What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
The Vancouver Canucks missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season in 2018-19, while compiling a record of 35-36-11 to place 23rd overall in the league standings. Vancouver finished ahead of just three teams in the Western Conference.
The Canucks were not expected to improve much from the team’s 26th-placed finish in 2017-18, but the club started surprisingly well with nine victories in 15 contests. However, the team followed that by going 2-10-3 and that proved to be a difficult hole to climb out of despite successful stretches in December and March. It was a season plagued by inconsistency for the Canucks.
Most nights it was the lack of offense that doomed the team. Vancouver had three 20-goal scorers, with Elias Pettersson (28), Bo Horvat (27) and Brock Boeser (26). Pettersson also led the team with 66 points in 71 appearances during his rookie season. Horvat was the only other member of the club who surpassed the 60-point plateau.
The team’s lack of scoring depth made rallying from deficits an ongoing problem throughout the year. The Canucks had a winning percentage when trailing after the first period of .152, which was better than just three teams (New York Rangers, Los Angeles, New Jersey).
Vancouver ranked 26th in the league in goals for per game (2.67) and 25th in even-strength markers (169). The team was also permitting 3.02 goals against per game, which placed them 18th overall. The Canucks couldn’t outscore their problems defensively and not having a particularly healthy defense corps for most of the season certainly didn’t help in that regard. Alexander Edler, Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev were the blueliners who averaged the most ice time per game and Hutton played the most matches among the three with a mere 69 outings.
Still, the team’s offense was the major problem. The Canucks finished 29th in the league in expected goals for (159.6) and 31st in high-danger scoring chances for (314). They were 28th in scoring chances for (1,543), while allowing the fifth-most scoring chances against (1,839). This tied Vancouver with the Rangers for the second worst percentage of scoring chances in their favor (45.6 percent) in the league, with only the Anaheim Ducks finishing lower. The club’s inability to create scoring chances and cash in on the ones they did generate is a losing recipe that will have to be addressed.
Vancouver got solid goaltending from Jacob Markstrom, who arguably had his best season. The club also has to be encouraged with the progress that Horvat and Boeser have made. The play of Pettersson, especially early in the year, made the team a must-see attraction due to his offensive creativity. Quinn Hughes is a highly-regarded prospect and he got to play at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. The Canucks will add another solid prospect with the 10th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. They also have plenty of cap space to take a run at some scoring help. It's been a long rebuild for Vancouver, but there are some pieces in place to help the organization turn the corner.
Brock Boeser - Boeser topped the 25-goal mark for a second straight season. Over the last two seasons, he has a team-leading 39 even-strength markers. Boeser was limited to 62 games in 2017-18 and he played in 69 matches during the 2018-19 campaign. Staying healthier and surpassing the 60-point plateau for the first time in his career should be his top priorities going into next season. Boeser, who can become a restricted free agent this summer, is due to get a significant pay increase and there will be plenty of pressure on him to find another gear. If he continues to play alongside Pettersson then a breakout performance is certainly within his reach.
Loui Eriksson - Eriksson accounted for only 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games last campaign. Shockingly, this marks his most productive season with the Canucks after he had 24 points over 65 matches in 2016-17 and 23 points in 50 contests in 2017-18. Eriksson still has another three years left on a contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He is currently the team’s highest-paid player, but Boeser’s new deal should move him into second. Eriksson was critical of coach Travis Green after the season and feels he isn’t trusted by the bench boss of the Canucks. His average ice time per game dropped to 14:04, which is his lowest total since his first two seasons in the NHL. Still, he got opportunities as a top-six forward and saw time on the power play. The Canucks want to address the situation with Green during the off-season, but simply put his play just needs to be better.
Quinn Hughes - Hughes joined the Canucks after completing his sophomore season with the University of Michigan. He averaged 18:05 of ice time per game in five outings with Vancouver, while contributing three assists, six shots, one block and one hit. Hughes, who will turn 20 years of age shortly after the 2019-20 campaign begins, could be leaned on heavily in his first full NHL season. If the Canucks lose Alexander Edler to free agency then Hughes could quarterback the top power-play unit He has the ability to be a difference maker from the back end with his offensive skill and great decision-making. Hughes should be able to make an impact immediately and the Canucks will need him to do that.
Sven Baertschi - Baertschi was limited to just 26 games in 2018-19. He supplied the team with nine goals and 14 points, but spent long stretches on the sidelines because of concussions. He suffered one early in the year and it cost him 30 games and then he sustained another one in February that kept him out for 23 contests. Baertschi has offensive upside and could have a productive season alongside Horvat or Pettersson if he can stay out of the infirmary. If he can’t step up then the Canucks will need strong efforts from Tanner Pearson or Josh Leivo, assuming the team doesn’t bring in someone else via free agency or a trade.