Why the Canucks MVP is Elias Petterson and it's not even close
The 2019-2020 NHL season has officially come to an end, not the way many of would have expected, the break in play prior to the NHL play-in round has given fans and media alike a chance to debate various topics. Something that has been hotly contested on Canucks Twitter since the break in play is: who exactly is MVP of this Canucks team? Many media members have made their opinions known, Thomas Drance of the Athletic is a staunch believer that the honour of MVP belongs to Markstrom. David Quadrelli of Canucks Convo believes that Petterson is the obvious choice (much to the chagrin of his co-host Chris Faber). This article will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elias Petterson is indeed of the MVP of the Canucks during the 2019-2020 season.
This article will rely heavily on advanced analytics to rank the top 4 most valuable players on the Canucks this season. I have created a quick glossary of some of the metrics I will be using.
• WAR (Wins above replacement), a metric created by Evolving Hockey, similar to baseball it attempts to quantify exactly how many wins a player “adds to your team”, this is relative to a replacement level player (who has a WAR of 0). Replacement level does not mean average player, replacement level players are your seventh defensemen, 13th forward, players who can be easily and readily acquired.
• GAR (Goals above replacement), another metric created by evolving wild similar to WAR goals above replacement attempts to quantify exactly how many goals a player on your team is responsible for (beyond just goals and assists) it takes in to account various factors including defensive impact, penalty differential and power play production.
• RAMP (Regularized adjusted plus minus), a metric that attempts to isolate the impact of an individual player while controlling for various variables such as (teammate, score state etc).
• GSAx (Goals saved above expected), attempts to quantify how many “goals a goalie saves” relative to how many they are expected to give up based on shot quality.
#4 J.T. Miller
The Miller trade was much maligned when it happened and weather you agree if the price was fair to pay or not there’s not doubt that Miller’s first season in Vancouver was an unequivocal success. He set both career highs in both goals and points and lead the Canucks in both of those categories (tied with Petterson for goals). While no doubt he was a huge boost to the Canucks he was not the MVP. Miller was 3rd amongst Canucks forwards in GAR (behind Petterson and Boeser). While he may have passed the eye test Miller was just average defensively ranking in roughly the 50th percentile in among NHL forwards in even strength defence GAR.
Visualization courtesy of @JfreshHockey
When you take a look at Miller’s RAMP you can see he was terrific at even strength, both in terms of expected goals and actual goals for. Miller was also driving shot attempts for (CF) while he was on the ice. Despite passing the eye test defensively Miller was just okay this season on the defensive side of the puck.
Data and visualization courtesy of @EvolvingWild
Another fact I found interesting while looking into Miller’s underlying numbers was that he actually had a higher WAR with The Lighting last season than he did this year with the Canucks (shown in the chart below), this tells me that he performed similarly during the last two seasons but his increased opportunity and favourable deployment (first power play unit, first line minutes with Petterson and Boeser) caused a spike in his raw production.
#3 Quinn Hughes
Quinn “better than Cale Makar” Hughes by all accounts had a phenomenal first season in Vancouver. In his first season with the Canucks Hughes has already established himself as a number 1 defensemen in the NHL. Hughes was so good in this season you could make the argument that he is already the best defender to suit up for the Canucks in their 50 year history. Hughes tallied 53 points in 68 games this season and was on pace to surpass Doug Lidster for most points by a defenceman in Canucks history. All in all Hughes had an amazing season and should be a Calder Trophy finalist this season. However that said Hughes (although spectacular) was not the MVP of the Canucks this season. Hughes was terrific offensively and very solid in his own zone by most metrics. Hughes was 4th on the Canucks in total WAR and 3rd in GAR. Looking at Hughes RAMP he was an absolute monster on the powerplay and played quite well at even strength at both ends of the ice. There is really nothing negative to say about Hughes this season but simply put Petterson was better. The arrival of Hughes this season coincides with an upward swing in the standings for the first time in five years for the Canucks, this has some fans pointing to the addition of Hughes to the lineup as the secret ingredient for the Canucks this
season. However, Hughes stepped into a much better situation than Petterson did in his rookie season and it is impossible how well Hughes would have faired with a roster similar to that which Petterson was given in his first season. This coupled with the fact both Petterson and Markstrom had stand out seasons places Quinn Hughes firmly in the #3 position on this list.
#2 Jacob Markstrom
Since December of last season Jacob Markstrom has established himself a legitimate number one NHL goaltender. Ask a lot of Canucks fans they’ll point to Markstrom’s play as the reason for the Canucks success this season. Markstrom was sporting a 918 save % along with a 2.75 GAA, the numbers aren’t overly flattering but make no mistake he was a huge reason for the Canucks this season (especially consider the blue line he was playing behind). With all that said Markstrom’s season has been overstated by fans and media this season, there has been tons of talk about him getting Vezina Trophy consideration but taking a look at his underlying analytics its clear he had a great season but not as good as some would have you think. According to MoneyPuck, among goaltenders who played at least 25 games, Markstrom ranks 17th in save percentage above expected. That puts him near the middle of the pack among NHL starters. If we take a look at league leaders among GSAx (model from EvolvingHockey) Markstrom ranks 9th among starting goalies. Most other public GSAx rank Markstrom anywhere from 9-12th
among GSAx. Markstrom had some incredible performances this season including a 49 save shutout against the Blackhawks on Sedin night, the problem is Markstrom has had more than a few games where he allowed more goals than expected which dropped him in the rankings. As a fan the good performances tend to stick out to us more than the bad this leads to the belief that the good performances outweighed the bad enough to put him among the upper echelon of NHL goalies. Delving in a bit further according to EvolvingWild Markstrom performed better at even strength than expected (using Fenwick save %) but performed worse shorthanded than expected. Markstrom ranked 3rd in WAR on the Canucks (guess behind who?). If you listen to TSN 1040 you might have heard Kevin Woodley (resident goal tending expert) talk about an analytics company known as Clear Sight Analytics. They have a propriety model they use to evaluate goaltenders. According to Woodley (and Clear Sight Analytics) Markstorm hasn’t allowed a “Clear Sight Goal” all season. It is tough to evaluate how accurate this model is since it comes from a blackbox (not publicly available) analytics company. Clear Sight Analytics has a few other metrics available on their website for free which also paint Markstrom in a positive light in terms of save above expected as well. However, for the purpose of this article I will use the
publicly available data which is paints Markstrom as a top 10 goalie but far from being top 3 goaltender that some believe him to be.
#1 Elias Petterson
Elias Petterson started his career with a bang capturing rookie of the year honours and leading the Canucks in goals and points. This season he took another step Petterson was nothing short of a dominant force on the ice this season. Forget MVP of the Canucks Petterson should be a legitimate contender for the Hart Trophy this season. Petterson was second amongst ALL NHL players this season in GAR (behind only Artemi Panarin). Petterson lead the all Canucks in WAR with 5.6 wins added (the next closest was 3.9). Taking a look at Petterson’s RAMP this season it is clear Petterson was a force at both ends of the ice he drove xGF/60, CF/60 and GF/60 while he was on the ice and suppressed shot quality and quantity while on the ice. Petterson was also a key cog on an extremely potent Canuck power play this season. Although Pettersons point totals this season may not show it he was among the league’s elite from start to finish this season. Petterson can impact the game in so many ways, looking at his GAR he is positive force on all aspects of the game (except short handed since he does not kill penalties). Another aspect of Petterson’s game that makes him so elite is his ability to draw penalties, he ranks near the top of the league in penalty differential, his creativity and stick handling make him a difficult player to defend which often forces his opponents to hook, slash or trip him. Additionally Petterson
spends very little time in the penalty box himself he took only 9 minor penalties this year. This is because he is constantly moving his feet on the back check and is rarely caught out of position so he is not forced to take lazy penalties. Petterson is an extremely special talent and without a doubt had one of the most special seasons in recent memory for the Canucks. It won’t be long till the main stream media recognizes Petterson not only as Hart Trophy candidate but also a Selke candidate.
Title image courtesy of Getty Images