Last night’s 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes highlighted a disturbing trend which has not only permeated the Vancouver Canucks offense this season, but actually gotten progressively worse. As is their wont, franchise cornerstones Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for a nifty third period goal, continuing what has been a largely successful season from an offensive perspective for the 35-year-old twins. Daniel leads the team in both goals (17) and points (38) through 40 games, while his brother has posted a very Henrikian stat line of 9-25-34 through 38 games.
Juxtaposed with that Sedinery was a mucky power play goal by sophomore Bo Horvat in the second frame. However, it wasn’t the difference stylistically in the two goals that Canuck fans should be alarmed by, but rather what his goal represented, namely that while Daniel and Henrik continue to be elite-level producers, their supporting cast has completely fallen by the wayside.
Canucks Scoring Divide Continues to Widen
Let’s continue with Horvat, who has struggled mightily to build on the promise he showed in his rookie campaign. Last year he netted 13 goals and 25 points in 68 games, and it was thought he might be able to build upon those numbers to be a reliable secondary scorer for the club this season. Instead, while his shots per game have increased (1.36 to 1.45), his shooting percentage has taken a massive tumble, from 14% to 5.2%. Through 40 games, Horvat has but one even-strength goal. While some could argue he’s just been statistically unlucky, there’s also an argument to be made that expectations for the 20-year-old were simply too high.
On the other side of the ledger are a group of established, veteran scorers who have had varying degrees of disappointing seasons.
Last season winger Radim Vrbata posted a new career high in points and led the Canucks with 31 goals. Like Horvat, he’s seen both his goals per game and shooting percentage decline (playing largely with rookie center Jared McCann instead of captain Henrik tends to have that effect). Since potting a hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres on December 7th, the club’s designated sniper has just one goal in 10 games.
While at 34 Vrbata’s not completely over the hill just yet, 10 goals in 38 games is neither going to help this clubs playoff chances nor increase his potential trade value. Still, his 18 points puts him 4th in club scoring, which certainly highlights the divide between the Sedins and everyone else on this roster.
Below Vrbata is Alex Burrows, who, while not as snakebitten as he was during his five-goal-in-49-games 2013-14 campaign, has produced little better this season (five goals in 38 games). It’s clear now more than ever that Burrows’ offensive numbers were always buoyed by the Sedins (make no mistake though, there was synergy there) and that his time as a top-six winger is over.
One might be thinking to themselves at this point, “Well, okay, those are just a few guys who are struggling, what’s the problem?” The problem is, these are three of the Canucks top six scoring forwards, along with the Sedins and Jannik Hansen, who, with 12 goals and 22 points, is the only outlier producing as well as or better than expected among Vancouver’s secondary scorers. Other veterans such as Brandons Sutter and Prust, Derek Dorsett and Chris Higgins have been either injured or complete ghosts.
Compounding the problem is that while the veterns have taken a step back, the development of the club’s youth has become somewhat arrested. Joining Horvat from the 23-and-under club on the roster this season expected to make an impact are Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, the aforementioned McCann, and defenseman Ben Hutton.
McCann and Baertschi have been the best of the young forwards, but even their contributions have been minimal. McCann started the season with a hot stick, but has managed just one goal in the past 20 games, while Baertschi enjoyed a 13-game pointless drought until scoring in three consecutive games before Christmas. Both have produced just 11 points. As for Vancouver’s latest whipping boy, Virtanen, the 19-year-old has just one goal in 19 games with very limited ice time.
Blueline Divide is Equally Wide
Hutton brings us to the Canucks blueline, where the exact same phenomenon – a massive divide between the club’s top-end talent and everybody else – has been occurring.
Yes, being a rookie defenseman carries little in the way of offensive expectations, but the fact that Hutton instantly became one of the team’s best puck-movers from the backend upon making the roster and yet still has a big doughnut in the goals column after 33 games is concerning. However, he’s not the only one.
Last season Yannick Weber lead the Canucks in goals from the blueline with 11. This year, through 31 games, he has none, while Dan Hamhuis (27 games), Alex Biega (15 games) and Andrey Pedan (three games) have likewise failed to find the back of the net. Matt Bartkowski has but two goals and nine points, Chris Tanev is 2-5-7, and Luca Sbisa has only one lonely goal. To be fair the latter two have missed time due to injury, but overall the the picture is grim.
The poor offensive production of the team’s defense corps further highlights just how good Alex Edler has been this season compared to his compatriots, just as the weakness of the offense has helped us appreciate what the Sedins can bring to the table. Edler is on pace to turn in another strong season with six goals and 17 points through 39 games. The rest of the Canucks blueline has only five goals combined.
For astute observers able to take in the big picture of the transition going on in Vancouver, none of this should come as a surprise. The team’s elite players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin (and in the case of Edler, occasionally elite), are running away with the team’s scoring lead, producing at more than twice the pace of almost everybody else on the roster (again, with Hansen as the only pleasant surprise), while the veterans around them continue to decline and the kids need more seasoning. The franchise is stuck right in the middle of the handover from one core to the next, and results of this nature on the score sheet should be expected.
However, how this situation manifests over the season’s second half remains to be seen. It’s not implausible that at least one or two of the kids can step up over the back half of the year, similar to Horvat last season, nor is it out of the question that one or two of the team’s veterans, particularly Vrbata, are able to shake out of their doldrums and finally get some pucks bouncing their way. If not, and should the Sedins and Edler hit any type of extended cold streak, the race to Auston Matthews is going to have a have a strong entrant.