The Vancouver Canucks, like all other NHL teams, haven’t played a game since the NHL’s regular season was suspended. Although things have been silent on the ice since March 12, there seems to be action over the past week or at least some discussion is happening. The last word we have is that the NHL’s administration and the National Hockey League’s Players Association are moving closer to creating a 24-team playoff format.
That’s good news for game-starved hockey fans, but it isn’t without issues. While these issues are being decided, I want to review one issue that attends a re-started season – where to play. I’ll also review some of the news and rumors emerging from the Canucks organization.
Item One: Might British Columbia’s Capital City Become a Venue?
One issue the NHL faces, among many, is where to play the games. Here’s where the Canucks organization and the province of British Columbia come into play. In news over the weekend, apparently British Columbia’s Premier John Horgan phoned NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and pitched to him the idea of using B.C.’s capital city Victoria and Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre as a host for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (from “‘NHL in Victoria’ back on the table,” Cleve Dheenshaw, Times Colonist, 15/05/20)
Premier Horgan also noted that other cities in the province were suitable for games. In fact, he reported in a news conference last week that cities in the major-junior Western Hockey League are available:
“We have WHL rinks in Victoria, in Kamloops, in Kelowna, in Prince George. In the Kootenays, Cranbrook has an outstanding facility, as well. We have hotel space. So the sky’s really the limit. If we can make it work it would be great for B.C. and it would be great for the NHL.”
Horgan added: “Mr. Bettman recognizes that British Columbia has had a pretty positive response in terms of flattening the curve. Mr. Bettman also knows this is a hockey-crazy province. Of course, the NHL is concerned about players and the communities that they operate in. I believe we’re in a good place to host. That’s why I contacted the commissioner.”
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Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, just on the edge of downtown Victoria, is a made-for-TV arena. There’s word that the city of Victoria had put in an independent bid to host NHL games. Because there’s a low number of COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island, the arena is excellent, Victoria is a gorgeous city, and there are a large number of upper-end hotels for NHL players, there’s some logic to the thinking.
Still, is this a reality? Likely, it’s not going to happen, partly because it’s believed Commissioner Bettman already decided the NHL wouldn’t play in non-NHL venues. Still, good for Premier Horgan, making a strong case for the games being held in the province where he’s Premier. We’ll see.
Item Two: Sven Baertschi’s Intent Is Clear: No More Minors
In a radio interview with Jeff Paterson of TSN Radio 1040 Vancouver, Sven Baertschi couldn’t have been clearer: “I don’t want to be back in the minors. That’s where I’ve set my goal at. It’s up to them really what they’re going to do next. That’s their job and that’s what they do.”
Baertschi has had concussion issues for the past two seasons, but he now says he’s healthy and ready to play. During the interview, he expressed frustration when he admitted his “personal opinion” that the Canucks simply didn’t have him in their plans for the 2019-20 season – even during training camp. He noted, “I don’t think Vancouver expected me to come back and play.”
He thinks the team will trade him, but he knows that’s not his decision. He also should realize that it’s not that high on the team’s radar right now as it works to respond to the COVID-19 virus.
If the Canucks don’t move him, they’re on the hook for another season of his contract that carries a salary-cap hit of $3.36 million, but pays him $2.4 million whether he plays at the NHL level or in the minors. Losing $2.4 million because you’re frustrated would be a tough decision in these precarious times for NHL free agents. Even if Baertschi is frustrated with the Canucks organization, such a loss of revenue would be a lot to think about.
Last season, the Canucks placed him on waivers in October and, when he wasn’t picked up, sent him to their AHL affiliate Utica Comets. There he was a better than a point-a-game player, scoring 13 goals and 46 points in 43 AHL games.
Baertschi believes he’s an NHL talent; however, he feels he’s not alone in the AHL. In the phone interview from his offseason home in Portland, Oregon, he interestingly noted that “there are some darn good players (in the AHL) like really, really skilled players… There are definitely some players in the AHL that don’t belong there.”
Item Three: Josh Leivo Is Not Ready to Play Yet
In a mailbag post late last week, Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre reported that Canucks injured forward Josh Leivo simply isn’t one of the many players who was able to utilize the time off from NHL play to fully recover from his injuries. Sadly for him, while other injured players had time to recover, rest, and heal, he didn’t.
Leivo fractured his kneecap during a game on Dec. 19, but is likely out for the entire 2019-20 season – even if that season is extended. That’s bad news, because he was having a great season – although ultimately a short one. He had already surpassed his career high in points by scoring 19 points in 36 games.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
There are continuing rumors that issues exist in the Canucks’ scouting department between head scout Judd Brackett and general manager Jim Benning. This issue needs to be fixed sooner rather than later because the NHL Entry Draft is on the horizon. Brackett is rumored to be unhappy with both the level of autonomy he’s been given and the contract he’s been offered by the organization.
There’s no question Brackett’s done a great job and that the Canucks have benefitted from wise drafting. What happens here will impact the team going forward, and I will be curious how it resolves itself over the next few weeks. This issue is something Canucks fans might want to keep an eye on.