in the last decade. I’m going to use a mix of subjective opinion as well as a couple of all-in-one statistics: Point Shares from Hockey Reference and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from Evolving Hockey.  

You can read more about Point Shares and WAR, if you’re looking for more information, but here are the basics. Point Shares attempts to calculate how many standings points each player contributes to their team, while WAR attempts to calculate how many wins a player is worth over a replacement-level player.

To the players!

15 | Jannik Hansen

The perennial unsung hero was one of the best players of the decade for the Canucks. Hansen went from a depth role to playing alongside the Sedin twins on the top line, scoring 22 goals in just 67 games in the 2015-16 season. More important than those offensive contributions, however, was his defensive work, playing a grinding role on third lines and logging a lot of minutes on the penalty kill.

Hansen won the Fred J. Hume award as the Canucks’ unsung hero three times this past decade, the only player to ever do so. It’s like people forgot how good he was in between wins, but this list doesn’t forget. 

Hansen was with the Canucks up until the 2017 trade deadline and his total of 7.7 WAR is fifth among Canucks skater over the past decade.

14 | Kevin Bieksa

Bieksa was key to the Canucks in their 2011 playoff run, averaging a team-high 25:41 in ice time per game and tallying 10 points in 25 games. In fact, he scored the goal that sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, tracking the puck off the stanchion when no one else saw it and sending the wobbling puck home.

Bieksa followed up the 2011 playoffs with a career-high 44 points in the 2011-12 season, the third-best season by a Canucks defenceman of the decade, discounting Christian Ehrhoff’s 50 points in 2010-11, since not all of those points were scored this decade. By the advanced stats, Bieksa holds up as one of the Canucks’ top players of the decade, with a 4.8 WAR in that time, 11th among Canucks skaters, and a 26.5 point share that is good for 7th. 

Beyond all that, Bieksa was a leader in the room and great with fans and the media with his intelligence and wry sense of humour. 

13 | Ryan Kesler

It may seem sacrilege to have Kesler so far down this list, but he only played two full seasons for the Canucks in this decade and his best season was half in the previous decade.

Still, Kesler won the Selke Trophy this decade, taking it home in 2011. He’s the only Canuck to ever win the Selke as the league’s top defensive forward after finishing the 2010-11 season with 41 goals. He was also a beast in the 2011 playoffs, dominating the Nashville Predators with 5 goals and 11 points in 6 games.

Playing basically on one leg against the San Jose Sharks, he still came through with some clutch goals, including a game-tying goal in the final seconds of regulation in the deciding Game 5.

Kesler never hit those same heights after 2011, but still had two 20+ goal seasons before he demanded a trade to the Anaheim Ducks after the 2013-14 season.

12 | Dan Hamhuis

While Hamhuis was never spectacular offensively, he was a solid shutdown defenceman for the Canucks until 2016, logging heavy minutes against tough competition. He finishes higher on this list than Bieksa and Kesler largely because of longevity: he played more for the Canucks in this decade than they did.

Hamhuis had three seasons where he averaged over 23 minutes per game — only Alex Edler had more — and he had a career-high 37 points in 2011-12, when he also had a +29 plus/minus, easily the best of the decade for the Canucks. While plus/minus has its faults, when the next best season by a defenceman was +18, that seems significant.

WAR certainly thinks highly of Hamhuis: his 10.8 WAR this past decade is fourth among Canucks skaters. If you’re questioning why Hamhuis is on this list, you probably should instead be asking why he isn’t higher on this list.

11 | Brock Boeser

When Boeser entered the NHL, he immediately made a big splash, scoring 4 goals in 9 games at the end of the 2016-17 season. It was the breath of fresh air Canucks fans needed after a difficult season, finally providing some hope for the future.

Boeser followed through on that hope in his rookie season, tallying 29 goals in just 62 games, suggesting that he had the potential for a 40-goal season in his career. While his goal-scoring tailed off in the subsequent two seasons, he became a more well-rounded player and a key first-line winger for the Canucks.

Boeser’s 6.6 WAR is 6th among Canucks skaters over the past decade, but second among current Canucks. 

10 | Roberto Luongo

His time in Vancouver didn’t end well, but Luongo was still one of the top goaltenders in the NHL while he was with the Canucks this past decade. He’d be higher on this list if his best seasons with the team weren’t from the previous decade or if we could count all of his stellar 2010-11 season.

As it is, Luongo still had a .919 save percentage in 2011-12 and a .917 save percentage in 2013-14 before he was traded to the Florida Panthers. We also get all of his 2011 playoffs, where he was far better than he gets credit for, including two shutouts in the Stanley Cup Final, which frequently get overlooked, and some spectacular goaltending in Round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

If Luongo had stuck with the Canucks for a few more seasons, he’d be much higher on this list, as he had several more seasons in Florida with a .920+ save percentage. As it is, his 11.2 WAR is still fifth among all Canucks over the past ten years.

9 | Jacob Markstrom

There’s a reason Markstrom has been the Canucks’ MVP over the past two seasons: he’s kept the Canucks in games they had no business being in and stolen win after win. 

Perhaps Markstrom deserves to be even higher on this list, but prior to the past couple of seasons, he was either a decent backup or an average starting goaltender. But this past season in particular, he was incredible, carrying the Canucks back to the playoffs despite some shaky defence in front of him. It was an amazing transformation from a few years prior when he passed through waivers to the AHL without getting claimed.

I’m giving him the edge over Luongo simply because Markstrom’s best seasons of his career came over the past few seasons with the Canucks, while Luongo’s best seasons were in the previous decade. Markstrom’s 11.3 WAR over the past ten years is also just a hair better than Luongo’s and is fourth among all Canucks over the past decade. 

8 | Bo Horvat

The current captain has paid major dividends for the Canucks since he was drafted 9th overall after a trade with the New Jersey Devils for Cory Schneider. It was arguably the biggest Canucks trade of the decade.

Horvat has become a match-up centre under head coach Travis Green and also plays a key role on the power play. This may come as a surprise, but Horvat is actually second on the Canucks in power play goals over the last decade, behind only Daniel Sedin.

He truly came into his own in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 10 goals in 17 games, including a couple of truly magnificent individual efforts. 

Beyond that, Horvat is a true leader in the room, forming a bond between the oldest and the youngest players on the team. 

7 | Alex Edler

The elder statesman of the Canucks, Edler has been with the team longer than any other current player. Only five players have played more games for the Canucks than Edler.

Edler averaged over 24 minutes per game in four separate seasons over the last decade, five if you include the second half of the 2010-11 season. He had a career-high 49 points in 2011-12, the second-best season by a Canucks defenceman in the decade and he easily has the most points of any Canucks defenceman over the last ten years.

Edler played in every situation for the Canucks, racking up minutes on both the power play and penalty kill, and shutting down opponents at even-strength in a match-up role. While he never quite became the true number one defenceman that Canucks fans dreamed he could be, he was still the linchpin for the Canucks defence all decade long.

Along the way, he set franchise records for defencemen in games played, goals, assists, and points.

By point shares, Edler was the second-most valuable Canuck of the decade with a total of 52.0 point shares. 

6 | Alex Burrows

Burrows scored the most iconic Canucks goal of the decade. That’s it, that’s the entry.

Okay, we can talk about him a little more. While WAR and point shares aren’t too kind to Burrows — a couple of subpar seasons towards the end of his Canucks tenure hurt him there — he was still one of the best players of the decade. 

After his stellar 2010-11 season, Burrows had another 28 goals and 52 points in 2011-12, almost entirely at even-strength. He played more on the penalty kill than any other Canucks forward over the last decade. He was a heart-and-soul player who deservedly was raised to the Ring of Honour during the 2019-20 season.

More than anything, Burrows was a team guy first. As an example, watch any big goal from the Canucks and you’re likely to spot Burrows swooping in to snag the puck to make sure the keepsake got back to the player that scored. 

5 | Chris Tanev

Thanks to being one of just two Canucks to play in every single year of the past decade, Tanev actually has the highest total Wins Above Replacement of any Canuck at 13.1. The steady defender was legitimately one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL in the middle of the decade, forming a dominant shutdown pairing with Alex Edler.

Tanev has never been an offensive dynamo — his career high in points is 20 in both 2014-15 and 2019-20 — but he did have a knack for clutch overtime goals, such as his goal that sent the Canucks past the Minnesota Wild and into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

What Tanev will be remembered for, however, is his defensive play. Well, that and his role as team dad

4 | Quinn Hughes

Putting a player on an all-decade list after just one full season? Yes, but what a season.

Hughes has quickly established himself as arguably the best defenceman in Canucks history, even after just one season. His 53 points was the most by a Canucks defenceman in the past decade despite a shortened 68-game season and he was the first rookie NHL defenceman in the last 27 years to reach 50 points.

Before the season was shut down, Hughes was on-pace for all kinds of records and managed to set one when play resumed with the playoffs: most playoff points for a rookie defenceman.

His slick skating and deceptiveness made him a one-man breakout, changing the game for the Canucks every time he stepped onto the ice, and his vision and excellent shot made him an ideal quarterback for the power play, which was one of the best in the NHL.

Hughes will be one of the Canucks’ best players of the next decade, but his debut was enough to make him one of the best of the last decade too.

3 | Elias Pettersson

Pettersson changed everything for the Canucks. When he made his debut, suddenly the Canucks had a franchise centre and a true superstar.

Despite just two full seasons under his belt, Pettersson is sixth in WAR among Canucks skaters over the past decade, managing that in 250 to 443 fewer games than the players ahead of him.

Pettersson won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2018-19 and followed it up with 66 points in 68 games this past season, combining that scoring with stellar defensive play. In the playoffs, he stepped up his game even more, leading the Canucks in scoring with 18 points in 17 games.

It seems like Pettersson does everything well: his shot is elite, his vision and playmaking are top-tier, his hands and skating combine to make opponents look foolish, and his commitment to the defensive side of the ice is unimpeachable.

Pettersson is the future of the Canucks, but he first made his mark in the past decade.

2 | Henrik Sedin and 1 | Daniel Sedin

Was there any doubt who would top this list? 

The Sedins may have retired, but there are still the top two Canucks of the past decade. They have the most points of any Canuck in the past decade, with nearly 200 more than the next best Canuck. 200!

Henrik and Daniel led the Canucks in scoring in the 2011 playoffs and continued to be the team’s top forwards for most of the decade. And, when it finally came time to retire, they did so in style, combining for one more overtime game-winning goal in their final home game.

The Sedins are second and third in WAR among Canucks over the past decade, bested only by Tanev because he played more seasons. Daniel is first outright in point share, while Henrik is third behind Edler, again because he played more seasons.

Daniel gets the edge over Henrik because his Art Ross and Lester B. Pearson awards were from this decade, if just barely in 2011, while Henrik’s 2010 Hart and Art Ross belong to the previous decade. 

The Sedins got one last iconic moment in the past decade when their numbers were retired in February. It was a fitting end to the decade.

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