The 2022-23 Vancouver Canucks season has come to a close, and for the third consecutive year, the organization has missed the playoffs. Despite plenty of optimism at the start of the season that the club would break their postseason drought, they finished with a record of 38-37-7 and will have a three percent chance at drafting Connor Bedard. Here are five of the many reasons the Canucks missed the 2023 Playoffs.
A Disastrous Start to the Season
The Canucks lost their first seven games of the season, collecting just two points in the process. Worst of all, they couldn’t keep a lead, surrendering multi-goal leads in each of their first four games. Things got so bad that a fan even threw a jersey on the ice during the home opener, which was a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. This was also the game where J.T. Miller and Luke Schenn had a heated argument at the end of the second period that was caught by Hockey Night in Canada cameras. Over those seven games, it was hard to find any positives as it looked like the team was collapsing in front of everyone’s eyes.
When doing a deep dive into the numbers from those seven games, it is clear why the Canucks could not win a game. The first reason was their penalty kill which will be discussed in depth later. All that needs to be said is they had a 57.1 percent kill rate, allowing nine goals on 21 attempts. This was a major factor in Vancouver allowing 4.29 goals per game during that stretch as well as one of the main reasons behind the multiple blown leads.
While the Canucks could not keep the puck out of their own net, they also had issues scoring goals. Only Bo Horvat, Miller, Elias Pettersson and Conor Garland had multiple goals through the first seven games, as Vancouver ranked 29th in the league with 2.57 goals per game. The Canucks also weren’t able to generate any offence in the third period finishing with just two goals scored compared to 15 allowed in the final 20 minutes. The team was playing with no confidence, and that really set the tone for the first few months of the season.
Penalty Kill Problems
The Canucks’ penalty kill from the 2022-23 season will go down as one of the worst in NHL history. They finished last this season with a 71.6 percent kill rate which also correlates to the tenth-worst since the statistic started being tracked during the 1977-78 season. Luckily, they don’t hold the record for the worst penalty kill of the 21st century, as their late-season push helped them pass the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils, who finished that season with a 70.0 percent kill rate but only played in 56 games. As a result of the poor penalty kill, the Canucks as an organization is now credited with three of the top 10 worst-recorded penalty kills in NHL history and are the only team on the list to have played a full 82-game season.
The frustrating part about Vancouver’s penalty kill is that this wasn’t a situation where they were constantly killing penalties. They averaged 2.96 times shorthanded per game, which was around the league average, and took, in total, less than 300 penalties, which was slightly above average. For whatever reason, though, when they were down a player, the team forgot how to play defence, often leaving players wide open for cross-ice passes and easy tap-ins in the crease.
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While the Canucks did play better at the end of the season, they need to show they can carry that success into next season on a consistent basis. They are in a tough division where a couple of extra-killed penalties could potentially be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. There will be no excuse heading into the 2023-24 campaign, as everyone on this team should know exactly what is expected of them on the penalty kill.
Constantly Playing From Behind
When the Canucks weren’t giving up multi-goal leads, they often found themselves trying to come back in the third period. This had to do with the team’s poor second periods, where they were outscored 107 to 80 and gave up the third most second-period goals across the league. While Vancouver was able to make it close late on occasion, they were unable to find that final goal to push a game to overtime losing in regulation 12 times by one goal, which was one behind the Calgary Flames for the lead league.
When it comes to total time trailing this season, Vancouver was among the league leaders, and not the good type. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Canucks trailed games for the sixth-most amount of time across the league at 2,002:26. The same goes for time trailing by one goal, where they also had the sixth-most amount of time at 965:20. In comparison, Vancouver only led for a total of 1,481:31 this season which ranked 23rd overall. They also finished dead last in the NHL when it came to minutes tied with 1,507:50 showing that the majority of the time fans tuned into a game, the Canucks were either fighting to hold onto a lead or trying to come back.
Thatcher Demko Injury
The 2022-23 season was arguably the hardest for Thatcher Demko as a Canuck. After starting the season 3-10-2 and posting a .883% save percentage (SV%), he suffered a lower-body injury against the Florida Panthers that kept him out of the lineup for just under three months. While he played well in the 17 games following his injury, recording 11 wins and posting a .918 SV%, it was too little too late, as the Canucks were well out of the playoff race due to Vancouver collecting just 30 points during his 35-game absence.
With Demko out, the Canucks had to rely on a tandem of Spencer Martin and Collin Delia in net, with four games of Arturs Silovs sprinkled in. Overall, the trio managed a save percentage of .869% while allowing a total of 142 goals or 4.06 goals per game. Despite Vancouver outshooting their opponents during this 35-game stretch, they were constantly facing an uphill battle due to the play of their goaltenders.
With Demko fully healthy and expected to play around 55 games next season, the question switches over to who will be the backup. With both Martin and Silovs signed and Delia a pending free agent, it looks as though those two will battle it out in training camp and potentially the upcoming American Hockey League (AHL) Playoffs to see who will be the backup next season. The Canucks could also once again hit the free-agent or trade market and bring in an experienced backup just in case another long-term injury hits the team. Regardless of the final decision, it is safe to say that the goaltending needs to be better next season if the Canucks have any shot of making the postseason.
Bone Dry Offence From the Blue Line Outside of Hughes
The lack of offence from Canucks defenders not named Quinn Hughes was shocking this season. Only Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Schenn finished above the 20-point mark, yet neither played a game for the organization after Feb. 15, 2023. While there were positives based on the play of the late-season call-ups, Vancouver needs to find a way to generate more offence from the blue line if they want to be successful next season.
The hope is that the addition of a healthy Filip Hronek will help increase the Canucks scoring from the blue line, but in the end, everyone needs to step up. If Ethan Bear and Tyler Myers are part of this organization next season, they need to find a way to hit the 20-point mark. The same goes for whoever makes the team out of camp. As special as Hughes is, he needs some help on the blue line, which will be one of Vancouver’s biggest challenges heading into the offseason.
Canuck Fans Are Running Out of Patience
The 2022-23 season was a disaster for the organization, full stop. While it was great to celebrate individual player achievements, it should also be recognized that not only did the team miss the playoffs, but they also once again destroyed their draft lottery position late in the season by picking up 28 points in their final 20 games. The fans in Vancouver are extremely passionate but are running out of patience when it comes to this organization that hasn’t hosted a playoff game in their city since 2015. This coming offseason will be the most important in recent memory as the Canucks cannot afford to miss the playoffs in 2023-24.