Brayden Fengler / October 1, 2021
Up until yesterday, the feeling around the Canucks was a bit like the feeling around a toxic relationship. All parties involved were just staying course, taking it day by day and pretending like things are fine. When in reality, difficult decisions were right around the corner, and troubling situations needed to be addressed before things really exploded.
The story dominating the airwaves recently hasn’t even been in regards to the on-ice performance of the team in preseason. But rather the conversations have been regarding who is not performing on the ice right now. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Travis Hamonic are the big absences of this year’s Canucks training camp, but their omissions are for two very different reasons.
Contracts to Sign and Jabs to Get
First, the clear-cut situation is that of Hughes and Petterson. Both have been absent and in lockstep as RFA’s waiting for their new contacts to be worked out between GM Jim Benning and their shared agent Pat Brisson. Until yesterday the dealings around Pettersson and Hughes had been mostly silent as far as any real progress was concerned.
For a while, there were no new developments outside of the standard news that “both parties continue to negotiate”. However, it looks like there is finally actual news to report on this front.
Although it has yet to be made official, reports by top sources and media personalities indicate that Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson have finally reached a deal with Jim Benning and the Canucks.
The reported deal appears to be similar to what has been speculated for quite some time now. Hughes will get the longest term, with 6 years and a $7.75M AAV. (Satiar Shah), whereas Pettersson does indeed look to be getting a bridge deal, with a 3-year term and a $7.7M AAV (Rick Dhaliwal).
If these reports hold true, which it looks like they will, based on the credibility of the reporters involved, then the Canucks will be able to finally put this distracting storyline to bed. They can now focus on building a team around these two stars, rather than worrying about having to build an opening night roster without them.
Then of course there is Travis Hamonic. If you’ve had your ear to the ground in any sense regarding this team, then you have likely heard the rumblings that the reason Hamonic is not at camp and is looking like he won’t be in Van anytime soon, is due to his vaccination status.
Now it’s important to acknowledge that this is just a rumour, for the time being, no official parties have confirmed it, but there is a lot of smoke around this being the reason.
Assuming Hamonic is out of the picture, this would force Hughes to learn to play with yet another defensive partner, as has been the trend for the young defencemen every year while on the Canucks.
Some Canucks forwards that have shown promise over the course of training camp and preseason play are the likes of Jonah Gadjovich, William Lockwood, Conor Garland, and Phillip Di Giuseppe. This shortlist is not to disparage the works of mainstays like Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Tanner Pearson, but these fringe and new Canucks players have done what all players in their position hope to do in training camp and preseason, and that is get noticed and for good reasons.
Garland made an impact in an unusual way by truly giving himself over to the ice, as he vomited after Travis Green’s infamous 40’s skate, due to how hard he pushed himself. Gadjovich and Lockwood have drawn eyes due to their offensive touches as well as a result of little plays around the boards. Lockwood has been long said to be a beast at camp, but yet that never seems to translate to him having a mainstay position on the regular NHL club.
However, with his yet again impressive performance this pre-season and the fact that even if he ends up in the AHL, the AHL team is now just down the road, Lockwood may have his best chance yet of making the club.
Gadjovich, who is rated higher than Lockwood, has also shown promise this year, he only played in the second pre-season game so far against Calgary, but he was able to earn himself an assist in that outing. Gadjovich has shown some improvement with his speed and his board work seems strong. He remains a good option for the Canucks.
Di Giuseppe has also been showing very well so far and is already liked by head coach Travis Green. From the way Green has described him in interviews, it sounds as though Di Giuseppe has a strong hockey IQ, and already has a solid understanding of the type of game that Green likes to play.
The Canucks would be Di Giuseppe’s 4th NHL team to suit up for if he does make the club’s roster at any point. Di Giuseppe was signed in the off-season, to be destined for Abbotsford, as a part of the staggering 18 contracts the Canucks signed on that fateful July day not too long ago.
Di Giuseppe’s hunger and dedication to Green’s game already make him a candidate to watch among AHL-bound Canucks, who are simply unwilling to go quietly into their AHL roles.
Defence is the Question
The real question though is in the Canucks defence, the forwards will have fewer and fewer questions now, especially now that Elias Pettersson looks to be signed. However, on defence with or without Quinn Hughes or Travis Hamonic, there are still questions aplenty. Is this defence strong enough, is it too slow?
Well, two young guys that want a chance to speed it up are Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone. Juolevi hasn’t had a terrible time since training camp started, but he hasn’t done anything to really impress either.
Juolevi couldn’t have felt great after Rathbone’s performance during the first preseason game that’s for sure. Early in the contest Rathbone took a tripping penalty, which is of course not exactly a good thing to be doing as you’re showcasing yourself to your team and coach. However Rathbone was able to turn this goof into a goal, as he ended up scoring an out of the box breakaway goal.
You love to see that fight in a player right after a mistake like that. Excluding this moment though Rathbone like Juolevi is not blowing the doors off, so the race is still very much on for a spot on that last Canucks defence line.
Brad Hunt, another seemingly AHL-bound player, has had himself a decent preseason as well. The 33-year-old hasn’t done anything to knock himself out of roster contention just yet. Brad’s tenacity may be exactly what this team is looking for. Especially if the likes of Travis Hamonic are not going to be included on this Canucks roster.
The Canucks play the Calgary Flames later today, they then play the Jets on Sunday. After this weekend they will then have three more pre-season games before the regular season officially begins.
There’s plenty of time left to try out roster combinations before real decisions need to be made. Green likes to shake up the lines at the best of times. So with the wealth of new faces and questions surrounding this team, one should expect the Canucks roster to look like a game of musical chairs over the next few contests.
It will likely be like one of those games where the person controlling the music is way too trigger happy, and nothing seems to stay the same for very long.
Canucks fans can only hope that by the time the real music begins, the club will be able to put their best foot on the dance floor. Because although they may have tied a bow on some things, there are still other Canucks related questions left dangling.