The Canucks have too many players.
Seems odd to say about the worst team in the NHL over the past three seasons, but unless some trades come this offseason, the Canucks will face an interesting numbers-crunch in training camp.
Count up the NHL contracts on the team and it seems obvious that one of three things will happen:
- A player under the age of 25 will go on waivers
- A high-priced veteran will go on waivers
- All their rookies will be sent to the AHL/elsewhere
The Canucks value internal competition, and there is something to be said about that, but looking at their roster, this doesn’t look like a team ready to fully embrace a youth movement next season. If you’re hoping for a team with Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Gaudette on it – you might be disappointed.
If we assume 14 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goaltenders crack the opening night roster, GM Jim Benning could be faced with a difficult decision.
Given what we know already, it seems likely that these five forwards will be on the team for sure, no matter how they perform in preseason:
- Bo Horvat
- Brock Boeser
- Sven Baertschi
- Loui Eriksson (given his contract)
- Brandon Sutter
Let’s also assume that their three new free agent signings will be given the benefit of the doubt:
- Jay Beagle
- Antoine Roussel
- Tim Schaller
That leaves six forward spots open, with six players who saw significant time with the Canucks last season, left:
- Sam Gagner
- Markus Granlund
- Jake Virtanen
- Brendan Leipsic
- Brendan Gaunce
- Nikolay Goldobin
But if one, or both, of Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette make the team as expected, it will mean that at least one of the six players above could be lost for nothing, given that they all require waivers before being sent to the AHL. They’re all 25 or under, so that’s concerning.
If a player like Kole Lind or Jonathan Dahlen surprises in camp, they’d have to add another player to the waiver wire.
Gaunce has the lowest ceiling of Vancouver’s young players, but does it make sense to part with him over an older checking forward? He’s only 24, and granted he only scored four goals in 37 games last season, but his underlying numbers have been good. There’s even a case to be made that, given his age, he’s an upgrade over some of the July 1 free agent signings – though that’s a low bar.
On defence, there’s a similar concern, if you expect to see Quinn Hughes or Olli Juolevi on the team come October.
The Canucks have seven defencemen locked into NHL contracts, with Troy Stecher still to be signed as a restricted free agent. To cut down to seven blueliners, Alex Biega would be the likely candidate for Utica, which isn’t terribly concerning.
But if one of Hughes or Juolevi is in the mix, it means the Canucks would need to cut loose one of the following defencemen:
- Alex Edler
- Chris Tanev
- Erik Gudbranson
- Troy Stecher
- Michael Del Zotto
- Derrick Pouliot
- Ben Hutton
While none of the above blueliners have given an indication that they’ll win a Norris Trophy some day, it would be an unusual strategy for a rebuilding team to potentially give away a player like Hutton (age 25) or Pouliot (24). Or would they consider cutting bait with journeyman defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who turns 29 this month, instead?
The Canucks could choose to keep eight defencemen instead of seven, but that would only make the situation at forward even worse.
There’s not likely to be an opportunity for Thatcher Demko in Vancouver next season. With just one net to tend, goaltenders don’t get much time to showcase their talent in preseason, so Demko seems destined for Utica.
The plan seems obvious, with Michael DiPietro graduating from junior next year, that Demko will begin life as a full-time NHL player in 2019-20.
A lot can happen between now and cutdown day, after their last preseason game on September 29. Players could be traded, or injured, which would eliminate the impending roster crunch.
Assuming they have to lose somebody on waivers, they won’t be losing a future star – though it would be a curious move in asset management.
That’s why if Benning can get something (hey, how about a draft pick?) for one of these spare parts, it would behoove him to do it.
Internal competition is important, but so is managing assets. At some point management needs to make bets on their younger players. You’d think that they would be able to bet on Pettersson and/or Gaudette at this point.