The end of the Vancouver Canucks training camp doesn’t mean the end of the Vancovuer Canucks drama. The dock backlog has limited exports, so all the drama is staying right in the lower mainland. But that doesn’t mean all the news is bad. Just, you know: DRAMATIC!
Nothing Comes Easy at the Vancouver Canucks Drama Factory
For the fans’ sake, we’re going to ease into this. Relatively good news can come first (and there is actually quite a bit of good news). Between the camp and their first two preseason games, the on-ice product has some intriguing stories.
The Kids Are Alright
Playing against veterans who are looking to get to the regular season without injury is one thing. Doing it against opponents who are trying to impress their own teams is something else altogether. The players suspected of being either good enough or nearly so have shown up: Vasily Podkolzin has been exactly as advertised, William Lockwood is making a strong argument to stay up despite a very limited professional resume, and Jonah Gadjovich has put his passing on display as much as his net-front work. Gadjovich’s skating has always been his weakness, but he’s shown that he can work within that limit. And hard to believe though it is, he has improved dramatically since he was drafted.
And that’s just the rookie forwards. Nic Petan and Phillip Di Giuseppe are showing their experience with strong performances and few mistakes. While Conor Garland isn’t exactly cannonball-sized, he’s at least as irritating as grapeshot. Having him as an option should really improve a second power-play unit that desperately needs it.
These Kids Are Fine
The new arrivals on the blue line are a bit more of a mixed bag. Oliver Ekman-Larsson showed his physical side – yes, he does have one – against the Calgary Flames‘ reduced unit. His assists were good, but his bodywork has more appeal right now. The more comfortable he is, the better he plays. The Canucks want him to be as comfortable as possible for the next six years. And after two preseason games, anyone wanting to send Jack Rathbone down will have to find a reason. He looks like he belongs in the NHL right now. Unfortunately, that means Olli Juolevi‘s improved game two was still overtaken by Rathbone. Juolevi showed his long pass and better positioning, but Rathbone’s dynamism has him as the third-pair starter right now.
Brad Hunt is still in the running, too, but he’s more likely to clear waivers and Juolevi is just a hint cheaper. As of right now, it appears that Hunt will start in Abbotsford — though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If he does begin with the AHL Canucks, he’ll likely have a letter on. He’ll be with Jett Woo, who showed hints of offence to go with his steady defence, Madison Bowey, and the unfortunate Brady Keeper, whose preseason came to a disastrous end last week.
Speaking of hints of offence, Tucker Poolman had himself some fun against Calgary, too. He’s hired for his defence, but if he adds a few goals, the fans won’t complain.
Those Kids Are Glorious
Is it weird to have yet another year without yet another goaltending controversy? Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs are both looking just fine, but they have no shot at the NHL this year. They know it, we know it, the Vancouver Canucks Drama Factory knows it. There’s even a clear schedule playing out in front of the fans with Jaroslav Halak signed for just one season. That’s great for the team and the players, but it does feel like something’s missing.
On the Other Hand…
As nice as it would be for Tucker Poolman to find the net on occasion, he’s not a panacea. If the Vancouver Canucks Drama Factory wants a workout for 2021-22, the fuel is the Canucks defence. The most obvious absence is Calder runner-up and 50-point defenceman (who hasn’t hit 50 points yet) Quinn Hughes. With Hughes still in a contract stalemate, the team will need to find a workaround. It’s not like the team can replace him, after all. That level of skill comes through the draft, not from trades.
The same will be said of Elias Pettersson, of course. Unfortunately for the team, the two vital Canucks are represented by CAA Sports LLC, who decided to roll the dice on waiting until other players signed their RFA extensions. In doing so, the comparables for both Hughes and Pettersson are no longer rare – or cheap. It could have blown up in their faces, of course, especially with a flat(-ish) salary cap remaining for a few seasons yet. But teams decided to lock up their free agents and paid to do so. Fortunately for fans, there is little fear of either player missing a step if they join the team late. This isn’t the 1970s, where players used training camp to get into game shape.
There was an unpleasant surprise still to come, however.
Vancouver Canucks Drama: Complicated Complications
We’re not going to go too far into speculation about Travis Hamonic‘s absence here. Not out of any sort of self-righteousness – not really a trait that helps in writing – but because there is little know speculate on. He isn’t in Vancouver, and it’s because of COVID-19. He opted out of the playoff bubble in 2020 because his daughter was immunocompromised. Frankly, that’s an excellent reason to avoid this season as well, should a player avail themselves of the option.
Whether Hamonic himself is vaccinated or not or what his beliefs are in that regard is irrelevant to his status. Given the extensive precautions the NHL is taking, it seems his workplace would be as safe as anywhere else, but that’s ultimately his call to make. Given how weak the Canucks blueline is, Hamonic sitting the season out is a blow. But even this has an oddly silver lining, given the difficulties the team is having signing Pettersson and Hughes.
Should he decide to opt-out of the 2021-22 season, the team is off the hook for his salary and cap space. Hamonic is signed for $3 million AAV for each of the next two seasons. If that is within the difference between the two holdouts and the team, there could be something positive to glean from this. The official opt-out deadline is October 1st and the Canucks season starts on October 13th in Edmonton. Should Hamonic sit the year out, the team has 60 days to decide whether to toll his cap hit or not. All signs now currently point to “not”.
On the Other Other Hand
Yes, the team could use space earmarked for Hamonic to sign Pettersson and Hughes. But they’ll need another defenceman, too, and where will that money come from? The odds of one of their signees stepping up to Hamonic’s level are long, but there are few other options. But if there’s one thing this fanbase loves* it’s keeping that Vancouver Canucks Drama Factory fueled!