The Vancouver Canucks entered this season with +5000 odds to win the Stanley Cups. Only nine teams in the league had worse odds to win the Cup. For Canucks fans, a playoff spot was the goal. Considering Vancouver has two budding superstars, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, both young and in their prime, simply reaching the playoffs was an underwhelming goal. However, they have far exceeded those expectations and look more like the team fans were looking forward to. Here’s how it happened.

Vancouver’s Struggles To Build

Vancouver fans came into the year with moderate expectations but understandable skepticism of their hometown team. For years, the Canucks have failed to build a successful program and have instead been prisoners of the moment. Former General Manager Jim Benning started his tenure as GM in 2014 with a dramatic fire sale that also included trading a 3rd round pick for Derek Dorsett, a mediocre right wing. Benning became known for bringing in expensive free agents in short-term attempts to become competitive rather than thoughtfully building a roster.

As a result, Vancouver’s results have been average at best but mostly below average, considering the effort and money Benning put into some of these rosters. NHL betting lines were unkind to the Canucks coming into the season due to having made the postseason just twice since 2014, leading to Benning’s departure in 2021. He was replaced by Patrik Allvin, who was marked by many of the same problems. However, Benning did get a few things right, starting with the 2017 and 2018 NHL Drafts.

Bringing In Pettersson and Hughes

With the fifth pick of the 2017 NHL draft, the Canucks took Pettersson, a left-handed center from Sweden. A year later, Vancouver selected Hughes as the seventh pick to help sure up their defensive unit. After just over half a decade, these picks were absolute home runs. Pettersson has become one of the best players at his position, scoring a career-high 102 points last season. Hughes has also become one of the league’s better defensemen and is the team’s captain. His +13 net rating is in the top 10 among defenders in the NHL.

Despite having two stars, the Canucks still floundered a bit without proper roster construction around them. Vancouver hadn’t reached the playoffs in three seasons, even with Pettersson and Hughes, and finished with just 83 points last season.

Modest Preseason Expectations

Their failures in the past led to less-than-stellar preseason expectations. Not only were they one of the bottom ten teams in the league in terms of Stanley Cup odds, but projection models gave them just a 50% chance of making the playoffs. These expectations were disappointing, given the strength of the top of their roster. Despite having two of the best players in the league, with Pettersson explicitly looking like a superstar last season, few people gave them much of a chance in the preseason.

Allvin’s failures made fans and analysts skeptical because of the roster’s construction and the potential fallout with Pettersson. He was due for a big contract, and with deals like the one the Canucks gave J.T. Miller on the books, it looked challenging to retain him. However, Vancouver’s dramatic successes this season changed that conversation quickly.

Significant In-Season Accomplishments

The only way to describe Vancouver’s sudden shift from meddling, underperforming franchise to Western Conference’s #1 seed contender is shocking. Nobody could have expected this leap, not even the most optimistic fan. After starting the 2022–23 season with seven consecutive losses, the Canucks began this season by winning 10 of their first 13 games and haven’t looked back since. While they have struggled a bit since the All-Star break, they are in the thick of it for the top seed in the West.

Pettersson is primarily to thank, and the team rewarded him with a massive eight-year, $92.8 million extension in March. With their best player locked up, the Canucks have their eyes firmly set on the Western Conference playoffs. For the first time since the late 2000s and early 2010s, they figure to be favorites. Despite holding the #2 seed, they have the 4th best odds to win the Western Conference today.

Where Does Vancouver Go From Here?

The Canucks have been successful due to a balanced attack. They are in the top ten in scoring and the top five in goals against. However, as they prepare for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Vancouver remains a wild card. The team has little experience in the postseason, let alone as a favorite. One advantage they will have going for is the ability to play a lot of their postseason games in Vancouver.

The home-ice advantage will help tremendously, making the fight for the #1 seed more critical. However, as we saw with the record-breaking Bruins last season, home-ice advantage doesn’t always lead to postseason success. Either way, the Canucks are in the midst of a dream season that nobody saw coming. Fans can enjoy it and hope that their team is ready to go come postseason play.


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