If you’ve been following the Canucks over the last five years, you might have noticed that this season feels different. The team has a high-scoring young core, with plenty of impressive skill on display. But beyond those technical achievements, there’s a notable, underlying team chemistry.
What if I told you that I could put a name to that feeling? What if I told you that Vancouver leads the NHL in one advanced statistic that absolutely no one is paying attention to? It’s true, and definitely not something I just made up.
The Vancouver Canucks lead the league in hugs. In particular, hugs of quality (HoQ). This team is hug-forward, and I am all about it.
“Hugs as a meaningful metric? Absurd.” I get it. What you’re actually trying to say is: hockey players hug whenever a goal is scored and after every win. You would probably argue that the meaningful data in hugs is already captured by classic stats like goals and wins.
This is why I endorse qualitative hug analysis. This focuses on hugs of note that cut through the noise, not unlike comparing shots to scoring chances. Such hugs are rare. However, by that standard Vancouver is off the charts.*
(*I have no charts.)
Hugs factor into everything. It’s an intangible made tangible. They can powerfully impact all situations. Consider the raw power of the Care Bears.
First, let’s separate ordinary hugs from the HoQs that really matter. Here are a few examples of non-HoQ calibre embraces.
The “Where’s the other guy?” hug
After scoring a goal, hockey players often opt for an open, one-armed hug while searching for that other linemate. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the player who did that really good sports thing, but as HoQs they don’t move the needle much.
The bro hug
A classic. You approach your bro, do a cool sports-style handshake, and slap them on the back with your free hand. The bro hug allows a bit of affectionate contact but mitigates that closeness with a sturdy clasped fist; like a Spartan warrior who struggles a bit with vulnerability.
The double back slap
A variant on the bro hug, meant for the bros you’re comfortable making prolonged eye contact with (but not too prolonged). To pull off a double back slap, you start with the clasped fist, then break the handshake and transition to a standard hug. Just when you think this is gonna turn into a really nice snuggle, you slap their back with both hands and quickly disengage.
I don’t know about you, but all of the above manhugs leave me underwhelmed (something a good hug should never do). I prefer the genuine, enthusiastic affection of Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers as opposed to the macho handshakery of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers.
Bro hugs notwithstanding, the Canucks have been leading the NHL in HoQs, largely thanks to a handful of analytics darlings. So who has been leading the charge? Let’s dive in.
Boeser is the primary driver of Canuck hugs of quality. His underlying snuggle numbers are incredibly strong. The man is absolutely dedicated to his cuddle craft.
During the pre-season, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat started things off right with a marvelous hug. Boeser brilliantly initiated the play, saying, “Horvat!” with loads of affection. What follows is a 5-second hug of outstanding quality, with only Boeser’s water bottle disrupting what could’ve been perfection.
Here we have Boeser flatly rejecting a standard on-ice bro hug, instead he seemingly creates an open-armed embrace by force of will alone.
Back-to-back games = BACK-TO-BACK WINS!!! 🔥🎉 pic.twitter.com/WIMSv9MHQz— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 12, 2020
He even manages to make a side hug noteworthy. Swedes are known for being a bit more reserved, but the normally unflappable Elias Pettersson can’t resist a little snuggle.
Here’s a bonus Boeser kiss, because reasons.
Some father/son time for Duke & Brock post-game. pic.twitter.com/VbqBMVXuIj— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 13, 2020
Without Boeser, the Canucks would be a middle-of-the-pack team. When it comes to HoQs, Brock is the standard-bearer, the heavy-lifter, the MVP. He elevates the entire team. In response, the team is starting to hug back.
Horvat is an interesting case. While he doesn’t initially read as a natural hugger, and he instinctively opts for a bro hug more often than not, his likeability makes him an underrated hug playmaker.
Horvat clearly brings out the best in Boeser’s already prodigious abilities (note the lower back rub.)
bo and brock hugging is so wholesome i- 🥺🤧 pic.twitter.com/JT2dGLidhM— nicole ✨ (@nikkijams) October 10, 2019
Even prickly Pettersson is willingly drawn into a certified hug of quality by the broad-shouldered centreman.
and while i'm here petey and bo too 🥺 pic.twitter.com/EdM8rMaBtc— nicole ✨ (@nikkijams) October 10, 2019
Fourth-liner Schaller knows he won’t often dent the scoresheet. He understands the importance of playing a complete game, and he doesn’t shirk his HoQ responsibilities.
Situational awareness is huge. Here, Schaller realizes that 6’6 netminder Jacob Markstrom has an enormous wingspan, which greatly increases one’s chances of landing a HoQ. His gamble pays off, treating fans to a 3+ second hug and a bonus helmet wiggle.
Schaller and Tyler Motte also shared a great moment against Pittsburgh. It was a fun game to watch but the true highlight was this excellent, unrestrained, post-goal hug, which you can tell Motte appreciated.
Name a stronger friendship pic.twitter.com/Jhv8DFRhLN— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) December 29, 2019
I mean, just look at Motte’s happy face!
It's Tyler Motte's world and we're just living in it pic.twitter.com/3vIFhJrkOC— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) December 20, 2019
Schaller and Motte are friends.
More holiday hockey hugs in the 3rd please! 🤗🤗 pic.twitter.com/rknuSZTVok— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) December 29, 2019
The hand placement in the below hug, however, is an entirely different metric.
Motte and Schaller are definitely best friends pic.twitter.com/hGHKBIMbS3— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) December 22, 2019
Boeser may bring the consistency, but Thatcher Demko brings the wow factor. As backup goaltender, Demko doesn’t get much opportunity to strut his stuff. When he does, however, the skill is on display. See his recent win versus San Jose, for example. This is a legitimate hug-of-the-year contender (HotY.)
this is so precious wtf pic.twitter.com/AuJsfCIXV7— azadeh (@canucksaz) January 19, 2020
I’m not sure what Horvat said to him, but it elicited a highlight reel hug, a force majeure that brought the Twitter crowd to their feet.
Thatcher draws in Horvat for a full embrace, then decided to double down with an extra squeeze. Awww inspiring stuff. Just imagine if Demko brings this kind of hug game on a nightly basis.
Now, Quinn “Huggy Bear” Hughes hasn’t had any notable HoQs, but I believe he’s a facilitator, boosting everyone’s underlying numbers, probably because he’s adorable as heck. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a player nicknamed Huggy arrives and the HoQ numbers go through the roof.
While this has been an exhaustively researched and incredibly thorough look into the Canucks’ hugs, it’s possible that I overlooked a few. Are there any HoQs that I missed?