The Canucks took back top spot in the conference Saturday night with a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames. With only three games remaining in the regular season, the Canucks sit one point up on the St Louis Blues and tied in points with the New York Rangers for top spot in the entire league (although the Canucks would lose the tie breaker). So the question burning in my head right now is… are the Canucks better positioned to win their first Stanley Cup this year or last year?
The success of last year’s team is well documented. They won the President’s Trophy with a startling 117 points, a full 10 points ahead of the next closest team. This year, the Canucks already have 107 points and could get as much as 113 if they win their final three games.
Lets compare each time, at this point in the season and see how they match up:
Extras: Rome, Alberts, Tanev, Hodgson, Tambellini, Oreskovich
Extras: Gragnani, Rome, Alberts, Weise, Ebbett, Bitz, Reinprecht
Of course, just because a player appears on both lists doesn’t mean that the player is ‘the same player’. Clearly, the Sedins, Kesler and Luongo are not having the same statistical years. Manny Malhotra is a shadow of his former self and I omitted him completely from last year’s team because he was out with a long term injury (he played sparingly in 6 games in the finals). Tanev is better this year, so is Higgins and Lapierre. Statistically, Hansen, Bieksa, Salo and Schneider have been better than last year as well.
Christian Ehrhoff is gone from the team this year, as is Mikael Samuelsson, Raffi Torres and Tanner Glass. They have been replaced with Gragnani, Booth, Pahlsson and Kassian.
But of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story. X-factors like experience, grit and defensive responsibility are hard to measure. The players from last year’s team are better prepared for the rigor and pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs this time around. They are also better prepared to deal with injuries, something that crippled them last year in the Stanley Cup final. The players slated to start the playoffs in the press box are improved, particularly on forward.
So while the Canucks seem to have less high end talent with the Sedins and Kesler not as dangerous and the departure of Ehrhoff, they have better depth and more options. They are a 4 line team when last year they were a 3 line team. If Mason Raymond struggles this year, they can promote Andrew Ebbett or Zach Kassian instead of Jeff Tambellini. David Booth should be a better player than Mikael Samuelsson.
This team isn’t as sexy as last year’s team. They don’t score as many goals, they aren’t as cocky and there isn’t as much hype. This isn’t an anniversary season for the team either, and there has been way fewer homemade Canucks songs popping up on YouTube.
Overall, the Canucks are a worse regular season team this year, but potentially a better playoff team. The problem is that this is a tougher year to win it all than it was last year. The elite teams are better this year than last in my opinion, so even if the Canucks are better, it might still not be enough. Of course, that’s why they play the games and the Canucks are in a group of about 6-8 teams that have an excellent shot at winning it all. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.