As the year comes to a close, let us look at some of the numbers that stand out, that we might look back to in order to understand the Vancouver Canucks experience in 2023.
Rick Tocchet was hired Jan. 22, 2023. Heading into Thursday’s home game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canucks had played 71 games on his watch.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the team, which was floundering under Bruce Boudreau.
In the 103 games the Canucks played under Boudreau, they amassed a respectable 50-40-13 record.
But that was still only 19th overall in the NHL during that timeframe.
Under Tocchet it has been a different story, one mostly about finding a way to fit his players better together and changing out some of the bit players for more suitable parts.
Pius Suter, Teddy Blueger, Carson Soucy, Nikita Zadorov and Ian Cole have all been added as role players — none stands out as a specifically impactful addition, but it’s clear the whole of the parts is coming out greater than the simple sum.
The Canucks took a couple of star players and then added some bit players and they are all playing extremely well under a coach who wasn’t high in demand.
It’s a remarkable story, and the numbers do guide us toward an answer.
Since Tocchet took over as head coach, the Canucks have posted a 43-21-7 record, good for 93 regular season points, fifth-most in the NHL over that time. They have a .655 points percentage, which is seventh-most in the NHL.
Tocchet has guided the Canucks into the top third of the NHL.
He has found ways to set his players up for success, to guide them toward a system that pushes the pace and allows for risk while also creating stability that can generally absorb mistakes.
The way the players are executing shows up in the results, and it is confirmation of how the players trust the coach and the coach is also empowering them to push forward.
“He’s such a nice, smart guy,” ex-Canuck Brandon Sutter told Postmedia this week. Tocchet’s first season as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins — 2014-15 — was Sutter’s last in Steeltown, before a 2015 summertime trade that sent him to Vancouver.
“It sounds like the guys are really enjoying playing for him.”
Under Tocchet, the Canucks have scored 254 goals in all situations. They’ve scored the third-most goals in the NHL during the Tocchet era.
In that time, the Canucks have two of the top 10 scorers in the NHL: Elias Pettersson has picked up 91 points, while J.T. Miller has 89 points.
Quinn Hughes is far and away the NHL’s highest-scoring defenceman since Tocchet took over, with 78 points in 71 games.
The offence has carried them a long, long way. And with the way they are playing, there’s little reason to think that won’t continue.
Since Tocchet took over, the Canucks have drastically cut down on their five-on-five goals against.
They have given up 130 goals at five-on-five, eighth-fewest in the league.
We know the Canucks have been exceptionally good at finishing, with a good dose of luck in the mix of course, so even if that number is a bit higher than their true talent, there’s no arguing the solid defensive number.
Before he was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer, hockey analyst Cam Charron had found that teams had come to under the significance of shots from the slot so well that the predictive use of shot-attempts against had declined so greatly looking at goals against was just as effective a way to predict the team’s future progress.
The Canucks’ defensive play under Tocchet is not a mirage.
Taken in conjunction with their strong offence, in a game that’s filled with data, much of which is very context-dependant, the fact the Canucks have such an impressive goals for/against split stands out.
Now just imagine if they figure out their goaltending.
In the Tocchet era, the Canucks have tipped 22.9 per cent of their shots.
And they have scored 36 goals via tips, tops in the NHL.
That’s been a focus of attack for the team no matter who has been the coach: since the 2013-14 season, 21.9 per cent of the Canucks’ shots on goal have been via tip. That’s spanning five coaches: John Tortorella, Willie Desjardins, Travis Green, Bruce Boudreau and now Tocchet.
They haven’t been top of the league every season in this decade-long span — some years they’re middle of the pack — but the overall consistency remains.
It’s been a point of emphasis, no matter who has been running the show.
Ex-Canuck Brandon Sutter played under three of those coaches. The biggest linkage between all those rosters: no big slap shot artists from the point.
“So it makes sense at five-on-five,” he said.
That the Canucks have made it such a successful weapon this season and last is another part of the reason they are having such success.
In the midst of all this, one worrying data point stands out: Thatcher Demko’s save percentage in the month of December is a very sub-par 89.7.
He was a huge factor in last season’s late-season push, and he’s been a strong player for so much of this season.
But the last month was tough on him. The Canucks are surely hopeful the large amount of rest he was getting this week — he wasn’t slated to start Thursday versus Philadelphia — will get him recharged and ready to go as the second half begins.