The Vancouver Canucks had some tough decisions to make after Adam Gaudette busted down the door during the preseason. General manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green both made it clear at the beginning of training camp that if a player outplayed a veteran, they would make room for them on the team. That’s exactly what they did. But at what cost?
Canucks Nation woke up Monday morning to a surprising development, Sven Baertschi had been placed on waivers. Of all the players on the bubble this preseason, he was never thought to be in danger of losing his roster spot. Tim Schaller, Loui Eriksson, and Tyler Motte were all candidates, but they got a spot on the 23-man roster.
In Motte and Schaller’s defence, they did have a pretty good preseason in their roles. Eriksson, however, did not. He was largely invisible and even had an egregious turnover that almost led to a goal against.
But this is what the Canucks are going with to start the 2019-20 campaign. Nikolay Goldobin and Alex Biega were also placed on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Utica Comets. Guillaume Brisebois was directly sent down since he did not require waivers. The bright side is that Gaudette made the team, however, potentially losing a running mate in Baertschi may turn out to be too high a cost.
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With all that being said, let’s try to make sense of the 23-man roster the Canucks will begin the season with against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.
Gaudette Earns a Spot
Every preseason there is at least one player that puts a wrench in a team’s plans. Last season it was Motte, this time it’s Gaudette. The former forced the Canucks to place Sam Gagner on waivers, the latter, Baertschi. Last season they did not lose Gagner to waivers, this season the threat is greater. Baertschi is a serviceable top-six forward with a reasonable contract. He is also only 26 years old. I’m sure there are at least a few teams that could use someone like that.
Lost in all the uproar is the fact that Gaudette earned a spot on the opening night roster. His performance has been well documented throughout the preseason, as he led the Canucks with four goals in the preseason and was second only to Alex Edler in points.
He made it impossible for the coaching staff to send him down to the AHL. So, for the time being, he will be in the National Hockey League. For how long remains to be seen, but if he continues to perform as he did in the preseason, he will have a permanent spot on the Canucks.
It’s awesome…That’s step one and now step two is going to be getting into the line-up and sticking there. This is definitely not over. I can’t settle down now, I’ve got to keep going and keep working.”-Adam Gaudette
However, the good news stops at making the team. If the practice lines on Monday are any indication, Gaudette will spend the first game of the season in the press box as one of the extra forwards. Let’s hope he does not spend too much time there. If that’s all he’s going to be for the Canucks, he’s better off in the AHL playing top minutes with the Comets.
Schaller Beats the Odds
When I put together the Canucks’ lineup projections in August, Tim Schaller was off the roster. In fact, he wasn’t even mentioned. After a lackluster debut season in 2018-19, many believed he was going to be one of the forwards sent down to the AHL. Fast forward to the end of the preseason, and he is one of the forwards on the roster.
To Schaller’s credit, he came to training camp and worked hard to impress the coaching staff. He hustled, was strong on the forecheck and even displayed some deft playmaking, setting up Jay Beagle for a short-handed goal. He will help form a gritty fourth line with the aforementioned Beagle and Tyler Motte. They won’t score many goals, but they definitely will be hard to play against.
Fantenberg Edges Out Biega
Many prognosticators expected the Canucks to run with eight defencemen and 13 forwards. But they have decided to go with seven defencemen and 14 forwards. As a result, the versatile Alex Biega has been exposed to the waiver wire. Oscar Fantenberg, who was just cleared to play, takes the seventh defenceman spot.
Opting for mobility and offence over grit, Green clearly wants to play an uptempo game from the blueline this season. Biega had a pretty successful preseason, displaying his usual tenacity and penchant for physical play. It is somewhat surprising that he lost his spot. Time will tell if another team was impressed enough to claim him on waivers. His cap hit is reasonable and he is a very serviceable seventh defenceman. So he could be enticing to some teams that lack depth on the backend.
Eriksson Avoids Waivers
Despite having a relatively quiet preseason, Eriksson avoids the dreaded waiver wire. However, judging by the line rushes at practice on Monday, he will start the season as an extra forward with Gaudette. That’s $6 million in the press box, which is not the most ideal scenario for any team. He is a good penalty killer and can occasionally provide offence, but for that money, he still is not doing enough.
When he gets into the lineup, he will probably replace a player like Josh Leivo on the third line, or even Tanner Pearson on the second line with Bo Horvat. Baertschi would have been a much better option in that role, but I digress.
Top-Six is Set
After all the auditions, the top-six has been set for the season opener. It’s what we expected at the beginning of the preseason too. Micheal Ferland joins Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the top line, while J.T. Miller teams up with future captain Horvat and Pearson on the second line. The Canucks hope that the new alignments generate more consistent offence, so that the wins come a little easier.
Pearson was battling Baertschi for the coveted spot on Horvat’s line. But it looks like the chemistry displayed at the end of last season was enough to convince Green that he was the best option. Focusing just on the preseason, he was not very impressive. Hopefully, he ups his game when the regular season begins on Wednesday. As for Ferland, he was destined to be on the top line from the beginning of training camp. If not for an illness, he would have been there the entire time. Baertschi and Leivo got reps there too, but ultimately, it was his to lose.
Two-Way Third Line
It appears Green wants to run with a two-way third line, capable of matching up against an opponent’s top units. At least to start, Sutter centers a line with Leivo and Jake Virtanen. On paper, this alignment should provide speed, size and a strong forecheck. All three have also displayed skills offensively, as well as a good defensive game. Unfortunately, hockey is not played on paper. Virtanen, in particular, did not have a strong preseason and is currently on notice from Green to provide more during a game.
Leivo and Sutter both had their moments but will need to up the intensity to consistently provide offence from the third line. If they can, it has the potential to be very effective for the Canucks.
It was an interesting Monday morning for Canucks fans, beginning with anticipation and ending with frustration. There weren’t many people that thought Baertschi would be the forward removed from the roster. If they ultimately lose Goldobin and Baertschi, that’s two pieces of offensive depth that could have been useful down the road. But the decision has been made, and now we wait to see if another team believes they are worth adding to their roster.
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Until then, we at least know the roster that the Canucks will send into battle against the Oilers on Wednesday night. The top three defence pairings were set before Monday with Edler, Tyler Myers, Quinn Hughes, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and Jordie Benn. The goaltending was also cemented with Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.
The bottom six turned out differently than what was expected, but it is what it is. All we can do is watch the games and hope the decisions made were the right ones. Let the games begin!
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.