The Vancouver Canucks are a wagon right now.
Thanks to an eight-game point streak, the Canucks have the third-best record in the NHL behind only the defending Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights and defending Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. On top of that, they have a league-leading plus-30 goal differential.
Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and J.T. Miller are all in the top ten in NHL scoring, while Brock Boeser is tied for second in goalscoring with a whopping 10 goals in 12 games.
Meanwhile, Thatcher Demko has been unreal in the Canucks’ net, with a sparkling .948 save percentage. At 5-on-5, Demko’s .959 save percentage is first among the 48 NHL goaltenders who have faced at least 100 shots this season.
Beyond the stars, the team has been getting contributions up and down the lineup. The bottom-six forming a hard-forechecking identity to complement the top-six, while providing a little tertiary scoring. Sam Lafferty has 6 points in 12 games, Nils Höglander has 5 points in 11 games, and Pius Suter is on a three-game goalscoring streak.
Canucks fans have been dreaming of their team playing this well for years and that dream is finally coming true.
It can’t last.
This type of success is rarely sustainable, so enjoy it
Of course, it can’t last. Success in sports is frequently fleeting — in any sport, but particularly one with as much volatility as hockey. That’s why it’s important to enjoy the success while it’s there.
Runs this good don’t come around very often, so Canucks fans need to take joy in it right now. Revel in it. Bask in it.
This is why people become fans: you endure the deep, dark valleys in order to savour these moments when the team climbs to the top of one of those all-too rare mountain peaks.
The team has beaten the Edmonton Oilers three times already this season, laying the boots to their Pacific Division rivals with a combined 18-to-6 score. If you can’t enjoy that, what’s the point of being a Canucks fan?
Just don’t be surprised when regression hits and the Canucks aren’t quite this good for the rest of the season.
Some Canucks fans take the word “regression” as an insult, as if it diminishes the efforts and performance of the team, so let’s be clear: the Canucks have earned their wins this season. Quinn Hughes has looked like the best player on the planet; Elias Pettersson’s subtle genius has ironically never been more apparent; Thatcher Demko has hit another level and is looking like the elite talent Canucks fans have always known he could be.
It’s just that no one — not even the greatest teams in NHL history — can sustain what the Canucks have been doing. But, just because the Canucks won’t be this good for the rest of the season, it doesn’t mean they won’t be good.
Regression won’t change how good the stars have been
Elias Pettersson is on pace for 144 points this season with a 17.1% on-ice shooting percentage. The highest on-ice shooting percentage in the NHL last season was Jamie Benn’s 13.1%. In other words, Pettersson probably won’t reach 144 points.
But Pettersson is entirely likely to record his second straight 100+ point season and will likely be among the league leaders in points all season.
Quinn Hughes probably won’t finish the season with 137 points, which is his current pace. That would put him second all-time in single-season scoring for a defenceman behind Bobby Orr’s 139 points in 1970-71 and Paul Coffey’s 138 in 1985-86.
But Hughes could still lead all defencemen in scoring this year and win the Norris Trophy. 100 points is a very realistic possibility.
Besides, even if the points dry up a little, the possession impact that Hughes has with Hronek isn't going away any time soon. When Hughes has been on the ice at 5-on-5 this season, shot attempts have been 217-to-156 for the Canucks. His adjusted corsi percentage is 60.1%, which is seventh among the 188 NHL defencemen who have played at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5. That's despite consistently facing some of the toughest competition in the league.
Brock Boeser is on pace for 68 goals this season after falling short of the 30-goal mark in every season of his career. He’s currently riding a 28.6% shooting percentage, which is higher even than Andrei Kuzmenko’s 27.3% shooting percentage last season — the highest shooting percentage the NHL has seen since the high-flying eighties.
So no, Boeser isn’t going to score 68 goals, but even a modest regression of his shooting percentage could see him finish the season with 35-40 goals, which would have felt like an unrealistic expectation heading into training camp.
As for the goaltending, Demko’s .948 save percentage is unlikely to last. The NHL record for a single-season save percentage with 40+ games played is Jacques Plante’s .944 save percentage in the 1970-71 season and the odds of Demko besting that record are slim.
But that doesn’t mean Demko is going to suddenly turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight. A save percentage in the .920s seems perfectly reasonable for Demko and we’ve seen two goaltenders in recent seasons land in the .935-.938 range — Igor Shesterkin in 2021-22 with the New York Rangers and Linus Ullmark in 2022-23 with the Boston Bruins. Is it out of the question that Demko, with improved defensive structure in front of him, can come close to those numbers?
The Canucks’ possession numbers are solid
Then there’s the team as a whole. Yes, regression will come, but that doesn’t mean the Canucks will suddenly become a bad team.
The Canucks are not going to keep scoring on 13.3% of their shots on goal at 5-on-5. Their goaltenders are not going to keep saving 95.4% of the shots they face at 5-on-5. Their PDO will eventually regress from 1.088, which is currently 45 points higher than any other team in the NHL.
But there are indications that the Canucks are for real.
One of the biggest indicators of a team’s quality in the early part of the season is adjusted corsi — the ratio of shot attempts for and against at 5-on-5, adjusted for score and different shot counts in different NHL venues. Among the most commonly-used advanced analytics, corsi has the biggest sample size, making it one of the most useful for predicting future results at this point in the season.
The Canucks have a 50.96% adjusted corsi according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranks 11th in the NHL. That’s solidly above average and suggests that if — or rather when — the Canucks’ percentages regress, the impact won’t be as severe as some might fear.
It also doesn’t take into account the Canucks’ significant improvements at defending and attacking in transition. The Canucks have given up far fewer odd-man rushes than in previous seasons and their breakout has been better than ever, led by Hughes and Hronek.
With the Canucks’ cadre of elite shooters and Demko in net, the Canucks’ PDO isn’t likely to regress all the way to 1.000 this season anyway. That’s a legitimate advantage the Canucks can leverage to make up for not having top-tier possession numbers. Then the special teams can be another separating factor.
If the Canucks can maintain a corsi percentage above 50% at 5-on-5 and keep their stars healthy, then the team’s excellent power play and improving penalty kill should keep them in the hunt for a top-three spot in the Pacific Division all season long.