In 2015 the Vancouver Canucks often seemed caught between rebuilding for the future and competing for a playoff spot. Here are 15 numbers that capture the year that was for the Canucks.
30 – Though the Canucks record was mixed in 2015, Vancouver’s best players – Daniel and Henrik Sedin – decisively held father time at bay for another year. Daniel Sedin, who turned 35 in September, even retrieved his scoring touch.
A sniper for most of his career, in recent years Daniel appeared to have lost the quality finishing game that powered him to an Art Ross Trophy in 2011. Vancouver’s star left wing turned the clock back in 2015, finding the back of the net 30 times in 91 games while converting on better than 10 per cent of his shots on goal for the first time since 2012.
58 – Daniel’s brother, Henrik, proved similarly ageless in 2015.
The Canucks’ ironman centre remains among the league’s most impactful two-way pivots and is arguably still the single best playmaking forward in hockey. Henrik recorded 58 assists in 2015. Only one NHL player, Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, managed more helpers this calendar year, while superstar forwards Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane are each sitting tied with Henrik at 58 assists each in 2015 (both Kane and Benn have one game remaining before the end of the year).
8 – In the spring of 2013 the Canucks organization acquired an AHL expansion team, the Utica Comets, who played their inaugural season in 2013-14. 2015 was a big year for the Comets, who qualified for the Calder Cup final and have now begun to graduate alumni to the NHL ranks.
In 2015 eight Canucks players made their NHL debuts after first spending at least some time in Utica.
.910 – Canucks starter Ryan Miler battled injuries and marginally below average performance during the 2015 calendar year, managing a pedestrian .910 save percentage.
.920 – When Miller wasn’t in the net, the Canucks turned to Richard Bachmann, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom in 2015. Those three combined to post a .920 save percentage for the Canucks, outperforming the club’s starter by a not-insignificant margin.
$29 million – Like all NHL teams, the Canucks dealt with injuries in 2015, but their situation became somewhat more exceptional towards the end of the year.
On Boxing Day 2015 the Canucks managed to defeat the Edmonton Oilers in overtime without Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Miller, Chris Tanev, Dan Hamhuis, Brandon Sutter, Chris Higgins and Luca Sbisa; all of who were on the shelf with injury. So far no other team in hockey has had as much salary tied up in the infirmary in a single game during the 2015-16 campaign, according to NHL Injury Dataviz.
44.5% - In the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs the Canucks were defeated in six games by the Calgary Flames. The Flames’ victory over Vancouver was entertaining. It was also historic.
Calgary’s Corsi For percentage for the 2014-15 season sat at 44.5 per cent and when they advanced to face the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, Calgary became the worst puck possession side to win a playoff round in the ‘Behind the Net’ era.
Vancouver’s inability to defeat their divisional rival is likely to be viewed in retrospect as a significant missed opportunity for the Canucks’ aging core.
3 – The Canucks’ nascent youth movement began in earnest in 2015, and was cemented by the club deciding to carry three rookies in Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen on their opening day roster.
+5 – Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler emerged as a bona fide No. 1 defenseman in 2015.
The 29-year-old Swedish blue-liner played big minutes in all situations for the Canucks in 2015, and performed ably. He also put his nightmare 2013-14 campaign – in which he held the league’s worst plus/minus rating at seasons end – squarely in the rearview mirror.
In 2015, Edler managed a plus-5 rating. Playing a matchup role for a team that was outscored by nine goals at 5-on-5 in 2015, the Canucks managed to outscore their opponents by 8 goals with Edler on the ice at even strength.
44 – Often used as a third- or fourth-liner earlier in his NHL career, Jannik Hansen cemented himself as a mainstay of the Canucks’ offensive attack in 2015. In 91 games during the 2015 calendar year, Hansen scored 21 goals and managed 44 total points.
In the past, Hansen’s occasional cameos in Vancouver’s top-six were met by derision and grumbling. All of that noise came to a screeching halt in 2015.
-277 – The Canucks’ defensive game atrophied significantly over the course of the 2015 season. In 2015 the Canucks’ opponents recorded 277 more scoring chances in all situations than the Canucks generated, according to WAR-On-Ice. Only the Buffalo Sabres, the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers fared worse in 2015.
$12 million – The Canucks weren’t major players at the 2015 NHL trade deadline and mostly sat on the sidelines during the July 1 free agent frenzy.
2016 may have a very different feel to it. The club is currently carrying $12 million in combined salary cap hits for Radim Vrbata, Dan Hamhuis and Brandon Prust; all of who are signed to contracts that will expire this summer.
Whether the Canucks opt to sell at the upcoming trade deadline, or allow those veterans to walk in free agency this summer, it’s apparent that Vancouver will have the flexibility to act boldly in 2016.
26 – In his rookie season Bo Horvat appeared to find an extra gear early in 2015, and went on a tear in the latter half of the 2014-15 season.
In 2015-16, Horvat – now 20 years old - has been counted on to play more minutes and handle significantly more defensive responsibility. The results have been a bit mixed.
While 2015 opened with such promise for Vancouver’s young centremen, he’ll close out 2015 on a 26-game goalless streak.
7 – Canucks general manager Jim Benning was regularly criticized for his work on the trade market in 2015, but most of the players the club cut loose struggled with their new teams.
For example, during the 2014-15 season the Vancouver Canucks received 55 goals from Nick Bonino, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, Kevin Bieksa and Zack Kassian; all of whom were dealt or left as free agents this past summer. This season those five players have combined to score just seven NHL goals so far.
5 – As 2015 comes to a close, the Canucks find themselves in an extremely odd spot. Vancouver is currently holding down a playoff spot, but they’re also just four points clear of last place in the Western Conference.
The newly formed Pacific Division has proven to be one of the NHL’s weaker groupings. In 2015, that proved to be both blessing and a curse. How Vancouver elects to navigate their place in the Pacific’s strange pecking order in 2016 will shape the organization’s future.