How does the current incarnation of the Canucks stack up against last year's team, which won the President's Trophy and then got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals?
Last year on February 28th, the Canucks were leading the NHL with 87 points and a 39-15-9 record over 63 games.
This year on February 28th, the Canucks are again leading the NHL with an identical 87 points over 63 games, but this time it comes from a 40-16-7 record. And that doesn't take into account the game against Phoenix on February 28th, 2012, so the Canucks could even better their mark from last year.
Plus, the most crucial difference between this year and last year is that this edition of the Canucks took the sole regular-season meeting between the Canucks and Bruins. And they even won it in Boston! Clearly, this team is destined for the Stanley Cup.
How about some other key stats?
Feb 28th, 2011: 210 goals (3.33 goals per game): first in the NHL
Feb. 28th, 2012: 203 goals (3.22 goals per game): T-first in the NHL (tied with Flyers)
Shots Per Game
2010-2011 season: 32.0 shots/game, sixth in the NHL
2011-2012 season to date: 30.9 shots/game, eighth in the NHL
2010-2011 season: 24.3 percent, first in the NHL
Last year's team was the best in the NHL when it came to offence. This year's team is no slouch either, but they are held back statistically due to their post-playoff hangover in October and November before they returned to form.
What doesn't show on these stats is that the scoring is much more distributed. Last year it was all Ryan Kesler and the Sedins. Kesler and Daniel Sedin ended up with 40-goal seasons, and Daniel Sedin beat out his brother Henrik for the Art Ross trophy as the NHL's leading scorer.
This year while Henrik and Daniel are both in the Top 10 for NHL scoring, they aren't dominating quite as much as they did in the past. Likewise, Kesler isn't on pace for 40 goals either.
However, despite the loss of offensive defenceman Christian Ehrhoff to free agency, the team is still putting them in the net.
Alex Burrows is having a bounce back year after missing time last year with shoulder surgery. Dan Hamhuis has emerged as a power-play threat, and Chris Higgins, David Booth and Jannik Hansen have been providing secondary scoring.
Cody Hodgson had something to do with it too, but we don't talk about him anymore.
Feb 28th, 2011: 145 goals (2.30 goals per game): second in the NHL (behind Boston)
Feb. 28th, 2012: 154 goals (2.44 goals per game): sixth in the NHL
Shots Against Per Game
2010-2011 season: 30.5 shots/game, 18th in the NHL
2011-2012 season to date: 30.1 shots/game, 12th in the NHL
2010-2011 season: 85.6 percent, third in the NHL
2011-2012 season to date: 86.4 percent, fifth in the NHL
The team is giving up more goals per game, despite a slight improvement in shots per game allowed and a significant improvement in penalty kill.
This can be traced back to the early part of the year when the team was rather dysfunctional in October and November, and the goalies were being lit up as a result.
Since Cory Schneider went on an epic run in December, and then Roberto Luongo upped his game as well to counter, the goaltending has been largely superb for the last three months. If they continue their current trends, the goals against could be significantly better by the end of the regular season.
In fact, if it wasn't for the goaltending, it is unlikely the Canucks would be leading the NHL right now, as Schneider and Luongo have bailed the team out in many, many games in 2012, as well as winning more than their fair share of shootouts.
2010-2011 season: 1791 hits (21.8 hits per game), 20th in the NHL
2011-2012 season to date: 1366 hits (21.7 hits per game), 18th in the NHL
2010-2011 season: 29 fights (0.35 fights per game), 23rd in the NHL
2011-2012 season to date: 34 fights (0.54 fights per game), sixth in the NHL
Toughness was the Canucks' Achilles heel in the 2011 playoffs, as the gutless and soft Canucks couldn't stand up to the honourable and mighty Bruins.
At least that was the takeaway from the Stanley Cup Finals according to many analysts and fans who buy into overly simplistic answers. (Personally, I think eight goals scored for in seven playoff games was a bigger problem than Marchand being a punk in games that were already out of hand.)
That problem was exacerbated when the Canucks let their biggest hitter (and loose cannon) Raffi Torres walk as a free agent.
This year, the Canucks are hitting a little less than they did last year in the regular season.
Regular season is the key point, as the the Canucks surprised everyone in the West with a physical dimension to their game that wasn't present until the puck dropped for Game 1 of their first-round series against the Blackhawks. I expect the Canucks to turn it up physically again this year, especially with their roster.
Fighting, or a lack thereof, was considered to be part of the toughness problem for the Canucks, especially with agitating players like Burrows, Kesler and Maxim Lapierre on the roster.
This year the Canucks have answered the bell (and their critics) by fighting at almost double the rate they were last year. They are the highest-ranked team in the West for fighting majors, at least amongst teams with a dream of making the playoffs. (Columbus is the only Western team ahead of them for fights.)
So all in all, how do the Canucks of 2011-2012 stack up against the Canucks of 2010-2011?
On an individual basis, they don't. Barring a hot streak combined with Evgeni Malkin breaking a leg, neither Sedin is going to win the Art Ross. Luongo and Schneider are getting the wins, but they aren't going to win the Jennings Trophy for least goals against.
Ryan Kesler isn't going to win the Selke, and neither he nor Daniel Sedin are going to put up 40 goals this year.
But as a team?
The entire team is playing just as well as they were last year. And in fact, the distributed scoring looks to be something that will pay off in the playoffs when the Sedins will face extreme defensive coverage again.
The team is just as fast and skilled as last year's roster and is now even bigger and tougher from top to bottom. They will be even harder to play against with the additions Gillis has made in David Booth, Dale Weise, Sami Pahlsson and Zack Kassian.
The Canucks also have a very good chance, given their soft schedule down the stretch, to win the President's Trophy for the second year in a row.
It isn't the Stanley Cup, but no team has won back-to-back President's Trophies since the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 Red Wings. (The lockout meant the trophy wasn't awarded in 2004-2005.)
Add in the intangibles gained by last year's playoff run, and this year's team seems poised to contend for the Stanley Cup for a second year in a row. Hopefully, with a different result this time of course.