Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again!
The beginning of the hockey season is right around the corner, and as the Canucks start gearing up for another grueling year, they have a lot of questions that need to be answered before the puck drops on October 3. But the biggest challenge ahead for Vancouver’s management team is the logjam of forwards hoping to make the team.
As with any team that finished near the bottom of the league in scoring last year, nearly no forward job in Vancouver is safe going into the season. The Canucks finished 2017-18 with a Goals per Game average of 2.66, putting them 26th in the league. To make matters worse, the team will be without the services of the recently retired Sedin twins and new Detroit Red Wing Thomas Vanek, whose combined 146 points will need to be replaced and improved upon.
Let’s start with the basics and quickly refresh the NHL rules. An NHL team can have 23 skaters on the roster at a time, with 20 in the lineup and three as scratches. Going by conventional wisdom, the Canucks likely plan on using the standard team building format; 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
As of right now, the Canucks have at least sixteen forwards looking to crack the opening night roster.
Hoo boy. That’s a lot of names and not nearly enough spaces.
There’s probably going to be a few extra players to choose from when training camp opens, but one thing’s for sure; Travis Green and his coaching staff will have to cut at least two forwards before October hits, and that’s easier said than done. So today we’re going to take a look at all the options Vancouver has at their disposal and who might make the cut.
In most cases, the first training camp cuts are waiver exempt players. Since those players can move to the AHL without the risk of waivers, sending them to Utica would just be good asset management by the Canucks. But out of all the players I mentioned earlier, only three are waivers exempt; Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette and…*checks notes* some guy named Brock Boeser.
I’m gonna make an absolutely wild prediction and assume that unless he gained 200 pounds in between now and his dominating run at Da Beauty League, Boeser isn’t going to Utica. That leaves Gaudette and Pettersson.
Sending two of the Canucks’ biggest hyped prospects to the minors might make the most sense from an asset point of view, but try explaining that to the fans. It’s fair to assume having a Pettersson or Gaudette on the ice will sell a lot more tickets than a Jay Beagle or Brandon Sutter, but it’d also probably make them better. Sometimes the easiest decision to make is somehow the hardest one too.
If the Canucks decide to keep at least one of the young guns, someone who can’t bypass waivers will have to go. That leaves Jim Benning with two options; risk the waiver wire with another player or make a trade.
The left wing is the most clogged side of the ice, with six forwards vying for four spots. But since Sven Baertschi was locked up to a three-year deal this summer and Tim Schaller and Antoine Roussel joined the team in free agency, that leaves one spot for Brendan Leipsic, Brendan Gaunce and Nikolay Goldobin (and possibly even Reid Boucher) to fight for.
At centre and right wing, the choices are a little more clear cut. Only five centres are looking to fill four open spaces, and since two of them can be sent down it once again comes down to Pettersson and Gaudette. The right side has five candidates as well, but considering the Canucks have put a lot of time and effort into four of them and the fifth is Brock Boeser, this is where the team will use one of their extra two spaces.
If management can’t come to a decision on who to cut, then that leaves a trade. Moving a player with some term left on their contract would not only solve that issue but also help stockpile assets for the future.
Wearing the GM Hat
For me, the first name that sticks out is Gaudette’s. While there’s a lot to like in his game already, he didn’t light up the scoreboard in his first few NHL games and it could really benefit him to start this season with the Comets. Giving Gaudette a chance to develop and play regular shifts in Utica instead of sitting in the press box in Vancouver would be far better for his career, plus he’ll be away from the high expectations that the fan base has already set for him. Not losing a separate player on waivers helps that argument too.
Gaudette going to Utica would leave Pettersson as the final centre. Whether Pettersson is NHL ready remains to be seen, but his amazing stats in Vaxjo make me pretty confident that he’ll quickly earn his spot in the lineup.
As for the final cut, it’ll likely come down to one of Gaunce or Goldobin. Both are young first rounders who’ve yet to live up to their potential, but considering the fact that Goldobin is younger and currently has a higher ceiling for success, I feel like the best call is to keep him and risk Gaunce on the waiver wire.
There’ll be a lot of opinions on which direction the Canucks should go this season; I for one would just let the kids loose and see what they can do. But the one that’ll matter most is that of Jim Benning, Travis Green and their management team, and if they can find the right mixture of youth, experience and skill, the Canucks just might surprise some people this year.
Thanks for reading! What do you think the Canucks should do with the forwards? Leave a comment below!