It took 21 games for Canucks defender Dan Hamhuis to heal the fractures in his jaw and cheekbone to a point where the club felt comfortable taking him off the Injured Reserve. Tonight’s likely the night that Hamhuis will see action again as the Canucks defensive game continues to struggle. Each passing game has proven challenging for the Canucks and the team has consistently lost out on vital points. The time for Hamhuis’ veteran presence on the blueline couldn’t have come soon enough. So as Hamhuis returns, who will be the odd-man out?
After saying goodbye to Yannick Weber who was put on waivers by the Canucks on Friday the team will now carry seven defensemen (that is with Hamhuis back in the scheme of things). There are four names that seem like unlikely victims of the numbers game (Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Luca Sbisa and Ben Hutton). That leaves first year Canuck Matt Bartkoswki and newly extended Alex Biega. That sentence probably speaks for itself.
Dan Hamhuis talks about making his return to the lineup tomorrow night after missing the last 21 games.https://t.co/HKgzux2dIg
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) February 5, 2016
Early in February the Canucks agreed to a two-year extension with the 27-year-old statistical rookie Alex Biega. The new contract which begins next year is worth $1.5 million at an AAV of $750,000. Biega has emerged as one of the team’s most consistent stay-at-home defenders. In 26 games so far this season he’s managed to move from being an 8th defenseman to being a solid top-six defender. So it seems unlikely that the Canucks will elect to scratch him favor of the often struggling Matt Bartkowski. In fact Bartkowski might end up being trade bait come February 29th.
"Travis Green of the @UticaComets was the first person to get in touch with me. I wouldn't be the player I am today without him" – Biega
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) February 2, 2016
Bartkowski is having a good year compared to his own standards. He’s recorded eleven points in 50 games but like some of the Canucks he’s struggled to compete against some of the league’s better competition and he hasn’t made a compelling case to be extended past this year. He’s currently being paid just shy of $2 million so Biega is a much more cap-friendly option.
Hamhuis Returns and Causes Rare Defensive Logjam
There’s also organizational depth to take into account in this situation. The Canucks have made it about as clear as they can that youth is what they’re focused on and they plan to keep only the most charismatic veterans around to teach the new wave of players about being professionals. The team currently has five NHL defenders under contract for the 2016-17 season (Sbisa, Biega, Edler, Tanev and Hutton). It’s been rumored that Hamhuis will be moved before the year is up but Hamhuis himself has always expressed interest in staying in Vancouver. If Hamhuis were to be resigned the Canucks top-six would be virtually unchanged.
Across the continent in Utica, New York will be Jordan Subban and the more-than-likely resigned Andrey Pedan who are both inching their way toward NHL duty. So where does the nondescript Bartkowski fit in all of this?
Will Bartkowski Be Moved?
He’s overpaid. He’s on an expiring contract. He has mediocre stats. And his skills are nothing to send home about. Bartkowski’s NHL chances are running out and it’s looking more and more like this might be his last real shot. It’s not probable that Barkowski will be given an extension by Vancouver after they just signed Biega. He’s not going to be a priority signing for anyone in the off-season. If a team needs some depth on the back end he might get a reduced price deal for one year and spend some time in the American League but Bartkowski’s best option might be to cash in a European contract at this point.
It’s a game of numbers and unfortunately Bartkowski didn’t play his cards right. Now Hamhuis returns to the lineup and will likely bump Bartkowski right into the player’s box.